Merry Men by Robert Louis Stevenson - HTML preview
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in these reef-sown waters and contending against so vio-Long before we had reached the top, I had no other thought lent a stream of tide, their course was certain death.
for him but pity. If the crime had been monstrous the pun-
‘Good God!’ said I, ‘they are all lost.’
ishment was in proportion.
‘Ay,’ returned my uncle, ‘a’ – a’ lost. They hadnae a At last we emerged above the sky-line of the hill, and chance but to rin for Kyle Dona. The gate they’re gaun the could see around us. All was black and stormy to the eye; noo, they couldnae win through an the muckle deil were 30
there to pilot them. Eh, man,’ he continued, touching me Already the men on board the schooner must have be-on the sleeve, ‘it’s a braw nicht for a shipwreck! Twa in ae gun to realise some part, but not yet the twentieth, of the twalmonth! Eh, but the Merry Men’ll dance bonny!’
dangers that environed their doomed ship. At every lull of I looked at him, and it was then that I began to fancy him the capricious wind they must have seen how fast the cur-no longer in his right mind. He was peering up to me, as if rent swept them back. Each tack was made shorter, as they for sympathy, a timid joy in his eyes. All that had passed saw how little it prevailed. Every moment the rising swell between us was already forgotten in the prospect of this began to boom and foam upon another sunken reef; and fresh disaster.
ever and again a breaker would fall in sounding ruin under
‘If it were not too late,’ I cried with indignation, ‘I would the very bows of her, and the brown reef and streaming take the coble and go out to warn them.’
tangle appear in the hollow of the wave. I tell you, they
‘Na, na,’ he protested, ‘ye maunnae interfere; ye maunnae had to stand to their tackle: there was no idle men aboard meddle wi’ the like o’ that. It’s His’ – doffing his bonnet –
that ship, God knows. It was upon the progress of a scene
‘His wull. And, eh, man! but it’s a braw nicht for’t!’
so horrible to any human-hearted man that my misguided Something like fear began to creep into my soul and, uncle now pored and gloated like a connoisseur. As I turned reminding him that I had not yet dined, I proposed we to go down the hill, he was lying on his belly on the sum-should return to the house. But no; nothing would tear him mit, with his hands stretched forth and clutching in the from his place of outlook.
heather. He seemed rejuvenated, mind and body.
‘I maun see the hail thing, man, Cherlie,’ he explained –
When I got back to the house already dismally affected, and then as the schooner went about a second time, ‘Eh, I was still more sadly downcast at the sight of Mary. She but they han’le her bonny!’ he cried. ‘The Christ-Anna was had her sleeves rolled up over her strong arms, and was naething to this.’
quietly making bread. I got a bannock from the dresser 31
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and sat down to eat it in silence.
from this accursed island.’
‘Are ye wearied, lad?’ she asked after a while.
She had stopped her work by this time.
‘I am not so much wearied, Mary,’ I replied, getting on
‘And do you think, now,’ said she, ‘do you think, now, I my feet, ‘as I am weary of delay, and perhaps of Aros too.
have neither eyes nor ears? Do ye think I havenae broken You know me well enough to judge me fairly, say what I my heart to have these braws (as he calls them, God for-like. Well, Mary, you may be sure of this: you had better be give him!) thrown into the sea? Do ye think I have lived anywhere but here.’
with him, day in, day out, and not seen what you saw in an
‘I’ll be sure of one thing,’ she returned: ‘I’ll be where my hour or two? No,’ she said, ‘I know there’s wrong in it; duty is.’
what wrong, I neither know nor want to know. There was
‘You forget, you have a duty to yourself,’ I said.
never an ill thing made better by meddling, that I could
‘Ay, man?’ she replied, pounding at the dough; ‘will you hear of. But, my lad, you must never ask me to leave my have found that in the Bible, now?’
father. While the breath is in his body, I’ll be with him. And
‘Mary,’ I said solemnly, ‘you must not laugh at me just he’s not long for here, either: that I can tell you, Charlie –
now. God knows I am in no heart for laughing. If we could he’s not long for here. The mark is on his brow; and better get your father with us, it would be best; but with him or so – maybe better so.’
without him, I want you far away from here, my girl; for I was a while silent, not knowing what to say; and when your own sake, and for mine, ay, and for your father’s too, I roused my head at last to speak, she got before me.
I want you far – far away from here. I came with other
‘Charlie,’ she said, ‘what’s right for me, neednae be right thoughts; I came here as a man comes home; now it is all for you. There’s sin upon this house and trouble; you are a changed, and I have no desire nor hope but to flee – for stranger; take your things upon your back and go your that’s the word – flee, like a bird out of the fowler’s snare, ways to better places and to better folk, and if you were 32
ever minded to come back, though it were twenty years tenth, when the wealth-bringing wreck was cast ashore at syne, you would find me aye waiting.’
Sandag, he had been at first unnaturally gay, and his ex-
‘Mary Ellen,’ I said, ‘I asked you to be my wife, and you citement had never fallen in degree, but only changed in said as good as yes. That’s done for good. Wherever you kind from dark to darker. He neglected his work, and kept are, I am; as I shall answer to my God.’
Rorie idle. They two would speak together by the hour at As I said the words, the wind suddenly burst out raving, the gable end, in guarded tones and with an air of secrecy and then seemed to stand still and shudder round the house and almost of guilt; and if she questioned either, as at first of Aros. It was the first squall, or prologue, of the coming she sometimes did, her inquiries were put aside with con-tempest, and as we started and looked about us, we found fusion. Since Rorie had first remarked the fish that hung that a gloom, like the approach of evening, had settled round about the ferry, his master had never set foot but once upon the house.
the mainland of the Ross. That once – it was in the height
‘God pity all poor folks at sea!’ she said. ‘We’ll see no of the springs – he had passed dryshod while the tide was more of my father till the morrow’s morning.’
out; but, having lingered overlong on the far side, found And then she told me, as we sat by the fire and hear-himself cut off from Aros by the returning waters. It was kened to the rising gusts, of how this change had fallen with a shriek of agony that he had leaped across the gut, upon my uncle. All last winter he had been dark and fitful and he had reached home thereafter in a fever-fit of fear. A in his mind. Whenever the Roost ran high, or, as Mary fear of the sea, a constant haunting thought of the sea, said, whenever the Merry Men were dancing, he would lie appeared in his talk and devotions, and even in his looks out for hours together on the Head, if it were at night, or when he was silent.
on the top of Aros by day, watching the tumult of the sea, Rorie alone came in to supper; but a little later my uncle and sweeping the horizon for a sail. After February the appeared, took a bottle under his arm, put some bread in 33
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his pocket, and set forth again to his outlook, followed a chorus of melancholy sounds, hooting low in the chimney, this time by Rorie. I heard that the schooner was losing wailing with flutelike softness round the house.
ground, but the crew were still fighting every inch with It was perhaps eight o’clock when Rorie came in and hopeless ingenuity and course; and the news filled my pulled me mysteriously to the door. My uncle, it appeared, mind with blackness.
had frightened even his constant comrade; and Rorie, un-A little after sundown the full fury of the gale broke forth, easy at his extravagance, prayed me to come out and share such a gale as I have never seen in summer, nor, seeing the watch. I hastened to do as I was asked; the more readily how swiftly it had come, even in winter. Mary and I sat in as, what with fear and horror, and the electrical tension of silence, the house quaking overhead, the tempest howling the night, I was myself restless and disposed for action. I without, the fire between us sputtering with raindrops. Our told Mary to be under no alarm, for I should be a safe-thoughts were far away with the poor fellows on the schoo-guard on her father; and wrapping myself warmly in a plaid, ner, or my not less unhappy uncle, houseless on the promI followed Rorie into the open air.
ontory; and yet ever and again we were startled back to The night, though we were so little past midsummer, was ourselves, when the wind would rise and strike the gable as dark as January. Intervals of a groping twilight alter-like a solid body, or suddenly fall and draw away, so that nated with spells of utter blackness; and it was impossible the fire leaped into flame and our hearts bounded in our to trace the reason of these changes in the flying horror of sides. Now the storm in its might would seize and shake the sky. The wind blew the breath out of a man’s nostrils; the four corners of the roof, roaring like Leviathan in anger.
all heaven seemed to thunder overhead like one huge sail; Anon, in a lull, cold eddies of tempest moved shudderingly and when there fell a momentary lull on Aros, we could in the room, lifting the hair upon our heads and passing be-hear the gusts dismally sweeping in the distance. Over all tween us as we sat. And again the wind would break forth in the lowlands of the Ross, the wind must have blown as 34
fierce as on the open sea; and God only knows the uproar Bruised, drenched, beaten, and breathless, it must have that was raging around the head of Ben Kyaw. Sheets of taken us near half an hour to get from the house down to mingled spray and rain were driven in our faces. All round the Head that overlooks the Roost. There, it seemed, was the isle of Aros the surf, with an incessant, hammering thun-my uncle’s favourite observatory. Right in the face of it, der, beat upon the reefs and beaches. Now louder in one where the cliff is highest and most sheer, a hump of earth, place, now lower in another, like the combinations of or-like a parapet, makes a place of shelter from the common chestral music, the constant mass of sound was hardly var-winds, where a man may sit in quiet and see the tide and ied for a moment. And loud above all this hurly-burly I the mad billows contending at his feet. As he might look could hear the changeful voices of the Roost and the inter-down from the window of a house upon some street dis-mittent roaring of the Merry Men. At that hour, there flashed turbance, so, from this post, he looks down upon the tum-into my mind the reason of the name that they were called.
bling of the Merry Men. On such a night, of course, he For the noise of them seemed almost mirthful, as it out-peers upon a world of blackness, where the waters wheel topped the other noises of the night; or if not mirthful, yet and boil, where the waves joust together with the noise of instinct with a portentous joviality. Nay, and it seemed even an explosion, and the foam towers and vanishes in the twin-human. As when savage men have drunk away their rea-kling of an eye. Never before had I seen the Merry Men son, and, discarding speech, bawl together in their mad-thus violent. The fury, height, and transiency of their ness by the hour; so, to my ears, these deadly breakers spoutings was a thing to be seen and not recounted. High shouted by Aros in the night.
over our heads on the cliff rose their white columns in the Arm in arm, and staggering against the wind, Rorie and I darkness; and the same instant, like phantoms, they were won every yard of ground with conscious effort. We slipped gone. Sometimes three at a time would thus aspire and on the wet sod, we fell together sprawling on the rocks.
vanish; sometimes a gust took them, and the spray would 35
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fall about us, heavy as a wave. And yet the spectacle was doned. My uncle was a dangerous madman, if you will, rather maddening in its levity than impressive by its force.
but he was not cruel and base as I had feared. Yet what a Thought was beaten down by the confounding uproar – a scene for a carouse, what an incredible vice, was this that gleeful vacancy possessed the brains of men, a state akin to the poor man had chosen! I have always thought drunken-madness; and I found myself at times following the dance of ness a wild and almost fearful pleasure, rather demoniacal the Merry Men as it were a tune upon a jigging instrument.
than human; but drunkenness, out here in the roaring black-I first caught sight of my uncle when we were still ness, on the edge of a cliff above that hell of waters, the some yards away in one of the flying glimpses of twi-man’s head spinning like the Roost, his foot tottering on light that chequered the pitch darkness of the night. He the edge of death, his ear watching for the signs of ship-was standing up behind the parapet, his head thrown wreck, surely that, if it were credible in any one, was mor-back and the bottle to his mouth. As he put it down, he ally impossible in a man like my uncle, whose mind was set saw and recognised us with a toss of one hand fleeringly upon a damnatory creed and haunted by the darkest super-above his head.
stitions. Yet so it was; and, as we reached the bight of
‘Has he been drinking?’ shouted I to Rorie.
shelter and could breathe again, I saw the man’s eyes shin-
‘He will aye be drunk when the wind blaws,’ returned ing in the night with an unholy glimmer.
Rorie in the same high key, and it was all that I could do to
‘Eh, Charlie, man, it’s grand!’ he cried. ‘See to them!’ he hear him.
continued, dragging me to the edge of the abyss from
‘Then – was he so – in February?’ I inquired.
whence arose that deafening clamour and those clouds of Rorie’s ‘Ay’ was a cause of joy to me. The murder, then, spray; ‘see to them dancin’, man! Is that no wicked?’
had not sprung in cold blood from calculation; it was an He pronounced the word with gusto, and I thought it act of madness no more to be condemned than to be par-suited with the scene.
‘They’re yowlin’ for thon schooner,’ he went on, his thin, Suddenly, out in the black night before us, and not two insane voice clearly audible in the shelter of the bank, ‘an’
hundred yards away, we heard, at a moment when the wind she’s comin’ aye nearer, aye nearer, aye nearer an’ nearer was silent, the clear note of a human voice. Instantly the an’ nearer; an’ they ken’t, the folk kens it, they ken wool wind swept howling down upon the Head, and the Roost it’s by wi’ them. Charlie, lad, they’re a’ drunk in yon schoo-bellowed, and churned, and danced with a new fury. But ner, a’ dozened wi’ drink. They were a’ drunk in the Christ-we had heard the sound, and we knew, with agony, that Anna, at the hinder end. There’s nane could droon at sea this was the doomed ship now close on ruin, and that what wantin’ the brandy. Hoot awa, what do you ken?’ with a we had heard was the voice of her master issuing his last sudden blast of anger. ‘I tell ye, it cannae be; they droon command. Crouching together on the edge, we waited, withoot it. Ha’e,’ holding out the bottle, ‘tak’ a sowp.’
straining every sense, for the inevitable end. It was long, I was about to refuse, but Rorie touched me as if in warn-however, and to us it seemed like ages, ere the schooner ing; and indeed I had already thought better of the move-suddenly appeared for one brief instant, relieved against a ment. I took the bottle, therefore, and not only drank freely tower of glimmering foam. I still see her reefed mainsail myself, but contrived to spill even more as I was doing so.
flapping loose, as the boom fell heavily across the deck; I It was pure spirit, and almost strangled me to swallow. My still see the black outline of the hull, and still think I can kinsman did not observe the loss, but, once more throwing distinguish the figure of a man stretched upon the tiller.
back his head, drained the remainder to the dregs. Then, Yet the whole sight we had of her passed swifter than light-with a loud laugh, he cast the bottle forth among the Merry ning; the very wave that disclosed her fell burying her for Men, who seemed to leap up, shouting to receive it.
ever; the mingled cry of many voices at the point of death
‘Ha’e, bairns!’ he cried, ‘there’s your han’sel. Ye’ll get rose and was quenched in the roaring of the Merry Men.
bonnier nor that, or morning.’
And with that the tragedy was at an end. The strong ship, 37
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with all her gear, and the lamp perhaps still burning in the all this time was rapidly abating. In half an hour the wind cabin, the lives of so many men, precious surely to others, had fallen to a breeze, and the change was accompanied or dear, at least, as heaven to themselves, had all, in that one caused by a heavy, cold, and plumping rain. I must then moment, gone down into the surging waters. They were have fallen asleep, and when I came to myself, drenched, gone like a dream. And the wind still ran and shouted, and stiff, and unrefreshed, day had already broken, grey, wet, the senseless waters in the Roost still leaped and tumbled discomfortable day; the wind blew in faint and shifting capas before.
fuls, the tide was out, the Roost was at its lowest, and only How long we lay there together, we three, speechless the strong beating surf round all the coasts of Aros re-and motionless, is more than I can tell, but it must have mained to witness of the furies of the night.
been for long. At length, one by one, and almost mechanically, we crawled back into the shelter of the bank. As I lay against the parapet, wholly wretched and not entirely master of my mind, I could hear my kinsman maundering to himself in an altered and melancholy mood. Now he would repeat to himself with maudlin iteration, ‘Sic a fecht as they had – sic a sair fecht as they had, puir lads, puir lads!’
and anon he would bewail that ‘a’ the gear was as gude’s tint,’ because the ship had gone down among the Merry Men instead of stranding on the shore; and throughout, the name – the Christ-Anna – would come and go in his divagations, pronounced with shuddering awe. The storm 38
CHAPTER V: A MAN OUT OF THE SEA sea, although conquered for the moment, was still undimin-ished; had the sea been a lake of living flames, he could not RORIE SET OUT for the house in search of warmth and break-have shrunk more panically from its touch; and once, when fast; but my uncle was bent upon examining the shores of his foot slipped and he plunged to the midleg into a pool of Aros, and I felt it a part of duty to accompany him through-water, the shriek that came up out of his soul was like the out. He was now docile and quiet, but tremulous and weak cry of death. He sat still for a while, panting like a dog, after in mind and body; and it was with the eagerness of a child that; but his desire for the spoils of shipwreck triumphed that he pursued his exploration. He climbed far down upon once more over his fears; once more he tottered among the the rocks; on the beaches, he pursued the retreating break-curded foam; once more he crawled upon the rocks among ers. The merest broken plank or rag of cordage was a trea-the bursting bubbles; once more his whole heart seemed to sure in his eyes to be secured at the peril of his life. To see be set on driftwood, fit, if it was fit for anything, to throw him, with weak and stumbling footsteps, expose himself to upon the fire. Pleased as he was with what he found, he still the pursuit of the surf, or the snares and pitfalls of the weedy incessantly grumbled at his ill-fortune.
rock, kept me in a perpetual terror. My arm was ready to
‘Aros,’ he said, ‘is no a place for wrecks ava’ – no ava’.
support him, my hand clutched him by the skirt, I helped A’ the years I’ve dwalt here, this ane maks the second; and him to draw his pitiful discoveries beyond the reach of the the best o’ the gear clean tint!’
returning wave; a nurse accompanying a child of seven
‘Uncle,’ said I, for we were now on a stretch of open would have had no different experience.
sand, where there was nothing to divert his mind, ‘I saw you Yet, weakened as he was by the reaction from his mad-last night, as I never thought to see you – you were drunk.’
ness of the night before, the passions that smouldered in
‘Na, na,’ he said, ‘no as bad as that. I had been drinking, his nature were those of a strong man. His terror of the though. And to tell ye the God’s truth, it’s a thing I cannae 39
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mend. There’s nae soberer man than me in my ordnar; but ers, neighing to each other, as they gathered together to when I hear the wind blaw in my lug, it’s my belief that I the assault of Aros; and close before us, that line on the gang gyte.’
flat sands that, with all their number and their fury, they
‘You are a religious man,’ I replied, ‘and this is sin’.
might never pass.
‘Ou,’ he returned, ‘if it wasnae sin, I dinnae ken that I
‘Thus far shalt thou go,’ said I, ‘and no farther.’ And would care for’t. Ye see, man, it’s defiance. There’s a sair then I quoted as solemnly as I was able a verse that I had spang o’ the auld sin o’ the warld in you sea; it’s an un-often before fitted to the chorus of the breakers:–
christian business at the best o’t; an’ whiles when it gets up, an’ the wind skreights – the wind an’ her are a kind of But yet the Lord that is on high,
sib, I’m thinkin’ – an’ thae Merry Men, the daft callants, Is more of might by far,
blawin’ and lauchin’, and puir souls in the deid thraws Than noise of many waters is,
warstlin’ the leelang nicht wi’ their bit ships – weel, it comes As great sea billows are.
ower me like a glamour. I’m a deil, I ken’t. But I think naething o’ the puir sailor lads; I’m wi’ the sea, I’m just
‘Ay,’ said my kinsinan, ‘at the hinder end, the Lord will like ane o’ her ain Merry Men.’
triumph; I dinnae misdoobt that. But here on earth, even I thought I should touch him in a joint of his harness. I silly men-folk daur Him to His face. It is nae wise; I am nae turned me towards the sea; the surf was running gaily, wave sayin’ that it’s wise; but it’s the pride of the eye, and it’s the after wave, with their manes blowing behind them, riding lust o’ life, an’ it’s the wale o’ pleesures.’
one after another up the beach, towering, curving, falling I said no more, for we had now begun to cross a neck of one upon another on the trampled sand. Without, the salt land that lay between us and Sandag; and I withheld my air, the scared gulls, the widespread army of the sea-charg-last appeal to the man’s better reason till we should stand 40
upon the spot associated with his crime. Nor did he pursue He started visibly at the last words; but there came no the subject; but he walked beside me with a firmer step.
answer, and his face expressed no feeling but a vague alarm.
The call that I had made upon his mind acted like a stimu-
‘You were my father’s brother,’ I continued; ‘You, have lant, and I could see that he had forgotten his search for taught me to count your house as if it were my father’s worthless jetsam, in a profound, gloomy, and yet stirring house; and we are both sinful men walking before the Lord train of thought. In three or four minutes we had topped among the sins and dangers of this life. It is by our evil that the brae and begun to go down upon Sandag. The wreck God leads us into good; we sin, I dare not say by His temp-had been roughly handled by the sea; the stem had been tation, but I must say with His consent; and to any but the spun round and dragged a little lower down; and perhaps brutish man his sins are the beginning of wisdom. God has the stern had been forced a little higher, for the two parts warned you by this crime; He warns you still by the bloody now lay entirely separate on the beach. When we came to grave between our feet; and if there shall follow no repen-the grave I stopped, uncovered my head in the thick rain, tance, no improvement, no return to Him, what can we and, looking my kinsman in the face, addressed him.
look for but the following of some memorable judgment?’
‘A man,’ said I, ‘was in God’s providence suffered to Even as I spoke the words, the eyes of my uncle wandered escape from mortal dangers; he was poor, he was naked, from my face. A change fell upon his looks that cannot be he was wet, he was weary, he was a stranger; he had every described; his features seemed to dwindle in size, the colour claim upon the bowels of your compassion; it may be that faded from his cheeks, one hand rose waveringly and pointed he was the salt of the earth, holy, helpful, and kind; it may over my shoulder into the distance, and the oft-repeated name be he was a man laden with iniquities to whom death was fell once more from his lips: ‘The Christ-Anna!’
the beginning of torment. I ask you in the sight of heaven: I turned; and if I was not appalled to the same degree, as Gordon Darnaway, where is the man for whom Christ died?’
I return thanks to Heaven that I had not the cause, I was 41
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still startled by the sight that met my eyes. The form of a uneasiness I grew the more confident myself; and I adman stood upright on the cabin-hutch of the wrecked ship; vanced another step, encouraging him as I did so with my his back was towards us; he appeared to be scanning the head and hand. It was plain the castaway had heard indif-offing with shaded eyes, and his figure was relieved to its ferent accounts of our island hospitality; and indeed, about full height, which was plainly very great, against the sea this time, the people farther north had a sorry reputation.
and sky. I have said a thousand times that I am not super-
‘Why,’ I said, ‘the man is black!’
stitious; but at that moment, with my mind running upon And just at that moment, in a voice that I could scarce death and sin, the unexplained appearance of a stranger on have recognised, my kinsman began swearing and praying that sea-girt, solitary island filled me with a surprise that in a mingled stream. I looked at him; he had fallen on his bordered close on terror. It seemed scarce possible that knees, his face was agonised; at each step of the castaway’s any human soul should have come ashore alive in such a sea the pitch of his voice rose, the volubility of his utterance as had rated last night along the coasts of Aros; and the only and the fervour of his language redoubled. I call it prayer, vessel within miles had gone down before our eyes among for it was addressed to God; but surely no such ranting the Merry Men. I was assailed with doubts that made sus-incongruities were ever before addressed to the Creator pense unbearable, and, to put the matter to the touch at once, by a creature: surely if prayer can be a sin, this mad ha-stepped forward and hailed the figure like a ship.
rangue was sinful. I ran to my kinsman, I seized him by the He turned about, and I thought he started to behold us.
shoulders, I dragged him to his feet.
At this my courage instantly revived, and I called and signed
‘Silence, man,’ said I, ‘respect your God in words, if not to him to draw near, and he, on his part, dropped immedi-in action. Here, on the very scene of your transgressions, ately to the sands, and began slowly to approach, with many He sends you an occasion of atonement. Forward and em-stops and hesitations. At each repeated mark of the man’s brace it; welcome like a father yon creature who comes 42
trembling to your mercy.’
must rely upon the tongue of looks and gestures. There-With that, I tried to force him towards the black; but he upon I signed to him to follow me, which he did readily felled me to the ground, burst from my grasp, leaving the and with a grave obeisance like a fallen king; all the while shoulder of his jacket, and fled up the hillside towards the there had come no shade of alteration in his face, neither of top of Aros like a deer. I staggered to my feet again, bruised anxiety while he was still waiting, nor of relief now that he and somewhat stunned; the negro had paused in surprise, was reassured; if he were a slave, as I supposed, I could perhaps in terror, some halfway between me and the wreck; not but judge he must have fallen from some high place in my uncle was already far away, bounding from rock to his own country, and fallen as he was, I could not but ad-rock; and I thus found myself torn for a time between two mire his bearing. As we passed the grave, I paused and duties. But I judged, and I pray Heaven that I judged rightly, raised my hands and eyes to heaven in token of respect and in favour of the poor wretch upon the sands; his misfor-sorrow for the dead; and he, as if in answer, bowed low tune was at least not plainly of his own creation; it was and spread his hands abroad; it was a strange motion, but one, besides, that I could certainly relieve; and I had begun done like a thing of common custom; and I supposed it by that time to regard my uncle as an incurable and dismal was ceremonial in the land from which he came. At the lunatic. I advanced accordingly towards the black, who same time he pointed to my uncle, whom we could just see now awaited my approach with folded arms, like one pre-perched upon a knoll, and touched his head to indicate that pared for either destiny. As I came nearer, he reached forth he was mad.
his hand with a great gesture, such as I had seen from the We took the long way round the shore, for I feared to pulpit, and spoke to me in something of a pulpit voice, but excite my uncle if we struck across the island; and as we not a word was comprehensible. I tried him first in En-walked, I had time enough to mature the little dramatic glish, then in Gaelic, both in vain; so that it was clear we exhibition by which I hoped to satisfy my doubts. Accord-43
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ingly, pausing on a rock, I proceeded to imitate before the solemnity of manner, so that I was never even moved to negro the action of the man whom I had seen the day be-smile. Lastly, he indicated to me, by a pantomime not to fore taking bearings with the compass at Sandag. He un-be described in words, how he himself had gone up to derstood me at once, and, taking the imitation out of my examine the stranded wreck, and, to his grief and indig-hands, showed me where the boat was, pointed out sea-nation, had been deserted by his comrades; and there-ward as if to indicate the position of the schooner, and upon folded his arms once more, and stooped his head, then down along the edge of the rock with the words like one accepting fate.
‘Espirito Santo,’ strangely pronounced, but clear enough The mystery of his presence being thus solved for me, I for recognition. I had thus been right in my conjecture; the explained to him by means of a sketch the fate of the pretended historical inquiry had been but a cloak for trea-vessel and of all aboard her. He showed no surprise nor sure-hunting; the man who had played on Dr. Robertson sorrow, and, with a sudden lifting of his open hand, seemed was the same as the foreigner who visited Grisapol in spring, to dismiss his former friends or masters (whichever they and now, with many others, lay dead under the Roost of had been) into God’s pleasure. Respect came upon me Aros: there had their greed brought them, there should and grew stronger, the more I observed him; I saw he had their bones be tossed for evermore. In the meantime the a powerful mind and a sober and severe character, such black continued his imitation of the scene, now looking as I loved to commune with; and before we reached the up skyward as though watching the approach of the storm house of Aros I had almost forgotten, and wholly for-now, in the character of a seaman, waving the rest to come given him, his uncanny colour.
aboard; now as an officer, running along the rock and To Mary I told all that had passed without suppression, entering the boat; and anon bending over imaginary oars though I own my heart failed me; but I did wrong to doubt with the air of a hurried boatman; but all with the same her sense of justice.
‘You did the right,’ she said. ‘God’s will be done.’ And dead weary, and I had been comparatively active. But she set out meat for us at once.
now his strength was recruited by the fervour of insanity, As soon as I was satisfied, I bade Rorie keep an eye upon and it would have been vain for me to dream of pursuit.
the castaway, who was still eating, and set forth again my-Nay, the very attempt, I thought, might have inflamed his self to find my uncle. I had not gone far before I saw him terrors, and thus increased the miseries of our position.
sitting in the same place, upon the very topmost knoll, and And I had nothing left but to turn homeward and make seemingly in the same attitude as when I had last observed my sad report to Mary.
him. From that point, as I have said, the most of Aros and She heard it, as she had heard the first, with a concerned the neighbouring Ross would be spread below him like a composure, and, bidding me lie down and take that rest of map; and it was plain that he kept a bright look-out in all which I stood so much in need, set forth herself in quest of directions, for my head had scarcely risen above the sum-her misguided father. At that age it would have been a mit of the first ascent before he had leaped to his feet and strange thing that put me from either meat or sleep; I slept turned as if to face me. I hailed him at once, as well as I long and deep; and it was already long past noon before I was able, in the same tones and words as I had often used awoke and came downstairs into the kitchen. Mary, Rorie, before, when I had come to summon him to dinner. He and the black castaway were seated about the fire in si-made not so much as a movement in reply. I passed on a lence; and I could see that Mary had been weeping. There little farther, and again tried parley, with the same result.
was cause enough, as I soon learned, for tears. First she, But when I began a second time to advance, his insane and then Rorie, had been forth to seek my uncle; each in fears blazed up again, and still in dead silence, but with turn had found him perched upon the hill-top, and from incredible speed, he began to flee from before me along each in turn he had silently and swiftly fled. Rorie had tried the rocky summit of the hill. An hour before, he had been to chase him, but in vain; madness lent a new vigour to his 45
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bounds; he sprang from rock to rock over the widest gul-Certainly, Heaven’s will was declared against Gordon lies; he scoured like the wind along the hill-tops; he doubled Darnaway; a thing had happened, never paralleled before and twisted like a hare before the dogs; and Rorie at length in Aros; during the storm, the coble had broken loose, and, gave in; and the last that he saw, my uncle was seated as striking on the rough splinters of the pier, now lay in four before upon the crest of Aros. Even during the hottest ex-feet of water with one side stove in. Three days of work at citement of the chase, even when the fleet-footed servant least would be required to make her float. But I was not to had come, for a moment, very near to capture him, the poor be beaten. I led the whole party round to where the gut lunatic had uttered not a sound. He fled, and he was silent, was narrowest, swam to the other side, and called to the like a beast; and this silence had terrified his pursuer.
black to follow me. He signed, with the same clearness There was something heart-breaking in the situation. How and quiet as before, that he knew not the art; and there was to capture the madman, how to feed him in the meanwhile, truth apparent in his signals, it would have occurred to and what to do with him when he was captured, were the none of us to doubt his truth; and that hope being over, we three difficulties that we had to solve.
must all go back even as we came to the house of Aros, the
‘The black,’ said I, ‘is the cause of this attack. It may negro walking in our midst without embarrassment.
even be his presence in the house that keeps my uncle on All we could do that day was to make one more attempt the hill. We have done the fair thing; he has been fed and to communicate with the unhappy madman. Again he was warmed under this roof; now I propose that Rorie put him visible on his perch; again he fled in silence. But food and across the bay in the coble, and take him through the Ross a great cloak were at least left for his comfort; the rain, as far as Grisapol.’
besides, had cleared away, and the night promised to be In this proposal Mary heartily concurred; and bidding even warm. We might compose ourselves, we thought, until the black follow us, we all three descended to the pier.
the morrow; rest was the chief requisite, that we might be 46
strengthened for unusual exertions; and as none cared to here and there a cloud still hanging, last stragglers of the talk, we separated at an early hour.
tempest. It was near the top of the flood, and the Merry I lay long awake, planning a campaign for the morrow. I Men were roaring in the windless quiet of the night. Never, was to place the black on the side of Sandag, whence he not even in the height of the tempest, had I heard their should head my uncle towards the house; Rorie in the west, song with greater awe. Now, when the winds were gath-I on the east, were to complete the cordon, as best we ered home, when the deep was dandling itself back into its might. It seemed to me, the more I recalled the configura-summer slumber, and when the stars rained their gentle tion of the island, that it should be possible, though hard, light over land and sea, the voice of these tide-breakers to force him down upon the low ground along Aros Bay; was still raised for havoc. They seemed, indeed, to be a and once there, even with the strength of his madness, ul-part of the world’s evil and the tragic side of life. Nor were timate escape was hardly to be feared. It was on his terror their meaningless vociferations the only sounds that broke of the black that I relied; for I made sure, however he might the silence of the night. For I could hear, now shrill and run, it would not be in the direction of the man whom he thrilling and now almost drowned, the note of a human supposed to have returned from the dead, and thus one voice that accompanied the uproar of the Roost. I knew it point of the compass at least would be secure.
for my kinsman’s; and a great fear fell upon me of God’s When at length I fell asleep, it was to be awakened shortly judgments, and the evil in the world. I went back again after by a dream of wrecks, black men, and submarine ad-into the darkness of the house as into a place of shelter, venture; and I found myself so shaken and fevered that I and lay long upon my bed, pondering these mysteries.
arose, descended the stair, and stepped out before the house.
It was late when I again woke, and I leaped into my Within, Rorie and the black were asleep together in the clothes and hurried to the kitchen. No one was there; Rorie kitchen; outside was a wonderful clear night of stars, with and the black had both stealthily departed long before; and 47
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my heart stood still at the discovery. I could rely on Rorie’s deed an enterprise afoot to catch my uncle, it was plainly heart, but I placed no trust in his discretion. If he had thus not in fleetness of foot, but in dexterity of stalking, that the set out without a word, he was plainly bent upon some hunters placed their trust. I ran on farther, keeping the higher service to my uncle. But what service could he hope to spurs, and looking right and left, nor did I pause again till render even alone, far less in the company of the man in I was on the mount above Sandag. I could see the wreck, whom my uncle found his fears incarnated? Even if I were the uncovered belt of sand, the waves idly beating, the long not already too late to prevent some deadly mischief, it ledge of rocks, and on either hand the tumbled knolls, boul-was plain I must delay no longer. With the thought I was ders, and gullies of the island. But still no human thing.
out of the house; and often as I have run on the rough sides At a stride the sunshine fell on Aros, and the shadows of Aros, I never ran as I did that fatal morning. I do not and colours leaped into being. Not half a moment later, believe I put twelve minutes to the whole ascent.
below me to the west, sheep began to scatter as in a panic.
My uncle was gone from his perch. The basket had indeed There came a cry. I saw my uncle running. I saw the black been torn open and the meat scattered on the turf; but, as we jump up in hot pursuit; and before I had time to under-found afterwards, no mouthful had been tasted; and there stand, Rorie also had appeared, calling directions in Gaelic was not another trace of human existence in that wide field as to a dog herding sheep.
of view. Day had already filled the clear heavens; the sun I took to my heels to interfere, and perhaps I had done already lighted in a rosy bloom upon the crest of Ben Kyaw; better to have waited where I was, for I was the means of but all below me the rude knolls of Aros and the shield of cutting off the madman’s last escape. There was nothing sea lay steeped in the clear darkling twilight of the dawn.
before him from that moment but the grave, the wreck,
‘Rorie!’ I cried; and again ‘Rorie!’ My voice died in the and the sea in Sandag Bay. And yet Heaven knows that silence, but there came no answer back. If there were in-what I did was for the best.
My uncle Gordon saw in what direction, horrible to him, utes after, at the far end of Aros Roost, where the seabirds the chase was driving him. He doubled, darting to the right hover fishing.
and left; but high as the fever ran in his veins, the black was still the swifter. Turn where he would, he was still fore-stalled, still driven toward the scene of his crime. Suddenly he began to shriek aloud, so that the coast re-echoed; and now both I and Rorie were calling on the black to stop.
But all was vain, for it was written otherwise. The pursuer still ran, the chase still sped before him screaming; they avoided the grave, and skimmed close past the timbers of the wreck; in a breath they had cleared the sand; and still my kinsman did not pause, but dashed straight into the surf; and the black, now almost within reach, still followed swiftly behind him. Rorie and I both stopped, for the thing was now beyond the hands of men, and these were the decrees of God that came to pass before our eyes. There was never a sharper ending. On that steep beach they were beyond their depth at a bound; neither could swim; the black rose once for a moment with a throttling cry; but the current had them, racing seaward; and if ever they came up again, which God alone can tell, it would be ten min-49
Robert Louis Stevenson
WILL O’ THE MILL
ran along beside the river was a high thoroughfare between two splendid and powerful societies. All through the summer, travelling-carriages came crawling up, or went plung-CHAPTER I: THE PLAIN
ing briskly downwards past the mill; and as it happened AND THE STARS
that the other side was very much easier of ascent, the path was not much frequented, except by people going in one T
direction; and of all the carriages that Will saw go by, five-HE MILL WHERE Will lived with his adopted parents stood in a falling valley between pinewoods and great mountains.
sixths were plunging briskly downwards and only one-sixth Above, hill after hill, soared upwards until they soared out crawling up. Much more was this the case with foot-pas-of the depth of the hardiest timber, and stood naked against sengers. All the light-footed tourists, all the pedlars laden the sky. Some way up, a long grey village lay like a seam with strange wares, were tending downward like the river or a ray of vapour on a wooded hillside; and when the that accompanied their path. Nor was this all; for when wind was favourable, the sound of the church bells would Will was yet a child a disastrous war arose over a great drop down, thin and silvery, to Will. Below, the valley grew part of the world. The newspapers were full of defeats and ever steeper and steeper, and at the same time widened out victories, the earth rang with cavalry hoofs, and often for on either hand; and from an eminence beside the mill it was days together and for miles around the coil of battle terri-possible to see its whole length and away beyond it over a fied good people from their labours in the field. Of all this, wide plain, where the river turned and shone, and moved nothing was heard for a long time in the valley; but at last on from city to city on its voyage towards the sea. It chanced one of the commanders pushed an army over the pass by that over this valley there lay a pass into a neighbouring forced marches, and for three days horse and foot, cannon kingdom; so that, quiet and rural as it was, the road that and tumbril, drum and standard, kept pouring downward 50
past the mill. All day the child stood and watched them on at least, stood faithfully by him, while all else were posting their passage – the rhythmical stride, the pale, unshaven downward to the unknown world.
faces tanned about the eyes, the discoloured regimentals One evening he asked the miller where the river went.
and the tattered flags, filled him with a sense of weariness,
‘It goes down the valley,’ answered he, ‘and turns a power pity, and wonder; and all night long, after he was in bed, he of mills – six score mills, they say, from here to Unterdeck could hear the cannon pounding and the feet trampling,
– and is none the wearier after all. And then it goes out and the great armament sweeping onward and downward into the lowlands, and waters the great corn country, and past the mill. No one in the valley ever heard the fate of the runs through a sight of fine cities (so they say) where kings expedition, for they lay out of the way of gossip in those live all alone in great palaces, with a sentry walling up and troublous times; but Will saw one thing plainly, that not a down before the door. And it goes under bridges with stone man returned. Whither had they all gone? Whither went all men upon them, looking down and smiling so curious it the tourists and pedlars with strange wares? whither all the the water, and living folks leaning their elbows on the wall brisk barouches with servants in the dicky? whither the and looking over too. And then it goes on and on, and water of the stream, ever coursing downward and ever down through marshes and sands, until at last it falls into renewed from above? Even the wind blew oftener down the sea, where the ships are that bring parrots and tobacco the valley, and carried the dead leaves along with it in the from the Indies. Ay, it has a long trot before it as it goes fall. It seemed like a great conspiracy of things animate singing over our weir, bless its heart!’
and inanimate; they all went downward, fleetly and gaily
‘And what is the sea?’ asked Will.
downward, and only he, it seemed, remained behind, like a
‘The sea!’ cried the miller. ‘Lord help us all, it is the stock upon the wayside. It sometimes made him glad when greatest thing God made! That is where all the water in the he noticed how the fishes kept their heads up stream. They, world runs down into a great salt lake. There it lies, as flat 51
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as my hand and as innocent-like as a child; but they do say boy, soul and body; his heart beat so thickly that he could when the wind blows it gets up into water-mountains big-not breathe; the scene swam before his eyes; the sun seemed ger than any of ours, and swallows down great ships big-to wheel round and round, and throw off, as it turned, ger than our mill, and makes such a roaring that you can strange shapes which disappeared with the rapidity of hear it miles away upon the land. There are great fish in it thought, and were succeeded by others. Will covered his five times bigger than a bull, and one old serpent as lone as face with his hands, and burst into a violent fit of tears; and our river and as old as all the world, with whiskers like a the poor miller, sadly disappointed and perplexed, saw man, and a crown of silver on her head.’
nothing better for it than to take him up in his arms and Will thought he had never heard anything like this, and carry him home in silence.
he kept on asking question after question about the world From that day forward Will was full of new hopes and that lay away down the river, with all its perils and mar-longings. Something kept tugging at his heart-strings; the vels, until the old miller became quite interested himself, running water carried his desires along with it as he dreamed and at last took him by the hand and led him to the hilltop over its fleeting surface; the wind, as it ran over innumer-that overlooks the valley and the plain. The sun was near able tree-tops, hailed him with encouraging words; branches setting, and hung low down in a cloudless sky. Everything beckoned downward; the open road, as it shouldered round was defined and glorified in golden light. Will had never the angles and went turning and vanishing fast and faster seen so great an expanse of country in his life; he stood down the valley, tortured him with its solicitations. He spent and gazed with all his eyes. He could see the cities, and the long whiles on the eminence, looking down the rivershed woods and fields, and the bright curves of the river, and far and abroad on the fat lowlands, and watched the clouds away to where the rim of the plain trenched along the shin-that travelled forth upon the sluggish wind and trailed their ing heavens. An over-mastering emotion seized upon the purple shadows on the plain; or he would linger by the 52
wayside, and follow the carriages with his eyes as they spread wings with Icarus, the same that sent Columbus rattled downward by the river. It did not matter what it into the desolate Atlantic, inspired and supported these was; everything that went that way, were it cloud or car-barbarians on their perilous march. There is one legend riage, bird or brown water in the stream, he felt his heart which profoundly represents their spirit, of how a flying flow out after it in an ecstasy of longing.
party of these wanderers encountered a very old man shod We are told by men of science that all the ventures of with iron. The old man asked them whither they were going; mariners on the sea, all that counter-marching of tribes and and they answered with one voice: ‘To the Eternal City!’ He races that confounds old history with its dust and rumour, looked upon them gravely. ‘I have sought it,’ he said, ‘over sprang from nothing more abstruse than the laws of supply the most part of the world. Three such pairs as I now carry and demand, and a certain natural instinct for cheap ra-on my feet have I worn out upon this pilgrimage, and now tions. To any one thinking deeply, this will seem a dull and the fourth is growing slender underneath my steps. And all pitiful explanation. The tribes that came swarming out of this while I have not found the city.’ And he turned and went the North and East, if they were indeed pressed onward his own way alone, leaving them astonished.
from behind by others, were drawn at the same time by the And yet this would scarcely parallel the intensity of Will’s magnetic influence of the South and West. The fame of feeling for the plain. If he could only go far enough out other lands had reached them; the name of the eternal city there, he felt as if his eyesight would be purged and clari-rang in their ears; they were not colonists, but pilgrims; fied, as if his hearing would grow more delicate, and his they travelled towards wine and gold and sunshine, but very breath would come and go with luxury. He was trans-their hearts were set on something higher. That divine un-planted and withering where he was; he lay in a strange rest, that old stinging trouble of humanity that makes all country and was sick for home. Bit by bit, he pieced to-high achievements and all miserable failure, the same that gether broken notions of the world below: of the river, 53
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ever moving and growing until it sailed forth into the ma-gardens! ‘And O fish!’ he would cry, ‘if you would only jestic ocean; of the cities, full of brisk and beautiful people, turn your noses down stream, you could swim so easily playing fountains, bands of music and marble palaces, and into the fabled waters and see the vast ships passing over lighted up at night from end to end with artificial stars of your head like clouds, and hear the great water-hills mak-gold; of the great churches, wise universities, brave armies, ing music over you all day long!’ But the fish kept looking and untold money lying stored in vaults; of the high-flying patiently in their own direction, until Will hardly knew vice that moved in the sunshine, and the stealth and swift-whether to laugh or cry.
ness of midnight murder. I have said he was sick as if for Hitherto the traffic on the road had passed by Will, like home: the figure halts. He was like some one lying in twilit, something seen in a picture: he had perhaps exchanged formless preexistence, and stretching out his hands lov-salutations with a tourist, or caught sight of an old gentle-ingly towards many-coloured, many-sounding life. It was man in a travelling cap at a carriage window; but for the no wonder he was unhappy, he would go and tell the fish: most part it had been a mere symbol, which he contem-they were made for their life, wished for no more than plated from apart and with something of a superstitious worms and running water, and a hole below a falling bank; feeling. A time came at last when this was to be changed.
but he was differently designed, full of desires and aspira-The miller, who was a greedy man in his way, and never tions, itching at the fingers, lusting with the eyes, whom forewent an opportunity of honest profit, turned the mill-the whole variegated world could not satisfy with aspects.
house into a little wayside inn, and, several pieces of good The true life, the true bright sunshine, lay far out upon the fortune falling in opportunely, built stables and got the plain. And O! to see this sunlight once before he died! to position of post master on the road. It now became Will’s move with a jocund spirit in a golden land! to hear the duty to wait upon people, as they sat to break their fasts in trained singers and sweet church bells, and see the holiday the little arbour at the top of the mill garden; and you may 54
be sure that he kept his ears open, and learned many new began to take on a colour of gravity, and the nocturnal things about the outside world as he brought the omelette summons and waiting equipage occupied a place in his mind or the wine. Nay, he would often get into conversation as something to be both feared and hoped for.
with single guests, and by adroit questions and polite atOne day, when Will was about sixteen, a fat young man tention, not only gratify his own curiosity, but win the good-arrived at sunset to pass the night. He was a contented-will of the travellers. Many complimented the old couple looking fellow, with a jolly eye, and carried a knapsack.
on their serving-boy; and a professor was eager to take While dinner was preparing, he sat in the arbour to read a him away with him, and have him properly educated in the book; but as soon as he had begun to observe Will, the plain. The miller and his wife were mightily astonished and book was laid aside; he was plainly one of those who pre-even more pleased. They thought it a very good thing that fer living people to people made of ink and paper. Will, on they should have opened their inn. ‘You see,’ the old man his part, although he had not been much interested in the would remark, ‘he has a kind of talent for a publican; he stranger at first sight, soon began to take a great deal of never would have made anything else!’ And so life wagged pleasure in his talk, which was full of good nature and good on in the valley, with high satisfaction to all concerned but sense, and at last conceived a great respect for his charac-Will. Every carriage that left the inn-door seemed to take a ter and wisdom. They sat far into the night; and about two part of him away with it; and when people jestingly offered in the morning Will opened his heart to the young man, him a lift, he could with difficulty command his emotion.
and told him how he longed to leave the valley and what Night after night he would dream that he was awakened by bright hopes he had connected with the cities of the plain.
flustered servants, and that a splendid equipage waited at The young man whistled, and then broke into a smile.
the door to carry him down into the plain; night after night;
‘My young friend,’ he remarked, ‘you are a very curious until the dream, which had seemed all jollity to him at first, little fellow to be sure, and wish a great many things which 55
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you will never get. Why, you would feel quite ashamed if many questions and learned a great deal in these last years, you knew how the little fellows in these fairy cities of and certainly enough to cure me of my old fancies. But yours are all after the same sort of nonsense, and keep you would not have me die like a dog and not see all that is breaking their hearts to get up into the mountains. And to be seen, and do all that a man can do, let it be good or let me tell you, those who go down into the plains are a evil? you would not have me spend all my days between very short while there before they wish themselves heart-this road here and the river, and not so much as make a ily back again. The air is not so light nor so pure; nor is motion to be up and live my life? – I would rather die out the sun any brighter. As for the beautiful men and women, of hand,’ he cried, ‘than linger on as I am doing.’
you would see many of them in rags and many of them
‘Thousands of people,’ said the young man, ‘live and die deformed with horrible disorders; and a city is so hard a like you, and are none the less happy.’
place for people who are poor and sensitive that many
‘Ah!’ said Will, ‘if there are thousands who would like, choose to die by their own hand.’
why should not one of them have my place?’
‘You must think me very simple,’ answered Will. ‘Al-It was quite dark; there was a hanging lamp in the arbour though I have never been out of this valley, believe me, I which lit up the table and the faces of the speakers; and have used my eyes. I know how one thing lives on another; along the arch, the leaves upon the trellis stood out illumi-for instance, how the fish hangs in the eddy to catch his nated against the night sky, a pattern of transparent green fellows; and the shepherd, who makes so pretty a picture upon a dusky purple. The fat young man rose, and, taking carrying home the lamb, is only carrying it home for din-Will by the arm, led him out under the open heavens.
ner. I do not expect to find all things right in your cities.
‘Did you ever look at the stars?’ he asked, pointing up-That is not what troubles me; it might have been that once wards.
upon a time; but although I live here always, I have asked
‘Often and often,’ answered Will.
‘And do you know what they are?’
mountain and the mouse. That is like to be all we shall ever
‘I have fancied many things.’
have to do with Arcturus or Aldebaran. Can you apply a
‘They are worlds like ours,’ said the young man. ‘Some parable?’ he added, laying his hand upon Will’s shoulder.
of them less; many of them a million times greater; and
‘It is not the same thing as a reason, but usually vastly some of the least sparkles that you see are not only worlds, more convincing.’
but whole clusters of worlds turning about each other in Will hung his head a little, and then raised it once more the midst of space. We do not know what there may be in to heaven. The stars seemed to expand and emit a sharper any of them; perhaps the answer to all our difficulties or brilliancy; and as he kept turning his eyes higher and higher, the cure of all our sufferings: and yet we can never reach they seemed to increase in multitude under his gaze.
them; not all the skill of the craftiest of men can fit out a
‘I see,’ he said, turning to the young man. ‘We are in a ship for the nearest of these our neighbours, nor would the rat-trap.’
life of the most aged suffice for such a journey. When a
‘Something of that size. Did you ever see a squirrel turn-great battle has been lost or a dear friend is dead, when we ing in a cage? and another squirrel sitting philosophically are hipped or in high spirits, there they are unweariedly over his nuts? I needn’t ask you which of them looked shining overhead. We may stand down here, a whole army more of a fool.’
of us together, and shout until we break our hearts, and not a whisper reaches them. We may climb the highest mountain, and we are no nearer them. All we can do is to stand down here in the garden and take off our hats; the starshine lights upon our heads, and where mine is a little bald, I dare say you can see it glisten in the darkness. The 57
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CHAPTER II: THE PARSON’S MARJORY
try, as became her parentage. She held her head very high, and had already refused several offers of marriage with a AFTER SOME YEARS the old people died, both in one winter, grand air, which had got her hard names among the very carefully tended by their adopted son, and very qui-neighbours. For all that she was a good girl, and one that etly mourned when they were gone. People who had heard would have made any man well contented.
of his roving fancies supposed he would hasten to sell the Will had never seen much of her; for although the church property, and go down the river to push his fortunes. But and parsonage were only two miles from his own door, he there was never any sign of such in intention on the part of was never known to go there but on Sundays. It chanced, Will. On the contrary, he had the inn set on a better footing, however, that the parsonage fell into disrepair, and had to and hired a couple of servants to assist him in carrying it on; be dismantled; and the parson and his daughter took lodg-and there he settled down, a kind, talkative, inscrutable young ings for a month or so, on very much reduced terms, at man, six feet three in his stockings, with an iron constitution Will’s inn. Now, what with the inn, and the mill, and the and a friendly voice. He soon began to take rank in the dis-old miller’s savings, our friend was a man of substance; trict as a bit of an oddity: it was not much to be wondered at and besides that, he had a name for good temper and from the first, for he was always full of notions, and kept shrewdness, which make a capital portion in marriage; and calling the plainest common-sense in question; but what most so it was currently gossiped, among their ill-wishers, that raised the report upon him was the odd circumstance of his the parson and his daughter had not chosen their tempo-courtship with the parson’s Marjory.
rary lodging with their eyes shut. Will was about the last The parson’s Marjory was a lass about nineteen, when man in the world to be cajoled or frightened into marriage.
Will would be about thirty; well enough looking, and much You had only to look into his eyes, limpid and still like better educated than any other girl in that part of the coun-pools of water, and yet with a sort of clear light that seemed 58
to come from within, and you would understand at once leaned forward, against a background of rising pinewoods; that here was one who knew his own mind, and would her eyes shone peaceably; the light lay around her hair like stand to it immovably. Marjory herself was no weakling by a kerchief; something that was hardly a smile rippled her her looks, with strong, steady eyes and a resolute and quiet pale cheeks, and Will could not contain himself from gaz-bearing. It might be a question whether she was not Will’s ing on her in an agreeable dismay. She looked, even in her match in stedfastness, after all, or which of them would quietest moments, so complete in herself, and so quick with rule the roast in marriage. But Marjory had never given it life down to her finger tips and the very skirts of her dress, a thought, and accompanied her father with the most un-that the remainder of created things became no more than shaken innocence and unconcern.
a blot by comparison; and if Will glanced away from her to The season was still so early that Will’s customers were her surroundings, the trees looked inanimate and sense-few and far between; but the lilacs were already flowering, less, the clouds hung in heaven like dead things, and even and the weather was so mild that the party took dinner the mountain tops were disenchanted. The whole valley under the trellice, with the noise of the river in their ears could not compare in looks with this one girl.
and the woods ringing about them with the songs of birds.
Will was always observant in the society of his fellow-Will soon began to take a particular pleasure in these din-creatures; but his observation became almost painfully eaners. The parson was rather a dull companion, with a habit ger in the case of Marjory. He listened to all she uttered, of dozing at table; but nothing rude or cruel ever fell from and read her eyes, at the same time, for the unspoken com-his lips. And as for the parson’s daughter, she suited her mentary. Many kind, simple, and sincere speeches found surroundings with the best grace imaginable; and what-an echo in his heart. He became conscious of a soul beau-ever she said seemed so pat and pretty that Will conceived tifully poised upon itself, nothing doubting, nothing desir-a great idea of her talents. He could see her face, as she ing, clothed in peace. It was not possible to separate her 59
Robert Louis Stevenson
thoughts from her appearance. The turn of her wrist, the seemed to contemplate his movements with a beneficent still sound of her voice, the light in her eyes, the lines of but awful curiosity. His way took him to the eminence which her body, fell in tune with her grave and gentle words, like overlooked the plain; and there he sat down upon a stone, the accompaniment that sustains and harmonises the voice and fell into deep and pleasant thought. The plain lay abroad of the singer. Her influence was one thing, not to be di-with its cities and silver river; everything was asleep, ex-vided or discussed, only to he felt with gratitude and joy.
cept a great eddy of birds which kept rising and falling and To Will, her presence recalled something of his childhood, going round and round in the blue air. He repeated and the thought of her took its place in his mind beside that Marjory’s name aloud, and the sound of it gratified his ear.
of dawn, of running water, and of the earliest violets and He shut his eyes, and her image sprang up before him, qui-lilacs. It is the property of things seen for the first time, or etly luminous and attended with good thoughts. The river for the first time after long, like the flowers in spring, to might run for ever; the birds fly higher and higher till they reawaken in us the sharp edge of sense and that impression touched the stars. He saw it was empty bustle after all; for of mystic strangeness which otherwise passes out of life here, without stirring a feet, waiting patiently in his own with the coming of years; but the sight of a loved face is narrow valley, he also had attained the better sunlight.
what renews a man’s character from the fountain upwards.
The next day Will made a sort of declaration across the One day after dinner Will took a stroll among the firs; a dinner-table, while the parson was filling his pipe.
grave beatitude possessed him from top to toe, and he kept
‘Miss Marjory,’ he said, ‘I never knew any one I liked so smiling to himself and the landscape as he went. The river well as you. I am mostly a cold, unkindly sort of man; not ran between the stepping-stones with a pretty wimple; a from want of heart, but out of strangeness in my way of bird sang loudly in the wood; the hill-tops looked immea-thinking; and people seem far away from me. ’Tis as if surably high, and as he glanced at them from time to time there were a circle round me, which kept every one out but 60
you; I can hear the others talking and laughing; but you heartily. And he took her hand across the table, and held it come quite close. Maybe, this is disagreeable to you?’ he a moment in both of his with great satisfaction.
‘You must marry,’ observed the parson, replacing his pipe Marjory made no answer.