In the Wrong Paradise
by Andrew Lang
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The sun rose at last, and flooded the island, when I perceived that, from every side, crowds of revellers were pressing together to the place where I lay in fetters. They had a wild, dissipated air, flowers were wreathed and twisted in their wet and dewy locks, which floated on the morning wind. Many of the young men were merely dressed—if "dressed" it could be called—in the skins of leopards, panthers, bears, goats, and deer, tossed over their shoulders. In their hands they all held wet, dripping branches of fragrant trees, many of them tipped with pine cones, and wreathed with tendrils of the vine. Others carried switches, of which I divined the use only too clearly, and the women were waving over their heads tame serpents, which writhed and wriggled hideously. It was an awful spectacle!

I was dragged forth by these revellers; many of them were intoxicated, and, in a moment—I blush even now to think of it—I was stripped naked! Nothing was left to me but my hat and spectacles, which, for some religious reason I presume, I was, fortunately, allowed to retain. Then I was driven with blows, which hurt a great deal, into the market-place, and up to the great altar, where William Bludger, also naked, was lying more dead than alive.

"William," I said solemnly, "what cheer?" He did not answer me. Even in that supreme moment it was not difficult to discern that William had been looking on the wine when it was red, and had not confined himself to mere ocular observation. I tried to make him remember he was an Englishman, that the honour of our country was in our hands, and that we should die with the courage and dignity befitting our race. These were strange consolations and exhortations for me to offer in such an extremity, but, now it had come to the last pass, it is curious what mere worldly thoughts hurried through my mind.

My words were wasted: the natives seized William and forced him to his feet. Then, while a hymn was sung, they put chains of black and white figs round our necks, and thrust into our hands pieces of cheese, figs, and certain peculiar herbs. This formed part of what may well be called the "Ritual" of this cruel race. May Ritualists heed my words, and turn from the errors of their ways!

Too well I knew all that now awaited us. All that I had seen and shuddered at, on the day of my landing on the island, was now practised on self and partner. We had to tread the long paved way to the distant cove at the river's mouth; we had to endure the lashes from the switches of wild fig. The priestess, carrying the wooden idol, walked hard by us, and cried out, whenever the blows fell fewer or lighter, that the idol was waxing too heavy for her to bear. Then they redoubled their cruelties.

It was a wonderfully lovely day. In the blue heaven there was not a cloud. We had reached the river's mouth, and were fast approaching the stakes that had already been fixed in the sands for our execution; nay, the piles of green wood were already being heaped up by the young men. There was, there could be, no hope, and, weary and wounded, I almost welcomed the prospect of death, however cruel.

Suddenly the blows ceased to shower on me, and I heard a cry from the lips of the old priest, and, turning about, I saw that the eyes of all the assembled multitude were fixed on a point on the horizon.

Looking automatically in the direction towards which they were gazing, I beheld—oh joy, oh wonder!—I beheld a long trail of cloud floating level with the sea! It was the smoke of a steamer!

"Too late, too late," I thought, and bitterly reflected that, had the vessel appeared but an hour earlier, the attention of my cruel captors might have been diverted to such a spectacle as they had never seen before.

But it was not too late.

Perched on a little hillock, and straining his gaze to the south, the old priest was speaking loudly and excitedly. The crowd deserted us, and gathered about him.

I threw myself on the sand, weary, hopeless, parched with thirst, and racked with pain. Bludger was already lying in a crumpled mass at my feet. I think he had fainted.

I retained consciousness, but that was all. The fierceness of the sun beat upon me, the sky and sea and shore swam before me in a mist. Presently I heard the voice of the priest, raised in the cadences which he favoured when he was reading texts out of their sacred books, if books they could be called. I looked at him with a faint curiosity, and perceived that he held in his hands the wooden casket, adorned with strangely carved bands of gold and ivory, which I had seen on the night of my arrival on the island.

From this he had selected the old grey scraps of metal, scratched, as I was well aware, with what they conceived to be ancient prophecies.

I was now sufficiently acquainted with the language to understand the verses which he was chanting, and which I had already heard, without comprehending them. They ran thus in English:

"But when a man, having a chimney pot on his head, and four eyes, appears in Scheria, and when a ship without sails also comes, sailing without wind, and breathing smoke, then shall destruction fall on the island."

He had not ended when it was plain, even to those ignorant people, that the prophecy was about to be fulfilled. From the long, narrow, black line of the steamer, which had approached us with astonishing speed, "sailing without wind, and breathing smoke," there burst six flashes of fire, followed by a peal like thunder, and six tall fountains, as the natives fancied, of sea-water rose and fell in the bay, where the shells had lighted.

It was plain that the commander of the vessel, finding himself in unknown seas, and hard by an unvisited country, was determined to strike terror and command respect by this salute.

The noise of the broadside had scarcely died away, when the natives fled, disappeared like magic, leaving many of their garments behind them.

They were making for their town, which was concealed from the view of the rapidly nearing steamer. From her mast I could now see, flaunting the slight breeze, the dear old Union Jack, and the banner of the Salvation Navy! {95}

My resolution was taken in a moment. Bludger had now recovered consciousness, and was picking up heart. I thrust into his hands one of the branches with which we had been flogged, fastened to it a cloak of one of the natives, bade him keep waving it from a rocky promontory, and, rushing down to the sea, I leaped in, and swam with all my strength towards the vessel. Weak as I was, my new hopes gave me strength, and presently, from the crest of a wave, I saw that the people of the steamer were lowering a boat, and rowing towards me.

In a few minutes they had reached me, my countrymen's hands were in mine. They dragged me on board; they pulled back to their vessel; and I stood, entirely undressed, on the deck of a British ship!

So long had I lived among people heedless of modesty that I was rushing, with open arms, towards the officer on the quarter-deck, who was dressed as a bishop, when I heard a scream of horror. I turned round in time to see the bishop's wife fleeing precipitately to the cabin, and driving her children and governess in front of her.

Then all the horror of the situation flooded my heart and brain, and I fell fainting on the quarter-deck.

When I recovered my consciousness, I found myself plainly but comfortably dressed in the ordinary costume, except the hat, which lay beside me, of a dean in the Church of England. My wounds had been carefully attended to, William Bludger had been taken on board, and I was surrounded by the kind faces of my benefactors, including the bishop's consort. My apologies for my somewhat sudden and unceremonious intrusion were cut short by the arrival of tea and a slight collation suitable for an invalid. In an hour I was walking the quarter-deck with the bishop in command of the William Wilberforce, armed steam yacht, of North Shields, fitted out for the purposes of the Salvation Navy. From the worthy prelate in command of the William Wilberforce, I learned much concerning his own past career and the nature of his enterprise, as I directed the navigation of the vessel through the shoals and reefs which lay about the harbour of the island.

The bishop (a purely brevet title) would refresh his memory, now and then, from a penny biography of himself with which he was provided, and the following, in brief, is a record of his life and adventures:—

Thomas Sloggins (that was his name), from his earliest infancy, had been possessed with a passion for doing good to others, a passion, alas! but too rarely reciprocated. I pass over many affecting details of his adventures as a ministering child: how he endeavoured to win his father from tobacco by breaking his favourite pipes; how he strove to wean his elder brother from cruel field-sports, by stuffing the joints of his fishing-rod with gravel; with many other touching incidents.

Being almost entirely uneducated, young Sloggins, when he reached man's estate, conceived that he would most benefit his fellow-creatures by combining the professions of the pulpit and the press—by preaching on Sundays and at odd times, while he acted as outdoor reporter to The Rowdy Puritan on every lawful day. Being a man of great earnestness and enterprise, he soon rose in the ranks of the Salvation Navy; and at one time commanded an evangelical barge on the benighted canals of our country. Finally, he made England almost too hot to hold him, by the original forms of his benevolence, while, at the same time, he acquired the utmost esteem and confidence of many wealthy philanthropists and excellent, if impulsive, ladies. These good people provided him with that well-equipped and armed steam yacht, the William Wilberforce, which he manned with a crew of converted characters (they certainly looked as if they must have needed a great deal of converting), and he had now for months been cruising in the South Pacific. A local cyclone had driven the William Wilberforce out of her reckoning, and hence the appearance of that vessel in the very nick of time to achieve my rescue.

When the bishop had finished his story, I briefly recapitulated to him my own adventures, and we agreed that the conversion of the island must be our earliest task. To begin with, we steered into the harbour, where a vast multitude of the natives were assembled in arms, and awaited our approach with a threatening demeanour. Our landing was opposed, but a few well-directed volleys from a Gardiner gun (which did not jam) caused the hostile force to disperse, and we landed in great state. Marching on the chief's house, we were received with an abject submission that I had scarcely expected. The people were absolutely cowed, more by the fulfilment of the prophecy, I think, than even by the execution done by our Gardiner machine gun. At the bishop's request, I delivered a harangue in the native tongue, declaring that we only required the British flag to be hoisted on the palace, and the immediate disendowment of the heathen church as in those parts established. I was listened to in uneasy silence; but my demand for lodgings in the palace was acceded to; and, in a few hours, the bishop, with his wife and children, were sumptuously housed under the roof of the chief. The ladies of the chief's family showed great curiosity in watching and endeavouring to converse with our friends. I was amused to see how soon the light-hearted islanders appeared to forget their troubles and apprehensions. Doto, in particular, became quite devoted to the prelate's elder daughter (the youngest of the bishop's family was suffering from measles), and would never be out of her company. Thus all seemed to fare merrily; presents were brought to us—flowers, fruit, the feathers of rare birds, and ornaments of native gold were literally showered upon the ladies of the party. The chief promised to call a meeting of his counsellors on the morrow, and all seemed going on well, when, alas! measles broke out in the palace. The infant whom I had presented to Doto—the infant whom I had found on the mountain side—was the first sufferer. Then Doto caught the disease herself, then her mother, then the chief. In vain we attempted to nurse and tend them; in vain we expended the contents of the ship's medicine chest on the invalids. The malady having, as it were, an entirely new field to work upon, raged like the most awful pestilence. Through all ranks of the people it spread like wild-fire; many died, none could be induced to take the most ordinary precautions. The natives became, as it were, mad under the torments of fever and the burning heat of the unaccustomed malady; they rushed about, quite unclad, for the sake of the deceptive coolness, and hundreds of them cast themselves into the sea and into the river.

It was my sad lot to see my dear Doto die—the first of the sufferers in the palace to succumb to the disease. Meanwhile, the bishop and myself being entirely absorbed in attendance on the sick, the crew of the William Wilberforce, I deeply regret to say, escaped from all restraint, and forgot what was due to themselves and their profession. They revelled with the most abandoned of the natives, and disease and drink ravaged the once peaceful island. Every sign of government and order vanished. The old priest built a huge pile of firewood, and laying himself there with the images of the gods, set fire to the whole, and perished with his own false religion.

After this event, the island ceased to be a safe residence for ourselves. Among the mountains, as I learned, where the pestilence had not yet penetrated, the shepherds and the wilder tribes were gathering in arms. One night we stole on board the William Wilberforce, leaving the city desolate, filled with the smoke of funeral pyres, and the wailing of men and women. There was a dreadful sultry stillness in the air, and all day long wild beasts had been dashing madly into the sea, and the sky had been obscured by flights of birds. On all the crests of the circle of surrounding hills we saw, in the growing darkness, the beacons and camp fires of the insurgents from the interior. Just before the dawn the William Wilberforce was attacked by the whole mass of the natives in boats and rafts. But we had not been unprepared for this movement, nor were the resources of science unequal to the occasion. We had surrounded the William Wilberforce with a belt, or cordon, of torpedoes, and as each of the assaulting boats touched the boom, a terrible explosion shook the water into fountains of foam, and the waves were strewn with scalded, wounded, and mutilated men. Meanwhile, we bombarded the city and the harbour, and the night passed amid the most awful sounds and sights—fire, smoke, yells of anger and pain, cries of the native leaders encouraging their men, and shouts from our own people, who had to repel the boarders, when the boom was at last forced, with pikes and cutlasses. Just before the dawn a strange thing happened. A great glowing coal, as it seemed, fell with a hissing crash on the deck of the William Wilberforce, and others dropped, with a strange sound and a dreadful odour of burning, in the water all around us. Had the natives discovered some mode of retaliating on our use of firearms?

I looked in the direction of their burning city, and beheld, on the sharp peak of the highest mountain (now visible in the grey morning light), an object like a gigantic pine-tree of fire. The blazing trunk rose, slim and straight, from the mountain crest, and, at a vast height, developed a wilderness of burning branches. Fearful hollow sounds came from the hill, its sides were seamed with racing cataracts of living lava, of coursing and leaping flames, which rolled down with incredible swiftness and speed towards the doomed city. Then the waters of the harbour were smitten and shaken, and the William Wilberforce rocked and heaved as in the most appalling storm, though all the winds were silent, while a mighty wave swept far inland towards the streams of fire. There was no room for doubt; a volcanic eruption was occurring, and a submarine earthquake, as not uncommonly happens, had also taken place. Our only hope was in immediate flight. Presently steam was got up, and we steamed away into the light of the glowing east, leaving behind us only a burning island, and a fire like an ugly dawn flaring in the western sky.

When we returned in the evening, Boothland—as I may now indeed call it, for Scheria has ceased to be—was one black smoking cinder.

Hardly a tree or a recognizable rock remained to show that this had once been a peaceful home of men. The oracle, or prophecy of the old priest, had been horribly, though, of course, quite accidentally, fulfilled.

* * * * *

Little remains to be told. On my return home, I chanced to visit the British Museum, and there, much to my surprise, observed an old piece of stone, chipped with the characters, or letters, in use among the natives of Scheria.

"Why," said I, reading the words aloud, "these are the characters which the natives employed on my island."

"These?" said the worthy official who accompanied me. "Why, these are the most archaic Greek letters which have yet been discovered: inscriptions from beneath the lava beds of Santorin."

"I can't help that," I said. "The Polynesians used them too; and you see I can read them easily, though I don't know Greek."

I then told him the whole story of my connection with the island, and of the unfortunate results of the contact between these poor people and our superior modern civilization.

I have rarely seen a man more affected by any recital than was the head of the classical department of the Museum by my artless narrative. When I described the sacrifice I saw on landing in the island, he exclaimed, "Great Heavens! the Attic Thargelia." He grew more and more excited as I went on, and producing a Greek book, "Pausanias," he showed me that the sacrifice of wild beasts was practised sixteen hundred years ago in honour of Artemis Elaphria. The killing of old Elatreus for entering the town hall reminded him of a custom in Achaea Pthiotis. When I had finished my tale, he burst out into violent and libellous language. "You have destroyed," he said, "with your miserable modern measles and Gardiner guns, the last remaining city of the ancient Greeks. The winds cast you on the shore of Phaeacia, the island sung by Homer; and, in your brutal ignorance, you never knew it. You have ruined a happy, harmless, and peaceful people, and deprived archaeology of an opportunity that can never, never return!"

I do not know about archaeology, but as for "harmless and peaceful people," I leave it to my readers to say whether the islanders were anything of the sort.

I learn that the Government has just refused to give the Museum a grant of five thousand pounds to be employed in what are called "Excavations in Ancient Phaeacia," diggings, that is, in Boothland.

With so many darkened people still ignorant of our enlightened civilization, I think the grant would be a shameful waste of public money. {106}

* * * * *

We publish the original text of the prophecy repeatedly alluded to by Mr. Gowles. The learned say that no equivalent occurs for the line about his "four eyes," and it is insinuated, in a literary journal of eminence, that Mr. Gowles pilfered the notion from Good's glass eye, in a secular romance, called King Solomon's Mines, which Mr. Gowles, we are sure, never heard of in his life.—ED.


[The Prophecy in Greek - not reproduced]


In the drawing-room, or, as it is more correctly called, the "dormitory," of my club, I had been reading a volume named "Sur l'Humanite Posthume," by M. D'Assier, a French follower of Comte. The mixture of positivism and ghost-stories highly diverted me. Moved by the sagacity and pertinence of M. D'Assier's arguments for a limited and fortuitous immortality, I fell into such an uncontrollable fit of laughter as caused, I could see, first annoyance and then anxiety in those members of my club whom my explosion of mirth had awakened. As I still chuckled and screamed, it appeared to me that the noise I made gradually grew fainter and more distant, seeming to resound in some vast empty space, even more funereal and melancholy than the dormitory of my club, the "Tepidarium." It has happened to most people to laugh themselves awake out of a dream, and every one who has done so must remember the ghastly, hollow, and maniacal sound of his own mirth. It rings horribly in a quiet room where there has been, as the Veddahs of Ceylon say is the case in the world at large, "nothing to laugh at." Dean Swift once came to himself, after a dream, laughing thus hideously at the following conceit: "I told Apronia to be very careful especially about the legs." Well, the explosions of my laughter crackled in a yet more weird and lunatic fashion about my own ears as I slowly became aware that I had died of an excessive sense of the ludicrous, and that the space in which I was so inappropriately giggling was, indeed, the fore-court of the House of Hades. As I grew more absolutely convinced of this truth, and began dimly to discern a strange world visible in a sallow light, like that of the London streets when a black fog hangs just over the houses, my hysterical chuckling gradually died away. Amusement at the poor follies of mortals was succeeded by an awful and anxious curiosity as to the state of immortality and the life after death. Already it was certain that "the Manes are somewhat," and that annihilation is the dream of people sceptical through lack of imagination. The scene around me now resolved itself into a high grey upland country, bleak and wild, like the waste pastoral places of Liddesdale. As I stood expectant, I observed a figure coming towards me at some distance. The figure bore in its hand a gun, and, as I am short-sighted, I at first conceived that he was the gamekeeper. "This affair," I tried to say to myself, "is only a dream after all; I shall wake and forget my nightmare."

But still the man drew nearer, and I began to perceive my error. Gamekeepers do not usually paint their faces red and green, neither do they wear scalp-locks, a tuft of eagle's feathers, moccasins, and buffalo- hide cloaks, embroidered with representations of war and the chase. This was the accoutrement of the stranger who now approached me, and whose copper-coloured complexion indicated that he was a member of the Red Indian, or, as the late Mr. Morgan called it the "Ganowanian" race. The stranger's attire was old and clouted; the barrel of his flint-lock musket was rusted, and the stock was actually overgrown with small funguses. It was a peculiarity of this man that everything he carried was more or less broken and outworn. The barrel of his piece was riven, his tomahawk was a mere shard of rusted steel, on many of his accoutrements the vapour of fire had passed. He approached me with a stately bearing, and, after saluting me in the fashion of his people, gave me to know that he welcomed me to the land of spirits, and that he was deputed to carry me to the paradise of the Ojibbeways. "But, sir," I cried in painful confusion, "there is here some great mistake. I am no Ojibbeway, but an Agnostic; the after-life of spirits is only (as one of our great teachers says) 'an hypothesis based on contradictory probabilities;' and I really must decline to accompany you to a place of which the existence is uncertain, and which, if it does anywhere exist, would be uncongenial in the extreme to a person of my habits."

To this remonstrance my Ojibbeway Virgil answered, in effect, that in the enormous passenger traffic between the earth and the next worlds mistakes must and frequently do occur. Quisque suos patimur manes, as the Roman says, is the rule, but there are many exceptions. Many a man finds himself in the paradise of a religion not his own, and suffers from the consequences. This was, in brief, the explanation of my guide, who could only console me by observing that if I felt ill at ease in the Ojibbeway paradise, I might, perhaps, be more fortunate in that of some other creed. "As for your Agnostics," said he, "their main occupation in their own next world is to read the poetry of George Eliot and the philosophical works of Mr. J. S. Mill." On hearing this, I was much consoled for having missed the entrance to my proper sphere, and I prepared to follow my guide with cheerful alacrity, into the paradise of the Ojibbeways.

Our track lay, at first, along the "Path of Souls," and the still, grey air was only disturbed by a faint rustling and twittering of spirits on the march. We seemed to have journeyed but a short time, when a red light shone on the left hand of the way. As we drew nearer, this light appeared to proceed from a prodigious strawberry, a perfect mountain of a strawberry. Its cool and shining sides seemed very attractive to a thirsty Soul. A red man, dressed strangely in the feathers of a raven, stood hard by, and loudly invited all passers-by to partake of this refreshment. I was about to excavate a portion of the monstrous strawberry (being partial to that fruit), when my guide held my hand and whispered in a low voice that they who accepted the invitation of the man that guarded the strawberry were lost. He added that, into whatever paradise I might stray, I must beware of tasting any of the food of the departed. All who yield to the temptation must inevitably remain where they have put the food of the dead to their lips. "You," said my guide, with a slight sneer, "seem rather particular about your future home, and you must be especially careful to make no error." Thus admonished, I followed my guide to the river which runs between our world and the paradise of the Ojibbeways. A large stump of a tree lies half across the stream, the other half must be crossed by the agility of the wayfarer. Little children do but badly here, and "an Ojibbeway woman," said my guide, "can never be consoled when her child dies before it is fairly expert in jumping. Such young children they cannot expect to meet again in paradise." I made no reply, but was reminded of some good and unhappy women I had known on earth, who were inconsolable because their babes had died before being sprinkled with water by a priest. These babes they, like the Ojibbeway matrons, "could not expect to meet again in paradise." To a grown-up spirit the jump across the mystic river presented no difficulty, and I found myself instantly among the wigwams of the Ojibbeway heaven. It was a remarkably large village, and as far as the eye could see huts and tents were erected along the river. The sound of magic songs and of drums filled all the air, and in the fields the spirits were playing lacrosse. All the people of the village had deserted their homes and were enjoying themselves at the game. Outside one hut, however, a perplexed and forlorn phantom was sitting, and to my surprise I saw that he was dressed in European clothes. As we drew nearer I observed that he wore the black garb and white neck-tie of a minister in some religious denomination, and on coming to still closer quarters I recognized an old acquaintance, the Rev. Peter McSnadden. Now Peter had been a "jined member" of that mysterious "U. P. Kirk" which, according to the author of "Lothair," was founded by the Jesuits for the greater confusion of Scotch theology. Peter, I knew, had been active as a missionary among the Red Men in Canada; but I had neither heard of his death nor could conceive how his shade had found its way into a paradise so inappropriate as that in which I encountered him. Though never very fond of Peter, my heart warmed to him, as the heart sometimes does to an acquaintance unexpectedly met in a strange land. Coming cautiously behind him, I slapped Peter on the shoulder, whereon he leaped up with a wild unearthly yell, his countenance displaying lively tokens of terror. When he recognized me he first murmured, "I thought it was these murdering Apaches again;" and it was long before I could soothe him, or get him to explain his fears, and the circumstance of his appearance in so strange a final home. "Sir," said Peter, "it's just some terrible mistake. For twenty years was I preaching to these poor painted bodies anent heaven and hell, and trying to win them from their fearsome notions about a place where they would play at the ba' on the Sabbath, and the like shameful heathen diversions. Many a time did I round it to them about a far, far other place—

"Where congregations ne'er break up, And sermons never end!"

And now, lo and behold, here I am in their heathenish Gehenna, where the Sabbath-day is just clean neglected; indeed, I have lost count myself, and do not know one day from the other. Oh, man, it's just rideec'lous. A body—I mean a soul—does not know where to turn." Here Peter, whose accent I cannot attempt to reproduce (he was a Paisley man), burst into honest tears. Though I could not but agree with Peter that his situation was "just rideec'lous," I consoled him as well as I might, saying that a man should make the best of every position, and that "where there was life there was hope," a sentiment of which I instantly perceived the futility in this particular instance. "Ye do not know the worst," the Rev. Mr. McSnadden went on. "I am here to make them sport, like Samson among the Philistines. Their paradise would be no paradise to them if they had not a pale-face, as they say, to scalp and tomahawk. And I am that pale-face. Before you can say 'scalping-knife' these awful Apaches may be on me, taking my scalp and other leeberties with my person. It grows again, my scalp does, immediately; but that's only that they may take it some other day." The full horror of Mr. McSnadden's situation now dawned upon me, but at the same time I could not but perceive that, without the presence of some pale-face to torture—Peter or another—paradise would, indeed, be no paradise to a Red Indian. In the same way Tertullian (or some other early Father) has remarked that the pleasures of the blessed will be much enhanced by what they observe of the torments of the wicked. As I was reflecting thus two wild yells burst upon my hearing. One came from a band of Apache spirits who had stolen into the Ojibbeway village; the other scream was uttered by my unfortunate friend. I confess that I fled with what speed I might, nor did I pause till the groans of the miserable Peter faded in the distance. He was, indeed, a man in the wrong paradise.

In my anxiety to avoid sharing the fate of Peter at the hands of the Apaches, I had run out of sight and sound of the Ojibbeway village. When I paused I found myself alone, on a wide sandy tract, at the extremity of which was an endless thicket of dark poplar-trees, a grove dear to Persephone. Here and there in the dank sand, half buried by the fallen generations of yellow poplar-leaves, were pits dug, a cubit every way, and there were many ruinous altars of ancient stones. On some were engraved figures of a divine pair, a king and queen seated on a throne, while men and women approached them with cakes in their hands or with the sacrifice of a cock. While I was admiring these strange sights, I beheld as it were a moving light among the deeps of the poplar thicket, and presently saw coming towards me a young man clad in white raiment and of a radiant aspect. In his hand he bore a golden wand whereon were wings of gold. The first down of manhood was on his lip; he was in that season of life when youth is most gracious. Then I knew him to be no other than Hermes of the golden rod, the guide of the souls of men outworn. He took my hand with a word of welcome, and led me through the gloom of the poplar trees.

Like Thomas the Rhymer, on his way to Fairyland—

"We saw neither sun nor moon, But we heard the roaring of the sea."

This eternal "swowing of a flode" was the sound made by the circling stream of Oceanus, as he turns on his bed, washing the base of the White Rock, and the sands of the region of dreams. So we fleeted onwards till we came to marvellous lofty gates of black adamant, that rose before us like the steep side of a hill. On the left side of the gates we beheld a fountain flowing from beneath the roots of a white cypress-tree, and to this fountain my guide forbade me to draw near. "There is another yonder," he said, pointing to the right hand, "a stream of still water that issues from the Lake of Memory, and there are guards who keep that stream from the lips of the profane. Go to them and speak thus: 'I am the child of earth and of the starry sky, yet heavenly is my lineage, and this yourselves know right well. But I am perishing with thirst, so give me speedily of that still water which floweth forth of the mere of Memory.' And they will give thee to drink of that spring divine, and then shalt thou dwell with the heroes and the blessed." So I did as he said, and went before the guardians of the water. Now they were veiled, and their voices, when they answered me, seemed to come from far away. "Thou comest to the pure, from the pure," they said, "and thou art a suppliant of holy Persephone. Happy and most blessed art thou, advance to the reward of the crown desirable, and be no longer mortal, but divine." Then a darkness fell upon me, and lifted again like mist on the hills, and we found ourselves in the most beautiful place that can be conceived, a meadow of that short grass which grows on some shores beside the sea. There were large spaces of fine and solid turf, but, where the little streams flowed from the delicate-tinted distant mountains, there were narrow valleys full of all the flowers of a southern spring. Here grew narcissus and hyacinths, violets and creeping thyme, and crocus and the crimson rose, as they blossomed on the day when the milk-white bull carried off Europa. Beyond the level land beside the sea, between these coasts and the far-off hills, was a steep lonely rock, on which were set the shining temples of the Grecian faith. The blue seas that begirt the coasts were narrow, and ran like rivers between many islands not less fair than the country to which we were come, while other isles, each with its crest of clear-cut hills, lay westward, far away, and receding into the place of the sunset. Then I recognized the Fortunate Islands spoken of by Pindar, and the paradise of the Greeks. "Round these the ocean breezes blow and golden flowers are glowing, some from the land on trees of splendour, and some the water feedeth, with wreaths whereof they entwine their hands." {124} And, as Pindar says again, "for them shineth below the strength of the sun, while in our world it is night, and the space of crimson-flowered meadows before their city is full of the shade of frankincense-trees and of fruits of gold. And some in horses and in bodily feats, and some in dice, and some in harp-playing have delight, and among them thriveth all fair flowering bliss; and fragrance ever streameth through the lovely land as they mingle incense of every kind upon the altars of the gods." In this beautiful country I took great delight, now watching the young men leaping and running (and they were marvellously good over a short distance of ground), now sitting in a chariot whereto were harnessed steeds swifter than the wind, like those that, Homer says, "the gods gave, glorious gifts, to Peleus." And the people, young and old, received me kindly, welcoming me in their Greek speech, which was like the sound of music. And because I had ever been a lover of them and of their tongue, my ears were opened to understand them, though they spoke not Greek as we read it. Now when I had beheld many of the marvels of the Fortunate Islands, and had sat at meat with those kind hosts (though I only made semblance to eat of what they placed before me), and had seen the face of Rhadamanthus of the golden hair, who is the lord of that country, my friends told me that there was come among them one of my own nation who seemed most sad and sorrowful, and they could make him no mirth. Then they carried me to a house in a grove, and all around it a fair garden, and a well in the midst.

Now stooping over the well, that he might have sight of his own face, was a most wretched man. He was pale and very meagre; he had black rings under his eyes, and his hair was long, limp, and greasy, falling over his shoulders. He was clad somewhat after the manner of the old Greeks, but his raiment was wofully ill-made and ill-girt upon him, nor did he ever seem at his ease. As soon as I beheld his sallow face I knew him for one I had seen and mocked at in the world of the living. He was a certain Figgins, and he had been honestly apprenticed to a photographer; but, being a weak and vain young fellow, he had picked up modern notions about art, the nude, plasticity, and the like, in the photographer's workroom, whereby he became a weariness to the photographer and to them that sat unto him. Being dismissed from his honest employment, this chitterling must needs become a model to some painters that were near as ignorant as himself. They talked to him about the Greeks, about the antique, about Paganism, about the Renaissance, till they made him as much the child of folly as themselves. And they painted him as Antinous, as Eros, as Sleep, and I know not what, but whatever name they called him he was always the same lank-haired, dowdy, effeminate, pasty-faced photographer's young man. Then he must needs take to writing poems all about Greece, and the free ways of the old Greeks, and Lais, and Phryne, and therein he made "Aeolus" rhyme to "control us." For of Greek this fellow knew not a word, and any Greek that met him had called him a [Greek text], and bidden him begone to the crows for a cursed fellow, and one that made false quantities in every Greek name he uttered. But his little poems were much liked by young men of his own sort, and by some of the young women. Now death had come to Figgins, and here he was in the Fortunate Islands, the very paradise of those Greeks about whom he had always been prating while he was alive. And yet he was not happy. A little lyre lay beside him in the grass, and now and again he twanged on it dolorously, and he tried to weave himself garlands from the flowers that grew around him; but he knew not the art, and ever and anon he felt for his button-hole, wherein to stick a lily or the like. But he had no button-hole. Then he would look at himself in the well, and yawn and wish himself back in his friends' studios in London. I almost pitied the wretch, and, going up to him, I asked him how he did. He said he had never been more wretched. "Why," I asked, "was your mouth not always full of the 'Greek spirit,' and did you not mock the Christians and their religion? And, as to their heaven, did you not say that it was a tedious place, full of pious old ladies and Philistines? And are you not got to the paradise of the Greeks? What, then, ails you with your lot?" "Sir," said he, "to be plain with you, I do not understand a word these fellows about me say, and I feel as I did the first time I went to Paris, before I knew enough French to read the Master's poems. {128} Again, every one here is mirthful and gay, and there is no man with a divinely passionate potentiality of pain. When I first came here they were always asking me to run with them or jump against them, and one fellow insisted I should box with him, and hurt me very much. My potentiality of pain is considerable. Or they would have me drive with them in these dangerous open chariots,—me, that never rode in a hansom cab without feeling nervous. And after dinner they sing songs of which I do not catch the meaning of one syllable, and the music is like nothing I ever heard in my life. And they are all abominably active and healthy. And such of their poets as I admired—in Bohn's cribs, of course—the poets of the Anthology, are not here at all, and the poets who are here are tremendous proud toffs" (here Figgins relapsed into his natural style as it was before he became a Neopagan poet), "and won't say a word to a cove. And I'm sick of the Greeks, and the Fortunate Islands are a blooming fraud, and oh, for paradise, give me Pentonville." With these words, perhaps the only unaffected expression of genuine sentiment poor Figgins had ever uttered, he relapsed into a gloomy silence. I advised him to cultivate the society of the authors whose selected works are in the Greek Delectus, and to try to make friends with Xenophon, whose Greek is about as easy as that of any ancient. But I fear that Figgins, like the Rev. Peter McSnadden, is really suffering a kind of punishment in the disguise of a reward, and all through having accidentally found his way into what he foolishly thought would be the right paradise for him.

Now I might have stayed long in the Fortunate Islands, yet, beautiful as they were, I ever felt like Odysseus in the island of fair Circe. The country was lovely and the land desirable, but the Christian souls were not there without whom heaven itself were no paradise to me. And it chanced that as we sat at the feast a maiden came to me with a pomegranate on a plate of silver, and said, "Sir, thou hast now been here for the course of a whole moon, yet hast neither eaten nor drunk of what is set before thee. Now it is commanded that thou must taste if it were but a seed of this pomegranate, or depart from among us." Then, making such excuses as I might, I was constrained to refuse to eat, for no soul can leave a paradise wherein it has tasted food. And as I spoke the walls of the fair hall wherein we sat, which were painted with the effigies of them that fell at Thermopylae and in Arcadion, wavered and grew dim, and darkness came upon me.

The first of my senses which returned to me was that of smell, and I seemed almost drowned in the spicy perfumes of Araby. Then my eyes became aware of a green soft fluttering, as of the leaves of a great forest, but quickly I perceived that the fluttering was caused by the green scarfs of a countless multitude of women. They were "fine women" in the popular sense of the term, and were of the school of beauty admired by the Faithful of Islam, and known to Mr. Bailey, in "Martin Chuzzlewit," as "crumby." These fond attendant nymphs carried me into gardens twain, in each two gushing springs, in each fruit, and palms, and pomegranates. There were the blessed reclining, precisely as the Prophet has declared, "on beds the linings whereof are brocade, and the fruit of the two gardens within reach to cull." There also were the "maids of modest glances," previously indifferent to the wooing "of man or ginn." "Bright and large-eyed maids kept in their tents, reclining on green cushions and beautiful carpets. About the golden couches went eternal youths with goblets and ewers, and a cup of flowing wine. No headache shall they feel therefrom," says the compassionate Prophet, "nor shall their wits be dimmed." And all that land is misty and fragrant with the perfume of the softest Latakia, and the gardens are musical with the bubbling of countless narghiles; and I must say that to the Christian soul which enters that paradise the whole place has, certainly, a rather curious air, as of a highly transcendental Cremorne. There could be no doubt, however, that the Faithful were enjoying themselves amazingly—"right lucky fellows," as we read in the new translation of the Koran. Yet even here all was not peace and pleasantness, for I heard my name called by a small voice, in a tone of patient subdued querulousness. Looking hastily round, I with some difficulty recognized, in a green turban and silk gown to match, my old college tutor and professor of Arabic. Poor old Jones had been the best and the most shy of university men. As there was never any undergraduate in his time (it is different now) who wished to learn Arabic, his place had been a sinecure, and he had chiefly devoted his leisure to "drawing" pupils who were too late for college chapel. The sight of a lady of his acquaintance in the streets had at all times been alarming enough to drive him into a shop or up a lane, and he had not survived the creation of the first batch of married fellows. How he had got into this thoroughly wrong paradise was a mystery which he made no attempt to explain. "A nice place this, eh?" he said to me. "Nice gardens; remind me of Magdalene a good deal. It seems, however, to be decidedly rather gay just now; don't you think so? Commemoration week, perhaps. A great many young ladies up, certainly; a good deal of cup drunk in the gardens too. I always did prefer to go down in Commemoration week, myself; never was a dancing man. There is a great deal of dancing here, but the young ladies dance alone, rather like what is called the ballet, I believe, at the opera. I must say the young persons are a little forward; a little embarrassing it is to be alone here, especially as I have forgotten a good deal of my Arabic. Don't you think, my dear fellow, you and I could manage to give them the slip? Run away from them, eh?" He uttered a timid little chuckle, and at that moment an innumerable host of houris began a ballet d'action illustrative of a series of events in the career of the Prophet. It was obvious that my poor uncomplaining old friend was really very miserable. The "thornless loto trees" were all thorny to him, and the "tal'h trees with piles of fruit, the outspread shade, and water outpoured" could not comfort him in his really very natural shyness. A happy thought occurred to me. In early and credulous youth I had studied the works of Cornelius Agrippa and Petrus de Abano. Their lessons, which had not hitherto been of much practical service, recurred to my mind. Stooping down, I drew a circle round myself and my old friend in the fragrant white blossoms which were strewn so thick that they quite hid the grass. This circle I fortified by the usual signs employed, as Benvenuto Cellini tells us, in the conjuration of evil spirits. I then proceeded to utter one of the common forms of exorcism. Instantly the myriad houris assumed the forms of irritated demons; the smoke from the uncounted narghiles burned thick and black; the cries of the frustrated ginns, who were no better than they should be, rang wildly in our ears; the palm-trees shook beneath a mighty wind; the distant summits of the minarets rocked and wavered, and, with a tremendous crash, the paradise of the Faithful disappeared.

* * * * *

As I rang the bell, and requested the club-waiter to carry away the smoking fragments of the moderator-lamp which I had accidentally knocked over in awaking from my nightmare, I reflected on the vanity of men and the unsubstantial character of the future homes that their fancy has fashioned. The ideal heavens of modern poets and novelists, and of ancient priests, come no nearer than the drugged dreams of the angekok and the biraark of Greenland and Queensland to that rest and peace whereof it has not entered into the mind of man to conceive. To the wrong man each of our pictured heavens would be a hell, and even to the appropriate devotee each would become a tedious purgatory.



"Have you seen the Clayville Dime?"

Moore chucked me a very shabby little sheet of printed matter. It fluttered feebly in the warm air, and finally dropped on my recumbent frame. I was lolling in a hammock in the shade of the verandah.

I did not feel much inclined for study, but I picked up the Clayville Dime and lazily glanced at that periodical, while Moore relapsed into the pages of Ixtlilxochitl. He was a literary character for a planter, had been educated at Oxford (where I made his acquaintance), and had inherited from his father, with a large collection of Indian and Mexican curiosities, a taste for the ancient history of the New World.

Sometimes I glanced at the newspaper; sometimes I looked out at the pleasant Southern garden, where the fountain flashed and fell among weeping willows, and laurels, orange-trees, and myrtles.

"Hullo!" I cried suddenly, disturbing Moore's Aztec researches, "here is a queer affair in the usually quiet town of Clayville. Listen to this;" and I read aloud the following "par," as I believe paragraphs are styled in newspaper offices:—

"'Instinct and Accident.—As Colonel Randolph was driving through our town yesterday and was passing Captain Jones's sample-room, where the colonel lately shot Moses Widlake in the street, the horses took alarm and started violently downhill. The colonel kept his seat till rounding the corner by the Clayville Bank, when his wheels came into collision with that edifice, and our gallant townsman was violently shot out. He is now lying in a very precarious condition. This may relieve Tom Widlake of the duty of shooting the colonel in revenge for his father. It is commonly believed that Colonel Randolph's horses were maddened by the smell of the blood which has dried up where old Widlake was shot. Much sympathy is felt for the colonel. Neither of the horses was injured.'"

"Clayville appears to be a lively kind of place," I said. "Do you often have shootings down here?"

"We do," said Moore, rather gravely; "it is one of our institutions with which I could dispense."

"And do you 'carry iron,' as the Greeks used to say, or 'go heeled,' as your citizens express it?"

"No, I don't; neither pistol nor knife. If any one shoots me, he shoots an unarmed man. The local bullies know it, and they have some scruple about shooting in that case. Besides, they know I am an awkward customer at close quarters."

Moore relapsed into his Mexican historian, and I into the newspaper.

"Here is a chance of seeing one of your institutions at last," I said.

I had found an advertisement concerning a lot of negroes to be sold that very day by public auction in Clayville. All this, of course, was "before the war."

"Well, I suppose you ought to see it," said Moore, rather reluctantly. He was gradually emancipating his own servants, as I knew, and was even suspected of being a director of "the Underground Railroad" to Canada.

"Peter," he cried, "will you be good enough to saddle three horses and bring them round?"

Peter, a "darkey boy" who had been hanging about in the garden, grinned and went off. He was a queer fellow, Peter, a plantation humourist, well taught in all the then unpublished lore of "Uncle Remus." Peter had a way of his own, too, with animals, and often aided Moore in collecting objects of natural history.

"Did you get me those hornets, Peter?" said Moore, when the black returned with the horses.

"Got 'em safe, massa, in a little box," replied Peter, who then mounted and followed at a respectful distance as our squire.

Without many more words we rode into the forest which lay between Clayville and Moore's plantation. Through the pine barrens ran the road, and on each side of the way was luxuriance of flowering creepers. The sweet faint scent of the white jessamine and the homely fragrance of honeysuckle filled the air, and the wild white roses were in perfect blossom. Here and there an aloe reminded me that we were not at home, and dwarf palms and bayonet palmettoes, with the small pointed leaf of the "live oak," combined to make the scenery look foreign and unfamiliar. There was a soft haze in the air, and the sun's beams only painted, as it were, the capitals of the tall pillar-like pines, while the road was canopied and shaded by the skeins of grey moss that hung thickly on all the boughs.

The trees grew thinner as the road approached the town. Dusty were the ways, and sultry the air, when we rode into Clayville and were making for "the noisy middle market-place." Clayville was but a small border town, though it could then boast the presence of a squadron of cavalry, sent there to watch the "border ruffians." The square was neither large nor crowded, but the spectacle was strange and interesting to me. Men who had horses or carts to dispose of were driving or riding about, noisily proclaiming the excellence of their wares. But buyers were more concerned, like myself, with the slave-market. In the open air, in the middle of the place, a long table was set. The crowd gathered round this, and presented types of various sorts of citizens. The common "mean white" was spitting and staring—a man fallen so low that he had no nigger to wallop, and was thus even more abject, because he had no natural place and functions in local society, than the slaves themselves. The local drunkard was uttering sagacities to which no mortal attended. Two or three speculators were bidding on commission, and there were a few planters, some of them mounted, and a mixed multitude of tradesmen, loafers, bar-keepers, newspaper reporters, and idlers in general. At either end of the long table sat an auctioneer, who behaved with the traditional facetiousness of the profession. As the "lots" came on for sale they mounted the platform, generally in family parties. A party would fetch from one thousand to fifteen hundred dollars, according to its numbers and "condition." The spectacle was painful and monstrous. Most of the "lots" bore the examination of their points with a kind of placid dignity, and only showed some little interest when the biddings grew keen and flattered their pride.

The sale was almost over, and we were just about to leave, when a howl of derision from the mob made us look round. What I saw was the apparition of an extremely aged and debilitated black man standing on the table. What Moore saw to interest him I could not guess, but he grew pale and uttered an oath of surprise under his breath, though he rarely swore. Then he turned his horse's head again towards the auctioneer. That merry tradesman was extolling the merits of nearly his last lot. "A very remarkable specimen, gentlemen! Admirers of the antique cannot dispense with this curious nigger—very old and quite imperfect. Like so many of the treasures of Greek art which have reached us, he has had the misfortune to lose his nose and several of his fingers. How much offered for this exceptional lot—unmarried and without encumbrances of any kind? He is dumb too, and may be trusted with any secret."

"Take him off!" howled some one in the crowd.

"Order his funeral!"

"Chuck him into the next lot."

"What, gentlemen, no bids for this very eligible nigger? With a few more rags he would make a most adequate scarecrow."

While this disgusting banter was going on I observed a planter ride up to one of the brokers and whisper for some time in his ear. The planter was a bad but unmistakable likeness of my friend Moore, worked over, so to speak, with a loaded brush and heavily glazed with old Bourbon whisky. After giving his orders to the agent he retired to the outskirts of the crowd, and began flicking his long dusty boots with a serviceable cowhide whip.

"Well, gentlemen, we must really adopt the friendly suggestion of Judge Lee and chuck this nigger into the next lot."

So the auctioneer was saying, when the broker to whom I have referred cried out, "Ten dollars."

"This is more like business," cried the auctioneer. "Ten dollars offered! What amateur says more than ten dollars for this lot? His extreme age and historical reminiscences alone, if he could communicate them, would make him invaluable to the student."

To my intense amazement Moore shouted from horseback, "Twenty dollars."

"What, you want a cheap nigger to get your hand in, do you, you blank- blanked abolitionist?" cried a man who stood near. He was a big, dirty- looking bully, at least half drunk, and attending (not unnecessarily) to his toilet with the point of a long, heavy knife.

Before the words were out of his mouth Moore had leaped from his horse and delivered such a right-handed blow as that wherewith the wandering beggar-man smote Irus of old in the courtyard of Odysseus, Laertes' son. "On his neck, beneath the ear, he smote him, and crushed in the bones; and the red blood gushed up through his mouth, and he gnashed his teeth together as he kicked the ground." Moore stooped, picked up the bowie- knife, and sent it glittering high through the air.

"Take him away," he said, and two rough fellows, laughing, carried the bully to the edge of the fountain that played in the corner of the square. He was still lying crumpled up there when we rode out of Clayville.

The bidding, of course, had stopped, owing to the unaffected interest which the public took in this more dramatic interlude. The broker, it is true, had bid twenty-five dollars, and was wrangling with the auctioneer.

"You have my bid, Mr. Brinton, sir, and there is no other offer. Knock down the lot to me."

"You wait your time, Mr. Isaacs," said the auctioneer. "No man can do two things at once and do them well. When Squire Moore has settled with Dick Bligh he will desert the paths of military adventure for the calmer and more lucrative track of commercial enterprise."

The auctioneer's command of long words was considerable, and was obviously of use to him in his daily avocations.

When he had rounded his period, Moore was in the saddle again, and nodded silently to the auctioneer.

"Squire Moore bids thirty dollars. Thirty dollars for this once despised but now appreciated fellow-creature," rattled on the auctioneer.

The agent nodded again.

"Forty dollars bid," said the auctioneer.

"Fifty," cried Moore.

The broker nodded.


The agent nodded again.

The bidding ran rapidly up to three hundred and fifty dollars.

The crowd were growing excited, and had been joined by every child in the town, by every draggled and sunburnt woman, and the drinking-bar had disgorged every loafer who felt sober enough to stay the distance to the centre of the square.

My own first feelings of curiosity had subsided. I knew how strong and burning was Moore's hatred of oppression, and felt convinced that he merely wished at any sacrifice of money to secure for this old negro some peaceful days and a quiet deathbed.

The crowd doubtless took the same obvious view of the case as I did, and was now eagerly urging on the two competitors.

"Never say die, Isaacs."

"Stick to it, Squire; the nigger's well worth the dollars."

So they howled, and now the biddings were mounting towards one thousand dollars, when the sulky planter rode up to the neighbourhood of the table—much to the inconvenience of the "gallery"—and whispered to his agent. The conference lasted some minutes, and at the end of it the agent capped Moore's last offer, one thousand dollars, with a bid of one thousand two hundred.

"Fifteen hundred," said Moore, amidst applause.

"Look here, Mr. Knock-'em-down," cried Mr. Isaacs: "it's hot and thirsty work sitting, nodding here; I likes my ease on a warm day; so just you reckon that I see the Squire, and go a hundred dollars more as long as I hold up my pencil."

He stuck a long gnawed pencil erect between his finger and thumb, and stared impertinently at Moore. The Squire nodded, and the bidding went on in this silent fashion till the bids had actually run up to three thousand four hundred dollars. All this while the poor negro, whose limbs no longer supported him, crouched in a heap on the table, turning his haggard eye alternately on Moore and on the erect and motionless pencil of the broker. The crowd had become silent with excitement. Unable to stand the heat and agitation, Moore's unfriendly brother had crossed the square in search of a "short drink." Moore nodded once more.

"Three thousand six hundred dollars bid," cried the auctioneer, and looked at Isaacs.

With a wild howl Isaacs dashed his pencil in the air, tossed up his hands, and thrust them deep down between his coat collar and his body, uttering all the while yells of pain.

"Don't you bid, Mr. Isaacs?" asked the auctioneer, without receiving any answer except Semitic appeals to holy Abraham, blended with Aryan profanity.

"Come," said Moore very severely, "his pencil is down, and he has withdrawn his bid. There is no other bidder; knock the lot down to me."

"No more offers?" said the auctioneer slowly, looking all round the square.

There were certainly no offers from Mr. Isaacs, who now was bounding like the gad-stung Io to the furthest end of the place.

"This fine buck-negro, warranted absolutely unsound of wind and limb, going, going, a shameful sacrifice, for a poor three thousand six hundred dollars. Going, going—gone!"

The hammer fell with a sharp, decisive sound.

A fearful volley of oaths rattled after the noise, like thunder rolling away in the distance.

Moore's brother had returned from achieving a "short drink" just in time to see his coveted lot knocked down to his rival.

We left the spot, with the negro in the care of Peter, as quickly as might be.

"I wonder," said Moore, as we reached the inn and ordered a trap to carry our valuable bargain home in—"I wonder what on earth made Isaacs run off like a maniac."

"Massa," whispered Peter, "yesterday I jes' caught yer Brer Hornet a-loafin' around in the wood. 'Come wi' me,' says I, 'and bottled him in this yer pasteboard box,'" showing one which had held Turkish tobacco. "When I saw that Hebrew Jew wouldn't stir his pencil, I jes' crept up softly and dropped Brer Hornet down his neck. Then he jes' rose and went. Spec's he and Brer Hornet had business of their own."

"Peter," said Moore, "you are a good boy, but you will come to a bad end."


As we rode slowly homeward, behind the trap which conveyed the dear-bought slave, Moore was extremely moody and disinclined for conversation.

"Is your purchase not rather an expensive one?" I ventured to ask, to which Moore replied shortly—

"No; think he is perhaps the cheapest nigger that was ever bought."

To put any more questions would have been impertinent, and I possessed my curiosity in silence till we reached the plantation.

Here Moore's conduct became decidedly eccentric. He had the black man conveyed at once into a cool, dark, strong room with a heavy iron door, where the new acquisition was locked up in company with a sufficient meal. Moore and I dined hastily, and then he summoned all his negroes together into the court of the house. "Look here, boys," he cried: "all these trees"—and he pointed to several clumps "must come down immediately, and all the shrubs on the lawn and in the garden. Fall to at once, those of you that have axes, and let the rest take hoes and knives and make a clean sweep of the shrubs." The idea of wholesale destruction seemed not disagreeable to the slaves, who went at their work with eagerness, though it made my heart ache to see the fine old oaks beginning to fall and to watch the green garden becoming a desert. Moore first busied himself with directing the women, who, under his orders, piled up mattresses and bags of cotton against the parapets of the verandahs. The house stood on the summit of a gradually sloping height, and before the moon began to set (for we worked without intermission through the evening and far into the night) there was nothing but a bare slope of grass all round the place, while smoke and flame went up from the piles of fallen timber. The plantation, in fact, was ready to stand a short siege.

Moore now produced a number of rifles, which he put, with ammunition, into the hands of some of the more stalwart negroes. These he sent to their cabins, which lay at a distance of about a furlong and a half on various sides of the house. The men had orders to fire on any advancing enemy, and then to fall back at once on the main building, which was now barricaded and fortified. One lad was told to lurk in a thicket below the slope of the hill and invisible from the house.

"If Wild Bill's men come on, and you give them the slip, cry thrice like the 'Bob White,'" said Moore; "if they take you, cry once. If you get off, run straight to Clayville, and give this note to the officer commanding the cavalry."

The hour was now about one in the morning; by three the dawn would begin. In spite of his fatigues, Moore had no idea of snatching an hour's rest. He called up Peter (who had been sleeping, coiled up like a black cat, in the smoking-room), and bade him take a bath and hot water into the room where Gumbo, the newly purchased black, had all this time been left to his own reflections. "Soap him and lather him well, Peter," said Moore; "wash him white, if you can, and let me know when he's fit to come near."

Peter withdrew with his stereotyped grin to make his preparations.

Presently, through the open door of the smoking-room, we heard the sounds of energetic splashings, mingled with the inarticulate groans of the miserable Gumbo. Moore could not sit still, but kept pacing the room, smoking fiercely. Presently Peter came to the door—

"Nigger's clean now, massa."

"Bring me a razor, then," said Moore, "and leave me alone with him."

* * * * *

When Moore had retired, with the razor, into the chamber where his purchase lay, I had time to reflect on the singularity of the situation. In every room loaded rifles were ready; all the windows were cunningly barricaded, and had sufficient loopholes. The peaceful planter's house had become a castle; a dreadful quiet had succeeded to the hubbub of preparation, and my host, yesterday so pleasant, was now locked up alone with a dumb negro and a razor! I had long ago given up the hypothesis that Gumbo had been purchased out of pure philanthropy. The disappointment of baffled cruelty in Moore's brother would not alone account for the necessity of such defensive preparations as had just been made. Clearly Gumbo was not a mere fancy article, but a negro of real value, whose person it was desirable to obtain possession of at any risk or cost. The ghastly idea occurred to me (suggested, I fancy, by Moore's demand for a razor) that Gumbo, at some period of his career, must have swallowed a priceless diamond. This gem must still be concealed about his person, and Moore must have determined by foul means, as no fair means were available, to become its owner. When this fancy struck me I began to feel that it was my duty to interfere. I could not sit by within call (had poor Gumbo been capable of calling) and allow my friend to commit such a deed of cruelty. As I thus parleyed with myself, the heavy iron door of the store-room opened, and Moore came out, with the razor (bloodless, thank Heaven!) in his hand. Anxiety had given place to a more joyous excitement.

"Well?" I said interrogatively.

"Well, all's well. That man has, as I felt sure, the Secret of the Pyramid."

I now became quite certain that Moore, in spite of all his apparent method, had gone out of his mind. It seemed best to humour him, especially as so many loaded rifles were lying about.

"He has seen the myst'ry hid Under Egypt's pyramid,"

I quoted; "but, my dear fellow, as the negro is dumb, I don't see how you are to get the secret out of him."

"I did not say he knew it," answered Moore crossly; "I said he had it. As to Egypt, I don't know what you are talking about—"

At this moment we heard the crack of rifles, and in the instant of silence which followed came the note of the "Bob White."

Once it shrilled, and we listened eagerly; then the notes came twice rapidly, and a sound of voices rose up from the negro outposts, who had been driven in and were making fast the one door of the house that had been left open. From the negroes we learned that our assailants (Bill Hicock's band of border ruffians, "specially engaged for this occasion") had picketed their horses behind the dip of the hill and were advancing on foot. Moore hurried to the roof to reconnoitre. The dawn was stealing on, and the smoke from the still smouldering trees, which we had felled and burned, rose through the twilight air.

"Moore, you hound," cried a voice through the smoke of the furthest pile, "we have come for your new nigger. Will you give him up or will you fight?"

Moore's only reply was a bullet fired in the direction whence the voice was heard. His shot was answered by a perfect volley from men who could just be discerned creeping through the grass about four hundred yards out. The bullets rattled harmlessly against wooden walls and iron shutters, or came with a thud against the mattress fortifications of the verandah. The firing was all directed against the front of the house.

"I see their game," said Moore. "The front attack is only a feint. When they think we are all busy here, another detachment will try to rush the place from the back and to set fire to the building. We'll 'give them their kail through the reek.'"

Moore's dispositions were quickly made. He left me with some ten of the blacks to keep up as heavy a fire as possible from the roof against the advancing skirmishers. He posted himself, with six fellows on whom he could depend, in a room of one of the wings which commanded the back entrance. As many men, with plenty of ready-loaded rifles, were told off to a room in the opposite wing. Both parties were thus in a position to rake the entrance with a cross fire. Moore gave orders that not a trigger should be pulled till the still invisible assailants had arrived on his side, between the two projecting wings. "Then fire into them, and let every one choose his man."

On the roof our business was simple enough. We lay behind bags of cotton, firing as rapidly and making as much show of force as possible, while women kept loading for us. Our position was extremely strong, as we were quite invisible to men crouching or running hurriedly far below. Our practice was not particularly good; still three or four of the skirmishers had ceased to advance, and this naturally discouraged the others, who were aware, of course, that their movement was only a feint. The siege had now lasted about half an hour, and I had begun to fancy that Moore's theory of the attack was a mistake, and that he had credited the enemy with more generalship than they possessed, when a perfect storm of fire broke out beneath us, from the rooms where Moore and his company were posted. Dangerous as it was to cease for a moment from watching the enemy, I stole across the roof, and, looking down between two of the cotton bags which filled the open spaces of the balustrades, I saw the narrow ground between the two wings simply strewn with dead or wounded men. The cross fire still poured from the windows, though here and there a marksman tried to pick off the fugitives. Rapidly did I cross the roof to my post. To my horror the skirmishers had advanced, as if at the signal of the firing, and were now running up at full speed and close to the walls of the house. At that moment the door opened, and Moore, heading a number of negroes, picked off the leading ruffian and rushed out into the open. The other assailants fired hurriedly and without aim, then—daunted by the attack so suddenly carried into their midst, and by the appearance of one or two of their own beaten comrades—the enemy turned and fairly bolted. We did not pursue. Far away down the road we heard the clatter of hoofs, and thin and clear came the thrice-repeated cry of the "Bob White."

"Dick's coming back with the soldiers," said Moore; "and now I think we may look after the wounded."

* * * * *

I did not see much of Moore that day. The fact is that I slept a good deal, and Moore was mysteriously engaged with Gumbo. Night came, and very much needed quiet and sleep came with it. Then we passed an indolent day, and I presumed that adventures were over, and that on the subject of "the Secret of the Pyramid" Moore had recovered his sanity. I was just taking my bedroom candle when Moore said, "Don't go to bed yet. You will come with me, won't you, and see out the adventure of the Cheap Nigger?"

"You don't mean to say the story is to be continued?" I asked.

"Continued? Why the fun is only beginning," Moore answered. "The night is cloudy, and will just suit us. Come down to the branch."

The "branch," as Moore called it, was a strong stream that separated, as I knew, his lands from his brother's. We walked down slowly, and reached the broad boat which was dragged over by a chain when any one wanted to cross. At the "scow," as the ferry-boat was called, Peter joined us; he ferried us deftly over the deep and rapid water, and then led on, as rapidly as if it had been daylight, along a path through the pines.

"How often I came here when I was a boy," said Moore; "but now I might lose myself in the wood, for this is my brother's land, and I have forgotten the way."

As I knew that Mr. Bob Moore was confined to his room by an accident, through which an ounce of lead had been lodged in a portion of his frame, I had no fear of being arrested for trespass. Presently the negro stopped in front of a cliff.

"Here is the 'Sachem's Cave,'" said Moore. "You'll help us to explore the cave, won't you?"

I did not think the occasion an opportune one for exploring caves, but to have withdrawn would have demanded a "moral courage," as people commonly say when they mean cowardice, which I did not possess. We stepped within a narrow crevice of the great cliff. Moore lit a lantern and went in advance; the negro followed with a flaring torch.

Suddenly an idea occurred to me, which I felt bound to communicate to Moore. "My dear fellow," I said in a whisper, "is this quite sportsmanlike? You know you are after some treasure, real or imaginary, and, I put it to you as a candid friend, is not this just a little bit like poaching? Your brother's land, you know."

"What I am looking for is in my own land," said Moore. "The river is the march. Come on."

We went on, now advancing among fairy halls, glistering with stalactites or paved with silver sand, and finally pushing our way through a concealed crevice down dank and narrow passages in the rock. The darkness increased; the pavement plashed beneath our feet, and the drip, drip of water was incessant. "We are under the river-bed," said Moore, "in a kind of natural Thames Tunnel." We made what speed we might through this combination of the Valley of the Shadow with the Slough of Despond, and soon were on firmer ground again beneath Moore's own territory. Probably no other white men had ever crawled through the hidden passage and gained the further penetralia of the cave, which now again began to narrow. Finally we reached four tall pillars, of about ten feet in height, closely surrounded by the walls of rock. As we approached these pillars, that were dimly discerned by the torchlight, our feet made a faint metallic jingling sound among heaps of ashes which strewed the floor. Moore and I went up to the pillars and tried them with our knives. They were of wood, all soaked and green with the eternal damp. "Peter," said Moore, "go in with the lantern and try if you can find anything there."

Peter had none of the superstitions of his race, or he would never have been our companion. "All right, massa; me look for Brer Spook."

So saying, Peter walked into a kind of roofed over-room, open only at the front, and examined the floor with his lantern, stamping occasionally to detect any hollowness in the ground.

"Nothing here, massa, but this dead fellow's leg-bone and little bits of broken jugs," and the dauntless Peter came out with his ghastly trophy.

Moore seemed not to lose heart.

"Perhaps," he said, "there is something on the roof. Peter, give me a back."

Peter stooped down beside one of the wooden pillars and firmly grasped his own legs above the knee. Moore climbed on the improvised ladder, and was just able to seize the edge of the roof, as it seemed to be, with his hands.

"Now steady, Peter," he exclaimed, and with a spring he drew himself up till his head was above the level of the roof. Then he uttered a cry, and, leaping from Peter's back retreated to the level where we stood in some confusion.

"Good God!" he said, "what a sight!"

"What on earth is the matter?" I asked.

"Look for yourself, if you choose," said Moore, who was somewhat shaken, and at the same time irritated and ashamed.

Grasping the lantern, I managed to get on to Peter's shoulders, and by a considerable gymnastic effort to raise my head to the level of the ledge, and at the same time to cast the light up and within.

The spectacle was sufficiently awful.

I was looking along a platform, on which ten skeletons were disposed at full length, with the skulls still covered with long hair, and the fleshless limbs glimmering white and stretching back into the darkness.

On the right hand, and crouching between a skeleton and the wall of the chamber (what we had taken for a roof was the floor of a room raised on pillars), I saw the form of a man. He was dressed in gay colours, and, as he sat with his legs drawn up, his arms rested on his knees.

On the first beholding of a dreadful thing, our instinct forces us to rush against it, as if to bring the horror to the test of touch. This instinct wakened in me. For a moment I felt dazed, and then I continued to stare involuntarily at the watcher of the dead. He had not stirred. My eyes became accustomed to the dim and flickering light which the lantern cast in that dark place.

"Hold on, Peter," I cried, and leaped down to the floor of the cave.

"It's all right, Moore," I said. "Don't you remember the picture in old Lafitau's 'Moeurs des Sauvages Americains'? We are in a burying-place of the Cherouines, and the seated man is only the kywash, 'which is an image of woode keeping the deade.'"

"Ass that I am!" cried Moore. "I knew the cave led us from the Sachem's Cave to the Sachem's Mound, and I forgot for a moment how the fellows disposed of their dead. We must search the platform. Peter, make a ladder again."

Moore mounted nimbly enough this time. I followed him.

The kywash had no more terrors for us, and we penetrated beyond the fleshless dead into the further extremity of the sepulchre. Here we lifted and removed vast piles of deerskin bags, and of mats, filled as they were with "the dreadful dust that once was man." As we reached the bottom of the first pile something glittered yellow and bright beneath the lantern.

Moore stooped and tried to lift what looked like an enormous plate. He was unable to raise the object, still weighed down as it was with the ghastly remnants of the dead. With feverish haste we cleared away the debris, and at last lifted and brought to light a huge and massive disk of gold, divided into rays which spread from the centre, each division being adorned with strange figures in relief—figures of animals, plants, and what looked like rude hieroglyphs.

This was only the firstfruits of the treasure.

A silver disk, still larger, and decorated in the same manner, was next uncovered, and last, in a hollow dug in the flooring of the sepulchre, we came on a great number of objects in gold and silver, which somewhat reminded us of Indian idols. These were thickly crusted with precious stones, and were accompanied by many of the sacred emeralds and opals of old American religion. There were also some extraordinary manuscripts, if the term may be applied to picture writing on prepared deerskins that were now decaying. We paid little attention to cloaks of the famous feather-work, now a lost art, of which one or two examples are found in European museums. The gold, and silver, and precious stones, as may be imagined, overcame for the moment any ethnological curiosity.

* * * * *

Dawn was growing into day before we reached the mouth of the cave again, and after a series of journeys brought all our spoil to the light of the upper air. It was quickly enough bestowed in bags and baskets. Then, aided by three of Moore's stoutest hands, whom we found waiting for us in the pine wood, we carried the whole treasure back, and lodged it in the strong room which had been the retreat of Gumbo.


The conclusion of my story shall be very short. What was the connection between Gumbo and the spoils of the Sachem's Mound, and how did the treasures of the Aztec Temple of the Sun come to be concealed in the burial place of the Red Man? All this Moore explained to me the day after we secured the treasures.

"My father," said Moore, "was, as you know, a great antiquarian, and a great collector of Mexican and native relics. He had given almost as much time as Brasseur de Bourbourg to Mexican hieroglyphics, and naturally had made nothing out of them. His chief desire was to discover the Secret of the Pyramid—not the pyramids of Egypt, as you fancied, but the Pyramid of the Sun, Tonatiuh, at Teohuacan. To the problem connected with this mysterious structure, infinitely older than the empire of Montezuma, which Cortes destroyed, he fancied he had a clue in this scroll."

Moore handed me a prepared sheet of birch bark, like those which the red men use for their rude picture writings. It was very old, but the painted characters were still brilliant, and even a tyro could see that they were not Indian, but of the ancient Mexican description. In the upper left-hand corner was painted a pyramidal structure, above which the sun beamed. Eight men, over whose heads the moon was drawn, were issuing from the pyramid; the two foremost bore in their hands effigies of the sun and moon; each of the others seemed to carry smaller objects with a certain religious awe. Then came a singular chart, which one might conjecture represented the wanderings of these men, bearing the sacred things of their gods. In the lowest corner of the scroll they were being received by human beings dressed unlike themselves, with head coverings of feathers and carrying bows in their hands.

"This scroll," Moore went on, "my father bought from one of the last of the red men who lingered on here, a prey to debt and whisky. My father always associated the drawings with the treasures of Teohuacan, which, according to him, must have been withdrawn from the pyramid, and conveyed secretly to the north, the direction from which the old Toltec pyramid builders originally came. In the north they would find no civilized people like themselves, he said, but only the Indians. Probably, however, the Indians would receive with respect the bearers of mysterious images and rites, and my father concluded that the sacred treasures of the Sun might still be concealed among some wandering tribe of red men. He had come to this conclusion for some time, when I and my brother returned from school, hastily summoned back, to find him extremely ill. He had suffered from a paralytic stroke, and he scarcely recognized us. But we made out, partly from his broken and wandering words, partly from old Tom (Peter's father, now dead), that my father's illness had followed on a violent fit of passion. He had picked up, it seems, from some Indians a scroll which he considered of the utmost value, and which he placed in a shelf of the library. Now, old Gumbo was a house-servant at that time, and, dumb as he was, and stupid as he was, my father had treated him with peculiar kindness. Unluckily Gumbo yielded to the favourite illusion of all servants, white and black, male and female, that anything they find in the library may be used to light a fire with. One chilly day Gumbo lighted the fire with the newly purchased Indian birch scroll. My father, when he heard of this performance, lost all self-command. In his ordinary temper the most humane of men, he simply raged at Gumbo. He would teach him, he said, to destroy his papers. And it appeared, from what we could piece together (for old Tom was very reticent and my father very incoherent), that he actually branded or tattooed a copy of what Gumbo had burnt on the nigger's body!"

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