So thought Chandrapal. But his mistake, if it was one, offended nobody; for he held his peace about these things.
* * * * *
There came a day when the folk of Deadborough were started from their wonted apathy by the apparition of a Strange Man. They saw him first as he drove from the station in a splendid carriage-and-pair, with a coronet on its panels. Seated in the carriage was a venerable being with a swarthy countenance and headgear of the whitest—such was the brief vision. Other carriages followed in due course, for there was an illustrious house-party at Deadborough Hall—the owner of which was not only a slayer of pheasants, but a reader of books and a student of things. He had gathered together the Bishop of the Diocese, a Cabinet Minister, two eminent philosophers, the American Ambassador, a leading historian, and a Writer on the Mystics. To these was added—for he deserves a sentence to himself—an Orientalist of world-wide reputation. All were gathered for the purpose of meeting Chandrapal.
By the charm of his manners, by his urbanity, by his brilliant and thought-provoking conversation, the Oriental repaid his host a hundred times over. To most of his fellow-guests he played the part of teacher, while seeming to act that of disciple; but to none was his manner so deferential and his air of attention so profound as to the great Orientalist. And yet in the secret heart of Chandrapal this was the man for whom he felt the deepest compassion. He found, indeed, that the great man's reputation had not belied him; he was versed in the wisdom of the East and in the tongues which had spoken it; he knew the path to the Great Peace as well as the sage knew it himself; but when Chandrapal looked into his restless eyes and heard the hard tones of his voice, he perceived that no soul on earth was further from the Great Peace than this.
With the two philosophers Chandrapal spent many hours in close debate. He spoke to them of the Bhagavad Gita and of Spinoza. He found that of the Bhagavad Gita they knew little—and they cared less. Of Spinoza they knew much and understood nothing—thus thought he. So he turned to other topics and conversed fluently on the matters dearest to their hearts—namely, their own works, with which he was well acquainted. They, on their part, had never met a listener more sympathetic, a critic more acute. Chandrapal left upon them the impression of his immense capacity for assimilating the products of Western thought; also the belief that they had thoroughly rifled his brains.
Meanwhile he was thinking thus within himself: "These men are keepers of shops, like the rest of their nation. Their merchandise is the thoughts of God, which they defile with wordy traffic, understanding them not. They have no reverence for their masters; their souls are poisoned with self; therefore the Light is not in them, and they know not the good from the evil. The word of the Truth is on their lips, but it lives not in their hearts. Moreover, they are robbers; and even as their fathers stole my country so they would capture the secrets of my soul—that they may sell them for money and increase their traffic. But to none such shall the treasure be given. I will walk with them in the outer courts; but the innermost chamber they shall not so much as see."
With the Cabinet Minister Chandrapal had this in common—that both were lawyers and servants of the Crown. Thus a basis of intercourse was established—were it only in the fact that each man understood the official reserve of the other. The first day of their acquaintance was passed by each in reconnoitring the other's position and deciding on a plan of campaign. The Minister concluded that there were three burning topics which it would be unwise to discuss with Chandrapal. Chandrapal perceived what these topics were, knew the Minister's reasons for avoiding them, and reflected with some satisfaction that they were matters on which he also had no desire to talk. His real object was to penetrate the Minister's mind in quite another direction, and he saw that this astute diplomatist had not the slightest suspicion of what he was after. This, of course, gave the tactical advantage to the Indian.
Now Chandrapal was more subtle than all the guests in Deadborough Hall. With great adroitness he managed to introduce the very topics on which, as he well knew, the Minister had resolved not to express himself; but he took care on each occasion to provide the other with an opportunity for talking about something else. This something else had been carefully chosen by Chandrapal, and it was a line of escape which led by very gradual approaches to the thing he wanted to find out. The Minister had won a great reputation in beating the diplomatists of Europe at their own game; but he had never before directly encountered the subtlety of an Oriental mind. Stepping aside from the dangerous spots to which the other was continually leading him, he put his foot on each occasion into the real trap; and thus, by the end of the third day, he had revealed what the Indian valued more than all the secrets of the British Cabinet. Meanwhile the Minister had conceived an intense dislike to Chandrapal, which he disguised under a mask he had long used for such purposes; at the same time he flattered himself on the ease with which he outwitted this wily man.
Chandrapal, on his side, reflected thus: "Behold the misery of them that know not the Truth. This man flatters the people; but in his heart he despises them. Those whom he leads he knows to be blind, and his trade is to persuade them that they can see. The Illusion has made them mad; none sees whither he is going; the next step may plunge them all into the pit; they live for they know not what. All this is known to yonder man; and, being unenlightened, he has no way of escape, but yields to his destiny, which is, that he shall be the bond-servant of lies." In short, the discovery which the Oriental believed himself to have made was this—that neither the Great Man before him, nor the millions whom he led, had the faintest conception of the Meaning of Life; and, further, that the Great Man was aware of his ignorance and troubled by it, whereas the millions knew it not and were at their ease.
With the Writer on Mystics he was reserved to the point of coldness. In this man's presence Chandrapal felt that he was being regarded as an "interesting case" for analysis. So he wrapped himself in a mantle impervious to professional scrutiny, and gave answers which could not be worked up into a chapter for any book. The Writer was disappointed in Chandrapal, and Chandrapal had no satisfaction in the Writer. "This man," he thought, "has studied the Light until he has become blind. He would speak of the things which belong to Silence. He is the most deeply entangled of them all."
Fortunately for Chandrapal, there were children in the house, and these alone succeeded in finding the path to his heart. There was one Little Fellow of five years who continually haunted the drawing-room when he was there, hiding behind screens or the backs of arm-chairs, and staring at the Strange Man with wide eyes and finger in mouth. One day, when he was reading, the Little Fellow crept up to his chair on hands and knees and began industriously rubbing the dark wrist of the Indian with his wetted finger. "It dothn't come off," said the Little Fellow. From that moment he and the Strange Man became the fastest of friends and were seldom far apart.
Except for this companionship it may be said that never since leaving his native land was the spirit of Chandrapal more solitary nor more aloof from the things and the persons around him. Never did he despair so utterly of beholding that which he was most eager to find. Only when in the company of the Little Fellow, and in the hours reserved for meditation, was he able to shake off the sense of oppression and recover the balance of his soul. At these times he would quit the talkers and go forth alone into unfrequented places. Nowhere else, he thought, could a land be found more inviting than this to those moods of inward silence and content, whence the soul may pass, at a single step, into the ineffable beatitude of the Great Peace. Full, now, of the sense of harmony between himself and his visible environment, he would penetrate as far as he could into the forests and the hills. He would take his seat beside the brook; he would say to himself in his own tongue, "This water has been flowing all night long," and at the thought his mind would sink deep into itself; and presently the trees, the rocks, the fields, the skies, nay, his own body, would seem to melt into the movement of the flowing stream, and the Self of Chandrapal, freed from all entanglements and poised at the centre of Being, would gaze on the River of Eternal Flux.
One day, while thus engaged, standing on a bridge which carried a by-road over the stream, a shock passed through him: the stillness was broken as by thunder, the vision fled, and the entanglements fell over him like a gladiator's net. A motor, coming round a dangerous bend, had just missed him; and he stood covered with dust. Chandrapal saw and understood, and then, closing his eyes and making a mighty effort, shook the entanglements from his soul, and sank back swiftly upon the Centre of Poise.
The car stopped, and a white-haired woman alighted. A moment later there was a touch on the arm, and a human voice was calling to him from the world of shadows. "I beg a thousand pardons," said Mrs. Abel; "the driver was careless. Thank Heaven, you are unhurt; but the thing is an injury, and you are a stranger. My house is here; come with me, and you shall have water."
What more was said I do not know. But when some hours later Chandrapal returned on foot to the Hall he walked lightly, for the load of pity had been lifted from his heart. To one who was with him he said: "The Wisdom of the Nazarene still lives in this land, but it is hidden and obscure, and those who would find it must search far and long, as I have searched. Why are the Enlightened so few; for the Truth is simple and near at hand? The light is here, 'but the darkness comprehendeth it not.' Is not that so? The men in yonder house, who will soon be talking, are the slaves of their own tongues; but this woman with the voice of music is the mistress of her speech. They are of the darkness: she of the light. But perhaps," he added, "she is not of your race."
Thus the Thing for which Chandrapal had never ceased to watch since his foot touched Western soil was first revealed to him; thus also the secret of his own heart, which he had guarded so long from the intrusion of the "wise," was first suffered to escape. He had lit his beacon and seen the answering fire.
* * * * *
Several months elapsed, during which Chandrapal continued his travels, visiting the capitals of Europe, interviewing German Professors, and seeing more and more of the Great Illusion (for so he deemed it) which is called "Progress" in the West. He met reformers everywhere, and studied their schemes for amending the world; he heard debates in many parliaments, and did obeisance to several kings; he visited the institutions where day by day the wounded are brought from the battle, and where medicaments are poured into the running sores of Society; he went to churches, and heard every conceivable variety of Christian doctrine; he sat in the lecture-halls of socialists, secularists, anarchists, and irreconcilables of every sort; he made acquaintance with the inventors of new religions; he saw the Modern Drama in London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna; he attended political meetings and listened to great orators; he was taken to reviews and beheld the marching of Armies and the manoeuvring of Fleets; he was shown an infinity of devices for making wheels go round, and was told of coming inventions that would turn them faster still. All these and many more such things passed in vision before him; but nothing stirred his admiration, nothing provoked his envy, nothing disturbed his fixed belief that Western civilization was an air-born bubble and a consummation not to be desired.
"The disease of this people is incurable," he thought, "because they are ignorant of the Origin of Sorrow. Hence they heal their woe at one end and augment its sources at the other. But as for me, I will hold my peace; for there is none here, no, not even the wisest, who would hear or understand. Never will the Light break forth upon them till the East has again conquered the West."
When all these things had been accomplished Chandrapal was again in Deadborough—a guest at the Rectory. It was Billy Rowe, an urchin of ten, who informed me of the arrival. Billy had just been let out of school, and was in the act of picking up a stone to throw at Lina Potts, whom he bitterly hated, when the Rectory carriage drove past the village green. At once every hand, including Billy's, went promptly to the corner of its owner's mouth, hoops were suspended in mid-career, and half-sucked lollipops, in process of transference from big sisters to little brothers were allowed an interval for getting dry. The carriage passed; stones, hoops, and lollipops resumed their circulation, and by five o'clock in the afternoon the news of Chandrapal's arrival was waiting for the returning labourer in every cottage in Deadborough.
That night I repaired to the Nag's Head, for I knew that the arrival would have a favourable effect on the size of the "house." I am not addicted, let me say, to Tom Barter's vile liquors; but I have some fondness for the psychology of a village pub, and I was in hopes that the conversation in this instance would be instructive. An unusually large company was assembled, and to that extent I was not disappointed. But in respect of the conversation it must be confessed that I drew a blank. The tongues of the talkers seemed to be paralysed by the very event which I had hoped would set them all wagging. It was evident that every man present had come in the hopes that his neighbour would have something to say about Chandrapal, and thus provide an opening for his own eloquence. But nobody gave a lead, the whole company being apparently in presence of a speech-defying portent. At last I broke the ice by an allusion to the arrival. "Ah," said one. "Oh," said another. "Indeed," said a third. "You don't say so," said a fourth. At length one venturesome spirit remarked, "I hear as he's a great man in his own country." "I dare say he is," replied the village butcher, with the air of one to whom the question of human greatness was a matter of absolute indifference. That was the end. Shortly afterwards I left, and presently overtook Snarley Bob, who had preceded me. "Did you ever see such a lot o' tongue-tied lunatics?" said Snarley. "What made them silent?" I asked. "They'd got too much to say," answered Snarley, and then added, rather mischievously, "They were only waitin' to begin till you'd gone. If you was to go back now, you'd hear 'em barkin' like a pack o' hounds."
* * * * *
Among the many good offices for which Snarley had to thank Mrs. Abel, not the least was her systematic protection of him from the intrusions of the curious. Plenty of people had heard of him, and there were not wanting many who were anxious to put his soul under the scalpel, in the interests of Science. Mrs. Abel was the channel through which they usually attempted to act. But she knew very well that the thing was futile, not to say dangerous. For some of the instincts of the wild animal had survived in Snarley, of which perhaps the most marked was his refusal to submit to the scrutiny of human eyes. To study him was almost as difficult as to study the tiger in the jungle. At the faintest sound of inquisitive footsteps he would retreat, hiding himself in some place, or, more frequently, in some manner, whither it was almost impossible to follow; and if, as sometimes happened, his pursuers pressed hard and sought to drive him out of his fastness, he would break out upon them in a way for which they were not prepared, and give them a shock which effectually forbade all further attempts. Such a result was unprofitable to Science and injurious to Snarley. For these reasons Mrs. Abel had come to a definite conclusion that the cause of Science was not to be advanced by introducing its votaries to Snarley Bob; and when they came to the Rectory, as they sometimes did, she abstained from mentioning his name, failed to answer when questioned, and took care, so far as she could, that the old man should be left undisturbed.
But the reasons which led to this decision had no force in the case of Chandrapal. She was certain that Chandrapal would not treat Snarley as a mere abnormal specimen of human nature, a corpus vile for scientific investigation. She knew that the two men had something, nay, much, in common; and she believed that the ground of intercourse would be established the instant that Snarley heard the stranger's voice.
Nevertheless, the matter was difficult. It was well-nigh impossible to determine the conditions under which Snarley would be at his best, and, whatever arrangements were made, his animal shyness might spoil them all. To take him by surprise was known to be dangerous; and we had already found to our cost that the attempt to deceive him by the pretence of an accidental meeting was pretty certain to end in disaster. How Mrs. Abel succeeded in bringing the thing off I don't know. There may have been bribery and corruption (for Snarley's character had not been formed from the fashion-books of any known order of mystics), and, though I saw nothing to suggest this method, I know nothing to exclude it—as a working hypothesis. But be that as it may, the arrangement was made that on a certain Wednesday evening Snarley was to come down to the Rectory and attend in the garden for the coming of Chandrapal. I had already learnt to regard Mrs. Abel as a worker of miracles to whom few things were impossible; but this conquest of Snarley's reluctance to be interviewed, and in a manner so exceptional, has always impressed me as one of her greatest achievements. If the reader had known the old shepherd only in his untransfigured state—when, in his own phrase, he was "stuck in his skin"—I venture to say he would as soon have thought of asking a grisly bear to afternoon tea in his drawing-room as of inviting Snarley Bob to meet an Indian sage in a rectory garden. But the arrangement was made—whether by the aid of Beelzebub or the attractions of British gold, no man will ever know.
Nothing in connection with Snarley had ever interested me so much as the possible outcome of this strange interview; so that, when informed of what was going to happen, I sent a telegram to Mrs. Abel asking permission to be on the spot—not, of course, as a witness of the interview but as a guest in the house. The reply was favourable, and on Tuesday afternoon I was at Deadborough.
I had some talk with Chandrapal, and I could see that he was not pleased at my coming. He asked me at once why I was there, and, on receiving a not very ingenuous answer, he became reserved and distant. Indeed, his whole manner reminded me forcibly of the bearing of Snarley Bob on the occasion of our ludicrous attempt on Quarry Hill to introduce him to the poetry of Keats. I had come prepared to ask him a question; but I had no sooner reached the point than the whole fashion of the man was suddenly changed. His face, which usually wore an expression of quiet dignity, seemed to degenerate into a mass of coarse but powerful features, so that, had I seen him thus at a first meeting, I should have thought at once, "This man is a sensualist and a ruffian!" His answers were distinctly rude; he said the question was foolish (probably it was)—that people had been pestering him with that kind of thing ever since he left India; in short, he gave me to understand that he regarded me as a nuisance. I had never before seen in him any approach to this manner; indeed, I had continually marvelled at his patience with fools, his urbanity with bores, and his willingness to give of his best to those who had nothing to give in return.
As the evening wore on he seemed to realise what he had done, and was evidently troubled. For my part, I had decided to leave next morning, for I thought that my presence in the house was disturbing him, and would perhaps spoil the chances of tomorrow's interview. Of this I had breathed no hint to anyone, and I was therefore greatly surprised when he said to me after dinner, "I charge you to remain in this house. There is no reason for going away. I was not myself this afternoon; but it has passed and will not return. Come now, let us go out into the woods."
Mrs. Abel came with us. Her object in coming was to guide our walk in some direction where we were not likely to encounter Snarley Bob, whose haunts she knew, and whom it was not desirable that we should meet before the appointed time; for the nightingales were now in full song, and Snarley was certain to be abroad. We therefore took a path which led in an opposite direction to that in which his cottage lay.
Chandrapal had his own ways of feeling and responding to the influences of Nature—ways which are not ours. No words of admiration escaped him; but, on entering the woods where the birds were singing he said, "The sounds are harmonious with thought." There was no mistaking the hint.
Guided by the singing of the birds, we turned into an unfrequented lane, bordered by elms. The evening was dull, damp, and windless, and the air lay stagnant between the high banks of the lane. We walked on in complete silence, Chandrapal a few yards in front; none of us felt any desire to speak. Three nightingales were singing at intervals: one at some distance in the woods ahead of us, two immediately to our right. Whether it was due to the dampness in the air or the song of the birds, I cannot tell; but I felt the "drowsy numbness," of which the poet speaks, stealing upon me irresistibly. We presently crossed a stile into the fields; and as I sat for a moment on the rail the drowsiness almost overcame me, and I wondered if I could escape from my companions and find some spot whereon to lie down and go to sleep. It required some effort to proceed, and I could see that Mrs. Abel was affected in a similar manner.
By crossing the stile we had disturbed one of the birds, and we had to wait some minutes before its song again broke out much further to the right. For some reason of his own Chandrapal had found this bird the best songster of the three; and, wishing to get as near as possible, he again led the way and gave us a sign to follow. We cautiously skirted the hedge, making our way towards a point on the opposite side of the field where there was a gate, and beyond this, in the next field, a shed of some sort where we might stand concealed.
We passed the gate, turned into the shed, and were immediately confronted by Snarley Bob.
Both Mrs. Abel and I were alarmed. We knew that Snarley Bob when disturbed at such a moment was apt to be exceedingly dangerous, and we remembered that it was precisely such a disturbance as this which had brought him some years ago within measurable distance of committing murder. Nor was his demeanour reassuring. The instant he saw us, he rose from the shaft of the cart on which he had been seated, smoking his pipe, and took a dozen rapid steps out of the shed. Then he paused, just as a startled horse would do, turned half round, and eyed us sidelong with as fierce and ugly a look as any human face could wear. Then he began to stride rapidly to and fro in front of the shed, stamping his feet whenever he turned, and keeping his eyes fixed on the swarthy countenance of Chandrapal, with an expression of the utmost ferocity.
Chandrapal retained his composure. Whatever sudden shock he may have felt had passed immediately, and he was now standing in an attitude of deep attention, following the movement of Snarley Bob and meeting his glance without once lowering his eyes. His calmness was infectious. I felt that he was master of the situation, and I knew that in a few moments Snarley's paroxysm would pass.
It did pass; but in a manner we did not expect. Snarley, on his side, had begun to abate his rapid march; once or twice he hesitated, paused, turned around; and the worst was already over when Chandrapal, lifting his thin hands above his head, pronounced in slow succession four words of some strange tongue. What they meant I cannot tell; it is not likely they formed any coherent sentence: they were more like words of command addressed by an officer to troops on parade, or by a rider to his horse. Their effect on Snarley was instantaneous. Turning full round, he drew himself erect and faced us in an attitude of much dignity. Every trace of his brutal expression slowly vanished; his huge features contracted to the human size; the rents of passion softened into lines of thought; wisdom and benignity sat upon his brows; and he was calm and still as the Sphinx in the desert.
Snarley stood with his hands linked behind his back, looking straight before him into the distance; and Chandrapal, without changing his attitude, was watching him as before. As the two men stood there in silence, my impression was, and still is, that they were in communication, through filaments that lie hidden, like electric cables, in the deeps of consciousness. Each man was organically one with the other; the division between them was no greater than between two cells in a single brain; the understanding was complete. Thus it remained for some seconds; then the silence was broken by speech, and it was as though a cloud had passed over the sun. For, with the first word spoken, misunderstanding began; and, for a time at all events, they drifted far apart, each out of sight and knowledge of the other's soul. Had Snarley begun by saying something inconsequent or irrelevant, had he proposed to build three tabernacles, or cried, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man," or quoted the words of some inapplicable Scripture that was being fulfilled—there might have been no rupture. But, as it was, he spoke to the point, and instantly the tie was snapped.
"Them words you spoke just now," he said, and paused. Then, completing the sentence—"them words was full o' sense."
I could see that Chandrapal was troubled. The word "sense" woke up trains of consciousness quite alien to the intention of the speaker. To his non-English mind this usage of the word, if not unknown, was at least misleading.
He replied, "Those words have nothing to do with 'sense.' Yet you seemed to understand them."
"Not a bit," said Snarley. "But I felt 'em. They burnt me like fire. Good words is allus like that. There's some words wi' meanin' in 'em, but no sense; and they're fool's words, most on 'em. You understand 'em, but you don't feel 'em. But when they comes wi' a bit of a smack, I knows they're all right. You can a'most taste 'em and smell 'em when they're the right sort—just like a drop o' drink. It's a pity you didn't hear Mrs. Abel when she give us that piece o' poetry. That's the sort o' words folks ought to use. You can feel 'em in your bones. Well, as I was a-sayin', your words was like that. They come at me smack, smack. And I sez to myself as soon as I hears 'em, 'That's a man worth talkin' to.'"
Chandrapal had listened with the utmost gravity, seeming to catch Snarley's drift. The diction must have puzzled him, but I doubt if the subtlest skill in exposition would have availed Snarley half so well in restoring the mutual comprehension which had been temporarily broken. Chandrapal was evidently relieved. For half a minute there was silence, during which he walked to and fro, deep in thought. Then he said, "Great is the power of words when the speaker is wise. But the Truth cannot be spoken."
"Not all on it," said Snarley, "only bits here and there. That's what the bigness o' things teaches you. It's my opinion as there are two sorts o' words—shutters-in and openers-out. Them words o' yours was openers-out; but most as you hears are shutters-in. It's like puttin' a thing in a box. You shuts the lid, and then all you sees is the box. But when things gets beyond a certain bigness you can't shut 'em in—not unless you first chops 'em up, and that spoils 'em.
"Now, there's Shoemaker Hankin—a man as could talk the hind-leg off a 'oss. He goes at it like a hammer, and thinks as he's openin' things out; but all the time he's shuttin' on 'em in and nailin' on 'em up in their coffins. One day he begins talkin' about 'Life,' and sez as how he can explain it in half a shake. 'You'll have to kill it first, Tom,' I sez, 'or it'll kick the bottom out o' your little box.' 'I'm going to hannilize it,' he sez. 'That means you're goin' to chop it up,' I sez, 'so that it's bound to be dead before we gets hold on it. All right, Tom, fire away! Tell us all about dead Life.'
"Well, that's allus the way wi' these talkin' chaps. There was that Professor as comes tellin' me what space were—I told that gentleman" (pointing to me) "all about him. Why, you might as well try to cut runnin' water wi' a knife. Talkin' people like him are never satisfied till they've trampled everything into a muck—same as the sheep tramples the ground when you puts 'em in a pen. They seems to think as that's what things are for! They all wants to do the talkin' themselves. But doesn't it stand to sense that as long as you're talkin' about things you can't hear what things are sayin' to you?
"When did I learn all that? Why, you don't learn them things. You just finds 'em when you're alone among the hills and the bigness o' things comes over you. Do you know anything about the stars? Well, then, you'll understand.
"All the same, I were once a talkin' man myself; ay, and it were then as I got the first lesson in leavin' things alone. It happened one day when I were a Methody—long before I knew anything about the stars. I'd been what they call 'converted'; and one day I were prayin' powerful at a meetin', and we was all excited, and shoutin' as we wouldn't go home till the answer had come. Well, it did come—at least it come to me. I were standin' up shoutin' wi' the rest, when all of a sudden I kind o' heard somebody whisperin' in my ear. 'The answer's comin',' I sez; 'I'm gettin' it,' So they all gets quiet, waitin' for me to give the answer. I suppose they expected me to say as a new heart had been given to somebody we'd been prayin' for. But instead o' that I shouts out at the top o' my voice—though I can't tell what made me do it—'Shut up, all on you! Shut up, Henry Blain! Shut up, John Scarsbrick! Shut up, Robert Dellanow—I'm tired o' the lot on you!' That's what made me give up bein' a Methody. I began to see from that day that when things begins to open out you've got to shut up."
"The voices of the world are many; and the speech of man is only one," said Chandrapal.
"You're right," said Snarley, "but I'm not sure as you ought to call 'em voices. Most on 'em's more like faces nor voices. It's true there's the thunder and the wind—'specially when it's blowin' among the trees. And then there's the animals and the birds."
"It is said in the East that once there were men who understood the language of birds."
"No, no," said Snarley, "there's no understandin' them things. But there's one bird, and that's the nightingale, as makes me kind o' remember as I understood 'em once. And there's no doubt they understand one another; and there's some sorts of animals as understands other sorts—but not all. You can take my word for it!"
* * * * *
The light had failed, and the song of the birds, driven to a distance by our voices, seemed to quicken the darkness into life. 'Darkling, we listened'—how long I know not, for the subliminal world was awake, and the measure of time was lost. Snarley was the first to speak, taking up his parable from the very point where he had left it, as though he were unconscious that a long interval had elapsed. He spoke to Chandrapal.
"I can see as you're a rememberin' sort o' gentleman," he said. "If you weren't, you wouldn't ha' come here listenin' to the birds. The animals remember a lot o' things as we've forgotten. I dare say you know it as well as I do. Now, there's the nightingale—that's the bird for recollectin' and makin' you recollect; and you might say dogs and 'osses too. You can see the memory in the dog's eyes and in the 'oss's face. But you can hear it in the bird's voice—and hearin' and smellin' is better nor seein' when it comes to a matter o' rememberin.'
"Yes, and it's my opinion as animals, takin' 'em all round, are wiser nor men—that is, they've got more sense. You let your line out far enough, and I tell you there's some animals as can make you find a lot o' things as you've forgotten. That's what the bird does. When I listens, I seems to be rememberin' all sorts o' things, only I can't tell nobody what they are.
"Yes, but you ought to ha' been here that night when Mrs. Abel give that piece! Why, bless you, she'd got the nightingale to a T, especially the rememberin'. Eh, my word, but it were a staggerer! I wish you'd been there—a rememberin' gentleman like you! You get her to give you that piece when you goes home, and it'll make you reel your line out to the very end."
Some of those allusions, I imagine, were lost on Chandrapal. But once more he showed that he caught the "sense."
"In my country," he said, "religion forbids us to take the lives of animals."
"That's a good sort o' religion," said Snarley. "There's some sense in that! Them as holds with it must ha' let their line out pretty far. Now, it wouldn't surprise me to hear as folks in your country are good at rememberin' things as other folks have forgotten."
"Yes, some of us think we can remember many things." And, after a pause, "I thought just now that I remembered you."
"And me you!" said Snarley, "blessed if I didn't. The minute you said them funny words, danged if I didn't feel as though I'd knowed you all my life! It was just like when I'm listenin' to the bird—all sorts o' things comes tumblin' back. Same with them words o' yours. It seemed as though somebody as I knowed were a-callin' of me. I must ha' travelled millions o' miles, same as when you lets your line out to the stars. And all the time I were sure that I knowed the voice, though I couldn't understand the meanin'. I tell you, it were just like listenin' to the bird."
Chandrapal now turned and said something to Mrs. Abel. She promptly slipped out of the shed, giving me a sign to follow. Chandrapal and Snarley were left to themselves.
* * * * *
Late at night Chandrapal returned to the Rectory. He was more than usually silent and absorbed. Of what had passed between him and Snarley he said not a word; but, on bidding us good-night, he remarked to Mrs. Abel, "The cycle of existence returns upon itself." And Snarley, on his part, never spoke of the occurrence to any living soul. "The rest is silence."
SHEPHERD TOLLER O' CLUN DOWNS
At the age of fifty or thereabouts Shepherd Toller went mad. After due process he was handed over to the authorities and graduated as a pauper lunatic. His madness was the outcome of solicitude, and it was not surprising that, after a year amid the jovial company of the asylum, Toller began to improve. At the end of the second year he was declared to be cured, and discharged, much to his regret.
His first act on liberation was to recover his old dog, which had been left in charge of a friend. Desiring to start life again where his former insanity would be unknown, he made his way to Deadborough, the village of his birth. Arrived there, after a forty miles' walk, he refreshed himself with a glass of beer and a penn'orth of bread and cheese, and proceeded at once to Farmer Ferryman in quest of work. The farmer, who was, as usual, in want of labour, sent him to Snarley Bob to "put the measure on him." Snarley's report was favourable. "He seemed a bit queer, no doubt, and kept laughin' at nothin'; but I've knowed lots o' queer people as had more sense than them as wasn't queer, and there's no denyin' as he's knowledgeable in sheep." The result was that Toller was forthwith appointed as an understudy to Snarley Bob.
Bob's estimate of the new-comer rose steadily day by day. "He had a wonderful eye for points." "As good a sheep-doctor as ever lived." "Wanted a bit of watchin', it was true, but had a head on his shoulders for all that." "Knows how to keep his mouth shut." "Was backward in breedin', but not for want o' sense—hadn't caught him young enough." "Could ha' taught him anything, if he'd come twenty-five years back." In due course, therefore, Toller was entrusted with great responsibilities. He it was who, under Snarley's direction, presided over the generation, birth, and early upbringing of the thrice-renowned "Thunderbolt."
So it went on for three years. At the end of that time Toller had an accident. He fell through the aperture of a feeding-loft, and his spinal column received an ugly shock. Symptoms of his old malady began to return. He began to get things "terrible mixed up," and to play tricks which violated both the letter and the spirit of Snarley's notches.
One of the breeding points in Snarley's system was connected with the length of the lambs' ears. Short ears in the new-born lamb were prophetic of desirable points which would duly appear when the creature became a sheep; long ears, on the other hand, indicated that the cross had failed. A crucial experiment on these lines was being conducted by aid of a ram which had been specially imported from Spain, and the whole thing had been left to Toller's supervision. The result was a complete failure. On the critical day, when Snarley returned from his obstetric duties, his wife saw gloom and disappointment on his countenance. "Well, have them lambs come right?" "Lambs, did you say? They're not lambs. They're young jackasses. It's summat as Shepherd Toller's been up to. You'll never make me believe as the Spanish ram got any one on 'em—no, not if you was to take your dyin' oath. Blessed if I know where he found a father for 'em. It's not one o' our rams, I'll swear. You mark my word, missis, Shepherd Toller's goin' out of his mind again. I've seen it comin' on for months. Only last Tuesday he sez to me, 'Snarley, I'm gettin' cloudy on the top.'"
Shortly after this Toller disappeared and, though the search was diligent, he could not be found. "He's not gone far," said Snarley. "Leastways he's sure to come back. Mad-men allus comes back." And within a few months an incident happened which enabled Snarley to verify his theory. It came about in this wise.
A party of great folk from the Hall had gone up into the hills for a picnic. They had chosen their camp near the head of a long upland valley, where the ground fell suddenly into a deep gorge pierced by a torrent. A fire of sticks had been lit close to the edge of the precipice, and a kettle, made of some shining metal, had been hung over the flames. The party were standing by, waiting for the water to boil, when suddenly, crash!—a sprinkle of scalding water in your face—and—where's the kettle? An invisible force, falling like a bolt from the blue, had smitten the kettle and hurled it into space. The ladies screamed; the Captain swore; the Clergyman cried, "Good Gracious!" the Undergraduate said, "Jerusalem!" the Wit added, "And Madagascar!" But what was said matters not, for the Recording Angel had dropped his pen. The whole party stood amazed, unable to place the occurrence in any sort of intelligible context, and with looks that seemed to say, "The reign of Chaos has returned, and the Inexpressible become a fact!" Some went to the edge of the gorge and saw below a mass of buckled tin, irrecoverable, and worthless. Some looked about on the hillside, but looked on nothing to the point. Some stood by the spot where the kettle had hung, and argued without premises. Some searched for the missile, some for the man; but neither was found. The whole thing was an absolute mystery. The party had lost their tea, and gained a subject for conversation at dinner. That was all.
That night Snarley, in the tap-room of the Nag's Head, heard the story from the groom who had lit the fire, hung the kettle, and seen it fly into space. Snarley said nothing, quickly finished his glass, and went home. "Missis," he said, "get my breakfast at three o'clock to-morrow morning. Shepherd Toller's come back. And mind you hold your tongue."
By five o'clock next morning Snarley had reached the scene of the picnic. He gazed about him in all directions: nothing was stirring but the peewits. Then he climbed down the gorge with some difficulty, found the kettle, and examined its riven side. Climbing back, he went some distance further up the valley, ascended a little knoll, took out his whistle, and blew a peculiar blast, tremulous and piercing. No response. Snarley blew again, and again. At the fourth attempt the distant barking of a dog was heard, and a minute later the signal was answered by the counterpart to Snarley's blast. Presently the form of a big man, followed by a yelping dog, appeared on the skyline above. Shepherd Toller was found.
* * * * *
During the week which followed these events, various members of the picnic-party had begun to recollect things they had previously forgotten, and discoveries were made, ex post facto, which warranted the submission of the case to the Society for the Investigation of Mysterious Phenomena. Lady Lottie Passingham had been of the party, and she it was who drew up the Report which was so much discussed a few years ago. In her own evidence Lady Lottie, whose figure was none too slim, averred that, as she climbed the hill to the place of rendezvous, she had been distinctly conscious of something pulling her back. She had attached no importance to this at the time, though she had remarked to Miss Gledhow that she wished she hadn't come. The time at which the kettle flew was 4.27 p.m.; at 4.25 Lady Lottie, had a sensation as though a cold hand were stroking her left cheek, the separate fingers being clearly distinguishable. Miss Gledhow had experienced a feeling all afternoon that she was being watched and criticised—a feeling which she could only compare to that of a person who is having his photograph taken. Captain Sorley's cigarettes kept going out in the most unaccountable manner; and in this connection he would mention that more than once, and especially a few minutes after the main occurrence, he could not help fancying that someone was breathing in his face. The Rev. E. F. Stark-Potter had heard, several times, a sound like "Woe, woe," which he attributed at first to some ploughman calling to his horses; subsequent inquiry had proved, however, that, on the day in question, no ploughing was being done in the neighbourhood. All the witnesses concurred in the statement that they were vividly conscious of something wrong, the most emphatic in this respect being the Undergraduate, who had made no secret of his feeling at the time by assuring several members of the party that he felt absolutely "rotten," Further, the Report stated, the scene had been identified with the spot where a young woman committed suicide in 1834 by casting herself down the precipice. The battered kettle was also recovered and sent in a registered parcel for examination by the experts of the Society.
After the mature deliberation due to the distinguished names at the end of the Report, the Society decided that the evidence was non-veridical, and refused to print the document in their Proceedings.
Snarley Bob, who knew what was going on, had his reasons for welcoming this development. He concocted various legends of his own weird experiences at the valley-head, and these, as coming from him, had considerable weight. They were communicated in the first instance to the groom. By him they were conveyed to the coachman; by him, to the coachman's wife; whence they were not long in finding their way, by the usual channels, to headquarters. Here the contributions of Snarley were combined by various hands into an artistic whole with the original occurrence, which, in this new context, at once quitted the low ground of History and began a free development of its own in the realms of the Ideal. By the time it reached the Press it had become a fiction far more imposing than any fact, and far more worthy of belief. Things that never happened filled the foreground, and the thing that did happen had fallen so far into the background as to be almost invisible. The incident of the kettle had exfoliated into a whole sequence of imposing mysteries, becoming in the process a mere germ or point of departure of no more significance in itself than are the details in Saxo Grammaticus to a first-class performance of Hamlet. Thus transfigured, the story was indeed a drama rather than a narrative; and those who remember reading it in that form will hardly believe that it had its origin in the humble facts which these pages relate. The excitement it caused lasted for some weeks, and it was almost a public disappointment when the Society for the Investigation of Mysterious Phenomena blew a cold blast upon the whole thing.
* * * * *
When Snarley Bob met Shepherd Toller at Valley Head, he found him accoutred in a manner which verified his private theory as to the levitation of the kettle. Coiled round Toller's left arm were three slings, made from strips of raw oxhide, with pouches, large and small, for hurling stones of various size. Slung over his back was a big bag, also of leather, which contained his ammunition—smooth pebbles gathered from the torrent bed, the largest being the size of a man's fist. Strapped round his waist was a flint axe, the head being a beautiful celt, which Toller had discovered long ago on Clun Downs, and skilfully fixed in a handle bound with thongs.
In the days of Toller's first madness, it had been his habit to wander over Clun Downs, equipped in this manner, He had lived in some fastness of his own devising, and supplied his larder by the occasional slaughter of a stolen sheep, whose skull he would split with a blow from the flint axe. The slings were rather for amusement than hunting, though his markmanship was excellent, and he was said to be able at any time to bring down a rabbit, or even a bird. All day long he would wander in unfrequented uplands, slinging stones at every object that tempted his eye, and roaring and dancing with delight whenever he hit the mark. He was inoffensive enough and had never been known to deliberately aim at a human being, though more than one shooting party had been considerably alarmed by the crash of Toller's stones among the branches, or by his long-range sniping of the white-clothed luncheon-table. On one occasion Toller had landed a huge pebble, the size of an eight-pounder shot, into the very bull's-eye of the feast—to wit, a basket containing six bottles of Heidsieck's Special Reserve. It was this performance which led Sir George to report the case to the authorities and insist on Toller being put under restraint.
* * * * *
By the evening of the day when Toller disappeared from the Perryman sheepfolds he had completed the long walk to his former haunts, and recovered his weapons from under the cairn where he had carefully hidden them six years before. The axe, of course, was uninjured; but the slings were rotten. As soon as it was dark, therefore, Toller stole down to the pastures, captured a steer, brained it with the flint axe, stripped off the skin, made a fire, roasted a piece of the warm flesh, covered his tracks, and before the sun was up had made twenty miles of the return journey, with half a dozen fine new slings concealed beneath his coat. He arrived at Deadborough at nightfall the day but one following, having taken a circuitous route far from the highroad. He at once made his way into the hills.
Beyond the furthest outposts of the Perryman farm lie extensive wolds rising rapidly into desolate regions where sheep can scarcely find pasture. In this region Toller concealed himself. About two miles beyond the old quarry, on a slaty hillside, he found a deep pit, which had probably been used as a water-hole in prehistoric times; and here he built himself a hut. He made the walls out of the stones of a ruined sheep-fold; he roofed them with a sheet of corrugated iron, stolen from the outbuildings of a neighbouring farm, and covered the iron with sods; he built a fire-place with a flue, but no chimney; he caused water from a spring to flow into a hollow beside the door. Then he collected slate, loose stones, and earth; and, by heaping these against the walls of the hut, he gave the whole structure the appearance of a mound of rubbish. Human eyes rarely came within sight of the spot; but even a keen observer of casual objects would not have suspected that the mound represented any sort of human dwelling. It was a masterpiece of protective imitation, an exact replica of Toller's previous abode on Clun Downs. His fire burned only by night.
The furnishing of this simple establishment consisted of a feather bed, which rested on slabs of slate supported by stones,—whence obtained was never known, but undoubtedly stolen. The coverlet was three sheepskins sewn together, the pillow also a sheepskin, coiled round a cylinder of elastic twigs. The table was a deal box, once the property of Messrs. Tate, the famous refiners of sugar. The chair was a duplicate of the table. The implements were all of flint, neatly bound in their handles with strips of hide. There was the axe for slaughter, a dagger for cutting meat, a hammer for breaking bones, a saw and scrapers of various size—the plunder of some barrow on Clun Downs. Under the slates of the bed lay a collection of slings.
In this place Toller lived undiscovered for several months, issuing thence as occasion required in quest of food. This he obtained by night forays upon distant farms, bringing back mutton or beef, lamb or sucking pig, a turkey, a goose, a couple of chickens, according to the changes of his appetite or the seasonableness of the dish. Fruit, vegetables, and potatoes were obtained in the same manner. In addition, all the game of the hills was at his mercy, and he had fish from the stream. It was characteristic of Toller's cunning that his plunder was all obtained from afar, and seldom twice from the same place. He would go ten miles to the north to steal a lamb; next time, as far to the south to steal a goose. The plundered area lay along the circumference of great circles, with radii of ten, fifteen, twenty miles, of which his abode was the centre. This put pursuers off the track, and caused them to look for him everywhere but where he was. The police were convinced, for example, that he was hiding in Clun Downs. The steer he had slaughtered on his first return had been discovered, as Toller intended it to be; and, in order to keep up the fiction of his presence in that neighbourhood, he repeated his exploit a month later, and slaughtered a second steer in the very pasture where he had killed the first.
Nor was his favourite amusement denied him. He knew the movements of every shepherd on the uplands, and, by choosing his routes, could wander for miles, slinging stones as he went, without risk of discovery. Whether during these months he saw any human beings is unknown; certainly no human being recognised him. His power of self-concealment amounted to genius.
Such was the second madness of Shepherd Toller. Things from the abyss of Time that float upwards into dreams—sleeping things whose breath sometimes breaks the surface of our waking consciousness, like bubbles rising from the depths of Lethe—these had become the sober certainties of Toller's life. The superincumbent waters had parted asunder, and the children of the deep were all astir. Toller had awakened into a past which lies beyond the graves of buried races and had joined his fathers in the morning of the world.
* * * * *
Towards the end of the summer Toller's health began to decline. He was attacked by fierce paroxysms of internal pain, which left him weak and helpless. The distant forays had to be abandoned; there was no more slinging of stones; he had great difficulty in obtaining food. He craved most for milk, and this he procured at considerable risk of discovery by descending before dawn into the lowlands and milking, or partially milking, one of the Perryman cows; for the animals knew his voice and were accustomed to his touch.
This was the posture of his affairs when one day he became apprised of the presence in the neighbourhood of the picnic-party aforesaid. He stalked them with care, saw the preparation of their meal, eyed the large basket carried by the grooms, and thought with longing of the tea it was sure to contain, and of the brandy that might be there also. To be possessed of one or both of these things would at that moment have satisfied the all-inclusive desire of the sick man's soul, and he thought of every possible device and contrivance by which he could get them into his hands. None promised well. At last he half resolved on the desperate plan of scaring the pleasure-seekers from their camp by bombarding the ground with stones—a plan which he remembered to have proved effective with a party of ladies on Clun Downs. But he doubted his strength for such a sustained effort, and reflected that a party which contained so many men, even if forced to retreat, would be sure to take their provender with them. While he was thus reflecting he saw the kettle hoisted on the tripod, shining and glinting in the sun. Never had Toller beheld a more tempting mark. The range was easy; his station was well hidden; and the kettle was the hated symbol of his disappointed hopes. "One more, and then I've done," I sez to myself—thus he reported to Snarley Bob—"and I went back for the old sling, feelin' better than I'd done for weeks. I picks the best stone I could find, and kep' on whirlin' her round my head all the way back. Then I slaps her in, and blessed if I didn't take the kettle first shot!"
* * * * *
On the evening of the day when he discovered Toller, Snarley came home with a countenance of sorrow. "I've found him, missis," he said; "but he's a dyin' man. Worn to a shadder, and him the biggest man in the parish. It would ha' scared you to see him. As sane as ever he was in his life. 'Shepherd,' he sez, 'I'm starvin'. Can you get me a bit of summat as I can eat?' 'What would you like?' I sez. He sez, 'I want baccy and buttermilk. For God's sake, get me some buttermilk. It's the only thing as I feel 'ud keep down; and the pain's that awful it a'most tears me to shreds. And may be you can find a pinch o' tea and a spot or two of something short.' I sez, 'You shall have it all this very night. But how's your head?' 'Terrible heavy at the back,' he sez, 'but clear on the top. I've a'most done wi' slingin' and stealin'. The police is after me, and I'm too weak to dodge 'em much longer; they're bound to catch me soon. But they'll get nowt but a bag o' bones, and they'll have to be quick if they want 'em alive. Shepherd, I'm a dyin' man, and there's not a soul to stand by me or bury me.' 'Yes, there is,' I sez; 'you've got me. I'll stand by you, and bury you, too. If the police catches you, it'll be through no tellin' o' mine. You go back to your hut, and we'll keep you snug enough, and get you all the baccy and buttermilk as you wants.' 'Thank God!' he sez; and then the pain took him, and he fair rolled on the ground."
* * * * *
"Yes, sir," continued the widow of Snarley, "my 'usband had been failin' for two years afore he died. But it was that affair wi' Shepherd Toller as broke what bit o' strength he'd got left. I wanted him to tell the doctor as he'd found him; but you might as well ha' tried to turn the church round as move my 'usband when once he'd made up his mind. 'Nivver, Polly!' he sez. 'I've given Shepherd Toller my word. Besides, he's too far gone for doctors to do him any good. He'll not last many days. And I knows a way o' sendin' him to sleep as beats all the doctors' bottles. You leave him to me.'
"Well, you see, sir, I knowed very well as he were doing wrong. But then he didn't look at it that way. And he mostly knowed what he were doin', my 'usband did.
"He never missed goin' to Shepherd Toller's hut mornin' nor night. He took him buttermilk a'most every day; and oh, my word, the lies as he told about what he wanted it for! I've known him walk miles to get it. And then he'd sometimes sit up wi' him half the night tryin' to get him to sleep, rubbin' his back and his head. And the things my 'usband used to tell me about his sufferin's—oh, sir, it were somethin' awful!... Once my 'usband asked him if he'd let him tell the doctor, and Shepherd Toller a'most went out o' his mind with fright. 'I've got to see it through, Polly,' he sez to me; 'but I doubt if it won't be the death o' me.'
"Shepherd Toller took to his bed the very day as my 'usband met him, and never left it, leastways he never went outside the hut again. I wanted to go myself and look after him a bit in the daytime. But my 'usband wouldn't let me go. 'He's no sight for you to look at, missis,' he sez. 'Except for the pain, his mind's at rest. Besides, there's nobody but me knows how to talk to him, and there's nobody but me as he wants to see. You can't make him no comfortabler than he is.'
"But it were a terrible strain on my poor 'usband, and there's not a doubt that it would ha' killed him there and then if it had lasted much longer. It were about three weeks before the end come, and nivver shall I forget that night—no, not if I was to live to be a thousand years old.
"My master come home about ten o'clock, lookin' just like a man as were walkin' in his sleep. I couldn't get him to take notice o' nothin', and when I put his supper on the table he seemed as though he hardly knowed what it were for. He didn't eat more than two mouthfuls, and then he turned his chair round to the fire, tremblin' all over.
"After a bit I sees him drop asleep like. So I sez to myself, 'I'll just go upstairs to warm his bed for him, and then I'll come down and wake him up,' and I begins to get the warmin'-pan ready. He were mutterin' all sorts of things; but I didn't take much notice o' that, because that's what he allus did when he went to sleep in his chair. However, I did notice that he kep' mutterin' something about a dog.
"Soon he wakes up, kind o' startled, and sez, 'Missis, let that dog in; he won't let me get a wink o' sleep.' 'You silly man,' I sez, 'you've been fast asleep for three-quarters of a' hour.' 'Why,' he sez, 'I've been wide awake all the time, listenin' to the dog whinin' and scratchin' at the door, and I was too tired to get up and let him in. Open the door quick; I'm fair sick on it.' I sez, 'What nonsense you're talkin'! Why, Boxer's been lyin' under the table ever since you come home at ten o'clock. He's there now.' So he looks under the table, and there sure enough were Boxer fast asleep. 'Well,' he sez, 'it must be another dog. Open the door, as I tell you, and see what it is.' So I opens the door; and, of course, there were no sign of a dog. 'Are you satisfied now?' I sez. 'I can't make it out,' he sez; 'it's something funny. I'd take my dyin' oath as there were a dog scratchin'. But maybe as I'll go to sleep now.' So he shuts his eyes, and were soon off, mutterin' as before.
"Well, I was just goin' upstairs when all of a sudden he give a scream as a'most made me drop the warmin' pan. 'What's up?' I sez. 'I've burnt my hand awful,' he sez. 'Burnt your hand?' I sez. 'How did you manage to do that? Have you been tumblin' into the fire?' 'I don't know,' he sez; 'but the funny thing is there's no mark of burnin' as I can see.' 'Why,' I sez, 'it must be the rheumatiz in yer knuckles. I'll get a drop o' turpentine, and rub 'em,' So I gets the turpentine, and begins rubbin' his hand, and his arm as well. He sez, 'It's just like a red-hot nail driven slap through the palm o' my hand.' Well, it got better after a bit, and I made him go to bed, though he were that hot and excited I knowed we were going to have a wild night.
"The minute he lay down he went to sleep and slep' quietly for about half an hour. Then he starts groanin' and tossin'. 'It's beginnin',' I sez to myself; 'I'd better light the candle so as to be ready.' The minute I struck the match he jumps out o' bed like a madman, catches hold of the bedpost, and begins pullin' the bed across the room. 'What are you doin'?' I sez. 'I'm pullin' the bed out o' the fire,' he sez. 'Don't you see the room's burnin'?' 'Come, master,' I sez, 'you've got the nightmare. Get back into bed again, and keep quiet.'
"He let go o' the bedpost and began starin' in front of him with the most awful eyes you ever see. 'Are you blind?' he sez. 'Don't you see what's 'appenin'?' 'Nothing's 'appenin',' I sez; 'get back into bed.' 'Look! he sez, 'look at the top o' that hill! Can't you see they're crucifying Shepherd Toller on a red-hot cross? I can hear him screamin' wi' pain.' 'Get out,' I sez; 'Shepherd Toller's all right. Now just you lie down, and think no more about it.' But, oh dear, you might as well ha' talked to thunder and lightnin'. He kep' on as how he could hear Shepherd Toller screamin' and callin' for him, until I thought I should ha' gone out o' my mind.
"Just then a' idea come to me. We'd got a bottle o' stuff as the doctor give him to make him sleep when the rheumatiz come on bad. So I pours out half a cupful, and I sez, 'Here, you drink that, and it'll stop 'em crucifying Shepherd Toller.' He drinks it down at a gulp, and then he sez, 'They've took him down. But I'm afraid he's terrible burnt.' He soon got quiet and lay down and went to sleep.
"He must ha' slep' till six in the mornin', when he got up. 'My head's achin' awful,' he sez. 'I've been dreamin' about Shepherd Toller all night. I believe as summat's gone wrong wi' him. Make me a cup o' strong tea, and I'll go and see what's up.'
"When my 'usband got to the hut the first thing he sees were Shepherd Toller lyin' all of a heap on the floor wi' his clothes half burnt off him and his left arm lyin' right on the top o' where the fire had been. His hand were like a cinder, and he were burnt all over his body. He were still livin' and able to speak. 'How's this happened—what have you been doin'?' sez my 'usband. 'It were the cold,' he sez, 'and I wanted a drop o' brandy. And the dog were tryin' to get in. You shut him out when you went away.'
"Well, my 'usband gave him brandy and managed to lift him on to the bed. 'I never thought as I should die like this,' he sez. 'Bury the old dog wi' me, shepherd, and put the slings alongside o' me and the little axe in my hand. And see there's plenty o' stones.' That was the last he said, though he kep' repeatin' it as long as he could speak. It were not more than an hour after my master found him before he were gone.
"My 'usband dug his grave wi' his own hands, close beside the hut, and buried him next day. He put the axe and slings just as he told him, wi' the stones and all the bits of flint things as he found in the hut. What went most to his heart were shootin' the old dog. He telled me as he were sure the dog knowed he were goin' to kill him, and stood as quiet as a lamb beside the grave when he pointed the gun. 'It were worse than murder,' he said, 'and I shall see him to my dyin' day. But I'd given my word, and I had to do it.
"No, sir, not a livin' soul, exceptin' me, knew what had happened till my 'usband told Mrs. Abel and you three days before he died. That were eighteen months after he'd buried Shepherd Toller. Of course, he'd ha' got into trouble if they'd knowed what he'd done. But he weren't afraid, and he used to say to me, 'Don't you bother, missis. They can't do nothing to you when I'm gone. Let 'em say what they like; you and me knows as I've done no wrong. There's only one thing as I can't bear to think on. And that's shootin' the old dog.'"
SNARLEY BOB'S INVISIBLE COMPANION
Whether Snarley Bob was mad or sane is a question which the reader, ere now, has probably answered for himself. If he thinks him mad, his conclusion will repeat the view held, during his lifetime, by many of Snarley's equals and by some of his betters. In support of the opposite opinion, I will only say that he was sane enough to hold his tongue in general about certain matters, which, had he freely talked of them, would have been regarded as strong evidence of insanity.
The chief of these was his intercourse with the Invisible Companion—invisible to all save Snarley Bob. That designation, however, is not Snarley's, but my own; and I use it because I do not wish to commit myself to the identification of this personage with any individual, historical or imaginary. Snarley generally called him "the Shepherd"; sometimes, "the Master"; and he used no other name.
With this "Master" Snarley claimed to be on terms of intimacy which go beyond the utmost reaches of authentic mysticism. Whether the being in question was a figment of the brain or a real inhabitant of time and space, let the reader, once more, decide for himself. Some being there was, at all events, of whose companionship Snarley was aware under circumstances which are not usually associated with such matters.
There is much in this connection that must needs remain obscure. The only witness who could have cleared those obscurities away has long been beyond the reach of summons. To none else than Mrs. Abel was Snarley ever known to open free communication on the subject.
He spoke now and then of a dim, far-off time when he had been a "Methody." But he had shown scant perseverance in the road which, strait and narrow though it be, has now become easy to trace, being well marked by the tread of countless bleeding feet. Instead of continuing therein, he had "leapt over the wall" into the surrounding waste, and struck out, by a path of his own devising, for the land of Beulah. By all recognised precedent he ought to have failed in arriving. I will not say he succeeded; but he himself was well content with the result. It is true that in all his desert-wanderings he never lost the chart and compass with which Methodism had once provided him; but he filled in the chart at points where Methodism had left it blank, and put the compass to uses which were not contemplated by the original makers.
For many years before his death Snarley entered neither the church nor the chapel; and, I regret to say, he had a very low opinion of both. This was one of the few matters on which he and Hankin were agreed, though for opposite reasons. Hankin objected to these institutions because they went too far; Snarley because they went not nearly far enough. It may, however, be noted that in the tap-room of the Nag's Head, where the blasphemy of the Divine name was a normal occurrence, Snarley, of whose displeasure everybody went in fear, would never allow the name of Christ to be so much as mentioned, not even argumentatively by Hankin; and once when a foul-mouthed navvy had used the name as part of some filthy oath, Snarley instantly challenged the man to fight, struck him a fearful blow between the eyes and pitched him headlong, with a shattered face, into the village street. But in the matter of contempt for the religious practice of his neighbours, his attitude was, if possible, more extreme than Hankin's. I need not quote his utterances on these matters; except for their unusual violence, they were sufficiently commonplace. Had Snarley been more highly developed as "a social being" he would, no doubt, have been less intolerant; but solitude had made him blind on that side of his nature; for his fellow-men in general he had little sympathy and less admiration, his soul being as lonely as his body when wandering before the dawn on some upland waste.
Lonely, save for the frequent presence, by day and night, of his ghostly monitor and friend. To understand the nature of this companionship we must remember that devotion to the shepherd's craft was the controlling principle of Snarley's being. Had he been able to philosophise on the basis of his experience, he would have found it impossible to represent perfection as grounded otherwise than on a supreme skill in the breeding and management of sheep. No being, in his view of things, could wear the title of "good Shepherd" for any other reason. Taking Snarley all round, I dare say he was not a bad man; but I doubt if there was any sin which smelt so rank in his nostrils as the loss of a lamb through carelessness, nor any virtue he rated so high as that which was rewarded by a first prize at the agricultural show. The form of his ideal, and the direction of his hero-worship, were determined accordingly.
The name preferred by Snarley was, as I have said, "the Shepherd," and the term was no metaphor. He was familiar with every passage in the New Testament where mention is made of sheep; he knew, for example, the opening verses of the tenth chapter of St. John by heart; and all these metaphorical passages were translated by him into literal meaning. That is to say, the Person to whom they refer, or by whom they were spoken, was one whom Snarley found it especially fitting to consult, and whose sympathy he was most vividly aware of, in doing his own duty as a guardian of sheep.
For instance, it was his practice to guide the flock by walking before them; and this he explained as "a way 'the Shepherd' had." He said that when walking behind he was invariably alone; but when going in front "the Shepherd" was frequently by his side. And there were greater "revelations" than this. During the lambing season, when Snarley would often spend the night in his box, high up among the wolds, "the Shepherd" would announce his presence towards midnight by giving a signal, which Snarley would immediately answer, and pass long hours with him communing on the mysteries of their craft.
From this source Snarley professed to have derived some of the secrets on which his system of breeding was founded. "'The Shepherd' had put him up to them." He said that it was "the Shepherd" who had turned his thoughts to Spain as the country which would provide him with a short-eared ram. "The Shepherd" had assisted in the creation of "Thunderbolt," had indicated the meadows where the "Spanish cross" would find the best pasturage, and never failed to warn him when he was going to make a serious mistake. In his brilliant successes, which were many, at agricultural shows and such like, Snarley disclaimed every tittle of merit for himself, assuring Mrs. Abel that it was all due to the guidance of "the Shepherd." Of the prize-money which came to him in this way—for Farmer Perryman let him have it all—Snarley would never spend a sixpence; it was all "the Shepherd's money," and was promptly banked "that the missis might have a bit when he were gone"—the "bit" amounting, if I remember rightly, to four hundred and eighty pounds.
Throughout these communings there was scarcely a trace of moral reference in the usual senses of the term. One rule of life, and one only, Snarley professed to have derived from his invisible monitor—that "the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." This rule, also, he accepted in a strictly literal sense, and considered himself under orders accordingly. Thus interpreted, it was for him the one rule which summed up the essential content of the whole moral law.
I am not able to recall any notable act of heroism or self-sacrifice performed by Snarley on behalf of his flock; but perhaps we shall not err in regarding his whole life as such an act. When, in his old age, physical suffering overtook him—the result of a lifetime of toil and exposure to the elements—he bore it as a good soldier should bear his wounds, sustained by the consciousness that pain such as his was the lot of every shepherd "as did his duty by the sheep."
Nor am I aware that he displayed any emotional tenderness towards his charges; and certainly, I may add, his personal appearance would not have recommended him to a painter in search of a model for the Good Shepherd of traditional art. In eliminating undesirable specimens from the flock, Snarley was as ruthless as Nature; and when the butcher's man drove them off to the shambles he would watch their departure without a qualm. It was certainly said that he would never slaughter a sheep with his own hands, not even when death was merciful; on the other hand, he would sternly execute, by shooting, any dog that showed a tendency to bite or worry the flock. There was one doubtful case of this kind which Snarley told Mrs. Abel he had settled by reference to his monitor—the verdict being adverse to the dog. The monitor was, indeed, his actual Master—the captain of the ship whose orders were inviolable,—Farmer Perryman being only the purser from whom he received his pay: a view of the relationship which probably worked to Perryman's great advantage.
In short, whatever may have been Snarley's sins or virtues in other directions, "the Shepherd" had little or nothing to do with them. The burden which Snarley laid at his feet was the burden which had bent his back, and crippled his limbs, and gnarled his hands, and furrowed his broad brows during seventy years of hardship and toil. Moral lapses—in the matter of drink and, at one time, of fighting—occasionally took place; but they were never known to be followed by any reference to the disapproval of "the Shepherd." In some respects, indeed, Robert Dellanow showed himself singularly deficient in moral graces. To the very end of his life he was given to outbreaks of violent behaviour—as we have seen; and not only would he show no signs of after-contrition for his bad conduct, but would hint, at times, that his invisible companion had been a partner, or at least an unreproving spectator, in what he had done. But if he made a mistake in feeding the ewes or in doctoring the lambs, Snarley would say, "I don't know what 'the Shepherd' will think o' me. I'll hardly have the face to meet him next time." Once, on the other hand, when there had been a heavy snowfall towards the end of April, and desperate work in digging the flock out of a drift, he described the success of the operations to Mrs. Abel by saying, "It were a job as 'the Shepherd' himself might be proud on."
In the last period of his life, however, gleams of his earlier Methodism occasionally shot through, and showed plainly enough of whom he was thinking. As with most men of his craft, his old age was made grievous by rheumatism; there were times, indeed, when every joint of his body was in agony. All this Snarley bore with heroic fortitude, sticking to his duties on days when he described himself as "a'most blind wi' pain." We have seen what sustained him, and it was strengthened, of course, as he told some of us, by the belief that "the Shepherd" had borne far worse. When at last the rheumatism invaded the valves of his heart, and every walk up the hill was an invitation to Death, the old man still held on, unmoved by the doctor's warnings and the urgency of his friends. The Perrymans implored him to desist, and promised a pension; his wife threatened and wept; Mrs. Abel added her entreaties. To the latter he replied, "Not till I drops! As long as 'the Shepherd' 's there to meet me I know as I'm wanted. The lambs ha' got to be fed. Besides 'the Shepherd' and me has an understandin'. I'll never give in while I can stand on my legs and hold my crook in my hand."
There is reason to believe that every phase of Snarley's connection with Toller was laid before "the Shepherd." Each new development was subject to his guidance. Shortly after Toller's disappearance, Snarley said to Mrs. Abel, "Me and 'the Shepherd' has been talkin' it over. He sez to me, 'Snarley, when you lose a sheep, you goes after it into the wilderness, and you looks and looks till you finds. But this time it's a shepherd that's lost. Now you stay quiet where you are, and keep your eyes and ears open day and night. I know where he is; he's all right; and I'm lookin' after him. By and by I'm going to hand him over to you. Him and you has got to drink together, but it'll be a drink o' gall for both on you. When the time comes, I'll give you the sign.'"
"The sign come," he added, later on, "the sign come that night in the Nag's Head, when the groom told us about the kettle. I'd just had a drop o' something short, and when I looks up there were 'the Shepherd' sittin' in the chair next but one to Shoemaker Hankin. Just then the groom come in, and 'the Shepherd' gets up and comes over to a little table where I'd got my glass. The groom sits down where 'the Shepherd' had been, and 'the Shepherd' sits down opposite to me. The groom says, 'Boys, I've got summat to tell you as'll make your hair stand on end.' 'Fire away,' says Tom Barter; and 'the Shepherd,' he holds up his finger and looks at me. When the groom had done, and they were all shoutin' and laughin', 'the Shepherd' leans across the table and whispers, close in my ear, 'Snarley, the hour's come! Drink up what's left in your glass. It's time to be goin'.'"
* * * * *
During the trying time of his concealment and tending of Toller, "the Shepherd's" presence became more frequent, and Snarley's characterisation more precise. The belief that "the Shepherd" was "backing him up" gave Snarley a will of iron. When Mrs. Abel, on the night of his confession, essayed to reprove him for not obtaining medical assistance for Toller, he drew himself as erect as his crippled limbs allowed, and said quietly, in a manner that closed discussion, "It were 'the Master's' orders, my lady. He'd handed him over to me." He also said, or hinted, that "the Master" had taught him the method—whatever it may have been for sending Toller to sleep, "that were better than all the doctor's bottles." From the same source, doubtless, came his secret for "setting Toller's mind at rest." That secret is undivulged; but it was connected in some way with what Snarley called "the Shepherd's Plan," of which all we could learn was that "there were three men on three crosses, him in the middle being 'the Shepherd,' and them at the sides being Toller and me."
"There were allus three on us in the hut," said Snarley, "and all three were men as knowed what pain were. Both Toller and me was drinking out o' 'the Shepherd's' cup, and he'd promised to stay by us till the last drop was gone. 'It's full o' fury and wrath,' sez he; 'but it's got to be drunk by them as wants to drive their flock among the stars. I've gone before, and you're comin' after. When you've done this there'll be no more like it. The next cup will be full o' wine, and we'll all three drink it together.'"
In this wise did Snarley and Toller receive the Sacrament in their dark and lonely den.
The night on which Snarley came home "like a man walking in his sleep"—the last night of Toller's life—was wild, wet, and very dark. With a lantern in one hand, a can of milk in the other, and a bag of sticks on his back, the old man stumbled through the night until he reached the last slope leading to Toller's hut. Here the lantern was blown out, and Snarley, after depositing his burdens, sat down, dizzy and faint, on a stone. In his pocket was an eight-ounce bottle, containing a meagre sixpenn'orth of brandy for Shepherd Toller. Snarley fingered the bottle, and then, with quick resolution, withdrew his hand. "For the life o' me," he said, "I couldn't remember where I was. I felt as though the hillside were whirlin' round, carryin' me with it. And then I felt as though I were sinkin' into the ground. 'I'll never get there this night,' I sez to myself. Just then I hears something movin', and blessed if it wasn't Toller's old dog as had come to look for me. He come jumpin' up and begins lickin' my face. Well, it put a bit o' heart into me to feel the old dog. So I picks up the can and the bundle, and off I goes again; and, though I wouldn't ha' believed it, it weren't more than eighty yards, or a hundred at most, to the hut.
"When I come to the edge of the pit I sees a lantern burnin' near the door, wonderful bright; and there were 'the Shepherd' sittin' on a stone, same as I'd been doin' myself a minute before. As soon as he sees me comin', he waves his lantern and calls out, 'Have a care, Snarley, it's a steep and narrow road.' Well, the path down into the pit were as slippery as ice, and I tell you I'd never ha' got down—at least, not without breakin' some o' my bones—if 'the Shepherd' hadn't kep' showin' me a light.
"So I comes up to where he were; and then I noticed as he were wet through, just as I were, and looking regular wore out. 'Snarley,' he sez to me, 'you carry your cross like a man.' 'I learnt that from you, Master,' I sez; 'but you look as though yours had been a bit too heavy for you this time.' 'We've had terrible work to-day,' he sez; 'we've been dividin' the sheep from the goats. And there's no keepin' 'em apart. We no sooner gets 'em sorted than they mixes themselves up again, till you don't know where you are.' 'Why didn't you let me come and help you?' I sez. 'I'd ha' brought Boxer, and he'd ha' settled 'em pretty quick.' 'No, no,' he sez; 'your hour's not come. When I wants you, I'll give you a sign as you can't mistake. Besides, you're not knowledgable in goats. Feed my sheep.' 'Well,' I sez, 'when you wants me, you knows where to find me.' 'Right,' he sez; 'but it's Toller we'll be wantin' first. And I've been thinkin' as p'raps he'd oblige us by lettin' us have the loan of his dog for a bit.' 'I'll go in and ask him,' I sez; 'I don't suppose he'll have any objection.' Then 'the Shepherd' blew his lantern out, and I see him no more that night.
"Me and the dog goes into the hut, and I could hear as Toller were fast asleep in his bed. I begins blowin' up the embers in the fire, and when the blaze come the old dog lay down as though he meant goin' to sleep. But I could see as there was somethin' on his mind, for he kept cockin' his nose up, and sniffin' and lookin' round. Then he gets up and begins scratchin' at the door, as he allus did when he wanted to go out. So I opens the door, and out he rushes into the dark, like a mad thing, barkin' as though he smelt a fox.
"When I'd done what I'd come to do, I puts the brandy and the buttermilk where they'd be handy for Shepherd Toller to get 'em, and then I goes to the door and begins whistlin' for the dog. But no sign of him could I hear or see, though I kep' on whistlin' for full a quarter of a' hour. It were strange as it didn't wake Shepherd Toller, but he kep' on sleepin' like a child in a thunderstorm. At last I give it up and shut the door and went home. How I got back, I don't know. I can't remember nothing till my missis catched hold on me and pulled me in through the door."
* * * * *
"I'd never ha' been able to shoot the old dog," said Snarley, "if 'the Shepherd' hadn't made me do it. I turned fair sick when I put the charge in the gun, and when I pointed it at him I was in such a tremble that I couldn't aim straight. I tried three or four times to get steady, the dog standin' as still as still all the while, except that he kep' waggin' his tail.
"All of a sudden I sees 'the Shepherd,' plain as plain. He were standin' just behind the old dog, strokin' his head. 'Shoot, Snarley,' he sez; 'shoot, and we'll look after him.' 'Stand back, then, Master,' I sez; 'for I'm goin' to fire.' 'Fire,' he sez; 'but aim lower. The shot won't hurt me,' and he went on strokin' the dog's head. So I pulls the trigger, and when the smoke cleared 'the Shepherd' were gone, and the dog were lyin' dead as any stone."
THE DEATH OF SNARLEY BOB
"He'd a rough tongue, sir; but he'd a good 'eart," said the widow of Snarley Bob. "Oh, sir, but he were a wonderful man, were my master. I never knowed one like him—no, nor never 'eard o' one. I didn't think on it while he were living; but now' he's gone I know what I've lost. That clever! Why, he often used to say to me. 'Polly, there ain't a bit of blessed owt as I couldn't do, if I tried.' And it were true, sir. And him nothing but a shepherd all his life, and never earned more'n eighteen shillin' a week takin' it all the year round. And us wi' a family of thirteen children, without buryin' one on 'em, and all married and doin' well. And only one fault, sir, and that not so bad as it is in some. He would have his drop of drink—that is, whenever he could get it. Not that he spent his wages on it, except now and then after the children was growed up. But you see, sir, he was that amusin' in his talk, and folks used to treat him.
"Well, sir, it was last Saturday fortnight, as I was tellin' you, he come home for the last time. I can see 'im now, just as he come staggerin' in at that door. I thought when I saw him that he'd had a drop o'drink, though he'd not been 'avin' any for a long time. So I sez to myself, 'I'd better make 'im a cup o' tea,' and I begins puttin' the kettle on the fire. 'What are you doin'?' he sez. 'I'm goin' to give you a cup o' tea,' I sez; 'It'll do yer good.' 'No, it won't,' he sez, 'I've done wi' cups o' tea in this world.' 'Why,' I sez, 'what rubbish! 'Ere, sit yer down, and let me pull yer boots off.' 'You can pull 'em off,' he sez 'but ye'll never see me put 'em on again.'
"I could see by this that it wasn't drink besides I couldn't smell any. So I gets 'im into his chair and begins pullin' his boots off. 'What makes you talk like that?' I sez. 'You knows as you was ever so much better last night. When you've had yer medicine you'll be all right.' He said nowt for a time, but just sat, tremblin' and shiverin' in his chair. So I sez, 'Hadn't you better 'ave the doctor?' 'It's no good,' he sez; 'I'm come 'ome for the last time. It'll be good-bye this time, missis.' 'Not it,' I sez; 'you've got many years to live yet. Why, wot's to make yer die?' 'It's my 'eart,' he sez; 'it's all flip-floppin' about inside me, and gurglin' like a stuck pig. It's wore out, and I keep gettin' that faint.' 'Oh,' I sez, 'cheer up; when you've 'ad a cup o' tea you'll feel better'; but I'd hardly got the words out o' my mouth before he were gone in a dead faint.
"We got 'im to bed between the three on us, and, my word, it were a job gettin' 'im up them narrer stairs! As soon as we'd made 'im comfortable, he sez to me, 'Wot I told yer's comin' to-night, Polly. They've been a-callin' on me all day. I see 'em and 'ear 'em, too. Loud as loud. Plain as plain.' 'Who's been callin' yer?' I sez. 'The messengers o' death,' he sez; 'and they're in this room, four on 'em, now. I can 'ear 'em movin' and talkin' to one another.' 'Oh,' I sez, 'it's all fancy. What you 'ear is me and Mrs. Rowe. You lie quiet and go to sleep, and you'll be better in the mornin'.' He only shook his 'ead and said, 'I can 'ear 'em.'
"Well, I suppose it was about 'alf a' hour after this when Mrs. Rowe sez to me, 'He looks like goin' to sleep now, Mrs. Dellanow, so I think I'll go 'ome and get my master 'is supper'; and she was just goin' down the stairs when all of a sudden he starts up in bed and sez, 'Do you 'ear that whistle blowin'?' 'No,' I sez, 'you've been dreamin'. There isn't nobody whistlin' at this time o' night.' 'Yes,' he sez, 'there is, and it blowed three times. There's thousands and thousands of sheep, and a tall shepherd whistlin' to his dog. But he's got no dog, and it's me he's whistlin' for.'
"Now, sir, you must understand that my 'usband when he was with the sheep used to work his dog wi' whistlin' instead of shoutin' to it as most shepherds do. You can see his whistle hangin' on that nail—that's where he hung it 'isself for twenty-five years. You see, he was kind o' superstitious and used to say it was bad luck to keep yer whistle in yer pocket when you went to bed. So he always hung it on that nail, the last thing at night.
"'Why,' I sez, tryin' to humour 'im, 'it's his dog he's whistlin' for, not you. His dog's somewhere where you can't see it. He doesn't want you. You lie back again, and go to sleep.' 'No, no,' sez he; 'there's no dog, and the sheep's runnin' everywhere, thousands on 'em. It's me he's whistlin' for, and we must whistle back to say I'm comin'. Fetch it down from the nail, Polly. There he is again! He's the tallest shepherd I ever saw. He's one of them four that was in the room just now. Whistle back, Polly, and then it'll be all right.' And so he kep' on, again and again.
"Mrs. Rowe, who'd come into the room, said to me, 'If I was you, Mrs. Dellanow, I'd fetch the whistle and blow it. It'll quiet 'im, and then p'raps he'll go to sleep.'
"You can understand, sir, that I was that upset I didn't know what I was doing. But when he kep' on callin' and beseechin' I thought I'd better do as Mrs. Rowe recommended. So I went down and took the whistle from that nail—the same where you see it hangin' now. When I got back I couldn't somehow bring myself to do it, so I gives it to 'im to blow 'isself. But, oh dear, to see the poor thing trying to put it to his mouth ... it a'most broke my heart. So I took it from 'im, and blowed it myself three times as he wanted me. To think o' me standin' by my own 'usband's dyin'-bed and blowin' a whistle!