He looked all around him; the moorland quivered in the bright hot air, and he could see far away the hills lie like a map, with blue mountains on the horizon, and small green valleys where men dwelt. He sate down by the pool, and he had a thought of bathing in the water; but his courage did not rise to this, because he felt still as though something sate in the depths that would not show itself, but might come forth and drag him down; so he sate at last by the pool, and presently he fell asleep.
When he woke he felt somewhat chilly; the shadow of the peak had come round, and fell on the water; the place was still as calm as ever, but looking upon the pool he had an obscure sense as though he were being watched by an unclosing eye; but he was thirsting with the heat; so he drew up, in his closed hands, some of the water, which was very cool and sweet; and his drowsiness came upon him, and again he slept.
When next he woke it was with a sense of delicious ease, and the thought that some one who loved him was near him stroking his hand. He looked up, and there close to his side sate very quietly what gave him a shock of surprise. It was a great gray cat, with soft abundant fur, which turned its yellow eyes upon him lazily, purred, and licked his hand; he caressed the cat, which arched its back and seemed pleased to be with him, and presently leapt upon his knee. The soft warmth of the fur against his hands, and the welcoming caresses of this fearless wild creature pleased him greatly; and he sate long in quiet thought, taking care not to disturb the cat, which, whenever he took his hand away, rubbed against him as though to show that it was pleased at his touch. But at last he thought that he must go homewards, for the day began to turn to the west. So he put the cat off his knee and began to walk to the top of the pass, as it was quicker to follow the road. For awhile the cat accompanied him, sometimes rubbing against his leg and sometimes walking in front, but looking round from time to time as though to consult his pleasure.
Roderick began to hope that it would accompany him home, but at a certain place the cat stopped, and would go no farther. Roderick lifted it up, but it leapt from him as if displeased, and at last he left it reluctantly. In a moment he came within sight of the cross in the hilltop, so that he saw the road was near. Often he looked round and saw the great cat regarding him as though it were sorry to be left; till at last he could see it no more.
He went home well pleased, his head full of happy thoughts; he had gone half expecting to see some dreadful thing, but had found instead a creature who seemed to love him.
The next day he went again; and this time he found the cat sitting by the pool; as soon as it saw him, it ran to him with a glad and yearning cry, as though it had feared he would not return; to-day it seemed brighter and larger to look upon; and he was pleased that when he returned by the stream it followed him much farther, leaping lightly from stone to stone; but at a certain place, where the valley began to turn eastward, just before the little church came in sight, it sate down as before and took its leave of him.
The third day he began to go up the valley again; but while he rested in a little wood that came down to the stream, to his surprise and delight the cat sprang out of a bush, and seemed more than ever glad of his presence. While he sate fondling it, he heard the sound of footsteps coming up the path; but the cat heard the sound too, and as he rose to see who was coming, the cat sprang lightly into a tree beside him and was hidden from his sight. It was the old priest on his way to an upland farm, who spoke fondly to Roderick, and asked him of his father and mother. Roderick told him that they were to return that night, and said that it was too bright to remain indoors and yet too bright to fish; the priest agreed, and after a little more talk rose to go, and as his manner was, holding Roderick by the hand, he blessed him, saying that he was growing a tall boy. When he was gone—and Roderick was ashamed to find how eager he was that the priest should go—he called low to the cat to come back; but the cat came not, and though Roderick searched the tree into which it had sprung, he could find no sign of it, and supposed that it had crept into the wood.
That evening the travellers returned, the knight seeming cheerful, because the vexatious journey was over; but Roderick was half ashamed to think that his mind had been so full of his new plaything that he was hardly glad to see his parents return. Presently his mother said, "You look very bright and happy, dear child," and Roderick, knowing that he spoke falsely, said that he was glad to see them again; his mother smiled and asked him what he had been doing, and he said that he had wandered on the hills, for it was too bright to fish; his mother looked at him for a moment, and he knew in his heart that she wondered if he had kept his promise; but he thought of his secret, and looked at her so straight and full that she asked him no further questions.
The next day he woke feeling sad, because he knew that there would be no chance to go to the pool. He went to and fro with his mother, for she had many little duties to attend to. At last she said, "What are you thinking of, Roderick? You seem to have little to say to me." She said it laughingly; and Roderick was ashamed, but said that he was only thinking; and so bestirred himself to talk. But late in the day he went a little alone through the wood, and reaching the end of it, looked up to the hill, kissing his hand towards the pool as a greeting to his friend; and as he turned, the cat came swiftly and lovingly out of the wood to him; and he caught it up in his arms and clasped it close, where it lay as if contented.
Then he thought that he would carry it to the house, and say nothing as to where he had found it; but hardly had he moved a step when the cat leapt from him and stood as though angry. And it came into Roderick's mind that the cat was his secret friend, and that their friendship must somehow be unknown; but he loved it even the better for that.
In the weeks that followed, the knight was ill and the lady much at home; from time to time Roderick saw the cat; he could never tell when it would visit him; it came and went unexpectedly, and always in some lonely and secret place. But gradually Roderick began to care for nothing else; his fishing and his riding were forgotten, and he began to plan how he might be alone, so that the cat would come to him. He began to lose his spirits and to be dull without it, and to hate the hours when he could not see it; and all the time it grew or seemed to grow stronger and sleeker; his mother soon began to notice that he was not well; he became thin and listless, but his eyes were large and bright; she asked him more than once if he were well, but he only laughed. Once indeed he had a fright; he had been asleep under a hawthorn in the glen on a hot July day; and waking saw the cat close to him, watching him intently with yellow eyes, as though it were about to spring upon him; but seeing him awake, it came wheedling and fondling him as often before; but he could not forget the look in its eyes, and felt grave and sad.
Then he began to be troubled with dreams; the man whom he had seen in his former dream rising from the pool was often with him—sometimes he led him to pleasant places; but one dream he had, that he was bathing in the pool, and caught his foot between the rocks and could not draw it out. Then he heard a rushing sound, and looking round saw that a great stream of water was plunging heavily into the pool, so that it rose every moment, and was soon up to his chin. Then he saw in his dream that the man sate on the edge of the pool and looked at him with a cold smile, but did not offer to help; till at last when the water touched his lips, the man rose and held up his hand; and the stream ceased to run, and presently his foot came out of the rock easily, and he swam ashore but saw no one.
Then it came to the autumn, and the days grew colder and shorter, and he could not be so much abroad; he felt, too, less and less disposed to stir out, and it now began to be on his mind that he had broken his promise to his mother; and for a week he saw nothing of the cat, though he longed to see it. But one night, as he went to bed, when he had put out his light, he saw that the moon was very bright; and he opened the window and looked out, and saw the gleaming stream and the grey valley; he was turning away, when he heard a light sound of the scratching of claws, and presently the cat sprang upon the window-sill and entered the room. It was now cold and he got into bed, and the cat sprang upon his pillow; and Roderick was so glad that the cat had returned that while he caressed it he talked to it in low tones. Suddenly came a step at the door, and a light beneath it, and his mother with a candle entered the room. She stood for a moment looking, and Roderick became aware that the cat was gone. Then his mother came near, thinking that he was asleep, and he sate up. She said to him, "Dear child, I heard you speaking, and wondered whether you were in a dream," and she looked at him with an anxious gaze. And he said, "Was I speaking, mother? I was asleep and must have spoken in a dream." Then she said, "Roderick, you are not old enough yet to sleep so uneasily—is all well, dear child?" and Roderick, hating to deceive his mother, said, "How should not all be well?" So she kissed him and went quietly away, but Roderick heard her sighing.
Then it came at last to All Souls' Day; and Roderick, going to his bed that night, had a strange dizziness and cried out, and found the room swim round him. Then he got up into his bed, for he thought that he must be ill, and soon fell asleep; and in his sleep he dreamed a dreadful dream. He thought that he lay on the hills beside the pool; and yet he was out of the body, for he could see himself lying there. The pool was very dark, and a cold wind ruffled the waves. And again the water was troubled, and the man stepped out; but behind him came another man, like a hunchback, very swarthy of face, with long thin arms, that looked both strong and evil. Then it seemed as if the first man pointed to Roderick where he lay and said, "You can take him hence, for he is mine now, and I have need of him," adding, "Who could have thought it would be so easy?" and then he smiled very bitterly. And the hunchback went towards himself; and he tried to cry out in warning, and straining woke; and in the chilly dawn he saw the cat sit in his room, but very different from what it had been. It was gaunt and famished, and the fur was all marred; its yellow eyes gleamed horribly, and Roderick saw that it hated him, he knew not why; and such fear came upon him that he screamed out, and as he screamed the cat rose as if furious, twitching its tail and opening its mouth; but he heard steps without, and screamed again, and his mother came in haste into the room, and the cat was gone in a moment, and Roderick held out his hands to his mother, and she soothed and quieted him, and presently with many sobs he told her all the story.
She did not reproach him, nor say a word of his disobedience, the fear was too urgent upon her; she tried to think for a little that it was the sight of some real creature lingering in a mind that was wrought upon by illness; but those were not the days when men preferred to call the strange afflictions of body and spirit, the sad scars that stain the fair works of God, by reasonable names. She did not doubt that by some dreadful hap her own child had somehow crept within the circle of darkness, and she only thought of how to help and rescue him; that he was sorry and that he did not wholly consent was her hope.
So she merely kissed and quieted him, and then she told him that she would return anon and he must rest quietly; but he would not let her leave him, so she stood in the door and called a servant softly. Sir James was long abed, for he had been in ill-health that day, and she gave word that some one must be found at once and go to call the priest, saying that Roderick was ill and she was uneasy. Then she came back to the bed, and holding Roderick's hand she said, that he must try to sleep. Roderick said to her, "Mother, say that you forgive me." To which she only replied, "Dear child, do I not love you better than all the world? Do not think of me now, only ask help of God." So she sate with his hand in both of her own, and presently he fell asleep; but she saw that he was troubled in his dreams, for he groaned and cried out often; and now through the window she heard the soft tolling of the bell of the church, and she knew that a contest must be fought out that night over the child; but after a sore passage of misery, and a bitter questioning as to why one so young and innocent should thus be bound with evil bonds, she found strength to leave the matter in the Father's hands, and to pray with an eager hopefulness.
But the time passed heavily and still the priest did not arrive; and the ghostly terror was so sore on the child that she could bear it no longer and awakened him. And he told her in broken words of the terrible things that had oppressed him; sore fightings and struggles, and a voice in his ear that it was too late, and that he had yielded himself to the evil. And at last there came a quiet footfall on the stair, and the old priest himself entered the room, looking anxious, yet calm, and seeming to bring a holy peace with him.
Then she bade the priest sit down; and so the two sate by the bedside, with the solitary lamp burning in the chamber; and she would have had Roderick tell the tale, but he covered his face with his hands and could not. So she told the tale herself to the priest, saying, "Correct me, Roderick, if I am wrong;" and once or twice the boy corrected her, and added a few words to make the story plain, and then they sate awhile in silence, while the terrified looks of the mother and her son dwelt on the old priest's strongly lined face; yet they found comfort in the smile with which he met them.
At length he said, "Yes, dear lady and dear Roderick, the case is plain enough—the child has yielded himself to some evil power, but not too far, I think; and now must we meet the foe with all our might. I will abide here with the boy; and, dear lady, you were better in your own chamber, for we know not what will pass; if there were need I would call you." Then the lady said, "I will do as you direct me, Father, but I would fain stay." Then he said, "Nay, but there are things on which a Christian should not look, lest they should daunt his faith—so go, dear lady, and help us with your prayers." Then she said, "I will be below; and if you beat your foot thrice upon the floor, I will come. Roderick, I shall be close at hand; only be strong, and all shall be well." Then she went softly away.
Then the priest said to Roderick, "And now, dear son, confess your sin and let me shrive you." So Roderick made confession, and the priest blessed him: but while he blessed him there came the angry crying of a cat from somewhere in the room, so that Roderick shuddered in his bed. Then the priest drew from his robe a little holy book, and with a reverence laid it under Roderick's hand; and he himself took his book of prayers and said, "Sleep now, dear son, fear not." So Roderick closed his eyes, and being very weary slept. And the old priest in a low whisper said the blessed psalms. And it came near to midnight; and the place that the priest read was, Thou shalt not be afraid for any terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day; for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the sickness that destroyeth in the noonday; and suddenly there ran as it were a shiver through his bones, and he knew that the time was come. He looked at Roderick, who slept wearily on his bed, and it seemed to him as though suddenly a small and shadowy thing, like a bird, leapt from the boy's mouth and on to the bed; it was like a wren, only white, with dusky spots upon it; and the priest held his breath: for now he knew that the soul was out of the body, and that unless it could return uninjured into the limbs of the child, nothing could avail the boy; and then he said quietly in his heart to God that if He so willed He should take the boy's life, if only his soul could be saved.
Then the priest was aware of a strange and horrible thing; there sprang softly on to the bed the form of the great gray cat, very lean and angry, which stood there, as though ready to spring upon the bird, which hopped hither and thither, as though careless of what might be. The priest cast a glance upon the boy, who lay rigid and pale, his eyes shut, and hardly seeming to breathe, as though dead and prepared for burial. Then the priest signed the cross and said "In Nomine"; and as the holy words fell on the air, the cat looked fiercely at the bird, but seemed to shrink into itself; and then it slipped away.
Then the priest's fear was that the bird might stray further outside of his care; and yet he dared not try and wake the boy, for he knew that this was death, if the soul was thrust apart from the body, and if he broke the unseen chain that bound them; so he waited and prayed. And the bird hopped upon the floor; and then presently the priest saw the cat draw near again, and in a stealthy way; and now the priest himself was feeling weary of the strain, for he seemed to be wrestling in spirit with something that was strong and strongly armed. But he signed the cross again and said faintly "In Nomine"; and the cat again withdrew.
Then a dreadful drowsiness fell upon the priest, and he thought that he must sleep. Something heavy, leaden-handed, and powerful seemed to be busy in his brain. Meanwhile the bird hopped upon the window-sill and stood as if preparing its wings for a flight. Then the priest beat with his foot upon the floor, for he could no longer battle. In a moment the lady glided in, and seemed as though scared to find the scene of so fierce an encounter so still and quiet. She would have spoken, but the priest signed her to be silent, and pointed to the boy and to the bird; and then she partly understood. So they stood in silence, but the priest's brain grew more numb; though he was aware of a creeping blackness that seemed to overshadow the bird, in the midst of which glared two bright eyes. So with a sudden effort he signed the cross, and said "In Nomine" again; and at the same moment the lady held out her hand; and the priest sank down on the floor; but he saw the bird raise its wings for a flight, and just as the dark thing rose, and, as it were, struck open-mouthed, the bird sailed softly through the air, alighted on the lady's hand, and then with a light flutter of wings on to the bed and to the boy's face, and was seen no more; at the same moment the bells stopped in the church and left a sweet silence. The black form shrank and slipped aside, and seemed to fall on the ground; and outside there was a shrill and bitter cry which echoed horribly on the air; and the boy opened his eyes, and smiled; and his mother fell on his neck and kissed him. Then the priest said, "Give God the glory!" and blessed them, and was gone so softly that they knew not when he went; for he had other work to do. Then mother and son had great joy together.
But the priest walked swiftly and sternly through the wood, and to the church; and he dipped a vessel in the stoup of holy water, turning his eyes aside, and wrapped it in a veil of linen. Then he took a lantern in his hand, and with a grave and fixed look on his face he walked sadly up the valley, putting one foot before another, like a man who forced himself to go unwilling. There were strange sounds on the hillside, the crying of sad birds, and the beating of wings, and sometimes a hollow groaning seemed to come down the stream. But the priest took no heed, but went on heavily till he reached the stone cross, where the wind whistled dry in the grass. Then he struck off across the moorland. Presently he came to a rise in the ground; and here, though it was dark, he seemed to see a blacker darkness in the air, where the peak lay.
But beneath the peak he saw a strange sight; for the pool shone with a faint white light, that showed the rocks about it. The priest never turned his head, but walked thither, with his head bent, repeating words to himself, but hardly knowing what he said.
Then he came to the brink; and there he saw a dreadful sight. In the water writhed large and luminous worms, that came sometimes up to the surface, as though to breathe, and sank again. The priest knew well enough that it was a device of Satan's to frighten him; so he delayed not; but setting the lantern down on the ground, he stood. In a moment the lantern was obscured as by the rush of bat-like wings. But the priest took the veil off the vessel; and holding it up in the air, he let the water fall in the pool, saying softly, "Lord, let them be bound!"
But when the holy water touched the lake, there was a strange sight; for the bright worms quivered and fell to the depth of the pool; and a shiver passed over the surface, and the light went out like a flickering lamp. Then there came a foul yelling from the stones; and with a roar like thunder, rocks fell crashing from the face of the peak; and then all was still.
Then the priest sate down and covered his face with his hands, for he was sore spent; but he rose at length, and with grievous pain made his slow way down the valley, and reached the parsonage house at last.
Roderick lay long between life and death; and youth and a quiet mind prevailed.
Long years have passed since that day; all those that I have spoken of are dust. But in the window of the old church hangs a picture in glass which shows Christ standing, with one lying at his feet from whom he had cast out a devil; and on a scroll are the words, DE ABYSSIS . TERRAE . ITERUM . REDUXISTI . ME, the which may be written in English, Yea, and broughtest me from the deep of the earth again.
THE RED CAMP
It was a sultry summer evening in the old days, when Walter Wyatt came to the house of his forefathers. It was in a quiet valley of Sussex, with the woods standing very steeply on the high hillsides. Among the woods were pleasant stretches of pasture, and a little stream ran hidden among hazels beside the road; here and there were pits in the woods, where the men of ancient times had dug for iron, pits with small sandstone cliffs, and full to the brim of saplings and woodland plants. Walter rode slowly along, his heart full of a happy content. Though it was the home of his family he had never even seen Restlands—that was the peaceful name of the house. Walter's father had been a younger son, and for many years the elder brother, a morose and selfish man, had lived at Restlands, often vowing that none of his kin should ever set foot in the place, and all out of a native malice and churlishness, which discharged itself upon those that were nearest to him. Walter's father was long dead, and Walter had lived a very quiet homely life with his mother. But one day his uncle had died suddenly and silently, sitting in his chair; and it was found that he had left no will. So that Restlands, with its orchards and woods and its pleasant pasture-lands, fell to Walter; and he had ridden down to take possession. He was to set the house in order, for it was much decayed in his uncle's time; and in a few weeks his mother was to follow him there.
He turned a corner of the road, and saw in a glance a house that he knew must be his; and a sudden pride and tenderness leapt up within his heart, to think how fair a place he could call his own.
An avenue of limes led from the road to the house, which was built of ancient stone, the roof tiled with the same. The front was low and many-windowed. And Walter, for he was a God-fearing youth, made a prayer in his heart, half of gratitude and half of hope.
He rode up to the front of the house, and saw at once that it was sadly neglected; the grass grew among the paving-stones, and several of the windows were broken. He knocked at the door, and an old serving-man came out, who made an obeisance. Walter sent his horse to the stable; his baggage was already come; and his first task was to visit his new home from room to room. It was a very beautiful solidly built house, finely panelled in old dry wood, and had an abundance of solid oak furniture; there were dark pictures here and there; and that night Walter sate alone at his meat, which was carefully served him by the old serving-man, his head full of pleasant plans for his new life; he slept in the great bedroom, and many times woke wondering where he was; once he crept to the window, and saw the barns, gardens, and orchards lie beneath, and the shadowy woods beyond, all bathed in a cold clear moonlight.
In the morning when he had breakfasted, the lawyer who had charge of his business rode in from the little town hard by to see him; and when Walter's happiness was a little dashed; for though the estate brought in a fair sum, yet it was crippled by a mortgage which lay upon it; and Walter saw that he would have to live sparely for some years before he could have his estate unembarrassed; but this troubled him little, for he was used to a simple life. The lawyer indeed had advised him to sell a little of the land; but Walter was very proud of the old estate, and of the memory that he was the tenth Wyatt that had dwelt there, and he said that before he did that he would wait awhile and see if he could not arrange otherwise. When the lawyer was gone there came in the bailiff, and Walter went with him all over the estate. The garden was greatly overgrown with weeds, and the yew hedges were sprawling all uncut; they went through the byre, where the cattle stood in the straw; they visited the stable and the barn, the granary and the dovecote; and Walter spoke pleasantly with the men that served him; then he went to the ploughland and the pastures, the orchard and the woodland; and it pleased Walter to walk in the woodpaths, among the copse and under great branching oaks, and to feel that it was all his own.
At last they came out on the brow of the hill, and saw Restlands lie beneath them, with the smoke of a chimney going up into the quiet air, and the doves wheeling about the cote. The whole valley was full of westering sunshine, and the country sounds came pleasantly up through the still air.
They stood in a wide open pasture, but in the centre of it rose a small, dark, and thickly grown square holt of wood, surrounded by a high green bank of turf, and Walter asked what that was. The old bailiff looked at him a moment without speaking and then said, "That is the Red Camp, sir." Walter said pleasantly, "And whose camp is it?" but it came suddenly into his head that long ago his father had told him a curious tale about the place, but he could not remember what the tale was. The old man answering his question said, "Ah, sir, who can say? perhaps it was the old Romans who made it, or perhaps older men still; but there was a sore battle hereabouts." And then he went on in a slow and serious way to tell him an old tale of how a few warriors had held the place against an army, and that they had all been put to the sword there; he said that in former days strange rusted weapons and bones had been ploughed up in the field, and then he added that the Camp had ever since been left desolate and that no one cared to set foot within it; yet for all that it was said that a great treasure lay buried within it, for that was what the men were guarding, though those that took the place and slew them could never find it; "and that was all long ago," he said.
Walter, as the old man spoke, walked softly to the wood and peered at it over the mound; it was all grown up within, close and thick, an evil tangle of plants and briars. It was dark and even cold looking within the wood, though the air lay warm all about it. The mound was about breast high, and there was a grass-grown trench all round out of which the earth had been thrown up. It came into Walter's head that the place had seen strange things. He thought of it as all rough and newly made, with a palisade round the mound, with spears and helmets showing over, and a fierce wild multitude of warriors surging all round; the Romans, if they had been Romans, within, grave and anxious, waiting for help that never came. All this came into his mind with a pleasant sense of security, as a man who is at ease looks on a picture of old and sad things, and finds it minister to his content. Yet the place kept a secret of its own, Walter felt sure of that. And the treasure, was that there all the time? buried in some corner of the wood, money lying idle that might do good things if it could but get forth? So he mused, tapping the bank with his stick. And presently they went on together. Walter said as they turned away, "I should like to cut the trees down, and throw the place into the pasture," but the old bailiff said, "Nay, it is better left alone."
The weeks passed very pleasantly at first; the neighbours came to see him, and he found that an old name wins friends easily; he spent much of the day abroad, and he liked to go up to the Red Camp and see it stand so solitary and dark, with the pleasant valley beneath it. His mother soon came, and they found that with her small jointure they could indeed live at the place, but that they would have to live very sparely at first; there must be no horses in the stable, nor coach to drive abroad; there must be no company at Restlands for many a year, and Walter saw too that he must not think awhile of marriage, but that he must give all his savings to feed the estate.
After awhile, when the first happy sense of possession had gone off, and then life had settled down into common and familiar ways, this began to be very irksome to Walter; and what made him feel even more keenly his fortune was that he made acquaintance with a squire that lived hard by, who had a daughter Marjory, who seemed to Walter the fairest and sweetest maiden he had ever seen; and he began to carry her image about with him; and his heart beat very sharply in his breast if he set eyes on her unexpectedly; and she too, seemed to have delight in seeing Walter, and to understand even the thoughts that lay beneath his lightest word. But the squire was a poor man, and Walter felt bound to crush the thought of love and marriage down in his heart, until he began to grow silent and moody; and his mother saw all that was in his heart and pitied him, but knew not what to do; and Walter began even to talk of going into the world to seek his fortune; but it was little more than talk, for he already loved Restlands very deeply.
Now one day when Walter had been dining with the Vicar of the parish, he met at his table an old and fond man, full of curious wisdom, who took great delight in all that showed the history of the old races that had inhabited the land; and he told Walter a long tale of the digging open of a great barrow or mound upon the downs, which it seemed had been the grave of a great prince, and in which they had found a great treasure of gold, cups and plates and pitchers all of gold, with bars of the same, and many other curious things. He said that a third of such things by rights belonged to the King; but that the King's Grace had been contented to take a rich cup or two, and had left the rest in the hands of him whose land it was. Then the old scholar asked Walter if it were not true that he had in his own land an ancient fort or stronghold, and Walter told him of the Red Camp and the story, and the old man heard him with great attention saying, "Ay, ay," and "Ay, so it would be," and at the last he said that the story of the treasure was most likely a true one, for he did not see how it could have grown up otherwise; and that he did not doubt that it was a great Roman treasure, perhaps a tribute, gathered in from the people of the land, who would doubtless have been enraged to lose so much and would have striven to recover it. "Ay, it is there, sure enough," he said.
Walter offered to go with him to the place; but the old Vicar, seeing Walter's bright eye, and knowing something of the difficulties, said that the legend was that it would be ill to disturb a thing that had cost so many warriors their lives; and that a curse would rest upon one that did disturb it. The old scholar laughed and said that the curses of the dead, and especially of the heathen dead, would break no bones—and he went on to say that doubtless there was a whole hen-roost of curses hidden away in the mound upon the downs; but that they had hurt not his friend who had opened it; for he lived very delicately and plentifully off the treasure of the old prince, who seemed to bear him no grudge for it. "Nay, doubtless," he said, "if we but knew the truth, I dare say that the old heathen man, pining in some dark room in hell, is glad enough that his treasure should be richly spent by a good Christian gentleman."
They walked together to the place; and the old gentleman talked very learnedly and showed him where the gates and towers of the fort had been—adding to Walter, "And if I were you, Mr. Wyatt, I would have the place cleared and trenched, and would dig the gold out; for it is there as sure as I am a Christian man and a lover of the old days."
Then Walter told his mother of all that had been said; and she had heard of the old tales, and shook her head; indeed when Walter spoke to the old bailiff of his wish to open the place, the old man almost wept; and then, seeing that he prevailed nothing, said suddenly that neither he nor any of the men that dwelt in the village would put out a hand to help for all the gold of England. So Walter rested for awhile; and still his impatience and his hunger grew.
Walter did not decide at once; he turned the matter over in his mind for a week. He spoke no more to the bailiff, who thought he had changed his mind; but all the week the desire grew; and at last it completely overmastered him. He sent for the bailiff and told him he had determined to dig out the Camp; the bailiff looked at him without speaking. Then Walter said laughing that he meant to deal very fairly; that no one should bear a hand in the work who did not do so willingly; but that he should add a little to the wages of every man who worked for him at the Camp while the work was going on. The bailiff shrugged his shoulders and made no reply. Walter went and spoke to each of his men and told them his offer. "I know," he said, "that there is a story about the place, and that you do not wish to touch it; but I will offer a larger wage to every man who works there for me; and I will force no man to do it; but done it shall be; and if my own men will not do it, then I will get strangers to help me." The end of it was that three of his men offered to do the work, and the next day a start was made.
The copse and undergrowth was first cleared, and then the big trees were felled and dragged off the place; then the roots were stubbed up. It was a difficult task, and longer than Walter had thought; and he could not disguise from himself that a strange kind of ill-luck hung about the whole affair. One of his men disabled himself by a cut from an axe; another fell ill; the third, after these two mishaps, came and begged off. Walter replaced them with other workers; and the work proceeded slowly, in spite of Walter's great impatience and haste. He himself was there early and late; the men had it in their minds that they were searching for treasure and were well-nigh as excited as himself; and Walter was for ever afraid that in his absence some rich and valuable thing might be turned up, and perhaps concealed or conveyed away secretly by the finder. But the weeks passed and nothing was found; and it was now a bare and ugly place with miry pools of dirt, great holes where the trees had been; there were cart tracks all over the field in which it lay, the great trunks lay outside the mound, and the undergrowth was piled in stacks. The mound and ditch had all been unturfed; and the mound was daily dug down to the level, every spadeful being shaken loose; and now they came upon some few traces of human use. In the mound was found a short and dinted sword of bronze, of antique shape. A mass of rusted metal was found in a corner, that looked as if it had been armour. In another corner were found some large upright and calcined stones, with abundance of wood-ashes below, that seemed to have been a rude fireplace. And in one part, in a place where there seemed to have been a pit, was a quantity of rotting stuff, that seemed like the remains of bones. Walter himself grew worn and weary, partly with the toil and still more with the deferred hope. And the men too became sullen and ill-affected. It surprised Walter too that more than one of his neighbours spoke with disfavour of what he was doing, as of a thing that was foolish or even wrong. But still he worked on savagely, slept little, and cared not what he ate or drank.
At last the work was nearly over; the place had been all trenched across, and they had come in most places to the hard sandstone, which lay very near the surface. In the afternoon had fallen a heavy drenching shower, so that the men had gone home early, wet and dispirited; and Walter stood, all splashed and stained with mud, sick at heart and heavy, on the edge of the place, and looked very gloomily at the trenches, which lay like an ugly scar on the green hilltop. The sky was full of ragged inky clouds, with fierce lights on the horizon.
As he paced about and looked at the trenches, he saw in one place that it seemed as if the earth was of a different colour at the side of the trench; he stepped inside to look at this, and saw that the digging had laid bare the side of a place like a pit, that seemed to have been dug down through the ground; he bent to examine it, and then saw at the bottom of the trench, washed clear by the rain, something that looked like a stick or a root, that projected a little into the trench; he put his hand down to it, and found it cold and hard and heavy, and in a moment saw that it was a rod of metal that ran into the bank. He took up a spade, and threw the earth away in haste; and presently uncovered the rod. It was a bar, he saw, and very heavy; but examining it closely he saw that there was a stamp of some sort upon it; and then in a moment looking upon a place where the spade had scratched it, he saw that it was a bright yellow metal. It came over him all at once, with a shock that made him faint, that he had stumbled upon some part of the treasure; he put the bar aside, and then, first looking all round to see that none observed him, he dug into the bank. In a moment his spade struck something hard; and he presently uncovered a row of bars that lay close together. He dragged them up one by one, and underneath he found another row, laid crosswise; and another row, and another, till he had uncovered seven rows, making fifty bars in all. Beneath the lowest row his spade slipped on something round and smooth; he uncovered the earth, and presently drew out a brown and sodden skull, which thus lay beneath the treasure. Below that was a mass of softer earth, but out of it came the two thigh-bones of a man.
The sky was now beginning to grow dark; but he dug out the whole of the pit, working into the bank; and he saw that a round hole had been dug straight down from the top, to the sandstone. The bones lay upon the sandstone; but he found other bones at the sides of where the gold had lain; so that it seemed to him as though the gold must have been placed among dead bodies, and have rested among corruption. This was a dim thought that lurked in an ugly way in his mind. But he had now dug out the whole pit, and found nothing else, except a few large blurred copper coins which lay among the bodies. He stood awhile looking at the treasure; but together with the exultation at his discovery there mingled a dark and gloomy oppression of spirit, which he could not explain, which clouded his mind. But presently he came to himself again, and gathering the bones together, he threw them down to the bottom of the pit, as he was minded to conceal his digging from the men. While he did so, it seemed to him that, as he was bending to the pit, something came suddenly behind him and stood at his back, close to him, as though looking over his shoulder. For a moment the horror was so great that he felt the hair of his head prickle and his heart thump within his breast; but he overcame it and turned, and saw nothing but the trenches, and above them the ragged sky; yet he had the thought that something had slipped away. But he set himself doggedly to finish his task; he threw earth into the holes, working in a kind of fury; and twice as he did so, the same feeling came again that there was some one at his back; and twice turning he saw nothing; but the third time, from the West came a sharp thunder-peal; and he had hardly finished his work when the rain fell in a sheet, and splashed in the trenches.
Then he turned to the treasure which lay beside him. He found that he could not carry more than a few of the bars at a time; and he dared not leave the rest uncovered. So he covered them with earth and went stealthily down to the house; and there he got, with much precaution, a barrow from the garden. But the fear of discovery came upon him; and he determined to go into the house and sup as usual, and late at night convey the treasure to the house. For the time, his trove gave him no joy; he could not have believed it would have so weighed on him—he felt more like one who had some guilty secret to conceal, than a man to whom had befallen a great joy.
He went to the house, changed his wet clothes, and came to supper with his mother. To her accustomed questions as to what they had found, he took out the coins and showed them her, saying nothing of the gold, but with a jesting word that these would hardly repay him for his trouble. He could scarcely speak at supper for thinking of what he had found; and every now and then there came upon him a dreadful fear that he had been observed digging, and that even now some thief had stolen back there and was uncovering his hoard. His mother looked at him often, and at last said that he looked very weary; to which he replied with some sharpness, so that she said no more.
Then all at once, near the end of the meal, he had the same dreadful fear that he had felt by the pit. It seemed to him as though some one came near him and stood close behind him, bending over his shoulder; and a kind of icy coldness fell on him. He started and looked quickly round. His mother looked anxiously at him, and said, "What is it, dear Walter?" He made some excuse; but presently feeling that he must be alone, he excused himself and went to his room, where he sate, making pretence to read, till the house should be silent.
Then when all were abed, at an hour after midnight, he forced himself to rise and put on his rough clothes, though a terror lay very sore upon him, and go out to the garden, creeping like a thief. He had with him a lantern; and he carried the barrow on his shoulders for fear that the creaking of the wheel should awake some one; and then stumbling and sweating, and in a great weariness, he went by woodpaths to the hilltop. He came to the place, and having lit his lantern he uncovered the bars, and laid them on the barrow; they were as he had left them. When he had loaded them, the same fear struck him suddenly cold again, of something near him; and he thought for a moment he would have swooned; but sitting down on the barrow in the cool air he presently came to himself. Then he essayed to wheel the barrow in the dark. But he stumbled often, and once upset the barrow and spilled his load. Thus, though fearing discovery, he was forced to light the lantern and set it upon the barrow, and so at last he came to the house; where he disposed the bars at the bottom of a chest of which he had the key, covering them with papers, and then went to bed in a kind of fever, his teeth chattering, till he fell into a wretched sleep which lasted till dawn.
In his sleep he dreamed a fearful dream; he seemed to be sitting on the ground by the Camp, holding the gold in his arms; the Camp, in his dream was as it was before he had cleared it, all grown up with trees. Suddenly out from among the trees there came a man in rusty tarnished armour, with a pale wild face and a little beard, which seemed all clotted with moisture; he held in his hand a pike or spear, and he came swiftly and furiously upon Walter as though he would smite him. But it seemed as though his purpose changed; for standing aside he watched Walter with evil and piercing eyes, so that it seemed to Walter that he would sooner have been smitten. And then he woke, but in anguish, for the man still seemed to stand beside him; until he made a light and saw no one.
He arose feeling broken and ill; but he met his mother with a smile, and told her that he had determined to do what would please her, and work no more at the Camp. And he told the men that he would dig no more, but that they were to level the place and so leave it. And so they did, murmuring sore.
The next week was a very miserable one for Walter; he could not have believed that a man's heart should be so heavy. It seemed to him that he lay, like the poor bones that he had found beneath the treasure, crushed and broken and stifled under the weight of it. He was tempted to do wild things with the gold; to bury it again in the Camp, to drop it into the mud of the pool that lay near the house. In fevered dreams he seemed to row himself in a boat upon a dark sea, and to throw the bars one by one into the water; the reason of this was not only his fear for the treasure itself, but the dreadful sense that he had of being followed by some one, who dogged his footsteps wherever he went. If ever he sate alone, the thing would draw near him and bend above him; he often felt that if he could but look round swiftly enough he would catch a glimpse of the thing, and that nothing that he could see would be so fearful as that which was unseen; and so it came to pass that, as he sate with his mother, though he bore the presence long that he might not startle her, yet after a time of patient agony he could bear it no more, but looked swiftly behind him; he grew pale and ill, and even the men of the place noticed how often he turned round as he walked; till at last he would not even walk abroad, except early and late when there would be few to see him.
He had sent away his labourers; but once or twice he noticed, as he went by the Camp, that some one had been digging and grubbing in the mire. Sometimes for an hour or two his terrors would leave him, till he thought that he was wholly cured; but it was like a cat with a mouse, for he suffered the worse for his respite, till at last he fell so low that he used to think of stories of men that had destroyed themselves, and though he knew it to be a terrible sin to dally with such thoughts, he could not wholly put them from him, but used to plan in his mind how he could do the deed best, that it might appear to be an accident. Sometimes he bore his trouble heavily, but at others he would rage to think that he had been so happy so short a while ago; and even the love that he bore to Marjory was darkened and destroyed by the evil thing, and he met her timid and friendly glances sullenly; his mother was nearly as miserable as himself, for she knew that something was very grievously amiss, but could not divine what it was. Indeed, she could do nothing but wish it were otherwise, and pray for her son, for she knew not where the trouble lay, but thought that he was ill or even bewitched.
At last, after a day of dreadful gloom, Walter made up his mind that he would ride to London and see to the disposing of the treasure. He had a thought often in his mind that if he replaced it in the Camp, he would cease to be troubled; but he could not bring himself to that; he seemed to himself like a man who had won a hard victory, and was asked to surrender what he had won.
His intention was to go to an old and wise friend of his father's, who was a Canon of a Collegiate Church in London, and was much about the court. So he hid the treasure in a strong cellar and padlocked the door; but he took one bar with him to show to his friend.
It was a doleful journey; his horse seemed as dispirited as himself; and his terrors came often upon him, till he was fearful that he might be thought mad; and indeed what with the load at his heart and the short and troubled nights he spent, he believed himself that he was not very far from it.
It was with a feeling of relief and safety, like a ship coming into port, that he stayed his horse at the door of the college, which stood in a quiet street of the city. He carried a valise of clothes in which the bar was secured. He had a very friendly greeting from the old Canon, who received him in a little studious parlour full of books. The court was full of pleasant sunshine, and the city outside seemed to make a pleasant and wholesome stir in the air.
But the Canon was very much amazed at Walter's looks; he was used to read the hearts of men in their faces like a wise priest, and he saw in Walter's face a certain desperate look such as he had seen, he said to himself, in the faces of those who had a deadly sin to confess. But it was not his way to make inquisition, and so he talked courteously and easily, and when he found that Walter was inclined to be silent, he filled the silence himself with little talk of the news of the town.
After the meal, which they took in the Canon's room—for Walter said that he would prefer that to dining in the Hall, when the Canon gave him the choice—Walter said that he had a strange story to tell him. The Canon felt no surprise, and being used to strange stories, addressed himself to listen carefully; for he thought that in the most difficult and sad tales of sin the words of the sufferer most often supplied the advice and the way out, if one but listened warily.
He did not interrupt Walter except to ask him a few questions to make the story clear, but his face grew very grave; and at the end he sate some time in silence. Then he said very gently that it was a heavy judgment, but that he must ask Walter one question. "I do not ask you to tell me," he said very courteously, "what it may be; but is there no other thing in which you have displeased God? For these grievous thoughts and fears are sometimes sent as a punishment for sin, and to turn men back to the light."
Then Walter said that he knew of no such sin by which he could have vexed God so exceedingly. "Careless," he said, "I am and have been; and, father, I would tell you anything that was in my heart; I would have no secrets from you—but though I am a sinner, and do not serve God as well as I would, yet I desire to serve Him, and have no sin that is set like a wall between Him and me." He said this so honestly and bravely, looking so full at the priest, that he did not doubt him, and said, "Then, my son, we must look elsewhere for the cause; and though I speak in haste, and without weighing my words, it seems to me that, to speak in parables, you are like a man who has come by chance to a den and carried off for his pleasure the cubs of some forest beast, who returns and finds them gone, and tracks the robber out. The souls of these poor warriors are in some mansion of God, we know not where; if they did faithfully in life they are beaten, as the Scripture says, with few stripes; but they may not enjoy His blessed rest, nor the sweet sleep of the faithful souls who lie beneath the altar and wait for His coming. And now though they cannot slay you, they can do you grievous hurt. The Holy Church hath power indeed over the spirits of evil, the devils that enter into men. But I have not heard that she hath power over the spirits of the dead, and least of all over those that lived and died outside the fold. It seems to me, though I but grope in darkness, that these poor spirits grudge the treasure that they fought and died for to the hands of a man who hath not fought for it. We may think that it is a poor and childish thing to grudge that which one cannot use; but no discourse will make a child think so; and I reckon that these poor souls are as children yet. And it seems to me, speaking foolishly, as though they would not be appeased until you either restored it to them, or used it for their undoubted benefit; but of one thing I am certain, that it must not be used to enrich yourself. But I must ponder over the story, for it is a strange one, and not such as has ever yet come before me."
Then Walter found fresh courage at these wary and wise words, and told him of his impoverished estate and the love he had to Marjory; and the priest smiled, and said that love was the best thing to win in the world. And then he said that as it was now late, they must sleep; and that the night often brought counsel; and so he took Walter to his chamber, a little precise place with a window on the court; and there he left him; but he first knelt down and prayed, and then laid his hand on Walter's head, and blessed him, and commended him to the merciful keeping of God; and Walter slept sweetly, and was scared that night by no dismal dreams; and in the morning the priest took him to the church, and Walter knelt in a little chapel while the old man said his mass, commending therein the burden of Walter's suffering into the merciful hands of God; so that Walter's heart was greatly lightened.
Then after the mass the priest asked Walter of his health, and whether he had suffered any visitation of evil that night; he said "no," and the priest then said that he had pondered long over the story, which was strange and very dark. But he had little doubt now as to what Walter should do. He did not think that the treasure should be replaced now that it was got up, because it was only flying before the evil and not meeting it, but leaving the sad inheritance for some other man. The poor spirit must be laid to rest, and the treasure used for God's glory. "And therefore," he said, "I think that a church must be built, and dedicated to All Souls; and thus your net will be wide enough to catch the sad spirit. And you must buy a little estate for the support of the chaplain thereof, and so shall all be content."
"All but one," said Walter sadly, "for there goes my dream of setting up my own house that tumbles down."
"My son," said the old priest very gravely, "you must not murmur; it will be enough for you if God take away the sore chastening of your spirit; and for the rest, He will provide."
"But there is more behind," he said after a pause. "If you, with an impoverished estate, build a church and endow a priest, there will be questions asked; it will needs be known that you have found a treasure, and it will come, perhaps, to the ears of the King's Grace, and inquisition will be made; so I shall go this morning to a Lord of the Court, an ancient friend of mine, a discreet man; and I will lay the story before him, if you give me leave; and he will advise."
Walter saw that the priest's advice was good; and so he gave him leave; and the priest departed to the Court; but while he was away, as Walter sate sadly over a book, his terrors came upon him with fresh force; the thing drew near him and stood at his shoulder, and he could not dislodge it; it seemed to Walter that it was more malign than ever, and was set upon driving him to some desperate deed; so he rose and paced in the court; but it seemed to move behind him, till he thought he would have gone distraught; but finding the church doors open, he went inside and, in a corner, knelt and prayed, and got some kind of peace; yet he felt all the while as though the presence waited for him at the door, but could not hurt him in the holy shrine; and there Walter made a vow and vowed his life into the hands of God; for he had found the world a harder place than he had thought, and it seemed to him as though he walked among unseen foes. Presently he saw the old priest come into the church, peering about; so Walter rose and came to him; the priest had a contented air, but seemed big with news, and he told Walter that he must go with him at once to the Court. For he had seen the Lord Poynings, that was his friend, who had taken him at once to the king; and the king had heard the story very curiously, and would see Walter himself that day. So Walter fetched the bar of gold and they went at once together; and Walter was full of awe and fear, and asked the priest how he should bear himself; to which the priest said smiling, "As a man, in the presence of a man." And as they went Walter told him that he had been visited by the terror again, but had found peace in the church; and the priest said, "Ay, there is peace to be had there."
They came down to the palace, and were at once admitted; the priest and he were led into a little room, full of books, where a man was writing, a venerable man in a furred gown, with a comely face; this was the Lord Poynings, who greeted Walter very gently but with a secret attention; Walter shewed him the bar of gold, and he looked at it long, and presently there came a page who said that the king was at leisure, and would see Mr. Wyatt.
Walter had hoped that the priest, or at least the Lord Poynings, would accompany him; but the message was for himself alone; so he was led along a high corridor with tall stands of arms. The king had been a great warrior in his manhood, and had won many trophies. They came to a great doorway, where the page knocked; a voice cried within, and the page told Walter he must enter alone.
Walter would fain have asked the page how he should make his obeisance; but there was no time now, for the page opened the door, and Walter went in.
He found himself in a small room, hung with green arras. The king was sitting in a great chair, by a table spread out with parchments. Walter first bowed low and then knelt down; the king motioned him to rise, and then said in a quiet and serene voice, "So, sir, you are the gentleman that has found a treasure and would fain be rid of it again." At these gentle words Walter felt his terrors leave him; the king looked at him with a serious attention; he was a man just passing into age; his head was nearly hairless, and he had a thin face with a long nose, and small lips drawn together. On his head was a loose velvet cap, and he wore his gown furred; round his neck was a jewel, and he had great rings on his forefingers and thumbs.
The king, hardly pausing for an answer, said, "You look ill, Master Wyatt, and little wonder; sit here in a chair and tell me the tale in a few words."
Walter told his story as shortly as he could with the king's kind eye upon him; the king once or twice interrupted him; he took the bar from Walter's hands, and looked upon it, weighing it in his fingers, and saying, "Ay, it is a mighty treasure." Once or twice he made him repeat a few sentences, and heard the story of the thing that stood near him with a visible awe.
At last he said with a smile, "You have told your story well, sir, and plainly; are you a soldier?" When Walter said "no," he said, "It is a noble trade, nevertheless." Then he said, "Well, sir, the treasure is yours, to use as I understand you will use it for the glory of God and for the peace of the poor spirit, which I doubt not is that of a great knight. But I have no desire to be visited of him," and here he crossed himself. "So let it be thus bestowed—and I will cause a quittance to be made out for you from the Crown, which will take no part in the trove. How many bars did you say?" And when Walter said "fifty," the king said, "It is great wealth; and I wish for your sake, sir, that it were not so sad an inheritance." Then he added, "Well, sir, that is the matter; but I would hear the end of this, for I never knew the like; when your church is built and all things are in order, and let it be done speedily, you shall come and visit me again." And then the king said, with a kindly smile, "And as for the maiden of whom I have heard, be not discouraged; for yours is an ancient house, and it must not be extinguished—and so farewell; and remember that your king wishes you happiness;" and he made a sign that Walter should withdraw. So Walter knelt again and kissed the king's ring, and left the chamber.
When Walter came out he seemed to tread on air; the king's gracious kindness moved him very greatly, and loyalty filled his heart to the brim. He found the priest and the Lord Poynings waiting for him; and presently the two left the palace together, and Walter told the priest what the king had said.
The next day he rode back into Sussex; but he was very sorely beset as he rode, and reached home in great misery. But he wasted no time, but rather went to his new task with great eagerness; the foundations of the church were laid, and soon the walls began to rise. Meanwhile Walter had the gold conveyed to the king's Mint; and a message came to him that it would make near upon twenty thousand pounds of gold, a fortune for an earl. So the church was built very massive and great, and a rich estate was bought which would support a college of priests. But Walter's heart was very heavy; for his terrors still came over him from day to day; and he was no nearer settling his own affairs.
Then there began to come to him a sore temptation; he could build his church, and endow his college with lands, and yet he could save something of the treasure to set him free from his own poverty; and day by day this wrought more and more in his mind.
At last one day when he was wandering through the wood, he found himself face to face in the path with Marjory herself; and there was so tender a look in her face that he could no longer resist, so he turned and walked with her, and told her all that was in his heart. "It was all for the love of you," he said, "that I have thus been punished, and now I am no nearer the end;" and then, for he saw that she wept, and that she loved him well, he opened to her his heart, and said that he would keep back part of the treasure, and would save his house, and that they would be wed; and so he kissed her on the lips.
But Marjory was a true-hearted and wise maiden, and loved Walter better than he knew; and she said to him, all trembling for pity, "Dear Walter, it cannot be; this must be given faithfully, because you are the king's servant, and because you must give the spirit back his own, and because you are he that I love the best; and we will wait; for God tells me that it must be so; and He is truer even than love."
So Walter was ashamed; and he threw unworthy thoughts away; and with the last of the money he caused a fair screen to be made, and windows of rich glass; and the money was thus laid out.
Now while the church was in building—and they made all the haste they could—Walter had days when he was very grievously troubled; but it seemed to him a different sort of trouble. In the first place he looked forward confidently to the day when the dark presence would be withdrawn; and a man who can look forward to a certain ending to his pain can stay himself on that; but, besides that, it seemed to him that he was not now beset by a foe, but guarded as it were by a sentinel. There were days when the horror was very great, and when the thing was always near him whether he sate or walked, whether he was alone or in company; and on those days he withdrew himself from men, and there was a dark shadow on his brow. So that there grew up a kind of mystery about him; but, besides that, he learnt things in those bitter hours that are not taught in any school. He learnt to suffer with all the great company of those who bear heavy and unseen burdens, who move in the grip of fears and stumble under the load of dark necessities. He grew more tender and more strong. He found in his hand the key to many hearts. Before this he had cared little about the thoughts of other men; but now he found himself for ever wondering what the inner thoughts of the hearts of others were, and ready if need were to help to lift their load; he had lived before in careless fellowship with light-hearted persons, but now he was rather drawn to the old and wise and sad; and there fell on him some touch of the holy priesthood that falls on all whose sadness is a fruitful sadness, and who instead of yielding to bitter repining would try to make others happier. If he heard of a sorrow or a distress, his thought was no longer how to put it out of his mind as soon as he might, but of how he might lighten it. So his heart grew wider day by day.
And at last the day came when the church was done; it stood, a fair white shrine with a seemly tower, on the hill-top, and a little way from it was the college for the priests. The Bishop came to consecrate it, and the old Canon came from London, and there was a little gathering of neighbours to see the holy work accomplished.
The Bishop blessed the church very tenderly; he was an old infirm man, but he bore his weakness lightly and serenely. He made Walter the night before tell him the story of the treasure, and found much to wonder at in it.
There was no part of the church or its furniture that he did not solemnly bless; and Walter from his place felt a grave joy to see all so fair and seemly. The priests moved from end to end with the Bishop, in their stiff embroidered robes, and there was a holy smell of incense which strove with the sharp scent of the newly-chiselled wood. The Bishop made them a little sermon and spoke much of the gathering into the fold of spirits that had done their work bravely, even if they had not known the Lord Christ on earth.
After all was over, and the guests were departed, the old Canon said that he must return on the morrow to London, and that he had a message for Walter from the king,—who had not failed to ask him how the work went on,—that Walter was to return with him and tell the king of the fulfilment of the design.
That night Walter had a strange dream; he seemed to stand in a dark place all vaulted over, like a cave that stretched far into the earth; he himself stood in the shadow of a rock, and he was aware of some one passing by him. He looked at him, and saw that he was the warrior that he had seen before in his dream, a small pale man, with a short beard, with rusty armour much dinted; he held a spear in his hand, and walked restlessly like a man little content. But while Walter watched him, there seemed to be another person drawing near in the opposite direction. This was a tall man, all in white, who brought with him as he came a strange freshness in the dark place, as of air and light, and the scent of flowers; this one came along in a different fashion, with an assured and yet tender air, as though he was making search for some one to whom his coming would be welcome; so the two met and words passed between them; the warrior stood with his hands clasped upon his spear seeming to drink in what was said—he could not hear the words at first, for they were spoken softly, but the last words he heard were, "And you too are of the number." Then the warrior kneeled down and laid his spear aside, and the other seemed to stoop and bless him, and then went on his way; and the warrior knelt and watched him going with a look in his face as though he had heard wonderful and beautiful news, and could hardly yet believe it; and so holy was the look that Walter felt as though he intruded upon some deep mystery, and moved further into the shadow of the rock; but the warrior rose and came to him where he stood, and looked at him with a half-doubting look, as though he asked pardon, stretching out his hands; and Walter smiled at him, and the other smiled; and at the moment Walter woke in the dawn with a strange joy in his heart, and rising in haste, drew the window curtain aside, and saw the fresh dawn beginning to come in over the woods, and he knew that the burden was lifted from him and that he was free.
In the morning as the old Canon and Walter rode to London, Walter told him the dream; and when he had done, he saw that the old priest was smiling at him with his eyes full of tears, and that he could not speak; so they rode together in that sweet silence which is worth more than many words.
The next day Walter came to see the king: he carried with him a paper to show the king how all had been expended; but he went with no fear, but as though to see a true friend.
The king received him very gladly, and bade Walter tell him all that had been done; so Walter told him, and then speaking very softly told the king the dream; the king mused over the story, and then said, "So he has his heart's desire."
Then there was a silence; and then the king, as though breaking out of a pleasant thought, drew from the table a parchment, and said to Walter that he had done well and wisely, and therefore for the trust that he had in him he made him his Sheriff for the County of Sussex, to which was added a large revenue; and there was more to come, for the king bade Walter unhook a sword from the wall, his own sword that he had borne in battle; and therewith he dubbed him knight, and said to him, "Rise up, Sir Walter Wyatt." Then before he dismissed him, he said to him that he would see him every year at the Court; and then with a smile he added, "And when you next come, I charge you to bring with you my Lady Wyatt."
And Walter promised this, and kept his word.
THE LIGHT OF THE BODY
It was high noon in the little town of Parbridge; the streets were bright and silent, and the walls of the houses were hot to the touch. The limes in the narrow avenue leading to the west door of the great church of St. Mary stood breathless and still. The ancient church itself looked as if it pondered gravely on what had been and what was to be; and the tall windows of the belfry, with their wooden louvres, seemed to be solemn half-shut eyes. At the south side of the church, connected with it by a wooden cloister, stood a tall house of grey stone. In a room looking out upon the graveyard sate two men. The room had an austere air; its plain whitened walls bore a single picture, so old and dark that it was difficult to see what was represented in it. On some shelves stood a few volumes; near the window was a tall black crucifix of plain wood, the figure white. There was an oak table with writing materials. The floor was paved with squares of wood.
The two men sate close together. One was an old and weather-worn man in a secular dress of dark material; the other a young priest in a cassock, whose pale face, large eyes and wasted hands betokened illness, or the strain of some overmastering thought. It seemed as though they had been holding a grave conversation of strange or sad import, and had fallen into a momentary silence.
The priest was the first to speak. "Well, beloved physician," he said, in a slow and languid voice, though with a half-smile, "I have told you my trouble; and I would have your most frank opinion."
"I hardly know what to say," said the Doctor. "I have prescribed for many years and do not know that I ever heard the like; I must tell you plainly that such things are not written in our medical books."
The priest said nothing, but looked sadly out of the window; presently the Doctor said, "Let me hear the tale from the first beginning, dear Herbert;—it is well to have the whole complete. I would consult with a learned friend of mine about this dark matter, a physician who is more skilled than I am in maladies of the mind—for I think that more ails the mind than the body."
"Well," said the priest a little wearily, "I will tell it you.
"Almost a year ago, on one of the hottest days of the early summer, I went abroad as usual, about noon, to visit Mistress Dennis who was ill. I do not think I felt myself to be unwell, and was full to the brim of little joyous businesses; I stood for a time at the porch to speak with Master Dennis himself, who came in just as I left the house, and I stood uncovered at the door; suddenly the sun stabbed and struck me, as with a scythe, and I saw a whirling blackness before my eyes and staggered. Master Dennis was alarmed, and would have had me go within; but I would not, for I had other work to do; so he led me home; that afternoon I sate over my book; but I could neither read nor think; I was in pain, I remember, and felt that some strange thing had happened to me; I recall, too, rising from my chair, and I am told I fainted and fell.
"Then I remember nothing more but fierce and wild dreams of pain. Sometimes I heard my own voice crying out; at last the pain died away, and left me very weak and sad; but I was still pent up, it seemed to me, in some dark dungeon of the mind, and the view of the room I lay in and the sight of those who visited me only came to me in short glimpses. I am told I babbled strangely; then one morning I came out suddenly, like a man rising from a dive in a pool, and knew that I was myself again; that day was a day of quiet joy; I was weak and silent, but it seemed good to be alive. It was not till the next day that I noticed the thing that I have tried to tell you, that haunts me yet—and I can hardly put it into words.
"It seemed to me that I noticed round about those who came to me a thin veil, as it were of vapour, but it was not dense like smoke or mist; I could see them as well through it as before; it was more like a light that played about them, and it was brightest over the heart and above the brow; at first I thought it was some effect of my weak state, but as I grew stronger I saw it still more clearly.
"And then comes the strangest part of all; the light changed according to the thoughts that were passing in the mind of the person on whom my eyes were set—the thought that it was so came suddenly into my mind and bewildered me; but in a little I was sure of it. I need not give long instances—but I saw, or thought I saw, that when the mind of the man or woman was pure and pitiful, the light was pure and clear, but that when the thoughts were selfish, or covetous, or angry, or unclean, there came a darkness into the light, as when you drop a little ink into clear water. Few came to see me; and I suppose that they were full of pity and perhaps a little love for me in my helpless state, so that the light about them was pure and even; but one day the good dame Ann, who tended me, in stooping to give me drink, thrust a dish off the table, which broke, and spilled its contents, and a dark flush came into the light that was round her for a moment.
"Then too as I got better, and was able to see and speak with my people, there came to me several in trouble of different kinds, and the light was sullen and wavering; one, whose name I will not tell you, came to me with a sin upon his mind, and the vapour was all dark and stained; and so it has been till now; and these last weeks it has been even stranger; because by a kind of practice I have been led to infer what the thoughts in the mind of each person are, at first seeing them. It is true that they have not always told me in words what the light would seem to suggest; but I have good reason to believe that the thoughts are there behind.
"Now," he went on, "this is a sad and dreadful gift, and I do not desire it. It is horrible that the thoughts of men should be made manifest to a man, the thoughts that should be read only by God; and I go to and fro in the world with this cruel horror upon me, and so I am in evil case."
He ceased, as if tired of speaking, and the old Doctor mused, looking on the floor—then he shook his head and said, "My dear friend, I am powerless at present; such a thing has never come to me before—you are as it were in a chamber of life that I have never visited, and I can but stand on the threshold and listen at a closed door." Then he was silent for a little, but presently he said, "This light that you speak of—does it envelop every one?—do you see it about me as I speak with you?" "Yes," said Herbert, turning his eyes upon the Doctor, "it is round you, very pure and clean; you are giving all your heart to my story; and it is a good and tender heart. You have not many sorrows except the sorrows of others," and then suddenly Herbert broke off with a vague gesture of the hand and looked at the Doctor with a bewildered look. "Finish what you were saying," said the Doctor with a grave look. "Nay, nay," said Herbert with a sad air, "you have sorrows indeed—the light changes and darkens—but they are not all for yourself."
"This is a strange thing," said the Doctor very seriously—"tell me what you mean."
"Then you must keep from thoughts on your trouble, whatever it is," said Herbert. "I would read no man's secrets; but let this prove to you that I am not speaking of a mere sick fancy—turn not your thoughts on me." Then there was a pause and then Herbert said slowly, "As far as I can read the light, you did a wrong once, long ago, in your youth, and bear the burden of it yet; and you have striven to amend it; and now it is not a selfish fear;"—the priest mused a moment—"How, if the deed has borne fruit in another, for whom you sorrow, for you think that your wrongdoing was the seed of his?"
The Doctor grew pale to the lips, and said in a low voice, "This is a very fearful gift, dear friend. You have indeed laid your finger on the sore spot—it is a thing I have never spoken of to any but God."
Then there was a silence again; and then Herbert said, "But there is another thing of which I have not told you; it is this; you know what I was before my illness—simple, I think, and humble, and with a heart that for all its faults was tender and faithful. Well, with this gift, that has all departed from me; I seem to care neither for man nor God; I see the trouble in another heart, and it moves me not. I feel as if I would not put out a finger to heal another's grief, except that habit has made it hard for me to do otherwise." And then with a sudden burst of passion, "Oh, my heart of stone!" he said.
The Doctor looked at him very sadly and lovingly, and then he rose. "I must be gone," he said, "but by your leave I will consult, without any mention of name, an old friend of mine, the wise physician of whom I spoke; and meanwhile, dear friend, rest and be still. God has sent you a very strange and terrible gift, but He sends not His gifts in vain; and you must see how you may use it for His service."
"Yes, yes, I doubt not," said Herbert wearily—"but the will to serve is gone from me—I would I were sleeping quietly out yonder—the world is poisoned for me, and yet I loved it once."
Then the old physician went away, lost in thought, and Herbert made attempt to address himself to his book, but he could not; he looked back over his life, and saw himself a simple child, very innocent and loving; he saw his eager and clean boyhood, and how the thought had come into his mind to be a priest—it was not for a noble reason, Herbert thought; he had loved the beauty of the dark rich church, the slow and delicate music of the organ, the singing of the choir, the faint sweetness of the incense smoke, the solemn figures of the priests as they moved about the altar—it had been but a love of beauty and solemnity; no desire to save others, and very little love to the Father, though a strange uplifted desire of heart toward the Lord Christ; but as he thought of it now, sitting in the afternoon sunshine, it seemed to him as though he had loved the Saviour more for the beauty of worship which surrounded Him, throned as it were so piteously upon the awful Cross, lifted up, the desire of the world, in all His stainless strength and adorable suffering, to draw souls to Him.
Then he had gone to Oxford, and he thought of his time there, his small bare rooms, the punctual vivid life, so repressed, yet so full of human movement. Herbert had won friends very easily there, and the good fathers had loved him; but all this love, looking back, seemed to him to have been called out not by the lovingness of his own heart, but by a certain unconscious charm, a sweet humility of manner, a readiness to please and be pleased, a desire to do what should win his companion, whoever it might chance to be.
Then he went for a time as a young priest to the cathedral, as a vicar, and there again life had been easy for him; he had gained fame for a sort of easy and pathetic eloquence, that allowed him to make what he spoke of seem beautiful to those who heard it, but now Herbert thought sadly that he had not done this for love of the thoughts of which he spoke, but for the pleasure of arraying them so that they moved and pleased others; and yet he had won some power over souls too, he had himself been so courteous, so gentle, so seeming tender, that others spoke easily to him of their troubles and seemed to find help in his words; then had come the day when the Bishop had sent him to St. Mary's, and there too everything had been as easy to him as before. Yes, that had been the fault all through! he had won by a certain grace what ought to have been won by deep purity and eager desire and great striving.
And this too had at last begun to come home to him; and then he had half despaired of changing himself. He had been like a shallow rippling brook, yet seemed to others like a swift and patient river; and he had prayed very earnestly to God to change his heart; to deepen and widen it, to make it strong and sincere and faithful. And was this, thought Herbert, the terrible answer? was he who had loved ease and beauty on all sides, had loved the surface and the seeming of things, to be thrust violently into the deep places of the human heart, to be shown by a dreadful clearness of vision the stain, the horror, the shadow of the world?
But what was to him the most despairing thought of all was this—and thinking quietly over it, it seemed to him that if this clearness of vision had quickened his zeal to serve, if it had shown him how true and fierce was the battle to be waged in life, and how few men walked in the peace that was so near them that they could have taken it by stretching out their hand—if it had taught him this, had nerved his heart, had sent him speeding into the throng to heal the secret sorrows that his quickened sight could see, then the reason of the gift would have been plain to him; but with the clearer vision had come this deadly apathy, this strange and bitter loathing for a world where all seemed so sweet outwardly and was so heavy-hearted within. And Herbert thought of how once as a child he had seen a beautiful rose-bush just bursting into bloom; and he had gone near to draw the sweet scent into his nostrils, and had recognised a dreadful heavy odour below and behind the delicate scent of the roses, and there, when he put the bush aside, was the swollen body of a dog that had crept into the very heart of the bush to die, and tainted all the air with the horror of death. He had hated roses long after, and now it seemed to him that all the world was like that.
He came suddenly out of his sad reverie with a start; the bell of the church began to toll for vespers, and he rose up wearily enough to go. His work, he hardly dared confess to himself, was a heavy burden to him; of old he had found great peace, day by day, in the quiet evensong in the dark cool church, the few worshippers, the gracious pleading of the ancient psalms, so sweet in themselves, and so fragrant with the incense of immemorial prayer; and he thought that, besides the actual worshippers, there were round him a great company of faithful souls, unseen yet none the less present—all this had been to him a deep refreshment, a draught of the waters of comfort; but now there was never a gathering when the dark trouble of thought in other souls was not visibly revealed to him.
He went slowly across the little garden in front of the house; there by the road grew a few flowers—for Herbert loved to have all things trim and bright about him. A boy was leaning over the rail looking at the flowers; and Herbert saw, in the secret light that hung round the child, the darkening flush that told of the presence of some conscience-stricken wish. The child got hurriedly down from the rail at the sight of Herbert, who stopped and called him. "Little one," he said, "come hither." The child stood a moment absorbed, finger on lip, and presently came up to Herbert, who gathered a few of the flowers and put them into the child's hands. "Here is a posy for you," he said, "but, dear one, remember this—the flowers were mine, and you did desire them. God sends us gifts sometimes and sometimes not; when He sends them, it is well to take them gratefully, thus—but if He gives them not, and the voice within says, 'Then will I take them,' we must fly from temptation. Do you understand that, little one?" The child stood considering a moment, and then shyly gave the flowers back. "Ay, that is right," said Herbert, "but you may take them now—God gives them to you!" and he stooped and kissed the child on the forehead.
A few days after the old physician came again to see Herbert, evidently troubled. He told Herbert that he had consulted his friend, who could make nothing of the case. "He said—" he added, and then stopped short. "Nay, I will tell you," he went on, "for in such a matter we may not hesitate. He said that it was a delusion of the mind, not of the eye—and that it was more a case for a priest than for a doctor." "He is right," said Herbert. "I had even thought of that—and I will do what I ought to have done before. I will take my story to my lord the Bishop and I will ask his advice; he is my friend, and he has been a true father to my spirit—and he is a good and holy man as well."
So Herbert wrote to the Bishop, and the Bishop appointed a day to see him. The cathedral city was but a few miles from Parbridge, and Herbert went thither by boat because he was not strong enough to walk. The river ran through a flat country, with distant hills on a far horizon; the clear flowing of the water, the cool weedy bowers and gravelled spaces seen beneath, and the green and glistening rushes that stood up so fresh and strong out of the ripple pleased Herbert's tired mind; he tried much to think what he would say to the Bishop; but he could frame no arguments and thought it best to leave it, and to say what God might put in his mouth to say.
He found the Bishop writing in a little panelled room that gave on a garden. He was in his purple cassock; he rose at Herbert's entrance, and greeted him very kindly. The Bishop's face was smooth and fresh-coloured and lit with a pleasant light of benevolence. He was an active man, and loved little businesses, which he did with all his might. He, like all that knew Herbert, loved him and found pleasure in his company. So Herbert took what courage he might—though he saw somewhat that he was both grieved and surprised to see—and told his story, though his heart was heavy, and he thought somehow that the Bishop would not understand him. While he spoke the Bishop's face grew very grave, for he did not love things out of the common; but he asked him questions from time to time—and when Herbert said that the trouble had come upon him after a stroke of the sun, the Bishop's face lightened a little, and he said that the sun at its hottest had great power.
When Herbert had quite finished, the Bishop said courteously that he thought it was a case for a physician, and Herbert said that he had himself thought so, but that the doctors could do nothing, but had sent him back to the priests. Then the Bishop made as though he would speak, and cleared his throat, but spake nothing. At last he said, "Dear son, this is a strange and heavy affliction; but I think it will give way to rest and quiet—and prayer," he added a little shamefacedly. "These bodies of ours are delicate instruments, and if we work them too hard—as methinks you have done—they get overstrained in the place in which we drive them; and just as a scholar who has been disordered dreams of books, and as a doctor thus afflicted would have grievous fancies of diseases, so you, my dear son, who have been a very faithful priest, are thus sadly concerned with the souls of the flock of Christ—and so my advice is that you go and rest; and if you will, I will send you a little priest to help you for awhile—or you may travel abroad for a time, and see fresh things; and, dear son, if there be any narrowness of means, I will myself supply your necessities, and deem the money well lent to the Lord—and so be comforted!"—and he put out his hand to bless him.
Herbert was moved by the Bishop's kindness; but he felt that the Bishop did not see the matter aright, but thought it all a sad delusion; and he made up his mind to speak. So he said, "Dear father and my lord, forgive me if I speak yet further—for I am greatly moved by your kindness, but in this case there is need of great frankness. It is not indeed as your goodness thinks; indeed there is no delusion, but a real and yet grievous power of sight—which I pray God would remove from me—and that as He took the scales off the eyes of the blessed Paul, so I pray that He would put them back on mine. For I see the things I would not, and to me is revealed what ought to be hidden."
Then the Bishop looked a little angered by Herbert's insistence, and said, "Dear son, if this were a gift of God to you, it would be more than He gave even to the blessed Apostles, for we read of no such gift being given to man. Some He made apostles, and some evangelists, but we hear not that He made any to see the very secrets of the soul—such sight is given to God alone—and indeed, dear son, for I will use the same frankness as yourself, it seems to me but a chastening from God. He delivers even those He loves (like the blessed Paul himself, and Austin, and others whom I need not name) to Satan to be buffeted; and though I have myself no fault to find with your ministration, it is plain to me that God is not satisfied, and by His chastening would lead you higher yet."
"But come, for I will ask you a question. This light that you speak of, that plays about the heads (is it so?) of other men, is it always there? Has it, to ask an instance, appeared to you with me? I charge you to speak to me with entire freedom in this matter." So Herbert raised his eyes, and looked the Bishop in the face, and said very gravely, "Yes, dear father, it doth appear."
Then the Bishop's face changed a little, and Herbert saw that he was moved; then the Bishop said with a kind of smile, as though he forced himself, "And what is it like?" And Herbert said, looking shamefacedly upon the ground, "Must I answer the question truly?" And the Bishop said, "Yes, upon your vows." Then Herbert said, "Dear father, it is strangely dark and angry." Then the Bishop, knitting his brows, said, "Does it seem so? And how is this a true light? My son, I speak to you plainly; I am a sinner indeed—we are all such—but my whole life is spent in labour for God's Church, and I can truly say that from hour to hour I think not of carnal things, but all my desire is to feed and keep the flock. How dost thou interpret that?" And Herbert, very low, said, "My lord, must I speak?" And the Bishop said, "Yes, upon your vows." Then Herbert said very slowly and sadly, "My lord, I know indeed that your heart is with the work of the Lord, and that you labour abundantly. But can it be—I speak as a faithful son, and sore unwilling—that you have your pleasure in this work, and think of yourself as a profitable servant?"
Then the Bishop looked very blackly upon him and said, "You take too much upon yourself, my son. This is indeed the messenger of Satan that hath you in his grip; but I will pray for you if the Lord will heal you—it may be that there is some dark sin upon your mind; and if so pluck it out of the heart. But we will talk no more; I will only tell you to rest and pray, and think not of these lights and flashes, which are never told of in Holy Church, except in the case of those who are held of evil." And he rose and made a gesture that Herbert should go; so Herbert kissed the Bishop's hand and went very sadly out, for it seemed as though his burden was too great for him to bear.
There followed very sad and weary days when Herbert hardly knew how he could bear the sorrow that pressed upon him. But he preached diligently, and went in and out among his people. And in that time he helped many sad souls and set struggling feet upon the right road, though he knew it not and even cared not.
One day he was walking in the street, and came past a little mean house that lay on the outskirts of the town. There was a small and pitiful garden, sadly disordered, that lay in front of the house. Here there dwelt a wretched man named John, who had done an evil deed in his youth. He had robbed his mother, it was said, a poor and crippled woman, of her little savings; she had struggled hard for her all, but he had beaten her off, and done her violence, and she, between grief and disease, had died. In her last hour she had told the tale; her son had been driven from his employment, and the hearts of all had turned against him. He had left the place, but a few years after he had returned, a man old before his time, with a sore disease upon him, in which all readily saw the wise judgment of God.
He had settled in the little house which had been his mother's before him, and had stood vacant. But none would admit him to their houses or give him work. Occasionally, when labour was short, he had a task given him; but he was slow and feeble, and those that worked with him mocked and derided him. He bore all mockeries patiently and silently, with a kind of hunted look; but none pitied him, and the very children of the street would point at him, call him murderer, and throw stones at him. He would seek at times to do a kindness to the poor and sorrowful by stealth, but his help was often refused even with anger.
Herbert had seen a little sight a few days before that stuck in his mind. He had been passing along the road that led into the country, and had seen some way ahead of him a little child, a girl, with a heavy burden. She had put it down by the wood to rest, when John came suddenly upon her from a lane, where he had been wandering, as his manner was. The girl had seemed frightened, but Herbert, making haste to join them—for he too had a great suspicion of the man—saw him speak gently to her and lift up her burden, and walk on with her. Herbert followed afar off, but gained on the pair, and as he came up heard him speaking to her, and as Herbert thought, telling her a simple story about the birds and flowers. The child was listening half timidly, when from a gate beside the road, which led to the farm to which the child was bound, came out her mother, a tall good-humoured woman, who snatched the burden out of the hands of John, and dusted it over with her apron, as though his touch had polluted it. Then she scolded the child and then fell to rating John with very cruel words.