XVII.THE ROMANCE OF THE FIRST RADICAL - 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 hyaenas, 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 in it.”
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