My father announced himself, and the trooper drew out a parchment and handed it.
"'Tisn' no proper light here," said my father, fumbling with the packet, and not caring to own that he could not read. "Come to the house, honest man, and we'll talk it over; for thou'lt sleep with us, no doubt?"
"Ay, and drink to your apple-trees too," the trooper answered very heartily. So my father led the way and we followed, Margery gripping my hand tight, and the rest talking in loud whispers. They guessed what the man's business was.
An hour later, when the ashen faggot had been lit and the cider-drinking and carolling were fairly started in the kitchen, Margery packed me off to bed; and afterwards came and sat beside me for a while, very silent, listening with me to the voices below.
"Where is Mark?" I asked, for I missed his clear tenor.
"In the parlour. He and father and the soldier are talking there."
"Is Mark going to fight?"
She bent down, slipped an arm round my nee' and caught me to her in a sudden breathless hug.
"But he may be killed," I objected.
"No, no; we must pray against that." She said it confidently, and I knew Margery had a firm belief that what was prayed for fitly must be granted. "I will see to that, morning and evening: we will pray together. But you must pray sometimes between whiles, when I am not by to remind you—many times a day—promise me, Jack."
I promised, and it made me feel better. Margery had a way of managing things, a way which I had learned to trust. We said no more but Good-night: in a little while she left me and I jumped out of bed and punctually started to keep my new promise.
Next morning—Christmas Day—we all attended church together; that is to say, all we of the family, for our guest chose rather to remain in the parlour with the cider-mug. Parson Kendall preached to us at length on Obedience and the authority delegated by God upon kings; and working back to his text, which was I. Samuel, xvii. 42, wound up with some particular commendation of "the young man to-day going forth from amongst us"—which turned all heads towards the Lawhibbet pew and set Mark blushing and me almost as shamefacedly, but Margery, after the first flow of colour, turned towards her brother with bright proud eyes.
That same afternoon between three and four o'clock—so suddenly was all decided—Mark rode away from us on the young sorrel, and the trooper beside him, to join the force Sir Bevill Grenvill was collecting for Sir Ralph Hopton at Liskeard. To his father he said good-bye at the yard-gate, but Margery and I walked beside the horses to the ford and afterwards stood and watched their crossing, waving many times as Mark turned and waved a hand back, and the red sun over behind us blinked on the trooper's cap and shoulder-piece. Just before they disappeared we turned away together—for it is unlucky to watch anyone out of sight—and I saw that Margery was trembling from head to foot.
"But he will come back," said I, to comfort her.
"Yes," she answered, "he will come back." With that she paused, and broke forth, twisting her handkerchief, "Jack, if I were a man—" and so checked herself.
"Why, you think more of the Cause than Mark does, I believe!" I put in.
"Not more than Mark—not more than Mark! Jack, you mustn't say that: you mustn't think it!"
"And a great deal more of our name," I went on sturdily, disregarding her tone, which I considered vehement beyond reason. "'Tis a strange thing to me, Margery, that of us three you should be the one to think everything of the name of Lantine, who are a girl and must take another when you marry."
She halted and turned on me with more anger than I had ever seen on her face. She even stamped her foot. "Never!" she said, and again "Never!"
"Oh, well—" I began; but she had started walking rapidly, and although I caught her up, not another word would she say to me until we reached home.
For a year we saw no more of our brother, and received of him only two letters (for he hated penwork), the both very cheerful. Yet within a month of his going, on a still clear day in January, we listened together to the noise of a pitched battle in which he was fighting, a short six miles from us as the crow flies. I have often admired how men who were happily born too late to witness the troubles of those times will make their own pictures of warfare, as though it changed at once the whole face of the country and tenour of folk's lives; whereas it would be raging two valleys away and men upon their own farms ploughing to the tune of it, with nothing seen by them then or afterwards; or it would leap suddenly across the hills, filling the roads with cursing weary men, and roll by, leaving a sharp track of ruin for the eye to follow and remember it by. So on this afternoon, when Hopton and the Cornish troops were engaging and defeating Ruthen on Braddock Down, Margery and I counted the rattles of musketry borne down to us on the still reaches of the river and, climbing to the earthwork past the field where old Will Retallack stuck to his ploughing with an army of gulls following and wheeling about him as usual, spied the smoke rolling over the edge of Boconnoc woodland to the north-east; but never a soldier we saw that day or for months after.
A little before the end of the day the rebel army broke and began to roll back through Liskeard and towards the passes of the Tamar, and Mark followed with his troops to Saltash, into Devonshire, and as far as Chagford, where he rode by Mr. Sydney Godolphin in the skirmish which gave that valiant young gentleman his mortal wound. Soon after the whole of the King's forces retired upon Tavistock, where a truce was patched up between the opposing factions in the West. But this did not release Mark, who was kept at duty on the border until May—when the strife burst out again—and joined the pursuit after Stratton Heath. Thereafter he fought at Lansdowne, and in the operations against Bristol, and later in the same year, having won a cornetcy in the King's Horse, bore his part in the many brisk expeditions led by Hopton through Dorsetshire and Hampshire into Sussex.
'Twas from Worthing he came back to us a few days before Christmas, and his mission was to beat up recruits for his troop in the season of slackness before the Spring campaign. He had grown almost two inches, his chest was fuller, his voice manly, and his handsome face not spoiled (Margery declared it improved) by a scar across the cheek, won in a raid upon Poole. He had borne himself gallantly, and our prayers had prevailed with God to save him from serious hurt even in the furious charge at Lansdowne, when of two thousand horse no more than six hundred reached the crest of the hill. He greeted us all lovingly and made no disguise of his joy to be at home again, though but on a short furlough.
And yet even on the first happy evening, when we walked up through the dusk together to the old earthwork, and he told us the first chapter of his adventures, I seemed to see, or rather to feel, that our brother was not wholly a better man for his campaigning. To be sure, a soldier must be allowed an oath or two; but Mark slipped out one before his sister which took me like a slap across the cheek. He bit his lip the moment it was out, and talked rapidly and at random for a while, with a dark flush on his face. Margery pretended that she had not heard, and for the rest he told his story with a manly carelessness which became him. Once only, when he described the entry of the troops into Bristol and their behaviour there—while Margery turned her eyes aside for a moment, that were dim for the death of Slanning and Trevanion—he came to a pause with a grin that invited me to be knowing beyond my years. The old Mark would never have looked at me with that meaning.
On the whole he behaved well, and took Margery's adoration with great patience. He had the wit to wish to fall nothing in her eyes. His new and earthlier view of war, as a game with coarse rewards, he confided to me; and this not in words but in a smile now and then and a general air when safe from his sister's eyes, of being passably amused by her high-fangled nonsense. His business of beating up recruits took him away from us for days together; and we missed him on Christmas Eve when we christened the apple-trees as usual. It was I who discovered and kept it from Margery—who supposed him as far away as St. Austell, and tried to find that distance a sufficient excuse—that he had spent the night a bare mile away, hobnobbing with the owner of Lantine, a rich man who had used to look down on our family but thought it worth while to make friends with this promising young soldier.
"And I mean to be equal with him and his likes," said Mark to me afterwards by way of excuse. "A man may rise by soldiering as by any other calling—and quicker too, perhaps, in these days."
The same thought clearly was running in his head a week later, when he took leave of us once more by the ford.
"Come back to us, Mark!" Margery wept this time, with her arms about his neck.
"Ay, sweetheart, and with an estate in my pocket."
"Ah, forget that old folly! Come back with body safe and honour bright, and God may take the rest."
He slapped his pocket with a laugh as he shook up the reins.
Then followed five quiet anxious months. 'Twas not until early in June that, by an express from Ashburton in Devon, we heard that our brother's fortune was still rising, he having succeeded to the command of his company made vacant by the wounding of Captain Sir Harry Welcome. "And this is no mean achievement for a poor yeoman's son," he wrote, "in an army where promotion goes as a rule to them that have estates to pawn. But I hope in these days some few may serve his Majesty and yet prosper, and that my dear Margery may yet have her wish and be mistress in Lantine." Margery read this letter and knit her brow thoughtfully. "It was like Mark to think of writing so," said she; "but I have not thought of Lantine for this many a day."
"And he might have left thinking of it," said I, "until these troubles are over and the King's peace established."
"Tut," she answered smiling, "he does not think of it but only to please me. 'Tis his way to speak what comes to his tongue to give us pleasure."
"For all that, he need not have misjudged us," I grumbled; and then was sorry for the pain with which she looked at me.
"It is you, Jack, who misjudged!" She spoke it sharply. We still prayed together for our brother twice a day; but she knew—and either dared not or cared not to ask why—that since his first home-coming my love had cooled towards him. Very likely she believed me to be jealous.
The hay-harvest found and passed us in peace, and the wheat was near ripe, when, towards the close of July, rumours came to us of an army marching towards Cornwall under command of the Earl of Essex; by persuasion (it was said) of the Lord Robarts, whose seat of Lanhydrock lies on our bank of the river about three miles above Lostwithiel, facing the Lord Mohun's house of Boconnoc across the valley. My Lord Mohun, after some wavering at first, had cast in his fortune with the King's party, to which belonged well nigh all the gentry of our neighbourhood; and had done so in good time for his reputation. But the Lord Robarts was an obstinate clever man who chose the other side and stuck to it in despite of first misfortunes. We guessed therefore that if the Parliamentarians came by his invitation they would not neglect a district on which he staked so much for mastery; and sure enough, about July 25th, we heard that Essex had reached Bodmin with the mass of his forces, Sir Richard Grenvill having retired before him and moved hastily with the Queen's troop to Truro. After this, Margery and I used to climb every morning to the earthwork and spy all the country round for signs of the hated troopers. Yet day passed after day with nought to be seen, and little to be heard but further rumours, of which the most constant said that the King himself was following Essex with an army, and had already seized and crossed the passes of the Tamar.
'Twas on the 2nd of August that the bolt fell; when after mounting the slope at daybreak with nothing to warn us, we stepped through the dykes into the old camp. A heavy dew hung in beads on the brambles, and at the second dyke I had turned and was holding aside a brier to let Margery pass, when a short cry from her fetched me right-about and staring into the face of a tall soldier grinning at us over the bank. In the enclosure behind him (as we saw through a gap) were a number of men in mud-coloured jerkins, quietly mounting a couple of cannon.
"Good morning!" said the soldier amiably, with an up-country twang in his voice, "Good-morning, my pretty dears! And if you come from the farm below, what may be the name of it?"
"Lawhibbet," I answered, seeing that Margery closed her lips tight.
"Ay, Lawhibbet; that's the name I was told." He nodded in the friendliest manner.
"Are you the rebels?" I blurted out, while Margery gripped my arm; but this boldness only fetched a laugh from the big man.
"Some of 'em," said he; "though you'll have to unlearn that name, my young whipstercock, seein' we're here to stay for a while. The Earl marched down into Fowey last night while you were asleep, and is down there now making it right and tight. Do you ever play at blind-man's buff in these parts?"
Three or four soldiers had gathered behind him by this, and were staring down on us. One of them blew a clumsy kiss to Margery.
"Do you mean the child's game?" I asked, wondering whatever he could be driving at.
"I do; but perhaps, sir, you are too old to remember it." He winked at the men and they guffawed. "It begins, 'How many horses has your father got?' 'Six,' says you; 'black, red, and grey'—or that's the number according to our instructions. 'Very good then,' says we; 'turn round three times and catch which you may.' And the moral is, don't be surprised if you find the stable empty when you get home. There's a detachment gone to attend to it after seizing the ford below; hungry men, all of them. No doubt they'll be visiting the bacon-rack after the stable, and if missy knows where to pick up the new-laid eggs she might put a score aside for us poor artillerymen."
We turned from them and hurried down the slope. "Rebels!" said Margery once, under her breath; but the blow had stunned us and we could not talk. In the stable yard we found, as the artillerymen had promised, a company of soldiers leading out the horses, and my father watching them with that patient look which never deserted him. He turned to Margery—
"Go into the kitchen, my dear. They will want food next, and we have to do what we can. They have been civil, and promise to pay for all they take. I do not think they will show any roughness."
Margery obeyed with a set face. For the next hour she and Lizzie were busy in the kitchen, frying ham and eggs, boiling great pans of milk, cutting up all the bread of the last baking, and heating the oven for a fresh batch. The men, I am bound to say, took their food civilly, that morning and afterwards; and for a fortnight at least they paid reasonably for all they took. For several days I hung closer about the ingle than ever I had done in my life; not that a boy of fourteen could be any protection to the women-folk, but to be ready at least to give an alarm should insult be offered. But we had to do with decent men, who showed themselves friendly not only in the house but in their camp down by the ford, whither, after the first morning, Lizzie and I trudged it twice a day with baskets of provisions. Lizzie indeed talked freely with them, but I held my tongue and glowered (I dare say) in my foolish hate. Margery kept to the house.
'Twas, I think, on August 15th that the first hope of release came to us, by the King's troops seizing the ford-head across the river; and this happened as suddenly as our first surprise. Lizzie and I were carrying down our baskets at four o'clock that day, when we heard a sound of musketry on the St. Veep shore and on top of it a bugle twice blown. Running to the top of a knoll from which the river spread in view, I saw some rebels of our detachment splashing out from shore in a hurry. The leaders reached mid-stream or thereabouts, and paused. Doubtless they could see better than I what was happening; for after they had stood there a couple of minutes, holding their fire—the musketry on the St. Veep bank continuing all the while—some twenty men came running out of the woods there and fled across towards us, many bullets splashing into the water behind them. They reached their comrades in the river-bed, and the whole body stood irresolute, facing the shore where nothing showed but a glint of steel here and there between the trees. Thus for ten further minutes, perhaps, they hesitated; then turned and came sullenly back across the rising water. In this manner the royal troops won the ford-head, and kept it; for although the two cannon opened fire that evening from the earthwork above us, and dropped many balls among the trees, they did not dislodge the regiment (Colonel Lloyd's) which lay there and held one of the few passes by which the rebels could break away.
For—albeit I knew nothing of this at the time—by withdrawing his headquarters to Lostwithiel and holding our narrow ridge with Fowey at the end of it seaward, the Earl had led his army into a trap, and one which his Majesty was now fast closing. Already he had drawn his troops across the river-meadows above Lostwithiel; and, whatever help the Earl might have hoped to fetch from the sea at his base, he was there prevented by the quickness of Sir Jacob Astley in seizing a fort on the other side of the harbour's mouth as well as a battery commanding the town from that shore, and in flinging a hundred men into each, who easily beat off all ships from entering. From this comfortable sea-entrance then Essex perforce turned for his stores to Twyardreath Bay on the western side of the ridge, where he landed a couple of cargoes at the mouth of the little river Par; but on the 25th the Prince Maurice sent down 2,000 horse and 1,000 foot, and after sharp skirmishing blocked this inlet also. So now we had the whole rebel army cooped around us and along the two sides of the ridge, trampling our harvest and eating our larders bare, with no prospect but a surrender; which yet the Earl refused, although his Majesty thrice offered to treat with him.
This (I say) was the position, though we at Lawhibbet knew not how desperate 'twas for the rebels our guests; only that our food was pinched to short rations of bread and that payment had ceased, though the sergeants still gave vouchers duly for the little we could supply. The battery above us kept silence day after day, save twice when the Royalists made a brief show of forcing the pass; but at intervals each day we would hear a brisk play of artillery a little higher up the stream, where they had planted a fort on the high ground by St. Nectan's Chapel, to pound at Lostwithiel in the valley. For my part I could have pitied the rebels, so worn they were with weeks of hunger and watching, to which the weather added another misery, turning at the close of the month to steady rain with heavy fogs covering land and sea, and no wind to disperse them. Margery had no pity; but I believed would have starved cheerfully—if that could have helped—to see these poor sodden wretches in worse plight.
I think 'twas on the morning of the 28th that the Royalists across the ford showed a flag of truce; which having been answered, a small party of horse came riding over, the leader with a letter for the Earl of Essex which he was suffered to carry to Fowey, riding thither in the midst of an escort of six and leaving his own men behind on the near side of the ford.
While they waited by their horses I drew near to one of them and asked him if he knew aught of my brother, Captain Mark Lantine. He answered, after eyeing me sharply, that he knew my brother well—a very gallant officer, now serving with the Earl of Cleveland's brigade.
"That will be on the slope beneath Boconnoc," said I.
"How know you that?" he asked briskly, and I was telling him that the dispositions of the Royal troops were no secret to the rebels (warning of all fresh movements being brought daily to the ford from Lostwithiel), when a sergeant interrupted and, forbidding any further converse, packed me off homeward, yet not unkindly.
For what came of this talk Margery—to whom I reported it that same evening—must bear the credit. For two days she brooded over it, keeping silence even beyond her wont, and then on the night of the 30th, at nine o'clock, when I was scarce abed, she tapped at my door and bade me arise and dress myself. She had an expedition to propose, no less than that we should cross the river and pay Mark a visit in his quarters.
Her boldness took away my breath: yet as she whispered her plan it did not seem impossible or, bating the chance of being shot by a stray outpost, so very dangerous. A heavy fog lay over the hills, as it had lain for nights. The tide was flowing. My father's boat had been dragged ashore and lay bottom upwards under a cliff about three hundred yards above the ford. If we could reach and right it without being discovered, either one of us was clever enough, with an oar over the stern, to scull noiselessly across to the entrance of a creek where the current would take us up towards Boconnoc between banks held on either side by Royalists; to whom, if they surprised us, we could tell our business.
The plan (I say) was a promising one. It miscarried only after we had righted the boat and were dragging it across the strip of shingle between the meadow bank and the water's edge. A quick-eared sentry caught the sound and challenged at two gunshots' distance. I had the boat's nose afloat as I heard his feet stumbling over the uneven foreshore: but the paddles and even the bottom-boards were lying on the beach behind us. There was no help for it. Margery stepped on board swiftly and silently, and I pushed well out into the stream, following until the water rose to my middle and so standing while the fellow challenged again. For a minute we kept mute as mice. The footsteps hesitated and came to a halt by the water's edge a full twenty yards below, and I guessed that the fog had blurred for him the distance as well as the direction of the sound. Very quietly I heaved myself over the stern and into the boat, which swung broadside to the current and so was borne up and beyond danger from him. But the mischief was, we were drifting up the main channel which ended in the Lostwithiel marshes and must pretty certainly lead us into the enemy's hands, unless before striking the moors below the town we could by some means push across to the farther bank. We leaned over, dipped our arms in the water, and with the least possible noise began to paddle. Even in the darkness the tall banks were familiar, and between skill and good fortune we came to shore on the left bank below a coppice and just within sight of the town lights. Between us and them lay a broad marsh-land through which the river wound, and along the edge of which, under the trees skirting this shore, we started at a timorous run, pulling up now and again to listen.
So we had come abreast of the town without challenge, when the sky almost on a sudden grew lighter, and we saw the church spire glimmering and the weather-cock above it, and knew that the moon had risen over the woodland in the shadow of which we crouched. And with that Margery glanced back and plucked at my arm.
The moor we had skirted was full of horsemen, drawn up in rank and motionless. They loomed through the river fog like giants—rank behind rank, each man stiff and upright and silent in his saddle—as it were a vale full of mounted ghosts awaiting the dreadful trumpet, and in my terror I forgot to tremble at the nearness of our escape (for we had all but blundered into them). But while I stared, and the wreaths of fog hid and again disclosed them, I heard Margery's whisper—
"They are escaping to-night. It can only be by the bridge and across Boconnoc downs. If we can win to Mark and warn him!"
She drew me off into the wood at a sharp angle, and we began to climb beneath the branches. They dripped on us, soaking us to the skin; but this we scarcely felt. We knew that we must be moving along the narrow interval between the two lines of outposts. Beneath us, in the centre of a basin of fog, a cluster of lights marked Lostwithiel: above, the moon and the glow of Royalist camp-fires threw up the outline of the ridge. Alongside of this we kept, and a little below it, crossing the high-road which leads east from Lostwithiel bridge, and, beyond that, advancing more boldly under the lee of a hedge beside a by-road which curves towards the brow of Boconnoc downs. I began to find it strange that, for all our secrecy, no one challenged us here. At a bend of the lane, we came in view of a solitary cottage with one window lit and blurring its light on the mist. We crept close, still on the far side of the hedge, and, parting the bushes, peered at it.
It must be here or hereabouts (by all information) that the Earl of Cleveland kept his quarters. The light shone into our eyes through a drawn blind which told nothing; and Margery was dragging me forward to knock at the door when it opened and two men stepped quickly across the threshold and passed down the lane. They crossed the bar of light swiftly and were gone into the dark; and they trod softly—so softly that we listened in vain for their footfalls.
Then, almost before I knew it, Margery had dragged me across a gap in the hedge and was rapping at the cottage door. No one answered. She lifted the latch and entered, I at her heels. The kitchen—an ordinary cottage kitchen—was empty A guttered candle stood on the table to the right, and beside it lay a feathered cap. Margery stepped toward this and had scarce time to touch the brim of it before a voice hailed us in the doorway behind my shoulder.
It was our brother Mark.
"Well, of all—" he began, and came to a stop; his face white as a sheet, as well it might be.
Margery rounded upon him. She must have been surprised, but she began without explanation running to him and kissing him swiftly—
"Mark—dear Mark, we have news for thee, instant news! Sure, Heaven directed us to-night that you should be the first to hear it. Mark, we passed the rebel cavalry in the valley, and for certain they will attempt to break through to-night."
"Yes, yes," said he peevishly, pulling at an end of his long love-locks, "we have had that scare often enough, these last few nights."
"But we passed them close—saw them plainly in rank below Lostwithiel bridge, and every man in saddle. Even now they will be moving—"
Mark swung about and passed out at the open door. He had not returned Margery's kiss. "I must be off, then, to visit my videttes," said he quickly, and then paused as if considering. "For you, the cottage here will not be safe: it stands close beside the line of march and I must get down a company of musketeers. You had best follow me—" he took a step and paused again: "No, there will not be time."
"Tell us in what direction to go and we will fend for ourselves and leave you free."
"Through the garden, then, at the back and into the woods—the fence has a gap and from it a path leads up to a quarry among the trees; you cannot miss. The quarry is full of brambles—good hiding, in case we have trouble. No cavalryman will win so far, you may be sure."
Margery gathered her skirts about her, and we stole out into the darkness. At the door she turned up her face to Mark. "Kiss me, my brother." He kissed her, and breaking away (as I thought) with a low groan, strode from us up the lane.
"Now why should he go up the lane?" mused Margery: and I too wondered. For the first alarm must needs come from the lower end towards which he had been walking with his other visitor, when we first spied on the cottage through the bushes.
But 'twas not for us to guess how the troops were disposed or where the outposts lay. We made our escape through the little garden, and, blundering along the woodland path behind it, came at length to a thicket of brambles over which hung the scarp of the quarry with a fringe of trees above it pitch-black against the foggy moonlight. Here on the soaked ground I found a clear space and a tumbled stone or two, on which we crouched together, sleepless and intently listening.
For an hour we heard no sound. Then the valley towards Lostwithiel shook with a dull explosion, which puzzled us a great deal. (But the meaning, I have since learnt was this:—Two prisoners in the church there had contrived to climb up into the steeple and, pulling the ladder after them, jeered down upon the rebels' Provost Marshal, who was now preparing for a night retreat of the Infantry upon Fowey and in a hurry to be gone. "I'll fetch you down," said he, and with a barrel of powder blew most of the slates off the roof but without harming the defiant pair who were found still perched on the steeple next morning.)
After this the hours passed without sound. It seemed incredible, this silence in the ring of wakeful outposts. Margery shivered now and again, and I knew that her eyes were open, though she said nothing. For me, towards morning, I dropped into a doze, and woke to the tightening of her hand upon my arm.
I listened with her. The sky had grown grey about us, and up through the dripping trees came a soft and regular footfall, as of a body of horse moving past. "It will be Mark's troop," I whispered, and listened again. It seemed to me that the noise moved away to our right instead of towards Lostwithiel. A quick suspicion took me then: I scaled the right-hand side of the quarry at a run, burst through the fringe of pines, and came out suddenly upon a knoll in full view of the down. The first gleam of sunshine was breaking over this slope, and towards it at an easy trot rode the whole body of rebel cavalry, in number above a thousand.
While I stood and stared, Margery caught up with me. We looked into each other's face. Then without a word she went from me. I lingered there for perhaps ten minutes; for now, from behind the trees above, a squadron of Royalist horse charged across the slope at a gallop. They were less than four hundred, however, and as the rebel rearguard turned to face them, drew rein and exchanged but a few harmless shots. I watched the host as it wound slowly over the crest with its pursuers hanging sullenly at heel: then I turned and descended in search of Margery. As I reached the gap in the hedge, Mark entered the garden by the little gate opposite. He came hastily, but halted as if shot, with his hand on the gatepost to steady him—yet not at sight of me. I looked across the gap into the garden between us. Beside a heap of freshly turned mould, with her back to the currant-bush, stood Margery, her hands stained with soil; and on the ground before her lay a small chest with its lid open.
I lifted my eyes from the glinting coins and sought Mark's gaze: but it was fastened on Margery, who walked slowly forward and straight up to him. Though he shrank, he could not retreat. She went to him, I following a pace behind. She put out a hand and touched the pistol in his sling.
"Redeem." The voice was Margery's and yet not hers. "Redeem," she repeated—"not Lantine."
With a groan he ran round the gable of the cottage. A moment later we heard the gallop of his horse down the lane.
At seven o'clock that morning the King's forlorn hope of foot, in number about 1,000, entered Lostwithiel after a smart skirmish with the rebel rearguard at the bridge; and not long after, the rebel reserve of foot, perceiving their comrades giving ground and being themselves galled by two or three pieces of cannon which began to play upon them from the captured leaguer, moved away from the hill they had been holding: so that now we had the whole force falling back towards Fowey along the ridge, with our forlorn hope following in chase from field to field.
Before eight the King himself with two troops of horse (one of them my brother's) passed over a ford a little to the south of the town, with intent to catch this movement in flank: and there, by the ford's edge, I believe, took a cartload of muskets with five abandoned pieces, two of them very long guns. The river being too deep, with a rising tide, for Margery to wade, we made our crossing by the bridge, where the fighting had been, but where there was now no soldiery, only a many dead bodies, some huddled into the coigns of the parapet, more laid out upon a patch of turf at the bridge end, the mud caked on their faces. It made me shiver to see: but my sister went by with scarce a glance and, once past the river, caught my hand and set off running after the troops.
The beginning of the retreat had been brisk enough—so brisk that it outpaced his Majesty's movement in flank: who, breasting the hill with his cavalry (after some minutes lost at the ford in collecting the cannon and muskets which might well have been gleaned later) found himself, if anything, in the rear of his victorious footmen. But after two miles, coming to that part of the ridge where it narrows above Lawhibbet, and in view of our old earthwork which was yet pretty strongly held by their artillery, the enemy made a more forcible resistance, fighting the several hedges and, even when dislodged, holding them with a hot skirmishing fire while the main body found the next cover. By these checks we two, who had lost ground at the start, now regained it fast; and by and by (towards ten o'clock as I guess) were forced to pick our way under shelter of the hedges, to avoid the enemy's bullets and espial by any of the King's men, who would doubtless have cursed and driven us back out of the way of danger.
It was Margery who bethought her here of a sunken cart-road descending along the right of the ridge and crossed on its way by another which would lead us to the summit again and within two gunshots of the great earthwork. By following these two roads we might outflank the soldiery while keeping the crown of the ridge between us; for the fighting still followed along the left-hand slope, above the river.
This way, to be sure, was reasonably safe for a while; but must lead us out, if we persisted, into close danger—perhaps into the very interval between the fighting lines, and if at the rebels' rear, then certainly between them and their artillery on the earthwork. As we ran I tried to prove this to Margery. She would not listen: indeed I doubt that she heard me. "He must," "he must," she kept saying: and I thought sure she had taken leave of her wits.
It happened as I warned her. The second cart-track, mounting from the valley bottom, led us up to the high road on the ridge; and there, peering out cautiously, I spied the backs of a rebel company posted across it, a bare two hundred yards away towards Lostwithiel. Their ranks parted and I had time enough, and no more, to push Margery into the ditch and fling myself beside her among the brambles before a team of horses swept by at a gallop, with a cannon bumping on its carriage behind them and dragging a long cloud of dust.
"Quick!" called Margery as it passed: sprang to her feet and across the road in the noise and smother. Choking with dust and anger I followed, almost on all-fours.
"But what folly is this?" I demanded, overtaking her by the opposite hedge.
"I know what I am doing," she said. "They did not see—-the dust hid us. Now quick again, and help me up to this hazel-bush."
I swung her up, and myself after her. The bush was one which I myself had polled two years before; an old stump set thickly about with young shoots, in the cover of which we huddled, staring down the slope of our own great grass-field (the largest on Lawhibbet farm) now filled with rebels withdrawing in good order upon the earthwork on Castle Dore. This earthwork stood in the very next field on our right, behind what had used to be a hedge but where was now a gap some twenty yards wide (levelled a few days before by Essex's cannoniers), and through this gap, towards which the regiments were streaming, drifted the smoke of the guns as they flung their round shot high over our heads, and over the hedge on our left which hid from us all of the royal troops save now and then the flash of a steel cap behind the top-growth of hazel ash and bramble.
The line of this hedge, on the near side to us, was yet held by musketeers who had spread themselves along it very closely and seemed to be using every bush. Indeed I wondered how they were to be forced from such cover, when a party of them by the gate suddenly gave back and began running, and through the gateway a small troop of horse came pouring at their heels. And albeit these cavaliers must have suffered desperately in so charging up to a covered foe (and many riderless chargers came galloping with them), yet the remnant held such good order that in pouring through they seemed to divide by agreement, a part wheeling to right and a part to left to drive the skirmishers, while the main troop held on across the field nor drew rein until they had chased the rebel rearguard to the gap. But as the gap cleared ahead and showed the earthwork and the muzzles of the guns now lowered right in their path, their leader checked his horse, wheeled about in as pretty a curve as you would wish to see, and his troop following cantered back towards the gate.
It was gallantly done and clearly won high approval from a horseman who at the moment came at a trot through the gate, with a second troop behind him, and was saluted by the returning squadron with, one flash of sword-blades, all together, hilt brought to chin and every blade pointing straight in air—a flourish almost as pretty as the feat it concluded. He too held his sword before him with point upright, but awkwardly; and though he sat his saddle well, his bearing had more of civil authority than of soldierlike precision. I was wondering, indeed, what his business might be on this field of arms—for his men hung back somewhat, as escorting rather than charging at his lead, when Margery plucked at my elbow.
I stared at her stupidly. And reading awe in her wide eyes, I had almost turned to follow their gaze when my own fell on a rider who had detached himself from the escort and was coming towards us along the hedge row, whipping it idly with the flat of his sword, and now and again thrusting at it with the point, as if beating for hidden skirmishers. It was our brother Mark, and he frowned as he rode.
I held my breath as he drew near. Margery's eyes were on the King; but she must needs recognise her brother when he came abreast of us.
And so it was. She gave him an idle glance, and with that she let out a short choking cry, and leapt down from the hedge right in his path, dragging me after her by the sleeve.
"Mark!" she cried.
He swerved his horse round with a curse. But she caught at the bridle and pointed towards the gap through which, though hidden from us by the angle, pointed the muzzles of the rebel artillery. "You must! Oh, if you fear, I will run with you and die with you—I your sister! There is no other way. You must, Mark!"
He pushed past her sullenly, moving towards the group where the King stood.
"Mark, if you do not, the King shall know! Redeem, brother; or I swear—and when did I break word?—here and now the King shall know who lost him the rebel horse."
She spoke it fast and low, with a dead-white face. We were close now to the royal group; close enough to hear the King's words.
"I must needs," he was saying, "envy her Majesty, Captain Brett. Under your leading her troop has done that which my own can only envy."
He turned at what seemed at first a murmur among his own men, and no doubt was framing a compliment from them too. But their murmur grew to a growl of mere astonishment as a thud of hoofs drew all eyes after my brother riding at full gallop for the gap.
"But what is the madman after?" began the King, and broke off with a sharp exclamation as his eyes fell on Margery, who had picked up her skirts and was running after Mark. She was perhaps a hundred yards behind him when the cannon roared and, almost in the entrance of the gap, he flung up both arms, and horse and rider rolled over together. A moment later she too staggered and fell sideways—stunned by the wind of a round-shot.
The firing ceased as suddenly as it began. I heard a voice saying as if it continued a discussion—"And Lantine of all men! I'd have picked him for the levellest-headed man in the troop. By the way, he comes from these parts, I've heard say."
And with that I ran to my sister's side.
Two days later by the earthwork where we had played as children his Majesty received the surrender of the rebel foot; while, on the slope below, the house which should have been Mark's heritage blazed merrily, fired by the last shot of the campaign.
PHOEBUS ON HALZAPHRON
"God! of whom music And song and blood are pure, The day is never darkened That had thee here obscure."
Early in 1897 a landslip on the tall cliffs of Halzaphron—which face upon Mount's Bay, Cornwall, and the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic—brought to light a curiosity. The slip occurred during the night of January 7th to 8th, breaking through the roof of a cavern at the base of the cliff and carrying many hundreds of tons of rock and earth down into deep water. For some weeks what remained of the cavern was obliterated, and in the rough weather then prevailing no one took the trouble to examine it; since it can only be approached by sea. The tides, however, set to work to sift and clear the detritus, and on Whit-Monday a party of pleasure-seekers from Penzance brought their boat to shore, landed, and discovered a stairway of worked stone leading up from the back of the cavern through solid rock. The steps wound spirally upward, and were cut with great accuracy; but the drippings from the low roof of the stairway had worn every tread into a basin and filled it with water. Green slippery weeds coated the lowest stairs; those immediately above were stained purple and crimson by the growth of some minute fungus; but where darkness began, these colors passed through rose-pink into a delicate ivory-white—a hard crust of lime, crenelated like coral by the ceaseless trickle of water which deposited it.
At first the explorers supposed themselves on the track of a lost holy well. They had no candles, but by economising their stock of matches they followed up the mysterious and beautiful staircase until it came to a sudden end, blocked by the fallen mass of cliff. Still in ignorance whither it led or what purpose it had served, they turned back and descended to the sunshine again; when one of the party, scanning the cliff's face, observed a fragment—three steps only—jutting out like a cornice some sixty or seventy feet overhead.
This seemed to dispose of the holy well theory, and suggested that the stairway had reached to the summit, where perhaps an entrance might be found. The party returned to Penzance, and their report at once engaged the attention of the local Antiquarian Society; a small subscription list was opened, permission obtained from the owner of the property, and within a week a gang of labourers began to excavate on the cliff-top directly above the jutting cornice. The ground here showed a slight depression, and the soil proved unexpectedly deep and easy to work. On the second day, at a depth of seven feet, one of the men announced that he had come upon rock. But having spaded away the loose earth, they discovered that his pick had struck upon the edge of an extremely fine tessellated pavement, the remains apparently of a Roman villa.
Yet could this be a Roman villa? That the Romans drove their armies into Cornwall is certain enough; their coins, ornaments, and even pottery, are still found here and there; their camps can be traced. That they conquered and colonised it, however, during any of the four hundred years they occupied Britain has yet to be proved. In other parts of England the plough turns up memorials of that quiet home life with its graces which grew around these settlers and comforted their exile; and the commonest of these is the tessellated pavement with its emblems of the younger gods, the vintage, the warm south. But in the remote west, where the Celts held their savage own, no such traces have ever been found.
Could this at last be one? The pavement, cleared with care, proved of a disappointing size, measuring 8 feet by 4 at the widest. The tessellae were exceptionally beautiful and fresh in color; and each separate design represented some scene in the story of Apollo. No Bacchus with his panther-skin and Maenads, no Triton and Nymphs, no loves of Mars and Venus, no Ganymede with the eagle, no Leda, no Orpheus, no Danae, no Europa—but always and only Apollo! He was guiding his car; he was singing among the Nine; he was drawing his bow; he was flaying Marsyas; above all—the only repeated picture—he was guiding the oxen of Admetus, goad in hand, with the glory yet vivid about his hair. Could it (someone suggested) be the pavement of a temple? And, if so, how came a temple of the sun-god upon this unhomely coast?
The discovery gave rise to a small sensation and several ingenious theories, one enthusiastic philologer going so far as to derive the name Halzaphron from the Greek, interpreting it as "the salt of the west winds" or "Zephyrs," and to assert roundly that the temple (he assumed it to be a temple) dated far back beyond the Roman Invasion. This contention, though perhaps no more foolish than a dozen others, undoubtedly met with the most ridicule.
And yet in my wanderings along that coast I have come upon broken echoes, whispers, fragments of a tale, which now and again, as I tried to piece them together, wakened a suspicion that the derided philologer, with his false derivation, was yet "hot," as children say in the game of hide-and-seek.
For the stretch of sea overlooked by Halzaphron covers the lost land of Lyonnesse. Take a boat upon a clear, calm day, and, drifting, peer over the side through its shadow, and you will see the tops of tall forests waving below you. Walk the shore at low water and you may fill your pockets with beech-nuts, and sometimes—when a violent tide has displaced the sand—stumble on the trunks of large trees. Geologists dispute whether the Lyonnesse disappeared by sudden catastrophe or gradual subsidence, but they agree in condemning the fables of Florence and William of Worcester, that so late as November, 1099, the sea broke in and covered the whole tract between Cornwall and the Scillies, overwhelming on its way no less than a hundred and forty churches! They prove that, however it befell, we must date the inundation some centuries earlier. Now if my story be true—But let it be told:
* * * * *
In the year of the great tide Graul, son of Graul, was king in the Lyonnesse. He lived at peace in his city of Maenseyth, hard by the Sulleh, where the foreign traders brought their ships to anchor—sometimes from Tyre itself, oftener from the Tyrian colonies down the Spanish coast; and he ruled over a peaceful nation of tinners, herdsmen, and charcoal-burners. The charcoal came from the great forest to the eastward where Cara Clowz in Cowz, the gray rock in the wood, overlooked the Cornish frontier; his cattle pastured nearer, in the plains about the foot of the Wolves' Cairn; and his tinners camped and washed the ore in the valley-bottoms—for in those days they had no need to dig into the earth for metal, but found plenty by puddling in the river-beds.
So King Graul ruled happily over a happy people until the dark morning when a horseman came galloping to the palace of Maenseyth with a cry that the tide had broken through Crebawethan and was sweeping north and west upon the land, drowning all in its path. "Hark!" said he, "already you may hear the roar of it by Bryher!"
Yann, the King's body-servant, ran at once to the stables and brought three horses—one for Queen Niotte; one for her only child, the Princess Gwennolar; and for King Graul the red stallion, Rubh, swiftest and strongest in the royal stalls, one of the Five Wonders of Lyonnesse. More than six leagues lay between them and the Wolves' Cairn, which surely the waters could never cover; and toward it the three rode at a stretch gallop, King Graul only tightening his hand on the bridle as Rubh strained to outpace the others. As he rode he called warnings to the herdsmen and tinners who already had heard the far roar of waters and were fleeing to the hills. The cattle raced ahead of him, around him, beside him; he passed troop after troop; and among them, in fellowship, galloped foxes, badgers, hares, rabbits, weasels; even small field-mice were skurrying and entangling themselves in the long grasses, and toppling head over heels in their frenzy to escape.
But before they reached the Wolves' Cairn the three riders were alone again. Rubh alone carried his master lightly, and poised his head to sniff the wind. The other two leaned on their bridles and lagged after him, and even Rubh bore against the left-hand rein until it wearied the King's wrist. He wondered at this; but at the base of the cairn he wondered no longer, for the old gray wolf, for whose head Graul had offered a talent of silver, was loping down the hillside in full view, with her long family at her heels. She passed within a stone's throw of the King and gave him one quiet, disdainful look out of her green eyes as she headed her pack to the southward.
Then the King understood. He looked southward and saw the plain full of moving beasts. He looked northward, and two miles away the rolling downs were not, but in their place a bright line stretched taut as a string, and the string roared as if a great finger were twanging it.
Queen Niotte's horse had come to a standstill. Graul lifted and set her before him on Rubh's crupper, and called to Gwennolar to follow him. But Gwennolar's horse, too, was spent, and in a little while he drew rein and lifted her, too, and set her on the stallion's broad back behind him. Then forward he spurred again and southward after the wolves—with a pack fiercer than wolves shouting at Rubh's heels, nearer and yet nearer.
And Rubh galloped, yet not as before; for this Gwennolar was a witch—a child of sixteen, golden-tressed, innocent to look upon as a bird of the air. Her parents found no fault in her, for she was their only one. None but the Devil, whom she had bound to serve her for a year and a day, knew of her lovers—the dark young sailors from the ships of Tyre, who came ashore and never sailed again nor were seen—or beneath what beach their bodies lay in a row. To-day his date was up, and in this flood he was taking his wages.
Gwennolar wreathed her white arms around her father and clung to him, while her blown hair streamed like gold over his beard. And King Graul set his teeth and rode to save the pair whom he knew to be dearest and believed to be best. But if Niotte weighed like a feather, Gwennolar with her wickedness began to weigh like lead—and more heavily yet, until the stallion could scarcely heave his strong loins forward, as now the earth grew moist about his hoofs. For far ahead of the white surge-line the land was melting and losing its features; trickles of water threading the green pastures, channelling the ditches, widening out into pools among the hollows—traps and pitfalls to be skirted, increasing in number while the sun sank behind and still the great rock of Cara Clowz showed far away above the green forest.
Rubh's head was leaning and his lungs throbbed against the King's heels. Yet he held on. He had overtaken the wolves; and Graul, thinking no longer of deliverance, watched the pack streaming beside him but always falling back and a little back until even the great gray dam dropped behind. A minute later a scream rang close to his ear; the stallion leaped as if at a water-brook, and as suddenly sank backward with a dozen wolves on his haunches.
"Father!" shrieked Gwennolar. "Father!" He felt her arms dragged from around his neck. With an arm over his wife Niotte he crouched, waiting for the fangs to pierce his neck. And while he waited, to his amazement the horse staggered up, shook himself, and was off with a bound, fleet as an arrow, fleeter than ever before, yet not fleeter than the pack now running again and fresh beside him. He looked back. Gwennolar rose to her knees on the turf where the wolves had pulled her down and left her unhurt; she stretched out both arms to him, and called once. The sun dipped behind her, and between her and the sun the tide—a long bright-edged knife—came sweeping and cut her down. Then it seemed as if the wolves had relinquished to the waters not their prey only but their own fierce instinct; for the waves paused at the body and played with it, nosing and tumbling it over and over, lifting it curiously, laying it down again on the green knoll, and then withdrawing in a circle while they took heart to rush upon it all together and toss it high, exultant and shouting. And during that pause the fugitives gained many priceless furlongs.
They reached the skirts of the great forest and dashed into its twilight, crouching low while Rubh tore his way between the gray beech-trunks and leaped the tangles of brier, but startled no life from bough or undergrowth. Beast and reptile had fled inland; and the birds hung and circled over the tree-tops without thought of roosting. Graul's right arm tightened about his wife's waist, but his left hand did no more than grasp the rein. He trusted to the stallion, and through twilight and darkness alike Rubh held his course.
When at length he slackened speed and came to a halt with a shudder, Graul looked up and saw the stars overhead and a glimmering scarp of granite, and knew it for the gray rock, Cara Clowz. By the base of it he lowered Niotte to the ground, dismounted, and began to climb, leading Rubh by the bridle and seeking for a pathway. Behind him the voices of crashing trees filled the windless night. He found a ledge at length, and there the three huddled together—Niotte between swooning and sleep, Graul seated beside her, and Rubh standing patient, waiting for the day. When the crashing ceased around them, the King could hear the soft flakes of sweat dripping from the stallion's belly, and saw the stars reflected now from the floor where his forest had stood. Day broke, and the Lyonnesse had vanished. Forest and pasture, city, mart and haven—away to the horizon a heaving sea covered all. Of his kingdom there remained only a thin strip of coast, marching beside the Cornish border, and this sentinel rock, standing as it stands to-day, then called Cara Clowz, and now St. Michael's Mount.
If you have visited it, you will know that the mount stands about half a mile from the mainland; an island except at low water, when you reach it by a stone causeway. Here, on the summit, Graul and Niotte built themselves a house, asking no more of life than a roof to shelter them; for they had no child to build for, and their spirit was broken. The little remnant of their nation settled in Marazion on the mainland, or southward along the strip of coast, and set themselves to learn a new calling. As the sea cast up the bodies of their drowned cattle and the trunks of uprooted trees, they took hides and timber and fashioned boats and launched forth to win their food. They lowered nets and wicker pots through the heaving floor deep into the twilight, and, groping across their remembered fields, drew pollack and conger, shellfish and whiting from rocks where shepherds had sat to watch their sheep, or tinners gathered at noonday for talk and dinner. At first it was as if a man returning at night to his house and, finding it unlit, should feel in the familiar cupboard for food and start back from touch of a monstrous body, cold and unknown. Time and use deadened the shock. They were not happy, for they remembered days of old; but they endured, they fought off hunger, they earned sleep; and their King, as he watched from Cara Clowz their dark sails moving out against the sunset, could give thanks that the last misery had been spared his people.
But there were dawns which discovered one or two missing from the tale of boats, home-comings with heavy news for freight, knots of women and children with blown wet hair awaiting it, white faces and the wails of widow and orphan. The days drew in and this began to happen often—so often that a tale grew with it and spread, until it had reached all ears but those of King Graul and Queen Motte.
One black noon in November a company of men crossed the sands at low-water and demanded to speak with the King.
"Speak, my children," said Graul. He knew that they loved him and might count on his sharing the last crust with them.
"We are come," said the spokesman, "not for ourselves, but for our wives and children. For us life is none too pleasant; but they need men's hands to find food for them, and at this rate there will soon be no men of our nation left."
"But how can I help you?" asked the King.
"That we know not; but it is your daughter Gwennolar who undoes us. She lies out yonder beneath the waters, and through the night she calls to men, luring them down to their death. I myself—all of us here—have heard her; and the younger men it maddens. With singing and witch fires she lures our boats to the reefs and takes toll of us, lulling even the elders to dream, cheating them with the firelight and voices of their homes."
Now the thoughts of Graul and Niotte were with their daughter continually. That she should have been lost and they saved, who cared so little for life and nothing for life without her—that was their abiding sorrow and wonder and self-reproach. Why had Graul not turned Rubh's head perforce and ridden back to die with her, since help her he could not? Many times a day he asked himself this; and though Niotte's lips had never spoken it, her eyes asked it too. At night he would hear her breath pause at his side, and knew she was thinking of their child out yonder in the cold waters.
"She calls to us also," he answered, and checked himself.
"So it is plain her spirit is alive yet, and she must be a witch," said the spokesman, readily.
The King rent his clothes. "My daughter is no witch!" he cried. "But I left her to die, and she suffers."
"Our lads follow her. She calls to them and they perish."
"It is not Gwennolar who calls, but some evil thing which counterfeits her. She was innocent as the day. Nevertheless your sons shall not perish, nor you accuse her. From this day your boats shall have a lantern on this rock to guide them, and I and my wife will tend it with our own hands."
Thenceforward at sunset with their own hands Graul and Niotte lit and hung out a lantern from the niche which stands to this day and is known as St. Michael's Chair; and trimmed it, and tended it the night through, taking turns to watch. Niotte, doited with years and sorrow, believed that it shone to signal her lost child home. Her hands trembled every night as Graul lit the wick, and she arched her palms above to shield it from the wind. She was happier than her husband.
Gwennolar's spell defied the lantern and their tottering pains. Boats were lost, men perished as before. The people tried a new appeal. It was the women's turn to lay their grief at the King's door. They crossed the sands by ones and twos—-widows, childless mothers, maids betrothed and bereaved—and spread their dark skirts and sat before the gateway. Niotte brought them food with her own hands; they took it without thanks. All the day they sat silent, and Graul felt their silence to be heavier than curses—nay, that their eyes did indeed curse as they sat around and watched the lighting of the lantern, and Niotte, nodding innocently at her arched hands, told them, "See, I pray; cannot you pray too?"
But the King's prayer was spoken in the morning, when the flame and the stars grew pale together and the smoke of the extinguished lamp sickened his soul in the clean air. His gods were gone with the oaks under which he had worshipped; but he stood on a rock apart from the women and, lifting both hands, cried aloud: "If there be any gods above the tree-tops, or any in the far seas whither the old fame of King Graul has reached; if ever I did kindness to a stranger or wayfarer, and he, returning to his own altars, remembered to speak of Graul of Lyonnesse: may I, who ever sought to give help, receive help now! From my youth I have believed that around me, beyond sight as surely as within it, stretched goodness answering the goodness in my own heart; yea, though I should never travel and find it, I trusted it was there. O trust, betray me not! O kindness, how far soever dwelling, speak comfort and help! For I am afflicted because of my people."
Seven mornings he prayed thus on his rock: and on the seventh, his prayer ended, he stood watching while the sunrays, like dogs shepherding a flock, searched in the mists westward and gathered up the tale of boats one by one. While he counted them, the shoreward breeze twanged once like a harp, and he heard a fresh young voice singing from the base of the cliff at his feet—
"There lived a king in Argos,— A merchantman in Tyre Would sell the King his cargoes, But took his heart's desire: Sing Io, Io, Io!—"
Graul looked toward his wife. "That will be the boy Laian," said Motte; "he sits on the rock below and sings at his fishing."
"The song is a strange one," said Graul; "and never had Laian voice like that."
The singer mounted the cliff—
"The father of that merry may A thousand towns he made to pay, And lapp'd the world in fire!"
He stood before them—a handsome, smiling youth, with a crust of brine on his blue sea-cloak, and the light of the morning in his hair. "Salutation, O Graul!" said he, and looked so cordial and well-willing that the King turned to him from the dead lamp and the hooded women as one turns to daylight from an evil dream.
"Salutation, O Stranger!" he answered. "You come to a poor man, but are welcome—you and your shipmates."
"I travel alone," said the youth; "and my business—"
But the King put up his hand. "We ask no man his business until he has feasted."
"I feast not in a house of mourning; and my business is better spoken soon than late, seeing that I heal griefs."
"If that be so," answered Graul, "you come to those who are fain of you." And then and there he told of Gwennolar. "The blessing of blessings rest on him who can still my child's voice and deliver her from my people's curse!"
The Stranger listened, and threw back his head. "I said I could heal griefs. But I cannot cure fate; nor will a wise man ask it. Pain you must suffer, but I can soothe it; sorrow, but I can help you to forget; death, but I can brace you for it."
"Can death be welcomed," asked Graul, "save by those who find life worse?"
"You shall see." He stepped to the mourning women, and took the eldest by the hand. At first he whispered to her—in a voice so low that Graul heard nothing, but saw her brow relax, and that she listened while the blood came slowly back to her cheeks.
"Of what are you telling her?" the King demanded.
"Hush!" said the Stranger, "Go, fetch me a harp."
Graul brought a harp. It was mute and dusty, with a tangle of strings; but the Stranger set it against his knee, and began to mend it deftly, talking the while in murmurs as a brook talks in a covert of cresses. By and by as he fitted a string he would touch and make it hum on a word—softly at first, and with long intervals—as though all its music lay dark and tangled in chaos, and he were exploring and picking out a note here and a note there to fit his song. There was trouble in his voice, and restlessness, and a low, eager striving, and a hope which grew as the notes came oftener, and lingered and thrilled on them. Then his fingers caught the strings together, and pulled the first chord: it came out of the depths with a great sob—a soul set free. Other souls behind it rose to his fingers, and he plucked them forth, faster and faster—some wailing, some laughing fiercely, but each with the echo of a great pit, the clang of doors, and the mutter of an army pressing at its heels. And now the mourners leaned forward, and forgot all except to listen, for he was singing the Creation. He sang up the stars and set them in procession; he sang forth the sun from his chamber; he lifted the heads of the mountains and hitched on their mantles of green forest; he scattered the uplands with sheep, and the upper air with clouds; he called the west wind, and it came with a rustle of wings; he broke the rock into water and led it dancing down the cliffs, and spread it in marshes, and sent it spouting and hurrying in channels. Flowers trooped to the lip of it, wild beasts slunk down to drink; armies of corn spread in rank along it, and men followed with sickles, chanting the hymn of Linus; and after them, with children at the breast, women stooped to glean or strode upright bearing baskets of food. Over their heads days and nights hurried in short flashes, and the seasons overtook them while they rested, and drowned them in showers of bloom, and overtopped their bodies with fresh corn: but the children caught up the sickles and ran on. To some—shining figures in the host—he gave names; and they shone because they moved in the separate light of divine eyes watching them, rays breaking the thickets or hovering down from heights where the gods sat at their ease.
But before this the men had brought their boats to shore, and hurried to the Mount, drawn by his harping. They pressed around him in a ring; and at first they were sad, since of what he sang they remembered the like in Lyonnesse—plough and sickle and flail, nesting birds and harvest, flakes of ore in the river-beds, dinner in the shade, and the plain beyond winking in the noon-day heat. They had come too late for the throes of his music, when the freed spirit trembled for a little on the threshold, fronting the dawn, but with the fire of the pit behind it and red on its trailing skirt. The song rolled forward now like a river, sweeping them past shores where they desired to linger. But the Stranger fastened his eyes on them, and sang them out to broad bars and sounding tumbling seas, where the wind piped, and the breeze came salt, and the spray slapped over the prow, hardening men to heroes. Then the days of their regret seemed to them good only for children, and the life they had loathed took a new face; their eyes opened upon it, and they saw it whole, and loved it for its largeness. "Beyond! beyond! beyond!"—they stared down on the fingers plucking the chords, but the voice of the harp sounded far up and along the horizon.
And with that quite suddenly it came back, and was speaking close at hand, as a friend telling them a simple tale; a tale which all could understand, though of a country unknown to them. Thus it ran:
"In Hellas, in the kingdom of Argos, there lived two brothers, Cleobis and Biton—young men, well to do, and of great strength of body, so that each had won a crown in the public games. Now, once, when the Argives were keeping a festival of the goddess Hera, their mother had need to be driven to the temple in her chariot, but the oxen did not return from the field in time. The young men, therefore, seeing that the hour was late, put the yoke on their own necks, and drew the car in which their mother sat, and brought her to the temple, which was forty-five stades away. This they did in sight of the multitude assembled; and the men commended their strength, while the women called her blessed to be the mother of such sons. But she, overjoyed at the deed and its renown, entered the temple and, standing before the image of Hera, prayed the goddess to grant her two sons, Cleobis and Biton, the greatest boon which could fall to man. After she had prayed, and they had sacrificed and eaten of the feast, the young men sat down in the temple and fell asleep, and never awoke again, but so made an end with life. In this wise the blessing of Hera came to them; and the men of Argos caused statues to be made of them and set up at Delphi, for a memorial of their piety and its reward."
Thus quietly the great song ended, and Graul, looking around on his people, saw on their faces a cheerfulness they had not known since the day of the flood.
"Sir," said he, "yours is the half of my poor kingdom and yours the inheritance, if you will abide with us and sing us more of these songs."
"For that service," answered the Stranger, "I am come; but not for the reward. Give me only a hide of land somewhere upon your cliffs, and there will I build a house and sing to all who have need of me."
So he did; and the fable goes on to say that never were known in the remnant of Lyonesse such seasons as followed, nor ever will be. The fish crowded to the nets, the cliffs waved with harvest. Heavy were the nets to haul and laborious was the reaping, but the people forgot their aches when the hour came to sit at the Stranger's feet and listen, and drink the wine which he taught them to plant. For his part he toiled not at all, but descended at daybreak and nightfall to bathe in the sea, and returned with the brine on his curls and his youth renewed upon him. He never slept; and they, too, felt little need of sleep, but drank and sang the night away, refreshed by the sacred dews, watching for the moon to rise over the rounded cornfields, or for her feet to touch the sea and shed silver about the boats in the offing. Out yonder Gwennolar sang and took her toll of life as before; but the people heeded less, and soon forgot even when their dearest perished. Other things than sorrow they began to unlearn. They had been a shamefaced race; the men shy and the women chaste. But the Stranger knew nothing of shame; nor was it possible to think harm where he, their leader, so plainly saw none. Naked he led them from the drinking-bout down the west stairway to the bathing-pool, and naked they plunged in and splashed around him and laughed as the cool shock scattered the night's languor and the wine-fumes. What mattered anything?—what they did, or what they suffered, or what news the home-coming boats might bring? They were blithe for the moment and lusty for the day's work, and with night again would come drink and song of the amorous gods; or if by chance the Singer should choose another note and tell of Procris or of Philomela, they could weep softly for others' woes and, so weeping, quite forget their own.
And the fable goes on to say that for three years by these means the Stranger healed the griefs of the people of Lyonnesse, until one night when they sat around he told them the story of Ion; and if the Stranger were indeed Phoebus Apollo himself, shameless was the telling. But while they listened, wrapped in the story, a cry broke on the night above the murmur of the beaches—a voice from the cliff below them, calling "Repent! Repent!"
They leaped to their feet at once, and hurried down the stairway. But the beach was empty; and though they hunted for an hour, they found no one. Yet the next night and every night after the same voice called "Repent! Repent!" They hurled down stones upon it and threatened it with vengeance; but it was not to be scared. And by and by the Stranger missed a face from his circle, then another. At length came a night when he counted but half of his company.
He said no word of the missing ones; but early next morning, when the folk had set out to their labors in the fields, he took a staff and walked along the shore toward the Mount. A little beyond Parc-an-als, where a spring gushes from the face of the cliff, he came upon a man who stood under it catching the trickle in a stone basin, and halted a few paces off to watch him. The man's hair and beard were long and unkempt, his legs bare, and he wore a tattered tunic which reached below the knees and was caught about his waist with a thong girdle. For some minutes he did not perceive the Singer; but turned at length, and the two eyed each other awhile.
Then the Singer advanced smiling, while the other frowned.
"Thou hast followed me," he said.
"I have followed and found thee," the other answered.
"Leven," said the man. "I come out of Ireland."
"The Nazarite travels far; but this spot He overlooked on his travels, and the people had need. I brought them help; but they desert me now—for thee doubtless?"
The Saint bent his head. The Singer laughed.
"He is strong, but the old gods bear no malice. I go to-night to join their sleep, but I have loved this folk in a fashion. I pitied their woes and brought them solace: I taught them to forget—and in the forgetting maybe they have learned much that thou wilt have to unteach. Yet deal gently with them. They are children, and too often you holy men come with bands of iron. Shall we sit and talk awhile together, for their sakes?"
And the fable says that for a long day St. Leven sat on the sands of the Porth which now bears his name, and talked with the Singer; and, that in consequence, to this day the descendants of the people of Lyonnesse praise God in cheerfuller hymns than the rest of the world uses—so much so that a company of minstrels visiting them not long ago were surprised in the midst of a drinking-chorus to find the audience tittering, and to learn afterward that they had chanted the most popular local burying-tunes!
Twilight had fallen before the Stranger rose and took his farewell. On his way back he spied a company approaching along the dusky shore, and drew aside behind a rock while they passed toward the Saint's dwelling. He found his own deserted. Of his old friends either none had come or none had waited; and away on a distant beach rose the faint chant of St. Patrick's Hymn of the Guardsman:
"Christ the eye, the ear, the heart, Christ above, before, behind me; From the snare, the sword, the dart, On the Trinity I bind me— Christi est salus, Christi est salus, Salus tua, Domine, sit semper nobiscum!"