BOG-MYRTLE AND PEAT
TALES CHIEFLY OF GALLOWAY
GATHERED FROM THE YEARS 1889 TO 1895, BY
BLISS, SANDS AND FOSTER 15 CRAVEN STREET, STRAND MDCCCXCV
Inscribed with the Name of George Milner of Manchester, a Man most Generous, Brave, True, to whom, because he freely gave me That of His which I the most desired— I, having Nothing worthier to give, Give This.
"The heather's in a blaze, Willie, The White Rose decks the tree, The Fiery-Cross is on the braes, And the King is on the sea.
"Remember great Montrose, Willie, Remember fair Dundee, And strike one stroke at the foreign foes Of the King that's on the sea.
"There's Gordons in the North, Willie, Are rising frank and free, Shall a Kenmure Gordon not go forth For the King that's on the sea?
"A trusty sword to draw, Willie, A comely weird to dree, For the royal Rose that's like the snaw, And the King that's on the sea!"
He cast ae look upon his lands, Looked over loch and lea, He took his fortune in his hands, For the King was on the sea.
Kenmures have fought in Galloway For Kirk and Presbyt'rie, This Kenmure faced his dying day, For King James across the sea.
It little skills what faith men vaunt, If loyal men they be To Christ's ain Kirk and Covenant, Or the King that's o'er the sea.
BOOK FIRST. ADVENTURES
I. THE MINISTER OF DOUR II. A CRY ACROSS THE BLACK WATER III. SAINT LUCY OF THE EYES IV. UNDER THE RED TERROR V. THE CASE OF JOHN ARNISTON'S CONSCIENCE VI. THE GLISTERING BEACHES
BOOK SECOND. INTIMACIES
I. THE LAST ANDERSON OF DEESIDE II. A SCOTTISH SABBATH DAY III. THE COURTSHIP OF TAMMOCK THAKANRAIP, AYRSHIREMAN IV. THE OLD TORY V. THE GREAT RIGHT-OF-WAY CASE VI. DOMINIE GRIER VII. THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER
BOOK THIRD. HISTORIES
I. FENWICK MAJOR'S LITTLE 'UN II. MAC'S ENTERIC FEVER III. THE COLLEGING OF SIMEON GLEG IV. KIT KENNEDY, NE'ER-DO-WELL V. THE BACK O' BEYONT VI. NORTH TO THE ARCTIC
BOOK FOURTH. IDYLLS
I. ACROSS THE MARCH DYKE II. A FINISHED YOUNG LADY III. THE LITTLE LAME ANGEL
BOOK FIFTH. TALES OF THE KIRK
I. THE MINISTER-EMERITUS II. A MINISTER'S DAY III. THE MINISTER'S LOON IV. THE BIOGRAPHY OF AN INEFFICIENT V. JOHN VI. EUROCLYDON OF THE RED HEAD VII. THE CAIRN EDWARD KIRK MILITANT
EPILOGUE: IN PRAISE OF GALLOWAY
NIGHT IN THE GALLOWAY WOODS BIRDS AT NIGHT THE COMING OF THE DAWN FLOOD-TIDE OF NIGHT WAY FOR THE SUN THE EARLY BIRD FULL CHORUS THE BUTCHER'S BOY OF THE WOODS THE DUST OF BATTLE COMES THE DAY
There is a certain book of mine which no publisher has paid royalty upon, which has never yet been confined in spidery lines upon any paper, a book that is nevertheless the Book of my Youth, of my Love, and of my Heart.
There never was such a book, and in the chill of type certainly there never will be. It has, so far as I know, no title, this unpublished book of mine. For it would need the blood of rubies and the life of diamonds crusted on ivory to set the title of this book.
Mostly I see it in the late night watches, when the twilight verges to the cock-crowing and the universe is silent, stirless, windless, for about the space of one hour. Then the pages of the book are opened a little; and, as one that reads hungrily, hastily, at the bookstall of an impatient vendor a book he cannot buy, so I scan the idylls, the epics, the dramas of the life of man written in words which thrill me as I read. Some are fiercely tender, some yearning and unsatisfying, some bitter in the mouth but afterward sweet in the belly. All are expressed in words so fit and chaste and noble, that each is an immortal poem which would give me deathless fame—could I, alas! but remember.
Then the morning comes, and with the first red I awake to a sense of utter loss and bottomless despair. Once more I have clutched and missed and forgotten. It is gone from me. The imagination of my heart is left unto me desolate. Sometimes indeed when a waking bird—by preference a mavis—sings outside my window, for a little while after I swim upward out of the ocean of sleep, it seems that I might possibly remember one stanza of the deathless words; or even by chance recapture, like the brown speckled thrush, that "first fine careless rapture" of the adorable refrain.
Even when I arise and walk out in the dawn, as is my custom winter and summer, still I have visions of this book of mine, of which I now remember that the mystic name is "The Book Sealed." Sometimes in these dreams of the morning, as I walk abroad, I find my hands upon the clasps. I touch the binding wax of the seals. When the first rosy fingers of the dawn point upward to the zenith with the sunlight behind them, sanguine like a maid's hand held before a lamp, I catch a farewell glimpse of the hidden pages.
Tales, not poems, are written upon them now. I hear the voices of "Them Ones," as Irish folk impressively say of the Little People, telling me tales out of the Book Sealed, tales which in the very hearing make a man blush hotly and thrill with hopes mysterious. Such stories as they are! The romances of high young blood, of maidens' winsome purity and frank disdain, of strong men who take their lives in hand and hurl themselves upon the push of pikes. And though I cannot grasp more than a hint of the plot, yet as my feet swish through the dewy swathes of the hyacinths or crisp along the frost-bitten snow, a wild thought quickens within me into a belief, that one day I shall hear them all, and tell these tales for my very own so that the world must listen.
But as the rosy fingers of the morn melt and the broad day fares forth, the vision fades, and I who saw and heard must go and sit down to my plain saltless tale. Once I wrote a book, every word of it, in the open air. It was full of the sweet things of the country, so at least as they seemed to me. I saw the hens nestle sleepily in the holes of the bank-side where the dry dust is, and so I wrote it down. I heard the rain drum on the broad leaves over my head, and I wrote that down also. Day after day I rose and wrote in the dawn, and sometimes I seemed to recapture a leaf or a passing glance of a chapter-heading out of the Book Sealed. It came back to me how the girls were kissed and love was made in the days when the Book Sealed was the Book Open, and when I cared not a jot for anything that was written therein. So as well as I could I wrote these things down in the red dawn. And so till the book was done.
Then the day comes when the book is printed and bound, and when the critics write of it after their kind, things good and things evil. But I that have gathered the fairy gold dare not for my life look again within, lest it should be even as they say, and I should find but withered leaves therein. For the sake of the vision of the breaking day and the incommunicable hope, I shall look no more upon it. But ever with the eternal human expectation, I rise and wait the morning and the final opening of the "Book Sealed."
I am deeply in the debt of my friend, Mr. Andrew Lang, for the ballad of 'Kenmure' which he has written to grace my bare boards and spice the plain fare here set out in honour of the ancient Free Province.
Lo, in the dance the wine-drenched coronal From shoulder white and golden hair doth fall! A-nigh his breast each youth doth hold an head, Twin flushing cheeks and locks unfilleted; Swifter and swifter doth the revel move Athwart the dim recesses of the grove ... Where Aphrodite reigneth in her prime, And laughter ringeth all the summer time.
There hemlock branches make a languorous gloom, And heavy-headed poppies drip perfume In secret arbours set in garden close; And all the air, one glorious breath of rose, Shakes not a dainty petal from the trees. Nor stirs a ripple on the Cyprian seas.
"The Choice of Herakles."
THE MINISTER OF DOUR
This window looketh towards the west, And o'er the meadows grey Glimmer the snows that coldly crest The hills of Galloway.
The winter broods on all between— In every furrow lies; Nor is there aught of summer green, Nor blue of summer skies.
Athwart the dark grey rain-clouds flash The seabird's sweeping wings, And through the stark and ghostly ash The wind of winter sings.
The purple woods are dim with rain, The cornfields dank and bare; And eyes that look for golden grain Find only stubble there.
And while I write, behold the night Comes slowly blotting all, And o'er grey waste and meadow bright The gloaming shadows fall.
"From Two Windows."
The wide frith lay under the manse windows of the parish of Dour. The village of Dour straggled, a score of white-washed cottages, along four hundred yards of rocky shore. There was a little port, to attempt which in a south-west wind was to risk an abrupt change of condition. This was what made half of the men in the parish of Dour God-fearing men. The other half feared the minister.
Abraham Ligartwood was the minister. He also feared God exceedingly, but he made up for it by not regarding man in the slightest. The manse of Dour was conspicuously set like a watch-tower on a hill—or like a baron's castle above the huts of his retainers. The fishermen out on the water made it their lighthouse. The lamp burned in the minister's study half the night, and was alight long ere the winter sun had reached the horizon.
Abraham Ligartwood would have been a better man had he been less painfully good. When he came to the parish of Dour he found that he had to succeed a man who had allowed his people to run wild. Dour was a garden filled with the degenerate fruit of a strange vine.
The minister said so in the pulpit. Dour smiled complacently, and considered that its hoary wickednesses would beat the minister in the long-run. But Dour did not at that time know the minister. It was the day of the free-traders. The traffic with the Isle of Man, whence the hardy fishermen ran their cargoes of Holland gin and ankers of French brandy, put good gear on the back of many a burgher's wife, and porridge into the belly of many a fisherman's bairn.
The new minister found all this out when he came. He did not greatly object. It was, he said, no part of his business to collect King George's dues. But he did object when the running of a vessel's cargo became the signal for half his parishioners settling themselves to a fortnight of black, solemn, evil-hearted drinking. He said that he would break up these colloguings. He would not have half the wives in the parish coming to his kirk with black eyes upon the Lord's Sabbath day.
The parish of Dour laughed. But the parish of Dour was to get news of the minister, for Abraham Ligartwood was not a man to trifle with.
One night there was a fine cargo cleanly run at Port Saint Johnston, the village next to Dour. It was got as safely off. The "lingtowmen" went out, and there was the jangling of hooked chains along all the shores; then the troll of the smugglers' song as the cavalcade struck inwards through the low shore-hills for the main free-trade route to Edinburgh and Glasgow. The king's preventive men had notice, and came down as usual three hours late. Then they seized ten casks of the best Bordeaux, which had been left for the purpose on the sand. They were able and intelligent officers—in especial the latter. And they had an acute perception of the fact that if their bread was to be buttered on both sides, it were indeed well not to let it fall.
This cargo-running and seizures were all according to rule, and the minister of Dour had nothing to say. But at night seventeen of his kirk members in good standing and fourteen adherents met at the Back Spital of Port Dour to drink prosperity to the cargo which had been safely run. There was an elder in the chair, and six unbroached casks on a board in the corner.
There was among those who assembled some word of scoffing merriment at the expense of the minister. Abraham Ligartwood had preached a sermon on the Sabbath before, which each man, as the custom was, took home and applied to his neighbour.
"Ay man, Mains, did ye hear what the minister said aboot ye? O man, he was sair on ye!"
"Hoot na, Portmark, it was yersel' he was hittin' at, and the black e'e ye gied Kirsty six weeks syne."
But when the first keg was on the table, and the men, each with his pint-stoup before him, had seated themselves round, there came a knocking at the door—loud, insistent, imperious. Each man ran his hand down his side to the loaded whip or jockteleg (the smuggler's sheath-knife) which he carried with him.
But no man was in haste to open the door. The red coats of King George's troopers might be on the other side. For no mere gauger or preventive man would have the assurance to come chapping on Portmark's door in that fashion.
"Open the door in the name of Most High God!" cried a loud, solemn voice they all knew. The seventeen men and an elder quaked through all their inches; but none moved. Writs from the authority mentioned did not run in the parish of Dour.
The fourteen adherents fled underneath the table like chickens in a storm.
"Then will I open it in my own name!" Whereon followed a crash, and the two halves of the kitchen door sprang asunder with great and sudden noise. Abraham Ligartwood came in.
The men sat awed, each man wishful to creep behind his neighbour.
The minister's breadth of shoulder filled up the doorway completely, so that there was not room for a child to pass. He carried a mighty staff in his hand, and his dark hair shone through the powder which was upon it. His glance swept the gathering. His eye glowed with a sparkle of such fiery wrath that not a man of all the seventeen and an elder, was unafraid. Yet not of his violence, but rather of the lightnings of his words. And above all, of his power to loose and to bind. It is a mistaken belief that priestdom died when they spelled it Presbytery.
The comprehensive nature of the anathema that followed—spoken from the advantage of the doorway, with personal applications to the seventeen individuals and the elder—cannot now be recalled; but scraps of that address are circulated to this day, mostly spoken under the breath of the narrator.
"And you, Portmark," the minister is reported to have said, "with your face like the moon in harvest and your girth like a tun of Rhenish, gin ye turn not from your evil ways, within four year ye shall sup with the devil whom ye serve. Have ye never a word to say, ye scorners of the halesome word, ye blaspheming despisers of doctrine? Your children shall yet stand and rebuke you in the gate. Heard ye not my word on the Sabbath in the kirk? Dumb dogs are ye every one! Have ye not a word to say? There was a brave gabble of tongues enough when I came in. Are ye silent before a man? How, then, shall ye stand in That Day?"
The minister paused for a reply. But no answer came.
"And you, Alexander Kippen, puir windlestrae, the Lord shall thresh ye like ill-grown corn in the day of His wrath. Ye are hardly worth the word of rebuke; but for mine office I wad let ye slip quick to hell! The devil takes no care of you, for he is sure of ye!"
The minister advanced, and with the iron-pointed shod of his staff drove in the bung of the first keg. Then there arose a groan from the seventeen men who sat about. Some of them stood up on their feet. But the minister turned on them with such fearsome words, laying the ban of anathema on them, that their hearts became as water and they sat down. The good spirit gurgled and ran, and deep within them the seventeen men groaned for the pity of it.
Thus the minister broke up the black drinkings. And the opinion of the parish was with him in all, except as to the spilling of the liquor. Rebuke and threatening were within his right, but to pour out the spirit was a waste even in a minister.
"It is the destruction of God's good creature!" said the parish of Dour.
But the minister held on his way. The communion followed after, and Abraham Ligartwood had, as was usual, three days of humiliation and prayer beforehand. Then he set himself to "fence the tables." He stated clearly who had a right to come forward to the table of the Lord, and who were to be debarred. He explained personally and exactly why it was that each defaulter had no right there. As he went on, the congregation, one after another, rose astonished and terrified and went out, till Abraham Ligartwood was left alone with the elements of communion. Every elder and member had left the building, so effective had been the minister's rebuke.
At this the parish of Dour seethed with rebellion. Secret cabals in corners arose, to be scattered like smoke-drift by the whisper that the minister was coming. Deputations were chosen, and started for the manse full of courage and hardihood. Portmark, as the man who smarted sorest, generally headed them; and by the aid of square wide-mouthed bottles of Hollands, it was possible to get the members as far as the foot of the manse loaning. But beyond that they would not follow Portmark's leading, nor indeed that of any man. The footfall of the minister of Dour as he paced alone in his study chilled them to the bone.
They told one another on the way home how Ganger Patie, of the black blood of the gypsy Marshalls, finding his occupation gone, cursed the minister on Glen Morrison brae; but broke neck-bone by the sudden fright of his horse and his own drunkenness at the foot of the same brae on his home-coming. They said that the minister had prophesied that in the spot where Ganger Patie had cursed the messenger of God, even there God would enter into judgment with him. And they told how the fair whitethorn hedge was blasted for ten yards about the spot where the Death Angel had waited for the blasphemer. There were four men who were willing to give warrandice that their horses had turned with them and refused to pass the place.
So the parish was exceedingly careful of its words to the minister. It left him severely alone. He even made his own porridge in the wide-sounding kitchen of the gabled manse, on the hill above the harbour. He rang with his own hands the kirk-bell on the Sabbath morn. But none came near the preachings. There was no child baptized in the parish of Dour; and no wholesome diets of catechising, where old and young might learn the Way more perfectly.
Mr. Ligartwood's brethren spoke to him and pled with him to use milder courses; but all in vain. In those days the Pope was not so autocratic in Rome as a minister in his own parish.
"They left me of their own accord, and of their own accord shall they return," said Abraham Ligartwood.
But in the fall of the year the White Death came to Dour. They say that it came from the blasted town of Kirk Oswald, where the plague had been all the summer. The men of the landward parishes set a watch on all that came out of the accursed streets. But in the night-time men with laden horses ran the blockade, for the prices to be obtained within were like those in a besieged city.
Some said that it was the farmer of Portmark who had done this thing once too often. At least it is sure that it was to his house that the Death first came in the parish of Dour. At the sound of the shrill crying, of which they every one knew the meaning, men dropped their tools in the field and fled to the hills. It was like the Day of Judgment. The household servants disappeared. Hired men and field-workers dispersed like the wave from a stone in a pool, carrying infection with them. Men fell over at their own doors with the rattle in their throats, and there lay, none daring to touch them. In Kirk Oswald town the grass grew in the vennels and along the High Street. In Dour the horses starved in the stables, the cattle in the byres.
Then came Abraham Ligartwood out of the manse of Dour. He went down to the farm towns and into the village huts and lifted the dead. He harnessed the horse in the cart, and swathed the body in sheets. He dug the graves, and laid the corpse in the kindly soil. He nursed the sick. He organised help everywhere. He went from house to stricken house with the high assured words of a messenger fresh from God.
He let out the horses to the pasture. He milked the kine, that bellowed after him with the plague of their milk. He had thought and hands for all. His courage shamed the cowards. He quickened the laggards. He stilled the agony of fear that killed three for every one who died of the White Death.
For the first time since the minister came to Dour, the kirk-bell did not ring on Sabbath, for the minister was at the other end of the parish setting a house in order whence three children had been carried. In the kirkyard there was the dull rattle of sods. The burying-party consisted of the roughest rogues in the parish, whom the minister had fetched from their hiding-holes in the hills.
Up the long roads that led to the kirk on its windy height the scanty funerals wended their way. For three weeks they say that in the kirkyard, from dawn to dusk, there was always a grave uncovered or a funeral in sight. There was no burial service in the kirkyard save the rattle of the clods; for now the minister had set the carpenters to work and coffins were being made. But the minister had prayer in all the houses ere the dead was lifted.
Then he went off to lay hot stones to the feet of another, and to get a nurse for yet another. For twenty days he never slept and seldom ate, till the plague was stayed.
The last case was on the 27th of September. Then Abraham Ligartwood himself was stricken in one of the village hovels, and fell forward across a sick man's bed. They carried him to the manse of Dour, and wept as they went. The next day all the men that were alive in the parish of Dour stood about the minister's grave in the kirkyard on the hill. There was none there that could pray. But as they were about to separate, some one, it was never known who, raised the tune of the first Psalm. And the wind wafted to the weeping wives in the cottages of the stricken parish of Dour the sound of the hoarse and broken singing of men. In three weeks the minister had brought the evil parish of Dour into the presence of God.
And these were the words of their singing, while the gravediggers stood with the red earth ready on their spades, but before a clod fell on the minister's grave:—
"That man hath perfect blessedness Who walketh not astray In counsel of ungodly men, Nor stands in sinners' way, Nor sitteth in the scorner's chair; But placeth his delight Upon God's law, and meditates On his law day and night."
The new minister who succeeded had an easy time and a willing people. But he can never be to them what Abraham Ligartwood was. They graved on his tomb, and that with good cause, the words, "Here lyes a Man who never feared the face of Man."
The lovers are whispering under thy shade, Grey Tower of Dalmeny! I leave them and wander alone in the glade Beneath thee, Dalmeny. Their thoughts are of all the bright years coming on, But mine are of days and of dreams that are gone; They see the fair flowers Spring has thrown on the grass, And the clouds in the blue light their eyes as they pass; But my feet are deep dawn in a drift of dead leaves, And I hear what they hear not—a lone bird that grieves. What matter? the end is not far for us all, And spring, through the summer, to winter must fall, And the lovers' light hearts, e'en as mine, will be laid, At last, and for ever, low under thy shade, Grey Tower of Dalmeny.
A CRY ACROSS THE BLACK WATER
With Rosemary for remembrance, And Rue, sweet Rue, for you.
It was at the waterfoot of the Ken, and the time of the year was June.
The loud, bold cry carried far through the still morning air. The rain had washed down all that was in the sky during the night, so that the hail echoed through a world blue and empty.
Gregory Jeffray, a noble figure of a youth, stood leaning on the arch of his mare's neck, quieting the nervous tremors of Eulalie, that very dainty lady. His tall, alert figure, tight-reined and manly, was brought out by his riding-dress. His pose against the neck of the beautiful beast, from which a moment before he had swung himself, was that of Hadrian's young Antinous.
Gregory Jeffray, growing a little impatient, made a trumpet of his hands, and sent the powerful voice, with which one day he meant to thrill listening senates, sounding athwart the dancing ripples of the loch.
On the farther shore was a flat white ferry-boat, looking, as it lay motionless in the river, like a white table chained in the water with its legs in the air. The chain along which it moved plunged into the shallows beside him, and he could see it descending till he lost it in the dusky pool across which the ferry plied. To the north, Loch Ken ran in glistening levels and island-studded reaches to the base of Cairnsmuir.
A figure, like a white mark of exclamation moving over green paper, came out of the little low whitewashed cottage opposite, and stood a moment looking across the ferry, with one hand resting on its side and the other held level with the eyes. Then the observer disappeared behind a hedge, to be seen immediately coming down the narrow, deep-rutted lane towards the ferry-boat. When the figure came again in sight of Gregory Jeffray, he had no difficulty in distinguishing a slim girl, clad in white, who came sedately towards him.
When she arrived at the white boat which floated so stilly on the morning glitter of the water, only just stirred by a breeze from the south, she stepped at once on board. Gregory could see her as she took from the corner of the flat, where it stood erect along with other boating gear, something which looked like a short iron hoe. With this she walked to the end of the boat nearest him. She laid the hoe end of the instrument against a chain that ran breast-high along one side of the boat and at the stern plunged diagonally into the water. His mare lifted her feet impatiently, as though the shoreward end of the chain had brought a thrill across the loch from the moving ferry-boat. Turning her back to him, the girl bent her slim young body without an effort; and, as though by the gentlest magic, the ferry-boat drew nearer to him. It did not seem to move; yet gradually the space of blue water between it and the shore on which the whitewashed cottage stood spread and widened. He could hear the gentle clatter of the wavelets against the lip of the landing-drop as the boat came nearer. His mare tossed her head and snuffed at this strange four-footed thing that glided towards them.
Gregory, who loved all women, watched with natural interest the sway and poise of the girlish figure. He heard the click and rattle of the chain as she deftly disengaged her gripper-iron at the farther end, and, turning, walked the deck's length towards him.
She seemed but a young thing to move so large a boat. He forgot to be angry at being kept so long waiting, for of all women, he told himself, he most admired tall girls in simple dresses. His exceptional interest arose from the fact that he had never before seen one manage a ferry-boat.
As he stood on the shore, and the great flat boat moved towards him, he saw that the end of it nearest him was pulled up a couple of feet clear of the water. Still the boat moved noiselessly forward, till he heard it first grate and then ground gently, as the graceful pilot bore her weight upon the iron bar to stay its progress. Gregory specially admired the flex of her arms bent outwardly as she did so. Then she went to the end of the boat, and let down the tilted gangway upon the pebbles at his feet.
Gregory Jeffray instinctively took off his hat as he said to this girl, "Good-morning! Can I get to the village of Dullarg by this ferry?"
"This is the way to the Dullarg," said the girl, simply and naturally, leaning as she spoke upon her dripping gripper-iron.
Her eyes did not refuse to take in the goodliness of the youth while his attention was for the moment given to his mare.
"Gently, gently, lass!" he said, patting the neck which arched impatiently as she felt the boards hollow beneath her feet. Yet she came obediently enough on deck, arching her fore-feet high and throwing them out in an uncertain and tentative manner.
Then the girl, with a quiet and matter-of-fact acceptance of her duties, placed her iron once more upon the chain, and bent herself to the task with well-accustomed effort of her slender body.
The heart of the young man was stirred within him. True, he might have beheld fifty field-wenches breaking their backs among the harvest sheaves without a pang. This, however, was very different.
"Let me help you," he said.
"It is better that you stand by your horse," she said.
Gregory Jeffray looked disappointed.
"Is it not too hard work for you?" he queried, humbly and with abased eyes.
"No," said the girl. "Ye see, sir, I live with my mother's two sisters at the boathouse. They are very kind to me. They brought me up, though I had neither father nor mother. And what signifies bringing the boat across the Water a time or two?"
Her ready and easy movements told the tale for her. She needed no pity. She asked for none, for which Gregory was rather sorry. He liked to pity people, and then to right their grievances, if it were not very difficult. Of what use otherwise was it to be, what he was called in Galloway, the "Boy Sheriff"? Besides, he was taking a morning ride from the Great House of the Barr, and upon his return to breakfast he desired to have a tale to tell which would rivet attention upon himself.
"And do you do nothing all day, but only take the boat to and fro across the loch?" he asked.
He saw the way clear now, he thought, to matter for an interesting episode—the basis of which should be the delight of a beautiful girl in spending her life in the carrying of desirable young men, riding upon horses, over the shining morning waters of the Ken. They should all look with eyes of wonder upon her; but she, the cold Dian of the lochside, would never return look for look to any of them, save perhaps to Gregory Jeffray. Gregory went about the world finding pictures and making romances for himself. He meant to be a statesman; and, with this purpose in view, it was wholly necessary for him to study the people, and especially, he might have added, the young women of the people. Hitherto he had done this chiefly in his imagination, but here certainly was material attractive to his hand.
"Do you work at nothing else?" he repeated, for the girl was uncomplimentarily intent upon her gripper-iron. How deftly she lifted it just at the right moment, when it was in danger of being caught upon the revolving wheel! How exactly she exerted just the right amount of strength to keep the chain running sweetly upon its cogs! How daintily she stepped back, avoiding the dripping of the water from the linked iron which rose from the bed of the loch, passed under her hand, and dipped diagonally down again into the deeps! Gregory had never seen anything like it, so he told himself.
It was not until he had put his question the third time that the girl answered, "Whiles I take the boat over to the waterfoot when there's a cry across the Black Water."
The young man was mystified.
"'A cry across the Black Water!' What may that be?" he said.
The girl looked at him directly almost for the first time. Was he making fun of her? She wondered. His face seemed earnest enough, and handsome. It was not possible, she concluded.
"Ye'll be a stranger in these parts?" she answered interrogatively, because she was a Scottish girl, and one question for another is good national barter and exchange.
Gregory Jeffray was about to declare his names, titles, and expectations; but he looked at the girl again, and saw something that withheld him.
"Yes," he said, "I am staying for a week or two over at Barr."
The boat grounded on the pebbles, and the girl went to let down the hinged end. It had seemed a very brief passage to Gregory Jeffray. He stood still by his mare, as though he had much more to say.
The girl placed her cleek in the corner, and moved to leave the boat. It piqued the young man to find her so unresponsive. "Tell me what you mean by 'a cry across the Black Water,'" he said.
The girl pointed to the strip of sullen blackness that lay under the willows upon the southern shore.
"That is the Black Water of Dee," she said simply, "and the green point among the trees is the Rhonefoot. Whiles there's a cry from there. Then I go over in the boat, and set them across."
"Not in this boat?" he said, looking at the upturned deal table swinging upon its iron chain.
She smiled at his ignorance.
"That is the boat that goes across the Black Water of Dee," she said, pointing to a small boat which lay under the bank on the left.
"And do you never go anywhere else?" he asked, wondering how she came by her beauty and her manners.
"Only to the kirk on the Sabbaths," she said, "when I can get some one to watch the boat for me."
"I will watch the boat for you!" he said impulsively.
The girl looked distressed. This gay gentleman was making fun of her, assuredly. She did not answer. Would he never go away?
"That is your way," she said, pointing along the track in front. Indeed, there was but one way, and the information was superfluous.
The end of the white, rose-smothered boathouse was towards them. A tall, bowed woman's figure passed quickly round the gable.
"Is that your aunt?" he asked.
"That is my aunt Annie," said the girl; "my aunt Barbara is confined to her bed."
"And what is your name, if I may ask?"
The girl glanced at him. He was certainly not making fun of her now.
"My name is Grace Allen," she said.
They paced together up the path. The bridle rein slipped from his arm, but his hand instinctively caught it, and Eulalie cropped crisply at the grasses on the bank, unregarded of her master.
They did not shake hands when they parted, but their eyes followed each other a long way.
"Where is the money?" said Aunt Barbara from her bed as Grace Allen came in at the open door.
"Dear me!" said the girl, frightened: "I have forgotten to ask him for it!"
"Did I ever see sic a lassie! Rin after him an' get it; haste ye fast."
But Gregory was far out of reach by the time Grace got to the door. The sound of hoofs came from high up the wooded heights.
Gregory Jeffray reached the Barr in time for late breakfast. There was a large house company. The men were prowling discontentedly about, looking under covers or cutting slices from dishes on the sideboard; but the ladies were brightly curious, and eagerly welcomed Gregory. He at least did not rise with a headache and a bad temper every morning. They desired an account of his morning's ride. But on the way home he had changed his mind about telling of his adventure. He said that he had had a pleasant ride. It had been a beautiful morning.
"But have you nothing whatever to tell us?" they asked; for, indeed, they had a right to expect something.
Gregory said nothing. This was not usual, for at other times when he had nothing to tell, it did not cost him much to invent something interesting.
"You are very dull this morning, Sheriff," said the youngest daughter of the house, who, being the baby and pretty, had grown pettishly privileged in speech.
But deep within him Gregory was saying, "What a blessing that I forgot to pay the ferry!"
When he got outside he said to his host, "Is there such a place hereabouts as the Rhonefoot?"
"Why, yes, there is," said Laird Cunningham of Barr. "But why do you ask? I thought a Sheriff would know everything without asking—even an ornamental one on his way to the Premiership."
"Oh, I heard the name," said Gregory. "It struck me as a curious one."
So that evening there came over the river from the Waterfoot of the Rhone the sound of a voice calling. Grace Allen sat thoughtfully looking out of the rose-hung window of the boathouse. Her face was an oval of perfect curve, crowned with a mass of light brown hair, in which were red lights when the sun shone directly upon it. Her skin was clear, pale as ivory, and even exertion hardly brought the latent under-flush of red to the surface.
"There's somebody at the waterfit. Gang, lassie, an' dinna be lettin' them aff withoot their siller this time!" said her aunt Barbara from her bed. Annie Allen was accustomed to say nothing, and she did it now.
The boat to the Rhonefoot was seldom needed, and the oars were not kept in it. They leaned against the end of the cottage, and Grace Allen took them on her shoulder as she went down. She carried them as easily as another girl might carry a parasol.
Again there came the cry from the Rhonefoot, echoing joyously across the river.
Standing well back in the boat, so as to throw up the bow, she pushed off. The water was deep where the boat lay, and it had been drawn half up on the bank. Where Grace dipped her oars into the silent water, the pool was so black that the blade of the oar was lost in the gloom before it got half-way down. Above there was a light wind moaning and rustling in the trees, but it did not stir even a ripple on the dark surface of the pool where the Black Water of Dee meets the brighter Ken.
Grace bent to her oars with a springing verve and force which made the tubby little boat draw towards the shore, the whispering lapse of water gliding under its sides all the while. Three lines of wake were marked behind—a vague white turbulence in the middle and two lines of bubbles on either side where the oars had dipped, which flashed a moment and then winked themselves out.
When she reached the Waterfoot, and the boat touched the shore, Grace Allen looked up to see Gregory Jeffray standing alone on the little copse-enclosed triangle of grass. He smiled pleasantly. She had not time to be surprised.
"What did you think of me this morning, running away without paying my fare?" he asked.
It seemed very natural now that he should come. She was glad that he had not brought his horse.
"I thought you would come by again," said Grace Allen, standing up, with one oar over the side ready to pull in or push off.
Gregory extended his hand as though to ask for hers to steady him as he came into the boat. Grace was surprised. No one ever did that at the Rhonefoot, but she thought it might be that he was a stranger and did not understand about boats. She held out her hand. Gregory leapt in beside her in a moment, but did not at once release the hand. She tried to pull it away.
"It is too little a hand to do so much hard work," he said.
Instantly Grace became conscious that it was rough and hard with rowing. She had not thought of this before. He stooped and kissed it.
"Now," he said, "let me row across for you, and sit in front of me where I can see you. You made me forget all about everything else this morning, and now I must make up for it."
It was a long way across, and evidently Gregory Jeffray was not a good oarsman, for it was dark when Grace Allen went indoors to her aunts. Her heart was bounding within her. Her bosom rose and fell as she breathed quickly and silently through her parted red lips. There was a new thing in her eye.
Every evening thereafter, through all that glorious height of midsummer, there came a crying at the Waterfoot; and every evening Grace Allen went over to the edge of the Rhone wood to answer it. There the boat lay moored to a stone upon the turf, while Gregory and she walked upon the flowery forest carpet, and the dry leaves watched and clashed and muttered above them as the gloaming fell. These were days of rapture, each a doorway into yet fuller and more perfect joy.
Over at the Waterfoot the copses grew close. The green turf was velvet underfoot. The blackbirds fluted in the hazels there. None of them listened to the voice of Gregory Jeffray, or cared for what he said to Grace Allen when she went nightly to meet him over the Black Water.
She rowed back alone, the simple soul that was in her forwandered and mazed with excess of joy. As she set the boat to the shore and came up the bank bearing the oars which were her wings into the world of love under the green alders, the light in the west, lingering clear and pure and cold, shone upon her and added radiances to her eyes.
But Aunt Annie watched her with silent pain. Barbara from her bed spoke sharp and cruel words which Grace Allen listened to not at all.
For as soon as the morning shone bright over the hills and ran on tip-toe up the sparkling ripples of the loch, she looked across the Black Water to the hidden ways where in the evening her love should meet her.
As she went her daily rounds, and the gripper-iron slipped on the wet chain or grew hot in the sun, as she heard the clack of the wheel and the soft slow grind of the boat's broad lip on the pebbles, Grace Allen said over and over to herself, "It is so long, only so long, till he will come."
So all the days she waited in a sweet content. Barbara reproached her; Aunt Annie perilled her soul by lying to shield her; but Grace herself was shut out from shame or fear, from things past or things to come, by faith and joy that at last she had found one whom her soul loved.
And overhead the dry poplar leaves clashed and rustled, telling out to one another that love was a vain thing, and the thrush cried thrice, "Beware." But Grace Allen would not have believed had one risen to her from the dead.
So the great wasteful summer days went by, the glory of the passionate nights of July, the crisper blonde luxuriance of August. Every night there was the calling from the green plot across the Black Water. Every night Aunt Annie wandered, a withered grey ghost, along the hither side of the inky pool, looking for what she could not see and listening for that which she could not hear. Then she would go in to lie gratuitously to Barbara, who told her to her face that she did not believe her.
But in the first chill of mid-September, swift as the dividing of the blue-black thunder-cloud by the winking flame, fell the sword of God, smiting and shattering. It seemed hard that it should fall on the weaker and the more innocent. But then God has plenty of time.
One chilly gloaming there was no calling at the Rhonefoot. Nevertheless Grace rowed over and waited, imagining that all evil had befallen her lover. Within, her aunt Barbara fretted and murmured at her absence, driving her silent sister into involved refuges of lies to shield young Grace Allen, whom her soul loved.
The next day went by as the night had passed, with an awful constriction about her heart, a numbness over all her body; yet Grace did her work as one who dares not stop.
Two serving-men crossed in the ferry-boat, unconcernedly talking over the country news as men do when they meet.
"Did ye hear aboot young Jeffray?" asked the herd from the Mains.
"Whatna Jeffray?" asked, without much show of interest, the ploughman from Drumglass.
"Wi' man, the young lad that the daft folk in Enbra sent here for Sheriff."
"I didna ken he was hereawa'," said the Mains, with a purely perfunctory surprise.
"Ou ay, he has been a feck ower by at the Barr. They say he's gaun to get marriet to the youngest dochter. She's hae a gye fat stockin'-fit, I'se warrant."
"Ye may say sae, or a lawyer wadna come speerin' her," returned him from Drumglass as the boat reached the farther side.
"Guid-e'en to ye, Grace," said they both as they put their pennies down on the little tin plate in the corner.
"She's an awesome still lassie, that," said the Mains, as he took the road down to Parton Raw, where he had trysted with a maid of another sort. "Did ye notice she never said a word to us, neyther 'Thank ye,' nor yet 'Guid-day'? Her een were fair stelled in her head."
"Na, I didna observe," said Drumglass cotman indifferently.
"Some fowk are like swine. They notice nocht that's no pitten intil the trough afore them!" said the Mains indignantly.
So they parted, each to his own errand.
Day swayed and swirled into a strange night of shooting stars and intensest darkness. The soul of Grace Allen wandered in blackest night. Sometimes the earth appeared ready to open and swallow her up. Sometimes she seemed to be wandering by the side of the great pool of the Black Water with her hands full of flowers. There were roses blush-red, like what he had said her cheeks were sometimes. There were velvety pansies, and flowers of strange intoxicating perfume, the like of which she had never seen. But at every few yards she felt that she must fling them all into the black water and fare forth into the darkness to gather more.
Then in her bed she would start up, hearing the hail of a dear voice calling to her from the Rhonefoot. Once she put on her clothes in haste and would have gone forth; but her aunt Annie, waking and startled, a tall, gaunt apparition, came to her.
"Grace Allen," she said, "where are you gangin' at this time o' the nicht?"
"There's somebody at the boat," she said, "waiting. Let me gang, Aunt Annie: they want me; I hear them cry. O Annie, I hear them crying as a bairn cries!"
"Lie doon on yer bed like a clever lass," said her aunt gently. "There's naebody there."
"Or gin there be," said Aunt Barbara from her bed, "e'en let them cry. Is this a time for decent fowk to be gaun play-actin' aboot?"
So the daylight came, and the evening and the morning were the second day. And Grace Allen went about her work with clack of gripper-iron and dip of oar.
Late on in the gloaming of the third day following, Aunt Annie went down to the broad flat boat that lay so still at the water's edge. Something black was knocking dully against it.
Grace had been gone four hours, and it was weary work watching along the shore or going within out of the chill wind to endure Barbara's bitter tongue.
The black thing that knocked was the small boat, broken loose from her moorings and floating helplessly. Annie Allen took a boathook and pulled it to the shore. Except that the boat was half full of flowers, there was nothing and no one inside.
But the world span round and the stars went out when the finder saw the flowers.
When Aunt Annie Allen came to herself, she found the water was rising rapidly. It was up to her ankles. She went indoors and asked for Grace.
"Save us, Ann!" said Barbara; "I thocht she was wi' you. Where hae ye been till this time o' nicht? An' your feet's dreepin' wat. Haud aff the clean floor!"
"But Gracie! Oor lassie Grade! What's come o' Gracie?" wailed the elder woman.
At that instant there came so thrilling a cry from over the dark waters out of the night that the women turned to one another and instinctively caught at each other's hands.
"Leave me, I maun gang," said Aunt Annie. "That's surely Grace."
Her sister gripped her tight.
"Let me gang—let me gang. She's my ain lassie, no yours!" Annie said fiercely, endeavouring to thrust off Barbara's hands as they clutched her like birds' talons from the bed.
"Help me to get up," said Barbara; "I canna be left here. I'll come wi' ye."
So she that had been sick for twelve years arose, like a ghost from the tomb, and with her sister went out to seek for the girl they had lost. They found their way to the boat, reeling together like drunken men. Annie almost lifted her sister in, and then fell herself among the drenched and waterlogged flowers.
With the instinct of old habitude they fell to the oars, Barbara rowing the better and the stronger. They felt the oily swirl of the Dee rising beneath them, and knew that there had been a mighty rain upon the hills.
"The Lord save us!" cried Barbara suddenly. "Look!"
She pointed up the long pool of the Black Water. What she saw no man knows, for Aunt Annie had fainted, and Barbara was never herself after that hour.
Aunt Annie lay like a log across her thwart. But, with the strength of another world, Barbara unshipped the oar of her sister and slipped it upon the thole-pin opposite to her own. Then she turned the head of the boat up the pool of the Black Watery Something white floated dancingly alongside, upborne for a moment on the boiling swirls of the rising water. Barbara dropped her oars, and snatched at it. She held on to some light wet fabric by one hand; with the other she shook her sister.
"Here's oor wee Gracie," she said: "Ann, help me hame wi' her!"
So they brought her home, and laid her all in dripping white upon her white bed. Barbara sat at the bed-head and crooned, having lost her wits. Aunt Annie moved all in a piece, as though she were about to fall headlong.
"White floo'ers for the angels, where Gracie's ga'en to! Annie, woman, dinna ye see them by her body—four great angels, at ilka corner yin?"
Barbara's voice rose and fell, wayward and querulous. There was no other sound in the house, only the water sobbing against the edge of the ferry-boat.
"And the first is like a lion," she went on, in a more even recitative, "and the second is like an ox, and the third has a face like a man, and the fourth is like a flying eagle. An' they're sittin' on ilka bedpost; and they hae sax wings, that meet owre my Gracie, an' they cry withoot ceasing, 'Holy! holy! holy! Woe unto him that causeth one of these little ones to perish! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the deeps o' the Black Water!'"
But the neighbours paid no attention to her—for, of course, she was mad.
Then the wise folk came and explained how it had all happened. Here she had been gathering flowers; here she had slipped; and here, again, she had fallen. Nothing could be clearer. There were the flowers. There was the dangerous pool on the Black Water. And there was the body of Grace Allen, a young thing dead in the flower of her days.
"I see them! I see them!" cried Barbara, fixing her eyes on the bed, her voice like a shriek; "they are full of eyes, behind and before, and they see into the heart of man. Their faces are full of anger, and their mouths are open to devour—"
"Wheesh, wheesh, woman! Here's the young Sheriff come doon frae the Barr wi' the Fiscal to tak' evidence."
And Barbara Allen was silent as Gregory Jeffray came in.
To do him justice, when he wrote her the letter that killed—concerning the necessities of his position and career—he had tried to break the parting gently. How should he know all that she knew? It was clearly an ill turn that fate had played him. Indeed, he felt ill-used. So he listened to the Fiscal taking evidence, and in due course departed.
But within an inner pocket he had a letter that was not filed with the documents, but which might have shed clearer light upon when and how Grace Allen slipped and fell, gathering flowers at night above the great pool of the Black Water.
"There is set up a throne in the heavens," chanted mad Barbara Allen as Gregory went out; "and One sits upon it—and my Gracie's there, clothed in white robes, an' a palm in her hand. And you'll be there, young man," she cried after him, "and I'll be there. There's a cry comin' owre the Black Water for you, like the cry that raised me oot o' my bed yestreen. An' ye'll hear it—ye'll hear it, braw young man; ay—and rise up and answer, too!"
But they paid no heed to her—for, of course, she was mad. Neither did Gregory Jeffray hear aught as he went out, but the water lapping against the little boat that was still half full of flowers.
The days went by, and being added together one at a time, they made the years. And the years grew into one decade, and lengthened out towards another.
Aunt Annie was long dead, a white stone over her; but there was no stone over Grace Allen—only a green mound where daisies grew.
Sir Gregory Jeffray came that way. He was a great law-officer of the Crown, and first heir to the next vacant judgeship. This, however, he was thinking of refusing because of the greatness of his private practice.
He had come to shoot at the Barr, and his baggage was at Barmark station. How strange it would be to see the old places again in the gloom of a September evening!
Gregory still loved a new sensation. All was so long past—the bitterness clean gone out of it. The old boathouse had fallen into other hands, and railways had come to carry the traffic beyond the ferry.
As Sir Gregory Jeffray walked from the late train which set him down at the station, he felt curiously at peace. The times of the Long Ago came back not ungratefully to his mind. There had been much pleasure in them. He even thought kindly of the girl with whom he had walked in the glory of a forgotten summer along the hidden ways of the woods. Her last letter, long since destroyed, was not disagreeable to him when he thought of the secret which had been laid to rest so quietly in the pool of the Black Water.
He came to the water's edge. He sent his voice, stronger now than of yore, but without the old ring of boyish hopefulness, across the loch. A moment's silence, the whisper of the night wind, and then from the gloom of the farther side an answering hail—low, clear, and penetrating.
"I am in luck to find them out of bed," said Gregory Jeffray to himself.
He waited and listened. The wind blew chill from the south athwart the ferry. He shivered, and drew his fur-lined travelling-coat about him. He could hear the water lapping against the mighty piers of the railway viaduct above, which, with its gaunt iron spans, like bows bent to send arrows into the heavens, dimly towered between him and the skies.
Now, this is all that men definitely know of the fate of Sir Gregory Jeffray. A surfaceman who lived in the new houses above the landing-place saw him standing there, heard him hailing the Waterfoot of the Dee, to which no boat had plied for years. Maliciously he let the stranger call, and abode to see what should happen.
Yet astonishment held him dumb when again across the dark stream came the crying, thrilling him with an unknown terror, till he clutched the door to make sure of his retreat within. Mastering his fear, he stole nearer till he could hear the oars planted in the iron pins, the push off the shore, and then the measured dip of oars coming towards the stranger across the pool of the Black Water.
"How do they know, I wonder, that I want to be taken to the Rhonefoot? They are bringing the small boat," he heard him say.
A skiff shot out of the gloom. It was a woman who was rowing. The boat grounded stern on. The watcher saw the man step in and settle himself on the seat.
"What rubbish is this?" Gregory Jeffray cried angrily as he cleared a great armful of flowers off the seat and threw them among his feet.
The oars dipped, and without sound the boat glided out upon the waves of the loch towards the Black Water, into whose oily depths the blades fall silently, and where the water does not lap about the prow. The night grew suddenly very cold. Somewhere in the darkness over the Black Water the watching surfaceman heard some one call three times the name of Gregory Jeffray. It sounded like a young child's voice. And for very fear he ran in and shut the door, well knowing that for twenty years no boat had plied there.
It was noted as a strange thing that, on the same night on which Sir Gregory Jeffray was lost, the last of the Allens of the old ferry-house died in the Crichton Asylum. Barbara Allen was, without doubt, mad to the end, for the burden of her latest cry was, "He kens noo! he kens noo! The Lord our God is a jealous God! Now let Thy servant depart in peace!"
But Gregory Jeffray was never seen again by water or on shore. He had heard the cry across the Black Water.
SAINT LUCY OF THE EYES
[Taken from the Journals of Travel written by Stephen Douglas, sometime of Culsharg in Galloway.]
O mellow rain upon the clover tops; O breath of morning blown o'er meadow-sweet; Lush apple-blooms from which the wild bee drops Inebriate; O hayfield scents, my feet
Scatter abroad some morning in July; O wildwood odours of the birch and pine, And heather breaths from great red hill-tops nigh, Than olive sweeter or Sicilian vine;—
Not all of you, nor summer lands of balm— Not blest Arabia, Nor coral isles in seas of tropic calm. Such heart's desire into my heart can draw.
O scent of sea on dreaming April morn Borne landward on a steady-blowing wind; O August breeze, o'er leagues of rustling corn, Wafts of clear air from uplands left behind,
And outbreathed sweetness of wet wallflower bed, O set in mid-May depth of orchard close, Tender germander blue, geranium red; O expressed sweetness of sweet briar-rose;
Too gross, corporeal, absolute are ye, Ye help not to define That subtle fragrance, delicate and free, Which like a vesture clothes this Love of mine.
THE WOMAN OF THE RED EYELIDS
It was by Lago d'Istria that I found my pupil. I had come without halt from Scotland to seek him. For the first time I had crossed the Alps, and from the snow-flecked mountain-side, where the dull yellow-white patches remained longest, I saw beneath me the waveless plain of Lombardy.
The land of Lombardy—how the words had run in my dreams! Surely some ancestor of mine had wandered northwards from that gracious plain. On one side of me, at least, I was sib to the vineyards and the chestnut groves. For strange yearnings thrilled me as I beheld white-garlanded cities strung across the plain, the blue lakes grey in the haze, like eyes that look through tears.
Yet hitherto a hill-farm on the moors of Minnigaff had been my abiding-place. There I had played with the collies and the grey rabbits. There I had listened to the whaup and the peewits crying in the night; and save the cold, grey, resonant spaces of Edinburgh, whither I had gone to study, this was all my eyes had yet known. But when Giovanni Turazza, exile from the city of Verona, paused in his reading of the sonorous Italian to rebuke my Scots accent, and continued softly to give me illustrations of the dialects of north and south, something moved within me that sickened me to think of the Lombard plain sleeping in the gracious sunshine—which I might never see.
Yet I saw it. I trod its ways and stood by its still waters. And already they are become my life and my home.
Now, I who write am Stephen Douglas, of the moorland stock of the northern Douglases—kin to Douglaswater, and on the wrong side of the blanket to Drumdarroch himself. It has been the custom that one of the Douglases should in every generation be sent to the college to rear for the kirk.
For the hand of the Douglas has ever been kind to kin; and since patronage came back—in law or out law, the Douglases have managed to put their man into Drumdarroch parish and to have a Douglas in the white manse by the Waterside. And so it is like to be when, as they say, the rights of patron shall again pass away.
Now, I was in process or manufacture for this purpose, though threatening to turn out somewhat over tardy in development to profit by the act of patronage. But the Douglas dourness stood me in good stead, as it has done all the Douglases that ever lived since the greatest of the race charged to the death, with the point of his spear dropped low and the heart of his lord thrown before him, among the Paynim hordes.
The lad to undertake whose tutelage I went abroad was a Fenwick of Allerton in the Border country—the scion of a reputable stock, sometime impoverished by gambling in the times of the Regent, and before that with whistling "Owre the water to Charlie"; but now, by the opening-up of the sea-coal pits, again gathering in the canny siller as none of the Fenwicks had done in the palmiest days of the moss-trooping.
Well I knew when I set out that I had my work before me, and that I should earn my two hundred pounds a year or all were done. For I had but a couple of years more than my pupil to boast myself upon; and he, having grown up on the Continent, chiefly in Latin cities and German watering-places, was vastly superior to me in the knowledge which comes not easily to the lads from the moors, who at all times know better how to loup a moss-hag than how to make a courtly bow.
Yet for all that I did not mean to be far behind any Border Fenwick when it came to making bows. Nor, as it happened, was I when all was done. This confidence was partly owing to full feeding on fine porridge and braxy, but more to that inbred belief of Galloway in itself which the ill-affected and envious nominate its conceit.
Henry Fenwick was abiding in this city of Vico Averso, as I had been informed by his uncle and guardian, for the baths. He had been advised of my coming, and, like the kindly lad that he proved to be, I found him waiting for me when the diligence arrived.
We met with few words on either side, but I think with instant hearty liking. My pupil was tall and dark, his hair a little long, yet not falling to his shoulders—somewhat feminine in type of feature and Italianate in complexion. But the mouth shewed breeding, the eyes kindliness; and, after all, these are the main features. I was especially glad to find myself taller than he by a span of inches.
He took me to the hotel where a room had been ordered for me—not one of the common Italian inns, but a hotel built for the accommodation of foreigners. As we went up the steps, we passed a lady sitting in the shade with a book. She was a large fair woman, with sleepy eyes and a mane of bronzed gold hair. She had been looking at us as we came, I will be bound; but when we passed she became absorbed and unconscious upon her book.
As Henry raised his hat she bowed slightly to him, lifting at the same time her heavy eyelids and glancing at me. I had once seen that look before—in a spectacle of wild beasts when I happened to stand close to a drowsing tigress that twitched an eyelid and flashed a yellow eye at me. In that eye-shot on the verandah of the hotel in Vico Averso, the crossing of glances was like a challenge, and thrilled me as when one is called to fight. I think we hated one another on the spot; yet for the life of me I could not tell why, save that the woman of the tiger's glance had a red edge to her heavy eyelids, and no eyelashes that I could see—which things are not the marks of a good woman, as I take it. Yet there was no real cause for the bitter and sudden dislike, for, as it chanced, she came but little into our adventures. For youth, for the sake of change, turns as readily away from evil as from good.
So eager was I to be down and out of doors, that I had hardly time to make disposition of my goods in the room which had been reserved for me. I threw open the casement. I hung half out of the window, and satisfied myself with looking upon the still, calm blue of Lago d'Orta beneath, flecked with heavy-bodied craft with deep yellow sails. My heart all the while was crying out hungrily, "At last! at last!"
The precipices of hills, coloured like amethysts, fronted us, where the southern Alps threw themselves downwards to the lake-shore. Half-a-dozen hotels with white walls and green blinds clung about the outside of the little town, and specially about the baths, which ever since the time of the Romans had given the place its reputation. Few English people went there, but many Italians, some Austrians, especially women—German men, and cosmopolitan Russians, to whom all outside their native country was a Fatherland.
"Come," said Henry as soon as we had become a little familiar, "let us go to the baths."
Entering a low stone door, we ran up a flight of steps and found ourselves in a circular building of ancient marble. It was to me the strangest sight. We looked down on a great number of people up to their necks in a kind of thick, coffee-coloured fluid, which steamed and gave off strange odours. Men and women were there, old and young. All were clad in full suits of light material, and comported themselves towards each other as in a drawing-room. The sight of so many heads all bobbing about on the coffee-coloured mud, like a hundred John the Baptists on one large charger, was to me exceedingly diverting.
Little tables were floating about on the muddy water, and some pairs in quiet corners played chess and even cards. But there was a constant circulation among the throng. Introductions were effected in form, save that no one shook hands, at least above the water; only the detached heads bowed ceremoniously. It was a new canto of the Inferno—the condemned playing dully at human society in the bubbling caldrons of the place of evil shades. Henry proposed to go down and take a bath, but my stomach rose against the fumes and the slimy brown stuff.
"It is not nearly so bad when you are once in!" he said, for he had tried it. But though I had reason to believe that to be true, I had no heart to make the test for myself.
As we came out, Henry made me an introduction to the Lady of the Red Eyelids.
"Madame von Eisenhagen!" So that is your name, thought I; and I wonder what may be your intentions! I had never seen the breed before, but the side of me that was sib to the South seemed to leap to a comprehension.
As Madame and I crossed our glances again, I am sure we both knew that it was to the knife. For Henry Fenwick, being a lad, had laid his boy's heart in her hands. Yet not seriously, but as a boy will when a woman twice his age thinks it worth her while to spread a net for him, flattering him with her eyes.
So for a while we sat on the terrace, and a kind of scentless, spineless whitethorn wept sprays of flowers upon us. We spoke French, in which my pupil, as I found, had greatly the advantage of me, and thought extremely well of himself in consequence. But within me I said, "My friend, wait till I have you a week at Greek!"
And this indeed came to pass, for over the intricacies of that language I made him presently to sweat consumedly.
Of the matter of our talk there is not much to say. Henry spoke freely and well, Madame interjecting leading questions, and holding him with her eyes. I, on the contrary, spoke little, being occupied with the scenes going on beneath me—the men in the piazza piling the fine grain for the making of macaroni—the changing and chaffering groups about the kerchiefed market-women—the dark-faced, gypsy-like men with beady eyes. The murmur of the conversation came to me only at intervals, like voices in a dream; and sometimes for whole sentences together I lost its meaning completely.
Indeed, I had more pleasure in looking at the houses in Vico Averso, which were tangled together without the semblance of a plan. Each house, or part of a house, struggled upward to occupy its own patch of sky-line, in a hundred different heights and breadths. Each had a scrap of garden clinging to it along the lake-side, in which the green of the magnolias contrasted with the grey aspens and the warmer oleanders. There was a bright and laughing charm about the whole which drew my heart, and I longed to spend a lifetime in these white and foliage-fringed places.
But I found very soon that the face of Vico Averso was her fortune. For the side of our hostel which was turned to a dark and narrow Street of Smells took away my desire to dwell there. There came out clear in my mind the thought and sight of our hill-farm of Culsharg, set on the edge of its miles of heather, the free airs blowing about it, and all the wild birds crying. My mother would be coming to the door to look for my grandfather as he came off the hill from the sheep. A disgust at the bubbling devil's-caldron, a horror of the smiling, monosyllabic Woman of the Red Eyelids, filled my heart. I resolved to battle it out with Henry that very night, and to leave Vico Averso at once. If he would not do so much for me, I knew that I might take the diligence back again the way I came, and report my failure. But, for all that, I did not mean thus lamely to fail or go home with my finger in my mouth.
That night I drew from the lad his heart. He had been here for two months—indeed, ever since his Swiss tutor, Herr Gunther, had departed for Zurich suddenly, having been ignominiously thrashed by his own pupil. I gathered from him that he had intended to perform the like for me, but had given up the idea after seeing me leap from the top of the diligence.
Yet he was not unwilling to be taught that there are better things out under the free sunshine than to dream away good days with a woman like Madame Von Eisenhagen, who after all had perhaps done nothing worse than encourage the lad to philander and to waste his time. Then I cunningly painted the joys of a walking tour. We should take our packs on our backs, only a few pounds' weight; and, our staves in our hands, like student lads of clerkly learning in the ancient times, we should go forth to seek our adventures—a new one every hour, a new roof to sleep under every night, and maids fairer than dreams waving hands to us over every vineyard wall. Thus cunningly I baited my trap.
So had I gone many a time in mine own country, and so I meant to lead my pupil now. Henry Fenwick rose joyously at the thought. Madame had made his service a little hard, and, what is worse, a little monotonous. He was but a boy, and needed not, she thought, the binding distractions which usually accompany such allegiances.
THE WORD OF THE LITTLE PEOPLE
Betimes in the morning we were afoot—long before Madame was awake; and having committed our heavier luggage to the care of our Swiss landlord, we set each a knapsack on our backs, and with light foot passed through the market-place among the bright and chattering throng of Italian folk, whose greetings of "Buone feste, buon principio, e buona fine" told of the birth of another day of joy for them under the blue of their sky.
Before we were clear of the town, Henry turned, and as he glanced at the green valanced windows of the Hotel Averso he drew a long breath which was not quite a sigh. And this was all his farewell to the allegiance of half a score of weeks. For my part, I was not easy till we swung out of sight along the dusty road, and had skirted the first two or three miles of old wall and vineyard terrace, where the lizards were already flashing and darting in the sun.
But indeed it takes much to chain a young man's fancy, when the road of life runs enticingly before him, dappled with laurel and carpeted with primrose.
It was our vagabond year, and, as I had foretold, a fair maid stood at every door, smiling at us and leading us on. We did not keep long by the dusty road. Presently we turned up byways, over which the prickly-pear and red valerian broke in profuse and unprecise beauty—fleshy-leaved creepers, too, as of a house-leek turned passion-flower, over-crowned all with scarlet blotches of cunningly placed colour.
We wandered into woodland paths and across fields. A peasant or small farmer ran out to stay us. Something was forbidden, it appeared. We were trampling his artichokes or other precious crop. We understood him not over well, nor indeed tried to. But a touchingly insignificant piece of silver induced him to think more kindly of our error, and he showed us a sweet path, by the side of which a brook tinkled down from the cliffs above. It led us into another scene—and, I am of opinion, upon another man's property. For at the door of a low, square-roofed house stood a man with his hands clasped behind him. He frowned, for he had seen his neighbour of the itching palm lead us to his gate and there leave us. And of the silver that lay within that palm he had not partaken.
The sun was broad and high. Here were flats of hay, greyish-green, blue in parts—but with none of that moist and emerald velvet which would have flashed upon the burnside meadows at home. Again by the water we brushed against the asters, which had no business to be growing here in the spring. Among the young wheat the poppies were flaming—red-coat officers of the Sower of Tares, with flaunting feather leading on to the inquisition of fires, when the reapers edge their keen sickles and fall-to, and the tares are separated from the wheat.
For pence judiciously tendered, we had the young Pan himself for leader—an Italian boy of sixteen, fair as a god of Greece. He went before with the most innocent grace in the world, and looked at us over his shoulder. He called his sister to come also, and as a stimulant he held up his penny. But she hung back, smit with sudden maidenly modesty at the sight of two such proper young men; and so her brother danced on without her.
Looking back, we saw that she had called her mother, and now peeped out wistfully from behind the shelter of the skirt maternal. Perhaps she regretted that she had not gone with us, for there, far ahead, was her brother skipping upon his quest. And suddenly there was no interest in the dull farmyard and the cattle. For that is a way of women—to be willing too late.
As we go, we talk with the young Pan—Henry Fenwick freely, I slowly, yet with comprehension greater than speech.
Will Pan sit down and eat with us? we ask.
Surely! There is no doubt whatever that he will, and that gladly. But we must wait till we come to a spring of hill-water, so that we may have the true and only apostolic baptism for our red wine.
There presently we arrive. The place is verily an inspiration. It is a natural well in the shadow of a great rock. Overhead is the virgin cup rudely cut in the stone. A shelf for sitting on while you drink, and the rocky laver brimming with clear and icy water. Little grains of fine white sand dance at the bottom, where from its living source the pure brew wells up. It is indeed a proper place to break bread.
Here, with Pan talking to us in a speech soft as the Italian air, we eat and are refreshed. Pan himself willingly opens his heart, and tells us of the changes that are coming—an Italy free from lagoon to triangle-which is to say, from Venice to Messina. But there is much dying to be done before then. The tears must fall from many mothers' eyes—from his own, who knows? Will he fight? Ay, surely he will fight! And the face of Pan hardens, till one understands how he could have been so cruel one day to the reeds which grew in the river.
But the distance beckons us, and the sun draws himself upward to his strength. We have on us the English itch for change. The breeze comes and goes as we plunge among the groves of Virgilian ilex, and through the interstices of the trees we see on a hill-slope above us thirty great horned oxen, etched black against the sky.
Here Pan leaves us, saying farewell with tears in his woman's eyes; with silver also in his pocket, which, to do him justice, does not comfort him wholly. Before he goes, for love and gratitude he tells us of a rhyme with which to please the children and to cause the good wives to give us a lodging.
At the next village we try its efficacy upon a company by the well—a group with those oriental suggestions which are common to all villages south of the Alps. The effect is instantaneous. The shy maidens draw nearer, the boys gather from their noisy game, the bambinos stretch to us from many a sisterly shoulder. We sit down, a couple of wayfarers, dusty and hot. But no sooner is the rhyme said than, lo! a tin is dipped for our drinking, and the Rebekah of the well herself expects her kiss, nor, spite of a possible knife, is she disappointed. For the rhyme's sake we are friends of the fairies and can put far the evil eye. It is good to entertain us. Thanks be to Pan! We shall offer him a garland of enduring ivy, or it may be half a kid. The cry that was heard over the waters was not true! Pan is not dead. Perhaps he too but sleeps a while, and in the likeness of young goatherds the god of the earlier time, reborn in dew, comes out still to tell his secrets to wandering lads who, asking no favour, go a-wayfaring with strong hearts as in the ancient days.
Round the corner peeps a laughing face. An urchin of surpassing impishness, one who has come too late to hear our password, taunts us in evil words.
"Ha, Giuseppe, beware of the Giant Caranco! Behold, he has the great teeth of the English. At the water-trough this morning I saw him sharpening them to eat thee, thou exceeding plump one! In the bag at his back he carries the bones of sixteen just as fat as thou art!"
And the rascal flees with a cry of pretended fear. So contagious is terror, that more than half our band flees away a dozen paces, halting there upon one foot, balancing our evil and our good.
But we have wiles as well as rhymes, and great in all places of the earth is the fascination of ready money.
"The Giant Caranco! forsooth," we say; "what lack of sense! Does the Giant Caranco know the good word of the Gentle Folk whose song brings luck? Can the Giant Caranco tell the tale that only the fairies know? Has the Giant Caranco those things in his wallet which are loved of lads and maids? Of a surety, no! Was ever such nonsense heard!"
In vain rings the shout of the maligner on the rocks above, as the circle gathers in again closer than ever about us.
"Beware of his thrice-sharpened teeth, Giuseppe! I saw him bite a fair half-moon out of the iron pipe by the fountain trough this morning!" he cries.
It is worse than useless now. Not only does the devil's advocate lack his own halfpenny; but with a swirl of the hand and a cunning jerk at the side, a stone whizzes after this regardless railer upon honest giants. Wails and agony follow. It is a dangerous thing to sit in the scorner's chair, specially when the divinity has the popular acclaim, with store of sweetmeats and soldi as well.
Most dangerous of all is it to interfere with a god in the making, for proselytism is hot, and there are divine possibilities.
THE STORY OF THE SEVEN DEAD MEN
And the stories! There were many of them. The young faces bent closer as we told the story of Saint Martin dividing his cloak among the beggars. Then came our own Cornish giant-killer, adapted for an Italian audience, dressed to taste in a great brigand hat and a beltful of daggers and pistols. Blunderbore in the Italian manner was a distinguished success. It was Henry who told the tales, but yet I think it was I who had the more abundant praise. For they heard me prompt my Mercurius, and they saw him appeal to me in a difficulty. Obviously, therefore, Henry was the servant of the chief magician, who like a great lord only communicated his pleasure through his steward.
Then with a tale of Venice that was new to them we scared them out of a year's growth—frightening ourselves also, for then we were but young. It was well that the time was not far from high noon. The story told in brief ran thus. It was the story of the "Seven Dead Men."
[Footnote 1: For the origin of this and much else as profitable and pleasant, see Mr. Horatio Brown's Life on the Lagoons, the most charming and characteristic of Venetian books.]
There were once six men that went fishing on the lagoons. They brought a little boy, the son of one of them, to remain and cook the polenta. In the night-time he was alone in the cabin, but in the morning the fishermen came in. And if they found that aught was not to their taste, they beat him. But if all was well, they only bade him to wash up the dishes, yet gave him nothing to eat, knowing that he would steal for himself, as the custom of boys is.
But one morning they brought with them from their fishing the body of a dead man—a man of the mainland whom they had found tumbling about in the current of the Brenta. For he had looked out suddenly upon them where the sea and the river strive together, and the water boils up in great smooth, oily dimples that are not wholesome for men to meddle with.
Now, whether these six men had not gone to confession or had not confessed truly, so that the priest's absolution did them no good, the tale ventures not to say. But this at least is sure, that for their sins they set this dead thing that had been a man in the prow of the boat, all in his wet clothes. And for a jest on the little boy they put his hand on his brow, as though the dead were in deep cogitation.
As this story was in the telling, the attention of the children grew keen and even painful. For the moment each was that lonely lad on the islet, where stood the cabin of the Seven Dead Men.
So as the boat came near in the morning light, the boy stood to greet them on the little wooden pier where the men landed their fish to clean, and he called out to the men in the boat—
"Come quickly," he cried; "breakfast is ready—all but the fish to fry."
He saw that one of the men was asleep in the prow; yet, being but a lad, he was only able to count as many as the crows—that is, four. So he did not notice that in the boat there was a man too many. Nor would he have wondered, had he been told of it. For it was not his place to wonder. He was only sleepy, and desired to lie down after the long night alone. Also he hoped that they had had a good catch of fish, so that he would escape being beaten. For indeed he had taken the best of the polenta for himself before the men came—which was as well, for if he had waited till they were finished, there had been but dog's leavings for him. He was a wise boy, this, when it came to eating. Now, eating and philosophy come by nature, as doth also a hungry stomach; but arithmetic and Greek do not come by nature. To which Henry Fenwick presently agreed.
The men went in with a good appetite to their breakfast, and left the dead man sitting alone in the prow with his hand on his brow.
So when they sat down, the boy said—
"Why does not the other man come in? I see him sitting there. Are you not going to bring him in to breakfast also?" (For he wished to show that he had not eaten any of the polenta.)
Then, for a jest upon him, one of the men answered—
"Why, is the man not here? He is indeed a heavy sleeper. You had better go and wake him."
So the little boy went to the door and called, shouting loud, "Why cannot you come to breakfast? It has been ready this hour, and is going cold!"
And when the men within heard that, they thought it the best jest in a month of Sundays, and they laughed loud and strong.
So the boy came in and said—"What ails the man? He will not answer though I have called my best."
"Oh" said they, "he is but a deaf old fool, and has had too much to drink over-night. Go thou and swear bad words at him, and call him beast and fool!"
So the men put wicked words into the boy's mouth, and laughed the more to hear them come from the clean and innocent lips of a lad that knew not their meaning. And perhaps that is the reason of what followed.
So the boy ran in again.
"Come out quickly, one of you," said the lad, "and wake him, for he does not heed me, and I am sure that there is something the matter with him. Mayhap he hath a headache or evil in his stomach."
So they laughed again, hardly being able to eat for laughing, and said—
"It must be cramp of the stomach that is the matter with him. But go out again, and shake him by the leg, and ask him if he means to keep us waiting here till doomsday."
So the boy went out and shook the man as he was bidden.
Then the dead man turned to him, sitting up in the prow as natural as life, and said—
"What do you want with me?"
"Why in the name of the saints do you not come?" said the boy; "the men want to know if they are to wait till doomsday for you."
"Tell them," said the man, "that I am coming as fast as I can. For this is Doomsday!" said he.
The boy ran back into the hut, well pleased. For a moment his voice could not be heard, because of the noisy laughter of the men. Then he said—
"It is all right. He says he is coming."
Then the men thought that the boy was trying in his turn to put a jest on them, and would have beaten him. In a moment, however, they heard something coming slowly up the ladder, so they laughed no more, but all turned very pale and sat still and listened. And only the boy remembered to cross himself.
The footsteps came nearer. The door was pushed stumblingly open, as by one that fumbles and is not sure of his way. Then the man that had been dead and drowned, of whom they had made their sport, came in and sat down at the boy's place, the seventh at the table. Whereupon there was a great silence. None spoke, but all looked; for none, save the boy only, could withdraw his eyes from those of the dead man. Colder and chillier flowed the blood in their veins, till it ceased to flow at all, and froze about their hearts.
Whereat the boy flung himself shrieking into a boat and rowed away by the power of his own saint, Santa Caterina of Siena. He met some fishermen in a sailing boat, but it was the third day before any dared row to the lonely Casa on the mud bank. When they did go, three men climbed up the posts at different sides, for the ladder had fallen away. They went not in, but only looked through the window. They saw indeed six men, who sat round the platter of cold polenta. But the seventh, who sat at the bottom in the boy's place, shone as though he had been on fire, leaning back in his chair as one that laughed and made merry at a jest. But the six were fallen silent and very sober.
So the three men that looked fell back from off the platform into the water as dead men; and had not their companions been active men of Malamocco, they too had been drowned. So there to this day in the lonely Casa of the Seven Dead Men the six are sitting, and the fiery seventh at the table-foot, in the boy's place—until the Day comes that is Doomsday, which is the last day of all.
THE SINFUL VILLAGE OF SPELLINO
This was the story we told, and there was not a face among the audience that did not blanch, and in that village there were undoubtedly some who that night did not sleep.
Now, the success of the story of the Seven Dead Men was great, surprising, embarrassing. For as soon as we ceased the children ran off to their homes to bring their mothers, who also had to hear. So we had to tell as before, without the alteration of a word.
Then home from the meadow pastures where they had been mowing, past the ripening grain, the fathers came, ill-pleased to find the dinner still not ready. Then these in their turn had to be fetched, and the story told from the beginning. Yea, and did we vary so much as the droop of a hair on the wet beard of the drowned man as he tumbled in the swirl of the lagoon where the Brenta meets the tide, a dozen voices corrected us, and we were warned to be careful. A reputation so sudden and tremendous is, at its beginning, somewhat brittle.
The group about the well now included almost every able-bodied person in the village, and several of the cripples, who cried out if any pushed upon them. Into the midst of this inward-bent circle of heads the village priest elbowed his way, a short and rotund father, with a frown on his face which evidently had no right there.
"Story-tellers!" he exclaimed. "There is no need for such in my village. We grow our own. Thou, Beppo, art enough for a municipality, and thou, Andrea. But what have we here?"
He paused open-mouthed. He had expected the usual whining, mumping beggar; and lo, here were two well-attired forestieri with their packs on their backs and their hats upon their heads. But we stood up, and in due form saluted the father, keeping our hats in our hands till he, pleased at this recognition and deference before his flock, signed to us courteously to put them on again.
After this, nothing would do but we must go with him to his house and share with him a bottle of the noble wine of Montepulciano.
"It is the wine of my brother, who is there in the cure of souls," he said. "Ah, he is a judge of wine, my brother. It is a fine place, not like this beast of a village, inhabited by bad heretics and worse Catholics."
"Bad Protestants—who are they?" I said, for I had been reared in the belief that all Protestants were good—except, perhaps, they were English Episcopalians. Specially all Protestants in the lands of Rome were good by nature.
The priest looked at us with a question in his eye.
"You are of the Church, it may be?" asked he, evidently thinking of our reverence at the well-stoop.
We shook our heads.
"It matters not," said the easy father; "you are, I perceive, good Christians. Not like these people of Spellino, who care neither for priest nor pastor."
"There he goes," said the priest, pointing out of the window at a man in plain and homely black who went by—the sight of whom, as he went, took me back to the village streets of Dullarg when I saw the minister go by. I had a sense that I ought to have been out there with him, instead of sitting in the presbytery of the Pope's priest. But the father thought not of that, and the Montepulciano was certainly most excellent. "A bad, bad village," said the father, looking about him as if in search of something.
"Margherita!" he cried suddenly.
An old woman appeared, dropping a bleared courtesy, unlike her queenly name.
"What have you for dinner, Margherita?
"Enough for one; not enough for three, and they hungry off the road," she said. "If thou, O father, art about to feed the lazzaroni of the north and south thou must at least give some notice, and engage another servant!"
"Nay, good Margherita," answered the priest very meekly, "there is enough boiled fowl and risotto of liver and rice to serve half a score of appetites. See to it," he said.
Margherita went grumbling away. What with beggars and leaping dogs, besides children crawling about the steps, it was ill living in such a presbytery—one also which was at any rate so old that no one could keep it clean, though they laboured twenty-four hours in the day—ay, and rose betimes upon the next day.
As the lady said, the place was old. Father Philip told us that it had been the wing of a monastery.
"See," he said, "I will show you."
So saying, he led us through a wide, cool, dusky place, with arched roof and high windows, the walls blotched and peeling, with the steam of many monkish dinners. The doors had been mostly closed up, and only at one side did an open window and archway give glimpses of pillared cloisters and living green. We begged that we might sit out here, which the priest gladly allowed, for the sight of the green grass and the tall white lilies standing amid was a mighty refreshment in the hot noontide. Sunshine flickered through the mulberry and one grey cherry-tree, and sifted down on the grass.
Then the priest told us all the sin of the villagers of Spellino. It was not that a remnant of the Waldenses was allowed to live there. The priest did not object to good Waldensians. But the people of Spellino would neither pay priest nor pastor. They were infidels.
"A bad people, an accursed people!" he repeated. "I have not had my dues for ten years as I ought. I send my agent to collect; and as soon as he appears, every family that is of the religion turns heretic. Not a child can sign the sign of the Cross, not though I baptized every one of them. All the men belong to the church of Pastor Gentinetta, and can repeat his catechism."
The priest paused and shook his head.
"A bad people! a bad people!" he said over and over again. Then he smiled, with some sense of the humour of the thing.
"But there are many ways with bad people," he said; "for when my good friend, Pastor Gentinetta, collects his stipend, and the blue envelopes of the Church are sent round, what a conversion ensues to Holy Church! Lo, there is a crucifix in every house in Spellino, save in one or two of the very faithful, who are so poor that they have nothing to give. Each child blesses himself as he goes in. Each bambino has the picture of its patron saint swung about its neck. The men are out at the festa, the women not home from confession, and there is not a soldo for priest or pastor in all this evil village of Spellino!"
Father Philip paused to chuckle in some admiration at such abounding cleverness in his parish.
"How then do you live, either of you?" I asked, for the matter was certainly curious.
The father looked at us.
"You are going on directly?" he said, in a subdued manner.
"Immediately," we said, "when we have tired out your excellent hospitality."
"Then I shall tell you. The manner of it is this. My friend Gentinetta;—he is my friend, and an excellent one in this world, though it is likely that our paths may not lie together in the next, if all be true that the Pope preaches. We two have a convention, which is private and not to be named. It is permitted to circumvent the wicked, and to drive the reluctant sheep by innocent craft.
"Now, Pastor Gentinetta has the advantage of me during the life of his people. It is indeed a curious thing that these heretics are eager to partake of the untransformed and unblessed sacraments, which are no sacraments. It is the strangest thing! I who preach the truth cannot drive my people with whips of scorpions to the blessed sacraments of Holy Church. They will not go for whip or cord. But these heretics will mourn for days if they be not admitted to their table of communion. It is one of the mysterious things of God. But, after all, it is a lucky thing," soliloquised Father Philip; "for what does my friend do when they come to him for their cards of communion, but turns up his book of stipend and statute dues. Says he—'My friend, such and such dues are wanting. A good Christian cannot sit down at the sacrament without clearing himself with God, and especially with His messenger.' So there he has them, and they pay up, and often make him a present besides. For such threats my rascals would not care one black and rotten fig."
"But how," said I in great astonishment, "does this affect you?"
"Gently and soothly," said the priest. "Wait and ye shall hear. If the pastor has the pull over me in life, when it comes to sickness, and the thieves get the least little look within the Black Doors that only open the one way—I have rather the better of my friend. It is my time then. My fellows indeed care no button to come to holy sacrament. They need to be paid to come. But, grace be to God for His unspeakable mercy, Holy Church and I between us have made them most consumedly afraid of the world that is to come. And with reason!"
Father Philip waited to chuckle.
"But Gentinetta's people have everything so neatly settled for them long before, that they part content without so much as a 'by your leave' or the payment of a death-duty. Not so, however, the true believer. He hath heard of Purgatory and the warmth and comfort thereof. Of the other place, too, he has heard. He may have scorned and mocked in his days of lightsome ease, but down below in the roots of his heart he believes. Oh, yes, he believes and trembles; then he sends for me, and I go!
"'Confession—it is well, my son! extreme unction, the last sacraments of the Church—better and better! But, my son, there is some small matter of tithes and dues standing in my book against thy name. Dost thou wish to go a debtor before the Judge? Alas! how can I give thee quittance of the heavenly dues, when thou hast not cleared thyself of the dues of earth?' Then there is a scramble for the old canvas bag from its hiding-place behind the ingle-nook. A small remembrance to Holy Church and to me, her minister, can do no harm, and may do much good. Follows confession, absolution—and, comforted thus, the soul passes; or bides to turn Protestant the next time that my assessor calls. It matters not; I have the dues."
"But," said I, "we have here two things that are hard to put together. In a time of health, when there is no sickness in the land, thou must go hungry. And when sickness comes, and the pastor's flock are busy with their dying, they will have no time to go to communion. How are these things arranged?"
"Even thus," replied Father Philip. "It is agreed upon that we pool the proceeds and divide fairly, so that our incomes are small but regular. Yet, I beseech thee, tell it not in this municipality, nor yet in the next village; for in the public places we scowl at one another as we pass by, Pastor Gentinetta and I."
"And which is earning the crust now?" said I.
The jovial priest laughed, nodding sagely with his head.
"Gentinetta hath his sacraments on Tuesday, and his addresses to his folk have been full of pleasant warnings. It will be a good time with us."