A TRAVELLER IN LITTLE THINGS
W. H. HUDSON
Of the sketches contained in this volume, fourteen have appeared in the following periodicals: The New Statesman, The Saturday Review, The Nation, and The Cornhill Magazine.
I. HOW I FOUND MY TITLE II. THE OLD MAN'S DELUSION III. AS A TREE FALLS IV. BLOOD: A STORY OF TWO BROTHERS V. A STORY OF LONG DESCENT VI. A SECOND STORY OF TWO BROTHERS VII. A THIRD STORY OF TWO BROTHERS VIII. THE TWO WHITE HOUSES: A MEMORY IX. DANDY: A STORY OF A DOG X. THE SAMPHIRE GATHERER XI. A SURREY VILLAGE XII. A WILTSHIRE VILLAGE XIII. HER OWN VILLAGE XIV. APPLE BLOSSOMS AND A LOST VILLAGE XV. THE VANISHING CURTSEY XVI. LITTLE GIRLS I HAVE MET XVII. MILLICENT AND ANOTHER XVIII. FRECKLES XIX. ON CROMER BEACH XX. DIMPLES XXI. WILD FLOWERS AND LITTLE GIRLS XXII. A LITTLE GIRL LOST XXIII. A SPRAY OF SOUTHERNWOOD XXIV. IN PORCHESTER CHURCHYARD XXV. HOMELESS XXVI. THE STORY OF A SKULL XXVII. A STORY OF A WALNUT XXVIII. A STORY OF A JACKDAW XXIX. A WONDERFUL STORY OF A MACKEREL XXX. STRANGERS YET XXXI. THE RETURN OF THE CHIFF-CHAFF XXXII. A WASP AT TABLE XXXIII. WASPS AND MEN XXXIV. IN CHITTERNE CHURCHYARD XXXV. A HAUNTER OF CHURCHYARDS XXXVI. THE DEAD AND THE LIVING XXXVII. A STORY OF THREE POEMS
A TRAVELLER IN LITTLE THINGS
HOW I FOUND MY TITLE
It is surely a rare experience for an unclassified man, past middle age, to hear himself accurately and aptly described for the first time in his life by a perfect stranger! This thing happened to me at Bristol, some time ago, in the way I am about to relate. I slept at a Commercial Hotel, and early next morning was joined in the big empty coffee-room, smelling of stale tobacco, by an intensely respectable- looking old gentleman, whose hair was of silvery whiteness, and who wore gold-rimmed spectacles and a heavy gold watch-chain with many seals attached thereto; whose linen was of the finest, and whose outer garments, including the trousers, were of the newest and blackest broadcloth. A glossier and at the same time a more venerable-looking "commercial" I had never seen in the west country, nor anywhere in the three kingdoms. He could not have improved his appearance if he had been on his way to attend the funeral of a millionaire. But with all his superior look he was quite affable, and talked fluently and instructively on a variety of themes, including trade, politics, and religion. Perceiving that he had taken me for what I was not—one of the army in which he served, but of inferior rank—I listened respectfully as became me. Finally he led the talk to the subject of agriculture, and the condition and prospects of farming in England. Here I perceived that he was on wholly unfamiliar ground, and in return for the valuable information he had given me on other and more important subjects, I proceeded to enlighten him. When I had finished stating my facts and views, he said: "I perceive that you know a great deal more about the matter than I do, and I will now tell you why you know more. You are a traveller in little things—in something very small—which takes you into the villages and hamlets, where you meet and converse with small farmers, innkeepers, labourers and their wives, with other persons who live on the land. In this way you get to hear a good deal about rent and cost of living, and what the people are able and not able to do. Now I am out of all that; I never go to a village nor see a farmer. I am a traveller in something very large. In the south and west I visit towns like Salisbury, Exeter, Bristol, Southampton; then I go to the big towns in the Midlands and the North, and to Glasgow and Edinburgh; and afterwards to Belfast and Dublin. It would simply be a waste of time for me to visit a town of less than fifty or sixty thousand inhabitants."
He then gave me some particulars concerning the large thing he travelled in; and when I had expressed all the interest and admiration the subject called for, he condescendingly invited me to tell him something about my own small line.
Now this was wrong of him; it was a distinct contravention of an unwritten law among "Commercials" that no person must be interrogated concerning the nature of his business. The big and the little man, once inside the hostel, which is their club as well, are on an equality. I did not remind my questioner of this—I merely smiled and said nothing, and he of course understood and respected my reticence. With a pleasant nod and a condescending let-us-say-no-more-about-it wave of the hand he passed on to other matters.
Notwithstanding that I was amused at his mistake, the label he had supplied me with was something to be grateful for, and I am now finding a use for it. And I think that if he, my labeller, should see this sketch by chance and recognise himself in it, he will say with his pleasant smile and wave of the hand, "Oh, that's his line! Yes, yes, I described him rightly enough, thinking it haberdashery or floral texts for cottage bedrooms, or something of that kind; I didn't imagine he was a traveller in anything quite so small as this."
THE OLD MAN'S DELUSION
We know that our senses are subject to decay, that from our middle years they are decaying all the time; but happily it is as if we didn't know and didn't believe. The process is too gradual to trouble us; we can only say, at fifty or sixty or seventy, that it is doubtless the case that we can't see as far or as well, or hear or smell as sharply, as we did a decade ago, but that we don't notice the difference. Lately I met an extreme case, that of a man well past seventy who did not appear to know that his senses had faded at all. He noticed that the world was not what it had been to him, as it had appeared, for example, when he was a plough-boy, the time of his life he remembered most vividly, but it was not the fault of his senses; the mirror was all right, it was the world that had grown dim. I found him at the gate where I was accustomed to go of an evening to watch the sun set over the sea of yellow corn and the high green elms beyond, which divide the cornfields from the Maidenhead Thicket. An old agricultural labourer, he had a grey face and grey hair and throat-beard; he stooped a good deal, and struck me as being very feeble and long past work. But he told me that he still did some work in the fields. The older farmers who had employed him for many years past gave him a little to do; he also had his old-age pension, and his children helped to keep him in comfort. He was quite well off, he said, compared to many. There was a subdued and sombre cheerfulness in him, and when I questioned him about his early life, he talked very freely in his slow old peasant way. He was born in a village in the Vale of Aylesbury, and began work as a ploughboy on a very big farm. He had a good master and was well fed, the food being bacon, vegetables, and homemade bread, also suet pudding three times a week. But what he remembered best was a rice pudding which came by chance in his way during his first year on the farm. There was some of the pudding left in a dish after the family had dined, and the farmer said to his wife, "Give it to the boy"; so he had it, and never tasted anything so nice in all his life. How he enjoyed that pudding! He remembered it now as if it had been yesterday, though it was sixty-five years ago.
He then went on to talk of the changes that had been going on in the world since that happy time; but the greatest change of all was in the appearance of things. He had had a hard life, and the hardest time was when he was a ploughboy and had to work so hard that he was tired to death at the end of every day; yet at four o'clock in the morning he was ready and glad to get up and go out to work all day again because everything looked so bright, and it made him happy just to look up at the sky and listen to the birds. In those days there were larks. The number of larks was wonderful; the sound of their singing filled the whole air. He didn't want any greater happiness than to hear them singing over his head. A few days ago, not more than half a mile from where we were standing, he was crossing a field when a lark got up singing near him and went singing over his head. He stopped to listen and said to himself, "Well now, that do remind me of old times!"
"For you know," he went on, "it is a rare thing to hear a lark now. What's become of all the birds I used to see I don't know. I remember there was a very pretty bird at that time called the yellow-hammer—a bird all a shining yellow, the prettiest of all the birds." He never saw nor heard that bird now, he assured me.
That was how the old man talked, and I never told him that yellow hammers could be seen and heard all day long anywhere on the common beyond the green wall of the elms, and that a lark was singing loudly high up over our heads while he was talking of the larks he had listened to sixty-five years ago in the Vale of Aylesbury, and saying that it was a rare thing to hear that bird now.
AS A TREE FALLS
At the Green Dragon, where I refreshed myself at noon with bread and cheese and beer, I was startlingly reminded of a simple and, I suppose, familiar psychological fact, yet one which we are never conscious of except at rare moments when by chance it is thrust upon us.
There are many Green Dragons in this world of wayside inns, even as there are many White Harts, Red Lions, Silent Women and other incredible things; but when I add that my inn is in a Wiltshire village, the headquarters of certain gentlemen who follow a form of sport which has long been practically obsolete in this country, and indeed throughout the civilised world, some of my readers will have no difficulty in identifying it.
After lunching I had an hour's pleasant conversation with the genial landlord and his buxom good-looking wife; they were both natives of a New Forest village and glad to talk about it with one who knew it intimately. During our talk I happened to use the words—I forget what about—"As a tree falls so must it lie." The landlady turned on me her dark Hampshire eyes with a sudden startled and pained look in them, and cried: "Oh, please don't say that!'
"Why not?" I asked. "It is in the Bible, and a quite common saying."
"I know," she returned, "but I can't bear it—I hate to hear it!"
She would say no more, but my curiosity was stirred, and I set about persuading her to tell me. "Ah, yes," I said, "I can guess why. It's something in your past life—a sad story of one of your family—one very much loved perhaps—who got into trouble and was refused all help from those who might have saved him."
"No," she said, "it all happened before my time—long before. I never knew her." And then presently she told me the story.
When her father was a young man he lived and worked with his father, a farmer in Hampshire and a widower. There were several brothers and sisters, and one of the sisters, named Eunice, was most loved by all of them and was her father's favourite on account of her beauty and sweet disposition. Unfortunately she became engaged to a young man who was not liked by the father, and when she refused to break her engagement to please him he was dreadfully angry and told her that if she went against him and threw herself away on that worthless fellow he would forbid her the house and would never see or speak to her again.
Being of an affectionate disposition and fond of her father it grieved her sorely to disobey him, but her love compelled her, and by-and-by she went away and was married in a neighbouring village where her lover had his home. It was not a happy marriage, and after a few anxious years she fell into a wasting illness, and when it became known to her that she was near her end she sent a message by a brother to the old father to come and see her before she died. She had never ceased to love him, and her one insistent desire was to receive his forgiveness and blessing before finishing her life. His answer was, "As a tree falls so shall it lie." He would not go near her. Shortly afterwards the unhappy young wife passed away.
The landlady added that the brother who had taken the message was her father, that he was now eighty-two years old and still spoke of his long dead and greatly loved sister, and always said he had never forgiven and would never forgive his father, dead half a century ago, for having refused to go to his dying daughter and for speaking those cruel words.
A STORY OF TWO BROTHERS
A certain titled lady, great in the social world, was walking down the village street between two ladies of the village, and their conversation was about some person known to the two who had behaved in the noblest manner in difficult circumstances, and the talk ran on between the two like a duet, the great lady mostly silent and paying but little attention to it. At length the subject was exhausted, and as a proper conclusion to round the discourse off, one of them remarked: "It is what I have always said,—there's nothing like blood!" Whereupon the great person returned, "I don't agree with you: it strikes me you two are always praising blood, and I think it perfectly horrid. The very sight of a black pudding for instance turns me sick and makes me want to be a vegetarian."
The others smiled and laboriously explained that they were not praising blood as an article of diet, but had used the word in its other and partly metamorphical sense. They simply meant that as a rule persons of good blood or of old families had better qualities and a higher standard of conduct and action than others.
The other listened and said nothing, for although of good blood herself she was an out-and-out democrat, a burning Radical, burning bright in the forests of the night of dark old England, and she considered that all these lofty notions about old families and higher standards were confined to those who knew little or nothing about the life of the upper classes.
She, the aristocrat, was wrong, and the two village ladies, members of the middle class, were right, although they were without a sense of humour and did not know that their distinguished friend was poking a little fun at them when she spoke about black puddings.
They were right, and it was never necessary for Herbert Spencer to tell us that the world is right in looking for nobler motives and ideals, a higher standard of conduct, better, sweeter manners, from those who are highly placed than from the ruck of men; and as this higher, better life, which is only possible in the leisured classes, is correlated with the "aspects which please," the regular features and personal beauty, the conclusion is the beauty and goodness or "inward perfections" are correlated.
All this is common, universal knowledge: to all men of all races and in all parts of the world it comes as a shock to hear that a person of a noble countenance has been guilty of an ignoble action. It is only the ugly (and bad) who fondly cherish the delusion that beauty doesn't matter, that it is only skin-deep and the rest of it.
Here now arises a curious question, the subject of this little paper. When a good old family, of good character, falls on evil days and is eventually submerged in the classes beneath, we know that the aspects which please, the good features and expression, will often persist for long generations. Now this submerging process is perpetually going on all over the land and so it has been for centuries. We notice from year to year the rise from the ranks of numberless men to the highest positions, who are our leaders and legislators, owners of great estates who found great families and receive titles. But we do not notice the corresponding decline and final disappearance of those who were highly placed, since this is a more gradual process and has nothing sensational about it. Yet the two processes are equally great and far- reaching in their effects, and are like those two of Elaboration and Degeneration which go on side by side for ever in nature, in the animal world; and like darkness and light and heat and cold in the physical world.
As a fact, the country is full of the descendants of families that have "died out." How long it takes to blot out or blur the finer features and expression we do not know, and the time probably varies according to the length of the period during which the family existed in its higher phase. The question which confronts us is: Does the higher or better nature, the "inward perfections" which are correlated with the aspects which please, endure too, or do those who fall from their own class degenerate morally to the level of the people they live and are one with?
It is a nice question. In Sussex, with Mr. M. A. Lower, who has written about the vanished or submerged families of that county, for my guide as to names, I have sought out persons of a very humble condition, some who were shepherds and agricultural labourers, and have been surprised at the good faces of many of them, the fine, even noble, features and expression, and with these an exceptionally fine character. Labourers on the lands that were once owned by their forefathers, and children of long generations of labourers, yet still exhibiting the marks of their aristocratic descent, the fine features and expression and the fine moral qualities with which they are correlated.
I will now give in illustration an old South American experience, an example, which deeply impressed me at the time, of the sharp contrast between a remote descendant of aristocrats and a child of the people in a country where class distinctions have long ceased to exist.
It happened that I went to stay at a cattle ranch for two or three months one summer, in a part of the country new to me, where I knew scarcely anyone. It was a good spot for my purpose, which was bird study, and this wholly occupied my mind. By-and-by I heard about two brothers, aged respectively twenty-three and twenty-four years, who lived in the neighbourhood on a cattle ranch inherited from their father, who had died young. They had no relations and were the last of their name in that part of the country, and their grazing land was but a remnant of the estate as it had been a century before. The name of the brothers first attracted my attention, for it was that of an old highly-distinguished family of Spain, two or three of whose adventurous sons had gone to South America early in the seventeenth century to seek their fortunes, and had settled there. The real name need not be stated: I will call it de la Rosa, which will serve as well as another. Knowing something of the ancient history of the family I became curious to meet the brothers, just to see what sort of men they were who had blue blood and yet lived, as their forbears had done for generations, in the rough primitive manner of the gauchos—the cattle-tending horsemen of the pampas. A little later I met the younger brother at a house in the village a few miles from the ranch I was staying at. His name was Cyril; the elder was Ambrose. He was certainly a very fine fellow in appearance, tall and strongly built, with a high colour on his open genial countenance and a smile always playing about the corners of his rather large sensual mouth and in his greenish-hazel eyes; but of the noble ancestry there was no faintest trace. His features were those of the unameliorated peasant, as he may be seen in any European country, and in this country, in Ireland particularly, but with us he is not so common. It would seem that in England there is a larger mixture of better blood, or that the improvements in features due to improved conditions, physical and moral, have gone further. At all events, one may look at a crowd anywhere in England and see only a face here and there of the unmodified plebeian type. In a very large majority the forehead will be less low and narrow, the nose less coarse with less wide-spreading alae, the depression in the bridge not so deep, the mouth not so large nor the jowl so heavy. These marks of the unimproved adult are present in all infants at birth. Lady Clara Vere de Vere's little bantling is in a sense not hers at all but the child of some ugly antique race; of a Palaeolithic mother, let us say, who lived before the last Glacial epoch and was not very much better- looking herself than an orang-utan. It is only when the bony and cartilaginous framework, with the muscular covering of the face, becomes modified, and the wrinkled brown visage of the ancient pigmy grows white and smooth, that it can be recognised as Lady Clara's own offspring. The infant is ugly, and where the infantile features survive in the adult the man is and must be ugly too, unless the expression is good. Thus, we may know numbers of persons who would certainly be ugly but for the redeeming expression; and this good expression, which is "feature in the making," is, like good features, an "outward sign of inward perfections."
To continue with the description of my young gentleman of blue blood and plebeian countenance, his expression not only saved him from ugliness but made him singularly attractive, it revealed a good nature, friendliness, love of his fellows, sincerity, and other pleasing qualities. After meeting and conversing with him I was not surprised to hear that he was universally liked, but regarding him critically I could not say that his manner was perfect. He was too self-conscious, too anxious to shine, too vain of his personal appearance, of his wit, his rich dress, his position as a de la Rosa and a landowner. There was even a vulgarity in him, such as one looks for in a person risen from the lower orders but does not expect in the descendant of an ancient and once lustrous family, however much decayed and impoverished, or submerged.
Shortly afterwards a gossipy old native estanciero, who lived close by, while sitting in our kitchen sipping mate, began talking freely about his neighbour's lives and characters, and I told him I had felt interested in the brothers de la Rosa; partly on account of the great affection these two had for one another, which was like an ideal friendship; and in part too on account of the ancient history of the family they came from. I had met one of them, I told him,—Cyril—a very fine fellow, but in some respects he was not exactly like my preconceived idea of a de la Rosa.
"No, and he isn't one!" shouted the old fellow, with a great laugh; and more than delighted at having a subject presented to him and at his capture of a fresh listener, he proceeded to give me an intimate history of the brothers.
The father, who was a fine and a lovable man, married early, and his young wife died in giving birth to their only child—Ambrose. He did not marry again: he was exceedingly fond of his child and was both father and mother to it and kept it with him until the boy was about nine years old, and then determined to send him to Buenos Ayres to give him a year's schooling. He himself had been taught to read as a small boy, also to write a letter, but he did not think himself equal to teach the boy, and so for a time they would have to be separated.
Meanwhile the boy had picked up with Cyril, a little waif in rags, the bastard child of a woman who had gone away and left him in infancy to the mercy of others. He had been reared in the hovel of a poor gaucho on the de la Rosa land, but the poor orphan, although the dirtiest, raggedest, most mischievous little beggar in the land, was an attractive child, intelligent, full of fun, and of an adventurous spirit. Half his days were spent miles from home, wading through the vast reedy and rushy marshes in the neighbourhood, hunting for birds' nests. Little Ambrose, with no child companion at home, where his life had been made too soft for him, was exceedingly happy with his wild companion, and they were often absent together in the marshes for a whole day, to the great anxiety of the father. But he could not separate them, because he could not endure to see the misery of his boy when they were forcibly kept apart. Nor could he forbid his child from heaping gifts in food and clothes and toys or whatever he had, on his little playmate. Nor did the trouble cease when the time came now for the boy to be sent from home to learn his letters: his grief at the prospect of being separated from his companion was too much for the father, and he eventually sent them together to the city, where they spent a year or two and came back as devoted to one another as when they went away. From that time Cyril lived with them, and eventually de la Rosa adopted him, and to make his son happy he left all he possessed to be equally divided at his death between them. He was in bad health, and died when Ambrose was fifteen and Cyril fourteen; from that time they were their own masters and refused to have any division of their inheritance but continued to live together; and had so continued for upwards of ten years.
Shortly after hearing this history I met the brothers together at a house in the village, and a greater contrast between two men it would be impossible to imagine. They were alike only in both being big, well- shaped, handsome, and well-dressed men, but in their faces they had the stamp of widely separated classes, and differed as much as if they had belonged to distinct species. Cyril, with a coarse, high-coloured skin and the primitive features I have described; Ambrose, with a pale dark skin of a silky texture, an oval face and classic features—forehead, nose, mouth and chin, and his ears small and lying against his head, not sticking out like handles as in his brother; he had black hair and grey eyes. It was the face of an aristocrat, of a man of blue blood, or of good blood, of an ancient family; and in his manner too he was a perfect contrast to his brother and friend. There was no trace of vulgarity in him; he was not self-conscious, not anxious to shine; he was modesty itself, and in his speech and manner and appearance he was, to put it all in one word, a gentleman.
Seeing them together I was more amazed than ever at the fact of their extraordinary affection for each other, their perfect amity which had lasted so many years without a rift, which nothing could break, as people said, except a woman.
But the woman who would break or shatter it had not yet appeared on the horizon, nor do I know whether she ever appeared or not, since after leaving the neighbourhood I heard no more of the brothers de la Rosa.
A STORY OF LONG DESCENT
It was rudely borne in upon me that there was another side to the shield. I was too much immersed in my own thoughts to note the peculiar character of the small remote old-world town I came to in the afternoon; next day was Sunday, and on my way to the church to attend morning service, it struck me as one of the oldest-looking of the small old towns I had stumbled upon in my rambles in this ancient land. There was the wide vacant space where doubtless meetings had taken place for a thousand years, and the steep narrow crooked medieval streets, and here and there some stately building rising like a castle above the humble cottage houses clustering round it as if for protection. Best of all was the church with its noble tower where a peal of big bells were just now flooding the whole place with their glorious noise.
It was even better when, inside, I rose from my knees and looked about me, to find myself in an ideal interior, the kind I love best; rich in metal and glass and old carved wood, the ornaments which the good Methody would scornfully put in the hay and stubble category, but which owing to long use and associations have acquired for others a symbolic and spiritual significance. The beauty and richness were all the fresher for the dimness, and the light was dim because it filtered through old oxydised stained glass of that unparalleled loveliness of colour which time alone can impart. It was, excepting in vastness, like a cathedral interior, and in some ways better than even the best of these great fanes, wonderful as they are. Here, recalling them, one could venture to criticise and name their several deficits:—a Wells divided, a ponderous Ely, a vacant and cold Canterbury, a too light and airy Salisbury, and so on even to Exeter, supreme in beauty, spoilt by a monstrous organ in the wrong place. That wood and metal giant, standing as a stone bridge to mock the eyes' efforts to dodge past it and have sight of the exquisite choir beyond, and of an east window through which the humble worshipper in the nave might hope, in some rare mystical moment, to catch a glimpse of the far Heavenly country beyond.
I also noticed when looking round that it was an interior rich in memorials to the long dead—old brasses and stone tablets on the walls, and some large monuments. By chance the most imposing of the tombs was so near my seat that with little difficulty I succeeded in reading and committing to memory the whole contents of the very long inscription cut in deep letters on the hard white stone. It was to the memory of Sir Ranulph Damarell, who died in 1531, and was the head of a family long settled in those parts, lord of the manor and many other things. On more than one occasion he raised a troop from his own people and commanded it himself, fighting for his king and country both in and out of England. He was, moreover, a friend of the king and his counsellor, and universally esteemed for his virtues and valour; greatly loved by all his people, especially by the poor and suffering, on account of his generosity and kindness of heart.
A very glorious record, and by-and-by I believed every word of it. For after reading the inscription I began to examine the effigy in marble of the man himself which surmounted the tomb. He was lying extended full length, six feet and five inches, his head on a low pillow, his right hand grasping the handle of his drawn sword. The more I looked at it, both during and after the service, the more convinced I became that this was no mere conventional figure made by some lapidary long after the subject's death, but was the work of an inspired artist, an exact portrait of the man, even to his stature, and that he had succeeded in giving to the countenance the very expression of the living Sir Ranulph. And what it expressed was power and authority and, with it, spirituality. A noble countenance with a fine forehead and nose, the lower part of the face covered with the beard, and long hair that fell to the shoulders.
It produced a feeling such as I have whenever I stand before a certain sixteenth-century portrait in the National Gallery: a sense or an illusion of being in the presence of a living person with whom I am engaged in a wordless conversation, and who is revealing his inmost soul to me. And it is only the work of a genius that can affect you in that way.
Quitting the church I remembered with satisfaction that my hostess at the quiet home-like family hotel where I had put up, was an educated intelligent woman (good-looking, too), and that she would no doubt be able to tell me something of the old history of the town and particularly of Sir Ranulph. For this marble man, this knight of ancient days, had taken possession of me and I could think of nothing else.
At luncheon we met as in a private house at our table with our nice hostess at the head, and beside her three or four guests staying in the house; a few day visitors to the town came in and joined us. Next to me I had a young New Zealand officer whose story I had heard with painful interest the previous evening. Like so many of the New Zealanders I had met before, he was a splendid young fellow; but he had been terribly gassed at the front and had been told by the doctors that he would not be fit to go back even if the war lasted another year, and we were then well through the third. The way the poison in his lungs affected him was curious. He had his bad periods when for a fortnight or so he would lie in his hospital suffering much and terribly depressed, and at such time black spots would appear all over his chest and neck and arms so that he would be spotted like a pard. Then the spots would fade and he would rise apparently well, and being of an energetic disposition, was allowed to do local war work.
On the other side of the table facing us sat a lady and gentleman who had come in together for luncheon. A slim lady of about thirty, with a well-shaped but colourless face and very bright intelligent eyes. She was a lively talker, but her companion, a short fat man with a round apple face and cheeks of an intensely red colour and a black moustache, was reticent, and when addressed directly replied in monosyllables. He gave his undivided attention to the thing on his plate.
The young officer talked to me of his country, describing with enthusiasm his own district which he averred contained the finest mountain and forest scenery in New Zealand. The lady sitting opposite began to listen and soon cut in to say she knew it all well, and agreed in all he said in praise of the scenery. She had spent weeks of delight among those great forests and mountains. Was she then his country- woman? he asked. Oh, no, she was English but had travelled extensively and knew a great deal of New Zealand. And after exhausting this subject the conversation, which had become general, drifted into others, and presently we were all comparing notes about our experience of the late great frost. Here I had my say about what had happened in the village I had been staying in. The prolonged frost, I said, had killed all or most of the birds in the open country round us, but in the village itself a curious thing had happened to save the birds of the place. It was a change of feeling in the people, who are by nature or training great persecutors of birds. The sight of them dying of starvation had aroused a sentiment of compassion, and all the villagers, men, women, and children, even to the roughest bush-beating boys, started feeding them, with the result that the birds quickly became tame and spent their whole day flying from house to house, visiting every yard and perching on the window-sills. While I was speaking the gentleman opposite put down his knife and fork and gazed steadily at me with a smile on his red-apple face, and when I concluded he exploded in a half-suppressed sniggering laugh.
It annoyed me, and I remarked rather sharply that I didn't see what there was to laugh at in what I had told them. Then the lady with ready tact interposed to say she had been deeply interested in my experiences, and went on to tell what she had done to save the birds in her own place; and her companion, taking it perhaps as a snub to himself from her, picked up his knife and fork and went on with his luncheon, and never opened his mouth to speak again. Or, at all events, not till he had quite finished his meal.
By-and-by, when I found an opportunity of speaking to our hostess, I asked her who that charming lady was, and she told me she was a Miss Somebody—I forget the name—a native of the town, also that she was a great favourite there and was loved by everyone, rich and poor, and that she had been a very hard worker ever since the war began, and had inspired all the women in the place to work.
"And who," I asked, "was the fellow who brought her in to lunch—a relative or a lover?"
"Oh, no, no relation and certainly not a lover. I doubt if she would have him if he wanted her, in spite of his position."
"I don't wonder at that—a perfect clown! And who is he?"
"Oh, didn't you know! Sir Ranulph Damarell."
"Good Lord!" I gasped. "That your great man—lord of the manor and what not! He may bear the name, but I'm certain he's not a descendant of the Sir Ranulph whose monument is in your church."
"Oh, yes, he is," she replied. "I believe there has never been a break in the line from father to son since that man's day. They were all knights in the old time, but for the last two centuries or so have been baronets."
"Good Lord!" I exclaimed again. "And please tell me what is he——what does he do? What is his distinction?"
"His distinction for me," she smilingly replied, "is that he prefers my house to have his luncheon in after Sunday morning service. He knows where he can get good cooking. And as a rule he invites some friend in the town to lunch with him, so that should there be any conversation at table his guest can speak for both and leave him quite free to enjoy his food."
"And what part does he take in politics and public affairs—how does he stand among your leading men?"
Her answer was that he had never taken any part in politics—had never been or desired to be in Parliament or in the County Council, and was not even a J.P., nor had he done anything for his country during the war. Nor was he a sportsman. He was simply a country gentleman, and every morning he took a ride or walk, mainly she supposed to give him a better appetite for his luncheon. And he was a good landlord to his tenants and he was respected by everybody and no one had ever said a word against him.
There was nothing now for me to say except 'Good Lord!' so I said it once more, and that made three times.
A SECOND STORY OF TWO BROTHERS
Shortly after writing the story of two brothers in the last part but one I was reminded of another strange story of two brothers in that same distant land, which I heard years ago and had forgotten. It now came back to me in a newspaper from Miami, of all places in the world, sent me by a correspondent in that town. He—Mr. J. L. Rodger—some time ago when reading an autobiographical book of mine made the discovery that we were natives of the same place in the Argentine pampas—that the homes where we respectively first saw the light stood but a couple of hours' ride on horseback apart. But we were not born on the same day and so missed meeting in our youth; then left our homes, and he, after wide wanderings, found an earthly paradise in Florida to dwell in. So that now that we have in a sense met we have the Atlantic between us. He has been contributing some recollections of the pampas to the Miami paper, and told this story of two brothers among other strange happenings. I tell it in my own way more briefly.
* * * * *
It begins in the early fifties and ends thirty years later in the early eighties of last century. It then found its way into the Buenos Ayres newspapers, and I heard it at the time but had utterly forgotten it until this Florida paper came into my hand.
In the fifties a Mr. Gilmour, a Scotch settler, had a sheep and cattle ranch on the pampas far south of Buenos Ayres, near the Atlantic coast. He lived there with his family, and one of the children, aged five, was a bright active little fellow and was regarded with affection by one of the hired native cattlemen, who taught the child to ride on a pony, and taught him so well that even at that tender age the boy could follow his teacher and guide at a fast gallop over the plain. One day Mr. Gilmour fell out with the man on account of some dereliction of duty, and after some hot words between them discharged him there and then. The young fellow mounted his horse and rode off vowing vengeance, and on that very day the child disappeared. The pony on which he had gone out riding came home, and as it was supposed that the little boy had been thrown or fallen off, a search was made all over the estate and continued for days without result. Eventually some of the child's clothing was found on the beach, and it was conjectured that the young native had taken the child there and drowned him and left the clothes to let the Gilmours know that he had had his revenge. But there was room for doubt, as the body was never found, and they finally came to think that the clothes had been left there to deceive them, and that as the man had been so fond of the child he had carried him off. This belief started them on a wider and longer quest; they invoked the aid of the authorities all over the province; the loss of the child was advertised and a large reward offered for his recovery and agents were employed to look for him. In this search, which continued for years, Mr. Gilmour spent a large part of his fortune, and eventually it had to be dropped; and of all the family Mrs. Gilmour alone still believed that her lost son was living, and still dreamed and hoped that she would see him again before her life ended.
One day the Gilmours entertained a traveller, a native gentleman, who, as the custom was in my time on those great vacant plains where houses were far apart, had ridden up to the gate at noon and asked for hospitality. He was a man of education, a great traveller in the land, and at table entertained them with an account of some of the strange out-of-the-world places he had visited.
Presently one of the sons of the house, a tall slim good-looking young man of about thirty, came in, and saluting the stranger took his seat at the table. Their guest started and seemed to be astonished at the sight of him, and after the conversation was resumed he continued from time to time to look with a puzzled questioning air at the young man. Mrs. Gilmour had observed this in him and, with the thought of her lost son ever in her mind, she became more and more agitated until, unable longer to contain her excitement, she burst out: "O, Senor, why do you look at my son in that way?—tell me if by chance you have not met someone in your wanderings that was like him."
Yes, he replied, he had met someone so like the young man before him that it had almost produced the illusion of his being the same person; that was why he had looked so searchingly at him.
Then in reply to their eager questions he told them that it was an old incident, that he had never spoken a word to the young man he had seen, and that he had only seen him once for a few minutes. The reason of his remembering him so well was that he had been struck by his appearance, so strangely incongruous in the circumstances, and that had made him look very sharply at him. Over two years had passed since, but it was still distinct in his memory. He had come to a small frontier settlement, a military outpost, on the extreme north-eastern border of the Republic, and had seen the garrison turn out for exercise from the fort. It was composed of the class of men one usually saw in these border forts, men of the lowest type, miztiros and mulattos most of them, criminals from the gaols condemned to serve in the frontier army for their crimes. And in the midst of the low-browed, swarthy-faced, ruffianly crew appeared the tall distinguished-looking young man with a white skin, blue eyes and light hair—an amazing contrast!
That was all he could tell them, but it was a clue, the first they had had in thirty years, and when they told the story of the lost child to their guest he was convinced that it was their son he had seen—there could be no other explanation of the extraordinary resemblance between the two young men. At the same time he warned them that the search would be a difficult and probably a disappointing one, as these frontier garrisons were frequently changed: also that many of the men deserted whenever they got the chance, and that many of them got killed, either in fight with the Indians, or among themselves over their cards, as gambling was their only recreation.
But the old hope, long dead in all of them except in the mother's heart, was alive again, and the son, whose appearance had so strongly attracted their guest's attention, at once made ready to go out on that long journey. He went by way of Buenos Ayres where he was given a passport by the War Office and a letter to the Commanding Officer to discharge the blue-eyed soldier in the event of his being found and proved to be a brother to the person in quest of him. But when he got to the end of his journey on the confines of that vast country, after travelling many weeks on horseback, it was only to hear that the men who had formed the garrison two years before, had been long ordered away to another province where they had probably been called to aid in or suppress a revolutionary outbreak, and no certain news could be had of them. He had to return alone but not to drop the search; it was but the first of three great attempts he made, and the second was the most disastrous, when in a remote Province and a lonely district he met with a serious accident which kept him confined in some poor hovel for many months, his money all spent, and with no means of communicating with his people. He got back at last; and after recruiting his health and providing himself with funds, and obtaining fresh help from the War Office, he set out on his third venture; and at the end of three years from the date of his first start, he succeeded in finding the object of his search, still serving as a common soldier in the army. That they were brothers there was no doubt in either of their minds, and together they travelled home.
And now the old father and mother had got their son back, and they told him the story of the thirty years during which they had lamented his loss, and of how at last they had succeeded in recovering him:—what had he to tell them in return? It was a disappointing story. For, to begin with, he had no recollection of his child life at home—no faintest memory of mother or father or of the day when the sudden violent change came and he was forcibly taken away. His earliest recollection was of being taken about by someone—a man who owned him, who was always at the cattle-estates where he worked, and how this man treated him kindly until he was big enough to be set to work shepherding sheep and driving cattle, and doing anything a boy could do at any place they lived in, and that his owner and master then began to be exacting and tyrannical, and treated him so badly that he eventually ran away and never saw the man again. And from that time onward he lived much the same kind of life as when with his master, constantly going about from place to place, from province to province, and finally he had for some unexplained reason been taken into the army.
That was all—the story of his thirty years of wild horseback life told in a few dry sentences! Could more have been expected! The mother had expected more and would not cease to expect it. He was her lost one found again, the child of her body who in his long absence had gotten a second nature; but it was nothing but a colour, a garment, which would wear thinner and thinner, and by-and-by reveal the old deeper ineradicable nature beneath. So she imagined, and would take him out to walk to be with him, to have him all to herself, to caress him, and they would walk, she with an arm round his neck or waist; and when she released him or whenever he could make his escape from the house, he would go off to the quarters of the hired cattlemen and converse with them. They were his people, and he was one of them in soul in spite of his blue eyes, and like one of them he could lasso or break a horse and throw a bull and put a brand on him, and kill a cow and skin it, or roast it in its hide if it was wanted so; and he could do a hundred other things, though he couldn't read a book, and I daresay he found it a very misery to sit on a chair in the company of those who read in books and spoke a language that was strange to him—the tongue he had himself spoken as a child!
A THIRD STORY OF TWO BROTHERS
Stories of two brothers are common enough the world over—probably more so than stories of young men who have fallen in love with their grandmothers, and the main feature in most of them, as in the story I have just told, is in the close resemblance of the two brothers, for on that everything hinges. It is precisely the same in the one I am about to relate, one I came upon a few years ago—just how many I wish not to say, nor just where it happened except that it was in the west country; and for the real names of people and places I have substituted fictitious ones. For this too, like the last, is a true story. The reader on finishing it will perhaps blush to think it true, but apart from the moral aspect of the case it is, psychologically, a singularly interesting one.
One summer day I travelled by a public conveyance to Pollhampton, a small rustic market town several miles distant from the nearest railroad. My destination was not the town itself, but a lonely heath- grown hill five miles further on, where I wished to find something that grew and blossomed on it, and my first object on arrival was to secure a riding horse or horse and trap to carry me there. I was told at once that it was useless to look for such a thing, as it was market day and everybody was fully occupied. That it was market day I already knew very well, as the two or three main streets and wide market-place in the middle of the town were full of sheep and cows and pigs and people running about and much noise of shoutings and barking dogs. However, the strange object of the strange-looking stranger in coming to the town, interested some of the wild native boys, and they rushed about to tell it, and in less than five minutes a nice neat-looking middle-aged man stood at my elbow and said he had a good horse and trap and for seven-and-sixpence would drive me to the hill, help me there to find what I wanted, and bring me back in time to catch the conveyance. Accordingly in a few minutes we were speeding out of the town drawn by a fast-trotting horse. Fast trotters appeared to be common in these parts, and as we went along the road from time to time a small cloud of dust would become visible far ahead of us, and in two or three minutes a farmer's trap would appear and rush past on its way to market, to vanish behind us in two or three minutes more and be succeeded by another and then others. By-and-by one came past driven by two young women, one holding the reins, the other playing with the whip. They were tall, dark, with black hair, and colourless faces, aged about thirty, I imagined. As they flew by I remarked, "I would lay a sovereign to a shilling that they are twins." "You'd lose your money— there's two or three years between them," said my driver. "Do you know them—you didn't nod to them nor they to you?" I said. "I know them," he returned, "as well as I know my own face when I look at myself in a glass." On which I remarked that it was very wonderful. "'Tis only a part of the wonder, and not the biggest part," he said. "You've seen what they are like and how like they are, but if you passed a day with them in the house you'd be able to tell one from the other; but if you lived a year in the same house with their two brothers you'd never be able to tell one from the other and be sure you were right. The strangest thing is that the brothers who, like their sisters, have two or three years between them, are not a bit like their sisters; they are blue-eyed and seem a different race."
That, I said, made it more wonderful still. A curiously symmetrical family. Rather awkward for their neighbours, and people who had business relations with them.
"Yes—perhaps," he said, "but it served them very well on one occasion to be so much alike."
I began to smell a dramatic rat and begged him to tell me all about it.
He said he didn't mind telling me. Their name was Prage—Antony and Martin Prage, of Red Pit Farm, which they inherited from their father and worked together. They were very united. One day one of them, when riding six miles from home, met a girl coming along the road, and stopped his horse to talk to her. She was a poor girl that worked at a dairy farm near by, and lived with her mother, a poor old widow-woman, in a cottage in the village. She was pretty, and the young man took a liking to her and he persuaded her to come again to meet him on another day at that spot; and there were many more meetings, and they were fond of each other; but after she told him that something had happened to her he never came again. When she made enquiries she found he had given her a false name and address, and so she lost sight of him. Then her child was born, and she lived with her mother. And you must know what her life was—she and her old mother and her baby and nothing to keep them. And though she was a shy ignorant girl she made up her mind to look for him until she found him to make him pay for the child. She said he had come on his horse so often to see her that he could not be too far away, and every morning she would go off in search of him, and she spent weeks and months tramping about the country, visiting all the villages for many miles round looking for him. And one day in a small village six miles from her home she caught sight of him galloping by on his horse, and seeing a woman standing outside a cottage she ran to her and asked who that young man was who had just ridden by. The woman told her she thought it was Mr. Antony Prage of Red Pit Farm, about two miles from the village. Then the girl came home and was advised what to do. She had to do it all herself as there was no money to buy a lawyer, so she had him brought to court and told her own story, and the judge was very gentle with her and drew out all the particulars. But Mr. Prage had got a lawyer, and when the girl had finished her story he got up and put just one question to her. First he called on Antony Prage to stand up in court, then he said to her, "Do you swear that the man standing before you is the father of your child?"
And just when he put that question Antony's brother Martin, who had been sitting at the back of the court, got up, and coming forward stood at his brother's side. The girl stared at the two, standing together, too astonished to speak for some time. She looked from one to the other and at last said, "I swear it is one of them." That, the lawyer said, wasn't good enough. If she could not swear that Antony Prage, the man she had brought into court, was the guilty person, then the case fell to the ground.
My informant finished his story and I asked "Was that then the end—was nothing more done about it?" "No, nothing." "Did not the judge say it was a mean dirty trick arranged between the brothers and the lawyer?" "No, he didn't—he non-suited her and that was all." "And did not Antony Prage, or both of them, go into the witness box and swear that they were innocent of the charge?" "No, they never opened their mouths in court. When the judge told the young woman that she had failed to establish her case, they walked out smiling, and their friends came round them and they went off together." "And these brothers, I suppose, still live among you at their farm and are regarded as good respectable young men, and go to chapel on Sundays, and by-and-by will probably marry nice respectable Methodist girls, and the girls' friends will congratulate them on making such good matches."
"Oh, no doubt; one has been married some time and his wife has got a baby; the other one will be married before long."
"And what do you think about it all?"
"I've told you what happened because the facts came out in court and are known to everyone. What I think about it is what I think, and I've no call to tell that."
"Oh, very well!" I said, vexed at his noncommittal attitude. Then I looked at him, but his face revealed nothing; he was just the man with a quiet manner and low voice who had put himself at my service and engaged to drive me five miles out to a hill, help me to find what I wanted and bring me back in time to catch the conveyance to my town, all for the surprisingly moderate sum of seven-and-sixpence. But he had told me the story of the two brothers; and besides, in spite of our faces being masks, if one make them so, mind converses with mind in some way the psychologists have not yet found out, and I knew that in his heart of hearts he regarded those two respectable members of the Pollhampton community much as I did.
THE TWO WHITE HOUSES: A MEMORY
There's no connection—not the slightest—between this two and the other twos; it was nevertheless the telling of the stories of the brothers which brought back to me this ancient memory of two houses. Nor were the two houses connected in any way, except that they were both white, situated on the same road, on the same side of it; also both stood a little way back from the road in grounds beautifully shaded with old trees. It was the great southern road which leads from the city of Buenos Ayres, the Argentine capital, to the vast level cattle-country of the pampas, where I was born and bred. Naturally it was a tremendously exciting adventure to a child's mind to come from these immense open plains, where one lived in rude surroundings with the semi-barbarous gauchos for only neighbours, to a great civilised town full of people and of things strange and beautiful to see. And to touch and taste.
Thus it happened that when I, a child, with my brothers and sisters, were taken to visit the town we would become more and more excited as we approached it at the end of a long journey, which usually took us two days, at all we saw—ox-carts and carriages and men on horseback on the wide hot dusty road, and the houses and groves and gardens on either side.... It was thus that we became acquainted with the two white houses, and were attracted to them because in their whiteness and green shade they looked beautiful to us and cool and restful, and we wished we could live in them.
They were well outside of the town, the nearest being about two miles from its old south wall and fortifications, the other one a little over two miles further out. The last being the farthest out was the first one we came to on our journeys to the city; it was a somewhat singular- looking building with a verandah supported by pillars painted green, and it had a high turret. And near it was a large dovecot with a cloud of pigeons usually flying about it, and we came to calling it Dovecot House. The second house was plainer in form but was not without a peculiar distinction in its large wrought-iron front gate with white pillars on each side, and in front of each pillar a large cannon planted postwise in the earth.
This we called Cannon House, but who lived in these two houses none could tell us.
When I was old enough to ride as well as any grown-up, and my occasional visits to town were made on horseback, I once had three young men for my companions, the oldest about twenty-eight, the two not more than nineteen and twenty-one respectively. I was eagerly looking out for the first white house, and when we were coming to it I cried out, "Now we are coming to Dovecot House, let's go slow and look at it."
Without a word they all pulled up, and for some minutes we sat silently gazing at the house. Then the eldest of the three said that if he was a rich man he would buy the house and pass the rest of his life very happily in it and in the shade of its old trees.
In what, the others asked, would his happiness consist, since a rational being must have something besides a mere shelter from the storm and a tree to shade him from the sun to be happy?
He answered that after securing the house he would range the whole country in search of the most beautiful woman in it, and that when he had found and made her his wife he would spend his days and years in adoring her for her beauty and charm.
His two young companions laughed scornfully. Then one of them—the younger—said that he too if wealthy would buy the house, as he had not seen another so well suited for the life he would like to live. A life spent with books! He would send to Europe for all the books he desired to read and would fill the house with them; and he would spend his days in the house or in the shade of the trees, reading every day from morning to night undisturbed by traffic and politics and revolutions in the land, and by happenings all the world over.
He too was well laughed at; then the last of the three said he didn't care for either of their ideals. He liked wine best, and if he had great wealth he would buy the house and send to Europe—O not for books nor for a beautiful wife! but for wine—wines of all the choicest kinds in bottle and casks—and fill the cellars with it. And his choice wines would bring choice spirits to help him drink them; and then in the shade of the old trees they would have their table and sit over their wine—the merriest, wittiest, wisest, most eloquent gathering in all the land.
The others in their turn laughed at him, despising his ideal, and then we set off once more.
They had not thought to put the question to me, because I was only a boy while they were grown men; but I had listened with such intense interest to that colloquy that when I recall the scene now I can see the very expressions of their sun-burnt faces and listen to the very sound of their speech and laughter. For they were all intimately known to me and I knew they were telling openly just what their several notions of a happy life were, caring nothing for the laughter of the others. I was mightily pleased that they, too, had felt the attractions of my Dovecot House as a place where a man, whatsoever his individual taste, might find a happy abiding-place.
Time rolled on, as the slow-going old storybooks written before we were born used to say, and I still preserved the old habit of pulling up my horse on coming abreast of each one of the two houses on every journey to and from town. Then one afternoon when walking my horse past the Cannon House I saw an old man dressed in black with snow-white hair and side-whiskers in the old, old style, and an ashen grey face, standing motionless by the side of one of the guns and gazing out at the distance. His eyes were blue—the dim weary blue of a tired old man's eyes, and he appeared not to see me as I walked slowly by him within a few yards, but to be gazing at something beyond, very far away. I took him to be a resident, perhaps the owner of the house, and this was the first time I had seen any person there. So strongly did the sight of that old man impress me that I could not get his image out of my mind, and I spoke to those I knew in the city, and before long I met with one who was able to satisfy my curiosity about him. The old man I had seen, he told me, was Admiral Brown, an Englishman who many years before had taken service with the Dictator Rosas at the time when Rosas was at war with the neighbouring Republic of Uruguay, and had laid siege to the city of Montevideo. Garibaldi, who was spending the years of his exile from Italy in South America, fighting as usual wherever there was any fighting to be had, flew to the help of Uruguay, and having acquired great fame as a sea-fighter was placed in command of the naval forces, such as they were, of the little Republic. But Brown was a better fighter, and he soon captured and destroyed his enemies' ships, Garibaldi himself escaping shortly afterwards to come back to the old world to renew the old fight against Austria.
When old Admiral Brown retired he built this house, or had it given to him by Rosas who, I was told, had a great affection for him, and he then had the two cannons he had taken from one of the captured ships planted at his front gate.
Shortly after that one glimpse I had had of the old Admiral, he died. And I think that when I saw him standing at his gate gazing past me at the distance, he was looking out for an expected messenger—a figure in black moving swiftly towards him with a drawn sword in his hand.
Oddly enough it was but a short time after seeing the old man at his gate that I had my first sight of an inmate of Dovecot House. While slowly riding by it I saw a lady come out from the front door—young, good-looking, very pale and dressed in the deepest mourning. She had a bowl in her hand, and going a little distance from the house she called the pigeons and down they flew in a crowd to her feet to be fed.
A few months later when passing I saw this same lady once more, and on this occasion she was coming to the gate as I rode by, and I saw her closely, for she turned and looked at me, not unseeingly like the old man, and her face was perfectly colourless and her large dark eyes the most sorrowful I had ever seen.
That was my last sight of her, nor did I see any human creature about the house after that for about two years. Then one hot summer day I caught sight of three persons who looked like servants or caretakers, sitting in the shade some distance from the house and drinking mate, the tea of the country.
Here, thought I, is an opportunity not to be lost—one long waited for! Leaving my horse at the gate I went to them, and addressing a large woman, the most important-looking person of the three, as politely as I could, I said I was not, as they perhaps imagined, a long absent friend or relation returned from the wars, but a perfect stranger, a traveller on the great south road; that I was hot and thirsty, and the sight of them refreshing themselves in that pleasant shade had tempted me to intrude myself upon them.
She received me with smiles and a torrent of welcoming words, and the expected invitation to sit down and drink mate with them. She was a very large woman, very fat and very dark, of that reddish or mahogany colour which, taken with the black eyes and coarse black hair, is commonly seen in persons of mixed blood—Iberian with aboriginal. I took her age to be about fifty years. And she was as voluble as she was fat and dark, and poured out such a stream of talk on or rather over me like warm greasy water, and so forcing me to keep my eyes on her, that it was almost impossible to give any attention to the other two. One was her husband, Spanish and dark too, but with a different sort of darkness; a skeleton of a man with a bony ghastly face, in old frayed workman's clothes and dust-covered boots; his hands very grimy. And the third person was their daughter, as they called her, a girl of fifteen with a clear white and pink skin, regular features, beautiful grey eyes and light brown hair. A perfect type of a nice looking English girl such as one finds in any village, in almost any cottage, in the Midlands or anywhere else in this island.
These two were silent, but at length, in one of the fat woman's brief pauses, the girl spoke, in a Spanish in which one could detect no trace of a foreign accent, in a low and pleasing voice, only to say something about the garden. She was strangely earnest and appeared anxious to impress on them that it was necessary to have certain beds of vegetables they cultivated watered that very day lest they should be lost owing to the heat and dryness. The man grunted and the woman said yes, yes, yes, a dozen times. Then the girl left us, going back to her garden, and the fat woman went on talking to me. I tried once or twice to get her to tell me about her daughter, as she called her, but she would not respond—she would at once go off into other subjects. Then I tried something else and told her of my sight of a handsome young lady in mourning I had once seen there feeding the pigeons. And now she responded readily enough and told me the whole story of the lady.
She belonged to a good and very wealthy family of the city and was an only child, and lost both parents when very young. She was a very pretty girl of a joyous nature and a great favourite in society. At the age of sixteen she became engaged to a young man who was also of a good and wealthy family. After becoming engaged to her he went to the war in Paraguay, and after an absence of two years, during which he had distinguished himself in the field and won his captaincy, he returned to marry her. She was at her own house waiting in joyful excitement to receive him when his carriage arrived, and she flew to the door to welcome him. He, seeing her, jumped out and came running to her with his arms out to embrace her, but when still three or four yards distant suddenly stopped short and throwing up his arms fell to the earth a dead man. The shock of his death at this moment of supreme bliss for both of them was more than she could bear; it brought on a fever of the brain and it was feared that if she ever recovered it would be with a shattered mind. But it was not so: she got well and her reason was not lost, but she was changed into a different being from the happy girl of other days—fond of society, of dress, of pleasures; full of life and laughter. "Now she is sadness itself and will continue to wear mourning for the rest of her life, and prefers always to be alone. This old house, built by her grandfather when there were few houses in this suburb, she once liked to visit, but since her loss she has been but once in it. That was when you saw her, when she came to spend a few months in solitude. She would not even allow me to come and sit and talk to her! Think of that! She thinks nothing of her possessions and allows us to live here rent free, to grow vegetables and raise poultry for the market. That is what we do for a living; my husband and our little daughter attend to these things out of doors, and I look after the house."
When she got to the end of this long relation I rose and thanked her for her hospitality and made my escape. But the mystery of the white, gentle-voiced, grey-eyed girl haunted me, and from that time I made it my custom to call at Dovecot House on every journey to town, always to be received with open arms, so to speak, by the great fat woman. But she always baffled me. The girl was usually to be seen, always the same, quiet, unsmiling, silent, or else speaking in Spanish in that gentle un-Spanish voice of some practical matter about the garden, the poultry, and so on. I was not in love with her, but extremely curious to know who she really was and how she came to be a "daughter," or in the hands of these unlikely people. For it was really one of the strangest things I had ever come across up to that early period of my life. Since then I have met with even more curious things; but being then of an age when strange things have a great fascination I was bent on getting to the bottom of the mystery. However, it was in vain; doubtless the fat woman suspected my motives in calling on her and sipping mate and listening to her talk, for whenever I mentioned her daughter in a tentative way, hoping it would lead to talk on that subject, she quickly and skilfully changed it for some other subject. And at last seeing that I was wasting my time, I dropped calling, but to this day I am rather sorry I allowed myself to be defeated.
And now once more I must return for the space of two or three pages to the brother white house before saying good-bye to both.
For it had come to pass that while my investigations into the mystery of Dovecot House were in progress I had by chance got my foot in Cannon House. And this is how it happened. When the old Admiral whose ghostly image haunted me had received his message and vanished from this scene, the house was sold and was bought by an Englishman, an old resident in the town, who for thirty years had been toiling and moiling in a business of some kind until he had built a small fortune. It then occurred to him, or more likely his wife and daughters suggested it, that it was time to get a little way out of the hurly-burly, and they accordingly came to live at the house. There were two daughters, tall, slim, graceful girls, one, the elder, dark and pale like her old Cornish father, with black hair; the other a blonde with a rose colour and of a lively merry disposition. These girls happened to be friends of my sisters, and so it fell out that I too became an occasional visitor to Cannon House.
Then a strange thing happened, which made it a sad and anxious home to the inmates for many long months, running to nigh on two years. They were fond of riding, and one afternoon when there was no visitor or any person to accompany them, the youngest girl said she would have her ride and ordered her horse to be brought from the paddock and saddled. Her elder sister, who was of a somewhat timid disposition, tried to dissuade her from riding out alone on the highway. She replied that she would just have one little gallop—a mile or so—and then come back. Her sister, still anxious, followed her out of the gate and said she would wait there for her return. Half a mile or so from the gate the horse, a high-spirited animal, took fright at something and bolted with its rider. The sister waiting and looking out saw them coming, the horse at a furious pace, the rider clinging for dear life to the pummel of the saddle. It flashed on her mind that unless the horse could be stopped before he came crashing through the gate her sister would be killed, and running out to a distance of thirty yards from the gate she jumped at the horse's head as it came rushing by and succeeded in grasping the reins, and holding fast to them she was dragged to within two or three yards of the gate, when the horse was brought to a standstill, whereupon her grasp relaxed and she fell to the ground in a dead faint.
She had done a marvellous thing—almost incredible. I have had horses bolt with me and have seen horses bolt with others many times; and every person who has seen such a thing and who knows a horse—its power and the blind mad terror it is seized with on occasions—will agree with me that it is only at the risk of his life that even a strong and agile man can attempt to stop a bolting horse. We all said that she had saved her sister's life and were lost in admiration of her deed, but presently it seemed that she would pay for it with her own life. She recovered from the faint, but from that day began a decline, until in about three months' time she appeared to me more like a ghost than a being of flesh and blood. She had not strength to cross the rooms—all her strength and life were dying out of her because of that one unnatural, almost supernatural, act. She passed the days lying on a couch, speaking, when obliged to speak, in a whisper, her eyes sunk, her face white even to the lips, seeming the whiter for the mass of loose raven-black hair in which it was set. There were few doctors, English and native, who were not first and last called into consultation over the case, and still no benefit, no return to life, but ever the slow drifting towards the end. And at the last consultation of all this happened. When it was over and the doctors were asked into a room where refreshments were placed for them, the father of the girl spoke aside to a young doctor, a stranger to him, and begged him to tell him truly if there was no hope. The other replied that he should not lose all hope if—then he paused, and when he spoke again it was to say, "I am, you see, a very young man, a beginner in the profession, with little experience, and hardly know why I am called here to consult with these older and wiser men; and naturally my small voice received but little attention."
By-and-by, when they had all gone except the family doctor, he informed the distracted parents that it was impossible to save their daughter's life. The father cried out that he would not lose all hope and would call in another man, whereupon old Dr. Wormwood seized his brass-headed cane and took himself off in a huff. The young stranger was then called in. The patient had been given arsenic with other drugs; he gave her arsenic only, increasing the doses enormously, until she was given as much in a day or two as would have killed a healthy person; with milk for only nourishment. As a result, in a week or so the decline was stayed, and in that condition, very near to dissolution, she continued some weeks, and then slowly, imperceptibly, began to mend. But so slow was the improvement that it went on for months before she was well. It was a complete recovery; she had got back all her old strength and joy in life, and went again for a ride every day with her sister.
Not very long afterwards both sisters were married, and my visits to Cannon House ceased automatically.
Now the two White Houses are but a memory, revived for a brief period to vanish quickly again into oblivion, a something seen long ago and far away in another hemisphere; and they are like two white cliffs seen in passing from the ship at the beginning of its voyage—gazed at with a strange interest as I passed them, and as they receded from me, until they faded from sight in the distance.
DANDY A STORY OF A DOG
He was of mixed breed, and was supposed to have a strain of Dandy Dinmont blood which gave him his name. A big ungainly animal with a rough shaggy coat of blue-grey hair and white on his neck and clumsy paws. He looked like a Sussex sheep-dog with legs reduced to half their proper length. He was, when I first knew him, getting old and increasingly deaf and dim of sight, otherwise in the best of health and spirits, or at all events very good-tempered.
Until I knew Dandy I had always supposed that the story of Ludlam's dog was pure invention, and I daresay that is the general opinion about it; but Dandy made me reconsider the subject, and eventually I came to believe that Ludlam's dog did exist once upon a time, centuries ago perhaps, and that if he had been the laziest dog in the world Dandy was not far behind him in that respect. It is true he did not lean his head against a wall to bark; he exhibited his laziness in other ways. He barked often, though never at strangers; he welcomed every visitor, even the tax-collector, with tail-waggings and a smile. He spent a good deal of his time in the large kitchen, where he had a sofa to sleep on, and when the two cats of the house wanted an hour's rest they would coil themselves up on Dandy's broad shaggy side, preferring that bed to cushion or rug. They were like a warm blanket over him, and it was a sort of mutual benefit society. After an hour's sleep Dandy would go out for a short constitutional as far as the neighbouring thoroughfare, where he would blunder against people, wag his tail to everybody, and then come back. He had six or eight or more outings each day, and, owing to doors and gates being closed and to his lazy disposition, he had much trouble in getting out and in. First he would sit down in the hall and bark, bark, bark, until some one would come to open the door for him, whereupon he would slowly waddle down the garden path, and if he found the gate closed he would again sit down and start barking. And the bark, bark would go on until some one came to let him out. But if after he had barked about twenty or thirty times no one came, he would deliberately open the gate himself, which he could do perfectly well, and let himself out. In twenty minutes or so he would be back at the gate and barking for admission once more, and finally, if no one paid any attention, letting himself in.
Dandy always had something to eat at mealtimes, but he too liked a snack between meals once or twice a day. The dog-biscuits were kept in an open box on the lower dresser shelf, so that he could get one "whenever he felt so disposed," but he didn't like the trouble this arrangement gave him, so he would sit down and start barking, and as he had a bark which was both deep and loud, after it had been repeated a dozen times at intervals of five seconds, any person who happened to be in or near the kitchen was glad to give him his biscuit for the sake of peace and quietness. If no one gave it him, he would then take it out himself and eat it.
Now it came to pass that during the last year of the war dog-biscuits, like many other articles of food for man and beast, grew scarce, and were finally not to be had at all. At all events, that was what happened in Dandy's town of Penzance. He missed his biscuits greatly and often reminded us of it by barking; then, lest we should think he was barking about something else, he would go and sniff and paw at the empty box. He perhaps thought it was pure forgetfulness on the part of those of the house who went every morning to do the marketing and had fallen into the habit of returning without any dog-biscuits in the basket. One day during that last winter of scarcity and anxiety I went to the kitchen and found the floor strewn all over with the fragments of Dandy's biscuit-box. Dandy himself had done it; he had dragged the box from its place out into the middle of the floor, and then deliberately set himself to bite and tear it into small pieces and scatter them about. He was caught at it just as he was finishing the job, and the kindly person who surprised him in the act suggested that the reason of his breaking up the box in that way that he got something of the biscuit flavour by biting the pieces. My own theory was that as the box was there to hold biscuits and now held none, he had come to regard it as useless—as having lost its function, so to speak—also that its presence there was an insult to his intelligence, a constant temptation to make a fool of himself by visiting it half a dozen times a day only to find it empty as usual. Better, then, to get rid of it altogether, and no doubt when he did it he put a little temper into the business!
Dandy, from the time I first knew him, was strictly teetotal, but in former and distant days he had been rather fond of his glass. If a person held up a glass of beer before him, I was told, he wagged his tail in joyful anticipation, and a little beer was always given him at mealtime. Then he had an experience, which, after a little hesitation, I have thought it best to relate, as it is perhaps the most curious incident in Dandy's somewhat uneventful life.
One day Dandy, who after the manner of his kind, had attached himself to the person who was always willing to take him out for a stroll, followed his friend to a neighbouring public-house, where the said friend had to discuss some business matter with the landlord. They went into the taproom, and Dandy, finding that the business was going to be a rather long affair, settled himself down to have a nap. Now it chanced that a barrel of beer which had just been broached had a leaky tap, and the landlord had set a basin on the floor to catch the waste. Dandy, waking from his nap and hearing the trickling sound, got up, and going to the basin quenched his thirst, after which he resumed his nap. By-and-by he woke again and had a second drink, and altogether he woke and had a drink five or six times; then, the business being concluded, they went out together, but no sooner were they in the fresh air than Dandy began to exhibit signs of inebriation. He swerved from side to side, colliding with the passers-by, and finally fell off the pavement into the swift stream of water which at that point runs in the gutter at one side of the street. Getting out of the water, he started again, trying to keep close to the wall to save himself from another ducking. People looked curiously at him, and by-and-by they began to ask what the matter was. "Is your dog going to have a fit—or what is it?" they asked. Dandy's friend said he didn't know; something was the matter no doubt, and he would take him home as quickly as possible and see to it.
When they finally got to the house Dandy staggered to his sofa, and succeeded in climbing on to it and, throwing himself on his cushion, went fast asleep, and slept on without a break until the following morning. Then he rose quite refreshed and appeared to have forgotten all about it; but that day when at dinner-time some one said "Dandy" and held up a glass of beer, instead of wagging his tail as usual he dropped it between his legs and turned away in evident disgust. And from that time onward he would never touch it with his tongue, and it was plain that when they tried to tempt him, setting beer before him and smilingly inviting him to drink, he knew they were mocking him, and before turning away he would emit a low growl and show his teeth. It was the one thing that put him out and would make him angry with his friends and life companions.
I should not have related this incident if Dandy had been alive. But he is no longer with us. He was old—half-way between fifteen and sixteen: it seemed as though he had waited to see the end of the war, since no sooner was the armistice proclaimed than he began to decline rapidly. Gone deaf and blind, he still insisted on taking several constitutionals every day, and would bark as usual at the gate, and if no one came to let him out or admit him, he would open it for himself as before. This went on till January, 1919, when some of the boys he knew were coming back to Penzance and to the house. Then he established himself on his sofa, and we knew that his end was near, for there he would sleep all day and all night, declining food. It is customary in this country to chloroform a dog and give him a dose of strychnine to "put him out of his misery." But it was not necessary in this case, as he was not in misery; not a groan did he ever emit, waking or sleeping; and if you put a hand on him he would look up and wag his tail just to let you know that it was well with him. And in his sleep he passed away—a perfect case of euthanasia—and was buried in the large garden near the second apple-tree.
THE SAMPHIRE GATHERER
At sunset, when the strong wind from the sea was beginning to feel cold, I stood on the top of the sandhill looking down at an old woman hurrying about over the low damp ground beneath—a bit of sea-flat divided from the sea by the ridge of sand; and I wondered at her, because her figure was that of a feeble old woman, yet she moved—I had almost said flitted—over that damp level ground in a surprisingly swift light manner, pausing at intervals to stoop and gather something from the surface. But I couldn't see her distinctly enough to satisfy myself: the sun was sinking below the horizon, and that dimness in the air and coldness in the wind at day's decline, when the year too was declining, made all objects look dim. Going down to her I found that she was old, with thin grey hair on an uncovered head, a lean dark face with regular features and grey eyes that were not old and looked steadily at mine, affecting me with a sudden mysterious sadness. For they were unsmiling eyes and themselves expressed an unutterable sadness, as it appeared to me at the first swift glance; or perhaps not that, as it presently seemed, but a shadowy something which sadness had left in them, when all pleasure and all interest in life forsook her, with all affections, and she no longer cherished either memories or hopes. This may be nothing but conjecture or fancy, but if she had been a visitor from another world she could not have seemed more strange to me.
I asked her what she was doing there so late in the day, and she answered in a quiet even voice which had a shadow in it too, that she was gathering samphire of that kind which grows on the flat saltings and has a dull green leek-like fleshy leaf. At this season, she informed me, it was fit for gathering to pickle and put by for use during the year. She carried a pail to put it in, and a table-knife in her hand to dig the plants up by the roots, and she also had an old sack in which she put every dry stick and chip of wood she came across. She added that she had gathered samphire at this same spot every August end for very many years.
I prolonged the conversation, questioning her and listening with affected interest to her mechanical answers, while trying to fathom those unsmiling, unearthly eyes that looked so steadily at mine.
And presently, as we talked, a babble of human voices reached our ears, and half turning we saw the crowd, or rather procession, of golfers coming from the golf-house by the links where they had been drinking tea. Ladies and gentlemen players, forty or more of them, following in a loose line, in couples and small groups, on their way to the Golfers' Hotel, a little further up the coast; a remarkably good-looking lot with well-fed happy faces, well-dressed and in a merry mood, all freely talking and laughing. Some were staying at the hotel, and for the others a score or so of motor-cars were standing before its gates to take them inland to their homes, or to houses where they were staying.
We suspended the conversation while they were passing us, within three yards of where we stood, and as they passed the story of the links where they had been amusing themselves since luncheon-time came into my mind. The land there was owned by an old, an ancient, family; they had occupied it, so it is said, since the Conquest; but the head of the house was now poor, having no house property in London, no coal mines in Wales, no income from any other source than the land, the twenty or thirty thousand acres let for farming. Even so he would not have been poor, strictly speaking, but for the sons, who preferred a life of pleasure in town, where they probably had private establishments of their own. At all events they kept race-horses, and had their cars, and lived in the best clubs, and year by year the patient old father was called upon to discharge their debts of honour. It was a painful position for so estimable a man to be placed in, and he was much pitied by his friends and neighbours, who regarded him as a worthy representative of the best and oldest family in the county. But he was compelled to do what he could to make both ends meet, and one of the little things he did was to establish golf-links over a mile or so of sand-hills, lying between the ancient coast village and the sea, and to build and run a Golfers' Hotel in order to attract visitors from all parts. In this way, incidentally, the villagers were cut off from their old direct way to the sea and deprived of those barren dunes, which were their open space and recreation ground and had stood them in the place of a common for long centuries. They were warned off and told that they must use a path to the beach which took them over half a mile from the village. And they had been very humble and obedient and had made no complaint. Indeed, the agent had assured them that they had every reason to be grateful to the overlord, since in return for that trivial inconvenience they had been put to they would have the golfers there, and there would be employment for some of the village boys as caddies. Nevertheless, I had discovered that they were not grateful but considered that an injustice had been done to them, and it rankled in their hearts.
I remembered all this while the golfers were streaming by, and wondered if this poor woman did not, like her fellow-villagers, cherish a secret bitterness against those who had deprived them of the use of the dunes where for generations they had been accustomed to walk or sit or lie on the loose yellow sands among the barren grasses, and had also cut off their direct way to the sea where they went daily in search of bits of firewood and whatever else the waves threw up which would be a help to them in their poor lives.
If it be so, I thought, some change will surely come into those unchanging eyes at the sight of all these merry, happy golfers on their way to their hotel and their cars and luxurious homes. But though I watched her face closely there was no change, no faintest trace of ill- feeling or feeling of any kind; only that same shadow which had been there was there still, and her fixed eyes were like those of a captive bird or animal, that gaze at us, yet seem not to see us but to look through and beyond us. And it was the same when they had all gone by and we finished our talk and I put money in her hand; she thanked me without a smile, in the same quiet even tone of voice in which she had replied to my question about the samphire.
I went up once more to the top of the ridge, and looking down saw her again as I had seen her at first, only dimmer, swiftly, lightly moving or flitting moth-like or ghost-like over the low flat salting, still gathering samphire in the cold wind, and the thought that came to me was that I was looking at and had been interviewing a being that was very like a ghost, or in any case a soul, a something which could not be described, like certain atmospheric effects in earth and water and sky which are ignored by the landscape painter. To protect himself he cultivates what is called the "sloth of the eye": he thrusts his fingers into his ears so to speak, not to hear that mocking voice that follows and mocks him with his miserable limitations. He who seeks to convey his impressions with a pen is almost as badly off: the most he can do in such instances as the one related, is to endeavour to convey the emotion evoked by what he has witnessed.
Let me then take the case of the man who has trained his eyes, or rather whose vision has unconsciously trained itself, to look at every face he meets, to find in most cases something, however little, of the person's inner life. Such a man could hardly walk the length of the Strand and Fleet-street or of Oxford-street without being startled at the sight of a face which haunts him with its tragedy, its mystery, the strange things it has half revealed. But it does not haunt him long; another arresting face follows, and then another, and the impressions all fade and vanish from the memory in a little while. But from time to time, at long intervals, once perhaps in a lustrum, he will encounter a face that will not cease to haunt him, whose vivid impression will not fade for years. It was a face and eyes of that kind which I met in the samphire gatherer on that cold evening; but the mystery of it is a mystery still.