The Professor's Mare
THE Reverend John Scattergood, D.D., Professor of Systematic Theology, was of Puritan descent. The founder of the family was Caleb Scatter-the-good-seed, a cornet-of-horse in Cromwell’s army, who had earned his master’s favor by prowess at the battle of Dunbar. The family tradition averred that when Cromwell halted the pursuit of Lesley’s scattered forces for the purpose of singing the One Hundred and Seventeenth Psalm, it was Caleb Scatter-the-good-seed who gave out the tune and led the psalmody. This he did at the beginning of every verse by striking a tuning-fork on his bloody sword. He was mounted, said the tradition, on a coal-black horse.
John Scattergood, D.D., was a hardheaded theologian. His lectures on Systematic Theology ended, as all who attended them will remember, in a cogent. demonstration of the Friendliness of the Universe, firmly established by the Inflexible Method. This was a masterpiece of ratiocination. The impartial observation of facts, the evenhanded weighing of evidence, the right ordering of principles and their application, the separation and weaving together of lines of thought, the careful disentangling of necessary presuppositions, the just treatment of objectors —all the qualities demanded of one who handles the deepest problems of thought were combined in Dr. Scattergood’s demonstration of the Friendliness of the Universe according to the Inflexible Method. Most of his hearers were convinced by his arguments, and went forth into the world to publish the good news that the universe was friendly.
Hard-headed as Scattergood was, it would be unjust to his character to describe him as free from superstition. Much of his life, indeed, had been spent in attacking the superstitions of the ignorant and the thoughtless; but this very practice had bred in him, as in so many others, a superstitious regard for the argumentative weapons used in the attack. Like his ancestor at Dunbar he struck his tuning-fork on his sword. To be sure he was a Rational Theist, and a cause of Rational Theism in others; but, unless I am much mistaken, the ultimate object of his faith, the Power behind his Deity, was the Inflexible Method. Superstition never dies; it merely changes its form. It is not a confession we make to ourselves so much as a charge we bring against others, and its greatest power is always exercised in quarters where we are least aware of its existence. And Scattergood, of course, was unaware that his attitude toward the Inflexible Method was profoundly superstitious. It follows that he was unprepared for the part which superstition, changing its form, was destined to play in his life.
Theology, then, was his vocation, but I have now to add — the Horse was his hobby. Although he had taken to riding late in life he was by no means an incapable rider or an ignorant horseman. Next to the Universe, the Horse had been the subject of his profoundest study; and as he was a close reasoner in regard to the one, he was a tight rider in regard to the other. His seat, like his philosophy, was a trifle stiff; but what else could you expect in one who had passed his sixtieth year? He never rode to hounds, or otherwise unduly jeopardized his neck; but for managing a high-spirited horse, when all the rest of us were in difficulties, I never knew his better. ‘Let Scattergood go first,’ we cried, as the traction engine came snorting down the road and our elderly hacks were prancing on the pavement; and sure enough his young thoroughbred would walk by the monster without so much as changing its feet.
‘Scattergood,’ I once asked him, ‘what do you do to that young mare of yours when you meet a traction engine or a military band?’
‘Nothing,’ he replied.
‘Then what do you say to her?’
‘Then how do you manage it?’
‘I have n’t the faintest idea.’
And I honestly believe he told me the truth.
Needless to say that he was deeply respected in the stables. ‘A gen’l’man with a wonderful ’orse-sense,’ said the old ostler one day, expatiating, as usual, on Scattergood’s virtues. ‘ If I’d had a ’orse-sense like him, I’d be one o’ the richest men in England. If ever there was a man as thro wed himself away, there he goes! ’Orse-sense is n’t a thing as you see every day, sir. The only other man I’ve ever knowed as had it was his Lordship, as I was his coachman in Ireland more than twenty years ago. His Lordship used to say to me, “Tom,” he says, “Tom, it all comes of my grandfather and his father before him bein’ jockeys.” And between you and me, sir, that’s what’s the matter with his Reverence. He’s jockey-bred, sir, you take my word for it. — Well, his father may have been a bishop, for all I care. But what about his mother, and what about his mother’s father, and his father before him, and all the rest on ’em. When it comes to a matter o’ breedin’, you don’t stop at fathers; you take in the whole pedigree. Was n’t his Lordship’s father a brewer? And what difference did that make? When ’orse-sense once gets started in a family it takes more than brewin’, and more than bishopin’, to wash it out o’ the blood.’
‘I’ve heard that gypsies have the same gift,’ I said.
‘I’ve ’eard it, too, sir. But I never would have nothing to do with gypsies; though his Lordship was as thick as thieves with ’em. And thieves are just what they are, sir, and if it were n’t for that, I’d say as the old gen’l’man was as like to be gypsy-bred as jockey. Don’t you never let the gypsies sell you a ’oss, sir; you’ll be took in if you do. But they could n’t gypsy him! Why, I don’t believe as there’s a ’oss-dealer for twenty miles round as would n’t go out for a walk if he ’eard as Dr. Scattergood was comin’ to buy a ’oss.’
That the ostler’s last remark was true in the spirit, if not in the letter, the following incident seems to prove. Once I was myself entrapped into the folly of buying a horse, and I was on the point of concluding the bargain, which seemed to be all in my favor, when a friendly daimon whispered in my ear that I had better be cautious. So I said to the dealer, ‘Yes, the horse seems all right. But before coming to a final decision, I’11 bring Dr. Scattergood round to have a look at him.’ Whereupon the dealer abated his price by fifteen pounds, on the understanding that ‘that there interferin’ old Scattergood, as had already done him more bad turns than one, was not allowed to poke his nose into business which was none of his.’
‘Pretty good,’ said the Professor, when I showed him my purchase. ‘Pretty good. But I think I could have saved you another ten pounds, had you taken the trouble to consult me.'
Scattergood kept but one horse, and it was observed, as a strange thing in a lover of horses, that he never kept that one for long. He was constantly changing his mount. By superficial observers, this was set down to a certain fickleness of disposition; but the truth seems rather to have been that Scattergood, consciously or unconsciously, was engaged in the quest for the Perfect Horse. No man knew better than he what equine perfection involved, and none was ever more painfully sensitive to the lightest deviation from the Absolute Ideal. Whatever good qualities his horse might possess, and they were always numerous, the presence of a single fault, however slight, would haunt and oppress him in much the same way as a venial sin will trouble the conscience of a saint. I remember one beautiful animal in which the severest judges could find no defect save that it had half a dozen miscolored hairs hidden away on one of its hind legs. Every time the good Doctor rode that horse, he saw the miscolored hairs through the back of his head; and away went the beast to Tattersall’s after a week’s trial. Another followed, and another after that; but we soon ceased to count them, and took it for granted that Scattergood’s horse, seen once, would not be seen again. So it went on until in the fullness of time there appeared a horse, or more strictly a mare, which did not depart as swiftly as it came.
Whatever perfection may be in other realms, perfection in horses seems after all to be a relative thing; for though Dr. Scattergood himself regarded this one as perfect, I doubt if he could have found a single soul in the wide world to agree with him. To be sure, she was beautiful enough to cause a flutter of excitement as she passed down the street; but a beast of more dangerous mettle never pranced on two feet or kicked out with one. She was the terror of every stable she entered, and it was only by continual largess on the part of Scattergood that any groom could be induced to feed or tend her. What she cost him monthly for tips, for broken stable furniture, and for veterinary attendance on the horses she kicked in the ribs, I should be sorry to say. But Scattergood paid it all without a murmur; no infatuated lover ever bore the extravagance of his mistress with a lighter heart. For the truth of the matter was that he was deeply attached to his mare, and his mare was deeply attached to him.
Why the mare was fond of Scattergood is a problem requiring for its solution more horse-sense than most of us possess; so we had better leave it alone. But Scattergood’s reason for being fond of the mare can be stated in a sentence. She reminded him, constantly and vividly, of Ethelberta. Her high spirits, her dash, her unexpectedness, her brilliant eyes, her gait, and especially the carriage of her head, were a far truer likeness of Ethelberta than was the faded photograph, or even the miniature set in gold, which the Reverend Professor kept locked in his secret drawer.
Now Ethelberta was the name of the lady whom Scattergood wished he had married. For five-and-thirty years he had never ceased wishing that he had married her, — and not some one else. Some one else! Ay, there was the rub! The lawful Mrs. Scattergood was not a person whose portrait I should care to draw in much detail. Can you imagine a harder lot than that of a worldfamous Systematic Theologian, publicly pledged to maintain the Friendliness of the Universe, but privately consumed with anxiety lest on returning home (horresco referent,!) he should find a heavy-featured, blear-eyed, irredeemable woman, the woman who called herself his wife, narcotized on the drawing-room sola, with an empty chloral bottle at her side? That was the lot of John Scattergood, D.D., and he bore it like a man, keeping up a pathetic show of devotion to his intolerable wife, and concealing his personal misery from the world with an ingenuity only equal to that with which he published abroad the Friendliness of the Universe.
To be sure he had long abandoned the quest for happiness as a thing unworthy of a Systematic Theologian — what else, indeed, could he do? Still it was hardly possible to avoid reflecting that he would have been happier if he had married Ethelberta. Each day something happened to convince him that he would. For example, his first duty every morning, before settling down to work, was to make a tour of the house, sometimes in the company of a trusted domestic, hunting for a concealed bottle of morphia; and when at last the servant, with her arm under a mattress, said, ‘I’ve got it, sir,’ he could not help reflecting that the burden of life would have been lighter had he married the high-souled Ethelberta. And with the thought a cloud seemed to pass between John Scattergood and the sun.
He would often say to himself that he wished he could forget Ethelberta. But in point of fact he wished nothing of the kind. lie secretly cherished her memory, and the efforts he made to banish her from his thoughts only served to incorporate her more completely with the atmosphere of his life.
All through life John Scattergood had been a deeply conscientious man. But conscience, — or rather something that called itself conscience, but was in reality nothing of the kind,—which had served him so well in other respects, had been his undoing in the matter of Ethelberta. It was at the age of twenty-five that he first loved Ethelberta, and he was not then aware that a man’s evil genius, bent on doing its victim the deadliest turn, will often disguise itself in the robes of his heavenly guide. He was, as we have seen, of Puritan descent; his evangelical upbringing had taught him to regard as heaven-sent all inner voices which bade him sacrifice his happiness; and this it was of which the enemy took advantage. In his love for Ethelberta the young man was radiantly happy; but that very circumstance aroused his suspicions. ‘You are not worthy of this happiness,’ said an inner voice, ‘and, what is far more to the point, you are not worthy of Ethelberta. She is too good for such as you.’
‘ Who are you ? ’ said the young Scattergood, addressing the inner voice. ‘Who are you that haunt me night and day with this horrible fear.?'
‘I am your conscience,’ answered the Devil. ‘You are unworthy of Ethelberta; and it is I, your conscience, that tell you so. I am a voice from heaven, and beware of disregarding me.’
Had Scattergood been thirty years older, this strange anxiety on the part of his conscience to establish its claims as a voice from heaven would have put him on his guard: he would have lifted those shining robes and seen the hoofs beneath them. But these precautions had not occurred to him in the days when he and Ethelberta were walking hand in hand. So he listened with awe to the fiendish whisper; he listened until its lying words became an obsession; until they darkened his mind; until they drowned the voices of love and began to find utterance in his manners, and even in his speech, with Ethelberta. She, on her part, did not understand — what woman ever could or would? — and a cloud came between them.
‘The cloud is from heaven,’ said the voice. ‘I have sent it; let it grow; you are not good enough for Ethelberta, and it will be a sin to link your life with hers.’
So the cloud grew, till one day a woman’s wrath shot out of it; there was an explosion, a quarrel, a breach; and the two parted never to meet again.
‘You have done your duty,’ said the false conscience. ‘You have dealt me a mortal hurt,’said the Soul. But Scattergood was still convinced that he was not good enough for Ethelberta.
Within a year or two the usual results had followed. Scattergood married a woman who was not good enough for him; and that other man, who had been watching his opportunity, like a wolf around the sheepfold, married Ethelberta. And that other man was not good enough for her.
And now many years had passed, and Ethelberta was long since dead. But that made no difference to the aching wound; for Professor Scattergood, who was intelligent about all things, and far too intelligent about Ethelberta, used to reflect that probably she would still be alive, had she married him. ‘They went to Naples for their honeymoon,’ he would say aloud — for he was in the habit of talking to himself— ‘they went to Naples for their honeymoon; there she caught typhoid fever, and died six weeks after her marriage. But things would have happened differently had she married me. We were not going to Naples for the honeymoon. We were going to Switzerland: we settled it that night after the dance at Lady Brown’s — the night I first told her I was not worthy of her. Fool that I was!’ — Such were the meditations of Professor John Scattergood, D.D., as he trotted under the hedgerow elms and heard the patter of his horse’s hoofs falling softly on the withered leaves.
Thus we can understand how it came to pass that Dr. Scattergood’s imagination was abnormally sensitive to anything which could remind him of Ethelberta. And I have no doubt that his peculiar horse-sense was also involved in t he particular reminder with which we have now to deal.
Certain it is that he discerned the resemblance to Ethelberta the moment he cast eyes upon the mare. He was standing in the dealer’s yard, and the dealer was leading the animal out of the stable. Suddenly catching sight of the strange black-coated figure, the mare stopped abruptly, lowered her head, curved her neck, and looked Scattergood straight between the eyes. Fora moment he was paralyzed with astonishment and thought he was dreaming. The movement, the attitude, the look, were all Ethelberta’s! Exactly thus had she stopped abruptly, lowered her head, curved her neck, and looked him in the face when, thirty-five years ago, he had been introduced to her at an Embassy ball in Vienna. A vision swept swiftly over his inner eye; he saw bright uniforms, heard music, felt the presence of a crowd; and so completely was the actuality of things blotted out that he made a low reverence to the animal as though he were being introduced to some high-born dame. The dealer noticed the movement and wondered what ‘new hanky-panky old Scattergood was trying on the mare.’
‘Now, that’s a mare I raised myself,’ said the dealer. ‘I’ve watched her every day since she was foaled, and I’ll undertake to say as there is n’t another like her in — ’
‘In the wide world: I know there is n’t,’ said Scattergood, cutting him short. Then, suddenly, ‘What’s her name? ’
‘Meg,’replied the dealer, who was expecting a very different question.
‘ Meg— Meg,’said the Doctor. ‘ Why, it ought to be — Well, never mind, Meg will do. So you raised her yourself. Will you swear you did n’t steal her? ’
This was too much even for a horsedealer. ‘We’re not a firm of horsethieves,’he said, and was preparing to lead the animal back into the stable.
‘I’m only joking,’said Scattergood in a tremulous voice which belied him. ‘She’s the living likeness of one I remember years ago — one that was stolen. Come, bring her back. I’m ready to buy that mare at her full value.’
‘And what may that be?’ replied the dealer, glad that the enemy had made the first move.
‘A hundred and twenty guineas.’
The dealer was astonished; for his customer had offered the exact sum at which he hoped to sell the mare. For a moment he thought of standing out for a hundred and fifty, but he knew it was useless to bargain with Scattergood, so he said, —
‘It’s giving her away, sir, at a hundred and twenty. But for the sake of quick business, and you being a gentleman as knows a horse when you sees one. I’ll take you at your own figure.’
‘Done,’ said Scattergood. ‘I’ll send you a check round in ten minutes.'
And without another word he walked out of the yard. He had found the Perfect Horse.
The dealer stood dumbfounded, halter in hand. He was unconscious that Meg had already got his shirt-sleeve between her teeth. Could that retreating figure be the wary Scattergood — Scattergood of the thousand awkward questions, Scattergood the terror of every horse-dealer on the countryside? Never before had he found so prompt, so reckless a customer. Were his eyes deceiving him? Was it a dream ? A violen t jerk on his right arm, and the simultaneous sound of tearing linen, recalled him to himself.
‘ You she-devil! ’ he said, ‘ I ’ll take the skin off you for t his. But I hope the old gentleman’s well insured.’
Meanwhile the Professor was walking home in a state of profound mental perturbation. Visions of the Embassy ball in Vienna, Buddhist theories of reincarnation, problems of animal psychology, doubts as to the validity of the Inflexible Method, vague and nameless feelings that accompanied the operations of his horse-sense, a yet vaguer joy as of one who has found something precious which he had lost, and beneath all, the ever-present, subconscious fear that he would find his wife narcotized on the drawing-room sofa, were buzzing and dancing in his brain.
‘It’s the mare’s likeness to Ethelberta that puzzles me,’he began to reflect. ‘A universal resemblance, borne by particulars not one of which is really like the original. Quite unmistakable, and yet quite unthinkable. An indubitable fact, and yet a fact which no one, who has not seen it, could ever be induced to believe.’
Had any one half an hour earlier propounded the statement that a woman could bear a closer resemblance to a horse than to her own portrait, he would have treated the proposition as one which no amount of evidence could make good. So far from the evidence proving the proposition true, he would have said, it is the proposition which proves the evidence false. Otherwise, what is the use of the Inflexible Method? But now the thing was flashed on him with the brightness of authentic revelation, and there was no gainsaying its truth. Not once during the five-and-thirty years of his mourning for Ethelberta had anything happened to bring her so vividly to mind; not even among the dreams that haunt the borderland of sleep and waking; no, nor even when he listened to the great singer whose voice had filled his soul with the sad and angry music of Heine’s bitterest song. Professor Scattergood was a firm believer in the efficacy of a priori thought; but though by means of it he had excogitated a system in which the plan of an entire universe was sufficiently laid down, there was not one of his principles, either primary or secondary, which could have built a niche for the experience he had just undergone in the horse-dealer’s yard.
As he neared his doorstep the confusion of his mind suddenly ranged itself into form and gave birth to an articulate thought. ‘I’m sure,’ he said to himself, drawing his latch-key out of his pocket and inserting it in the keyhole, ‘I am sure that Ethelberta is not far off. Yes, as sure as I am of anything in this world.’
The horse-sense, with which Professor Scattergood was so strangely endowed, was always accompanied by a well-marked physical sign — to wit, a curious tingling at the back of the head, a tingling which seemed to be located at an exact spot in the cortex of the brain. So long as the back of his head was tingling, every horse was completely at his mercy: he could do with it whatever he willed. But I have it on his own authority that at the moment he cast eyes on his new the tingling suddenly ceased and his horsesense deserted him.
Accordingly, the first time he took her out he mounted with trepidation, and fear possessed his soul that she would run away with him. Though nothing very serious followed, the fear was not entirely groundless. His daily ride, which usually occupied exactly two hours and five minutes, was accomplished on this occasion in one hour and twenty, and for a week afterward the Professor’s man rubbed liniment into his back three times a day. On the second occasion he had the ill-luck to encounter the local hunt in full career, a thing he would have minded not the least under ordinary circumstances, but extremely disconcerting at a moment when Meg was in one of her wildest moods and his horse-sense happened to be in abeyance.
Before he had time to take in the situation Meg joined the rushing tide and for the next forty minutes the field was led by the first Systematic Theologian in Europe, who had given himself up for lost, and was preparing for instant death. And killed he probably would have been but for two things: the first was the fine qualities of his mount, and the second was a literary reminiscence which enabled him to retain his presence of mind.
For, even in these desperate circumstances, the Professor’s habit of talking to himself remained in force; and a young Don who was riding close behind him, told me that he distinctly heard Scattergood repeating the lines of the Odyssey which tell how Ulysses, on the point of suffocation in the depths of t he sea, kept his wits about, him, and made a spring for his raft the instant, he rose to the surface. Again and again, as he raced across the open, did the Professor repeat those lines to himself; and whenever a dangerous fence or ditch came in sight he would break off in the middle of the Greek and cry aloud in English, ‘Now, John Scattergood, prepare for death, and sit well back’ — resuming the Greek the moment he was safely landed on the other side, and thus proving once more that the blood of the Ironsides still ran in his veins.
Said a farmer to me one day, —
‘Who’s that gentleman as just went up the lane on the chestnut mare?’
‘That,’ said I, ‘is Professor Scattergood — one of our greatest men.’
‘H’m,’ said the farmer. ‘I reckon he’s a clergyman — to judge by his clothes.’
‘Well, he’s a queer ’un for a clergyman, danged if he is n’t. He’s alius talking to himself. And what do you think I heard him say when he come through last Thursday? “John Scattergood,” says he, “you were a damned fool. Yes, there’s no other word for it, John, you were a damned fool!”’
‘That,’ I said, ‘is language which no clergyman ought to use, not even when he is talking to himself. But perhaps the words were not his own. They may have been used about him by some other person — possibly by his wife, who, people say, is a bit of a Tartar. In that case he would be just repeating them to himself, by way of refreshing his memory.’
The farmer laughed at this explanation. ‘I see you ’re a gentleman with a kind ’eart,’ said he. ‘But a man with a swearin’ wife don’t ride about the country lanes refreshin’ his memory in that way. He knows his missus will do all the refreshin’ he wants when he gets ’ome. No, you’ll never persuade me as them words were n’t the gentleman’s own. From the way he said ’em you could see as they tasted good. Why, he said ’em just like this.’
And the farmer repeated the objectionable language, with a voice and manner that entirely disposed of my charitable theory. He then added, ‘But clergyman or no clergyman, I’ll say one thing for him — he rides a good ’oss. I ’ll bet you five to one as that chestnut mare cost him a hundred and twenty guineas, if she cost him a penny.’
From the tone in which the farmer said this I gathered that a gentleman whose ’oss cost him a hundred and twenty guineas was entitled to use any language he liked; and that my explanation, therefore, even if true, was entirely superfluous.
What did the Professor mean by apostrophizing himself in the strong language overheard by the farmer? The exegesis of the passage, it must be confessed, is obscure and, not unnaturally, there is a division of opinion among the higher critics. Some, of whom I am one, argue that the words refer to a long-past error of judgment in the Professor’s life; more precisely, to the loss of Ethelberta. Others maintain that this theory is far-fetched and fanciful. The Professor, they say, was plainly cursing himself for the purchase of Meg. For is there not reason to believe that at the very moment when the obnoxious words were uttered, he was again in trouble with the mare and, therefore, in a state of mind likely to issue in the employment of this very expression?
Now, although I have always held the first of these two theories, I must hasten to concede the last point in the argument of the other side. It is a fact that at the very moment when the Professor cursed himself for a fool he was again in trouble with Meg. On previous occasions her faults had been those of excess; but to-day she was erring by defect: instead of going too fast she was going too slow, and occasionally refusing to go at all. She would neither canter nor trot; it was with difficulty that she could be induced to walk and then only at a snail’s pace; apparently she wanted to fly. In consequence of which the Professor’s daily ride promised to occupy at least three hours, thereby compelling him to be twenty-five minutes late for his afternoon lecture.
Meg’s behavior that day had been irritating to the last degree. She began by insisting on the wrong side of the road; and before the Professor could emerge from the traffic of the town he had been threatened with legal proceedings by two policemen and cursed by several drivers of wheeled vehicles. Arrived in the open country, Meg spent her time in examining the fields on either side of the road, in the hope apparently of again discovering the hunt; she would dart down every lane and through every open gate, and now and then would stop dead and gaze at the scenery in the most provoking manner. Coming to a blacksmith’s shop with which she was acquainted, a desire for new shoes suddenly possessed her feminine soui, and whisking round through the door of the shoeing shed, she knocked off the Professor’s hat, and almost decapitated him against the lintel.
The Professor had not recovered from the shock of this incident when a black Berkshire pig;, that was being driven to market, came in sight round a turn of the road. Meg, as became a high-bred horse, positively refused to pass the unclean thing, or even to come within twenty yards of it. She snorted and pranced, reared and curvetted, and was about to make a bolt for home, when the pig-driver, who had considerately driven his charge into a field where it was out of sight, seized Meg’s bridle and led her beyond the dangerous pass.
’Meg, Meg,’ said the Professor as soon as they were alone and order had been restored, ‘ Meg, Meg, this will never do. You and I will have to part company. I don’t mind your looking like Ethelberta, but I can’t allow you to act as she did. To be sure, Ethelberta broke my heart thirty-five years ago. But that is no reason why I should suffer you to break my neck to-day. We’ll go home, Aleg, and I’ll take an early opportunity of breaking off the engagement, just as I broke it off with Ethelberta — though between you and me, Meg, I was a damned fool for doing it.’
Professor Scattergood spoke these words in a low, soft, musical voice: the voice he always used when talking to horses, or to himself about Ethelberta. Even the obnoxious adjective — which I must apologize to the reader for repeating so often —was pronounced by the Professor with that tenderness of intonation which only a horse or a woman can fully understand. And here I must explain that this particular tone came to him naturally in these two connections only. In all others, his voice was high-pitched, hard, and a trifle forced. Years of lecturing on Systematic Theology had considerably damaged his vocal apparatus. He had developed a throat-clutch; he had a distressing habit of ending all his sentences on the rising inflection; and whenever he was the least excited in argument he had a tendency to scream. It was in this voice that he addressed his class. But whenever he happened to be talking to horses, or to himself about Ethelberta, — and you might catch him doing so at almost any time when he was alone, — you would hear something akin to music, and would reflect what a pity it was that Professor Scattergood had never learned to sing.
It was, I say, in this low, soft, musical voice that he addressed his mare, somewhat exceptionally, it must be admitted, on the day when, sorely tried by her bad behavior, he had come to the conclusion that the engagement must be broken off. And now I must once more risk my reputation for veracity; and if the pinch comes and I have to defend myself from the charge of lying, I shall appeal for confirmation to my old friend, the ostler, who knows a great deal about ’osses and believes my story through and through. What happened was this.
The moment Professor Scattergood began to address his mare in the tones aforesaid, she stood stock-still, with ears reversed in the direction from which the sounds were coming. When he had finished a gentle quiver passed through her body. Then, suddenly lowering her head, she turned it round with a quick movement toward the off stirrup and slightly bit the toe of Professor Scattergood’s boot. This done she recovered her former attitude of attention and again reversed her ears as though awaiting a response. Taking in the meaning of her act with a swift instinct which he never allowed to mar his treatment of Systematic Theology, the Professor said one word, — ‘Ethelberta,’ — and the word had hardly passed his lips when something began to tingle at the back of his head. Instantly the mare broke into the gentlest and evenest canter that ever delighted a horseman of sixty years; carried him through the remainder of his ride without a single hitch, shy, or other misdemeanor, and brought him to his own doorstep in exactly two hours and five minutes from the time he had left it. From that time onward till the last, day of his life he never had the slightest trouble with his mare. That is the story which the ostler believes through and through.
Next day the Professor said to this man, —
‘Tom, I’m going to change the name of my mare.’
‘You can’t do that, sir. You’ll never get her to answer a new name.’
‘I mean to try, anyhow. Here,’ — and he slipped half a sovereign into the man’s hand, — ‘you make this mare answer to the name of Ethelberta and I’ll give you as much more when it’s done.’
‘Beg your pardon, sir,’ said the man, slipping the coin into his pocket. ‘Beg your pardon, sir, but there never was a ’oss with a name like that. It’s not a ’oss’s name at all, sir.’
‘Never mind that. Do as I tell you, and you won’t regret it. Ethelberta — don’t forget.’
The groom touched his hat. Professor Scattergood left the stables, and presently the groom and his chief pal were rolling in laughter on a heap of straw.
A fortnight later the groom said, —
‘The mare answers wonderful well to that new name, sir. Stopped her kicking and biting altogether, sir. Why, the day before we give it her, she tore the shirt off my back and bit a hole in my breeches as big as a mangel-wurzel.’
‘I’ll pay for both of them,’ said Professor Scattergood.
‘Thank ’ee, sir. But since we give it her she’s not even made as though she wanted to bite anybody. And as for kicking, — why, you might take tea with your mother-in-law right under her heels, and she would n’t knock a saucer over. I nivver see such a thing in all my life, and don’t expect nivver to see such another! Wonderful’s what I calls it! Though since I’ve come to think of it, there was once a ’oss named Ethelberta as won the Buddie Stakes. Our foreman says as he remembers the year it won. Maybe as you had a bit yourself, sir, on that ’oss — though beg your pardon for saying so.'
‘Yes,’ said the Professor, ‘I backed Ethelberta for all I was worth and won ten times as much. Only some fellow stole the winnings out of my — my inner pocket just before I got home. It was thirty-five years ago.’
‘So it was a bit o’ bad luck after all, sir? ’
‘It was,’ said Scattergood, ‘extremely bad luck.’
‘Did they ever catch the thief, sir?’
‘They did. They caught him within a year after the theft.’
‘I expect they give it ’im ’ot, sir?’
Wes. He got a life-sentence, the same as mi — the same as that man got who was convicted the other day.’
At this lame conclusion the groom looked puzzled, and Scattergood had to extricate himself. ‘You see, Tom,’ he went on, ‘the value of what I lost on Ethelberta was enormous.’
‘It must have been a tidy haul to get the thief a sentence like that,’ said Tom. ‘But maybe he give you a tap on the head into the bargain, sir.’
’He put a knife into me,’ said Scattergood, ‘and the wound aches to this day.’
For some reason he felt an unwonted pleasure in pursuing this conversation with the sympathetic groom.
Among Professor Scattergood’s numerous admirers there have always been some who remain unconvinced by his arguments for the Friendliness of the Universe. They begin by pulling his logic to pieces and conclude by saying, with the air of people who keep their strongest argument to the last, ‘It looks, at all events, as though the friendly universe had done our good Professor a most unfriendly turn by depriving him of Ethelberta and substituting the present Mrs. Scattergood in her place.’ And there is no denying the force of the argument.
For half a long life-time John Scattergood had lived his earnest days with little aid from those sources of spiritual vitality upon which most of us depend. Love in all its finer essences had been denied him — denied him, as he knew better than anybody, by that very Universe whose friendliness he had set himself to prove. Among the many lonely souls one meets beneath the stars it would be hard to find one lonelier than he. Even the demonstrated friendliness of the Universe did not seem to thaw his heart, or break down the barriers of his reserve. The only means of discovering his inner mind was to put your ear to the keyhole when he was talking to himself. ‘ Wie brennt meine alte Wunde! ’ is what you would often hear him say.
Mrs. Scattergood was said to have once been a very beautiful woman; and I can well believe it was even so. She was the daughter of a baronet, and had been brought up to think that the mission of women in this world is to have a good time. But her husband had thwarted this mission; at all events he had not provided its fulfillment. And the lady made it a point of daily practice to remind him of this failure, driving the reminder home with the help of expletives learned in her father’s stables long ago. John Scattergood would retire from these interviews talking to himself. ‘If I could keep her from the morphia,’ he would say, ‘I think I could bear the rest.’ He would then shut himself up in his study, would take out the miniature of Ethelberta from his secret drawer — a foolish thing to do, but a thing which somehow he could n’t help; would shake his head and say for the thousandth time, ‘Wie brennt meine alte Wunde! ’ And then, having brushed aside a tear, he would take up his pen and continue his proof of the Friendliness of the Universe according to the Inflexible Method.
If Scattergood could have seen himself, as I see him, seated in his quiet study, with the skeleton, the thesis, the miniature of Ethelberta in their respective positions, forming as it were the three points of a mystic triangle, I think he would have praised God for the Friendliness of the Universe, and would have lifted up his voice loud and strong, ‘to the tune of Bangor’ belike, and in the words of the Hundred and Seventeenth Psalm.
But alas! all Q.E.D.’s are fatal to emotion, and it was Q.E.D. that Professor Scattergood had placed at the end of his thesis. In some respects he resembled that other great philosopher who became so absorbed in his proof of the existence of God that he forgot to say his prayers. The fact of the matter is, and I can’t disguise it, that after proving the ultimate nature of the universe to be friendly he was no whit more in love with the universe than he was before. Nay, his interest was less rather than greater. His thesis, by becoming demonstrably true, had ceased to be morally exciting. He actually looked forward to his afternoon ride as a means of getting the taste of the universe out of his mouth.
John Scattergood had thus arrived, by long and devious ways, at the point from which he had set out; he had arrived, I mean, at that extremely common state of mind when one actual smile seen on the face of the world, or a moment of contact with any one of the innumerable friendly presences which the world harbors, was worth more to him, both as philosopher and as man, than were all the achievements of the Inflexible Method, past, present, and to come. And I have now to record that such a smile was vouchsafed to him, and such a living contact provided, by the mediation of a humble beast.
Now Scattergood, as the great champion of the Inflexible Method, knew something about it which the public, who received the doctrine at his hands, did not know. He knew its weak points. He knew that its very inflexibility was a weakness. He knew that his vessel would have been more seaworthy had he been able to build it out of more elastic material. There were moments when Scattergood would gladly have escaped if he could from the necessity which compelled him to be a passenger in his own ship; and some screwing-up of courage was needed before he could muster heart to put to sea. This did him good; this saved him from torpor; this kept his heart receptive and ready for the ministrations of his beast.
Let no one suppose, however, that our Professor was led astray by fatuous fancies concerning his mare. He did not jump to the conclusion that she was a reincarnation of the long-lost Ethelberta. The Inflexible Method, thank God, saved him from that. But if you ask me how it all came about, I am bound to confess I don’t know. All we can be sure of is that his mare did for Professor Scattergood something which a life-time of reflection had been unable to accomplish. No doubt the life-time of reflection had dried the fuel. But it was the influence of Ethelberta that brought the flame.
‘It’s quite true,’ he said one day, ‘that I prepare my lectures on horseback; and people tell me that I have fallen into a habit of preparing them aloud. But the fact is I am going to deliver a new course; and I find that horse-exercise quickens the action of the brain — a necessary thing at my time of life, when one’s powers of expression are on the wane, and new ideas increasingly difficult to put into form.’
‘You ride a beautiful animal,’ said his interlocutor.
‘ Yes, and as good as she’s beautiful.' And then in a lowered voice he repeated the line, —
This favorable view of Ethelberta’s qualities was by no means convincing to Professor Scattergood’s friends. We knew she was ‘bella’; but we doubted the ‘ buona.’
The spectacle of an elderly Doctor of Divinity setting out for his daily ride on a magnificent race-horse in the pink of condition was indeed a spectacle to fill the bold with astonishment and the timid with alarm. ‘The man is mad,’ said some. ‘Will no one warn him of his danger?’ Various attempts were made, but they came to nothing. Knowing myself to be the least cogent of advisers I kept silence to the last; but when all the others had failed I resolved to try my hand.
‘Scattergood,’I said, ‘that thoroughbred of yours is not a suitable mount for a man of your years. She ought to be ridden by a jockey. I wish to Heaven you would sell her.’
‘Nothing in this world would induce me to part with Ethelberta,’ he answered.
‘I’m sorry to hear it. There’s no man living in England at this moment whose life is more precious than yours. We can’t afford to lose you. Then think of your’ — I was going to say ‘your wife,’ but I checked myself in time—‘think of your work. It’s a very serious matter. Sure as fate that brute’ — (‘She’s not a brute,’ he interrupted)— ‘Sure as fate that beauty will run away with you one of these days, and break your neck.’
‘How do you know that?’ he asked quietly.
‘Because she’s run away with you twice already, and you escaped only by a miracle. She’ll do it again, and next time you may not be quite so fortunate.’
‘She’ll never do it again,’ he said in the same quiet voice.
‘How do you know that?’ I said, thinking that I had turned the tables on him.
‘Never mind how. I know it well enough.’
‘By the Inflexible Method?’
‘Of course not,’ he said with some annoyance. ‘There are different kinds of certainty, and this about Ethelberta is one of the most certain of all.’
‘ More certain than the Inflexible—? ’
’Oh, damn the Inflexible Method!’ he cried. ‘I’m sick to death of it. You’ll do me a kindness by not mentioning it again.’
‘All right; I’m as sick of it as you are. After all, it’s not your philosophy I’m thinking of; what I am concerned about is your life. Now, Scattergood,’ I added, — for I was an old friend, — ‘frankly, between you and me, don’t you think you’re a bit of a fool?’
‘My dear fellow, I am and always have been a ’ — and here he used that objectionable word — ‘always have been a certain sort of fool. But not about Ethelberta. We understand each other perfectly. She looks after me, and takes care of me like a — like a mother. My life is absolutely safe in her hands — I mean, of course, on her back.’
‘Confound those mixed metaphors!’ I cried. ‘That’s the seventh I’ve heard to-day, and they’re horribly confusing, even when they are corrected as you corrected yours. Now, what on earth do you mean?’
He looked at me curiously. ‘I mean,’ he said, ‘that Ethelberta is as friendly to me as you are.’
‘Or as the Universe is. Well, here’s a plain question. Would you be prepared to stand before your class tomorrow morning and bid them trust the Universe for no better reasons than those on which you trust your life to the tender mercies of that bru — of Ethelberta?’
‘I only wish I could find them reasons half as good.’
‘Half as good as what?’
‘As those for which I trust my life to Ethelberta.’
‘What are they?’
‘I can’t tell you. If I could they would lose their force. But until they are uttered they are quite conclusive.’
‘What!’ I cried, laughing, ‘are the reasons taboo? Have you got a magic formula?’
‘Don’t jest,’ he said. ‘The matter’s far too serious. There is more at stake in this than the mere safety of my life.’
‘Then you admit your life is at stake,’ said I; and I thought I had scored a point.
' No, I don’t. But other things are — things of far greater importance. My life, however, runs no risk from Ethelberta.’
‘Then tell me this. Who runs the bigger risk, — you who trust your life to a beast for no reasons you can assign; or we, your disciples, who trust ourselves to the Universe in the name of your philosophy?’
' By far the bigger risk,’ he answered, ‘is yours.’
‘Then you mean to say that you have better reasons for trusting your beast than we have for trusting your system?’
‘ ‘I do.’
‘You are quite serious?’
‘But follow this out,’ I said. ‘If we, your disciples, run the bigger risk in trusting ourselves to your system, you, its author, run the same risk yourself.’
‘You’re entirely mistaken,’ he answered.
‘Surely,’ said I, ‘we are all in the same boat. What reasons can you have, other than those you have given us, for trusting your conclusion as to the friendliness of the universe?’
‘You forget.,’ he said. ‘In addition to the reasons I have given you, I have all those which induce me to trust my life to Ethelberta.’
‘But how do they affect your philosophy?’
‘They affect it vitally.’
‘ In the way of confirmation or otherwise ? ’
‘You mean that your philosophy is already conclusively proved, and yet made more conclusive by Ethelberta?’
‘Put it that way, if you like.’
‘Is there no hope,’ I asked, ‘that you will be able one day to communicate the reasons to us ? ’
‘None,’ he answered. ‘But what I can do, and will do, if I live long enough, is to show that all of you are acting precisely, in regard to your whole lives, as I am acting in regard to Ethelberta.’
‘But we are not all risking our lives on thoroughbred horses.’
‘Yes, you are,’ he said, ‘and you are fools not to see it. And until quite recently I was — perhaps I still am — the biggest fool of all.’
‘Scattergood,’ I said, ‘it’s plain to me that you will have to do one of two things. Either you must radically change your philosophic system — or you must sell Ethelberta. Personally, I hope you’ll do the last.’
‘In any case,’ he replied, ‘I shall not sell Ethelberta.’
‘Then,’ said I, ‘may the Friendly Universe preserve you from being killed! ’ And with that I took my departure.
That very afternoon, Professor Scattergood, arrayed in a tweed suit and a pair of goodly riding-boots, went round to the stables to mount his mare. The groom met him as usual.
‘She’s been wonderful restless all night, sir,’ said he. ‘She’s broke her halter and a’most kicked the door out. And she’s bitin’ as though she’d just been married to the Devil’s son.’
‘She wants exercise,’ said Scattergood. ‘Put the saddle on at once.’
‘Not me, sir,’ answered the groom. ‘It’s as much as a man’s life is worth to go near her.’
‘Bring me the saddle, then, and I’ll do it myself,’ said Scattergood. He opened the door of the stable, and the moment the light was let in Ethelberta announced her intentions by a smashing kick on the wooden partition.
‘Have a care, sir!’ cried the terrified groom as Scattergood, with the saddle on his arm, passed through the door. ‘She ’ll give you no time to say yer prayers. Look out, sir! She’ll whip round on you like a bit o’ sin and put her heel through you before you know where you are. — Good Lord!’ he added, addressing another man, ‘it’s a hexecution ! The ole gen’l’man ’ll be in heaven in less than half a minute.’
‘Ethelberta, Ethelberta, what’s the meaning of all this?’ said Scattergood, in a quiet voice, as he faced the animal’s blazing eyes. ‘Come, come, sweetheart, let us behave for once like rational beings.’ And he put his arm round Ethelberta’s neck and rubbed his cheek against hers.
In five minutes the saddle was on, and Scattergood, seated on as quiet a beast as ever submitted to bridle, was riding down the stable-yard.
‘That ole Johnnie knows a trick or two about ’osses,’ said the groom as soon as the Professor was out of hearing. ‘I’d give a month’s wages to know ’ow he quieted that mare.’
Meanwhile Professor Scattergood, after trotting three or four miles down the London road, had turned into the by-lane that led to the villages of Medbury and Charlton Towers. Up to this point the behavior of Ethelberta had been beyond reproach. But as they turned down the lane, a tramp with a wooden leg, who was nursing a fire of sticks by the roadside, some fifty yards ahead, got up and stepped out into the road. For a few moments Ethelberta did not see him and maintained her swinging trot. Professor Scattergood tightened his grip. The mare went on until the tramp was not more than five paces distant, and then suddenly noticing his deformity, she planted her forefeet and stopped dead. Scattergood, nearly unhorsed by the sudden stoppage, was thrown off his guard, and in the momentary confusion of mind that followed called out in his rasping voice, ‘Steady, Meg, steady!’
In an instant she was off like the wind.
Professor Scattergood did not again lose his presence of mind. For a moment he tried to check the mare, but feeling her mouth like iron he loosened his rein and let her race. He knew the road for the next five miles was fairly straight; there was a long steep hill on this side of Charlton Towers, and he reflected that the mare was certain to be blown before she reached the top. He could keep his seat, and, barring a collision with some passing vehicle, the chances were that he would win through. He shouted, indeed, and tried such resources of language as his breathlessness allowed; but Ethelberta was far beyond the reach of endearments, and the race had to be run. So with the lines from Homer once more buzzing through his brain Scattergood sat tight and awaited the issue.
His mind, I say, was perfectly clear. It seemed as if his desperate condition had given him a large quiet leisure both for introspection and observation. As objects on the road shot by him he noted each one; and, with a curious double consciousness, began watching the flow of his own thoughts. He even wondered at the calmness and lucidity of his mind and asked himself the reason. ‘Perhaps it is the imminence of death,’ he reflected, ‘but death, now that it has come so near, has no terrors. That is John Hawksbury’s cottage. I wonder if his son has returned from India. I must be careful on the bridge. God grant that we don’t meet a cart!’
On they went. Medbury was in sight. On nearing the village, Scattergood heard the pealing of bells mingled with the roar of the wind as it rushed past his ears. As they shot past the church he saw a wedding-party standing aghast in the churchyard. He saw the bride, leaning on the bridegroom’s arm. The party had just emerged from the porch, and the look of terror on the bride’s face was clearly visible to Scattergood. ‘Poor thing,’ he reflected, ‘she’ll take this for a bad omen.’
He saw men running and heard their shouts. At the end of the village street a brave lad stood with arms outstretched. Ethelberta swerved not an inch, but on coming up to the lad leaped clean over him, leaving him untouched.
‘A hero,’ thought Scattergood; ‘he will surely be rewarded in the resurrection of the just.’
Medbury was now far behind and they were breasting the two-mile hill on this side of Charlton Towers. By this time he had lost his glasses; a serious loss, for being short-sighted he could not tell what lay ahead. Moreover, the cold wind beating into his unprotected eyes had so blinded him that he could hardly see the road beneath his horse’s feet. But he kept up his heart, as a brave theologian should, saying aloud, ‘ Please God, I shall win through yet.’ However, Ethelberta, though still going terrifically fast, was no longer maintaining her first furious rush. As the gradient steepened, her pace fell slightly, and Scattergood now promised himself that he would have her in hand before they reached the level ground on the top. Some distance ahead of him he could dimly see the form of a tall tree. With admirable presence of mind he said to himself, ‘On passing that tree, but not before, I will tighten the rein and gradually tighten it until, on reaching the summit, I shall have completely pulled her up.’
They were almost abreast of the tree when suddenly a dark-plumaged bird, frightened from its roost, fluttered out of the upper branches, and flew with a whir of wings right athwart the road. At sight of the black object flung as it were into her eyes, Ethelberta made a rapid swerve and placing her near forefoot on a rolling stone, plunged forward with her head between her knees. Down she came, almost turning a somersault with the violence of her impetus, and Professor Scattergood, hurled far from his saddle, fell prone with a terrific shock on the newly metaled road.
When consciousness at length returned it brought no pain of wounds; but cold pierced his body like a knife and a shock of sounds was in his ears. A thousand memories swept over him. Beginning in the distant past, and streaming through the years with incredible rapidity, they terminated abruptly in a vision seen far below him, as though he were a watcher in the skies. He saw a deeply wounded man lying outstretched on the circumpolar ice, and a horse stood by him like a ministering priest. The horse was warming the man with its breath, and the steam of its body rose high into the frozen air. The consciousness of Scattergood, hovering in a present which had well-nigh become a past, was on the borderland which separates a running experience from a completed fact; vaguely suffering, yet aloof from the sufferer, whom he seemed to remember as one who long ago endured the bitterness of death. The vision of what lay in the road was hardly more than a spectacle, the last link in a long chain of memories, and the past would have claimed it entirely had not the stunning sounds still fettered some fragment of consciousness in the body of the freezing man.
The din in his ears increased, and in great bewilderment of mind he began to seek for its cause. Now it was one thing, now another. ‘This sound,’he thought, ‘is the grind and roar of colliding ice-floes and the crackle of the Northern Lights.’
The sounds thus identified immediately became something else. They seemed to scatter and retreat, and then, concentrating again, returned to him as the tolling of an enormous bell. Nearer and nearer it came, till the quivering metal lay close against his ear, and the iron tongue of the bell smote him like a bludgeon.
A warmth passed over his face, and instantly a troubled thought began to disturb him. ‘I am sleeping through the summer; I must rouse myself before winter comes back.’ And with a great reluctant effort he opened his eyes.
A scarlet veil hung before him. He tried to thrust it aside with his hands, which seemed to fail him and miss the mark. Succeeding at last he saw a vast living creature standing motionless above him, its hot breath mingling with his, its great eyes, only a handbreadth away, looking with infinite tenderness into his own.
He tried to recollect himself and something in his hand gave him a clue. ‘This thing,’ he mused, ‘is surely my handkerchief. It belongs to John Scattergood. It is one of a dozen his poor drug-sodden wife gave him on Christmas Day. And here, close to me, is Ethelberta. How red her feet are!’ And he stared vacantly at a deep gash on Ethelberta’s chest and watched the great gouts that were dripping from her knees and forming crimson pools round her hoofs.
The crimson pools were full of mystery; they fascinated and troubled him; they were problems in philosophy he could n’t solve. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘I have solved them, but forgotten the solution. I have lost the notes of my lecture. Dyed garments from Bozrah. The color of my Doctor’s gown — I have trodden the wine-press alone. The color of poppies — drowsy syrups — deadly drugs! The ground-tint of the universe — a difficult problem! Strange that a friendly universe should be so red. Gentlemen, I am not well to-day — don’t laugh at an old man. The red is quite simple. It only means that some one is hurt. Not I, certainly. Who can it be? Ah, now I see. Poor old girl!’ — And he feebly reached out his handkerchief, already soaked with his own blood, as though he would staunch the bleeding wounds of Ethelberta.
As he did so, the great bell broke out afresh. First the sound drew near; then it fell away into the distance. A second joined it; a third, a fourth, a fifth, until a whole peal was ringing, and the air seemed full of music and of summer warmth. Scattergood was dreaming his last dream, ineffably content.
He stood by the open door of a church; inside he could see the ringers pulling at the ropes. And Ethelberta, young and happy as himself, was leaning on his arm.
‘Sweetheart,’ she whispered, ‘let us behave ourselves for once like rational beings.’
He laughed, and would have spoken. But a din of clattering hoofs, which drowned the pealing of the bells, struck him dumb. The swift image of an old man, riding a maddened horse, shot out of the darkness, passed by, and vanished; and the wedding-party stood aghast.
‘Who is yonder man?’ he said, with a great effort, bending over Ethelberta.
‘A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,’ said a soft voice in his ear.
Ten thousand echoes caught up the words and flung them far into space. And then it seemed that thunders awoke behind, and rolled after the echoes like pursuing cavalry. ‘A man of sorrows,’ cried the echoes. ‘He has come through great tribulations,’ the thunders shouted in reply; and they lashed their horses and leaped over the mountain-tops.
On went the chase, the flying echoes in retreat, the deep-voiced thunder in pursuit. The wide heavens were filled with the tumult; myriads of eager stars were watching, and great waters were shouting and clapping their hands.
‘Who is this that leads the chase? Who is this that feels the thunder leap beneath him like a living thing? It is I — John Scattergood — it is I! ’ And ever before him fled the echoes; they mocked the chasing squadrons and the wild winds aided their flight.
And now the pursuer perceived himself pursued. A swarm of troubled thoughts, on winged horses, seemed to be overtaking him. They swept by on either side; they forged ahead; they pressed close and jostled him on his rocking seat. There was a shock; the thunder collapsed beneath him and he fell and fell into bottomless gloom.
Suddenly his fall was stayed. A hand caught him; a presence encircled him, something touched him on the lips, and a voice said, ‘At last! At last!’
Professor Scattergood was sitting on the stones, his body bowed forward, his hands feebly clasped round the head of his motionless horse; he was gashed, shattered, and bleeding; the breath of life was leaving him, and his heart was almost still. But the dying flame flickered once more. Opening his eyes, he gazed into the darkness like one who sees a long-awaited star. Then his fingers tightened; he seemed to draw the head of Ethelberta a little nearer his own; and it was as if they two were holding some colloquy of love.
In the twinkling of an eye it was done, and the pallor of death crept over his face. The clasped hands, with the blood-stained handkerchief still between them, slowly relaxed; the glance withered; the arms fell; the head drooped. It rested for a moment on the soft muzzle of the beast; and then, with a quiet breath, the whole body rolled backwards and lay face upward to the stars.
All was still. Clouds swept over the sky, the winds were hushed, and the dense darkness of a winter’s night fell like a pall over the dead. Not a soul came nigh the spot, and for hours the silence was unbroken by the foot-fall of any living creature or by the stirring of a withered leaf. And far away in the dead man’s home lay an oblivious woman, drenched in the sleep of opium.
It was near midnight when a carrier’s cart, drawn by an old horse and lit by a feeble lantern, began to climb the silent hill. Weary with the labors of a long day the carrier sat dozing among the village merchandise. Suddenly he woke with a start: his cart had stopped. Leaning forward he peered ahead, and the gleam of his lantern fell on the stark figure of a man lying in the middle of the road. A larger mass, dimly outlined, lay immediately beyond. Raising his light a little higher the carrier saw that the farther object was the dead body of a horse.