The Romance of the First Radical by
A PREHISTORIC APOLOGUE.
“Titius. Le premier qui supprime un abus,
comme on dit, est toujours victime du service qu’il rend.
Un Homme du Peuple. C’est de sa faute! Pourquoi
se mêlé t’il de ce qui ne le regarde pas.”—Le
Prêtre de Nemi.
The Devil, according to Dr. Johnson and other authorities, was the
first Whig. History tells us less about the first Radical—the
first man who rebelled against the despotism of unintelligible customs,
who asserted the rights of the individual against the claims of the
tribal conscience, and who was eager to see society organized, off-hand,
on what he thought a rational method. In the absence of history,
we must fall back on that branch of hypothetics which is known as prehistoric
science. We must reconstruct the Romance of the First Radical
from the hints supplied by geology, and by the study of Radicals at
large, and of contemporary savages among whom no Radical reformer has
yet appeared. In the following little apologue no trait of manners
The characters of our romance lived shortly after the close of the
last glacial epoch in Europe, when the ice had partly withdrawn from
the face of the world, and when land and sea had almost assumed their
modern proportions. At this period Europe was inhabited by scattered
bands of human creatures, who roamed about its surface much as the black
fellows used to roam over the Australian continent. The various
groups derived their names from various animals and other natural objects,
such as the sun, the cabbage, serpents, sardines, crabs, leopards, bears,
and hyænas. It is important for our purpose to remember
that all the children took their family name from the mother’s
side. If she were of the Hyæna clan, the children were Hyænas.
If the mother were tattooed with the badge of the Serpent, the children
were Serpents, and so on. No two persons of the same family name
and crest might marry, on pain of death. The man of the Bear family
who dwelt by the Mediterranean might not ally himself with a woman of
the Bear clan whose home was on the shores of the Baltic, and who was
in no way related to him by consanguinity. These details are dry,
but absolutely necessary to the comprehension of the First Radical’s
stormy and melancholy career. We must also remember that, among
the tribes, there was no fixed or monarchical government. The
little democratic groups were much influenced by the medicine-men or
wizards, who combined the functions of the modern clergy and of the
medical profession. The old men, too, had some power; the braves,
or warriors, constituted a turbulent oligarchy; the noisy outcries of
the old women corresponded to the utterances of an intelligent daily
press. But the real ruler was a body of strange and despotic customs,
the nature of which will become apparent as we follow the fortunes of
the First Radical.
THE YOUTH OF WHY-WHY.
Why-Why, as our hero was commonly called in the tribe, was born,
long before Romulus built his wall, in a cave which may still be observed
in the neighbourhood of Mentone. On the warm shores of the Mediterranean,
protected from winds by a wall of rock, the group of which Why-Why was
the offspring had attained conditions of comparative comfort.
The remains of their dinners, many feet deep, still constitute the flooring
of the cave, and the tourist, as he pokes the soil with the point of
his umbrella, turns up bits of bone, shreds of chipped flint, and other
interesting relics. In the big cave lived several little families,
all named by the names of their mothers. These ladies had been
knocked on the head and dragged home, according to the marriage customs
of the period, from places as distant as the modern Marseilles and Genoa.
Why-Why, with his little brothers and sisters, were named Serpents,
were taught to believe that the serpent was the first ancestor of their
race, and that they must never injure any creeping thing. When
they were still very young, the figure of the serpent was tattooed over
their legs and breasts, so that every member of primitive society who
met them had the advantage of knowing their crest and highly respectable
The birth of Why-Why was a season of discomfort and privation.
The hill tribe which lived on the summit of the hill now known as the
Tête du Chien had long been aware that an addition to the population
of the cave was expected. They had therefore prepared, according
to the invariable etiquette of these early times, to come down on the
cave people, maltreat the ladies, steal all the property they could
lay hands on, and break whatever proved too heavy to carry. Good
manners, of course, forbade the cave people to resist this visit, but
etiquette permitted (and in New Caledonia still permits) the group to
bury and hide its portable possessions. Canoes had been brought
into the little creek beneath the cave, to convey the women and children
into a safe retreat, and the men were just beginning to hide the spears,
bone daggers, flint fish-hooks, mats, shell razors, nets, and so forth,
when Why-Why gave an early proof of his precocity by entering the world
some time before his arrival was expected.
Instantly all was confusion. The infant, his mother and the
other non-combatants of the tribe, were bundled into canoes and paddled,
through a tempestuous sea, to the site of the modern Bordighiera.
The men who were not with the canoes fled into the depths of the Gorge
Saint Louis, which now severs France from Italy. The hill tribe
came down at the double, and in a twinkling had “made hay”
(to borrow a modern agricultural expression) of all the personal property
of the cave dwellers. They tore the nets (the use of which they
did not understand), they broke the shell razors, they pouched the opulent
store of flint arrowheads and bone daggers, and they tortured to death
the pigs, which the cave people had just begun to try to domesticate.
After performing these rites, which were perfectly legal—indeed,
it would have been gross rudeness to neglect them—the hill people
withdrew to their wind-swept home on the Tête du Chien.
Philosophers who believe in the force of early impressions will be
tempted to maintain that Why-Why’s invincible hatred of established
institutions may be traced to these hours of discomfort in which his
The very earliest years of Why-Why, unlike those of Mr. John Stuart
Mill, whom in many respects he resembled, were not distinguished by
proofs of extraordinary intelligence. He rather promptly, however,
showed signs of a sceptical character. Like other sharp children,
Why-Why was always asking metaphysical conundrums. Who made men?
Who made the sun? Why has the cave-bear such a hoarse voice?
Why don’t lobsters grow on trees?—he would incessantly demand.
In answer to these and similar questions, the mother of Why-Why would
tell him stories out of the simple mythology of the tribe. There
was quite a store of traditional replies to inquisitive children, replies
sanctioned by antiquity and by the authority of the medicine-men, and
in this lore Why-Why’s mother was deeply versed.
Thus, for example, Why-Why would ask his mother who made men.
She would reply that long ago Pund-jel, the first man, made two images
of human beings in clay, and stuck on curly bark for hair. He
then danced a corroboree round them, and sang a song. They rose
up, and appeared as full-grown men. To this statement, hallowed
by immemorial belief, Why-Why only answered by asking who made Pund-jel.
His mother said that Pund-jel came out of a plot of reeds and rushes.
Why-Why was silent, but thought in his heart that the whole theory was
“bosh-bosh,” to use the early reduplicative language of
these remote times. Nor could he conceal his doubts about the
Deluge and the frog who once drowned all the world. Here is the
story of the frog:—“Once, long ago, there was a big frog.
He drank himself full of water. He could not get rid of the water.
Once he saw a sand-eel dancing on his tail by the sea-shore. It
made him laugh so that he burst, and all the water ran out. There
was a great flood, and every one was drowned except two or three men
and women, who got on an island. Past came the pelican, in a canoe;
he took off the men, but wanting to marry the woman, kept her to the
last. She wrapped up a log in a ’possum rug to deceive the
pelican, and swam to shore and escaped. The pelican was very angry;
he began to paint himself white, to show that he was on the war trail,
when past came another pelican, did not like his looks, and killed him
with his beak. That is why pelicans are partly black and white,
if you want to know, my little dear,” said the mother of Why-Why.
Many stories like this were told in the cave, but they found no credit
with Why-Why. When he was but ten years old, his inquiring spirit
showed itself in the following remarkable manner. He had always
been informed that a serpent was the mother of his race, and that he
must treat serpents with the greatest reverence. To kill one was
sacrilege. In spite of this, he stole out unobserved and crushed
a viper which had stung his little brother. He noticed that no
harm ensued, and this encouraged him to commit a still more daring act.
None but the old men and the warriors were allowed to eat oysters.
It was universally held that if a woman or a child touched an oyster,
the earth would open and swallow the culprit. Not daunted by this
prevalent belief, Why-Why one day devoured no less than four dozen oysters,
opening the shells with a flint spear-head, which he had secreted in
his waist-band. The earth did not open and swallow him as he had
swallowed the oysters, and from that moment he became suspicious of
all the ideas and customs imposed by the old men and wizards.
Two or three touching incidents in domestic life, which occurred
when Why-Why was about twelve years old, confirmed him in the dissidence
of his dissent, for the first Radical was the first Dissenter.
The etiquette of the age (which survives among the Yorubas and other
tribes) made it criminal for a woman to see her husband, or even to
mention his name. When, therefore, the probable father of Why-Why
became weary of supporting his family, he did not need to leave the
cave and tramp abroad. He merely ceased to bring in tree-frogs,
grubs, roots, and the other supplies which Why-Why’s mother was
accustomed to find concealed under a large stone in the neighbourhood
of the cave.
The poor pious woman, who had always religiously abstained from seeing
her lord’s face, and from knowing his name, was now reduced to
destitution. There was no one to grub up pig-nuts for her, nor
to extract insects of an edible sort from beneath the bark of trees.
As she could not identify her invisible husband, she was unable to denounce
him to the wizards, who would, for a consideration, have frightened
him out of his life or into the performance of his duty. Thus,
even with the aid of Why-Why, existence became too laborious for her
strength, and she gradually pined away. As she lay in a half-fainting
and almost dying state, Why-Why rushed out to find the most celebrated
local medicine-man. In half an hour the chief medicine-man appeared,
dressed in the skin of a wolf, tagged about with bones, skulls, dead
lizards, and other ornaments of his official attire. You may see
a picture very like him in Mr. Catlin’s book about the Mandans.
Armed with a drum and a rattle, he leaped into the presence of the sick
woman, uttering unearthly yells. His benevolent action and “bedside
manner” were in accordance with the medical science of the time.
He merely meant to frighten away the evil spirit which (according to
the received hypothesis) was destroying the mother of Why-Why.
What he succeeded in doing was to make Why-Why’s mother give a
faint scream, after which her jaw fell, and her eyes grew fixed and
The grief of Why-Why was profound. Reckless of consequences,
he declared, with impious publicity, that the law which forbade a wife
to see her own husband, and the medical science which frightened poor
women to death were cruel and ridiculous. As Why-Why (though a
promising child) was still under age, little notice was taken of remarks
which were attributed to the petulance of youth. But when he went
further, and transgressed the law which then forbade a brother to speak
to his own sister, on pain of death, the general indignation was no
longer repressed. In vain did Why-Why plead that if he neglected
his sister no one else would comfort her. His life was spared,
but the unfortunate little girl’s bones were dug up by a German
savant last year, in a condition which makes it only too certain that
cannibalism was practised by the early natives of the Mediterranean
coast. These incidents then, namely, the neglect of his unknown
father, the death of his mother, and the execution of his sister, confirmed
Why-Why in the belief that radical social reforms were desirable.
The coming of age of Why-Why was celebrated in the manner usual among
primitive people. The ceremonies were not of a character to increase
his pleasure in life, nor his respect for constituted authority.
When he was fourteen years of age, he was pinned, during his sleep,
by four adult braves, who knocked out his front teeth, shaved his head
with sharp chips of quartzite, cut off the first joint of his little
finger, and daubed his whole body over with clay. They then turned
him loose, imposing on him his name of Why-Why; and when his shaven
hair began to show through the clay daubing, the women of the tribe
washed him, and painted him black and white. The indignation of
Why-Why may readily be conceived. Why, he kept asking, should
you shave a fellow’s head, knock out his teeth, cut off his little
finger, daub him with clay, and paint him like a pelican, because he
is fourteen years old? To these radical questions, the braves
(who had all lost their own front teeth) replied, that this was the
custom of their fathers. They tried to console him, moreover,
by pointing out that now he might eat oysters, and catch himself a bride
from some hostile tribe, or give his sister in exchange for a wife.
This was little comfort to Why-Why. He had eaten oysters already
without supernatural punishment, and his sister, as we have seen, had
suffered the extreme penalty of the law. Nor could our hero persuade
himself that to club and carry off a hostile girl in the dark was the
best way to win a loving wife. He remained single, and became
a great eater of oysters.
THE MANHOOD OF WHY-WHY.
As time went on our hero developed into one of the most admired braves
of his community. No one was more successful in battle, and it
became almost a proverb that when Why-Why went on the war-path there
was certain to be meat enough and to spare, even for the women.
Why-Why, though a Radical, was so far from perfect that he invariably
complied with the usages of his time when they seemed rational and useful.
If a little tattooing on the arm would have saved men from a horrible
disease, he would have had all the tribe tattooed. He was no bigot.
He kept his word, and paid his debts, for no one was ever very “advanced”
all at once. It was only when the ceremonious or superstitious
ideas of his age and race appeared to him senseless and mischievous
that he rebelled, or at least hinted his doubts and misgivings.
This course of conduct made him feared and hated both by the medicine-men,
or clerical wizards, and by the old women of the tribe. They naturally
tried to take their revenge upon him in the usual way.
A charge of heresy, of course, could not well be made, for in the
infancy of our race there were neither Courts of Arches nor General
Assemblies. But it was always possible to accuse Why-Why of malevolent
witchcraft. The medicine-men had not long to wait for an opportunity.
An old woman died, as old women will, and every one was asking “Who
sent the evil spirit that destroyed poor old Dada?” In Why-Why’s
time no other explanation of natural death by disease or age was entertained.
The old woman’s grave was dug, and all the wizards intently watched
for the first worm or insect that should crawl out of the mould.
The head-wizard soon detected a beetle, making, as he alleged, in the
direction where Why-Why stood observing the proceedings. The wizard
at once denounced our hero as the cause of the old woman’s death.
To have blenched for a moment would have been ruin. But Why-Why
merely lifted his hand, and in a moment a spear flew from it which pinned
his denouncer ignominiously to a pine-tree. The funeral of the
old woman was promptly converted into a free fight, in which there was
more noise than bloodshed. After this event the medicine-men left
Why-Why to his own courses, and waited for a chance of turning public
opinion against the sceptic.
The conduct of Why-Why was certainly calculated to outrage all conservative
feeling. When on the war-path or in the excitement of the chase
he had even been known to address a tribesman by his name, as “Old
Cow,” or “Flying Cloud,” or what not, instead of adopting
the orthodox nomenclature of the classificatory system, and saying,
“Third cousin by the mother’s side, thrice removed, will
you lend me an arrow?” or whatever it might be. On “tabu-days,”
once a week, when the rest of the people in the cave were all silent,
sedentary, and miserable (from some superstitious feeling which we can
no longer understand), Why-Why would walk about whistling, or would
chip his flints or set his nets. He ought to have been punished
with death, but no one cared to interfere with him.
Instead of dancing at the great “corroborees,” or religious
ballets of his people, he would “sit out” with a girl whose
sad, romantic history became fatally interwoven with his own.
In vain the medicine-men assured him that Pund-jel, the great spirit,
was angry. Why-Why was indifferent to the thunder which was believed
to be the voice of Pund-jel. His behaviour at the funeral of a
celebrated brave actually caused what we would call a reformation in
It was usual to lay the corpses of the famous dead in a cave, where
certain of the tribesmen were sent to watch for forty days and nights
the decaying body. This ghastly task was made more severe by the
difficulty of obtaining food. Everything that the watchers were
allowed to eat was cooked outside the cave with complicated ceremonies.
If any part of the ritual was omitted, if a drop or a morsel were spilled,
the whole rite had to be done over again from the beginning. This
was not all. The chief medicine-man took a small portion of the
meat in a long spoon, and entered the sepulchral cavern. In the
dim light he approached one of the watchers of the dead, danced before
him, uttered a mysterious formula of words, and made a shot at the hungry
man’s mouth with a long spoon. If the shot was straight,
if the spoon did not touch the lips or nose or mouth, the watcher made
ready to receive a fresh spoonful. But if the attempt failed,
if the spoon did not go straight to the mark, the mourners were obliged
to wait till all the cooking ceremonies were performed afresh, when
the feeding began again.
Now, Why-why was a mourner whom the chief medicine-man was anxious
to “spite,” as children say, and at the end of three days’
watching our hero had not received a morsel of food. The spoon
had invariably chanced to miss him. On the fourth night Why-Why
entertained his fellow-watchers with a harangue on the imbecility of
the whole proceeding. He walked out of the cave, kicked the chief
medicine-man into a ravine, seized the pot full of meat, brought it
back with him, and made a hearty meal. The other mourners, half
dead with fear, expected to see the corpse they were “waking”
arise, “girn,” and take some horrible revenge. Nothing
of the sort occurred, and the burials of the cave dwellers gradually
came to be managed in a less irksome way.
THE LOVES OF VERVA AND WHY-WHY.
No man, however intrepid, can offend with impunity the most sacred
laws of society. Why-Why proved no exception to this rule.
His decline and fall date, we may almost say, from the hour when he
bought a fair-haired, blue-eyed female child from a member of a tribe
that had wandered out of the far north. The tribe were about to
cook poor little Verva because her mother was dead, and she seemed a
bouche inutile. For the price of a pair of shell fish-hooks,
a bone dagger, and a bundle of grass-string Why-Why (who had a tender
heart) ransomed the child. In the cave she lived an unhappy life,
as the other children maltreated and tortured her in the manner peculiar
to pitiless infancy.
Such protection as a man can give to a child the unlucky little girl
received from Why-Why. The cave people, like most savages, made
it a rule never to punish their children. Why-Why got into many
quarrels because he would occasionally box the ears of the mischievous
imps who tormented poor Verva, the fair-haired and blue-eyed captive
from the north. There grew up a kind of friendship between Why-Why
and the child. She would follow him with dog-like fidelity and
with a stealthy tread when he hunted the red deer in the forests of
the Alpine Maritimes. She wove for him a belt of shells, strung
on stout fibres of grass. In this belt Why-Why would attend the
tribal corroborees, where, as has been said, he was inclined to “sit
out” with Verva and watch, rather than join in the grotesque dance
performed as worship to the Bear.
As Verva grew older and ceased to be persecuted by the children,
she became beautiful in the unadorned manner of that early time.
Her friendship with Why-Why began to embarrass the girl, and our hero
himself felt a quite unusual shyness when he encountered the captive
girl among the pines on the hillside. Both these untutored hearts
were strangely stirred, and neither Why-Why nor Verva could imagine
wherefore they turned pale or blushed when they met, or even when either
heard the other’s voice. If Why-Why had not distrusted and
indeed detested the chief medicine-man, he would have sought that worthy’s
professional advice. But he kept his symptoms to himself, and
Verva also pined in secret.
These artless persons were in love without knowing it.
It is not surprising that they did not understand the nature of their
complaint, for probably before Why-Why no one had ever been in love.
Courtship had consisted in knocking a casual girl on the head in the
dark, and the only marriage ceremony had been that of capture.
Affection on the side of the bride was out of the question, for, as
we have remarked, she was never allowed so much as to see her husband’s
face. Probably the institution of falling in love has been evolved
in, and has spread from, various early centres of human existence.
Among the primitive Ligurian races, however, Why-Why and Verva must
be held the inventors, and, alas! the protomartyrs of the passion.
Love, like murder, “will out,” and events revealed to Why-Why
and Verva the true nature of their sentiments.
It was a considerable exploit of Why-Why’s that brought him
and the northern captive to understand each other. The brother
of Why-Why had died after partaking too freely of a member of a hostile
tribe. The cave people, of course, expected Why-Why to avenge
his kinsman. The brother, they said, must have been destroyed
by a boilya or vampire, and, as somebody must have sent that
vampire against the lad, somebody must be speared for it. Such
are primitive ideas of medicine and justice. An ordinary brave
would have skulked about the dwellings of some neighbouring human groups
till he got a chance of knocking over a child or an old woman, after
which justice and honour would have been satisfied. But Why-Why
declared that, if he must spear somebody, he would spear a man of importance.
The forms of a challenge were therefore notched on a piece of stick,
which was solemnly carried by heralds to the most renowned brave of
a community settled in the neighbourhood of the modern San Remo.
This hero might have very reasonably asked, “Why should I spear
Why-Why because his brother over-ate himself?” The laws
of honour, however (which even at this period had long been established),
forbade a gentleman when challenged to discuss the reasonableness of
The champions met on a sandy plain beside a little river near the
modern Ventimiglia. An amphitheatre of rock surrounded them, and,
far beyond, the valley was crowned by the ancient snow of an Alpine
peak. The tribes of either party gathered in the rocky amphitheatre,
and breathlessly watched the issue of the battle. Each warrior
was equipped with a shield, a sheaf of spears, and a heavy, pointed
club. At thirty paces distance they began throwing, and the spectators
enjoyed a beautiful exposition of warlike skill. Both men threw
with extreme force and deadly aim; while each defended himself cleverly
with his shield. The spears were exhausted, and but one had pierced
the thigh of Why-Why, while his opponent had two sticking in his neck
and left arm.
Then, like two meeting thunder-clouds, the champions dashed at each
other with their clubs. The sand was whirled up around them as
they spun in the wild dance of battle, and the clubs rattled incessantly
on the heads and shields. Twice Why-Why was down, but he rose
with wonderful agility, and never dropped his shield. A third
time he stooped beneath a tremendous whack, but when all seemed over,
grasped a handful of sand, and flung it right in his enemy’s eyes.
The warrior reeled, blinded and confused, when Why-Why gave point with
the club in his antagonist’s throat; the blood leaped out, and
both fell senseless on the plain.
* * * * *
When the slow mist cleared from before the eyes of Why-Why he found
himself (he was doubtless the first hero of the many heroes who have
occupied this romantic position) stretched on a grassy bed, and watched
by the blue eyes of Verva. Where were the sand, the stream, the
hostile warrior, the crowds of friends and foes? It was Verva’s
part to explain. The champion of the other tribe had never breathed
after he received the club-thrust, and the chief medicine-man had declared
that Why-Why was also dead. He had suggested that both champions
should be burned in the desolate spot where they lay, that their boilyas,
or ghosts, might not harm the tribes. The lookers-on had gone
to their several and distant caves to fetch fire for the ceremony (they
possessed no means of striking a light), and Verva, unnoticed, had lingered
beside Why-Why, and laid his bleeding head in her lap. Why-Why
had uttered a groan, and the brave girl dragged him from the field into
a safe retreat among the woods not far from the stream. Why-Why
had been principally beaten about the head, and his injuries, therefore,
After watching the return of the tribesmen, and hearing the chief
medicine-man explain that Why-Why’s body had been carried away
by “the bad black-fellow with a tail who lives under the earth,”
Why-Why enjoyed the pleasure of seeing his kinsmen and his foes leave
the place to its natural silence. Then he found words, and poured
forth his heart to Verva. They must never be sundered—they
must be man and wife! The girl leaned her golden head on Why-Why’s
dark shoulder, and sniffed at him, for kissing was an institution not
yet evolved. She wept. She had a dreadful thing to tell
him,—that she could never be his. “Look at this mark,”
she said, exposing the inner side of her arm. Why-Why looked,
shuddered, and turned pale. On Verva’s arm he recognized,
almost defaced, the same tattooed badge that wound its sinuous spirals
across his own broad chest and round his manly legs. It was
the mark of the Serpent!
Both were Serpents; both, unknown to Why-Why, though not to Verva,
bore the same name, the same badge, and, if Why-Why had been a religious
man, both would have worshipped the same reptile. Marriage between
them then was a thing accursed; man punished it by death. Why-Why
bent his head and thought. He remembered all his youth—the
murder of his sister for no crime; the killing of the serpent, and how
no evil came of it; the eating of the oysters, and how the earth had
not opened and swallowed him. His mind was made up. It was
absolutely certain that his tribe and Verva’s kin had never been
within a thousand miles of each other. In a few impassioned words
he explained to Verva his faith, his simple creed that a thing was not
necessarily wrong because the medicine-men said so, and the tribe believed
them. The girl’s own character was all trustfulness, and
Why-Why was the person she trusted. “Oh, Why-Why, dear,”
she said blushing (for she had never before ventured to break the tribal
rule which forbade calling any one by his name), “Oh, Why-Why,
you are always right!”
And o’er the hills, and far away
Beyond their utmost purple rim,
Beyond the night, across the day,
Through all the world she followed him.
LA MORT WHY-WHY.
Two years had passed like a dream in the pleasant valley which, in
far later ages, the Romans called Vallis Aurea, and which we call Vallauris.
Here, at a distance of some thirty miles from the cave and the tribe,
dwelt in fancied concealment Why-Why and Verva. The clear stream
was warbling at their feet, in the bright blue weather of spring; the
scent of the may blossoms was poured abroad, and, lying in the hollow
of Why-Why’s shield, a pretty little baby with Why-Why’s
dark eyes and Verva’s golden locks was crowing to his mother.
Why-Why sat beside her, and was busily making the first European pipkin
with the clay which he had found near Vallauris. All was peace.
* * * * *
There was a low whizzing sound, something seemed to rush past Why-Why,
and with a scream Verva fell on her face. A spear had pierced
her breast. With a yell like that of a wounded lion, Why-Why threw
himself on the bleeding body of his bride. For many moments he
heard no sound but her long, loud and unconscious breathing. He
did not mark the yells of his tribesmen, nor feel the spears that rained
down on himself, nor see the hideous face of the chief medicine-man
peering at his own. Verva ceased to breathe. There was a
convulsion, and her limbs were still. Then Why-Why rose.
In his right hand was his famous club, “the watcher of the fords;”
in his left his shield. These had never lain far from his hand
since he fled with Verva.
He knew that the end had come, as he had so often dreamt of it; he
knew that he was trapped and taken by his offended tribesmen.
His first blow shattered the head of the chief medicine-man. Then
he flung himself, all bleeding from the spears, among the press of savages
who started from every lentisk bush and tuft of tall flowering heath.
They gave back when four of their chief braves had fallen, and Why-Why
lacked strength and will to pursue them. He turned and drew Verva’s
body beneath the rocky wall, and then he faced his enemies. He
threw down shield and club and raised his hands. A light seemed
to shine about his face, and his first word had a strange tone that
caught the ear and chilled the heart of all who heard him. “Listen,”
he said, “for these are the last words of Why-Why. He came
like the water, and like the wind he goes, he knew not whence, and he
knows not whither. He does not curse you, for you are that which
you are. But the day will come” (and here Why-Why’s
voice grew louder and his eyes burned), “the day will come when
you will no longer be the slave of things like that dead dog,”
and here he pointed to the shapeless face of the slain medicine-man.
“The day will come, when a man shall speak unto his sister in
loving kindness, and none shall do him wrong. The day will come
when a woman shall unpunished see the face and name the name of her
husband. As the summers go by you will not bow down to the hyænas,
and the bears, and worship the adder and the viper. You will not
cut and bruise the bodies of your young men, or cruelly strike and seize
away women in the darkness. Yes, and the time will be when a man
may love a woman of the same family name as himself”—but
here the outraged religion of the tribesmen could endure no longer to
listen to these wild and blasphemous words. A shower of spears
flew out, and Why-Why fell across the body of Verva. His own was
“like a marsh full of reeds,” said the poet of the tribe,
in a song which described these events, “so thick the spears stood
* * * * *
When he was dead, the tribe knew what they had lost in Why-Why.
They bore his body, with that of Verva, to the cave; there they laid
the lovers—Why-Why crowned with a crown of sea-shells, and with
a piece of a rare magical substance (iron) at his side.
Then the tribesmen withdrew from that now holy ground, and built them
houses, and forswore the follies of the medicine-men, as Why-Why had
prophesied. Many thousands of years later the cave was opened
when the railway to Genoa was constructed, and the bones of Why-Why,
with the crown, and the fragment of iron, were found where they had
been laid by his repentant kinsmen. He had bravely asserted the
rights of the individual conscience against the dictates of Society;
he had lived, and loved, and died, not in vain. Last April I plucked
a rose beside his cave, and laid it with another that had blossomed
at the door of the last house which covered the homeless head of SHELLEY.
The prophecies of Why-Why have been partially fulfilled. Brothers,
if they happen to be on speaking terms, may certainly speak to their
sisters, though we are still, alas, forbidden to marry the sisters of
our deceased wives. Wives may see their husbands, though
in Society, they rarely avail themselves of the privilege. Young
ladies are still forbidden to call young men at large by their Christian
names; but this tribal law, and survival of the classificatory system,
is rapidly losing its force. Burials in the savage manner to which
Why-Why objected, will soon, doubtless, be permitted to conscientious
Nonconformists in the graveyards of the Church of England. The
teeth of boys are still knocked out at public and private schools, but
the ceremony is neither formal nor universal. Our advance in liberty
is due to an army of forgotten Radical martyrs of whom we know less
than we do of Mr. Bradlaugh.