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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

50                               PASTORAL

and John had another collie tale of quite a different com-
plexion. At the foot of the moss behind Kirk Yetton
(Caer Ketton, wise men say) there is a scrog of low wood
and a pool with a dam for washing sheep. John was one
day lying under a bush in the scrog, when he was aware
of a collie on the far hillside skulking down through the
deepest of the heather with obtrusive stealth. He knew
the dog; knew Mm for a clever, rising practitioner from
quite a distant farm ; one whom perhaps he had coveted
as he saw him masterfully steering flocks to market.
But what did the practitioner so far from home? and
why this guilty and secret manoeuvring towards the
pool ?—for it was towards the pool that he was heading.
John lay the closer under his bush, and presently saw the
dog come forth upon the margin, look all about to see
if he were anywhere observed, plunge in and repeatedly
wash himself over head and ears, and then (but now openly
and with tail in air) strike homeward over the hills. That
same night word was sent his master, and the rising
practitioner, shaken up from where he lay, all innocence
before the fire, was had out to a dykeside and promptly
shot; for alas! he was that foulest of criminals under
trust, a sheep-eater ; and it was from the maculation of
sheep's blood that he had come so far to cleanse himself
in the pool behind Kirk Yetton.

A trade that touches nature, one that lies at the founda-
tions of life, in which we have all had ancestors employed,
so that on a hint of it ancestral memories revive, lends
itself to literary use, vocal or written. The fortune of a
tale lies not^ alone in the skill of him that writes, but as
much, perhaps, in the inherited experience of him who
reads ; and when I hear with a particular thrill of things
that I have never done or seen, it is one of that innumerable
army of my ancestors rejoicing in past deeds. Thus novels
begin to touch not the fine dilettanti but the gross mass
of mankind, when they leave off to speak of parlours and
shades of manner and stillborn niceties of motive, and
begin to deal with fighting, sailoring, adventure, death or
child-birth; and thus ancient outdoor crafts and occupa-
tions, whether Mr. Hardy wields the shepherd's crook or