A Changed Man and Other Tales
Part 4 out of 6
the castle--a measured mile--coming round at intervals like a
circumambulating column of infantry. Doubtless such a column has
passed this way in its time, but the only columns which enter in
these latter days are the columns of sheep and oxen that are
sometimes seen here now; while the only semblance of heroic voices
heard are the utterances of such, and of the many winds which make
their passage through the ravines.
The expected lightning radiates round, and a rumbling as from its
subterranean vaults--if there are any--fills the castle. The
lightning repeats itself, and, coming after the aforesaid thoughts of
martial men, it bears a fanciful resemblance to swords moving in
combat. It has the very brassy hue of the ancient weapons that here
were used. The so sudden entry upon the scene of this metallic flame
is as the entry of a presiding exhibitor who unrolls the maps,
uncurtains the pictures, unlocks the cabinets, and effects a
transformation by merely exposing the materials of his science,
unintelligibly cloaked till then. The abrupt configuration of the
bluffs and mounds is now for the first time clearly revealed--mounds
whereon, doubtless, spears and shields have frequently lain while
their owners loosened their sandals and yawned and stretched their
arms in the sun. For the first time, too, a glimpse is obtainable of
the true entrance used by its occupants of old, some way ahead.
There, where all passage has seemed to be inviolably barred by an
almost vertical facade, the ramparts are found to overlap each other
like loosely clasped fingers, between which a zigzag path may be
followed--a cunning construction that puzzles the uninformed eye.
But its cunning, even where not obscured by dilapidation, is now
wasted on the solitary forms of a few wild badgers, rabbits, and
hares. Men must have often gone out by those gates in the morning to
battle with the Roman legions under Vespasian; some to return no
more, others to come back at evening, bringing with them the noise of
their heroic deeds. But not a page, not a stone, has preserved their
Acoustic perceptions multiply to-night. We can almost hear the
stream of years that have borne those deeds away from us. Strange
articulations seem to float on the air from that point, the gateway,
where the animation in past times must frequently have concentrated
itself at hours of coming and going, and general excitement. There
arises an ineradicable fancy that they are human voices; if so, they
must be the lingering air-borne vibrations of conversations uttered
at least fifteen hundred years ago. The attention is attracted from
mere nebulous imaginings about yonder spot by a real moving of
something close at hand.
I recognize by the now moderate flashes of lightning, which are
sheet-like and nearly continuous, that it is the gradual elevation of
a small mound of earth. At first no larger than a man's fist it
reaches the dimensions of a hat, then sinks a little and is still.
It is but the heaving of a mole who chooses such weather as this to
work in from some instinct that there will be nobody abroad to molest
him. As the fine earth lifts and lifts and falls loosely aside
fragments of burnt clay roll out of it--clay that once formed part of
cups or other vessels used by the inhabitants of the fortress.
The violence of the storm has been counterbalanced by its
transitoriness. From being immersed in well-nigh solid media of
cloud and hail shot with lightning, I find myself uncovered of the
humid investiture and left bare to the mild gaze of the moon, which
sparkles now on every wet grass-blade and frond of moss.
But I am not yet inside the fort, and the delayed ascent of the third
and last escarpment is now made. It is steeper than either. The
first was a surface to walk up, the second to stagger up, the third
can only be ascended on the hands and toes. On the summit obtrudes
the first evidence which has been met with in these precincts that
the time is really the nineteenth century; it is in the form of a
white notice-board on a post, and the wording can just be discerned
by the rays of the setting moon:
CAUTION.--Any Person found removing Relics, Skeletons, Stones,
Pottery, Tiles, or other Material from this Earthwork, or cutting up
the Ground, will be Prosecuted as the Law directs.
Here one observes a difference underfoot from what has gone before:
scraps of Roman tile and stone chippings protrude through the grass
in meagre quantity, but sufficient to suggest that masonry stood on
the spot. Before the eye stretches under the moonlight the interior
of the fort. So open and so large is it as to be practically an
upland plateau, and yet its area lies wholly within the walls of what
may be designated as one building. It is a long-violated retreat;
all its corner-stones, plinths, and architraves were carried away to
build neighbouring villages even before mediaeval or modern history
began. Many a block which once may have helped to form a bastion
here rests now in broken and diminished shape as part of the chimney-
corner of some shepherd's cottage within the distant horizon, and the
corner-stones of this heathen altar may form the base-course of some
adjoining village church.
Yet the very bareness of these inner courts and wards, their
condition of mere pasturage, protects what remains of them as no
defences could do. Nothing is left visible that the hands can seize
on or the weather overturn, and a permanence of general outline at
least results, which no other condition could ensure.
The position of the castle on this isolated hill bespeaks deliberate
and strategic choice exercised by some remote mind capable of
prospective reasoning to a far extent. The natural configuration of
the surrounding country and its bearing upon such a stronghold were
obviously long considered and viewed mentally before its extensive
design was carried into execution. Who was the man that said, 'Let
it be built here!'--not on that hill yonder, or on that ridge behind,
but on this best spot of all? Whether he were some great one of the
Belgae, or of the Durotriges, or the travelling engineer of Britain's
united tribes, must for ever remain time's secret; his form cannot be
realized, nor his countenance, nor the tongue that he spoke, when he
set down his foot with a thud and said, 'Let it be here!'
Within the innermost enclosure, though it is so wide that at a
superficial glance the beholder has only a sense of standing on a
breezy down, the solitude is rendered yet more solitary by the
knowledge that between the benighted sojourner herein and all kindred
humanity are those three concentric walls of earth which no being
would think of scaling on such a night as this, even were he to hear
the most pathetic cries issuing hence that could be uttered by a
spectre-chased soul. I reach a central mound or platform--the crown
and axis of the whole structure. The view from here by day must be
of almost limitless extent. On this raised floor, dais, or rostrum,
harps have probably twanged more or less tuneful notes in celebration
of daring, strength, or cruelty; of worship, superstition, love,
birth, and death; of simple loving-kindness perhaps never. Many a
time must the king or leader have directed his keen eyes hence across
the open lands towards the ancient road, the Icening Way, still
visible in the distance, on the watch for armed companies approaching
either to succour or to attack.
I am startled by a voice pronouncing my name. Past and present have
become so confusedly mingled under the associations of the spot that
for a time it has escaped my memory that this mound was the place
agreed on for the aforesaid appointment. I turn and behold my
friend. He stands with a dark lantern in his hand and a spade and
light pickaxe over his shoulder. He expresses both delight and
surprise that I have come. I tell him I had set out before the bad
He, to whom neither weather, darkness, nor difficulty seems to have
any relation or significance, so entirely is his soul wrapped up in
his own deep intentions, asks me to take the lantern and accompany
him. I take it and walk by his side. He is a man about sixty, small
in figure, with grey old-fashioned whiskers cut to the shape of a
pair of crumb-brushes. He is entirely in black broadcloth--or
rather, at present, black and brown, for he is bespattered with mud
from his heels to the crown of his low hat. He has no consciousness
of this--no sense of anything but his purpose, his ardour for which
causes his eyes to shine like those of a lynx, and gives his motions,
all the elasticity of an athlete's.
'Nobody to interrupt us at this time of night!' he chuckles with
We retreat a little way and find a sort of angle, an elevation in the
sod, a suggested squareness amid the mass of irregularities around.
Here, he tells me, if anywhere, the king's house stood. Three months
of measurement and calculation have confirmed him in this conclusion.
He requests me now to open the lantern, which I do, and the light
streams out upon the wet sod. At last divining his proceedings I say
that I had no idea, in keeping the tryst, that he was going to do
more at such an unusual time than meet me for a meditative ramble
through the stronghold. I ask him why, having a practicable object,
he should have minded interruptions and not have chosen the day? He
informs me, quietly pointing to his spade, that it was because his
purpose is to dig, then signifying with a grim nod the gaunt notice-
post against the sky beyond. I inquire why, as a professed and well-
known antiquary with capital letters at the tail of his name, he did
not obtain the necessary authority, considering the stringent
penalties for this sort of thing; and he chuckles fiercely again with
suppressed delight, and says, 'Because they wouldn't have given it!'
He at once begins cutting up the sod, and, as he takes the pickaxe to
follow on with, assures me that, penalty or no penalty, honest men or
marauders, he is sure of one thing, that we shall not be disturbed at
our work till after dawn.
I remember to have heard of men who, in their enthusiasm for some
special science, art, or hobby, have quite lost the moral sense which
would restrain them from indulging it illegitimately; and I
conjecture that here, at last, is an instance of such an one. He
probably guesses the way my thoughts travel, for he stands up and
solemnly asserts that he has a distinctly justifiable intention in
this matter; namely, to uncover, to search, to verify a theory or
displace it, and to cover up again. He means to take away nothing--
not a grain of sand. In this he says he sees no such monstrous sin.
I inquire if this is really a promise to me? He repeats that it is a
promise, and resumes digging. My contribution to the labour is that
of directing the light constantly upon the hole. When he has reached
something more than a foot deep he digs more cautiously, saying that,
be it much or little there, it will not lie far below the surface;
such things never are deep. A few minutes later the point of the
pickaxe clicks upon a stony substance. He draws the implement out as
feelingly as if it had entered a man's body. Taking up the spade he
shovels with care, and a surface, level as an altar, is presently
disclosed. His eyes flash anew; he pulls handfuls of grass and mops
the surface clean, finally rubbing it with his handkerchief.
Grasping the lantern from my hand he holds it close to the ground,
when the rays reveal a complete mosaic--a pavement of minute tesserae
of many colours, of intricate pattern, a work of much art, of much
time, and of much industry. He exclaims in a shout that he knew it
always--that it is not a Celtic stronghold exclusively, but also a
Roman; the former people having probably contributed little more than
the original framework which the latter took and adapted till it
became the present imposing structure.
I ask, What if it is Roman?
A great deal, according to him. That it proves all the world to be
wrong in this great argument, and himself alone to be right! Can I
wait while he digs further?
I agree--reluctantly; but he does not notice my reluctance. At an
adjoining spot he begins flourishing the tools anew with the skill of
a navvy, this venerable scholar with letters after his name.
Sometimes he falls on his knees, burrowing with his hands in the
manner of a hare, and where his old-fashioned broadcloth touches the
sides of the hole it gets plastered with the damp earth. He
continually murmurs to himself how important, how very important,
this discovery is! He draws out an object; we wash it in the same
primitive way by rubbing it with the wet grass, and it proves to be a
semi-transparent bottle of iridescent beauty, the sight of which
draws groans of luxurious sensibility from the digger. Further and
further search brings out a piece of a weapon. It is strange indeed
that by merely peeling off a wrapper of modern accumulations we have
lowered ourselves into an ancient world. Finally a skeleton is
uncovered, fairly perfect. He lays it out on the grass, bone to its
My friend says the man must have fallen fighting here, as this is no
place of burial. He turns again to the trench, scrapes, feels, till
from a corner he draws out a heavy lump--a small image four or five
inches high. We clean it as before. It is a statuette, apparently of
gold, or, more probably, of bronze-gilt--a figure of Mercury,
obviously, its head being surmounted with the petasus or winged hat,
the usual accessory of that deity. Further inspection reveals the
workmanship to be of good finish and detail, and, preserved by the
limy earth, to be as fresh in every line as on the day it left the
hands of its artificer.
We seem to be standing in the Roman Forum and not on a hill in
Wessex. Intent upon this truly valuable relic of the old empire of
which even this remote spot was a component part, we do not notice
what is going on in the present world till reminded of it by the
sudden renewal of the storm. Looking up I perceive that the wide
extinguisher of cloud has again settled down upon the fortress-town,
as if resting upon the edge of the inner rampart, and shutting out
the moon. I turn my back to the tempest, still directing the light
across the hole. My companion digs on unconcernedly; he is living
two thousand years ago, and despises things of the moment as dreams.
But at last he is fairly beaten, and standing up beside me looks
round on what he has done. The rays of the lantern pass over the
trench to the tall skeleton stretched upon the grass on the other
side. The beating rain has washed the bones clean and smooth, and
the forehead, cheek-bones, and two-and-thirty teeth of the skull
glisten in the candle-shine as they lie.
This storm, like the first, is of the nature of a squall, and it ends
as abruptly as the other. We dig no further. My friend says that it
is enough--he has proved his point. He turns to replace the bones in
the trench and covers them. But they fall to pieces under his touch:
the air has disintegrated them, and he can only sweep in the
fragments. The next act of his plan is more than difficult, but is
carried out. The treasures are inhumed again in their respective
holes: they are not ours. Each deposition seems to cost him a
twinge; and at one moment I fancied I saw him slip his hand into his
'We must re-bury them ALL,' say I.
'O yes,' he answers with integrity. 'I was wiping my hand.'
The beauties of the tesselated floor of the governor's house are once
again consigned to darkness; the trench is filled up; the sod laid
smoothly down; he wipes the perspiration from his forehead with the
same handkerchief he had used to mop the skeleton and tesserae clean;
and we make for the eastern gate of the fortress.
Dawn bursts upon us suddenly as we reach the opening. It comes by
the lifting and thinning of the clouds that way till we are bathed in
a pink light. The direction of his homeward journey is not the same
as mine, and we part under the outer slope.
Walking along quickly to restore warmth I muse upon my eccentric
friend, and cannot help asking myself this question: Did he really
replace the gilded image of the god Mercurius with the rest of the
treasures? He seemed to do so; and yet I could not testify to the
fact. Probably, however, he was as good as his word.
* * *
It was thus I spoke to myself, and so the adventure ended. But one
thing remains to be told, and that is concerned with seven years
after. Among the effects of my friend, at that time just deceased,
was found, carefully preserved, a gilt statuette representing
Mercury, labelled 'Debased Roman.' No record was attached to explain
how it came into his possession. The figure was bequeathed to the
WHAT THE SHEPHERD SAW: A TALE OF FOUR MOONLIGHT NIGHTS
The genial Justice of the Peace--now, alas, no more--who made himself
responsible for the facts of this story, used to begin in the good
old-fashioned way with a bright moonlight night and a mysterious
figure, an excellent stroke for an opening, even to this day, if well
The Christmas moon (he would say) was showing her cold face to the
upland, the upland reflecting the radiance in frost-sparkles so
minute as only to be discernible by an eye near at hand. This eye,
he said, was the eye of a shepherd lad, young for his occupation, who
stood within a wheeled hut of the kind commonly in use among sheep-
keepers during the early lambing season, and was abstractedly looking
through the loophole at the scene without.
The spot was called Lambing Corner, and it was a sheltered portion of
that wide expanse of rough pastureland known as the Marlbury Downs,
which you directly traverse when following the turnpike-road across
Mid-Wessex from London, through Aldbrickham, in the direction of Bath
and Bristol. Here, where the hut stood, the land was high and dry,
open, except to the north, and commanding an undulating view for
miles. On the north side grew a tall belt of coarse furze, with
enormous stalks, a clump of the same standing detached in front of
the general mass. The clump was hollow, and the interior had been
ingeniously taken advantage of as a position for the before-mentioned
hut, which was thus completely screened from winds, and almost
invisible, except through the narrow approach. But the furze twigs
had been cut away from the two little windows of the hut, that the
occupier might keep his eye on his sheep.
In the rear, the shelter afforded by the belt of furze bushes was
artificially improved by an inclosure of upright stakes, interwoven
with boughs of the same prickly vegetation, and within the inclosure
lay a renowned Marlbury-Down breeding flock of eight hundred ewes.
To the south, in the direction of the young shepherd's idle gaze,
there rose one conspicuous object above the uniform moonlit plateau,
and only one. It was a Druidical trilithon, consisting of three
oblong stones in the form of a doorway, two on end, and one across as
a lintel. Each stone had been worn, scratched, washed, nibbled,
split, and otherwise attacked by ten thousand different weathers; but
now the blocks looked shapely and little the worse for wear, so
beautifully were they silvered over by the light of the moon. The
ruin was locally called the Devil's Door.
An old shepherd presently entered the hut from the direction of the
ewes, and looked around in the gloom. 'Be ye sleepy?' he asked in
cross accents of the boy.
The lad replied rather timidly in the negative.
'Then,' said the shepherd, 'I'll get me home-along, and rest for a
few hours. There's nothing to be done here now as I can see. The
ewes can want no more tending till daybreak--'tis beyond the bounds
of reason that they can. But as the order is that one of us must
bide, I'll leave 'ee, d'ye hear. You can sleep by day, and I can't.
And you can be down to my house in ten minutes if anything should
happen. I can't afford 'ee candle; but, as 'tis Christmas week, and
the time that folks have hollerdays, you can enjoy yerself by falling
asleep a bit in the chair instead of biding awake all the time. But
mind, not longer at once than while the shade of the Devil's Door
moves a couple of spans, for you must keep an eye upon the ewes.'
The boy made no definite reply, and the old man, stirring the fire in
the stove with his crook-stem, closed the door upon his companion and
As this had been more or less the course of events every night since
the season's lambing had set in, the boy was not at all surprised at
the charge, and amused himself for some time by lighting straws at
the stove. He then went out to the ewes and new-born lambs, re-
entered, sat down, and finally fell asleep. This was his customary
manner of performing his watch, for though special permission for
naps had this week been accorded, he had, as a matter of fact, done
the same thing on every preceding night, sleeping often till awakened
by a smack on the shoulder at three or four in the morning from the
crook-stem of the old man.
It might have been about eleven o'clock when he awoke. He was so
surprised at awaking without, apparently, being called or struck,
that on second thoughts he assumed that somebody must have called him
in spite of appearances, and looked out of the hut window towards the
sheep. They all lay as quiet as when he had visited them, very
little bleating being audible, and no human soul disturbing the
scene. He next looked from the opposite window, and here the case
was different. The frost-facets glistened under the moon as before;
an occasional furze bush showed as a dark spot on the same; and in
the foreground stood the ghostly form of the trilithon. But in front
of the trilithon stood a man.
That he was not the shepherd or any one of the farm labourers was
apparent in a moment's observation,--his dress being a dark suit, and
his figure of slender build and graceful carriage. He walked
backwards and forwards in front of the trilithon.
The shepherd lad had hardly done speculating on the strangeness of
the unknown's presence here at such an hour, when he saw a second
figure crossing the open sward towards the locality of the trilithon
and furze-clump that screened the hut. This second personage was a
woman; and immediately on sight of her the male stranger hastened
forward, meeting her just in front of the hut window. Before she
seemed to be aware of his intention he clasped her in his arms.
The lady released herself and drew back with some dignity.
'You have come, Harriet--bless you for it!' he exclaimed, fervently.
'But not for this,' she answered, in offended accents. And then,
more good-naturedly, 'I have come, Fred, because you entreated me so!
What can have been the object of your writing such a letter? I
feared I might be doing you grievous ill by staying away. How did
you come here?'
'I walked all the way from my father's.'
'Well, what is it? How have you lived since we last met?'
'But roughly; you might have known that without asking. I have seen
many lands and many faces since I last walked these downs, but I have
only thought of you.'
'Is it only to tell me this that you have summoned me so strangely?'
A passing breeze blew away the murmur of the reply and several
succeeding sentences, till the man's voice again became audible in
the words, 'Harriet--truth between us two! I have heard that the
Duke does not treat you too well.'
'He is warm-tempered, but he is a good husband.'
'He speaks roughly to you, and sometimes even threatens to lock you
out of doors.'
'Only once, Fred! On my honour, only once. The Duke is a fairly
good husband, I repeat. But you deserve punishment for this night's
trick of drawing me out. What does it mean?'
'Harriet, dearest, is this fair or honest? Is it not notorious that
your life with him is a sad one--that, in spite of the sweetness of
your temper, the sourness of his embitters your days. I have come to
know if I can help you. You are a Duchess, and I am Fred Ogbourne;
but it is not impossible that I may be able to help you . . . By God!
the sweetness of that tongue ought to keep him civil, especially when
there is added to it the sweetness of that face!'
'Captain Ogbourne!' she exclaimed, with an emphasis of playful fear.
'How can such a comrade of my youth behave to me as you do? Don't
speak so, and stare at me so! Is this really all you have to say? I
see I ought not to have come. 'Twas thoughtlessly done.'
Another breeze broke the thread of discourse for a time.
'Very well. I perceive you are dead and lost to me,' he could next
be heard to say, '"Captain Ogbourne" proves that. As I once loved
you I love you now, Harriet, without one jot of abatement; but you
are not the woman you were--you once were honest towards me; and now
you conceal your heart in made-up speeches. Let it be: I can never
see you again.'
'You need not say that in such a tragedy tone, you silly. You may
see me in an ordinary way--why should you not? But, of course, not
in such a way as this. I should not have come now, if it had not
happened that the Duke is away from home, so that there is nobody to
check my erratic impulses.'
'When does he return?'
'The day after to-morrow, or the day after that.'
'Then meet me again to-morrow night.'
'No, Fred, I cannot.'
'If you cannot to-morrow night, you can the night after; one of the
two before he comes please bestow on me. Now, your hand upon it!
To-morrow or next night you will see me to bid me farewell!' He
seized the Duchess's hand.
'No, but Fred--let go my hand! What do you mean by holding me so?
If it be love to forget all respect to a woman's present position in
thinking of her past, then yours may be so, Frederick. It is not
kind and gentle of you to induce me to come to this place for pity of
you, and then to hold me tight here.'
'But see me once more! I have come two thousand miles to ask it.'
'O, I must not! There will be slanders--Heaven knows what! I cannot
meet you. For the sake of old times don't ask it.'
'Then own two things to me; that you did love me once, and that your
husband is unkind to you often enough now to make you think of the
time when you cared for me.'
'Yes--I own them both,' she answered faintly. 'But owning such as
that tells against me; and I swear the inference is not true.'
'Don't say that; for you have come--let me think the reason of your
coming what I like to think it. It can do you no harm. Come once
He still held her hand and waist. 'Very well, then,' she said.
'Thus far you shall persuade me. I will meet you to-morrow night or
the night after. Now, let me go.'
He released her, and they parted. The Duchess ran rapidly down the
hill towards the outlying mansion of Shakeforest Towers, and when he
had watched her out of sight, he turned and strode off in the
opposite direction. All then was silent and empty as before.
Yet it was only for a moment. When they had quite departed, another
shape appeared upon the scene. He came from behind the trilithon.
He was a man of stouter build than the first, and wore the boots and
spurs of a horseman. Two things were at once obvious from this
phenomenon: that he had watched the interview between the Captain
and the Duchess; and that, though he probably had seen every movement
of the couple, including the embrace, he had been too remote to hear
the reluctant words of the lady's conversation--or, indeed, any words
at all--so that the meeting must have exhibited itself to his eye as
the assignation of a pair of well-agreed lovers. But it was
necessary that several years should elapse before the shepherd-boy
was old enough to reason out this.
The third individual stood still for a moment, as if deep in
meditation. He crossed over to where the lady and gentleman had
stood, and looked at the ground; then he too turned and went away in
a third direction, as widely divergent as possible from those taken
by the two interlocutors. His course was towards the highway; and a
few minutes afterwards the trot of a horse might have been heard upon
its frosty surface, lessening till it died away upon the ear.
The boy remained in the hut, confronting the trilithon as if he
expected yet more actors on the scene, but nobody else appeared. How
long he stood with his little face against the loophole he hardly
knew; but he was rudely awakened from his reverie by a punch in his
back, and in the feel of it he familiarly recognized the stem of the
old shepherd's crook.
'Blame thy young eyes and limbs, Bill Mills--now you have let the
fire out, and you know I want it kept in! I thought something would
go wrong with 'ee up here, and I couldn't bide in bed no more than
thistledown on the wind, that I could not! Well, what's happened,
fie upon 'ee?'
'Ewes all as I left 'em?'
'Any lambs want bringing in?'
The shepherd relit the fire, and went out among the sheep with a
lantern, for the moon was getting low. Soon he came in again.
'Blame it all--thou'st say that nothing have happened; when one ewe
have twinned and is like to go off, and another is dying for want of
half an eye of looking to! I told 'ee, Bill Mills, if anything went
wrong to come down and call me; and this is how you have done it.'
'You said I could go to sleep for a hollerday, and I did.'
'Don't you speak to your betters like that, young man, or you'll come
to the gallows-tree! You didn't sleep all the time, or you wouldn't
have been peeping out of that there hole! Now you can go home, and
be up here again by breakfast-time. I be an old man, and there's old
men that deserve well of the world; but no I--must rest how I can!'
The elder shepherd then lay down inside the hut, and the boy went
down the hill to the hamlet where he dwelt.
When the next night drew on the actions of the boy were almost enough
to show that he was thinking of the meeting he had witnessed, and of
the promise wrung from the lady that she would come there again. As
far as the sheep-tending arrangements were concerned, to-night was
but a repetition of the foregoing one. Between ten and eleven
o'clock the old shepherd withdrew as usual for what sleep at home he
might chance to get without interruption, making up the other
necessary hours of rest at some time during the day; the boy was left
The frost was the same as on the night before, except perhaps that it
was a little more severe. The moon shone as usual, except that it
was three-quarters of an hour later in its course; and the boy's
condition was much the same, except that he felt no sleepiness
whatever. He felt, too, rather afraid; but upon the whole he
preferred witnessing an assignation of strangers to running the risk
of being discovered absent by the old shepherd.
It was before the distant clock of Shakeforest Towers had struck
eleven that he observed the opening of the second act of this
midnight drama. It consisted in the appearance of neither lover nor
Duchess, but of the third figure--the stout man, booted and spurred--
who came up from the easterly direction in which he had retreated the
night before. He walked once round the trilithon, and next advanced
towards the clump concealing the hut, the moonlight shining full upon
his face and revealing him to be the Duke. Fear seized upon the
shepherd-boy: the Duke was Jove himself to the rural population,
whom to offend was starvation, homelessness, and death, and whom to
look at was to be mentally scathed and dumbfoundered. He closed the
stove, so that not a spark of light appeared, and hastily buried
himself in the straw that lay in a corner.
The Duke came close to the clump of furze and stood by the spot where
his wife and the Captain had held their dialogue; he examined the
furze as if searching for a hiding-place, and in doing so discovered
the hut. The latter he walked round and then looked inside; finding
it to all seeming empty, he entered, closing the door behind him and
taking his place at the little circular window against which the
boy's face had been pressed just before.
The Duke had not adopted his measures too rapidly, if his object were
concealment. Almost as soon as he had stationed himself there eleven
o'clock struck, and the slender young man who had previously graced
the scene promptly reappeared from the north quarter of the down.
The spot of assignation having, by the accident of his running
forward on the foregoing night, removed itself from the Devil's Door
to the clump of furze, he instinctively came thither, and waited for
the Duchess where he had met her before.
But a fearful surprise was in store for him to-night, as well as for
the trembling juvenile. At his appearance the Duke breathed more and
more quickly, his breathings being distinctly audible to the
crouching boy. The young man had hardly paused when the alert
nobleman softly opened the door of the hut, and, stepping round the
furze, came full upon Captain Fred.
'You have dishonoured her, and you shall die the death you deserve!'
came to the shepherd's ears, in a harsh, hollow whisper through the
boarding of the hut.
The apathetic and taciturn boy was excited enough to run the risk of
rising and looking from the window, but he could see nothing for the
intervening furze boughs, both the men having gone round to the side.
What took place in the few following moments he never exactly knew.
He discerned portion of a shadow in quick muscular movement; then
there was the fall of something on the grass; then there was
Two or three minutes later the Duke became visible round the corner
of the hut, dragging by the collar the now inert body of the second
man. The Duke dragged him across the open space towards the
trilithon. Behind this ruin was a hollow, irregular spot, overgrown
with furze and stunted thorns, and riddled by the old holes of
badgers, its former inhabitants, who had now died out or departed.
The Duke vanished into this depression with his burden, reappearing
after the lapse of a few seconds. When he came forth he dragged
nothing behind him.
He returned to the side of the hut, cleansed something on the grass,
and again put himself on the watch, though not as before, inside the
hut, but without, on the shady side. 'Now for the second!' he said.
It was plain, even to the unsophisticated boy, that he now awaited
the other person of the appointment--his wife, the Duchess--for what
purpose it was terrible to think. He seemed to be a man of such
determined temper that he would scarcely hesitate in carrying out a
course of revenge to the bitter end. Moreover--though it was what
the shepherd did not perceive--this was all the more probable, in
that the moody Duke was labouring under the exaggerated impression
which the sight of the meeting in dumb show had conveyed.
The jealous watcher waited long, but he waited in vain. From within
the hut the boy could hear his occasional exclamations of surprise,
as if he were almost disappointed at the failure of his assumption
that his guilty Duchess would surely keep the tryst. Sometimes he
stepped from the shade of the furze into the moonlight, and held up
his watch to learn the time.
About half-past eleven he seemed to give up expecting her. He then
went a second time to the hollow behind the trilithon, remaining
there nearly a quarter of an hour. From this place he proceeded
quickly over a shoulder of the declivity, a little to the left,
presently returning on horseback, which proved that his horse had
been tethered in some secret place down there. Crossing anew the
down between the hut and the trilithon, and scanning the precincts as
if finally to assure himself that she had not come, he rode slowly
downwards in the direction of Shakeforest Towers.
The juvenile shepherd thought of what lay in the hollow yonder; and
no fear of the crook-stem of his superior officer was potent enough
to detain him longer on that hill alone. Any live company, even the
most terrible, was better than the company of the dead; so, running
with the speed of a hare in the direction pursued by the horseman, he
overtook the revengeful Duke at the second descent (where the great
western road crossed before you came to the old park entrance on that
side--now closed up and the lodge cleared away, though at the time it
was wondered why, being considered the most convenient gate of all).
Once within the sound of the horse's footsteps, Bill Mills felt
comparatively comfortable; for, though in awe of the Duke because of
his position, he had no moral repugnance to his companionship on
account of the grisly deed he had committed, considering that
powerful nobleman to have a right to do what he chose on his own
lands. The Duke rode steadily on beneath his ancestral trees, the
hoofs of his horse sending up a smart sound now that he had reached
the hard road of the drive, and soon drew near the front door of his
house, surmounted by parapets with square-cut battlements that cast a
notched shade upon the gravelled terrace. These outlines were quite
familiar to little Bill Mills, though nothing within their boundary
had ever been seen by him.
When the rider approached the mansion a small turret door was quickly
opened and a woman came out. As soon as she saw the horseman's
outlines she ran forward into the moonlight to meet him.
'Ah dear--and are you come?' she said. 'I heard Hero's tread just
when you rode over the hill, and I knew it in a moment. I would have
come further if I had been aware--'
'Glad to see me, eh?'
'How can you ask that?'
'Well; it is a lovely night for meetings.'
'Yes, it is a lovely night.'
The Duke dismounted and stood by her side. 'Why should you have been
listening at this time of night, and yet not expecting me?' he asked.
'Why, indeed! There is a strange story attached to that, which I
must tell you at once. But why did you come a night sooner than you
said you would come? I am rather sorry--I really am!' (shaking her
head playfully) 'for as a surprise to you I had ordered a bonfire to
be built, which was to be lighted on your arrival to-morrow; and now
it is wasted. You can see the outline of it just out there.'
The Duke looked across to a spot of rising glade, and saw the faggots
in a heap. He then bent his eyes with a bland and puzzled air on the
ground, 'What is this strange story you have to tell me that kept you
awake?' he murmured.
'It is this--and it is really rather serious. My cousin Fred
Ogbourne--Captain Ogbourne as he is now--was in his boyhood a great
admirer of mine, as I think I have told you, though I was six years
his senior. In strict truth, he was absurdly fond of me.'
'You have never told me of that before.'
'Then it was your sister I told--yes, it was. Well, you know I have
not seen him for many years, and naturally I had quite forgotten his
admiration of me in old times. But guess my surprise when the day
before yesterday, I received a mysterious note bearing no address,
and found on opening it that it came from him. The contents
frightened me out of my wits. He had returned from Canada to his
father's house, and conjured me by all he could think of to meet him
at once. But I think I can repeat the exact words, though I will
show it to you when we get indoors.
"MY DEAR COUSIN HARRIET," the note said, "After this long absence you
will be surprised at my sudden reappearance, and more by what I am
going to ask. But if my life and future are of any concern to you at
all, I beg that you will grant my request. What I require of you,
is, dear Harriet, that you meet me about eleven to-night by the Druid
stones on Marlbury Downs, about a mile or more from your house. I
cannot say more, except to entreat you to come. I will explain all
when you are there. The one thing is, I want to see you. Come
alone. Believe me, I would not ask this if my happiness did not hang
upon it--God knows how entirely! I am too agitated to say more--
'That was all of it. Now, of course I ought have gone, as it turned
out, but that I did not think of then. I remembered his impetuous
temper, and feared that something grievous was impending over his
head, while he had not a friend in the world to help him, or any one
except myself to whom he would care to make his trouble known. So I
wrapped myself up and went to Marlbury Downs at the time he had
named. Don't you think I was courageous?'
'When I got there--but shall we not walk on; it is getting cold?'
The Duke, however, did not move. 'When I got there he came, of
course, as a full grown man and officer, and not as the lad that I
had known him. When I saw him I was sorry I had come. I can hardly
tell you how he behaved. What he wanted I don't know even now; it
seemed to be no more than the mere meeting with me. He held me by
the hand and waist--O so tight--and would not let me go till I had
promised to meet him again. His manner was so strange and passionate
that I was afraid of him in such a lonely place, and I promised to
come. Then I escaped--then I ran home--and that's all. When the
time drew on this evening for the appointment--which, of course, I
never intended to keep, I felt uneasy, lest when he found I meant to
disappoint him he would come on to the house; and that's why I could
not sleep. But you are so silent!'
'I have had a long journey.'
'Then let us get into the house. Why did you come alone and
unattended like this?'
'It was my humour.'
After a moment's silence, during which they moved on, she said, 'I
have thought of something which I hardly like to suggest to you. He
said that if I failed to come to-night he would wait again to-morrow
night. Now, shall we to-morrow night go to the hill together--just
to see if he is there; and if he is, read him a lesson on his
foolishness in nourishing this old passion, and sending for me so
oddly, instead of coming to the house?'
'Why should we see if he's there?' said her husband moodily.
'Because I think we ought to do something in it. Poor Fred! He
would listen to you if you reasoned with him, and set our positions
in their true light before him. It would be no more than Christian
kindness to a man who unquestionably is very miserable from some
cause or other. His head seems quite turned.'
By this time they had reached the door, rung the bell, and waited.
All the house seemed to be asleep; but soon a man came to them, the
horse was taken away, and the Duke and Duchess went in.
There was no help for it. Bill Mills was obliged to stay on duty, in
the old shepherd's absence, this evening as before, or give up his
post and living. He thought as bravely as he could of what lay
behind the Devil's Door, but with no great success, and was therefore
in a measure relieved, even if awe-stricken, when he saw the forms of
the Duke and Duchess strolling across the frosted greensward. The
Duchess was a few yards in front of her husband and tripped on
'I tell you he has not thought it worth while to come again!' the
Duke insisted, as he stood still, reluctant to walk further.
'He is more likely to come and wait all night; and it would be harsh
treatment to let him do it a second time.'
'He is not here; so turn and come home.'
'He seems not to be here, certainly; I wonder if anything has
happened to him. If it has, I shall never forgive myself!'
The Duke, uneasily, 'O, no. He has some other engagement.'
'That is very unlikely.'
'Or perhaps he has found the distance too far.'
'Nor is that probable.'
'Then he may have thought better of it.'
'Yes, he may have thought better of it; if, indeed, he is not here
all the time--somewhere in the hollow behind the Devil's Door. Let
us go and see; it will serve him right to surprise him.'
'O, he's not there.'
'He may be lying very quiet because of you,' she said archly.
'O, no--not because of me!'
'Come, then. I declare, dearest, you lag like an unwilling schoolboy
to-night, and there's no responsiveness in you! You are jealous of
that poor lad, and it is quite absurd of you.'
'I'll come! I'll come! Say no more, Harriet!' And they crossed
over the green.
Wondering what they would do, the young shepherd left the hut, and
doubled behind the belt of furze, intending to stand near the
trilithon unperceived. But, in crossing the few yards of open ground
he was for a moment exposed to view.
'Ah, I see him at last!' said the Duchess.
'See him!' said the Duke. 'Where?'
'By the Devil's Door; don't you notice a figure there? Ah, my poor
lover-cousin, won't you catch it now?' And she laughed half-
pityingly. 'But what's the matter?' she asked, turning to her
'It is not he!' said the Duke hoarsely. 'It can't be he!'
'No, it is not he. It is too small for him. It is a boy.'
'Ah, I thought so! Boy, come here.'
The youthful shepherd advanced with apprehension.
'What are you doing here?'
'Keeping sheep, your Grace.'
'Ah, you know me! Do you keep sheep here every night?'
'Off and on, my Lord Duke.'
'And what have you seen here to-night or last night?' inquired the
Duchess. 'Any person waiting or walking about?'
The boy was silent.
'He has seen nothing,' interrupted her husband, his eyes so
forbiddingly fixed on the boy that they seemed to shine like points
of fire. 'Come, let us go. The air is too keen to stand in long.'
When they were gone the boy retreated to the hut and sheep, less
fearful now than at first--familiarity with the situation having
gradually overpowered his thoughts of the buried man. But he was not
to be left alone long. When an interval had elapsed of about
sufficient length for walking to and from Shakeforest Towers, there
appeared from that direction the heavy form of the Duke. He now came
The nobleman, on his part, seemed to have eyes no less sharp than the
boy's, for he instantly recognized the latter among the ewes, and
came straight towards him.
'Are you the shepherd lad I spoke to a short time ago?'
'I be, my Lord Duke.'
'Now listen to me. Her Grace asked you what you had seen this last
night or two up here, and you made no reply. I now ask the same
thing, and you need not be afraid to answer. Have you seen anything
strange these nights you have been watching here?'
'My Lord Duke, I be a poor heedless boy, and what I see I don't bear
'I ask you again,' said the Duke, coming nearer, 'have you seen
anything strange these nights you have been watching here?'
'O, my Lord Duke! I be but the under-shepherd boy, and my father he
was but your humble Grace's hedger, and my mother only the cinder-
woman in the back-yard! I fall asleep when left alone, and I see
nothing at all!'
The Duke grasped the boy by the shoulder, and, directly impending
over him, stared down into his face, 'Did you see anything strange
done here last night, I say?'
'O, my Lord Duke, have mercy, and don't stab me!' cried the shepherd,
falling on his knees. 'I have never seen you walking here, or riding
here, or lying-in-wait for a man, or dragging a heavy load!'
'H'm!' said his interrogator, grimly, relaxing his hold. 'It is well
to know that you have never seen those things. Now, which would you
rather--SEE ME DO THOSE THINGS NOW, or keep a secret all your life?'
'Keep a secret, my Lord Duke!'
'Sure you are able?'
'O, your Grace, try me!'
'Very well. And now, how do you like sheep-keeping?'
'Not at all. 'Tis lonely work for them that think of spirits, and
I'm badly used.'
'I believe you. You are too young for it. I must do something to
make you more comfortable. You shall change this smock-frock for a
real cloth jacket, and your thick boots for polished shoes. And you
shall be taught what you have never yet heard of; and be put to
school, and have bats and balls for the holidays, and be made a man
of. But you must never say you have been a shepherd boy, and watched
on the hills at night, for shepherd boys are not liked in good
'Trust me, my Lord Duke.'
'The very moment you forget yourself, and speak of your shepherd
days--this year, next year, in school, out of school, or riding in
your carriage twenty years hence--at that moment my help will be
withdrawn, and smash down you come to shepherding forthwith. You
have parents, I think you say?'
'A widowed mother only, my Lord Duke.'
'I'll provide for her, and make a comfortable woman of her, until you
'Of my shepherd days, and what I saw here.'
'Good. If you do speak of it?'
'Smash down she comes to widowing forthwith!'
'That's well--very well. But it's not enough. Come here.' He took
the boy across to the trilithon, and made him kneel down.
'Now, this was once a holy place,' resumed the Duke. 'An altar stood
here, erected to a venerable family of gods, who were known and
talked of long before the God we know now. So that an oath sworn
here is doubly an oath. Say this after me: "May all the host above-
-angels and archangels, and principalities and powers--punish me; may
I be tormented wherever I am--in the house or in the garden, in the
fields or in the roads, in church or in chapel, at home or abroad, on
land or at sea; may I be afflicted in eating and in drinking, in
growing up and in growing old, in living and dying, inwardly and
outwardly, and for always, if I ever speak of my life as a shepherd
boy, or of what I have seen done on this Marlbury Down. So be it,
and so let it be. Amen and amen." Now kiss the stone.'
The trembling boy repeated the words, and kissed the stone, as
The Duke led him off by the hand. That night the junior shepherd
slept in Shakeforest Towers, and the next day he was sent away for
tuition to a remote village. Thence he went to a preparatory
establishment, and in due course to a public school.
On a winter evening many years subsequent to the above-mentioned
occurrences, the ci-devant shepherd sat in a well-furnished office in
the north wing of Shakeforest Towers in the guise of an ordinary
educated man of business. He appeared at this time as a person of
thirty-eight or forty, though actually he was several years younger.
A worn and restless glance of the eye now and then, when he lifted
his head to search for some letter or paper which had been mislaid,
seemed to denote that his was not a mind so thoroughly at ease as his
surroundings might have led an observer to expect.
His pallor, too, was remarkable for a countryman. He was professedly
engaged in writing, but he shaped not word. He had sat there only a
few minutes, when, laying down his pen and pushing back his chair, he
rested a hand uneasily on each of the chair-arms and looked on the
Soon he arose and left the room. His course was along a passage
which ended in a central octagonal hall; crossing this he knocked at
a door. A faint, though deep, voice told him to come in. The room
he entered was the library, and it was tenanted by a single person
only--his patron the Duke.
During this long interval of years the Duke had lost all his
heaviness of build. He was, indeed, almost a skeleton; his white
hair was thin, and his hands were nearly transparent. 'Oh--Mills?'
he murmured. 'Sit down. What is it?'
'Nothing new, your Grace. Nobody to speak of has written, and nobody
'Ah--what then? You look concerned.'
'Old times have come to life, owing to something waking them.'
'Old times be cursed--which old times are they?'
'That Christmas week twenty-two years ago, when the late Duchess's
cousin Frederick implored her to meet him on Marlbury Downs. I saw
the meeting--it was just such a night as this--and I, as you know,
saw more. She met him once, but not the second time.'
'Mills, shall I recall some words to you--the words of an oath taken
on that hill by a shepherd-boy?'
'It is unnecessary. He has strenuously kept that oath and promise.
Since that night no sound of his shepherd life has crossed his lips--
even to yourself. But do you wish to hear more, or do you not, your
'I wish to hear no more,' said the Duke sullenly.
'Very well; let it be so. But a time seems coming--may be quite near
at hand--when, in spite of my lips, that episode will allow itself to
go undivulged no longer.'
'I wish to hear no more!' repeated the Duke.
'You need be under no fear of treachery from me,' said the steward,
somewhat bitterly. 'I am a man to whom you have been kind--no patron
could have been kinder. You have clothed and educated me; have
installed me here; and I am not unmindful. But what of it--has your
Grace gained much by my stanchness? I think not. There was great
excitement about Captain Ogbourne's disappearance, but I spoke not a
word. And his body has never been found. For twenty-two years I
have wondered what you did with him. Now I know. A circumstance
that occurred this afternoon recalled the time to me most forcibly.
To make it certain to myself that all was not a dream, I went up
there with a spade; I searched, and saw enough to know that something
decays there in a closed badger's hole.'
'Mills, do you think the Duchess guessed?'
'She never did, I am sure, to the day of her death.'
'Did you leave all as you found it on the hill?'
'What made you think of going up there this particular afternoon?'
'What your Grace says you don't wish to be told.'
The Duke was silent; and the stillness of the evening was so marked
that there reached their ears from the outer air the sound of a
'What is that bell tolling for?' asked the nobleman.
'For what I came to tell you of, your Grace.'
'You torment me it is your way!' said the Duke querulously. 'Who's
dead in the village?'
'The oldest man--the old shepherd.'
'Dead at last--how old is he?'
'And I am only seventy. I have four-and-twenty years to the good!'
'I served under that old man when I kept sheep on Marlbury Downs.
And he was on the hill that second night, when I first exchanged
words with your Grace. He was on the hill all the time; but I did
not know he was there--nor did you.'
'Ah!' said the Duke, starting up. 'Go on--I yield the point--you may
'I heard this afternoon that he was at the point of death. It was
that which set me thinking of that past time--and induced me to
search on the hill for what I have told you. Coming back I heard
that he wished to see the Vicar to confess to him a secret he had
kept for more than twenty years--"out of respect to my Lord the
Duke"--something that he had seen committed on Marlbury Downs when
returning to the flock on a December night twenty-two years ago. I
have thought it over. He had left me in charge that evening; but he
was in the habit of coming back suddenly, lest I should have fallen
asleep. That night I saw nothing of him, though he had promised to
return. He must have returned, and--found reason to keep in hiding.
It is all plain. The next thing is that the Vicar went to him two
hours ago. Further than that I have not heard.'
'It is quite enough. I will see the Vicar at daybreak to-morrow.'
'What to do?'
'Stop his tongue for four-and-twenty years--till I am dead at ninety-
four, like the shepherd.'
'Your Grace--while you impose silence on me, I will not speak, even
though nay neck should pay the penalty. I promised to be yours, and
I am yours. But is this persistence of any avail?'
'I'll stop his tongue, I say!' cried the Duke with some of his old
rugged force. 'Now, you go home to bed, Mills, and leave me to
The interview ended, and the steward withdrew. The night, as he had
said, was just such an one as the night of twenty-two years before,
and the events of the evening destroyed in him all regard for the
season as one of cheerfulness and goodwill. He went off to his own
house on the further verge of the park, where he led a lonely life,
scarcely calling any man friend. At eleven he prepared to retire to
bed--but did not retire. He sat down and reflected. Twelve o'clock
struck; he looked out at the colourless moon, and, prompted by he
knew not what, put on his hat and emerged into the air. Here William
Mills strolled on and on, till he reached the top of Marlbury Downs,
a spot he had not visited at this hour of the night during the whole
He placed himself, as nearly as he could guess, on the spot where the
shepherd's hut had stood. No lambing was in progress there now, and
the old shepherd who had used him so roughly had ceased from his
labours that very day. But the trilithon stood up white as ever;
and, crossing the intervening sward, the steward fancifully placed
his mouth against the stone. Restless and self-reproachful as he
was, he could not resist a smile as he thought of the terrifying oath
of compact, sealed by a kiss upon the stones of a Pagan temple. But
he had kept his word, rather as a promise than as a formal vow, with
much worldly advantage to himself, though not much happiness; till
increase of years had bred reactionary feelings which led him to
receive the news of to-night with emotions akin to relief.
While leaning against the Devil's Door and thinking on these things,
he became conscious that he was not the only inhabitant of the down.
A figure in white was moving across his front with long, noiseless
strides. Mills stood motionless, and when the form drew quite near
he perceived it to be that of the Duke himself in his nightshirt--
apparently walking in his sleep. Not to alarm the old man, Mills
clung close to the shadow of the stone. The Duke went straight on
into the hollow. There he knelt down, and began scratching the earth
with his hands like a badger. After a few minutes he arose, sighed
heavily, and retraced his steps as he had come.
Fearing that he might harm himself, yet unwilling to arouse him, the
steward followed noiselessly. The Duke kept on his path unerringly,
entered the park, and made for the house, where he let himself in by
a window that stood open--the one probably by which he had come out.
Mills softly closed the window behind his patron, and then retired
homeward to await the revelations of the morning, deeming it
unnecessary to alarm the house.
However, he felt uneasy during the remainder of the night, no less on
account of the Duke's personal condition than because of that which
was imminent next day. Early in the morning he called at Shakeforest
Towers. The blinds were down, and there was something singular upon
the porter's face when he opened the door. The steward inquired for
The man's voice was subdued as he replied: 'Sir, I am sorry to say
that his Grace is dead! He left his room some time in the night, and
wandered about nobody knows where. On returning to the upper floor
he lost his balance and fell downstairs.'
The steward told the tale of the Down before the Vicar had spoken.
Mills had always intended to do so after the death of the Duke. The
consequences to himself he underwent cheerfully; but his life was not
prolonged. He died, a farmer at the Cape, when still somewhat under
forty-nine years of age.
The splendid Marlbury breeding flock is as renowned as ever, and, to
the eye, seems the same in every particular that it was in earlier
times; but the animals which composed it on the occasion of the
events gathered from the Justice are divided by many ovine
generations from its members now. Lambing Corner has long since
ceased to be used for lambing purposes, though the name still lingers
on as the appellation of the spot. This abandonment of site may be
partly owing to the removal of the high furze bushes which lent such
convenient shelter at that date. Partly, too, it may be due to
another circumstance. For it is said by present shepherds in that
district that during the nights of Christmas week flitting shapes are
seen in the open space around the trilithon, together with the gleam
of a weapon, and the shadow of a man dragging a burden into the
hollow. But of these things there is no certain testimony.
A COMMITTEE-MAN OF 'THE TERROR'
We had been talking of the Georgian glories of our old-fashioned
watering-place, which now, with its substantial russet-red and dun
brick buildings in the style of the year eighteen hundred, looks like
one side of a Soho or Bloomsbury Street transported to the shore, and
draws a smile from the modern tourist who has no eye for solidity of
build. The writer, quite a youth, was present merely as a listener.
The conversation proceeded from general subjects to particular, until
old Mrs. H--, whose memory was as perfect at eighty as it had ever
been in her life, interested us all by the obvious fidelity with
which she repeated a story many times related to her by her mother
when our aged friend was a girl--a domestic drama much affecting the
life of an acquaintance of her said parent, one Mademoiselle V--, a
teacher of French. The incidents occurred in the town during the
heyday of its fortunes, at the time of our brief peace with France in
'I wrote it down in the shape of a story some years ago, just after
my mother's death,' said Mrs. H--. 'It is locked up in my desk there
'Read it!' said we.
'No,' said she; 'the light is bad, and I can remember it well enough,
word for word, flourishes and all.' We could not be choosers in the
circumstances, and she began.
'There are two in it, of course, the man and the woman, and it was on
an evening in September that she first got to know him. There had
not been such a grand gathering on the Esplanade all the season. His
Majesty King George the Third was present, with all the princesses
and royal dukes, while upwards of three hundred of the general
nobility and other persons of distinction were also in the town at
the time. Carriages and other conveyances were arriving every minute
from London and elsewhere; and when among the rest a shabby stage-
coach came in by a by-route along the coast from Havenpool, and drew
up at a second-rate tavern, it attracted comparatively little notice.
'From this dusty vehicle a man alighted, left his small quantity of
luggage temporarily at the office, and walked along the street as if
to look for lodgings.
'He was about forty-five--possibly fifty--and wore a long coat of
faded superfine cloth, with a heavy collar, and a hunched-up
neckcloth. He seemed to desire obscurity.
'But the display appeared presently to strike him, and he asked of a
rustic he met in the street what was going on; his accent being that
of one to whom English pronunciation was difficult.
'The countryman looked at him with a slight surprise, and said, "King
Jarge is here and his royal Cwort."
'The stranger inquired if they were going to stay long.
'"Don't know, Sir. Same as they always do, I suppose."
'"How long is that?"
'"Till some time in October. They've come here every summer since
'The stranger moved onward down St. Thomas Street, and approached the
bridge over the harbour backwater, that then, as now, connected the
old town with the more modern portion. The spot was swept with the
rays of a low sun, which lit up the harbour lengthwise, and shone
under the brim of the man's hat and into his eyes as he looked
westward. Against the radiance figures were crossing in the opposite
direction to his own; among them this lady of my mother's later
acquaintance, Mademoiselle V--. She was the daughter of a good old
French family, and at that date a pale woman, twenty-eight or thirty
years of age, tall and elegant in figure, but plainly dressed and
wearing that evening (she said) a small muslin shawl crossed over the
bosom in the fashion of the time, and tied behind.
'At sight of his face, which, as she used to tell us, was unusually
distinct in the peering sunlight, she could not help giving a little
shriek of horror, for a terrible reason connected with her history,
and after walking a few steps further, she sank down against the
parapet of the bridge in a fainting fit.
'In his preoccupation the foreign gentleman had hardly noticed her,
but her strange collapse immediately attracted his attention. He
quickly crossed the carriageway, picked her up, and carried her into
the first shop adjoining the bridge, explaining that she was a lady
who had been taken ill outside.
'She soon revived; but, clearly much puzzled, her helper perceived
that she still had a dread of him which was sufficient to hinder her
complete recovery of self-command. She spoke in a quick and nervous
way to the shopkeeper, asking him to call a coach.
'This the shopkeeper did, Mademoiselle V-- and the stranger remaining
in constrained silence while he was gone. The coach came up, and
giving the man the address, she entered it and drove away.
'"Who is that lady?" said the newly arrived gentleman.
'"She's of your nation, as I should make bold to suppose," said the
shopkeeper. And he told the other that she was Mademoiselle V--,
governess at General Newbold's, in the same town.
'"You have many foreigners here?" the stranger inquired.
'"Yes, though mostly Hanoverians. But since the peace they are
learning French a good deal in genteel society, and French
instructors are rather in demand."
'"Yes, I teach it," said the visitor. "I am looking for a tutorship
in an academy."
'The information given by the burgess to the Frenchman seemed to
explain to the latter nothing of his countrywoman's conduct--which,
indeed, was the case--and he left the shop, taking his course again
over the bridge and along the south quay to the Old Rooms Inn, where
he engaged a bedchamber.
'Thoughts of the woman who had betrayed such agitation at sight of
him lingered naturally enough with the newcomer. Though, as I
stated, not much less than thirty years of age, Mademoiselle V--, one
of his own nation, and of highly refined and delicate appearance, had
kindled a singular interest in the middle-aged gentleman's breast,
and her large dark eyes, as they had opened and shrunk from him,
exhibited a pathetic beauty to which hardly any man could have been
'The next day, having written some letters, he went out and made
known at the office of the town "Guide" and of the newspaper, that a
teacher of French and calligraphy had arrived, leaving a card at the
bookseller's to the same effect. He then walked on aimlessly, but at
length inquired the way to General Newbold's. At the door, without
giving his name, he asked to see Mademoiselle V--, and was shown into
a little back parlour, where she came to him with a gaze of surprise.
'"My God! Why do you intrude here, Monsieur?" she gasped in French
as soon as she saw his face.
'"You were taken ill yesterday. I helped you. You might have been
run over if I had not picked you up. It was an act of simple
humanity certainly; but I thought I might come to ask if you had
'She had turned aside, and had scarcely heard a word of his speech.
"I hate you, infamous man!" she said. "I cannot bear your helping
me. Go away!"
'"But you are a stranger to me."
'"I know you too well!"
'"You have the advantage then, Mademoiselle. I am a newcomer here.
I never have seen you before to my knowledge; and I certainly do not,
could not, hate you."
'"Are you not Monsieur B--?"
'He flinched. "I am--in Paris," he said. "But here I am Monsieur G-
'"That is trivial. You are the man I say you are."
'"How did you know my real name, Mademoiselle?"
'"I saw you in years gone by, when you did not see me. You were
formerly Member of the Committee of Public Safety, under the
'"You guillotined my father, my brother, my uncle--all my family,
nearly, and broke my mother's heart. They had done nothing but keep
silence. Their sentiments were only guessed. Their headless corpses
were thrown indiscriminately into the ditch of the Mousseaux
Cemetery, and destroyed with lime."
'"You left me without a friend, and here I am now, alone in a foreign
'"I am sorry for you," said be. "Sorry for the consequence, not for
the intent. What I did was a matter of conscience, and, from a point
of view indiscernible by you, I did right. I profited not a
farthing. But I shall not argue this. You have the satisfaction of
seeing me here an exile also, in poverty, betrayed by comrades, as
friendless as yourself."
'"It is no satisfaction to me, Monsieur."
'"Well, things done cannot be altered. Now the question: are you
'"Not from dislike and dread of you--otherwise, yes."
'"Good morning, Mademoiselle."
'They did not meet again till one evening at the theatre (which my
mother's friend was with great difficulty induced to frequent, to
perfect herself in English pronunciation, the idea she entertained at
that time being to become a teacher of English in her own country
later on). She found him sitting next to her, and it made her pale
'"You are still afraid of me?"
'"I am. O cannot you understand!"
'He signified the affirmative.
'"I follow the play with difficulty," he said, presently.
'"So do I--NOW," said she.
'He regarded her long, and she was conscious of his look; and while
she kept her eyes on the stage they filled with tears. Still she
would not move, and the tears ran visibly down her cheek, though the
play was a merry one, being no other than Mr. Sheridan's comedy of
"The Rivals," with Mr. S. Kemble as Captain Absolute. He saw her
distress, and that her mind was elsewhere; and abruptly rising from
his seat at candle-snuffing time he left the theatre.
'Though he lived in the old town, and she in the new, they frequently
saw each other at a distance. One of these occasions was when she
was on the north side of the harbour, by the ferry, waiting for the
boat to take her across. He was standing by Cove Row, on the quay
opposite. Instead of entering the boat when it arrived she stepped
back from the quay; but looking to see if he remained she beheld him
pointing with his finger to the ferry-boat.
'"Enter!" he said, in a voice loud enough to reach her.
'Mademoiselle V-- stood still.
'"Enter!" he said, and, as she did not move, he repeated the word a
'She had really been going to cross, and now approached and stepped
down into the boat. Though she did not raise her eyes she knew that
he was watching her over. At the landing steps she saw from under
the brim of her hat a hand stretched down. The steps were steep and
'"No, Monsieur," she said. "Unless, indeed, you believe in God, and
repent of your evil past!"
'"I am sorry you were made to suffer. But I only believe in the god
called Reason, and I do not repent. I was the instrument of a
national principle. Your friends were not sacrificed for any ends of
'She thereupon withheld her hand, and clambered up unassisted. He
went on, ascending the Look-out Hill, and disappearing over the brow.
Her way was in the same direction, her errand being to bring home the
two young girls under her charge, who had gone to the cliff for an
airing. When she joined them at the top she saw his solitary figure
at the further edge, standing motionless against the sea. All the
while that she remained with her pupils he stood without turning, as
if looking at the frigates in the roadstead, but more probably in
meditation, unconscious where he was. In leaving the spot one of the
children threw away half a sponge-biscuit that she had been eating.
Passing near it he stooped, picked it up carefully, and put it in his
'Mademoiselle V-- came homeward, asking herself, "Can he be
'From that day he was invisible for so long a time that she thought
he had gone away altogether. But one evening a note came to her, and
she opened it trembling.
'"I am here ill," it said, "and, as you know, alone. There are one
or two little things I want done, in case my death should occur,--and
I should prefer not to ask the people here, if it could be avoided.
Have you enough of the gift of charity to come and carry out my
wishes before it is too late?"
'Now so it was that, since seeing him possess himself of the broken
cake, she had insensibly begun to feel something that was more than
curiosity, though perhaps less than anxiety, about this fellow-
countryman of hers; and it was not in her nervous and sensitive heart
to resist his appeal. She found his lodging (to which he had removed
from the Old Rooms inn for economy) to be a room over a shop, half-
way up the steep and narrow street of the old town, to which the
fashionable visitors seldom penetrated. With some misgiving she
entered the house, and was admitted to the chamber where he lay.
'"You are too good, too good," he murmured. And presently, "You need
not shut the door. You will feel safer, and they will not understand
what we say."
'"Are you in want, Monsieur? Can I give you--"
'"No, no. I merely want you to do a trifling thing or two that I
have not strength enough to do myself. Nobody in the town but you
knows who I really am--unless you have told?"
'"I have not told . . . I thought you MIGHT have acted from principle
in those sad days, even--"
'"You are kind to concede that much. However, to the present. I was
able to destroy my few papers before I became so weak . . . But in
the drawer there you will find some pieces of linen clothing--only
two or three--marked with initials that may be recognized. Will you
rip them out with a penknife?"
'She searched as bidden, found the garments, cut out the stitches of
the lettering, and replaced the linen as before. A promise to post,
in the event of his death, a letter he put in her hand, completed all
that he required of her.
'He thanked her. "I think you seem sorry for me," he murmured. "And
I am surprised. You are sorry?"
'She evaded the question. "Do you repent and believe?" she asked.
'Contrary to her expectations and his own he recovered, though very
slowly; and her manner grew more distant thenceforward, though his
influence upon her was deeper than she knew. Weeks passed away, and
the month of May arrived. One day at this time she met him walking
slowly along the beach to the northward.
'"You know the news?" he said.
'"You mean of the rupture between France and England again?"
'"Yes; and the feeling of antagonism is stronger than it was in the
last war, owing to Bonaparte's high-handed arrest of the innocent
English who were travelling in our country for pleasure. I feel that
the war will be long and bitter; and that my wish to live unknown in
England will be frustrated. See here."
'He took from his pocket a piece of the single newspaper which
circulated in the county in those days, and she read -
"The magistrates acting under the Alien Act have been requested to
direct a very scrutinizing eye to the Academies in our towns and
other places, in which French tutors are employed, and to all of that
nationality who profess to be teachers in this country. Many of them
are known to be inveterate Enemies and Traitors to the nation among
whose people they have found a livelihood and a home."
'He continued: "I have observed since the declaration of war a
marked difference in the conduct of the rougher class of people here
towards me. If a great battle were to occur--as it soon will, no
doubt--feeling would grow to a pitch that would make it impossible
for me, a disguised man of no known occupation, to stay here. With
you, whose duties and antecedents are known, it may be less
difficult, but still unpleasant. Now I propose this. You have
probably seen how my deep sympathy with you has quickened to a warm
feeling; and what I say is, will you agree to give me a title to
protect you by honouring me with your hand? I am older than you, it
is true, but as husband and wife we can leave England together, and
make the whole world our country. Though I would propose Quebec, in
Canada, as the place which offers the best promise of a home."
'"My God! You surprise me!" said she.
'"But you accept my proposal?"
'"And yet I think you will, Mademoiselle, some day!"
'"I think not."
'"I won't distress you further now."
'"Much thanks . . . I am glad to see you looking better, Monsieur; I
mean you are looking better."
'"Ah, yes. I am improving. I walk in the sun every day."
'And almost every day she saw him--sometimes nodding stiffly only,
sometimes exchanging formal civilities. "You are not gone yet," she
said on one of these occasions.
'"No. At present I don't think of going without you."
'"But you find it uncomfortable here?"
'"Somewhat. So when will you have pity on me?"
'She shook her head and went on her way. Yet she was a little moved.
"He did it on principle," she would murmur. "He had no animosity
towards them, and profited nothing!"
'She wondered how he lived. It was evident that he could not be so
poor as she had thought; his pretended poverty might be to escape
notice. She could not tell, but she knew that she was dangerously
interested in him.
'And he still mended, till his thin, pale face became more full and
firm. As he mended she had to meet that request of his, advanced
with even stronger insistency.
'The arrival of the King and Court for the season as usual brought
matters to a climax for these two lonely exiles and fellow country-
people. The King's awkward preference for a part of the coast in
such dangerous proximity to France made it necessary that a strict
military vigilance should be exercised to guard the royal residents.
Half-a-dozen frigates were every night posted in a line across the
bay, and two lines of sentinels, one at the water's edge and another
behind the Esplanade, occupied the whole sea-front after eight every
night. The watering-place was growing an inconvenient residence even
for Mademoiselle V-- herself, her friendship for this strange French
tutor and writing-master who never had any pupils having been
observed by many who slightly knew her. The General's wife, whose
dependent she was, repeatedly warned her against the acquaintance;
while the Hanoverian and other soldiers of the Foreign Legion, who
had discovered the nationality of her friend, were more aggressive
than the English military gallants who made it their business to
'In this tense state of affairs her answers became more agitated. "O
Heaven, how can I marry you!" she would say.
'"You will; surely you will!" he answered again. "I don't leave
without you. And I shall soon be interrogated before the magistrates
if I stay here; probably imprisoned. You will come?"
'She felt her defences breaking down. Contrary to all reason and
sense of family honour she was, by some abnormal craving, inclining
to a tenderness for him that was founded on its opposite. Sometimes
her warm sentiments burnt lower than at others, and then the enormity
of her conduct showed itself in more staring hues.
'Shortly after this he came with a resigned look on his face. "It is
as I expected," he said. "I have received a hint to go. In good
sooth, I am no Bonapartist--I am no enemy to England; but the
presence of the King made it impossible for a foreigner with no
visible occupation, and who may be a spy, to remain at large in the
town. The authorities are civil, but firm. They are no more than
reasonable. Good. I must go. You must come also."
'She did not speak. But she nodded assent, her eyes drooping.
'On her way back to the house on the Esplanade she said to herself,
"I am glad, I am glad! I could not do otherwise. It is rendering
good for evil!" But she knew how she mocked herself in this, and
that the moral principle had not operated one jot in her acceptance
of him. In truth she had not realized till now the full presence of
the emotion which had unconsciously grown up in her for this lonely
and severe man, who, in her tradition, was vengeance and irreligion
personified. He seemed to absorb her whole nature, and, absorbing,
to control it.
'A day or two before the one fixed for the wedding there chanced to
come to her a letter from the only acquaintance of her own sex and
country she possessed in England, one to whom she had sent
intelligence of her approaching marriage, without mentioning with
whom. This friend's misfortunes had been somewhat similar to her
own, which fact had been one cause of their intimacy; her friend's
sister, a nun of the Abbey of Montmartre, having perished on the
scaffold at the hands of the same Comite de Salut Public which had
numbered Mademoiselle V--'s affianced among its members. The writer
had felt her position much again of late, since the renewal of the
war, she said; and the letter wound up with a fresh denunciation of
the authors of their mutual bereavement and subsequent troubles.
'Coming just then, its contents produced upon Mademoiselle V-- the
effect of a pail of water upon a somnambulist. What had she been
doing in betrothing herself to this man! Was she not making herself
a parricide after the event? At this crisis in her feelings her
lover called. He beheld her trembling, and, in reply to his
question, she told him of her scruples with impulsive candour.
'She had not intended to do this, but his attitude of tender command
coerced her into frankness. Thereupon he exhibited an agitation
never before apparent in him. He said, "But all that is past. You
are the symbol of Charity, and we are pledged to let bygones be."
'His words soothed her for the moment, but she was sadly silent, and
he went away.
'That night she saw (as she firmly believed to the end of her life) a
divinely sent vision. A procession of her lost relatives--father,
brother, uncle, cousin--seemed to cross her chamber between her bed
and the window, and when she endeavoured to trace their features she
perceived them to be headless, and that she had recognized them by
their familiar clothes only. In the morning she could not shake off
the effects of this appearance on her nerves. All that day she saw
nothing of her wooer, he being occupied in making arrangements for
their departure. It grew towards evening--the marriage eve; but, in
spite of his re-assuring visit, her sense of family duty waxed
stronger now that she was left alone. Yet, she asked herself, how
could she, alone and unprotected, go at this eleventh hour and
reassert to an affianced husband that she could not and would not
marry him while admitting at the same time that she loved him? The
situation dismayed her. She had relinquished her post as governess,
and was staying temporarily in a room near the coach-office, where
she expected him to call in the morning to carry out the business of
their union and departure.
'Wisely or foolishly, Mademoiselle V-- came to a resolution: that
her only safety lay in flight. His contiguity influenced her too
sensibly; she could not reason. So packing up her few possessions
and placing on the table the small sum she owed, she went out
privately, secured a last available seat in the London coach, and,
almost before she had fully weighed her action, she was rolling out
of the town in the dusk of the September evening.
'Having taken this startling step she began to reflect upon her
reasons. He had been one of that tragic Committee the sound of whose
name was a horror to the civilized world; yet he had been only one of
several members, and, it seemed, not the most active. He had marked
down names on principle, had felt no personal enmity against his
victims, and had enriched himself not a sou out of the office he had
held. Nothing could change the past. Meanwhile he loved her, and
her heart inclined to as much of him as she could detach from that
past. Why not, as he had suggested, bury memories, and inaugurate a
new era by this union? In other words, why not indulge her
tenderness, since its nullification could do no good.
'Thus she held self-communion in her seat in the coach, passing
through Casterbridge, and Shottsford, and on to the White Hart at
Melchester, at which place the whole fabric of her recent intentions
crumbled down. Better be staunch having got so far; let things take
their course, and marry boldly the man who had so impressed her. How
great he was; how small was she! And she had presumed to judge him!
Abandoning her place in the coach with the precipitancy that had
characterized her taking it, she waited till the vehicle had driven
off, something in the departing shapes of the outside passengers
against the starlit sky giving her a start, as she afterwards
remembered. Presently the down coach, "The Morning Herald," entered
the city, and she hastily obtained a place on the top.
'"I'll be firm--I'll be his--if it cost me my immortal soul!" she
said. And with troubled breathings she journeyed back over the road
she had just traced.
'She reached our royal watering-place by the time the day broke, and
her first aim was to get back to the hired room in which her last few
days had been spent. When the landlady appeared at the door in
response to Mademoiselle V--'s nervous summons, she explained her
sudden departure and return as best she could; and no objection being
offered to her re-engagement of the room for one day longer she
ascended to the chamber and sat down panting. She was back once
more, and her wild tergiversations were a secret from him whom alone
'A sealed letter was on the mantelpiece. "Yes, it is directed to
you, Mademoiselle," said the woman who had followed her. "But we
were wondering what to do with it. A town messenger brought it after
you had gone last night."
'When the landlady had left, Mademoiselle V-- opened the letter and
"MY DEAR AND HONOURED FRIEND.--You have been throughout our
acquaintance absolutely candid concerning your misgivings. But I
have been reserved concerning mine. That is the difference between
us. You probably have not guessed that every qualm you have felt on
the subject of our marriage has been paralleled in my heart to the
full. Thus it happened that your involuntary outburst of remorse
yesterday, though mechanically deprecated by me in your presence, was
a last item in my own doubts on the wisdom of our union, giving them
a force that I could no longer withstand. I came home; and, on
reflection, much as I honour and adore you, I decide to set you free.
"As one whose life has been devoted, and I may say sacrificed, to the
cause of Liberty, I cannot allow your judgment (probably a permanent
one) to be fettered beyond release by a feeling which may be
"It would be no less than excruciating to both that I should announce
this decision to you by word of mouth. I have therefore taken the
less painful course of writing. Before you receive this I shall have
left the town by the evening coach for London, on reaching which city
my movements will be revealed to none.
"Regard me, Mademoiselle, as dead, and accept my renewed assurances
of respect, remembrance, and affection."
'When she had recovered from her shock of surprise and grief, she
remembered that at the starting of the coach out of Melchester before
dawn, the shape of a figure among the outside passengers against the
starlit sky had caused her a momentary start, from its resemblance to
that of her friend. Knowing nothing of each other's intentions, and
screened from each other by the darkness, they had left the town by
the same conveyance. "He, the greater, persevered; I, the smaller,
returned!" she said.
'Recovering from her stupor, Mademoiselle V-- bethought herself again
of her employer, Mrs. Newbold, whom recent events had estranged. To
that lady she went with a full heart, and explained everything. Mrs.
Newbold kept to herself her opinion of the episode, and reinstalled
the deserted bride in her old position as governess to the family.
'A governess she remained to the end of her days. After the final
peace with France she became acquainted with my mother, to whom by
degrees she imparted these experiences of hers. As her hair grew
white, and her features pinched, Mademoiselle V-- would wonder what
nook of the world contained her lover, if he lived, and if by any
chance she might see him again. But when, some time in the
'twenties, death came to her, at no great age, that outline against
the stars of the morning remained as the last glimpse she ever
obtained of her family's foe and her once affianced husband.'
MASTER JOHN HORSELEIGH, KNIGHT
In the earliest and mustiest volume of the Havenpool marriage
registers (said the thin-faced gentleman) this entry may still be
read by any one curious enough to decipher the crabbed handwriting of
the date. I took a copy of it when I was last there; and it runs
thus (he had opened his pocket-book, and now read aloud the extract;
afterwards handing round the book to us, wherein we saw transcribed
the following) -
Mastr John Horseleigh, Knyght, of the p'ysshe of Clyffton was maryd
to Edith the wyffe late off John Stocker, m'chawnte of Havenpool the
xiiij daje of December be p'vylegge gevyn by our sup'me hedd of the
chyrche of Ingelonde Kynge Henry the viii th 1539.
Now, if you turn to the long and elaborate pedigree of the ancient
family of the Horseleighs of Clyfton Horseleigh, you will find no
mention whatever of this alliance, notwithstanding the privilege
given by the Sovereign and head of the Church; the said Sir John
being therein chronicled as marrying, at a date apparently earlier
than the above, the daughter and heiress of Richard Phelipson, of
Montislope, in Nether Wessex, a lady who outlived him, of which
marriage there were issue two daughters and a son, who succeeded him
in his estates. How are we to account for these, as it would seem,
contemporaneous wives? A strange local tradition only can help us,
and this can be briefly told.
One evening in the autumn of the year 1540 or 1541, a young sailor,
whose Christian name was Roger, but whose surname is not known,
landed at his native place of Havenpool, on the South Wessex coast,
after a voyage in the Newfoundland trade, then newly sprung into
existence. He returned in the ship Primrose with a cargo of 'trayne
oyle brought home from the New Founde Lande,' to quote from the town
records of the date. During his absence of two summers and a winter,
which made up the term of a Newfoundland 'spell,' many unlooked-for
changes had occurred within the quiet little seaport, some of which
closely affected Roger the sailor. At the time of his departure his
only sister Edith had become the bride of one Stocker, a respectable
townsman, and part owner of the brig in which Roger had sailed; and
it was to the house of this couple, his only relatives, that the
young man directed his steps. On trying the door in Quay Street he
found it locked, and then observed that the windows were boarded up.
Inquiring of a bystander, he learnt for the first time of the death
of his brother-in-law, though that event had taken place nearly
eighteen months before.
'And my sister Edith?' asked Roger.
'She's married again--as they do say, and hath been so these twelve
months. I don't vouch for the truth o't, though if she isn't she
ought to be.'
Roger's face grew dark. He was a man with a considerable reserve of
strong passion, and he asked his informant what he meant by speaking
The man explained that shortly after the young woman's bereavement a
stranger had come to the port. He had seen her moping on the quay,
had been attracted by her youth and loneliness, and in an
extraordinarily brief wooing had completely fascinated her--had
carried her off, and, as was reported, had married her. Though he
had come by water, he was supposed to live no very great distance off
by land. They were last heard of at Oozewood, in Upper Wessex, at
the house of one Wall, a timber-merchant, where, he believed, she
still had a lodging, though her husband, if he were lawfully that
much, was but an occasional visitor to the place.
'The stranger?' asked Roger. 'Did you see him? What manner of man
'I liked him not,' said the other. 'He seemed of that kind that hath
something to conceal, and as he walked with her he ever and anon
turned his head and gazed behind him, as if he much feared an
unwelcome pursuer. But, faith,' continued he, 'it may have been the
man's anxiety only. Yet did I not like him.'
'Was he older than my sister?' Roger asked.
'Ay--much older; from a dozen to a score of years older. A man of
some position, maybe, playing an amorous game for the pleasure of the
hour. Who knoweth but that he have a wife already? Many have done
the thing hereabouts of late.'
Having paid a visit to the graves of his relatives, the sailor next
day went along the straight road which, then a lane, now a highway,
conducted to the curious little inland town named by the Havenpool
man. It is unnecessary to describe Oozewood on the South-Avon. It
has a railway at the present day; but thirty years of steam traffic
past its precincts have hardly modified its original features.
Surrounded by a sort of fresh-water lagoon, dividing it from meadows
and coppice, its ancient thatch and timber houses have barely made
way even in the front street for the ubiquitous modern brick and
slate. It neither increases nor diminishes in size; it is difficult
to say what the inhabitants find to do, for, though trades in
woodware are still carried on, there cannot be enough of this class
of work nowadays to maintain all the householders, the forests around
having been so greatly thinned and curtailed. At the time of this
tradition the forests were dense, artificers in wood abounded, and
the timber trade was brisk. Every house in the town, without
exception, was of oak framework, filled in with plaster, and covered
with thatch, the chimney being the only brick portion of the
structure. Inquiry soon brought Roger the sailor to the door of
Wall, the timber-dealer referred to, but it was some time before he
was able to gain admission to the lodging of his sister, the people
having plainly received directions not to welcome strangers.
She was sitting in an upper room on one of the lath-backed, willow-
bottomed 'shepherd's' chairs, made on the spot then as to this day,
and as they were probably made there in the days of the Heptarchy.
In her lap was an infant, which she had been suckling, though now it
had fallen asleep; so had the young mother herself for a few minutes,
under the drowsing effects of solitude. Hearing footsteps on the
stairs, she awoke, started up with a glad cry, and ran to the door,
opening which she met her brother on the threshold.
'O, this is merry; I didn't expect 'ee!' she said. 'Ah, Roger--I
thought it was John.' Her tones fell to disappointment.
The sailor kissed her, looked at her sternly for a few moments, and
pointing to the infant, said, 'You mean the father of this?'
'Yes, my husband,' said Edith.
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