The Modernist Journal Page
The New Age; A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature and Art
Vol. VII, No. 4
Thursday, May 26, 1910
p. 87, Reviews
The Master Girl. By Ashton Hilliers. (Methuen. 6s.)
Readers should not miss this book. The subject is worthy, and the author is well informed upon it; the construction is good; the style is clear and lively.
Dêh-Yan, the Master Girl, belonged to the tribe of the Little Moons, a prehistoric people. Obviously, Mr. Hilliers has had to bring imagination as well as scientific knowledge to his work; but the imaginative parts are well hidden under and within that which we know to be real in the story. Just so much scenery and other description as is absolutely necessary to develop the characters is introduced, and no more. The result of so many literary merits is a work of complete sanity. There are a few minor faults, but, to these we will refer later.
The most exciting thing which can happen to a woman happened to Dêh-Yan. She saw a chance of asserting her independence, of forsaking tradition and going forth in the world, upon adventure. She took her chance, and, unlike modern heroines, she managed to maintain the independence she sought. In short, she proved her right to act for herself. One day she was out in charge of a troop of children berry-gathering. The whortle-berries were getting thin, for it was near winter; and Dêh-Yan climbed down a dangerous cliff where the fruit was strangely abundant. She began to pick. "Then, all suddenly, her hands stopped, her eyes fixed, and every muscle grew tense, for from just below her feet had sounded a faint little sneeze! .... Now, Dêh-Yan was not easily frightened. There were, in fact, but three or four things which she really feared: a wolf in open country, a bear or lion in any country, and a wife-hunter from beyond the ranges. This sneeze was the sneeze of a man, of a strange man in a neighbourhood and in times in which a stranger was an enemy confessed." The girl discovered the intruder, whose leg was broken. He was stolidly starving to death. It was Dêh-Yan's first impulse and indeed, her "duty" to call the braves, deliver up the man, and her reward would have been, perhaps, his little finger when he was nicely roasted for dinner. The alternative occurred to Dêh-Yan. She fed the man, went home, and kept her own counsel, and when, next day, the snow came down and the Little Moons trekked away to winter quarters, Dêh-Yan decided to be lost. "The man with the broken leg had made a poor night of it... He only shuddered involuntarily; for he was true to stock, and made no moan about his condition and prospects. He had gone over his chances, appraised and laid the last of them down worthless! But there was one which he had not given a thought to the ardent strength of a woman's first passion. 'Man, I am come.' His dim eyes opened very slowly. It was no dream; she was there, dark, bronze-red with exertion and exhaling warmth. She was burdened, too. A bison robe was drawn under him, another laid over him.... 'What will the Little Moons say to this?' he asked, his brown cheek bulging with food. The girl frowned, and plucked at the hair of her kilt. 'I am dead,' she answered. 'A bear got me at our first camp.'
A promising person! The rest of the idyllic story of this "house-keeping" in a cave we shall have to leave to our readers. It is a little epic that Mr. Hilliers has written. The emotions aroused, the humour and the pathos and one's eyes may very well be misty several times before the end are the legitimate emotions which the story of ancient man stirs in one even in reading the pages of science. Told in the present clever and sympathetic manner, the story of this ancient woman and her man becomes enthralling. One further merit of Mr. Hillier's novel is its natural length. It can be read through at a long sitting, and as if we should never catalogue all the pleasures of the book one turns it over again next day!
The trifling faults are occasional lapses into too modern diction and one rather far-fetched dramatic episode; but we will not point out to readers a fault they may overlook among so much that is fine. After the frilly half-savages, the veneered, novelistic damsels wailing for independence and getting everybody connected with them into trouble, Dêh-Yan comes like a breath of life.