« AnteriorContinuar »
where they lay, that their boilyas, or ghosts, might not harm the tribes. The lookers-on had gone to their several and distant caves to fetch fire for the ceremony; and Verva, unnoticed, had lingered beside Why-Why, and laid his bleeding head in her lap. WhyWhy had uttered a groan, and the brave girl dragged him from the field into a safe retreat among the woods not far from the stream. Why-Why had been principally beaten about the head, and his injuries, therefore, were slight. After watching the return of the tribesmen, and hearing the chief medicine-man explain that Why-Why's body had been carried away by the bad black-fellow with a tail who lives under the earth,' 2 Why-Why had the pleasure of seeing his kinsmen and his foes leave the place to its natural silence. Then he found words, and poured forth his heart to Verva. They must never be sundered-they must be man and wife! The girl leaned her golden head on Why-Why's dark shoulder, and sniffed at him, for kissing was an institution not yet evolved. She wept. She had a dreadful thing to tell him,-that she could never be his. Look at this mark,' she said, exposing the inner side of her arm. WhyWhy looked, shuddered, and turned pale. On Verva's arm he recognised, almost defaced, the same tattooed badge that wound its sinuous spirals across his own broad chest and round his manly legs. It was the mark of the Serpent!
Both were Serpents; both, unknown to Why-Why, though not to Verva, bore the same name, the same badge, and, if Why-Why had been a religious man, would have worshipped the same reptile. Marriage between them then was a thing accursed; man punished it by death. Why-Why bent his head and thought. He remembered all his youth-the murder of his sister for no crime; the killing of the serpent, and how no evil came of it; the eating of the oysters, and how the earth had not opened and swallowed him. His mind was made up. It was absolutely certain that his tribe and Verva's kin had never been within a thousand miles of each other. In a few impassioned words he explained to Verva his faith, his simple creed that a thing was not necessarily wrong because the medicine-men said so, and the tribe believed them. The girl's own character was all trustfulness, and Why-Why was the person she trusted. Oh, WhyWhy dear,' she said blushing (for she had never before ventured to break the tribal rule which forbade calling anyone by his name), ‘Oh, Why-Why, you are always right!'
And o'er the hills, and far away
Beyond their utmost purple rim,
Through all the world she followed him.
2 A prominent character in Australian mythology. Cf. Brough Smyth, ut supra.
LA MORT DE WHY-WHY.
Two years had passed like a dream in the pleasant valley which, in far later ages, the Romans called Vallis Aurea, and which we call Vallauris. Here, at a distance of some thirty miles from the cave and the tribe, dwelt in fancied concealment Why-Why and Verva. The clear stream was warbling at their feet, in the bright blue weather of spring; the scent of the may blossoms was poured abroad, and, lying in the hollow of Why-Why's shield, a pretty little baby with WhyWhy's dark eyes and Verva's golden locks was crowing to his mother. Why-Why sat beside her, and was busily making the first European pipkin with the clay which he had found near Vallauris. All was peace.
There was a low whizzing sound, something seemed to rush past Why-Why, and with a scream Verva fell on her face. A spear had pierced her breast. With a yell like that of a wounded lion, WhyWhy threw himself on the bleeding body of his bride. For many moments he heard no sound but her long, loud and unconscious breathing. He did not mark the yells of his tribesmen or feel the spears that rained down on himself, or see the hideous face of the chief medicineman peering at his own. Verva ceased to breathe. There was a convulsion, and her limbs were still. Then Why-Why rose. In his right hand was his famous club, 'the watcher of the fords;' in his left his shield. These had never lain far from his hand since he fled with Verva. He knew that the end had come, as he had so often dreamt of it; he knew that he was trapped and taken by his offended tribesmen. His first blow shattered the head of the chief medicine-man. Then he flung himself, all bleeding from the spears, among the press of savages who started from every lentisk bush and tuft of tall flowering heath. They gave back when four of their chief braves had fallen, and Why-Why lacked strength and will to pursue them. He turned and drew Verva's body beneath the rocky wall, and then he faced his enemies. He threw down shield and club and raised his hands. A light seemed to shine about his face, and his first word had a strange tone that caught the ear and chilled the heart of all who heard him.
'Listen,' he said, 'for these are the last words of Why-Why. He came like the water, and like the wind he goes, he knew not whence, and he knows not whither. He does not curse you, for you are that which you are. But the day will come' (and here Why-Why's voice grew louder and his eyes burned), 'the day will come when you will no longer be the slave of things, like that dead dog,' and here he pointed to the shapeless face of the slain medicine-man. The day will come, when a man shall speak unto his sister in loving kindness, and none shall do him wrong. The day will come when a woman shall unpunished see the face and name the name of her husband. As the summers go by you will not bow down to the hyenas, and
the bears, and worship the adder and the viper. You will not cut and bruise the bodies of your young men, or cruelly strike and seize away women in the darkness. Yes, and the time will be when a man may love a woman of the same name as himself' but here the outraged religion of the tribesmen could endure no longer to listen to these wild and blasphemous words. A shower of spears flew out, and Why-Why fell across the body of Verva. His own was like
a marsh full of reeds,' said the poet of the tribe, in a song which described these events, so thick the spears stood in it.' The men who rushed on him as he fell heard some strange words pass from his unconscious lips, wild and whirling words which the tribe cherished as the last accents of a prophet-ground game,'' burial of dissenters,' 'deceased wife's sister,' 'permissive small-pox,' 'down with landlords,' are said, by an old Ligurian tradition, to have been the last unintelligible murmurs of the first Radical.
When he was dead, the tribe knew what they had lost in WhyWhy. They bore his body, with that of Verva, to the cave; there they laid the lovers-Why-Why, crowned with a crown of sea-shells, and with a piece of a rare magical substance at his side. Then the tribesmen withdrew from that now holy ground, and built them houses, and forswore the follies of the medicine-men, as Why-Why had prophesied. Many thousands of years later the cave was opened when the railway to Genoa was constructed, and the bones of WhyWhy, with the crown, and the fragment of iron, were found where they had been laid by his repentant kinsmen. He had bravely asserted the rights of the individual conscience against the dictates of Society; he had lived, and loved, and died, not in vain. Last April I plucked a rose from a tree beside his cave, and laid it with another that had blossomed at the door of the last house which sheltered the homeless head of SHELLEY.
The prophecies of Why-Why have been partially fulfilled. Brothers, if they happen to be on speaking terms, may certainly speak to their sisters, though we are still, alas, forbidden to marry the sisters of our deceased wives. Wives may see their husbands, though in Society, they rarely avail themselves of the privilege. Young ladies are still forbidden to call young men at large by their Christian names; but this tribal law, and survival of the classificatory system, is rapidly losing its force. Burials in the savage manner to which Why-Why objected, will soon, doubtless, be permitted in the graveyards of the Church of England. The teeth of boys are still knocked out at public and private schools, but the ceremony is neither formal nor universal. Our advance in liberty is due to an army of forgotten Radical martyrs of whom we know less than we do of Mr. Bradlaugh. A. LANG.
OUR years ago there died one of the most representative of Scotchmen, and one of the most prominent men in Scotland, one whose writings had given more constant interest to politics and more vivacity to conversation for thirty years than those of any other man. His name was as familiar to everyone in the obscurest cranny of the country as was his figure in Princes Street of Edinburgh. As he walked along to and from his office, big and burly, with his genial rubicund face full of clever expression, his tilted inquisitive nose, like an incarnate note of interrogation, his bright eyes peering through his spectacles, and his hat a little back on his enormous head, as if to see the better below as well as through his glasses, passers-by would whisper, "That's Russel of "The Scotsman,"' and then they would look back curiously to see his broad-not too gainly-shoulders disappear amongst the afternoon crowd, like a three-decker amidst a fleet of sloops. A journalist's fame is slowly won, and quickly lost; his writings appear without his name, so that his personality is hidden; the subjects on which he writes are ephemeral, so that his papers which to-day are, to-morrow are cast into the oven. Soon, therefore, his reputation, however great, passes away, and even a generation will soon arise in Scotland that knew not Russel. And yet, fleeting as his fame may be, for thirty years Russel was able to put the mark of his genius on the newspaper he edited, and by that paper to influence greatly the whole political and public affairs of Scotland, to represent lay opinion in ecclesiastical and economical questions, and common-sense in every social movement.
Dead now only four years, it is already difficult to get details of the past life, and instances of the long-famed humour of this journalist who was so powerful, of this nature that was so charming; this writer with many foes, this man of many friends. These friends tell-and are never tired of telling-of the quickness of his conversational wit, the endless jokes and overflowing jollity, the stories that convulsed them in those old days and nights at dinner or supper parties, at social gatherings or sporting expeditions, or at The Nest, that scene of many a convivial saturnalia of the Edinburgh Angling Club, with its concourse wild of jocund din.' But alas! when you say to these appreciative friends, Come, do tell us something about him,' they are silent. The charm is left on them, the impression of social delightfulness remains, and that is nearly all.
Alexander Russel was born in Edinburgh on December 10, 1814. His father, who was a solicitor, died when his son was young, leaving his family to the care of a mother who had much originality and great shrewdness of character. After a school life which was marked
by his usual independence, relieved by keen sports and varied erratic reading, he entered a printing establishment, where he acquired that mechanical aptitude which served him well in his first connection with the press. Early in boyhood he became acquainted with Mr. John Johnstone, then editor of the Inverness Courier,' and found true and kindly friends in him and his able wife, who edited Tait's Magazine,' and who is best known as author of the novel Clan Albyn,' and as chief contributor to Edinburgh Tales,' which, if not read now, are still readable. Through them Alick,' as they called him, was introduced into literature, and by writing for "Tait's Magazine' he got practice for his pen, initiation into staunch Liberal politics, and acquaintance with literary characters of Edinburgh. Amongst these friends was Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, whose coarse humours afforded him much amusement and supplied him with many stories. Russel was working hard for his living, and all the harder because he enjoyed work, and liked to be independent of others, as he liked to be independent in his views. There was as much earnest as jest in his reply to a friend who asked him once, What is your coat of arms? 'My shirt sleeves,' he answered. Whig principles he espoused with all his heart, and defended with all his strength; and he used to tell how, when the news of the defeat of the Reform Bill in 1831 reached Edinburgh, full of excitement and wild indignation he rushed off from town, wandering about the Pentlands till darkness fell, trying to cool his youthful wrath in the bracing breezes of the hills.
Adopting journalism as a profession, he was appointed editor of the Berwick Advertiser' in 1839. His remuneration was not enormous-70l. per annum, paid in weekly instalments. For this,' wrote the proprietor, I will expect you to devote a portion of each day, less or more, to the reading of newspapers, selecting and abridging from them Parliamentary reports and other news. New publications and the literary periodicals must have your notice. And you will also have to write political articles and a summary of news such as we have hitherto had. On the occurrence of an election or any great meeting I will require your aid in reporting. And, lastly, the attacks of our political adversary will be expected to produce your retort.' The last clause is decidedly good. And in such euphemistic and highly dignified terms the new editor was appointed to maintain Whig principles, and crush his political rival with the well-known urbanity of a provincial print. Local newspapers must indulge in personal amenities, else how can inhabitants exist in these country towns, where the streets are usually so dull and deserted that on a market-day you wonder where on earth the people have come from, just as you wonder at the buzzing noisy reappearance of flies on the window panes, on a sunny winter's day, from behind the genial retirement of the shutters. But the prescribed editorial work did not take up all his time; nights when fun was fast and furious alternated with evenings full of steady quiet reading, and it was during his stay in