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The treasure of the isle.., p.1

The Treasure of the Isle of Mist, page 1


The Treasure of the Isle of Mist

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The Treasure of the Isle of Mist

  Produced by Steven desJardins and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at



  G. P. PUTNAM'S SONSNEW YORK AND LONDONThe Knickerbocker Press1920





  The Treasure of the Isle of Mist



  The Student and Fiona lived in a little gray house on the shores of agray sea-loch in the Isle of Mist. The Student was a thin man with astoop to his shoulders, which old Anne MacDermott said came of readingbooks; but really it was because he had been educated at a place wherethis is expected of you. Fiona, when she was doing nothing else, usedto help Anne to keep house, rather jerkily, in the way a learned manmay be supposed to like. She was a long-legged creature of fifteen,who laughed when her father threatened her with school on themainland, and she had a warm heart and a largish size in shoes.Sometimes they had dinner; sometimes nobody remembered in time, andthey had sunset and salt herrings, with a bowl of glorious yellowcorn-daisies to catch the sunset.

  It was Anne who saw the old hawker crossing the field behind thehouse, and burst in on the bookroom to inform the Student that hewanted buttons. She was met by a patient remonstrance on her ambiguoususe of language:

  "For," said the Student, "if you mean that buttons are lacking to me,there may be something to be said for you; but if you mean that Idesire buttons, then indeed I do not desire buttons; I desire . . ."

  Whereon Anne fled, and went out to meet the hawker. The frail old man,bending under his pack, was crossing the meadow behind the house,brushing his way through the September clover. His white hair wasuncovered save for the huge umbrella which he carried alike in sunand rain; but youth still lingered in his eyes, which were bright asthe dawn and deep as the sea-caves. Behind him followed a littlerough-haired terrier, black as jet, his inseparable companion. At thedoor he unslung his pack, and, leaving Anne to select her buttons,passed straight through, knocked at the bookroom door, and went in.

  The Student wheeled round in his chair and began to grope about.

  "Have you seen my spectacles?" he said. "I can't see who you are tillI put them on, and I can't put them on till you find them for me, forI can't see to find them myself unless I have them on. Pardon thisinvolved sentence."

  The old hawker picked up the missing spectacles and handed them over.

  "You wouldn't remember me, in any case," he said. "I last saw youtwenty-five years ago, when you were trying to dig at Verria. Therewas an old man there, do you remember, being beaten by armedBashi-Bazouks, and you held them up with an empty revolver, and tookthe old man to your camp and nursed him, and you said things to theTurkish Governor, and . . ."

  "My excavations came to an untimely end," said the Student. "I alwaysowed that old man a grudge for being beaten before my tent. Whycouldn't he have been beaten somewhere else? I should like to meet himagain and tell him precisely what I thought of his conduct."

  "You have done both now," said the hawker. "And it is his turn."

  "Impossible," said the Student. "He was as old twenty-five years agoas you are now."

  "At my age," said the old man, "one grows no older. No one who walksthe world as I do need ever grow any older. You can walk thirty mileson Monday when you are twenty years old; good. If you can do it onMonday you can do it on Tuesday; and if on Tuesday, then on Wednesday;therefore, by an easy reckoning, you can do it as well at eightyyears old as at twenty. Thus you never age."

  "There's a flaw in that somewhere," said the Student. "I know; it'sthe Heap. How many grains of sand make a heap?"

  "How many buttons do you want?" said the hawker. "You saved my lifeonce; you shall have all the buttons you want for nothing."

  "I thought you couldn't answer my question," said the Student. "But weare getting on much too fast; we haven't really begun yet. I supposeyou came here to sell things? Anne seemed to know you, and she said Iwanted buttons. I pointed out to her that her statement was either anuntruth or a truism, and equally objectionable in either sense; andnow you repeat it, just as I was beginning to consider you quite anintelligent person. By the way, who are you?"

  "I have a different name in most countries which I visit," said theold man. "But by profession I sell buttons--and other things."

  "What sort of things?" said the Student.

  "I have dreams," said the old man, "dreams and the matter of dreams;imaginings of the impossible come true; the wonder of the hills atsunrise; the quest of unearthly treasure among the moon-flowers; thelook in the eyes of a child that trusts you."

  The Student took off his spectacles, rubbed his eyes hard, and settledhis shoulders.

  "I desire something very much," he said. "If you can do all that, youcan give me what I desire."

  The hawker frowned.

  "You are a scholar," he said, "and I can do nothing for scholars. Youneed no ideal, for you have one. You need no dreams, for your life isone. For you, the earth pours out hidden treasure, and the impossiblecomes true day by day. What you desire just now is a long definiteinscription to settle a controverted point in your favor. And if Icould give it you, just think how miserable you'd be. Nothing furtherto argue about, there; and several quite happy and contentiousprofessors would be reduced to such straits that I don't know whatcrimes you might all commit. You might even take to making money."

  "If I wanted money," said the Student, "I should, being an intelligentperson, at once proceed to make it. Then I should have to live in thebig house again, instead of letting it, and my precious time would bespent in arguing with my gardener and endeavoring to conceal myignorance from my chauffeur. As it is, we live anyhow, and I amhappy."

  "Happiness doesn't score any points in the game," said the hawker."What good do you and your inscriptions do, anyway?"

  "That's not my job here," said the Student. "That will come onafterwards. Besides, I don't want to do good. I am old-fashioned; whyshould I take my neighbor by the throat and say, 'Let me do good toyou, or it shall be the worse for you and yours'? Besides, I can't dogood. You can't dot the wilderness with prosperous homesteads whenhalf the years the oats don't ripen till the year after. Besides, Ido do good; I have let the big house to shooting tenants, and it'sexcellent for their health. Besides seventeen other reasons, which Ican enumerate if you are able to bear them. Besides, Fiona is fond ofme."

  "Yes," said the old man softly, "that's your real justification. Andit's a great deal more than I could give you; my hawker's licencedoesn't cover the big things. How many buttons do you want?"

  Fiona came scrambling through the open window, and curled herself upon the rug with her head on the Student's knee. The Student strokedher hair.

  "Tell me what it's all about," she said.

  "This gentleman," he said, "once interrupted a very important piece ofwork which I was doing, and I was just about to tell him exactly whatI thought of him when you interrupted me."

  The old hawker had risen and bowed courteously to the girl.

  "My dear young lady," he said, "I have been searching my pack for apresent for your father, and found nothing suitable. But perhaps Icould find something for you."

  Fiona jumped up

  "Have you a hedgehog?" was her question.

  "I do not carry them with me, as a general thing," said the old man."No doubt one could be got. But why a hedgehog?"

  "I want one for the Urchin," she said. "You see, it's his namesake."

  "I see," said the old man, quite gravely. "And who is the Urchin?"

  "The Urchin," said the Student, "is a young rascal who is the son ofmy shooting tenant. He plunders my daughter of all her possessions,and she abets him in every form of villainy."

  "I do try to stop him throwing stones at things," said the girl.

  "Here are hedgehogs," said the hawker. "Isn't that lucky, now?"

  Past the window came five hedgehogs in a solemn row, two big andthree little. Behind them, marshalling the procession, walked theblack terrier, with an eye of happy drollery.

  "There's something wrong about those hedgehogs," said the girl. "Theydon't do things like that. I don't think I want a hedgehog any more,thank you. How did you make them do that? Is your dog a conjurer?"

  "I never harm anything," said the old man, "so that many creatureswill come to me when I call. But I have better presents than that."

  "Choose for her, my friend," said the Student.

  The old man began talking to himself in a low voice.

  "Youth she has," he said, "and freedom, and the joy of life. Wonderalso, and dim imaginings of unseen things. And of the things which mendesire, fame and power are not worth giving, and love is not mine togive. I have it. I give you the Search," he said. "The search for thetreasure of the Isle of Mist. Others have searched for it before; andsome have found; but the treasure never grows less."

  "That's splendid," said the girl. "And when I find the treasure I willbuy my father seven great books which no one else wants to read, andhe will be perfectly happy."

  "But I did not promise treasure," said the old man. "I promised asearch."

  Fiona's face fell.

  "Then am I not to find anything at the end of it?" she asked.

  The old man chuckled quietly.

  "I did not say that either," he said. "There _is_ a treasure, and youshall search for it; and you will find it if you are able. Many thereare who helped to build it up. Cuchulain and the forgotten heroes whofought before Cuchulain; Ossian and the forgotten bards who sangbefore Ossian; Columba and the forgotten saints who died beforeColumba; each has added something to the pile. It is their treasurewhich you shall seek for; that is my gift to you."

  "How shall I know where to begin?" asked the girl. "And may I take theUrchin with me?"

  "Whether you can take the Urchin with you or not depends on hiscapacity to go," said the old man. "And as to beginning, I think youwill find that the Search will begin itself, independently of you. Italways does. But I can give you something that will help you," and hetook out of his pocket a red copper bangle, rudely hammered out withsome rough implement, which he slipped over her wrist. "That was madelong ago," he said, "made by men to whom metal was a new toy, men whoperhaps were nearer to the heart of things than we are."

  "You will stay and have some dinner, will you not?" said the Student."At least, if this is a dinner night. Fiona, is this a dinner night?"

  "I have my doubts," said the girl. "Oat cake and honeysuckle, Iexpect."

  "And what better?" said the old man. "But I fear I could not dine withyou, were it ortolans and Tokay. For I may never eat beneath a roof.The open moor is my dining hall, and the stars serve me. And the longwhite road is calling me even now. But I think that before thetreasure is found you will see me again."

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