The Idler Magazine, Volume III., July 1893 - An Illustrated Monthly
Author: Various
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Transcribers Notes: Title and Table of Contents added.

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July 1893.

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The Woman of the Saeter.




Wild-Reindeer stalking is hardly so exciting a sport as the evening's verandah talk in Norroway hotels would lead the trustful traveller to suppose. Under the charge of your guide, a very young man with the dreamy, wistful eyes of those who live in valleys, you leave the farmstead early in the forenoon, arriving towards twilight at the desolate hut which, for so long as you remain upon the uplands, will be your somewhat cheerless headquarters.

Next morning, in the chill, mist-laden dawn you rise; and, after a breakfast of coffee and dried fish, shoulder your Remington, and step forth silently into the raw, damp air; the guide locking the door behind you, the key grating harshly in the rusty lock.

For hour after hour you toil over the steep, stony ground, or wind through the pines, speaking in whispers, lest your voice reach the quick ears of your prey, that keeps its head ever pressed against the wind. Here and there, in the hollows of the hills, lie wide fields of snow, over which you pick your steps thoughtfully, listening to the smothered thunder of the torrent, tunnelling its way beneath your feet, and wondering whether the frozen arch above it be at all points as firm as is desirable. Now and again, as in single file you walk cautiously along some jagged ridge, you catch glimpses of the green world, three thousand feet below you; though you gaze not long upon the view, for your attention is chiefly directed to watching the footprints of the guide, lest by deviating to the right or left you find yourself at one stride back in the valley—or, to be more correct, are found there.

These things you do, and as exercise they are healthful and invigorating. But a reindeer you never see, and unless, overcoming the prejudices of your British-bred conscience, you care to take an occasional pop at a fox, you had better have left your rifle at the hut, and, instead, have brought a stick, which would have been helpful. Notwithstanding which the guide continues sanguine, and in broken English, helped out by stirring gesture, tells of the terrible slaughter generally done by sportsmen under his superintendence, and of the vast herds that generally infest these fjelds; and when you grow sceptical upon the subject of Reins he whispers alluringly of Bears.

Once in a way you will come across a track, and will follow it breathlessly for hours, and it will lead to a sheer precipice. Whether the explanation is suicide, or a reprehensible tendency on the part of the animal towards practical joking, you are left to decide for yourself. Then, with many rough miles between you and your rest, you abandon the chase.

But I speak from personal experience merely.

All day long we had tramped through the pitiless rain, stopping only for an hour at noon to eat some dried venison, and smoke a pipe beneath the shelter of an overhanging cliff. Soon afterwards Michael knocked over a ryper (a bird that will hardly take the trouble to hop out of your way) with his gun-barrel, which incident cheered us a little, and, later on, our flagging spirits were still further revived by the discovery of apparently very recent deer-tracks. These we followed, forgetful, in our eagerness, of the lengthening distance back to the hut, of the fading daylight, of the gathering mist. The track led us higher and higher, further and further into the mountains, until on the shores of a desolate rock-bound vand it abruptly ended, and we stood staring at one another, and the snow began to fall.

Unless in the next half-hour we could chance upon a saeter, this meant passing the night upon the mountain. Michael and I looked at the guide, but though, with characteristic Norwegian sturdiness, he put a bold face upon it, we could see that in that deepening darkness he knew no more than we did. Wasting no time on words, we made straight for the nearest point of descent, knowing that any human habitation must be far below us.

Down we scrambled, heedless of torn clothes and bleeding hands, the darkness pressing closer round us. Then suddenly it became black—black as pitch—and we could only hear each other. Another step might mean death. We stretched out our hands, and felt each other. Why we spoke in whispers, I do not know, but we seemed afraid of our own voices. We agreed there was nothing for it but to stop where we were till morning, clinging to the short grass; so we lay there side by side, for what may have been five minutes or may have been an hour. Then, attempting to turn, I lost my grip and rolled. I made convulsive efforts to clutch the ground, but the incline was too steep. How far I fell I could not say, but at last something stopped me. I felt it cautiously with my foot; it did not yield, so I twisted myself round and touched it with my hand. It seemed planted firmly in the earth. I passed my arm along to the right, then to the left. Then I shouted with joy. It was a fence.

Rising and groping about me, I found an opening, and passed through, and crept forward with palms outstretched until I touched the logs of a hut; then, feeling my way round, discovered the door, and knocked. There came no response, so I knocked louder; then pushed, and the heavy woodwork yielded, groaning. But the darkness within was even darker than the darkness without. The others had contrived to crawl down and join me. Michael struck a wax vesta and held it up, and slowly the room came out of the darkness and stood round us.

Then something rather startling happened. Giving one swift glance about him, our guide uttered a cry, and rushed out into the night, and disappeared. We followed to the door, and called after him, but only a voice came to us out of the blackness, and the only words that we could catch, shrieked back in terror, were: "The woman of the saeter—the woman of the saeter."

"Some foolish superstition about the place, I suppose," said Michael. "In these mountain solitudes men breed ghosts for company. Let us make a fire. Perhaps, when he sees the light, his desire for food and shelter may get the better of his fears."

We felt about in the small enclosure round the house, and gathered juniper and birch-twigs, and kindled a fire upon the open stove built in the corner of the room. Fortunately, we had some dried reindeer and bread in our bag, and on that and the ryper, and the contents of our flasks, we supped. Afterwards, to while away the time, we made an inspection of the strange eyrie we had lighted on.

It was an old log-built saeter. Some of these mountain farmsteads are as old as the stone ruins of other countries. Carvings of strange beasts and demons were upon its blackened rafters, and on the lintel, in runic letters, ran this legend: "Hund builded me in the days of Haarfager." The house consisted of two large apartments. Originally, no doubt, these had been separate dwellings standing beside one another, but they were now connected by a long, low gallery. Most of the scanty furniture was almost as ancient as the walls themselves, but many articles of a comparatively recent date had been added. All was now, however, rotting and falling into decay.

The place appeared to have been deserted suddenly by its last occupants. Household utensils lay as they were left, rust and dirt encrusted on them. An open book, limp and mildewed, lay face downwards on the table, while many others were scattered about both rooms, together with much paper, scored with faded ink. The curtains hung in shreds about the windows; a woman's cloak, of an antiquated fashion, drooped from a nail behind the door. In an oak chest we found a tumbled heap of yellow letters. They were of various dates, extending over a period of four months, and with them, apparently intended to receive them, lay a large envelope, inscribed with an address in London that has since disappeared.

Strong curiosity overcoming faint scruples, we read them by the dull glow of the burning juniper twigs, and, as we lay aside the last of them, there rose from the depths below us a wailing cry, and all night long it rose and died away, and rose again, and died away again; whether born of our brain or of some human thing, God knows.

And these, a little altered and shortened, are the letters:—

Extract from first letter:

"I cannot tell you, my dear Joyce, what a haven of peace this place is to me after the racket and fret of town. I am almost quite recovered already, and am growing stronger every day; and, joy of joys, my brain has come back to me, fresher and more vigorous, I think, for its holiday. In this silence and solitude my thoughts flow freely, and the difficulties of my task are disappearing as if by magic. We are perched upon a tiny plateau halfway up the mountain. On one side the rock rises almost perpendicularly, piercing the sky; while on the other, two thousand feet below us, the torrent hurls itself into black waters of the fiord. The house consists of two rooms—or, rather, it is two cabins connected by a passage. The larger one we use as a living room, and the other is our sleeping apartment. We have no servant, but do everything for ourselves. I fear sometimes Muriel must find it lonely. The nearest human habitation is eight miles away, across the mountain, and not a soul comes near us. I spend as much time as I can with her, however, during the day, and make up for it by working at night after she has gone to sleep, and when I question her, she only laughs, and answers that she loves to have me all to herself. (Here you will smile cynically, I know, and say, 'Humph, I wonder will she say the same when they have been married six years instead of six months.') At the rate I am working now I shall have finished my first volume by the end of August, and then, my dear fellow, you must try and come over, and we will walk and talk together 'amid these storm-reared temples of the gods.' I have felt a new man since I arrived here. Instead of having to 'cudgel my brains,' as we say, thoughts crowd upon me. This work will make my name."

Part of the third letter, the second being mere talk about the book (a history apparently) that the man was writing:

"My dear Joyce,—I have written you two letters—this will make the third—but have been unable to post them. Every day I have been expecting a visit from some farmer or villager, for the Norwegians are kindly people towards strangers—to say nothing of the inducements of trade. A fortnight having passed, however, and the commissariat question having become serious, I yesterday set out before dawn, and made my way down to the valley; and this gives me something to tell you. Nearing the village, I met a peasant woman. To my intense surprise, instead of returning my salutation, she stared at me, as if I were some wild animal, and shrank away from me as far as the width of the road would permit. In the village the same experience awaited me. The children ran from me, the people avoided me. At last a grey-haired old man appeared to take pity on me, and from him I learnt the explanation of the mystery. It seems there is a strange superstition attaching to this house in which we are living. My things were brought up here by the two men who accompanied me from Dronthiem, but the natives are afraid to go near the place, and prefer to keep as far as possible from anyone connected with it.

"The story is that the house was built by one Hund, 'a maker of runes' (one of the old saga writers, no doubt), who lived here with his young wife. All went peacefully until, unfortunately for him, a certain maiden stationed at a neighbouring saeter grew to love him.—Forgive me if I am telling you what you know, but a 'saeter' is the name given to the upland pastures to which, during the summer, are sent the cattle, generally under the charge of one or more of the maids. Here for three months these girls will live in their lonely huts entirely shut off from the world. Customs change little in this land. Two or three such stations are within climbing distance of this house, at this day, looked after by the farmers' daughters, as in the days of Hund, 'maker of runes.'

"Every night, by devious mountain paths, the woman would come and tap lightly at Hund's door. Hund had built himself two cabins, one behind the other (these are now, as I think I have explained to you, connected by a passage); the smaller one was the homestead, in the other he carved and wrote, so that while the young wife slept the 'maker of runes' and the saeter woman sat whispering.

"One night, however, the wife learnt all things, but said no word. Then, as now, the ravine in front of the enclosure was crossed by a slight bridge of planks, and over this bridge the woman of the saeter passed and re-passed each night. On a day when Hund had gone down to fish in the fiord, the wife took an axe, and hacked and hewed at the bridge, yet it still looked firm and solid; and that night, as Hund sat waiting in his workshop, there struck upon his ears a piercing cry, and a crashing of logs and rolling rock, and then again the dull roaring of the torrent far below.

"But the woman did not die unavenged, for that winter a man, skating far down the fiord, noticed a curious object embedded in the ice; and when, stooping, he looked closer, he saw two corpses, one gripping the other by the throat, and the bodies were the bodies of Hund and his young wife.

"Since then, they say the woman of the saeter haunts Hund's house, and if she sees a light within she taps upon the door, and no man may keep her out. Many, at different times, have tried to occupy the house, but strange tales are told of them. 'Men do not live at Hund's saeter,' said my old grey-haired friend, concluding his tale, 'they die there.' I have persuaded some of the braver of the villagers to bring what provisions and other necessaries we require up to a plateau about a mile from the house and leave them there. That is the most I have been able to do. It comes somewhat as a shock to one to find men and women—fairly educated and intelligent as many of them are—slaves to fears that one would expect a child to laugh at. But there is no reasoning with superstition."

Extract from the same letter, but from a part seemingly written a day or two later:

"At home I should have forgotten such a tale an hour after I had heard it, but these mountain fastnesses seem strangely fit to be the last stronghold of the supernatural. The woman haunts me already. At night, instead of working, I find myself listening for her tapping at the door; and yesterday an incident occurred that makes me fear for my own common sense. I had gone out for a long walk alone, and the twilight was thickening into darkness as I neared home. Suddenly looking up from my reverie, I saw, standing on a knoll the other side of the ravine, the figure of a woman. She held a cloak about her head, and I could not see her face. I took off my cap, and called out a good-night to her, but she never moved or spoke. Then, God knows why, for my brain was full of other thoughts at the time, a clammy chill crept over me, and my tongue grew dry and parched. I stood rooted to the spot, staring at her across the yawning gorge that divided us, and slowly she moved away, and passed into the gloom; and I continued my way. I have said nothing to Muriel, and shall not. The effect the story has had upon myself warns me not to."

From a letter dated eleven days later:

"She has come. I have known she would since that evening I saw her on the mountain, and last night she came, and we have sat and looked into each other's eyes. You will say, of course, that I am mad—that I have not recovered from my fever—that I have been working too hard—that I have heard a foolish tale, and that it has filled my overstrung brain with foolish fancies—I have told myself all that. But the thing came, nevertheless—a creature of flesh and blood? a creature of air? a creature of my own imagination? what matter; it was real to me.

"It came last night, as I sat working, alone. Each night I have waited for it, listened for it—longed for it, I know now. I heard the passing of its feet upon the bridge, the tapping of its hand upon the door, three times—tap, tap, tap. I felt my loins grow cold, and a pricking pain about my head, and I gripped my chair with both hands, and waited, and again there came the tapping—tap, tap, tap. I rose and slipped the bolt of the door leading to the other room, and again I waited, and again there came the tapping—tap, tap, tap. Then I opened the heavy outer door, and the wind rushed past me, scattering my papers, and the woman entered in, and I closed the door behind her. She threw her hood back from her head, and unwound a kerchief from about her neck, and laid it on the table. Then she crossed and sat before the fire, and I noticed her bare feet were damp with the night dew.

"I stood over against her and gazed at her, and she smiled at me—a strange, wicked smile, but I could have laid my soul at her feet. She never spoke or moved, and neither did I feel the need of spoken words, for I understood the meaning of those upon the Mount when they said, 'Let us make here tabernacles: it is good for us to be here.'

"How long a time passed thus I do not know, but suddenly the woman held her hand up, listening, and there came a faint sound from the other room. Then swiftly she drew her hood about her face and passed out, closing the door softly behind her; and I drew back the bolt of the inner door and waited, and hearing nothing more, sat down, and must have fallen asleep in my chair.

"I awoke, and instantly there flashed through my mind the thought of the kerchief the woman had left behind her, and I started from my chair to hide it. But the table was already laid for breakfast, and my wife sat with her elbows on the table and her head between her hands, watching me with a look in her eyes that was new to me.

"She kissed me, though her lips were a little cold, and I argued to myself that the whole thing must have been a dream. But later in the day, passing the open door when her back was towards me, I saw her take the kerchief from a locked chest and look at it.

"I have told myself it must have been a kerchief of her own, and that all the rest has been my imagination—that if not, then my strange visitant was no spirit, but a woman, and that, if human thing knows human thing, it was no creature of flesh and blood that sat beside me last night. Besides, what woman would she be? The nearest saeter is a three hours' climb to a strong man, the paths are dangerous even in daylight: what woman would have found them in the night? What woman would have chilled the air around her, and have made the blood flow cold through all my veins? Yet if she come again I will speak to her. I will stretch out my hand and see whether she be mortal thing or only air."

The fifth letter:

"My dear Joyce,—Whether your eyes will ever see these letters is doubtful. From this place I shall never send them. They would read to you as the ravings of a madman. If ever I return to England I may one day show them to you, but when I do it will be when I, with you, can laugh over them. At present I write them merely to hide away—putting the words down on paper saves my screaming them aloud.

"She comes each night now, taking the same seat beside the embers, and fixing upon me those eyes, with the hell-light in them, that burn into my brain; and at rare times she smiles, and all my Being passes out of me, and is hers. I make no attempt to work. I sit listening for her footsteps on the creaking bridge, for the rustling of her feet upon the grass, for the tapping of her hand upon the door. No word is uttered between us. Each day I say: 'When she comes to-night I will speak to her. I will stretch out my hand and touch her.' Yet when she enters, all thought and will goes out from me.

"Last night, as I stood gazing at her, my soul filled with her wondrous beauty as a lake with moonlight, her lips parted, and she started from her chair, and, turning, I thought I saw a white face pressed against the window, but as I looked it vanished. Then she drew her cloak about her, and passed out. I slid back the bolt I always draw now, and stole into the other room, and, taking down the lantern, held it above the bed. But Muriel's eyes were closed as if in sleep."

Extract from the sixth letter:

"It is not the night I fear, but the day. I hate the sight of this woman with whom I live, whom I call 'wife.' I shrink from the blow of her cold lips, the curse of her stony eyes. She has seen, she has learnt; I feel it, I know it. Yet she winds her arms around my neck, and calls me sweetheart, and smooths my hair with her soft, false hands. We speak mocking words of love to one another, but I know her cruel eyes are ever following me. She is plotting her revenge, and I hate her, I hate her, I hate her!"

Part of the seventh letter:

"This morning I went down to the fiord. I told her I should not be back until the evening. She stood by the door watching me until we were mere specks to one another, and a promontory of the mountain shut me from view. Then, turning aside from the track, I made my way, running and stumbling over the jagged ground, round to the other side of the mountain, and began to climb again. It was slow, weary work. Often I had to go miles out of my road to avoid a ravine, and twice I reached a high point only to have to descend again. But at length I crossed the ridge, and crept down to a spot from where, concealed, I could spy upon my own house. She—my wife—stood by the flimsy bridge. A short hatchet, such as butchers use, was in her hand. She leant against a pine trunk, with her arm behind her, as one stands whose back aches with long stooping in some cramped position; and even at that distance I could see the cruel smile about her lips.

"Then I recrossed the ridge, and crawled down again, and, waiting until evening, walked slowly up the path. As I came in view of the house she saw me, and waved her handkerchief to me, and, in answer, I waved my hat, and shouted curses at her that the wind whirled away into the torrent. She met me with a kiss, and I breathed no hint to her that I had seen. Let her devil's work remain undisturbed. Let it prove to me what manner of thing this is that haunts me. If it be a Spirit, then the bridge will bear it safely; if it be woman——

"But I dismiss the thought. If it be human thing why does it sit gazing at me, never speaking; why does my tongue refuse to question it; why does all power forsake me in its presence, so that I stand as in a dream? Yet if it be Spirit, why do I hear the passing of her feet; and why does the night-rain glisten on her hair?

"I force myself back into my chair. It is far into the night, and I am alone, waiting, listening. If it be Spirit, she will come to me; and if it be woman, I shall hear her cry above the storm—unless it be a demon mocking me.

"I have heard the cry. It rose, piercing and shrill, above the storm, above the riving and rending of the bridge, above the downward crashing of the logs and loosened stones. I hear it as I listen now. It is cleaving its way upward from the depths below. It is wailing through the room as I sit writing.

"I have crawled upon my belly to the utmost edge of the still standing pier until I could feel with my hand the jagged splinters left by the fallen planks, and have looked down. But the chasm was full to the brim with darkness. I shouted, but the wind shook my voice into mocking laughter. I sit here, feebly striking at the madness that is creeping nearer and nearer to me. I tell myself the whole thing is but the fever in my brain. The bridge was rotten. The storm was strong. The cry is but a single one among the many voices of the mountain. Yet still I listen, and it rises, clear and shrill, above the moaning of the pines, above the mighty sobbing of the waters. It beats like blows upon my skull, and I know that she will never come again."

Extract from the last letter:

"I shall address an envelope to you, and leave it among them. Then, should I never come back, some chance wanderer may one day find and post them to you, and you will know.

"My books and writings remain untouched. We sit together of a night—this woman I call 'wife' and I—she holding in her hands some knitted thing that never grows longer by a single stitch, and I with a volume before me that is ever open at the same page. And day and night we watch each other stealthily, moving to and fro about the silent house; and at times, looking round swiftly, I catch the smile upon her lips before she has time to smooth it away.

"We speak like strangers about this and that, making talk to hide our thoughts. We make a pretence of busying ourselves about whatever will help us to keep apart from one another.

"At night, sitting here between the shadows and the dull glow of the smouldering twigs, I sometimes think I hear the tapping I have learnt to listen for, and I start from my seat, and softly open the door and look out. But only the Night stands there. Then I close-to the latch, and she—the living woman—asks me in her purring voice what sound I heard, hiding a smile as she stoops low over her work, and I answer lightly, and, moving towards her, put my arm about her, feeling her softness and her suppleness, and wondering, supposing I held her close to me with one arm while pressing her from me with the other, how long before I should hear the cracking of her bones.

"For here, amid these savage solitudes, I also am grown savage. The old primeval passions of love and hate stir within me, and they are fierce and cruel and strong, beyond what you men of the later ages could understand. The culture of the centuries has fallen from me as a flimsy garment whirled away by the mountain wind; the old savage instincts of the race lie bare. One day I shall twine my fingers about her full white throat, and her eyes will slowly come towards me, and her lips will part, and the red tongue creep out; and backwards, step by step, I shall push her before me, gazing the while upon her bloodless face, and it will be my turn to smile. Backwards through the open door, backwards along the garden path between the juniper bushes, backwards till her heels are overhanging the ravine, and she grips life with nothing but her little toes, I shall force her, step by step, before me. Then I shall lean forward, closer, closer, till I kiss her purpling lips, and down, down, down, past the startled sea-birds, past the white spray of the foss, past the downward peeping pines, down, down, down, we will go together, till we find my love where she lies sleeping beneath the waters of the fiord."

With these words ended the last letter, unsigned. At the first streak of dawn we left the house, and, after much wandering, found our way back to the valley. But of our guide we heard no news. Whether he remained still upon the mountain, or whether by some false step he had perished upon that night, we never learnt.

Alphonse Daudet at Home.




M. and Madame Alphonse Daudet—for it is impossible to mention the great French writer without also immediately recalling the personality of the lady who has been his best friend, his tireless collaboratrice, and his constant companion during the last twenty-five years—have made their home on the top storey of a fine stately house in the Rue de Belle Chasse, a narrow old-world street running from the Boulevard Saint Germain up into the Quartier Latin.

Like most houses on the left bank of the Seine, the "hotel" is built round a large courtyard, the Daudets' pretty appartement being situated on the side furthest from the street, and commanding a splendid view of Southern Paris, whilst in the immediate foreground is one of those peaceful, quiet gardens, owned by some of the old Paris religious foundations still left undisturbed by the march of Republican time.

The study in which Alphonse Daudet does all his work, and receives his more intimate friends, is opposite the hall door, but a strict watch is kept by Madame Daudet's faithful servants, and no one is allowed to break in upon the privacy of le maitre without some good and sufficient reason. Few writers are so personally popular with their readers as is Alphonse Daudet; there is about most of his books a strange magnetic charm, and every post brings him quaint, curious, and often pathetic, epistles from men and women all over the world, and of every nationality, discussing his characters, suggesting alterations, offering him plots, and asking his advice on their own most intimate cases of conscience, whilst, if he were to grant all the requests for personal interviews which come to him day by day, he would literally have not a moment for work or leisure.

But to those who have the good fortune of his acquaintance, M. Daudet is the most delightful and courteous of hosts, and, though rarely alluding to his own work in conversation, he will always answer those questions put to him to the best of his ability, and as one who has thought much and deeply on most subjects of human interest.

The first glance shows you that Daudet's study is a real work room; there is no straining after effect; the plain, comfortable furniture, including the large solid writing table covered with papers, proofs, literary biblots, and the various instruments necessary to his craft, were made and presented to him by a number of workmen, his military comrades during the war, and serve to perpetually remind him of what, he says, has been the most instructive and intensely interesting period of his life. "That terrible year," I have heard him exclaim more than once, "taught me many things. It was then for the first time that I learned to appreciate our workpeople, le peuple. Had it not been for what I then went through, one whole side of good human nature would have been shut to me. The Paris ouvrier is a splendid fellow, and among my best friends I reckon some of those who fought by my side in 1870."

During those same eventful months M. Daudet made the acquaintance of the man who was afterwards to prove his most indefatigable helper; it was between one of the long waits outside the fortifications. To his surprise, the novelist saw a young soldier reading a Latin book. In answer to a question, the pioupiou explained that he had been brought up to be a priest, but had finally changed his mind and become a workman. Now, the ex seminarist is M. Daudet's daily companion and literary agent; it is he who makes all the necessary arrangements with editors and publishers, and several of Daudet's later writings have been dictated to him.

All that refers to a great writer's methods cannot but be of interest. Daudet's novels are really human documents, for from early youth he has put down from day to day, almost from hour to hour, all that he has seen, heard, and done. He calls his note-books "my memory." When about to start a new novel he draws out a general plan, then he copies out all the incidents from his note-books which he thinks will be of value to him for the story. The next step is to make out a rough list of chapters, and then, with infinite care, and constant corrections, he begins writing out the book, submitting each page to his wife's criticism, and discussing with her the working out of every incident, and the arrangement of every episode. Unlike most novelists, M. Daudet does not care to always write on the same paper, and his manuscripts are not all written on paper of the same size. Of late he has been using some large, rough hand-made sheets, which Victor Hugo had specially made for his own use, and which have been given to M. Daudet by Georges Hugo, who knew what a pleasure his grandfather would have taken in the thought that any of his literary leavings would have been useful to his little Jeanne's father-in-law, for it will be remembered that Leon Daudet, the novelist's eldest child, married some three years ago "Peach Blossom" Hugo, for whom was written L'Art d'etre Grand-pere.

Although M. Daudet takes precious care of his little note-books, both past and present, he has never troubled himself much as to what became of the fair copies of his novels. They remain in the printers' and publishers' hands, and will probably some day attain a fabulous value.

His handwriting is clear, and somewhat feminine in form, and he always uses a steel pen. Till his health broke down he wrote every word of his manuscripts himself, but of late he has been obliged to dictate to his wife and two secretaries; re-writing, however, much of his work in the margin of the manuscript, and also adding to, and polishing, each chapter in proof, for no writer pays more attention to style and chiselled form than the man who has been called the French Dickens, and whose compositions, to the uninitiated, would seem to be singularly spontaneous.

Since the war M. Daudet has never had an hour's sleep without artificial aid, such as chloral; but devotees of Lady Nicotine will be interested to learn that in answer to a question he once said, "I have smoked a great deal while working, and the more I smoked the better I worked. I have never noticed that tobacco is injurious, but I must admit that, when I am not well, even the smell of a cigarette is odious." He added that he had a great horror of alcohol as a stimulant for work, and has ofttimes been heard to say that those who believe in working on spirits had better make up their minds to become total abstainers if they hope to achieve anything in the way of literature.

Unlike most literary menages, M. and Madame Daudet are one of those happy couples who are said by cynics to be the exceptions which prove the rule. Literary men are proverbially unlucky in their helpmates; and geniuses have been proved again and again to reserve their fitful humours and uncertain tempers for home use. M. and Madame Daudet are at once sympathetic, literary partners, and the happiest of married couples; in L'Enfance d'une Parisienne, Enfants et Meres, and Fragments d'un Livre Inedit, Madame Daudet has proved that she is in her own way as original and delicate an artist as her husband. She has never written a novel, but, as a great French critic once aptly remarked, "Each one of her books contains the essence of innumerable novels." Her literary work has been an afterthought, an accident; she is not anxious to make a name by her writing, and her most intimate friends have never heard her mention her literary faculty; like most Frenchwomen, a devoted mother, when not helping her husband, she is absorbed in her children, and whilst her boys were at the Lycee she taught herself Latin in order to help them prepare their lessons every evening; and she is now her young daughter's closest companion and friend.

One of the most charming characteristics of Alphonse Daudet is his love for, and pride in, his wife. "I often think of my first meeting with her," he will say. "I was quite a young fellow, and had a great prejudice against literary women, and especially against poetesses, but I came, saw, and was conquered, and," he will conclude smiling, "I have remained under the charm ever since.... People sometimes ask me whether I approve of women writing; how should I not, when my own wife has always written, and when all that is best in my literary work is owing to her influence and suggestion. There are whole realms of human nature which we men cannot explore. We have not eyes to see, nor hearts to understand, certain subtle things which a woman perceives at once; yes, women have a mission to fulfil in the literature of to-day."

Strangely enough, M. Daudet made the acquaintance of his future wife through a favourable review he wrote of a volume of verse published by her parents, M. and Madame Allard. They were so pleased with the notice that they wrote and asked the critic to come and see them. How truly thankful the one time critic must now feel that he was inspired to deal gently by the little bouquin.

Madame Daudet is devoted to art, and her pretty salon is one of the most artistic interieurs in Paris, whilst the dining-room, fitted up with old Provencal furniture, looks as though it had been lifted bodily out of some fastness in troubadour land.

The tie between the novelist and his children is a very close one; he has said of Leon that there stands his best work; and, indeed, the young man is in a fair way to make his father's words come true, for, inheriting much of both parents' literary faculty, M. Leon Daudet lately made his debut as a novelist with Hoeres, a remarkable story with a purpose, in which the author strove to explain his somewhat curious theories on the laws of heredity. Having originally been intended for the medical profession, he takes a special interest in this subject. It is curious that three such distinct and different literary gifts should exist simultaneously in the same family.

As soon as even the cool, narrow streets of the Quartier Latin begin to grow dusty and sultry with summer heat, the whole Daudet family emigrate to the novelist's charming country cottage at Champrosay. There old friends, such as M. Edmond de Goncourt, are ever made welcome, and life is one long holiday for those who bring no work with them. Daudet himself has described his country home as being "situated thirty miles from Paris, at a lovely bend of the Seine, a provincial Seine invaded by bulrushes, purple irises, and water-lilies, bearing on its bosom tufts of grass, and clumps of tangled roots, on which the tired dragon-flies alight, and allow themselves to be lazily floated down the stream."

It was in a round, ivy-clad pavilion overhanging the river that le maitre du logis wrote L'Immortel. On an exceptionally fine day he would get into a canoe, and let it drift among the reeds, till, in the shadow of an old willow-tree, the boat became his study, and the two crossed oars his desk. Strange that so bitter and profoundly cynical a study of modern Paris life should have been evolved in such surroundings, whilst the Contes de Mon Moulin, and many other of his most ideal nouvelles, were written in the sombre grey house where M. and Madame Daudet lived during many years of their early married life.

The author of Les Rois en Exile has not yet utilised Champrosay as a background to any of his stories; he takes notes, however, of all that goes on in the little village community, much as he did in the Duc de Morny's splendid palace, and in time his readers may have the pleasure of perusing an idyllic yet realistic picture of French country life, an outcome of his summer experiences.

Alphonse Daudet was born just fifty-three years ago in the sunlit, white batisse at Nimes, which he has described in the painful, melancholy history of his childhood, entitled Le Petit Chose. At an age when other French boys are themselves lyceans, he became usher in a kind of provincial Dotheboys Hall; and some idea of what the sensitive, poetical lad went through may be gained by the fact that he more than once seriously contemplated committing suicide. But fate had something better in store for le petit Daudet, and his seventeenth birthday found him in Paris sharing his brother Ernest's garret, having arrived in the great city with just forty sous remaining of his little store, after spending two days and nights in a third-class carriage.

Even now, there is a touch of protection and maternal affection in the way in which Ernest Daudet regards his younger brother, and the latter never mentions his early struggles without recalling the self-abnegation, generous kindliness, and devotion of "mon frere." The two went through some hard times together. "Ah!" says the great writer, speaking of those days, "I thought my brother passing rich, for he earned seventy-five francs a month by being secretary to an old gentleman at whose dictation he took down his memoirs." And so they managed to live, going occasionally to the theatre, and seeing not a little of life, on the sum of thirty shillings a month apiece!

When receiving visitors, the author of Tartarin places himself with his back to the light on one of the deep, comfortable couches which line the fireplace of his study, but from out the huge mass of his powerful head, surrounded by the lionese mane, which has become famous in his portraits and photographs, gleam two piercing dark eyes, which, like those of most short-sighted people, seem to perceive what is immediately before them with an extra intensity of vision.

To ask one who has far outrun his fellows what he thinks of the race seems a superfluous question. Yet, in answer as to what he would say of literature as a profession, M. Daudet gave a startlingly clear and decided answer.

"The man who has it in him to write will do so, however great his difficulties, but I would never advise any young fellow to make literature his profession, and I think it is nothing short of madness to give up a good chance of making your livelihood in some other, though perhaps less congenial, fashion, in order to pursue the calling of letters. You would be surprised if you knew the number of young people who come to me for sympathy with their literary aspirations, and as for the manuscripts submitted to me, the sending of them back keeps one of my friends pretty busy, for of late years I have had to refuse to look at anything sent to me in this way. In vain I say to those who come to consult me, 'However much occupied you are with your present way of earning a livelihood, if you have it in you to write anything you will surely find time to do it.' They go away unconvinced, and a few months later sees them launched on the perilous seas of journalism; with now really not a moment to spare for serious writing! Of course, if the would-be writer has already an income, I see no reason why he should not give himself up to literature altogether. It was in order to provide a certain number of coming geniuses with the wherewithal to find at least spare time in which to write possible masterpieces, that my friend Edmond de Goncourt and his brother Jules conceived the noble and unselfish idea to found an institute, the members of which would require but two qualifications, poverty and exceptional literary power. If a would-be writer can find someone who will assist him in this manner, well and good; but no one is a prophet in his own country, and friends and relations are, as a rule, most unwilling to waste good money on their young literary acquaintances. Still I admit that the Academie de Goncourt would fulfil a want, for there have been, and are, great geniuses who positively cannot produce their masterpieces from bitter poverty."

"Then do you believe in journalism as a stepping-stone to literature?"

"I cannot say that I do, though, strangely enough, there is scarcely one of us—I allude to latter-day French novelists and critics—who did not spend at least a portion of his youth doing hard, pot-boiling newspaper work. But I deplore the necessity of a novelist having to make journalism his start in life, for, as all newspaper writing has to be done against time, his style must certainly deteriorate, and his literature becomes journalese."

"What was your own first literary essay, M. Daudet?"

"You know I was born a poet, not a novelist; besides, when I was a lad everyone wrote poetry, so I made my debut by a book of verse entitled Mes Amoureuses. I was just eighteen, and this was my first stroke of luck; for six weary months I had carried my poor little manuscript from publisher to publisher, but, strange to say, I never got further than these great people's ante-chamber; at last, a certain Tardieu, a publisher who was himself an author, took pity on my Amoureuses. The title had been a happy inspiration, and the volume received some favourable notices, and led indirectly to my getting journalistic work."

Indeed, it seems to have been more or less of an accident that M. Daudet did not devote himself entirely to poetry; and probably the very poverty which seemed so bitter to him during his youth obliged him to try what he could do in the way of story-writing, that branch of literature being supposed by the French to be the best from a pecuniary point of view. So remarkable were his verses felt to be by the critics of the day, that one of them wrote, "When dying, Alfred de Musset left his two pens as a last legacy to our literature—Feuillet has taken that of prose; into Daudet's hand has slipped that of verse."

But some years passed before the poet-journalist became the novelist; at one time he dreamed of being a great dramatist, and before he was five-and-twenty several of his plays had been produced at leading Paris theatres. Fortune smiled upon him, and he was appointed to be one of the Duc de Morny's secretaries, a post he held four years, and which supplied him with much valuable material for several of his later novels, notably Les Rois en Exile, Le Nabab, and Numa Romestan, for during this period he was brought into close and intimate contact with all the noteworthy personages of the Third Empire, making at the same time the acquaintance of most of the literary lions of the day—Flaubert, with whom he became very intimate; Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, the two gifted brothers who may be said to have founded the realistic school of fiction years before Emile Zola came forward as the apostle of realism; Tourguenieff, the two Dumas, and many others who welcomed enthusiastically the young Southern poet into their midst.

The first page of Le Petit Chose was written in the February of 1866, and was finished during the author's honeymoon, but it was with Fromont Jeune et Risler Aine, published six years later, that he made his first real success as a novelist, the work being crowned by the French Academy, and arousing a veritable enthusiasm both at home and abroad.

Alphonse Daudet is not a quick worker; he often allows several years to elapse between his novels, and refuses to bind himself down to any especial date. Tartarin de Tarascon was, however, an exception to this rule, for the author wrote it for Messrs. Guillaume, the well-known art publishers, who, wishing to popularise an improved style of illustration, offered M. Daudet 150,000 francs (L6,000) to write them a serio-comic story. Tartarin, which obtained an instant popularity, proved the author's versatility, but won him the hatred of the good people of Provence, who have never forgiven him for having made fun of their foibles. On one occasion a bagman, passing through Tarascon, put, by way of a jest, the name "Alphonse Daudet" in his hotel register. The news quickly spread, and had it not been for the prompt help of the innkeeper, who managed to smuggle him out of the town, he might easily have had cause to regret his foolish joke.

Judging by sales, Sapho has been the most popular of Daudet's novels, for over a quarter of a million copies have been sold. Like most of his stories, its appearance provoked a great deal of discussion, as did the author's dedication "To my two sons at the age of twenty." But, in answer to his critics, Daudet always replies, "I wrote the book with a purpose, and I have succeeded in painting the picture as I wished it to appear. Each of the types mentioned by me really existed; each incident was copied from life...."

The year following its publication M. Daudet dramatised Sapho, and the play was acted with considerable success at the Gymnase, Jane Hading being in the title-role. Last year the play was again acted in Paris, with Madame Rejane as the heroine.

M. Daudet, like most novelists, takes a special interest in all that concerns dramatic art and the theatre. When his health permits it he is a persistent first-nighter, and most of his novels lend themselves in a rare degree to stage adaptation.

I once asked him what he thought of the attempts now so frequently made to introduce unconventionality and naked realism on the stage.

"I have every sympathy," he replied, "with the attempts made by Antoine and his Theatre Libre to discover strong and unconventional work. But I do not believe in the new terms which a certain school have invented for everything; after all, the play's the thing, whether it is produced by a group who dub themselves romantics, realists, old or new style. Realism is not necessarily real life; a photograph only gives a rigid, neutral side of the object placed in front of the camera. A dissection of what we call affection does not give so vivid an impression of the master-passion as a true love-sonnet written by a poet. Life is a thing of infinite gradations; a dramatist wishes to show existence as it really is, not as it may be under exceptionally revolting circumstances."

His own favourite dramatist and writer is Shakespeare, whom, however, he only knows by translation, and Hamlet and Desdemona are his favourite hero and heroine in the fiction of the world, although he considered Balzac his literary master.

M. Daudet will seldom be beguiled into talking on politics. Like all Frenchmen, the late Panama scandals have profoundly shocked and disgusted him, as revealing a state of things discreditable to the Government of his country. But the creator of Desiree Dolobelle has a profound belief in human nature, and believes that, come what may, the novelist will never lack beautiful and touching models in the world round and about him.

The Dismal Throng.



(Written after reading the last Study in Literary Distemper.)


The Fairy Tale of Life is done, The horns of Fairyland cease blowing, The Gods have left us one by one, And the last Poets, too, are going! Ended is all the mirth and song, Fled are the merry Music-makers; And what remains? The Dismal Throng Of literary Undertakers!

Clad in deep black of funeral cut, With faces of forlorn expression, Their eyes half open, souls close shut, They stalk along in pale procession; The latest seed of Schopenhauer, Born of a Trull of Flaubert's choosing, They cry, while on the ground they glower, "There's nothing in the world amusing!"

There's Zola, grimy as his theme, Nosing the sewers with cynic pleasure, Sceptic of all that poets dream, All hopes that simple mortals treasure; With sense most keen for odours strong, He stirs the Drains and scents disaster, Grim monarch of the Dismal Throng Who bow their heads before "the Master."

There's Miss Matilda[1] in the south, There's Valdes[2] in Madrid and Seville, There's mad Verlaine[3] with gangrened mouth. Grinning at Rimbaud and the Devil. From every nation of the earth, Instead of smiling merry-makers, They come, the foes of Love and Mirth, The Dismal Throng of Undertakers.

There's Tolstoi, towering in his place O'er all the rest by head and shoulders; No sunshine on that noble face Which Nature meant to charm beholders! Mad with his self-made martyr's shirt, Obscene, through hatred of obsceneness, He from a pulpit built of Dirt Shrieks his Apocalypse of Cleanness!

There's Ibsen,[4] puckering up his lips, Squirming at Nature and Society, Drawing with tingling finger-tips The clothes off naked Impropriety! So nice, so nasty, and so grim, He hugs his gloomy bottled thunder; To summon up one smile from him Would be a miracle of wonder!

There's Maupassant,[5] who takes his cue From Dame Bovary's bourgeois troubles; There's Bourget, dyed his own sick "blue," There's Loti, blowing blue soap bubbles; There's Mendes[6] (no Catullus, he!) There's Richepin,[7] sick with sensual passion. The Dismal Throng! So foul, so free, Yet sombre all, as is the fashion.

"Turn down the lights! put out the Sun! Man is unclean and morals muddy. The Fairy Tale of Life is done, Disease and Dirt must be our study! Tear open Nature's genial heart, Let neither God nor gods escape us, But spare, to give our subjects zest, The basest god of all—Priapus!"

The Dismal Throng! 'Tis thus they preach, From Christiania to Cadiz, Recruited as they talk and teach By dingy lads and draggled ladies; Without a sunbeam or a song, With no clear Heaven to hunger after; The Dismal Throng! the Dismal Throng! The foes of Life and Love and Laughter!

By Shakespere's Soul! if this goes on, From every face of man and woman The gift of gladness will be gone, And laughter will be thought inhuman! The only beast who smiles is Man! That marks him out from meaner creatures! Confound the Dismal Throng, who plan To take God's birth-mark from our features!

Manfreds who walk the hospitals. Laras and Giaours grown scientific, They wear the clothes and bear the palls Of Stormy Ones once thought terrific; They play the same old funeral tune, And posture with the same dejection, But turn from howling at the moon To literary vivisection!

And while they loom before our view, Dark'ning the air that should be sunny, Here's Oscar,[8] growing dismal too, Our Oscar, who was once so funny! Blue china ceases to delight The dear curl'd darling of society, Changed are his breeches, once so bright, For foreign breaches of propriety!

I like my Oscar, tolerate My Archer[9] of the Dauntless Grammar, Nay, e'en my Moore[10] I estimate Not too unkindly, 'spite his clamour; But I prefer my roses still To all the garlic in their garden— Let Hedda gabble as she will, I'll stay with Rosalind, in Arden!

O for one laugh of Rabelais, To rout these moralising croakers! (The cowls were mightier far than they, Yet fled before that King of Jokers) O for a slash of Fielding's pen To bleed these pimps of Melancholy! O for a Boz, born once again To play the Dickens with such folly!

Yet stay! why bid the dead arise? Why call them back from Charon's wherry? Come, Yankee Mark, with twinkling eyes, Confuse these ghouls with something merry! Come, Kipling, with thy soldiers three, Thy barrack-ladies frail and fervent, Forsake thy themes of butchery And be the merry Muses' servant!

Come, Dickens' foster-son, Bret Harte! Come, Sims, though gigmen flout thy labours! Tom Hardy, blow the clouds apart With sound of rustic fifes and tabors! Dick Blackmore, full of homely joy, Come from thy garden by the river, And pelt with fruit and flowers, old boy, These dismal bores who drone for ever!

Come, too, George Meredith, whose eyes, Though oft with vapours shadow'd over, Can catch the sunlight from the skies And flash it down on lass and lover; Tell us of Life, and Love's young dream, Show the prismatic soul of Woman, Bring back the Light, whose morning beam First made the Beast upright and human!

You can be merry, George, I vow! Wit through your cloudiest prosing twinkles! Brood as you may, upon your brow The cynic, Art, has left no wrinkles! For you're a poet to the core, No ghouls can from the Muses win you; So throw your cap i' the air once more, And show the joy of earth that's in you!

By Heaven! we want you one and all, For Hypochondria is reigning— The Mater Dolorosa's squall Makes Nature hideous with complaining! Ah! who will paint the Face that smiled When Art was virginal and vernal— The pure Madonna with her Child, Pure as the light, and as eternal!

Pest on these dreary, dolent airs! Confound these funeral pomps and poses! Is Life Dyspepsia's and Despair's, And Love's complexion all chlorosis? A lie! There's Health, and Mirth, and Song, The World still laughs, and goes a-Maying— The dismal, droning, doleful Throng Are only smuts in sunshine playing!

Play up, ye horns of Fairyland! Shine out, O sun, and planets seven! Beyond these clouds a beckoning Hand Gleams from the lattices of Heaven! The World's alive—still quick, not dead, It needs no Undertaker's warning; So put the Dismal Throng to bed, And wake once more to Light and Morning!

* * *

[1] Mathilde Serao, an Italian novelist.

[2] A Spanish novelist.

[3] Verlaine and Rimbaud, two poets of the Parisian Decadence.

[4] A Norwegian playwright.

[5] Guy de Maupassant, Paul Bourget, and Pierre Loti, novelists of the Decadence.

[6] Catulle Mendes, a Parisian poet and novelist.

[7] Jean Richepin, ditto.

[8] Mr. Oscar Wilde.

[9] Mr. William Archer, a newspaper critic.

[10] Mr. George Moore, an author and newspaper critic.

NOTE.—These verses refer to a literary phenomenon that will in time become historical, that phenomenon being the sudden growth, in all parts of Europe, of a fungus-literature bred of Foulness and Decay; and contemporaneously, the intrusion into all parts of human life of a Calvinistic yet materialistic Morality. This literature of a sunless Decadence has spread widely, by virtue of its own uncleanness, and its leading characteristics are gloom, ugliness, prurience, preachiness, and weedy flabbiness of style. That it has not flourished in Great Britain, save among a small and discredited Cockney minority, is due to the inherent manliness and vigour of the national character. The land of Shakespere, Scott, Burns, Fielding, Dickens, and Charles Reade is protected against literary miasmas by the strength of its humour and the sunniness of its temperament.—R.B.

In the Hands of Jefferson.




It is not difficult to appreciate the recent catastrophe in Oceania, where the island of Great Sangir was partially smothered by terrific volcanic and seismic convulsions, when one has visited the Western Indies.

Many of these tropic isles probably owe their present isolation, if not their actual existence, to mighty earthquake throes in remote ages of terrestrial history beyond the memory of man. But man's memory is not a very extensive affair, and at best probes the past to the extent of a mere rind of a few thousand years. For the rest he has to read the word of God, written in fossil and stone and those wondrous arcana of Nature, which, each in turn, yields a fragment of the secret of truth to human intellect.

Regions that have been produced or largely modified by earthquake and volcanic upheaval may, probably enough, vanish at any moment under like conditions; and the island of Nevis, hard by St. Christopher, in the West Indies, strongly suggests a possibility of such disaster. It has always been the regular rendezvous of hurricanes and earthquakes, and it consists practically of one vast volcanic mountain which rises abruptly from the sea and pushes its densely-wooded sides three thousand two hundred feet into the sky. The crater shows no particularly active inclination at present, but it is doubtless wide awake and merely resting, like its volcanic neighbour in St. Christopher, where the breathing of the dormant giant can be noted through rent and rift. The Fourth Officer of our steamship "Rhine" assured me, as we approached the lofty dome of Nevis and gazed upon its fertile acclivities and fringe of palms, that it would never surprise him upon his rounds to find the place had altogether disappeared under the Caribbean Sea. He added, according to his custom, an allusion to Columbus, and explained also that, in the dead and gone days of Slave Traffic, Nevis was a much more important spot than it is ever likely to become again. Then, indeed, the island enjoyed no little prosperity and importance, being a head centre and mart for the industry in negroes. Emancipation, however, wrecked Nevis, together with a good many other of the Antilles.

At Montpelier, on this island, Lord Nelson enjoyed his honeymoon, but now only a few trees and a little ruined masonry at the corner of a sugar-cane plantation appear to mark the spot. Further, it may be recorded, as a point in favour of the place, that it grows very exceptional Tangerine oranges. These, to taste in perfection, should be eaten at the turning point, before their skins grow yellow. We cannot judge of the noble possibilities in an orange at home. I brought back a dozen of these Nevis Tangerines with me, but I secretly suspected that, in spite of their fine reputation, quite inferior sorts would be able to beat them by the time they got to England; and it was so.

We stopped half-an-hour only at Charlestown, Nevis, and then proceeded to St. Christopher, a sister isle of greater size and scope.

At Antigua, there came aboard the "Rhine" a young man who implicitly leads us to understand that he is the most important person in the West Indies. He is the Governor of Antigua's own clerk, and is going to St. Christopher with a portmanteau, some walking-sticks, and a despatch-box. It appears that his significance is gigantic, and that, though the nominal seat of government lies at Antigua, yet the real active centre of political administration may be found immediately under the Panama hat of the Governor's own clerk. This he takes the trouble to explain to us. The Governor himself is a puppet, his trusted men of resource and portfolio-holders are the veriest fantoccini; for the Governor's own clerk pulls the strings, frames the foreign policy, conducts, controls, adjusts difficulties, and maintains a right balance between the parties. This he condescends to make clear to us.

I ventured to ask him how many of the more important nations were involved with the matters at present in his despatch-box; and he said lightly, as though the concern in hand was a mere bagatelle, that only the United States, Great Britain and Germany were occupying his attention at the moment.

The Model Man said:

"I suppose you'll soon knock off a flea-bite like that?"

And the Governor's own clerk answered:

"Yes, I fancy so, unless any unforeseen hitch happens. Negotiations are pending."

I liked his last sentence particularly. It smacked so strongly of miles of red tape and months of official delay.

When we reached St. Christopher, it was currently reported that the Governor's own clerk had simply come to settle a dispute between two negro landowners concerning a fragment of the island rather smaller than a table-napkin; but personally I doubt not this was a blind, under cover of which he secretly pushed forward those pending negotiations. He certainly had fine diplomatic instincts, and a sound view, from a political standpoint, of the value of veracity.

When we cast out anchor off Basseterre, St. Christopher, the Treasure hurried to me in some sorrow. He had proposed going ashore, with his Enchantress and her mother, to show them the sights, but now, to his dismay, he found that unforeseen official duties would keep him on the ship during our brief sojourn here. With anxiety almost pathetic, therefore, he entrusted the Enchantress to me, and commended her mother to the Doctor's care. I felt the compliment, and assured him that I would simply devote myself to her—platonically withal; but the Doctor was not quite so hearty about her mother. However, he must behave like a gentleman, whether he felt inclined to do so or not, which the Treasure knew, and, therefore, felt safe.

Our party of four started straightway for a ramble in St. Kitts (as St. Christopher is more generally called), and, upon landing, we were happily met by a middle-aged negro, who had evidently watched our boat from afar. He tumbled off a pile of planks, where he had been basking in the sun, girt his indifferent raiment about him, and then, by sheer force of character, took complete command of our contemplated expedition. It may have been hypnotism, or some kindred mystery, but we were unresisting children in his hands. He said: "Follow me, gem'men: me show you ebb'ryting for nuffing: de 'tanical Garns, de prison-house, de public buildings, de church, an' all. Dis way, dis way, ladies. Don't listen to dem niggers; dey nobody on dis island."

The Doctor alone fought feebly, but it was useless, and, in two minutes, our masterful Ethiop had led us all away to see the sights.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Jefferson, sar; ebb'rybody know Jefferson. Fus', we go to 'tanical Garns. Here dey is."

The Botanical Gardens of Basseterre, St. Kitts, were handsome, extensive, and well cared for. We wandered with pleasure down broad walks, shaded by cabbage palms and palmettos, mahogany and tamarind trees; we admired the fountain and varied foliage and blazing flower-beds, streaked and splashed with many brilliant blossoms and bright-leaved crotons.

"There," said the mother of the Enchantress, pointing to a handsome lily, "is a specimen of Crinum Asiaticum."

The Doctor started as though she had used a bad word. He hates a woman to know anything he does not, and this botanical display irritated him; but our attention was instantly distracted by Jefferson, who, upon hearing the lily admired, walked straight up to it and picked it.

I expostulated. I said:

"You mustn't go plucking curiosities here, Jefferson, or you will get us all into hot water."

"Dat's right, massa," he replied. "Me an' de boss garner great ole frens. De ladies jus' say what dey like, an' Jefferson pick him off for dem."

He was as good as his word, and a fine theatrical display followed, as our party grew gradually bolder and bolder, and our guide, evidently upon his mettle, complied with each request in turn.

I will cast a fragment of the dialogue and action in dramatic form, so that you may the better judge of and picture that wild scene.

THE ENCHANTRESS (timidly): Should you think we might have this tiny flower?

JEFFERSON: I pick him, missy. (Does so.)

THE DOCTOR: I wonder if they'd miss one of those red things? They've got a good number. I believe they're medicinal. Should you think——?

(Jefferson picks two of the flowers in question. The Doctor takes heart.)

THE MOTHER OF THE ENCHANTRESS: Dear me! Here's a singularly fine specimen of the Somethingiensis. I wonder if you——?

(Jefferson picks it.)

THE DOCTOR: We might have that big affair there, hidden away behind those orange trees. Nobody will miss it. I should rather like it for my own.

(Jefferson wrestles with this concern, and the Doctor lends him a knife.)

THE ENCHANTRESS: Oh, there's a sweet, sweet blossom! Might we have that, and that bud, and that bunch of leaves next to them, Monsieur Jefferson?

(Jefferson, evidently feeling he is in for a hard morning's work, makes further onslaught upon the flora, and drags down three parts of an entire tree.)

THE MOTHER OF THE ENCHANTRESS: When you're done there, I will ask you to go into this fountain for one of those blue water-lilies.

(Jefferson, getting rather sick of it, pretends he does not hear.)

THE DOCTOR (speaking in loud tones which Jefferson cannot ignore): Pick that, please, and that, and those things half-way up that tree.

(Jefferson begins to grow very hot and uneasy. He peeps about nervously, probably with a view to dodging his old friend, the head gardener.)

THE CHRONICLER (feeling that his party is disgracing itself, and desiring to reprove them in a parable): I say, Jefferson, could you cut down that palm—the biggest of those two—and have it sent along to the ship? If the head gardener is here, he might help you.

JEFFERSON (losing his temper, missing the parable, and turning upon the Chronicler): No, sar! You no hab no more. I'se dam near pulled off ebb'ryting in de 'tanical Garns, an' I'se goin' right away now 'fore anyfing's said!

(Exit Jefferson rapidly, trying to conceal a mass of foliage under his ragged coat. The party follows him in single file.)


I doubt not that, had we met the head gardener just then, our guide would have lost a friend.

Henceforth, evidently feeling we were not wholly responsible in this foreign atmosphere of wonders, Jefferson stuck to the streets, and took us to churches and shops and other places where we had to control ourselves and leave things alone.

On the way to a photographer's he cooled down and became instructive again. He told us the name and address and bad actions of every white person we met. Society at St. Kitts, from his point of view, appeared to be in an utterly rotten condition. The most reputable clique was his own. We met several of his personal friends. They were generally brown or yellow, and he assured us that he had white blood in him too—a fact we could not possibly have guessed. Presently he grew confidential, and told us that his eldest son was a source of great discomfort to him. At the age of fifteen Jefferson Junior had run away from home and left St. Kitts to better himself at Barbados. Five years afterwards, however, when he had almost passed out of his parents' memory, so Jefferson declared, the young man returned, sick and penniless, to the home of his birth. I said here:

"This is the Prodigal Son story over again, Jefferson. Did you kill the fatted calf, I wonder, and make much of the lad?"

"No, sar," he answered; "didn't kill no fatted nuffing, but I precious near kill de podigal son."

Concerning St. Christopher, we have direct authority, from the immortal and ubiquitous Columbus himself, that it is an island of exceptional advantages; for, delighted with its aspect in 1493, he bestowed his own name upon it. Indeed, the place has a beautiful and imposing appearance. Dark green forests and emerald tracts of sugar-cane now clothe its plains and hills; and Mount Misery, the loftiest peak, rises to a height of over four thousand feet. Caribs were the original inhabitants and possessors of St. Kitts, but when England and France agreed to divide this island between them in 1627, we find the local anthropophagi left out in the cold as usual. After bickering for about sixty years, the French enjoyed a temporary success, and slew their British brother colonists pretty generally. Then Fortune's wheel took a turn, and under the Peace of Utrecht, in 1713, St. Kitts became our property from strand to mountain-top.

There is only one road in this island, I am told, but that is thirty miles long, and extends all round the place. Volcanic indications occur freely on Mount Misery, and, as at Nevis, so here, the entire community may, some day, find itself very uncomfortably situated. A feature of St. Kitts is said to be monkeys, which occur in the woods. These, however, like the deer at Tobago, are more frequently heard of than seen. People were rather alarmed here, during our flying visit, by a form of influenza which settled upon the town of Basseterre; but we, who had only lately come from England, and were familiar with the revolting lengths to which this malady will go in cold climes, reassured them, and laughed their puny tropical species to scorn. Finally, of St. Kitts, I would say: From information received in the first case, and from personal experience in the second, that there you shall find sugar culture in most approved and advanced perfection, and purchase walking-sticks of bewildering variety and beauty.

The ladies of our party decreed they had no wish to visit the gaol—a decision on their part which annoyed Jefferson considerably. He explained that the St. Kitts prison-house was, perhaps, better worth seeing than anything on the island; he also added that a book was kept there in which we should be invited to write our names and make remarks. They were proof, however, against even this inducement; and, having seen the church—a very English building, with homely little square tower—we left our Enchantress and her parent at the photographer's, to make such purchases as seemed good to them, and await our return.

In this picture-shop, by the way, the Doctor grew almost boisterously delighted over a deplorable representation of negro lepers. Young and old, male and female, halt and maimed, the poor sufferers had been photographed in a long row; and my brother secured the entire panorama of them and whined for more. These lamentable representations of lepers gave him keener pleasure than anything he had seen since we left the Trinidad Hospital. In future, when we reached a new port, he would always hurry off to photographers' shops, where they existed, and simply clamour for lepers.

I asked Jefferson, as we proceeded to the prison, whether he thought we should be allowed to peer about among the inner secrets of the place, and he answered: "You see ebb'ryting, sar; de head p'liceman great ole fren' of mine."

My brother said:

"You seem to know all the best people in St. Kitts, Jefferson."

And he admitted that it was so. He replied:

"Jefferson 'quainted wid ebb'rybody, an' ebb'rybody 'quainted wid Jefferson."

Which put his position in a nutshell.

The prison was not very impressive viewed from outside, being but a mere mean black and white building, with outer walls which experienced criminals at home would have smiled at. We rang a noisy bell, and were allowed to enter upon the demand of Jefferson.

Four sinners immediately met our gaze. They sat pensively breaking stones in a wide courtyard. A building, with barred windows, threw black shade upon the blazing white ground of this open space; and here, shielded from the sun, the convicts reclined and made a show of work. Jefferson, with rather a lack of delicate feeling, drew up before this little stone-breaking party and beamed upon it. The Doctor and I walked past and tried to look as though we saw nobody, but our guide did not choose that we should miss the most interesting thing in the place thus.

"Look har, gem'men; see dese prisoners breakin' stones."

"All right, all right," answered my brother; "push on; don't stand staring there. We haven't come to gloat over those poor devils."

But I really think the culprits were as disappointed as Jefferson. They evidently felt that they were the most important part of the entire spectacle, and rather resented being passed over.

"You won't see no more prisoners, if you don't look at dese, sar," answered Jefferson. "Dar's only terrible few convics in de gaol jus' now."

"So much the better," answered the unsympathetic Doctor.

It certainly appeared to be a most lonely and languishing place of incarceration. We inspected the cells, and observed in one of them a peculiar handle fastened against the wall. This proved to be a West Indian substitute for the treadmill. The turning of the handle can be made easy or difficult by an arrangement of screws without the cell. The affair is set for a certain number of revolutions, and a warder explained to us that where hard labour has been meted to a prisoner, he spends long, weary hours struggling with this apparatus and earning his meals. When the necessary number of turns are completed, a bell rings, and one can easily picture the relief in many an erring black man's heart upon the sound of it. At another corner of the courtyard was piled a great heap of cannon-balls. These were used for shot-drill—an arduous form of exercise calculated to tame the wildest spirit and break the strongest back. The whitewashed cells were wonderfully clean and wholesome—more so, in fact, than most public apartments I saw elsewhere in the West Indies. This effect may be produced in some measure by the absolute lack of household goods and utensils, pictures or bric-a-brac. In fact, the only piece of furniture I could find anywhere was a massive wooden tripod, used for flogging prisoners upon.

Then we went in to have a chat with the Superintendent. He was rather nervous and downcast, and apparently feared that we had formed a poor opinion of his gaol. He apologised quite humbly for the paucity of prisoners, and explained that times were bad, and there was little or nothing doing in the criminal world of St. Kitts. He really did not know what had come to the place lately. He perfectly remembered, in the good old days, having had above fifty prisoners at a time in his hands. Why, blacks had been hung there before now. But of late days business grew to be a mere farce. If anybody did do anything of a capitally criminal nature at St. Kitts, during the next twenty years or so, he very much doubted if the authorities would permit him to carry the affair through. His opinion was that an assassin would be taken away altogether and bestowed upon Antigua. I asked him how he accounted for such a stagnation in crime, and he answered, rather bitterly, that the churches and chapels and Moravian missions had to be thanked for it. There were far too many of them. Ordinary human instincts were frustrated at every turn. Little paltry sects of nobodies filled their tin meeting-houses Sunday after Sunday, and yet an important Government institution, like the gaol, remained practically empty. He could not understand it. At the rate things were going, it would be necessary to shut his prison up altogether in a year's time. Certainly, one of his present charges—a man he felt proud of in every way—was sentenced to penal servitude for life, and had only lately made a determined attempt to escape. But he could hardly expect the Government to keep up an entire gaol, with warders and a Superintendent and everything, for one man, however wicked he might be. I tried to cheer him up, and spoke hopefully about the natural depravity of everything human. I said:

"You must look forward. The Powers of Evil are by no means played out yet. Black sheep occur in every fold. After periods of drought, seasons of great plenty frequently ensue. There should be magnificent raw material in this island, which will presently mature and keep you as busy as a bee."

"Dar's my son, too," said Jefferson, encouragingly; "I'se pretty sure you hab him 'fore long."

Then the man grew slightly more sanguine, and asked if we should care to sign his book, and make a few remarks in it before departing.

"Of course I know it's only a small prison at best," he said, deferentially.

"As to that," answered the Doctor, speaking for himself, "I have certainly been in a great many bigger ones, but never in any house of detention better conducted and cleaner kept than yours. You deserve more ample recognition. I should judge you to be a man second to none in your management of malefactors. For my part, I will assuredly write this much in your book."

The volume was produced, and my brother sat down and expatiated about the charms and advantages of St. Kitts prison-house. He filled half a page with complimentary and irresponsible criticism; then he handed the book to me. The Superintendent said that he should take it as particularly kind if, in my remarks, I would insert a good word for the drainage system. Advised by the Doctor that I might do so with truth and justice, I wrote as follows:

"A remarkably clean, ably-managed, and well-ordered establishment, with an admirable staff of officials, a gratifying scarcity of evil-doers, and particularly happy sanitary arrangements."

Then we went off to rejoin the Enchantress and her mother, and see further sights during the brief time which now remained at our disposal. The ladies had completed their purchases, and with them we now traversed extended portions of the town, and visited a negro colony, where thatched roofs peeped out from among tattered plantain leaves, and rustic cottages hid in the shade of tamarind and orange, lime and cocoanut. The lazy folks lounged about, chewing sugar-cane and munching bananas, according to their pleasant custom. The men chattered, and the women prattled and played with their yellow and ebony babies. One saw no ambition, no proper pride, no obtrusive morality anywhere. Jefferson appeared to be a personage in these parts. He marched along saluting his many friends and smoking a cigar which the Doctor had given him. He stopped occasionally to crack a joke or offer advice; and when we came to any negro or negress whose history embraced a matter of interest, Jefferson would stop and lecture upon the subject, while he or she stood and grinned and admitted his remarks were unquestionably true. As a rule, instead of grinning, they ought to have wept, for Jefferson's anecdotes and scraps of private scandals led me to fear that about ninety-nine in a hundred of his cronies ought to be under lock and key, in spite of what the prison authorities had told us.

Then we came down through a slum and found ourselves by the sea, upon a long, level beach of dark sand. The pier stood half-a-mile ahead, and we now determined to proceed without further delay to the boats, return to the "Rhine," and safely bestow our curiosities before she sailed. Apprised of this intention, Jefferson prepared to take leave of our party. He assured me that it had given him very considerable pleasure to thus devote his morning hours to our service. He trusted that we were satisfied with his efforts, and hinted that, though he should not dream of levying any formal charge, yet some trifling and negotiable memento of us would not be misunderstood or give him the least offence. We rewarded him adequately, thanked him much for all his trouble, and hoped that, when next we visited St. Kitts, his cheerful face might be the first to meet us. He answered:

"Please God, gem'men, I be at de pier-head when next you come 'long. Anyhow, you ask for Jefferson." Then, blessing us without stint, he departed.

And here I am reluctantly compelled to reprove the white and tawny-coloured inhabitants of St. Kitts for a breach of good manners. Boat-loads of gentlemen from shore crowded the "Rhine," like locusts, during her short stay at this island. They inundated the saloon bar, scrambled for seats at the luncheon-table, and showed a wild eagerness to eat and drink for nothing, which was most unseemly. One would have imagined that these worthy folks only enjoyed a hearty meal upon the occasional visits of a steamer; for after they had done with us they all rowed off to a neighbouring vessel, and boarded her in like manner, swarming up her sides to see what they could devour. That the intelligent male population of an island should come off to the ships, and chat with acquaintances and hear the latest news and enlarge its mind, is rational enough; but that it should organise greedy raids upon the provisions, and get in the way of the crew and passengers, and eat up refreshments which it is not justified in even approaching, appears to me unrefined, if not absolutely vulgar.

Leprosy and gluttony are the prevailing disorders at St. Kitts. The first is, unfortunately, incurable, but the second might easily be remedied, and should be. All that the white inhabitants need is a shade more self-control in the matter of other people's food, then they will be equal to the best of their brothers at home or abroad.

That afternoon the subject of influenza formed a principal theme in the smoking-room of the "Rhine." Our Fourth Officer said:

"Probably I am better qualified to discuss it than any of you men; for, two years ago, I had a most violent attack of Russian influenza in Russia. Mere English, suburban influenza is child's-play by comparison. I suffered at Odessa on the Black Sea, and my temperature went up to just under two hundred, and I singed the bed-clothes. A friend of mine, an old shipmate, had it at the same place; and his temperature went considerably over two hundred, and he set his bed-clothes on fire and was burnt to death, being too weak to escape."

This reminiscence would seem to show that our Fourth Officer has at last exhausted his supplies of facts, and will now no doubt fall back on reserves of fiction; which, judged from this sample, are probably very extensive. Though few mariners turn novelists, yet it is significant, as showing the great bond of union between seafaring life and pure imagination, that those who have done so can point to most gratifying results.

My First Book.




As it is scarcely two years since my name (which, I hear, is a nom de plume) appeared in print on the cover of a book, I may be suspected of professional humour when I say I really do not know which was my first book. Yet such is the fact. My literary career has been so queer that I find it not easy to write my autobibliography.

"What is a pound?" asked Sir Robert Peel in an interrogative mood futile as Pilate's. "What is a book?" I ask, and the dictionary answers with its usual dogmatic air, "A collection of sheets of paper, or similar material, blank, written, or printed, bound together." At this rate my first book would be that romance of school life in two volumes, which, written in a couple of exercise books, circulated gratuitously in the schoolroom, and pleased our youthful imaginations with teacher-baiting tricks we had not the pluck to carry out in the actual. I shall always remember this story because, after making the tour of the class, it was returned to me with thanks and a new first page from which all my graces of style had evaporated. Indignant enquiry discovered the criminal—he admitted he had lost the page, and had rewritten it from memory. He pleaded that it was better written (which in one sense was true), and that none of the facts had been omitted.

This ill-treated tale was "published" when I was ten, but an old schoolfellow recently wrote to me reminding me of an earlier novel written in an old account book. Of this I have no recollection, but, as he says he wrote it day by day at my dictation, I suppose he ought to know. I am glad to find I had so early achieved the distinction of keeping an amanuensis.

The dignity of print I achieved not much later, contributing verses and virtuous essays to various juvenile organs. But it was not till I was eighteen that I achieved a printed first book. The story of this first book is peculiar; and, to tell it in approved story form, I must request the reader to come back two years with me.

One fine day, when I was sixteen, I was wandering about the Ramsgate sands looking for Toole. I did not really expect to see him, and I had no reason to believe he was in Ramsgate, but I thought if providence were kind to him it might throw him in my way. I wanted to do him a good turn. I had written a three-act farcical comedy at the request of an amateur dramatic club. I had written out all the parts, and I think there were rehearsals. But the play was never produced. In the light of after knowledge I suspect some of those actors must have been of quite professional calibre. You understand, therefore, why my thoughts turned to Toole. But I could not find Toole. Instead, I found on the sands a page of a paper called Society. It is still running merrily at a penny, but at that time it had also a Saturday edition at threepence. On this page was a great prize-competition scheme, as well as details of a regular weekly competition. The competitions in those days were always literary and intellectual, but then popular education had not made such strides as to-day.

I sat down on the spot, and wrote something which took a prize in the weekly competition. This emboldened me to enter for the great stakes.

There were various events. I resolved to enter for two. One was a short novel, and the other a comedietta. The "L5 humorous story" competition I did not go in for; but when the last day of sending in MSS. for that had passed, I reproached myself with not having despatched one of my manuscripts. Modesty had prevented me sending in old work, as I felt assured it would stand no chance, but when it was too late I was annoyed with myself for having thrown away a possibility. After all I could have lost nothing. Then I discovered that I had mistaken the last date, and that there was still a day. In the joyful reaction I selected a story called "Professor Grimmer," and sent it in. Judge of my amazement when this got the prize (L5), and was published in serial form, running through three numbers of Society. Last year, at a press dinner, I found myself next to Mr. Arthur Goddard, who told me he had acted as Competition Editor, and that quite a number of now well-known people had taken part in these admirable competitions. My painfully laboured novel only got honourable mention, and my comedietta was lost in the post.

But I was now at the height of literary fame, and success stimulated me to fresh work. I still marvel when I think of the amount of rubbish I turned out in my seventeenth and eighteenth years, in the scanty leisure of a harassed pupil-teacher at an elementary school, working hard in the evenings for a degree at the London University to boot. There was a fellow pupil-teacher (let us call him Y.) who believed in me, and who had a little money with which to back his belief. I was for starting a comic paper. The name was to be Grimaldi, and I was to write it all every week.

"But don't you think your invention would give way ultimately?" asked Y. It was the only time he ever doubted me.

"By that time I shall be able to afford a staff," I replied triumphantly.

Y. was convinced. But before the comic paper was born, Y. had another happy thought. He suggested that if I wrote a Jewish story, we might make enough to finance the comic paper. I was quite willing. If he had suggested an epic, I should have written it.

So I wrote the story in four evenings (I always write in spurts), and within ten days from the inception of the idea the booklet was on sale in a coverless pamphlet form. The printing cost ten pounds. I paid five (the five I had won), Y. paid five, and we divided the profits. He has since not become a publisher.

My first book (price one penny nett) went well. It was loudly denounced by Jews, and widely bought by them; it was hawked about the streets. One little shop in Whitechapel sold four hundred copies. It was even on Smith's book-stalls. There was great curiosity among Jews to know the name of the writer. Owing to my anonymity, I was enabled to see those enjoying its perusal, who were afterwards to explain to me their horror and disgust at its illiteracy and vulgarity. By vulgarity vulgar Jews mean the reproduction of the Hebrew words with which the poor and the old-fashioned interlard their conversation. It is as if English-speaking Scotchmen and Irishmen should object to "dialect" novels reproducing the idiom of their "uncultured" countrymen. I do not possess a copy of my first book, but somehow or other I discovered the MS. when writing Children of the Ghetto. The description of market-day in Jewry was transferred bodily from the MS. of my first book, and is now generally admired.

What the profits were I never knew, for they were invested in the second of our publications. Still jealously keeping the authorship secret, we published a long comic ballad which I had written on the model of Bab. With this we determined to launch out in style, and so we had gorgeous advertisement posters printed in three colours, which were to be stuck about London to beautify that great dreary city. Y. saw the back-hair of Fortune almost within our grasp.

One morning our headmaster walked into my room with a portentously solemn air. I felt instinctively that the murder was out. But he only said "Where is Y.?" though the mere coupling of our names was ominous, for our publishing partnership was unknown. I replied, "How should I know? In his room, I suppose."

He gave me a peculiar sceptical glance.

"When did you last see Y.?" he said.

"Yesterday afternoon," I replied wonderingly.

"And you don't know where he is now?"

"Haven't an idea—isn't he in school?"

"No," he replied in low, awful tones.

"Where then?" I murmured.

"In prison!"

"In prison," I gasped.

"In prison; I have just been to help bail him out."

It transpired that Y. had suddenly been taken with a further happy thought. Contemplation of those gorgeous tricoloured posters had turned his brain, and, armed with an amateur paste-pot and a ladder, he had sallied forth at midnight to stick them about the silent streets, so as to cut down the publishing expenses. A policeman, observing him at work, had told him to get down, and Y., being legal-minded, had argued it out with the policeman de haut en bas from the top of his ladder. The outraged majesty of the law thereupon haled Y. off to the cells.

Naturally the cat was now out of the bag, and the fat in the fire.

To explain away the poster was beyond the ingenuity of even a professed fiction-monger.

Straightway the committee of the school was summoned in hot haste, and held debate upon the scandal of a pupil-teacher being guilty of originality. And one dread afternoon, when all Nature seemed to hold its breath, I was called down to interview a member of the committee. In his hand were copies of the obnoxious publications.

I approached the great person with beating heart. He had been kind to me in the past, singling me out, on account of some scholastic successes, for an annual vacation at the seaside. It has only just struck me, after all these years, that, if he had not done so, I should not have found the page of Society, and so not have perpetrated the deplorable compositions.

In the course of a bad quarter of an hour, he told me that the ballad was tolerable, though not to be endured; he admitted the metre was perfect, and there wasn't a single false rhyme. But the prose novelette was disgusting. "It is such stuff," said he, "as little boys scribble up on walls."

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