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Title: John Sherman and Dhoya
Author: Yeats, W. B. (William Butler)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "John Sherman and Dhoya" ***

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  GANCONAGH’S APOLOGY.                       1

      I                                      5
     II                                     17
    III                                     27
     IV                                     39

  PART II. MARGARET LELAND.                 43
      I                                     45
     II                                     51
    III                                     55
     IV                                     60
      V                                     67
     VI                                     70
    VII                                     72
   VIII                                     75
     IX                                     77

      I                                     85
     II                                     88
    III                                     91

      I                                    103
     II                                    111
    III                                    114
     IV                                    125
      V                                    134
     VI                                    138

      I                                    145
     II                                    149
    III                                    154
     IV                                    165

  DHOYA.                                   171
      I                                    173
     II                                    182
    III                                    190








_Paper_, 1/6; _cloth_, 2/-.

   1. MLLE. IXE. By LANOE FALCONER. 7th ed.





   6. THE HÔTEL D’ANGLETERRE, and Other Stories. By LANOE
        FALCONER, 2nd ed.






The maker of these stories has been told that he must not bring them to
you himself. He has asked me to pretend that I am the author. I am an
old little Irish spirit, and I sit in the hedges and watch the world
go by. I see the boys going to market driving donkeys with creels of
turf, and the girls carrying baskets of apples. Sometimes I call to
some pretty face, and we chat a little in the shadow, the apple basket
before us, for, as my faithful historian O’Kearney has put it in his
now yellow manuscript, I care for nothing in the world but love and
idleness. Will not you, too, sit down under the shade of the bushes
while I read you the stories? The first I do not care for because it
deals with dull persons and the world’s affairs, but the second has to
do with my own people. If my voice at whiles grows distant and dreamy
when I talk of the world’s affairs, remember that I have seen all from
my hole in the hedge. I hear continually the songs of my own people who
dance upon the hill-side, and am content. I have never carried apples
or driven turf myself, or if I did it was only in a dream. Nor do my
kind use any of man’s belongings except the little black pipes which
the farmers find now and then when they are turning the sods over with
a plough.





In the west of Ireland, on the 9th of December, in the town of Ballah,
in the Imperial Hotel there was a single guest, clerical and youthful.
With the exception of a stray commercial traveller, who stopped once
for a night, there had been nobody for a whole month but this guest,
and now he was thinking of going away. The town, full enough in summer
of trout and salmon fishers, slept all winter like the bears.

On the evening of the 9th of December, in the coffee-room of the
Imperial Hotel, there was nobody but this guest. The guest was
irritated. It had rained all day, and now that it was clearing up
night had almost fallen. He had packed his portmanteau: his stockings,
his clothes-brush, his razor, his dress shoes were each in their
corner, and now he had nothing to do. He had tried the paper that was
lying on the table. He did not agree with its politics.

The waiter was playing an accordion in a little room over the stairs.
The guest’s irritation increased, for the more he thought about it
the more he perceived that the accordion was badly played. There was
a piano in the coffee-room; he sat down at it and played the tune
correctly, as loudly as possible. The waiter took no notice. He did not
know that he was being played for. He was wholly absorbed in his own
playing, and besides he was old, obstinate, and deaf. The guest could
stand it no longer. He rang for the waiter, and then, remembering that
he did not need anything, went out before he came.

He went through Martin’s Street, and Peter’s Lane, and turned down
by the burnt house at the corner of the fish-market, picking his way
towards the bridge. The town was dripping, but the rain was almost
over. The large drops fell seldomer and seldomer into the puddles. It
was the hour of ducks. Three or four had squeezed themselves under a
gate, and were now splashing about in the gutter of the main street.
There was scarcely any one abroad. Once or twice a countryman went by
in yellow gaiters covered with mud and looked at the guest. Once an old
woman with a basket of clothes, recognizing the Protestant curate’s
_locum tenens_, made a low curtsey.

The clouds gradually drifted away, the twilight deepened and the stars
came out. The guest, having bought some cigarettes, had spread his
waterproof on the parapet of the bridge and was now leaning his elbows
upon it, looking at the river and feeling at last quite tranquil.
His meditations, he repeated, to himself, were plated with silver by
the stars. The water slid noiselessly, and one or two of the larger
stars made little roadways of fire into the darkness. The light from a
distant casement made also its roadway. Once or twice a fish leaped.
Along the banks were the vague shadows of houses, seeming like phantoms
gathering to drink.

Yes; he felt now quite contented with the world. Amidst his enjoyment
of the shadows and the river—a veritable festival of silence—was
mixed pleasantly the knowledge that, as he leant there with the light
of a neighbouring gas-jet, flickering faintly on his refined form and
nervous face and glancing from the little medal of some Anglican order
that hung upon his watch-guard, he must have seemed—if there had been
any to witness—a being of a different kind to the inhabitants—at
once rough and conventional—of this half-deserted town. Between these
two feelings the unworldly and the worldly tossed a leaping wave of
perfect enjoyment. How pleasantly conscious of his own identity it made
him when he thought how he and not those whose birthright it was, felt
most the beauty of these shadows and this river? To him who had read
much, seen operas and plays, known religious experiences, and written
verse to a waterfall in Switzerland, and not to those who dwelt upon
its borders for their whole lives, did this river raise a tumult of
images and wonders. What meaning it had for them he could not imagine.
Some meaning surely it must have!

As he gazed out into the darkness, spinning a web of thoughts from
himself to the river, from the river to himself, he saw, with a corner
of his eye, a spot of red light moving in the air at the other end
of the bridge. He turned towards it. It came closer and closer, there
appearing behind it the while a man and a cigar. The man carried in one
hand a mass of fishing-line covered with hooks, and in the other a tin
porringer full of bait.

“Good evening, Howard.”

“Good evening,” answered the guest, taking his elbows off the parapet
and looking in a preoccupied way at the man with the hooks. It was only
gradually he remembered that he was in Ballah among the barbarians, for
his mind had strayed from the last evening gnats, making circles on
the water beneath, to the devil’s song against “the little spirits” in
“Mefistofele.” Looking down at the stone parapet he considered a moment
and then burst out—

“Sherman, how do you stand this place—you who have thoughts above mere
eating and sleeping and are not always grinding at the stubble mill?
Here everybody lives in the eighteenth century—the squalid century.
Well, I am going to-morrow, you know. Thank Heaven, I am done with your
grey streets and grey minds! The curate must come home, sick or well.
I have a religious essay to write, and besides I should die. Think of
that old fellow at the corner there, our most important parishioner.
There are no more hairs on his head than thoughts in his skull. To
merely look at him is to rob life of its dignity. Then there is nothing
in the shops but school-books and Sunday-school prizes. Excellent, no
doubt, for any one who has not had to read as many as I have. Such a
choir! such rain!”

“You need some occupation peculiar to the place,” said the other,
baiting his hooks with worms out of the little porringer. “I catch
eels. You should set some night-lines too. You bait them with worms in
this way, and put them among the weeds at the edge of the river. In the
morning you find an eel or two, if you have good fortune, turning round
and round and making the weeds sway. I shall catch a great many after
this rain.”

“What a suggestion! Do you mean to stay here,” said Howard, “till your
mind rots like our most important parishioner’s?”

“No, no! To be quite frank with you,” replied the other, “I have some
good looks and shall try to turn them to account by going away from
here pretty soon and trying to persuade some girl with money to fall in
love with me. I shall not be altogether a bad match, you see, because
after she has made me a little prosperous my uncle will die and make
me much more so. I wish to be able always to remain a lounger. Yes, I
shall marry money. My mother has set her heart on it, and I am not,
you see, the kind of person who falls in love inconveniently. For the

“You are vegetating,” interrupted the other.

“No, I am seeing the world. In your big towns a man finds his minority
and knows nothing outside its border. He knows only the people like
himself. But here one chats with the whole world in a day’s walk, for
every man one meets is a class. The knowledge I am picking up may be
useful to me when I enter the great cities and their ignorance. But I
have lines to set. Come with me. I would ask you home, but you and my
mother, you know, do not get on well.”

“I could not live with any one I did not believe in,” said Howard; “you
are so different from me. You can live with mere facts, and that is
why, I suppose, your schemes are so mercenary. Before this beautiful
river, these stars, these great purple shadows, do you not feel like
an insect in a flower? As for me, I also have planned my future.
Not too near or too far from a great city I see myself in a cottage
with diamond panes, sitting by the fire. There are books everywhere
and etchings on the wall; on the table is a manuscript essay on some
religious matter. Perhaps I shall marry some day. Probably not, for I
shall ask so much. Certainly I shall not marry for money, for I hold
the directness and sincerity of the nature to be its compass. If we
once break it the world grows trackless.”

“Good-bye,” said Sherman, briskly; “I have baited the last hook. Your
schemes suit you, but a sluggish fellow like me, poor devil, who wishes
to lounge through the world, would find them expensive.”

They parted; Sherman to set his lines and Howard to his hotel in high
spirits, for it seemed to him he had been eloquent. The billiard-room,
which opened on the street, was lighted up. A few young men came round
to play sometimes. He went in, for among these provincial youths he
felt _recherché_; besides, he was a really good player. As he came
in one of the players missed and swore. Howard reproved him with a
look. He joined the play for a time, and then catching sight through a
distant door of the hotel-keeper’s wife putting a kettle on the hob he
hurried off, and, drawing a chair to the fire, began one of those long
gossips about everybody’s affairs peculiar to the cloth.

As Sherman, having set his lines, returned home, he passed a
tobacconist’s—a sweet-shop and tobacconist’s in one—the only shop
in town, except public-houses, that remained open. The tobacconist
was standing in his door, and, recognizing one who dealt consistently
with a rival at the other end of the town, muttered: “There goes that
_gluggerabunthaun_ and Jack o’ Dreams; been fishing most likely.
Ugh!” Sherman paused for a moment as he repassed the bridge and looked
at the water, on which now a new-risen and crescent moon was shining
dimly. How full of memories it was to him! what playmates and boyish
adventures did it not bring to mind! To him it seemed to say, “Stay
near to me,” as to Howard it had said, “Go yonder, to those other joys
and other sceneries I have told you of.” It bade him who loved stay
still and dream, and gave flying feet to him who imagined.


The house where Sherman and his mother lived was one of those bare
houses so common in country towns. Their dashed fronts mounting above
empty pavements have a kind of dignity in their utilitarianism. They
seem to say, “Fashion has not made us, nor ever do its caprices pass
our sand-cleaned doorsteps.” On every basement window is the same dingy
wire blind; on every door the same brass knocker. Custom everywhere!
“So much the longer,” the blinds seem to say, “have eyes glanced
through us”; and the knockers to murmur, “And fingers lifted us.”

No. 15, Stephens’ Row, was in no manner peculiar among its twenty
fellows. The chairs in the drawing-room facing the street were of heavy
mahogany with horsehair cushions worn at the corners. On the round
table was somebody’s commentary on the New Testament laid like the
spokes of a wheel on a table-cover of American oilcloth with stamped
Japanese figures half worn away. The room was seldom used, for Mrs.
Sherman was solitary because silent. In this room the dressmaker sat
twice a year, and here the rector’s wife used every month or so to
drink a cup of tea. It was quite clean. There was not a fly-mark on the
mirror, and all summer the fern in the grate was constantly changed.
Behind this room and overlooking the garden was the parlour, where
cane-bottomed chairs took the place of mahogany. Sherman had lived here
with his mother all his life, and their old servant hardly remembered
having lived anywhere else; and soon she would absolutely cease to
remember the world she knew before she saw the four walls of this
house, for every day she forgot something fresh. The son was almost
thirty, the mother fifty, and the servant near seventy. Every year they
had two hundred pounds among them, and once a year the son got a new
suit of clothes and went into the drawing-room to look at himself in
the mirror.

On the morning of the 20th of December Mrs. Sherman was down before her
son. A spare, delicate-featured woman, with somewhat thin lips tightly
closed as with silent people, and eyes at once gentle and distrustful,
tempering the hardness of the lips. She helped the servant to set the
table, and then, for her old-fashioned ideas would not allow her to
rest, began to knit, often interrupting her knitting to go into the
kitchen or to listen at the foot of the stairs. At last, hearing a
sound upstairs, she put the eggs down to boil, muttering the while,
and began again to knit. When her son appeared she received him with a

“Late again, mother,” he said.

“The young should sleep,” she answered, for to her he seemed still a

She had finished her breakfast some time before the young man, and
because it would have appeared very wrong to her to leave the table,
she sat on knitting behind the tea-urn: an industry the benefit of
which was felt by many poor children—almost the only neighbours she
had a good word for.

“Mother,” said the young man, presently, “your friend the _locum
tenens_ is off to-morrow.”

“A good riddance.”

“Why are you so hard on him? He talked intelligently when here, I
thought,” answered her son.

“I do not like his theology,” she replied, “nor his way of running
about and flirting with this body and that body, nor his way of
chattering while he buttons and unbuttons his gloves.”

“You forget he is a man of the great world, and has about him a manner
that must seem strange to us.”

“Oh, he might do very well,” she answered, “for one of those Carton
girls at the rectory.”

“That eldest girl is a good girl,” replied her son.

“She looks down on us all, and thinks herself intellectual,” she
went on. “I remember when girls were content with their Catechism
and their Bibles and a little practice at the piano, maybe, for an
accomplishment. What does any one want more? It is all pride.”

“You used to like her as a child,” said the young man.

“I like all children.”

Sherman having finished his breakfast, took a book of travels in one
hand and a trowel in the other and went out into the garden. Having
looked under the parlour window for the first tulip shoots, he went
down to the further end and began covering some sea-kale for forcing.
He had not been long at work when the servant brought him a letter.
There was a stone roller at one side of the grass plot. He sat down
upon it, and taking the letter between his finger and thumb began
looking at it with an air that said: “Well! I know what you mean.” He
remained long thus without opening it, the book lying beside him on the

The garden—the letter—the book! You have there the three symbols of
his life. Every morning he worked in that garden among the sights and
sounds of nature. Month by month he planted and hoed and dug there. In
the middle he had set a hedge that divided the garden in two. Above the
hedge were flowers; below it, vegetables. At the furthest end from
the house, lapping broken masonry full of wallflowers, the river said,
month after month to all upon its banks, “Hush!” He dined at two with
perfect regularity, and in the afternoon went out to shoot or walk. At
twilight he set night-lines. Later on he read. He had not many books—a
Shakespeare, Mungo Park’s travels, a few two-shilling novels, “Percy’s
Reliques,” and a volume on etiquette. He seldom varied his occupations.
He had no profession. The town talked of it. They said: “He lives upon
his mother,” and were very angry. They never let him see this, however,
for it was generally understood he would be a dangerous fellow to
rouse; but there was an uncle from whom Sherman had expectations who
sometimes wrote remonstrating. Mrs. Sherman resented these letters,
for she was afraid of her son going away to seek his fortune—perhaps
even in America. Now this matter preyed somewhat on Sherman. For three
years or so he had been trying to make his mind up and come to some
decision. Sometimes when reading he would start and press his lips
together and knit his brows for a moment.

It will now be seen why the garden, the book, and the letter were
the three symbols of his life, summing up as they did his love of
out-of-door doings, his meditations, his anxieties. His life in the
garden had granted serenity to his forehead, the reading of his few
books had filled his eyes with reverie, and the feeling that he was not
quite a good citizen had given a slight and occasional trembling to his

He opened the letter. Its contents were what he had long expected.
His uncle offered to take him into his office. He laid it spread out
before him—a foot on each margin, right and left—and looked at it,
turning the matter over and over in his mind. Would he go? would
he stay? He did not like the idea much. The lounger in him did not
enjoy the thought of London. Gradually his mind wandered away into
scheming—infinite scheming—what he would do if he went, what he would
do if he did not go.

A beetle, attracted by the faint sunlight, had crawled out of his hole.
It saw the paper and crept on to it, the better to catch the sunlight.
Sherman saw the beetle but his mind was not occupied with it. “Shall I
tell Mary Carton?” he was thinking. Mary had long been his adviser and
friend. She was, indeed, everybody’s adviser. Yes, he would ask her
what to do. Then again he thought—no, he would decide for himself. The
beetle began to move. “If it goes off the paper by the top I will ask
her—if by the bottom I will not.”

The beetle went off by the top. He got up with an air of decision
and went into the tool-house and began sorting seeds and picking out
the light ones, sometimes stopping to watch a spider; for he knew he
must wait till the afternoon to see Mary Carton. The tool-house was a
favourite place with him. He often read there and watched the spiders
in the corners.

At dinner he was preoccupied.

“Mother,” he said, “would you much mind if we went away from this?”

“I have often told you,” she answered, “I do not like one place better
than another. I like them all equally little.”

After dinner he went again into the tool-house. This time he did not
sort seeds—only watched the spiders.


Towards evening he went out. The pale sunshine of winter flickered
on his path. The wind blew the straws about. He grew more and more
melancholy. A dog of his acquaintance was chasing rabbits in a field.
He had never been known to catch one, and since his youth had never
seen one for he was almost wholly blind. They were his form of the
eternal chimera. The dog left the field and followed with a friendly

They came together to the rectory. Mary Carton was not in. There was a
children’s practice in the school-house. They went thither.

A child of four or five with a swelling on its face was sitting
under a wall opposite the school door, waiting to make faces at the
Protestant children as they came out. Catching sight of the dog she
seemed to debate in her mind whether to throw a stone at it or call
it to her. She threw the stone and made it run. In after times he
remembered all these things as though they were of importance.

He opened the latched green door and went in. About twenty children
were singing in shrill voices standing in a row at the further end. At
the harmonium he recognized Mary Carton, who nodded to him and went
on with her playing. The white-washed walls were covered with glazed
prints of animals; at the further end was a large map of Europe; by a
fire at the near end was a table with the remains of tea. This tea was
an idea of Mary’s. They had tea and cake first, afterwards the singing.
The floor was covered with crumbs. The fire was burning brightly.
Sherman sat down beside it. A child with a great deal of oil in her
hair was sitting on the end of a form at the other side.

“Look,” she whispered, “I have been sent away. At any rate they are
further from the fire. They have to be near the harmonium. I would not
sing. Do you like hymns? I don’t. Will you have a cup of tea? I can
make it quite well. See, I did not spill a drop. Have you enough milk?”
It was a cup full of milk—children’s tea. “Look, there is a mouse
carrying away a crumb. Hush!”

They sat there, the child watching the mouse, Sherman pondering on his
letter, until the music ceased and the children came tramping down the
room. The mouse having fled, Sherman’s self-appointed hostess got up
with a sigh and went out with the others.

Mary Carton closed the harmonium and came towards Sherman. Her face
and all her movements showed a gentle decision of character. Her glance
was serene, her features regular, her figure at the same time ample and
beautifully moulded; her dress plain yet not without a certain air of
distinction. In a different society she would have had many suitors.
But she was of a type that in country towns does not get married
at all. Its beauty is too lacking in pink and white, its nature in
that small assertiveness admired for character by the uninstructed.
Elsewhere she would have known her own beauty—as it is right that all
the beautiful should—and have learnt how to display it, to add gesture
to her calm and more of mirth and smiles to her grave cheerfulness. As
it was, her manner was much older than herself.

She sat down by Sherman with the air of an old friend. They had long
been accustomed to consult together on every matter. They were such
good friends they had never fallen in love with each other. Perfect
love and perfect friendship are indeed incompatible; for the one is a
battlefield where shadows war beside the combatants, and the other a
placid country where Consultation has her dwelling.

These two were such good friends that the most gossiping townspeople
had given them up with a sigh. The doctor’s wife, a faded beauty and
devoted romance reader, said one day, as they passed, “They are such
cold creatures.” The old maid who kept the Berlin-wool shop remarked,
“They are not of the marrying sort,” and now their comings and goings
were no longer noticed. Nothing had ever come to break in on their
quiet companionship and give obscurity as a dwelling-place for the
needed illusions. Had one been weak and the other strong, one plain and
the other handsome, one guide and the other guided, one wise and the
other foolish, love might have found them out in a moment, for love is
based on inequality as friendship is on equality.

“John,” said Mary Carton, warming her hands at the fire, “I have had a
troublesome day. Did you come to help me teach the children to sing? It
was good of you: you were just too late.”

“No,” he answered, “I have come to be your pupil. I am always your

“Yes, and a most disobedient one.”

“Well, advise me this time at any rate. My uncle has written, offering
me £100 a year to begin with in his London office. Am I to go?”

“You know quite well my answer,” she said.

“Indeed I do not. Why should I go? I am contented here. I am now making
my garden ready for spring. Later on there will be trout fishing and
saunters by the edge of the river in the evening when the bats are
flickering about. In July there will be races. I enjoy the bustle. I
enjoy life here. When anything annoys me I keep away from it, that is
all. You know I am always busy. I have occupation and friends and am
quite contented.”

“It is a great loss to many of us, but you must go, John,” she said.
“For you know you will be old some day, and perhaps when the vitality
of youth is gone you will feel that your life is empty and find that
you are too old to change it; and you will give up, perhaps, trying
to be happy and likeable and become as the rest are. I think I can
see you,” she said, with a laugh, “a hypochondriac, like Gorman, the
retired excise officer, or with a red nose like Dr. Stephens, or
growing like Peters, the elderly cattle merchant, who starves his

“They were bad material to begin with,” he answered, “and besides, I
cannot take my mother away with me at her age, and I cannot leave her

“What annoyance it may be,” she answered, “will soon be forgotten. You
will be able to give her many more comforts. We women—we all like to
be dressed well and have pleasant rooms to sit in, and a young man at
your age should not be idle. You must go away from this little backward
place. We shall miss you, but you are clever and must go and work with
other men and have your talents admitted.”

“How emulous you would have me. Perhaps I shall be well-to-do some day;
meanwhile I only wish to stay here with my friends.”

She went over to the window and looked out with her face turned from
him. The evening light cast a long shadow behind her on the floor.
After some moments, she said, “I see people ploughing on the slope of
the hill. There are people working on a house to the right. Everywhere
there are people busy,” and, with a slight tremble in her voice, she
added, “and, John, nowhere are there any doing what they wish. One has
to think of so many things—of duty and God.”

“Mary, I didn’t know you were so religious.”

Coming towards him with a smile, she said, “No more did I, perhaps.
But sometimes the self in one is very strong. One has to think a great
deal and reason with it. Yet I try hard to lose myself in things about
me. These children now—I often lie awake thinking about them. That
child who was talking to you is often on my mind. I do not know what
will happen to her. She makes me unhappy. I am afraid she is not a good
child at all. I am afraid she is not taught well at home. I try hard to
be gentle and patient with her. I am a little displeased with myself
to-day; so I have lectured you. There! I have made my confession. But,”
she added, taking one of his hands in both hers and reddening, “you
must go away. You must not be idle. You will gain everything.”

As she stood there with bright eyes, the light of evening about her,
Sherman for perhaps the first time saw how beautiful she was, and was
flattered by her interest. For the first time also her presence did not
make him at peace with the world.

“Will you be an obedient pupil?”

“You know so much more than I do,” he answered, “and are so much wiser.
I will write to my uncle and agree to his offer.”

“Now you must go home,” she said. “You must not keep your mother
waiting for her tea. There! I have raked the fire out. We must not
forget to lock the door behind us.”

As they stood on the doorstep the wind blew a whirl of dead leaves
about them.

“They are my old thoughts,” he said; “see, they are all withered.”

They walked together silently. At the vicarage he left her and went

The deserted flour store at the corner of two roads, the house that
had been burnt hollow ten years before and still lifted its blackened
beams, the straggling and leafless fruit-trees rising above garden
walls, the church where he was christened—these foster-mothers of his
infancy seemed to nod and shake their heads over him.

“Mother,” he said, hurriedly entering the room, “we are going to

“As you wish. I always knew you would be a rolling stone,” she
answered, and went out to tell the servant that as soon as she had
finished the week’s washing they must pack up everything, for they
were going to London.

“Yes, we must pack up,” said the old peasant; she did not stop peeling
the onion in her hand—she had not comprehended. In the middle of the
night she suddenly started up in bed with a pale face and a prayer to
the Virgin whose image hung over her head—she had now comprehended.


On January the 5th about two in the afternoon, Sherman sat on the
deck of the steamer _Lavinia_ enjoying a period of sunshine between
two showers. The steamer _Lavinia_ was a cattle boat. It had been his
wish to travel by some more expensive route, but his mother, with
her old-fashioned ideas of duty, would not hear of it, and now, as
he foresaw, was extremely uncomfortable below, while he, who was a
good sailor, was pretty happy on deck, and would have been quite so
if the pigs would only tire of their continual squealing. With the
exception of a very dirty old woman sitting by a crate of geese, all
the passengers but himself were below. This old woman made the journey
monthly with geese for the Liverpool market.

Sherman was dreaming. He began to feel very desolate, and commenced
a letter to Mary Carton in his notebook to state this fact. He was
a laborious and unpractised writer, and found it helped him to make
a pencil copy. Sometimes he stopped and watched the puffin sleeping
on the waves. Each one of them had its head tucked in in a somewhat
different way.

“That is because their characters are different,” he thought.

Gradually he began to notice a great many corks floating by, one after
the other. The old woman saw them too, and said, waking out of a half

“Misther John Sherman, we will be in the Mersey before evening. Why are
ye goin’ among them savages in London, Misther John? Why don’t ye stay
among your own people—for what have we in this life but a mouthful of




Sherman and his mother rented a small house on the north side of St.
Peter’s Square, Hammersmith. The front windows looked out on to the
old rank and green square, the windows behind on to a little patch
of garden round which the houses gathered and pressed as though they
already longed to trample it out. In this garden was a single tall
pear-tree that never bore fruit.

Three years passed by without any notable event. Sherman went every day
to his office in Tower Hill Street, abused his work a great deal, and
was not unhappy perhaps. He was probably a bad clerk, but then nobody
was very exacting with the nephew of the head of the firm.

The firm of Sherman and Saunders, ship brokers, was a long-established,
old-fashioned house. Saunders had been dead some years and old Michael
Sherman ruled alone—an old bachelor full of family pride and pride
in his wealth. He lived, for all that, in a very simple fashion. His
mahogany furniture was a little solider than other people’s perhaps.
He did not understand display. Display finds its excuse in some taste
good or bad, and in a long industrious life Michael Sherman had never
found leisure to form one. He seemed to live only from habit. Year by
year he grew more silent, gradually ceasing to regard anything but his
family and his ships. His family were represented by his nephew and his
nephew’s mother. He did not feel much affection for them. He believed
in his family—that was all. To remind him of the other goal of his
thoughts hung round his private office pictures with such inscriptions
as “S.S. _Indus_ at the Cape of Good Hope,” “The barque _Mary_ in the
Mozambique Channel,” “The barque _Livingstone_ at Port Said,” and
many more. Every rope was drawn accurately with a ruler, and here and
there were added distant vessels sailing proudly by with all that
indifference to perspective peculiar to the drawings of sailors. On
every ship was the flag of the firm spread out to show the letters.

No man cared for old Michael Sherman. Every one liked John. Both were
silent, but the young man had sometimes a talkative fit. The old man
lived for his ledger, the young man for his dreams.

In spite of all these differences, the uncle was on the whole pleased
with the nephew. He noticed a certain stolidity that was of the family.
It sometimes irritated others. It pleased him. He saw a hundred
indications besides that made him say, “He is a true Sherman. We
Shermans begin that way and give up frivolity as we grow old. We are
all the same in the end.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Sherman and her son had but a small round of acquaintances—a few
rich people, clients of the house of Sherman and Saunders for the most
part. Among these was a Miss Margaret Leland who lived with her mother,
the widow of the late Henry Leland, ship-broker, on the eastern side
of St. Peter’s Square. Their house was larger than the Shermans, and
noticeable among its fellows by the newly-painted hall door. Within
on every side were bronzes and china vases and heavy curtains. In
all were displayed the curious and vagrant taste of Margaret Leland.
The rich Italian and mediæval draperies of the pre-Raphaelites
jostling the brightest and vulgarest products of more native and Saxon
schools. Vases of the most artistic shape and colour side by side
with artificial flowers and stuffed birds. This house belonged to the
Lelands. They had bought it in less prosperous days, and having altered
it according to their taste and the need of their growing welfare could
not decide to leave it.

Sherman was an occasional caller at the Lelands, and had certainly a
liking, though not a very deep one, for Margaret. As yet he knew little
more about her than that she wore the most fascinating hats, that the
late Lord Lytton was her favourite author, and that she hated frogs. It
is clear that she did not know that a French writer on magic says the
luxurious and extravagant hate frogs because they are cold, solitary,
and dreary. Had she done so, she would have been more circumspect about
revealing her tastes.

For the rest John Sherman was forgetting the town of Ballah. He
corresponded indeed with Mary Carton, but his laborious letter writing
made his letters fewer and fewer. Sometimes, too, he heard from Howard,
who had a curacy in Glasgow and was on indifferent terms with his
parishioners. They objected to his way of conducting the services.
His letters were full of it. He would not give in, he said, whatever
happened. His conscience was involved.


One afternoon Mrs. Leland called on Mrs. Sherman. She very often
called—this fat, sentimental woman, moving in the midst of a cloud
of scent. The day was warm, and she carried her too elaborate and
heavy dress as a large caddis-fly drags its case with much labour
and patience. She sat down on the sofa with obvious relief, leaning
so heavily among the cushions that a clothes-moth in an antimacassar
thought the end of the world had come and fluttered out only to be
knocked down and crushed by Mrs. Sherman, who was very quick in her

As soon as she found her breath, Mrs. Leland began a long history of
her sorrows. Her daughter Margaret, had been jilted and was in despair,
had taken to her bed with every resolution to die, and was growing
paler and paler. The hard-hearted man, though she knew he had heard,
did not relent. She knew he had heard because her daughter had told his
sister all about it, and his sister had no heart, because she said it
was temper that ailed Margaret, and she was a little vixen, and that if
she had not flirted with everybody the engagement would never have been
broken off. But Mr. Sims had no heart clearly, as Miss Marriot and Mrs.
Eliza Taylor, her daughter’s friends, said, when they heard, and Lock,
the butler, said the same too, and Mary Young, the housemaid, said so
too—and she knew all about it, for Margaret used to read his letters
to her often when having her hair brushed.

“She must have been very fond of him,” said Mrs. Sherman.

“She is so romantic, my dear,” answered Mrs. Leland, with a sigh. “I
am afraid she takes after an uncle on her father’s side, who wrote
poetry and wore a velvet jacket and ran away with an Italian countess
who used to get drunk. When I married Mr. Leland people said he was not
worthy of me, and that I was throwing myself away—and he in business,
too! But Margaret is so romantic. There was Mr. Walters, the gentleman
farmer, and Simpson who had a jeweller’s shop—I never approved of
him!—and Mr. Samuelson, and the Hon. William Scott. She tired of them
all except the Hon. William Scott, who tired of her because some one
told him she put belladonna in her eyes—and it is not true; and now
there is Mr. Sims!” She then cried a little, and allowed herself to be
consoled by Mrs. Sherman.

“You talk so intelligently and are so well informed,” she said at
parting. “I have made a very pleasant call,” and the caddis-worm toiled
upon its way, arriving in due course at other cups of tea.


The day after Mrs. Leland’s call upon his mother, John Sherman,
returning home after his not very lengthy day in the office, saw
Margaret coming towards him. She had a lawn tennis racket under her
arm, and was walking slowly on the shady side of the road. She was a
pretty girl with quite irregular features, who though really not more
than pretty, had so much manner, so much of an air, that every one
called her a beauty: a trefoil with the fragrance of a rose.

“Mr. Sherman,” she cried, coming smiling to meet him, “I have been
ill, but could not stand the house any longer. I am going to the Square
to play tennis. Will you come with me?”

“I am a bad player,” he said.

“Of course you are,” she answered; “but you are the only person under a
hundred to be found this afternoon. How dull life is!” she continued,
with a sigh. “You heard how ill I have been? What do you do all day?”

“I sit at a desk, sometimes writing, and sometimes, when I get lazy,
looking up at the flies. There are fourteen on the plaster of the
ceiling over my head. They died two winters ago. I sometimes think to
have them brushed off, but they have been there so long now I hardly
like to.”

“Ah! you like them,” she said, “because you are accustomed to them. In
most cases there is not much more to be said for our family affections,
I think.”

“In a room close at hand,” he went on, “there is, you know, Uncle
Michael, who never speaks.”

“Precisely. You have an uncle who never speaks; I have a mother who
never is silent. She went to see Mrs. Sherman the other day. What did
she say to her?”


“Really. What a dull thing existence is!”—this with a great sigh.
“When the Fates are weaving our web of life some mischievous goblin
always runs off with the dye-pot. Everything is dull and grey. Am I
looking a little pale? I have been so very ill.”

“A little bit pale, perhaps,” he said, doubtfully.

The Square gate brought them to a stop. It was locked, but she had the
key. The lock was stiff, but turned easily for John Sherman.

“How strong you are,” she said.

It was an iridescent evening of spring. The leaves of the bushes had
still their faint green. As Margaret darted about at the tennis, a red
feather in her cap seemed to rejoice with its wearer. Everything was at
once gay and tranquil. The whole world had that unreal air it assumes
at beautiful moments, as though it might vanish at a touch like an
iridescent soap-bubble.

After a little Margaret said she was tired, and, sitting on a garden
seat among the bushes, began telling him the plots of novels lately
read by her. Suddenly she cried—

“The novel-writers were all serious people like you. They are so hard
on people like me. They always make us come to a bad end. They _say_ we
are always acting, acting, acting; and what else do you serious people
do? You act before the world. I think, do you know, _we_ act before
ourselves. All the old foolish kings and queens in history were like
us. They laughed and beckoned and went to the block for no very good
purpose. I dare say the headsmen were like you.”

“We would never cut off so pretty a head.”

“Oh, yes, you would—you would cut off mine to-morrow.” All this she
said vehemently, piercing him with her bright eyes. “You would cut off
my head to-morrow,” she repeated, almost fiercely; “I tell you you

Her departure was always unexpected, her moods changed with so much
rapidity. “Look!” she said, pointing where the clock on St. Peter’s
church showed above the bushes. “Five minutes to five. In five minutes
my mother’s tea-hour. It is like growing old. I go to gossip. Good-bye.”

The red feather shone for a moment among the bushes and was gone.


The next day and the day after, Sherman was followed by those bright
eyes. When he opened a letter at his desk they seemed to gaze at him
from the open paper, and to watch him from the flies upon the ceiling.
He was even a worse clerk than usual.

One evening he said to his mother, “Miss Leland has beautiful eyes.”

“My dear, she puts belladonna in them.”

“What a thing to say!”

“I know she does, though her mother denies it.”

“Well, she is certainly beautiful,” he answered.

“My dear, if she has an attraction for you, I don’t want to discourage
it. She is rich as girls go nowadays; and one woman has one fault,
another another: one’s untidy, one fights with her servants, one fights
with her friends, another has a crabbed tongue when she talks of them.”

Sherman became again silent, finding no fragment of romance in such

In the next week or two he saw much of Miss Leland. He met her almost
every evening on his return from the office, walking slowly, her racket
under her arm. They played tennis much and talked more. Sherman began
to play tennis in his dreams. Miss Leland told him all about herself,
her friends, her inmost feelings; and yet every day he knew less about
her. It was not merely that saying everything she said nothing, but
that continually there came through her wild words the sound of the
mysterious flutes and viols of that unconscious nature which dwells
so much nearer to woman than to man. How often do we not endow the
beautiful and candid with depth and mystery not their own? We do not
know that we but hear in their voices those flutes and viols playing to
us of the alluring secret of the world.

Sherman had never known in early life what is called first love, and
now, when he had passed thirty, it came to him that love more of the
imagination than of either the senses or affections: it was mainly the
eyes that followed him.

It is not to be denied that as this love grew serious it grew
mercenary. Now active, now latent, the notion had long been in
Sherman’s mind, as we know, that he should marry money. A born
lounger, riches tempted him greatly. When those eyes haunted him from
the fourteen flies on the ceiling, he would say, “I should be rich;
I should have a house in the country; I should hunt and shoot, and
have a garden and three gardeners; I should leave this abominable
office.” Then the eyes became even more beautiful. It was a new kind of

He shrank a little, however, from choosing even this pleasant pathway.
He had planned many futures for himself and learnt to love them all. It
was this that had made him linger on at Ballah for so long, and it was
this that now kept him undecided. He would have to give up the universe
for a garden and three gardeners. How sad it was to make substantial
even the best of his dreams. How hard it was to submit to that
decree which compels every step we take in life to be a death in the
imagination. How difficult it was to be so enwrapped in this one new
hope as not to hear the lamentations that were going on in dim corners
of his mind.

One day he resolved to propose. He examined himself in the glass in
the morning; and for the first time in his life smiled to see how
good-looking he was. In the evening before leaving the office he
peered at himself in the mirror over the mantlepiece in the room where
customers were received. The sun was blazing through the window full on
his face. He did not look so well. Immediately all courage left him.

That evening he went out after his mother had gone to bed and walked
far along the towing-path of the Thames. A faint mist half covered
away the houses and factory chimneys on the further side; beside him
a band of osiers swayed softly, the deserted and full river lapping
their stems. He looked on all these things with foreign eyes. He had no
sense of possession. Indeed it seemed to him that everything in London
was owned by too many to be owned by any one. Another river that he
did seem to possess flowed through his memory with all its familiar
sights—boys riding in the stream to the saddle-girths, fish leaping,
water-flies raising their small ripples, a swan asleep, the wallflowers
growing on the red brick of the margin. He grew very sad. Suddenly
a shooting star, fiery and vagabond, leaped from the darkness. It
brought his mind again in a moment to Margaret Leland. To marry her, he
thought, was to separate himself from the old life he loved so well.

Crossing the river at Putney, he hurried homewards among the market
gardens. Nearing home, the streets were deserted, the shops closed.
Where King Street joins the Broadway, entirely alone with itself, in
the very centre of the road a little black cat was leaping after its

“Ah!” he thought, “it would be a good thing to be a little black cat.
To leap about in the moonlight and sleep in the sunlight, and catch
flies, to have no hard tasks to do or hard decisions to come to, to be
simple and full of animal spirits.”

At the corner of Bridge Road was a coffee-stall, the only sign of human
life. He bought some cold meat and flung it to the little black cat.


Some more days went by. At last, one day, arriving at the Square
somewhat earlier than usual, and sitting down to wait for Margaret on
the seat among the bushes, he noticed the pieces of a torn-up letter
lying about. Beside him on the seat was a pencil, as though some one
had been writing there and left it behind them. The pencil-lead was
worn very short. The letter had been torn up, perhaps, in a fit of

In a half-mechanical way he glanced over the scraps. On one of them he
read: “MY DEAR ELIZA,—What an incurable gossip my mother is.
You heard of my misfortune. I nearly died——” Here he had to search
among the scraps; at last he found one that seemed to follow. “Perhaps
you will hear news from me soon. There is a handsome young man who pays
me attention, and——” Here another piece had to be found. “I would
take him though he had a face like the man in the moon, and limped like
the devil at the theatre. Perhaps I am a little in love. Oh! friend of
my heart——” Here it broke off again. He was interested, and searched
the grass and the bushes for fragments. Some had been blown to quite
a distance. He got together several sentences now. “I will not spend
another winter with my mother for anything. All this is, of course, a
secret. I had to tell somebody; secrets are bad for my health. Perhaps
it will all come to nothing.” Then the letter went off into dress, the
last novel the writer had read, and so forth. A Miss Sims, too, was
mentioned, who had said some unkind thing of the writer.

Sherman was greatly amused. It did not seem to him wrong to read—we do
not mind spying on one of the crowd, any more than on the personages of
literature. It never occurred to him that he, or any friend of his, was
concerned in these pencil scribblings.

Suddenly he saw this sentence: “Heigho! your poor Margaret is falling
in love again; condole with her, my dear.”

He started. The name “Margaret,” the mention of Miss Sims, the style
of the whole letter, all made plain the authorship. Very desperately
ashamed of himself, he got up and tore each scrap of paper into still
smaller fragments and scattered them far apart.

That evening he proposed, and was accepted.


For several days there was a new heaven and a new earth. Miss Leland
seemed suddenly impressed with the seriousness of life. She was
gentleness itself; and as Sherman sat on Sunday mornings in his
pocket-handkerchief of a garden under the one tree, with its smoky
stem, watching the little circles of sunlight falling from the leaves
like a shower of new sovereigns, he gazed at them with a longer and
keener joy than heretofore—a new heaven and a new earth, surely!

Sherman planted and dug and raked this pocket-handkerchief of a garden
most diligently, rooting out the docks and dandelions and mouse-ear
and the patches of untimely grass. It was the point of contact between
his new life and the old. It was far too small and unfertile and shaded
in to satisfy his love of gardener’s experiments and early vegetables.

Perforce this husbandry was too little complex for his affections to
gather much round plant and bed. His garden in Ballah used to touch him
like the growth of a young family.

Now he was content to satisfy his barbaric sense of colour; right
round were planted alternate holyhock and sunflower, and behind them
scarlet-runners showed their inch-high cloven shoots.

One Sunday it occurred to him to write to his friends on the matter
of his engagement. He numbered them over. Howard, one or two less
intimate, and Mary Carton. At that name he paused; he would not write
just yet.


One Saturday there was a tennis party. Miss Leland devoted herself all
day to a young Foreign Office clerk. She played tennis with him, talked
with him, drank lemonade with him, had neither thoughts nor words for
any one else. John Sherman was quite happy. Tennis was always a bore,
and now he was not called upon to play. It had not struck him there was
occasion for jealousy.

As the guests were dispersing, his betrothed came to him. Her manner
seemed strange.

“Does anything ail you, Margaret?” he asked, as they left the Square.

“Everything,” she answered, looking about her with ostentatious
secrecy. “You are a most annoying person. You have no feeling; you
have no temperament; you are quite the most stupid creature I was ever
engaged to.”

“What is wrong with you?” he asked, in bewilderment.

“Don’t you see,” she replied, with a broken voice, “I flirted all day
with that young clerk? You should have nearly killed me with jealousy.
You do not love me a bit! There is no knowing what I might do!”

“Well, you know,” he said, “it was not right of you. People might say,
‘Look at John Sherman; how furious he must be!’ To be sure I wouldn’t
be furious a bit; but then they’d go about saying I was. It would not
matter, of course; but you know it is not right of you.”

“It is no use pretending you have feeling. It is all that miserable
little town you come from, with its sleepy old shops and its sleepy
old society. I would give up loving you this minute,” she added, with
a caressing look, “if you had not that beautiful bronzed face. I will
improve you. To-morrow evening you must come to the opera.” Suddenly
she changed the subject. “Do you see that little fat man coming out of
the Square and staring at me? I was engaged to him once. Look at the
four old ladies behind him, shaking their bonnets at me. Each has some
story about me, and it will be all the same in a hundred years.”

After this he had hardly a moment’s peace. She kept him continually
going to theatres, operas, parties. These last were an especial
trouble; for it was her wont to gather about her an admiring circle to
listen to her extravagancies, and he was no longer at the age when we
enjoy audacity for its own sake.


Gradually those bright eyes of his imagination, watching him from
letters and from among the fourteen flies on the ceiling, had ceased to
be centres of peace. They seemed like two whirlpools, wherein the order
and quiet of his life were absorbed hourly and daily.

He still thought sometimes of the country house of his dreams and of
the garden and the three gardeners, but somehow they had lost half
their charm.

He had written to Howard and some others, and commenced, at last, a
letter to Mary Carton. It lay unfinished on his desk; a thin coating of
dust was gathering upon it.

Mrs. Leland called continually on Mrs. Sherman. She sentimentalized
over the lovers, and even wept over them; each visit supplied the
household with conversation for a week.

Every Sunday morning—his letter-writing time—Sherman looked at his
uncompleted letter. Gradually it became plain to him he could not
finish it. It had never seemed to him he had more than friendship
for Mary Carton, yet somehow it was not possible to tell her of this

The more his betrothed troubled him the more he thought about the
unfinished letter. He was a man standing at the cross-roads.

Whenever the wind blew from the south he remembered his friend, for
that is the wind that fills the heart with memory.

One Sunday he removed the dust from the face of the letter almost
reverently, as though it were the dust from the wheels of destiny. But
the letter remained unfinished.


One Wednesday in June Sherman arrived home an hour earlier than usual
from his office, as his wont was the first Wednesday in every month,
on which day his mother was at home to her friends. They had not many
callers. To-day there was no one as yet but a badly-dressed old lady
his mother had picked up he knew not where. She had been looking at his
photograph album, and recalling names and dates from her own prosperous
times. As she went out Miss Leland came in. She gave the old lady in
passing a critical look that made the poor creature very conscious of
a threadbare mantle, and went over to Mrs. Sherman, holding out both
hands. Sherman, who knew all his mother’s peculiarities, noticed on
her side a slight coldness; perhaps she did not altogether like this
beautiful dragon-fly.

“I have come,” said Miss Leland, “to tell John that he must learn to
paint. Music and society are not enough. There is nothing like art to
give refinement.” Then turning to John Sherman—“My dear, I will make
you quite different. You are a dreadful barbarian, you know.”

“What ails me, Margaret?”

“Just look at that necktie! Nothing shows a man’s cultivation like
his necktie. Then your reading! You never read anything but old books
nobody wants to talk about. I will lend you three every one has read
this month. You really must acquire small talk and change your necktie.”

Presently she noticed the photograph-book lying open on a chair.

“Oh!” she cried, “I must have another look at John’s beauties.”

It was a habit of his to gather all manner of pretty faces. It came
from incipient old bachelorhood, perhaps.

Margaret criticized each photo in turn with, “Ah! she looks as if she
had some life in her!” or, “I do not like your sleepy eyelids,” or some
such phrase. The mere relations were passed by without a word. One face
occurred several times—a quiet face. As Margaret came on this one
for the third time, Mrs. Sherman, who seemed a little resentful about
something, said—

“That is his friend, Mary Carton.”

“He told me about her. He has a book she gave him. So that is she? How
interesting! I pity these poor country people. It must be hard to keep
from getting stupid.”

“My friend is not at all stupid,” said Sherman.

“Does she speak with a brogue? I remember you told me she was very
good. It must be difficult to keep from talking platitudes when one is
very good.”

“You are quite wrong about her. You would like her very much,” he

“She is one of those people, I suppose, who can only talk about their
relatives, or their families, or about their friends’ children: how
this one has got the hooping-cough, and this one is getting well of the
measles!” She kept swaying one of the leaves between her finger and
thumb impatiently. “What a strange way she does her hair; and what an
ugly dress!”

“You must not talk that way about her—she is my great friend.”

“Friend! friend!” she burst out. “He thinks I will believe in
friendship between a man and a woman.”

She got up, and said, turning round with an air of changing the
subject, “Have you written to your friends about our engagement? You
had not done so when I asked you lately.”

“I have.”


“Well, not all.”

“Your great friend, Miss——what do you call her?”

“Miss Carton. I have not written to her.”

She tapped impatiently with her foot.

“They were really old companions—that is all,” said Mrs. Sherman,
wishing to mend matters. “They were both readers; that brought them
together. I never much fancied her. Yet she was well enough as a
friend, and helped, maybe, with reading, and the gardening, and
his good bringing-up, to keep him from the idle young men of the

“You must make him write and tell her at once—you must, you must!”
almost sobbed out Miss Leland.

“I promise,” he answered.

Immediately returning to herself, she cried, “If I were in her place
I know what I would like to do when I got the letter. I know who I
would like to kill!”—this with a laugh as she went over, and looked at
herself in the mirror over the mantlepiece.




The others had gone, and Sherman was alone in the drawing-room by
himself, looking through the window. Never had London seemed to him so
like a reef whereon he was cast away. In the Square the bushes were
covered with dust; some sparrows were ruffling their feathers on the
side-walk; people passed, continually disturbing them. The sky was full
of smoke. A terrible feeling of solitude in the midst of a multitude
oppressed him. A portion of his life was ending. He thought that soon
he would be no longer a young man, and now, at the period when the
desire of novelty grows less, was coming the great change of his life.
He felt he was of those whose granaries are in the past. And now this
past would never renew itself. He was going out into the distance as
though with strange sailors in a strange ship.

He longed to see again the town where he had spent his childhood: to
see the narrow roads and mean little shops. And perhaps it would be
easier to tell her who had been the friend of so many years of this
engagement in his own person than by letter. He wondered why it was so
hard to write so simple a thing.

It was his custom to act suddenly on his decisions. He had not made
many in his life. The next day he announced at the office that he would
be absent for three or four days. He told his mother he had business in
the country.

His betrothed met him on the way to the terminus, as he was walking,
bag in hand, and asked where he was going. “I am going on business to
the country,” he said, and blushed. He was creeping away like a thief.


He arrived in the town of Ballah by rail, for he had avoided the slow
cattle steamer and gone by Dublin.

It was the forenoon, and he made for the Imperial Hotel to wait till
four in the evening, when he would find Mary Carton in the schoolhouse,
for he had timed his journey so as to arrive on Thursday, the day of
the children’s practice.

As he went through the streets his heart went out to every familiar
place and sight: the rows of tumble-down thatched cottages; the slated
roofs of the shops; the women selling gooseberries; the river bridge;
the high walls of the garden where it was said the gardener used to see
the ghost of a former owner in the shape of a rabbit; the street corner
no child would pass at nightfall for fear of the headless soldier;
the deserted flour store; the wharves covered with grass. All these
he watched with Celtic devotion, that devotion carried to the ends of
the world by the Celtic exiles, and since old time surrounding their
journeyings with rumour of plaintive songs.

He sat in the window of the Imperial Hotel, now full of guests. He
did not notice any of them. He sat there meditating, meditating. Grey
clouds covering the town with flying shadows rushed by like the old
and dishevelled eagles that Maeldune saw hurrying towards the waters
of life. Below in the street passed by country people, townspeople,
travellers, women with baskets, boys driving donkeys, old men with
sticks; sometimes he recognized a face or was recognized himself, and
welcomed by some familiar voice.

“You have come home a handsomer gentleman than your father, Misther
John, and he was a neat figure of a man, God bless him!” said the
waiter, bringing him his lunch; and in truth Sherman had grown
handsomer for these years away. His face and gesture had more of
dignity, for on the centre of his nature life had dropped a pinch of

At four he left the hotel and waited near the schoolhouse till the
children came running out. One or two of the elder ones he recognized
but turned away.


Mary Carton was locking the harmonium as he went in. She came to meet
him with a surprised and joyful air.

“How often I have wished to see you. When did you come? How well you
remembered my habits to know where to find me. My dear John, how glad I
am to see you.”

“You are the same as when I left, and this room is the same, too.”

“Yes,” she answered, “the same, only I have had some new prints hung
up—prints of fruits and leaves and bird-nests. It was only done last
week. When people choose pictures and poems for children they choose
out such domestic ones. I would not have any of the kind; children are
such undomestic animals. But, John, I am so glad to see you in this old
schoolhouse again. So little has changed with us here. Some have died
and some have been married, and we are all a little older and the trees
a little taller.”

“I have come to tell you I am going to be married.”

She became in a moment perfectly white, and sat down as though attacked
with faintness. Her hand on the edge of the chair trembled.

Sherman looked at her, and went on in a bewildered, mechanical way—“My
betrothed is a Miss Leland. She has a good deal of money. You know my
mother always wished me to marry some one with money. Her father, when
alive, was an old client of Sherman and Saunders. She is much admired
in society.” Gradually his voice became a mere murmur. He did not seem
to know that he was speaking. He stopped entirely. He was looking at
Mary Carton.

Everything around him was as it had been some three years before. The
table was covered with cups and the floor with crumbs. Perhaps the
mouse pulling at a crumb under the table was the same mouse as on that
other evening. The only difference was the brooding daylight of summer
and the ceaseless chirruping of the sparrows in the ivy outside. He had
a confused sense of having lost his way. It was just the same feeling
he had known as a child, when one dark night he had taken a wrong
turning, and instead of arriving at his own house, found himself at a
landmark he knew was miles from home.

A moment earlier, however difficult his life, the issues were always
definite; now suddenly had entered the obscurity of another’s interest.

Before this it had not occurred to him that Mary Carton had any
stronger feeling for him than warm friendship.

He began again, speaking in the same mechanical way—“Miss Leland
lives with her mother near us. She is very well educated and very well
connected, though she has lived always among business people.”

Miss Carton, with a great effort, had recovered her composure.

“I congratulate you,” she said. “I hope you will be always happy. You
came here on some business for your firm, I suppose? I believe they
have some connection with the town still.”

“I only came here to tell you I was going to be married.”

“Do you not think it would have been better to have written?” she
said, beginning to put away the children’s tea-things in a cupboard by
the fireplace.

“It would have been better,” he answered, drooping his head.

Without a word, locking the door behind them, they went out. Without
a word they walked the grey streets. Now and then a woman or a child
curtseyed as they passed. Some wondered, perhaps, to see these old
friends so silent. At the rectory they bade each other good-bye.

“I hope you will be always happy,” she said. “I will pray for you and
your wife. I am very busy with the children and old people, but I shall
always find a moment to wish you well in. Good-bye now.”

They parted; the gate in the wall closed behind her. He stayed for a
few moments looking up at the tops of the trees and bushes showing over
the wall, and at the house a little way beyond. He stood considering
his problem—her life, his life. His, at any rate, would have incident
and change; hers would be the narrow existence of a woman who, failing
to fulfil the only abiding wish she has ever formed, seeks to lose
herself in routine—mournfulest of things on this old planet.

This had been revealed: he loved Mary Carton, she loved him. He
remembered Margaret Leland, and murmured she did well to be jealous.
Then all her contemptuous words about the town and its inhabitants came
into his mind. Once they made no impression on him, but now the sense
of personal identity having been disturbed by this sudden revelation,
alien as they were to his way of thinking, they began to press in on
him. Mary, too, would have agreed with them, he thought; and might it
be that at some distant time weary monotony in abandonment would have
so weighed down the spirit of Mary Carton, that she would be merely
one of the old and sleepy whose dulness filled the place like a cloud?

He went sadly towards the hotel; everything about him, the road, the
sky, the feet wherewith he walked seeming phantasmal and without

He told the waiter he would leave by the first train in the morning.
“What! and you only just come home?” the man answered. He ordered
coffee and could not drink it. He went out and came in again
immediately. He went down into the kitchen and talked to the servants.
They told him of everything that had happened since he had gone. He was
not interested, and went up to his room. “I must go home and do what
people expect of me; one must be careful to do that.”

Through all the journey home his problem troubled him. He saw the
figure of Mary Carton perpetually passing through a round of
monotonous duties. He saw his own life among aliens going on endlessly,

From Holyhead to London his fellow-travellers were a lady and her three
young daughters, the eldest about twelve. The smooth faces shining with
well-being became to him ominous symbols. He hated them. They were
symbolic of the indifferent world about to absorb him, and of the vague
something that was dragging him inch by inch from the nook he had made
for himself in the chimney corner. He was at one of those dangerous
moments when the sense of personal identity is shaken, when one’s past
and present seem about to dissolve partnership. He sought refuge in
memory, and counted over every word of Mary’s he could remember. He
forgot the present and the future. “Without love,” he said to himself,
“we would be either gods or vegetables.”

The rain beat on the window of the carriage. He began to listen;
thought and memory became a blank; his mind was full of the sound of




After his return to London Sherman for a time kept to himself, going
straight home from his office, moody and self-absorbed, trying not to
consider his problem—her life, his life. He often repeated to himself,
“I must do what people expect of me. It does not rest with me now—my
choosing time is over.” He felt that whatever way he turned he would do
a great evil to himself and others. To his nature all sudden decisions
were difficult, and so he kept to the groove he had entered upon.
It did not even occur to him to do otherwise. He never thought of
breaking this engagement off and letting people say what they would. He
was bound in hopelessly by a chain of congratulations.

A week passed slowly as a month. The wheels of the cabs and carriages
seemed to be rolling through his mind. He often remembered the quiet
river at the end of his garden in the town of Ballah. How the weeds
swayed there, and the salmon leaped! At the week’s end came a note from
Miss Leland, complaining of his neglecting her so many days. He sent
a rather formal answer, promising to call soon. To add to his other
troubles a cold east wind arose and made him shiver continually.

One evening he and his mother were sitting silent, the one knitting,
the other half-asleep. He had been writing letters and was now in a
reverie. Round the walls were one or two drawings, done by him at
school. His mother had got them framed. His eyes were fixed on a
drawing of a stream and some astonishing cows.

A few days ago he had found an old sketch-book for children among some
forgotten papers, which taught how to draw a horse by making three
ovals for the basis of his body, one lying down in the middle, two
standing up at each end for flank and chest, and how to draw a cow by
basing its body on a square. He kept trying to fit squares into the
cows. He was half inclined to take them out of their frames and retouch
on this new principle. Then he began somehow to remember the child with
the swollen face who threw a stone at the dog the day he resolved to
leave home first. Then some other image came. His problem moved before
him in a disjointed way. He was dropping asleep. Through his reverie
came the click, click of his mother’s needles. She had found some
London children to knit for. He was at that marchland between waking
and dreaming where our thoughts begin to have a life of their own—the
region where art is nurtured and inspiration born.

He started, hearing something sliding and rustling, and looked up to
see a piece of cardboard fall from one end of the mantlepiece, and,
driven by a slight gust of air, circle into the ashes under the grate.

“Oh,” said his mother, “that is the portrait of the _locum tenens_.”
She still spoke of the Rev. William Howard by the name she had first
known him by. “He is always being photographed. They are all over the
house, and I, an old woman, have not had one taken all my life. Take
it out with the tongs.” Her son after some poking in the ashes, for it
had fallen far back, brought out a somewhat dusty photograph. “That,”
she continued, “is one he sent us two or three months ago. It has been
lying in the letter-rack since.”

“He is not so spick and span looking as usual,” said Sherman, rubbing
the ashes off the photograph with his sleeve.

“By the by,” his mother replied, “he has lost his parish, I hear. He
is very mediæval, you know, and he lately preached a sermon to prove
that children who die unbaptized are lost. He had been reading up the
subject and was full of it. The mothers turned against him, not being
so familiar with St. Augustine as he was. There were other reasons in
plenty too. I wonder that any one can stand that monkeyish fantastic

As the way is with so many country-bred people, the world for her was
divided up into families rather than individuals.

While she was talking, Sherman, who had returned to his chair, leant
over the table and began to write hurriedly. She was continuing her
denunciation when he interrupted with—“Mother, I have just written
this letter to him:—

   “‘Will you come and spend the autumn with us? I hear you are
  unoccupied just now. I am engaged to be married, as you know;
  it will be a long engagement. You will like my betrothed. I
  hope you will be great friends.
                          “‘Yours expectantly,
                             “‘JOHN SHERMAN.’”

“You rather take me aback,” she said.

“I really like him,” he answered. “You were always prejudiced against
the Howards. Forgive me, but I really want very much to have him here.”

“Well, if you like him, I suppose I have no objection.”

“I do like him. He is very clever,” said her son, “and knows a great
deal. I wonder he does not marry. Do you not think he would make a
good husband?—for you must admit he is sympathetic.”

“It is not difficult to sympathize with every one if you have no true
principles and convictions.”

Principles and convictions were her names for that strenuous
consistency attained without trouble by men and women of few ideas.

“I am sure you will like him better,” said the other, “when you see
more of him.”

“Is that photograph quite spoilt?” she answered.

“No; there was nothing on it but ashes.”

“That is a pity, for one less would be something.”

After this they both became silent, she knitting, he gazing at the cows
browsing at the edge of their stream, and trying to fit squares into
their bodies; but now a smile played about his lips.

Mrs. Sherman looked a little troubled. She would not object to any
visitor of her son’s, but quite made up her mind in no manner to put
herself out to entertain the Rev. William Howard. She was puzzled as
well. She did not understand the suddenness of this invitation. They
usually talked over things for weeks.


Next day his fellow-clerks noticed a decided improvement in Sherman’s
spirits. He had a lark-like cheerfulness and alacrity breaking out at
odd moments. When evening came he called, for the first time since his
return, on Miss Leland. She scolded him roundly for having answered her
note in such a formal way, but was sincerely glad to see him return
to his allegiance. We have said he had sometimes, though rarely, a
talkative fit. He had one this evening. The last play they had been to,
the last party, the picture of the year, all in turn he glanced at.
She was delighted. Her training had not been in vain. Her barbarian was
learning to chatter. This flattered her a deal.

“I was never engaged,” she thought, “to a more interesting creature.”

When he had risen to go Sherman said—“I have a friend coming to visit
me in a few days; you will suit each other delightfully. He is very

“Do tell me about him; I like everything mediæval.”

“Oh,” he cried, with a laugh, “his mediævalism is not in your line. He
is neither a gay troubadour nor a wicked knight. He is a High Church

“Do not tell me anything more about him,” she answered; “I will try to
be civil to him, but you know I never liked curates. I have been an
agnostic for many years. You, I believe, are orthodox.”

As Sherman was on his way home he met a fellow-clerk, and stopped him

“Are you an agnostic?”

“No. Why, what is that?”

“Oh, nothing! Good-bye,” he made answer, and hurried on his way.


The letter reached the Rev. William Howard at the right moment,
arriving as it did in the midst of a crisis in his fortunes. In the
course of a short life he had lost many parishes. He considered himself
a martyr, but was considered by his enemies a clerical coxcomb. He
had a habit of getting his mind possessed with some strange opinion,
or what seemed so to his parishioners, and of preaching it while the
notion lasted in the most startling way. The sermon on unbaptized
children was an instance. It was not so much that he thought it true as
that it possessed him for a day. It was not so much the thought as his
own relation to it that allured him. Then, too, he loved what appeared
to his parishioners to be the most unusual and dangerous practices. He
put candles on the altar and crosses in unexpected places. He delighted
in the intricacies of High Church costume, and was known to recommend
confession and prayers for the dead.

Gradually the anger of his parishioners would increase. The rector,
the washerwoman, the labourers, the squire, the doctor, the school
teachers, the shoemakers, the butchers, the seamstresses, the local
journalist, the master of the hounds, the innkeeper, the veterinary
surgeon, the magistrate, the children making mud pies, all would be
filled with one dread—popery. Then he would fly for consolation to
his little circle of the faithful, the younger ladies, who still
repeated his fine sentiments and saw him in their imaginations
standing perpetually before a wall covered with tapestry and holding
a crucifix in some constrained and ancient attitude. At last he would
have to go, feeling for his parishioners a gay and lofty disdain, and
for himself that reverend approbation one gives to the captains who
lead the crusade of ideas against those who merely sleep and eat. An
efficient crusader he certainly was—too efficient, indeed, for his
efficiency gave to all his thoughts a certain over-completeness and
isolation, and a kind of hardness to his mind. His intellect was like a
musician’s instrument with no sounding-board. He could think carefully
and cleverly, and even with originality, but never in such a way as to
make his thoughts an allusion to something deeper than themselves. In
this he was the reverse of poetical, for poetry is essentially a touch
from behind a curtain.

This conformation of his mind helped to lead him into all manner
of needless contests and to the loss of this last parish among much
else. Did not the world exist for the sake of these hard, crystalline
thoughts, with which he played as with so many bone _spilikins_,
delighting in his own skill? and were not all who disliked them
merely—the many?

In this way it came about that Sherman’s letter reached Howard at the
right moment. Now, next to a new parish, he loved a new friend. A visit
to London meant many. He had found he was, on the whole, a success at
the beginning of friendships.

He at once wrote an acceptance in his small and beautiful handwriting,
and arrived shortly after his letter. Sherman, on receiving him,
glanced at his neat and shining boots, the little medal at the
watch-chain and the well-brushed hat, and nodded as though in answer to
an inner query. He smiled approval at the slight, elegant figure in its
black clothes, at the satiny hair, and at the face, mobile as moving

For several days the Shermans saw little of their guest. He had friends
everywhere to turn into enemies and acquaintances to turn into friends.
His days passed in visiting, visiting, visiting. Then there were
theatres and churches to see, and new clothes to be bought, over which
he was as anxious as a woman. Finally he settled down.

He passed his mornings in the smoking-room. He asked Sherman’s leave
to hang on the walls one or two religious pictures, without which he
was not happy, and to place over the mantlepiece, under the pipe-rack,
an ebony crucifix. In one corner of the room he laid a rug neatly
folded for covering his knees on chilly days, and on the table a
small collection of favourite books—a curious and carefully-chosen
collection, in which Cardinal Newman and Bourget, St. Chrysostom and
Flaubert, lived together in perfect friendship.

Early in his visit Sherman brought him to the Lelands. He was a
success. The three—Margaret, Sherman, and Howard—played tennis in the
Square. Howard was a good player, and seemed to admire Margaret. On
the way home Sherman once or twice laughed to himself. It was like the
clucking of a hen with a brood of chickens. He told Howard, too, how
wealthy Margaret was said to be.

After this Howard always joined Sherman and Margaret at the tennis.
Sometimes, too, after a little, on days when the study seemed dull and
lonely, and the unfinished essay on St. Chrysostom more than usually
laborious, he would saunter towards the Square before his friend’s
arrival, to find Margaret now alone, now with an acquaintance or two.
About this time also press of work, an unusual thing with him, began
to delay Sherman in town half an hour after his usual time. In the
evenings they often talked of Margaret—Sherman frankly and carefully,
as though in all anxiety to describe her as she was; and Howard with
some enthusiasm: “She has a religious vocation,” he said once, with a
slight sigh.

Sometimes they played chess—a game that Sherman had recently become
devoted to, for he found it drew him out of himself more than anything

Howard now began to notice a curious thing. Sherman grew shabbier and
shabbier, and at the same time more and more cheerful. This puzzled
him, for he had noticed that he himself was not cheerful when shabby,
and did not even feel upright and clever when his hat was getting old.
He also noticed that when Sherman was talking to him he seemed to be
keeping some thought to himself. When he first came to know him long
ago in Ballah he had noticed occasionally the same thing, and set it
down to a kind of suspiciousness and over-caution, natural to one who
lived in such an out-of-the-way place. It seemed more persistent now,
however. “He is not well trained,” he thought; “he is half a peasant.
He has not the brilliant candour of the man of the world.”

All this while the mind of Sherman was clucking continually over its
brood of thoughts. Ballah was being constantly suggested to him. The
grey corner of a cloud slanting its rain upon Cheapside called to mind
by some remote suggestion the clouds rushing and falling in cloven surf
on the seaward steep of a mountain north of Ballah. A certain street
corner made him remember an angle of the Ballah fish-market. At night
a lantern, marking where the road was fenced off for mending, made him
think of a tinker’s cart, with its swing can of burning coals, that
used to stop on market days at the corner of Peter’s Lane at Ballah.
Delayed by a crush in the Strand, he heard a faint trickling of water
near by; it came from a shop window where a little water-jet balanced a
wooden ball upon its point. The sound suggested a cataract with a long
Gaelic name, that leaped crying into the Gate of the Winds at Ballah.
Wandering among these memories a footstep went to and fro continually
and the figure of Mary Carton moved among them like a phantom. He
was set dreaming a whole day by walking down one Sunday morning to
the border of the Thames—a few hundred yards from his house—and
looking at the osier-covered Chiswick eyot. It made him remember an
old day-dream of his. The source of the river that passed his garden
at home was a certain wood-bordered and islanded lake, whither in
childhood he had often gone blackberry-gathering. At the further end
was a little islet called Inniscrewin. Its rocky centre, covered with
many bushes, rose some forty feet above the lake. Often when life and
its difficulties had seemed to him like the lessons of some elder boy
given to a younger by mistake, it had seemed good to dream of going
away to that islet and building a wooden hut there and burning a few
years out, rowing to and fro, fishing, or lying on the island slopes
by day, and listening at night to the ripple of the water and the
quivering of the bushes—full always of unknown creatures—and going
out at morning to see the island’s edge marked by the feet of birds.

These pictures became so vivid to him that the world about him—that
Howard, Margaret, his mother even—began to seem far off. He hardly
seemed aware of anything they were thinking and feeling. The light that
dazzled him flowed from the vague and refracting regions of hope and
memory; the light that made Howard’s feet unsteady was ever the too
glaring lustre of life itself.


On the evening of the 20th of June, after the blinds had been
pulled down and the gas lighted, Sherman was playing chess in the
smoking-room, right hand against left. Howard had gone out with a
message to the Lelands. He would often say, “Is there any message I
can deliver for you? I know how lazy you are, and will save you the
trouble.” A message was always found for him. A pile of books lent for
Sherman’s improvement went home one by one.

“Look here,” said Howard’s voice in the doorway, “I have been watching
you for some time. You are cheating the red men most villainously. You
are forcing them to make mistakes that the white men may win. Why, a
few such games would ruin any man’s moral nature.”

He was leaning against the doorway, looking, to Sherman’s not too
critical eyes, an embodiment of all that was self-possessed and
brilliant. The great care with which he was dressed and his whole
manner seemed to say, “Look at me; do I not combine perfectly the
zealot with the man of the world?” He seemed excited to-night. He had
been talking at the Lelands, and talking well, and felt that elation
which brings us many thoughts.

“My dear Sherman,” he went on, “do cease that game. It is very bad for
you. There is nobody alive who is honest enough to play a game of chess
fairly out—right hand against left. We are so radically dishonest that
we even cheat ourselves. We can no more play chess than we can think
altogether by ourselves with security. You had much better play with

“Very well, but you will beat me; I have not much practice,” replied
the other.

They reset the men and began to play. Sherman relied most upon his
bishops and queen. Howard was fondest of the knights. At first Sherman
was the attacking party, but in his characteristic desire to scheme
out his game many moves ahead, kept making slips, and at last had to
give up, with his men nearly all gone and his king hopelessly cornered.
Howard seemed to let nothing escape him. When the game was finished he
leant back in his chair and said, as he rolled a cigarette—

“You do not play well.” It gave him satisfaction to feel his
proficiency in many small arts. “You do not do any of these things at
all well,” he went on, with an insolence peculiar to him when excited.
“You have been really very badly brought up and stupidly educated in
that intolerable Ballah. They do not understand there any, even the
least, of the arts of life; they only believe in information. Men who
are compelled to move in the great world, and who are also cultivated,
only value the personal acquirements—self-possession, adaptability,
how to dress well, how even to play tennis decently—you would be not
so bad at that, by the by, if you practised—or how to paint or write
effectively. They know that it is better to smoke one’s cigarette with
a certain charm of gesture than to have by heart all the encyclopedias.
I say this not merely as a man of the world, but as a teacher of
religion. A man when he rises from the grave will take with him only
the things that he is in himself. He will leave behind the things that
he merely possesses, learning and information not less than money and
high estate. They will stay behind with his house and his clothes and
his body. A collection of facts will no more help him than a collection
of stamps. The learned will not get into heaven as readily as the
flute-player, or even as the man who smokes a cigarette gracefully. Now
you are not learned, but you have been brought up almost as badly as
if you were. In that wretched town they told you that education was to
know that Russia is bounded on the north by the Arctic Sea, and on the
west by the Baltic Ocean, and that Vienna is situated on the Danube,
and that William the Third came to the throne in the year 1688. They
have never taught you any personal art. Even chess-playing might have
helped you at the day of judgment.”

“I am really not a worse chess-player than you. I am only more

There was a slight resentment in Sherman’s voice. The other noticed it,
and said, changing his manner from the insolent air of a young beauty
to a self-depreciatory one, which was wont to give him at times a very
genuine charm—

“It is really a great pity, for you Shermans are a deep people, much
deeper than we Howards. We are like moths or butterflies on rather
rapid rivulets, while you and yours are deep pools in the forest where
the beasts go to drink. No! I have a better metaphor. Your mind and
mine are two arrows. Yours has got no feathers, and mine has no metal
on the point. I don’t know which is most needed for right conduct. I
wonder where we are going to strike earth. I suppose it will be all
right some day when the world has gone by and they have collected all
the arrows into one quiver.”

He went over to the mantlepiece to hunt for a match, as his cigarette
had gone out. Sherman had lifted a corner of the blind and was gazing
over the roofs shining from a recent shower, and thinking how on such a
night as this he had sat with Mary Carton by the rectory fire listening
to the rain without and talking of the future and of the training of
village children.

“Have you seen Miss Leland in her last new dress from Paris?” said
Howard, making one of his rapid transitions. “It is very rich in
colour, and makes her look a little pale, like St. Cecilia. She is
wonderful as she stands by the piano, a silver cross round her neck.
We have been talking about you. She complains to me. She says you are
a little barbarous; you seem to look down on style, and sometimes—you
must forgive me—even on manners, and you are quite without small talk.
You must really try and be worthy of that beautiful girl, with her
great soul and religious genius. She told me quite sadly, too, that
you are not improving.”

“No,” said Sherman, “I am not going forward; I am at present trying to
go sideways like the crabs.”

“Be serious,” answered the other. “She told me these things with the
most sad and touching voice. She makes me her confidant, you know, in
many matters, because of my wide religious experience. You must really
improve yourself. You must paint or something.”

“Well, I will paint or something.”

“I am quite serious, Sherman. Try and be worthy of her, a soul as
gentle as St. Cecilia’s.”

“She is very wealthy,” said Sherman. “If she were engaged to you and
not to me you might hope to die a bishop.”

Howard looked at him in a mystified way and the conversation dropped.
Presently Howard got up and went to his room, and Sherman, resetting
the chess-board, began to play again, and, letting longer and longer
pauses of reverie come between his moves, played far into the morning,
cheating now in favour of the red men now in favour of the white.


The next afternoon Howard found Miss Leland sitting, reading in an
alcove in her drawing-room, between a stuffed paroquet and a blue De
Morgan jar. As he was shown in he noticed, with a momentary shock, that
her features were quite commonplace. Then she saw him, and at once
seemed to vanish wrapped in an exulting flame of life. She stood up,
flinging the book on to the seat with some violence.

“I have been reading that sweet ‘Imitation of Christ,’ and was just
feeling that I should have to become a theosophist or a socialist, or
go and join the Catholic Church, or do something. How delightful it is
to see you again! How is my savage getting on? It is so good of you to
try and help me to reform him.”

They talked on about Sherman, and Howard did his best to console her
for his shortcomings. Time would certainly improve her savage. Several
times she gazed at him with those large dark eyes of hers, of which the
pupils to-day seemed larger than usual. They made him feel dizzy and
clutch tightly the arm of his chair. Then she began to talk about her
life since childhood—how they got to the subject he never knew—and
made a number of those confidences which are so dangerous because so
flattering. To love—there is nothing else worth living for; but then
men are so shallow. She had never found a nature deep as her own.
She would not pretend that she had not often been in love, but never
had any heart rung back to her the true note. As she spoke her face
quivered with excitement. The exulting flame of life seemed spreading
from her to the other things in the room. To Howard’s eyes it seemed
as though the bright pots and stuffed birds and plush curtains began
to glow with a light not of this world—to glimmer like the strange
and chaotic colours the mystic Blake imagined upon the scaled serpent
of Eden. The light seemed gradually to dim his past and future, and to
make pale his good resolves. Was it not in itself that which all men
are seeking, and for which all else exists?

He leant forward and took her hand, timidly and doubtingly. She did
not draw it away. He leant nearer and kissed her on the forehead. She
gave a joyful cry, and, casting her arms round his neck, burst out,
“Ah! you—and I. We were made for each other. I hate Sherman. He is
an egotist. He is a beast. He is selfish and foolish.” Releasing one
of her arms she struck the seat with her hand, excitedly, and went
on, “How angry he will be! But it serves him right! How badly he is
dressing. He does not know anything about anything. But you—you—I
knew you were meant for me the moment I saw you.”

That evening Howard flung himself into a chair in the empty
smoking-room. He lighted a cigarette; it went out. Again he lighted
it; again it went out. “I am a traitor—and that good, stupid fellow,
Sherman, never to be jealous!” he thought. “But then, how could I
help it? And, besides, it cannot be a bad action to save her from a
man she is so much above in refinement and feeling.” He was getting
into good-humour with himself. He got up and went over and looked
at the photograph of Raphael’s Madonna, which he had hung over the
mantlepiece. “How like Margaret’s are her big eyes!”


The next day when Sherman came home from his office he saw an envelope
lying on the smoking-room table. It contained a letter from Howard,
saying that he had gone away, and that he hoped Sherman would forgive
his treachery, but that he was hopelessly in love with Miss Leland, and
that she returned his love.

Sherman went downstairs. His mother was helping the servant to set the

“You will never guess what has happened,” he said. “My affair with
Margaret is over.”

“I cannot pretend to be sorry, John,” she replied. She had long
considered Miss Leland among accepted things, like the chimney-pots on
the roof, and submitted, as we do, to any unalterable fact, but had
never praised her or expressed liking in any way. “She puts belladonna
in her eyes, and is a vixen and a flirt, and I dare say her wealth is
all talk. But how did it happen?”

Her son was, however, too excited to listen.

He went upstairs and wrote the following note—

    “I congratulate you on a new conquest. There is no end to your
  victories. As for me, I bow myself out with many sincere wishes
  for your happiness, and remain,
                               “Your friend,
                                   “JOHN SHERMAN.”

Having posted this letter he sat down with Howard’s note spread
out before him, and wondered whether there was anything mean and
small-minded in neatness—he himself was somewhat untidy. He had
often thought so before, for their strong friendship was founded in a
great measure on mutual contempt, but now immediately added, being in
good-humour with the world, “He is much cleverer than I am. He must
have been very industrious at school.”

A week went by. He made up his mind to put an end to his London life.
He broke to his mother his resolve to return to Ballah. She was
delighted, and at once began to pack. Her old home had long seemed to
her a kind of lost Eden, wherewith she was accustomed to contrast the
present. When, in time, this present had grown into the past it became
an Eden in turn. She was always ready for a change, if the change came
to her in the form of a return to something old. Others place their
ideals in the future; she laid hers in the past.

The only one this momentous resolution seemed to surprise was the old
and deaf servant. She waited with ever-growing impatience. She would
sit by the hour wool-gathering on the corner of a chair with a look
of bewildered delight. As the hour of departure came near she sang
continually in a cracked voice.

Sherman, a few days before leaving, was returning for the last time
from his office when he saw, to his surprise, Howard and Miss Leland
carrying each a brown paper bundle. He nodded good-humouredly, meaning
to pass on.

“John,” she said, “look at this brooch William gave me—a ladder
leaning against the moon and a butterfly climbing up it. Is it not
sweet? We are going to visit the poor.”

“And I,” he said, “am going to catch eels. I am leaving town.”

He made his excuses, saying he had no time to wait, and hurried off.
She looked after him with a mournful glance, strange in anybody who had
exchanged one lover for another more favoured.

“Poor fellow,” murmured Howard, “he is broken-hearted.”

“Nonsense,” answered Miss Leland, somewhat snappishly.




This being the homeward trip, SS. _Lavinia_ carried no cattle, but many
passengers. As the sea was smooth and the voyage near its end, they
lounged about the deck in groups. Two cattle merchants were leaning
over the taffrail smoking. In appearance they were something between
betting men and commercial travellers. For years they had done all
their sleeping in steamers and trains. A short distance from them a
clerk from Liverpool, with a consumptive cough, walked to and fro, a
little child holding his hand. Shortly he would be landed in a boat
putting off from the shore for the purpose. He had come hoping that
his native air of Teeling Head would restore him. The little child
was a strange contrast—her cheeks ruddy with perfect health. Further
forward, talking to one of the crew, was a man with a red face and
slightly unsteady step. In the companion house was a governess, past
her first youth, very much afraid of seasickness. She had brought her
luggage up and heaped it round her to be ready for landing. Sherman
sat on a pile of cable looking out over the sea. It was just noon;
SS. _Lavinia_, having passed by Tory and Rathlin, was approaching the
Donegal cliffs. They were covered by a faint mist, which made them loom
even vaster than they were. To westward the sun shone on a perfectly
blue sea. Seagulls come out of the mist and plunged into the sunlight,
and out of the sunlight and plunged into the mist. To the westward
gannets were striking continually, and a porpoise showed now and then,
his fin and back gleaming in the sun. Sherman was more perfectly happy
than he had been for many a day, and more ardently thinking. All
nature seemed full of a Divine fulfilment. Everything fulfilled its
law—fulfilment that is peace, whether it be for good or for evil, for
evil also has its peace, the peace of the birds of prey. Sherman looked
from the sea to the ship and grew sad. Upon this thing, crawling slowly
along the sea, moved to and fro many mournful and slouching figures.
He looked from the ship to himself and his eyes filled with tears. On
himself, on these moving figures, hope and memory fed like flames.

Again his eyes gladdened, for he knew he had found his present. He
would live in his love and the day as it passed. He would live that his
law might be fulfilled. Now, was he sure of this truth?—the saints
on the one hand, the animals on the other, live in the moment as it
passes. Thitherward had his days brought him. This was the one grain
they had ground. To grind one grain is sufficient for a lifetime.


A few days later Sherman was hurrying through the town of Ballah. It
was Saturday, and he passed down through the marketing country people,
and the old women with baskets of cakes and gooseberries and long
pieces of sugarstick shaped like walking-sticks, and called by children
“Peggie’s leg.”

Now, as two months earlier he was occasionally recognized and greeted,
and, as before, went on without knowing, his eyes full of unintelligent
sadness because the mind was making merry afar. They had the look we
see in the eyes of animals and dreamers. Everything had grown simple,
his problem had taken itself away. He was thinking what he would say
to Mary Carton. Now they would be married, they would live in a small
house with a green door and new thatch, and a row of beehives under
a hedge. He knew where just such a house stood empty. The day before
he and his mother had discussed, with their host of the Imperial
Hotel, this question of houses. They knew the peculiarities of every
house in the neighbourhood, except two or three built while they were
away. All day Sherman and his mother had gone over the merits of the
few they were told were empty. She wondered why her son had grown so
unpractical. Once he was so easily pleased—the row of beehives and the
new thatch did not for her settle the question. She set it all down to
Miss Leland and the plays, and the singing, and the belladonna, and
remembered with pleasure how many miles of uneasy water lay between
the town of Ballah and these things.

She did not know what else beside the row of beehives and the new
thatch her son’s mind ran on as he walked among the marketing country
people, and the gooseberry sellers, and the merchants of “Peggie’s
leg,” and the boys playing marbles in odd corners, and the men in
waistcoats with flannel sleeves driving carts, and the women driving
donkeys with creels of turf or churns of milk. Just now she was trying
to remember whether she used to buy her wool for knitting at Miss
Peters’s or from Mrs. Macallough’s at the bridge. One or other sold
it a halfpenny a skein cheaper. She never knew what went on inside
her son’s mind, she had always her own fish to fry. Blessed are the
unsympathetic. They preserve their characters in an iron safe while the
most of us poor mortals are going about the planet vainly searching
for any kind of a shell to contain us, and evaporating the while.

Sherman began to mount the hill to the vicarage. He was happy. Because
he was happy he began to run. Soon the steepness of the hill made him
walk. He thought about his love for Mary Carton. Seen by the light of
this love everything that had happened to him was plain now. He had
found his centre of unity. His childhood had prepared him for this
love. He had been solitary, fond of favourite corners of fields, fond
of going about alone, unhuman like the birds and the leaves, his heart
empty. How clearly he remembered his first meeting with Mary. They were
both children. At a school treat they watched the fire balloon ascend,
and followed it a little way over the fields together. What friends
they became, growing up together, reading the same books, thinking the
same thoughts.

As he came to the door and pulled at the great hanging iron bell
handle, the fire balloon reascended in his heart, surrounded with
cheers and laughter.


He kept the servant talking for a moment or two before she went for
Miss Carton. The old rector, she told him, was getting less and less
able to do much work. Old age had come almost suddenly upon him.
He seldom moved from the fireside. He was getting more and more
absent-minded. Once lately he had brought his umbrella into the
reading-desk. More and more did he leave all things to his children—to
Mary Carton and her younger sisters.

When the servant had gone Sherman looked round the somewhat gloomy
room. In the window hung a canary in a painted cage. Outside was a
narrow piece of shaded ground between the window and the rectory wall.
The laurel and holly bushes darkened the window a good deal. On a
table in the centre of the room were evangelistic books with gilded
covers. Round the mirror over the mantlepiece were stuck various parish
announcements, thrust between the glass and the gilding. On a small
side table was a copper ear-trumpet.

How familiar everything seemed to Sherman. Only the room seemed smaller
than it did three years before, and close to the table with the
ear-trumpet, at one side of the fireplace before the arm-chair, was a
new threadbare patch in the carpet.

Sherman recalled how in this room he and Mary Carton had sat in winter
by the fire, building castles in the air for each other. So deeply
meditating was he that she came in and stood unnoticed beside him.

“John,” she said at last, “it is a great pleasure to see you so soon
again. Are you doing well in London?”

“I have left London.”

“Are you married, then? You must introduce me to your wife.”

“I shall never be married to Miss Leland.”


“She has preferred another—my friend William Howard. I have come here
to tell you something, Mary.” He went and stood close to her and took
her hand tenderly. “I have always been very fond of you. Often in
London, when I was trying to think of another kind of life, I used to
see this fireside and you sitting beside it, where we used to sit and
talk about the future. Mary—Mary,” he held her hand in both his—“you
will be my wife?”

“You do not love me, John,” she answered, drawing herself away. “You
have come to me because you think it your duty. I have had nothing but
duty all my life.”

“Listen,” he said. “I was very miserable; I invited Howard to stay with
us. One morning I found a note on the smoking-room table to say that
Margaret had accepted him, and I have come here to ask you to marry me.
I never cared for any one else.”

He found himself speaking hurriedly, as though anxious to get the
words said and done with. It now seemed to him that he had done ill
in this matter of Miss Leland. He had not before thought of it—his
mind had always been busy with other things. Mary Carton looked at him

“John,” she said at last, “did you ask Mr. Howard to stay with you on
purpose to get him to fall in love with Miss Leland, or to give you an
excuse for breaking off your engagement, as you knew he flirted with
every one?”

“Margaret seems very fond of him. I think they are made for each
other,” he answered.

“Did you ask him to London on purpose?”

“Well, I will tell you,” he faltered. “I was very miserable. I had
drifted into this engagement I don’t know how. Margaret glitters and
glitters and glitters, but she is not of my kind. I suppose I thought,
like a fool, I should marry some one who was rich. I found out soon
that I loved nobody but you. I got to be always thinking of you and
of this town. Then I heard that Howard had lost his curacy, and asked
him up. I just left them alone and did not go near Margaret much. I
knew they were made for each other. Do not let us talk of them,” he
continued, eagerly. “Let us talk about the future. I will take a farm
and turn farmer. I dare say my uncle will not give me anything when he
dies because I have left his office. He will call me a ne’er-do-weel,
and say I would squander it. But you and I—we will get married, will
we not? We will be very happy,” he went on, pleadingly. “You will still
have your charities, and I shall be busy with my farm. We will surround
ourselves with a wall. The world will be on the outside, and on the
inside we and our peaceful lives.”

“Wait,” she said; “I will give you your answer,” and going into the
next room returned with several bundles of letters. She laid them on
the table; some were white and new, some slightly yellow with time.

“John,” she said, growing very pale, “here are all the letters you
ever wrote me from your earliest boyhood.” She took one of the large
candles from the mantlepiece, and, lighting it, placed it on the
hearth. Sherman wondered what she was going to do with it. “I will tell
you,” she went on, “what I had thought to carry to the grave unspoken.
I have loved you for a long time. When you came and told me you were
going to be married to another I forgave you, for man’s love is like
the wind, and I prayed that God might bless you both.” She leant down
over the candle, her face pale and contorted with emotion. “All these
letters after that grew very sacred. Since we were never to be married
they grew a portion of my life, separated from everything and every
one—a something apart and holy. I re-read them all, and arranged them
in little bundles according to their dates, and tied them with thread.
Now I and you—we have nothing to do with each other any more.”

She held the bundle of letters in the flame. He got up from his
seat. She motioned him away imperiously. He looked at the flame in a
bewildered way. The letters fell in little burning fragments about the
hearth. It was all like a terrible dream. He watched those steady
fingers hold letter after letter in the candle flame, and watched the
candle burning on like a passion in the grey daylight of universal
existence. A draught from under the door began blowing the ash about
the room. The voice said—

“You tried to marry a rich girl. You did not love her, but knew she was
rich. You tired of her as you tire of so many things, and behaved to
her most wrongly, most wickedly and treacherously. When you were jilted
you came again to me and to the idleness of this little town. We had
all hoped great things of you. You seemed good and honest.”

“I loved you all along,” he cried. “If you would marry me we would
be very happy. I loved you all along,” he repeated—this helplessly,
several times over. The bird shook a shower of seed on his shoulder. He
picked one of them from the collar of his coat and turned it over in
his fingers mechanically. “I loved you all along.”

“You have done no duty that came to you. You have tired of everything
you should cling to; and now you have come to this little town because
here is idleness and irresponsibility.”

The last letter lay in ashes on the hearth. She blew out the candle,
and replaced it among the photographs on the mantlepiece, and stood
there as calm as a portion of the marble.

“John, our friendship is over—it has been burnt in the candle.”

He started forward, his mind full of appeals half-stifled with despair,
on his lips gathered incoherent words: “She will be happy with Howard.
They were made for each other. I slipped into it. I always thought I
should marry some one who was rich. I never loved any one but you. I
did not know I loved you at first. I thought about you always. You are
the root of my life.”

Steps were heard outside the door at the end of a passage. Mary Carton
went to the door and called. The steps turned and came nearer. With a
great effort Sherman controlled himself. The door opened, and a tall,
slight girl of twelve came into the room. A strong smell of garden
mould rose from a basket in her hands. Sherman recognized the child who
had given him tea that evening in the schoolhouse three years before.

“Have you finished weeding the carrots?” said Mary Carton.

“Yes, Miss.”

“Then you are to weed the small bed under the pear-tree by the
tool-house. Do not go yet, child. This is Mr. Sherman. Sit down a

The child sat down on the corner of a chair with a scared look in her
eyes. Suddenly she said—

“Oh, what a lot of burnt paper!”

“Yes; I have been burning some old letters.”

“I think,” said John, “I will go now.” Without a word of farewell he
went out, almost groping his way.

He had lost the best of all the things he held dear. Twice he had gone
through the fire. The first time worldly ambition left him, on the
second love. An hour before the air had been full of singing and peace
that was resonant like joy. Now he saw standing before his Eden the
angel with the flaming sword. All the hope he had ever gathered about
him had taken itself off, and the naked soul shivered.


The road under his feet felt gritty and barren. He hurried away from
the town. It was late afternoon. Trees cast bands of shadow across the
road. He walked rapidly as if pursued. About a mile to the south of
the town he came on a large wood bordering the road and surrounding
a deserted house. Some local rich man once lived there, now it was
given over to a caretaker who lived in two rooms in the back part. Men
were at work cutting down trees in two or three parts of the wood.
Many places were quite bare. A mass of ruins—a covered well, and
the wreckage of castle wall—that that had been roofed with green
for centuries lifted themselves up, bare as anatomies. The sight
intensified, by some strange sympathy, his sorrow, and he hurried away
as from a thing accursed of God.

The road led to the foot of a mountain, topped by a cairn supposed
in popular belief to be the grave of Maeve, Mab of the fairies, and
considered by antiquarians to mark the place where certain prisoners
were executed in legendary times as sacrifices to the moon.

He began to climb the mountain. The sun was on the rim of the sea. It
stayed there without moving, for as he ascended he saw an ever-widening
circle of water.

He threw himself down upon the cairn. The sun sank under the sea. The
Donegal headlands mixed with the surrounding blue. The stars grew out
of heaven.

Sometimes he got up and walked to and fro. Hours passed. The stars,
the streams down in the valley, the wind moving among the boulders,
the various unknown creatures rustling in the silence—all these were
contained within themselves, fulfilling their law, content to be alone,
content to be with others, having the peace of God or the peace of the
birds of prey. He only did not fulfil his law; something that was not
he, that was not nature, that was not God, had made him and her he
loved its tools. Hope, memory, tradition, conformity, had been laying
waste their lives. As he thought this the night seemed to crush him
with its purple foot. Hour followed hour. At midnight he started up,
hearing a faint murmur of clocks striking the hour in the distant town.
His face and hands were wet with tears, his clothes saturated with dew.

He turned homeward, hurriedly flying from the terrible firmament.
What had this glimmering and silence to do with him—this luxurious
present? He belonged to the past and the future. With pace somewhat
slackened, because of the furze, he came down into the valley. Along
the northern horizon moved a perpetual dawn, travelling eastward as the
night advanced. Once, as he passed a marsh near a lime-kiln, a number
of small birds rose chirruping from where they had been clinging among
the reeds. Once, standing still for a moment where two roads crossed on
a hill-side, he looked out over the dark fields. A white stone rose in
the middle of a field, a score of yards in front of him. He knew the
place well; it was an ancient burying-ground. He looked at the stone,
and suddenly filled by that terror of the darkness children feel, began
again his hurried walk.

He re-entered Ballah by the southern side. In passing he looked at the
rectory. To his surprise a light burned in the drawing-room. He stood
still. The dawn was brightening towards the east, but all round him
was darkness, seeming the more intense to his eyes for their being
fresh from the unshaded fields. In the midst of this darkness shone
the lighted window. He went over to the gate and looked in. The room
was empty. He was about to turn away when he noticed a white figure
standing close to the gate. The latch creaked and the gate moved slowly
on its hinges.

“John,” said a trembling voice, “I have been praying, and a light has
come to me. I wished you to be ambitious—to go away and do something
in the world. You did badly, and my poor pride was wounded. You do not
know how much I had hoped from you; but it was all pride—all pride and
foolishness. You love me. I ask no more. We need each other; the rest
is with God.”

She took his hand in hers, and began caressing it. “We have been
shipwrecked. Our goods have been cast into the sea.” Something in her
voice told of the emotion that divides the love of woman from the love
of man. She looked upon him whom she loved as full of a helplessness
that needed protection, a reverberation of the feeling of the mother
for the child at the breast.



Long ago, before the earliest stone of the pyramids was laid, before
the Bo tree of Buddha unrolled its first leaf, before a Japanese had
painted on a temple wall the horse that every evening descended and
trampled the rice-fields, before the ravens of Thor had eaten their
first worm together, there lived a man of giant stature and of giant
strength named Dhoya. One evening Fomorian galleys had entered the Bay
of the Red Cataract, now the Bay of Ballah, and there deserted him.
Though he rushed into the water and hurled great stones after them
they were out of reach. From earliest childhood the Fomorians had held
him captive and compelled him to toil at the oar, but when his strength
had come his fits of passion made him a terror to all on board.
Sometimes he would tear the seats of the galley from their places, at
others drive the rowers to some corner where, trembling, they would
watch him pacing to and fro till the passion left him. “The demons,”
they said, “have made him their own.” So they enticed him on shore,
he having on his head a mighty stone pitcher to fill with water, and
deserted him.

When the last sail had dropped over the rim of the world he rose from
where he had flung himself down on the sands and paced through the
forests eastward. After a time he reached that lake among the mountains
where in later times Dermot drove down four stakes and made thereon a
platform with four flags in the centre for a hearth, and placed over
all a roof of wicker and skins, and hid his Grania, islanded thereon.
Still eastward he went, what is now Bulban on one side, Cope’s mountain
on the other, until at last he threw himself at full length in a deep
cavern and slept. Henceforward he made this cavern his lair, issuing
forth to hunt the deer or the bears or the mountain oxen. Slowly the
years went by, his fits of fury growing more and more frequent, though
there was no one but his own shadow to rave against. When his fury was
on him even the bats and owls, and the brown toads that crept out of
the grass at twilight would hide themselves—even the bats and owls and
the brown toads. These he had made his friends, and let them crawl and
perch about him, for at times he would be very gentle, and they too
were sullen and silent—the outcasts from they knew not what. But most
of all, things placid and beautiful feared him. He would watch for
hours, hidden in the leaves, to reach his hand out slowly and carefully
at last, and seize and crush some glittering halcyon.

Slowly the years went by and human face he never saw, but sometimes,
when the gentle mood was on him and it was twilight, a presence seemed
to float invisibly by him and sigh softly, and once or twice he awoke
from sleep with the sensation of a finger having rested for a moment
on his forehead, and would mutter a prayer to the moon before turning
to sleep again—the moon that glimmered through the door of his cave.
“O moon,” he would say, “that wandereth in the blue cave, more white
than the beard of Partholan, whose years were five hundred, sullen and
solitary, sleeping only on the floor of the sea: keep me from the evil
spirits of the islands of the lake southward beyond the mountains, and
the evil spirits of the caves northward beyond the mountains, and the
evil spirits who wave their torches by the mouth of the river eastward
beyond the valley, and the evil spirits of the pools westward beyond
the mountains, and I will offer you a bear and a deer in full horn,
O solitary of the cave divine, and if any have done you wrong I will
avenge you.”

Gradually, however, he began to long for this mysterious touch.

At times he would make journeys into distant parts, and once the
mountain oxen gathered together, proud of their overwhelming numbers
and their white horns, and followed him with great bellowing westward,
he being laden with their tallest, well-nigh to his cave, and would
have gored him, but, pacing into a pool of the sea to his shoulders, he
saw them thunder away, losing him in the darkness. The place where he
stood is called Pooldhoya to this day.

So the years went slowly by, and ever deeper and deeper came his
moodiness, and more often his fits of wrath. Once in his gloom he paced
the forests for miles, now this way now that, until, returning in the
twilight, he found himself standing on a cliff southward of the lake
that was southward of the mountains. The moon was rising. The sound
of the swaying of reeds floated from beneath, and the twittering of
the flocks of reed-wrens who love to cling on the moving stems. It was
the hour of votaries. He turned to the moon, then hurriedly gathered
a pile of leaves and branches, and making a fire cast thereon wild
strawberries and the fruit of the quicken tree. As the smoke floated
upwards a bar of faint purple clouds drifted over the moon’s face—a
refusal of the sacrifice. Hurrying through the surrounding woods he
found an owl sleeping in the hollow of a tree, and returning cast him
on the fire. Still the clouds gathered. Again he searched the woods.
This time a badger was uselessly cast among the flames. Time after
time he came and went, sometimes returning immediately with some live
thing, at others not till the fire had almost burnt itself out. Deer,
wild swine, birds, all to no purpose. Higher and higher he piled the
burning branches, the flames and the smoke waved and circled like
the lash of a giant’s whip. Gradually the nearer islands passed the
rosy colour on to their more distant brethren. The reed-wrens of the
furthest reed beds disturbed amid their sleep must have wondered at
the red gleam reflected in each other’s eyes. Useless his night-long
toil; the clouds covered the moon’s face more and more, until, when the
long fire lash was at its brightest, they drowned her completely in a
surge of unbroken mist. Raging against the fire he scattered with his
staff the burning branches, and trampled in his fury the sacrificial
embers beneath his feet. Suddenly a voice in the surrounding darkness
called him softly by name. He turned. For years no articulate voice had
sounded in his ears. It seemed to rise from the air just beneath the
verge of the precipice. Holding by a hazel bush he leaned out, and for
a moment it seemed to him the form of a beautiful woman floated faintly
before him, but changed as he watched to a little cloud of vapour;
and from the nearest of the haunted islands there came assuredly a
whiff of music. Then behind him in the forest said the voice, “Dhoya,
my beloved.” He rushed in pursuit; something white was moving before
him. He stretched out his hand; it was only a mass of white campion
trembling in the morning breeze, for an ashen morning was just touching
the mists on the eastern mountains. Beginning suddenly to tremble with
supernatural fear Dhoya paced homewards. Everything was changed; dark
shadows seemed to come and go, and elfin chatter to pass upon the
breeze. But when he reached the shelter of the pine woods all was still
as of old. He slackened his speed. Those solemn pine-trees soothed him
with their vast unsociability—many and yet each one alone. Once or
twice, when in some glade further than usual from its kind arose some
pine-tree larger than the rest, he paused with bowed head to mutter an
uncouth prayer to that dark outlaw. But when issuing once more, as he
neared his cave, into the region of mountain ash and hazel the voices
seemed again to come and go, and the shadows to circle round him, and
once a voice said, he imagined, in accents faint and soft as falling
dew, “Dhoya, my beloved.” But a few yards from the cave all grew
suddenly silent.


Slower and slower he went, with his eyes on the ground, bewildered
by all that was happening. A few feet from the cave he stood still,
counting aimlessly the round spots of light made by the beams slanting
through trees that hid with their greenness, as in the centre of the
sea, that hollow rock. As over and over he counted them, he heard,
first with the ear only, then with the mind also, a footstep going
to and fro within the cave. Lifting his eyes he saw the same figure
seen on the cliff—the figure of a woman, beautiful and young. Her
dress was white, save for a border of feathers dyed the fatal red of
the spirits. She had arranged in one corner the spears, and in the
other the brushwood and branches used for the fire, and spread upon
the ground the skins, and now began pulling vainly at the great stone
pitcher of the Fomorians.

Suddenly she saw him, and with a burst of wild laughter flung her arms
around his neck, crying, “Dhoya, I have left my world far off. My
people—on the floor of the lake they are dancing and singing, and on
the islands of the lake; always happy, always young, always without
change. I have left them for thee, Dhoya, for they cannot love. Only
the changing, and moody, and angry, and weary can love. I am beautiful;
love me, Dhoya. Do you hear me? I left the places where they dance,
Dhoya, for thee!” For long she poured out a tide of words, he answering
at first little, then more and more as she melted away the silence of
so many inarticulate years; and all the while she gazed on him with
eyes, no ardour could rob of the mild and mysterious melancholy that
watches us from the eyes of animals—sign of unhuman reveries.

Many days passed over these strangely wedded ones. Sometimes when he
asked her, “Do you love me?” she would answer, “I do not know, but
I long for your love endlessly.” Often at twilight, returning from
hunting, he would find her bending over a stream that flowed near to
the cave, decking her hair with feathers and reddening her lips with
the juice of a wild berry.

He was very happy secluded in that deep forest. Hearing the faint
murmurs of the western sea, they seemed to have outlived change. But
Change is everywhere, with the tides and the stars fastened to her
wheel. Every blood drop in their lips, every cloud in the sky, every
leaf in the world changed a little, while they brushed back their hair
and kissed. All things change save only the fear of change. And yet
for his hour Dhoya was happy and as full of dreams as an old man or an
infant—for dreams wander nearest to the grave and the cradle.

Once, as he was returning home from hunting, by the northern edge of
the lake, at the hour when the owls cry to each other, “It is time to
be abroad,” and the last flutter of the wind has died away, leaving
under every haunted island an image legible to the least hazel branch,
there suddenly stood before him a slight figure, at the edge of the
narrow sand-line, dark against the glowing water. Dhoya drew nearer.
It was a man leaning on his spear-staff, on his head a small red cap.
His spear was slender and tipped with shining metal; the spear of Dhoya
of wood, one end pointed and hardened in the fire. The red-capped
stranger silently raised that slender spear and thrust at Dhoya, who
parried with his pointed staff.

For a long while they fought. The last vestige of sunset passed away
and the stars came out. Underneath them the feet of Dhoya beat up the
ground, but the feet of the other as he rushed hither and thither,
matching his agility with the mortal’s mighty strength, made neither
shadow nor footstep on the sands. Dhoya was wounded, and growing weary
a little, when the other leaped away, and, crouching down by the water,
began—“You have carried away by some spell unknown the most beautiful
of our bands—you who have neither laughter nor singing. Restore her,
Dhoya, and go free.” Dhoya answered him no word, and the other rose
and again thrust at him with the spear. They fought to and fro upon
the sands until the dawn touched with olive the distant sky, and then
his anger fit, long absent, fell on Dhoya, and he closed with his
enemy and threw him, and put his knee on his chest and his hands on his
throat, and would have crushed all life out of him, when lo! he held
beneath his knee no more than a bundle of reeds.

Nearing home in the early morning he heard the voice he loved, singing—

  “Full moody is my love and sad,
     His moods bow low his sombre crest,
   I hold him dearer than the glad,
     And he shall slumber on my breast.

  “My love hath many an evil mood
     Ill words for all things soft and fair,
   I hold him dearer than the good,
     My fingers feel his amber hair.

  “No tender wisdom floods the eyes
     That watch me with their suppliant light—
   I hold him dearer than the wise,
     And for him make me wise and bright.”

And when she saw him she cried, “An old mortal song heard
floating from a tent of skin, as we rode, I and mine, through a
camping-place at night.” From that day she was always either singing
wild and melancholy songs or else watching him with that gaze of animal

Once he asked, “How old are you?”

“A thousand years, for I am young.”

“I am so little to you,” he went on, “and you are so much to me—dawn,
and sunset, tranquility, and speech, and solitude.”

“Am I so much?” she said; “say it many times!” and her eyes seemed to
brighten and her breast heaved with joy.

Often he would bring her the beautiful skins of animals, and she would
walk to and fro on them, laughing to feel their softness under her
feet. Sometimes she would pause and ask suddenly, “Will you weep for me
when we have parted?” and he would answer, “I will die then;” and she
would go on rubbing her feet to and fro in the soft skin.

And so Dhoya grew tranquil and gentle, and Change seemed still to
have forgotten them, having so much on her hands. The stars rose and
set watching them smiling together, and the tides ebbed and flowed,
bringing mutability to all save them. But always everything changes,
save only the fear of Change.


One evening as they sat in the inner portion of the cave, watching
through the opening the paling of the sky and the darkening of the
leaves, and counting the budding stars, Dhoya suddenly saw stand before
him the dark outline of him he fought on the lake sand, and heard at
the same instant his companion sigh.

The stranger approached a little, and said, “Dhoya we have fought
heretofore, and now I have come to play chess against thee, for well
thou knowest, dear to the perfect warrior after war is chess.”

“I know it,” answered Dhoya.

“And when we have played, Dhoya, we will name the stake.”

“Do not play,” whispered his companion at his side.

But Dhoya, being filled with his anger fit at the sight of his enemy,
answered, “I will play, and I know well the stake you mean, and I name
this for mine, that I may again have my knee on your chest and my hands
on your throat, and that you will not again change into a bundle of wet
reeds.” His companion lay down on a skin and began to cry a little.

Dhoya felt sure of winning. He had often played in his boyhood, before
the time of his anger fits, with his masters of the galley; and
besides, he could always return to his hands and his weapons once more.

Now the floor of the cave was of smooth, white sand, brought from
the sea-shore in his great Fomorian pitcher, to make it soft for his
beloved to walk upon; before it had been, as it now is, of rough clay.
On this sand the red-capped stranger marked out with his spear-point
a chess-board, and marked with rushes, crossed and recrossed each
alternate square, fixing each end of the rush in the sand, until a
complete board was finished of white and green squares, and then drew
from a bag large chess-men of mingled wood and silver. Two or three
would have made an armful for a child. Standing each at his end they
began to play. The game did not last long. No matter how carefully
Dhoya played, each move went against him. At last, leaping back from
the board he cried, “I have lost!” The two spirits were standing
together at the entrance. Dhoya seized his spear, but slowly the
figures began to fade, first a star and then the leaves showed through
their forms. Soon all had vanished away.

Then, realizing his loss, he threw himself on the ground, and rolling
hither and thither, roared like a wild beast. All night long he lay on
the ground, and all the next day till nightfall. He had crumbled his
staff unconsciously between his fingers into small pieces, and now,
full of dull rage, arose and went forth westward. In a ravine of the
northern mountain he came on the tracks of wild horses. Soon one passed
him fearlessly, knowing nothing of man. The pointed end of his staff
he still carried. He drove it deep in the flank, making a long wound,
sending the horse rushing with short screams down the mountain. Other
horses passed him one by one, driven southward by a cold wind laden
with mist, arisen in the night-time. Towards the end of the ravine
stood one black and huge, the leader of the herd. Dhoya leaped on his
back with a loud cry that sent a raven circling from the neighbouring
cliff, and the horse, after vainly seeking to throw him, rushed off
towards the north-west, over the heights of the mountains where the
mists floated. The moon, clear sometimes of the flying clouds, from low
down in the south-east, cast a pale and mutable light, making their
shadow rise before them on the mists, as though they pursued some
colossal demon, sombre on his black charger. Then leaving the heights
they rushed wildly down that valley where, in far later times, Dermot
hid in a deep cavern his Grania, and passed the stream where Muadhan,
their savage servant, caught fish for them on a hook baited with a
quicken berry. On over the plains, on northward, mile after mile, the
wild gigantic horse leaping cliff and chasm in his terrible race; on
until the mountains of what is now Donegal rose before them—over these
among the clouds, driving rain blowing in their faces from the sea,
Dhoya knowing not whither he went, or why he rode. On—the stones
loosened by the hoofs rumbling down into the valleys—till far in
the distance he saw the sea, a thousand feet below him; then, fixing
his eyes thereon, and using the spear-point as a goad, he roused his
black horse into redoubled speed, and with a wild leap horse and rider
plunged headlong into the Western Sea.

Sometimes the cotters on the mountains of Donegal hear on windy nights
a sudden sound of horses’ hoofs, and say to each other, “There goes
Dhoya.” And at the same hour men say if any be abroad in the valleys
they see a huge shadow rushing along the mountain.


  The Gresham Press,

Transcriber’s Note:

The table of contents has been added by the transcriber.

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