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The Gates of DawnByFergus Hume
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Liczba stron: 311
The Gates of Dawn
CHAPTER I. THE PLEASURES OF THE ROAD.
CHAPTER II. PALMISTRY.
CHAPTER III. TITHONUS.
CHAPTER IV. THE PEACOCK IN JACKDAW'S FEATHERS.
CHAPTER V. TINKER TIM.
CHAPTER VI. THE FIRST LETTER TO A LONDON FRIEND.
CHAPTER VII. DIANA OF FARBIS.
CHAPTER VIII. THE RECLUSE.
CHAPTER IX. VILLAGE GOSSIP.
CHAPTER X. PARSON JARNER.
CHAPTER XI. FARBIS COURT.
CHAPTER XII. THE PORTRAIT IN THE GALLERY.
CHAPTER XIII. UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE.
CHAPTER XIV. DAN'S SECRET.
CHAPTER XV. RETROSPECTION.
CHAPTER XVI. AFTERNOON TEA.
CHAPTER XVII. THE SECOND LETTER TO A LONDON FRIEND.
CHAPTER XVIII. AN ELIZABETHAN ANCESTOR.
CHAPTER XIX. THE PALE LADYE.
CHAPTER XX. IN THE OAK PARLOUR.
CHAPTER XXI. THE DAYS PASS BY.
CHAPTER XXII. A DREAMER OF DREAMS.
CHAPTER XXIII. PARSON JARNER IS ASTONISHED.
CHAPTER XXIV. A WOMAN SCORNED.
CHAPTER XXV. JEALOUSY.
CHAPTER XXVI. CUPID IN ARCADY.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE THIRD LETTER TO A LONDON FRIEND.
CHAPTER XXVIII. FIRE AND FLAME.
CHAPTER XXIX. THE GIPSY'S PROPHECY.
CHAPTER XXX. THE FINAL LETTER TO A LONDON FRIEND.
"The red light flames in the eastern skies,
The dew lies heavy on lea and lawn,
Grief with her anguish of midnight flies,
And Joy comes up thro' the Gates of Dawn."
The caravan rolled slowly along the dusty road with creakings and groanings and jingling of horse-bells. It was painted a dark-green colour, with white-curtained windows picked out in rose pink, and bright red shafts and wheels. The corrugated iron roof showed no signs of exposure to wind, rain, or sun, while the brasswork on door and harness glittered like fine gold. Evidently it was quite new, and this was its first journey into rural England. The sleek black animal that drew the gaily tinted structure picked his steps leisurely; his driver strolled alongside with sauntering step and whistling lip. A complacent fox-terrier followed at his master's heels with an observant eye for stray rabbits. Man, and horse, and dog, and house on wheels looked fitter for play than for work. There was something exasperating in their idle looks and lazy meanderings. A holiday company in holiday humour.
It was very pleasant creeping across the broad heath in the twilight. Overhead, the sky, a dome of opal tints, showed here and there a twinkling star; underfoot, the grass, dry with summer heat, revealed moorland flowers. Between heaven and earth blew cool winds laden with many odours. In vague immensity the plain spread on every side towards the luminous horizon, and the caravan with its attendant life was but a speck on its vast bosom. Bird and beast and insect had retired to rest, and over all this large empty world brooded a dead silence. It was less like a moor in crowded England than a trackless wilderness in some unexplored country.
For over an hour man and animals pursued their way. With their backs to the sunset, they pressed steadily onward, as if in search of some unseen goal. Then the fox-terrier grew weary, and jumped up on the doorstep behind, where he whimpered angrily for his victuals. His master merely laughed at such doggish impatience, and kept a keen look-out for the sign whereby to determine his halting-place for the night. Shortly a mighty ridge topped by stunted pines heaved up like a wave on the plain. The horse stopped at a signal from his driver.
"It cannot be far off now," murmured the latter; "there are the pines, but I don't see the tall one."
Here the road curved to the right, and round this the horse plodded of his own accord. The change of position brought into sight a many-branched pine, which showed proudly above its fellows. When he saw the tree loom black against the clear sky, the owner of the caravan gave a nod of satisfaction as at an expected sight, and looked thoughtfully from road to heath. His meditation only lasted two minutes.
"I must go cross country," said he, and guided the horse on to the yielding turf.
The vehicle swung and swayed and dipped and rose on the uneven ground, but by leading the horse carefully an upset was avoided. In a quarter of an hour the man and his belongings halted at the foot of the ridge immediately below the tall pine. A dull murmur like the buzzing of bees became audible, and the man stilled the impatient yapping of the dog to listen.
Hardly had the last word left his lips, when an old woman—ugly as the witch of Endor—with red coif and scarlet cloak, hobbled out of the wood and planted herself deliberately before him. Her brown face, peaked eyes, and sharply cut features would have proclaimed her Romany, even without her fantastic garments and dazzling gold coins. From ears and neck and wrists depended strings of sequins, which jingled musically as she shivered in the keen air and stared at the new-comer. He beheld a withered gipsy hag, she a splendidly handsome young man. In her feminine eyes he was well worth looking at. Brown velveteen coat and knickerbockers, grey cloth shirt with blue neckerchief, cloth cap, gaiters, and heavy boots. There you have his dress—that of a gamekeeper. Yet the wearer would not have escaped the guillotine in the Reign of Terror. Aristocrat was writ largely on face and bearing. His six feet of stalwart manhood showed the influence of athletic training; his masterful mien, and the imperious look of his grey eyes, firm lips, and wide nostrils, betrayed the class to which he belonged. A glance revealed that this dominating nature was derived from long generations of men accustomed to command. His attempt to pass as a man of the people was a dismal failure. A step, a word, a gesture, proclaimed his breeding, and showed him superior to his surroundings. With the astuteness of her race, the gipsy saw the stamp of birth in this shabbily dressed vagrant, and framed her speech accordingly.
"Cross my hand with gold, my fair-faced lord, and let the poor gipsy tell your fortune."
The man addressed smoothed his moustache, and looked down with a quiet smile at the red-cloaked dame. He reflected before making answer, and even when he opened his mouth gave her but little satisfaction.
"With you, no doubt, every one to be wheedled is a lord."
"Trust a Romany to trick a Gorgio," said she, with a flicker of mirth in her glazed eye; "but truth will out at times. You are a gentleman, rye."
He glanced at the vehicle behind him, at his rough clothes and heavy boots, and dismissed her speech with a contemptuous shrug of the shoulders.
"A gentleman! A lord! And tramping the country tinker-fashion! Your eyes are not sharp, mother."
"Glib tongue! Steady eye. A rare lie, my dearie; but Mother Jericho ain't no fool. Can an eagle hide in goose-feathers? No! Nor can you hide gentle birth in rough clothes."
"I am having greatness thrust upon me," he answered smiling. "You are quite wrong, mother. Some rags of gentility, some scraps of learning, I may have picked up; but I am neither lord nor gentleman. My name is Dan, and I set up for being a cheap-jack."
"Can you patter, rye?"
"Can I what?" asked he, unable to understand her speech.
"He! he!" mocked Mother Jericho. "A fine cheap-jack, truly! Why, he doesn't even know the lingo of the road! No, no, my dearie; I'm too fly to be taken in. Give me your hand and I'll tell your fortune. Then you can go."
Dan was rather annoyed at this speech, which convicted him of being an impostor, and turning away, led his horse past Mother Jericho. She followed, screaming alternate blessings and cursings on his indifference, but neither had the effect of making him pause. Seeing it was useless to gain anything from such imperturbability, the old woman marched off in the opposite direction with a farewell shake of her fist. When the flare of her red cloak was no longer visible, Dan laughed quietly, and patted the fox-terrier.
"Gipsies about, hey, Peter! We must keep a good watch to-night, or we may wake to find ourselves robbed of everything. Here is a chance for you to distinguish yourself, lad."
Peter leaped up and whimpered as to assure Dan that he would do his best; and once more set in motion, the caravan moved up the incline between solemn files of pine trees. A pathway cut through the wood led upward in gentle gradations, so that there was little difficulty in making the ascent. It was now growing dark, and Dan pushed on rapidly so as to reach his camping-place under the tall pine before it became impossible to see his way.
At length the caravan arrived almost at the summit of the ridge, when the road suddenly trended downward to the right and descended into a small dell. This, hollowed in a rough semicircle, was immediately below the tall pine, and being sheltered from the keen sea winds by trees and rocky walls, made a very comfortable camping-place. The limited area at the bottom bore marks of former wayfarers in the shape of wheel-ruts, black ashes of ancient fires, and downtrodden grass. With a nod of satisfaction, the individual who called himself Dan, and asserted so strenuously that he was not a gentleman, halted his horse and began to busy himself in preparations for his camp. He seemed to know his business as pioneer and wanderer. The horse, who answered to the unusual equine name of Simon, was unharnessed and turned loose to feed on the plentiful grass which carpeted the bottom of the dell. Dan rubbed him down in a most scientific manner, and then departed with bucket and lantern to seek for water. Peter was left on guard, and as a strong friendship existed between him and Simon, they bore the absence of their master with less impatience than might have been expected.
Nothing is so clearly defined as the pathway to a spring, for the first act of all wayfarers is to search for water. Other paths may be grass-grown and untrodden, but the way to the spring is always well worn and plainly indicated. With the eye of a practical traveller, Dan selected the most beaten path and followed its track, confident that he would be able to fill his bucket where it ended. His expectations proved correct, for a well of good water under the shadow of a rock soon flashed in the rays of his lantern. Under the pines it was as dark as midnight, and had not Dan been careful to lighten his steps ahead, he would have pitched head foremost into the well. Had this happened, Simon and Peter would have waited his return in vain. As it was, they welcomed him back with neigh and bark. After filling the tea-kettle, Dan placed the bucket before Simon, who buried his nose therein with a grateful snort; nor did he lift his head till the water was gone. His thirst thus satisfied, he betook himself again to his grazing, and Dan, having been merciful to his beast, found time to be merciful to himself. Peter took a deep interest in the movements of his master. When the fire was lighted, he barked at the crackling of the wood, and snapped fiercely at the flying sparks. As Peter danced round it, the fire roared boisterously and lighted the rocky walls and solemn pines with gleams of red flame. There is nothing more cheerful than a fire, and even Dan, who had hitherto been silent, felt its influence, for he broke into a merry song while getting out the food. To the vagrant, where he lights his fire is home, and Dan, broiling rashers of bacon over the friendly flame, felt that he was in his own parlour.
Assisted by Peter, whose mouth watered at the smell and sight of victuals, Dan made ready a plentiful meal. He was a most accomplished cook, and carried with him a store of comestibles which it is certain are unknown in gipsydom. Does your Romany know of pâte de foie gras, or of Italian salami; or does he even guess at the existence of olives, or of caviare? All these toothsome morsels had this luxurious young man in his caravan, thereby giving the lie to his pretence of vagrancy. He was, without doubt, some outcast from civilization who regretted the flesh-pots of Egypt. He loved the life, but not the coarse fare, of the road, and was, so to speak, only playing at being a gipsy. Thoreau would have scorned so half-hearted a disciple, nor would Obermann have relished the company of so patent a sybarite.
Yet on this special occasion Dan devoured none of his delicacies, but contented himself with dry bread, broiled bacon, and capital tea. With an appetite sharpened by keen air and long walks, he performed Homeric feats in the way of eating. For Peter a mutton-bone was provided, and he too proved a valiant trencher-dog—if such a term be allowable. There have been worse meals than that enjoyed by those two in the lonely dell, and when Dan finished his bacon and Peter his bone, both were thoroughly content.
Supper despatched, Dan repaired to the spring for a second bucket of water, while Peter remained selfishly curled up beside the fire. Even when his master returned he took little notice of what was going on, feeling no interest in proceedings unconnected with his appetite.
Dan gave Simon another drink, patted his neck and saw that his halter was safe, then went into the caravan. Thence he emerged with a fur rug, and spreading this beside the fire, he stretched himself thereon with a contented sigh.
And now came in the "sweet o' the night," for Dan pulled out and charged a well-seasoned briar. This was the crowning joy of the day, and Dan envied neither king nor kaiser as he luxuriated in the Indian weed. Simon cropped the sweet grass near at hand; Peter, filled to repletion, snored with wakeful eye in the warmest place; and Dan smoked and read. And what think you he read, but Borrow's glorious "Lavengro?"—the most fitted book for such a gipsy, for such a situation. By the red firelight he read for the hundredth time that ever-new story of the Dingle, of Isopel, and of lovemaking in the Armenian tongue. What magic courtship! "Robinson Crusoe" for boys, but "Lavengro" for men—the more especially for those who incline to gipsydom, and find life flavourless save when on road or heath, under hedge or beside a camp-fire. For such Borrow's books have the authority of Scripture.
In Birrel's happy phrase, Dan was "a born Borrovian." His face was alive with pleasure as he conned the magic page, nor did he fail to compare the situation of Lavengro with his own.
"This might well pass for the Dingle," said he, letting the book fall. "I am certainly Lavengro in real life; but, alas! Where is my Isopel? And did I find her, would it be possible to teach her lovemaking in the Armenian tongue? I am ignorant of such recondite matters; therefore it were best that no Isopel, with ready fist and sharp tongue, invade my privacy. Yet I would not mind meeting with the Flaming Tinman." Here he looked at his mighty arm. "I would do my best to thrash him. But woe is me! there is no Borrow to chant my victory."
Such a speech, akin to blank verse, was doubtless inspired by Borrovian periods; but who ever heard a gipsy soliloquize thus, or saw one peruse the chronicle of that modern Ulysses? Dan asserted that he was no gentleman, yet in looks, in words, breeding would out, and Mother Jericho was as clever as the rest of her sex in detecting a palpable fraud. Yet what did this soi-disant vagrant in the pinewood dell reading "Lavengro" by a camp-fire? Ah, that is a long story, and cannot be told at present.
Simon cropped, Peter snored, and Dan was immersed in the account of that Homeric fight between Lavengro and the Flaming Tinman. So profoundly was he interested, that he heard not the approach of stealthy footsteps. But Peter was on the alert, and sprang into the darkness with angry yelp. Roused by the signal of danger, Dan arose to his feet and stood on the defensive, for one meets with adventures in England as in Timbuctoo.
"Who is there?" he demanded, striding to the edge of the circle cast by the firelight.
"He! he! My dearie, call off the dog. May he burn, spark of the evil one!"
"Mother Jericho! Here, Peter!"
"Yes, it is I, dearie. Bless you, rye, I knew you'd camp here."
The scarlet cloak emerged into the firelight, and Dan beheld his gipsy friend uglier than ever in the flickering light. She shook her stick at Peter, who responded with furious tongue; whereat Dan caught him up in his arms and choked him into silence. Mother Jericho, interpreting this as a sign of welcome, hobbled near the fire and seated herself in a comfortable corner. In no wise resentful of her company—for even with "Lavengro" he found the dell a trifle lonely—Dan threw himself down in his old place and waited to hear what his visitor had to say.
Evidently determined to act as a good comrade, Mother Jericho produced a dirty pipe and clawed the air in the direction of Dan's tobacco-pouch. He tossed it towards her, and, while she filled pipe and pocket, produced from the caravan a bottle of whisky. Filling a glass with this desirable drink, he looked interrogatively at the old woman.
"Hot or cold water?" said he, deeming the undiluted spirit too strong for so aged a person.
"Neat, dearie, neat! It's good for me in that way. I git on'y too much water on rainy nights."
Having finished the whisky (a speedily performed operation) she lighted her pipe, and, puffing vigorously, leered at her host out of the smoke like an ugly cherub. He thought of Lavengro's companion in the same situation, and groaned.
"What a substitute for Isopel!" he muttered disgustedly.
"Hey!" croaked Mother Jericho, arching a skinny hand behind her ear. "Speak up, rye; I'm deaf."
"What are you doing so late in this wood?" said Dan, not choosing to repeat his remark, which, indeed, would have been Greek to the old hag. "Where are your people?"
"Near at hand, my dearie, near at hand. I came to see you here afore going to bed."
"I hope none of them will follow your example, mother. I don't want to be robbed."
"You won't be, rye! Burn me if you lose so much as a stick. They are my people," said Mother Jericho, confidentially; "and I told them not to come near you, dearie."
"That's very kind of you," said Dan, somewhat astonished at the protection thus accorded. "And may I ask why you have tabooed me in this way?"
"Hey! Tabooed! What's that?"
"It's Polynesian for protection."
"Polly what? I don't know no Pollys," said Mother Jericho, crossly. "I've come to read your hand and tell your fortune."
"I don't believe in such rubbish."
"You will afore you leave Farbis."
"Will I, indeed? And where is Farbis?"
"Over this ridge by the sea. Can't you hear the waves roaring? You allays hear 'em on still nights, dearie. Give me your hand, my brave rye."
"I don't want my hand read," said Dan, unwillingly. "If it's money you want, here is a half-crown."
Mother Jericho clawed the coin into her pocket with a mumbled exclamation of delight; then, before he could withdraw his hand, seized it and held it towards the red flame, palm upward. Half frowning, half laughing, Dan let her scan the lines, which she followed with the point of a skinny finger.
"There are partings and meetings," said the sibyl. "You have come on a weary journey, and seek a pearl. What you seek you shall find, but beware of gold and silver hair."
"What do you mean? What jargon is this?"
"Two women shall love you, rye, and the one you hate shall seek your hand; she will aim her arrows at your heart."
"At my heart?"
"She will seek to do you evil through one whom you shall love. Here are fire and flame, and furious cries and brave deeds. A false father, a false mother, and joy coming up through the Gates of Dawn."
Not understanding a word of her meaning, he pulled his hand roughly away. The old woman broke into a peal of derisive laughter, and sucked at her pipe in silence. In the red glow of the fire she looked like some evil creature of the night. Dan resented her presence and prophecies, and spoke angrily.
"Why do you come here to tell me this nonsense?" he said, leaning forward. "I am not a superstitious fool, though, you take me for one. I don't love one woman, let alone two."
"You will love afore you leave Farbis, dearie."
"Indeed!" said he contemptuously. "Perhaps I will marry also!"
"Ay. But there is much to be done afore then."
Deeming it useless to argue against such obstinacy, Dan relapsed into silence and smoked his pipe. Yet, in spite of his apparent disbelief, he had an uneasy consciousness that the sibyl had read his mind and purpose clearer than he cared to think. He was a reticent young man, and hated to hear his private affairs discussed. But it was strange that this midnight hag should speak so truly. Dan was puzzled and displeased.
"Have you ever seen me before?" he asked, after a meditative pause.
"No, dearie, I never set eyes on you. I only read what Fate has written on your hand. It's print to me, dearie."
"I tell you I don't believe in palmistry."
"You will some day, rye."
"If I fall in love and marry before I leave Farbis, I may," he responded ironically; "but as that is not likely to happen, I am afraid your black art will not gain a disciple."
Mother Jericho took no notice of this sceptical speech, but rapping the ashes out of her pipe, stowed it carefully away in the folds of her dress.
"I must go now, dearie," she said, rising stiffly to her feet; "but when I see ye to-morrow the spell will be on you. Ay, ay, laugh as you please, but Joy comes up for you through the Gates of Dawn!"
"What Gates of Dawn?"
"You'll see to-morrow, rye! And at noon you will find a guest by your fire."
"Not I, dearie. But some one who wishes you well. Good night, my brave rye. I put the spell on you." Here she waved her stick like a malignant fairy. "Go you at daybreak to the sea and meet your fate at the Gates of Dawn."
After the delivery of this mystic speech, she vanished as by magic into the darkness of the night. Dan looked into the gloom, somewhat bewildered by her sudden departure, which smacked of the broomstick, then returned to his book with a shrug of his broad shoulders. But Borrow failed to charm his preoccupied brain, and after one or two unsuccessful attempts to fix his attention on the page, he desisted with an impatient exclamation.
"That old lady is a trifle weak in the head, I fear," said he, yawning. "What does she mean by her 'joy coming up through the Gates of Dawn?' Does she take me for a new Tithonus on the watch for Aurora? Yet it is strange that she knows of my desire," he added reflectively; "I thought no one knew of that but myself. Ah, bah! Every young man wishes to love, to marry. Her necromancy is all guesswork."
Thus contemptuously dismissing the subject, he smoked a final pipe and made his preparations for retiring to rest. The night was so fine that he could not bring himself to sleep in the stuffy caravan, and finally decided to take his rest in the open air. After a drink of whisky to keep out the dews, he wrapped himself in the fur rug, and lay comfortably by the fire. Peter curled himself into a ball, and kept one eye on his master, the other on Simon. The wind wuddered through the pine trees overhead, but in the deep of the dell all was still and warm. The red flames leaped skyward to the stars until the fire died to grey ashes, and, save sigh of wind and roar of sea, no sound was heard. Lying on his back, Dan, oblivious to all outward things, went to the land of dreams, and there met Joy coming up through the Gates of Dawn. Mother Jericho's spell was acting bravely.
Should the stay-at-home happen to sleep under a strange roof, on one of his rare journeys, bewilderment and pain attend the hour of his waking. With sleep-bemused brain he eyes the unfamiliar room, and it is some considerable time before he can grasp the situation. The alien appearance of wall-paper and furniture, the different position of bed and door, come on his mind with a sense of pain. Like the little old woman of the nursery rhyme, he says, "This is not I," and it is difficult for him to arrive at an immediate conclusion as to personality and locality. The strangeness of the situation dazes his homely wits.
Not so with your traveller. Whether he opens his eyes in palace or hovel, under roof or sky, he is in the instant fully aware of his position. Accustomed to a constant change of scene, his wits are always on the alert for new sights. If he went to sleep in France and woke in Yokohama, he would cease to be astonished before finishing his waking yawn. There is no sense of pain in his waking, but rather a pleasant novelty, which renews itself with every stage of the journey. Your cosmopolitan is the most adaptable of creatures.
Dan was one of these enviable beings, and woke in the early morning with a due knowledge of his position. He rubbed his eyes and yawned and stretched himself, moved about briskly to restore the circulation of his blood, and made up the fire. A few embers were still red-hot, so he had no difficulty in fanning them into a blaze under an armful of dry sticks. The sun had not yet risen, and the air, notwithstanding that it was July, struck raw and cold. A pearly light pierced through the sombre boughs overhead, and already the pine wood echoed with the chirrup and twittering of waking birds. Peter went off on his own account in chase of an inquisitive rabbit, and Dan, after seeing to Simon, brewed himself a cup of strong tea, which enabled him to endure more comfortably the chill winds of morning.
In spite of the heavy dew on herb and grass, Dan's clothes were quite dry, as he had taken the precaution to wrap himself tightly in his fur rug. But, having slept in his clothes all night, he felt uncomfortable—another proof of his sybaritism—and decided to have a bath before breakfast. Also he thought it advisable that Simon should have a splash in the water, and so made ready to go down to the beach.
"We don't know where the sea is," said he to Peter, who had returned without catching his rabbit, "but we'll go on an exploring expedition."
Peter whimpered, and hinted at breakfast before starting.
"No, Peter," said Dan, gravely, putting a bridle on Simon; "a swim first, and breakfast to follow." Whereat Peter sat disconsolately on his haunches and shivered. He did not care for a swim, and, indeed, detested water with all his heart.
Dan had no saddle, but, being a good rider, did not mind its absence. The bridle was sufficient to guide Simon, and Dan, having obtained a rough towel, jumped without difficulty on the bare back of his steed. Followed by Peter, who, knowing what was before him, came unwillingly, he rode up the path leading from the dell. Yet, mindful of the proximity of Mother Jericho's tribe, he took the precaution to lock up his caravan before leaving. Dan was too old and wary a traveller to trust to the taboo of the gipsy queen. Some member of the tribe less bound by authority than his fellows might break the unwritten law.
There was a chilly feeling in the air, and so strongly with the resinous odour of the pines blended the tang of salt sea-breezes, that Dan scented the ocean long before Simon climbed the ridge. There was an upward path, and this Dan followed, in the hope that it would lead him to the sea. It wound deviously among the pine trees, and at length emerged into a small clearing, whence Dan had a splendid view of Farbis and the sea. He halted Simon so as to take in the features of the place. It was well worth the ten minutes' examination he gave it.
Immediately below lay a large hollow almost in the shape of a circle, which curved towards the sea and there opened out into a narrow passage. Without doubt, at some remote epoch the ocean had roared through the gap and filled the hollow with salt waters, but the upheaval of the land had cut off the waves, and now the dry cup was filled with trees and houses.
The sides were clothed with pines, which climbed up to the top and straggled off in patches on to the barren moorland. From where Dan was stationed he could see the moors stretching on either side purple with heather, then the sudden dip of the land into the hollow, the giant rocks guarding its entrance, and beyond, the line of ocean sharply defined against the red sky of dawn. In the smokeless atmosphere all the features of the scene stood out with photographic distinctness.
The "village, a cluster of houses with one street, lay in the lowest part of the hollow. Among the pine trees, to the right, Dan saw a large house of weather-stained red brick, which he guessed was Farbis Court. From the clearing a path wound down to the village, and Dan descended thereby. To reach the sea he would have to pass through Farbis, and out by the gap where the giant rocks stood sentinel. All this, seen under the rosy tints of coming day, was very beautiful, and Dan gazed at it in silent admiration.
"Queer little place," he thought, as Simon jogged downward; "quite out of the track of civilization. A speck in these wide moorlands. What can the inhabitants do to keep themselves supplied with the necessaries of life? They can't live entirely on fish! I never saw so lonely a place. It must have been established by some hermit."
With cautious steps Simon descended the pathway, which was in anything but good repair. The edging of rough stone had fallen in parts, and here the rain had washed away huge gaps, perilous to the unwary foot. Dan found it impossible to guide the horse down a pathway as beset with snares as the Bridge of Mirza, so he wisely trusted to Simon's instinct. The animal justified the confidence placed in him, and landed his rider at the bottom without any mishap. He received a kind pat on the neck for such cleverness, a piece of attention of which he seemed appreciative.
Dan felt a curious sensation, as though he had been let down into a pit. On three sides of him rose the steep banks, covered with pines and shrubs and sappy grass. In front, an untended road led past some scattered houses into the village. Peter ran ahead as herald, and, with the sharp sea-breeze blowing in his face, Dan pushed forward.
Down the street clattered Simon, with the terrier barking before. To doors and windows came drowsy men and women, newly wakened from sleep. A few untidy children and slatternly females were in the street itself, and stared open-mouthed at the unaccustomed sight. Dan might have been the Wild Horseman himself, so profound was the sensation caused by his progress through that tumble-down village. Evidently strangers were rare in Farbis.
A more poverty-stricken place it is impossible to conceive. The cottages were badly thatched, the windows in many cases broken and mended with rags, and there were puddles in front of the doors. In a wide space towards the end of the village Dan came on the two principal buildings. To the right, an ivy-clad church with square Norman tower, set in a waste-looking graveyard; to the left, a flourishing-looking public-house, "The Red Deer," with benches outside. It could easily be seen, from the appearance of this latter place, what made Farbis so wretched. The women were all remarkably ugly, and particularly careless about their dress. Dan, who had a keen eye for a pretty face, shuddered at the Gorgons he beheld, and trembled to think of Mother Jericho's prophecy.
"If I am to meet my fate here," he murmured, "I sincerely hope it will not be through a temporary aberration of mind. It would be bad enough for one of these creatures to fall in love with me; but to think of two—great heavens, it's too awful to contemplate!"
He urged Simon to a clumsy trot in order to escape the ugly female population, and speedily left the village behind. The road now began to rise towards the two great cliffs which sentinelled the gap, and Dan could hear the roar of the sea; could smell the salt odour of the wave. Up the road he went, and at the entrance to the gap beheld a splendid sight.
Directly in front of him was a narrow slit between the great rocks, and through this he saw the ocean. It faced due east, and the sky flamed crimson like a funeral pile. The ruddy light poured in rich profusion through the chasm and bathed him in hues of blood. A native, with open mouth, was climbing the road after him, and Dan, hearing his heavy footstep, looked round.
"What do you call this?" he asked sharply.
"T' Geates o' Dawn," replied the native, and stared harder than ever.
"And Joy comes up through the Gates of Dawn," murmured Dan, as the gipsy's words flashed again into his mind. "How strange! Here are the 'Gates of Dawn,' but where is the embodied Joy? Hark! Some one is singing from the sea. A mermaid!"
"Noa, measter," said the yokel, grinning from ear to ear at this extravagant idea; "'tis t' ould doctor's lass."
Over the rim of ocean leaped the sun, and shafts of dazzling gold streamed through the Gates of Dawn. The sea turned to fire, and the fierce radiance smote the red firmament to glowing gold. Such splendid glitter and flame poured through the chasm that Dan put his hand to his eyes to keep himself from being blinded. It is ill work to face the sun-god in his anger.
"Apollo is fiercer than Aurora," said Dan, blinking his eyes. "I would rather be Tithonus than Daphne. I wonder she did not share the fate of Semele and expire in the glorious divinity of her lover."
"T' doctor's lass," again said the yokel, nodding up the road.
Down it, in the full splendour of the sunlight, came a girl singing. Dan could distinguish the words as they floated skyward on the music of her voice. And she sang——
"The red light flames in the eastern skies,
The dew lies heavy on lea and lawn,
Grief with her anguish, of midnight flies,
And Joy comes up thro' the Gates of Dawn."
Such a vision of ripe beauty! This was surely no mortal maiden who danced down the road, but Aurora heralding the approach of the sun-god. Dan almost expected to see her scatter tufts of rosy cloud, and gaped like a yokel himself at the lovely woman who was coming towards him.
Evidently she had been bathing, for her dark hair, still wet with the salt sea, streamed in profusion down her back. In a long blue cloak, with naked feet, she danced along, singing. Her face was beautiful—so much only could Dan gather as she flashed past him like a meteor. The presence of a stranger did not seem to rouse her curiosity, for she did not even turn her head to look at him, but, singing and dancing, went down the road towards the village. That splendid vision of immortal beauty lasted but two minutes.
"T' doctor's lass," explained the yokel for the third time.
"By Ph[oe]bus, no!" cried Dan, kicking Simon's sleek sides; "it is no mortal, but a goddess—an angel—a vision of the sunrise. My fate—pshaw!—my divinity! The face that launched a thousand ships! The golden Hebe—incarnate beauty—everlasting Joy!"
With a laugh at his mythological folly, he dashed down the road, leaving the bucolic individual staring with all his might. When Rusticus shut his mouth, the stranger on his black horse was sweeping like the wind across the broad sands, shouting out a single line. The yokel heard it, and wondered.
"And Joy comes up thro' the Gates of Dawn."
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