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Title: After London - Or, Wild England
Author: Jefferies, Richard, 1848-1887
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          AFTER LONDON
                          Wild England


                               by


                        Richard Jefferies



Contents


Part I   The Relapse into Barbarism


  Chapter 1    The Great Forest

  Chapter 2    Wild Animals

  Chapter 3    Men of the Woods

  Chapter 4    The Invaders

  Chapter 5    The Lake



Part II  Wild England


  Chapter 1    Sir Felix

  Chapter 2    The House of Aquila

  Chapter 3    The Stockade

  Chapter 4    The Canoe

  Chapter 5    Baron Aquila

  Chapter 6    The Forest Track

  Chapter 7    The Forest Track continued

  Chapter 8    Thyma Castle

  Chapter 9    Superstitions

  Chapter 10   The Feast

  Chapter 11   Aurora

  Chapter 12   Night in the Forest

  Chapter 13   Sailing Away

  Chapter 14   The Straits

  Chapter 15   Sailing Onwards

  Chapter 16   The City

  Chapter 17   The Camp

  Chapter 18   The King's Levy

  Chapter 19   Fighting

  Chapter 20   In Danger

  Chapter 21   A Voyage

  Chapter 22   Discoveries

  Chapter 23   Strange Things

  Chapter 24   Fiery Vapours

  Chapter 25   The Shepherds

  Chapter 26   Bow and Arrow

  Chapter 27   Surprised

  Chapter 28   For Aurora



Part I

The Relapse into Barbarism



CHAPTER I

THE GREAT FOREST


The old men say their fathers told them that soon after the fields were
left to themselves a change began to be visible. It became green
everywhere in the first spring, after London ended, so that all the
country looked alike.

The meadows were green, and so was the rising wheat which had been sown,
but which neither had nor would receive any further care. Such arable
fields as had not been sown, but where the last stubble had been
ploughed up, were overrun with couch-grass, and where the short stubble
had not been ploughed, the weeds hid it. So that there was no place
which was not more or less green; the footpaths were the greenest of
all, for such is the nature of grass where it has once been trodden on,
and by-and-by, as the summer came on, the former roads were thinly
covered with the grass that had spread out from the margin.

In the autumn, as the meadows were not mown, the grass withered as it
stood, falling this way and that, as the wind had blown it; the seeds
dropped, and the bennets became a greyish-white, or, where the docks and
sorrel were thick, a brownish-red. The wheat, after it had ripened,
there being no one to reap it, also remained standing, and was eaten by
clouds of sparrows, rooks, and pigeons, which flocked to it and were
undisturbed, feasting at their pleasure. As the winter came on, the
crops were beaten down by the storms, soaked with rain, and trodden upon
by herds of animals.

Next summer the prostrate straw of the preceding year was concealed by
the young green wheat and barley that sprang up from the grain sown by
dropping from the ears, and by quantities of docks, thistles, oxeye
daisies, and similar plants. This matted mass grew up through the
bleached straw. Charlock, too, hid the rotting roots in the fields under
a blaze of yellow flower. The young spring meadow-grass could scarcely
push its way up through the long dead grass and bennets of the year
previous, but docks and thistles, sorrel, wild carrots, and nettles,
found no such difficulty.

Footpaths were concealed by the second year, but roads could be traced,
though as green as the sward, and were still the best for walking,
because the tangled wheat and weeds, and, in the meadows, the long
grass, caught the feet of those who tried to pass through. Year by year
the original crops of wheat, barley, oats, and beans asserted their
presence by shooting up, but in gradually diminished force, as nettles
and coarser plants, such as the wild parsnips, spread out into the
fields from the ditches and choked them.

Aquatic grasses from the furrows and water-carriers extended in the
meadows, and, with the rushes, helped to destroy or take the place of
the former sweet herbage. Meanwhile, the brambles, which grew very fast,
had pushed forward their prickly runners farther and farther from the
hedges till they had now reached ten or fifteen yards. The briars had
followed, and the hedges had widened to three or four times their first
breadth, the fields being equally contracted. Starting from all sides at
once, these brambles and briars in the course of about twenty years met
in the centre of the largest fields.

Hawthorn bushes sprang up among them, and, protected by the briars and
thorns from grazing animals, the suckers of elm-trees rose and
flourished. Sapling ashes, oaks, sycamores, and horse-chestnuts, lifted
their heads. Of old time the cattle would have eaten off the seed leaves
with the grass so soon as they were out of the ground, but now most of
the acorns that were dropped by birds, and the keys that were wafted by
the wind, twirling as they floated, took root and grew into trees. By
this time the brambles and briars had choked up and blocked the former
roads, which were as impassable as the fields.

No fields, indeed, remained, for where the ground was dry, the thorns,
briars, brambles, and saplings already mentioned filled the space, and
these thickets and the young trees had converted most part of the
country into an immense forest. Where the ground was naturally moist,
and the drains had become choked with willow roots, which, when confined
in tubes, grow into a mass like the brush of a fox, sedges and flags and
rushes covered it. Thorn bushes were there, too, but not so tall; they
were hung with lichen. Besides the flags and reeds, vast quantities of
the tallest cow-parsnips or "gicks" rose five or six feet high, and the
willow herb with its stout stem, almost as woody as a shrub, filled
every approach.

By the thirtieth year there was not one single open place, the hills
only excepted, where a man could walk, unless he followed the tracks of
wild creatures or cut himself a path. The ditches, of course, had long
since become full of leaves and dead branches, so that the water which
should have run off down them stagnated, and presently spread out into
the hollow places and by the corner of what had once been fields,
forming marshes where the horsetails, flags, and sedges hid the water.

As no care was taken with the brooks, the hatches upon them gradually
rotted, and the force of the winter rains carried away the weak timbers,
flooding the lower grounds, which became swamps of larger size. The
dams, too, were drilled by water-rats, and the streams percolating
through, slowly increased the size of these tunnels till the structure
burst, and the current swept on and added to the floods below. Mill-dams
stood longer, but, as the ponds silted up, the current flowed round and
even through the mill-houses, which, going by degrees to ruin, were in
some cases undermined till they fell.

Everywhere the lower lands adjacent to the streams had become marshes,
some of them extending for miles in a winding line, and occasionally
spreading out to a mile in breadth. This was particularly the case where
brooks and streams of some volume joined the rivers, which were also
blocked and obstructed in their turn, and the two, overflowing, covered
the country around; for the rivers brought down trees and branches,
timbers floated from the shore, and all kinds of similar materials,
which grounded in the shallows or caught against snags, and formed huge
piles where there had been weirs.

Sometimes, after great rains, these piles swept away the timbers of the
weir, driven by the irresistible power of the water, and then in its
course the flood, carrying the balks before it like battering rams,
cracked and split the bridges of solid stone which the ancients had
built. These and the iron bridges likewise were overthrown, and
presently quite disappeared, for the very foundations were covered with
the sand and gravel silted up.

Thus, too, the sites of many villages and towns that anciently existed
along the rivers, or on the lower lands adjoining, were concealed by the
water and the mud it brought with it. The sedges and reeds that arose
completed the work and left nothing visible, so that the mighty
buildings of olden days were by these means utterly buried. And, as has
been proved by those who have dug for treasures, in our time the very
foundations are deep beneath the earth, and not to be got at for the
water that oozes into the shafts that they have tried to sink through
the sand and mud banks.

From an elevation, therefore, there was nothing visible but endless
forest and marsh. On the level ground and plains the view was limited to
a short distance, because of the thickets and the saplings which had now
become young trees. The downs only were still partially open, yet it was
not convenient to walk upon them except in the tracks of animals,
because of the long grass which, being no more regularly grazed upon by
sheep, as was once the case, grew thick and tangled. Furze, too, and
heath covered the slopes, and in places vast quantities of fern. There
had always been copses of fir and beech and nut-tree covers, and these
increased and spread, while bramble, briar, and hawthorn extended around
them.

By degrees the trees of the vale seemed as it were to invade and march
up the hills, and, as we see in our time, in many places the downs are
hidden altogether with a stunted kind of forest. But all the above
happened in the time of the first generation. Besides these things a
great physical change took place; but before I speak of that, it will be
best to relate what effects were produced upon animals and men.

In the first years after the fields were left to themselves, the fallen
and over-ripe corn crops became the resort of innumerable mice. They
swarmed to an incredible degree, not only devouring the grain upon the
straw that had never been cut, but clearing out every single ear in the
wheat-ricks that were standing about the country. Nothing remained in
these ricks but straw, pierced with tunnels and runs, the home and
breeding-place of mice, which thence poured forth into the fields. Such
grain as had been left in barns and granaries, in mills, and in
warehouses of the deserted towns, disappeared in the same manner.

When men tried to raise crops in small gardens and enclosures for their
sustenance, these legions of mice rushed in and destroyed the produce of
their labour. Nothing could keep them out, and if a score were killed, a
hundred more supplied their place. These mice were preyed upon by
kestrel hawks, owls, and weasels; but at first they made little or no
appreciable difference. In a few years, however, the weasels, having
such a superabundance of food, trebled in numbers, and in the same way
the hawks, owls, and foxes increased. There was then some relief, but
even now at intervals districts are invaded, and the granaries and the
standing corn suffer from these depredations.

This does not happen every year, but only at intervals, for it is
noticed that mice abound very much more in some seasons than others. The
extraordinary multiplication of these creatures was the means of
providing food for the cats that had been abandoned in the towns, and
came forth into the country in droves. Feeding on the mice, they became,
in a very short time, quite wild, and their descendants now roam the
forest.

In our houses we still have several varieties of the domestic cat, such
as the tortoise-shell, which is the most prized, but when the
above-mentioned cats became wild, after a while the several varieties
disappeared, and left but one wild kind. Those which are now so often
seen in the forest, and which do so much mischief about houses and
enclosures, are almost all greyish, some being striped, and they are
also much longer in the body than the tame. A few are jet black; their
skins are then preferred by hunters.

Though the forest cat retires from the sight of man as much as possible,
yet it is extremely fierce in defence of its young, and instances have
been known where travellers in the woods have been attacked upon
unwittingly approaching their dens. Dropping from the boughs of a tree
upon the shoulders, the creature flies at the face, inflicting deep
scratches and bites, exceedingly painful, and sometimes dangerous, from
the tendency to fester. But such cases are rare, and the reason the
forest cat is so detested is because it preys upon fowls and poultry,
mounting with ease the trees or places where they roost.

Almost worse than the mice were the rats, which came out of the old
cities in such vast numbers that the people who survived and saw them
are related to have fled in fear. This terror, however, did not last so
long as the evil of the mice, for the rats, probably not finding
sufficient food when together, scattered abroad, and were destroyed
singly by the cats and dogs, who slew them by thousands, far more than
they could afterwards eat, so that the carcases were left to decay. It
is said that, overcome with hunger, these armies of rats in some cases
fell upon each other, and fed on their own kindred. They are still
numerous, but do not appear to do the same amount of damage as is
occasionally caused by the mice, when the latter invade the cultivated
lands.

The dogs, of course, like the cats, were forced by starvation into the
fields, where they perished in incredible numbers. Of many species of
dogs which are stated to have been plentiful among the ancients, we have
now nothing but the name. The poodle is extinct, the Maltese terrier,
the Pomeranian, the Italian greyhound, and, it is believed, great
numbers of crosses and mongrels have utterly disappeared. There was none
to feed them, and they could not find food for themselves, nor could
they stand the rigour of the winter when exposed to the frost in the
open air.

Some kinds, more hardy and fitted by nature for the chase, became wild,
and their descendants are now found in the woods. Of these, there are
three sorts which keep apart from each other, and are thought not to
interbreed. The most numerous are the black. The black wood-dog is short
and stoutly made, with shaggy hair, sometimes marked with white patches.

There can be no doubt that it is the descendant of the ancient
sheep-dog, for it is known that the sheep-dog was of that character, and
it is said that those who used to keep sheep soon found their dogs
abandon the fold, and join the wild troops that fell upon the sheep. The
black wood-dogs hunt in packs of ten or more (as many as forty have been
counted), and are the pest of the farmer, for, unless his flocks are
protected at night within stockades or enclosures, they are certain to
be attacked. Not satisfied with killing enough to satisfy hunger, these
dogs tear and mangle for sheer delight of blood, and will destroy twenty
times as many as they can eat, leaving the miserably torn carcases on
the field. Nor are the sheep always safe by day if the wood-dogs happen
to be hungry. The shepherd is, therefore, usually accompanied by two or
three mastiffs, of whose great size and strength the others stand in
awe. At night, and when in large packs, starving in the snow, not even
the mastiffs can check them.

No wood-dog, of any kind, has ever been known to attack man, and the
hunter in the forest hears their bark in every direction without fear.
It is, nevertheless, best to retire out of their way when charging sheep
in packs, for they then seem seized with a blind fury, and some who have
endeavoured to fight them have been thrown down and seriously mauled.
But this has been in the blindness of their rush; no instance has ever
been known of their purposely attacking man.

These black wood-dogs will also chase and finally pull down cattle, if
they can get within the enclosures, and even horses have fallen victims
to their untiring thirst for blood. Not even the wild cattle can always
escape, despite their strength, and they have been known to run down
stags, though not their usual quarry.

The next kind of wild wood-dog is the yellow, a smaller animal, with
smooth hair inclining to a yellow colour, which lives principally upon
game, chasing all, from the hare to the stag. It is as swift, or nearly
as swift, as the greyhound, and possesses greater endurance. In coursing
the hare, it not uncommonly happens that these dogs start from the brake
and take the hare, when nearly exhausted, from the hunter's hounds. They
will in the same way follow a stag, which has been almost run down by
the hunters, and bring him to bay, though in this case they lose their
booty, dispersing through fear of man, when the hunters come up in a
body.

But such is their love of the chase, that they are known to assemble
from their lairs at the distant sound of the horn, and, as the hunters
ride through the woods, they often see the yellow dogs flitting along
side by side with them through bush and fern. These animals sometimes
hunt singly, sometimes in couples, and as the season advances, and
winter approaches, in packs of eight or twelve. They never attack sheep
or cattle, and avoid man, except when they perceive he is engaged in the
chase. There is little doubt that they are the descendants of the dogs
which the ancients called lurchers, crossed, perhaps, with the
greyhound, and possibly other breeds. When the various species of dogs
were thrown on their own resources, those only withstood the exposure
and hardships which were naturally hardy, and possessed natural aptitude
for the chase.

The third species of wood-dog is the white. They are low on the legs, of
a dingy white colour, and much smaller than the other two. They neither
attack cattle nor game, though fond of hunting rabbits. This dog is, in
fact, a scavenger, living upon the carcases of dead sheep and animals,
which are found picked clean in the night. For this purpose it haunts
the neighbourhood of habitations, and prowls in the evening over heaps
of refuse, scampering away at the least alarm, for it is extremely
timid.

It is perfectly harmless, for even the poultry do not dread it, and it
will not face a tame cat, if by chance the two meet. It is rarely met
with far from habitations, though it will accompany an army on the
march. It may be said to remain in one district. The black and yellow
dogs, on the contrary, roam about the forest without apparent home. One
day the hunter sees signs of their presence, and perhaps may, for a
month afterwards, not so much as hear a bark.

This uncertainty in the case of the black dog is the bane of the
shepherds; for, not seeing or hearing anything of the enemy for months
altogether, in spite of former experience their vigilance relaxes, and
suddenly, while they sleep, their flocks are scattered. We still have,
among tame dogs, the mastiff, terrier, spaniel, deerhound, and
greyhound, all of which are as faithful to man as ever.



CHAPTER II

WILD ANIMALS


When the ancients departed, great numbers of their cattle perished. It
was not so much the want of food as the inability to endure exposure
that caused their death; a few winters are related to have so reduced
them that they died by hundreds, many mangled by dogs. The hardiest that
remained became perfectly wild, and the wood cattle are now more
difficult to approach than deer.

There are two kinds, the white and the black. The white (sometimes dun)
are believed to be the survivors of the domestic roan-and-white, for the
cattle in our enclosures at the present day are of that colour. The
black are smaller, and are doubtless little changed from their state in
the olden times, except that they are wild. These latter are timid,
unless accompanied by a calf, and are rarely known to turn upon their
pursuers. But the white are fierce at all times; they will not, indeed,
attack man, but will scarcely run from him, and it is not always safe to
cross their haunts.

The bulls are savage beyond measure at certain seasons of the year. If
they see men at a distance, they retire; if they come unexpectedly face
to face, they attack. This characteristic enables those who travel
through districts known to be haunted by white cattle to provide against
an encounter, for, by occasionally blowing a horn, the herd that may be
in the vicinity is dispersed. There are not often more than twenty in a
herd. The hides of the dun are highly prized, both for their intrinsic
value, and as proofs of skill and courage, so much so that you shall
hardly buy a skin for all the money you may offer; and the horns are
likewise trophies. The white or dun bull is the monarch of our forests.

Four kinds of wild pigs are found. The most numerous, or at least the
most often seen, as it lies about our enclosures, is the common
thorn-hog. It is the largest of the wild pigs, long-bodied and
flat-sided, in colour much the hue of the mud in which it wallows. To
the agriculturist it is the greatest pest, destroying or damaging all
kinds of crops, and routing up the gardens. It is with difficulty kept
out by palisading, for if there be a weak place in the wooden framework,
the strong snout of the animal is sure to undermine and work a passage
through.

As there are always so many of these pigs round about inhabited places
and cultivated fields, constant care is required, for they instantly
discover an opening. From their habit of haunting the thickets and bush
which come up to the verge of the enclosures, they have obtained the
name of thorn-hogs. Some reach an immense size, and they are very
prolific, so that it is impossible to destroy them. The boars are fierce
at a particular season, but never attack unless provoked to do so. But
when driven to bay they are the most dangerous of the boars, on account
of their vast size and weight. They are of a sluggish disposition, and
will not rise from their lairs unless forced to do so.

The next kind is the white hog, which has much the same habits as the
former, except that it is usually found in moist places, near lakes and
rivers, and is often called the marsh-pig. The third kind is perfectly
black, much smaller in size, and very active, affording by far the best
sport, and also the best food when killed. As they are found on the
hills where the ground is somewhat more open, horses can follow freely,
and the chase becomes exciting. By some it is called the hill-hog, from
the locality it frequents. The small tusks of the black boar are used
for many ornamental purposes.

These three species are considered to be the descendants of the various
domestic pigs of the ancients, but the fourth, or grey, is thought to be
the true wild boar. It is seldom seen, but is most common in the
south-western forests, where, from the quantity of fern, it is called
the fern-pig. This kind is believed to represent the true wild boar,
which was extinct, or merged in the domestic hog among the ancients,
except in that neighbourhood where the strain remained.

With wild times, the wild habits have returned, and the grey boar is at
once the most difficult of access, and the most ready to encounter
either dogs or men. Although the first, or thorn-hog, does the most
damage to the agriculturist because of its numbers, and its habit of
haunting the neighbourhood of enclosures, the others are equally
injurious if they chance to enter the cultivated fields.

The three principal kinds of wild sheep are the horned, the thyme, and
the meadow. The thyme sheep are the smallest, and haunt the highest
hills in the south, where, feeding on the sweet herbage of the ridges,
their flesh is said to acquire a flavour of wild thyme. They move in
small flocks of not more than thirty, and are the most difficult to
approach, being far more wary than deer, so continuously are they hunted
by the wood-dogs. The horned are larger, and move in greater numbers; as
many as two hundred are sometimes seen together.

They are found on the lower slopes and plains, and in the woods. The
meadow sheep have long shaggy wool, which is made into various articles
of clothing, but they are not numerous. They haunt river sides, and the
shores of lakes and ponds. None of these are easily got at, on account
of the wood-dogs; but the rams of the horned kind are reputed to
sometimes turn upon the pursuing pack, and butt them to death. In the
extremity of their terror whole flocks of wild sheep have been driven
over precipices and into quagmires and torrents.

Besides these, there are several other species whose haunt is local. On
the islands, especially, different kinds are found. The wood-dogs will
occasionally, in calm weather, swim out to an island and kill every
sheep upon it.

From the horses that were in use among the ancients the two wild species
now found are known to have descended, a fact confirmed by their evident
resemblance to the horses we still retain. The largest wild horse is
almost black, or inclined to a dark colour, somewhat less in size than
our present waggon horses, but of the same heavy make. It is, however,
much swifter, on account of having enjoyed liberty for so long. It is
called the bush-horse, being generally distributed among thickets and
meadow-like lands adjoining water.

The other species is called the hill-pony, from its habitat, the hills,
and is rather less in size than our riding-horse. This latter is short
and thick-set, so much so as not to be easily ridden by short persons
without high stirrups. Neither of these wild horses are numerous, but
neither are they uncommon. They keep entirely separate from each other.
As many as thirty mares are sometimes seen together, but there are
districts where the traveller will not observe one for weeks.

Tradition says that in the olden times there were horses of a slender
build whose speed outstripped the wind, but of the breed of these famous
racers not one is left. Whether they were too delicate to withstand
exposure, or whether the wild dogs hunted them down is uncertain, but
they are quite gone. Did but one exist, how eagerly it would be sought
out, for in these days it would be worth its weight in gold, unless,
indeed, as some affirm, such speed only endured for a mile or two.

It is not necessary, having written thus far of the animals, that
anything be said of the birds of the woods, which every one knows were
not always wild, and which can, indeed, be compared with such poultry as
are kept in our enclosures. Such are the bush-hens, the wood-turkeys,
the galenæ, the peacocks, the white duck and the white goose, all of
which, though now wild as the hawk, are well known to have been once
tame.

There were deer, red and fallow, in numerous parks and chases of very
old time, and these, having got loose, and having such immense tracts to
roam over unmolested, went on increasing till now they are beyond
computation, and I have myself seen a thousand head together. Within
these forty years, as I learn, the roe-deer, too, have come down from
the extreme north, so that there are now three sorts in the woods.
Before them the pine-marten came from the same direction, and, though
they are not yet common, it is believed they are increasing. For the
first few years after the change took place there seemed a danger lest
the foreign wild beasts that had been confined as curiosities in
menageries should multiply and remain in the woods. But this did not
happen.

Some few lions, tigers, bears, and other animals did indeed escape,
together with many less furious creatures, and it is related that they
roamed about the fields for a long time. They were seldom met with,
having such an extent of country to wander over, and after a while
entirely disappeared. If any progeny were born, the winter frosts must
have destroyed it, and the same fate awaited the monstrous serpents
which had been collected for exhibition. Only one such animal now exists
which is known to owe its origin to those which escaped from the dens of
the ancients. It is the beaver, whose dams are now occasionally found
upon the streams by those who traverse the woods. Some of the aquatic
birds, too, which frequent the lakes, are thought to have been
originally derived from those which were formerly kept as curiosities.

In the castle yard at Longtover may still be seen the bones of an
elephant which was found dying in the woods near that spot.



CHAPTER III

MEN OF THE WOODS


So far as this, all that I have stated has been clear, and there can be
no doubt that what has been thus handed down from mouth to mouth is for
the most part correct. When I pass from trees and animals to men,
however, the thing is different, for nothing is certain and everything
confused. None of the accounts agree, nor can they be altogether
reconciled with present facts or with reasonable supposition; yet it is
not so long since but a few memories, added one to the other, can bridge
the time, and, though not many, there are some written notes still to be
found. I must attribute the discrepancy to the wars and hatreds which
sprang up and divided the people, so that one would not listen to what
the others wished to say, and the truth was lost.

Besides which, in the conflagration which consumed the towns, most of
the records were destroyed, and are no longer to be referred to. And it
may be that even when they were proceeding, the causes of the change
were not understood. Therefore, what I am now about to describe is not
to be regarded as the ultimate truth, but as the nearest to which I
could attain after comparing the various traditions. Some say, then,
that the first beginning of the change was because the sea silted up the
entrances to the ancient ports, and stopped the vast commerce which was
once carried on. It is certainly true that many of the ports are silted
up, and are now useless as such, but whether the silting up preceded the
disappearance of the population, or whether the disappearance of the
population, and the consequent neglect caused the silting, I cannot
venture to positively assert.

For there are signs that the level of the sea has sunk in some places,
and signs that it has become higher in others, so that the judicious
historian will simply state the facts, and refrain from colouring them
with his own theory as Silvester has done. Others again maintain that
the supply of food from over the ocean suddenly stopping caused great
disorders, and that the people crowded on board all the ships to escape
starvation, and sailed away, and were no more heard of.

It has, too, been said that the earth, from some attractive power
exercised by the passage of an enormous dark body through space, became
tilted or inclined to its orbit more than before, and that this, while
it lasted, altered the flow of the magnetic currents, which, in an
imperceptible manner, influence the minds of men. Hitherto the stream of
human life had directed itself to the westward, but when this reversal
of magnetism occurred, a general desire arose to return to the east. And
those whose business is theology have pointed out that the wickedness of
those times surpassed understanding, and that a change and sweeping away
of the human evil that had accumulated was necessary, and was effected
by supernatural means. The relation of this must be left to them, since
it is not the province of the philosopher to meddle with such matters.

All that seems certain is, that when the event took place, the immense
crowds collected in cities were most affected, and that the richer and
upper classes made use of their money to escape. Those left behind were
mainly the lower and most ignorant, so far as the arts were concerned;
those that dwelt in distant and outlying places; and those who lived by
agriculture. These last at that date had fallen to such distress that
they could not hire vessels to transport themselves. The exact number of
those left behind cannot, of course, be told, but it is on record that
when the fields were first neglected (as I have already described), a
man might ride a hundred miles and not meet another. They were not only
few, but scattered, and had not drawn together and formed towns as at
present.

Of what became of the vast multitudes that left the country, nothing has
ever been heard, and no communication has been received from them. For
this reason I cannot conceal my opinion that they must have sailed
either to the westward or to the southward where the greatest extent of
ocean is understood to exist, and not to the eastward as Silvester would
have it in his work upon the "Unknown Orb", the dark body travelling in
space to which I have alluded. None of our vessels in the present day
dare venture into those immense tracts of sea, nor, indeed, out of sight
of land, unless they know they shall see it again so soon as they have
reached and surmounted the ridge of the horizon. Had they only crossed
to the mainland or continent again, we should most likely have heard of
their passage across the countries there.

It is true that ships rarely come over, and only to two ports, and that
the men on them say (so far as can be understood) that their country is
equally deserted now, and has likewise lost its population. But still,
as men talk unto men, and we pass intelligence across great breadths of
land, it is almost certain that, had they travelled that way, some echo
of their footsteps would yet sound back to us. Regarding this theory,
therefore, as untenable, I put forward as a suggestion that the ancients
really sailed to the west or to the south.

As, for the most part, those who were left behind were ignorant, rude,
and unlettered, it consequently happened that many of the marvellous
things which the ancients did, and the secrets of their science, are
known to us by name only, and, indeed, hardly by name. It has happened
to us in our turn as it happened to the ancients. For they were aware
that in times before their own the art of making glass malleable had
been discovered, so that it could be beaten into shape like copper. But
the manner in which it was accomplished was entirely unknown to them;
the fact was on record, but the cause lost. So now we know that those
who to us are the ancients had a way of making diamonds and precious
stones out of black and lustreless charcoal, a fact which approaches the
incredible. Still, we do not doubt it, though we cannot imagine by what
means it was carried out.

They also sent intelligence to the utmost parts of the earth along wires
which were not tubular, but solid, and therefore could not transmit
sound, and yet the person who received the message could hear and
recognise the voice of the sender a thousand miles away. With certain
machines worked by fire, they traversed the land swift as the swallow
glides through the sky, but of these things not a relic remains to us.
What metal-work or wheels or bars of iron were left, and might have
given us a clue, were all broken up and melted down for use in other
ways when metal became scarce.

Mounds of earth are said to still exist in the woods, which originally
formed the roads for these machines, but they are now so low, and so
covered with thickets, that nothing can be learnt from them; and,
indeed, though I have heard of their existence, I have never seen one.
Great holes were made through the very hills for the passage of the iron
chariot, but they are now blocked by the falling roofs, nor dare any one
explore such parts as may yet be open. Where are the wonderful
structures with which the men of those days were lifted to the skies,
rising above the clouds? These marvellous things are to us little more
than fables of the giants and of the old gods that walked upon the
earth, which were fables even to those whom we call the ancients.

Indeed, we have fuller knowledge of those extremely ancient times than
of the people who immediately preceded us, and the Romans and the Greeks
are more familiar to us than the men who rode in the iron chariots and
mounted to the skies. The reason why so many arts and sciences were lost
was because, as I have previously said, the most of those who were left
in the country were ignorant, rude, and unlettered. They had seen the
iron chariots, but did not understand the method of their construction,
and could not hand down the knowledge they did not themselves possess.
The magic wires of intelligence passed through their villages, but they
did not know how to work them.

The cunning artificers of the cities all departed, and everything fell
quickly into barbarism; nor could it be wondered at, for the few and
scattered people of those days had enough to do to preserve their lives.
Communication between one place and another was absolutely cut off, and
if one perchance did recollect something that might have been of use, he
could not confer with another who knew the other part, and thus between
them reconstruct the machine. In the second generation even these
disjointed memories died out.

At first it is supposed that those who remained behind existed upon the
grain in the warehouses, and what they could thresh by the flail from
the crops left neglected in the fields. But as the provisions in the
warehouses were consumed or spoiled, they hunted the animals, lately
tame and as yet but half wild. As these grew less in number and
difficult to overtake, they set to work again to till the ground, and
cleared away small portions of the earth, encumbered already with
brambles and thistles. Some grew corn, and some took charge of sheep.
Thus, in time, places far apart from each other were settled, and towns
were built; towns, indeed, we call them to distinguish them from the
champaign, but they are not worthy of the name in comparison with the
mighty cities of old time.

There are many that have not more than fifty houses in the enclosure,
and perhaps no other station within a day's journey, and the largest are
but villages, reckoning by antiquity. For the most part they have their
own government, or had till recently, and thus there grew up many
provinces and kingdoms in the compass of what was originally but one.
Thus separated and divided, there came also to be many races where in
the first place was one people. Now, in briefly recounting the principal
divisions of men, I will commence with those who are everywhere
considered the lowest. These are the Bushmen, who live wholly in the
woods.

Even among the ancients, when every man, woman, and child could exercise
those arts which are now the special mark of nobility, _i.e._ reading
and writing, there was a degraded class of persons who refused to avail
themselves of the benefits of civilization. They obtained their food by
begging, wandering along the highways, crouching around fires which they
lit in the open, clad in rags, and exhibiting countenances from which
every trace of self-respect had disappeared. These were the ancestors of
the present men of the bushes.

They took naturally to the neglected fields, and forming "camps" as they
call their tribes, or rather families, wandered to and fro, easily
subsisting upon roots and trapped game. So they live to this day, having
become extremely dexterous in snaring every species of bird and animal,
and the fishes of the streams. These latter they sometimes poison with a
drug or a plant (it is not known which), the knowledge of which has been
preserved among them since the days of the ancients. The poison kills
the fishes, and brings them to the surface, when they can be collected
by hundreds, but does not injure them for eating.

Like the black wood-dogs, the Bushmen often in fits of savage frenzy
destroy thrice as much as they can devour, trapping deer in wickerwork
hedges, or pitfalls, and cutting the miserable animals in pieces, for
mere thirst of blood. The oxen and cattle in the enclosures are
occasionally in the same manner fearfully mutilated by these wretches,
sometimes for amusement, and sometimes in vengeance for injuries done to
them. Bushmen have no settled home, cultivate no kind of corn or
vegetable, keep no animals, not even dogs, have no houses or huts, no
boats or canoes, nothing that requires the least intelligence or energy
to construct.

Roaming to and fro without any apparent aim or object, or any particular
route, they fix their camp for a few days wherever it suits their fancy,
and again move on, no man knows why or whither. It is this uncertainty
of movement which makes them so dangerous. To-day there may not be the
least sign of any within miles of an enclosure. In the night a "camp"
may pass, slaughtering such cattle as may have remained without the
palisade, or killing the unfortunate shepherd who has not got within the
walls, and in the morning they may be nowhere to be seen, having
disappeared like vermin. Face to face the Bushman is never to be feared;
a whole "camp" or tribal family will scatter if a traveler stumbles into
their midst. It is from behind a tree or under cover of night that he
deals his murderous blow.

A "camp" may consist of ten or twenty individuals, sometimes, perhaps,
of forty, or even fifty, of various ages, and is ruled by the eldest,
who is also the parent. He is absolute master of his "camp", but has no
power or recognition beyond it, so that how many leaders there may be
among them it is not possible even to guess. Nor is the master known to
them as king, or duke, nor has he any title, but is simply the oldest or
founder of the family. The "camp" has no law, no established custom;
events happen, and even the master cannot be said to reign. When he
becomes feeble, they simply leave him to die.

They are depraved, and without shame, clad in sheep-skins chiefly, if
clad at all, or in such clothes as they have stolen. They have no
ceremonies whatever. The number of these "camps" must be considerable,
and yet the Bushman is seldom seen, nor do we very often hear of their
depredations, which is accounted for by the extent of country they
wander over. It is in severe winters that the chief danger occurs; they
then suffer from hunger and cold, and are driven to the neighbourhood of
the enclosures to steal. So dexterous are they in slipping through the
bushes, and slinking among the reeds and osiers, that they will pass
within a few yards without discovering their presence, and the signs of
their passage can be detected only by the experienced hunter, and not
always by him.

It is observed that whatever mischief the Bushman commits, he never sets
fire to any ricks or buildings; the reason is because his nature is to
slink from the scene of his depredations, and flame at once attracts
people to the spot. Twice the occurrence of a remarkably severe winter
has caused the Bushmen to flock together and act in an approach to
concert in attacking the enclosures. The Bushmen of the north, who were
even more savage and brutal, then came down, and were with difficulty
repulsed from the walled cities. In ordinary times we see very little of
them. They are the thieves, the human vermin of the woods.

Under the name of gipsies, those who are now often called Romany and
Zingari were well known to the ancients. Indeed, they boast that their
ancestry goes back so much farther than the oldest we can claim, that
the ancients themselves were but modern to them. Even in that age of
highest civilization, which immediately preceded the present, they say
(and there is no doubt of it) that they preserved the blood of their
race pure and untainted, that they never dwelt under permanent roofs,
nor bowed their knees to the prevalent religion. They remained apart,
and still continue after civilization has disappeared, exactly the same
as they were before it commenced.

Since the change their numbers have greatly increased, and were they not
always at war with each other, it is possible that they might go far to
sweep the house people from the land. But there are so many tribes, each
with its king, queen, or duke, that their power is divided, and their
force melts away. The ruler of the Bushman families is always a man, but
among the gipsies a woman, and even a young girl, often exercises
supreme authority, but must be of the sacred blood. These kings and
dukes are absolute autocrats within their tribe, and can order by a nod
the destruction of those who offend them. Habits of simplest obedience
being enjoined on the tribe from earliest childhood, such executions are
rare, but the right to command them is not for a moment questioned.

Of the sorcerers, and particularly the sorceresses, among them, all have
heard, and, indeed, the places where they dwell seem full of mystery and
magic. They live in tents, and though they constantly remove from
district to district, one tribe never clashes with or crosses another,
because all have their especial routes, upon which no intrusion is ever
made. Some agriculture is practiced, and flocks and herds are kept, but
the work is entirely done by the women. The men are always on horseback,
or sleeping in their tents.

Each tribe has its central camping-place, to which they return at
intervals after perhaps wandering for months, a certain number of
persons being left at home to defend it. These camps are often situated
in inaccessible positions, and well protected by stockades. The
territory which is acknowledged to belong to such a camp is extremely
limited; its mere environs only are considered the actual property of
the tribe, and a second can pitch its tents with a few hundred yards.
These stockades, in fact, are more like store-houses than residences;
each is a mere rendezvous.

The gipsies are everywhere, but their stockades are most numerous in the
south, along the sides of the green hills and plains, and especially
round Stonehenge, where, on the great open plains, among the huge
boulders, placed ages since in circles, they perform strange ceremonies
and incantations. They attack every traveller, and every caravan or
train of waggons which they feel strong enough to master, but they do
not murder the solitary sleeping hunter or shepherd like the Bushmen.
They will, indeed, steal from him, but do not kill, except in fight.
Once, now and then, they have found their way into towns, when terrible
massacres have followed, for, when excited, the savage knows not how to
restrain himself.

Vengeance is their idol. If any community has injured or affronted them,
they never cease endeavouring to retaliate, and will wipe it out in fire
and blood generations afterwards. There are towns which have thus been
suddenly harried when the citizens had forgotten that any cause of
enmity existed. Vengeance is their religion and their social law, which
guides all their actions among themselves. It is for this reason that
they are continually at war, duke with duke, and king with king. A
deadly feud, too, has set Bushman and gipsy at each other's throat, far
beyond the memory of man. The Romany looks on the Bushman as a dog, and
slaughters him as such. In turn, the despised human dog slinks in the
darkness of the night into the Romany's tent, and stabs his daughter or
his wife, for such is the meanness and cowardice of the Bushman that he
would always rather kill a woman than a man.

There is also a third class of men who are not true gipsies, but have
something of their character, though the gipsies will not allow that
they were originally half-breeds. Their habits are much the same, except
that they are foot men and rarely use horses, and are therefore called
the foot gipsies. The gipsy horse is really a pony. Once only have the
Romany combined to attack the house people, driven, like the Bushmen, by
an exceedingly severe winter, against which they had no provision.

But, then, instead of massing their forces and throwing their
irresistible numbers upon one city or territory, all they would agree to
do was that, upon a certain day, each tribe should invade the land
nearest to it. The result was that they were, though with trouble,
repulsed. Until lately, no leader ventured to follow the gipsies to
their strongholds, for they were reputed invincible behind their
stockades. By infesting the woods and lying in ambush they rendered
communication between city and city difficult and dangerous, except to
bodies of armed men, and every waggon had to be defended by troops.

The gipsies, as they roam, make little secret of their presence (unless,
of course, intent upon mischief), but light their fires by day and night
fearlessly. The Bushmen never light a fire by day, lest the ascending
smoke, which cannot be concealed, should betray their whereabouts. Their
fires are lit at night in hollows or places well surrounded with
thickets, and, that the flame may not be seen, they will build screens
of fir boughs or fern. When they have obtained a good supply of hot wood
coals, no more sticks are thrown on, but these are covered with turf,
and thus kept in long enough for their purposes. Much of their meat they
devour raw, and thus do not need a fire so frequently as others.



CHAPTER IV

THE INVADERS


Those who live by agriculture or in towns, and are descended from the
remnant of the ancients, are divided, as I have previously said, into
numerous provinces, kingdoms, and republics. In the middle part of the
country the cities are almost all upon the shores of the Lake, or within
a short distance of the water, and there is therefore more traffic and
communication between them by means of vessels than is the case with
inland towns, whose trade must be carried on by caravans and waggons.
These not only move slowly, but are subject to be interrupted by the
Romany and by the banditti, or persons who, for moral or political
crimes, have been banished from their homes.

It is in the cities that cluster around the great central lake that all
the life and civilization of our day are found; but there also begin
those wars and social convulsions which cause so much suffering. When
was the Peninsula at peace? and when was there not some mischief and
change brewing in the republics? When was there not a danger from the
northern mainland?

Until recent years there was little knowledge of, and scarcely any
direct commerce or intercourse between, the central part and the
districts either of the extreme west or the north, and it is only now
that the north and east are becoming open to us; for at the back of the
narrow circle or cultivated land, the belt about the Lake, there extend
immense forests in every direction, through which, till very lately, no
practicable way had been cut. Even in the more civilized central part it
is not to this day easy to travel, for at the barriers, as you approach
the territories of every prince, they demand your business and your
papers; nor even if you establish the fact that you are innocent of
designs against the State, shall you hardly enter without satisfying the
greed of the officials.

A fine is thus exacted at the gate of every province and kingdom, and
again at the gateways of the towns. The difference of the coinage, such
as it is, causes also great loss and trouble, for the money of one
kingdom (though passing current by command in that territory) is not
received at its nominal value in the next on account of the alloy it
contains. It is, indeed, in many kingdoms impossible to obtain sterling
money. Gold there is little or none anywhere, but silver is the standard
of exchange, and copper, bronze, and brass, sometimes tin, are the
metals with which the greater number of the people transact their
business.

Justice is corrupt, for where there is a king or a prince it depends on
the caprice of a tyrant, and where there is a republic upon the shout of
the crowd, so that many, if they think they may be put on trial, rather
than face the risk at once escape into the woods. The League, though
based ostensibly on principles the most exalted and beneficial to
humanity, is known to be perverted. The members sworn to honour and the
highest virtue are swayed by vile motives, political hatreds, and
private passions, and even by money.

Men for ever trample upon men, each pushing to the front; nor is there
safety in remaining in retirement, since such are accused of biding
their time and of occult designs. Though the population of these cities
all counted together is not equal to the population that once dwelt in a
single second-rate city of the ancients, yet how much greater are the
bitterness and the struggle!

Yet not content with the bloodshed they themselves cause, the tyrants
have called in the aid of mercenary soldiers to assist them. And, to
complete the disgrace, those republics which proclaim themselves the
very home of patriotic virtues, have resorted to the same means. Thus we
see English cities kept in awe by troops of Welshmen, Irish, and even
the western Scots, who swarm in the council-chambers of the republics,
and, opening the doors of the houses, help themselves to what they will.
This, too, in the face of the notorious fact that these nations have
sworn to be avenged upon us, that their vessels sail about the Lake
committing direful acts of piracy, and that twice already vast armies
have swept along threatening to entirely overwhelm the whole
commonwealth.

What infatuation to admit bands of these same men into the very
strongholds and the heart of the land! As if upon the approach of their
countrymen they would remain true to the oaths they have sworn for pay,
and not rather admit them with open arms. No blame can, upon a just
consideration, be attributed to either of these nations that endeavour
to oppress us. For, as they point out, the ancients from whom we are
descended held them in subjection many hundred years, and took from them
all their liberties.

Thus the Welsh, or, as they call themselves, the Cymry, say that the
whole island was once theirs, and is theirs still by right of
inheritance. They were the original people who possessed it ages before
the arrival of those whom we call the ancients. Though they were driven
into the mountains of the far distant west, they never forgot their
language, ceased their customs, or gave up their aspirations to recover
their own. This is now their aim, and until recently it seemed as if
they were about to accomplish it. For they held all that country
anciently called Cornwall, having crossed over the Severn, and marched
down the southern shore. The rich land of Devon, part of Dorset (all,
indeed, that is inhabited), and the most part of Somerset, acknowledged
their rule. Worcester and Hereford and Gloucester were theirs; I mean,
of course, those parts that are not forest.

Their outposts were pushed forward to the centre of Leicestershire, and
came down towards Oxford. But thereabouts they met with the forces of
which I will shortly speak. Then their vessels every summer sailing from
the Severn, came into the Lake, and, landing wherever there was an
opportunity, they destroyed all things and carried off the spoil. Is it
necessary to say more to demonstrate the madness which possesses those
princes and republics which, in order to support their own tyranny, have
invited bands of these men into their very palaces and forts?

As they approached near what was once Oxford and is now Sypolis, the
armies of the Cymry came into collision with another of our invaders,
and thus their forward course to the south was checked. The Irish, who
had hitherto abetted them, turned round to defend their own usurpations.
They, too, say that in conquering and despoiling my countrymen they are
fulfilling a divine vengeance. Their land of Ireland had been for
centuries ground down with an iron tyranny by our ancestors, who closed
their lips with a muzzle, and led them about with a bridle, as their
poets say. But now the hateful Saxons (for thus both they and the Welsh
designate us) are broken, and delivered over to them for their spoil.

It is not possible to deny many of the statements that they make, but
that should not prevent us from battling with might and main against the
threatened subjection. What crime can be greater than the admission of
such foreigners as the guards of our cities? Now the Irish have their
principal rendezvous and capital near to the ancient city of Chester,
which is upon the ocean, and at the very top and angle of Wales. This is
their great settlement, their magazine and rallying-place, and thence
their expeditions have proceeded. It is a convenient port, and well
opposite their native land, from which reinforcements continually
arrive, but the Welsh have ever looked upon their possession of it with
jealousy.

At the period when the Cymry had nearly penetrated to Sypolis or Oxford,
the Irish, on their part, had overrun all the cultivated and inhabited
country in a south and south-easterly line from Chester, through Rutland
to Norfolk and Suffolk, and even as far as Luton. They would have spread
to the north, but in that direction they were met by the Scots, who had
all Northumbria. When the Welsh came near Sypolis, the Irish awoke to
the position of affairs.

Sypolis is the largest and most important city upon the northern shore
of the Lake, and it is situated at the entrance to the neck of land that
stretches out to the straits. If the Welsh were once well posted there,
the Irish could never hope to find their way to the rich and cultivated
south, for it is just below Sypolis that the Lake contracts, and forms a
strait in one place but a furlong wide. The two forces thus came into
collision, and while they fought and destroyed each other, Sypolis was
saved. After which, finding they were evenly matched, the Irish withdrew
two days' march northwards, and the Cymry as far westwards.

But now the Irish, sailing round the outside of Wales, came likewise up
through the Red Rocks, and so into the Lake, and in their turn landing,
harassed the cities. Often Welsh and Irish vessels, intending to attack
the same place, have discerned each other approaching, and, turning from
their proposed action, have flown at each other's throats. The Scots
have not harassed us in the south much, being too far distant, and those
that wander hither come for pay, taking service as guards. They are,
indeed, the finest of men, and the hardiest to battle with. I had
forgotten to mention that it is possible the Irish might have pushed
back the Welsh, had not the kingdom of York suddenly reviving, by means
which shall be related, valiantly thrust out its masters, and fell upon
their rear.

But still these nations are always upon the verge and margin of our
world, and wait but an opportunity to rush in upon it. Our countrymen
groan under their yoke, and I say again that infamy should be the
portion of those rulers among us who have filled their fortified places
with mercenaries derived from such sources.

The land, too, is weak, because of the multitude of bondsmen. In the
provinces and kingdoms round about the Lake there is hardly a town where
the slaves do not outnumber the free as ten to one. The laws are framed
for the object of reducing the greater part of the people to servitude.
For every offence the punishment is slavery, and the offences are daily
artificially increased, that the wealth of the few in human beings may
grow with them. If a man in his hunger steal a loaf, he becomes a slave;
that is, it is proclaimed he must make good to the State the injury he
has done it, and must work out his trespass. This is not assessed as the
value of the loaf, nor supposed to be confined to the individual from
whom it was taken.

The theft is said to damage the State at large, because it corrupts the
morality of the commonwealth; it is as if the thief had stolen a loaf,
not from one, but from every member of the State. Restitution must,
therefore, be made to all, and the value of the loaf returned in labour
a thousandfold. The thief is the bondsman of the State. But as the State
cannot employ him, he is leased out to those who will pay into the
treasury of the prince the money equivalent to the labour he is capable
of performing. Thus, under cover of the highest morality, the greatest
iniquity is perpetrated. For the theft of a loaf, the man is reduced to
a slave; then his wife and children, unable to support themselves,
become a charge to the State, that is, they beg in the public ways.

This, too, forsooth, corrupts morality, and they likewise are seized and
leased out to any who like to take them. Nor can he or they ever become
free again, for they must repay to their proprietor the sum he gave for
them, and how can that be done, since they receive no wages? For
striking another, a man may be in the same way, as they term it,
forfeited to the State, and be sold to the highest bidder. A stout brass
wire is then twisted around his left wrist loosely, and the ends
soldered together. Then a bar of iron being put through, a half turn is
given to it, which forces the wire sharply against the arm, causing it
to fit tightly, often painfully, and forms a smaller ring at the
outside. By this smaller ring a score of bondsmen may be seen strung
together with a rope.

To speak disrespectfully of the prince or his council, or of the nobles,
or of religion, to go out of the precincts without permission, to trade
without license, to omit to salute the great, all these and a thousand
others are crimes deserving of the brazen bracelet. Were a man to study
all day what he must do, and what he must not do, to escape servitude,
it would not be possible for him to stir one step without becoming
forfeit! And yet they hypocritically say that these things are done for
the sake of public morality, and that there are not slaves (not
permitting the word to be used), and no man was ever sold.

It is, indeed, true that no man is sold in open market, he is leased
instead; and, by a refined hypocrisy, the owner of slaves cannot sell
them to another owner, but he can place them in the hands of the notary,
presenting them with their freedom, so far as he is concerned. The
notary, upon payment of a fine from the purchaser, transfers them to
him, and the larger part of the fine goes to the prince. Debt alone
under their laws must crowd the land with slaves, for, as wages are
scarcely known, a child from its birth is often declared to be in debt.
For its nourishment is drawn from its mother, and the wretched mother is
the wife of a retainer who is fed by his lord. To such a degree is this
tyranny carried! If any owe a penny, his doom is sealed; he becomes a
bondsman, and thus the estates of the nobles are full of men who work
during their whole lives for the profit of others. Thus, too, the woods
are filled with banditti, for those who find an opportunity never fail
to escape, notwithstanding the hunt that is invariably made for them,
and the cruel punishment that awaits recapture. And numbers, foreseeing
that they must become bondsmen, before they are proclaimed forfeit steal
away by night, and live as they may in the forests.

How, then, does any man remain free? Only by the favour of the nobles,
and only that he may amass wealth for them. The merchants, and those who
have license to trade by land or water, are all protected by some noble
house, to whom they pay heavily for permission to live in their own
houses. The principal tyrant is supported by the nobles, that they in
their turn may tyrannise over the merchants, and they again over all the
workmen of their shops and bazaars.

Over their own servants (for thus they call the slaves, that the word
itself may not be used), who work upon their estates, the nobles are
absolute masters, and may even hang them upon the nearest tree. And here
I cannot but remark how strange it is, first, that any man can remain a
slave rather than die; and secondly, how much stranger it is that any
other man, himself a slave, can be found to hunt down or to hang his
fellow; yet the tyrants never lack executioners. Their castles are
crowded with retainers who wreak their wills upon the defenceless. These
retainers do not wear the brazen bracelet; they are free. Are there,
then, no beggars? Yes, they sit at every corner, and about the gates of
the cities, asking for alms.

Though begging makes a man forfeit to the State, it is only when he has
thews and sinews, and can work. The diseased and aged, the helpless and
feeble, may break the law, and starve by the roadside, because it
profits no one to make them his slaves. And all these things are done in
the name of morality, and for the good of the human race, as they
constantly announce in their councils and parliaments.

There are two reasons why the mercenaries have been called in; first,
because the princes found the great nobles so powerful, and can keep
them in check only by the aid of these foreigners; and secondly, because
the number of the outlaws in the woods has become so great that the
nobles themselves are afraid lest their slaves should revolt, and, with
the aid of the outlaws, overcome them.

Now the mark of a noble is that he can read and write. When the ancients
were scattered, the remnant that was left behind was, for the most part,
the ignorant and the poor. But among them there was here and there a man
who possessed some little education and force of mind. At first there
was no order; but after thirty years or so, after a generation, some
order grew up, and these men, then become aged, were naturally chosen as
leaders. They had, indeed, no actual power then, no guards or armies;
but the common folk, who had no knowledge, came to them for decision of
their disputes, for advice what to do, for the pronouncement of some
form of marriage, for the keeping of some note of property, and to be
united against a mutual danger.

These men in turn taught their children to read and write, wishing that
some part of the wisdom of the ancients might be preserved. They
themselves wrote down what they knew, and these manuscripts, transmitted
to their children, were saved with care. Some of them remain to this
day. These children, growing to manhood, took more upon them, and
assumed higher authority as the past was forgotten, and the original
equality of all men lost in antiquity. The small enclosed farms of their
fathers became enlarged to estates, the estates became towns, and thus,
by degrees, the order of the nobility was formed. As they intermarried
only among themselves, they preserved a certain individuality. At this
day a noble is at once known, no matter how coarsely he may be dressed,
or how brutal his habits, by his delicacy of feature, his air of
command, even by his softness of skin and fineness of hair.

Still the art of reading and writing is scrupulously imparted to all
their legitimate offspring, and scrupulously confined to them alone. It
is true that they do not use it except on rare occasions when necessity
demands, being wholly given over to the chase, to war, and politics, but
they retain the knowledge. Indeed, were a noble to be known not to be
able to read and write, the prince would at once degrade him, and the
sentence would be upheld by the entire caste. No other but the nobles
are permitted to acquire these arts; if any attempt to do so, they are
enslaved and punished. But none do attempt; of what avail would it be to
them?

All knowledge is thus retained in the possession of the nobles; they do
not use it, but the physicians, for instance, who are famous, are so
because by favour of some baron, they have learned receipts in the
ancient manuscripts which have been mentioned. One virtue, and one only,
adorns this exclusive caste; they are courageous to the verge of
madness. I had almost omitted to state that the merchants know how to
read and write, having special license and permits to do so, without
which they may not correspond. There are few books, and still fewer to
read them; and these all in manuscript, for though the way to print is
not lost, it is not employed since no one wants books.



CHAPTER V

THE LAKE


There now only remains the geography of our country to be treated of
before the history is commenced. Now the most striking difference
between the country as we know it and as it was known to the ancients is
the existence of the great Lake in the centre of the island. From the
Red Rocks (by the Severn) hither, the most direct route a galley can
follow is considered to be about 200 miles in length, and it is a
journey which often takes a week even for a vessel well manned, because
the course, as it turns round the islands, faces so many points of the
compass, and therefore the oarsmen are sure to have to labour in the
teeth of the wind, no matter which way it blows.

Many parts are still unexplored, and scarce anything known of their
extent, even by repute. Until Felix Aquila's time, the greater portion,
indeed, had not even a name. Each community was well acquainted with the
bay before its own city, and with the route to the next, but beyond that
they were ignorant, and had no desire to learn. Yet the Lake cannot
really be so long and broad as it seems, for the country could not
contain it. The length is increased, almost trebled, by the islands and
shoals, which will not permit of navigation in a straight line. For the
most part, too, they follow the southern shore of the mainland, which is
protected by a fringe of islets and banks from the storms which sweep
over the open waters.

Thus rowing along round the gulfs and promontories, their voyage is
thrice prolonged, but rendered nearly safe from the waves, which rise
with incredible celerity before the gales. The slow ships of commerce,
indeed, are often days in traversing the distance between one port and
another, for they wait for the wind to blow abaft, and being heavy,
deeply laden, built broad and flat-bottomed for shallows, and bluff at
the bows, they drift like logs of timber. In canoes the hunters, indeed,
sometimes pass swiftly from one place to another, venturing farther out
to sea than the ships. They could pass yet more quickly were it not for
the inquisition of the authorities at every city and port, who not only
levy dues and fees for the treasury of the prince, and for their own
rapacious desires, but demand whence the vessel comes, to whom she
belongs, and whither she is bound, so that no ship can travel rapidly
unless so armed as to shake off these inquisitors.

The canoes, therefore, travel at night and in calm weather many miles
away from the shore, and thus escape, or slip by daylight among the
reedy shallows, sheltered by the flags and willows from view. The ships
of commerce haul up to the shore towards evening, and the crews,
disembarking, light their fires and cook their food. There are, however,
one or two gaps, as it were, in their usual course which they cannot
pass in this leisurely manner; where the shore is exposed and rocky, or
too shallow, and where they must reluctantly put forth, and sail from
one horn of the land to the other.

The Lake is also divided into two unequal portions by the straits of
White Horse, where vessels are often weather-bound, and cannot make way
against the wind, which sets a current through the narrow channel. There
is no tide; the sweet waters do not ebb and flow; but while I thus
discourse, I have forgotten to state how they came to fill the middle of
the country. Now, the philosopher Silvester, and those who seek after
marvels, say that the passage of the dark body through space caused an
immense volume of fresh water to fall in the shape of rain, and also
that the growth of the forests distilled rain from the clouds. Let us
leave these speculations to dreamers, and recount what is known to be.

For there is no tradition among the common people, who are extremely
tenacious of such things, of any great rainfall, nor is there any
mention of floods in the ancient manuscripts, nor is there any larger
fall of rain now than was formerly the case. But the Lake itself tells
us how it was formed, or as nearly as we shall ever know, and these
facts were established by the expeditions lately sent out.

At the eastern extremity the Lake narrows, and finally is lost in the
vast marshes which cover the site of the ancient London. Through these,
no doubt, in the days of the old world there flowed the river Thames. By
changes of the sea level and the sand that was brought up there must
have grown great banks, which obstructed the stream. I have formerly
mentioned the vast quantities of timber, the wreckage of towns and
bridges which was carried down by the various rivers, and by none more
so than by the Thames. These added to the accumulation, which increased
the faster because the foundations of the ancient bridges held it like
piles driven in for the purpose. And before this the river had become
partially choked from the cloacæ of the ancient city which poured into
it through enormous subterranean aqueducts and drains.

After a time all these shallows and banks became well matted together by
the growth of weeds, of willows, and flags, while the tide, ebbing lower
at each drawing back, left still more mud and sand. Now it is believed
that when this had gone on for a time, the waters of the river, unable
to find a channel, began to overflow up into the deserted streets, and
especially to fill the underground passages and drains, of which the
number and extent was beyond all the power of words to describe. These,
by the force of the water, were burst up, and the houses fell in.

For this marvellous city, of which such legends are related, was after
all only of brick, and when the ivy grew over and trees and shrubs
sprang up, and, lastly, the waters underneath burst in, this huge
metropolis was soon overthrown. At this day all those parts which were
built upon low ground are marshes and swamps. Those houses that were
upon high ground were, of course, like the other towns, ransacked of all
they contained by the remnant that was left; the iron, too, was
extracted. Trees growing up by them in time cracked the walls, and they
fell in. Trees and bushes covered them; ivy and nettles concealed the
crumbling masses of brick.

The same was the case with the lesser cities and towns whose sites are
known in the woods. For though many of our present towns bear the
ancient names, they do not stand upon the ancient sites, but are two or
three, and sometimes ten miles distant. The founders carried with them
the name of their original residence.

Thus the low-lying parts of the mighty city of London became swamps, and
the higher grounds were clad with bushes. The very largest of the
buildings fell in, and there was nothing visible but trees and hawthorns
on the upper lands, and willows, flags, reeds, and rushes on the lower.
These crumbling ruins still more choked the stream, and almost, if not
quite, turned it back. If any water ooze past, it is not perceptible,
and there is no channel through to the salt ocean. It is a vast stagnant
swamp, which no man dare enter, since death would be his inevitable
fate.

There exhales from this oozy mass so fatal a vapour that no animal can
endure it. The black water bears a greenish-brown floating scum, which
for ever bubbles up from the putrid mud of the bottom. When the wind
collects the miasma, and, as it were, presses it together, it becomes
visible as a low cloud which hangs over the place. The cloud does not
advance beyond the limit of the marsh, seeming to stay there by some
constant attraction; and well it is for us that it does not, since at
such times when the vapour is thickest, the very wildfowl leave the
reeds, and fly from the poison. There are no fishes, neither can eels
exist in the mud, nor even newts. It is dead.

The flags and reeds are coated with slime and noisome to the touch;
there is one place where even these do not grow, and where there is
nothing but an oily liquid, green and rank. It is plain there are no
fishes in the water, for herons do not go thither, nor the kingfishers,
not one of which approaches the spot. They say the sun is sometimes
hidden by the vapour when it is thickest, but I do not see how any can
tell this, since they could not enter the cloud, as to breathe it when
collected by the wind is immediately fatal. For all the rottenness of a
thousand years and of many hundred millions of human beings is there
festering under the stagnant water, which has sunk down into and
penetrated the earth, and floated up to the surface the contents of the
buried cloacæ.

Many scores of men have, I fear, perished in the attempt to enter this
fearful place, carried on by their desire of gain. For it can scarcely
be disputed that untold treasures lie hidden therein, but guarded by
terrors greater than fiery serpents. These have usually made their
endeavours to enter in severe and continued frost, or in the height of a
drought. Frost diminishes the power of the vapour, and the marshes can
then, too, be partially traversed, for there is no channel for a boat.
But the moment anything be moved, whether it be a bush, or a willow,
even a flag, if the ice be broken, the pestilence rises yet stronger.
Besides which, there are portions which never freeze, and which may be
approached unawares, or a turn of the wind may drift the gas towards the
explorer.

In the midst of summer, after long heat, the vapour rises, and is in a
degree dissipated into the sky, and then by following devious ways an
entrance may be effected, but always at the cost of illness. If the
explorer be unable to quit the spot before night, whether in summer or
winter, his death is certain. In the earlier times some bold and
adventurous men did indeed succeed in getting a few jewels, but since
then the marsh has become more dangerous, and its pestilent character,
indeed, increases year by year, as the stagnant water penetrates deeper.
So that now for very many years no such attempts have been made.

The extent of these foul swamps is not known with certainty, but it is
generally believed that they are, at the widest, twenty miles across,
and that they reach in a winding line for nearly forty. But the outside
parts are much less fatal; it is only the interior which is avoided.

Towards the Lake the sand thrown up by the waves has long since formed a
partial barrier between the sweet water and the stagnant, rising up to
within a few feet of the surface. This barrier is overgrown with flags
and reeds, where it is shallow. Here it is possible to sail along the
sweet water within an arrow-shot of the swamp. Nor, indeed, would the
stagnant mingle with the sweet, as is evident at other parts of the
swamp, where streams flow side by side with the dark or reddish water;
and there are pools, upon one side of which the deer drink, while the
other is not frequented even by rats.

The common people aver that demons reside in these swamps; and, indeed,
at night fiery shapes are seen, which, to the ignorant, are sufficient
confirmation of such tales. The vapour, where it is most dense, takes
fire, like the blue flame of spirits, and these flaming clouds float to
and fro, and yet do not burn the reeds. The superstitious trace in them
the forms of demons and winged fiery serpents, and say that white
spectres haunt the margin of the marsh after dusk. In a lesser degree,
the same thing has taken place with other ancient cities. It is true
that there are not always swamps, but the sites are uninhabitable
because of the emanations from the ruins. Therefore they are avoided.
Even the spot where a single house has been known to have existed, is
avoided by the hunters in the woods.

They say when they are stricken with ague or fever, that they must have
unwittingly slept on the site of an ancient habitation. Nor can the
ground be cultivated near the ancient towns, because it causes fever;
and thus it is that, as I have already stated, the present places of the
same name are often miles distant from the former locality. No sooner
does the plough or the spade turn up an ancient site than those who work
there are attacked with illness. And thus the cities of the old world,
and their houses and habitations, are deserted and lost in the forest.
If the hunters, about to pitch their camp for the night, should stumble
on so much as a crumbling brick or a fragment of hewn stone, they at
once remove at least a bowshot away.

The eastward flow of the Thames being at first checked, and finally
almost or quite stopped by the formation of these banks, the water
turned backwards as it were, and began to cover hitherto dry land. And
this, with the other lesser rivers and brooks that no longer had any
ultimate outlet, accounts for the Lake, so far as this side of the
country is concerned.

At the western extremity the waters also contract between the steep
cliffs called the Red Rocks, near to which once existed the city of
Bristol. Now the Welsh say, and the tradition of those who dwell in that
part of the country bears them out, that in the time of the old world
the River Severn flowed past the same spot, but not between these
cliffs. The great river Severn coming down from the north, with England
on one bank and Wales upon the other, entered the sea, widening out as
it did so. Just before it reached the sea, another lesser river, called
the Avon, the upper part of which is still there, joined it passing
through this cleft in the rocks.

But when the days of the old world ended in the twilight of the
ancients, as the salt ocean fell back and its level became lower, vast
sandbanks were disclosed, which presently extended across the most part
of the Severn river. Others, indeed, think that the salt ocean did not
sink, but that the land instead was lifted higher. Then they say that
the waves threw up an immense quantity of shingle and sand, and that
thus these banks were formed. All that we know with certainty, however,
is, that across the estuary of the Severn there rose a broad barrier of
beach, which grew wider with the years, and still increases westwards.
It is as if the ocean churned up its floor and cast it forth upon the
strand.

Now when the Severn was thus stayed yet more effectually than the
Thames, in the first place it also flowed backwards as it were, till its
overflow mingled with the reflux of the Thames. Thus the inland sea of
fresh water was formed; though Silvester hints (what is most improbable)
that the level of the land sank and formed a basin. After a time, when
the waters had risen high enough, since all water must have an outlet
somewhere, the Lake, passing over the green country behind the Red
Rocks, came pouring through the channel of the Avon.

Then, farther down, it rose over the banks which were lowest there, and
thus found its way over a dam into the sea. Now when the tide of the
ocean is at its ebb, the waters of the Lake rush over these banks with
so furious a current that no vessel can either go down or come up. If
they attempted to go down, they would be swamped by the meeting of the
waves; if they attempted to come up, the strongest gale that blows could
not force them against the stream. As the tide gradually returns,
however, the level of the ocean rises to the level of the Lake, the
outward flow of water ceases, and there is even a partial inward flow of
the tide which, at its highest, reaches to the Red Rocks. At this state
of the tide, which happens twice in a day and night, vessels can enter
or go forth.

The Irish ships, of which I have spoken, thus come into the Lake,
waiting outside the bar till the tide lifts them over. The Irish ships,
being built to traverse the ocean from their country, are large and
stout and well manned, carrying from thirty to fifty men. The Welsh
ships, which come down from that inlet of the Lake which follows the
ancient course of the Severn, are much smaller and lighter, as not being
required to withstand the heavy seas. They carry but fifteen or twenty
men each, but then they are more numerous. The Irish ships, on account
of their size and draught, in sailing about the sweet waters, cannot
always haul on shore at night, nor follow the course of the ships of
burden between the fringe of islands and the strand.

They have often to stay in the outer and deeper waters; but the Welsh
boats come in easily at all parts of the coast, so that no place is safe
against them. The Welsh have ever been most jealous of the Severn, and
will on no account permit so much as a canoe to enter it. So that
whether it be a narrow creek, or whether there be wide reaches, or what
the shores may be like, we are ignorant. And this is all that is with
certainty known concerning the origin of the inland sea of sweet water,
excluding all that superstition and speculation have advanced, and
setting down nothing but ascertained facts.

A beautiful sea it is, clear as crystal, exquisite to drink, abounding
with fishes of every kind, and adorned with green islands. There is
nothing more lovely in the world than when, upon a calm evening, the sun
goes down across the level and gleaming water, where it is so wide that
the eye can but just distinguish a low and dark cloud, as it were,
resting upon the horizon, or perhaps, looking lengthways, cannot
distinguish any ending to the expanse. Sometimes it is blue, reflecting
the noonday sky; sometimes white from the clouds; again green and dark
as the wind rises and the waves roll.

Storms, indeed, come up with extraordinary swiftness, for which reason
the ships, whenever possible, follow the trade route, as it is called,
behind the islands, which shelter them like a protecting reef. They drop
equally quickly, and thus it is not uncommon for the morning to be calm,
the midday raging in waves dashing resistlessly upon the beach, and the
evening still again. The Irish, who are accustomed to the salt ocean,
say, in the suddenness of its storms and the shifting winds, it is more
dangerous than the sea itself. But then there are almost always islands,
behind which a vessel can be sheltered.

Beneath the surface of the Lake there must be concealed very many
ancient towns and cities, of which the names are lost. Sometimes the
anchors bring up even now fragments of rusty iron and old metal, or
black beams of timber. It is said, and with probability, that when the
remnant of the ancients found the water gradually encroaching (for it
rose very slowly), as they were driven back year by year, they
considered that in time they would be all swept away and drowned. But
after extending to its present limits the Lake rose no farther, not even
in the wettest seasons, but always remains the same. From the position
of certain quays we know that it has thus remained for the last hundred
years at least.

Never, as I observed before, was there so beautiful an expanse of water.
How much must we sorrow that it has so often proved only the easiest
mode of bringing the miseries of war to the doors of the unoffending!
Yet men are never weary of sailing to and fro upon it, and most of the
cities of the present time are upon its shore. And in the evening we
walk by the beach, and from the rising grounds look over the waters, as
if to gaze upon their loveliness were reward to us for the labour of the
day.



Part II

WILD ENGLAND



CHAPTER I

SIR FELIX


On a bright May morning, the sunlight, at five o'clock, was pouring into
a room which face the east at the ancestral home of the Aquilas. In this
room Felix, the eldest of the three sons of the Baron, was sleeping. The
beams passed over his head, and lit up a square space on the opposite
whitewashed wall, where, in the midst of the brilliant light, hung an
ivory cross. There were only two panes of glass in the window, each no
more than two or three inches square, the rest of the window being
closed by strong oaken shutters, thick enough to withstand the stroke of
an arrow.

In the daytime one of these at least would have been thrown open to
admit air and light. They did not quite meet, and a streak of sunshine,
in addition to that which came through the tiny panes, entered at the
chink. Only one window in the house contained more than two such panes
(it was in the Baroness's sitting-room), and most of them had none at
all. The glass left by the ancients in their dwellings had long since
been used up or broken, and the fragments that remained were too
precious to be put in ordinary rooms. When larger pieces were
discovered, they were taken for the palaces of the princes, and even
these were but sparingly supplied, so that the saying "he has glass in
his window" was equivalent to "he belongs to the upper ranks".

On the recess of the window was an inkstand, which had been recently in
use, for a quill lay beside it, and a sheet of parchment partly covered
with writing. The ink was thick and very dark, made of powdered
charcoal, leaving a slightly raised writing, which could be perceived by
the finger on rubbing it lightly over. Beneath the window on the bare
floor was an open chest, in which were several similar parchments and
books, and from which the sheet on the recess had evidently been taken.
This chest, though small, was extremely heavy and strong, being dug out
with the chisel and gouge from a solid block of oak. Except a few
parallel grooves, there was no attempt at ornamentation upon it. The
lid, which had no hinges, but lifted completely off, was tilted against
the wall. It was, too, of oak some inches thick, and fitted upon the
chest by a kind of dovetailing at the edges.

Instead of a lock, the chest was fastened by a lengthy thong of oxhide,
which now lay in a coil on the floor. Bound round and round, twisted and
intertangled, and finally tied with a special and secret knot (the ends
being concealed), the thong of leather secured the contents of the chest
from prying eyes or thievish hands. With axe or knife, of course, the
knot might easily have been severed, but no one could obtain access to
the room except the retainers of the house, and which of them, even if
unfaithful, would dare to employ such means in view of the certain
punishment that must follow? It would occupy hours to undo the knot, and
then it could not be tied again in exactly the same fashion, so that the
real use of the thong was to assure the owner that his treasures had not
been interfered with in his absence. Such locks as were made were of the
clumsiest construction. They were not so difficult to pick as the thong
to untie, and their expense, or rather the difficulty of getting a
workman who could manufacture them, confined their use to the heads of
great houses. The Baron's chest was locked, and his alone, in the
dwelling.

Besides the parchments which were nearest the top, as most in use, there
were three books, much worn and decayed, which had been preserved, more
by accident than by care, from the libraries of the ancients. One was an
abridged history of Rome, the other a similar account of English
history, the third a primer of science or knowledge; all three, indeed,
being books which, among the ancients, were used for teaching children,
and which, by the men of those days, would have been cast aside with
contempt.

Exposed for years in decaying houses, rain and mildew had spotted and
stained their pages; the covers had rotted away these hundred years, and
were now supplied by a broad sheet of limp leather with wide margins far
overlapping the edges; many of the pages were quite gone, and others
torn by careless handling. The abridgment of Roman history had been
scorched by a forest fire, and the charred edges of the leaves had
dropped away in semicircular holes. Yet, by pondering over these, Felix
had, as it were, reconstructed much of the knowledge which was the
common (and therefore unvalued) possession of all when they were
printed.

The parchments contained his annotations, and the result of his thought;
they were also full of extracts from decaying volumes lying totally
neglected in the houses of other nobles. Most of these were of extreme
antiquity, for when the ancients departed, the modern books which they
had composed being left in the decaying houses at the mercy of the
weather, rotted, or were destroyed by the frequent grass fires. But
those that had been preserved by the ancients in museums escaped for a
while, and some of these yet remained in lumber-rooms and corners,
whence they were occasionally dragged forth by the servants for greater
convenience in lighting the fires. The young nobles, entirely devoted to
the chase, to love intrigues, and war, overwhelmed Felix Aquila with
ridicule when they found him poring over these relics, and being of a
proud and susceptible spirit, they so far succeeded that he abandoned
the open pursuit of such studies, and stole his knowledge by fitful
glances when there was no one near. As among the ancients learning was
esteemed above all things, so now, by a species of contrast, it was of
all things the most despised.

Under the books, in one corner of the chest, was a leather bag
containing four golden sovereigns, such as were used by the ancients,
and eighteen pieces of modern silver money, the debased shillings of the
day, not much more than half of which was silver and the rest alloy. The
gold coins had been found while digging holes for the posts of a new
stockade, and by the law should have been delivered to the prince's
treasury. All the gold discovered, whether in the form of coin or
jewellery, was the property of the Prince, who was supposed to pay for
its value in currency.

As the actual value of the currency was only half of its nominal value
(and sometimes less), the transaction was greatly in favour of the
treasury. Such was the scarcity of gold that the law was strictly
enforced, and had there been the least suspicion of the fact, the house
would have been ransacked from the cellars to the roof. Imprisonment and
fine would have been the inevitable fate of Felix, and the family would
very probably have suffered for the fault of one of its members. But
independent and determined to the last degree, Felix ran any risk rather
than surrender that which he had found, and which he deemed his own.
This unbending independence and pride of spirit, together with scarce
concealed contempt for others, had resulted in almost isolating him from
the youth of his own age, and had caused him to be regarded with dislike
by the elders. He was rarely, if ever, asked to join the chase, and
still more rarely invited to the festivities and amusements provided in
adjacent houses, or to the grander entertainments of the higher nobles.
Too quick to take offence where none was really intended, he fancied
that many bore him ill-will who had scarcely given him a passing
thought. He could not forgive the coarse jokes uttered upon his personal
appearance by men of heavier build, who despised so slender a stripling.

He would rather be alone than join their company, and would not compete
with them in any of their sports, so that, when his absence from the
arena was noticed, it was attributed to weakness or cowardice. These
imputations stung him deeply, driving him to brood within himself. He
was never seen in the courtyards or ante-rooms at the palace, nor
following in the train of the Prince, as was the custom with the
youthful nobles. The servility of the court angered and disgusted him;
the eagerness of strong men to carry a cushion or fetch a dog annoyed
him.

There were those who observed this absence from the crowd in the
ante-rooms. In the midst of so much intrigue and continual striving for
power, designing men, on the one hand, were ever on the alert for what
they imagined would prove willing instruments; and on the other, the
Prince's councillors kept a watchful eye on the dispositions of every
one of the least consequence; so that, although but twenty-five, Felix
was already down in two lists, the one, at the palace, of persons whose
views, if not treasonable, were doubtful, and the other, in the hands of
a possible pretender, as a discontented and therefore useful man. Felix
was entirely ignorant that he had attracted so much observation. He
supposed himself simply despised and ignored; he cherished no treason,
had not the slightest sympathy with any pretender, held totally aloof
from intrigue, and his reveries, if they were ambitious, concerned only
himself.

But the most precious of the treasures in the chest were eight or ten
small sheets of parchment, each daintily rolled and fastened with a
ribbon, letters from Aurora Thyma, who had also given him the ivory
cross on the wall. It was of ancient workmanship, a relic of the old
world. A compass, a few small tools (valuable because preserved for so
many years, and not now to be obtained for any consideration), and a
magnifying glass, a relic also of the ancients, completed the contents
of the chest.

Upon a low table by the bedstead were a flint and steel and tinder, and
an earthenware oil lamp, not intended to be carried about. There, too,
lay his knife, with a buckhorn hilt, worn by everyone in the belt, and
his forester's axe, a small tool, but extremely useful in the woods,
without which, indeed, progress was often impossible. These were in the
belt, which, as he undressed, he had cast upon the table, together with
his purse, in which were about a dozen copper coins, not very regular in
shape, and stamped on one side only. The table was formed of two short
hewn planks, scarcely smoothed, raised on similar planks (on edge) at
each end, in fact, a larger form.

From a peg driven into the wall hung a disc of brass by a thin leathern
lace; this disc, polished to the last degree, answered as a mirror. The
only other piece of furniture, if so it could be called, was a block of
wood at the side of the table, used as a chair. In the corner, between
the table and the window, stood a long yew bow, and a quiver full of
arrows ready for immediate use, besides which three or four sheaves lay
on the floor. A crossbow hung on a wooden peg; the bow was of wood, and,
therefore, not very powerful; bolts and square-headed quarrels were
scattered carelessly on the floor under it.

Six or seven slender darts used for casting with the hand, as javelins,
stood in another corner by the door, and two stouter boar spears. By the
wall a heap of nets lay in apparent confusion, some used for partridges,
some of coarse twine for bush-hens, another, lying a little apart, for
fishes. Near these the component parts of two turkey-traps were strewn
about, together with a small round shield or targe, such as are used by
swordsmen, snares of wire, and, in an open box, several chisels, gouges,
and other tools.

A blowtube was fastened to three pegs, so that it might not warp, a
hunter's horn hung from another, and on the floor were a number of
arrows in various stages of manufacture, some tied to the straightening
rod, some with the feathers already attached, and some hardly shaped
from the elder or aspen log. A heap of skins filled the third corner,
and beside them were numerous stag's horns, and two of the white cow,
but none yet of the much dreaded and much desired white bull. A few
peacock's feathers were there also, rare and difficult to get, and
intended for Aurora. Round one footpost of the bed was a long coil of
thin hide, a lasso, and on another was suspended an iron cap, or
visorless helmet.

There was no sword or lance. Indeed, of all these weapons and
implements, none seemed in use, to judge by the dust that had gathered
upon them, and the rusted edges, except the bow and crossbow and one of
the boar spears. The bed itself was very low, framed of wood, thick and
solid; the clothes were of the coarsest linen and wool; there were furs
for warmth in winter, but these were not required in May. There was no
carpet, nor any substitute for it; the walls were whitewashed, ceiling
there was none, the worm-eaten rafters were visible, and the roof tree.
But on the table was a large earthenware bowl, full of meadow orchids,
blue-bells, and a bunch of may in flower.

His hat, wide in the brim, lay on the floor; his doublet was on the
wooden block or seat, with the long tight-fitting trousers, which showed
every muscle of the limb, and by them high shoes of tanned but unblacked
leather. His short cloak hung on a wooden peg against the door, which
was fastened with a broad bolt of oak. The parchment in the recess of
the window at which he had been working just before retiring was covered
with rough sketches, evidently sections of a design for a ship or galley
propelled by oars.

The square spot of light upon the wall slowly moved as the sun rose
higher, till the ivory cross was left in shadow, but still the slumberer
slept on, heedless, too, of the twittering of the swallows under the
eaves, and the call of the cuckoo not far distant.



CHAPTER II

THE HOUSE OF AQUILA


Presently there came the sound of a creaking axle, which grew louder and
louder as the waggon drew nearer, till it approached a shriek. The
sleeper moved uneasily, but recognising the noise even in his dreams,
did not wake. The horrible sounds stopped; there was the sound of
voices, as if two persons, one without and one within the wall, were
hailing each other; a gate swung open, and the waggon came past under
the very window of the bedroom. Even habit could not enable Felix to
entirely withstand so piercing a noise when almost in his ears. He sat
up a minute, and glanced at the square of light on the wall to guess the
time by its position.

In another minute or two the squeaking of the axle ceased, as the waggon
reached the storehouses, and he immediately returned to the pillow.
Without, and just beneath the window, there ran a road or way, which in
part divided the enclosure into two portions; the dwelling-house and its
offices being on one side, the granaries and storehouses on the other.
But a few yards to the left of his room, a strong gate in the enclosing
wall gave entrance to this roadway. It was called the Maple Gate,
because a small maple tree grew near outside. The wall, which surrounded
the whole place at a distance of eight or ten yards from the buildings,
was of brick, and about nine feet high, with a ditch without.

It was partly embattled, and partly loopholed, and a banquette of earth
rammed hard ran all round inside, so that the defenders might discharge
darts or arrows through the embrasures, and step down out of sight to
prepare a fresh supply. At each corner there was a large platform, where
a considerable number of men could stand and command the approaches;
there were, however, no bastions or flanking towers. On the roof of the
dwelling-house a similar platform had been prepared, protected by a
parapet; from which height the entire enclosure could be overlooked.

Another platform, though at a less height, was on the roof of the
retainers' lodgings, so placed as especially to command the second gate.
Entering by the Maple Gate, the dwelling-house was on the right hand,
and the granaries and general storehouses on the left, the latter built
on three sides of a square. Farther on, on the same side, were the
stables, and near them the forge and workshops. Beyond these, again,
were the lodgings of the retainers and labourers, near which, in the
corner, was the South Gate, from which the South Road led to the
cattle-pens and farms, and out to the south.

Upon the right hand, after the dwelling-house, and connected with it,
came the steward's stores, where the iron tools and similar valuable
articles of metal were kept. Then, after a covered passage-way, the
kitchen and general hall, under one roof with the house. The house
fronted in the opposite direction to the roadway; there was a narrow
green lawn between it and the enceinte, or wall, and before the general
hall and kitchens a gravelled court. This was parted from the lawn by
palings, so that the house folk enjoyed privacy, and yet were close to
their servitors. The place was called the Old House, for it dated back
to the time of the ancients, and the Aquilas were proud of the simple
designation of their fortified residence.

Felix's window was almost exactly opposite the entrance to the
storehouse or granary yard, so that the waggon, after passing it, had to
go but a little distance, and then, turning to the left, was drawn up
before the doors of the warehouse. This waggon was low, built for the
carriage of goods only, of hewn plank scarcely smooth, and the wheels
were solid; cut, in fact, from the butt of an elm tree. Unless
continually greased the squeaking of such wheels is terrible, and the
carters frequently forgot their grease-horns.

Much of the work of the farm, such as the carting of hay and corn in
harvest-time, was done upon sleds; the waggons (there were but few of
them) being reserved for longer journeys on the rough roads. This
waggon, laden with wool, some of the season's clip, had come in four or
five miles from an out-lying cot, or sheep-pen, at the foot of the
hills. In the buildings round the granary yard there were stored not
only the corn and flour required for the retainers (who might at any
moment become a besieged garrison), but the most valuable products of
the estate, the wool, hides, and tanned leather from the tan-pits,
besides a great quantity of bacon and salt beef; indeed, every possible
article that could be needed.

These buildings were put together with wooden pins, on account of the
scarcity of iron, and were all (dwelling-houses included) roofed with
red tile. Lesser houses, cottages, and sheds at a distance were
thatched, but in an enclosure tiles were necessary, lest, in case of an
attack, fire should be thrown.

Half an hour later, at six o'clock, the watchman blew his horn as loudly
as possible for some two or three minutes, the hollow sound echoing
through the place. He took the time by the sundial on the wall, it being
a summer morning; in winter he was guided by the position of the stars,
and often, when sun or stars were obscured, went by guess. The house
horn was blown thrice a day; at six in the morning, as a signal that the
day had begun, at noon as a signal for dinner, at six in the afternoon
as a signal that the day (except in harvest-time) was over. The watchmen
went their round about the enclosure all night long, relieved every
three hours, armed with spears, and attended by mastiffs. By day one
sufficed, and his station was then usually (though not always) on the
highest part of the roof.

The horn re-awoke Felix; it was the note by which he had been accustomed
to rise for years. He threw open the oaken shutters, and the sunlight
and the fresh breeze of the May morning came freely into the room. There
was now the buzz of voices without, men unloading the wool, men at the
workshops and in the granaries, and others waiting at the door of the
steward's store for the tools, which he handed out to them. Iron being
so scarce, tools were a temptation, and were carefully locked up each
night, and given out again in the morning.

Felix went to the ivory cross and kissed it in affectionate recollection
of Aurora, and then looked towards the open window, in the pride and joy
of youth turning to the East, the morning, and the light. Before he had
half dressed there came a knock and then an impatient kick at the door.
He unbarred it, and his brother Oliver entered. Oliver had been for his
swim in the river. He excelled in swimming, as, indeed, in every manly
exercise, being as active and energetic as Felix was outwardly languid.

His room was only across the landing, his door just opposite. It also
was strewn with implements and weapons. But there was a far greater
number of tools; he was an expert and artistic workman, and his table
and his seat, unlike the rude blocks in Felix's room, were tastefully
carved. His seat, too, had a back, and he had even a couch of his own
construction. By his bedhead hung his sword, his most valued and most
valuable possession. It was one which had escaped the dispersion of the
ancients; it had been ancient even in their days, and of far better work
than they themselves produced.

Broad, long, straight, and well-balanced, it appeared capable of cutting
through helmet and mail, when wielded by Oliver's sturdy arm. Such a
sword could not have been purchased for money; money, indeed, had often
been offered for it in vain; persuasion, and even covert threats from
those higher in authority who coveted it, were alike wasted. The sword
had been in the family for generations, and when the Baron grew too old,
or rather when he turned away from active life, the second son claimed
it as the fittest to use it. The claim was tacitly allowed; at all
events, he had it, and meant to keep it.

In a corner stood his lance, long and sharp, for use on horse-back, and
by it his saddle and accoutrements. The helmet and the shirt of mail,
the iron greaves and spurs, the short iron mace to bang at the
saddle-bow, spoke of the knight, the man of horses and war.

Oliver's whole delight was in exercise and sport. The boldest rider, the
best swimmer, the best at leaping, at hurling the dart or the heavy
hammer, ever ready for tilt or tournament, his whole life was spent with
horse, sword, and lance. A year younger than Felix, he was at least ten
years physically older. He measured several inches more round the chest;
his massive shoulders and immense arms, brown and hairy, his powerful
limbs, tower-like neck, and somewhat square jaw were the natural
concomitants of enormous physical strength.

All the blood and bone and thew and sinew of the house seemed to have
fallen to his share; all the fiery, restless spirit and defiant temper;
all the utter recklessness and warrior's instinct. He stood every inch a
man, with dark, curling, short-cut hair, brown cheek and Roman chin,
trimmed moustache, brown eye, shaded by long eyelashes and well-marked
brows; every inch a natural king of men. That very physical
preponderance and animal beauty was perhaps his bane, for his comrades
were so many, and his love adventures so innumerable, that they left him
no time for serious ambition.

Between the brothers there was the strangest mixture of affection and
repulsion. The elder smiled at the excitement and energy of the younger;
the younger openly despised the studious habits and solitary life of the
elder. In time of real trouble and difficulty they would have been drawn
together; as it was, there was little communion; the one went his way,
and the other his. There was perhaps rather an inclination to detract
from each other's achievements that to praise them, a species of
jealousy or envy without personal dislike, if that can be understood.
They were good friends, and yet kept apart.

Oliver made friends of all, and thwacked and banged his enemies into
respectful silence. Felix made friends of none, and was equally despised
by nominal friends and actual enemies. Oliver was open and jovial; Felix
reserved and contemptuous, or sarcastic in manner. His slender frame,
too tall for his width, was against him; he could neither lift the
weights nor undergo the muscular strain readily borne by Oliver. It was
easy to see that Felix, although nominally the eldest, had not yet
reached his full development. A light complexion, fair hair and eyes,
were also against him; where Oliver made conquests, Felix was
unregarded. He laughed, but perhaps his secret pride was hurt.

There was but one thing Felix could do in the way of exercise and sport.
He could shoot with the bow in a manner till then entirely unapproached.
His arrows fell unerringly in the centre of the target, the swift deer
and the hare were struck down with ease, and even the wood-pigeon in
full flight. Nothing was safe from those terrible arrows. For this, and
this only, his fame had gone forth; and even this was made a source of
bitterness to him.

The nobles thought no arms worthy of men of descent but the sword and
lance; missile weapons, as the dart and arrow, were the arms of
retainers. His degradation was completed when, at a tournament, where he
had mingled with the crowd, the Prince sent for him to shoot at the
butt, and display his skill among the soldiery, instead of with the
knights in the tilting ring. Felix shot, indeed, but shut his eyes that
the arrow might go wide, and was jeered at as a failure even in that
ignoble competition. Only by an iron self-control did he refrain that
day from planting one of the despised shafts in the Prince's eye.

But when Oliver joked him about his failure, Felix asked him to hang up
his breastplate at two hundred yards. He did so, and in an instant a
shaft was sent through it. After that Oliver held his peace, and in his
heart began to think that the bow was a dangerous weapon.

"So you are late again this morning," said Oliver, leaning against the
recess of the window, and placing his arms on it. The sunshine fell on
his curly dark hair, still wet from the river. "Studying last night, I
suppose?" turning over the parchment. "Why didn't you ride into town
with me?"

"The water must have been cold this morning?" said Felix, ignoring the
question.

"Yes; there was a slight frost, or something like it, very early, and a
mist on the surface; but it was splendid in the pool. Why don't you get
up and come? You used to."

"I can swim," said Felix laconically, implying that, having learnt the
art, it no more tempted him. "You were late last night. I heard you put
Night in."

"We came home in style; it was rather dusky, but Night galloped the
Green Miles."

"Mind she doesn't put her hoof in a rabbit's hole, some night."

"Not that. She can see like a cat. I believe we got over the twelve
miles in less than an hour. Sharp work, considering the hills. You don't
inquire for the news."

"What's the news to me?"

"Well, there was a quarrel at the palace yesterday afternoon. The Prince
told Louis he was a double-faced traitor, and Louis told the Prince he
was a suspicious fool. It nearly came to blows, and Louis is banished."

"For the fiftieth time."

"This time it is more serious."

"Don't believe it. He will be sent for again this morning; cannot you
see why?"

"No."

"If the Prince is really suspicious, he will never send his brother into
the country, where he might be resorted to by discontented people. He
will keep him close at hand."

"I wish the quarrelling would cease; it spoils half the fun; one's
obliged to creep about the court and speak in whispers, and you can't
tell whom you are talking to; they may turn on you if you say too much.
There is no dancing either. I hate this moody state. I wish they would
either dance or fight."

"Fight! who?"

"Anybody. There's some more news, but you don't care."

"No. I do not."

"Why don't you go and live in the woods all by yourself?" said Oliver,
in some heat.

Felix laughed.

"Tell me your news. I am listening."

"The Irish landed at Blacklands the day before yesterday, and burnt
Robert's place; they tried Letburn, but the people there had been
warned, and were ready. And there's an envoy from Sypolis arrived; some
think the Assembly has broken up; they were all at daggers drawn. So
much for the Holy League."

"So much for the Holy League," repeated Felix.

"What are you going to do to-day?" asked Oliver, after awhile.

"I am going down to my canoe," said Felix.

"I will go with you; the trout are rising. Have you got any hooks?"

"There's some in the box there, I think; take the tools out."

Oliver searched among the tools in the open box, all rusty and covered
with dust, while Felix finished dressing, put away his parchment, and
knotted the thong round his chest. He found some hooks at the bottom,
and after breakfast they walked out together, Oliver carrying his rod,
and a boar-spear, and Felix a boar-spear also, in addition to a small
flag basket with some chisels and gouges.



CHAPTER III

THE STOCKADE


When Oliver and Felix started, they left Philip, the third and youngest
of the three brothers, still at breakfast. They turned to the left, on
getting out of doors, and again to the left, through the covered passage
between the steward's store and the kitchen. Then crossing the waggon
yard, they paused a moment to glance in at the forge, where two men were
repairing part of a plough.

Oliver must also look for a moment at his mare, after which they
directed their steps to the South Gate. The massive oaken door was open,
the bolts having been drawn back at hornblow. There was a guard-room on
one side of the gate under the platform in the corner, where there was
always supposed to be a watch.

But in times of peace, and when there were no apprehensions of attack,
the men whose turn it was to watch there were often called away for a
time to assist in some labour going forward, and at that moment were
helping to move the woolpacks farther into the warehouse. Still they
were close at hand, and had the day watchman or warder, who was now on
the roof, blown his horn, would have rushed direct to the gate. Felix
did not like this relaxation of discipline. His precise ideas were upset
at the absence of the guard; method, organization, and precision, were
the characteristics of his mind, and this kind of uncertainty irritated
him.

"I wish Sir Constans would insist on the guard being kept," he remarked.
Children, in speaking of their parents, invariably gave them their
titles. Now their father's title was properly "my lord," as he was a
baron, and one of the most ancient. But he had so long abnegated the
exercise of his rights and privileges, sinking the noble in the
mechanician, that men had forgotten the proper style in which they
should address him. "Sir" was applied to all nobles, whether they
possessed estates or not. The brothers were invariably addressed as Sir
Felix or Sir Oliver. It marked, therefore, the low estimation in which
the Baron was held when even his own sons spoke of him by that title.

Oliver, though a military man by profession, laughed at Felix's strict
view of the guards' duties. Familiarity with danger, and natural
carelessness, had rendered him contemptuous of it.

"There's no risk," said he, "that I can see. Who could attack us? The
Bushmen would never dream of it; the Romany would be seen coming days
beforehand; we are too far from the Lake for the pirates; and as we are
not great people, as we might have been, we need dread no private
enmity. Besides which, any assailants must pass the stockades first."

"Quite true. Still I don't like it; it is a loose way of doing things."

Outside the gate they followed the waggon track, or South Road, for
about half a mile. It crossed meadows parted by low hedges, and they
remarked, as they went, on the shortness of the grass, which, for want
of rain, was not nearly fit for mowing. Last year there had been a bad
wheat crop; this year there was at present scarcely any grass. These
matters were of the highest importance; peace or war, famine or plenty,
might depend upon the weather of the next few months.

The meadows, besides being divided by the hedges, kept purposely cropped
low, were surrounded, like all the cultivated lands, by high and strong
stockades. Half a mile down the South Road they left the track, and
following a footpath some few hundred yards, came to the pool where
Oliver had bathed that morning. The river, which ran through the
enclosed grounds, was very shallow, for they were near its source in the
hills, but just there it widened, and filled a depression fifty or sixty
yards across, which was deep enough for swimming. Beyond the pool the
stream curved and left the enclosure; the stockade, or at least an open
work of poles, was continued across it. This work permitted the stream
to flow freely, but was sufficiently close to exclude any one who might
attempt to enter by creeping up the bed of the river.

They crossed the river just above the pool by some stepping-stones,
large blocks rolled in for the purpose, and approached the stockade. It
was formed of small but entire trees, young elms, firs, or very thick
ash-poles, driven in a double row into the earth, the first or inner row
side by side, the outer row filling the interstices, and the whole bound
together at the bottom by split willow woven in and out. This
interweaving extended only about three feet up, and was intended first
to bind the structure together, and secondly to exclude small animals
which might creep in between the stakes. The reason it was not carried
all up was that it should not afford a footing to human thieves desirous
of climbing over.

The smooth poles by themselves afforded no notch or foothold for a
Bushman's naked foot. They rose nine or ten feet above the willow, so
that the total height of the palisade was about twelve feet, and the
tops of the stakes were sharpened. The construction of such palisades
required great labour, and could be carried out only by those who could
command the services of numbers of men, so that a small proprietor was
impossible, unless within the walls of a town. This particular stockade
was by no means an extensive one, in comparison with the estates of more
prominent nobles.

The enclosure immediately surrounding the Old House was of an irregular
oval shape, perhaps a mile long, and not quite three-quarters of a mile
wide, the house being situated towards the northern and higher end of
the oval. The river crossed it, entering on the west and leaving on the
eastern side. The enclosure was for the greater part meadow and pasture,
for here the cattle were kept, which supplied the house with milk,
cheese, and butter, while others intended for slaughter were driven in
here for the last months of fattening.

The horses in actual use for riding, or for the waggons, were also
turned out here temporarily. There were two pens and rickyards within
it, one beside the river, one farther down. The South Road ran almost
down the centre, passing both rickyards, and leaving the stockade at the
southern end by a gate, called the barrier. At the northern extremity of
the oval the palisade passed within three hundred yards of the house,
and there was another barrier, to which the road led from the Maple
Gate, which has been mentioned. From thence it went across the hills to
the town of Ponze. Thus, anyone approaching the Old House had first to
pass the barrier and get inside the palisade.

At each barrier there was a cottage and a guard-room, though, as a
matter of fact, the watch was kept in peaceful times even more
carelessly than at the inner gates of the wall about the House itself.
Much the same plan, with local variations, was pursued on the other
estates of the province, though the stockade at the Old House was
remarkable for the care and skill with which it had been constructed.
Part of the duty of the watchman on the roof was to keep an eye on the
barriers, which he could see from his elevated position.

In case of an incursion of gipsies, or any danger, the guard at the
barrier was supposed to at once close the gate, blow a horn, and exhibit
a flag. Upon hearing the horn or observing the flag, the warder on the
roof raised the alarm, and assistance was sent. Such was the system, but
as no attack had taken place for some years the discipline had grown
lax.

After crossing on the stepping-stones Oliver and Felix were soon under
the stockade which ran high above them, and was apparently as difficult
to get out of as to get into. By the strict law of the estate, any
person who left the stockade except by the public barrier rendered
himself liable to the lash or imprisonment. Any person, even a retainer,
endeavouring to enter from without by pole, ladder, or rope, might be
killed with an arrow or dart, putting himself into the position of an
outlaw. In practice, of course, this law was frequently evaded. It did
not apply to the family of the owner.

Under some bushes by the palisade was a ladder of rope, the rungs,
however, of wood. Putting his fishing-tackle and boar spear down, Oliver
took the ladder and threw the end over the stockade. He then picked up a
pole with a fork at the end from the bushes, left there, of course, for
the purpose, and with the fork pushed the rungs over till the ladder was
adjusted, half within and half without the palisade. It hung by the
wooden rungs which caught the tops of the stakes. He then went up, and
when at the top, leant over and drew up the outer part of the ladder one
rung, which he put the inner side of the palisade, so that on
transferring his weight to the outer side it might uphold him. Otherwise
the ladder, when he got over the points of the stakes, must have slipped
the distance between one rung and a second.

Having adjusted this, he got over, and Felix carrying up the spears and
tackle handed them to him. Felix followed, and thus in three minutes
they were on the outer side of the stockade. Originally the ground for
twenty yards, all round outside the stockade, had been cleared of trees
and bushes that they might not harbour vermin, or thorn-hogs, or
facilitate the approach of human enemies. Part of the weekly work of the
bailiffs was to walk round the entire circumference of the stockade to
see that it was in order, and to have any bushes removed that began to
grow up. As with other matters, however, in the lapse of time the
bailiffs became remiss, and under the easy, and perhaps too merciful
rule of Sir Constans, were not recalled to their duties with sufficient
sharpness.

Brambles and thorns and other underwood had begun to cover the space
that should have been open, and young sapling oaks had risen from
dropped acorns. Felix pointed this out to Oliver, who seldom accompanied
him; he was indeed rather glad of the opportunity to do so, as Oliver
had more interest with Sir Constans than himself. Oliver admitted it
showed great negligence, but added that after all it really did not
matter. "What I wish," said he, "is that Sir Constans would go to Court,
and take his proper position."

Upon this they were well agreed; it was, in fact, almost the only point
upon which all three brothers did agree. They sometimes talked about it
till they separated in a furious temper, not with each other but with
him. There was a distinct track of footsteps through the narrow band of
low brambles and underwood between the stockade and the forest. This had
been made by Felix in his daily visits to his canoe.

The forest there consisted principally of hawthorn-trees and thorn
thickets, with some scattered oaks and ashes; the timber was sparse, but
the fern was now fast rising up so thick, that in the height of summer
it would be difficult to walk through it. The tips of the fronds
unrolling were now not up to the knee; then the brake would reach to the
shoulder. The path wound round the thickets (the blackthorn being quite
impenetrable except with the axe) and came again to the river some four
or five hundred yards from the stockade. The stream, which ran from west
to east through the enclosure, here turned and went due south.

On the bank Felix had found a fine black poplar, the largest and
straightest and best grown of that sort for some distance round, and
this he had selected for his canoe. Stones broke the current here into
eddies, below which there were deep holes and gullies where alders hung
over, and an ever-rustling aspen spread the shadow of its boughs across
the water. The light-coloured mud, formed of disintegrated chalk, on the
farther and shallower side was only partly hidden by flags and sedges,
which like a richer and more alluvial earth. Nor did the bushes grow
very densely on this soil over the chalk, so that there was more room
for casting the fly than is usually the case where a stream runs through
a forest. Oliver, after getting his tackle in order, at once began to
cast, while Felix, hanging his doublet on an oft-used branch, and
leaning his spear against a tree, took his chisels and gouge from the
flag basket.

He had chosen the black poplar for the canoe because it was the lightest
wood, and would float best. To fell so large a tree had been a great
labour, for the axes were of poor quality, cut badly, and often required
sharpening. He could easily have ordered half-a-dozen men to throw the
tree, and they would have obeyed immediately; but then the individuality
and interest of the work would have been lost. Unless he did it himself
its importance and value to him would have been diminished. It had now
been down some weeks, had been hewn into outward shape, and the larger
part of the interior slowly dug away with chisel and gouge.

He had commenced while the hawthorn was just putting forth its first
spray, when the thickets and the trees were yet bare. Now the May bloom
scented the air, the forest was green, and his work approached
completion. There remained, indeed, but some final shaping and rounding
off, and the construction, or rather cutting out, of a secret locker in
the stern. This locker was nothing more than a square aperture chiselled
out like a mortice, entering not from above but parallel with the
bottom, and was to be closed with a tight-fitting piece of wood driven
in by force of mallet.

A little paint would then conceal the slight chinks, and the boat might
be examined in every possible way without any trace of this hiding-place
being observed. The canoe was some eleven feet long, and nearly three
feet in the beam; it tapered at either end, so that it might be
propelled backwards or forwards without turning, and stem and stern
(interchangeable definitions in this case) each rose a few inches higher
than the general gunwale. The sides were about two inches thick, the
bottom three, so that although dug out from light wood the canoe was
rather heavy.

At first Felix constructed a light shed of fir poles roofed with
spruce-fir branches over the log, so that he might work sheltered from
the bitter winds of the early spring. As the warmth increased he had
taken the shed down, and now as the sun rose higher was glad of the
shade of an adjacent beech.



CHAPTER IV

THE CANOE


Felix had scarcely worked half an hour before Oliver returned and threw
himself on the ground at full length. He had wearied of fishing, the
delicate adjustment of the tackle and the care necessary to keep the
hook and line from catching in the branches had quickly proved too much
for his patience. He lay on the grass, his feet towards the stream which
ran and bubbled beneath, and watched Felix chipping out the block
intended to fit into the secret opening or locker.

"Is it nearly finished, then?" he said presently. "What a time you have
been at it!"

"Nearly three months."

"Why did you make it so big? It is too big."

"Is it really? Perhaps I want to put some things in it."

"Oh, I see; cargo. But where are you going to launch it?"

"Below the stones there."

"Well, you won't be able to go far; there's an old fir across the river
down yonder, and a hollow willow has fallen in. Besides, the stream's
too shallow; you'll take ground before you get half a mile."

"Shall I?"

"Of course you will. That boat will float six inches deep by herself,
and I'm sure there's not six inches by the Thorns."

"Very awkward."

"Why didn't you have a hide boat made, with a willow framework and
leather cover? Then you might perhaps get down the river by hauling it
past the shallows and the fallen trees. In two days' time you would be
in the hands of the gipsies."

"And you would be Sir Constans' heir!"

"Now, come, I say; that's too bad. You know I didn't mean that. Besides,
I think I'm as much his heir as you now" (looking at his sinewy arm);
"at least, he doesn't listen as much to you. I mean, the river runs into
the gipsies' country as straight as it can go."

"Just so."

"Well, you seem very cool about it!"

"I am not going down the river."

"Then, where _are_ you going?"

"On the Lake."

"Whew!" (whistling) "Pooh! Why, the Lake's--let me see, to Heron Bay
it's quite fifteen miles. You can't paddle across the land."

"But I can put the canoe on a cart."

"Aha! why didn't you tell me before?"

"Because I did not wish anyone to know. Don't say anything."

"Not I. But what on earth, or rather, on water, are you driving at?
Where are you going? What's the canoe for?"

"I am going a voyage. But I will tell you all when it is ready.
Meantime, I rely on you to keep silence. The rest think the boat is for
the river."

"I will not say a word. But why did you not have a hide boat?"

"They are not strong enough. They can't stand knocking about."

"If you want to go a voyage (where to, I can't imagine), why not take a
passage on board a ship?"

"I want to go my own way. They will only go theirs. Nor do I like the
company."

"Well, certainly the sailors are the roughest lot I know. Still, that
would not have hurt you. You are rather dainty, Sir Felix!"

"My daintiness does not hurt you."

"Can't I speak?" (sharply)

"Please yourself."

A silence. A cuckoo sang in the forest, and was answered from a tree
within the distant palisade. Felix chopped away slowly and deliberately;
he was not a good workman. Oliver watched his progress with contempt; he
could have put it into shape in half the time. Felix could draw, and
design; he could invent, but he was not a practical workman, to give
speedy and accurate effect to his ideas.

"My opinion is," said Oliver, "that that canoe will not float upright.
It's one-sided."

Felix, usually so self-controlled, could not refrain from casting his
chisel down angrily. But he picked it up again, and said nothing. This
silence had more influence upon Oliver, whose nature was very generous,
than the bitterest retort. He sat up on the sward.

"I will help launch it," he said. "We could manage it between us, if you
don't want a lot of the fellows down here."

"Thank you. I should like that best."

"And I will help you with the cart when you start."

Oliver rolled over on his back, and looked up idly at the white flecks
of cloud sailing at a great height.

"Old Mouse is a wretch not to give me a command," he said presently.

Felix looked round involuntarily, lest any one should have heard; Mouse
was the nick-name for the Prince. Like all who rule with irresponsible
power, the Prince had spies everywhere. He was not a cruel man, nor a
benevolent, neither clever nor foolish, neither strong nor weak; simply
an ordinary, a very ordinary being, who chanced to sit upon a throne
because his ancestors did, and not from any personal superiority.

He was at times much influenced by those around him; at others he took
his own course, right or wrong; at another he let matters drift. There
was never any telling in the morning what he might do towards night, for
there was no vein of will or bias running through his character. In
fact, he lacked character; he was all uncertainty, except in jealousy of
his supremacy. Possibly some faint perception of his own incapacity, of
the feeble grasp he had upon the State, that seemed outwardly so
completely his, occasionally crossed his mind.

Hence the furious scenes with his brother; hence the sudden
imprisonments and equally sudden pardons; the spies and eavesdroppers,
the sequestration of estates for no apparent cause. And, following these
erratic severities to the suspected nobles, proclamations giving
privileges to the people, and removing taxes. But in a few days these
were imposed again, and men who dared to murmur were beaten by the
soldiers, or cast into the dungeons. Yet Prince Louis (the family were
all of the same name) was not an ill-meaning man; he often meant well,
but had no stability or firmness of purpose.

This was why Felix dreaded lest some chance listener should hear Oliver
abuse him. Oliver had been in the army for some time; his excellence in
all arms, and especially with lance and sword, his acknowledged courage,
and his noble birth, entitled him to a command, however lowly it might
be. But he was still in the ranks, and not the slightest recognition had
ever been taken of his feats, except, indeed, if whispers were true, by
some sweet smiles from a certain lady of the palace, who admired
knightly prowess.

Oliver chafed under this neglect.

"I would not say that kind of thing," remarked Felix. "Certainly it is
annoying."

"Annoying! that is a mild expression. Of course, everyone knows the
reason. If we had any money, or influence, it would be very different.
But Sir Constans has neither gold nor power, and he might have had
both."

"There was a clerk from the notary's at the house yesterday evening,"
said Felix.

"About the debts, no doubt. Some day the cunning old scoundrel, when he
can squeeze no more interest out of us, will find a legal quibble and
take the lot."

"Or put us in the Blue Chamber, the first time the Prince goes to war
and wants money. The Blue Chamber will say, 'Where can we get it? Who's
weakest?' 'Why, Sir Constans!' 'Then away with him.'"

"Yes, that will be it. Yet I wish a war would happen; there would be
some chance for me. I would go with you in your canoe, but you are going
you don't know where. What's your object? Nothing. You don't know
yourself."

"Indeed!"

"No, you don't; you're a dreamer."

"I am afraid it is true."

"I hate dreams." After a pause, in a lower voice, "Have you any money?"

Felix took out his purse and showed him the copper pieces.

"The eldest son of Constans Aquila with ten copper pieces," growled
Oliver, rising, but taking them all the same. "Lend them to me. I'll try
them on the board to-night. Fancy me putting down _copper!_ It's
intolerable" (working himself into a rage). "I'll turn bandit, and rob
on the roads. I'll go to King Yeo and fight the Welsh. Confusion!"

He rushed into the forest, leaving his spear on the sward.

Felix quietly chipped away at the block he was shaping, but his temper,
too, was inwardly rising. The same talk, varied in detail, but the same
in point, took place every time the brothers were together, and always
with the same result of anger. In earlier days Sir Constans had been as
forward in all warlike exercises as Oliver was now, and being possessed
of extraordinary physical strength, took a leading part among men.
Wielding his battle-axe with irresistible force, he distinguished
himself in several battles and sieges.

He had a singular talent for mechanical construction (the wheel by which
water was drawn from the well at the palace was designed by him), but
this very ingenuity was the beginning of his difficulties. During a long
siege, he invented a machine for casting large stones against the walls,
or rather put it together from the fragmentary descriptions he had seen
in authors, whose works had almost perished before the dispersion of the
ancients; for he, too, had been studious in youth.

The old Prince was highly pleased with this engine, which promised him
speedy conquest over his enemies, and the destruction of their
strongholds. But the nobles who had the hereditary command of the siege
artillery, which consisted mainly of battering-rams, could not endure to
see their prestige vanishing. They caballed, traduced the Baron, and he
fell into disgrace. This disgrace, as he was assured by secret messages
from the Prince, was but policy; he would be recalled so soon as the
Prince felt himself able to withstand the pressure of the nobles. But it
happened that the old Prince died at that juncture, and the present
Prince succeeded.

The enemies of the Baron, having access to him, obtained his confidence;
the Baron was arrested and amerced in a heavy fine, the payment of which
laid the foundation of those debts which had since been constantly
increasing. He was then released, but was not for some two years
permitted to approach the Court. Meantime, men of not half his descent,
but with an unblushing brow and unctuous tongue, had become the
favourites at the palace of the Prince, who, as said before, was not
bad, but the mere puppet of circumstances.

Into competition with these vulgar flatterers Aquila could not enter. It
was indeed pride, and nothing but pride, that had kept him from the
palace. By slow degrees he had sunk out of sight, occupying himself more
and more with mechanical inventions, and with gardening, till at last he
had come to be regarded as no more than an agriculturist. Yet in this
obscure condition he had not escaped danger.

The common people were notoriously attached to him. Whether this was due
to his natural kindliness, his real strength of intellect, and charm of
manner, or whether it was on account of the uprightness with which he
judged between them, or whether it was owing to all these things
combined, certain it is that there was not a man on the estate that
would not have died for him. Certain it is, too, that he was beloved by
the people of the entire district, and more especially by the shepherds
of the hills, who were freer and less under the control of the patrician
caste. Instead of carrying disputes to the town, to be adjudged by the
Prince's authority, many were privately brought to him.

This, by degrees becoming known, excited the jealousy and anger of the
Prince, an anger cunningly inflamed by the notary Francis, and by other
nobles. But they hesitated to execute anything against him lest the
people should rise, and it was doubtful, indeed, if the very retainers
of the nobles would attack the Old House, if ordered. Thus the Baron's
weakness was his defence. The Prince, to do him justice, soon forgot the
matter, and laughed at his own folly, that he should be jealous of a man
who was no more than an agriculturist.

The rest were not so appeased; they desired the Baron's destruction if
only from hatred of his popularity, and they lost no opportunity of
casting discredit upon him, or of endeavouring to alienate the
affections of the people by representing him as a magician, a thing
clearly proved by his machines and engines, which must have been
designed by some supernatural assistance. But the chief, as the most
immediate and pressing danger, was the debt to Francis the notary, which
might at any moment be brought before the Court.

Thus it was that the three sons found themselves without money or
position, with nothing but a bare patent of nobility. The third and
youngest alone had made any progress, if such it could be called. By
dint of his own persistent efforts, and by enduring insults and rebuffs
with indifference, he had at last obtained an appointment in that
section of the Treasury which received the dues upon merchandise, and
regulated the imposts. He was but a messenger at every man's call; his
pay was not sufficient to obtain his food, still it was an advance, and
he was in a government office. He could but just exist in the town,
sleeping in a garret, where he stored the provisions he took in with him
every Monday morning from the Old House. He came home on the Saturday
and returned to his work on the Monday. Even his patience was almost
worn out.

The whole place was thus falling to decay, while at the same time it
seemed to be flowing with milk and honey, for under the Baron's personal
attention the estate, though so carelessly guarded, had become a very
garden. The cattle had increased, and were of the best kind, the horses
were celebrated and sought for, the sheep valued, the crops the wonder
of the province. Yet there was no money; the product went to the notary.
This extraordinary fertility was the cause of the covetous longing of
the Court favourites to divide the spoil.



CHAPTER V

BARON AQUILA


Felix's own position was bitter in the extreme. He felt he had talent.
He loved deeply, he knew that he was in turn as deeply beloved; but he
was utterly powerless. On the confines of the estate, indeed, the men
would run gladly to do his bidding. Beyond, and on his own account, he
was helpless. Manual labour (to plough, to sow, to work on shipboard)
could produce nothing in a time when almost all work was done by
bondsmen or family retainers. The life of a hunter in the woods was
free, but produced nothing.

The furs he sold simply maintained him; it was barter for existence, not
profit. The shepherds on the hills roamed in comparative freedom, but
they had no wealth except of sheep. He could not start as a merchant
without money; he could not enclose an estate and build a house or
castle fit for the nuptials of a noble's daughter without money, or that
personal influence which answers the same purpose; he could not even
hope to succeed to the hereditary estate, so deeply was it encumbered;
they might, indeed, at any time be turned forth.

Slowly the iron entered into his soul. This hopelessness, helplessness,
embittered every moment. His love increasing with the passage of time
rendered his position hateful in the extreme. The feeling within that he
had talent which only required opportunity stung him like a scorpion.
The days went by, and everything remained the same. Continual brooding
and bitterness of spirit went near to drive him mad.

At last the resolution was taken, he would go forth into the world. That
involved separation from Aurora, long separation, and without
communication, since letters could be sent only by special messenger,
and how should he pay a messenger? It was this terrible thought of
separation which had so long kept him inactive. In the end the
bitterness of hopelessness forced him to face it. He began the canoe,
but kept his purpose secret, especially from her, lest tears should melt
his resolution.

There were but two ways of travelling open to him: on foot, as the
hunters did, or by the merchant vessels. The latter, of course, required
payment, and their ways were notoriously coarse. If on foot he could not
cross the Lake, nor visit the countries on either shore, nor the
islands; therefore he cut down the poplar and commenced the canoe.
Whither he should go, and what he should do, was entirely at the mercy
of circumstances. He had no plan, no route.

He had a dim idea of offering his services to some distant king or
prince, of unfolding to him the inventions he had made. He tried to
conceal from himself that he would probably be repulsed and laughed at.
Without money, without a retinue, how could he expect to be received or
listened to? Still, he must go; he could not help himself, go he must.

As he chopped and chipped through the long weeks of early spring, while
the easterly winds bent the trees above him, till the buds unfolded and
the leaves expanded--while his hands were thus employed, the whole map,
as it were, of the known countries seemed to pass without volition
before his mind. He saw the cities along the shores of the great Lake;
he saw their internal condition, the weakness of the social fabric, the
misery of the bondsmen. The uncertain action of the League, the only
thread which bound the world together; the threatening aspect of the
Cymry and the Irish; the dread north, the vast northern forests, from
which at any time invading hosts might descend on the fertile south--it
all went before his eyes.

What was there behind the immense and untraversed belt of forest which
extended to the south, to the east, and west? Where did the great Lake
end? Were the stories of the gold and silver mines of Devon and Cornwall
true? And where were the iron mines, from which the ancients drew their
stores of metal?

Led by these thoughts he twice or thrice left his labour, and walking
some twenty miles through the forests, and over the hills, reached the
summit of White Horse. From thence, resting on the sward, he watched the
vessels making slow progress by oars, and some drawn with ropes by gangs
of men or horses on the shore, through the narrow straits. North and
South there nearly met. There was but a furlong of water between them.
If ever the North came down there the armies would cross. _There_ was
the key of the world. Excepting the few cottages where the owners of the
horses lived, there was neither castle nor town within twenty miles.

Forced on by these thoughts, he broke the long silence which had existed
between him and his father. He spoke of the value and importance of this
spot; could not the Baron send forth his retainers and enclose a new
estate there? There was nothing to prevent him. The forest was free to
all, provided that they rendered due service to the Prince. Might not a
house or castle built there become the beginning of a city? The Baron
listened, and then said he must go and see that a new hatch was put in
the brook to irrigate the water-meadow. That was all.

Felix next wrote an anonymous letter to the Prince pointing out the
value of the place. The Prince should seize it, and add to his power. He
knew that the letter was delivered, but there was no sign. It had
indeed, been read and laughed at. Why make further efforts when they
already had what they desired? One only, the deep and designing
Valentine, gave it serious thought in secret. It seemed to him that
something might come of it, another day, when he was himself in
power--if that should happen. But he, too, forgot it in a week. Some
secret effort was made to discover the writer, for the council were very
jealous of political opinion, but it soon ended. The idea, not being
supported by money or influence, fell into oblivion.

Felix worked on, chipping out the canoe. The days passed, and the boat
was nearly finished. In a day or two now it would be launched, and soon
afterwards he should commence his voyage. He should see Aurora once more
only. He should see her, but he should not say farewell; she would not
know that he was going till he had actually departed. As he thought thus
a dimness came before his eyes; his hand trembled, and he could not
work. He put down the chisel, and paused to steady himself.

Upon the other side of the stream, somewhat lower down, a yellow
wood-dog had been lapping the water to quench its thirst, watching the
man the while. So long as Felix was intent upon his work, the wild
animal had no fear; the moment he looked up, the creature sprang back
into the underwood. A dove was cooing in the forest not far distant, but
as he was about to resume work the cooing ceased. Then a wood-pigeon
rose from the ashes with a loud clapping of wings. Felix listened. His
hunter instinct told him that something was moving there. A rustling of
the bushes followed, and he took his spear which had been leant against
the adjacent tree. But, peering into the wood, in a moment he recognised
Oliver, who, having walked off his rage, was returning.

"I though it might have been a Bushman," said Felix, replacing his
spear; "only they are noiseless."

"Any of them might have cut me down," said Oliver; "for I forgot my
weapon. It is nearly noon; are you coming home to dinner?"

"Yes; I must bring my tools."

He put them in the basket, and together they returned to the rope
ladder. As they passed the Pen by the river they caught sight of the
Baron in the adjacent gardens, which were irrigated by his contrivances
from the stream, and went towards him. A retainer held two horses, one
gaily caparisoned, outside the garden; his master was talking with Sir
Constans.

"It is Lord John," said Oliver. They approached slowly under the
fruit-trees, not to intrude. Sir Constans was showing the courtier an
early cherry-tree, whose fruit was already set. The dry hot weather had
caused it to set even earlier than usual. A suit of black velvet, an
extremely expensive and almost unprocurable material, brought the
courtier's pale features into relief. It was only by the very oldest
families that any velvet or satin or similar materials were still
preserved; if these were in pecuniary difficulties they might sell some
part of their store, but such things were not to be got for money in the
ordinary way.

Two small silver bars across his left shoulder showed that he was a
lord-in-waiting. He was a handsome man, with clear-cut features,
somewhat rakish from late hours and dissipation, but not the less
interesting on that account. But his natural advantages were so over-run
with the affectation of the Court that you did not see the man at all,
being absorbed by the studied gesture to display the jewelled ring, and
the peculiarly low tone of voice in which it was the fashion to speak.

Beside the old warrior he looked a mere stripling. The Baron's arm was
bare, his sleeve rolled up; and as he pointed to the tree above, the
muscles, as the limb moved, displayed themselves in knots, at which the
courtier himself could not refrain from glancing. Those mighty arms, had
they clasped him about the waist, could have crushed his bending ribs.
The heaviest blow that he could have struck upon that broad chest would
have produced no more effect than a hollow sound; it would not even have
shaken that powerful frame.

He felt the steel blue eye, bright as the sky of midsummer, glance into
his very mind. The high forehead bare, for the Baron had his hat in his
hand, mocked at him in its humility. The Baron bared his head in honour
of the courtier's office and the Prince who had sent him. The beard,
though streaked with white, spoke little of age; it rather indicated an
abundant, a luxuriant vitality.

Lord John was not at ease. He shifted from foot to foot, and
occasionally puffed a large cigar of Devon tobacco. His errand was
simple enough. Some of the ladies at the Court had a fancy for fruit,
especially strawberries, but there were none in the market, nor to be
obtained from the gardens about the town. It was recollected that Sir
Constans was famous for his gardens, and the Prince despatched Lord John
to Old House with a gracious message and request for a basket of
strawberries. Sir Constans was much pleased; but he regretted that the
hot, dry weather had not permitted the fruit to come to any size or
perfection. Still there were some.

The courtier accompanied him to the gardens, and saw the water-wheel
which, turned by a horse, forced water from the stream into a small pond
or elevated reservoir, from which it irrigated the ground. This supply
of water had brought on the fruit, and Sir Constans was able to gather a
small basket. He then looked round to see what other early product he
could send to the palace. There was no other fruit; the cherries, though
set, were not ripe; but there was some asparagus, which had not yet been
served, said Lord John, at the Prince's table.

Sir Constans set men to hastily collect all that was ready, and while
this was done took the courtier over the gardens. Lord John felt no
interest whatever in such matters, but he could not choose but admire
the extraordinary fertility of the enclosure, and the variety of the
products. There was everything; fruit of all kinds, herbs of every
species, plots specially devoted to those possessing medicinal virtue.
This was only one part of the gardens; the orchards proper were farther
down, and the flowers nearer the house. Sir Constans had sent a man to
the flower-garden, who now returned with two fine bouquets, which were
presented to Lord John: the one for the Princess, the Prince's sister;
the other for any lady to whom he might choose to present it.

The fruit had already been handed to the retainer who had charge of the
horses. Though interested, in spite of himself, Lord John, acknowledging
the flowers, turned to go with a sense of relief. This simplicity of
manners seemed discordant to him. He felt out of place, and in some way
lowered in his own esteem, and yet he despised the rural retirement and
beauty about him.

Felix and Oliver, a few yards distant, were waiting with rising tempers.
The spectacle of the Baron in his native might of physique, humbly
standing, hat in hand, before this Court messenger, discoursing on
cherries, and offering flowers and fruit, filled them with anger and
disgust. The affected gesture and subdued voice of the courtier, on the
other hand, roused an equal contempt.

As Lord John turned, he saw them. He did not quite guess their
relationship, but supposed they were cadets of the house, it being
customary for those in any way connected to serve the head of the
family. He noted the flag basket in Felix's hand, and naturally imagined
that he had been at work.

"You have been to-to plough, eh?" he said, intending to be very gracious
and condescending. "Very healthy employment. The land requires some
rain, does it not? Still I trust it will not rain till I am home, for my
plume's sake," tossing his head. "Allow me," and as he passed he offered
Oliver a couple of cigars. "One each," he added; "the best Devon."

Oliver took the cigars mechanically, holding them as if they had been
vipers, at arm's length, till the courtier had left the garden, and the
hedge interposed. Then he threw them into the water-carrier. The best
tobacco, indeed the only real tobacco, came from the warm Devon land,
but little of it reached so far, on account of the distance, the
difficulties of intercourse, the rare occasions on which the merchant
succeeded in escaping the vexatious interference, the downright robbery
of the way. Intercourse was often entirely closed by war.

These cigars, therefore, were worth their weight in silver, and such
tobacco could be obtained only by those about the Court, as a matter of
favour, too, rather than by purchase. Lord John would, indeed, have
stared aghast had he seen the rustic to whom he had given so valuable a
present cast them into a ditch. He rode towards the Maple Gate, excusing
his haste volubly to Sir Constans, who was on foot, and walked beside
him a little way, pressing him to take some refreshment.

His sons overtook the Baron as he walked towards home, and walked by his
side in silence. Sir Constans was full of his fruit.

"The wall cherry," said he, "will soon have a few ripe."

Oliver swore a deep but soundless oath in his chest. Sir Constans
continued talking about his fruit and flowers, entirely oblivious of the
silent anger of the pair beside him. As they approached the house, the
warder blew his horn thrice for noon. It was also the signal for dinner.



CHAPTER VI

THE FOREST TRACK


When the canoe was finished, Oliver came to help Felix launch it, and
they rolled it on logs down to the place where the stream formed a pool.
But when it was afloat, as Oliver had foretold, it did not swim upright
in the water. It had not been shaped accurately, and one side was higher
out of the water than the other.

Felix was so disgusted at this failure that he would not listen to
anything Oliver could suggest. He walked back to the spot where he had
worked so many weeks, and sat down with his face turned from the pool.
It was not so much the actual circumstance which depressed him, as the
long train of untoward incidents which had preceded it for years past.
These seemed to have accumulated, till now this comparatively little
annoyance was like the last straw.

Oliver followed him, and said that the defect could be remedied by
placing ballast on the more buoyant side of the canoe to bring it down
to the level of the other; or, perhaps, if some more wood were cut away
on the heavier side, that it would cause it to rise. He offered to do
the work himself, but Felix, in his gloomy mood, would not answer him.
Oliver returned to the pool, and getting into the canoe, poled it up and
down the stream. It answered perfectly, and could be easily managed; the
defect was more apparent than real, for when a person sat in the canoe,
his weight seemed to bring it nearly level.

It was only when empty that it canted to one side. He came back again to
Felix, and pointed this out to him. The attempt was useless; the boat
might answer the purpose perfectly well, but it was not the boat Felix
had intended it to be. It did not come up to his ideal.

Oliver was now somewhat annoyed at Felix's sullen silence, so he drew
the canoe partly on shore, to prevent it from floating away, and then
left him to himself.

Nothing more was said about it for a day or two. Felix did not go near
the spot where he had worked so hard and so long, but on the Saturday
Philip came home as usual, and, as there was now no secret about the
canoe, went down to look at it with Oliver. They pushed it off, and
floated two or three miles down the stream, hauling it on the shore past
the fallen fir tree, and then, with a cord, towed it back again. The
canoe, with the exception of the trifling deficiency alluded to, was a
good one, and thoroughly serviceable.

They endeavoured again to restore Felix's opinion of it, and an idea
occurring to Philip, he said a capital plan would be to add an
outrigger, and so balance it perfectly. But though usually quick to
adopt ideas when they were good, in this case Felix was too much out of
conceit with himself. He would listen to nothing. Still, he could not
banish it from his mind, though now ashamed to return to it after so
obstinately refusing all suggestions. He wandered aimlessly about in the
woods, till one day he found himself in the path that led to Heron Bay.

Strolling to the shore of the great Lake, he sat down and watched a
vessel sailing afar off slowly before the east wind. The thought
presently occurred to him, that the addition of an outrigger in the
manner Philip had mentioned would enable him to carry a sail. The canoe
could not otherwise support a sail (unless a very small one merely for
going before the breeze), but with such a sail as the outrigger would
bear, he could venture much farther away from land, his voyage might be
much more extended, and his labour with the paddle lessened.

This filled him with fresh energy; he returned, and at once recommenced
work. Oliver, finding that he was again busy at it, came and insisted
upon assisting. With his help, the work progressed rapidly. He used the
tools so deftly as to accomplish more in an hour than Felix could in a
day. The outrigger consisted of a beam of poplar, sharpened at both
ends, and held at some six or seven feet from the canoe by two strong
cross-pieces.

A mast, about the same height as the canoe was long, was then set up; it
was made from a young fir-tree. Another smaller fir supplied the yard,
which extended fore and aft, nearly the length of the boat. The sail, of
coarse canvas, was not very high, but long, and rather broader at each
end where the rope attached it to the prow and stern, or, rather, the
two prows. Thus arranged, it was not so well suited for running straight
before the wind, as for working into it, a feat never attempted by the
ships of the time.

Oliver was delighted with the appearance of the boat, so much so that
now and then he announced his intention of accompanying Felix on his
voyage. But after a visit to the town, and a glance at the Princess
Lucia, his resolution changed. Yet he wavered, one time openly
reproaching himself for enduring such a life of inaction and ignominy,
and at another deriding Felix and his visionary schemes. The canoe was
now completed; it was tried on the pool and found to float exactly as it
should. It had now to be conveyed to Heron Bay.

The original intention was to put it on a cart, but the rude carts used
on the estate could not very well carry it, and a sledge was
substituted. Several times, during the journey through the forest, the
sledge had to be halted while the underwood was cut away to permit of
its passing; and once a slough had to be filled up with branches hewn
from fir trees, and bundles of fern. These delays made it evening before
the shore of the creek was reached.

It was but a little inlet, scarce a bowshot wide at the entrance and
coming to a point inland. Here the canoe was left in charge of three
serfs, who were ordered to build a hut and stay beside it. Some
provisions were sent next day on the backs of other serfs, and in the
afternoon (it was Saturday) all three brothers arrived; the canoe was
launched, and they started for a trial sail. With a south wind they ran
to the eastward at a rapid pace, keeping close to the shore till within
a mile of White Horse.

There they brought to by steering the canoe dead against the wind; then
transferring the steering-paddle (a rather large one, made for the
purpose) to the other end, and readjusting the sail, the outrigger being
still to leeward, they ran back at an equal speed. The canoe answered
perfectly, and Felix was satisfied. He now despatched his tools and
various weapons to the hut to be put on board. His own peculiar yew bow
he kept to the last at home; it and his chest bound with hide would go
with him on the last day.

Although, in his original purpose, Felix had designed to go forth
without anyone being aware of his intention, the circumstances which had
arisen, and the necessary employment of so many men, had let out the
secret to some degree. The removal of the tools and weapons, the
crossbow, darts, and spear, still more attracted attention. But little
or nothing was said about it, though the Baron and Baroness could not
help but observe these preparations. The Baron deliberately shut his
eyes and went about his gardening; he was now, too, busy with the first
mowing. In his heart, perhaps, he felt that he had not done altogether
right in so entirely retiring from the world.

By doing so he had condemned his children to loneliness, and to be
regarded with contempt. Too late now, he could only obstinately persist
in his course. The Baroness, inured for so many, many years to
disappointment, had contracted her view of life till it scarcely
extended beyond mere physical comfort. Nor could she realize the idea of
Felix's approaching departure; when he was actually gone, it would,
perhaps, come home to her.

All was now ready, and Felix was only waiting for the Feast of St. James
to pay a last visit to Aurora at Thyma Castle. The morning before the
day of the Feast, Felix and Oliver set out together. They had not lived
altogether in harmony, but now, at this approaching change, Oliver felt
that he must bear Felix company. Oliver rode his beautiful Night, he
wore his plumed hat and precious sword, and carried his horseman's
lance. Felix rode a smaller horse, useful, but far from handsome. He
carried his yew bow and hunting knife.

Thyma Castle was situated fifteen miles to the south; it was the last
outpost of civilization; beyond it there was nothing but forest, and the
wild open plains, the home of the gipsies. This circumstance of position
had given Baron Thyma, in times past, a certain importance more than was
due to the size of his estate or the number of his retainers. During an
invasion of the gipsies, his castle bore the brunt of the war, and its
gallant defence, indeed, broke their onward progress. So many fell in
endeavouring to take it, that the rest were disheartened, and only
scattered bands penetrated beyond.

For this service the Baron received the grant of various privileges; he
was looked on as a pillar of the State, and was welcome at the court.
But it proved an injury to him in the end. His honours, and the high
society they led him into, were too great for the comparative smallness
of his income. Rich in flocks and herds, he had but little coin.
High-spirited, and rather fond of display, he could not hold back; he
launched forth, with the usual result of impoverishment, mortgage, and
debt.

He had hoped to obtain the command of an army in the wars that broke out
from time to time; it was, indeed, universally admitted that he was in
every respect qualified for such a post. The courtiers and others,
however, jealous, as is ever the case, of ability and real talent,
debarred him by their intrigues from attaining his object. Pride
prevented him from acquiescing in this defeat; he strove by display and
extravagance to keep himself well to the front, flaunting himself before
the eyes of all. This course could not last long; he was obliged to
retire to his estate, which narrowly escaped forfeiture to his
creditors.

So ignominious an end after such worthy service was, however, prevented
by the personal interference of the old Prince, who, from his private
resources, paid off the most pressing creditors. To the last, the old
Prince received him as a friend, and listened to his counsel. Thyma was
ever in hopes that some change in the balance of parties would give him
his opportunity. When the young Prince succeeded, he was clever enough
to see that the presence of such men about his Court gave it a
stability, and he, too, invited Thyma to tender his advice. The Baron's
hopes now rose higher than ever, but again he was disappointed.

The new Prince, himself incapable, disliked and distrusted talent. The
years passed, and the Baron obtained no appointment. Still he strained
his resources to the utmost to visit the Court as often as possible;
still he believed that sooner or later a turn of the wheel would elevate
him.

There had existed between the houses of Thyma and Aquila the bond of
hearth-friendship; the gauntlets, hoofs, and rings were preserved by
both, and the usual presents passed thrice a year, at midsummer,
Christmas, and Lady-day. Not much personal intercourse had taken place,
however, for some years, until Felix was attracted by the beauty of the
Lady Aurora. Proud, showy, and pushing, Thyma could not understand the
feelings which led his hearth-friend to retire from the arena and busy
himself with cherries and water-wheels. On the other hand, Constans
rather looked with quiet derision on the ostentation of the other. Thus
there was a certain distance, as it were, between them.

Baron Thyma could not, of course, be ignorant of the attachment between
his daughter and Felix; yet as much as possible he ignored it. He never
referred to Felix; if his name was incidentally mentioned, he remained
silent. The truth was, he looked higher for Lady Aurora. He could not in
courtesy discourage even in the faintest manner the visits of his
friend's son; the knightly laws of honour would have forbidden so mean a
course. Nor would his conscience permit him to do so, remembering the
old days when he and the Baron were glad companions together, and how
the Baron Aquila was the first to lead troops to his assistance in the
gipsy war. Still, he tacitly disapproved; he did not encourage.

Felix felt that he was not altogether welcome; he recognised the sense
of restraint that prevailed when he was present. It deeply hurt his
pride, and nothing but his love for Aurora could have enabled him to
bear up against it. The galling part of it was that he could not in his
secret heart condemn the father for evidently desiring a better alliance
for his child. This was the strongest of the motives that had determined
him to seek the unknown.

If anything, the Baron would have preferred Oliver as a suitor for his
daughter; he sympathized with Oliver's fiery spirit, and admired his
feats of strength and dexterity with sword and spear. He had always
welcomed Oliver heartily, and paid him every attention. This, to do
Oliver justice, was one reason why he determined to accompany his
brother, thinking that if he was there he could occupy attention, and
thus enable Felix to have more opportunity to speak with Aurora.

The two rode forth from the courtyard early in the morning, and passing
through the whole length of the enclosure within the stockade, issued at
the South Barrier and almost immediately entered the forest. They rather
checked their horses' haste, fresh as the animals were from the stable,
but could not quite control their spirits, for the walk of a horse is
even half as fast again while he is full of vigour. The turn of the
track soon shut out the stockade; they were alone in the woods.

Long since, early as they were, the sun had dried the dew, for his beams
warm the atmosphere quickly as the spring advances towards summer. But
it was still fresh and sweet among the trees, and even Felix, though
bound on so gloomy an errand, could not choose but feel the joyous
influence of the morning. Oliver sang aloud in his rich deep voice, and
the thud, thud of the horses' hoofs kept time to the ballad.

The thrushes flew but a little way back from the path as they passed,
and began to sing again directly they were by. The whistling of
blackbirds came from afar where there were open glades or a running
stream; the notes of the cuckoo became fainter and fainter as they
advanced farther from the stockade, for the cuckoo likes the woodlands
that immediately border on cultivation. For some miles the track was
broad, passing through thickets of thorn and low hawthorn-trees with
immense masses of tangled underwood between, brambles and woodbine
twisted and matted together, impervious above but hollow beneath; under
these they could hear the bush-hens running to and fro and scratching at
the dead leaves which strewed the ground. Sounds of clucking deeper in
betrayed the situation of their nests.

Rushes, and the dead sedges of last year, up through which the green
fresh leaves were thrusting themselves, in some places stood beside the
way, fringing the thorns where the hollow ground often held the water
from rainstorms. Out from these bushes a rabbit occasionally started and
bounded across to the other side. Here, where there were so few trees,
and the forest chiefly consisted of bush, they could see some distance
on either hand, and also a wide breadth of the sky. After a time the
thorn bushes were succeeded by ash wood, where the trees stood closer to
the path, contracting the view; it was moister here, the hoofs cut into
the grass, which was coarse and rank. The trees growing so close
together destroyed themselves, their lower branches rubbed together and
were killed, so that in many spots the riders could see a long way
between the trunks.

Every time the wind blew they could hear a distant cracking of branches
as the dead boughs, broken by the swaying of the trees, fell off and
came down. Had any one attempted to walk into the forest there they
would have sunk above the ankle in soft decaying wood, hidden from sight
by thick vegetation. Wood-pigeons rose every minute from these ash-trees
with a loud clatter of wings; their calls resounded continually, now
deep in the forest, and now close at hand. It was evident that a large
flock of them had their nesting-place here, and indeed their nests of
twigs could be frequently seen from the path. There seemed no other
birds.

Again the forest changed, and the track, passing on higher ground,
entered among firs. These, too, had killed each other by growing so
thickly; the lower branches of many were dead, and there was nothing but
a little green at the tops, while in many places there was an open space
where they had decayed away altogether. Brambles covered the ground in
these open places, brambles and furze now bright with golden blossom.
The jays screeched loudly, startled as the riders passed under them, and
fluttered away; rabbits, which they saw again here, dived into their
burrows. Between the first the track was very narrow, and they could not
conveniently ride side by side; Oliver took the lead, and Felix
followed.



CHAPTER VII

THE FOREST TRACK CONTINUED


Once as they trotted by a pheasant rose screaming from the furze and
flew before them down the track. Just afterwards Felix, who had been
previously looking very carefully into the firs upon his right hand,
suddenly stopped, and Oliver, finding this, pulled up as quickly as he
could, thinking that Felix wished to tighten his girth.

"What is it?" he asked, turning round in his saddle.

"Hush!" said Felix, dismounting; his horse, trained to hunting, stood
perfectly still, and would have remained within a few yards of the spot
by the hour together. Oliver reined back, seeing Felix about to bend and
string his bow.

"Bushmen," whispered Felix, as he, having fitted the loop to the horn
notch, drew forth an arrow from his girdle, where he carried two or
three more ready to hand than in the quiver on his shoulder. "I thought
I saw signs of them some time since, and now I am nearly sure. Stay here
a moment."

He stepped aside from the track in among the firs, which just there were
far apart, and went to a willow bush standing by some furze. He had
noticed that one small branch on the outer part of the bush was snapped
off, though green, and only hung by the bark. The wood cattle, had they
browsed upon it, would have nibbled the tenderest leaves at the end of
the bough; nor did they usually touch willow, for the shoots are bitter
and astringent. Nor would the deer touch it in the spring, when they had
so wide a choice of food.

Nothing could have broken the branch in that manner unless it was the
hand of a man, or a blow with a heavy stick wielded by a human hand. On
coming to the bush he saw that the fracture was very recent, for the
bough was perfectly green; it had not turned brown, and the bark was
still soft with sap. It had not been cut with a knife or any sharp
instrument; it had been broken by rude violence, and not divided. The
next thing to catch his eye was the appearance of a larger branch
farther inside the bush.

This was not broken, but a part of the bark was abraded, and even torn
up from the wood as if by the impact of some hard substance, as a stone
thrown with great force. He examined the ground, but there was no stone
visible, and on again looking at the bark he concluded that it had not
been done with a stone at all, because the abraded portion was not cut.
The blow had been delivered by something without edges or projections.
He had now no longer any doubt that the lesser branch outside had been
broken, and the large inside branch bruised, by the passage of a
Bushman's throw-club.

These, their only missile weapons, are usually made of crab-tree, and
consist of a very thin short handle, with a large, heavy, and smooth
knob. With these they can bring down small game, as rabbits or hares, or
a fawn (even breaking the legs of deer), or the large birds, as the
wood-turkeys. Stealing up noiselessly within ten yards, the Bushman
throws his club with great force, and rarely misses his aim. If not
killed at once, the game is certain to be stunned, and is much more
easily secured than if wounded with an arrow, for with an arrow in its
wing a large bird will flutter along the ground, and perhaps creep into
sedges or under impenetrable bushes.

Deprived of motion by the blow of the club, it can, on the other hand,
be picked up without trouble and without the aid of a dog, and if not
dead is despatched by a twist of the Bushman's fingers or a thrust from
his spud. The spud is at once his dagger, his knife and fork, his
chisel, his grub-axe, and his gouge. It is a piece of iron (rarely or
never of steel, for he does not know how to harden it) about ten inches
long, an inch and a half wide at the top or broadest end, where it is
shaped and sharpened like a chisel, only with the edge not straight but
sloping, and from thence tapering to a point at the other, the pointed
part being four-sided, like a nail.

It has, indeed, been supposed that the original spud was formed from a
large wrought-iron nail, such as the ancients used, sharpened on a stone
at one end, and beaten out flat at the other. This instrument has a
handle in the middle, half-way between the chisel end and the point. The
handle is of horn or bone (the spud being put through the hollow of the
bone), smoothed to fit the hand. With the chisel end he cuts up his game
and his food; the edge, being sloping, is drawn across the meat and
divides it. With this end, too, he fashions his club and his traps, and
digs up the roots he uses. The other end he runs into his meat as a
fork, or thrusts it into the neck of his game to kill it and let out the
blood, or with it stabs a sleeping enemy.

The stab delivered by the Bushman can always be distinguished, because
the wound is invariably square, and thus a clue only too certain has
often been afforded to the assassin of many an unfortunate hunter.
Whatever the Bushman in this case had hurled his club at, the club had
gone into the willow bush, snapping the light branch and leaving its
mark upon the bark of the larger. A moment's reflection convinced Felix
that the Bushman had been in chase of a pheasant. Only a few moments
previously a pheasant had flown before them down the track, and where
there was one pheasant there were generally several more in the
immediate neighbourhood.

The Bushmen were known to be peculiarly fond of the pheasant, pursuing
them all the year round without reference to the breeding season, and so
continuously, that it was believed they caused these birds to be much
less numerous, notwithstanding the vast extent of the forests, than they
would otherwise have been. From the fresh appearance of the snapped
bough, the Bushman must have passed but a few hours previously, probably
at the dawn, and was very likely concealed at that moment near at hand
in the forest, perhaps within a hundred yards.

Felix looked carefully round, but could see nothing; there were the
trees, not one of them large enough to hide a man behind it, the furze
branches were small and scattered, and there was not sufficient fern to
conceal anything. The keenest glance could discern nothing more. There
were no footmarks on the ground, indeed, the dry, dead leaves and fir
needles could hardly have received any impression, and up in the firs
the branches were thin, and the sky could be seen through them. Whether
the Bushman was lying in some slight depression of the ground, or
whether he had covered himself with dead leaves and fir needles, or
whether he had gone on and was miles away, there was nothing to show.
But of the fact that he had been there Felix was perfectly certain.

He returned towards Oliver, thoughtful and not without some anxiety, for
he did not like the idea (though there was really little or no danger)
of these human wild beasts being so near Aurora, while he should so soon
be far away. Thus occupied he did not heed his steps, and suddenly felt
something soft under his feet, which struggled. Instantaneously he
sprang as far as he could, shuddering, for he had crushed an adder, and
but just escaped, by his involuntary and mechanical leap, from its
venom.

In the warm sunshine the viper, in its gravid state, had not cared to
move as usual on hearing his approach; he had stepped full upon it. He
hastened from the spot, and rejoined Oliver in a somewhat shaken state
of mind. Common as such an incident was in the woods, where sandy soil
warned the hunter to be careful, it seemed ominous that particular
morning, and, joined with the discovery of Bushman traces, quite
destroyed his sense of the beauty of the day.

On hearing the condition of the willow boughs Oliver agreed as to the
cause, and said that they must remember to warn the Baron's shepherds
that the Bushmen, who had not been seen for some time, were about. Soon
afterwards they emerged from the sombre firs and crossed a wide and
sloping ground, almost bare of trees, where a forest fire last year had
swept away the underwood. A verdant growth of grass was now springing
up. Here they could canter side by side. The sunshine poured down, and
birds were singing joyously. But they soon passed it, and checked their
speed on entering the trees again.

Tall beeches, with round smooth trunks, stood thick and close upon the
dry and rising ground; their boughs met overhead, forming a green
continuous arch for miles. The space between was filled with brake fern,
now fast growing up, and the track itself was green with moss. As they
came into this beautiful place a red stag, startled from his browsing,
bounded down the track, his swift leaps carried him away like the wind;
in another moment he left the path and sprang among the fern, and was
seen only in glimpses as he passed between the beeches. Squirrels ran up
the trunks as they approached; they could see many on the ground in
among the trees, and passed under others on the branches high above
them. Woodpeckers flashed across the avenue.

Once Oliver pointed out the long, lean flank of a grey pig, or fern-hog,
as the animal rushed away among the brake. There were several glades,
from one of which they startled a few deer, whose tails only were seen
as they bounded into the underwood, but after the glades came the
beeches again. Beeches always form the most beautiful forest, beeches
and oak; and though nearing the end of their journey, they regretted
when they emerged from these trees and saw the castle before them.

The ground suddenly sloped down into a valley, beyond which rose the
Downs; the castle stood on a green isolated low hill, about half-way
across the vale. To the left a river wound past; to the right the beech
forest extended as far as the eye could see. The slope at their feet had
been cleared of all but a few hawthorn bushes. It was not enclosed, but
a neatherd was there with his cattle half a mile away, sitting himself
at the foot of a beech, while the cattle grazed below him.

Down in the valley the stockade began; it was not wide but long. The
enclosure extended on the left to the bank of the river, and two fields
on the other side of it. On the right it reached a mile and a half or
nearly, the whole of which was overlooked from the spot where they had
passed. Within the enclosures the corn crops were green and flourishing;
horses and cattle, ricks and various buildings, were scattered about it.
The town or cottages of the serfs were on the bank of the river
immediately beyond the castle. On the Downs, which rose a mile or more
on the other side of the castle, sheep were feeding; part of the ridge
was wooded and part open. Thus the cultivated and enclosed valley was
everywhere shut in with woods and hills.

The isolated round hill on which the castle stood was itself enclosed
with a second stockade; the edge of the brow above that again was
defended by a stout high wall of flints and mortar, crenellated at the
top. There were no towers or bastions. An old and ivy-grown building
stood inside the wall; it dated from the time of the ancients; it had
several gables, and was roofed with tiles. This was the dwelling-house.
The gardens were situated on the slope between the wall and the inner
stockade. Peaceful as the scene appeared, it had been the site of
furious fighting not many years ago. The Downs trended to the south,
where the Romany and the Zingari resided, and a keen watch was kept both
from the wall and from the hills beyond.

They now rode slowly down the slope, and in a few minutes reached the
barrier or gateway in the outer stockade. They had been observed, and
the guard called by the warden, but as they approached were recognised,
and the gate swang open before them. Walking their horses they crossed
to the hill, and were as easily admitted to the second enclosure. At the
gate of the wall they dismounted, and waited while the warden carried
the intelligence of their arrival to the family. A moment later, and the
Baron's son advanced from the porch, and from the open window the
Baroness and Aurora beckoned to them.



CHAPTER VIII

THYMA CASTLE


Soon afterwards the hollow sound of the warden's horn, from the watch
over the gate of the wall, proclaimed the hour of noon, and they all
assembled for dinner in the banqueting chamber. The apartment was on the
ground floor, and separated from the larger hall only by an internal
wall. The house, erected in the time of the ancients, was not designed
for our present style of life; it possessed, indeed, many comforts and
conveniences which are scarcely now to be found in the finest palaces,
but it lacked the breadth of construction which our architects have now
in view.

In the front there were originally only two rooms, extensive for those
old days, but not sufficiently so for ours. One of these had therefore
been enlarged, by throwing into it a back room and part of the entrance,
and even then it was not long enough for the Baron's retainers, and at
feast-time a wooden shed was built opposite, and up to the window, to
continue, as it were, the apartment out of doors. Workmen were busy
putting up this shed when they arrived.

The second apartment retained its ancient form, and was used as the
dining-room on ordinary days. It was lighted by a large window, now
thrown wide open that the sweet spring air might enter, which window was
the pride of the Baroness, for it contained more true glass than any
window in the palace of the Prince. The glass made now is not
transparent, but merely translucent; it indeed admits light after a
fashion, but it is thick and cannot be seen through. These panes were
almost all (the central casement wholly) of ancient glass, preserved
with the greatest care through the long years past.

Three tables were arranged in an open square; the Baron and Baroness's
chairs of oak faced the window, the guests sat at the other tables
sideways to them, the servants moved on the outer side, and thus placed
the food before them without pushing against or incommoding them. A
fourth table was placed in a corner between the fireplace and the
window. At it sat the old nurse, the housekeeper (frequently arising to
order the servants), and the Baron's henchman, who had taught him to
ride, but now, grey and aged, could not mount himself without
assistance, and had long ceased from active service.

Already eight or nine guests had arrived besides Felix and Oliver. Some
had ridden a great distance to be present at the House Day. They were
all nobles, richly dressed; one or two of the eldest were wealthy and
powerful men, and the youngest was the son and heir of the Earl of
Essiton, who was then the favourite at Court. Each had come with his
personal attendants; the young Lord Durand brought with him twenty-five
retainers, and six gentlemen friends, all of whom were lodged in the
town, the gentlemen taking their meals at the castle at the same time as
the Baron, but, owing to lack of room, in another apartment by
themselves. Durand was placed, or rather, quietly helped himself to a
seat, next to the Lady Aurora, and of all the men there present,
certainly there was none more gallant and noble than he.

His dark eyes, his curling hair short but brought in a thick curl over
his forehead, his lips well shaped, his chin round and somewhat
prominent, the slight moustache (no other hair on the face), formed the
very ideal of what many women look for in a man. But it was his bright,
lively conversation, the way in which his slightly swarthy complexion
flushed with animation, the impudent assurance and yet generous warmth
of his manner, and, indeed, of his feelings, which had given him the
merited reputation of being the very flower of the nobles.

With such a reputation, backed with the great wealth and power of his
father, gentlemen competed with each other to swell his train; he could
not, indeed, entertain all that came, and was often besieged with almost
as large a crowd as the Prince himself. He took as his right the chair
next to Aurora, to whom, indeed, he had been paying unremitting
attention all the morning. She was laughing heartily as she sat down, at
some sally of his upon a beauty at the Court.

The elder men were placed highest up the tables, and nearest the host,
but to the astonishment of all, and not the least of himself, Oliver was
invited by the Baron to sit by his side. Oliver could not understand
this special mark of favour; the others, though far too proud for a
moment to resent what they might have deemed a slight upon them, at once
began to search their minds for a reason. They knew the Baron as an old
intriguer; they attached a meaning, whether intended or not, to his
smallest action.

Felix, crowded out, as it were, and unnoticed, was forced to take his
seat at the end of the table nearest that set apart in the corner for
the aged and honoured servitors of the family. Only a few feet
intervened between him and ancient henchmen; and he could not but
overhear their talk among themselves, whispered as it was. He had merely
shaken hands with Aurora; the crowd in the drawing-room and the marked
attentions of Durand had prevented the exchange of a single word between
them. As usual, the sense of neglect and injury over which he had so
long brooded with little or no real cause (considering, of course, his
position, and that the world can only see our coats and not our hearts),
under these entirely accidental circumstances rose up again within him,
and blinded him to the actual state of things.

His seat, the lowest, and the nearest to the servitors, was in itself a
mark of the low estimation in which he was held. The Lord Durand had
been placed next to Aurora, as a direct encouragement to him, and a
direct hint to himself not to presume. Doubtless, Durand had been at the
castle many times, not improbably already been accepted by the Baron,
and not altogether refused by Aurora. As a fact, though delighted with
her beauty and conversation, Durand's presence was entirely due to the
will of his father, the Earl, who wished to maintain friendly relations
with Baron Thyma, and even then he would not have come had not the
lovely weather invited him to ride into the forest.

It was, however, so far true, that though his presence was accidental,
yet he was fast becoming fascinated by one who, girl though she was, was
stronger in mind than he. Now Aurora, knowing that he father's eye was
on her, dared not look towards Felix, lest by an open and pronounced
conduct she should be the cause of his being informed that his presence
was not desirable. She knew that the Baron only needed a pretext to
interfere, and was anxious to avoid offering him a chance.

Felix, seeing her glance bent downwards or towards her companion, and
never all the time turned to him, not unnaturally, but too hastily,
concluded that she had been dazzled by Durand and the possibility of an
alliance with his powerful family. He was discarded, worthless, and of
no account; he had nothing but his sword; nay, he had not a sword, he
was only an archer, a footman. Angry, jealous, and burning with inward
annoyance, despising himself since all others despised him, scarce able
to remain at the table, Felix was almost beside himself, and did not
answer nor heed the remarks of the gentlemen sitting by him, who put him
down as an ill-bred churl.

For the form's sake, indeed, he put his lips to the double-handled cup
of fine ale, which continually circulated round the table, and was never
allowed to be put down; one servant had nothing else to do but to see
that its progress never stopped. But he drank nothing, and ate nothing;
he could not swallow. How visionary, how weak and feeble now seemed the
wild scheme of the canoe and his proposed voyage! Even should it
succeed, years must elapse before he could accomplish anything
substantial; while here were men who really had what he could only think
of or imagine.

The silver chain or sword-belt of Durand (the sword and the dagger were
not worn at the banquet, nor in the house, they were received by the
marshal, and deposited in his care, a precaution against quarrelling),
solid silver links passing over his shoulder, were real actual things.
All the magnificence that he could call up by the exercise of his
imagination, was but imagination; a dream no more to be seen by others
than the air itself.

The dinner went on, and the talk became more noisy. The trout, the
chicken, the thyme lamb (trapped on the hills by the shepherds), the
plover eggs, the sirloin, the pastry (the Baroness superintended the
making of it herself), all the profusion of the table, rather set him
against food than tempted him. Nor could he drink the tiny drop, as it
were, of ancient brandy, sent round to each guest at the conclusion,
precious as liquid gold, for it had been handed down from the ancients,
and when once the cask was empty it could not be re-filled.

The dessert, the strawberries, the nuts and walnuts, carefully preserved
with a little salt, and shaken in the basket from time to time that they
might not become mouldy, the apples, the honey in the comb with slices
of white bread, nothing pleased him. Nor did he drink, otherwise than
the sip demanded by courtesy, of the thin wine of Gloucester, costly as
it was, grown in the vineyard there, and shipped across the Lake, and
rendered still more expensive by risk of pirates. This was poured into
flagons of maple wood, which, like the earthenware cup of ale, were
never allowed to touch the board till the dinner was over.

Wearily the time went on; Felix glanced more and more often at the sky
seen through the casement, eagerly desiring to escape, and at least to
be alone. At last (how long it seemed!) the Baron rose, and immediately
the rest did the same, and they drank the health of the Prince. Then a
servitor brought in a pile of cigars upon a carved wooden tray, like a
large platter, but with a rim. "These," said the Baron, again rising
(the signal to all to cease conversing and to listen), "are a present
from my gracious and noble friend the Earl of Essiton" (he looked
towards Durand), "not less kindly carried by Lord Durand. I could have
provided only our own coarse tobacco; but these are the best Devon."

The ladies now left the table, Aurora escorted by Durand, the Baroness
by Oliver. Oliver, indeed, was in the highest spirits; he had eaten
heartily of all; especially the sweet thyme lamb, and drunk as freely.
He was in his element, his laugh the loudest, his talk the liveliest.
Directly Durand returned (he had gone even a part of the way upstairs
towards the drawing-room with Aurora, a thing a little against
etiquette) he took his chair, formality being now at an end, and placed
it by Oliver. They seemed to become friends at once by sympathy of mind
and taste.

Round them the rest gradually grouped themselves, so that presently
Felix, who did not move, found himself sitting alone at the extreme end
of the table; quite apart, for the old retainers, who dined at the
separate table, had quitted the apartment when the wine was brought in.
Freed from the restraint of the ladies, the talk now became extremely
noisy, the blue smoke from the long cigars filled the great apartment;
one only remained untouched, that placed before Felix. Suddenly it
struck him that thus sitting alone and apart, he should attract
attention; he, therefore, drew his chair to the verge of the group, but
remained silent, and as far off as ever. Presently the arrival of five
more guests caused a stir and confusion, in the midst of which he
escaped into the open air.

He wandered towards the gate of the wall, passing the wooden shed where
the clink of hammers resounded, glanced at the sundial, which showed the
hour of three (three weary hours had they feasted), and went out into
the gardens. Still going on, he descended the slope, and not much
heeding whither he was going, took the road that led into town. It
consisted of some hundred or more houses, built of wood and thatched,
placed without plan or arrangement on the bank of the stream. Only one
long street ran through it, the rest were mere by-ways.

All these were inhabited by the Baron's retainers, but the number and
apparently small extent of the houses did not afford correct data for
the actual amount of the population. In these days the people (as is
well known) find much difficulty in marrying; it seems only possible for
a certain proportion to marry, and hence there are always a great number
of young or single men out of all ratio to the houses. At the sound of
the bugle the Baron could reckon on at least three hundred men flocking
without a minute's delay to man the wall; in an hour more would arrive
from the outer places, and by nightfall, if the summons went forth in
the morning, his shepherds and swineherds would arrive, and these
together would add some hundred and fifty to the garrison.

Next must be reckoned the armed servants of the house, the Baron's
personal attendants, the gentlemen who formed his train, his sons and
the male relations of the family; these certainly were not less than
fifty. Altogether over five hundred men, well armed and accustomed to
the use of their weapons, would range themselves beneath his banner. Two
of the buildings in he town were of brick (the material carried hither,
for there was no clay or stone thereabouts); they were not far apart.
The one was the Toll House, where all merchants or traders paid the
charges in corn or kind due to the Baron; the other was the Court House,
where he sat to administer justice and decide causes, or to send the
criminal to the gibbet.

These alone of the buildings were of any age, for the wooden houses were
extremely subject to destruction by fire, and twice in the Baron's time
half the town had been laid in ashes, only to rise again in a few weeks.
Timber was so abundant and so ready of access, it seemed a loss of
labour to fetch stone or brick, or to use the flints of the hills. About
the doors of the two inns there were gathered groups of people; among
them the liveries of the nobles visiting the castle were conspicuous;
the place was full of them, the stables were filled, and their horses
were picketed under the trees and even in the street.

Every minute the numbers increased as others arrived; men, too (who had
obtained permission of their lords), came in on foot, ten or twelve
travelling together for mutual protection, for the feuds of their
masters exposed them to frequent attack. All (except the nobles) were
disarmed at the barrier by the warden and guard, that peace might be
preserved in the enclosure. The folk at the moment he passed were
watching the descent of three covered waggons from the forest track, in
which were travelling the ladies of as many noble families.

Some, indeed, of the youngest and boldest ride on horseback, but the
ladies chiefly move in these waggons, which are fitted up with
considerable comfort, and are necessary to sleep in when the camp is
formed by the wayside at night. None noticed him as he went by, except a
group of three cottage girls, and a serving-woman, an attendant of a
lady visitor at the castle. He heard them allude to him; he quickened
his pace, but heard one say, "He's nobody; he hasn't even got a horse."

"Yes he is," replied the serving-woman; "he's Oliver's brother; and I
can tell you my lord Oliver is somebody; the Princess Lucia--" and she
made the motion of kissing with her lips. Felix, ashamed and annoyed to
the last degree, stepped rapidly from the spot. The serving-woman,
however, was right in a measure; the real or supposed favour shown
Oliver by the Prince's sister, the Duchess of Deverell, had begun to be
bruited abroad, and this was the secret reason why the Baron had shown
Oliver so much and so marked an attention, even more than he had paid to
Lord Durand.

Full well he knew the extraordinary influence possessed by ladies of
rank and position. From what we can learn out of the scanty records of
the past, it was so even in the days of the ancients; it is a
hundredfold more so in these times, when, although every noble must of
necessity be taught to read and write, as a matter of fact the men do
neither, but all the correspondence of kings and princes, and the
diplomatic documents, and notices, and so forth, are one and all, almost
without a single exception, drawn up by women. They know the secret and
hidden motives of courts, and have this great advantage, that they can
use their knowledge without personal fear, since women are never
seriously interfered with, but are protected by all.

The one terrible and utterly shameful instance to the contrary had not
occurred at the time of which we are now speaking, and it was and is
still repudiated by every man, from the knight to the boys who gather
acorns for the swine. Oliver himself had no idea whatever that he was
regarded as a favourite lover of the Duchess; he took the welcome that
was held out to him as perfectly honest. Plain, straightforward, and
honest, Oliver, had he been openly singled out by a queen, would have
scorned to give himself an air for such a reason. But the Baron, deep in
intrigue this many a year, looked more profoundly into the possibilities
of the future when he kept the young knight at his side.



CHAPTER IX

SUPERSTITIONS


Felix was now outside the town and alone in the meadow which bordered
the stream; he knelt, and drank from it with the hollow of his hand. He
was going to ascend the hill beyond, and had already reached the barrier
upon that side, when he recollected that etiquette demanded the presence
of the guests at meal-times, and it was now the hour for tea. He
hastened back, and found the courtyard of the castle crowded. Within,
the staircase leading to the Baroness's chamber (where tea was served)
could scarcely be ascended, what with the ladies and their courtiers,
the long trains of the serving-women, the pages winding their way in and
out, the servants endeavouring to pass, the slender pet greyhounds, the
inseparable companions of their mistresses.

By degrees, and exercising patience, he gained the upper floor and
entered the drawing-room. The Baroness alone sat at the table, the
guests wheresoever they chose, or chance carried them; for the most part
they stood, or leaned against the recess of the open window. Of tea
itself there was none; there had been no tea to be had for love or money
these fifty years past, and, indeed, its use would have been forgotten,
and the name only survived, had not some small quantities been yet
preserved and brought out on rare occasions at the palaces. Instead,
there was chicory prepared from the root of the plant, grown for the
purpose; fresh milk; fine ale and mead; and wine from Gloucester.
Butter, honey, and cake were also on the table.

The guests helped themselves, or waited till the servants came to them
with wooden carved trays. The particular characteristic of tea is the
freedom from restraint; it is not considered necessary to sit as at
dinner or supper, nor to do as others do; each pleases himself, and
there is no ceremony. Yet, although so near Aurora, Felix did not
succeed in speaking to her; Durand still engaged her attention whenever
other ladies were not talking with her. Felix found himself, exactly as
at dinner-time, quite outside the circle. There was a buzz of
conversation around, but not a word of it was addressed to him. Dresses
brushed against him, but the fair owners were not concerned even to
acknowledge his existence.

Pushed by the jostling crowd aside from the centre of the floor, Felix
presently sat down, glad to rest at last, behind the open door.
Forgotten, he forgot; and, looking as it were out of the present in a
bitter reverie, scarcely knew where he was, except at moments when he
heard the well-known and loved voice of Aurora. A servant after a while
came to him with a tray; he took some honey and bread. Almost
immediately afterwards another servant came and presented him with a
plate, on which was a cup of wine, saying, "With my lady's loving
wishes."

As in duty bound, he rose and bowed to the Baroness; she smiled and
nodded; the circle which had looked to see who was thus honoured, turned
aside again, not recognising him. To send a guest a plate with wine or
food is the highest mark of esteem, and this plate in especial was of
almost priceless value, as Felix saw when his confusion had abated. It
was of the ancient china, now not to be found in even the houses of the
great.

In all that kingdom but five perfect plates were known to exist, and two
of these were at the palace. They are treasured as heirlooms, and, if
ever broken, can never be replaced. The very fragments are rare; they
are often set in panels, and highly prized. The Baroness, glancing round
her court, had noticed at last the young man sitting in the obscure
corner behind the door; she remembered, not without some twinge of
conscience, that his house was their ancient ally and sworn
hearth-friend.

She knew, far better than the Baron, how deeply her daughter loved him;
better, perhaps, even than Aurora herself. She, too, naturally hoped a
higher alliance for Aurora; yet she was a true woman, and her heart was
stronger than her ambition. The trifle of the wine was, of course,
nothing; but it was open and marked recognition. She expected that Felix
(after his wont in former times, before love or marriage was thought of
for Aurora) would have come upon this distinct invitation, and taken his
stand behind her, after the custom. But as he did not come, fresh guests
and the duties of hospitality distracted her attention, and she again
forgot him.

He was, indeed, more hurt than pleased with the favour that had been
shown him; it seemed to him (though really prompted by the kindest
feeling) like a bone cast at a dog. He desired to be so regarded that no
special mark of favour should be needed. It simply increased his
discontent. The evening wore on, the supper began; how weary it seemed
to him, that long and jovial supper, with the ale that ran in a
continual stream, the wine that ceaselessly circled round, the jokes,
and bustle, and laughter, the welcome to guests arriving; the cards, and
chess, and games that succeeded it, the drinking, and drinking, and
drinking, till the ladies again left; then drinking yet more freely.

He slipped away at the first opportunity, and having first strolled to
and fro on the bowling green, wet with dew, at the rear of the castle,
asked for his bedroom. It was some time before he could get attended to;
he stood alone at the foot of the staircase while others went first
(their small coins bought them attention), till at last a lamp was
brought to him, and his chamber named. This chamber, such as it was, was
the only pleasure, and that a melancholy one, he had had that day.

Though overflowing with guests, so that the most honoured visitors could
not be accommodated within the castle, and only the ladies could find
sleeping room there, yet the sacred law of honour, the pledge of the
hearth-friend passed three generations ago, secured him this privilege.
The hearth-friend must sleep within, if a king were sent without.
Oliver, of course, would occupy the same room, but he was drinking and
shouting a song below, so that for a while Felix had the chamber to
himself.

It pleased him, because it was the room in which he had always slept
when he visited the place from a boy, when, half afraid and yet
determined to venture, he had first come through the lonely forest
alone. How well he remembered that first time! the autumn sunshine on
the stubble at Old House, and the red and brown leaves of the forest as
he entered; how he entered on foot, and twice turned back, and twice
adventured again, till he got so deep into the forest that it seemed as
far to return as to advance. How he started at the sudden bellow of two
stags, and the clatter of their horns as they fought in the brake close
by, and how beautiful the castle looked when presently he emerged from
the bushes and looked down upon it!

This was the very room he slept in; the Baroness, mother-like, came to
see that he was comfortable. Here he had slept every time since; here he
had listened in the early morning for Aurora's footfall as she passed
his door, for the ladies rose earlier than did the men. He now sat down
by the open window; it was a brilliant moonlight night, warm and
delicious, and the long-drawn note of the nightingale came across the
gardens from the hawthorn bushes without the inner stockade. To the left
he could see the line of the hills, to the right the forest; all was
quiet there, but every now and then the sound of a ballad came round the
castle, a sound without recognizable words, inarticulate merriment.

If he started upon the hazardous voyage he contemplated, and for which
he had been so long preparing, should he ever sleep there again, so near
the one he loved? Was it not better to be poor and despised, but near
her, than to attempt such an expedition, especially as the chances (as
his common sense told him) were all against him? Yet he could not stay;
he _must_ do it, and he tried to stifle the doubt which insisted upon
arising in his mind. Then he recurred to Durand; he remembered that not
once on that day had he exchanged one single word, beyond the first and
ordinary salutation, with Aurora.

Might she not, had she chosen, have arranged a moment's interview? Might
she not easily have given him an opportunity? Was it not clear that she
was ashamed of her girlish fancy for a portionless and despised youth?
If so, was it worth while to go upon so strange an enterprise for her
sake? But if so, also, was life worth living, and might he not as well
go and seek destruction?

While this conflict of feeling was proceeding, he chanced to look
towards the table upon which he had carelessly placed his lamp, and
observed, what in his agitated state of mind he had previously
overlooked, a small roll of manuscript tied round with silk. Curious in
books, he undid the fastening, and opened the volume. There was not much
writing, but many singular diagrams, and signs arranged in circles. It
was, in fact, a book of magic, written at the dictation, as the preface
stated, of one who had been for seven years a slave among the Romany.

He had been captured, and forced to work for the tent to which his
owners belonged. He had witnessed their worship and their sorceries; he
had seen the sacrifice to the full moon, their chief goddess, and the
wild extravagances with which it was accompanied. He had learnt some few
of their signs, and, upon escaping, had reproduced them from memory.
Some were engraved on the stones set in their rings; some were carved on
wooden tablets, some drawn with ink on parchment; but, with all, their
procedure seemed to be the repetition of certain verses, and then a
steady gaze upon the picture. Presently they became filled with rapture,
uttered what sounded as the wildest ravings, and (their women
especially) prophesied of the future.

A few of the signs he understood the meaning of, but the others he owned
were unknown to him. At the end of the book were several pages of
commentary, describing the demons believed in and worshipped by the
Romany, demons which haunted the woods and hills, and against which it
was best to be provided with amulets blessed by the holy fathers of St.
Augustine. Such demons stole on the hunter at noonday, and, alarmed at
the sudden appearance, upon turning his head (for demons invariably
approach from behind, and their presence is indicated by a shudder in
the back), he toppled into pits hidden by fern, and was killed.

Or, in the shape of a dog, they ran between the traveller's legs; or as
woman, with tempting caresses, lured him from the way at nightfall into
the leafy recesses, and then instantaneously changing into vast bat-like
forms, fastened on his throat and sucked his blood. The terrible screams
of such victims had often been heard by the warders at the outposts.
Some were invisible, and yet slew the unwary by descending unseen upon
him, and choking him with a pressure as if the air had suddenly become
heavy.

But none of these were, perhaps, so much to be dreaded as the
sweetly-formed and graceful ladies of the fern. These were creatures,
not of flesh and blood, and yet not incorporeal like the demons, nor
were they dangerous to the physical man, doing no bodily injury. The
harm they did was by fascinating the soul so that it revolted from all
religion and all the rites of the Church. Once resigned to the caress of
the fern-woman, the unfortunate was lured farther and farther from the
haunts of men, until at last he wandered into the unknown forest, and
was never seen again. These creatures were usually found among the brake
fern, nude, but the lower limbs and body hidden by the green fronds,
their white arms and shoulders alone visible, and their golden hair
aglow with the summer sunshine.

Demons there were, too, of the streams, and demons dwelling in the midst
of the hills; demons that could travel only in the moonbeams, and others
that floated before the stormy winds and hurled the wretched wanderer to
destruction, or crushed him with the overthrown trees. In proof of this
the monk asked the reader if he had not heard of huge boughs falling
from trees without visible cause, suddenly and without warning, and even
of trees themselves in full foliage, in calm weather, toppling with a
crash, to the imminent danger or the death of those who happened to be
passing. Let all these purchase the amulets of St. Augustine, concluded
the writer, who it appeared was a monk in whose monastery the escaped
prisoner had taken refuge, and who had written down his relation and
copied his rude sketches.

Felix pored over the strange diagrams, striving to understand the hidden
meaning; some of them he thought were alchemical signs, and related to
the making of gold, especially as the prisoner stated the Romany
possessed much more of that metal in the tents than he had seen in the
palaces of our kings. Whether they had a gold mine from whence they drew
it, or whether they had the art of transmutation, he knew not, but he
had heard allusions to the wealth in the mountain of the apple trees,
which he supposed to be a mystical phrase.

When Felix at last looked up, the lamp was low, the moonbeams had
entered and fell upon the polished floor, and from the window he could
see a long white ghostly line of mist where a streamlet ran at the base
of the slope by the forest. The songs were silent; there was no sound
save the distant neigh of a horse and the heavy tramp of a guest coming
along the gallery. Half bewildered by poring over the magic scroll, full
of the signs and the demons, and still with a sense of injury and
jealousy cankering his heart, Felix retired to his couch, and, weary
beyond measure, instantly fell asleep.

In his unsettled state of mind it did not once occur to him to ask
himself how the manuscript came to be upon his table. Rare as they were,
books were not usually put upon the tables of guests, and at an ordinary
time he would certainly have thought it peculiar. The fact was, that
Aurora, whom all day he had inwardly accused of forgetting him, had
placed it there for him with her own hands. She, too, was curious in
books and fond of study. She had very recently bought the volume from a
merchant who had come thus far, and who valued it the least of all his
wares.

She knew that Felix had read and re-read every other scrap of writing
there was in the castle, and thought that this strange book might
interest him, giving, as it did, details of those powers of the air in
which almost all fully believed. Unconscious of this attention, Felix
fell asleep, angry and bitter against her. When, half an hour
afterwards, Oliver blundered into the room, a little unsteady on his
legs, notwithstanding his mighty strength, he picked up the roll,
glanced at it, flung it down with contempt, and without a minute's delay
sought and obtained slumber.



CHAPTER X

THE FEAST


At ten in the morning next day the feast began with a drama from
Sophocles, which was performed in the open air. The theatre was in the
gardens between the wall and the inner stockade; the spectators sat on
the slope, tier above tier; the actors appeared upon a green terrace
below, issuing from an arbour and passing off behind a thick box-hedge
on the other side of the terrace. There was no scenery whatever.

Aurora had selected the Antigone. There were not many dramatists from
whom to choose, for so many English writers, once famous, had dropped
out of knowledge and disappeared. Yet some of the far more ancient Greek
and Roman classics remained because they contained depth and originality
of ideas in small compass. They had been copied in manuscripts by
thoughtful men from the old printed books before they mouldered away,
and their manuscripts being copied again, these works were handed down.
The books which came into existence with printing had never been copied
by the pen, and had consequently nearly disappeared. Extremely long and
diffuse, it was found, too, that so many of them were but enlargements
of ideas or sentiments which had been expressed in a few words by the
classics. It is so much easier to copy an epigram of two lines than a
printed book of hundreds of pages, and hence it was that Sophocles had
survived while much more recent writers had been lost.

From a translation Aurora had arranged several of his dramas. Antigone
was her favourite, and she wished Felix to see it. In some indefinable
manner the spirit of the ancient Greeks seemed to her in accord with the
times, for men had or appeared to have so little control over their own
lives that they might well imagine themselves overruled by destiny.
Communication between one place and another was difficult, the division
of society into castes, and the iron tyranny of arms, prevented the
individual from making any progress in lifting himself out of the groove
in which he was born, except by the rarest opportunity, unless specially
favoured by fortune. As men were born so they lived; they could not
advance, and when this is the case the idea of Fate is always
predominant. The workings of destiny, the Irresistible overpowering both
the good and the evil-disposed, such as were traced in the Greek drama,
were paralleled in the lives of many a miserable slave at that day. They
were forced to endure, for there was no possibility of effort.

Aurora saw this and felt it deeply; ever anxious as she was for the good
of all, she saw the sadness that reigned even in the midst of the fresh
foliage of spring and among the flowers. It was Fate; it was Sophocles.

She took the part of the heroine herself, clad in Greek costume; Felix
listened and watched, absorbed in his love. Never had that ancient drama
appeared so beautiful as then, in the sunlight; the actors stepped upon
the daisied sward, and the song of birds was all their music.

While the play was still proceeding, those who were to form the usual
procession had already been assembling in the court before the castle,
and just after noon, to the sound of the trumpet, the Baron, with his
youngest son beside him (the eldest was at Court), left the porch,
wearing his fur-lined short mantle, his collar, and golden spurs, and
the decoration won so many years before; all the insignia of his rank.
He walked; his war-horse, fully caparisoned, with axe at the saddle-bow,
was led at his right side, and upon the other came a knight carrying the
banneret of the house.

The gentlemen of the house followed closely, duly marshalled in ranks,
and wearing the gayest dress; the leading retainers fully armed, brought
up the rear. Immediately upon issuing from the gate of the wall, the
procession was met and surrounded by the crowd, carrying large branches
of may in bloom, flowers, and green willow boughs. The flowers they
flung before him on the ground; the branches they bore with them,
chanting old verses in honour of the family. The route was through the
town, where the Baron stopped at the door of the Court House, and
proclaimed a free pardon to all serfs (who were released within a few
minutes) not guilty of the heavier crimes.

Thence he went to the pasture just beyond, carefully mown close and
swept for the purpose, where the May-pole stood, wreathed with flowers
and green branches. Beneath it he deposited a bag of money for
distribution upon a carved butt placed there, the signal that the games
were open. Instantly the fiddles began to play, and the feast really
commenced. At the inns ale was served out freely (at the Baron's
charge), carts, too, came down from the castle laden with ale and cooked
provisions. Wishing them joy, the Baron returned by the same road to the
castle, where dinner was already served in the hall and the sheds that
had been erected to enlarge the accommodation.

In the afternoon there were foot-races, horse-races, and leaping
competitions, and the dances about the May-pole were prolonged far into
the night. The second day, early in the morning, the barriers were
opened, and trials of skill with the blunt sword, jousting with the
blunt lance at the quintain, and wrestling began, and continued almost
till sunset. Tournament with sharpened lance or sword, when the
combatants fight with risk of serious wounds, can take place only in the
presence of the Prince or his deputy. But in these conflicts
sufficiently severe blows were given to disable the competitors.

On the third day there was a set battle in the morning between fifteen
men on each side, armed with the usual buckler or small shield, and
stout single-sticks instead of swords. This combat excited more interest
than all the duels that had preceded it; the crowd almost broke down the
barriers, and the cheering and cries of encouragement could be heard
upon the hills. Thrice the combatants rested from the engagement, and
thrice at the trumpet call started again to meet each other, at least
those who had sustained the first onslaught.

Blood, indeed, was not shed (for the iron morions saved their skulls),
but nearly half of the number required assistance to reach the tents
pitched for their use. Then came more feasting, the final dinner
prolonged till six in the evening, when the company, constantly rising
from their seats, cheered the Baron, and drank to the prosperity of the
house. After the horn blew at six, the guests who had come from a
distance rapidly dispersed (their horses were already waiting), for they
were anxious to pass the fifteen miles of forest before nightfall. Those
on foot, and those ladies who had come in covered waggons, stayed till
next morning, as they could not travel so speedily. By seven or eight
the castle courtyard was comparatively empty, and the Baron, weary from
the mere bodily efforts of saying farewell to so many, had flung himself
at full length on a couch in the drawing-room.

During the whole of this time Felix had not obtained a single moment
with Aurora; her time, when not occupied in attending to the guests, was
always claimed by Lord Durand. Felix, after the short-lived but pure
pleasure he had enjoyed in watching her upon the grass-grown stage, had
endured three days of misery. He was among the crowd, he was in the
castle itself, he sat at table with the most honoured visitors, yet he
was distinct from all. There was no sympathy between them and him. The
games, the dancing, the feasting and laughter, the ceaseless singing and
shouting, and jovial jostling, jarred upon him.

The boundless interest the people took in the combats, and especially
that of the thirty, seemed to him a strange and inexplicable phenomenon.
It did not excite him in the least; he could turn his back upon it
without hesitation. He would, indeed, have left the crowd, and spent the
day in the forest, or on the hills, but he could not leave Aurora. He
must be near her; he must see her, though he was miserable. Now he
feared that the last moment would come, and that he should not exchange
a word with her.

He could not, with any show of pretext, prolong his stay beyond the
sunset; all were already gone, with the exceptions mentioned. It would
be against etiquette to remain longer, unless specially invited, and he
was not specially invited. Yet he lingered, and lingered. His horse was
ready below; the groom, weary of holding the bridle, had thrown it over
an iron hook in the yard, and gone about other business. The sun
perceptibly declined, and the shadow of the beeches of the forest began
to descend the grassy slope. Still he stayed, restlessly moving, now in
the dining chamber, now in the hall, now at the foot of the staircase,
with an unpleasant feeling that the servants looked at him curiously,
and were watching him.

Oliver had gone long since, riding with his new friend Lord Durand; they
must by now be half-way through the forest. Forced by the inexorable
flight of time, he put his foot upon the staircase to go up to the
drawing-room and bid farewell to the Baroness. He ascended it, step by
step, as a condemned person goes to his doom. He stayed to look out of
the open windows as he went by; anything to excuse delay to himself. He
reached the landing at last, and had taken two steps towards the door,
when Aurora's maid, who had been waiting there an hour or more for the
opportunity, brushed past him, and whispered, "The Rose arbour."

Without a word he turned, hastened down the stairs, ran through the
castle yard, out at the gate, and, entering the gardens between the wall
and the inner stockade, made for the arbour on the terrace where the
drama had been enacted. Aurora was not there; but as he looked round,
disappointed, she came from the Filbert walk, and, taking his arm, led
him to the arbour. They sat down without a word. In a moment she placed
her head upon his shoulder; he did not respond. She put her arm (how
warm it felt!) about his neck; he yielded stiffly and ungraciously to
the pressure; she drew down his head, and kissed him. His lips touched
but did not press hers; they met, but did not join. In his sullen and
angry silence he would not look. She drew still nearer, and whispered
his name.

Then he broke out: he pushed her away; his petty jealousy and injured
self-esteem poured out upon her.

"I am not the heir to an earldom," he said; "I do not ride with a score
of gentlemen at my back. They have some wonderful diamonds, have they
not--_Countess?_"

"Felix!"

"It is no use. Yes, your voice is sweet, I know. But you, all of you,
despise me. I am nothing, no one!"

"You are all, _everything_, to me."

"You were with--with Durand the whole time."

"I could not help myself."

"Not help yourself! Do you think I believe that?"

"Felix, dear. I tell you I could not help myself; I could not, indeed.
You do not know all--"

"No, probably not. I do not know the terms of the marriage contract."

"Felix, there is no such thing. Why, what has come to you? How pale you
look! Sit down!" for he had risen.

"I cannot, Aurora, dear; I cannot! Oh, what shall I do? I love you so!"



CHAPTER XI

AURORA


Felix fell on the seat beside her, burying his face in the folds of her
dress; he sobbed, not with tears, but choking passion. She held him to
her heart as if he had been a child, stroking his hair and kissing it,
whispering to him, assuring him that her love was his, that she was
unchanged. She told him that it was not her fault. A little while before
the feast the Baron had suddenly broken out into a fit of temper, such
as she had never seen him indulge in previously; the cause was pressure
put upon him by his creditors. Unpleasant truths had escaped him;
amongst the rest, his dislike, his positive disapproval of the tacit
engagement they had entered into.

He declared that if the least outward sign of it appeared before the
guests that were expected, he would order Felix to leave the place, and
cancel the hearth-friendship, no matter what the consequence. It was
clear that he was set upon a wealthy and powerful alliance for her; that
the Earl was either coming, or would send his son, he knew; and he knew
that nothing so repels a possible suitor as the rumour that the lady has
a previous engagement. In short, he made it a condition of Felix's
presence being tolerated at all, that Aurora should carefully abstain
from showing the slightest attention to him; that she should ignore his
existence.

Nor could she prevent Durand following her without a marked refusal to
listen to his conversation, a refusal which would most certainly at once
have brought about the dreaded explosion. She thought it better, under
the circumstances, to preserve peace, lest intercourse between her and
Felix should be entirely broken off for ever. This was the secret
history of the apparent indifference and neglect which had so deeply
hurt him. The explanation, accompanied as it was with so many tender
expressions and caresses, soothed him; he returned her kisses and became
calmer. He could not doubt her, for in his heart he had suspected
something of the kind long since.

Yet it was not so much the explanation itself, nor even the love she
poured upon him, as the mere fact of her presence so near that brought
him to himself. The influence of her steadfast nature, of her clear,
broad, straightforward view of things, the decision of her character,
the high, unselfish motives which animated her, all together supplied
that which was wanting in himself. His indecision, his too
impressionable disposition, which checked and stayed the force of his
talent, and counteracted the determination of a naturally iron will;
these, as it were, were relieved; in a word, with her he became himself.

How many times he had told her as much! How many times she had replied
that it was not herself, but that in which she believed, that was the
real cause of this feeling! It was that ancient and true religion; the
religion of the primitive church, as she found it in the fragments of
the Scriptures that had come down from the ancients.

Aurora had learnt this faith from childhood; it was, indeed, a tradition
of the house preserved unbroken these hundred years in the midst of the
jarring creeds, whose disciples threatened and destroyed each other. On
the one hand, the gorgeous rite of the Vice-Pope, with the priests and
the monks, claimed dominion, and really held a large share, both over
the body and the soul; on the other, the Leaguers, with their bold,
harsh, and flowerless creed, were equally over-bearing and equally
bigoted. Around them the Bushmen wandered without a god; the Romany
called upon the full moon. Within courts and cities the gay and the
learned alike mocked at all faith, and believed in gold alone.

Cruelty reigned everywhere; mercy, except in the name of honour, there
was none; humanity was unknown. A few, a very few only, had knowledge of
or held to the leading tenets, which, in the time of the ancients, were
assented to by everyone, such as the duty of humanity to all, the duty
of saving and protecting life, of kindness and gentleness. These few,
with their pastors, simple and unassuming, had no power or influence;
yet they existed here and there, a living protest against the
lawlessness and brutality of the time.

Among these the house of Thyma had in former days been conspicuous, but
of late years the barons of Thyma had, more from policy than from aught
else, rather ignored their ancestral faith, leaning towards the League,
which was then powerful in that kingdom. To have acted otherwise would
have been to exclude himself from all appointments. But Aurora, learning
the old faith at her mother's knee, had become too deeply imbued with
its moral beauty to consent to this course. By degrees, as she grew up,
it became in her a passion; more than a faith, a passion; the object of
her life.

A girl, indeed, can do but little in our iron days, but that little she
did. The chapel beside the castle, long since fallen to decay, was, at
her earnest request, repaired; a pastor came and remained as chaplain,
and services, of the simplest kind, but serious and full of meaning,
took place twice a week. To these she drew as many as possible of the
inhabitants of the enclosure; some even came from afar once now and then
to attend them. Correspondence was carried on with the remnant of the
faith.

That no one might plead ignorance (for there was up to the date no
written record) Aurora set herself the task of reducing the traditions
which had been handed down to writing. When the manuscript was at last
completed it occupied her months to transcribe copies of it for
circulation; and she still continued to make copies, which were sent by
messengers and by the travelling merchants to the markets, and even
across the sea. Apart from its intrinsically elevating character, the
mere mental labour expended on this work had undoubtedly strengthened a
naturally fine intellect. As she said, it was the faith, the hope that
that faith would one day be recognised, which gave her so much influence
over others.

Upon this one thing only they differed; Felix did not oppose, did not
even argue, he was simply untouched. It was not that he believed in
anything else, nor that he doubted; he was merely indifferent. He had
too great a natural aptitude for the physical sciences, and too clear a
mind, to accept that which was taught by the one or the other of the two
chief opposing parties. Nor could he join in the ridicule and derision
of the gay courtiers, for the mystery of existence had impressed him
deeply while wandering alone in the forest. But he stood aloof; he
smiled and listened, unconvinced; like the wild creatures of the forest,
he had no ears for these matters. He loved Aurora, that was all.

But he felt the influence just the same; with all his powers of mind and
contempt of superstitions in others, he could not at times shake off the
apprehensions aroused by untoward omens, as when he stepped upon the
adder in the woods. Aurora knew nothing of such things; her faith was
clear and bright like a star; nothing could alarm her, or bring
uneasiness of mind. This beautiful calm, not cold, but glowing with hope
and love, soothed him.

That evening, with her hope and love, with her message of trust, she
almost persuaded him. He almost turned to what she had so long taught.
He almost repented of that hardness of heart, that unutterable distance,
as it were, between him and other men, which lay at the bottom of his
proposed expedition. He opened his lips to confess to her his purpose,
and had he done so assuredly she would have persuaded him from it. But
in the very act of speaking, he hesitated. It was characteristic of him
to do so. Whether she instinctively felt that there was something
concealed from her, or guessed that the discontent she knew he had so
long endured was coming to a point, or feared lest what she had told him
might drive him to some ill-considered act, she begged him with all the
power of her love to do nothing hasty, or in despair, nothing that would
separate them. He threw his arms around her, he pressed her closely to
him, he trembled with the passion and the struggle within him.

"My lady calls for you, Mademoiselle," said a voice; it was Aurora's
maid who had kept watch. "She has asked for you some time since. Someone
is coming into the garden!"

There was no help for it; Aurora kissed him, and was gone before he
could come to himself. How long the interview had lasted (time flies
swiftly in such sweet intercourse), or how long he sat there after she
left, he could not tell; but when he went out already the dusk was
gathering, the sun had gone down, and in the east the as yet pale orb of
the moon was rising over the hills. As if in a dream he walked with
unsteady steps to the castle stable; his horse had been put back, and
the grooms suggested to him that it was better not to attempt the forest
at night. But he was determined; he gave them all the coin he had about
him, it was not much, but more than they had expected.

They ran beside him to the barrier; advising him as they ran, as he
would go, to string his bow and loosen an arrow in the girdle, and above
all, not to loiter, or let his horse walk, but to keep him at as sharp a
trot as he could. The fact that so many wealthy persons had assembled at
the castle for the feast would be sure to be known to the banditti (the
outlaws of the cities and the escaped serfs). They were certain to be on
the look out for travellers; let him beware.

His ears tingled and his head felt hot, as if the blood had rushed into
it (it was the violence of the emotion that he had felt), as he rode
from the barrier, hearing, and yet without conscious knowledge of what
they said. They watched him up the slope, and saw him disappear from
sight under the dark beeches of the forest.



CHAPTER XII

NIGHT IN THE FOREST


At first Felix rode quickly, but his horse stumbling, though accustomed
to the woods, warned him to be more careful. The passage of so many
horsemen in the last few days had cut up and destroyed the track, which
was nothing but a green path, and the covered waggons had of course
assisted in rendering it rough and broken. He therefore rode slowly, and
giving his horse his head, he picked his way of his own accord at the
side of the road, often brushing against the underwood.

Still, indeed, absorbed by the feelings which had almost mastered him in
the arbour, and thinking of Aurora, he forgot where he was, till the
dismal howling of wood-dogs deep in the forest woke him. It was almost
pitch dark under the tall beeches, the highest of the trees preventing
the beams of the moon from illuminating the path till later in the
night. Like a curtain the thick foliage above shut out the sky, so that
no star was visible. When the wood-dogs ceased there was no sound beyond
the light fall of the horse's hoofs as he walked upon the grass.
Darkness and silence prevailed; he could see nothing. He spoke to his
horse and patted his neck; he stepped a little faster and lifted his
head, which he had held low as if making his way by scent.

The gloom weighed upon him, unhappy as he was. Often as he had
voluntarily sought the loneliness of the woods, now in this state of
mind, it oppressed him; he remembered that beyond the beeches the ground
was open and cleared by a forest fire, and began to be anxious to reach
it. It seemed an hour, but it really was only a few minutes, when the
beeches became thinner and wider apart, the foliage above ceased, and
the stars shone. Before him was the open space he had desired, sloping
to the right hand, the tall grass grey-green in the moonlight, and near
at hand sparkling with dew.

Amongst it stood the crooked and charred stems of furze with which it
had been covered before the fire passed. A white owl floated rather than
flew by, following the edge of the forest; from far down the slope came
the chattering notes of a brook-sparrow, showing that there was water in
the hollow. Some large animal moved into the white mist that hung there
and immediately concealed it, like a cloud upon the ground. He was not
certain in the dim light, and with so momentary and distant a view, but
supposed from its size that it must have been a white or dun wood-cow.

Ahead, across the open, rose the dark top of the fir trees through which
the route ran. Instead of the relief which he had anticipated as he rode
towards them, the space clear of trees around seemed to expose him to
the full view of all that might be lurking in the forest. As he
approached the firs and saw how dark it was beneath them, the shadowy
depths suggested uncertain shapes hiding therein, and his memory
immediately reverted to the book of magic he had read at the castle.

There could not be such things, and yet no one in his heart doubted
their existence; deny it as they might with their tongues as they sat at
the supper-table and handed round the ale, out of doors in the night,
the haste to pass the haunted spot, the bated breath, and the fearful
glances cast around, told another tale. He endeavoured to call
philosophy to his aid; he remembered, too, how many nights he had spent
in the deepest forest without seeing anything, and without even thinking
of such matters. He reproved himself for his folly, and asked himself if
ever he could hope to be a successful leader of men who started at a
shadow. In vain: the tone of his mind had been weakened by the strain it
had undergone.

Instead of strengthening him, the teachings of philosophy now seemed
cold and feeble, and it occurred to him that possibly the belief of the
common people (fully shared by their religious instructors) was just as
much entitled to credence as these mere suppositions and theories. The
details of the volume recurred to his mind; the accurate description of
the demons of the forest and the hill, and especially the horrible
vampires enfolding the victim with outstretched wings. In spite of
himself, incredulous, yet excited, he pressed his horse to greater
speed, though the track was narrow and very much broken under the firs.
He obeyed, and trotted, but reluctantly, and needed continual urging.

The yellow spark of a glowworm shining by a bush made him set his teeth;
trifling and well known as it was, the light suddenly seen thrilled him
with the terror of the unexpected. Strange rushings sounded among the
fern, as if the wings of a demon brushed it as he travelled. Felix knew
that they were caused by rabbits hastening off, or a boar bounding away,
yet they increased the feverish excitement with which he was burdened.
Though dark beneath the firs, it was not like the darkness of the
beeches; these trees did not form a perfect canopy overhead everywhere.
In places he could see where a streak of moonlight came aslant through
an opening and reached the ground. One such streak fell upon the track
ahead; the trees there had decayed and fallen, and a broad band of light
lit up the way.

As he approached it and had almost entered, suddenly something shot
towards him in the air; a flash, as it were, as if some object had
crossed the streak, and was rendered visible for the tenth of a second,
like a mote in the sunbeams. At the same instant of time, the horse,
which he had pressed to go faster, put his foot into a rut or hole, and
stumbled, and Felix was flung so far forward that he only saved himself
from being thrown by clinging to his neck. A slight whizzing sound
passed over his head, followed immediately by a sharp tap against a tree
in his rear.

The thing happened in the twinkling of an eye, but he recognised the
sound; it was the whiz of a crossbow bolt, which had missed his head,
and buried its point in a fir. The stumble saved him; the bolt would
have struck his head or chest had not the horse gone nearly on his knee.
The robber had so planned his ambush that his prey should be well seen,
distinct in the moonlight, so that his aim might be sure. Recovering
himself, the horse, without needing the spur, as if he recognised the
danger to his rider, started forward at full speed, and raced,
regardless of ruts, along the track. Felix, who had hardly got into his
seat again, could for awhile but barely restrain it, so wildly he fled.
He must have been carried within a few yards of the bandit, but saw
nothing, neither did a second bolt follow him; the crossbow takes time
to bend, and if the robber had companions they were differently armed.

He was a furlong or more from the spot before he quite realized the
danger he had escaped. His bow was unstrung in his hand, his arrows were
all in the quiver; thus, had the bolt struck him, even if the wound had
not been mortal (as it most likely would have been) he could have made
no resistance. How foolish to disregard the warnings of the grooms at
the castle! It was now too late; all he could do was to ride. Dreading
every moment to be thrown, he pushed on as fast as the horse would go.
There was no pursuit, and after a mile or so, as he left the firs and
entered the ash woods, he slackened somewhat. It was, indeed, necessary,
for here the hoofs of preceding horsemen had poached the turf (always
damp under ash) into mud. It was less dark, for the boughs of the ashes
did not meet above.

As he passed, wood-pigeons rose with loud clatterings from their
roosting-places, and once or twice he saw in the gloom the fiery
phosphoric eye-balls of the grey wood-cats. How gladly he recognised
presently the change from trees to bushes, when he rode out from the
thick ashes among the low hawthorns, and knew that he was within a mile
or so of the South Barrier at home! Already he heard the song of the
nightingale, the long note which at night penetrates so far; the
nightingale, which loves the hawthorn and the neighbourhood of man.
Imperceptibly he increased the speed again; the horse, too, knew that he
was nearing home, and responded willingly.

The track was much broader and fairly good, but he knew that at one spot
where it was marshy it must be cut up. There he went at the side, almost
brushing a projecting maple bush. Something struck the horse, he fancied
the rebound of a bough; he jumped, literally jumped, like a buck, and
tore along the road. With one foot out of the stirrup, it was with the
utmost difficulty he stuck to his seat; he was not riding, but holding
on for a moment or two. Presently recovering from the jolt, he
endeavoured to check him, but the bit was of no avail; the animal was
beside himself with terror, and raced headlong till they reached the
barrier. It was, of course, closed, and the warder was asleep; so that,
until he dismounted, and kicked and shouted, no one challenged him.

Then the warder, spear in hand, appeared with his lantern, but
recognising the voice, ran to the gate. Within the gate a few yards
there were the embers of a fire, and round it a bivouac of footmen who
had been to the feast, and had returned thus far before nightfall.
Hearing the noise, some of them arose, and came round him, when one
immediately exclaimed and asked if he was wounded. Felix replied that he
was not, but looking at his foot where the man pointed, saw that it was
covered with blood. But, upon close examination, there was no cut or
incision; he was not hurt. The warder now called to them, and showed a
long deep scratch on the near flank of the horse, from which the blood
was dripping.

It was such a scratch as might have been made with an iron nail, and,
without hesitation, they all put it down to a Bushman's spud. Without
doubt, the Bushman, hearing Felix approach, had hidden in the maple
bush, and, as he passed, struck with his nail-like dagger; but,
miscalculating the speed at which the horse was going, instead of
piercing the thigh of the rider, the blow fell on the horse, and the
sharp point was dragged along the side. The horse trembled as they
touched him.

"Sir," said one of the retainers, their headman, "if you will pardon me,
you had best string your bow and send a shaft through his heart, for he
will die in misery before morning."

The Bushman's spud, the one he uses for assassination or to despatch his
prey, is poisoned. It is a lingering poison, and takes several hours to
produce its effect; but no remedy is known, and many who have escaped
from the cowardly blow have crawled to the path only to expire in
torture. There was no denying that what the retainer proposed was the
only thing that could be done. The warder had meantime brought a bucket
of water, of which the poor creature drank eagerly. Felix could not do
it; he could not slay the creature which had carried him so long, and
which twice that night had saved him, and was now to die, as it were, in
his place. He could not consent to it; he led the horse towards home,
but he was weak or weary, and could not be got beyond the Pen.

There the group assembled around him. Felix ordered the scratch to be
cleansed, while he ran over in his mind every possible remedy. He gave
strict orders that he should not be despatched, and then hastened to the
house. He undid with trembling hands the thongs that bound his chest,
and took out his manuscripts, hoping against hope that among the many
notes he had made there might be something. But there was nothing, or in
his excitement he overlooked it. Remembering that Oliver was a great
authority upon horses, he went into his room and tried to wake him.
Oliver, weary with his ride, and not as yet having slept off the effects
of the feast, could not be roused.

Felix left him and hurried back to the Pen. Weary as he was, he watched
by the horse till the larks began to sing and the dawn was at hand. As
yet he had not shown any severe symptoms except twitching of the limbs,
and a constant thirst, which water could not quench. But suddenly he
fell, and the old retainer warned them all to stand away, for he would
bite anything that was near. His words were instantly fulfilled; he
rolled, and kicked, and bit at everything within reach. Seeing this
agony, Felix could no longer delay. He strung his bow, but he could not
fit the arrow to the string, he missed the notch, so much did his hands
shake. He motioned to the retainers who had gathered around, and one of
them thrust his spear into the horse behind his shoulder.

When Felix at last returned to his chamber he could not but reflect, as
the sun rose and the beams entered, that every omen had been against
him; the adder under foot, the bandit's bolt, the Bushman's poisoned
point. He slept till noon, and, upon going out, unrefreshed and still
weary, he found that they had already buried the horse, and ordered a
mound to be raised above his grave. The day passed slowly; he wandered
about the castle and the enclosed grounds, seeking comfort and finding
none. His mind vacillated; he recalled all that Aurora had said,
persuading him not to do anything in haste or despair. Yet he could not
continue in his present condition. Another day went by, and still
undecided and doubting, he remained at home.

Oliver began to jest at him; had he abandoned the expedition? Oliver
could not understand indecision; perhaps he did not see so many sides to
the question, his mind was always quickly made up. Action was his forte,
not thought. The night came, and still Felix lingered, hesitating.



CHAPTER XIII

SAILING AWAY


But the next morning Felix arose straight from his sleep resolved to
carry out his plan. Without staying to think a moment, without further
examination of the various sides of the problem, he started up the
instant his eyes unclosed, fully determined upon his voyage. The breath
of the bright June morn as he threw open the window-shutter filled him
with hope; his heart responded to its joyous influence. The excitement
which had disturbed his mind had had time to subside. In the still
slumber of the night the strong undercurrent of his thought resumed its
course, and he awoke with his will still firmly bent in one direction.

When he had dressed, he took his bow and the chest bound with the
leathern thongs, and went down. It was early, but the Baron had already
finished breakfast and gone out to his gardens; the Baroness had not yet
appeared. While he was making a hurried breakfast (for having now made
up his mind he was eager to put his resolve into execution), Oliver came
in, and seeing the chest and the bow, understood that the hour had
arrived. He immediately said he should accompany him to Heron Bay, and
assist him to start, and went out to order their horses. There were
always plenty of riding horses at Old House (as at every fortified
mansion), and there was not the least difficulty in getting another for
Felix in place of his old favourite.

Oliver insisted upon taking the wooden chest, which was rather heavy,
before him on the saddle, so that Felix had nothing to carry but his
favourite bow. Oliver was surprised that Felix did not first go to the
gardens and say good-bye to the Baron, or at least knock at the
Baroness's door and bid her farewell. But he made no remark, knowing
Felix's proud and occasionally hard temper. Without a word Felix left
the old place.

He rode forth from the North Barrier, and did not even so much as look
behind him. Neither he nor Oliver thought of the events that might
happen before they should again meet in the old familiar house! When the
circle is once broken up it is often years before it is reformed. Often,
indeed, the members of it never meet again, at least, not in the same
manner, which, perhaps, they detested then, and ever afterwards
regretted. Without one word of farewell, without a glance, Felix rode
out into the forest.

There was not much conversation on the trail to Heron Bay. The serfs
were still there in charge of the canoe, and were glad enough to see
their approach, and thus to be relieved from their lonely watch. They
launched the canoe with ease, the provisions were put on board, the
chest lashed to the mast that it might not be lost, the favourite bow
was also fastened upright to the mast for safety, and simply shaking
hands with Oliver, Felix pushed out into the creek. He paddled the canoe
to the entrance and out into the Lake till he arrived where the
south-west breeze, coming over the forest, touched and rippled the
water, which by the shore was perfectly calm.

Then, hoisting the sail, he put out the larger paddle which answered as
a rudder, took his seat, and, waving his hand to Oliver, began his
voyage. The wind was but light, and almost too favourable, for he had
determined to sail to the eastward; not for any specific reason, but
because there the sun rose, and that was the quarter of light and hope.
His canoe, with a long fore-and-aft sail, and so well adapted for
working into the wind, was not well rigged for drifting before a breeze,
which was what he was now doing. He had merely to keep the canoe before
the wind, steering so as to clear the bold headland of White Horse which
rose blue from the water's edge far in front of him. Though the wind was
light, the canoe being so taper and sharp at the prow, and the sail so
large in comparison, slipped from the shore faster than he at first
imagined.

As he steered aslant from the little bay outwards into the great Lake,
the ripples rolling before the wind gradually enlarged into wavelets,
these again increased, and in half an hour, as the wind now played upon
them over a mile of surface, they seemed in his canoe, with its low
freeboard, to be considerable waves. He had purposely refrained from
looking back till now, lest they should think he regretted leaving, and
in his heart desired to return. But now, feeling that he had really
started, he glanced behind. He could see no one.

He had forgotten that the spot where they had launched the canoe was at
the end of an inlet, and as he sailed away the creek was shut off from
view by the shore of the Lake. Unable to get to the mouth of the bay
because of the underwood and the swampy soil, Oliver had remained gazing
in the direction the canoe had taken for a minute or two, absorbed in
thought (almost the longest period he had ever wasted in such an
occupation), and then with a whistle turned to go. The serfs,
understanding that they were no longer required, gathered their things
together, and were shortly on their way home. Oliver, holding Felix's
horse by the bridle, had already ridden that way, but he presently
halted, and waited till the three men overtook him. He then gave the
horse into their charge, and turning to the right, along a forest path
which branched off there, went to Ponze. Felix could therefore see no
one when he looked back, and they were indeed already on their way from
the place.

He now felt that he was alone. He had parted from the shore, and from
all the old associations; he was fast passing not only out upon the
water, but out into the unknown future. But his spirit no longer
vacillated; now that he was really in the beginning of his long
contemplated enterprise his natural strength of mind returned. The
weakness and irresolution, the hesitation, left him. He became full of
his adventure, and thought of nothing else.

The south-west breeze, blowing as a man breathes, with alternate rise
and fall, now driving him along rapidly till the water bubbled under the
prow, now sinking, came over his right shoulder and cooled his cheek,
for it was now noon, and the June sun was unchecked by clouds. He could
no longer distinguish the shape of the trees on shore; all the boughs
were blended together in one great wood, stretching as far as he could
see. On his left there was a chain of islands, some covered with firs,
and others only with brushwood, while others again were so low and flat
that the waves in stormy weather broke almost over them.

As he drew near White Horse, five white terns, or sea-swallows, flew
over; he did not welcome their appearance, as they usually preceded
rough gales. The headland, wooded to its ridge, now rose high against
the sky; ash and nut-tree and hawthorn had concealed the ancient graven
figure of the horse upon its side, but the tradition was not forgotten,
and the site retained its name. He had been steering so as just to clear
the promontory, but he now remembered that when he had visited the
summit of the hill, he had observed that banks and shoals extended far
out from the shore, and were nearly on a level with the surface of the
Lake. In a calm they were visible, but waves concealed them, and unless
the helmsman recognised the swirl sufficiently early to change his
course, they were extremely dangerous.

Felix bore more out from the land, and passing fully a mile to the
north, left the shoals on his right. On his other hand there was a sandy
and barren island barely a quarter of a mile distant, upon which he
thought he saw the timbers of a wreck. It was quite probable, for the
island lay in the track of vessels coasting along the shore. Beyond
White Horse, the land fell away in a series of indentations, curving
inwards to the south; an inhospitable coast, for the hills came down to
the strand, ending abruptly in low, but steep, chalk cliffs. Many
islands of large size stood out on the left, but Felix, not knowing the
shape of the Lake beyond White Horse, thought it best to follow the
trend of the land. He thus found, after about three hours, that he had
gone far out of his course, for the gulf-like curve of the coast now
began to return to the northward, and looking in that direction he saw a
merchant vessel under her one square sail of great size, standing across
the bay.

She was about five miles distant, and was evidently steering so as to
keep just inside the line of the islands. Felix, with some difficulty,
steered in a direction to interrupt her. The south-west wind being then
immediately aft, his sail did not answer well; presently he lowered it,
and paddled till he had turned the course so that the outrigger was now
on the eastern side. Then hoisting the sail again, he sat at what had
before been the prow, and steered a point or so nearer the wind. This
improved her sailing, but as the merchant ship had at least five miles
start, it would take some hours to overtake her. Nor on reflection was
he at all anxious to come up with her, for mariners were dreaded for
their lawless conduct, being, when on a voyage, beyond all jurisdiction.

On the one hand, if they saw an opportunity, they did not hesitate to
land and pillage a house, or even a hamlet. On the other, those who
dwelt anywhere near the shore considered it good sport to light a fire
and lure a vessel to her destruction, or if she was becalmed to sally
out in boats, attack, and perhaps destroy both ship and crew. Hence the
many wrecks, and losses, and the risks of navigation, not so much from
natural obstacles, since the innumerable islands, and the creeks and
inlets of the mainland almost always offered shelter, no matter which
way the storm blew, but from the animosity of the coast people. If there
was an important harbour and a town where provisions could be obtained,
or repairs effected, the right of entrance was jealously guarded, and no
ship, however pressed by the gale, was permitted to leave, if she had
anchored, without payment of a fine. So that vessels as much as possible
avoided the harbours and towns, and the mainland altogether, sailing
along beside the islands, which were, for the most part, uninhabited,
and anchoring under their lee at night.

Felix, remembering the character of the mariners, resolved to keep well
away from them, but to watch their course as a guide to himself. The
mainland now ran abruptly to the north, and the canoe, as he brought her
more into the wind, sprang forward at a rapid pace. The outrigger
prevented her from making any leeway, or heeling over, and the large
spread of sail forced her swiftly through the water. He had lost sight
of the ship behind some islands, and as he approached these, began to
ask himself if he had not better haul down his sail there, as he must
now be getting near her, when to his surprise, on coming close, he saw
her great square sail in the middle, as it seemed, of the land. The
shore there was flat, the hills which had hitherto bounded it suddenly
ceasing; it was overgrown with reeds and flags, and about two miles away
the dark sail of the merchantman drifted over these, the hull being
hidden. He at once knew that he had reached the western mouth of the
straits which divide the southern and northern mainland. When he went to
see the channel on foot through the forest, he must have struck it a
mile or two more to the east, where it wound under the hills.

In another half hour he arrived at the opening of the strait; it was
about a mile wide, and either shore was quite flat, that on the right
for a short distance, the range of downs approaching within two miles;
that on the left, or north, was level as far as he could see. He had now
again to lower his sail, to get the outrigger on his lee as he turned to
the right and steered due east into the channel. So long as the shore
was level, he had no difficulty, for the wind drew over it, but when the
hills gradually came near and almost overhung the channel, they shut off
much of the breeze, and his progress was slow. When it turned and ran
narrowing every moment to the south, the wind failed him altogether.

On the right shore, wooded hills rose from the water like a wall; on the
left, it was a perfect plain. He could see nothing of the merchantman,
although he knew that she could not sail here, but must be working
through with her sweeps. Her heavy hull and bluff bow must make the
rowing a slow and laborious process; therefore she could not be far
ahead, but was concealed by the winding of the strait. He lowered the
sail, as it was now useless, and began to paddle; in a very short time
he found the heat under the hills oppressive when thus working. He had
now been afloat between six and seven hours, and must have come fully
thirty miles, perhaps rather more than twenty in a straight line, and he
felt somewhat weary and cramped from sitting so long in the canoe.

Though he paddled hard he did not seem to make much progress, and at
length he recognised that there was a distinct current, which opposed
his advance, flowing through the channel from east to west. If he ceased
paddling, he found he drifted slowly back; the long aquatic weeds, too,
which he passed, all extended their floating streamers westward. We did
not know of this current till Felix Aquila observed and recorded it.

Tired and hungry (for, full of his voyage, he had taken no refreshments
since he started), he resolved to land, rest a little while, and then
ascend the hill, and see what he could of the channel. He soon reached
the shore, the strait having narrowed to less than a mile in width, and
ran the canoe on the ground by a bush, to which, on getting out, he
attached the painter. The relief of stretching his limbs was so great
that it seemed to endow him with fresh strength, and without waiting to
eat, he at once climbed the hill. From the top, the remainder of the
strait could be easily distinguished. But a short distance from where he
stood, it bent again, and proceeded due east.



CHAPTER XIV

THE STRAITS


The passage contracted there to little over half a mile, but these
narrows did not continue far; the shores, having approached thus near
each other, quickly receded, till presently they were at least two miles
apart. The merchant vessel had passed the narrows with the aid of her
sweeps, but she moved slowly, and, as it seemed to him, with difficulty.
She was about a mile and a half distant, and near the eastern mouth of
the strait. As Felix watched he saw her square sail again raised,
showing that she had reached a spot where the hills ceased to shut off
the wind. Entering the open Lake she altered her course and sailed away
to the north-north-east, following the course of the northern mainland.

Looking now eastwards, across the Lake, he saw a vast and beautiful
expanse of water, without island or break of any kind, reaching to the
horizon. Northwards and southwards the land fell rapidly away, skirted
as usual with islets and shoals, between which and the shore vessels
usually voyaged. He had heard of this open water, and it was his
intention to sail out into and explore it, but as the sun now began to
decline towards the west, he considered that he had better wait till
morning, and so have a whole day before him. Meantime, he would paddle
through the channel, beach the canoe on the islet that stood farthest
out, and so start clear on the morrow.

Turning now to look back the other way, westward, he was surprised to
see a second channel, which came almost to the foot of the hill on which
he stood, but there ended and did not connect with the first. The
entrance to it was concealed, as he now saw, by an island, past which he
must have sailed that afternoon. This second or blind channel seemed
more familiar to him than the flat and reedy shore at the mouth of the
true strait, and he now recognised it as the one to which he had
journeyed on foot through the forest. He had not then struck the true
strait at all; he had sat down and pondered beside this deceptive inlet
thinking that it divided the mainlands. From this discovery he saw how
easy it was to be misled in such matters.

But it even more fully convinced him of the importance of this
uninhabited and neglected place. It seemed like a canal cut on purpose
to supply a fort from the Lake in the rear with provisions and material,
supposing access in front prevented by hostile fleets and armies. A
castle, if built near where he stood, would command the channel; arrows,
indeed, could not be shot across, but vessels under the protection of
the castle could dispute the passage, obstructed as it could be with
floating booms. An invader coming from the north must cross here; for
many years past there had been a general feeling that some day such an
attempt would be made. Fortifications would be of incalculable value in
repelling the hostile hordes and preventing their landing.

Who held this strait would possess the key of the Lake, and would be
master of, or would at least hold the balance between, the kings and
republics dotted along the coasts on either hand. No vessel could pass
without his permission. It was the most patent illustration of the
extremely local horizon, the contracted mental view of the petty kings
and their statesmen, who were so concerned about the frontiers of their
provinces, and frequently interfered and fought for a single palisaded
estate or barony, yet were quite oblivious of the opportunity of empire
open here to any who could seize it.

If the governor of such a castle as he imagined built upon the strait,
had also vessels of war, they could lie in this second channel sheltered
from all winds, and ready to sally forth and take an attacking force
upon the flank. While he pondered upon these advantages he could not
conceal from himself that he had once sat down and dreamed beside this
second inlet, thinking it to be the channel. The doubt arose whether, if
he was so easily misled in such a large, tangible, and purely physical
matter, he might not be deceived also in his ideas; whether, if tested,
they might not fail; whether the world was not right and he wrong.

The very clearness and many-sided character of his mind often hindered
and even checked altogether the best founded of his impressions, the
more especially when he, as it were, stood still and thought. In
reverie, the subtlety of his mind entangled him; in action, he was
almost always right. Action prompted his decision. Descending from the
hill he now took some refreshment, and then pushed out again in the
canoe. So powerful was the current in the narrowest part of the strait
that it occupied him two hours in paddling as many miles.

When he was free of the channel, he hoisted sail and directed his course
straight out for an island which stood almost opposite the entrance. But
as he approached, driven along at a good pace, suddenly the canoe seemed
to be seized from beneath. He knew in a moment that he had grounded on
soft mud, and sprang up to lower the sail, but before he could do so the
canoe came to a standstill on the mud-bank, and the waves following
behind, directly she stopped, broke over the stern. Fortunately they
were but small, having only a mile or so to roll from the shore, but
they flung enough water on board in a few minutes to spoil part of his
provisions, and to set everything afloat that was loose on the bottom of
the vessel.

He was apprehensive lest she should fill, for he now perceived that he
had forgotten to provide anything with which to bale her out. Something
is always forgotten. Having got the sail down (lest the wind should snap
the mast), he tried hard to force the canoe back with his longer paddle,
used as a movable rudder. His weight and the resistance of the adhesive
mud, on which she had driven with much force was too great; he could not
shove her off. When he pushed, the paddle sank into the soft bottom, and
gave him nothing to press against. After struggling for some time, he
paused, beginning to fear that his voyage had already reached an end.

A minute's thought, more potent than the strength of ten men, showed him
that the canoe required lightening. There was no cargo to throw
overboard, nor ballast. He was the only weight. He immediately
undressed, and let himself overboard at the prow, retaining hold of the
stem. His feet sank deep into the ooze; he felt as if, had he let go, he
should have gradually gone down into this quicksand of fine mud. By
rapidly moving his feet he managed, however, to push the canoe; she rose
considerably so soon as he was out of her, and, although he had hold of
the prow, still his body was lighter in the water. Pushing, struggling,
and pressing forward, he, by sheer impact, as it were, for his feet
found no hold in the mud, forced her back by slow degrees.

The blows of the waves drove her forward almost as much as he pushed her
back. Still, in time, and when his strength was fast decreasing, she did
move, and he had the satisfaction of feeling the water deeper beneath
him. But when he endeavoured to pull himself into the canoe over the
prow, directly his motive power ceased, the waves undid the advance he
had achieved, and he had to resume his labour. This time, thinking
again, before he attempted to get into the canoe he turned her sideways
to the wind, with the outrigger to leeward. When her sharp prow and
rounded keel struck the mud-bank end on she ran easily along it. But,
turned sideways, her length found more resistance, and though the waves
sent her some way upon it, she soon came to a standstill. He clambered
in as quickly as he could (it is not easy to get into a boat out of the
water, the body feels so heavy), and, taking the paddle, without waiting
to dress, worked away from the spot.

Not till he had got some quarter of a mile back towards the mainland did
he pause to dry himself and resume part of his clothing; the canoe being
still partly full of water, it was no use to put on all. Resting awhile
after his severe exertions, he looked back, and now supposed, from the
colour of the water and the general indications, that these shallows
extended a long distance, surrounding the islands at the mouth of the
channel, so that no vessel could enter or pass out in a direct line, but
must steer to the north or south until the obstacle was rounded. Afraid
to attempt to land on another island, his only course, as the sun was
now going down, was to return to the mainland, which he reached without
much trouble, as the current favoured him.

He drew the canoe upon the ground as far as he could. It was not a good
place to land, as the bottom was chalk, washed into holes by the waves,
and studded with angular flints. As the wind was off the shore it did
not matter; if it had blown from the east, his canoe might very likely
have been much damaged. The shore was overgrown with hazel to within
twenty yards of the water, then the ground rose and was clothed with low
ash-trees, whose boughs seemed much stunted by tempest, showing how
exposed the spot was to the easterly gales of spring. The south-west
wind was shut off by the hills beyond. Felix was so weary that for some
time he did nothing save rest upon the ground, which was but scantily
covered with grass. An hour's rest, however, restored him to himself.

He gathered some dry sticks (there were plenty under the ashes), struck
his flint against the steel, ignited the tinder, and soon had a fire. It
was not necessary for warmth, the June evening was soft and warm, but it
was the hunter's instinct. Upon camping for the night the hunter, unless
Bushmen are suspected to be in the neighbourhood, invariably lights a
fire, first to cook his supper, and secondly, and often principally, to
make the spot his home. The hearth is home, whether there be walls round
it or not. Directly there are glowing embers the place is no longer
wild, it becomes human. Felix had nothing that needed cooking. He took
his cowhide from the canoe and spread it on the ground.

A well-seasoned cowhide is the first possession of every hunter; it
keeps him from the damp; and with a second, supported on three short
poles stuck in the earth (two crossed at the top in front, forming a
fork, and fastened with a thong, the third resting on these), he
protects himself from the heaviest rain. This little tent is always
built with the back to windward. Felix did not erect a second hide, the
evening was so warm and beautiful he did not need it, his cloak would be
ample for covering. The fire crackled and blazed at intervals, just far
enough from him that he might feel no inconvenience from its heat.

Thrushes sang in the ash wood all around him, the cuckoo called, and the
chiff-chaff never ceased for a moment. Before him stretched the expanse
of waters; he could even here see over the low islands. In the sky a
streak of cloud was tinted by the sunset, slowly becoming paler as the
light departed. He reclined in that idle, thoughtless state which
succeeds unusual effort, till the deepening shadow and the sinking fire,
and the appearance of a star, warned him that the night was really here.
Then he arose, threw on more fuel, and fetched his cloak, his chest, and
his boar spear from the canoe. The chest he covered with a corner of the
hide, wrapped himself in the cloak, bringing it well over his face on
account of the dew; then, drawing the lower corners of the hide over his
feet and limbs, he stretched himself at full length and fell asleep,
with the spear beside him.

There was the possibility of Bushmen, but not much probability. There
would be far more danger near the forest path, where they might expect a
traveller and watch to waylay him, but they could not tell beforehand
where he would rest that night. If any had seen the movements of his
canoe, if any lighted upon his bivouac by chance, his fate was certain.
He knew this, but trusted to the extreme improbability of Bushmen
frequenting a place where there was nothing to plunder. Besides, he had
no choice, as he could not reach the islands. If there was risk, it was
forgotten in the extremity of his weariness.



CHAPTER XV

SAILING ONWARDS


When Felix awoke, he knew at once by the height of the sun that the
morning was far advanced. Throwing off his cloak, he stood up, but
immediately crouched down again, for a vessel was passing but a short
distance from the shore, and nearly opposite his encampment. She had two
masts, and from the flags flying, the numerous bannerets, and the
movements of so many men on board, he knew her to be a ship of war. He
was anxious that he should not be seen, and regretted that his canoe was
so much exposed, for the bush by which he had landed hid it only from
one side. As the shore was so bare and open, if they looked that way the
men on board would hardly fail to see it, and might even distinguish
him. But whether they were too much engaged with their own affairs, or
kept a careless look-out, no notice appeared to be taken, no boat was
lowered.

He watched the war-ship for nearly an hour before he ventured to move.
Her course was to the eastward, inside the fringe of islands. That she
was neither Irish nor Welsh he was certain from her build and from her
flags; they were too distant for the exact designs upon them to be seen,
but near enough for him to know that they were not those displayed by
the foreigners. She sailed fast, having the wind nearly aft, which
suited her two square sails.

The wind had risen high during the night, and now blew almost a gale, so
that he saw he must abandon for the present his project of sailing out
upon the open water. The waves there would be too high for his canoe,
which floated low in the water, and had but about six inches freeboard.
They would wash over and possibly swamp her. Only two courses were open
to him: either to sail inside the islands under shelter of the land, or
to remain where he was till the breeze moderated. If he sailed inside
the islands, following the northward course of the merchant vessel he
had observed the previous evening, that would carry him past Eaststock,
the eastern port of Sypolis, which city, itself inland, had two
harbours, with the western of which (Weststock) it had communication by
water.

Should he continue to sail on, he would soon reach that part of the
northern continent which was occupied by the Irish outposts. On the
other hand, to follow the war-ship, east by south, would, he knew, bring
him by the great city of Aisi, famous for its commerce, its riches, and
the warlike disposition of its king, Isembard. He was the acknowledged
head of the forces of the League; but yet, with the inconsistency of the
age, sometimes attacked other members of it. His furious energy was
always disturbing the world, and Felix had no doubt he was now at war
with some one or other, and that the war-ship he had seen was on its way
to assist him or his enemies. One of the possibilities which had
impelled him to this voyage was that of taking service with some king or
commander, and so perhaps gradually rising himself to command.

Such adventures were very common, knights often setting forth upon such
expeditions when dissatisfied with their own rulers, and they were
usually much welcomed as an addition to the strength of the camp they
sought. But there was this difference: that such knights carried with
them some substantial recommendation, either numerous retainers well
armed and accustomed to battle, considerable treasure, or at least a
reputation for prowess in the field. Felix had nothing to offer, and for
nothing nothing is given.

The world does not recognise intrinsic worth, or potential genius.
Genius must accomplish some solid result before it is applauded and
received. The unknown architect may say: "I have a design in my mind for
an impregnable castle." But the world cannot see or appreciate the mere
design. If by any personal sacrifice of time, dignity, or self-respect
the architect, after long years, can persuade someone to permit him to
build the castle, to put his design into solid stone which squadrons may
knock their heads against in vain, then he is acknowledged. There is
then a tangible result.

Felix was in the position of the architect. He believed he had ideas,
but he had nothing substantial, no result, to point to. He had therefore
but little hope of success, and his natural hauteur and pride revolted
against making application for enrolment which must be accompanied with
much personal humiliation, since at best he could but begin in the
common ranks. The very idea of asking was repugnant to him. The thought
of Aurora, however, drew him on.

The pride was false, he said to himself, and arose from too high an
estimate of his abilities; or it was the consequence of living so long
entirely secluded from the world. He acknowledged to himself that he had
not been beaten down to his level. Full of devotion to Aurora, he
resolved to humble himself, to seek the humblest service in King
Isembard's camp, to bow his spirit to the orders of men above him in
rank but below him in birth and ability, to submit to the numberless
indignities of a common soldier's life.

He proceeded to launch the canoe, and had already placed the chest on
board when it occurred to him that the difficulties he had encountered
the previous evening, when his canoe was so nearly lost, arose from his
ignorance of the channels. It would be advisable to ascend the hill, and
carefully survey the coast as far as possible before setting forth. He
did so. The war-ship was still visible from the summit, but while he
looked she was hidden by the intervening islands. The white foam and
angry appearance of the distant open water direct to the eastward,
showed how wise he had been not to attempt its exploration. Under the
land the wind was steady; yonder, where the gale struck the surface with
all its force, the waves were large and powerful.

From this spot he could see nearly the whole length of the strait, and,
gazing up it in the direction he had come, he saw some boats crossing in
the distance. As they moved so slowly, and appeared so broad, he
conjectured that they were flat-bottomed punts, and, straining his eyes,
he fancied he detected horses on board. He watched four cross, and
presently the first punt returned, as if for another freight. He now
noticed that there was a land route by which travellers or waggons came
down from the northward, and crossed the strait by a ferry. It appeared
that the ferry was not in the narrowest part of the strait, but nearer
its western mouth, where the shores were flat, and covered with reeds
and flags. He wondered that he had not seen anything of the
landing-places, or of the ferry-boats, or some sign of this traffic when
he passed, but concluded that the track was hidden among the dense
growth of reed and flag, and that the punts, not being in use that day,
had been drawn up, and perhaps covered with green boughs to shelter them
from the heat of the summer sun.

The fact of this route existing, however, gave additional importance to
the establishment of a fort on the shore of the strait, as he had so
long contemplated. By now, the first punt had obtained another load, and
was re-crossing the channel. It was evident that a caravan of travellers
or merchants had arrived, such persons usually travelling in large
bodies for safety, so that the routes were often deserted for weeks
together, and then suddenly covered with people. Routes, indeed, they
were, and not roads; mere tracks worn through the forest and over the
hills, often impassable from floods.

Still further satisfied that his original idea of a castle here was
founded on a correct estimate of the value of the spot, Felix resolved
to keep the conception to himself, and not again to hazard it to others,
who might despise him, but adopt his design. With one long last glance
at the narrow streak of water which formed the central part, as it were,
of his many plans, he descended the hill, and pushed off in the canoe.

His course this time gave him much less trouble than the day before,
when he had frequently to change his tack. The steady, strong breeze
came off the land, to which he was too close for any waves to arise, and
hour after hour passed without any necessity to shift the sail, further
than to ease or tighten the sheets as the course of the land varied. By
degrees the wind came more and more across his course, at right angles
to it, and then began to fall aft as he described an arc, and the land
projected northwards.

He saw several small villages on the shore, and passed one narrow bay,
which seemed, indeed, to penetrate into the land deeper than he could
actually see. Suddenly, after four or five hours, sailing, he saw the
tower of a church over the wooded hills. This he knew must indicate the
position of Aisi. The question now came, whether he should sail into the
harbour, when he would, of course, at once be seen, and have to undergo
the examination of the officers; or should he land, and go on foot to
the city? A minute's reflection assured him the latter was the better
plan, for his canoe was of so unusual a construction, that it would be
more than carefully examined, and not unlikely his little treasures
would be discovered and appropriated. Without hesitation, therefore, and
congratulating himself that there were no vessels in sight, he ran the
canoe on shore among the flags and reeds which bordered it.

He drew her up as far as his strength permitted, and not only took down
the sail, but unshipped the mast; then cutting a quantity of dead reeds,
he scattered them over her, so that, unless a boat passed very close to
the land, she would not be seen. While he had a meal he considered how
he had better proceed. The only arms with which he excelled were the bow
and arrow; clearly, therefore, if he wished an engagement, he should
take these with him, and exhibit his skill. But well he knew the utter
absence of law and justice except for the powerful. His bow, which he so
greatly valued, and which was so well seasoned, and could be relied
upon, might be taken from him.

His arrows, so carefully prepared from chosen wood, and pointed with
steel, might be seized. Both bow and arrows were far superior to those
used by the hunters and soldiery, and he dreaded losing them. There was
his crossbow, but it was weak, and intended for killing only small game,
as birds, and at short range. He could make no display with that. Sword
he had none for defence; there remained only his boar spear, and with
this he resolved to be content, trusting to obtain the loan of a bow
when the time came to display his skill, and that fortune would enable
him to triumph with an inferior weapon.

After resting awhile and stretching his limbs, cramped in the canoe, he
set out (carrying his boar-spear only) along the shore, for the thick
growth of the firs would not let him penetrate in the direction he had
seen the tower. He had to force his way through the reeds and flags and
brushwood, which flourished between the firs and the water's edge. It
was hard work walking, or rather pushing through these obstacles, and he
rejoiced when he emerged upon the slope of a down where there was an
open sward, and but a few scattered groups of firs. The fact of it being
open, and the shortness of the sward, showed at once that it was used
for grazing purposes for cattle and sheep. Here he could walk freely,
and soon reached the top. Thence the city was visible almost underneath
him.

It stood at the base of a low narrow promontory, which ran a long way
into the Lake. The narrow bank, near where it joined the mainland, was
penetrated by a channel or creek, about a hundred yards wide, or less,
which channel appeared to enter the land and was lost from sight of
among the trees. Beyond this channel a river ran into the lake, and in
the Y, between the creek and the river, the city had been built.

It was surrounded with a brick wall, and there were two large round
brick towers on the land side, which indicated the position of the
castle and palace. The space enclosed by the walls was not more than
half a mile square, and the houses did not occupy nearly all of it.
There were open places, gardens, and even small paddocks among them.
None of the houses were more than two storeys high, but what at once
struck a stranger was the fact that they were all roofed with red tiles,
most of the houses of that day being thatched or covered with shingles
of wood. As Felix afterwards learnt, this had been effected during the
reign of the present king, whose object was to protect his city from
being set on fire by burning arrows. The encircling wall had become a
dull red hue from the long exposure to the weather, but the roofs were a
brighter red. There was no ensign flying on either of the towers, from
which he concluded that the king at that moment was absent.



CHAPTER XVI

THE CITY


Slowly descending towards the city, Felix looked in vain for any means
of crossing the channel or creek, which extended upon the side of it,
and in which he counted twenty-two merchant vessels at anchor, or moored
to the bank, besides a number of smaller craft and boats. The ship of
war, which had arrived before him, was beached close up by a gate of the
city, which opened on the creek or port, and her crew were busily
engaged discharging her stores. As he walked beside the creek trying to
call the attention of some boatman to take him across, he was impressed
by the silence, for though the city wall was not much more than a
stone's throw distant, there was none of the usual hum which arises from
the movements of people. On looking closer he noticed, too, that there
were few persons on the merchant vessels, and not one gang at work
loading or unloading. Except the warder stalking to and fro on the wall,
and the crew of the war-ship, there was no one visible. As the warder
paced to and fro the blade of his partisan gleamed in the sunshine. He
must have seen Felix, but with military indifference did not pay the
slightest heed to the latter's efforts to attract his attention.

He now passed the war-ship, and shouted to the men at work, who were, he
could see, carrying sheaves of arrows and bundles of javelins from the
vessel and placing them on carts; but they did not trouble to reply. His
common dress and ordinary appearance did not inspire them with any hope
of payment from him if they obliged him with a boat. The utter
indifference with which his approach was seen showed him the contempt in
which he was held.

Looking round to see if there were no bridge or ferry, he caught sight
of the grey church tower which he had observed from afar while sailing.
It was quite a mile from the city, and isolated outside the walls. It
stood on the slope of the hill, over whose summit the tower was visible.
He wandered up towards it, as there were usually people in or about the
churches, which were always open day and night. If no one else, the
porter in the lodge at the church door would be there, for he or his
representative never left it, being always on the watch lest some thief
should attempt to enter the treasury, or steal the sacred vessels.

But as he ascended the hill he met a shepherd, whose dogs prepared to
fly at him, recognising a stranger. For a moment the man seemed inclined
to let them wreak their will, if they could, for he also felt inclined
to challenge a stranger, but, seeing Felix lower his spear, it probably
occurred to him that some of his dogs would be killed. He therefore
ordered them down, and stayed to listen. Felix learnt that there was no
bridge across the creek, and only one over the river; but there was a
ferry for anybody who was known. No strangers were allowed to cross the
ferry; they must enter by the main road over the bridge.

"But how am I to get into the place then?" said Felix. The shepherd
shook his head, and said he could not tell him, and walked away about
his business.

Discouraged at these trifling vexations, which seemed to cross his path
at every step, Felix found his way to the ferry, but, as the shepherd
had said, the boatman refused to carry him, being a stranger. No
persuasion could move him; nor the offer of a small silver coin, worth
about ten times his fare.

"I must then swim across," said Felix, preparing to take off his
clothes.

"Swim, if you like," said the boatman, with a grim smile; "but you will
never land."

"Why not?"

"Because the warder will let drive at you with an arrow."

Felix looked, and saw that he was opposite the extreme angle of the city
wall, a point usually guarded with care. There was a warder stalking to
and fro; he carried a partisan, but, of course, might have his bow
within reach, or could probably call to the soldiers of the guard.

"This _is_ annoying," said Felix, ready to give up his enterprise. "How
ever can I get into the city?"

The old boatman grinned, but said nothing, and returned to a net which
he was mending. He made no answer to the further questions Felix put to
him. Felix then shouted to the warder; the soldier looked once, but paid
no more heed. Felix walked a little way and sat down on the grass. He
was deeply discouraged. These repulses, trifles in themselves, assumed
an importance, because his mind had long been strung up to a high pitch
of tension. A stolid man would have thought nothing of them. After a
while he arose, again asking himself how should he become a leader, who
had not the perseverance to enter a city in peaceful guise?

Not knowing what else to do, he followed the creek round the foot of the
hill, and so onwards for a mile or more. This bank was steep, on account
of the down; the other cultivated, the corn being already high. The
cuckoo sang (she loves the near neighbourhood of man) and flew over the
channel towards a little copse. Almost suddenly the creek wound round
under a low chalk cliff, and in a moment Felix found himself confronted
by another city. This had no wall; it was merely defended by a ditch and
earthwork, without tower or bastion.

The houses were placed thickly together; there were, he thought, six or
seven times as many as he had previously seen, and they were thatched or
shingled, like those in his own country. It stood in the midst of the
fields, and the corn came up to the fosse; there were many people at
work, but, as he noticed, most of them were old men, bowed and feeble. A
little way farther he saw a second boathouse; he hastened thither, and
the ferrywoman, for the boat was poled across by a stout dame, made not
the least difficulty about ferrying him over. So delighted was Felix at
this unexpected fortune, that he gave her the small silver coin, at
sight of which he instantly rose high in her estimation.

She explained to him, in answer to his inquiries, that this was also
called Aisi; this was the city of the common folk. Those who were rich
or powerful had houses in the walled city, the precinct of the Court.
Many of the houses there, too, were the inns of great families who dwelt
in the country in their castles, but when they came to the Court
required a house. Their shields, or coats of arms, were painted over the
doors. The walled city was guarded with such care, because so many
attempts had been made to surprise it, and to assassinate the king,
whose fiery disposition and constant wars had raised him up so many
enemies. As much care was taken to prevent a single stranger entering as
if he were the vanguard of a hostile army, and if he now went back (as
he could do) to the bridge over the river, he would be stopped and
questioned, and possibly confined in prison till the king returned.

"Where is the king?" asked Felix; "I came to try and take service with
him."

"Then you will be welcome," said the woman. "He is in the field, and has
just sat down before Iwis."

"That was why the walled city seemed so empty, then." said Felix.

"Yes; all the people are with him; there will be a great battle this
time."

"How far is it to Iwis?" said Felix.

"Twenty-seven miles," replied the dame; "and if you take my advice, you
had better walk twenty-seven miles there, than two miles back to the
bridge over the river."

Someone now called from the opposite bank, and she started with the boat
to fetch another passenger.

"Thank you, very much," said Felix, as he wished her good day; "but why
did not the man at the other ferry tell me I could cross here?"

The woman laughed outright. "Do you suppose he was going to put a penny
in my way when he could not get it himself?"

So mean and petty is the world! Felix entered the second city and walked
some distance through it, when he recollected that he had not eaten for
some time. He looked in vain for an inn, but upon speaking to a man who
was leaning on his crutch at a doorway, he was at once asked to enter,
and all that the house afforded was put before him. The man with the
crutch sat down opposite, and remarked that most of the folk were gone
to the camp, but he could not because his foot had been injured. He then
went on to tell how it had happened, with the usual garrulity of the
wounded. He was assisting to place the beam of a battering-ram upon a
truck (it took ten horses to draw it) when a lever snapped, and the beam
fell. Had the beam itself touched him he would have been killed on the
spot; as it was, only a part of the broken lever or pole hit him. Thrown
with such force, the weight of the ram driving it, the fragment of the
pole grazed his leg, and either broke one of the small bones that form
the arch of the instep, or so bruised it that it was worse than broken.
All the bone-setters and surgeons had gone to the camp, and he was left
without attendance other than the women, who fomented the foot daily,
but he had little hope of present recovery, knowing that such things
were often months about.

He thought it lucky that it was no worse, for very few, he had noticed,
ever recovered from serious wounds of spear or arrow. The wounded
generally died; only the fortunate escaped. Thus he ran on, talking as
much for his own amusement as that of his guest. He fretted because he
could not join the camp and help work the artillery; he supposed the ram
would be in position by now and shaking the wall with its blow. He
wondered if Baron Ingulph would miss his face.

"Who's he?" asked Felix.

"He is captain of the artillery," replied his host.

"Are you his retainer?"

"No; I am a servant."

Felix started slightly, and did but just check himself from rising from
the table. A "servant" was a slave; it was the euphemism used instead of
the hateful word, which not even the most degraded can endure to bear.
The class of the nobles to which he belonged deemed it a disgrace to sit
down with a slave, to eat with him, even to accidently touch him. With
the retainers, or free men, they were on familiar terms, though despotic
to the last degree; the slave was less than the dog. Then, stealing a
glance at the man's face, Felix saw that he had no moustache; he had not
noticed this before. No slaves were allowed to wear the moustache.

This man having been at home ill some days had neglected to shave, and
there was some mark upon his upper lip. As he caught his guest's glance,
the slave hung his head, and asked his guest in a low and humble voice
not to mention this fault. With his face slightly flushed, Felix
finished his meal; he was confused to the last degree. His long training
and the tone of the society in which he had moved (though so despised a
member of it) prejudiced him strongly against the man whose hospitality
was so welcome. On the other hand, the ideas which had for so long
worked in his mind in his solitary intercommunings in the forest were
entirely opposed to servitude. In abstract principle he had long since
condemned it, and desired to abolish it. But here was the fact.

He had eaten at a slave's table, and sat with him face to face. Theory
and practice are often strangely at variance. He felt it an important
moment; he felt that he was himself, as it were, on the balance; should
he adhere to the ancient prejudice, the ancient exclusiveness of his
class, or should he boldly follow the dictate of his mind? He chose the
latter, and extended his hand to the servant as he rose to say good-bye.
The act was significant; it recognised man as distinct from caste. The
servant did not know the conflict that had taken place; but to be shaken
hands with at all, even by a retainer as he supposed Felix to be, was
indeed a surprise. He could not understand it; it was the first time his
hand had been taken by any one of superior position since he had been
born. He was dumb with amazement, and could scarcely point out the road
when asked; nor did he take the small coin Felix offered, one of the few
he possessed. Felix therefore left it on the table and again started.

Passing through the town, Felix followed the track which led in the
direction indicated. In about half a mile it led him to a wider track,
which he immediately recognised as the main way and road to the camp by
the ruts and dust, for the sward had been trampled down for fifty yards
wide, and even the corn was cut up by wheels and horses' hoofs. The army
had passed, and he had but to follow its unmistakable trail.



CHAPTER XVII

THE CAMP


Felix walked steadily on for nearly three hours, when the rough track,
the dust, and heat began to tell upon him, and he sat down beside the
way. The sun was now declining, and the long June day tending to its
end. A horseman passed, coming from the camp, and as he wore only a
sword, and had a leathern bag slung from his shoulder, he appeared to be
a courtier. The dust raised by the hoofs, as it rose and floated above
the brushwood, rendered his course visible. Some time afterwards, while
he still rested, being very weary with walking through the heat of the
afternoon, he heard the sound of wheels, and two carts drawn by horses
came along the track from the city.

The carts were laden with bundles of arrows, perhaps the same he had
seen unloading that morning from the war-ship, and were accompanied only
by carters. As they approached he rose, feeling that it was time to
continue his journey. His tired feet were now stiff, and he limped as he
stepped out into the road. The men spoke, and he walked as well as he
could beside them, using his boar-spear as a staff. There were two
carters with each cart; and presently, noting how he lagged, and could
scarce keep pace with them, one of them took a wooden bottle from the
load on his cart, and offered him a draught of ale.

Thus somewhat refreshed, Felix began to talk, and learnt that the arrows
were from the vessel in whose track he had sailed; that it had been sent
loaded with stores for the king's use, by his friend the Prince of
Quinton; that very great efforts had been made to get together a large
army in this campaign; first, because the city besieged was so near
home, and failure might be disastrous, and, secondly, because it was one
of three which were all republics, and the other two would be certain to
send it assistance. These cities stood in a plain, but a few miles
apart, and in a straight line on the banks of the river. The king had
just sat down before the first, vowing that he would knock them down,
one after the other, like a row of ninepins.

The carters asked him, in return, whose retainer he was, and he said
that he was on his way to take service, and was under no banner yet.

"Then," said the man who had given him a drink, "if you are free like
that, you had better join the king's levy, and be careful to avoid the
barons' war. For if you join either of the barons' war, they will know
you to be a stranger, and very likely, if they see that you are quick
and active, they will not let you free again, and if you attempt to
escape after the campaign, you will find yourself mightily mistaken. The
baron's captain would only have to say you had always been his man; and,
as for your word, it would be no more than a dog's bark. Besides which,
if you rebelled, it would be only to shave off that moustache of yours,
and declare you a slave, and as you have no friends in camp, a slave you
would be."

"That would be very unjust," said Felix. "Surely the king would not
allow it?"

"How is he to know?" said another of the carters. "My brother's boy was
served just like that. He was born free, the same as all our family, but
he was fond of roving, and when he reached Quinton, he was seen by Baron
Robert, who was in want of men, and being a likely young fellow, they
shaved his lip, and forced him to labour under the thong. When his
spirit was cowed, and he seemed reconciled, they let him grow his
moustache again, and there he is now, a retainer, and well treated. But
still, it was against his will. Jack is right; you had better join the
king's levy."

The king's levy is composed of his own retainers from his estates, of
townsmen, who are not retainers of the barons, of any knights and
volunteers who like to offer their services; and a king always desires
as large a levy as possible, because it enables him to overawe his
barons. These, when their "war", or forces, are collected together in
camp, are often troublesome, and inclined to usurp authority. A
volunteer is, therefore, always welcome in the king's levy.

Felix thanked them for the information they had given him, and said he
should certainly follow their advice. He could now hardly keep up with
the carts, having walked for so many hours, and undergone so much
previous exertion. Finding this to be the case, he wished them
good-night, and looked round for some cover. It was now dusk, and he
knew he could go no farther. When they understood his intention, they
consulted among themselves, and finally made him get up into one of the
carts, and sit down on the bundles of arrows, which filled it like
faggots. Thus he was jolted along, the rude wheels fitting but badly on
the axle, and often sinking deep into a rut.

They were now in thick forest, and the track was much narrower, so that
it had become worn into a hollow, as if it were the dry bed of a
torrent. The horses and the carters were weary, yet they were obliged to
plod on, as the arms had to be delivered before the morrow. They spoke
little, except to urge the animals. Felix soon dropped into a reclining
posture (uneasy as it was, it was a relief), and looking up, saw the
white summer stars above. After a time he lost consciousness, and slept
soundly, quite worn out, despite the jolting and creaking of the wheels.

The sound of a trumpet woke him with a start. His heavy and dreamless
sleep for a moment had taken away his memory, and he did not know where
he was. As he sat up two sacks fell from him; the carters had thrown
them over him as a protection against the night's dew. The summer
morning was already as bright as noonday, and the camp about him was
astir. In half a minute he came to himself, and getting out of the cart
looked round. All his old interest had returned, the spirit of war
entered into him, the trumpet sounded again, and the morning breeze
extended the many-coloured banners.

The spot where he stood was in the rear of the main camp, and but a
short distance from the unbroken forest. Upon either hand there was an
intermingled mass of stores, carts, and waggons crowded together, sacks
and huge heaps of forage, on and about which scores of slaves, drivers
and others, were sleeping in every possible attitude, many of them
evidently still under the influence of the ale they had drunk the night
before. What struck him at once was the absence of any guard here in the
rear. The enemy might steal out from the forest behind and help himself
to what he chose, or murder the sleeping men, or, passing through the
stores, fall on the camp itself. To Felix this neglect appeared
inexplicable; it indicated a mental state which he could not comprehend,
a state only to be described by negatives. There was no completeness, no
system, no organization; it was a kind of haphazardness, altogether
opposite to his own clear and well-ordered ideas.

The ground sloped gently downwards from the edge of the forest, and the
place where he was had probably been ploughed, but was now trodden flat
and hard. Next in front of the stores he observed a long, low hut built
of poles, and roofed with fir branches; the walls were formed of ferns,
straw, bundles of hay, anything that had come to hand. On a standard
beside it, a pale blue banner, with the device of a double hammer worked
in gold upon it, fluttered in the wind. Twenty or thirty, perhaps more,
spears leant against one end of this rude shed, their bright points
projecting yards above the roof. To the right of the booth as many
horses were picketed, and not far from them some soldiers were cooking
at an open fire of logs. As Felix came slowly towards the booth, winding
in and out among the carts and heaps of sacks, he saw that similar
erections extended down the slope for a long distance.

There were hundreds of them, some large, some small, not placed in any
order, but pitched where chance or fancy led, the first-comers taking
the sites that pleased them, and the rest crowding round. Beside each
hut stood the banner of the owner, and Felix knew from this that they
were occupied by the barons, knights, and captains of the army. The
retainers of each baron bivouacked as they might in the open air; some
of them had hunter's hides, and others used bundles of straw to sleep
on. Their fire was as close to their lord's hut as convenient, and thus
there were always plenty within call.

The servants, or slaves, also slept in the open air, but in the rear of
their owner's booth, and apart from the free retainers. Felix noticed,
that although the huts were pitched anyhow and anywhere, those on the
lowest ground seemed built along a line, and, looking closer, he found
that a small stream ran there. He learnt afterwards that there was
usually an emulation among the commanders to set up their standards as
near the water as possible, on account of convenience, those in the rear
having often to lead their horses a long distance to water. Beyond the
stream the ground rose again as gradually as it had declined. It was
open and cultivated up to the walls of the besieged city, which was not
three-quarters of a mile distant. Felix could not for the moment
distinguish the king's head-quarters. The confused manner in which the
booths were built prevented him from seeing far, though from the higher
ground it was easy to look over their low roofs.

He now wandered into the centre of the camp, and saw with astonishment
groups of retainers everywhere eating, drinking, talking, and even
playing cards or dice, but not a single officer of any rank. At last,
stopping by the embers of a fire, he asked timidly if he might have
breakfast. The soldiers laughed and pointed to a cart behind them,
telling him to help himself. The cart was turned with the tail towards
the fire, and laden with bread and sides of bacon, slices of which the
retainers had been toasting at the embers.

He did as he was bid, and the next minute a soldier, not quite steady on
his legs even at that hour, offered him the can, "for," said he, "you
had best drink whilst you may, youngster. There is always plenty of
drink and good living at the beginning of a war, and very often not a
drop or a bite to be got in the middle of it." Listening to their talk
as he ate his breakfast, Felix found the reason there were no officers
about was because most of them had drunk too freely the night before.
The king himself, they said, was put to bed as tight as a drum, and it
took no small quantity to fill so huge a vessel, for he was a remarkably
big man.

After the fatigue of the recent march, they had, in fact, refreshed
themselves, and washed down the dust of the track. They thought that
this siege was likely to be a very tough business, and congratulated
themselves that it was not thirty miles to Aisi, so that so long as they
stayed there they might, perhaps, get supplies of provisions with
tolerable regularity. "But if you're over the water, my lad," said the
old fellow with the can, picking his teeth with a twig, "and have got to
get your victuals by ship; by George, you may have to eat grass, or gnaw
boughs like a horse."

None of these men wore any arms, except the inevitable knife; their arms
were piled against the adjacent booth, bows and quivers, spears, swords,
bills and darts, thrown together just as they had cast them aside, and
more or less rusty from the dew. Felix thought that had the enemy come
suddenly down in force they might have made a clean sweep of the camp,
for there were no defences, neither breastwork, nor fosse, nor any set
guard. But he forgot that the enemy were quite as ill-organized as the
besiegers; probably they were in still greater confusion, for King
Isembard was considered one of the greatest military commanders of his
age, if not the very greatest.

The only sign of discipline he saw was the careful grooming of some
horses, which he rightly guessed to be those ridden by the knights, and
the equally careful polishing of pieces of armour before the doors of
the huts. He wished now to inquire his way to the king's levy, but as
the question rose to his lips he checked himself, remembering the
caution the friendly carters had given him. He therefore determined to
walk about the camp till he found some evidence that he was in the
immediate neighbourhood of the king.

He rose, stood about a little while to allay any possible suspicion
(quite needless precautions, for the soldiers were far too agreeably
engaged to take the least notice of him), and then sauntered off with as
careless an air as he could assume. Looking about him, first at a forge
where the blacksmith was shoeing a horse, then at a grindstone, where a
knight's sword was being sharpened, he was nearly knocked down by a
horse, urged at some speed through the crowds. By a rope from the
collar, three dead bodies were drawn along the ground, dusty and
disfigured by bumping against stone and clod. They were those of slaves,
hanged the preceding day, perhaps for pilfering, perhaps for a mere
whim, since every baron had power of the gallows.

They were dragged through the camp, and out a few hundred yards beyond,
and there left to the crows. This horrible sight, to which the rest were
so accustomed and so indifferent that they did not even turn to look at
it, deeply shocked him; the drawn and distorted features, the tongues
protruding and literally licking the dust, haunted him for long after.
Though his father, as a baron, possessed the same power, it had never
been exercised during his tenure of the estate, so that Felix had not
been hardened to the sight of executions, common enough elsewhere. Upon
the Old House estate a species of negative humanity reigned; if the
slaves were not emancipated, they were not hanged or cruelly beaten for
trifles.

Hastening from the spot, Felix came across the artillery, which
consisted of battering rams and immense crossbows; the bows were made
from entire trees, or, more properly, poles. He inspected these clumsy
contrivances with interest, and entered into a conversation with some
men who were fitting up the framework on which a battering ram was to
swing. Being extremely conceited with themselves and the knowledge they
had acquired from experience only (as the repeated blows of the block
drive home the pile), they scarcely answered him. But, presently, as he
lent a hand to assist, and bore with their churlishness without reply,
they softened, and, as usual, asked him to drink, for here, and
throughout the camp, the ale was plentiful, too plentiful for much
progress.

Felix took the opportunity and suggested a new form of trigger for the
unwieldy crossbows. He saw that as at present discharged it must require
some strength, perhaps the united effort of several men, to pull away
the bolt or catch. Such an effort must disconcert the aim; these
crossbows were worked upon a carriage, and it was difficult to keep the
carriage steady even when stakes were inserted by the low wheels. It
occurred to him at once that the catch could be depressed by a lever, so
that one man could discharge the bow by a mere pressure of the hand, and
without interfering with the aim. The men soon understood him, and
acknowledged that it would be a great improvement. One, who was the
leader of the gang, thought it so valuable an idea that he went off at
once to communicate with the lieutenant, who would in his turn carry the
matter to Baron Ingulph, Master of the Artillery.

The others congratulated him, and asked to share in the reward that
would be given to him for this invention. To whose "war" did he belong?
Felix answered, after a little hesitation, to the king's levy. At this
they whispered among themselves, and Felix, again remembering the
carters' caution, said that he must attend the muster (this was a pure
guess), but that he would return directly afterwards. Never for a moment
suspecting that he would avoid the reward they looked upon as certain,
they made no opposition, and he hurried away. Pushing through the
groups, and not in the least knowing where he was going, Felix stumbled
at last upon the king's quarters.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE KING'S LEVY


The king's booth stood apart from the rest; it was not much larger, but
properly thatched with straw, and the wide doorway hung with purple
curtains. Two standards stood beside it; one much higher than the other.
The tallest bore the ensign of the kingdom; the lesser, the king's own
private banner as a knight. A breastwork encircled the booth, enclosing
a space about seventy yards in diameter, with a fosse, and stakes so
planted as to repel assailants. There was but one gateway, opposite the
general camp, and this was guarded by soldiers fully armed. A knight on
horseback in armour, except his helmet, rode slowly up and down before
the gate; he was the officer of the guard. His retainers, some thirty or
forty men, were drawn up close by.

A distance of fifty yards intervened between this entrenchment and the
camp, and was kept clear. Within the entrenchment Felix could see a
number of gentlemen, and several horses caparisoned, but from the
absence of noise and the fact that every one appeared to walk daintily
and on tiptoe, he concluded that the king was still sleeping. The stream
ran beside the entrenchment, and between it and the city; the king's
quarters were at that corner of the camp highest up the brook, so that
the water might not be fouled before it reached him.

The king's levy, however, did not seem to be hereabouts, for the booths
nearest the head-quarters were evidently occupied by great barons, as
Felix easily knew from their banners. There was here some little
appearance of formality; the soldiery were not so noisy, and there were
several officers moving among them. He afterwards discovered that the
greater barons claimed the right to camp nearest the king, and that the
king's levy was just behind their booths. But unable to discover the
place, and afraid of losing his liberty if he delayed longer, Felix,
after hesitating some time, determined to apply direct to the guard at
the gate of the circular entrenchment.

As he crossed the open ground towards it, he noticed that the king's
quarters were the closest to the enemy. Across the little stream were
some corn-fields, and beyond these the walls of the city, scarcely half
a mile distant. There was no outpost, the stream was but a brook, and
could be crossed with ease. He marvelled at the lack of precaution; but
he had yet to learn that the enemy, and all the armies of the age, were
equally ignorant and equally careless.

With as humble a demeanour as he could assume, Felix doffed his cap and
began to speak to the guard at the gateway of the entrenchment. The
nearest man-at-arms immediately raised his spear and struck him with the
butt. The unexpected blow fell on his left shoulder, and with such force
as to render it powerless. Before he could utter a remonstrance, a
second had seized his boar-spear, snapped the handle across his knee,
and hurled the fragments from him. Others then took him by the shoulders
and thrust him back across the open space to the camp, where they kicked
him and left him, bruised, and almost stupefied with indignation. His
offence was approaching the king's ground with arms in his hands.

Later in the afternoon he found himself sitting on the bank of the
stream far below the camp. He had wandered thither without knowing where
he was going or what he was doing. His spirit for the time had been
crushed, not so much by the physical brutality as by the repulse to his
aspirations. Full of high hopes, and conscious of great ideas, he had
been beaten like a felon hound.

From this spot beside the brook the distant camp appeared very
beautiful. The fluttering banners, the green roofs of the booths (of
ferns and reeds and boughs), the movement and life, for bodies of troops
were now marching to and fro, and knights in gay attire riding on
horseback, made a pleasant scene on the sloping ground with the forest
at the back. Over the stream the sunshine lit up the walls of the
threatened city, where, too, many flags were waving. Felix came somewhat
to himself as he gazed, and presently acknowledged that he had only had
himself to blame. He had evidently transgressed a rule, and his
ignorance of the rule was no excuse, since those who had any right to be
in the camp at all were supposed to understand it.

He got up, and returning slowly towards the camp, passed on his way the
drinking-place, where a groom was watering some horses. The man called
to him to help hold a spirited charger, and Felix mechanically did as he
was asked. The fellow's mates had left him to do their work, and there
were too many horses for him to manage. Felix led the charger for him
back to the camp, and in return was asked to drink. He preferred food,
and a plentiful supply was put before him. The groom, gossiping as he
attended to his duties, said that he always welcomed the beginning of a
war, for they were often half starved, and had to gnaw the bones, like
the dogs, in peace. But when war was declared, vast quantities of
provisions were got together, and everybody gorged at their will. The
very dogs battened; he pointed to half a dozen who were tearing a raw
shoulder of mutton to pieces. Before the campaign was over, those very
dogs might starve. To what "war" did Felix belong? He replied to the
king's levy.


The groom said that this was the king's levy where they were; but under
whose command was he? This puzzled Felix, who did not know what to say,
and ended by telling the truth, and begging the fellow to advise him, as
he feared to lose his liberty. The man said he had better stay where he
was, and serve with him under Master Lacy, who was mean enough in the
city, but liked to appear liberal when thus consorting with knights and
gentlemen.

Master Lacy was a merchant of Aisi, an owner of vessels. Like most of
his fellows, when war came so close home, he was almost obliged to join
the king's levy. Had he not done so it would have been recorded against
him as a lack of loyalty. His privileges would have been taken from him,
possibly the wealth he had accumulated seized, and himself reduced to
slavery. Lacy, therefore, put on armour, and accompanied the king to the
camp. Thus Felix, after all his aspirations, found himself serving as
the knave of a mere citizen.

He had to take the horses down to water, to scour arms, to fetch wood
from the forest for the fire. He was at the beck and call of all the
other men, who never scrupled to use his services, and, observing that
he never refused, put upon him all the more. On the other hand, when
there was nothing doing, they were very kind and even thoughtful. They
shared the best with him, brought wine occasionally (wine was scarce,
though ale plentiful) as a delicacy, and one, who had dexterously taken
a purse, presented him with half a dozen copper coins as his share of
the plunder. Felix, grown wiser by experience, did not dare refuse the
stolen money, it would have been considered as the greatest insult; he
watched his opportunity and threw it away.

The men, of course, quickly discovered his superior education, but that
did not in the least surprise them, it being extremely common for
unfortunate people to descend by degrees to menial offices, if once they
left the estate and homestead to which they naturally belonged. There as
cadets, however humble, they were certain of outward respect: once
outside the influence of the head of the house, and they were worse off
than the lowest retainer. His fellows would have resented any show of
pride, and would speedily have made his life intolerable. As he showed
none, they almost petted him, but at the same time expected him to do
more than his share of the work.

Felix listened with amazement to the revelations (revelations to him) of
the inner life of the camp and court. The king's weaknesses, his
inordinate gluttony and continual intoxication, his fits of temper, his
follies and foibles, seemed as familiar to these grooms as if they had
dwelt with him. As for the courtiers and barons, there was not one whose
vices and secret crimes were not perfectly well known to them. Vice and
crime must have their instruments; instruments are invariably
indiscreet, and thus secrets escape. The palace intrigues, the intrigues
with other states, the influence of certain women, there was nothing
which they did not know.

Seen thus from below, the whole society appeared rotten and corrupted,
coarse to the last degree, and animated only by the lowest motives. This
very gossip seemed in itself criminal to Felix, but he did not at the
moment reflect that it was but the tale of servants. Had such language
been used by gentlemen, then it would have been treason. As himself of
noble birth, Felix had hitherto seen things only from the point of view
of his own class. Now he associated with grooms, he began to see society
from _their_ point of view, and recognised how feebly it was held
together by brute force, intrigue, cord and axe, and woman's flattery.
But a push seemed needed to overthrow it. Yet it was quite secure,
nevertheless, as there was none to give that push, and if any such plot
had been formed, those very slaves who suffered the most would have been
the very men to give information, and to torture the plotters.

Felix had never dreamed that common and illiterate men, such as these
grooms and retainers, could have any conception of reasons of State, or
the crafty designs of courts. He now found that, though they could
neither writer nor read, they had learned the art of reading man (the
worst and lowest side of character) to such perfection that they at once
detected the motive. They read the face; the very gait and gesture gave
them a clue. They read man, in fact, as an animal. They understood men
just as they understood the horses and hounds under their charge. Every
mood and vicious indication in those animals was known to them, and so,
too, with their masters.

Felix thought that he was himself a hunter, and understood woodcraft; he
now found how mistaken he had been. He had acquired woodcraft as a
gentleman; he now learned the knave's woodcraft. They taught him a
hundred tricks of which he had had no idea. They stripped man of his
dignity, and nature of her refinement. Everything had a blackguard side
to them. He began to understand that high principles and abstract
theories were only words with the mass of men.

One day he saw a knight coolly trip up a citizen (one of the king's
levy) in the midst of the camp and in broad daylight, and quietly cut
away his purse, at least a score of persons looking on. But they were
only retainers and slaves; there was no one whose word would for a
moment have been received against the knight's, who had observed this,
and plundered the citizen with impunity. He flung the lesser coins to
the crowd, keeping the gold and silver for himself, and walked off
amidst their plaudits.

Felix saw a slave nailed to a tree, his arms put round it so as to clasp
it, and then nails driven through them. There he was left in his agony
to perish. No one knew what his fault had been; his master had simply
taken a dislike to him. A guard was set that no one should relieve the
miserable being. Felix's horror and indignation could not have been
expressed, but he was totally helpless.

His own condition of mind during this time was such as could not be well
analysed. He did not himself understand whether his spirit had been
broken, whether he was really degraded with the men with whom he lived,
or why he remained with them, though there were moments when it dawned
upon him that this education, rude as it was, was not without its value
to him. He need not practise these evils, but it was well to know of
their existence. Thus he remained, as it were, quiescent, and the days
passed on. He really had not much to do, although the rest put their
burdens upon him, for discipline was so lax, that the loosest attendance
answered equally well with the most conscientious. The one thing all the
men about him seemed to think of was the satisfying of their appetites;
the one thing they rejoiced at was the fine dry weather, for, as his
mates told him, the misery of camp life in rain was almost unendurable.



CHAPTER XIX

FIGHTING


Twice Felix saw the king. Once there was a review of the horse outside
the camp, and Felix, having to attend with his master's third charger (a
mere show and affectation, for there was not the least chance of his
needing it), was now and then very near the monarch. For that day at
least he looked every whit what fame had reported him to be. A man of
unusual size, his bulk rendered him conspicuous in the front of the
throng. His massive head seemed to accord well with the possession of
despotic power.

The brow was a little bare, for he was no longer young, but the back of
his head was covered with thick ringlets of brown hair, so thick as to
partly conceal the coronet of gold which he wore. A short purple cloak,
scarcely reaching to the waist, was thrown back off his shoulders, so
that his steel corselet glistened in the sun. It was the only armour he
had on; a long sword hung at his side. He rode a powerful black horse,
full eighteen hands high, by far the finest animal on the ground; he
required it, for his weight must have been great. Felix passed near
enough to note that his eyes were brown, and the expression of his face
open, frank, and pleasing. The impression left upon the observer was
that of a strong intellect, but a still stronger physique, which latter
too often ran away with and controlled the former. No one could look
upon him without admiration, and it was difficult to think that he could
so demean himself as to wallow in the grossest indulgence.

As for the review, though it was a brilliant scene, Felix could not
conceal from himself that these gallant knights were extremely irregular
in their movements, and not one single evolution was performed
correctly, because they were constantly quarrelling about precedence,
and one would not consent to follow the other. He soon understood,
however, that discipline was not the object, nor regularity considered;
personal courage and personal dexterity were everything. This review was
the prelude to active operations, and Felix now hoped to have some
practical lessons in warfare.

He was mistaken. Instead of a grand assault, or a regular approach, the
fighting was merely a series of combats between small detachments and
bodies of the enemy. Two or three knights with their retainers and
slaves would start forth, cross the stream, and riding right past the
besieged city endeavour to sack some small hamlet, or the homestead of a
noble. From the city a sortie would ensue; sometimes the two bodies only
threatened each other at a distance, the first retiring as the second
advanced. Sometimes only a few arrows were discharged; occasionally they
came to blows, but the casualties were rarely heavy.

One such party, while returning, was followed by a squadron of horsemen
from the town towards the stream to within three hundred yards of the
king's quarters. Incensed at this assurance, several knights mounted
their horses and rode out to reinforce the returning detachment, which
was loaded with booty. Finding themselves about to be supported, they
threw down their spoils, faced about, and Felix saw for the first time a
real and desperate _melée_. It was over in five minutes. The king's
knights, far better horsed, and filled with desire to exhibit their
valour to the camp, charged with such fury that they overthrew the enemy
and rode over him.

Felix saw the troops meet; there was a crash and cracking as the lances
broke, four or five rolled from the saddle on the trodden corn, and the
next moment the entangled mass of men and horses unwound itself as the
enemy hastened back to the walls. Felix was eager to join in such an
affray, but he had no horse nor weapon. Upon another occasion early one
bright morning four knights and their followers, about forty in all,
deliberately set out from the camp, and advanced up the sloping ground
towards the city. The camp was soon astir watching their proceedings;
and the king, being made acquainted with what was going on, came out
from his booth. Felix, who now entered the circular entrenchment without
any difficulty, got up on the mound with scores of others, where,
holding to the stakes, they had a good view.

The king stood on a bench and watched the troops advance, shading his
eyes with his hand. As it was but half a mile to the walls they could
see all that took place. When the knights had got within two hundred
yards and arrows began to drop amongst them, they dismounted from their
horses and left them in charge of the grooms, who walked them up and
down, none remaining still a minute, so as to escape the aim of the
enemy's archers. Then drawing their swords, the knights, who were in
full armour, put themselves at the head of the band, and advanced at a
steady pace to the wall. In their mail with their shields before them
they cared not for such feeble archery, nor even for the darts that
poured upon them when they came within reach. There was no fosse to the
wall, so that, pushing forward, they were soon at the foot. So easily
had they reached it that Felix almost thought the city already won. Now
he saw blocks of stone, darts, and beams of wood cast at them from the
parapet, which was not more than twelve feet above the ground.

Quite undismayed, the knights set up their ladders, of which they had
but four, one each. The men-at-arms held these by main force against the
wall, the besiegers trying to throw them away, and chopping at the rungs
with their axes. But the ladders were well shod with iron to resist such
blows, and in a moment Felix saw, with intense delight and admiration,
the four knights slowly mount to the parapet and cut at the defenders
with their swords. The gleam of steel was distinctly visible as the
blades rose and fell. The enemy thrust at them with pikes, but seemed to
shrink from closer combat, and a moment afterwards the gallant four
stood on the top of the wall. Their figures, clad in mail and shield in
hand, were distinctly seen against the sky. Up swarmed the men-at-arms
behind them, and some seemed to descend on the other side. A shout rose
from the camp and echoed over the woods. Felix shouted with the rest,
wild with excitement.

The next minute, while yet the knights stood on the wall, and scarcely
seemed to know what to do next, there appeared at least a dozen men in
armour running along the wall towards them. Felix afterwards understood
that the ease with which the four won the wall at first was owing to
there being no men of knightly rank among the defenders at that early
hour. Those who had collected to repulse the assault were citizens,
retainers, slaves, any, in fact who had been near. But now the news had
reached the enemy's leaders, and some of them hastened to the wall. As
these were seen approaching, the camp was hushed, and every eye strained
on the combatants.

The noble four could not all meet their assailants, the wall was but
wide enough for two to fight; but the other two had work enough the next
minute, as eight or ten more men in mail advanced the other way. So they
fought back to back, two facing one way, and two the other. The swords
rose and fell. Felix saw a flash of light fly up into the air, it was
the point of a sword broken off short. At the foot of the wall the men
who had not had time to mount endeavoured to assist their masters by
stabbing upwards with their spears.

All at once two of the knights were hurled from the wall; one seemed to
be caught by his men, the other came heavily to the ground. While they
were fighting their immediate antagonists, others within the wall had
come with lances; and literally thrust them from the parapet. The other
two still fought back to back for a moment; then, finding themselves
overwhelmed, they sprang down among their friends.

The minute the two first fell, the grooms with the horses ran towards
the wall, and despite the rain of arrows, darts, and stones from the
parapet, Felix saw with relief three of the four knights placed on their
chargers. One only could sit upright unassisted, two were supported in
their saddles, and the fourth was carried by his retainers. Thus they
retreated, and apparently without further hurt, for the enemy on the
wall crowded so much together as to interfere with the aim of their
darts, which, too, soon fell short. But there was a dark heap beneath
the wall, where ten or twelve retainers and slaves, who wore no armour,
had been slain or disabled. Upon these the loss invariably fell.

None attempted to follow the retreating party, who slowly returned
towards the camp, and were soon apparently in safety. But suddenly a
fresh party of the enemy appeared upon the wall, and the instant
afterwards three retainers dropped, as if struck by lightning. They had
been hit by sling stones, whirled with great force by practised
slingers. These rounded pebbles come with such impetus as to stun a man
at two hundred yards. The aim, it is true, is uncertain, but where there
is a body of troops they are sure to strike some one. Hastening on,
leaving the three fallen men where they lay, the rest in two minutes
were out of range, and came safely into camp. Everyone, as they crossed
the stream, ran to meet them, the king included, and as he passed in the
throng, Felix heard him remark that they had had a capital main of cocks
that morning.

Of the knights only one was much injured; he had fallen upon a stone,
and two ribs were broken; the rest suffered from severe bruises, but had
no wound. Six men-at-arms were missing, probably prisoners, for, as
courageous as their masters, they had leapt down from the wall into the
town. Eleven other retainers or slaves were slain, or had deserted, or
were prisoners, and no trouble was taken about them. As for the three
who were knocked over by the sling stones, there they lay until they
recovered their senses, when they crawled into camp. This incident
cooled Felix's ardour for the fray, for he reflected that, if injured
thus, he too, as a mere groom, would be left. The devotion of the
retainers to save and succour their masters was almost heroic. The
mailed knights thought no more of their men, unless it was some
particular favourite, than of a hound slashed by a boar's tusk in the
chase.

When the first flush of his excitement had passed, Felix, thinking over
the scene of the morning as he took his horses down to water at the
stream, became filled at first with contempt, and then with indignation.
That the first commander of the age should thus look on while the wall
was won before his eyes, and yet never send a strong detachment, or move
himself with his whole army to follow up the advantage, seemed past
understanding. If he did not intend to follow it up, why permit such
desperate ventures, which must be overwhelmed by mere numbers, and could
result only in the loss of brave men? And if he did permit it, why did
he not, when he saw they were overthrown, send a squadron to cover their
retreat? To call such an exhibition of courage "a main of cocks", to
look on it as a mere display for his amusement, was barbarous and cruel
in the extreme. He worked himself up into a state of anger which
rendered him less cautious than usual in expressing his opinions.

The king was not nearly so much at fault as Felix, arguing on abstract
principles, imagined. He had long experience of war, and he knew its
extreme uncertainty. The issue of the greatest battle often hung on the
conduct of a single leader, or even a single man-at-arms. He had seen
walls won and lost before. To follow up such a venture with a strong
detachment must result in one of two things, either the detachment in
its turn must be supported by the entire army, or it must eventually
retreat. If it retreated, the loss of prestige would be serious, and
might encourage the enemy to attack the camp, for it was only his
prestige which prevented them. If supported by the entire army, then the
fate of the whole expedition depended upon that single day.

The enemy had the advantage of the wall, of the narrow streets and
enclosures within, of the houses, each of which would become a fortress,
and thus in the winding streets a repulse might easily happen. To risk
such an event would be folly in the last degree, before the town had
been dispirited and discouraged by the continuance of the siege, the
failure of their provisions, or the fall of their chief leaders in the
daily combats that took place.

The army had no discipline whatever, beyond that of the attachment of
the retainer to his lord, and the dread of punishment on the part of the
slave. There were no distinct ranks, no organized corps. The knights
followed the greater barons, the retainers the knights; the greater
barons followed the king. Such an army could not be risked in an assault
of this kind. The venture was not ordered, nor was it discouraged; to
discourage, indeed, all attempts would have been bad policy; it was upon
the courage and bravery of his knights that the king depended, and upon
that alone rested his hopes of victory.

The great baron whose standard they followed would have sent them
assistance if he had deemed it necessary. The king, unless on the day of
battle, would not trouble about such a detail. As for the remark, that
they had had "a good main of cocks that morning," he simply expressed
the feeling of the whole camp. The spectacle Felix had seen was, in
fact, merely an instance of the strength and of the weakness of the army
and the monarch himself.

Felix afterwards acknowledged these things to himself, but at the
moment, full of admiration for the bravery of the four knights and their
followers, he was full of indignation, and uttered his views too freely.
His fellow-grooms cautioned him; but his spirit was up, and he gave way
to his feelings without restraint. Now, to laugh at the king's
weaknesses, his gluttony or follies, was one thing; to criticise his
military conduct was another. The one was merely badinage, and the king
himself might have laughed had he heard it; the other was treason, and,
moreover, likely to touch the monarch on the delicate matter of military
reputation.

Of this Felix quickly became aware. His mates, indeed, tried to shield
him; but possibly the citizen, his master, had enemies in the camp,
barons, perhaps, to whom he had lent money, and who watched for a chance
of securing his downfall. At all events, early the next day Felix was
rudely arrested by the provost in person, bound with cords, and placed
in the provost's booth. At the same time, his master was ordered to
remain within, and a guard was put over him.



CHAPTER XX

IN DANGER


Hope died within Felix when he thus suddenly found himself so near the
executioner. He had known so many butchered without cause, that he had,
indeed, reason to despair. Towards the sunset he felt sure he should be
dragged forth and hanged on the oak used for the purpose, and which
stood near where the track from Aisi joined the camp. Such would most
probably have been his fate, had he been alone concerned in this affair,
but by good fortune he was able to escape so miserable an end. Still, he
suffered as much as if the rope had finished him, for he had no means of
knowing what would be the result.

His heart swelled with bitterness; he was filled with inexpressible
indignation, his whole being rebelled against the blundering, as it
were, of events which had thus thrown him into the jaws of death. In an
hour or two, however, he sufficiently recovered from the shock to
reflect that most probably they would give him some chance to speak for
himself. There would not be any trial; who would waste time in trying so
insignificant a wretch? But there might be some opportunity of speaking,
and he resolved to use it to the utmost possible extent.

He would arraign the unskilful generalship of the king; he would not
only point out his errors, but how the enemy could be defeated. He would
prove that he had ideas and plans worthy of attention. He would, as it
were, vindicate himself before he was executed, and he tried to collect
his thoughts and to put them into form. Every moment the face of Aurora
seemed to look upon him, lovingly and mournfully; but beside it he saw
the dusty and distorted features of the copse he had seen drawn by the
horse through the camp. Thus, too, his tongue would protrude and lick
the dust. He endured, in a word, those treble agonies which the
highly-wrought and imaginative inflict upon themselves.

The hours passed, and still no one came near him; he called, and the
guard appeared at the door, but only to see what was the matter, and
finding his prisoner safe, at once resumed his walk to and fro. The
soldier did not, for his own sake, dare to enter into conversation with
a prisoner under arrest for such an offence; he might be involved, or
suspected. Had it been merely theft or any ordinary crime, he would have
talked freely enough, and sympathized with the prisoner. As time went
on, Felix grew thirsty, but his request for water was disregarded, and
there he remained till four in the afternoon. They then marched him out;
he begged to be allowed to speak, but the soldiery did not reply, simply
hurrying him forward. He now feared that he should be executed without
the chance being afforded him to say a word; but, to his surprise, he
found in a few minutes that they were taking him in the direction of the
king's quarters. New fears now seized him, for he had heard of men being
turned loose, made to run for their lives, and hunted down with hounds
for the amusement of the Court.

If the citizen's wealth had made him many enemies (men whom he had
befriended, and who hoped, if they could be see him executed, to escape
the payment of their debts), on the other hand, it had made him as many
friends, that is, interested friends, who trusted by doing him service
to obtain advances. These latter had lost no time, for greed is quite as
eager as hate, and carried the matter at once to the king. What they
desired was that the case should be decided by the monarch himself, and
not by his chancellor, or a judge appointed for the purpose. The judge
would be nearly certain to condemn the citizen, and to confiscate
whatever he could lay hands on. The king might pardon, and would be
content with a part only, where his ministers would grasp all.

These friends succeeded in their object; the king, who hated all
judicial affairs because they involved the trouble of investigation,
shrugged his shoulders at the request, and would not have granted it had
it not come out that the citizen's servant had declared him to be an
incapable commander. At this the king started. "We are, indeed, fallen
low," said he, "when a miserable trader's knave calls us incapable. We
will see this impudent rascal." He accordingly ordered that the prisoner
should be brought before him after dinner.

Felix was led inside the entrenchment, unbound, and commanded to stand
upright. There was a considerable assembly of the greater barons anxious
to see the trial of the money-lender, who, though present, was kept
apart from Felix lest the two should arrange their defence. The king was
sleeping on a couch outside the booth in the shade; he was lying on his
back breathing loudly with open mouth. How different his appearance to
the time when he sat on his splendid charger and reviewed his knights! A
heavy meal had been succeeded by as heavy a slumber. No one dared to
disturb him; the assembly moved on tiptoe and conversed in whispers. The
experienced divined that the prisoners were certain to be condemned, for
the king would wake with indigestion, and vent his uneasy sensations
upon them. Full an hour elapsed before the king awoke with a snort and
called for a draught of water. How Felix envied that draught! He had
neither eaten nor drunk since the night previous; it was a hot day, and
his tongue was dry and parched.

The citizen was first accused; he denied any treasonable designs or
expressions whatever; as for the other prisoner, till the time he was
arrested he did not even know he had been in his service. He was some
stroller whom his grooms had incautiously engaged, the lazy scoundrels,
to assist them. He had never even spoken to him; it the knave told the
truth he must acknowledge this.

"How now," said the king, turning to Felix; "what do you say?"

"It is true," replied Felix, "he has never spoken to me nor I to him. He
knew nothing of what I said. I said it on my own account, and I say it
again!"

"And pray, sir knave," said the king, sitting up on his couch, for he
was surprised to hear one so meanly dressed speak so correctly, and so
boldly face him. "What was it you did say?"

"If your majesty will order me a single drop of water," said the
prisoner, "I will repeat it word for word, but I have had nothing the
whole day, and I can hardly move my tongue."

Without a word the king handed him the cup from which he had himself
drunk. Never, surely, was water so delicious. Felix drained it to the
bottom, handed it back (an officer took it), and with one brief thought
of Aurora, he said: "Your majesty, you are an incapable commander."

"Go on," said the king sarcastically; "why am I incapable?"

"You have attacked the wrong city; these three are all your enemies, and
you have attacked the first. They stand in a row."

"They stand in a row," repeated the king; "and we will knock them over
like three nine-pins."

"But you have begun with the end one," said Felix, "and that is the
mistake. For after you have taken the first you must take the second,
and still after that the third. But you might have saved much trouble
and time if----"

"If what?"

"If you had assaulted the middle one first. For then, while the siege
went on, you would have been able to prevent either of the other two
towns from sending assistance, and when you had taken the first and put
your garrison in it, neither of the others could have stirred, or reaped
their corn, nor could they even communicate with each other, since you
would be between them; and in fact you would have cut your enemies in
twain."

"By St. John!" swore the king, "it is a good idea. I begin to think--but
go on, you have more to say."

"I think, too, your majesty, that by staying here as you have done this
fortnight past without action, you have encouraged the other two cities
to make more desperate resistance; and it seems to me that you are in a
dangerous position, and may at any moment be overwhelmed with disaster,
for there is nothing whatever to prevent either of the other two from
sending troops to burn the open city of Aisi in your absence. And that
danger must increase every day as they take courage by your idleness."

"Idleness! There shall be idleness no longer. The man speaks the truth;
we will consider further of this, we will move on Adelinton," turning to
his barons.

"If it please your majesty," said Baron Ingulph, "this man invented a
new trigger for our carriage crossbows, but he was lost in the crowd,
and we have sought for him in vain; my serjeant here has this moment
recognised him."

"Why did you not come to us before, fellow?" said the king. "Let him be
released; let him be entertained at our expense; give him clothes and a
sword. We will see you further."

Overjoyed at this sudden turn of fortune, Felix forgot to let well
alone. He had his audience with him for a moment; he could not resist as
it were following up his victory. He thanked the king, and added that he
could make a machine which would knock the walls yonder to pieces
without it being necessary to approach nearer than half a bow-shot.

"What is this?" said the king. "Ingulph, have you ever heard of such a
machine?"

"There is no such thing," said the Baron, beginning to feel that his
professional reputation as the master of the artillery was assailed.
"There is nothing of the kind known."

"It will shoot stones as big, as heavy as a man can lift," said Felix
eagerly, "and easily knock towers to fragments."

The king looked from one to another; he was incredulous. The Baron
smiled scornfully. "Ask him, your majesty, how these stones are to be
thrown; no bow could do it."

"How are the stones to be thrown?" said the king sharply. "Beware how
you play with us."

"By the force of twisted ropes, your majesty."

They all laughed. The Baron said: "You see, your majesty, there is
nothing of the kind. This is some jester."

"The twisted rope should be a halter," said another courtier, one of
those who hoped for the rich man's downfall.

"It can be done, your majesty," cried Felix, alarmed. "I assure you, a
stone of two hundredweight might be thrown a quarter of a mile."

The assembly did not repress its contempt.

"The man is a fool," said the king, who now thought that Felix was a
jester who had put a trick upon him. "But your joke is out of joint; I
will teach such fellows to try tricks on us! Beat him out of camp."

The provost's men seized him, and in a moment he was dragged off his
feet, and bodily carried outside the entrenchment. Thence they pushed
him along, beating him with the butts of their spears to make him run
the faster; the groups they passed laughed and jeered; the dogs barked
and snapped at his ankles. They hurried him outside the camp, and
thrusting him savagely with their spear butts sent him headlong. There
they left him, with the caution which he did not hear, being insensible,
that if he ventured inside the lines he would be at once hanged. Like a
dead dog they left him on the ground.

Some hours later, in the dusk of the evening, Felix stole from the spot,
skirting the forest like a wild animal afraid to venture from its cover,
till he reached the track which led to Aisi. His one idea was to reach
his canoe. He would have gone through the woods, but that was not
possible. Without axe or wood-knife to hew a way, the tangled brushwood
he knew to be impassable, having observed how thick it was when coming.
Aching and trembling in every limb, not so much with physical suffering
as that kind of inward fever which follows unmerited injury, the revolt
of the mind against it, he followed the track as fast as his weary frame
would let him. He had tasted nothing that day but the draught from the
king's cup, and a second draught when he recovered consciousness, from
the stream that flowed past the camp. Yet he walked steadily on without
pause; his head hung forward, and his arms were listless, but his feet
mechanically plodded on. He walked, indeed, by his will, and not with
his sinews. Thus, like a ghost, for there was no life in him, he
traversed the shadowy forest.

The dawn came, and still he kept onwards. As the sun rose higher, having
now travelled fully twenty miles, he saw houses on the right of the
trail. They were evidently those of retainers or workmen employed on the
manor, for a castle stood at some distance.

An hour later he approached the second or open city of Aisi, where the
ferry was across the channel. In his present condition he could not pass
through the town. No one there knew of his disgrace, but it was the same
to him as if they had. Avoiding the town itself, he crossed the
cultivated fields, and upon arriving at the channel he at once stepped
in, and swam across to the opposite shore. It was not more than sixty
yards, but, weary as he was, it was an exhausting effort. He sat down,
but immediately got up and struggled on.

The church tower on the slope of the hill was a landmark by which he
easily discovered the direction of the spot where he had hidden the
canoe. But he felt unable to push through the belt of brushwood, reeds,
and flags beside the shore, and therefore struck through the firs,
following a cattle track, which doubtless led to another grazing ground.
This ran parallel with the shore, and when he judged himself about level
with the canoe he left it, and entered the wood itself. For a little way
he could walk, but the thick fir branches soon blocked his progress, and
he could progress only on hands and knees, creeping beneath them. There
was a hollow space under the lower branches free from brushwood.

Thus he painfully approached the Lake, and descending the hill, after an
hour's weary work emerged among the rushes and reeds. He was within two
hundred yards of the canoe, for he recognised the island opposite it. In
ten minutes he found it undisturbed and exactly as he had left it,
except that the breeze had strewn the dry reeds with which it was
covered with willow leaves, yellow and dead (they fall while all the
rest are green), which had been whirled from the branches. Throwing
himself upon the reeds beside the canoe, he dropped asleep as if he had
been dead.

He awoke as the sun was sinking and sat up, hungry in the extreme, but
much refreshed. There were still some stores in the canoe, of which he
ate ravenously. But he felt better now; he felt at home beside his boat.
He could hardly believe in the reality of the hideous dream through
which he had passed. But when he tried to stand, his feet, cut and
blistered, only too painfully assured him of its reality. He took out
his hunter's hide and cloak and spread himself a comfortable bed. Though
he had slept so long he was still weary. He reclined in a
semi-unconscious state, his frame slowly recovering from the strain it
had endured, till by degrees he fell asleep again. Sleep, nothing but
sleep, restores the overtaxed mind and body.



CHAPTER XXI

A VOYAGE


The sun was up when Felix awoke, and as he raised himself the beauty of
the Lake before him filled him with pleasure. By the shore it was so
calm that the trees were perfectly reflected, and the few willow leaves
that had fallen floated without drifting one way or the other. Farther
out the islands were lit up with the sunlight, and the swallows skimmed
the water, following the outline of their shores. In the Lake beyond
them, glimpses of which he could see through the channel or passage
between, there was a ripple where the faint south-western breeze touched
the surface. His mind went out to the beauty of it. He did not question
or analyse his feelings; he launched his vessel, and left that hard and
tyrannical land for the loveliness of the water.

Paddling out to the islands he passed through between them, and reached
the open Lake. There he hoisted the sail, the gentle breeze filled it,
the sharp cutwater began to divide the ripples, a bubbling sound arose,
and steering due north, straight out to the open and boundless expanse,
he was carried swiftly away.

The mallards, who saw the canoe coming, at first scarcely moved, never
thinking that a boat would venture outside the islands, within whose
line they were accustomed to see vessels, but when the canoe continued
to bear down upon them, they flew up and descended far away to one side.
When he had sailed past the spot where these birds had floated, the Lake
was his own. By the shores of the islands the crows came down for
mussels. Moorhens swam in and out among the rushes, water-rats nibbled
at the flags, pikes basked at the edge of the weeds, summer-snipes ran
along the sand, and doubtless an otter here and there was in
concealment. Without the line of the shoals and islets, now that the
mallards had flown, there was a solitude of water. It was far too deep
for the longest weeds, nothing seemed to exist here. The very
water-snails seek the shore, or are drifted by the currents into shallow
corners. Neither great nor little care for the broad expanse.

The canoe moved more rapidly as the wind came now with its full force
over the distant woods and hills, and though it was but a light
southerly breeze, the broad sail impelled the taper vessel swiftly.
Reclining in the stern, Felix lost all consciousness of aught but that
he was pleasantly borne along. His eyes were not closed, and he was
aware of the canoe, the Lake, the sunshine, and the sky, and yet he was
asleep. Physically awake, he mentally slumbered. It was rest. After the
misery, exertion, and excitement of the last fortnight it was rest,
intense rest for body and mind. The pressure of the water against the
handle of the rudder-paddle, the slight vibration of the wood, as the
bubbles rushed by beneath, alone perhaps kept him from really falling
asleep. This was something which could not be left to itself; it must be
firmly grasped, and that effort restrained his drowsiness.

Three hours passed. The shore was twelve or fifteen miles behind, and
looked like a blue cloud, for the summer haze hid the hills, more than
would have been the case in clearer weather.

Another hour, and at last Felix, awakening from his slumberous
condition, looked round and saw nothing but the waves. The shore he had
left had entirely disappeared, gone down; if there were land more lofty
on either hand, the haze concealed it. He looked again; he could
scarcely comprehend it. He knew the Lake was very wide, but it had never
occurred to him that he might possibly sail out of sight of land. This,
then was why the mariners would not quit the islands; they feared the
open water. He stood up and swept the horizon carefully, shading his
eyes with his hand; there was nothing but a mist at the horizon. He was
alone with the sun, the sky, and the Lake. He could not surely have
sailed into the ocean without knowing it? He sat down, dipped his hand
overboard and tasted the drops that adhered; the water was pure and
sweet, warm from the summer sunshine.

There was not so much as a swift in the upper sky; nothing but slender
filaments of white cloud. No swallows glided over the surface of the
water. If there were fishes he could not see them through the waves,
which were here much larger; sufficiently large, though the wind was
light, to make his canoe rise and fall with their regular rolling. To
see fishes a calm surface is necessary, and, like other creatures, they
haunt the shallows and the shore. Never had he felt alone like this in
the depths of the farthest forest he had penetrated. Had he contemplated
beforehand the possibility of passing out of sight of land, when he
found that the canoe had arrived he would probably have been alarmed and
anxious for his safety. But thus stumbling drowsily into the solitude of
the vast Lake, he was so astounded with his own discovery, so absorbed
in thinking of the immense expanse, that the idea of danger did not
occur to him.

Another hour passed, and he now began to gaze about him more eagerly for
some sight of land, for he had very little provision with him, and he
did not wish to spend the night upon the Lake. Presently, however, the
mist on the horizon ahead appeared to thicken, and then became blue, and
in a shorter time than he expected land came in sight. This arose from
the fact of its being low, so that he had approached nearer than he knew
before recognising it. At the time when he was really out of sight of
the coast, he was much further from the hilly land left behind than from
the low country in front, and not in the mathematical centre, as he had
supposed, of the Lake. As it rose and came more into sight, he already
began to wonder what reception he should meet with from the inhabitants,
and whether he should find them as hard of heart as the people he had
just escaped from. Should he, indeed, venture among them at all? Or
should he remain in the woods till he had observed more of their ways
and manners? These questions were being debated in his mind, when he
perceived that the wind was falling.

As the sun went past the meridian the breeze fell, till, in the hottest
part of the afternoon, and when he judged that he was not more than
eight miles from shore, it sank to the merest zephyr, and the waves by
degrees diminished. So faint became the breeze in half-an-hour's time,
and so intermittent, that he found it patience wasted even to hold the
rudder-paddle. The sail hung and was no longer bellied out; as the idle
waves rolled under, it flapped against the mast. The heat was now so
intolerable, the light reflected from the water increasing the
sensation, that he was obliged to make himself some shelter by partly
lowering the sail, and hauling the yard athwart the vessel, so that the
canvas acted as an awning. Gradually the waves declined in volume, and
the gentle breathing of the wind ebbed away, till at last the surface
was almost still, and he could feel no perceptible air stirring.

Weary of sitting in the narrow boat, he stood up, but he could not
stretch himself sufficiently for the change to be of much use. The long
summer day, previously so pleasant, now appeared scarcely endurable.
Upon the silent water the time lingered, for there was nothing to mark
its advance, not so much as a shadow beyond that of his own boat. The
waves having now no crest, went under the canoe without chafing against
it, or rebounding, so that they were noiseless. No fishes rose to the
surface. There was nothing living near, except a blue butterfly, which
settled on the mast, having ventured thus far from land. The vastness of
the sky, over-arching the broad water, the sun, and the motionless
filaments of cloud, gave no repose for his gaze, for they were seemingly
still. To the weary gaze motion is repose; the waving boughs, the
foam-tipped waves, afford positive rest to look at. Such intense
stillness as this of the summer sky was oppressive; it was like living
in space itself, in the ether above. He welcomed at last the gradual
downward direction of the sun, for, as the heat decreased, he could work
with the paddle.

Presently he furled the sail, took his paddle, and set his face for the
land. He laboured steadily, but made no apparent progress. The canoe was
heavy, and the outrigger or beam, which was of material use in sailing,
was a drawback to paddling. He worked till his arms grew weary, and
still the blue land seemed as far off as ever.

But by the time the sun began to approach the horizon, his efforts had
produced some effect, the shore was visible, and the woods beyond. They
were still five miles distant, and he was tired; there was little chance
of his reaching it before night. He put his paddle down for refreshment
and rest, and while he was thus engaged, a change took place. A faint
puff of air came; a second, and a third; a tiny ripple ran along the
surface. Now he recollected that he had heard that the mariners depended
a great deal on the morning and the evening--the land and the
Lake--breeze as they worked along the shore. This was the first breath
of the Land breeze. It freshened after a while, and he re-set his sail.

An hour or so afterwards he came near the shore; he heard the thrushes
singing, and the cuckoo calling, long before he landed. He did not stay
to search about for a creek, but ran the canoe on the strand, which was
free of reeds or flags, a sign that the waves often beat furiously
there, rolling as they must for so many miles. He hauled the canoe up as
high as he could, but presently when he looked about him he found that
he was on a small and narrow island, with a channel in the rear. Tired
as he was, yet anxious for the safety of his canoe, he pushed off again,
and paddled round and again beached her with the island between her and
the open Lake. Else he feared if a south wind should blow she might be
broken to pieces on the strand before his eyes. It was prudent to take
the precaution, but, as it happened, the next day the Lake was still.

He could see no traces of human occupation upon the island, which was of
small extent and nearly bare, and therefore, in the morning, paddled
across the channel to the mainland, as he thought. But upon exploring
the opposite shore, it proved not to be the mainland, but merely another
island. Paddling round it, he tried again, but with the same result; he
found nothing but island after island, all narrow, and bearing nothing
except bushes. Observing a channel which seemed to go straight in among
these islets, he resolved to follow it, and did so (resting at
noon-time) the whole morning. As he paddled slowly in, he found the
water shallower, and weeds, bulrushes, and reeds became thick, except
quite in the centre.

After the heat of midday had gone over, he resumed his voyage, and still
found the same; islets and banks, more or less covered with hawthorn
bushes, willow, elder, and alder, succeeded to islets, fringed round
their edges with reeds and reed canary-grass. When he grew weary of
paddling, he landed and stayed the night; the next day he went on again,
and still for hour after hour rowed in and out among these banks and
islets, till he began to think he should never find his way out.

The farther he penetrated the more numerous became the waterfowl. Ducks
swam among the flags, or rose with a rush and splashing. Coots and
moorhens dived and hid in the reeds. The lesser grebe sank at the sound
of the paddle like a stone. A strong northern diver raised a wave as he
hurried away under the water, his course marked by the undulation above
him. Sedge-birds chirped in the willows; black-headed buntings sat on
the trees, and watched him without fear. Bearded titmice were there,
clinging to the stalks of the sedges, and long-necked herons rose from
the reedy places where they love to wade. Blue dragon-flies darted to
and fro, or sat on water-plants as if they were flowers. Snakes swam
across the channels, vibrating their heads from side to side. Swallows
swept over his head. Pike "struck" from the verge of the thick weeds as
he came near. Perch rose for insects as they fell helpless into the
water.

He noticed that the water, though so thick with reeds, was as clear as
that in the open Lake; there was no scum such as accumulates in stagnant
places. From this he concluded that there must be a current, however
slight, perhaps from rivers flowing into this part of the Lake. He felt
the strongest desire to explore farther till he reached the mainland,
but he reflected that mere exploration was not his object; it would
never obtain Aurora for him. There were no signs whatever of human
habitation, and from reeds and bulrushes, however interesting, nothing
could be gained. Reluctantly, therefore, on the third morning, having
passed the night on one of the islets, he turned his canoe, and paddled
southwards towards the Lake.

He did not for a moment attempt to retrace the channel by which he had
entered; it would have been an impossibility; he took advantage of any
clear space to push through. It took him as long to get out as it had to
get in; it was the afternoon of the fourth day when he at last regained
the coast. He rested the remainder of the afternoon, wishing to start
fresh in the morning, having determined to follow the line of the shore
eastwards, and so gradually to circumnavigate the Lake. If he succeeded
in nothing else, that at least would be something to relate to Aurora.

The morning rose fair and bright, with a south-westerly air rather than
a breeze. He sailed before it; it was so light that his progress could
not have exceeded more than three miles an hour. Hour after hour passed
away, and still he followed the line of the shore, now going a short way
out to skirt an island, and now nearer it to pass between sandbanks. By
noon he was so weary of sitting in the canoe that he ran her ashore, and
rested awhile.

It was the very height of the heat of the day when he set forth again,
and the wind lighter than in the morning. It had, however, changed a
little, and blew now from the west, almost too exactly abaft to suit his
craft. He could not make a map while sailing, or observe his position
accurately, but it appeared to him that the shore trended towards the
south-east, so that he was gradually turning an arc. He supposed from
this that he must be approaching the eastern end of the Lake. The water
seemed shallower, to judge from the quantity of weeds. Now and then he
caught glimpses between the numerous islands of the open Lake, and
there, too, the weeds covered the surface in many places.

In an hour or two the breeze increased considerably, and travelling so
much quicker, he found it required all his dexterity to steer past the
islands and clear the banks upon which he was drifting. Once or twice he
grazed the willows that overhung the water, and heard the keel of the
canoe drag on the bottom. As much as possible he bore away from the
mainland, steering south-east, thinking to find deeper water, and to be
free of the islets. He succeeded in the first, but the islets were now
so numerous that he could not tell where the open Lake was. The farther
the afternoon advanced, the more the breeze freshened, till
occasionally, as it blew between the islands, it struck his mast almost
with the force of a gale. Felix welcomed the wind, which would enable
him to make great progress before evening. If such favouring breezes
would continue, he could circumnavigate the waters in a comparatively
short time, and might return to Aurora, so far, at least, successful.
Hope filled his heart, and he sang to the wind.

The waves could not rise among these islands, which intercepted them
before they could roll far enough to gather force, so that he had all
the advantage of the gale without its risks. Except a light haze all
round the horizon, the sky was perfectly clear, and it was pleasant now
the strong current of air cooled the sun's heat. As he came round the
islands he constantly met and disturbed parties of waterfowl, mallards,
and coots. Sometimes they merely hid in the weeds, sometimes they rose,
and when they did so passed to his rear.



CHAPTER XXII

DISCOVERIES


This little circumstance of the mallards always flying over him and away
behind, when flushed, presently made Felix speculate on the cause, and
he kept a closer watch. He now saw (what had, indeed, been going on for
some time) that there was a ceaseless stream of waterfowl, mallards,
ducks, coots, moorhens, and lesser grebes coming towards him, swimming
to the westward. As they met him they parted and let him through, or
rose and went over. Next he noticed that the small birds on the islands
were also travelling in the same direction, that is against the wind.
They did not seem in any haste, but flitted from islet to islet, bush to
tree, feeding and gossiping as they went; still the movement was
distinct.

Finches, linnets, blackbirds, thrushes, wrens, and whitethroats, and
many others, all passed him, and he could see the same thing going on to
his right and left. Felix became much interested in this migration, all
the more singular as it was the nesting-time, and hundreds of these
birds must have left their nests with eggs or young behind them. Nothing
that he could think of offered an adequate explanation. He imagined he
saw shoals of fishes going the same way, but the surface of the water
being ruffled, and the canoe sailing rapidly, he could not be certain.
About an hour after he first observed the migration the stream of birds
ceased suddenly.

There were no waterfowls in the water, and no finches in the bushes.
They had evidently all passed. Those in the van of the migratory army
were no doubt scattered and thinly distributed, so that he had been
meeting the flocks a long while before he suspected it. The nearer he
approached their centre the thicker they became, and on getting through
that he found a solitude. The weeds were thicker than ever, so that he
had constantly to edge away from where he supposed the mainland to lie.
But there were no waterfowls and no birds on the islets. Suddenly as he
rounded a large island he saw what for the moment he imagined to be a
line of white surf, but the next instant he recognised a solid mass, as
it were, of swallows and martins flying just over the surface of the
water straight towards him. He had no time to notice how far they
extended before they had gone by him with a rushing sound. Turning to
look back, he saw them continue directly west in the teeth of the wind.

Like the water and the islands, the sky was now cleared of birds, and
not a swallow remained. Felix asked himself if he were running into some
unknown danger, but he could not conceive any. The only thing that
occurred to him was the possibility of the wind rising to a hurricane;
that gave him no alarm, because the numerous islands would afford
shelter. So complete was the shelter in some places, that as he passed
along his sail drew above, while the surface of the water, almost
surrounded with bushes and willows, was smooth. No matter to how many
quarters of the compass the wind might veer, he should still be able to
get under the lee of one or other of the banks.

The sky remained without clouds; there was nothing but a slight haze,
which he sometimes fancied looked thicker in front or to the eastward.
There was nothing whatever to cause the least uneasiness; on the
contrary, his curiosity was aroused, and he was desirous of discovering
what it was that had startled the birds. After a while the water became
rather more open, with sandbanks instead of islands, so that he could
see around him for a considerable distance. By a large bank, behind
which the ripple was stilled, he saw a low wave advancing towards him,
and moving against the wind. It was followed by two others at short
intervals, and though he could not see them, he had no doubt shoals of
fishes were passing and had raised the undulations.

The sedges on the sandbanks appeared brown and withered, as if it had
been autumn instead of early summer. The flags were brown at the tip,
and the aquatic grasses had dwindled. They looked as if they could not
grow, and had reached but half their natural height. From the low
willows the leaves were dropping, faded and yellow, and the thorn bushes
were shrivelled and covered with the white cocoons of caterpillars. The
farther he sailed the more desolate the banks seemed, and trees ceased
altogether. Even the willows were fewer and stunted, and the highest
thorn bush was not above his chest. His vessel was now more exposed to
the wind, so that he drove past the banks and scattered islands rapidly,
and he noticed that there was not so much as a crow on them. Upturned
mussel-shells, glittering in the sunshine, showed where crows had been
at work, but there was not one now visible.

Felix thought that the water had lost its clearness and had become
thick, which he put down to the action of the wavelets disturbing the
sand in the shallows. Ahead the haze, or mist, was now much thicker, and
was apparently not over a mile distant. It hid the islands and concealed
everything. He expected to enter it immediately, but it receded as he
approached. Along the strand of an island he passed there was a dark
line like a stain, and in still water under the lee the surface was
covered with a floating scum. Felix, on seeing this, at once concluded
that he had unknowingly entered a gulf, and had left the main Lake, for
the only place he had ever seen scum before was at the extremity of a
creek near home, where the water was partly stagnant on a marshy level.
The water of the Lake was proverbial for its purity and clearness.

He kept, therefore, a sharp look-out, expecting every moment to sight
the end of the gulf or creek in which he supposed himself sailing, so
that he might be ready to lower his sail. By degrees the wind had risen
till it now blew with fury, but the numerous sandflats so broke up the
waves that he found no inconvenience from them. One solitary gull passed
over at a great height, flying steadily westwards against the wind. The
canoe now began to overtake fragments of scum drifting before the wind,
and rising up and down on the ripples. Once he saw a broad piece rise to
the surface together with a quantity of bubbles. None of the sandbanks
now rose more than a foot or so above the surface, and were entirely
bare, mere sand and gravel.

The mist ahead was sensibly nearer, and yet it eluded him; it was of a
faint yellow, and though so thin, obscured everything where it hovered.
From out of the mist there presently appeared a vast stretch of weeds.
They floated on the surface and undulated to the wavelets, a pale
yellowish green expanse. Felix was hesitating whether to lower his sail
or attempt to drive over them, when, as he advanced and the mist
retreated, he saw open water beyond. The weeds extended on either hand
as far as he could see, but they were only a narrow band, and he
hesitated no longer. He felt the canoe graze the bottom once as he
sailed over the weeds. The water was free of sandbanks beyond them, but
he could see large islands looming in several directions.

Glancing behind him he perceived that the faint yellow mist had closed
in and now encircled him. It came with two or three hundred yards, and
was not affected by the wind, rough as it was. Quite suddenly he noticed
that the water on which the canoe floated was black. The wavelets which
rolled alongside were black, and the slight spray that occasionally flew
on board was black, and stained the side of the vessel. This greatly
astonished and almost shocked him; it was so opposite and contrary to
all his ideas about the Lake, the very mirror of purity. He leant over,
and dipped up a little in the palm of his hand; it did not appear black
in such a small quantity, it seemed a rusty brown, but he became aware
of an offensive odour. The odour clung to his hand, and he could not
remove it, to his great disgust. It was like nothing he had ever smelt
before, and not in the least like the vapour of marshes.

By now being some distance from any island, the wavelets increased in
size, and spray flew on board, wetting everything with this black
liquid. Instead of level marshes and the end of the gulf, it appeared as
if the water were deep, and also as if it widened. Exposed to the full
press of the gale, Felix began to fear that he should not be able to
return very easily against it. He did not know what to do. The horrid
blackness of the water disposed him to turn about and tack out; on the
other hand, having set out on a voyage of discovery, and having now
found something different to the other parts of the Lake, he did not
like to retreat. He sailed on, thinking to presently pass these
loathsome waters.

He was now hungry, and indeed thirsty, but was unable to drink because
he had no water-barrel. No vessel sailing on the Lake ever carried a
water-barrel, since such pure water was always under their bows. He was
cramped, too, with long sitting in the canoe, and the sun was
perceptibly sloping in the west. He determined to land and rest, and
with this purpose steered to the right under the lee of a large island,
so large, indeed, that he was not certain it was not part of the
mainland or one side of the gulf. The water was very deep close up to
the shore, but, to his annoyance, the strand appeared black, as if
soaked with the dark water. He skirted along somewhat farther, and found
a ledge of low rocks stretching out into the Lake, so that he was
obliged to run ashore before coming to these.

On landing, the black strand, to his relief, was fairly firm, for he had
dreaded sinking to the knees in it; but its appearance was so unpleasant
that he could not bring himself to sit down. He walked on towards the
ledge of rocks, thinking to find a pleasanter place there. They were
stratified, and he stepped on them to climb up, when his foot went deep
into the apparently hard rock. He kicked it, and his shoe penetrated it
as if it had been soft sand. It was impossible to climb up the reef. The
ground rose inland, and curious to see around him as far as possible, he
ascended the slope.

From the summit, however, he could not see farther than on the shore,
for the pale yellow mist rose up round him, and hid the canoe on the
strand. The extreme desolation of the dark and barren ground repelled
him; there was not a tree, bush, or living creature, not so much as a
buzzing fly. He turned to go down, and then for the first time noticed
that the disk of the sun was surrounded with a faint blue rim,
apparently caused by the yellow vapour. So much were the rays shorn of
their glare, that he could look at the sun without any distress, but its
heat seemed to have increased, though it was now late in the afternoon.

Descending towards the canoe, he fancied the wind had veered
considerably. He sat down in the boat, and took some food; it was
without relish, as he had nothing to drink, and the great heat had tired
him. Wearily, and without thinking, he pushed off the canoe; she slowly
floated out, when, as he was about to hoist up the sail, a tremendous
gust of wind struck him down on the thwarts, and nearly carried him
overboard. He caught the mast as he fell, or over he must have gone into
the black waves. Before he could recover himself, she drifted against
the ledge of rocks, which broke down and sank before the bow, so that
she passed over uninjured.

Felix got out a paddle, and directed the canoe as well as he could; the
fury of the wind was irresistible, and he could only drive before it. In
a few minutes, as he was swept along the shore, he was carried between
it and another immense reef. Here, the waves being broken and less
powerful, he contrived to get the heavy canoe ashore again, and, jumping
out, dragged her up as far as he could on the land. When he had done
this, he found to his surprise that the gale had ceased. The tremendous
burst of wind had been succeeded by a perfect calm, and the waves had
already lost their violent impetus.

This was a relief, for he had feared that the canoe would be utterly
broken to pieces; but soon he began to doubt if it were an unmixed
benefit, as without a wind he could not move from this dismal place that
evening. He was too weary to paddle far. He sat on the canoe to rest
himself, and, whether from fatigue or other causes, fell asleep. His
head heavily dropping on his chest partly woke him several times, but
his lassitude overcame the discomfort, and he slept on. When he got up
he felt dazed and unrefreshed, as if sleeping had been hard work. He was
extremely thirsty, and oppressed with the increasing heat. The sun had
sunk, or rather was so low that the high ground hid it from sight.



CHAPTER XXIII

STRANGE THINGS


The thought struck Felix that perhaps he might find a spring somewhere
in the island, and he started at once up over the hill. At the top he
paused. The sun had not sunk, but had disappeared as a disk. In its
place was a billow of blood, for so it looked, a vast up-heaved billow
of glowing blood surging on the horizon. Over it flickered a tint of
palest blue, like that seen in fire. The black waters reflected the
glow, and the yellow vapour around was suffused with it. Though
momentarily startled, Felix did not much heed these appearances; he was
still dazed and heavy from his sleep.

He went on, looking for a spring, sometimes walking on firm ground,
sometimes sinking to the ankle in a friable soil like black sand. The
ground looked, indeed, as if it had been burnt, but there were no
charred stumps of timber such as he had seen on the sites of forest
fires. The extreme dreariness seemed to oppress his spirits, and he went
on and on in a heavy waking dream. Descending into a plain, he lost
sight of the flaming sunset and the black waters. In the level plain the
desolation was yet more marked; there was not a grass-blade or plant;
the surface was hard, black, and burned, resembling iron, and indeed in
places it resounded to his feet, though he supposed that was the echo
from hollow passages beneath.

Several times he shook himself, straightened himself up, and endeavoured
to throw off the sense of drowsy weight which increased upon him. He
could not do so; he walked with bent back, and crept, as it were, over
the iron land which radiated heat. A shimmer like that of water appeared
in front; he quickened his pace, but could not get to it, and realized
presently that it was a mirage which receded as he advanced. There was
no pleasant summer twilight; the sunset was succeeded by an indefinite
gloom, and while this shadow hung overhead the yellow vapour around was
faintly radiant. Felix suddenly stopped, having stepped, as he thought,
on a skeleton.

Another glance, however, showed that it was merely the impression of
one, the actual bones had long since disappeared. The ribs, the skull,
and limbs were drawn on the black ground in white lines as if it had
been done with a broad piece of chalk. Close by he found three or four
more, intertangled and superimposed as if the unhappy beings had fallen
partly across each other, and in that position had mouldered away
leaving nothing but their outline. From among a variety of objects that
were scattered about Felix picked up something that shone; it was a
diamond bracelet of one large stone, and a small square of blue china
tile with a curious heraldic animal drawn on it. Evidently these had
belonged to one or other of the party who had perished.

Though startled at the first sight, it was curious that Felix felt so
little horror; the idea did not occur to him that he was in danger as
these had been. Inhaling the gaseous emanations from the soil and
contained in the yellow vapour, he had become narcotized, and moved as
if under the influence of opium, while wide awake, and capable of
rational conduct. His senses were deadened, and did not carry the usual
vivid impression to the mind; he saw things as if they were afar off.
Accidentally looking back, he found that his footmarks, as far as he
could see, shone with a phosphoric light like that of "touchwood" in the
dark. Near at hand they did not shine; the appearance did not come till
some few minutes had elapsed. His track was visible behind till the
vapour hid it. As the evening drew on the vapour became more luminous,
and somewhat resembled an aurora.

Still anxious for water, he proceeded as straight ahead as he could, and
shortly became conscious of an indefinite cloud which kept pace with him
on either side. When he turned to look at either of the clouds, the one
looked at disappeared. It was not condensed enough to be visible to
direct vision, yet he was aware of it from the corner of his eye.
Shapeless and threatening, the gloomy thickness of the air floated
beside him like the vague monster of a dream. Sometimes he fancied that
he saw an arm or a limb among the folds of the cloud, or an approach to
a face; the instant he looked it vanished. Marching at each hand these
vapours bore him horrible company.

His brain became unsteady, and flickering things moved about him; yet,
though alarmed, he was not afraid; his senses were not acute enough for
fear. The heat increased; his hands were intolerably hot as if he had
been in a fever, he panted; but did not perspire. A dry heat like an
oven burned his blood in his veins. His head felt enlarged, and his eyes
seemed alight; he could see these two globes of phosphoric light under
his brows. They seemed to stand out so that he could see them. He
thought his path straight, it was really curved; nor did he know that he
staggered as he walked.

Presently a white object appeared ahead; and on coming to it, he found
it was a wall, white as snow, with some kind of crystal. He touched it,
when the wall fell immediately, with a crushing sound as if pulverised,
and disappeared in a vast cavern at his feet. Beyond this chasm he came
to more walls like those of houses, such as would be left if the roofs
fell in. He carefully avoided touching them, for they seemed as brittle
as glass, and merely a white powder having no consistency at all. As he
advanced these remnants of buildings increased in number, so that he had
to wind in and out round them. In some places the crystallized wall had
fallen of itself, and he could see down into the cavern; for the house
had either been built partly underground, or, which was more probable,
the ground had risen. Whether the walls had been of bricks or stone or
other material he could not tell; they were now like salt.

Soon wearying of winding round these walls, Felix returned and retraced
his steps till he was outside the place, and then went on towards the
left. Not long after, as he still walked in a dream and without feeling
his feet, he descended a slight slope and found the ground change in
colour from black to a dull red. In his dazed state he had taken several
steps into this red before he noticed that it was liquid, unctuous and
slimy, like a thick oil. It deepened rapidly and was already over his
shoes; he returned to the black shore and stood looking out over the
water, if such it could be called.

The luminous yellow vapour had now risen a height of ten or fifteen
feet, and formed a roof both over the land and over the red water, under
which it was possible to see for a great distance. The surface of the
red oil or viscid liquid was perfectly smooth, and, indeed, it did not
seem as if any wind could rouse a wave on it, much less that a swell
should be left after the gale had gone down. Disappointed in his search
for water to drink, Felix mechanically turned to go back.

He followed his luminous footmarks, which he could see a long way before
him. His trail curved so much that he made many short cuts across the
winding line he had left. His weariness was now so intense that all
feeling had departed. His feet, his limbs, his arms, and hands were
numbed. The subtle poison of the emanations from the earth had begun to
deaden his nerves. It seemed a full hour or more to him till he reached
the spot where the skeletons were drawn in white upon the ground.

He passed a few yards to one side of them, and stumbled over a heap of
something which he did not observe, as it was black like the level
ground. It emitted a metallic sound, and looking he saw that he had
kicked his foot against a great heap of money. The coins were black as
ink; he picked up a handful and went on. Hitherto Felix had accepted all
that he saw as something so strange as to be unaccountable. During his
advance into this region in the canoe he had in fact become slowly
stupefied by the poisonous vapour he had inhaled. His mind was partly in
abeyance; it acted, but only after some time had elapsed. He now at last
began to realize his position; the finding of the heap of blackened
money touched a chord of memory. These skeletons were the miserable
relics of men who had ventured, in search of ancient treasures, into the
deadly marshes over the site of the mightiest city of former days. The
deserted and utterly extinct city of London was under his feet.

He had penetrated into the midst of that dreadful place, of which he had
heard many a tradition: how the earth was poison, the water poison, the
air poison, the very light of heaven, falling through such an
atmosphere, poison. There were said to be places where the earth was on
fire and belched forth sulphurous fumes, supposed to be from the
combustion of the enormous stores of strange and unknown chemicals
collected by the wonderful people of those times. Upon the surface of
the water there was a greenish-yellow oil, to touch which was death to
any creature; it was the very essence of corruption. Sometimes it
floated before the wind, and fragments became attached to reeds or flags
far from the place itself. If a moorhen or duck chanced to rub the reed,
and but one drop stuck to its feathers, it forthwith died. Of the red
water he had not heard, nor of the black, into which he had unwittingly
sailed.

Ghastly beings haunted the site of so many crimes, shapeless monsters,
hovering by night, and weaving a fearful dance. Frequently they caught
fire, as it seemed, and burned as they flew or floated in the air.
Remembering these stories, which in part, at least, now seemed to be
true, Felix glanced aside, where the cloud still kept pace with him, and
involuntarily put his hands to his ears lest the darkness of the air
should whisper some horror of old times. The earth on which he walked,
the black earth, leaving phosphoric footmarks behind him, was composed
of the mouldered bodies of millions of men who had passed away in the
centuries during which the city existed. He shuddered as he moved; he
hastened, yet could not go fast, his numbed limbs would not permit him.

He dreaded lest he should fall and sleep, and wake no more, like the
searchers after treasure; treasure which they had found only to lose for
ever. He looked around, supposing that he might see the gleaming head
and shoulders of the half-buried giant, of which he recollected he had
been told. The giant was punished for some crime by being buried to the
chest in the earth; fire incessantly consumed his head and played about
it, yet it was not destroyed. The learned thought, if such a thing
really existed, that it must be the upper part of an ancient brazen
statue, kept bright by the action of acid in the atmosphere, and shining
with reflected light. Felix did not see it, and shortly afterwards
surmounted the hill, and looked down upon his canoe. It was on fire!



CHAPTER XXIV

FIERY VAPOURS


Felix tried to run, but his feet would not rise from the ground; his
limbs were numb as in a nightmare; he could not get there. His body
would not obey his will. In reality he did move, but more slowly than
when he walked. By degrees approaching the canoe his alarm subsided, for
although it burned it was not injured; the canvas of the sail was not
even scorched. When he got to it the flames had disappeared; like
Jack-o'-the-lantern, the phosphoric fire receded from him. With all his
strength he strove to launch her, yet paused, for over the surface of
the black water, now smooth and waveless, played immense curling flames,
stretching out like endless serpents, weaving, winding, rolling over
each other. Suddenly they contracted into a ball, which shone with a
steady light, and was as large as the full moon. The ball swept along,
rose a little, and from it flew out long streamers till it was unwound
in fiery threads.

But remembering that the flames had not even scorched the canvas, he
pushed the canoe afloat, determined at any risk to leave this dreadful
place. To his joy he felt a faint air rising; it cooled his forehead,
but was not enough to fill the sail. He paddled with all the strength he
had left. The air seemed to come from exactly the opposite direction to
what it had previously blown, some point of east he supposed. Labour as
hard as he would, the canoe moved slowly, being so heavy. It seemed as
if the black water was thick and clung to her, retarding motion. Still,
he did move, and in time (it seemed, indeed, a time) he left the island,
which disappeared in the luminous vapours. Uncertain as to the
direction, he got his compass, but it would not act; the needle had no
life, it swung and came to rest, pointing any way as it chanced. It was
demagnetized. Felix resolved to trust to the wind, which he was certain
blew from the opposite quarter, and would therefore carry him out. The
stars he could not see for the vapour, which formed a roof above him.

The wind was rising, but in uncertain gusts; however, he hoisted the
sail, and floated slowly before it. Nothing but excitement could have
kept him awake. Reclining in the canoe, he watched the serpent-like
flames playing over the surface, and forced himself by sheer power of
will not to sleep. The two dark clouds which had accompanied him to the
shore now faded away, and the cooling wind enabled him to bear up better
against his parching thirst. His hope was to reach the clear and
beautiful Lake; his dread that in the uncertain light he might strike a
concealed sandbank and become firmly fixed.

Twice he passed islands, distinguishable as masses of visible darkness.
While the twisted flames played up to the shore, and the luminous vapour
overhung the ground, the island itself appeared as a black mass. The
wind became by degrees steadier, and the canoe shot swiftly over the
water. His hopes rose; he sat up and kept a keener look-out ahead. All
at once the canoe shook as if she had struck a rock. She vibrated from
one end to the other, and stopped for a moment in her course. Felix
sprang up alarmed. At the same instant a bellowing noise reached him,
succeeded by a frightful belching and roaring, as if a volcano had burst
forth under the surface of the water; he looked back but could see
nothing. The canoe had not touched ground; she sailed as rapidly as
before.

Again the shock, and again the hideous roaring, as if some force beneath
the water were forcing itself up, vast bubbles rising and turning.
Fortunately it was at a great distance. Hardly was it silent before it
was reiterated for the third time. Next Felix felt the canoe heave up,
and he was aware that a large roller had passed under him. A second and
a third followed. They were without crests, and were not raised by the
wind; they obviously started from the scene of the disturbance. Soon
afterwards the canoe moved quicker, and he detected a strong current
setting in the direction he was sailing.

The noise did not recur, nor did any more rollers pass under. Felix felt
better and less dazed, but his weariness and sleepiness increased every
moment. He fancied that the serpent flames were less brilliant and
farther apart, and that the luminous vapour was thinner. How long he sat
at the rudder he could not tell; he noticed that it seemed to grow
darker, the serpent flames faded away, and the luminous vapour was
succeeded by something like the natural gloom of night. At last he saw a
star overhead, and hailed it with joy. He thought of Aurora; the next
instant he fell back in the canoe firm asleep.

His arm, however, still retained the rudder-paddle in position, so that
the canoe sped on with equal swiftness. She would have struck more than
one of the sandbanks and islets had it not been for the strong current
that was running. Instead of carrying her against the banks this warded
her off, for it drew her between the islets in the channels where it ran
fastest, and the undertow, where it struck the shore, bore her back from
the land. Driving before the wind, the canoe swept onward steadily to
the west. In an hour it had passed the line of the black water, and
entered the sweet Lake. Another hour and all trace of the marshes had
utterly disappeared, the last faint glow of the vapour had vanished. The
dawn of the coming summer's day appeared, and the sky became a lovely
azure. The canoe sailed on, but Felix remained immovable in slumber.

Long since the strong current had ceased, it scarcely extended into the
sweet waters, and the wind only impelled the canoe. As the sun rose the
breeze gradually fell away, and in an hour or so there was only a light
air. The canoe had left most of the islets and was approaching the open
Lake when, as she passed almost the last, the yard caught the
overhanging branch of a willow, the canoe swung round and grounded
gently under the shadow of the tree. For some time the little wavelets
beat against the side of the boat; gradually they ceased, and the clear
and beautiful water became still. Felix slept till nearly noon, when he
awoke and sat up. At the sudden movement a pike struck, and two moorhens
scuttled out of the water into the grass on the shore. A thrush was
singing sweetly, whitethroats were busy in the bushes, and swallows
swept by overhead.

Felix drew a long deep breath of intense relief; it was like awakening
in Paradise. He snatched up a cup, dipped, and satisfied his craving
thirst, then washed his hands over the side, and threw the water over
his face. But when he came to stand up and move, he found that his limbs
were almost powerless. Like a child he tottered, his joints had no
strength, his legs tingled as if they had been benumbed. He was so weak
he crawled on all fours along to the mast, furled the sail kneeling, and
dragged himself rather than stepped ashore with the painter. The instant
he had fastened the rope to a branch, he threw himself at full length on
the grass, and grasped a handful of it. Merely to touch the grass after
such an experience was intense delight.

The song of the thrush, the chatter of the whitethroats, the sight of a
hedge-sparrow, gave him inexpressible pleasure. Lying on the sward he
watched the curves traced by the swallows in the sky. From the sedges
came the curious cry of the moorhen; a bright kingfisher went by. He
rested as he had never rested before. His whole body, his whole being
was resigned to rest. It was fully two hours before he rose and crept on
all fours into the canoe for food. There was only sufficient left for
one meal, but that gave him no concern now he was out of the marshes; he
could fish and use his crossbow.

He now observed what had escaped him during the night, the canoe was
black from end to end. Stem, stern, gunwale, thwart, outrigger, mast and
sail were black. The stain did not come off on being touched, it seemed
burnt in. As he leaned over the side to dip water, and saw his
reflection, he started; his face was black, his clothes were black, his
hair black. In his eagerness to drink, the first time, he had noticed
nothing. His hands were less dark; contact with the paddle and ropes had
partly rubbed it off, he supposed. He washed, but the water did not
materially diminish the discoloration.

After eating, he returned to the grass and rested again; and it was not
till the sun was sinking that he felt any return of vigour. Still weak,
but able now to walk, leaning on a stick, he began to make a camp for
the coming night. But a few scraps, the remnant of his former meal, were
left; on these he supped after a fashion, and long before the white owl
began his rounds Felix was fast asleep on his hunter's hide from the
canoe. He found next morning that the island was small, only a few
acres; it was well-wooded, dry, and sandy in places. He had little
inclination or strength to resume his expedition; he erected a booth of
branches, and resolved to stay a few days till his strength returned.

By shooting wildfowl, and fishing, he fared very well, and soon
recovered. In two days the discoloration of the skin had faded to an
olive tint, which, too, grew fainter. The canoe lost its blackness, and
became a rusty colour. By rubbing the coins he had carried away he found
they were gold; part of the inscription remained, but he could not read
it. The blue china-tile was less injured than the metal; after washing
it, it was bright. But the diamond pleased him most; it would be a
splendid present for Aurora. Never had he seen anything like it in the
palaces; he believe it was twice the size of the largest possessed by
any king or prince.

It was as big as his finger-nail, and shone and gleamed in the sunlight,
sparkling and reflecting the beams. Its value must be very great. But
well he knew how dangerous it would be to exhibit it; on some pretext or
other he would be thrown into prison, and the gem seized. It must be
hidden with the greatest care till he could produce it in Thyma Castle,
when the Baron would protect it. Felix regretted now that he had not
searched further; perhaps he might have found other treasures for
Aurora; the next instant he repudiated his greed, and was only thankful
that he had escaped with his life. He wondered and marvelled that he had
done so, it was so well known that almost all who had ventured in had
perished.

Reflecting on the circumstances which had accompanied his entrance to
the marshes, the migration of the birds seemed almost the most singular.
They were evidently flying from some apprehended danger, and that most
probably would be in the air. The gale at that time, however, was
blowing in a direction which would appear to ensure safety to them;
into, and not out of, the poisonous marshes. Did they, then, foresee
that it would change? Did they expect it to veer like a cyclone and
presently blow east with the same vigour as it then blew west? That
would carry the vapour from the inky waters out over the sweet Lake, and
might even cause the foul water itself to temporarily encroach on the
sweet. The more he thought of it, the more he felt convinced that this
was the explanation; and, as a fact, the wind, after dropping, did arise
again and blow from the east, though, as it happened, not with nearly
the same strength. It fell, too, before long, fortunately for him.
Clearly the birds had anticipated a cyclone, and that the wind turning
would carry the gases out upon them to their destruction. They had
therefore hurried away, and the fishes had done the same.

The velocity of the gale which had carried him into the black waters had
proved his safety, by driving before it the thicker and most poisonous
portion of the vapour, compressing it towards the east, so that he had
entered the dreaded precincts under favourable conditions. When it
dropped, while he was on the black island, he soon began to feel the
effect of the gases rising imperceptibly from the soil, and had he not
had the good fortune to escape so soon, no doubt he would have fallen a
victim. He could not congratulate himself sufficiently upon his good
fortune. The other circumstances appeared to be due to the decay of the
ancient city, to the decomposition of accumulated matter, to
phosphorescence and gaseous exhalations. The black rocks that crumbled
at a touch were doubtless the remains of ancient buildings saturated
with the dark water and vapours. Inland similar remains were white, and
resembled salt.

But the great explosions which occurred as he was leaving, and which
sent heavy rollers after him, were not easily understood, till he
remembered that in Sylvester's "Book of Natural Things" it was related
that "the ancient city had been undermined with vast conduits, sewers,
and tunnels, and that these communicated with the sea". It had been much
disputed whether the sea did or did not still send its tides up to the
site of the old quays. Felix now thought that the explosions were due to
compressed air, or more probably to gases met with by the ascending
tide.



CHAPTER XXV

THE SHEPHERDS


For four days Felix remained on the island recovering his strength. By
degrees the memory of the scenes he had witnessed grew less vivid, and
his nerves regained their tone. The fifth morning he sailed again,
making due south with a gentle breeze from the west, which suited the
canoe very well. He considered that he was now at the eastern extremity
of the Lake, and that by sailing south he should presently reach the
place where the shore turned to the east again. The sharp prow of the
canoe cut swiftly through the waves, a light spray flew occasionally in
his face, and the wind blew pleasantly. In the cloudless sky swallows
and swifts were wheeling, and on the water half a dozen mallards moved
aside to let him pass.

About two hours after he started he encountered a mist, which came
softly over the surface of the water with the wind, and in an instant
shut out all view. Even the sun was scarcely visible. It was very warm,
and left no moisture. In five minutes he passed through and emerged
again in the bright sunlight. These dry, warm mists are frequently seen
on the Lake in summer, and are believed to portend a continuance of fine
weather.

Felix kept a good distance from the mainland, which was hilly and
wooded, and with few islands. Presently he observed in the extreme
distance, on his right hand, a line of mountainous hills, which he
supposed to be the southern shore of the Lake, and that he was sailing
into a gulf or bay. He debated with himself whether he should alter his
course and work across to the mountains, or to continue to trace the
shore. Unless he did trace the shore, he could scarcely say that he had
circumnavigated the Lake, as he would leave this great bay unexplored.
He continued, therefore, to sail directly south.

The wind freshened towards noon, and the canoe flew at a great pace.
Twice he passed through similar mists. There were now no islands at all,
but a line of low chalk cliffs marked the shore. Considering that it
must be deep, and safe to do so, Felix bore in closer to look at the
land. Woods ran along the hills right to the verge of the cliff, but he
saw no signs of inhabitants, no smoke, boat, or house. The sound of the
surf beating on the beach was audible, though the waves were not large.
High over the cliff he noted a kite soaring, with forked tail, at a
great height.

Immediately afterwards he ran into another mist or vapour, thicker, if
anything, and which quite obscured his view. It seemed like a great
cloud on the surface of the water, and broader than those he had
previously entered. Suddenly the canoe stopped with a tremendous jerk,
which pitched him forward on his knees, the mast cracked, and there was
a noise of splitting wood. As soon as he could get up, Felix saw, to his
bitter sorrow, that the canoe had split longitudinally; the water came
up through the split, and the boat was held together only by the beams
of the outrigger. He had run aground on a large sharp flint embedded in
a chalk floor, which had split the poplar wood of the canoe like an axe.
The voyage was over, for the least strain would cause the canoe to part
in two, and if she were washed off the ground she would be water-logged.
In half a minute the mist passed, leaving him in the bright day,
shipwrecked.

Felix now saw that the waters were white with suspended chalk, and
sounding with the paddle, found that the depth was but a few inches. He
had driven at full speed on a reef. There was no danger, for the
distance to the shore was hardly two hundred yards, and judging by the
appearance of the water, it was shallow all the way. But his canoe, the
product of so much labour, and in which he had voyaged so far, his canoe
was destroyed. He could not repair her; he doubted whether it could have
been done successfully even at home with Oliver to help him. He could
sail no farther; there was nothing for it but to get ashore and travel
on foot. If the wind rose higher, the waves would soon break clean over
her, and she would go to pieces.

With a heavy heart, Felix took his paddle and stepped overboard. Feeling
with the paddle, he plumbed the depth in front of him, and, as he
expected, walked all the way to the shore, no deeper than his knees.
This was fortunate, as it enabled him to convey his things to land
without loss. He wrapped up the tools and manuscripts in one of his
hunter's hides. When the whole cargo was landed, he sat down sorrowfully
at the foot of the cliff, and looked out at the broken mast and sail,
still flapping uselessly in the breeze.

It was a long time before he recovered himself, and set to work
mechanically to bury the crossbow, hunter's hides, tools, and
manuscripts, under a heap of pebbles. As the cliff, though low, was
perpendicular, he could not scale it, else he would have preferred to
conceal them in the woods above. To pile pebbles over them was the best
he could do for the present; he intended to return for them when he
discovered a path up the cliff. He then started, taking only his bow and
arrows.

But no such path was to be found; he walked on and on till weary, and
still the cliff ran like a wall on his left hand. After an hour's rest,
he started again; and, as the sun was declining, came suddenly to a gap
in the cliff, where a grassy sward came down to the shore. It was now
too late, and he was too weary, to think of returning for his things
that evening. He made a scanty meal, and endeavoured to rest. But the
excitement of losing the canoe, the long march since, the lack of good
food, all tended to render him restless. Weary, he could not rest, nor
move farther. The time passed slowly, the sun sank, the wind ceased;
after an interminable time the stars appeared, and still he could not
sleep. He had chosen a spot under an oak on the green slope. The night
was warm, and even sultry, so that he did not miss his covering, but
there was no rest in him. Towards the dawn, which comes very early at
that season, he at last slept, with his back to the tree. He awoke with
a start in broad daylight, to see a man standing in front of him armed
with a long spear.

Felix sprang to his feet, instinctively feeling for his hunting-knife;
but he saw in an instant that no injury was meant, for the man was
leaning on the shaft of his weapon, and, of course, could, if so he had
wished, have run him through while sleeping. They looked at each other
for a moment. The stranger was clad in a tunic, and wore a hat of
plaited straw. He was very tall and strongly built; his single weapon, a
spear of twice his own length. His beard came down on his chest. He
spoke to Felix in a dialect the latter did not understand. Felix held
out his hand as a token of amity, which the other took. He spoke again.
Felix, on his part, tried to explain his shipwreck, when a word the
stranger uttered recalled to Felix's memory the peculiar dialect used by
the shepherd race on the hills in the neighbourhood of his home.

He spoke in this dialect, which the stranger in part at least
understood, and the sound of which at once rendered him more friendly.
By degrees they comprehended each other's meaning the easier, as the
shepherd had come the same way and had seen the wreck of the canoe.
Felix learned that the shepherd was a scout sent on ahead to see that
the road was clear of enemies. His tribe were on the march with their
flocks, and to avoid the steep woods and hills which there blocked their
course, they had followed the level and open beach at the foot of the
cliff, aware, of course, of the gap which Felix had found. While they
were talking, Felix saw the cloud of dust raised by the sheep as the
flocks wound round a jutting buttress of cliff.

His friend explained that they marched in the night and early morning to
avoid the heat of the day. Their proposed halting-place was close at
hand; he must go on and see that all was clear. Felix accompanied him,
and found within the wood at the summit a grassy coombe, where a spring
rose. The shepherd threw down his spear, and began to dam up the channel
of the spring with stones, flints, and sods of earth, in order to form a
pool at which the sheep might drink. Felix assisted him, and the water
speedily began to rise.

The flocks were not allowed to rush tumultuously to the water; they came
in about fifty at a time, each division with its shepherds and their
dogs, so that confusion was avoided and all had their share. There were
about twenty of these divisions, besides eighty cows and a few goats.
They had no horses; their baggage came on the backs of asses.

After the whole of the flocks and herds had been watered several fires
were lit by the women, who in stature and hardihood scarcely differed
from the men. Not till this work was over did the others gather about
Felix to hear his story. Finding that he was hungry they ran to the
baggage for food, and pressed on him a little dark bread, plentiful
cheese and butter, dried tongue, and horns of mead. He could not devour
a fiftieth part of what these hospitable people brought him. Having
nothing else to give them, he took from his pocket one of the gold coins
he had brought from the site of the ancient city, and offered it.

They laughed, and made him understand that it was of no value to them;
but they passed it from hand to hand, and he noticed that they began to
look at him curiously. From its blackened appearance they conjectured
whence he had obtained it; one, too, pointed to his shoes, which were
still blackened, and appeared to have been scorched. The whole camp now
pressed on him, their wonder and interest rising to a great height. With
some trouble Felix described his journey over the site of the ancient
city, interrupted with constant exclamations, questions, and excited
conversation. He told them everything, except about the diamond.

Their manner towards him perceptibly altered. From the first they had
been hospitable; they now became respectful, and even reverent. The
elders and their chief, not to be distinguished by dress or ornament
from the rest, treated him with ceremony and marked deference. The
children were brought to see and even to touch him. So great was their
amazement that any one should have escaped from these pestilential
vapours, that they attributed it to divine interposition, and looked
upon him with some of the awe of superstition. He was asked to stay with
them altogether, and to take command of the tribe.

The latter Felix declined; to stay with them for awhile, at least, he
was, of course, willing enough. He mentioned his hidden possessions, and
got up to return for them, but they would not permit him. Two men
started at once. He gave them the bearings of the spot, and they had not
the least doubt but that they should find it, especially as, the wind
being still, the canoe would not yet have broken up, and would guide
them. The tribe remained in the green coombe the whole day, resting from
their long journey. They wearied Felix with questions, still he answered
them as copiously as he could; he felt too grateful for their kindness
not to satisfy them. His bow was handled, his arrows carried about so
that the quiver for the time was empty, and the arrows scattered in
twenty hands. He astonished them by exhibiting his skill with the
weapon, striking a tree with an arrow at nearly three hundred yards.

Though familiar, of course, with the bow, they had never seen shooting
like that, nor, indeed, any archery except at short quarters. They had
no other arms themselves but spears and knives. Seeing one of the women
cutting the boughs from a fallen tree, dead and dry, and, therefore,
preferable for fuel, Felix naturally went to help her, and, taking the
axe, soon made a bundle, which he carried for her. It was his duty as a
noble to see than no woman, not a slave, laboured; he had been bred in
that idea, and would have felt disgraced had he permitted it. The women
looked on with astonishment, for in these rude tribes the labour of the
women was considered valuable and appraised like that of a horse.

Without any conscious design, Felix thus in one day conciliated and won
the regard of the two most powerful parties in the camp, the chief and
the women. By his refusing the command the chief was flattered, and his
possible hostility prevented. The act of cutting the wood and carrying
the bundle gave him the hearts of the women. They did not, indeed, think
their labour in any degree oppressive; still, to be relieved of it was
pleasing.

The two men who had gone for Felix's buried treasure did not return till
breakfast next morning. They stepped into the camp, each with his spear
reddened and dripping with fresh blood. Felix no sooner saw the blood
than he fainted. He quickly recovered, but he could not endure the sight
of the spears, which were removed and hidden from his view. He had seen
blood enough spilt at the siege of Iwis, but this came upon him in all
its horror unrelieved by the excitement of war.

The two shepherds had been dogged by gipsies, and had been obliged to
make a round to escape. They took their revenge by climbing into trees,
and as their pursuers passed under thrust them through with their long
spears. The shepherds, like all their related tribes, had been at feud
with the gipsies for many generations. The gipsies followed them to and
from their pastures, cut off stragglers, destroyed or stole their sheep
and cattle, and now and then overwhelmed a while tribe. Of late the
contest had become more sanguinary and almost ceaseless.

Mounted on swift, though small, horses, the gipsies had the advantage of
the shepherds. On the other hand, the shepherds, being men of great
stature and strength, could not be carried away by a rush if they had
time to form a circle, as was their custom of battle. They lost many men
by the javelins thrown by the gipsies, who rode up to the edge of the
circle, cast their darts, and retreated. If the shepherds left their
circle they were easily ridden over; while they maintained formation
they lost individuals, but saved the mass. Battles were of rare
occurrence; the gipsies watched for opportunities and executed raids,
the shepherds retaliated, and thus the endless war continued. The
shepherds invariably posted sentinels, and sent forward scouts to
ascertain if the way were clear. Accustomed to the horrid scenes of war
from childhood, they could not understand Felix's sensitiveness.

They laughed, and then petted him like a spoilt child. This galled him
exceedingly; he felt humiliated, and eager to reassert his manhood. He
was willing to stay with them there for awhile, nothing would have
induced him to leave them now till he had vindicated himself in their
sight. The incident happened soon after sunrise, which is very early at
the end of June. The camp had only waited for the return of these men,
and on their appearance began to move. The march that morning was not a
long one, as the sky was clear and the heat soon wearied the flocks.
Felix accompanied the scout in advance, armed with his bow, eager to
encounter the gipsies.



CHAPTER XXVI

BOW AND ARROW


Three mornings the shepherds marched in the same manner, when they came
in view of a range of hills so high that to Felix they appeared
mountains. The home of the tribe was in these hills, and once there they
were comparatively safe from attack. In early spring when the herbage on
the downs was scarce, the flocks moved to the meadowlike lands far in
the valleys; in summer they returned to the hills; in autumn they went
to the vales again. Soon after noon on the third day the scouts reported
that a large body of gipsies were moving in a direction which would cut
off their course to the hills on the morrow.

The chief held a council, and it was determined that a forced march
should be made at once by another route, more to the left, and it was
thought that in this way they might reach the base of the slopes by
evening. The distance was not great, and could easily have been
traversed by the men; the flocks and herds, however, could not be
hurried much. A messenger was despatched to the hills for assistance,
and the march began. It was a tedious movement. Felix was wearied, and
walked in a drowsy state. Towards six o'clock, as he guessed, the trees
began to thin, and the column reached the first slopes of the hills.
Here about thirty shepherds joined them, a contingent from the nearest
camp. It was considered that the danger was now past, and that the
gipsies would not attack them on the hill; but it was a mistake.

A large body almost immediately appeared, coming along the slope on the
right, not less than two hundred; and from their open movements and
numbers it was evident that they intended battle. The flocks and herds
were driven hastily into a coombe, or narrow valley, and there left to
their fate. All the armed men formed in a circle; the women occupied the
centre. Felix took his stand outside the circle by a gnarled and decayed
oak. There was just there a slight rise in the ground, which he knew
would give him some advantage in discharging his arrows, and would also
allow him a clear view. His friends earnestly entreated him to enter the
circle, and even sought to bring him within it by force, till he
explained to them that he could not shoot if so surrounded, and promised
if the gipsies charged to rush inside.

Felix unslung his quiver, and placed it on the ground before him; a
second quiver he put beside it; four or five arrows he stuck upright in
the sward, so that he could catch hold of them quickly; two arrows he
held in his left hand, another he fitted to the string. Thus prepared,
he watched the gipsies advance. They came walking their short wiry
horses to within half a mile, when they began to trot down the slope;
they could not surround the shepherds because of the steep-sided coombe
and some brushwood, and could advance only on two fronts. Felix rapidly
became so excited that his sight was affected, and his head whirled. His
heart beat with such speed that his breath seemed going. His limbs
tottered, and he dreaded lest he should faint.

His intensely nervous organization, strung up to its highest pitch,
shook him in its grasp, and his will was powerless to control it. He
felt that he should disgrace himself once more before these rugged but
brave shepherds, who betrayed not the slightest symptom of agitation.
For one hour of Oliver's calm courage and utter absence of nervousness
he would have given years of his life. His friends in the circle
observed his agitation, and renewed their entreaties to him to come
inside it. This only was needed to complete his discomfiture. He lost
his head altogether; he saw nothing but a confused mass of yellow and
red rushing towards him, for each of the gipsies wore a yellow or red
scarf, some about the body, some over the shoulder, others round the
head. They were now within three hundred yards.

A murmur from the shepherd spearmen. Felix had discharged an arrow. It
stuck in the ground about twenty paces from him. He shot again; it flew
wild and quivering, and dropped harmlessly. Another murmur; they
expressed to each other their contempt for the bow. This immediately
restored Felix; he forgot the enemy as an enemy, he forgot himself; he
thought only of his skill as an archer, now in question. Pride upheld
him. The third arrow he fitted properly to the string, he planted his
left foot slightly in advance, and looked steadfastly at the horsemen
before he drew his bow.

At a distance of one hundred and fifty yards they had paused, and were
widening out so as to advance in loose open rank and allow each man to
throw his javelin. They shouted; the spearmen in the circle replied, and
levelled their spears. Felix fixed his eye on one of the gipsies who was
ordering and marshalling the rest, a chief. He drew the arrow swiftly
but quietly, the string hummed, the pliant yew obeyed, and the long
arrow shot forward in a steady swift flight like a line of gossamer
drawn through the air. It missed the chief, but pierced the horse he
rode just in front of the rider's thigh. The maddened horse reared and
fell backwards on his rider.

The spearmen shouted. Before the sound could leave their lips another
arrow had sped; a gipsy threw up his arms with a shriek; the arrow had
gone through his body. A third, a fourth, a fifth--six gipsies rolled on
the sward. Shout upon shout rent the air from the spearmen. Utterly
unused to this mode of fighting, the gipsies fell back. Still the fatal
arrows pursued them, and ere they were out of range three others fell.
Now the rage of battle burned in Felix; his eyes gleamed, his lips were
open, his nostrils wide like a horse running a race. He shouted to the
spearmen to follow him, and snatching up his quiver ran forward.
Gathered together in a group, the gipsy band consulted.

Felix ran at full speed; swift of foot, he left the heavy spearmen
behind. Alone he approached the horsemen; all the Aquila courage was up
within him. He kept the higher ground as he ran, and stopped suddenly on
a little knoll or tumulus. His arrow flew, a gipsy fell. Again, and a
third. Their anger gave them fresh courage; to be repulsed by one only!
Twenty of them started to charge and run him down. The keen arrows flew
faster than their horses' feet. Now the horse and now the man met those
sharp points. Six fell; the rest returned. The shepherds came running;
Felix ordered them to charge the gipsies. His success gave him
authority; they obeyed; and as they charged, he shot nine more arrows;
nine more deadly wounds. Suddenly the gipsy band turned and fled into
the brushwood on the lower slopes.

Breathless, Felix sat down on the knoll, and the spearmen swarmed around
him. Hardly had they begun to speak to him than there was a shout, and
they saw a body of shepherds descending the hill. There were three
hundred of them; warned by the messenger, the whole country had risen to
repel the gipsies. Too late to join in the fight, they had seen the last
of it. They examined the field. There were ten dead and six wounded, who
were taken prisoners; the rest escaped, though hurt. In many cases the
arrow had gone clean through the body. Then, for the first time, they
understood the immense power of the yew bow in strong and skilful hands.

Felix was overwhelmed; they almost crushed him with their attentions;
the women fell at his feet and kissed them. But the archer could
scarcely reply; his intense nervous excitement had left him weak and
almost faint; his one idea was to rest. As he walked back to the camp
between the chiefs of the shepherd spearmen, his eyes closed, his limbs
tottered, and they had to support him. At the camp he threw himself on
the sward, under the gnarled oak, and was instantly fast asleep.
Immediately the camp was stilled, not to disturb him.

His adventures in the marshes of the buried city, his canoe, his
archery, were talked of the livelong night. Next morning the camp set
out for their home in the mountains, and he was escorted by nearly four
hundred spearmen. They had saved for him the ornaments of the gipsies
who had fallen, golden earrings and nose-rings. He gave them to the
women, except one, a finger-ring, set with turquoise, and evidently of
ancient make, which he kept for Aurora. Two marches brought them to the
home of the tribe, where the rest of the spearmen left them. The place
was called Wolfstead.

Felix saw at once how easily this spot might be fortified. There was a
deep and narrow valley like a groove or green trench opening to the
south. At the upper end of the valley rose a hill, not very high, but
steep, narrow at the ridge, and steep again on the other side. Over it
was a broad, wooded, and beautiful vale; beyond that again the higher
mountains. Towards the foot of the narrow ridge here, there was a
succession of chalk cliffs, so that to climb up on that side in the face
of opposition would be extremely difficult. In the gorge of the enclosed
narrow valley a spring rose. The shepherds had formed eight pools, one
after the other, water being of great importance to them; and farther
down, where the valley opened, there were forty or fifty acres of
irrigated meadow. The spring then ran into a considerable brook, across
which was the forest.

Felix's idea was to run a palisade along the margin of the brook, and up
both sides of the valley to the ridge. There he would build a fort. The
edges of the chalk cliffs he would connect with a palisade or a wall,
and so form a complete enclosure. He mentioned his scheme to the
shepherds; they did not greatly care for it, as they had always been
secure without it, the rugged nature of the country not permitting
horsemen to penetrate. But they were so completely under his influence
that to please him they set about the work. He had to show them how to
make a palisade; they had never seen one, and he made the first part of
it himself. At building a wall with loose stones, without mortar, the
shepherds were skilful; the wall along the verge of the cliffs was soon
up, and so was the fort on the top of the ridge. The fort consisted
merely of a circular wall, breast high, with embrasures or
crenellations.

When this was finished, Felix had a sense of mastership, for in this
fort he felt as if he could rule the whole country. From day to day
shepherds came from the more distant parts to see the famous archer, and
to admire the enclosure. Though the idea of it had never occurred to
them, now they saw it they fully understood its advantages, and two
other chiefs began to erect similar forts and palisades.



CHAPTER XXVII

SURPRISED


Felix was now anxious to continue his journey, yet he did not like to
leave the shepherds, with whom his life was so pleasant. As usual, when
deliberating, he wandered about the hills, and then into the forest. The
shepherds at first insisted on at least two of their number accompanying
him; they were fearful lest the gipsies should seize him, or a Bushman
assassinate him. This company was irksome to Felix. In time he convinced
them that he was a much better hunter than any of the tribe, and they
permitted him to roam alone. During one of these excursions into the
forest he discovered a beautiful lake. He looked down on the water from
the summit of one of the green mountains.

It was, he thought, half a mile across, and the opposite shore was open
woodland, grassy and meadow-like, and dotted with fine old oaks. By
degrees these closed together, and the forest succeeded; beyond it
again, at a distance of two miles, were green hills. A little clearing
only was wanted to make the place fit for a castle and enclosure.
Through the grass-land opposite he traced the course of a large brook
down to the lake; another entered it on the right, and the lake
gradually narrowed to a river on his left. Could he erect a tower there,
and bring Aurora to it, how happy he would be! A more beautiful spot he
had never seen, nor one more suited for every purpose in life.

He followed the course of the stream which left the lake, every now and
then disturbing wild goats from the cliffs, and twice he saw deer under
the oaks across it. On rounding a spur of down he saw that the river
debouched into a much wider lake, which he conjectured must be the Sweet
Waters. He went on till he reached the mouth of the river, and had then
no doubt that he was standing once more on the shore of the Sweet Water
sea. On this, the southern side, the banks were low; on the other, a
steep chalky cliff almost overhung the river, and jutted out into the
lake, curving somewhat towards him. A fort on that cliff would command
the entrance to the river; the cliff was a natural breakwater, so that
there was a haven at its base. The river appeared broad and deep enough
for navigation, so that vessels could pass from the great Lake to the
inland water; about six or seven miles, he supposed.

Felix was much taken with this spot; the beauty of the inland lake, the
evident richness of the soil, the river communicating with the great
Lake, the cliff commanding its entrance; never, in all his wanderings,
had he seen a district so well suited for a settlement and the founding
of a city. If he had but a thousand men! How soon he would bring Aurora
there, and build a tower, and erect a palisade! So occupied was he with
the thought that he returned the whole distance to the spot where he had
made the discovery. There he remained a long time, designing it all in
his mind.

The tower he would build yonder, three-quarters of a mile, perhaps a
mile, inland from the opposite shore, on a green knoll, at the base of
which the brook flowed. It would be even more pleasant there than on the
shore of the lake. The forest he would clear back a little, and put up a
stout palisade, enclosing at least three miles of grassy land. By the
shore of the lake he would build his town, so that his vessels might be
able to go forth into the great Sweet Water sea. So strongly did
imagination hold him that he did not observe how near it was to sunset,
nor did he remark the threatening aspect of the sky. Thunder awoke him
from his dream; he looked, and saw a storm rapidly coming from the
north-east.

He descended the hill, and sheltered himself as well as possible among
some thick fir-trees. After the lightning, the rain poured so heavily
that it penetrated the branches, and he unstrung his bow and placed the
string in his pocket, that it might not become wet. Instantly there was
a whoop on either side, and two gipsies darted from the undergrowth
towards him. While the terrible bow was bent they had followed him,
tracking his footsteps; the moment he unstrung the bow, they rushed out.
Felix crushed through between the firs, by main force getting through,
but only opening a passage for them to follow. They could easily have
thrust their darts through him, but their object was to take him alive,
and gratify the revenge of the tribes with torture.

Felix doubled from the firs, and made towards the far-distant camp; but
he was faced by three more gipsies. He turned again and made for the
steep hill he had descended. With all his strength he raced up it; his
lightness of foot carried him in advance, and he reached the summit a
hundred yards ahead; but he knew he must be overtaken presently, unless
he could hit upon some stratagem. In the instant that he paused to
breathe on the summit a thought struck him. Like the wind he raced along
the ridge, making for the great Sweet Water, the same path he had
followed in the morning. Once on the ridge the five pursuers shouted;
they knew they should have him now there were no more hills to breast.
It was not so easy as they imagined.

Felix was in splendid training; he kept his lead, and even drew a little
on them. Still he knew in time he must succumb, just as the stag, though
swifter of foot, ultimately succumbs to the hounds. They would track him
till they had him. If only he could gain enough to have time to string
and bend his bow! But with all his efforts he could not get away more
than the hundred yards, and that was not far enough. It could be
traversed in ten seconds, they would have him before he could string it
and fit an arrow. If only he had been fresh as in the morning! But he
had had a long walk during the day and not much food. He knew that his
burst of speed must soon slacken, but he had a stratagem yet.

Keeping along the ridge till he reached the place where the lake
narrowed to the river, suddenly he rushed down the hill towards the
water. The edge was encumbered with brushwood and fallen trees; he
scrambled over and through anyhow; he tore a path through the bushes and
plunged in. But his jacket caught in a branch; he had his knife out and
cut off the shred of cloth. Then with the bow and knife in one hand he
struck out for the opposite shore. His hope was that the gipsies, being
horsemen, and passing all their lives on their horses, might not know
how to swim. His conjecture was right; they stopped on the brink, and
yelled their loudest. When he had passed the middle of the slow stream
their rage rose to a shriek, startling a heron far down the water.

Felix reached the opposite shore in safety, but the bow-string was now
wet and useless. He struck off at once straight across the grass-lands,
past the oaks he had admired, past the green knoll where in imagination
he had built his castle and brought Aurora, through the brook, which he
found was larger than it appeared at a distance, and required two or
three strokes to cross. A few more paces and the forest sheltered him.
Under the trees he rested, and considered what course to pursue. The
gipsies would expect him to endeavour to regain his friends, and would
watch to cut off his return. Felix determined to make, instead, for
another camp farther east, and to get even there by a detour.

Bitterly he reproached himself for his folly in leaving the camp,
knowing that gipsies were about, with no other weapon than the bow. The
knife at his belt was practically no weapon at all, useful only in the
last extremity. Had he a short sword, or javelin, he would have faced
the two gipsies who first sprang towards him. Worse than this was the
folly of wandering without the least precaution into a territory at that
time full of gipsies, who had every reason to desire his capture. If he
had used the ordinary precautions of woodcraft, he would have noticed
their traces, and he would not have exposed himself in full view on the
ridges of the hills, where a man was visible for miles. If he perished
through his carelessness, how bitter it would be! To lose Aurora by the
merest folly would, indeed, be humiliating.

He braced himself to the journey before him, and set off at a good
swinging hunter's pace, as it is called, that is, a pace rather more
than a walk and less than a run, with the limbs somewhat bent, and long
springy steps. The forest was in the worst possible condition for
movement; the rain had damped the fern and undergrowth, and every branch
showered raindrops upon him. It was now past sunset and the dusk was
increasing; this he welcomed as hiding him. He travelled on till nearly
dawn, and then, turning to the right, swept round, and regained the line
of the mountainous hills after sunrise. There he rested, and reached a
camp about nine in the morning, having walked altogether since the
preceding morning fully fifty miles. This camp was about fifteen miles
distant from that of his friends; the shepherds knew him, and one of
them started with the news of his safety. In the afternoon ten of his
friends came over to see him, and to reproach him.

His weariness was so great that for three days he scarcely moved from
the hut, during which time the weather was wet and stormy, as is often
the case in summer after a thunderstorm. On the fourth morning it was
fine, and Felix, now quite restored to his usual strength, went out with
the shepherds. He found some of them engaged in throwing up a heap of
stones, flint, and chalk lumps near an oak-tree in a plain at the foot
of the hill. They told him that during the thunderstorm two cows and ten
sheep had been killed there by lightning, which had scarcely injured the
oak.

It was their custom to pile up a heap of stones wherever such an event
occurred, to warn others from staying themselves, or allowing their
sheep or cattle to stay, near the spot in thunder, as it was observed
that where lightning struck once it was sure to strike again, sooner or
later. "Then," said Felix, "you may be sure there is water there!" He
knew from his study of the knowledge of the ancients that lightning
frequently leaped from trees or buildings to concealed water, but he had
no intention of indicating water in that particular spot. He meant the
remark in a general sense.

But the shepherds, ever desirous of water, and looking on Felix as a
being of a different order to themselves, took his casual observation in
its literal sense. They brought their tools and dug, and, as it chanced,
found a copious spring. The water gushed forth and formed a streamlet.
Upon this the whole tribe gathered, and they saluted Felix as one almost
divine. It was in vain that he endeavoured to repel this homage, and to
explain the reason of his remark, and that it was only in a general way
that he intended it. Facts were too strong for him. They had heard his
words, which they considered an inspiration, and _there_ was the water.
It was no use; _there_ was the spring, the very thing they most wanted.
Perforce Felix was invested with attributes beyond nature.

The report spread; his own old friends came in a crowd to see the new
spring, others journeyed from afar. In a week, Felix having meanwhile
returned to Wolfstead, his fame had for the second time spread all over
the district. Some came a hundred miles to see him. Nothing he could say
was listened to; these simple, straightforward people understood nothing
but facts, and the defeat of the gipsies and the discovery of the spring
seemed to them little less than supernatural. Besides which, in
innumerable little ways Felix's superior knowledge had told upon them.
His very manners spoke of high training. His persuasive voice won them.
His constructive skill and power of planning, as shown in the palisades
and enclosure, showed a grasp of circumstances new to them. This was a
man such as they had never before seen.

They began to bring him disputes to settle; he shrank from this position
of judge, but it was useless to struggle; they would wait as long as he
liked, but his decision they would have, and no other. Next came the
sick begging to be cured. Here Felix was firm; he would not attempt to
be a physician, and they went away. But, unfortunately, it happened that
he let out his knowledge of plants, and back they came. Felix did not
know what course to pursue; if by chance he did any one good, crowds
would beset him; if injury resulted, perhaps he would be assassinated.
This fear was quite unfounded; he really had not the smallest idea of
how high he stood in their estimation.

After much consideration, Felix hit upon a method which would save him
from many inconveniences. He announced his intention of forming a
herb-garden in which to grow the best kind of herbs, and at the same
time said he would not administer any medicine himself, but would tell
their own native physicians and nurses all he knew, so that they could
use his knowledge. The herb-garden was at once begun in the valley; it
could not contain much till next year, and meantime if any diseased
persons came Felix saw them, expressed his opinion to the old shepherd
who was the doctor of the tribe, and the latter carried out his
instructions. Felix did succeed in relieving some small ailments, and
thereby added to his reputation.



CHAPTER XXVIII

FOR AURORA


Felix now began to find out for himself the ancient truth, that
difficulties always confront man. Success only changes them, and
increases their number. Difficulties faced him in every direction; at
home it had seemed impossible for him to do anything. Now that success
seemed to smile on him and he had become a power, instead of everything
being smooth and easy, new difficulties sprang up for solution at every
point. He wished to continue his journey, but he feared that he would
not be permitted to depart. He would have to start away in the night, in
which case he could hardly return to them again, and yet he wished to
return to these, the first friends he had had, and amongst whom he hoped
to found a city.

Another week slipped away, and Felix was meditating his escape, when one
afternoon a deputation of ten spearmen arrived from a distant tribe, who
had nominated him their king, and sent their principal men to convey the
intelligence. Fame is always greatest at a distance, and this tribe in
the mountains of the east had actually chosen him as king, and declared
that they would obey him whether he took up his residence with them or
not. Felix was naturally greatly pleased; how delighted Aurora would be!
but he was in perplexity what to do, for he could not tell whether the
Wolfstead people would be favourably inclined or would resent his
selection.

He had not long to consider. There was an assembly of the tribe, and
they, too, chose him by common consent as their king. Secretly they were
annoyed that another tribe had been more forward than themselves, and
were anxious that Felix should not leave them. Felix declined the
honour; in spite of his refusal, he was treated as if he were the most
despotic monarch. Four days afterwards two other tribes joined the
movement, and sent their acceptance of him as their monarch. Others
followed, and so quickly now that a day never passed without another
tribe sending a deputation.

Felix thought deeply on the matter. He was, of course, flattered, and
ready to accept the dignity, but he was alive to considerations of
policy. He resolved that he would not use the title, nor exercise the
functions of a king as usually understood. He explained his plan to the
chiefs; it was that he should be called simply "Leader", the Leader of
the War; that he should only assume royal authority in time of war; that
the present chiefs should retain their authority, and each govern as
before, in accordance with ancient custom. He proposed to be king only
during war-time. He would, if they liked, write out their laws for them
in a book, and so give their customs cohesion and shape. To this plan
the tribes readily agreed; it retained all the former customs, it left
the chiefs their simple patriarchal authority, and it gave all of them
the advantage of combination in war. As the Leader, Felix was henceforth
known.

In the course of a fortnight, upwards of six thousand men had joined the
Confederacy, and Felix wrote down the names of twenty tribes on a sheet
of parchment which he took from his chest. A hut had long since been
built for him; but he received all the deputations, and held the
assemblies which were necessary, in the circular fort. He was so pressed
to visit the tribes that he could not refuse to go to the nearest, and
thus his journey was again postponed. During this progress from tribal
camp to tribal camp, Felix gained the adhesion of twelve more, making a
total of thirty-two names of camps, representing about eight thousand
spearmen. With pride Felix reflected that he commanded a far larger army
than the Prince of Ponze. But he was not happy.

Months had now elapsed since he had parted from Aurora. There were no
means of communicating with her. A letter could be conveyed only by a
special messenger; he could not get a messenger, and even if one had
been forthcoming, he could not instruct him how to reach Thyma Castle.
He did not know himself; the country was entirely unexplored. Except
that the direction was west, he had no knowledge whatever. He had often
inquired of the shepherds, but they were perfectly ignorant. Anker's
Gate was the most westerly of all their settlements, which chiefly
extended eastwards. Beyond Anker's Gate was the trackless forest, of
which none but the Bushmen knew anything. They did not understand what
he meant by a map; all they could tell him was that the range of
mountainous hills continued westerly and southerly for an unascertained
distance, and that the country was uninhabited except by wandering gipsy
tribes.

South was the sea, the salt water; but they never went down to it, or
near it, because there was no sustenance for their flocks and herds.
Till now, Felix did not know that he was near the sea; he resolved at
once to visit it. As nearly as he could discover, the great fresh water
Lake did not reach any farther south; Wolfstead was not far from its
southern margin. He concluded, therefore, that the shore of the Lake
must run continually westward, and that if he followed it he should
ultimately reach the very creek from which he had started in his canoe.
How far it was he could not reckon.

There were none of the shepherds who could be sent with a letter; they
were not hunters, and were unused to woodcraft; there was not one
capable of the journey. Unless he went himself he could not communicate
with Aurora. Two routes were open to him; one straight through the
forest on foot, the other by water, which latter entailed the
construction of another canoe. Journey by water, too, he had found was
subject to unforeseen risks. Till he could train some of the younger men
to row a galley, he decided not to attempt the voyage. There was but the
forest route left, and that he resolved to attempt; but when? And how,
without offending his friends?

Meantime, while he revolved the subject in his mind, he visited the
river and the shore of the great Lake, this time accompanied by ten
spears. The second visit only increased his admiration of the place and
his desire to take possession of it. He ascended a tall larch, from
whose boughs he had a view out over the Lake; the shore seemed to go
almost directly west. There were no islands, and no land in sight; the
water was open and clear. Next day he started for the sea; he wished to
see it for its own sake, and, secondly, because if he could trace the
trend of the shore, he would perhaps be able to put together a mental
map of the country, and so assure himself of the right route to pursue
when he started for Thyma Castle.

His guides took him directly south, and in three marches (three days)
brought him to the strand. This journey was not in a straight line; they
considered it was about five-and-thirty or forty miles to the sea, but
the country was covered with almost impenetrable forests, which
compelled a circuitous path. They had also to avoid a great ridge of
hills, and to slip through a pass or river valley, because these hills
were frequently traversed by the gipsies who were said, indeed, to
travel along them for hundreds of miles. Through the river valley,
therefore, which wound between the hills, they approached the sea, so
much on a level with it that Felix did not catch a distant glimpse.

In the afternoon of the third day they heard a low murmur, and soon
afterwards came out from the forest itself upon a wide bed of shingle,
thinly bordered with scattered bushes on the inland side. Climbing over
this, Felix saw the green line of the sea rise and extend itself on
either hand; in the glory of the scene he forgot his anxieties and his
hopes, they fell from him together, leaving the mind alone with itself
and love. For the memory of Aurora rendered the beauty before him still
more beautiful; love, like the sunshine, threw a glamour over the waves.
His old and highest thoughts returned to him in all their strength. He
must follow them, he could not help himself. Standing where the foam
came nearly to his feet, the resolution to pursue his aspirations took
possession of him as strong as the sea. When he turned from it, he said
to himself, "This is the first step homewards to her; this is the first
step of my renewed labour." To fulfil his love and his ambition was one
and the same thing. He must see her, and then again endeavour with all
his abilities to make himself a position which she could share.

Towards the evening, leaving his escort, he partly ascended the nearest
slope of the hills to ascertain more perfectly than was possible at a
lower level the direction in which the shore trended. It was nearly east
and west, and as the shore of the inland lake ran west, it appeared that
between them there was a broad belt of forest. Through this he must
pass, and he thought if he continued due west he should cross an
imaginary line drawn south from his own home through Thyma Castle; then
by turning to the north he should presently reach that settlement. But
when he should cross this line, how many days' travelling it would need
to reach it, was a matter of conjecture, and he must be guided by
circumstances, the appearance of the country, and his hunter's instinct.

On the way back to Wolfstead Felix was occupied in considering how he
could leave his friends, and yet be able to return to them and resume
his position. His general idea was to build a fortified house or castle
at the spot which had so pleased him, and to bring Aurora to it. He
could then devote himself to increasing and consolidating his rule over
these people, and perhaps in time organize a kingdom. But without Aurora
the time it would require would be unendurable; by some means he must
bring her. The whole day long as he walked he thought and thought,
trying to discover some means by which he could accomplish these things;
yet the more he considered the more difficult they appeared to him.
There seemed no plan that promised success; all he could do would be to
risk the attempt.

But two days after returning from the sea it chanced towards the
afternoon he fell asleep, and on awakening found his mind full of ideas
which he felt sure would succeed if anything would. The question had
solved itself during sleep; the mind, like a wearied limb, strained by
too much effort, had recovered its elasticity and freshness, and he saw
clearly what he ought to do.

He convened an assembly of the chief men of the nearest tribes, and
addressed them in the circular fort. He asked them if they could place
sufficient confidence in him to assist him in carrying out certain
plans, although he should not be able to altogether disclose the object
he had in view.

They replied as one man that they had perfect confidence in him, and
would implicitly obey.

He then said that the first thing he wished was the clearing of the land
by the river in order that he might erect a fortified dwelling suitable
to his position as their Leader in war. Next he desired their permission
to leave them for two months, at the end of which he would return. He
could not at that time explain the reasons, but until his journey had
been made he could not finally settle among them.

To this announcement they listened in profound silence. It was evident
that they disliked him leaving them, yet did not wish to seem
distrustful by expressing the feeling.

Thirdly, he continued, he wanted them to clear a path through the
forest, commencing at Anker's Gate and proceeding exactly west. The
track to be thirty yards wide in order that the undergrowth might not
encroach upon it, and to be carried on straight to the westward until
his return. The distance to which this path was cleared he should take
as the measure of their loyalty to him.

They immediately promised to fulfil this desire, but added that there
was no necessity to wait till he left them, it should be commenced the
very next morning. To his reiterated request for leave of absence they
preserved an ominous silence, and as he had no more to say, the assembly
then broke up.

It was afternoon, and Felix, as he watched the departing chiefs,
reflected that these men would certainly set a watch upon him to prevent
his escape. Without another moment's delay he entered his hut, and took
from their hiding-place the diamond bracelet, the turquoise ring, and
other presents for Aurora. He also secured some provisions, and put two
spare bowstrings in his pocket. His bow of course he carried.

Telling the people about that he was going to the next settlement,
Bedeston, and was anxious to overtake the chief from that place who had
attended the assembly, he started. So soon as he knew he could not be
seen from the settlement he quitted the trail, and made a wide circuit
till he faced westwards. Anker's Gate was a small outlying post, the
most westerly from Wolfstead; he went near it to get a true direction,
but not sufficiently near to be observed. This was on the fourth of
September. The sun was declining as he finally left the country of his
friends, and entered the immense forest which lay between him and
Aurora. Not only was there no track, but no one had ever traversed it,
unless, indeed, it were Bushmen, who to all intents might be confused
with the wild animals which it contained.

Yet his heart rose as he walked rapidly among the oaks; already he saw
her, he felt the welcoming touch of her hand; the danger of Bushman or
gipsy was nothing. The forest at the commencement consisted chiefly of
oaks, trees which do not grow close together, and so permitted of quick
walking. Felix pushed on, absorbed in thought. The sun sank; still
onward; and as the dusk fell he was still moving rapidly westwards.



The End

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