THE TRANSLATION OF A SAVAGE - VOLUME 1.
THE TRANSLATION OF A SAVAGE - VOLUME 1.
CONTENTS Volume 1.
I. HIS GREAT MISTAKE
II. A DIFFICULT SITUATION
III. OUT OF THE NORTH
IV. IN THE NAME OF THE FAMILY
V. AN AWKWARD HALF-HOUR
VI. THE PASSING OF THE YEARS
VII. A COURT-MARTIAL
VIII. TO EVERY MAN HIS HOUR
IX. THE FAITH OF COMRADES
X. "THOU KNOWEST THE SECRETS OF OUR HEARTS"
XI. UPON THE HIGHWAY
XII. "THE CHASE OF THE YELLOW SWAN"
XIII. A LIVING POEM
XIV. ON THE EDGE OF A FUTURE
XV. THE END OF THE TRAIL
The Translation of a Savage was written in the early autumn of 1893 at
Hampstead Heath where for over twenty years I have gone now and then
when I wished to be in an atmosphere conducive to composition. Hampstead
is one of the parts of London which has as yet been scarcely invaded by
the lodging-house keeper. It is very difficult to get apartments at
Hampstead; it is essentially a residential place; and like Chelsea has
literary and artistic character all its own. I think I have seen more
people carrying books in their hands at Hampstead than in any other spot
in England; and there it was perched above London with eyes looking
towards the Atlantic over the leagues of land and the thousand leagues of
sea that I wrote 'The Translation of a Savage'. It was written as it
were in one concentrated effort a ceaseless writing. It was in
effect what the Daily Chronicle said of 'When Valmond Came to Pontiac'
a tour de force. It belonged to a genre which compelled me to dispose of
a thing in one continuous effort or the impulse impetus and fulness of
movement was gone. The writing of a book of the kind admitted of no
invasion from extraneous sources and that was why while writing 'The
Translation of a Savage' at Hampstead my letters were only delivered to
me once a week. I saw no friends for no one knew where I was; but I
walked the heights I practised with my golf clubs on the Heath and I
sat in the early autumn evenings looking out at London in that agony of
energy which its myriad lives represented. It was a good time.
The story had a basis of fact; the main incident was true. It happened
however in Michigan rather than in Canada; but I placed the incident in
Canada where it was just as true to the life. I was living in
Hertfordshire at the time of writing the story and that is why the
English scenes were worked out in Hertfordshire and in London. When I
had finished the tale there came over me suddenly a kind of feeling that
the incident was too bold and maybe too crude to be believed and I was
almost tempted to consign it to the flames; but the editor of 'The
English Illustrated Magazine' Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke took a wholly
different view and eagerly published it. The judgment of the press was
favourable--highly so--and I was as much surprised as pleased when Mr.
George Moore in the Hogarth Club one night in 1894 said to me: "There
is a really remarkable play in that book of yours 'The Translation of a
Savage'." I had not thought up to that time that my work was of the kind
which would appeal to George Moore but he was always making discoveries.
Meeting him in Pall Mall one day he said to me: "My dear fellow I have
made a great discovery. I have been reading the Old Testament. It is
magnificent. In the mass of its incoherence it has a series of the most
marvellous stories. Do you remember--" etc. Then he came home and had
tea with me revelling in the meantime on having discovered the Bible!
I cannot feel that 'The Translation of a Savage' has any significance
beyond the truthfulness with which I believe it describes the
transformation or rather the evolution of a primitive character into a
character with an intelligence of perception and a sympathy which is
generally supposed to be the outcome of long processes of civilisation
and culture. The book has so many friends--this has been sufficiently
established by the very large sale it has had in cheap editions--that I
am still disposed to feel it was an inevitable manifestation in the
progress of my art such as it is. People of diverse conditions of life
have found in it something to interest and to stimulate. One of the most
volcanic of the Labour members in the House of Commons told me that the
violence of his opposition to me in debate on a certain bill was greatly
moderated by the fact that I had written 'The Translation of a Savage';
while a certain rather grave duke remarked to me concerning the character
of Lali that "She would have been all right anywhere." I am bound to say
that he was a duke who while a young man knew the wilds of Canada and
the United States almost as well as I know Westminster.
THE TRANSLATION OF A SAVAGE
HIS GREAT MISTAKE
It appeared that Armour had made the great mistake of his life. When
people came to know they said that to have done it when sober had shown
him possessed of a kind of maliciousness and cynicism almost pardonable
but to do it when tipsy proved him merely weak and foolish. But the fact
is he was less tipsy at the time than was imagined; and he could have
answered to more malice and cynicism than was credited to him. To those
who know the world it is not singular that of the two Armour was
thought to have made the mistake and had the misfortune or that people
wasted their pity and their scorn upon him alone. Apparently they did
not see that the woman was to be pitied. He had married her; and she was
only an Indian girl from Fort Charles of the Hudson's Bay Company with a
little honest white blood in her veins. Nobody not even her own people
felt that she had anything at stake or was in danger of unhappiness or
was other than a person who had ludicrously come to bear the name of Mrs.
Francis Armour. If any one had said in justification that she loved the
man the answer would have been that plenty of Indian women had loved
white men but had not married them and yet the population of half-
breeds went on increasing.
Frank Armour had been a popular man in London. His club might be found
in the vicinity of Pall Mall his father's name was high and honoured in
the Army List one of his brothers had served with Wolseley in Africa
and Frank himself having no profession but with a taste for business
and investment had gone to Canada with some such intention as Lord
Selkirk's in the early part of the century. He owned large shares in the
Hudson's Bay Company and when he travelled through the North-West
country prospecting he was received most hospitably. Of an inquiring
and gregarious nature he went as much among the half-breeds--or 'metis'
as they are called--and Indians as among the officers of the Hudson's Bay
Company and the white settlers. He had ever been credited with having a
philosophical turn of mind; and this was accompanied by a certain strain
of impulsiveness or daring. He had been accustomed all his life to make
up his mind quickly and because he was well enough off to bear the
consequences of momentary rashness in commercial investments he was not
counted among the transgressors. He had his own fortune; he was not
drawing upon a common purse. It was a different matter when he
trafficked rashly in the family name so far as to marry the daughter of
Eye-of-the-Moon the Indian chief.
He was tolerably happy when he went to the Hudson's Bay country; for Miss
Julia Sherwood was his promised wife and she if poor was notably
beautiful and of good family. His people had not looked quite kindly on
this engagement; they had indeed tried in many ways to prevent it;
partly because of Miss Sherwood's poverty and also because they knew
that Lady Agnes Martling had long cared for him and was most happily
endowed with wealth and good looks also. When he left for Canada they
were inwardly glad (they imagined that something might occur to end the
engagement)--all except Richard the wiseacre of the family the book-
man the drone who preferred living at Greyhope their Hertfordshire
home the year through to spending half the time in Cavendish Square.
Richard was very fond of Frank admiring him immensely for his buxom
strength and cleverness and not a little too for that very rashness
which had brought him such havoc at last.
Richard was not as Frank used to say "perfectly sound on his pins"
--that is he was slightly lame but he was right at heart. He was an
immense reader but made little use of what he read. He had an abundant
humour and remembered every anecdote he ever heard. He was kind to the
poor walked much talked to himself as he walked and was known by the
humble sort as "a'centric." But he had a wise head and he foresaw
danger to Frank's happiness when he went away. While others had gossiped
and manoeuvred and were busily idle he had watched things. He saw that
Frank was dear to Julia in proportion to the distance between her and
young Lord Haldwell whose father had done something remarkable in guns
or torpedoes and was rewarded with a lordship and an uncommonly large
fortune. He also saw that after Frank left the distance between Lord
Haldwell and Julia became distinctly less--they were both staying at
Greyhope. Julia Sherwood was a remarkably clever girl. Though he felt
it his duty to speak to her for his brother--a difficult and delicate
matter he thought it would come better from his mother.
But when he took action it was too late. Miss Sherwood naively declared
that she had not known her own heart and that she did not care for Frank
any more. She wept a little and was soothed by motherly Mrs. Armour
who was inwardly glad though she knew the matter would cause Frank pain;
and even General Armour could not help showing slight satisfaction
though he was innocent of any deliberate action to separate the two.
Straightway Miss Sherwood despatched a letter to the wilds of Canada and
for a week was an unengaged young person. But she was no doubt consoled
by the fact that for some time past she had had complete control of Lord
Haldwell's emotions. At the end of the week her perceptions were
justified by Lord Haldwell's proposal which with admirable tact and
obvious demureness was accepted.
Now Frank Armour was wandering much in the wilds so that his letters
and papers went careering about after him and some that came first were
last to reach him. That was how he received a newspaper announcing the
marriage of Lord Haldwell and Julia Sherwood at the same time that her
letter written in estimable English and with admirable feeling came
begging for a release from their engagement and towards its close
assuming with a charming regret that all was over and that the last
word had been said between them.
Armour was sitting in the trader's room at Fort Charles when the carrier
came with the mails. He had had some successful days hunting buffalo
with Eye-of-the-Moon and a little band of metis had had a long pow-wow
in Eye-of-the-Moon's lodge had chatted gaily with Lali the daughter and
was now prepared to enjoy heartily the arrears of correspondence and news
before him. He ran his hand through the letters and papers intending to
classify them immediately according to such handwriting as he recognised
and the dates on the envelopes. But as he did so he saw a newspaper
from which the wrapper was partly torn. He also saw a note in the margin
directing him to a certain page. The note was in Richard's handwriting.
He opened the paper at the page indicated and saw the account of the
marriage! His teeth clinched on his cigar his face turned white the
paper fell from his fingers. He gasped his hands spread out nervously
then caught the table and held it as though to steady himself.
The trader rose. "You are ill" he said. "Have you bad news?" He
glanced towards the paper. Slowly Armour folded the paper up and then
rose unsteadily. "Gordon" he said "give me a glass of brandy."
He turned towards the cupboard in the room. The trader opened it took
out a bottle and put it on the table beside Armour together with a
glass and some water. Armour poured out a stiff draught added a very
little water and drank it. He drew a great sigh and stood looking at
"Is there anything I can do for you Mr. Armour?" urged the trader.
"Nothing thank you nothing at all. Just leave the brandy here will
you? I feel knocked about and I have to go through the rest of these
He ran his fingers through the pile turning it over hastily as if
searching for something. The trader understood. He was a cool-headed
Scotsman; he knew that there were some things best not inquired into
and that men must have their bad hours alone. He glanced at the brandy
debatingly but presently turned and left the room in silence. In his
own mind however he wished he might have taken the brandy without being
discourteous. Armour had discovered Miss Sherwood's letter. Before he
opened it he took a little more brandy. Then he sat down and read it
deliberately. The liquor had steadied him. The fingers of one hand even
drummed on the table. But the face was drawn the eyes were hard and
the look of him was altogether pinched. After he had finished this he
looked for others from the same hand. He found none. Then he picked out
those from his mother and father. He read them grimly. Once he paused
as he read his mother's letter and took a gulp of plain brandy. There
was something very like a sneer on his face when he finished reading.
He read the hollowness of the sympathy extended to him; he understood the
far from adroit references to Lady Agnes Martling. He was very bitter.
He opened no more letters but took up the Morning Post again and read
it slowly through. The look of his face was not pleasant. There was a
small looking-glass opposite him. He caught sight of himself in it.
He drew his hand across his eyes and forehead as though he was in a
miserable dream. He looked again; he could not recognise himself.
He then bundled the letters and papers into his despatch-box. His
attention was drawn to one letter. He picked it up. It was from
Richard. He started to break the seal but paused. The strain of the
event was too much; he winced. He determined not to read it then to
wait until he had recovered himself. He laughed now painfully. It had
been better for him--it had maybe averted what people were used to
term his tragedy--had he read his brother's letter at that moment.
For Richard Armour was a sensible man notwithstanding his peculiarities;
and perhaps the most sensible words he ever wrote were in that letter
thrust unceremoniously into Frank Armour's pocket. Armour had received a
terrible blow. He read his life backwards. He had no future. The
liquor he had drunk had not fevered him it had not wildly excited him;
it merely drew him up to a point where he could put a sudden impulse into
practice without flinching. He was bitter against his people; he
credited them with more interference than was actual. He felt that
happiness had gone out of his life and left him hopeless. As we said he
was a man of quick decisions. He would have made a dashing but reckless
soldier; he was not without the elements of the gamester. It is possible
that there was in him also a strain of cruelty undeveloped but radical.
Life so far had evolved the best in him; he had been cheery and candid.
Now he travelled back into new avenues of his mind and found strange
aboriginal passions fully adapted to the present situation. Vulgar
anger and reproaches were not after his nature. He suddenly found
sources of refined but desperate retaliation. He drew upon them. He
would do something to humiliate his people and the girl who had spoiled
his life. Some one thing! It should be absolute and lasting it should
show how low had fallen his opinion of women of whom Julia Sherwood had
once been chiefest to him. In that he would show his scorn of her. He
would bring down the pride of his family who he believed had helped
out of mere selfishness to tumble his happiness into the shambles.
He was older by years than an hour ago. But he was not without the
faculty of humour; that was why he did not become very excited; it was
also why he determined upon a comedy which should have all the elements
of tragedy. Perhaps however he would have hesitated to carry his
purposes to immediate conclusions were it not that the very gods seemed
to play his game with him. For while he stood there looking out into
the yard of the fort a Protestant missionary passed the window. The
Protestant missionary as he is found at such places as Fort Charles
is not a strictly superior person. A Jesuit might have been of advantage
to Frank Armour at that moment. The Protestant missionary is not above
comfortable assurances of gold. So that when Armour summoned this one
in and told him what was required of him and slipped a generous gift of
the Queen's coin into his hand he smiled vaguely and was willing to do
what he was bidden. Had he been a Jesuit who is sworn to poverty and
more often than not a man of birth and education he might have
influenced Frank Armour and prevented the notable mishap and scandal.
As it was Armour took more brandy.
Then he went down to Eye-of-the-Moon's lodge. A few hours afterwards the
missionary met him there. The next morning Lali the daughter of Eye-of-
the-Moon and the chieftainess of a portion of her father's tribe whose
grandfather had been a white man was introduced to the Hudson's Bay
country as Mrs. Frank Armour. But that was not all. Indeed as it
stood it was very little. He had only made his comedy possible as yet;
now the play itself was to come. He had carried his scheme through
boldly so far. He would not flinch in carrying it out to the last
letter. He brought his wife down to the Great Lakes immediately
scarcely resting day or night. There he engaged an ordinary but reliable
woman to whom he gave instructions and sent the pair to the coast. He
instructed his solicitor at Montreal to procure passages for Mrs. Francis
Armour and maid for Liverpool. Then by letters he instructed his
solicitor in London to meet Mrs. Francis Armour and maid at Liverpool and
take them to Greyhope in Hertfordshire--that is if General Armour and
Mrs. Armour or some representative of the family did not meet them when
they landed from the steamship.
Presently he sat down and wrote to his father and mother and asked them
to meet his wife and her maid when they arrived by the steamer Aphrodite.
He did not explain to them in precise detail his feelings on Miss Julia
Sherwood's marriage nor did he go into full particulars as to the
personality of Mrs. Frank Armour; but he did say that because he knew
they were anxious that he should marry "acceptably" he had married into
the aristocracy the oldest aristocracy of America; and because he also
knew they wished him to marry wealth he sent them a wife rich in
virtues--native unspoiled virtues. He hoped that they would take her to
their hearts and cherish her. He knew their firm principles of honour
and that he could trust them to be kind to his wife until he returned to
share the affection which he was sure would be given to her. It was not
his intention to return to England for some time yet. He had work to do
in connection with his proposed colony; and a wife--even a native wife--
could not well be a companion in the circumstances. Besides Lali--his
wife's name was Lali!--would be better occupied in learning the
peculiarities of the life in which her future would be cast. It was
possible they would find her an apt pupil. Of this they could not
complain that she was untravelled; for she had ridden a horse bareback
half across the continent. They could not cavil at her education for
she knew several languages--aboriginal languages--of the North. She had
merely to learn the dialect of English society and how to carry with
acceptable form the costumes of the race to which she was going. Her own
costume was picturesque but it might appear unusual in London society.
Still they could use their own judgment about that.
Then when she was gone beyond recall he chanced one day to put on the
coat he wore when the letters and paper declaring his misfortune came to
him. He found his brother's letter; he opened it and read it. It was
the letter of a man who knew how to appreciate at their proper value the
misfortunes as the fortunes of life. While Frank Armour read he came
to feel for the first time that his brother Richard had suffered maybe
from some such misery as had come to him through Julia Sherwood. It was
a dispassionate manly letter relieved by gentle wit and hinting with
careful kindness that a sudden blow was better for a man than a lifelong
thorn in his side. Of Julia Sherwood he had nothing particularly bitter
to say. He delicately suggested that she had acted according to her
nature and that in the see-saw of life Frank had had a sore blow; but
this was to be borne. The letter did not say too much; it did not
magnify the difficulty it did not depreciate it. It did not even
directly counsel; it was wholesomely tenderly judicial. Indirectly it
dwelt upon the steadiness and manliness of Frank's character; directly
lightly and without rhetoric it enlarged upon their own comradeship.
It ran over pleasantly the days of their boyhood when they were hardly
ever separated. It made distinct yet with no obvious purpose how good
were friendship and confidence--which might be the most unselfish thing
in the world--between two men. With the letter before him Frank Armour
saw his act in a new light.
As we said it is possible if he had read it on the day when his trouble
came to him he had not married Lali or sent her to England on this--to
her--involuntary mission of revenge. It is possible also that there
came to him the first vague conception of the wrong he had done this
Indian girl who undoubtedly married him because she cared for him after
her heathen fashion while he had married her for nothing that was
commendable; not even for passion which may be pardoned nor for
vanity which has its virtues. He had had his hour with circumstance;
circumstance would have its hour with him in due course. Yet there was
no extraordinary revulsion. He was still angry cynical and very sore.
He would see the play out with a consistent firmness. He almost managed
a smile when a letter was handed to him some weeks later bearing his
solicitor's assurance that Mrs. Frank Armour and her maid had been safely
bestowed on the Aphrodite for England. This was the first act in his
A DIFFICULT SITUATION
When Mrs. Frank Armour arrived at Montreal she still wore her Indian
costume of clean well-broidered buckskin moccasins and leggings all
surmounted by a blanket. It was not a distinguished costume but it
seemed suitable to its wearer. Mr. Armour's agent was in a quandary.
He had received no instructions regarding her dress. He felt of course
that as Mrs. Frank Armour she should put off these garments and dress
so far as was possible in accordance with her new position. But when he
spoke about it to Mackenzie the elderly maid and companion he found
that Mr. Armour had said that his wife was to arrive in England dressed
as she was. He saw something ulterior in the matter but it was not his
province to interfere. And so Mrs. Frank Armour was a passenger by the
Aphrodite in her buckskin garments.
What she thought of it all is not quite easy to say. It is possible that
at first she only considered that she was the wife of a white man--
a thing to be desired and that the man she loved was hers for ever--
a matter of indefinable joy to her. That he was sending her to England
did not fret her because it was his will and he knew what was best.
Busy with her contented and yet somewhat dazed thoughts of him--she
was too happy to be very active mentally even if it had been the
characteristic of her race--she was not at first aware how much notice
she excited and how strange a figure she was in this staring city.
When it did dawn upon her she shrank a little but still was placid
preferring to sit with her hands folded in her lap idly watching things.
She appeared oblivious that she was the wife of a man of family and rank;
she was only thinking that the man was hers--all hers. He had treated
her kindly enough in the days they were together but she had not been
a great deal with him because they travelled fast and his duties were
many or he made them so--but the latter possibility did not occur to
When he had hastily bidden her farewell at Port Arthur he had kissed her
and said: "Good-bye my wife." She was not yet acute enough in the
inflections of Saxon speech to catch the satire--almost involuntary--in
the last two words. She remembered the words however and the kiss and
she was quite satisfied. To what she was going she did not speculate.
He was sending her: that was enough.
The woman given to her as maid had been well chosen. Armour had done
this carefully. She was Scotch was reserved had a certain amount of
shrewdness would obey instructions and do her duty carefully. What she
thought about the whole matter she kept to herself; even the solicitor at
Montreal could not find out. She had her instructions clear in her mind;
she was determined to carry them out to the letter--for which she was
already well paid and was like to be better paid; because Armour had
arranged that she should continue to be with his wife after they got to
England. She understood well the language of Lali's tribe and because
Lali's English was limited she would be indispensable in England.