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"it makes you imagine things. You're in my hands, and I've prescribed a change for you."
"Very good of you," assented Charles with well simulated heat; "but how do you know that I'm going to follow your prescription?"
"You'll have to follow the house-boat I suppose," said Talbot in his most brutal manner. "That's going for a rest and change, anyhow."
"Of course you can stay here if you like," said Majendie; "but you'll find the grass rather damp at night, which for a person of hereditary gouty tendency means rheumatism. The tent is going for a change, too, unfortunately; otherwise you might have had that."
"You'll have to come," said William. Charles raised some more objections, which were met by his friends, and after a decent show of resistance he allowed himself to yield to force of numbers, saying that if they had made up their minds he supposed he must give way; but, he stipulated, as he was moving against his will he would take no share either in the packing or the towing of the house-boat. This concession they allowed him, after which he went off to bathe in a condition of praiseworthy resignation.
Even on the stillest and darkest night the river world is never quite silent. There are numberless tiny sounds which in the daytime would pass unnoticed but which under the stars force themselves on the attention of him who is yet awake. The rushes are in perpetual motion; now their whisper is but the faintest memory of a sound; now it increases to an audible rustle of protest as some nocturnal prowler, probably a rat, passes through them. A moth or bat flutters by causing a slight vibration in the
air, so slight that one hardly knows whether it is felt or heard. A fish splashes, a frog croaks, an owl in the distant woods utters its musical tremulous complaint and under all is the deep voice of the river itself, the murmur of eternal unrest. Nature sleeps with an eye always open and stirs from time to time with the vividness of her dreams.
Within the house-boat, though it was a good half-hour after midnight, there was still one person awake, and listening appreciatively to all this faint music of the summer night. It accorded well with the poetry of his mood, and he knelt on his chair-bed with his head out of the little window above it looking down into the dark stream. Presently with a contented sigh he withdrew his head and began to listen for something else. Through the wooden partition came the sound of regular breathing. His friends were evidently sleeping the sleep of the just, and he nodded in a satisfied manner after he had listened. All was
well and he could set about that which had to be done before he too slumbered. Sitting down on his bed he put on his tennis shoes and then crept noiselessly to the door leading to the stern of the house-boat, opened it and passed out.
The house-boat, it should be explained, was divided into three rooms opening one into the other. The first served as a sitting-room, the second was fitted up with four bunks and was the bedroom, while the third, constructed originally as a kitchen, had by means of the chair-bed been turned into a spare bedroom and assigned to Talbot as the acknowledged leader of the expedition. Thus being alone he was able to go in or out without disturbing the others.
He crossed the plank carefully, for it was a dark night and the stars unaided by a moon could do no more than
accentuate the fact. Once on shore he turned in the direction of the osierbed, crossed the other plank with equal caution and followed the accustomed path. When he had nearly reached the end he turned again and forced his way through the osiers on his right. At this point they grew very thick and tall and even in the daytime it would have been no easy matter to get through them. Talbot however seemed to know where he was going and shielding his face with his arms went straight forward. When he was some ten yards from the path he stopped and felt in his pockets for a box of matches, one of which he struck. The light showed him that he had reached the place he wanted-a small hut with brick walls, a thatched roof and the door off its hinges. Originally perhaps it had been built as a little barn, but in the course of years it had dropped out of use, and the osiers growing up all round it concealed its existence from an incurious world. Even from the river no trace of it could be seen though it stood but a few yards from the bank.
Holding the match in front of him Talbot entered and looked round. There was nothing to be seen except a few bean-poles in one corner, and some odd bricks and rubbish. Along one side of the hut however ran a halfloft towards which he looked. His match flickered out and he struck another and felt in his pocket again, this time producing a short piece of candle which he lighted at the match and stuck on a fallen brick. This done he approached the loft. Springing into the air he caught the ledge with both hands and drew himself up till he was supported by his elbows. Then
with his right hand he felt about in the darkness until he encountered the object of his search, which was in fact a Gladstone bag. Grasping its handle he lowered it slowly, still supporting himself with his left arm. Having accomplished this athletic feat he let himself drop, after which he put the bag down and rested a little.
He was about to pick up bag and candle and go when a totally new idea struck him. He paused and cast a contemplative eye on the Gladstone bag as it lay portly and inert in the feeble light of the candle. Then with a swift decisive movement he took off his coat and hung it on one of the bean-poles, after which he stooped down and opened the bag. In one side of it lay Charles's blue suit neatly folded. Talbot took out the coat, put it on, and held the candle in the air to observe the effect. It is difficult to judge adequately of one's appearance in such circumstances but he was not altogether dissatisfied. The coat might be a fraction too tight and a fraction too short, for he was a slightly bigger man than Charles, but taking it all in all it was not a bad fit. It might pass, he decided, in the country.
Then he took it off, folded it up and put it back, resumed his own coat, packed up the Gladstone bag and blew out the candle as he left the hut, stumbling a little among the osiers owing to the sudden darkness. However in a short time his eyes became more accustomed to it and he made his way back to the house-boat without misadventure. He put his burden in the coal-bunk where Charles had originally hidden it, and then retired to bed feeling that he had earned his repose.
(To be continued.)
THE FOLK-LORE OF THE COUNTY COURT.
Being snowed up in a library, well
One thing, however, haunts me still. I seem to have escaped from the learned confusions of this dismal science with a belief that the world is certainly not progressing. They took a lot of trouble at school to persuade me that the world kept going round. Since I have dipped into folk-lore I find this to be only part of the truth. The fact seems to be that the world does nothing else but go round and round and round, reiterating its old ideas in a very tiresome way indeed. The things we do and gossip and preach about to-day are much the same as the
things they worried over in the ages of caves and mammoths and flint implements. I feel sorry that I cannot explore folk-lore further, for there are evidently great possibilities in it. But folk-lore is like collecting stamps, or keeping gold-fish or guinea-pigs. It is a "fancy," and if you don't fancy it you cannot be of the "fancy." The slang of the science is too difficult for most of us, and if you cannot master the technical terms of a game, how can you hope to play it? Even football would be dull if you had no elementary conception of “off-side,” and it is easier to get "off-side" at folk-lore than it is at football. Moreover, folk-lore is a science entirely devoid of humor. Euclid has its pictures and occasionally admits that things are absurd; but the smiles of folk-lore are in the Otherworld, and even their ghosts do not appear to the latter-day student.
I should never have troubled further about folk-lore had not I met one of its greatest professors. To him I unburdened myself and told my trouble. "Folk-lore books," he explained, "are not made to read. They are written to amuse the writer. You write about folk-lore then you will begin to enjoy it." I remembered that Lord Foppington held similar views when he said. "To mind the inside of a book is to entertain one's self with the forced product of another man's brain. Now, I think a man of quality and breeding may be much amused with the natural sprouts of his own." An idea held in common by a peer and a professor must be precious indeed.
I modestly murmured that I knew nothing about folk-lore. To which the Professor encouragingly remarked that I should "approach the subject with an
open mind." "There is one royal road to success," he said as we parted; "have a theory of your own, and whatever happens, stick to it."
Now, curiously enough, I had a theory about folk-lore. It was the simple common idea that comes to many children even in their earliest school-days. The schoolmasters were all wrong. The professors of folk-lore were teaching it upside down. Instead of beginning with ancient legends and working back towards to-day, they should begin with to-day and march forward into the past. I wired to the Professor about it-reply prepaid. His answer was encouraging. "Theory probably Celtic origin; stick."
As my business is to preside over a County Court, I went down to my work full of my theory and determined at all costs to stick to it. I know that to the pathologist a County Court is merely a gathering-place for microbes, and a centre point of infection; that the reformer sees in it only a cumbrous institution for deciding unnecessary disputes, whilst the facile reporter comes there to wash from its social dirt a few ounces of golden humor for his latest headline. These are but surface views. I went there like the poet "whose seed-field is Time," to find folklore and I was overwhelmed.
No sooner did I enter the Court, as I had done many and many a hundred times, than the High Bailiff, rising in his place, called out, as he, too, had done many a hundred times, "Oh yes! Oh yes! Oh yes! All persons having business in the Manchester County Court draw near and give attention." At once I knew that the place I was in belonged to the old days of fairies and knights, and ladies and giants, and heroes and dragons. The "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!" struck my certain ear and told me I was in the presence of folk-lore. The creeping voice of the old world came stealing across the
ages, calling upon me "Oyez!" "Hear!" and if you can "Understand!" It seemed to bring its message with a sly chuckle as if to say, "There you are, my modern, up-to-date, twentieth century judicial person, beginning your day's work with the same old cry that has called men together to listen to official wisdom for centuries of time."
My friend the High Bailiff has not, I am sure, the least notion that he is, from a folk-lore point of view, a man of parallels and analogues, or that the "fancy" would undoubtedly classify him along with that most beautiful of human fritillaries, the Herald. For indeed, in everything but glory of costume, he is one of those delightful figures of the middle ages who carried challenges and messages of peace and war, and set out the lists in jousts and tournaments, and witnessed combats and wagers of battle-which my friend sits and watches to-day-and recorded the names of those who did valiantly and remembered the dead when the fight was over-which to-day he leaves to the reporters. Here in this dingy court in a Manchester back street students of folk-lore may see a real Herald calling out "Oyez! Oyez!" announcing that the lists are open, and that any one may come prancing into Court and throw down his glove-with the post-heroic gloss of a treasury hearing fee upon it-and that if the challenge be taken up, the fight may proceed according to the custom of County Courts.
I would inaugurate a movement to apparel the High Bailiff in scarlet and gold lace, and I would have him ride into Court on a white palfrey, sounding a trumpet, but that I fear it would lead to jealousy among Registrars. Besides, some envious German professor will, I know, point out that as a Crier my High Bailiff is more akin to the Praeco of a Roman auction, and that the village town crier is his poor
The answer to this is that his auctioneering tendencies really belong to his bailiff cycle, as the "fancy" would say. And as a bailiff we could, did time permit, thrace him in dry as-dust glossaries and abridgments through a line of sheriffs of counties, and stewards of manors, and in various forms of governors and superintendents, until we lose sight of him as a kind of tutor to the sons of emperors in the twilight of the gods.
Let the High Bailiff call on the first case, and say with Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York:
This is the day appointed for the combat;
And ready are the appellant and defendant,
The armorer and his man, to enter the lists,
So please your Highness to behold the fight.
It seems a real pity that we no longer follow the rubric of the Second Part of Henry VI., and that we cannot see Horner enter with his neighbors "bearing his staff with a sandbag fastened to it," on the other side "Peter with a drum and a sand-bag." Horner and Peter to-day would make a much better fight of it, thumping each other with sand-bags, than they do "barging" at each other with tongues, and they would be better friends afterwards. With a small charge for admission, too, and two houses a night, the County Court might be self-supporting.
But we have not got very far away from the wager of battle after all. The hired champion is still with us from the house of the old Knights Templars, but he breaks against his adversary his wit instead of a lance. In another hundred years or so our methods of settling disputes may seem as laughable and melodramatic to our more reasonable great grandchildren as our
grandfathers' romantic methods seem to us. They may think that fees paid to eminent counsel, dressed in antique shapes, to exhibit their powers before packed galleries, according to the ancient and musty rules of a game that is wholly out of date, is an absurd way of endeavoring to reconcile human differences. The whole thing must before long, one would think, tumble into the dustbin of history and become folklore. But the legendary charm of the absurdity will always remain. Sir Edward Clarke or Mr. Rufus Isaacs, appearing for an injured ballet-girl in a breach of promise case against a faithless and wicked peer, is only a new setting of the story of Perseus and Andromeda, with the golden addition of a special fee. Perhaps there is even a parallel for the special fee in the old myth, for may it not be said that in a sense Perseus was moved to leave his usual circuit, and appear against the dragon by the tempting special fee of Andromeda herself? Could such a glorious figure be marked on the brief of to-day, what eloquence we should listen to.
The longer one stays in a County Court, the more does the atmosphere seem charged with folk-lore. Sagas seem to float in the air with the soot of our smoky chimneys, and wraiths of old customs swim in the draughty currents of cold that whistle under our doors. No sooner does a witness step into the box than one perceives that he too is an eternal type, and our methods of dealing with him as everlasting as the forms of the waves. The Greeks with all their noble ideals were a practical people, and the exactitude of their terminology is beyond praise; with a true instinct they described their witness as a martyr. For, in the Golden Age, and equally, I take it, in the Bronze, Stone, and Flint Chip period, the only way to stimulate your witness to truth was by blood or fire.