HotFreeBooks.com
Border Ghost Stories
by Howard Pease
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The glass was set in heavy leaded panes, which were so engrained with the grime of centuries that we could discern nothing through them.

'We must search for the wizard's cell from below,' I said. 'If we cannot discover it there we must return and break in from above.'

'Yes,' agreed Dick, 'it would be a pity to smash the roof in if we can find an entry below without causing damage.'

The orientation was now easy, and as we studied the position from the parapet we could select the towelled window below which fitted best with the position of the glass roof.

The curious thing was that the window was not situated in the centre, but at the side of the torn up lead.

'We'll find out the reason below,' I said, as we descended in great excitement, hastening on our quest.

The room we made for was one of the disused chambers on the top storey, which we had remarked for its narrowness when we broke the window and thrust a towel through.

'There must be a secret passage,' cried Dick, as he flashed his torch upon the walls; 'we're not below the glass; we're to the right hand of it. Wherefore search the left wall.'

Dick's inference seemed excellent, and full of eagerness I tapped with my knife, he with his poker, all along the western wall.

'There's a hollow here,' cried Dick, overjoyed, as his poker rang with a strange lightness. 'Let's hunt for an opening or crack, or some betraying sign.'

'Here! Look here!' he shouted. 'I believe this stone pulls out.'

Hastening to his side and applying my knife to the thin ragged crevice he had discovered, I found the stone was loose. I worked feverishly while Dick held the torch. 'Now it's coming!' I cried, and even as I spoke it fell forward and crashed on to the floor. To us scrutinising the aperture, there seemed evidently a spring or catch concealed behind it.

Thrusting in my arm I pressed it home. A creak sounded; there was a rusty wheeze, and a portion of the wall seemed to shake and move slowly inwards.

'We've got it!' yelled Dick, as he pressed his shoulder against the receding portion, 'it's a wooden door covered over with thin slabs of stone.'

'Forrard!' cried Dick. 'Forrard on!' and as he shouted he pressed forward down a narrow, dusty aperture towards a chamber beyond where a dim light showed through the begrimed roof above.

I pressed on hotly at his heels through the six feet of passage. We were now within the threshold of the secret cell. But what was that horrible thing beneath the dim sky-light? Dick's electric torch was failing, and we could not see distinctly, and a very oppression of fear seized upon us both. What was the gruesome object in front that resembled a dead octopus with decayed black arms?

There was a sickly taint in the air, and as I stood there fascinated by fear Dick took a step forward and threw the faint light of his torch upon the atrocious figure.

Surely it was a gorilla grasping its victim, and bending it in to itself as in some horrid act of rape!

Dick advanced yet another foot. Then I perceived that it was worse even than I suspected, for I now distinguished a giant species of Nepenthes (Nepenthes Ferocissimus) most monstrously developed, clutching in its long arms and horrid ascidiums the remains of a human victim—apparently a woman—for a gleam of yellow satin showed beneath the black embrace. Good God! I thought of the 'fisherman's daughter' with a shudder.

I heard the torch drop. Then came a rustling shiver. The monstrous growth had sunk to the floor under pressure of the fresh air!

I thought I had fainted, but the next moment I felt Dick's hand shaking upon my sleeve, and heard a voice quaver in my ear:

'Let's get out of this! It's altogether too damned beastly.'



'MUCKLE-MOUTHED MEG'

'Hang him, Provost!'[1] cried the Town Clerk; 'he was caught red-handed; i' the verra manner, makin' awa aff wi' a quey o' your ain frae oor Common.'

'Fear God, Provost,' exhorted the Burgh Chamberlain, astonished at the Provost's hesitancy, 'but ne'er a North Tyne Robson.'

'Ay,' rang out a dozen voices from the crowd assembled in front of the Provost's house in Hawick, 'mak him "kiss the woodie"; let the prood Northumbrian thief cool his heels i' the wind!'

'Up wi' him!' cried Madge wi' the Fiery Face, who had just been loosed from the 'jougs,' wherein she had been confined for 'kenspeckle incontinence.' 'Up wi' the clarty callant! Let him swing like a corby craa i' a taty patch!'

But the canny wife of the Provost, douce man, plucked him by the sleeve. 'Dod! man,' she whispered him in the ear, 'he's a braw chield for a' that. Bethink you o' oor "Muckle-Mouthed Meg," that ne'er a Tery[2] will wed wi' withoot a handsome tocher! Aweel, let him wed wi' her the noo "ower the tangs" an' ride awa wi' her on his saddle-bow. 'Twere pity to hang sic a handsome chield as he is an' no mak use o' him as a son-in-law, even if he be ane o' the "auld enemy."'

The Provost looked anew upon the careless, intrepid young Northumbrian, who seemed not to care a bodle for his imminent fate. He regarded his proposed son-in-law approvingly, for he was the pure type of North Tyne Borderer—of medium stature, but finely formed, with tanned complexion, tawny moustache and ruddy hair, keen blue eye and oval face—most pleasant to look upon. 'Aweel,' concluded the Provost, 'we wull gie him the chance.'

'Look ye,' he addressed himself to the captive, 'the guidwife is verra tender hairted: she disna care to see ye trail i' the wind, but will offer ye Meg, oor daughter, instead o' the halter ye hae truly earned. Ye can tak Meg—an' your life as her tocher.'

Robson's proud determination to accept his fate and suffer silently as became a hardy Northumbrian wavered a little.

He was but twenty-five years of age, and life was very sweet to him. He thought of the merry moonlight, of the joys of riding, and the fierce excitements of the foray with passionate desire. The old song of the Borderers was ringing in his ears:

'Sweet is the sound o' the driven steers And sweet the gleam o' the moonlit spears, When the red cock crows o'er byre and store And the Borderer rides on his foraying splore.'

He looked from the tail of his eye upon 'Meg wi' the muckle mouth.' No beauty certainly, but 'twas fighting he craved, not women. Yet she was not ill-natured, he surmised—the 'muckle mouth' signified good temper; 'twas far better than a 'muckle tongue'—she would do at a pinch as his housekeeper.

Meg meanwhile on her part was also eyeing him askance. He was a handsome gallant surely! Her heart longed for the canty fellow. Yet if he showed the least sign of disdain he should go hang for her.

Robson now looked directly upon her. 'Well, Meg,' he decided swiftly, 'I'll take ye'; then he added in a flash of understanding, 'if ye'll take me.' His tact triumphed. With a ready smile that stretched almost from ear to ear Meg surrendered herself joyfully.

'Ay, my lad, I'll tak ye,' she replied on the instant.

The crowd now broke into a boisterous 'hooray,' as keen for the wedding as a moment before they had been eident for the funeral. 'Bring oot the tangs!' they vociferated loudly. A pair of tongs were at once produced, and under the direction of the blacksmith the captive and the woman held hands, and took each other for man and wife.

The 'handfasting' thus concluded, 'Ye hae forgot the bride ale!' cried many voices. 'We mun drink their health, Provost, ye ken. Bring oot the ale, canny man!' 'Ay, or clairt,' suggested a thin-faced scrivener. 'A mutchkin o' usquebaugh for ilka man,' shouted a burly flesher, ''tis mair heartenin'.'

The Provost turned a little pale at their unforeseen demand: he almost regretted his consent to the wedding. Then he recollected that there was a firkin of home-brewed in the cellar that a recent thunderstorm had turned sour, and his brow grew clear. 'Bring oot the pickle firkin,' he bade his man, 'an' serve it around.'

So with a taste of sour ale in their mouths man and wife rode forth from Hawick the airt of Peel Fell.

Robson's good mare—her head turned homeward—went forward at a good trot and recked little of her double burden.

'What ails ye?' inquired Robson shortly, feeling that his bride was shaking in curious fashion behind him on her pillion.

'I was juist laughin',' responded Meg, 'at oor venture, for here we are newly marrit an' I dinna even ken your name richtly; ye are a Robson, I ken, an' "Wudspurs" is your toname, but whatten's your hame name?'

'My father and mother aye called me Si,' responded Robson. 'Ye can call me that, an' ye like.'

Meg kept silence a while, then she said coaxingly, 'Si is a pretty name eneuch; 'tis short an' sweet; gie me a kiss, Si,' she wheedled, with a gentle clasp about his waist.

'I'll kiss ye when we win home,' replied her husband cautiously.

'But just ae kiss—to gang on wi',' coaxed Meg further.

Si turned half about and smacked his wife upon her rosy cheek, which seemingly he found satisfactory.

'Plenty more for ye when we sit i' the ingle neuk together the night,' he said.

Meg, enchanted at this prospect, said no more, but looked about her as they rode up the Slitrig water.

They could see the twisted horn of Pencrist and the round Maiden Paps on their right hand, and on their left bare Carlin Tooth on the outermost edge of Carter Bar; they were soon out upon the bare moorlands that stretch away to the water of Tyne on the one side and to the waters of Liddle on the other.

As they slowly ascended by the skirts of Peel Fell Meg broke the silence again.

'Ye arena marrit a'ready?' she inquired, as a sudden suspicion assailed her.

'No fears,' retorted Si with conviction.

'Weel, ye are the noo,' said Meg to herself, slightly increasing her hold on her man.

'Then wha is 't that fends for ye?' she asked further.

'I hae an old wife—the shepherd's—that bides with me,' replied Si.

'She'll no' fend for ye the way I can,' returned Meg, 'for I can bake an' mak ye sowans, scones, brose, kail o' all kinds, an' parritch.'

'I'd be fain o' some here and now,' replied Si,[3] 'for ye are not very hospitable in Hawick. A sup sour ale's all I've had since I took the fell yestreen.'

'Puir laddie!' said Meg sympathetically. 'There was sic an unco carfuffle that I had clean forgot the vivers.' Then, preparing to descend from the pillion, she proposed that they should get down and walk so as to ease the mare up the fell.

Si, highly approving her thoughtfulness, jumped down and led the mare with bridle drawn over her head through the flows and mosses above the Deadwater of Tyne.

'Ye can almost see my bit biggin',' said Si, as he halted and pointed eastward of Larriston Fell to a patch of black peat and heather high on the rolling moorland.

''Tis gey ootbye,' said Meg; 'clean aff the map a'thegither.'

'It's caad whiles outside i' the wunter,' admitted Si, 'yet i' the but wi' aad Maud the collie an' her litter, Dand the shepherd, an' Sall his wife about the blazing peats on the hearth ye'll be warmer an' cosier than the Queen of Scotland.'

'There wull be a muckle ghaists aboot?' inquired Meg, as she gazed anxiously upon the wild expanse of moor, grasslands, and bog that stretched away, boundless as the sea, to an infinite horizon.

'There's nowt but the "wee grey man" o' the moor,' replied Si unconcernedly; 'there's no harm in him; he will whiles even help up a "cassen" yowe (ewe). Not but what there's the "Bargeist"—he's mestitched, yet red thread i' your mutch and a branch o' the rowan tree will keep him awa nicelies. And Dand kens fine how to fettle him whether by day or night—

"Rowan tree and red thread gar the witches come ill speed."

'Mount again now, my lass,' he added, 'for we ha' crossed the water o' North Tyne, and will win home to the "Bower" cheeks by the gloaming.'

As the good mare pressed on unweariedly bridegroom and bride rode up to the 'yett' of 'the Bower' in the late twilight. On hearing the mare's shoes ring on the cobbles beside the gate the old shepherd, who had evidently been waiting, expectant of his master's return, came hirpling out in haste. Then seeing the strange figure seated behind his master he stood stock still in astonishment.

'Whatten's this gear ye ha' lifted the noo?' he finally inquired, when he had found his voice.

''Tis a wife I ha' lifted from Hawick town,' cried Si gaily, as he leapt from his mare, overjoyed to be at home again.

''Twould be i' the dark then?' suggested Dand, his eye fascinated by the 'muckle mouth,' 'or belike in an ower great haste ye lifted the first "yowe" (ewe) ye cam' across?'

''Twas in broad daylight,' retorted Si, catching him a friendly buffet on the shoulder. 'Ye would ne'er ha' seen your master again had it no' been for Meg,' and as he helped her down he briefly narrated his adventure.

'Aweel,' commented Dand to himself, shaking his head the while, as he led the mare to the byre, 'I'm nane so sure but I would ha' juist pit up wi' the hangin'.' Then he added aloud, 'The wife will be sair vext when she sees the Scots heifer ye ha' ridden back wi'.'

Meg's good-nature, however, her willingness to help, and her skill in cooking soon triumphed over Sall's ill-humour, and peace reigned within the 'but' as supper was being made ready that evening.

Afterwards within the 'ben,' sitting cheek by jowl upon a rough bench beside the peats the Northumbrian bridegroom, and the Scots bride found much to content them, either with the other, whilst Maud the collie, who had stolen in with them, looked with resentment in her soft brown liquid eyes upon the strange woman who had so unexpectedly taken her place with the master, and might have been seen to frown when Si redeemed his promise of 'plenty mair' to 'Meg' on their ride home to 'the Bower.'

'The Bower,' as Si had christened his dwelling—originally a shepherd's sheiling—had recently been enlarged by the addition of the 'ben' and a room above the 'but,' so that the building had the look of a lop-sided, rough peel tower.

With help of his brothers down the water and a mason from Falstone Si had run a dry-stone dyke—strengthened with fir tree trunks—round about for the protection of his sheep and nowt in the event of a foray, and was as pleased with 'the Bower' as Lord William Howard with Naworth. 'Twas a quaint name enough, for 'the Bower' stood on the true march line of the naked Border, and in the very haunt and playground of the winds. Not only was it obnoxious to the winds, but equally exposed to raiding from Scotland, as also to the 'broken men' of 'the Waste,' for it stood erect above the Lewis Burn where it flows forth from Hells-bottom on the edge of Coplestone, where the Liddesdale fells join hands with those of Cumbrian Bewcastle.

Yet Si had prospered, for his 'grayne' befriended him, and as for the fierce reivers from Liddesdale, why, he would ride with them so long as they ran their forays into Cumberland or Scotland and not within North Tyne.

And now the 'Hunters' Moon' was up, waxing nightly, and proclaiming to all about the Borderland that the customary truce of summer was over, and the time of the crowing of the 'Red Cock' was at hand.

Danger, however, came not from Scotland in the first instance, but from England, as it happened.

The tale of Si's marriage had soon got wind upon the Border, and proved occasion for many a jest and gibe far and wide, and when it came to the ears of the Land Sergeant of Gilsland he scented opportunity of revenge for a 'lick' on the head he had received in a fray with the Robsons when they drove a foray into South Tyne a few months bygone.

''Tis matter of march treason,' he said, when he heard of Si's means of escape from the Hawick halter. 'Whether he be married or no signifieth not, for all intercommuning with the Scots is clean against Border law. 'Tis a matter for the Lord Warden's court, and a hanging matter at that. Ay, "Merry Carlisle" will fit him fine.'

Thus devising his revenge he determined to act at once. Taking two of his men with him he rode up by the edge of 'the Waste' towards Coplestone Fell, with intent to capture Si, or, should he evade capture, to leave a citation at 'the Bower' for his appearance at the next meeting of the Lord Wardens on account of notorious breakage of the Border law.

But Si had already been made aware of his enemy's intention, and had instructed Meg how to act in such an emergency, for it might well be that trouble would come when he was out looking after a 'hogging' he had of 'blackfaces' that were pasturing above the Forks, where the Lewis Burn and Oakenshaw Burn mate. The season of the foray had opened and flocks must be guarded by day and night. One afternoon when Si had ridden down to the Forks to relieve Dand, Meg stood by the 'yett,' expectant of the old shepherd's return, and watchful of enemies. As she turned her gaze southward she was suddenly aware of three figures clearly tricked out against the grey sky above the further fell: their silhouettes showed like midges dapped against the window by a boy, and Meg could see that the centaurs were coming forward on a fair round trot in Indian file. She could not distinguish at the distance horse from rider, but she could note the pose of the horse's head, and the movement against the sky-line. 'Three-quarters of an hour,' commented the gazer. 'Good going on the fell top, evil wi' peat hags, flows, an' gairs below.'

She looked eastward, and there saw to her infinite relief old Dand coming slowly up the track on the ancient pony. Then, after having gone within to make certain preparations, she set out on a brisk step to meet Dand. Dand had quickened his pace when he too saw the three black silhouettes above, and met his mistress within two yards of the dry-stone walling.

A very animated conversation took place between the two, and by the time they reached the door cheeks of 'the Bower' they seemed to have settled their scheme of strategy satisfactorily, for either turned away from other with a wink o' the eye.

The strange riders had dismounted and walked their horses through the peat hags and mosses, but now were up again, and pressing on to the 'yett.' The foremost rider—the Land Sergeant—knocked heavily on the door with the butt of his lance and demanded to see 'Robson o' the Bower i' the name o' my Lord Warden.'

'He's no' within,' cried Meg in return. 'Whatten want ye at him?'

Then she slowly slid back the bar, and, opening the door partly, stood in the space thus afforded, her hands upon her hip bones.

'So you're the Scots lass he brought back with him from Hawick,' said the Land Sergeant, after a cool survey of Meg's features. 'Doubtless there was great provocation,' he added with a grin, 'but he broke the Border laws, my lass, and must answer for 't. Intercommuning with the Scots is absolutely forbidden, and is punishable with death. So, my lass, I advise ye to slip away home as fast as Robson's mare or shanks's nag will carry ye. Meantime I must search the house for your man, and if I cannot find him I'll leave a citation for the Lord Wardens' meeting with ye for Robson.'

'When Si,' retorted Meg very deliberately, 'intercommunes wi' me, as ye ca' it,' here the 'muckle-mouth' expanded east and west, 'he intercommunes wi' me i' Scotland, an' there ye haena ony power ower him or me. The Bower is biggit on the verra march line,' she explained, 'an' the ben is ower on the Scots side whaur we intercommune,' and Meg, with her arms akimbo and her mouth on the grin, contemplated her enemy in scornful triumph.

'Here! take ye this citation,' cried the Land Sergeant in his wrath, for he heard an echo of Meg's laughter proceed from his men behind him, handing the parchment slip to her as he spoke.

Meg, however, instead of taking it, shouted a loud and mysterious summons to assistance. 'Oot an' at 'im; oot an' at 'im, Bargeist! Hoop, holla, Bargeist!' then slammed to the door.

A few seconds only elapsed when there came round the corner a strange mischancy creature, with loose hide and hanging horns, long tail and clattering hoofs. Scrambling very swiftly forward it shook its shaggy head in an angry roar, and edged its horns sharply against the Land Sergeant's nearest man.

'Come awa, Sergeant; come awa,' cried the fellow in terror. ''Tis the Bargeist, the Bargeist! Ye can fight against thae devils if ye like, but I'll no',' and therewith clapping in his spurs he turned his horse's head and fled down the path without ever a glance behind him.

His fellow—a trifle braver—stood his ground a few seconds longer, but when his horse caught sight of the fearsome threatening horns beneath his belly he shied violently, then bolted after his companion.

At this moment out came Meg with a glowing poker.

'This wull shift ye, if the Bargeist disna,' she cried, as she lunged at the Land Sergeant's mare and caught her fair upon the near buttock.

With a muffled skreigh the mare leapt forward, seized the bit 'twixt her teeth, and ventre a terre pursued the others in spite of her rider's remonstrances.

Some half a mile away the three men succeeded in pulling up their horses, and debated with some heat what had best be done. The Land Sergeant was for going back to the Bower to search for Robson, but his two men were for going home with all speed. As they were hotly debating this the Land Sergeant descried a solitary horseman coming up the track from the eastward, and a sudden light gleamed in his eye.

'Hi!' he cried sharply. 'Here's "Wudspurs" for a ducat! Take cover, and, when I whistle, on to him like a brock!'

'Twas Si himself that was riding gaily up the water, for he had disposed of his 'hogging' to a grazier from Hexham at a good price, and was now bethinking him whence he had best re-stock his farm—whether from Cumberland or Scotland.

He was just fixing upon Cumberland when a sharp whistle smote on his ear, and three figures rising forth of some brackens were instantly upon him. The foremost figure was afoot, with dag in his hand ready presented; the other two were mounting their horses, their lances in their hands. Si's mind cleared in a flash. Shouting aloud, 'Dand! to me! Help!' he charged the footman fiercely. 'Pouff!' said the dag feebly, and a bullet grazed the horse's withers. The horse, rearing up, struck out and caught the fellow on the forehead with his iron-shod hoof, driving him to earth, where Si pierced him through with his lance. The other two men now circled warily round him—the one barring escape eastward, the other keeping him from his home. Either was 'waiting on' like a hawk before a favouring chance. But now two further figures appeared upon the scene. Dand with a whinger and Meg with her glowing brand came speeding to their master's rescue. The Land Sergeant and his man bore down upon Si with lances levelled in haste, hoping to dispatch him out of hand.

Si wheeled and turned his horse so swiftly that he surprised his nearest foe, and 'instantly stooped' upon him. He caught him, turned half about, and ran him through the hip, and dragged him from his saddle. But his lance's head was twisted, he could not free it, and the Land Sergeant bore down on him with gleaming spear. Just as Si thought he was transfixed something interposed, a sigh or groan was heard; then Si was on the ground, kneeling beside his wife whose life-blood a spear head was drinking.

'Oh, Meg,' he cried; 'my Meg! Twice ye ha' saved my life, and now I canna save yours,' and he supported his wife in his arms with infinite tenderness. Meg lay quietly against his bosom, her eyes fixed upon his, then she murmured softly with 'ane little laughter,' 'Kiss me good-bye, Si, an'—on the "muckle moo."' Even as their lips met a mist stole gently over Meg's eyes, and she saw Si no more.

[Footnote 1: Provost is really an anachronism, Hawick having been content with Bailies till the nineteenth century.]

[Footnote 2: Tery, an inhabitant of Hawick, derived from their slogan 'Teribus and Tery Odin.']

[Footnote 3: Hawick hospitality and 'Hawick gills' are proverbial: any one who has been fortunate, like the author, in having been a guest at the Common Riding will have realised this.]



THE PRIOR OF TYNEMOUTH

Prior Olaf stood on the central merlon of the gate tower that protected the little cell of Tynemouth from assault on the landward side, and gazed intently over the sea below him to the eastward haze wherein he feared to descry the red-brown sails of the serpent ships.

He was himself by birth a Dane: had even in his ardent youth been a follower of the Raven sign and the banner of the Landwaster, but having been wounded and left behind in a raid into England had been nursed by monks, and eventually had taken the robe and cowl.

The wind had been continuously for a week in the eastern airt, and a raid from his heathen fellow-countrymen seemed inevitable, since Providence appeared to be tempting them with opportunity.

The good Prior could discern nothing alarming, yet he had a foreboding that even now the heathen were approaching on the favouring wind, and would thunder on the gate that very day.

Descending, he proceeded slowly to the chapel built by Oswald—saint and king—in honour of the mother of our Lord, and there before the shrine of Saint Oswyn prostrated himself in prayer. Long and earnestly he prayed, for it seemed to the Prior that the test of his acceptance was to be found in the continued absence of the Danes. The sin that he had committed in his youth had, he trusted, been washed away by his fastings and mortifications. In that event surely his prayers to the Virgin, Saint Cuthbert, and Saint Oswyn, would prevail, and the Danes would come not with fire and sword against his beloved cell.

The Prior's heart glowed in hope renewed.

'Sursum corda,' he murmured, then recommenced his litany.

'De Saevitia Teutonorum qui veniunt in pandis myoparonibus, libera nos, Domine!'

Scarce had he finished, when a startled brother approached rapidly a-tiptoe and touched the Prior gently on the shoulder.

'They come, Holy Prior! They come! the cruel heathen can be seen swiftly approaching in their long ships.'

Prior Olaf turned ashen pale. He could not prevent a groan escaping him, for now he knew that his penances had not yet proved effectual.

'Mea culpa, mea culpa,' he murmured wearily, then as he rose up with pale cheek a gleam of fire lit in his eye, for he would die rather than permit Saint Oswyn's shrine to be pillaged by the heathen. He called for the sub-Prior and entrusted the defence to him.

The cell was splendidly situated, being protected on the three sides—east, north, and west—by moat, steep cliffs, and the immediate sea.

To the south or land side a strong wall with gate tower, furnished with parapet and brettices for casting down of stones and melted lead, stood sentinel and protector.

The sub-Prior—the light of battle in his eye—gave orders to his affrighted flock, and bade the Conversi (lay brethren) heat the lead and carry up big stones to the brettices, where he himself took command. Thereupon he looked down upon the serpent ships sailing into the mouth of the Tyne, and on the sands below discharging their freight of long-haired men with bucklers, swords, and torches in their hands.

In a plump they swarmed up the cliffs and advanced—led by a young chief known to his followers as Eric the Red—to the monastery gate.

There Eric demanded instant admittance for his men, the surrender of all treasure, sacred and profane, as well as of food and stores.

This the sub-Prior proudly refusing in honour of the Virgin, Saint Cuthbert, and Saint Oswyn, a flight of arrows hissed over the parapet, torches were lit and flung against the gate; the fight became general.

The sub-Prior had prepared a quantity of heavy stones upon the brettices which he designed to use in the last resort, and now when the gate was beginning to burn he bade his men be ready with their levers.

'Down with the gate!' cried Red Eric triumphantly. 'Down with it! See, it burns!' and as he shouted he led his followers on with a rush. Like a swarm of bees they clustered about their leader, and clambered up on each other's shoulders. Fire was afoot below; battle-axes crashed above.

'Now!' cried the sub-Prior, as he thrust his lever home, and each man upon the brettices echoed 'Now,' and thrust the lever home at the word.

The stones crashed down; the heaviest of all caught Eric himself and drove him to the ground, where he lay unconscious, his ribs driven deep into his lungs.

'Open the gate and drag their leader in!' cried the sub-Prior triumphantly from above to his servants below.

Obeying, they rushed forth upon the astounded Danes, seized the dying chief, and bore him swiftly within the gate tower.

The attackers, disconcerted by this sudden sortie, and disheartened by the loss of their chief, withdrew from the wall, and shortly desisted from their assault, for the English saints, they muttered to themselves, were this day evidently fighting on behalf of their priests; 'twere wiser to meddle no further with them this day.

Dispersing, therefore, they ravaged the hamlet of Shields and forayed the country for cattle, then before the sun's setting embarked upon their long ships, and sailed southward along the coast.

Meantime the sub-Prior in the moment of his triumph had looked exultingly upon his enemy, then more compassionately as became a Christian monk, and drew near as if to ease his suffering.

But the young Dane was already dead.

As he bent over the corpse the Prior himself approached, for he trusted to learn that in answer to his renewed prayers the Danes had been driven off.

'We ha' prevailed,' cried the sub-Prior triumphantly; 'see, their leader, whom they called "Eric the Red," will trouble us no more. Laus Deo et omnibus Sanctis!'

'Eric!' echoed the Prior, as he stooped towards the young Dane lying dead below him. 'Eric!' Then as he gazed he reeled backward, and only escaped falling by reaching forth his hand to the wall.

Leaning back in the shadow of the gate-house he pressed his hand to his heart and shrouded his face from oversight within his cowl.

Then slowly recovering self-possession he gave orders that the young man should be buried without the cemetery garth, and walked with unsteady footstep towards the chapel.

'Our saintly Prior,' said Brother Boniface, with awe, as he watched his Superior's tall, bowed figure enter within the chapel, 'even in his moment of triumph thinks of Heaven. He has gone to render thanks for the death of this savage, red-haired Dane.'

Songs of thanksgiving were uplifted that night at Compline in the choir. 'Te Deum' was especially chanted with inspired ardour in honour of victory.

'Look!' whispered the simple-hearted, tawny-faced, tousled-haired Brother Boniface to his neighbour, a sharp-eyed Anglian Brother, the artist and illuminator of the little community, 'Look upon the ascetic, saintly face of our beloved Prior! what joy must be his in that his prayers prevailed this day!'

'Thou jolter-head!' muttered the Anglian to himself; then with a jog to Boniface's ribs, 'Didst not mark the exact resemblance'—here he delineated a contour with swift movement of finger—''twixt Red Eric and our Prior?' Then to himself again he muttered, 'I doubt he is not long for this world, since I met his wraith as I entered into the choir.'

But Boniface heeded not his words: his eyes were still fixed upon his beloved Prior, who moved not, though the rest of the monks having sung the 'Deo Patri sit gloria' were leaving the choir.

Boniface moved a-tiptoe and touched his Superior reverently on the shoulder. 'Beloved Prior,' he said, 'thou art outworn with the care of thy community. Arise and seek repose.'

He touched the Prior's hand, then started back, for it was quite cold; the Prior had already sought and gained eternal repose.



THE HAUNTED ALE-HOUSE

'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,' so Donald Macgregor muttered to himself as he strode cautiously down the water of Coquet, halting at the many crooks of that wayward water to spy out the land as he went forward.

He had already good suspicions of where his quarry was harboured, for he had seen and interviewed drovers who had returned from the great Stagshawbank Fair, and had gleaned certain information of his foster-brother Alastair.

But more than this he had to direct his feet; there was in his ears the echo of Alastair's pibroch—the piobaireachd—which he was to hear whenever the Laird would be in trouble or wanting him.

Onward the piobaireachd led him—down the water of amber-coloured Coquet—and now round the last crook he had just turned he saw a building of dark grey stone upon the edge of the haugh below him.

He halted at once, retraced his steps, and hid himself in the bracken, for he knew from the descriptions given him that the Slyme ale-house lay there below him—the last place on the English border at which Alastair had been seen or heard of. The Slyme ale-house had an ill repute, and was said to be haunted moreover; none would lie there the night who had anything to lose—'twas the haunt of kites and 'corbie craws.' As he watched and waited there stole down from the fells above him 'oncome' of mist or 'haar' from the eastward, which soon drew a plaid of hodden grey above the shoulder of Shillmoor. On the lower level a ray of white light still showed like the gleam of a malevolent eye behind a mask.

Meantime a cold mist came stealing up the valley. The eerie lonely aspect of all about him made Donald shiver and earnestly debate his intention.

Spying about, he saw an outcrop of rock some two hundred yards further along the fell side. Thither he crawled like a rogue collie, and watched therefrom, keen-eyed as a kestrel, the ale-house below.

He had some strips of meat with him and oatmeal in a bag, and with this he satisfied his hunger as he lay at watch. All the while the piobaireachd was still sounding in his ears.

Through the mist he could see two cows 'coming home' on the haugh below slowly and sedately to their milking.

Now three figures emerged from the inn; a tall, thin man came first—a collie at his heels—that was at once sent off to round up a hirsel of ewes on the hill.

A woman followed, calling 'guss-guss' to the pig routing on the bank; finally a third figure—short, misshapen—a hunchback, as the watcher noted, who called 'coop-coop' to a rough pony cropping grass in the intake beyond the inn.

Shortly this gear was rounded up and driven into the walled enclosure—a half pound attached to the western end of the buildings.

The three figures followed their stock within, and the watcher surmising that all were housed for the night cautiously made his way down the slope, but on a sudden all three reappeared, and the watcher dropped like a shot rabbit straight into a bed of thistles and nettles, fearful of discovery.

It seemed that they were about to secure themselves and their flocks against evil by way of charm and spell, for round about the ale-house they bent their steps—the way of the sun—brandishing rowan boughs and chanting a fragment of ancient rhyme:

'By the rowan's power— By the thorn's might Safe i' the bower Be all our insight!'

Having perambulated round their buildings and wall three successive times they disappeared within, and the watcher heard to his gratification the sound of bolt and bar being pushed home.

The solitary watcher smiled to himself—the secret smile of the Highlander who has grasped the situation and knows how to make profit thereof unknown to others.

The tall, thin man was the innkeeper—evidently a timorous fellow; the hunchback was his 'man'—malevolent probably, the doer of the other's dark behests; whilst the woman was presumably his wife, the cook and housekeeper of the ale-house.

Well, while they slept he would investigate and complete his plans for the early morn at the time when all three would reappear and drive forth their flocks again.

There was a small haystack at the west end of the inn, which Donald marked out as his resting-place for the night. Thither he made his cautious way—the piobaireachd sounding ever more clearly in his ears.

When he reached the haystack the melody seemed to be intensified; then suddenly he heard it no more.

Ha! a flash of inspiration shook him. This must be the very spot where Alastair was done to death—perhaps even buried here. He looked about him and noted that the wind was freshening and the mist was scurrying in dense clouds above as if it might lift, and then the moon might light him to further discovery.

Thus reflecting he sat down behind the stack, and waited patiently for the moon to rise and shine above the mist.

An hour passed, then a faint glimmer showed in the east above Shillmoor's edge.

He stood up and peeped round the stack; he could distinguish the rounded moon—nearly at the full—beating with white wings like an owl through the tangled mist.

In another quarter of an hour he could see sufficiently well to commence investigation. He noted as he searched the ground about him that quite recently the earth had been disturbed just beyond the verge of the haystack. A space had evidently been roughly dug over—a space that seemed the size of a grave.

Hereupon he sought for some instrument wherewith to make further investigation, and by good luck soon hit upon an old, broken-shafted spade that lay in a small potato croft adjoining. With this he set to work to howk the turf away, and found it light to work, for it had been loosely shovelled in, and came away with ease. Working incessantly, at four feet below the excavated turf, he saw an object lying loose, which he seized in excited, trembling hands, and surveyed in the moonlight. Ay, it was Alastair's bonnet, for there was the blackcock's tail feathers which Alastair had always proudly worn in right of his birth. Stained with blood—the bonnet itself cloven in twain with a blow from hatchet or axe. 'My bonny Alastair!' he groaned aloud. 'Dear laddie! But, by Gott—ye'll be avenged fine the morn's morning!' Reverently he went on with his howking, and soon Alastair's pale face showed in the moonlight, stained with soil, and bloody under the gash above his forehead.

Donald kneeled down in the grave and kissed like a lover his foster-brother on the brow.

Then pondering awhile he muttered brokenly, 'I'll hap ye in again, Alastair, beloved; when I've a sign to bury wi' ye that will prove to ye my troth.'

So saying he sat down beside the grave and cleaned Alastair's bonnet, then placed it on his own head in token of his vow, and waited for the dawn and his revenge.

He did not sleep, but thought again of the past: how he had had the care of the young fatherless Laird, had learned him to stalk the red deer and draw salmon from the river; how Alastair had even outstripped his teacher, and how each after Culloden's fight had saved the other's life. Then, finally, how he had counselled Alastair to turn drover with him till the 'Redcoats' should depart, as the best method to avoid capture, and how constantly Alastair's high spirits led them into danger. And now it was all over—all over save the final duty to his brother. As he thus meditated long and deeply the hours went swiftly by, and it was with a sudden shock that he heard the bolts and bars being withdrawn on the further side of the inn. Instantly he sprang to his feet, prepared for action. He left his sword ready in the scabbard, and his dag primed for use. Then he stole round the corner, and there saw the tall man and the hunchback before him.

''Tis his wraith!' cried the tall man, noticing the bonnet, and swung back in his terror, as he tried to cross himself by way of charm.

'I tell't ye,' quoth the hunchback unperturbed, 'that we should ha' driven a stake through his inside to prevent him from walkin' this gate.'

'Whisht ye, haud your damned whisht!' cried the other in a fury, his knees shaking in terror. Then turning servilely towards Donald, whom he now perceived to be a stranger, 'Ye are welcome, sir, to any ale or Rhenish my poor inn affords, for ye will be a Highland grazier—yen of our best customers,' he ended in an attempt at a bow.

'Draw and defend your nainsel',' was Donald's reply.

The tall man laid his hand to his whinger at his side, and shouted to his 'man,' 'Draw, Jarret, and knife this murdering Scots villain.'

The hunchback, nothing loath, produced an evil-looking jockteleg, and hastened to his master's assistance.

'Knife him i' the back,' cried the former, 'whiles I haud him i' play i' front.'

The hunchback was so furious in his attack, which he pressed right home within Donald's guard, that Donald was unable to ward off the tall man in front of him.

Then just as the innkeeper had Donald at his mercy, and was in the very act of striking home, his arm was suddenly paralysed, a spasm of terror shook him through and through, his eyes glazed over. 'There's twa o' them,' he muttered, and instead of striking he shrank his hand back as if to ward off a new assailant, and Donald had a momentary vision of his brother by his side. The innkeeper made a pass, then his whinger dropped; he turned to flee, tripped and fell upon his face, and lay motionless—his whinger by his side. At this the hunchback broke into rage, 'Ye're no worth fightin' for,' he cried in his fury, gave a kick at his fallen master, and fled to the inn door.

Donald fired his dag at his retreating foe, winged him in the shoulder, and hastened his retreat, but failed to bring him down. The door was slammed to, the bolt was shot. The hunchback had gained his city of refuge.

All was quiet; Donald was victorious; he looked upon the fallen innkeeper, turned him over, and saw that his eyes were fixed in death.

'Ye hae helped fine to your ain vengeance, Alastair,' he said quietly, as he picked up the fallen whinger. 'Ye niver failed me yet; and I haena failed ye.'

Then Donald carried the whinger with him and went back to the graveside, still open to the sky.

'I ha' paid the debt, Alastair,' said Donald, taking off his bonnet and laying the whinger in the grave as proof of his fealty, 'and it is farewell, my brother.'

Kneeling down he reverently happed him in afresh, then rising with a heart contented, whistled triumphant as a pibroch, and took the airt of Scotland by way of Cocklawfoot, murmuring to himself, 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'



THE CRY OF THE PEACOCK

'Damn the dice!' cried the elder of the two players, in a spasm of rage; 'damn my ill-luck—damn everything!' and as he shouted his imprecations he regarded his opponent askance, as if including him in his malediction.

''Twas a thousand to one against you throwing two sixes,' he cried. Then he flung his marker on the floor, pushed back his chair, and rising, walked moodily to the chimney-piece and gazed despairingly into the fire, for his estate had vanished—his last two farms had been lost to the 'double six.' Not only had he lost his estate, but he was hopelessly indebted to his companion for many an I.O.U. and bill beyond his mortgage. He might be made bankrupt at any moment.

The other kept silence a few moments before he said anything. A gleam of triumph and delight had shown for a second in his eye, but outwardly he was as cool as ever.

''Tis a strange thing,' he said soothingly; 'I too have had my turn of ill-luck before this. I remember well one evening at Oxford years ago when I played high stakes with Lord Cantrip and others at "The House." Hadn't a stiver left one night, but I pawned my grandfather's Louis xiv. watch for the next evening's play. Luck turned, and I had my revenge. Had it not been for that last heirloom I should have enlisted, and probably have met my fate at Badajoz.'

The speaker was a powerfully built man of thirty-five years of age; he was broad rather than tall, underbred, coarse in complexion, and his jaw, well developed, seemed to indicate will power.

His companion was forty years of age, had a high, well-bred carriage, and a sensitive face that showed charm rather than strength.

He made no reply to the other's sympathy or suggestion, but continued to gaze moodily into the dying log fire on the hearth, and on the smoke-begrimed Sussex 'back' which exhibited the 'Flight into Egypt.'

He groaned within himself; he too would have to make his 'flight into Egypt,' There was nothing left in the dear old beloved manor house that would furnish sufficient capital for another gamble.

'The last family heirloom,' he said finally, 'departed in my father's time. The manor goes in mine.'

There was a space of silence. Then the elder threw out a fresh suggestion.

'There's maybe something ye've left out of your calculation,' he said suggestively, 'something that some might put as high as the estate itself.'

'What d' ye mean?' inquired the other, turning about so as fully to see the other's face.

'Well, as 'twixt friends and neighbours I'll speak out fairly,' responded the man at the green table, 'and as I'm your guest you'll understand I'm perfectly straight in my proposition. The long and short o't then is that I'm settled in this new place of mine next yours; that it is time for me to "range myself," and that if you'll give me your daughter's hand—give me leave, that is, to propose for her hand in marriage, and she does me the honour of accepting—well then, I'll settle your manor, or what's left of it, on her and her heirs for ever. Make a dower-house of it, in fact. And more than this, I'll burn all your I.O.U.'s in addition. You'll be a free man once again.'

His host started violently, gave a sudden haughty and contemptuous look at the speaker, made as if he would speak, then turned swiftly back to the fire again.

He had a fierce desire to kick this vile newcomer—this Mosenthal, 'the foreigner,' or 'ootner'—the son of a rich Jewish Manchester tradesman—out of the house, but the fellow was his guest, and he checked himself. Above all, he dreaded public bankruptcy; he, the last male descendant of the proud race of Heronsbeck.

'Think it over,' said the other quietly. 'I think 'tis a fair offer—free to take or free to drop.'

Still his host made no reply. The other after a little pause proceeded with his tempting proposals. He had reached out his hand for the dice-box on the table; he took it up and rattled the dice in the box as if to throw on to the table.

'Come,' he cried vivaciously. 'Have a throw! Let luck decide. I'll back your throw against mine. A hundred pounds to a penny.'

He rattled the dice noisily, and cast them on the table, still holding the box tight over the ivory cubes.

The tempter prevailed; he had re-aroused the gambling fever in his host, who now advanced to the table and looked irresolutely on the upturned box.

'Done!' he cried suddenly. The other's fist lifted up; the cubes nestled close together showing dots two and one.

'Luck's turned,' said his guest philosophically, as he laid down the notes.

The other flung the dice swiftly on to the green board; the cubes rolled apart, then as they settled they showed six and five.

A spark of momentary fire flickered in the gambler's eye; he picked up the notes; then the frown came back to his brow; he shivered, looked at the clock, then, 'It's damned late,' he said, 'and if you don't want any more to drink we'd better go to bed.'

So saying Heronsbeck of Heronsbeck lit a candle for his guest, showed him to his chamber, then went gloomily to his own.

There was no sleep, however, for him that night, for he dreaded the morning and the astounded look of his darling Lily—his only child—when he had to tell her of Mosenthal's proposal.

'Of course she won't do it—she couldn't. There'll be no harm done, for she'd as soon accept a Hottentot as a rich Jew.' So her father reflected aloud.

But she wouldn't like it. He hated to think of her expression when he conveyed Mosenthal's offer to her.

The Jew's notes positively burned in his fingers as he had laid them down on his dressing-table; the fellow's offer was extraordinarily tempting. Ah, welladay! This was the end, then, of Heronsbeck Hall, which he prized above every earthly possession after his daughter. His father had lost the half of it over cards; now he himself had thrown away the rest in like manner. There was the grouse moor; he counted up the 'amenities' as he lay in bed, even as a lover enumerates the charms of his mistress.

The wine-dark moorland—how he loved it! And the great days in autumn after grouse and blackcock. Then the fishing in the beck for trout as a boy, and the call of the sounding 'forces.' Then the huntings afoot on the high fells, and the reckless gallops on the haughs below. No wonder he loved it, for he and his forefathers were part and parcel of the land. They had been there and owned it since the days of the Testa de Nevil. He was 'hefted' to it, as the farmers said of their stock.

Well, all was now over. The 'lament' must sound over Heronsbeck. Mosenthal must take the estate; he himself would take Lily abroad and live forgotten, for he had rejected Mosenthal's proposal now, absolutely.

Just at this decisive moment he distinctly heard the cry of a peacock sound—weird and discordant—without.

'The peacock's cry!' It was as the wail of the banshee in his ear.

Peacocks had long since disappeared from the Hall, yet their fateful cry, which had sounded through the night of the strange death of his ancestor who first brought them there, had been wonderfully allied with the fortunes of his house.

He accepted the omen.

Rising up with the first gleam of dawn, he went out into the park.

He determined to appraise and make an inventory of all that remained on the place that he could call his own still and sell. There was some timber left. Then all the stock on the home farm would be disposed of. As he endeavoured to 'tot' this up he noticed a figure swinging along across the park at a great pace. Was a stranger already fearless about trespass?

Turning away from the approaching intruder, he commenced his calculation afresh. Suddenly a voice hailed him joyfully.

'Back again! Back again, Pater, at long last! Yes, the rolling stone has gathered some moss after all—honourably, if luckily, come by. So here I am, Pater, like the Prodigal—to crave forgiveness, and—to repay you my debts.'

Heronsbeck turned and stared upon the speaker. 'Joe!' he cried faintly, but with Joe, his only son, he had quarrelled. Joe had vanished on the Klondyke in a blizzard. This must be his ghost.

'Come, Dad!' called the beloved figure in front of him beseechingly.

'My boy, my boy!' cried his father, pressing his son to his bosom. 'Thank God for ye, my boy, my boy! But how can it be that you're alive?' he asked apprehensively, as though fearing his son might vanish again from his eyes.

'A good Samaritan—this time disguised as a Jesuit Father, rescued me. Then I saved a pal myself eventually, who died of fever and left me all his pile.'

'Yet I heard the peacock cry this morning,' muttered Heronsbeck to himself, still apprehensive of misfortune.

'And did you also, Pater, hear the peacock shouting?' asked his son in astonishment.

'Why, as I came over the fell by the Hanging Stone at break o' day—just above the young larch plantation where we had the record woodcock shoot—I heard his rasping cry.

"Hallo!" I called back to him. "Hallo, old bugler! You've got it all wrong this time. 'Tis not 'The Last Post,' but 'Reveille' that you must sound over Heronsbeck Hall this day."'



KITTY'S BOWER

When Eric Chesters of Chesters Castle married Miss Brocklebridge—the bold and handsome heiress of Sir William, ironmaster, baronet, and expectant baron, all the world and his wife clapped hands and cried 'an ideal arrangement,' and foretold long years of success and happiness for the happy pair.

At the club after the wedding the 'best man,' however, set forth a different view of the matter.

'Of course on paper it's ideal,' he said; 'Sir William is of the order of Melchisedec—having neither father nor mother, while Eric's pedigree is the joy of the Heralds' College. Edith's money will pay off the mortgages on Chesters Castle, no doubt, but, as Stevenson shrewdly said, "The Bohemian must not marry the Puritan." Now Eric is not naturally a marrying man; he yielded to his aged mother's solicitations and the well-developed charms and black eyes of his wife. She sighs for a career, and thinks Chesters Castle a fine foundation for it, but her crest is a ladder; Eric's is a pierrot. In short, she is an Alpine climber, and Eric a charming Prince Florizel of Bohemia. I give them a year in which to find each other out—apres cela le deluge.'

The 'best man' proved right in his casting of their horoscope, for a prolonged honeymoon spent in going round the world revealed a rift in the lute which a season in town developed into an undoubted crack.

Thus, when Mrs. Chesters pressed on her husband the desirability of entering Parliament, he protested that he had only seven skins; and when she wished to pay a round of visits to distinguished people he maintained that they ought to reside at Chesters Castle for a while.

She yielded, but her husband's castle completed her disillusion. She had thought of it as a social point d'appui—she found it in her own words 'a gloomy shooting barrack.'

But her husband loved it, and rejoiced in the opportunity of renewing his youth with the salmon-fishing, the grouse and blackcock driving, and the great days of hunting on the wide moorlands of the Border, over which his ancestors in bygone centuries had ridden day and night on raid and foray. Mrs. Chesters could ride, had enjoyed the social advantages of the Quorn and Pytchley, but she hated what she called disdainfully, 'bogtrotting with Picts and Scots.'

She had not yet become indifferent to her husband, but she was terribly disappointed with his total lack of ambition.

Now that the salmon-fishing was over and the covers shot, she pined for town, but her husband begged for a few more weeks of hunting first.

What joy could he find in the long days out on the barren fells? She realised that he had become indifferent to her, though his charm of manner to herself was externally the same.

She grew suspicious, if not jealous. Then one day an anonymous letter came to her—signed 'Your Well-Wisher,' which corroborated her own uneasy thoughts—suggesting coarsely that her husband was chasing a vixen—not a fox.

No name was actually mentioned, but Mrs. Chesters realised at once who 'the woman' was.

She remembered noticing a young girl at an early meet held at the castle, who had attracted her attention by her air of breeding, beauty, and faultless seat on her mare. She had learnt that the girl was the daughter of an old yeoman farmer who lived on his farm, quaintly called 'The Bower,' far outbye on the moorland beside the Blackburn Lynn.

She had mentioned the matter to her husband, and asked him where the girl had acquired her good looks and her breeding. He had replied—and she thought now—with a slight uneasiness of manner, that Miss Todd came of a 'grayne' that had lived on the Border before ever the Normans came into the land, that by intermarrying with a few other ancient yeomen families a distinct and natural aristocratic type had resulted. 'Clean living, fresh air, and as much hunting as possible,' have all assisted. Nature also has assimilated the lines of her children's faces to the classical lines wind-chiselled of her great fells. Their oval faces, blue eyes, fair hair, and clean-chiselled features are her endowment.

'The Todds,' he had concluded with a laugh, 'have a tradition that they descend from Eylaf—one of the bodyguard of St. Cuthbert and his coffin—who, in a time of famine stole a cheese, and was for a time turned into a tod. The tod, or fox, is their totem, and him they diligently pursue.'

All that he had said then came back now with special meaning. Mrs. Chesters pondered deeply as to how she had best act in this conjuncture, and had not yet determined, when on the next afternoon she overheard a scrap of conversation as she was passing beside the stables.

She heard the head groom call to the stable lad to saddle a second horse and ride out to meet the Master on his way home from hunting that afternoon.

'Which way will I take?' asked the lad in reply.

'The Master rode the airt o' Ladiesdale,' the head groom had replied, for he was somewhat of a wag. Ladiesdale for Liddesdale! Mrs. Chesters fled; her cheek was burning, but her mind was made up.

She got out maps and discovered where 'The Bower'—ominous name—lay, and what tracks led thereto. Thither she would ride on the next hunting day and confront the girl, settle the matter with her husband, and put an end to his shameful intrigue at once.

She had not very long to wait, for in the week after the Meet was advertised at the Craig, which was, she knew, some few miles west of The Bower, overlooking the Black Burn.

Early in the afternoon she rode out 'to meet her husband,' as she told the groom, when she mounted, but in reality to catch him, if she could, with the girl on his way back with her to her home.

She mounted up the fell to the southward on whose crest the track showed like a wisp of hay left by the reaper. Gaining the top she paused and looked athwart the mighty view outstretched before her. To her husband she knew it was as Swinburne's 'great glad land that knows not bourne nor bound,' but to herself it was a desert.

Below her the barren moorlands spread away—'harvestless as ocean'—till they met the whitelands of the further fells, where wandering sheep sought their living. On the sky's verge ran the line of Rome's great barrier of wall. This seemed to increase the sense of infinity already given by the landscape, for the mighty wall was now but a wreck upon Time's shore.

In the mid way 'twixt moor and whiteland lay The Bower. Mrs. Chesters rode on down towards the farmhouse, where it stood eminent upon a knoll beyond the burn, covered with ivy, and sheltered by ash trees from the blasts of the west wind.

She had marked a clump of rowans and geans a hundred yards or so from the burn where she determined to stop her horse and reconnoitre before going up to the farm itself.

Concealing herself as best she could within the small copse she noticed that the track descended to where usually a ford was discoverable. She could note horses' hoofs on the bank top, but the cart road to the farm ran on the farther side of the burn, winding in and out of the rolling pasture. To the right hand fifty yards away, a light wooden bridge with hand-rail leapt from rock to rock above the foaming water.

Boiling amidst the rocky chasm it poured an amber flood across the ford below.

A bold rider might have perhaps leaped his horse across; that might possibly have been safer than to walk a horse through where a stumble might mean doom to both.

No, Mrs. Chesters decided; if she went up to the farm she would have to dismount and walk across the little bridge. As she reflected thus the farm door opened, and a young girl came out and gazed steadily to the west as though expecting some visitor. Then she moved onward, and came slowly down towards the ford.

Mrs. Chesters crouched lower upon her horse's shoulder, waited till the maiden had reached the water's edge, then turned her horse and trotted swiftly down to battle with her rival across the water.

'And so it's you who dare to set your cap at my husband, Mr. Chesters of Castle Chesters, is it? And you're waiting at the ford for his returning, like a sweet, innocent, rustic maiden?'

Kitty's cheek had blanched a little when she saw who the rider was, but her voice was unshaken as she replied quietly, 'I ne'er set my cap at him, not I. The Todds hae lived and owned land here years before ever a Chesters came to Chesters Castle.'

Mrs. Chesters had scrutinised with harsh eyes every detail of her rival's face and figure. Those delicate lines of hip and waist were surely no longer as fine as before. She felt her worst fears were realised. Losing her temper she said roughly:

'You little fool! Don't you know you're making a scandal of yourself up and down the whole countryside? Have you no sense of shame?'

'I can fend for myself,' said Kitty quietly, though a touch of colour had showed on her cheeks.

'There's but one way for you to avoid further trouble for every one and eventual ruin for yourself, and that is, to promise me never to see my husband again.'

'I'll mak nae such promise,' retorted the other hotly. 'Maybe,' she added quietly, 'it's your ain blame that ye canna keep your man at hame.'

Mrs. Chesters flamed. She was furious with rage. She struck out with the thong of her hunting crop at her rival across the burn, but she was a yard or more short of the hateful, delicate form confronting her so steadily.

'Why don't ye ride through the ford?' asked Kitty unabashed, and even smiling. She knew that her rival was afraid and despised her, while Mrs. Chesters knew that Kitty knew, and hated her all the more therefore. She would have cheerfully given a thousand pounds for one clean cut with the whip across that oval cheek.

As Mrs. Chesters was trying to choke her wrath down and regain her speech, she saw Kitty's eye turn westward with a swift look of delight.

Mrs. Chesters followed the line; she saw a black dot riding down the 'Slack' of the fell, and guessed instantly it was her husband returning to The Bower after hunting.

In an instant she had made up her mind. Evidently the girl was expecting him to come by the ford. Well, she, Mrs. Chesters would ride out to meet him and intercept him before ever he won thither to his paramour.

She turned the horse's head with never a word and rode quickly up the burn, keeping out of sight as far as possible. A few hundred yards on there was an outcrop of rock with alder and scrub oak intermingling. The track seemed to run through it, by the edge of the Blackburn Lynn. Pressing onward, Mrs. Chesters determined to ensconce herself there behind the rocks, or in the trees, and surprise her husband as he rode through. On he came, gaily whistling, happy as a thrush in spring rejoicing in his mate; on he came, his horse trotting swiftly, scenting a 'feed' at The Bower's stable.

'So I've caught you, Eric!' cried his wife, as she thrust her horse across his path from behind an adjacent rock.

Eric's mare shied violently, missed her footing on the narrow rocky path, staggered, then rearing upward on a vain spring forward fell backward over like some huge stone into the black belly of the lynn.

Mrs. Chesters followed with her eyes—she felt herself turned to marble; then she was conscious that a horse had reappeared in the black eddies below, but no rider was on its back. Was this some horrid nightmare she could not awake from?

Then she saw the girl on the opposite bank who cried accusingly, 'What hae ye done wi' him, ye wicked woman?'

Mrs. Chesters was now released from her spell.

'His horse shied,' she called across the waters, 'and fell into the lynn with him. You search that side and I this.' So saying she got down from her horse, tied the bridle to a tree, and sought as best she could for any trace of her husband's body on her side of the black cauldron of waters.

'Ye hae been his deid,' Kitty had shouted above the tumult of the lynn. Not another word did the rival mourners address to each other.

Kitty had helped to lead the fallen horse out of the channel on her side of the burn, then smitten with a sudden thought she jumped into the saddle and rode off down the water thinking the corpse must have been carried down steam by the heavy current.

Mrs. Chesters vainly wandered up and down the rocky edges of the lynn, peered into the black, circling cauldron in the centre, but seeing nothing emerge she made her way to the farm, promised a great reward to any one who could bring her news of her husband's body being found, then rode wearily home across the weary moors.

That night Kitty lay sleepless on her bed caught in a storm of sobbing; she recalled all the sweet details of her love episode, all the charms of her lover—which were now buried for ever in the black lynn. Then she sang to herself softly,

'Nae living man I'll love again, Now that my lovely knight is slain. With ae lock of his gowden hair I'll bind my heart for evermair.'

She had scarcely finished her lament when she saw a faint light show beside her window. Formless and nebulous at first it seemed to be growing quickly into particular shape and cognisance. Kitty had watched the strange light, paralysed with terror, then, with a sudden inspiration:

'Eric!' cried she, starting up on her bed, 'Eric! Is it thou? I knew thou wouldest return to me.'

The apparition answered only by beckoning with a forefinger.

'Lead me to him,' she cried, as she rose and hastily flung on her clothes.

The wraith led onward; Kitty let herself out of the window, and thence to the ground by help of the ivy roots.

The night was still and thronged with stars, that seemed to watch her tenderly and to be cognisant of her love. 'He is alive, he is alive,' she cried to them, as she followed hot foot after the wraith that led to the rocky lynn.

Onward with steady foot and without a trace of fear she followed—in through a tangle of alder, thence through a cleft in a big rock, and there below her, stretched on a ledge from which the ebbing waters had just receded, lay her 'Man.'

'My man!' she murmured with a little cry between a laugh and a sob, 'my man is alive.'

'Eric,' and she bent down over him, lifted the wet hair from his brow and kissed him on the forehead.

'Kitty,' he replied faintly, trying to lift his head to hers, 'I knew thou wouldst find me, beloved; my soul went forth to seek thee.

'I was badly stunned,' he went on presently, 'but it is nothing serious. The flood lifted me upon this ledge, and so saved me.

'Well, there is but one thing now to do, my love. I am dead to my wife, and she is dead to me. Let the dead bury their dead,' he added with a smile.

'Now go fetch me dry clothes. I will change, and then we will ride away to Heathdown junction, and thence away to a new life in a new land.'

Kitty drew in her breath. 'But are ye able? Are ye strong enough, Eric? Art sure thou canst give up all for a life with me?'

'Faith of a Borderer!' he answered gaily, as he kissed her hand. 'Now go and do as I bid. There's no time to be lost. See! I grow stronger every minute,' and he rose up on his knee and crawled forth from his refuge assisted by Kitty. Then she went swiftly back to the farm and brought with her dry clothes and a plaid, a second time she returned for meat and drink for her lover, and the third and last time for his horse, which she had already stabled in the byre.

'And now,' said Eric in her ear, as he lifted her into the saddle, 'we'll ride westward where we'll buy another "Bower" in another land.'

* * * * *

Through the early mist that morning an old shepherd was making his way home from a late mart, when he encountered what he swore was 'the wraith o' a great muckle moss-trooper wi' his marrow ahint him ridin' the ae black horse.'

Arrived at home, he roused his wife, and imparted his information.

'Whisht, man, hand your whisht,' retorted she. 'Noo get intil your ain bed. Ye aye see double after a mart day.'



THE TALE OF THE THREE ANTIQUARIES

Thomas Turnbull stood beside his spade and gazed rapturously at a small portable Roman altar which he had just unearthed. Owing to a fortunate legacy he had recently been enabled to retire from his business as a ship's broker, and had bought a farm not far from the line of the Roman Wall in mid Northumberland.

He prided himself on being a practical man in all he undertook—'Plain Tom Turnbull' he styled himself, and in the pursuit of antiquities, which was now his hobby, he sneered at all theorists, and relied upon the spade. 'Magister Palae' was his motto, and now he had justified his belief in his farm's occupying the site of an early out-lying Roman camp.

Squat in build, sanguine in complexion, and auburn-haired, he stood 'four-square to all the winds'; his bold, prominent eyes recalled the muzzle of an ancient blunderbuss ready to loose off at a moment's notice.

Now the Society of Antiquaries of Oldcastle, of which he was a member, were making a pilgrimage along the Wall on the next day, and he had offered to provide tea for their refreshment at the conclusion of their excursion.

Thus his 'find' was twice fortunate. He would now be enabled to confound Telfer, one of the most learned of the Society's members, by the evidence of his spade work. Telfer was an antiquary of the 'well-documented' kind, an attorney by profession, thin and anaemic—'a parchment browser,' Turnbull called him, as one founding himself upon references in all discussions on antiquity. He had been indeed very sceptical of the existence of Turnbull's 'early, out-lying camp' and had annoyed 'Plain Tom' by his doubts.

Turnbull laid aside his spade, wiped the perspiration from his brow, and took up his altar again reverently. Then he drew from his pocket a small flask, poured a few drops into the tiny focus on the top as a libation to Bacchus, and himself toasted 'the spade.' Carefully handling his precious possession he returned home with it in his arms and placed it on the drawing-room mantelpiece, to the dismay of his wife, who misdoubted the religion of the Romans. 'That's a settler for Telfer,' he said triumphantly; 'he'll be up to-morrow, and he'll have to swallow it.'

'Swallow it! Swallow it!' echoed his wife. 'My dear, what do you mean?'

'He'll have to swallow it first, then he can have his tea on the top of it,' replied her husband with a grin. 'But do you give a look to it before he goes, for he'd pinch it if he got the chance.'

'You don't mean to say that he would actually steal it?' queried his wife, aghast.

'Wouldn't he, though? He'd lift anything that was not too heavy or too hot,' retorted her husband.

The next day proved to be a lovely autumn morning, and the prospect along the Wall perfect for the antiquary, who could see it crawling like some great serpent on its belly, with many an undulation from east to west, over many a mile beneath the racing clouds and sunshine.

Turnbull walked down to meet the party of excursionists beside a newly excavated mile-castle where they were to eat their sandwiches and discuss their theories. After that he was to conduct them to his house 'The Crag,' and show them his altar and give them refreshment.

Turnbull took the very earliest opportunity of informing them of his 'find,' and while his friends congratulated him Mr. Telfer opined that its discovery proved nothing as to a camp, for a portable altar might easily be discovered anywhere along the Wall, and there was no record of any camp at that particular spot. 'The spade will show,' cried 'Plain Tom,' triumphantly. 'It's just my first-fruits. Wait a few weeks and my spade will prove it.' Almost at once the party moved onwards, for they had an early train to catch, and as soon as they reached the house tea was set before them, and their host handed round the altar for inspection. 'Pity there's no record on it to show to what God it was dedicated,' said one, 'and by whom.'

'It probably belonged to some pioneers along the Wall who built themselves a temporary camp whilst prospecting,' said Turnbull.

Telfer, on the other hand, was of opinion that the altar was not of the local freestone, had probably been brought from a neighbouring camp, and eventually thrown away when the Picts and Scots overran the Wall.

'If you'll show me the place where you found it,' he added, 'I can prove to you, I think, that the surrounding stone is different.'

'My pioneers probably imported it,' said the other boldly, 'but the kind of stone is neither here nor there. However, I'll gladly show you the identical spot where I howked it out.'

While the rest of the party made their way down the valley towards the railway station, 'Plain Tom' went off with his sceptic to the place of excavation.

'There,' said he, pointing to the spot, 'that's where it came from,' and as he spoke he turned over with his spade some debris that had fallen into the hole. His companion took up a fragment of stone, examined it, shook his head, then proceeded to 'howk' out with his stick a stone of some size lying half-bedded in the earth at the bottom of the hole. He levered it away, and it rolled over on its side; something glittered beneath. 'Ha! an aureus!' cried the attorney, and dashed upon it.

'I told you so, I told you so,' shouted his host in triumphant joy. 'This proves it!'

His joy was perhaps excessive; it seemed to eclipse at least his surprise, but his companion paid no attention to him in his own excitement.

'Ha! an aureus of Hadrian—and in excellent preservation,' rejoined the other, after a careful examination. 'What an uncommonly lucky find!' and without more ado he slid it into the palm of his left hand.

'A find!' echoed 'Plain Tom,' choking upon astonishment and rage. 'Here, hand it over—I'm owner here,' for his own particular pet coin was disappearing from his ken.

'Even if you were the Lord of the Manor you could not make your claim good,' replied the attorney coolly. 'He who finds, keeps. Treasure trove to be claimed must be hidden—lucri aut metus causa. This aureus was evidently lost or cast away in flight. The finder retains it.'

'Cast away in flight' sounded ludicrously enough in the other's ears, but he was incapable of speech. Indeed, 'Plain Tom' with difficulty controlled the fires that were scorching him within. His hands trembled convulsively on the handle of the spade; his enemy had turned about and taken a step down the hillside as if to follow his companions. Now beckoned Opportunity. 'Plain Tom' grasped his spade more tightly, lifted it in air, and brought it down with a thud on the top of his enemy's cloth cap. The attorney's knees gave way instantly; he sank in a heap, then slowly rolled forward and onward down the slope. The aureus had dropped from his limp hand. 'Plain Tom' was on to it like a knife—the song of Deborah and Barak on his lips. Then he paused and looked upon the motionless figure of the man below now lying half hidden amongst some bracken. What was to be done? A shudder of dismay crept up the observer's spine. Could he be dead? No, no, he was only stunned.

Well, 'Plain Tom' swiftly determined on his line of action. There was a shepherd's cottage only a quarter of a mile away where he might get help to lift and carry the fallen man; he would leave him there for the night after explaining that he had found him lying unconscious from a faint in the bracken. That done, he would himself go for the local doctor and explain how he had found the attorney's body. Then he examined the spade carefully. There was no sign of blood upon it, fortunately. He had caught his enemy squarely with the flat of it; all was well, for none had seen him—not even his victim—lift it and strike.

The shepherd was at home, and at once accompanied him to the spot. 'He's deid,' said the herd, lifting up a limp arm. 'I'm doubtin' he's got awa.'

'Nonsense,' said his companion with affected assurance. 'He'd a weak heart, I know, and the long walk has been over much for him. His pulse is all right,' he added, pretending to feel upon the wrist. 'Now we'll carry him to your house, and I'll fetch the doctor. He'll be all right in an hour or two, I'll bet a guinea.'

The attorney was of slim build, and the two men carried him easily to the cottage. Leaving him there Turnbull strode off for the doctor, whom he found at home. Explaining how he had found the body, he helped the doctor saddle his pony and bade him ride with all speed, requesting him to bring him word to 'The Crag' when he had recalled his patient to consciousness.

Then 'Plain Tom' set off for his home, whistling to himself to keep up his spirits, and ever and anon glancing at his recovered aureus with joy. 'Magister Palae,' he muttered to himself, ''tis a fine weapon.'

The doctor did not arrive at The Crag till some two hours later, and when he did he showed a long face. After he had seated himself in Turnbull's little sanctum, sacred to his antiquities, he delivered himself slowly of his professional opinion. 'He's bad,' he said mournfully, 'verra bad,' for the doctor was Scotch; 'he's had an unco shock'—he glanced keenly at his companion as he spoke—'and a verra bad fall. His hairt is gey weak—and he says—if he disna recover he'll haunt ye—for what ye've done.'

'For what I've done!' cried 'Plain Tom,' aghast. 'The poor man's brain's affected. What on earth can he mean?'

'And he said also that if the worst should happen,' continued the other with unmoved visage, 'that he would bequeath me the aureus. He's a warrum-hearted body, an' he kens that I'm a bit of an antiquary mysel'.'

'His aureus!' exclaimed 'Plain Tom' with re-aroused indignation, and forgetful of secrecy, 'why, the damned fellow—no, I don't mean that—I mean he's delirious; but he'll be all right again soon, doctor?' he appealed earnestly.

'I'm nane so sure of that,' replied the other, shaking his head. 'I thought as I came alang I had a sort of a feeling as of a wraith nigh about me—a lang, eldritch sort o' a form i' the mist.'

His host shuddered, looked through the window apprehensively in the gloaming, saw some vague, misty wraith approaching. Then he felt for the aureus in his waistcoat pocket.

'Oot wi' it,' the doctor demanded, and 'oot' it came after a struggle. The doctor rose and held out his hand. 'Aweel,' he said, 'it's safe wi' me. I'll awa noo—back to my patient, for I'll no' can leave him just yet.'

Then the door closed silently behind him. 'Vicisti, O Caledonia,' groaned 'Plain Tom,' and as he spoke he rose up in search of the whisky bottle and consolation.



APUD CORSTOPITUM

(per lineam murus.)

L. Sentius Castus—at one time an officer in the 'Domestici,' or Emperor's Guards—had volunteered for active service, and was now a 'Vexillarius,' or Standard Bearer to the first squadron of horse attached to the Sixth Legion—'the Victorious and Faithful,' that had come over to Britain with the Emperor Hadrian. He was sitting one August afternoon by the fountain in the Forum of Corstopitum, engaged upon improving a system of fire signals for use on the great wall, which Hadrian was building from the Tyne estuary to the Solway Firth.

As he reflected he glanced occasionally up at the tall figure of a youthful Briton beside him—a noble of the tribe of the Brigantes—whom the soldiers had nicknamed 'Rufus' on account of his auburn hair.

These two had become such close friends that the prefect of the camp had likened them to Nisus and Euryalus, for they were inseparable. 'His amor unus erat pariterque in bella ruebant.'

'Rufus' was employed as an 'explorator'—a pioneer, or scout, along the wall, as he had an exact knowledge of the country, but he was at the moment engaged upon a piece of sculpture—having a natural gift for the chisel—and was putting a final touch to the figure of a lion standing above a dead stag.

He stooped and drew a stopper of clay from the lion's mouth, and at once a stream of water broke through and flashed into the trough.

'Euge! Macte virtute, puer!' cried Castus in delight; ''tis a superb fountain head! And the carving is wondrous, for though thou hast seen the stag thou hast not the lion; yet there he stands full of pride and challenge on his kill, just as I have seen him in the Circus Maximus in Rome.

'By the way,' he continued, 'I have ordered Scaevola, the camp's head mason, to cut that altar which we promised to set up to Sylvanus when we brought down the famous Grindon stag—that great hart o' grease—which every officer in Corstopitum had hunted in vain.'

As he spoke he rose up and laid his tablet and style aside.

'How jealous they all were,' he continued. 'How the Prefect doubted its weight and sneered at its tynes and the bay and tray!'

'I think,' replied his friend with a laugh, 'that he would willingly himself have set up an altar to every god from Jupiter Optimus Maximus to our local Mogon, had he had the luck to grass him.'

'The Forum would have been lined with them,' assented his friend, smiling also. 'Well, this is the inscription I gave to Scaevola to cut on the one altar we promised—he was cheap at one.

'Silvano invicto sacrum L. Sentius Castus signifer Leg VI. Et Tetricus explorator murus Ob cervum eximiae formae captum Quem multi antecessores eorum Praedari non potuerunt.

'That is work for a mason, not for an artist like yourself, who have embellished Caesar's town in Ultima Thule with a masterpiece.

'Mark this day with white chalk, for thou shalt behold Caesar himself, since he hath just ridden in from Pons Aelii, and will shortly inspect his new town of Corstopitum. Think on the immensa Romanae Pacis Majestas when thou seest him here!'

'I wish greatly to see him,' replied the young Briton, 'yet I dread the eagle eye of our Imperator.'

'Nay,' said his friend, 'he will never affright thee, for though he is the ruler of the broad universe he hath a human heart that takes interest in all things under the sky, being soldier, traveller, administrator, builder, student, and poet at once.'

There came a sudden shrilling of the tuba at this moment.

'See!' cried the Vexillarius. 'There he goeth into the Praetorium.'

The twain stood watchful as sentinels, and very shortly they saw Caesar proceeding to the steps leading into the Forum, accompanied by the Comes Brittanorum and the Clarissimus and the Consularis, attended by his guard, on whose shields were blazoned as insignia the forts upon the mighty wall.

Caesar was clad, they noted, not in the long robe of Imperator, but in the shorter tunic of the Consul, with heavy purple border.

The two young men stood stiff at the salute as Hadrian drew near. Then the Emperor, recognising his former guardsman, spoke to him kindly by name.

'Ha! Castus. Thou lookest right well. Art better employed here than in trailing thy toga and neighing after the beautiful ladies in Rome? Thou hast found soldiering on the confines of our Empire to thy liking?'

'Yes, indeed, sire,' replied the standard-bearer, ''tis the sole profession for a man.'

Hadrian looked upon the erect figure, keen eye, and sun-tanned face of the speaker with evident approval. Then as he was about to pass onward his eye was struck by the newly carved fountain-head.

'Who hath carved this fountain?' he inquired. 'I did not know we had an artist in the camp.'

''Twould scarce disgrace the garden of the Palatine,' replied Castus, overjoyed at the opportunity of praising his comrade in Caesar's presence; ''tis the handicraft of my friend here—a pioneer upon thy wall—one who though born a Briton is now more Roman than myself, and hath expended all his skill upon the carving in the hope of pleasing the eye of Caesar.'

Hadrian, ever a patron of the arts, glanced quickly at the reddening cheeks of the young Briton, then stepped forward to the fountain-head, and scrutinised it with close attention. 'He hath the true eye of the artist, this friend of thine,' he said, with evident appreciation, 'for the stag is admirably depicted—the tongue hanging loose from the mouth as I have noted myself when a beast is slain, and as for the lion, though he can scarce ever have seen a lion in Britain, I suppose, 'tis admirable in its decorative effect.' He turned to the blushing artist and thanked him graciously for his accomplishment, adding that he would send him a bronze ewer from his own table as a trifling recompense.

So saying he passed on, and the two comrades looked at each other joyously.

'Now!' cried the Roman standard-bearer, 'thou hast seen, and been addressed by, the Ruler of the world.

'Art thou not proud this day? Art not at least an inch taller? Is Caesar not like to one of the immortal gods, thinkest thou?'

'He is, indeed,' replied the young Briton. 'I knew not such majesty and kindness could dwell together in mortal man. To die for him would be no virtue but a pleasure. I have never seen so noble a face; strength therein is sustained by intelligence as columns uphold a mighty roof. His mouth speaks even when he utters no words. He unites in himself the charm of a woman to the power and dignity of a man.'

'Thou hast spoken it,' replied his companion; 'thou hast hit off his strange and unique qualities. I had not thought of it before like that, but thy observation, as Caesar himself said, is excellent, and thy description is true. The one thing I like not,' he added, 'is the beard he hath grown; that is a new thing in a Roman Emperor and, as I judge it, somewhat barbaric.'

The next day Hadrian set forth again to ride per lineam murus across moor and fell to Luguvallum and the western sea.

Castus and Rufus accompanied him as guides, and the Prefect with his guard escorted the Emperor to the wall that was being swiftly built on the brow of the hill above Corstopitum.

There Castus pointed out to Hadrian the track of Dere Street—the road of Agricola—that seemed to flutter like some white butterfly up the distant and opposite fell-side crowned by the Wannys' heights—birthplace of the river Wansbeck.

'That track, sire, leads to Habitancum, Bremenium, Ad Fines, and Trimontium beside Tweed,' said Castus. 'I would it might be prolonged to Mons Grampius, and even to the Cimmerian sea, where I would set up the Arae finium Imperii Romani on the very edge o' the world.'

Hadrian smiled at his officer's enthusiasm, then he said gravely: 'The Empire's weight is heavy enough already—Atlas himself could scarce sustain it. Buttresses are needed, and my wall and camps will furnish them on this furthest frontier. Beyond is but a waste given over to wolves, wild boars, and painted savages. But what a prospect is here! 'Tis like the sea stretching away for ever in harvestless waves.'

On and westward they rode and along the windy crest of the fell, then dipped down to the north Tyne river and the camp of Chesters set thereby, thence through the limestone crags to Boreovicus on the moorland—established on the edge of the basaltic outcrop that frowns upon Bromlea Lough.

This great camp was already finished and garrisoned by Tungrian auxiliaries; the great wall that was to link together the various camps, trailed its length like a serpent till it mounted to Winshields height. Across the valley rose the purple fells of South Tyne, and in the distant haze Skiddaw's crest soared like an eagle.

On Winshields height Caesar was met by the Prefect of Luguvallum and his guard, and here Castus and Rufus bade him farewell, and turned back towards Corstopitum.

As they rode eastward, and had gained the edge of a fir wood beyond Boreovicus, a very beautiful girl stepped suddenly forward, and laid a hand on the rein of Rufus's pony.

She is of an extraordinary beauty, thought Castus, as he noted the wealth of hair, blue eyes, clear skin, and finely chiselled features. Evidently of noble birth, for she wore a linen shirt under her robe of fur, and carried a gold chain about her neck. There was a look of arrogance about her—a disdain, as it were, that set off her beauty like a jewel, and as she conversed with Rufus she seemed, so Castus thought, to be eyeing himself not without interest.

'What dost thou think of me, O Roman?' she seemed to ask through her disdainful eyes. 'Am I not more beautiful than all the women of Rome? Wouldst like to possess me? I care for none that proves not himself to be a conqueror.'

Castus moved his pony slowly onward, then pausing for his comrade looked back upon this proud girl of the wood who had aroused sensations he thought he had left behind him in Rome.

As she bade good-bye to Rufus she turned away, but her last glance was not upon Rufus but upon Castus, as the latter delighted to note.

'Who is this moorland beauty?' he inquired of his comrade, as the two rode on again together.

'She is a cousin of mine,' Rufus replied carelessly. 'My mother and her father and mother desire us to wed, but there is no hurry for that. I long for more hunting with thee, O Castus, and to be the complete soldier before I give myself to marriage.'

'How is she named?' inquired his friend further, unable to subdue his interest.

'Penchrysa,' said Rufus, 'but for short I call her Pen.'

'Penchrysa,' repeated Castus to himself; ''tis a fit and most romantic name.' Then aloud he asked, 'Did she look upon Caesar as he passed by this morning?'

'Yes,' replied Rufus, 'she heard he was to pass along the wall, and she saw him from the shelter of the wood.'

'Does she then love Rome like yourself?' pursued Castus.

His companion hesitated a moment before he replied. 'She hath a proud soul in her. She loves courage and prowess above all else, and so will, I believe, love Rome even as I, at the last. The great wall,' continued the young Briton, 'will prove to her Rome's might, and Corstopitum with its stored granaries and streets of shops will show her its civilisation. I have bid her come in to-morrow with her small brother when the market is open and the country folk bring in their mead and honey and fowls, and any grouse and salmon they may have netted.'

'Good,' replied Castus, 'we will show her the sights of Rome's newest achievement.'

Then fearing he might be playing false with his friend he thrust away all idea of this disdainful beauty of the moors from him and commenced to explain to his comrade his simplification of the then method of sending five signals from turret to turret, from mile castle to mile castle along the length of the wall, so as to ensure greater accuracy.

Yet ever the challenge of the arrogant moorland princess assailed his heart.

Proud as a stag she had stood regarding him; as graceful in all her limbs—her breast curved like a breaking wave. She was infinitely more fascinating than Lalage of Corinth, who had lately devastated the youths of Rome. Her clear oval face, the bluebells of her eyes, her auburn hair haunted him.

'Iam matura viro plenis jam nubilis annis.'

He began to weave sophistries whereby he proved to his own satisfaction that Rufus cared not for his cousin, that she disdained him, and consequently was fair game for himself. By midday on the morrow the forum of Corstopitum was crowded; there was a throng of British country-folk come in to sell, and of Roman auxiliaries from diverse camps come in to purchase.

Castus and Rufus were acting as interpreters between buyers and sellers when they saw their invited guest approaching in company with a handsome boy of some fifteen years, whose hand she held in hers.

'Welcome!' cried Rufus. 'Now what will you like best to see first? The pottery shop with its wares—Samian and Castor and rustic, or the great corn granaries, or the metal-worker's booth where you can buy a fibula for yourself, or a boss for your horse's bridle?'

His cousin hesitating, Castus suggested the metal-worker's booth as being closest, and thither they repaired.

Rufus explained with evident delight the use of the various articles set forth, and Castus, discerning that the fair visitor had a little Latin, joined in the conversation.

'Here is a fibula,' he said, 'skilfully ornamented with the head of Minerva. Take it,' he said, as he gracefully presented it to her, 'as a memento of Rome's most northern town.'

Quietly she accepted the gift with a word of thanks, then added, 'but not from Rome,' with an enigmatic smile that strangely attracted the Roman soldier. 'Not from Rome!' repeated Castus to himself, with throbbing heart, 'then from me she must mean,' he conjectured, and the passion in his breast flamed hotter than before.

He watched her closely as they fared through the town, and though she was quick to perceive, she did not seem surprised at the novelties she saw, whereby Castus found himself more attracted by her than ever. Barbarian she might be held in Rome, but there was a beauty, pride, and strength in her he had never met with on the Via Sacra.

When the time came for her to depart Castus eagerly suggested that she should come again two days later when games for all comers were to be held in the town.

'Yes,' added Rufus, 'you must come. The games will be superb.' Then with a laugh, 'Castus and I are to box.'

Penchrysa's eye quickened; she shot one glance at Castus, then promising to return she waved a hand and departed, leading her small brother with the other. Castus waited long to see if she would not look back over her shoulder, but no, she went steadily forward, and this only whetted his appetite the more.

The afternoon set apart for the games was fair and gay with a west wind that speeded like a greyhound over the wide fells.

The little arena—dug out in the hollow below the camp—was surrounded by a vast throng of eager spectators drawn from along the wall and the moor beyond.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse