Romany Of The Snows by Gilbert Parker
At Point O' Bugles
"John York, John York, where art thou gone, John York?"
"What's that, Pierre?" said Sir Duke Lawless, starting to his feet and peering round.
"Hush!" was Pierre's reply. "Wait for the rest. . . . There!"
"King of my heart, king of my heart, I am out on the trail of thy bugles."
Sir Duke was about to speak, but Pierre lifted a hand in warning, and then through the still night there came the long cry of a bugle, rising, falling, strangely clear, echoing and echoing again, and dying away. A moment, and the call was repeated, with the same effect, and again a third time; then all was still, save for the flight of birds roused from the desire of night, and the long breath of some animal in the woods sinking back to sleep.
Their camp was pitched on the south shore of Hudson's Bay, many leagues to the west of Rupert House, not far from the Moose River. Looking north was the wide expanse of the bay, dotted with sterile islands here and there; to the east were the barren steppes of Labrador, and all round them the calm, incisive air of a late September, when winter begins to shake out his frosty curtains and hang them on the cornice of the north, despite the high protests of the sun. The two adventurers had come together after years of separation, and Sir Duke had urged Pierre to fare away with him to Hudson's Bay, which he had never seen, although he had shares in the great Company, left him by his uncle the admiral.
They were camped in a hollow, to the right a clump of hardy trees, with no great deal of foliage, but some stoutness; to the left a long finger of land running out into the water like a wedge, the most eastern point of the western shore of Hudson's Bay. It was high and bold, and, somehow, had a fine dignity and beauty. From it a path led away north to a great log-fort called King's House.
Lawless saw Pierre half rise and turn his head, listening. Presently he, too, heard the sound-the soft crash of crisp grass under the feet. He raised himself to a sitting posture and waited.
Presently a tall figure came out of the dusk into the light of their fire, and a long arm waved a greeting at them. Both Lawless and Pierre rose to their feet. The stranger was dressed in buckskin, he carried a rifle, and around his shoulder was a strong yellow cord, from which hung a bugle.
"How!" he said, with a nod, and drew near the fire, stretching out his hands to the blaze.
"How!" said Lawless and Pierre.
After a moment Lawless drew from his blanket a flask of brandy, and without a word handed it over the fire. The fingers of the two men met in the flicker of flames, a sort of bond by fire, and the stranger raised the flask.
"Chin-chin," he said, and drank, breathing a long sigh of satisfaction afterwards as he handed it back; but it was Pierre that took it, and again fingers touched in the bond of fire. Pierre passed the flask to Lawless, who lifted it.
"Chin-chin," he said, drank, and gave the flask to Pierre again, who did as did the others, and said "Chin-chin" also.
By that salutation of the east, given in the far north, Lawless knew that he had met one who had lighted fires where men are many and close to the mile as holes in a sieve.
They all sat down, and tobacco went round, the stranger offering his, while the two others, with true hospitality, accepted.
"We heard you over there--it was you?" said Lawless, nodding towards Point o' Bugles, and glancing at the bugle the other carried.
"Yes, it was I," was the reply. "Someone always does it twice a year: on the 25th September and the 25th March. I've done it now without a break for ten years, until it has got to be a sort of religion with me, and the whole thing's as real as if King George and John York were talking. As I tramp to the point or swing away back, in summer barefooted, in winter on my snowshoes, to myself I seem to be John York on the trail of the king's bugles. I've thought so much about the whole thing, I've read so many of John York's letters--and how many times one of the King's!--that now I scarcely know which is the bare story, and which the bit's I've dreamed as I've tramped over the plains or sat in the quiet at King's House, spelling out little by little the man's life, from the cues I found in his journal, in the Company's papers, and in that one letter of the King's."
Pierre's eyes were now more keen than those of Lawless: for years he had known vaguely of this legend of Point o' Bugles.
"You know it all," he said--"begin at the beginning: how and when you first heard, how you got the real story, and never mind which is taken from the papers and which from your own mind--if it all fits in it is all true, for the lie never fits in right with the square truth. If you have the footprints and the handprints you can tell the whole man; if you have the horns of a deer you know it as if you had killed it, skinned it, and potted it."
The stranger stretched himself before the fire, nodding at his hosts as he did so, and then began:
"Well, a word about myself first," he said, "so you'll know just where you are. I was full up of life in London town and India, and that's a fact. I'd plenty of friends and little money, and my will wasn't equal to the task of keeping out of the hands of the Jews. I didn't know what to do, but I had to go somewhere, that was clear. Where? An accident decided it. I came across an old journal of my great-grandfather, John York,--my name's Dick Adderley,--and just as if a chain had been put round my leg and I'd been jerked over by the tipping of the world, I had to come to Hudson's Bay. John York's journal was a thing to sit up nights to read. It came back to England after he'd had his fill of Hudson's Bay and the earth beneath, and had gone, as he himself said on the last page of the journal, to follow the king's buglers in 'the land that is far off.' God and the devil were strong in old John York. I didn't lose much time after I'd read the journal. I went to Hudson's Bay house in London, got a place in the Company, by the help of the governor himself, and came out. I've learned the rest of the history of old John York--the part that never got to England; for here at King's House there's a holy tradition that the real John York belongs to it and to it alone."
Adderley laughed a little. "King's House guards John York's memory, and it's as fresh and real here now as though he'd died yesterday; though it's forgotten in England, and by most who bear his name, and the present Prince of Wales maybe never heard of the roan who was a close friend of the Prince Regent, the First Gentleman of Europe."
"That sounds sweet gossip," said Lawless, with a smile; "we're waiting."
Adderley continued: "John York was an honest man, of wholesome sport, jovial, and never shirking with the wine, commendable in his appetite, of rollicking soul and proud temper, and a gay dog altogether--gay, but to be trusted, too, for he had a royal heart. In the coltish days of the Prince Regent he was a boon comrade, but never did he stoop to flattery, nor would he hedge when truth should be spoken, as ofttimes it was needed with the royal blade, for at times he would forget that a prince was yet a man, topped with the accident of a crown. Never prince had truer friend, and so in his best hours he thought, himself, and if he ever was just and showed his better part, it was to the bold country gentleman who never minced praise or blame, but said his say and devil take the end of it. In truth, the Prince was wilful, and once he did a thing which might have given a twist to the fate of England. Hot for the love of women, and with some dash of real romance in him too, else even as a prince he might have had shallower love and service,--he called John York one day and said:
"'To-night at seven, Squire John, you'll stand with me while I put the seal on the Gates of Eden;' and, when the other did not guess his import, added: 'Sir Mark Selby is your neighbour--his daughter's for my arms to- night. You know her, handsome Sally Selby--she's for your prince, for good or ill.'
"John York did not understand at first, for he could not think the Prince had anything in mind but some hot escapade of love. When Mistress Selby's name was mentioned his heart stood still, for she had been his choice, the dear apple of his eye, since she had bloomed towards womanhood. He had set all his hopes upon her, tarrying till she should have seen some little life before he asked her for his wife. He had her father's Godspeed to his wooing, for he was a man whom all men knew honest and generous as the sun, and only choleric with the mean thing. She, also, had given him good cause to think that he should one day take her to his home, a loved and honoured wife. His impulse, when her name passed the Prince's lips, was to draw his sword, for he would have called an emperor to account; but presently he saw the real meaning of the speech: that the Prince would marry her that night."
Here the story-teller paused again, and Pierre said softly, inquiringly:
"You began to speak in your own way, and you've come to another way--like going from an almanac to the Mass."
The other smiled. "That's so. I've heard it told by old Shearton at King's House, who speaks as if he'd stepped out of Shakespeare, and somehow I seem to hear him talking, and I tell it as he told it last year to the governor of the Company. Besides, I've listened these seven years to his style."
"It's a strange beginning--unwritten history of England," said Sir Duke musingly.
"You shall hear stranger things yet," answered Adderley. "John York could hardly believe it at first, for the thought of such a thing never had place in his mind. Besides, the Prince knew how he had looked upon the lady, and he could not have thought his comrade would come in between him and his happiness. Perhaps it was the difficulty, adding spice to the affair, that sent the Prince to the appeal of private marriage to win the lady, and John York always held that he loved her truly then, the first and only real affection of his life. The lady--who can tell what won her over from the honest gentleman to the faithless prince? That soul of vanity which wraps about the real soul of every woman fell down at last before the highest office in the land, and the gifted bearer of the office. But the noble spirit in her brought him to offer marriage, when he might otherwise have offered, say, a barony. There is a record of that and more in John York's Memoirs which I will tell you, for they have settled in my mind like an old song, and I learned them long ago. I give you John York's words written by his own hands:
"'I did not think when I beheld thee last, dearest flower of the world's garden, that I should see thee bloom in that wide field, rank with the sorrows of royal favour. How did my foolish eyes fill with tears when I watched thee, all rose and gold in thy cheeks and hair, the light falling on thee through the chapel window, putting thy pure palm into my prince's, swearing thy life away, selling the very blossoms of earth's orchards for the brier beauty of a hidden vineyard! I saw the flying glories of thy cheeks, the halcyon weather of thy smile, the delicate lifting of thy bosom, the dear gaiety of thy step, and, at that moment, I mourned for thy sake that thou wert not the dullest wench in the land, for then thou hadst been spared thy miseries, thou hadst been saved the torture-boot of a lost love and a disacknowledged wifedom. Yet I could not hide from me that thou wert happy at that great moment, when he swore to love and cherish thee, till death you parted.
"Ah, George, my prince, my king, how wickedly thou didst break thy vows with both of us who loved thee well, through good and ill report--for they spake evil of thee, George; ay, the meanest of thy subjects spake lightly of their king--when with that sweet soul secretly hid away in the farthest corner of thy kingdom, thou soughtst divorce from thy later Caroline, whom thou, unfaithful, didst charge with infidelity. When, at last, thou didst turn again to the partner of thy youth, thy true wife in the eyes of God, it was too late. Thou didst promise me that thou wouldst never take another wife, never put our dear heart away, though she could not--after our miserable laws--bear thee princes. Thou didst break thy promise, yet she forgave thee, and I forgave thee, for well we knew that thou wouldst pay a heavy reckoning, and that in the hour when thou shouldst cry to us we might not come to thee; that in the days when age and sorrow and vast troubles should oppress thee, thou wouldst long for the true hearts who loved thee for thyself and not for aught thou wudst give, or aught that thou wert, save as a man.
"'When thou didst proclaim thy purpose to take Caroline to wife, I pleaded with thee, I was wroth with thee. Thy one plea was succession. Succession! Succession! What were a hundred dynasties beside that precious life, eaten by shame and sorrow? It were easy for others, not thy children, to come after thee, to rule as well as thee, as must even now be the case, for thou hast no lawful child save that one in the loneliest corner of thy English vineyard--alack! alack! I warned thee George, I pleaded, and thou didst drive me out with words ill-suited to thy friend who loved thee.
"'I did not fear thee, I would have forced thee to thy knees or made thee fight me, had not some good spirit cried to my heart that thou wert her husband, and that we both had loved thee. I dared not listen to the brutal thing thou hintedst at--that now I might fatten where I had hungered. Thou hadst to answer for the baseness of that thought to the King of kings, when thou wentest forth alone, no subject, courtier, friend, wife, or child to do thee service, journeying--not en prince, George; no, not en prince! but as a naked soul to God.
"'Thou saidst to me: "Get thee gone, John York, where I shall no more see thee." And when I returned, "Wouldst thou have me leave thy country, sir?" thou answeredst: "Blow thy quarrelsome soul to the stars where my farthest bugle cries." Then I said: "I go, sir, till thou callest me again--and after; but not till thou hast honoured the child of thy honest wedlock; till thou hast secured thy wife to the end of her life against all manner of trouble save the shame of thy disloyalty." There was no more for me to do, for my deep love itself forbade my staying longer within reach of the noble deserted soul. And so I saw the chastened glory of her face no more, nor evermore beheld her perfectness.'"
Adderley paused once more, and, after refilling his pipe in silence, continued:
"That was the heart of the thing. His soul sickened of the rank world, as he called it, and he came out to the Hudson's Bay country, leaving his estates in care of his nephew, but taking many stores and great chests of clothes and a shipload of furniture, instruments of music, more than a thousand books, some good pictures, and great stores of wine. Here he came and stayed, an officer of the Company, building King's House, and filling it with all the fine things he had brought with him, making in this far north a little palace in the wilderness. Here he lived, his great heart growing greater in this wide sinewy world, King's House a place of pilgrimage for all the Company's men in the north; a noble gentleman in a sweet exile, loving what he could no more, what he did no more, see.
"Twice a year he went to that point yonder and blew this bugle, no man knew why or wherefore, year in, year out, till 1817. Then there came a letter to him with great seals, which began: 'John York, John York, where art thou gone, John York?' There followed a score of sorrowful sentences, full of petulance, too, for it was as John York foretold, his prince longed for the 'true souls' whom he had cast off. But he called too late, for the neglected wife died from the shock of her prince's longing message to her, and when, by the same mail, John York knew that, he would not go back to England to the King. But twice every year he went to yonder point and spoke out the King's words to him: 'John York, John York, where art thou gone, John York?' and gave the words of his own letter in reply: 'King of my heart, king of my heart, I am out on the trail of thy bugles.' To this he added three calls of the bugle, as you have heard."
Adderley handed the bugle to Lawless, who looked at it with deep interest and passed it on to Pierre. "When he died," Adderley continued, "he left the house, the fittings, and the stores to the officers of the Company who should be stationed there, with a sum of money yearly, provided that twice in twelve months the bugle should be blown as you have heard it, and those words called out."
"Why did he do that?" asked Lawless, nodding towards the point.
"Why do they swing the censers at the Mass?" interjected Pierre. "Man has signs for memories, and one man seeing another's sign will remember his own."
"You stay because you like it--at King's House?" asked Lawless of Adderley.
The other stretched himself lazily to the fire and, "I am at home," he said. "I have no cares. I had all there was of that other world; I've not had enough of this. You'll come with me to King's House to-morrow?" he added.
To their quick assent he rejoined: "You'll never want to leave. You'll stay on."
To this Lawless replied, shaking his head: "I have a wife and child in England."
But Pierre did not reply. He lifted the bugle, mutely asking a question of Adderley, who as mutely replied, and then, with it in his hand, left the other two beside the fire.
A few minutes later they heard, with three calls of the bugle from the point afterwards, Pierre's voice: "John York, John York, where art thou gone, John York?"
Then came the reply:
"King of my heart, king of my heart, I am out on the trail of thy bugles."