The Broad Highway
Part 6 out of 11
likewise very white, neither big nor little, a trifle wide, perhaps,
but with long, slender fingers. Presently, with a sudden gesture,
she raised her head and looked at me again--a long, searching look.
"Who are you?" she asked suddenly.
"My name," said I, "is Peter."
"Yes," she nodded, with her eyes still on mine.
"Peter--Smith," I went on, "and, by that same token, I am a
blacksmith--very humbly at your service."
"Peter--Smith!" she repeated, as though trying the sound of it,
hesitating at the surname exactly as I had done. "Peter--Smith!
--and mine is Charmian, Charmian--Brown." And here again was a
pause between the two names.
"Yours is a very beautiful name," said I, "especially the
"And yours," she retorted, "is a beautifully--ugly one!"
"Indeed, I quite agree with you," said I, rising, "and now, if I
may trouble you for the towel--thank you!" Forthwith I began to
dry my face as well as I might on account of my injured thumb,
while she watched me with a certain elusive merriment peeping
from her eyes, and quivering at me round her lips, an expression
half mocking, half amused, that I had seen there more than once
already. Wherefore, to hide from her my consciousness of this, I
fell to towelling myself vigorously, so much so, that, forgetting
the cut in my brow, I set it bleeding faster than ever.
"Oh, you are very clumsy!" she cried, springing up, and,
snatching the towel from me, she began to stanch the blood with
it. "If you will sit down, I will bind it up for you."
"Really, it is quite unnecessary," I demurred.
"Quite!" said she; "is there anything will serve as a bandage?"
"There is the towel!" I suggested.
"Not to be thought of!"
"Then you might tear a strip off the sheet," said I, nodding
towards the bed.
"Ridiculous!" said she, and proceeded to draw a handkerchief from
the bosom of her dress, and having folded it with great nicety
and moistened it in the bowl, she tied it about my temples.
Now, to do this, she had, perforce, to pass her, arms about my
neck, and this brought her so near that I could feel her breath
upon my lips, and there stole to me, out of her hair, or out of
her bosom, a perfume very sweet, that was like the fragrance of
violets at evening. But her hands were all too dexterous, and,
quicker than it takes to write, the bandage was tied, and she was
standing before me, straight and tall.
"There--that is more comfortable, isn't it?" she inquired, and
with the words she bestowed a final little pat to the bandage, a
touch so light--so ineffably gentle that it might almost have
been the hand of that long-dead mother whom I had never known.
"That is better, isn't it?" she demanded.
"Thank you--yes, very comfortable!" said I. But, as the word
left me, my glance, by accident, encountered the pistol near by,
and at sight of it a sudden anger came upon me, for I remembered
that, but for my intervention, this girl was a murderess;
wherefore, I would fain have destroyed the vile thing, and
reached for it impulsively, but she was before me, and snatching
up the weapon, hid it behind her as she had done once before.
"Give it to me," said I, frowning, "it is an accursed thing!"
"Yet it has been my friend to-night," she answered.
"Give it to me!" I repeated. She threw up her head, and regarded
me with a disdainful air, for my tone had been imperative.
"Come," said I, and held out my hand. So, for a while, we looked
into each other's eyes, then, all at once, she dropped the weapon
on the table, before me and turned her back to me.
"I think--" she began, speaking with her back still turned to me.
"Well?" said I.
"--that you have--"
"Yes?" said I.
"I am very sorry for that," said I, dropping the weapon out of
sight behind my row of books, having done which, I drew both
chairs nearer the fire, and invited her to sit down.
"Thank you, I prefer to stand," said she loftily.
"As you will," I answered, but, even while I spoke, she seemed to
change her mind, for she sank into the nearest chair, and, chin
in hand, stared into the fire.
"And so," said she, as I sat down opposite her, "and so your name
is Peter Smith, and you are a blacksmith?"
"Yes, a blacksmith."
"And make horseshoes?"
"And do you live here?"
"And how long have you lived here alone?"
"Not so long that I am tired of it."
"And is this cottage yours?"
"Yes--that is, it stands on the Sefton estates, I believe, but
nobody hereabouts would seem anxious to dispute my right of
occupying the place.
"Because it is generally supposed to be haunted."
"It was built by some wanderer of the roads," I explained, "a
stranger to these parts, who lived alone here, and eventually
died alone here."
"Hanged himself on the staple above the door, yonder."
"Oh!" said she again, and cast a fearful glance towards the
deep-driven, rusty staple.
"The country folk believe his spirit still haunts the place," I
went on, "and seldom, or never, venture foot within the Hollow."
"And are you not afraid of this ghost?"
"No," said I.
"It must be very lonely here."
"Are you so fond of solitude?"
"Yes, for solitude is thought, and to think is to live."
"And what did you do with the--pistol?"
"I dropped it out of sight behind my books yonder."
"I wonder why I gave it to you."
"Because, if you remember, I asked you for it."
"But I usually dislike doing what I am asked, and your manner
"You also objected to my eyes, I think?"
"Yes," she nodded.
"Hum!" said I.
The dark night, outside, was filled with malignant demons now, who
tore at the rattling casements, who roared and bellowed down the
chimney, or screamed furiously round the cottage; but here, in the
warm firelight, I heeded them not at all, watching, rather, this
woman, where she sat, leaned forward, gazing deep into the glow.
And where the light touched her hair it woke strange fires, red and
bronze. And it was very rebellious hair, with little tendrils that
gleamed, here and there, against her temples, and small, defiant
curls that seemed to strive to hide behind her ear, or, bold and
wanton, to kiss her snowy neck--out of sheer bravado.
As to her dress, I, little by little, became aware of two facts,
for whereas her gown was of a rough, coarse material such as
domestic servants wear, the stockinged foot that peeped at me
beneath its hem (her shoes were drying on the hearth) was clad in
a silk so fine that I could catch, through it, the gleam of the
white flesh beneath. From this apparent inconsistency I deduced
that she was of educated tastes, but poor--probably a governess,
or, more likely still, taking her hands into consideration, with
their long, prehensile fingers, a teacher of music, and was going
on to explain to myself her present situation as the outcome of
Beauty, Poverty, and the Devil, when she sighed, glanced toward
the door, shivered slightly, and reaching her shoes from the
hearth prepared to slip them on.
"They are still very wet!" said I deprecatingly.
"Yes," she answered.
"Listen to the wind!" said I.
"It is terribly high."
"And it rains very hard!" said I.
"Yes," and she shivered again.
"It will be bad travelling for any one to-night," said I.
Charmian stared into the fire.
"Indeed, it would be madness for the strongest to stir abroad on
such a night."
Charmian stared into the fire.
"What with the wind and the rain the roads would be utterly
impassable, not to mention the risks of falling trees or
Charmian shivered again.
"And the inns are all shut, long ago; to stir out, therefore,
would be the purest folly."
Charmian stared into the fire.
"On the other hand, here are a warm room, a good fire, and a very
She neither spoke nor moved, only her eyes were raised suddenly
and swiftly to mine.
"Also," I continued, returning her look, "here, most convenient
to your hand, is a fine sharp knife, in case you are afraid of
the ghost or any other midnight visitant and so--good night,
madam!" Saying which, I took up one of the candles and crossed
to the door of that room--which had once been Donald's, but here
I paused to glance back at her. "Furthermore," said I, snuffing
my candle with great nicety, "madam need have no further qualms
regarding the color of my hair and eyes--none whatever."
Whereupon I bowed somewhat stiffly on account of my bruises, and,
going into my chamber, closed the door behind me.
Having made the bed (for since Donald's departure I had occupied
my two beds alternately) I undressed slowly, for my thumb was
very painful; also I paused frequently to catch the sound of the
light, quick footstep beyond the door, and the whisper of her
garments as she walked.
"Charmian!" said I to myself when at length all was still,
"Charmian!" And I blew out my candle.
Outside, the souls of the unnumbered dead still rode the storm,
and the world was filled with their woeful lamentation. But, as
I lay in the dark, there came to me a faint perfume as of violets
at evening-time, elusive and very sweet, breathing of Charmian
herself; and putting up my hand, I touched the handkerchief that
bound my brow.
"Charmian!" said I to myself again, and so, fell asleep.
IN WHICH I HEAR ILL NEWS OF GEORGE
The sun was pouring in at my lattice when I awoke next morning to
a general soreness of body that at first puzzled me to account
for. But as I lay in that delicious state between sleeping and
waking, I became aware of a faint, sweet perfume; and, turning my
head, espied a handkerchief upon the pillow beside me. And
immediately I came to my elbow, with my eyes directed to the
door, for now indeed I remembered all, and beyond that door,
sleeping or waking, lay a woman.
In the early morning things are apt to lose something of the
glamour that was theirs over night; thus I remained propped upon
my elbow, gazing apprehensively at the door, and with my ears on
the stretch, hearkening for any movement from the room beyond
that should tell me she was up. But I heard only the early
chorus of the birds and the gurgle of the brook, swollen with
last night's rain. In a while I rose and began to dress somewhat
awkwardly, on account of my thumb, yet with rather more than my
usual care, stopping occasionally to hear if she was yet astir.
Being at last fully dressed, I sat down to wait until I should
hear her footstep. But I listened vainly, for minute after
minute elapsed until, rising at length, I knocked softly. And
having knocked thrice, each time louder than before, without
effect, I lifted the latch and opened the door.
My first glance showed me that the bed had never even been slept
in, and that save for myself the place was empty. And yet the
breakfast-table had been neatly set, though with but one cup and
Now, beside this cup and saucer was one of my few books, and
picking it up, I saw that it was my Virgil. Upon the fly-leaf,
at which it was open, I had, years ago, scrawled my name thus:
But lo! close under this, written in a fine Italian hand, were
the following words:
"To Peter Smith, Esq. [the "Smith" underlined]
Blacksmith. Charmian Brown ["Brown" likewise
underlined] desires to thank Mr. Smith, yet
because thanks are so poor and small, and his
service so great, needs must she remember him
as a gentleman, yet oftener as a blacksmith,
and most of all, as a man. Charmian Brown
begs him to accept this little trinket in
memory of her; it is all she has to offer him.
He may also keep her handkerchief."
Upon the table, on the very spot where the book had lain, was a
gold heart-shaped locket, very quaint and old-fashioned, upon one
side of which was engraved the following posy:
"Hee who myne heart would keepe for long
Shall be a gentil man and strong."
Attached to the locket was a narrow blue riband, wherefore,
passing this riband over my head, I hung the locket about my
neck. And having read through the message once more, I closed
the Virgil, and, replacing it on the shelf, set about brewing a
cup of tea, and so presently sat down to breakfast.
I had scarcely done so, however, when there came a timid knock at
the door, whereat I rose expectantly, and immediately sat down
"Come in!" said I. The latch was slowly raised, the door swung
open, and the Ancient appeared. If I was surprised to see him at
such an hour, he was even more so, for, at sight of me, his mouth
opened, and he stood staring speechlessly, leaning upon his stick.
"Why, Ancient," said I, "you are early abroad this morning!"
"Lord!" he exclaimed, scarcely above a whisper.
"Come in and sit down," said I.
"Lord! Lord!" he murmured, "an' a-satin' 'is breakfus' tu.
"Yes," I nodded, "and, such as it is, you are heartily welcome to
share it--sit down," and I drew up my other chair.
"A-eatin' 'is breakfus' as ever was!" repeated the old man,
"And why not, Ancient?"
"Why not?" he repeated disdainfully. "'Cause breakfus' can't be
ate by a corp', can it?"
"A corpse, Ancient; what do you mean?"
"I means as a corp' aren't got no right to eat a breakfus'--no!"
"Why, I--no, certainly not."
"Consequently, you aren't a corp', you'll be tellin me."
"I?--no, not yet, God be thanked!"
"Peter," said the Ancient, shaking his head, and mopping his brow
with a corner of his neckerchief, "you du be forever a-givin' of
me turns, that ye du."
"Do I, Ancient?"
"Ay--that ye du, an' me such a aged man tu--such a very aged man.
I wonders at ye, Peter, an' me wi' my white 'airs--oh, I wonders
at ye!" said he, sinking into the chair I had placed for him and
regarding me with a stern, reproving eye.
"If you will tell me what I have been guilty of--" I began.
"I come down 'ere, Peter--so early as it be, to--I come down 'ere
to look for your corp', arter the storm an' what 'appened last
night. I comes down 'ere, and what does I find?--I finds ye
a-eatin' your breakfus'--just as if theer never 'adn't been no
storm at all--no, nor nothin' else."
"I'm sure," said I, pouring out a second cup of tea, "I'm sure I
would sooner you should find my corpse than any one else, and am
sorry to have disappointed you again, but really, Ancient--"
"Oh, it aren't the disapp'intment, Peter--I found one corp', an'
that's enough, I suppose, for an aged man like me--no, it aren't
that--it's findin' ye eatin' your breakfus'--just as if theer 'ad
'adn't been no storm--no, nor yet no devil, wi' 'orns an' a tail,
a-runnin' up an' down in the 'Oller 'ere, an' a-roarin' an'
a-bellerin', as John Pringle said, last night."
"Ah! and what else did John Pringle say?" I inquired, setting
down my cup.
"Why, 'e come into 'The Bull' all wet an' wild-like, an' wi' 'is
two eyes a-stickin' out like gooseberries! 'E comes a-bustin'
into the 'tap'--an' never says a word till 'e's emptied Old
Amos's tankard--that bein' nighest. Then--'By Goles!' says 'e,
lookin' round on us all, 'by Goles! I jest seen the ghost!'
'Ghost!' says all on us, sittin' up, ye may be sure, Peter.
'Ay,' says John, lookin' over 'is shoulder, scared-like, 'seed
un wi' my two eyes, I did, an' what's more, I heerd un tu!'
'Wheer?' says all on us, beginnin' to look over our shoulders
likewise. 'Wheer?' says John, 'wheer should I see un but in that
theer ghashly 'Oller. I see a light, fust of all, a-leapin' an'
a-dancin' about 'mong the trees--ah! an' I 'eerd shouts as was
enough to curdle a man's good blood.' 'Pooh! what's lights?'
says Joel Amos, cockin' 'is eye into 'is empty tankard; 'that
bean't much to frighten a man, no, nor shouts neither.' 'Aren't
it?' says John Pringle, fierce-like; 'what if I tell ye the place
be full o' flamin' fire--what if I tell ye I see the devil
'isself, all smoke, an' sparks, an' brimston' a-floatin' an'
a-flyin', an' draggin' a body through the tops o' the trees?'
'Lord!' says everybody, an' well they might, Peter, an' nobody
says nothin' for a while. 'I wonder,' says Joel Amos at last, 'I
wonder who 'e was a-draggin' through the tops o' the trees--an'
why?' 'That'll be poor Peter bein' took away,' says I, 'I'll go
an' find the poor lad's corp' in the mornin'--an' 'ere I be."
"And you find me not dead, after all your trouble," said I.
"If," said the Ancient, sighing, "if your arms was broke, or your
legs was broke, now--or if your 'air was singed, or your face all
burned an' blackened wi' sulphur, I could ha' took it kinder;
but to find ye a-sittin' eatin' an' drinkin'--it aren't what I
expected of ye, Peter, no." Shaking his head moodily, he took
from his hat his neverfailing snuff-box, but, having extracted a
pinch, paused suddenly in the act of inhaling it, to stare at me
very hard. "But," said he, in a more hopeful tone, "but your
face be all bruised an' swole up, to be sure, Peter."
"Is it, Ancient?"
"Ah! that it be--that it be," he cried, his eyes brightening,
"an' your thumb all bandaged tu."
"Why, so it is, Ancient."
"An'--Peter--!" The pinch of snuff fell, and made a little brown
cloud on the snow of his smock-frock as he rose, trembling, and
leaned towards me, across the table.
"Yes--what of it?"
"It--be all marked--scratched it be--tore, as if--as if--claws
'ad been at it, Peter, long--sharp claws!"
"Is it, Ancient?"
"Peter--oh, Peter!" said he, with a sudden quaver in his voice,
"who was it--what was it, Peter?" and he laid a beseeching hand
upon mine. "Peter!" His voice had sunk almost to a whisper, and
the hand plucked tremulously at my sleeve, while in the wrinkled
old face was, a, look of pitiful entreaty. "Oh, Peter! oh,
lad! 'twere Old Nick as done it--'twere the devil as done it,
weren't it--? oh! say 'twere the devil, Peter." And, seeing
that hoary head all a-twitch with eagerness as he waited my
answer, how could I do other than nod?
"Yes, it was the devil, Ancient." The old man subsided into his
chair; embracing himself exultantly.
"I knowed it! I knowed it!" he quavered. "'Twere the devil
flyin' off wi' Peter,' says I, an' they fules laughed at me,
Peter, ay, laughed at me they did, but they won't laugh at the
old man no more--not they; old I be, but they won't laugh at me
no more, not when they see your face an' I tell 'em." Here he
paused to fumble for his snuff-box, and, opening it, held it
"Tak' a pinch wi' me, Peter."
"No, thank you, Ancient."
"Come, 'twould be a wonnerful thing to tell as I'd took snuff
out o' my very own box wi' a man as 'ad fou't wi' the devil
--come--tak' a pinch, Peter," he pleaded. Whereupon, to please
him, I did so, and immediately fell most violently a-sneezing.
"And," pursued the old man when the paroxysm was over, "did ye
see 'is 'orns, Peter, an' 'is--"
"Why, no, Ancient; you see, he happened to be wearing a
bell-crowned hat and a long coat."
"A 'at an' coat!" said the old man in a disappointed tone--"a
"Yes," I nodded.
"To be sure, the Scripters say as 'e goeth up an' down like a
ravening lion seekin' whom 'e may devour."
"Yes," said I, "but more often, I think, like a fine gentleman!"
"I never heerd tell o' the devil in a bell-crowned 'at afore, but
p'r'aps you 'm right, Peter--tak' another pinch o' snuff."
"No more," said I, shaking my head.
"Why, it's apt to ketch you a bit at first, but, Lord! Peter, for
a man as 'as fou't wi' the devil--"
"One pinch is more than enough, Ancient."
"Oh, Peter, 'tis a wonnerful thing as you should be alive this day!"
"And yet, Ancient, many a man has fought the devil before now and
lived--nay, has been the better for it."
"Maybe, Peter, maybe, but not on sech a tur'ble wild night as
last night was." Saying which, the old man nodded emphatically
and, rising, hobbled to the door; yet there he turned and came
back again. "I nigh forgot, Peter, I have noos for ye."
"Noos as ever was--noos as'll surprise ye, Peter."
"Well?" I inquired.
"Well, Peter, Black Jarge be 'took' again."
"What?" I exclaimed.
"Oh! I knowed 'twould come--I knowed 'e couldn't last much
longer. I says to Simon, day afore yesterday it were, 'Simon,' I
says, 'mark my words, 'e'll never last the month out--no.'"
"How did it happen, Ancient?"
"Got tur'ble drunk, 'e did, over to Cranbrook--throwed Mr.
Scrope, the Beadle, over the churchyard wall--knocked down Jeremy
Tullinger, the Watchman, an' then--went to sleep. While 'e were
asleep they managed, cautious-like, to tie 'is legs an' arms, an'
locked 'im up, mighty secure, in the vestry. 'Ows'ever, when 'e
woke up 'e broke the door open, an' walked out, an' nobody tried
to stop 'im--not a soul, Peter."
"And when was all this?"
"Why, that's the very p'int," chuckled the Ancient, "that's the
wonnerful part of it, Peter. It all 'appened on Sat'day night,
day afore yesterday as ever was--the very same day as I says to
Simon, 'mark my words, 'e won't last the month out.'"
"And where is he now?"
"Nobody knows, but theer's them as says they see 'im makin' for
Sefton Woods." Hereupon, breakfast done, I rose, and took my hat.
"Wheer away, Peter?"
"To the forge; there is much work to be done, Ancient."
"But Jarge bean't theer to 'elp ye."
"Yet the work remains, Ancient."
"Why then, if you 'm goin', I'll go wi' ye, Peter." So we
presently set out together.
All about us, as we walked, were mute evidences of the fury of
last night's storm: trees had been uprooted, and great branches
torn from others as if by the hands of angry giants; and the
brook was a raging torrent. Down here, in the Hollow, the
destruction had been less, but in the woods, above, the giants
had worked their will, and many an empty gap showed where,
erstwhile, had stood a tall and stately tree.
"Trees be very like men," said the Ancient, nodding to one that
lay prone beside the path, "'ere to-day an' gone to-morrer,
Peter--gone to-morrer. The man in the Bible, 'im as was cured of
'is blindness by our blessed Lord, 'e said as men was like trees
walkin', but, to my mind, Peter, trees is much more like men
a-standin' still. Ye see, Peter, trees be such companionable
things; it's very seldom as you see a tree growin' all by itself,
an' when you do, if you look at it you can't 'elp but notice
'ow lonely it do look. Ay, its very leaves seem to 'ave a
down-'earted sort o' drop. I knowed three on 'em once--elm-trees
they was growin' all close together, so close that their branches
used to touch each other when the wind blew, jest as if they was
a-shakin' 'ands wi' one another, Peter. You could see as they
was uncommon fond of each other, wi' half an eye. Well; one day,
along comes a storm and blows one on 'em down--kills it dead,
Peter; an' a little while later, they cuts down another--Lord
knows why--an' theer was the last one, all alone an' solitary.
Now, I used to watch that theer tree--an' here's the cur'us
thing, Peter--day by day I see that tree a-droopin' an' droopin',
a-witherin' an' a-pinin' for them other two--brothers you might
say--till one day I come by, an' theer it were, Peter, a-standin'
up so big an' tall as ever--but dead! Ay, Peter, dead it were,
an' never put forth another leaf, an' never will, Peter--never.
An', if you was to ax me, I should say as it died because its
'eart were broke, Peter. Yes, trees is very like men, an' the
older you grow the more you'll see it."
I listened, It was thus we talked, or rather, the Ancient talked
and I listened, until we reached Sissinghurst. At the door of
the smithy we stopped.
"Peter," said the old man, staring very hard at a button on my
"What about that theer--poor, old, rusty--stapil?"
"Why, it is still above the door, Ancient; you must have seen it
"Oh, ah! I seed it, Peter, I seed it," answered the old man,
shifting his gaze to a rolling white cloud above. "I give it a
glimp' over, Peter, but what do 'ee think of it?"
"Well," said I, aware of the fixity of his gaze and the wistful
note in his voice, "it is certainly older and rustier than it was."
"Much rustier!" Very slowly a smile dawned on the wrinkled old
face, and very slowly the eyes were lowered till they met mine.
"Eh, lad! but I be glad o' that--we be all growin' older, Peter,
an'--though I be a wonnerful man for my age, an' so strong as a
cart-'orse, Peter, still, I du sometimes feel like I be growin'
rustier wi' length o' days, an' 'tis a comfort to know as that
theer stapil's a-growin' rustier along wi' me. Old I be, but t'
stapil's old too, Peter, an' I be waitin' for the day when it
shall rust itself away altogether; an' when that day comes,
Peter, then I'll say, like the patriach in the Bible: 'Lord, now
lettest thou thy servant depart in peace!' Amen, Peter!"
"Amen!" said I. And so, having watched the old man totter across
to "The Bull," I turned into the smithy and, set about lighting
IN WHICH I LEARN OF AN IMPENDING DANGER
I am at the forge, watching the deepening glow of the coals as I
ply the bellows; and, listening to their hoarse, not unmusical
drone, it seems like a familiar voice (or the voice of a familiar),
albeit a somewhat wheezy one, speaking to me in stertorous gasps,
something in this wise:
"Charmian Brown--desires to thank--Mr. Smith but because thanks
--are so poor and small--and his service so great--needs must she
"Remember me!" said I aloud, and, letting go the shaft of the
bellows the better to think this over, it naturally followed that
the bellows grew suddenly dumb, whereupon I seized the handle and
recommenced blowing with a will.
"--remember him as a gentleman," wheezed the familiar.
"Psha!" I exclaimed.
"--yet oftener as a smith--"
"Hum!" said I.
"--and most of all--as a man."
"As a man!" said I, and, turning my back upon the bellows, I sat
down upon the anvil and, taking my chin in my hand, stared away
to where the red roof of old Amos's oast-house peeped through the
swaying green of leaves.
"As a man?" said I to myself again, and so fell a-dreaming of
this Charmian. And, in my mind, I saw her, not as she had first
appeared, tall and fierce and wild, but as she had been when she
stooped to bind up the hurt in my brow--with her deep eyes
brimful of tenderness, and her mouth sweet and compassionate.
Beautiful eyes she had, though whether they were blue or brown
or black, I could not for the life of me remember; only I knew
I could never forget the look they had held when she gave that
final pat to the bandage. And here I found that I was turning
a little locket round and round in my fingers, a little,
old-fashioned, heart-shaped locket with its quaint inscription:
"Hee who myne heart would keepe for long
Shall be a gentil man and strong."
I was sitting thus, plunged in a reverie, when a shadow fell
across the floor, and looking up I beheld Prudence, and
straightway, slipping the locket back into the bosom of my shirt,
I rose to my feet, somewhat shamefaced to be caught thus idle.
Her face was troubled, and her eyes red, as from recent tears,
while in her hand she held a crumpled paper.
"Mr. Peter--" she began, and then stopped, staring at me.
"You--you've seen him!"
"Him--whom do you mean?"
"No; what should make you think so?"
"Your face be all cut--you've been fightin'!"
"And supposing I have--that is none of George's doing; he and I
are very good friends--why should we quarrel?"
"Then--then it weren't Jarge?"
"No--I have not seen him since Saturday."
"Thank God!" she exclaimed, pressing her hand to her bosom as if
to stay its heaving. "But you must go," she went on breathlessly.
"Oh, Mr. Peter! I've been so fearful for 'ee, and--and--you might
meet each other any time, so--so you must go away."
"Prudence," said I, "Prudence, what do you mean?"
For answer, she held out the crumpled paper, and, scrawled in
great, straggling characters, I read these words:
"PRUDENCE,--I'm going away, I shall kill him else, but I shall
come back. Tell him not to cross my path, or God help him,
and you, and me. GEORGE."
"What does it all mean, Prudence?" said I, like a fool.
Now, as I spoke; glancing at her I saw her cheeks, that had
seemed hitherto more pale than usual, grow suddenly scarlet, and,
meeting my eyes, she hid her face in her two hands. Then, seeing
her distress, in that same instant I found the answer to my
question, and so stood, turning poor George's letter over and
over, more like a fool than ever.
"You must go away--you must go away!" she repeated.
"Hum!" said I.
"You must go soon; he means it, I--I've seen death in his face,"
she said, shuddering; "go to-day--the longer you stay here the
worse for all of us--go now."
"Prudence!" said I.
"Yes, Mr. Peter!" from behind her hands.
"You always loved Black George, didn't you?"
"Yes, Mr. Peter."
"And you love him still, don't you?" A moment's silence, then:
"Yes, Mr. Peter."
"Excellent!" said I. Her head was raised a trifle, and one
tearful eye looked at me over her fingers. "I had always hoped
you did," I continued, "for his sake, and for yours, and in my
way, a very blundering way as it seems now, I have tried to bring
you two together." Prudence only sobbed. "But things are not
hopeless yet. I think I can see a means of straightening out
"Oh, if we only could!" sobbed Prudence. "Ye see, I were very
cruel to him, Mr. Peter!"
"Just a little, perhaps," said I, and, while she dabbed at her
pretty eyes with her snowy apron, I took pen and ink from the
shelf where I kept them, which, together with George's letter, I
set upon the anvil. "Now," said I, in answer to her questioning
look, "write down just here, below where George signed his name,
what you told me a moment ago."
"You mean, that I--"
"That you love him, yes."
"Oh, Mr. Peter!"
"Prudence," said I, "it is the only way, so far as I can see, of
saving George from himself; and no sweet, pure maid need be ashamed
to tell her love, especially to such a man as this, who worships
the very ground that little shoe of yours has once pressed."
She glanced up at me, under her wet lashes, as I said this, and a
soft light beamed in her eyes, and a smile hovered upon her red lips.
"Do he--really, Mr. Peter?"
"Indeed he does, Prudence, though I think you must know that
without my telling you." So she stooped above the anvil,
blushing a little, and sighing a little, and crying a little,
and, with fingers that trembled somewhat, to be sure, wrote these
"George, I love you."
"What now, Mr. Peter?" she inquired, seeing me begin to unbuckle
my leather apron.
"Now," I answered, "I am going to look for Black George."
"No!--no!" she cried, laying her hands upon my arm, "no! no! if
'ee do meet him, he--he'll kill 'ee!"
"I don't think he will," said I, shaking my head.
"Oh, don't go!--don't go!" she pleaded, shaking my arm in her
eagerness; "he be so strong and wild and quick--he'll give 'ee
no chance to speak--'twill be murder!"
"Prudence," said I, "my mind is set on it. I am going--for your
sake, for his sake, and my own;" saying which, I loosed her hands
gently and took down my coat from its peg.
"Dear God!" she exclaimed, staring down at the floor with wide
eyes, "if he were to kill 'ee--!"
"Well," said I, "my search would be ended and I should be a deal
wiser in all things than I am to-day."
"And he--would be hanged!" said Prudence, shuddering.
"Probably--poor fellow!" said I. At this she glanced quickly up,
and once again the crimson dyed her cheeks.
"Oh, Mr. Peter, forgive me! I--I were only thinkin' of Jarge,
"And quite right too, Prudence," I nodded; "he is indeed worth
any good woman's thoughts; let it be your duty to think of him,
and for him, henceforth."
"Wait!" said she, "wait!" And turning, she fled through the
doorway and across the road, swift and graceful as any bird, and
presently was back again, with something hidden in her apron.
"He be a strong man, and terrible in his wrath," said she, "and
I--love him, but--take this wi' you, and if it--must be--use it,
because I _do_ love him." Now, as she said this, she drew from
her apron that same brass-bound pistol that had served me so well
against the "ghost" and thrust it into my hand. "Take it, Mr.
Peter--take it, but--oh!"--here a great sob choked her voice--"
don't--don't use it--if--if you can help it, for my sake."
"Why, Prue!" said I, touching her bowed head very tenderly, "how
can you think I would go up against my friend with death in my
hand--Heaven forbid!" So I laid aside the weapon and, clapping
on my hat, strode out into the glory of the summer morning, but
left her weeping in the shadows.
WHICH NARRATES A SOMEWHAT REMARKABLE CONVERSATION
To find a man in Cambourne Woods, even so big a man as Black George,
would seem as hard a matter as to find the needle in the proverbial
"bottle of hay;" the sun crept westward, the day declined into
evening, yet, hungry though I was, I persevered in my search, not
so much in the hope of finding him (in the which I knew I must be
guided altogether by chance), as from a disinclination to return,
just yet, to the cottage. "It would be miserable there at this
hour," I told myself, "miserable and lonely."
Yet why should I be lonely; I, who had gloried in my solitude
hitherto? Whence then had come this change?
While I stood thus, seeking an answer to this self-imposed
question and finding none, I heard some one approach, whistling,
and, looking about, beheld a fellow with an axe upon his shoulder,
who strode along at a good pace, keeping time to his whistle. He
gave me a cheery greeting as he came up, but without stopping.
"You seem in a hurry," said I.
"Ah!" grinned the man, over his shoulder, "'cause why?--'cause I
be goin' 'ome."
"Home!" said I.
"To supper," he nodded, and, forthwith, began to whistle again,
while I stood listening till the clear notes had died away.
"Home!" said I for the second time, and there came upon me a
feeling of desolation such as I had never known even in my
neglected boyhood's days.
Home! truly a sweet word, a comfortable word, the memory of which
has been as oil and wine to many a sick and weary traveler upon
this Broad Highway of life; a little word, and yet one which may
come betwixt a man and temptation, covering him like a shield.
"Roof and walls, be they cottage or mansion, do not make home,"
thought I, "rather is it the atmosphere of mutual love, the
intimacies of thought, the joys and sorrows endured together, and
the never-failing sympathy--that bond invisible yet stronger than
And, because I had, hitherto, known nothing of this, I was
possessed of a great envy for this axe-fellow as I walked on
through the wood.
Now as I went, it was as if there were two voices arguing
together within me, whereof ensued the following triangular
MYSELF. Yet I have my books--I will go to my lonely cottage and
bury myself among my books.
FIRST VOICE. Assuredly! Is it for a philosopher to envy a
whistling axe-fellow--go to!
SECOND VOICE. Far better a home and loving companionship than
all the philosophy of all the schools; surely Happiness is
greater than Learning, and more to be desired than Wisdom!
FIRST VOICE. Better rather that Destiny had never sent her to
MYSELF (rubbing my chin very hard, and staring at nothing in
SECOND VOICE. Her!--to be sure, she who has been in your
thoughts all day long.
FIRST VOICE (with lofty disdain). Crass folly!--a woman utterly
unknown, who came heralded by the roar of wind and the rush of
rain--a creature born of the tempest, with flame in her eyes and
hair, and fire in the scarlet of her mouth; a fierce, passionate
being, given to hot impulse--even to the taking of a man's life!
("But," said I, somewhat diffidently, "the fellow was a proved
FIRST VOICE (bellowing). Sophistry! sophistry! even supposing he
was the greatest of villains, does that make her less a murderess
FIRST VOICE (roaring). Of course not! Again, can this woman
even faintly compare with your ideal of what a woman should be
--this shrew!--this termagant! Can a woman whose hand has the
strength to level a pistol, and whose mind the will to use it, be
of a nature gentle, clinging, sweet--
SECOND VOICE (sotto). And sticky!
FIRST VOICE (howling). Of course not!--preposterous!
(Hereupon, finding no answer, I strode on through the alleys of
the wood; but, when I had gone some distance, I stopped again,
for there rushed over me the recollection of the tender pity of
her eyes and the gentle touch of her hand, as when she had bound
up my hurts.
"Nevertheless," said I doggedly, "her face can grow more
beautiful with pity, and surely no woman's hand could be lighter
or more gentle.")
FIRST VOICE (with withering contempt). Our Peter fellow is like
to become a preposterous ass.
(But, unheeding, I thrust my hand into my breast, and drew out a
small handful of cambric, whence came a faint perfume of violets.
And, closing my eyes, it seemed that she was kneeling before me,
her arms about my neck, as when she had bound this handkerchief
about my bleeding temples.
"Truly," said I, "for that one sweet act alone, a woman might be
worth dying for!")
SECOND VOICE. Or better still--living for!
FIRST VOICE (in high indignation). Balderdash, Sir!--sentimental
SECOND VOICE. A truth incontrovertible!
("Folly!" said I, and threw the handkerchief from me. But next
moment, moved by a sudden impulse, I stooped and picked it up
FIRST VOICE. Our Peter fellow is becoming the fool of fools!
MYSELF. No, of that there is not the slightest fear, because
And thus I remained staring at the handkerchief for a great
IN WHICH I SEE A VISION IN THE GLORY OF THE MOON, AND EAT OF A
The moon was rising as, hungry and weary, I came to that steep
descent I have mentioned more than once, which leads down into
the Hollow, and her pale radiance was already, upon the world--a
sleeping world wherein I seemed alone. And as I stood to gaze
upon the wonder of the heavens, and the serene beauty of the
earth, the clock in Cranbrook Church chimed nine.
All about me was a soft stirring of leaves, and the rustle of
things unseen, which was as the breathing of a sleeping host.
Borne to my nostrils came the scent of wood and herb and dewy
earth, while upstealing from the shadow of the trees below, the
voice of the brook reached me, singing its never-ending song--now
loud and clear, now sinking to a rippling murmur--a melody of joy
and sorrow, of laughter and tears, like the greater melody of Life.
And, presently, I descended into the shadows, and, walking on
beside the brook, sat me down upon a great boulder; and,
straightway, my weariness and hunger were forgotten, and I fell
Truly it was a night to dream in--a white night, full of the moon
and the magic of the moon. Slowly she mounted upwards, peeping
down at me through whispering leaves, checkering the shadows with
silver, and turning the brook into a path of silver for the feet
of fairies. Yes, indeed, the very air seemed fraught with a
magic whereby the unreal became the real and things impossible
the manifestly possible.
And so, staring up at the moon's pale loveliness, I dreamed the
deathless dreams of long-dead poets and romancers, wherein were
the notes of dreamy lutes, the soft whisper of trailing garments,
and sighing voices that called beneath the breath. Between
Petrarch's Laura and Dante's Beatrice came one as proud and
gracious and beautiful as they, deep-bosomed, broad-hipped, with
a red, red mouth, and a subtle witchery of the eyes. I dreamed
of nymphs and satyrs, of fauns and dryads, and of the young
Endymion who, on just such another night, in just such another
leafy bower, waited the coming of his goddess.
Now as I sat thus, chin in hand, I heard a little sound behind
me, the rustling of leaves, and, turning my head, beheld one who
stood half in shadow, half in moonlight, looking down at me
beneath a shy languor of drooping lids, with eyes hidden by their
lashes--a woman tall and fair, and strong as Dian's self.
Very still she stood, and half wistful, as if waiting for me to
speak, and very silent I sat, staring up at her as she had been
the embodiment of my dreams conjured tip by the magic of the
night, while, from the mysteries of the woods, stole the soft,
sweet song of a nightingale.
"Charmian?" said I at last, speaking almost in a whisper. Surely
this was the sweet goddess herself, and I the wondering shepherd
on Mount Ida's solitude.
"Charmian!" said I again, "you--have come then?" With the words
I rose. "You have come, then?" I repeated.
But now she sighed a little, and, turning her head away, laughed
very sweet and low--and sighed again.
"Were you expecting me?"
"I--I think I was--that is--I--I don't know!" I stammered.
"Then you were not--very surprised to see me?"
"And you are not--very sorry to see me?"
"And--are you not very--glad to see me?
Here there fell a silence between us, yet a silence that was full
of leafy stirrings, soft night noises, and the languorous murmur
of the brook. Presently Charmian reached out a hand, broke off a
twig of willow and began to turn it round and round in her white
fingers, while I sought vainly for something to say.
"When I went away this morning," she began at last, looking down
at the twig, "I didn't think I should ever come back again."
"No, I--I supposed not," said I awkwardly.
"But, you see, I had no money."
"Not a penny. It was not until I had walked a long, long way,
and was very tired, and terribly hungry, that I found I hadn't
enough to buy even a crust of bread."
"And there was three pounds, fifteen shillings, and sixpence in
Donald's old shoe," said I.
"Sevenpence!" she corrected.
"Sevenpence?" said I, in some surprise.
"Three pounds, fifteen shillings, and sevenpence. I counted it."
"Oh!" said I.
She nodded. "And in the other I found a small, very curiously
shaped piece of wood."
"Ah--yes, I've been looking for that all the week. You see, when
I made my table, by some miscalculation, one leg persisted in
coming out shorter than the others, which necessitated its being
shored up by a book until I made that block."
"Mr. Peter Vibart's Virgil book!" she said, nodding to the twig.
"Y-e-s!" said I, somewhat disconcerted.
"It was a pity to use a book," she went on, still very, intent
upon the twig, "even if that book does belong to a man with such
a name as Peter Vibart."
Now presently, seeing I was silent, she stole a glance at me, and
"But," she continued more seriously, "this has nothing to do with
you, of course, nor me, for that matter, and I was trying to tell
you how hungry--how hatefully hungry I was, and I couldn't beg,
could I, and so--and so I--I--"
"You came back," said I.
"I came back."
"Three pounds, fifteen shillings, and--sevenpence is not a great
sum," said I, "but perhaps it will enable you to reach your family."
"I'm afraid not; you see I have no family."
"Your friends, then."
"I have no friends; I am alone in the world."
"Oh!" said I, and turned to stare down into the brook, for I
could think only that she was alone and solitary, even as I,
which seemed like an invisible bond between us, drawing us each
nearer the other, whereat I felt ridiculously pleased that this
should be so.
"No," said Charmian, still intent upon the twig, "I have neither
friends nor family nor money, and so being hungry--I came back
here, and ate up all the bacon."
"Why, I hadn't left much, if I remember."
Now, as she stood, half in shadow, half in moonlight, I could not
help but be conscious of her loveliness. She was no pretty
woman; beneath the high beauty of her face lay a dormant power
that is ever at odds with prettiness, and before which I felt
vaguely at a loss. And yet, because of her warm beauty, because
of the elusive witchery of her eyes, the soft, sweet column of
the neck and the sway of the figure in the moonlight--because she
was no goddess, and I no shepherd in Arcadia, I clasped my hands
behind me, and turned to look down into the stream.
"Indeed," said I, speaking my thought aloud, "this is no place
for a woman, after all."
"No," said she very softly.
"No--although, to be sure, there are worse places."
"Yes," said she, "I suppose so."
"Then again, it is very far removed from the world, so that a
woman must needs be cut off from all those little delicacies and
refinements that are supposed to be essential to her existence."
"Yes," she sighed.
"Though what," I continued, "what on earth would be the use of
a--harp, let us say, or a pair of curling-irons in this wilderness,
I don't know."
"One could play upon the one and curl one's hair with the other,
and there is a deal of pleasure to be had from both," said she.
"Then also," I pursued, "this place, as I told you, is said to be
haunted--not," I went on, seeing that she was silent, "not that
you believe in such things, of course? But the cottage is very
rough, and ill and clumsily furnished--though, to be sure, it
might be made comfortable enough, and--"
"Well?" she inquired, as I paused.
"Then--" said I, and was silent for a long time, watching the
play of the moonbeams on the rippling water.
"Well?" said she again at last.
"Then," said I, "if you are friendless, God forbid that I should
refuse you the shelter of even such a place as this--so--if you
are homeless, and without money--stay here--if you will--so long
as it pleases you."
I kept my eyes directed to the running water at my feet as I
waited her answer, and it seemed a very long time before she spoke.
"Are you fond of stewed rabbit?"
"Rabbit!" said I, staring. "With onions!"
"Oh, I can cook a little, and supper is waiting."
"So if you are hungry--"
"I am ravenous!"
"Then why not come home and eat it?"
"Instead of echoing my words and staring the poor moon out of
countenance? Come," and, with the word, she turned and led the
way to the cottage. And behold, the candles were lighted, the
table was spread with a snowy cloth, and a pot simmered upon the
hob: a pot that gave forth an odor delectable, and over which
Charmian bent forthwith, and into which she gazed with an anxious
brow and thrust an inquiring fork.
"I think it's all right!"
"I'm sure of it," said I, inhaling the appetizing aroma--"but,
pray, where did you get it?"
"A man sold it to me--he had a lot of them."
"Hum!" said I, "probably poached."
"I bought this for sixpence--out of the old shoe."
"Sixpence?--then they certainly were poached. These are the
Cambourne Woods, and everything upon them fish, flesh, or fowl,
living or dead--belongs to the Lady Sophia Sefton of Cambourne."
"Then--perhaps we had better not eat it," said she, glancing at
me over her shoulder--but, meeting my eye, she laughed. And so
we presently sat down to supper and, poached though it may have
been, that rabbit made a truly noble end, notwithstanding.
WHICH RELATES SOMEWHAT OF CHARMIAN BROWN
We were sitting in the moonlight.
"Now," said Charmian, staring up at the luminous heaven, "let us
"Willingly," I answered; "let us talk of stars."
"No--let us talk of ourselves."
"As you please."
"Very well, you begin."
"Well--I am a blacksmith."
"Yes, you told me so before."
"And I make horseshoes--"
"He is a blacksmith, and makes horseshoes!" said Charmian,
nodding at the moon.
"And I live here, in this solitude, very contentedly; so that it
is only reasonable to suppose that I shall continue to live here,
and make horseshoes--though, really," I broke off, letting my
eyes wander from my companion's upturned face back to the glowing
sky, once more, "there is little I could tell you about so
commonplace a person as myself that is likely to interest you."
"No," said Charmian, "evidently not!" Here my gaze came down to
her face again so quickly that I fancied I detected the ghost of
a smile upon her lips.
"Then," said I, "by all means let us talk of something else."
"Yes," she agreed; "let us talk of the woman Charmian--Charmian
--Brown." A tress of hair had come loose, and hung low above her
brow, and in its shadow her, eyes seemed more elusive, more
mocking than ever, and, while our glances met, she put up a hand
and began to, wind this glossy tress round and round her finger.
"Well?" said she.
"Well," said I, "supposing you begin."
"But is she likely to interest you?"
"I think so--yes."
"Aren't you sure, then?"
"Then why don't you say so?"
"I thought you would take that for granted."
"A woman should take nothing for granted, sir."
"Then," said I, "supposing you begin."
"I've half a mind not to," she retorted, curling the tress of
hair again, and then, suddenly: "What do you think of Charmian
"I think of her as little as I can."
"Indeed," said I.
"And why, pray?"
"Because," said I, knocking the ashes from my pipe, "because the
more I think about her the more incomprehensible she becomes."
"Have you known many women?"
"Very few," I confessed, "but--"
"I am not altogether unfamiliar with the sex--for I have known a
great number--in books."
"Our blacksmith," said Charmian, addressing the moon again, "has
known many women--in books! His knowledge is, therefore,
profound!" and she laughed.
"May I ask why you laugh at me?"
"Oh!" said she, "don't you know that women in books and women out
of books are no more the same than day and night, or summer and
"And yet there are thousands of women who exist for us in books
only, Laura, Beatrice, Trojan Helen, Aspasia, the glorious
Phryne, and hosts of others," I demurred.
"Yes; but they exist for us only as their historians permit them,
as their biographers saw, or imagined them. Would Petrarch ever
have permitted Laura to do an ungracious act, or anything which,
to his masculine understanding, seemed unfeminine; and would
Dante have mentioned it had Beatrice been guilty of one? A man
can no more understand a woman from the reading of books than he
can learn Latin or Greek from staring at the sky."
"Of that," said I, shaking my head, "of that I am not so sure."
"Then--personally--you know very little concerning women?" she
"I have always been too busy," said I. Here Charmian turned to
look at me again.
"Too busy?" she repeated, as though she had not heard aright;
"Much too busy!" Now, when I said this, she laughed, and then
she frowned, and then she laughed again.
"You would much rather make a--horseshoe than talk with a woman,
"Yes, I think I would."
"Oh!" said Charmian, frowning again, but this time she did not
look at me.
"You see," I explained, turning my empty pipe over and over,
rather aimlessly, "when I make a horseshoe I take a piece of
iron and, having heated it, I bend and shape it, and with
every hammer-stroke I see it growing into what I would have
it--I am sure of it, from start to finish; now, with a woman
"You mean that you cannot bend, and shape her, like your
horseshoe?" still without looking towards me.
"I mean that--that I fear I should never be quite sure of a
--woman, as I am of my horseshoe."
"Why, you see," said Charmian, beginning to braid the tress of
hair, "a woman cannot, at any time, be said to resemble a
horseshoe--very much, can she?"
"Surely," said I, "surely you know what I mean--?"
"There are Laura and Beatrice and Helen and Aspasia and Phryne,
and hosts of others," said Charmian, nodding to the moon again.
"Oh, yes--our blacksmith has read of so many women in books that
he has no more idea of women out of books than I of Sanscrit."
And, in a little while, seeing I was silent, she condescended to
glance towards me:
"Then I suppose, under the circumstances, you have never been--in
"In love?" I repeated, and dropped my pipe.
"The Lord forbid!"
"Because Love is a disease--a madness, coming between a man and
his life's work. Love!" said I, "it is a calamity!"
"Never having been in love himself, our blacksmith, very
naturally, knows all about it!" said Charmian to the moon.
"I speak only of such things as I have read--" I began.
"More books!" she sighed.
"--words of men, much wiser than I--poets and philosophers,
"When they were old and gray-headed," Charmian broke in; "when
they were quite incapable of judging the matter--though many a
grave philosopher loved; now didn't he?"
"To be sure," said I, rather hipped, "Dionysius Lambienus, I
think, says somewhere that a woman with a big mouth is infinitely
sweeter in the kissing--and--"
"Do you suppose he read that in a book?" she inquired, glancing
at me sideways.
"Why, as to that," I answered, "a philosopher may love, but not
for the mere sake of loving."
"For whose sake then, I wonder?"
"A man who esteems trifles for their own sake is a trifler, but
one who values them, rather, for the deductions that may be drawn
from them--he is a philosopher."
Charmian rose, and stood looking down at me very strangely.
"So!" said she, throwing back her head, "so, throned in lofty
might, superior Mr. Smith thinks Love a trifle, does he?"
"My name is Vibart, as I think you know," said I, stung by her
look or her tone, or both.
"Yes," she answered, seeming to look down at me from an
immeasurable attitude, "but I prefer to know him, just now, as
Superior Mr. Smith."
"As you will," said I, and rose also; but, even then, though she
had to look up to me, I had the same inward conviction that her
eyes were regarding me from a great height; wherefore I,
attempted--quite unsuccessfully to light my pipe.
And after I had struck flint and steel vainly, perhaps a dozen
times, Charmian took the box from me, and, igniting the tinder,
held it for me while I lighted my tobacco.
"Thank you!" said I, as she returned the box, and then I saw that
she was smiling. "Talking of Charmian Brown--" I began.
"But we are not."
"Then suppose you begin?"
"Do you really wish to hear about that--humble person?"
"Then you must know, in the first place, that she is old, sir,
"But," said I, "she really cannot be more than twenty-three--or
four at the most."
"She is just twenty-one!" returned Charmian, rather hastily, I
"Quite a child!"
"No, indeed--it is experience that ages one--and by experience
she is quite--two hundred!"
"The wonder is that she still lives."
"Indeed it is!" "And, being of such a ripe age, it is probable
that she, at any rate, has--been in love."
"Scores of times!"
"Oh!" said I, puffing very hard at my pipe
"Or fancied so," said Charmian. "That," I replied, "that is a
very different thing!"
"Do you think so?"
"Very well, then, continue, I beg."
"Now, this woman," Charmian went on, beginning to curl the tress
of hair again, "hating the world about her with its shams, its
hypocrisy, and cruelty, ran away from it all, one day, with a
"And why with a villain?"
"Because he was a villain!"
"That," said I, turning to look at her, "that I do not
"No, I didn't suppose you would," she answered.
"Hum!" said I, rubbing my chin. "And why did you run away from
"Because he was a villain."
"That was very illogical!" said I.
"But very sensible, sir."
Here there fell a silence between us, and, as we walked, now and
then her gown would brush my knee, or her shoulder touch mine,
for the path was very narrow.
"And--did you--" I began suddenly, and stopped.
"Did I--what, sir?"
"Did you love him?" said I, staring straight in front of me.
"I--ran away from him."
"And--do you--love him?"
"I suppose," said Charmian, speaking very slowly, "I suppose you
cannot understand a woman hating and loving a man, admiring and
despising him, both at the same time?"
"No, I can't."
"Can you understand one glorying in the tempest that may destroy
her, riding a fierce horse that may crush her, or being attracted
by a will strong and masterful, before which all must yield or
"I think I can."
"Then," said Charmian, "this man is strong and wild and very
masterful, and so--I ran away with him."
"And do you--love him?"
We walked on some distance ere she answered:
"Not sure, then?"
After this we fell silent altogether, yet once, when I happened
to glance at her, I saw that her eyes were very bright beneath
the shadow of her drooping lashes, and that her lips were
smiling; and I pondered very deeply as to why this should be.
Re-entering the cottage, I closed the door, and waited the while
she lighted my candle.
And, having taken the candle from her hand, I bade her "Good
night," but paused at the door of my chamber.
"You feel--quite safe here?"
"Despite the color of my hair and eyes--you have no fear of
"Because--he is neither fierce nor wild nor masterful!"
"Because he is neither fierce nor wild," she echoed.
"Nor masterful!" said I.
"Nor masterful!" said Charmian, with averted head. So I opened
the door, but, even then, must needs turn back again.
"Do you think I am so very--different--from him?"
"As different as day from night, as the lamb from the wolf," said
she, without looking at me. "Good night, Peter!"
"Good night!" said I, and so, going into my room, I closed the
door behind me.
"A lamb!" said I, tearing off my neckcloth, and sat, for some
time listening to her footstep and the soft rustle of her
petticoats going to and fro.
"A lamb!" said I again, and slowly drew off my coat. As I did
so, a little cambric handkerchief fell to the floor, and I kicked
it, forthwith, into a corner.
"A lamb!" said I, for the third time, but, at this moment, came a
light tap upon the door.
"Yes?" said I, without moving.
"Oh, how is your injured thumb?"
"Thank you, it is as well as can be expected."
"Does it pain you very much?"
"It is not unbearable!" said I.
"Good night, Peter!" and I heard her move away. But presently
she was back again.
"Are you frowning?"
"I--I think I was--why?"
"When you frown, you are very like--him, and have the same
square set of the mouth and chin, when you are angry--so don't,
please don't frown, Peter--Good night!"
"Good night, Charmian!" said I, and stooping, I picked up the
little handkerchief and thrust it under my pillow.
I AM SUSPECTED OF THE BLACK ART
The word had been uttered close behind me, and very softly, yet I
started at this sudden mention of my name and stood for a moment
with my hammer poised above the anvil ere I turned and faced the
speaker. He was a tall man with a stubbly growth of grizzled
hair about his lank jaws, and he was leaning in at that window of
the smithy which gave upon a certain grassy back lane.
"You spoke, I think!" said I.
"I said, 'Vibart'!"
"And why should you say 'Vibart'?"
"And why should you start?" Beneath the broad, flapping hat his
eyes glowed with a sudden intensity as he waited my answer.
"It is familiar," said I.
"Ha! familiar?" he repeated, and his features were suddenly
contorted as with a strong convulsion, and his teeth gleamed
between his pallid lips.
My hammer was yet in my grasp, and, as I met this baleful look,
my fingers tightened instinctively about the shaft.
"Familiar?" said he again.
"Yes," I nodded; "like your face, for it would almost seem that I
have seen you somewhere before, and I seldom forget faces."
"Nor do I!" said the man.
Now, while we thus fronted each other, there came the sound of
approaching footsteps, and John Pringle, the Carrier, appeared,
followed by the pessimistic Job.
"Marnin', Peter!--them 'orseshoes," began John, pausing just
outside the smithy door, "you was to finish 'em 's arternoon; if
so be as they bean't done, you bein' short'anded wi'out Jarge,
why, I can wait." Now, during this speech, I was aware that both
his and Job's eyes had wandered from my bandaged thumb to my bare
throat, and become fixed there.
"Come in and sit down," said I, nodding to each, as I blew up the
fire, "come in." For a moment they hesitated, then John stepped
gingerly into the smithy, closely followed by Job, and, watching
them beneath my brows as I stooped above the shaft of the
bellows, I saw each of them furtively cross his fingers.
"Why do you do that, John Pringle?" said I.
"Do what, Peter?"
"Cross your fingers."
"Why, ye see, Peter," said John, glancing in turn at the floor,
the rafters, the fire, and the anvil, but never at me, "ye see,
it be just a kind o' way o' mine."
"But why does Job do the same?"
"An' why do 'ee look at a man so sharp an' sudden-like?" retorted
Job sullenly; "dang me! if it aren't enough to send cold shivers
up a chap's spine--I never see such a pair o' eyes afore--no--nor
don't want to again."
"Nonsense!" said I; "my eyes can't hurt you."
"An' 'ow am I to know that, 'ow am I to be sure o' that; an' you
wi' your throat all torn wi' devil's claws an' demon's clutches
--it bean't nat'ral--Old Amos says so, an' I sez so."
"Pure folly!" said I, plucking the iron from the fire, and
beginning to beat and shape it with my hammer, but presently,
remembering the strange man who had spoken my name, I looked up,
and then I saw that he was gone. "Where is he?" said I
"Where's who?" inquired John Pringle, glancing about uneasily.
"The fellow who was talking to me as you came up?"
"I didn't see no fellow!" said Job, looking at John and edging
nearer the door.
"Nor me neither!" chimed in John Pringle, looking at Job.
"Why, he was leaning in at the window here, not a minute ago,"
said I, and, plunging the half-finished horseshoe back into the
fire, I stepped out into the road, but the man was nowhere to be
"Very strange!" said I.
"What might 'e 'ave been like, now?" inquired John.
"He was tall and thin, and wore a big flapping hat."
John Pringle coughed, scratched his chin, and coughed again.
"What is it, John?" I inquired.
"Why, then, you couldn't 'appen to notice--'im wearin' 'is 'at
--you couldn't 'appen to notice if 'e 'ad ever a pair o' 'orns,
"Horns!" I exclaimed.
"Or a--tail, Peter?"
"Or even a--'oof, now?" suggested Job.
"Come," said I, looking from one to the other, "what might you be
"Why, ye see, Peter," answered John, coughing again, and
scratching his chin harder than ever, "ye see, Peter, it aren't
nat'ral for a 'uman bein' to go a-vanishin' away like this 'ere
--if 'twere a man as you was a-talkin' to--"
"Which I doubts!" muttered Job.
"If 'twere a man, Peter, then I axes you--where is that man?"
Before I could answer this pointed question, old Joel Amos
hobbled up, who paused on the threshold to address some one over
"Come on, James, 'ere 'e be--come for'ard, James, like a man."
Thus adjured, another individual appeared: a somewhat
flaccid-looking individual, with colorless hair and eyes, one
who seemed to exhale an air of apology, as it were, from the
hobnailed boot upon the floor to the grimy forefinger that
touched the strawlike hair in salutation.
"Marnin', Peter!" said Old Amos, "this yere is Dutton."
"How do you do?" said I, acknowledging the introduction, "and
what can I do for Mr. Dutton?" The latter, instead of replying,
took out a vivid belcher handkerchief, and apologetically mopped
"Speak up, James Dutton," said Old Amos.
"Lord!" exclaimed Dutton, "Lord! I du be that 'ot!--you speak
for I, Amos, du."
"Well," began Old Amos, not ill-pleased, "this 'ere Dutton wants
to ax 'ee a question, 'e du, Peter."
"I shall be glad to answer it, if I can," I returned.
"You 'ear that?--well, ax your question, James Dutton," commanded
the old man.
"W'y, ye see, Amos," began Dutton, positively reeking apology, "I
du be that on-common 'ot--you ax un."
"W'y, then, Peter," began Amos, with great unction, "it's 'is
"Pigs?" I exclaimed, staring.
"Ah! pigs, Peter," nodded Old Amos, "Dutton's pigs; 'is sow
farrowed last week--at three in the marnin'--nine of 'em!"
"Well?" said I, wondering more and more.
"Well, Peter, they was a fine 'earty lot, an' all a-doin' well
--till last Monday."
"Indeed!" said I.
"Last Monday night, four on 'em sickened an' died!"
"Most unfortunate!" said I.
"An' the rest 'as never been the same since."
"Probably ate something that disagreed with them," said I,
picking up my hammer and laying it down again. Old Amos smiled
and shook his head.
"You know James Dutton's pigsty, don't ye, Peter?"
"I really can't say that I do."
"Yet you pass it every day on your way to the 'Oller--it lays
just be'ind Simon's oast-'ouse, as James 'isself will tell 'ee."
"So it du," interpolated Dutton, with an apologetic nod, "which,
leastways, if it don't, can't be no'ow!" having delivered himself
of which, he buried his face in the belcher handkerchief.
"Now, one evenin', Peter," continued Old Amos, "one evenin' you
leaned over the fence o' that theer pigsty an' stood a-lookin' at
they pigs for, p'r'aps, ten minutes."
"Ay, that ye did--James Dutton see ye, an' 'is wife, she see ye
tu, and I see ye."
"Then," said I, "probably I did. Well?"
"Well," said the old man, looking round upon his hearers, and
bringing out each word with the greatest unction, "that theer
evenin' were last Monday evenin' as ever was--the very same hour
as Dutton's pigs sickened an' died!" Hereupon John Pringle and
Job rose simultaneously from where they had been sitting, and
retreated precipitately to the door.
"Lord!" exclaimed John.
"I might ha' knowed it!" said Job, drawing a cross in the air
with his finger.
"An' so James Dutton wants to ax ye to tak' it off, Peter," said
"To take what off?"
"Why, the spell, for sure." Hereupon I gave free play to my
amusement, and laughed, and laughed, while the others watched me
with varying expressions.
"And so you think that I bewitched Dutton's pigs, do you?" said
I, at last, glancing from Old Amos to the perspiring Apology (who
immediately began to mop at his face and neck again). "And why,"
I continued, seeing that nobody appeared willing to speak, "why
should you think it of me?"
"W'y, Peter, ye bean't like ordinary folk; your eyes goes through
an' through a man. An' then, Peter, I mind as you come a-walkin'
into Siss'n'urst one night from Lord knows wheer, all covered wi'
dust, an' wi' a pack on your back."
"You are wrong there, Amos," said I, "it was afternoon when I
came, and the Ancient was with me."
"Ah! an' wheer did 'e find ye, Peter?--come, speak up an' tell us."
"In the Hollow," I answered.
"Ay, 'e found 'ee in the very spot wheer the Wanderer o' the
Roads 'ung 'isself, sixty an' six years ago."
"There is nothing very strange in that!" said I.
"What's more, you come into the village an' beat Black Jarge
throwin' th' 'ammer, an' 'im the strongest man in all the South
"I beat him because he did not do his best--so there is nothing
strange in that either."
"An' then, you lives all alone in that theer ghashly 'Oller--an'
you fights, an' struggles wi' devils an' demons, all in the wind
an' rain an' tearin' tempest--an' what's most of all--you comes
back--alive; an' what's more yet, wi' devil-marks upon ye an'
your throat all tore wi' claws. Old Gaffer be over proud o'
findin' ye, but old Gaffer be dodderin'--dodderin' 'e be, an'
fulish wi' years; 'e'd ha' done much better to ha' left ye alone
--I've heerd o' folk sellin' theirselves to the devil afore now,
I've likewise heerd o' the 'Evil Eye' afore now--ah! an' knows
one when I sees it."
"Nonsense!" said I sternly, "nonsense! This talk of ghosts and
devils is sheer folly. I am a man, like the rest of you, and
could not wish you ill--even if I would come, let us all shake
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