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Noughts and Crosses
by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
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"After that we sat quiet, he an' I, all the night through, never takin' our clothes off. An' at daybreak Isaac walked down to the shore. There was nothin' to see but two bodies, an' he buried them an' waited for more. That evenin' another came in, an' next day, two; an' so on for a se'nnight. Ten bodies in all he picked up and buried i' the meadow below. An' on the fourth day he picked up a body wi' one finger missin', under the Nare Head. 'Twas the young man he had driven forth, who had wandered there an' broke his neck. Isaac buried him too. An' that was all, except two that the coastguard found an' held an inquest over an' carr'd off to churchyard.

"So it befell; an' for five year' neither Isaac nor me opened mouth 'pon it, not to each other even. An' then, one noonday, a sailor knocks at the door; an' goin' out, I seed he was a furriner, wi' great white teeth showin' dro' his beard. 'I be come to see Mister Isaac Lenine,' he says, in his outlandish English. So I called Isaac out; an' the stranger grips 'en by the hand an' kisses 'en, sayin', 'Little father, take me to their graves. My name is Feodor Himkoff, an' my brother Dmitry was among the crew of the Viatka. You would know his body, if you buried it, for the second finger was gone from his right hand. I myself—wretched one!—chopped it by bad luck when we were boys, an' played at wood cuttin' wi' our father's axe. I have heard how they perished, far from aid, and how you gave 'em burial in your own field: and I pray to all the saints for you,' he says.

"So Isaac led 'en to the field and showed 'en the grave that was staked off 'long wi' the rest. God help my poor man! he was too big a coward to speak. So the man stayed wi' us till sundown, an' kissed us 'pon both cheeks, an' went his way, blessin' us. God forgi'e us— God forgi'e us!

"An' ever since he's been breaking our heads dro' the post-office wi' such-like precious balms as these here." She broke off to settle Isaac more comfortably in his chair. "'Tis all we can do to get rid of 'em on poor trampin' fellows same as yourself."



YORKSHIRE DICK.

"See here, you'd best lose the bitch—till tomorrow, anyway. She ain't the sight to please a strict man, like your dad, on the Sabbath day. What's more, she won't heal for a fortni't, not to deceive a Croolty-to-Animals Inspector at fifty yards; an' with any man but me she'll take a month."

My friend Yorkshire Dick said this, with that curious gypsy intonation that turns English into a foreign tongue if you forget the words and listen only to the voice. He was squatting in the sunshine, with his back against an oak sapling, a black cutty under his nose, and Meg, my small fox-terrier, between his thighs. In those days, being just fifteen, I had taken a sketch-book and put myself to school under Dick to learn the lore of Things As They Are: and, as part of the course, we had been the death of a badger that morning—Sunday morning.

It was one of those days in autumn when the dews linger in the shade till noon and the blackberry grows too watery for the connoisseur. On the ridge where we loafed, the short turf was dry enough, and the sun strong between the sparse saplings; but the paths that zigzagged down the thick coppice to right and left were soft to the foot, and streaked with the slimy tracks of snails. A fine blue mist filled the gulf on either hand, and beneath it mingled the voices of streams and of birds busy beside them. At the mouth of each valley a thicker column of blue smoke curled up like a feather—that to the left rising from the kitchen chimney of my father's cottage, that to the right from the encampment where Dick's bouillon was simmering above a wood fire.

Looking over Dick's shoulder along the ridge I could see, at a point where the two valleys climbed to the upland, a white-washed building, set alone, and backed by an undulating moorland dotted with clay-works. This was Ebenezer Chapel; and my father was its deacon. Its one bell had sounded down the ridge and tinkled in my ear from half-past ten to eleven that morning. Its pastor would walk back and eat roast duck and drink three-star brandy under my father's roof after service. Bell and pastor had spoken in vain, as far as I was concerned; but I knew that all they had to say would be rubbed in with my father's stirrup-leather before nightfall.

"'Tis pretty sport," said Dick, "but it leaves traces."

Between us the thin red soil of the ridge was heaped in mounds, and its stain streaked our clothes and faces. On one of these mounds lay a spade and two picks, a pair of tongs, an old sack, dyed in its original service of holding sheep's reddle, and, on the sack, the carcase of our badger, its grey hairs messed with blood about the snout. This carcase was a matter of study not only to me, who had my sketch-book out, but to a couple of Dick's terriers tied up to a sapling close by—an ugly mongrel, half fox-half bull-terrier, and a Dandie Dinmont—who were straining to get at it. As for Dick, he never lifted his eyes, but went on handling Meg.

He had the gypsy's secret with animals, and the poor little bitch hardly winced under his touch, though her under-lip was torn away, and hung, like a red rag, by half an inch of flesh.

We had dug and listened and dug again for our badger, all the morning. Then Dick sent his mongrel in at the hole, and the mongrel had come forth like a projectile and sat down at a distance, bewailing his lot. After him the Dandie went in and sneaked out again with a fore-paw bitten to the bone. And at last Meg stepped in grimly, and stayed. For a time there was dead silence, and then as we pressed our ears against the turf and the violets, that were just beginning their autumnal flowering, we heard a scuffling underground and began to dig down to it, till the sweat streamed into our eyes. Now Dick's wife had helped us to bring up the tools, and hung around to watch the sport—an ugly, apathetic woman, with hair like a horse's tail bound in a yellow rag, a man's hips, and a skirt of old sacking. I think there was no love lost between her and Dick, because she had borne him no children. Anyway, while Dick and I were busy, digging like niggers and listening like Indians—for Meg didn't bark, not being trained to the work, and all we could hear was a thud, thud now and then, and the hard breathing of the grapple—all of a sudden the old hag spoke, for the first time that day—

"S'trewth, but I've gripped!"

Looking up, I saw her stretched along the side of the turf, with her head resting on the lip of the badger's hole and her right arm inside, up to the arm-pit. Without speaking again, she began to work her body back, like a snake, the muscles swelling and sinking from shoulder to flank in small waves. She had the strength of a horse. Inch by inch she pulled back, while we dug around the mouth of the hole, filling her mouth and eyes with dirt, until her arm came to light, then the tongs she held; and then Dick spat out a mighty oath—

"It's the dog she's got!"

So it was. The woman had hold of Meg all the time, and the game little brute had held on to the badger. Also the badger had held her, and when at last his hold slipped, she was a gruesome sight. She looked round, reproachfully, shook the earth out of her eyes and went in again without a sound. And Dick picked up a clod and threw it in his wife's face, between the eyes. She cursed him, in a perfunctory way, and walked off, down the wood, to look after her stew.

But now, Meg having pinned her enemy again, we soon dug them out: and I held the sack while Dick took the badger by the tail and dropped him in. His teeth snapped, a bare two inches from my left hand, as he fell. After a short rest, he was despatched. The method need not be described. It was somewhat crude, and in fact turned me not a little sick.

"One o'clock," Dick observed, glancing up at the sun, and resuming his care of Meg. "What're ye trying to do, youngster?"

"Trying to put on paper what a badger's like when he's dead. If only I had colours—"

"My son, there's a kind of man afflicted with an itch to put all he sees on paper. What's the use? Fifty men might sit down and write what the grey of a badger's like; and they can't, because there's no words for it. All they can say is that 'tis badger's-grey—which means nought to a man that hasn't seen one; and a man that has don't want to be told. Same with your pencils and paints. Cast your head back and look up—how deep can you see into the sky?"

"Miles."

"Ay, and every mile shining to the eye. I've seen pictures in my time, but never one that made a dab of paint look a mile deep. Besides, why draw a thing when you can lie on your back and look up at it?"

I was about to answer when Dick raised his head, with a queer alertness in his eyes. Then he vented a long, low whistle, and went on binding up Meg's jaw.

Immediately after, there was a crackling of boughs to the left and my father's head appeared above the slope, with the red face of the pastor behind it. We were caught.

On the harangue that followed I have no wish to dwell. My father and the pastor pitched it in by turns, while Dick went on with his surgery, his mouth pursed up for a soundless whistle. The prosecution had it all its own way, and I felt uncomfortably sure about the sentence.

But at last, to our amazement, Dick, having finished the bandaging, let Meg go and advanced. He picked up my sketch-book.

"Gentlemen both," said he, "I've been listening respectful to your talk about God and his wrath, and as a poor heathen I'd like to know your idea of him. Here's a pencil and paper. Will you be kind enough to draw God? that I may see what he's like."

The pastor's jaw dropped. My father went grey with rage. Dick stood a pace back, smiling; and the sun glanced on the gold rings in his ears.

"No, sirs. It ain't blasphemy. But I know you can't give me a notion that won't make him out to be a sort of man, pretty much like yourselves—two eyes, a nose, mouth, and beard perhaps. Now my wife says there's points about a woman that you don't reckon into your notion; and my dog says there's more in a tail than most men estimate—"

"You foul-tongued poacher—" broke out my father.

"Now you're mixing matters up," Dick interrupted, blandly; "I poach, and that's a crime. I've shown your boy to-day how men kill badgers, and maybe that's wrong. But look here, sir—I've taught him some things besides; the ways of birds and beasts, and their calls; how to tell the hour by sun and stars; how to know an ash from a beech, of a pitch-dark night, by the sound of the wind in their tops; what herbs will cure disease and where to seek them; why some birds hop and others run. Sirs, I come of an old race that has outlived books and pictures and meeting-houses: you belong to a new one and a cock-sure, and maybe you're right. Anyhow, you know precious little of this world, whatever you may of another."

He stopped, pushed a hand through his coarse black hair, and, as if suddenly tired, resumed the old, sidelong gypsy look that he had been straightening with an effort.

"Your boy'll believe what you tell him: he's got the strength in his blood. Take him home and don't beat him too hard."

He glanced at me with a light nod, untied his dogs, shouldered his tools, and slouched away down the path, to sleep under his accustomed tree that night and be off again, next day, travelling amongst men and watching them with his weary ironical smile.



THE CAROL.

I was fourteen that Christmas:—all Veryan parish knows the date of the famous "Black Winter," when the Johann brig came ashore on Kibberick beach, with a dozen foreigners frozen stiff and staring on her fore-top, and Lawyer Job, up at Ruan, lost all his lambs but two. There was neither rhyme nor wit in the season; and up to St. Thomas's eve, when it first started to freeze, the folk were thinking that summer meant to run straight into spring. I mind the ash being in leaf on Advent Sunday, and a crowd of martins skimming round the church windows during sermon-time. Each morning brought blue sky, warm mists, and a dew that hung on the brambles till ten o'clock. The frogs were spawning in the pools; primroses were out by scores, and monthly roses blooming still; and Master shot a goat-sucker on the last day in November. All this puzzled the sheep, I suppose, and gave them a notion that their time, too, was at hand. At any rate the lambs fell early; and when they fell, it had turned to perishing cold.

That Christmas-eve, while the singers were up at the house and the fiddles going like mad, it was a dismal time for two of us. Laban Pascoe, the hind, spent his night in the upper field where the sheep lay, while I spent mine in the chall[1] looking after Dinah, our Alderney, that had slipped her calf in the afternoon—being promised the castling's skin for a Sunday waistcoat, if I took care of the mother. Bating the cold air that came under the door, I kept pretty cosy, what with the straw-bands round my legs and the warm breath of the cows: for we kept five. There was no wind outside, but moonlight and a still, frozen sky, like a sounding board: so that every note of the music reached me, with the bleat of Laban's sheep far up the hill, and the waves' wash on the beaches below. Inside the chall the only sounds were the slow chewing of the cows, the rattle of a tethering-block, now and then, or a moan from Dinah. Twice the uproar from the house coaxed me to the door to have a look at Laban's scarlet lantern moving above, and make sure that he was worse off than I. But mostly I lay still on my straw in the one empty stall staring into the foggy face of my own lantern, thinking of the waistcoat, and listening.

I was dozing, belike, when a light tap on the door made me start up, rubbing my eyes.

"Merry Christmas, Dick!"

A little head, bright with tumbled curls, was thrust in, and a pair of round eyes stared round the chall, then back to me, and rested on my face.

"Merry Christmas, little mistress."

"Dick—if you tell, I'll never speak to you again. I only wanted to see if 'twas true."

She stepped inside the chall, shutting the door behind her. Under one arm she hugged a big boy-doll, dressed like a sailor—from the Christmas-tree, I guessed—and a bright tinsel star was pinned on the shoulder of her bodice. She had come across the cold town-place in her muslin frock, with no covering for her shoulders; and the manner in which that frock was hitched upon her made me stare.

"I got out of bed again and dressed myself," she explained. "Nurse is in the kitchen, dancing with the young man from Penare, who can't afford to marry her for ever so long, father says. I saw them twirling, as I slipped out—"

"You have done a wrong thing," said I: "you might catch your death."

Her lip fell:—she was but five. "Dick, I only wanted to see if 'twas true."

"What?" I asked, covering her shoulders with the empty sack that had been my pillow.

"Why, that the cows pray on Christmas-eve. Nurse says that at twelve o'clock to-night all the cows in their stalls will be on their knees, if only somebody is there to see. So, as it's near twelve by the tall clock indoors, I've come to see," she wound up.

"It's quig-nogs, I expect. I never heard of it."

"Nurse says they kneel and make a cruel moan, like any Christian folk. It's because Christ was born in a stable, and so the cows know all about it. Listen to Dinah! Dick, she's going to begin!"

But Dinah, having heaved her moan, merely shuddered and was still again.

"Just fancy, Dick," the little one went on, "it happened in a chall like ours!" She was quiet for a moment, her eyes fixed on the glossy rumps of the cows. Then, turning quickly—"I know about it, and I'll show you. Dick, you must be Saint Joseph, and I'll be the Virgin Mary. Wait a bit—"

Her quick fingers began to undress the sailor-doll and fold his clothes carefully. "I meant to christen him Robinson Crusoe," she explained, as she laid the small garments, one by one, on the straw; "but he can't be Robinson Crusoe till I've dressed him up again." The doll was stark naked now, with waxen face and shoulders, and bulging bags of sawdust for body and legs.

"Dick," she said, folding the doll in her arms and kissing it— "St. Joseph, I mean—the first thing we've got to do is to let people know he's born. Sing that carol I heard you trying over last week— the one that says 'Far and far I carry it.'"

So I sang, while she rocked the babe:—

'Naked boy, brown boy, In the snow deep, Piping, carolling Folks out of sleep; Little shoes, thin shoes, Shoes so wet and worn'— 'But I bring the merry news —Christ is born!

Rise, pretty mistress, In your smock of silk; Give me for my good news Bread and new milk. Joy, joy in Jewry, This very morn! Far and far I carry it —Christ is born!'

She heard me with a grave face to the end; then pulling a handful of straw, spread it in the empty manger and laid the doll there. No, I forget; one moment she held it close to her breast and looked down on it. The God who fashions children can tell where she learnt that look, and why I remembered it ten years later, when they let me look into the room where she lay with another babe in her clay-cold arms.

"Count forty," she went on, using the very words of Pretty Tommy, our parish clerk: "count forty, and let fly with 'Now draw around—'"

"Now draw around, good Christian men, And rest you worship-ping—"

We sang the carol softly together, she resting one hand on the edge of the manger.

"Dick, ain't you proud of him? I don't see the spiders beginning, though."

"The spiders?"

"Dick, you're very ig-norant. Everybody knows that, when Christ was laid in a manger, the spiders came and spun their webs over Him and hid Him. That's why King Herod couldn't find Him."

"There, now! We live and learn," said I.

"Well, now there's nothing to do but sit down and wait for the wise men and the shepherds."

It was a little while that she watched, being long over-tired. The warm air of the chall weighed on her eyelids; and, as they closed, her head sank on my shoulder. For ten minutes I sat, listening to her breathing. Dinah rose heavily from her bed and lay down again, with a long sigh; another cow woke up and rattled her rope a dozen times through its ring; up at the house the fiddling grew more furious; but the little maid slept on. At last I wrapped the sack closely round her, and lifting her in my arms, carried her out into the night. She was my master's daughter, and I had not the courage to kiss so much as her hair. Yet I had no envy for the dancers, then.

As we passed into the cold air she stirred. "Did they come? And where are you carrying me?" Then, when I told her, "Dick, I will never speak to you again, if you don't carry me first to the gate of the upper field."

So I carried her to the gate, and sitting up in my arms she called twice:

"Laban—Laban!"

"What cheer—O?" the hind called back. His lantern was a spark on the hill-side, and he could not tell the voice at that distance.

"Have you seen him?"

"Wha-a-a-t?"

"The angel of the Lo-o-ord!"

"Wha-a-a-t?"

"I'm afraid we can't make him understand," she whispered. "Hush; don't shout!" For a moment, she seemed to consider; and then her shrill treble quavered out on the frosty air, my own deeper voice taking up the second line—

"The first' Nowell' the angel did say Was to certain poor shepherds, in fields as they lay, —In fields as they lay, a-tending their sheep, On a cold winters night that was so deep— Nowell! Nowell! Christ is born in Israel!"

Our voices followed our shadows across the gate and far up the field, where Laban's sheep lay dotted. What Laban thought of it I cannot tell: but to me it seemed, for the moment, that the shepherd among his ewes, the dancers within the house, the sea beneath us, and the stars in their courses overhead moved all to one tune,—the carol of two children on the hill-side.

[1] Cow-house.



THE PARADISE OF CHOICE.

It was not as in certain toy houses that foretell the weather by means of a man-doll and a woman-doll—the man going in as the woman comes out, and vice versa. In this case both man and woman stepped out, the man half a minute behind; so that the woman was almost at the street-corner while he hesitated just outside the door, blinking up at the sky, and then dropping his gaze along the pavement.

The sky was flattened by a fog that shut down on the roofs and chimneys like a tent-cloth, white and opaque. Now and then a yellowish wave rolled across it from eastward, and the cloth would be shaken. When this happened, the street was always filled with gloom, and the receding figure of the woman lost in it for a while.

The man thrust a hand into his trousers pocket, pulled out a penny, and after considering for a couple of seconds, spun it carelessly. It fell in his palm, tail up; and he regarded it as a sailor might a compass. The trident in Britannia's hand pointed westward, down the street.

"West it is," he decided with a shrug, implying that all the four quarters were equally to his mind. He was pocketing the coin, when footsteps approached, and he lifted his head. It was the woman returning. She halted close to him with an undecided manner, and the pair eyed each other.

We may know them as Adam and Eve, for both were beginning a world that contained neither friends nor kin. Both had very white hands and very short hair. The man was tall and meagre, with a receding forehead and a sandy complexion that should have been freckled, but was not. He had a trick of half-closing his eyes when he looked at anything, not screwing them up as seamen do, but appearing rather to drop a film over them like the inner eyelid of a bird. The woman's eyes resembled a hare's, being brown and big, and set far back, so that she seemed at times to be looking right behind her. She wore a faded look, from her dust-coloured hair to her boots, which wanted blacking.

"It all seems so wide," she began; "so wide—"

"I'm going west," said the man, and started at a slow walk. Eve followed, a pace behind his heels, treading almost in his tracks. He went on, taking no notice of her.

"How long were you in there?" she asked, after a while.

"Ten year'." Adam spoke without looking back. "'Cumulated jobs, you know."

"I was only two. Blankets it was with me. They recommended me to mercy."

"You got it," Adam commented, with his eyes fastened ahead.

The fog followed them as they turned into a street full of traffic. Its frayed edge rose and sank, was parted and joined again—now descending to the first-storey windows and blotting out the cabmen and passengers on omnibus tops, now rolling up and over the parapets of the houses and the sky-signs. It was noticeable that in the crowd that hustled along the pavement Adam moved like a puppy not yet waywise, but with lifted face, while Eve followed with her head bent, seeing nothing but his heels. She observed that his boots were hardly worn at all.

Three or four times, as they went along, Adam would eye a shop window and turn in at the door, while Eve waited. He returned from different excursions with a twopenny loaf, a red sausage, a pipe, box of lights and screw of tobacco, and a noggin or so of gin in an old soda-water bottle. Once they turned aside into a public, and had a drink of gin together. Adam paid.

Thus for two hours they plodded westward, and the fog and crowd were with them all the way—strangers jostling them by the shoulder on the greasy pavement, hansoms splashing the brown mud over them—the same din for miles. Many shops were lighting up, and from these a yellow flare streamed into the fog; or a white when it came from the electric light; or separate beams of orange, green, and violet, when the shop was a druggist's.

Then they came to the railings of Hyde Park, and trudged down the hill alongside them to Kensington Gardens. It was yet early in the afternoon. Adam pulled up.

"Come and look," he said. "It's autumn in there," and he went in at the Victoria gate, with Eve at his heels.

"Mister, how old might you be?" she asked, encouraged by the sound of his voice.

"Thirty."

"And you've passed ten years in—in there." She jerked her head back and shivered a little.

He had stooped to pick up a leaf. It was a yellow leaf from a chestnut that reached into the fog above them. He picked it slowly to pieces, drawing full draughts of air into his lungs. "Fifteen," he jerked out, "one time and another. 'Cumulated, you know." Pausing, he added, in a matter-of-fact voice, "What I've took would come to less'n a pound's worth, altogether."

The Gardens were deserted, and the pair roamed towards the centre, gazing curiously at so much of sodden vegetation as the fog allowed them to see. Their eyes were not jaded; to them a blade of grass was not a little thing.

They were down on the south side, amid the heterogeneous plants there collected, examining each leaf, spelling the Latin labels and comparing them, when the hour came for closing. In the dense atmosphere the park-keeper missed them. The gates were shut; and the fog settled down thicker with the darkness.

Then the man and the woman were aware, and grew afraid. They saw only a limitless plain of grey about them, and heard a murmur as of the sea rolling around it.

"This gaol is too big," whispered Eve, and they took hands. The man trembled. Together they moved into the fog, seeking an outlet.

At the end of an hour or so they stumbled on a seat, and sat down for awhile to share the bread and sausage, and drink the gin. Eve was tired out and would have slept, but the man shook her by the shoulder.

"For God's sake don't leave me to face this alone. Can you sing?"

She began "When other lips . . ." in a whisper which gradually developed into a reedy soprano. She had forgotten half the words, but Adam lit a pipe and listened appreciatively.

"Tell you what," he said at the close; "you'll be able to pick up a little on the road with your singing. We'll tramp west to-morrow, and pass ourselves off for man and wife. Likely we'll get some farm work, down in the country. Let's get out of this."

They joined hands and started off again, unable to see a foot before them in the blackness. So it happened next morning that the park-keeper, coming at his usual hour to unlock the gates, found a man and a woman inside with their white faces pressed against the railings, through which they glared like caged beasts. He set them free, and they ran out, for his paradise was too big.

Now, facing west, they tramped for two days on the Bath road, leaving the fog behind them, and drew near Reading. It was a clear night as they approached it, and the sky studded with stars that twinkled frostily. Eleven o'clock sounded from a tower ahead. On the outskirts of the town they were passing an ugly modern villa with a large garden before it, when an old gentleman came briskly up the road and turned in at the gate.

Adam swung round on his heel and followed him up the path, begging. Eve hung by the gate.

"No," said the old gentleman, fitting his latchkey into the door, "I have no work to offer. Eh?—Is that your wife by the gate? Hungry?"

Adam whispered a lie in his ear.

"Poor woman, and to be on the road, in such a state, at this hour! Well, you shall share my supper before you search for a lodging. Come inside," he called out to Eve, "and be careful of the step. It's a high one."

He led them in, past the ground-floor rooms and up a flight of stairs. After pausing on the landing and waiting a long time for Eve to take breath, he began to ascend another flight.

"Are we going to have supper on the leads?" Adam wondered.

They followed the old gentleman up to the attics and into a kind of tower, where was a small room with two tables spread, the one with a supper, the other with papers, charts, and mathematical instruments.

"Here," said their guide, "is bread, a cold chicken, and a bottle of whisky. I beg you to excuse me while you eat. The fact is, I dabble in astronomy. My telescope is on the roof above, and to-night every moment is precious."

There was a ladder fixed in the room, leading to a trap-door in the ceiling. Up this ladder the old gentleman trotted, and in half a minute had disappeared, shutting the trap behind him.

It was half an hour or more before Adam climbed after him, with Eve, as usual, at his heels.

"My dear madam!" cried the astronomer, "and in your state!"

"I told you a lie," Adam said. "I've come to beg your pardon. May we look at the stars before we go?"

In two minutes the old gentleman was pointing out the constellations—the Great Bear hanging low in the north-east, pointing to the Pole star, and across it to Cassiopeia's bright zigzag high in the heavens; the barren square of Pegasus, with its long tail stretching to the Milky Way, and the points that cluster round Perseus; Arcturus, white Vega and yellow Capella; the Twins, and beyond them the Little Dog twinkling through a coppice of naked trees to eastward; yet further round the Pleiads climbing, with red Aldebaran after them; below them Orion's belt, and last of all, Sirius flashing like a diamond, white and red, and resting on the horizon where the dark pasture lands met the sky.

Then, growing flushed with his subject, he began to descant on these stars, their distances and velocities; how that each was a sun, careering in measureless space, each trailing a company of worlds that spun and hurtled round it; that the Dog-star's light shone into their eyes across a hundred trillion miles; that the star itself swept along a thousand miles in a minute. He hurled figures at them, heaping millions on millions. "See here"—and, turning the telescope on its pivot, he sighted it carefully. "Look at that small star in the Great Bear: that's Groombridge Eighteen-thirty. He's two hundred billions of miles away. He travels two hundred miles a second, does Groombridge Eighteen-thirty. In one minute Groombridge Eighteen-thirty could go from here to Hong-Kong."

"Then damn Groombridge Eighteen-thirty!"

It was uttered in the bated tone that night enforces: but it came with a groan. The old gentleman faced round in amazement.

"He means, sir," explained the woman, who had grown to understand Adam passing well, "my man means that it's all too big for us. We've strayed out of prison, sir, and shall feel safer back again, looking at all this behind bars."

She reached out a hand to Adam: and this time it was he that followed, as one blinded and afraid. In three months they were back again at the gates of the paradise they had wandered from. There stood a warder before it, clad in blue: but he carried no flaming sword, and the door opened and let them in.



BESIDE THE BEE-HIVES.

On the outskirts of the village of Gantick stand two small semi-detached cottages, coloured with the same pale yellow wash, their front gardens descending to the high-road in parallel lines, their back gardens (which are somewhat longer) climbing to a little wood of secular elms, traditionally asserted to be the remnant of a mighty forest. The party hedge is heightened by a thick screen of white-thorn on which the buds were just showing pink when I took up my lodging in the left-hand cottage (the 10th of May by my diary); and at the end of it are two small arbours, set back to back, their dilapidated sides and roofs bound together by clematis.

The night of my arrival, my landlady asked me to make the least possible noise in unpacking my portmanteau, because there was trouble next door, and the partitions were thin. Our neighbour's wife was down with inflammation, she explained—inflammation of the lungs, as I learnt by a question or two. It was a bad case. She was a wisht, ailing soul to begin with. Also the owls in the wood above had been hooting loudly, for nights past: and yesterday a hedge-sparrow lit on the sill of the sick-room window, two sure tokens of approaching death. The sick woman was being nursed by her elder sister, who had lived in the house for two years, and practically taken charge of it. "Better the man had married she" my landlady added, somewhat unfeelingly.

I saw the man in his garden early next morning: a tall fellow, hardly yet on the wrong side of thirty, dressed in loose-fitting tweed coat and corduroys. A row of bee-hives stood along his side of the party wall, and he had taken the farthest one, which was empty, off its stand, and was rubbing it on the inside with a handful of elder-flower buds, by way of preparation for a new swarm. Even from my bed-room window I remarked, as he turned his head occasionally, that he was singularly handsome. His movements were those of a lazy man in a hurry, though there seemed no reason for hurry in his task. But when it was done, and the hive replaced, his behaviour began to be so eccentric that I paused in the midst of my shaving, to watch.

He passed slowly down the line of bee-hives, halting beside each in turn, and bending his head down close to the orifice with the exact action of a man whispering a secret into another's ear. I believe he kept this attitude for a couple of minutes beside each hive—there were eight, besides the empty one. At the end of the row he lifted his head, straightened his shoulders, and cast a glance up at my window, where I kept well out of sight. A minute after, he entered his house by the back door, and did not reappear.

At breakfast I asked my landlady if our neighbour were wrong in his head at all. She looked astonished, and answered, "No: he was a do-nothing fellow—unless you counted it hard work to drive a carrier's van thrice a week into Tregarrick, and home the same night. But he kept very steady, and had a name for good nature."

Next day the man was in his garden at the same hour, and repeated the performance. Throughout the following night I was kept awake by a series of monotonous groans that reached me through the partition, and the murmur of voices speaking at intervals. It was horrible to lie within a few inches of the sick woman's head, to listen to her agony and be unable to help, unable even to see. Towards six in the morning, in bright daylight, I dropped off to sleep at last.

Two hours later the sound of voices came in at the open window and awoke me. I looked out into my neighbour's garden. He was standing, half-way up the path, in the sunshine, and engaged in a suppressed but furious altercation with a thin woman, somewhat above middle height. Both wore thick green veils over their faces and thick gloves on their hands. The woman carried a rusty tea-tray.

The man stood against her, motioning her back towards the house. I caught a sentence—"It'll be the death of her;" and the woman glanced back over her shoulder towards the window of the sick-room. She seemed about to reply, but shrugged her shoulders instead and went back into the house, carrying her tray. The man turned on his heel, walked hurriedly up the garden, and scrambled over its hedge into the wood. His veil and thick gloves were explained a couple of hours later, when I looked into the garden again and saw him hiving a swarm of bees that he had captured, the first of the season.

That same afternoon, about four o'clock, I observed that every window in the next house stood wide open. My landlady was out in the garden, "picking in" her week's washing from the thorn hedge where it had been suspended to dry; and I called her attention to this new freak of our neighbours.

"Ah, then, the poor soul must be nigh to her end," said she. "That's done to give her an easy death."

The woman died at half-past seven. And next morning her husband hung a scrap of black crape to each of the bee-hives.

She was buried on Sunday afternoon. From behind the drawn blinds of my sitting-room window I saw the funeral leave the house and move down the front garden to the high-road—the heads of the mourners, each with a white handkerchief pressed to its nose, appearing above the wall like the top of a procession in some Assyrian sculpture. The husband wore a ridiculously tall hat, and a hat-band with long tails. The whole affair had the appearance of an hysterical outrage on the afternoon sunshine. At the foot of the garden they struck up a "burying tune," and passed down the road, shouting it with all their lungs.

I caught up a book and rushed out into the back garden for fresh air. Even out of doors it was insufferably hot, and soon I flung myself down on the bench within the arbour and set myself to read. A plank behind me had started, and after a while the edge of it began to gall my shoulders as I leant back. I tried once or twice to push it into its place, without success, and then, in a moment of irritation, gave it a tug. It came away in my hand, and something rolled out on the bench before me, and broke in two.

I picked it up. It was a lump of dough, rudely moulded to the shape of a woman, with a rusty brass-headed nail stuck through the breast. Around the body was tied a lock of fine light-brown hair—a woman's, by its length.

After a careful examination, I untied the lock of hair, put the doll back in its place behind the plank, and returned to the house: for I had a question or two to put to my landlady.

"Was the dead woman at all like her elder sister?" I asked. "Was she black-haired, for instance?"

"No," answered my landlady; "she was shorter and much fairer. You might almost call her a light-haired woman."

I hoped she would pardon me for changing the subject abruptly and asking an apparently ridiculous question, but would she call a man mad if she found him whispering secrets into a bee-hive?

My landlady promptly replied that, on the contrary, she would think him extremely sensible; for that, unless bees were told of all that was happening in the household to which they belonged, they might consider themselves neglected, and leave the place in wrath. She asserted this to be a notorious fact.

"I have one more question," I said. "Suppose that you found in your garden a lock of hair—a lock such as this, for instance—what would you do with it?"

She looked at it, and caught her breath sharply.

"I'm no meddler," she said at last; "I should burn it."

"Why?"

"Because if 'twas left about, the birds might use it for their nests, and weave it in so tight that the owner couldn't rise on Judgment day."

So I burnt the lock of hair in her presence; because I wanted its owner to rise on Judgment day and state a case which, after all, was no affair of mine.



THE MAGIC SHADOW.

Once upon a time there was born a man-child with a magic shadow.

His case was so rare that a number of doctors have been disputing over it ever since and picking his parents' histories and genealogies to bits, to find the cause. Their inquiries do not help us much. The father drove a cab; the mother was a charwoman and came of a consumptive family. But these facts will not quite account for a magic shadow. The birth took place on the night of a new moon, down a narrow alley into which neither moon nor sun ever penetrated beyond the third-storey windows—and that is why the parents were so long in discovering their child's miraculous gift. The hospital-student who attended merely remarked that the babe was small and sickly, and advised the mother to drink sound port-wine while nursing him,—which she could not afford.

Nevertheless, the boy struggled somehow through five years of life, and was put into smallclothes. Two weeks after this promotion his mother started off to scrub out a big house in the fashionable quarter, and took him with her: for the house possessed a wide garden, laid with turf and lined with espaliers, sunflowers, and hollyhocks, and as the month was August, and the family away in Scotland, there seemed no harm in letting the child run about in this paradise while she worked. A flight of steps descended from the drawing-room to the garden, and as she knelt on her mat in the cool room it was easy to keep an eye on him. Now and then she gazed out into the sunshine and called; and the boy stopped running about and nodded back, or shouted the report of some fresh discovery.

By-and-by a sulphur butterfly excited him so that he must run up the broad stone steps with the news. The woman laughed, looking at his flushed face, then down at his shoe-strings, which were untied: and then she jumped up, crying out sharply—"Stand still, child—stand still a moment!"

She might well stare. Her boy stood and smiled in the sun, and his shadow lay on the whitened steps. Only the silhouette was not that of a little breeched boy at all, but of a little girl in petticoats; and it wore long curls, whereas the charwoman's son was close-cropped.

The woman stepped out on the terrace to look closer. She twirled her son round and walked him down into the garden, and backwards and forwards, and stood him in all manner of positions and attitudes, and rubbed her eyes. But there was no mistake: the shadow was that of a little girl.

She hurried over her charing, and took the boy home for his father to see before sunset. As the matter seemed important, and she did not wish people in the street to notice anything strange, they rode back in an omnibus. They might have spared their haste, however, as the cab-driver did not reach home till supper-time, and then it was found that in the light of a candle, even when stuck inside a carriage-lamp, their son cast just an ordinary shadow. But next morning at sunrise they woke him up and carried him to the house-top, where the sunlight slanted between the chimney-stacks: and the shadow was that of a little girl.

The father scratched his head. "There's money in this, wife. We'll keep the thing close; and in a year or two he'll be fit to go round in a show and earn money to support our declining years."

With that the poor little one's misfortunes began. For they shut him in his room, nor allowed him to play with the other children in the alley—there was no knowing what harm might come to his precious shadow. On dark nights his father walked him out along the streets; and the boy saw many curious things under the gas-lamps, but never the little girl who inhabited his shadow. So that by degrees he forgot all about her. And his father kept silence.

Yet all the while she grew side by side with him, keeping pace with his years. And on his fifteenth birthday, when his parents took him out into the country and, in the sunshine there, revealed his secret, she was indeed a companion to be proud of—neat of figure, trim of ankle, with masses of waving hair; but whether blonde or brunette could not be told; and, alas! she had no eyes to look into.

"My son," said they, "the world lies before you. Only do not forget your parents, who conferred on you this remarkable shadow."

The youth promised, and went off to a showman. The showman gladly hired him; for, of course, a magic shadow was a rarity, though not so well paying as the Strong Man or the Fat Woman, for these were worth seeing every day, whereas for weeks at a time, in dull weather or foggy, our hero had no shadow at all. But he earned enough to keep himself and help the parents at home; and was considered a success.

One day, after five years of this, he sought the Strong Man, and sighed. For they had become close friends.

"I am in love," he confessed.

"With your shadow?"

"No."

"Not with the Fat Woman!" the Strong Man exclaimed, with a start of jealousy.

"No. I have seen her that I mean these three days in the Square, on her way to music lesson. She has dark brown eyes and wears yellow ribbons. I love her."

"You don't say so! She has never come to our performance, I hope."

"It has been foggy ever since we came to this town."

"Ah, to be sure. Then there's a chance: for, you see, she would never look at you if she knew of—of that other. Take my advice—go into society, always at night, when there is no danger; get introduced; dance with her; sing serenades under her window; then marry her. Afterwards—well, that's your affair."

So the youth went into society and met the girl he loved, and danced with her so vivaciously and sang serenades with such feeling beneath her window, that at last she felt he was all in all to her. Then the youth asked to be allowed to see her father, who was a Retired Colonel; and professed himself a man of Substance. He said nothing of the Shadow: but it is true he had saved a certain amount. "Then to all intents and purposes you are a gentleman," said the Retired Colonel; and the wedding-day was fixed.

They were married in dull weather, and spent a delightful honeymoon. But when spring came and brighter days, the young wife began to feel lonely; for her husband locked himself, all the day long, in his study—to work, as he said. He seemed to be always at work; and whenever he consented to a holiday, it was sure to fall on the bleakest and dismallest day in the week.

"You are never so gay now as you were last Autumn. I am jealous of that work of yours. At least," she pleaded, "let me sit with you and share your affection with it."

But he laughed and denied her: and next day she peered in through the keyhole of his study.

That same evening she ran away from him: having seen the shadow of another woman by his side.

Then the poor man—for he had loved his wife—cursed the day of his birth and led an evil life. This lasted for ten years, and his wife died in her father's house, unforgiving.

On the day of her funeral, the man said to his shadow—"I see it all. We were made for each other, so let us marry. You have wrecked my life and now must save it. Only it is rather hard to marry a wife whom one can only see by sunlight and moonlight."

So they were married; and spent all their life in the open air, looking on the naked world and learning its secrets. And his shadow bore him children, in stony ways and on the bare mountain-side. And for every child that was born the man felt the pangs of it.

And at last he died and was judged: and being interrogated concerning his good deeds, began—

"We two—"—and looked around for his shadow. A great light shone all about; but she was nowhere to be seen. In fact, she had passed before him, and his children remained on earth, where men already were heaping them with flowers and calling them divine.

Then the man folded his arms and lifted his chin.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "I am simply a sinner."

There are in this world certain men who create. The children of such are poems, and the half of their soul is female. For it is written that without woman no new thing shall come into the world.

THE END

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