FOR several days the blur of streaming
waved across the prospect, and on the last
two wakeful nights she had lain tossing and
listening to the wet rustle outside, hearing it
whisper ominous tidings sometimes. But
before she could distinctly hear what the full
tidings might be, again the wind would
recover from its lull and suther wildly around
the tower and mouldering bastions. Mayhap
a fragment of the tiled roof would raise a flake in that searching blast
and then it would be caught, ripped off, and tinkle downwards like a
castanet,—or some loose beam would be creaking back with a reaction
from the strain it had borne. Once a stone on the parapet, undermined
and tilted by many former storms, and never attended to by the few
dwellers in this lonely place, lost the little balance remaining to it and
plunged into the court with a heavy bound, making her heart close
inward for an instant. She laughed next minute as she heard its roll
upon the rock, knowing what the unusual noise meant. So there was
always some interruption to the fancied meaning in the whisper out-
side, and at dawn she slept without a single dream of portent.
‘Why does he not come?’ she said, when the grey day had
her with a watery gleam of sunshine. She had not asked the question
before, because none of those few could know her lover as she herself
did, and she had been the last to bid him farewell, a farewell but for a
little while, he said. But she asked it now, although she knew that
they could give her no answer. And as they dared not invent such
answer, none came to her question; indeed, she did not expect one from
them, but gave it to herself.
‘He has met them, conquered them, and chased them far, until
a long journey back even to that distant place where we parted. To
travel up into this highland with heavy spoil is a different thing from
coming as I did. Still, the plains are not so wide as others I have known.’
The rain thinned as the hours passed, then ceased.
She had been weary of these dark chambers of hewn stone after
day of living in them, and had borne the succeeding days with a more
and more mighty impatience.
Now she went out into the courtyard with a quick breath, and
by the broken piece of parapet and gazed upwards as the clouds sailed
across, peeping through the rifts, which gave her small glimpses of the
blue infinite outside their mantle. And then in a lull of the gale she
heard a far stream, that came roaring down from the hills to swell its
It was a call not to be resisted by the amazon, now that her
had nearly healed. She still wore the mailed sark of that day of their
first victory, and the crooked blade hung at her girdle. At her command
the serving woman brought the light steel cap and woollen mantle; and
as they watched her, uncertain whether or not to anger her by obeying
their chief and restrain her, she stepped through the gateway and ran
gleefully along the mountain side, hoping at each turn of the washed
path to see his lances and plumes somewhere below.
Once she thought, after two or three disappointments, that
heard the sound of his voice amidst the murmur of his men. But no, it
was only the voice of the torrent tumbling down the rocks and booming
on the steps of the range.
After a while she came to this, her hair flying about in the
and watched it as she twined up her locks again under the casque.
This must be that river by whose bank she had once come from the red
field to the stronghold, by which he too would come before long. She
wandered downward through the thickets and through the trees, and at
last reached the level across which the stream was plunging. Here
she looked for his appearing, but no one was to be seen upon the
As these swathes of mist rose higher, the breeze caught them
twisted them into fantastic shapes ere they dispersed. She saw in them
whatever her fancy chose, and that was nothing else than a man on a
grey charger at the head of other riders; skirting the edges of the glades,
she saw again and again the vision of what she longed for in reality,
and at last she found a causeway and crossed to those forest openings
on the other side, hoping and expecting to see him at every turn, or to
hear the plash of a troop through the shallow pools. But the hope
which sprang up anew at every vista vanished continually.
At last she was on the point of returning, and breaking the
this desire for search, as the vanity of it became more plain to her, when
she spied a human being sitting wearily under a tree at one of the turns
in the woodland. Its head was bowed forward on its knees, and it had
clasped itself together as if to keep itself warm from the chill of the
She went up to it and laid a hand upon its shoulder, and when
was no upturn of head, shook it strongly. At this the man turned
aside and rolled into the lush grass as if he had been knotted together,
and she saw him to be dead. Accustomed herself to deal death to her
foes whenever possible, this did not chill her veins as it would those of
a slave woman. But the chill came on her when she saw the face of her
husband’s foster-brother, whose post was at the left hand of his chieftain
in all that might betide.
When she saw him there dead and alone, with the marks of
fighting and fasting upon him, she knew that her lord would not come
to her in the stronghold, however many days she waited. And at first
she cried out loudly, and waved her hands in the air. Then she turned
and hurried back to the slope of the high land, full of angry amazement
at this strange ill chance, which had overwhelmed the bravest man that
ever bore a woman on his saddlebow or clove a foe’s crown.
But the mist was thick and hid the way, and at last she came
the bank of the river, and stood, watching it foam and pour past, with a
mind as seething as that flood, wishing that she had never left him, but
let her wound take its chance of healing, as she had done in the fierce
days before she had met him and been conquered and loved him. At
any rate she now would have been with him instead of here, and would
not have had the wearisome and ignoble waiting of the last seven days.
Maybe at this very moment he had his back to a wall and a half-circle
of foes writhing on the ground in front of him, while the crowd of armed
curs huddled together for a moment before they could revive enough
courage to make another rush on the lion standing at bay. She saw it
and stamped her foot and clenched her hands with longing. . . .
Oh! to be there, just as she was, with her crooked heavy
asked no more of Fate. Only to be able to place her back against his
and then to swiftly wrap the wool round her left arm, scream his name
at the waverers, and complete the other half of that red circle. No need
then of any wall. They would whirl round like dragon-flies, now this
way, now that, with their steel edges whistling and sweeping; or like
reapers in corn-time, and always the circle wherever they went.
She had done it before with him, and the memory of that
hour tantalised her now, so that she would have wept bitterly, had such
a thing been possible to her nature. As it was, she could but trample
the sand with a furious foot, and eat her heart with vain longing.
Then came down the torrent a something vast and bristly,
across the wide stream, and at last clearly appearing to be a tree, hurled
prone by some furious gust of the gale, washed out of its root-hold, and
drifting down to the plains below this level country. Sometimes its
submerged branches caught upon the bottom and gripped the boulders
there. Then the whole mass paused and heaved ponderously, until the
water wrestled with it and pushed it off again. So it sailed past her
very swiftly, rocking like a war-galley under a press of sail, with some
small animal shrieking in its branches like a mariner watching for shoals.
Presently it caught again lower down from the spot where she stood,
and again the water boiled and hissed around the mass of its roots and
the dome of its branches, vainly pushing as it poured past. A mighty
tree was that, even in its fall. It must have been king of the crags and
mountain-side when it stood, sheltering beast and bird with royal
impartiality. But the outburst of waters had joined forces with the
furious press of the storm-wind, until the tree yielded to the many shocks
above and the continual sapping below, and fell, and rolled, and went
down where the stream might choose to drag it.
As she looked at it heaving there, perhaps to be free again
instant, a thought flashed through her, and she ran along the bank
until she came opposite to the swaying branches and the chattering
animal. Then she gave a great bound forward, and the current seized
her and carried her against the outermost fringe of twigs, which she
grasped instantly. By and by, as she made her way through the
tangle and came to the trunk, along which she walked as on a cause-
way, the tree ceased its heaving and began to glide, slowly, then faster,
faster, until the stream widened, and then the pace became less swift but
steadier, and she sat down among the roots and waited, while the animal
chattered and ran about in the branches at the other end.
She did not think now, for that was not her habit, and her
having been made, there was no need for any more brain-beating. She
would stay there until the tree had come down to where the towns
began, and then she would leap off and swim to the right bank and
make her way to her chieftain somehow, knowing that side of the
There were stones of various shapes among the roots, along
the torn-up mould and mosses, and choosing one of these, long and
thin, she passed the time in sharpening the edge of her crooked
blade and fingering its point, until this was like a razor and that was like
a needle. Then she carefully sheathed it again and gazed around.
The mist was white and thick on the water, and she was not
whether she had seen a watch-tower or a clump of trees before it passed
behind her and was lost entirely. The river was in full flood, and went
fast onward with much twisting and gurgle, so that the air all round
her was murmuring with the thousands of small current-voices, and no
human sounds came to her ear from the distant shores; so that she
could not tell where she might be, and the day was now nearing sunset-
time. She sat and waited the first opportunity to get away and begin
her quest of revenge. There were many other things in the water,
pieces of soil half submerged, trees of a lesser size than hers, and by
degrees had appeared a few bodies of cattle and some wild beasts, the
latter alive, some of them fighting feebly, and yielding their lives
reluctantly, though they had come from afar. Most had gripped a
tree, and cowered among the branches, taking no notice of each other,
whether they were friend or foe by race.
An hour passed, and more, and there came no chance of
ashore, nor was any shore sign visible as the mist thickened and the
dusk came. But now she saw that some human bodies had come
floating into the strange company of voyagers, and tried hard to see if
they wore the dress of her chieftain, any of them, not recognising it in
the coarse clothes of the men nor deceived by the gold embroidery on
one of them, for she saw that one to be a woman of some consequence,
and this looked as if a town had been passed.
After a while the stream was crowded with dead folk,
silently along, now turning up white faces, now showing only their
backs. And at last she saw a dress she knew, and on that she fixed
her eyes for a long while, until the face of the wearer slowly turned
upward, and she recognised another man of her chieftain’s troop.
It angered her greatly, yet gave her a sure tiding of the
which had overwhelmed the man she sought; for the hands and feet of
that corpse were bound, and the face was distorted with torture-marks,
and there was no sign lacking of the things she herself had delighted to
inflict on her lord’s captives in merry days now gone never to return.
She sat there in the dusk, hoping always for some opportunity, some
tongue of land, so that she might get away and give burial as well as
revenge. But no land showed, and at last came night, and she lay
down and slept, with red dreams flowing through her.
She awoke at dawn, and the yellow mist had become white
and the crowd around her was greater, but there was no sign of shore.
A glance showed her many of her chieftain’s men, who had joined the
silent procession during the night hours, so many that now they out-
numbered the others. Then she stood up on her tree and raised her
hands and sang a lamentation for them, wild and shrill, with a voice
tuned to the murmurous note of the river which bore them all along
unresting. The animal chattered and ran about the tangle of boughs
in front, but she paid no heed to it at all, only waved her hands and
sang verse upon verse for her lost chieftain, who, perchance, might be
there in the water with the rest.
At last came a sound which was not the river, and she ceased
song and listened to that mightier one. She knew it. The chant of
sea-waves breaking upon the coast, rising and falling regularly on either
side, as there came a sense of saltness in the air. They had come
a long way, she and her men together, but the storm had been long and
violent up there in the mountains, and had sent a vast tide down to
meet the tides of ocean.
Another sound came to her for a little while also. A bell
on the coast, far, far away, ringing the news of victory and peace. It
died presently as the current bore the silent company, and the voice
of the sea grew louder in her ears.
At last the tree tossed and heaved as it had done far up
the higher levels, but there was no catch below. All the bodies tossed
likewise, and surged around her upon the waves, and so they plunged
onward through the sea, and the gulls flew screaming across and settled,
and again arose and wheeled.
Then at last came a dragging of the under branches, and the
was pushed forward into the breakers and rolled over, and the wife of the
chieftain was in the water, fighting her way to the beach of the islet
where they had stranded. She rose and sank and rose again, and at
last came upon the sand and stones. There came also many bodies with
her, and she stood and watched them for a while.
Then she threw off her mail and her helmet and went inward to
sand-dunes and found a hollow place, fit for the grave of a strong
warrior, and prepared a deep furrow with stones and long grass,
after which she returned and waited on the shore, and as each of her
men arrived she drew him upon the shingle and laid him to wait his
turn. At last came the body she desired, slowly floating inward with
hands and feet unbound. She was glad then, and yet more glad to
find the hilt of a broken blade clenched in the stiff fingers. And him
she carried to the couch she had prepared, and poured sand over him
from her helmet, until he was covered cleanly; and all the remainder
of that day she spent in placing his men round him in order of their
following, and at evening, her task done, she herself lay down to rest by
the centre mound she had made.
W. DELAPLAINE SCULL.
Scull, W. Delaplaine. “Virago.” The Pageant, 1897, pp. 186-195. Pageant Digital Edition, edited by Frederick King and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2021. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021. https://1890s.ca/pag2-scull-virago/