I heard this story in a farmhouse upon Dartmoor, and I give it in the words of the local doctor who told it. We were a reading-party of three undergraduates and a Christ Church don. The don had slipped on a boulder, two days before, while fishing the river Meavy, and sprained his ankle; hence Dr. Miles’s visit. The two had made friends over the don’s fly-book and the discovery that what the doctor did not know about Dartmoor trout was not worth knowing; hence an invitation to extend his visit over dinner. At dinner the talk diverged from sport to the ancient tin-works, stone circles, camps and cromlechs on the tors about us, and from there to touch speculatively on the darker side of the old religions: hence at length the doctor’s story, which he told over the pipes and whisky, leaning his arms upon the table and gazing at it rather than at us, as though drawing his memories out of depths below its polished surface.
It must be thirty–yes, thirty–years ago (he said) since I met the man, on a bright November morning, when the Dartmoor hounds were drawing Burrator Wood. Burrator House in those days belonged to the Rajah Brooke–Brooke of Sarawak–who had bought it from Harry Terrell; or rather it had been bought for him by the Baroness Burdett Coutts and other admirers in England. Harry Terrell–a great sportsman in his day–had been loth enough to part with it, and when the bargain was first proposed, had named at random a price which was about double what he had given for the place. The Rajah closed with the sum at once, asked him to make a list of everything in the house, and put a price on whatever he cared to sell. Terrell made a full list, putting what seemed to him fair prices on most of the furniture, and high ones– prohibitive he thought–on the sticks he had a fancy to keep. The Rajah glanced over the paper in his grand manner, and says he, “I’ll take it all.” “Stop! stop!” cried Terrell, “I bain’t going to let you have the bed I was married in!” “As you please; we’ll strike out the bed, then,” the Rajah answered. That is how he took possession.
Burrator House, as I daresay you know, faces across the Meavy upon Burrator Wood; and the wood, thanks to Terrell, had always been a sure draw for a fox. I had tramped over from Tavistock on this particular morning,–for I was new to the country, a young man looking around me for a practice, and did not yet possess a horse,–and I sat on the slope above the house, at the foot of the tor, watching the scene on the opposite bank. The fixture, always a favourite one, and the Rajah’s hospitality–which was noble, like everything about him–had brought out a large and brightly-dressed field; and among them, in his black coat, moved Terrell on a horse twice as good as it looked. He had ridden over from his new home, and I daresay in the rush of old associations had forgotten for the while that the familiar place was no longer his.
The Rajah, a statue of a man, sat on a tall grey at the covert’s edge, directly below me; and from time to time I watched him through my field-glass. He had lately recovered from a stroke of paralysis, and was (I am told) the wreck of his old self; but the old fire lived in the ashes. He sat there, tall, lean, upright as a ramrod, with his eyes turned from the covert and gazing straight in front, over his horse’s ears, on the rushing Meavy. He had forgotten the hounds; his care for his guests was at an end; and I wondered what thoughts, what memories of the East, possessed him. There is always a loneliness about a great man, don’t you think? But I have never felt one to be so terribly–yes, terribly–alone as the Rajah was that morning among his guests and the Devonshire tors.