Archæology for Amateurs

I

THE science of archæology has always been under a cloud. It has been considered a pastime for the rich, a speculative something, offering a field only to him who can put a simon-pure archæologist in either pocket, and start for Mycenæ or the Pyramids. But it is a mistake to look upon it thus, as if it were only a form of relaxation for a wholesale druggist who has been ordered south. There is a kind of archæology in which even the humblest may indulge, — no shovels, no dispensations from inimical governments, neither holes nor sand-fleas; and yet as full of specimens and speculation as the other, and to the full as interesting to readers of the Sunday supplements.

There are, of course, preliminary steps. You have to warm up. But that may be cleverly enough done, with no real physical discomfort. Do but keep dropping out, in casual talk, hints of the Triassic period, and monoliths and palæolithic wastes, and you will soon find yourself in shape. If possible see Stonehenge or Avebury, and while you browse about there, overturn a lichen-covered stone or two. You are almost certain to find the claw-marks of a prehistoric turkey on the other side of it. A few such finds will greatly hearten you and ripen you for Dartmoor.

We caught the fever in a little place called Glastonbury, in the West Country. My good Porthos and I were walking English bicyles all over that region, now and then hopping on and going on a few hundred yards, getting a puncture, stopping, borrowing a basin of water, inflating and submerging the inner tube for bubbles, and finally clapping on a rubber patch. The younger generation in America knows nothing of all this, for over here the bicycle is not extant any more. An archæologist would be attracted to it. But it takes more than a generation for anything to become palaeolithic in Devon.

Four miles short of Glastonbury we came to a flat rim. We located a thorn, part of a safety-pin, and a bit of broken quartz here and there about the tire; and while Porthos was blowing into the tube and listening for expirations, I went off to borrow a basin of water. In pursuit of this basin, I broke through a blackthorn hedge. And there was the archæologist.

He was a short man in gray clothes, with a lavender tie, and he radiated an earnestness which would kill skepticism at a hundred yards. I had faith in him even before I saw the box. It was a common soap-box with a slit big enough to insert a bicycle wheel. A sign said that if you put in sixpence, and breathed a prayer for the Taunton Museum, you could go on to the diggings.

The archæologist had seen me put in my sixpence, evidently; for he leaned rather guiltily in the door of his new hut.

‘Sorry, old chap,’ he said, ‘there is n’t much to see, you know; not really. Of course, a little later —’

I looked into the hut.

‘What I want,’ I said, ‘ is a basin of water. Flat tire. Ah, here’s just the caper.’

There was a basin on the floor, like a special miracle; and nothing but a rotten piece of wood floating in it.

‘I’ll just chuck this out,’ I said; and I had almost done it, when the archæologist gave out a wail which I have reason to believe is frequent with him in his native haunt.

‘ My dear fellah — really — priceless treasure — 55 B.C. — I could n’t think —!’

Even then I could n’t understand that I had happened on a real archæologist. It’s one thing to look at a jawbone in a museum under a dusty glass; and quite another to be right in at the resurrection, so to speak. There was certainly a hole or excavation there, — a black rectangle about twelve feet by six, and six deep. I looked into it. A row of men were picking away delicately at the black soil with peculiar trowels. Everything seemed somehow unusual and special, from the excavation right down to the archæologist himself. You might have been deaf and dumb, or he might have been deaf and dumb, and yet you would have felt all through you that he was n’t digging a cistern. The wild light in his eye, or the shape of the trowels, might have warned you that this was n’t the entrance to a new subway. I was enchanted; and I left Porthos to play in the road all alone with his inflated rubber circle.

‘But look here,’ I said, ‘what is this — ah — fragment in the basin?’

‘It’s the stake-end of a hut-pole,’ said the archæologist. ‘ This was a lake village, you see; the tides flowed clear down here from Bristol in those days; and they could only build their huts on these knolls.’

‘Then these must have been islands,’ I ventured.

‘They were islands,’ said the archæologist with rising significance.

‘Then they must have used boats,’ I cried, in a wild fever of surmise.

‘ Canoes,’ shrieked the archaeologist. ‘Dugouts. We’ve traced ’em into that cornfield, and we can’t dig there. There’s tombs there, too; burial urns. Sure of it. The story of a past age. But the fool will grow corn there.’

‘Corn!’ I gave out a thunderclap of comment.

The frantic archæologist was drawn toward me by the heartiness of my contempt for corn. He quieted himself with an effort.

‘They were planting corn in the Roman amphitheatre at Dorchester till a few years back,’he said. ‘Mr. Hawke finally rooted it up, and got down to the chalk-bottom of the arena. He dug two dead gladiators out of the south side of the parapet. They were in a sitting posture, and one of them measured seven inches from jaw-bone to jaw-bone. The teeth were all there, except the bicuspids. Come in and talk with Mr. Hawke.'

We bolted into the shack, which was of new unpainted matched boards, against which these recovered relics looked more antiquarian than ever. If you put a good old New England grindstone down on that floor, and were specially careful with it, you would instantly suggest a period before Adam. There were stones of every description in there: long flat smooth ones, for rubbing skins; fat round dented ones for moulds; and little polished ones for playing games — probably checkers. If some one should go and salt down an old checker-board in that hole in the night, it would relieve those fellows mightily. They would know it was checkers then. Mr. Hawke was in a side room, absorbed in trying to select a pot from a boxful of burnt-clay shards, which would have made fifty pots. But now certainly, if Mr. Hawke could reconstruct a pot, he could do what all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could n’t do. He washed each piece clean, examined the jagged edge of it, and then another jagged edge, and then another jagged edge. Still, this was the Mr. Hawke who had bade defiance to the cornfield in the Roman ring at Dorchester, and as each edge was washed clean, I kept fancying that his bright blue eye had detected something complementary about it. My heart thumped at the bare possibility of a pot. He drew another piece from the heap, and cried aloud with pleasure.

‘A design,’he said. ‘Could anything be more delicate, more perfect?’

I leaned over his shoulder. I have heard that simplicity is at the heart of architecture. If it is also at the heart of design, then this design was perfect. It consisted of two parallel lines, which had obviously once gone clear round the pot.

‘Shade of Euclid! ’ I breathed in my excitement.

‘And we turn up something like this every day,’said the second archæologist tumultuously.

‘What a life!’ I exclaimed reverently.

‘I sometimes fear the stimulus is too great,’said Mr. Hawke. ‘Once in so often I have to steal away to South Devon to rest. But even there I have the temptation of Dartmoor.’

He was assailed on every hand. It was as bad as if these stone men were actually at him with their bludgeons.

‘What of Dartmoor?’ I inquired.

‘A great palæolithic waste,’he returned. ‘Sacred circles, pounds, stone avenues, necropolises, I believe, if we could get down to them. Dartmoor. Ah, it’s too much. The treasury is too rich. But the restrictions of the Duchy would drive me frantic. It’s owned by the Duchess of Cornwall.’

He did n’t want to say that she was not an excellent lady; no Englishman would; but he hurried off the topic.

‘See here.’

He lifted an urn nearly whole, containing some black matter in the bottom. ‘We have every reason to believe,’ he announced, ‘that this was bread.’

‘Baked a little too brown?’ I suggested.

He thwarted my forefinger.

‘Two thousand years,’ he reminded me.

He hurled time at me in great ruthless clods. I was stunned.

‘Or here.’

He pointed out two large flat stones.

‘ A mirror-mould for bronze mirrors,’ he said.

He bent toward me with fever in his eyes. ‘To-morrow we shall have the mirror,’ he said.

I supported myself against the jamb of the door.

Suddenly there was commotion outside, and a man came in bearing a complete skull in his hands. He was not even going to trust himself to wipe the dirt from it. The archæologists gave vent to their strangled wail again, and Mr. Hawke took the skull. I had been about to say, ‘Alas, poor Yorick! ’ but the ignoble flippancy froze on my lips.

’Outside again?’ Mr. Hawke shouted to the laborer.

‘Outside, sir; yes, sir.’

‘We can no longer doubt,’ said Mr. Hawke. ‘You see, Horace?’

He showed the first archæologist the top of the skull, where there was a great jagged hole.

‘All of them like that,’ said Mr. Hawke. ‘All of them.’

He opened a cabinet, and there were six more skulls, and they one and ail bore this same cruel rent in the very middle of the cranium.

‘Do you see anything peculiar in that hole?’ said Horace, turning to me.

I looked more closely at the hole, and I said that, now my attention had been drawn to it, there was something peculiar about it.

‘It’s a spear-hole,’ they cried together. And Mr. Hawke went on, ‘These fellows must have gone to war. When they killed a man, they cut off his head, and ran their spears into it; and then set up their spears on the walls surrounding the town.’

They knew this, it seemed, because they always found these punctured skulls just outside the limits of the town, where they had fallen when the spears rotted. Indeed, this was how they had discovered the limits of the town. They had, as it were, killed two birds with one stone.

I went out, and had another look into the black pit.

‘Well, good day,’ I said. ‘I’m in rather a hurry to begin.’

‘Begin what?’ said the second archaeologist.

‘I’m going to Dartmoor with a pick and shovel,’ I said. ‘Damn the Duchy! Hang the — ah — duchess! ’

He clasped my hand.

‘Don’t forget the British Museum,’ he implored me.

II

Within a week we were at Dartmoor, having come upon it from the south — from Plymouth.

In the purple time of night, we descended upon Chagford, where it nestled in a clouded hollow under the crown of a green hill. Its white stone cots twinkled in the long twilight; the magic stillness of the night countryside and the towering impassivity of the giant tor, Nattadown, Chagford’s protector, were deepened by a sweet ring of bells, which came up muffled out of nowhere; although we might fancy, among the shapes wavering through the gloom, some weathering belfry, which should prefigure its old verger swaying among his plush-covered nimble ropes of red and white. The blurred road ran ahead of us, deep between its hedges; a sweet cold wind followed it, bearing on its wings hawthorn, and the sound of clumping footsteps. The place was like lost Germelshausen, visible upon this night only in a hundred years.

Gaining the town, we were refused admittance to the Three Crowns, say what we might in extenuation of our stubble chins. We moved stealthily upon the King’s Arms, and held consultation in a dark passage there. Alas, the King’s Arms was full, egg-full, of literary and fisher folk from London town.

Finally, holding our courage in both hands, we rapped at the whitest of the white cots. A lady answered us. I said in a voice manly and persuasive and gentle and gently humorous, enfolding her, as it were, in an appreciation of our plight, that we were archæologists, groping in darkness. The Three Crowns was full (God pardon me), the King’s Arms was full, and the night promising cold. She hesitated; I made as if to turn away, in stoical but none the less despairing realization that I asked too much. But stay: a smile edged that lip, a sweet willingness informed every corner of that pink and white and lovely being, and overmatching, in her low native Devon, the sweet modulation of my own tones, she bade me step into her parlor. What is it Hazlitt hath said about a parlor: ‘To hold to the universe by a dish of sweetbreads, and to be known by no other name than “ the gentleman in the parfor.” ’ Surely we were known by no other name than that, nor any the less well received in consequence.

We came to rest, however, in the kit - chen. The peace of that Devon was as profound as a confession of St. Augustine. Our host, a huge man, with brown eyes, said perpetually, ‘Yes, yes,’ with the intonation of ‘Hear, hear’; and once roused himself, getting up, intellectually, on one elbow, to ask, ‘Who was this Darwin? An odd name, now; yes, yes,’ — and then relapsing, expiring, but continuing to thwart vacuum of the space which his material presence had invaded.

His wife, very pretty, and more intelligent, was rather proud of her archæologists, who were so bold in tampering with the system of this Darwin. Her cheeks were pink and white beyond analogy, shadowed each by a brown curl which fell past either temple. She sewed deftly, illuminated by the fire in the grate. She was like a vignette, in her preciseness of line.

She invited me into the arm-chair; I took it. Abashed by that proximity, she proposed a cup of tea. The pot boiled; her husband continued in accordance with a judicious selection of the laws of Aristotle, Harvey, and Sir Isaac Newton. When I was on the point of pouring the tea into a cup, she made a sudden exclamation. I looked wildly up, and my eye fell first upon the old clock, which was kept an hour fast to please the children (children, saith the elderly essayist with a sigh, as of lavender and lost years, can always give Time a handicap), and then upon her face. She hovered over me, timid but desperately put about. Her husband’s brown eyes blinked inscrutably, near together in an inscrutable face. I held the pot halted in mid-air.

‘In Devonshire,’ she said, with one hand upon her dress, of a blue and white print, ‘in Devonshire we pour the tea upon the milk.’

But I could only think of a poem by Robert Herrick. ‘Loathed Devonshire,’ indeed. Let him look to his little buttery, and within, his little bin.

Thus we see that archæology is a thing of phases, like a malignant fever.

III

We decided to make a preliminary ramble without the pick and shovel. We said nothing very coherent in defense of this determination, but the truth is we were both afraid of meeting with the duchess. Whenever I think of a duchess, I think of the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland, and I remember that she spoke harshly to her little boy, and beat him when he sneezed.

A steep road spiraled out of Chagford toward the moor, fragrant with hawthorn, and bordered by small whitewashed cots, with war-thick walls, and thatch heavy with green moss. Near the top of the hill was a stone basin, which a brook overflowed with crystal water. The petal of a bluebell twirled in an eddy, and Porthos, pleased as a wood-nymph, but bulkier and hairier, pillared himself on a vast yellow forearm, and drank.

Struck by the simple picture of man communing with nature, I dragged out the Golden Treasury, and read a lyric of Shelley’s. This is always disheartening to Porthos. He is one of those, for example, who hold that the Person from Porlock ought to have knocked sooner on poor Sam’s door.

And shortly we were upon the moor. I had expected a plain; but the moor rolled under us in great brown waves of heather-covered granite. There were both gorse and heather there, but which was gorse and which was heather was not for a mere archæologist to settle. Suffice it that either the gorse or the heather was spiky, and either the heather or the gorse was in yellow bloom. Sheep, and wild moor ponies, and little shaggy colts, like animals from a Noah’s ark, were dotted over it — all of them, even the little colts, with their tails solemnly presented to the prevailing quarter of the wind. For the wind that sweeps the moor is bitter, and never dies.

Now when a moor like this, or a waste of any kind, figures in a book, there is always some lofty-spirited person who ranges it, drawing deep breaths of the wild wind that blows there, cheeks glowing, hair and skirts fluttering about her (it is usually a woman; there’s not much you can say about a pair of peg-top trousers in a high wind). Now when we left the road, this was precisely what we were going to do — we were going to range the moor. But after a mile or two of wading through spiky gorse (or heather), struggling up a hill, walking a dozen steps across the top, and plunging down, with the prospect of a worse rise dead ahead, — after an hour or two of this, a man begins to lay the mænad-viking idea up to the other fellow. It becomes time to pose as a sane man led away by the folly of others.

I said, ‘Look here; there’s a mire dead ahead, Fox Tor Mire. Had n’t we better bear ship?’

‘Bit sodden, eh?’ said Porthos. He was encouraged by my giving in to place his foot on a rock, and look proudly out over the landscape, with an Eric the Red light in his eyes.

Fox Tor Mire was a bit sodden; it was yellow, rheumy, full of hummocks, quiverings, and unpleasant fissures.

‘If we keep on,’ he continued, ‘we strike Cranmer Pool.’

‘Nothing there,’ I answered, ‘but a letter-box, and the reflections of the last fool who went out there, on finding himself so far from home. Now my idea is to investigate some of these tors. That one on our left, for instance.’

These tors were great piles of splintering granite, and they could be seen to crown nearly all the hills about us. We singled one out, and walked toward it a long time, the camera assaulting my spine every time I took a hummock, and the bog creeping steadily through my canvas shoes. A gleam of sun fell on one distant hill, and the hill seemed soft, dune-like, colored a leprous yellow, like Arabia on the road to Mecca; its granite top like some hideous disjointed lizard, or again, coming nearer, like a monolithic throne, with jagged side-arms. And finally it was like nothing at all but a ruined peak of stone.

We found ourselves upon a huge ridge, with a sky-line as long and gentle as the sky-line of Vesuvius, upon which sat four of these giant tors, weathered by wind and rain into strange likenesses, shifting with the point of view into things still more vast and fanciful. No mind could rest upon these bold outlines, these ragged crevices, these square lichen-grown towers and fallen battlements, without conjecture — least of all an archæologist’s. The might of speculation alone could lift back these fragments into the places they had once filled, and invest them with significance dreadful or heroic. What the Druid with his beard or the stone man with his bludgeon could not do, the archæologist will do by the simple movement of an eager and pursuing mind. When the orgasm is upon him, in a very turgescence of conjecture he will re-create the ages, and bring forward and put under a glass and the public guardianship a whole civilization smothered under tumbled stone.

We went back through time twelve thousand years, and with less start than a man would get for a twentyfour-foot running jump; and behold, we were sitting on top of the hut of a man of the stone age.

‘ The man who would be fool enough to deny,’ said Porthos, ‘that this place has been lived in, deserves to be made to live in it himself.’

A big slab of granite projected like a natural roof from the solid rock; and an immense block had been pushed in under this roof, failing the wall of rock by perhaps two feet. The space thus enclosed was about two by two by eight; and at our end a triangular wedge of granite had fallen back, which might once have fitted nicely over this opening. Porthos, on his hands and knees, was half in, and his voice rang hollowly there.

‘Something in here,’ he cried, strangulated. He wormed his enormous body farther in. The very taps of his shoes were interested. After a time he came out, disheveled, raked fore and aft by the clammy stone. He gripped an object tightly in one heavy fist. This object was covered with dirt, and glinted. It was a whiskey bottle — Black and White ’96.

‘Glass,’ said Porthos, disillusioned. This was the stone age!

‘ But look here,’ said Porthos, ’there’s a shelf in there — for a club or a baby. Two could lie side by side once you get in. And there seem to be flint markings on the roof.’

We proceeded excitedly to the northern entrance. There was something tremendously tertiary about that. There was, to begin with, a stone very like an elementary door there. In my paper ‘Palæolithic Propositions’ (subsequently altered to ‘Triassic Trifles’) for The Archœologist, I was very particular about the shape of this door. Projecting from the rock at the left of the door was a rudimentary hinge. The door weighed nearly half a ton. We were able seamen, but we could n’t stir it from its bed. It is quite apparent, therefore, that the former tenant, who could put out a hand leisurely and lift his door onto its hinge, must have been of no common physical powers. We were at last able, by tearing away dirt and lichen, to discover the depression or socket in the door which had been calculated to receive the hinge. Its measurements were right for that purpose.

While I was bringing the magnifying glass to bear on this, Porthos had started on the run for the second tor. This was huger than the other, though not so fruitful. The huts here were in the form of right angles with two openings leading away from the angle.

‘No cul-de-sac for him,’ said Porthos exultingly. ‘ If a dinosaur drove him in here, and hung around, he’d go out there.’

And indeed there was a screen of rock interposed, so that he could make good his escape without the dinosaur’s seeing him. A flight of something like worn steps — they were worn steps — led up to this abode; and the palæolithic one had collected upon his roof an assortment of boulders to hurl down upon his enemies. The hillside was strewn with those he had already thrown, and yet he had died prepared, with ammunition on his roof. What colossal courage, to support life in the midst of such menace!

Some of these stone tenements were outlying from the tor itself, and the plumbing was more open. We easily determined that these had been let out. In one of them we found three flints lying on a shelf. What could be easier than to come to the conclusion that this had been a three-flint apartment, with light housekeeping privileges. The tenant had left the rent on the parlor mantel. Tempus fugit, and it is better form now to put it on the piano under the bust of Beethoven. But we live and learn.

Suddenly we came upon a masterpiece of craft. A block of stone weighing many tons had been raised at one end, and a wedge of stone inserted.

‘A trap,’ cried Porthos. ‘Nothing could be plainer. You put some succulent root under there; the dinosaur, endeavoring to extract it with his trunk, dislodges the wedge, and down comes the rock. Then you steal up with your club and clout him.’

‘Had a dinosaur a trunk?’ I wondered.

‘Of course,’ retorted Porthos. ‘They would n’t have been fools enough to lay a trap for a trunk, if there had n’t been any trunk, would they? He could have worked it out with his tail, anyhow.’

I stared stupefied into the vista opened by this rending logic.

It was about then that we stumbled upon that curious and seemingly desultory heap, which later figured so conspicuously in the pages of The Archœologist as the dinosaur-dodger. In appearance it was crustacean, not unlike a giant turtle. At either end of the ellipse was cut or fashioned a hole, large enough to admit the human animal. The theory which my colleague advanced with such learning and elaboration, and which was so bitterly contested by envious minds, was this: The dinosaur in full charge is stopped by this aperture, through which his prey has squirmed. Irate, he rushes around the obstruction, only to see the chase disappearing through the other hole. Picture the enraged animal lumbering time after time around this structure, panting, reeling, a mist coming before his eyes; until he sinks fainting, either in a death-agony induced by over-exertion, or at least in a fatigue rendering him helpless before a blow from the thong-bound flint which should dispatch him. Could any disinterested mind hear of this theory without a thrill of instant and unconditional belief?

IV

But we return to the moor, the granite setting to this mute and moving drama of the cunning of the past. The sun was gone from the brown and gray and yellow peaks; and down all the folds and valleys of the moor a mist was rolling swiftly in. Rightly are these stolid moor-men called the children of the mist. Living in the vague, pixies affright them; dragons of the air trail scaly golden tails across the murky sun; shapes and horrors swim disembodied in the rolling seas of fog, and sit on the tops of the ancient stone crosses that lean everywhere about. All the heather (or gorse) shivered in a rising wind, and a cold rain fell. We picked out the most rain-proof of the stone angles, and crawled in, oppressed with the darkly secret portents of that place. The sun behind the mist threw a bronze light on Porthos’s sallow cheek; and I thought how many dreadful faces must have hung in that opening, glaring out with eyes of terror upon the wild moor and what might be moving on it.

Porthos tore a leaf from his notebook; and after a while he took his pipe out of his mouth and read.

‘This is only one patch,’ he said. ‘Take a culture of it: “Looking out, even as he must have, at the raindriven moors, I saw from that ancient shelter the mighty and sullen outlines of the hills, rising and falling, growing fainter and more faintly blue, until even the black tors were blotted out; and nothing remained but this suggestion, through the mist, of something menacing and baleful. I felt the awful presence of enormities, such as must lurk in all uncertain shapes in that dim place. The trickle of the rain, and the touch of that cold stone, — this man at least could have had no better shoulders than I, or he must have moved to larger quarters, — the touch of that stone, and the pouring of the wind through the cracks, and the stirring of the heather, gave me a full sense of that ancient desolation out of which we spring. The thought of such a place in the cold grasp of winter, before the discovery of fire, is intolerable; but there he had to stay. For only in that ponderous and gloomy shelter was he free to sleep, free from the menace of animals so huge that they could whisk down the walls of modern houses in a breath. You can trace his efforts,” and so on.’

Porthos relit his pipe complacently.

‘It’s taller than the Metropolitan Tower,’ I gasped.

At this point a harsh laugh rang among the tors outside. I seized the stone bludgeon and we peered out.

It was the archæologist of Glastonbury, Mr. Hawke; only now there was none of that bright radiance about him; his blue eye was dull and sneering, and his chin unshaven. He wore a long rubber mackintosh, which was shining wet. He was chewing at the chance flame of his mustache.

‘It is like the end of legitimate endeavor in a noble field,’ he said. His face blazed with new and fierier light. ‘I could show you more even than you have discovered,’ he cried, ‘but you’d probably bash my head in with that silly stone club of yours. You’d accuse me of being a Druid. Look.’

He reached out a hand to a square of solid stone larger than any of the others, weighing many tons; and he rocked it back and forth without effort. ‘A Druid stone, I suppose,’ he cried scornfully. ‘Don’t you conceive the multitude clamoring about the Druid, and his long beard in the wind. “A miracle! ” they cry, and he puts out his hand and rocks that stone. Pah! That for your snap-judgments. You would spend your time better grinding these rocks into pumice. I have been years upon this moor, and I can find nothing new. And you come here overnight, and write a history of the stone age.’

He was like something molten and snapping. The sun, mooning through the mist, struck his rubber coat into rivulets of sparks. He was invested in an authority greater than the duchess’s own. The jealousy of a scientist is like no other jealousy on earth.

‘ What is it, then ? ’ we cried savagely.

‘Weathering,’ he yelled. ‘The wind and the rain and the fibre of the stone. That’s what it is. That’s where you get your tors and your logan-stones and your right angles. Weathering. Get it straight, and go back to America.’

The archæologist was moving off.

‘Go to the British Museum,’ he said in a miserable voice. ‘Tell ’em you want to write about the tors of Dartmoor. They’ll let you in; and they’ll find you the books. Then you take one of their quill-pens and draw a picture of a donkey.’

My grip upon the thong-bound flint tightened.

‘We know you now,’ said Porthos, transfigured with rage. ‘There’s not a solitary thing that you or anybody else can say in your defense. You’ve read Schopenhauer. You hate yourself. You ’re the sort of chap that would go paddling around Plymouth Bay in a canoe, making soundings to prove that our forefathers could n’t have stepped ashore on Plymouth Rock. You ’re the fellow who smashed that charming myth of the Charter Oak of Connecticut. You were a member of the city council that refused to spray arsenic on the Washington Elm. And let me tell you something. In this world everything ’s conjectural; and of two conjectures the prettiest is the truest, and the truest stands. If I say a servant threw a bucket of water over Sir Walter Raleigh’s head when he was smoking, where’s the use in your saying that he was too poor to keep a servant? Which is the statement that will stand ? If you say the wind spun this hole here in the rock, and I say a maiden was chained here, and her tears fell one by one until they fashioned it, which one of us will the Lord Mayor of London have out to lunch? Which of us will appear under the heading “Interesting Personalities,” with a picture of the basin underneath? Answer me that.’

The archæologist had stopped.

‘Oh, I say,’ he countered, disgruntled, ‘there’s no need of raving on that way. I’m willing to agree that Thomas àa Becket was slain in the crypt under Canterbury Cathedral, and that the stain is genuine. I’ll even grant you that Sir Walter got his ducking, for the truth is he ordered mass to be said at Sherborne Abbas, after the fellow’s death; and then he was taken to the tower, and it’s on the books in the Abbey that twenty shillings is still owing for the service. It’s when you come to Dartmoor —’

‘We’ll not begin on that,’ said Porthos loftily. ‘I think we may say that we have made Dartmoor our peculiar field. I think we may say that.’

The archæologist turned and began to stumble blindly down the hill, among the ruins of hut-circles.

‘At least,’ said Porthos, ‘you might tell us where your highly important scientific investigations are going on.’

‘I’m going to Dorchester,’ said the archæologist sulkily.

‘ Going to dig up another gladiator,’ bellowed my companion.

The archæologist, in his shining coat, was almost out of hearing.

‘They were right enough,’ he said. ‘All but the bicuspids. And if you want to know it, I’m going to have a try at the bicuspids. They can’t be far.’

Nothing showed of him now but his sparkling hat, bobbing about among shark-like menhirs, and overturned cistvaens. We crowded back into our stone angle. And suddenly, opposed to the stern and tearing fact of these bicuspids, our quest of palæoliths sank, dwindled like a flame in a dry lamp, and was become as nothing.