SMITH AND THE PHARAOHS AND OTHER TALES
By H. Rider Haggard
Smith And The Pharaohs
Magepa The Buck
The Blue Curtains
Only A Dream
Barbara Who Came Back
SMITH AND THE PHARAOHS
Scientists, or some scientists--for occasionally one learned person
differs from other learned persons--tell us they know all that is worth
knowing about man, which statement, of course, includes woman. They
trace him from his remotest origin; they show us how his bones changed
and his shape modified, also how, under the influence of his needs and
passions, his intelligence developed from something very humble.
They demonstrate conclusively that there is nothing in man which the
dissecting-table will not explain; that his aspirations towards another
life have their root in the fear of death, or, say others of them, in
that of earthquake or thunder; that his affinities with the past are
merely inherited from remote ancestors who lived in that past, perhaps a
million years ago; and that everything noble about him is but the fruit
of expediency or of a veneer of civilisation, while everything base must
be attributed to the instincts of his dominant and primeval nature. Man,
in short, is an animal who, like every other animal, is finally subdued
by his environment and takes his colour from his surroundings, as cattle
do from the red soil of Devon. Such are the facts, they (or some of
them) declare; all the rest is rubbish.
At times we are inclined to agree with these sages, especially after it
has been our privilege to attend a course of lectures by one of them.
Then perhaps something comes within the range of our experience which
gives us pause and causes doubts, the old divine doubts, to arise again
deep in our hearts, and with them a yet diviner hope.
Perchance when all is said, so we think to ourselves, man _is_ something
more than an animal. Perchance he has known the past, the far past, and
will know the future, the far, far future. Perchance the dream is true,
and he does indeed possess what for convenience is called an immortal
soul, that may manifest itself in one shape or another; that may sleep
for ages, but, waking or sleeping, still remains itself, indestructible
as the matter of the Universe.
An incident in the career of Mr. James Ebenezer Smith might well
occasion such reflections, were any acquainted with its details, which
until this, its setting forth, was not the case. Mr. Smith is a person
who knows when to be silent. Still, undoubtedly it gave cause for
thought to one individual--namely, to him to whom it happened. Indeed,
James Ebenezer Smith is still thinking over it, thinking very hard
J. E. Smith was well born and well educated. When he was a good-looking
and able young man at college, but before he had taken his degree,
trouble came to him, the particulars of which do not matter, and he was
thrown penniless, also friendless, upon the rocky bosom of the world.
No, not quite friendless, for he had a godfather, a gentleman connected
with business whose Christian name was Ebenezer. To him, as a last
resource, Smith went, feeling that Ebenezer owed him something in return
for the awful appellation wherewith he had been endowed in baptism.
To a certain extent Ebenezer recognised the obligation. He did nothing
heroic, but he found his godson a clerkship in a bank of which he was
one of the directors--a modest clerkship, no more. Also, when he died a
year later, he left him a hundred pounds to be spent upon some souvenir.
Smith, being of a practical turn of mind, instead of adorning himself
with memorial jewellery for which he had no use, invested the hundred
pounds in an exceedingly promising speculation. As it happened, he was
not misinformed, and his talent returned to him multiplied by ten. He
repeated the experiment, and, being in a position to know what he was
doing, with considerable success. By the time that he was thirty he
found himself possessed of a fortune of something over twenty-five
thousand pounds. Then (and this shows the wise and practical nature of
the man) he stopped speculating and put out his money in such a fashion
that it brought him a safe and clear four per cent.
By this time Smith, being an excellent man of business, was well up in
the service of his bank--as yet only a clerk, it is true, but one who
drew his four hundred pounds a year, with prospects. In short, he was in
a position to marry had he wished to do so. As it happened, he did not
wish--perhaps because, being very friendless, no lady who attracted him
crossed his path; perhaps for other reasons.
Shy and reserved in temperament, he confided only in himself. None, not
even his superiors at the bank or the Board of Management, knew how
well off he had become. No one visited him at the flat which he was
understood to occupy somewhere in the neighbourhood of Putney; he
belonged to no club, and possessed not a single intimate. The blow which
the world had dealt him in his early days, the harsh repulses and the
rough treatment he had then experienced, sank so deep into his sensitive
soul that never again did he seek close converse with his kind. In fact,
while still young, he fell into a condition of old-bachelorhood of a
Soon, however, Smith discovered--it was after he had given up
speculating--that a man must have something to occupy his mind. He tried
philanthropy, but found himself too sensitive for a business which
so often resolves itself into rude inquiry as to the affairs of other
people. After a struggle, therefore, he compromised with his conscience
by setting aside a liberal portion of his income for anonymous
distribution among deserving persons and objects.
While still in this vacant frame of mind Smith chanced one day, when the
bank was closed, to drift into the British Museum, more to escape the
vile weather that prevailed without than for any other reason. Wandering
hither and thither at hazard, he found himself in the great gallery
devoted to Egyptian stone objects and sculpture. The place bewildered
him somewhat, for he knew nothing of Egyptology; indeed, there remained
upon his mind only a sense of wonderment not unmixed with awe. It must
have been a great people, he thought to himself, that executed these
works, and with the thought came a desire to know more about them. Yet
he was going away when suddenly his eye fell on the sculptured head of a
woman which hung upon the wall.
Smith looked at it once, twice, thrice, and at the third look he fell in
love. Needless to say, he was not aware that such was his condition.
He knew only that a change had come over him, and never, never could
he forget the face which that carven mask portrayed. Perhaps it was not
really beautiful save for its wondrous and mystic smile; perhaps the
lips were too thick and the nostrils too broad. Yet to him that face
was Beauty itself, beauty which drew him as with a cart-rope, and awoke
within him all kinds of wonderful imaginings, some of them so strange
and tender that almost they partook of the nature of memories. He stared
at the image, and the image smiled back sweetly at him, as doubtless it,
or rather its original--for this was but a plaster cast--had smiled at
nothingness in some tomb or hiding-hole for over thirty centuries, and
as the woman whose likeness it was had once smiled upon the world.
A short, stout gentleman bustled up and, in tones of authority,
addressed some workmen who were arranging a base for a neighbouring
statue. It occurred to Smith that he must be someone who knew about
these objects. Overcoming his natural diffidence with an effort, he
raised his hat and asked the gentleman if he could tell him who was the
original of the mask.
The official--who, in fact, was a very great man in the Museum--glanced
at Smith shrewdly, and, seeing that his interest was genuine, answered--
"I don't know. Nobody knows. She has been given several names, but none
of them have authority. Perhaps one day the rest of the statue may
be found, and then we shall learn--that is, if it is inscribed. Most
likely, however, it has been burnt for lime long ago."
"Then you can't tell me anything about her?" said Smith.
"Well, only a little. To begin with, that's a cast. The original is in
the Cairo Museum. Mariette found it, I believe at Karnac, and gave it
a name after his fashion. Probably she was a queen--of the eighteenth
dynasty, by the work. But you can see her rank for yourself from the
broken _uraeus_." (Smith did not stop him to explain that he had not
the faintest idea what a _uraeus_ might be, seeing that he was utterly
unfamiliar with the snake-headed crest of Egyptian royalty.) "You should
go to Egypt and study the head for yourself. It is one of the most
beautiful things that ever was found. Well, I must be off. Good day."
And he bustled down the long gallery.
Smith found his way upstairs and looked at mummies and other things.
Somehow it hurt him to reflect that the owner of yonder sweet, alluring
face must have become a mummy long, long before the Christian era.
Mummies did not strike him as attractive.
He returned to the statuary and stared at his plaster cast till one of
the workmen remarked to his fellow that if he were the gent he'd go and
look at "a live'un" for a change.
Then Smith retired abashed.
On his way home he called at his bookseller's and ordered "all the
best works on Egyptology". When, a day or two later, they arrived in
a packing-case, together with a bill for thirty-eight pounds, he was
somewhat dismayed. Still, he tackled those books like a man, and, being
clever and industrious, within three months had a fair working knowledge
of the subject, and had even picked up a smattering of hieroglyphics.
In January--that was, at the end of those three months--Smith astonished
his Board of Directors by applying for ten weeks' leave, he who had
hitherto been content with a fortnight in the year. When questioned he
explained that he had been suffering from bronchitis, and was advised to
take a change in Egypt.
"A very good idea," said the manager; "but I'm afraid you'll find it
expensive. They fleece one in Egypt."
"I know," answered Smith; "but I've saved a little and have only myself
to spend it upon."
So Smith went to Egypt and saw the original of the beauteous head and
a thousand other fascinating things. Indeed, he did more. Attaching
himself to some excavators who were glad of his intelligent assistance,
he actually dug for a month in the neighbourhood of ancient Thebes, but
without finding anything in particular.
It was not till two years later that he made his great discovery, that
which is known as Smith's Tomb. Here it may be explained that the state
of his health had become such as to necessitate an annual visit to
Egypt, or so his superiors understood.
However, as he asked for no summer holiday, and was always ready to do
another man's work or to stop overtime, he found it easy to arrange for
these winter excursions.
On this, his third visit to Egypt, Smith obtained from the
Director-General of Antiquities at Cairo a licence to dig upon his
own account. Being already well known in the country as a skilled
Egyptologist, this was granted upon the usual terms--namely, that the
Department of Antiquities should have a right to take any of the objects
which might be found, or all of them, if it so desired.
Such preliminary matters having been arranged by correspondence, Smith,
after a few days spent in the Museum at Cairo, took the night train
to Luxor, where he found his head-man, an ex-dragoman named Mahomet,
waiting for him and his fellaheen labourers already hired. There were
but forty of them, for his was a comparatively small venture. Three
hundred pounds was the amount that he had made up his mind to expend,
and such a sum does not go far in excavations.
During his visit of the previous year Smith had marked the place where
he meant to dig. It was in the cemetery of old Thebes, at the wild spot
not far from the temple of Medinet Habu, that is known as the Valley of
the Queens. Here, separated from the resting-places of their royal lords
by the bold mass of the intervening hill, some of the greatest ladies of
Egypt have been laid to rest, and it was their tombs that Smith desired
to investigate. As he knew well, some of these must yet remain to be
discovered. Who could say? Fortune favours the bold. It might be that he
would find the holy grave of that beauteous, unknown Royalty whose face
had haunted him for three long years!
For a whole month he dug without the slightest success. The spot that
he selected had proved, indeed, to be the mouth of a tomb. After
twenty-five days of laborious exploration it was at length cleared out,
and he stood in a rude, unfinished cave. The queen for whom it had been
designed must have died quite young and been buried elsewhere; or she
had chosen herself another sepulchre, or mayhap the rock had proved
unsuitable for sculpture.
Smith shrugged his shoulders and moved on, sinking trial pits and
trenches here and there, but still finding nothing. Two-thirds of his
time and money had been spent when at last the luck turned. One day,
towards evening, with some half-dozen of his best men he was returning
after a fruitless morning of labour, when something seemed to attract
him towards a little _wadi_, or bay, in the hillside that was filled
with tumbled rocks and sand. There were scores of such places, and this
one looked no more promising than any of the others had proved to be.
Yet it attracted him. Thoroughly dispirited, he walked past it twenty
paces or more, then turned.
"Where go you, sah?" asked his head-man, Mahomet.
He pointed to the recess in the cliff.
"No good, sah," said Mahomet. "No tomb there. Bed-rock too near top. Too
much water run in there; dead queen like keep dry!"
But Smith went on, and the others followed obediently.
He walked down the little slope of sand and boulders and examined the
cliff. It was virgin rock; never a tool mark was to be seen. Already the
men were going, when the same strange instinct which had drawn him to
the spot caused him to take a spade from one of them and begin to shovel
away the sand from the face of the cliff--for here, for some unexplained
reason, were no boulders or _debris_. Seeing their master, to whom they
were attached, at work, they began to work too, and for twenty minutes
or more dug on cheerfully enough, just to humour him, since all were
sure that here there was no tomb. At length Smith ordered them to
desist, for, although now they were six feet down, the rock remained of
the same virgin character.
With an exclamation of disgust he threw out a last shovelful of sand.
The edge of his spade struck on something that projected. He cleared
away a little more sand, and there appeared a rounded ledge which seemed
to be a cornice. Calling back the men, he pointed to it, and without a
word all of them began to dig again. Five minutes more of work made it
clear that it was a cornice, and half an hour later there appeared the
top of the doorway of a tomb.
"Old people wall him up," said Mahomet, pointing to the flat stones set
in mud for mortar with which the doorway had been closed, and to the
undecipherable impress upon the mud of the scarab seals of the officials
whose duty it had been to close the last resting-place of the royal dead
"Perhaps queen all right inside," he went on, receiving no answer to his
"Perhaps," replied Smith, briefly. "Dig, man, dig! Don't waste time in
So they dug on furiously till at length Smith saw something which caused
him to groan aloud. There was a hole in the masonry--the tomb had been
broken into. Mahomet saw it too, and examined the top of the aperture
with his skilled eye.
"Very old thief," he said. "Look, he try build up wall again, but run
away before he have time finish." And he pointed to certain flat stones
which had been roughly and hurriedly replaced.
"Dig--dig!" said Smith.
Ten minutes more and the aperture was cleared. It was only just big
enough to admit the body of a man.
By now the sun was setting. Swiftly, swiftly it seemed to tumble down
the sky. One minute it was above the rough crests of the western hills
behind them; the next, a great ball of glowing fire, it rested on their
topmost ridge. Then it was gone. For an instant a kind of green spark
shone where it had been. This too went out, and the sudden Egyptian
night was upon them.
The fellaheen muttered among themselves, and one or two of them wandered
off on some pretext. The rest threw down their tools and looked at
Smith. "Men say they no like stop here. They afraid of ghost! Too
many _afreet_ live in these tomb. That what they say. Come back finish
to-morrow morning when it light. Very foolish people, these common
fellaheen," remarked Mahomet, in a superior tone.
"Quite so," replied Smith, who knew well that nothing that he could
offer would tempt his men to go on with the opening of a tomb after
sunset. "Let them go away. You and I will stop and watch the place till
"Sorry, sah," said Mahomet, "but I not feel quite well inside; think I
got fever. I go to camp and lie down and pray under plenty blanket."
"All right, go," said Smith; "but if there is anyone who is not a
coward, let him bring me my big coat, something to eat and drink, and
the lantern that hangs in my tent. I will meet him there in the valley."
Mahomet, though rather doubtfully, promised that this should be done,
and, after begging Smith to accompany them, lest the spirit of whoever
slept in the tomb should work him a mischief during the night, they
departed quickly enough.
Smith lit his pipe, sat down on the sand, and waited. Half an hour later
he heard a sound of singing, and through the darkness, which was dense,
saw lights coming up the valley.
"My brave men," he thought to himself, and scrambled up the slope to
He was right. These were his men, no less than twenty of them, for with
a fewer number they did not dare to face the ghosts which they believed
haunted the valley after nightfall. Presently the light from the lantern
which one of them carried (not Mahomet, whose sickness had increased too
suddenly to enable him to come) fell upon the tall form of Smith, who,
dressed in his white working clothes, was leaning against a rock. Down
went the lantern, and with a howl of terror the brave company turned and
"Sons of cowards!" roared Smith after them, in his most vigorous Arabic.
"It is I, your master, not an _afreet_."
They heard, and by degrees crept back again. Then he perceived that in
order to account for their number each of them carried some article.
Thus one had the bread, another the lantern, another a tin of sardines,
another the sardine-opener, another a box of matches, another a bottle
of beer, and so on. As even thus there were not enough things to go
round, two of them bore his big coat between them, the first holding it
by the sleeves and the second by the tail as though it were a stretcher.
"Put them down," said Smith, and they obeyed. "Now," he added, "run for
your lives; I thought I heard two _afreets_ talking up there just now
of what they would do to any followers of the Prophet who mocked their
gods, if perchance they should meet them in their holy place at night."
This kindly counsel was accepted with much eagerness. In another minute
Smith was alone with the stars and the dying desert wind.
Collecting his goods, or as many of them as he wanted, he thrust them
into the pockets of the great-coat and returned to the mouth of the
tomb. Here he made his simple meal by the light of the lantern, and
afterwards tried to go to sleep. But sleep he could not. Something
always woke him. First it was a jackal howling amongst the rocks; next
a sand-fly bit him in the ankle so sharply that he thought he must have
been stung by a scorpion. Then, notwithstanding his warm coat, the
cold got hold of him, for the clothes beneath were wet through with
perspiration, and it occurred to him that unless he did something he
would probably contract an internal chill or perhaps fever. He rose and
By now the moon was up, revealing all the sad, wild scene in its every
detail. The mystery of Egypt entered his soul and oppressed him. How
much dead majesty lay in the hill upon which he stood? Were they all
really dead, he wondered, or were those fellaheen right? Did their
spirits still come forth at night and wander through the land where once
they ruled? Of course that was the Egyptian faith according to which
the _Ka_, or Double, eternally haunted the place where its earthly
counterpart had been laid to rest. When one came to think of it, beneath
a mass of unintelligible symbolism there was much in the Egyptian faith
which it was hard for a Christian to disbelieve. Salvation through a
Redeemer, for instance, and the resurrection of the body. Had he, Smith,
not already written a treatise upon these points of similarity which he
proposed to publish one day, not under his own name? Well, he would not
think of them now; the occasion seemed scarcely fitting--they came home
too pointedly to one who was engaged in violating a tomb.
His mind, or rather his imagination--of which he had plenty--went off at
a tangent. What sights had this place seen thousands of years ago! Once,
thousands of years ago, a procession had wound up along the roadway
which was doubtless buried beneath the sand whereon he stood towards
the dark door of this sepulchre. He could see it as it passed in and
out between the rocks. The priests, shaven-headed and robed in leopards'
skins, or some of them in pure white, bearing the mystic symbols of
their office. The funeral sledge drawn by oxen, and on it the great
rectangular case that contained the outer and the inner coffins, and
within them the mummy of some departed Majesty; in the Egyptian formula,
"the hawk that had spread its wings and flown into the bosom of
Osiris," God of Death. Behind, the mourners, rending the air with their
lamentations. Then those who bore the funeral furniture and offerings.
Then the high officers of State and the first priests of Amen and of
the other gods. Then the sister queens, leading by the hand a wondering
child or two. Then the sons of Pharaoh, young men carrying the emblems
of their rank.
Lastly, walking alone, Pharaoh himself in his ceremonial robes, his
apron, his double crown of linen surmounted by the golden snake, his
inlaid bracelets and his heavy, tinkling earrings. Pharaoh, his head
bowed, his feet travelling wearily, and in his heart--what thoughts?
Sorrow, perhaps, for her who had departed. Yet he had other queens and
fair women without count. Doubtless she was sweet and beautiful, but
sweetness and beauty were not given to her alone. Moreover, was she not
wont to cross his will and to question his divinity? No, surely it
is not only of her that he thinks, her for whom he had prepared this
splendid tomb with all things needful to unite her with the gods. Surely
he thinks also of himself and that other tomb on the farther side of the
hill whereat the artists labour day by day--yes, and have laboured these
many years; that tomb to which before so very long he too must travel in
just this fashion, to seek his place beyond the doors of Death, who lays
his equal hand on king and queen and slave.
The vision passed. It was so real that Smith thought he must have been
dreaming. Well, he was awake now, and colder than ever. Moreover, the
jackals had multiplied. There were a whole pack of them, and not far
away. Look! One crossed in the ring of the lamplight, a slinking, yellow
beast that smelt the remains of dinner. Or perhaps it smelt himself.
Moreover, there were bad characters who haunted these mountains, and he
was alone and quite unarmed. Perhaps he ought to put out the light which
advertised his whereabouts. It would be wise, and yet in this particular
he rejected wisdom. After all, the light was some company.
Since sleep seemed to be out of the question, he fell back upon poor
humanity's other anodyne, work, which has the incidental advantage of
generating warmth. Seizing a shovel, he began to dig at the doorway of
the tomb, whilst the jackals howled louder than ever in astonishment.
They were not used to such a sight. For thousands of years, as the old
moon above could have told, no man, or at least no solitary man, had
dared to rob tombs at such an unnatural hour.
When Smith had been digging for about twenty minutes something tinkled
on his shovel with a noise which sounded loud in that silence.
"A stone which may come in handy for the jackals," he thought to
himself, shaking the sand slowly off the spade until it appeared. There
it was, and not large enough to be of much service. Still, he picked it
up, and rubbed it in his hands to clear off the encrusting dirt. When he
opened them he saw that it was no stone, but a bronze.
"Osiris," reflected Smith, "buried in front of the tomb to hallow the
ground. No, an Isis. No, the head of a statuette, and a jolly good
one, too--at any rate, in moonlight. Seems to have been gilded." And,
reaching out for the lamp, he held it over the object.
Another minute, and he found himself sitting at the bottom of the hole,
lamp in one hand and statuette, or rather head, in the other.
"The Queen of the Mask!" he gasped. "The same--the same! By heavens, the
Oh, he could not be mistaken. There were the identical lips, a little
thick and pouted; the identical nostrils, curved and quivering, but a
little wide; the identical arched eyebrows and dreamy eyes set somewhat
far apart. Above all, there was the identical alluring and mysterious
smile. Only on this masterpiece of ancient art was set a whole crown of
_uraei_ surrounding the entire head. Beneath the crown and pressed back
behind the ears was a full-bottomed wig or royal head-dress, of which
the ends descended to the breasts. The statuette, that, having been
gilt, remained quite perfect and uncorroded, was broken just above the
middle, apparently by a single violent blow, for the fracture was very
At once it occurred to Smith that it had been stolen from the tomb by
a thief who thought it to be gold; that outside of the tomb doubt had
overtaken him and caused him to break it upon a stone or otherwise. The
rest was clear. Finding that it was but gold-washed bronze he had thrown
away the fragments, rather than be at the pains of carrying them. This
was his theory, probably not a correct one, as the sequel seems to show.
Smith's first idea was to recover the other portion. He searched quite a
long while, but without success. Neither then nor afterwards could it
be found. He reflected that perhaps this lower half had remained in the
thief's hand, who, in his vexation, had thrown it far away, leaving
the head to lie where it fell. Again Smith examined this head, and more
closely. Now he saw that just beneath the breasts was a delicately cut
Being by this time a master of hieroglyphics, he read it without
trouble. It ran: "Ma-Mee, Great Royal Lady. Beloved of ----" Here the
cartouche was broken away.
"Ma-Me, or it might be Ma-Mi," he reflected. "I never heard of a queen
called Ma-Me, or Ma-Mi, or Ma-Mu. She must be quite new to history. I
wonder of whom she was beloved? Amen, or Horus, or Isis, probably. Of
some god, I have no doubt, at least I hope so!"
He stared at the beautiful portrait in his hand, as once he had stared
at the cast on the Museum wall, and the beautiful portrait, emerging
from the dust of ages, smiled back at him there in the solemn moonlight
as once the cast had smiled from the museum wall. Only that had been but
a cast, whereas this was real. This had slept with the dead from whose
features it had been fashioned, the dead who lay, or who had lain,
A sudden resolution took hold of Smith. He would explore that tomb, at
once and alone. No one should accompany him on this his first visit;
it would be a sacrilege that anyone save himself should set foot there
until he had looked on what it might contain.
Why should he not enter? His lamp, of what is called the "hurricane"
brand, was very good and bright, and would burn for many hours.
Moreover, there had been time for the foul air to escape through the
hole that they had cleared. Lastly, something seemed to call on him to
come and see. He placed the bronze head in his breast-pocket over his
heart, and, thrusting the lamp through the hole, looked down. Here there
was no difficulty, since sand had drifted in to the level of the bottom
of the aperture. Through it he struggled, to find himself upon a bed of
sand that only just left him room to push himself along between it and
the roof. A little farther on the passage was almost filled with mud.
Mahomet had been right when, from his knowledge of the bed-rock, he said
that any tomb made in this place must be flooded. It _had_ been flooded
by some ancient rain-storm, and Smith began to fear that he would find
it quite filled with soil caked as hard as iron. So, indeed, it was to
a certain depth, a result that apparently had been anticipated by those
who hollowed it, for this entrance shaft was left quite undecorated.
Indeed, as Smith found afterwards, a hole had been dug beneath the
doorway to allow the mud to enter after the burial was completed. Only a
miscalculation had been made. The natural level of the mud did not quite
reach the roof of the tomb, and therefore still left it open.
After crawling for forty feet or so over this caked mud, Smith suddenly
found himself on a rising stair. Then he understood the plan; the tomb
itself was on a higher level.
Here began the paintings. Here the Queen Ma-Mee, wearing her crowns and
dressed in diaphanous garments, was presented to god after god. Between
her figure and those of the divinities the wall was covered with
hieroglyphs as fresh to-day as on that when the artist had limned them.
A glance told him that they were extracts from the Book of the Dead.
When the thief of bygone ages had broken into the tomb, probably not
very long after the interment, the mud over which Smith had just crawled
was still wet. This he could tell, since the clay from the rascal's
feet remained upon the stairs, and that upon his fingers had stained the
paintings on the wall against which he had supported himself; indeed,
in one place was an exact impression of his hand, showing its shape and
even the lines of the skin.
At the top of the flight of steps ran another passage at a higher
level, which the water had never reached, and to right and left were the
beginnings of unfinished chambers. It was clear to him that this queen
had died young. Her tomb, as she or the king had designed it, was never
finished. A few more paces, and the passage enlarged itself into a hall
about thirty feet square. The ceiling was decorated with vultures, their
wings outspread, the looped Cross of Life hanging from their talons.
On one wall her Majesty Ma-Mee stood expectant while Anubis weighed her
heart against the feather of truth, and Thoth, the Recorder, wrote down
the verdict upon his tablets. All her titles were given to her here,
such as--"Great Royal Heiress, Royal Sister, Royal Wife, Royal Mother,
Lady of the Two Lands, Palm-branch of Love, Beautiful-exceedingly."
Smith read them hurriedly and noted that nowhere could he see the name
of the king who had been her husband. It would almost seem as though
this had been purposely omitted. On the other walls Ma-Mee, accompanied
by her _Ka_, or Double, made offerings to the various gods, or uttered
propitiatory speeches to the hideous demons of the underworld, declaring
their names to them and forcing them to say: "Pass on. Thou art pure!"
Lastly, on the end wall, triumphant, all her trials done, she, the
justified Osiris, or Spirit, was received by the god Osiris, Saviour of
All these things Smith noted hurriedly as he swung the lamp to and fro
in that hallowed place. Then he saw something else which filled him with
dismay. On the floor of the chamber where the coffins had been--for this
was the burial chamber--lay a heap of black fragments charred with fire.
Instantly he understood. After the thief had done his work he had burned
the mummy-cases, and with them the body of the queen. There could be
no doubt that this was so, for look! among the ashes lay some calcined
human bones, while the roof above was blackened with the smoke and
cracked by the heat of the conflagration. There was nothing left for him
Oppressed with the closeness of the atmosphere, he sat down upon a
little bench or table cut in the rock that evidently had been meant
to receive offerings to the dead. Indeed, on it still lay the scorched
remains of some votive flowers. Here, his lamp between his feet, he
rested a while, staring at those calcined bones. See, yonder was the
lower jaw, and in it some teeth, small, white, regular and but little
worn. Yes, she had died young. Then he turned to go, for disappointment
and the holiness of the place overcame him; he could endure no more of
it that night.
Leaving the burial hall, he walked along the painted passage, the lamp
swinging and his eyes fixed upon the floor. He was disheartened, and the
paintings could wait till the morrow. He descended the steps and came to
the foot of the mud slope. Here suddenly he perceived, projecting from
some sand that had drifted down over the mud, what seemed to be the
corner of a reed box or basket. To clear away the sand was easy,
and--yes, it was a basket, a foot or so in length, such a basket as
the old Egyptians used to contain the funeral figures which are called
_ushaptis_, or other objects connected with the dead. It looked as
though it had been dropped, for it lay upon its side. Smith opened
it--not very hopefully, for surely nothing of value would have been
The first thing that met his eyes was a mummied hand, broken off at the
wrist, a woman's little hand, most delicately shaped. It was withered
and paper-white, but the contours still remained; the long fingers were
perfect, and the almond-shaped nails had been stained with henna, as was
the embalmers' fashion. On the hand were two gold rings, and for those
rings it had been stolen. Smith looked at it for a long while, and his
heart swelled within him, for here was the hand of that royal lady of
Indeed, he did more than look; he kissed it, and as his lips touched
the holy relic it seemed to him as though a wind, cold but scented, blew
upon his brow. Then, growing fearful of the thoughts that arose within
him, he hurried his mind back to the world, or rather to the examination
of the basket.
Here he found other objects roughly wrapped in fragments of mummy-cloth
that had been torn from the body of the queen. These it is needless to
describe, for are they not to be seen in the gold room of the Museum,
labelled "Bijouterie de la Reine Ma-Me, XVIIIeme Dynastie. Thebes
(Smith's Tomb)"? It may be mentioned, however, that the set was
incomplete. For instance, there was but one of the great gold ceremonial
ear-rings fashioned like a group of pomegranate blooms, and the most
beautiful of the necklaces had been torn in two--half of it was missing.
It was clear to Smith that only a portion of the precious objects which
were buried with the mummy had been placed in this basket. Why had these
been left where he found them? A little reflection made that clear also.
Something had prompted the thief to destroy the desecrated body and its
coffin with fire, probably in the hope of hiding his evil handiwork.
Then he fled with his spoil. But he had forgotten how fiercely mummies
and their trappings can burn. Or perhaps the thing was an accident. He
must have had a lamp, and if its flame chanced to touch this bituminous
At any rate, the smoke overtook the man in that narrow place as he began
to climb the slippery slope of clay. In his haste he dropped the basket,
and dared not return to search for it. It could wait till the morrow,
when the fire would be out and the air pure. Only for this desecrator of
the royal dead that morrow never came, as was discovered afterwards.
When at length Smith struggled into the open air the stars were paling
before the dawn. An hour later, after the sky was well up, Mahomet
(recovered from his sickness) and his myrmidons arrived.
"I have been busy while you slept," said Smith, showing them the mummied
hand (but not the rings which he had removed from the shrunk fingers),
and the broken bronze, but not the priceless jewellery which was hidden
in his pockets.
For the next ten days they dug till the tomb and its approach were quite
clear. In the sand, at the head of a flight of steps which led down to
the doorway, they found the skeleton of a man, who evidently had been
buried there in a hurried fashion. His skull was shattered by the blow
of an axe, and the shaven scalp that still clung to it suggested that he
might have been a priest.
Mahomet thought, and Smith agreed with him, that this was the person who
had violated the tomb. As he was escaping from it the guards of the holy
place surprised him after he had covered up the hole by which he had
entered and purposed to return. There they executed him without trial
and divided up the plunder, thinking that no more was to be found. Or
perhaps his confederates killed him.
Such at least were the theories advanced by Mahomet. Whether they were
right or wrong none will ever know. For instance, the skeleton may not
have been that of the thief, though probability appears to point the
Nothing more was found in the tomb, not even a scarab or a mummy-bead.
Smith spent the remainder of his time in photographing the pictures
and copying the inscriptions, which for various reasons proved to be of
extraordinary interest. Then, having reverently buried the charred bones
of the queen in a secret place of the sepulchre, he handed it over to
the care of the local Guardian of Antiquities, paid off Mahomet and the
fellaheen, and departed for Cairo. With him went the wonderful jewels
of which he had breathed no word, and another relic to him yet more
precious--the hand of her Majesty Ma-Mee, Palm-branch of Love.
And now follows the strange sequel of this story of Smith and the queen
Smith was seated in the sanctum of the distinguished Director-General
of Antiquities at the new Cairo Museum. It was a very interesting room.
Books piled upon the floor; objects from tombs awaiting examination,
lying here and there; a hoard of Ptolemaic silver coins, just dug up at
Alexandria, standing on a table in the pot that had hidden them for two
thousand years; in the corner the mummy of a royal child, aged six or
seven, not long ago discovered, with some inscription scrawled upon
the wrappings (brought here to be deciphered by the Master), and the
withered lotus-bloom, love's last offering, thrust beneath one of the
pink retaining bands.
"A touching object," thought Smith to himself. "Really, they might have
left the dear little girl in peace."
Smith had a tender heart, but even as he reflected he became aware
that some of the jewellery hidden in an inner pocket of his waistcoat
(designed for bank-notes) was fretting his skin. He had a tender
Just then the Director, a French savant, bustled in, alert, vigorous,
full of interest.
"Ah, my dear Mr. Smith!" he said, in his excellent English. "I am indeed
glad to see you back again, especially as I understand that you are come
rejoicing and bringing your sheaves with you. They tell me you have been
extraordinarily successful. What do you say is the name of this queen
whose tomb you have found--Ma-Mee? A very unusual name. How do you
get the extra vowel? Is it for euphony, eh? Did I not know how good a
scholar you are, I should be tempted to believe that you had misread
it. Me-Mee, Ma-Mee! That would be pretty in French, would it not? _Ma
mie_--my darling! Well, I dare say she was somebody's _mie_ in her time.
But tell me the story."
Smith told him shortly and clearly; also he produced his photographs and
copies of inscriptions.
"This is interesting--interesting truly," said the Director, when he had
glanced through them. "You must leave them with me to study. Also you
will publish them, is it not so? Perhaps one of the Societies would
help you with the cost, for it should be done in facsimile. Look at this
vignette! Most unusual. Oh, what a pity that scoundrelly priest got off
with the jewellery and burnt her Majesty's body!"
"He didn't get off with all of it."
"What, Mr. Smith? Our inspector reported to me that you found nothing."
"I dare say, sir; but your inspector did not know what I found."
"Ah, you are a discreet man! Well, let us see."
Slowly Smith unbuttoned his waistcoat. From its inner pocket and
elsewhere about his person he extracted the jewels wrapped in
mummy-cloth as he had found them. First he produced a sceptre-head of
gold, in the shape of a pomegranate fruit and engraved with the throne
name and titles of Ma-Mee.
"What a beautiful object!" said the Director. "Look! the handle was of
ivory, and that _sacre_ thief of a priest smashed it out at the socket.
It was fresh ivory then; the robbery must have taken place not long
after the burial. See, this magnifying-glass shows it. Is that all?"
Smith handed him the surviving half of the marvellous necklace that had
been torn in two.
"I have re-threaded it," he muttered, "but every bead is in its place."
"Oh, heavens! How lovely! Note the cutting of those cornelian heads of
Hathor and the gold lotus-blooms between--yes, and the enamelled flies
beneath. We have nothing like it in the Museum."
So it went on.
"Is that all?" gasped the Director at last, when every object from the
basket glittered before them on the table.
"Yes," said Smith. "That is--no. I found a broken statuette hidden in
the sand outside the tomb. It is of the queen, but I thought perhaps you
would allow me to keep this."
"But certainly, Mr. Smith; it is yours indeed. We are not niggards here.
Still, if I might see it----"
From yet another pocket Smith produced the head. The Director gazed at
it, then he spoke with feeling.
"I said just now that you were discreet, Mr. Smith, and I have been
reflecting that you are honest. But now I must add that you are very
clever. If you had not made me promise that this bronze should be yours
before you showed it me--well, it would never have gone into that
pocket again. And, in the public interest, won't you release me from the
"_No_," said Smith.
"You are perhaps not aware," went on the Director, with a groan, "that
this is a portrait of Mariette's unknown queen whom we are thus able to
identify. It seems a pity that the two should be separated; a replica we
could let you have."
"I am quite aware," said Smith, "and I will be sure to send _you_ a
replica, with photographs. Also I promise to leave the original to some
museum by will."
The Director clasped the image tenderly, and, holding it to the light,
read the broken cartouche beneath the breasts.
"'Ma-Me, Great Royal Lady. Beloved of ----' Beloved of whom? Well, of
Smith, for one. Take it, monsieur, and hide it away at once, lest soon
there should be another mummy in this collection, a modern mummy called
Smith; and, in the name of Justice, let the museum which inherits it be
not the British, but that of Cairo, for this queen belongs to Egypt.
By the way, I have been told that you are delicate in the lungs. How is
your health now? Our cold winds are very trying. Quite good? Ah, that
is excellent! I suppose that you have no more articles that you can show
"I have nothing more except a mummied hand, which I found in the basket
with the jewels. The two rings off it lie there. Doubtless it was
removed to get at that bracelet. I suppose you will not mind my keeping
"Of the beloved of Smith," interrupted the Director drolly. "No, I
suppose not, though for my part I should prefer one that was not quite
so old. Still, perhaps _you_ will not mind my seeing it. That pocket of
yours still looks a little bulky; I thought that it contained books!"
Smith produced a cigar-box; in it was the hand wrapped in cotton wool.
"Ah," said the Director, "a pretty, well-bred hand. No doubt this
Ma-Mee was the real heiress to the throne, as she describes herself.
The Pharaoh was somebody of inferior birth, half-brother--she is called
'Royal Sister,' you remember--son of one of the Pharaoh's slave-women,
perhaps. Odd that she never mentioned him in the tomb. It looks as
though they didn't get on in life, and that she was determined to have
done with him in death. Those were the rings upon that hand, were they
He replaced them on the fingers, then took off one, a royal signet in a
cartouche, and read the inscription on the other: "'Bes Ank, Ank Bes.'
'Bes the Living, the Living Bes.'
"Your Ma-Mee had some human vanity about her," he added. "Bes, among
other things, as you know, was the god of beauty and of the adornments
of women. She wore that ring that she might remain beautiful, and that
her dresses might always fit, and her rouge never cake when she was
dancing before the gods. Also it fixes her period pretty closely, but
then so do other things. It seems a pity to rob Ma-Mee of her pet ring,
does it not? The royal signet will be enough for us."
With a little bow he gave the hand back to Smith, leaving the Bes ring
on the finger that had worn it for more than three thousand years. At
least, Smith was so sure it was the Bes ring that at the time he did not
look at it again.
Then they parted, Smith promising to return upon the morrow, which,
owing to events to be described, he did not do.
"Ah!" said the Master to himself, as the door closed behind his visitor.
"He's in a hurry to be gone. He has fear lest I should change my mind
about that ring. Also there is the bronze. Monsieur Smith was _ruse_
there. It is worth a thousand pounds, that bronze. Yet I do not believe
he was thinking of the money. I believe he is in love with that Ma-Mee
and wants to keep her picture. _Mon Dieu!_ A well-established affection.
At least he is what the English call an odd fish, one whom I could never
make out, and of whom no one seems to know anything. Still, honest, I
am sure--quite honest. Why, he might have kept every one of those jewels
and no one have been the wiser. And what things! What a find! _Ciel!_
what a find! There has been nothing like it for years. Benedictions on
the head of Odd-fish Smith!"
Then he collected the precious objects, thrust them into an inner
compartment of his safe, which he locked and double-locked, and, as
it was nearly five o'clock, departed from the Museum to his private
residence in the grounds, there to study Smith's copies and photographs,
and to tell some friends of the great things that had happened.
When Smith found himself outside the sacred door, and had presented its
venerable guardian with a baksheesh of five piastres, he walked a few
paces to the right and paused a while to watch some native labourers
who were dragging a huge sarcophagus upon an improvised tramway. As they
dragged they sang an echoing rhythmic song, whereof each line ended with
an invocation to Allah.
Just so, reflected Smith, had their forefathers sung when, millenniums
ago, they dragged that very sarcophagus from the quarries to the Nile,
and from the Nile to the tomb whence it reappeared to-day, or when they
slid the casing blocks of the pyramids up the great causeway and smooth
slope of sand, and laid them in their dizzy resting-places. Only then
each line of the immemorial chant of toil ended with an invocation to
Amen, now transformed to Allah. The East may change its masters and
its gods, but its customs never change, and if to-day Allah wore the
feathers of Amen one wonders whether the worshippers would find the
difference so very great.
Thus thought Smith as he hurried away from the sarcophagus and those
blue-robed, dark-skinned fellaheen, down the long gallery that is filled
with a thousand sculptures. For a moment he paused before the wonderful
white statue of Queen Amenartas, then, remembering that his time was
short, hastened on to a certain room, one of those which opened out of
In a corner of this room, upon the wall, amongst many other beautiful
objects, stood that head which Mariette had found, whereof in past years
the cast had fascinated him in London. Now he knew whose head it was;
to him it had been given to find the tomb of her who had sat for that
statue. Her very hand was in his pocket--yes, the hand that had touched
yonder marble, pointing out its defects to the sculptor, or perhaps
swearing that he flattered her. Smith wondered who that sculptor was;
surely he must have been a happy man. Also he wondered whether the
statuette was also this master's work. He thought so, but he wished to
Near to the end of the room he stopped and looked about him like a
thief. He was alone in the place; not a single student or tourist could
be seen, and its guardian was somewhere else. He drew out the box
that contained the hand. From the hand he slipped the ring which the
Director-General had left there as a gift to himself. He would much have
preferred the other with the signet, but how could he say so, especially
after the episode of the statuette?
Replacing the hand in his pocket without looking at the ring--for his
eyes were watching to see whether he was observed--he set it upon his
little finger, which it exactly fitted. (Ma-Mee had worn both of them
upon the third finger of her left hand, the Bes ring as a guard to the
signet.) He had the fancy to approach the effigy of Ma-Mee wearing a
ring which she had worn and that came straight from her finger to his
Smith found the head in its accustomed place. Weeks had gone by since he
looked upon it, and now, to his eyes, it had grown more beautiful
than ever, and its smile was more mystical and living. He drew out the
statuette and began to compare them point by point. Oh, no doubt was
possible! Both were likenesses of the same woman, though the statuette
might have been executed two or three years later than the statue. To
him the face of it looked a little older and more spiritual. Perhaps
illness, or some premonition of her end had then thrown its shadow on
the queen. He compared and compared. He made some rough measurements
and sketches in his pocket-book, and set himself to work out a canon of
So hard and earnestly did he work, so lost was his mind that he never
heard the accustomed warning sound which announces that the Museum
is about to close. Hidden behind an altar as he was, in his distant,
shadowed corner, the guardian of the room never saw him as he cast
a last perfunctory glance about the place before departing till the
Saturday morning; for the morrow was Friday, the Mohammedan Sabbath,
on which the Museum remains shut, and he would not be called upon to
attend. So he went. Everybody went. The great doors clanged, were locked
and bolted, and, save for a watchman outside, no one was left in all
that vast place except Smith in his corner, engaged in sketching and in
The difficulty of seeing, owing to the increase of shadow, first called
his attention to the fact that time was slipping away. He glanced at his
watch and saw that it was ten minutes to the hour.
"Soon be time to go," he thought to himself, and resumed his work.
How strangely silent the place seemed! Not a footstep to be heard or the
sound of a human voice. He looked at his watch again, and saw that
it was six o'clock, not five, or so the thing said. But that was
impossible, for the Museum shut at five; evidently the desert sand had
got into the works. The room in which he stood was that known as Room
I, and he had noticed that its Arab custodian often frequented Room K or
the gallery outside. He would find him and ask what was the real time.
Passing round the effigy of the wonderful Hathor cow, perhaps the finest
example of an ancient sculpture of a beast in the whole world, Smith
came to the doorway and looked up and down the gallery. Not a soul to
be seen. He ran to Room K, to Room H, and others. Still not a soul to be
seen. Then he made his way as fast as he could go to the great entrance.
The doors were locked and bolted.
"Watch must be right after all. I'm shut in," he said to himself.
"However, there's sure to be someone about somewhere. Probably the
_salle des ventes_ is still open. Shops don't shut till they are
Thither he went, to find its door as firmly closed as a door can be. He
knocked on it, but a sepulchral echo was the only answer.
"I know," he reflected. "The Director must still be in his room. It will
take him a long while to examine all that jewellery and put it away."
So for the room he headed, and, after losing his path twice, found it
by help of the sarcophagus that the Arabs had been dragging, which now
stood as deserted as it had done in the tomb, a lonesome and impressive
object in the gathering shadows. The Director's door was shut, and again
his knockings produced nothing but an echo. He started on a tour round
the Museum, and, having searched the ground floors, ascended to the
upper galleries by the great stairway.
Presently he found himself in that devoted to the royal mummies, and,
being tired, rested there a while. Opposite to him, in a glass case in
the middle of the gallery, reposed Rameses II. Near to, on shelves in
a side case, were Rameses' son, Meneptah, and above, his son, Seti
II, while in other cases were the mortal remains of many more of the
royalties of Egypt. He looked at the proud face of Rameses and at the
little fringe of white locks turned yellow by the embalmer's spices,
also at the raised left arm. He remembered how the Director had told
him that when they were unrolling this mighty monarch they went away
to lunch, and that presently the man who had been left in charge of the
body rushed into the room with his hair on end, and said that the dead
king had lifted his arm and pointed at him.
Back they went, and there, true enough, was the arm lifted; nor were
they ever able to get it quite into its place again. The explanation
given was that the warmth of the sun had contracted the withered
muscles, a very natural and correct explanation.
Still, Smith wished that he had not recollected the story just at this
moment, especially as the arm seemed to move while he contemplated it
--a very little, but still to move.
He turned round and gazed at Meneptah, whose hollow eyes stared at him
from between the wrappings carelessly thrown across the parchment-like
and ashen face. There, probably, lay the countenance that had frowned
on Moses. There was the heart which God had hardened. Well, it was
hard enough now, for the doctors said he died of ossification of the
arteries, and that the vessels of the heart were full of lime!
Smith stood upon a chair and peeped at Seti II. above. His weaker
countenance was very peaceful, but it seemed to wear an air of reproach.
In getting down Smith managed to upset the heavy chair. The noise it
made was terrific. He would not have thought it possible that the fall
of such an article could produce so much sound. Satisfied with his
inspection of these particular kings, who somehow looked quite different
now from what they had ever done before--more real and imminent, so to
speak--he renewed his search for a living man.
On he went, mummies to his right, mummies to his left, of every style
and period, till he began to feel as though he never wished to see
another dried remnant of mortality. He peeped into the room where lay
the relics of Iouiya and Touiyou, the father and mother of the great
Queen Taia. Cloths had been drawn over these, and really they looked
worse and more suggestive thus draped than in their frigid and unadorned
blackness. He came to the coffins of the priest-kings of the twentieth
dynasty, formidable painted coffins with human faces. There seemed to be
a vast number of these priest-kings, but perhaps they were better
than the gold masks of the great Ptolemaic ladies which glinted at him
through the gathering gloom.
Really, he had seen enough of the upper floors. The statues downstairs
were better than all these dead, although it was true that, according to
the Egyptian faith, every one of those statues was haunted eternally by
the _Ka_, or Double, of the person whom it represented. He descended
the great stairway. Was it fancy, or did something run across the bottom
step in front of him--an animal of some kind, followed by a swift-moving
and indefinite shadow? If so, it must have been the Museum cat hunting
a Museum mouse. Only then what on earth was that very peculiar and
He called, "Puss! puss! puss!" for he would have been quite glad of its
company; but there came no friendly "miau" in response. Perhaps it was
only the _Ka_ of a cat and the shadow was--oh! never mind what. The
Egyptians worshipped cats, and there were plenty of their mummies about
on the shelves. But the shadow!
Once he shouted in the hope of attracting attention, for there were no
windows to which he could climb. He did not repeat the experiment, for
it seemed as though a thousand voices were answering him from every
corner and roof of the gigantic edifice.
Well, he must face the thing out. He was shut in a museum, and the
question was in what part of it he should camp for the night. Moreover,
as it was growing rapidly dark, the problem must be solved at once. He
thought with affection of the lavatory, where, before going to see
the Director, only that afternoon he had washed his hands with the
assistance of a kindly Arab who watched the door and gracefully accepted
a piastre. But there was no Arab there now, and the door, like every
other in this confounded place, was locked. He marched on to the
Here, opposite to each other, stood the red sarcophagi of the great
Queen Hatshepu and her brother and husband, Thotmes III. He looked at
them. Why should not one of these afford him a night's lodging? They
were deep and quiet, and would fit the human frame very nicely. For a
while Smith wondered which of these monarchs would be the more likely
to take offence at such a use of a private sarcophagus, and, acting on
general principles, concluded that he would rather throw himself on the
mercy of the lady.
Already one of his legs was over the edge of that solemn coffer, and he
was squeezing his body beneath the massive lid that was propped above
it on blocks of wood, when he remembered a little, naked, withered
thing with long hair that he had seen in a side chamber of the tomb
of Amenhotep II. in the Valley of Kings at Thebes. This caricature of
humanity many thought, and he agreed with them, to be the actual body of
the mighty Hatshepu as it appeared after the robbers had done with it.
Supposing now, that when he was lying at the bottom of that sarcophagus,
sleeping the sleep of the just, this little personage should peep over
its edge and ask him what he was doing there! Of course the idea was
absurd; he was tired, and his nerves were a little shaken. Still, the
fact remained that for centuries the hallowed dust of Queen Hatshepu had
slept where he, a modern man, was proposing to sleep.
He scrambled down from the sarcophagus and looked round him in despair.
Opposite to the main entrance was the huge central hall of the Museum.
Now the cement roof of this hall had, he knew, gone wrong, with the
result that very extensive repairs had become necessary. So extensive
were they, indeed, that the Director-General had informed him that they
would take several years to complete. Therefore this hall was boarded
up, only a little doorway being left by which the workmen could enter.
Certain statues, of Seti II. and others, too large to be moved, were
also roughly boarded over, as were some great funeral boats on either
side of the entrance. The rest of the place, which might be two hundred
feet long with a proportionate breadth, was empty save for the colossi
of Amenhotep III. and his queen Taia that stood beneath the gallery at
its farther end.
It was an appalling place in which to sleep, but better, reflected
Smith, than a sarcophagus or those mummy chambers. If, for instance,
he could creep behind the deal boards that enclosed one of the funeral
boats he would be quite comfortable there. Lifting the curtain, he
slipped into the hall, where the gloom of evening had already settled.
Only the skylights and the outline of the towering colossi at the far
end remained visible. Close to him were the two funeral boats which he
had noted when he looked into the hall earlier on that day, standing at
the head of a flight of steps which led to the sunk floor of the centre.
He groped his way to that on the right. As he expected, the projecting
planks were not quite joined at the bow. He crept in between them and
the boat and laid himself down.
Presumably, being altogether tired out, Smith did ultimately fall
asleep, for how long he never knew. At any rate, it is certain that, if
so, he woke up again. He could not tell the time, because his watch
was not a repeater, and the place was as black as the pit. He had some
matches in his pocket, and might have struck one and even have lit his
pipe. To his credit be it said, however, he remembered that he was the
sole tenant of one of the most valuable museums in the world, and his
responsibilities with reference to fire. So he refrained from striking
that match under the keel of a boat which had become very dry in the
course of five thousand years.
Smith found himself very wide awake indeed. Never in all his life did he
remember being more so, not even in the hour of its great catastrophe,
or when his godfather, Ebenezer, after much hesitation, had promised him
a clerkship in the bank of which he was a director. His nerves seemed
strung tight as harp-strings, and his every sense was painfully acute.
Thus he could even smell the odour of mummies that floated down from the
upper galleries and the earthy scent of the boat which had been buried
for thousands of years in sand at the foot of the pyramid of one of the
fifth dynasty kings.
Moreover, he could hear all sorts of strange sounds, faint and far-away
sounds which at first he thought must emanate from Cairo without. Soon,
however, he grew sure that their origin was more local. Doubtless the
cement work and the cases in the galleries were cracking audibly, as is
the unpleasant habit of such things at night.
Yet why should these common manifestations be so universal and affect
him so strangely? Really, it seemed as though people were stirring all
about him. More, he could have sworn that the great funeral boat beneath
which he lay had become re-peopled with the crew that once it bore.
He heard them at their business above him. There were trampings and a
sound as though something heavy were being laid on the deck, such, for
instance, as must have been made when the mummy of Pharaoh was set there
for its last journey to the western bank of the Nile. Yes, and now he
could have sworn again that the priestly crew were getting out the oars.
Smith began to meditate flight from the neighbourhood of that place when
something occurred which determined him to stop where he was.
The huge hall was growing light, but not, as at first he hoped, with the
rays of dawn. This light was pale and ghostly, though very penetrating.
Also it had a blue tinge, unlike any other he had ever seen. At first
it arose in a kind of fan or fountain at the far end of the hall,
illumining the steps there and the two noble colossi which sat above.
But what was this that stood at the head of the steps, radiating glory?
By heavens! it was Osiris himself or the image of Osiris, god of the
Dead, the Egyptian saviour of the world!
There he stood, in his mummy-cloths, wearing the feathered crown, and
holding in his hands, which projected from an opening in the wrappings,
the crook and the scourge of power. Was he alive, or was he dead? Smith
could not tell, since he never moved, only stood there, splendid and
fearful, his calm, benignant face staring into nothingness.
Smith became aware that the darkness between him and the vision of
this god was peopled; that a great congregation was gathering, or had
gathered there. The blue light began to grow; long tongues of it shot
forward, which joined themselves together, illumining all that huge
Now, too, he saw the congregation. Before him, rank upon rank of them,
stood the kings and queens of Egypt. As though at a given signal, they
bowed themselves to the Osiris, and ere the tinkling of their ornaments
had died away, lo! Osiris was gone. But in his place stood another,
Isis, the Mother of Mystery, her deep eyes looking forth from beneath
the jewelled vulture-cap. Again the congregation bowed, and, lo! she was
gone. But in her place stood yet another, a radiant, lovely being, who
held in her hand the Sign of Life, and wore upon her head the symbol of
the shining disc--Hathor, Goddess of Love. A third time the congregation
bowed, and she, too, was gone; nor did any other appear in her place.
The Pharaohs and their queens began to move about and speak to each
other; their voices came to his ears in one low, sweet murmur.
In his amaze Smith had forgotten fear. From his hiding-place he watched
them intently. Some of them he knew by their faces. There, for instance,
was the long-necked Khu-en-aten, talking somewhat angrily to the
imperial Rameses II. Smith could understand what he said, for this power
seemed to have been given to him. He was complaining in a high, weak
voice that on this, the one night of the year when they might meet,
the gods, or the magic images of the gods who were put up for them to
worship, should not include _his_ god, symbolized by the "Aten," or the
"I have heard of your Majesty's god," replied Rameses; "the priests used
to tell me of him, also that he did not last long after your Majesty
flew to heaven. The Fathers of Amen gave you a bad name; they called you
'the heretic' and hammered out your cartouches. They were quite rare in
my time. Oh, do not let your Majesty be angry! So many of us have
been heretics. My grandson, Seti, there"--and he pointed to a mild,
thoughtful-faced man--"for example. I am told that he really worshipped
the god of those Hebrew slaves whom I used to press to build my cities.
Look at that lady with him. Beautiful, isn't she? Observe her large,
violet eyes! Well, she was the one who did the mischief, a Hebrew
herself. At least, they tell me so."
"I will talk with him," answered Khu-en-aten. "It is more than possible
that we may agree on certain points. Meanwhile, let me explain to your
"Oh, I pray you, not now. There is my wife."
"Your wife?" said Khu-en-aten, drawing himself up. "Which wife? I am
told that your Majesty had many and left a large family; indeed, I
see some hundreds of them here to-night. Now, I--but let me introduce
Nefertiti to your Majesty. I may explain that she was my _only_ wife."
"So I have understood. Your Majesty was rather an invalid, were you not?
Of course, in those circumstances, one prefers the nurse whom one can
trust. Oh, pray, no offence! Nefertari, my love--oh, I beg pardon!
--Astnefert--Nefertari has gone to speak to some of her children--let
me introduce you to your predecessor, the Queen Nefertiti, wife of
Amenhotep IV.--I mean Khu-en-aten (he changed his name, you know,
because half of it was that of the father of the gods). She is
interested in the question of plural marriage. Good-bye! I wish to have
a word with my grandfather, Rameses I. He was fond of me as a little
At this moment Smith's interest in that queer conversation died away,
for of a sudden he beheld none other than the queen of his dreams,
Ma-Mee. Oh! there she stood, without a doubt, only ten times more
beautiful than he had ever pictured her. She was tall and somewhat
fair-complexioned, with slumbrous, dark eyes, and on her face gleamed
the mystic smile he loved. She wore a robe of simple white and a
purple-broidered apron, a crown of golden _uraei_ with turquoise eyes
was set upon her dark hair as in her statue, and on her breast and arms
were the very necklace and bracelets that he had taken from her tomb.
She appeared to be somewhat moody, or rather thoughtful, for she leaned
by herself against a balustrade, watching the throng without much
Presently a Pharaoh, a black-browed, vigorous man with thick lips, drew
"I greet your Majesty," he said.
She started, and answered: "Oh, it is you! I make my obeisance to your
Majesty," and she curtsied to him, humbly enough, but with a suggestion
of mockery in her movements.
"Well, you do not seem to have been very anxious to find me, Ma-Mee,
which, considering that we meet so seldom----"
"I saw that your Majesty was engaged with my sister queens," she
interrupted, in a rich, low voice, "and with some other ladies in the
gallery there, whose faces I seem to remember, but who I think were
_not_ queens. Unless, indeed, you married them after I was drawn away."
"One must talk to one's relations," replied the Pharaoh.
"Quite so. But, you see, I have no relations--at least, none whom I know
well. My parents, you will remember, died when I was young, leaving me
Egypt's heiress, and they are still vexed at the marriage which I made
on the advice of my counsellors. But, is it not annoying? I have lost
one of my rings, that which had the god Bes on it. Some dweller on the
earth must be wearing it to-day, and that is why I cannot get it back
"Him! Why 'him'? Hush; the business is about to begin."
"What business, my lord?"
"Oh, the question of the violation of our tombs, I believe."
"Indeed! That is a large subject, and not a very profitable one, I
should say. Tell me, who is that?" And she pointed to a lady who had
stepped forward, a very splendid person, magnificently arrayed.
"Cleopatra the Greek," he answered, "the last of Egypt's Sovereigns, one
of the Ptolemys. You can always know her by that Roman who walks about
"Which?" asked Ma-Mee. "I see several--also other men. She was the
wretch who rolled Egypt in the dirt and betrayed her. Oh, if it were not
for the law of peace by which we must abide when we meet thus!"
"You mean that she would be torn to shreds, Ma-Mee, and her very soul
scattered like the limbs of Osiris? Well, if it were not for that law of
peace, so perhaps would many of us, for never have I heard a single king
among these hundreds speak altogether well of those who went before or
followed after him."
"Especially of those who went before if they happen to have hammered out
their cartouches and usurped their monuments," said the queen, dryly,
and looking him in the eyes.
At this home-thrust the Pharaoh seemed to wince. Making no answer, he
pointed to the royal woman who had mounted the steps at the end of the
Queen Cleopatra lifted her hand and stood thus for a while. Very
splendid she was, and Smith, on his hands and knees behind the boarding
of the boat, thanked his stars that alone among modern men it had been
his lot to look upon her rich and living loveliness. There she shone,
she who had changed the fortunes of the world, she who, whatever she did
amiss, at least had known how to die.
Silence fell upon that glittering galaxy of kings and queens and upon
all the hundreds of their offspring, their women, and their great
officers who crowded the double tier of galleries around the hall.
"Royalties of Egypt," she began, in a sweet, clear voice which
penetrated to the farthest recesses of the place, "I, Cleopatra, the
sixth of that name and the last monarch who ruled over the Upper and the
Lower Lands before Egypt became a home of slaves, have a word to say
to your Majesties, who, in your mortal days, all of you more worthily
filled the throne on which once I sat. I do not speak of Egypt and its
fate, or of our sins--whereof mine were not the least--that brought her
to the dust. Those sins I and others expiate elsewhere, and of them,
from age to age, we hear enough. But on this one night of the year, that
of the feast of him whom we call Osiris, but whom other nations have
known and know by different names, it is given to us once more to be
mortal for an hour, and, though we be but shadows, to renew the loves
and hates of our long-perished flesh. Here for an hour we strut in our
forgotten pomp; the crowns that were ours still adorn our brows, and
once more we seem to listen to our people's praise. Our hopes are the
hopes of mortal life, our foes are the foes we feared, our gods grow
real again, and our lovers whisper in our ears. Moreover, this joy is
given to us--to see each other as we are, to know as the gods know, and
therefore to forgive, even where we despise and hate. Now I have done,
and I, the youngest of the rulers of ancient Egypt, call upon him who
was the first of her kings to take my place."
She bowed, and the audience bowed back to her. Then she descended the
steps and was lost in the throng. Where she had been appeared an old
man, simply-clad, long-bearded, wise-faced, and wearing on his grey hair
no crown save a plain band of gold, from the centre of which rose the
snake-headed _uraeus_ crest.
"Your Majesties who came after me," said the old man, "I am Menes, the
first of the accepted Pharaohs of Egypt, although many of those who went
before me were more truly kings than I. Yet as the first who joined
the Upper and the Lower Lands, and took the royal style and titles, and
ruled as well as I could rule, it is given to me to talk with you for
a while this night whereon our spirits are permitted to gather from the
uttermost parts of the uttermost worlds and see each other face to face.
First, in darkness and in secret, let us speak of the mystery of the
gods and of its meanings. Next, in darkness and in secret, let us speak
of the mystery of our lives, of whence they come, of where they tarry by
the road, and whither they go at last. And afterwards, let us speak of
other matters face to face in light and openness, as we were wont to do
when we were men. Then hence to Thebes, there to celebrate our yearly
festival. Is such your will?"
"Such is our will," they answered.
It seemed to Smith that dense darkness fell upon the place, and with
it a silence that was awful. For a time that he could not reckon, that
might have been years or might have been moments, he sat there in the
utter darkness and the utter silence.
At length the light came again, first as a blue spark, then in upward
pouring rays, and lastly pervading all. There stood Menes on the steps,
and there in front of him was gathered the same royal throng.
"The mysteries are finished," said the old king. "Now, if any have aught
to say, let it be said openly."
A young man dressed in the robes and ornaments of an early dynasty came
forward and stood upon the steps between the Pharaoh Menes and all those
who had reigned after him. His face seemed familiar to Smith, as was
the side lock that hung down behind his right ear in token of his youth.
Where had he seen him? Ah, he remembered. Only a few hours ago lying in
one of the cases of the Museum, together with the bones of the Pharaoh
"Your Majesties," he began, "I am the King Metesuphis. The matter that
I wish to lay before you is that of the violation of our sepulchres by
those men who now live upon the earth. The mortal bodies of many who are
gathered here to-night lie in this place to be stared at and mocked
by the curious. I myself am one of them, jawless, broken, hideous to
behold. Yonder, day by day, must my _Ka_ sit watching my desecrated
flesh, torn from the pyramid that, with cost and labour, I raised up to
be an eternal house wherein I might hide till the hour of resurrection.
Others of us lie in far lands. Thus, as he can tell you, my predecessor,
Man-kau-ra, he who built the third of the great pyramids, the Pyramid of
Her, sleeps, or rather wakes in a dark city, called London, across the
seas, a place of murk where no sun shines. Others have been burnt with
fire, others are scattered in small dust. The ornaments that were ours
are stole away and sold to the greedy; our sacred writings and our
symbols are their jest. Soon there will not be one holy grave in Egypt
that remains undefiled."
"That is so," said a voice from the company. "But four months gone the
deep, deep pit was opened that I had dug in the shadow of the Pyramid of
Cephren, who begat me in the world. There in my chamber I slept alone,
two handfuls of white bones, since when I died they did not preserve
the body with wrappings and with spices. Now I see those bones of mine,
beside which my Double has watched for these five thousand years, hid in
the blackness of a great ship and tossing on a sea that is strewn with
"It is so," echoed a hundred other voices.
"Then," went on the young king, turning to Menes, "I ask of your Majesty
whether there is no means whereby we may be avenged on those who do us
this foul wrong."
"Let him who has wisdom speak," said the old Pharaoh.
A man of middle age, short in stature and of a thoughtful brow, who held
in his hand a wand and wore the feathers and insignia of the heir to the
throne of Egypt and of a high priest of Amen, moved to the steps. Smith
knew him at once from his statues. He was Khaemuas, son of Rameses the
Great, the mightiest magician that ever was in Egypt, who of his own
will withdrew himself from earth before the time came that he should sit
upon the throne.
"I have wisdom, your Majesties, and I will answer," he said. "The time
draws on when, in the land of Death which is Life, the land that we
call Amenti, it will be given to us to lay our wrongs as to this matter
before Those who judge, knowing that they will be avenged. On this night
of the year also, when we resume the shapes we were, we have certain
powers of vengeance, or rather of executing justice. But our time is
short, and there is much to say and do before the sun-god Ra arises
and we depart each to his place. Therefore it seems best that we should
leave these wicked ones in their wickedness till we meet them face to
face beyond the world."
Smith, who had been following the words of Khaemuas with the closest
attention and considerable anxiety, breathed again, thanking Heaven
that the engagements of these departed monarchs were so numerous and
pressing. Still, as a matter of precaution, he drew the cigar-box which
contained Ma-Mee's hand from his pocket, and pushed it as far away from
him as he could. It was a most unlucky act. Perhaps the cigar-box grated
on the floor, or perhaps the fact of his touching the relic put him into
psychic communication with all these spirits. At any rate, he became
aware that the eyes of that dreadful magician were fixed upon him, and
that a bone had a better chance of escaping the search of a Rontgen ray
than he of hiding himself from their baleful glare.
"As it happens, however," went on Khaemuas, in a cold voice, "I now
perceive that there is hidden in this place, and spying on us, one of
the worst of these vile thieves. I say to your Majesties that I see him
crouched beneath yonder funeral barge, and that he has with him at this
moment the hand of one of your Majesties, stolen by him from her tomb at
Now every queen in the company became visibly agitated (Smith, who was
watching Ma-Mee, saw her hold up her hands and look at them), while all
the Pharaohs pointed with their fingers and exclaimed together, in a
voice that rolled round the hall like thunder:
"Let him be brought forth to judgment!"
Khaemuas raised his wand and, holding it towards the boat where Smith
was hidden, said:
"Draw near, Vile One, bringing with thee that thou hast stolen."
Smith tried hard to remain where he was. He sat himself down and set
his heels against the floor. As the reader knows, he was always shy and
retiring by disposition, and never had these weaknesses oppressed him
more than they did just then. When a child his favourite nightmare had
been that the foreman of a jury was in the act of proclaiming him
guilty of some dreadful but unstated crime. Now he understood what that
nightmare foreshadowed. He was about to be convicted in a court of
which all the kings and queens of Egypt were the jury, Menes was
Chief Justice, and the magician Khaemuas played the _role_ of
In vain did he sit down and hold fast. Some power took possession of him
which forced him first to stretch out his arm and pick up the cigar-box
containing the hand of Ma-Mee, and next drew him from the friendly
shelter of the deal boards that were about the boat.
Now he was on his feet and walking down the flight of steps opposite to
those on which Menes stood far away. Now he was among all that throng
of ghosts, which parted to let him pass, looking at him as he went with
cold and wondering eyes. They were very majestic ghosts; the ages that
had gone by since they laid down their sceptres had taken nothing from
their royal dignity. Moreover, save one, none of them seemed to have any
pity for his plight. She was a little princess who stood by her mother,
that same little princess whose mummy he had seen and pitied in the
Director's room with a lotus flower thrust beneath her bandages. As he
passed Smith heard her say:
"This Vile One is frightened. Be brave, Vile One!"
Smith understood, and pride came to his aid. He, a gentleman of the
modern world, would not show the white feather before a crowd of ancient
Egyptian ghosts. Turning to the child, he smiled at her, then drew
himself to his full height and walked on quietly. Here it may be
stated that Smith was a tall man, still comparatively young, and very
good-looking, straight and spare in frame, with dark, pleasant eyes and
a little black beard.
"At least he is a well-favoured thief," said one of the queens to
"Yes," answered she who had been addressed. "I wonder that a man with
such a noble air should find pleasure in disturbing graves and stealing
the offerings of the dead," words that gave Smith much cause for
thought. He had never considered the matter in this light.
Now he came to the place where Ma-Mee stood, the black-browed Pharaoh
who had been her husband at her side. On his left hand which held the
cigar-box was the gold Bes ring, and that box he felt constrained to
carry pressed against him just over his heart.
As he went by he turned his head, and his eyes met those of Ma-Mee. She
started violently. Then she saw the ring upon his hand and again started
still more violently.
"What ails your Majesty?" asked the Pharaoh.
"Oh, naught," she answered. "Yet does this earth-dweller remind you of
"Yes, he does," answered the Pharaoh. "He reminds me very much of that
accursed sculptor about whom we had words."
"Do you mean a certain Horu, the Court artist; he who worked the image
that was buried with me, and whom you sent to carve your statues in the
deserts of Kush, until he died of fevers--or was it poison?"
"Aye; Horu and no other, may Set take and keep him!" growled the
Then Smith passed on and heard no more. Now he stood before the
venerable Menes. Some instinct caused him to bow to this Pharaoh, who
bowed back to him. Then he turned and bowed to the royal company, and
they also bowed back to him, coldly, but very gravely and courteously.
"Dweller on the world where once we had our place, and therefore brother
of us, the dead," began Menes, "this divine priest and magician"--and
he pointed to Khaemuas--"declares that you are one of those who foully
violate our sepulchres and desecrate our ashes. He declares, moreover,
that at this very moment you have with you a portion of the mortal flesh
of a certain Majesty whose spirit is present here. Say, now, are these
To his astonishment Smith found that he had not the slightest difficulty
in answering in the same sweet tongue.
"O King, they are true, and not true. Hear me, rulers of Egypt. It is
true that I have searched in your graves, because my heart has been
drawn towards you, and I would learn all that I could concerning you,
for it comes to me _now_ that once I was one of you--no king, indeed,
yet perchance of the blood of kings. Also--for I would hide nothing even
if I could--I searched for one tomb above all others."
"Why, O man?" asked the Judge.
"Because a face drew me, a lovely face that was cut in stone."
Now all that great audience turned their eyes towards him and listened
as though his words moved them.
"Did you find that holy tomb?" asked Menes. "If so, what did you find
"Aye, Pharaoh, and in it I found these," and he took from the box the
withered hand, from his pocket the broken bronze, and from his finger
"Also I found other things which I delivered to the keeper of this
place, articles of jewellery that I seem to see to-night upon one who is
present here among you."
"Is the face of this figure the face you sought?" asked the Judge.
"It is the lovely face," he answered.
Menes took the effigy in his hand and read the cartouche that was
engraved beneath its breast.
"If there be here among us," he said, presently, "one who long after
my day ruled as queen in Egypt, one who was named Ma-Me, let her draw
Now from where she stood glided Ma-Mee and took her place opposite to
"Say, O Queen," asked Menes, "do you know aught of this matter?"
"I know that hand; it was my own hand," she answered. "I know that ring;
it was my ring. I know that image in bronze; it was my image. Look on
me and judge for yourselves whether this be so. A certain sculptor
fashioned it, the son of a king's son, who was named Horu, the first
of sculptors and the head artist of my Court. There, clad in strange
garments, he stands before you. Horu, or the Double of Horu, he who cut
the image when I ruled in Egypt, is he who found the image and the man
who stands before you; or, mayhap, his Double cast in the same mould."
The Pharaoh Menes turned to the magician Khaemuas and said:--
"Are these things so, O Seer?"
"They are so," answered Khaemuas. "This dweller on the earth is he who,
long ago, was the sculptor Horu. But what shall that avail? He, once
more a living man, is a violator of the hallowed dead. I say, therefore,
that judgment should be executed on his flesh, so that when the light
comes here to-morrow he himself will again be gathered to the dead."
Menes bent his head upon his breast and pondered. Smith said nothing. To
him the whole play was so curious that he had no wish to interfere with
its development. If these ghosts wished to make him of their number, let
them do so. He had no ties on earth, and now when he knew full surely
that there was a life beyond this of earth he was quite prepared to
explore its mysteries. So he folded his arms upon his breast and awaited
But Ma-Mee did not wait. She raised her hand so swiftly that the
bracelets jingled on her wrists, and spoke out with boldness.
"Royal Khaemuas, prince and magician," she said, "hearken to one who,
like you, was Egypt's heir centuries before you were born, one also who
ruled over the Two Lands, and not so ill--which, Prince, never was your
lot. Answer me! Is all wisdom centred in your breast? Answer me! Do you
alone know the mysteries of Life and Death? Answer me! Did your god Amen
teach you that vengeance went before mercy? Answer me! Did he teach
you that men should be judged unheard? That they should be hurried by
violence to Osiris ere their time, and thereby separated from the dead
ones whom they loved and forced to return to live again upon this evil
"Listen: when the last moon was near her full my spirit sat in my tomb
in the burying-place of queens. My spirit saw this man enter into my
tomb, and what he did there. With bowed head he looked upon my bones
that a thief of the priesthood had robbed and burnt within twenty years
of their burial, in which he himself had taken part. And what did this
man with those bones, he who was once Horu? I tell you that he hid them
away there in the tomb where he thought they could not be found again.
Who, then, was the thief and the violator? He who robbed and burnt my
bones, or he who buried them with reverence? Again, he found the jewels
that the priest of your brotherhood had dropped in his flight, when the
smoke of the burning flesh and spices overpowered him, and with them the
hand which that wicked one had broken off from the body of my Majesty.
What did this man then? He took the jewels. Would you have had him leave
them to be stolen by some peasant? And the hand? I tell you that he
kissed that poor dead hand which once had been part of the body of my
Majesty, and that now he treasures it as a holy relic. My spirit saw
him do these things and made report thereof to me. I ask you, therefore,
Prince, I ask you all, Royalties of Egypt--whether for such deeds this
man should die?"
Now Khaemuas, the advocate of vengeance, shrugged his shoulders and
smiled meaningly, but the congregation of kings and queens thundered an
answer, and it was:--
Ma-Mee looked to Menes to give judgment. Before he could speak the
dark-browed Pharaoh who had named her wife strode forward and addressed
"Her Majesty, Heiress of Egypt, Royal Wife, Lady of the Two Lands, has
spoken," he cried. "Now let me speak who was the husband of her Majesty.
Whether this man was once Horu the sculptor I know not. If so he was
also an evil-doer who, by my decree, died in banishment in the land
of Kush. Whatever be the truth as to that matter, he admits that he
violated the tomb of her Majesty and stole what the old thieves had
left. Her Majesty says also--and he does not deny it--that he dared to
kiss her hand, and for a man to kiss the hand of a wedded Queen of Egypt
the punishment is death. I claim that this man should die to the World
before his time, that in a day to come again he may live and suffer in
the World. Judge, O Menes."
Menes lifted his head and spoke, saying:--
"Repeat to me the law, O Pharaoh, under which a living man must die
for the kissing of a dead hand. In my day and in that of those who went
before me there was no such law in Egypt. If a living man, who was not
her husband, or of her kin, kissed the living hand of a wedded Queen of
Egypt, save in ceremony, then perchance he might be called upon to die.
Perchance for such a reason a certain Horu once was called upon to die.
But in the grave there is no marriage, and therefore even if he had
found her alive within the tomb and kissed her hand, or even her lips,
why should he die for the crime of love?
"Hear me, all; this is my judgment in the matter. Let the soul of that
priest who first violated the tomb of the royal Ma-Mee be hunted down
and given to the jaws of the Destroyer, that he may know the last depths
of Death, if so the gods declare. But let this man go from among us
unharmed, since what he did he did in reverent ignorance and because
Hathor, Goddess of Love, guided him from of old. Love rules this world
wherein we meet to-night, with all the worlds whence we have gathered
or whither we still must go. Who can defy its power? Who can refuse its
rites? Now hence to Thebes!"
There was a rushing sound as of a thousand wings, and all were gone.
No, not all, since Smith yet stood before the draped colossi and the
empty steps, and beside him, glorious, unearthly, gleamed the vision of
"I, too, must away," she whispered; "yet ere I go a word with you who
once were a sculptor in Egypt. You loved me then, and that love cost you
your life, you who once dared to kiss this hand of mine that again you
kissed in yonder tomb. For I was Pharaoh's wife in name only; understand
me well, in name only; since that title of Royal Mother which they gave
me is but a graven lie. Horu, I never was a wife, and when you died,
swiftly I followed you to the grave. Oh, you forget, but I remember!
I remember many things. You think that the priestly thief broke this
figure of me which you found in the sand outside my tomb. Not so. _I_
broke it, because, daring greatly, you had written thereon, 'Beloved,'
not 'of _Horus_ the God,' as you should have done, but 'of _Horu_ the
Man.' So when I came to be buried, Pharaoh, knowing all, took the image
from my wrappings and hurled it away. I remember, too, the casting of
that image, and how you threw a gold chain I had given you into the
crucible with the bronze, saying that gold alone was fit to fashion me.
And this signet that I bear--it was you who cut it. Take it, take it,
Horu, and in its place give me back that which is on your hand, the Bes
ring that I also wore. Take it and wear it ever till you die again, and
let it go to the grave with you as once it went to the grave with me.
"Now hearken. When Ra the great sun arises again and you awake you will
think that you have dreamed a dream. You will think that in this dream
you saw and spoke with a lady of Egypt who died more than three thousand
years ago, but whose beauty, carved in stone and bronze, has charmed
your heart to-day. So let it be, yet know, O man, who once was named
Horu, that such dreams are oft-times a shadow of the truth. Know that
this Glory which shines before you is mine indeed in the land that is
both far and near, the land wherein I dwell eternally, and that what is
mine has been, is, and shall be yours for ever. Gods may change their
kingdoms and their names; men may live and die, and live again once more
to die; empires may fall and those who ruled them be turned to forgotten
dust. Yet true love endures immortal as the souls in which it was
conceived, and from it for you and me, the night of woe and separation
done, at the daybreak which draws on, there shall be born the splendour
and the peace of union. Till that hour foredoomed seek me no more,
though I be ever near you, as I have ever been. Till that most blessed
hour, Horu, farewell."
She bent towards him; her sweet lips touched his brow; the perfume
from her breath and hair beat upon him; the light of her wondrous eyes
searched out his very soul, reading the answer that was written there.
He stretched out his arms to clasp her, and lo! she was gone.
It was a very cold and a very stiff Smith who awoke on the following
morning, to find himself exactly where he had lain down--namely, on a
cement floor beneath the keel of a funeral boat in the central hall of
the Cairo Museum. He crept from his shelter shivering, and looked at
this hall, to find it quite as empty as it had been on the previous
evening. Not a sign or a token was there of Pharaoh Menes and all those
kings and queens of whom he had dreamed so vividly.
Reflecting on the strange phantasies that weariness and excited nerves
can summon to the mind in sleep, Smith made his way to the great doors
and waited in the shadow, praying earnestly that, although it was the
Mohammedan Sabbath, someone might visit the Museum to see that all was
As a matter of fact, someone did, and before he had been there a
minute--a watchman going about his business. He unlocked the place
carelessly, looking over his shoulder at a kite fighting with two
nesting crows. In an instant Smith, who was not minded to stop and
answer questions, had slipped past him and was gliding down the portico,
from monument to monument, like a snake between boulders, still keeping
in the shadow as he headed for the gates.
The attendant caught sight of him and uttered a yell of fear; then,
since it is not good to look upon an _afreet_, appearing from whence no
mortal man could be, he turned his head away. When he looked again Smith
was through those gates and had mingled with the crowd in the street
The sunshine was very pleasant to one who was conscious of having
contracted a chill of the worst Egyptian order from long contact with a
damp stone floor. Smith walked on through it towards his hotel--it was
Shepheard's, and more than a mile away--making up a story as he went
to tell the hall-porter of how he had gone to dine at Mena House by the
Pyramids, missed the last tram, and stopped the night there.
Whilst he was thus engaged his left hand struck somewhat sharply against
the corner of the cigar-box in his pocket, that which contained the
relic of the queen Ma-Mee. The pain caused him to glance at his fingers
to see if they were injured, and to perceive on one of them the ring he
wore. Surely, surely it was not the same that the Director-General had
given him! _That_ ring was engraved with the image of the god Bes.
On _this_ was cut the cartouche of her Majesty Ma-mee! And he had
dreamed--oh, he had dreamed----!
To this day Smith is wondering whether, in the hurry of the moment, he
made a mistake as to which of those rings the Director-General had given
him as part of his share of the spoil of the royal tomb he discovered
in the Valley of Queens. Afterwards Smith wrote to ask, but the
Director-General could only remember that he gave him one of the two
rings, and assured him that that inscribed "_Bes Ank, Ank Bes_," was
with Ma-Mee's other jewels in the Gold Room of the Museum.
Also Smith is wondering whether any other bronze figure of an old
Egyptian royalty shows so high a percentage of gold as, on analysis, the
broken image of Ma-Mee was proved to do. For had she not seemed to tell
him a tale of the melting of a golden chain when that effigy was cast?
Was it all only a dream, or was it--something more--by day and by night
he asks of Nothingness?
But, be she near or far, no answer comes from the Queen Ma-Mee, whose
proud titles were "Her Majesty the Good God, the justified Dweller in
Osiris; Daughter of Amen, Royal Heiress, Royal Sister, Royal Wife, Royal
Mother; Lady of the Two Lands; Wearer of the Double Crown; of the White
Crown, of the Red Crown; Sweet Flower of Love, Beautiful Eternally."
So, like the rest of us, Smith must wait to learn the truth concerning
many things, and more particularly as to which of those two circles of
ancient gold the Director-General gave him yonder at Cairo.
It seems but a little matter, yet it is more than all the worlds to him!
To the astonishment of his colleagues in antiquarian research, Smith has
never returned to Egypt. He explains to them that his health is quite
restored, and that he no longer needs this annual change to a more
Now, _which_ of the two royal rings did the Director-General return to
Smith on the mummied hand of her late Majesty Ma-Mee?
MAGEPA THE BUCK
In a preface to a story of the early life of the late Allan Quatermain,
known in Africa as Macumazahn, which has been published under the name
of "Marie," Mr. Curtis, the brother of Sir Henry Curtis, tells of how
he found a number of manuscripts that were left by Mr. Quatermain in his
house in Yorkshire. Of these "Marie" was one, but in addition to it and
sundry other completed records I, the Editor to whom it was directed
that these manuscripts should be handed for publication, have found
a quantity of unclassified notes and papers. Some of these deal with
matters that have to do with sport and game, or with historical events,
and some are memoranda of incidents connected with the career of the
writer, or with remarkable occurrences that he had witnessed of which he
does not speak elsewhere.
One of these notes--it is contained in a book much soiled and worn that
evidently its owner had carried about with him for years--reminds me of
a conversation that I had with Mr. Quatermain long ago when I was his
guest in Yorkshire. The note itself is short; I think that he must have
jotted it down within an hour or two of the event to which it refers. It
"I wonder whether in the 'Land Beyond' any recognition is granted
for acts of great courage and unselfish devotion--a kind of spiritual
Victoria Cross. If so I think it ought to be accorded to that poor old
savage, Magepa, as it would be if I had any voice in the matter. Upon my
word he has made me feel proud of humanity. And yet he was nothing but a
'nigger,' as so many call the Kaffirs."
For a while I, the Editor, wondered to what this entry could allude.
Then of a sudden it all came back to me. I saw myself, as a young man,
seated in the hall of Quatermain's house one evening after dinner. With
me were Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good. We were smoking, and the
conversation had turned upon deeds of heroism. Each of us detailed such
acts as he could remember which had made the most impression on him.
When we had finished, old Allan said:--
"With your leave I'll tell you a story of what I think was one of the
bravest things I ever saw. It happened at the beginning of the Zulu War,
when the troops were marching into Zululand. Now at that time, as you
know, I was turning an honest penny transport-riding for the Government,
or rather for the military authorities. I hired them three wagons with
the necessary voorloopers and drivers, sixteen good salted oxen to each
wagon, and myself in charge of the lot. They paid me, well, never mind
how much--I am rather ashamed to mention the amount. The truth is that
the Imperial officers bought in a dear market during that Zulu War;
moreover, things were not always straight. I could tell you stories of
folk, not all of them Colonials, who got rich quicker than they ought,
commissions and that kind of thing. But perhaps these are better
forgotten. As for me, I asked a good price for my wagons, or rather for
the hire of them, of a very well-satisfied young gentleman in uniform
who had been exactly three weeks in the country, and to my surprise,
got it. But when I went to those in command and warned them what would
happen if they persisted in their way of advance, then in their pride
they would not listen to the old hunter and transport-rider, but
politely bowed me out. If they had, there would have been no Isandhlwana
He brooded awhile, for, as I knew, this was a sore subject with him, one
on which he would rarely talk. Although he escaped himself, Quatermain
had lost friends on that fatal field. He went on:--
"To return to old Magepa. I had known him for many years. The first time
we met was in the battle of the Tugela. I was fighting for the king's
son, Umbelazi the Handsome, in the ranks of the Tulwana regiment--I mean
to write all that story, for it should not be lost. Well, as I have told
you before, the Tulwana were wiped out; of the three thousand or so of
them I think only about fifty remained alive after they had annihilated
the three of Cetewayo's regiments that set upon them. But as it chanced
Magepa was one who survived.
"I met him afterwards at old King Panda's kraal and recognised him
as having fought by my side. Whilst I was talking to him the Prince
Cetewayo came by; to me he was civil enough, for he knew how I chanced
to be in the battle, but he glared at Magepa, and said:
"'Why, Macumazahn, is not this man one of the dogs with which you tried
to bite me by the Tugela not long ago? He must be a cunning dog also,
one who can run fast, for how comes it that he lives to snarl when so
many will never bark again? _Ow!_ if I had my way I would find a strip
of hide to fit his neck.'
"'Not so,' I answered, 'he has the King's peace and he is a brave man
--braver than I am, anyway, Prince, seeing that I ran from the ranks of
the Tulwana, while he stood where he was.'
"'You mean that your horse ran, Macumazahn. Well, since you like this
dog, I will not hurt him,' and with a shrug he went his way.
"'Yet soon or late he _will_ hurt me,' said Magepa, when the Prince had
gone. 'U'Cetewayo has a memory long as the shadow thrown by a tree at
sunset. Moreover, as he knows well, it is true that I ran, Macumazahn,
though not till all was finished and I could do no more by standing
still. You remember how, after we had eaten up the first of Cetewayo's
regiments, the second charged us and we ate that up also. Well, in that
fight I got a tap on the head from a kerry. It struck me on my man's
ring which I had just put on, for I think I was the youngest soldier in
that regiment of veterans. The ring saved me; still, for a while I lost
my mind and lay like one dead. When I found it again the fight was over
and Cetewayo's people were searching for our wounded that they might
kill them. Presently they found me and saw that there was no hurt on me.
"'"Here is one who shams dead like a stink-cat," said a big fellow,
lifting his spear.
"'Then it was that I sprang up and ran, who was but just married and
desired to live. He struck at me, but I jumped over the spear, and
the others that they threw missed me. Then they began to hunt me, but,
Macumazahn, I who am named "The Buck," because I am swifter of foot than
any man in Zululand, outpaced them all and got away safe.'
"'Well done, Magepa,' I said. 'Still, remember the saying of your
people, "At last the strong swimmer goes with the stream and the swift
runner is run down."'
"'I know it, Macumazahn,' he answered, with a nod, 'and perhaps in a day
to come I shall know it better.'
"I took little heed of his words at the time, but more than thirty years
afterwards I remembered them.
"Such was my first acquaintance with Magepa. Now, friends, I will tell
you how it was renewed at the time of the Zulu War.
"As you know, I was attached to the centre column that advanced into
Zululand by Rorke's Drift on the Buffalo River. Before war was declared,
or at any rate before the advance began, while it might have been and
many thought it would be averted, I was employed transport-riding
goods to the little Rorke's Drift Station, that which became so famous
afterwards, and incidentally in collecting what information I could of
Cetewayo's intentions. Hearing that there was a kraal a mile or so
the other side of the river, of which the people were said to be very
friendly to the English, I determined to visit it. You may think this
was rash, but I was so well known in Zululand, where for many years,
by special leave of the king, I was allowed to go whither I would quite
unmolested and, indeed, under the royal protection, that I felt no fear
for myself so long as I went alone.
"Accordingly one evening I crossed the drift and headed for a kloof in
which I was told the kraal stood. Ten minutes' ride brought me in sight
of it. It was not a large kraal; there may have been six or eight huts
and a cattle enclosure surrounded by the usual fence. The situation,
however, was very pretty, a knoll of rising ground backed by the wooded
slopes of the kloof. As I approached, I saw women and children running
to the kraal to hide, and when I reached the gateway for some time
no one would come out to meet me. At length a small boy appeared who
informed me that the kraal was 'empty as a gourd.'
"'Quite so,' I answered; 'still, go and tell the headman that Macumazahn
wishes to speak with him.'
"The boy departed, and presently I saw a face that seemed familiar to
me peeping round the edge of the gateway. After a careful inspection its
"He was a tall, thin man of indefinite age, perhaps between sixty and
seventy, with a finely-cut face, a little grey beard, kind eyes and very
well-shaped hands and feet, the fingers, which twitched incessantly,
being remarkably long.
"'Greeting, Macumazahn,' he said, 'I see you do not remember me. Well,
think of the battle of the Tugela, and of the last stand of the Tulwana,
and of a certain talk at the kraal of our Father-who-is-dead' (that is
King Panda), 'and of how he who sits in his place' (he meant Cetewayo),
'told you that if he had his way he would find a hide rope to fit the
neck of a certain one.'
"'Ah!' I said, 'I know you now, you are Magepa the Buck. So the Runner
has not yet been run down.'
"'No, Macumazahn, not yet, but there is still time. I think that many
swift feet will be at work ere long.'
"'How have you prospered?' I asked him.
"'Well enough, Macumazahn, in all ways except one. I have three wives,
but my children have been few and are dead, except one daughter, who is
married and lives with me, for her husband, too, is dead. He was killed
by a buffalo, and she has not yet married again. But enter and see.'
"So I went in and saw Magepa's wives, old women all of them. Also, at
his bidding, his daughter, whose name was Gita, brought me some _maas_,
or curdled milk, to drink. She was a well-formed woman, very like
her father, but sad-faced, perhaps with a prescience of evil to come.
Clinging to her finger was a beautiful boy of something under two years
of age, who, when he saw Magepa, ran to him and threw his little arms
about his legs. The old man lifted the child and kissed him tenderly,
"'It is well that this toddler and I should love one another,
Macumazahn, seeing that he is the last of my race. All the other
children here are those of the people who have come to live in my
"'Where are their fathers?' I asked, patting the little boy who, his
mother told me, was named Sinala upon the cheek, an attention that he
"'They have been called away on duty,' answered Magepa shortly; and I
changed the subject.
"Then we began to talk about old times, and I asked him if he had any
oxen to sell, saying that this was my reason for visiting the kraal.
"'Nay, Macumazahn,' he answered in a meaning voice. 'This year all the
cattle are the king's.'
"I nodded and replied that, as it was so, I had better be going,
whereon, as I half expected, Magepa announced that he would see me safe
to the drift. So I bade farewell to the wives and the widowed daughter,
and we started.
"As soon as we were clear of the kraal Magepa began to open his heart to
"'Macumazahn,' he said, looking up at me earnestly, for I was mounted,
and he walked beside my horse, 'there is to be war. Cetewayo will not
consent to the demands of the great White Chief from the Cape,'--he
meant Sir Bartle Frere--'he will fight with the English; only he will
let them begin the fighting. He will draw them on into Zululand and then
overwhelm them with his impis and stamp them flat, and eat them up; and
I, who love the English, am very sorry. Yes, it makes my heart bleed.
If it were the Boers now, I should be glad, for we Zulus hate the Boers;
but the English we do not hate; even Cetewayo likes them; still, he will
eat them up if they attack him.'
"'Indeed,' I answered; and then as in duty bound I proceeded to get what
I could out of him, and that was not a little. Of course, however, I did
not swallow it all, since that I suspected that Magepa was feeding me
with news that he had been ordered to disseminate.
"Presently we came to the mouth of the kloof in which the kraal stood,
and here, for greater convenience of conversation, we halted, for I
thought it as well that we should not be seen in close talk on the open
plain beyond. The path here, I should add, ran past a clump of green
bushes; I remember they bore a white flower that smelt sweet, and were
backed by some tall grass, elephant-grass I think it was, among which
grew mimosa trees.
"'Magepa,' I said, 'if in truth there is to be fighting, why don't you
move over the river one night with your people and cattle, and get into
"'I would if I could, Macumazahn, who have no stomach for this war
against the English. But there I should not be safe, since presently the
king will come into Natal too, or send thirty thousand assegais as his
messengers. Then what will happen to those who have left him?'
"'Oh! if you think that,' I answered, laughing, 'you had better stay
where you are.'
"'Also, Macumazahn, the husbands of those women at my kraal have been
called up to their regiments and if their wives fled to the English they
would be killed. Again, the king has sent for nearly all our cattle "to
keep them safe." He fears lest we Border Zulus might join our people in
Natal, and that is why he is keeping our cattle "safe."'
"'Life is more than cattle, Magepa. At least you might come.'
"'What! And leave my people to be killed? Macumazahn, you did not use
to talk so. Still, hearken. Macumazahn, will you do me a service? I will
pay you well for it. I would get my daughter Gita and my little grandson
Sinala into safety. If I and my wives are wiped out it does not matter,
for we are old. But her I would save, and the boy I would save, so
that one may live who will remember my name. Now if I were to send them
across the drift, say at the dawn, not to-morrow and not the next day,
but the day after, would you receive them into your wagon and deliver
them safe to some place in Natal? I have money hidden, fifty pieces of
gold, and you may take half of these and also half of the cattle if ever
I live to get them back out of the keeping of the king.'
"'Never mind about the money, and we will speak of the cattle
afterwards,' I said. 'I understand that you wish to send your daughter
and your little grandson out of danger; and I think you wise, very wise.
When once the advance begins, if there is an advance, who knows what may
happen? War is a rough game, Magepa. It is not the custom of you black
people to spare women and children; and there will be Zulus fighting on
our side as well as on yours; do you understand?'
"'_Ow!_ I understand, Macumazahn. I have known the face of war and seen
many a little one like my grandson Sinala assegaied upon his mother's
"'Very good. But if I do this for you, you must do something for me.
Say, Magepa, does Cetewayo _really_ mean to fight, and if so, how? Oh
yes, I know all you have been telling me, but I want not words but truth
from the heart?'
"'You ask secrets,' said the old fellow, peering about him into the
gathering gloom. 'Still, "a spear for a spear and a shield for a
shield," as our saying runs. I have spoken no lie. The king _does_ mean
to fight, not because he wants to, but because the regiments swear that
they will wash their assegais; they who have never seen blood since that
battle of the Tugela in which we two played a part, and if he will not
suffer it, well, there are more of his race! Also he means to fight
thus,' and he gave me some very useful information, that is, information
which would have been useful if those in authority had deigned to pay
any attention to it when I passed it on.
"Just as he had finished speaking I thought that I heard a sound in the
dense green bush behind us. It reminded me of the noise a man makes
when he tries to stifle a cough, and frightened me. For if we had been
overheard by a spy, Magepa was as good as dead, and the sooner I was
across the river the better.
"'What's that?' I asked.
"'A bush buck, Macumazahn. There are lots of them about here.'
"Not being satisfied, though it is true that buck do cough like this,
I turned my horse to the bush, seeking an opening. Thereon something
crashed away and vanished into the long grass. In those shadows, of
course, I could not see what it was, but such light as remained glinted
on what might have been the polished tip of the horn of an antelope
"'I told you it was a buck, Macumazahn,' said Magepa. 'Still, if you
smell danger, let us come away from the bush, though the orders are that
no white man is to be touched as yet.'
"Then, while we walked on towards the ford, he set out with great
detail, as Kaffirs do, the exact arrangements that he proposed to make
for the handing over of his daughter and her child into my care. I
remember that I asked him why he would not send her on the following
morning, instead of two mornings later. He answered because he expected
an outpost of scouts from one of the regiments at his kraal that night,
who would probably remain there over the morrow and perhaps longer.
While they were in the place it would be difficult, if not impossible,
for him to send away Gita and her son without exciting suspicion.
"Near the drift we parted, and I returned to our provisional camp and
wrote a beautiful report of all that I had learned, of which report, I
may add, no one took the slightest notice.
"I think it was the morning before that whereon I had arranged to meet
Gita and the little boy at the drift that just about dawn I went down to
the river for a wash. Having taken my dip, I climbed on to a flat rock
to dress myself, and looked at the billows of beautiful, pearly mist
which hid the face of the water, and considered--I almost said listened
to--the great silence, for as yet no live thing was stirring.
"Ah! if I had known of the hideous sights and sounds that were destined
to be heard ere long in this same haunt of perfect peace! Indeed, at
that moment there came a kind of hint or premonition of them, since
suddenly through the utter quiet broke the blood-curdling wail of
a woman. It was followed by other wails and shouts, distant and yet
distinct. Then the silence fell again.
"Now, I thought to myself, that noise might very well have come from old
Magepa's kraal; luckily, however, sounds are deceptive in mist.
"Well, the end of it was that I waited there till the sun rose. The
first thing on which its bright beams struck was a mighty column of
smoke rising to heaven from where Magepa's kraal had stood!
"I went back to my wagons very sad--so sad that I could scarcely eat my
breakfast. While I walked I wondered hard whether the light had glinted
upon the tip of a buck's horn in that patch of green bush with the
sweet-smelling white flowers a night or two ago. Or had it perchance
fallen upon the point of the assegai of some spy who was watching my
movements! In that event yonder column of smoke and the horrible cries
that preceded it were easy to explain. For had not Magepa and I talked
secrets together, and in Zulu?
"On the following morning at dawn I attended at the drift in the faint
hope that Gita and her boy might arrive there as arranged. But nobody
came, which was not wonderful, seeing that Gita lay dead, stabbed
through and through, as I saw afterwards, (she made a good fight for
the child), and that her spirit had gone to wherever go the souls of the
brave-hearted, be they white or black. Only on the farther bank of the
river I saw some Zulu scouts who seemed to know my errand, for they
called to me, asking mockingly where was the pretty woman I had come to
"After that I tried to put the matter out of my head, which indeed was
full enough of other things, since now definite orders had arrived as to
the advance, and with these many troops and officers.
"It was just then that the Zulus began to fire across the river at such
of our people as they saw upon the bank. At these they took aim, and,
as a result, hit nobody. A raw Kaffir with a rifle, in my experience, is
only dangerous when he aims at nothing, for then the bullet looks after
itself and may catch you. To put a stop to this nuisance a regiment of
the friendly natives--there may have been several hundred of them--was
directed to cross the river and clear the kloofs and rocks of the Zulu
skirmishers who were hidden among them. I watched them go off in fine
style, and in the course of the afternoon heard a good deal of shouting
and banging of guns on the farther side of the river.
"Towards evening someone told me that our _impi_, as he called it
grandiloquently, was returning victorious. Having at the moment nothing
else to do, I walked down to the river at a point where the water was
deep and the banks were high. Here I climbed to the top of a pile of
boulders, whence with my field-glasses I could sweep a great extent of
plain which stretched away on the Zululand side till at length it merged
into hills and bush.
"Presently I saw some of our natives marching homewards in a scattered
and disorganised fashion, but evidently very proud of themselves, for
they were waving their assegais and singing scraps of war-songs. A few
minutes later, a mile or more away, I caught sight of a man running.
"Watching him through the glasses I noted three things: First, that
he was tall; secondly, that he ran with extraordinary swiftness; and,
thirdly, that he had something tied upon his back. It was evident,
further, that he had good reason to run, since he was being hunted by
a number of our Kaffirs, of whom more and more continually joined the
chase. From every side they poured down upon him, trying to cut him off
and kill him, for as they got nearer I could see the assegais which they
threw at him flash in the sunlight.
"Very soon I understood that the man was running with a definite object
and to a definite point; he was trying to reach the river. I thought the
sight very pitiful, this one poor creature being hunted to death by so
many. Also I wondered why he did not free himself from the bundle on
his back, and came to the conclusion that he must be a witch-doctor, and
that the bundle contained his precious charms or medicines.
"This was while he was yet a long way off, but when he came nearer,
within three or four hundred yards, of a sudden I caught the outline of
his face against a good background, and knew it for that of Magepa.
"'My God!' I said to myself, 'it is old Magepa the Buck, and the bundle
in the mat will be his grandson, Sinala!'
"Yes, even then I felt certain that he was carrying the child upon his
"What was I to do? It was impossible for me to cross the river at
that place, and long before I could get round by the ford all would be
finished. I stood up on my rock and shouted to those brutes of Kaffirs
to let the man alone. They were so excited that they did not hear
my words; at least, they swore afterwards that they thought I was
encouraging them to hunt him down.
"But Magepa heard me. At the moment he seemed to be failing, but the
sight of me appeared to give him fresh strength. He gathered himself
together and leapt forward at a really surprising speed. Now the river
was not more than three hundred yards away from him, and for the first
two hundred of these he quite outdistanced his pursuers, although they
were most of them young men and comparatively fresh. Then once more his
strength began to fail.
"Watching through the glasses, I could see that his mouth was wide open,
and that there was red foam upon his lips. The burden on his back was
dragging him down. Once he lifted his hands as though to loose it; then
with a wild gesture let them fall again.
"Two of the pursuers who had outpaced the others crept up to him--lank,
lean men of not more than thirty years of age. They had stabbing spears
in their hands, such as are used at close quarters, and these of course
they did not throw. One of them gained a little on the other.
"Now Magepa was not more than fifty yards from the bank, with the first
hunter about ten paces behind him and coming up rapidly. Magepa glanced
over his shoulder and saw, then put out his last strength. For forty
yards he went like an arrow, running straight away from his pursuers,
until he was within a few feet of the bank, when he stumbled and fell.
"'He's done,' I said, and, upon my word, if I had had a rifle in my hand
I think I would have stopped one or both of those bloodhounds and taken
"But no! Just as the first man lifted his broad spear to stab him
through the back on which the bundle lay, Magepa leapt up and wheeled
round to take the thrust in the chest. Evidently he did not wish to be
speared in the back--for a certain reason. He took it sure enough, for
the assegai was wrenched out of the hand of the striker. Still, as he
was reeling backwards, it did not go through Magepa, or perhaps it hit a
bone. He drew out the spear and threw it at the man, wounding him. Then
he staggered on, back and back, to the edge of the little cliff.
"It was reached at last. With a cry of 'Help me, Macumazahn!' Magepa
turned, and before the other man could spear him, leapt straight into
the deep water. He rose. Yes, the brave old fellow rose and struck out
for the other bank, leaving a little line of red behind him.
"I rushed, or rather sprang and rolled down to the edge of the stream to
where a point of shingle ran out into the water. Along this I clambered,
and beyond it up to my middle. Now Magepa was being swept past me. I
caught his outstretched hand and pulled him ashore.
"'The boy!' he gasped; 'the boy! Is he dead?'
"I severed the lashings of the mat that had cut right into the old
fellow's shoulders. Inside of it was little Sinala, spluttering out
water, but very evidently alive and unhurt, for presently he set up a
"'No,' I said, 'he lives, and will live.'
"'Then all is well, Macumazahn.' (_A pause_.) 'It _was_ a spy in the
bush, not a buck. He overheard our talk. The King's slayers came. Gita
held the door of the hut while I took the child, cut a hole through the
straw with my assegai, and crept out at the back. She was full of spears
before she died, but I got away with the boy. Till your Kaffirs found
me I lay hid in the bush, hoping to escape to Natal. Then I ran for the
river, and saw you on the farther bank. _I_ might have got away, but
that child is heavy.' (_A pause_.) 'Give him food, Macumazahn, he must
be hungry.' (_A pause_.) 'Farewell. That was a good saying of yours--the
swift runner is outrun at last. Ah! yet I did not run in vain.'
(_Another pause, the last_.) Then he lifted himself upon one arm and
with the other saluted, first the boy Sinala and next me, muttering,
'Remember your promise, Macumazahn.'
"That is how Magepa the Buck died. I never saw anyone carrying weight
who could run quite so well as he," and Quatermain turned his head away
as though the memory of this incident affected him somewhat.
"What became of the child Sinala?" I asked presently.
"Oh! I sent him to an institution in Natal, and afterwards was able
to get some of his property back for him. I believe that he is being
trained as an interpreter."
THE BLUE CURTAINS
In his regiment familiarly they called him "Bottles," nobody quite knew
why. It was, however, rumoured that he had been called "Bottles" at
Harrow on account of the shape of his nose. Not that his nose was
particularly like a bottle, but at the end of it was round and large and
thick. In reality, however, the sobriquet was more ancient than that,
for it had belonged to the hero of this story from babyhood. Now, when
a man has a nickname, it generally implies two things: first, that he is
good-tempered, and, secondly, that he is a good fellow. Bottles, _alias_
John George Peritt, of a regiment it is unnecessary to name, amply
justified both these definitions, for a kindlier-tempered or better
fellow never breathed. But unless a thick round nose, a pair of small
light-coloured eyes, set under bushy brows, and a large but not badly
shaped mouth can be said to constitute beauty, he was not beautiful.
On the other hand, however, he was big and well-formed, and a
pleasant-mannered if a rather silent companion.
Many years ago Bottles was in love; all the regiment knew it, he was so
very palpably and completely in love. Over his bed in his tidy quarters
hung the photograph of a young lady who was known to be _the_ young
lady; which, when the regiment, individually and collectively, happened
to see it, left no doubt in its mind as to their comrade's taste. It
was evident even from that badly-coloured photograph that Miss Madeline
Spenser had the makings of a lovely figure and a pair of wonderful eyes.
It was said, however, that she had not a sixpence; and as our hero had
but very few, the married ladies of the battalion used frequently to
speculate how Mr. Peritt would "manage" when it came to matrimony.
At this date the regiment was quartered in Maritzburg, Natal, but its
term of foreign service had expired, and it expected to be ordered home
One morning Bottles had been out buck hunting with the scratch pack kept
in those days by the garrison at Maritzburg. The run had been a good
one, and after a seven or eight-mile gallop over the open country they
had actually killed their buck--a beautiful Oribe. This was a thing that
did not often happen, and Bottles returned filled with joy and pride
with the buck fastened behind his saddle, for he was whip to the pack.
The hounds had met at dawn, and it was nine o'clock or so, when, as he
was riding hot and tired up the shadier side of broad and dusty Church
Street, a gun fired at the Fort beyond Government House announced the
arrival of the English mail.
With a beaming smile--for to him the English mail meant one if not two
letters from Madeline, and possibly the glad news of sailing orders--he
pushed on to his quarters, tubbed and dressed, and then went down to the
mess-house for breakfast, expecting to find the letters delivered. But
the mail was a heavy one, and he had ample time to eat his breakfast,
also to sit and smoke a pipe upon the pleasant verandah under the shade
of the bamboos and camellia bushes before the orderly arrived with the
bag. Bottles went at once into the room that opened on to the veranda
and stood by calmly, not being given to betraying his emotions, while
slowly and clumsily the mess sergeant sorted the letters. At last he
got his packet--it only consisted of some newspapers and a single
letter--and went away back to his seat on the veranda, feeling rather
disappointed, for he had expected to hear from his only brother as well
as from his lady-love. Having relit his pipe--for he was of a slow
and deliberate mind, and it rather enhances a pleasure to defer it a
little--and settled himself in the big chair opposite the camellia bush
just now covered with sealing-wax-like blooms, he opened his letter and
"My dear George----"
"Good heavens!" he thought to himself, "what can be the matter? She
always calls me 'Darling Bottles!'"
"My dear George," he began again, "I hardly know how to begin this
letter--I can scarcely see the paper for crying, and when I think of you
reading it out in that horrid country it makes me cry more than ever.
There! I may as well get it out at once, for it does not improve by
keeping--it is all over between you and me, my dear, dear old Bottles."
"All over!" he gasped to himself.
"I hardly know how to tell the miserable story," went on the letter,
"but as it must be told I suppose I had better begin from the beginning.
A month ago I went with my father and my aunt to the Hunt Ball at
Atherton, and there I met Sir Alfred Croston, a middle-aged gentleman,
who danced with me several times. I did not care about him much, but
he made himself very agreeable, and when I got home aunt--you know her
nasty way--congratulated me on my conquest. Well, next day he came
to call, and papa asked him to stop to dinner, and he took me in, and
before he went away he told me that he was coming to stop at the George
Inn to fish for trout in the lake. After that he came here every day,
and whenever I went out walking he always met me, and really was kind
and nice. At last one day he asked me to marry him, and I was very angry
and told him that I was engaged to a gentleman in the army, who was in
South Africa. He laughed, and said South Africa was a long way off, and
I hated him for it. That evening papa and aunt set on me--you know they
neither of them liked our engagement--and told me that our affair was
perfectly silly, and that I must be mad to refuse such an offer. And so
it went on, for he would not take 'no' for an answer; and at last, dear,
I had to give in, for they gave me no peace, and papa implored me to
consent for his sake. He said the marriage would be the making of him,
and now I suppose I am engaged. Dear, dear George, don't be angry with
me, for it is not my fault, and I suppose after all we could not have
got married, for we have so little money. I do love you, but I can't
help myself. I hope you won't forget me, or marry anybody else--at
least, not just at present--for I cannot bear to think about it. Write
to me and tell me you won't forget me, and that you are not angry
with me. Do you want your letters back? If you burn mine that will do.
Good-bye, dear! If you only knew what I suffer! It is all very well to
talk like aunt does about settlements and diamonds, but they can't make
up to me for you. Good-bye, dear, I cannot write any more because my
head aches so.--Ever yours,
When George Peritt, _alias_ Bottles, had finished reading and re-reading
this letter, he folded it up neatly and put it, after his methodical
fashion, into his pocket. Then he sat and stared at the red camellia
blooms before him, that somehow looked as indistinct and misty as though
they were fifty yards off instead of so many inches.
"It is a great blow," he said to himself. "Poor Madeline! How she must
Presently he rose and walked--rather unsteadily, for he felt much
upset--to his quarters, and, taking a sheet of notepaper, wrote the
following letter to catch the outgoing mail:--
"My dear Madeline,--I have got your letter putting an end to our
engagement. I don't want to dwell on myself when you must have so much
to suffer, but I must say that it has been, and is, a great blow to me.
I have loved you for so many years, ever since we were babies, I think;
it does seem hard to lose you now after all. I thought that when we got
home I might get the adjutancy of a militia regiment, and that we might
have been married. I think we might have managed on five hundred a year,
though perhaps I have no right to expect you to give up comforts and
luxuries to which you are accustomed; but I am afraid that when one is
in love one is apt to be selfish. However, all that is done with now,
as, of course, putting everything else aside, I could not think of
standing in your way in life. I love you much too well for that, dear
Madeline, and you are too beautiful and delicate to be the wife of a
poor subaltern with little beside his pay. I can honestly say that I
hope you will be happy. I don't ask you to think of me too often, as
that might make you less so, but perhaps sometimes when you are quiet
you will spare your old lover a thought or two, because I am sure nobody
could care for you more than I do. You need not be afraid that I shall
forget you or marry anybody else. I shall do neither the one nor the
other. I must close this now to catch the mail; I don't know that there
is anything more to say. It is a hard trial--very; but it is no good
being weak and giving way, and it consoles me to think that you are
'bettering yourself' as the servants say. Good-bye, dear Madeline. May
God bless you, is now and ever my earnest prayer.
"J. G. Peritt."
Scarcely was this letter finished and hastily dispatched when a loud
voice was heard calling, "Bottles, Bottles, my boy, come rejoice with
me; the orders have come--we sail in a fortnight;" followed by the owner
of the voice, another subaltern, and our hero's bosom friend. "Why,
you don't seem very elated," said he of the voice, noting his friend's
dejected and somewhat dazed appearance.
"No--that is, not particularly. So you sail in a fortnight, do you?"
"'You sail?' What do you mean? Why, we _all_ sail, of course, from the
colonel down to the drummer-boy."
"I don't think that I--I am going to sail, Jack," was the hesitating
"Look here, old fellow, are you off your head, or have you been
liquoring up, or what?"
"No--that is, I don't think so; certainly not the first--the second, I
"Then what do you mean?"
"I mean that, in short, I am sending in my papers. I like this climate
--I, in short, am going to take to farming."
"Sending in your papers! Going to take to farming! And in this
God-forsaken hole, too. You _must_ be screwed."
"No, indeed. It is only ten o'clock."
"And how about getting married, and the girl you are engaged to, and
whom you are looking forward so much to seeing. Is she going to take to
Bottles winced visibly.
"No, you see--in short, we have put an end to that. I am not engaged
"Oh, indeed," said the friend, and awkwardly departed.
Twelve years have passed since Bottles sent in his papers, and in twelve
years many things happen. Amongst them recently it had happened that our
hero's only and elder brother had, owing to an unexpected development
of consumption among the expectant heirs, tumbled into a baronetcy and
eight thousand a year, and Bottles himself into a modest but to him most
ample fortune of as many hundred. When the news reached him he was the
captain of a volunteer corps engaged in one of the numerous Basuto wars
in the Cape Colony. He served the campaign out, and then, in obedience
to his brother's entreaties and a natural craving to see his native
land, after an absence of nearly fourteen years, resigned his commission
and returned to England.
Thus it came to pass that the next scene of this little history opens,
not upon the South African veld, or in a whitewashed house in some
half-grown, hobbledehoy colonial town, but in a set of the most
comfortable chambers in the Albany, the local and appropriate habitation
of the bachelor brother aforesaid, Sir Eustace Peritt.
In a very comfortable arm-chair in front of a warm fire (for the month
is November) sits the Bottles of old days--bigger, uglier, shyer than
ever, and in addition, disfigured by an assegai wound through the cheek.
Opposite to him, and peering at him occasionally with fond curiosity
through an eyeglass, is his brother, a very different stamp of man.
Sir Eustace Peritt is a well-preserved, London-looking gentleman, of
apparently any age between thirty and fifty. His eye is so bright, his
figure so well preserved, that to judge from appearances alone you would
put him down to the former age. But when you come to know him so as to
be able to measure his consummate knowledge of the world, and to
have the opportunity of reflecting upon the good-natured but profound
cynicism which pleasantly pervades his talk as absolutely as the flavour
of lemon pervades rum punch, you would be inclined to assign his natal
day to a much earlier date. In reality he was forty, neither more nor
less, and had both preserved his youthful appearance and gained the
mellowness of his experience by a judicious use of the opportunities of
"Well, my dear George," said Sir Eustace, addressing his
brother--determined to take this occasion of meeting after so long a
time to be rid of the nickname "Bottles," which he hated--"I haven't had
such a pleasure for years."
"As meeting you again, of course. When I saw you on the vessel I knew
you at once. You have not changed at all, unless expansion can be called
"Nor have you, Eustace, unless contraction can be called a change. Your
waist used to be bigger, you know."
"Ah, George, I drank beer in those days; it is one of things of which I
have lived to see the folly. In fact, there are not many things of which
I have not lived to see the folly."
"Except living itself, I suppose?"
"Exactly--except living. I have no wish to follow the example of our
poor cousins," he answered with a sigh, "to whose considerate behaviour,
however," he added, brightening, "we owe our present improved position."
Then came a pause.
"Fourteen years is a long time, George; you must have had a rough time
"Yes, pretty rough. I have seen a good deal of irregular service, you
"And never got anything out of it, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes; I have got my bread and butter, which is all I am worth."
Sir Eustace looked at his brother doubtfully through his eyeglass. "You
are modest," he said; "that does not do. You must have a better opinion
of yourself if you want to get on in the world."
"I don't want to get on. I am quite content to earn a living, and I am
modest because I have seen so many better men fare worse."
"But now you need not earn a living any more. What do you propose to do?
Live in town? I can set you going in a very good lot. You will be quite
a lion with that hole in your cheek--by the way, you must tell me the
story. And then, you see, if anything happens to me you stand in for the
title and estates. That will be quite enough to float you."
Bottles writhed uneasily in his chair. "Thank you, Eustace; but really
I must ask you--in short, I don't want to be floated or anything of the
sort. I would rather go back to South Africa and my volunteer corps. I
would indeed. I hate strangers, and society, and all that sort of thing.
I'm not fit for it like you."
"Then what do you mean to do--get married and live in the country?"
Bottles coloured a little through his sun-tanned skin--a fact that did
not escape the eyeglass of his observant brother. "No, I am not going to
get married, certainly not."
"By the way," said Sir Eustace carelessly, "I saw your old flame, Lady
Croston, yesterday, and told her you were coming home. She makes a
"_What!_" ejaculated his brother, slowly raising himself out of his
chair in astonishment. "Is her husband dead?"
"Dead? Yes, died a year ago, and a good riddance too. He appointed me
one of his executors; I am sure I don't know why, for we never liked
each other. I think he was the most disagreeable fellow I ever knew.
They say he gave his wife a roughish time of it occasionally. Serve her
"Why did it serve her right?"
Sir Eustace shrugged his shoulders.
"When a heartless girl jilts the fellow she is engaged to in order to
sell herself to an elderly beast, I think she deserves all she gets.
This one did not get half enough; indeed, she has made a good thing of
it--better than she expected."
His brother sat down again before he answered in a constrained voice,
"Don't you think you are rather hard on her, Eustace?"
"Hard on her? No, not a bit of it. Of all the worthless women that
I know, I think Madeline Croston is the most worthless. Look how she
"Eustace," broke in his brother almost sharply, "if you don't mind, I
wish you would not talk of her like that to me. I can't--in short, I
don't like it."
Sir Eustace's eyeglass dropped out of Sir Eustace's eye--he had
opened it so wide to stare at his brother. "Why, my dear fellow," he
ejaculated, "you don't mean to tell me you still care for that woman?"
His brother twisted his great form about uncomfortably in the low chair
as he answered, "I don't know, I'm sure, about caring for her, but I
don't like to hear you say such things about her."
Sir Eustace whistled softly. "I am sorry if I offended you, old fellow,"
he said. "I had no idea that it was still a sore point with you. You
must be a faithful people in South Africa. Here the 'holy feelings of
the heart' are shorter lived. We wear out several generations of them in
Bottles did not go to bed till late that night. Long after Sir Eustace
--who, always careful of his health, never stopped up late if he could
avoid it--had vanished, yawning, his brother sat smoking pipe after pipe
and thinking. He had sat many times in the same way on a wagon-box in
the African veld, or up where the moonlight turned the falls of the
Zambesi into a rushing cataract of silver, or alone in his tent when all
the camp was sleeping round him. It was a habit of this queer, silent
man to sit and think for hours at night, and arose to a great
extent from an incapacity to sleep, that was the weak point in his
As for his meditations, they were various, but mostly the outcome of a
curious speculative side to his nature, which he never revealed to the
outside world. Dreams of a happiness of which heretofore his hard life
had given him no glimpse; semi-mystical, religious meditations upon
the great unknown around us; and grand schemes for the regeneration of
mankind--all formed part of them.
But there was one central thought, the fixed star of his mind, round
which all the others continually revolved, taking their light and colour
from it, and that was the thought of Madeline Croston, the woman to whom
he had been engaged. Years and years had passed since he had seen
her face, and yet it was always present to him. Beyond the occasional
mention of her name in some society paper--several of which, by the
way, he took in for years and conscientiously searched on the chance
of finding it--till this evening he had never even seen it or heard
it spoken; and yet with all the tenacity of his strong, deep nature he
clung to her dear memory. That she had left him to marry another man
weighed as nothing in the balance of his love. Once she had loved
him, and thereby he was repaid for the devotion of his life. He had
no ambitions. Madeline had been his great ambition; and when that had
fallen, all the others had fallen with it, even to the dust. He simply
did his duty, whatever it might be, as well as in him lay, without fear
of blame or hope of praise--shunning men, and never, if he could avoid
it, speaking to a woman, content to earn his livelihood, and for the
rest rendered colourless by his secret and pathetic passion.
And now it appeared that Madeline was a widow, which meant--and his
heart beat fast at the thought--that she was a free woman. Madeline was
a free woman, and he was within a few minutes' walk of her. No thousands
of miles of ocean rolled between them now. He rose, went to the table,
and consulted a Red book that lay on it. There was the address--a house
in Grosvenor Street. Overcome by an uncontrollable impulse, he went out
of the room. Going to his own he found his mackintosh and a round hat,
and softly left the house. It was then past two in the morning, pouring
with rain, and blowing hard.
He had been a little in London as a lad and remembered the main
thoroughfares, so had no great difficulty in finding his way up
Piccadilly till he came to Park Lane, into which the Red book told him
Grosvenor Square opened. But to find Grosvenor Street itself was a more
difficult matter, and at such a time on such a night there was naturally
nobody to ask--least of all a policeman. At last he found it, and
hurried on down the street with a quickening pulse. What he was hurrying
to he could not tell, but that over-mastering impulse forced him on
quicker and quicker yet.
Suddenly he halted, and examined the number of one of the houses by the
faint and struggling light from the nearest lamp. It was _her_ house;
now there was nothing between them but a few feet of space and fourteen
inches of brickwork. He crossed over to the other side of the street,
and looked up at the house, but could scarcely make it out through the
driving rain. There was no light in the house, and no sign of life about
the street. But there were both light and life in the heart of this
watcher. All the pulses of his blood were astir, keeping time with the
commotion of his mind. He stood there in the shadow, gazing at the murky
house, heedless of the bitter wind and pelting rain, and felt his life
and spirit pass out of his control into an unknown dominion. The storm
that raged around him was nothing to the convulsion of his inner self in
that hour of madness, which was yet happiness. Yet as it had arisen thus
suddenly, so with equal swiftness it died away, and left him standing
there with a chill sense of folly in his mind and of the bitter weather
in his body; for on such a night a mackintosh and a dress coat were not
adapted to keep the most ardent lover warm. He shivered, and turning,
made his way back to Albany, feeling heartily ashamed of himself and
his midnight expedition, and heartily glad that no one knew of it except
On the following day Bottles--for convenience' sake we still call him
by his old nickname--was obliged to see a lawyer with reference to the
money which he had inherited, and to search for a box which had gone
astray aboard the steamer; also to buy a tall hat, such as he had not
worn for fourteen years; so that between one thing and another it was
half-past four before he got back to the Albany. Here he donned the new
hat, which did not fit very well, and a new black coat which fitted
so well that it seemed to cut into his large frame in every possible
direction, and departed, furiously struggling with a pair of gloves,
also new, for Grosvenor Street.
A quarter of an hour's walk, for he knew the road this time, brought him
to the house. Glancing for a while at the spot where he had stood on the
previous night, he walked up the steps and pulled the bell. Though
he looked bold enough outwardly--indeed, rather imposing than
otherwise--with his broad shoulders and the great scar on his bronzed
face, his breast was full of terrors. In these, however, he had not
much time to indulge, for a footman, still decked in the trappings of
vicarious grief, opened the door with the most startling promptitude,
and he was ushered upstairs into a small but richly furnished room.
Madeline was not in the room, though to judge from the lace handkerchief
lying on the floor by a low chair, and the open novel on a little wicker
table alongside, she had not left it long. The footman departed, saying,
in a magnificent undertone, that "her ladyship" should be informed, and
left our hero to enjoy his sensations. Being one of those people whom
suspense of any sort makes fidgety, he employed himself in looking at
the pictures and china, even going so far as to walk to a pair of very
heavy blue velvet curtains that apparently communicated with another
room, and peep through them at a much larger apartment of which the
furniture was done up in ghostly-looking bags.
Retreating from this melancholy sight, finally he took up a position
on the hearthrug and waited. Would she be angry with him for coming? he
wondered. Would it recall things she had rather forget? But perhaps she
had already forgotten them--it was so long ago. Would she be very much
changed? Perhaps he should not know her. Perhaps--but here he happened
to lift his eyes, and there, standing between the two blue velvet
curtains, was Madeline, now a woman in the full splendour of a
remarkable beauty, and showing as yet, at any rate in that dull November
twilight, no traces of her years. There she stood, her large dark eyes
fixed upon him with a look of wistful curiosity, her shapely lips just
parted to speak, and her bosom gently heaving, as though with trouble.
Poor Bottles! One look was enough. There was no chance of his attaining
the blessed haven of disillusionment. In five seconds he was farther
out to sea than ever. When she knew that he had seen her she dropped her
eyes a little--he saw the long curved lashes appear against her cheek,
and moved forward.
"How do you do?" she said softly, extending her slim, cool hand.
He took the hand and shook it, but for the life of him could think of
nothing to say. Not one of the little speeches he had prepared would
come into his mind. Yet the desperate necessity of saying something
forced itself upon him.
"How do you do?" he ejaculated with a jerk. "It--it's very cold, isn't
This remark was such an utter and ludicrous _fiasco_ that Lady Croston
could not choose but laugh a little.
"I see," she said, "that you have not got over your shyness."
"It is a long while since we met," he blurted out.
"I am very glad to see you," was her simple answer. "Now sit down and
talk to me; tell me all about yourself. Stop; before you begin--how
very curious it is! Do you know I dreamed about you last night--such a
curious, painful dream. I dreamed that I was asleep in my room--which
indeed I was--and that it was blowing a gale and raining in
torrents--which I believe it was also--so there is nothing very
wonderful about that. But now comes the odd part. I dreamed that you
were standing out in the rain and wind and yet looking at me as though
you saw me. I could not see your face because you were in the dark,
but I knew it was you. Then I woke up with a start. It was a most vivid
dream. And now to-day you have come to see me after all these years."
He shifted his legs uneasily. Considering the facts of the case, her
dream frightened him, which was not strange. Fortunately, at that moment
the impressive footman arrived with the tea-things and asked whether he
should light the lamps.
"No," said Lady Croston; "put some wood on the fire." She knew that she
looked her very best in those half-lights.
Then, when she had given him his tea, delighting him by remembering that
he did not like sugar, she fell to drawing him out about the wild life
he had been leading.
"By the way," she said presently, "perhaps you can tell me--a few days
ago I bought a book for my boy"--she had two children--"all about brave
deeds and that sort of thing, and in it there was a story of a volunteer
officer in South Africa (the name was not mentioned) which interested
me very much. Did you ever hear of it? It was this: The officer was in
command of a fort containing a force that was operating against a native
chief. While he was away the chief sent a flag of truce down to the
fort, which was fired on by some of the volunteers in the fort, because
there was a man among the truce party against whom they had a spite.
Just afterwards the officer returned, and was very angry that such a
thing had been done by Englishmen, whose duty it was, he said, to teach
all the world what honour meant.
"Now comes the brave part of the story. Without saying any more,
and notwithstanding the entreaties of his men, who knew that in all
probability he was going to a death by torture, for he was so brave that
the natives had set a great price upon him, wishing to kill him and use
his body for medicine, which they thought would make them as brave as
he was, that officer rode out far away into the mountains with only
an interpreter and a white handkerchief, till he came to the chief's
stronghold. But when the natives saw him coming, holding up his white
handkerchief, they did not fire at him as his men had fired at them,
because they were so astonished at his bravery that they thought he
must be mad or inspired. So he came straight on to the walls of the
stronghold, called to the chief and begged his pardon for what had
happened, and then rode away again unharmed. Shortly afterwards, the
chief, having captured some of the officer's volunteers, whom in the
ordinary course of affairs he would have tortured to death, sent them
back again untouched, with a message to the effect that he would show
the English officer that he was not the only man who could behave 'like
a gentleman.' I should like to know that man. Do you know who he was?"
Bottles looked uncomfortable, as well he might, for it was an incident
in his own career; but her praise and enthusiasm sent a flush of pride
into his face.
"I believe it was some fellow in the Basuto War," he said, prevaricating
with peculiar awkwardness.
"Oh, then it _is_ a true story?"
"Yes--that is, it is partially true. There was nothing heroic about it.
It was a necessary act if our honour as fair opponents was to continue
to be worth anything."
"But who was the man?" she asked, fixing her dark eyes on him
"The man!" he stammered. "Oh, the man--well, in short----" and he
"In short, _George_," she put in, for the first time calling him by his
Christian name, "that man was _you_, and I am so proud of you, George."
It was very hateful to him in a way, for he loathed that kind of
personal adulation, even from her. He was so intensely modest he had
never even reported the incident in question; it had come out in some
roundabout way. Yet he could not but feel happy that she had found him
out. It was a great deal to him to have moved her, and her sparkling
eyes and heaving bosom showed that she was somewhat moved.
He looked up and his eyes caught hers; the room was nearly dark now, but
the bright flame from the wood the servant had put on the fire played
upon her face. His eyes caught hers, and there was a look in them from
which he could not escape, even if he had wished to do so. She had
thrown her head back so that the coronet of her glossy hair rested upon
the back of her low seat, and thus, without strain, could look straight
up into his face. He had risen, and was standing by the mantelpiece. A
slow, sweet smile grew upon the perfect face, and the dark eyes became
soft and luminous as though they shone through tears.
In another second it had ended, as she thought that it would end and had
intended that it should end. The great strong man was down--yes, down
on his knees before her, one trembling hand catching at the arm of
her chair, and the other clasping her tapering fingers. There was no
hesitation or awkwardness about him now, the greatness of his long-pent
passion inspired him, and he told her all without let or stop--all that
he had suffered for her sake throughout those lonely years, all his
wretched hopelessness, keeping nothing back.
Much she did not understand; such a passion as this was too deep to
be fathomed by her shallow lines, too soaring for her to net in her
world-straitened imagination. Once or twice even his exalted notions
made her smile: it seemed ridiculous, knowing the world as she did, that
any man should think thus of _any_ woman. Nor, when at length he had
finished, did she attempt an answer, feeling that her strength lay in
silence, for she had a poor case. At least, the only argument that she
used was a purely feminine one, but perfectly effective. She bent her
beautiful face towards him, and he kissed it again and again.
The revulsion of feeling experienced by Bottles as he hurried back to
the Albany to dress for dinner--for he was to dine with his brother at
one of his clubs that night--was so extraordinary and overwhelming that
it took him, figuratively speaking, off his legs. As yet his mind, so
long accustomed to perpetual misfortune in this, the ruling passion of
his life, could not quite grasp his luck. That he should, after all,
have won back his lost Madeline seemed altogether too good to be true.
As it happened, Sir Eustace had asked one or two men to meet him,
amongst them an Under-Secretary for the Colonies, who, having to prepare
for a severe cross-examination in the House upon South African affairs,
had jumped at the opportunity of sucking the brains of a man thoroughly
acquainted with the subject. But the expectant Under-Secretary was
destined to meet with a grievous disappointment, for out of Bottles
came no good thing. For the most part of the dinner he sat silent, only
speaking when directly addressed, and then answering so much at random
that the Under-Secretary quickly came to the conclusion that Sir
Eustace's brother was either a fool or that he had drunk too much.
Sir Eustace himself saw that his brother's taciturnity had spoilt his
little dinner, and his temper was not improved thereby. He was not
accustomed to have his dinners spoiled, and felt that, so far as the
Under-Secretary was concerned, he had put himself into a false position.
"My dear George," he said in a tone of bland exasperation when they had
got back to the Albany, "I wonder what can be the matter with you? I
told Atherleigh that you would be able to post him up thoroughly about
all this Bechuana mess, and he could not get a word out of you."
His brother absently filled his pipe before he answered:
"The Bechuanas? Oh, yes, I know all about them. I lived among them for a
"Then why on earth didn't you tell him what you knew? You put me in
rather a false position."
"I am very sorry, Eustace," he answered humbly. "I will go and see him
if you like, and explain the thing to him to-morrow. The fact of the
matter is, I was thinking of something else."
Sir Eustace interrogated him with a look.
"I was thinking," he went on slowly, "about Mad--about Lady Croston."
"I went to see her this afternoon, and I think, I hope, that I am going
to marry her."
If Bottles expected that this great news would be received by his
elder brother as such news ought to be received--with congratulatory
rejoicing--he was destined to be disappointed.
"Good heavens!" ejaculated Sir Eustace shortly, letting his eyeglass
"Why do you say that, Eustace?" Bottles asked uneasily.
"Because--because," answered his brother in the emphatic tone which was
his equivalent for strong language, "you must be mad to think of such a
"Why must I be mad?"
"Because you, still a young man, with all your life before you,
deliberately propose to tie yourself up to a middle-aged and _passee_
woman--she is extremely _passee_ by daylight, let me tell you--who
has already treated you like a dog, and is burdened with a couple of
children, and who, if she marries again, will bring you very little
except her luxurious tastes. But I expected this. I thought she would
try to catch you with those languishing black eyes of hers. You are not
the first; I know her of old."
"If," said his brother, rising in dudgeon, "you are going to abuse
Madeline to me, I think I had better say good night, for we shall
quarrel--which I would not do for anything."
Sir Eustace shrugged his shoulders. "Those whom the gods wish to destroy
they first make mad," he muttered, as he lit his hand candle. "This is
what comes of a course of South Africa."
But Sir Eustace was an amenable man. His favourite motto was "Live and
let live"; and having given the matter his best consideration during the
lengthy process of shaving himself on the following morning, he came to
the conclusion, reluctantly enough it must be owned, that it was evident
that his brother meant to have his own way, and therefore the best thing
to be done was to fall in with his views and trust to the chapter
of accidents to bring the thing to naught. Sir Eustace, for all his
apparent worldliness and cynicism, was a good fellow at heart, and
cherished a warm affection for his awkward, taciturn brother. He
also cherished a great dislike for Lady Croston, whose character he
thoroughly understood. He saw a good deal of her, it is true, because he
happened to be one of the executors of her husband's will; and since he
had come into the baronetcy it had struck him that she had developed a
considerable partiality for his society.
The idea of a marriage between his brother and his brother's old flame
was in every way distasteful to him. In the first place, under her
husband's will, Madeline would bring, comparatively speaking, relatively
little with her should she marry again. That was one objection. Another,
and still more forcible one from Sir Eustace's point of view, was that
at her time of life she was not likely to present the house of Peritt
with an heir. Now, Sir Eustace had not the slightest intention of
marrying. Matrimony was, he considered, an excellent institution, and
necessary to the carrying on of the world in a respectable manner, but
it was not one with which he was anxious to identify himself. Therefore,
if his brother married at all, it was his earnest desire that the union
should bring children to inherit the title and estates. Prominent above
both these excellent reasons, stood his intense distrust and dislike of
Needs must, however, when the devil (by whom he understood Madeline)
drives. He was not going to quarrel with his only brother and
presumptive heir because he chose to marry a woman who was not to his
taste. So he shrugged his shoulders--having finished his shaving and his
reflections together--and determined to put the best possible face on
"Well, George," he said to his brother at breakfast, "so you are going
to marry Lady Croston?"
Bottles looked up surprised. "Yes, Eustace," he answered, "if she will
Sir Eustace glanced at him. "I thought the affair was settled," he said.
Bottles rubbed his big nose reflectively as he answered, "Well, no.
I don't think that marriage was mentioned. But I suppose she means to
marry me. In short, I don't see how she could mean anything else."
Sir Eustace breathed more freely, guessing what had taken place. So
there was as yet no actual engagement.
"When are you going to see her again?"
"To-morrow. She is engaged all to-day."
His brother took out a pocket-book and consulted it. "Then I am more
fortunate than you are," he said; "I have an appointment with Lady
Croston this evening after dinner. Don't look jealous, old fellow, it is
only about some executor's business. I think I told you that I am one
of her husband's executors, blessings on his memory. She is a peculiar
woman, your _inamorata_, and swears that she won't trust her lawyers, so
I have to do all the dirty work myself, worse luck. You had better come
"Shan't I be in the way?" asked Bottles doubtfully, struggling feebly
against the bribe.
"It is evident, my dear fellow, that you cannot be _de trop_. I shall
present my papers for signature and vanish. You ought to be infinitely
obliged to me for giving you such a chance. We will consider that
settled. We will dine together, and go round to Grosvenor Street
Bottles agreed. Could he have seen the little scheme that was dawning in
his brother's brain, perhaps he would not have assented so readily.
When her old lover went away reluctantly to dress for dinner on the
previous day, Madeline Croston sat down to have a good think, and the
result was not entirely satisfactory. It had been very pleasant to
see him, and his passionate declaration of enduring love thrilled her
through and through, and even woke an echo in her own breast. It made
her proud to think that this man, who, notwithstanding his ugliness and
awkwardness, was yet, her instinct told her, worth half a dozen smart
London fashionables, still loved her and had never ceased to love her.
Poor Bottles! she had been very fond of him once. They had grown up
together, and it really gave her some cruel hours when a sense of what
she owed to herself and her family had forced her to discard him.
She remembered, as she sat there this evening, how at the time she had
wondered if it was worth it--if life would not be brighter and happier
if she made up her mind to fight through it by her honest lover's side.
Well, she could answer that question now. It had been well worth it. She
had not liked her husband, it is true; but on the whole she had enjoyed
a good time and plenty of money, and the power that money brings. The
wisdom of her later days had confirmed the judgment of her youth. As
regards Bottles himself, she had soon got over that fancy; for years
she had scarcely thought of him, till Sir Eustace told her that he was
coming home, and she had that curious dream about him. Now he had come
and made love to her, not in a civilised, philandering sort of a way,
such as she was accustomed to, but with a passion and a fire and an
utter self-abandonment which, while it thrilled her nerves with a
curious sensation of mingled pleasure and pain, not unlike that she once
experienced at a Spanish bull-fight when she saw a man tossed, was yet
extremely awkward to deal with and rather alarming.
Now, too, the old question had come up again, and what was to be done?
She had sheered him off the question that afternoon, but he would want
to marry her, she felt sure of that. If she consented, what were they to
live on? Her own juncture, in the event of her re-marriage, would be cut
down to a thousand a year--she had four now, and was pinched on that;
and as for Bottles, she knew what he had--eight hundred, for Sir Eustace
had told her. He was next heir to the baronetcy, it was true, but Sir
Eustace looked as though he would live for ever, and besides, he might
marry after all.
For a few minutes Lady Croston contemplated the possibility of existing
on eighteen hundred a year, and what Chancery would give her as guardian
of her children in a poky house somewhere down at Kensington. Soon she
realised that the thing was not to be done.
"Unless Sir Eustace will do something for him, it is very clear that we
cannot be married," she said to herself with a sigh. "However, I need
not tell him that just yet, or he will be rushing back to South Africa
Sir Eustace and his brother carried out their programme. They dined
together, and about half-past nine drove round to Grosvenor Street.
Here they were shown into the drawing-room by the solemn footman, who
informed Sir Eustace that her ladyship was upstairs in the nursery and
had left a message for him that she would be down presently.
"All right; there is no hurry," said Sir Eustace absently, and the man
Bottles, being nervous, was fidgeting round the room as usual, and his
brother, being very much at ease, was standing with his back to the
fire, and staring about him. Presently his glance lit upon the blue
velvet curtains which shut off the room they were in from the larger
saloon that had not been used since Lady Croston's widowhood, and an
idea which had been floating about in his brain suddenly took definite
shape and form. He was a prompt man, and in another second he had acted
up to that idea.
"George," he said in a quick, low voice, "listen to me, and for Heaven's
sake don't interrupt for a minute. You know that I do not like the idea
of your marrying Lady Croston. You know that I think her worthless--no,
wait a minute, don't interrupt--I am only saying what I think. You
believe in her; you believe that she is in love with you and will marry
you, and have good reason to believe it, have you not?"
"Very well. Supposing that I can show you within half an hour that she
is perfectly ready to marry somebody else--myself, for instance--would
you still believe in her?"
Bottles turned pale. "The thing is impossible," he said.
"That is not the question. Would you still believe in her, and would you
still marry her?"
"Great heavens! no."
"Good. Then I tell you what I will do for you, and it will perhaps
give you some idea of how deeply I feel in the matter; I will sacrifice
"Yes. I mean that I will this very evening propose to Madeline Croston
under your nose, and I bet you five pounds she accepts me."
"Impossible," said Bottles again. "Besides, if she did you don't want to
"Marry her! No, indeed. _I_ am not mad. I shall have to get out of the
scrape as best I can--always supposing my view of the lady is correct."
"Excuse me," said Bottles with a gasp, "but I must ask you--in short,
have _you_ ever been on affectionate terms with Madeline?"
"Never, on my honour."
"And yet you think she will marry you if you ask her, even after what
took place with me yesterday?"
"Yes, I do."
"Because, my boy," replied Sir Eustace with a cynical smile, "I have
eight thousand a year and you have eight hundred--because I have a title
and you have none. That you may happen to be the better fellow of the
two will, I fear, not make up for those deficiencies."
Bottles with a motion of his hand waved his brother's courtly compliment
away, as it were, and turned on him with a set white face.
"I do not believe you, Eustace," he said. "Do you understand what you
make out this lady to be when you say that she could kiss me and tell me
that she loved me--for she did both yesterday--and promise to marry you
Sir Eustace shrugged his shoulders. "I think that the lady in question
has done something like that before, George."
"That was years ago and under pressure. Now, Eustace, you have made this
charge; you have upset my faith in Madeline, whom I hope to marry, and I
say, prove it--prove it if you can. I will stake my life you cannot."
"Don't agitate yourself, my dear fellow; and as to betting, I would not
risk more than a fiver. Now oblige me by stepping behind those velvet
curtains--_a la_ 'School for Scandal'--and listening in perfect silence
to my conversation with Lady Croston. She does not know that you are
here, so she will not miss you. You can escape when you have had enough
of it, for there is a door through on to the landing, and as we came up
I noticed that it was ajar. Or if you like you can appear from between
the curtains like an infuriated husband on the stage and play whatever
_role_ occasion may demand. Really the situation has a laughable side.
I should enjoy it immensely if _I_ were behind the curtain too. Come, in
Bottles hesitated. "I can't hide," he said.
"Nonsense; remember how much depends on it. All is fair in love or war.
Quick; here she comes."
Bottles grew flurried and yielded, scarcely knowing what he did. In
another second he was in the darkened room behind the curtains, through
the crack in which he could command the lighted scene before him, and
Sir Eustace was back at his place before the fire, reflecting that in
his ardour to extricate his brother from what he considered a suicidal
engagement he had let himself in for a very pretty undertaking. Suppose
she accepted him, his brother would be furious, and he would probably
have to go abroad to get out of the lady's way; and suppose she refused
him, he would look a fool.
Meanwhile the sweep, sweep of Madeline's dress as she passed down the
stairs was drawing nearer, and in another instant she was in the room.
She was beautifully dressed in silver-grey silk, plentifully trimmed
with black lace, and cut square back and front so as to show her rounded
shoulders. She wore no ornaments, being one of the few women who are
able to dispense with them, unless indeed a red camellia pinned in the
front of her dress can be called an ornament. Bottles, shivering with
shame and doubt behind his curtain, marked that red camellia, and
wondered of what it reminded him.
Then in a flash it all came back, the scene of years and years ago--the
verandah in far-away Natal, with himself sitting on it, an open letter
in his hand and staring with all his eyes at the camellia bush covered
with bloom before him. It seemed a bad omen to him--that camellia in
Madeline's bosom. Next second she was speaking.
"Oh, Sir Eustace, I owe you a thousand apologies. You must have been
here for quite ten minutes, for I heard the front door bang when you
came. But my poor little girl Effie is ill with a sore throat which has
made her feverish, and she absolutely refused to go to sleep unless she
had my hand to hold."
"Lucky Effie," said Sir Eustace, with his politest bow; "I am sure I can
understand her fancy."
At the moment he was holding Madeline's hand himself, and gave emphasis
to his words by communicating the gentlest possible pressure to it as
he let it fall. But knowing his habits, she did not take much notice.
Comparative strangers when Sir Eustace shook hands with them were
sometimes in doubt whether he was about to propose to them or to make a
remark upon the weather. Alas! it had always been the weather.
"I come as a man of business besides, and men of business are accustomed
to being kept waiting," he went on.
"You are really very good, Sir Eustace, to take so much trouble about my
"It is a pleasure, Lady Croston."
"Ah, Sir Eustace, you do not expect me to believe that," laughed
the radiant creature at his side. "But if you only knew how I detest
lawyers, and what you spare me by the trouble you take, I am sure you
would not grudge me your time."
"Do not talk of it, Lady Croston. I would do a great deal more than that
for you; in fact," here he dropped his voice a little, "there are few
things that I would not do for you, _Madeline_."
She raised her delicate eyebrows till they looked like notes of
interrogation, and blushed a little. This was quite a new style for Sir
Eustace. Was he in earnest? she wondered. Impossible!
"And now for business," he continued; "not that there is much business;
as I understand it, you have only to sign this document, which I have
already witnessed, and the stock can be transferred."
She signed the paper which he had brought in a big envelope almost
without looking at it, for she was thinking of Sir Eustace's remark, and
he put it back in the envelope.
"Is that all the business, Sir Eustace?" she asked.
"Yes; quite all. Now I suppose that as I have done my duty I had better
"I wish to Heaven he would!" groaned Bottles to himself behind the
curtains. He did not like his brother's affectionate little ways or
Madeline's tolerance of them.
"Indeed, no; you had better sit down and talk to me--that is, if you
have got nothing pleasanter to do."
We can guess Sir Eustace's prompt reply and Madeline's smiling reception
of the compliment, as she seated herself in a low chair--that same low
chair she had occupied the day before.
"Now for it," said Sir Eustace to himself. "I wonder how George is
"My brother tells me that he came to see you yesterday," he began.
"Yes," she answered, smiling again, but wondering in her heart how much
he had told him.
"Do you find him much changed?"
"You used to be very fond of each other once, if I remember right?" said
"I often think how curious it is," went on Sir Eustace in a reflective
tone, "to watch the various changes time brings about, especially where
the affections are concerned. One sees children at the seaside making
little mounds of sand, and they think, if they are very young children,
that they will find them there to-morrow. But they reckon without their
tide. To-morrow the sands will have swept as level as ever, and the
little boys will have to begin again. It is like that with our youthful
love affairs, is it not? The tide of time comes up and sweeps them away,
fortunately for ourselves. Now in your case, for instance, it is, I
think, a happy thing for both of you that your sandhouse did not last.
Is it not?"
Madeline sighed softly. "Yes, I suppose so," she answered.
Bottles, behind the curtains, rapidly reviewed the past, and came to a
"Well, that is all done with," said Sir Eustace cheerfully.
Madeline did not contradict him; she did not see her way to doing so
just at present.
Then came a pause.
"Madeline," said Sir Eustace presently, in a changed voice, "I have
something to say to you."
"Indeed, Sir Eustace," she answered, lifting her eyebrows again in her
note of interrogation manner, "what is it?"
"It is this, Madeline--I want to ask you to be my wife."
The blue velvet curtains suddenly gave a jump as though they were
assisting at at spiritualistic _seance_.
Sir Eustace looked at the curtains with warning in his eye.
Madeline saw nothing.
"Really, Sir Eustace!"
"I dare say I surprise you," went on this ardent lover; "my suit may
seem a sudden one, but in truth it is nothing of the sort."
"O Lord, what a lie!" groaned the distracted Bottles.
"I thought, Sir Eustace," murmured Madeline in her sweet low voice,
"that you told me not very long ago that you never meant to marry."
"Nor did I, Madeline, because I thought there was no chance of my
marrying you" ("which I am sure I hope there isn't," he added to
himself). "But--but, Madeline, I love you." ("Heaven forgive me for
that!") "Listen to me, Madeline, before you answer," and he drew his
chair closer to her own. "I feel the loneliness of my position, and I
want to get married. I think that we should suit each other very well.
At our age, now that our youth is past" (he could not resist this dig,
at which Madeline winced), "probably neither of us would wish to marry
anybody much our junior. I have had many opportunities lately, Madeline,
of seeing the beauty of your character, and to the beauties of your
person no man could be blind. I can offer you a good position, a good
fortune, and myself, such as I am. Will you take me?" and he laid his
hand upon hers and gazed earnestly into her eyes.
"Really, Sir Eustace," she murmured, "this is so very unexpected and
"Yes, Madeline, I know it is. I have no right to take you by storm
in this way, but I trust you will not allow my precipitancy to weight
against me. Take a little time to think it over--a week say" ("by which
time," he reflected, "I hope to be in Algiers.") "Only, if you can,
Madeline, tell me that I may hope."
She made no immediate answer, but, letting her hands fall idly in her
lap, looked straight before her, her beautiful eyes fixed upon vacancy,
and her mind amply occupied in considering the pros and cons of the
situation. Then Sir Eustace took heart of grace; bending down, he kissed
the Madonna-like face. Still there was no response. Only very gently she
pushed him from her, whispering:
"Yes, Eustace, I think I shall be able to tell you that you may hope."
Bottles waited to see no more. With set teeth and flaming eyes he crept,
a broken man, through the door that led on to the landing, crept down
the stairs and into the hall. On the pegs were his hat and coat; he took
them and passed into the street.
"I have done a disgraceful thing," he thought, "and I have paid for it."
Softly as the door closed Sir Eustace heard it; and then he too left the
room, murmuring, "I shall soon come for my answer, Madeline."
When he reached the street his brother was gone.
Sir Eustace did not go straight back to the Albany, but, calling a
hansom, drove down to his club.
"Well," he thought to himself, "I have played a good many curious parts
in my time, but I never had to do with anything like this before. I only
hope George is not much cut up. His eyes ought to be opened now. What a
woman----" but we will not repeat Sir Eustace's comments upon the lady
to whom he was nominally half engaged.
At the club Sir Eustace met his friend the Under-Secretary, who had
just escaped from the House. Thanks to information furnished to him
that morning by Bottles, who had been despatched by Sir Eustace, in a
penitent mood, to the Colonial Office to see him, he had just succeeded
in confusing, if not absolutely in defeating, the impertinent people who
"wanted to know." Accordingly he was jubilant, and greeted Sir Eustace
with enthusiasm, and they sat talking together for an hour or more.
Then Sir Eustace, being, as has been said, of early habits, made his way
In his sitting-room he found his brother smoking and contemplating the
"Hullo, old fellow!" he said, "I wish you had come to the club with me.
Atherleigh was there, and is delighted with you. What you told him this
morning enabled him to smash up his enemies, and as the smashing lately
has been rather the other way he is jubilant. He wants you to go to see
him again to-morrow. Oh, by the way, you made your escape all right. I
only hope I may be as lucky. Well, what do you think of your lady-love
"I think," said Bottles slowly--"that I had rather not say what I do
"Well, you are not going to marry her now, I suppose?"
"No, I shall not marry her."
"That is all right; but I expect that it will take _me_ all I know to
get clear of her. However, there are some occasions in life when one is
bound to sacrifice one's own convenience, and this is one of them. After
all, she is really very pretty in the evening, so it might have been
Bottles winced, and Sir Eustace took a cigarette.
"By the way, old fellow," he said, as he settled himself in his chair
again, "I hope you are not put out with me over this. Believe me, you
have no cause to be jealous; she does not care a hang about me, it
is only the title and the money. If a fellow who was a lord and had a
thousand a year more proposed to her to-morrow she would chuck me up and
"No; I am not angry with you," said Bottles; "you meant kindly, but I am
angry with myself. It was not honourable to--in short, play the spy upon
a woman's weakness."
"You are very scrupulous," yawned Sir Eustace; "all means are fair to
catch a snake. Dear me, I nearly exploded once or twice; it was better
than [yawn] any [yawn] play," and Sir Eustace went to sleep.
Bottles sat still and stared at the fire.
Presently his brother woke up with a start. "Oh, you are there, are you,
Bottles?" (it was the first time he had called him by that name since
his return.) "Odd thing; but do you know that I was dreaming that we
were boys again, and trout-fishing in the old Cantlebrook stream. I
dreamt that I hooked a big fish, and you were so excited that you jumped
right into the river after it--you did once, you remember--and the river
swept you away and left me on the bank; most unpleasant dream. Well,
good night, old boy. I vote we go down and have some trout-fishing
together in the spring. God bless you!"
"Good night," said Bottles, gazing affectionately after his brother's
Then he too rose and went to his bedroom. On a table stood a battered
old tin despatch-box--the companion of all his wanderings. He opened it
and took from it first a little bottle of chloral.
"Ah," he said, "I shall want you if I am to sleep again." Setting the
bottle down, he extracted from a dirty envelope one or two letters and a
faded photograph. It was the same that used to hang over his bed in his
quarters at Maritzburg. These he destroyed, tearing them into small bits
with his strong brown fingers.
Then he shut the box and sat down at the table to think, opening the
sluice-gates of his mind and letting the sea of misery flow in, as it
This, then, was the woman whom he had forgiven and loved and honoured
for all these years. This was the end and this the reward of all his
devotion and of all his hopes. And he smiled in bitterness of his pain
What was he to do? Go back to South Africa? He had not the heart for it.
Live here? He could not. His existence had been wasted. He had lost his
delusion--the beautiful delusion of his life--and he felt as though it
would drive him mad, as the man whose shadow left him went mad.
He rose from the chair, opened the window, and looked out. It was a
clear frosty night, and the stars shone brightly. For some while he
stood looking at them; then he undressed himself. Generally, for he was
different to most men, he said his prayers. For years, indeed, he had
not missed doing so, any more than he had missed praying Providence in
them to watch over and bless his beloved Madeline. But to-night he said
no prayers. He could not pray. The three angels, Faith, Hope, and Love,
whose whisperings heretofore had been ever in his ears, had taken wing,
and left him as he played the eavesdropper behind those blue velvet
So he swallowed his sleeping-draught and laid himself down to rest.
* * * * *
When Madeline Croston heard the news at a dinner-party on the following
evening she was much shocked, and made up her mind to go home early. To
this day she tells the story as a frightful warning against the careless
use of chloral.
The Rev. Thomas Bull was a man of rock-like character with no more
imagination than a rock. Of good birth, good abilities, good principles
and good repute, really he ought to have been named not Thomas but John
Bull, being as he was a typical representative of the British middle
class. By nature a really religious man and, owing to the balance of his
mind, not subject to most of the weaknesses which often afflict others,
very early in his career he determined that things spiritual were of far
greater importance than things temporal, and that as Eternity is much
longer than Time, it was wise to devote himself to the spiritual and
leave the temporal to look after itself. There are quite a number
of good people, earnest believers in the doctrine of rewards and
punishments, who take that practical view. With such
"Repaid a thousand-fold shall be,"
is a favourite line of a favourite hymn.
It is true that his idea of the spiritual was limited. Perhaps it would
be more accurate to say that it was unlimited, since he accepted without
doubt or question everything that was to be found within the four
corners of what he had been taught. As a boy he had been noted for his
prowess in swallowing the largest pills.
"Don't think," he would say to his weaker brothers and sisters,
especially one of the latter whose throat seemed to be so constituted
that she was obliged to cut up these boluses with a pair of scissors,
"Don't think, but gulp 'em down!"
So it was with everything else in life; Thomas did not think, he gulped
it down. Thus in these matters of faith, if other young folk ventured to
talk of "allegory" or even to cast unhallowed doubts upon such points
as those of the exact method of the appearance on this earth of their
Mother Eve, or whether the sun actually did stand still at the bidding
of Joshua, or the ark, filled with countless pairs of living creatures,
floated to the top of Ararat, or Jonah, defying digestive juices, in
fact abode three days in the interior of a whale, Thomas looked on them
with a pitying smile and remarked that what had been written by Moses
and other accepted prophets was enough for him.
Indeed a story was told of him when he was a boy at school which well
exemplified this attitude. By way of lightening their labours a very
noted geologist who had the art of interesting youthful audiences and
making the rocks of the earth tell their own secular story, was brought
to lecture to his House. This eminent man lectured extremely well. He
showed how beyond a doubt the globe we inhabit, one speck of matter,
floating in the sea of space, had existed for millions upon millions of
years, and how by the evolutionary changes of countless ages it had
at length become fitted to be the habitation of men, who probably
themselves had lived and moved and had their being there for at least a
million of years, perhaps much longer.
At the conclusion of the entrancing story the boys were invited to ask
questions. Thomas Bull, a large, beetle-browed youth, rose at once
and inquired of their titled and aged visitor, a man of world-wide
reputation, why he thought it funny to tell them fairy tales. The old
gentleman, greatly interested, put on his spectacles, and while the rest
of the school gasped and the head master and other pedagogues stared
amazed, studied this strange lad, then said:
"I am outspoken myself, and I like those who speak out when they do so
from conviction; but, my young friend, why do you consider that I--well,
"Because the Bible says so," replied Thomas unabashed. "The Bible tells
us that the world was made in six days, not in millions of years, and
that the sun and the moon and the stars were put in the sky to light it;
also that man was created four thousand years B.C. Therefore, either you
are wrong, sir, or the Bible is, and _I_ prefer the Bible."
The eminent scientist took off his spectacles and carefully put them
"Most logical and conclusive. Pray, young gentleman, do not allow
any humble deductions of my own or others to interfere with your
convictions. Only I believe it was Archbishop Ussher, not the Bible, who
said that the world began about 4,000 B.C. I think that one day you may
become a great man--in your own way. Meanwhile I might suggest that a
certain sugaring of manners sweetens controversy."
After this no more questions were asked, and the meeting broke up in
From all of which it will be gathered that since none of us is perfect,
even in Thomas there were weak points. For instance, he had what is
known as a "temper," also he was blessed with a good idea of himself and
his own abilities, and had a share of that intolerance by which this is
so often accompanied.
In due course Thomas Bull became a theological student. Rarely was there
such a student. He turned neither to left nor right, worked eight hours
a day when he did not work ten, and took the highest possible degrees on
every subject. Then he was ordained. About this time he chanced to hear
a series of sermons by a Colonial bishop that directed his mind towards
the mission-field. This was after he had served as a deacon in an East
End parish and become acquainted with savagery in its western form.
He consulted with his friends and his superiors as to whether his true
call were not to the far parts of the earth. Unanimously they answered
that they thought so; so unanimously that a mild fellow-labourer whom
he bullied was stung to the uncharitable remark that almost it looked as
though they wanted to be rid of him. Perhaps they did; perhaps they held
that for energy so gigantic there was no fitting outlet in this narrow
But as it chanced there was another to be consulted, for by this time
the Rev. Thomas Bull had become engaged to the only daughter of a
deceased London trader--in fact, he had been a shop-keeper upon a large
scale. This worthy citizen had re-married late in life, choosing, or
being chosen by a handsome and rather fashionable lady of a somewhat
higher class than his own, who was herself a widow. By her he had no
issue, his daughter, Dorcas, being the child of his first marriage. Mr.
Humphreys, for that was his name, made a somewhat peculiar will, leaving
all his fortune, which was considerable, to his young widow, charged,
however, with an annuity of 300 pounds settled on his daughter Dorcas.
On the day before his death, however, he added a codicil which angered
Mrs. Humphreys very much when she saw it, to the effect that if she
re-married, three-fourths of the fortune were to pass to Dorcas at once,
and that she or her heirs were ultimately to receive it all upon the
decease of his wife.
The result of these testamentary dispositions was that one house,
although it chanced to be large, proved too small to hold Mrs. Humphreys
and her stepdaughter, Dorcas. The latter was a mild and timid little
creature with a turned-up nose, light-coloured fluffy hair and
an indeterminate mouth. Still there was a degree of annoyance and
fashionable scorn at which her spirit rose. The end of it was that she
went to live on her three hundred a year and to practise good works in
the East End, being laudably determined to make a career for herself,
which she was not in the least fitted to do.
Thus it was that Dorcas came into contact with the Rev. Thomas Bull.
From the first time she saw her future husband he dominated and
fascinated her. He was in the pulpit and really looked very handsome
there with his burly form, his large black eyes and his determined,
clean-shaven face. Moreover, he preached well in his own vigorous
On this occasion he was engaged in denouncing the vices and pettiness of
modern woman--upper-class modern woman--of whom he knew nothing at
all, a topic that appealed to an East End congregation. He showed how
worthless was this luxurious stamp of females, what a deal they thought
of dress and of other more evil delights. He compared them to the
Florentines whom Savonarola (in his heart Thomas saw resemblances
between himself and that great if narrow man) scourged till they wept in
repentance and piled up their jewels and fripperies to be burned.
What do they do with their lives, he asked. Is there one in ten thousand
of them who would abandon her luxuries and go forth to spread the light
in the dark places of earth, or would even pinch herself to support
others who did? And so on for thirty minutes.
Dorcas, listening and, reflecting on her stepmother, thought how
marvellously true it all was. Had he known her personally, which so far
as she was aware was not the case, the preacher could not have described
her better. Also it was certain that Mrs. Humphreys and her friends had
not the slightest intention of spreading any kind of light, unless it
were that of their own eyes and jewels, or of going anywhere to do so,
except perhaps to Monte Carlo in the spring.
How noble too was the picture he painted of the life of self-sacrifice
and high endeavour that lay open to her sex. She would like to lead
that higher life, being in truth a good-hearted little thing full of
righteous impulses; only unfortunately she did not know how, for her
present mild and tentative efforts had been somewhat disappointing in
Then an inspiration seized her; she would consult Mr. Bull.
She did so, with results that might have been anticipated. Within three
months she and her mentor were engaged and within six married.
It was during those fervid weeks of engagement that the pair agreed, not
without a little hesitation upon the part of Dorcas, that in due course
he would become a missionary and set forth to convert the heathen in
what he called "Blackest Africa." First, however, there was much to be
done; he must go through a long course of training; he must acquaint
himself with various savage languages, such as Swahili and Zulu, and so
Oh! how poor Dorcas, who was not very clever and had no gift of tongues
came to loathe those barbaric dialects. Still she worked away at them
like a heroine, confining herself ultimately, with a wise and practical
prescience, to learning words and sentences that dealt with domestic
affairs, as as "Light the fire." "Put the kettle on to boil." "Sister,
have you chopped the wood?" "Cease making so much noise in the
kitchen-hut." "Wake me if you hear the lion eating our cow." And so
For more than a year after their marriage these preliminaries continued
while Thomas worked like a horse, though it is true that Dorcas
slackened her attention to Swahili and Zulu grammar in the pressure of
more immediate affairs. Especially was this so after the baby was born,
a girl, flaxen-haired like her mother, whom Thomas christened by the
name of Tabitha, and who in after years became the "Little Flower" of
this history. Then as the time of departure drew near another thing
happened. Her stepmother, Mrs. Humphreys, insisted upon going to a ball
in Lent, where she caught a chill that developed into inflammation of
the lungs and killed her.
The result of this visitation of Providence, as Thomas called it, was
that Dorcas suddenly found herself a rich woman with an income of quite
2000 pounds a year, for her father had been wealthier than she knew.
Now temptation took hold of her. Why, she asked herself, should Thomas
depart to Africa to teach black people, when with his gifts and her
means he could stop at home comfortably and before very long become a
bishop, or at the least a dean?
Greatly daring, she propounded this matter to her husband, only to find
that she might better have tried to knock down a stone wall with
her head than induce him to change his plans. He listened to her
patiently--unless over-irritated, a perfectly exasperating patience was
one of his gifts--then said in a cold voice that he was astonished at
"When you were poor," he went on, "you vowed yourself to this service,
and now because we are rich you wish to turn traitor and become a seeker
after the fleshpots of Egypt. Never let me hear you mention the matter
"But there is the baby," she exclaimed. "Africa is hot and might not
agree with her."
"Heaven will look after the baby," he answered.
"That's just what I am afraid of," wailed Dorcas.
Then they had their first quarrel, in the course of which, be it
admitted, she said one or two spiteful things. For instance, she
suggested that the real reason he wished to go abroad was because he was
so unpopular with his brother clergymen at home, and especially with his
superiors, to whom he was fond of administering lectures and reproofs.
It ended, of course, in her being crushed as flat as is a broken-winged
butterfly that comes in the path of a garden roller. He stood up and
towered over her.
"Dorcas," he said, "do what you will. Stay here if you wish, and enjoy
your money and your luxuries. I sail on the first of next month for
Africa. Because you are weak, do I cease to be strong?"
"I think not," she replied, sobbing, and gave in.
So they sailed, first class--this was a concession, for he had intended
to go third--but without a nurse; on that point he stood firm.
"You must learn to look after your own children," he said, a remark at
which she made a little face that meant more than he knew.
The career of Mr. and Mrs. Bull during the next eight years calls for
but little comment. Partly because Tabitha was delicate at first and
must be within reach of doctors, they lived for the most part at various
coast cities in Africa, where Thomas worked with his usual fervour
and earnestness, acquiring languages which he learned to speak with
considerable perfection, though Dorcas never did, and acquainting
himself thoroughly with the local conditions in so far as they affected
He took no interest in anything else, not even in the history of the
natives, or their peculiar forms of culture, since for the most part
they have a secret culture of their own. All that was done with, he
said, a turned page of the black and barbarous past; it was his business
to write new things upon a new sheet. Perhaps it was for this reason
that Thomas Bull never really came to understand or enter into the heart
of a Zulu, or a Basuto, or a Swahili, or indeed of any dark-skinned man,
woman, or child. To him they were but brands to be snatched from the
burning, desperate and disagreeable sinners who must be saved, and he
set to work to save them with fearful vigour.
His wife, although her vocabulary was still extremely limited and much
eked out with English or Dutch words, got on much better with them.
"You know, Thomas," she would say, "they have all sorts of fine ideas
which we don't understand, and are not so bad in their way, only you
must find out what their way is."
"I have found out," he said grimly; "it is a very evil way, the way of
destruction. I wish you would not make such a friend of that sly black
nurse-girl who tells me a lie once out of every three times she opens
For the rest Dorcas was fairly comfortable, as with their means she
was always able to have a nice house in whatever town they might be
stationed, where she could give tennis parties and even little lunches
and dinners, that is if her husband chanced to be away, as often he
was visiting up-country districts, or taking the duty there for another
missionary who was sick or on leave. Indeed, in these conditions she
came to like Africa fairly well, for she was a chilly little thing who
loved its ample, all-pervading sunshine, and made a good many friends,
especially among young men, to whom her helplessness and rather forlorn
little face appealed.
The women, too, liked her, for she was kindly and always ready to help
in case of poverty or other distresses. Luckily, in a way, she was her
own mistress, since her fortune came to her unfettered by any marriage
settlements; moreover, it was in the hands of trustees, so that the
principal could not be alienated. Therefore she had her own account and
her own cheque-book and used her spare money as she liked. More than one
poor missionary's wife knew this and called her blessed, as through her
bounty they once again looked upon the shores of England or were able
to send a sick child home for treatment. But of these good deeds Dorcas
never talked, least of all to her husband. If he suspected them, after
one encounter upon some such matter, in which she developed a hidden
strength and purpose, he had the sense to remain silent.
So things went on for years, not unhappily on the whole, for as they
rolled by the child Tabitha grew acclimatised and much stronger. By this
time, although Dorcas loved her husband as all wives should, obeying him
in all, or at any rate in most things, she had come to recognise that he
and she were very differently constituted. Of course, she knew that
he was infinitely her superior, and indeed that of most people. Like
everybody else she admired his uprightness, his fixity of purpose and
his devouring energy and believed him to be destined to great things.
Still, to tell the truth, which she often confessed with penitence
upon her knees, on the whole she felt happier, or at any rate more
comfortable, during his occasional absences to which allusion has been
made, when she could have her friends to tea and indulge in human gossip
without being called "worldly."
It only remains to add that her little girl Tabitha, a name she
shortened into Tabbie, was her constant joy, especially as she had no
other children. Tabbie was a bright, fair-haired little thing, clever,
too, with resource and a will of her own, an improved edition of
herself, but in every way utterly unlike her father, a fact that
secretly annoyed him. Everybody loved Tabitha, and Tabitha loved
everybody, not excepting the natives, who adored her. Between the
Kaffirs and Tabitha there was some strong natural bond of sympathy. They
understood one another.
At length came the blow.
It happened thus. Not far from the borders of Zululand but in the
country that is vaguely known as Portuguese Territory, was a certain
tribe of mixed Zulu and Basuto blood who were called the Ama-Sisa, that
is, the People of the Sisa. Now "Sisa" in the Zulu tongue has a peculiar
meaning which may be translated as "Sent Away." It is said that they
acquired this name because the Zulu kings when they exercised dominion
over all that district were in the habit of despatching large herds of
the royal cattle to be looked after by these people, or in their own
idiom to be _sisa'd_, i.e. agisted, as we say in English of stock that
are entrusted to another to graze at a distance from the owner's home.
Some, however, gave another reason. In the territory of this tribe was
a certain spot of which we shall hear more later, where these same
Zulu kings were in the habit of causing offenders against their law or
customs to be executed. Such also, like the cattle, were "sent away,"
and from one of these two causes, whichever it may have been, or perhaps
from both, the tribe originally derived its name.
It was not a large tribe, perhaps there were three hundred and fifty
heads of families in it, or say something under two thousand souls in
all, descendants, probably, of a mild, peace-loving, industrious Basuto
stock on to which had been grafted a certain number of the dominant,
warlike Zulus who perhaps had killed out the men and possessed
themselves of the Basuto women and their cattle. The result was that
among this small people there were two strains, one of the bellicose
type, who practically remained Zulus, and the other of the milder and
more progressive Basuto stamp, who were in the majority.
Among these Sisas missionaries had been at work for a number of years,
with results that on the whole were satisfactory. More than half of
them had been baptised and were Christians of a sort; a church had been
built; a more or less modern system of agriculture had been introduced,
and the most of the population wore trousers or skirts, according to
sex. Recently, however, trouble had arisen over the old question of
polygamy. The missionaries would not tolerate more than one wife, while
the Zulu section of the tribe insisted upon the old prerogative of
The dispute had ended in something like actual fighting, in the course
of which the church and the school were burnt, also the missionary's
house. Because of these troubles this excellent man was forced to camp
out in the wet, for it was the rainy season, and catching a chill, died
suddenly of heart-failure following rheumatic fever just after he had
moved into his new habitation, which consisted of some rather glorified
Subsequently to these events there came a petition from the chief of the
tribe, a man called Kosa, whose name probably derived from the Zulu word
Koos, which means chief or captain, addressed to the Church authorities
and asking that a new Teacher might be sent to take the place of him who
had died, also to rebuild the church and the school. If this were not
done, said the messengers, the tribe would relapse into heathenism,
since the Zulu and anti-Christian party headed by an old witch-doctor,
named Menzi, was strong and gaining ground.
This was an appeal that could not be neglected, since hitherto the Sisa
had been a spot of light in a dark place, as most of the surrounding
peoples, who were of the old Zulu stock, remained heathen. If that light
went out the chances were that they would continue to be so, whereas if
it went on burning another result might be hoped, since from a spark a
great fire may come. Therefore earnest search was made for a suitable
person to deal with so difficult and delicate a situation, with the
result that the lot fell upon the Rev. Thomas Bull.
Once his name was mentioned, it was acclaimed by all. He was the very
man, they said, bold, determined, filled with a Jesuit's fiery zeal
(although it need scarcely be explained that he hated Jesuits as a cat
does mustard), one whom no witch-doctors would daunt, one, moreover,
who being blessed with this world's goods would ask no pay, but on the
contrary would perhaps contribute a handsome sum towards the re-building
of the church. This, it may be explained, as the Mission itself scarcely
possessed a spare penny with which to bless itself, was a point that
could not be overlooked.
So Thomas was sent for and offered the post, after its difficulties and
drawbacks had been fairly but diplomatically explained to him. He did
not hesitate a minute, or at any rate five minutes; he took it at once,
feeling that his call had come; also that it was the very thing for
which he had been seeking. Up in that secluded spot in Portuguese
Territory he would, he reflected, be entirely on his own, a sort of
little bishop with no one to interfere with him, and able to have his
own way about everything, which in more civilised regions he found he
could not do. Here a set of older gentlemen, who were always appealing
to their experience of natives, continually put a spoke into his wheel,
bringing his boldest plans to naught. There it would be different.
He would fashion his own wheel and grind the witch-doctor with his
following to dust beneath its iron rim. He said that he would go at
once, and what is more, he promised a donation of 1,000 pounds towards
the rebuilding of the church and other burnt-out edifices.
"That is very generous of Bull," remarked the Dean when he had left the
"Yes," said another dignitary, "only I think that the undertaking
must be looked upon as conditional. I understand, well, that the money
belongs to Mrs. Bull."
"Probably she will endorse the bond as she is a liberal little woman,"
said the Dean, "and in any case our brother Bull, if I may be pardoned
a vulgarism, will knock the stuffing out of that pestilent Menzi and his
"Do you think so?" asked the other. "I am not so certain. I have met old
Menzi, and he is a tough nut to crack. He may 'knock the stuffing' out
of him. Bull, sound as he is, and splendid as he is in many ways, does
not, it seems to me, quite understand natives, or that it is easier to
lead them than to drive them."
"Perhaps not," said the Dean, "but in the case of these Sisas it is
rather a matter of Hobson's choice, isn't it?"
So this affair was settled, and in due course Thomas received his letter
of appointment as priest-in-charge of the Sisa station.
On his arrival home a few days later, where he was not expected till the
following week, Thomas was so pre-occupied that he scarcely seemed to
notice his wife's affectionate greeting; even the fact that both she
and Tabitha were arrayed in smart and unmissionary-like garments escaped
him. Dorcas also looked pre-occupied, the truth being that she had
asked a few young people, officers and maidens of the place (alas! as
it chanced, among them were no clergy or their wives and daughters), to
play tennis that afternoon and some of them to stop to supper. Now she
was wondering how her austere spouse would take the news. He might
be cross and lecture her; when he was both cross and lectured the
combination was not agreeable.
A few formal enquiries as to health and a certain sick person were made
and answered. Dorcas assured him that they were both quite well, Tabitha
especially, and that she had visited the afflicted woman as directed.
"And how was she, dear?" he asked.
"I don't know, dear," she answered. "You see, when I got to the house
I met Mrs. Tomley, the Rector's wife, at the door, and she said, rather
pointedly I thought, that she and her husband were looking after the
case, and though grateful for the kind assistance you had rendered, felt
that they need not trouble us any more, as the patient was a parishioner
"Did they?" said Thomas with a frown. "Considering all things--well, let
Dorcas was quite content to do so, for she was aware that her husband's
good-heartedness was apt to be interpreted as poaching by some who
should have known better, and that in fact the ground was dangerous.
"I have something to tell you," she began nervously, "about an
arrangement I have made for this afternoon."
Mr. Bull, who was drinking a tumbler of water--he was a teetotaller
and non-smoker, and one of his grievances was that his wife found it
desirable to take a little wine for the Pauline reason--set it down and
"Never mind your afternoon arrangements, my dear; they are generally
of a sort that can be altered, for _I_ have something to tell _you_,
something very important. My call has come."
"Your call, dear. What call? I did not know that you expected
anyone--and, by the way----"
She got no further, for her husband interrupted.
"Do not be ridiculous, Dorcas. I said call--not caller, and I use the
word in its higher sense."
"Oh! I understand, forgive me for being so stupid. Have they made you a
"I mean a dean, or an archdeacon, or something!" she went on confusedly.
"No, Dorcas, they have not. I could scarcely expect promotion as yet,
though it is true that I thought--but never mind, others no doubt have
better claims and longer service. I have, however, been honoured with a
most responsible duty."
"Indeed, dear. What duty?"
"I have been nominated priest-in-charge of the Sisa Station."
"O-oh! and where is that? Is it anywhere near Durban, or perhaps
"I don't exactly know at present, though I understand that it is
about six days' trek from Eshowe in Zululand, but over the border in
Portuguese territory. Indeed, I am not sure that one can trek all the
way, at least when the rivers are in flood. Then it is necessary to
cross one of them in a basket slung upon a rope, or if the river is not
too full, in a punt. At this season the basket is most used."
"Great Heavens, Thomas! do you propose to put me and Tabbie in a basket,
like St. Paul, and did you remember that we have just taken on this
house for another year?"
"Of course I do. The families of missionaries must expect to face
hardships, from which it is true circumstances have relieved you up to
the present. It is therefore only right that they should begin now, when
Tabitha has become as strong as any child of her age that I know. As for
the house, I had forgotten all about it. It must be relet, or failing
that we must bear the loss, which fortunately we can well afford."
Dorcas looked at him and said nothing because words failed her, so he
went on hurriedly.
"By the way, love, I have taken a slight liberty with your name. It
appears that the church at Sisa, which I understand was quite a nice one
built with subscriptions obtained in England by one of my predecessors
who chanced to have influence or connections at home, has been recently
burnt down together with the mission-house. Now the house can wait,
since, of course, we can make shift for a year or two in some native
huts, but obviously we must have a church, and as the Society is
overdrawn it cannot help in the matter. Under these circumstances I
ventured to promise a gift of 1,000 pounds, which it is estimated will
cover the re-erection of both church and house."
He paused awaiting a reply, but as Dorcas still said nothing, continued.
"You will remember that you told me quite recently that you found you
had 1,500 pounds to your credit, therefore I felt quite sure that
you would not grudge 1,000 pounds of it to enable me to fulfil this
duty--this semi-divine duty."
"Oh!" said Dorcas. "As a matter of fact I intended to spend that 1,000
pounds, or much of it, otherwise. There are some people here whom I
wanted to help, but fortunately I had not mentioned this to them, so
they will have to do without the money and their holiday; also the
children cannot be sent to school. And, by the way, how is Tabbie to be
educated in this far-away place?"
"I am sorry, dear, but after all private luxuries, including that of
benevolence, must give way to sacred needs, so I will write to the Dean
that the money will be forthcoming when it is needed. As for Tabitha's
education, of course we will undertake it between us, at any rate for
the next few years."
"Yes, Thomas, since you have passed your word, or rather my word, the
money will be forthcoming. But meanwhile, if you can spare me the odd
500 pounds, I suggest that I should stay here with Tabbie, who could
continue to attend the college as a day-scholar, while you get us some
place ready to live in among these savages, the Sneezers, or whatever
they are called."
"My dear," answered Thomas, "consider what you ask. You are in perfect
health and so is our child. Would it not, then, be a downright scandal
that you should stop here in luxury while your husband went out to
confront grave difficulties among the Sisas--not the Sneezers--for I may
tell you at once that the difficulties are very grave? There is a noted
witch-doctor amongst this people named Menzi, who, I understand, is
suspected of having burned down the mission-house, and probably the
church also, because he said that it was ridiculous that an unmarried
man like the late priest should have so large a dwelling to live alone.
This, of course, was but a cunning excuse for his savage malevolence,
but if another apparent celibate arrives, he might repeat the argument
and its application. Also often these barbarians consider that a man who
is not married _must_ be insane! Therefore it is absolutely necessary
that you and the child should be present with me from the first."
"Oh! is it?" said Dorcas, turning very pink. "Well, I am sorry to say
that just now it is absolutely necessary that I should be absent from
you, since I have a tennis party this afternoon--the officers of the
garrison are coming and about half a dozen girls--and I must go to
arrange about the tea."
"A tennis party! A tennis party to those godless officers and probably
equally godless girls," exclaimed her husband. "I am ashamed of you,
Dorcas, you should be occupied with higher things."
Then at last the worm turned.
"Do you know, Thomas," she answered, springing up, "that I am inclined
to be ashamed of you too, who I think should be occupied in keeping your
temper. You have accepted some strange mission without consulting me,
you have promised 1,000 pounds of my money without consulting me, and
now you scold me because I have a few young people to play tennis and
stop to supper. It is unchristian, it is uncharitable, it is--too bad!"
and sitting down again she burst into tears.
The Rev. Thomas who by now was in a really regal rage, not knowing what
to say or do, glared about him. By ill-luck his eye fell upon a box of
cigarettes that stood upon the mantelpiece.
"What are those things doing here?" he asked. "I do not smoke, so they
cannot be for me. Is our money--I beg pardon--your money which is
so much needed in other directions to be wasted in providing such
unnecessaries--for officers and--idle girls? Oh--bless it all," and
seizing the offending cigarettes he hurled them through the open window,
a scattered shower of white tubes which some Kaffirs outside instantly
proceeded to collect.
Then he rushed from the house, and Dorcas went to get ready for her
party. But first she sent a servant to buy another box of cigarettes. It
was her first act of rebellion against the iron rule of the Rev. Thomas
In the end, as may be guessed, Dorcas, who was a good and faithful
little soul, accompanied her husband to the Sisa country. Tabitha went
also, rejoicing, having learned that in this happy land there was no
school. Dorcas found the journey awful, but really, had she but known
it, it was most fortunate, indeed ideal. Her husband, who was a little
anxious on the point, had made the best arrangements that were possible
on such an expedition.
The wagon in which they trekked was good and comfortable, and although
it was still the rainy season, fortune favoured them in the matter
of weather, so that when they came to the formidable river, they were
actually able to trek across it with the help of some oxen borrowed
from a missionary in that neighbourhood, without having recourse to the
dreaded rope-slung basket, or even to the punt.
Beyond the river they were met by some Christian Kaffirs of the Sisa
tribe, who were sent by the Chief Kosa to guide them through the hundred
miles or so of difficult country which still lay between them and their
goal. These men were pleasant-spoken but rather depressed folk, clad in
much-worn European clothes that somehow became them very ill. They gave
a melancholy account of the spiritual condition of the Sisas, who since
the death of their last pastor, they said, were relapsing rapidly into
heathenism under the pernicious influence of Menzi, the witch-doctor.
Therefore Kosa sent his greetings and prayed the new Teacher to hurry to
their aid and put a stop to this state of things.
"Fear nothing," said Thomas in a loud voice, speaking in Zulu, which by
now he knew very well. "I _will_ put a stop to it."
Then they asked him his name. He replied that it was Thomas Bull, which
after the native fashion, having found out what bull meant in English,
they translated into a long appellation which, strictly rendered, meant
_Roaring-Leader-of-the-holy-Herd_. When he found this out, Thomas flatly
declined any such unchristian title, with the result that, anxious to
oblige, they christened him "Tombool," and as "Tombool" thenceforward
he was known. (Dorcas objected to this name, but Tabitha remarked sagely
that at any rate it was better than "Tomfool.")
This was to his face, but behind his back they called him _Inkunzi_,
which means bull, and in order to keep up the idea, designated poor
Dorcas _Isidanda_, that being interpreted signified a gentle-natured
cow. To Tabitha they gave a prettier name, calling her _Imba_ or Little
At first Dorcas was quite pleased with her title, which sounded nice,
but when she came to learn what it meant it was otherwise.
"How can you expect me, Thomas, to live among a people who call me 'a
mild cow'?" she asked indignantly.
"Never mind, my dear," he answered. "In their symbolical way they
are only signifying that you will feed them with the milk of human
kindness," a reply which did not soothe her at all. In fact, of the
three the child alone was pleased, because she said that "Opening
Flower" was a prettier name than Tabbie, which reminded her of cats.
Thenceforward, following a track, for it could not be called a road,
they advanced slowly, first over a mountain pass on the farther side of
which the wagon nearly upset, and then across a great bush-clad plain
where there was much game and the lions roared round them at night,
necessitating great fires to frighten them away. These lions terrified
Dorcas, a town-bred woman who had never seen one of them except in the
Zoo, so much that she could scarcely sleep, but oddly enough Tabitha was
not disturbed by them.
"God will not let us be eaten by a lion, will He, Father?" she asked in
her simple faith.
"Certainly not," he answered, "and if the brute tries to do so I shall
"I'd rather trust to God, Father, because you know you can never hit
anything," replied Tabitha.
Fortunately, however, it never became necessary for Thomas to show his
skill as a marksman, for when they got through the bushveld there were
no more lions.
On the fourth day after they left the river they found themselves upon
gentle sloping veld that by degrees led them upwards to high land where
it was cold and healthy and there were no mosquitoes. For two days they
trekked over these high lands, which seemed to be quite uninhabited save
by herds of feeding buck, till at length they attained their crest, and
below them saw a beautiful mimosa-clad plain which the guides told them
was the Sisa Country.
"The Promised Land at last! It makes me feel like another Moses," said
Thomas, waving his arm.
"Oh, isn't it lovely!" exclaimed Tabitha.
"Yes, dear," answered her mother, "but--but I don't see any town."
This indeed was the case because there was none, the Sisa kraal, for it
could not be dignified by any other name, being round a projecting
ridge and out of sight. For the rest the prospect was very fair, being
park-like in character, with dotted clumps of trees among which ran,
or rather wound, a silver stream that seemed to issue from between two
rocky koppies in the distance.
These koppies, the guides told them, were the gates of Sisa Town. They
neglected to add that it lay in a hot and unhealthy hill-ringed hollow
beyond them, the site having originally been chosen because it was
difficult to attack, being only approachable through certain passes.
Therefore it was a very suitable place in which to kraal the cattle
of the Zulu kings in times of danger. That day they travelled down the
declivity into the plain, where they camped. By the following afternoon
they came to the koppies through which the river ran, and asked its
name. The answer was _Ukufa_.
"_Ukufa?_" said Thomas. "Why, that means Death."
"Yes," was the reply, "because in the old days this river was the River
of Death where evil-doers were sent to be slain."
"How horrible!" said Dorcas, for unfortunately she had overheard and
understood this conversation.
By the side of the river was a kind of shelf of rock that was used as a
road, and over this they bumped in their wagon, till presently they were
past the koppies and could see their future home beyond. It was a plain
some miles across, and entirely surrounded by precipitous hills, the
river entering it through a gorge to the north. In the centre of this
plain was another large koppie of which the river _Ukufa_, or Death,
washed one side. Around this koppie, amid a certain area of cultivated
land, stood the "town" of the Christian branch of the Sisa. It consisted
of groups of huts, ten or a dozen groups in all, set on low ground near
the river, which suggested that the population might number anything
between seven hundred and a thousand souls.
At the time that our party first saw it the sun was sinking, and had
disappeared behind the western portion of the barricade of hills.
Therefore the valley, if it may be so called, was plunged in a gloom
that seemed almost unnatural when compared with the brilliant sky above,
across which the radiant lights of an African sunset already sped like
arrows, or rather like red and ominous spears of flame.
"What a dreadful place!" exclaimed Dorcas. "Is our home to be here?"
"I suppose so," answered Thomas, who to tell the truth for once was
himself somewhat dismayed. "It does look a little gloomy, but after
all it is very sheltered, and home is what one makes it," he added
Here the conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the Chief and
some of the Christian portion of the Sisa tribe, who having been warned
of its approach by messenger, to the number of a hundred and fifty or so
had advanced to meet the party.
They were a motley crowd clad in every kind of garment, ranging from a
moth-eaten General's tunic to practically nothing at all. Indeed, one
tall, thin fellow sported only a battered helmet of rusty steel that
had drifted here from some European army, a _moocha_ or waistbelt of
catskins, and a pair of decayed tennis-shoes through which his toes
appeared. With them came what were evidently the remains of the church
choir, when there was a church, for they wore dirty fragments of
surplices and sang what seemed to be a hymn tune to the strains of a
The tune was long and ended in a kind of howl like to that of a
disappointed jackal. When at length it was finished the Chief Kosa
appeared. He was a middle-aged man, become prematurely old because he
had lived too fast in his pre-Christian days, or so report said. Now he
had a somewhat imbecile appearance, for his fingers twitched and when he
spoke his mouth jerked up at the corners; also he kept looking over his
shoulder as though he were afraid of something behind him. Altogether he
inspired Thomas with no confidence. Whatever else he might be, clearly
he was not a staff for a crusader to lean upon.
Still he came forward and made a very nice speech, as a high-bred
native noble, such as he was, can almost invariably do. With many pious
expressions he welcomed the new Teacher, saying that he and his people,
that is those of them who were Christians, would do their best to make
Thomas thanked him in appropriate language, adding that he on his part
would do his best to promote their welfare and to save their souls.
Kosa replied that he was glad to hear it, because these needed saving,
since most of the Sisa people were now servants of the devil. Since the
last _Umfundisi_, or Teacher died, they had been walking the road
to hell at a very great pace, marrying many wives, drinking gin and
practising all kinds of witchcraft under the guidance of the _Isanusi_
or doctor, Menzi. This man, he added, had burned down the church and the
mission-house by his magic, though these had seemed to be destroyed by
With a proud gesture Thomas announced that he would soon settle Menzi
and all his works, and that meanwhile, as the darkness was coming on,
he would be glad if Kosa would lead them to the place where they were to
So they started, the accordion-man, playing execrably, leading the way,
and trekked for about a mile and a half till they came to the koppie in
the centre of the plain, reaching it by following the left bank of the
river that washed its western face.
Passing between a number of tumbled walls built of loose stones, that
once in bygone generations had sheltered the cattle of Chaka and other
Zulu kings, they reached a bay in the side of the koppie that may
have covered four acres of ground. Here by the edge of the river, but
standing a little above it, were the burnt-out ruins of a building that
by its shape had evidently been a church, and near to it other ruins of
a school and of a house which once was the mission-station.
As they approached they heard swelling from within those cracked and
melancholy walls the sound of a fierce, defiant chant which Thomas
guessed must be some ancient Zulu war-song, as indeed it was. It was
a very impressive song, chanted by many people, which informed the
listeners that those who sung it were the King's oxen, born to kill
the King's enemies, and to be killed for the King, and so forth; a
deep-noted, savage song that thrilled the blood, at the first sound of
which the accordion gave a feeble wail and metaphorically expired.
"Isn't that beautiful music, Father. I never heard anything like that
before," exclaimed Tabitha.
Before Thomas could answer, out from the ruined doorway of the Church
issued a band of men--there might have been a hundred of them--clad in
all the magnificent panoply of old-time Zulu warriors, with tall plumes
upon their heads, large shields upon their arms, kilts about their
middles, and fringes of oxtails hanging from their knees and elbows.
They formed into a double line and advanced, waving broad-bladed
assegais. Then at a signal they halted by the wagon and uttered a
In front of their lines was a little withered old fellow who carried
neither shield nor spear, but only a black rod to which was bound the
tail of a _wildebeeste_. Except for his _moocha_ he was almost naked,
and into his grey hair was woven a polished ring of black gum, from
which hung several little bladders. Upon his scraggy neck was a necklace
of baboon's teeth and amulets, whilst above the _moocha_ was twisted a
snake that might have been either alive or stuffed.
His face, though aged and shrunken, was fine-featured and full of
breeding, while his hands and feet were very small; his eyes were
brooding, the eyes of a mystic, but when his interest was excited their
glance was as sharp as a bradawl. Just now it was fixed on Thomas, who
felt as if it were piercing him through and through. The owner of the
eyes, as Thomas guessed at once, was Menzi, a witch-doctor very famous
in those parts.
"Why are these men armed with spears? It is against the law for Kaffirs
to carry spears," he said to the Chief.
"This is Portuguese Territory; there is no law in Portuguese Territory,"
answered Kosa with a vacant stare.
"Then we might be all murdered here and no notice taken," exclaimed
"Yes, Teacher. Many people have been murdered here: my father was
murdered, and I dare say I shall be."
Kosa made no answer, but his vacant eyes rested for a little while on
"Good God! what a country," said Thomas to himself, looking at Dorcas
who was frightened. Then he turned to meet Menzi, who was advancing
Casting a glance of contempt at Kosa, of whom he took no further notice,
Menzi saluted the new-comers by lifting his hand above his head. Then
with the utmost politeness he drew a snuff-box fashioned from the tip of
a buffalo-horn out of a slit in the lobe of his left ear, extracted the
wooden stopper and offered Thomas some snuff.
"Thank you, but I do not take that nastiness," said Thomas.
Menzi sighed as though in disappointment, and having helped himself to
a little, re-stoppered the horn and thrust it back into the lobe of his
ear. Next he said, speaking in a gentle and refined voice:
"Greeting, Teacher, who, the messengers tell us, are called Tombool in
your own language and in ours _Inkunzi_. A good name, for in truth you
look like a bull. I am glad to see that you are made much more robust
than was the last Teacher, and therefore will live longer in this place
than he did. Though as for the lady-teacher----" and he glanced at the
Thomas stared at this man, to whom already he had taken a strong
dislike. Then moved thereto either by a very natural outburst of temper,
or perchance by a flash of inspiration, he replied:
"Yes, I shall live longer than did my brother, who died here and has
gone to Heaven, and longer I think than you will."
This personal remark seemed to take Menzi aback; indeed for a moment he
looked frightened. Recovering himself, however, he said:
"I perceive, Teacher Tombool, that like myself you are a witch-doctor
and a prophet. At present I do not know which of us will live the
longer, but I will consult my Spirits and tell you afterwards."
"Pray do not trouble to do so on my account, for I do not believe in
"Of course you do not, Teacher. No doctor believes in another doctor's
Spirits, since each has his own, and there are more Spirits than there
are doctors. Teacher Tombool, I greet you and tell you at once that we
are at war over this matter of Spirits. This tribe, Teacher, is a cleft
log, yes, it is split into two. The Chief there, Kosa, sits on one half
of the log with his Christians; I sit on the other half with the rest,
who are as our fathers were. So if you wish to fight I shall fight with
such weapons as I have. No, do not look at the spears--not with spears.
But, if you leave me and my following alone, we shall leave you alone.
If you are wise I think that you will do well to walk your own road and
suffer us to walk ours."
"On the contrary," answered Thomas, "I intend that all the Sisa people
shall walk one road, the road that leads to Heaven."
"Is it so, Teacher?" Menzi replied with a mysterious smile.
Then he turned his head and looked at the darkling river that just here,
where it ran beneath an overhanging ledge of the koppie, was very deep
and still. Thomas felt that there was a world of meaning in his look,
though what it might be he did not know. Suddenly he remembered that
this river was named Death.
After Menzi had looked quite a long while, once more he saluted as
though in farewell, searching the faces of the three white people,
especially Tabitha's, with his dreamy eyes and, letting them fall,
searching the ground also. Near to where he stood grew a number of veld
flowers, such as appear in their glory after the rains in Africa. Among
these was a rare and beautiful white lily. This lily Menzi plucked, and
stepping forward, presented it to Tabitha, saying:
"A flower for the Flower! A gift to a child from one who is childless!"
Her father saw and meditated interference. But he was too late; Tabitha
had already taken the lily and was thanking Menzi in his own tongue,
which she knew well enough, having been brought up by Zulu nurses. He
smiled at her, saying:
"All Spirits, black or white, love flowers."
Then for a third time he saluted, not the others, but Tabitha, with more
heartiness than before, and turning, departed, followed by his spearmen,
who also saluted Tabitha as they filed in front of her.
It was a strange sight to see these great plumed men lifting their broad
spears to the beautiful bright-haired child who stood there holding the
tall white lily in her hand as though it were a sceptre.
When Menzi and his company had departed, vanishing round the corner of
the koppie, Thomas again asked the Chief where they were to sleep, an
urgent matter as darkness was now approaching.
Kosa answered with his usual vagueness that he supposed in the hut where
the late Teacher had died after the mission-house was burnt down. So
they trekked on a little way, passing beneath the shelf of rock that has
been mentioned as projecting from that side of the koppie which overhung
the stream, where there was just room for a wagon to travel between the
cliff and the water.
"What a dark road," said Dorcas, and one of the Christian natives
who understood some English, having been the body-servant of the late
missionary--it was he with the accordion--replied in Zulu:
"Yes, Lady; this rock is called the Rock of Evildoers, because once
those accused of witchcraft and others were thrown from it by the order
of the King, to be eaten by the crocodiles in that pool. But," he added,
brightening up, "do not be afraid, for there are no more Zulu kings and
we have hunted away the crocodiles, though it is true that there are
still plenty of wizards who ought to be thrown from the rock," and he
looked over his shoulder in the direction Menzi had taken, adding in a
low voice, "You have just seen the greatest of them, Lady."
"How horrible!" said Dorcas for the second time.
A few yards farther on they emerged from this tunnel-like roadway and
found themselves travelling along the northern face of the koppie. Here,
surrounded by a fence, stood the Chief's kraal, and just outside of it
a large, thatched hut with one or two smaller huts at its back. It was
a good hut of its sort, being built after the Basuto fashion with a
projecting roof and a doorway, and having a kind of verandah floored
with beaten lime.
"This was the Teacher's house," said Kosa as the wagon halted.
"I should like to look inside it at once," remarked Dorcas doubtfully,
adding, "Why, what's that?" and she pointed to a suspicious-looking,
oblong mound that was covered with weeds, over which she had almost
"That is the grave of the late Teacher, Lady. We buried him here because
Menzi's people took up the bones of those who were in the churchyard and
threw them into the river," explained Kosa.
Dorcas looked as though she were going to faint, but Thomas, rising to
the occasion, remarked:
"Come on, dear. The dead are always with us, and what better company
could we have than the dust of our sainted predecessor."
"I would rather have his room," murmured Dorcas, and gathering herself
together, proceeded to the hut.
Somebody opened the door with difficulty, and as it seemed to be very
dark within Thomas struck a match, by the light of which Dorcas peered
into the interior. Next second she fell back into his arms with a little
"Take me away!" she said. "The place is full of rats."
He stared; it was quite true. There, sitting up upon the dead
missionary's bed, was a singularly large rat that did not seem in the
least frightened by their appearance, whilst other creatures of the same
tribe scuttled about the floor and up the walls.
Dorcas slept, or did not sleep, that night in the wagon with Tabitha,
while Thomas took his rest beneath it as well as a drizzling rain that
was falling would allow.
Such was the beginning of the life of the Bull family in Sisa-Land,
not an encouraging beginning, it will be admitted, though no worse and
perhaps much better than that which many missionaries and their families
are called upon to face in various regions of the earth. What horror is
there that missionaries have not been called upon to endure? St. Paul
tells us of his trials, but they are paralleled, if not surpassed, even
in the present day.
Missionaries, however good, may not always be wise folk; the reader
might even think the Rev. Thomas Bull to be no perfect embodiment of
wisdom, sympathy or perhaps manners, but taking them as a class they are
certainly heroic folks, who endure many things for small reward, as we
reckon reward. In nothing perhaps do they show their heroism and faith
more greatly than in their persistent habit of conveying women and young
children into the most impossible places of the earth, there to suffer
many things, not exclusive, occasionally, of martyrdom. At least the
Protestant section of their calling does this; the Roman Catholics are
wiser. In renouncing marriage these save themselves from many agonies,
and having only their own lives and health at stake, are perhaps better
fitted to face rough work in rough places.
Even Thomas Bull, not a particularly sensitive person, was tempted more
than once to arrive at similar conclusions during his period of service
in Sisa-land, although neither he nor his wife or child was called upon
to face the awful extremities that have confronted others of his cloth;
for instance, another Thomas, one Owen, who was a missionary in Zululand
at the time when Dingaan, the King, massacred Retief and his Boers
beneath his eyes.
On the following morning Thomas crept out from beneath his wagon, not
refreshed, it is true, but filled with a renewed and even more fiery
zeal. During those damp hours of unrest he had reflected much and
brought the whole position into perspective, a clear if a narrow
perspective. The Chief with whom he had to deal evidently was a fool, if
not an imbecile, and the Christians who remained after a generation of
teaching were for the most part poor creatures, the weak-kneed amongst
this mixed-blood tribe, probably those of the milder Basuto origin.
Such strength as remained in the people, who were, after all, but a
dwindling handful marooned in a distant spot, was to be found among
those of the old Zulu stock. They were descendants of the men sent
by the Kings Chaka and Dingaan to keep an eye upon the humble Basuto
slaves, whose duty it was to herd the royal cattle, the men, too, to
whom was entrusted the proud but hateful business of carrying out
the execution of persons that, for one reason or another, it was not
desirable to kill at home.
The individuals detailed for these duties were for the most part of high
blood, inconvenient persons, perhaps, whom it was desired to move to
a distance. Thus, as Thomas Bull soon learned, Menzi was said to be
no less a man than the grandson of the King Dingaan himself, one whose
father had developed troublesome ambitions, but whose life had been
spared because his mother was a favourite with the King.
Hence some of the grandson's pride, which was enhanced by the fact that
in his youth he had been trained in medicine and magic by a certain
Zikali, alias "Opener-of-Roads," who was said to have been the greatest
witch-doctor that ever lived in Zululand, and through him had acquired,
or perhaps developed inherent psychic gifts, that were in any case
In the end, however, he had returned to his petty tribe, neglecting
larger opportunities, as Thomas learned, because of some woman to whom
he was attached at home. It seemed, however, that he might as well have
stayed away, since on his arrival he found that this woman had become
one of the Chief's wives, for which reason he afterwards killed that
Chief, Kosa's father, and possessed himself of the woman, who died
immediately afterwards, as Menzi suspected by poisoning. It was
principally for this reason that he hated Kosa, his enemy's son, and all
who clung to him; and partly because of that hatred and the fear that it
engendered Kosa and his people had turned Christian, hoping to protect
themselves thus against Menzi and his wizardries. Also for this dead
woman's sake, Menzi had never married again.
Thomas did not learn all these details, and others that need not be
mentioned, at once, but by the time he crept out from under that wagon
he had guessed enough to show that he was face to face with a very tough
proposition, and being the man he was, he girded his loins to meet it,
vowing that he would conquer Menzi or die in the attempt.
That very morning he called a council of the Christians and set to work
with a will. The first thing to do was to make the late missionary's
huts habitable, which did not take long, and the next to commence the
rebuilding of the church. Thomas, true to his principles, insisted on
beginning with the church and letting the mission-house stand over,
although Dorcas, small blame to her, complained at being obliged to live
for an indefinite time in a hut like a Kaffir woman. However, as usual,
she was obliged to give way.
As it chanced, here there was little difficulty about building
operations, for stone and wood and _tambuki_ grass for thatching were
all at hand in plenty. Also the Basuto section of the Sisa, as is common
among that race, were clever masons and carpenters, some of them having
followed those trades in Natal and the more settled places in Zululand,
where dwellings had to be erected. Moreover, they possessed wagons, and
now that the dry season was approaching were able to fetch stores of
every kind from the borders of Natal. Lastly, thanks to Dorcas's banking
account, money was by comparison no object, an unusual circumstance
where missionaries are concerned.
So all the week Thomas laboured at these matters and at making himself
acquainted with his congregation, and all Sunday he held open-air
services or taught in the ruins of the old church.
Thus in the midst of so many new interests matters went on not
uncomfortably, and Dorcas became more or less reconciled to her life.
Still she could never get over her loathing of the place which she
believed to be ill-omened, perhaps because of its gloomy aspect, coupled
with the name of the river and the uses to which it had been put, after
all not so very long ago. Naturally, also, this distaste was accentuated
by the unlucky circumstances of their arrival.
Tabitha, too, was really happy, since she loved this wild free life, and
having been brought up amongst Kaffirs and talking their language almost
as well as she did her own, soon she made many friends.
Perhaps it was a sense that the information would not be well received
by her father that prevented her from mentioning that the greatest of
those friends was the old witch-doctor, Menzi, whom she often met when
she was rambling about the place. Or it may have been pure accident,
since Thomas was too busy to bother about such trifles, while her
mother, who of course knew, kept her own counsel. The truth is that
though he was a heathen witch-doctor, Dorcas liked old Menzi better than
any other native in the district, because she said, quite truly, that he
was a gentleman, however sinful and hard-hearted he might be. Moreover,
with a woman's perception she felt that if only he were a friend, at a
pinch he might be worth all the others put together, while if he were an
enemy, conversely the same applied.
So it came about that in the end there arose a very strange state of
affairs. Menzi hated Thomas and did all he could to thwart him. He liked
Dorcas and did all he could to help her, while the child Tabitha he came
to worship, for some reason he never revealed, which was hidden in the
depths of his secret soul; indeed ere long had she been his own daughter
he could not have loved her more. It was he who amongst many other
things gave her the pretty carved walking-stick of black and white
_umzimbeet_ wood, also the two young blue cranes and the kid that
afterwards were such pets of hers, and with them the beautiful white
feathers of a cock ostrich that had been killed on the veld. In the same
way it was he who sent milk and eggs to Dorcas when she was at her wits'
end for both, which more than once were found mysteriously at the door
of their hut, and not any of his Christian flock, as Thomas fondly
Thus things went on for a while.
Meanwhile Thomas found this same Menzi a stumbling-block and a rock
of offence. Whenever he tried to convert man, woman, or child he was
confronted with Menzi or the shadow of Menzi. Thus those with whom he
was arguing would ask him why he could not work miracles like Menzi. Let
him show them pictures in the fire, or tell them who had stolen their
goods or where they would find their strayed cattle, and perhaps they
would believe him. And so forth.
At length Thomas grew exasperated and announced publicly that he
credited nothing of this magic, and that Menzi was only a common cheat
who threw dust into their eyes. If Menzi could perform marvels, let
him show these marvels to him, Thomas, and to his wife, that they might
judge of them for themselves.
Apparently this challenge was repeated to the witch-doctor. At least one
morning a few days later, when Thomas went out accompanied by Dorcas
and Tabitha, to meet the Chief Kosa and others and to discuss with them
whether ultimately the mission-house should be rebuilt upon the old site
or elsewhere, he found a great concourse of people, all or nearly all
the tribe indeed, assembled on a level place where in the old days stood
one of the great kraals designed to hold the king's cattle. Out of the
crowd emerged Kosa, looking rather sillier than usual, and of him Thomas
inquired why it was gathered. Was it to consult with him about the
"No, Teacher," answered the Chief, "Menzi has heard that you call him a
cheat, and has come to show that he is none, assembling all the people
that they may judge between you and him."
"I do not want to see his tricks," said Thomas angrily. "Tell him to go
"Oh, Teacher!" replied Kosa, "that would not be wise, for then everyone
would believe that Menzi's magic is so great that you are afraid even to
look upon it. It is better to let him try. Perhaps if you pray hard he
will fail, for his spirits will not always come when he calls them."
Thomas hesitated, then, being bold by nature, determined that he would
see the thing through. After all, Menzi was an impostor and nothing
else, and could work no more magic than he could himself. Here was a
providential opportunity to expose him. So followed by the others he
advanced into the crowd, which made way for him.
In an open space in its centre, sat Menzi wearing all his witch-doctor's
trappings, bladders in his hair, snakeskins tied about him, and
the rest, but even in this grotesque attire still managing to look
dignified. With him were several acolytes or attendants, one of them an
old woman, also peculiarly arrayed and carrying hide bags that contained
their master's medicines. He rose as they came, saluted Thomas and
smiled at Dorcas and Tabitha, very sweetly at the latter.
"O Teacher," he said, "my ears hear that you say that I am a liar and a
cheat who have no wonders at my command; to whom the Spirits never speak
and who deceives the people. Now, Teacher, I have come here that it may
be seen whether you are right or I am right. If your magic is greater
than mine, then I can do nothing and I will eat the dust before you.
But if mine prevails, then perhaps all these will say that you are the
cheat, not I. Also it is true that I am not a great magician as was my
master, Zikali, the Opener-of-Roads, and cannot show you things worthy
to be seen. Nor will I smell out evil-doers, witches and wizards, since
then the people might kill them, and I think that there are some here
who deserve to die in the ancient fashion. No, I will not do this, since
it is not right that those with you," here he glanced at Dorcas and
Tabitha, "should look upon the sight of blood, even in this land where
the White-man's law has no power. Still there are little things that
may serve to amuse you for an hour and hurt no one. Have any of you lost
anything, for instance?"
"Yes, I have," said Tabitha with a laugh.
"Is it so, Little Flower? Then be silent and do not say what you have
lost. Have you told any what you have lost?"
"No," answered Tabitha, "because I was afraid I should be scolded."
"There, _Imba_, there, Little Flower, even that is too much, because you
see the old cheat might guess something from your words. Yes, he might
guess that it is something of value that you have lost, such as a
bracelet of gold, or the thing that ticks, on which you white people
read the time. Nay, be silent and do not let your face move lest I
should read it. Now let us see what it is that you have lost."
Then he turned to his confederates, as Thomas called them, and began to
ask them questions which need not be set out in detail. Was it an animal
that the Little Flower had lost? No, it was not an animal, the Spirits
told him that it was not. Was it an article of dress? No, they did not
think it was an article of dress, yet the Spirits seemed to suggest that
it had something to do with dress. Was it a shoe? Was it scissors? Was
it a comb? Was it a needle? No, but it was something that had to do with
needles. What had to do with needles? Thread. Was it thread? No, but
something that had to do with thread. Was it a silver shield which
pushed the needle that drew the thread?
Here Tabitha could contain herself no longer, but clapped her hands and
cried out delightedly:
"Yes, that's it. It's my thimble."
"Oh! very well," said Menzi, "but it is easy to discover what is lost
and hard to find it."
Then followed another long examination of the assessors or acolytes, or
witch-doctor's chorus, by which it was established at length that the
thimble had been lost three days before, when Tabitha was sitting on a
stone sewing, that she believed it had fallen into a crevice of rocks,
and so forth.
After this the chorus was silent and Menzi himself took up the game,
apparently asking questions of the sky and putting his ear to the ground
for an answer.
At length he announced: (1) That the thimble was not among the rocks;
(2) That it was not lost at all.
"But it is, it is, you silly old man," cried Tabitha excitedly. "I have
hunted everywhere, and I cried about it because I haven't got another,
and can't buy one here, and the needle hurts my finger."
Menzi contemplated her gravely as though he were looking her through and
"It is _not_ lost, Little Flower. I see it; you have it now. Put your
hand into the pocket of your dress. What do you find there?"
"Nothing," said Tabitha. "That is, nothing except a hole."
"Feel at the bottom of your dress, there on the right. No, a little more
to the front. What do you feel there?"
"Something hard," said Tabitha.
"Take this knife and cut the lining of your dress where you feel the
hard thing. Ah! there is the silver shield which you have been carrying
about with you all these days."
The crowd murmured approval. Dorcas exclaimed: "Well, I never!" and
Thomas looked first puzzled, then angry, then suspicious.
"Does the Teacher think that the Floweret and the old doctor have made
a plot together?" asked Menzi. "Can a sweet Flower make plots and tell
lies like the old doctor? Well, well, it is nothing. Now let us try
something better. My bags, my bags."
Thomas made as though he would go away, but Menzi stopped him, saying:
"No, doubters must stay to see the end of their doubts. What shall I do?
Ah! I have it."
Then from one of the bags he drew out a number of crooked black sticks
that looked like bent ebony rulers, and built them up criss-cross in a
little pile upon the ground. Next he found some bundles of fine dried
grass, which he thrust into the interstices between the sticks, as he
did so bidding one of his servants to run to the nearest hut and bring a
coal of fire upon a sherd.
"A match will not do," he said. "White men have touched it."
Presently the burning ember arrived, and muttering something, Menzi blew
upon it as though to keep it alight.
"Now, White Teacher," he said in a voice that had suddenly become
commanding, "think of something. Think of what you will, and I will show
it to you."
"Indeed," said Thomas with a smile. "I have thought of something; now
make good your words."
Menzi thrust the ember into the haylike fibres and blew. They caught and
blazed up fiercely, making an extraordinarily large flame considering
the small amount of the kindling. The ebony-like sticks also began to
blaze. Menzi grew excited.
"My Spirit, come to me; my Spirit, come to me!" he cried. "O my Spirit,
show this White Teacher Tombool that I am not a cheat!"
He ran round and round the fire; he leapt into the air, then suddenly
shouted: "My Spirit has entered into me; my Snake is in my breast!"
All his excitement went; he grew quite calm, almost cataleptic. Holding
his thin hands over the fire, slowly he let them fall, and as he did so
the fierce flames died down.
"It's going out," said Tabitha.
Menzi smiled at her and lifted his hands again. Lo! the fire that seemed
to be dead leapt up after them in a fierce blaze. Again he dropped his
hands and the fire died away. Then he moved his arms to and fro and it
came back, following the motions of his arms as though he drew it by a
"Have you thought, White Teacher? Have you thought?" he asked. "Good!
Behold, instead of the clear flame appeared a fan-shaped column of dense
white smoke, behind which Menzi vanished, all except his outstretched
"Look on to the smoke, White people, and do you, Little Flower, tell me
what you see there," he called from behind this vaporous veil.
Tabitha stared, they all stared. Then she cried out:
"I see a room, I see an old man in a clergyman's coat reading a letter.
Why, it is the Dean whom we used to know in Natal. There's the wart on
his nose and the tuft of hair that hangs down over his eye, and he's
reading a letter written by Father. I know the writing. It begins, 'My
dear Dean, Providence has appointed me to a strange place'----"
"Is that what you see also, Teacher?" asked Menzi. "And if so, is it
what you pictured in your thought?"
Thomas turned away and uttered something like a groan, for indeed he
had thought of the Dean and of the letter he had written to him a month
"The Teacher is not satisfied," said Menzi. "If he had seen all he
thought of, being so good and honest, he would tell us. There is some
mistake. My Spirit must have deceived me. Think of something else,
Teacher, and tell the lady, and the child Imba, and Kosa, and another,
what it is you are thinking of. Go aside and tell them where I cannot
Thomas did so--in some way he felt compelled to do so.
"I am going to think of the church as I propose it shall be when
finished according to the plans I have made," he said hoarsely. "I am
going to think of it with a belfry spire roofed with red tiles and a
clock in the tower, and I am going to think of the clock as pointing
to the exact hour of noon. Do you all understand? It is impossible that
this man should know of how I mean to build that spire and about the
clock, because until this moment no one knew except myself. If he
can show me that, I shall begin to believe that he is inspired by his
master, the devil. Do you all understand?"
They said they did, and Menzi called out:
"Be quick, White Teacher. Be quick, I grow tired. My Spirit grows tired.
The smoke grows tired. Come, come, come!"
They returned and stood in front of the fire, and in obedience to
Menzi's motions once more the fan of smoke arose. On it grew something
nebulous, something uncertain that by degrees took the form of a church.
It was not very clear, perhaps because Thomas found it difficult to
conceive the exact shape of the church as it would be when it was
finished, or only conceived it bit by bit. One thing, however, was very
distinct in his mind, and that was the proposed spire and the clock. As
a result, there was the spire standing at the end of the shadowy church
vivid and distinct. And there was the clock with its two copper hands
exactly on the stroke of noon!
"Tell me what you see, Little Flower," said Menzi in a hollow voice.
"I see what Father told me he would think of, a church and the spire of
the church, and the clock pointing to twelve."
"Do you all see that," asked Menzi, "and is it what the Teacher said he
would think about?"
"Yes, Doctor," they answered.
"Then look once more, for _I_ will think of something. I will think of
that church falling. Look once more."
They looked, and behold the shadowy fabric began to totter, then it
seemed to collapse, and last of all down went the spire and vanished in
"Have you seen anything, O people?" said Menzi, "for standing behind
this smoke I can see nothing. Mark that it is thick, since through it I
am invisible to you."
This was true, since they could only perceive the tips of his
outstretched fingers appearing upon each side of the smoke-fan.
"Yes," they answered, "we have seen a church fall down and vanish."
"That was my thought," said Menzi; "have I not told you that was the
thought my Spirit gave me?"
"This is black magic, and you are a fiend!" shouted Thomas, and was
"Not so, Tombool, though it is true that I have gifts which you clever
White people do not understand," answered Menzi.
By degrees the smoke melted away, and there on the ground were the ten
or twelve crooked pieces of ebony that they had seen consumed, now to
all appearance quite untouched by the flame. There too on their farther
side lay Menzi, shining with perspiration, and in a swoon or sleeping.
"Come away," said Thomas shortly, and they turned to go, but at this
moment something happened.
Menzi, it will be remembered, had given Tabitha a kid of a long-haired
variety of goat peculiar to these parts. This little creature had
already grown attached to its mistress and walked about after her, in
the way which pet goats have. It had followed her that morning, but not
being interested in tricks or magic, engaged itself in devouring herbs
that grew amongst the tumbled stones of the old kraal.
Suddenly Menzi recovered from his faint or seizure and, looking up,
directed his attendants to return the magical ebony rods which burned
without being consumed to one of the hide bags that contained his
medicines. The assembly began to break up amidst a babel of excited
Tabitha looked round for her goat, and perceiving it at a little
distance, ran to fetch it, since the creature, being engaged in eating
something to its taste, would not come at her call. She seized it by the
neck to drag it away, with the result that its fore-feet, obstinately
set upon the wall, overturned a large stone, revealing a great puff
adder that was sleeping there.
The reptile thus disturbed instantly struck backwards after the fashion
of its species, so that its fangs, just missing Tabitha's hands,
sank deep into the kid's neck. She screamed and there was a great
disturbance. A native ran forward and pinned down the puff-adder with
his walking-stick of which the top was forked. The kid immediately fell
on to its side, and lay there bleeding and bleating. Tabitha began to
weep, calling out, "My goat is killed," between her sobs.
Menzi, distinguishing her voice amid the tumult, asked what was the
matter. Someone told him, whereon he commanded that the kid should be
brought to him and the snake also. This was done, Tabitha following her
dying pet with her mother, for by now Thomas had departed, taking no
heed of these events, which perhaps he was too disturbed to notice.
"Save my goat! Save my goat, O Menzi!" implored Tabitha.
The old witch-doctor looked at the animal, also at the hideous
puff-adder that had been dragged along the ground in the fork of the
"It will be hard, Little Flower," he said, "seeing that the goat is
bitten in the neck and this snake is very poisonous. Still for your
sake I will try, although I fear that it may prove but a waste of good
Then he took one of his bags and from it selected a certain packet
wrapped in a dried leaf, out of which he shook some grey powder. Seizing
the kid, which seemed to be almost dead, he made an incision in its
throat over the wound, and into it rubbed some of this powder. Next he
spat upon more of the powder, thus turning it into a paste, and opening
the kid's mouth, thrust it down its throat, at the same time muttering
an invocation or spell.
"Now we must wait," he said, letting the kid fall upon the ground, where
it lay to all appearance dead.
"Is that powder any good?" asked Dorcas rather aimlessly.
"Yes, it is very good, Lady; a medicine of power of which I alone
have the secret, a magic medicine. See, I will show you. Except the
_immamba_, the ring-snake that puffs out its head, this one is the most
deadly in our country. Yet I do not fear it. Look!"
Leaning forward, he seized the puff-adder, and drawing it from beneath
the fork, suffered it to strike him upon the breast, after which he
deliberately killed it with a stone. Then he took some of the grey
powder and rubbed it into the punctures; also put more of it into his
mouth, which he swallowed.
"Oh!" exclaimed Dorcas, "he will die," and some of the Christian Kaffirs
echoed her remark.
But Menzi did not die at all. On the contrary, after shivering a few
times he was quite himself, and, indeed, seemed rather brighter than
before, like a jaded business man who has drunk a cocktail.
"No, Wife of Tombool," he said, "I shall not die; every year I doctor
myself with this magic medicine that is called _Dawa_, after which all
the snakes in Sisa-Land--remember that they are many, Little Flower--may
bite me if they like."
"Is it your magic or is it the medicine that protects you?" asked
"Both, Lady. The medicine _Dawa_ is of no use without the magic words,
and the magic words are of no use without the medicine. Therefore alone
in all the land I can cure snake bites, who have both medicine and
magic. Look at your goat, Little Flower. Look at your goat!"
Tabitha looked, as did everyone else. The kid was rising to its feet.
It rose, it baa'd and presently began to frisk about its mistress, like
Menzi apparently rather brighter than before.
A year had gone by, during which time, by the most heroic exertions,
Thomas Bull had at length succeeded in rebuilding the church. There
it stood, a very nice mission-church, constructed of sun-dried bricks
neatly plastered over, cool and spacious within, for the thatched roof
was lofty, beautifully furnished (the font and the pulpit had been
imported from England), and finished off with the spire and clock of his
dreams, the latter also imported from England and especially adjusted
for a hot climate.
Moreover, there was a sweet and loud-throated bell upon which the clock
struck, with space allowed for the addition of others that must
wait till Thomas could make up his mind to approach Dorcas as to the
provision of the necessary funds. Yes, the church was finished, and the
Bishop of those parts had made a special journey to consecrate it at
the hottest season of the year, and as a reward for his energy had
contracted fever and nearly been washed away in a flooded river.
Only one thing was lacking, a sufficient congregation to fill this fine
church, which secretly the Bishop, who was a sensible man, thought would
have been of greater value had it been erected in any of several
other localities that he could have suggested. For alas! the Christian
community of Sisa-Land did not increase. Occasionally Thomas succeeded
in converting one of Menzi's followers, and occasionally Menzi snatched
a lamb from the flock of Thomas, with the result that the scales
remained even neither going up nor down.
The truth was, of course, that the matter was chiefly one of race; those
of the Sisas in whom the Basuto blood preponderated became Christian,
while those who were of the stubborn Zulu stock, strengthened and
inspired by their prophet Menzi, remained unblushingly heathen.
Still Thomas did not despair. One day, he told himself, there would be a
great change, a veritable landslide, and he would see that church filled
with every Zulu in the district. Needless to say, he wished him no ill,
but Menzi was an old man, and before long it might please Providence to
gather that accursed wizard to his fathers. For that he was a wizard of
some sort Thomas no longer doubted, a person directly descended from the
Witch of Endor, or from some others of her company who were mentioned
in the Bible. There was ample authority for wizards, and if they existed
then why should they they not continue to do so? Since he could not
explain it, Thomas swallowed the magic, much as in his boyhood he used
to swallow the pills.
Yes, if only Menzi were removed by the will of Heaven, which really,
thought Thomas, must be outraged by such proceedings, his opportunity
would come, and "Menzi's herd," as the heathens were called in
Sisa-land, would be added to his own. The Bishop, it is true, was not
equally sanguine, but said nothing to discourage zeal so laudable and so
It was while his Lordship was recovering from the sharp bout of fever
which he had developed in a new and mosquito-haunted hut with a damp
floor that had been especially erected for his accommodation, that at
last the question of the re-building of the mission-house came to a
head, which it could not do while all the available local labour, to say
nothing of some hired from afar, was employed upon the church.
Thomas, it was true, wished to postpone it further, pointing out that
a school was most necessary, and that after all they had grown quite
accustomed to the huts and were fairly comfortable in them.
On this point, however, Dorcas was firm; indeed, it would not be too
much to say that, having already been disappointed once, she struck with
all the vigour of a trade-unionist. She explained that the situation of
the huts on the brink of the river was low and most unhealthy, and that
in them she was becoming a victim to recurrent attacks of fever. He,
Thomas, might be fever-proof, as indeed she thought he was. It was true
also that Tabitha had been extraordinarily well and grown much ever
since she came to Sisa-Land, which puzzled her, inasmuch as the place
was notoriously unhealthy for children, even if they were of native
blood. Indeed, in her agitation she added an unwise remark to the
effect that she could only explain their daughter's peculiar health
by supposing that Menzi had laid a "good charm" upon her, as all the
natives believed, and he announced publicly that he had done.
This made Thomas very angry, admittedly not without cause. Forgetting
his conversation to a belief in the reality of Menzi's magic, he talked
in a loud voice about the disgrace of being infected with vile, heathen
superstitions, such as he had never thought to hear uttered by his
wife's Christian lips. Dorcas, however, stuck to her point, and enforced
it by a domestic example, adding that the creatures which in polite
society are called "bed-pests," that haunted the straw of the huts,
tormented her while Tabitha never had so much as a single bite.
The end of it was that the matter of mission-house _versus_ huts was
referred to the Bishop for his opinion. As the teeth of his Lordship
were chattering with ague resulting, he knew full well, from the fever
he had contracted in the said huts, Dorcas found in him a most valuable
ally. He agreed that a mission-house ought to be built before the school
or anything else, and suggested that it should be placed in a higher
and better situation, above the mists that rose from the river and the
height to which mosquitoes fly.
Bowing to the judgment of his superior, which really he heard with
gratitude, although in his zeal and unselfishness he would have
postponed his own comfort and that of his family till other duties had
been fulfilled, Thomas replied that he knew only one such place which
would be near enough to the Chief's town. It was on the koppie itself,
about fifty feet above the level of and overhanging the river, where he
had noted there was always a breeze, even on the hottest day, since the
conformation of this hill seemed to induce an unceasing draught of air.
He added that if his Lordship were well enough, they might go to look at
So they went, all of them. Ascending a sloping, ancient path that was
never precipitous, they came to the place, a flat tableland that perhaps
measured an acre and a half, which by some freak of nature had been
scooped out of the side of the koppie, and was backed by a precipitous
cliff in which were caves. The front part of this plateau, that which
approached to and overhung the river, was of virgin rock, but the
acre or so behind was filled with very rich soil that in the course of
centuries had been washed down from the sides of the koppie, or resulted
from the decomposition of its material.
"The very place," said the Bishop. "The access is easy. The house would
stand here--no need to dig deep foundations in this stone, and behind,
when those trees have been cleared away, you could have a beautiful and
fertile garden where anything will grow. Also, look, there is a stream
of pure water running from some spring above. It is an ideal site for a
house, not more than three minutes' walk from the church below, the best
I should say in the whole valley. And then, consider the view."
Everyone agreed, and they were leaving the place in high spirits,
Dorcas, who had household matters to attend, having already departed,
when whom should they encounter but Menzi seated on a stone just where
the path began to descend. Thomas would have passed him without notice
as one with whom he was not on speaking terms, but the Bishop, having
been informed by Tabitha who he was, was moved by curiosity to stop and
interchange some words with him, as knowing his tongue perfectly, he
"_Sakubona_" (that is, "good day"), he said politely.
Menzi rose and saluted with his habitual courtesy, first the Bishop,
then the others, as usual reserving his sweetest smile for Tabitha.
"Great Priest," he said at once, "I understand that the Teacher Tombool
intends to build his house upon this place."
The Bishop wondered how on earth the man knew that, since the matter had
only just been decided by people talking in English, but answered that
perhaps he might do so.
"Great Priest," went on Menzi in an earnest voice, "I pray you to forbid
the Teacher Tombool from doing anything of the sort."
"Why, friend?" asked the Bishop.
"Because, Great Priest, this place is haunted by the spirits of the
dead, and those who live here will be haunted also. Hearken. I myself
when I was young have seen evil-doers brought from Zululand and hurled
from that rock, blinded and broken-armed, by order of the King. I say
that scores have been thrown thence to be devoured by the crocodiles in
the pool below. Will such a sight as this be pleasant for white eyes to
look upon, and will such cries as those of the evil-doers who have 'gone
down' be nice for white ears to hear in the silence of the night?"
"But, my good man," said the Bishop, "what you say is nonsense. These
poor creatures are dead, 'gone down' as you say, and do not return. We
Christians have no belief in ghosts, or if they exist we are protected
"None at all," interposed Thomas boldly and speaking in Zulu. "This man,
my Lord, is at his old tricks. For reasons of his own he is trying
to frighten us; for my part I will not be frightened by a native
witch-doctor and his rubbish, even if he does deal with Satan. With your
permission I shall certainly build the mission-house here."
"Quite right, of course, quite right," said the Bishop, though within
himself he reflected that evidently the associations of the spot were
disagreeable, and that were he personally concerned, perhaps he should
be inclined to consider an alternative site. However, it was a matter
for Mr. Bull to decide.
"I hear that Tombool will not be turned from his purpose. I hear that he
will still build his house upon this rock. So be it. Let him do so and
see. But this I say, that Imba, the Floweret, shall not be haunted by
the _Isitunzi_ (the ghosts of the dead) who wail in the night," said
He advanced to Tabitha, and holding his hands over her he cried out:
"Sweet eyes, be blind to the _Isitunzi_. Little ears, do not hear their
groans. Spirits, build a garden fence about this flower and keep her
safe from all night-prowling evil things. Imba, little Flower, sleep
softly while others lie awake and tremble."
Then he turned and departed swiftly.
"Dear me!" said the Bishop. "A strange man, a very strange man. I don't
know quite what to make of him."
"I do," answered Thomas, "he is a black-hearted villain who is in league
with the devil."
"Yes, I dare say--I mean as to his being a villain, that is according
to our standards--but does your daughter--a clever and most attractive
little girl, by the way--think so? She seemed to look on him with
affection--one learns to read children's eyes, you know. A very strange
man, I repeat. If we could see all his heart we should know lots of
things and understand more about these people than we do at present. Has
it ever struck you, Mr. Bull, how little we white people _do_ understand
of the black man's soul? Perhaps a child can see farther into it than
we can. What is the saying--'a little child shall lead them,' is it
not? Perhaps we do not make enough allowances. 'Faith, Hope and Charity,
these three, but the greatest of these is charity'--or love, which is
the same thing. However, of course you are quite right not to have been
frightened by his silly talk about the _Isitunzi_, it would never do to
show fear or hesitation. Still, I am glad that Mrs. Bull did not hear
it; you may have noticed that she had gone on ahead, and if I were you
I should not repeat it to her, since ladies are so nervous. Tabitha, my
dear, don't tell your mother anything of all this."
"No, Bishop," answered Tabitha, "I never tell her all the queer things
that Menzi says to me when I meet him, or at least not many of them."
"I wish I had asked him if he had a cure for your local fever," said the
Bishop with a laugh, "for against it, although I have taken so much that
my ears buzz, quinine cannot prevail."
"He has given me one in a gourd, Bishop," replied Tabitha
confidentially, "but I have never taken any, because you see I have had
no fever, and I haven't told mother, for if I did she would tell father"
(Thomas had stridden ahead, and was out of hearing), "and he might be
angry because he doesn't like Menzi, though I do. Will you have some,
Bishop? It is well corked up with clay, and Menzi said it would keep for
"Well, my dear," answered the Bishop, "I don't quite know. There may be
all sorts of queer things in Mr. Menzi's medicine. Still, he told you to
drink it if necessary, and I am absolutely certain that he does not
wish to poison _you_. So perhaps I might have a try, for really I feel
So later on, with much secrecy, the gourd was produced, and the Bishop
had "a try." By some strange coincidence he felt so much better after it
that he begged for the rest of the stuff to comfort him on his homeward
journey, which ultimately he accomplished in the best of health.
That most admirable and wide-minded prelate departed, and so far as
history records was no more seen in Sisa-Land. But Thomas remained,
and set about the building of the house with his usual vigour. Upon the
Death Rock, as it was called, in course of time he erected an excellent
and most serviceable dwelling, not too large but large enough, having
every comfort and convenience that his local experience could suggest
and money could supply, since in this matter the cheque-book of the
suffering Dorcas was entirely at his service.
At length the house was finished, and with much rejoicing the Bull
family, deserting their squalid huts, moved into it at the commencement
of the hot season. After the first agitations of the change and of the
arrangement of the furniture newly-arrived by wagon, they settled down
very comfortably, directing all their energies towards the development
of the garden, which had already been brought into some rough order
during the building of the house.
One difficulty, however, arose at once. For some mysterious reason they
found that not a single native servant would sleep in the place, no, not
even Tabitha's personal attendant, who adored her. Every soul of them
suddenly developed a sick mother or other relative who would instantly
expire if deprived of the comfort of their society after dark. Or else
they themselves became ailing at that hour, saying they could not sleep
upon a cliff like a rock-rabbit.
At any rate, for one cause or another off they went the very moment that
the sun vanished behind the western hills, nor did they re-appear until
it was well up above those that faced towards the east.
At least this happened for one night. On the following day, however, a
pleasant-looking woman named Ivana, whom they knew to be of good
repute, though of doubtful religion, as sometimes she came to church
and sometimes she did not, appeared and offered her services as
"night-dog"--that is what she called it--to Tabitha, saying that she did
not mind sleeping on a height. Since it was inconvenient to have no one
about the place from dark to dawn, and Dorcas did not approve of Tabitha
being left to sleep alone, the woman, whose character was guaranteed
by the Chief Kosa and the elders of the church, was taken on at an
indefinite wage. To the matter of pecuniary reward, indeed, she seemed
to be entirely indifferent.
For the rest she rolled herself in blankets, native fashion, and slept
across Tabitha's door, keeping so good a watch that once when her father
wished to enter the room to fetch something after the child was sleep,
she would not allow even him to do so. When he tried to force a way past
her, suddenly Ivana became so threatening that he thought she was about
to spring at him. After this he wanted to dismiss her, but Dorcas said
it only showed that she was faithful, and that she had better be left
where she was, especially as there was no one to take her place.
So things went on till the day of full moon. On that night Ivana
appeared to be much agitated, and insisted that Tabitha should go to bed
earlier than was usual. Also after she was asleep Dorcas noticed that
Ivana walked continually to and fro in front of the door of the child's
room and up and down the veranda on to which its windows opened, droning
some strange song and waving a wand.
However, at the appointed hour, having said their prayers, Dorcas and
her husband went to bed.
"I wonder if there is anything strange about this place," remarked
Dorcas. "It is so very odd that no native will stop here at night except
that half-wild Ivana."
"Oh! I don't know," replied Thomas with a yawn, real or feigned. "These
people get all sorts of ideas into their silly heads. Do stop twisting
about and go to sleep."
At last Dorcas did go to sleep, only to wake up again suddenly and with
great completeness just as the church clock below struck three,
the sound of which she supposed must have roused her. The brilliant
moonlight flooded the room, and as for some reason she felt creepy and
disturbed, Dorcas tried to occupy her mind by reflecting how comfortable
it looked with its new, imported furnishings, very different from that
horrible hut in which they had lived so long.
Then her thoughts drifted to more general matters. She was heartily
tired of Sisa-Land, and wished earnestly that her husband could get
a change of station, which the Bishop had hinted to her would not be
impossible--somewhere nearer to civilisation. Alas! he was so obstinate
that she feared nothing would move him, at any rate until he had
converted "Menzi's herd," who were also obstinate, and remained as
heathen as ever. Indeed why, with their ample means, should they be
condemned to perpetual exile in these barbarous places? Was there not
plenty of work to be done at home, where they might make friends and
Putting herself and her own wishes aside, this existence was not fair to
Tabitha, who, as she saw, watching her with a mother's eye, was becoming
impregnated with the native atmosphere. She who ought to be at a
Christian school now talked more Zulu than she did English, and was
beginning to look at things from the Zulu point of view and to use their
idioms and metaphors even when speaking her own tongue. She had become
a kind of little chieftainess among these folk, also, Christian and
heathen alike. Indeed, now most of them spoke of her as the Maiden
_Inkosikazi_, or Chieftainess, and accepted her slightest wish or order
as law, which was by no means the case where Dorcas herself and even
Thomas were concerned.
In fact, one or twice they had been driven to make a request through
the child, notably upon an important occasion that had to do with the
transport-riding of their furniture, to avoid its being left for a
couple of months on the farther side of a flooded river. The details
do not matter, but what happened was that when Tabitha intervened
that which had been declared to be impossible proved possible, and the
furniture arrived with wonderful celerity. Moreover, Tabitha made no
request; as Dorcas knew, though she hid it from Thomas, she sent for the
headmen, and when they were seated on the ground before her after their
fashion, Menzi among them, issued an order, saying:
"What! Are my parents and I to live like dogs without a kennel or cattle
that lack a winter kraal, because you are idle? Inspan the wagons and
fetch the things or I shall be angry. _Hamba_--Go!"
Thereon they rose and went without argument, only lifting their
right hands above their heads and murmuring, "_Ikosikaas! Umame!_
(Chieftainess! Mother!) we hear you." Yes, they called Tabitha "Mother!"
It was all very wrong, thought Dorcas, but she supposed, being a pious
little person, that she must bear her burden and trust to Providence to
free her from it, and she closed her eyes to wipe away a tear.
When Dorcas opened them again something very strange seemed to have
happened. She felt wide awake, and yet knew that she must be dreaming
because the room had disappeared. There was nothing in sight except the
bare rock upon which the house stood. For instance, she could see the
gorge behind as it used to be before they made it into a garden, for she
recognised some of the very trees that they had cut down. Moreover,
from one of the caves at the end of it issued a procession, a horrible
procession of fierce-looking, savage warriors, with spears and
knobkerries, who between them half dragged, half carried a young woman
and an elderly man.
They advanced. They passed within a few feet of her, and observing
the condition of the woman and the man, she saw that these must be led
because for a certain reason they could not see where to go,--oh! never
mind what she saw.
The procession reached the edge of the rock where the railing was, only
now the railing had gone like the house. Then for the first time Dorcas
heard, for hitherto all had seemed to happen in silence.
"Die, _Umtakati!_ Die, you wizard, as the King commands, and feed the
river-dwellers," said a deep voice.
There followed a struggle, a horrible twisting of shapes, and the
elderly man vanished over the cliff, while a moment later from below
came the noise of a great splash.
Next the girl was haled forward, and the words of doom were repeated.
She seemed to break from her murderers and stagger to the edge of the
precipice, crying out:
"O Father, I come!"
Then, with one blood-curdling shriek, she vanished also, and again
there followed the sound of a great splash that slowly echoed itself to
All had passed away, leaving Dorcas paralysed with terror, and wet with
its dew, so that her night-gear clung to her body. The room was just
as it had been, filled with the soft moonlight and looking very
"Thomas!" gasped his wife, "wake up."
"I _am_ awake," he answered in his deep voice, which shook a little. "I
have had a bad dream."
"What did you dream? Did you see two people thrown from the cliff?"
"Something of that sort."
"Oh! Thomas, Thomas, I have been in hell. This place is haunted. Don't
talk to me of dreams. Tabitha will have seen and heard too. She will be
driven mad. Come to her."
"I think not," answered Thomas.
Still he came.
At the door of Tabitha's room they found the woman Ivana, wide-eyed,
"Have you seen or heard anything, Ivana?" asked Thomas.
"Yes, Teacher," she answered, "I have seen what I expected to see and
heard what I expected to hear on this night of full moon, but I am
guarded and do not fear."
"The child! The child!" said Dorcas.
"The _Inkosikazi_ Imba sleeps. Disturb her not."
Taking no heed, they thrust past her into the room. There on her little
white bed lay Tabitha fast asleep, and looking like an angel in her
sleep, for a sweet smile played about her mouth, and while they watched
she laughed in her dreams. Then they looked at each other and went back
to their own chamber to spend the rest of the night as may be imagined.
Next morning when they emerged, very shaken and upset, the first person
they met was Ivana, who was waiting for them with their coffee.
"I have a message for you, Teacher and Lady. Never mind who sends it, I
have a message for you to which you will do well to give heed. Sleep no
more in this house on the night of full moon, though all other nights
will be good for you. Only the little Chieftainess Imba ought to sleep
in this house on the night of full moon."
So indeed it proved to be. No suburban villa could have been more
commonplace and less disturbed than was their dwelling for twenty-seven
nights of every month, but on the twenty-eighth they found a change of
air desirable. Once it is true the stalwart Thomas, like Ajax, defied
the lightning, or rather other things that come from above--or from
below. But before morning he appeared at the hut beneath the koppie
announcing that he had come to see how they were getting on, and shaking
as though he had a bout of fever.
Dorcas asked him no questions (afterwards she gathered that he had
been favoured with quite a new and very varied midnight programme); but
Tabitha smiled in her slow way. For Tabitha knew all about this business
as she knew everything that passed in Sisa-Land. Moreover, she laughed
at them a little, and said that _she_ was not afraid to sleep in the
mission-house on the night of full moon.
What is more, she did so, which was naughty of her, for on one such
occasion she slipped back to the house when her parents were asleep,
followed only by her "night-dog," the watchful Ivana, and returned
at dawn just as they had discovered that she was missing, singing and
laughing and jumping from stone to stone with the agility of her own pet
"I slept beautifully," she cried, "and dreamed I was in heaven all
Thomas was furious and rated her till she wept. Then suddenly Ivana
became furious too and rated him.
Should he be wrath with the Little Chieftainess Imba, she asked him,
because the _Isitunzis_, the spirits of the dead, loved her as did
everything else? Did they not understand that the Floweret was unlike
them, one adored of dead and living, one to be cherished even in her
dreams, one whom "Heaven Above," together with those who had "gone
below," built round with a wall of spells?--and more of such talk,
which Thomas thought so horrible and blasphemous that he fled before its
But when he came back calmer he said no more to Tabitha about her
It was a long while afterwards, at the beginning of the great drought,
that another terrible thing happened. On a certain calm and beautiful
day Tabitha, who still grew and flourished, had taken some of the
Christian children to a spot on the farther side of the koppie, where
stood an old fortification originally built for purposes of defence.
Here, among the ancient walls, with the assistance of the natives, she
had made a kind of summer-house as children love to do, and in this
house, like some learned eastern pundit in a cell, a very pretty pundit
crowned with a wreath of flowers, she sat upon the ground and instructed
the infant mind of Sisa-Land.
She was supposed to be telling them Bible stories to prepare them
for their Sunday School examination, which, indeed, she did with
embellishments and in their own poetic and metaphorical fashion. The
particular tale upon which she was engaged, by a strange coincidence,
was that from the Acts which narrates how St. Paul was bitten by a viper
upon the Island of Melita, and how he shook it off into the fire and
took no hurt.
"He must have been like Menzi," said Ivana, who was present, whereon
Tabitha's other attendant, who was also with her as it was daytime,
started an argument, for being a Christian she was no friend to Menzi,
whom she called a "dirty old witch-doctor."
Tabitha, who was used to these disputations, listened smiling, and while
she listened amused herself by trying to thrust a stone into a hole in
the side of her summer-house, which was formed by one of the original
walls of the old kraal.
Presently she uttered a scream, and snatched her arm out of the hole. To
it, or rather to her hand, was hanging a great hooded snake of the cobra
variety such as the Boers call _ringhals_. She shook it off, and the
reptile, after sitting up, spitting, hissing and expanding its hood,
glided back into the wall. Tabitha sat still, staring at her lacerated
finger, which Ivana seized and sucked.
Then, bidding one of the oldest of the children to take her place
and continue sucking, Ivana ran to a high rock a few yards away which
overlooked Menzi's kraal, that lay upon a plain at a distance of about a
quarter of a mile, and called out in the low, ringing voice that Kaffirs
can command, which carries to an enormous distance.
"Awake, O Menzi! Come, O Doctor, and bring with you your _Dawa_. The
little Chieftainess is bitten in the finger by a hooded snake. The
Floweret withers! Imba dies!"
Almost instantly there was a disturbance in the kraal and Menzi
appeared, following by a man carrying a bag. He cried back in the same
"I hear. I come. Tie string or grass round the lady Imba's finger below
the bite. Tie it hard till she screams with pain."
Meanwhile the Christian nurse had rushed off over the crest of the
koppie to fetch Thomas and Dorcas, or either of them. As it chanced she
met them both walking to join Tabitha in her bower, and thus it came
about that they reached the place at the same moment as did old Menzi
bounding up the rocks like a _klipspringer_ buck, or a mountain sheep.
Hearing him, Thomas turned in the narrow gateway of the kraal and asked
"What has happened, Witch-doctor?"
"This has happened, White-man," answered Menzi, "the Floweret has been
bitten by a hooded snake and is about to die. Look at her," and he
pointed to Tabitha, who notwithstanding the venom sucking and the grass
tied round her blackened finger, sat huddled-up, shivering and half
"Let me pass, White-man, that I may save her if I can," he went on.
"Get back," said Thomas, "I will have none of your black magic practised
on my daughter. If she is to live God will save her."
"What medicines have you, White-man?" asked Menzi.
"None, at least not here. Faith is my medicine."
Dorcas looked at Tabitha. She was turning blue and her teeth were
"Let the man do his best," she said to Thomas. "There is no other hope."
"He shan't touch her," replied her husband obstinately.
Then Dorcas fired up, meek-natured though she was and accustomed though
she was to obey her husband's will.
"I say that he shall," she cried. "I know what he can do. Don't you
remember the goat? I will not see my child die as a sacrifice to your
"I have made up my mind," answered Thomas. "If she dies it is so
decreed, and the spells and filth of a heathen cannot save her."
Dorcas tried to thrust him aside with her feeble strength, but big and
burly, he stood in the path like a rock, blocking the way, with the
stone entrance walls of the little pleasure-house on either side of him.
Suddenly the old Zulu, Menzi, became rather terrible; he drew himself
up; he seemed to swell in size; his thin face grew set and fierce.
"Out of the path, White-man!" he said, "or by Chaka's head I will kill
you," and from somewhere he produced a long, thin-bladed knife of native
iron fixed on a buck's horn.
"Kill on, Wizard," shouted Thomas. "Kill if you can."
"Listen," said Dorcas. "If our daughter dies because of you, then I have
done with you. We part for ever. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand," he answered heavily. "So be it."
Tabitha behind them made some convulsive noise. Thomas turned and looked
at her; she was slowly sinking down upon her side. His face changed. All
the rage and obstinacy went out of it.
"My child! Oh, my child!" he cried, "I cannot bear this. Love is
stronger than all. When I come up for judgment, may it be remembered
that love is stronger than all!"
Then he stepped out of the gateway, and sat down upon a stone hiding his
eyes with his hand.
Menzi threw down the knife and leapt in, followed by his servant who
bore his medicines, and the woman Ivana. He did his office; he uttered
his spells and invocations, he rubbed _Dawa_ into the wound, and prising
open the child's clenched teeth, thrust more of it, a great deal more,
down her throat, while all three of them rubbed her cold limbs.
About half an hour afterwards he came out of the place followed by
Ivana, who carried Tabitha in her strong arms; Tabitha was very weak,
but smiling, and with the colour returning to her cheeks. Of Thomas he
took no notice, but to Dorcas he said:
"Lady, I give you back your daughter. She is saved. Let her drink milk
Then Thomas, whose judgment and charity were shaken for a while, spoke,
"As a man and a father I thank you, Witch-doctor, but know that as a
priest I swear that I will never have more to do with you, who, I am
sure, by your arts, can command these reptiles to work your will and
have planned all this to shame me. No, not even if you lay dying would I
come to visit you."
Thus stormed Thomas in his wrath and humiliation, believing that he had
been the victim of a plot and not knowing that he would live bitterly to
regret his words.
"I see that you hate me, Teacher," said Menzi, "and though here I do not
find the gentleness you preach, I do not wonder; it is quite
natural. Were I you I should do the same. But you are Little Flower's
father--strange that she should have grown from such a seed--and though
we fight, for that reason I cannot hate you. Be not disturbed. Perhaps
it was the sucking of the wound and the grass tied round her finger
which saved her, not my spells and medicine. No, no, I cannot hate you,
although we fight for mastery, and you pelt me with vile words, saying
that I charmed a deadly _immamba_ to bite Little Flower whom I love,
that I might cure her and make a mock of you. Yet I do hate that snake
which bit the maiden Imba of its own wickedness, the hooded _immamba_
that you believe to be my familiar, and it shall die. Man," here he
turned to his servant, "and you, Ivana and the others, pull down that
They leapt to do his bidding, and presently discovered the _ringhals_ in
its hole. Heedless of its fangs and writhings, Menzi sprang at it with
a Zulu curse, and seizing it, proceeded to kill it in a very slow and
The great drought fell upon Sisa-Land like a curse from Heaven. For
month after month the sun beat fiercely, the sky was as brass, and no
rain fell. Even the dews seemed to depart. The springs dried up. The
river Ukufa, the river called Death, ceased to flow, so that water
could only be found in its deepest hollows. The pool beneath the Rock
of Evildoers, the Death Rock, sank till the bones of those who had been
murdered there many years before appeared as the crocodiles had left
them. Cattle died because there was no grass; cows ceased to give their
milk even where they could be partially fed and watered, so that the
little children died also. Even in the dampest situations the crops
withered, till at last it became certain that unless rain fell within a
month, before another cold season had gone by there would be starvation
everywhere. For the drought was widespread, and therefore corn could not
be sent from other districts, even if there were cattle to draw it.
Every day Thomas put up prayers for rain in the church, and on two
occasions held special services for this purpose. These were better
attended than any others had ever been, because his congregation felt
that the matter was extremely urgent, affecting them all, and that now
was the time when, whatever happened to the heathen, good Christians
like themselves should be rewarded.
However this did not chance, since the drought went on as fiercely as
Menzi was, of course, a rain-doctor, a "Heaven-herd" of the highest
distinction; one who, it was reputed, could by his magic cause the
most brazen sky to melt in tears. His services had been called in by
neighbouring tribes, with the result, it was rumoured, that those tribes
had been rewarded with partial showers. Also with great ceremony he had
gone through his rites for the benefit of the heathen section of the
Sisa people. Behold! by some curious accident on the following day
a thunderstorm had come up, and with it a short deluge of rain which
sufficed to make it certain that the crops in those fields on which it
fell would keep alive, at any rate for a while.
But mark what happened. As is not uncommon in the case of thunder
showers, this rain fell upon the lands which the heathen cultivated on
one side of the koppie, whereas those that belonged to the Christian
section upon the other side received not a single drop. The unjust were
bedewed, the just were left dry as bones. All that they received was the
lightning, which killed an old man, one of the best Christians in the
place. The limits of the torrent might have been marked off with a line.
When it had passed, to the heathen right stood pools of water; to the
Christian left there was nothing but blowing dust.
Now these Christians, weak-kneed some of them, began to murmur,
especially those who, having passed through a similar experience in
their youth, remembered what starvation meant in that country. Religion,
they reflected, was all very well, but without mealies they could
not live, and without Kaffir corn there would be no beer. Indeed,
metaphorically, before long they passed from murmurs to shouting,
and their shouts said this: Menzi must be invited to celebrate a
rain-service in his own fashion for the benefit of the entire tribe.
Thomas argued in vain. He grew angry; he called them names which
doubtless they deserved; he said that they were spiritual outcasts. By
this time, being frantic, his flock did not care what he said. Either
Menzi must come, they explained, or they would turn heathen. The Great
One in the sky could work as well through Menzi as through him, Tombool
or anybody else. Menzi _must_ come.
Thomas threatened to excommunicate them all, a menace which did not
amount to much as they were already excommunicating themselves, and when
they remained obstinate, told them that he would have nothing to do with
this rain-making business, which was unholy and repugnant to him. He
told them, moreover, that he was certain that their wickedness would
bring some judgment upon them, in which he proved to be right.
The end of it was that Menzi was summoned, and arrived with a triumphant
smile, saying that he was certain he could put everything in order, and
that soon they would have plenty of rain, that is, if they all attended
his invocations and made him presents suitable to so great an occasion.
The result was that they did attend them, man, woman and child, seated
in a circle in that same old kraal where the witch-doctor had so
marvellously shown pictures upon the smoke. Each of them also brought
his gift in his hand, or, if it were a living thing, drove it before
Thomas went down and addressed them in the midst of a sullen silence,
calling them wicked and repeating his belief that they would bring a
judgment on their own heads, they who were worshipping Baal and making
offerings to his priest.
After he had talked himself hoarse, Menzi said mildly that if the
Teacher Tombool had finished he would get to business. Why should the
Teacher be angry because he, Menzi, offered to do what the Teacher could
not--save the land from starving? And as for the gifts to himself, did
not White Teachers also receive pay and offerings at certain feasts?
Then, making a gesture of despair, Thomas returned to his house, and
with Dorcas and Tabitha watched the savage ceremony from the edge of
the cliff that overhung the river, or rather what had been the river.
He could not see much of it because they were too far away, but he
perceived those apostate Christians prostrating themselves at Menzi's
order, probably, he reflected, to make prayers to the devil. In fact
they were not doing this, but only repeating Menzi's magical chants with
appropriate gestures, as for countless ages their forefathers had done
upon similar occasions.
Next an unfortunate black goat was dragged forward by the horns, a very
thin black goat, and its throat was cut over a little fire, a sacrifice
that suggested necromancy of the most Satanic sort.
After this Thomas and his family went back into the house and shut the
windows, that they might not hear the unholy shoutings of the misguided
mob. When they went out again Menzi had departed, and so had the others.
The place was empty.
The following day was Sunday, and Thomas locked the church on the
inner side, and read the service with Dorcas and Tabitha for sole
congregation. It was a melancholy business, for some sense of evil
seemed to hang over all three of them, also over everybody else, for the
Christians went about with dejected looks and not one person spoke to
them. Only Ivana came at night as usual to sleep with Tabitha, though
even she said nothing.
Next morning they woke up to find the heavens black with clouds, heavy,
ominous clouds; the truth being that the drought was drawing to its
natural end. Thomas noted this, and reflected bitterly how hard it was
that this end should not have come twenty-four hours earlier. But so
events had been decreed and he was helpless.
By midday it began to rain, lightly at first, and from his rock he could
see the people, looking unnatural and distorted in that strange gloom,
for the clouds had descended almost to the earth, rushing about, holding
out their hands as though to clasp the blessed moisture and talking
excitedly one to the other. Soon they were driven into their huts, for
the rain turned into a kind of waterspout. Never had such rain been
known in Sisa-Land.
All that afternoon it poured, and all the night with ever-increasing
violence; yes, and all the following morning, so that by noon
Thomas's rain-gauge showed that over twelve inches had fallen in about
twenty-four hours, and it was still raining. Water rushed down from the
koppie; even their well-built house could not keep out the wet, and, to
the despair of Dorcas, several of the rooms were flooded and some of
the new furniture was spoiled. The river beneath had become a raging
torrent, and was rising every hour. Already it was over its banks, and
the water had got into the huts of the Chief's kraal and the village
round it, so that their occupants were obliged to seek safety upon the
lower rocks of the koppie, where they sat shivering in the wet.
Night came at last, and through the darkness they heard cries as of
people in distress. The long hours wore away till dawn, a melancholy
dawn, for still it rained, though more lightly now, and no sun could be
"Father," cried Tabitha, who, clad in oilskins, had gone a little way
down the road, "come here and look."
He went. The child pointed to the village below, or rather what had
been the village, for now there was none. It had gone and with it Kosa's
kraal; the site was a pool, the huts had vanished, all of them, and some
of the roofs lay upon the sides of the koppie, looking like overturned
coracles. Only the church and the graveyard remained, for those stood on
slightly higher ground by the banks of the river.
A little while later a miserable and dejected crowd arrived at the
mission-house, wrapped up in blankets or anything else that they had
managed to save.
"What do you want?" asked Thomas.
"Teacher," replied the Chief Kosa, with twitching face and rolling eyes,
"we want you to come down to the church and pray for us. Our houses are
gone, our fields are washed away. We want you to come to pray for us,
for more rain is gathering on the hills and we are afraid."
"You mean that you are cold and wish to take refuge in the church, of
which I have the key. You have sought rain and now you have got rain,
such rain as you deserve. Why do you complain? Go to your witch-doctor
and ask him to save you."
"Teacher, come down to the church and pray for us," they wailed.
In the end Thomas went, for his heart was moved to pity, and Dorcas and
Tabitha went with him.
They entered the church, wading to it through several inches of water,
and the service of intercession began, attended by every Christian
in the place--except a few who were drowned--a miserable and heartily
While it was still in progress suddenly there was a commotion, and
Menzi himself rushed into the church. It was the first time he had ever
"Come forth!" he cried. "Come forth if you would save your lives. The
water has eaten away the ground underneath this Heaven-house. It falls!
I say it falls!"
Then he peered about him in the shadowed place till he found Tabitha.
Leaping at her, he threw his long thin arms round her and bore her from
the church. The others began to follow swiftly, and as Menzi passed the
door carrying Tabitha, there came a dreadful rending sound, and one of
the walls opened, letting in the light.
All fled forth, Thomas still in his surplice and his soul filled with
bitterness, for as he went it came into his mind that this must be a
farewell to that cherished church reared with so much love, cost and
Outside the building on a patch of higher land, an upthrown plateau of
rock, where presently all gathered beyond the reach of the waters, stood
Menzi and Tabitha. Thomas looked at him and said:
"Doubtless you think that your spells have worked well, Witch-doctor,
for see the ruin about us. Yet I hold otherwise, and say, 'Wait till the
end!' To set a rock rolling down a hill is easy for those who have the
strength. But who knows on whom it will fall at last?"
"You speak foolishly, Teacher," answered Menzi. "I do not think that my
spells have worked well, for something stronger than I am has spoiled
them. Mayhap it is you, Teacher, or the _Great-Great_ whom you serve in
your own fashion. I do not know, but I pray you to remember that long
since on the smoke of my magic fire I showed you what would come about
if you re-built the Heaven-house upon this place. But you said I was a
cheat and would not be warned. Therefore things have gone as the Spirits
appointed that they should go. Your Christians made me gifts and asked
me to bring rain and it has come in plenty, and with it other things,
more than you asked. Look," and he pointed downwards.
The church was falling. Its last foundations were washed away. Down it
came with a mighty crash, to melt into the flood that presently filled
the place where it had been. Its collapse and the noise of it were
terrible, so terrible that the Christians gathered on the rock uttered
a heart-rending wail of woe. The spire, being built upon a deeper bed
because of its weight, stood longer than the rest of the fabric, but
presently it went also.
Thrice it seemed to bow towards them, then it fell like a child's
castle. Reckoning its height with his eye, Thomas saw that it could not
reach them where they stood, and so did the others, therefore no one
stirred. As the tower collapsed the clock sounded the first stroke of
the hour, then suddenly became silent for ever and vanished beneath the
waters, a mass of broken metal.
But the bell on which it had struck was hurled forward by the sway of
the fall like a stone from a sling. It sped towards them through the
air, a great dark object. Men ran this way and that, so that it fell
upon the rock where none stood. It fell; it flew to pieces like an
exploding shell, and its fragments hurtled over them with a screaming
sound. Yet as it chanced the tongue or clapper of it took a lower
course, perhaps because it was heavier, and rushing onwards like a
thrown spear, struck Menzi full upon the chest, crushing in his breast
They bore him up to the mission-house, since there was nowhere else
whither he could be taken. Here they laid him on a bed, leaving the
woman, Ivana, to watch him, for they had no skill to deal with such
injuries as his. Indeed, they thought him dead.
For a long while Menzi lay senseless, but after night had fallen his
mind returned to him and he bade Ivana bring Tabitha to him, Tabitha and
no one else. If she could not or would not come, then Ivana must bring
no one else, for if she did he would curse her and die at once.
There were discussions and remonstrances, but in the end Tabitha was
allowed to go, for after all a fellow-creature was dying, and this was
his last wish. She came, and Menzi received her smiling. Yes, he smiled
and saluted her with shaking but uplifted arm, naming her _Inkosikazi_
and _Umame_, or Mother.
"Welcome, Maiden Imba. Welcome, Little Flower," he said. "I wish to say
good-bye to you and to bless you; also to endow you with my Spirit, that
it may guard you throughout your life till you are as I am. I have hated
some of the others, but I have always loved you, Little Flower."
"And I have loved you too, Menzi," said Tabitha, with a sob.
"I know, I know! We witch-doctors read hearts. But do not weep, Little
Flower. Why should you for such as I, a black man, a mere savage cheat,
as your father named me? Yet I have not been altogether a cheat, O Imba,
though sometimes I used tricks like other doctors, for I have a strength
of my own which your white people will never understand, because they
are too young to understand. It only comes to the old folk who have
been since the beginning of the world, and remain as they were at the
beginning. I have been wicked, Little Flower, according to your white
law. I have killed men and done many other things that are according to
the law of my own people, and by that law I look for judgment. Yet, O
Imba, I will say this--that I believe your law to be higher and better
than my law. Has it not been shown to-day, since of all that were
gathered on the rock yonder I alone was struck down and in the hour of
my victory? The strongest law must be the best law, is it not so? Tell
me, Little Flower, would it please you if I died a Christian?"
"Yes, very much," said Tabitha, fixing upon this point at once and by
instinct avoiding all the other very doubtful disputations. "I will
bring my father."
"Nay, nay, Little Flower. Your father, the Teacher Tombool, swore in his
wrath that he would not come to visit me even if I lay dying, and now
that I am dying he shall keep his oath and repent of it day by day till
he too is dying. If I am to die a Christian, you must make me one this
moment; _you_ and no other. Otherwise I go hence a heathen as I have
lived. If you bring your father here I will die at once before he can
touch me, as I have power to do."
Then Tabitha, who although so young had strength and understanding and
knew, if she thwarted him, that Menzi would do as he threatened, took
water and made a certain Sign upon the brow of that old witch-doctor,
uttering also certain words that she had often heard used in church at
Perhaps she was wrong; perhaps she transgressed and took too much upon
her. Still, being by nature courageous, she ran the risk and did these
things as afterwards Ivana testified to the followers of Menzi.
"Thank you, Little Flower," said Menzi. "I do not suppose that this
Christian magic will do me any good, but that you wished it is enough.
It will be a rope to tie us together, Little Flower. Also I have another
thought. When it is known that I became a Christian at the last then, if
_you_ bid them, Little Flower, the 'heathen-herd' will follow where the
bull Menzi went before them. They are but broken sherds and scorched
sticks" (i.e. rubbish) "but they will follow and that will please you,
Little Flower, and your father also."
Here Menzi's breath failed, but recovering it, he continued:
"Hearken! O Imba! I give my people into your hand; now let your hand
bend the twig as you would have it grow. Make them Christian if you
will, or leave them heathen if you will; I care nothing. They are yours
to drive upon whatever path you choose to set their feet, _yours_, O
Imba, not Tombool's. Also, I, who lack heirs, give you my cattle, all of
them. Ivana, make known my words, and with them the curse of Menzi, the
King's child, the _Umazisi_, the Seer, on any who dare to disobey. Say
to those of my House and to my people that henceforth the Maiden Imba is
their lady and their mother."
Again he paused a little, then went on:
"Now I charge my Spirit to watch over you, Little Flower, till you die
and we come to talk over these matters otherwhere, and my Spirit as it
departs tells me that it will watch well, and that you will be a very
happy woman, Little Flower."
He shut his eyes and lay still a while. Then he opened them again and
"O Imba, tell your father, the Teacher Tombool, from me that he does not
understand us black people, whom he thinks so common, as you understand
us, Little Flower, and that he would be wise to go to minister to white
After this, once more he smiled at Tabitha and then shut his eyes again
for the last time, and that was the end of the witch-doctor Menzi.
It may be added that after he had rebuilt the church for the second
time, and numbered all the "Menzi-herd" among his congregation, which he
did now that "the bull of the herd" was dead, as Menzi had foretold that
he would, if Tabitha, whom he had "wrapped with his blanket," decreed
it, Thomas took the sage advice of his departed enemy.
Now, in the after years, he is the must respected if somewhat feared
bishop of white settlers in a remote Dominion of the Crown.
Thomas to-day knows more than he used to know, but one thing he has
never learned, namely that it was the hand of a maid, yes, the little
hidden hand of Tabitha, that drove all "Menzi's herd" into the gates of
the "Heavenly Kraal," as some of them named his church.
For Tabitha knew when to be silent. Perhaps the Kaffirs, whose minds she
could read as an open book, taught her this; or perhaps it was one of
the best gifts to her of old Menzi's "Spirit," into whose care he passed
her with so much formality.
This is the story of the great fight between Thomas Bull the missionary
and Menzi the witch-doctor, who was led by his love of a little child
whither he never wished to go; not for his own soul's sake, but just
because of that little child.
Menzi did not care about his soul, but, being so strange a man, for some
reason that he never explained, for Tabitha, his "Little Flower," he
cared very much indeed. That was why he became a Christian at the last,
since in his darkened, spell-bound heart he believed that if he did not,
when she too "went down" he would never find her again.
ONLY A DREAM
Footprints--footprints--the footprints of one dead. How ghastly they
look as they fall before me! Up and down the long hall they go, and I
follow them. _Pit, pat_ they fall, those unearthly steps, and beneath
them starts up that awful impress. I can see it grow upon the marble, a
damp and dreadful thing.
Tread them down; tread them out; follow after them with muddy shoes,
and cover them up. In vain. See how they rise through the mire! Who can
tread out the footprints of the dead?
And so on, up and down the dim vista of the past, following the sound of
the dead feet that wander so restlessly, stamping upon the impress that
will not be stamped out. Rave on, wild wind, eternal voice of human
misery; fall, dead footsteps, eternal echo of human memory; stamp, miry
feet; stamp into forgetfulness that which will not be forgotten.
And so on, on to the end.
Pretty ideas these for a man about to be married, especially when they
float into his brain at night like ominous clouds into a summer sky, and
he is going to be married to-morrow. There is no mistake about it--the
wedding, I mean. To be plain and matter-of-fact, why there stand the
presents, or some of them, and very handsome presents they are, ranged
in solemn rows upon the long table. It is a remarkable thing to observe
when one is about to make a really satisfactory marriage how scores of
unsuspected or forgotten friends crop up and send little tokens of their
esteem. It was very different when I married my first wife, I remember,
but then that match was not satisfactory--just a love-match, no more.
There they stand in solemn rows, as I have said, and inspire me with
beautiful thoughts about the innate kindness of human nature, especially
the human nature of our distant cousins. It is possible to grow almost
poetical over a silver teapot when one is going to be married to-morrow.
On how many future mornings shall I be confronted with that tea-pot?
Probably for all my life; and on the other side of the teapot will be
the cream jug, and the electro-plated urn will hiss away behind them
both. Also the chased sugar basin will be in front, full of sugar, and
behind everything will be my second wife.
"My dear," she will say, "will you have another cup of tea?" and
probably I shall have another cup.
Well, it is very curious to notice what ideas will come into a man's
head sometimes. Sometimes something waves a magic wand over his
being, and from the recesses of his soul dim things arise and walk. At
unexpected moments they come, and he grows aware of the issues of
his mysterious life, and his heart shakes and shivers like a
lightning-shattered tree. In that drear light all earthly things seem
far, and all unseen things draw near and take shape and awe him, and he
knows not what is true and what is false, neither can he trace the edge
that marks off the Spirit from the Life. Then it is that the footsteps
echo, and the ghostly footprints will not be stamped out.
Pretty thoughts again! and how persistently they come! It is one o'clock
and I will go to bed. The rain is falling in sheets outside. I can hear
it lashing against the window panes, and the wind wails through the tall
wet elms at the end of the garden. I could tell the voice of those elms
anywhere; I know it as well as the voice of a friend. What a night it
is; we sometimes get them in this part of England in October. It was
just such a night when my first wife died, and that is three years ago.
I remember how she sat up in her bed.
"Ah! those horrible elms," she said; "I wish you would have them cut
down, Frank; they cry like a woman," and I said I would, and just after
that she died, poor dear. And so the old elms stand, and I like their
music. It is a strange thing; I was half broken-hearted, for I loved her
dearly, and she loved me with all her life and strength, and now--I am
going to be married again.
"Frank, Frank, don't forget me!" Those were my wife's last words; and,
indeed, though I am going to be married again to-morrow, I have not
forgotten her. Nor shall I forget how Annie Guthrie (whom I am going to
marry now) came to see her the day before she died. I know that Annie
always liked me more or less, and I think that my dear wife guessed it.
After she had kissed Annie and bid her a last good-bye, and the door had
closed, she spoke quite suddenly: "There goes your future wife, Frank,"
she said; "you should have married her at first instead of me; she is
very handsome and very good, and she has two thousand a year; _she_
would never have died of a nervous illness." And she laughed a little,
and then added:
"Oh, Frank dear, I wonder if you will think of me before you marry Annie
Guthrie. Wherever I am I shall be thinking of you."
And now that time which she foresaw has come, and Heaven knows that I
have thought of her, poor dear. Ah! those footsteps of one dead that
will echo through our lives, those woman's footprints on the marble
flooring which will not be stamped out. Most of us have heard and
seen them at some time or other, and I hear and see them very plainly
to-night. Poor dead wife, I wonder if there are any doors in the land
where you have gone through which you can creep out to look at me
to-night? I hope that there are none. Death must indeed be a hell if the
dead can see and feel and take measure of the forgetful faithlessness of
their beloved. Well, I will go to bed and try to get a little rest. I
am not so young or so strong as I was, and this wedding wears me out. I
wish that the whole thing were done or had never been begun.
What was that? It was not the wind, for it never makes that sound here,
and it was not the rain, since the rain has ceased its surging for a
moment; nor was it the howling of a dog, for I keep none. It was more
like the crying of a woman's voice; but what woman can be abroad on such
a night or at such an hour--half-past one in the morning?
There it is again--a dreadful sound; it makes the blood turn chill, and
yet has something familiar about it. It is a woman's voice calling round
the house. There, she is at the window now, and rattling it, and, great
heavens! she is calling me.
"Frank! Frank! Frank!" she calls.
I strive to stir and unshutter that window, but before I can get there
she is knocking and calling at another.
Gone again, with her dreadful wail of "Frank! Frank!" Now I hear her at
the front door, and, half mad with a horrible fear, I run down the long,
dark hall and unbar it. There is nothing there--nothing but the wild
rush of the wind and the drip of the rain from the portico. But I
can hear the wailing voice going round the house, past the patch of
shrubbery. I close the door and listen. There, she has got through the
little yard, and is at the back door now. Whoever it is, she must know
the way about the house. Along the hall I go again, through a swing
door, through the servants' hall, stumbling down some steps into the
kitchen, where the embers of the fire are still alive in the grate,
diffusing a little warmth and light into the dense gloom.
Whoever it is at the door is knocking now with her clenched hand against
the hard wood, and it is wonderful, though she knocks so low, how the
sound echoes through the empty kitchens.
* * * * *
There I stood and hesitated, trembling in every limb; I dared not open
the door. No words of mine can convey the sense of utter desolation that
overpowered me. I felt as though I were the only living man in the whole
"_Frank! Frank!_" cries the voice with the dreadful familiar ring in it.
"Open the door; I am so cold. I have so little time."
My heart stood still, and yet my hands were constrained to obey. Slowly,
slowly I lifted the latch and unbarred the door, and, as I did so, a
great rush of air snatched it from my hands and swept it wide. The black
clouds had broken a little overhead, and there was a patch of blue,
rain-washed sky with just a star or two glimmering in it fitfully. For
a moment I could only see this bit of sky, but by degrees I made out the
accustomed outline of the great trees swinging furiously against it,
and the rigid line of the coping of the garden wall beneath them. Then a
whirling leaf hit me smartly on the face, and instinctively I dropped
my eyes on to something that as yet I could not distinguish--something
small and black and wet.
"What are you?" I gasped. Somehow I seemed to feel that it was not a
person--I could not say, _Who_ are you?
"Don't you know me?" wailed the voice, with the far-off familiar ring
about it. "And I mayn't come in and show myself. I haven't the time. You
were so long opening the door, Frank, and I am so cold--oh, so bitterly
cold! Look there, the moon is coming out, and you will be able to see
me. I suppose that you long to see me, as I have longed to see you."
As the figure spoke, or rather wailed, a moonbeam struggled through the
watery air and fell on it. It was short and shrunken, the figure of a
tiny woman. Also it was dressed in black and wore a black covering over
the whole head, shrouding it, after the fashion of a bridal veil. From
every part of this veil and dress the water fell in heavy drops.
The figure bore a small basket on her left arm, and her hand--such a
poor thin little hand--gleamed white in the moonlight. I noticed that
on the third finger was a red line, showing that a wedding-ring had
once been there. The other hand was stretched towards me as though in
All this I saw in an instant, as it were, and as I saw it, horror seemed
to grip me by the throat as though it were a living thing, for as the
voice had been familiar, so was the form familiar, though the churchyard
had received it long years ago. I could not speak--I could not even
"Oh, don't you know me yet?" wailed the voice; "and I have come from so
far to see you, and I cannot stop. Look, look," and she began to pluck
feverishly with her poor thin hand at the black veil that enshrouded
her. At last it came off, and, as in a dream, I saw what in a dim frozen
way I had expected to see--the white face and pale yellow hair of my
dead wife. Unable to speak or to stir, I gazed and gazed. There was no
mistake about it, it was she, ay, even as I had last seen her, white
with the whiteness of death, with purple circles round her eyes and the
grave-cloth yet beneath her chin. Only her eyes were wide open and fixed
upon my face; and a lock of the soft yellow hair had broken loose, and
the wind tossed it.
"You know me now, Frank--don't you, Frank? It has been so hard to come
to see you, and so cold! But you are going to be married to-morrow,
Frank; and I promised--oh, a long time ago--to think of you when you
were going to be married wherever I was, and I have kept my promise, and
I have come from where I am and brought a present with me. It was bitter
to die so young! I was so young to die and leave you, but I had to go.
Take it--take it; be quick, I cannot stay any longer. _I could not give
you my life, Frank, so I have brought you my death--take it!_"
The figure thrust the basket into my hand, and as it did so the rain
came up again, and began to obscure the moonlight.
"I must go, I must go," went on the dreadful, familiar voice, in a cry
of despair. "Oh, why were you so long opening the door? I wanted to
talk to you before you married Annie; and now I shall never see you
again--never! never! _never!_ I have lost you for ever! ever! _ever!_"
As the last wailing notes died away the wind came down with a rush and
a whirl and the sweep as of a thousand wings, and threw me back into the
house, bringing the door to with a crash after me.
I staggered into the kitchen, the basket in my hand, and set it on the
table. Just then some embers of the fire fell in, and a faint little
flame rose and glimmered on the bright dishes on the dresser, even
revealing a tin candlestick, with a box of matches by it. I was
well-nigh mad with the darkness and fear, and, seizing the matches,
I struck one, and held it to the candle. Presently it caught, and I
glanced round the room. It was just as usual, just as the servants
had left it, and above the mantelpiece the eight-day clock ticked away
solemnly. While I looked at it it struck two, and in a dim fashion I was
thankful for its friendly sound.
Then I looked at the basket. It was of very fine white plaited work with
black bands running up it, and a chequered black-and-white handle. I
knew it well. I have never seen another like it. I bought it years
ago at Madeira, and gave it to my poor wife. Ultimately it was washed
overboard in a gale in the Irish Channel. I remember that it was full of
newspapers and library books, and I had to pay for them. Many and many
is the time that I have seen that identical basket standing there on
that very kitchen table, for my dear wife always used it to put flowers
in, and the shortest cut from that part of the garden where her roses
grew was through the kitchen. She used to gather the flowers, and then
come in and place her basket on the table, just where it stood now, and
order the dinner.
All this passed through my mind in a few seconds as I stood there with
the candle in my hand, feeling indeed half dead, and yet with my mind
painfully alive. I began to wonder if I had gone asleep, and was
the victim of a nightmare. No such thing. I wish it had only been a
nightmare. A mouse ran out along the dresser and jumped on to the floor,
making quite a crash in the silence.
What was in the basket? I feared to look, and yet some power within
me forced me to it. I drew near to the table and stood for a moment
listening to the sound of my own heart. Then I stretched out my hand and
slowly raised the lid of the basket.
"I could not give you my life, so I have brought you my death!" Those
were her words. What could she mean--what could it all mean? I must know
or I would go mad. There it lay, whatever it was, wrapped up in linen.
Ah, heaven help me! It was a small bleached human skull!
A dream! After all, only a dream by the fire, but what a dream! And I am
to be married to-morrow.
_Can_ I be married to-morrow?
BARBARA WHO CAME BACK
THE RECTORY BLIND
This is the tale of Barbara, Barbara who came back to save a soul alive.
The Reverend Septimus Walrond was returning from a professional visit to
a distant cottage of his remote and straggling parish upon the coast of
East Anglia. His errand had been sad, to baptise the dying infant of a
fisherman, which just as the rate was finished wailed once feebly and
expired in his arms. The Reverend Septimus was weeping over the sorrows
of the world. Tears ran down his white but rounded face, for he was
stout of habit, and fell upon his clerical coat that was green with age
and threadbare with use. Although the evening was so cold he held his
broad-brimmed hat in his hand, and the wind from the moaning sea tossed
his snow-white hair. He was talking to himself, as was his fashion on
these lonely walks.
"I think that fresh milk would have saved that child," he said, "but
how was poor Thomas to buy fresh milk at fourpence a quart? Laid up for
three months as he has been and with six children, how was he to buy
fresh milk? I ought to have given it to him. I could have done without
these new boots till spring, damp feet don't matter to an old man. But I
thought of my own comfort--the son that doth so easily beset me--and so
many to clothe and feed at home and poor Barbara, my darling Barbara,
hanging between life and death."
He sobbed and wiped away his tears with the back of his hand, then began
to pray, still aloud.
"O God of pity, in the name of the loving and merciful Christ, help me
and poor Thomas in our troubles."
"I ought to have put Thomas's name first--my selfishness again," he
ejaculated, then went on:
"Give consolation to Thomas who loved his baby, and if it pleases Thee
in Thy infinite wisdom and foresight, spare my dearest Barbara's life,
that she may live out her days upon the earth and perhaps in her turn
give life to others. I know I should not ask it; I know it is better
that she should go and be with Thee in the immortal home Thou hast
prepared for us unhappy, suffering creatures. Yet--pity my poor human
weakness--I do ask it. Or if Thou decreest otherwise, then take me also,
O God, for I can bear no more. Four children gone! I can bear no more, O
He sobbed again and wiped away another tear, then muttered:
"My selfishness, always my selfishness! With six remaining to be looked
after, that is counting Barbara if she still lives, I dare to ask to
be relieved of the burdens of the flesh! Pitiful Christ, visit not my
wickedness on me or on others, and O Thou that didst raise the daughter
of Jairus, save my sweet Barbara and comfort the heart of poor Thomas. I
will have faith. I _will_ have faith."
He thrust his hat upon his head, pulling it down over his ears because
of the rough wind, and walked forward quite jauntily for a few yards.
"What a comfort these new boots are," he said. "If I had stepped into
that pool with the old ones my left foot would be wet through now. Let
me thank God for these new boots. Oh! how can I, when I remember that
the price of them should have been spent in milk for the poor baby? If
I were really a Christian I ought to take them off and walk barefoot,
as the old pilgrims used to do. They say it is healthy, and I tried
to think so because it is cheap, though I am sure that this was
the beginning of poor little Cicely's last illness. With her broken
chilblains she could not stand the snow; at any rate, the chill struck
upwards. Well, she has been in bliss three years, three whole years, and
how thankful I ought to be for that. How glad she will be to see Barbara
too, if it pleases God in His mercy to take Barbara; she always was her
favourite sister. I ought to remember that; I ought to remember that
what I lose here I gain there, that my store is always growing in
Heaven. But I can't, for I am a man still. Oh! curse it all! I can't,
and like Job I wish I'd never been born. Job got a new family and
was content, but that's their Eastern way. It's different with us
He stumbled on for a hundred yards or more, vacuously, almost drunkenly,
for the hideous agony that he was enduring half paralysed his brain, and
by its very excess was bringing him some temporary relief. He looked at
the raging sea to his right, and in a vague fashion wished that it had
swallowed him. He looked at the kind earth of the ploughed field to his
left, and wished vividly, for the idea was more familiar, that six feet
of it lay above him. Then he remembered that just beyond that sand-heap
he had found a plover's nest with two eggs in it fifty years ago when
he was a boy, and had taken one egg and left the other, or rather had
restored it because the old bird screamed so pitifully about him. In
some strange manner that little, long-forgotten act of righteousness
brought a glow of comfort to his tormented spirit. Perhaps God would
deal so by him.
In its way the evening was very beautiful. The cold November day was
dying into night. Clear, clear was the sky save for some black and heavy
snow clouds that floated on it driven before the easterly wind that
piped through the sere grasses and blew the plovers over him as though
they were dead leaves. Where the sun had vanished long bars of purple
lay above the horizon; to his excited fancy they looked like the gateway
of another and a better world, set, as the old Egyptians dreamed, above
the uttermost pylons of the West. What lay there beyond the sun? Oh!
what lay beyond the sun? Perhaps, even now, Barbara knew!
A figure appeared standing upon a sand dune between the pathway and the
sea. Septimus was short-sighted and could not tell who it was, but in
this place at this hour doubtless it must be a parishioner, perhaps
one waiting to see him upon some important matter. He must forget his
private griefs. He must strive to steady his shaken mind and attend to
his duties. He drew himself together and walked on briskly.
"I wish I had not been obliged to give away Jack," he said. "He was a
great companion, and somehow I always met people with more confidence
when he was with me; he seemed to take away my shyness. But the license
was seven-and-sixpence, and I haven't got seven-and-sixpence; also he
has an excellent home with that stuffy old woman, if a dull one, for he
must miss his walk. Oh! it's you, Anthony. What are you doing here at
this time of night? Your father told me you had a bad cold and there's
so much sickness about. You should be careful, Anthony, you know
you're not too strong, none of you Arnotts are. Well, I suppose you are
shooting, and most young men will risk a great deal in order to kill
God's other creatures."
The person addressed, a tall, broad-shouldered, rather pale young man
of about twenty-one, remarkable for his large brown eyes and a certain
sweet expression which contrasted somewhat oddly with the general
manliness of his appearance, lifted his cap and answered:
"No, Mr. Walrond, I am not shooting to-night. In fact, I was waiting
here to meet you."
"What for, Anthony? Nothing wrong up at the Hall, I hope."
"No, Mr. Walrond; why should there be anything wrong there?"
"I don't know, I am sure, only as a rule people don't wait for the
parson unless there is something amiss, and there seems to be so much
misfortune in this parish just now. Well, what is it, my boy?"
"I want to know about Barbara, Mr. Walrond. They tell me she is very
bad, but I can't get anything definite from the others, I mean from her
sisters. They don't seem to be sure, and the doctor wouldn't say when I
The Reverend Septimus looked at Anthony and Anthony looked at the
Reverend Septimus, and in that look they learned to understand each
other. The agony that was eating out this poor father's heart was not
peculiar to him; another shared it. In what he would have called his
"wicked selfishness" the Reverend Septimus felt almost grateful for this
sudden revelation. If it is a comfort to share our joys, it is a still
greater comfort to share our torments.
"Walk on with me, Anthony," he said. "I must hurry, I have every reason
to hurry. Had it not been a matter of duty I would not have left the
house, but, so to speak, a clergyman has many children; he cannot prefer
one before the other."
"Yes, yes," said Anthony, "but what about Barbara? Oh! please tell me at
"I can't tell you, Anthony, because I don't know. From here to the crest
of Gunter's Hill," and he pointed to an eminence in front of them, "is a
mile and a quarter. When we get to the crest of Gunter's Hill perhaps
we shall know. I left home two hours ago, and then Barbara lay almost at
the point of death; insensible."
"Insensible," muttered Anthony. "Oh! my God, insensible."
"Yes," went on the clergyman in a voice of patient resignation. "I don't
understand much about such things, but the inflammation appears to have
culminated that way. Now either she will never wake again, or if she
wakes she may live. At least that is what they tell me, but they may be
wrong. I have so often known doctors to be wrong."
They walked on together in silence twenty yards or more. Then he added
as though speaking to himself:
"When we reach the top of Gunter's Hill perhaps we shall learn. We can
see her window from there, and if she had passed away I bade them pull
the blind down; if she was about the same, to pull it half down, and if
she were really better, to leave it quite up. I have done that for two
nights now, so that I might have a little time to prepare myself. It is
a good plan, though very trying to a father's heart. Yesterday I stood
for quite a while with my eyes fixed upon the ground, not daring to look
and learn the truth."
Anthony groaned, and once more the old man went on:
"She is a very unselfish girl, Barbara, or perhaps I should say
was, perhaps I should say was. That is how she caught this horrible
inflammation. Three weeks ago she and her sister Janey went for a long
walk to the Ness, to--to--oh! I forget why they went. Well, it came on
to pour with rain; and just as they had started for home, fortunately,
or rather unfortunately, old Stevens the farmer overtook them on his
way back from market and offered them a lift. They got into the cart
and Barbara took off the mackintosh that her aunt gave her last
Christmas--it is the only one in the house, since such things are too
costly for me to buy--and put it over Janey, who had a cold. It was
quite unnecessary, for Janey was warmly wrapped up, while Barbara had
nothing under the mackintosh except a summer dress. That is how she
caught the chill."
Anthony made no comment, and again they walked forward without speaking,
perhaps for a quarter of a mile. Then the horror of the suspense became
intolerable to him. Without a word he dashed forward, sped down the
slope and up that of the opposing Gunter's Hill, more swiftly perhaps
than he had ever run before, although he was a very quick runner.
"He's gone," murmured Septimus. "I wonder why! I suppose that I walk too
slowly for him. I cannot walk so fast as I used to do, and he felt the
Then he dismissed the matter from his half-dazed mind and stumbled on
wearily, muttering his disjointed prayers.
Thus in due course he began to climb the little slope of Gunter's Hill.
The sun had set, but there was still a red glow in the sky, and against
this glow he perceived the tall figure of Anthony standing quite still.
When he was about a hundred yards away the figure suddenly collapsed,
as a man does if he is shot. The Reverend Septimus put his hand to his
heart and caught his breath.
"I know what that means," he said. "He was watching the window, and they
have just pulled down the blind. I suppose he must be fond of her and
it--affects him. Oh! if I were younger I think this would kill me, but,
thank God! as one draws near the end of the road the feet harden; one
does not feel the thorns so much. 'The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken
away, bl--bl--yes, I _will_ say it--blessed be the Name of the Lord.' I
should remember that she is so much better where she is; that this is
a very hard world; indeed, sometimes I think it is not a world, but a
hell. Oh! Barbara, my sweet Barbara!" and he struggled forward blindly
beating at the rough wind with his hands as though it were a visible
foe, and so at last came to the crest of the hill where Anthony Arnott
lay prone upon his face.
So sure was Septimus of the cause of his collapse that he did not even
trouble to look at the Rectory windows in the hollow near the church two
hundred yards or so away. He only looked at Anthony, saying:
"Poor lad, poor lad! I wonder how I shall get him home; I must fetch
As he spoke, Anthony sat up and said, "You see, you see!"
"The blind; _it is quite up_. When I got here it was half down, then
someone pulled it up. That's what finished me. I felt as though I had
been hit on the head with a stick."
The Reverend Septimus stared, then suddenly sank to his knees and
returned thanks in his simple fashion.
"Don't let us be too certain, Anthony," he exclaimed at length. "There
may be a mistake, or perhaps this is only a respite which will prolong
the suspense. Often such things happen to torment us; I mean that they
are God's way of trying and purifying our poor sinful hearts."
THE NEW YEAR FEAST
Barbara did not die. On the contrary, Barbara got quite well again, but
her recovery was so slow that Anthony only saw her once before he was
obliged to return to college. This was on New Year's Day, when Mr.
Walrond asked him to dinner to meet Barbara, who was coming down for the
first time. Needless to say he went, taking with him a large bunch
of violets which he had grown in a frame at the Hall especially for
Barbara. Indeed, she had already received many of those violets through
the agency of her numerous younger sisters.
The Rectory dinner was at one o'clock, and the feast could not be
called sumptuous. It consisted of a piece of beef, that known as the
"aitch-bone," which is perhaps the cheapest that the butcher supplies
when the amount of eating is taken into consideration; one roast duck,
a large Pekin, the Near Year offering of the farmer Stevens; and a plum
pudding somewhat pallid in appearance. These dainties with late apples
and plenty of cold water made up the best dinner that the Walrond family
had eaten for many a day.
The Rectory dining-room was a long, narrow chamber of dilapidated
appearance, since between meals it served as a schoolroom also. A deal
bookcase in the corner held some tattered educational works and the
walls that once had been painted blue, but now were faded in patches
to a sickly green, were adorned only with four texts illuminated by
Barbara. These texts had evidently served as targets for moistened paper
pellets, some of which still stuck upon their surface.
Anthony arrived a little late, since the picking of the violets had
taken longer than he anticipated, and as there was no one to open the
front door, walked straight into the dining-room. In the doorway
he collided with the little maid-of-all-work, a red-elbowed girl of
singularly plain appearance, who having deposited the beef upon the
table, was rushing back for the duck, accompanied by two of the young
Walronds who were assisting with the vegetables. The maid, recoiling,
sat down with a bump on one of the wooden chairs, and the Walrond girls,
a merry, good-looking, unkempt crew (no boy had put in an appearance
in all that family), burst into screams of laughter. Anthony apologised
profusely; the maid, ejaculating that she didn't mind, not she, jumped
up and ran for the duck; and the Reverend Septimus, a very different
Septimus to him whom we met a month or so before, seizing his hand,
shook it warmly, calling out:
"Julia, my dear, never mind that beef. I haven't said grace yet. Here's
"Glad to see him, I am sure," said Mrs. Walrond, her eyes still fixed
upon the beef, which was obviously burnt at one corner. Then with a
shrug, for she was accustomed to such accidents, she rose to greet him.
Mrs. Walrond was a tall and extremely good-looking lady of about
fifty-five, dark-eyed and bright complexioned, whose chestnut hair
was scarcely touched with grey. Notwithstanding all the troubles and
hardships that she had endured, her countenance was serene and even
happy, for she was blessed with a good heart, a lively faith in
Providence, and a well-regulated mind. Looking at her, it was easy to
see whence Barbara and her other daughters inherited their beauty and
air of breeding.
"How are you, Anthony?" she went on, one eye still fixed upon the burnt
beef. "It is good of you to come, though you are late, which I suppose
is why the girl has burnt the meat."
"Not a bit," called out one of the children, it was Janey, "it is very
good of us to have him when there's only one duck. Anthony, you mustn't
eat duck, as we don't often get one and you have hundreds."
"Not I, dear, I hate ducks," he relied automatically, for his eyes were
seeking the face of Barbara.
Barbara was seated in the wooden armchair with a cushion on it, near the
fire of driftwood, advantages that were accorded to her in honour of
her still being an invalid. Even to a stranger she would have looked
extraordinarily sweet with her large and rather plaintive violet eyes
over which the long black lashes curved, her waving chestnut hair parted
in the middle and growing somewhat low upon her forehead, her tall
figure, very thin just now, and her lovely shell-like complexion
heightened by a blush.
To Anthony she seemed a very angel, an angel returned from the shores
of death for his adoration and delight. Oh! if things had gone the other
way--if there had been no sweet Barbara seated in that wooden chair!
The thought gripped his heart with a hand of ice; he felt as he had felt
when he looked at the window-place from the crest of Gunter's Hill. But
she _had_ come back, and he was sure that they were each other's for
life. And yet, and yet, life must end one day and then, what? Once more
that hand of ice dragged at his heart strings.
In a moment it was all over and Mr. Walrond was speaking.
"Why don't you bid Barbara good-day, Anthony?" he asked. "Don't you
think she looks well, considering? We do, better than you, in fact," he
added, glancing at his face, which had suddenly grown pale, almost grey.
"He's going to give Barbara the violets and doesn't know how to do it,"
piped the irrepressible Janey. "Anthony, why don't you ever bring _us_
violets, even when we have the whooping cough?"
"Because the smell of them is bad for delicate throats," he answered,
and without a word handed the sweet-scented flowers to Barbara.
She took them, also without a word, but not without a look, pinned a few
to her dress, and reaching a cracked vase from the mantelpiece, disposed
of the rest of them there till she could remove them to her own room.
Then Mr. Walrond began to say grace and the difficulties of that meeting
Anthony sat by Barbara. His chair was rickety, one of the legs being
much in need of repair; the driftwood fire that burned brightly about
two feet away grilled his spine, for no screen was available, and he
nearly choked himself with a piece of very hot and hard potato. Yet to
tell the truth never before did he share in such a delightful meal. For
soon, when the clamour of "the girls" swelled loud and long, and the
attention of Mr. and Mrs. Walrond was entirely occupied with the burnt
beef and the large duck that absolutely refused to part with its limbs,
he found himself almost as much alone with Barbara as though they had
been together on the wide seashore.
"You are really getting quite well?" he asked.
"Yes, I think so." Then, after a pause and with a glance from the violet
eyes, "Are you glad?"
"You know I am glad. You know that if you had--died, I should have died
"Nonsense," said the curved lips, but they trembled and the violet eyes
were a-swim with tears. Then a little catch of the throat, and, almost
in a whisper, "Anthony, father told me about you and the window-blind
and--oh! I don't know how to thank you. But I want to say something,
if you won't laugh. Just at that time I seemed to come up out of some
blackness and began to dream of you. I dreamed that I was sinking back
into the blackness, but you caught me by the hand and lifted me quite
out of it. Then we floated away together for ever and for ever and for
ever, for though sometimes I lost you we always met again. Then I woke
up and knew that I wasn't going to die, that's all."
"What a beautiful dream," began Anthony, but at that moment, pausing
from her labours at the beef, Mrs. Walrond said:
"Barbara, eat your duck before it grows cold. You know the doctor said
you must take plenty of nourishment."
"I am going to, mother," answered Barbara, "I feel dreadfully hungry,"
and really she did; her gentle heart having fed full, of a sudden her
body seemed to need no nourishment.
"Dear me!" said Mr. Walrond, pausing from his labours and viewing the
remains of the duck disconsolately, for he did not see what portion of
its gaunt skeleton was going to furnish him with dinner, and duck was
one of his weaknesses, "dear me, there's a dreadful smell of burning in
this room. Do you think it can be the beef, my love?"
"Of course it is not the beef," replied Mrs. Walrond rather sharply.
"The beef is beautifully done."
"Oh!" ejaculated one of the girls who had got the calcined bit, "why,
mother, you said it was burnt yourself."
"Never mind what I said," replied Mrs. Walrond severely, "especially as
I was mistaken. It is very rude of your father to make remarks about the
"Well, something _is_ burning, my love."
Janey, who was sitting next to Anthony, paused from her meal to sniff,
then exclaimed in a voice of delight:
"Oh! it is Anthony's coat tails. Just look, they are turning quite
brown. Why, Anthony, you must be as beautifully done as the beef. If you
can sit there and say nothing, you are a Christian martyr wasted, that's
Anthony sprang up, murmuring that he thought there was something wrong
behind, which on examination there proved to be. The end of it was that
the chairs were all pushed downwards, with the result that for the rest
of that meal there was a fiery gulf fixed between him and Barbara which
made further confidences impossible. So he had to talk of other matters.
Of these, as it chanced, he had something to say.
A letter had arrived that morning from his elder brother George, who
was an officer in a line regiment. It had been written in the trenches
before Sebastopol, for these events took place in the mid-Victorian
period towards the end of the Crimean War. Or rather the letter had been
begun in the trenches and finished in the military hospital, whither
George had been conveyed, suffering from "fever and severe chill," which
seemed to be somewhat contradictory terms, though doubtless they were in
fact compatible enough. Still he wrote a very interesting letter, which,
after the pudding had been consumed to the last spoonful, Anthony read
aloud while the girls ate apples and cracked nuts with their teeth.
"Dear me! George seems to be very unwell," said Mrs. Walrond.
"Yes," answered Anthony, "I am afraid he is. One of the medical officers
whom my father knows, who is working in that hospital, says they mean
to send him home as soon as he can bear the journey, though he doesn't
think it will be just at present."
This sounded depressing, but Mr. Walrond found that it had a bright
"At any rate, he won't be shot like so many poor fellows; also he has
been in several of the big battles and will be promoted. I look upon him
as a made man. He'll soon shake off his cold in his native air----"
"And we shall have a real wounded hero in the village," said one of the
"He isn't a wounded hero," answered Janey, "he's only got a chill."
"Well, that's as bad as wounded, dear, and I am sure he would have been
wounded if he could." And so on.
"When are you going back to Cambridge, Anthony?" asked Mrs. Walrond
"To-morrow morning, I am sorry to say," he answered, and Barbara's face
fell at his words. "You see, I go up for my degree this summer term,
and my father is very anxious that I should take high honours in
mathematics. He says that it will give me a better standing in the Bar.
So I must begin work at once with a tutor before term, for there's no
one near here who can help me."
"No," said Mr. Walrond. "If it had been classics now, with a little
refurbishing perhaps I might. But mathematics are beyond me."
"Barbara should teach him," suggested one of the little girls slyly.
"She's splendid at Rule of Three."
"Which is more than you are," said Mrs. Walrond in severe tones, "who
always make thirteen out of five and seven. Barbara, love, you are
looking very tired. All this noise is too much for you, you must go
and lie down at once in your own room. No, not on the sofa, in your own
room. Now say good-bye to Anthony and go."
So Barbara, who was really tired, though with a happy weariness, did as
she was bid. Her hand met Anthony's and lingered there for a little,
her violet eyes met his brown eyes and lingered there a little; her lips
spoke some few words of commonplace farewell. Then staying a moment to
take the violets from the cracked vase, and another moment to kiss her
father as she passed him, she walked, or rather glided from the room
with the graceful movement that was peculiar to her, and lo! at once
for Anthony it became a very emptiness. Moreover, he grew aware of the
hardness of his wooden seat and that the noise of the girls was making
his head ache. So presently he too rose and departed.
Six months or so had gone by and summer reigned royally at Eastwich,
for thus was the parish named of which the Reverend Septimus Walrond
had spiritual charge. The heath was a blaze of gold, the cut hay smelt
sweetly in the fields, the sea sparkled like one vast sapphire, the
larks beneath the sun and the nightingales beneath the moon sang their
hearts out on Gunter's Hill, and all the land was full of life and sound
On one particularly beautiful evening, after partaking of a meal called
"high tea," Barbara, quite strong again now and blooming like the wild
rose upon her breast, set out alone upon a walk. Her errand was to the
cottage of that very fisherman whose child her father had baptised on
the night when her life trembled in the balance. Having accomplished
this she turned homewards, lost in reverie, events having happened at
the Rectory which gave her cause for thought. When she had gone a little
way some instinct led her to look up. About fifty yards away a man was
walking towards her to all appearance also lost in reverie. Even at that
distance and in the uncertain evening light she knew well enough that
this was Anthony. Her heart leapt at the sight of him and her cheeks
seemed to catch the hue of the wild rose on her bosom. Then she
straightened her dress a little and walked on.
In less than a minute they had met.
"I heard where you had gone and came to meet you," he said awkwardly.
"How well you are looking, Barbara, how well and----" he had meant to
add "beautiful," but his tongue stumbled at the word and what he said
"If I were an Indian I suppose I should thank you for the compliment,
Anthony, but as it is I don't know. But how well _you_ are looking, how
well and by comparison--fat."
Then they both laughed, and he explained at length how he had been able
to get home two days earlier than he expected; also that he had taken
his degree with even higher honours than he hoped.
"I am so glad," she said earnestly.
"And so am I; I mean glad that you are glad. You see, if it hadn't been
for you I should never have done so well. But because I thought you
would be glad, I worked like anything."
"You should have thought of what your father would feel, not
of--of--well, it has all ended as it should, so we needn't argue. How
is your brother George?" she went on, cutting short the answer that was
rising to his lips. "I suppose I should call him Captain Arnott now, for
I hear he has been promoted. We haven't seen him since he came home last
week, from some hospital in the South of England, they say."
Anthony's face grew serious.
"I don't know; I don't quite like the look of him, and he coughs such a
lot. It seems as though he could not shake off that chill he got in the
trenches. That's why he hasn't been to call at the Rectory."
"I hope this beautiful weather will cure him," Barbara replied rather
doubtfully, for she had heard a bad report of George Arnott's health.
Then to change the subject she added, "Do you know, we had a visitor
yesterday, Aunt Maria in the flesh, in a great deal of flesh, as Janey
"Do you mean Lady Thompson?"
"Aunt Thompson and her footman and her pug dog. Thank goodness, she only
stayed to tea, as she had a ten mile drive back to her hotel. As it was,
lots of things happened."
"Well, first when she got out of the carriage, covered with jet anchor
chains--for you know Uncle Samuel died only three months ago and left
her all his money--she caught sight of our heads staring at her out of
the drawing-room window, and asked father if he kept a girls' school.
Then she made mother cry by remarking that she ought to be thankful to
Providence for having taken to its bosom the four of us who died young
--you know she has no children herself and so can't feel about them.
Also father was furious because she told him that at least half of us
should have been boys. He turned quite pink and said:
"'I have been taught, Lady Thompson, that these are matters which God
Almighty keeps in His own hands, and to Him I must refer you.'
"'Good gracious! don't get angry,' she answered. 'If you clergymen can
cross-examine your Maker, I am not in that position. Besides, they are
all very good-looking girls who may find husbands, if they ever see a
man. So things might have been worse.'
"Then she made remarks about the tea, for Uncle Samuel was a
tea-merchant; and lastly that wicked Janey sent the footman to take
the pug dog to walk past the butcher's shop where the fighting terrier
lives. You can guess the rest."
"Was the pug killed?" asked Anthony.
"No, though the poor thing came back in a bad way. I never knew before
that a pug's tail was so long when it is quite uncurled. But the footman
looked almost worse, for he got notice on the spot. You see he went into
the 'Red Dragon' and left the pug outside."
"And here endeth Aunt Maria and all her works," said Anthony, who wanted
to talk of other things.
"No, not quite."
He looked at her, for there was meaning in her voice.
"In fact," she went on, "so far as I'm concerned it ought to run, 'Here
beginneth Aunt Maria.' You see, I have got to go and live with her
Anthony stopped and looked at her.
"What the devil do you mean?" he asked.
"What I say. She took a fancy to me and she wants a companion--someone
to do her errands and read to her at night and look after the pug dog
and so forth. And she will pay me thirty pounds a year with my board and
dresses. And" (with gathering emphasis) "we cannot afford to offend her
who have half lived upon her alms and old clothes for so many years.
And, in short, Dad and my mother thought it best that I should go, since
Joyce can take my place, and at any rate it will be a mouth less to feed
at home. So I am going to-morrow morning by the carrier's cart."
"Going?" gasped Anthony. "Where to?"
"To London first, then to Paris, then to Italy to winter at Rome, and
then goodness knows where. You see, my Aunt Maria has wanted to travel
all her life, but Uncle Samuel, who was born in Putney, feared the sea
and lived and died in Putney in the very house in which he was born. Now
Aunt Maria wants a change and means to have it."
Then Anthony broke out.
"Damn the old woman! Why can't she take her change in Italy or wherever
she wishes, and leave you alone?"
"Anthony!" said Barbara in a scandalised voice. "What do you mean,
Anthony, by using such dreadful language about my aunt?"
"What do I mean? Well" (this with the recklessness of despair), "if you
want to know, I mean that I can't bear your going away."
"If my parents," began Barbara steadily----
"What have your parents to do with it? I'm not your parents, I'm
Barbara looked at him in remonstrance.
"--old friend, played together in childhood, you know the kind of thing.
In short, I don't want you to go to Italy with Lady Thompson. I want you
to stop here."
"Why, Anthony? I thought you told me you were going to live in chambers
in London and read for the Bar."
"Well, London isn't Italy, and one doesn't eat dinners at Lincoln's
Inn all the year round, one comes home sometimes. And heaven knows whom
you'll meet in those places or what tricks that horrible old aunt of
yours will be playing with you. Oh! it's wicked! How can you desert your
poor father and mother in this way, to say nothing of your sisters? I
never thought you were so hard-hearted."
"Anthony," said Barbara in a gentle voice, "do you know what we have got
to live on? In good years it comes to about 150 pounds, but once, when
my father got into that lawsuit over the dog that was supposed to kill
the sheep, it went down to 70 pounds. That was the winter when two
of the little ones died for want of proper food--nothing else--and I
remember that the rest of us had to walk barefoot in the mud and snow
because there was no money to buy us boots, and only some of us could
go out at once because we had no cloaks to put on. Well, all this may
happen again. And so, Anthony, do you think that I should be right to
throw away thirty pounds a year and to make a quarrel with my aunt, who
is rich and kind-hearted although very over-bearing, and the only friend
we have? If my father died, Anthony, or even was taken ill, and he is
not very strong, what would become of us? Unless Aunt Thompson chose to
help we should all have to go to the workhouse, for girls who have not
been specially trained can earn nothing, except perhaps as domestic
servants, if they are strong enough. I don't want to go away and read
to Aunt Maria and take the pug dog out walking, although it is true I
should like to see Italy, but I must--can't you understand--I must.
So please reproach me no more, for it is hard to bear--especially from
"Stop! For God's sake, stop!" said Anthony. "I am a brute to have spoken
like that, and I'm helpless; that's the worst of it. Oh! my darling,
don't you understand? Don't you understand----?"
"No," answered Barbara, shaking her head and beginning to cry.
"That I love you, that I have always loved you, and that I always shall
love you until--until--the moon ceases to shine?" and he pointed to that
orb which had appeared above the sea.
"They say that it is dead already, and no doubt will come to an end like
everything else," remarked Barbara, seeking to gain time.
Then for a while she sought nothing more, who found herself lost in her
So there they plighted their troth, that was, they swore, more enduring
than the moon, for indeed they so believed.
"Nothing shall part us except death," he said.
"Why should death part us?" she answered, looking him bravely in the
eyes. "I mean to live beyond death, and while I live and wherever I live
death shall _not_ part us, if you'll be true to me."
"I'll not fail in that," he answered.
And so their souls melted into rapture and were lifted up beyond the
world. The song of the nightingales was heavenly music in their ears,
and the moon's silver rays upon the sea were the road by which their
linked souls travelled to the throne of Him who had lit their lamp of
love, and there made petition that through all life's accidents and
death's darkness it might burn eternally.
For the love of these two was deep and faithful, and already seemed to
them as though it were a thing they had lost awhile and found once
more; a very precious jewel that from the beginning had shone upon their
breasts; a guiding-star to light them to that end which is the dawn of
Who will not smile at such thoughts as these?
The way of the man with the maid and the way of the maid with the man
and the moon to light them and the birds to sing the epithalamium of
their hearts and the great sea to murmur of eternity in their opened
ears. Nature at her sweet work beneath the gentle night--who is there
that will not say that it was nothing more?
Well, let their story answer.
A YEAR LATER
Something over a year had gone by, and Barbara, returned from her
foreign travels, sat in the drawing-room of Lady Thompson's house in
That year had made much difference in her, for the sweet country girl,
now of full age, had blossomed into the beautiful young woman of the
world. She had wintered in Rome and studied its antiquities and art. She
had learned some French and Italian, for nothing was grudged to her in
the way of masters, and worked at music, for which she had a natural
taste. She had seen a good deal of society also, for Lady Thompson was
at heart proud of her beautiful niece, and spared no expense to bring
her into contact with such people as she considered she should know.
Thus it came about that the fine apartment they occupied in Rome had
many visitors. Among these was a certain Secretary of Legation, the Hon.
Charles Erskine Russell, who, it was expected, would in the course
of nature succeed to a peerage. He was a very agreeable as well as an
accomplished and wealthy man, and--he fell in love with Barbara. With
the cleverness of her sex she managed to put him off and to avoid any
actual proposal before they left for Switzerland in the early summer.
Thither, happily, he could not follow them, since his official duties
prevented him from leaving the Embassy. Lady Thompson was much annoyed
at what she considered his bad conduct, and said as much to Barbara.
Her niece listened, but did not discuss the matter, with the result that
Lady Thompson's opinion of the Hon. Charles Russell was confirmed. Was
it not clear that there had been no proposal, although it was equally
clear that he ought to have proposed? Poor Barbara! Perhaps this was the
only act of deception of which she was ever guilty.
So things went on until the previous day, the Monday after their arrival
in London, when, most unhappily, Lady Thompson went out to lunch and met
the Hon. Charles Russell, who was on leave in England.
Next morning, while Barbara was engaged in arranging some flowers in the
drawing-room, who should be shown in but Mr. Russell. In her alarm
she dropped a bowl and broke it, a sign that he evidently considered
hopeful, setting it down to the emotion which his sudden presence
caused. To emotion it was due, indeed, but not of a kind he would have
wished. Recovering herself, Barbara shook his hand and then told the
servant who was picking up the pieces of the bowl to inform her ladyship
of the arrival of this morning caller.
The man bowed and departed, and as he went Barbara noticed an ominous
twinkle in the pleasant blue eyes of the Hon. Charles Russell.
The rest of the interview may be summed up in a few words. Mr. Russell
was eloquent, passionate and convincing. He assured Barbara that she was
the only woman he had ever loved with such force and conviction that in
the end she almost believed him. But this belief, if it existed, did not
in the least shake her absolutely definite determination to have nothing
whatsoever to do with her would-be lover.
Not until she had told him so six times, however, did he consent to
believe her, for indeed he had been led to expect a very different
"I suppose you care for someone else," he said at last.
"Yes," said Barbara, whose back, metaphorically, was against the wall.
"Somebody much more--suitable."
"No," said Barbara, "he is poor and not distinguished and has all his
way to make in the world."
"He might change his mind, or--die."
"If so, I should not change mine," said Barbara. "Very likely I shall
not marry him, but I shall not marry anyone else."
"In heaven's name, why not?"
"Because it would be a sacrilege against heaven."
Then at last Mr. Russell understood.
"Allow me to offer you my good wishes and to assure you of my earnest
and unalterable respect," he said in a somewhat broken voice, and taking
her hand he touched it lightly with his lips, turned, and departed out
of Barbara's sight and life.
Ten minutes later Lady Thompson arrived, and her coming was like to
that of a thunderstorm. She shut the door, locked it, and sat down in an
armchair in solemn, lurid silence. Then with one swift flash the storm
"What is this I hear from Mr. Russell?"
"I am sure I don't know what you have heard from Mr. Russell," answered
"Perhaps, but you know very well what there was to hear, you wicked,
"Wicked!" murmured Barbara, "ungrateful!"
"Yes, it is wicked to lead a man on and then reject him as though he
were--rubbish. And it is ungrateful to throw away the chances that a
kind aunt and Providence put in your way. What have you against him?"
"Nothing at all, I think him very nice."
Lady Thompson's brow lightened; if she thought him "very nice" all might
yet be well. Perhaps this refusal was nothing but nonsensical modesty.
Mr. Russell, being a gentleman, had not told her everything.
"Then I say you shall marry him."
"And I say, Aunt, that I will not and cannot."
"Why? Have you been secretly converted to the Church of Rome, and are
you going into a nunnery? Or is there--another man?"
"Where is he?" said Lady Thompson, looking about her as though she
expected to find him hidden under the furniture. "And how did you manage
to become entangled with him, you sly girl, under my very nose? And who
is he? One of those bowing and scraping Italians, I suppose, who think
you'll get my money. Tell me the truth at once."
"He is somebody you have never seen, Aunt. One of the Arnotts down at
"Oh, that Captain! Well, I believe they have a decent property, about
2,000 pounds a year, but all in land, which Sir Samuel never held by.
Of course, it is nothing like the Russell match, which would have made a
peeress of you some day and given you a great position meanwhile. But I
suppose we must be thankful for small mercies."
"It is not Captain Arnott, it is his younger brother Anthony."
"Anthony! Anthony, that youth who is reading for the Bar. Why, the
property is all entailed, and he will scarcely have a half-penny, for
his mother brought no money to the Arnotts. Oh, this is too much! To
throw up Mr. Russell for an Anthony. Are you engaged to him with your
parents' consent, may I ask, and if so, why was the matter concealed
from me, who would certainly have declined to drag an entangled young
woman about the world?"
"I am not engaged, but my father and mother know that we are attached
to each other. It happened the day after you came to Eastwich, or
they would have told you. My father made me promise that we would not
correspond while I was away, as he thought that we were too young to
bind ourselves to each other, especially as Anthony has no present
prospects or means to support a wife."
"I am glad they had so much sense. It is more than might have been
expected of my sister after her own performance, for which doubtless she
is sorry enough now. Like you, she might have married a title instead of
a curate and beggary."
"I am quite sure that my mother is not sorry, Aunt," replied Barbara,
whose spirit was rising. "I know that she is a very happy woman."
"Look here, Barbara, let's come to the point. Will you give up this
moon-calf business of yours or not?"
"It is not a moon-calf business, whatever that may be, and I will not
give it up."
"Very well, then, I can't make you as you are of age. But I have done
with you. You will go to your room and stop there, and to-morrow morning
you will return to your parents, to whom I will write at once. You have
betrayed my hospitality and presumed upon my kindness; after all the
things I have given you, too," and her eyes fixed themselves upon a
pearl necklace that Barbara was wearing. For Lady Thompson could be
generous when she was in the mood.
Barbara unfastened the necklace and offered it to her aunt without a
"Nonsense!" said Lady Thompson. "Do you think I want to rob you of your
trinkets because I happen to have given them to you? Keep them, they
may be useful one day when you have a husband and a family and no money.
Pearls may pay the butcher and the rent."
"Thank you for all your kindness, Aunt, and good-bye. I am sorry that
I am not able to do as you wish about marriage, but after all a woman's
life is her own."
"That's just what it isn't and never has been. A woman's life is her
husband's and her children's, and that's why--but it is no use arguing.
You have taken your own line. Perhaps you are right, God knows. At any
rate, it isn't mine, so we had better part. Still, I rather admire your
courage. I wonder what this young fellow is like for whose sake you are
prepared to lose so much; more than you think, maybe, for I had grown
fond of you. Well, good-bye, I'll see about your getting off. There,
don't think that I bear malice although I am so angry with you. Write to
me when you get into a tight place," and rising, she kissed her, rather
roughly but not without affection, and flung out of the room like one
who feared to trust herself there any longer.
On the evening of the following day Barbara, emerging from the carrier's
cart at the blacksmith's corner at Eastwich, was met by a riotous throng
of five energetic young sisters who nearly devoured her with kisses.
So happy was that greeting, indeed, that in it she almost forgot her
sorrows. In truth, as she reflected, why should she be sorry at all?
She was clear of a suitor whom she did not wish to marry, and of an aunt
whose very kindness was oppressive and whose temper was terrible. She
had fifty pounds in her pocket and a good stock of clothes, to say
nothing of the pearls and other jewellery, wealth indeed if measured by
the Walrond standard. Her beloved sisters were evidently in the best of
health and spirits; also, as she thought, better-looking than any girls
she had seen since she bade them farewell. Her father and mother were,
as they told her, well and delighted at her return; and lastly, as she
had already gathered, Anthony either was or was about to be at the Hall.
Why then should she be sorry? Why indeed should she not rejoice and
thank God for these good things?
On that evening, however, when supper was done, she had a somewhat
serious interview with her father and mother who sat on either side of
her, each of them holding one of her hands, for they could scarcely bear
her out of their sight. She had told all the tale of the Hon. Charles
Russell and of her violent dismissal by her aunt, of which story they
were not entirely ignorant, for Lady Thompson had already advised them
of these events by letter.
The Reverend Septimus shook his head sadly. He was not a worldly-minded
man; still, to have a presumptive peer for a son-in-law, who would
doubtless also become an ambassador, was a prospect that at heart he
relinquished with regret. Also this young Arnott business seemed very
vague and unsatisfactory, and there were the other girls and their
future to be considered. No wonder, then, that he shook his kindly grey
head and looked somewhat depressed.
But his wife took another line.
"Septimus," she said, "in these matters a woman must judge by her own
heart, and you see Barbara is a woman now. Once, you remember, I had
to face something of the same sort, and I do not think, dear,
notwithstanding all our troubles, that either of us have regretted our
Then they both rose and solemnly kissed each other over Barbara's head.
Next day, oh! joy of joys, Barbara and Anthony met once more after some
fifteen months of separation. Anthony was now in his twenty-fourth
year, a fine young man with well-cut features, brown eyes and a pleasant
smile. Muscularly, too, he was very strong, as was shown by his athletic
record at Cambridge. Whether his strength extended to his constitution
was another matter. Mrs. Walrond, noticing his unvarying colour, which
she thought unduly high, and the transparent character of his skin,
spoke to her husband upon the matter.
In his turn Septimus spoke to the old local doctor, who shrugged
his shoulders and remarked that the Arnotts had been delicate for
generations, "lungy," he called it. Noticing that Mr. Walrond looked
serious, and knowing something of how matters stood between Anthony and
Barbara, he hastened to add that so far as he knew there was no cause
for alarm, and that if he were moderately careful he thought that
Anthony would live to eighty.
"But it is otherwise with his brother," he added significantly, "and for
the matter of that with the old man also."
Then he went away, and there was something in the manner of his
going which seemed to suggest that he did not wish to continue the
From Anthony, however, Barbara soon learned the truth as to his brother.
His lungs were gone, for the chill he took in the Crimea had settled on
them, and now there was left to him but a little time to live. This was
sad news and marred the happiness of their meeting, since both of them
were far too unworldly to consider its effect upon their own prospects,
or that it would make easy that which had hitherto seemed impossible.
"Are you nursing him?" she asked.
"Yes, more or less. I took him to the South of England for two months,
but it did no good."
"I am glad the thing is not catching," she remarked, glancing at him.
"Oh, no," he replied carelessly, "I never heard that it was catching,
though some people say it runs in families. I hope not, I am sure, as
the poor old chap insists upon my sleeping in his room whenever I am at
home, as we used to do when we were boys."
Then their talk wandered elsewhere, for they had so much to say to each
other that it seemed doubtful if they would ever get to the end of it
all. Anthony was particularly anxious to learn what blessed circumstance
had caused Barbara's sudden re-appearance at Eastwich. She fenced for a
while, then told him all the truth.
"So you gave up this brilliant marriage for me, a fellow with scarcely a
half-penny and a very few prospects," he exclaimed, staring at her.
"Of course. What would you have expected me to do--marry one man while
I love another? As for the rest it must take its chance," and while the
words were on her lips, for the first time it came into Barbara's mind
that perhaps Anthony had no need to trouble about his worldly fortunes.
For if it were indeed true that Captain Arnott was doomed, who else
would succeed to the estate?
"I think you are an angel," he said, still overcome by this wondrous
instance of fidelity and of courage in the face of Lady Thompson's
"If I had done anything else, I think, Anthony, that you might very well
have called me--whatever is the reverse of an angel."
And thus the links of their perfect love were drawn even closer than
Only three days later Mr. Walrond was summoned hastily to the Hall. When
he returned from his ministrations it was to announce in a sad voice
that Captain Arnott was sinking fast. Before the following morning he
A month or so after the grave had closed over Captain Arnott the
engagement of Anthony and Barbara was announced formally, and by
the express wish of Mr. Arnott. The old gentleman had for years been
partially paralysed and in a delicate state of health, which the
sad loss of his elder son had done much to render worse. He sent for
Barbara, whom he had known from her childhood, and told her that the
sooner she and Anthony were married the better he would be pleased.
"You see, my dear," he added, "I do not wish the old name to die out
after we have been in this place for three hundred years, and you
Walronds are a healthy stock, which is more than we can say now. Worn
out, I suppose, worn out! In fact," he went on, looking at her sharply,
"it is for you to consider whether you care to take the risks of coming
into this family, for whatever the doctors may or may not say, I think
it my duty to tell you straight out that in my opinion there is some
"If so, I do not fear it, Mr. Arnott, and I hope you will not put any
such idea into Anthony's head. If you do he might refuse to marry me,
and that would break my heart."
"No, I dare say you do not fear it, but there are other--well, things
must take their course. If we were always thinking of the future no one
would dare to stir."
Then he told her that when first he heard of their mutual attachment he
had been much disturbed, as he did not see how they were to marry.
"But poor George's death has changed all that," he said, "since now
Anthony will get the estate, which is practically the only property we
have, and it ought always to produce enough to keep you going and to
maintain the place in a modest way."
Lastly he presented her with a valuable set of diamonds that had
belonged to his mother, saying he might not be alive to do so when the
time of her marriage came, and dismissed her with his blessing.
In due course all these tidings, including that of the diamonds, came
to the ears of Aunt Thompson, and wondrously softened that lady's anger.
Indeed, she wrote to Barbara in very affectionate terms, to wish her
every happiness and say how glad she was to hear that she was settling
herself so well in life. She added that she should make a point of being
present at the wedding. A postscript informed her that Mr. Russell was
about to be married to an Italian countess, a widow.
Barbara's wedding was fixed for October. At the beginning of that month,
however, Anthony was seized with some unaccountable kind of illness, in
which coughing played a considerable part. So severe were its effects
that it was thought desirable to postpone the ceremony. The doctor
ordered him away for a change of air. On the morning of his departure he
spoke seriously to Barbara.
"I don't know what is the matter with me," he said, "and I don't think
it is very much at present. But, dear, I have a kind of presentiment
that I am going to become an invalid. My strength is nothing like
what it was, and at times it fails me in a most unaccountable manner.
Barbara, it breaks my heart to say it, but I doubt whether you ought to
"If you were going to be a permanent invalid, which I do not believe for
one moment," answered Barbara steadily, "you would want a nurse, and who
could nurse you so well as your wife? Therefore unless you had ceased to
care for me, I should certainly marry you."
Then, as still he seemed to hesitate, she flung her arms about him and
kissed him, which was an argument that he lacked strength to resist.
A day or two afterwards her father also spoke to Barbara.
"I don't like this illness of Anthony's, my dear. The doctor does not
seem to understand it, or at any rate so he pretends, and says he has
no doubt it will pass off. But I cannot help remembering the case of his
brother George; also that of his mother before him.. In short, Barbara,
do you think--well, that it would be wise to marry him? I know that
to break it off would be dreadful, but, you see, health is so very
Barbara turned on her father almost fiercely.
"Whose health?" she asked. "If you mean mine, it is in no danger; and if
it were I should care nothing. What good would health be to me if I lost
Anthony, who is more to me than life? But if you mean his health, then
the greatest happiness I can have is to nurse him."
"Yes, yes, I understand, dear. But, you see, there might be--others."
"If so, father, they must run their risks as we do; that is if there are
any risks for them to run, which I doubt."
"I dare say you are quite right, dear; indeed, I feel almost sure that
you are right, only I thought it my duty to mention the matter, which I
hope you will forgive me for having done. And now I may tell you I have
a letter from Anthony, saying that he is ever so much better, and asking
if the fifteenth of November will suit us for the wedding."
On the fifteenth of November, accordingly, Anthony and Barbara were made
man and wife by the bride's father with the assistance of the clergyman
of the next parish. Owing to the recent death of the bridegroom's
brother and the condition of Mr. Arnott's health the wedding was
extremely quiet. Still, in its own way it was as charming as it was
happy. All her five sisters acted as Barbara's bridesmaids, and many
gathered in that church said they were the most beautiful bevy of
maidens that ever had been seen. But if so, Barbara outshone them all,
perhaps because of her jewels and fine clothes and the radiance on her
Anthony, who seemed to be quite well again, also looked extremely
handsome, while Aunt Thompson, who by now had put off her mourning,
shone in that dim church as the sun shines through a morning mist.
In short, all went as merrily as it should, save that the bride's mother
seemed depressed and wept a little.
This, said her sister to someone in a loud voice, was in her opinion
nothing short of wicked. What business, she asked, has a woman with
six portionless daughters to cry because one of them is making a good
marriage; "though it is true," she added, dropping her voice to a
confidential whisper, "that had Barbara chosen she might have made a
better one. Yes, I don't mind telling you that she might have been a
peeress, instead of the wife of a mere country squire."
In truth, Mrs. Walrond was ill at ease about this marriage, why she
did not know. Something in her heart seemed to tell her that her dear
daughter's happiness would not be of long continuance. Bearing in mind
his family history, she feared for Anthony's health; indeed, she feared
a hundred things that she was quite unable to define. However, at the
little breakfast which followed she seemed quite to recover her spirits
and laughed as merrily as anyone at the speech which Lady Thompson
insisted upon making, in which she described Barbara as "her darling,
beautiful and most accomplished niece, who indeed was almost her
Hard indeed would it be to find a happier marriage than that of Anthony
and Barbara. They adored each other. Never a shadow came between them.
Almost might it be said that their thoughts were one thought and their
hearts one heart. It is common to hear of twin souls, but how often are
they to be met with in the actual experience of life? Here, however,
they really might be found, or so it would seem. Had they been one
ancient entity divided long ago by the working of Fate and now brought
together once more through the power of an overmastering attraction,
their union could not have been more complete. To the eye of the
observer, and indeed to their own eyes, it showed neither seam nor flaw.
They were one and indivisible.
About such happiness as this there is something alarming, something
ominous. Mrs. Walrond felt it from the first, and they, the two persons
concerned, felt it also.
"Our joy frightens me," said Anthony to Barbara one day. "I feel like
that Persian monarch who threw his most treasured ring into the sea
because he was too fortunate; you remember the sea refused the offering,
for the royal cook found it in the mouth of a fish."
"Then, dear, he was doubly fortunate, for he made his sacrifice and kept
Anthony, seeing that Barbara had never heard the story and its ending,
did not tell it to her, but she read something of what was passing in
his mind, as very often she had the power to do.
"Dearest," she said earnestly, "I know what you think. You think that
such happiness as ours will not be allowed to last for long, that
something evil will overtake us. Well, it may be so, but if it is, at
least we shall have had the happiness, which having been, will remain
for ever, a part of you, a part of me; a temple of our love not built
with hands in which we shall offer thanks eternally, here and--beyond,"
and she nodded towards the glory of the sunset sky, then turned and
As it chanced, that cruel devouring sea which rages at the feet of
all mankind was destined ere long to take the offering that was most
precious to these two. Only this was flung to its waters, not by their
hands, but by that of Fate, nor did it return to them again.
After their marriage Anthony and Barbara hired a charming little
Georgian house at Chelsea near to the river. The drawback to
the dwelling was that it stood quite close to a place of public
entertainment called "The Gardens," very well known in those days as
the nightly haunt of persons who were not always as respectable as they
might have been. During their sojourn in London they never entered these
Gardens, but often in the summer evenings they passed them when out for
the walks which they took together, since Anthony spent most of his days
at the Temple, studying law in the chambers of a leading barrister. Thus
their somewhat fantastic gateway became impressed upon Barbara's mind,
as did the character of the people who frequented them. As, however,
their proximity reduced the rent of their own and neighbouring houses
by about one-half, personally they were grateful to these Gardens, since
the noise of the bands and the dancing did not trouble them much, and
those who danced could always be avoided.
When they had been married nearly a year a little daughter was born to
them, a sweet baby with violet eyes like to those of Barbara. Now indeed
their bliss was complete, but it was not fated that it should remain,
since the hungry sea took its sacrifice. The summer was very hot in
London, and many infants sickened there of some infantile complaint,
among them their own child. Like hundreds of others, it died when only a
few months old and left them desolate.
Perhaps Anthony was the more crushed of the two, since here Barbara's
vivid faith came to her aid.
"We have only lost her for a little while," she said, choking back her
tears as she laid some flowers on the little grave. "We shall find her
again; I know that we shall find her again, and meanwhile she will be
happier than she could have been with us in this sad world."
Then they walked back home, pushing their way through the painted crowds
that were gathering at the gates of "The Gardens," and listening to the
strains of the gay music that jarred upon their ears.
In due course, having been called to the Bar, Anthony entered the
chambers of an eminent Common Law leader. Although his prospects
were now good, and he was ere long likely to be independent of the
profession, he was anxious to follow it and make a name and fortune for
himself. This indeed he would have found little difficulty in doing,
since soon he showed that he had studied to good purpose; moreover, his
gifts were decidedly forensic. He spoke well and without nervousness;
his memory was accurate and his mind logical. Moreover, he had something
of that imaginative and sympathetic power which brings an advocate
success with juries.
Already he had been entrusted with a few cases which he held as "devil"
for somebody else, when two events happened which between them brought
his career as a lawyer to an end. In the November after the death of
their baby his father suddenly died. On receiving the news of his fatal
illness Anthony hurried to Eastwich without even returning home to
fetch a warm coat, and as a result took a severe cold. During the winter
following the funeral this cold settled on his lungs. At last towards
the spring the crisis came. He was taken seriously ill, and on his
partial recovery several doctors held a consultation over him. Their
verdict was that he must give up his profession, which fortunately now
he was in a position to do, live in the country and as much in the open
air as possible, spending the worst months of the winter either in the
South of England or in some warmer land. These grave and learned men
told him outright that his lungs were seriously attacked, and that he
must choose between following their advice and a speedy departure from
Anthony would have defied them, for that was his nature. He wished to
go on with his work and take the risk. But Barbara persuaded him to
obedience. She said she agreed with him that the matter of his health
was greatly exaggerated. At the same time, she pointed out that as they
were now very well off she saw no reason why he should continue to slave
at a profession which might or might not bring him an adequate return
fifteen or twenty years later. She added that personally she detested
London, and would like nothing better than to live at Eastwich near her
own people. Also she showed him that his rather extensive estate needed
personal attention, and could be much improved in value if he were there
to care for it.
The end may be guessed; Anthony gave up the Bar and the house in
Chelsea. After staying at Torquay for a few of the winter months,
where his health improved enormously, they moved to Eastwich during the
following May. Here their welcome was warm indeed, not only from the
Rectory party, who rejoiced to have Barbara back among them, but from
the entire neighbourhood, including the tenants and labourers on the
The ensuing summer was one of the happiest of their married life.
Anthony became so much better that Barbara began to believe he had
thrown off his lung weakness. Certain repairs and rearrangements of
their old Elizabethan house agreeably occupied their time, and, to crown
all, on Christmas Eve Barbara gave birth to a son, an extraordinarily
fine and vigorous child, red-haired, blue-eyed, and so far as could be
seen at that early age entirely unlike either of his parents.
The old doctor who ushered him into the world remarked that he had never
seen a more splendid and perfect boy, nor one who appeared to possess a
In due course Mr. Walrond christened him by the name of Anthony, after
his father, and a dinner was given to the tenants and labourers in
honour of the event.
That same month, there being a dearth of suitable men with an adequate
knowledge of the law, Anthony, who already was a magistrate, though so
young, was elected a Deputy-Chairman of Quarter Sessions for his county.
This local honour pleased him very much, since now he knew that
his legal education would not be wasted, and that he would have an
opportunity of turning it to use as a judge of minor cases.
Yet this grateful and conciliatory appointment in the end brought him
evil and not good. The first Quarter Sessions at which he was called
upon to preside in one of the courts fell in February, when he ought
to have been out of the East of England. The calendar was heavy, and
Anthony acquitted himself very well in the trial of some difficult
cases, earning the compliments of all concerned. But on leaving the hot
court after a long day he caught a heavy cold, which awoke his latent
complaint, and from that time forward he began to go down hill.
Still, watched, fought against by Barbara, its progress was slow. The
winter months they spent in warmer climates, only residing in Eastwich
from May to November. During the summer Anthony occupied himself on
matters connected with the estate and principally with the cultivation
of the home farm. Indeed, as time went on and increasing weakness forced
him to withdraw himself more and more from the world and its affairs,
the interests of this farm loomed ever larger in his eyes, as largely
indeed as though he depended upon it alone for his daily bread.
Moreover, it brought him into touch with Nature, and now that they were
so near to parting, his friendship with her grew very close.
This was one of his troubles, that when he died, and he knew that before
very long he must die, even if he continued to live in some other form,
he must bid farewell to the Nature that he knew.
Of course, there was much of her, her cruel side, that he would rejoice
to lose. He could scarcely conceive a future existence framed upon those
lines of struggle, which in its working involves pain and cruelty and
death. Putting aside sport and its pleasures, which he had abandoned
because of the suffering and extinction entailed upon the shot or hunted
creatures, to him it seemed inexpressibly sad that even his honest
farming operations, at least where the beasts were concerned, should
always culminate in death. Why should the faithful horse be knocked on
the head when it grew old, or the poor cow go to the butcher as a reward
for its long career of usefulness and profit?
What relentless power had thus decreed? In any higher life surely this
decree would be rescinded, and of that side of Nature he had seen more
than enough upon the earth. It was her gentler and harmless aspects from
which he did not wish to part--from the flower and the fruit, from the
springing blade and the ripened corn; from the beauty that brooded
over sea and land; from the glory of the spreading firmament alive with
light, and the winds that blew beneath it, and the rains that washed
the face of earth; from the majestic passage of the glittering stars
shedding their sweet influences through the night. To bid farewell to
such things as these must, to his mind, indeed be terrible.
Once he said as much to Barbara, who thought a while and answered him:
"Why should we be taken beyond all things? If seems scarcely reasonable.
I know we have not much to go on, but did not the Christ speak of
drinking the fruit of the vine 'new with you in my Father's kingdom'?
Therefore surely there must be a growing plant that produces the fruit
and a process directed by intelligence that turns it into wine. There
must be husbandmen or farmers. There must be mansions or abiding places,
also, for they are spoken of, and flowers and all things that are
beautiful and useful; a new earth indeed, but not one so different to
the old as to be utterly unfamiliar."
Anthony said no more of the matter at this time, but it must have
remained in his mind. At any rate, a month or two later when he woke up
one morning he said to Barbara:
"Will you laugh very much if I tell you of a dream that came to me last
night--if it was a dream, for I seemed to be still awake?"
"Why should I laugh at your dream?" she asked, kissing him. "I often
think that there is as much truth in dreams as in anything else. Tell it
"I dreamed that I saw a mighty landscape which I knew was not of the
earth. It came to me like a picture, and a great stillness brooded over
it. At the back of this landscape stood a towering cliff of stern rock
thousands of feet high. Set at intervals along the edge of the cliff
were golden figures, mighty and immovable. Whether they were living
guards or only statues I do not know, for I never came near to them.
Here and there, miles apart, streams from the lands beyond poured
over the edge of the cliff in huge cascades of foam that became raging
torrents when they reached its lowest slopes. One of these rivers fed
a lake which lay in a chasm on the slopes, and from either end of this
lake poured two rivers which seemed to me about twenty miles apart, as
we should judge. They ran through groves of cedars and large groups
of forest trees not unlike to enormous oaks and pines, and yet not the
"One river, that to the right if I looked towards the lake, was very
broad, so broad that after it reached the plain and flowed slowly,
great ships could have sailed upon it. The other, that to the left, was
smaller and more rapid, but it also wandered away across the plain
till my sight could follow it no farther. I observed that the broad,
right-hand river evidently inundated its banks in seasons of flood, much
as the Nile does, and that all along those banks were fields filled with
rich crops, of what sort I do not know. The plain itself, which I take
it was a kind of delta, the gift of the great river, was limitless. It
stretched on and on, broken only by forests, along the edges of which
moved many animals.
"When first I saw this landscape it was suffused with a sweet and pearly
light, that came not from sun or moon or stars, but from a luminous body
in shape like a folded fan, of which the handle rested on the earth. By
degrees this fan began to open; I suppose that it was the hour of dawn.
Its ribs of gorgeous light spread themselves from one side of heaven
to the other and were joined together by webs of a thousand colours,
of such stuff as the rainbow, only a hundred times more beautiful. The
reflection from these rainbow webs lay upon the earth, divided by
and sometimes mingled with those from the bars of light, and made it
"All these things I saw from an eminence on which I stood that rose
between the rivers at the head of the plain. At length, overcome by the
splendour, drunk as it were with beauty, I turned to look behind me, and
there, quite close, in the midst of stately gardens with terraces and
trees and fountains and banks of flowers, I saw a house, and--now indeed
you will laugh--for so far as I can recollect it, in general style it
was not unlike our own; that is to say, its architecture seemed to be
more or less Elizabethan. If one who was acquainted with Elizabethan
buildings had gone to that land and built a house from memory, but
with more beautiful materials, he might have produced such a one as I
imagined in my dream.
"Presently from the door of the house emerged two figures. One of these
was my brother George and the other, Barbara, was our baby grown to a
little fair-haired child. The child perceived me first and ran to
me through the flowers. It leapt into my arms and kissed me. Then my
brother came and said--I do not mean he spoke, but his meaning was
conveyed to me:
"'You see, we are making your home ready. We hope that you will like it
when you come, but if not you can change it as you wish.'
"Then I woke up, or went to sleep--I do not know which."
Barbara made light of Anthony's dream, which seemed to her to be after
all but a reflection or an echo of earthly things tricked out with some
bizarre imagination. Was not this obvious? The house? A vague replica of
his own house. The river? Something copied from the Nile, delta and all.
The waterfalls? Niagara on a larger scale. The great trees? Doubtless
their counterparts grew in America. The brother and the babe--would he
not naturally be thinking of his brother and his babe? The thing stood
self-convicted. Echo, echo, echo, flung back in mockery of our agonised
pleadings from the cliffs of the Beyond.
And yet this dream haunted her, especially as it returned to him more
than once, always with a few added details. They often talked of this
supernatural landscape and of the great radiant fan which closed at
night and opened itself by day, wherewith it was illuminated. Barbara
thought it strange that Anthony should have imagined so splendid a
thing. And yet why should he not have done so? If she could picture it
in her own mind, why should he not be able to originate it in his.
She told him all this, only avoiding allusions to the child, the baby
Barbara whom they had lost. For of this child, although she longed
to ask him details as to her supposed appearance, she could not bring
herself to speak. Supposing that he were right, supposing that their
daughter was really growing up yonder towards some celestial womanhood,
and waiting for him and waiting for her, the mother upon whose breast
she had lain, the poor, bereaved mother. Oh! then would not all be worth
Anthony listened and said that he agreed with her; as a lawyer he had
analysed the dream and found in it nothing at all. Nothing more, for
instance, than on analysis is to be found in any and every religion.
"And yet," he added, with that pleasant smile of his which was beginning
to grow so painfully sweet and plaintive in its character, "and yet, it
is very odd how real that landscape and that house are becoming to me.
Do you know, Barbara, that the other night I seemed to be sitting in
it in a great cool room, looking out at the river and the vast fertile
plain. Then you came in, my dear, clad in a beautiful robe embroidered
with violets. Yes, you came in glancing round you timidly like one who
had lost her way, and saw me and cried aloud."
Towards the end Anthony grew worse with a dreadful swiftness. He was to
have gone abroad as usual that winter, but when the time came his state
was such that the doctors shrugged their shoulders and said that he
might as well stop at home in comfort.
Up to the middle of October he managed to get out upon the farm on fine
days to see to the drilling of the wheat and so forth. One rather rough
afternoon he went out thus, not because he wished to, but for the sake
of his spaniel dog, Nell, which bothered him to come into the fresh air.
Not finding something that he sought, he was drawn far afield and caught
in a tempest of rain and wind, through which he must struggle home.
Barbara who, growing anxious, had gone to seek him, found him leaning
against an oak unable to speak, with a little stream of blood trickling
from the corner of his mouth. Indeed, it was the dog, which seemed
distressed, that discovered her and led her to him.
This was Anthony's last outing, but he lived till Christmas Eve, his
son's eighth birthday. That morning the boy was brought into his room
to receive some present that his father had procured for him, and
warned that he must be very quiet. Quiet, however, he would not be; his
tumultuous health and strength seemed to forbid it. He racketed about
the room, teasing the spaniel which lay by the side of the bed, until
the patient beast growled at him and even bit, or pretended to bite
him. Thereon he set up such a yell of pain, or anger, or both, that his
father struggled from the bed to see what was the matter, and so brought
on the haemorrhage which caused his death.
"I am afraid you will have trouble with that child, Barbara," he gasped
shortly before the end. "He seems to be different from either of us; but
he is our son, and I know that you will do your best for him. I leave
him in your keeping. Good night, dearest, I want to go to sleep."
Then he went to sleep, and Barbara's heart broke.
The months following Anthony's death were to Barbara as a bad dream.
Like one in a dream she saw that open, wintry grave beneath the tall
church tower about whose battlements the wind-blown rooks wheeled on
their homeward way. She noted a little yellow aconite that had opened
its bloom prematurely in the shadow of the wall, and the sight of it
brought her some kind of comfort. He had loved aconites and planted many
of them, though because of his winter absences years had gone by since
he had seen one with his eyes, at any rate in England. That this flower
among them all should bloom on that day and in that place seemed to her
a message and a consolation, the only one that she could find.
His sad office over, her father accompanied her home, pouring into her
ear the words of faith and hope that he was accustomed to use to those
broken by bereavement, and with him came her mother. But soon she
thanked them gently and bade them leave her to herself. Then they
brought her son to her, thinking that the sight of him would thaw her
heart. For a while the child was quiet and subdued, for there was that
about his mother's face which awed him. At last, weary of being still,
he swung round on his heel after a fashion that he had, and said:
"Cook says that now father is dead I'm master here, and everyone will
have to do what I tell them."
Barbara lifted her head and looked at him, and something in her
fawn-like eyes, a mute reproach, pierced to the boy's heart. At any
rate, he began to whimper and left the room.
There was little in the remark, which was such as a vulgar servant might
well make thoughtlessly. Yet it brought home to Barbara the grim fact
of her loss more completely perhaps than anything had done. Her beloved
husband was dead, of no more account in the world than those who had
passed from it at Eastwich a thousand years ago. He was dead, and soon
would be forgotten by all save her, and she was alone; in her heart
The summer came and everyone grew cheerful. Aunt Thompson arrived at
the Hall to stay, and urged Barbara to put away past things and resign
herself to the will of Providence--as she had done in the case of the
"After all," she said, "it might have been worse. You might have been
called upon to nurse an invalid for twenty years, and when at last he
went, have found the best part of your life gone, as I did," and she
sighed heavily. "As it is, you still look quite a girl, having kept your
figure so well; you are comfortably off and have a good position, and in
short there is no knowing what may happen in the future. You must come
up and stay with me this winter, dear, instead of poking yourself away
in this damp old house, where everybody seems to die of consumption.
Really it is a sort of family vault, and if you stop here long enough
you will catch something too."
Barbara thanked her with a sad little smile, and answered that she would
think over her kind invitation and write to her later. But in the end
she never went to London, at least not to stay, perhaps it reminded her
too vividly of her life there with Anthony. At Eastwich she could bear
such memories, but for some unexplained reason it was otherwise in
Indeed, in the course of time her aunt gave up the attempt to persuade
her, and devoted herself to forwarding the fortunes of her other pretty
nieces, Barbara's sisters, two of whom, it should be said, already she
had settled comfortably in life. Also she took a fancy to the boy, in
whose rough, energetic nature she found something akin to her own.
"I am sick of women," she said; "it is a comfort to have to do with a
So it came about that after he went to school young Anthony spent a
large share of his holidays at his great-aunt's London house. It may be
added that he got no good from these visits, since Lady Thompson spoilt
him and let him have his way in everything. Also she gave him more money
than a boy ought to have. As a result, or partly so, Barbara found that
her son grew more and more uncontrollable. He mixed with grooms and low
characters, and when checked flew into fits of passion which frightened
Oddly enough, during these paroxysms, which were generally followed by
two or three days of persistent sulking, the only person who seemed
to have any control over him was a certain under-housemaid named Bess
Cotton, the daughter of a small farmer in the neighbourhood. This girl,
who was only about three years older than Anthony, was remarkable for
her handsome appearance and vigour of body and mind. Her hair and large
eyes were so dark that probably the local belief that she had gipsy or
other foreign blood in her veins was true. Her complexion, however, was
purely English, and her character had all the coarseness of those
who have lived for generations in the Fens, whence her father came,
uncontrolled by higher influences, such as the fellowship of gentle-bred
and educated folk.
Bess was an excellent and capable servant, one, moreover, who soon
obtained a sort of mastery in the household. On a certain occasion the
young Squire, as they called him, was in one of the worst of his rages,
having been forbidden by his mother to go to a coursing meeting which
he wished to attend. In this state he shut himself up in the library,
swearing that he would do a mischief to anyone who came near him, a
promise which, being very strong for his years, he was quite capable of
keeping. The man-servant was told to go in and bring him out, but hung
"Bless you," said Bess, "I ain't afraid," and without hesitation walked
into the room and shut the door behind her.
Barbara, listening afar off, heard a shout of "Get out!" followed by
a fearful crash, and trembled, for all violence was abominable to her
"He will injure that poor girl," she said to herself, and rose,
proposing to enter the library and face her son.
As she hurried down the long Elizabethan corridor, however, she heard
another sound that came to her through an open window, that of Anthony
laughing in his jolliest and most uproarious manner and of the housemaid
Bess, laughing with him. She stayed where she was and listened. Bess had
left the library and was coming across the courtyard, where one of the
other servants met her and asked some question that Barbara did not
catch. The answer in Bess's ringing voice was clear enough.
"Lord!" she said, "they always gave me the wild colts to break upon the
farm. It is a matter of eye and handling, that's all. He nearly got me
with that plaster thing, so I went for him and boxed his ears till he
was dazed. Then I kissed him afterwards till he laughed, and he'll never
be any more trouble, at least with me. That mother of his don't know how
to handle him. She's another breed."
"Yes," said the questioner, "the mistress is a lady, she is, and gentle
like the squire who's gone. But how did they get such a one as Master
"Don't know," replied Bess, "but father says that when he was a boy
in the Fens they'd have told that the fairy folk changed him at birth.
Anyway, I like him well enough, for he suits me."
Barbara went back to her sitting-room, where not long afterwards the boy
came to her. As he entered the doorway she noted how handsome he looked
with his massive head and square-jawed face, and how utterly unlike any
Arnott or Walrond known to her personally or by tradition. Had he been
a changeling, such as the girl Bess spoke of, he could not have seemed
He came and stood before her, his hands in his pockets and a smile upon
his face, for he could smile very pleasantly when he chose.
"Well, Anthony," she said, "what is it?"
"Nothing, mother dear, except that I have come to beg your pardon. You
were quite right about the coursing meeting; they are a low lot, and I
oughtn't to mix with them. But I had bets on some of the dogs and wanted
to go awfully. Then when you said I mustn't I lost my temper."
"That was very evident, Anthony."
"Yes, mother; I felt as though I could have killed someone. I did try
to kill Bess with that bust of Plato, but she dodged like a cat and the
thing smashed against the wall. Then she came for me straight and gave
me what I deserved, for she was too many for me. And presently all my
rage went, and I found that I was laughing while she tidied my clothes.
I wish you could do the same, mother."
"Do you, Anthony? Well, I cannot."
"I know. Where did I get my temper from, mother? Not from you, or my
father from all I have heard and remember of him."
"Your grandfather would say it was from the devil, Anthony."
"Yes, and perhaps he is right; only then it is rather hard luck on me,
isn't it? I can't help it--it comes."
"Then make it go, Anthony. You are to be confirmed soon. Change your
"I'll try. But, mother dear, though I am so bad to you, you are the only
one who will ever change me. When that wild-cat of a girl got the better
of me just now, it was you I thought of, not her. If I lost you I don't
know what would become of me."
"We have to stand or fall alone, Anthony."
"Perhaps, mother. I don't know; I am not old enough. Still, don't leave
me alone, for if you do, then I am sure which I shall do," and bending
down he kissed her and left the room.
After this scene Anthony's behaviour improved very much; his reports
from school were good, for he was quick and clever, and his great skill
in athletics made him a favourite. Also his grandfather, who prepared
him for confirmation, announced that the lad's nature seemed to have
So things remained for some time, to be accurate, for just so long as
the girl Bess was a servant at the Hall.
Anthony might talk about his mother's influence over him, and without
doubt when he was in his normal state this was considerable. Also it
served to prevent him from breaking out. But when he did break out, Bess
Catton alone could deal with him. Naturally it would be thought that
there was some mutual attraction between these young people. Yet this
was not so, at any rate on the part of the girl, who had been overheard
to tell Anthony to his face that she hated the sight of him and "would
cut him to ribbons" if she were his mother.
At any rate, there were others, or one other, of whom Bess did not hate
the sight, and in the end her behaviour caused such scandal that Barbara
was obliged to send her out of the house.
"All right, ma'am," she said, "I'll go, and be glad of a change. You may
ring your own bull-calf now and I wish you joy of the job, since there's
none but me that can lead him."
A few days later Anthony returned from school. With him came a letter
from the head master, who wrote that he did not wish to make any
scandal, and therefore had not expelled the boy. Still, he would be
obliged if his mother would refrain from sending him back, as he did not
consider him a suitable member of a public school. He suggested, in
the lad's own interest, that it might be wise to place him in some
establishment where a speciality was made of the training of unruly
youths. He added that he wrote this with the more regret since Anthony's
father and grandfather had been scholars at ---- in their day, and her
son possessed no mean intellectual abilities. This would be shown by
the fact that he was at the head of his class, and might doubtless under
other circumstances have risen to a high place in the sixth form.
Then followed the details of his misdoings, of which one need only be
mentioned. He had fought another boy, who, it may be added, was older
than himself, and beaten him. But the matter did not end there, since
after his adversary had given up the fight Anthony flew at him and
maltreated him so ferociously before they could be separated, that for a
while the poor lad was actually in danger of collapse.
When reproached he expressed no penitence, but said only that he wished
that he had killed him. This he repeated to his mother's face; moreover,
he was furious when he found that Bess Catton had been sent away and
demanded her return. When told that this was impossible he announced
quietly that he would make the place a hell, and kept his word.
For a year or more before this date Barbara had not been well. She
suffered from persistent colds which she was unable to shake off, and
with these came great depression of spirit. Now in her misery the poor
woman went to her room, and falling on her knees prayed with all her
heart that she might die. The burden laid upon her was more than she
could bear. Only one consolation could she find, that her beloved
husband had not lived to share it, for she knew it would have crushed
him as it crushed her.
Her father was now very old, and so feeble that everyone screened him
from trouble so far as might be. But this particular trouble could not
be hid, and Barbara told him all.
"Do not give way, my dearest daughter," he said, "and above all do not
seek to fly from your trial, which doubtless is sent to you for some
good purpose. Troubles that we strive to escape nearly always recoil
upon our heads, whereas if they are faced, often they melt away. If you
remain in the world to watch and help him, your son's nature, bad as it
seems to be, may yet alter, for after all I know that he loves you. But
if you give up and leave the world, who can tell what will happen to him
when he is quite uncontrolled and in possession of his fortune?"
Barbara recognised the truth of her father's words, and while he lived
tried to act up to them. But as it happened Mr. Walrond did not live
long, for one evening he was found dead in the church, whither he often
went to pray.
About this time the doctors told Barbara that her condition of health
was somewhat serious. It seemed that her lungs also showed signs of
being affected. Perhaps she had contracted the disease from her husband,
and now that she was so broken in spirit, it asserted itself. They
added, however, that if she took certain precautions, and above all went
away from Eastwich, there was every reason to hope that she would quite
recover her health.
In the end Barbara did not go away. At the time Anthony was being
instructed by a tutor who resided at the Hall to prepare him for
the University and ultimately for the Army. Needless to say, she was
employed continually in trying to compose the differences between him
and this tutor. How then could she go away and leave that poor gentleman
and her old mother, who when she was not staying with one of her other
married daughters now made her home at the Hall?
Thus she argued to herself, but the truth was that she did not wish
to go. Her dearest associations were in the churchyard yonder, the
churchyard where she hoped ere long she would be laid. She hated life,
she sought and craved for death. This was her sin.
Night by night she lay awake and thought of Anthony, her darling, her
beloved. She remembered that dream of his about a home that awaited him
in another world, and she loved to fancy him as dwelling in that place
of peace and making ready for her coming.
Nobody thought of him now except herself and his old dog Nell. The dog
thought of him, she was sure, for it would sleep beneath his empty bed,
and at times sit up, look at it and whine. Then it would come and rest
its head upon her as she slept, and she would wake to find it looking at
her with a question in its eyes. One night in the darkness it did this,
then left her and broke into a joyous whimpering, such as it used to
make when its master was going to take it out. She even heard it jumping
up as though to paw at him, and wondered dreamily what it could mean.
When she woke in the morning she saw the poor beast lying stiff and cold
upon the bed that had been Anthony's, and though she wept over it, her
tears were perhaps those of envy rather than of sorrow, for she was sure
that it had found Anthony.
More and more Barbara threw out her soul towards Anthony. Across the
void of Nothingness she sent it travelling, nor did it return with
empty hands. Something of Anthony had greeted it, though she could
not remember the greeting, had spoken with it, though she could not
interpret the words. Of this at least she was sure, she had been near to
Once she seemed to see him. In the infinite, infinite distance, millions
of miles away, the sky opened as it were. There in the opening was
Anthony talking with one whom she knew for their daughter, the baby that
had died, talking of her. In a minute they were gone, but she had seen
them, she was sure that she had seen them, and the knowledge warmed her
So there was no error, the Bible was true, more or less; Faith was not
built on running water or on sand. Life was not a mere hellish mockery,
where tiaras turned to crowns of thorn and joy was but an inch rule by
which to measure the alps of human pain. Life was a door, a gateway.
The door dreadful, the gate perilous, if you will, but beyond it lay no
dream, no empty blackness. Beyond it stretched the Promised Land peopled
with the lost who soon would be the found.
Barbara's last illness was rapid. When she began to go she went swiftly.
"Can't you save her?" asked her son of one of the doctors.
"The disease has gone too far," he answered. "Moreover, it is impossible
to save one who seeks to die."
"Why does she seek to die?" blurted Anthony, glaring at him.
"Perhaps, young gentleman, you are in a better position to answer that
question than I am," replied the doctor, who knew of Anthony's cruel
conduct to his mother and had reproached him with it, not once but on
"You mean that I have killed her," said Anthony savagely.
"No," replied the doctor, "she is dying of tuberculosis of the lungs.
What were the primary causes which induced that disease I cannot be
sure. All I said was that she appears to welcome it, or rather its
issue. And I will add this on my own account, that when she does die the
world will lose one of the sweetest women that ever walked upon it. Good
"I know what he means," said Anthony to himself, as he watched the
retreating form. "He means that I have murdered her, and perhaps I
have. She is sick of me and wants to get back to my father, who was
so different. That's why she won't go on living when she might. She is
committing suicide--of a holy sort. Well, what made me a brute and her
an angel? And when she's gone how will the brute get on without the
angel? Why should I be filled with fury and wickedness and she of whom
I was born with sweetness and light? Let God or the devil answer that
if they can. My mother, oh! my mother!" and this violent, sinister youth
hid his face in his hands and wept.
Barbara sank down and down into a very whirlpool of nothingness. Bending
over it, as it were, she saw the face of her aged mother, the faces of
some of her dear sisters, the face of the kindly doctor, and lastly the
agonised face of her handsome son.
"Mother! Don't leave me, mother. Mother! for God's sake come back to me,
mother, or we shall never meet again. Come back to save me!"
These were the last words that Barbara heard.
Now these are the things that seemed to happen to Barbara after her
earthly death. Or rather some of the things, for most of them have faded
away and been lost to her mortal memory.
Consciousness returned to her, but at first it was consciousness in an
utter dark. Everywhere was blackness, and in it she was quite alone. The
whole universe seemed to centre in her solitary soul. Still she felt no
fear, only a kind of wonder at this infinite blank through which she was
being borne for millions and millions of miles.
Lights began to shine in the blackness like to those of passing ships
upon a midnight sea. Now she was at rest, and the rest was long and
sweet. Every fear and sad thought, every sensation of pain or discomfort
left her. Peace flowed into her.
Presently she became aware of a weight upon her knee, and wondered by
what it could be caused, for it reminded her of something; became aware
also that there was light about her. At length her eyes opened and she
perceived the light, though dimly, and that it was different to any she
had known, purer, more radiant. She perceived also that she lay upon
a low couch, and that the weight upon her knee was caused by something
shaped like the head of a dog. Nay, it _was_ the head of a dog, and one
she knew well, Anthony's dog, that had died upon his bed. Now she was
sure that she dreamed, and in her dream she tried to speak to the dog.
The words that her mind formed were:
"Nell! Is that you, Nell?" but she could not utter them.
Still they were answered, for it appeared to her that the dog thought,
and that she could read its thought, which was:
"Yes, it is I, who though but a dog, having been the last to leave you,
am allowed to be the first to greet you," and it lifted its head and
looked at her with eyes full of a wonderful love.
Her heart went out towards the faithful beast in a kind of rapture, and
her intelligence formed another question, it was:
"Where am I, and if you, a creature, are here, where are the others?"
"Be patient. I only watch you till they come," was the answer.
"Till they come. Till who come?" she murmured.
Something within told her to inquire no more. But oh! was it possible
--was the earth dream coming true?
A long while went by. She looked about her, and understood that she was
lying in a great and beautiful room beneath a dome which seemed to be
fashioned of translucent ivory or alabaster. At the end of the room were
curtains woven of some glittering stuff that gave out light. At length
these curtains were drawn, and through them, bearing a cup in her hand,
passed a shape like to that of a mortal woman, only so radiant that
Barbara knew that had she been alive with the old life she would have
This shape also was clad in garments that gave out light, and in its
hair were jewelled flowers. It glided to her side and looked at her with
loving, mysterious eyes. Then it held the cup to her lips, and said, or
rather thought, for the speech of that land declared itself in thought
"Drink of this new wine."
She drank of the wine, and a wonderful life fell upon her like a glory.
"Who are you, O Vision?" she asked, and by way of answer there rose up
within her a picture of herself, Barbara, leaning over a cot and looking
at the white face of a dead child in a certain room in London. Then she
knew that this was her daughter, and stretched out her arms towards her
and received her in her arms.
Presently she looked again, and there around the bed appeared four other
shapes of beauty.
"You have forgotten us, Barbara," said one of them, "but we are your
sisters who died in infancy."
For the third time she looked, and behold! kneeling at her side, just as
he had been found kneeling in the church, was her adored father, grown
more young. Once more she looked, and last of all, breathing ineffable
love, came her lost darling, Anthony himself.
From heart to heart flashed their swift thoughts, like lightnings from
cloud to cloud, till all her being was a very sea of joy. Now the great
room was full of presences, and now the curtains were gone and all space
beyond was full of presences, and from that glorious company of a sudden
there arose a song of welcome and beneath the burden of its sweetness
she swooned to sleep.
Barbara dwelt in joy with those she loved and learned many things. She
learned that this sweet new life of hers was what she had fashioned on
the earth with her prayers and strivings; that the seeds of love and
suffering sown down in the world's rank soil had here blossomed to
this perfect flower. Now she knew what was meant by the saying that the
kingdom of Heaven is within you, and by the other saying that as man
sows so shall he reap. She learned that in this world beyond the world,
and that yet itself was but a rung in the ladder of many universes, up
which ladder all souls must climb to the ultimate judgment, there was
sorrow as well as bliss, there were both suffering and delight.
Here the sinful were brought face to face with the naked horror of their
sins, and from it fled wailing and aghast. Here the cruel, the covetous,
the lustful and the liar were as creatures dragged from black caverns
of darkness into the burning light of day. These yearned back to their
darkness and attained sometimes to other coverings of a mortal flesh, or
to some land of which she had no knowledge. For such was their fate if
in them there was no spark of repentant spirit that in this new world
could be fanned to flame.
Upwards or downwards, such is the law of the universe in which nothing
can stand still. Up from the earth which Barbara had left came the
spirit shape of all that lived and could die, even to that of the
flower. But down to the earth it seemed that much of it was whirled
again, to ascend once more in an age to come, since though the stream of
life pulses continually forward, it has its backwash and its eddies.
Barbara learned that though it is blessed to die young and sinless, like
to that glorious child of hers with whom she walked in this heavenly
creation, and whose task it was to instruct her in its simpler
mysteries, to live and to repent is yet more blessed. In this life or
in that all have sinned, but not all have repented, and therefore, it
appeared to Barbara, again and again such must know the burden of the
Also she saw many wonders and learned many secrets of that vast,
spiritual universe into which this world of ours pours itself day by
day. But if she remembers anything of these she cannot tell them.
Oh! happy was her life with Anthony, for there, though now sex as we
know it had ceased to be, spirit grew ever closer to spirit, and as
below they dreamed and hoped, their union had indeed become an altar on
which Love's perfect fire flamed an offering to Heaven. Happy, too, was
her communion with those other souls that had been mingled in her lot,
and with many more whom she had known aforetime and elsewhere and long
forgotten. For Barbara learned that life is an ancient story of which we
spell out the chapters one by one.
Yet amidst all this joy and all the blessed labours of a hallowed world
in which idleness was not known, nor any weariness in well-doing, a
certain shadow met Barbara whichever way she turned.
"What is it?" asked Anthony, who felt her trouble.
"Our son," she answered, and showed him all the tale, or so much of it
as he did not know, ending, "And I chose to leave him that I might take
my chance of finding you. I died when I might have lived on if I had so
willed. That is my sin and it haunts me."
"We are not the parents of his soul, which is as ancient as our own,
"No, but for a while it was given into my hand and I deserted it, and
now I am afraid. How can I tell what has chanced to the soul of this
son of ours? Here there is no time. I know not if I bade it farewell
yesterday or ten thousand years ago. Long, long since it may have passed
through this world, where it would seem we dwell only with those whom we
seek or who seek us. Or it may abide upon the earth and there grow foul
and hateful. Let us search out the truth, Anthony. There are those who
can open its gates to us if the aim be pure and good."
"After I died, Barbara, I strove to learn how things went with you, and
strove in vain."
"Not altogether, Anthony, for sometimes you were very near to me, or so
I dreamed. Moreover, the case was different."
"Those who search sometimes find more than they seek, Barbara."
"Doubtless. Still, it is laid on me. Something drives me on."
So by the means appointed they sought to know the truth as to this son
of theirs, and it was decreed that the truth should be known to them.
In a dream, a vision, or perchance in truth--which they never knew--they
were drawn to the world that they had left, and the reek of its sins and
miseries pierced them like a spear.
They stood in the streets of London near to a certain fantastic gateway
that was familiar to them, the gateway of "The Gardens." From within
came sounds of music and revelling, for the season was that of summer.
A woman descended from a carriage. She was finely dressed, dark and
handsome. Barbara knew her at once for the girl Bess Catton, who alone
could control her son in his rages and whom she had dismissed for her
bad conduct. She entered the place and they entered with her, although
she saw them not. Bess sat down, and presently a man whom she seemed
to know drew out of the throng and spoke to her. He was a tall man of
middle age, with heavy eyes. Looking into his heart, they saw that it
was stained with evil. The soul within him lay asleep, wrapped round
with the webs of sin. This man said:
"We are going to have a merry supper, Bess. Come and join us."
"I'd like to well enough," she answered, "for I'm tired of my grand
life; it's too respectable. But suppose that Anthony came along. He's my
lawful spouse, you know. We had words and I told him where I was going."
"Oh, we'll risk your Anthony! Forget your marriage ring and have a taste
of the good old times."
"All right. I'm not afraid of Anthony, never was, but others are. Well,
it's your look-out."
She went with the man to a pavilion where food was served, and
accompanied him to a room separated by curtains from the main hall. It
had open windows which looked out on to the illuminated garden and the
dancing. In this room, seated round a table, was a company of women
gaudily dressed and painted, and with them were men. One of these was
a mere boy now being drawn into evil for the first time, and Barbara
grieved for him.
These welcomed the woman Bess and her companion noisily, and made room
for them in seats near to the window. Then the meal began, a costly meal
at which not much was eaten but a great deal was drunk. The revellers
grew excited with wine; they made jests and told doubtful stories.
Barbara's son Anthony entered unobserved and stood with his back against
the curtains. He was a man now, tall, powerful, and in his way handsome,
with hair of a chestnut red. Just then he who had brought Bess to the
supper threw his arm about her and kissed her, whereat she laughed and
the others laughed also.
Anthony sprang forward. The table was overthrown. He seized the man and
shook him. Then he struck him in the face and hurled him through the
open window to the path below. For a few seconds the man lay there,
then rose and ran till presently he vanished beneath the shadow of some
trees. There was tumult and confusion in the room; servants rushed in,
and one of the men, he who seemed to be the host, talked with them and
offered them money. The woman Bess began to revile her husband.
He took her by the arm and said:
"Will you follow that fellow through the window, or will you come with
Glancing at him, she saw something in his face that made her silent.
Then they went away together.
The scene changed. Barbara knew that now she saw her Aunt Thompson's
London house. In that drawing-room where she had parted from Mr.
Russell, her son and his wife stood face to face.
"How dare you?" she gasped through her set lips, glaring at him with
"How dare _you?_" he answered. "Did I marry you for this? I have given
you everything, my name, the wealth my old aunt left to me; you, you the
peasant's child, the evil woman whom I tried to lift up because I loved
you from the first."
"Then you were a fool for your pains, for such as I can't be lifted up."
"And you," he went on, unheeding, "go back to your mire and the herd of
your fellow-swine. You ask me how I dare. Go on with these ways, and I
tell you I'll dare a good deal more before I've done. I'll be rid of you
if I must break your neck and hang for it."
"You can't be rid of me. I'm your lawful wife, and you can prove nothing
against me since I married. Do you think I want to be such a one as that
mother of yours, to have children and mope myself to the grave----"
"You'd best leave my mother out of it, or by the devil that made you
I'll send you after her. Keep her name off your vile lips."
"Why should I? What good did she ever do you? She pretended to be such
a saint, but she hated you, and small wonder, seeing what you were. Why
she even died to be rid of you. Oh, I know all about it, and you told me
as much yourself. If my child is ever born I hope for your sake it will
be such another as you are, or as I am. You can take your choice," and
with a glare of hate she rushed from the room.
On a table near the fireplace stood spirits. The maddened husband went
to them, filled a tumbler half full with brandy, added a little water
and drank it off.
He poured more brandy into the glass and began to think. To Barbara his
mind was as an open book and she read what was passing there. What she
saw were such thoughts as these: "My only comfort, and yet till within
two years ago, whatever else I did, I never touched drink. I swore to my
mother that I never would, and had she been alive to-day----. But Bess
always liked her glass, and drinking alone is no company. Ah! if my
mother had lived everything would have been different, for I outgrew the
bad fit and might have become quite a decent fellow. But then I met Bess
again by chance, and she had the old hold on me, and there was none to
keep me back, and she knew how to play her fish until I married her. The
old aunt never found it out. If she had I shouldn't have 8,000 pounds a
year to-day. I lied to her about that, and I wonder what she thinks
of me now, if she can think where she is gone. I wonder what my mother
thinks also, and my father, who was a good man by all accounts, though
nobody seems to remember much about him. Supposing that they could see
me now, supposing that they could have been at that supper party and
witnessed the conjugal interview between me and the female creature who
is my legal wife, what would they think? Well, they are dead and can't,
for the dead don't come back. The dead are just a few double handfuls of
dirt, no more, and since no doubt I shall join them before very long, I
thank God for it, or rather I would if there were a God to thank. Here's
to the company of the Dead who will never hear or see or feel anything
more from everlasting to everlasting. Amen."
Then he drank off the second half tumbler of brandy, hid his face in his
hands and began to sob, muttering:
"Mother, why did you leave me? Oh, mother, come back to me, mother, and
save my soul from hell!"
Barbara and Anthony awoke from their dream of the dreadful earth and
looked into each other's hearts.
"It is true," said their hearts, which could not lie, and with those
words all the glory of their state faded to a grey nothingness.
"You have seen and heard," said Barbara. "It was my sin which has
brought this misery on our son, who, had I lived on, might have been
saved. Now through me he is lost, who step by step of his own will must
travel downwards to the last depth, and thence, perhaps, never be raised
again. This is the thing that I have done, yes, I whom blind judges in
the world held to be good."
"I have seen and heard," he answered, "and joy has departed from me. Yet
what wrong have you worked, who did not know?"
"Come, my father," called Barbara to that spirit who in the flesh had
been named Septimus Walrond, "come, you who are holy, and pray that
light may be given to us."
So he came and prayed and from the Heavens above fell a vision in answer
to his prayer. The vision was that of the fate of the soul of the son of
Anthony and Barbara through a thousand, thousand ages that were to come,
and it was a dreadful fate.
"Pray again, my father," said Barbara, "and ask if it may be changed."
So the spirit of Septimus Walrond prayed, and the spirits of his
daughters and of the daughter of Anthony and Barbara prayed with him.
Together they kneeled and prayed to the Glory that shone above.
There came another vision, that of a little child leading a man by the
hand, and the child was Barbara and the man was he who had been her son.
By a long and difficult path--upwards, ever upwards--she led him, and
the end of that path was not seen.
Then these spirits prayed that the meaning of this vision might be made
more clear. But to that prayer there came no answer.
Barbara went apart into a wilderness where thorns grew and there endured
the agony of temptation. On the one hand lay the pure life of joy which,
like the difficult path that had been shown to her, led upwards, ever
upwards to yet greater joy, shared with those she loved. On the other
hand lay the seething hell of Earth, to be once more endured through
many mortal years and--a soul to save alive. None might counsel her,
none might direct her. She must choose and choose alone. Not in fear of
punishment, for this was not possible to her. Not in hope of glory, for
that she must inherit, but only for the hope's sake that she might--save
a soul alive.
Out of her deep heart's infinite love and charity thus she chose in
atonement of her mortal sin. And as she chose the great arc of Heaven
above her, that had been grey and silent, burst to splendour and to
So Barbara for a while bade farewell to those who loved her, bade
farewell to Anthony her heart's heart. Once more, alone, utterly alone,
she laid her on the couch in the great chamber with the translucent dome
and thence her spirit was whirled back through nothingness to the hell
of Earth, there to be born again in the child of the evil woman, that it
might save a soul alive.
Thus did the sweet and holy Barbara--Barbara who came back--in atonement
of her sin.
For her reward, as she fights on in hope, she has memory and such
visions as are written here.