[ocr errors]

and the French anticipated disaster at Agincourt from the fact of their horses not neighing on the eve of the battle. A horse's hoof under a child's pillow is a preservative from convulsions; a horse's teeth are a safeguard against toothache; and houses at which they shy are threatened with calamity.

So with regard to the animals, birds, fishes, and insects which play such leading parts in so many of the tales of the gods and heroes, there is no reason to look for any more abstruse explanation than the fact that they were already fully accredited by popular superstition with the powers in those stories displayed by them. If Phoebus trying to win Daphne, Psyche to recover Eros, and Boots to find the enchanted princess, are assisted by bears, wolves, ducks, swans, eagles, or ants, why should we suppose, with Sir G. Cox, that "all these are names under which the old mythical language spoke of the clouds, or the winds, or of the light which conquers darkness," rather than that such assistance on the part of the animal world entered as a natural ingredient into stories of the gods, like the service done by the jackal to the sun in South Africa, or the aid given by the woodpecker to Manabozho? Beautiful princesses, guarded by dragons in enchanted castles, whence they are rescued by wandering heroes, may of course refer, as we are told, to the rescue of Aurora from the night by the sun; but if in former times it was customary for the Scandinavians to secure their women from the assaults of their enemies in rude castellated forts on the tops of high rocks, surrounded by a wall often called by a word denoting a serpent or a dragon, is it not more likely that this accounted for the stories than dreamy allusions to the night as a dragon?

When we recognize the fact that our own European peasantry still construct mythology in the old-fashioned way, and cling, in spite of science, to the older views of things, we shall have less difficulty in believing that Greeks and Hindus originally constructed their mythology in very much the same way without that constant reference to the struggle between light and darkness which we have been taught to associate with their memory. We may wonder

how it could have come about that native Americans should have regarded the robin as a boy, changed into that form from over fasting; that the Germans should look on storks as transformed men, or on squirrels as disguised girls; that the Norsemen should have thought Odin, their supreme deity, capable of transformation into an eagle or a snake when he wished to fly away or creep through a hole; that the Greeks should have seen nothing absurd in the changes of Zeus into a bull or a swan, nor in deities like Apollo and Athene watching the combat between the Greeks and Trojans from the tops of beech trees in the form of vultures. It is only possible to account for such insipidities by assuming that ideas of the sort enter naturally into men's minds at a certain early period in their development. An old Somersetshire mole-catcher once gave the following account of the mole in perfect good faith: "It was a proud woman, sir, too proud to live on the face of the earth, and so God turned her into a mole and made her live under the earth; and that was the first mole. And he appealed, in support of his theory, to the hands and feet of a mole as plainly those of an original Christian.

[ocr errors]

Ideas of this sort, involving the belief in the quasi-humanity of the animal world, have not yet passed away from us. Scarcely a village in Switzerland is without its belief in some mythical beast, horse, or cow, of ghostly and unearthly character, which is the form assumed by some wicked celebrity of former days at the close of his or her mortal career. For instance, a certain Ammann of Brugg once cheated the commune out of 500 guldens, and was condemned to wander in animal shape for as many years; therefore, let all beware of meeting him in the form of cat, dog, ox, or calf, which he assumes at Christmas time. French peasants exorcise rats by writings on bits of paper suspended on trees, just as if they could read and understand. Rats, male and female, I conjure you in the name of St. Gertrude to depart to the plain of Rocroi ;' or else the rats are bidden to leave the peasants' corn and to seek drink and food in the cellars of the curé. Not yet quite extinct are the old worshipful feelings with regard to animals which

[ocr errors]


led a bishop of Prague to say in the eleventh century, Nequaquam bestiam aliquam pro deo colere debemus ("we should on no account worship an animal as a god"), a remonstrance which clearly shows that a great many worthy Christians then did so.

These feelings of actual community between man and the rest of the animate world could scarcely at any time be otherwise than fertile in the production of legends and myths. If our own time, with all its education, still abounds with or produces them, how much more productive of them must the world have been thousands of years ago! From

the conception of ghostly animals of human origin, or of real animals which, in spite of appearances, might be either men or gods, what limit could there have been to the possible absurdities of mythology? Or must we, instead of resorting to so simple an hypothesis, still continue to deduce every myth and custom of olden times from the poetical imagery in which our contemplative ancestors are supposed to have been habitually representing to themselves the conflict of the sun with the clouds, or its course from rising to setting ?—Gentleman's Magazine.

[blocks in formation]

A CHILLY gusty night in the autumn of the year 188-. Short, sharp showers of rain occurred at intervals, when the fitful wind lulled for a space, and allowed the heavy clouds to collect in a dark mass overhead. The streets of London were slushy, and the pavements cold and slippery with their coating of soft mud. The foot-passengers jostled each other and were rude in their struggle for the inside walking, where they might be less exposed to the unceasing sprays of slush from the remorseless wheel traffic. London, in fact, was dirty and exceedingly disagreeable.

At 7.30 P.M. the diurnal rush from city to suburb had died its usual natural death. The bearish scramble for the omnibus was over for the day; so also the flood tide of human traffic on the Underground Railway. Of brain toilers in the city only those who had been detained by unusual causes or by stress of work were still abroad.

Among the stragglers who hurried into the Farringdon Street Station about the hour mentioned, a tall man with somewhat bowed shoulders might have been remarked. There was nothing particularly striking about his appearance save his beard, which was unusually thick and unkempt for these prim times. His

clothes were of a cut and preservation such as to suggest the possession by their wearer of average means. He wore an ordinary felt hat, rather wide in the brim, and an overcoat of dark material the collar of which was turned up; and in his gloveless hand (gloves are out of place in such weather) he carried an umbrella dry and furled.

Gower Street," said the person I have briefly described, on stooping to present his face at the window of the ticket office.


What class?'' First."

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

a solitary man, and into that compartment the bearded traveller, after a hurried glance at the other carriages, entered. First-class passengers were not much abroad that night. No one else entered the carriage after the man whose movements we are following.

A few moments and the train moved on to King's Cross-a very short run from Farringdon; one of the shortest, in fact, on the line. The bearded man had taken the corner next the door he had entered, and fronting the engine. His face was turned toward his fellowpassenger; but its expression could not have been seen through his beard, and even his eyes were concealed by his hat, which he had pulled forward. The other occupant of the compartment sat at the far end, with his back toward the engine. He was middle-aged, very

slight in figure, and well dressed. His face was thin, delicate, and extremely agreeable; the hair both of head and face was somewhat gray, short, and carefully trimmed. Altogether this passenger had an air of neatness and refinement about him. You would have said at once that he was a gentle


[ocr errors]

The train stopped at King's Cross, and then started on its longer run to Gower Street, and still these two men were alone. Perhaps the foul sulphurous atmosphere peculiar to the Underground Railway was more pronounced here, for as the train moved from the station the bearded man ejaculated Bah!" and shifted from the window half-way along the seat. His fellowpassenger, who, with his hat pushed back from his high white forehead, was smiling over one of the comic papers, looked up for a moment, and returned to his diversion. A moment ! An innocent, half-surprised glance at the man who sat with down-turned face almost exactly opposite him. That was all!

No instinct of peril. No prompting to vigilance and defence!

For the bearded man's hand had crept to his pocket, and his eyes, blazing with greed for crime, had risen from the floor and fastened upon his neighbor's breast, from which the overcoat had been drawn aside. And still there was no instinct of danger, no thought of ill, as the small man read his last witticism and smiled his last smile, and so smiling received to its hilt in his breast the sharp, fiercedriven knife.

A short, strange, horrible gasp, the victim's last effort at respiration, and a moving of startled, death-filled eyes, which, staring for a moment with no recognition, but wondering horror at the murderer, asked, "What have I done to thee?" and then the stricken man's head fell upon his breast and his life went out.

One minute only had passed since the train left King's Cross, and time was still with the murderer. Many moments would pass before Gower Street was reached, precious moments! He had done the murder; he had still to save himself. He had stood while his victim died, bent forward and motionless-eyes hidden by the muscular contraction of forehead and cheeks, and glittering white teeth showing through the thick beard and mustache. He recovered himself by a spasmodic movement. His first care was to throw the comic paper out of the window. Then he seized the warm dead body, which had slipped down along the seat, and propped it sitting and upright in the corner, while the still limp fingers of the right hand he arranged round the handle of the knife. Suicide!" he muttered, glancing quickly at the effect. "A clear case! Temporary insanity! Murder impossible on the Underground Railway!"

[blocks in formation]

work, and the next moment was lost in the crowd.

And the people who elbowed their way to the gates were shoulder to shoulder with a worse than Cain, hot from his crime !

ranean way.


THE train, with its unconscious living freight and its heavy burden of ghastly tragic dead, sped on through the strong stifling atmosphere of its dark, subterFit scene for what had been done, if scene could be fit for such a deed! Portland Road and Baker Street were passed, and still no one broke or looked in upon the solitude of the dead man. At Edgware Road, however, a lady entered the compartment. The next moment there was a scream, and a rush of officials to the spot. The lady, half-fainting, was helped on to the platform; stationmaster, inspectors, and police were called, and messages were despatched along the line to temporarily suspend the traffic. It was all done in a very few minutes. The body, after a rapid but keen survey of its position and surroundings, was carefully removed, and the news flew like wild-fire that what was evidently a ghastly suicide had been discovered on the Underground Railway. Then the carriage-door was locked, and the passengers were briefly interrogated, without, however, any light being thrown on the case. Their names and addresses were taken as a precautionary measure. Among them there was but one first-class traveller, a tall man, who, directly the excitement arose, emerged from a compartment three removes from that in which the tragedy had been enacted. Probably it was the fact of his being a passenger in the same class as the deceased that brought upon him a closer examination at the hands of a police-sergeant than the others had been subjected to.

Where had he entered the train? At Baker Street; there was his ticket from that station to Notting Hill Gate clipped in the usual way.

Had he seen or heard anything un


Nothing whatever.

Certainly. There was his card: Mr. Jules Merlin, Chepstow Villas, W.

This on the sergeant's part was all for the sake of doing something. He was perfectly satisfied in his mind that the case in hand was one of determined suicide; still caution and diligence, even if aimless, looked well, and were regarded as praiseworthy even if profitless at headquarters. It was to the persistent application of very commonplace abilities that he owed his promotion from the ranks. On this occasion he even went so far as to take down a description of Mr. Merlin; thus-face narrow, goodlooking, clean-shaven, and dark. Hair also dark. Age about forty. Figure, tall, thin, straight, and strong-looking. Clothes, check trousers, dark overcoat with velvet collar, brown kid gloves, silk neckerchief, low hard felt black hat, and umbrella very wet.

Mr. Merlin, having borne the sergeant's inquisition with patient amiability, looked again at the body and said,

[ocr errors]

Poor devil! he must have been out of his mind." Then he re-entered the train as it started again on its way.

The dead man's identity was very quickly established. Letters were found upon him addressed to David Cowen, Esq., with the names of a house and street at Kensington, and his card bore the same name and address. The discovery upon him of valuable jewelry and a fairly large sum of money went toward confirming the police in their theory of suicide. The body was conveyed to the morgue, where, within two hours, it was visited by a woman, tall and beautiful, but with wild terror-filled eyes, and face pale as the quiet dead.

Yes, it was her husband, the body they showed her. She had been waiting dinner for him, he being later than she expected; but she had felt no fear until the messenger came, and now she knew that he had been murdered.

So she said; and the men were silent before the terrible calmness of her grief and despair.

[blocks in formation]

So the murderer had said; so the Would he oblige with his name and police said, and so also said the public. address? This general verdict was gratifying to

all three.

But it was doomed to be disturbed, if not utterly shaken. At the coroners' inquest a clerk of the Farringdon Street Station came forward and spoke of the bearded inan who, on the night in question, as nearly as possible at half-past seven, had taken a firstclass ticket for Gower Street. He remembered the circumstance perfectly, because the gentleman had forgotten his umbrella, which was dry and furled, and which he, the witness, had called him back to receive. The ticket collector at Gower Street did not remember a person of that description (how could he remember every one that passed through the gates ?), but a firstclass ticket from Farringdon had been collected at that time.

The evidence of the doctor who examined the body was still more disturbing to the popular theory. Dr. Ford was a man in the prime of life, and a widower. He possessed a considerable practice, was practical, hard-headed, and, like all practical men, somewhat obstinate, and he had the reputation of being keen and clever. When, therefore, he stood up in the witness-box and gave it as his positive conviction that the fatal wound in the dead man's breast could not possibly be self-inflicted, he inspired some belief, at least in the minds of people who knew him well.

The coroner, sceptical but courteous, asked what grounds the witness had for his opinion.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

I compared the deceased's arm with the depth of the wound," replied the doctor, and found that his strength could not have been sufficient to drive the knife so far."

It should be mentioned that the weapon was a common dagger such as may be seen in the window of any cutler's shop.

It was here suggested that the knife was not driven in by one blow, but pressed in; but Dr. Ford very readily confuted that theory. He began by pointing out the depth of the wound; much deeper than was necessary to kill -the steel had cleft the heart in twain. Then as to character; it was perfectly even and direct; self-inflicted, it would in the highest probability have been irregular. But that was not all. The suspicions excited by the circumstances

already stated had urged Dr. Ford to a closer examination than he might otherwise have made, with the result that he discovered on the skin around the incision a bruise, slight, but sufficiently palpable, which clearly demonstrated the force with which the heft of the knife had come in contact with the surface of the body. To have occasioned even a slight bruise through thick clothing that force must have been very considerable, far too great, the doctor argued, to admit of the blow having been self-inflicted.

"A man, although weak, might be capable of inflicting such a blow upon another," added the witness. "In that case he would have the advantage of distance, in which to give impetus to the thrust which would be denied him in an attempt against himself."

These interesting arguments, although listened to with patience and courtesy, failed to shake the opinion of the authorities. The inquest, however, was adjourned for a few days so that inquiries might be made concerning the bearded man described by the railway clerk.

When the proceedings were resumed nothing had been heard of the mysterious stranger. There was nothing unusual about that, said the police. A man of an extremely nervous and retiring disposition would instinctively avoid being mixed up in an affair of the kind, and, having no important testimony to offer, would probably keep out of the way.

As it was considered that further inquiry was unnecessary, the facts at the disposal of the police being sufficient, the inquest was brought to a conclusion. In summing up for the jury the coroner weighed the evidence for the theory of suicide against the medical opinion, very much in favor of the former. The strong points in that evidence were three

viz. (1) the attitude of the dead man; (2) the absence of any signs of a struggle; and (3) the fact that Mr. Cowen had recently suffered severe financiai losses through speculation in stocks. On this last point several of the deceased's City friends gave testimony. Mr. Cowen, it appeared, was a gentleman of considerable private fortune, who had been induced several months

« VorigeDoorgaan »