+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

from above, the little birds sang their secrets
to each other among the bristling cones, and
over the golden floor of moss and the last
year's leaves raced the rabbits, frightened, yet
purposely and unrestrainably inquisitive.

"And here," cried Oldbuck, putting himself
in a Hamlet position, with a skull of the low
barbaric type in the palm of his thin, pale,
intellectual hand, "under these draughty trees, with
the surf sounding ever through their prophesying
branches, must this Bushman tribe of hunters
and fishermen have dwelt, long centuries ago.
Here, their women must have cooked the deer's
flesh, and plaited the wattled huts, and spread
the fern-leaves for the beds, and prepared the
arrows, and nursed the children; and here the
sinewy men, with the low brows and blue
stained limbs, must have wielded the flint-axe,
and darted the spear, and raced with naked
feet over the springy down, with no thought
of Rome or of the swift-winged eagle, till
one day came the legionaries in close phalanx,
with a blaze of gold and purple, and with a
cloud of stones from the slings heralding their
approach, and stinging showers of arrows from
the light armed. They circle the wood, there is
a crash of axes, a jar of swords, a burst of
groans and curses, flames start up; then there is
a great silence, and through the twilight I see
grassy mounds rising on the skirts of the wood,
looking towards the lower country."

Here the keeper wiped his forehead, and threw
out some more bones, with a reflection that they
were " mortal old," which seemed to cover all
he thought upon the subject, though he did go
on to tell us that the barrow we were opening
was in a line with two others, some distance off,
and that the trench from which the earth was
taken for the barrow then specially under
consideration, was still to be seen a few hundred
yards off. It was his, " kippur's," opinion that
the large flints found immediately over the bones
were trod in upon them for security, and with
malice aforethought. The "kippur" also was
of opinion that the black particles here and
there among the earth, were wood ashes: whether
placed there on purpose or not he could not tell,
not he.

Oldbuck here remarked that it became me to
observe that the six or seven bodies had evidently
been buried in a hurry, as after a battle or
massacre, and had certainly not been interred with
decency, or with care, or with affectionate
consideration. Had this tumulus been that of a
chieftain's in times of peace, it would have contained
amber beads, or gold torque, or spear-head, or

Here the "kippur," who had been examining
the barbaric skull, put his enormous dirty
notched thumb on a dent in it, and asked Oldbuck,
sharply, " What that was?" Oldbuck at
oncewith an antiquarian's usual daring
imaginativenessboldly said, " An evident contusion
from the blow of a blunt instrument, probably an
axe;" which seemed to satisfy the keeper, and
set him digging more savagely than ever.
Oldbuck bade me observe that the bones lay all near
the centre of the mound, and that towards one
side beyond the centre they ceased altogether.

Oldbuck was very entertaining on our way
to the station. He told me how the finest
gold collar ever found had been discovered in
the loose earth that a fox had scratched out;
how in Scotland a curious helmet of the Bruce
period was found jammed between two rocks;
how in Ireland the relic case of a bell of great
antiquity was discovered on the top of a mountain,
where, if not placed by some rebels for
safety, it must have remained for centuries.

What a walk back we had over those Ramshire
downs, where the young winds seem to be put
out to nurse! What mists of liquid opal and
pearl veiled the grassy slopes, what white fans
of sunbeams pointed me out my way to Chalkton,
whose grey steeple I could see in the distance
with the gilt weathercock on its apex,
blazing as if it were melting in the sunshine.
The awkward hares limped before us on the
dark chocolate-coloured fallows, or over the
broad dim sward of the down, speckled black
with furze-bushes, or round by the dark battalions
of firs that seemed filing down, to meet
some invisible commander-in-chief at some special
spot of concentration. The rabbits cantered
over the road as if running perpetual errands,
and the blackbirds chinked and shot to and fro
like pall-makers' black shuttles. The shadows
raced before us along the broad white road,
putting out the sunshine with fitful extinguishment,
having the effect of an opening and closing
eye perpetually on us as we walked. Even the
old battered milestones, grey with lichen, and
spotted orange here and there, cheered us by
their lessening numbers, and soon the brown
thatched roofs and white walls of Chalkton
appeared before us in a vision of sunlight.

Hearty red faces were on the platform, and
round hats and pleasant eyes were under them;
and just as the train came snorting up, slewing
round its vertebrated back and tail, Oldbuck
shook my hand warmly, and delicately slipped into
it the brain-pan of an Ancient Briton, as a
remembrance of the opening of a Ramshire barrow.


SOME years ago, a temporary inability to
sleep, referable to a distressing impression,
caused me to walk about the streets all night,
for a series of several nights. The disorder
might have taken a long time to conquer, if it
had been faintly experimented on in bed; but it
was soon defeated by the brisk treatment of
getting up directly after lying down, and going
out, and coming home tired at sunrise.

In the course of those nights, I finished my
education in a fair amateur experience of
houselessness. My principal object being to get
through the night, the pursuit of it brought me
into sympathetic relations with people who have
no other object every night in the year.

The month was March, and the weather damp,
cloudy, and cold. The sun not rising before
half-past five, the night perspective looked