H. P. Lovecraft ~ Polaris

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Into the North Window of my chamber glows the Pole Star with uncanny light. All through the long hellish hours of blackness it shines there. And in the autumn of the year, when the winds from the north curse and whine, and the red-leaved trees of the swamp mutter things to one another in the small hours of the morning under the horned waning moon, I sit by the casement and watch that star. Down from the heights reels the glittering Cassiopeia as the hours wear on, while Charles’ Wain lumbers up from behind the vapour-soaked swamp trees that sway in the night wind. Just before dawn Arcturus winks ruddily from above the cemetery on the low hillock, and Coma Berenices shimmers weirdly afar off in the mysterious east; but still the Pole Star leers down from the same place in the black vault, winking hideously like an insane watching eye which strives to convey some strange message, yet recalls nothing save that it once had a message to convey. Sometimes, when it is cloudy, I can sleep.

Well do I remember the night of the great Aurora, when over the swamp played the shocking corruscations of the daemon light. After the beam came clouds, and then I slept.

And it was under a horned waning moon that I saw the city for the first time. Still and somnolent did it lie, on a strange plateau in a hollow between strange peaks. Of ghastly marble were its walls and its towers, its columns, domes, and pavements. In the marble streets were marble pillars, the upper parts of which were carven into the images of grave bearded men. The air was warm and stirred not. And overhead, scarce ten degrees from the zenith, glowed that watching Pole Star. Long did I gaze on the city, but the day came not. When the red Aldebaran, which blinked low in the sky but never set, had crawled a quarter of the way around the horizon, I saw light and motion in the houses and the streets. Forms

strangely robed, but at once noble and familiar, walked abroad and under the horned waning moon men talked wisdom in a tongue which I understood, though it was unlike any language which I had ever known. And when the red Aldebaran had crawled more than half-way around the horizon, there were again darkness and silence.

When I awaked, I was not as I had been. Upon my memory was graven the vision of the city, and within my soul had arisen another and vaguer recollection, of whose nature I was not then certain. Thereafter, on the cloudy nights when I could not sleep, I saw the city often; sometimes under the hot, yellow rays of a sun which did not set, but which wheeled low in the horizon. And on the clear nights the Pole Star leered as never before.

Gradually I came to wonder what might be my place in that city on the strange plateau betwixt strange peaks. At first content to view the scene as an all-observant uncorporeal presence, I now desired to define my relation to it, and to speak my mind amongst the grave men who conversed each day in the public squares. I said to myself, “This is no dream, for by what means can I prove the greater reality of that other life in the house of stone and brick south of the sinister swamp and the cemetery on the low hillock, where the Pole Star peeps into my north window each night?”

One night as I listened to the discourses in the large square containing many statues, I felt a change; and perceived that I had at last a bodily form. Nor was I a stranger in the streets of Olathoe, which lies on the plateau of Sarkia, betwixt the peaks of Noton and Kadiphonek. It was my friend Alos who spoke, and his speech was one that pleased my soul, for it was the speech of a true man and patriot. That night had the news come of Daikos’ fall, and of the advance of the Inutos; squat, hellish yellow fiends who five years ago had appeared out of the unknown west to ravage the confines of our kingdom, and to besiege many of our towns. Having taken the fortified places at the foot of the mountains, their way now lay open to the plateau, unless every citizen could resist with the strength of ten men. For the squat creatures were mighty in the arts of war, and knew not the scruples of honour which held back our tall, grey-eyed men of Lomar from ruthless conquest.

Alos, my friend, was commander of all the forces on the plateau, and in him lay the last hope of our country. On this occasion he spoke of the perils to be faced and exhorted the men of Olathoe, bravest of the Lomarians, to sustain the traditions of their ancestors, who when forced to move southward from Zobna before the advance of the great ice sheet (even as our descendents must some day flee from the land of Lomar) valiantly and victoriously swept aside the hairy, long-armed, cannibal Gnophkehs that stood in their way. To me Alos denied the warriors part, for I was feeble and given to strange faintings when subjected to stress and hardships. But my eyes were the keenest in the city, despite the long hours I gave each day to the study of the Pnakotic manuscripts and the wisdom of the Zobnarian Fathers; so my friend, desiring not to doom me to inaction, rewarded me with that duty which was second to nothing in importance. To the watchtower of Thapnen he sent me, there to serve as the eyes of our army. Should the Inutos attempt to gain the citadel by the narrow pass behind the peak Noton and thereby surprise the garrison, I was to give the signal of fire which would warn the waiting soldiers and save the town from immediate disaster.

Alone I mounted the tower, for every man of stout body was needed in the passes below. My brain was sore dazed with excitement and fatigue, for I had not slept in many days; yet was my purpose firm, for I loved my native land of Lomar, and the marble city Olathoe that lies betwixt the peaks Noton and Kadiphonek.

But as I stood in the tower’s topmost chamber, I beheld the horned waning moon, red and sinister, quivering through the vapours that hovered over the distant valley of Banof. And through an opening in the roof glittered the pale Pole Star, fluttering as if alive, and leering like a fiend and tempter. Methought its spirit whispered evil counsel, soothing me to traitorous somnolence with a damnable rhythmical promise which it repeated over and over:

Slumber, watcher, till the spheres.
Six and twenty thousand years
Have revolv’d, and I return
To the spot where now I burn.
Other stars anon shall rise
To the axis of the skies;
Stars that soothe and stars that bless
With a sweet forgetfulness:
Only when my round is o’er
Shall the past disturb thy door.

Vainly did I struggle with my drowsiness, seeking to connect these strange words with some lore of the skies which I had learnt from the Pnakotic manuscripts. My head, heavy and reeling, drooped to my breast, and when next I looked up it was in a dream, with the Pole Star grinning at me through a window from over the horrible and swaying trees of a dream swamp. And I am still dreaming. In my shame and despair I sometimes scream frantically, begging the dream-creatures around me to waken me ere the Inutos steal up the pass behind the peak Noton and take the citadel by surprise; but these creatures are daemons, for they laugh at me and tell me I am not dreaming. They mock me whilst I sleep, and whilst the squat yellow foe may be creeping silently upon us. I have failed in my duties and betrayed the marble city of Olathoe; I have proven false to Alos, my friend and commander. But still these shadows of my dreams deride me. They say there is no land of Lomar, save in my nocturnal imaginings that in these realms where the Pole Star shines high, and red Aldebaran crawls low around the horizon, there has been naught save ice and snow for thousands of years of years, and never a man save squat, yellow creatures, blighted by the cold, called “Esquimaux.”

And as I writhe in my guilty agony, frantic to save the city whose peril every moment grows, and vainly striving to shake off this unnatural dream of a house of stone and brick south of a sinister swamp and a cemetery on a low hillock, the Pole Star, evil and monstrous, leers down from the black vault, winking hideously like an insane watching eye which strives to convey some message, yet recalls nothing save that it once had a message to convey.

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Lee Todd Lacks ~ Plunge

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Keep silent secrets
moistening under where her
slip shows below her
thighs, earthy-scented, ebbing
like a tidal pool at dawn.

Sweet, barefoot kisses
let bashful hands pass freely
upskirt, gingerly
plucking at cotton bloomers
till she tears them off herself.

Hands and knees splayed in
the sand, her comely
back end beckoning
lover lies beneath her loins,
hummingbird tongues the roses.

Tensing, warm, and wet,
a surge of unbearable
ecstasy, crashing
waves dampen what would have been
a most indelicate scream.

 

Lee Todd Lacks seeks to blur the distinctions between rants, chants, anecdotes, and anthems.  His experience of living with significant vision and hearing deficits often informs his writing and artwork, which have appeared in The Monarch Review, Bop Dead City, Liquid Imagination, Crack The Spine, The Quarterday Review, Tincture Journal, Yellow Chair Review, Danse Macabre, and elsewhere. His poem, “Durgin-Park,” won the Bop Dead City Beginnings Contest in July of 2015. In October of 2015, his spoken-word poem, “Holocaust Memorial,” won the Blue Monday Review Storytime Challenge.  Lee Todd and his family currently reside in Southern Maine.

Thomas Hardy ~ A Few Crusted Characters

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Crusted Characters a

 

Thomas Hardy, Murder Suspect
A Foreward
I first encountered Hardy’s work through Jude the Obscure before I flunked out of (actually ran away from) Georgetown University during my freshman year – too much religion, too many drunk frat boys, too many Republicans, too many bland waspy females and hardly any art, rock n roll or drugs. I groaned when I received the book in my literature class; however, I was startled by the work as I started to read it and finished the novel quite quickly. Like Poe (my hero), Hardy considered himself a poet first and a prose writer second. Maybe that’s why his writing seemed so evocative and fresh to me. I followed Jude with Far from the Madding Crowd and then Tess of the d’Urbervilles (my favorite). Then I stopped reading him and concentrated on the Symbolists, Decadents, Dadaists, and Surrealists. However, the scene of Jude struggling to avoid crushing worms (which I always envisioned as copulating worms) always stayed with me and I believe his work in some subliminal way has informed my own writing.
God controls and punishes all the innate kindness that humans exhibit. The worms are in danger of being crushed under the heels of Jude’s boot, but Jude is able to pass through the field without harming a single one, since he does not want to hurt a single living creature. This character trait is presented by the narrator as a fault that will cause Jude much anguish later in life – as he experiences the unpleasantness of the World’s “boot.”
Hardy developed his own religious and spiritual beliefs but was afraid to become totally committed to his own system, as if the angry Jehovah would smite him for obscenities and heresy. He appears to believe in spiritual forces, but can’t commit to anything
We are presented with A Few Crusted Characters a poignant collection of character sketches, where we come to realize the memory is better than the reality (shades of Thomas Wolfe). A man is returning to his hometown of Longpuddle, 35 years after leaving it. He is returning so he can settle down in his old hometown, perhaps for security or perhaps for comfort. Maybe he is escaping something in the cold world “out there” that he had no doubt rushed to enter 35 years ago – seeking adventure, love and promise – leaving his boring “hometown” behind. Perhaps he has come back empty inside or scared. Perhaps he has become a victim of the World’s “boot” as we described above and yearns to return to the womb. He rides in the coach with passengers who remember and describe people he had known and ends with the man attaining some insights into his own quest for a return to the past. The paradigm shifts. Memory lies. Hope is murdered.
Peter Marra, June 2016, New York City

 

Thomas Hardy
A Few Crusted Characters

It is a Saturday afternoon of blue and yellow autumn time, and the scene is the High Street of a well-known market-town.  A large carrier’s van stands in the quadrangular fore-court of the White Hart Inn, upon the sides of its spacious tilt being painted, in weather-beaten letters: ‘Burthen, Carrier to Longpuddle.’  These vans, so numerous hereabout, are a respectable, if somewhat lumbering, class of conveyance, much resorted to by decent travellers not overstocked with money, the better among them roughly corresponding to the old French diligences.

The present one is timed to leave the town at four in the afternoon precisely, and it is now half-past three by the clock in the turret at the top of the street.  In a few seconds errand-boys from the shops begin to arrive with packages, which they fling into the vehicle, and turn away whistling, and care for the packages no more.  At twenty minutes to four an elderly woman places her basket upon the shafts, slowly mounts, takes up a seat inside, and folds her hands and her lips.  She has secured her corner for the journey, though there is as yet no sign of a horse being put in, nor of a carrier.  At the three-quarters, two other women arrive, in whom the first recognizes the postmistress of Upper Longpuddle and the registrar’s wife, they recognizing her as the aged groceress of the same village.  At five minutes to the hour there approach Mr. Profitt, the schoolmaster, in a soft felt hat, and Christopher Twink, the master-thatcher; and as the hour strikes there rapidly drop in the parish clerk and his wife, the seedsman and his aged father, the registrar; also Mr. Day, the world-ignored local landscape-painter, an elderly man who resides in his native place, and has never sold a picture outside it, though his pretensions to art have been nobly supported by his fellow-villagers, whose confidence in his genius has been as remarkable as the outer neglect of it, leading them to buy his paintings so extensively (at the price of a few shillings each, it is true) that every dwelling in the parish exhibits three or four of those admired productions on its walls.

Burthen, the carrier, is by this time seen bustling round the vehicle; the horses are put in, the proprietor arranges the reins and springs up into his seat as if he were used to it—which he is.

‘Is everybody here?’ he asks preparatorily over his shoulder to the passengers within.

As those who were not there did not reply in the negative the muster was assumed to be complete, and after a few hitches and hindrances the van with its human freight was got under way.  It jogged on at an easy pace till it reached the bridge which formed the last outpost of the town.  The carrier pulled up suddenly.

‘Bless my soul!’ he said, ‘I’ve forgot the curate!’

All who could do so gazed from the little back window of the van, but the curate was not in sight.

‘Now I wonder where that there man is?’ continued the carrier.

‘Poor man, he ought to have a living at his time of life.’

‘And he ought to be punctual,’ said the carrier.  ‘“Four o’clock sharp is my time for starting,” I said to ’en.  And he said, “I’ll be there.”  Now he’s not here, and as a serious old church-minister he ought to be as good as his word.  Perhaps Mr. Flaxton knows, being in the same line of life?’  He turned to the parish clerk.

‘I was talking an immense deal with him, that’s true, half an hour ago,’ replied that ecclesiastic, as one of whom it was no erroneous supposition that he should be on intimate terms with another of the cloth.  ‘But he didn’t say he would be late.’

The discussion was cut off by the appearance round the corner of the van of rays from the curate’s spectacles, followed hastily by his face and a few white whiskers, and the swinging tails of his long gaunt coat.  Nobody reproached him, seeing how he was reproaching himself; and he entered breathlessly and took his seat.

‘Now be we all here?’ said the carrier again.  They started a second time, and moved on till they were about three hundred yards out of the town, and had nearly reached the second bridge, behind which, as every native remembers, the road takes a turn and travellers by this highway disappear finally from the view of gazing burghers.

‘Well, as I’m alive!’ cried the postmistress from the interior of the conveyance, peering through the little square back-window along the road townward.

‘What?’ said the carrier.

‘A man hailing us!’

Another sudden stoppage.  ‘Somebody else?’ the carrier asked.

‘Ay, sure!’  All waited silently, while those who could gaze out did so.

‘Now, who can that be?’ Burthen continued.  ‘I just put it to ye, neighbours, can any man keep time with such hindrances?  Bain’t we full a’ready?  Who in the world can the man be?’

‘He’s a sort of gentleman,’ said the schoolmaster, his position commanding the road more comfortably than that of his comrades.

The stranger, who had been holding up his umbrella to attract their notice, was walking forward leisurely enough, now that he found, by their stopping, that it had been secured.  His clothes were decidedly not of a local cut, though it was difficult to point out any particular mark of difference.  In his left hand he carried a small leather travelling bag.  As soon as he had overtaken the van he glanced at the inscription on its side, as if to assure himself that he had hailed the right conveyance, and asked if they had room.

The carrier replied that though they were pretty well laden he supposed they could carry one more, whereupon the stranger mounted, and took the seat cleared for him within.  And then the horses made another move, this time for good, and swung along with their burden of fourteen souls all told.

‘You bain’t one of these parts, sir?’ said the carrier.  ‘I could tell that as far as I could see ’ee.’

‘Yes, I am one of these parts,’ said the stranger.

‘Oh?  H’m.’

The silence which followed seemed to imply a doubt of the truth of the new-comer’s assertion.  ‘I was speaking of Upper Longpuddle more particular,’ continued the carrier hardily, ‘and I think I know most faces of that valley.’

‘I was born at Longpuddle, and nursed at Longpuddle, and my father and grandfather before me,’ said the passenger quietly.

‘Why, to be sure,’ said the aged groceress in the background, ‘it isn’t John Lackland’s son—never—it can’t be—he who went to foreign parts five-and-thirty years ago with his wife and family?  Yet—what do I hear?—that’s his father’s voice!’

‘That’s the man,’ replied the stranger.  ‘John Lackland was my father, and I am John Lackland’s son.  Five-and-thirty years ago, when I was a boy of eleven, my parents emigrated across the seas, taking me and my sister with them.  Kytes’s boy Tony was the one who drove us and our belongings to Casterbridge on the morning we left; and his was the last Longpuddle face I saw.  We sailed the same week across the ocean, and there we’ve been ever since, and there I’ve left those I went with—all three.’

‘Alive or dead?’

‘Dead,’ he replied in a low voice.  ‘And I have come back to the old place, having nourished a thought—not a definite intention, but just a thought—that I should like to return here in a year or two, to spend the remainder of my days.’

‘Married man, Mr. Lackland?’

‘No.’

‘And have the world used ’ee well, sir—or rather John, knowing ’ee as a child?  In these rich new countries that we hear of so much, you’ve got rich with the rest?’

‘I am not very rich,’ Mr. Lackland said.  ‘Even in new countries, you know, there are failures.  The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; and even if it sometimes is, you may be neither swift nor strong.  However, that’s enough about me.  Now, having answered your inquiries, you must answer mine; for being in London, I have come down here entirely to discover what Longpuddle is looking like, and who are living there.  That was why I preferred a seat in your van to hiring a carriage for driving across.’

‘Well, as for Longpuddle, we rub on there much as usual.  Old figures have dropped out o’ their frames, so to speak it, and new ones have been put in their places.  You mentioned Tony Kytes as having been the one to drive your family and your goods to Casterbridge in his father’s waggon when you left.  Tony is, I believe, living still, but not at Longpuddle.  He went away and settled at Lewgate, near Mellstock, after his marriage.  Ah, Tony was a sort o’ man!’

‘His character had hardly come out when I knew him.’

‘No.  But ’twas well enough, as far as that goes—except as to women.  I shall never forget his courting—never!’

The returned villager waited silently, and the carrier went on:—

 

TONY KYTES, THE ARCH-DECEIVER

‘I shall never forget Tony’s face.  ’Twas a little, round, firm, tight face, with a seam here and there left by the smallpox, but not enough to hurt his looks in a woman’s eye, though he’d had it badish when he was a boy.  So very serious looking and unsmiling ’a was, that young man, that it really seemed as if he couldn’t laugh at all without great pain to his conscience.  He looked very hard at a small speck in your eye when talking to ’ee.  And there was no more sign of a whisker or beard on Tony Kytes’s face than on the palm of my hand.  He used to sing “The Tailor’s Breeches” with a religious manner, as if it were a hymn:—

‘“O the petticoats went off, and the breeches they went on!”

and all the rest of the scandalous stuff.  He was quite the women’s favourite, and in return for their likings he loved ’em in shoals.

‘But in course of time Tony got fixed down to one in particular, Milly Richards, a nice, light, small, tender little thing; and it was soon said that they were engaged to be married.  One Saturday he had been to market to do business for his father, and was driving home the waggon in the afternoon.  When he reached the foot of the very hill we shall be going over in ten minutes who should he see waiting for him at the top but Unity Sallet, a handsome girl, one of the young women he’d been very tender toward before he’d got engaged to Milly.

‘As soon as Tony came up to her she said, “My dear Tony, will you give me a lift home?”

‘“That I will, darling,” said Tony.  “You don’t suppose I could refuse ’ee?”

‘She smiled a smile, and up she hopped, and on drove Tony.

‘“Tony,” she says, in a sort of tender chide, “why did ye desert me for that other one?  In what is she better than I?  I should have made ’ee a finer wife, and a more loving one too.  ’Tisn’t girls that are so easily won at first that are the best.  Think how long we’ve known each other—ever since we were children almost—now haven’t we, Tony?”

‘“Yes, that we have,” says Tony, a-struck with the truth o’t.

‘“And you’ve never seen anything in me to complain of, have ye, Tony?  Now tell the truth to me?”

‘“I never have, upon my life,” says Tony.

‘“And—can you say I’m not pretty, Tony?  Now look at me!”

‘He let his eyes light upon her for a long while.  “I really can’t,” says he.  “In fact, I never knowed you was so pretty before!”

‘“Prettier than she?”

‘What Tony would have said to that nobody knows, for before he could speak, what should he see ahead, over the hedge past the turning, but a feather he knew well—the feather in Milly’s hat—she to whom he had been thinking of putting the question as to giving out the banns that very week.

‘“Unity,” says he, as mild as he could, “here’s Milly coming.  Now I shall catch it mightily if she sees ’ee riding here with me; and if you get down she’ll be turning the corner in a moment, and, seeing ’ee in the road, she’ll know we’ve been coming on together.  Now, dearest Unity, will ye, to avoid all unpleasantness, which I know ye can’t bear any more than I, will ye lie down in the back part of the waggon, and let me cover you over with the tarpaulin till Milly has passed?  It will all be done in a minute.  Do!—and I’ll think over what we’ve said; and perhaps I shall put a loving question to you after all, instead of to Milly.  ’Tisn’t true that it is all settled between her and me.”

‘Well, Unity Sallet agreed, and lay down at the back end of the waggon, and Tony covered her over, so that the waggon seemed to be empty but for the loose tarpaulin; and then he drove on to meet Milly.

‘“My dear Tony!” cries Milly, looking up with a little pout at him as he came near.  “How long you’ve been coming home!  Just as if I didn’t live at Upper Longpuddle at all!  And I’ve come to meet you as you asked me to do, and to ride back with you, and talk over our future home—since you asked me, and I promised.  But I shouldn’t have come else, Mr. Tony!”

‘“Ay, my dear, I did ask ye—to be sure I did, now I think of it—but I had quite forgot it.  To ride back with me, did you say, dear Milly?”

‘“Well, of course!  What can I do else?  Surely you don’t want me to walk, now I’ve come all this way?”

‘“O no, no!  I was thinking you might be going on to town to meet your mother.  I saw her there—and she looked as if she might be expecting ’ee.”

‘“O no; she’s just home.  She came across the fields, and so got back before you.”

‘“Ah!  I didn’t know that,” says Tony.  And there was no help for it but to take her up beside him.

‘They talked on very pleasantly, and looked at the trees, and beasts, and birds, and insects, and at the ploughmen at work in the fields, till presently who should they see looking out of the upper window of a house that stood beside the road they were following, but Hannah Jolliver, another young beauty of the place at that time, and the very first woman that Tony had fallen in love with—before Milly and before Unity, in fact—the one that he had almost arranged to marry instead of Milly.  She was a much more dashing girl than Milly Richards, though he’d not thought much of her of late.  The house Hannah was looking from was her aunt’s.

‘“My dear Milly—my coming wife, as I may call ’ee,” says Tony in his modest way, and not so loud that Unity could overhear, “I see a young woman alooking out of window, who I think may accost me.  The fact is, Milly, she had a notion that I was wishing to marry her, and since she’s discovered I’ve promised another, and a prettier than she, I’m rather afeard of her temper if she sees us together.  Now, Milly, would you do me a favour—my coming wife, as I may say?”

‘“Certainly, dearest Tony,” says she.

‘“Then would ye creep under the empty sacks just here in the front of the waggon, and hide there out of sight till we’ve passed the house?  She hasn’t seen us yet.  You see, we ought to live in peace and good-will since ’tis almost Christmas, and ’twill prevent angry passions rising, which we always should do.”

‘“I don’t mind, to oblige you, Tony,” Milly said; and though she didn’t care much about doing it, she crept under, and crouched down just behind the seat, Unity being snug at the other end.  So they drove on till they got near the road-side cottage.  Hannah had soon seen him coming, and waited at the window, looking down upon him.  She tossed her head a little disdainful and smiled off-hand.

‘“Well, aren’t you going to be civil enough to ask me to ride home with you!” she says, seeing that he was for driving past with a nod and a smile.

‘“Ah, to be sure!  What was I thinking of?” said Tony, in a flutter.  “But you seem as if you was staying at your aunt’s?”

‘“No, I am not,” she said.  “Don’t you see I have my bonnet and jacket on?  I have only called to see her on my way home.  How can you be so stupid, Tony?”

‘“In that case—ah—of course you must come along wi’ me,” says Tony, feeling a dim sort of sweat rising up inside his clothes.  And he reined in the horse, and waited till she’d come downstairs, and then helped her up beside him.  He drove on again, his face as long as a face that was a round one by nature well could be.

‘Hannah looked round sideways into his eyes.  “This is nice, isn’t it, Tony?” she says.  “I like riding with you.”

‘Tony looked back into her eyes.  “And I with you,” he said after a while.  In short, having considered her, he warmed up, and the more he looked at her the more he liked her, till he couldn’t for the life of him think why he had ever said a word about marriage to Milly or Unity while Hannah Jolliver was in question.  So they sat a little closer and closer, their feet upon the foot-board and their shoulders touching, and Tony thought over and over again how handsome Hannah was.  He spoke tenderer and tenderer, and called her “dear Hannah” in a whisper at last.

‘“You’ve settled it with Milly by this time, I suppose,” said she.

‘“N-no, not exactly.”

‘“What?  How low you talk, Tony.”

‘“Yes—I’ve a kind of hoarseness.  I said, not exactly.”

‘“I suppose you mean to?”

‘“Well, as to that—”  His eyes rested on her face, and hers on his.  He wondered how he could have been such a fool as not to follow up Hannah.  “My sweet Hannah!” he bursts out, taking her hand, not being really able to help it, and forgetting Milly and Unity, and all the world besides.  “Settled it?  I don’t think I have!”

‘“Hark!” says Hannah.

‘“What?” says Tony, letting go her hand.

‘“Surely I heard a sort of little screaming squeak under those sacks?  Why, you’ve been carrying corn, and there’s mice in this waggon, I declare!”  She began to haul up the tails of her gown.

‘“Oh no; ’tis the axle,” said Tony in an assuring way.  “It do go like that sometimes in dry weather.”

‘“Perhaps it was . . . Well, now, to be quite honest, dear Tony, do you like her better than me?  Because—because, although I’ve held off so independent, I’ll own at last that I do like ’ee, Tony, to tell the truth; and I wouldn’t say no if you asked me—you know what.”

‘Tony was so won over by this pretty offering mood of a girl who had been quite the reverse (Hannah had a backward way with her at times, if you can mind) that he just glanced behind, and then whispered very soft, “I haven’t quite promised her, and I think I can get out of it, and ask you that question you speak of.”

‘“Throw over Milly?—all to marry me!  How delightful!” broke out Hannah, quite loud, clapping her hands.

‘At this there was a real squeak—an angry, spiteful squeak, and afterward a long moan, as if something had broke its heart, and a movement of the empty sacks.

‘“Something’s there!” said Hannah, starting up.

‘“It’s nothing, really,” says Tony in a soothing voice, and praying inwardly for a way out of this.  “I wouldn’t tell ’ee at first, because I wouldn’t frighten ’ee.  But, Hannah, I’ve really a couple of ferrets in a bag under there, for rabbiting, and they quarrel sometimes.  I don’t wish it knowed, as ’twould be called poaching.  Oh, they can’t get out, bless ye—you are quite safe!  And—and—what a fine day it is, isn’t it, Hannah, for this time of year?  Be you going to market next Saturday?  How is your aunt now?”  And so on, says Tony, to keep her from talking any more about love in Milly’s hearing.

‘But he found his work cut out for him, and wondering again how he should get out of this ticklish business, he looked about for a chance.  Nearing home he saw his father in a field not far off, holding up his hand as if he wished to speak to Tony.

‘“Would you mind taking the reins a moment, Hannah,” he said, much relieved, “while I go and find out what father wants?”

‘She consented, and away he hastened into the field, only too glad to get breathing time.  He found that his father was looking at him with rather a stern eye.

‘“Come, come, Tony,” says old Mr. Kytes, as soon as his son was alongside him, “this won’t do, you know.”

‘“What?” says Tony.

‘“Why, if you mean to marry Milly Richards, do it, and there’s an end o’t.  But don’t go driving about the country with Jolliver’s daughter and making a scandal.  I won’t have such things done.”

‘“I only asked her—that is, she asked me, to ride home.”

‘“She?  Why, now, if it had been Milly, ’twould have been quite proper; but you and Hannah Jolliver going about by yourselves—”

‘“Milly’s there too, father.”

‘“Milly?  Where?”

‘“Under the corn-sacks!  Yes, the truth is, father, I’ve got rather into a nunny-watch, I’m afeard!  Unity Sallet is there too—yes, at the other end, under the tarpaulin.  All three are in that waggon, and what to do with ’em I know no more than the dead!  The best plan is, as I’m thinking, to speak out loud and plain to one of ’em before the rest, and that will settle it; not but what ’twill cause ’em to kick up a bit of a miff, for certain.  Now which would you marry, father, if you was in my place?”

‘“Whichever of ’em did not ask to ride with thee.”

‘“That was Milly, I’m bound to say, as she only mounted by my invitation.  But Milly—”

“Then stick to Milly, she’s the best . . . But look at that!”

‘His father pointed toward the waggon.  “She can’t hold that horse in.  You shouldn’t have left the reins in her hands.  Run on and take the horse’s head, or there’ll be some accident to them maids!”

‘Tony’s horse, in fact, in spite of Hannah’s tugging at the reins, had started on his way at a brisk walking pace, being very anxious to get back to the stable, for he had had a long day out.  Without another word Tony rushed away from his father to overtake the horse.

‘Now of all things that could have happened to wean him from Milly there was nothing so powerful as his father’s recommending her.  No; it could not be Milly, after all.  Hannah must be the one, since he could not marry all three.  This he thought while running after the waggon.  But queer things were happening inside it.

‘It was, of course, Milly who had screamed under the sack-bags, being obliged to let off her bitter rage and shame in that way at what Tony was saying, and never daring to show, for very pride and dread o’ being laughed at, that she was in hiding.  She became more and more restless, and in twisting herself about, what did she see but another woman’s foot and white stocking close to her head.  It quite frightened her, not knowing that Unity Sallet was in the waggon likewise.  But after the fright was over she determined to get to the bottom of all this, and she crept and crept along the bed of the waggon, under the tarpaulin, like a snake, when lo and behold she came face to face with Unity.

‘“Well, if this isn’t disgraceful!” says Milly in a raging whisper to Unity.

‘“’Tis,” says Unity, “to see you hiding in a young man’s waggon like this, and no great character belonging to either of ye!”

‘“Mind what you are saying!” replied Milly, getting louder.  “I am engaged to be married to him, and haven’t I a right to be here?  What right have you, I should like to know?  What has he been promising you?  A pretty lot of nonsense, I expect!  But what Tony says to other women is all mere wind, and no concern to me!”

‘“Don’t you be too sure!” says Unity.  “He’s going to have Hannah, and not you, nor me either; I could hear that.”

‘Now at these strange voices sounding from under the cloth Hannah was thunderstruck a’most into a swound; and it was just at this time that the horse moved on.  Hannah tugged away wildly, not knowing what she was doing; and as the quarrel rose louder and louder Hannah got so horrified that she let go the reins altogether.  The horse went on at his own pace, and coming to the corner where we turn round to drop down the hill to Lower Longpuddle he turned too quick, the off wheels went up the bank, the waggon rose sideways till it was quite on edge upon the near axles, and out rolled the three maidens into the road in a heap.

‘When Tony came up, frightened and breathless, he was relieved enough to see that neither of his darlings was hurt, beyond a few scratches from the brambles of the hedge.  But he was rather alarmed when he heard how they were going on at one another.

‘“Don’t ye quarrel, my dears—don’t ye!” says he, taking off his hat out of respect to ’em.  And then he would have kissed them all round, as fair and square as a man could, but they were in too much of a taking to let him, and screeched and sobbed till they was quite spent.

‘“Now I’ll speak out honest, because I ought to,” says Tony, as soon as he could get heard.  “And this is the truth,” says he.  “I’ve asked Hannah to be mine, and she is willing, and we are going to put up the banns next—”

‘Tony had not noticed that Hannah’s father was coming up behind, nor had he noticed that Hannah’s face was beginning to bleed from the scratch of a bramble.  Hannah had seen her father, and had run to him, crying worse than ever.

‘“My daughter is not willing, sir!” says Mr. Jolliver hot and strong.  “Be you willing, Hannah?  I ask ye to have spirit enough to refuse him, if yer virtue is left to ’ee and you run no risk?”

‘“She’s as sound as a bell for me, that I’ll swear!” says Tony, flaring up.  “And so’s the others, come to that, though you may think it an onusual thing in me!”

‘“I have spirit, and I do refuse him!” says Hannah, partly because her father was there, and partly, too, in a tantrum because of the discovery, and the scratch on her face.  “Little did I think when I was so soft with him just now that I was talking to such a false deceiver!”

‘“What, you won’t have me, Hannah?” says Tony, his jaw hanging down like a dead man’s.

‘“Never—I would sooner marry no—nobody at all!” she gasped out, though with her heart in her throat, for she would not have refused Tony if he had asked her quietly, and her father had not been there, and her face had not been scratched by the bramble.  And having said that, away she walked upon her father’s arm, thinking and hoping he would ask her again.

‘Tony didn’t know what to say next.  Milly was sobbing her heart out; but as his father had strongly recommended her he couldn’t feel inclined that way.  So he turned to Unity.

‘“Well, will you, Unity dear, be mine?” he says.

‘“Take her leavings?  Not I!” says Unity.  “I’d scorn it!”  And away walks Unity Sallet likewise, though she looked back when she’d gone some way, to see if he was following her.

‘So there at last were left Milly and Tony by themselves, she crying in watery streams, and Tony looking like a tree struck by lightning.

‘“Well, Milly,” he says at last, going up to her, “it do seem as if fate had ordained that it should be you and I, or nobody.  And what must be must be, I suppose.  Hey, Milly?”

‘“If you like, Tony.  You didn’t really mean what you said to them?”

‘“Not a word of it!” declares Tony, bringing down his fist upon his palm.

‘And then he kissed her, and put the waggon to rights, and they mounted together; and their banns were put up the very next Sunday.  I was not able to go to their wedding, but it was a rare party they had, by all account.  Everybody in Longpuddle was there almost; you among the rest, I think, Mr. Flaxton?’  The speaker turned to the parish clerk.

‘I was,’ said Mr. Flaxton.  ‘And that party was the cause of a very curious change in some other people’s affairs; I mean in Steve Hardcome’s and his cousin James’s.’

‘Ah! the Hardcomes,’ said the stranger.  ‘How familiar that name is to me!  What of them?’

The clerk cleared his throat and began:—

 

THE HISTORY OF THE HARDCOMES

‘Yes, Tony’s was the very best wedding-randy that ever I was at; and I’ve been at a good many, as you may suppose’—turning to the newly-arrived one—‘having as a church-officer, the privilege to attend all christening, wedding, and funeral parties—such being our Wessex custom.

‘’Twas on a frosty night in Christmas week, and among the folk invited were the said Hardcomes o’ Climmerston—Steve and James—first cousins, both of them small farmers, just entering into business on their own account.  With them came, as a matter of course, their intended wives, two young women of the neighbourhood, both very pretty and sprightly maidens, and numbers of friends from Abbot’s-Cernel, and Weatherbury, and Mellstock, and I don’t know where—a regular houseful.

‘The kitchen was cleared of furniture for dancing, and the old folk played at “Put” and “All-fours” in the parlour, though at last they gave that up to join in the dance.  The top of the figure was by the large front window of the room, and there were so many couples that the lower part of the figure reached through the door at the back, and into the darkness of the out-house; in fact, you couldn’t see the end of the row at all, and ’twas never known exactly how long that dance was, the lowest couples being lost among the faggots and brushwood in the out-house.

‘When we had danced a few hours, and the crowns of we taller men were swelling into lumps with bumping the beams of the ceiling, the first fiddler laid down his fiddle-bow, and said he should play no more, for he wished to dance.  And in another hour the second fiddler laid down his, and said he wanted to dance too; so there was only the third fiddler left, and he was a’ old, veteran man, very weak in the wrist.  However, he managed to keep up a faltering tweedle-dee; but there being no chair in the room, and his knees being as weak as his wrists, he was obliged to sit upon as much of the little corner-table as projected beyond the corner-cupboard fixed over it, which was not a very wide seat for a man advanced in years.

‘Among those who danced most continually were the two engaged couples, as was natural to their situation.  Each pair was very well matched, and very unlike the other.  James Hardcome’s intended was called Emily Darth, and both she and James were gentle, nice-minded, in-door people, fond of a quiet life.  Steve and his chosen, named Olive Pawle, were different; they were of a more bustling nature, fond of racketing about and seeing what was going on in the world.  The two couples had arranged to get married on the same day, and that not long thence; Tony’s wedding being a sort of stimulant, as is often the case; I’ve noticed it professionally many times.

‘They danced with such a will as only young people in that stage of courtship can dance; and it happened that as the evening wore on James had for his partner Stephen’s plighted one, Olive, at the same time that Stephen was dancing with James’s Emily.  It was noticed that in spite o’ the exchange the young men seemed to enjoy the dance no less than before.  By and by they were treading another tune in the same changed order as we had noticed earlier, and though at first each one had held the other’s mistress strictly at half-arm’s length, lest there should be shown any objection to too close quarters by the lady’s proper man, as time passed there was a little more closeness between ’em; and presently a little more closeness still.

‘The later it got the more did each of the two cousins dance with the wrong young girl, and the tighter did he hold her to his side as he whirled her round; and, what was very remarkable, neither seemed to mind what the other was doing.  The party began to draw towards its end, and I saw no more that night, being one of the first to leave, on account of my morning’s business.  But I learnt the rest of it from those that knew.

‘After finishing a particularly warming dance with the changed partners, as I’ve mentioned, the two young men looked at one another, and in a moment or two went out into the porch together.

‘“James,” says Steve, “what were you thinking of when you were dancing with my Olive?”

‘“Well,” said James, “perhaps what you were thinking of when you were dancing with my Emily.”

‘“I was thinking,” said Steve, with some hesitation, “that I wouldn’t mind changing for good and all!”

‘“It was what I was feeling likewise,” said James.

‘“I willingly agree to it, if you think we could manage it.”

‘“So do I.  But what would the girls say?”

‘“’Tis my belief,” said Steve, “that they wouldn’t particularly object.  Your Emily clung as close to me as if she already belonged to me, dear girl.”

‘“And your Olive to me,” says James.  “I could feel her heart beating like a clock.”

‘Well, they agreed to put it to the girls when they were all four walking home together.  And they did so.  When they parted that night the exchange was decided on—all having been done under the hot excitement of that evening’s dancing.  Thus it happened that on the following Sunday morning, when the people were sitting in church with mouths wide open to hear the names published as they had expected, there was no small amazement to hear them coupled the wrong way, as it seemed.  The congregation whispered, and thought the parson had made a mistake; till they discovered that his reading of the names was verily the true way.  As they had decided, so they were married, each one to the other’s original property.

‘Well, the two couples lived on for a year or two ordinarily enough, till the time came when these young people began to grow a little less warm to their respective spouses, as is the rule of married life; and the two cousins wondered more and more in their hearts what had made ’em so mad at the last moment to marry crosswise as they did, when they might have married straight, as was planned by nature, and as they had fallen in love.  ’Twas Tony’s party that had done it, plain enough, and they half wished they had never gone there.  James, being a quiet, fireside, perusing man, felt at times a wide gap between himself and Olive, his wife, who loved riding and driving and out-door jaunts to a degree; while Steve, who was always knocking about hither and thither, had a very domestic wife, who worked samplers, and made hearthrugs, scarcely ever wished to cross the threshold, and only drove out with him to please him.

‘However, they said very little about this mismating to any of their acquaintances, though sometimes Steve would look at James’s wife and sigh, and James would look at Steve’s wife and do the same.  Indeed, at last the two men were frank enough towards each other not to mind mentioning it quietly to themselves, in a long-faced, sorry-smiling, whimsical sort of way, and would shake their heads together over their foolishness in upsetting a well-considered choice on the strength of an hour’s fancy in the whirl and wildness of a dance.  Still, they were sensible and honest young fellows enough, and did their best to make shift with their lot as they had arranged it, and not to repine at what could not now be altered or mended.

‘So things remained till one fine summer day they went for their yearly little outing together, as they had made it their custom to do for a long while past.  This year they chose Budmouth-Regis as the place to spend their holiday in; and off they went in their best clothes at nine o’clock in the morning.

‘When they had reached Budmouth-Regis they walked two and two along the shore—their new boots going squeakity-squash upon the clammy velvet sands.  I can seem to see ’em now!  Then they looked at the ships in the harbour; and then went up to the Look-out; and then had dinner at an inn; and then again walked two and two, squeakity-squash, upon the velvet sands.  As evening drew on they sat on one of the public seats upon the Esplanade, and listened to the band; and then they said “What shall we do next?”

‘“Of all things,” said Olive (Mrs. James Hardcome, that is), “I should like to row in the bay!  We could listen to the music from the water as well as from here, and have the fun of rowing besides.”

‘“The very thing; so should I,” says Stephen, his tastes being always like hers.

Here the clerk turned to the curate.

‘But you, sir, know the rest of the strange particulars of that strange evening of their lives better than anybody else, having had much of it from their own lips, which I had not; and perhaps you’ll oblige the gentleman?’

‘Certainly, if it is wished,’ said the curate.  And he took up the clerk’s tale:—

* * * * *

‘Stephen’s wife hated the sea, except from land, and couldn’t bear the thought of going into a boat.  James, too, disliked the water, and said that for his part he would much sooner stay on and listen to the band in the seat they occupied, though he did not wish to stand in his wife’s way if she desired a row.  The end of the discussion was that James and his cousin’s wife Emily agreed to remain where they were sitting and enjoy the music, while they watched the other two hire a boat just beneath, and take their water-excursion of half an hour or so, till they should choose to come back and join the sitters on the Esplanade; when they would all start homeward together.

‘Nothing could have pleased the other two restless ones better than this arrangement; and Emily and James watched them go down to the boatman below and choose one of the little yellow skiffs, and walk carefully out upon the little plank that was laid on trestles to enable them to get alongside the craft.  They saw Stephen hand Olive in, and take his seat facing her; when they were settled they waved their hands to the couple watching them, and then Stephen took the pair of sculls and pulled off to the tune beat by the band, she steering through the other boats skimming about, for the sea was as smooth as glass that evening, and pleasure-seekers were rowing everywhere.

‘“How pretty they look moving on, don’t they?” said Emily to James (as I’ve been assured).  “They both enjoy it equally.  In everything their likings are the same.”

‘“That’s true,” said James.

‘“They would have made a handsome pair if they had married,” said she.

‘“Yes,” said he.  “’Tis a pity we should have parted ’em”

‘“Don’t talk of that, James,” said she.  “For better or for worse we decided to do as we did, and there’s an end of it.”

‘They sat on after that without speaking, side by side, and the band played as before; the people strolled up and down; and Stephen and Olive shrank smaller and smaller as they shot straight out to sea.  The two on shore used to relate how they saw Stephen stop rowing a moment, and take off his coat to get at his work better; but James’s wife sat quite still in the stern, holding the tiller-ropes by which she steered the boat.  When they had got very small indeed she turned her head to shore.

‘“She is waving her handkerchief to us,” said Stephen’s wife, who thereupon pulled out her own, and waved it as a return signal.

‘The boat’s course had been a little awry while Mrs. James neglected her steering to wave her handkerchief to her husband and Mrs. Stephen; but now the light skiff went straight onward again, and they could soon see nothing more of the two figures it contained than Olive’s light mantle and Stephen’s white shirt sleeves behind.

‘The two on the shore talked on.  “’Twas very curious—our changing partners at Tony Kytes’s wedding,” Emily declared.  “Tony was of a fickle nature by all account, and it really seemed as if his character had infected us that night.  Which of you two was it that first proposed not to marry as we were engaged?”

‘“H’m—I can’t remember at this moment,” says James.  “We talked it over, you know; and no sooner said than done.”

‘“’Twas the dancing,” said she.  “People get quite crazy sometimes in a dance.”

‘“They do,” he owned.

‘“James—do you think they care for one another still?” asks Mrs. Stephen.

‘James Hardcome mused and admitted that perhaps a little tender feeling might flicker up in their hearts for a moment now and then.  “Still, nothing of any account,” he said.

‘“I sometimes think that Olive is in Steve’s mind a good deal,” murmurs Mrs. Stephen; “particularly when she pleases his fancy by riding past our window at a gallop on one of the draught-horses . . . I never could do anything of that sort; I could never get over my fear of a horse.”

‘“And I am no horseman, though I pretend to be on her account,” murmured James Hardcome.  “But isn’t it almost time for them to turn and sweep round to the shore, as the other boating folk have done?  I wonder what Olive means by steering away straight to the horizon like that?  She has hardly swerved from a direct line seaward since they started.”

‘“No doubt they are talking, and don’t think of where they are going,” suggests Stephen’s wife.

‘“Perhaps so,” said James.  “I didn’t know Steve could row like that.”

‘“O yes,” says she.  “He often comes here on business, and generally has a pull round the bay.”

‘“I can hardly see the boat or them,” says James again; “and it is getting dark.”

‘The heedless pair afloat now formed a mere speck in the films of the coming night, which thickened apace, till it completely swallowed up their distant shapes.  They had disappeared while still following the same straight course away from the world of land-livers, as if they were intending to drop over the sea-edge into space, and never return to earth again.

‘The two on the shore continued to sit on, punctually abiding by their agreement to remain on the same spot till the others returned.  The Esplanade lamps were lit one by one, the bandsmen folded up their stands and departed, the yachts in the bay hung out their riding lights, and the little boats came back to shore one after another, their hirers walking on to the sands by the plank they had climbed to go afloat; but among these Stephen and Olive did not appear.

‘“What a time they are!” said Emily.  “I am getting quite chilly.  I did not expect to have to sit so long in the evening air.”

‘Thereupon James Hardcome said that he did not require his overcoat, and insisted on lending it to her.

‘He wrapped it round Emily’s shoulders.

‘“Thank you, James,” she said.  “How cold Olive must be in that thin jacket!”

‘He said he was thinking so too.  “Well, they are sure to be quite close at hand by this time, though we can’t see ’em.  The boats are not all in yet.  Some of the rowers are fond of paddling along the shore to finish out their hour of hiring.”

‘“Shall we walk by the edge of the water,” said she, “to see if we can discover them?”

‘He assented, reminding her that they must not lose sight of the seat, lest the belated pair should return and miss them, and be vexed that they had not kept the appointment.

‘They walked a sentry beat up and down the sands immediately opposite the seat; and still the others did not come.  James Hardcome at last went to the boatman, thinking that after all his wife and cousin might have come in under shadow of the dusk without being perceived, and might have forgotten the appointment at the bench.

‘“All in?” asked James.

‘“All but one boat,” said the lessor.  “I can’t think where that couple is keeping to.  They might run foul of something or other in the dark.”

‘Again Stephen’s wife and Olive’s husband waited, with more and more anxiety.  But no little yellow boat returned.  Was it possible they could have landed further down the Esplanade?

‘“It may have been done to escape paying,” said the boat-owner.  “But they didn’t look like people who would do that.”

‘James Hardcome knew that he could found no hope on such a reason as that.  But now, remembering what had been casually discussed between Steve and himself about their wives from time to time, he admitted for the first time the possibility that their old tenderness had been revived by their face-to-face position more strongly than either had anticipated at starting—the excursion having been so obviously undertaken for the pleasure of the performance only,—and that they had landed at some steps he knew of further down toward the pier, to be longer alone together.

‘Still he disliked to harbour the thought, and would not mention its existence to his companion.  He merely said to her, “Let us walk further on.”

‘They did so, and lingered between the boat-stage and the pier till Stephen Hardcome’s wife was uneasy, and was obliged to accept James’s offered arm.  Thus the night advanced.  Emily was presently so worn out by fatigue that James felt it necessary to conduct her home; there was, too, a remote chance that the truants had landed in the harbour on the other side of the town, or elsewhere, and hastened home in some unexpected way, in the belief that their consorts would not have waited so long.

‘However, he left a direction in the town that a lookout should be kept, though this was arranged privately, the bare possibility of an elopement being enough to make him reticent; and, full of misgivings, the two remaining ones hastened to catch the last train out of Budmouth-Regis; and when they got to Casterbridge drove back to Upper Longpuddle.’

‘Along this very road as we do now,’ remarked the parish clerk.

‘To be sure—along this very road,’ said the curate.  ‘However, Stephen and Olive were not at their homes; neither had entered the village since leaving it in the morning.  Emily and James Hardcome went to their respective dwellings to snatch a hasty night’s rest, and at daylight the next morning they drove again to Casterbridge and entered the Budmouth train, the line being just opened.

‘Nothing had been heard of the couple there during this brief absence.  In the course of a few hours some young men testified to having seen such a man and woman rowing in a frail hired craft, the head of the boat kept straight to sea; they had sat looking in each other’s faces as if they were in a dream, with no consciousness of what they were doing, or whither they were steering.  It was not till late that day that more tidings reached James’s ears.  The boat had been found drifting bottom upward a long way from land.  In the evening the sea rose somewhat, and a cry spread through the town that two bodies were cast ashore in Lullstead Bay, several miles to the eastward.  They were brought to Budmouth, and inspection revealed them to be the missing pair.  It was said that they had been found tightly locked in each other’s arms, his lips upon hers, their features still wrapt in the same calm and dream-like repose which had been observed in their demeanour as they had glided along.

‘Neither James nor Emily questioned the original motives of the unfortunate man and woman in putting to sea.  They were both above suspicion as to intention.  Whatever their mutual feelings might have led them on to, underhand behaviour was foreign to the nature of either.  Conjecture pictured that they might have fallen into tender reverie while gazing each into a pair of eyes that had formerly flashed for him and her alone, and, unwilling to avow what their mutual sentiments were, they had continued thus, oblivious of time and space, till darkness suddenly overtook them far from land.  But nothing was truly known.  It had been their destiny to die thus.  The two halves, intended by Nature to make the perfect whole, had failed in that result during their lives, though “in their death they were not divided.”  Their bodies were brought home, and buried on one day.  I remember that, on looking round the churchyard while reading the service, I observed nearly all the parish at their funeral.’

‘It was so, sir,’ said the clerk.

‘The remaining two,’ continued the curate (whose voice had grown husky while relating the lovers’ sad fate), ‘were a more thoughtful and far-seeing, though less romantic, couple than the first.  They were now mutually bereft of a companion, and found themselves by this accident in a position to fulfil their destiny according to Nature’s plan and their own original and calmly-formed intention.  James Hardcome took Emily to wife in the course of a year and a half; and the marriage proved in every respect a happy one.  I solemnized the service, Hardcome having told me, when he came to give notice of the proposed wedding, the story of his first wife’s loss almost word for word as I have told it to you.’

‘And are they living in Longpuddle still?’ asked the new-comer.

‘O no, sir,’ interposed the clerk.  ‘James has been dead these dozen years, and his mis’ess about six or seven.  They had no children.  William Privett used to be their odd man till he died.’

‘Ah—William Privett!  He dead too?—dear me!’ said the other.  ‘All passed away!’

‘Yes, sir.  William was much older than I.  He’d ha’ been over eighty if he had lived till now.’

‘There was something very strange about William’s death—very strange indeed!’ sighed a melancholy man in the back of the van.  It was the seedsman’s father, who had hitherto kept silence.

‘And what might that have been?’ asked Mr. Lackland.

 

THE SUPERSTITIOUS MAN’S STORY

‘William, as you may know, was a curious, silent man; you could feel when he came near ’ee; and if he was in the house or anywhere behind your back without your seeing him, there seemed to be something clammy in the air, as if a cellar door was opened close by your elbow.  Well, one Sunday, at a time that William was in very good health to all appearance, the bell that was ringing for church went very heavy all of a sudden; the sexton, who told me o’t, said he’d not known the bell go so heavy in his hand for years—it was just as if the gudgeons wanted oiling.  That was on the Sunday, as I say.  During the week after, it chanced that William’s wife was staying up late one night to finish her ironing, she doing the washing for Mr. and Mrs. Hardcome.  Her husband had finished his supper and gone to bed as usual some hour or two before.  While she ironed she heard him coming down stairs; he stopped to put on his boots at the stair-foot, where he always left them, and then came on into the living-room where she was ironing, passing through it towards the door, this being the only way from the staircase to the outside of the house.  No word was said on either side, William not being a man given to much speaking, and his wife being occupied with her work.  He went out and closed the door behind him.  As her husband had now and then gone out in this way at night before when unwell, or unable to sleep for want of a pipe, she took no particular notice, and continued at her ironing.  This she finished shortly after, and as he had not come in she waited awhile for him, putting away the irons and things, and preparing the table for his breakfast in the morning.  Still he did not return, but supposing him not far off, and wanting to get to bed herself, tired as she was, she left the door unbarred and went to the stairs, after writing on the back of the door with chalk: Mind and do the door (because he was a forgetful man).

‘To her great surprise, and I might say alarm, on reaching the foot of the stairs his boots were standing there as they always stood when he had gone to rest; going up to their chamber she found him in bed sleeping as sound as a rock.  How he could have got back again without her seeing or hearing him was beyond her comprehension.  It could only have been by passing behind her very quietly while she was bumping with the iron.  But this notion did not satisfy her: it was surely impossible that she should not have seen him come in through a room so small.  She could not unravel the mystery, and felt very queer and uncomfortable about it.  However, she would not disturb him to question him then, and went to bed herself.

‘He rose and left for his work very early the next morning, before she was awake, and she waited his return to breakfast with much anxiety for an explanation, for thinking over the matter by daylight made it seem only the more startling.  When he came in to the meal he said, before she could put her question, “What’s the meaning of them words chalked on the door?”

‘She told him, and asked him about his going out the night before.  William declared that he had never left the bedroom after entering it, having in fact undressed, lain down, and fallen asleep directly, never once waking till the clock struck five, and he rose up to go to his labour.

‘Betty Privett was as certain in her own mind that he did go out as she was of her own existence, and was little less certain that he did not return.  She felt too disturbed to argue with him, and let the subject drop as though she must have been mistaken.  When she was walking down Longpuddle street later in the day she met Jim Weedle’s daughter Nancy, and said, “Well, Nancy, you do look sleepy to-day!”

‘“Yes, Mrs. Privett,” says Nancy.  “Now don’t tell anybody, but I don’t mind letting you know what the reason o’t is.  Last night, being Old Midsummer Eve, some of us went to church porch, and didn’t get home till near one.”

‘“Did ye?” says Mrs. Privett.  “Old Midsummer yesterday was it?  Faith I didn’t think whe’r ’twas Midsummer or Michaelmas; I’d too much work to do.”

‘“Yes.  And we were frightened enough, I can tell ’ee, by what we saw.”

‘“What did ye see?”

‘(You may not remember, sir, having gone off to foreign parts so young, that on Midsummer Night it is believed hereabout that the faint shapes of all the folk in the parish who are going to be at death’s door within the year can be seen entering the church.  Those who get over their illness come out again after a while; those that are doomed to die do not return.)

‘“What did you see?” asked William’s wife.

‘“Well,” says Nancy, backwardly—“we needn’t tell what we saw, or who we saw.”

‘“You saw my husband,” says Betty Privett, in a quiet way.

‘“Well, since you put it so,” says Nancy, hanging fire, “we—thought we did see him; but it was darkish, and we was frightened, and of course it might not have been he.”

‘“Nancy, you needn’t mind letting it out, though ’tis kept back in kindness.  And he didn’t come out of church again: I know it as well as you.”

‘Nancy did not answer yes or no to that, and no more was said.  But three days after, William Privett was mowing with John Chiles in Mr. Hardcome’s meadow, and in the heat of the day they sat down to eat their bit o’ nunch under a tree, and empty their flagon.  Afterwards both of ’em fell asleep as they sat.  John Chiles was the first to wake, and as he looked towards his fellow-mower he saw one of those great white miller’s-souls as we call ’em—that is to say, a miller-moth—come from William’s open mouth while he slept, and fly straight away.  John thought it odd enough, as William had worked in a mill for several years when he was a boy.  He then looked at the sun, and found by the place o’t that they had slept a long while, and as William did not wake, John called to him and said it was high time to begin work again.  He took no notice, and then John went up and shook him, and found he was dead.

‘Now on that very day old Philip Hookhorn was down at Longpuddle Spring dipping up a pitcher of water; and as he turned away, who should he see coming down to the spring on the other side but William, looking very pale and odd.  This surprised Philip Hookhorn very much, for years before that time William’s little son—his only child—had been drowned in that spring while at play there, and this had so preyed upon William’s mind that he’d never been seen near the spring afterwards, and had been known to go half a mile out of his way to avoid the place.  On inquiry, it was found that William in body could not have stood by the spring, being in the mead two miles off; and it also came out that the time at which he was seen at the spring was the very time when he died.’

* * * * *

‘A rather melancholy story,’ observed the emigrant, after a minute’s silence.

‘Yes, yes.  Well, we must take ups and downs together,’ said the seedsman’s father.

‘You don’t know, Mr. Lackland, I suppose, what a rum start that was between Andrey Satchel and Jane Vallens and the pa’son and clerk o’ Scrimpton?’ said the master-thatcher, a man with a spark of subdued liveliness in his eye, who had hitherto kept his attention mainly upon small objects a long way ahead, as he sat in front of the van with his feet outside.  ‘Theirs was a queerer experience of a pa’son and clerk than some folks get, and may cheer ’ee up a little after this dampness that’s been flung over yer soul.’

The returned one replied that he knew nothing of the history, and should be happy to hear it, quite recollecting the personality of the man Satchel.

‘Ah no; this Andrey Satchel is the son of the Satchel that you knew; this one has not been married more than two or three years, and ’twas at the time o’ the wedding that the accident happened that I could tell ’ee of, or anybody else here, for that matter.’

‘No, no; you must tell it, neighbour, if anybody,’ said several; a request in which Mr. Lackland joined, adding that the Satchel family was one he had known well before leaving home.

‘I’ll just mention, as you be a stranger,’ whispered the carrier to Lackland, ‘that Christopher’s stories will bear pruning.’

The emigrant nodded.

‘Well, I can soon tell it,’ said the master-thatcher, schooling himself to a tone of actuality.  ‘Though as it has more to do with the pa’son and clerk than with Andrey himself, it ought to be told by a better churchman than I.’

 

ANDREY SATCHEL AND THE PARSON AND CLERK

‘It all arose, you must know, from Andrey being fond of a drop of drink at that time—though he’s a sober enough man now by all account, so much the better for him.  Jane, his bride, you see, was somewhat older than Andrey; how much older I don’t pretend to say; she was not one of our parish, and the register alone may be able to tell that.  But, at any rate, her being a little ahead of her young man in mortal years, coupled with other bodily circumstances—’

(‘Ah, poor thing!’ sighed the women.)

‘—made her very anxious to get the thing done before he changed his mind; and ’twas with a joyful countenance (they say) that she, with Andrey and his brother and sister-in-law, marched off to church one November morning as soon as ’twas day a’most, to be made one with Andrey for the rest of her life.  He had left our place long before it was light, and the folks that were up all waved their lanterns at him, and flung up their hats as he went.

‘The church of her parish was a mile and more from the houses, and, as it was a wonderful fine day for the time of year, the plan was that as soon as they were married they would make out a holiday by driving straight off to Port Bredy, to see the ships and the sea and the sojers, instead of coming back to a meal at the house of the distant relation she lived wi’, and moping about there all the afternoon.

‘Well, some folks noticed that Andrey walked with rather wambling steps to church that morning; the truth o’t was that his nearest neighbour’s child had been christened the day before, and Andrey, having stood godfather, had stayed all night keeping up the christening, for he had said to himself, “Not if I live to be thousand shall I again be made a godfather one day, and a husband the next, and perhaps a father the next, and therefore I’ll make the most of the blessing.”  So that when he started from home in the morning he had not been in bed at all.  The result was, as I say, that when he and his bride-to-he walked up the church to get married, the pa’son (who was a very strict man inside the church, whatever he was outside) looked hard at Andrey, and said, very sharp:

‘“How’s this, my man?  You are in liquor.  And so early, too.  I’m ashamed of you!”

‘“Well, that’s true, sir,” says Andrey.  “But I can walk straight enough for practical purposes.  I can walk a chalk line,” he says (meaning no offence), “as well as some other folk: and—” (getting hotter)—“I reckon that if you, Pa’son Billy Toogood, had kept up a christening all night so thoroughly as I have done, you wouldn’t be able to stand at all; d— me if you would!”

‘This answer made Pa’son Billy—as they used to call him—rather spitish, not to say hot, for he was a warm-tempered man if provoked, and he said, very decidedly: “Well, I cannot marry you in this state; and I will not!  Go home and get sober!”  And he slapped the book together like a rat-trap.

‘Then the bride burst out crying as if her heart would break, for very fear that she would lose Andrey after all her hard work to get him, and begged and implored the pa’son to go on with the ceremony.  But no.

‘“I won’t be a party to your solemnizing matrimony with a tipsy man,” says Mr. Toogood.  “It is not right and decent.  I am sorry for you, my young woman, but you’d better go home again.  I wonder how you could think of bringing him here drunk like this!”

‘“But if—if he don’t come drunk he won’t come at all, sir!” she says, through her sobs.

‘“I can’t help that,” says the pa’son; and plead as she might, it did not move him.  Then she tried him another way.

‘“Well, then, if you’ll go home, sir, and leave us here, and come back to the church in an hour or two, I’ll undertake to say that he shall be as sober as a judge,” she cries.  “We’ll bide here, with your permission; for if he once goes out of this here church unmarried, all Van Amburgh’s horses won’t drag him back again!”

‘“Very well,” says the parson.  “I’ll give you two hours, and then I’ll return.”

‘“And please, sir, lock the door, so that we can’t escape!” says she.

‘“Yes,” says the parson.

‘“And let nobody know that we are here.”

‘The pa’son then took off his clane white surplice, and went away; and the others consulted upon the best means for keeping the matter a secret, which it was not a very hard thing to do, the place being so lonely, and the hour so early.  The witnesses, Andrey’s brother and brother’s wife, neither one o’ which cared about Andrey’s marrying Jane, and had come rather against their will, said they couldn’t wait two hours in that hole of a place, wishing to get home to Longpuddle before dinner-time.  They were altogether so crusty that the clerk said there was no difficulty in their doing as they wished.  They could go home as if their brother’s wedding had actually taken place and the married couple had gone onward for their day’s pleasure jaunt to Port Bredy as intended, he, the clerk, and any casual passer-by would act as witnesses when the pa’son came back.

‘This was agreed to, and away Andrey’s relations went, nothing loath, and the clerk shut the church door and prepared to lock in the couple.  The bride went up and whispered to him, with her eyes a-streaming still.

‘“My dear good clerk,” she says, “if we bide here in the church, folk may see us through the winders, and find out what has happened; and ’twould cause such a talk and scandal that I never should get over it: and perhaps, too, dear Andrey might try to get out and leave me!  Will ye lock us up in the tower, my dear good clerk?” she says.  “I’ll tole him in there if you will.”

‘The clerk had no objection to do this to oblige the poor young woman, and they toled Andrey into the tower, and the clerk locked ’em both up straightway, and then went home, to return at the end of the two hours.

‘Pa’son Toogood had not been long in his house after leaving the church when he saw a gentleman in pink and top-boots ride past his windows, and with a sudden flash of heat he called to mind that the hounds met that day just on the edge of his parish.  The pa’son was one who dearly loved sport, and much he longed to be there.

‘In short, except o’ Sundays and at tide-times in the week, Pa’son Billy was the life o’ the Hunt.  ’Tis true that he was poor, and that he rode all of a heap, and that his black mare was rat-tailed and old, and his tops older, and all over of one colour, whitey-brown, and full o’ cracks.  But he’d been in at the death of three thousand foxes.  And—being a bachelor man—every time he went to bed in summer he used to open the bed at bottom and crawl up head foremost, to mind ’em of the coming winter and the good sport he’d have, and the foxes going to earth.  And whenever there was a christening at the Squire’s, and he had dinner there afterwards, as he always did, he never failed to christen the chiel over again in a bottle of port wine.

‘Now the clerk was the parson’s groom and gardener and jineral manager, and had just got back to his work in the garden when he, too, saw the hunting man pass, and presently saw lots more of ’em, noblemen and gentry, and then he saw the hounds, the huntsman, Jim Treadhedge, the whipper-in, and I don’t know who besides.  The clerk loved going to cover as frantical as the pa’son, so much so that whenever he saw or heard the pack he could no more rule his feelings than if they were the winds of heaven.  He might be bedding, or he might be sowing—all was forgot.  So he throws down his spade and rushes in to the pa’son, who was by this time as frantical to go as he.

‘“That there mare of yours, sir, do want exercise bad, very bad, this morning!” the clerk says, all of a tremble.  “Don’t ye think I’d better trot her round the downs for an hour, sir?”

‘“To be sure, she does want exercise badly.  I’ll trot her round myself,” says the parson.

‘“Oh—you’ll trot her yerself?  Well, there’s the cob, sir.  Really that cob is getting oncontrollable through biding in a stable so long!  If you wouldn’t mind my putting on the saddle—”

‘“Very well.  Take him out, certainly,” says the pa’son, never caring what the clerk did so long as he himself could get off immediately.  So, scrambling into his riding-boots and breeches as quick as he could, he rode off towards the meet, intending to be back in an hour.  No sooner was he gone than the clerk mounted the cob, and was off after him.  When the pa’son got to the meet, he found a lot of friends, and was as jolly as he could be: the hounds found a’most as soon as they threw off, and there was great excitement.  So, forgetting that he had meant to go back at once, away rides the pa’son with the rest o’ the hunt, all across the fallow ground that lies between Lippet Wood and Green’s Copse; and as he galloped he looked behind for a moment, and there was the clerk close to his heels.

‘“Ha, ha, clerk—you here?” he says.

‘“Yes, sir, here be I,” says t’other.

‘“Fine exercise for the horses!”

‘“Ay, sir—hee, hee!” says the clerk.

‘So they went on and on, into Green’s Copse, then across to Higher Jirton; then on across this very turnpike-road to Climmerston Ridge, then away towards Yalbury Wood: up hill and down dale, like the very wind, the clerk close to the pa’son, and the pa’son not far from the hounds.  Never was there a finer run knowed with that pack than they had that day; and neither pa’son nor clerk thought one word about the unmarried couple locked up in the church tower waiting to get j’ined.

‘“These hosses of yours, sir, will be much improved by this!” says the clerk as he rode along, just a neck behind the pa’son.  “’Twas a happy thought of your reverent mind to bring ’em out to-day.  Why, it may be frosty in a day or two, and then the poor things mid not be able to leave the stable for weeks.”

‘“They may not, they may not, it is true.  A merciful man is merciful to his beast,” says the pa’son.

‘“Hee, hee!” says the clerk, glancing sly into the pa’son’s eye.

‘“Ha, ha!” says the pa’son, a-glancing back into the clerk’s.  “Halloo!” he shouts, as he sees the fox break cover at that moment.

‘“Halloo!” cries the clerk.  “There he goes!  Why, dammy, there’s two foxes—”

‘“Hush, clerk, hush!  Don’t let me hear that word again!  Remember our calling.”

‘“True, sir, true.  But really, good sport do carry away a man so, that he’s apt to forget his high persuasion!”  And the next minute the corner of the clerk’s eye shot again into the corner of the pa’son’s, and the pa’son’s back again to the clerk’s.  “Hee, hee!” said the clerk.

‘“Ha, ha!” said Pa’son Toogood.

‘“Ah, sir,” says the clerk again, “this is better than crying Amen to your Ever-and-ever on a winter’s morning!”

‘“Yes, indeed, clerk!  To everything there’s a season,” says Pa’son Toogood, quite pat, for he was a learned Christian man when he liked, and had chapter and ve’se at his tongue’s end, as a pa’son should.

‘At last, late in the day, the hunting came to an end by the fox running into a’ old woman’s cottage, under her table, and up the clock-case.  The pa’son and clerk were among the first in at the death, their faces a-staring in at the old woman’s winder, and the clock striking as he’d never been heard to strik’ before.  Then came the question of finding their way home.

‘Neither the pa’son nor the clerk knowed how they were going to do this, for their beasts were wellnigh tired down to the ground.  But they started back-along as well as they could, though they were so done up that they could only drag along at a’ amble, and not much of that at a time.

‘“We shall never, never get there!” groaned Mr. Toogood, quite bowed down.

‘“Never!” groans the clerk.  “’Tis a judgment upon us for our iniquities!”

‘“I fear it is,” murmurs the pa’son.

‘Well, ’twas quite dark afore they entered the pa’sonage gate, having crept into the parish as quiet as if they’d stole a hammer, little wishing their congregation to know what they’d been up to all day long.  And as they were so dog-tired, and so anxious about the horses, never once did they think of the unmarried couple.  As soon as ever the horses had been stabled and fed, and the pa’son and clerk had had a bit and a sup theirselves, they went to bed.

‘Next morning when Pa’son Toogood was at breakfast, thinking of the glorious sport he’d had the day before, the clerk came in a hurry to the door and asked to see him.

‘“It has just come into my mind, sir, that we’ve forgot all about the couple that we was to have married yesterday!”

‘The half-chawed victuals dropped from the pa’son’s mouth as if he’d been shot.  “Bless my soul,” says he, “so we have!  How very awkward!”

‘“It is, sir; very.  Perhaps we’ve ruined the ’ooman!”

‘“Ah—to be sure—I remember!  She ought to have been married before.”

‘“If anything has happened to her up in that there tower, and no doctor or nuss—”

(‘Ah—poor thing!’ sighed the women.)

‘“—’twill be a quarter-sessions matter for us, not to speak of the disgrace to the Church!”

‘“Good God, clerk, don’t drive me wild!” says the pa’son.  “Why the hell didn’t I marry ’em, drunk or sober!”  (Pa’sons used to cuss in them days like plain honest men.)  “Have you been to the church to see what happened to them, or inquired in the village?”

‘“Not I, sir!  It only came into my head a moment ago, and I always like to be second to you in church matters.  You could have knocked me down with a sparrer’s feather when I thought o’t, sir; I assure ’ee you could!”

‘Well, the parson jumped up from his breakfast, and together they went off to the church.

‘“It is not at all likely that they are there now,” says Mr. Toogood, as they went; “and indeed I hope they are not.  They be pretty sure to have ’scaped and gone home.”

‘However, they opened the church-hatch, entered the churchyard, and looking up at the tower, there they seed a little small white face at the belfry-winder, and a little small hand waving.  ’Twas the bride.

‘“God my life, clerk,” says Mr. Toogood, “I don’t know how to face ’em!”  And he sank down upon a tombstone.  “How I wish I hadn’t been so cussed particular!”

‘“Yes—’twas a pity we didn’t finish it when we’d begun,” the clerk said.  “Still, since the feelings of your holy priestcraft wouldn’t let ye, the couple must put up with it.”

‘“True, clerk, true!  Does she look as if anything premature had took place?”

‘“I can’t see her no lower down than her arm-pits, sir.”

‘“Well—how do her face look?”

‘“It do look mighty white!”

‘“Well, we must know the worst!  Dear me, how the small of my back do ache from that ride yesterday! . . . But to more godly business!”

‘They went on into the church, and unlocked the tower stairs, and immediately poor Jane and Andrey busted out like starved mice from a cupboard, Andrey limp and sober enough now, and his bride pale and cold, but otherwise as usual.

‘“What,” says the pa’son, with a great breath of relief, “you haven’t been here ever since?”

‘“Yes, we have, sir!” says the bride, sinking down upon a seat in her weakness.  “Not a morsel, wet or dry, have we had since!  It was impossible to get out without help, and here we’ve stayed!”

‘“But why didn’t you shout, good souls?” said the pa’son.

‘“She wouldn’t let me,” says Andrey.

‘“Because we were so ashamed at what had led to it,” sobs Jane.  “We felt that if it were noised abroad it would cling to us all our lives!  Once or twice Andrey had a good mind to toll the bell, but then he said: “No; I’ll starve first.  I won’t bring disgrace on my name and yours, my dear.”  And so we waited and waited, and walked round and round; but never did you come till now!”

‘“To my regret!” says the parson.  “Now, then, we will soon get it over.”

‘“I—I should like some victuals,” said Andrey, “’twould gie me courage if it is only a crust o’ bread and a’ onion; for I am that leery that I can feel my stomach rubbing against my backbone.”

‘“I think we had better get it done,” said the bride, a bit anxious in manner; “since we are all here convenient, too!”

‘Andrey gave way about the victuals, and the clerk called in a second witness who wouldn’t be likely to gossip about it, and soon the knot was tied, and the bride looked smiling and calm forthwith, and Andrey limper than ever.

‘“Now,” said Pa’son Toogood, “you two must come to my house, and have a good lining put to your insides before you go a step further.”

‘They were very glad of the offer, and went out of the churchyard by one path while the pa’son and clerk went out by the other, and so did not attract notice, it being still early.  They entered the rectory as if they’d just come back from their trip to Port Bredy; and then they knocked in the victuals and drink till they could hold no more.

‘It was a long while before the story of what they had gone through was known, but it was talked of in time, and they themselves laugh over it now; though what Jane got for her pains was no great bargain after all.  ’Tis true she saved her name.’

* * * * *

‘Was that the same Andrey who went to the squire’s house as one of the Christmas fiddlers?’ asked the seedsman.

‘No, no,’ replied Mr. Profitt, the schoolmaster.  ‘It was his father did that.  Ay, it was all owing to his being such a man for eating and drinking.’  Finding that he had the ear of the audience, the schoolmaster continued without delay:—

 

OLD ANDREY’S EXPERIENCE AS A MUSICIAN

‘I was one of the choir-boys at that time, and we and the players were to appear at the manor-house as usual that Christmas week, to play and sing in the hall to the squire’s people and visitors (among ’em being the archdeacon, Lord and Lady Baxby, and I don’t know who); afterwards going, as we always did, to have a good supper in the servants’ hall.  Andrew knew this was the custom, and meeting us when we were starting to go, he said to us: “Lord, how I should like to join in that meal of beef, and turkey, and plum-pudding, and ale, that you happy ones be going to just now!  One more or less will make no difference to the squire.  I am too old to pass as a singing boy, and too bearded to pass as a singing girl; can ye lend me a fiddle, neighbours, that I may come with ye as a bandsman?”

‘Well, we didn’t like to be hard upon him, and lent him an old one, though Andrew knew no more of music than the Cerne Giant; and armed with the instrument he walked up to the squire’s house with the others of us at the time appointed, and went in boldly, his fiddle under his arm.  He made himself as natural as he could in opening the music-books and moving the candles to the best points for throwing light upon the notes; and all went well till we had played and sung “While shepherds watch,” and “Star, arise,” and “Hark the glad sound.”  Then the squire’s mother, a tall gruff old lady, who was much interested in church-music, said quite unexpectedly to Andrew: “My man, I see you don’t play your instrument with the rest.  How is that?”

‘Every one of the choir was ready to sink into the earth with concern at the fix Andrew was in.  We could see that he had fallen into a cold sweat, and how he would get out of it we did not know.

‘“I’ve had a misfortune, mem,” he says, bowing as meek as a child.  “Coming along the road I fell down and broke my bow.”

‘“Oh, I am sorry to hear that,” says she.  “Can’t it be mended?”

‘“Oh no, mem,” says Andrew.  “’Twas broke all to splinters.”

‘“I’ll see what I can do for you,” says she.

‘And then it seemed all over, and we played “Rejoice, ye drowsy mortals all,” in D and two sharps.  But no sooner had we got through it than she says to Andrew,

‘“I’ve sent up into the attic, where we have some old musical instruments, and found a bow for you.”  And she hands the bow to poor wretched Andrew, who didn’t even know which end to take hold of.  “Now we shall have the full accompaniment,” says she.

‘Andrew’s face looked as if it were made of rotten apple as he stood in the circle of players in front of his book; for if there was one person in the parish that everybody was afraid of, ’twas this hook-nosed old lady.  However, by keeping a little behind the next man he managed to make pretence of beginning, sawing away with his bow without letting it touch the strings, so that it looked as if he were driving into the tune with heart and soul.  ’Tis a question if he wouldn’t have got through all right if one of the squire’s visitors (no other than the archdeacon) hadn’t noticed that he held the fiddle upside down, the nut under his chin, and the tail-piece in his hand; and they began to crowd round him, thinking ’twas some new way of performing.

‘This revealed everything; the squire’s mother had Andrew turned out of the house as a vile impostor, and there was great interruption to the harmony of the proceedings, the squire declaring he should have notice to leave his cottage that day fortnight.  However, when we got to the servants’ hall there sat Andrew, who had been let in at the back door by the orders of the squire’s wife, after being turned out at the front by the orders of the squire, and nothing more was heard about his leaving his cottage.  But Andrew never performed in public as a musician after that night; and now he’s dead and gone, poor man, as we all shall be!’

* * * * *

‘I had quite forgotten the old choir, with their fiddles and bass-viols,’ said the home-comer, musingly.  ‘Are they still going on the same as of old?’

‘Bless the man!’ said Christopher Twink, the master-thatcher; ‘why, they’ve been done away with these twenty year.  A young teetotaler plays the organ in church now, and plays it very well; though ’tis not quite such good music as in old times, because the organ is one of them that go with a winch, and the young teetotaler says he can’t always throw the proper feeling into the tune without wellnigh working his arms off.’

‘Why did they make the change, then?’

‘Well, partly because of fashion, partly because the old musicians got into a sort of scrape.  A terrible scrape ’twas too—wasn’t it, John?  I shall never forget it—never!  They lost their character as officers of the church as complete as if they’d never had any character at all.’

‘That was very bad for them.’

‘Yes.’  The master-thatcher attentively regarded past times as if they lay about a mile off, and went on:—

 

ABSENT-MINDEDNESS IN A PARISH CHOIR

‘It happened on Sunday after Christmas—the last Sunday ever they played in Longpuddle church gallery, as it turned out, though they didn’t know it then.  As you may know, sir, the players formed a very good band—almost as good as the Mellstock parish players that were led by the Dewys; and that’s saying a great deal.  There was Nicholas Puddingcome, the leader, with the first fiddle; there was Timothy Thomas, the bass-viol man; John Biles, the tenor fiddler; Dan’l Hornhead, with the serpent; Robert Dowdle, with the clarionet; and Mr. Nicks, with the oboe—all sound and powerful musicians, and strong-winded men—they that blowed.  For that reason they were very much in demand Christmas week for little reels and dancing parties; for they could turn a jig or a hornpipe out of hand as well as ever they could turn out a psalm, and perhaps better, not to speak irreverent.  In short, one half-hour they could be playing a Christmas carol in the squire’s hall to the ladies and gentlemen, and drinking tea and coffee with ’em as modest as saints; and the next, at The Tinker’s Arms, blazing away like wild horses with the “Dashing White Sergeant” to nine couple of dancers and more, and swallowing rum-and-cider hot as flame.

‘Well, this Christmas they’d been out to one rattling randy after another every night, and had got next to no sleep at all.  Then came the Sunday after Christmas, their fatal day.  ’Twas so mortal cold that year that they could hardly sit in the gallery; for though the congregation down in the body of the church had a stove to keep off the frost, the players in the gallery had nothing at all.  So Nicholas said at morning service, when ’twas freezing an inch an hour, “Please the Lord I won’t stand this numbing weather no longer: this afternoon we’ll have something in our insides to make us warm, if it cost a king’s ransom.”

‘So he brought a gallon of hot brandy and beer, ready mixed, to church with him in the afternoon, and by keeping the jar well wrapped up in Timothy Thomas’s bass-viol bag it kept drinkably warm till they wanted it, which was just a thimbleful in the Absolution, and another after the Creed, and the remainder at the beginning o’ the sermon.  When they’d had the last pull they felt quite comfortable and warm, and as the sermon went on—most unfortunately for ’em it was a long one that afternoon—they fell asleep, every man jack of ’em; and there they slept on as sound as rocks.

‘’Twas a very dark afternoon, and by the end of the sermon all you could see of the inside of the church were the pa’son’s two candles alongside of him in the pulpit, and his spaking face behind ’em.  The sermon being ended at last, the pa’son gie’d out the Evening Hymn.  But no choir set about sounding up the tune, and the people began to turn their heads to learn the reason why, and then Levi Limpet, a boy who sat in the gallery, nudged Timothy and Nicholas, and said, “Begin! begin!”

‘“Hey? what?” says Nicholas, starting up; and the church being so dark and his head so muddled he thought he was at the party they had played at all the night before, and away he went, bow and fiddle, at “The Devil among the Tailors,” the favourite jig of our neighbourhood at that time.  The rest of the band, being in the same state of mind and nothing doubting, followed their leader with all their strength, according to custom.  They poured out that there tune till the lower bass notes of “The Devil among the Tailors” made the cobwebs in the roof shiver like ghosts; then Nicholas, seeing nobody moved, shouted out as he scraped (in his usual commanding way at dances when the folk didn’t know the figures), “Top couples cross hands!  And when I make the fiddle squeak at the end, every man kiss his pardner under the mistletoe!”

‘The boy Levi was so frightened that he bolted down the gallery stairs and out homeward like lightning.  The pa’son’s hair fairly stood on end when he heard the evil tune raging through the church, and thinking the choir had gone crazy he held up his hand and said: “Stop, stop, stop!  Stop, stop!  What’s this?”  But they didn’t hear’n for the noise of their own playing, and the more he called the louder they played.

‘Then the folks came out of their pews, wondering down to the ground, and saying: “What do they mean by such wickedness!  We shall be consumed like Sodom and Gomorrah!”

‘Then the squire came out of his pew lined wi’ green baize, where lots of lords and ladies visiting at the house were worshipping along with him, and went and stood in front of the gallery, and shook his fist in the musicians’ faces, saying, “What!  In this reverent edifice!  What!”

‘And at last they heard’n through their playing, and stopped.

‘“Never such an insulting, disgraceful thing—never!” says the squire, who couldn’t rule his passion.

‘“Never!” says the pa’son, who had come down and stood beside him.

‘“Not if the Angels of Heaven,” says the squire (he was a wickedish man, the squire was, though now for once he happened to be on the Lord’s side)—“not if the Angels of Heaven come down,” he says, “shall one of you villanous players ever sound a note in this church again; for the insult to me, and my family, and my visitors, and God Almighty, that you’ve a-perpetrated this afternoon!”

‘Then the unfortunate church band came to their senses, and remembered where they were; and ’twas a sight to see Nicholas Pudding come and Timothy Thomas and John Biles creep down the gallery stairs with their fiddles under their arms, and poor Dan’l Hornhead with his serpent, and Robert Dowdle with his clarionet, all looking as little as ninepins; and out they went.  The pa’son might have forgi’ed ’em when he learned the truth o’t, but the squire would not.  That very week he sent for a barrel-organ that would play two-and-twenty new psalm-tunes, so exact and particular that, however sinful inclined you was, you could play nothing but psalm-tunes whatsomever.  He had a really respectable man to turn the winch, as I said, and the old players played no more.’

* * * * *

‘And, of course, my old acquaintance, the annuitant, Mrs. Winter, who always seemed to have something on her mind, is dead and gone?’ said the home-comer, after a long silence.

Nobody in the van seemed to recollect the name.

‘O yes, she must be dead long since: she was seventy when I as a child knew her,’ he added.

‘I can recollect Mrs. Winter very well, if nobody else can,’ said the aged groceress.  ‘Yes, she’s been dead these five-and-twenty year at least.  You knew what it was upon her mind, sir, that gave her that hollow-eyed look, I suppose?’

‘It had something to do with a son of hers, I think I once was told.  But I was too young to know particulars.’

The groceress sighed as she conjured up a vision of days long past.  ‘Yes,’ she murmured, ‘it had all to do with a son.’  Finding that the van was still in a listening mood, she spoke on:—

 

THE WINTERS AND THE PALMLEYS

‘To go back to the beginning—if one must—there were two women in the parish when I was a child, who were to a certain extent rivals in good looks.  Never mind particulars, but in consequence of this they were at daggers-drawn, and they did not love each other any better when one of them tempted the other’s lover away from her and married him.  He was a young man of the name of Winter, and in due time they had a son.

‘The other woman did not marry for many years: but when she was about thirty a quiet man named Palmley asked her to be his wife, and she accepted him.  You don’t mind when the Palmleys were Longpuddle folk, but I do well.  She had a son also, who was, of course, nine or ten years younger than the son of the first.  The child proved to be of rather weak intellect, though his mother loved him as the apple of her eye.

‘This woman’s husband died when the child was eight years old, and left his widow and boy in poverty.  Her former rival, also a widow now, but fairly well provided for, offered for pity’s sake to take the child as errand-boy, small as he was, her own son, Jack, being hard upon seventeen.  Her poor neighbour could do no better than let the child go there.  And to the richer woman’s house little Palmley straightway went.

‘Well, in some way or other—how, it was never exactly known—the thriving woman, Mrs. Winter, sent the little boy with a message to the next village one December day, much against his will.  It was getting dark, and the child prayed to be allowed not to go, because he would be afraid coming home.  But the mistress insisted, more out of thoughtlessness than cruelty, and the child went.  On his way back he had to pass through Yalbury Wood, and something came out from behind a tree and frightened him into fits.  The child was quite ruined by it; he became quite a drivelling idiot, and soon afterward died.

‘Then the other woman had nothing left to live for, and vowed vengeance against that rival who had first won away her lover, and now had been the cause of her bereavement.  This last affliction was certainly not intended by her thriving acquaintance, though it must be owned that when it was done she seemed but little concerned.  Whatever vengeance poor Mrs. Palmley felt, she had no opportunity of carrying it out, and time might have softened her feelings into forgetfulness of her supposed wrongs as she dragged on her lonely life.  So matters stood when, a year after the death of the child, Mrs. Palmley’s niece, who had been born and bred in the city of Exonbury, came to live with her.

‘This young woman—Miss Harriet Palmley—was a proud and handsome girl, very well brought up, and more stylish and genteel than the people of our village, as was natural, considering where she came from.  She regarded herself as much above Mrs. Winter and her son in position as Mrs. Winter and her son considered themselves above poor Mrs. Palmley.  But love is an unceremonious thing, and what in the world should happen but that young Jack Winter must fall wofully and wildly in love with Harriet Palmley almost as soon as he saw her.

‘She, being better educated than he, and caring nothing for the village notion of his mother’s superiority to her aunt, did not give him much encouragement.  But Longpuddle being no very large world, the two could not help seeing a good deal of each other while she was staying there, and, disdainful young woman as she was, she did seem to take a little pleasure in his attentions and advances.

‘One day when they were picking apples together, he asked her to marry him.  She had not expected anything so practical as that at so early a time, and was led by her surprise into a half-promise; at any rate she did not absolutely refuse him, and accepted some little presents that he made her.

‘But he saw that her view of him was rather as a simple village lad than as a young man to look up to, and he felt that he must do something bold to secure her.  So he said one day, “I am going away, to try to get into a better position than I can get here.”  In two or three weeks he wished her good-bye, and went away to Monksbury, to superintend a farm, with a view to start as a farmer himself; and from there he wrote regularly to her, as if their marriage were an understood thing.

‘Now Harriet liked the young man’s presents and the admiration of his eyes; but on paper he was less attractive to her.  Her mother had been a school-mistress, and Harriet had besides a natural aptitude for pen-and-ink work, in days when to be a ready writer was not such a common thing as it is now, and when actual handwriting was valued as an accomplishment in itself.  Jack Winter’s performances in the shape of love-letters quite jarred her city nerves and her finer taste, and when she answered one of them, in the lovely running hand that she took such pride in, she very strictly and loftily bade him to practise with a pen and spelling-book if he wished to please her.  Whether he listened to her request or not nobody knows, but his letters did not improve.  He ventured to tell her in his clumsy way that if her heart were more warm towards him she would not be so nice about his handwriting and spelling; which indeed was true enough.

‘Well, in Jack’s absence the weak flame that had been set alight in Harriet’s heart soon sank low, and at last went out altogether.  He wrote and wrote, and begged and prayed her to give a reason for her coldness; and then she told him plainly that she was town born, and he was not sufficiently well educated to please her.

‘Jack Winter’s want of pen-and-ink training did not make him less thin-skinned than others; in fact, he was terribly tender and touchy about anything.  This reason that she gave for finally throwing him over grieved him, shamed him, and mortified him more than can be told in these times, the pride of that day in being able to write with beautiful flourishes, and the sorrow at not being able to do so, raging so high.  Jack replied to her with an angry note, and then she hit back with smart little stings, telling him how many words he had misspelt in his last letter, and declaring again that this alone was sufficient justification for any woman to put an end to an understanding with him.  Her husband must be a better scholar.

‘He bore her rejection of him in silence, but his suffering was sharp—all the sharper in being untold.  She communicated with Jack no more; and as his reason for going out into the world had been only to provide a home worthy of her, he had no further object in planning such a home now that she was lost to him.  He therefore gave up the farming occupation by which he had hoped to make himself a master-farmer, and left the spot to return to his mother.

‘As soon as he got back to Longpuddle he found that Harriet had already looked wi’ favour upon another lover.  He was a young road-contractor, and Jack could not but admit that his rival was both in manners and scholarship much ahead of him.  Indeed, a more sensible match for the beauty who had been dropped into the village by fate could hardly have been found than this man, who could offer her so much better a chance than Jack could have done, with his uncertain future and narrow abilities for grappling with the world.  The fact was so clear to him that he could hardly blame her.

‘One day by accident Jack saw on a scrap of paper the handwriting of Harriet’s new beloved.  It was flowing like a stream, well spelt, the work of a man accustomed to the ink-bottle and the dictionary, of a man already called in the parish a good scholar.  And then it struck all of a sudden into Jack’s mind what a contrast the letters of this young man must make to his own miserable old letters, and how ridiculous they must make his lines appear.  He groaned and wished he had never written to her, and wondered if she had ever kept his poor performances.  Possibly she had kept them, for women are in the habit of doing that, he thought, and whilst they were in her hands there was always a chance of his honest, stupid love-assurances to her being joked over by Harriet with her present lover, or by anybody who should accidentally uncover them.

‘The nervous, moody young man could not bear the thought of it, and at length decided to ask her to return them, as was proper when engagements were broken off.  He was some hours in framing, copying, and recopying the short note in which he made his request, and having finished it he sent it to her house.  His messenger came back with the answer, by word of mouth, that Miss Palmley bade him say she should not part with what was hers, and wondered at his boldness in troubling her.

‘Jack was much affronted at this, and determined to go for his letters himself.  He chose a time when he knew she was at home, and knocked and went in without much ceremony; for though Harriet was so high and mighty, Jack had small respect for her aunt, Mrs. Palmley, whose little child had been his boot-cleaner in earlier days.  Harriet was in the room, this being the first time they had met since she had jilted him.  He asked for his letters with a stern and bitter look at her.

‘At first she said he might have them for all that she cared, and took them out of the bureau where she kept them.  Then she glanced over the outside one of the packet, and suddenly altering her mind, she told him shortly that his request was a silly one, and slipped the letters into her aunt’s work-box, which stood open on the table, locking it, and saying with a bantering laugh that of course she thought it best to keep ’em, since they might be useful to produce as evidence that she had good cause for declining to marry him.

‘He blazed up hot.  “Give me those letters!” he said.  “They are mine!”

‘“No, they are not,” she replied; “they are mine.”

‘“Whos’ever they are I want them back,” says he.  “I don’t want to be made sport of for my penmanship: you’ve another young man now! he has your confidence, and you pour all your tales into his ear.  You’ll be showing them to him!”

‘“Perhaps,” said my lady Harriet, with calm coolness, like the heartless woman that she was.

‘Her manner so maddened him that he made a step towards the work-box, but she snatched it up, locked it in the bureau, and turned upon him triumphant.  For a moment he seemed to be going to wrench the key of the bureau out of her hand; but he stopped himself, and swung round upon his heel and went away.

‘When he was out-of-doors alone, and it got night, he walked about restless, and stinging with the sense of being beaten at all points by her.  He could not help fancying her telling her new lover or her acquaintances of this scene with himself, and laughing with them over those poor blotted, crooked lines of his that he had been so anxious to obtain.  As the evening passed on he worked himself into a dogged resolution to have them back at any price, come what might.

‘At the dead of night he came out of his mother’s house by the back door, and creeping through the garden hedge went along the field adjoining till he reached the back of her aunt’s dwelling.  The moon struck bright and flat upon the walls, ’twas said, and every shiny leaf of the creepers was like a little looking-glass in the rays.  From long acquaintance Jack knew the arrangement and position of everything in Mrs. Palmley’s house as well as in his own mother’s.  The back window close to him was a casement with little leaded squares, as it is to this day, and was, as now, one of two lighting the sitting-room.  The other, being in front, was closed up with shutters, but this back one had not even a blind, and the moonlight as it streamed in showed every article of the furniture to him outside.  To the right of the room is the fireplace, as you may remember; to the left was the bureau at that time; inside the bureau was Harriet’s work-box, as he supposed (though it was really her aunt’s), and inside the work-box were his letters.  Well, he took out his pocket-knife, and without noise lifted the leading of one of the panes, so that he could take out the glass, and putting his hand through the hole he unfastened the casement, and climbed in through the opening.  All the household—that is to say, Mrs. Palmley, Harriet, and the little maid-servant—were asleep.  Jack went straight to the bureau, so he said, hoping it might have been unfastened again—it not being kept locked in ordinary—but Harriet had never unfastened it since she secured her letters there the day before.  Jack told afterward how he thought of her asleep upstairs, caring nothing for him, and of the way she had made sport of him and of his letters; and having advanced so far, he was not to be hindered now.  By forcing the large blade of his knife under the flap of the bureau, he burst the weak lock; within was the rosewood work-box just as she had placed it in her hurry to keep it from him.  There being no time to spare for getting the letters out of it then, he took it under his arm, shut the bureau, and made the best of his way out of the house, latching the casement behind him, and refixing the pane of glass in its place.

‘Winter found his way back to his mother’s as he had come, and being dog-tired, crept upstairs to bed, hiding the box till he could destroy its contents.  The next morning early he set about doing this, and carried it to the linhay at the back of his mother’s dwelling.  Here by the hearth he opened the box, and began burning one by one the letters that had cost him so much labour to write and shame to think of, meaning to return the box to Harriet, after repairing the slight damage he had caused it by opening it without a key, with a note—the last she would ever receive from him—telling her triumphantly that in refusing to return what he had asked for she had calculated too surely upon his submission to her whims.

‘But on removing the last letter from the box he received a shock; for underneath it, at the very bottom, lay money—several golden guineas—“Doubtless Harriet’s pocket-money,” he said to himself; though it was not, but Mrs. Palmley’s.  Before he had got over his qualms at this discovery he heard footsteps coming through the house-passage to where he was.  In haste he pushed the box and what was in it under some brushwood which lay in the linhay; but Jack had been already seen.  Two constables entered the out-house, and seized him as he knelt before the fireplace, securing the work-box and all it contained at the same moment.  They had come to apprehend him on a charge of breaking into the dwelling-house of Mrs. Palmley on the night preceding; and almost before the lad knew what had happened to him they were leading him along the lane that connects that end of the village with this turnpike-road, and along they marched him between ’em all the way to Casterbridge jail.

‘Jack’s act amounted to night burglary—though he had never thought of it—and burglary was felony, and a capital offence in those days.  His figure had been seen by some one against the bright wall as he came away from Mrs. Palmley’s back window, and the box and money were found in his possession, while the evidence of the broken bureau-lock and tinkered window-pane was more than enough for circumstantial detail.  Whether his protestation that he went only for his letters, which he believed to be wrongfully kept from him, would have availed him anything if supported by other evidence I do not know; but the one person who could have borne it out was Harriet, and she acted entirely under the sway of her aunt.  That aunt was deadly towards Jack Winter.  Mrs. Palmley’s time had come.  Here was her revenge upon the woman who had first won away her lover, and next ruined and deprived her of her heart’s treasure—her little son.  When the assize week drew on, and Jack had to stand his trial, Harriet did not appear in the case at all, which was allowed to take its course, Mrs. Palmley testifying to the general facts of the burglary.  Whether Harriet would have come forward if Jack had appealed to her is not known; possibly she would have done it for pity’s sake; but Jack was too proud to ask a single favour of a girl who had jilted him; and he let her alone.  The trial was a short one, and the death sentence was passed.

‘The day o’ young Jack’s execution was a cold dusty Saturday in March.  He was so boyish and slim that they were obliged in mercy to hang him in the heaviest fetters kept in the jail, lest his heft should not break his neck, and they weighed so upon him that he could hardly drag himself up to the drop.  At that time the gover’ment was not strict about burying the body of an executed person within the precincts of the prison, and at the earnest prayer of his poor mother his body was allowed to be brought home.  All the parish waited at their cottage doors in the evening for its arrival: I remember how, as a very little girl, I stood by my mother’s side.  About eight o’clock, as we hearkened on our door-stones in the cold bright starlight, we could hear the faint crackle of a waggon from the direction of the turnpike-road.  The noise was lost as the waggon dropped into a hollow, then it was plain again as it lumbered down the next long incline, and presently it entered Longpuddle.  The coffin was laid in the belfry for the night, and the next day, Sunday, between the services, we buried him.  A funeral sermon was preached the same afternoon, the text chosen being, “He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” . . . Yes, they were cruel times!

‘As for Harriet, she and her lover were married in due time; but by all account her life was no jocund one.  She and her good-man found that they could not live comfortably at Longpuddle, by reason of her connection with Jack’s misfortunes, and they settled in a distant town, and were no more heard of by us; Mrs. Palmley, too, found it advisable to join ’em shortly after.  The dark-eyed, gaunt old Mrs. Winter, remembered by the emigrant gentleman here, was, as you will have foreseen, the Mrs. Winter of this story; and I can well call to mind how lonely she was, how afraid the children were of her, and how she kept herself as a stranger among us, though she lived so long.’

* * * * *

‘Longpuddle has had her sad experiences as well as her sunny ones,’ said Mr. Lackland.

‘Yes, yes.  But I am thankful to say not many like that, though good and bad have lived among us.’

‘There was Georgy Crookhill—he was one of the shady sort, as I have reason to know,’ observed the registrar, with the manner of a man who would like to have his say also.

‘I used to hear what he was as a boy at school.’

‘Well, as he began so he went on.  It never got so far as a hanging matter with him, to be sure; but he had some narrow escapes of penal servitude; and once it was a case of the biter bit.’

 

INCIDENT IN THE LIFE OF MR. GEORGE CROOKHILL

‘One day,’ the registrar continued, ‘Georgy was ambling out of Melchester on a miserable screw, the fair being just over, when he saw in front of him a fine-looking young farmer riding out of the town in the same direction.  He was mounted on a good strong handsome animal, worth fifty guineas if worth a crown.  When they were going up Bissett Hill, Georgy made it his business to overtake the young farmer.  They passed the time o’ day to one another; Georgy spoke of the state of the roads, and jogged alongside the well-mounted stranger in very friendly conversation.  The farmer had not been inclined to say much to Georgy at first, but by degrees he grew quite affable too—as friendly as Georgy was toward him.  He told Crookhill that he had been doing business at Melchester fair, and was going on as far as Shottsford-Forum that night, so as to reach Casterbridge market the next day.  When they came to Woodyates Inn they stopped to bait their horses, and agreed to drink together; with this they got more friendly than ever, and on they went again.  Before they had nearly reached Shottsford it came on to rain, and as they were now passing through the village of Trantridge, and it was quite dark, Georgy persuaded the young farmer to go no further that night; the rain would most likely give them a chill.  For his part he had heard that the little inn here was comfortable, and he meant to stay.  At last the young farmer agreed to put up there also; and they dismounted, and entered, and had a good supper together, and talked over their affairs like men who had known and proved each other a long time.  When it was the hour for retiring they went upstairs to a double-bedded room which Georgy Crookhill had asked the landlord to let them share, so sociable were they.

‘Before they fell asleep they talked across the room about one thing and another, running from this to that till the conversation turned upon disguises, and changing clothes for particular ends.  The farmer told Georgy that he had often heard tales of people doing it; but Crookhill professed to be very ignorant of all such tricks; and soon the young farmer sank into slumber.

‘Early in the morning, while the tall young farmer was still asleep (I tell the story as ’twas told me), honest Georgy crept out of his bed by stealth, and dressed himself in the farmer’s clothes, in the pockets of the said clothes being the farmer’s money.  Now though Georgy particularly wanted the farmer’s nice clothes and nice horse, owing to a little transaction at the fair which made it desirable that he should not be too easily recognized, his desires had their bounds: he did not wish to take his young friend’s money, at any rate more of it than was necessary for paying his bill.  This he abstracted, and leaving the farmer’s purse containing the rest on the bedroom table, went downstairs.  The inn folks had not particularly noticed the faces of their customers, and the one or two who were up at this hour had no thought but that Georgy was the farmer; so when he had paid the bill very liberally, and said he must be off, no objection was made to his getting the farmer’s horse saddled for himself; and he rode away upon it as if it were his own.

‘About half an hour after the young farmer awoke, and looking across the room saw that his friend Georgy had gone away in clothes which didn’t belong to him, and had kindly left for himself the seedy ones worn by Georgy.  At this he sat up in a deep thought for some time, instead of hastening to give an alarm.  “The money, the money is gone,” he said to himself, “and that’s bad.  But so are the clothes.”

‘He then looked upon the table and saw that the money, or most of it, had been left behind.

‘“Ha, ha, ha!” he cried, and began to dance about the room.  “Ha, ha, ha!” he said again, and made beautiful smiles to himself in the shaving glass and in the brass candlestick; and then swung about his arms for all the world as if he were going through the sword exercise.

‘When he had dressed himself in Georgy’s clothes and gone downstairs, he did not seem to mind at all that they took him for the other; and even when he saw that he had been left a bad horse for a good one, he was not inclined to cry out.  They told him his friend had paid the bill, at which he seemed much pleased, and without waiting for breakfast he mounted Georgy’s horse and rode away likewise, choosing the nearest by-lane in preference to the high-road, without knowing that Georgy had chosen that by-lane also.

‘He had not trotted more than two miles in the personal character of Georgy Crookhill when, suddenly rounding a bend that the lane made thereabout, he came upon a man struggling in the hands of two village constables.  It was his friend Georgy, the borrower of his clothes and horse.  But so far was the young farmer from showing any alacrity in rushing forward to claim his property that he would have turned the poor beast he rode into the wood adjoining, if he had not been already perceived.

‘“Help, help, help!” cried the constables.  “Assistance in the name of the Crown!”

‘The young farmer could do nothing but ride forward.  “What’s the matter?” he inquired, as coolly as he could.

‘“A deserter—a deserter!” said they.  “One who’s to be tried by court-martial and shot without parley.  He deserted from the Dragoons at Cheltenham some days ago, and was tracked; but the search-party can’t find him anywhere, and we told ’em if we met him we’d hand him on to ’em forthwith.  The day after he left the barracks the rascal met a respectable farmer and made him drunk at an inn, and told him what a fine soldier he would make, and coaxed him to change clothes, to see how well a military uniform would become him.  This the simple farmer did; when our deserter said that for a joke he would leave the room and go to the landlady, to see if she would know him in that dress.  He never came back, and Farmer Jollice found himself in soldier’s clothes, the money in his pockets gone, and, when he got to the stable, his horse gone too.”

‘“A scoundrel!” says the young man in Georgy’s clothes.  “And is this the wretched caitiff?” (pointing to Georgy).

‘“No, no!” cries Georgy, as innocent as a babe of this matter of the soldier’s desertion.  “He’s the man!  He was wearing Farmer Jollice’s suit o’ clothes, and he slept in the same room wi’ me, and brought up the subject of changing clothes, which put it into my head to dress myself in his suit before he was awake.  He’s got on mine!”

‘“D’ye hear the villain?” groans the tall young man to the constables.  “Trying to get out of his crime by charging the first innocent man with it that he sees!  No, master soldier—that won’t do!”

‘“No, no!  That won’t do!” the constables chimed in.  “To have the impudence to say such as that, when we caught him in the act almost!  But, thank God, we’ve got the handcuffs on him at last.”

‘“We have, thank God,” said the tall young man.  “Well, I must move on.  Good luck to ye with your prisoner!”  And off he went, as fast as his poor jade would carry him.

‘The constables then, with Georgy handcuffed between ’em, and leading the horse, marched off in the other direction, toward the village where they had been accosted by the escort of soldiers sent to bring the deserter back, Georgy groaning: “I shall be shot, I shall be shot!”  They had not gone more than a mile before they met them.

‘“Hoi, there!” says the head constable.

‘“Hoi, yerself!” says the corporal in charge.

‘“We’ve got your man,” says the constable.

‘“Where?” says the corporal.

‘“Here, between us,” said the constable.  “Only you don’t recognize him out o’ uniform.”

‘The corporal looked at Georgy hard enough; then shook his head and said he was not the absconder.

‘“But the absconder changed clothes with Farmer Jollice, and took his horse; and this man has ’em, d’ye see!”

‘“’Tis not our man,” said the soldiers.  “He’s a tall young fellow with a mole on his right cheek, and a military bearing, which this man decidedly has not.”

‘“I told the two officers of justice that ’twas the other!” pleaded Georgy.  “But they wouldn’t believe me.”

‘And so it became clear that the missing dragoon was the tall young farmer, and not Georgy Crookhill—a fact which Farmer Jollice himself corroborated when he arrived on the scene.  As Georgy had only robbed the robber, his sentence was comparatively light.  The deserter from the Dragoons was never traced: his double shift of clothing having been of the greatest advantage to him in getting off; though he left Georgy’s horse behind him a few miles ahead, having found the poor creature more hindrance than aid.’

* * * * *

The man from abroad seemed to be less interested in the questionable characters of Longpuddle and their strange adventures than in the ordinary inhabitants and the ordinary events, though his local fellow-travellers preferred the former as subjects of discussion.  He now for the first time asked concerning young persons of the opposite sex—or rather those who had been young when he left his native land.  His informants, adhering to their own opinion that the remarkable was better worth telling than the ordinary, would not allow him to dwell upon the simple chronicles of those who had merely come and gone.  They asked him if he remembered Netty Sargent.

‘Netty Sargent—I do, just remember her.  She was a young woman living with her uncle when I left, if my childish recollection may be trusted.’

‘That was the maid.  She was a oneyer, if you like, sir.  Not any harm in her, you know, but up to everything.  You ought to hear how she got the copyhold of her house extended.  Oughtn’t he, Mr. Day?’

‘He ought,’ replied the world-ignored old painter.

‘Tell him, Mr. Day.  Nobody can do it better than you, and you know the legal part better than some of us.’

Day apologized, and began:—

 

NETTY SARGENT’S COPYHOLD

‘She continued to live with her uncle, in the lonely house by the copse, just as at the time you knew her; a tall spry young woman.  Ah, how well one can remember her black hair and dancing eyes at that time, and her sly way of screwing up her mouth when she meant to tease ye!  Well, she was hardly out of short frocks before the chaps were after her, and by long and by late she was courted by a young man whom perhaps you did not know—Jasper Cliff was his name—and, though she might have had many a better fellow, he so greatly took her fancy that ’twas Jasper or nobody for her.  He was a selfish customer, always thinking less of what he was going to do than of what he was going to gain by his doings.  Jasper’s eyes might have been fixed upon Netty, but his mind was upon her uncle’s house; though he was fond of her in his way—I admit that.

‘This house, built by her great-great-grandfather, with its garden and little field, was copyhold—granted upon lives in the old way, and had been so granted for generations.  Her uncle’s was the last life upon the property; so that at his death, if there was no admittance of new lives, it would all fall into the hands of the lord of the manor.  But ’twas easy to admit—a slight “fine,” as ’twas called, of a few pounds, was enough to entitle him to a new deed o’ grant by the custom of the manor; and the lord could not hinder it.

‘Now there could be no better provision for his niece and only relative than a sure house over her head, and Netty’s uncle should have seen to the renewal in time, owing to the peculiar custom of forfeiture by the dropping of the last life before the new fine was paid; for the Squire was very anxious to get hold of the house and land; and every Sunday when the old man came into the church and passed the Squire’s pew, the Squire would say, “A little weaker in his knees, a little crookeder in his back—and the readmittance not applied for: ha! ha!  I shall be able to make a complete clearing of that corner of the manor some day!”

‘’Twas extraordinary, now we look back upon it, that old Sargent should have been so dilatory; yet some people are like it; and he put off calling at the Squire’s agent’s office with the fine week after week, saying to himself, “I shall have more time next market-day than I have now.”  One unfortunate hindrance was that he didn’t very well like Jasper Cliff; and as Jasper kept urging Netty, and Netty on that account kept urging her uncle, the old man was inclined to postpone the re-liveing as long as he could, to spite the selfish young lover.  At last old Mr. Sargent fell ill, and then Jasper could bear it no longer: he produced the fine-money himself, and handed it to Netty, and spoke to her plainly.

‘“You and your uncle ought to know better.  You should press him more.  There’s the money.  If you let the house and ground slip between ye, I won’t marry; hang me if I will!  For folks won’t deserve a husband that can do such things.”

‘The worried girl took the money and went home, and told her uncle that it was no house no husband for her.  Old Mr. Sargent pooh-poohed the money, for the amount was not worth consideration, but he did now bestir himself; for he saw she was bent upon marrying Jasper, and he did not wish to make her unhappy, since she was so determined.  It was much to the Squire’s annoyance that he found Sargent had moved in the matter at last; but he could not gainsay it, and the documents were prepared (for on this manor the copy-holders had writings with their holdings, though on some manors they had none).  Old Sargent being now too feeble to go to the agent’s house, the deed was to be brought to his house signed, and handed over as a receipt for the money; the counterpart to be signed by Sargent, and sent back to the Squire.

‘The agent had promised to call on old Sargent for this purpose at five o’clock, and Netty put the money into her desk to have it close at hand.  While doing this she heard a slight cry from her uncle, and turning round, saw that he had fallen forward in his chair.  She went and lifted him, but he was unconscious; and unconscious he remained.  Neither medicine nor stimulants would bring him to himself.  She had been told that he might possibly go off in that way, and it seemed as if the end had come.  Before she had started for a doctor his face and extremities grew quite cold and white, and she saw that help would be useless.  He was stone-dead.

‘Netty’s situation rose upon her distracted mind in all its seriousness.  The house, garden, and field were lost—by a few hours—and with them a home for herself and her lover.  She would not think so meanly of Jasper as to suppose that he would adhere to the resolution declared in a moment of impatience; but she trembled, nevertheless.  Why could not her uncle have lived a couple of hours longer, since he had lived so long?  It was now past three o’clock; at five the agent was to call, and, if all had gone well, by ten minutes past five the house and holding would have been securely hers for her own and Jasper’s lives, these being two of the three proposed to be added by paying the fine.  How that wretched old Squire would rejoice at getting the little tenancy into his hands!  He did not really require it, but constitutionally hated these tiny copyholds and leaseholds and freeholds, which made islands of independence in the fair, smooth ocean of his estates.

‘Then an idea struck into the head of Netty how to accomplish her object in spite of her uncle’s negligence.  It was a dull December afternoon: and the first step in her scheme—so the story goes, and I see no reason to doubt it—’

‘’Tis true as the light,’ affirmed Christopher Twink.  ‘I was just passing by.’

‘The first step in her scheme was to fasten the outer door, to make sure of not being interrupted.  Then she set to work by placing her uncle’s small, heavy oak table before the fire; then she went to her uncle’s corpse, sitting in the chair as he had died—a stuffed arm-chair, on casters, and rather high in the seat, so it was told me—and wheeled the chair, uncle and all, to the table, placing him with his back toward the window, in the attitude of bending over the said oak table, which I knew as a boy as well as I know any piece of furniture in my own house.  On the table she laid the large family Bible open before him, and placed his forefinger on the page; and then she opened his eyelids a bit, and put on him his spectacles, so that from behind he appeared for all the world as if he were reading the Scriptures.  Then she unfastened the door and sat down, and when it grew dark she lit a candle, and put it on the table beside her uncle’s book.

‘Folk may well guess how the time passed with her till the agent came, and how, when his knock sounded upon the door, she nearly started out of her skin—at least that’s as it was told me.  Netty promptly went to the door.

‘“I am sorry, sir,” she says, under her breath; “my uncle is not so well to-night, and I’m afraid he can’t see you.”

‘“H’m!—that’s a pretty tale,” says the steward.  “So I’ve come all this way about this trumpery little job for nothing!”

‘“O no, sir—I hope not,” says Netty.  “I suppose the business of granting the new deed can be done just the same?”

‘“Done?  Certainly not.  He must pay the renewal money, and sign the parchment in my presence.”

‘She looked dubious.  “Uncle is so dreadful nervous about law business,” says she, “that, as you know, he’s put it off and put it off for years; and now to-day really I’ve feared it would verily drive him out of his mind.  His poor three teeth quite chattered when I said to him that you would be here soon with the parchment writing.  He always was afraid of agents, and folks that come for rent, and such-like.”

‘“Poor old fellow—I’m sorry for him.  Well, the thing can’t be done unless I see him and witness his signature.”

‘“Suppose, sir, that you see him sign, and he don’t see you looking at him?  I’d soothe his nerves by saying you weren’t strict about the form of witnessing, and didn’t wish to come in.  So that it was done in your bare presence it would be sufficient, would it not?  As he’s such an old, shrinking, shivering man, it would be a great considerateness on your part if that would do?”

‘“In my bare presence would do, of course—that’s all I come for.  But how can I be a witness without his seeing me?”

‘“Why, in this way, sir; if you’ll oblige me by just stepping here.”  She conducted him a few yards to the left, till they were opposite the parlour window.  The blind had been left up purposely, and the candle-light shone out upon the garden bushes.  Within the agent could see, at the other end of the room, the back and side of the old man’s head, and his shoulders and arm, sitting with the book and candle before him, and his spectacles on his nose, as she had placed him.

‘“He’s reading his Bible, as you see, sir,” she says, quite in her meekest way.

‘“Yes.  I thought he was a careless sort of man in matters of religion?”

‘“He always was fond of his Bible,” Netty assured him.  “Though I think he’s nodding over it just at this moment However, that’s natural in an old man, and unwell.  Now you could stand here and see him sign, couldn’t you, sir, as he’s such an invalid?”

‘“Very well,” said the agent, lighting a cigar.  “You have ready by you the merely nominal sum you’ll have to pay for the admittance, of course?”

‘“Yes,” said Netty.  “I’ll bring it out.”  She fetched the cash, wrapped in paper, and handed it to him, and when he had counted it the steward took from his breast pocket the precious parchments and gave one to her to be signed.

‘“Uncle’s hand is a little paralyzed,” she said.  “And what with his being half asleep, too, really I don’t know what sort of a signature he’ll be able to make.”

‘“Doesn’t matter, so that he signs.”

‘“Might I hold his hand?”

‘“Ay, hold his hand, my young woman—that will be near enough.”

‘Netty re-entered the house, and the agent continued smoking outside the window.  Now came the ticklish part of Netty’s performance.  The steward saw her put the inkhorn—“horn,” says I in my old-fashioned way—the inkstand, before her uncle, and touch his elbow as to arouse him, and speak to him, and spread out the deed; when she had pointed to show him where to sign she dipped the pen and put it into his hand.  To hold his hand she artfully stepped behind him, so that the agent could only see a little bit of his head, and the hand she held; but he saw the old man’s hand trace his name on the document.  As soon as ’twas done she came out to the steward with the parchment in her hand, and the steward signed as witness by the light from the parlour window.  Then he gave her the deed signed by the Squire, and left; and next morning Netty told the neighbours that her uncle was dead in his bed.’

‘She must have undressed him and put him there.’

‘She must.  Oh, that girl had a nerve, I can tell ye!  Well, to cut a long story short, that’s how she got back the house and field that were, strictly speaking, gone from her; and by getting them, got her a husband.

‘Every virtue has its reward, they say.  Netty had hers for her ingenious contrivance to gain Jasper.  Two years after they were married he took to beating her—not hard, you know; just a smack or two, enough to set her in a temper, and let out to the neighbours what she had done to win him, and how she repented of her pains.  When the old Squire was dead, and his son came into the property, this confession of hers began to be whispered about.  But Netty was a pretty young woman, and the Squire’s son was a pretty young man at that time, and wider-minded than his father, having no objection to little holdings; and he never took any proceedings against her.’

There was now a lull in the discourse, and soon the van descended the hill leading into the long straggling village.  When the houses were reached the passengers dropped off one by one, each at his or her own door.  Arrived at the inn, the returned emigrant secured a bed, and having eaten a light meal, sallied forth upon the scene he had known so well in his early days.  Though flooded with the light of the rising moon, none of the objects wore the attractiveness in this their real presentation that had ever accompanied their images in the field of his imagination when he was more than two thousand miles removed from them.  The peculiar charm attaching to an old village in an old country, as seen by the eyes of an absolute foreigner, was lowered in his case by magnified expectations from infantine memories.  He walked on, looking at this chimney and that old wall, till he came to the churchyard, which he entered.

The head-stones, whitened by the moon, were easily decipherable; and now for the first time Lackland began to feel himself amid the village community that he had left behind him five-and-thirty years before.  Here, besides the Sallets, the Darths, the Pawles, the Privetts, the Sargents, and others of whom he had just heard, were names he remembered even better than those: the Jickses, and the Crosses, and the Knights, and the Olds.  Doubtless representatives of these families, or some of them, were yet among the living; but to him they would all be as strangers.  Far from finding his heart ready-supplied with roots and tendrils here, he perceived that in returning to this spot it would be incumbent upon him to re-establish himself from the beginning, precisely as though he had never known the place, nor it him.  Time had not condescended to wait his pleasure, nor local life his greeting.

The figure of Mr. Lackland was seen at the inn, and in the village street, and in the fields and lanes about Upper Longpuddle, for a few days after his arrival, and then, ghost-like, it silently disappeared.  He had told some of the villagers that his immediate purpose in coming had been fulfilled by a sight of the place, and by conversation with its inhabitants: but that his ulterior purpose—of coming to spend his latter days among them—would probably never be carried out.  It is now a dozen or fifteen years since his visit was paid, and his face has not again been seen.

March 1891

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Elliott O’Donnell ~ On Vampires

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According to a work by Jos. Ennemoser, entitled The Phantom World, Hungary was at one time full of vampires. Between the river Theiss and Transylvania, were (and still are, I believe) a people called Heyducs, who were much pestered with this particularly noxious kind of phantasm. About 1732, a Heyduc called Arnauld Paul was crushed to death by a waggon. Thirty days after his burial a great number of people began to die, and it was then remembered that Paul had said he was tormented by a vampire. A consultation was held and it was decided to exhume him. On digging up his body, it was found to be red all over and literally bursting with blood, some of which had forced a passage out and wetted his winding sheet. Moreover, his hair, nails, and beard had grown considerably. These being sure signs that the corpse was possessed by a vampire, the local bailie was fetched and the usual proceedings for the expulsion of the undesirable phantasm began. A stake, sharply pointed at one end, was handed to the bailie, who, raising it above his head, drove it with all his might into the heart of the corpse. There then issued from the body the most fearful screams, whereupon it was at once thrown into a fire that had been specially prepared for it, and burned to ashes. But, though this was the end of that particular vampire, it was by no means the end of the hauntings; for the deaths, far from decreasing in number, continued in rapid succession, and no less than seventeen people in the village died within a period of three months. The question now arose as to which of the other bodies in the cemetery were “possessed,” it being very evident that more than one vampire lay buried there. Whilst the matter was at the height of discussion, the solution to the problem was brought about thus. A girl, of the name of Stanoska, awoke in the middle of the night, uttering the most heartrending screams, and declaring that the son of a man called Millo (who had been dead nine weeks) had nearly strangled her. A rush was at once made to the cemetery, and a general disinterment taking place, seventeen out of the forty corpses (including that of the son of Millo) showed unmistakable signs of vampirism. They were all treated according to the mode described, and their ashes cast into the adjacent river. A committee of inquiry concluded that the spread of vampirism had been due to the eating of certain cattle, of which Paul had been the first to partake. The disturbances ceased with the death of the girl and the destruction of her body, and the full account of the hauntings, attested to by officers of the local garrison, the chief surgeons, and most influential of the inhabitants of the district, was sent to the Imperial Council of War at Venice, which caused a strict inquiry to be made into the matter, and were subsequently, according to Ennemoser, satisfied that all was bona fide.

In another work, A History of Magic, Ennemoser also refers to a case in the village of Kisilova, in Hungary, where the body of an old man, three days after his death, appeared to his son on two consecutive nights, demanding something to eat, and, being given some meat, ate it ravenously. The third night the son died, and the succeeding day witnessed the deaths of some five or six others. The matter was reported to the Tribunal of Belgrade, which promptly sent two officers to inquire into the case. On their arrival the old man’s grave was opened, and his body found to be full of blood and natural respiration. A stake was then driven through its heart, and the hauntings ceased.

Though far fewer in number than they were, and more than ever confined to certain localities, I am quite sure that vampires are by no means extinct. Their modes and habits—they are no longer gregarious—have changed with the modes and habits of their victims, but they are none the less vampires. Have I seen them? No! but my not having been thus fortunate, or rather unfortunate, does not make me so discourteous as to disbelieve those who tell me that they have seen a vampire—that peculiar, indefinably peculiar shape that, wriggling along the ground from one tombstone to another, crawls up and over the churchyard wall, and making for the nearest house, disappears through one of its upper windows. Indeed, I have no doubt that had I watched that house some few days afterwards, I should have seen a pale, anæmic looking creature, with projecting teeth and a thoroughly imbecile expression, come out of it. I believe a large percentage of idiots and imbecile epileptics owe their pitiable plight to vampires which, in their infancy, they had the misfortune to attract. I do not think that, as of old, the vampires come to their prey installed in stolen bodies, but that they visit people wholly in spirit form, and, with their superphysical mouths, suck the brain cells dry of intellect. The baby, who is thus the victim of a vampire, grows up into something on a far lower scale of intelligence than dumb animals, more bestial than monkeys, and more dangerous (far more dangerous, if the public only realised it) than tigers; for, whereas the tiger is content with one square meal a day, the hunger of vampirism is never satisfied, and the half-starved, mal-shaped brain cells, the prey of vampirism, are in a constant state of suction, ever trying to draw in mental sustenance from the healthy brain cells around them. Idiots and epileptics are the cephalopoda of the land—only, if anything, fouler, more voracious, and more insatiable than their aquatic prototypes. They never ought to be at large. If not destroyed in their early infancy (which one cannot help thinking would be the most merciful plan both for the idiot and the community in general), those polyp brains ought to be kept in some isolated place where they would have only each other to feed upon. When I see an idiot walking in the streets, I always take very good care to give him a wide berth, as I have no desire that the vampire buried in his withered brain cells should derive any nutrition at my expense. From the fact that some towns which are close to cromlechs, ancient burial-grounds, woods, or moors are full of idiots, leads me to suppose that vampires often frequent the same spots as barrowvians, vagrarians and other types of elementals. Whilst, on the other hand, since many densely crowded centres have fully their share of idiots, I am led to believe that vampires are equally attracted by populous districts, and that, in short, unlike barrowvians and vagrarians, they can be met with pretty nearly everywhere. And now for examples.

A man I know, who spends most of his time in Germany, once had a strange experience when staying in the neighbourhood of the Hartz mountains. One sultry evening in August he was walking in the country, and noticed a perambulator with a white figure, which he took to be that of a remarkably tall nursemaid, bending over it. As he drew nearer, however, he found that he had been mistaken. The figure was nothing human; it had no limbs; it was cylindrical. A faint, sickly sound of sucking caused my friend to start forward with an exclamation of horror, and as he did so, the phantasm glided away from the perambulator and disappeared among the trees. The baby, my friend assured me, was a mere bag of bones, with a ghastly, grinning anæmic face. Again, when touring in Hungary, he had a similar experience. He was walking down a back street in a large, thickly populated town, when he beheld a baby lying on the hot and sticky pavement with a queer-looking object stooping over it. Wondering what on earth the thing was, he advanced rapidly, and saw, to his unmitigated horror, that it was a phantasm with a limbless, cylindrical body, a huge flat, pulpy head, and protruding, luminous lips, which were tightly glued to the infant’s ears; and again my friend heard a faint, sickly sound of sucking, and a sound more hideously nauseating, he informed me, could not be imagined. He was too dumbfounded to act; he could only stare; and the phantasm, after continuing its loathsome occupation for some seconds, leisurely arose, and moving away with a gliding motion, vanished in the yard of an adjacent house. The child did not appear to be human, but a concoction of half a dozen diminutive bestialities, and as my friend gazed at it, too fascinated for the moment to tear himself away, it smiled up at him with the hungry, leering smile of vampirism and idiocy.

So much for vampires in the country and in crowded cities, but, as I have already remarked, they are ubiquitous. As an illustration, there is said to be a maritime town in a remote part of England, which, besides being full of quaintness (of a kind not invariably pleasant) and of foul smells, is also full of more than half-savage fishermen and idiots; idiots that often come out at dusk, and greatly alarm strangers by running after them.

Some years ago, one of these idiots went into a stranger’s house, took a noisy baby out of its cot, and after tubbing it well (which I think showed that the idiot possessed certain powers of observation), cut off its head, throwing the offending member into the fire. The parents were naturally indignant, and so were some of the inhabitants; but the affair was speedily forgotten, and although the murderer was confined to a lunatic asylum, nothing was done to rid the town of other idiots who were, collectively, doing mischief of a nature far more serious than that of the recently perpetrated murder.

The wild and rugged coast upon which the town is situated was formerly the hunting-ground of wreckers, and I fear the present breed of fishermen, in spite of their hypocritical pretensions to religion, prove only too plainly by their abominable cruelty to birds and inhospitable treatment of strangers, that they are in reality no better than their forbears. This inherited strain of cruelty in the fishermen would alone account for the presence of vampires and every other kind of vicious elemental; but the town has still another attraction—namely, a prehistoric burial-ground, on a wide expanse of thinly populated moorland—in its rear.

À propos of vampires, my friend Mrs South writes to me as follows (I quote her letter ad verbum): “The other night, I was dining with a very old friend of mine whom I had not seen for years, and, during a pause in the conversation, he suddenly said, ‘Do you believe in vampires?’ I wondered for a moment if he had gone mad, and I think, in my matter-of-fact way, I blurted out something of the sort; but I saw in a moment, from the expression in his eyes, that he had something to tell me, and that he was not at all in the mood to be laughed at or misunderstood, ‘Tell me,’ I said, ‘I am listening.’ ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘I had an extraordinary experience a few months ago, and not a word of it have I breathed to any living soul. But sometimes the horror of it so overpowers me that I feel I must share my secret with someone; and you—well, you and I have always been such pals.’ I answered nothing, but gently pressed his hand.

“After lighting a cigarette, he commenced his story, which I will give you as nearly as possible in his own words:—

“‘It is about six months ago since I returned from my travels. Up to that time I had been away from England for nearly three years, as you know. About a couple of nights after my return, I was dining at my Club, when someone tapped me on the shoulder, and turning round, I saw my old friend S——.

“‘As I had no idea he was in London, you may imagine my delight. He joined me at dinner and we went over old times together. He asked me if I had heard anything of our mutual friend G——, to whom we were both very much attached. I said I had had a few lines from him about six months previously, announcing his marriage, but that I had never heard from him nor seen him since. He had settled, I believe, in the heart of the country. S—— then told me that he had not seen G—— since his engagement, neither had he heard from him; in fact he had written to him once or twice, but his letters had received no answer. There were whispered rumours that he was looking ill and unhappy. Hearing this, I got G——’s address from S——, and made up my mind I would run down and see him as soon as I could get away from town.

“‘About a week afterwards I found myself, after driving an interminable distance, so it seemed to me, through Devonshire lanes, stopping outside a beautiful house which appeared to be entirely isolated from any other dwelling.

“‘A few more minutes and I was standing before a blazing log fire in a fine old hall, eagerly awaiting the welcome I knew my old friend would give me. I did not anticipate long; in less time than it takes to tell G—— appeared, and with slow, painfully slow steps, crossed the hall to greet me. He was wasted to a shadow, and I felt a lump rise in my throat as I thought of the splendid, athletic boy I used to know. He made no excuse for his wife, who did not accompany him; and though I was naturally anxious to see her, I was glad that Jack and I were alone. We chatted together utterly regardless of the time, and it was not until the first gong had sounded that I thought of dressing for dinner. After performing a somewhat hurried toilette, I was hastening downstairs, when I suddenly became conscious that I was being watched. I looked all round and could see no one. I then heard a low, musical laugh just above my head, and looking up, I saw a figure leaning over the banisters. The beauty of the face dazzled me for a moment, and the loveliness of the eyes, which looked into mine and seemed to shine a red gold, held me spellbound. Presently a voice, every whit as lovely as the face, said: “So you are Jack’s chum?” The most beautiful woman I have ever seen then came slowly down the stairs, and slipping her arm through mine, led me to the dining-room. As her hand rested on my coat-sleeve, I remember noticing that the fingers were long, and thin, and pointed, and the nails so polished that they almost shone red. Indeed, I could not help feeling somewhat puzzled by the fact that everything about her shone red with the exception of her skin, which, with an equal brilliancy, shone white. At dinner she was lively, but she ate and drank very sparingly, and as though food was loathsome to her.

“‘Soon after dinner I felt so exceedingly tired and sleepy, a most unusual thing for me, that I found it absolutely impossible to keep awake, and consequently asked my host and hostess to excuse me. I woke next morning feeling languid and giddy, and, while shaving, I noticed a curious red mark at the base of my neck. I imagined I must have cut myself shaving hurriedly the evening before, and thought nothing more about it.

“‘The following night, after dinner, I experienced the same sensation of sleepiness, and felt almost as if I had been drugged. It was impossible for me to keep awake, so I again asked to be excused! On this occasion, after I had retired, a curious thing happened. I dreamed—or at least I suppose I dreamed—that I saw my door slowly open, and the figure of a woman carrying a candle in one hand, and with the other carefully shading the flame, glide noiselessly into my room. She was clad in a loose red gown, and a great rope of hair hung over one shoulder. Again those red-gold eyes looked into mine; again I heard that low musical laugh; and this time I felt powerless either to speak or to move. She leaned down, nearer and nearer to me; her eyes gradually assumed a fiendish and terrible expression; and with a sucking noise, which was horrible to hear, she fastened her crimson lips to the little wound in my neck. I remembered nothing more until the morning. The place on my neck, I thought, looked more inflamed, and as I looked at it, my dream came vividly back to me and I began to wonder if after all it was only a dream. I felt frightfully rotten, so rotten that I decided to return to town that day; and yet I yielded to some strange fascination, and determined, after all, to stay another night. At dinner I drank sparingly; and, making the same excuse as on the previous nights, I retired to bed at an early hour. I lay awake until midnight, waiting for I know not what; and was just thinking what a mad fool I was, when suddenly the door gently opened and again I saw Jack’s wife. Slowly she came towards me, gliding as stealthily and noiselessly as a snake. I waited until she leaned over me, until I felt her breath on my cheek, and then—then flung my arms round her. I had just time to see the mad terror in her eyes as she realised I was awake, and the next instant, like an eel, she had slipped from my grasp, and was gone. I never saw her again. I left early the next morning, and I shall never forget dear old Jack’s face when I said good-bye to him. It is only a few days since I heard of his death.'”
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Henry Kingsley ~ The Lost Child

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shininghours103

Remember? Yes, I remember well that time when the disagreement arose between Sam Buckley and Cecil, and how it was mended. You are wrong about one thing, General; no words ever passed between those two young men; death was between them before they had time to speak.

I will tell you the real story, old as I am, as well as either of them could tell it for themselves; and as I tell it I hear the familiar roar of the old snowy river in my ears, and if I shut my eyes I can see the great mountain, Lanyngerin, bending down his head like a thoroughbred horse with a curb in his mouth; I can see the long gray plains, broken with the outlines of the solitary volcanoes Widderin and Monmot. Ah, General Halbert! I will go back there next year, for I am tired of England, and I will leave my bones there; I am getting old, and I want peace, as I had it in Australia. As for the story you speak of, it is simply this:—

Four or five miles up the river from Garoopna stood a solitary hut, sheltered by a lofty, bare knoll, round which the great river chafed among the bowlders. Across the stream was the forest sloping down in pleasant glades from the mountain; and behind the hut rose the plain four or five hundred feet overhead, seeming to be held aloft by the blue-stone columns which rose from the river-side.

In this cottage resided a shepherd, his wife, and one little boy, their son, about eight years old,—a strange, wild, little bush child, able to speak articulately, but utterly without knowledge or experience of human creatures, save of his father and mother; unable to read a line; without religion of any sort or kind; as entire a little savage, in fact, as you could find in the worst den in your city, morally speaking, and yet beautiful to look on; as active as a roe, and, with regard to natural objects, as fearless as a lion.

As yet unfit to begin labor, all the long summer he would wander about the river-bank, up and down the beautiful rock-walled paradise where he was confined, sometimes looking eagerly across the water at the waving forest boughs, and fancying he could see other children far up the vistas beckoning to him to cross and play in that merry land of shifting lights and shadows.

It grew quite into a passion with the little man to get across and play there; and one day when his mother was shifting the hurdles, and he was handing her the strips of green hide which bound them together, he said to her, “Mother, what country is that across the river?”

“The forest, child.”

“There’s plenty of quantongs over there, eh, mother, and raspberries? Why mayn’t I get across and play there?”

“The river is too deep, child, and the Bunyip lives in the water under the stones.”

“Who are the children that play across there?”

“Black children, likely.”

“No white children?”

“Pixies; don’t go near ’em, child; they’ll lure you on, Lord knows where. Don’t get trying to cross the river, now, or you’ll be drowned.”

But next day the passion was stronger on him than ever. Quite early on the glorious, cloudless, midsummer day he was down by the river-side, sitting on a rock, with his shoes and stockings off, paddling his feet in the clear tepid water, and watching the million fish in the shallows—black fish and grayling—leaping and flashing in the sun.

There is no pleasure that I have ever experienced like a child’s midsummer holiday,—the time, I mean, when two or three of us used to go away up the brook, and take our dinners with us, and come home at night tired, dirty, happy, scratched beyond recognition, with a great nosegay, three little trout, and one shoe, the other having been used for a boat till it had gone down with all hands out of soundings. How poor our Derby days, our Greenwich dinners, our evening parties, where there are plenty of nice girls, are, after that! Depend on it, a man never experiences such pleasure or grief after fourteen as he does before,—unless in some cases in his first love-making, when the sensation is new to him.

But meanwhile there sat our child, bare-legged, watching the forbidden ground beyond the river. A fresh breeze was moving the trees and making the whole a dazzling mass of shifting light and shadow. He sat so still that a glorious violet and red kingfisher perched quite close, and, dashing into the water, came forth with a fish, and fled like a ray of light along the winding of the river. A colony of little shell parrots, too, crowded on a bough, and twittered and ran to and fro quite busily, as though they said to him, “We don’t mind you, my dear; you are quite one of us.”

Never was the river so low. He stepped in; it scarcely reached his ankle. Now surely he might get across. He stripped himself, and, carrying his clothes, waded through, the water never reaching his middle, all across the long, yellow, gravelly shallow. And there he stood, naked and free, on the forbidden ground.

He quickly dressed himself, and began examining his new kingdom, rich beyond his utmost hopes. Such quantongs, such raspberries, surpassing imagination; and when tired of them, such fern boughs, six or eight feet long! He would penetrate this region, and see how far it extended.

What tales he would have for his father to-night! He would bring him here, and show him all the wonders, and perhaps he would build a new hut over here, and come and live in it? Perhaps the pretty young lady, with the feathers in her hat, lived somewhere here, too?

There! There is one of those children he has seen before across the river. Ah! ah! it is not a child at all, but a pretty gray beast with big ears. A kangaroo, my lad; he won’t play with you, but skips away slowly, and leaves you alone.

There is something like the gleam of water on that rock. A snake! Now a sounding rush through the wood, and a passing shadow. An eagle! He brushes so close to the child, that he strikes at the bird with a stick, and then watches him as he shoots up like a rocket and, measuring the fields of air in ever-widening circles, hangs like a motionless speck upon the sky; though, measure his wings across, and you will find he is nearer fifteen feet than fourteen.

Here is a prize, though! A wee little native bear, barely a foot long,—a little gray beast, comical beyond expression, with broad flapped ears,—sits on a tree within reach. He makes no resistance, but cuddles into the child’s bosom, and eats a leaf as they go along; while his mother sits aloft and grunts indignant at the abstraction of her offspring, but on the whole takes it pretty comfortably, and goes on with her dinner of peppermint leaves.

What a short day it has been! Here is the sun getting low, and the magpies and jackasses beginning to tune up before roosting.

He would turn and go back to the river. Alas! which way?

He was lost in the bush. He turned back and went, as he thought, the way he had come, but soon arrived at a tall, precipitous cliff, which by some infernal magic seemed to have got between him and the river. Then he broke down, and that strange madness came on him, which comes even on strong men, when lost in the forest—a despair, a confusion of intellect, which has cost many a man his life. Think what it must be with a child!

He was fully persuaded that the cliff was between him and home, and that he must climb it. Alas! every step he took aloft carried him further from the river, and the hope of safety; and when he came to the top, just at dark, he saw nothing but cliff after cliff, range after range, all around him. He had been wandering through steep gullies all day unconsciously, and had penetrated far into the mountains. Night was coming down, still and crystal clear, and the poor little lad was far away from help or hope, going his last long journey alone.

Partly perhaps walking, and partly sitting down and weeping, he got through the night; and when the solemn morning came up, again he was still tottering along the leading range, bewildered, crying from time to time, “Mother, mother!” still nursing his little bear, his only companion, to his bosom, and holding still in his hand a few poor flowers he had gathered up the day before. Up and on all day, and at evening, passing out of the great zone of timber, he came on the bald, thunder-smitten summit ridge, where one ruined tree held up its skeleton arms against the sunset, and the wind came keen and frosty. So, with failing, feeble legs, upward still, toward the region of the granite and the snow; toward the eyry of the kite and the eagle.

*

Brisk as they all were at Garoopna, none were so brisk as Cecil and Sam. Charles Hawker wanted to come with them, but Sam asked him to go with Jim, and, long before the others were ready, our two had strapped their blankets to their saddles, and followed by Sam’s dog Rover, now getting a little gray about the nose, cantered off up the river.

Neither spoke at first. They knew what a solemn task they had before them; and, while acting as though everything depended on speed, guessed well that their search was only for a little corpse, which, if they had luck, they would find stiff and cold under some tree or crag.

Cecil began: “Sam, depend on it, that child has crossed the river to this side. If he had been on the plains, he would have been seen from a distance in a few hours.”

“I quite agree,” said Sam. “Let us go down on this side till we are opposite the hut, and search for marks by the river-side.”

So they agreed, and in half an hour were opposite the hut, and, riding across to it to ask a few questions, found the poor mother sitting on the doorstep, with her apron over her head, rocking herself to and fro.

“We have come to help you, mistress,” said Sam. “How do you think he is gone?”

She said, with frequent bursts of grief, that “some days before he had mentioned having seen white children across the water, who beckoned him to cross and play; that she, knowing well that they were fairies, or perhaps worse, had warned him solemnly not to mind them; but that she had very little doubt that they had helped him over and carried him away to the forest; and that her husband would not believe in his having crossed the river.”

“Why, it is not knee-deep across the shallow,” said Cecil.

“Let us cross again,” said Sam; “he may be drowned, but I don’t think it.”

In a quarter of an hour from starting, they found, slightly up the stream, one of the child’s socks, which in his hurry to dress he had forgotten. Here brave Rover took up the trail like a bloodhound, and before evening stopped at the foot of a lofty cliff.

“Can he have gone up here?” said Sam, as they were brought up by the rock.

“Most likely,” said Cecil. “Lost children always climb from height to height. I have heard it often remarked by old bush hands. Why they do so, God, who leads them, only knows; but the fact is beyond denial. Ask Rover what he thinks.”

The brave old dog was half-way up, looking back for them. It took them nearly till dark to get their horses up; and, as there was no moon, and the way was getting perilous, they determined to camp, and start again in the morning.

They spread their blankets, and lay down side by side. Sam had thought, from Cecil’s proposing to come with him in preference to the others, that he would speak of a subject nearly concerning them both; but Cecil went off to sleep and made no sign; and Sam, ere he dozed, said to himself, “If he doesn’t speak this journey, I will. It is unbearable that we should not come to some understanding. Poor Cecil!”

At early dawn they caught up their horses, which had been hobbled with the stirrup leathers, and started afresh. Both were more silent than ever, and the dog, with his nose to the ground, led them slowly along the rocky rib of the mountain, ever going higher and higher.

“It is inconceivable,” said Sam, “that the poor child can have come up here. There is Tuckerimbid close to our right, five thousand feet above the river. Don’t you think we must be mistaken?”

“The dog disagrees with you,” said Cecil. “He has something before him, not very far off. Watch him.”

The trees had become dwarfed and scattered; they were getting out of the region of trees; the real forest zone was now below them, and they saw they were emerging toward a bald elevated down, and that a few hundred yards before them was a dead tree, on the highest branch of which sat an eagle.

“The dog has stopped,” said Cecil; “the end is near.”

“See,” said Sam, “there is a handkerchief under the tree.”

“That is the boy himself,” said Cecil.

They were up to him and off in a moment. There he lay dead and stiff, one hand still grasping the flowers he had gathered on his last happy play-day, and the other laid as a pillow between the soft cold cheek and the rough cold stone. His midsummer holiday was over, his long journey was ended. He had found out at last what lay beyond the shining river he had watched so long.

That is the whole story, General Halbert; and who should know it better than I, Geoffry Hamlyn?

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Tom Sheehan ~ Talk from the Back of Tim’s Barn

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These were more than echoes, the soft sounds I was hearing from the rear of the barn sitting back from Route 182 in Franklin, Maine, half a dozen fat pigs to one side, corn as deep as Iowa on the other side, and the terrain across the road flush with blueberry bushes until a slow rise tipped the landscape in its favor… and in mine. In my son Tim’s favor, too. He lives by this barn. Perhaps I had lived waiting for its sassy voices.

There, in his barn, I was a listener as well as a watcher. Maine mornings, even on summer days, are placid and huge as glaciers, and crawl into the mind through more than one sense. But there you have it: Maine mornings are also like Maine barns, always having something to say to you, shaking you awake as if the scruff of your neck is in their hands, leaving a bit of dust for memory’s sake.

These wooden memorials to sweat and old time crept into my notes years ago, promising poetry. Now they creep out again, reasserting their observations, touching memory as I look at old journals of trips through Maine.

I’ve seen northern barns announced by Bull Durham signs, or knotted, vertical boards twisting their long signatures, saying how long they’ve been at the job. At another glance, usually from some rise in the road, a ridgepole shows its tendency to sag, to bend under duress. A ridgepole draws down into itself in the manner of implosion. Maine barns have their own signatures. They leap at me from Kittery to Fort Kent, from Eastport to Westford, from Calais to Kezar Falls.

My son Tim’s barn was once a schoolhouse. In fact, it was once the schoolhouse in Franklin; and was called the Ryefield School. Is that name so simply conceived? Can I really see the waving grain? I would grant that it is, and after one final graduation of sorts, and gentled by the slow, steady, plodding rough draft of 100 oxen, it was dragged from its first setting to the land he now farms there, just below the Little League Field. Now it houses a home-made 50-gallon-drum stove, a tractor for all purposes, a Harley motorcycle past its prime, tools an inveterate collector would love because the labor expended with them is almost visible to a keen eye. And leather goods have hung so long on one wall their legends are inscribed like vertical signboards. On one wide-planked bench taking up one wall, sits a Jonsered chainsaw I used for twenty years in the Topsfield State Forest fighting the cost of oil; my gift to Maine winters and a warm hearth. Tim says it still operates with a vengeance. I’ve passed my former strengths on to him.

One would also be keen to know how many McGuffey Readers had passed through this old barn on the way to intelligence, awareness, imagination, above and beyond ‘ritin, and ‘rithmetic. That revelation would take the highest art of contemplation.

Yet it is not the only barn he has. Here, they come in twins. Just across the yard, closer to the road, over a slab board fence we erected one day a few years ago to keep the corn in and the horses out, past the 40-50 foot long, 4-foot high walls of logs set for the next winter, sits another barn. Which one predates the other, I have no idea, but this second barn has housed Tony the pony, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, and mice to be sure, and perhaps a small army of termites, dust beetles, unusual mandible-carrying critters intent on destruction. It is sure that such creatures come the same way and at the same speed that erosion hits Mother Earth herself, a slow onslaught and assault you may not be able to see, but you sure have to fix, “once the weather gits good enough for toolin’,” as Tim might now say in adoptive speech.

From its stalls, its storage bins, its freezer against one wall standing like a foreign icon, has often come the entire meal at his table. Squash stuffed with sausage, sweet and regular Maine spuds, green beans so thick they could choke you, tomatoes red as Old Glory, ham in slices so sweet and so thick they seem without end, and salty enough to have been dragged through the surf a few miles away. I think now of rhubarb pie, apple pie, blueberry pie or blueberry muffins with a thickly spun heavy cream taking your breath away. If there was one thing that exists now and one thing existing back when the Ryefield School was first built, the meals are the same; “They stick,” as my mother used to say about oatmeal, “to the very backbone that carries your day.”

Some barns know how to kneel in their slow absorption; Tim’s barns do, looking over their shoulders, sighing and whispering in these Maine-gray mornings. They tolerate what is happening to them, host squadrons gnawing at time, creatures busy as downtown Saturday nights, ceding fathoms to dark hungers. The twist of checked timbers sit silent as skulls and implant another night of survival upon the landscape. It is why I love old Maine barns.

Even in the summer lofts, there are dreams to rediscover, re-awake. Barns have a right to keep their odors, their signatures, and silence in the mows.

A poet friend says his barn accepts the graces of early October evening. He swears that miniature shadows stroll cautious as kittens out of hay-golden eaves. The mow is night itself, a spectral darkness inflated against hazardous roofing where a dozen knot holes pinpoint a constellation and long against morning light reveal the truth of north. Wall nails and spikes are crucial with their evidence. Old leather traces, bridles, other gear that bays or roans sweat into, hang limp as bookmarks marking a thousand journeys one man has taken into town and back.

Friend says his father’s great gray horse, Humboldt by name, froze standing up in ’38. That magnificent creature, leg broken, heart-heaving, brought the gentleman safely to his final bed. Only the barn remains, October light fissuring through checked walls. Even the photographs are gone.

Fire, pasture and old age have captured everything, except the barn revolving axially above his eyes, stabs of light drifting through this dark planetarium. Oh, how I envy his memories, the tales he might spill if they were his calling.

For all the standing still, there’s action, warming, aging, the bowing of an old Maine barn, the ultimate genuflection we might miss if we don’t pause on the road, take a breath, smell the old barn itself beside beds of roses.

You can bet those barns talk to me, their voices thick, hoarse, Scot and Irish in the making, wind-blown off mountains, lonely for the listening.

 

Tom Sheehan is DM 2016 Writer-in-Residence.
His latest collection of fiction
Jehrico is available from Hammer & Anvil Books on Amazon.com.

JEHRICO a

Maria Edgeworth ~ Murad the Unlucky

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sultan

 

It is well known that the grand seignior amuses himself by going at night, in disguise, through the streets of Constantinople; as the caliph, Haroun Alraschid, used formerly to do in Bagdad.

One moonlight night, accompanied by his grand vizier, he traversed several of the principal streets of the city, without seeing anything remarkable. At length, as they were passing a rope-maker’s, the sultan recollected the Arabian story of Cogia-Hassan Alhabal, the rope-maker, and his two friends, Saad and Saadi, who differed so much in their opinion concerning the influence of fortune over human affairs.

“What is your opinion on this subject?” said the grand seignior to his vizier.

“I am inclined, please your majesty,” replied the vizier, “to think that success in the world depends more upon prudence than upon what is called luck, or fortune.”

“And I,” said the sultan, “am persuaded that fortune does more for men than prudence. Do you not every day hear of persons who are said to be fortunate or unfortunate? How comes it that this opinion should prevail amongst men, if it be not justified by experience?”

“It is not for me to dispute with your majesty,” replied the prudent vizier.

“Speak your mind freely; I desire and command it,” said the sultan.

“Then I am of opinion,” answered the vizier, “that people are often led to believe others fortunate, or unfortunate, merely because they only know the general outline of their histories; and are ignorant of the incidents and events in which they have shown prudence or imprudence. I have heard, for instance, that there are at present in this city two men, who are remarkable for their good and bad fortune: one is called Murad the Unlucky, and the other Saladin the Lucky. Now I am inclined to think, if we could hear their stories, we should find that one is a prudent and the other an imprudent character.”

“Where do these men live?” interrupted the sultan. “I will hear their histories from their own lips, before I sleep.”

“Murad the Unlucky lives in the next square,” said the vizier.

The sultan desired to go thither immediately. Scarcely had they entered the square, when they heard the cry of loud lamentations. They followed the sound till they came to a house of which the door was open, and where there was a man tearing his turban, and weeping bitterly. They asked the cause of his distress, and he pointed to the fragments of a china vase, which lay on the pavement at his door.

“This seems undoubtedly to be beautiful china,” said the sultan, taking up one of the broken pieces; “but can the loss of a china vase be the cause of such violent grief and despair?”

“Ah, gentlemen,” said the owner of the vase, suspending his lamentations, and looking at the dress of the pretended merchants, “I see that you are strangers: you do not know how much cause I have for grief and despair! You do not know that you are speaking to Murad the Unlucky! Were you to hear all the unfortunate accidents that have happened to me, from the time I was born till this instant, you would perhaps pity me, and acknowledge I have just cause for despair.”

Curiosity was strongly expressed by the sultan; and the hope of obtaining sympathy inclined Murad to gratify it, by the recital of his adventures. “Gentlemen,” said he, “I scarcely dare invite you into the house of such an unlucky being as I am; but, if you will venture to take a night’s lodging under my roof, you shall hear at your leisure the story of my misfortunes.”

The sultan and the vizier excused themselves from spending the night with Murad; saying that they were obliged to proceed to their khan, where they should be expected by their companions: but they begged permission to repose themselves for half an hour in his house, and besought him to relate the history of his life, if it would not renew his grief too much to recollect his misfortunes.

Few men are so miserable as not to like to talk of their misfortunes, where they have, or where they think they have, any chance of obtaining compassion. As soon as the pretended merchants were seated, Murad began his story in the following manner:—

“My father was a merchant of this city. The night before I was born, he dreamed that I came into the world with the head of a dog and the tail of a dragon; and that, in haste to conceal my deformity, he rolled me up in a piece of linen, which unluckily proved to be the grand seignior’s turban; who, enraged at his insolence in touching his turban, commanded that his head should be struck off.

“My father awaked before he lost his head, but not before he had lost half his wits from the terror of his dream. He considered it as a warning sent from above, and consequently determined to avoid the sight of me. He would not stay to see whether I should really be born with the head of a dog and the tail of a dragon; but he set out, the next morning, on a voyage to Aleppo.

“He was absent for upwards of seven years; and during that time my education was totally neglected. One day I inquired from my mother why I had been named Murad the Unlucky. She told me that this name was given to me in consequence of my father’s dream; but she added that perhaps it might be forgotten, if I proved fortunate in my future life. My nurse, a very old woman, who was present, shook her head, with a look which I shall never forget, and whispered to my mother loud enough for me to hear, ‘Unlucky he was, and is, and ever will be. Those that are born to ill luck cannot help themselves; nor can any, but the great prophet Mahomet himself, do anything for them. It is a folly for an unlucky person to strive with his fate: it is better to yield to it at once.’

“This speech made a terrible impression upon me, young as I then was; and every accident that happened to me afterwards confirmed my belief in my nurse’s prognostic. I was in my eighth year when my father returned from abroad. The year after he came home my brother Saladin was born, who was named Saladin the Lucky, because the day he was born a vessel freighted with rich merchandise for my father arrived safely in port.

“I will not weary you with a relation of all the little instances of good fortune by which my brother Saladin was distinguished, even during his childhood. As he grew up, his success in everything he undertook was as remarkable as my ill luck in all that I attempted. From the time the rich vessel arrived, we lived in splendor; and the supposed prosperous state of my father’s affairs was of course attributed to the influence of my brother Saladin’s happy destiny.

“When Saladin was about twenty, my father was taken dangerously ill; and as he felt that he should not recover, he sent for my brother to the side of his bed, and, to his great surprise, informed him that the magnificence in which we had lived had exhausted all his wealth; that his affairs were in the greatest disorder; for, having trusted to the hope of continual success, he had embarked in projects beyond his powers.

“The sequel was, he had nothing remaining to leave to his children but two large china vases, remarkable for their beauty, but still more valuable on account of certain verses inscribed upon them in an unknown character, which was supposed to operate as a talisman or charm in favor of their possessors.

“Both these vases my father bequeathed to my brother Saladin; declaring he could not venture to leave either of them to me, because I was so unlucky that I should inevitably break it. After his death, however, my brother Saladin, who was blessed with a generous temper, gave me my choice of the two vases; and endeavored to raise my spirits, by repeating frequently that he had no faith either in good fortune or ill fortune.

“I could not be of his opinion, though I felt and acknowledged his kindness in trying to persuade me out of my settled melancholy. I knew it was in vain for me to exert myself, because I was sure that, do what I would, I should still be Murad the Unlucky. My brother, on the contrary, was nowise cast down, even by the poverty in which my father left us: he said he was sure he should find some means of maintaining himself, and so he did.

“On examining our china vases, he found in them a powder of a bright scarlet color; and it occurred to him that it would make a fine dye. He tried it, and after some trouble, it succeeded to admiration.

“During my father’s lifetime, my mother had been supplied with rich dresses, by one of the merchants who was employed by the ladies of the grand seignior’s seraglio. My brother had done this merchant some trifling favors; and, upon application to him, he readily engaged to recommend the new scarlet dye. Indeed, it was so beautiful, that, the moment it was seen, it was preferred to every other color. Saladin’s shop was soon crowded with customers; and his winning manners and pleasant conversation were almost as advantageous to him as his scarlet dye. On the contrary, I observed that the first glance at my melancholy countenance was sufficient to disgust every one who saw me. I perceived this plainly; and it only confirmed me the more in my belief in my own evil destiny.

“It happened one day that a lady, richly apparelled and attended by two female slaves, came to my brother’s house to make some purchases. He was out, and I alone was left to attend to the shop. After she had looked over some goods, she chanced to see my china vase, which was in the room. She took a prodigious fancy to it, and offered me any price if I would part with it; but this I declined doing, because I believed that I should draw down upon my head some dreadful calamity, if I voluntarily relinquished the talisman. Irritated by my refusal, the lady, according to the custom of her sex, became more resolute in her purpose; but neither entreaties nor money could change my determination. Provoked beyond measure at my obstinacy, as she called it, she left the house.

“On my brother’s return, I related to him what had happened, and expected that he would have praised me for my prudence; but, on the contrary, he blamed me for the superstitious value I set upon the verses on my vase; and observed that it would be the height of folly to lose a certain means of advancing my fortune, for the uncertain hope of magical protection. I could not bring myself to be of his opinion; I had not the courage to follow the advice he gave. The next day the lady returned, and my brother sold his vase to her for ten thousand pieces of gold. This money he laid out in the most advantageous manner, by purchasing a new stock of merchandise. I repented, when it was too late; but I believe it is part of the fatality attending certain persons, that they cannot decide rightly at the proper moment. When the opportunity has been lost, I have always regretted that I did not do exactly the contrary to what I had previously determined upon. Often, whilst I was hesitating, the favorable moment passed. Now this is what I call being unlucky. But to proceed with my story.

“The lady, who bought my brother Saladin’s vase, was the favorite of the sultan, and all-powerful in the seraglio. Her dislike to me, in consequence of my opposition to her wishes, was so violent, that she refused to return to my brother’s house while I remained there. He was unwilling to part with me; but I could not bear to be the ruin of so good a brother. Without telling him my design, I left his house, careless of what should become of me. Hunger, however, soon compelled me to think of some immediate mode of obtaining relief. I sat down upon a stone, before the door of a baker’s shop; the smell of hot bread tempted me in, and with a feeble voice I demanded charity.

“The master baker gave me as much bread as I could eat, upon condition that I should change dresses with him, and carry the rolls for him through the city this day. To this I readily consented; but I had soon reason to repent of my compliance. Indeed, if my ill luck had not, as usual, deprived me at this critical moment of memory and judgment, I should never have complied with the baker’s treacherous proposal. For some time before, the people of Constantinople had been much dissatisfied with the weight and quality of the bread furnished by the bakers. This species of discontent has often been the sure forerunner of an insurrection; and, in these disturbances, the master bakers frequently lose their lives. All these circumstances I knew; but they did not occur to my memory, when they might have been useful.

“I changed dresses with the baker; but scarcely had I proceeded through the adjoining streets with my rolls, before the mob began to gather round me, with reproaches and execrations. The crowd pursued me even to the gates of the grand seignior’s palace; and the grand vizier, alarmed at their violence, sent out an order to have my head struck off; the usual remedy, in such cases, being to strike off the baker’s head.

“I now fell upon my knees, and protested I was not the baker for whom they took me; that I had no connection with him; and that I had never furnished the people of Constantinople with bread that was not weight. I declared I had merely changed clothes with a master baker, for this day; and that I should not have done so, but for the evil destiny which governs all my actions. Some of the mob exclaimed that I deserved to lose my head for my folly; but others took pity on me, and whilst the officer, who was sent to execute the vizier’s order, turned to speak to some of the noisy rioters, those who were touched by my misfortune opened a passage for me through the crowd, and, thus favored, I effected my escape.

“I quitted Constantinople: my vase I had left in the care of my brother. At some miles’ distance from the city, I overtook a party of soldiers. I joined them; and learning that they were going to embark with the rest of the grand seignior’s army for Egypt, I resolved to accompany them. If it be, thought I, the will of Mahomet that I should perish, the sooner I meet my fate the better. The despondency into which I was sunk was attended by so great a degree of indolence, that I scarcely would take the necessary means to preserve my existence. During our passage to Egypt, I sat all day long upon the deck of the vessel, smoking my pipe; and I am convinced that if a storm had risen, as I expected, I should not have taken my pipe from my mouth, nor should I have handled a rope, to save myself from destruction. Such is the effect of that species of resignation or torpor, whichever you please to call it, to which my strong belief in fatality had reduced my mind.

“We landed, however, safely, contrary to my melancholy forebodings. By a trifling accident, not worth relating, I was detained longer than any of my companions in the vessel when we disembarked; and I did not arrive at the camp till late at night. It was moonlight, and I could see the whole scene distinctly. There was a vast number of small tents scattered over a desert of white sand; a few date-trees were visible at a distance; all was gloomy, and all still; no sound was to be heard but that of the camels, feeding near the tents; and, as I walked on, I met with no human creature.

“My pipe was now out, and I quickened my pace a little towards a fire, which I saw near one of the tents. As I proceeded, my eye was caught by something sparkling in the sand: it was a ring. I picked it up, and put it on my finger, resolving to give it to the public crier the next morning, who might find out its rightful owner: but by ill luck, I put it on my little finger, for which it was much too large; and as I hastened towards the fire to light my pipe, I dropped the ring. I stooped to search for it amongst the provender on which a mule was feeding; and the cursed animal gave me so violent a kick on the head, that I could not help roaring aloud.

“My cries awakened those who slept in the tent, near which the mule was feeding. Provoked at being disturbed, the soldiers were ready enough to think ill of me; and they took it for granted that I was a thief, who had stolen the ring I pretended to have just found. The ring was taken from me by force; and the next day I was bastinadoed for having found it: the officer persisting in the belief that stripes would make me confess where I had concealed certain other articles of value, which had lately been missed in the camp. All this was the consequence of my being in a hurry to light my pipe, and of my having put the ring on a finger that was too little for it; which no one but Murad the Unlucky would have done.

“When I was able to walk again after my wounds were healed, I went into one of the tents distinguished by a red flag, having been told that these were coffee-houses. Whilst I was drinking coffee, I heard a stranger near me complaining that he had not been able to recover a valuable ring he had lost; although he had caused his loss to be published for three days by the public crier, offering a reward of two hundred sequins to whoever should restore it. I guessed that this was the very ring which I had unfortunately found. I addressed myself to the stranger, and promised to point out to him the person who had forced it from me. The stranger recovered his ring; and, being convinced that I had acted honestly, he made me a present of two hundred sequins, as some amends for the punishment which I had unjustly suffered on his account.

“Now you would imagine that this purse of gold was advantageous to me: far the contrary; it was the cause of new misfortunes.

“One night, when I thought that the soldiers who were in the same tent with me were all fast asleep, I indulged myself in the pleasure of counting my treasure. The next day I was invited by my companions to drink sherbet with them. What they mixed with the sherbet which I drank, I know not; but I could not resist the drowsiness it brought on. I fell into a profound slumber; and, when I awoke, I found myself lying under a date-tree, at some distance from the camp.

“The first thing I thought of, when I came to my recollection, was my purse of sequins. The purse I found still safe in my girdle; but, on opening it, I perceived that it was filled with pebbles, and not a single sequin was left. I had no doubt that I had been robbed by the soldiers with whom I had drunk sherbet; and I am certain that some of them must have been awake the night I counted my money; otherwise, as I had never trusted the secret of my riches to any one, they could not have suspected me of possessing any property; for, ever since I kept company with them, I had appeared to be in great indigence.

“I applied in vain to the superior officers for redress: the soldiers protested they were innocent; no positive proof appeared against them, and I gained nothing by my complaint but ridicule and ill-will. I called myself, in the first transport of my grief, by that name which, since my arrival in Egypt, I had avoided to pronounce: I called myself Murad the Unlucky! The name and the story ran through the camp; and I was accosted afterwards, very frequently, by this appellation. Some indeed varied their wit by calling me Murad with the purse of pebbles.

“All that I had yet suffered is nothing compared to my succeeding misfortunes.

“It was the custom at this time, in the Turkish camp, for the soldiers to amuse themselves with firing at a mark. The superior officers remonstrated against this dangerous practice, but ineffectually. Sometimes a party of soldiers would stop firing for a few minutes, after a message was brought them from their commanders; and then they would begin again, in defiance of all orders. Such was the want of discipline in our army, that this disobedience went unpunished. In the mean time, the frequency of the danger made most men totally regardless of it. I have seen tents pierced with bullets, in which parties were quietly seated smoking their pipes, whilst those without were preparing to take fresh aim at the red flag on the top.

“This apathy proceeded, in some, from unconquerable indolence of body; in others, from the intoxication produced by the fumes of tobacco and of opium; but in most of my brother Turks it arose from the confidence which the belief in predestination inspired. When a bullet killed one of their companions, they only observed, scarcely taking the pipes from their mouths, ‘Our hour is not yet come: it is not the will of Mahomet that we should fall.’

“I own that this rash security appeared to me, at first, surprising; but it soon ceased to strike me with wonder; and it even tended to confirm my favorite opinion, that some were born to good and some to evil fortune. I became almost as careless as my companions, from following the same course of reasoning. It is not, thought I, in the power of human prudence to avert the stroke of destiny. I shall perhaps die to-morrow; let me therefore enjoy to-day.

“I now made it my study, every day, to procure as much amusement as possible. My poverty, as you will imagine, restricted me from indulgence and excess; but I soon found means to spend what did not actually belong to me. There were certain Jews who were followers of the camp, and who, calculating on the probability of victory for our troops, advanced money to the soldiers; for which they engaged to pay these usurers exorbitant interest. The Jew to whom I applied traded with me also upon the belief that my brother Saladin, with whose character and circumstances he was acquainted, would pay my debts, if I should fall. With the money I raised from the Jew I continually bought coffee and opium, of which I grew immoderately fond. In the delirium it created, I forgot all my misfortunes, all fear of the future.

“One day, when I had raised my spirits by an unusual quantity of opium, I was strolling through the camp, sometimes singing, sometimes dancing, like a madman, and repeating that I was not now Murad the Unlucky. Whilst these words were on my lips, a friendly spectator, who was in possession of his sober senses, caught me by the arm, and attempted to drag me from the place where I was exposing myself. ‘Do you not see,’ said he, ‘those soldiers, who are firing at a mark? I saw one of them, just now, deliberately taking aim at your turban; and, observe, he is now reloading his piece.’ My ill luck prevailed even at this instant, the only instant in my life when I defied its power. I struggled with my adviser, repeating, ‘I am not the wretch you take me for; I am not Murad the Unlucky.’ He fled from the danger himself: I remained, and in a few seconds afterwards a ball reached me, and I fell senseless on the sand.

“The ball was cut out of my body by an awkward surgeon, who gave me ten times more pain than was necessary. He was particularly hurried, at this time, because the army had just received orders to march in a few hours, and all was confusion in the camp. My wound was excessively painful, and the fear of being left behind with those who were deemed incurable added to my torments. Perhaps, if I had kept myself quiet, I might have escaped some of the evils I afterwards endured; but, as I have repeatedly told you, gentlemen, it was my ill fortune never to be able to judge what was best to be done, till the time for prudence was past.

“During that day, when my fever was at the height, and when my orders were to keep my bed, contrary to my natural habits of indolence, I rose a hundred times, and went out of my tent in the very heat of the day, to satisfy my curiosity as to the number of the tents which had not been struck, and of the soldiers who had not yet marched. The orders to march were tardily obeyed, and many hours elapsed before our encampment was raised. Had I submitted to my surgeon’s orders, I might have been in a state to accompany the most dilatory of the stragglers; I could have borne, perhaps, the slow motion of a litter, on which some of the sick were transported; but in the evening, when the surgeon came to dress my wounds, he found me in such a situation that it was scarcely possible to remove me.

“He desired a party of soldiers, who were left to bring up the rear, to call for me the next morning. They did so; but they wanted to put me upon the mule which I recollected, by a white streak on its back, to be the cursed animal that had kicked me whilst I was looking for the ring. I could not be prevailed upon to go upon this unlucky animal. I tried to persuade the soldiers to carry me, and they took me a little way; but, soon growing weary of their burden, they laid me down on the sand, pretending that they were going to fill a skin with water at a spring they had discovered, and bade me lie still, and wait for their return.

“I waited and waited, longing for the water to moisten my parched lips; but no water came,—no soldiers returned; and there I lay, for several hours, expecting every moment to breathe my last. I made no effort to move, for I was now convinced my hour was come, and that it was the will of Mahomet that I should perish in this miserable manner, and lie unburied like a dog; a death, thought I, worthy of Murad the Unlucky.

“My forebodings were not this time just; a detachment of English soldiers passed near the place where I lay: my groans were heard by them, and they humanely came to my assistance. They carried me with them, dressed my wound, and treated me with the utmost tenderness. Christians though they were, I must acknowledge that I had reason to love them better than any of the followers of Mahomet, my good brother only excepted.

“Under their care I recovered; but scarcely had I regained my strength before I fell into new disasters. It was hot weather, and my thirst was excessive. I went out with a party, in hopes of finding a spring of water. The English soldiers began to dig for a well, in a place pointed out to them by one of their men of science. I was not inclined to such hard labor, but preferred sauntering on in search of a spring. I saw at a distance something that looked like a pool of water; and I pointed it out to my companions. Their man of science warned me by his interpreter not to trust to this deceitful appearance; for that such were common in this country, and that, when I came close to the spot, I should find no water there. He added that it was at a greater distance than I imagined; and that I should, in all probability, be lost in the desert, if I attempted to follow this phantom.

“I was so unfortunate as not to attend to his advice: I set out in pursuit of this accursed delusion, which assuredly was the work of evil spirits, who clouded my reason, and allured me into their dominion. I went on, hour after hour, in expectation continually of reaching the object of my wishes; but it fled faster than I pursued, and I discovered at last that the Englishman, who had doubtless gained his information from the people of the country, was right; and that the shining appearance, which I had taken for water, was a mere deception.

“I was now exhausted with fatigue: I looked back in vain after the companions I had left; I could see neither men, animals, nor any trace of vegetation in the sandy desert. I had no resource but, weary as I was, to measure back my footsteps, which were imprinted in the sand.

“I slowly and sorrowfully traced them as my guides in this unknown land. Instead of yielding to my indolent inclinations, I ought, however, to have made the best of my way back, before the evening breeze sprung up. I felt the breeze rising, and, unconscious of my danger, I rejoiced, and opened my bosom to meet it; but what was my dismay when I saw that the wind swept before it all trace of my footsteps in the sand. I knew not which way to proceed; I was struck with despair, tore my garments, threw off my turban, and cried aloud; but neither human voice nor echo answered me. The silence was dreadful. I had tasted no food for many hours, and I now became sick and faint. I recollected that I had put a supply of opium into the folds of my turban; but, alas! when I took my turban up, I found that the opium had fallen out. I searched for it in vain on the sand, where I had thrown the turban.

“I stretched myself out upon the ground, and yielded without further struggle to my evil destiny. What I suffered from thirst, hunger, and heat cannot be described! At last I fell into a sort of trance, during which images of various kinds seemed to flit before my eyes. How long I remained in this state I know not; but I remember that I was brought to my senses by a loud shout, which came from persons belonging to a caravan returning from Mecca. This was a shout of joy for their safe arrival at a certain spring, well known to them in this part of the desert.

“The spring was not a hundred yards from the spot where I lay; yet, such had been the fate of Murad the Unlucky, that he missed the reality, whilst he had been hours in pursuit of the phantom. Feeble and spiritless as I was, I sent forth as loud a cry as I could, in hopes of obtaining assistance; and I endeavored to crawl to the place from which the voices appeared to come. The caravan rested for a considerable time whilst the slaves filled the skins with water, and whilst the camels took in their supply. I worked myself on towards them; yet, notwithstanding my efforts, I was persuaded that, according to my usual ill fortune, I should never be able to make them hear my voice. I saw them mount their camels! I took off my turban, unrolled it, and waved it in the air. My signal was seen! The caravan came towards me!

“I had scarcely strength to speak: a slave gave me some water; and, after I had drunk, I explained to them who I was, and how I came into this situation.

“Whilst I was speaking, one of the travellers observed the purse which hung to my girdle: it was the same the merchant, for whom I recovered the ring, had given to me; I had carefully preserved it, because the initials of my benefactor’s name, and a passage from the Koran, were worked upon it. When he gave it to me, he said that perhaps we should meet again in some other part of the world, and he should recognize me by this token. The person who now took notice of the purse was his brother; and when I related to him how I had obtained it, he had the goodness to take me under his protection. He was a merchant, who was now going with the caravan to Grand Cairo: he offered to take me with him, and I willingly accepted the proposal, promising to serve him as faithfully as any of his slaves. The caravan proceeded, and I was carried with it.”

II.

“The merchant, who was become my master, treated me with great kindness; but, on hearing me relate the whole series of my unfortunate adventures, he exacted a promise from me, that I would do nothing without first consulting him. ‘Since you are so unlucky, Murad,’ said he, ‘that you always choose for the worst when you choose for yourself, you should trust entirely to the judgment of a wiser or a more fortunate friend.’

“I fared well in the service of this merchant, who was a man of a mild disposition, and who was so rich that he could afford to be generous to all his dependants. It was my business to see his camels loaded and unloaded at proper places, to count his bales of merchandise, and to take care that they were not mixed with those of his companions. This I carefully did, till the day we arrived at Alexandria; when, unluckily, I neglected to count the bales, taking it for granted that they were all right, as I had found them so the preceding day. However, when we were to go on board the vessel that was to take us to Cairo, I perceived that three bales of cotton were missing.

“I ran to inform my master, who, though a good deal provoked at my negligence, did not reproach me as I deserved. The public crier was immediately sent round the city, to offer a reward for the recovery of the merchandise; and it was restored by one of the merchants’ slaves, with whom we had travelled. The vessel was now under sail; my master and I and the bales of cotton were obliged to follow in a boat; and when we were taken on board, the captain declared he was so loaded that he could not tell where to stow the bales of cotton. After much difficulty, he consented to let them remain upon deck: and I promised my master to watch them night and day.

“We had a prosperous voyage, and were actually in sight of shore, which the captain said we could not fail to reach early the next morning. I stayed, as usual, this night upon deck; and solaced myself by smoking my pipe. Ever since I had indulged in this practice at the camp at El Arish, I could not exist without opium and tobacco. I suppose that my reason was this night a little clouded with the dose I took; but, towards midnight, I was sobered by terror. I started up from the deck on which I had stretched myself; my turban was in flames; the bale of cotton on which I had rested was all on fire. I awakened two sailors, who were fast asleep on deck. The consternation became general, and the confusion increased the danger. The captain and my master were the most active, and suffered the most in extinguishing the flames: my master was terribly scorched.

“For my part, I was not suffered to do anything; the captain ordered that I should be bound to the mast; and, when at last the flames were extinguished, the passengers, with one accord, besought him to keep me bound hand and foot, lest I should be the cause of some new disaster. All that had happened was, indeed, occasioned by my ill luck. I had laid my pipe down, when I was falling asleep, upon the bale of cotton that was beside me. The fire from my pipe fell out, and set the cotton in flames. Such was the mixture of rage and terror with which I had inspired the whole crew, that I am sure they would have set me ashore on a desert island, rather than have had me on board for a week longer. Even my humane master, I could perceive, was secretly impatient to get rid of Murad the Unlucky, and his evil fortune.

“You may believe that I was heartily glad when we landed, and when I was unbound. My master put a purse containing fifty sequins into my hand, and bade me farewell. ‘Use this money prudently, Murad, if you can,’ said he, ‘and perhaps your fortune may change.’ Of this I had little hopes, but determined to lay out my money as prudently as possible.

“As I was walking through the streets of Grand Cairo, considering how I should lay out my fifty sequins to the greatest advantage, I was stopped by one who called me by my name, and asked me if I could pretend to have forgotten his face. I looked steadily at him, and recollected to my sorrow that he was the Jew Rachub, from whom I had borrowed certain sums of money at the camp at El Arish. What brought him to Grand Cairo, except it was my evil destiny, I cannot tell. He would not quit me; he would take no excuses; he said he knew that I had deserted twice, once from the Turkish and once from the English army; that I was not entitled to any pay; and that he could not imagine it possible that my brother Saladin would own me, or pay my debts.

“I replied, for I was vexed by the insolence of this Jewish dog, that I was not, as he imagined, a beggar; that I had the means of paying him my just debt, but that I hoped he would not extort from me all that exorbitant interest which none but a Jew could exact. He smiled, and answered that, if a Turk loved opium better than money, this was no fault of his; that he had supplied me with what I loved best in the world; and that I ought not to complain, when he expected I should return the favor.

“I will not weary you, gentlemen, with all the arguments that passed between me and Rachub. At last we compromised matters; he would take nothing less than the whole debt: but he let me have at a very cheap rate a chest of second-hand clothes, by which he assured me I might make my fortune. He brought them to Grand Cairo, he said, for the purpose of selling them to slave-merchants, who at this time of the year were in want of them to supply their slaves; but he was in haste to get home to his wife and family, at Constantinople, and therefore he was willing to make over to a friend the profits of this speculation. I should have distrusted Rachub’s professions of friendship and especially of disinterestedness; but he took me with him to the khan, where his goods were, and unlocked the chest of clothes to show them to me. They were of the richest and finest materials, and had been but little worn. I could not doubt the evidence of my senses; the bargain was concluded, and the Jew sent porters to my inn with the chest.

“The next day I repaired to the public market-place; and, when my business was known, I had choice of customers before night: my chest was empty,—and my purse was full. The profit I made, upon the sale of these clothes, was so considerable, that I could not help feeling astonishment at Rachub’s having brought himself so readily to relinquish them.

“A few days after I had disposed of the contents of my chest, a Damascene merchant, who had bought two suits of apparel from me, told me, with a very melancholy face, that both the female slaves who had put on these clothes were sick. I could not conceive that the clothes were the cause of their sickness; but soon afterwards, as I was crossing the market, I was attacked by at least a dozen merchants, who made similar complaints. They insisted upon knowing how I came by the garments, and demanded whether I had worn any of them myself. This day I had for the first time indulged myself with wearing a pair of yellow slippers, the only finery I had reserved for myself out of all the tempting goods. Convinced by my wearing these slippers that I could have had no insidious designs, since I shared the danger, whatever it might be, the merchants were a little pacified; but what was my terror and remorse the next day, when one of them came to inform me that plague-boils had broken out under the arms of all the slaves who had worn this pestilential apparel! On looking carefully into the chest, we found the word Smyrna written, and half effaced, upon the lid. Now, the plague had for some time raged at Smyrna; and, as the merchants suspected, these clothes had certainly belonged to persons who had died of that distemper. This was the reason why the Jew was willing to sell them to me so cheap; and it was for this reason that he would not stay at Grand Cairo himself to reap the profits of his speculation. Indeed, if I had paid attention to it at the proper time, a slight circumstance might have revealed the truth to me. Whilst I was bargaining with the Jew, before he opened the chest, he swallowed a large dram of brandy, and stuffed his nostrils with sponge dipped in vinegar: this he told me he did to prevent his perceiving the smell of musk, which always threw him into convulsions.

“The horror I felt, when I discovered that I had spread the infection of the plague, and that I had probably caught it myself, overpowered my senses; a cold dew spread over all my limbs, and I fell upon the lid of the fatal chest in a swoon. It is said that fear disposes people to take the infection; however this may be, I sickened that evening, and soon was in a raging fever. It was worse for me whenever the delirium left me, and I could reflect upon the miseries my ill fortune had occasioned. In my first lucid interval, I looked round and saw that I had been removed from the khan to a wretched hut. An old woman, who was smoking her pipe in the farthest corner of my room, informed me that I had been sent out of the town of Grand Cairo by order of the cadi, to whom the merchants had made their complaint. The fatal chest was burnt, and the house in which I had lodged razed to the ground. ‘And if it had not been for me,’ continued the old woman, ‘you would have been dead, probably, at this instant; but I have made a vow to our great prophet, that I would never neglect an opportunity of doing a good action: therefore, when you were deserted by all the world, I took care of you. Here, too, is your purse, which I saved from the rabble; and, what is more difficult, from the officers of justice: I will account to you for every para that I have expended; and will moreover tell you the reason of my making such an extraordinary vow.’

“As I believed that this benevolent old woman took great pleasure in talking, I made an inclination of my head to thank her for her promised history, and she proceeded; but I must confess I did not listen with all the attention her narrative doubtless deserved. Even curiosity, the strongest passion of us Turks, was dead within me. I have no recollection of the old woman’s story. It is as much as I can do to finish my own.

“The weather became excessively hot; it was affirmed, by some of the physicians, that this heat would prove fatal to their patients; but, contrary to the prognostics of the physicians, it stopped the progress of the plague. I recovered, and found my purse much lightened by my illness. I divided the remainder of my money with my humane nurse, and sent her out into the city, to inquire how matters were going on.

“She brought me word that the fury of the plague had much abated; but that she had met several funerals, and that she had heard many of the merchants cursing the folly of Murad the Unlucky, who, as they said, had brought all this calamity upon the inhabitants of Cairo. Even fools, they say, learn by experience. I took care to burn the bed on which I had lain, and the clothes I had worn: I concealed my real name, which I knew would inspire detestation, and gamed admittance, with a crowd of other poor wretches, into a lazaretto, where I performed quarantine, and offered up prayers daily for the sick.

“When I thought it was impossible I could spread the infection, I took my passage home. I was eager to get away from Grand Cairo, where I knew I was an object of execration. I had a strange fancy haunting my mind; I imagined that all my misfortunes, since I left Constantinople, had arisen from my neglect of the talisman upon the beautiful china vase. I dreamed three times, when I was recovering from the plague, that a genius appeared to me, and said, in a reproachful tone, ‘Murad, where is the vase that was intrusted to thy care?’

“This dream operated strongly upon my imagination. As soon as we arrived at Constantinople, which we did, to my great surprise, without meeting with any untoward accidents, I went in search of my brother Saladin, to inquire for my vase. He no longer lived in the house in which I left him, and I began to be apprehensive that he was dead; but a porter, hearing my inquiries, exclaimed, ‘Who is there in Constantinople that is ignorant of the dwelling of Saladin the Lucky? Come with me, and I will show it to you.’

“The mansion to which he conducted me looked so magnificent, that I was almost afraid to enter lest there should be some mistake. But, whilst I was hesitating, the doors opened, and I heard my brother Saladin’s voice. He saw me almost at the same instant that I fixed my eyes upon him, and immediately sprang forward to embrace me. He was the same good brother as ever, and I rejoiced in his prosperity with all my heart. ‘Brother Saladin,’ said I, ‘can you now doubt that some men are born to be fortunate, and others to be unfortunate? How often you used to dispute this point with me!’

“‘Let us not dispute it now in the public street,’ said he, smiling; ‘but come in and refresh yourself, and we will consider the question afterwards at leisure.’

“‘No, my dear brother,’ said I, drawing back, ‘you are too good: Murad the Unlucky shall not enter your house, lest he should draw down misfortunes upon you and yours. I come only to ask for my vase.’

“‘It is safe,’ cried he; ‘come in, and you shall see it; but I will not give it up till I have you in my house. I have none of these superstitious fears: pardon me the expression, but I have none of these superstitious fears.’

“I yielded, entered his house, and was astonished at all I saw! My brother did not triumph in his prosperity; but, on the contrary, seemed intent only upon making me forget my misfortunes: he listened to the account of them with kindness, and obliged me by the recital of his history; which was, I must acknowledge, far less wonderful than my own. He seemed, by his own account, to have grown rich in the common course of things; or, rather, by his own prudence. I allowed for his prejudices, and, unwilling to dispute further with him, said, ‘You must remain of your opinion, brother; and I of mine: you are Saladin the Lucky, and I Murad the Unlucky; and so we shall remain to the end of our lives.’

“I had not been in his house four days when an accident happened, which showed how much I was in the right. The favorite of the sultan, to whom he had formerly sold his china vase, though her charms were now somewhat faded by time, still retained her power, and her taste for magnificence. She commissioned my brother to bespeak for her, at Venice, the most splendid looking-glass that money could purchase. The mirror, after many delays and disappointments, at length arrived at my brother’s house. He unpacked it, and sent to let the lady know it was in perfect safety. It was late in the evening, and she ordered it should remain where it was that night; and that it should be brought to the seraglio the next morning. It stood in a sort of antechamber to the room in which I slept; and with it were left some packages, containing glass chandeliers for an unfinished saloon in my brother’s house. Saladin charged all his domestics to be vigilant this night, because he had money to a great amount by him, and there had been frequent robberies in our neighborhood. Hearing these orders, I resolved to be in readiness at a moment’s warning. I laid my scimitar beside me upon a cushion; and left my door half open, that I might hear the slightest noise in the antechamber or the great staircase. About midnight I was suddenly awakened by a noise in the antechamber. I started up, seized my scimitar, and the instant I got to the door, saw, by the light of the lamp which was burning in the room, a man standing opposite to me, with a drawn sword in his hand. I rushed forward, demanding what he wanted, and received no answer; but, seeing him aim at me with his scimitar, I gave him, as I thought, a deadly blow. At this instant, I heard a great crash; and the fragments of the looking-glass, which I had shivered, fell at my feet. At the same moment something black brushed by my shoulder: I pursued it, stumbled over the packages of glass, and rolled over them down the stairs.

“My brother came out of his room, to inquire the cause of all this disturbance; and when he saw the fine mirror broken, and me lying amongst the glass chandeliers at the bottom of the stairs, he could not forbear exclaiming, ‘Well, brother! you are indeed Murad the Unlucky.’

“When the first emotion was over, he could not, however, forbear laughing at my situation. With a degree of goodness, which made me a thousand times more sorry for the accident, he came down stairs to help me up, gave me his hand, and said, ‘Forgive me, if I was angry with you at first. I am sure you did not mean to do me any injury; but tell me how all this has happened.’

“Whilst Saladin was speaking, I heard the same kind of noise which had alarmed me in the antechamber; but, on looking back, I saw only a black pigeon, which flew swiftly by me, unconscious of the mischief he had occasioned. This pigeon I had unluckily brought into the house the preceding day; and had been feeding and trying to tame it for my young nephews. I little thought it would be the cause of such disasters. My brother, though he endeavored to conceal his anxiety from me, was much disturbed at the idea of meeting the favorite’s displeasure, who would certainly be grievously disappointed by the loss of her splendid looking-glass. I saw that I should inevitably be his ruin, if I continued in his house; and no persuasions could prevail upon me to prolong my stay. My generous brother, seeing me determined to go, said to me, ‘A factor, whom I have employed for some years to sell merchandise for me, died a few days ago. Will you take his place? I am rich enough to bear any little mistakes you may fall into, from ignorance of business; and you will have a partner who is able and willing to assist you.’

“I was touched to the heart by this kindness, especially at such a time as this. He sent one of his slaves with me to the shop in which you now see me, gentlemen. The slave, by my brother’s directions, brought with us my china vase, and delivered it safely to me, with this message: ‘The scarlet dye that was found in this vase, and in its fellow, was the first cause of Saladin’s making the fortune he now enjoys: he therefore does no more than justice, in sharing that fortune with his brother Murad.’

“I was now placed in as advantageous a situation as possible; but my mind was ill at ease, when I reflected that the broken mirror might be my brother’s ruin. The lady by whom it had been bespoken was, I well knew, of a violent temper; and this disappointment was sufficient to provoke her to vengeance. My brother sent me word this morning, however, that, though her displeasure was excessive, it was in my power to prevent any ill consequences that might ensue. ‘In my power!’ I exclaimed; ‘then, indeed, I am happy! Tell my brother there is nothing I will not do to show him my gratitude, and to save him from the consequences of my folly.’

“The slave who was sent by my brother seemed unwilling to name what was required of me, saying that his master was afraid I should not like to grant the request. I urged him to speak freely, and he then told me the favorite declared nothing would make her amends for the loss of the mirror but the fellow vase to that which she had bought from Saladin. It was impossible for me to hesitate; gratitude for my brother’s generous kindness overcame my superstitious obstinacy; and I sent him word I would carry the vase to him myself.

“I took it down this evening from the shelf on which it stood; it was covered with dust, and I washed it, but unluckily, in endeavoring to clean the inside from the remains of the scarlet powder, I poured hot water into it, and immediately I heard a simmering noise, and my vase, in a few instants, burst asunder with a loud explosion. These fragments, alas! are all that remain. The measure of my misfortunes is now completed! Can you wonder, gentlemen, that I bewail my evil destiny? Am I not justly called Murad the Unlucky? Here end all my hopes in this world! Better would it have been if I had died long ago! Better that I had never been born! Nothing I ever have done or attempted has prospered. Murad the Unlucky is my name, and ill fate has marked me for her own.”

III.

The lamentations of Murad were interrupted by the entrance of Saladin. Having waited in vain for some hours, he now came to see if any disaster had happened to his brother Murad. He was surprised at the sight of the two pretended merchants, and could not refrain from exclamations on beholding the broken vase. However, with his usual equanimity and good-nature, he began to console Murad; and, taking up the fragments, examined them carefully, one by one joined them together again, found that none of the edges of the china were damaged, and declared he could have it mended so as to look as well as ever.

Murad recovered his spirits upon this. “Brother,” said he, “I comfort myself for being Murad the Unlucky, when I reflect that you are Saladin the Lucky. See, gentlemen,” continued he, turning to the pretended merchants, “scarcely has this most fortunate of men been five minutes in company before he gives a happy turn to affairs. His presence inspires joy: I observe your countenances, which had been saddened by my dismal history, have brightened up since he has made his appearance. Brother, I wish you would make these gentlemen some amends for the time they have wasted in listening to my catalogue of misfortunes, by relating your history, which, I am sure, they will find rather more exhilarating.”

Saladin consented, on condition that the strangers would accompany him home, and partake of a social banquet. They at first repeated the former excuse of their being obliged to return to their inn; but at length the sultan’s curiosity prevailed, and he and his vizier went home with Saladin the Lucky, who, after supper, related his history in the following manner:—

“My being called Saladin the Lucky first inspired me with confidence in myself; though I own that I cannot remember any extraordinary instances of good luck in my childhood. An old nurse of my mother’s, indeed, repeated to me, twenty times a day, that nothing I undertook could fail to succeed, because I was Saladin the Lucky. I became presumptuous and rash; and my nurse’s prognostics might have effectually prevented their accomplishment, had I not, when I was about fifteen, been roused to reflection during a long confinement, which was the consequence of my youthful conceit and imprudence.

“At this time there was at the Porte a Frenchman, an ingenious engineer, who was employed and favored by the sultan, to the great astonishment of many of my prejudiced countrymen. On the grand seignior’s birthday he exhibited some extraordinarily fine fireworks; and I, with numbers of the inhabitants of Constantinople, crowded to see them. I happened to stand near the place where the Frenchman was stationed; the crowd pressed upon him, and I amongst the rest; he begged we would, for our own sakes, keep at a greater distance, and warned us that we might be much hurt by the combustibles which he was using. I, relying upon my good fortune, disregarded all these cautions; and the consequence was, that as I touched some of the materials prepared for the fireworks, they exploded, dashed me upon the ground with great violence, and I was terribly burnt.

“This accident, gentlemen, I consider as one of the most fortunate circumstances of my life; for it checked and corrected the presumption of my temper. During the time I was confined to my bed, the French gentleman came frequently to see me. He was a very sensible man; and the conversations he had with me enlarged my mind, and cured me of many foolish prejudices, especially of that which I had been taught to entertain, concerning the predominance of what is called luck, or fortune, in human affairs. ‘Though you are called Saladin the Lucky,’ said he, ‘you find that your neglect of prudence has nearly brought you to the grave even in the bloom of youth. Take my advice, and henceforward trust more to prudence than to fortune. Let the multitude, if they will, call you Saladin the Lucky; but call yourself, and make yourself, Saladin the Prudent.’

“These words left an indelible impression on my mind, and gave a new turn to my thoughts and character. My brother, Murad, has doubtless told you that our difference of opinion, on the subject of predestination, produced between us frequent arguments; but we could never convince one another, and we each have acted, through life, in consequence of our different beliefs. To this I attribute my success and his misfortunes.

“The first rise of my fortune, as you have probably heard from Murad, was owing to the scarlet dye, which I brought to perfection with infinite difficulty. The powder, it is true, was accidentally found by me in our china vases; but there it might have remained to this instant, useless, if I had not taken the pains to make it useful. I grant that we can only partially foresee and command events; yet on the use we make of our own powers, I think, depends our destiny. But, gentlemen, you would rather hear my adventures, perhaps, than my reflections; and I am truly concerned, for your sakes, that I have no wonderful events to relate. I am sorry I cannot tell you of my having been lost in a sandy desert. I have never had the plague, nor even been shipwrecked: I have been all my life an inhabitant of Constantinople, and have passed my time in a very quiet and uniform manner.

“The money I received from the sultan’s favorite for my china vase, as my brother may have told you, enabled me to trade on a more extensive scale. I went on steadily with my business; and made it my whole study to please my employers, by all fair and honorable means. This industry and civility succeeded beyond my expectations: in a few years, I was rich for a man in my way of business.

“I will not proceed to trouble you with the journal of a petty merchant’s life; I pass on to the incident which made a considerable change in my affairs.

“A terrible fire broke out near the walls of the grand seignior’s seraglio: as you are strangers, gentlemen, you may not have heard of this event, though it produced so great a sensation in Constantinople. The vizier’s superb palace was utterly consumed; and the melted lead poured down from the roof of the mosque of St. Sophia. Various were the opinions formed by my neighbors respecting the cause of the conflagration. Some supposed it to be a punishment for the sultan’s having neglected, one Friday, to appear at the mosque of St. Sophia; others considered it as a warning sent by Mahomet, to dissuade the Porte from persisting in a war in which we were just engaged. The generality, however, of the coffee-house politicians contented themselves with observing that it was the will of Mahomet that the palace should be consumed. Satisfied by this supposition, they took no precaution to prevent similar accidents in their own houses. Never were fires so common in the city as at this period; scarcely a night passed without our being wakened by the cry of fire.

“These frequent fires were rendered still more dreadful by villains, who were continually on the watch to increase the confusion by which they profited, and to pillage the houses of the sufferers. It was discovered that these incendiaries frequently skulked, towards evening, in the neighborhood of the bezestein, where the richest merchants store their goods; some of these wretches were detected in throwing coundaks, or matches, into the windows; and if these combustibles remained a sufficient time, they could not fail to set the house on fire.

“Notwithstanding all these circumstances, many even of those who had property to preserve continued to repeat, ‘It is the will of Mahomet,’ and consequently to neglect all means of preservation. I, on the contrary, recollecting the lesson I had learned from the sensible foreigner, neither suffered my spirits to sink with superstitious fears of ill luck, nor did I trust presumptuously to my good fortune. I took every possible means to secure myself. I never went to bed without having seen that all the lights and fires in the house were extinguished, and that I had a supply of water in the cistern. I had likewise learned from my Frenchman that wet mortar was the most effectual thing for stopping the progress of flames: I therefore had a quantity of mortar made up in one of my outhouses, which I could use at a moment’s warning. These precautions were all useful to me: my own house, indeed, was never actually on fire, but the houses of my next-door neighbors were no less than five times in flames, in the course of one winter. By my exertions, or rather by my precautions, they suffered but little damage; and all my neighbors looked upon me as their deliverer and friend: they loaded me with presents, and offered more, indeed, than I would accept. All repeated that I was Saladin the Lucky. This compliment I disclaimed, feeling more ambitious of being called Saladin the Prudent. It is thus that what we call modesty is often only a more refined species of pride. But to proceed with my story.

“One night I had been later than usual at supper, at a friend’s house: none but the watch were in the streets, and even they, I believe, were asleep.

“As I passed one of the conduits, which convey water to the city, I heard a trickling noise; and, upon examination, I found that the cock of the water-spout was half turned, so that the water was running out. I turned it back to its proper place, thought it had been left unturned by accident, and walked on; but I had not proceeded far before I came to another spout and another, which were in the same condition. I was convinced that this could not be the effect merely of accident, and suspected that some ill-intentioned persons designed to let out and waste the water of the city, that there might be none to extinguish any fire that should break out in the course of the night.

“I stood still for a few moments, to consider how it would be most prudent to act. It would be impossible for me to run to all parts of the city, that I might stop the pipes that were running to waste. I first thought of wakening the watch and the firemen, who were most of them slumbering at their stations; but I reflected that they were perhaps not to be trusted, and that they were in a confederacy with the incendiaries; otherwise, they would certainly, before this hour, have observed and stopped the running of the sewers in their neighborhood. I determined to waken a rich merchant, called Damat Zade, who lived near me, and who had a number of slaves whom he could send to different parts of the city, to prevent mischief, and give notice to the inhabitants of their danger.

“He was a very sensible, active man, and one that could easily be wakened: he was not, like some Turks, an hour in recovering their lethargic senses. He was quick in decision and action; and his slaves resembled their master. He despatched a messenger immediately to the grand vizier, that the sultan’s safety might be secured; and sent others to the magistrates, in each quarter of Constantinople. The large drums in the janissary aga’s tower beat to rouse the inhabitants; and scarcely had this been heard to beat half an hour before the fire broke out in the lower apartments of Damat Zade’s house, owing to a coundak, which had been left behind one of the doors.

“The wretches who had prepared the mischief came to enjoy it, and to pillage; but they were disappointed. Astonished to find themselves taken into custody, they could not comprehend how their designs had been frustrated. By timely exertions, the fire in my friend’s house was extinguished; and though fires broke out, during the night, in many parts of the city, but little damage was sustained, because there was time for precautions; and by the stopping of the spouts, sufficient water was preserved. People were awakened, and warned of the danger, and they consequently escaped unhurt.

“The next day, as soon as I made my appearance at the bezestein, the merchants crowded round, called me their benefactor, and the preserver of their lives and fortunes. Damat Zade, the merchant whom I had awakened the preceding night, presented to me a heavy purse of gold, and put upon my finger a diamond ring of considerable value; each of the merchants followed his example, in making me rich presents: the magistrates also sent me tokens of their approbation; and the grand vizier sent me a diamond of the first water, with a line written by his own hand: ‘To the man who has saved Constantinople.’ Excuse me, gentlemen, for the vanity I seem to show in mentioning these circumstances. You desired to hear my history, and I cannot therefore omit the principal circumstance of my life. In the course of four-and-twenty hours, I found myself raised, by the munificent gratitude of the inhabitants of this city, to a state of affluence far beyond what I had ever dreamed of attaining.

“I now took a house suited to my circumstances, and bought a few slaves. As I was carrying my slaves home, I was met by a Jew, who stopped me, saying, in his language, ‘My lord, I see, has been purchasing slaves: I could clothe them cheaply.’ There was something mysterious in the manner of this Jew, and I did not like his countenance; but I considered that I ought not to be governed by caprice in my dealings, and that, if this man could really clothe my slaves more cheaply than another, I ought not to neglect his offer merely because I took a dislike to the cut of his beard, the turn of his eye, or the tone of his voice. I therefore bade the Jew follow me home, saying that I would consider of his proposal.

“When we came to talk over the matter, I was surprised to find him so reasonable in his demands. On one point, indeed, he appeared unwilling to comply. I required not only to see the clothes I was offered, but also to know how they came into his possession. On this subject he equivocated; I therefore suspected there must be something wrong. I reflected what it could be, and judged that the goods had been stolen, or that they had been the apparel of persons who had died of some contagious distemper. The Jew showed me a chest, from which he said I might choose whatever suited me best. I observed, that, as he was going to unlock the chest, he stuffed his nose with some aromatic herbs. He told me that he did so to prevent his smelling the musk with which the chest was perfumed: musk, he said, had an extraordinary effect upon his nerves. I begged to have some of the herbs which he used himself; declaring that musk was likewise offensive to me.

“The Jew, either struck by his own conscience, or observing my suspicions, turned as pale as death. He pretended he had not the right key, and could not unlock the chest; said he must go in search of it, and that he would call on me again.

“After he had left me, I examined some writing upon the lid of the chest, that had been nearly effaced. I made out the word Smyrna, and this was sufficient to confirm all my suspicions. The Jew returned no more: he sent some porters to carry away the chest, and I heard nothing of him for some time, till one day, when I was at the house of Damat Zade, I saw a glimpse of the Jew passing hastily through one of the courts, as if he wished to avoid me. ‘My friend,’ said I to Damat Zade, ‘do not attribute my question to impertinent curiosity, or to a desire to intermeddle with your affairs, if I venture to ask the nature of your business with the Jew, who has just now crossed your court.’

“‘He has engaged to supply me with clothing for my slaves,’ replied my friend, ‘cheaper than I can purchase it elsewhere. I have a design to surprise my daughter, Fatima, on her birthday, with an entertainment in the pavilion in the garden; and all her female slaves shall appear in new dresses on the occasion.’

“I interrupted my friend, to tell him what I suspected relative to this Jew and his chest of clothes. It is certain that the infection of the plague can be communicated by clothes, not only after months but after years have elapsed. The merchant resolved to have nothing more to do with this wretch, who could thus hazard the lives of thousands of his fellow-creatures for a few pieces of gold: we sent notice of the circumstance to the cadi, but the cadi was slow in his operations; and, before he could take the Jew into custody, the cunning fellow had effected his escape. When his house was searched, he and his chest had disappeared: we discovered that he sailed for Egypt, and rejoiced that we had driven him from Constantinople.

“My friend, Damat Zade, expressed the warmest gratitude to me. ‘You formerly saved my fortune: you have now saved my life; and a life yet dearer than my own, that of my daughter Fatima.’

“At the sound of that name I could not, I believe, avoid showing some emotion. I had accidentally seen this lady, and I had been captivated by her beauty, and by the sweetness of her countenance; but as I knew she was destined to be the wife of another, I suppressed my feeling, and determined to banish the recollection of the fair Fatima forever from my imagination. Her father, however, at this instant, threw into my way a temptation which it required all my fortitude to resist. ‘Saladin,’ continued he, ‘it is but just that you, who have saved our lives, should share our festivity. Come here on the birthday of my Fatima: I will place you in a balcony, which overlooks the garden, and you shall see the whole spectacle. We shall have a feast of tulips, in imitation of that which, as you know, is held in the grand seignior’s gardens. I assure you, the sight will be worth seeing; and besides, you will have a chance of beholding my Fatima, for a moment, without her veil.’

“‘That,’ interrupted I, ‘is the thing I most wish to avoid. I dare not indulge myself in a pleasure which might cost me the happiness of my life. I will conceal nothing from you, who treat me with so much confidence. I have already beheld the charming countenance of your Fatima, but I know that she is destined to be the wife of a happier man.’

“Damat Zade seemed much pleased by the frankness with which I explained myself; but he would not give up the idea of my sitting with him, in the balcony, on the day of the feast of tulips, and I, on my part, could not consent to expose myself to another view of the charming Fatima. My friend used every argument, or rather every sort of persuasion, he could imagine to prevail upon me: he then tried to laugh me out of my resolution; and, when all failed, he said, in a voice of anger, ‘Go, then, Saladin; I am sure you are deceiving me: you have a passion for some other woman, and you would conceal it from me, and persuade me you refuse the favor I offer you from prudence, when, in fact, it is from indifference and contempt. Why could you not speak the truth of your heart to me with that frankness with which one friend should treat another?’

“Astonished at this unexpected charge, and at the anger which flashed from the eyes of Damat Zade, who till this moment had always appeared to me a man of a mild and reasonable temper, I was for an instant tempted to fly into a passion and leave him: but friends, once lost, are not easily regained. This consideration had power sufficient to make me command my temper. ‘My friend,’ replied I, ‘we will talk over this affair to-morrow: you are now angry, and cannot do me justice; but to-morrow you will be cool: you will then be convinced that I have not deceived you; and that I have no design but to secure my own happiness by the most prudent means in my power, by avoiding the sight of the dangerous Fatima. I have no passion for any other woman.’

“‘Then,’ said my friend, embracing me, and quitting the tone of anger which he had assumed only to try my resolution to the utmost,—’then, Saladin, Fatima is yours.’

“I scarcely dared to believe my senses! I could not express my joy! ‘Yes, my friend,’ continued the merchant, ‘I have tried your prudence to the utmost; it has been victorious, and I resign my Fatima to you, certain that you will make her happy. It is true, I had a greater alliance in view for her: the pacha of Maksoud has demanded her from me; but I have found, upon private inquiry, he is addicted to the intemperate use of opium: and my daughter shall never be the wife of one who is a violent madman one half the day, and a melancholy idiot during the remainder. I have nothing to apprehend from the pacha’s resentment, because I have powerful friends with the grand vizier who will oblige him to listen to reason, and to submit quietly to a disappointment he so justly merits. And now, Saladin, have you any objection to seeing the feast of tulips?’

“I replied only by falling at the merchant’s feet, and embracing his knees. The feast of tulips came, and on that day I was married to the charming Fatima! The charming Fatima I continue still to think her, though she has now been my wife some years. She is the joy and pride of my heart; and, from our mutual affection, I have experienced more felicity than from all the other circumstances of my life, which are called so fortunate. Her father gave me the house in which I now live, and joined his possessions to ours; so that I have more wealth even than I desire. My riches, however, give me continually the means of relieving the wants of others; and therefore I cannot affect to despise them. I must persuade my brother Murad to share them with me, and to forget his misfortunes: I shall then think myself completely happy. As to the sultana’s looking-glass, and your broken vase, my dear brother,” continued Saladin, “we must think of some means—”

“Think no more of the sultana’s looking-glass, or of the broken vase,” exclaimed the sultan, throwing aside his merchant’s habit, and showing beneath it his own imperial vest. “Saladin, I rejoice to have heard, from your own lips, the history of your life. I acknowledge, vizier, I have been in the wrong, in our argument,” continued the sultan, turning to his vizier. “I acknowledge that the histories of Saladin the Lucky and Murad the Unlucky favor your opinion, that prudence has more influence than chance in human affairs. The success and happiness of Saladin seem to me to have arisen from his prudence: by that prudence, Constantinople has been saved from flames, and from the plague. Had Murad possessed his brother’s discretion, he would not have been on the point of losing his head, for selling rolls which he did not bake: he would not have been kicked by a mule, or bastinadoed for finding a ring: he would not have been robbed by one party of soldiers, or shot by another: he would not have been lost in a desert, or cheated by a Jew; he would not have set a ship on fire; nor would he have caught the plague, and spread it through Grand Cairo: he would not have run my sultana’s looking-glass through the body, instead of a robber: he would not have believed that the fate of his life depended on certain verses on a china vase: nor would he, at last, have broken this precious talisman, by washing it with hot water. Henceforward, let Murad the Unlucky be named Murad the Imprudent: let Saladin preserve the surname he merits, and be henceforth called Saladin the Prudent.”

So spake the sultan, who, unlike the generality of monarchs, could bear to find himself in the wrong; and could discover his vizier to be in the right, without cutting off his head. History further informs us that the sultan offered to make Saladin a pacha, and to commit to him the government of a province; but Saladin the Prudent declined this honor, saying he had no ambition, was perfectly happy in his present situation, and that, when this was the case, it would be folly to change, because no one can be more than happy. What further adventures befell Murad the Imprudent are not recorded; it is known only that he became a daily visitor to the Teriaky; and that he died a martyr to the immoderate use of opium.

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