Authors: David Lindsay
First Published April 1932
This ebook edition based on that published in September 2008 by
Table Of Contents
No sooner had they quitted the sunken lane, with its high banks and overshadowing trees, and entered upon the long stretch of open road, bordered at first by walls of piled stones, but soon running unconfined for mile upon mile across the rising moor, than the full menace of the advancing storm struck them. The young girl Ingrid Fleming turned her head towards her male companion with an inquiring look, as by a sort of sympathy they came to a dubious standstill.
"What shall we do? Go back?"
The man gazed doubtfully upwards and around, at the same time pulling off his cap to pass a hand over his heated forehead. It was a swelteringly hot evening in early August. Ingrid noted his high, bald, domelike temples with that almost imperceptible little frown of calm displeasure which his aspect always seemed to summon to the upper part of her face. Something in the colouring and person of this new-found cousin of hers secretly antagonised her; the ensemble of his thin intellectual features, his tropical bronze, his long, drooping red moustaches, the fierce blue eyes. It was not that he was ugly, for she even rather scorned beauty in a man, but their blood, their race, was somehow antipathetic. She, though English born, of English parents, was accustomed to insist in her mind on the distant Norse descent which she fancied was her peculiar personal heritage, whereas Hugh Drapier, like his father before him, an outsider to the family, was obviously a Gael, a Highland Scot, whose nameless ancestors had been unbreeched savages when Kolbiorn the Marshal, from whom the Colbornes (her own kin) derived, was already subduing peoples and framing laws under the great King Olaf Trygvesson, nearly a thousand years ago. The pedigree was in black and white, and undisputed. Thus their cousinship was nil in actuality, and if she genuinely wanted to admire his choice of a wild adventurous life, and to respect his modest reticence in talking about it, this instinctive repugnance to his breed invariably interposed itself. He had only been with them a week, but she already longed for him to go away again, and leave them to their unconstrained routine. At least he had paid her no attentions; for that she was thankful. In fact, this was the very first walk they had had together, nor would she have come even now had he not expressed a wish to be shown Devil's Tor.
"I certainly think we're in for it if we keep on," was his hesitating reply to her question.
"Then we'll turn?"
"We may as well. Your mother—"
"I'm thinking of you. I go out in all sorts of weather, and personally am just as ready to go on as back."
"We can always go there another time."
"As you please."
"I think we'll funk it. Not much sense in getting ourselves wet through for nothing, apart from the thunder and lightning."
The girl gave a twisted little smile. "If you're studying my poor clothes, I assure you they've already been through many a drenching. Yours are fairly seasoned. But if you're alarmed at the prospect of thunder, I'll do whatever you wish."
"Presumably we could find shelter on the Tor itself?"
"Of a kind, I suppose."
"How far is it now?"
"About twenty-five minutes."
"We might chance it."
"Very well," said Ingrid.
She was simply and gracefully dressed all in white, in an old jumper frock, with hard- wearing stockings, low-heeled shoes, and a small hat, close-fitting to her head of fine flaxen half- long hair. Her slender ungloved right hand carried a man's ash stick. Her indifference to clothes, with that complete apathy as to Hugh's approval of her person, had permitted her to slip into her everyday tramping outfit without a moment's conscious hesitation; and her cousin noticed nothing, except that she looked very attractive. Her form was long, slight and lissom, with straight slim legs.
Yet if she had nothing on to spoil, and on the other hand was quite unthrilled by this excursion with such a companion, the balance was still not so nicely suspended that she could ignore her own half-malicious pleasure at his decision. An unpleasant storm threatened, and somewhere near the surface of her mind hovered the vague cynical desire to pit her resolution against Hugh's, to make the test which would maintain the more coolness in a disagreeable emergency; he, a naturally excitable man, toughened and disciplined by his foreign experiences, or she, a mere shielded girl, handicapped in everything except her race. Really, however, it wasn't spitefulness, and she wished him no humiliation; he would of course smile at their thunder, as at the discomfort of a soaking. Perhaps then she merely wanted to prove to him that she could despise both, against his expectation—though that would be setting a value on his opinion, which she hoped she was equally despising. So it must be that the prospect of their serving as moving targets to unnerving vicious electric discharges on the open moor was tempting her subconscious imagination with the picture of a relief of reality from the irritating monotony and conventionality of his deadweight society. He might be roused to some kind of appearance of life; or, if he was not, she need not continue so aware of his proximity. Careless of analysing her soul more closely, she left it at that. Accordingly, after another brief extension of the pause of reluctance on Drapier's part, who guessed nothing of what was passing in the quaint kaleidoscope of his frigid young cousin's mind, they started to walk on again.
Overhead towering masses of black, purple, pink and orange cloud were thrown together confusedly, through the narrow rifts of which small patches of blue sky were visible. The sun was hidden, and only in the far distance was a section of the low-lying country glorified by its rays. In the south-east the sky was increasingly venomous in appearance. The upper clouds were travelling against the wind, and suddenly the first low, sustained growl broke the oppressive silence of the moorland. Some cattle, further down, had left off feeding, and were glancing around them apprehensively. The long panoramic line of tors behind had become black and bleak, like a silhouette against the livid sky.
"I expect some of the tropical lightning displays can be quite terrifying?" queried Ingrid presently, the spirit of speech moving her, as they strode along together. "That, and high mountains, I should love to see."
Instead of responding to her immediately, he took a moment to remark, as he had so often already remarked during his stay, the odd note of inaccessibility safeguarding her approaches to him. For it appeared to be for him alone. She could be warm enough to Uncle Magnus and entirely gracious and affectionate with her mother, but up went this automatic protective fence so soon as ever she needed to pass a word with himself. Was his visit annoying her? Or was it that she wasn't used to strange men and was shy in their company? That was hardly likely; she had a quiet self-possession that was surely incompatible with awkwardness, while her exceptional good looks must have brought her the sufficient experience. Was she piqued by what might pass for a certain boorishness in his manner towards her? He had never wittingly been rude. The vanity of a vain girl could not be tormenting her, for, if he had seen anything of her character at all, it was certainly too dignified and high-minded for that kind of vulgarity; besides, particular attentions could scarcely be expected of him, fifteen years stood between them, she was still a child and he already nearly a middle-aged man. So he concluded that it was just the reverse, and that she had set herself to discourage anything in the nature of a too warm intimacy. She might be personally disliking him, or she might be fearful that he would snatch an ell for every inch offered. Whatever the source of her mysterious chilliness, it was sparing him much bother. His mood was all wrong for a sex camaraderie. His preoccupations were insistent, he was half in another world, he needed much private time, and he had also a special matter to attend to down here. The present stand-off relations were best for both. Neither had he ever had a great deal to do with women. This he knew about them, that feminine friendship was apt to be, not a stationary, but a progressive condition.
"Would you rather not talk?" asked the girl, with the merest glance at his profile, and he thought that either she was extremely simple or more than a little dry.
"I beg your pardon, I was lost. You were inquiring—?"
"You must have been in most countries of the world. Which would you say has the worst storms?"
"I don't know. In travelling much one rather takes leave of the comparative sense. The earth becomes more homogeneous. I've seen intensely vivid lightning in Europe, Asia, Africa and America. Happen where it will, it's always a nasty phenomenon."
"Even in England."
"Surely, since persons continue to be killed by it here, as an annual toll to Nature."
"But you of course have no fear of it?"
"No, in a way. Well, I've so much fear, that if I were a savage instead of a civilised man, at this moment I'd cut for shelter as the safest and most sensible course."
"If you feel like that, we can still turn back."
Drapier smiled. "I'm the civilised man.
"And that's why," he proceeded, "I've small faith in half the tales of the ancient heroes and demi-gods. The nearer to the beginning of the human race, the more untutored the emotions. Don't we know that Hector, the bravest of the brave, was chased by Achilles three times round the walls of Troy?"
"He was an Oriental."
"No, nearer to the eolithic wild man of the woods. Why should he superfluously get himself cut down by a bigger champion when he had a pair of legs? My dear girl, courage is no more than another name for the fear of the mass of cultured opinion. People are fearful in the second degree; they're afraid of being thought afraid. Whether it represents a true advance of the moral soul, I know not."
"An advance of morality, undoubtedly. Only, morality in a sense is so poisonous, Hugh. It will allow no other fine things to grow under the shadow of its branches."
"Morality is the imposition of standards, the standards are necessarily those of the highest contemporary public opinion, and so everyone either sincerely conforms, or makes a show of conforming, or becomes an outcast. But that has not been the way of the great. They have chosen rather to conform to the greatest of their own souls. That is a tremendously different thing. A man that faces death, not because it is expected of him, but because he knows how to despise life—that is my idea of courage."
"And for a moral man that's impossible?"
"A moral man, I suppose, is thinking of the world all the time, while the natural laugher at death is holding the world very cheap. There have been whole races like it. You should read the sagas."
"Well, we aren't without such men even to-day. Take your racing motorist and your longdistance aviator. No one will accuse them of holding life too dear."
Ingrid shook her head.
"No, you don't understand. You are talking of record-breaking and sports, but I'm talking of men who would despise that sort of thing equally, except perhaps as a useful exercise in hardihood."
"If you're referring to the Northmen, they had a pretty fair notion of honour."
"They honoured courage. The coward was held despicable, and was given the name,
But the courage they honoured had nothing to do with the fear of opinion."