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Title: Unaddressed Letters
Author: Various
Language: English
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UNADDRESSED LETTERS



_By the same Author_


MALAY SKETCHES

Second Edition

Cr. 8vo, 6s.



UNADDRESSED
LETTERS

  EDITED BY
  _FRANK ATHELSTANE
  SWETTENHAM, K.C.M.G._

[Illustration]

  JOHN LANE
  THE BODLEY HEAD
  LONDON AND NEW YORK
  MDCCCXCVIII



  _All rights reserved_


  Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO.
  At the Ballantyne Press



PREFACE


“I had a friend who loved me;” but he has gone, and the “great gulf”
is between us.

After his death I received a packet of manuscript with these few
words:--

“What I have written may appeal to you because of our friendship, and
because, when you come to read them, you will seek to grasp, in these
apparent confidences, an inner meaning that to the end will elude you.
If you think others, not the many but the few, might find here any
answer to their unuttered questionings, any fellowship of sympathy in
those experiences which are the milestones of our lives, then use the
letters as you will, but without my name. I shall have gone, and the
knowledge of my name would make no one either wiser or happier.”

In the packet I found these letters. I cannot tell whether there is any
special order in which they should be read--there was nothing to guide
me on that point. I do not know whether they are to real or imaginary
people, whether they were ever sent or only written as an amusement,
a relief to feeling, or with a purpose--the one to which they are now
put, for instance. One thing is certain, namely, that, however taken,
they are not all indited to the same person; of that there seems to be
convincing internal evidence.

The writer was, by trade, a diplomatist; by inclination, a sportsman
with literary and artistic tastes; by force of circumstances he was a
student of many characters, and in some sense a cynic. He was also a
traveller--not a great traveller, but he knew a good deal of Europe, a
little of America, much of India and the further East. He spent some
time in this neighbourhood, and was much interested in the country and
its people. There is an Eastern atmosphere about many of the letters,
and he made no secret of the fact that he was fascinated by the glamour
of the lands of sunshine. He died very suddenly by misadventure, and,
even to me, his packet of letters came rather as a revelation.

Before determining to publish the letters, I showed them to a friend on
whose opinion I knew the writer had set store. He said, “The critic
will declare there is too much scenery, too much sentiment. Very likely
he will be right for those whose lives are passed in the streets of
London, and the letters will not interest so many readers as would
stories of blood and murder. Yet leave them. Love is in the atmosphere
day and night, and the scenery is in true proportion to our lives here,
where, after all, sunsets are commoner than murders.” Therefore I have
left them as they came to me, only using my discretion to omit some of
the letters altogether.

    F. A. S.

    _February 12, 1898._

    “_Thus fare you well right hertely beloved
    frende ... and love me as you have ever
    done, for I love you better than ever I dyd._”



CONTENTS


                                                        PAGE

       I.  THE HILL OF SOLITUDE                            1

      II.  OF WORSHIP                                      6

     III.  WEST AND EAST                                  13

      IV.  A CLEVER MONGOOSE                              21

       V.  A BLUE DAY                                     33

      VI.  OF LOVE, IN FICTION                            42

     VII.  THE JINGLING COIN                              48

    VIII.  A STRANGE SUNSET                               61

      IX.  OF LETTER-WRITING                              68

       X.  AT A FUNERAL                                   72

      XI.  OF CHANGE AND DECAY                            82

     XII.  DAUGHTERS AND DESPOTISM                        96

    XIII.  HER FIANCÉ                                    107

     XIV.  BY THE SEA                                    115

      XV.  AN ILLUMINATION                               123

     XVI.  OF DEATH, IN FICTION                          129

    XVII.  A HAND AT ÉCARTÉ                              138

   XVIII.  THE GENTLE ART OF VEERING WITH THE WIND       145

     XIX.  A REJOINDER                                   153

      XX.  OF IMPORTUNITY                                159

     XXI.  OF COINCIDENCES                               168

    XXII.  OF A COUNTRY-HOUSE CUSTOM                     175

   XXIII.  A MERE LIE                                    182

    XXIV.  TIGERS AND CROCODILES                         191

     XXV.  A ROSE AND A MOTH                             203

    XXVI.  A LOVE-PHILTRE                                209

   XXVII.  MOONSTRUCK                                    220

  XXVIII.  THE “DEVI”                                    229

    XXIX. THE DEATH-CHAIN                                242

     XXX. SCANDAL AND BANGLES                            252

    XXXI. THE REPREHENSIBLE HABIT OF MAKING COMPARISONS  259

   XXXII. A CHALLENGE                                    265

  XXXIII. IN EXILE                                       270

   XXXIV. OF LOVE--NOT IN FICTION                        284

    XXXV. OF OBSESSION                                   295

   XXXVI. OF PARADISE LOST                               303

  XXXVII. “TO MARY, IN HEAVEN”                           307



UNADDRESSED LETTERS



I

THE HILL OF SOLITUDE


An hour ago I climbed the narrow, winding path that circles the Hill of
Solitude, and as I gained the summit and sat upon that narrow bench,
facing the west, I may have fallen into a trance, for there appeared to
me an ever-changing vision of unearthly beauty.

The sun was sinking into the sea, directly in a line with the wide
estuary that marks a distant river’s mouth. It was setting in a blaze
of molten gold, while all above and to the northward, the background of
sky glowed with that extraordinary, clear pale-blue blent with green,
that makes one of the most striking features of the sunsets seen from
this hill. The clouds were fewer to-night, the background wider and
clearer, the colour more intense, more transparent, as though the
earnest gazer might even discern some greater glory, beyond and through
the shining crystal of those heavenly windows.

The calm surface of the sea beneath mirrored the lights above, till sea
and sky vied with each other in a perfection of delicate translucent
sheen. Northwards a few grey-gold clouds lay against this wondrous
background, but in the south they were banked in heavy masses, far down
the sky to the limits of vision.

Out of a deep forest-clad valley, immediately behind the hill, a
freshening breeze was driving volumes of white mist across the northern
spur; driving it, at racing speed, in whirling, tangled wisps, across
the water-holes that cluster around the foot of the great range;
driving it over the wide plain, out towards the glittering coast-line.

But in a moment, as though by magic, the thick banks of cloud in the
south were barred with broad shafts of brilliant _rose dorée_; the
spaces of clear sky, which, an instant before, were pale silver-blue,
became pale green, momentarily deepening in intensity of tone. Close
around the setting sun the gold was turning to flame, and, as the
glory of magnificent colouring spread over all the south, the clouds
took every rainbow hue, as though charged with a galaxy of living,
palpitating radiance, grand yet fateful, a God-painted picture of
battle and blazing cities, of routed hosts and desperate pursuit.

Overhead, and filling the arc from zenith to the outer edge of
sun-coloured cloud, the sky was a deep sapphire, half covered by soft,
rounded clouds of deeper sapphire still, only their edges tinged with
gleams of dull gold.

Another sweep of the magic wand, and, as the patches of pale aquamarine
deepened into emerald, the heavier clouds became heliotrope, and a
thick heliotrope haze floated gently across the wide plain, seawards.
The fires of crimson light blazed brighter in the gathering gloom of
rising mist and lowering cloud, but the sea shone with ever-increasing
clearness in the rapidly narrowing space of yet unhidden view.

For a moment the mist disappeared, as suddenly as it came; the sapphire
clouds took a deeper hue, heliotrope turned to purple, the crimson
lights were softer but richer in colour, streaked with narrow bands of
gold, and dark arrowlike shafts shot from the bow of Night.

Standing there, it was as though one were vouchsafed, for a moment,
a vision of the Heavenly City which enshrines the glory of God.
One caught one’s breath and shivered, as at the sound of violins
quivering under inspired fingers, or the voices of boys singing in a
cathedral choir.

All this while a solitary, ragged-edged cloud-kite hung, almost
motionless, in middle distance, over the glittering waters of the river
mouth. This cloud gathered blackness and motion, spread itself out,
like a dark thick veil, and, as the mist, now grey and cold, closed in,
the last sparks of the dying sunset were extinguished in the distant
sea.

And then I was stumbling down the path in the darkness, my eyes blinded
by the glory of the vision; and as I groped through the gloom, and
heard the wail of the night-wind rushing from those far-away mountains,
across this lonely peak, I began to wonder whether I had not been
dreaming dreams conjured up by the sadly-sweet associations of the
place.

The darkness deepened, and, as I reached the dividing saddle and began
to mount the opposite hill, I heard the faint jingle of a dangling coin
striking metal, and I said to myself that such associations, acting
on the physical weariness resulting from days of intolerable strain,
followed by nights of worse regret, were enough to account for far
stranger journeys in the land which lies beyond the Gates of Ivory and
Horn.



II

OF WORSHIP


“This life--good as it can be--is horribly difficult and complicated.
I feel as though I were walking in the dark, just stumbling along and
groping my way--there seems to be no light to guide me--you are so far
away, and there is ever that wall between us,--no higher than before,
but quite as impenetrable--I wonder,--I wonder,--I wonder what the
future will bring to you,--to me.”

“I think of you up there, among the soft white clouds, watching the sun
setting into the sea, while the great blue hills are melting through
twilight into night. Oh! there’s nothing like that beauty here,--in
the West,--and I am sick for the East and all her hot, passionate
loveliness; all her colour and light; all her breadth and grandeur; for
her magnificent storms and life,--life on a big scale. Here everything
is so small, so petty, so trivial. I want,--I want,--I want,--that’s
how I feel; I am lovesick and heartsick and sick for the sun. Well,
this life is nearly done, and in the next I shall at least be
worshipped.”

That is well, and if you are worshipped you should not say “at least.”
What more can you want? Especially since, having all other things and
lacking worship, you would have nothing. They were not meant for this
application, but these old Monkish lines are worth remembering:--

    “_Qui Christum nescit, nil scit, si cætera noscit.
     Qui Christum noscit, sat scit, si cætera nescit._”

I hardly like to suggest it, but are you afraid of the “worship,” of
its quality, or its lasting properties? Or, assured on these points, do
you think worship alone will prove unsatisfying? I wonder.

It is an attractive subject, and women disagree as to how it should
be treated. The fact is, that they are seldom able to generalise;
they do not take any great interest in generalities, and the answer
to an impersonal question must have a personal application before it
can be given. And not that alone, for where, as in this case, and,
indeed, all those of greatest human interest, another person, a
special person, is concerned, then the answer depends largely on that
other person as well. You can, perhaps, in your own mind, think of
some one or more from whom you would rather have a little worship,
than become an object of lifelong adoration to many others who have
seemed anxious to offer it. And that is not because their all was
less than the little of those with a larger capacity for the worship
of human beings, nor even because their appreciation of your personal
worth is in any degree limited, or smaller by comparison with that of
others. Probably it is exactly the reverse. But I will ask you, of your
sweetness and light, to give me knowledge. Would you rather have the
absolute, unsought worship of a man, or would you win, perchance even
from his unwillingness, a devotion that, if it was not thrown at you,
was probably, when gained, not likely to burn itself out in a blaze of
ardent protestations? You will, of course, say that it depends on the
attitude assumed by the man, and I reply that it does not, because the
same man would never be found ready to render his service in either
of these--well--disguises, if you will. It would be in one or in the
other. Therefore my question will admit of the personal application,
and you can go through your acquaintances, admirers, friends (I dare
not say the other word), and tell me whether you would be most attracted
by the man who fell at your feet and worshipped, giving of his ample
store without effort and without stint, or by the man who, if he were
a woman, would be called _difficile_. This problem will give you
no trouble if, as I said before, you can work it out as a personal
equation, and it is therefore only necessary that you should have
amongst your friends two men of the required types.

In return for your anticipated answer, I will give you this. There are
many men who pay their court to women, if not all in one breath, or
at one sitting, at least the phase is limited by a definite period.
That period is usually shorter or longer in the inverse ratio of the
violence of the attack. The operations result in a decisive action,
where the man is either worsted or victorious. If he gains his end, and
persuades the lady to take him for whatever he is worth, the ordinary
type of Englishman will very often consider that his obligation towards
her as an idolater, a lover,--whatever name you call the part by,--is
over when the curtain comes down on the procession to the altar or
to the office of the Registrar, or, at any rate, when the honeymoon
has set and the duty-moon rises to wax and wane for evermore. That is
the man to avoid; and if the womanly instinct, which is so useful and
so little understanded of men (until they learn to fear its unerring
accuracy), is only called upon in time, it will not mislead its owner.

You know all this, you will say; very likely, but it is extraordinary
how many thousands of women, especially English women, there are who
are now eating out their hearts, because they neglected either to ask
this question of their instincts or disregarded the answer. Probably
it is very seldom asked; for a girl is hardly likely to suppose that,
after feeding her on love for a few weeks, or months, the man will
starve her of the one thing needful, until death does at last part
them. He says he has not time for love-making, and he acts as though
he had not the inclination either, though probably, somewhere in his
system he keeps the forces that once stirred him to expressions of
affection that now seem as needless as it would be to ask his servants
for permission to eat the dinner which he has paid for, and which he
can take or neglect, praise or find fault with, at his own will and
pleasure.

That is a very long homily, but it has grown out of the point of the
pen, possibly because I am sitting here alone, “up in the soft white
clouds,” as you say, or rather in the softer moonlight; and some of the
littlenesses of life loom large, but not over-large, considering their
bearing on the lifelong happiness, or misery, of men and women.

Yes, I am sitting exactly where you imagined. It was on that sofa
that you used to lie in the evenings, when you were too feeble to sit
up, and I read to you out of a book of knowledge. But that was years
and years ago, and now you wonder. Well, I too wonder, and--there, it
has just struck 1 A.M.--I will wonder no more, but look out at the
surpassing loveliness of this white night, and then--rest.

It is so strange, I have come back to tell you. The soft white clouds
are actually there--motionless--they cover everything, sea and plain
and valley, everything but the loftiest ridges of this mountain. The
moon rides high, turning to silver the tops of the great billowy
clouds, while it shines full on this house and garden, casting deep
shadows from the fern-trees across the gravel, and, from the eaves and
pillars of the house, across the verandah. The air is perfectly still
now, though, some hours ago, it was blowing a gale and the wind wailed
as though mourning its own lost soul.

It seemed then, as it tore round the corner of the house, to be
crying, “I come from the rice swamps which have no dividing banks,
from the waters which contain no fish, where the apes cry by night
and the baboons drink as they hang from the boughs; a place where the
_chinchîli_ resorts to bathe, and where man’s food is the _kĕmahang_
fern.” Some day I will tell you more about that place.

And the spirits of the storm that have passed and left this death-like
stillness, where are they now? They went seaward, westward, to
you-ward, but they will never reach you, and you will not hear their
message.



III

WEST AND EAST


One night, in the early months of this year, I sat at dinner next to a
comparatively young married woman, of the type that is superlatively
blonde in colour and somewhat over-ample in figure. She was
indifferently dressed, not very well informed, but apparently anxious,
by dint of much questioning, to improve her knowledge where possible.
She was, I believe, a journalist.

Some one must have told her that I had been in the East, and she,
like most stay-at-home people, evidently thought that those who go
beyond the shores of England can only be interested in, or have an
acquaintance with, the foreign country wherein they have sojourned.
Therefore the lady fired at me a volley of questions, about the
manners and habits of the Malay people, whom she always referred to as
“savages.” I ventured to say that she must have a mistaken, or at any
rate incomplete, knowledge of the race to speak of Malays as savages,
but she assured me that people who were black, and not Christians,
could only be as she described them. I declined to accept that
definition, and added that Malays are not black. I fancy she did not
believe me; but she said it did not matter, as they were not white and
wore no clothes. I am afraid I began to be almost irritated, for the
long waits between the courses deprived me of all shelter from the rain
of questions and inconsequent remarks.

At last, I said, “It may surprise you to hear that these savages would
think, if they saw you now, that you are very insufficiently clad;”
and I added, to try and take the edge off a speech that I felt was
inexcusably rude, “they consider the ordinary costume of white _men_ so
immodest as to be almost indecent.” “Indeed,” said the lady, who only
seemed to hear the last statement, “I have often thought so too, but I
am surprised that savages, for I must call them savages, should mind
about such things.” It was hopeless, and I asked how soon the great
American people might be expected to send a force to occupy London.

I have just been reminded of this conversation. A few days ago, I wrote
to a friend of mine, a Malay Sultan, whom I have not seen for some
months, a letter inquiring how he was, and saying I hoped soon to be
able to visit him. Now comes his answer; and you, who are in sympathy
with the East, will be able to appreciate the missive of this truculent
savage.

In the cover there were three enclosures: a formal letter of extreme
politeness, written by a scribe, the Arabic characters formed as
precisely and clearly as though they had been printed. Secondly, a
letter written in my friend’s own hand, also in the Arabic character,
but the handwriting is very difficult to decipher. And thirdly there
is another paper, headed “Hidden Secrets,” written also in the
Sultan’s own hand. The following is a translation of the beginning
of the second letter. At the top of the first page is written, “Our
friendship is sealed in the inmost recesses of my heart.” Then this:
“I send this letter to my honoured and renowned friend” (here follow
my name, designation, and some conventional compliments). The letter
then continues: “You, my dear friend, are never out of my thoughts, and
they are always wishing you well. I hear that you are coming to see me,
and for that reason my heart is exceeding glad, as though the moon had
fallen into my lap, or I had been given a cluster of flowers grown in
the garden called _Bĕnjerâna Sri_, wide-opening under the influence of
the sun’s warm rays. May God the Most Mighty hasten our meeting, so
that I may assuage the thirst of longing in the happy realisation of
my affectionate and changeless regard. At the moment of writing, by
God’s grace, and thanks to your prayers, I and my family are in good
health, and this district is in the enjoyment of peace; but the river
is in flood, and has risen so high that I fear for the safety of the
bridge.”

There is more, but what I have quoted is enough to show you the style.
When the savage has turned from his savagery he will write “Dear sir,”
and “Yours truly”; his correspondence will be type-written, in English,
and the flaxen-haired lady will remark with approval that the writer is
a business man and a Christian, and hardly black at all.

Whilst the Malays are still in my mind, it may interest you to know
that they have a somewhat original form of verse in four-line stanzas,
each stanza usually complete in itself, the second and fourth lines
rhyming. The last two lines convey the sense, while the first two are
only introduced to get the rhythm, and often mean nothing at all. Here
are some specimens which may give you an idea of these _pantun_, as
they are called, though in translating them I have made no attempt to
give the necessary “jingle.”

    “A climbing bean will gain the roof;
       The red _hibiscus_ has no scent.
     All eyes can see a house on fire;
       No smoke the burning heart betrays.

     Hark! the flutter of the death’s-head moth;
       It flies behind the headman’s house.
     Before the Almighty created Adam,
       Our destinies were already united.

     This is the twenty-first night of the moon,
       The night when women die in child-birth.
     I am but as a captive song-bird,
       A captive bird in the hand of the fowler.

     If you must travel far up river,
       Search for me in every village;
     If you must die, while I yet linger,
       Wait for me at the Gate of Heaven.”

One of the fascinations of letter-writing is that one can wander at
will from one subject to another, as the butterflies flutter from
flower to flower; but I suppose there is nearly always something
that suggests to the writer the sequence of thought, though it might
be difficult to explain exactly what that something is. I think the
reference in the above stanzas to Adam and the Gate of Heaven,--or
Paradise,--have suggested to me the snake,

    “And even in Paradise devise the snake,”

which reminds me that, last night, I said to the ancient and worthy
person to whom is entrusted the care of this house--

“Leave the drawing-room doors open while I am at dinner: the room gets
overheated.”

Then he, “I not like leave open the doors, because plenty snakes.”

“Snakes: where?”

“Outside, plenty snakes, leave doors open come inside.”

“What sort of snakes?”

“Long snakes” (stretching out his arm to show the length), “short
snakes” (measuring off about a foot with the other hand).

“Have you seen them?”

“Yes, plenty.”

This is cheerful news, and I inquire: “Where?”

“In bedrooms.”

“When?”

“Sometimes daytime, sometimes night-time.”

An even pleasanter prospect,--but I am still full of unbelief.

“Have you seen them yourself?”

“Yes, I kill.”

“But when and how was it?”

“One time master not here, lady staying here; daytime I kill one long
snake, here, this room--night-time lady call me, I kill one short snake
in bedroom.”

“Which bedroom?”

“Master’s bedroom.”

That is not exactly reassuring, especially when you like to leave
your doors and windows open, and sleep in the dark. I thank him, and
he goes away, having entirely destroyed my peace of mind. The wicked
old man! I wish I could have seen his face as he went out. Now I go
delicately, both “daytime” and “night-time,” above all at night-time,
and I am haunted by the dread of the “plenty long snake, plenty short
snake.” In one’s bedroom too, it is a gruesome idea. If I had gone on
questioning him, I dare say he would have told me he killed a “plenty
long snake” inside the bed, trying to warm itself under the bed-clothes
in this absurdly cold place. I always thought this a paradise, but
without the snake. Alas! how easily one’s cherished beliefs are
destroyed.

It is past midnight; the moon is full, and looking down, resplendent
in all her majesty, bathes everything in a silver radiance. I love to
go and stand in it; but the verandahs are full of ferns, roses and
honeysuckle twine round the pillars, the shadows are as dark as the
lights are bright, and everywhere there is excellent cover for the
“long snake” and the “short snake.” Perhaps bed is the safest place
after all, and to-morrow--well, to-morrow I can send for a mongoose.



IV

A CLEVER MONGOOSE


In my last letter I told you how the ancient who guards this Eden had
complained of the prevalence of snakes, and I, with an experience
which Adam does not appear to have possessed, determined to send for a
mongoose to deal with the matter. Well, I saw nothing of the serpent,
did not even dream about him, and forgot all about the mongoose. It is
the thought of what I last wrote to you that reminds me of an excellent
story, and a curious trick which I once witnessed, both having to do
with the mongoose.

First the story. A boy of twenty got into a train one day, and found,
already seated in the carriage, a man of middle age, who had beside
him, on the floor, a closed basket. The train started, and by-and-by
the boy, feeling dull, looked at his companion, and, to break the ice,
said--

“Is that your basket, sir?”

To which the stranger, who did not at all relish the idea of being
dragged into a conversation with a strange youth, replied, “Yes, it
is,” slightly stammering as he said it.

A pause,--then the boy, “I beg your pardon, but is there some beast in
it?”

The man, annoyed, “Ye--es, there’s a m--mongoose in it.”

The boy had no idea what a mongoose was, but he had the curiosity of
youth and was unabashed, so he said, “May I ask what the mongoose is
for?”

The man, decidedly irritated, and wishing to silence his companion,
“G--got a f--friend that sees snakes, t--taking the m--mongoose to
catch ’em.”

The boy concluded the stranger was mad, and wishing to pacify him,
said--

“Yes, but the snakes are not really there, are they?”

The man, “No, n--neither is the m--mongoose.”

Now as to my experience. Some years ago I was in Calcutta, and, walking
in the street one day, I was accosted by a man carrying a bag and
leading a mongoose by a string. He said, “I Madras man, master want
to see plenty trick, I very good conjurer,” and he produced a sheaf of
more or less grimy credentials, in which it was stated, by a number of
reputable people, that he was a conjurer of unusual skill. When I had
looked at some of the papers, he said, “I come master’s house, do
trick, this very clever mongoose, I bring him show master.”

I was quite willing, so I gave him my address and told him to come
whenever he liked.

Some days later the conjurer was announced, and there happened to be in
my rooms at the time a German dealer in Japanese curios, who had seen
rather more than usual during a sixteen years’ residence in Japan and
the Farthest East. He was an extremely amusing old person, and glad of
the opportunity of seeing the conjurer, who was duly admitted to our
presence with his bag of properties. The very clever mongoose came in
last, at the end of his string.

The conjurer certainly justified his reputation, and performed some
extremely clever tricks, while the mongoose sat by with a _blasé_
expression, taking very little interest in the proceedings. When the
conjurer had come to the end of his programme, or thought he had
done enough, he offered to sell the secret of any trick I liked to
buy, and, taking him at his word, I was shown several tricks, the
extreme simplicity of the deceit, when once you knew it, being rather
aggravating.

In the interest of watching the performance and the subsequent
explanations, I had forgotten the mongoose, and the conjurer was
already pushing his paraphernalia into the sack, when I said, “But the
mongoose, the clever mongoose, where is his trick?”

The conjurer sat down again, pulled the mongoose towards him, and tied
the end of his string to a chair leg, giving the little beast plenty
of rope on which to play. Then the man pushed round in front of him
an earthenware _chatty_ or water-vessel, which had hitherto stood on
the floor, a piece of dirty cloth being tied over its mouth. Next the
conjurer thrust his hand into the sack, and pulled out one of the
trumpet-mouthed pipes on which Indians play weird and discordant airs.

Now I want you to remember that this was my room, that the man’s
stock-in-trade was contained in the sack which he had pushed on one
side, that the pieces in the game were the mongoose, the _chatty_ (or
what it contained), and the pipe, while the lynx-eyed curio-dealer and
I sat as close as we pleased to see fair play. I am obliged to tell
you that; of what happened I attempt no explanation, I only relate
exactly what I saw.

The stage being arranged as I have described, the conjurer drew the
_chatty_ towards him, and said, “Got here one very good snake, catch
him in field this morning;” at the same time he untied the cloth, and
with a jerk threw on the floor an exceedingly lively snake, about three
feet long. From the look of it, I should say it was not venomous. The
conjurer had thrown the snake close to the mongoose, who jumped out of
its way with surprising agility, while the conjurer kept driving it
towards the little beast. Neither snake nor mongoose seemed to relish
the situation, and to force the game the conjurer seized the snake by
the tail, and, swinging it thereby, tried, two or three times, to hit
the mongoose with it. This seemed to rouse both beast and reptile, and
the mongoose, making a lightning-like movement, seized the snake by the
head, shook it for a second or two, dragging it over the matting, and
then dropped it on the floor. The instant the snake showed fight the
conjurer had let it go, and the mongoose did the rest.

Where the snake had been dragged, the floor was smeared with blood,
and now the creature lay, giving a few spasmodic twitches of its body,
and then was still. The conjurer pulled it towards him, held it up by
the tail, and said laconically, “Snake dead.” The mongoose meanwhile
sat quietly licking its paw as though nothing particular had happened.

As the man held it up I looked very carefully at the snake; one eye was
bulging out, by reason of a bite just over it; the head and neck were
covered with blood, and as far as my judgment went, the thing was dead
as Herod. The conjurer dropped the snake on the floor, where it fell
limply, as any dead thing would, then he put it on its back and coiled
it up, head inwards, saying again, “You see, snake dead.”

He left the thing lying there, and searched in his sack till he found
what appeared to be a very small piece of wood, it was, in fact,
exactly like a wooden match. The sack, all this time, was at his
side, but not close to him, while the snake was straight in front of
him, under our noses. Breaking off a very small piece of the wood,
he gave it to the mongoose, which began to eat it, apparently as a
matter of duty. At the same time the conjurer took an even smaller
bit of the same stuff, and opening the snake’s mouth, pushed the
stick, or whatever it was, inside, and then shut the mouth again. This
transaction would, I think, have convinced any one who saw it that
there was no life in the snake.

The conjurer now took up his pipe, and made it squeal some high
discordant notes. Then taking it from his lips, he said in Hindustani,
as he touched the snake’s tail with the pipe, “Put out your tail,”
and the creature’s tail moved slowly outwards, a little way from
the rest of the coiled body. The conjurer skirled another stave on
his pipe, and as he lowered the instrument with his left hand, he
exclaimed, “Snake all right now,” and stretched out his right hand
at the same instant, to seize the reptile by the tail. Either as
he touched it, or just before, the snake with one movement was up,
wriggling and twisting, apparently more alive than when first taken
out of the _chatty_. While the conjurer thrust it back into the vessel
there was plenty of time to remark that, miraculous as the resurrection
appeared to be, the creature’s eye still protruded through the blood
which oozed from the hole in its head.

As he tied the rag over the top of the _chatty_, the conjurer said,
with a smile, “Very clever mongoose,” gathered up his sack, took the
string of his clever assistant in his left hand, raised his right to
his forehead, and with a low bow, and a respectful “Salâam, Sahib,” had
left the room before I had quite grasped the situation.

I looked at the dealer in curios, and, as with Bill Nye, “he gazed upon
me,” but in our few minutes’ conversation, before he left, he could
throw no light on the mystery, and we agreed that our philosophy was
distinctly at fault.

That evening I related what had taken place to half-a-dozen men, all of
whom had lived in India for some years, and I asked if any of them had
seen and could explain the phenomenon.

No one had seen it, some had heard of it, all plainly doubted my story.
One suggested that a new snake had been substituted for that killed by
the mongoose, and another thought that there was no real snake at all,
only a wooden make-believe. That rather exasperated me, and I said I
was well enough acquainted with snakes to be able to distinguish them
from chair-legs. As the company was decidedly sceptical, and inclined
to be facetious at my expense, I said I would send for the man again,
and they could tell me how the thing was done when they had seen it.

I sent, and it so happened that the conjurer came on a Sunday, when I
was sitting in the hall, on the ground-floor of the house where I was
staying. The conjurer was already squatted on the white marble flags,
with his sack and his _chatty_ (the mongoose’s string held under his
foot), when my friends, the unbelievers, or some of them, returned
from church, and joined me to watch the proceedings. I will not weary
you by going through it all again. What took place then was an exact
repetition of what occurred in my room, except that this time the
man had a larger _chatty_, which contained several snakes, and when
he had taken out one, and the mongoose had consented to lay hold of
it, he worried the creature as a terrier does a rat, and, pulling his
string away from under his master’s foot, he carried the snake into
the corner of the room, whither the conjurer pursued him and deprived
him of his prey. The result of the encounter was that the marble
was smeared with streaks of blood that effectually disposed of the
wooden-snake theory. That little incident was certainly not planned by
the conjurer; but when the victim had been duly coiled on the floor and
the bit of stick placed (like the coin with which to fee Charon) within
its mouth, then, to my surprise, the conjurer re-opened the _chatty_,
took out _another_ snake, which in its turn was apparently killed by
the mongoose, and this one was coiled up and laid on the floor beside
the first victim. Then, whilst the first corpse was duly resuscitated,
according to the approved methods I have already described, the second
lay on the floor, without a sign of life, and it was only when No.
1 had been “resurrectioned,” and put back in the vessel, that the
conjurer took up the case of No. 2, and, with him, repeated the miracle.

This time I was so entertained by the manifest and expressed
astonishment of the whilom scoffers, that again the conjurer had gone
before I had an opportunity of buying this secret, if indeed he would
have sold it. I never saw the man again.

There is the story, and, even as it stands, I think you will admit
that the explanation is not exactly apparent on the surface. I can
assure you, however, that wherever the deception (and I diligently,
but unsuccessfully, sought to find it), the performance was the most
remarkable I have ever witnessed in any country. To see a creature,
full of life,--and a snake, at close quarters, is apt to impress you
with its vitality,--to see it killed, just under your eyes, to watch
its last convulsive struggles, to feel it in your hands, and gaze
at it as it lies, limp and dead, for a space of minutes; then heigh,
presto! and the thing is wriggling about as lively as ever. It is a
very curious trick--if trick it is.

That, however, is not quite all.

A month or two later I was sitting in the verandah of an hotel in Agra.
A number of American globe-trotters occupied most of the other chairs,
or stood about the porch, where I noticed there was a little knot of
people gathered together. I was idly staring into the street when the
words, “Very clever little mongoose,” suddenly attracted my attention,
and I realised that two Indian conjurers were amusing the party in the
porch. I went at once to the spot, and found the mongoose-snake trick
was just beginning. I watched it with great attention, and I noticed
that the mongoose only seemed to give the snake one single nip, and
there was very little blood drawn. The business proceeded merrily, and
in all respects in accordance with what I had already seen, until,
at the conclusion of the sort of Salvation-Army resurrection-march,
the juggler declared that the snake was quite alive and well--but he
was not, he was dead, dead as Bahram the Great Hunter. No piping
or tickling or pulling of his tail could awaken the very faintest
response from that limp carcass, and the conjurers shuffled their
things together with downcast faces, and departed in what the
spectators called “a frost.” To them, no doubt, the game was absolutely
meaningless; to me it seemed that the mongoose had “exceeded his
instructions.”



V

A BLUE DAY


“There is a green hill,” you know it well; it is not very “far away,”
perhaps a little over a mile, but then that mile is not quite like
other miles. For one thing it takes you up 500 feet, and as that is
the last pull to reach the highest point of this range (the summit
of a mountain over 5000 feet in height), the climb is steep. Indeed,
one begins by going down some rough stone steps, between two immense
granite boulders; then you make a half-circuit of the hill by a path
cut on the level, and thence descend for at least 250 feet, till you
are on the narrow saddle which joins this peak to the rest of the
range. Really, therefore, in a distance of little over half a mile
there is an ascent of 750 feet.

And what a path it is that brings you here! For I am now on the summit,
though several times on the way I was sorely tempted to sit down and
put on paper the picture of that road as it lay before my eyes. It is
a narrow jungle track, originally made by the rhinoceros, the bison,
and the elephant, and now simply kept clear of falling trees. It is
exceeding steep, as I have said, and you may remember. It begins by
following the stony bed of a mountain stream, dry in fine weather, but
full of water after half-an-hour’s tropical rain. Where the path
is not covered by roots or stones, it is of a chocolate colour; but,
in the main, it is overspread by a network of gnarled and knotted
tree-roots, which, in the lapse of ages, have become so interlaced
that they hide the soil. These roots, the stones round which they are
often twined, and the banks on either side, are covered by mosses in
infinite variety, so that when you look upwards the path stands like a
moss-grown cleft in the wood.

The forest through which this track leads is a mass of dwarfed trees,
of palms, shrubs, and creepers. Every tree, without exception, is
clothed with moss, wherever there is room to cling on branch or stem,
while often there are great fat tufts of it growing in and round the
forks, or at any other place with convenient holding. The trees are
moss-grown, but that is only where the innumerable creepers, ferns,
and orchids leave any space to cover. The way in which these things
climb up, embrace, and hang to every tree or stick that will give them
a footing is simply marvellous. Even the great granite boulders are
hidden by this wealth of irresistible vegetation. Through the green
foliage blaze vivid patches of scarlet, marking the dazzling blossoms
of a rhododendron that may be seen in all directions, but usually
perched high on some convenient tree. Then there is the wonderful
magnolia with its creamy petals; the jungle apple-blossom, whose white
flowers are now turning to crimson berries; the forest lilac, graceful
in form, and a warm heliotrope in colour. These first catch the eye,
but, by-and-by, one realises that there are orchids everywhere, and
that, if the blossoms are not great in size or wonderful in colour,
they are still charming in form, and painted in delicate soft tones of
lilac and brown, orange and lemon, while one, with strings of large,
pale, apple-green blossoms, is as lovely as it is _bizarre_.

As for palms, the forest is full of them, in every size, colour, and
shape; and wherever the sunlight can break through the foliage will be
found the graceful fronds of the giant tree-fern. Lastly, the ground
is carpeted with an extravagant luxuriance of ferns and flowers and
“creeping things innumerable, both small and great.” The wasteful
abundance of it all is what first strikes one, and then you begin to
see the beauty of the details. Masses of _lycopodium_, ringing all the
changes through wonderful metallic-blue to dark and light green, and
then to russet brown; there are Malay primroses, yellow and blue, and a
most delightful little pale-violet trumpet, with crinkled lip, gazing
towards the light from the highest point of its delicate stem. On
either side of this path one sees a dozen jungle flowers in different
shades of blue or lilac; it seems to be the prevailing colour for the
small flowers, as scarlet and yellow are for the great masses of more
striking blossom. And then there are birds--oh yes, there are birds,
but they are strange, like their surroundings. At the foot of this hill
I came suddenly on a great black-and-white hornbill, which, seeing me,
slowly got up and flew away with the noise of a train passing at a
distance. High up the path was a collection of small birds, flitting
and twittering amongst the leaves. There were hardly two of the same
plumage, but most of them carried their tails spread out like fans,
and many had pronounced tufts of feathers on their heads. The birds at
this height are usually silent, and, when they make any sound at all,
they do not seem to sing but to call; and from the jungle all round,
far and near, loud and faint, will be heard similar answering calls. I
was surprised to hear, suddenly, some bars of song, close by me, and I
waited for a long time, peering earnestly into the tree from which the
sound came; but I saw nothing and heard nothing beyond the perpetual
double note (short and long, with the accent on the latter) of a bird
that must be the bore and outcast of the forest.

Coming out into the clearing which crowns the hill, I passed several
kinds of graceful grasses, ten or twelve feet high, and the flight
of steps which leads to the actual summit is cut through a mass of
bracken, over and through which hang the strange, delicately painted
cups of the _nepenthes_, the stems of the bracken rising from a bed
made rosy by the countless blossoms of a three-pointed pale-pink
starwort.

In the jungle one could only see the things within reach, but, once on
the peak, one has only eyes for the grandeur and magnificence of an
unequalled spectacle.

The view seems limitless, it is complete in every direction, unbarred
by any obstruction, natural or artificial. First I look eastwards to
those great ranges of unexplored mountains, rising tier after tier,
their outlines clear as cut cameos against the grey-blue sky. Betwixt
them and my point of sight flows a great river, and though it is ten or
twelve miles distant as the crow flies, I can see that it is brown with
flood-water, and, in some places, overflowing its banks. Nearer lie the
green rice-fields and orchards, and, nearer still, the spurs of the
great range on whose highest point I stand.

Then northward, that is the view that is usually shut out from me.
It is only hill and dale, river and plain, but it is grand by reason
of its extent, beautiful in colour and form, intensely attractive in
the vastness of those miles of mysterious jungle, untrodden, save by
the feet of wild beasts; endless successions of mountain and valley,
peak and spur, immovable and eternal. You know there are grey days and
golden days; as there are crimson and heliotrope evenings, white, and,
alas! also black nights--well, this is a blue day. There is sunlight,
but it is not in your eyes, it only gives light without shedding its
own colour on the landscape. The atmosphere seems to be blue; the sky
is blue, except on the horizon, where it pales into a clear grey. Blue
forest-clad hills rise, in the middle distance, from an azure plain,
and the distant mountains are sapphire, deep sapphire. The effect is
strange and uncommon, but supremely beautiful.

Westward, a deep valley runs down from this range into the flat,
forest-covered plains, till, nearing the coast, great patches of light
mark fields of sugar-canes and thousands upon thousands of acres of
rice. Then the sea, the sea dotted by distant islands, the nearest
thirty miles away, the farthest perhaps fifty. The morning heat is
drawing a veil of haze across the distance; on a clear evening a great
island, eighty miles away to the northward, is clearly visible.

I turn to the south, and straight before me rises the grand blue peak
of a mountain, 6000 feet high, and not more than six miles away. It
is the highest point of a gigantic mass of hill that seems to fill
the great space between the flooded river and the bright calm sea.
Looking across the eastern shoulder of the mountain, the eye wanders
over a wide plain, lost far away to the south in cloud-wrapt distance.
Beyond the western slopes lies the calm mirror of a summer sea, whereon
many islands seem to float. The coast-line is broken, picturesque and
beautiful, by reason of its many indentations and the line of bold
hills which, rising sheer out of the water, seem to guard the shore.

Due west I see across the deep valley into my friend’s house,
where it crowns the ridge, and then beyond to that vast plain which,
in its miles and miles of forest-covered flatness, broken by great
river-mouths, long vistas of deep lagoons, and a group of shining pools
scattered over its surface, forms one of the strangest features in
this matchless panorama of mountain, river and plain, sea, sky, and
ever-changing cloud-effects.

There is an empty one-roomed hut of brown palm-leaves on this most
lonely peak. One pushes the mat window upwards and supports it on a
stick,--beneath the window is a primitive seat or couch. That is where
I have been sitting, a cool breeze blowing softly through the wide open
windows. I could not stay there any longer, the place seemed full of
memories of another day, when there was no need, and no inclination, to
look outside to see the beauty of the world and the divine perfection
of the Creator’s genius. And then I heard something, it must have
been fancy, but there was a faint but distinct jingle of metal.

It is better out here, sitting on a moss-grown boulder in the pleasant
warmth of the sun. The swifts are circling the hill, and they flash
past me with the hiss of a sword cleaving the air. I look down on the
tops of all these stunted trees, heavy with their burden of creepers
and mosses straining towards the light. A great bunch of pitcher-plants
is hanging in front of me, pitcher-plants a foot long, scarlet and
yellow, green and purple, in all the stages of their growth, their lids
standing tilted upwards, leaving the pitcher open to be filled by any
passing shower. But my eyes travel across all the intervening miles to
rest upon the sea, the sea which is now of a quite indescribable blue,
basking under a sky of the same colour. Out there, westward, if I could
only pierce the distance, I should see----

Ah! the great white clouds are rising and warning me to go. Good-bye!
good-bye! for you the missing words are as plain as these.



VI

OF LOVE, IN FICTION


I have been reading “Casa Braccio,” and I must talk to you about it.
Of course I do not know whether you have read it or not, so if I bore
you forgive me. I was much interested in Part I., rather disappointed
with Part II., and it struck me that Mr. Crawford showed signs in Part
III. of weariness with the characters of his own creation. There are
nine people who play important parts in the story, and the author kills
six of them. The first, an abbess, dies naturally but conveniently;
the second, an innkeeper’s daughter, dies suddenly, by misadventure;
the third, a nun, dies, one is not told how, when, or where--but
she dies. This is disappointing, because she promised to be a very
interesting character. Then the fourth, daughter of No. 3, commits
suicide, because, having run away from her husband, and got tired of
the other man, the husband declines to have her back. The fifth, a
most uninteresting and weak-kneed individual, is an artist, husband
of No. 4, and he dies, apparently to make himself disagreeable; while
the sixth, the original cause of all the trouble, is murdered by the
innkeeper, who has been hunting him, like a good Christian, for twenty
years, determined to kill him when found, under the mistaken impression
that he eloped with, and disposed of, his daughter, No. 2.

No one can deny that the author has dealt out destruction with
impartiality, and it is rather strange, for Mr. Crawford often likes to
use his characters for two or even three books; that is why, I think,
he got a little tired with these particular people, and determined
to bury them. Out of this lot he has kept only three for future
vivisection and ultimate extinction.

I trust that, if you have not read the book already, you will be
induced, by what I have told you, to get “Casa Braccio,” for you will
find many interesting human problems discussed in it, and many others
suggested for the consideration of the reader. Here, for instance, is a
text which may well give you pause, “The widowhood of the unsatisfied
is hell, compared with the bereavement of complete possession.”

Now what do you say to that? For I am sure the somewhat bald, if not
positively repellent, look and sound of the words, will not deter you
from considering the truth or falseness of the statement. I do not
altogether like the theory; and one may even be permitted to differ
from the conclusion contained in the text. But the reason why this
sentence arrested my attention is because you quote, “_L’absence ni
le temps ne sont rien quand on aime_,” and later, you appeal to the
East as a place of broader views, of deeper feeling, of longer, wider
experience than the West. You appeal to the East, and this is what a
Persian poet says:--

    “All that is by nature twain,
     Fears and suffers by the pain
     Of separation--Love is only perfect,
     When itself transcends itself,
     And one with that it loves
     In Undivided Being blends.”

Now, how do you reconcile the Western with the Eastern statement, and
will either support the “Casa Braccio” theory? You tell me that time
and absence count for nothing as between lovers; the Persian says that
separation, under these circumstances, is the one calamity most to be
dreaded, and that love cannot be perfect without union. The French
writer evidently believed that “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,”
while the Eastern, without saying, “Out of sight, out of mind,” clearly
thought that love in absence is a very poor substitute for the passion
which sees, hears, and touches the object of its adoration. Undoubtedly
the Eastern expressed the feeling, not only of his own countrymen, but
of all other Orientals, and probably of Western lovers as well; but if
the separation is a matter of necessity, then the Western character,
the feeling of loyalty towards and faith in the object of our love,
helps us to the belief that “Partings and tears and absence” none need
fear, provided the regard is mutual. It is a good creed, and the only
one to uphold, but we are not so blind that we cannot see how often it
fails to secure even fidelity; while who would deny the Persian’s
contention that the bond cannot be perfect in absence?

“The widowhood of the unsatisfied is hell, compared with the
bereavement of complete possession.”

No, certainly, it does not look well. It is hardly worth while to
inquire into the bereavement of a complete possession that was not
only satisfied but satiated; therefore the comparison must be between
perfect love realised, and love that is only not perfected because
unrealised. If that is so, then the text appears to be false in
theory, for, inasmuch as nothing earthly can be more perfect than that
realisation of mutual affection which the same Persian describes as--

    “She and I no more,
     But in one Undivided Being blended,”--

so the severance of that union by death must be the greatest of human
ills.

“The widowhood of the unsatisfied” admits of so many special
constructions, each of which would accentuate the despair of the
unsatisfied, that it makes the consideration rather difficult, but, in
any case, the magnitude of the loss must be imaginative. It is only,
therefore, by supposing that no realisation could be so perfect as to
equal the ideal of imagination, that the theory of the text could be
established. If that be granted, and it were also admitted that the
widowhood of this unsatisfied imagination were as hell, compared with
“the bereavement of complete possession,” that would merely show that
“complete possession” is worth very little, and no one need grieve
because their longings after a purely imaginary heaven had been widowed
before being wedded to the hell of such a disappointing possession.

In any case, I think one is forced to the conclusion that the man (and
one must assume it to be a man, in spite of the word “widowhood”) who
should thus express his feelings would never agree that “_L’absence
ni le temps ne sont rien quand on aime_;” that is, of course, supposing
he has not got beyond the protesting and unsatisfied stage. Once
arrived, he would doubtless subscribe to the phrase with virtuous
stolidity. Personally I think, as you probably do, that these words
of De Musset give a most charming description of the best form of
that true friendship which time cannot weaken nor absence change. For
friends it is admirable, for lovers, no.

I have not sought out this riddle for the purpose of airing my own
views, but to draw from you an expression of yours. You say my letters
are the most tantalising in the world, as I never tell you anything
you want to know; just leading up to what most interests you, and then
breaking off to something else. If there is nothing in this letter to
interest you, at least I have kept to one subject, and I have discussed
it as though I were expressing a real opinion! One can hardly do more
than that. You see, if I gave you no opportunity of scolding me, you
might never write!



VII

THE JINGLING COIN


You ask me the meaning of the jingling coin. It was a tale I heard that
impressed me, and sometimes comes back with a strange fascination. Did
I never tell you? Well, here it is.

I was in India, staying at a hill station, no matter where. I met there
a man who for years had spent his holidays in the place, and, walking
with him one day up a narrow mountain-path to the top of a hill, whence
there was a magnificent view of the Himalayan snows, we passed a small
stone slab on which was cut a date. The stone was at a spot where,
from the path, was a sheer fall of several hundreds of feet, and as we
passed it my companion said--“Look at that. I will tell you what it
means when we get to the top.”

As we lay on the grass and feasted our eyes upon the incomparable
spectacle, before which earthly lives and troubles seemed so
insignificant, my companion told his tale. I now repeat it, as nearly
as I can remember, in his own words.

“If I tell you this story,” he said, “you must not ask me how I know
the details, or seek for any particulars beyond what I give you.

“During one of my many visits to this place, I met a man whom I had
seen before and heard a good deal about, for he was one of those people
who concern themselves with no one’s business but their own, and,
therefore, their affairs seem to have a special attraction for the
Philistine. He knew that rumour was busy with his name, but beyond
the fact that he became more reserved than nature had already made
him, the gossip, which was always founded on imagination, sometimes
on jealousy, and even malice, seemed to make no impression whatever.
That may have been the result of a strong character, but partly, no
doubt, it was due to the fact that all his public life had been lived
under the fierce light of a criticism that was, in a way, the measure
of his success. His friends (and he was fortunate in the possession of
particularly loyal friends of both sexes) realised that if, even to
them, this man showed little of his real self, he sometimes writhed
under calumnies of which no one knew the authorship, and the existence
of which only reached him rarely, through his most intimate friends.
For his own reasons he kept his own counsel, and I doubt whether any
one knew as much of the real man as I did. A few months before the
time I speak of he had made the acquaintance of a girl, or, perhaps I
ought to say, a woman, for she was married, who was, with her mother,
visiting India. When first the man met this girl he was amazed, and,
to some extent, carried away by her extraordinary beauty. But his work
took him elsewhere, and, beyond that first impression, which had so
powerfully affected him, there was neither time nor opportunity to
ascertain whether the lovely exterior was the casket to a priceless
jewel, or only the beautiful form harbouring a mindless, soulless,
disappointment. She had heard of the man, and while unwilling to be
prejudiced by gossip, she was on her guard, and rather afraid of a
cynicism which her quick intelligence had noted at their first meeting.
Otherwise she was,--womanlike and generous,--curious to see, and to
judge for herself, what manner of man this was, against whom more than
one indiscreet acquaintance had already warned her.

“Some time elapsed, and then these two found themselves staying in the
same house. The man realised the attractions of the woman’s glorious
beauty, and he honestly determined that he would neither think, nor
look, nor utter any feeling beyond that of ordinary friendship. This
resolve he as honestly kept, and, though accident threw in his way
every kind of opportunity, and he was constantly alone with the girl,
he made no attempt to read her character, to seek her confidence, or
to obtain her friendship;--indeed, he charged himself with having been
somewhat neglectful in those attentions which make the courtesy of man
to woman,--and, when they parted, he questioned whether any man had
ever been so much in this woman’s society without saying a word that
might not have been shouted in the market-place. Somehow the man had
an intuitive feeling that gossip had supplied the girl with a not too
friendly sketch of him, and he, for once, abandoned the cynicism that,
had he cared less, might have prompted him to convey any impression of
himself, so long as it should not be the true one. To her this visit
said nothing beyond the fact that the man, as she found him, was quite
unlike his picture, as painted by professed friends, and that the
reality interested her.

“The three Fateful Sisters, who weave the destinies of men and women
into such strange tangles, threw these two across each other’s
paths, until the man, at least, sought to aid Fortune, in providing
opportunities for meeting one whose attractive personality appealed so
greatly to his artistic sense. Chance helped him, and, again catching
together the threads of these lives, Destiny twisted them into a single
strand. One brief day, or less, is enough to make a bond that only
death can sever, and for this man and woman there were days and days
when, in spite of resistance, their lives were gradually drawn so close
together that at last the rivets were as strong as they were invisible.

“The triumphant beauty of the woman, rare and disturbing though it was,
would not alone have overcome him, but, as the days went by, and they
were brought more and more into each other’s society, she gradually
let him see the greater beauty of her soul; and small wonder if he
found the combined attractions irresistible. She was so young that I
have called her a girl, and yet she had seen as much of life as many
women twice her age. Her beauty and charm of manner had brought her
hosts of admirers, but still she was completely unspoilt, and devoid
of either coquetry or self-consciousness. A lovely face, lighted by the
winning expression of an intelligent mind and a warm, loving nature;
a graceful, willowy figure, whose lissom movements showed a quite
uncommon strength and power of endurance; these outward attractions,
united to quick discernment, absolute honesty of speech and intention,
a bright energy, perfectly unaffected manners, and a courage of the
highest order, moral as well as physical, fascinated a man, the
business of whose life had been to study his fellow-creatures. He felt
certain that he saw here--

    “‘_La main qui ne trahit, la bouche qui ne ment._’

“His experience had given him a horror of weakness in every form, and
here, he realised, was a woman who was only capable of great thoughts
and great deeds, obeying the dictates of her own heart and mind, not
the suggestions of the weaker brethren. If she fell, it would be as an
angel might fall, through love of one of the sons of men.

“Her shy reserve slowly gave way to confidence, and, in the sympathy
of closer friendship, she let him see beauties of soul of which he
would have deemed it sacrilege to speak to another. What drew her to
him I cannot tell; perhaps his profound reverence for, and admiration
of, her sex, his complete understanding of herself, or perhaps some
quality of his own. I had not her confidence, so cannot say; but there
were men who recognised his fascination, due in part, no doubt, to his
compelling will. Perhaps she was simply carried away by the man’s
overpowering love, which at last declared itself. They realised the
hopelessness of the position, and yet they both took comfort from their
mutual love and trust in each other’s unchanging faith. That was all
they had to look forward to,--that and Fate.

“With that poor prospect before them he gave her, on a day, a gold
coin, ‘for luck,’ he said--an ancient Indian coin of some forgotten
dynasty, and she hung it on a bangle and said laughingly, that if
ever she were likely to forget him the jingle of the coin would be a
ceaseless reminder of the giver. And so the thing lived there day and
night, and, when she moved, it made little musical sounds, singing its
story to her willing ears, as it struck against the bangle from which
it hung.

“Then they came here, he to his work, she to see the snows and some
friends, before leaving India for Japan, or California, or some other
stage of the voyage which brings no rest to the troubled soul. One
day they had ridden up here, and were returning down the hill. It was
afternoon, and she was riding in front, he behind, the syces following.
The path is narrow, as you saw, and very steep. She dropped something,
stopped, and called a syce to pick it up. Her horse was impatient,
got his head round, and, as the syce approached, backed over the edge
of the road. The thing was done in an instant, the horse was over the
side, down on his belly, terror-struck and struggling in the loose
earth. The man had only time to shout, ‘Get off! get off!’ but she
could not get off, the horse had fallen on his off side, and, as the
man threw himself on the road, her horse rolled slowly right over her,
with a horrible crunching noise,--then faster, over her again, and then
horse and rider disappeared, and, crashing through the undergrowth,
banging against great granite boulders, fell with a horrible thud, far
down the height.

“He had never seen her face; she had her back towards him, and she
never uttered a sound.

“The road makes a long détour, and then comes back, several hundred
feet lower down, to a spot almost directly underneath the point where
the accident happened. A little way in from there the man saw the horse
lying perfectly still, with its neck broken. Higher up the bank he
found the woman, moaning a little, but quite unconscious, crushed and
torn,--you have seen the place and you can guess. She only lived a few
minutes.

“When at last the man awoke out of his stupor, to lift her up and carry
her down to the path, he noticed that the bangle and the coin had both
gone, wrenched off in that wild plunge through trees and stones into
eternity--or oblivion.

“The man waited there, while one of the syces went for help and a
litter, and it was only after they had carried her home that I saw him.
I could hardly recognise him. There were times when I had thought him
the saddest-looking man I had ever seen, but this was different. There
was a grey, drawn setness on his face, and something in his eyes I did
not care to look at. He and I were living in the same house, and in the
evening he told me briefly what had happened, and several times, both
while he spoke and afterwards, I saw him throw up his head and listen
intently. I asked him what it was, and he said, ‘Nothing, I thought I
heard something.’ Later, he started suddenly, and said--

“‘Did you hear that?’

“‘Hear what?’ I asked.

“‘A faint jingling noise,’ he replied. ‘You must have heard it; did you
do it?’

“But I had heard nothing, and I said so.

“He got up and looked about to see if any one was moving, and then came
back and sat down again. I tried to make him go to bed, but he would
not, and I left him there at last.

“They buried her the next evening, and all the English in the station
were there. The man and I stood on the outskirts of the people, and
we lingered till they had gone, and then watched the grave-diggers
finish the filling of the grave, put on the sods, and finally leave
the place. As they built up the earth, and shaped it into the form of
a roof to cover that narrow dwelling, the man winced under every blow
of the spades, as though he were receiving them on his own body. There
was nothing to say, and we said nothing, but more than once I noticed
the man in that listening attitude, and I began to be alarmed about
him. I got him home, and except for that look, which had not left his
face, and the intentness with which I sometimes caught him listening,
there was nothing strange in his manner; only he hardly spoke at all.
On subsequent evenings for the next fortnight he talked more than usual
about himself, and as I knew that he often spent a good deal of time
in, or looking on to, the cemetery, I was not surprised to hear him say
that he thought it a particularly attractive graveyard, and one where
it would be pleasant to lie, if one had to be put away somewhere. It is
on the hill, you know, by the church, and one can see the eternal snows
across that blue valley which divides us from the highlands of Sikkim.
He was insistent, and made me remark that, as far as he was concerned,
there could be no better place to lie than in this God’s Acre.

“Once or twice, again, he asked me if I did not hear a jingle, and
constantly, especially in the quiet of evening, I saw him start and
listen, till sometimes I really began to think I heard the noise he
described.

“A few evenings later, but less than a month after the accident, I
went to bed, leaving him cleaning a revolver which he thought a deal
of, and certainly he could shoot very straight with it. I was sitting
half-undressed, when I heard a loud report, and you may imagine the
feelings with which I ran to the room where I had left him. He was
sitting at the table, with his left hand raised, as though to reach his
heart, and his right straight down by his side, the revolver on the
floor beneath it. He was dead, shot through the heart; but his head
was slightly thrown back, his eyes wide open, and in them that look of
listening expectancy I had seen so often of late. At the corners of his
mouth there seemed to be the shadow of the faintest smile.

“At the inquest I explained that I left him cleaning the pistol,
and that, as it had a hair-trigger, no doubt it had gone off by
misadventure. When each of the jurors had, in turn, raised the hammer,
and found it was hardly necessary to touch the trigger in order to fire
the weapon, they unanimously returned a verdict of ‘accidental death.’”

“It is curious,” concluded my companion, “but I sometimes think _I_
hear the jingle of that coin, especially if I am alone on this hill,
or sitting by myself at night in the house where that sad accident
happened.” He put a slight stress on the word “accident,” that was not
lost on me.

As we passed the stone, on our way down the hill, I seemed to see that
horse blunder backwards over the edge of the path, to hear the slow,
crunching roll, and then the crash and ghastly thud, far down below;
and, as an involuntary shudder crept slowly down my back, I thought _I_
heard the faint jingle of that ill-omened piece of gold.



VIII

A STRANGE SUNSET


You will think I am eternally babbling of sunsets, but no one, with a
spark of feeling, could be here and not be moved to the depths of his
nature by the matchless, the ever-changing beauty of the wonderful
pictures that are so constantly before his eyes. People who are utterly
commonplace, whose instincts seem, in some respects, to approach those
of the beasts, when they come here are amazed into new sensations, and,
in unaccustomed words, voice the expression of their admiration. If I
weary you, pardon me, and remember that you are the only victim of my
exaltation.

One looks for a sunset in the west, does one not? and that is the
direction in which to find it here as elsewhere; but to-night the
marvellous effects of the setting sun were, for a time, confined almost
entirely to the east, or, to be strictly accurate, rather to the south
of east. Facing that direction one looks across a remarkable ridge,
entirely covered by giant forest trees. The ridge dips in a sort of
crescent from about 4500 feet in height at one extremity to 3000 feet
at the other, and extends for a distance of perhaps two miles between
the horns. Beyond and below the ridge lies a great, fertile valley,
watered by a stately river, along the opposite bank of which runs a
range of hills, varying in height from 2000 to 3000 feet. Behind these
hills there is another valley, another range, and then a succession of
ever-loftier mountains, forming the main chain.

The sun had disappeared behind a thick bank of grey clouds, and the
only evidence of his presence was in the lambent edges of these clouds,
which here and there glittered like molten metal. The western sky was,
except for this bank, extraordinarily clear and cloudless, of a pale
translucent blue, flecked here and there by tiny cloud-boats, airy
and delicate, moving very slowly across the empyrean. I noticed this
because what I saw in the east was so remarkable that I noted every
detail.

Against a background the colour of a hedge-sparrow’s egg in the
south, and blue without the green in the east, stood one white cloud,
like a huge plume, with its base resting on the many ranges across the
river, while it seemed to lean towards me, the top of the plume being
almost over my head. At first the plume shone, from base to top, with
a golden effulgence; but this gradually gave place to that lovely tint
which I can only describe as _rose dorée_, the warm colour momentarily
intensifying in tone until it suffused the entire cloud with such a
roseate blush that all the hills beneath, and all the fast-darkening
plain, blushed in response.

For twenty minutes that glowing plume of softly rounded, feathery
cloud stood framed against its wondrous blue-green background, the
rosy colour of the cloud deepening as the land beneath it gathered
blackness. Then, almost imperceptibly, the glow flickered and
died, leaving only an immense grey-white cloud hanging over the
night-shrouded plain.

The sun, I knew, had long sunk beneath the horizon. Though I could
see nothing behind that thick curtain of cloud, I waited, for the
after-glow, seen from this height, is often more wonderful than the
actual sunset. Five minutes of dull greyness, and then the whole
western sky, for a space above the horizon, was overspread with pale
gold, while countless shafts of brighter light radiated, as from the
hub of the Sun-God’s chariot-wheel, across the gilded space, into
the blue heights above. In the midst of this pale golden sheen there
appeared, almost due west, and low down in the sky, a silver crescent,
fine as a thread, curved upwards like the lip of a cup of which bowl
and stem were invisible. It was the new-born moon.

Gradually all sunlight failed, and close above the long, narrow bank
of dark clouds, clearly etched against their grey background, hung a
now golden crescent, into which seemed to be falling a solitary star of
surpassing brilliance.

To stand alone here in the presence of Nature, to witness the marvels
of sunrise or sunset, the strange influence of nights of ravishing
moonlight and days of quickening heat, impresses one with the
conviction that if Oriental language is couched in terms that sound
extravagant to Western ears, the reason is not far to seek. Nature
revels here; one can really see things grow, where the sun shines every
day as it never shines in lands of cold and fog. Natural phenomena are
on a grander scale; the lightning is more vivid, the thunder more
deafening, the rain a deluge against which the feeble artifices of man
offer no protection. The moonlight is brighter, the shadows deeper,
the darkness blacker than in northern climes. So the vegetation covers
the earth, climbs on to the rocks, and disputes possession even with
the waters of the sea. The blossoms are as brilliant in colour as they
are profuse in quantity, and two men will stagger under the weight of
a single fruit. As for thorns, they are long as nails, stiff as steel,
and sharp as needles. The beasts of the forest are mighty, the birds of
the air are of wonderful plumage, the denizens of the deep are many,
and huge, and strange. In the lower forms of life it is just the same;
the lizards, the beetles, the ants, the moths and butterflies, the
frogs and the snakes,--they are great in size and legion in number.
Even the insects, however small, are in myriads.

Only man stagnates, propagates feebly, loses his arts, falls a prey
to pestilence, to new diseases, to imported vices, dies,--while every
creature and every plant around him is struggling in the ceaseless
renewal of life. Man dies, possibly because exultant nature leaves him
so little to do to support his own existence; but it is not strange
that, when he goes beyond the ordinary avocations of daily life, and
takes himself at all seriously, his language should partake somewhat
of the colour of his surroundings. Nor, perhaps, is it altogether
surprising that, living with the tiger and the crocodile, the cobra
and the stinging-ray, the scorpion and the centipede, he should have
acquired some of their bloodthirstiness and venom, rather than have
sought an example in the gentleness of the dove, a bird much fancied by
Eastern peoples for the sweetness of its note and the excellence of its
fighting qualities.

I suppose it is the appalling difficulties of making a passage through
the jungle that have given the elephant and rhinoceros their strength
and courage; but for the people, who are never really cold, and seldom
hungry, there is little inducement to exertion. They can lie under
the fruit trees, and idly watch the grey, gossamer-winged butterflies
floating dreamily across a sunlit glade; they drowse and sleep to the
music of the waters, as the whispering river slips gently towards a
summer sea.

And it is all so comfortable. There is Death, but that is predestined,
the one thing certain in so much that is too hard for the finite mind.
There is also Hell, but of all those who speak so glibly of it, none
ever believes that the same Power which created him, to live for a
moment in trouble on the earth, will condemn him to an eternity of
awful punishment. It is Paradise for which each man, in his own mind,
is destined; a Paradise where he will be rewarded for all his earthly
disappointments by some such pleasant material advantages as he can
picture to himself, while he lies on the river bank and gradually
sinks into a delightful slumber, lulled by the restful rippling of the
passing stream. And he will dream--dream of that Celestial Being of
whom it is related that “his face shone golden, like that of a god, so
that many lizards fell, dazzled, from the walls, and the cockroaches in
the thatch fought to bask in the light of his countenance.”

Oriental imagery,--but a quaintly pretty idea, the creatures struggling
to sit in the light shed by that radiant face.



IX

OF LETTER-WRITING


So you prefer the unaddressed letters, such as you have seen, to those
which you receive from me in a cover, whereon are duly inscribed your
name, style, and titles, and you ask me whether some of the letters are
not really written to you. They are written to “Mary, in heaven,” or
to you, if you please, or to any one to whom they appeal. The reason
why you prefer them to the epistles I address to you is because they
are unconstrained (too much so, you might think, if you saw them all),
while, in writing to you, I am under constraint, and, directly I feel
it, I have to be careful what I say, and beat about for some safe
subject; and, as I abhor gossip and cannot write about my neighbour’s
cat, I become unnatural, stilted, stupid, boring. With Mary it is
different, for she is in heaven, where there are no marriages, and,
therefore, I imagine, no husbands. As for lovers, I do not mind them,
for they have no special privileges; at any rate, they have no right to
interfere with me. The idea that what I write for your eye may be read
by some one for whom it was not intended, hampers the pen and takes
away more than half the pleasure of writing.

If you answer, “You ought not to want to write anything to me that
may not be read by the master over my shoulder, or by the maid in the
kitchen,” I say that I do not wish to interfere with the circulation
of the _Family Herald_; and, for the rest, when you honour me with a
letter, is it to be shown to any one who wishes to know what a really
charming and interesting letter is like? I am blessed with some really
delightful correspondents, of whom I would say you are the chief,
did I not fear to offend some others; but I cannot help noticing,
sometimes with amusement and sometimes with painful regret, that the
character of their letters has a way of changing that, between first
and last, may be compared to looking at the landscape through one end
of a telescope and then through the other. When I see the field of
vision narrowing to something like vanishing-point, until, in fact,
the features of interest are no longer visible, I feel that I too
must put on a minifying-glass, before I attempt to describe to you
my surroundings, my thoughts, my hopes and fears. Worst of all, I can
no longer ask you freely how life is treating you; for if I do, I get
no answer, or you tell me that the winter has been one of unexampled
severity, or the political party in power seems to be losing ground
and missing its opportunities. Individuals and parties have been
losing opportunities since the days when Joseph lost his coat; always
regretting them and always doing it again, because every party and
every individual scorns to profit by the experience of another. That,
you will tell me, is a platitude beneath a child’s notice. I agree
with you, and I only mention it in support of my contention that it is
better to write what you see, or hear, or imagine, or believe, to no
one at all, than to write “delicately,” with the knowledge that there
is a possible Samuel waiting somewhere about, if not to hew you in
pieces, to put inconvenient questions to your friends, and give them
the trouble of making explanations which are none the less aggravating
because they are needless. As a man, I may say that the effort to
avoid writing to women everything that can, by a suspicious mind, be
twisted into something mildly compromising, is more than I am capable
of. The thought that one may innocently get a friend into trouble is
not amusing, so pray dismiss from your mind the idea that any of these
letters are written to you. They are not; and if they ever recall
scenes, or suggest situations that seem familiar, that is merely an
accident. Pure, undiluted fable is, I fancy, very rare indeed; but
travellers are supposed to be responsible for the most of it, and I am
a traveller. On the other hand, almost all fiction is founded on fact,
but you know how small a divergence from the latter is sufficient to
make the former. If my fiction looks like fact, I am gratified; if,
at the same time, it has awakened your interest (and you say it has),
that is more than I ever hoped to achieve. A wanderer’s life in often
beautiful, sometimes strange, surroundings; a near insight into the
fortunes of men and women of widely differing race, colour, and creed;
and the difficulty of writing freely and fearlessly to those who, like
yourself, would give me their sympathy and kindly interest--these
are mainly responsible for the Letters. As to the other contributing
causes, it will amuse you more to exercise your imagination in lively
speculations than to hear the dull truth from me. Besides, if I told
you the truth it would only mislead, for you would not believe it.



X

AT A FUNERAL


Do you remember how Matthew Arnold, in his Essay on “Pagan and Mediæval
Religious Sentiment,” translates a scene from the fifteenth Idyll of
Theocritus, giving the experiences of two Syracusan visitors at the
feast of Adonis at Alexandria, about three hundred years before the
Christian era? The description is wonderfully fresh and realistic,
and it came back to me with strange insistence last night when my
host detailed to me his experiences at a Malay funeral. I fear the
effect will all be lost when I try to repeat what I heard--but you are
indulgent, and you will pardon my clumsy periods for the sake of my
desire to interest you. My only chance of conveying any idea of the
impression made on me is to assume the rôle of narrator at first hand,
and to try, as far as I may, to speak in my host’s words.

“I was travelling,” he said, “and on the point of starting for a
place where lived a Malay raja who was a great friend of mine, when I
heard accidentally that his son had just died. That evening I reached
the station where my friend lived. I saw him, and learned that his
son, a mere lad, would be buried the next day. It is needless to
say why he died, it is not a pretty tale. He had visited, perhaps
eighteen months earlier, a British possession where the screams of
Exeter Hall had drowned the curses of the people of the land, and
this wretched boy returned to his country to suffer eighteen months
of torture,--agonising, loathsome corruption,--in comparison with
which death on the cross would be a joyous festival. That is nothing,
he was dead; and, while his and many another life cry to deaf ears,
the momentary concern of his family and his friends was to bury him
decently. My arrival was regarded as a fortuitous circumstance, and I
was bidden to take part in the function.

“It was early afternoon when I found myself, with the father, standing
at the window of a long room, full of women, watching till the body
should be carried to a great catafalque that stood at the door to
receive it. As we waited there, the man beside me,--a man of unusually
tender feeling,--showed no emotion. He simply said, ‘I am not sorry;
it is better to die than to live like that; he has peace at last.’

“There was a sound of heavy feet staggering over the grass under the
weight of a great load, and the coffin was borne past our window
towards the door. As we walked down the room a multitude of women and
children pressed after us, and while a crowd of men lifted the body
into its place on the catafalque, a girl close by us burst into a
perfect passion of weeping, intermingled with despairing cries, and
expressions of affection for the dead, whom she would never see again.
The raja pulled me by the sleeve, saying, ‘Come outside, I cannot bear
this,’ and I saw the tears were slowly coursing down his face as we
passed the heart-broken child, who, in the abandonment of her grief,
had thrown herself into the arms of another girl, and was weeping
hysterically on her breast. The mourner was the dead boy’s only
sister.

“Meanwhile, the coffin had been placed on the huge wooden bier, and
this was now being raised on the shoulders of a hundred men, with at
least another hundred crowded round to take turns in carrying it to
the place of burial. At this moment the procession moved off, and
anything more unlike a funeral, as you and I know it, would be hard to
imagine. A band of musicians, Spanish _mestizos_, in military uniforms,
headed the _cortège_, playing a wild Spanish lament, that seemed to
sob and wail and proclaim, by every trick of sound, the passing of the
dead. Immediately behind them followed a company of stalwart Indian
soldiers with arms reversed. Then a posse of priests and holy men
chanting prayers. Next we came, and behind us a row of boys carrying
their dead master’s clothes, a very pathetic spectacle. After them
the great bier, vast in size, curious in form, and gay with colour,
but so unwieldy that it seemed to take its own direction and make
straight for the place of burial, regardless of roads and ditches,
shrubs and flowers, or the shouts and cries of its bearers and those
who were attempting to direct their steps. Last of all, a crowd of men
and boys,--friends, retainers, chiefs, sightseers, idlers, gossips and
beggars, a very heterogeneous throng.

“The road to the burial-ground wound down one hill and up another, and
the band, the escort, the priests, and the mourners followed it. But
the catafalque pursued its own devious course in its own blundering
fashion, and, by-and-by, was set down on a high bluff, o’erlooking a
great shining river, with palm-clad banks, backed by a space of level
ground shut in by lofty blue hills. The coffin was then lifted from out
the bier and placed upon the ground.

“I stood by the ready-dug grave and waited; while the father of the
dead boy moved away a few yards, and an aged chief called out, ‘Now,
all you praying people, come and pray.’

“The raja, the priests, and the holy men gathered round the body,
and after several had been invited to take up the word and modestly
declined in favour of some better qualified speaker, a voice began to
intone, while, from time to time, the rest of the company said ‘Amîn.’

“Just then it began to rain a little, and those who had no umbrellas
ran for protection to the catafalque and sheltered themselves under
its overhanging eaves, while a lively interchange of badinage passed
between those who, for the moment, had nothing to do. This was the sort
of conversation that reached my ears.

“‘Now, then, all you people, come and pray.’

“‘Why don’t you pray yourself?’

“‘We did all our praying yesterday; I don’t believe you have done
any. Now is the time, with all these holy men here.’

“‘I dare say; but you don’t suppose I’m going out into the rain to
pray: I’m not a priest.’

“‘No one thought you were; but that is no reason why you should not
pray.’

“‘Never mind about me, tell these other people; but you need not bother
now, for they’ve got it over.’

“And all the time the monotonous voice of the priest muttered the
guttural Arabic words, as though these frivolous talkers were a mile
off, instead of within a few feet of him and those who stood round the
coffin.

“No one could have helped being struck by the curious incongruity of
the scene at that moment. I stood in a place of graves, with an open
sepulchre at my feet. The stage was one of extraordinary beauty, the
players singularly picturesque. That high bluff, above the glistening
river, circled by forest-clad hills of varying height, one needle-like
point rising to at least 6000 feet. Many old graves lay beneath the
shadow of graceful, wide-spreading trees, which carried a perfect
blaze of crimson blossoms, lying in huge masses over dark green
leaves, as though spread there for effect. Groups of brown men, clad
in garments of bright but harmoniously toned colours, stood all about
the hill. On the very edge of the bluff, towards the river, was the
gaily caparisoned, quaintly constructed catafalque, a number of men and
boys sitting in it and round its edge, smoking, laughing, and talking.
Within a dozen feet of them, the closely packed crowd of priests and
holy men praying round the coffin. The band and the guard had been
told to march off, and they were wending their way round a hillside in
middle distance; while the strains of a quick step, the monotone of
rapidly uttered prayer, the conversation and laughter of the idlers,
crossed and re-crossed each other in a manner that to me was distinctly
_bizarre_. Seen against that background and lighted by the fiery rays
of a dying Eastern sun, the scarlet uniforms of the bandsmen, the
dark blue of the escort, the long white coats of the priests, and the
many-coloured garments of the two or three hundred spectators scattered
about the graves, completed a picture not easily forgotten.

“Just then a move was made to the sepulchre, and two ropes were
stretched across it, while some men began to lift the coffin.

“‘What are you doing?’ said the uncle of the dead boy. ‘If you put him
in like that how will his head lie?’

“The bearers immediately let the coffin down, and another man in
authority said, ‘Well, after all, how should his head lie?’

“‘Towards the west,’ said the uncle.

“‘No, it should not,’ replied the other; ‘it should be to the north,
and then he looks towards the west.’

“Several people here joined in the argument, and it was eventually
decided that the head must be towards the north; and then, as the body
was lying on its right side, the face would look towards Mecca.

“‘Well, who knows at which end of the box his head is?’

“Various guesses were hazarded, but the uncle said that would never
do, and he would see for himself. So the wreaths and garlands of ‘blue
chempaka,’ the flower of death, the gorgeous silks and cloths of gold,
were all thrown off, the heavy cover was lifted up, and the uncle began
to feel about in the white grave-clothes for the head of the corpse.

“‘Ha! here it is,’ he said; ‘if we had put him in without looking, it
would have been all wrong, and we should have had a nice job to get him
out again.’

“‘Well, you know all about it now,’ said a bystander, ‘so we may as
well get on.’

“The cover was accordingly replaced, the box turned with the head to
the north, and then, with a deal of talk and superabundance of advice,
from near and from far, the poor body was at last lowered into the
grave. Once there the corpse lies on the earth, for the coffin has no
bottom. The reason is obvious.

“You have probably never been to a funeral, and if so, you do not know
the horrible sound of the first spadesful of earth as they fall, with
dull blows, on that which is past feeling and resistance. The friends
who stand round the grave shudder as each clod strikes the wood under
which lies their beloved dead. Here it was different, for two men got
into the grave and held up a grass mat, against which the earth was
shovelled while the coffin was protected. There was hardly any sound,
and, as the earth accumulated, the men spread it with their hands to
right and left, and finally over the top of the coffin, and then the
rest of the work was done rapidly and quietly. When filled in, two
wooden pegs, each covered with a piece of new white cloth, were placed
at the head and foot of the grave. These are eventually replaced by
stones.

“Then, as the officers of the raja’s household began to distribute
funeral gifts amongst the priests, the holy men, and the poor, my
friend and I slowly retraced our steps, and, with much quiet dignity,
the father thanked me for joining him in performing the last offices to
his dead son.

“‘His sufferings were unbearable,’ he said; ‘they are over now, and
why should I regret?’

“Truly death was best, I could not gainsay it; but that young life, so
horribly and prematurely ended, seemed to have fallen into the snare of
a civilisation that cannot be wholly appreciated by primitive people.
They do not understand why the burning moral principles of a section of
an alien race should be applied to communities that have no sympathy
with the principles, or their application to different conditions of
society.”



XI

OF CHANGE AND DECAY


There is a subject which has an abiding interest for all men and women
who are not too old to love; it is Constancy. I suppose there are few
questions on which any half-dozen intelligent people will express such
different opinions, and it is doubtful whether any of the six (unless
there be amongst them one who is very young and inexperienced) will
divulge his, or her, true thoughts thereanent. Almost all women, and
most men, seem to think they are morally bound to declare themselves to
be very mirrors of constancy, and each is prepared to shower scorn and
indignation on the erring mortal convicted of change of feeling. The
only feeling I here refer to is the declared love of man for woman, of
woman for man.

The other day a friend, writing to me, said, with admirable candour,
“Do not think my heart is so small that it can only contain love
for one man,” and I know that she means one man at a time. The maze
surrounding this suggestion is attractive; let us wander in it for
awhile, and if we become bewildered in its devious turns, if we lose
ourselves in the intricacies of vague phrases, we may yet win our way
back to reason by the road of hard, practical fact.

In the spring of life, when the fancies of the young man and the
girl “lightly turn to thoughts of love,” I suppose the average lover
honestly believes in the doctrine of eternal constancy, for himself
and the object of his affections, and words will almost fail him and
her to describe their contempt for the frail creature who has admitted
a change of mind; worse still, if the change includes a confession of
love for a new object. Coquette, jilt, faithless deceiver, breaker of
hearts, ruthless destroyer of peace of mind,--words of opprobrium are
not sufficient in quantity, or poisonous enough in quality, to satisfy
those from whose lips they flow with the violence and destructive force
of a river in flood.

Now, suppose this heaven-mated couple proceeds to extremities--that is,
to marriage. And suppose that, after quite a short time, so short that
no false note has ever been heard to mar the perfect harmony of their
duet of mutual praise and rapture, one of them dies, or goes mad, or
gets lost, or is put into prison for a long term of years;--will not
the other find a new affinity? It happens so often that I think it must
be admitted as a very likely possibility. When convention permits of
an outward and visible application, and plaster is put over the wound,
most of the very virtuous say, “and an excellent thing, too.”

There, then, we arrive at once at the possibility of change; the
possibility of A, who once swore deathless love and fealty to B,
swearing the same deathless love and fealty to X. It happens, and it
has high approval.

Now go a little step further, and suppose that the excellent couple of
whom I first spoke perpetrate matrimony, and neither of them dies, or
goes mad, or gets into prison. Only, after a longer or shorter time,
they become utterly bored with each other; or one finds the other out;
or, what is most common, one, and that one usually the woman, for
divers reasons, comes to loathe the married state, all it implies and
all it exacts. Just then Satan supplies another and a quite different
man, who falls naturally into his place in the situation, and the play
runs merrily along. B’s deathless love and fealty for A are thrown
out of the window, and what remains is pledged, up to the very hilt,
to that spawn of the Evil One, the wrecker of happy homes, Z. It can
hardly be denied that this also happens.

I come, then, to the case of the affianced but unmarried lovers, where
one, or both, perceives in time that the other is not quite all that
fancy painted; realises that there is a lover, “for showy,” and a
disagreeable companion and master “for blowy”: a helpful daughter, a
charming sweetheart one day, and a very selfish, not to say grasping,
spit-fire on another. Or, across the distant horizon, there sails into
the quiet waters of this love-locked sea a privateer, with attractions
not possessed by the ordinary merchant vessel, and, when the privateer
spreads its sails again, it carries with it a willing prize, leaving
behind a possibly better-found and more seaworthy craft to indulge its
wooden frame with a burst of impotent fury and despair. B’s deathless
love has been transplanted to a more congenial soil, and, after a
space, A will find another and a better helpmate, and both will be
satisfied,--for a time.

If one may love, and marry, and lose, and love again; if one may
love, and promise to marry, but, seeing the promise means disaster,
withdraw it, to love elsewhere; if one may love and the love be choked
to death, or frozen to entire absence of feeling, and then revive
under the warmth of new sympathy to live and feel again--if all these
things may be, and those to whom the experience comes are held to be
no more criminal than their fellows, surely there may be love, real
love, honestly given with both hands, as honestly clasped and held, and
yet--and yet--a time may come when, for one of a thousand reasons, or
for two or three, that love will wane and wane until, from illumining
the whole firmament of those within its radiance, it disappears and
leaves nothing but black, moonless night. But, by-and-by, a new moon of
love may rise, may wax to equal splendour, making as glorious as before
everything on which it shines; and the heart, forgetting none of the
past, rejoices again in the present, and says, “Life is good; let me
live it as it comes.” If that be possible, the alternate day and night
of love and loss may succeed each other more than twice or thrice, and
yet no charge, even of fickleness, may fairly lie at the door of him
or her to whom this fate may come unsought.

To love, as some can love, and be loved as well in return; to trust in
the unswerving faith, the unassailable loyalty, the unbounded devotion
of another, as one trusts in God, in the simple laws of nature, in
anything that is absolutely certain; and then to find that our deity
has feet of clay, that our perfect gem has, after all, a flaw, is
a very bad experience. Worse than all, to lose, absolutely and for
ever, and yet without death, a love that seemed more firmly rooted and
grounded in us than any sacred principle, more surely ours than any
possession secured by bolt and bar--that is a pain that passeth the
understanding of those who have not felt it. Add to this the knowledge
that this curse has come upon us as the result of our own work--folly,
blind, senseless, reckless confidence, or worse--that is the very acme
of human suffering. It is not a thing to dwell upon. On the grave
of a love that has surpassed, in the perfection of its reality, all
the dreams of imagination, and every ideal conjured out of depths of
passionate romance, grow weeds which poison the air and madden the
brain with grisly spectres. It is well to “let the dead bury their
dead”--if we only can.

There, I am at the end; or is it only the close of a chapter? I suppose
it must be the latter, for I have but now come to my friend’s
proposition, namely, that of love distributed amongst a number of
objects; all perhaps different, yet all in their way, let us hope,
equally worthy. I know how she explains it. She says she loves one man
because he appeals to her in one way, another in another; and as there
are many means of approach to her heart, so there are many who, by one
road or another, find their way to it. After all, she is probably more
candid than singular in the distribution of her affection. How many
worldlings who have reached the age of thirty can say that they have
not had a varied experience in the elasticity of their affections, in
the variety of shrines at which they have worshipped? Aphrodite and
Athene and Artemis for the men; Phœbus and Ares and Hermes for the
women; and a host of minor deities for either. Minor chords, delicate
harmonies, charming pages of melody between the tragic scenes, the
carefully scored numbers, the studied effects, which introduce the
distinguishing _motifs_ of the leading characters, in that strange
conception wherein is written all the music of their lives.

We are told that the sons of God took unto themselves wives from
the daughters of men. Do you believe they left no wives, no broken
faith, in heaven, before they came to earth to seek what they could
not find above the spheres? What form of marriage ceremony do you
suppose they went through with those daughters of men? Was it binding
until death, and did that last trifling incident only open the door
to an eternity of wedded bliss in the heaven from which earthly love
had been able to seduce these sons of God? I fear there is proof of
inconstancy somewhere. There is clear evidence of a desire for change,
and that is usually taken to be a synonym for inconstancy, as between
the sexes. The daughters of men have something to answer for, much to
be proud of; but I hardly see why either they, or their menkind, who
never drew any loving souls down from the safe heights of heaven to
be wives to them, should be expected to make a choice of a partner
early in life and never waver in devotion to that one, until death
has put them beyond the possibility of temptation. It does happen
sometimes; it is beautiful, enviable, and worthy of all praise. But
when the heart of man or woman, following that most universal law
of nature, change, goes through the whole gamut of feeling, from
indifference to passionate love, and later retraces its steps, going
back over only a few of them, or to a place, beyond indifference, where
dislike is reached, there seems no good reason why that disappointed,
disillusioned soul should be made the object of reproach, or the mark
for stones, cast by others who have already gone through the same
experience or have yet to learn it.

If we claim immortality, I think we must admit our mutability. Perhaps
the fault is not all ours. It is written:--

    “Alas for those who, having tasted once
     Of that forbidden vintage of the lips
     That, press’d and pressing, from each other draw
     The draught that so intoxicates them both,
     That, while upon the wings of Day and Night
     Time rustles on, and Moons do wax and wane,
     As from the very Well of Life they drink,
     And, drinking, fancy they shall never drain.
     But rolling Heaven from His ambush whispers,
     So in my licence is it not set down:
     Ah for the sweet societies I make
     At Morning, and before the Nightfall break;
     Ah for the bliss that coming Night fills up,
     And Morn looks in to find an empty Cup!”

I do not seek to persuade you; it is a subject we often discuss, on
which we never agree. I only state the facts as I know them, and I am
for the truth!--even though I wish it were not true--rather than for a
well-sounding pretence, which usually covers a lie. I have believed;
I have seen what, with my life, I would have maintained was perfect,
changeless love; and I have seen that love bestowed, in apparently
equal measure, on another; while, sometimes, the first affection has
died utterly, or, at others, it has never died at all, and the wavering
heart, divided in allegiance, has suffered agonies of remorse, and at
last begged one object of its devotion to shun it for ever, and so help
it “to be true to some one.”

There you find a result almost the same as that so candidly confessed
by my friend; but the phases through which either will pass to arrive
at it are utterly different. Fate and circumstances, the prolonged
absence of the lover, misunderstandings, silence, and the ceaseless,
wearing efforts of another to take the place of the absent--the absent,
who is always wrong;--these things will loosen the tightest bond,
when once the enemy at the gate has established a feeling of sympathy
between himself and the beleaguered city. If at last there is a
capitulation, it is only when the besieged is _au bout de ressources_;
only made in extreme distress, only perhaps under a belief of
abandonment by one on whom the city relied for assistance in its dire
need.

My candid friend has no regrets, passes through no phases of feeling,
sees no harm, means none, and for herself is probably safe. Only
her heart is large and warm; she desires sympathy, intellectual
companionship, amusement, passionate adoration. She gets these things,
but not all from the same man, and she is prepared to give love in
return for each, but it is love with a wise reservation. Sometimes she
cannot understand why the objects of her catholic affections are not
equally satisfied with the arrangement, and she thinks their discontent
is unreasonable. She will learn. Possibly, as she acquires knowledge,
she may change. Nothing is more certain than that there is, if not
always, very very often, the widest difference in the world between
the girl of twenty and the woman of thirty. It is a development, an
evolution,--often a startling one,--and if men more often realised what
is likely to come, waited for it, and understood it when it arrived,
there would be a deal less unhappiness in the world.

That, however, is another question, about which I should like to talk
to you on another day, for it has interest.

Of love, and change in the object of love, I think you will not deny
the possibility. If you have never known such change, you are the
exception, and out of your strength you can afford to deal gently
with those weaker vessels whose feelings have gone through several
experiences. But has your faith never wavered? Have your affections
been set on one man, and one only; and are they there to-day, as
strong, as single-hearted, as true and as contented as ever? I wonder;
pardon me if I also doubt!

I have spoken only of those cases where the love that was has ceased
to be; ceased altogether and gone elsewhere, or so changed from what
it was, that it no longer knits together those it once held to the
exclusion of all others. But I might remind you that there are many
other phases, all of which imply change, or at least such difference
as must be counted faithlessness. Your quick intelligence can supply
a multitude of instances from the unfortunate experiences of your
friends, and I will only cite one that is not altogether unheard of.
It is this; when two people are bound by the ties of mutual love, and
fate divides them by time and distance, it sometimes happens that one
will prove faithless in heart, while remaining firmly constant in deed.
That is usually the woman. The other may be faithless in deed; but he
says to himself (and, if he has to confess his backsliding, he will
swear the same to his lady) that his affections have never wavered.
He often does not realise that this statement, the truth of which he
takes such trouble to impress upon his outraged goddess, adds to the
baseness of his deed. It is curious, but it is true, that the woman,
if she believes, will pardon that offence, while she would not forgive
the heart-faithlessness of which she is herself guilty. He is not
likely to learn that her fealty has wandered; he takes a good deal for
granted, and he does not easily believe that such things are possible
where he is concerned; but, should he suspect it, should she even
admit that another has aroused in her feelings akin to those she had
hitherto only felt for him, he will hold that aberration from the path
of faith rather lightly, though neither tears nor blood could atone for
a faithless deed, such as that of which he stands convicted.

Woman realises that if man’s lower nature takes him into the gutter,
or even less unclean places, he will not hanker after whatever it was
that attracted him when once his temptation is out of sight. She
despises, but she estimates the disloyalty at its right value in a
creature for whose want of refinement she learns to feel a certain
contempt. Man, busy about many other things, treats as trivial a lapse
which implies no smirch on his honour; and he, knowing himself and
judging thereby, says, “Out of sight, out of mind.” It seldom occurs
to him that, where the woman’s heart has been given away from him,
he has already lost at least as much as his utmost dread; and even
that is more likely to follow, than he to return to one who has never
aroused in him any feeling of which he cares to think. Therefore, he is
inclined rather to be amused than distressed; and, still mindful of his
own experiences, he dismisses the matter from his thoughts with almost
a sense of satisfaction. But he is wrong: is he not?

Of course I am not thinking of the jealous men. They are impossible
people whom no one pities. They never see that, while they make
themselves hateful to every one who is unhappily thrown into contact
with them, they only secure their own misery. I believe there are men
who are jealous of the door-mat. These are beyond the help of prayer.



XII

DAUGHTERS AND DESPOTISM


I agree with you that few things are more astonishing than the want of
sympathy between parents and their daughters. Many fathers and mothers
seem to be absolutely insensible to the thoughts, the desires, and the
aspirations of those for whom they usually profess, and probably feel,
a very great affection. There are two principal causes for this very
common state of matters. One is the difference in age between parents
and children. The fathers and mothers are losing, or have already lost,
their interest in many of those things which are just beginning to most
keenly interest their children. The children are very quick to see
this, and the confidence they will give to a comparative stranger they
withhold from parents, to whom they are too shy to confess themselves,
because they dread ridicule, coldness, displeasure. The other cause of
estrangement is the fact that parents will insist upon regarding their
daughters as children until they marry, and sometimes even afterwards;
and they are so accustomed to ordering and being obeyed, that they
cannot understand independence of thought. Their children are always
children to them; they must do exactly what they are told without
question; they ought not to have any ideas of their own, and, if they
are really good Christian children, well brought up and a credit to
their parents, they must, before all things, be obedient and have no
likes and dislikes, no opinions that are not those of their parents. As
with crows, they must be feathered like the old birds and caw, always
and only caw, if they wish to be heard at all.

It sounds, and it seems, unreasonable, and yet one sees it every day,
and the amused or enraged spectator, with no fledglings of his own,
is lost in wonderment at the crass stupidity of otherwise sensible
people, who, while they do these things themselves, and glory in their
own shame, will invite attention to the mote in their neighbour’s
eye, which ought to be invisible to them by reason of the great beam
in their own. I suppose it never occurs to them that they are all the
time committing hateful and unpardonable crimes; that their want of
intelligent appreciation is driving their children to resort to all
kinds of concealment, subterfuge, and deceit; while home becomes often
so hateful to a girl that she seizes the first opportunity of leaving
it, and makes her life a long misery or something worse.

If the spectator dared, or cared, to speak the naked truth to a parent,
I can imagine that dignified individual choking with respectable rage
at the bare suggestion that he was in any sense responsible for his
daughter’s regrettable conduct. Yet surely the father and the mother
are blameworthy, if they decline to treat their grown-up daughters as
intelligent creatures, with the instincts, the yearnings, the passions
for which they are less responsible than their parents. “You must do
this, because I was made to do it; and you must not do that, because
I was never allowed to do it. You must never question my directions,
because they are for your good; because you are younger than I am, and
cannot therefore know as well as I do; because I am your mother and
you are my daughter; and, in my day, daughters never questioned their
mothers.” All this, and a great deal more, may be admirable; but it
does not seem so. It may even answer sometimes; but that is rather
cause for surprise than congratulation. It does fail, often and badly;
but the parents are the last to realise the fact, and probably nothing
would ever persuade them that the failure is due to their methods. If
ever it comes home to parents that their revolted children have grown
to hate them, they call them “unnatural,” and almost expect the earth
to open and swallow them up, as happened to Korah and all his company.

To onlookers the position often seems intolerable, and they avoid it,
lest they should be tempted to interfere and so make matters worse.
Nowadays, intelligent opinion is not surprised when tyranny is followed
by rebellion. The world is getting even beyond that phase. Both men and
women demand that their opinions should be heard; and where, amongst
English-speaking people, they can be shown to be in accordance with
common-sense, with freedom of thought, and with what are called the
Rights of Man, they usually prevail. Children do not often complain
of tyranny, and they seldom revolt; but they bitterly resent being
treated as if they were ten years old when they are twenty, when
their intelligence, their education, and even their knowledge of the
world entitle them to hold and express opinions. Nay, more, they are
conscious of what is due to their own self-esteem, their family, and
their order; and there are better ways of keeping them true to high
purposes and lofty ideals than by treating them as children, whose
intentions must always be suspected, because prone to naughtiness. The
finer feelings are often strongest in youth; life and its experiences
blunt them. While they are there, it is well to encourage them.
Sympathy from an equal can easily do that; but, unless equality in
speech be granted, the being who is held in bondage will be shy to
express thoughts and aspirations that may be ridiculed, and will also
resent the position of inferiority to which he or she is relegated for
reasonless reasons.

In the relations between parents and children, perhaps the most
surprising point is the absolute disregard of the pitiless vengeance of
heredity. Men and women seem to forget that some of their ancestors’
least attractive attributes may appear in their descendants, after
sparing a child or skipping a generation. The guiding traits (whether
for good or evil) in most characters can be traced with unerring
accuracy to an ancestor, where there is any record of family history.
One child is predestined to be a musician, another a soldier, and
a third a commonplace or remarkable sinner. Identical methods of
education and treatment may not suit all equally well. Because a
parent has lived only one life, the half-dozen children for whom he is
responsible may not, even in the natural course of events, turn out to
be exact replicas of their father, nor thrive on the food which reared
him to perfection.

I do not pretend that there are not many exceptions; but the daughters
who are the victims of parental zeal, or parental repression, are so
numerous that, in England at any rate, they probably form the majority
of their kind. Of those who marry, the greater number may be entirely
well-mated. Every one must hope that it is so. Some there are who are
not so fortunate; and some, again, begin well but end in disaster,--due
to their own mistakes and defects, to those of their husbands, or to
unkind circumstances. With the daughters who are favoured by Fortune
we have no concern. For the others, there is only one aspect of their
case with which I will bore you, and that because it seems to me to be
to some extent a corollary to my last letter. If a girl has ideas and
intelligence beyond those of her parents; if she has felt constraint
and resented it; if she has exercised self-repression, while she
longed for sympathy, for expansion, for a measure of freedom--such
an experience, especially if it has lasted for any time, is not the
best preparation for marriage. Married life--where man and woman
are in complete sympathy, where mutual affection and admiration
make self-sacrifice a joy, and trouble taken for the other a real
satisfaction--is not altogether an easy path to tread, with sure and
willing feet, from the altar to the grave. Many would give much to be
able to turn back: but there is no return. So some faint and others
die; some never cease from quarrelling; some accept the inevitable
and lose all interest in life; while a few get off the road, over the
barriers, break their necks or their hearts, or simply disappear out of
the ken, beyond the vision, of their kind.

I think much of the unhappiness that comes to be a millstone round the
necks of married people is due, primarily, to the deep ignorance of
womankind so commonly displayed by mankind. It is a subject that is
not taught, probably because no man would be found conceited enough to
profess more than the most superficial knowledge of it. Some Eastern
writers have gone into the question, but their point of view differs
from ours, as do their climate, their religion, their temperament,
habits, and moral code. Their teachings are difficult to obtain; they
are written in languages not commonly understood, and they deal with
races and societies that have little in common with Europeans. Michelet
has, however, produced a book that may be read with advantage by all
those who wish to acquire a few grains of knowledge on a subject that
has such an enthralling interest at some period of most men’s lives.
It is not exactly easy to indicate other aids to an adequate conception
of the feminine gender, but they will not be found in the streets and
gutters of great cities.

The school-boy shuns girls. He is parlously ignorant of all that
concerns them, except that they cannot compete with him in strength
and endurance. He first despises them for their comparative physical
weakness; then, as he grows a little older, a certain shyness of the
other sex seizes him; but this usually disappears with the coming of
real manhood, when his instincts prompt him to seek women’s society.
What he learns then, unless he is very fortunate, will not help him to
understand and fully appreciate the girl who somewhat later becomes his
wife--indeed, it is more likely to mislead him and contribute to her
unhappiness. Unite this inexperienced, or over-experienced, youth with
the girl who is ready to accept almost any one who will take her from
an uncongenial home, and it says a good deal for the Western world that
the extraordinary difficulties of the position should, in so large a
proportion of cases, be overcome as well as they are.

In the rage for higher education, why does not some philanthropic
lady, some many-times-married man, open a seminary for the instruction
of inexperienced men who wish to take into their homes, for life and
death, companions, of whose sex generally, their refined instincts,
tender feelings, reckless impulses, strange cravings, changeful moods,
overpowering curiosity, attitudes of mind, methods of attack and
defence, signals of determined resistance or speedy capitulation, they
know, perhaps, as little as of the Grand Llama. What an opportunity
such a school would afford to the latest development of woman to
impress her own views upon the rising generation of men! How easily she
might mould them to her fancy, or, at least, plant in them seeds of
repentance, appreciation, and constancy, to grow up under the care of
wives for whose society the Benedictentiary would have somewhat fitted
them.

It is really an excellent idea, this combination of Reformatory of the
old man and Education of the new. Can you not see all the newspapers
full of advertisements like this:--

    PREPARATION OF GENTLEMEN FOR MATRIMONY

    The great success which has attended all those who have gone
    through the course of study at the Benedictentiary of Mesdames
    ---- has led the proprietors to add another wing to this
    popular institution. The buildings are situated in park-like
    grounds, far from any disturbing influences. The lecturers
    are ladies of personal attraction with wide experience, and
    the discipline of the establishment is of the severest kind
    compatible with comfort. A special feature of this institution
    is the means afforded for healthy recreation of all kinds, the
    object being to make the students attractive in every sense.
    Gentlemen over fifty years of age are only admitted on terms
    which can be learnt by application to the Principal. These
    terms will vary according to the character of the applicant.
    During the last season twenty-five of Mesdames ---- pupils made
    brilliant marriages, and the most flattering testimonials are
    constantly being received from the wives of former students.
    There are only a few vacancies, and application should be made
    at once to the Principal.

That is the sort of thing. Do you know any experienced lady in want
of a vocation that might combine profit with highly interesting
employment? You can give her this suggestion, but advise her to be
careful in her choice of lecturers, and let the ladies combine the
wisdom of the serpent with the gentle cooing of the dove; otherwise,
some possible husbands might be spoilt in the making.



XIII

HER FIANCÉ


You say that my opinions are very unorthodox, that my views on human
constancy are cynical, and that it is wicked to sympathise with
children who oppose their inclinations to the behests of their parents.

Do you forget that I said we should not agree, and will you be angry if
I venture to suggest that you have not read my letters very carefully,
or that your sense of justice is temporarily obscured? If I dared, I
would ask you to look again at the letters, and then tell me exactly
wherein I have sinned. I maintained that all are not gifted with that
perfect constancy which distinguished Helen and Guinevere, and a few
other noble ladies whose names occur to me. I notice that, as regards
yourself, you disdain to answer my question, and we might safely
discuss the subject without reference to personal considerations.

My regrets over the strained relations which sometimes exist between
parents and children could hardly be construed into an incitement to
rebellion. They did not amount to more than a statement of lamentable
facts, and a diagnosis of the causes of the trouble. When you add that
truth is often disagreeable and better left unspoken, I will subscribe
to the general principle, but fail to see its application here. Nor can
I agree with you that problems of this sort are lacking in interest. To
be able to construct a geometrical figure, and prove that the method
is correct, does not sound very interesting; but architects, who have
knowledge of this kind, have achieved results that appeal to those who
look at the finished work, without thought of the means by which the
end was gained.

With your permission, I will move the inquiry to new ground; and do not
think I am wavering in my allegiance, or that my loyalty is open to
doubt, if I say one word on behalf of man, whose unstable affections
are so widely recognised that no sensible person would seek to dispute
the verdict of all the ages. He is represented as loving a sex rather
than an individual; is likened to the bee which sucks where sweetness
can be found and only whilst it lasts; he shares with the butterfly
the habit of never resting long on any flower, and, like it, he is
drawn by brilliant colouring and less clean attractions. Virtuous
affection and plain solid worth do not appeal to him.

These are articles of popular belief, and must not be questioned;
but I may say to you, that they do the poor man somewhat less than
justice. As a bachelor, he has few opportunities of examining virtuous
affection, on his own account; the experiences of his friends are
not always encouraging; and, if he has to work, other things absorb
most of his attention at this stage of his existence. If he marries,
especially if he marries young, he is often enthusiastic, and usually
hopelessly ignorant of feminine methods, inclinations, and fastidious
hesitation. He feels an honest, blundering, but real and passionate
affection. He shows it, and that is not seldom an offence. He looks
for a reciprocation of his passion, and when, as often happens, he
fully realises that his transports awaken no responsive feeling, but
rather a scarcely veiled disgust, his enthusiasm wanes, he cultivates
self-repression, and assumes a chilly indifference that, in time,
becomes the true expression of his changed feelings. From this keen
disappointment, this sense of his own failure in his own home, the
transition to a state of callousness, and thence, to one of deep
interest in another object where his advances are met in a different
spirit, is not very difficult.

You see, I am taking for granted that the popular conception of his
shortcomings in regard to the affections is correct, and I only want
to suggest some of the reasons which have earned for him such a bad
reputation. First, it is the fault of his nature, for which he is not
altogether responsible; it is different to yours. In this respect he
starts somewhat unfairly handicapped, if his running is tried by the
same standard as that fixed for the gentler sex. Then his education,
not so much in the acquirement of book-knowledge as in the ways of the
world, is also different. His physical robustness is thought to qualify
him, when still a boy, to go anywhere, to see everything at close
quarters, and without a chaperone. He is thrown into the maelstrom of
life, and there he is practically left to sink or swim; and whether
he drown or survive, he must pass through the deep water where only
his own efforts will save him. A few disappear altogether, and, while
all get wet, some come out covered with mud, and others are maimed, or
their constitutions permanently injured by the immersion.

That is the beginning, and I think you will admit that, except in a
few very peculiar cases, the boy’s early life is more calculated to
smirch than to preserve his original innocence.

Then he settles down to work for a living or for ambition, and, in
either case, he is left but little time to study the very complex
complement of his life, woman. If he does not incontinently fall in
love with what appeals to his eye, he deliberately looks about for some
one who may make him a good, a useful, and, if possible, an ornamental
wife. In the first case he is really to be pitied; but his condition
only excites amusement. The man is treated as temporarily insane,
and every one looks to the consummation of the marriage as the only
means to restore him to his right mind. That, indeed, is generally
the result, but not for the reason to which the cure is popularly
ascribed. The swain is very much in love, whereas the lady of his
choice is entering into the contract for a multitude of reasons, where
passionate affection, very probably, plays quite an inferior part. The
man’s ardour destroys any discretion he may have. He digs a pit for
himself and falls into it, and, unless he has great experience, unusual
sympathy, or consummate tact, he misunderstands the signs, draws false
conclusions, and nurses the seeds of discontent which will sooner or
later come up and bear bitter fruit.

If, on the other hand, he deliberately enters the matrimonial market
and makes his choice with calm calculation, as he would enter the mart
to supply any other need, he may run less risk of disappointment. But
the other party to the bargain will, in due time, come to regret the
part she has undertaken to play, and feel that what the man wanted
was less a wife than a housekeeper, a hostess, a useful ally, or an
assistant in the preservation of a family name. Very few women would
fail to discover the truth in such a case, and probably none would
neglect to mention it. Neither the fact, the discovery, nor the mention
of it will help to make a happy home.

With husbands and wives, if neither have any need to work, it ought
to be easy to avoid boredom (the most gruesome of all maladies), and
to accommodate themselves to each other’s wishes. They, however,
constitute a very small proportion of society. A man usually has
to work all day, and, if he is strong and healthy, it is hardly
reasonable to suppose that his only thought, when his work is over,
should be how he can best amuse his wife. If he sets that single object
before him as his duty or his pleasure, and his wife accepts the
sacrifice, the man’s health is almost certain to suffer, unless there
is some form of exercise which they can enjoy together.

Husbands and wives take a good deal for granted, and it is more curious
that lovers, who are bound by no such tie, often meet with shipwreck on
exactly the same sort of dangers. To be too exacting is probably, of
all causes, the most fertile in parting devoted lovers.

But enough of speculation. Pardon my homily, and let me answer your
question. You ask me what has become of the man we used to see so
constantly, sitting in the Park with a married lady who evidently
enjoyed his society. I will tell you, and you will then understand
why it is that you have not seen him since that summer when we too
found great satisfaction in each other’s company. He was generally
“about the town,” and when not there seemed rather to haunt the river.
Small blame to him for that; there is none with perceptions so dead
that the river, on a hot July day, will not appeal to them. I cannot
tell how long afterwards it was, but the man became engaged to a girl
who was schooling or travelling in France. She was the sister of the
woman we used to see in the Park. _Un bel giorno_ the man and his
future sister-in-law started for the Continent, to see his _fiancée_.
Arrived at Dover, the weather looked threatening, or the lady wanted
rest, or it was part of the arrangement--details of this kind are
immaterial--anyhow, they decided to stay the night in an hotel and
cross the following morning. In the grey light which steals through
darkness and recoils from day, some wanderer or stolid constable saw a
white bundle lying on the pavement by the wall of the hotel. A closer
examination showed this to be the huddled and shattered body of a man
in his night-dress; a very ghastly sight, for he was dead. It was the
man we used to see in the Park, and several storeys above the spot
where he was found were the windows, not of his room, but of another.
I do not know whether the lady continued her journey; but, if she did,
her interview with her sister must have been a bad experience.



XIV

BY THE SEA


You asked me to paint you a picture--a picture of a wonderful strand
half-circling a space of sunlit sea; an island-studded bay, girt,
landwards, by a chain of low blue hills, whose vesture of rich foliage
is, through all the years, mirrored in the dazzling waters that bathe
those rocky feet. The bay is enclosed between two headlands, both
lofty, both rising sheer out of the sea, but that on the north juts
out only a little, while the southern promontory is much bolder, and
terminates a long strip of land running at right angles to the shore
out into very deep water.

The beach between these headlands forms an arc of a circle, and the
cord joining its extremities would be about seven miles in length,
while following the shore the distance is nearly ten miles.

One might search east or west, the Old World or the New, and find
in them few places so attractive as this little-known and sparsely
inhabited dent in a far Eastern coast.

Here the sky is nearly always bright; a day which, in its thirteen
hours of light, does not give at least half of brilliant, perhaps too
brilliant sunshine, is almost unknown. Then it is the sunshine of
endless summer, not for a month or a season, but for ever.

Except on rare occasions, the winds from the sea are softest zephyrs,
the land breezes are cool and fragrant, sufficient only to stir the
leaves of trees and gently ruffle the placid surface of the bay.

The waters of the bay are green--green like a yellow emerald--but
in some few places, near the shore, this changes into a warm brown.
The beach is a wide stretch of sand broken by rocks of dark umber or
Indian red. The sand is, in some places, so startlingly white that
the eye can hardly bear the glare of it, while in others it is mixed
with fine-broken grains of the ironstone called laterite, and this
gives a burnt-sienna colour to the beach. When the tide is high, the
great stretches of hard, clean sand are covered with water to a depth
of between five and ten feet, and, owing to the absence of mud,
mangroves, and mankind, the waters of the bay are of an extraordinary
limpidity. The beach in many places dips steeply, so that, at high
tide, there are six feet of water within two or three yards of the
trees, shrubs, ferns, and creepers that clothe the shore in an
abandonment of wild and graceful luxuriance. The sand shines beneath
the waters of the sea like powdered diamonds, and all the myriads of
pebbles and shells glisten and scintillate, with a fire and life and
colour which they lose when the tide falls and leaves the sands dry,
but for the little pools that fill the depressions of a generally even
surface.

Then, however, is the time to see strange shells moving slowly about,
and crabs, of marvellous colour and unexpected instincts, scampering
in hundreds over the purple rocks, that here and there make such a
striking contrast to the brilliant orange and red, or the startling
whiteness of the sand in which they lie half-embedded.

And how positively delightful it is to paddle with bare feet between
and over these rounded stones, while the tireless waters make
continents and oceans in miniature, and the strange denizens of this
life-charged summer sea destroy each other, in the ceaseless struggle
to preserve an existence for which they are no more responsible than
we are. Here is an army of scarlet-backed crabs, hunting in battalions
for something smaller and weaker than its own tiny, fragile units.
The spider-like legion, alarmed by the approach of your naked feet,
scuttles hurriedly towards a new Red Sea, and, dashing recklessly into
the two inches of water, which are running between banks of sandy
desert, disappears as completely as Pharaoh and his host. Unlike the
Egyptian king, however, the crabs, which have only burrowed into the
sand, will presently reappear on the other shore and scour the desert
for a morning meal.

And then you are standing amongst the rocks, on a point of a bay within
the bay; and, as the rippling wavelets wash over your feet, you peer
down into the deeper eddies and pools in search of a sea-anemone.
Again, you exclaim in childish admiration of the marvellous colouring
of a jelly-fish and his puzzling fashion of locomotion, or your
grown-up experience allows you an almost pleasurable little shudder
when you think of the poisonous possibilities of this tenderly-tinted,
gauzily-gowned digestive system.

The land is not less rich in life than the sea. Nature has fringed the
waters with a garden of graceful trees, flowering shrubs, brilliantly
blossomed creepers, and slender ferns, far more beautiful in their
untrained luxuriance than any effort of human ingenuity could have made
them. There are magnolias, sweeping the waters with their magnificent
creamy blossoms, made more conspicuous by their background of great,
dark green leaves. There are gorgeous yellow alamanders, each blossom
as large as a hand; soft pale pink myrtles, star-flowered jasmines,
and the delicate wax-plant with its clusters of red or white blossoms.
These and a multitude of others, only known by barbarous botanical
names, nestle into each other’s arms, interlace their branches, and
form arbours of perfumed shade. Close behind stand almond and cashew
trees, tree-ferns, coconuts, and sago palms, and then the low hills,
clothed with the giants of a virgin forest, that shut out any distant
view.

Groups of sandpipers paddle in the little wavelets that lovingly caress
the shore; birds of the most gorgeous plumage flit through the jungle
with strange cries; and, night and morning, flocks of pigeons, plumed
in green and yellow, in orange and brown, flash meteor-like trails of
colour, in their rapid flight from mainland to island and back again.
The bay is studded with islets, some near, some far, tiny clusters of
trees growing out of the water, or a mass of stone, clothed from base
to summit with heavy jungle, except for a narrow band of red rocks
above the water’s edge.

Sailing in and out the islands, rounding the headlands, or standing
across the bay, are boats with white or brown or crimson sails; boats
of strange build, with mat or canvas sails of curious design, floating,
like tired birds, upon the restful waters of this “changeless summer
sea.”

But you remember it all: how we sat under the great blossoms and
shining leaves of the magnolias, and, within arm’s length, found
treasures of opal-tinted pebbles, and infinite variety of tiny shells,
coral-pink and green and heliotrope,--and everything seemed very good
indeed.

A mass of dark-red boulders, overlying a bed of umber rock, ran out
into the water, closing, as with a protecting arm, one end of the
little inlet, while the forest-clad hill, rising sheer from the point,
shut out everything beyond. And then the road! bright _terra cotta_,
winding round the bluff through masses of foliage in every shade of
green,--giant trees, a maze of undergrowth, and the dew-laden ferns
and mosses, blazing with emerald fires under the vagrant shafts of
sunlight;--_dies cretâ notanda_.

Do you remember how, when the sun had gone, and the soft, fragrant,
Eastern night brought an almost tangible darkness, lighted only by the
stars, we returned across the bay in a little boat, with two quaintly
coloured paper lanterns making a bright spot of colour high above the
bow? The only sound to break the measured cadence of the oars was the
gentle whisper of the land-wind through the distant palm leaves, and
the sighing of the tide as it wooed the passive beach.

And then, as we glided slowly through the starlit darkness, you, by
that strange gift of sympathetic intuition, answered my unspoken
thought, and sang the _Allerseelen_, sang it under your breath, “soft
and low,” as though it might not reach any ears but ours--yes, that was
All Souls’ Day.

There was only the sea and the sky and the stars, only the perfection
of aloneness, “_Le rêve de rester ensemble sans dessein_.”

And then, all too soon, we came to a space of lesser darkness, visible
through the belt of trees which lined the shore; far down that
water-lane twinkled a light, the beacon of our landing-place. Do you
remember?----



XV

AN ILLUMINATION


After an absence which cannot be measured by days--not at least days
of twenty-four hours, but rather by spaces of longing and regret,--I
am back again in a house where everything suggests your presence so
vividly that I hardly yet realise that I cannot find you, and already,
several times, hearing, or fancying I heard, some sound, I have looked
up expecting to see you. It is rather pitiful that, waking or sleeping,
our senses should let us be so cruelly fooled.

It seems years ago, but, sitting in this room to-night, memory carries
me back to another evening when you were also here. It had rained
heavily, and the sun had almost set when we started to ride down the
hill, across the river, and out into the fast-darkening road that
strikes through the grass-covered plain, and leads to the distant
hills. The strangely fascinating transformation of day into night, as
commonly seen from that road, cannot fail to arrest the attention and
awaken the admiration of the most casual observer; but for us, I think,
it possessed the special charm which comes from the contemplation of
nature in harmony with the mood of the spectator,--or seen, as with
one sight, by two persons in absolute sympathy of body and soul. Then
nothing is lost--no incident, no change of colour, no momentary effect
of light or shade; the scene is absorbed through the eyes, and when the
sensation caused finds expression through the voice of one, the heart
of the other responds without the need of words.

I see the picture now; a string of waggons, the patient oxen standing
waiting for their drivers, picturesquely grouped before a wayside
booth; a quaintly fashioned temple, with its faint altar-light shining
like a star from out the deep gloom within the portal; tall, feathery
palms, whose stems cast long, sharp shadows across the dark-red road;
on either side a grass-covered, undulating plain, disappearing into
narrow valleys between the deep blue hills; behind all, the grey,
mist-enshrouded mountains, half hidden in the deepening twilight.

The last gleams of colour were dying out of the sky as we left the
main road, and, turning sharp to the left, urged our horses through
the gathering darkness. At last we were obliged to pull up, uncertain
of our bearings, and even doubtful, in the now absolute blackness of
tropical night, whether we were in the right way. Carefully avoiding
the deep ditches, more by the instinct of the horses than any guidance
of ours, we struck into another road and set our faces homewards.
It was still intensely dark, but growing clearer as the stars shone
out, and we gradually became more accustomed to the gloom; dark yet
delightful, and we agreed that this was the time of all others to
really enjoy the East, with a good horse under you and a sympathetic
companion to share the fascination of the hour.

Riding through the groves of trees that lined both sides of the road,
we caught occasional glimpses of illuminated buildings, crowning the
steep hill which forms one side of the valley. Traversing the outskirts
of the town, we crossed a river and came out on a narrow plain, above
which rose the hill. I shall never forget the vision which then rose
before us. How we exclaimed with delight! and yet there was such an air
of glamour about the scene, such unrealness, such a savour of magic
and enchantment as tied our tongues for a while.

The heights rose in a succession of terraces till they seemed to almost
pierce the clouds, each terrace a maze of brilliantly illuminated
buildings to which the commanding position, the environment, the
style of architecture, and the soft, hazy atmosphere lent an imposing
grandeur.

The buildings which crowned the summit of the spur, lined the terraces,
and seemed to be connected by a long flight of picturesque stone steps,
were all of a dazzling whiteness. Low-reaching eaves, supported on
white pillars, formed wide verandahs, whose outer edges were bordered
by heavy balustrades. Every principal feature of every building, each
door and window, each verandah, balustrade, and step, was outlined by
innumerable yellow lights that shone like great stars against the soft
dark background of sky and hill. It is impossible to imagine the beauty
of the general effect: this succession of snow-white walls, rising from
foot to summit of a mist-enveloped hill, suggested the palace-crowned
heights of Futtepur Síkri, illuminated for some brilliant festival. The
effect of splendour and enchantment was intensified by the graceful
but indistinct outlines of a vast building, standing in unrelieved
darkness by the bank of the river we had just crossed. In the gloom
it was only possible to note the immense size of this nearer palace,
and to realise its towers and domes, its pillars and arches, and the
consistently Moorish style of its architecture.

As we approached the lowest of the series of illuminated buildings
that, step by step, rose to the summit of the heights, we beheld
a sheet of water beneath us on our right, and in this water were
reflected the innumerable lights of a long, low temple, standing fifty
feet above the opposite bank of the lake. Fronds of the feathery bamboo
rose from the bank, and, bending forwards in graceful curves, cast deep
shadows over the waters of this little lake, from the depths of which
blazed the fires of countless lights.

We stood there and drank in the scene, graving it on the tablets of
our memories as something never to be forgotten. Then slowly our
horses passed into the darkness of the road, which, winding round the
hillside, led up into the open country, a place of grass-land and wood,
lying grey and silent under a starlit sky.

And, when we had gained the house, it was here you sat, in this
old-world seat, with its covering of faded brocade. I can see you
now, in the semi-darkness of a room where the only lamp centres its
softened light on you--an incomparable picture in a charming setting.
You do not speak; you are holding in your hand a small white card,
and you slowly tear it in two, and then again and again. There is
something in your face, some strange glory that is not of any outward
light, nor yet inspired by that enchanted vision so lately seen. It is
a transfiguration, a light from within, like the blush that dyes the
clouds above a waveless sea, at the dawn of an Eastern morning. Still
you speak no word, but the tiny fragments of that card are now so small
that you can no longer divide them, and some drop from your hands upon
the floor.

I picked them up--afterwards--did I not?



XVI

OF DEATH, IN FICTION


It is delightful to have some one to talk to with whom it is not
necessary to think always before one speaks, to choose every word, to
explain every thought--some one, in fact, who has sympathy enough not
to be bored with the discussion of a subject that deals neither with
gossip nor garments, and intelligence enough to understand what is
implied as well as what is said. I have done a good deal of desultory
reading lately, mostly modern English and French fiction, and I cannot
help being struck by the awkward manner in which authors bring their
stories to a conclusion. It so very often happens that a book begins
well, possibly improves as the plot develops, becomes even powerful as
it nears the climax, and then--then the poor puppets, having played
their several parts and done all that was required of them, must be
got rid of, in order to round off the tale, to give finality, and
satisfy the ordinary reader’s craving for “full particulars.” This
varnishing and framing and hanging of the picture is usually arrived
at by marrying or slaying some principal character; the first is a
life, and the last a death, sentence. Thus the reader is satisfied,
and often the story is ruined; that is, if skilful drafting and true
perspective are as necessary to a good picture as artistic colouring
and the correct disposition of light and shade. But is the reader
satisfied? Usually, yes; occasionally, no. In the latter case the book
is closed with a strong sense of disappointment, and a conviction that
the writer has realised the necessity of bringing down the curtain on
a scene that finishes the play, and leaves nothing to the imagination;
so, to secure that end, he has abandoned truth, and even probability,
and has clumsily introduced the priest or the hangman, the “cup of
cold poison,” or the ever-ready revolver. The effect of the charming
scenery, the pretty frocks, the artistic furniture, and “the crisp and
sparkling dialogue,” is thus spoilt by the unreal and unconvincing
_dénouement_.

It seems to me--“to my stupid comprehension,” as the polite Eastern
constantly insists--that this failure is due to two causes. First,
most fiction is founded on fact, and the writer has, in history, in
the newspapers, in his own experience or that of his friends, met with
some record or paragraph, some adventure or incident, that has served
for the foundation of his story; but, unless purely historical, he has
been obliged to supply the last scene himself, because in reality there
was none, or, if there was, he could not use it. In our own experience,
in that of every one who has seen a little of the world, have we not
become acquainted with quite a number of dramatic, or even tragic
incidents, that have scarred our own or others’ lives, and would make
stories of deep interest in the hands of a skilful writer? But the
action does not cease. The altar is oftener the fateful beginning than
the happy ending of the drama; and, when the complications fall thick
upon each other, there is no such easy way out of the _impasse_ as that
provided by a little prussic acid or a bullet. They are ready to hand,
I grant you, but they are not so often used in life as in fiction. I
have known a man walk about, with a revolver in his pocket, for three
days, looking for a suitable opportunity to use it upon himself, and
then he has put it away against the coming of a burglar. When it is not
yourself, but some one else, you desire to get rid of, the prospect
is, strange to say, even less inviting. Thus it happens that, in real
life, we suffer and we endure, the drama is played and the tragedy is
in our hearts, but it does not take outward and visible form. So the
fiction--whilst it is true to life--holds our interest, and the skill
of the artist excites our admiration; but the impossible climax appeals
to us, no more than a five-legged cow. It is a _lusus naturæ_, that is
all. They happen, these monstrosities, but they never live long, and it
were best to stifle them at birth.

Pardon! you say there is genius. Yes, but it is rare, and I have not
the courage to even discuss genius; it is like Delhi and the planets,
a long way off. We can only see it with the help of a powerful glass,
if indeed then it is visible. There is only one writer who openly lays
claim to it, and the claim seems to be based chiefly on her lofty
disdain for adverse criticism. That is, perhaps, a sign, but not a
complete proof, of the existence of the divine fire.

But to return to the humbler minds. It does happen that real lives are
suddenly and violently ended by accident, murder, or suicide, and there
seems no special reason why fictitious lives should be superior to such
chances. Indeed, to some authors, there would be no more pleasure in
writing novels, without the tragic element as the main feature, than
there is for some great billiard exponents to play the game with the
spot-stroke barred. I would only plead, in this case, that the accident
or the suicide, to be life-like, need not be very far-fetched. In
murder, as one knows, the utmost licence is not only permissible but
laudable, for the wildest freaks of imagination will hardly exceed the
refinements, the devilish invention, and the cold-blooded execution of
actual crimes. I remember you once spoke scornfully of using a common
form of accident as a means of getting rid of a character in fiction;
but surely that is not altogether inartistic, for the accidents that
occur most commonly are those to which the people of romance will
naturally be as liable as you or I. It is difficult to imagine that
you should be destroyed by an explosion in a coal-mine, or that I
should disappear in a balloon; but we might either of us be drowned, or
killed in a railway accident, under any one of a variety of probable
circumstances. Again, in suicide, the simplest method is, for purposes
of fiction, in all likelihood the best. Men usually shoot themselves,
and women, especially when they cannot swim, seek the water. Those
who prefer poison are probably the swimmers. It is a common practice
in fiction to make the noble-minded man who loves the lady, but finds
himself in the way of what he believes to be her happiness (that is,
of course, some other man), determine to destroy himself; and he does
it with admirable resolution, considering how cordially he dislikes
the rôle for which he has been cast, and how greatly he yearns for
the affection which no effort of his can possibly secure. I cannot,
however, remember any hero of fiction who has completed the sacrifice
of his life in a thoroughly satisfactory manner, for he invariably
leaves his body lying about, where it is sure to attract attention,
and cause great distress to the lady he designs to oblige. That is
thoughtless; and those who really mean to prove their self-denial
should arrange, not only to extinguish their lives, but to get rid of
their bodies, so that there may be as little scandal and trouble to
their friends as possible. I have always felt the sincerest admiration
for the man who, having made up his mind to destroy himself, and
purchased a revolver with which to do the deed, settled his affairs,
moved into lodgings quite close to a cemetery, wrote letters to the
coroner, the doctor, and the undertaker, giving them in each case the
exact hour at which they should call on their several errands, paid
all his debts, left something to indemnify his landlady, and more than
enough for funeral expenses, and then shot himself. That, however, was
not a character in fiction, but a common mortal, and there was no lady
in the case.

I am sure there are many people who would be greatly obliged to me
for inviting attention to these matters, if only they could get it
in print, to lie about on the table with the page turned down at the
proper place. Nothing is more common than the determined suicides who
live to a green old age for want of a book of instructions. These
people weary their friends and acquaintances by eternally reiterated
threats that they will destroy themselves, and yet, however desirable
that course may be, they never take it. This novel and brilliant idea
first comes to them in some fit of pique, and they declare that they
will make an end of themselves, “and then perhaps you will be sorry.”
They are so pleased with the effect caused by this statement, that,
on the next favourable opportunity, they repeat it; and then they go
on and on, dragging in their wretched threat on every possible and
impossible occasion, especially in the presence of strangers and the
aged relatives of themselves or the person they want to get at, until
mere acquaintances wish they would fulfil their self-imposed task and
cease from troubling. It is almost amusing to hear how these _suicides
déterminés_ vary, from day to day or week to week, the methods which
they have selected for their own destruction--poison, pistols,
drowning, throwing themselves out of window or under a train--nothing
comes amiss; but, when they wish to be really effective, and carry
terror into the hearts of their hearers, they usually declare either,
that they will blow their brains out, or cut their throats. The vision
of either of these processes of self-extinction, even though remote and
unsubstantial, is well calculated to curdle the blood. That, as a rule,
is all that is meant; and, when you understand it, the amusement is
harmless if it is not exactly kind. “Vain repetitions” are distinctly
wearying, even when they come from husbands and wives, parents or
children; the impassioned lover, too, is not altogether free from the
threat of suicide and the repetition of it. In all these cases it
would be a kindness to those who appear weary of life, and who weary
others by threatening to put an end to it, if they could be persuaded,
either to follow the example of the man who, without disclosing his
intentions, took a room by the gate of the cemetery, or, if they
don’t really mean it, to say nothing more about it. Therefore, if
ever you are over-tried in this way, leave this letter where it will be
read. The weak point about the prescription is that it is more likely
to cure than to kill. However, I must leave that to you, for a good
deal depends on how the remedy is applied. The size of the dose, the
form of application, whether external or internal, will make all the
difference in the world. I do not prescribe for a patient, but for a
disease; the rest may safely be left to your admirable discretion;
but you will not forget that a dose which can safely and advisedly be
administered to an adult may kill a child.



XVII

A HAND AT ÉCARTÉ


I wrote to you of death in fiction, and, if I now write of death in
fact, it is partly to see how far you agree with an opinion that was
lately expressed to me by a man who is himself literary, and whose
business it is to know the public taste in works of fiction. We were
discussing a book of short stories, and he spoke of the author’s
success, and said he hoped we might have a further instalment of
similar tales. I ventured to suggest that the public must be rather
nauseated with horrors, with stories of blood and crime, even though
they carried their readers into new surroundings, and introduced them
to interesting and little-described societies. My companion said,
“No, there need be no such fear; we like gore. A craving for horrors
pervades all classes, and is not easily satisfied. Those who cannot
gloat over the contemplation of carcasses and blood, revel in the
sanguinary details which make them almost spectators in the real or
imaginary tragedies of life. The newspapers give one, and some writers
of fiction the other; there is a large demand for both, especially now
that the circle of readers is so rapidly widening amongst a class that
cannot appreciate refinements of style, and neither understands nor
desires the discussion of abstract questions. Therefore give us,--not
Light, but--Blood.”

I wonder what you think. If I felt you had a craving for horrors I
could paint the pages scarlet; for I have been in places where human
life was held so cheap that death by violence attracted little notice,
where tragedies were of daily occurrence, and hundreds of crimes,
conceived with fiendish ingenuity and carried out with every detail
calculated to thrill the nerves and tickle the jaded palate of the
most determined consumer of “atrocities,” lie hidden in the records
of Courts of Justice and Police Offices. Any one who compares the
feelings with which he throws aside the daily paper, as he leaves the
Underground Railway, or even those with which he closes the shilling
shocker in more favourable surroundings, with the sense of exaltation,
of keen, pulse-quickening joy that comes to him after reading one
page in the book of Nature--after a long look at one of its myriad
pictures--would, I think, hesitate to confess to a great hankering
for a perpetual diet of blood. It is not the dread of appearing to be
dissipated, but the certainty that there is better health, and a far
more intense pleasure, in the clear atmosphere of woods and hills, of
river and sea, than in the shambles.

Sewers are a product of civilisation in cities, but they are not
pretty to look at, and I cannot appreciate a desire to explore their
darksome nastiness while we may, if we choose, remain in the light
and air of heaven. London slums are daily and nightly the scenes of
nameless horrors, but it may be doubted whether a faithful and minute
description of them, in the form of cheap literature, does more good
than harm.

That is by way of preface. What I am going to tell you struck me,
because I question whether a tragedy in real life was ever acted with
details that sound so fictional, so imaginary, and yet there was no
straining after effect. It was the way the thing had to be worked out;
and like the puzzles you buy, and waste hours attempting to solve, I
suppose the pieces would only fit when arranged in the places for which
they were designed by their Maker.

A long time ago there lived, in one of the principal cities of Italy, a
certain marchese, married to a woman of great beauty and distinguished
family. She had a lover, a captain of cavalry, who had made himself an
Italian reputation for his success in love-affairs, and also in the
duels which had been forced upon him by those who believed themselves
to have been wronged. The soldier was a very accomplished swordsman
and equally skilful with a pistol, and that is possibly the reason why
the husband of the marchesa was blind to a state of affairs which at
last became the scandal of local society. The marchesa had a brother, a
leading member of the legal profession; and when he had unsuccessfully
indicated to his brother-in-law the line of his manifest duty, he
determined to himself defend his sister’s name, for the honour of
an ancient and noble family. The brother was neither a swordsman nor
a pistol-shot, and when he undertook to vindicate his sister’s
reputation he realised exactly what it might cost him. The position
was unbearable; the _cafés_ were ringing with the tale; and, if her
husband shirked the encounter, some man of her own family must bring
the offender to book and satisfy the demands of public opinion.

Having made up his mind as to the _modus operandi_, the brother sought
his foe in a crowded _café_, and in the most public manner insulted him
by striking him across the face with his glove. A challenge naturally
followed, and the choice of weapons was left with the assailant. He
demanded pistols, and, knowing his own absolute inferiority, stipulated
for special conditions, which were, that the combatants should stand
at a distance of one pace only, that they should toss, or play a game
of _écarté_ for the first shot, and that if the loser survived it, he
should go as close to his adversary as he pleased before discharging
his own weapon. Under the circumstances, the soldier thought he could
hardly decline any conditions which gave neither party an advantage,
but no one could be found to undertake the duties of second in a duel
on such terms. Two friends of the principals agreed, however, to stand
by with rifles, to see that the compact was not violated; and it was
understood that they would at once fire on the man who should attempt
foul play.

It was, of course, imperative that the proceedings should be conducted
with secrecy, and the meeting was arranged to take place on the
outskirts of a distant town, to which it was necessary to make a long
night journey by rail. In the early dawn of a cold morning in March,
the four men met in the cemetery of a famous monastery, that stands
perched on a crag, overlooking the neighbouring city, and a wide
vale stretching away for miles towards the distant hills. A pack of
cards was produced, and, with a tombstone as a table, the adversaries
played one hand at _écarté_. The game went evenly enough, and rather
slowly, till the brother marked four against his opponent’s three.
It was then the latter’s deal; he turned up the king and made the
point, winning the game. A line was drawn, the distance measured, the
pistols placed in the duellists’ hands, and the two friends retired
a few yards, holding their loaded rifles ready for use. The word was
given, and the brother stood calmly awaiting his fate. The soldier
slowly raised his pistol to a point in line with the other’s head,
and, from a distance of a few inches, put a bullet through his brain,
the unfortunate man falling dead without uttering a sound or making a
movement.

The officer obtained a month’s leave and fled across the border into
Switzerland, but, before the month was up, public excitement over the
affair had waned, and the gossips were busy with a new scandal. Their
outraged sense of propriety had been appeased by the sacrifice of the
dead, and the novel and piquant circumstances which accompanied it. As
for the intrigue which had led to the duel, that, of course, went on
the same as ever, only rather more so.



XVIII

THE GENTLE ART OF VEERING WITH THE WIND


To-day I received a letter from you. I have read it twice, and, though
it contains eight pages of closely written lines, there is not one
word in it that would show that I am any more to you than the merest
acquaintance. For weeks I have anxiously awaited this letter; plans, of
the utmost importance to me, depended upon the answer you would give
to a question I had put; and my whole future, at least that future
which deals with a man’s ambitions, would, in all probability, be
influenced by your reply. I asked you--well, never mind what--and you,
being entirely free to write what you mean and what you wish, say that
it is a point on which you cannot offer advice; but you tell me that
you have given up reading and taken to gardening, as you find it is
better for you! Have you ever read the story of Zadig? If you have, you
will perhaps remember how his wife, Azora, railed against the newly
made widow whom she found gardening. I have no prejudices of that kind,
and, in my case, no one’s nose is in danger of the razor; but still I
think I may not unreasonably feel somewhat aggrieved.

Do not believe that I could ever wish to remind you of what you have
forgotten, or wish to forget. I only want to know what is real and what
is counterfeit, and you alone can tell me. I may ask this, may I not?
It is not that I may presume to judge you, or from any wish to gratify
an impertinent curiosity, but that I may be saved from imagining what
is not, and, while torturing myself, possibly even distress you. I find
it hard to reconcile this letter of yours with others I have received,
and if that sounds to you but a confession of my stupidity, I would
rather admit my want of intelligence and crave your indulgence, than
stand convicted of putting two and two together and making of them
twenty-two. If you tell me there is no question of indulgence, but that
quite regular verbs have different moods, that present and past tenses
are irreconcilable, and, of the future, no man knoweth--I shall have my
answer.

You do not write under the influence of winter. I cannot charge myself
with any offence against you. Nay, God knows that all my thoughts and
all my efforts are but to do you honour. If I have misread your earlier
letters, if I have been unduly elated by such kind words as you have
sent me, it is the simplest thing in the world to undeceive me and
show me the error of my ways. Are you only _souffrante_, and may I
disregard the chilling atmosphere of your present missive, remembering
the tender sympathy of voice, of eye, of hand, in the rapturous days of
a cherished past?

It seems as natural to some people to love to-day, and to be almost
strangers to-morrow, as that we should revel in a flood of light when
the moon is full, and grope in darkness when the goddess of night is no
longer visible. The temperament that makes this possible is fortunately
rare, so much so that it creates an interest in the observer. I have
never seen it in man, but I have in woman; and one realises that then
it is better to be a spectator than an actor in what is never a farce,
and may easily develop into tragedy. Imagine such a woman of very
unusual personal attractions: great beauty of face and figure united
to a high intelligence and extreme charm of manner; witty, ambitious,
courageous, full of high thoughts and endowed with all the advantages
that wealth can add to personal gifts. Deep in a nature that is
strangely complex, and capable of the most opposite extremes, suppose
there is implanted, amongst many other feelings, a passionate yearning
to be understood, and to be loved with a love that would shrink from
nothing to prove the greatness of its devotion. Here you have a
being capable of what seem the strangest contradictions, and not the
least startling of these may be a rare, but absolute and passionate,
self-abandonment, under the influence of certain circumstances
which strongly appeal to the senses. Overcome by intoxication of
sound, colour, and magnetism, every moral and conventional muscle
suddenly relaxes, and, the violence of the forces released, is wild
and uncontrolled, because of the firm determination by which they
are habitually bound. To-morrow, in the cold grey light of day, the
slow-working mind of man is absolutely bewildered by what he sees
and hears. He comes, dominated by an exalted passion, enthralled by
a vision of ecstasy through which he sees, imperfectly, the people
about him, only “men as trees walking”; reserving his thoughts and
perceptions of surrounding objects till he shall again gaze upon that
face which seems to him to have opened the door of life with the key
of a boundless love. Still dazed by the memories of last night, he
enters the presence of his beloved, and experiences a shock, such as a
swimmer might feel, if floating, half-entranced, in some tropic sea, he
suddenly hit against an iceberg.

Sometimes, even, influenced by surroundings, maddened by the
whisperings of a southern night, passed in a place where she breathes
an atmosphere impregnated with the romance of centuries, the lonely
soul of the woman, hungering for sympathy and communion, will seize a
pen and write, “Come to me; I want you, for you understand; come, and I
will give you happiness.” Before the letter has been gone one day, on a
journey that may take it to the ends of the earth, the writer’s mood
has changed, and she has forgotten her summons as completely as though
it had never been written. When the missive reaches its destination,
the recipient will be wise to curb his impetuosity, and realise that
his opportunity is long since dead and buried.

The bewildering phases of such a nature as I have here imagined are
nothing to us. To you it may even seem inexcusable that I should
allude to a character with which you have no sympathy, an abnormal
growth which sounds rather fantastic than real. It is the _argumentum
ad absurdum_, and has its value. This strange perversity which, by
reason of its startling contradictions, seems almost inhuman, and if,
in rare instances, met with, can only excite feelings of curiosity or
repugnance--this is the extreme case. The application of the moral will
come nearer home to us, if we make the changes from passionate love
to cold indifference a little less marked, the intervals between the
moods a little longer. It is well to know one’s own mind, not because
wavering and change hurt the fickle, but because some stupid person may
suffer by the purchase of experience; may take it to heart, and may
do himself an injury. It is well to know one’s own heart, and what
it can give; lest another put too high a value on the prize and lose
all in trying to win it. It is well to know our own weakness, and at
once recognise that we shall be guided by it; lest another think it is
strength, and make, for our sakes, sacrifices that only frighten and
perhaps even annoy us, especially when they are made in the absurd
belief that they will please us.

If you can give the extreme of happiness, do not forget that you can
also cause an infinity of pain. No one can blame you for declining to
accord favours; and if that refusal gives pain, there is no help for
it. There can be little sympathy for those who seek the battle and
then complain of their wounds. Such hurts do not rankle, and quickly
heal. But it is different when a woman gives love of her own free will,
uninfluenced by any consideration beyond her inclination, and then
takes it back, also without other cause than caprice. It is difficult
to use any other word--either it was a caprice to say she gave what
never was given, or it is a caprice to take it back. A confession of
thoughtlessness in estimating the character of her own feelings, or
of weakness and inability to resist any opposing influence, is a poor
pretext for a sudden withering of the tendrils of affection. Such a
confession is an indifferent consolation to the heart which realises
its loss, but cannot appreciate the situation. Do not mistake me; it is
so hard to be absolutely candid and fair in considering our own cases.
We are not less likely to make mistakes in matters of sentiment than
in the purely practical affairs of life. If we think we love, and then
become certain that we have made a mistake, the only safe and kind
course is to confess the error; but if we deliberately seek love and
give it, much protesting and much exacting, how shall we then deny it?
Would one say, “If you asked me, I would go down into hell with you,
now,” and then, ere twelve months had passed, for no crime but enforced
absence, speak or write, to that other, almost as a stranger?

There was Peter, I know; but even he was not altogether satisfied with
himself, and, besides denying his Lord, he stands convicted of physical
cowardice.



XIX

A REJOINDER


Thank you. Before my last letter could reach you, _vous m’aviez donné
affreusement à penser_, and this is what occurs to me:--

    “Of all the lover’s sorrows, next to that
     Of Love by Love forbidden, is the voice
     Of Friendship turning harsh in Love’s reproof,
     And overmuch of counsel--whereby Love
     Grows stubborn, and recoiling unsupprest
     Within, devours the heart within the breast.”

I dare say it is as well. I am beginning to recognise the real
attractions of what I may call a “surprise letter.” I have had several
lately. It is perhaps the irony of fate that, just after I had mildly
hinted to you that the phases of the moods of the feminine mind were
sometimes rather bewildering, you should write to me the sort of letter
which, had it been sent by me to a man I called my friend, I should
richly deserve death at his hands. There are certainly few things
more thoroughly enjoyable than to take up a letter that you see comes
from--well, let us say from a very dear friend--to dally a little
over the opening, in the mingled desire and hesitation to read the
contents; feverish desire to know that all is well, to hear some word
of affectionate regard--hesitation lest the news be bad, the letter
cold; and then to find such a missive as you have sent to me.

To begin with, there is a page and a half on which you have poured out
the vials of your wrath. I was quite hot before I had read half of it,
and my ears even were burning before I came to a page in which you told
me how greatly you were enjoying yourself. And then, at the end, there
was another page and a half, every word of which seemed to strike me in
the face like a blow. I suppose you introduced the middle section that
I might meditate on the difference between your circumstances and mine,
and duly appreciate the full weight of your displeasure. Well, yes, I
have done so; and, as God only knows when I shall see you again, I must
write one or two of the many words it is in my heart to say to you.

I am a very unworthy person; I have deeply offended you; and you
have felt it necessary to tell me gently how ill my conduct looks to
you. You leave me to infer that there are offences which cannot be
tolerated, and that it would not be difficult to dispense with my
acquaintance. I humbly accept this verdict, and as it is absolutely
just and right that the prisoner should first be condemned without
hearing, and then suffered to state his case, and say anything he
pleases in mitigation of sentence, I will try not to weary you by any
reference to ancient history, but simply confine myself to the charge.

Now, what is my crime? You asked me a question; I am sure you have long
ago forgotten what it was, and I need not remind you; but I, like an
idiot, thought you really wanted an answer, and that it was my bounden
duty to find a means of sending it. The question gave me infinite
pleasure, and, again like an idiot, I thought the answer I longed to
send would be welcome. I could not send it in the ordinary way, as you
will admit, and, a sudden thought striking me that there was a safe
and easy means of transmission, I acted on it, and your letter is the
result. You tell me your pride is wounded, your trust in my word gone,
and your conscience scandalised. It is useless for me now to express
regret. I have been convicted, and I am only pleading in mitigation of
sentence. Well, mine was a deliberate sin. I had to decide whether I
would answer you or not, and, though I disliked the means, I thought
the end would justify them. To me they did not then, and do not now,
seem very objectionable; and it certainly did not occur to me that I
could thereby wound the most sensitive feelings. Of course I was an
imbecile, and ought to have realised that a question like that was only
a phrase, with no serious meaning. I gave a promise, you say, and have
broken it. It is a pity. I had rather have sinned in any other way,
for I have my pride too, and it asserts itself chiefly in the keeping
of promises, rather than the gift of them. As to the conscience, I
deeply sympathise. An offended conscience must be a very inconvenient,
not to say unpleasant, companion. But you were greatly enjoying
yourself (you impress that upon me, so you will not be offended if I
mention it), therefore I conclude your conscience was satisfied by the
uncompromising expression of your sense of my misdeeds. Might I ask
which way your conscience was looking when you wrote this letter to me,
or does it feel no call to speak on my behalf? I would rather my hand
were palsied than write such a letter to any one, and you know that
I have forfeited your favour in trying to do your will. I think your
quarrel was rather with your conscience than with me; but it is well to
keep friends with those of one’s own household.

Truly it is an evil thing to stake one’s happiness upon the value
of _x_ in an indeterminate equation. It is possible to regard the
unknown quantity with philosophy; it is like the unattainable. The
mischief all comes with what looks like solution, but proves in the end
to be drawn from false premises. Lines can be straight, and figures
may be square, but sentient beings are less reliable, and therefore
more interesting--as studies. The pity is that we sometimes get too
close, in our desire to examine minutely what looks most beautiful
and most attractive. Then proximity destroys the powers of critical
judgment, and, from appearances, we draw conclusions which are
utterly unreliable, because our own intelligence is obscured by the
interference of our senses. We have to count with quantities that not
only have no original fixed value, but vary from day to day, and even
from hour to hour.

You will say that if I can liken you to an algebraic sign, speak of
you as a “quantity” and “an indeterminate equation,” it cannot matter
much whether you write to me in terms of hate or love. If, however,
you consider where you are and where I am, and if, when this lies in
your hand, you are on good terms with your pride and your conscience,
you may be able to spare, from the abundance you lavish on them, a
grain of sympathy for me in my loneliness. Is it a crime for the humble
worshipper to seek to assure the deity of his unaltered devotion? It
used not to be so; and though the temple has infinite attractions for
me, the tavern none, I could say with the Persian--

    “And this I know: whether the one True Light
     Kindle to love, or Wrath-consume me quite,
       One Flash of It within the Tavern caught
     Better than in the Temple lost outright.”

Life is too short, and too full of storm and stress, to induce any one
to stake it on a proved uncertainty, however attractive. It is better
never to take ship at all than to be constantly meeting disaster on
the shoals and rocks of the loveliest summer sea. Of the end of such a
venture there is no uncertainty. The bravest craft that ever left port
will be reduced to a few rotting timbers, while the sea smiles anew on
what is but a picturesque effect.



XX

OF IMPORTUNITY


I must unburden myself to you, because I may do so without offence,
without shocking you beyond forgiveness; for I feel that if my letter
were to another, I should either have to use such self-control that
I should gain no relief for my injured feelings, or else the other
would think I had gone mad, and blot my name out of the book of her
correspondents--two r’s, please. You see I am in an evil mood, the
bad tense of the evil mood; so I may as well begin in the green leaf
what is sure to come in the brown. Besides, you are partly to blame! Is
not that like a man? You supplied me with the fruit of this knowledge
which has set my teeth on edge, but it is also true that you gave it
in furtherance of my request and to oblige me. I fancy that was the
case with Eve. Adam probably sent her up a tree (the expression has
lasted to our own time), looked the other way, and pretended he had
forgotten all about it when the obliging lady came down and tendered
the result of her painful efforts. It is bad enough to climb with your
clothes on, as I saw the other day, when I induced a friend to swarm
up a fern-tree by telling him I did not believe he could do it. But
this is all beside the mark;--what has roused my ire is a parcel of new
books, kindly selected by you to cheer my solitude. As they came direct
from the bookseller, I do not know whether you have read them, but
they are very new indeed, and, from what you say, I think you must at
least have wrestled with some of them. Very recent publications, like
many of these, are rather a rarity here, and, as I was particularly
busy, I lent some of them to friends who are always hungering for
new literature. Now I am rather sorry, though I washed my hands of
the transaction by saying that I would not take the responsibility
of recommending anything, but they were at liberty to take what they
liked. In due time the volumes were returned, without comment, but
with the pages cut. I did not think anything of that at the time, the
realities of the moment interested me a great deal more than any book
could; but now I have read some of the batch, and I am suffering from
an earnest desire to meet the authors and “have it out with them.” As
however, that is not in my power, I am going to victimise you. There
is one story, of a kind that is now common enough, that is specially
aggravating. If you have read it you will know which I refer to; if
not, I won’t tell you. It is written by a woman, and discourses in
a very peculiar fashion on the ways of men. That is of no particular
moment, for the writer has either a very indifferent knowledge of men,
or she is not to be congratulated on her male friends, or she has had
some very unfortunate personal experiences, and judges the species by
some repulsive individuals. It was a man who said that women do not
possess the sentiment of justice, and he might, if he had wished to
be fair, have added that it is comparatively rare in men. Men have
written many unkind and untrue things about women as a sex, but they
cannot have harmed them much, since their influence over the beings,
derisively styled “Lords of Creation” is certainly on the increase,
especially in new countries like America.

What, however, is rather strange is that, in the book I speak of, there
are two women--joint-heroines, as it were--held up for the reader’s
admiration, but described as perfectly odious creatures. The story,
however, is practically confined to the life and character of one of
these ladies, and the exact position of the other, in relation to
her friend, is not altogether clear, nor of any concern as regards
my point. Let me then speak of the one woman as the heroine; it is
to her I wish to apply the epithet odious. The writer, I take it, is
very pleased and satisfied with the lady of her creation, and, whilst
she never loses an opportunity of enlarging on the very objectionable
characteristics of all men of birth and education, she evidently means
the reader to understand that she has drawn and coloured the picture of
a very perfect and altogether captivating woman. A young, beautiful,
intelligent, highly educated, perfectly dressed woman, surrounded by
every luxury that great wealth and good taste can secure, may easily be
captivating, and it might be counted something less than a crime that
a number of admirers should be anxious to marry her. When it comes to
character it is different; and even though the spectacle of a woman
with fewer attractions than I have named, and a disposition that left
something to be desired, enslaving men of renown, is not unknown to
history, it seems a little unusual to design a heroine as the very
embodiment of selfishness, and then exhibit her as the perfect woman.
The life that is shown to us is chiefly that of a girl,--old enough,
and independent and intelligent enough, to know perfectly what she was
doing,--constantly allowing, or alluring, men to make love to her; and
then, when they wished to marry her, telling them in language which,
if not considerate, was certainly plain, how deeply insulted she felt.
If they wasted years and years, or lost their useless, sinful lives
altogether, over her, that was a matter of such absolute indifference
that it never gave her a second thought or a moment of regret. She
did not avoid men altogether; on the contrary, she seemed rather fond
of their society, as she had only one woman friend, and is described
as giving them all ample opportunities of declaring their passionate
admiration for her beauty and intelligence. The lovers were many and
varied; coming from the peerage, the squirearchy, the army, the Church,
and other sources; but they all met with the same fate, and each in
turn received a special lecture on the vice and amazing effrontery of
his proposal.

I suppose it is a book with a purpose, and, unlike a Scotch sermon, it
is divided into only two heads. As to one, I could imagine the reply
might be in the form of another book styled “Her Lord the Eunuch.”
Biblical history deals with the species. It is less common now, but if
a demand again arises, no doubt there will be a supply to meet it. That
is the head I cannot discuss, even in these days of _fin de siècle_
literature, wherein it is a favourite subject, and would have fewer
difficulties than the case of a nineteenth-century Virgin Mary, which
formed the text of one volume in the parcel. The other consideration
seems to rest on safe ground, with no treacherous bogs or dangerous
quicksands, and therefore I venture to ask you what you think of this
paragon of all the virtues. Is she the type of a woman’s woman? One
sometimes, but very, very rarely, meets a woman like this, in England
at any rate; and though the lady’s girdle is certain to be decorated
with a collection of male scalps of all ages and many colours, very few
of her own sex will be found in the number of her friends or admirers.
Her charity is generally a form of perversity; for if she occasionally
lavishes it on some animal or human being, it is a caprice that costs
her little, and to the horse or dog which fails in instant obedience,
to the beggar or relative who importunes, she is passionately or coldly
cruel. Yet her fascination is real enough, but it seldom endures. There
is no need to sympathise with the would-be lovers, who are rejected yet
still importunate. When, as sometimes happens in a world of change,
there has been mutual love between man and woman, and one has ceased to
love, it is natural enough that the other should desire to retain what
may still be, to him or her, the only thing worth living for. But to
importune a woman to give herself, her body and soul, her whole destiny
till death, when she does not wish it, is to ask for something that
it were better not to precisely define. Presumably if the man thinks
he is in love, it is the woman’s love he wants. She says she does
not love him, and he is a fool, or worse, to take anything less, even
when she is willing to sacrifice or sell herself for any conceivable
reason. Surely, if the man had any real regard for her, he would think
first of her happiness, and refuse to take advantage of her weakness or
necessities. Besides, her misery could not be his advantage, and the
worn-out sophism of parents or other interested persons, that “she did
not know her own mind, and would get to like him,” is too hazardous a
chance on which to stake the welfare of two lives. Of course men plague
women to marry them after they have been refused. The world is full of
people who want what is not for them, and are not too particular as to
the means, if they can secure the end. But I wonder what a man would
say if some woman he did not care about worried his life out to marry
her. Man is easily flattered, the sensation is with him comparatively
rare, and he is very susceptible to the agreeable fumes of that
incense; but only the very weakest would be lured to the altar, and the
after-life of the lady who took him there would not be an altogether
happy one. Man and his descendants have had a grudge against the first
woman for thousands of years, for an alleged proposal of hers that is
said to have interfered with his prospects. It is not chivalrous for a
man to press a woman to “let him love her, if she can’t love him;”
it is not a very nice proposition, if he will take it home and work
it out quietly; it is something very like an insult to her, and it is
certainly not likely to be anything but a curse to him. That is when
she is endowed with those charming qualities common to most women.
When, however, as in the case I have referred to, she has a special
aversion to men generally, and him in particular, and prides herself
on the possession of characteristics that he could not admire in his
own mother, to still insist upon forcing the lady into a union with
him is to be vindictively silly. It is hardly necessary to go as far
as this to prove his determination and his title to a sort of spurious
constancy.



XXI

OF COINCIDENCES


In spite of the testimony of many worthy and some unworthy people,
I have not yet been able to accept spiritual manifestations and the
reappearance of the dead as even remotely probable. I think most of
the current ghost stories are capable of a simple explanation, if
one could only get an unvarnished statement of real facts from the
witnesses. Usually, however, those on whose authority these stories
rest, are constitutionally of such a nervous organisation that they
are physically incapable of describing with exact accuracy what they
saw or heard. When, as not infrequently happens, those who have seen
visions admit to having felt that extremity of fear which bathes
them in a cold perspiration, or makes their hair rise up straight
on their heads (this last is not, I think, alleged by women), then
there is all the more reason to doubt their testimony. Undoubtedly
curious things happen which do not admit of easy explanation, but
they are not necessarily supernatural, or connected in any way with
the return of the dead to the sight of the living. Dreams, again, are
sometimes very curious, and it might be difficult to offer a reasonable
explanation of some dream-experiences, especially those which lead to
the backing of winning horses or the purchase of prize-tickets in a
lottery. A really reliable dreamer of this kind would be a valuable
investment; but, unfortunately, there is a want of certainty about even
those who have, once in a lifetime, brought off a successful _coup_.
Still, it has happened. I myself have heard a dreamer--who was also a
dream-talker--place accurately the three first horses in a coming race;
but I had not sufficient confidence in the “tip” to take advantage of
it. In that case, too, the winner was a very pronounced favourite. Many
people say they have dreamt of strange places, and _afterwards_ seen
those places in reality, and even been able to find their way about
in them. It may be so. For myself, I cannot say I have ever had such
an experience, but I believe (I say it doubtfully, because one may be
deceived about journeys in dreamland) that I have often seen the same
places in different dreams, dreamed after intervals of years, so that,
while dreaming, I have at once recognised the place as a familiar scene
in my dreamland. But those places I have never beheld on earth. In my
early youth, scared by tales of the bottomless pit and the lake of
brimstone, I used to dream, almost nightly, of those places of torment;
but it is a long time ago, and I have quite forgotten what they were
like. I have no ambition to renew my acquaintance, or to be given the
opportunity of comparing the reality with the nightmare of my childish
imagination and a cramped position. Apart from these more or less vain
considerations, I have known some very curious coincidences, and I will
tell you the story of one of them.

I was journeying in a strange, a distant, and an almost unknown land.
More than this, I was the guest of the only white man in a remote
district of that country. It was a particularly lovely spot, and,
being an idler for the moment, I asked my host, after a few days,
what there was of interest that I could go and see. He said he would
send a servant with me to show me a cemetery, where were buried a
number of Englishmen who, some few years before, had been killed or
died in the neighbourhood, during the progress of one of England’s
successful little military expeditions. That afternoon I was led to the
cemetery in question. I have seldom seen a more glorious succession
of pictures than were presented by the view from that lovely spot;
and never in any country have I beheld a more ideal resting-place for
the honoured dead. It did not surprise me that my host told me he had
already selected his own corner, and repeatedly made it the objective
of his afternoon walks. Within a fenced enclosure, partly surrounded by
graceful, ever-green trees, lay the small plot of carefully kept grass
which formed the burial-ground. It occupied the summit of a rising
ground commanding a magnificent view of the surrounding country. From
the gate the ground sloped steeply down to a road, and then dropped
sheer forty or fifty feet to the waters of a great, wide, crystal-clear
river, flowing over a bed of golden sand. Under this steep and lofty
bank, the base all rock, the river swirled deep and green; but it
rapidly shallowed towards the centre, and the opposite shore, seven
hundred feet distant, was a wide expanse of sand, half-circled by
great groves of palms, and backed by steep, forest-clad hills. The
river made a wide sweep here, so that, looking down on it from such
a height gave it rather the appearance of a huge lake narrowing into
the distant hills. Picturesque villages lined both banks of the river,
the houses showing splashes of colour between the trees. Boats of
quaint build--sailing, poling, paddling, rowing--passed up and down
the broad stream, giving life to the scene; while at distances varying
from three miles to thirty or more, the valley was shut in by lofty
mountains, green near by, with their garment of unbroken forest, but,
in the distance, blue as an Italian sky. I drank this in, felt it all
as a feeling, this and much more with which I will not weary you, and
then I turned to look at the grass-covered mounds and wooden crosses
that marked the graves of the exiled dead. I was standing in front of
a somewhat more pretentious headstone, which marked the resting-place
of an officer killed a few miles from this spot, when, through the
wicket, came a messenger bearing a letter for me. The cover bore many
post-marks, signs of a long chase, and here at last it had caught me
in my wanderings. I did not recognise the handwriting, but when I had
opened the letter and looked at the signature, I realised that it was
that of an old lady who was but an acquaintance, and one of whom
I had not heard for years. I read the letter, and I may confess to
some little astonishment. It told me that, hearing that I was leaving
England for a long journey, and that I should eventually arrive at
somewhere in the East, the writer wished to tell me that her daughter
(whom I hardly remembered) had married a certain soldier, that he had
been killed some time before, and was buried in some place (which she
tried indifferently to name) where there were no Europeans. If I should
ever be in the neighbourhood, would I try to find his grave, and tell
them something about it; for they were in great grief, and no one could
relieve their anxiety on the subject of their loved one’s last home.

It seemed to me a somewhat remarkable coincidence that I should, at
that moment, be standing in front of the stone which told me that,
underneath that emerald turf, lay all that was left of the poor
lady’s son-in-law, the grief-stricken daughter’s husband. The
situation appealed to my artistic instincts. I sat down, there and
then, and, with a pencil and a bit of paper, I made a rough sketch of
the soldier’s grave; carefully drawing the headstone, and inscribing
on it, in very plain and very black print, the legend that I saw in
front of me. Then I went home, and, while the situation was hot upon
me, I wrote, not to the mother, but to the widow, a little account of
what had occurred, using the most appropriate and touching language I
could think of, to describe the scene and my deep sympathy. Finally I
enclosed the little picture, which I had drawn with such a compelling
sense of my responsibilities, and the unique character of the
opportunity, to show that I was a man of rather uncommon feeling. Much
pleased with the result of my efforts, I entrusted the letter to my
friend (there was no such thing as a post-office), and we became almost
sentimental over the chastened tears with which my letter would be read
by the two poor ladies.

The mother’s letter to me had wandered about for two or three months
before it came to my hands; but I learned,--ages afterwards,--that my
letter to the daughter was a far longer time in transit; not the fault
of my friend, but simply of the general unhingedness of things in those
wild places.

The letter did at last arrive, and was handed to the widow on the
day she was married to a new husband. That is why I believe in the
quaintness of coincidences.



XXII

OF A COUNTRY-HOUSE CUSTOM


I went one morning to a hotel in London to call upon a celebrated
writer of fiction, a lady, and she told me that, as a protest against
ideas which she despised, she always locked her door when she was
talking to a man. I stayed there about two hours, but I don’t
remember whether the door was locked or not, probably not; no one,
however, tried it, and my reputation survived the ordeal. The practice
is unconventional, though innocent enough. It is much more common to
find yourself in a lady’s room, at night, in a country-house in
England, and there you may talk to a friend, perhaps to two, and even,
on occasions, smoke a cigarette, while the door is seldom locked. Do
you see any harm in it? The thing itself is so pleasant that I do not
mean to discuss with you the fors and againsts; I am satisfied that
it is often done, and that I sometimes profit by the arrangement. A
century ago, or rather more, it was common enough, if not in England,
certainly on the Continent, and the guest was sometimes present while
the lady lay in bed, or made her toilette. It is conceivable that this
custom deserved to be discouraged, and it seems to have gone out of
fashion, no doubt for sufficiently good reasons.

I was once a guest in a delightful country-house in the heart of
England, a house where nothing was lacking that could contribute to
comfort, and where the hostess was attraction sufficient to draw
visitors from the uttermost parts of the earth, and keep them with
her as long as she desired their presence. She was wayward (an added
charm), and the company came and went, and some came again, but none
remained long enough to become overpoweringly tedious or compromisingly
_épris_. It was winter, the hard earth was full of “bone,” the waters
icebound, and the face of the country white with a thick covering of
frozen snow. There were but few of us in the house, and we had been
skating on the ornamental water in a neighbour’s park, miles away.
That was the only form of exercise open to us, and we had enjoyed
it. The long walk over the crisp snow and the uneven cart tracks
of a country road, the intoxicating ease and rapidity of motion
over the glassy ice, the ring of steel on that hard, smooth surface,
how distinctly they all come back! And then the trudge home in the
gathering dusk, between the woods whose snow-laden trees looked the
very picture of winter,--it was all delightful and exhilarating, and,
if our dinner-party was small, it was certainly a merry one. When we
parted on the stairs it was close on midnight, and I was standing
enjoying the blaze of my fire and the intense cosiness of my room, when
there came a knock, and what I had thought was a cupboard-door opened
to admit the head of our charming chatelaine, with an inquiry as to my
comfort and contentment, and an invitation to put on a smoking-jacket
and have a cigarette in her snuggery. I very eagerly and gratefully
accepted that offer, and a few minutes later found myself in the most
delightfully warm, cosy, and withal artistically beautiful room the
heart and mind of woman could desire or design. This boudoir faced
the front of the house, and looking over the lawn and terraces were
three French windows, through which streamed bright rays of moonlight,
for the shutters were not closed. Within, a great wood fire blazed
on a wide hearth of olive-green tiles. Two lamps, with shades of
_vieille rose_, shed a soft glow over inviting-looking chairs, thick
carpet, tables littered with books and papers, lovely bits of porcelain
and bronze, treasures in burnished silver and dull red gold. Every
chair looked as if it were made for comfort, and the whole room said
unmistakably, “This is where I live.” I should have noted the general
effect at a glance, but I had time to appreciate the details, for, when
I entered, I found the room unoccupied. In a few minutes my hostess
appeared from her room, which opened out of this fascinating retreat,
and said--

“Well, how do you like my snuggery; is it not cosy?”

I said it was charming and delightful, and everything that good taste
and an appreciation of real comfort could make it.

“I am so glad,” she said; “will you smoke one of my cigarettes?”

“Thank you, yes.”

“Shall I light it for you?”

“That would be most kind.”

“There; now we can make ourselves quite comfortable and have a real
good chat, and no one will come to disturb us. What have you been doing
with yourself all this time? What new friends have you made? What books
have you been reading? Tell me all about everything. I think you
would be more comfortable over there; don’t worry about me, this is
my favourite seat, but I change about and never sit very long in one
place. You can imagine I am your Father Confessor, so don’t keep me
waiting; tell it all, and keep back nothing; you know I shall be sure
to find you out if you try to deceive me.”

I found a seat--not exactly where I had first wished to place myself,
but where I was put--and our chat was so mutually interesting that I
was surprised to find it was 2 A.M. when my hostess told me I must go
to bed. I must have smoked a good many cigarettes, and I have a vague
recollection that there were glasses with spiritual comfort as well;
it is probable, for nothing that any reasonable human being could want
was ever lacking there. I know that I lingered, and the white light
through the curtains drew us both to the window. Never shall I forget
the incomparable picture of that snow-covered landscape;--glittering,
scintillating under the silver radiance of a full winter moon, riding
high in a clear, grey, frosty sky. The absolute stillness of it; not
a sign of life; the bare trees throwing sharp shadows on the dazzling
whiteness of a prospect broken only by the evergreens of the garden,
the cleared stone steps of the terraces, and beyond, a small stream
winding through the narrow valley, and forming a little lake of as yet
unfrozen water, its ever rippling surface showing black and sombre
under the shadow of a high bank which shut out the moonlight. The
contrast between that outside,--the coldness, the whiteness, the sense
of far-into-the-nightness, which somehow struck one instantly; and the
inside,--the warmth, the comfort, the subtle sympathy of companionship
with a most fascinating, most beautiful, perfectly-garmented woman: it
was too striking to be ever forgotten. The picture has risen unbidden
before my eyes on many a night since then, under other skies and widely
different circumstances.

Turning away from the window, I could see through an open door into
my companion’s room, and I said, “How did you get into my room?”
“Very easily,” she answered; “there is a cupboard in the thickness of
the wall between your room and mine; it opens into both rooms, but is
at present full of my gowns, as you would have seen had you had the
curiosity to look in, and the door happened to be unlocked.”

I said I had abundant curiosity, and would gratify it when I got back.

My hostess smiled and said, “There is nothing to find out now; I have
told you all there is to tell. Good night.”

“But,” I said, “why should I go all the way round, through cold
passages, when I can walk straight through to my room by this way?” and
I pointed to the open door.

“That is very ingenious of you,” she answered; “and you are not
wanting either in the quick grasp of a situation, or the assurance to
make the most of it. You do not deserve that I should pay you such a
pretty compliment! It is too late for banter; I am getting sleepy. Good
night.”



XXIII

A MERE LIE


As the tale I am going to tell you is only a lie, you will understand
that it is not of my making; I cannot even pretend to have heard it
at first hand. The author was a scientist who lied in the intervals
between his researches. It was a relief, I suppose, after too close
contact with the eternal truths of Nature. His mental fingers seemed
to wander over the keys of an instrument of romance, striking strange
chords and producing unsuspected effects in an accompaniment to which
he sang a perpetual solo.

Amongst the most eccentric of his class the Professor would still have
been a remarkable character. No one seemed to know to what nationality
he belonged, and it was useless to ask him for any information, because
of the doubt which clouded any statement that he made. Indeed, to
put it shortly, he lied like a tombstone. When I met him his only
companion was a Papuan boy, so black that a bit of coal would have made
a white mark on him; and the Professor would affectionately stroke the
child’s head, and say that when he had grown bigger, when his skull
was fully developed, he meant to take it, and was looking forward to
the day when he could examine it carefully, inside and out, and compare
it with the skulls of certain wild tribes which, he felt certain, he
should thus be able to prove were of true Melanesian origin. He would
then sometimes relate how, during a visit to Cadiz, he took a great
fancy to the head of a Spaniard whom he met there. He thought the man
was in failing health; but as he could not waste time in the Peninsula,
he looked about for some means of hastening the possibly slow progress
of disease. The Professor soon found that the owner of the head had a
reckless and profligate nephew, with whom he scraped acquaintance. To
him the Professor said that he had observed his uncle, and thought him
looking far from well, indeed, he did not fancy he could last long,
and, explaining that he was himself an anthropologist, concerned in
scientific studies for the benefit of humanity, he arranged with the
nephew that, _when his uncle died_, the Professor should pay a sum of
£30 and be allowed to take the uncle’s head. The uncle died shortly
afterwards, and the money was paid, but the nephew, a man without
principle, buried his relative in defiance of his bargain with the
Professor.

The means by which the man of science secured full value for his
investment made one of his best stories; and some day I may tell it to
you, but, when I began this letter, I had quite a different adventure
in my mind, and I will take the liberty of asking you to suppose that
the collector of skulls is telling you his own tale in his own way.

“I was in Australia, where I had already met with some strange
experiences, the last of them a disastrous expedition into the desert,
where, when I was quite alone and a thousand miles from the nearest
habitation, I fell over two precipices, first breaking my right and
then immediately afterwards my left leg. I got back to civilisation
with some difficulty, as I had to crawl on my hands most of the way,
dragging my broken legs behind me; but what really made the journey
seem long was the fact that I had to forage for my own sustenance as
well. I was somewhat exhausted by these hardships, and was giving
myself a short holiday for rest, when Australia was moved to a pitch
of the greatest excitement and indignation by the exploits of a
daring bushranger, who set the Police and the Government at defiance,
and established such a panic in the land that a party of Volunteers
was formed, sworn to track the outlaw down and bring him in alive or
dead. I do not say that I had any ultimate designs on the man’s
head, but still the skull of a person of that type could not fail to
be interesting. So, partly as a relaxation, but mainly in the cause of
science, I joined the expedition.

“It would not interest you to describe our failures--how the man
outwitted us; how, just when we thought we had him, he would slip
through our fingers, partly by his own skill, his knowledge of the
bush, and the excellence of his horses, but mainly, I think, by the
help of sympathisers, who always gave warning of our movements and most
secret plans. I will pass over all that and take you to the final scene
in the drama.

“When we were not actually in the bush we were following our quarry
from one country-place to another, as the information we received gave
us a clue to his whereabouts. It seldom happened that we passed a night
in a town, and, when not camping out, we were billeted on the people
of the district, the wealthiest and most important of them being
too glad to place their houses at our disposal. One evening, after a
hot pursuit, feeling sure we were close upon the trail of our man,
we reached a great house where a number of guests were already being
entertained. In spite of our numbers we were welcomed with effusion,
and, after dinner, the ladies of the party took advantage of the sudden
arrival of a number of young fellows ready for anything to get up an
impromptu dance. I am not a dancing man--my time has been spent in
communion with Nature, in reading in the open book of Truth--therefore
I left the revellers and went to bed.

“We had had a long and a hard day in the saddle, and I was weary, and
must have fallen asleep almost as soon as I lay down.

“Now I must tell you what I afterwards heard from others of my party.
It was a little after midnight, and the dancing was going on with
great spirit, when I--this, of course, is what they tell me--suddenly
appeared at a door of the ball-room in my night-dress, with a rifle
in my hand, and, without hesitation, I walked through the room and
out into a verandah that led towards the back of the house. My head
was thrown somewhat back, my eyes were wide open and seemed fixed on
some distant object, while I was evidently unconscious of my immediate
surroundings.

“I fear my sudden entry into the dancing-room in such a very
unconventional dress was rather a shock to some of the ladies. I am
told that several screamed, and one or more of the older ones fainted;
but for myself I knew none of this till afterwards. It appears that,
what with astonishment at my appearance, and the necessary attentions
to the ladies whose nerves were upset, a little time elapsed before any
one thought of following me. Then some one fancied he heard the sound
of a horse’s feet, and the men of my party pulled themselves together
and made for the stables, as that was the direction I seemed to have
taken.

“I was nowhere to be seen; but a stable door was open, and my horse,
saddle, and bridle had gone. Then the matter began to look serious,
and, as my friends saddled their horses and started to look for me,
riding they hardly knew where, there were rather dismal forebodings
of the probable fate of even a fully-clad man luckless enough to be
lost in the Australian bush. It was a lovely starlight night with a
young moon, and, under other circumstances, the ride might have been
pleasant enough; but the aimlessness of the whole business was becoming
painfully evident to the searchers, when the sound of a rifle-shot was
distinctly heard at no great distance. The horses’ heads were turned
towards the direction from which the sound came, and the troop pushed
on at a brisk pace. Almost immediately, a faint column of smoke was
perceived, and as the horsemen approached the spot, the embers of a
dying fire shed a slight ruddy glow in the darkness. The word was
passed to proceed with caution, but the party was already so close that
they could see my white night-dress, as I stood with naked feet by the
side of my horse, regarding, with a half-dazed expression, the smoking
rifle which I held in my hand. Sixty yards off was the thin column of
smoke rising from the dying fire.

“I was surrounded by my friends, who all spoke at once, and fired a
perfect volley of questions at me. I said, ‘Softly, gentlemen, softly,
and I will tell you all I know about it, for indeed the situation seems
strange enough. As you know I went to bed. I slept and I dreamed. I
suppose I was over-wrought, and my mind was full of the bushranger,
for I thought I was again on his track, out in the bush, on horseback
and alone. It was night, but I seemed to be riding with a purpose, or
my horse knew where he was going, for by-and-by I was drawn towards
a thin column of white smoke, the smoke of a wood fire, and then, as
I got nearer, I caught the flickering glow of dying embers. I _felt_
the object of our search was there, and I moved forward with extreme
caution, till I had got within a hundred yards, and then I distinctly
saw the outlaw lying perfectly straight on the ground, his feet towards
the fire, and his horse hobbled hard by. I say I saw the outlaw, but
I was dreaming, and in my dream I _knew_ it was the man, though I
could not see his face. I dismounted, and, leading my horse, I got to
within sixty yards of the sleeper. Then, fearing that if I went nearer
he might wake and escape me, I took a steady aim, pulled the trigger,
and--the next instant I was wide awake standing here in my night-dress.’

“Almost before I had finished I saw men looking towards the fire, which
was no dream, and we all of us now distinctly made out the form of a
man, lying on his side, almost on his face, with his feet towards the
embers and his head by the bush. Moreover, we could both see and hear
a horse, that was evidently hobbled not very far from the sleeper.
It did not take long to surround the spot where the man lay; but, as
we rapidly closed in on the sleeper, he never stirred. A moment more
and we were beside him. A dark stream, on which the glow from the
fire seemed to shed some of its own red light, was oozing slowly from
beneath the man’s chest; and, as several hands turned his face up to
the stars and the pale moonlight, it was too evident that he was dead,
and that his life had gone out with that crimson stream which flowed
from a bullet wound in his heart.

“I did not know the man myself, but several of our party recognised
him. It was the bushranger, and, as I expected, his skull was not
without features of special interest to science.”



XXIV

TIGERS AND CROCODILES


When I first came, a visitor, to the Malay Peninsula, I was struck by
the fact that wherever I went I heard stories of tigers. If, in the
course of a day’s ride, I stopped at a village to eat my luncheon,
the people who pressed round to watch me and have a chat would always
tell me a tiger story of local and comparatively recent occurrence.
Wherever I encamped for the night, I should be sure of at least one
tale of successful attack or successful resistance, where a tiger
had filled the principal rôle. When once I understood the little
peculiarity, I took it as a matter of course, and at talking time I
used to say, “Now tell me about the tiger: what was it he did?” It may
have been accident, but it is no exaggeration to say that my question
nearly always drew forth a more or less ghastly story.

Now that my visit is nearly over, it occurs to me that, though I
have accumulated an almost endless series of more or less interesting
tales of the “low, crouching horror with the cruel fangs,” I have
not retailed any of them to you. In a certain number of cases I was
myself near enough to be able to verify details, and in others I had
means of proving main facts. One is almost bound to say that, because
tiger-stories, which are worth repeating, are almost always listened
to with incredulity, or, what is worse, with that banter which often
means, in plain words, “What I have not seen myself I decline to
believe.” That is the attitude of England to the Orient in the presence
of a tiger-story with which the auditors can claim no connection. I
said that the prevalence of these tales struck me on my first arrival.
I soon became _blasé_, and for a long time I have had no curiosity
on the subject; but I will tell you of two tiger incidents that I
personally verified, as far as I was able, and I will make no attempt
to paint in the background with local colour, in order to supply you
with finished pictures.

There is an island by the western shore of the Straits of Malacca.
You would never guess it to be an island, for it is simply a block of
mangrove-covered mud, with one side towards the sea, and the other
three sides separated from the mainland by deep but narrow lagoons
of tidal water. The only inhabitants are a few wood-cutters, Malays
and Chinese, who live in huts of mat or bark with palm-leaf roofs,
while they are employed cutting mangroves and a hard-wood palm called
_Nîbong_. The huts of the Chinese are on the ground, but the Malay
dwellings are invariably raised a few feet above the damp soil, and
to them entry is obtained by means of a ladder. These hovels are very
carelessly built; they are of flimsy materials, only intended to
last for a few months, when they are abandoned and rapidly fall to
pieces. They serve their purpose. The occupants are out from dawn till
afternoon, when they return to cook, eat, and sleep; and so, from day
to day, till the job on which they are engaged is completed, and they
can return, in the case of the Malays, to their families, while the
Chinese are probably moved to another scene of similar labour.

I was obliged to tell you this; you would not understand the story
otherwise.

The island covers an area of several thousand acres, but except for
the few wood-cutters it was, at the time I write of, uninhabited. At
one spot there was a hut containing two Chinese, near it a Malay house
with eight or ten men in it, and at no great distance a large shed
with nearly a score of Chinese. One dark night, about 11 P.M., the two
Chinese who lived together were awakened by a noise in that part of the
hut where they kept their food. One of the two got up, struck a light,
and went into the back room. Immediately there was a dull thud, as of
a man knocked heavily down, and the poor wretch screamed, “Help me, it
is a tiger!” His comrade at once got out of his mosquito-curtain, and
sprang to his friend’s assistance. Seizing him by the arm, he tried
to free him from the clutches of the tiger, who already had a firm hold
of the doomed man’s leg. The tug of life and death did not last long,
for the tiger pulled the would-be rescuer down on his face, and, the
light having been extinguished in the struggle, the man’s courage
went out with it, and, in a paroxysm of fear, he climbed on to the
roof. There he remained till daylight, while, close beneath him, within
the narrow limits of the hut, the tiger dragged his victim hither and
thither, snarling and growling, tearing the flesh and crunching the
bones of the man, whose agonies were mercifully hidden. In the grey
light which heralds dawn, the watcher, clinging to the roof-ridge,
saw the tiger drag out of the house and into the forest the shapeless
remains of his late companion. When once the sun was fairly up, the
survivor slid down, and without daring to look inside the hut, made his
way to the nearest Police Station, and reported what had occurred. An
examination of the premises fully bore out his statement.

A week passed. The Malays, whose hut was nearest to that visited by the
tiger, were careful to bar their door after hearing what had happened;
but in this case the precaution proved useless. Easterns, especially
those engaged in severe manual labour, sleep exceedingly heavily, and
the men of this household were aroused by a smothered cry from one of
their number; the noise of a heavy body falling through the thatch
having passed practically unnoticed. One of the party got up, lighted a
torch, and was at once knocked down by a tiger springing upon him. In
a moment every man had seized his heavy chopping-knife, and the whole
party fell upon the man-eater, and, by the light of the fallen torch,
hit so hard and straight that the beast suddenly sprang through the
roof and disappeared. It was then, for the first time, discovered that
this was the means by which the tiger had effected its entrance, and
it left by the hole which it had made on entering the hut. The first
man attacked was dead; the second was taken to hospital, and there died
of his wounds.

There was a fourth victim. I am not certain of the facts in that case,
but he was severely injured and was sent to hospital, where, I believe,
he recovered with the entire loss of his scalp. That filled up the cup
of crime. Almost directly afterwards the murderer killed a bullock;
the carcass was poisoned, and the next day the body of a tigress was
found close by that of her victim. She was not very large, eight feet
from nose to the tip of the tail; she was in splendid condition--teeth
perfect and coat glossy--but her legs and feet were disproportionately
large to the size of her body. On her head there was a deep clean cut,
and one of her fore-legs was gashed, evidently by a Malay chopper. The
most curious feature was that in certainly two out of the three cases
the tigress, who always attacked by night, the only time when the huts
were occupied, effected her entrance by springing on the roof and
forcing her way through the thin palm thatching.

There is another tiger story that I can tell you in two words. It is
curious, it sounds highly improbable; but, after hearing it on the spot
from the two men concerned, I believe it.

Quite recently it was the fruit season here, and, as is customary, two
men were watching an orchard situated on the side of a main cart-road.
The orchard was not enclosed in any way, and the fruit trees on one
side actually overhung the road. The road was divided from the orchard
by a rather wide but quite shallow ditch, that was always dry except
during rain. Fifteen or twenty feet on the inside of this ditch was a
tiny lean-to under the trees. The shelter consisted of a raised floor
of split bamboos, covered by a palm-thatch roof, and a narrow sort of
bench, also under the roof, but level with the floor. The bench was
next to the high road.

On the night of which I write, one man was sleeping on the bench,
the other on the floor of the shelter. It was fine, with a young,
early-setting moon; the scattered houses of a considerable village were
all round, and there was nothing to fear.

I said before that natives sleep soundly, and you must believe it,
or you will never credit my story. About 1 A.M. the man sleeping
on the floor of the shelter heard his friend shouting for help.
The voice came from the ditch by the road, and thither the man
ran, shouting “What is the matter?” “Thieves!” promptly replied
the other, but a moment’s conversation dispelled the idea born
of his partially-awakened intelligence, and led them to the true
interpretation of the riddle. The man in the ditch said then, and
says now, that he was asleep, and knew nothing till he suddenly
found himself thrown in the ditch, when he awoke and shouted, “Help,
thieves!” But, all the same, when he tried to get up, and his friend
helped him to the shelter and got a light, it was seen that he had a
deep gash in the shoulder, which kept him in hospital for nearly three
weeks. The light also showed the track of a tiger up to the bench,
thence to the spot in the ditch where the man was lying, and straight
across the high road into another orchard. One other thing it showed,
and that was a patch of earth on the top of the wounded man’s head.

The friend’s theory, shared by all the neighbours, is this. He points
to the exact position in which the sleeper was lying, and how a post,
from ground to roof, completely protected the back of his neck, so that
the tiger could not seize him as he must have wished to do. Owing to
the man’s position, and the way the post of the house and the rails
of the bench (for it had a sort of back) ran, the tiger had to take
a very awkward grip of his prey, catching him by the shoulder, and
therefore carrying him with his head almost on the ground. Three or
four steps, a second or two in time, would bring him to the shallow,
dry ditch. It was so shallow that he would not jump it, but the
in-and-out of a tiger with a kill would be the equivalent of a jump.
In he would go easily enough, but the cut slope of the ditch and the
slight rise into the road on the other side just saved the man’s
life, for the top of his head hit against the edge of the ditch, and,
awkwardly held as he was, knocked him out of the tiger’s mouth.

Once dropped, the beast would not return to pick his prey up again,
especially with one man shouting and the noise of the other coming to
his assistance.

The tiger is the scourge of the land, the crocodile of the water. They
seem to be complement and supplement--each of the other: the “golden
terror with the ebon bars,” the very embodiment of vitality, sinew,
and muscle--of life that is savage and instant to strike--and the
stony-eyed, spiky-tailed monster, outwardly a lifeless, motionless
log; but, once those pitiless jaws open, it is only a question of what
tooth closes on the victim, whether it be “The last chance,” “Tear the
shroud,” or “God save your soul.”

I was starting for some hot springs in a remote spot, far in the
interior, where I was certain of finding both elephant and rhinoceros,
and the second night of my journey I spent at the junction of two large
streams. Strolling back from a swim in the river, the local chief told
me this pathetic story of fruitless heroism.

The country hereabout is very sparsely peopled, only a few scattered
huts breaking the monotony of the virgin forest, Malays and wild tribes
the sole inhabitants. Every house is on the bank of a river, and beyond
the produce of their rice-fields and orchards the people rely mainly on
the water to supply them with food. The Malay is exceedingly cunning
in devising various means for catching fish, but what he likes best is
to go out in the evening, just at sundown, with a casting-net. Either
he wades about by himself, or, with a boy to steer for him, he creeps
along in a tiny dug-out, throws his net in the deep pools, and usually
dives in after it, to free the meshes from the numerous snags on which
they are sure to become entangled.

One evening, a few days before my arrival, a Malay peasant was netting
in the river accompanied by his son, a boy of twelve years old. They
were wading, and, while the father moved along the edge of the deeper
water under the bank, the boy walked in the shallows out in the stream.
The short twilight passed, and the darkness of night was gathering over
the waters of the wide river, when suddenly the father was startled by
a cry from the boy, and, as he turned, he shuddered to hear the one
word, “crocodile,” come in an agonised scream from the poor child.
Dropping his net, the man swam and stumbled through the shallowing
stream to the boy’s rescue. The child was down, but making frantic,
though hopelessly ineffectual struggles to free himself from the grip
of a crocodile which had him by the knee and thigh. The man was naked,
except for a pair of short trousers; he had no weapon whatever, yet he
threw himself, without hesitation, on the saurian, and with his hands
alone began a struggle with the hideous reptile for the possession of
the boy. The man was on the deep-water side of his foe, determined at
all costs to prevent him from drowning the child; he had seized the
creature from behind, so as to save himself from its claws, and he
tried to find, through darkness and water, the eye-sockets, by which
alone he could hope to reach a vulnerable joint in its impenetrable
harness. The father’s fury and despair guided his hands to the
reptile’s eyes, and pressing his thumbs with all his might on these
points of less resistance, he inflicted such pain that the creature
gave a convulsive spring which threw the man backwards into the
water. But the boy was released, and the saurian retired from the
fight to sulk and blink over his defeat in some dark pool beneath the
overhanging grasses of the river bank.

The man carried the boy on shore, and thence to his home; but the poor
child was so severely injured that, with no skilled surgeon to attend
him, he died after three days of suffering.



XXV

A ROSE AND A MOTH


When I came again to this enchanted mountain, above the steaming
plains, the first thing I did was to wander in the garden, amid the
sweet-smelling blossoms and the bees and butterflies, and feast my eyes
upon the ever-new loveliness of the changeless hills, the changeful sky
and sea, that crowd the prospect with a thousand pictures of infinite
beauty and inspiring grandeur. Then I saw a perfect rose, a rose of
divine, deep colour--betwixt rubies and red wine--of the texture of
finest velvet, and I gathered it. Once, long ago, at least so it seems,
you gave me the fellow of this rose, plucked from the same tree. To me
this flower will always suggest you, for, beyond the association, there
are certain characteristics which you share with it, “dark and true and
tender,” a rare sweetness of perfume and, in the heart of the rose, a
slumbering passion, the like of which will some day wake you to the
joy or the sorrow of life. I have treasured that sweet-scented blossom
as long as it would stay with me; and now, when the petals are falling,
I see that they are the counterpart of three rose-petals that had
travelled from far over sea in a letter from you. They came the bearers
of their own message, and now I seem to read it. Have I been very
dense, or am I only fatuous now? Why can’t they speak, these things
you have touched, or do they speak and I lack understanding? At least
you sent them, and that is much from you. I am grateful, and if I am a
prey to vain imaginings, you will forgive me, and understand that I did
not, presumptuously and with indecent haste, set about the construction
of a castle that, even now, has but my wish for its unsubstantial
foundation.

Last night, this morning rather, for it was between midnight and 1 A.M.,
I was reading that very weird story about a phantom dog. I was deeply
engrossed in the weirdest part of it, when I heard a buzzing noise,
and in a dark corner behind the piano I saw a pair of very strange
eyes approaching and receding. They were like small coals of fire,
extraordinarily brilliant, with a pinkish flame, shedding light as
well as containing it. I realised that they were the eyes of what
looked like a very large moth, whose wings never ceased to move with
marvellous rapidity.

My chair was touching a table on which was a long vase of perfume-laden
lilies, white lilies with yellow hearts, and by-and-by the moth flew
to the flowers and stood, poised in air, before a lily-blossom. There
were two very bright lights on the table, and the creature was within
two feet of me, so I saw it plainly enough. The wings never for an
instant stopped their vibration, and it was so rapid that I could not
tell their form or colour. Once directly opposite the flower, the moth
produced a delicate proboscis, which it inserted into the blossom,
and then slowly pushed it right up the stamen, apparently in search
of honey. When extended, this feeler was of quite abnormal length, at
least two or three inches. What, however, surprised me was that, having
withdrawn the probe (for that was what it looked like, a very fine
steel or wire probe, such as dentists use), the instrument seemed to
go back into the moth’s head, or wherever it came from, to be again
extended to sound the depths of another blossom. There! it is past
midnight, and I hear the buzzing in the next room; here it comes; and
I can examine the creature again. Alas! what a disappointment: this is
a horned beetle. I thought it made over-much noise for my interesting
friend. Now to continue my tale.

I observed the moth had a large, dark, cigar-shaped body, with two
longish _antennæ_, much stouter than the proboscis, and infinitely
shorter. After pursuing its researches into the internal economy of
several lilies, the thing flew into my face, and I ought to have
caught and examined it, for then the feeler had disappeared; but I was
surprised and rather alarmed, and I thought it would return to the
flowers, and I could again watch, and, if necessary, catch it. It made,
however, for a dark corner, and then buzzed about the wooden ceiling
till it came to an iron hook from which hung a basket of ferns. I was
carefully watching it all the time, and at the hook it disappeared, the
buzzing ceased, and I concluded the creature had gone into a hole where
it probably lived. To-day, in daylight, I examined the ceiling all
round the hook, but there was no hole anywhere.

Now is this the beginning of the dog business, and am I to be haunted
by those fiery eyes, by the ceaseless clatter of those buzzing wings,
and the long supple feeler that suggests the tortures of dentistry,
and may probe deep into the recesses of my brain? It can’t, I
think, be liver, for I have not yet learnt on which side of me that
useful organ lies, and it is not drink. If it is only a moth of a
rather uncommon kind, I suppose the fire in its eyes is to light
it through the darkness; but I never before saw a moth going into
raptures over flowers, and I can’t yet understand where it puts
away that instrument of torture, unless it winds it round a bobbin,
inside its head or its body, when not using it. It reminds me of a
man I saw swallowing swords at the Aquarium. I was quite willing to
admire and believe, until he took up a sword, the blade of which, by
outside measurement, stretched from his mouth nearly to his knee, and
swallowed it to the hilt at one gulp. Then I doubted; and the knotty
sticks, umbrellas, and bayonets, which he afterwards disposed of
with consummate ease, only increased my dislike for him. Still this
proboscis is not an umbrella, and though it is about twice as long
as the moth itself, and seems to come out of the end of its nose, I
know so little of the internal arrangements of these creatures that I
dare say this one can, by winding the instrument up like the spring
of a watch, find room for it in its head. Why the thing won’t keep
its wings still, and sit quietly on the petals of the flower while it
thrusts that probe into the lily’s nerve-centres, I can’t imagine.
Then one could examine it quietly, and not go to bed in fear of a
deadly nightmare.

Perhaps, after all, it is the result of reading about that “Thing too
much,” that starving, murderous cur, at 1 A.M.; if it is, I had better
go to bed now, for it has just struck the hour. Am I wrong about the
message of the rose? You see how hard I try to do your bidding.



XXVI

A LOVE-PHILTRE


There is, to me, something strangely attractive about Muhammadan
prayers, especially those fixed for the hour of sunset. Time and
again I have gone in with the Faithful, when the priest chants the
_mu’azzin_, and I have sat by and been deeply impressed by the
extraordinary reverence of the worshippers, while eye and ear have
been captivated by the picturesque figures against their colourful
background, the wonderfully musical intoning of the priest, and the
not less harmonious responses. I do not pretend that this oft-repeated
laudation of God’s name, this adoration by deep sonorous words and by
every bodily attitude that can convey profound worship, would appeal to
others as it does to me, even when I have to guess at the exact meaning
of prayers whose general import needs no interpretation.

The fifth hour of prayer follows closely on that fixed for sundown,
and the interval is filled up by singing hymns of praise led by the
priest, or by telling, and listening to, stories of olden times. Of
Eastern places the Malay Peninsula had special attractions for me, and
the few European travellers I met there, and who, like myself, were not
bound to a programme, seemed equally fascinated. Most of them either
prolonged their stay, or determined to return for a longer visit.

It is difficult to say exactly wherein lies the spell, but there
are beauties of scenery, the undoubted charm of the people (as
distinguished from other Easterns), and the sense of mystery, of
exclusiveness, of unspoilt nature and undescribed life, that arouse a
new interest in the wearied children of the West. It is pleasant to
get at something which is not to be found in any encyclopædia, and
it is, above all, gratifying to obtain knowledge direct and at the
fountain-head. This is why I often return, in thought, to the narrow
land that lies between two storm-swept seas, itself more free from
violent convulsions than almost any other. There, is perpetual summer;
no volcanoes, no earthquakes, no cyclones. Even the violence of the
monsoons, that lash the China Sea and the Indian Ocean into periodical
fury, is largely spent before it reaches the unprotected seaboards of
the richly dowered peninsula.

Forgive this digression. I was sitting with the Faithful, and the first
evening prayer was over. The brief twilight was fast deepening into
night. The teacher excused himself, and the disciples pushed themselves
across the floor till they could sit with their backs against the wall,
leaving two rows of prayer-carpets to occupy the middle of the room. I
had asked some question which, in a roundabout way, led to the telling
of this tale.

“I remember all about it,” said a man, sitting in the corner; “he was
a stranger, a man of Sumatra, called Nakhôdah Ma’win, and he gave the
girl a love-potion that drove her mad. He was a trader from Bâtu Bâra,
and he had been selling the famous silks of his country in the villages
up our river. Having exhausted his stock and collected his money,
he embarked in his boat and made his way to the mouth of the river.
Every boat going to sea had to take water on board, and there were two
places where you could get it; one was at Teluk Bâtu on our coast, and
the other was on an island hard by. But, in those days, the strait
between the coast and the island was a favourite haunt of pirates,
and Nakhôdah Ma’win made for Teluk Bâtu to get his supply of fresh
water. He was in no hurry, a week or a month then made no difference;
so he first called on the chief of the place, a man of importance,
styled Toh Permâtang, and then he began to think about getting the
water. Now it happened that Toh Permâtang had four daughters, and the
youngest but one, a girl called Ra’ûnah, was very beautiful. When
there is a girl of uncommon beauty in a place, people talk about it,
and no doubt the Nakhôdah, idling about, heard the report and managed
to get sight of Ra’ûnah. At once he fell in love with her, and set
about thinking how he could win her, though she was already promised
in marriage to another. These Sumatra people know other things besides
making silks and daggers, and Nakhôdah Ma’win had a love-philtre of
the most potent kind. It was made from the tears of the sea-woman whom
we call _dûyong_. I know the creature. I have seen it. It is bigger
than a man, and something like a porpoise. It comes out of the sea to
eat grass, and, if you lie in wait for it, you can catch it and take
the tears. Some people eat the flesh, it is red like the flesh of a
buffalo; and the tears are red, and if you mix them with rice they
make the rice red; at least, people say so. Anyhow, Nakhôdah Ma’win
had the philtre, and he got an old woman to needle the way for him,
as one always does, and she managed to mix the dûyong’s tears with
Ra’ûnah’s rice, and, when the girl had eaten it, she was mad with
love for the Nakhôdah. He stayed at Teluk Bâtu for a month, making
excuses, but all to be with Ra’ûnah; and he saw her every day--with
the help of the old woman, of course. You can’t go on like that
for long without some one suspecting something, and, though I never
heard for certain that there was anything really wrong, the girl was
mad and reckless, and the Nakhôdah took fright. She was a chief’s
daughter, while he was a trader and a stranger, and he knew they would
kill him without an instant’s hesitation if Toh Permâtang so much as
suspected what was going on. Therefore, having got the water on board,
the Nakhôdah put to sea, saying nothing to any one. In a little place
people talk of little things, and some one said, in the hearing of
Ra’ûnah, that the Bâtu Bâra trader had sailed away. With a cry of
agony the girl dashed from the house, her sisters after her; and seeing
the boat sailing away, but still at no great distance, for there was
little breeze, she rushed into the sea and made frantic efforts to
tear herself from the restraining arms of her sisters, who could barely
prevent her from drowning herself. At the noise of all this uproar a
number of men ran down to the shore, and, when they saw and heard what
was the matter, they shouted to the Nakhôdah to put back again. He knew
better than to thrust his neck into the noose, and, though they pursued
his boat, they failed to catch him.

“When Ra’ûnah saw that she could not get to her lover, and that each
moment was carrying him farther away, she cried to him to return, and
bursting into sobs, she bemoaned her abandonment, and told her tale of
love in words of endearment and despair that passed into a song, which
to this day is known as Ra’ûnah’s Lament.

“Yes, I can remember the verses, and will repeat them if it does not
weary you. The Nakhôdah never returned.

    “‘Oh, shelter! my dear shelter! the palm stands in the plain.
      The fruit of the nutmeg falls to the ground and lies there.
      Thine is thy sister, small but comely,
      Thy diamond! the light of Permâtang Guntong.

      Oh, my shelter! I hear the measured splash of the oars;
      I see the drift-weed caught in the rudder.
      Thou art above, my protecting shelter;
      I am beneath, in lowly worship.

      Oh, my shelter! ’twas the hour of evening prayer when thou
          settest sail;
      The oars are straining and the boat reels along.
      God’s mercy is great, His promise sure;
      By His blessing we shall meet in the Garden of Paradise.

      Oh, my shelter! the breeze is blowing in fitful gusts;
      Be careful not to pull the sail to the left.
      In three months and ten days,
      Thou wilt return, my brother!

      Oh, my shelter! make for the island, Sri Rama;
      For there are two marabouts and a fish-weir.
      Though thou leavest me, be not long absent;
      In two, at most in three, months, return again.

      Oh, my shelter! the waters of the sea are calm,
      Yet do not hug the shore.
      Have no fear of my betrothed;
      Was not thy sword but lately sharpened?

      Oh, my shelter! thou camest to Teluk Bâtu,
      And the peace of my heart has gone.
      Satan delights in my undoing,
      For my heart cleaves to thine.

      Oh, my shelter! take good thought,
      The passions war with the soul.
      Do not waste the gold in thy hand,
      Lest scoffers have cause to mock thee.

      Oh, my Nakhôdah! when the mattress is spread, who will lie on it?
      Who shall be covered by the folded coverlet?
      Who will sit upon the embroidered mat,
      Or lean against the great round pillow?

      Oh, my Nakhôdah! the feast is waiting, but who will eat it?
      The water is cool, but who will drink it?
      The napkin is there, whose mouth can it wipe?
      The sireh is ready, but who will use it?
      Thy Sister is cold, who will fondle her?
      Ah-hu! ah-hu! come death, deliver me.’

“And then she fell to weeping and moaning, struggling with her sisters,
and trying to cast herself into the sea.

“That is the tale of Ra’ûnah and Nakhôdah Ma’win, and every one
knows it. Some tell it one way and some another, but that is how it
came to me. The girl was mad, mad with love and regret for six months;
and then her father married her to another man, and that cured her. I
knew the man: he was a foreigner. She and two of her sisters died long
ago, but the other is alive still.

“How to get the dûyong’s tears? Oh, that is easy enough. You catch
the sea-woman when she comes up the sand to eat the sweet grass on
shore. I told you how to do it. You have to lie in wait and she
waddles up on two sort of fins that she uses like feet, helping with
her tail. If she sees you, she tries to get back into the sea, but you
stand between her and the water and so catch her. Then, if you want
her tears, you make a palisade of sticks in the deeper water of the
bay through which she came, and there you bind her in a sort of cage,
at the surface of the water, so that she can’t move. It is like the
thing they put elephants in when they are half-tamed. When she finds
she is held fast there, and cannot get down into the deep water to her
young, she weeps, and as the tears stream down her face you catch them,
sweep them into a vessel, and you have the philtre.”

There was a pause. Then a man said, “I hear they sell dûyong’s tears
in Penang.”

The teller of the story at once replied, “Very likely, I have heard it
too; but it is probably only some make-believe stuff. You must try it
before you buy it.”

“How do you do that?”

“Easily. Rub some of the philtre on a chicken’s beak; if it is really
potent, the chicken will follow you wherever you go!”

“Have you seen that yourself?”

“No. I want no love-philtres. I manage well enough without them. I
don’t care to play with a thing you can’t control. I might get into
trouble, like Nakhôdah Ma’win. It is easy enough to give the potion,
but I never heard what you do to stop it. Anyhow, if I wanted to buy
the stuff, I should first try it on a chicken, and if it had no effect
I should not believe in it, for every one knows that the story of
Ra’ûnah and Ma’win is true, or they would not sing about it to this
day. Hark! the teacher is calling to prayer.”

A number of boys’ high-pitched voices were chanting--

    “_Bihak-illah, rizal-l’ Allah!
     A’ain-nu na, bi-aun illah!_”

and, across their chorus, came the sonorous, far-reaching tones of the
priest--

    “_Allah-hu akbar!
     Allah-hu akbar!
     Ashâd-du Allah, illah-ha il-Allah._”

When the little group of men had fallen into their places, and
the only sound in the building was the musical intoning of the
half-whispered prayers, I could not help musing on the extraordinarily
happy expression, “he found an old woman to _needle_ the way for
him.” Nothing could be more delightful than the symbol of the small,
insinuating, finely tempered, horribly sharp bit of steel that goes so
easily through things, and leaves no trace of its passage. And then
there is nearly always a thread behind it, and that remains when the
needle has gone!

I have translated Ra’ûnah’s lament for you absolutely literally,
except that the word which occurs so often, and which I have rendered
“shelter,” means “umbrella.” The umbrella here, as in other countries,
is an emblem of the highest distinction: a shelter from sun and rain,
a shield and protection, “the shadow of a great rock in a dry land.” A
yellow umbrella is a sign and token of sovereignty.



XXVII

MOONSTRUCK


Once I suggested to you that the greatest facts of life are, in
English, expressed by the smallest words, and, with that dainty,
hesitating manner that is so captivating, you almost consented to
agree. Look, for instance, at these words: God, sin, good, bad, day,
night, sun, moon, light, dark, heat, cold, earth, sky, sea, world,
peace, war, joy, pain, eat, drink, sleep, love, hate, birth, death.
They cover a good deal of ground, and you can easily add to them. A
philologist would tell you why the most profound conceptions, the
most important abstract facts, are denoted by simple words, but the
explanation might not interest you. The circle of my acquaintances does
not include a philologist; my nearest approach to such dissipation is a
friend who pretends to be a lexicographer. Now look at that word, it is
long enough in all conscience, but the idea which it represents only
makes one tired.

Whilst a good reason could be found for expressing original principles
in monosyllables, I wonder if any one can say why that fantastic
product of this century, the (so-called) educated Indian, revels in
the use and misuse of all the longest words he can find to convey his,
sometimes grotesque, but nearly always commonplace, thoughts, when he
tries to put them in English. Curiously enough, this transcendental
language, which is the peculiar pride of the Indian babu, leaves on
the mind of the listener no concrete idea, no definite conception of
what the speaker wants to say; but it does invariably conjure up a
figure typical of the class which employs this barbarous tongue as
a high-sounding medium in which to disguise its shallow thoughts.
And then one feels sorry for the poor overthrown words, the maimed
quotations, and the slaughtered sentences, so that one realises how
happy is that description which speaks of the English conversation of
East Indians as a _mêlée_, wherein the words lie about “like dead men
on a battle-field.” There must be something in the Indian’s character
to account for this; and, as a great stream of words pours from the
narrow channel of his mind, and gives expression to his turgid thoughts
in an avalanche of sound, so you will see the same extravagance of
outward display in the manner of his life, in his strange garments, his
sham jewellery, and his pitiful and disastrous attempts to ape what he
thinks is the riotous “fastness” of the quite white man. Behind this
outward seeming, there is also, in many cases, nothing, and sometimes
even less than that. Misapplied English education has a good deal to
answer for, and, if the babu has a soul, it may demand a reckoning
from those who gave it a speech in which to make known the impossible
aspirations of a class that is as rich in wordy agitation as it is poor
in the spirit and physique of a ruling race. Many babus cannot quench
revolt. Perhaps the babu is the “thing too much” in India; they could
do without him. And yet he and education, combined, make a growing
danger that may yet have to be counted with. But enough of the babu; I
cannot think how he got into my letter.

       *       *       *       *       *

My visit to this strange and beautiful country is over. For the last
time a steamer is hurrying me down one of those great waterways
which, until recent times, have been the only means of getting into
this mysterious land. The dying day supplied a feast of colour, of
momentarily changing pictures that, however familiar, seem always new,
always resplendent with amazing lights, delicate half-tints, and soft
shadows, such as only a moisture-charged atmosphere and a fiery sun can
produce. Does the thought of such an evening ever come back to you,
or are you trying to accustom yourself to the greys and neutral tints
of the life of resignation? Ah! The moon is just rising; the scene is
quite enchanting, and I must try to tell you exactly what I see.

The river is six or seven hundred yards wide. It is high tide, and,
to the eye, the picture has but three component parts--sky, wood,
and water. Sky and water are divided by a belt of wood which borders
the river. The continuous belt of trees, of varying height, growing
from out the river and up the bank, makes a deeply indented line
of vegetation. This belt is unbroken, but it rises into plumes and
graceful fronds, where some loftier palm or giant jungle-tree towers
above its neighbours, and all its foliage shows clear as an etching
against the grey-blue background. Again, the belt dips and leaves
broken spaces of sky, where the foliage suddenly dwarfs. The sky is
dark grey just above the trees, but the grey changes to blue as the
eye travels upward, and overhead the zenith is sapphire, cloudless
sapphire spangled with stars. The water is like burnished gun-metal,
and, under the shore, there is a shadow as dark and wide as the line of
trees which throws it. The moon, a perfect circle of brilliant light,
not silver nor gold, but the colour produced by silvering over a golden
ground, has just risen, and rides a short space above the trees. In the
deepest shadow, exactly where water and land meet, there is a narrow
streak of amazingly bright light; then a space of darkness, covered
by the shadow of the trees, and then a veritable column of gold, the
width of the moon, and the length of the moon’s distance above the
trees. The column is not still, it is moved by the shimmer of the
water, and it dazzles the eyes. The effect is marvellous: this intense
brilliance as of molten gold, this pillar of light with quivering but
clearly-defined edges, playing on a mirror of dark burnished steel.
Then that weird glint of yellow flame, appearing and disappearing, in
the very centre of the blackest shadow, and, above all, the Queen of
Night moves through the heavens in superb consciousness of her own
transcendent beauty, calmly satisfied to recognise that the sapphire
firmament, and all the world of stars, are but the background and the
foils to her surpassing loveliness.

As the moon rises, the reflection in the river lengthens, widens,
breaks into ripples of amber, and shoots out arrows of paler light.
Soon there is a broad pathway of glittering wavelets, which opens out
into a great silvery road, and the light of the risen moon dispels the
grey fog that hung over the belt of jungle, and tinges with silver the
few fleecy clouds that emphasise the blueness of their background.
Then a dark curtain gradually spreads itself across the sky, dims the
moonlight, veils the stars, and throws a spell over the river, hiding
its luminous highway, and casting upon the water the reflection of its
own spectre-like form.

       *       *       *       *       *

The fog clung to the river, but when we reached the sea the moon
reigned alone, paling the stars and filling the air with a flood of
delicious light. I was leaning over the side of the ship, wondering
where I could ever see such a sight again, when a man of the country
came and stood by me. I said something to him of the beauty of the
night, and he answered, “Yes, there are flowers in the moon.”

I asked him what he meant, and this is what he told me:--

“It was a night like this, and I was going with my mother, my wife,
and child to a neighbouring island to visit some relatives. We were
travelling by a small steamer, and in the early hours of the morning
were coasting along the shore of the island. The moon was then setting,
but it was extraordinarily brilliant, and I tried to find a spot in the
shadow where I could sleep. As I settled myself comfortably, I noticed
that my mother was standing, looking over the bulwark. It might have
been an hour later when I awoke, and, as we were near the port, I went
to rouse my people and collect my luggage. I could not find my mother
anywhere. The rest of my party and all the other passengers were asleep
till I roused them, and no one had seen or heard anything unusual. We
all of us searched the ship in every direction, but without success,
and the only conclusion was that the poor old lady had somehow fallen
overboard. By this time the vessel had reached the anchorage, and there
was nothing to be done but to go ashore. I took my family to the house
of our friends, some miles from the landing-place, and then wondered
what to do next. The village we had come to was on the shore, and not
very far from the place where I had last seen my mother on board the
ship. I determined, therefore, to drive to a spot as nearly opposite
that place as I could get, and then to walk along the beach, and ask at
the huts of the Chinese fishermen whether they had seen a body in the
water. The first two or three cottages I came to were empty, but I made
my way to a solitary hut which I saw standing in the centre of a tiny
bay. In that hut, to my surprise and great joy, I found my mother and
two Chinese fishermen. The men told me that they had gone out before
daylight to set their nets, and in the light of the moon, then almost
on the horizon, they saw a woman, as they described it, “standing in
the water,” so that, though her head only was visible, she seemed to be
upright, and they imagined she must be supported somehow, or resting
her feet on an old fishing stake, for the water was fifteen or twenty
feet deep there. She did not cry out or seem frightened, only rather
dazed. They rowed to the spot and pulled her into the boat, and just
then the moon sank out of sight. The old lady had lost her skirt, but
otherwise seemed little the worse, and, as far as the fishermen could
see, she was not resting on any support. When I asked her how she got
into the sea, she said she could not tell, but she was looking at the
moon, and she saw such lovely flowers in it that she felt she must try
to get to them. Then she found herself in the water, but all the time
she kept looking at the flowers till the fishermen pulled her into
their boat and brought her on shore. I took her to the house where we
were staying, and I have left her in the island ever since, because I
dare not let her travel by sea again.”



XXVIII

THE “DEVI”


I am in Agra. The Japanese say that if you have not been to Nikko
you cannot say _kekko_. That is an insular conceit, meant, no
doubt, originally for Japan and the Japanese only; but national
pride--speaking as the frog spoke who lived under half a coconut-shell,
and thought the limits of his vision comprised the universe--now
declares that the Nikko temples are incomparable. I cannot claim to
have seen all the great buildings in the world, but I have visited some
of the most famous, and I say with confidence that the Tâj at Agra is
the most perfect triumph of the architect’s and builder’s skill in
existence. I visited this tomb first by daylight, and it is difficult
to give you any idea of the extraordinary effect the first sight of it
produced on me. I drove in a wretched two-horse gharry, along a dusty
and uninteresting road, until the rickety vehicle was pulled up with
a jerk in front of a great red stone portal, and I got out. Through
that lofty Gothic arch, and framed by it, appeared a vision of white
loveliness, an amazing structure of dazzling marble, shooting towers
and minarets into a clear, blue, cloudless sky.

The Tâj--the Crown of Kings--stands on a raised terrace; it is a
considerable distance from the gate, and the eye is led to it by a
wide, straight path, bisecting a garden, which, at the first glance,
seems a mass of dark green foliage. The garden is extensive, and shut
in by a high wall. Just outside this wall, to right and left of the
Tâj, are a palace and a mosque of deep red sandstone. More than that
you cannot see, but the river Jumna flows under the rear wall of the
raised terrace on which the Tâj stands.

The marble monument, which contains the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz
Mahal, is an enormous building, and represents seventeen years’ work
of a force of twenty thousand men. But the design is so faultless, the
proportions so perfect, the whole effect so exquisitely graceful, that,
until you are close to the wide steps leading up to the terrace, and
realise that men standing by the walls look almost like flies, you are
not struck by any sense of extraordinary size.

The building itself is superb. The conception is absolutely unique,
and the harmony of every part a crowning triumph; the splendour of
material, the purity of that dazzling, unbroken whiteness--these are a
joy and a delight.

But the surroundings, the setting in which this jewel stands, are so
marvellously well calculated to exactly frame the picture, that the
whole scene seems a vision, unearthly in its beauty. When once that
sensation passes, when one has gazed, and blinked, and rubbed one’s
eyes, and compassed the reality of it all, one is profoundly impressed
by the genius that could raise such a heavenly edifice, and one is
proudly thankful to have lived that hour of life, to have felt the soul
stir, and to carry away an imperishable memory of one of the noblest of
human achievements.

The main entrance is by a great arched door, bordered by Arabic
characters in black marble let into the white wall. Pierced marble
windows admit a dim and softened light to a lofty chamber. In the
comparative gloom one slowly discerns a marble wall surrounding the
centre space. The wall is inlaid with precious stones--jasper and
onyx, sardius and topaz, amethyst, chrysobel, and sapphire, set in
floral designs. Within this enclosure are the white marble tombs of
Shah Jahan and his wife.

Last night the moon was full, and, an hour before midnight, I went
and sat in that dark stone palace, and revelled in the beauty of a
spectacle that cannot be equalled on earth. It is said that the palace
was built for Royal ladies, and was specially designed to give them
the most perfect view of the Tâj. There is an open stone verandah,
over which I leaned and gazed in ecstasy at the scene. The dark trees
of the garden spread from under the walls of the palace over a wide
space of ground, and from them rose the incomparable Tâj; minarets,
walls, and windows, blazing with silver sheen under the direct rays
of the moon, softened in the half shadows, darkening to deep tones of
grey on the river face. Slightly to the left of the Tâj, and as far
beyond it as the Tâj was from me, stood the mosque, a splendid foil to
the glittering radiance of the tomb. In the shadow, cast by the great
mass of marble, rippled the shallow waters of the wide river. The rear
walls of the building are on the edge of the bank, and beyond the Tâj
the river stretches away in a silver ribbon towards the city. In a
line to the right of the Tâj, and distant about three miles, rises a
dark hill, crowned by the Palace and Citadel of Agra. The enclosing
walls and battlements, built of the same red sandstone, were scarcely
distinguishable from the hill; but the moonlight caught the white
marble buildings within, and innumerable lights twinkled from walls and
windows.

I must have been a long time in my solitude, intoxicated by the wonder
of the night and the splendour of the scene, when I heard the strains
of a violin, played with extraordinary skill. The music seemed familiar
(for I had heard the songs of many Eastern lands), and, moreover,
I became certain that the instrument was being played somewhere in
the great building wherein I chanced to be. The sounds ceased, but
presently the musician began a Persian dance which I recognised; and
as the wild air leaped from the strings in quickening waves of sound,
the devilry of the mad nautch seemed to possess me, and it became
impossible not to beat time to the rhythm of the music. Again there
was silence, and I wondered greatly who could make a violin throb
with such feeling, and where the minstrel could be. Whilst still
absorbed by these thoughts, and anxiously listening for the faintest
sound, my ear caught the strains of an Arab love-song that I knew well
enough, but had never heard played like this before, nor yet under
such circumstances. The air was in the minor key, and was, I knew,
played only on three strings, but it seemed to wail and shiver from the
instrument out into the night, through the trees, across the bright
lights and deep shadows, to mingle with the crooning of the river, to
fill the atmosphere and soar towards the empyrean. It was like the song
of a lark at the dawn of a day in spring. The power of the musician was
such that Tâj and city, mosque and river and garden faded away, and I
distinctly saw a narrow street in an Arab town. Flat-roofed buildings,
pierced by a few small iron-barred windows, lined either side of a
street, which rose in a gentle ascent till it twisted out of sight
round a distant corner. A brilliant moon, shining in a cloudless sky,
threw into white light the roofs on one side the street. But the houses
on the other side cast a deep shadow, and in that shadow a man, with
his back to me, was standing playing the three-stringed Arab _gambus_,
and singing--singing as though for his life, in a low, sweet voice--up
to a barred window whence issued a ray of yellow light. I thought I
could even understand the words of the passionate _serenata_, though I
know almost as little of the Arabic as of the Patagonian tongue. It was
the music, the angelic skill of the violinist, which had bewitched me,
and I stood enthralled by that soul-entrancing melody.

Before you write me down an emotional ass, remember where I was, and
try to imagine what I saw, what I heard. I cannot expect to impress you
with any true idea of either scene or song.

While those yearning, thrilling, imploring waves of sound cried to the
exquisite beauty of the night, I was spell-bound. But, in the silence
that followed, I reasoned that the music came from above me, probably
from the roof, and that I might well seek the author of it. I passed
through a maze of passages, where light and shadow alternated, and, as
I groped about to find a staircase, I was guided to my object by the
strains of the violin, and a gleam of light which, striking through a
narrow window, disclosed a winding stair.

As I expected, the stairs led up to the roof, and I was not a little
surprised by what I saw there. The head of the staircase was in a
corner of the great flat space forming the roof, and a parapet, about
thirty inches high, completely enclosed it, except for a flight of
outside steps leading down to another and lower roof. The cement floor
and surrounding parapet were so brilliantly lighted by the moon, that
every inch unshadowed was as bright as day. Four people occupied the
space, and my eye was first caught by a white-robed, dark-complexioned
boy, who, leaning against the parapet, played a violin with closed
eyes, his face set in an expression of dreamy rapture. At a little
distance from him, but nearer to me, were a woman and two girls. The
woman sat upon a quantity of silks spread over the parapet, while
she leaned against a pile of cushions placed against a round stone
column. I should say she was hardly twenty. Her skin was very fair, her
complexion wonderfully clear, her hair black and abundant, her eyes
large, dark, and liquid, while long curling lashes threw a shadow far
down her cheeks. The eyebrows were strongly marked and slightly arched,
like the artificial spur of a game-cock. Her nose was straight and
rather small; her scarlet lips made a perfect Cupid’s bow, and the
upper lip was so short that it disclosed teeth of extreme regularity
with a whiteness and sheen as of pearls. The chin was round, the face
oval; the ears, hands, and feet very small, but beautifully formed.
This woman, or girl, was clothed in silk skirts of a dull red, heavy
with gold thread; she wore a jacket of white satin, embroidered with
small red and gold flowers, and fastened by three diamond brooches.
On her head, falling in graceful folds over her shoulders, was a dark
gossamer veil, studded with tiny gold stars, and bordered by a wide hem
of shining gold lace. In one hand she listlessly held a long spray of
stephanotis. She seemed absorbed by the music, and the wonder of that
soft white light, which so enhanced her loveliness that I stared in
wide-eyed admiration, forgetful of Eastern customs, of politeness, and
all else, save only that fascinating figure. At her feet, on the roof,
sat two girls, attendants, both clad in bright-coloured silk garments,
and both wearing gold-embroidered gossamer veils.

Not one of the group seemed to notice my presence, and I heard no words
exchanged.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was long past midnight; the violinist had excelled himself in
pulse-stirring dances, in passionate love-songs and laments that
sounded like the sobbing of despairing hearts. I had gradually moved
forward, and was leaning over the parapet looking towards Agra,
and feeling that no moment of a night like this could be missed or
forgotten, when suddenly I heard a sharp cry, half of surprise,
half of dread. I turned and saw my four companions all gazing with
startled eyes at something beyond me, out past the parapet, towards
the glistening river. I turned again, and I now saw a white marble
bridge stretching in a single graceful arch--an arch like a strung
bow--springing from the centre of the back wall of the Tâj across the
river, till it rested on the farther bank. There rose another Tâj! the
exact duplicate of the one standing on the hither side of the stream,
as white, as graceful, as perfect in all respects as its fellow.

The roadway of the bridge was enclosed in a sort of long gallery, the
sides of marble fretwork, with windows at intervals opening on to the
river. The roof was formed of marble slabs. One could see the shining
water through the perforated walls of the gallery; occasionally, where
two opposite windows were open, there were glimpses of the distant
lights, the palace, and the hill. The beautiful flat arch of that
bridge, its graceful lines, and the airy lightness of the structure
are unforgetable. Think of that bridge, that pure white bow of
glistening stone, spanning the river’s width, and tying Tâj to Tâj!

As I feasted my eyes, in wonder and admiration, on this alluring
vision, a mist rose from the river, gathered volume and density, shut
out the distance, enveloped bridge and river, bank and building, and
hung in a thick white cloud, the ends creeping rapidly to right and
left across the level plain. I looked upward; the moon was slowly
sinking towards the west; it had a faint bluish tinge, a common effect
at very late hours of the night, when it seems to shine with even
greater brilliance.

I turned to look for my companions, but found I was alone. There
was not a sign of lady, or maid, or minstrel. They had disappeared,
vanished without a sound; and, of their late presence, there was no
sign--except the spray of stephanotis. It was strange, I thought, as
I walked to the spot where the flower lay and picked it up, but one
cannot be astonished at anything in the East.

       *       *       *       *       *

I felt a chill puff of wind, and I glanced back towards Agra. The mist
was moving, rising rapidly in wisps; it was thin and transparent, and
I could indistinctly see the background through it. The marble bridge,
the other Tâj--that second tomb Shah Jahan _meant_ to build--were gone.
Clearly my imagination, a mirage, or the mist had played me a trick.
And then the girl, the violinist: were they also the phantoms of my
brain? Surely that was impossible. Why, I can see the girl now; I could
tell you every detail of her face, her figure, _pose_, and dress. The
violinist could have been no spirit; though he played like an angel,
his music was earthly, and perfectly familiar to me.

I gave it up and went away, wondering; but I took the stephanotis, and
it stands in front of me now in a tiny vase of water.

       *       *       *       *       *

To-day, in daylight, when the sun was high, and I had eaten and bandied
commonplaces, and knew that I was sane, I went to find the old creature
who keeps the gate of the garden of the Tâj. I asked him who was in
the Red Palace late last night, and he said that not having been there
himself he could not tell; moreover, that he did not turn night into
day, but slept, like other respectable people. I felt snubbed but still
curious, so I said--

“The boy who plays the violin, who is he?”

“What boy? Where? How should I know?” he said, but he began to look
rather startled.

“On the roof of the Red Palace, over there,” I replied, pointing to the
corner of the building visible from where we stood. “And the lady, the
young lady in the beautiful clothes, who is she?”

But the old man had started, and at mention of the girl he dropped the
stick on which he leaned; and as he slowly and painfully recovered
himself from the effort of picking it up, I heard him say, in an
awe-struck whisper, “The _Devi_!”

My attempts to extract anything further from this old fossil were
futile. He hobbled off to his den, muttering to himself, and evidently
anxious to be rid of my society.

After this rebuff I hesitate to make further inquiries from others,
because I know no one here; because the white people never concern
themselves with native matters, and are mainly interested in gossip;
and because I am conscious that my story invites doubt, and must rest
on my word alone. It is not the personal ridicule I am afraid of, but I
don’t like the idea of jest at the expense of the girl whom I saw on
that parapet, the _Devi_ whose stephanotis perfumes my room.



XXIX

THE DEATH-CHAIN


When last I wrote and told you about the _Devi_, I had a vague hope
that my stephanotis would, indirectly, prove that the lovely girl, from
whose hand it had fallen, gathered it in some heavenly garden, beyond
mortal ken, where Death and Time are unknown.

I did not like to say so, but I meant to keep the flower, and, if I had
seen it fade and die, I should have been disappointed, perhaps even
rather surprised. You will say such fantastic ideas can only come to
people whose minds have been warped by contact with Oriental mysticism;
and, while you are probably right, I reply that when you have a Tâj,
when you have an atmosphere of sunshine unsoiled by coal-smoke, when,
in fine, any really big miracle is wrought in your Western world, then
_you_ may see a _Devi_ sitting in the moonlight, _you_ may hear angelic
music played by a boy unknown to the critics, and _you_ may even weave
romances round a spray of stephanotis.

I guarded my flower carefully, and, for five days, I could not see that
it showed any sign of fading. True I kept it in water, even when I was
travelling; and, if it came from a heavenly garden, I dare say that
care was altogether needless; but we are creatures of habit, and my
Faith was not very robust, and leaned somewhat heavily on Hope. I had
to leave Agra and journey through Rajputana. On the fifth day from that
night, which I had almost said “was worth, of other nights, a hundred
thousand million years,” I was in Jaipur, and from there I visited the
glorious Palace of Amber. I restrain myself with difficulty from going
into raptures over that ancient castle, which, for so many centuries,
has stood on that distant hillside and watched its many masters come
and go, while the ladies loved, and gossiped, and hated, in the Hall of
a Thousand Delights, and the horsemen and spearmen went down from the
gates to the dusty road, the seething plains, whence many of them never
returned.

I will spare you. You are long-suffering, but there must be a limit
even to your patience. I know that _qui s’excuse s’accuse_, and
I offer no excuse for trying to draw for you the pictures that are
only seen beyond beaten tracks. Ruskin has said, “The greatest thing
the human soul ever does in this world is to _see_ something, and tell
what it _saw_ in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who
can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly
is poetry, prophecy, and religion all in one.” If thousands can think
for one who can see, surely there must be still thousands who see and
cannot tell “in a plain way” what they saw. There are millions whose
eyes are to them only what animals’ eyes are--aids to the gratification
of appetite. There are thousands more who do see and appreciate, yet
cannot put what they have seen into words; cannot communicate their own
feelings, cannot help another to share, even a little, in the joy that
has come to them through greater opportunities. I have often wondered
why people who have seen the most interesting places on earth, have
been present perhaps on memorable occasions, and have met the most
famous people of their time, showed, in their conversation, no sign
of these advantages, and, if questioned, could only give the most
disappointing, uninteresting description of any personal experiences.
Then there are the very few who have seen, and can help others to see
again, through their eyes; but they seldom do it, because they have
found that, with rare exceptions, the relation of their experiences is
but little appreciated. Ruskin himself is one of the few who can see
and can describe, but others may hesitate to string the plain words,
knowing how little worthy they will be of what the eyes have seen.

Some of this I may have been thinking, as I slowly made my way back
to Jaipur; but, when I reached the house of my sojourn, almost the
first thing I noticed was that the tiny vase which had carried my
spray of stephanotis was empty of all but water. Of course I sent for
everybody, and made minute inquiries, and, of course, every one had
seen the flower, and no one had touched it, and I was left to draw any
conclusion I pleased.

I drew none. There are no data on which to come to a conclusion; but
the facts remind me of a story I will tell you.

I have an Italian friend. He is a very uncommon type, and worthy of far
more attention than I will give him now, because, for the moment, I am
concerned rather with his story than with him. He was in Egypt, and
whilst there he discovered a buried city. Carefully and wisely he kept
his knowledge to himself, till, owing to an absence of some months, he
lost all trace of the place, and never found it again. A sand-storm had
buried it once more.

The original discovery was purely the result of accident, and his
first researches had to be conducted in secrecy, without assistance,
otherwise the _trouvaille_ would have become public property. His
explorations led him to a building that he believed was a tomb;
and having, by laborious efforts, gained an entrance, he had the
satisfaction of proving that his surmise was correct, and also the
reward of finding in the chamber a single sarcophagus, containing a
mummified girl, or woman, in wonderful preservation. He knew the common
superstition that disaster would befall any one who disturbed a mummy;
but he thought little of the tale, and did not mean to be deterred from
removing the body when he should have the means to do so. Meanwhile he
had to be content with what he could carry, and that consisted of a
few coins, and a necklace which he unfastened from the lady’s poor
shrivelled neck, or rather from the cere-cloths in which it was swathed.

Perhaps you have never seen one of these mummy necklaces; they are
rather curious, and, from my friend’s account of it, the one he
found nearly resembled others which I have seen myself. The material
seemed to be some kind of pottery, or opaque glass made into rough
beads, and short lengths of small glazed piping, strung together in
a quaint pattern. The prevailing colour was a sort of turquoise with
an extra dash of green, and every bit of piping was so tinted; but,
alternately with these blue lengths, were strung groups of round beads,
in bunches of two to six or eight, or even more. By far the majority of
the beads were turquoise-blue, but some were yellow, others brown, and
a few almost black, and the arrangement was such that it could easily
have been made to represent a string of words. The effect of the chain
was _bizarre_ but attractive, and it somewhat resembled the rosaries
worn by devout Arabs. The intrinsic worth of the thing was _nil_, but
sometimes one has a friend who will accept and value _un rien_ like
this, for the sake of the giver, when jewels would be declined. My
Italian had such a friend, and the bauble found a new home on her neck.

Not long after she had begun to wear the quaint little chain which
had lain for so many centuries round the throat of the dead Egyptian,
its new owner was distressed and alarmed by a persistent form of
nightmare, which gradually induced a feeling that she was haunted by
the wraith of a dark-skinned girl, of a type of feature unlike any
known to her, but clad in raiment such as she fancied had been worn
by Egyptians in the days of the Pharaohs. The apparition was always
clothed in the same manner, and though she wore a number of strangely
fashioned ornaments, her neck was left completely bare. The girl seemed
to be ever present in her dreams, and her face always wore a look of
extreme distress, as of one who grieved for the loss of some dearly
beloved friend or possession. The curious part of it was, that the
dream-girl seemed always to come to the sleeper as to one from whom
she could get relief; and while, in her earlier appearances, she had
the expression and the manner of a supplicant, the dreamer fancied
that latterly there had been a change, and the dark face looked both
agonised and threatening.

These visitations, which could not be ascribed to any reasonable cause,
had so got on the lady’s nerves that she had gone for change to a
villa on the coast of Normandy. The change of scene brought no relief.
The haunting form of the Egyptian girl, though not a nightly visitor,
was so constantly present, that the dread of seeing her deprived sleep
of all power of giving rest, and the poor lady was not only becoming
seriously ill, but she was so affected by her uncanny infliction, that
she even sometimes imagined she caught glimpses of her tormentor when
she herself was wide awake.

One afternoon, the lady was lying in a darkened room, the _persiennes_
closed to keep out the hot and penetrating rays of a summer sun. She
felt very weary and despondent, the result of many broken nights and
the prolonged strain on her nerves, and, though she held a book in
her hand she was all the time wondering how much longer she could
bear this oppression, and what she had done to deserve such a weirdly
horrible fate. In a dull sort of way she supposed she must be going
mad, and felt with grim cynicism that the border-land between sanity
and insanity was so narrow that she would hardly realise the moment
when she crossed it. There was absolute silence everywhere, except for
the faint soothing whisper of the sea, rippling over the sand beneath
the wooded bluff on which the villa stood. The air was warm and heavy
with summer perfumes; the room was darkening slowly as the sun dipped
towards the placid waters of La Manche; the woman was deadly weary, and
she slept.

At first her sleep must have been sound; but, after a time, her eyes
opened to that other consciousness which is of the world of dreams,
and once again she saw her now dreaded companion, the dark-eyed,
dark-skinned girl from the land of the Pharaohs. The girl seemed to
plead in impassioned terms for something, but the dreamer could not
understand the strange words, and racked her brain, as dreamers will,
to try to imagine their meaning. The girl burst into a storm of tears,
sinking to the ground in her grief and despair, and burying her face
on a pile of cushions. Still the dreamer, suffering torture herself,
was helpless to relieve the other. Then suddenly the girl sprang
up, and, dashing the tears from her eyes, which now seemed to blaze
with murderous resolve, she sprang upon the white woman, enlaced her
throat with supple brown fingers, pressed and pressed, tighter and
tighter--ah, God! the horror and the suffocating pain of it--and all
the while the sleeper’s hands seemed tied to her side. Then with a
scream the dreamer awoke. She felt her eyes must be starting from her
head, and instinctively raised her hands to her throat, only to realise
that her vivid sensation of strangulation was merely a nightmare, but
that the chain--the string of turquoise beads which she had never
unfastened from the day she first put it on--was gone.

There was now little light in the room, only enough to see things
vaguely, yet the lady declares that in that first moment of waking she
distinctly saw a figure, exactly like that of the girl of her dreams,
glide swiftly away from her and pass out through a _portière_ into the
verandah. For some time she was too frightened and unnerved to move,
but when at last she summoned her people they had seen no one.

The only thing that was real was that she had lost the necklace, and
never saw it again. As some compensation she also lost for ever the
society of her dream-visitor, and completely recovered her own health.

Now who took my stephanotis?



XXX

SCANDAL AND BANGLES


For years I have not been so angry as I am at this minute; I have
very nearly lost my temper, and the reason is really ridiculous. Why
I should choose this as a favourable opportunity for writing to you I
cannot tell, but my tormentor had no sooner left the room than I seized
the pen, which is nearly always ready to my hand, and you are the
victim. The cause of this unusual and unseemly frame of mind is a girl,
quite a pretty girl, who walked in here, _sans cérémonie_, and, after
a few minutes’ desultory conversation, told me a preposterous piece of
gossip about myself, a fantastic story in which there was not a grain
of truth.

“Who says that?” I asked.

“Everybody says so.”

“Then everybody is mistaken.”

“Of course you deny it; but it is true, all the same.”

“It is not in the least true, and I am prepared to swear that in any
form of oath.”

“I dare say you are, but no one will believe you.”

“Very well. Now what does your story rest upon?”

“The evidence of people’s senses. Every one has seen you.”

“I cannot deal with ‘every one,’ it is too indefinite. You say I
went to some one’s house,--not that it would matter the least if I
did,--but who saw me?”

“I did.”

“You did! I never was in the house in my life.”

“Try to remember. I have seen you go in and also seen you come out of
it.”

“If it were not so stupid, one might almost get angry. I repeat that I
have never been in the house, nor spoken to the owner.”

“And I, having seen with my own eyes, maintain that you have.”

“You have mistaken some one else for me, or drawn on your imagination,
for what you say is absolutely untrue. But, as you seem to have
constructed a fantastic story on that insecure foundation, I have a
good mind to charge you with defaming me.”

“By all means, and I will go into court and say what I know and you
know to be true.”

Now, what can you do with a person like that? If I were the judge,
trying my own cause and knowing there is not a semblance of a particle
of truth in this absurd tale, I believe that if a witness appeared and
gave evidence against me with this sublime assurance, I would decide
the case against myself.

The wasp has still a sting left; she says, “You sent your carriage to a
lady, that she might drive in it?”

“I did.”

“And she sent it back.”

“She did.”

“She would not use it because of what I have told you, and she does not
want to see or speak to you again!”

I said I should not die of the affront, nor commit any rash act if the
lady adhered to her determination; but I admit that, though I laughed,
I was beginning to lose my temper, and I told my tormentor that if
I could whip her it would be a satisfaction! She also laughed, but
as I had seen that she was brimful of merriment all along, that was
nothing. By-and-by she disclosed that she wanted me to do something for
her, and, when I had heaped coals of fire on her head by doing what she
wished, she went away asking me if I had any message for the lady who
had refused my carriage! I heard her laughing all the way downstairs,
and, as she insisted on walking through the grounds to her carriage, I
fancy I can hear her giggling still.

I think I remarked once before that the train of another’s thoughts
are not easy to divine, but explanations are boring, so I leave you to
supply the connection between what I have just written and what now
occurs to me to tell you. It is not only fowls and curses that come
home to roost.

Once upon a time there was a very beautiful and attractive lady, the
wife of a high official in India. She was of those who have but one
admirer at a time, and that one very devoted. Women of her type cannot
share with any one else the attentions of their cavaliers; they insist
upon a service that is complete and unquestioning, dog-like in devotion
and obedience; and they do not seem to care if it is also dog-like
in its inability to do more than gaze in rapture at the face of its
mistress. I have known cases of the kind myself, and marvelled to see
how the lady and her slave can stand, and sit, and walk together,
with no one to disturb their confidences, and yet they never seem to
speak. As far as I can understand, that was the case with the heroine
of my tale and her _cavaliere servente_. They were on the hills or in
the plains--it does not matter where--when a native Prince appeared
upon the scene. He was a delightful and fascinating person, but
wicked beyond the dreams of wickedness. He stayed several months in
the station, and when about to return to his own native state, he
called upon an English friend of his and said, “I am going away; I
speak English very indifferently; I wish to say good-bye to some of my
friends: will you come with me?” The Englishman at once said he would
be delighted, and they set out on a round of calls, the Prince saying
where he wished to go. Amongst other houses they visited that of the
engaging lady, and after a few words explaining his early departure
and regret, the Prince produced a number of beautiful gold bangles,
and said he trusted the lady would accept them as a token of his
respectful admiration. This was duly interpreted, and the lady replied
that as her husband held a Government post she could not accept any
present. The Prince said he trusted that she would not persist in this
determination, because he was merely a visitor, and as the lady’s
husband had no authority or influence in his territory, he could not
believe that the ordinary rules would apply to a gift of such small
value, which was merely an expression of his esteem and thanks for the
kindness he had received. Meanwhile the bangles had been tendered to
the lady; they had lain in her hand, and she appreciated their curious
design and artistic excellence.

“What shall I do?” said the lady, appealing to the Englishman.

“What you please,” he replied.

It is possible that it was out of consideration for the feelings of the
donor that she then said--

“My husband would never let me accept the bangles, but I should like to
keep them if I knew that you would say nothing.”

“Pray do not think of me,” said the friend; “I am an accident in the
interview, and, when I leave the house, I shall have forgotten all
about it.”

“Then I shall keep them.”

One evening, about a fortnight or three weeks later, the lady was
dancing with the man who had interpreted, and he said, “Will you allow
me to admire your bangles: they are not only beautiful in themselves
but exceedingly becoming.”

“Yes,” she replied, “but the unfortunate part of it is that my husband
thinks they have been given to me by some one else, and I can’t
enlighten him, for I dare not tell the truth!”

_P.S._--The lady who refused to use my carriage has just sent me an
invitation to dinner!



XXXI

THE REPREHENSIBLE HABIT OF MAKING COMPARISONS


I am not given to the use of postscripts, but I indulged myself with
one in the last letter I wrote to you. It reminds me of the only _bon
mot_ to which I can lay claim. When I was about six years old, my
mother and I were visiting an aunt of mine, and, one evening, my mother
read aloud to my aunt a letter she had just received. It was lengthy,
and no doubt interesting to the two ladies, while the contents were
probably beyond my comprehension. “Little pigs have long ears,” and I
noticed that, at the conclusion of the letter, my mother read “_P.S._,”
and then some final sentences. Immediately afterwards I was ordered to
bed, and, once there, my mother came to see me. My small mind was full
of this new idea, and I was thirsting for information as to the meaning
of these mysterious letters. Therefore, when my mother had bid me good
night and was going away, I said, “Mother, what does _P.S._ mean; is
it Parting Subject?” She smiled and said, “No, the letters stand for
_post scriptum_, but the meaning is not very different.” She afterwards
helped me to wrestle with the Latin grammar, and in time I arrived at
the exact translation of _post scriptum_, but my childish rendering
of _P.S._ would do just as well. I was made to bitterly regret having
ever suggested it; for, when my proud mother told the story, my various
brothers and sisters, separately and collectively, insisted that some
one had told me to say it, and I am not sure that they did not, each in
turn, give me a thrashing to impress upon me the vice of “trying to be
sharp.” When children have brothers and sisters, their schooling begins
early and lasts a long time--fortunately for themselves and the world
at large.

That, however, has nothing to do with the matter I was going to write
about. I suppose you sometimes look through those galleries of garments
which begin and end ladies’ journals, just as I occasionally glance at
the advertisements of new books, which I find at the end of a modern
novel. The other day I was idly turning over the pages of such a series
of advertisements (each page devoted to one book, and quotations from
the newspaper reviews of it), and I could not help noticing how, in the
case of every book, if not in every _critique_, the author was compared
with some well-known writer--Dickens, Thackeray, George Meredith, Zola,
Ibsen, De Maupassant--it does not seem to matter who it is, so long
as it is some one. As for Mr. Rudyard Kipling, a writer who mentions
India, China, Japan, Siam, the French or Dutch Indies, or any place
within two or three thousand miles of them, is certain to find himself
compared with the astonishingly talented author of “Soldiers Three,”
“The Drums of the Fore and Aft,” and a dozen other tales that had made
Mr. Kipling famous in India years before his name had been heard in the
West.

I know that whenever we visit a new place, we have a ridiculous desire
to compare it with some totally different spot that is familiar to us;
and I suppose we make the comparison, either because we want to show
that we have been somewhere and seen something, or because we are so
devoid of ideas or language to express them, that this comparison is
our only means of description. Like London, only bigger; Petersburg in
winter, but not so cold; bluer than the Mediterranean, and so on. It
seems to imply poverty of resource; but if to help readers to realise
the appearance of a spot in New Zealand, that place is compared with
the Carse of Stirling, the information is not of much use to those who
do not know their Scotland.

Is it the same with literary critics? Hardly, I fancy; because even
though they write easily of Lake Toba, the Thibetan highlands, or more
or less known writers, it can’t give them any real satisfaction, for
their own names are but seldom disclosed.

Enlightened people who attend places of Christian worship, often wish
that the occupant of the pulpit would read a sermon by some great
divine, rather than stumble through an original discourse, which
possibly arouses only the scorn, the resentment, or the pity of his
hearers. The preacher who is conscious of his own want of eloquence, or
realises that the spring of his ideas trickles in the thinnest and most
uncertain of streams, may seek to improve his language, or replenish
his own exhausted stock of subjects, by studying the sermons of abler
men. I doubt if he is greatly to be blamed. Some illustrious writers
have won renown after a diligent study of the works of dead authors,
and a suggestion of the style of a famous master may be observable in
the work of his admirer; just as a modern painter may, consciously or
unconsciously, follow the methods, the composition, or the colour
schemes of a genius who has given his name to a school of imitators. It
would, however, be a little unreasonable to compare all play-writers
with Shakespeare, all essayists with Macaulay. If there is nothing new
under the sun, two or more men or women, contemporaries, may have the
same ideas on a given subject without either being open to a charge
of plagiarism. They may express the same ideas differently, or put
different ideas in somewhat the same style of language: both may have
drawn inspiration from a more or less original source, not generally
known or quoted--in all these cases comparisons may be, and often
are, simply inept. Some subjects are not yet entirely exhausted, and
while it is interesting to compare the different views of recognised
authorities, it is annoying to both writers and readers to find that
the highest flight of criticism of a new work seems often to consist in
mentioning the names of other writers on the same subject--as though
it were, in a sense, their personal property, or they had some vested
interest in it, by reason of discovery or continual harping on that
particular theme. I suppose reviewers, except in a few instances,
have no time to really read the books they criticise, and judge them
on their merits; but, if they could, it would be more satisfactory
to possible readers, who, as things are, can form very little opinion
of what a book contains, its relative value or worthlessness, from
statements like this, which purports to be an extract from a review in
a leading London paper:--

    “The opening chapters have a savour of Dickens; the climax is
    almost Zolaesque.”

Or this:--

    “The knowledge of character revealed reminds us of George
    Eliot’s ‘Scenes of Clerical Life.’”

You will think that one who wanders from an infantile legend about the
word _postscript_ to a growl anent newspaper reviews, is indifferently
qualified to criticise any one or anything. As a letter-writer I
acknowledge that I am inconsequent. I do not even seek to be otherwise.



XXXII

A CHALLENGE


Oh! Oh! Oh! What a storm! But are you not a little unreasonable?

You are not a circulating library, you say, nor a railway book-stall;
you don’t want to hear tales of forest and flood which have
no personal interest for you or me; and you cannot carry on a
correspondence with a phrase-book, a thing that has no existence as a
human being, and, when not lecturing you, or taking advantage of your
good-nature to air boring platitudes, is doling out little stories to
you, as though you were a child in a Sunday School.

My dear lady, I hope that you feel better after that tirade; but as you
have attacked me with violence, and at all points at once, I claim the
right to defend myself, and again I say you are unreasonable. We were
never strangers to each other, or so it seems to me, but circumstances
and a certain mental attraction drew us into friendship. In the
delight of your society I realised what it would be to me if, through
that friendship, I might win your affection. I even dreamed that I
might compel the impossible, and attain to an earthly paradise of sweet
alliance whence no mortal promises and no inspired writings could ever
win me.

Whilst we dream of life’s big possibilities, its little duties drive
us where they will. We were parted, and, if I do not now remind you
of that time, it is because I know that there are few things a woman
hates more than to be told she once, by word or deed, showed any tender
feeling for a man who no longer holds the same place in her regard. You
went and I stayed; you spoke and I believed; and what I did not say was
only what you told me not to repeat, lest parting should seem over-hard
to bear. Then I wrote and you wrote, and, at first, your letters were
so fine a gift that they almost consoled me for your absence, and, in
my great gratitude, I wrote some of the thoughts of my inmost heart. My
fervour seemed to frighten you, and the chill of your surroundings came
through your letters to me. It may have been the fault of those about
you; it may have been that you were tried beyond endurance, possibly
even that I, in some indirect way, was a cause of your distress. But
you never said so; you never took me into your confidence and frankly
told me you were in any trouble; only your letters went through those
phases which I, once, cynically suggested were the common fate of those
whose friendship could not survive a real separation. I was too slow
to at once trim my sails to the varying breeze, nor could I call back
letters which were already on their way. Therefore I fell under your
displeasure, and you ordered me to write only of “the daily round, the
common task.” I obeyed you, as nearly as I was able. When you asked
me to tell you of what I saw, of what I was doing, I attempted to do
so, and to make the telling as little personal as I could. To weary
you with the trivialities of my daily life, to describe to you the
wearisome people I met, the _banalités_ they uttered--that was beyond
me. Therefore, to try and interest you, I gave you the best of what had
interested me, and even that was only done with some sacrifice, for
you know my time is not all my own. Naturally those letters were empty
of personal reference. To have written of myself would have been to
write of you, and that might have brought down on my head another storm
of invective. I am in the position of the burnt child: I dread the
fire. Even now I dare not accept your invitation. I might write, and,
before the letter could reach you, receive from you another missive,
telling me your present letter was written under an impulse you regret
but cannot explain, and that of course it meant nothing. You would add
that you delight in the discussion of abstract questions, and queer
little stories are, to you, as rain to dry land. Then I can imagine the
sternly traced characters of that other destroying scroll, in which
you would sum up the tale of my sins, after reading such a letter
as I might send in answer to your present message of discontent and
provocation. So, I warn you. I shall give you time to think; in spite
of your scoffing, I shall continue to write to you as I have done in
these latter days; and then--and then--your blood be on your own head.
If the outward cold of damp and fog, of weeks of sunless gloom and
surroundings of rain-drenched rows of hideous dwellings, muddy roads,
sullen skies, and leaden seas produce what you no doubt think is a
virtuous frame of mind, when the state of the crops and the troubles of
the farmers are the only matters with which a conscience-burdened woman
can occupy her mind, I shall pander to your appetite, and write to you
of famine and plague, the prospects of the poppy (the opium poppy,
you understand) and I will even stretch a point to discuss the silver
question and the fate of the rupee. If, on the other hand, you throw
discretion to the winds; if in that atmosphere where you say you are
always frozen, “outside and in,” you pine for a glimpse of sunlight;
if you like to watch a conflagration when at a safe distance from the
flames, or even if the contortions of the cockchafer, when impaled by
the pin, excite your amusement;--then also I will help you to realise
these very reasonable wishes. Yes, then I will write you a love-letter
that will be but a poor substitute for the impassioned words that
should stir your heart, were once my lips within reach of yours.

Even from here I see you smile; even now I hear you say, “Well,
write--after all vivisection has benefited the race, and the
contortions of the cockchafer will perhaps distract one’s attention
for a moment from the eternal monotony of the narrow life.”



XXXIII

IN EXILE


In order that I may keep on perfectly safe ground, and successfully
resist the temptation to depart from my resolve, I will tell you a
story of my visit to Burmah, where, wandering aimlessly, I found an old
friend in a distinguished Indian civilian, who invited me to accompany
him on a tour of inspection. I gladly accepted his invitation, and
we had been travelling for some time, driving, riding, walking, and,
finally, after rafting over a magnificent series of rapids, had been
some days paddling down the river in house-boats, when we reached a
remote inland station called Phatmah. I caught my first view of the
place as our boat swung round a bend in the great river, disclosing a
reach of brown water, enclosed between high, jungle-covered banks, and
shut in, at the end, by a green hill, crowned by a plank bungalow with
a mat roof.

The boat was soon alongside the rough landing-stage, where a young
civilian, introduced as Basset, was waiting to receive his chief. We
climbed the steep hill, and Basset conducted us to the house devoted to
our shelter for the couple of days we were to spend at Phatmah.

In my two days’ stay there, I had ample opportunities of seeing the
place, and realising its few attractions and its many drawbacks. There
was a tiny native village on the bank of one of the two streams that
here united in one great river, and flowed in stately, ever-widening
progress for over two hundred miles before it reached the sea: two
hundred miles of virgin forest, save for the native villages and
clearings that lined the banks at uncertain intervals. A few jungle
tracks leading to distant mines were the only apology for roads; the
river was the real highway, and the sole means of transport were native
boats. Comfortable enough, these boats, for men used to jungle travel;
flat and wide, with a palm-leaf roof, the fore-part occupied by the
crew, the after-part by passengers. There was a deck of boards or split
bamboos, and you could only move about it by crawling on your hands and
knees. Entrance and exit were accomplished by the same means. A door,
at the back of the enclosed after-deck, led on to a bamboo frame over
the rudder; the steersman sat on the palm-leaf awning, and the only
privacy was obtained by hanging a screen between crew and passengers.
There was room for two mattresses on the after-deck, and there the
passengers sat or lay through the blazing heat of the tropical day and
the star-lit stillness of the Burmese night.

At this station there dwelt, besides Basset, an officer of police,
another concerned with public works, and an apothecary in charge of
a hospital. That was all. Their quarters were dotted about on the
high land behind Basset’s bungalow. For the rest, the eye was met
by jungle--near and far--endless jungle, and the river-reach. Silent
and placid the waters, moving along in brown eddies, when, as now,
the river was in flood; clear and shallow, disclosing groups of rocks
dotted about the bed, in what was called the dry season.

At the time of our visit it was spring, and the jungle, especially in
certain parts of the mountainous country, was a truly marvellous sight.
The forest had put on its wedding garment, and the new leaves of many,
even of most of the trees, were dazzling in the brilliance of their
colouring. The prevailing hues were red and yellow; but then there were
shades of red and of yellow that one never seemed to have dreamed of,
such quantity, such intensity that the eyes almost ached with gazing at
the glory of it all.

One is struck, especially in the East, by the wonder of flowering
trees, or the striking creepers that cling to the tops of forest
giants; but imagine these same trees in all their height, their wealth
of foliage, and beauty of form, one mass of colour! There were trees of
delicate lemon, of brilliant cadmium, of deepest orange; trees of such
crimson that every leaf looked as though it were dripping with fresh
blood; trees of copper and pale pink, of terra-cotta and scarlet--all
these in one pure colour, or intermingled with every shade of green
from palest apple, through varying tones of emerald, to the shining
dark leaves that seemed all but black. Dotted about, here and there,
stood trees of some shade of brown, or graceful forms clothed in darker
or paler heliotrope. The virgin Eastern forest is a sight to see, but
the glory of the jungle in the first freshness of spring leafage is a
revelation.

That jungle was one of the attractions of Phatmah;--not monopolised by
Phatmah, only shared, and not to so large an extent as by a thousand
other places nearer the great hills.

Then there was the river reach, where all day long the shadows crept
gradually closer under one bank as they were projected from the other;
while now and then a native boat passed up or down the river, and,
for a few minutes, broke the melancholy of that changeless stretch of
water. The sunsets made the last, and perhaps the greatest attraction
of Phatmah. Then, in the after-glow, great beams of light would rise,
fan-like, from east and west, almost meeting in the zenith, and leave,
between their rays, sharply-defined, heavenly roads of deepest blue;
while the soft white clouds, riding through the sky, took shades of
gold and rose and pearly-grey, until the stars shone out and set all
the cicadas shrilling a chorus to waken every other denizen of the
jungle.

Sunsets cannot be commanded; they are intermittent, and, though they
are comforting--in a way--they do not always come when they are most
wanted. In Phatmah it would rain in torrents on the evening that you
had set your heart upon seeing a gorgeous sunset, and, when it did not
rain, it was hotter than in almost any other spot in Burmah, and that
is saying a great deal. Moreover, it was as dull probably as any place
on earth, except to the three white men who lived there and had their
work to do, or whose business took them, weekly, or at least monthly,
into some other more or less desolate part of the district.

I noted these things in that first day I was at Phatmah, while my
friend and Basset were talking about roads to be made and buildings
constructed, natives to be encouraged or sat upon, dacoits harried,
and all the things that make the life of the exiled English officer in
the outermost parts of the Empire. I also observed Basset. I knew he
had a wife, a girl whom he had just married, when at home on leave in
England, and who was now in that house, across the grass, a hundred
yards away. I had not seen Basset’s wife, but I had heard of her from
some who had met her, before she left the last confines of civilisation
and started for what must in future be her home. What I had heard made
it seem unlikely that Mrs. Basset would reconcile herself to jungle
life, and, when I understood Phatmah, I thought it would be very
surprising if such a miracle could be wrought for the sake of Basset.

Basset was a most excellent fellow, a good officer, good to look at,
lithe and well-made, a man who had found favour with his seniors and
was likely to do well. He was young, but that was a fault for which he
was not responsible, and one that every day was curing. And yet, when
I saw Phatmah, I thought Basset had been unwise, and when I saw his
wife, as I did the next day, I felt certain of it.

I had been told she was very young in years and child-like at that,
nervous to the last degree, selfish, unreasonable, full of fancies,
and rather pretty--but the one or two ladies who were my informants
differed as to this last important particular.

What I saw for myself, when I went to call upon “the only lady in
Phatmah,” was this: a glory of fair waving hair framing a young, but
not very youthful face; a pallid complexion, and features where nothing
specially appealed for admiration; a voice that was not more than
pleasant, and a figure that, while very _petite_, seemed well enough
shapen, as far as could be seen under the garment of silk and lace that
must have been the first of its kind to visit Phatmah. The house did
not strike me as showing more than the evidences of a young man’s
anxiety to make it what he would call “fit for a lady”; but then the
resources of Phatmah were strictly limited, the Bassets had only just,
so to speak, arrived, and things entrusted to the tender mercies of
river transport were often months upon the way. On the whole there was
nothing about Mrs. Basset to excite either sympathy or interest, if
you had met her in any civilised place; but as the only white woman
in Phatmah, come here to gain her first real experiences of life,
scared by frogs and lizards, and terrified by the many insects that fly
straight at you and stick on your hair, your face, your clothes, one
could not help feeling that the experiment, if not a cruel one to her,
was at least thoughtless, and, if persisted in, might end in disaster.

My friend and I exerted ourselves that afternoon and evening (for
the Bassets dined with us) to put as good a complexion as we could
on Burmah in general and Phatmah in particular; and though, to the
ordinary spectator, we might have appeared to succeed fairly well, I
carried away with me vague suspicions, born of my own observation and
the conversation I had had with the lady as we sat and looked over
that jungle-shrouded river-reach, while the path to the stars grew an
ever-deepening blue, and she told me somewhat of herself and her life.
There was no doubt that she not only _looked_ dissatisfied, but felt
it, and said it, and took credit for her candour. Then she complained
that Phatmah offered no opportunities for “getting into mischief,” but
that was probably merely another way of saying that she was utterly
bored; and, in truth, when she asked if I could conceive a greater
dulness, the trite reply that she had her husband stuck in my throat,
and I admitted that it was immeasurably dull, but talked cheerfully
of what it would be when communication with the outside world was
easier, and then fell to asking her if she read, or played, or sang,
or sketched, as Phatmah seemed to be the very place for study, or the
practice of accomplishments. She pleaded that she was too lately from
school to hanker after study, but became almost enthusiastic on the
subject of music.

Then our _tête-à-tête_ was interrupted, and in the evening the only
thing that struck me was that, for a girl so lately from school,
our guest drank rather more in quantity and variety than was usual,
and whenever in the after-days my thoughts went back to Phatmah, I
remembered this with an uncomfortable feeling of the awful loneliness
of that reach of brown river, the boundless forest, and the girl, left
for days to her own devices, and the possibility of “getting into
mischief” by drowning a craving, not for excitement so much as for the
companionship of her kind.

A hundred miles below Phatmah the river wound through the plains
in long reaches, six or seven miles in length; the country was more
open, and the banks were occasionally fringed with palms and orchards
surrounding the huts of a native hamlet. The moon was waxing to the
full, and, sitting at the stern of my boat, looking back up the long
stretch of water bathed in mellow light, till the wide band of silver
narrowed to a point that vanished in grey mist, I could not help
thinking that, even here, the sense of loneliness, of monotony, and
banishment, was less acute than in Phatmah’s forest-bound clearing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Years passed, and I was again in Burmah, this time with an object. I
had forgotten all about the Bassets: one does not remember people who
live in the East, only the places that are striking, and the things
seen or heard of that may become profitable in one way or another.
I thought of my friend, because he might be able to help me, but he
was away in another part of the province and I had to journey alone.
Officials are useful on their own ground, and even when they are not
personal friends, they are, in the East at any rate, ready enough to
be hospitable. The advantage of “entertaining angels unawares” is,
however, all on their side, and guests so soon recognise this fact,
that they feel under no obligation to their hosts, and seldom wish
to remember them if they meet them in Europe. This is specially the
case with English notabilities, who seem to think that they have a
prescriptive right, not only to waste a man’s time, but also to use
his house, stables, and servants, as at an hotel where the visitor
exercises every privilege except that of making payment. Unfortunately
for me, I had to go beyond the region of even occasional civilians,
those isolated exiles whose houses the stranger occupies, whether the
master is present or absent, and for some days I had to put up with the
Dâk Bungalow and the chicken of happy despatch.

It was the very hottest time of the morning when I arrived at such a
bungalow in a small mining village. I had been riding since dawn, and
was glad enough to turn into that weedy compound and get off my pony.
Whew! the heat of it! The two or three sinewy hens, which by-and-by
would be slaughtered to make the traveller’s holiday, were sitting
half-buried and wallowing in the dust, with their wings spread out
and their mouths open, gasping for breath. It was a day when solids
liquefy, when inanimate objects develop an extraordinary faculty for
sticking to each other, and when water no longer feels wet. There
was not a sign of any human being anywhere, and I went round to the
back premises to try and find the caretaker. After a diligent search I
discovered him, fast asleep of course, and, while he went to prepare
a room, I unsaddled the pony and put it in the stable. Then I went
into the house and told the servant to get me some food while I had a
bath. The process of catching the hen and cooking her was a long one,
and I was sleeping in a chair when the man came to tell me the feast
was ready. I had an idea that I was not alone in the house, and, when
I questioned the caretaker, he said that there was a lady who had
arrived the night before and had not appeared that morning. Our means
of conversation was limited to a few words, and I could not make out
who the lady was, or even whether he knew her; but it seemed to me a
curious thing that a white woman should be there, and I supposed she
came from one of the big ruby mines; but even then it was strange that
she should be alone. I made further inquiries about the neighbourhood,
and learned that I was not more than a day’s journey from Phatmah.
I knew it was somewhere about, but had not thought it so near; it was
not on the line of my objective, and I was not interested in its
exact position. Then some of my bearers arrived with luggage, and I
deliberately settled myself for a siesta.

It was late afternoon when I awoke, and I determined to push on to
another small place, which I could just reach before darkness made
further progress impossible. Even a short stage by night would be
preferable to the frightful heat and the oppressive atmosphere of this
lonely house, in its neglected and overgrown garden, where one lean
chicken now scratched alone. Just then the caretaker came to me and
asked my advice about the other guest. He had seen and heard nothing of
her for the whole day, and was afraid there must be something amiss.
That, I felt, was extremely likely, especially when he told me he had
knocked at the door of her room and received no answer. I did not at
all like the mission, but there was nothing for it but to go and see
what was the matter. A few steps took us to the door of the lady’s
room, and I knocked, first gently, then loudly, but no sound broke
the ominous silence. Then I turned the handle, only to find that the
door was locked. As I could not force it open without making a great
clatter, I went outside to try the windows. There were two of these
some height from the ground, and it was difficult to get at them. The
first was fast, and from my insecure footing I could not force it; but
with the second I was more fortunate, and as a half-shutter sprang
open, and a stream of light poured into the dark room, I saw the form
of a girl, or woman, lying on the bed, in an attitude that somehow did
not suggest sleep. I shouted at her, but she never moved, and then
I climbed into the room. I noticed instantly that there was hardly
anything lying about the ill-furnished room, but, on a small table
near the bed, was an almost empty brandy bottle and a glass. The woman
was dressed in a blouse and skirt, the only things she had taken off
being apparently her hat and shoes. She had her back towards me, and
the sunlight centred on a mass of fair hair and gave it a deeper tinge.
Before I put my hand on her cold fingers I felt certain she was dead,
and as I gently turned her head and recognised in the now grey features
the face of the only white woman in Phatmah, I don’t think I was very
much surprised, though I was terribly shocked. Held tightly in her
other hand was a small empty bottle that had once held chloral, and the
faint sickly smell of it hung in the heavy stifling atmosphere of that
bare and comfortless room. Poor lonely child, she had managed to “get
into mischief” after all.



XXXIV

OF LOVE--NOT IN FICTION


You have sent me the answer which I expected. Now tell me how to write
a love-letter that shall speak no word of love--a letter as full of
the passion, the boundless adoration, and the faith of love, as the
Chaurapanchâsika, those fifty distichs of Chauras that proclaimed
his forbidden worship of the lovely daughter of King Sundava. The
Brahman’s lament won the king’s heart and saved the poet’s life;
and I would learn of you how to win a heart, and perhaps save more
than one life from shipwreck. After all, our civilisation may, in its
comparative refinement, be more cruel than the unfettered caprice of an
Eastern king nineteen centuries ago. Tell me, tell me, you who know,
how can pen and ink be made to speak with the force and persuasion of
spoken words, when half the world divides the writer from the reader of
poor halting sentences that must, of necessity, leave unsaid all that
the heart yearns to utter?

When eye can look into eye, when the stretched-out hand meets a
responsive touch,--timid and uncertain, or confident with the knowledge
of passionate love passionately returned,--the words that are spoken
may be feeble, but the influence of a loved presence will carry
conviction, and one voice awaken in one heart the music of the spheres.
Then the dullest day is bright, the lovers’ feet tread on air, day
is a joy and night a gladness, or at least a dream of delight. Then
life is divided between anticipation and reality. No wonder the hours
fly on wings; no wonder the thoughts suggested by brief absences are
forgotten in the wonder and delight of briefer meetings, till the dread
moment of separation comes, and aching hearts too late realise the
appalling suddenness of the actual parting and the ceaseless regret
for opportunities lost. You understand that my thoughts are not of the
devout lover who is going through a short apprenticeship before signing
a bond of perpetual servitude or partnership, as the case may be. That
is a phase which, if it occasionally deserves sympathy, seldom receives
it; indeed, it hardly awakens interest, except in those who wish to
see the preliminaries concluded, that their interest in the principals
may either cease, and give themselves more freedom, or begin, and bring
them some profit. I appeal to you to tell me how to keep alive the
divine flame when oceans and continents divide two loving hearts; how
to tell of longing and bitter regret, of faith and love and worship,
when such words may not be written; how to make personal influence
felt across five seas and through many weary months; how to kill doubt
and keep strong and faithful a priceless love, against which the stars
in their courses may seem ready to fight; how, above all, to help one
who needs help, and warm sympathy, and wise advice, so that, if it
be possible, she may escape some of life’s misery and win some of
life’s joy.

Journeying through this weary old world, who has not met the poor
struggling mortal, man or woman, old or young, for whom the weal or
woe of life hangs in the balance, to turn one way or the other, when
the slightest weight is cast into either scale? Who has not been asked
for sympathy or advice, or simply to lend an ear to the voice of a
hopeless complaint? Some feel the iron in their souls far more keenly
than others. While the strong fight, the weak succumb, and the shallow
do not greatly mind, after they have gone through a short torture of
what seems to them profound emotion. But in their case sympathy is
rather wasted, for, however violent their grief, their tears are soon
dried, and it must have been written for them that “joy cometh with the
morning.”

You know what it is when the heart seems to struggle for more freedom,
because it is choking with a love it may not, or will not, express;
when, in the absence of one face, all other companionship is irksome,
all conversation stale and unprofitable; when daylight wearies and
night is cruelly welcome, because the struggle to play a part, and
pretend an interest one does not feel, is over, and one stretches out
one’s arms to the darkness, and whispers, “Come to me,” to ears that
cannot hear. What strange unnatural creatures we are, for we stifle the
voices of our souls, and seem to delight in torturing ourselves for the
sake of some idea born of a tradition, the value of which we dare not
even submit to the test of argument. If in response to your heart’s
cry there came the one whose presence you desire, you would instantly
torture yourself rather than confess your message. Whatever it cost
you, you would not only pretend that the sudden appearance of the
greatly beloved was the last thing you wished for, but you might even
send him away with the impression that he had deeply offended you. And
yet--Ah well! this artificial fortress we take such pains to build, and
to keep in repair, is not proof against every assault. There are crises
of life--an imminent danger, the presence or appearance of death, a
sudden and irresistible wave of passionate feeling, or a separation
that has no promise of reunion--before these the carefully constructed
rampart of convention and outward seeming goes down like a house of
cards.

    “When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
     When, jaded by the rush and glare
     Of the interminable hours,
     Our eyes within another’s eyes see clear;
     When one world-deafened ear
     Is by the tones of a loved voice caressed,
     A bolt is shot back somewhere in the heart,
     And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again;
     The eye sinks inward and the heart lies plain,
     And what we mean we say,
     And what we would we know.”

There was a day which, to me, will ever be my day of days--halcyon
hours of joy and gladness, coloured by a setting of wondrous beauty,
and burdened by the fateful shadow of an inevitable parting that would,
in all human probability, be the point where two lives, which had
grown strangely and sweetly close, must divide, without any hope of
re-uniting. You remember how in that early dawn we drove through the
dewy grass, covered with the fairies’ dainty white gossamer kerchiefs,
lace cobwebs spread out to dry in the morning sun; and, as we left the
town and made for the distant mountains, the dark red road wound up and
down hills, through orchards and grass-land and forest, till we gained
a little village, where the road forked, and a clear, rain-swollen
stream slipped swiftly past the picturesque brown cottages. Whilst the
horses were being changed, we strolled a little way down the road, and
watched a group of laughing urchins, playing in that lilied stream
like water-babies. How they screamed with delight as their small
glistening bodies emerged from the shining water to struggle up a crazy
ladder that led from the back of a hut down into the winding stream;
and how the sun shone! lighting the snow-white plumage of a brood of
solemn-looking ducks, sailing majestically round the sedge-girt edges
of a tiny pool beneath the bridge. In that pool was mirrored a patch
of clear blue sky, and across it fell the shadows cast by a great
forest tree. That was “a day in spring, a day with thee and pleasure!”
Then, as we drove on, there were heavenly glimpses of sapphire hills,
seen down long vistas through the forest. For the last few miles, the
road followed the bank of a deep and rapid river, whose clear waters
reflected the graceful overhanging trees, while the banks were buried
in a thick maze of ferns and grasses, and great shining patches of
buttercups and marigolds.

Were you sorry when the drive was over, and our sweet converse perforce
ended? I wonder would you have enjoyed it better had that exquisite
spot, in the depths of the forest, been ours alone for that one day?
One day is so little in a lifetime, and yet what was ours was good! Do
you remember how, in that far-off place, we met on the road one whom
you recognised, but whose face and manner gave no clue to the romantic
story of his life, a story that would have brought him great renown
in the days when valour was accounted of the highest worth? You have
not forgotten that, nor yet the return drive, when, as we crested the
last hill, and began the steep and tortuous descent into the plain, the
lurid rays of the setting sun threw crimson stains across dark pools of
lotus-bearing water, half-hidden by overhanging grasses and the dank
leaves of white-blossomed lilies. Beneath us lay a wide stretch of
swamp-land, the very picture of abandonment, desolation, and solitude;
heaps of up-turned earth, green with rank vegetation, and pools of
dead water, whose dark shadows reflected the lambent fires of the
western horizon. A broken line of black trees stood clear against the
rapidly-darkening sky, but, as we reached the foot of the hill, heaven
and earth were wrapped in the shadows of night. And then my day was
done. Doubt was buried, and the “big word” bound our hearts in the joy
of that priceless sympathy which carries human aspirations beyond the
storm and stress of human life to a knowledge of the Divine. We said
little; when hearts are at one, few words are needed, for either knows
the other’s thoughts. But you were slow to unbend, making a brave
fight against fate, and keeping true to your creed, though seven days
would bring the end. To me, the light of that one brilliant day had
been intensified by the rapidly approaching shadow of the inevitable
parting. I wonder--now that the bitterness of separation has come,
now that I vaguely ask myself what has happened to Time since I lost
you--whether, if we could have that day again, you would again be so
merciless in your determination to hold love in leash, and give no sign
of either the passion or the pain that was tearing your heart. I think
it was a hard fight, for, though you concealed your thoughts, you could
not hide the physical effects of the struggle. Did you know how your
weariness distressed me, and what I would have given to have the right
to try to comfort you?

I have a confused memory of those other days. Brief meetings and
partings; insane desires to make any excuse to write to you, or hear
from you, though I had but just left your presence; a hopeless and
helpless feeling that I had a thousand things to say to you, and yet
that I never could say one of them, because the time was so short
that every idea was swallowed up in the ever-present dread of your
departure, and the ceaseless repetition of your cry, “I cannot bear it,
I cannot bear it.” From out that vague background shine two stars, two
brilliant memories to light the darkness of the weary months until I
see your face again--a blissful memory and a sign. All the rest seems
swallowed up in the bitterness of that parting, which comes back like
some horrible nightmare.

Only black water under a heavy overcast sky; only the knowledge that
the end had come; that what should be said must be said then, with
the instant realisation that the pain of the moment, the feeling of
impotent rebellion against fate, destroyed all power of reflection, and
the impulse to recklessness was only choked back by the cold words of
a publicly spoken farewell. Then rapid motion, and in one minute the
envious darkness had taken everything but the horrible sense of loss
and inconsolable regret. Whatever my suffering, it was worse for you; I
at least was alone, alone with a voice which ever murmured in my ears
that despairing cry, “I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it.”

When two who have been brought together, so close together that they
have said the “big word” without faltering, are suddenly swept asunder
by the receding wave of adverse circumstances, there must ever arise
in their hearts that evil question, “How is it now? Is it the same?
Or have time, and distance, and a thousand other enemies, so filled
the space between us that the memory of either is growing dim, and
the influence of the other waning, waning till the absence of all
binding tie begins to feel like a very bond. Will the vision simply
fade gradually out of sight?” For us there is no promise, no tie,
no protestations of fealty; only knowledge, and that forced upon us
rather than sought. You give or you don’t give, that is all; if
you also take away, you are within your right. There may be reasons
and reasons, I understand them all; and I have only one desire, that
whatever prevails may secure you happiness. What you can give seems
to me so unlike what others ever have to give, so infinitely beyond
price, that, where I might gain, it is not right that I should speak.
Therefore I cannot urge, I dare not even plead, a cause that has less
to recommend it than the forlornest hope.



XXXV

OF OBSESSION


If that is irrevocable--why, then, no more. You can only decide, and
while I would not have you consider me, I do ask you to think of
yourself. I have no title to be considered, not the remotest; if I had,
it might be different. Possibly, even, I had better not write now, and
yet I must, though you say “Don’t.” It cannot matter for this once,
and after--well, there may be no after. We are curiously inconsistent
and very hard to understand; even when we think we know each other
well, we speak to conceal our thoughts; and, when we write (and it is
often easier to write what we mean than to say it) I wonder whether
it occurs to us how marvellously contradictory we can be, and what
difficult riddles we can frame, in two or three pages of a letter that
comes straight from the heart and cries to be understood. Verily we
are the slaves of circumstance; but whilst we accept that position,
whilst we make sacrifices that can be absolutely heroic, and dumbly
suffer the crucifixion of a lifetime, we want one other heart to know
and understand. There are few things harder to bear than to stifle
every strongest inclination, every dearest hope, to shut the gate
of life, to lock it and throw away the key, with a determination to
accept existence and make the best of it. God knows how bitter is that
renunciation, but, if it be for another, and that other misunderstands,
then the cruelty of it all seems almost beyond endurance.

If I may write no more to you, you may never understand. If I saw you,
later, under other circumstances, I could not speak; so there can be
no explanation for me. I do not plead, I may not. Not once, but often
you have heard my profession of faith--a gift is good, because it is
given freely. The greatest good, the most priceless gift, is love. It
is valuable because it is free. You cannot buy it or compel it; even
when given, you cannot lock it up, or chain it down, and say, “It is
mine for ever.” It comes, and it is the joy of life; it goes, and it
is pity, misery, despair. It is as useless to rave against the loss,
as to shake one’s fist at Zeus and his thunderbolts. If I ever had,
then I was thrice-blessed. If I have no longer, the fault is probably
mine, and I have still the knowledge of what was. Not God Himself can
deprive me of that. I would have liked that you should know all I yearn
to say, but because you are not here to tell me, “Say it, say it all,”
therefore I must keep silence. Perhaps I do not read aright all you
mean; but some at least I know, and that is what you would have me
understand without any shadow of doubt. That I realise, down to the
very lowest depths of the suffering which is dumb for sheer pain; and
I can say nothing, absolutely nothing, because I have no right; nay,
more, you tell me to be silent. Surely you know, you know, what I would
say? You remember how one evening we rode out by the rocks, and we
talked of a story of faith and high resolve, and you said you did not
think I was capable of a like devotion. That was a fairy tale; but what
I said then, I repeat, with greater confidence, now; with hope, yes, I
could stand and wait--with none, perhaps not.

That is all of me. What your letters have been you know, or at least
you can guess, for I have answered them, and in those answers you
could read all I might not say. “There must be an end, and it is not
because of the trouble, but it is because of the pleasure.” You could
not tell me that and think, because you bid me, I would not answer?
Nor does one forget--fortunately--though if to forget be fortunate,
I suppose to remember must be unfortunate, only it does not seem so
to me. “Silence is a great barrier”--yes, death is silence, and the
greatest barrier of all, and the silence of the living is, in a way,
harder to bear, for it seems so needlessly unkind. Silence, determined,
unbroken silence, will, I think, kill all feeling. I will not accept
that as your last word, not yet; but if, when you receive this, you
make that the beginning of silence, then I shall know, and I will not
break it. Only I beg of you not to do so hard a thing as this, for
I will gladly accept any less cruel sentence if you will not make
yourself as dead to me. I have not done anything that need drive you to
issue such an edict. Will not some less hopeless judgment, something
short of eternal silence, serve until I bring on myself this ghastly
doom? You are thinking that it was I who said, “All or nothing,” I who
said friendship was too hard a road to tread. That was before--before I
had tried; before I knew all I know now. You hid your heart far out of
sight, and I never dared to guess--I do not now. But you went, and I,
remembering how you went, catch at straws; for, as the Eastern says, I
am drowning in the deepest sea. Do not think that is extravagant; it is
because I have learned to count the unattainable at its true value that
I also realise the immensity of the loss. We stood on either side of a
wall, and because the wall was near to me I looked over it and almost
forgot its existence. You, standing farther off, saw always the wall,
and it shut me out. Then I, thinking it could be nothing to you, tried
to get across the intervening space, and so fell, hurting myself, as
those who fall must do. It was not a caprice, not an impulse that took
me, it was the victory of the uncontrollable. So, doubting me, and to
do right for both, you said, “I will build a wall too, stronger and
higher, and then we can sometimes look over and talk to each other,
and everything will be well.” But it is not well. Only you have vowed
yourself to the work, and, if it seems hard, you say that all things
are hard, and this must be good because it costs so much. To suffer
is bad enough; to give suffering where you would strain every nerve
to give only joy is so hard that, to help the other, seems worth any
conceivable pain to oneself. What can it matter how it affects me,
if I can do some little good for you; something that may save you a
little pain, win you a little joy? Believe me, I have no wish but this.
Whatever my selfishness would suggest is not really me, for “Thy law is
my delight”; nay more, it is my delight to try to anticipate your wish.
I have no fear except that you should misunderstand me, that I should
misunderstand you. I am my own to offer, yours to accept--equally if,
by effacement, I can save you the smallest regret, help you for a few
yards over the stony path of life by keeping silence, you will neither
see nor hear from me again. I would you did not doubt, perhaps you do
not now; at least you cannot distrust, and in this I shall not fail. I
shall not say farewell. I will never say that; but through the silence,
if so it must be, sometimes, on a day in spring, perhaps, will come
the echo of a past that you can recall with nothing more than regret.
And that is what I do not quite understand. You say, “In all the years
to come I shall not regret.” Not regret what has been, what might
have been, or what will be then? Therein lies all the difference, and
therein lies the riddle, there and in those words, “I am sometimes--”
How am I to supply the rest? It might be any one of so many things.
Could it ever be that you are sometimes driven to wonder whether
everything I could offer is worth anything you would give? “Many waters
cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it; if a man would
give all the substance of his house for love, it would be utterly
contemned.” If that be true, and it has high authority, then in that
one sentence is contained the conclusion of the whole matter. It tells
you all that you can wish to know for yourself and myself and even for
others. I have done; an accident drew from me an acknowledgment of my
own hurt when it seemed unlikely that the fact should interest you. Now
I am so unfortunate that, hurt myself, I have made you suffer as well.
I have nothing to offer to help you, for all I had is yours already.
And so the end: if so you deem it best. “_Si j’étais Dieu_,” I would
use what power I had to spare you a moment’s pain and give you such
happiness that you should forget the meaning of the word “suffering.”
How utterly powerless we are, how impotent to save those we love, when
no offer of the best we have, no devotion, no self-effacement, will
secure the happiness of one other being, whose every pulse throbs in
unison with ours, yet between whom and us there is fixed the great
gulf of our own conventions. Is the end of all human hopes, all human
sorrows, described in these two lines?--

    “Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
     There was, and then no more of Thee and Me.”

“Let me say it whilst I have the courage.” Suppose you had the greater
courage to write, “I will never say it.” Let me rather cry with Saul,
“Farewell to others, but never we part.” And yet I know that we have
already parted to meet no more.



XXXVI

OF PARADISE LOST


By a dispensation of that Providence which, if seldom kind,
is sometimes less than malignant, I received your two letters
together--the poison and the antidote. I looked at the dates on the
postmarks, and I took the poison first. It did not take long to read,
and I am glad now that I can truly tell you that my impulse was to
ignore your expressed wish, your command, and to at once tell you
that I did not believe a single word of those lines, which, if meant
to hurt, could not have been better conceived, for truly they were
coldly cruel. Indeed, the note was hateful, and so absolutely unlike
you, that it must have defeated its object, had that been really as
you declared it. If you know me at all, you must have realised that,
if I know the Kingdom of Heaven may not be taken by storm, I should
never seek for the charity which is thrown to the importunate. But the
other letter was there, and in it I found such measure of consolation
as is vouchsafed to those who find that, if their path is difficult,
they will not tread it alone, and it tends upward. It may not be all we
desire--how should it be in a world which is full of

                      “Infinite passion
    And the pain of finite hearts that yearn”?

Still, it is much; and, at the worst, it is death without its sting.

Do I know? I think I do. You see, if the future contains nothing
for me, I have still the past--and, in that past, I have learnt to
implicitly trust you, and you have let me see enough of your very self
to make me disregard even what comes from you, when it has nothing in
common with your real character. But I shall not forget--I do not do
that easily at any time--and, if all else faded, I could not forget
our friendship. Do you think the first man and woman ever forgot that
once they dwelt in Paradise? It was the recollection of all they had
lost which was the beginning of mortal suffering. If that “pleasant
place” is closed to me, I am not likely to forget that I have seen the
gate, that I know where to find it, and that there is but one. Yes, I
understand; and the proof is, that in my regret there is no bitterness
now. I also remember what I said when we leant over the balustrade of
a verandah and looked out into the silver sheen of a ravishing Eastern
night, wherein the frail chalices of the moonflower shone like great,
milk-white stars in their leafy sky, while from the trellis-work
beneath us rose the faint, sweet scent of those strange blossoms. You
have taught me how great the exception can be. The cynicism is only
skin-deep, and I shall never swell the ranks of the Faithful--though
I still think there is much to be said for the Faith. The creed, like
other creeds, suffers by the perfunctory service of those who profess
to be true believers. As for the way you have chosen, I think it is
the right way, at least it is the best to follow now; and, to help you
tread it well, I also say, “God be with you.” They need not be my last
words to you, for, if ever my loyal service can further any wish of
yours, our friendship is not so poor a thing that you would hesitate
to give me the satisfaction of doing for you anything that lies in my
power. That was in the bond we made long ago. If we cannot forget what
came into our dream of mutual trust and intellectual companionship, is
it not better to bravely accept the fiat of Destiny and make the past a
link to bind us more closely to the terms of our bond? Even so we may
still help each other, still cleave to the sympathy which we know will
never fail us; and, if our paths divide, the earth is not wide enough
to keep us asunder, should we ever try to say “Adieu.”



XXXVII

“TO MARY, IN HEAVEN”


This is my last letter to you, _Carina_, and I am writing in the belief
that you are in heaven. But are you really there, and, if you are, is
all well with you? Have you everything you desire and no regrets? It
seems such a very long way off, you have such small control over the
means of transport, and so much depends on hearsay, that one may, I
trust, be pardoned for entertaining doubt where all is so indefinite.
Then the accounts of that blessed place that have come to different
parts of the world, though always inspired, differ so materially.
To mortals, immortality is a difficult conception. To finite minds,
conscious of the grasp of a limited intelligence, but still very much
alive to the evidence of the senses we possess, the idea of a heaven,
somewhere beyond the reach of earthly imagination, is perhaps more
difficult still. So many millions come into the world, and we realise
fairly well how and why they come; they all, without exception, go,
and none ever return, and some, we are told, are in heaven, and some
elsewhere. The time here is so absurdly short, and the eternity there
is so impossibly long, that, if our chances of spending the latter in
joy, or sorrow, depend on what we do in the former, it is only natural
that this one idea should occupy our thoughts to the exclusion of all
others. Yet there, again, we are such frail things, that in this way
lies what we call madness.

If you have solved the great problem, can you not enlighten my
darkness, my craving for exact knowledge? Write to me, _Carina_, write
and tell me what it is all like. If I have wearied you with my feeble,
little tales, my stupid questions, my pictures that must seem to you
so flat and colourless in the glory of that better world, my vain
imaginings and poor human longings, will you not take pity on me and
gladden my weary eyes with a word-painted vision of the Heavenly City,
the fields of Elysium, or at least the houris who are to be the portion
of the Faithful? I do not know which paradise you are in. See, I wait
with the pencil on the paper: will you not make it write?

You do not heed. Perhaps, after all, you are not there; or is it
possible that you have forgotten this small planet and those you left
here, and that you find more congenial friends in the company of the
angels? I dare say it is natural, and I do not upbraid you; but some
day I may reach that desired haven, and I want you to remember that I
have earned your consideration by my discretion, if you can spare me
no more tender feeling. If, for instance, I had sent you these letters
while you were still on earth, and you had incautiously left them about
(as you would have been certain to do), quite a number of them would
have compromised you in the opinion of the servant girl, and she is the
origin of a vast deal of earthly gossip. I suppose you have no servant
girls and no gossip where you are: the absence of effect depending
on the want of cause. Happy heaven! and yet I believe that there are
people on this earth who really enjoy being the subject of gossip. To
them the suggestions of scandal are as the savour of salt, as danger
is to the sportsman; the wilder the suggestion, the more amusing the
game; and there are even those who, when tattle wanes and desire fails,
say or insinuate, to their own detriment, the thing that is not, rather
than disappear into obscurity. It is the same desire for notoriety and
attention which prompted Martin to set fire to York Minster, and led
the woman to complain to the vicar that her husband had ceased to beat
her.

Up in the serene atmosphere of those heavenly heights you have no
cathedrals, no husbands, no wives, no work, no play, no food, no
frocks--pardon me, that is a slip of the pen; of course you have
frocks, but what else have you? Is it not sometimes just a little
monotonous? If life is so short that it amounts to little more than the
constant fear of coming death, are you not sometimes overawed by the
contemplation of eternity? But, after all, the dwellers in heaven may
never think. Never to remember, and so never to regret; never to think,
and so never to desire--that is a possible scheme of existence where
a thousand years might be as one day, and to the weary it would mean
rest. But so would oblivion, and we are not altogether satisfied with
the thought of oblivion.

    “Oh, Threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
     One thing is certain--_This_ Life flies;
       One thing is certain, and the rest is Lies;
     The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.”

That is well enough, but it is not an inspired writing; it is a cry
rather of despair than conviction, and oft repeated to make up for
want of certainty. Of things mundane we have acquired a tolerable
knowledge, however much there is yet to be learnt; but that in us which
we call the Soul will never be satisfied till it learns something of
the hereafter. Who will teach it? Do we know more now than they did
when men fought with bows and arrows, or flint weapons, instead of
hundred-ton guns fired by electricity?

Standing alone in some vast solitude where man and his doings have
no part, have made no mark and left no trace--where face to face
with Nature, with mountain and plain, forest and sea and a limitless
firmament, man’s somewhat puny efforts are forgotten, there comes an
intense longing for something higher and nobler than the life we live.
The soul of man cries out for light, for some goal towards which he may
by effort and sacrifice attain; for he is not lacking in the qualities
that have made heroes and martyrs throughout all the ages. If he cannot
rend the veil and scale the heights of heaven, he can grasp the things
within his reach; and, realising that there are problems beyond his
intelligence, he can yet give his life to make easier the lot of his
fellow-creatures, seeking humbly, but courageously, to follow, no
matter how far behind, in the footsteps of his Great Exemplar. Nor need
his efforts be less strenuous, his object less worthy, because this
passionate cry of a voice, stilled centuries ago, strikes a sympathetic
chord in his heart.

    “Yet ah! that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
      That Youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close!
        The Nightingale, that in the branches sang,
      Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

     Would but the Desert of the Fountain yield
      One glimpse--if dimly, yet indeed reveal’d,
        To which the fainting Traveller might spring,
      As springs the trampled herbage of the field!

     Would but some wingèd Angel, ere too late,
      Arrest the yet-unfolded Roll of Fate,
        And make the stern Recorder otherwise
      Enregister, or quite obliterate!

     Ah Love, could you and I with Him conspire
      To grasp this sorry Scheme of things entire,
        Would not we shatter it to bits--and then
      Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!”


THE END


    Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO.
    Edinburgh & London



  _SECOND EDITION_

  Malay Sketches

  BY

  FRANK ATHELSTANE SWETTENHAM

  WITH TITLE-PAGE AND COVER DESIGNED BY

  PATTEN WILSON

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LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD

[Illustration]



    1898

    List of Books
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       *       *       *       *       *

THE YELLOW BOOK

An Illustrated Quarterly.

_Pott 4to. 5s. net._


       I. April 1894, 272 pp., 15 Illustrations.
            [_Out of print._

      II. July 1894, 364 pp., 23 Illustrations.

     III. October 1894, 280 pp., 15 Illustrations.

      IV. January 1895, 285 pp., 16 Illustrations.

       V. April 1895, 317 pp., 14 Illustrations.

      VI. July 1895, 335 pp., 16 Illustrations.

     VII. October 1895, 320 pp., 20 Illustrations.

    VIII. January 1896, 406 pp., 26 Illustrations.

      IX. April 1896, 256 pp., 17 Illustrations.

       X. July 1896, 340 pp., 13 Illustrations.

      XI. October 1896, 342 pp., 12 Illustrations.

     XII. January 1897, 350 pp., 14 Illustrations.

    XIII. April 1897, 316 pp., 18 Illustrations.


       *       *       *       *       *


  Transcriber’s Note:

  Quotations from other sources, and transliterated materials,
  have been transcribed as they appear in this book.

  The ordering of entries in the book catalogue has been retained.

  Spelling, grammar, and variation in hyphenation and word usage
  have been retained.

  Punctuation has been changed occasionally where a clear predominance
  of usage could be ascertained.

  Typographical changes have been made as as follows:

  p. 7:
  si cœtera noscit
    changed to
  si cætera noscit

  p. 124:
  between the deep blue bills
    changed to
  between the deep blue hills

  p. 157:
  to regard the unknown quanity with philosophy
    changed to
  to regard the unknown quantity with philosophy

  p. 165:
  Persumably if the man thinks
    changed to
  Presumably if the man thinks

  p. 254:
  The wasp has still a sting left, she says; “You sent
    changed to
  The wasp has still a sting left; she says, “You sent





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