The pig is said to have been imported into the colony by the renowned Captain Cook.
The pig has some distinguishing qualities of the successful colonist; so the race prospered and multiplied.
Among other good points, the pig possesses to an eminent degree the thoroughly human attribute of adapting himself to circumstances. He is greedy as to quantity, but not fastidious as to quality; nor is he troubled with any scruples as to questions of the rightful ownership of property. Moreover, he belongs to a rapidly procreative family, that lives up to the good old rule of "increase and multiply" with an indifference to consequences which would do credit to a highly civilised and Christian community.
The exercise of these natural good qualities, improved and developed as they have been by centuries of domestication, gave the genus pig such an advantage in the struggle for existence that in a few short years he overran the whole country, drove off all the page 164other occupants, and settled down into peaceable possession of his new home, until unfortunately he came into collision with his former friend and sup-porter, man.
Then, not even his utilitarian virtues could save him. A similitude of tastes, the common characteristics of gregariousness, omnivorousness, and insatiableness, far from tending to the establishment of friendly relations between the two parties, excited inveterate hostilities, and brought destruction to the porcine race.
With the native Maori the colonised pig managed to maintain a precarious existence. The savage, indeed, partook freely of pork, whenever and wherever obtainable, but he did not kill for the sake of killing, and the wonderful fecundity of those individuals that escaped roasting made up for many losses. But with the white man there was no such luck. The conflict of interests admitted of no toleration. Pig was voted a nuisance; his invasion of the colony was ruled an illegal trespass; even his good qualities, as in the case of the Chinese, were denounced as the most execrable of vices.
From a hundred platforms, irrespective of party politics, went forth the cry of his condemnation; he was indicted as an enemy of the commonwealth, sen-page 165tence of outlawry was passed upon him, and a price was set upon his tail. Henceforth a war of extermination was waged. The indiscriminate slaughter of wild pigs became not only a praiseworthy pastime, but a profitable business, and predatory bands of pig-stickers ravaged the remotest regions, inundating the fair land of pig's adoption with his blood, and sparing neither age nor sex in the work of destruction.
Indeed, it used to be said that even the unborn pig, if sufficiently far advanced to be possessed of a tail, often went to swell the sanguinary gains of the destroyer.
It was not a noble sport, though, nor was it conducted in a sportsmanlike manner. Except in rare instances, this wild tame pig did not die game. There was but little of the excitement and danger of the Indian chase, where intrepid horsemen, with long lances in the air, go madly careering across rough country, and through dark jungles, at the imminent risk of breaking their necks.
Still less did this pig-sticking resemble the grand wild boar-hunt of yore, such as we read about, and see represented in celebrated pictures by the Old Masters. There we have portrayed bands of brave huntsmen, all dressed up for the occasion, armed with horns and blunderbusses, spears with heads as big as page 166a shovel, and daggers in their belts; all drawn up in battle array to receive the charge of some enormous boar, all bristles and tusks, carrying at least four huge mastiffs on his head, while a few more are holding on to his hind quarters and the remainder of the pack are strewn along the course, or represented making somersaults in the air.
Such impressive and thrilling scenes are but rarely to be met with in new countries. Pig-sticking in the early days of the colony was of a much milder description. The hunter there sallied forth in his ordinary costume—which was always dirty, often deficient, and never picturesque—with a couple of collies, a bull-dog, and a butcher's knife.
The sheepdogs scented the game, and would keep it at bay until the bulldog was able to effect a seizure of the animal by the ear. The hunter would then draw nigh, and having laid hold of one of the pig's hind legs, he would stick the animal under the fifth (or any other) rib, and afterwards possess himself of its tail. That concluded the business. The whole process was simplicity itself, and when all went well it might be got through in a few minutes. There were occasions, however, when something would go wrong and diversify the operation. The curs might turn tail, or the bulldog, instead of effecting a grip page 167might only get a rip, and the pig, reversing the order of things, might suddenly make for the hunter's legs; and then it was that the real excitement of the chase came in.
Morning had scarcely dawned before Raleigh and his friends were up and about, eager for the day's sport. Breakfast of mutton chops, damper, and black tea, was partaken of in the usual manner, and then the party made ready to start. Jack and Jim, who both placed implicit reliance on the holding capabilities of Cæsar, were simply armed with long knives for close quarters, but Raleigh would be satisfied with nothing short of a spear; and for want of anything better, this weapon had to be manufactured out of a rusty old shearblade tied on to a long pole. Thus equipped, he felt equal to any conflict with the brute creation, and he loudly expressed the hope that he might encounter a foe worthy of his steel.
Such a harvest of pigs' tails had been reaped in the neighbourhood of The Glen that the sporting party had to travel a considerable distance before they came in sight of any game, although the ground showed ample traces of porcine occupancy, for it was much burrowed, and bushes of speargrass were rooted up in all directions. At last a quarry was unearthed, and all the pack of dogs started off in hot pursuit, page 168the hunters following as fast as their legs could carry them. Such a chase, and such a row of barking and squeaking, and all for a puny animal which, barring its tail, was not worth the trouble of despatching.
The poor little pig held its own against overwhelming odds, mostly by the vigour of its lungs, for its squeals were deafening, until the arrival of Cæsar, when it was at once pinned and slaughtered.
Refreshed by the sight of first blood, the party proceeded in excellent spirits, and hoped for greater achievements.
They had not gone far before they were startled by the unexpected appearance of the foe in the shape of a grand old boar, so pertinaciously engaged in rooting up tussocks that he did not notice the approach of the hunters until they were close upon him.
When disturbed from the peaceable enjoyment of his breakfast, his boarship did not seem to relish the interruption, nor did he exhibit the slightest intention of seeking for safety in flight, but squatted down on his hams and contemplated the intruders with a vicious twinkle in his little cold grey eves and a nasty snapping of the jaws. An ugly-looking customer he appeared, with a prodigious snout and protruding tusks, that showed in marked relief against his dusky, hairy, and bloated countenance. He was page 169evidently a patriarch of the herd, a personage of some importance in his own way—portly, testy, and choleric, given to self-indulgence and impatient of undue familiarities, slow to action, but inclined to be violent when roused.
Raleigh, who had rushed to the front at the first alarm, brought himself to a halt at about duelling distance from the enemy, in order to reconnoitre; he was thus enabled to obtain an excellent view of the beast, and to form some idea of its disposition and capabilities.
The pack of sheepdogs soon ceased their uproarious barking, and slunk about, evidently anxious to know what the next move was to be; they only indulged in occasional yelps just to indicate their whereabouts, and to give notice that they were eager for action when the proper time came.
Sailor Jack and his mate kept slightly to the rear, as a corps de réserve, so necessary in all hostile encounters, yet ready to follow up the first forward movement. Jim Pipe had drawn his shining weapon, and was just bending forward to stroke the blade against his leather gaiters, and put a polishing touch to its keen edge. Jack stretched forth his arm with a commanding gesture, to give the signal of attack, and wave his trusty bulldog on the enemy.page 170
At this supreme moment all eyes were turned to Cæsar. It was evidently Cæsar's opportunity. He was, and had ever been considered, the attacking force. The skirmishing party could only harass, and the heavy infantry could only venture on an assault after an attachment had been effected. Everyone therefore waited on Cæsar; to their inexpressible disgust Cæsar kept them waiting!
The dog bounded forward, indeed, at the word of command, but he did not reach his destination. That sinister twinkle of the boar's eye seemed to fascinate him and to arrest his progress; he slowed visibly, then stopped short; began to beat about, watching for an opportunity but finding none, and at last he took to barking furiously.
Confusion and disgrace! At such an inconceivable breakdown; at conduct so unbecoming a bull-dog; so irretrievably currish, Sailor Jack was seized with fury and despair.
He spurned from him the unworthy minion which hitherto had been his boasted pride, and hurled upon the crestfallen brute all the thunder of an enraged bushman's vocabulary, emphasised with the choicest sea oaths most suitable for the occasion.
Yet through all the gamut of vituperation, through the rolling accompaniment of awful blasphemy, there page 171sounded a plaintive expression of reproach and disappointment, that seemed to say, if in less elegant language—
"Nevermore be officer of mine."
Cæsar had ratted, and Jack felt humbled in what touched his heart most keenly—his bulldog.
All through this stormy scene the boar looked complacently on.
Raleigh began to realise that he occupied a very exposed position, and was too isolated from the main body of the force, so he effected a retreat for strategic purposes. He had confronted his formidable antagonist bravely, he had withstood the evil glitter of its eye without flinching, but he was a scientific man, learned in dynamical lore, and quite au fait concerning the laws of motion, collisions, and resistances. He knew that the momentum of a heavy body, like that of the boar, bearing down upon him full tilt, and without the brake-power of the bulldog, might not only upset his centre of gravity, but even cause a sudden revulsion about his centre of oscillation. He had no wish that the potential energy lying dormant in the grunting body before him, should be violently transformed into kinetic force, and applied to his—the philosopher's—person.page 172
These, and other considerations equally pointed, and referring specially to the animal's tusks, determined the philosopher to develop a retrogade motion.
It was humiliating, no doubt, for an intellectual being to have to retire before such a degraded emblem of brute force. That man, whose stupendous mind can encompass the globe, reach to the stars, and unmask the awful secrets of the creation, should collapse before a pig!
Raleigh smarted under a sense of the indignity; he apprehended fully his immeasurable superiority to the grovelling beast, and his proud spirit rebelled against the action of his legs in beating a retreat. But in dealing with wild boars, neither sentiment nor the pride of intellect availeth much. In a close contest of tusks versus poetry, the latter might be expected to come off second best. Raleigh apprehended this also, so he continued his retreat; but haughtily, and with his face to the enemy. Thus the philosopher was permitted by the eternal fitness of things to return to his meditations on the infinite, and the pig to go on rooting up the grass. And it was best that it should be so.
This little episode had a depressing effect on the sportive tendencies of the party. Jack got a fit of the sulks, only broken by outbursts of vituperation page 173against Cæsar, who had "fallen from his high estate," and had taken a back place. Jim Pipe considered that they had travelled quite far enough, and he put it all down to the weather; while Raleigh, who was no sportsman at heart, expressed an opinion that there was very little in pig-sticking at the best, whereas, taken at the worst, it might prove decidedly disagreeable.
They had not proceeded many minutes on the return journey before the pack of sheepdogs bolted off with another deafening uproar; the hunters, roused from their apathy, hastened to follow in pursuit, and after a long run they came in sight of a splendid pig, which turned out to be one of the fattest and sleekest of sows. She had turned upon the sheepdogs and scattered them in all directions, when Cæsar made his appearance and at once tackled her by the ear.
The sow had sought refuge in a thicket of brushwood, which was traversed in all directions by numerous cattle-tracks. Owing to the denseness of the scrub there was no opening for any flank movement, so the party had to attack in file, and Raleigh led the assault, while Jack brought up the rear. The pig was discovered battling furiously with Cæsar, who, though tossed about and trampled upon, yet held on unflinchingly. At last with a desperate fling she page 174shook him off, leaving a portion of one ear in his unrelaxing jaws, and with a savage grunt made for the advancing column.
There was no time for defensive tactics; there was no getting out of the way.
Raleigh in his boyhood had been to a Continental school, where to his many mental exercises had been added some bodily ones. He had gone through a course of military drill; he understood how to handle his weapon, to ground, to shoulder, or to present arms at the word of command. Instinctively he assumed the guard needed for the occasion, dropped on one knee, lowered his spear, and with regulated precision prepared "to receive cavalry." A maddened onslaught, a terrific shock, a loud grunt, a whirl of dust, a confused commingling of rolling bodies and quivering limbs, and then the sow was seen to resume her headlong course with a deep slit in her snout and minus an ear, and the philosopher was picked up by his companions bruised and blackened, and faintly inquiring, "Where am I?"
Sailor Jack was formed too much on the heroic type to linger long over the fallen. He immediately hove in pursuit, while the sheepdogs barked and worried, and Cæsar made for the pig's other ear. The distracted animal soon lost her wind, and was page 175brought to bay. She squatted down on her tail, with her back to a tree, and boldly confronted the dogs as they dodged about her. Jack saw his opportunity. He tore up a dead sapling by the roots, and cautiously approaching from behind, brought his formidable club down on the sow's head with a crash that felled her to the ground. Then, brandishing his steel high in the air, he gave the coup de grâce in the most approved style.
When the other two came upon the scene of combat they found the victim already disembowelled and strung up by the hind-legs to the branch of a tree, and Jack busily engaged in the process of skinning.
Jim Pipe declared that a nicer piece of fat pork was not to be found in the country, and in view of the gallant part which Raleigh had taken in the chase, his bruises and broken spear, it was unanimously voted that he should have the first pick of the joints.
The philosopher, however, was not very partial to pork, still less was he favourable to the idea of carrying a load of it on his back, so he contented himself with a prime piece which Jack cut off from the loin. The others returned heavily laden with the spoil, and the dogs were regaled on the spot.
They now trudged merrily on together, proud of page 176the day's achievements, and with even a good word for Cæsar, who had somewhat retrieved his reputation in the last encounter, until they came to the river, where they parted company. Raleigh took an affectionate farewell of his genial mates, then struck the beaten track across the hills, and reached his destination by sundown.
His solitary home had been undisturbed during his absence; the dust lay thick on the rude articles of furniture, and the spiders had spun fresh cobwebs in the ragged corners of the thatched roof, yet a welcome sight met his eye, for the postman had called, and left a letter on the table.
He recognised the scrawl of his friend Doctor Valentine at the first glance, but he had to defer reading it until various household duties had been attended to. Water had to be fetched from the creek, a supply of firewood brought in, things put to rights, and supper prepared. Then, before the blaze of the crackling log fire, by the flickering light of a home-manufactured tallow-candle, and at intervals between the sips from a pannikin of hot tea, he broke the envelope and set to work deciphering his friend's lengthy epistle. No easy task, for it was written in a microscopically small hand, cramped and rambling, the lines running into one another, and all over the page 177page, so truly expressive of the ardent and impulsive but undisciplined character of its writer.
"The Port, Sept. 1.
"My dear Dick,
—I rejoined the Wyldes in town, and we went together to the Port to greet the arrival of the Sea Gull—my ship, you know—where I was welcomed like the prodigal son, hugged all round, installed in my old crib, and made drunk every night. I found it impossible to resist the urgent appeals to remain a few days on board and continue the treatment. Coming back to the ship about 8.30 on Sunday night, after dining with the Wyldes at the Port, we had a little adventure. Lea, Black, and four midshipmen were in the boat, and myself.
"We sailed with a fair wind to within twenty yards of the ship, when the wind suddenly shifted, blowing on shore and very hard.
"The sea got up, and we could only manage to keep the boat's head to the water. After pulling till every one was fagged out we discovered that it was absolutely impossible to head the boat for the ship, we being by this time getting blown farther from the ship to leeward. We then determined to try for the Beatrice, and wait there till the gale moderated; fortunately some of their hands were on deck as we page 178hailed them, so we quickly made a rope fast and clambered on deck. The skipper, Captain White made us very jolly, and introduced Lea and myself to Mrs. White. I sat with this remarkable woman for three hours, and I was filled with wonder and amazement the whole time. She is marvellous; she is one of God's awful prodigies, which I hope are only to be seen at sea. She is a man in everything but sex, and when you are not accustomed to her voice you would hardly make cock-sure of that. She wears a double-breasted flat stomacher which ascends in a gentle broad slope from her knees to her chin. This is covered by a dress which has no 'gathers' at the waist, but which is like a dressing-gown, body and skirt in one. Her face is full of determination, sallow, and often licked by a dog, which licking is called 'kissing.' She talks of herself as 'one of the hands,' takes the helm when they are putting 'ship about,' doctors the crew, is Dutch uncle and mother combined to her apprentices on board, and has a house of her own in Sydney. Now, I confess that you will probably never see this wonder of the deep, and that you may not unreasonably say, 'D——Mrs. White! what do you fill up your letter with Mrs. White for?' But remember, if I did not write about Mrs. White I could not write at all. I could give you an interest-page 179ing account of how many chests of tea and bags of sugar we send away daily, but that would be worse than Mrs. White. I could tell you how many brandy-and-sodas I have taken nightly, but that would be worse than the tea and sugar.
We have a B. F. here of the name of M'Filly—or something like that—a tidewaiter and a Scotchman. To this unfortunate man's great disgust I always address him in Scotch, fearing if I spoke English he would not understand me.
"He is a very quiet-spoken person, is an amateur actor, and is of the firm opinion that this dull Port is a nice place. Need I describe him any further?
"I taught this minion of an inquisitive and tyrannical government, this hireling creature of a corrupt bureaucracy, the little game of Vingt-et-un, which, in assumed innocence, he pretended never to have heard of. He profited by my kindly instruction so well that he won 30s. from me the first time, £3 the next, and so on, while he has cleaned poor Lea of all his spare cash. The wretch complacently told me afterwards that he never loses at cards.
"I have no revenge but in making him drink nobbler for nobbler with me, with very different results next morning. M'Filly has a weak head for liquor, but like all his tribe he has great perseverance, page 180and will in time be able to get drunk without any remorseful afterthought whatever. To-day he is on deck, where he is a greater nuisance than below, but that does not stop the ship unloading.
"There! I expect another outburst from you: 'D—— M'Filly! what do I care to know about your canny sneak of an exciseman?' Once more, my dear boy, you must take me with M'Filly or not at all.
"What, by the living Jingo, am I to write to you about? Dost expect me to launch forth into abstruse metaphysical disquisitions; to soar with thee into ethereal regions of transcendentalism; to moan with thee over the horrible jumble in the elements of our miserable lives; or to hug thee in gushing sympathy with thy many ills and cankering sorrows? Unhappy wretch! thou hast all my heart. Driven by the unceasing whirl of excitement in our 'metropolis,' or the maddening gaiety of Mr. and Mrs. Dale's social circle at Marino, to seek refuge with the wood-hen and the paradise duck in the close places of nature; associating against thy will, but compelled by the irresistible unrest within thee to hold communion with disconsolate sheep-walkers like thyself, the loafing tramp, or the jabbering savage and his womanny!
"What a fate is thine! And this is not all thy doom! To the weariness of thy mind of all the page 181artificiality of society is still added another, and if possible, a greater curse. The great avenger Time has given thee the almost fatal gift of knowledge. Thou knowest! Abandon hope for ever hence; abandon faith in man! Cleave thou to the savagery of Nature. Out! Timon, Timon!
"Read no further in this letter, for thou hast discovered the dread secret of our human race—
'All men are impecunious.'
"Friendship can say no more; I dare contemplate thy wretched state no longer. 'Words, mere words,' will add but torture to thy already poisoned mind.
"Lastly, and to conclude, my dear child, I have only to tell thee that negotiations with my drunken practitioner at Mount Pleasance are happily concluded. The driveller actually wanted me to 'buy him out,' and had the effrontery to put a price on what he was pleased to call his practice; as if my purchasing his ramshackle of a shanty, and a shed full of empty bottles (mostly gin ones)—which he dignifies by the name of a dispensary—at his own figure, is not good enough. Suffering so keenly as I do from the universal complaint above mentioned, I shall have some difficulty in effecting even that outlay; but the bargain is struck, and I am to enter in possession page 182next month. And then may I open my arms to thee, and gather thee like a chick under my wings. Fail me not, for remember, thou hast sworn it! Ever thine,
After reading the letter through a couple of times, then spelling it backwards, and gazing vacantly at it, in a brown study, for half-an-hour, Raleigh rose and paced up and down the room, muttering and gesticulating to himself. He then dragged forth from under a rafter in the thatch a packet of writing material, and while "the spirit moved him," he set to work and concocted the following reply:—
"The Mountain Hut, September 6.
"My dear Val,
—On my return here, after an absence of two days, weary in spirit, stiff in the legs, and much shaken from an encounter with an infuriated pig, I was gladdened by the sight of your letter, which came like a harbinger of light, a ray of hope, to cheer me in my solitary gloom—and so on. You understand? I have not your command of language, so I will simply remark that for the moment I am aroused from my apathy and feel 'as jolly as a sand-boy,' whatever that means.page 183
"Chéri de mon âme! your letters have a charm that is possessed by none other I know of; their perusal affords a prolonged enjoyment; they furnish an intellectual nectar that cannot be gulped down at one drain, but must be partaken of in little sips, or imbibed slowly, after the manner of lemon-squash, through a straw. There is a protracted interest about your handwriting, owing to the fact that it is almost illegible. I know that most medical men cultivate this peculiarity, but I thought it was restricted to the writing of their prescriptions, to prevent the vulgar prying into the secrets of the faculty; but with you there is no such limitation. Yet I have mastered it! I have deciphered the hieroglyphics, and amply have I been repaid for my trouble. Dear Val, in all earnestness, never write to me otherwise. Let me realise at the sight of one of your welcome letters that I have before me an arduous task, for it is a labour of love.
"I was much interested in the account of your adventure, and would willingly have learnt more about Mrs. White. It is a real pity that she did not consult you professionally while she had you in hand; that might have afforded opportunities for closer research and a diagnosis of so curious a phenomenon. From your description I can imagine page 184the awful aspect which this Old Woman of the Sea would assume if arrayed in a night-gown!
"Truly, one must go to sea to meet with such an 'odd fish.' Here, 'up country,' I never come across anything interesting, much less funny. The rowdy element is not acceptable to me, and the female element is altogether absent. Occasionally one does come across 'a perfect cure,' but he is rarely amusing unless he is in drink.
"I have been spending a couple of days with my next door neighbour, who lives six miles off, and is remarkable on account of his combativeness and the shortness of his legs. He is a runaway sailor, who has taken to shepherding and to dog-fancying, and the two don't work harmoniously together.
"He has a mate—a youngster that has shot up like a gum tree, and has just had un amour—his first, by all accounts, and probably to be his last, for he has gone and done it, and is about to be married.
"These people don't know what to make of me; but they are very kind, and we have had some good fooling together, ending up with a pig hunt of a novel sort.
"You make fun of my misanthropy, my lonely haunts, my savage instincts. I admit that it is highly ridiculous. When I consider myself, and page 185the sorry figure I cut, I burst out laughing. I cannot say that I enjoy the laugh, though! It is too personal to be really pleasant. It is comical, but grimly so, with something of the merriment of despair about it. Risible, like the grin of a human skull, that tickles with a shudder.
"Oh! I am weary of this lone existence—so weary. And yet I feel as if I was bound to it by a resistless spell that overpowers my will and controls my being. In vain have I battled against this increasing torpitude, and striven to overcome my brooding fits of despondency by exertion, both mental and bodily. I have made frantic attempts to break my neck in scaling inaccessible peaks, but in vain. I have sought refuge in the classics, and have plodded through whole books of Homer in the original, only to realise with disgust that I had much rather have read it all in Pope's translation.
"I have fled to mathematics, and plunged into all the intricacies of a bi-quadratic equation, only to consign X by all the powers to the devil.
"I have thought to drown my sorrows in the flowing bowl, or as we call it here, to go 'on the spree.' I have found it an utter failure.
"In fact, as a rule, the more spirits I imbibe the more out of spirits I become.page 186
"I long for the time when I shall be able to break for ever from these dreary solitudes—when I shall know sheep no more except as mutton. Why have I endured this wretched, unnatural life so long? I cannot tell. It is a mystery. This wilderness has exercised a weird fascination over me. When I leave it I shall not be without a feeling of mal du pays.
"And yet it is no soft, endearing charm that binds me to these desolate regions, but rather a dread that haunts me and excites in me strange misgivings. Even now an indefinable sensation oppresses me; it emanates from the great mountains, from the yawning caverns, from the waving forests and rippling streams, and claims me as their own, with a vague presentiment that I shall never leave them. Childish fears—unreasoning forebodings! Why do they trouble me? In one month, one short month, shall I not be free?
"Your letter, dear Val, has cheered me with the prospect of brighter days, of friendship and congenial companionship. What jolly times we may have in that little crib of yours, what a war of squibs and puns, what interminable discussions over innumerable cigars, volleys of sarcasm and scathing rejoinders. A grand set-to between the realist and the idealist, the positive philosopher and the spiritual dreamer, page 187ending in a merry truce and a general liquoring up. The common enemy, impecuniosity, we will deride and defy. I fancy that the overshadowing fear of that hateful bugbear is worse than its actual presence. Tens of thousands grow grey and suffer agonies in the dread of poverty from which they have never suffered, and which they are never doomed to feel.
"Our wants will be few; our resources for enjoyment are innate and inexpensive; we have no encumbrances, nothing to fear. The best plan to meet financial troubles is to laugh at them, and sing in chorus—
'We trusted unto Providence,
And sae will we yet.'
"I must find some means of passing my time during the short period which I have still to spend here. I must commune with something, so I have hit upon the idea of keeping a diary. Not a very original one either, but new to me. Keeping a diary is the one thing I have always denounced, derided, anathematised. I have looked upon it as a silly pastime for sentimental young ladies, croaking valetudinarians, and industrious bores.
"And yet I am resolved upon it. A diary I mean to keep. What sort of an effusion it is likely to be page 188I leave you to judge from the preface, which I will transcribe for your edification. I composed it the other night, under the inspiration of a bottle of rum.
"Here goes! I mean to keep a journal;
A book with little or no plan,
A serio-comical diurnal—
That is, sir, if I can.
Whatever I may chance to scribble,
The style shall sense with wit unite;
The matter's quite inexhaustible,
Almost, I mean, not quite!
Of early pranks and youthful frolic,
I may (or not) write the story;
Or, as I think they call that topic,
My life has had its share of sorrow,
And I have had my troubles too,
And thinking on them makes them more so—
I've nothing else to do.
And now I'm in a wretched country,
A worse you scarcely could behold;
'Twould be an earthly purgatory,
If 'twere not so damned cold.
But halt! I'm getting somewhat queasy;page 189
I'll leave complaining for to-night;
Besides, these verses don't run easy,
Although I rhyme it right.
Then here's to what may bring you solace!
(Rum-punch) however deep your woe;
And here's an end to this ere preface,
Or rhyming apropos.
"You beat that for garrulous, idiotic doggerel, if can, and believe me,—Your devoted
When Raleigh had finished his lengthy epistle he perceived that it was a very late hour in the night. His fire had long since gone out, and the frosty air had struck a chill through him. His limbs felt stiff, and his feet were quite benumbed. The candle had burnt itself down to the socket, and the room was plunged in gloomy obscurity. Outside, the wind had risen, and swept in fitful gusts over the mountainous waste, rustling hoarsely in the tree tops and moaning dismally through the deep gullies.
Raleigh stepped to the door and looked out upon the darksome scene. The sky was heavily overcast, and a black pall seemed to encompass him about, but at the horizon some faint streaks of silvery light gave indication of the rising moon. He shrunk back from the repellant outlook, and sought refuge between his blankets, where after a time, to the noisy concert of the tempest, he dozed off into a restless slumber.page 190
The storm increased in violence; the gale rattled through the thatch of the roof and made the rafters creak; it flapped the window-blind furiously, and whistled under the doors and through the crevices in the slab walls. At times it would subside into an ominous lull, then burst forth with redoubled vigour and a deafening roar.
One of these violent gusts aroused the sleeper. He jumped up with a scare and glared wildly around, for he felt as if the house rocked and the bed trembled from under him. But what is this that suddenly strikes his attention and rivets his startled gaze? There! there, in one of the dark corners of the cabin, a mysterious form appears!
It stands erect; it is clothed in white, and shines upon him, but dimly and indistinctly, like some magic reflection. The astonished spectator is rooted to his place, he strives in vain to collect his scattered senses; he heeds not the raging blast outside, he heeds not the cold draught that is beating upon him, but he sits bolt upright with his distended eyeballs fixed on the strange apparition.
It has vanished! Now it reappears! Soft and bright. He can distinguish the faint outline of a figure; he can perceive the radiance of its garb, and can trace the waving of its draperies. Its face he page 191cannot see, but his excited imagination pictures it in beautiful lineaments that are familiar to him. They smile upon him sweetly, as they often have before in ecstatic day-dreams and in the visitations of his wakeful nights.
Blest shade! Yet 'tis a vision. No! It is real. It is there before him, a thing of light and life. He can see it move. He now realises fully that he is wide awake, that he is possessed of all his faculties; and he is convinced that what he sees before him is no hallucination of a disordered brain.
With a strong impulse he jumps out of bed and staggers forward through the pitchy darkness towards the object in view. He gropes his way across the cold earthen floor; he stretches forth his arms, beating the air; he feels it, he seizes it!
With a hollow laugh he lets it go again, for it was nothing but a night garment hanging on a peg, and illumined by a ray of moonlight that shone through one of the open cracks in the log walls.
The philosopher had to grope his way back again to the blankets, shivering with cold, and dubious whether to be amused at the incident or to weep over it.
But the wind, it continued to howl most dismally.