Haggard explores love, friendship, and women during an adventure across the Atlantic and South America. In The „Virgin of the Sun”, the author also explores the Inca myth associated with the rise of one of America’s greatest pre-Columbian leaders, Pachacuti. After several small adventures and misfortunes, our hero, Hubert, meets and befriends a strange man from a strange land. This story is filled with murder, intrigue, adventure and betrayal. It will definitely be remembered by readers for a long time.
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Chapter 1. The Sword And The Ring
Chapter 2. The Lady Blanche
Chapter 3. Hubert Comes To London
Chapter 4. Kari
Chapter 5. The Coming Of Blanche
Chapter 6. Marriage—And After
Chapter 1. The New World
Chapter 2. The Rocky Isle
Chapter 3. The Daughter Of The Moon
Chapter 4. The Oracle Of Rimac
Chapter 5. Kari Goes
Chapter 6. The Choice
Chapter 7. The Return Of Kari
Chapter 8. The Field Of Blood
Chapter 9. Kari Comes To His Own
Chapter 10. The Great Horror
Chapter 11. The House Of Death
Chapter 12. The Fight To The Death
Chapter 13. The Kiss Of Quilla
JAMES STANLEY LITTLE, ESQ.
My Dear Little,
Some five-and-thirty years ago it was our custom to discuss many matters, among them, I think, the history and romance of the vanished Empires of Central America.
In memory of those far-off days will you accept a tale that deals with one of them, that of the marvellous Incas of Peru; with the legend also that, long before the Spanish Conquerors entered on their mission of robbery and ruin, there in that undiscovered land lived and died a White God risen from the sea?
Ever sincerely yours, H. Rider Haggard. Ditchingham, Oct. 24, 1921.
There are some who find great interest, and even consolation, amid the worries and anxieties of life in the collection of relics of the past, drift or long-sunk treasures that the sea of time has washed up upon our modern shore.
The great collectors are not of this class. Having large sums at their disposal, these acquire any rarity that comes upon the market and add it to their store which in due course, perhaps immediately upon their deaths, also will be put upon the market and pass to the possession of other connoisseurs. Nor are the dealers who buy to sell again and thus grow wealthy. Nor are the agents of museums in many lands, who purchase for the national benefit things that are gathered together in certain great public buildings which perhaps, some day, though the thought makes one shiver, will be looted or given to the flames by enemies or by furious, thieving mobs.
Those that this Editor has in mind, from one of whom indeed he obtained the history printed in these pages, belong to a quite different category, men of small means often, who collect old things, for the most part at out-of-the- way sales or privately, because they love them, and sometimes sell them again because they must. Frequently these old things appeal, not because of any intrinsic value that they may have, not even for their beauty, for they may be quite unattractive even to the cultivated eye, but rather for their associations. Such folk love to reflect upon and to speculate about the long- dead individuals who have owned the relics, who have supped their soup from the worn Elizabethan spoon, who have sat at the rickety oak table found in a kitchen or an out-house, or upon the broken, ancient chair. They love to think of the little children whose skilful, tired hands wrought the faded sampler and whose bright eyes smarted over its innumerable stitches.
Who, for instance, was the May Shore (“Fairy” broidered in a bracket underneath, was her pet name), who finished yonder elaborate example on her tenth birthday, the 1st of May–doubtless that is where she got her name–in the year 1702, and on what far shore does she keep her birthdays now? None will ever know. She has vanished into the great sea of mystery whence she came, and there she lives and has her being, forgotten upon earth, or sleeps and sleeps and sleeps. Did she die young or old, married or single? Did she ever set her children to work other samplers, or had she none? was she happy or unhappy, was she homely or beautiful? Was she a sinner or a saint? Again none will ever know. She was born on the 1st of May, 1692, and certainly she died on some date unrecorded. So far as human knowledge goes that is all her history, just as much or as little as will be left of most of us who breathe to-day when this earth has completed two hundred and eighteen more revolutions round the sun.
But the kind of collector alluded to can best be exemplified in the individual instance of him from whom the manuscript was obtained, of which a somewhat modernized version is printed on these pages. He has been dead some years, leaving no kin; and under his will, such of his motley treasures as it cared to accept went to a local museum, while the rest and his other property were sold for the benefit of a mystical brotherhood, for the old fellow was a kind of spiritualist. Therefore, there is no harm in giving his plebeian name, which was Potts. Mr. Potts had a small draper’s shop in an undistinguished and rarely visited country town in the east of England, which shop he ran with the help of an assistant almost as old and peculiar as himself. Whether he made anything out of it or whether he lived upon private means is now unknown and does not matter. Anyway, when there was something of antiquarian interest or value to be bought, generally he had the money to pay for it, though at times, in order to do so, he was forced to sell something else. Indeed these were the only occasions when it was possible to purchase anything, indifferent hosiery excepted, from Mr. Potts.
Now, I, the Editor, who also love old things, and to whom therefore Mr. Potts was a sympathetic soul, was aware of this fact and entered into an arrangement with the peculiar assistant to whom I have alluded, to advise me of such crises which arose whenever the local bank called Mr. Potts’s attention to the state of his account. Thus it came about that one day I received the following letter: -
Sir, “The Guv’nor has gone a bust upon some cracked china, the ugliest that ever I saw though no judge. So if you want to get that old tall clock at the first price or any other of his rubbish, I think now is your chance. Anyhow, keep this dark as per agreement. “Your obedient, Tom.”
(He always signed himself Tom, I suppose to mystify, although I believe his real name was Betterly.)
The result of this epistle was a long and disagreeable bicycle ride in wet autumn weather, and a visit to the shop of Mr. Potts. Tom, alias Betterly, who was trying to sell some mysterious undergarments to a fat old woman, caught sight of me, the Editor aforesaid, and winked. In a shadowed corner of the shop sat Mr. Potts himself upon a high stool, a wizened little old man with a bent back, a bald head, and a hooked nose upon which were set a pair of enormous horn-rimmed spectacles that accentuated his general resemblance to an owl perched upon the edge of its nest-hole. He was busily engaged in doing nothing, and in staring into nothingness as, according to Tom, was his habit when communing with what he, Tom, called his “dratted speerits.”
“Customer!” said Tom in a harsh voice. “Sorry to disturb you at your prayers, Guv’nor, but not having two pair of hands I can’t serve a crowd,” meaning the old woman of the undergarments and myself.
Mr. Potts slid off his stool and prepared for action. When he saw, however, who the customer was he bristled–that is the only word for it. The truth is that although between us there was an inward and spiritual sympathy, there was also an outward and visible hostility. Twice I had outbid Mr. Potts at a local auction for articles which he desired. Moreover, after the fashion of every good collector he felt it to be his duty to hate me as another collector. Lastly, several times I had offered him smaller sums for antiques upon which he set a certain monetary value. It is true that long ago I had given up this bargaining for the reason that Mr. Potts would never take less than he asked. Indeed he followed the example of the vendor of the Sibylline books in ancient Rome. He did not destroy the goods indeed after the fashion of that person and demand the price of all of them for the one that remained, but invariably he put up his figure by 10 per cent. and nothing would induce him to take off one farthing.
“What do you want, sir?” he said grumpily. “Vests, hose, collars, or socks?”
“Oh, socks, I think,” I replied at hazard, thinking that they would be easiest to carry, whereupon Mr. Potts produced some peculiarly objectionable and shapeless woollen articles which he almost threw at me, saying that they were all he had in stock. Now I detest woollen socks and never wear them. Still, I made a purchase, thinking with sympathy of my old gardener whose feet they would soon be scratching, and while the parcel was being tied up, said in an insinuating voice, “Anything fresh upstairs, Mr. Potts?”
“No, sir,” he answered shortly, “at least, not much, and if there were what’s the use of showing them to you after the business about that clock?”
“It was £15 you wanted for it, Mr. Potts?” I asked.
“No, sir, it was £17 and now it’s 10 per cent. on to that; you can work out the sum for yourself.”
“Well, let’s have another look at it, Mr. Potts,” I replied humbly, whereon with a grunt and a muttered injunction to Tom to mind the shop, he led the way upstairs.
Now the house in which Mr. Potts dwelt had once been of considerable pretensions and was very, very old, Elizabethan, I should think, although it had been refronted with a horrible stucco to suit modern tastes. The oak staircase was good though narrow, and led to numerous small rooms upon two floors above, some of which rooms were panelled and had oak beams, now whitewashed like the panelling–at least they had once been whitewashed, probably in the last generation.
These rooms were literally crammed with every sort of old furniture, most of it decrepit, though for many of the articles dealers would have given a good price. But at dealers Mr. Potts drew the line; not one of them had ever set a foot upon that oaken stair. To the attics the place was filled with this furniture and other articles such as books, china, samplers with the glass broken, and I know not what besides, piled in heaps upon the floor. Indeed where Mr. Potts slept was a mystery; either it must have been under the counter in his shop, or perhaps at nights he inhabited a worm-eaten Jacobean bedstead which stood in an attic, for I observed a kind of pathway to it running through a number of legless chairs, also some dirty blankets between the moth-riddled curtains.
Not far from this bedstead, propped in an intoxicated way against the sloping wall of the old house, stood the clock which I desired. It was one of the first “regulator” clocks with a wooden pendulum, used by the maker himself to check the time-keeping of all his other clocks, and enclosed in a chaste and perfect mahogany case of the very best style of its period. So beautiful was it, indeed, that it had been an instance of “love at first sight” between us, and although there was an estrangement on the matter of settlements, or in other words over the question of price, now I felt that never more could that clock and I be parted.
So I agreed to give old Potts the £20 or, to be accurate, £18 14s. which he asked on the 10 per cent. rise principle, thankful in my heart that he had not made it more, and prepared to go. As I turned, however, my eye fell upon a large chest of the almost indestructible yellow cypress wood of which were made, it is said, the doors of St. Peter’s at Rome that stood for eight hundred years and, for aught I know, are still standing, as good as on the day when they were put up.
“Marriage coffer,” said Potts, answering my unspoken question.
“Italian, about 1600?” I suggested.
“May be so, or perhaps Dutch made by Italian artists; but older than that, for somebody has burnt 1597 on the lid with a hot iron. Not for sale, not for sale at all, much too good to sell. Just you look inside it, the old key is tied to the spring lock. Never saw such poker-work in my life. Gods and goddesses and I don’t know what; and Venus sitting in the middle in a wreath of flowers with nothing on, and holding two hearts in her hands, which shows that it was a marriage chest. Once it was full of some bride’s outfit, sheets and linen and clothes, and God knows what. I wonder where she has got to to-day. Some place where the moth don’t eat clothes, I hope. Bought it at the break-up of an ancient family who fled to Norfolk on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes–Huguenot, of course. Years ago, years ago! Haven’t looked into it for many years, indeed, but think there’s nothing there but rubbish now.”
Thus he mumbled on while he found and untied the old key. The spring lock had grown stiff from disuse and want of oil, but at length it turned and reopened the chest revealing the poker-work glories on the inner side of the lid and elsewhere. Glories they were indeed, never had I seen such artistry of the sort.
“Can’t see it properly,” muttered Potts, “windows want washing, haven’t been done since my wife died, and that’s twenty years ago. Miss her very much, of course, but thank God there’s no spring-cleaning now. The things I’ve seen broken in spring-cleaning! yes, and lost, too. It was after one of them that I told my wife that now I understood why the Mahomedans declare that women have no souls. When she came to understand what I meant, which it took her a long time to do, we had a row, a regular row, and she threw a Dresden figure at my head. Luckily I caught it, having been a cricketer when young. Well, she’s gone now, and no doubt heaven’s a tidier place than it used to be–that is, if they will stand her rummagings there, which I doubt. Look at that Venus, ain’t she a beauty? Might have been done by Titian when his paints ran out, and he had to take to a hot iron to express his art. What, you can’t see her well? Wait a bit and I’ll get a lantern. Can’t have a naked candle here– things too valuable; no money could buy them again. My wife and I had another row about naked candles, or it may have been a paraffin lamp. You sit in that old prayer-stool and look at the work.”
Off he went crawling down the dusky stairs and leaving me wondering what Mrs. Potts, of whom now I heard for the first time, could have been like. An aggravating woman, I felt sure, for upon whatever points men differ, as to “spring-cleaning” they are all of one mind. No doubt he was better without her, for what did that dried-up old artist want with a wife?
Dismissing Mrs. Potts from my mind, which, to tell the truth, seemed to have no room for her shadowy and hypothetical entity, I fell to examining the chest. Oh! it was lovely. In two minutes the clock was deposed and that chest became the sultana in my seraglio of beauteous things. The clock had only been the light love of an hour. Here was the eternal queen, that is, unless there existed a still better chest somewhere else, and I should happen to find it. Meanwhile, whatever price that old slave-dealer Potts wanted for it, must be paid to him even if I had to overdraw my somewhat slender account. Seraglios, of whatever sort, it must be remembered, are expensive luxuries of the rich indeed, though, if of antiques, they can be sold again, which cannot be said of the human kind for who wants to buy a lot of antique frumps?
There were plenty of things in the chest, such as some odds and ends of tapestry and old clothes of a Queen Anne character, put here, no doubt, for preservation, as moth does not like this cypress wood. Also there were some books and a mysterious bundle tied up in a curious shawl with stripes of colour running through it. That bundle excited me, and I drew the fringes of the shawl apart and looked in. So far as I could see it contained another dress of rich colours, also a thick packet of what looked like parchment, badly prepared and much rotted upon one side as though by damp, which parchment appeared to be covered with faint black-letter writing, done by some careless scribe with poor ink that had faded very much. There were other things, too, within the shawl, such as a box made of some red foreign wood, but I had not time to investigate further for just then I heard old Potts’s foot upon the stair, and thought it best to replace the bundle. He arrived with the lantern and by its light we examined the chest and the poker work.
“Very nice,” I said, “very nice, though a good deal knocked about.”
“Yes, sir,” he replied with sarcasm, “I suppose you’d like to see it neat and new after four hundred years of wear, and if so, I think I can tell you where you can get one to your liking. I made the designs for it myself five years ago for a fellow who wanted to learn how to manufacture antiques. He’s in quod now and his antiques are for sale cheap. I helped to put him there to get him out of the way as a danger to Society.”
“What’s the price?” I asked with airy detachment.
“Haven’t I told you it ain’t for sale. Wait till I’m dead and come and buy it at my auction. No, you won’t, though, for it’s going somewhere else.”
I made no answer but continued my examination while Potts took his seat on the prayer-stool and seemed to go off into one of his fits of abstraction.
“Well,” I said at length when decency told me that I could remain no longer, “if you won’t sell it’s no use my looking. No doubt you want to keep it for a richer man, and of course you are quite right. Will you arrange with the carrier about sending the clock, Mr. Potts, and I will let you have a cheque. Now I must be off, as I’ve ten miles to ride and it will be dark in an hour.”
“Stop where you are,” said Potts in a hollow voice. “What’s a ride in the dark compared with a matter like this, even if you haven’t a lamp and get hauled before your own bench? Stop where you are, I’m listening to something.”
So I stopped and began to fill my pipe.
“Put that pipe away,” said Potts, coming out of his reverie, “pipes mean matches; no matches here.”
I obeyed, and he went on thinking till at last what between the chest and the worm-eaten Jacobean bed and old Potts on the prayer-stool, I began to feel as if I were being mesmerized. At length he rose and said in the same hollow voice:
“Young man, you may have that chest, and the price is £50. Now for heaven’s sake don’t offer me £40, or it will be £100 before you leave this room.”
“With the contents?” I said casually.
“Yes, with the contents. It’s the contents I’m told you are to have.”
“Look here, Potts,” I said, exasperated, “what the devil do you mean? There’s no one in this room except you and me, so who can have told you anything unless it was old Tom downstairs.”
“Tom,” he said with unutterable sarcasm, “Tom! Perhaps you mean the mawkin that was put up to scare birds from the peas in the garden, for it has more in its head than Tom. No one here? Oh! what fools some men are. Why, the place is thick with them.”
“Thick with whom?”
“Who? why, ghosts, of course, as you would call them in your ignorance. Spirits of the dead I name them. Beautiful enough, too, some of them. Look at that one there,” and he lifted the lantern and pointed to a pile of old bed posts of Chippendale design.
“Good day, Potts,” I said hastily.
“Stop where you are,” repeated Potts. “You don’t believe me yet, but when you are as old as I am you will remember my words and believe–more than I do and see–clearer than I do, because it’s in your soul, yes, the seed is in your soul, though as yet it is choked by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Wait till your sins have brought you trouble; wait till the fires of trouble have burned the flesh away; wait till you have sought Light and found Light and live in Light, then you will believe; then you will see.”
All this he said very solemnly, and standing there in that dusky room surrounded by the wreck of things that once had been dear to dead men and women, waving the lantern in his hand and staring–at what was he staring?–really old Potts looked most impressive. His twisted shape and ugly countenance became spiritual; he was one who had “found Light and lived in Light.”
“You won’t believe me,” he went on, “but I pass on to you what a woman has been telling me. She’s a queer sort of woman; I never saw her like before, a foreigner and dark-hued with strange rich garments and something on her head. There, that, that,” and he pointed through the dirty window-place to the crescent of a young moon which appeared in the sky. “A fine figure of a woman,” he went on, “and oh! heaven, what eyes–I never saw such eyes before. Big and tender, something like those of the deer in the park yonder. Proud, too, she is, one who has ruled, and a lady, though foreign. Well, I never fell in love before, but I feel like it now, and so would you, young man, if you could see her, and so I think did someone else in his day.”
“What did she say to you?” I asked, for by now I was interested enough. Who wouldn’t be when old Potts took to describing beautiful women?
“It’s a little difficult to tell you for she spoke in a strange tongue, and I had to translate it in my head, as it were. But this is the gist of it. That you were to have that chest and what was in it. There’s a writing there, she says, or part of a writing for some has gone–rotted away. You are to read that writing or to get it read and to print it so that the world may read it also. She said that ‘Hubert’ wishes you to do so. I am sure the name was Hubert, though she also spoke of him with some other title which I do not understand. That’s all I can remember, except something about a city, yes, a City of Gold and a last great battle in which Hubert fell, covered with glory and conquering. I understood that she wanted to talk about that because it isn’t in the writing, but you interrupted and of course she’s gone. Yes, the price is £50 and not a farthing less, but you can pay it when you like for I know you’re as honest as most, and whether you pay it or not, you must have that chest and what’s in it and no one else.”
“All right,” I said, “but don’t trust it to the carrier. I’ll send a cart for it to-morrow morning. Lock it now and give me the key.”
In due course the chest arrived, and I examined the bundle for the other contents do not matter, although some of them were interesting. Pinned inside the shawl I found a paper, undated and unsigned, but which from the character and style of the writing was, I should say, penned by a lady about sixty years ago. It ran thus:–
“My late father, who was such a great traveller in his young days and so fond of exploring strange places, brought these things home from one of his journeys before his marriage, I think from South America. He told me once that the dress was found upon the body of a woman in a tomb and that she must have been a great lady, for she was surrounded by a number of other women, perhaps her servants who were brought to be buried with her here when they died. They were all seated about a stone table at the end of which were the remains of a man. My father saw the bodies near the ruins of some forest city, in the tomb over which was heaped a great mound of earth. That of the lady, which had a kind of shroud made of the skins of long-wooled sheep wrapped about it as though to preserve the dress beneath, had been embalmed in some way, which the natives of the place, wherever it was, told him showed that she was royal. The others were mere skeletons, held together by the skin, but the man had a long fair beard and hair still hanging to his skull, and by his side was a great cross-hilted sword that crumbled to fragments when it was touched, except the hilt and the knob of amber upon it which had turned almost black with age. I think my father said that the packet of skins or parchment of which the underside is badly rotted with damp was set under the feet of the man. He told me that he gave those who found the tomb a great deal of money for the dress, gold ornaments, and emerald necklace, as nothing so perfect had been found before, and the cloth is all worked with gold thread. My father told me, too, that he did not wish the things to be sold.”
This was the end of the writing.
Having read it I examined the dress. It was of a sort that I had never seen before, though experts to whom I have shown it say that it is certainly South American of a very early date, and like the ornaments, probably pre-Inca Peruvian. It is full of rich colours such as I have seen in old Indian shawls which give a general effect of crimson. This crimson robe clearly was worn over a skirt of linen that had a purple border. In the box that I have spoken of were the ornaments, all of plain dull gold: a waist-band; a circlet of gold for the head from which rose the crescent of the young moon and a necklace of emeralds, uncut stones now much flawed, for what reason I do not know, but polished and set rather roughly in red gold. Also there were two rings. Round one of these a bit of paper was wrapped upon which was written, in another hand, probably that of the father of the writer of the memorandum:–
“Taken from the first finger of the right hand of a lady’s mummy which I am sorry, in our circumstances, it was quite impossible to carry away.”
This ring is a broad band of gold with a flat bezel upon which something was once engraved that owing to long and hard wear now cannot be distinguished. In short, it appears to be a signet of old European make but of what age and from what country it is impossible to determine. The other ring was in a small leathery pouch, elaborately embroidered in gold thread or very thin wire, which I suppose was part of the lady’s costume. It is like a very massive wedding ring, but six or eight times as thick, and engraved all over with an embossed conventional design of what look like stars with rays round them, or possibly petalled flowers. Lastly there was the sword-hilt, of which presently.
Such were the trinkets, if so they may be called. They are of little value intrinsically except for their weight in gold, because, as I have said, the emeralds are flawed as though they have been through a fire or some other unknown cause. Moreover, there is about them nothing of the grace and charm of ancient Egyptian jewellery; evidently they belonged to a ruder age and civilization. Yet they had, and still have, to my imagining, a certain dignity of their own.
Also–here I became infected with the spirit of the peculiar Potts–without doubt these things were rich in human associations. Who had worn that dress of crimson with the crosses worked on it in gold wire (they cannot have been Christian crosses), and the purple-bordered skirt underneath, and the emerald necklace and the golden circlet from which rose the crescent of the young moon? Apparently a mummy in a tomb, the mummy of some long-dead lady of a strange and alien race. Was she such a one as that old lunatic Potts had dreamed he saw standing before him in the filthy, cumbered upper-chamber of a ruinous house in an England market town, I wondered, one with great eyes like to those of a doe and a regal bearing?
No, that was nonsense. Potts had lived with shadows until he believed in shadows that came out of his own imagination and into it returned again. Still, she was a woman of some sort, and apparently she had a lover or a husband, a man with a great fair beard. How at this date, which must have been remote, did a golden-bearded man come to foregather with a woman who wore such robes and ornaments as these? And that sword hilt, worn smooth by handling and with an amber knob? Whence came it? To my mind–this was before expert examination confirmed my view–it looked very Norse. I had read the Sagas and I remembered a tale recovered in them of some bold Norsemen who about the years eight or nine hundred had wandered to the coast of what is known now to be America–I think a certain Eric was their captain. Could the fair- haired man in the grave have been one of these?
Thus I speculated before I looked at the pile of parchments so evidently prepared from sheep skins by one who had only a very rudimentary knowledge of how to work such stuff, not knowing that in those parchments was hid the answer to many of my questions. To these I turned last of all, for we all shrink from parchments; their contents are generally so dull. There was a great bundle of them that had been lashed together with a kind of straw rope, fine straw that reminded me of that used to make Panama hats. But this had rotted underneath together with all the bottom part of the parchments, many sheets of them, of which only fragments remained, covered with dry mould and crumbling. Therefore the rope was easy to remove and beneath it, holding the sheets in place, was only some stout and comparatively modern string–it had a red thread in it that marked it as navy cord of an old pattern.
I slipped these fastenings off and lifted a blank piece of skin set upon the top. Beneath appeared the first sheet of parchment, closely, very closely covered with small “black-letter” writing, so faint and faded that even if I were able to read black-letter, which I cannot, of it I could have made nothing at all. The thing was hopeless. Doubtless in that writing lay the key to the mystery, but it could never be deciphered by me or any one else. The lady with the eyes like a deer had appeared to old Potts in vain; in vain had she bidden him to hand over this manuscript to me.
So I thought at the time, not knowing the resources of science. Afterwards, however, I took that huge bundle to a friend, a learned friend whose business in life it was and is, to deal with and to decipher old manuscripts.
“Looks pretty hopeless,” he said, after staring at these. “Still, let’s have a try; one never knows till one tries.”
Then he went to a cupboard in his muniment room and produced a bottle full of some straw-coloured fluid into which he dipped an ordinary painting brush. This charged brush he rubbed backwards and forwards over the first lines of the writing and waited. Within a minute, before my astonished eyes, that faint, indistinguishable script turned coal-black, as black as though it had been written with the best modern ink yesterday.
“It’s all right,” he said triumphantly, “it’s vegetable ink, and this stuff has the power to bring it up as it was on the day when it was used. It will stay like that for a fortnight and then fade away again. Your manuscript is pretty ancient, my friend, time of Richard II, I should say, but I can read it easily enough. Look, it begins, ‘I, Hubert de Hastings, write this in the land of Tavantinsuyu, far from England where I was born, whither I shall never more return, being a wanderer as the rune upon the sword of my ancestor, Thorgrimmer, foretold that I should be, which sword my mother gave me on the day of the burning of Hastings by the French,’ and so on.” Here he stopped.
“Then for heaven’s sake, do read it,” I said.
“My dear friend,” he answered, “it looks to me as though it would mean several months’ work, and forgive me for saying that I am paid a salary for my time. Now I’ll tell you what you have to do. All this stuff must be treated, sheet by sheet, and when it turns black it must be photographed before the writing fades once more. Then a skilled person–so-and-so, or so-and- so, are two names that occur to me–must be employed to decipher it again, sheet by sheet. It will cost you money, but I should say that it was worth while. Where the devil is, or was, the land of Tavantinsuyu?”
“I know,” I answered, glad to be able to show myself superior to my learned friend in one humble instance. “Tavantinsuyu was the native name for the Empire of Peru before the Spanish Invasion. But how did this Hubert get there in the time of Richard II? That is some centuries earlier than Pizarro set foot upon its shores.”
“Go and find out,” he answered. “It will amuse you for quite a long while and perhaps the results may meet the expenses of decipherment, if they are worth publishing. I expect they are not, but then, I have read so many old manuscripts and found most of them so jolly dull.”
Well, that business was accomplished at a cost that I do not like to record, and here are the results, more or less modernised, since often Hubert of Hastings expressed himself in a queer and archaic fashion. Also sometimes he used Indian words as though he had talked the tongue of these Peruvians, or rather the Chanca variety of it, so long that he had begun to forget his own language. Myself I have found his story very romantic and interesting, and I hope that some others will be of the same opinion. Let them judge.
But oh, I do wonder what was the end of it, some of which doubtless was recorded on the rotted sheets though of course there can have been no account of the great battle in which he fell, since Quilla could not write at all, least of all in English, though I suppose she survived it and him.
The only hint of that end is to be found in old Potts’s dream or vision, and what is the worth of dreams and visions?
THE SWORD AND THE RING
I, Hubert of Hastings, write this in the land of Tavantinsuyu, far from England, where I was born, whither I shall never more return, being a wanderer as the rune upon the sword of my ancestor, Thorgrimmer, foretold that I should be, which sword my mother gave me on the day of the burning of Hastings by the French. I write it with a pen that I have shaped from a wing feather of the great eagle of the mountains, with ink that I have made from the juices of certain herbs which I discovered, and on parchment that I have split from the skins of native sheep, with my own hands, but badly I fear, though I have seen that art practised when I was a merchant of the Cheap in London Town.
I will begin at the beginning.
I am the son of a fishing-boat owner and was a trader in the ancient town of Hastings, and my father was drowned while following his trade at sea. Afterwards, being the only child left of his, I took on his business, and on a certain day went out to sea to net fish with two of my serving men. I was then a young man of about three and twenty years of age and not uncomely. My hair, which I wore long, was fair in colour and curled. My eyes, set wide apart, were and still are large and blue, although they have darkened somewhat and sunk into the head in this land of heat and sunshine. My nose was wide-nostrilled and large, my mouth also was over-large, although my mother and some others used to think it well-shaped. In truth, I was large all over though not so tall, being burly, with a great breadth of chest and uncommon thickness through the body, and very strong; so strong that there were few who could throw me when I was young.
For the rest, like King David, I, who am now so tanned and weather worn that at a little distance were my hair and beard hidden I might almost be taken for one of the Indian chiefs about me, was of a ruddy and a pleasant countenance, perhaps because of my wonderful health, who had never known a day of sickness, and of an easy nature that often goes with health. I will add this, for why should I not–that I was no fool, but one of those who succeed in that upon which they set their minds. Had I been a fool I should not to-day be the king of a great people and the husband of their queen; indeed, I should not be alive.
But enough of myself and my appearance in those years that seem as far off as though they had never been save in the land of dreams.
Now I and my two serving men, sailors both of them like myself and most of the folk of Hastings set out upon a summer eve, purposing to fish all night and return at dawn. We came to our chosen ground and cast out the net, meeting with wonderful fortune since by three in the morning the big boat was full of every kind of fish. Never before, indeed, had we made so large a haul.
Looking back at that great catch, as here in this far land it is my habit to do upon everything, however small, that happened to me in my youth before I became a wanderer and an exile, I seem to see in it an omen. For has it not always been my lot in life to be kissed of fortune and to gather great store, and then of a sudden to lose it all as I was to lose that rich multitude of fishes?
To-day, when I write this, once more I have great wealth of pomp and love and power, of gold also, more than I can count. When I go forth, my armies, who still look on me as half a god, shout their welcome and kiss the air after their heathen fashion. My beauteous queen bows down to me and the women of my household abase themselves into the dust. The people of the Ancient City of Gold turn their faces to the wall and the children cover their eyes with their hands that they may not look upon my splendour as I pass, while maidens throw flowers for my feet to tread. Upon my judgment hangs life or death, and my lightest word is as though it were spoken from heaven. These and many other things are mine, the trappings of power, the prerogative of the Lord-from-the- Sea who brought victory to the Chanca people and led them back to their ancient home where they might live safe, far from the Inca’s rage.
And yet often, as I sit alone in my splendour upon the roof of the ancient halls or wander through the starlit palace gardens, I call to mind that great catch of fishes in the English sea and of what followed after. I call to mind also my prosperity and wealth as one of the first merchants of London Town and what followed after. I call to mind, too, the winning of Blanche Aleys, the lady so far above me in rank and station and what followed after. Then it is that I grow afraid of what may follow after this present hour of peace and love and plenty.
Certainly one thing will follow, and that is death. It may come late or it may come soon. But yesterday a rumour reached me through my spies that Kari Upanqui, the Inca of Tavantinsuyu, he who once was as my brother, but who now hates me because of his superstitions, and because I took a Virgin of the Sun to be my wife, gathers a great host to follow on the path we trod many years ago when the Chancas fled from the Inca tyranny back to their home in the ancient City of Gold and to smite us here. That host, said the rumours, cannot march till next year, and then will be another year upon its journey. Still, knowing Kari, I am sure that it will march, yes, and arrive, after which must befall the great battle in the mountain passes wherein, as of old, I shall lead the Chanca armies.
Perchance I am doomed to fall in that battle. Does not the rune upon Wave- Flame, the sword of Thorgrimmer my ancestor, say of him that holds it that,
“Conquering, conquered shall he be, And far away shall sleep with me”?
Well, if the Chancas conquer, what care I if I am conquered? ‘Twould be a good death and a clean, to fall by Kari’s spear, if I knew that Kari and his host fell also, as I swear that fall they shall, St. Hubert helping me. Then at least Quilla and her children would live on in peace and greatness since they can have no other foe to fear.
Death, what is death? I say that it is the hope of every one of us and most of all the exile and the wanderer. At the best it may be glory; at the worst it must be sleep. Moreover, am I so happy that I should fear to die? Quilla cannot read this writing, and therefore I will answer, No. I am a Christian, but she and those about her, aye, my own children with them, worship the moon and the host of heaven. I am white-skinned, they are the hue of copper, though it is true that my little daughter, Gudruda, whom I named so after my mother, is almost white. There are secrets in their hearts that I shall never learn and there are secrets in mine from which they cannot draw the veil because our bloods are different. Yet God knows, I love them well enough, and most of all that greatest of women, Quilla.
Oh! the truth is that here on earth there is no happiness for man.
It is because of this rumour of the coming of Kari with his host that I set myself to this task, that I have long had in my mind, to write down something of my history, both in England and in this land which, at any rate for hundreds of years, mine is the first white foot to press. It seems a foolish thing to do since when I have written who will read, and what will chance to that which I have written? I shall leave orders that it be placed beneath my feet in the tomb, but who will ever find that tomb again? Still I write because something in my heart urges me to the task.
I return to the far-off days. Our boat being full with merry hearts we set sail before a faint wind for Hastings beach. As yet there was little light and much fog, still the landward breeze was enough to draw us forward. Then of a sudden we heard sounds as of men talking upon ships and the clank of spars and blocks. Presently came a puff of air lifting the fog for a little and we saw that we were in the midst of a great fleet, a French fleet, for the Lilies of France flew at their mast-heads, saw, too, that their prows were set for Hastings, though for the while they were becalmed, since the wind that was enough for our light, large-sailed fishing-boat could not stir their bulk. Moreover, they saw us, for the men-at-arms on the nearest ship shouted threats and curses at us and followed the shouts with arrows that almost hit us.
Then the fog closed down again, and in it we slipped through the French fleet.
It may have been the best part of an hour later that we reached Hastings. Before the boat was made fast to the jetty, I sprang to it shouting:
“Stir! stir! the French are upon you! To arms! We have slipped through a whole fleet of them in the mist.”
Instantly the sleepy quay seemed to awaken. From the neighbouring fish market, from everywhere sailormen and others came running, followed by children with gaping mouths, while from the doors of houses far away shot women with scared faces, like ferreted rabbits from their burrows. In a minute the crowd had surrounded me, all asking questions at once in such a fashion that I could only answer them with my cry of:
“Stir! the French are upon you. To arms, I say. To arms!”
Presently through the throng advanced an old white-bearded man who wore a badge of office, crying as he came, “Make way for the bailiff!”
The crowd obeyed, opening a path, and soon we were face to face.
“What is it, Hubert of Hastings?” he asked. “Is there fire that you shout so loudly?”
“Aye, Worship,” I answered. “Fire and murder and all the gifts that the French have for England. The Fleet of France is beating up for Hastings, fifty sail of them or more. We crept through them in the fog, for the wind which would scarce move them served our turn and beyond an arrow or two, they took no note of a fishing-boat.”
“Whence come they?” asked the bailiff, bewildered.
“I know not, but those in another boat we passed in the midst shouted that these French were ravaging the coast and heading for Hastings to put it to fire and sword. Then that boat vanished away, I know not where, and that is all I have to tell save that the French will be here within an hour.”
Without staying to ask more questions, the bailiff turned and ran towards the town, and presently the alarm bells rang out from the towers of All Saints and St. Clement’s, while criers summoned all men to the market-place. Meanwhile I, not without a sad look at my boat and the rich catch within, made my way into the town, followed by my two men.
Presently I reached an ancient, timbered house, long, low, and rambling, with a yard by its side full of barrels, anchors, and other marine stores such as rope, that had to do with the trade I carried on at this place.
I, Hubert, with a mind full of fears, though not for myself, and a stirring of the blood such as was natural to my age at the approach of my first taste of battle, ran fast up to that house which I have described, and paused for a moment by the big elm tree that grew in front of the door, of which the lower boughs were sawn off because they shut out the light from the windows. I remember that elm tree very well, first because when I was a child starlings nested in a hole in the trunk, and I reared one in a wicker cage and made a talking bird of it which I kept for several years. It was so tame that it used to go about sitting on my shoulder, till at last, outside the town a cat frightened it thence, and before I could recapture it, it was taken by a hawk, which hawk I shot afterwards with an arrow out of revenge.
Also this elm is impressed upon me by the fact that on that morning when I halted by it, I noted how green and full of leaf it was. Next morning, after the fire, I saw it again, all charred and blackened, with its beautiful foliage withered by the heat. This contrast remained upon my memory, and whenever I see any great change of fortune from prosperity to ruin, or from life to death, always I bethink me of that elm. For it is by little things which we ourselves have seen and not by those written of or told by others, that we measure and compare events.
The reason that I ran so hard and then paused by the elm, was because my widowed mother lived in that house. Knowing that the French meant mischief for a good reason, because one of their arrows, or perhaps a quarrel from a cross- bow, whistled just past my head out there upon the sea, my first thought was to get her away to some place of safety, no easy task seeing that she was infirm with age. My second, that which caused me to pause by the tree, was how I should break the news to her in such a fashion that she would not be over- frightened. Having thought this over I went on into the house.
The door opened into the sitting-room that had a low roof of plaster and big oak beams. There I found my mother kneeling by the table upon which food was set for breakfast: fried herrings, cold meat, and a jug of ale. She was saying her prayers after her custom, being very religious though in a new fashion, since she was a follower of a preacher called Wycliffe, who troubled the Church in those days. She seemed to have gone to sleep at her prayers, and I watched her for a moment, hesitating to waken her. My mother, as even then I noted, was a very handsome woman, though old, for I was born when she had been married twenty years or more, with white hair and well-cut features that showed the good blood of which she came, for she was better bred than my father and quarrelled with her kin to marry him.
At the sound of my footsteps she woke up and saw me.
“Strange,” she said, “I slept at my prayers who did so little last night, as has become a habit with me when you are out a-fishing, for which God forgive me, and dreamed that there was some trouble forward. Scold me not, Hubert, for when the sea has taken the father and two sons, it is scarcely wonderful that I should be fearful for the last of my blood. Help me to rise, Hubert, for this water seems to gather in my limbs and makes them heavy. One day, the leech says, it will get to the heart and then all will be over.”
I obeyed, first kissing her on the brow, and when she was seated in her armed chair by the table, I said,
“You dream too well, Mother. There is trouble. Hark! St. Clement’s bells are talking of it. The French come to visit Hastings. I know for I sailed through their fleet just after dawn.”
“Is it so?” she asked quietly. “I feared worse. I feared lest the dream meant that you had gone to join your brothers in the deep. Well, the French are not here yet, as thank God you are. So eat and drink, for we of England fight best on full bellies.”
Again I obeyed who was very hungry after that long night and needed food and ale, and as I swallowed them we heard the sound of folk shouting and running.
“You are in haste, Hubert, to join the others on the quay and send a Frenchman or two to hell with that big bow of yours?” she said inquiringly.
“Nay,” I answered, “I am in haste to get you out of this town, which I fear may be burnt. There is a certain cave up yonder by the Minnes Rock where I think you might lie safe, Mother.”
“It has come down to me from my fathers, Hubert, that it was never the fashion of the women of the north to keep their men to shield them when duty called them otherwhere. I am helpless in my limbs and heavy, and cannot climb, or be borne up yonder hill to any cave. Here I stop where I have dwelt these five-and-forty years, to live or die as God pleases. Get you to your duty, man. Stay. Call those wenches and bid them fly inland to their folk, out Burwash way. They are young and fleet of foot, and no Frenchman will catch them.”
I summoned the girls who were staring, white-faced, from the attic window- place. In three minutes they were gone, though it is true that one of them, the braver, wished to bide with her mistress.
I watched them start up the street with other fugitives who were pouring out of Hastings, and came back to my mother. As I did so a great shout told me that the French fleet had been sighted.
“Hubert,” she said, “take this key and go to the oak chest in my sleeping room, lift out the linen at the top and bring me that which lies wrapped in cloth beneath.”
I did so, returning with a bundle that was long and thin. With a knife she cut the string that tied it. Within were a bag of money and a sword in an ancient scabbard covered with a rough skin which I took to be that of a shark, which scabbard in parts was inlaid with gold.
“Draw it,” said my mother.
I did so, and there came to light a two-edged blade of blue steel, such as I had never seen before, for on the blade were engraved strange characters whereof I could make nothing, although as it chanced I could read and write, having been taught by the monks in my childhood. The hilt, also, that was in the form of a cross, had gold inlaid upon it; at the top of it, a large knob or apple of amber, much worn by handling. For the rest it was a beauteous weapon and well balanced.
“What of this sword?” I asked.
“This, Son. With the black bow that you have,” and she pointed to the case that leaned against the table, “it has come down in my family for many generations. My father told me that it was the sword of one Thorgrimmer, his ancestor, a Norseman, a Viking he called him, who came with those who took England before the Norman time; which I can well believe since my father’s name, like mine, till I married, was Grimmer. This sword, also, has a name and it is Wave-Flame. With it, the tale tells, Thorgrimmer did great deeds, slaying many after their heathen fashion in his battles by land and sea. For he was a wanderer, and it is said of him that once he sailed to a new land far across the ocean, and won home again after many strange adventures, to die at last here in England in some fray. That is all I know, save that a learned man from the north once told my father’s father that the writing on the sword means: -
“He who lifts Wave-Flame on high In love shall live and in battle die; Storm-tossed o’er wide seas shall roam And in strange lands shall make his home. Conquering, conquered shall he be, And far away shall sleep with me.
“Those were the words which I remember because of the jingle of them; also because such seems to have been the fate of Thorgrimmer and the sword that his grandson took from his tomb.”
Here I would have asked about this grandson and the tomb, but having no time, held my peace.
“All my life have I kept that sword,” went on my mother, “not giving it to your father or brothers, lest the fate written on it should befall them, for those old wizards of the north, who fashioned such weapons with toil and skill, could foresee the future–as at times I can, for it is in my blood. Yet now I am moved to bid you take it, Hubert, and go where its flame leads you and dree your gloom, whatever it may be, for I know you will use it like Thorgrimmer’s self.”
She paused for a moment, then went on:
“Hubert, perhaps we part for the last time, for I think that my hour is at hand. But let not that trouble you, since I am glad to go to join those who went before, and others with them, perchance Thorgrimmer’s self. Hearken, Hubert. If aught befalls me, or this place, stay not here. Go to London town and seek out John Grimmer, my brother, the rich merchant and goldsmith who dwells in the place called Cheap. He knew you as a child and loved you, and lacking offspring of his own will welcome you for both our sakes. My father would not give John the sword lest its fate should be on him, but I say that John will be glad to welcome one of our race who holds it in his hand. Take it then, and with it that bag of gold, which may prove of service ere all be done.
“Aye, and there is one more thing–this ring which, so says the tale, came down with the sword and the bow, and once had writing on it like the sword, though that is long since rubbed away. Take it and wear it till perchance, in some day to come, you give it to another as I did.”
Wondering at all this tale which, after her secret fashion, my mother had kept from me till that hour, I set the ring upon my finger.
“I gave yonder ring to your father on the day that we were betrothed,” went on my mother, “and I took it back again from his corpse after he had been found floating in the sea. Now I pass it on to you who soon will be all that is left of both of us.”
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