Ensign Knightley and Other Stories
A. E. W. Mason
Part 4 out of 5
"No; wear her and let her jibe," said Weeks, "then you'll on'y have to
ease your sheets."
Duncan stood at the wheel, while Weeks, with the compass swinging
above his head, shouted directions through the companion. They sailed
the boat all that night with the wind on her quarter, and at daybreak
Duncan brought her to and heaved his lead again. There was rough sand
with blackish specks upon the tallow, and Weeks, when he saw it,
forgot his broken leg.
"My word," he cried, "we've hit the Fisher Bank! You'd best lash the
wheel, get our breakfast, and take a spell of sleep on deck. Tie a
string to your finger and pass it down to me, so that I can wake you
Weeks waked him up at ten o'clock, and they ran southwest with a
steady wind till six, when Weeks shouted--
"Take another cast with your lead."
The sand upon the tallow was white like salt.
"Yes," said Weeks; "I thought we was hereabouts. We're on the edge of
the Dogger, and we'll be in Yarmouth by the morning." And all through
the night the orders came thick and fast from the cabin. Weeks was on
his own ground; he had no longer any need of the lead; he seemed no
longer to need his eyes; he felt his way across the currents from the
Dogger to the English coast; and at daybreak he shouted--
"Can you see land?"
"There's a mist."
"Lie to, then, till the sun's up."
Duncan lay the boat to for a couple of hours, till the mist was tinged
with gold and the ball of the sun showed red on his starboard quarter.
The mist sank, the brown sails of a smack thrust upwards through it;
coastwards it shifted and thinned and thickened, as though cunningly
to excite expectation as to what it hid. Again Weeks called out--
"Yes," said Duncan, in a perplexed voice. "I see something. Looks like
a sort of mediaeval castle on a rock."
A shout of laughter answered him.
"That's the Gorleston Hotel. The harbour-mouth's just beneath. We've
hit it fine," and while he spoke the mist swept clear, and the long,
treeless esplanade of Yarmouth lay there a couple of miles from
Duncan's eyes, glistening and gilded in the sun like a row of dolls'
"Haul in your sheets a bit," said Weeks. "Keep no'th of the hotel, for
the tide'll set you up and we'll sail her in without dawdlin' behind
a tug. Get your mainsail down as best you can before you make the
Half an hour afterwards the smack sailed between the pier-heads.
"Who are you?" cried the harbour-master.
"The _Willing Mind_."
"The _Willing Mind's_ reported lost with all hands."
"Well, here's the _Willing Mind_," said Duncan, "and here's one of the
The irrepressible voice bawled up the companion to complete the
"And the owner's reposin' in his cabin." But in a lower key he added
words for his own ears. "There's the old woman to meet. Lord! but the
_Willing Mind_ has cost me dear."
HOW BARRINGTON RETURNED TO JOHANNESBURG.
Norris wanted a holiday. He stood in the marketplace looking
southwards to the chimney-stacks, and dilating upon the subject to
three of his friends. He was sick of the Stock Exchange, the men, the
women, the drinks, the dances--everything. He was as indifferent to
the price of shares as to the rise and fall of the quicksilver in his
barometer; he neither desired to go in on the ground floor nor to come
out in the attics. He simply wanted to get clean away. Besides he
foresaw a slump, and he would be actually saving money on the veld. At
this point Teddy Isaacs strolled up and interrupted the oration.
"Where are you off to, then?"
"Manicaland," answered Norris.
"Oh! You had better bring Barrington back."
Teddy Isaacs was a fresh comer to the Rand, and knew no better.
Barrington meant to him nothing more than the name of a man who had
been lost twelve months before on the eastern borders of Mashonaland.
But he saw three pairs of eyebrows lift simultaneously, and heard
three simultaneous outbursts on the latest Uitlander grievance.
However, Norris answered him quietly enough.
"Yes, if I come across Barrington, I'll bring him back." He nodded his
head once or twice and smiled. "You may make sure of that," he added,
and turned away from the group.
Isaacs gathered that there had been trouble between Barrington
and Morris, and applied to his companions for information. The
commencement of the trouble, he was told, dated back to the time when
the two men were ostrich-farming side by side, close to Port Elizabeth
in the Cape Colony. Norris owned a wife; Barrington did not. The story
was sufficiently ugly as Johannesburg was accustomed to relate it, but
upon this occasion Teddy Isaacs was allowed to infer the details. He
was merely put in possession of the more immediate facts. Barrington
had left the Cape Colony in a hurry, and coming north to the Transvaal
when Johannesburg was as yet in its brief infancy, had prospered
exceedingly. Meanwhile, Norris, as the ostrich industry declined, had
gone from worse to worse, and finally he too drifted to Johannesburg
with the rest of the flotsam of South Africa. He came to the town
alone, and met Barrington one morning eye to eye on the Stock
Exchange. A certain amount of natural disappointment was expressed
when the pair were seen to separate without hostilities; but it was
subsequently remarked that they were fighting out their duel, though
not in the conventional way. They fought with shares, and Barrington
won. He had the clearer head, and besides, Norris didn't need much
ruining; Barrington could see to that in his spare time. It was, in
fact, as though Norris stood up with a derringer to face a machine
gun. His turn, however, had come after Barrington's disappearance, and
he was now able to contemplate an expedition into Manicaland without
reckoning up his pass-book.
He bought a buck-wagon with a tent covering over the hinder part,
provisions sufficient for six months, a span of oxen, a couple of
horses salted for the thickhead sickness, hired a Griqua lad as
wagon-driver, and half a dozen Matabele boys who were waiting for a
chance to return, and started northeastward.
From Johannesburg he travelled to Makoni's town, near the Zimbabwe
ruins, and with half a dozen brass rings and an empty cartridge case
hired a Ma-ongwi boy, who had been up to the Mashonaland plateau
before. The lad guided him to the head waters of the Inyazuri, and
there Norris fenced in his camp, in a grass country fairly wooded, and
studded with gigantic blocks of granite.
The Ma-ongwi boy chose the site, fifty yards west of an ant-heap, and
about a quarter of a mile from a forest of machabel. He had camped on
the spot before, he said.
"When?" asked Norris.
"Twice," replied the boy. "Three years ago and last year."
"Last year?" Norris looked up with a start of surprise. "You were up
here last year?"
For a moment or two Norris puffed at his pipe, then he asked slowly--
"Mr. Barrington," the boy told him, and added, "It is his wagon-track
which we have been following."
Norris rose from the ground, and walked straight ahead for the
distance of a hundred yards until he reached a jasmine bush, which
stood in a bee-line with the opening of his camp fence. Thence he
moved round in a semicircle until he came upon a wagon-track in the
rear of the camp, and, after pausing there, he went forward again, and
completed the circle. He returned to his wagon chuckling. Barrington,
he remembered, had been lost while travelling northwards to the
Zambesie; but the track stopped here. There was not a trace of it to
the north or the east or the west. It was evident that the boy had
chosen Barrington's last camping-ground as the site for his own, and
he discovered a comforting irony in the fact. He felt that he was
standing in Barrington's shoes.
That night, as he was smoking by the fire, he called out to the
Ma-ongwi boy. The lad came forward from his hut behind the wagon.
"Tell me how you lost him," said Norris.
"He rode that way alone after a sable antelope." The boy pointed an
arm to the southwest. "The beast was wounded, and we followed its
blood-spoor. We found Mr. Barrington's horse gored by the antelope's
horns. He himself had gone forward on foot. We tracked him to a little
stream, but the opposite bank was trampled, and we lost all sign of
him." This is what the boy said though his language is translated.
Norris remained upon this encampment for a fortnight. Blue
wildebeests, koodoos, elands, and gems-bok were plentiful, and once he
got a shot at a wart-hog boar. At the end of the fortnight he walked
round the ant-heap early one morning, and of a sudden plumped down
full length in the grass. Straight in front of him he saw a herd of
buffaloes moving in his direction down a glade of the forest a quarter
of a mile away. Norris cast a glance backwards; the camp was hidden
from the herd by the intervening ant-heap. He looked again towards the
forest; the buffaloes advanced slowly, pasturing as they moved. Norris
crawled behind the ant-heap on his hands and knees, ran thence into
the camp, buckled on a belt of cartridges, snatched up a 450-bore
Metford rifle, and got back to his position just as the first of the
herd stepped into the open. It turned to the right along the edge of
the wood, and the others followed in file. Norris wriggled forward
through the grass, and selecting a fat bull in the centre of the line,
aimed behind its shoulder and fired. The herd stampeded into the
forest, the bull fell in its tracks.
Norris sprang forward with a shout; but he had not run more than
thirty yards before the bull began to kick. It kneeled upon its
forelegs, rose thence on to its hind legs, and finally stood up.
Norris guessed what had happened. He had hit the bull in the neck
instead of behind the shoulders, and had broken no bones. He fired
his second barrel as the brute streamed away in an oblique line
southeastwards from the wood, and missed. Then he ran back to camp,
slapped a bridle on to his swiftest horse, and without waiting to
saddle it, sprang on its back and galloped in pursuit. He rode as it
were along the base of a triangle, whereas the bull galloped from the
apex, and since his breakfast was getting hot behind him, he wished
to make that triangle an isosceles. So he jammed his heels into his
horse's ribs, and was fast drawing within easy range, when the buffalo
got his wind and swerved on the instant into a diagonal course due
The manoeuvre left Norris directly behind his quarry, and with a long,
stern chase in prospect. However, his blood was up, and he held on to
wear the beast down. He forgot his breakfast; he took no more than a
casual notice of the direction he was following; he simply braced his
knees in a closer grip, while the distorted shadows of himself and the
horse lengthened and thinned along the ground as the sun rose over his
Suddenly the buffalo disappeared in a dip of the veld, and a few
moments later came again into view a good hundred yards further to the
south. Norris pulled his left rein, and made for the exact spot at
which the bull had reappeared. He found himself on the edge of a tiny
cliff which dropped twenty feet in a sheer fall to a little stream,
and he was compelled to ride along the bank until he reached the
incline which the buffalo had descended. He forded the stream,
galloped under the opposite bank across a patch of ground which had
been trampled into mud by the hoofs of beasts coming here to water,
and mounted again to the open. The bull had gained a quarter of a
mile's grace from his mistake, and was heading straight for a huge
cone of granite.
Norris recognised the cone. It towered up from the veld, its cliffs
seamed into gullies by the rain-wash of ages, and he had used it more
than once as a landmark during the last fortnight, for it rose due
southwest of his camp.
He watched the bull approach the cone and vanish into one of the
gullies. It did not reappear, and he rode forward, keeping a close eye
upon the gully. As he came opposite to it, however, he saw through the
opening a vista of green trees flashing in the sunlight. He turned his
horse through the passage, and reined up in a granite amphitheatre.
The floor seemed about half a mile in diameter; it was broken into
hillocks, and strewn with patches of a dense undergrowth, while here
and there a big tree grew. The walls, which converged slightly towards
an open top, were robed from summit to base with wild flowers, so that
the whole circumference of the cone was one blaze of colour.
Norris hitched forward and reloaded the rifle. Then he advanced slowly
between the bushes on the alert for a charge from the wounded bull;
but nothing stirred. No sound came to his ears except the soft padding
noise of his horse's hoofs upon the turf. There was not a crackle
of the brushwood, and the trees seemed carved out of metal. He rode
through absolute silence in a suspension of all movement. Once his
horse trod upon a bough, and the snapping of the twigs sounded like so
many cracks of a pistol. At first the silence struck Norris as merely
curious, a little later as very lonesome. Once or twice he stopped his
horse with a sudden jerk of the reins, and sat crouched forwards with
his neck outstretched, listening. Once or twice he cast a quick,
furtive glance over his shoulder to make certain that no one stood
between himself and the entrance to the hollow. He forgot the buffalo;
he caught himself labouring his breath, and found it necessary to
elaborately explain the circumstance in his thoughts on the ground of
The next moment he began to plead this heat not merely as an excuse
for his uneasiness, but as a reason for returning to camp. The heat
was intense, he argued. Above him the light of an African midday sun
poured out of a brassy sky into a sort of inverted funnel, and lay in
blinding pools upon the scattered slabs of rock. Within the hollow,
every cup of the innumerable flowers which tapestried the cliffs
seemed a mouth breathing heat. He became possessed with a parching
thirst, and he felt his tongue heavy and fibrous like a dried fig.
There was, however, one obstacle which prevented him from acting upon
his impulse, and that obstacle was his sense of shame. It was not so
much that he thought it cowardly to give up the chase and quietly
return, but he knew that the second after he had given way, he would
be galloping madly towards the entrance in no child's panic of terror.
He finally compromised matters by dropping the reins upon his horse's
neck in the unformulated hope that the animal would turn of its own
accord; but the horse kept straight on.
As Norris drew towards the innermost wall of granite, there was a
quick rustle all across its face as though the screen of shrubs and
flowers had been fluttered by a draught of wind. Norris drew himself
erect with a distinct appearance of relief, loosened the clench of his
fingers upon his rifle, and began once more to search the bushes for
For a moment his attention was arrested by a queer object lying upon
the ground to his left. It was in shape something like a melon, but
bigger, and it seemed to be plastered over with a black mould. Norris
rode by it, turned a corner, and then with a gasp reined back his
horse upon its haunches. Straight in front of him a broken rifle lay
across the path.
Norris stood still, and stared at it stupidly. Some vague recollection
floated elusively through his brain. He tried to grasp and fix it
clearly in his mind. It was a recollection of something which had
happened a long while ago, in England, when he was at school.
Suddenly, he remembered. It was not something which had happened, but
something he had read under the great elm trees in the close. It was
that passage in _Robinson Crusoe_ which tells of the naked footprint
in the sand.
Norris dismounted, and stooped to lift the rifle; but all at once he
straightened himself, and swung round with his arms guarding his head.
There was no one, however, behind him, and he gave a little quavering
laugh, and picked up the rifle. It was a heavy lo-bore Holland, a
Holland with a single barrel, and that barrel was twisted like a
corkscrew. The lock had been wrenched off, and there were marks upon
the stock--marks of teeth, and other queer, unintelligible marks as
Norris held the rifle in his hands, gazing vacantly straight ahead. He
was thinking of the direction in which he had come, southwest, and of
the stream which he had crossed, and of the patch of trampled mud,
where track obliterated track. He dropped the rifle. It rang upon a
stone, and again the screen of foliage shivered and rustled. Norris,
however, paid no attention to the movement, but ran back to that
object which he had passed, and took it in his hands.
It was oval in shape, being slightly broader at one end than the
other. Norris drew his knife and cleaned the mould from one side
of it. To the touch of the blade it seemed softer than stone, and
smoother than wood. "More like bone," he said to himself. In the side
which he had cleaned, there was a little round hole filled up with
mould. Norris dug his knife in and scraped round the hole as one
cleans a caked pipe. He drew out a little cube of mud. There was a
second corresponding hole on the other side. He turned the narrower
end of the thing upwards. It was hollow, he saw, but packed full of
mould, and more deliberately packed, for there were finger-marks in
the mould. "What an aimless trick!" he muttered vaguely.
He carried the thing back to the rifle, and, comparing them,
understood those queer marks upon the stock. They were the mark of
fingers, of human fingers, impressed faintly upon the wood with
superhuman strength. He was holding the rifle in his hands and looking
down at it; but he saw below the rifle, and he saw that his knees were
shaking in a palsy.
On an instant he tossed the rifle away, and laughed to reassure
himself--laughed out boldly, once, twice; and then he stopped with his
eyes riveted upon the granite wall. At each laugh that he gave the
shrubs and flowers rippled, and shook the sunlight from their leaves.
For the first time he remarked the coincidence as something strange.
He lifted up his face, but not a breath of air fanned it; he looked
across the hollow, the trees and bushes stood immobile. He laughed a
third time, louder than before, and all at once his laughter got hold
of him; he sent it pealing out hysterically, burst after burst, until
the hollow seemed brimming with the din of it. His body began to
twist; he beat time to his laughter with his feet, and then he danced.
He danced there alone in the African sunlight faster and faster, with
a mad tossing of his limbs, and with his laughter grown to a yell. And
as though to keep pace with him, each moment the shiver of the foliage
increased. Up and down, crosswise and breadthwise, the flowers were
tossed and flung, while their petals rained down the cliff's face in
a purple storm. It appeared, indeed, to Norris that the very granite
walls were moving.
In the midst of his dance he kicked something and stumbled. He
stopped dead when he saw what that something was. It was the queer,
mud-plastered object which he had compared with the broken rifle, and
the sight of it recalled him to his wits. He tucked it hastily beneath
his jacket, and looked about him for his horse. The horse was standing
behind him some distance away, and nearer to the cliff. Norris
snatched up his own rifle, and ran towards it. His hand was on the
horse's mane, when just above its head he noticed a clean patch of
granite, and across that space he saw a huge grey baboon leap, and
then another, and another. He turned about, and looked across to the
opposite wall, straining his eyes, and a second later to the wall on
his right. Then he understood; the twisted rifle, the finger marks,
this thing which he held under his coat, he understood them all. The
walls of the hollow were alive with baboons, and the baboons were
making along the cliffs for the entrance.
Norris sprang on to his horse, and kicked and beat it into a gallop.
He had only to traverse the length of a diameter, he told himself, the
baboons the circumference of a circle. He had covered three-quarters
of the distance when he heard a grunt, and from a bush fifty yards
ahead the buffalo sprang out and came charging down at him.
Norris gave one scream of terror, and with that his nerves steadied
themselves. He knew that it was no use firing at the front of a
buffalo's head when the beast was charging. He pulled a rein and
swerved to the left; the bull made a corresponding turn. A moment
afterwards Norris swerved back into his former course, and shot just
past the bull's flanks. He made no attempt to shoot them; he held his
rifle ready in his hands, and looked forwards. When he was fifty yards
from the passage he saw the first baboon perched upon a shoulder of
rock above the entrance. He lifted his rifle, and fired at a venture.
He saw the brute's arms wave in the air, and heard a dull thud on the
ground behind him as he drove through the gully and out on to the open
The next morning Norris broke up his camp, and started homewards for
Johannesburg. He went down to the Stock Exchange on the day of his
arrival, and chanced upon Teddy Isaacs.
"What's that?" asked Isaacs, touching a bulge of his coat.
"That?" replied Norris, unfastening the buttons. "I told you I would
bring back Barrington if I found him," and he trundled a scoured and
polished skull across the floor of the Stock Exchange.
The story was told to us by James Walker in the cabin of a seven-ton
cutter one night when we lay anchored in Helford river. It was towards
the end of September; during this last week the air had grown chilly
with the dusk, and the sea when it lost the sun took on a leaden and a
dreary look. There was no other boat in the wooded creek and the swish
of the tide against the planks had a very lonesome sound. All the
circumstances I think provoked Walker to tell the story but most of
all the lonely swish of the tide against the planks. For it is the
story of a man's loneliness and the strange ways into which loneliness
misled him. However, let the story speak for itself.
Hatteras and Walker had been schoolfellows, though never schoolmates.
Hatteras indeed was the head of the school and prophecy vaguely
sketched out for him a brilliant career in some service of importance.
The definite law, however, that the sins of the fathers shall be
visited upon the children, overbore the prophecy. Hatteras, the
father, disorganised his son's future by dropping unexpectedly through
one of the trap ways of speculation into the bankruptcy court beneath
just two months before Hatteras, the son, was to have gone up to
Oxford. The lad was therefore compelled to start life in a stony world
with a stock in trade which consisted of a school boy's command of the
classics, a real inborn gift of tongues and the friendship of James
Walker. The last item proved of the most immediate value. For Walker,
whose father was the junior partner in a firm of West African
merchants, obtained for Hatteras an employment as the bookkeeper at a
branch factory in the Bight of Benin.
Thus the friends parted. Hatteras went out to West Africa alone and
met with a strange welcome on the day when he landed. The incident
did not come to Walker's ears until some time afterwards, nor when he
heard of it did he at once appreciate the effect which it had upon
Hatteras. But chronologically it comes into the story at this point,
and so may as well be immediately told.
There was no settlement very near to the factory. It stood by itself
on the swamps of the Forcados river with the mangrove forest closing
in about it. Accordingly the captain of the steamer just put
Hatteras ashore in a boat and left him with his traps on the beach.
Half-a-dozen Kru boys had come down from the factory to receive him,
but they could speak no English, and Hatteras at this time could speak
no Kru. So that although there was no lack of conversation there was
not much interchange of thought. At last Hatteras pointed to his
traps. The Kru boys picked them up and preceded Hatteras to the
factory. They mounted the steps to the verandah on the first floor and
laid their loads down. Then they proceeded to further conversation.
Hatteras gathered from their excited faces and gestures that they
wished to impart information, but he could make neither head nor tail
of a word they said and at last he retired from the din of their
chatter through the windows of a room which gave on the verandah, and
sat down to wait for his superior, the agent. It was early in the
morning when Hatteras landed and he waited until midday patiently. In
the afternoon it occurred to him that the agent would have shown
a kindly consideration if he had left a written message or an
intelligible Kru boy to receive him. It is true that the blacks came
in at intervals and chattered and gesticulated, but matters were not
thereby appreciably improved. He did not like to go poking about the
house, so he contemplated the mud-banks and the mud-river and the
mangrove forest, and cursed the agent. The country was very quiet.
There are few things in the world quieter than a West African forest
in the daytime. It is obtrusively, emphatically quiet. It does not
let you forget how singularly quiet it is. And towards sundown the
quietude began to jar on Hatteras' nerves. He was besides very hungry.
To while away the time he took a stroll round the verandah.
He walked along the side of the house towards the back, and as he
neared the back he head a humming sound. The further he went the
louder it grew. It was something like the hum of a mill, only not so
metallic and not so loud; and it came from the rear of the house.
Hatteras turned the corner and what he saw was this--a shuttered
window and a cloud of flies. The flies were not aimlessly swarming
outside the window; they streamed in through the lattices of the
shutters in a busy practical way; they came in columns from the forest
and converged upon the shutters; and the hum sounded from within the
Hatteras looked about for a Kru boy just for the sake of company, but,
at that moment there was not one to be seen. He felt the cold strike
at his spine, he went back to the room in which he had been sitting.
He sat again, but he sat shivering. The agent had left no work for
him.... The Kru boys had been anxious to explain something. The
humming of the flies about that shuttered window seemed to Hatteras
to have more explicit language than the Kru boys' chatterings. He
penetrated into the interior of the house, and reckoned up the doors.
He opened one of them ever so slightly, and the buzzing came through
like the hum of a wheel in a factory, revolving in the collar of
a strap. He flung the door open and stood upon the threshold. The
atmosphere of the room appalled him; he felt the sweat break cold upon
his forehead and a deadly sickness in all his body. Then he nerved
himself to enter.
At first he saw little because of the gloom. In a moment, however, he
made out a bed stretched along the wall and a thing stretched upon the
bed. The thing was more or less shapeless because it was covered with
a black, furry sort of rug. Hatteras, however, had little trouble in
defining it. He knew now for certain what it was that the Kru boys had
been so anxious to explain to him. He approached the bed and bent over
it, and as he bent over it the horrible thing occurred which left so
vivid an impression on Hatteras. The black, furry rug suddenly lifted
itself from the bed, beat about Hatteras' face, and dissolved into
flies. The Kru boys found Hatteras in a dead swoon on the floor
half-an-hour later, and next day, of course, he was down with the
fever. The agent had died of it three days before.
Hatteras recovered from the fever, but not from the impression. It
left him with a prevailing sense of horror and, at first, with a sense
of disgust too. "It's a damned obscene country," he would say. But he
stayed in it, for he had no choice. All the money which he could save
went to the support of his family, and for six years the firm he
served moved him from district to district, from factory to factory.
Now the second item in the stock in trade was a gift of tongues and
about this time it began to bring him profit. Wherever Hatteras was
posted, he managed to pick up a native dialect and with the dialect
inevitably a knowledge of native customs. Dialects are numerous on the
west coast, and at the end of six years, Hatteras could speak as many
of them as some traders could enumerate. Languages ran in his blood;
because he acquired a reputation for knowledge and was offered service
under the Niger Protectorate, so that when two years later, Walker
came out to Africa to open a new branch factory at a settlement on the
Bonny river, he found Hatteras stationed in command there.
Hatteras, in fact, went down to Bonny river town to meet the steamer
which brought his friend.
"I say, Dick, you look bad," said Walker.
"People aren't, as a rule, offensively robust about these parts."
"I know that; but your the weariest bag of bones I've ever seen."
"Well, look at yourself in a glass a year from now for my double,"
said Hatteras, and the pair went up river together.
"Your factory's next to the Residency," said Hatteras. "There's a
compound to each running down to the river, and there's a palisade
between the compounds. I've cut a little gate in the palisade as it
will shorten the way from one house to the other."
The wicket gate was frequently used during the next few
months--indeed, more frequently than Walker imagined. He was only
aware that, when they were both at home, Hatteras would come through
it of an evening and smoke on his verandah. Then he would sit
for hours cursing the country, raving about the lights in
Piccadilly-circus, and offering his immortal soul in exchange for a
comic-opera tune played upon a barrel-organ. Walker possessed a big
atlas, and one of Hatteras' chief diversions was to trace with his
finger a bee-line across the African continent and the Bay of Biscay
until he reached London.
More rarely Walker would stroll over to the Residency, but he soon
came to notice that Hatteras had a distinct preference for the factory
and for the factory verandah. The reason for the preference puzzled
Walker considerably. He drew a quite erroneous conclusion that
Hatteras was hiding at the Residency--well, some one whom it was
prudent, especially in an official, to conceal. He abandoned the
conclusion, however, when he discovered that his friend was in the
habit of making solitary expeditions. At times Hatteras would be
absent for a couple of days, at times for a week, and, so far as
Walker could ascertain, he never so much as took a servant with him
to keep him company. He would simply announce at night his intended
departure, and in the morning he would be gone. Nor on his return
did he ever offer to Walker any explanation of his journeys. On one
occasion, however, Walker broached the subject. Hatteras had come back
the night before, and he sat crouched up in a deck chair, looking
intently into the darkness of the forest.
"I say," asked Walker, "isn't it rather dangerous to go slumming about
West Africa alone?"
Hatteras did not reply for a moment. He seemed not to have heard the
suggestion, and when he did speak it was to ask a quite irrelevant
"Have you ever seen the Horse Guards' Parade on a dark, rainy night?"
he asked; but he never moved his head, he never took his eyes from
the forest. "The wet level of ground looks just like a lagoon and the
arches a Venice palace above it."
"But look here, Dick!" said Walker, keeping to his subject. "You never
leave word when you are coming back. One never knows that you have
come back until you show yourself the morning after."
"I think," said Hatteras slowly, "that the finest sight in the world
is to be seen from the bridge in St. James's Park when there's a State
ball on at Buckingham Palace and the light from the windows reddens
the lake and the carriages glance about the Mall like fireflies."
"Even your servants don't know when you come back," said Walker.
"Oh," said Hatteras quietly, "so you have been asking questions of my
"I had a good reason," replied Walker, "your safety," and with that
the conversation dropped.
Walker watched Hatteras. Hatteras watched the forest. A West African
mangrove forest at night is full of the eeriest, queerest sounds that
ever a man's ears harkened to. And the sounds come not so much from
the birds, or the soughing of the branches; they seem to come from the
swamp life underneath the branches, at the roots of trees. There's
a ceaseless stir as of a myriad of reptiles creeping in the slime.
Listen long enough and you will fancy that you hear the whirr and rush
of innumerable crabs, the flapping of innumerable fish. Now and again
a more distinctive sound emerges from the rest--the croaking of a
bull-frog, the whining cough of a crocodile. At such sounds Hatteras
would start up in his chair and cock his head like a dog in a room
that hears another dog barking in the street.
"Doesn't it sound damned wicked?" he said, with a queer smile of
Walker did not answer. The light from a lamp in the room behind them
struck obliquely upon Hatteras' face and slanted off from it in a
narrowing column until it vanished in a yellow thread among the leaves
of the trees. It showed that the same enjoyment which ran in Hatteras'
voice was alive upon his face. His eyes, his ears, were alert, and he
gently opened and shut his mouth with a little clicking of the teeth.
In some horrible way he seemed to have something in common with, he
appeared almost to participate in, the activity of the swamp. Thus,
had Walker often seen him sit, but never with the light so clear upon
his face, and the sight gave to him a quite new impression of his
friend. He wondered whether all these months his judgment had been
wrong. And out of that wonder a new thought sprang into his mind.
"Dick," he said, "this house of mine stands between your house and
the forest. It stands on the borders of the trees, on the edge of the
swamp. Is that why you always prefer it to your own?"
Hatteras turned his head quickly towards his companion, almost
suspiciously. Then he looked back into the darkness, and after a
little he said:--
"It's not only the things you care about, old man, which tug at you,
it's the things you hate as well. I hate this country. I hate these
miles and miles of mangroves, and yet I am fascinated. I can't get the
forest and the undergrowth out of my mind. I dream of them at nights.
I dream that I am sinking into that black oily batter of mud. Listen,"
and he suddenly broke off with his head stretched forwards. "Doesn't
it sound wicked?"
"But all this talk about London?" cried Walker.
"Oh, don't you understand?" interrupted Hatteras roughly. Then he
changed his tone and gave his reason. "One has to struggle against a
fascination of that sort. It's devil's work. So for all I am worth I
talk about London."
"Look here, Dick," said Walker. "You had better get leave and go back
to the old country for a spell."
"A very solid piece of advice," said Hatteras, and he went home to the
The next morning he had again disappeared. But Walker discovered upon
his table a couple of new volumes. He glanced at the titles. They were
Burton's account of his pilgrimage to al-Madinah and Mecca.
Five nights afterwards Walker was smoking a pipe on the verandah when
he fancied that he heard a rubbing, scuffling sound as if some one
very cautiously was climbing over the fence of his compound. The moon
was low in the sky and dipping down toward the forest; indeed the rim
of it touched the tree-tops so that while a full half of the enclosure
was bare to the yellow light that half which bordered on the forest
was inky black in shadow; and it was from the furthest corner of this
second half that the sound came. Walker bent forward listening. He
heard the sound again, and a moment after another sound, which left
him in no doubt. For in that dark corner he knew that a number of
palisades for repairing the fence were piled and the second sound
which he heard was a rattle as some one stumbled against them. Walker
went inside and fetched a rifle.
When he came back he saw a negro creeping across the bright open space
towards the Residency. Walker hailed to him to stop. Instead the negro
ran. He ran towards the wicket gate in the palisades. Walker shouted
again; the figure only ran the faster. He had covered half the
distance before Walker fired. He clutched his right forearm with his
left hand, but he did not stop. Walker fired again, this time at his
legs, and the man dropped to the ground. Walker heard his servants
stirring as he ran down the steps. He crossed quickly to the negro
and the negro spoke to him, but in English, and with the voice of
"For God's sake keep your servants off!"
Walker ran to the house, met his servants at the foot of the steps,
and ordered them back. He had shot at a monkey he said. Then he
returned to Hatteras.
"Dicky, are you hurt?" he whispered.
"You hit me each time you fired, but not very badly I think."
He bandaged Hatteras' arm and thigh with strips of his shirt and
waited by his side until the house was quiet. Then he lifted him and
carried him across the enclosure to the steps and up the steps into
his bedroom. It was a long and fatiguing process. For one thing Walker
dared make no noise and must needs tread lightly with his load; for
another, the steps were steep and ricketty, with a narrow balustrade
on each side waist high. It seemed to Walker that the day would dawn
before he reached the top. Once or twice Hatteras stirred in his arms,
and he feared the man would die then and there. For all the time his
blood dripped and pattered like heavy raindrops on the wooden steps.
Walker laid Hatteras on his bed and examined his wounds. One bullet
had passed through the fleshy part of the forearm, the other through
the fleshy part of his right thigh. But no bones were broken and no
arteries cut. Walker lit a fire, baked some plaintain leaves, and
applied them as a poultice. Then he went out with a pail of water and
scrubbed down the steps.
Again he dared not make any noise, and it was close on daybreak before
he had done. His night's work, however, was not ended. He had still to
cleanse the black stain from Hatteras' skin, and the sun was up before
he stretched a rug upon the ground and went to sleep with his back
against the door.
"Walker," Hatteras called out in a low voice, an hour or so later.
Walker woke up and crossed over to the bed.
"Dicky, I'm frightfully sorry. I couldn't know it was you."
"That's all right, Jim. Don't you worry about that. What I wanted to
say was that nobody had better know. It wouldn't do, would it, if it
"Oh, I am not so sure. People would think it rather a creditable
Hatteras shot a puzzled look at his friend. Walker, however, did not
notice it, and continued, "I saw Burton's account of his pilgrimage in
your room; I might have known that journeys of the kind were just the
sort of thing to appeal to you."
"Oh, yes, that's it," said Hatteras, lifting himself up in bed. He
spoke eagerly--perhaps a thought too eagerly. "Yes, that's it. I have
always been keen on understanding the native thoroughly. It's after
all no less than one's duty if one has to rule them, and since I could
speak their lingo--" he broke off and returned to the subject which
had prompted him to rouse Walker. "But, all the same, it wouldn't do
if the natives got to know."
"There's no difficulty about that," said Walker. "I'll give out
that you have come back with the fever and that I am nursing you.
Fortunately there's no doctor handy to come making inconvenient
Hatteras knew something of surgery, and under his directions Walker
poulticed and bandaged him until he recovered. The bandaging, however,
was amateurish, and, as a result, the muscles contracted in Hatteras'
thigh and he limped--ever so slightly, still he limped--he limped
to his dying day. He did not, however, on that account abandon his
explorations, and more than once Walker, when his lights were out and
he was smoking a pipe on the verandah, would see a black figure with
a trailing walk cross his compound and pass stealthily through the
wicket in the fence. Walker took occasion to expostulate with his
"It's too dangerous a game for a man to play for any length of time.
It is doubly dangerous now that you limp. You ought to give it up."
Hatteras made a strange reply.
"I'll try to," he said.
Walker pondered over the words for some time. He set them side by side
in his thoughts with that confession which Hatteras had made to
him one evening. He asked himself whether, after all, Hatteras'
explanation of his conduct was sincere, whether it was really a
desire to know the native thoroughly which prompted these mysterious
expeditions; and then he remembered that he himself had first
suggested the explanation to Hatteras. Walker began to feel
uneasy--more than uneasy, actually afraid on his friend's account.
Hatteras had acknowledged that the country fascinated him, and
fascinated him through its hideous side. Was this masquerading as a
black man a further proof of the fascination? Was it, as it were, a
step downwards towards a closer association? Walker sought to laugh
the notion from his mind, but it returned and returned, and here and
there an incident occurred to give it strength and colour.
For instance, on one occasion after Hatteras had been three weeks
absent, Walker sauntered over to the Residency towards four o'clock
in the afternoon. Hatteras was trying cases in the court-house, which
formed the ground floor of the Residency. Walker stepped into the
room. It was packed with a naked throng of blacks, and the heat was
overpowering. At the end of the hall sat Hatteras. His worn face shone
out amongst the black heads about him white and waxy like a gardenia
in a bouquet of black flowers. Walker invented his simile and realised
its appositeness at one and the same moment. Bouquet was not an
inappropriate word since there is a penetrating aroma about the native
of the Niger delta when he begins to perspire.
Walker, however, thinking that the Court would rise, determined to
wait for a little. But, at the last moment, a negro was put up to
answer to a charge of participation in Fetish rites. The case seemed
sufficiently clear from the outset, but somehow Hatteras delayed its
conclusion. There was evidence and unrebutted evidence of the usual
details--human sacrifice, mutilations and the like, but Hatteras
pressed for more. He sat until it was dusk, and then had candles
brought into the Court-house. He seemed indeed not so much to be
investigating the negro's guilt as to be adding to his own knowledge
of Fetish ceremonials. And Walker could not but perceive that he
took more than a merely scientific pleasure in the increase of his
knowledge. His face appeared to smooth out, his eyes became quick,
interested, almost excited; and Walker again had the queer impression
that Hatteras was in spirit participating in the loathsome ceremonies,
and participating with an intense enjoyment. In the end the negro was
convicted and the Court rose. But he might have been convicted a good
three hours before. Walker went home shaking his head. He seemed to
be watching a man deliberately divesting himself of his humanity. It
seemed as though the white man were ambitious to decline into the
black. Hatteras was growing into an uncanny creature. His friend began
to foresee a time when he should hold him in loathing and horror. And
the next morning helped to confirm him in that forecast.
For Walker had to make an early start down river for Bonny town, and
as he stood on the landing-stage Hatteras came down to him from the
"You heard that negro tried yesterday?" he asked with an assumption of
"Yes, and condemned. What of him?"
"He escaped last night. It's a bad business, isn't it?"
Walker nodded in reply and his boat pushed off. But it stuck in his
mind for the greater part of that day that the prison adjoined the
Court-house and so formed part of the ground floor of the Residency.
Had Hatteras connived at his escape? Had the judge secretly set free
the prisoner whom he had publicly condemned? The question troubled
Walker considerably during his month of absence, and stood in the way
of his business. He learned for the first time how much he loved his
friend and how eagerly he watched for the friend's advancement.
Each day added to his load of anxiety. He dreamed continually of a
black-painted man slipping among the tree-boles nearer and nearer
towards the red glow of a fire in some open space secure amongst the
swamps, where hideous mysteries had their celebration. He cut short
his business and hurried back from Bonny. He crossed at once to the
Residency and found his friend in a great turmoil of affairs. Walker
came back from Bonny a month later and hurried across to his friend.
"Jim," said Hatteras, starting up, "I've got a year's leave; I am
"Dicky!" cried Walker, and he nearly wrung Hatteras' hand from his
arm. "That's grand news."
"Yes, old man, I thought you would be glad; I sail in a fortnight."
And he did.
For the first month Walker was glad. A year's leave would make a new
man of Dick Hatteras, he thought, or, at all events, restore the old
man, sane and sound, as he had been before he came to the West African
coast. During the second month Walker began to feel lonely. In the
third he bought a banjo and learnt it during the fourth and fifth.
During the sixth he began to say to himself, "What a time poor Dick
must have had all those six years with those cursed forests about him.
I don't wonder--I don't wonder." He turned disconsolately to his banjo
and played for the rest of the year; all through the wet season while
the rain came down in a steady roar and only the curlews cried--until
Hatteras returned. He returned at the top of his spirits and health.
Of course he was hall-marked West African, but no man gets rid of that
stamp. Moreover there was more than health in his expression. There
was a new look of pride in his eyes and when he spoke of a bachelor it
was in terms of sympathetic pity.
"Jim," said he, after five minutes of restraint, "I am engaged to be
Jim danced round him in delight. "What an ass I have been," he
thought, "why didn't I think of that cure myself?" and he asked, "When
is it to be?"
"In eight months. You'll come home and see me through."
Walker agreed and for eight months listened to praises of the lady.
There were no more solitary expeditions. In fact, Hatteras seemed
absorbed in the diurnal discovery of new perfections in his future
"Yes, she seems a nice girl," Walker commented. He found her upon his
arrival in England more human than Hatteras' conversation had led him
to expect, and she proved to him that she was a nice girl. For she
listened for hours to him lecturing her on the proper way to treat
Dick without the slightest irritation and with only a faintly visible
amusement. Besides she insisted on returning with her husband to Bonny
river, which was a sufficiently courageous thing to undertake.
For a year in spite of the climate the couple were commonplace and
happy. For a year Walker clucked about them like a hen after its
chickens and slept the sleep of the untroubled. Then he returned to
England and from that time made only occasional journeys to West
Africa. Thus for awhile he almost lost sight of Hatteras and
consequently still slept the sleep of the untroubled. One morning,
however, he arrived unexpectedly at the settlement and at once called
on Hatteras. He did not wait to be announced, but ran up the steps
outside the house and into the dining-room. He found Mrs. Hatteras
crying. She dried her eyes, welcomed Walker, and said that she was
sorry, but her husband was away.
Walker started, looked at her eyes, and asked hesitatingly whether he
could help. Mrs. Hatteras replied with an ill-assumed surprise that
she did not understand. Walker suggested that there was trouble. Mrs.
Hatteras denied the truth of the suggestion. Walker pressed the point
and Mrs. Hatteras yielded so far as to assert that there was no
trouble in which Hatteras was concerned. Walker hardly thought it the
occasion for a parade of manners, and insisted on pointing out
that his knowledge of her husband was intimate and dated from his
schooldays. Thereupon Mrs. Hatteras gave way.
"Dick goes away alone," she said. "He stains his skin and goes away at
night. He tells me that he must, that it's the only way by which he
can know the natives, and that so it's a sort of duty. He says the
black tells nothing of himself to the white man--ever. You must go
amongst them if you are to know them. So he goes, and I never know
when he will come back. I never know whether he will come back."
"But he has done that sort of thing on and off for years, and he has
always come back," replied Walker.
"Yes, but one day he will not." Walker comforted her as well as he
could, praised Hatteras for his conduct, though his heart was hot
against him, spoke of risks that every one must run who serve the
Empire. "Never a lotus closes, you know," he said, and went back to
the factory with the consciousness that he had been telling lies.
It was no sense of duty that prompted Hatteras, of that he was
certain, and he waited--he waited from darkness to daybreak in his
compound for three successive nights. On the fourth he heard the
scuffling sound at the corner of the fence. The night was black as the
inside of a coffin. Half a regiment of men might steal past him and he
not have seen them. Accordingly he walked cautiously to the palisade
which separated the enclosure of the Residency from his own, felt
along it until he reached the little gate and stationed himself
in front of it. In a few moments he thought that he heard a man
breathing, but whether to the right or the left he could not tell;
and then a groping hand lightly touched his face and drew away again.
Walker said nothing, but held his breath and did not move. The hand
was stretched out again. This time it touched his breast and moved
across it until it felt a button of Walker's coat. Then it was
snatched away and Walker heard a gasping in-draw of the breath and
afterwards a sound as of a man turning in a flurry. Walker sprang
forward and caught a naked shoulder with one hand, a naked arm with
"Wait a bit, Dick Hatteras," he said.
There was a low cry, and then a husky voice addressed him respectfully
as "Daddy" in trade-English.
"That won't do, Dick," said Walker.
The voice babbled more trade-English.
"If you're not Dick Hatteras," continued Walker, tightening his grasp,
"You've no manner of right here. I'll give you till I count ten and
then I shall shoot."
Walker counted up to nine aloud and then--
"Jim," said Hatteras in his natural voice.
"That's better," said Walker. "Let's go in and talk."
He went up the step and lighted the lamp. Hatteras followed him and
the two men faced one another. For a little while neither of them
spoke. Walker was repeating to himself that this man with the black
skin, naked except for a dirty loincloth and a few feathers on his
head was a white man married to a white wife who was sleeping--Nay,
more likely crying--not thirty yards away.
Hatteras began to mumble out his usual explanation of duty and the
rest of it.
"That won't wash," interrupted Walker. "What is it? A woman?"
"Good Heaven, no!" cried Hatteras suddenly. It was plain that that
explanation was at all events untrue. "Jim, I've a good mind to tell
you all about it."
"You have got to," said Walker. He stood between Hatteras and the
"I told you how this country fascinated me in spite of myself," he
"But I thought," interrupted Walker, "that you had got over that
since. Why, man, you are married," and he came across to Hatteras and
shook him by the shoulder. "Don't you understand? You have a wife!"
"I know," said Hatteras. "But there are things deeper at the heart
of me than the love of woman, and one of those things is the love of
horror. I tell you it bites as nothing else does in this world. It's
like absinthe that turns you sick at the beginning and that you can't
do without once you have got the taste of it. Do you remember my first
landing? It made me sick enough at the beginning, you know. But now--"
He sat down in a chair and drew it close to Walker. His voice dropped
to a passionate whisper, he locked and unlocked his fingers with
feverish movements, and his eyes shifted and glittered in an unnatural
"It's like going down to Hell and coming up again and wanting to go
down again. Oh, you'd want to go down again. You'd find the whole
earth pale. You'd count the days until you went down again. Do you
remember Orpheus? I think he looked back not to see if Eurydice was
coming after him but because he knew it was the last glimpse he would
get of Hell." At that he broke off and began to chant in a crazy
voice, wagging his head and swaying his body to the rhythm of the
"Quum subita in cantum dementia cepit amantem
Ignoscenda quidem scirent si ignoscere manes;
Restilit Eurydicengue suam jam luce sub ipsa
Immemor heu victusque animi respexit."
"Oh, stop that!" cried Walker, and Hatteras laughed. "For God's sake,
For the words brought back to him in a flash the vision of a
class-room with its chipped desks ranged against the varnished walls,
the droning sound of the form-master's voice, and the swish of lilac
bushes against the lower window panes on summer afternoons. "Go on,"
he said. "Oh, go on, and let's have done with it."
Hatteras took up his tale again, and it seemed to Walker that the man
breathed the very miasma of the swamp and infected the room with it.
He spoke of leopard societies, murder clubs, human sacrifices. He had
witnessed them at the beginning, he had taken his share in them at the
last. He told the whole story without shame, with indeed a growing
enjoyment. He spared Walker no details. He related them in their
loathsome completeness until Walker felt stunned and sick. "Stop," he
said, again, "Stop! That's enough."
Hatteras, however, continued. He appeared to have forgotten Walker's
presence. He told the story to himself, for his own amusement, as a
child will, and here and there he laughed and the mere sound of his
laughter was inhuman. He only came to a stop when he saw Walker hold
out to him a cocked and loaded revolver.
"Well?" he asked. "Well?"
Walker still offered him the revolver.
"There are cases, I think, which neither God's law nor man's law seems
to have provided for. There's your wife you see to be considered. If
you don't take it I shall shoot you myself now, here, and mark you I
shall shoot you for the sake of a boy I loved at school in the old
Hatteras took the revolver in silence, laid it on the table, fingered
it for a little.
"My wife must never know," he said.
"There's the pistol. Outside's the swamp. The swamp will tell no
tales, nor shall I. Your wife need never know."
Hatteras picked up the pistol and stood up.
"Good-bye, Jim," he said, and half pushed out his hand. Walker shook
his head, and Hatteras went out on to the verandah and down the steps.
Walker heard him climb over the fence; and then followed as far as the
verandah. In the still night the rustle and swish of the undergrowth
came quite clearly to his ears. The sound ceased, and a few minutes
afterwards the muffled crack of a pistol shot broke the silence like
the tap of a hammer. The swamp, as Walker prophesied, told no tales.
Mrs. Hatteras gave the one explanation of her husband's disappearance
that she knew and returned brokenhearted to England. There was some
loud talk about the self-sacrificing energy, which makes the English a
dominant race, and there you might think is the end of the story.
But some years later Walker went trudging up the Ogowe river in Congo
Francais. He travelled as far as Woermann's factory in Njole Island
and, having transacted his business there, pushed up stream in the
hope of opening the upper reaches for trade purposes. He travelled for
a hundred and fifty miles in a little stern-wheel steamer. At that
point he stretched an awning over a whale-boat, embarked himself, his
banjo and eight blacks from the steamer, and rowed for another fifty
miles. There he ran the boat's nose into a clay cliff close to a Fan
village and went ashore to negotiate with the chief.
There was a slip of forest between the village and the river bank, and
while Walker was still dodging the palm creepers which tapestried it
he heard a noise of lamentation. The noise came from the village and
was general enough to assure him that a chief was dead. It rose in a
chorus of discordant howls, low in note and long-drawn out--wordless,
something like the howls of an animal in pain and yet human by reason
of their infinite melancholy.
Walker pushed forward, came out upon a hillock, fronting the palisade
which closed the entrance to the single street of huts, and passed
down into the village. It seemed as though he had been expected. For
from every hut the Fans rushed out towards him, the men dressed in
their filthiest rags, the women with their faces chalked and their
heads shaved. They stopped, however, on seeing a white man, and Walker
knew enough of their tongue to ascertain that they looked for the
coming of the witch doctor. The chief, it appeared, had died a natural
death, and, since the event is of sufficiently rare occurrence in the
Fan country, it had promptly been attributed to witchcraft, and the
witch doctor had been sent for to discover the criminal. The village
was consequently in a lively state of apprehension, since the end of
those who bewitch chiefs to death is not easy. The Fans, however,
politely invited Walker to inspect the corpse. It lay in a dark hut,
packed with the corpse's relations, who were shouting to it at the top
of their voices on the on-chance that its spirit might think better of
its conduct and return to the body. They explained to Walker that they
had tried all the usual varieties of persuasion. They had put red
pepper into the chief's eyes while he was dying. They had propped open
his mouth with a stick; they had burned fibres of the oil nut under
his nose. In fact, they had made his death as uncomfortable as
possible, but none the less he had died.
The witch doctor arrived on the heels of the explanation, and Walker,
since he was powerless to interfere, thought it wise to retire for
the time being. He went back to the hillock on the edge of the trees.
Thence he looked across and over the palisade and had the whole length
of the street within his view.
The witch doctor entered it from the opposite end, to the beating
of many drums. The first thing Walker noticed was that he wore a
square-skirted eighteenth century coat and a tattered pair of brocaded
knee breeches on his bare legs; the second was that he limped--ever
so slightly. Still he limped and--with the right leg. Walker felt a
strong desire to see the man's face, and his heart thumped within him
as he came nearer and nearer down the street. But his hair was so
matted about his cheeks that Walker could not distinguish a feature.
"If I was only near enough to see his eyes," he thought. But he was
not near enough, nor would it have been prudent for him to have gone
The witch doctor commenced the proceedings by ringing a handbell in
front of every hut. But that method of detection failed to work.
The bell rang successively at every door. Walker watched the
man's progress, watched his trailing limb, and began to discover
familiarities in his manner. "Pure fancy," he argued with himself. "If
he had not limped I should have noticed nothing."
Then the doctor took a wicker basket, covered with a rough wooden lid.
The Fans gathered in front of him; he repeated their names one after
the other and at each name he lifted the lid. But that plan appeared
to be no improvement, for the lid never stuck. It came off readily at
each name. Walker, meanwhile, calculated the distance a man would have
to cover who walked across country from Bonny river to the Ogowe, and
he reflected with some relief that the chances were several thousand
to one that any man who made the attempt, be he black or white, would
be eaten on the way.
The witch doctor turned up the big square cuffs of his sleeves, as a
conjurer will do, and again repeated the names. This time, however,
at each name, he rubbed the palms of his hands together. Walker was
seized with a sudden longing to rush down into the village and examine
the man's right forearm for a bullet mark. The longing grew on him.
The witch doctor went steadily through the list. Walker rose to his
feet and took a step or two down the hillock, when, of a sudden, at
one particular name, the doctor's hands flew apart and waved wildly
about him. A single cry from a single voice went up out of the group
of Fans. The group fell back and left one man standing alone. He made
no defence, no resistance. Two men came forward and bound his hands
and his feet and his body with tie-tie. Then they carried him within a
"That's sheer murder," thought Walker. He could not rescue the victim,
he knew. But--he could get a nearer view of that witch doctor. Already
the man was packing up his paraphernalia. Walker stepped back among
the trees and, running with all his speed, made the circuit of the
village. He reached the further end of the street just as the witch
doctor walked out into the open.
Walker ran forward a yard or so until he too stood plain to see on the
level ground. The witch doctor did see him and stopped. He stopped
only for a moment and gazed earnestly in Walker's direction. Then he
went on again towards his own hut in the forest.
Walker made no attempt to follow him. "He has seen me," he thought.
"If he knows me he will come down to the river bank to-night."
Consequently, he made the black rowers camp a couple of hundred yards
down stream. He himself remained alone in his canoe.
The night fell moonless and black, and the enclosing forest made it
yet blacker. A few stars burned in the strip of sky above his head
like gold spangles on a strip of black velvet. Those stars and the
glimmering of the clay bank to which the boat was moored were the
only lights which Walker had. It was as dark as the night when Walker
waited for Hatteras at the wicket-gate.
He placed his gun and a pouch of cartridges on one side, an unlighted
lantern on the other, and then he took up his banjo and again he
waited. He waited for a couple of hours, until a light crackle as of
twigs snapping came to him out of the forest. Walker struck a chord on
his banjo and played a hymn tune. He played "Abide with me," thinking
that some picture of a home, of a Sunday evening in England's summer
time, perhaps of a group of girls singing about a piano might flash
into the darkened mind of the man upon the bank and draw him as with
cords. The music went tinkling up and down the river, but no one
spoke, no one moved upon the bank. So Walker changed the tune and
played a melody of the barrel organs and Piccadilly circus. He had not
played more than a dozen bars before he heard a sob from the bank and
then the sound of some one sliding down the clay. The next instant a
figure shone black against the clay. The boat lurched under the weight
of a foot upon the gunwale, and a man plumped down in front of Walker.
"Well, what is it?" asked Walker, as he laid down his banjo and felt
for a match in his pocket.
It seemed as though the words roused the man to a perception that he
had made a mistake. He said as much hurriedly in trade-English, and
sprang up as though he would leap from the boat. Walker caught hold of
"No, you don't," said he, "you must have meant to visit me. This isn't
Heally," and he jerked the man back into the bottom of the boat.
The man explained that he had paid a visit out of the purest
"You're the witch doctor, I suppose," said Walker. The other replied
that he was and proceeded to state that he was willing to give
information about much that made white men curious. He would explain
why it was of singular advantage to possess a white man's eyeball, and
how very advisable it was to kill any one you caught making Itung. The
danger of passing near a cotton-tree which had red earth at the roots
provided a subject which no prudent man should disregard; and Tando,
with his driver ants, was worth conciliating. The witch doctor was
prepared to explain to Walker how to conciliate Tando. Walker replied
that it was very kind of the witch doctor but Tando didn't really
worry him. He was, in fact, very much more worried by an inability to
understand how a native so high up the Ogowe River had learned how to
The witch doctor waved the question aside and remarked that Walker
must have enemies. "Pussim bad too much," he called them. "Pussim
woh-woh. Berrah well! Ah send grand Krau-Krau and dem pussim die one
time." Walker could not recollect for the moment any "pussim" whom
he wished to die one time, whether from grand Krau-Krau or any
other disease. "Wait a bit," he continued, "there is one man--Dick
Hatteras!" and he struck the match suddenly. The witch doctor started
forward as though to put it out. Walker, however, had the door of the
lantern open. He set the match to the wick of the candle and closed
the door fast. The witch doctor drew back. Walker lifted the lantern
and threw the light on his face. The witch doctor buried his face in
his hands and supported his elbows on his knees. Immediately Walker
darted forward a hand, seized the loose sleeve of the witch doctor's
coat and slipped it back along his arm to the elbow. It was the sleeve
of the right arm and there on the fleshy part of the forearm was the
scar of a bullet.
"Yes," said Walker. "By God, it is Dick Hatteras!"
"Well?" cried Hatteras, taking his hands from his face. "What the
devil made you turn-turn 'Tommy Atkins' on the banjo? Damn you!"
"Dick, I saw you this afternoon."
"I know, I know. Why on earth didn't you kill me that night in your
"I mean to make up for that mistake to-night!"
Walker took his rifle on to his knees. Hatteras saw the movement,
leaned forward quickly, snatched up the rifle, snatched up the
cartridges, thrust a couple of cartridges into the breech, and handed
the loaded rifle back to his old friend.
"That's right," he said. "I remember. There are some cases neither
God's law nor man's law has quite made provision for." And then he
stopped, with his finger on his lip. "Listen!" he said.
From the depths of the forest there came faintly, very sweetly the
sound of church-bells ringing--a peal of bells ringing at midnight in
the heart of West Africa. Walker was startled. The sound seemed fairy
work, so faint, so sweet was it.
"It's no fancy, Jim," said Hatteras, "I hear them every night and at
matins and at vespers. There was a Jesuit monastery here two hundred
years ago. The bells remain and some of the clothes." He touched his
coat as he spoke. "The Fans still ring the bells from habit. Just
think of it! Every morning, every evening, every midnight, I hear
those bells. They talk to me of little churches perched on hillsides
in the old country, of hawthorn lanes, and women--English women,
English girls, thousands of miles away--going along them to church.
God help me! Jim, have you got an English pipe?"
"Yes; an English briarwood and some bird's-eye."
Walker handed Hatteras his briarwood and his pouch of tobacco.
Hatteras filled the pipe, lit it at the lantern, and sucked at it
avidly for a moment. Then he gave a sigh and drew in the tobacco more
slowly, and yet more slowly.
"My wife?" he asked at last, in a low voice.
"She is in England. She thinks you dead."
"There's a jar of Scotch whiskey in the locker behind you," said
Walker. Hatteras turned round, lifted out the jar and a couple of tin
cups. He poured whiskey into each and handed one to Walker.
"No thanks," said Walker. "I don't think I will."
Hatteras looked at his companion for an instant. Then he emptied
deliberately both cups over the side of the boat. Next he took the
pipe from his lips. The tobacco was not half consumed. He poised the
pipe for a little in his hand. Then he blew into the bowl and watched
the dull red glow kindle into sparks of flame as he blew. Very slowly
he tapped the bowl against the thwart of the boat until the burning
tobacco fell with a hiss into the water. He laid the pipe gently down
and stood up.
"So long, old man," he said, and sprang out on to the clay. Walker
turned the lantern until the light made a disc upon the bank.
"Good bye, Jim," said Hatteras, and he climbed up the bank until he
stood in the light of the lantern. Twice Walker raised the rifle to
his shoulder, twice he lowered it. Then he remembered that Hatteras
and he had been at school together.
"Good bye, Dicky," he cried, and fired. Hatteras tumbled down to the
boat-side. The blacks down-river were roused by the shot. Walker
shouted to them to stay where they were, and as soon as their camp was
quiet he stepped on shore. He filled up the whiskey jar with water,
tied it to Hatteras' feet, shook his hand, and pushed the body into
the river. The next morning he started back to Fernan Vaz.
THE PRINCESS JOCELIANDE.
The truth concerning the downfall of the Princess Joceliande has never
as yet been honestly inscribed. Doubtless there be few alive except
myself that know it; for from the beginning many strange and insidious
rumours were set about to account for her mishap, whereby great damage
was done to the memory of the Sieur Rudel le Malaise and Solita his
wife; and afterwards these rumours were so embroidered and painted by
rhymesters that the truth has become, as you might say, doubly lost.
For minstrels take more thought of tickling the fancies of those to
whom they sing with joyous and gallant histories than of their high
craft and office, and hence it is that though many and various
accounts are told to this day throughout the country-side by
grandsires at their winter hearths, not one of them has so much as a
grain of verity. They are but rude and homely versions of the chaunts
And yet the truth is sweet and pitiful enough to furnish forth a song,
were our bards so minded. Howbeit, I will set it down here in simple
prose; for so my duty to the Sieur Rudel bids me, and, moreover, 'twas
from this event his wanderings began wherein for twenty years I bare
And let none gainsay my story, for that I was not my master's servant
at the time, and saw not the truth with mine own eyes. I had it from
the Sieur Rudel's lips, and more than once when he was vexed at the
aspersions thrown upon his name. But he was ever proud, as befitted so
knightly a gentleman, and deigned not to argue or plead his honour
to the world, but only with his sword. Thus, then, it falls to me to
right him as skilfully as I may. Though, alas! I fear my skill is
little worth, and calumnies are ever fresh to the palate, while truth
needs the sauce of a bright fancy to command it.
These columnies have assuredly gained some credit, because with ladies
my lord was ever blithe and _debonnaire_. That he loved many I do not
deny; but while he loved, he loved right loyally, and, indeed, it is
no small honour to be loved by a man of so much worship, even for
a little--the which many women thought also, and those amongst the
fairest. And I doubt not that as long as she lived, he loved his wife
Solita no less ardently than those with whom he fell in after she had
most unfortunately died.
The Sieur Rudel was born within the castle of Princess Joceliande,
and there grew to childhood and from childhood to youth, being ever
entreated with great amity and love for his own no less than for his
father's sake. Though of a slight and delicate figure, he excelled in
all manly exercises and sports and in venery and hawking. There was
not one about the court that could equal him. Books too he read, and
in many languages, labouring at philosophies and logics, so that had
you but heard him speak, and not marked the hardihood of his limbs
and his open face, you might have believed you were listening to some
In the tenth year of his age came Solita to the castle, whence no man
knew, nor could they ever learn more than this, that she sailed out of
the grey mists of a November morning to our bleak Brittany coast in a
white-painted boat. A fisherman drew the boat to land, perceiving
it when he was casting his nets, and found a woman-child therein,
cushioned upon white satin; and marvelling much at the richness of her
purveyance, for even the sail of the boat was of white silk, he bore
her straightway to the castle. And the abbot took her and baptised her
and gave her Sola for a name. "For," said he, "she hath come alone and
none knoweth her parentage or place." In time she grew to exceeding
beauty, with fair hair clustering like finest silk above her temples
and curling waywardly about her throat; wondrous fair she was and
white, shaming the snowdrops, so that all men stopped and gazed at her
as she passed.
And the Princess Joceliande, perceiving her, joined her to the company
of her hand-maidens and took great delight in her for her modesty and
beauty, so that at last she changed her name. "Sola have you been
called till now," she said, "but henceforth shall your name be Solita,
as who shall say 'you have become my wont.'"
Meanwhile the Sieur Rudel was advanced from honour to honour, until
he stood ever at the right hand of the Princess, and ruled over her
kingdom as her chancellor and vicegerent. Her enemies he conquered and
added their lands and sovereignties to hers, until of all the kings
in those parts, none had such power and dominions as the Princess
Joceliande. Many ladies, you may believe, cast fond eyes on him, and
dropped their gauntlet that he might bend to them upon his knee and
pick it up, but his heart they could not bend, strive how they might,
and to each and all he showed the same courtesy and gentleness. For
he had seen the maiden Solita, and of an evening when the Court was
feasting in the hall and the music of harps rippled sweetly in
the ears, he would slip from the table as one that was busied in
statecraft, and in company with Solita pace the terrace in the dark,
beneath the lighted windows. Yet neither spoke of love, though loving
was their intercourse. Solita for that her modesty withheld her, and
she feared even to hope that so great a lord should give his heart to
her keeping; Rudel because he had not achieved enough to merit she
should love him. "In a little," he would mutter, "in a little! One
more thing must I do, and then will I claim my guerdon of the Princess
Now this one more thing was the highest and most dangerous emprise of
all that he had undertaken. Beyond the confines of the kingdom there
dwelt a great horde of men that had come to Brittany from the East
in many deep ships and had settled upon the coast, whence they
would embark and, travelling hard by the land, burn and ravage the
sea-borders for many days.
Against these did the Sieur Rudel make war, and gathering the nobles
and yeomen he mustered them in boats and prepared to sail forth to
what he believed was the last of his adventures, knowing not that it
was indeed but the beginning. And to the princess he said: "Lady, I
have served you faithfully, as a gentleman should serve his queen.
From nothing have I drawn back that could establish or increase you.
Therefore when I get me home again, one boon will I ask of you, and I
pray you of your mercy grant it me."
"I will well," replied the princess. "For such loyal service hath no
queen known before--nay, not even Dame Helen among the Trojans."
So right gladly did the Sieur Rudel depart from her, and down he
walked among the sandhills, where he found Solita standing in a hollow
in the midst of a cloud of sand which the sharp wind whirled about
her. Nothing she said to him, but she stood with downcast head and
eyes that stung with tears.
"Solita," said he, "the Princess hath granted me such boon as I may
ask on my return. What say you?"
And she answered in a low voice. "Who am I, my lord, that I should
oppose the will of the princess? A nameless maiden, meet only to yoke
with a nameless yeoman!"
At that the Sieur Rudel laughed and said, "Look you into a mirror,
sweet! and your face will gainsay your words."
She lifted her eyes to his and the light came into them again, so that
they danced behind the tears, and Rudel clipped her about the waist
for all that he had not as yet merited her, and kissed her upon the
lips and the forehead and upon her white hands and wrists.
But she, gazing past his head, saw the blowing sands beyond and the
armed men in the boats upon the sea, and "O, Rudel, my sweet lord!"
she cried, "never till this moment did I know how barren and lonely
was the coast. Come back, and that soon--for of a truth I dread to be
"In God's good time and if so He will, I will come back, and from the
moment of my coming I will never again depart from you."
"Promise me that!" she said, clinging to him with her arms twined
about his neck, and he promised her, and so, comforting her a little
more, he got him into his boat and sailed away upon his errand.
But of all this, the Princess Joceliande knew nothing. From her
balcony in the castle she saw the Sieur Rudel sail forth. He stood
upon the poop, the wind blowing the hair back from his face, and as
she watched his straight figure, she said, "A boon he shall ask, but
a greater will I grant. Surely no man ever did such loyal service but
for love, and for love's sake, he shall share my throne with me." With
that she wept a little for fear he might be slain or ever he should
return; but she remembered from how many noble exploits he had come
scatheless, and so taking heart once more she fell to thinking of his
black locks and clear olive face and darkly shining eyes. For, in
truth, these outward qualities did more enthral and delight her than
his most loyal services.
But for the maiden Solita, she got her back to her chamber and,
remembering her lord's advice, spied about for a mirror. No mirror,
however, did she possess, having never used aught else but a basin of
clear water, and till now found it all-sufficient, so little curious
had she been concerning the whiteness of her beauty. Thereupon she
thought for a little, and unbinding her hair so that it fell to her
feet in a golden cloud, hied her to Joceliande, who bade her take a
book of chivalry and read aloud. But Solita so bent her head that her
hair fell ever across the pages and hindered her from reading, and
each time she put it roughly back from her forehead with some small
word of anger as though she was vexed.
"What ails you, child?" asked the princess.
"It is my hair," replied Solita. But the princess paid no heed. She
heard little, indeed, even of what was read, but sat by the window
gazing out across the grey hungry sea, and bethinking her of the Sieur
Rudel and his gallant men. And again Solita let her hair fall upon the
scroll, and again she tossed it back, saying, "Fie! Fie!"
"What ails you, child?" the princess asked.
"It is my hair," she replied, and Joceliande, smiling heedlessly, bade
her read on. So she read until Joceliande bade her stop and called to
her, and Solita came over to the window and knelt by the side of the
princess, so that her hair fell across the wrist of Joceliande and
fettered it. "It _is_ ever in the way," said Solita, and she loosed
it from the wrist of the princess. But the princess caught the silky
coils within her hand and smoothed them tenderly. "That were easily
remedied," she replied with a smile, and she sought for the scissors
which hung at her girdle.
But Solita bethought her that many men had praised the colour and
softness of her hair--why, she could not tell, for dark locks alone
were beautiful in her eyes. Howbeit men praised hers, and for Sieur
Rudel's sake she would fain be as praiseworthy as might be. Therefore
she stayed Joceliande's hand and cried aloud in fear, "Nay, nay, sweet
lady, 'tis all the gold I have, and I pray you leave it me who am so
And the Princess Joceliande laughed, and replaced the scissors in her
girdle. "I did but make pretence, to try you," she said, "for, in
truth, I had begun to think you were some holy angel and no woman, so
little share had you in a woman's vanities. But 'tis all unbound, and
I wonder not that it hinders you. Let me bind it up!"
And while the princess bound the hair cunningly in a coronal upon her
head, Solita spake again hesitatingly, seeking to conceal her craft.
"Madame, it is easy for you to bind my hair, but for myself, I have no
mirror and so dress it awkwardly."
Joceliande laughed again merrily at the words. "Dear heart!" she
cried. "What man is it? Hast discovered thou art a woman after all?
First thou fearest for thy hair, and now thou askest a mirror. But in
truth I like thee the better for thy discovery." And she kissed Solita
very heartily, who blushed that her secret was so readily found out,
and felt no small shame at her lack of subtlety. For many ladies, she
knew, had secrets--ay, even from their bosom lords and masters---and
kept them without effort in the subterfuge, whereas she, poor fool,
betrayed hers at the first word.
"And what man is it?" laughed the princess. "For there is not one
that deserves thee, as thou shalt judge for thyself." Whereupon she
summoned one of her servants and bade him place a mirror in the
bed-chamber of Solita, wherein she might see herself from top to toe.
"Art content?" she asked. "Thus shalt thou see thyself, without
blemish or fault even for this crown of hair to the heel of thy foot.
But I fear me the sight will change all thy thoughts and incline thee
to scorn of thy suitor."
Then she stood for a little watching the sunlight play upon the golden
head and pry into the soft shadows of the curls, and her face saddened
and her voice faltered.
"But what of me, Solita?" she said. "All men give me reverence, not
one knows me for a woman. I crave the bread of love, all day long I
hunger for it, but they offer me the polished stones of courtesy and
respect, and so I starve slowly to my death. What of me, Solita? What
But Solita made reply, soothing her:
"Madame," she said, "all your servants love you, but it beseems them
not to flaunt it before your face, so high are you placed above them.
You order their fortunes and their lives, and surely 'tis nobler work
than meddling with this idle love-prattle."
"Nay," replied the princess, laughing in despite of her heaviness,
for she noted how the blush on Solita's cheek belied the scorn of her
tongue. "There spoke the saint, and I will hear no more from her now
that I have found the woman. Tell me, did he kiss you?"
And Solita blushed yet more deeply, so that even her neck down to her
shoulders grew rosy, and once or twice she nodded her head, for her
lips would not speak the word.
Then Joceliande sighed to herself and said--
"And yet, perchance, he would not die for you, whereas men die for
me daily, and from mere obedience. How is he called?"
"Madame," she replied, "I may not tell you, for all my pride in
him. 'Twill be for my lord to answer you in his good time. But
that he would die for me, if need there were, I have no doubt. For
I have looked into his eyes and read his soul."
So she spake with much spirit, upholding Sieur Rudel; but Joceliande
was sorely grieved for that Solita would not trust her with her
lover's name, and answered bitterly:
"And his soul which you did see was doubtless your own image. And
thus it will be with the next maiden who looks into his eyes. Her
own image will she see, and she will go away calling it his soul,
and not knowing, poor fool, that it has already faded from his
At this Solita kept silence, deeming it unnecessary to make reply. It
might be as the princess said with other men and other women, but the
Sieur Rudel had no likeness to other men, and in possessing the Sieur
Rudel's love she was far removed from other women. Therefore did she
keep silence, but Joceliande fancied that she was troubled by the
words which she had spoken, and straightway repented her of them.
"Nay, child," she said, and she laid her hand again upon Solita's
head. "Take not the speech to heart. 'Tis but the plaint of a woman
whose hair is withered from its brightness and who grows peevish in
her loneliness. But open your mind to me, for you have twined about my
heart even as your curls did but now twine and coil about my wrist,
and the more for this pretty vanity of yours. Therefore tell me his
name, that I may advance him."
But once more Solita did fob her off, and the princess would no longer
question her, but turned her wearily to the window.
"All day long," she said, "I listen to soft speeches and honeyed
tongues, and all night long I listen to the breakers booming upon the
sands, and in truth I wot not which sound is the more hollow."
Such was the melancholy and sadness of her voice that the tears
sprang into Solita's eyes and ran down her cheeks for very pity of
"Think not I fail in love to you, sweet princess," she cried. "But I
may not tell you, though I would be blithe and proud to name him. But
'tis for him to claim me of you, and I must needs wait his time."
But Joceliande would not be comforted, and chiding her roughly, sent
her to her chamber. So Solita departed out of her sight, her heart
heavy with a great pity, though little she understood of Joceliande's
distress. For this she could not know: that at the sight of her white
beauty the Princess Joceliande was ashamed.
And coming into her chamber, Solita beheld the mirror ranged against
the wall, and long she stood before it, being much comforted by the
image which she saw. From that day ever she watched the ladies of the
court, noting jealously if any might be more fair than she whom Sieur
Rudel had chosen; and often of a night when she was troubled by the
aspect of some fair and delicate new-comer, she would rise from her
couch and light a taper, and so gaze at herself until the fear of her
unworthiness diminished. For there were none that could compare with
her in daintiness and fair looks ever came to the castle of the
But of the Sieur Rudel, though oft she thought, she never spake,
biding his good time, and the princess questioned her in vain. For
she, whose heart hitherto had lain plain to see, like a pebble in a
clear brook of water, had now learnt all the sweet cunning of love's
Thus the time drew on towards the Sieur Rudel's home-coming, and ever
the twain looked out across the sea for the black boats to round the
bluff and take the beach--Joceliande from her balcony, Solita from the
window of her little chamber in the tower; and each night the princess
gave orders to light a beacon on the highest headland that the
wayfarers might steer safely down that red path across the tumbling
So it fell that one night both ladies beheld two ships swim to the
shore, and each made dolorous moan, seeing how few of the goodly
company that sailed forth had got them home again, and wondering in
sore distress whether Rudel had returned with them or no.
But in a little there came a servant to the princess and told of one
Sir Broyance de Mille-Faits, a messenger from the neighbouring kingdom
of Broye, that implored instant speech with her. And being admitted
before all the Court assembled in the great hall, he fell upon his
knees at the foot of the princess, and, making his obeisance, said--
"Fair Lady Joceliande, I crave a boon, and I pray you of your
gentleness to grant it me."
"But what boon, good Sir Broyance?" replied the princess. "I know
you for a true and loyal gentleman who has ever been welcome at my
castle. Speak, then, your need, and if so be I may, you shall find
me complaisant to your request."
Thereupon, Sir Broyance took heart and said:
"Since our king died, God rest his soul, there has been no peace
or quiet in our kingdom of Broye. 'Tis rent with strife and
factions, so that no man may dwell in it but he must fight from
morn to night, and withal win no rest for the morrow. The king's
three sons contend for the throne, and meanwhile is the country
eaten up. Therefore am I sent by many, and those our chiefest
gentlemen, to ask you to send us Sieur Rudel, that he may quell
these conflicts and rule over us as our king."
So Sir Broyance spake and was silent, and a great murmur and
acclamation rose about the hall for that the Sieur Rudel was held
in such honour and worship even beyond his own country. But for the
Princess Joceliande, she sat with downcast head, and for a while
vouchsafed no reply. For her heart was sore at the thought that Sieur
Rudel should go from her.
"There is much danger in the adventure," she said at length,
"Were there no danger, madame," he replied, "we should not ask Sieur
Rudel of you to be our leader, and great though the danger be, greater
far is the honour. For we offer him a kingdom."
Then the princess spake again to Sir Broyance:
"It may not be," she said. "Whatever else you crave, that shall you
have, and gladly will I grant it you. But the Sieur Rudel is the
flower of our Court, he stands ever at my right hand, and woe is me if
I let him go, for I am only a woman."
"But, madame, for his knighthood's sake, I pray you assent to our
prayer," said Sir Broyance. "Few enemies have you, but many friends,
whereas we are sore pressed on every side."
But the princess repeated: "I am only a woman," and for a long while
he made his prayer in vain.
At last, however, the princess said:
"For his knighthood's sake thus far will I yield to you: Bide here
within my castle until Sieur Rudel gets him home, and then shall you
make your prayer to him, and by his answer will I be bound."
"That I will well," replied Sir Broyance, bethinking him of the Sieur
Rudel's valour, and how that he had a kingdom to proffer to him.
But the Princess Joceliande said to herself:
"I, too, will offer him a kingdom. My throne shall he share with me;"
and so she entertained Sir Broyance right pleasantly until the Sieur
Rudel should get him back from the foray. Meanwhile she would say
to Solita, "He shall not go to Broye, for in truth I need him;" and
Solita would laugh happily, replying, "It is truth: he will not go to
Broye," and thinking thereto silently, "but it is not the princess who
will keep him, but even I, her poor handmaiden. For I have his promise
never to depart from me." So much confidence had her mirror taught
her, as it ever is with women.
But despite them both did the Sieur Rudel voyage to Broye and rule
over the kingdom as its king, and how that came about ye shall hear.
Now on the fourth day after the coming of Sir Broyance, the Princess
Joceliande was leaning over the baluster of her balcony and gazing
seawards as was her wont. The hours had drawn towards evening, and the
sun stood like a glowing wheel upon the farthest edge of the sea's
grey floor, when she beheld a black speck crawl across its globe, and
then another and another, to the number of thirty. Thereupon, she
knew that the Sieur Rudel had returned, and joyfully she summoned her
tirewomen and bade them coif and robe her as befitted a princess.
A coronet of gold and rubies they set upon her head, and a robe of
purple they hung about her shoulders. With pearls they laced her neck
and her arms, and with pearls they shod her feet, and when she saw the
ships riding at their anchorage, and the Sieur Rudel step forth amid
the shouts of the sailors, then she hied her to the council-chamber
and prepared to give him instant audience. Yet for all her jewels and
rich attire, she trembled like a common wench at the approach of her
lover, and feared that the loud beating of her heart would drown the
sound of his footsteps in the passage.
But the Sieur Rudel came not, and she sent a messenger to inquire why
he tarried, and the messenger brought word and said:
"He is with the maiden Solita in the tower."
Then the princess stumbled as though she were about to fall, and her
women came about her. But she waved them back with her hand, and so
stood shivering for a little. "The night blows cold," she said; "I
would the lamps were lit." And when her servants had lighted the
council-chamber, she sent yet another messenger to Sieur Rudel,
bidding him instantly come to her, and waited in great bitterness of
spirit. For she remembered how that she had promised to grant him the
boon that he should ask, and much she feared that she knew what that
Now leave we the Princess Joceliande, and hie before her messenger to
the chamber of Solita. No pearls or purple robes had she to clad her
beauty in, but a simple gown of white wool fastened with a silver
girdle about the waist, and her hair she loosed so that it rippled
down her shoulders and nestled round her ears and face.
Thither the Sieur Rudel came straight from the sea, and--
"Love," he said, kissing her, "it has been a weary waste of days and
nights, and yet more weary for thee than for me. For stern work was
there ever to my hand--ay, and well-nigh more than I could do; but for
thee nought but to wait."
"Yet, my dear lord," she replied, "the princess did give me this
mirror, wherein I could see myself from top to toe, and a great
comfort has it been to me."
So she spake, and the messenger from the princess brake in upon them,
bidding the Sieur Rudel hasten to the council-chamber, for that the
Princess Joceliande waited this long while for his coming.
"Now will I ask for the fulfilment of her promise," said Rudel to
Solita, "and to-night, sweet, I will claim thee before the whole
Court." With that he got him from the chamber and, following the
messenger, came to where the princess awaited him.
"Madame," he said, "good tidings! By God's grace we have won the
victory over your enemies. Never again will they buzz like wasps about
your coasts, but from this day forth they will pay you yearly truage."
"Sir," she replied, rebuking him shrewdly, "indeed you bring me good
tidings, but you bring them over-late. For here have I tarried for you
this long while, and it beseems neither you nor me."
"Madame," he answered, "I pray you acquit me of the fault and lay the
blame on Love. For when sweet Cupid thrones a second queen in one's
heart beside the first, what wonder that a man forgets his duty? And
now I would that of your gentleness you would grant me your maiden
Solita for wife."
"That I may not," returned Joceliande, stricken to the soul at that
image of a second queen. "A nameless child, and my handmaiden! Sieur
Rudel, it befits a man to look above him for a wife."
"And that, madame," he answered, "in very truth I do. Moreover, though
no man knows Solita's parentage and place, yet must she be of gentle
nurture, else had there been no silk sail to float her hitherwards;
and so much it liketh you to grant my boon, for God's love, I pray
you, hold your promise."
Thereupon was the princess sore distressed for that she had given her
promise. Howbeit she said: "Since it is so, and since my maiden Solita
is the boon you crave, I give her to you;" and so dismissed the Sieur
Rudel from her presence, and getting her back to her chamber, made
moan out of all measure.
"Lord Jesu," she cried, "of all my kingdom and barony, but one thing
did I hunger for and covet, and that one thing this child, whom of my
kindness I loved and fostered, hath traitorously robbed me of! Why did
I take her from the sea?"
So she wept for a great while, until she bethought her of a remedy.
Then she wiped her tears and gave order that Sir Broyance should come
to her. To him she said: "To-night at the high feast you shall make
your prayer to the Lord Rudel, and I myself will join with you, so
that he shall become your leader and rule over you as king."
So she spake, thinking that when the Sieur Rudel had departed, she
would privily put Solita to death--openly she dared not do it, for the
great love the nobles bore towards Rudel--and when Solita was dead,
then would she send again for Rudel and share her siege with him. Sir
Broyance, as ye may believe, was right glad at her words, and made him
ready for the feast. Hither, when the company was assembled, came the
Sieur Rudel, clad in a green tunic edged with fur of a white fox, and
a chain set with stones of great virtue about his neck. His hose were
green and of the finest silk, and on his feet he wore shoes of white
doeskin, and the latchets were of gold. So he came into the hall, and
seeing him thus gaily attired with all his harness off, much did all
marvel at his knightly prowess. For in truth he looked more like some
tender minstrel than a gallant warrior. Then up rose Sir Broyance and
"From the kingdom of Broye the nobles send greeting to the Sieur
Rudel, and a message."
And with that he set forth his errand and request; but the Sieur Rudel
laughed and answered:
"Sir Broyance, great honour you do me, and so, I pray, tell your
countrymen of Broye. But never more will I draw sword or feuter spear,
for this day hath the Princess Joceliande granted me her maiden Solita
for wife, and by her side I will bide till death."
Thereupon rose a great murmur of astonishment within the hall, the men
lamenting that the Sieur Rudel would lead them no more to battle, and
the women marvelling to each other that he should choose so mean a
thing as Solita for wife. But Sir Broyance said never a word, but got
him from the table and out of the hall, so that the company marvelled
yet more for that he had not sought to persuade the Sieur Rudel. Then
said the Princess Joceliande, and greatly was she angered both against
Solita and Rudel:
"Fie, my lord! shame on you; you forget your knighthood!"
And he replied, "My knighthood, your highness, had but one use, and
that to win my sweet Solita."
Wherefore was Joceliande's heart yet hotter against the twain, and she
"Nay, but it is on us that the shame of your cowardice will fall. Even
now Sir Broyance left our hall in anger and scorn. It may not be that
our chiefest noble shall so disgrace us."
But Sieur Rudel laughed lightly, and answered her:
"Madame, full oft have I jeopardised my life in your good cause, and I
fear no charge of cowardice more than I fear thistle-down."
His words did but increase the fury of the princess, and she brake out
in most bitter speech:
"Nay, but it is a kitchen knave we have been honouring unawares, and
bidding sit with us at table!"
And straightway she called to her servants and bade them fetch the
warden of the castle with the fetters. But the Sieur Rudel laughed
again, and said:
"Thus it will be impossible that I leave my dear Solita and voyage
perilously to Broye."
Nor any effort or resistance did he make, but lightly suffered them
to fetter him, the while the princess most foully mis-said him. With
fetters they prisoned his feet, and manacles they straitly fastened
about his wrists, and they bound him to a pillar in the hall by a
chain about his middle.
"There shall you bide," she said, "in shameful bonds until you make
promise to voyage forth to Broye. For surely there is nothing so vile
in all this world as a craven gentleman."
With that she turned her again to the feast, though little heart she
had thereto. But the Sieur Rudel was well content; for not for all
the honour in Christendom would he break his word to his dear Solita.
Howbeit, the nobles were ever urgent that the princess should set him
free, pleading the worshipful deeds he had accomplished in her cause.
But to none of them would she hearken, and the fair gentle ladies of
the Court greatly applauded her for her persistence--and especially
those who had erstwhile dropped their gauntlets that Rudel might bend
and pick them up. And many pleasant jests they passed upon the Sieur
Rudel, bidding him dance with them, since he was loth to fight. But
he paid no heed to them, nor could they provoke him by any number of
taunts. Whereupon, being angered at his silence, they were fain to
send to Solita and make their sport with her.
But that Joceliande would not suffer, and, rising, she went to
Solita's chamber and entreated her most kindly, telling her that for
love of her the Sieur Rudel would not adventure himself at Broye. Not
a word did she say of how she had mistreated him, and Solita answered
her jocundly for that her lord had held his pledge with her. But when
the castle was still, the princess took Solita by the hand and led her
down the steps to where Rudel stood against the pillar in the dark
"For thy sake, sweet Solita," she said, "is he bound. For thy sake!"
and she made her feel the manacles upon his hands. And when Solita had
so felt his bonds, she wept, and made the greatest sorrow that ever
"Alas!" she cried, "that my dear lord should suffer in such straits.
In God's mercy, madame, I pray you let him go! Loyal service hath he
done for you, such as no other in the kingdom."
"Loyal service, I trow," replied the princess. "He hath brought such
shame upon my Court that for ever am I dishonoured. It may not be that
I let him go, without you give him back his word and bid him forth to
"And that will I never do," replied Solita, "for all your cruelty."
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