He - Andrew Lang - ebook

Andrew Lang, FBA was a Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic, and contributor to the field of anthropology. He is best known as a collector of folk and fairy tales. The Andrew Lang lectures at the University of St Andrews are named after him.

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Andrew Lang




As I sat, one evening, idly musing on memories of roers and Boers, and contemplating the horns of a weendigo I had shot in Labrador and the head of a Moo Cow[1] from Canada, I was roused by a ring at the door bell.

[1] A literary friend to whom I have shown your MS. says a weendigo is Ojibbeway for a cannibal. And why do you shoot poor Moo Cows?--PUBLISHER.

Mere slip of the pen.Meant a Cow Moose.Literary gent no sportsman.--ED.

All right.--PUBLISHER.

The hall-porter presently entered, bearing a huge parcel, which had just arrived by post. I opened it with all the excitement that an unexpected parcel can cause, and murmured, like Thackeray's sailor-man, 'Claret, perhaps, Mumm, I hope----'

It was a Mummy Case, by Jingo!

This was no common, or museum mummy case. The lid, with the gilded mask, was absent, and the under half or lower segment, painted all over with hieroglyphics of an unusual type, and green in colour--had obviously been used as a cradle for unconscious infancy. A baby had slept in the last sleeping-place of the dead! What an opportunity for the moralist! But I am not a collector of cradles.

Who had sent it, and why?

The question was settled by an envelope in a feminine hand, which, with a cylindrical packet, fell out of the Mummy Case, and contained a letter running as follows:--

'Lady Betty's, Oxford.

'My dear Sir,--You have not forgotten me and my friend Leonora O'Dolite?

'The Mummy Case which encloses this document is the Cradle of her ancient Race.

'We are, for reasons you will discover in the accompanying manuscript, about to start for Treasure Island, where, if anywhere in this earth, ready money is to be found on easy terms of personal insecurity.'

'Oh, confound it,' I cried, 'here's another fiend of a woman sending me another manuscript! They are always at it! Wants to get it into a high-class magazine, as usual.' And my guess was correct.

The letter went on:--

'You, who are so well known, will have no difficulty in getting the editor of the Nineteenth Century, or the Quarterly Review, or Bow Bells, to accept my little contribution. I shall be glad to hear what remuneration I am to expect, and cheques may be forwarded to

'Yours very truly,


'P.S.--The mummy case is very valuable. Please deposit it at the Old Bank, in the High, where it will represent my balance.

'M. M.'

Now I get letters like this (not usually escorted by a mummy case) about thrice a day, and a pretty sum it costs me in stamps to send back the rubbish to the amateur authors. But how could I send back a manuscript to a lady already on her way to Treasure Island?

Here, perhaps, I should explain how Mary Martin, as she signed herself, came to choose me for her literary agent. To be sure, total strangers are always sending me their manuscripts, but Mrs. Martin had actually been introduced to me years before.

I was staying, as it happened, at one of our university towns, which I shall call Oxford, for short--not that that was really its name. Walking one day with a niece, a scholar of Lady Betty's Hall, we chanced to meet in the High two rather remarkable persons. One of them was the very prettiest girl I ever saw in my life. Her noble frame marked her as the victor over Girton at lawn-tennis; while her pince-nezindicated the student. She reminded me, in the grace of her movements, of the Artemis of the Louvre and the Psyche of Naples, while her thoughtful expression recalled the celebrated 'Reading Girl' of Donatello. Only a reading girl, indeed, could have been, as she was, Reader in English Literature on the Churton Collins Foundation.

'Who is she?' I said to my friend, the scholar of Lady Betty's; 'what a lovely creature she is!'

'Who, that?' she replied with some tartness. 'Well, what you can see in her, I don't know. That's Leonora O'Dolite, and the lady with her is the Lady Superior of Lady Betty's.

'They call them Pretty and the Proctor,' my friend went on, 'as Mrs. Martin--Polly they call her too--has been Proctor twice.'[2]

[2] I say, you know, keep clear of improbabilities! No one was ever old enough to have been Proctor twice.--PUBLISHER.

That's all you know about it. Why, I shall bring in a character old enough to have been Proctor a thousand times.--ED.

Now nobody could have called Polly bewitching. Her age must really have been quite thirty-five. I dislike dwelling on this topic, but she was short, dumpy, wore blue spectacles, a green umbrella, a red and black shawl, worsted mittens and uncompromising boots. She had also the ringlets and other attractions with which French Art adorns its ideal Englishwoman.

At my request, I was introduced; but presently some thirty professors, six or seven senior dons, and a sprinkling of Heads of Houses in red and black sleeves came bounding out of University sermon, and gathered round the lovely Leonora. The master of St. Catherine's was accompanied by a hitherto Unattached student, who manifestly at once fell a victim to Leonora's charms.

This youth was of peculiar aspect. He was a member of the nearly extinct Boshman tribe of Kokoatinaland. His long silky hair, originally black, had been blanched to a permanent and snowy white by failures in the attempt to matriculate at Balliol. He was short--not above four feet nine--and was tattooed all over his dark but intelligent features.

When he was introduced I had my first opportunity of admiring Leonora's extraordinary knowledge of native customs and etiquette.

'Let me present to you,' said the Master of St. Catherine's, 'the Boshman chief, Ustâni!'

'You 'stonish me!' answered Leonora, with a smile that captivated the Boshman. It is a rule among the tribes of Kokoatinaland, and in Africa generally, to greet a new acquaintance with a verbal play on his name.[3] Owing to our insular ignorance, and the difficulty of the task, this courtesy had been omitted at Oxford in Ustâni's case, even by the Professors of Comparative Philology and the learned Keeper of the Museum. From that hour to another which struck later, when he struck too, Ustâni was Leonora's slave.

[3] Is this bonâ fide?--PUBLISHER.

All right, see She (p. 145), Ayesha's elegant pun on Holly. It's always done--pun, I mean.--ED.

I had no further opportunity of conversing with Leonora and Polly, nor indeed did I ever think of them again, till Polly's letter and mummy case recalled them to my memory.

Perhaps for pretty Leonora's sake I did, after all, take up and open the vast cylindrical roll of MS.[4] in the mummy case. Dawn found me still reading the following record of unparalleled adventure.[5]

[4] Don't you think it would stand being cut a little?--PUBLISHER.

We shall see.--ED.

[5] There is just one thing that puzzles me. Polly and Leonora have gone, no man knows where, and, taking everything into consideration, it may be a good two thousand years before they come back.

Ought I not, then, to invest, in my own name, the princely cheque of the Intelligent Publishers?--ED.



I am the plainest woman in England, bar none.[6] Even in youth I was not, strictly speaking, voluptuously lovely. Short, stumpy, with a fringe like the thatch of a newly evicted cottage, such was my appearance at twenty, and such it remains. Like Cain, I was branded.[