The Broad Highway
Part 9 out of 11
"For sighing, Peter?"
"I suppose no philosopher could ever be so--foolish, Peter?"
"No," said I; "certainly not!"
"It is well to be a philosopher, isn't it, Peter?"
"Hum!" said I, and once more set about lighting my pipe. Anon I
rose and, crossing to the open door, looked out upon the summer
night, and sighed, and coming back, sat watching Charmian's busy
"Charmian," said I at last.
"Do you--ever see any--any--men lurking about the Hollow--when I
am away?" Her needle stopped suddenly, and she did not look up
as she answered:
"Never?--are you--sure, Charmian?" The needle began to fly to
and fro again, but still she did not look up.
"No--of course not--how should I see any one? I scarcely go
beyond the Hollow, and--I'm busy all day."
"A Eve--a Eve!" said a voice in my ear. "Eve tricked Adam,
didn't she?--a Eve!"
After this I sat for a long time without, moving, my mind harassed
with doubts and a hideous, morbid dread. Why had she avoided my
eye? Her own were pure and truthful, and could not lie! Why, why
had they avoided mine? If only she had looked at me!
Presently I rose and began to pace up and down the room.
"You are very restless, Peter!"
"Yes," said I; "yes, I fear I am--you must pardon me--"
"Why not read?"
"Indeed I had not thought of my books."
"Then read me something aloud, Peter."
"I will read you the sorrow of Achilles for the loss of Briseis,"
said I, and, going into the corner, I raised my hand to my shelf
of books--and stood there with hand upraised yet touching no book,
for a sudden spasm seemed to have me in its clutches, and once
again the trembling seized me, and the hammer had recommenced
its beat, beating upon my brain.
And, in a while, I turned from my books, and, crossing to the
door, leaned there with my back to her lest she should see my
face just then.
"I--I don't think I--will read--to-night!" said I at last.
"Very well, Peter, let us talk."
"Or talk," said I; "I--I think I'll go to bed. Pray," I went on
hurriedly, for I was conscious that she had raised her head and
was looking at me in some surprise, "pray excuse me--I'm very
tired." So, while she yet stared at me, I turned away, and,
mumbling a good night, went into my chamber, and closing the
door, leaned against it, for my mind was sick with dread, and
sorrow, and a great anguish; for now I knew that Charmian had
lied to me--my Virgil book had been moved from its usual place.
IN WHICH THE READER SHALL FIND LITTLE TO DO WITH THE STORY, AND
MAY, THEREFORE, SKIP
Is there anywhere in the world so damnable a place of torment as
a bed? To lie awake through the slow, dragging hours, surrounded
by a sombre quietude from whose stifling blackness thoughts, like
demons, leap to catch us by the throat; or, like waves, come
rolling in upon us, ceaselessly, remorselessly--burying us beneath
their resistless flow, catching us up, whirling us dizzily
aloft, dashing us down into depths infinite; now retreating, now
advancing, from whose oncoming terror there is no escape, until
we are once more buried beneath their stifling rush.
To lie awake, staring wide-eyed into a crowding darkness wherein
move terrors unimagined; to bury our throbbing temples in pillows
of fire; to roll and toss until the soul within us cries out in
agony, and we reach out frantic hands into a void that mocks us
by the contrast of its deep and awful quiet. At such times fair
Reason runs affrighted to hide herself, and foaming Madness fills
her throne; at such times our everyday sorrows, howsoever small
and petty they be, grow and magnify themselves until they
overflow the night, filling the universe above and around us; and
of all the woes the human mind can bear--surely Suspicion gnaws
deeper than them all!
So I lay beneath the incubus, my temples clasped tight between my
burning palms to stay the maddening ring of the hammer in my
brain. And suspicion grew into certainty, and with certainty
came madness; imagination ran riot: she was a Messalina--a Julia
--a Joan of Naples--a veritable Succuba--a thing polluted,
degraded, and abominable; and, because of her beauty, I cursed
all beautiful things, and because of her womanhood, I cursed all
women. And ever the hammer beat upon my brain, and foul shapes
danced before my eyes--shapes so insanely hideous and revolting
that, of a sudden, I rose from my bed, groaning, and coming to
the casement--leaned out.
Oh! the cool, sweet purity of the night! I heard the soft stir
and rustle of leaves all about me, and down from heaven came a
breath of wind, and in the wind a great raindrop that touched my
burning brow like the finger of God. And, leaning there, with
parted lips and closed eyes, gradually my madness left me, and
the throbbing in my brain grew less.
How many poor mortals, since the world began, sleepless and
anguish-torn--even as I--have looked up into that self-same sky
and sorrowed for the dawn!
"For her love, in sleep I slake,
For her love, all night I wake,
For her love, I mourning make
More than any man!"
Poor fool! to think that thou couldst mourn more than thy kind!
Thou'rt but a little handful of gray dust, ages since, thy name
and estate long out of mind; where'er thou art, thou shouldst
have got you wisdom by now, perchance.
Poor fool! that thou must love a woman--and worship with thy
love, building for her an altar in thine heart. If altar crumble
and heart burst, is she to blame who is but woman, or thou, who
wouldst have made her all divine?
Well, thou'rt dead--a small handful of gray dust, long since
--perchance thou hast got thee wisdom ere now--poor fool--O Fool
As thou art now, thy sleepless nights forgot--the carking sorrows
of thy life all overpast, and done--so must I some time be, and,
ages hence, shall smile at this, and reckon it no more than a
And so I presently turned back to my tumbled bed, but it seemed
to me that torment and terror still waited me there; moreover, I
was filled with a great desire for action. This narrow chamber
stifled me, while outside was the stir of leaves, the gentle
breathing of the wind, the cool murmur of the brook, with night
brooding over all, deep and soft and still.
Being now dressed, I stood awhile, deliberating how I might
escape without disturbing her who slumbered in the outer room.
So I came to the window, and thrusting my head and shoulders
sidewise through the narrow lattice, slowly, and with much ado,
wriggled myself out. Rising from my hands and knees, I stood up
and threw wide my arms to the perfumed night, inhaling its
sweetness in great, deep breaths, and so turned my steps towards
the brook, drawn thither by its rippling melody; for a brook is a
companionable thing, at all times, to a lonely man, and very full
of wise counsel and friendly admonitions, if he but have ears to
Thus, as I walked beside the brook, it spoke to me of many things,
grave and gay, delivering itself of observations upon the folly of
Humans, comparing us very unfavorably with the godlike dignity of
trees, the immutability of mountains, and the profound philosophy
of brooks. Indeed it waged most eloquent upon this theme,
caustic, if you will, but with a ripple, between whiles, like the
deep-throated chuckle of the wise old philosopher it was.
"Go to!" chuckled the brook. "Oh, heavy-footed, heavy-sighing
Human--go to! It is written that Man was given dominion over
birds and beasts and fishes, and all things made, yet how doth
Man, in all his pride, compare with even a little mountain? And,
as to birds and beasts and fishes, they provide for themselves,
day in and day out, while Man doth starve and famish! To what
end is Man born but to work, beget his kind, and die? O Man!
lift up thy dull-sighted eyes--behold the wonder of the world,
and the infinite universe about thee; behold thyself, and see thy
many failings and imperfections, and thy stupendous littleness
--go to! Man was made for the world, and not the world for man!
Man is a leaf in the forest--a grain of dust borne upon the wind,
and, when the wind faileth, dust to dust returneth; out upon
thee, with thy puny griefs and sorrows.
"O Man!--who hath dominion over all things save thine own heart,
and who, in thy blind egotism, setteth thyself much above me,
who am but a runlet of water. O Man! I tell thee, when thou art
dusty bones, I shall still be here, singing to myself in the sun
or talking to some other poor human fool, in the dark. Go to!"
chuckled the brook, "the Wheel of Life turneth ever faster and
faster; the woes of to-day shall be the woes of last year, or
ever thou canst count them all--out upon thee--go to!"
OF STORM, AND TEMPEST, AND HOW I MET ONE PRAYING IN THE DAWN
On I went, chin on breast, heedless of all direction--now beneath
the shade of trees, now crossing grassy glades or rolling meadow,
or threading my way through long alleys of hop-vines; on and on,
skirting hedges, by haycocks looming ghostly in the dark, by
rustling cornfields, through wood and coppice, where branches
touched me, as I passed, like ghostly fingers in the dark; on I
went, lost to all things but my own thoughts. And my thoughts
were not of Life nor Death nor the world nor the spaces beyond
the world--but of my Virgil book with the broken cover, and of
him who had looked at it--over her shoulder. And, raising my
hands, I clasped them about my temples, and, leaning against a
tree, stood there a great while. Yet, when the trembling fit had
left me, I went on again, and with every footstep there rose a
voice within me, crying: "Why? Why? Why?"
Why should I, Peter Vibart, hale and well in body, healthy in
mind--why should I fall thus into ague-spasms because of a woman
--of whom I knew nothing, who had come I knew not whence,
accompanied by one whose presence, under such conditions, meant
infamy to any woman; why should I burn thus in a fever if she
chose to meet another while I was abroad? Was she not free to
follow her own devices; had I any claim upon her; by what right
did I seek to compass her goings and comings, or interest myself
in her doings? Why? Why? Why?
As I went, the woods gradually fell away, and I came out upon an
open place. The ground rose sharply before me, but I climbed on
and up and so, in time, stood upon a hill.
Now, standing upon this elevation, with the woods looming dimly
below me, as if they were a dark tide hemming me in on all sides,
I became conscious of a sudden great quietude in the air--a
stillness that was like the hush of expectancy; not a sound came
to me, not a whisper from the myriad leaves below.
But, as I stood there listening, very faint and far away, I heard
a murmur that rose and died and rose again, that swelled and
swelled into the roll of distant thunder. Down in the woods was
a faint rustling, as if some giant were stirring among the
leaves, and out of their depths breathed a puff of wind that
fanned my cheek, and so was gone. But, in a while, it was back
again, stronger, more insistent than before, till, sudden as it
came, it died away again, and all was hushed and still, save only
for the tremor down there among the leaves; but lightning
flickered upon the horizon, the thunder rolled nearer and nearer,
and the giant grew ever more restless.
Round about me, in the dark, were imps that laughed and whispered
together, and mocked me amid the leaves:
"Who is the madman that stands upon a lonely hill at midnight,
bareheaded, half clad, and hungers for the storm? Peter Vibart!
Peter Vibart! Who is he that, having eyes, sees not, and having
ears, hears not? Peter Vibart! Peter Vibart! Blow, Wind, and
buffet him! Flame, O Lightning, that he may see! Roar, O
Thunder, that he may hear and know!"
Upon the stillness came a rustling, loud and ever louder, drowning
all else, for the giant was awake at last, and stretching himself;
and now, up he sprang with a sudden bellow, and, gathering himself
together, swept up towards me through the swaying treetops,
pelting me with broken twigs and flying leaves, and filling the
air with the tumult of his coming.
Oh, the wind!--the bellowing, giant wind! On he came, exulting,
whistling through my hair, stopping my breath, roaring in my ears
his savage, wild halloo! And, as if in answer, forth from the
inky heaven burst a jagged, blinding flame, that zigzagged down
among the tossing trees, and vanished with a roaring thunder-clap
that seemed to stun all things to silence. But not for long, for
in the darkness came the wind again--fiercer, wilder than before,
shrieking a defiance. The thunder crashed above me, and the
lightning quivered in the air about me, till my eyes ached with
the swift transitions from pitch darkness to dazzling light--light
in which distant objects started out clear and well defined, only
to be lost again in a swirl of blackness. And now came rain--a
sudden, hissing downpour, long threads of scintillating fire where
the lightning caught it--rain that wetted me through and through.
The storm was at its height, and, as I listened, rain and wind
and thunder became merged and blended into awful music--a
symphony of Life and Death played by the hands of God; and I was
an atom--a grain of dust an insect, to be crushed by God's little
finger. And yet needs must this insect still think upon its
little self for half drowned, deafened, blind, and half stunned
though I was, still the voice within me cried: "Why? Why? Why?"
Why was I here instead of lying soft and sheltered, and sleeping
the blessed sleep of tired humanity? Why was I here, with death
about me--and why must I think, and think, and think of Her?
The whole breadth of heaven seemed torn asunder--blue flame
crackled in the air; it ran hissing along the ground; then
--blackness, and a thunderclap that shook the very hill beneath
me, and I was down upon my knees, with the swish of the rain
Little by little upon this silence stole the rustle of leaves,
and in the leaves were the imps who mocked me:
"Who is he that doth love--in despite of himself, and shall do,
all his days--be she good or evil, whatever she was, whatever she
is? Who is the very Fool of Love? Peter Vibart! Peter Vibart!"
And so I bowed my face upon my hands, and remained thus a great
while, heeding no more the tempest about me. For now indeed was
my question answered, and my fear realized.
"I love her!--whatever she was--whatever she is--good or evil--I
love her. O Fool!--O most miserable Fool!"
And presently I rose, and went on down the hill. Fast I strode,
stumbling and slipping, plunging on heedlessly through bush and
brake until at last, looking about me, I found myself on the
outskirts of a little spinney or copse; and then I became
conscious that the storm had passed, for the thunder had died
down to a murmur, and the rain had ceased; only all about me were
little soft sounds, as if the trees were weeping silently
Pushing on, I came into a sort of narrow lane, grassy underfoot
and shut in on either hand by very tall hedges that loomed solid
and black in the night; and, being spent and weary, I sat down
beneath one of these and propped my chin in my hands.
How long I remained thus I cannot say, but I was at length
aroused by a voice--a strangely sweet and gentle voice at no
great distance, and the words it uttered were these:
"Oh! give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy
endureth forever! O Lord! I beseech Thee look down in Thine
infinite pity upon this, Thy world; for to-day is at hand, and
Thy children must soon awake to life and toil and temptation.
Oh! Thou who art the Lover of Men, let Thy Holy Spirit wait to
meet with each one of us upon the threshold of the dawn, and lead
us through this coming day. Like as a father pitieth his
children, so dost Thou pity all the woeful and heavy-hearted.
Look down upon all those who must so soon awake to their griefs,
speak comfortably to them; remember those in pain who must so
soon take up their weary burdens! Look down upon the hungry and
the rich, the evil and the good, that, in this new day, finding
each something of Thy mercy, they may give thanks unto the Lord,
for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever."
So the voice ended, and there were silence and a profound
stillness upon all things; wherefore, lifting my eyes unto the
east, I saw that it was dawn.
Now, when the prayer was ended, I turned my back upon the
lightening east and set off along the lane.
But, as I went, I heard one hailing me, and glancing round, saw
that in the hedge was a wicket-gate, and over this gate a man was
leaning. A little, thin man with the face of an ascetic, or
mediaeval saint, a face of a high and noble beauty, upon whose
scholarly brow sat a calm serenity, yet beneath which glowed the
full, bright eye of the man of action.
"Good morning, friend!" said be; "welcome to my solitude. I wish
you joy of this new day of ours; it is cloudy yet, but there is a
rift down on the horizon--it will be a fair day, I think."
"On the contrary, sir," said I, "to me there are all the
evidences of the bad weather continuing. I think it will be a
bad day, with rain and probably thunder and lightning! Good
"Stay!" cried he as I turned away, and, with the word, set his
hand upon the gate, and, vaulting nimbly over, came towards me,
with a broad-brimmed straw hat in one hand and a long-stemmed
wooden pipe in the other.
"Sir," said he, "my cottage is close by; you look warn and jaded.
Will you not step in and rest awhile?"
"Thank you, sir; but I must be upon my way."
"And whither lies your way?"
"To Sissinghurst, sir."
"You have a long walk before you, and, with your permission, I
will accompany you a little way."
"With pleasure, sir!" I answered, "though I fear you will find me
a moody companion, and a somewhat silent one; but then, I shall
be the better listener, so light your pipe, sir, and, while you
"My pipe!" said he, glancing down at it; "ah! yes--I was about to
compose my Sunday evening's sermon."
"You are a clergyman, sir?"
"No, no--a preacher--or say rather--a teacher, and a very humble
one, who, striving himself after Truth, seeks to lend such aid to
others as he may."
"Truth!" said I; "what is Truth?"
"Truth, sir, is that which can never pass away; the Truth of Life
is Good Works, which abide everlastingly."
"Sir," said I, "you smoke a pipe, I perceive, and should,
therefore, be a good preacher; for smoking begets thought--"
"And yet, sir, is not to act greater than to think?"
"Why, Thought far outstrips puny Action!" said I--" it reaches
deeper, soars higher; in our actions we are pigmies, but in our
thoughts we may be gods, and embrace a universe."
"But," sighed the Preacher, "while we think, our fellows perish
in ignorance and want!"
"Hum!" said I.
"Thought," pursued the Preacher, "may become a vice, as it did
with the old-time monks and hermits, who, shutting themselves
away from their kind, wasted their lives upon their knees,
thinking noble thoughts and dreaming of holy things, but--leaving
the world very carefully to the devil. And, as to smoking, I am
seriously considering giving it up." Here he took the pipe from
his lips and thrust it behind his back.
"It has become, unfortunately, too human! It is a strange thing,
sir," he went on, smiling and shaking his head, "that this, my
one indulgence, should breed me more discredit than all the
cardinal sins, and become a stumbling-block to others. Only last
Sunday I happened to overhear two white-headed old fellows
talking. 'A fine sermon, Giles?' said the one. 'Ah! good
enough,' replied the other, 'but it might ha' been better--ye
see--'e smokes!' So I am seriously thinking of giving it up, for
it would appear that if a preacher prove himself as human as his
flock, they immediately lose faith in him, and become deaf to his
"Very true, sir!" I nodded. "It has always been human to admire
and respect that only which is in any way different to ourselves;
in archaic times those whose teachings were above men's
comprehension, or who were remarkable for any singularity of
action were immediately deified. Pythagoras recognized this
truth when he shrouded himself in mystery and delivered his
lectures from behind a curtain, though to be sure he has come to
be regarded as something of a charlatan in consequence."
"Pray, sir," said the Preacher, absent-mindedly puffing at his
pipe again, "may I ask what you are?"
"A blacksmith, sir."
"And where did you read of Pythagoras and the like?"
"At Oxford, sir."
"How comes it then that I find you in the dawn, wet with rain,
buffeted by wind, and--most of all--a shoer of horses?"
But, instead of answering, I pointed to a twisted figure that lay
beneath the opposite hedge.
"A man!" exclaimed the Preacher, "and asleep, I think."
"No," said I, "not in that contorted attitude."
"Indeed, you are right," said the Preacher; "the man is ill--poor
fellow!" And, hurrying forward, he fell on his knees beside the
He was a tall man, roughly clad, and he lay upon his back, rigid
and motionless, while upon his blue lips were flecks and bubbles
"Epilepsy!" said I. The Preacher nodded and busied himself with
loosening the sodden neckcloth, the while I unclasped the icy
fingers to relieve the tension of the muscles,
The man's hair was long and matted, as was also his beard, and
his face all drawn and pale, and very deeply lined. Now, as I
looked at him, I had a vague idea that I had somewhere, at some
time, seen him before.
"Sir," said the Preacher, looking up, "will you help me to carry
him to my cottage? It is not very far."
So we presently took the man's wasted form between us and bore
it, easily enough, to where stood a small cottage bowered in
roses and honeysuckle. And, having deposited our unconscious
burden upon the Preacher's humble bed, I turned to depart.
"Sir," said the Preacher, holding out his hand, "it is seldom one
meets with a blacksmith who has read the Pythagorean Philosophy
--at Oxford, and I should like to see you again. I am a lonely man
save for my books; come and sup with me some evening, and let us
"And smoke?" said I. The little Preacher sighed. "I will come,"
said I; "thank you! and good-by!" Now, even as I spoke, chancing
to cast my eyes upon the pale, still face on the bed, I felt more
certain than ever that I had somewhere seen it before.
IN WHICH I COME TO A DETERMINATION
As I walked through the fresh, green world there ensued within me
the following dispute, as it were, between myself and two voices;
and the first voice I will call Pro, and the other Contra.
MYSELF. May the devil take that "Gabbing Dick"!
PRO. He probably will.
MYSELF. Had he not told me of what he saw--of the man who looked
at my Virgil--over her shoulder--
PRO. Or had you not listened.
MYSELF. Ah, yes!--but then, I did listen, and that he spoke the
truth is beyond all doubt; the misplaced Virgil proves that.
However, it is certain, yes, very certain, that I can remain no
longer in the Hollow.
CONTRA. Well, there is excellent accommodation at "The Bull."
PRO. And, pray, why leave the Hollow?
MYSELF. Because she is a woman--
PRO. And you love her!
MYSELF. To my sorrow.
PRO. Well, but woman was made for man, Peter, and man for
MYSELF (sternly). Enough of that--I must go!
PRO. Being full of bitter jealousy.
PRO. Being a mad, jealous fool--
MYSELF. As you will.
PRO. --who has condemned her unheard--with no chance of
MYSELF. To-morrow, at the very latest, I shall seek some other
PRO. Has she the look of guilt?
MYSELF. No; but then women are deceitful by nature, and very
skilful in disguising their faults--at least so I have read in my
PRO (contemptuously). Books! Books! Books!
MYSELF (shortly). No matter; I have decided.
PRO. Do you remember how willingly she worked for you with those
slender, capable hands of hers--?
MYSELF. Why remind me of this?
Pro. You must needs miss her presence sorely; her footstep, that
was always so quick and light--
MYSELF. Truly wonderful in one so nobly formed!
PRO. --and the way she had of singing softly to herself.
MYSELF. A beautiful voice--
PRO. With a caress in it! And then, her habit of looking at you
over her shoulder.
MYSELF. Ah, yes!--her lashes a little drooping, her brows a
little wrinkled, her lips a little parted.
CONTRA. A comfortable inn is "The Bull."
MYSELF (hastily). Yes, yes--certainly.
PRO. Ah!--her lips--the scarlet witchery of her lips! Do you
remember how sweetly the lower one curved upward to its fellow?
A mutinous mouth, with its sudden, bewildering changes! You
never quite knew which to watch oftenest--her eyes or her lips--
CONTRA (hoarsely). Excellent cooking at "The Bull"!
PRO. And how she would berate you and scoff at your Master
Epictetus, and dry-as-dust philosophers!
MYSELF. I have sometimes wondered at her pronounced antipathy to
PRO. And she called you a "creature."
MYSELF. The meaning of which I never quite fathomed.
PRO. And, frequently, a "pedant."
MYSELF. I think not more than four times.
PRO. On such occasions, you will remember, she had a petulant
way of twitching her shoulder towards you and frowning, and,
occasionally, stamping her foot; and, deep within you, you loved
it all, you know you did.
CONTRA. But that is all over, and you are going to "The Bull."
MYSELF (hurriedly). To be sure--"The Bull."
PRO. And, lastly, you cannot have forgotten--you never will
forget--the soft tumult of the tender bosom that pillowed your
battered head--the pity of her hands--those great, scalding
tears, the sudden, swift caress of her lips, and the thrill in
her voice when she said--
MYSELF (hastily). Stop! that is all forgotten.
PRO. You lie! You have dreamed of it ever since, working at
your anvil, or lying upon your bed, with your eyes upon the
stars; you have loved her from the beginning of things!
MYSELF. And I did not know it; I was very blind. The wonder is
that she did not discover my love for her long ago, for, not
knowing it was there, how should I try to hide it?
CONTRA. O Blind, and more than blind! Why should you suppose
MYSELF (stopping short). What? Can it be possible that she has?
CONTRA. Didn't she once say that she could read you like a book?
MYSELF. She did.
CONTRA. And have you not often surprised a smile upon her lips,
MYSELF. Many times.
CONTRA. Have you not beheld a thin-veiled mockery in her look?
Why, poor fool, has she not mocked you from the first? You dream
of her lips. Were not their smiles but coquetry and derision?
MYSELF. But why should she deride me?
CONTRA. For your youth and--innocence.
MYSELF. My youth! my innocence!
CONTRA. Being a fool ingrain, didn't you boast that you had
known but few women?
MYSELF. I did, but--
CONTRA. Didn't she call you boy! boy! boy!--and laugh at you?
MYSELF. Well--even so--
CONTRA (with bitter scorn). O Boy! O Innocent of the innocent!
Go to, for a bookish fool! Learn that lovely ladies yield
themselves but to those who are masterful in their wooing, who
have wooed often, and triumphed as often. O Innocent of the
innocent! Forget the maudlin sentiment of thy books and old
romances--thy pure Sir Galahads, thy "vary parfait gentil
knightes," thy meek and lowly lovers serving their ladies on
bended knee; open thine eyes, learn that women to-day love only
the strong hand, the bold eye, the ready tongue; kneel to her,
and she will scorn and contemn you. What woman, think you, would
prefer the solemn, stern-eyed purity of a Sir Galahad (though he
be the king of men) to the quick-witted gayety of a debonair
Lothario (though he be but the shadow of a man)? Out upon thee,
pale-faced student! Thy tongue hath not the trick, nor thy mind
the nimbleness for the winning of a fair and lovely lady.
Thou'rt well enough in want of a better, but, when Lothario
comes, must she not run to meet him with arms outstretched?
"To-morrow," said I, clenching my fists, "to-morrow I will go
Being now come to the Hollow, I turned aside to the brook, at
that place where was the pool in which I was wont to perform my
morning ablutions; and, kneeling down, I gazed at myself in the
dark, still water; and I saw that the night had, indeed, set its
mark upon me.
"To-morrow," said I again, nodding to the wild face below,
"to-morrow I will go far hence."
Now while I yet gazed at myself, I heard a sudden gasp behind me
and, turning, beheld Charmian.
"Peter! is it you?" she whispered, drawing back from me.
"Who else, Charmian? Did I startle you?"
"Are you afraid of me?"
"You are like one who has walked with--death!"
I rose to my feet, and stood looking down at her. "Are you
afraid of me, Charmian?"
"I am glad of that," said I, "because I want to ask you--to marry
IN WHICH CHARMIAN ANSWERS MY QUESTION
"I wish you wouldn't."
"Wouldn't what, Charmian?"
"Stir your tea round and round and round--it is really most
"I beg your pardon!" said I humbly.
"And you eat nothing; and that is also exasperating!"
"I am not hungry."
"And I was so careful with the bacon--see it is fried
--beautifully--yes, you are very exasperating, Peter!"
Here, finding I was absent-mindedly stirring my tea round and
round again, I gulped it down out of the way, whereupon Charmian
took my cup and refilled it; having done which, she set her
elbows upon the table, and, propping her chin in her hands,
looked at me.
"You climbed out through your window last night, Peter?"
"It must have been a--dreadfully tight squeeze!"
"And why did you go by the window?"
"I did not wish to disturb you."
"That was very thoughtful of you--only, you see, I was up and
dressed; the roar of the thunder woke me. It was a dreadful
"The lightning was awful!"
"And you were out in it?"
"Oh, you poor, poor Peter! How cold you must have been!"
"On the contrary," I began, "I--"
"And wet, Peter--miserably wet and clammy!"
"I did not notice it," I murmured.
"Being a philosopher, Peter, and too much engrossed in your
"I was certainly thinking."
"You are a great egoist, aren't you, Peter?"
"Am I, Charmian?"
"Who but an egoist could stand with his mind so full of himself
and his own concerns as to be oblivious to thunder and lightning,
and not know that he is miserably clammy and wet?"
"I thought of others besides myself."
"But only in connection with yourself; everything you have ever read
or seen you apply to yourself, to make that self more worthy in Mr.
Vibart's eyes. Is this worthy of Peter Vibart? Can Peter Vibart
do this, that, or the other, and still retain the respect of Peter
Vibart? Then why, being in all things so very correct and precise,
why is Peter Vibart given to prowling abroad at midnight, quite
oblivious to thunder, lightning, wet and clamminess? I answer:
Because Peter Vibart is too much engrossed by--Peter Vibart.
There! that sounds rather cryptic and very full of Peter Vibart;
but that is as it should be," and she laughed.
"And what does it mean, Charmian?"
"Good sir, the sibyl hath spoken! Find her meaning for yourself."
"You have called me, on various occasions, a 'creature,' a
'pedant'--very frequently a 'pedant,' and now, it seems I am an
'egoist,' and all because--"
"Because you think too much, Peter; you never open your lips
without having first thought out just what you are going to say;
you never do anything without having laboriously mapped it all
out beforehand, that you may not outrage Peter Vibart's
tranquillity by any impulsive act or speech. Oh! you are always
thinking and thinking--and that is even worse than stirring, and
stirring at your tea, as you are doing now." I took the spoon
hastily from my cup, and laid it as far out of reach as possible.
"If ever you should write the book you once spoke of, it would be
just the very sort of book that I should--hate."
"Because it would be a book of artfully turned phrases; a book in
which all the characters, especially women, would think and speak
and act by rote and rule--as according to Mr. Peter Vibart; it
would be a scholarly book, of elaborate finish and care of
detail, with no irregularities of style or anything else to break
the monotonous harmony of the whole--indeed, sir, it would be a
most unreadable book!"
"Do you think so, Charmian?" said I, once more taking up the
"Why, of course!" she answered, with raised brows; "it would
probably be full of Greek and Latin quotations! And you would
polish and rewrite it until you had polished every vestige of
life and spontaneity out of it, as you do out of yourself, with
your thinking and thinking."
"But I never quote you Greek or Latin; that is surely something,
and, as for thinking, would you have me a thoughtless fool or an
"Anything rather than a calculating, introspective philosopher,
seeing only the mote in the sunbeam, and nothing of the glory."
Here she gently disengaged the teaspoon from my fingers and laid
it in her own saucer, having done which she sighed, and looked at
me with her head to one side. "Were they all like you, Peter, I
wonder--those old philosophers, grim and stern, and terribly
repressed, with burning eyes, Peter, and with very long chins?
Epictetus was, of course!"
"And you dislike Epictetus, Charmian?"
"I detest him! He was just the kind of person, Peter, who, being
unable to sleep, would have wandered out into a terrible
thunderstorm, in the middle of the night, and, being cold and wet
and clammy, Peter, would have drawn moral lessons, and made
epigrams upon the thunder and lightning. Epictetus, I am quite
sure, was a--person!"
"He was one of the wisest, gentlest, and most lovable of all the
Stoics!" said I.
"Can a philosopher possibly be lovable, Peter?" Here I very
absent-mindedly took up a fork, but, finding her eye upon me,
laid it down again.
"You are very nervous, Peter, and very pale and worn and haggard,
and all because you habitually--overthink yourself; and indeed,
there is something very far wrong with a man who perseveringly
stirs an empty cup--with a fork!" And, with a laugh, she took my
cup and, having once more refilled it, set it before me.
"And yet, Peter--I don't think--no, I don't think I would have
you very much changed, after all."
"You mean that you would rather I remained the pedantic,
"I mean, Peter, that, being a woman, I naturally love novelty,
and you are very novel--and very interesting."
"Thank you!" said I, frowning.
"And more contradictory than any woman!"
"Hum!" said I.
"You are so strong and simple--so wise and brave--and so very
weak and foolish and timid!"
"Timid?" said I.
"Timid!" nodded she.
"I am a vast fool!" I acknowledged.
"And I never knew a man anything like you before, Peter!"
"And you have known many, I understand?"
"Yes--you told me so once before, I believe."
"Twice, Peter; and each time you became very silent and gloomy!
Now you, on the other hand," she continued, "have known very few
"And my life has been calm and unruffled in consequence!"
"You had your books, Peter, and your horseshoes."
"My books and horseshoes, yes."
"And were content?"
"Until, one day--a woman--came to you."
"Until, one day--I met a woman."
"And then--I asked her to marry me, Charmian." Here there ensued
a pause, during which Charmian began to pleat a fold in the
"That was rather--unwise of you, wasn't it?" said she at last.
"Because--she might--have taken you at your word, Peter."
"Do you mean that--that you won't, Charmian?"
"Oh dear, no! I have arrived at no decision yet how could I?
You must give me time to consider." Here she paused in her
pleating to regard it critically, with her head on one side. "To
be sure," said she, with a little nod, "to be sure, you need some
one to--to look after you--that is very evident!"
"To cook--and wash for you."
"To mend your clothes for you."
"And you think me--sufficiently competent?"
"Oh, Charmian, I--yes."
Thank you!" said she, very solemnly, and, though her lashes had
drooped, I felt the mockery of her eyes; wherefore I took a
sudden great gulp of tea, and came near choking, while Charmian
began to pleat another fold in the tablecloth.
"And so Mr. Vibart would stoop to wed so humble a person as
Charmian Brown? Mr. Peter Vibart would, actually, marry a woman
of whose past he knows nothing?"
"Yes," said I.
"That, again, would be rather--unwise, wouldn't it?"
"Considering Mr. Vibart's very lofty ideals in regard to women."
"What do you mean?"
"Didn't you once say that your wife's name must be above
suspicion--like Caesar's--or something of the kind?"
"Did I?--yes, perhaps I did--well?"
"Well, this woman--this Humble Person has no name at all, and no
shred of reputation left her. She has compromised herself beyond
all redemption in the eyes of the world."
"But then," said I, "this world and I have always mutually
despised each other."
"She ran away, this woman--eloped with the most notorious, the
most accomplished rake in London."
"Oh!--is not that enough?"
"Enough for what, Charmian?" I saw her busy fingers falter and
tremble, but her voice was steady when she answered:
"Enough to make any--wise man think twice before asking this
Humble Person to--to marry him."
"I might think twenty times, and it would be all one!"
"That if Charmian Brown will stoop to marry a village blacksmith,
Peter Vibart will find happiness again; a happiness that is not
of the sunshine--nor the wind in the trees--Lord, what a fool I
was!" Her fingers had stopped altogether now, but she neither
spoke nor raised her head.
"Charmian," said I, leaning nearer across the table, "speak."
"Oh, Peter!" said she, with a sudden break in her voice, and
stooped her head lower. Yet in a little she looked up at me, and
her eyes were very sweet and shining.
Now, as our glances met thus, up from throat to brow there crept
that hot, slow wave of color, and in her face and in her eyes I
seemed to read joy, and fear, and shame, and radiant joy again.
But now she bent her head once more, and strove to pleat another
fold, and could not; while I grew suddenly afraid of her and of
myself, and longed to hurl aside the table that divided us; and
thrust my hands deep into my pockets, and, finding there my
tobacco-pipe, brought it out and fell to turning it aimlessly
over and over. I would have spoken, only I knew that my voice
would tremble, and so I sat mum-chance, staring at my pipe with
unseeing eyes, and with my brain in a ferment. And presently
came her voice, cool and sweet and sane:
"Your tobacco, Peter," and she held the box towards me across the
"Ah, thank you!" said I, and began to fill my pipe, while she
watched me with her chin propped in her hands.
"I wonder why so grave a person as Mr. Peter Vibart should seek
to marry so impossible a creature as--the Humble Person?"
"I think," I answered, "I think, if there is any special reason,
it is because of--your mouth."
"Or your eyes--or the way you have with your lashes."
Charmian laughed, and forthwith drooped them at me, and laughed
again, and shook her head.
"But surely, Peter, surely there are thousands, millions of women
with mouths and eyes like--the Humble Person's?"
"It is possible," said I, "but none who have the same way with
"What do you mean?"
"I can't tell; I don't know."
"Don't you, Peter?"
"No--it is just a way."
"And so it is that you want to marry this very Humble Person?"
"I think I have wanted to from the very first, but did not know
it--being a blind fool!"
"And--did it need a night walk in a thunderstorm to teach you?"
"No--that is, yes--perhaps it did."
"And--are you quite, quite sure?"
"Quite--quite sure!" said I, and, as I spoke, I laid my pipe upon
the table and rose; and, because my hands were trembling, I
clenched my fists. But, as I approached her, she started up and
put out a hand to hold me off, and then I saw that her hands were
trembling also. And standing thus, she spoke, very softly:
"Do you remember describing to me the--the perfect woman who
should be your--wife?"
"How that you must be able to respect her for her intellect?"
"Honor her for her virtue?"
"And worship her--for her--spotless purity?"
"I dreamed a paragon--perfect and impossible; I was a fool!" said I.
"Impossible! Oh, Peter! what--what do you mean?"
"She was only an impalpable shade quite impossible of
realization--a bloodless thing, as you said, and quite unnatural
--a sickly figment of the imagination. I was a fool!"
"And you are--too wise now, to expect--such virtues--in any
"Yes," said I; "no--oh, Charmian! I only know that you have
taken this phantom's place--that you fill all my thoughts
--sleeping, and waking--"
"No! No!" she cried, and struggled in my arms, so that I caught
her hands, and held them close, and kissed them many times.
"Oh, Charmian! Charmian!--don't you know--can't you see--it
is you I want--you, and only you forever; whatever you were
--whatever you are--I love you--love you, and always must!
Marry me, Charmian!--marry me! and you shall be dearer than
my life--more to me than my soul--" But, as I spoke, her hands
were snatched away, her eyes blazed into mine, and her lips
were all bitter scorn, and at the sight, fear came upon me.
"Marry you!" she panted; "marry you?--no and no and no!" And so
she stamped her foot, and sobbed, and turning, fled from me, out
of the cottage.
And now to fear came wonder, and with wonder was despair.
Truly, was ever man so great a fool!
CONCERNING THE FATE OF BLACK GEORGE
A broad, white road; on either hand some half-dozen cottages with
roofs of thatch or red tile, backed by trees gnarled and ancient,
among which rises the red conical roof of some oast-house. Such,
in a word, is Sissinghurst.
Now, upon the left-hand side of the way, there stands a square,
comfortable, whitewashed building, peaked of roof, bright as to
windows, and with a mighty sign before the door, whereon you shall
behold the picture of a bull: a bull rolling of eye, astonishingly
curly of horn and stiff as to tail, and with a prodigious girth
of neck and shoulder; such a snorting, fiery-eyed, curly-horned
bull as was never seen off an inn-sign.
It was at this bull that I was staring with much apparent
interest, though indeed, had that same curly-horned monstrosity
been changed by some enchanter's wand into a green dragon or
griffin, or swan with two necks, the chances are that I should
have continued sublimely unconscious of the transformation.
Yet how should honest Silas Hoskins, ostler, and general factotum
of "The Bull" inn, be aware of this fact, who, being thus early
at work, and seeing me lost in contemplation, paused to address
me in all good faith?
"A fine bull 'e be, eh, Peter? Look at them 'orns, an' that
theer tail; it's seldom as you sees 'orns or a tail the like o'
"Very seldom!" I answered, and sighed.
"An' then--'is nose-'oles, Peter, jest cast your eye on them
nose'oles, will ye; why, dang me! if I can't 'ear 'im a-snortin'
when I looks at 'em! An' 'e were all painted by a chap--a little
old chap wi' gray whiskers--no taller 'n your elber, Peter!
Think o' that--a little chap no taller 'n your elber! I seen 'im
do it wi' my two eyes--a-sittin' on a box. Drored t' bull in
wi' a bit o' chalk, first; then 'e outs wi' a couple o' brushes;
dab 'e goes, an' dab, dab again, an'--by Goles! theer was a pair
o' eyes a-rollin' theirselves at me--just a pair o' eyes, Peter.
Ah! 'e were a wonder were that little old chap wi' gray whiskers!
The way 'e went at that theer bull, a-dabbin' at 'im 'ere, an'
a-dabbin' at 'im theer till 'e come to 'is tail--'e done 'is tail
last of all, Peter. 'Give un a good tail!' says I. 'Ah! that I
will,' says 'e. 'An' a good stiff un!' says I. 'Ye jest keep
your eye on it, an' watch!' says 'e. Talk about tails, Peter!
'E put in that theer tail so quick as nigh made my eyes water,
an'--as for stiffness--well, look at it! I tell 'ee that chap
could paint a bull wi' 'is eyes shut, ah, that 'e could! an' 'im
such a very small man wi' gray whiskers. No, ye don't see many
bulls like that un theer, I'm thinkin', Peter?"
"They would be very hard to find!" said I, and sighed again.
Whereupon Silas sighed, for company's sake, and nodding, went off
about his many duties, whistling cheerily.
So I presently turned about and crossed the road to the smithy.
But upon the threshold I stopped all at once and drew softly
back, for, despite the early hour, Prudence was there, upon her
knees before the anvil, with George's great hand-hammer clasped
to her bosom, sobbing over it, and, while she sobbed, she kissed
its worn handle. And because such love was sacred and hallowed
that dingy place, I took off my hat as I once more crossed the
Seeing "The Bull" was not yet astir, for the day was still young
(as I say), I sat me down in the porch and sighed.
And after I had sat there for some while, with my chin sunk upon
my breast, and plunged in bitter meditation, I became aware of
the door opening, and next moment a tremulous hand was laid upon
my head, and, looking round, I beheld the Ancient.
"Bless 'ee, Peter--bless 'ee, lad!--an' a old man's blessin' be
no light thing--'specially such a old, old man as I be--an' it
bean't often as I feels in a blessin' sperrit--but oh, Peter!
'twere me as found ye, weren't it?"
"Why, to be sure it was, Ancient, very nearly five months ago."
"An' I be allus ready wi' some noos for ye, bean't I?"
"Well, I got more noos for 'ee, Peter--gert noos!"
"And what is it this time?"
"I be allus full up o' noos, bean't I?" he repeated.
"Yes, Ancient," said I, and sighed; "and what is your news?"
"Why, first of all, Peter, jest reach me my snuff-box, will 'ee?
--'ere it be--in my back 'ind pocket--thankee! thankee!" Hereupon
he knocked upon the lid with a bony knuckle. "I du be that full
o' noos this marnin' that my innards be all of a quake, Peter,
all of a quake!" he nodded, saying which, he sat down close
"Some day--when that theer old stapil be all rusted away, an'
these old bones is a-restin' in the churchyard over to Cranbrook,
Peter--you'll think, sometimes, o' the very old man as was always
so full o' noos, won't 'ee, Peter?"
"Surely, Ancient, I shall never forget you," said I, and sighed.
"An' now, Peter," said the old man, extracting a pinch of snuff,
"now for the noos--'bout Black Jarge, it be."
"What of him, Ancient?" The old man shook his head.
"It took eight on 'em to du it, Peter, an' now four on 'em's
a-layin' in their beds, an' four on 'em's 'obblin' on crutches--an'
all over a couple o' rabbits--though theer be some fules as says
they was pa'tridges!"
"Why--what do you mean?"
"Why, ye see, Peter, Black Jarge be such a gert, strong man (I
were much such another when I were young) like; lion, in 'is
wrath, 'e be--ah!--a bull bean't nothin' to Black Jarge! An'
they keepers come an' found 'im under a tree, fast asleep--like
David in the Cave of Adullam, Peter, wi' a couple o' rabbits as
'e'd snared. An' when they keepers tried to tak' 'im, 'e rose
up, 'e did, an' throwed some on 'em this way an' some on 'em that
way--'twere like Samson an' the Philistines; if only 'e'd
'appened to find the jaw-bone of a ass lyin' 'andy, 'e'd ha'
killed 'em all an' got away, sure as sure. But it weren't to be,
Peter, no; dead donkeys be scarce nowadays, an' as for asses'
"Do you mean that George is taken--a prisoner?"
The Ancient nodded, and inhaled his pinch of snuff with much
"It be gert noos, bean't it, Peter?"
"What have they done with him? Where is he, Ancient?" But,
before the old man could answer, Simon appeared.
"Ah, Peter!" said he, shaking his head, "the Gaffer's been
tellin' ye 'ow they've took Jarge for poachin', I suppose--"
"Simon!" cried the Ancient, "shut thy mouth, lad hold thy gab an'
give thy poor old feyther a chance--I be tellin' 'im so fast as I
can! As I was a-sayin', Peter like a fur'us lion were Jarge wi'
they keepers--eight on 'em, Peter--like dogs, a-growlin' an'
growlin', an' leapin', and worryin' all round 'im--ah!--like a
lion 'e were--"
"Waitin' for a chance to use 'is 'right, d'ye see, Peter!"
ANCIENT. Wi' 'is eyes a-rollin' an' flamin', Peter, an' 'is mane
SIMON. Cool as any cucumber, Peter--
ANCIENT. A-roarin' an' a-lashin' of 'is tail--
SIMON. And sparrin' for an openin', Peter, and when 'e sees one
--downin' 'is man every time--
ANCIENT. Leapin' in the air, rollin' in the grass, wi' they
keepers clingin' to 'im like leeches--ah! leeches--
SIMON. And every time they rushed, tap 'ud go 'is "left," and
bang 'ud go 'is "right"--
ANCIENT. An' up 'e'd get, like Samson again, Peter, an' give
'isself a shake; bellerin'--like a bull o' Bashan--
SIMON. Ye see, they fou't so close together that the keepers was
afear'd to use their guns--
ANCIENT (indignantly). Guns!--who's a-talkin' o' guns? Simon,
my bye--you be allus a-maggin' an' a-maggin'; bridle thy tongue,
lad, bridle thy tongue afore it runs away wi' ye.
SIMON (sheepishly). All right, Old Un--fire away!
But, at this juncture, Old Amos hove in view, followed by the
Apologetic Dutton, with Job and sundry others, on their way to
work, and, as they came, they talked together, with much solemn
wagging of heads. Having reached the door of "The Bull," they
paused and greeted us, and I thought Old Amos's habitual grin
seemed a trifle more pronounced than usual.
"So poor Jarge 'as been an' gone an' done for 'isself at last,
eh? Oh, my soul! think o' that, now!" sighed Old Amos.
"Allus knowed as 'e would!" added Job; "many's the time I've
said as 'e would, an' you know it--all on you."
"It'll be the Barbadies, or Austrayley!" grinned Amos; "transportation,
it'll be--Oh, my soul! think o' that now--an' 'im a Siss'n'urst man!"
"An' all along o' a couple o'--rabbits!" said the Ancient,
emphasizing the last word with a loud rap on his snuff-box.
"Pa'tridges, Gaffer!--they was pa'tridges!" returned Old Amos.
"I allus said as Black Jarge'd come to a bad end," reiterated
Job, "an' what's more--'e aren't got nobody to blame but
"An' all for a couple o'--rabbits!" sighed the Ancient, staring
Old Amos full in the eye.
"Pa'tridges, Gaffer, they was pa'tridges--you, James Dutton--was
they pa'tridges or was they not--speak up, James."
Hereupon the man Dutton, all perspiring apology, as usual,
shuffled forward, and, mopping his reeking brow, delivered
himself in this wise:
"W'ich I must say--meanin' no offence to nobody, an' if so be,
apologizin'--w'ich I must say--me 'avin' seen 'em--they was
--leastways," he added, as he met the Ancient's piercing eye,
"leastways--they might 'ave been, w'ich--if they ain't--no
Having said which, he apologetically smeared his face all over
with his shirt-sleeve, and subsided again.
"It do wring my 'eart--ah, that it do! to think o' pore Jarge a
convic' at Bot'ny Bay!" said Old Amos, "a-workin', an' diggin',
an' slavin' wi' irons on 'is legs an' arms, a-jinglin', an'
ajanglin' when 'e walks."
"Well, but it's Justice, aren't it?" demanded Job--"a poacher's
a thief, an' a thief's a convic'--or should be!"
"I've 'eerd," said Old Amos, shaking his head, "I've 'eerd as
they ties they convic's up to posts, an' lashes an' lashes 'em
wi' the cat-o'-nine-tails!"
"They generally mostly deserves it!" nodded Job.
"But 'tis 'ard to think o' pore Jarge tied up to one o' them
floggin'-posts, wi' 'is back all raw an' bleedin!" pursued Old
Amos; "crool 'ard it be, an' 'im such a fine, strappin' young
"'E were allus a sight too fond o' pitchin' into folk, Jarge were!"
said Job; "it be a mercy as my back weren't broke more nor once."
"Ah!" nodded the Ancient, "you must be amazin' strong in the
back, Job! The way I've seed 'ee come a-rollin' an' awallerin'
out o' that theer smithy's wonnerful, wonnerful. Lord! Job--'ow
you did roll!"
"Well, 'e won't never do it no more," said Job, glowering; "what
wi' poachin' 'is game, an' knockin' 'is keepers about, 't aren't
likely as Squire Beverley'll let 'im off very easy--"
"Who?" said I, looking up, and speaking for the first time.
"Squire Beverley o' Burn'am 'All."
"Sir Peregrine Beverley?"
"Ay, for sure."
"And how far is it to Burnham Hall?"
"'Ow fur?" repeated Job, staring; "why, it lays 't other side o'
"It be a matter o' eight mile, Peter," said the Ancient. "Nine,
Peter!" cried old Amos--"nine mile, it be!"
"Though I won't swear, Peter," continued the Ancient, "I won't
swear as it aren't--seven--call it six an' three quarters!" said
he, with his eagle eye on Old Amos.
"Then I had better start now," said I, and rose.
"Why, Peter--wheer be goin'?"
"To Burnham Hall, Ancient."
"What--you?" exclaimed Job; "d'ye think Squire'll see you?"
"I think so; yes."
"Well, 'e won't--they'll never let the likes o' you or me beyond
"That remains to be seen," said I.
"So you 'm goin', are ye?"
"I certainly am."
"All right!" nodded Job, "if they sets the dogs on ye, or chucks
you into the road--don't go blamin' it on to me, that's all!"
"What--be ye really a-goin', Peter?"
"I really am, Ancient."
"Then--by the Lord!--I'll go wi' ye."
"It's a long walk!"
"Nay--Simon shall drive us in the cart."
"That I will!" nodded the Innkeeper.
"Ay, lad," cried the Ancient, laying his hand upon my arm, "we'll
up an' see Squire, you an' me--shall us, Peter? There be some
fules," said he, looking round upon the staring company, "some
fules as talks o' Bot'ny Bay, an' irons, an' whippin'-posts--all
I says is--let 'em, Peter, let 'em! You an' me'll up an' see
Squire, Peter, sha'n't us? Black Jarge aren't a convic' yet, let
fules say what they will; we'll show 'em, Peter, we'll show 'em!"
So saying, the old man led me into the kitchen of "The Bull,"
while Simon went to have the horses put to.
IN WHICH THE ANCIENT IS SURPRISED
A cheery place, at all times, is the kitchen of an English inn, a
comfortable place to eat in, to talk in, or to doze in; a place
with which your parlors and withdrawing-rooms, your salons (a la
the three Louis) with their irritating rococo, their gilt and
satin, and spindle-legged discomforts, are not (to my mind)
worthy to compare.
And what inn kitchen, in all broad England, was ever brighter,
neater, and more comfortable than this kitchen of "The Bull,"
where sweet Prue held supreme sway, with such grave dignity, and
with her two white-capped maids to do her bidding and behests?
--surely none. And surely in no inn, tavern, or hostelry soever,
great or small, was there ever seen a daintier, prettier, sweeter
hostess than this same Prue of ours.
And her presence was reflected everywhere, and, if ever the
kitchen of an inn possessed a heart to lose, then, beyond all
doubt, this kitchen had lost its heart to Prue long since; even
the battered cutlasses crossed upon the wall, the ponderous jack
above the hearth, with its legend: ANNO DOMINI 1643, took on a
brighter sheen to greet her when she came, and as for the pots
and pans, they fairly twinkled.
But today Prue's eyes were red, and her lips were all a-droop,
the which, though her smile was brave and ready, the Ancient was
quick to notice.
"Why, Prue, lass, you've been weepin'!"
"Your pretty eyes be all swole--red they be; what's the trouble?"
"Oh! 'tis nothing, dear, 'tis just a maid's fulishness--never
mind me, dear."
"Ah! but I love 'ee, Prue--come, kiss me--theer now, tell me all
about it--all about it, Prue."
"Oh, grandfer!" said she, from the hollow of his shoulder, "'tis
just--Jarge!" The old man grew very still, his mouth opened
slowly, and closed with a snap.
"Did 'ee--did'ee say--Jarge, Prue? Is it--breekin' your 'eart ye
be for that theer poachin' Black Jarge? To think--as my Prue
should come down to a poacbin'--"
Prudence slipped from his encircling arm and stood up very
straight and proud--there were tears thick upon her lashes, but
she did not attempt to wipe them away.
"Grandfer," she said very gently, "you mustn't speak of Jarge to
me like that--ye mustn't--ye mustn't because I--love him, and if
--he ever--comes back I'll marry him if--if he will only ax me;
and if he--never comes back, then--I think--I shall--die!" The
Ancient took out his snuff-box, knocked it, opened it, glanced
inside, and--shut it up again.
"Did 'ee tell me as you--love--Black Jarge, Prue?"
"Yes, grandfer, I always have and always shall!"
"Loves Black Jarge!" he repeated; "allus 'as--allus will! Oh,
Lord! what 'ave I done?" Now, very slowly, a tear crept down his
wrinkled cheek, at sight of which Prue gave a little cry, and,
kneeling beside his chair, took him in her arms. "Oh, my lass!
--my little Prue--'tis all my doin'. I thought--Oh, Prue, 'twere
me as parted you! I thought--" The quivering voice broke off.
"'Tis all right, grandfer, never think of it--see there, I be
smilin'!" and she kissed him many times.
"A danged fule I be!" said the old man, shaking his head.
"No, no, grandfer!"
"That's what I be, Prue--a danged fule! If I do go afore that
theer old, rusty stapil, 'twill serve me right--a danged fule I
be! Allus loved 'im--allus will, an' wishful to wed wi' 'im!
Why, then," said the Ancient, swallowing two or three times, "so
'ee shall, my sweet--so 'ee shall, sure as sure, so come an' kiss
me, an' forgive the old man as loves 'ee so."
"What do 'ee mean, grandfer?" said Prue between two kisses.
"A fine, strappin' chap be Jarge; arter all, Peter, you bean't a
patch on Jarge for looks, be you?"
"No, indeed, Ancient!"
"Wishful to wed 'im, she is, an' so she shall. Lordy Lord! Kiss
me again, Prue, for I be goin' to see Squire--ay, I be goin' to
up an' speak wi' Squire for Jarge an' Peter be comin' too."
"Oh, Mr. Peter!" faltered Prudence, "be this true?" and in her
eyes was the light of a sudden hope.
"Yes," I nodded.
"D'you think Squire'll see you--listen to you?" she cried
"I think he will, Prudence," said I.
"God bless you, Mr. Peter!" she murmured. "God bless you!"
But now came the sound of wheels and the voice of Simon, calling,
wherefore I took my hat and followed the Ancient to the door, but
there Prudence stopped me.
"Last time you met wi' Jarge he tried to kill you. Oh, I know,
and now--you be goin' to--"
"Nonsense, Prue!" said I. But, as I spoke, she stooped and would
have kissed my hand, but I raised her and kissed her upon the
cheek, instead. "For good luck, Prue," said I, and so turned and
In the porch sat Job, with Old Amos and the rest, still in solemn
conclave over pipes and ale, who watched with gloomy brows as I
swung myself up beside the Ancient in the cart.
"A fule's journey!" remarked Old Amos sententiously, with a wave
of his pipe; "a fule's journey!"
The Ancient cast an observing eye up at the cloudless sky, and
also nodded solemnly.
"Theer be some fules in this world, Peter, as mixes up rabbits
wi' pa'tridges, and honest men--like Jarge--wi' thieves, an' lazy
waggabones--like Job--but we'll show 'em, Peter, we'll show 'em
--dang 'em! Drive on, Simon, my bye!"
So, with this Parthian shot, feathered with the one strong word
the Ancient kept for such occasions, we drove away from the
silenced group, who stared mutely after us until we were lost to
view. But the last thing I saw was the light in Prue's sweet
eyes as she watched us from the open lattice.
HOW WE SET OUT FOR BURNHAM HALL
"Peter," said the Ancient, after we had gone a little way,
"Peter, I do 'opes as you aren't been an' gone an' rose my Prue's
'opes only to dash 'em down again."
"I can but do my best, Ancient."
"Old Un," said Simon, "'tweren't Peter as rose 'er 'opes,
'twere you; Peter never said nowt about bringin' Jarge 'ome--"
"Simon," commanded the Ancient, "hold thy tongue, lad; I says
again, if Peter's been an' rose Prue's 'opes only to dash 'em 't
will be a bad day for Prue, you mark my words; Prue's a lass as
don't love easy, an' don't forget easy."
"Why, true, Gaffer, true, God bless 'er!"
"She be one as 'ud pine--slow an' quiet, like a flower in the
woods, or a leaf in autumn--ah! fade, she would, fade an' fade!"
"Well, she bean't a-goin' to do no fadin', please the Lord!"
"Not if me an' Peter an' you can 'elp it, Simon, my bye--but we
'm but poor worms, arter all, as the Bible says; an' if Peter 'as
been an' rose 'er 'opes o' freein' Jarge, an' don't free Jarge
--if Jarge should 'ave to go a convic' to Austrayley, or--or t'
other place, why then--she'll fade, fade as ever was, an' be laid
in the churchyard afore 'er poor old grandfeyther!"
"Lord, Old Un!" exclaimed Simon, "who's a-talkin' o' fadin's an'
churchyards? I don't like it--let's talk o' summ'at else."
"Simon," said the Ancient, shaking his head reprovingly, "ye be a
good bye--ah! a steady, dootiful lad ye be, I don't deny it; but
the Lord aren't give you no imagination, which, arter all, you
should be main thankful for; a imagination's a troublesome thing
--aren't it, Peter?"
"It is," said I, "a damnable thing!"
"Ay--many's the man as 'as been ruinated by 'is imagination
--theer was one, Nicodemus Blyte were 'is name--"
"And a very miserable cove 'e sounds, too!" added Simon.
"But a very decent, civil-spoke, quiet young chap 'e were!"
continued the Ancient, "only for 'is imagination; Lord! 'e were
that full o' imagination 'e couldn't drink 'is ale like an
ordinary chap--sip, 'e'd go, an' sip, sip, till 'twere all gone,
an' then 'e'd forget as ever 'e'd 'ad any, an' go away wi'out
paying for it--if some 'un didn't remind 'im--"
"'E were no fule, Old Un!" nodded Simon.
"An' that weren't all, neither, not by no manner o' means," the
Ancient continued. "I've knowed that theer chap sit an' listen
to a pretty lass by the hour together an' never say a word--not
"Didn't git a chance to, p'r'aps?" said Simon.
"It weren't that, no, it were jest 'is imagination a-workin' an'
workin' inside of 'im, an' fillin' 'im up. 'Ows'ever, at last,
one day, 'e up an' axed 'er to marry 'im, an' she, bein' all took
by surprise, said 'yes,' an' went an' married some'un else."
"Lord!" said Simon, "what did she go and marry another chap for?"
"Simon," returned the Ancient, "don't go askin' fulish questions.
'Ows'ever, she did, an' poor Nicodemus growed more imaginative
than ever; arter that, 'e took to turnips."
"Turnips?" exclaimed Simon, staring.
"Turnips as ever was!" nodded the Ancient, "used to stand, for
hours at a time, a-lookin' at 'is turnips an' shakin' 'is 'ead
"But--what for?--a man must be a danged fule to go shakin' of 'is
'ead over a lot o' turnips!"
"Well, I don't know," rejoined the Ancient; "'is turnips was very
good uns, as a rule, an' fetched top prices in the markets."
At this juncture there appeared a man in a cart, ahead of us, who
flourished his whip and roared a greeting, a coarse-visaged,
loud-voiced fellow, whose beefy face was adorned with a pair of
enormous fiery whiskers that seemed forever striving to hide his
ears, which last, being very large and red, stood boldly out at
right angles to his head, refusing to be thus ambushed, and
scorning all concealment.
"W'at--be that the Old Un--be you alive an' kickin' yet?"
"Ay, God be thanked, John!"
"And w'at be all this I 'ear about that theer Black Jarge--'e
never were much good--but w'at be all this?"
"Lies, mostly, you may tak' your oath!" nodded the Ancient.
"But 'e've been took for poachin', ah! an' locked up at the
"An' we 'm goin' to fetch un--we be goin' to see Squire--"
"W'at--you, Old Un? You see Squire--haw! haw!"
"Ah, me!--an' Peter, an' Simon, 'ere--why not?"
"_You_ see 'is Worship Sir Peregrine Beverley, Baronet, an' Justice
o' the Peace--you? Ecod! that's a good un--danged if it ain't!
An' what might you be wishful to do when ye see 'im--which ye
"Fetch back Jarge, o' course."
"Old Un, you must be crazed in your lead, arter Jarge killin'
four keepers--Sir Peregrine's own keepers too--shootin' 'em stone
dead, an' three more a-dyin'--"
"John," said the Ancient, shaking his head, "that's the worst o'
bein' cursed wi' ears like yourn--"
"My ears is all right!" returned John, frowning.
"Oh, ah!" chuckled the old man, "your ears is all right, John
--prize ears, ye might call 'em; I never seed a pair better
"A bit large, they may be," growled John, giving a furtive pull
to the nearest ambush, "but--"
"Large as ever was, John!" nodded the Ancient--"oncommon large!
an', consequent, they ketches a lot too much. I've kep' my eye
on them ears o' yourn for thirty year an' more, John--if so be as
they grows any bigger, you'll be 'earin' things afore they're
John gave a fierce tug to the ambush, muttered an oath, and,
lashing up his horse, disappeared down the road in a cloud of
"'Twere nigh on four year ago since Black Jarge thrashed John,
weren't it, Simon?"
"Ah!" nodded Simon, "John were in 'The Ring' then, Peter, an' a
pretty tough chap 'e were, too, though a bit too fond o' swingin'
wi' 'is 'right' to please me."
"'E were very sweet on Prue then, weren't 'e, Simon?"
"Ah!" nodded Simon again; "'e were allus 'anging round 'The
Bull'--till I warned 'im off--"
"An'-'e laughed at 'ee, Simon."
"Ah! 'e did that; an' I were going to 'ave a go at 'im myself;
an' the chances are 'e'd 'ave beat me, seein' I 'adn't been
inside of a ring for ten year, when--"
"Up comes Jarge," chuckled the Ancient. 'What's all this?' say
Jarge. 'I be goin' to teach John 'ere to keep away from my
Prue,' says Simon. 'No, no,' says Jarge, 'John's young, an' you
bean't the man you was ten years ago--let me,' says Jarge. 'You?'
says John, 'you get back to your bellers--you be purty big, but
I've beat the 'eads off better men nor you!' 'Why, then, 'ave a
try at mine,' says Jarge; an' wi' the word, bang! comes John's
fist again' 'is jaw, an' they was at it. Oh, Peter! that were a
fight! I've seed a few in my time, but nothin' like that 'ere."
"And when 'twere all over," added Simon, "Jarge went back to 'is
'ammer an' bellers, an' we picked John up, and I druv 'im 'ome in
this 'ere very cart, an' nobody's cared to stand up to Jarge
"You have both seen Black George fight, then?" I inquired.
"Many's the time, Peter."
"And have you ever--seen him knocked down?"
"No," returned the Ancient, shaking his head, "I've seed 'im all
blood from 'ead to foot, an' once a gert, big sailor-man knocked
'im sideways, arter which Jarge got fu'rus-like, an' put 'im to
"No, Peter!" added Simon, "I don't think as there be a man in
all England as could knock Black Jarge off 'is pins in a fair,
"Hum!" said I.
"Ye see--'e be that 'ard, Peter!" nodded the Ancient. "Why,
look!" he cried--"look 'ee theer!"
Now, looking where he pointed, I saw a man dart across the road
some distance away; he was hidden almost immediately, for there
were many trees thereabouts, but there was no mistaking that
length of limb and breadth of shoulder.
"'Twere Black Jarge 'isself!" exclaimed Simon, whipping up his
horses; but when we reached the place George was gone, and though
we called and sought for some time, we saw him no more.
So, in a while, we turned and jogged back towards Sissinghurst.
"What be you a-shakin' your 'ead over, Old Un?" inquired Simon,
after we had ridden some distance.
"I were wonderin' what that old fule Amos'll say when we drive
back wi'out Jarge."
Being come to the parting of the ways, I descended from the cart,
for my head was strangely heavy, and I felt much out of sorts,
and, though the day was still young I had no mind for work.
Therefore I bade adieu to Simon and the Ancient, and turned aside
towards the Hollow, leaving them staring after me in wonderment.
IN WHICH I FALL FROM FOLLY INTO MADNESS
It was with some little trepidation that I descended into the
Hollow, and walked along beside the brook, for soon I should meet
Charmian, and the memory of our parting, and the thought of this
meeting, had been in my mind all day long.
She would not be expecting me yet, for I was much before my usual
time, wherefore I walked on slowly beside the brook, deliberating
on what I should say to her, until I came to that large stone
where I had sat dreaming the night when she had stood in the
moonlight, and first bidden me in to supper. And now, sinking
upon this stone, I set my elbows upon my knees, and my chin in my
hands, and, fixing my eyes upon the ever-moving waters of the
brook, fell into a profound meditation.
From this I was suddenly aroused by the clink of iron and the
snort of a horse.
Wondering, I lifted my eyes, but the bushes were very dense, and
I could see nothing. But, in a little, borne upon the gentle
wind, came the sound of a voice, low and soft and very sweet
--whose rich tones there was no mistaking--followed, almost
immediately, by another--deeper, gruffer--the voice of a man.
With a bound, I was upon my feet, and had, somehow, crossed the
brook, but, even so, I was too late; there was the crack of a
whip, followed by the muffled thud of a horse's hoofs, which died
quickly away, and was lost in the stir of leaves.
I ground my teeth, and cursed that fate which seemed determined
that I should not meet this man face to face--this man whose back
I had seen but once--a broad-shouldered back clad in a blue coat.
I stood where I was, dumb and rigid, staring straight before me,
and once again a tremor passed over me, that came and went,
growing stronger and stronger, and, once again, in my head was
the thud, thud, thud of the hammer.
"'In Scarlet town, where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwellin',
Made every youth cry Well-a-way!
Her name was Barbara Allen.'"
She was approaching by that leafy path that wound its way along
beside the brook, and there came upon me a physical nausea, and
ever the thud of the hammer grew more maddening.
"'All in the merry month of May,
When green buds they were swellin',
Young Jemmy Grove on his death-bed lay,
For love of Barbara Allen.'"
Now, as she ended the verse, she came out into the open, and saw
me, and, seeing me, looked deliberately over my head, and went on
singing, while I--stood shivering:
"'So, slowly, slowly rase she up
And slowly she came nigh him,
And when she drew the curtain by--
"Young man, I think you're dyin'!"'"
And suddenly the trees and bushes swung giddily round--the grass
swayed beneath my feet--and Charmian was beside me with her arm
about my shoulders; but I pusbed her from me, and leaned against
a tree near by, and hearkened to the hammer in my brain.
"Why--Peter!" said she. "Oh--Peter!"
"Please, Charmian," said I, speaking between the hammer-strokes,
"do not--touch me again--it is--too soon after--"
"What do you mean--Peter? What do you mean?"
"He has--been with you--again--"
"What do you mean?" she cried.
"I know of--his visits--if he was--the same as--last time--in a
--blue coat--no, don't, don't touch me."
But she had sprung upon me, and caught me by the arms, and shook
me in a grip so strong that, giddy as I was, I reeled and
staggered like a drunken man. And still her voice hissed: "What
do you mean?" And her voice and hands and eyes were strangely
"I mean," I answered, in a low, even voice, like one in a trance,
"that you are a Messalina, a Julia, a Joan of Naples, beautiful
as they--and as wanton."
Now at the word she cried out, and struck me twice across the
face, blows that burnt and stung.
"Beast!" she cried. "Liar! Oh, that I had the strength to
grind you into the earth beneath my foot. Oh! you poor, blind,
self-deluding fool!" and she laughed, and her laughter stung me
most of all. "As I look at you," she went on, the laugh still
curling her lip, "you stand there--what you are--a beaten hound.
This is my last look, and I shall always remember you as I see
you now--scarlet-cheeked, shamefaced--a beaten hound!" And,
speaking, she shook her hand at me, and turned upon her heel;
but with that word, and in that instant, the old, old demon
leapt up within me, and, as he leapt, I clasped my arms about
her, and caught her up, and crushed her close and high against
"Go?" said I. "Go--no--no, not yet!"
And now, as her eyes met mine, I felt her tremble, yet she strove
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