The Lady of the Shroud (Chapter 2, page 1 of 1)


Previous Page
Next Page

Chapter 2

Letter from Rupert Sent Leger, Castle of Vissarion, the Spear of
Ivan, Land of the Blue Mountains, to Miss Janet MacKelpie, Croom
Castle, Ross-shire, N.B.

January 23, 1907.

MY DEAREST AUNT JANET,

As you see, I am here at last. Having got my formal duty done, as
you made me promise--my letters reporting arrival to Sir Colin and
Mr. Trent are lying sealed in front of me ready to post (for nothing
shall go before yours)--I am free to speak to you.

This is a most lovely place, and I hope you will like it. I am quite
sure you will. We passed it in the steamer coming from Trieste to
Durazzo. I knew the locality from the chart, and it was pointed out
to me by one of the officers with whom I had become quite friendly,
and who kindly showed me interesting places whenever we got within
sight of shore. The Spear of Ivan, on which the Castle stands, is a
headland running well out into the sea. It is quite a peculiar
place--a sort of headland on a headland, jutting out into a deep,
wide bay, so that, though it is a promontory, it is as far away from
the traffic of coast life as anything you can conceive. The main
promontory is the end of a range of mountains, and looms up vast,
towering over everything, a mass of sapphire blue. I can well
understand how the country came to be called the "Land of the Blue
Mountains," for it is all mountains, and they are all blue! The
coast-line is magnificent--what is called "iron-bound"--being all
rocky; sometimes great frowning precipices; sometimes jutting spurs
of rock; again little rocky islets, now and again clad with trees and
verdure, at other places stark and bare. Elsewhere are little rocky
bays and indentations--always rock, and often with long, interesting
caves. Some of the shores of the bays are sandy, or else ridges of
beautiful pebbles, where the waves make endless murmur.

But of all the places I have seen--in this land or any other--the
most absolutely beautiful is Vissarion. It stands at the ultimate
point of the promontory--I mean the little, or, rather, lesser
promontory--that continues on the spur of the mountain range. For
the lesser promontory or extension of the mountain is in reality
vast; the lowest bit of cliff along the sea-front is not less than a
couple of hundred feet high. That point of rock is really very
peculiar. I think Dame Nature must, in the early days of her
housekeeping--or, rather, house-building--have intended to give her
little child, man, a rudimentary lesson in self-protection. It is
just a natural bastion such as a titanic Vauban might have designed
in primeval times. So far as the Castle is concerned, it is alone
visible from the sea. Any enemy approaching could see only that
frowning wall of black rock, of vast height and perpendicular
steepness. Even the old fortifications which crown it are not built,
but cut in the solid rock. A long narrow creek of very deep water,
walled in by high, steep cliffs, runs in behind the Castle, bending
north and west, making safe and secret anchorage. Into the creek
falls over a precipice a mountain-stream, which never fails in volume
of water. On the western shore of that creek is the Castle, a huge
pile of buildings of every style of architecture, from the Twelfth
century to where such things seemed to stop in this dear old-world
land--about the time of Queen Elizabeth. So it is pretty
picturesque. I can tell you. When we got the first glimpse of the
place from the steamer the officer, with whom I was on the bridge,
pointed towards it and said:

"That is where we saw the dead woman floating in a coffin." That was
rather interesting, so I asked him all about it. He took from his
pocket-book a cutting from an Italian paper, which he handed to me.
As I can read and speak Italian fairly well, it was all right; but as
you, my dear Aunt Janet, are not skilled in languages, and as I doubt
if there is any assistance of the kind to be had at Croom, I do not
send it. But as I have heard that the item has been produced in the
last number of The Journal of Occultism, you will be easily able to
get it. As he handed me the cutting he said: "I am Destilia!" His
story was so strange that I asked him a good many questions about it.
He answered me quite frankly on every point, but always adhering
stoutly to the main point--namely, that it was no phantom or mirage,
no dream or imperfect vision in a fog. "We were four in all who saw
it," he said--"three from the bridge and the Englishman,
Caulfield--from the bows--whose account exactly agreed with what we
saw. Captain Mirolani and Falamano and I were all awake and in good
trim. We looked with our night-glasses, which are more than usually
powerful. You know, we need good glasses for the east shore of the
Adriatic and for among the islands to the south. There was a full
moon and a brilliant light. Of course we were a little way off, for
though the Spear of Ivan is in deep water, one has to be careful of
currents, for it is in just such places that the dangerous currents
run." The agent of Lloyd's told me only a few weeks ago that it was
only after a prolonged investigation of the tidal and sea currents
that the house decided to except from ordinary sea risks losses due
to a too close course by the Spear of Ivan. When I tried to get a
little more definite account of the coffin-boat and the dead lady
that is given in The Journal of Occultism he simply shrugged his
shoulders. "Signor, it is all," he said. "That Englishman wrote
everything after endless questioning."

So you see, my dear, that our new home is not without superstitious
interests of its own. It is rather a nice idea, is it not, to have a
dead woman cruising round our promontory in a coffin? I doubt if
even at Croom you can beat that. "Makes the place kind of homey," as
an American would say. When you come, Aunt Janet, you will not feel
lonesome, at any rate, and it will save us the trouble of importing
some of your Highland ghosts to make you feel at home in the new
land. I don't know, but we might ask the stiff to come to tea with
us. Of course, it would be a late tea. Somewhere between midnight
and cock-crow would be about the etiquette of the thing, I fancy!

But I must tell you all the realities of the Castle and around it.
So I will write again within a day or two, and try to let you know
enough to prepare you for coming here. Till then adieu, my dear.

Your loving
RUPERT.

From Rupert Sent Leger, Vissarion, to Janet MacKelpie, Croom.

January 25, 1907.

I hope I did not frighten you, dear Aunt Janet, by the yarn of the
lady in the coffin. But I know you are not afraid; you have told me
too many weird stories for me to dread that. Besides, you have
Second Sight--latent, at all events. However, there won't be any
more ghosts, or about ghosts, in this letter. I want to tell you all
about our new home. I am so glad you are coming out so soon; I am
beginning to feel so lonesome--I walk about sometimes aimlessly, and
find my thoughts drifting in such an odd way. If I didn't know
better, I might begin to think I was in love! There is no one here
to be in love with; so make your mind easy, Aunt Janet. Not that you
would be unhappy, I know, dear, if I did fall in love. I suppose I
must marry some day. It is a duty now, I know, when there is such an
estate as Uncle Roger has left me. And I know this: I shall never
marry any woman unless I love her. And I am right sure that if I do
love her you will love her, too, Aunt Janet! Won't you, dear? It
wouldn't be half a delight if you didn't. It won't if you don't.
There, now!

But before I begin to describe Vissarion I shall throw a sop to you
as a chatelaine; that may give you patience to read the rest. The
Castle needs a lot of things to make it comfortable--as you would
consider it. In fact, it is absolutely destitute of everything of a
domestic nature. Uncle Roger had it vetted on the defence side, and
so far it could stand a siege. But it couldn't cook a dinner or go
through a spring-cleaning! As you know, I am not much up in domestic
matters, and so I cannot give you details; but you may take it that
it wants everything. I don't mean furniture, or silver, or even
gold-plate, or works of art, for it is full of the most magnificent
old things that you can imagine. I think Uncle Roger must have been
a collector, and gathered a lot of good things in all sorts of
places, stored them for years, and then sent them here. But as to
glass, china, delft, all sorts of crockery, linen, household
appliances and machinery, cooking utensils--except of the
simplest--there are none. I don't think Uncle Roger could have lived
here more than on a temporary picnic. So far as I only am concerned,
I am all right; a gridiron and a saucepan are all I want--and I can
use them myself. But, dear Aunt Janet, I don't want you to pig it.
I would like you to have everything you can imagine, and all of the
very best. Cost doesn't count now for us, thanks to Uncle Roger; and
so I want you to order all. I know you, dear--being a woman--won't
object to shopping. But it will have to be wholesale. This is an
enormous place, and will swallow up all you can buy--like a
quicksand. Do as you like about choosing, but get all the help you
can. Don't be afraid of getting too much. You can't, or of being
idle when you are here. I assure you that when you come there will
be so much to do and so many things to think of that you will want to
get away from it all. And, besides, Aunt Janet, I hope you won't be
too long. Indeed, I don't wish to be selfish, but your boy is
lonely, and wants you. And when you get here you will be an EMPRESS.
I don't altogether like doing so, lest I should offend a
millionairess like you; but it may facilitate matters, and the way's
of commerce are strict, though devious. So I send you a cheque for
1,000 pounds for the little things: and a letter to the bank to
honour your own cheques for any amount I have got.

I think, by the way, I should, if I were you, take or send out a few
servants--not too many at first, only just enough to attend on our
two selves. You can arrange to send for any more you may want later.
Engage them, and arrange for their being paid--when they are in our
service we must treat them well--and then they can be at our call as
you find that we want them. I think you should secure, say, fifty or
a hundred--'tis an awfu' big place, Aunt Janet! And in the same way
will you secure--and, of course, arrange for pay similarly--a hundred
men, exclusive of any servants you think it well to have. I should
like the General, if he can give the time, to choose or pass them. I
want clansmen that I can depend on, if need be. We are going to live
in a country which is at present strange to us, and it is well to
look things in the face. I know Sir Colin will only have men who are
a credit to Scotland and to Ross and to Croom--men who will impress
the Blue Mountaineers. I know they will take them to their
hearts--certainly if any of them are bachelors the girls will!
Forgive me! But if we are to settle here, our followers will
probably want to settle also. Moreover, the Blue Mountaineers may
want followers also! And will want them to settle, too, and have
successors!

Now for the description of the place. Well, I simply can't just now.
It is all so wonderful and so beautiful. The Castle--I have written
so much already about other things that I really must keep the Castle
for another letter! Love to Sir Colin if he is at Croom. And oh,
dear Aunt Janet, how I wish that my dear mother was coming out! It
all seems so dark and empty without her. How she would have enjoyed
it! How proud she would have been! And, my dear, if she could be
with us again, how grateful she would have been to you for all you
have done for her boy! As I am, believe me, most truly and sincerely
and affectionately grateful.

Your loving
RUPERT.

Rupert Sent Leger, Vissarion, to Janet MacKelpie, Croom.

January 26, 1907.

MY DEAR AUNT JANET,

Please read this as if it was a part of the letter I wrote yesterday.

The Castle itself is so vast that I really can't describe it in
detail. So I am waiting till you come; and then you and I will go
over it together and learn all that we can about it. We shall take
Rooke with us, and, as he is supposed to know every part of it, from
the keep to the torture-chamber, we can spend a few days over it. Of
course, I have been over most of it, since I came--that, is, I went
at various times to see different portions--the battlements, the
bastions, the old guard-room, the hall, the chapel, the walls, the
roof. And I have been through some of the network of rock passages.
Uncle Roger must have spent a mint of money on it, so far as I can
see; and though I am not a soldier, I have been in so many places
fortified in different ways that I am not entirely ignorant of the
subject. He has restored it in such an up-to-date way that it is
practically impregnable to anything under big guns or a siege-train.
He has gone so far as to have certain outworks and the keep covered
with armoured plating of what looks like harveyized steel. You will
wonder when you see it. But as yet I really know only a few rooms,
and am familiar with only one--my own room. The drawing-room--not
the great hall, which is a vast place; the library--a magnificent
one, but in sad disorder--we must get a librarian some day to put it
in trim; and the drawing-room and boudoir and bedroom suite which I
have selected for you, are all fine. But my own room is what suits
me best, though I do not think you would care for it for yourself.
If you do, you shall have it. It was Uncle Roger's own room when he
stayed here; living in it for a few days served to give me more
insight to his character--or rather to his mind--than I could have
otherwise had. It is just the kind of place I like myself; so,
naturally, I understand the other chap who liked it too. It is a
fine big room, not quite within the Castle, but an outlying part of
it. It is not detached, or anything of that sort, but is a sort of
garden-room built on to it. There seems to have been always some
sort of place where it is, for the passages and openings inside seem
to accept or recognize it. It can be shut off if necessary--it would
be in case of attack--by a great slab of steel, just like the door of
a safe, which slides from inside the wall, and can be operated from
either inside or outside--if you know how. That is from my room or
from within the keep. The mechanism is a secret, and no one but
Rooke and I know it. The room opens out through a great French
window--the French window is modern, I take it, and was arranged by
or for Uncle Roger; I think there must have been always a large
opening there, for centuries at least--which opens on a wide terrace
or balcony of white marble, extending right and left. From this a
white marble stair lies straight in front of the window, and leads
down to the garden. The balcony and staircase are quite ancient--of
old Italian work, beautifully carved, and, of course, weather-worn
through centuries. There is just that little tinging of green here
and there which makes all outdoor marble so charming. It is hard to
believe at times that it is a part of a fortified castle, it is so
elegant and free and open. The first glance of it would make a
burglar's heart glad. He would say to himself: "Here is the sort of
crib I like when I'm on the job. You can just walk in and out as you
choose." But, Aunt Janet, old Roger was cuter than any burglar. He
had the place so guarded that the burglar would have been a baffled
burglar. There are two steel shields which can slide out from the
wall and lock into the other side right across the whole big window.
One is a grille of steel bands that open out into diamond-shaped
lozenges. Nothing bigger than a kitten could get through; and yet
you can see the garden and the mountains and the whole view--much the
same as you ladies can see through your veils. The other is a great
sheet of steel, which slides out in a similar way in different
grooves. It is not, of course, so heavy and strong as the safe-door
which covers the little opening in the main wall, but Rooke tells me
it is proof against the heaviest rifle-hall.

Having told you this, I must tell you, too, Aunt Janet, lest you
should be made anxious by the arriere-pensee of all these warlike
measures of defence, that I always sleep at night with one of these
iron screens across the window. Of course, when I am awake I leave
it open. As yet I have tried only, but not used, the grille; and I
don't think I shall ever use anything else, for it is a perfect
guard. If it should be tampered with from outside it would sound an
alarm at the head of the bed, and the pressing of a button would roll
out the solid steel screen in front of it. As a matter of fact, I
have been so used to the open that I don't feel comfortable shut in.
I only close windows against cold or rain. The weather here is
delightful--as yet, at all events--but they tell me that the rainy
season will be on us before very long.

I think you will like my den, aunty dear, though it will doubtless be
a worry to you to see it so untidy. But that can't be helped. I
must be untidy somewhere; and it is best in my own den!

Again I find my letter so long that I must cut it off now and go on
again to-night. So this must go as it stands. I shall not cause you
to wait to hear all I can tell you about our new home.

Your loving
RUPERT.

From Rupert Sent Leger, Vissarion, to Janet MacKelpie, Croom.

January 29, 1907.

MY DEAR AUNT JANET,

My den looks out, as I told you in my last letter, on the garden, or,
to speak more accurately, on one of the gardens, for there are
acres of them. This is the old one, which must be almost as old as
the Castle itself, for it was within the defences in the old days of
bows. The wall that surrounds the inner portion of it has long ago
been levelled, but sufficient remains at either end where it joined
the outer defences to show the long casemates for the bowmen to shoot
through and the raised stone gallery where they stood. It is just
the same kind of building as the stone-work of the sentry's walk on
the roof and of the great old guard-room under it.

But whatever the garden may have been, and no matter how it was
guarded, it is a most lovely place. There are whole sections of
garden here of various styles--Greek, Italian, French, German, Dutch,
British, Spanish, African, Moorish--all the older nationalities. I
am going to have a new one laid out for you--a Japanese garden. I
have sent to the great gardener of Japan, Minaro, to make the plans
for it, and to come over with workmen to carry it out. He is to
bring trees and shrubs and flowers and stone-work, and everything
that can be required; and you shall superintend the finishing, if not
the doing, of it yourself. We have such a fine head of water here,
and the climate is, they tell me, usually so lovely that we can do
anything in the gardening way. If it should ever turn out that the
climate does not suit, we shall put a great high glass roof over it,
and make a suitable climate.

This garden in front of my room is the old Italian garden. It must
have been done with extraordinary taste and care, for there is not a
bit of it which is not rarely beautiful. Sir Thomas Browne himself,
for all his Quincunx, would have been delighted with it, and have
found material for another "Garden of Cyrus." It is so big that
there are endless "episodes" of garden beauty I think all Italy must
have been ransacked in old times for garden stone-work of exceptional
beauty; and these treasures have been put together by some
master-hand. Even the formal borders of the walks are of old porous
stone, which takes the weather-staining so beautifully, and are
carved in endless variety. Now that the gardens have been so long
neglected or left in abeyance, the green staining has become perfect.
Though the stone-work is itself intact, it has all the picturesque
effect of the wear and ruin wrought by many centuries. I am having
it kept for you just as it is, except that I have had the weeds and
undergrowth cleared away so that its beauties might be visible.

But it is not merely the architect work of the garden that is so
beautiful, nor is the assembling there of the manifold wealth of
floral beauty--there is the beauty that Nature creates by the hand of
her servant, Time. You see, Aunt Janet, how the beautiful garden
inspires a danger-hardened old tramp like me to high-grade sentiments
of poetic fancy! Not only have limestone and sandstone, and even
marble, grown green in time, but even the shrubs planted and then
neglected have developed new kinds of beauty of their own. In some
far-distant time some master-gardener of the Vissarions has tried to
realize an idea--that of tiny plants that would grow just a little
higher than the flowers, so that the effect of an uneven floral
surface would be achieved without any hiding of anything in the
garden seen from anywhere. This is only my reading of what has been
from the effect of what is! In the long period of neglect the shrubs
have outlived the flowers. Nature has been doing her own work all
the time in enforcing the survival of the fittest. The shrubs have
grown and grown, and have overtopped flower and weed, according to
their inherent varieties of stature; to the effect that now you see
irregularly scattered through the garden quite a number--for it is a
big place--of vegetable products which from a landscape standpoint
have something of the general effect of statues without the cramping
feeling of detail. Whoever it was that laid out that part of the
garden or made the choice of items, must have taken pains to get
strange specimens, for all those taller shrubs are in special
colours, mostly yellow or white--white cypress, white holly, yellow
yew, grey-golden box, silver juniper, variegated maple, spiraea, and
numbers of dwarf shrubs whose names I don't know. I only know that
when the moon shines--and this, my dear Aunt Janet, is the very land
of moonlight itself!--they all look ghastly pale. The effect is
weird to the last degree, and I am sure that you will enjoy it. For
myself, as you know, uncanny things hold no fear. I suppose it is
that I have been up against so many different kinds of fears, or,
rather, of things which for most people have terrors of their own,
that I have come to have a contempt--not an active contempt, you
know, but a tolerative contempt--for the whole family of them. And
you, too, will enjoy yourself here famously, I know. You'll have to
collect all the stories of such matters in our new world and make a
new book of facts for the Psychical Research Society. It will be
nice to see your own name on a title-page, won't it, Aunt Janet?

From Rupert Sent Leger, Vissarion, to Janet MacKelpie, Croom.

January 30, 1907.

MY DEAR AUNT JANET,

I stopped writing last night--do you know why? Because I wanted to
write more! This sounds a paradox, but it is true. The fact is
that, as I go on telling you of this delightful place, I keep finding
out new beauties myself. Broadly speaking, it is all beautiful.
In the long view or the little view--as the telescope or the
microscope directs--it is all the same. Your eye can turn on nothing
that does not entrance you. I was yesterday roaming about the upper
part of time Castle, and came across some delightful nooks, which at
once I became fond of, and already like them as if I had known them
all my life. I felt at first a sense of greediness when I had
appropriated to myself several rooms in different places--I who have
never in my life had more than one room which I could call my
own--and that only for a time! But when I slept on it the feeling
changed, and its aspect is now not half bad. It is now under another
classification--under a much more important label--proprietorship.
If I were writing philosophy, I should here put in a cynical remark:

"Selfishness is an appanage of poverty. It might appear in the
stud-book as by 'Morals' out of 'Wants.'"

I have now three bedrooms arranged as my own particular dens. One of
the other two was also a choice of Uncle Roger's. It is at the top
of one of the towers to the extreme east, and from it I can catch the
first ray of light over the mountains. I slept in it last night, and
when I woke, as in my travelling I was accustomed to do, at dawn, I
saw from my bed through an open window--a small window, for it is in
a fortress tower--the whole great expanse to the east. Not far off,
and springing from the summit of a great ruin, where long ago a seed
had fallen, rose a great silver-birch, and the half-transparent,
drooping branches and hanging clusters of leaf broke the outline of
the grey hills beyond, for the hills were, for a wonder, grey instead
of blue. There was a mackerel sky, with the clouds dropping on the
mountain-tops till you could hardly say which was which. It was a
mackerel sky of a very bold and extraordinary kind--not a dish of
mackerel, but a world of mackerel! The mountains are certainly most
lovely. In this clear air they usually seem close at hand. It was
only this morning, with the faint glimpse of the dawn whilst the
night clouds were still unpierced by the sunlight, that I seemed to
realize their greatness. I have seen the same enlightening effect of
aerial perspective a few times before--in Colorado, in Upper India,
in Thibet, and in the uplands amongst the Andes.

There is certainly something in looking at things from above which
tends to raise one's own self-esteem. From the height, inequalities
simply disappear. This I have often felt on a big scale when
ballooning, or, better still, from an aeroplane. Even here from the
tower the outlook is somehow quite different from below. One
realizes the place and all around it, not in detail, but as a whole.
I shall certainly sleep up here occasionally, when you have come and
we have settled down to our life as it is to be. I shall live in my
own room downstairs, where I can have the intimacy of the garden.
But I shall appreciate it all the more from now and again losing the
sense of intimacy for a while, and surveying it without the sense of
one's own self-importance.

I hope you have started on that matter of the servants. For myself,
I don't care a button whether or not there are any servants at all;
but I know well that you won't come till you have made your
arrangements regarding them! Another thing, Aunt Janet. You must
not be killed with work here, and it is all so vast . . . Why can't
you get some sort of secretary who will write your letters and do all
that sort of thing for you? I know you won't have a man secretary;
but there are lots of women now who can write shorthand and
typewrite. You could doubtless get one in the clan--someone with a
desire to better herself. I know you would make her happy here. If
she is not too young, all the better; she will have learned to hold
her tongue and mind her own business, and not be too inquisitive.
That would be a nuisance when we are finding our way about in a new
country and trying to reconcile all sorts of opposites in a whole new
country with new people, whom at first we shan't understand, and who
certainly won't understand us; where every man carries a gun with as
little thought of it as he has of buttons! Good-bye for a while.

Your loving
RUPERT.

From Rupert Sent Leger, Vissarion, to Janet MacKelpie, Croom.

February 3, 1907.

I am back in my own room again. Already it seems to me that to get
here again is like coming home. I have been going about for the last
few days amongst the mountaineers and trying to make their
acquaintance. It is a tough job; and I can see that there will be
nothing but to stick to it. They are in reality the most primitive
people I ever met--the most fixed to their own ideas, which belong to
centuries back. I can understand now what people were like in
England--not in Queen Elizabeth's time, for that was civilized time,
but in the time of Coeur-de-Lion, or even earlier--and all the time
with the most absolute mastery of weapons of precision. Every man
carries a rifle--and knows how to use it, too. I do believe they
would rather go without their clothes than their guns if they had to
choose between them. They also carry a handjar, which used to be
their national weapon. It is a sort of heavy, straight cutlass, and
they are so expert with it as well as so strong that it is as facile
in the hands of a Blue Mountaineer as is a foil in the hands of a
Persian maitre d'armes. They are so proud and reserved that they
make one feel quite small, and an "outsider" as well. I can see
quite well that they rather resent my being here at all. It is not
personal, for when alone with me they are genial, almost brotherly;
but the moment a few of them get together they are like a sort of
jury, with me as the criminal before them. It is an odd situation,
and quite new to me. I am pretty well accustomed to all sorts of
people, from cannibals to Mahatmas, but I'm blessed if I ever struck
such a type as this--so proud, so haughty, so reserved, so distant,
so absolutely fearless, so honourable, so hospitable. Uncle Roger's
head was level when he chose them out as a people to live amongst.
Do you know, Aunt Janet, I can't help feeling that they are very much
like your own Highlanders--only more so. I'm sure of one thing: that
in the end we shall get on capitally together. But it will be a slow
job, and will need a lot of patience. I have a feeling in my bones
that when they know me better they will be very loyal and very true;
and I am not a hair's-breadth afraid of them or anything they shall
or might do. That is, of course, if I live long enough for them to
have time to know me. Anything may happen with such an indomitable,
proud people to whom pride is more than victuals. After all, it only
needs one man out of a crowd to have a wrong idea or to make a
mistake as to one's motive--and there you are. But it will be all
right that way, I am sure. I am come here to stay, as Uncle Roger
wished. And stay I shall even if it has to be in a little bed of my
own beyond the garden--seven feet odd long, and not too narrow--or
else a stone-box of equal proportions in the vaults of St. Sava's
Church across the Creek--the old burial-place of the Vissarions and
other noble people for a good many centuries back . . .

I have been reading over this letter, dear Aunt Janet, and I am
afraid the record is rather an alarming one. But don't you go
building up superstitious horrors or fears on it. Honestly, I am
only joking about death--a thing to which I have been rather prone
for a good many years back. Not in very good taste, I suppose, but
certainly very useful when the old man with the black wings goes
flying about you day and night in strange places, sometimes visible
and at others invisible. But you can always hear wings, especially
in the dark, when you cannot see them. You know that, Aunt Janet,
who come of a race of warriors, and who have special sight behind or
through the black curtain.

Honestly, I am in no whit afraid of the Blue Mountaineers, nor have I
a doubt of them. I love them already for their splendid qualities,
and I am prepared to love them for themselves. I feel, too, that
they will love me (and incidentally they are sure to love you). I
have a sort of undercurrent of thought that there is something in
their minds concerning me--something not painful, but disturbing;
something that has a base in the past; something that has hope in it
and possible pride, and not a little respect. As yet they can have
had no opportunity of forming such impression from seeing me or from
any thing I have done. Of course, it may be that, although they are
fine, tall, stalwart men, I am still a head and shoulders over the
tallest of them that I have yet seen. I catch their eyes looking up
at me as though they were measuring me, even when they are keeping
away from me, or, rather, keeping me from them at arm's length. I
suppose I shall understand what it all means some day. In the
meantime there is nothing to do but to go on my own way--which is
Uncle Roger's--and wait and be patient and just. I have learned the
value of that, any way, in my life amongst strange peoples.
Good-night.

Your loving
RUPERT.

From Rupert Sent Leger, Vissarion, to Janet MacKelpie, Croom.

February 24, 1907.

MY DEAR AUNT JANET,

I am more than rejoiced to hear that you are coming here so soon.
This isolation is, I think, getting on my nerves. I thought for a
while last night that I was getting on, but the reaction came all too
soon. I was in my room in the east turret, the room on the
corbeille, and saw here and there men passing silently and swiftly
between the trees as though in secret. By-and-by I located their
meeting-place, which was in a hollow in the midst of the wood just
outside the "natural" garden, as the map or plan of the castle calls
it. I stalked that place for all I was worth, and suddenly walked
straight into the midst of them. There were perhaps two or three
hundred gathered, about the very finest lot of men I ever saw in my
life. It was in its way quite an experience, and one not likely to
be repeated, for, as I told you, in this country every man carries a
rifle, and knows how to use it. I do not think I have seen a single
man (or married man either) without his rifle since I came here. I
wonder if they take them with them to bed! Well, the instant after I
stood amongst them every rifle in the place was aimed straight at me.
Don't be alarmed, Aunt Janet; they did not fire at me. If they had I
should not be writing to you now. I should be in that little bit of
real estate or the stone box, and about as full of lead as I could
hold. Ordinarily, I take it, they would have fired on the instant;
that is the etiquette here. But this time they--all separately but
all together--made a new rule. No one said a word or, so far as I
could see, made a movement. Here came in my own experience. I had
been more than once in a tight place of something of the same kind,
so I simply behaved in the most natural way I could. I felt
conscious--it was all in a flash, remember--that if I showed fear or
cause for fear, or even acknowledged danger by so much as even
holding up my hands, I should have drawn all the fire. They all
remained stock-still, as though they had been turned into stone, for
several seconds. Then a queer kind of look flashed round them like
wind over corn--something like the surprise one shows unconsciously
on waking in a strange place. A second after they each dropped the
rifle to the hollow of his arm and stood ready for anything. It was
all as regular and quick and simultaneous as a salute at St. James's
Palace.

Happily I had no arms of any kind with me, so that there could be no
complication. I am rather a quick hand myself when there is any
shooting to be done. However, there was no trouble here, but the
contrary; the Blue Mountaineers--it sounds like a new sort of Bond
Street band, doesn't it?--treated me in quite a different way than
they did when I first met them. They were amazingly civil, almost
deferential. But, all time same, they were more distant than ever,
and all the time I was there I could get not a whit closer to them.
They seemed in a sort of way to be afraid or in awe of me. No doubt
that will soon pass away, and when we know one another better we
shall become close friends. They are too fine fellows not to be
worth a little waiting for. (That sentence, by the way, is a pretty
bad sentence! In old days you would have slippered me for it!) Your
journey is all arranged, and I hope you will be comfortable. Rooke
will meet you at Liverpool Street and look after everything.

I shan't write again, but when we meet at Fiume I shall begin to tell
you all the rest. Till then, good-bye. A good journey to you, and a
happy meeting to us both.

RUPERT.

Letter from Janet MacKelpie, Vissarion, to Sir Colin MacKelpie,
United Service Club, London.

February 28, 1907.

DEAREST UNCLE,

I had a very comfortable journey all across Europe. Rupert wrote to
me some time ago to say that when I got to Vissarion I should be an
Empress, and he certainly took care that on the way here I should be
treated like one. Rooke, who seems a wonderful old man, was in the
next compartment to that reserved for me. At Harwich he had
everything arranged perfectly, and so right on to Fiume. Everywhere
there were attentive officials waiting. I had a carriage all to
myself, which I joined at Antwerp--a whole carriage with a suite of
rooms, dining-room, drawing-room, bedroom, even bath-room. There was
a cook with a kitchen of his own on board, a real chef like a French
nobleman in disguise. There were also a waiter and a servant-maid.
My own maid Maggie was quite awed at first. We were as far as
Cologne before she summoned up courage to order them about. Whenever
we stopped Rooke was on the platform with local officials, and kept
the door of my carriage like a sentry on duty.

At Fiume, when the train slowed down, I saw Rupert waiting on the
platform. He looked magnificent, towering over everybody there like
a giant. He is in perfect health, and seemed glad to see me. He
took me off at once on an automobile to a quay where an electric
launch was waiting. This took us on board a beautiful big
steam-yacht, which was waiting with full steam up and--how he got
there I don't know--Rooke waiting at the gangway.

I had another suite all to myself. Rupert and I had dinner
together--I think the finest dinner I ever sat down to. This was
very nice of Rupert, for it was all for me. He himself only ate a
piece of steak and drank a glass of water. I went to bed early, for,
despite the luxury of the journey, I was very tired.

I awoke in the grey of the morning, and came on deck. We were close
to the coast. Rupert was on the bridge with the Captain, and Rooke
was acting as pilot. When Rupert saw me, he ran down the ladder and
took me up on the bridge. He left me there while he ran down again
and brought me up a lovely fur cloak which I had never seen. He put
it on me and kissed me. He is the tenderest-hearted boy in the
world, as well as the best and bravest! He made me take his arm
whilst he pointed out Vissarion, towards which we were steering. It
is the most lovely place I ever saw. I won't stop to describe it
now, for it will be better that you see it for yourself and enjoy it
all fresh as I did.

The Castle is an immense place. You had better ship off, as soon as
all is ready here and you can arrange it, the servants whom I
engaged; and I am not sure that we shall not want as many more.
There has hardly been a mop or broom on the place for centuries, and
I doubt if it ever had a thorough good cleaning all over since it was
built. And, do you know, Uncle, that it might be well to double that
little army of yours that you are arranging for Rupert? Indeed, the
boy told me himself that he was going to write to you about it. I
think old Lachlan and his wife, Sandy's Mary, had better be in charge
of the maids when they come over. A lot of lassies like yon will be
iller to keep together than a flock of sheep. So it will be wise to
have authority over them, especially as none of them speaks a word of
foreign tongues. Rooke--you saw him at the station at Liverpool
Street--will, if he be available, go over to bring the whole body
here. He has offered to do it if I should wish. And, by the way, I
think it will be well, when the time comes for their departure, if
not only the lassies, but Lachlan and Sandy's Mary, too, will call
him Mister Rooke. He is a very important person indeed here. He
is, in fact, a sort of Master of the Castle, and though he is very
self-suppressing, is a man of rarely fine qualities. Also it will be
well to keep authority. When your clansmen come over, he will have
charge of them, too. Dear me! I find I have written such a long
letter, I must stop and get to work. I shall write again.

Your very affectionate
JANET.

From the Same to the Same.

March 3, 1907.

DEAREST UNCLE,

All goes well here, and as there is no news, I only write because you
are a dear, and I want to thank you for all the trouble you have
taken for me--and for Rupert. I think we had better wait awhile
before bringing out the servants. Rooke is away on some business for
Rupert, and will not be back for some time; Rupert thinks it may be a
couple of months. There is no one else that he could send to take
charge of the party from home, and I don't like the idea of all those
lassies coming out without an escort. Even Lachlan and Sandy's Mary
are ignorant of foreign languages and foreign ways. But as soon as
Rooke returns we can have them all out. I dare say you will have
some of your clansmen ready by then, and I think the poor girls, who
may feel a bit strange in a new country like this, where the ways are
so different from ours, will feel easier when they know that there
are some of their own mankind near them. Perhaps it might be well
that those of them who are engaged to each other--I know there are
some--should marry before they come out here. It will be more
convenient in many ways, and will save lodgment, and, besides, these
Blue Mountaineers are very handsome men. Good-night.

JANET.

Sir Colin MacKelpie, Croom, to Janet MacKelpie, Vissarion.

March 9, 1907.

MY DEAR JANET,

I have duly received both your letters, and am delighted to find you
are so well pleased with your new home. It must certainly be a very
lovely and unique place, and I am myself longing to see it. I came
up here three days ago, and am, as usual, feeling all the better for
a breath of my native air. Time goes on, my dear, and I am beginning
to feel not so young as I was. Tell Rupert that the men are all fit,
and longing to get out to him. They are certainly a fine lot of men.
I don't think I ever saw a finer. I have had them drilled and
trained as soldiers, and, in addition, have had them taught a lot of
trades just as they selected themselves. So he shall have nigh him
men who can turn their hands to anything--not, of course, that they
all know every trade, but amongst them there is someone who can do
whatever may be required. There are blacksmiths, carpenters,
farriers, saddle-makers, gardeners, plumbers, cutlers, gunsmiths, so,
as they all are farmers by origin and sportsmen by practice, they
will make a rare household body of men. They are nearly all
first-class shots, and I am having them practise with revolvers.
They are being taught fencing and broadsword and ju-jitsu; I have
organized them in military form, with their own sergeants and
corporals. This morning I had an inspection, and I assure you, my
dear, they could give points to the Household troop in matters of
drill. I tell you I am proud of my clansmen!

I think you are quite wise about waiting to bring out the lassies,
and wiser still about the marrying. I dare say there will be more
marrying when they all get settled in a foreign country. I shall be
glad of it, for as Rupert is going to settle there, it will be good
for him to have round him a little colony of his own people. And it
will be good for them, too, for I know he will be good to them--as
you will, my dear. The hills are barren here, and life is hard, and
each year there is more and more demand for crofts, and sooner or
later our people must thin out. And mayhap our little settlement of
MacKelpie clan away beyond the frontiers of the Empire may be some
service to the nation and the King. But this is a dream! I see that
here I am beginning to realise in myself one part of Isaiah's
prophecy:

"Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream
dreams."

By the way, my dear, talking about dreams, I am sending you out some
boxes of books which were in your rooms. They are nearly all on odd
subjects that we understand--Second Sight, Ghosts, Dreams (that was
what brought the matter to my mind just now), superstitions,
Vampires, Wehr-Wolves, and all such uncanny folk and things. I
looked over some of these books, and found your marks and underlining
and comments, so I fancy you will miss them in your new home. You
will, I am sure, feel more at ease with such old friends close to
you. I have taken the names and sent the list to London, so that
when you pay me a visit again you will be at home in all ways. If
you come to me altogether, you will be more welcome still--if
possible. But I am sure that Rupert, who I know loves you very much,
will try to make you so happy that you will not want to leave him.
So I will have to come out often to see you both, even at the cost of
leaving Croom for so long. Strange, is it not? that now, when,
through Roger Melton's more than kind remembrance of me, I am able to
go where I will and do what I will, I want more and more to remain at
home by my own ingle. I don't think that anyone but you or Rupert
could get me away from it. I am working very hard at my little
regiment, as I call it. They are simply fine, and will, I am sure,
do us credit. The uniforms are all made, and well made, too. There
is not a man of them that does not look like an officer. I tell you,
Janet, that when we turn out the Vissarion Guard we shall feel proud
of them. I dare say that a couple of months will do all that can be
done here. I shall come out with them myself. Rupert writes me that
he thinks it will be more comfortable to come out direct in a ship of
our own. So when I go up to London in a few weeks' time I shall see
about chartering a suitable vessel. It will certainly save a lot of
trouble to us and anxiety to our people. Would it not be well when I
am getting the ship, if I charter one big enough to take out all your
lassies, too? It is not as if they were strangers. After all, my
dear, soldiers are soldiers and lassies are lassies. But these are
all kinsfolk, as well as clansmen and clanswomen, and I, their Chief,
shall be there. Let me know your views and wishes in this respect.
Mr. Trent, whom I saw before leaving London, asked me to "convey to
you his most respectful remembrances"--these were his very words, and
here they are. Trent is a nice fellow, and I like him. He has
promised to pay me a visit here before the month is up, and I look
forward to our both enjoying ourselves.

Good-bye, my dear, and the Lord watch over you and our dear boy.

Your affectionate Uncle,
COLIN ALEXANDER MACKELPIE.

Previous Page
Next Page


Rate This Book

Current Rating: 2.2/5 (627 votes cast)



Review This Book or Post a Comment