Selected Writings of Wm. Sharp, Vol 5.
THE GYPSY CHRIST
There are, among the remote uplands of the Peak district, regions whose solitude is that of a wilderness. Over much of the country there is a frown. When fair weather prevails, though these lofty plateaux are seldom wholly free from cloud-shadow, this frown is merely that of a stern man, preoccupied with sombre thoughts. When there come rain and wind, and still more the dull absorbing gloom that floods out of the east and the north-east, the frown is forbidding, minatory even, at times almost tragic. Viewed anywhere from High Peak to Sir William, these uplands are like the sea. They reach onwards, lapse, merge into each other, in a similar succession of vast billows: grand as they, as apparently limitless, and, at times, as overwhelmingly depressing.
The villages are scattered, insignificant; built of dull, grey stone: gardenless, flowerless. The people are uncouth in speech and manner: cold, too, as the stone of their houses, and strangely quiet in the ordinary expression of emotion.
In all regions where the wind is the paramount feature in the duel between man and the powers of nature, as upon the seas and great moorland tracts, it is noticeable that human voices are pitched in an unusually low key. In remote islands, upon mountains, on the billows of hill-land that sweep tip from the plains and fall away in dales and valleys, on long flats of grass, fen, or morass, and upon the seas, the human voice takes to itself in time a peculiar and, to those who know the cause, a strangely impressive hush. Here, it is as of men subdued, bitter even, for ever gloomful.
No land is so dreary as to be without redeeming beauty. The hill region of the Peak, that most visited, at any rate, has singular charm. The dales are famous for their loveliness, their picturesqueness; the heather slopes for their blithe air; the high moors for their wide perspectives, their clear windy breath, their glory of light and shadow. Nevertheless, there are vast districts where nature, and man, and the near way and the wide prospect, and the very immensity of the environing sky are permeated with the inner spirit of gloom, as the cloud-caravans of July with their burden of thunder.
There are reasons why I do not wish to be explicit topographically, in what I am about to narrate: indeed, no one from what I write could find the Wood o' Wendray, or the House o' Fanshawe. It must suffice, that what I have to tell occurred in the remotest, perhaps the grandest, certainly to me the most impressive region of the Peak-Land.
Far among these tiplands--at the locality alluded to, from twelve or fifteen hundred to two thousand feet above the sea--there is an almost trackless morass, called Grailph Moss.
The name is by some supposed to be a corruption of "grey wolf": for here, according to rumour, the last wolf in England had its lair, and might have been living still (for the huntsmen aver that the grey wolf lives three hundred years!) but for its audacity at the time of the Great Plague. Packmen and other wayfarers have alleged that on wild nights of storm, or in even more perilous seasons of mist or marsh-fog, they have seen a gaunt shape leap towards them from a dense clump of heather or from behind a juniper, or have heard, behind or in stealthy circuit, terrifying footfalls as of a huge dog.
Grailph Moss comes right upon an old disused highway. Along this road, at far intervals, are desolate hamlets: in all save the three summer months, apt to be isled in the mist breathed from the myriad nostrils of the great Fen. At these times, the most dreadful thing to endure is the silence.
Not far from one of these hamlets, and somewhat more removed from the contagion of the Moss: high set, indeed, and healthy, if sombre of aspect save under the fugitive bloom of the afterglow, or where redeemed by the moonlight to an austere beauty,--is a strange house, the strangest I have seen anywhere.
The House o' Fanshawe, it is called in the neighbourhood: though what is perplexing is that the name is centuries old, though for generations no family of that name occupied the Manor of Eastrigg: nor is there any local legend concerning a Fanshawe, or record of any kind to account for the persistency of the designation.
Long before my friend, James Fanshawe, took the Manor, ruin had come upon the middle as well as the northern portion. In fact, the southern end, which had been the original Elizabethan house, was scarce better, and had been preserved at all only because of its fantastic, often beautiful, and always extraordinary roof and wainscot carvings. These were none the less striking from the fact that they were whitewashed. Many were in a fashion suggestive of the arabesques of Barbary, such as are to be seen to this day in the private houses of the rich Moors of TlemÁen or Tunis others recalled the freaks of the later Renaissance imagination: and some were of Gothic rudeness and vigour. But the most extraordinary room of all was a small chamber opening from a large vaulted apartment. All the panels on three sides of the room, and the whole roof, were covered with arabesques of the Crucifixion: no one whitewashed carving quite like any other, though all relentlessly realistic, sometimes savagely, brutally so. The fourth side was of varnished black oak. Against this, in startling relief, was a tall white cross, set in a black stand; with a drooping and terrible figure of the crucified God, the more painfully arresting from the fact that the substance of which it had been wrought had been dyed a vivid scarlet, that, with time, had become blood-red.
A word as to how I came to know this house in this remote and desolate region.
Two or three years ago, when wandering afoot through Croatia, I encountered James Fanshawe. There is no need to narrate what led up to our strange meeting--for a strange meeting, in strange circumstances, and in a strange place, it was. It will suffice for me to say that our encounter, our voluntary acquaintanceship, and our subsequent friendship, all arose from the circumstance that each of us could, with more justice than some who have done so, claim to be a Romany Rye--which is not exactly "a gentleman-gypsy," as commonly translated, but rather an amateur-gypsy, or, as a "brother" once phrased it to me, "a sympathising, make-believe gypsy." There are some who can talk the dialects of "Little Egypt," or at least understand them, and many who know something of the folk-lore, habits and customs of the wandering people: but there are few, I take it, who have lived the gypsy-life, who have undergone, or even heard of, the ordeal of the Blue Smoke, the Two Fires, and the Running Water.
Thereafter we met on several occasions: frequently in Italy, or the Tyrol, or southern Germany: generally by , pre-arrangement. The last time I saw Fanshawe, until I met him in Glory Woods, near Dorking, was in the Hohenheim country, on the high plateau to the southwest of Stuttgart. It was then he told me he had been to England, and had travelled afoot from Southampton to Hull: and that he had at last decided to settle in that country, probably in the New Forest region. I promised to visit him in England when next there. I wanted to fare a while with him there and then; but as it was clear he did not at that juncture wish my company, I forbore.
James Fanshawe was a noticeable man. Tall, sinewy, ruddy, though with dark, luminous eyes and long, trailing, coal-black moustache, he would not have seemed more than thirty years old but for his iron-grey hair, and the deep crow's-feet about his mouth, eyes, and temples. As a matter of fact, he was, at the time I first met him, at the Midsummer's-day of human life; for he had just entered his fortieth year.
One early spring day, when, by the merest hazard, we came across each other in Glory Woods, he reminded me that nearly two years had passed since my promise to visit him. He had not, after all, settled in the south country, but, he told me, in a strange old house, in a remote and wild moorland tract of Derbyshire. While he spoke, I was observant of the great change in him. He had grown ten, fifteen years older in appearance. The iron-grey hair had become white; the strong face rigid; the swift, alert look now that of a visionary, or of one who brooded much. Perhaps the most marked change was in the eyes. What had always struck me as their dusky, velvety Czech beauty was no longer noticeable. They were much lighter, and had a strange, staring intensity.
But I was glad to see him again: glad to pick up lost clues, and glad to be able to promise to be with him at Eastrigg Manor by the end of the sixth week from that date.
That is how I came to know the "House o' Fanshawe."
Eastrigg itself is more than twenty miles from the nearest station. The drive thence seemed the longer and drearier because of the wet mist which hung over the country. Even sounds were soaked up by it. I never passed through a drearier land. Mid-April, and not a green thing visible, not a bird's note audible!
The driver of the gig was taciturn, yet could not quite restrain his curiosity. He was not an Eastrigg man, but knew the place, and all connected with it. He would fain have ascertained somewhat about its owner; perhaps, too, about myself, or at any rate about my object in coming to the reputed haunted, if not accursed, House o' Fanshawe, where my host-to-be lived alone, attended only by an old man named Hoare, a "foreigner" too, because come from the remote south country. When, however, he found me more reserved than himself, he desisted from further inquiry, or indeed remarks of any kind.
It was in silence that we drove the last ten miles; in silence that we jolted along a rude, grassy highway of olden days, heavily rutted; in silence that we passed, first one, then another gaunt ruin,--two of the many long-deserted lead-mine chimneys which stand here and there throughout that country, and add unspeakably to its desolation. Finally, in silence we reached the House o' Fanshawe.
A small side-door, under heavy beams, opened. An elderly man stood, his right hand over his eyes, and his left holding a lantern which emitted a pale yellow glow, beneath which his face was almost as wan and white as his bleached hair.
He looked at me anxiously, questioningly, I thought. Instinctively, I inquired if Mr. Fanshawe were unwell.
"Are you a doctor?" he asked, almost in a whisper; adding, on my reply in the negative, "I hoped you might be. I fear the master is dying."
Startled, I unburdened myself of my wet overcoat, and then followed the man along a rambling passage. On the way, he confided to me that though Mr. Fanshawe was up and about, he had been very strange of late, and that he ate little, slept little, and was sometimes away on the Moss or the higher moors for ten or twelve hours at a time; further, that within the last few days he had become steadily worse.
Even this forewarning did not adequately prepare me for the change in my friend. When I saw him, he was sitting in the twilight before a peat fire on which a log, aflame at one end though all charred at the other, burned brightly. His hair was quite white: so white that that of his man, Robert Hoare, was of a yellow hue by comparison. It hung long and lank about his cadaverous face, which, in its wanness and rigid lines, was that of a corpse, except for the dark luminous eyes I remembered so well, once more like what they were in the days I first knew him, but now so intensely, passionately alive, that it was as though the flame of his life were concentrated there. He rose, stiffly and as though with difficulty, and I saw how woefully thin he had become. It was with a shock of surprise I realised what vitality the man still had, when he took my hand in his, gripped it almost as powerfully as of yore, and half led, half pushed me into an arm-chair opposite his own.
Yes, he admitted, he had been ill, but was now better. Soon, he hoped, he would be quite well again. The eyes contradicted the lie of the lips.
After a time our constraint wore off; but though I avoided the subject of his health and recent way of life, he interrupted me again and again to assure me that he would not have let me come so far, to visit so dreary a house and see so unentertaining an invalid, had he known how to intercept me.
Suddenly he rose, and insisted on showing me over the house. Room by room fascinated me; but that small chamber of which I have already spoken, that with the crucifix, gave me nothing short of an uncontrollable repugnance, something akin to horror. He noticed this though neither the lips offered nor the eyes invited any remark.
No wonder that from the several ominous circumstances of this meeting I was half prepared for some unpleasant or even tragic dťnouement. But, as a matter of fact, nothing happened to alarm or further perturb me; and long before I went to my room I had noticed a marked improvement in Fanshawe, that is, in his mental condition; physically, he was still very distraught as well as frail, and appeared to suffer extremely from what I took to be nervous cold, though he said it was the swamp-ague. "The Moss Fiend had got him," he declared. He wore a long frieze overcoat, even as he sat by the fire; and all the time, even at our frugal supper, kept his hands half-covered in thick mittens.
Naturally enough, I did not sleep for long. In the first place, sleep is always tardy with me in absolutely windless or close, rainy weather; then the absolute silence, the sense of isolation, affected me; and, more effectually still, I could hear Fanshawe monotonously walking to and fro in the room to my right. This room, moreover, was no other than the fantastically decorated ante-chamber. I could scarce bear to think of my distraught friend, sleepless, and wearily active, in the company of that terrifying crucifix, that chamber of the myriad reduplications of the Passion. But at last I slept, and slept well; nor did I wake till the late sunlight streamed in upon me through the unshuttered and Mindless window.
We spent most of that day in the open air. The morning was so blithe and sweet, Fanshawe lost something of his air of tragic ill; and I began to entertain hopes of his ultimate recovery. But in the early afternoon, when we had returned for the meal which had been prepared for us an hour before, the weather changed. It grew sultry and overclouded. The glass, too, had fallen abruptly. The change affected my friend in a marked degree. He became less and less communicative, and at last morose and almost sullen.
I proposed another walk. He agreed, with an eagerness that surprised me. "I will show you one or two places where I often go," he added: "places that the country people about here avoid; for the moor-folk are superstitious, as all who live in remote places are."
The day, as I have said, had become dull and heavy; and what with the atmospheric change, and the saturnine mood of my companion, I felt depressed. The two gaunt chimneys which rose above their respective mines were my skeletons at the feast. Otherwise I could have enjoyed many things in, and aspects of, that unfamiliar country; but these tall, sombre, bat-haunted, wind-gnawed "stacks," rising from dishevelled ruins, which, again, overlay the deserted lead-mines, oppressed me beyond all reason.
At one of these we stopped. Fanshawe asked me to throw something, into a hollow place beyond one of the walls of a building. I lifted a large stone, and threw it as directed. I thought, at first, it had fallen on soft grass, or among weeds and nettles, for no sound was audible. Then, as it were under foot, I heard a confused clamour, followed by the faint echo of a splash.
"That will give you some idea of the depth of the mine," my companion remarked quietly. "But it is deeper than you imagine, even now. There are sloping ledges under that water in which the stone fell at last; and beneath these ledges are corridors leading far into the caverns whence nothing ever comes again."
"It is not a place for a nervous person to come to," I answered, with as much indifference as I could assume; "nor for any one after sundown, and alone."
Fanshawe looked at me passively, then said quietly that he often came there.
"I wonder," he added, "how many dead will arise from a place like this when the trump of the Resurrection stirs the land?"
"Has any one ever fallen into this mine,. or been murdered in it?"
"They say so. It is very likely. But come: I will show you a stranger thing."
So on we trudged again, for, I should think, nearly a mile, and mostly through a thin wood. I wondered what new unpleasant feature of this unattractive country I was to see. it was with half-angry surprise I was confronted at last by a thick scrub of gorse, overhung by three large birches, and told that there was what we had come to see. Naturally, there was nothing to arrest my attention. When I said so, however, Fanshawe made no reply. I saw that he was powerfully affected, though whether grief or some other emotion wrought him, I could not determine.
Suddenly he turned, said harshly that he was dead tired, and wished to go home straightway. Beyond a statement about a short cut by Dallaway Moor, he did not vouchsafe another remark until we reached the Manor.
At the entrance Hoare met us, and was about to speak, when he saw that his master was not listening, but, rigid, with moving jaw and wild eyes, was staring at the panels of the door.
"Who . . . who has been here? " he cried hoarsely; but for answer the man merely shook his head stupidly, muttering at last that not a soul had been near the place.
"Who has been here? Who has been here? Who did this?" my friend, gaspingly reiterated, as he pointed to a small green cross, the paint still wet, impressed a foot or more above the latch.
Fanshawe was taciturn throughout the first part of the evening. We ate our meal in silence. Afterwards, in his study, he maintained the same self-absorption, and for a long time seemed unaware that he was not alone. The atmospherical oppression made this silence still more obvious. Even the fire burned dully, and the smoke that went up from the mist-wet logs was thick and heavy.
It was with a sense of relief I heard an abrupt, hollow, booming sound, as of distant guns at sea. The long-expected thunder was drawing near. For many minutes after this the silence could be heard. Then there came a blast of wind that struck the house heavily, for all the world like an enormous billow flooding down upon and all but engulfing a dismasted ship.
Fanshawe raised his head, and listened intently. A distant, remotely thin wail was audible for a few seconds: the voice of the wind-eddy far away upon the moors. Then, once more, the same ominous silence.
"I hope the storm will break soon," I said at last.
"Yes. We'll have one or two more blasts like that, then a swift rain; then the night will become black as ink, and the thunderstorm will rage for an hour or so, and suddenly come back upon us again worse than before."
I looked at my friend surprisedly.
"How can you tell?"
"I have seen many thunderstorms and gales on these moorlands."
I was about to say something further, when I saw a look upon my companion's face which I took to be that of arrested thought or arrested speech.
I was right in my surmise, for, in a low voice, he resumed:
"You will doubtless hear many another storm such as this. As for me, it is the last to which I shall ever listen: unless, as may well be, the dead hear. After all, what grander death-hymn could one have?"
"You are ill, Fanshawe, but not so ill as you believe. In any case, you do not fear you are going to die to-night?
He looked at me long and earnestly before he answered.
"I--suppose--not," he said slowly, at last, but in the meditative way of one revolving a dubious matter in his mind: "no, I suppose not necessarily to-night."
A long, discordant cry of the wind came wailing across the Reach o' Dallaway. It was scarce gone, when a ponderous distant crashing betokened the onset of the elemental strife to be fought out overhead.
The effect upon Fanshawe was electric. He rose, moved to and fro, twice went to the window, and drew up the blind. The second time, he opened the latch. The window was of the kind called half-French; that is, it was of a single sheet of glass, but came no further than two-thirds of the way down, the lower third being of solid wood, and could be opened (drawn inward) only in its glazed section.
He withdrew the fastening, stooped, and peered into the yard. A stealthy, shuffling sound was audible, followed by a low whine.
Fanshawe seemed satisfied, and, having closed the latch, drew together the thick, heavy curtains.
"That was my bloodhound, Grailph," he explained. "I always let him out at night. He keeps watch here. He is a huge beast, cream-white in colour, and so is as rare and remarkable as he is trustworthy. I brought him, as a puppy, from Transylvania. The people hereabouts hate and fear him: the more so, because of his name. I have told you about the legend of Grailph Moss? Yes? Well, the rumour has filtered from mind to mind that my Grailph is no other than the original Grailph, or Grey Wolf ; and that in some way he, I, and the 'House o' Fanshawe' are connected in an uncanny destiny."
"Are you quite sure you're not?" I interrupted, half in badinage, half in earnest.
He took my remark seriously, however.
"No; I am not sure. But who can tell what is the secret thing that lies hidden in the shadow, in the wave, and in the brain?"
"Ah, you remember what old Mark Zengro said that day by the cavern of the Jšllusietch, in Bohemia! How well I remember that afternoon: how he called you brother and----
"Oh, and what a strange talk we had afterwards by the fire, when ----- "
"No; that was not what you were going to say. You were about to add: 'How angry you were when Zengro made with his forefinger the sign of a circle about him; and how you nearly left the camp then and there.' Is not that true?"
"Yes, it is true."
"I thought so. Well, I had good reason to be angry."
"Oh, his action meant only that he took you to be fťy, as we say in the north."
"No, it meant more than that. But this brings me to what I have wanted to say to you: what must be told to-night."
He stopped, for the roar about the house shook it to its foundations: one of those swift, howling whirlwinds which sometimes precede the steady march of the mighty host of the thunder.
When it was over, he pulled away the smoking logs from the fire and substituted three or four of dry pine and larch, already dusted with salt. The flame was so vivid and cheerful that, when my host eclipsed the lamplight, and left us in the pleasant firelit gloom, the change was welcome, though the wildness of the night without seemed to be enhanced.
For at least five minutes Fanshawe sat silent, staring into the red glow over which the blue and yellow tongues of flame wove an endless weft. Then, abruptly, he began:Ļ
ĻHis narrative, in its earlier stages, was much longer than my partial reproduction of it; for some of it dealt with irrelative matters, some of it was merely reminiscent of our own meetings and experiences in common, and some of it was abruptly discursive. Interwrought with it were the sudden tumults, the tempestuous violence of that night of storm: when, through it all, the thunder was to me as the flying shuttle in the loom of Destiny.
"You know that I have Gypsy blood in me. It is true. But I do not think you know how strong in the present, how remote in the past, the strain is. In the twelfth century my parental ancestors were of what might be called the blood-royal among the Children of the Wind. One of them, head of a great clan at that time dispersed, during the summer months, through the region of the New Forest, was named John the Heron. Hunting one day in these woodlands, the king's brother was set upon by outlaws. They would have killed him, or at least withheld him against a ransom, but for the bravery of his unknown Gypsy ally. The royal duke was grateful, and so in turn was the king. Wild John the Heron became John Heron of Roehurst and the lands round Elvwick. He had seven sons, five of whom died tragic deaths or mysteriously disappeared. The eldest in due time succeeded his father; the youngest travelled into Derbyshire in the train of a great lord. In those days the most ancient, the proudest, but even then the most impoverished of the old families of that region, was the house of Ravenshawe. Its head was Sir AlurŽd Ravenshawe, a man so haughty that it was said he thought the king his inferior. Gilbert Heron was able to do him a great service; and ultimately, through his influence, the young man succeeded to the name and titles of a beggared and outlawed knight, Sir Vane Fanshawe. Nevertheless, there could have been no question of the marriage of the young Sir Gilbert Fanshawe (for the name of Heron was to be relinquished) with the lady Frida, though the young people had fallen in love with each other at their first meeting; and, ultimately, it was permitted at all, and then reluctantly, only because of two further happenings. The first of these was the undertaking of the great lord with whom the young man was (a near kinsman and friend of Sir AlurŽd Ravenshawe), that the king would speedily make, Sir Gilbert Fanshawe of Roehurst in Hants and Eastrigg in the shire of Derby a baron. At that time there was no actual village of Eastrigg, but only a small hamlet called Fanshawe, or, as it was then given, The Fan Shawe. These lands belonged to Ravenshawe, and he gave them to his daughter as a wedding gift, on the condition that the king made her betrothed to a noble, and that he became known as Baron Fanshawe of Fanshawe.
"All this was duly done, and yet there seems to have been deception in the matter of the Gypsy origin; for about the time of the birth of an heir to my lord of Fanshawe, Sir AlurŽd refused to hold any communication with his son-in-law, or even to see his daughter. A Ravenshawe, he declared, could have nothing in common with a base-born alien.
"It was some years after this that strange rumours got about concerning not only Lord Fanshawe but also The Chase, as his castellated manor was called. A wild and barbaric folk sojourned in its neighbourhood, or in the adjacent forests. A contagion of suspicion, of a vague dread, of a genuine animosity, spread abroad. Then it was commonly averred that my lord was mad, for had he not been heard to proclaim himself the Christ, or at any rate to speak and act as though he were no other than at least the second Christ, of whose coming men dreamed?
One day Sir AlurŽd Ravenshawe appeared in the camp of the Egyptians, as the alien wandering folk were wont to be called. What he learned from the patriarch infuriated him to frenzy. 'Let the dog of the race of Kundry die the death he mocks,' he cried; 'and lo, herewith I give you my bond that no harm shall come to you or your people's goods, though you must sojourn here no more.'
"Then it was that the Egyptians waylaid their kinsman, the Lord Fanshawe of Fanshawe, and crowned and mocked him as the Gypsy Christ, and crucified him upon a great leafless tree in the forest now known as the Wood o' Wendray. Thereafter, for a long period, the place knew them no more. But in going they took secretly with them the infant Gabriel, only child of the House o' Fanshawe."
For a time after this Fanshawe ceased speaking. We both sat, our gaze intent upon the fire, listening to the growing savagery of the storm without. Then, without preamble, he resumed. He had a habit, when in the least degree wrought by impatience or excitement, of clasping and unclasping his hands; and his doing so now was the more noticeable because of the strange tapery look of the fingers coming from the rough, close mittens he wore.
"That Gabriel Fanshawe never saw England again, nor yet did his son Gabriel. The name was retained privily, though among his blood-kin in Austria or Hungary he was known simply as Gabriel Zengro, the kinname of the patriarch who had adopted him after the crucifixion of his father.
"Long before his grandson was a man well over forty years,--and it was not till then that the third Gabriel visited England to see if he could claim his heritage,--the lands of Eastrigg, the house and hamlet of Fanshawe, and Wester Dallaway, not only were exempted from all claim upon them by any one of the blood of Gilbert Fanshawe, the barony in whose name was cancelled, but had, in turn, passed from the hands of the old knight of Ravenshawe into those of the family of Francis, with whom they remained until the fall of the Jacobite dynasty, after which they were held by the Hewsons, until (sadly diminished) they came again into the ownership of a Fanshawe with my purchase of them.
"But though Gabriel Zengro the third found that he had lost his title and northern inheritance, he was able to recover possession of Roehurst. There he settled, married, and had two children--known only, of course, by his English surname. In the fiftieth year of his age he became markedly unpopular with his fellows. He was seen at times to frequent a rude and barbaric sect of vagrants, even to live with them; and the rumour spread that his foreign wife was really one of these very aliens. Then he was heard to say wild and outrageous things, such as might well hang a man in those times. The upshot was that one day he returned to his home no more. His body was found transfixed to a leafless tree in the forest beyond Grailph Moss."
"Beyond Roehurst, you mean? " I interrupted.
"No, I mean what I say. His crucified body was found in the forest beyond Grailph Moss, in that part of it called the Wood o' Wendray."
"That is," I interrupted again, "where the same frightful tragedy had been enacted in the instance of the victim's grandfather?"
"Even so. But though Gabriel Fanshawe had been lured or persuaded or kidnapped out of Hants, he was certainly alive after he crossed the Derwent, for a huntsman recognised him among his people one day, and spat on the ground to the north, south, east, anct west. The lord of Roehurst disappeared in this mysterious fashion; and none of his neighbours of the south learned aught of his doom, but only his wife knew, the tidings having been conveyed to her I know not how.
But from the record she put in writing, it is clear that with the message had come a summons, perhaps a menace; for, together with her two children, she betook herself to the greater safety of London. There the girl died, calling vainly, and uttering strange words in a tongue no one spake or understood. But the boy lived, and in course of years grew to manhood, and on the death of his mother went to reside upon his own lands. Nor was it till after his marriage, and the birth of a son, that he read the record his mother had caused to be writ, and so came into the knowledge that has been the awe and terror of those lineally descended from him.
But neither he nor his son came to any harm, save the common doom of all. Of his grandson wild things were said, but all that is known certainly is that he hanged himself upon the great oak in front of Roehurst. He, too, however, had left a Gabriel behind him as his successor, in due time a good knight and learned man, who brought up his only child worthily and steadfastly. Strange that the heir of two such loyal and excellent men should prove so featherbrained as to love the woods better than the streets, and the wild people of the woods better than courtiers and scholars! Stranger still that the old omens should recur, till, at last, Gervase Fanshawe, after an awful curse upon all of his blood, and terrifying blasphemies, openly set fire to his manor, and himself with his little daughter (though the young Gabriel escaped), was consumed in the flames.
"Thus, with tragic alternations, went the lives of my forbears, till, after many generations of English Fanshawes, the house of Roehurst came to an end with Jasper Fanshawe."
At that moment so savage an onslaught of wind and rain was made upon the house, so violent a quake of thunder shook the walls, that further speech was impossible for the time. But, save by his silence, my companion took no notice of the tumult. His eyes were very large and wild, and stared spell-bound upon the fire, as though they beheld there the tragic issues to the many memories or, thoughts which tyrannised his brain.
"I said that the family of Roehurst," he resumed, as soon as comparative quietude had followed that wild outburst, though the wind moaned and screamed round the gables and among the old chimneys, and the rain slashed against the window-pane in continuous assault, "I said that the family of Roehurst came to an end with Jasper Fanshawe.
This was at the close of the eighteenth century. Jasper was the last of his race, and, the rumour ran, one of the wildest. Almost on the eve of his wedding it transpired that when, in his youth, he had gone away with and lived among the Gypsy-people, he had, as most, if not all, of his progenitors, married a Romany girl. The union was not one that would be recognised by the English law; but the authentic news of it, and the confirmed rumour that Squire Fanshawe had a son and daughter living, brought about a duel between him and the brother of his betrothed. With rash folly this duel was fought in the woods, and witnessed by no one save the Gypsy 'messenger,' who kept the squire always in view."
"The Gypsy-messenger, Fanshawe?"
"Yes. That is the name sometimes used. The old word means the doom-watcher. The latter is the better designation, but I did not care to use it.
Well, my ancestor killed the man Charles Norton. The deed was the worse for the survivor, in that Norton was the favourite son of the most influential man in the countryside. In a word, the slaying was called murder, and Jasper Fanshawe was proclaimed. His sole chance lay with his blood-folk. The doom-watcher came into Winchester, and testified to what he had seen while hiding among the bracken in the forest; but his evidence was overborne, and, rightly or wrongly, he was himself clapped into prison on a charge of rick-burning.
"No trace could be found of the fugitive, nor of the 'Egyptians' with whom he made good his escape. The large encampment in Elvwick Wood had broken into sections, which had severally dispersed, and all had vanished almost as swiftly and effectually as the smoke of the camp-fires.
"Whatever I may surmise, I do not know for certain the manner of Jasper Fanshawe's death. His son, James, lived for the most part in Hungary; at other times in the remote lands between the Caspian and the Adriatic. He took in preference the old kin-name of Herne, which, indeed, his father had adopted after his flight from England.
"This James Herne lived to an old age, and became one of the 'elder brothers' of his particular tribal branch. His son Gabriel, however, left his kindred, and went to Vienna, where he studied medicine. There, while still relatively a young man, he gained an important post at Prague, and in a year or so became what would here be called a magistrate. He was noted for his severity in dealing with all vagrants, but especially in the instance of any Gypsy delinquent. At this time, as from his early Vienna days, he was known as Vansar, a Romany equivalent for Fanshawe. On three separate occasions his life was attempted, though each time the would-be assassin escaped. Gabriel Vansar was not the man to be intimidated; indeed, he became only the more stringent and tyrannical, so that soon there was not a gypsy encampment within a twenty-mile radius of Prague. In his thirty-sixth year he was offered a medical professorship in Vienna. In that city he met a Miss Winstane, a beautiful English girl, the sole child of Edward Winstane, a justice of the peace for South Hants, and squire of Roehurst Park and the greater part of the parish of Elvwick. Miss Winstane. loved her handsome wooer, and the marriage was duly solemnised. Though he spoke with a slight foreign accent, Mr. Vansar knew his paternal language thoroughly; for though 'James Herne' had ceased to be English in all else, he had been careful to teach his son his native tongue, and indeed always to speak it when alone with him.
"Neither Mr. Winstane nor Winifred Winstane ever knew that Gabriel Vansar was Gabriel Herne the Gypsy, or, in turn, that he was the grandson of that Jasper Fanshawe whose flight from Roehurst had been followed by the confiscation of his property, and its disposal to Edward Winstane the elder.
"As a matter of fact, Mr. Winstane died a few months after the marriage of his daughter. Gabriel Vansar now relinquished his post, and went to England to live the life of a country squire. There he had three children born to him: two sons and a daughter. Naomi was the youngest by several years, and at her coming her mother went. Of the two sons, Jasper was the elder, I the younger."
Although not taken wholly by surprise, I exclaimed, "You, Fanshawe?"--adding that indeed the chain of circumstances was remarkable.
"Yes. . . . Well, when my brother was twenty-one, and I nineteen, our father died. He had changed much since our mother's decease, and had become strangely depressed and even morose. There was adequate explanation of this in the sealed papers which he left to Jasper.
"But now I must diverge for a moment. I have something very strange to confide to you. . . . But first tell me: have you heard of Kundry?
"Of Kundry! " I repeated, bewildered.
"You love music, I know; and I thought you might have heard of Kundry."
"Ah, yes, I know now. You mean the woman in Parsifal?"
"Yes. At the same time, Wagner does not give the true legend. He did not even know that the name is a Gypsy one, and very ancient. I have heard that some people think it imaginary; others, that it is old-time Scandinavian. But our people, the Children of the Wind, are far more ancient than any one knows. We had earned that very name long before the coming of the Christ. We had, however, another name, which, were I to translate literally, would be something like I 'the Spawn of Sheitan': given us because we were godless, and without belief in any after-life, and were kingless and homeless, and, compared with other peoples, lawless. As we were then, so in a sense we are now: for though we do not deny God, we neither worship Him nor propitiate Him nor fear Him; nor have we any faith in a future, believing that with the death of the body that which is the man is dead also; and kingless we are, save for the common overlords, Time and Death; and homeless, except for the curtains of the forest and the dome of the sky, and the lamps of sun and moon; and, even as the wind is lawless and the sea, so also are we, who are more unstable than the one and more vagrant than the other.
Nearly nineteen hundred years ago a tribe of our race--'the first tribe,' it was called, because it claimed to be the original stock--was in the hill-country beyond Jerusalem.
"It was in the year of the greatest moment to the modern world: the year of the death of Jesus of Nazareth.
"I need not repeat even in the briefest way details which are universally familiar. It is enough to say that some of our people were on the Hill of Calvary on the Day of Anguish; that among them was a beautiful wanton called Kundry; and that as the Sufferer passed to His martyrdom, she laughed in bitter mockery. Turning upon her, and knowing the darkness of her unbelief and the evil of which she was the embodiment, the Christ stopped and looked at her.
"'Hail, O King!' she laughed mockingly. 'Vouchsafe to me, Thy Sister, a sign that Thou art indeed Lord over Fate; but Thou knowest Thou canst not do this thing, and goest to Thy death!'
"Then the Christ spake. 'Verily, thou shalt have a sign. To thee and thine I bequeath the signs of my Passion, to be a shame and horror among thy people, for evermore.'
Therewith He resumed His weary way. And Kundry laughed, and followed. Again, during the Agony on the Cross, she laughed, and again at the last bitter cry of the Son of God; but in the darkness that suddenly came upon the land she laughed no more.
"From that day the woman Kundry, whom some have held to be the sister of the Christ, was accurst. Even among her own people she went veiled. Two children she bore to the man who had taken her to his tent: children of one birth, a male child and a woman child.
"They were in their seventh year, when, in a wild Asian land, Kundry came out among her people and told them that she, the Sister of Christ, had come to deliver them this message, that out of the offspring of her wornb soon or late would arise one who would be their Redeemer, who would be the Gypsy Christ.
"When the young men and maidens of her people mocked, the elders reprimanded them, and asked Kundry to give some proof that she had not the sun-fever or the moon-madness, or other distemper of the mind. Whereupon the woman appalled them by showing upon her hands and feet the stigmata of the Crucifixion.
But, after the first wonder, and even awe, a great horror and anger arose among the kindred. Three days they gave her within which to take back that which she had said, and to confess the trickery of which she had been guilty, or at least to reveal the way in which she had mutilated herself and so healed the wounds. At sundown, on the third day, the strange and awful signs were still there; nor would the woman retract that which she had said. So they scourged her with thorny switches, and put a rough crown of them round her head, and led her to a place in the forest where there was a blasted tree. And as she went she stopped once, and looked to see whose mocking laugh made her last hour so bitter; and lo, it was the girl whom she had borne in her womb. Then they crucified her, and she gave up the ghost in the third hour before the dawn. But because that the children were so young, and bore no mark of the Curse, and were of the First Lineage, they were spared."
At this point my companion ceased. Leaning forward, he stared into the fire as one in a vision. A long silence prevailed. Outside, the wind wailed wearily, rising at times into a screaming violence. The heavy belching roar of the thunder crashed upon us ever and again, and even in the firelit room with its closed curtains the lighting glare smote the eyes.
Fanshawe apparently did not hear; perhaps he did not see. I watched him intently, the more curiously because of what he told me and what I inferred. At last a strange, a terrifying cry startled even his abstraction. He sprang to his feet, and looked wildly at the window.
"It was the wind," I said; "I heard it like that a little ago, though not so loudly, or with so weird a scream."
Fanshawe made no reply. After a prolonged stare at the curtained window, and a nervous twisting and untwisting of his fingers, he seated himself again. Then, almost as though he had not broken his narration, he resumed:
"The son and daughter of Kundry were spared by the enemies of the tribe as well as by their kindred, or rather they escaped the cruelty of the one as well as the fanaticism of the other; for the tribe was almost exterminated by the shores of the Euphrates, and only Michael and Olah, the son and daughter of Kundry, with a few fellow-fugitives, reached a section of their race temporarily settled some fifty miles to the north.
"There 'the laughing girl,' as Olah was called, partly in memory of her mother, partly because of her own laughter at her mother's death-faring, and partly because of the musical mockery wherewith she angered and delighted the tribesmen, brought unhappiness and ruin among 'the rulers.' There were three brothers of the ancient race, and each came to disaster and death through Olah. But through their death Michael came to be what you would call the Prince of the Children of the Wind. There was but one evil deed recorded against him--the murder of his sister. But--so the ancient chronicle goes--this act was not out of cowardice or malice; it was to remove the curse of the mother, not only from those of her blood, but from the race. The deed was done in the year when Michael's wife bore him their second child, a girl. Before Olah's death--and she died in the same way as her mother--she took the little Sampa in her arms, and breathed her life into it. On the day of the crucifixion the child turned in her sleep in her mother's arms, and laughed as child never laughed before.
"The story thereafter is a long one. It is all in the secret record of our people, though known to a few only. I could tell it all to you, with every name and every happening, but this would serve no purpose to-night.
"Suffice it, that link by link the chain is unbroken from Michael and Sampa, the children of Michael, brother of Olah, the son and daughter of Kundry who laughed at the Christ on Calvary, even unto the three offspring of Gabriel Fanshawe, who was called Vansar, and was of the tribe of the Heron."
Could it be, I wondered, as I looked intently at the speaker, that this man before me was the lineal descendant of that Kundry who had laughed at Christ; that he was the inheritor of the Curse; and that for him, perhaps, as for so many of his race, the ancestral doom was imminent? With an effort I conquered the superstitious awe which I realised had come upon me.
"Do you mean this thing," I said slowly--"do you mean that you, James Fanshawe, are the direct descendant of Kundry, and that the Curse lives, and that you or some one of your blood, whether of this or a later generation, must 'dree the weird' even as your forbears have done?"
"Even so: I am as I say; and the Curse lives; and no man can evade the doom that is nigh two thousand years old."
I waited a few minutes, pondering what best to say. Then I spoke:
"The story is a strange and terrible one, Fanshawe. But even if exactly as you have told it, surely there is no logical necessity why you or your brother or sister should inherit the Curse. There has, by your own admission, been frequent admixture of a foreign and Christian strain in your lineage. Your father was to all practical intents, no more a Gypsy than I am. He married an English girl, and lived the life of a country squire, and was nowise different from his kind except in his perhaps exaggerated bitterness against Gypsies, though, by the way, not so different in this respect either, for the country gentleman loveth not the vagrant. In a word, he himself, with all his knowledge of the past, would have laughed at your superstitious application of the legend."
Fanshawe turned upon me, his great luminous eyes aflame with the fire of despair. I could see that he was in passionate earnest.
"My sister might have laughed," he said in a voice so low as almost to be a whisper, but with significant emphasis: "my sister might have laughed, not my father."
"Why, Fanshawe," I exclaimed, startled, "you do not mean to say that your sister is --- is ---"
"A daughter of Kundry."
I received the remark in silence. I did not know what to think, much less what to say. My nerves, too, were affected by the electric air, the ever-recurrent surge and tumult of the thunderstorm; and I felt bewildered by what I heard, by what, despite its improbability, I knew that I believed. At last I asked him to resume, saying I knew he had not ended what he had set himself to tell me.
"No, I have not ended.
"From what I have told you, will have gathered that the Curse does not show itself in every generation, but in the third. I cannot say that the death record is unvarying, for I do not know; nor has it been possible to trace every particular of a remote ancestry. But here is a strange thing: that in all but three instances, so far as known, no son nor daughter of Kundry has ever had more than two children. From generation to generation that bitter laugh has never lapsed. From generation to generation it has brought about disaster and shame. Many, even as I have done, have dreamed that the Curse might be expiated or outlived; but it may well be that even as in every generation 'the laughing girl' who is of the race of Kundry mocks God, so in every third generation, till the Christ come again or the world be no more, there may be the tragedy of my ancestral woe.
"All this my father knew ere he died. He had meant to carry the secret to the grave, and by many precautions believed he had safeguarded his children from contact with the people he hated and dreaded, though he was of them himself.
"About the time when my father's morose and brooding manner was first noted, my brother Jasper had fallen ill. It was a mysterious trouble, and no doctor could name the malady. Once, only, I saw my father furious,--on the day when he learned that there was an encampment of Gypsies in Elvwick Woods, and that Jasper who was as impassioned in religion as Saint Francis himself, had been among the wandering people, striving to win them to the brotherhood of Christ. Our father did not know that I and my sister Naomi had already discovered the camp, and had been fascinated by the dark people and their way of life and the forest freedom, so that we could think of little else, and yearned to be in the greenwood, even as a bird to spread its wings beyond the bars of its cage.
"It must have been immediately after this that my father made the discovery which changed him from one man to another. Neither Naomi nor I knew aught of it--at the time, though we were aware that something dire had happened, something of awe, of dread.
"For when Jasper rose from his bed of sickness there were upon his feet and upon his hands the purple bruise and ruddy cicatrix of the great nails of the Crucifixion."
For a few moments Fanshawe paused, and drew a painful, laboured breath, as of a man in pain or a great weakness.
"After our father's death, Jasper shut himself up in his room, and would see no one. I used to creep along the passage at dusk, and listen to the wild incoherences of his prayers. We, Naomi and I, were very dismal, and it was with relief that, one evening, we fled into the forest and joined our friends, more mysterious and alluring than ever because of the terrifying things which had been said of them by him who was now dead.
"Our shortest way was by Elvwick churchyard. Perhaps but for this we would not have thought of looking at our father's grave again: for we did not mean to return to Roehurst. Hand in hand, however, we stole to the spot we had already ceased to regard with the first overwhelming awe.
"The shock was greater than even that of his death had been, for we saw that the grave had been rifled. The coffin was visible, but the lid had been forced open. There was no corpse within. Almost too dazed to be frightened, it was some time before I realised that the outrage must have been committed that very night; for the upturned earth had retained its fresh smell, an axe was lying near the grave, and there were imprints of feet in the damp soil.
"The idea flashed across my mind that our father had somehow come to life again, perhaps, I thought, he knew of our intended flight and had gone back to Roehurst to frustrate it,--and I could scarce move with terror. Naomi laughed, a strange mirthless laugh that made me turn as though to strike her. Then, shivering and sobbing, we crawled away. I think we were about to return home, when a tall figure arose, called us by our names, and invited us to come and see the merry 'Dance of the Wolves' around the campfire. I told the man--Mat Lee, I remember his name was --what had happened. To my surprise he did not appear shocked or frightened. He was silent for a little; then in a whisper he urged us to run with him at once, lest we should meet the dead man on his way back from the house to the grave.
"That is how my sister and I went to live among our unknown kindred. The very next day, at dawn, the camp was lifted; a week thence we were in Brittany. It was not till long afterwards I learned that it was the tribesmen who had desecrated my father's grave. 'He had been a renegade, and the enemy of his race,' they said, 'and it was only right that though he had lived in honour he should afterwards be flung back to earth as a dead dog is hurled among the bramble or gorse.'
"Once, only, I saw my brother again. I know that he did his best for us. He traced our flight, and kept in touch with us. A "commando" was sent to him, forbidding him to come near us, or even to go among his kindred anywhere. I was told I was free to go and come as I liked, and that I had money always at my command. Naomi, however, had to abide with the tribe. For three years I roamed throughout the lands east of Saxony and Bavaria, and as far south as Dalmatia and Roumania. I had been well educated, and was a student; and I learned much, though in my own desultory fashion.
"Then tidings reached me that Jasper had disappeared. It was said that he had been seen in the shore-woods of Lymington, on the Solent; and that he had been drowned, while bathing or boating. An upturned boat had been discovered, in which he had certainly been that forenoon, for he had come in it from Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight.
"I went to England, and in due time entered into possession of the family property. At first (and this was when we met in Surrey) I thought of settling there, for a time. At last, however, I decided to dispose of Roehurst, and realise everything that had come to me; and I had done this, and was about to leave for eastern Europe, when a letter reached me from Derbyshire. It was in my brother's handwriting.
"Bewildered, distraught, and angry, I read this strange and unlooked-for communication. The writer was alive, and begged me to come and save him from the enmity of the kindred with whom he had at the end cast in his lot.
"To narrate briefly what might well be told with lengthy and surprising detail, I reached Sheffield, and thence set out across the wild and remote country (to me at that time quite unknown, even by repute) which lies to the north of Dallaway Moor and Grailph Moss. At the verge of the great forest I was met by a Gypsy guide. Late that night we reached the camp. From an hour after my arrival till the last hour of the night I was alone with my brother. He told me all that I have told you, and much else beside; also where his own and our father's papers were to be found. Finally, he declared that the Curse died with himself. He had had this revealed to him in a vision; besides, other circumstances, with which I need not weary you, pointed to this end. He had sworn this to the tribesmen, and they had consented to forgo the manner of his death, if he would further renounce all claim to be the Gypsy Christ. The very name gave them a sense of horror and anger; his fervent words of exhortation had made them sullen, and at last resentful; and, over and above this, there was the vague race-legend that, whenever the Gypsy Christ should come, the days of the Children of the Wind would be numbered, and they would dwindle away like the leaves in October.
"An hour before dawn, three of the kindred entered the tent. They put a bandage about my eyes, and secured my arms. I heard them lift Jasper and put him upon a hurdle of larch-boughs. In the chill air we went silently forth. In about a quarter of an hour we came to a standstill upon a rising ground. I heard Jasper repeat in a husky voice that he was not worthy to be the Christ; that he was not the Christ; and that he prayed that with him might pass away forever the curse of Kundry.
"There was a brief silence after that; then a rustling sound in the air; then, after an interval, a thud, thud, thudding, followed by a splash.
"'No man ever comes back from the bowels of the lead-mine, O James of the tribe of the Heron, of the race of Kundry,' whispered a voice in my ear.
"When, an hour later, the bandage was taken from my eyes, I was on the moor just above the House o' Fanshawe. A boy was beside me, his face covered with a slouch hat. In a few words, in our ancient language, he told me that I was by the village of Eastrigg, and that twenty miles south of me lay Fothering Dale, whence I could easily go in any direction; anywhere, he added significantly, where the tongue can be silent and the memory dead.
"I made no inquiries about the matter I have told you. Fortunately I had informed no one of the letter I had received. This letter I burned. But I ran a great risk by returning a few days later to Eastrigg. The reason was this: I had learned, from the papers to which in brother had alluded, the whole story of our doomed race, the race of Kundry; and I decided to try one more desperate hazard against Fate, for I could not be sure that Jasper's death would remove the Curse. In a word, I decided to make my home in this place where my ancestor and brother suffered such cruel deaths, and to die here;--for I found in my papers an ancient prophecy, both in English and Romany, to the effect that when a woman of the race of Kundry would voluntarily sacrifice herself at the Hill of Calvary, or when a man of the race of Kundry would live and die at the place where one of his kindred had suffered for the Curse, the doom might be removed.
"Thus it was that I became possessor of this strange 'House o' Fanshawe.' But I had something to do before I settled here.
"When everything that had to be done was done, I went abroad to seek my kindred, and more particularly my sister Naomi. Perhaps you guess my object. I had more hope of success, from the circumstance that Naomi was of a passionately enthusiastic nature; and that, of late, she, had even dreamed of leaving her people (for one strain in her fought against the other) to enter a Sisterhood of Mercy.
But my people had gone, and the clues were already old and complicated. I went through Hungary, across Transylvania, hither and thither in Roumania, and from end to end in Dalmatia. Everywhere I was on their track, but the trail was confused. It was not till I had gained the Bavarian highlands that the conclusion was forced upon me I was being misled. This became a certainty after I had followed a sure trail through Suabia and so to the Lands of the Moselle. At TrŤves I was directed southward, and went blindly on a false track that led through southern France towards the Basque provinces; but at last, at a place in Provence called Aigues-Mortes, I met a life-brother (that is, one whose life had been saved when otherwise it would have been lost, and who has vowed his life-service to his saviour, whenever required), whom I put upon his oath. He told me that the Zengri, the Hernes, and two other tribes were not in southern Europe at all, but in England. I had hit upon the right trail between Heidelberg and the MŲsel, but, when almost upon my people at TrŤves, had been skilfully diverted. And the reason for this was the extraordinary ascendancy of my sister. My heart sank as I heard this tidings. I feared that the Curse had already shown itself; but my informant assured me I was wrong in this surmise. It was merely that Naomi had fascinated the tribes-folk, and, particularly since the death of the old Peter Zengro, had become practically a queen. Her word was law.
Of course I could not tell the exact reason why she wished to evade me. Possibly she feared I might resent her ascendancy, and try to usurp her; possibly she had some reason to fear that the always latent enmity against any of the race of Kundry would be directed against me. As likely as not, she had several schemes to fulfil, all or even one of which might be frustrated by my appearance on the scene.
"Nevertheless, I decided to travel straight to England, and, as soon as practicable, gain an interview with Naomi.
"For some weeks after I reached this country I was again purposely misled. Yet from one thing and another I became more and more anxious to meet Naomi soon. Strange rumours were abroad. At Ringwood in the New Forest, I overheard some words by the camp-fire (when I was supposed to be asleep) which made my heart shrink.
"Once again I lost all clue. Then it was that I remembered Nathan Lee,--an intimate friend of yours as well as of mine,-- who, because of his great love for his wife, had sworn never to leave the neighbourhood of Glory Woods, where she was buried. I travelled with all speed to Dorking. From Lee I learned what I wanted to know. By a strange fatality, Naomi had made her headquarters in the Wood o' Wendray, beyond Eastrigg. But was it a blind fatality? That was what troubled and perturbed me. Why had she, why had our particular tribe, settled at the accursed spot where Jasper Fanshawe had met his fate?
"It was at this time that I met you in Glory Woods. The next day I was back in the village of Elvwick, and had arranged with Robert Hoare, the late gardener at Roehurst, and his wife, to come and keep house and generally look after me at Eastrigg Manor.
"Almost every day after I was settled I rode over to the Wood o' Wendray; but the ban was upon me, and I was warned not to approach thecamp. Thrice I set the ban at defiance, and strode into the camp, but on no occasion saw any sign of Naomi. This was the more strange, as, on the third time, I arrived at sunset, 'the hour of the smoke,' when the gypsies meet round the fire to talk and smoke and break their long day-fast. It was after this third visit I was formally warned that my next defiance of the ban would be my last. I knew this to be no idle threat. Thereafter I had to be more cautious--I no longer rode across the moor; but, either in the morning twilight or in the late afternoon, wandered here and there across the uplands: sometimes by the deserted lead-mines, sometimes by the Green Pool, sometimes even within the outskirts of the Wood o' Wendray.
"I met you in Glory Woods in the spring, and now it is autumn. It was exactly midway in this time that I learned a dreadful thing.
"One day a message came to me, in Naomi's writing, to be at the Green Pool beyond Dallaway mine at dawn on the morrow.
"I was there, of course. The morning was raw and misty. Even at the margin of the Pool I could not see the further side. Suddenly, however, I heard whispered voices and the trampling of feet. I called, and was at once answered. I was bidden not to stir from where I was. The voice was that of Naomi, but with a note in it I had never heard before.
"'Is that you, James Fanshawe, of the tribe of the Heron, of the race of Kundry?'
"'It is I, Naomi, daughter of Gabriel. It is I, your blood-brother.'
"'Then know this thing. She whom you wedded secretly, Sanpriella Zengro, is dead.'
"I gave a cry of pain. . . . I have not told you that, during my last year with my people, I loved Sanpriella, the daughter of Alexander Zengro, the brother of Peter Zengro, of the First Tribe. But Alexander Zengro feared and hated any of the race of Kundry; so we loved secretly. This was one reason why I was so eager to find my people again; for Naomi was not, as you may have supposed, my one quest. I knew that Sanpriella was with child, and I longed to make her my wife before all men.
"'Is it so?' I cried in a shaking voice, because of my sore pain; 'is it so, upon the oath of the crossed sticks and the hidden way?'
"'I say it. May tree fall on me, and water gain upon me, and the falling star light on me, if I speak not truth. Sanpriella is dead. She lies in the wood of Heiligenberg, beyond the Neckar. And now listen to the doom, thou son of Kundry.'
"My heart leapt at these ominous words, doubly ominous and strange coming from one of my own blood.
"'Unto Sanpriella were born twin children, a boy and a girl. The girl lives, though you shall never see her. She is in a far land from here, and the lines of her life are already known. The boy . . . the boy is . . . dead.
"'But know this thing, James, my bloodbrother. The doom of Kundry was upon him. His mother hid the thing, but after her death the Curse was visible. Upon his hands were the bruised wounds of the nails of the Crucifixion.'
"With a shuddering cry I sank to my knees. Wildly I prayed, implored Naomi to say it was not true; that it was hearsay; that some natural cause had been mistaken for this horrible mystery.
"'Therefore,' she resumed unmoved, 'the ban is upon you also. Take heed lest a worse thing befall you. It will be well if you leave this place where you live, and for ever. Be a wanderer upon the face of the earth; it will be for you safer so: but avoid the trail of the Children of the Wind as you would the pestilence. And now--farewell!'
"'My child lives--my daughter lives!' I cried despairingly.
"There was a long silence. I called again and again, but met with no response. Thick as the mist was, I raced round the Pool like a greyhound. There was no one near. I ran out upon the moor, but there I was like a derelict boat in wide ocean in a dense fog. I could see nothing, hear nothing. All that day the mist hung impermeable; all that day I abode where I was."
Once more a long silence fell upon Fanshawe. Outside, the shrieking of the wind was appalling. The rain slashed against the house as though all the sluices of the thunderstorm were concentrated there. The thunder was no longer overhead, but a raucous blast distinct from the blind, furious gale--moved to and fro like a beast of prey. I was overcome by the strange and terrible tale I had listened to. Then and there, to that wild accompaniment, it all seemed deadly true, and as inevitable as Destiny.
With an abrupt gesture, Fanshawe suddenly resumed:--
"On the eve of that day I walked swiftly across the moor. The sun was almost on the horizon as I reached the eastern edge of Grailph Moss. Suddenly, I stopped as one changed into stone. Black against the sunset-light I saw a tall figure stand; with head thrown back, and arms wide outstretched from the sides. Was it a vision of the Christ? That was the thought which came to me. Then the figure disappeared, absorbed in the mist over Grailph Moss. I turned and went home. It was Naomi I had seen.
"The next evening I was in the same place, at the same hour.
"Again I saw Naomi, in that sunflame Crucifixion. Once more she disappeared, and across the Moss. I knew of no encampment there, but unquestionably she had moved swiftly westward.
"On the third afternoon I was there again, earlier. This time I had with me my white bloodhound. We crouched in good hiding till Naomi passed. I made Grailph sniff her track. When the sun set, she disappeared as before. I held Grailph in leash, and followed swiftly. In less than an hour I came upon her.----She was standing in a waste place, near the centre of a broken circle of tall slabs. These were the Druidic Stones, known almost to none save the most daring explorers of the Moss, for they are in a region beset with quagmires.
"She was speaking, with outstretched arms, as if in prayer. There was no one visible. She was, I saw, in a trance, or ecstacy.
"When, suddenly, she descried me, she leapt like a deer on to a narrow dry path beyond the stones. She would certainly have evaded me but for Grailph. The hound slid beyond like running water in a rapid. In less than a minute he had headed her off.
"When I came up with her, I expected either furious denunciation, or at least a summary command that I should return straightway. She did no more than look at me intently, however. She had already forgotten what had lain between us. She was possessed.
"'Naomi,' I said simply.
"'I am Naomi, blessed among women.'
"I stared, perplexed.
"'Why do you follow me here to spy me out? Beware lest God strike thee for thy blasphemy.'
"'My blasphemy, Naomi?'
"'Even so. I come here to meet the spirit of God.'
"'Tell me, my sister, is this true what I have heard: that you are with child?'
"Her eyes flamed upon me. But her voice was cold and quiet as she replied,--
"'It is true. The Lord hath wrought upon me a miracle. I have immaculately conceived, and the child I shall bear will be the Gypsy Christ,--the long dreamed-of, the long waited-for second Christ.'
"'This is madness. Come with me; come home with me, Naomi.'
"'The green earth is my home; and the wind is my brother, and the dust my sister.'
"Then in a moment her whole look and mien changed. The flame that was in her eyes seemed to come from her very body. Her voice now was loud, raucous, imperious. The hound whined, and sidled to my feet.
"'I am the Sister of Jesus, I am no other than Kundry, deathless in my woe until these last days. I am the Mother of the Christ that is to be. And you, you son of my mother's womb, you are ordained to be my prophet! Go forth even now: go unto our people in the woods: declare, declare, declare, to them, to all, that the Gypsy Christ cometh at last!'
"I was shocked, terrified even. But after a throbbing silence I spoke, and firmly:
"'This is madness, Naomi. Already the Curse is heavy enough upon us. Do you not know that our brother Jasper was done to death yonder because of this doom of ours; that because of this awful malison on the race of Kundry . . . that . . . my little son. . . .
"'I know all,-- what has been, what is, what shall be. Once more I ask you: will you be the prophet of the Gypsy Christ?'
"'No, never, so help me God!'
"'This is the fourth day of this Week of the Miracle. To-morrow thou hast; and the day after; and yet again, another day. Repent while there is yet time. But if thou dost not repent, thine end shall be as that of thy dog. An awful sign shall be with thee this very night; yet another shall be with thee on the morrow; and on the third thou shalt receive the message of the Cross. Then thou shalt waver no more, for whom all wavering is for ever past. And now, begone!'
"Broken in spirit, I turned. When, a hundred yards thence, I looked back, there was no trace of Naomi anywhere.
"That night I had the first sign."
Here Fanshawe ceased for a moment, and wiped the cold sweat from his forehead with a hand tremulous as a reed. His voice had sunk into a dull monotony, to me dreadful.
"On the day following, I had the second sign. Drops of blood oozed from the red figure of the Christ that you have seen in my room. Then you came. To-day I have had the message of the Cross. You saw it yourself: a green cross on the portal of the house.
Then at last my terror overmastered me. Also, I yet hoped to prevail with Naomi. Thus it was that when I left you abruptly this afternoon I rode across the moor to the Wood o' Wendray. I reached the camp, but only the ashes of dead fires were there. Yet I know my people wait, and Naomi has my life in the hollow of her hand."
But here I broke in eagerly.
"Come, Fanshawe, come with me at once, the first thing to-morrow. You must not be here another day. It is madness for you to remain. Why, in another week you would persuade yourself that you too had inherited this so-called curse!"
"Look!" he shouted, springing to his feet, tearing the coverings from his hands, and holding forth the palms to me, rigid, testifying, appalling: "Look! Look! Look!"
And, as I live, I saw upon the hands the livid stigmata of the Passion!
With a cry, I repelled him. A great horror seized me. But the next moment a greater pity vanquished my weakness. He had already fallen. I took him in my arms, and laid him back on his chair.
James Fanshawe was dead.
For some minutes I stared, paralysed, upon the still face that had just been so wrought with a consuming frenzy. A deep awe came upon me. I crossed the room, threw back the window, and looked out. Grailph the hound was not there. Nor could he have been lurking near, for at that moment I saw a man glide swiftly across the yard, and disappear into the gloom.
The rain was over, the thunder rumbled far across the moors; the wind, too, had veered, and I heard it crying like a lost thing in the deep ravine of the Gap.
I stayed quietly beside my friend, keeping vigil till the dawn. While it was still dark, I went again to the window, and looked out. On the moor I could hear two larks singing at a great altitude. Doubtless they had soared to meet the dawnlight.
I thought of Naomi, whose madness would surely bring upon her, and that soon, the awful ancestral doom. Yet of this I knew I should hear nothing. The Children of the Wind have a saying: The dog barks by day, and the fox by night; but the Gypsy never lets any one know whence he comes, where he is, or whither he goes.
Sometimes the horror of it all makes me long to look upon it as an evil dream. Has the dreadful Curse at last worked itself out? With a sudden terror, I remember at times that James Fanshawe had two children born to him. What of the girl? Did she, too, laugh when her kindred led Naomi to her doom? Even now doth she move swift and sure towards that day when she shall go quick with child; when she or the child or the child's child shall arise and say, Behold the Gypsy Christ has come at last!
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