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Title: Austin and His Friends
Author: Balfour, Frederic H.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Austin and His Friends" ***




Author Of "The Expiation of Eugene," etc.

Greening & Co., Ltd.



       *       *       *       *       *


The old-fashioned ghost-story was always terrifying and ghastly;
something that made people afraid to go to bed, or to look over their
shoulders, or to enter a room in the dark. It dealt with apparitions
in a white sheet, and clanking chains, and dreadful faces that peered
out from behind the window curtains in a haunted chamber. And the more
blood-curdling it was, the more keenly people enjoyed it--until they
were left alone, and then they were apt to wish that they had been
reading Robinson Crusoe or Alison's History of Europe instead. Now the
present book embodies an attempt to write a _cheerful_ ghost-story; a
story in which the ghostly element is of a friendly and pleasant
character, and sheds a sense of happiness and sunshine over the entire
life of the ghost-seer. Whether the author has succeeded in doing so
will be for his readers to decide. It is only necessary to add that he
has not introduced a single supernormal incident that has not occurred
and been authenticated in the recorded experiences of persons lately
or still alive.

       *       *       *       *       *

Austin and His Friends

Chapter the First

It was rather a beautiful old house--the house where Austin lived.
That is, it was old-fashioned, low-browed, solid, and built of that
peculiar sort of red brick which turns a rich rose-colour with age;
and this warm rosy tint was set off to advantage by the thick mantle
of dark green ivy in which it was partly encased, and by the row of
tall white and purple irises which ran along the whole length of the
sunniest side of the building. There was an ancient sun-dial just
above the door, and all the windows were made of small, square
panes--not a foot of plate-glass was there about the place; and if the
rooms were nor particularly large or stately, they had that
comfortable and settled look which tells of undisturbed occupancy by
the same inmates for many years. But the principal charm of the place
was the garden in which the house stood. In this case the frame was
really more beautiful than the picture. On one side, the grounds were
laid out in very formal style, with straight walks, clipped box
hedges, an old stone fountain, and a perfect bowling-green of a lawn;
while at right angles to this there was a plot of land in which all
regularity was set at naught, and sweet-peas, tulips, hollyhocks,
dahlias, gillyflowers, wall-flowers, sun-flowers, and a dozen others
equally sweet and friendly shared the soil with gooseberry bushes and
thriving apple-trees. Taking it all in all, it was a lovable and most
reposeful home, and Austin, who had lived there ever since he could
remember, was quite unable to imagine any lot in life that could be
compared to his.

Now this was curious, for Austin was a hopeless cripple. Up to the age
of sixteen, he had been the most active, restless, healthy boy in all
the countryside. He used to spend his days in boating, bicycling,
climbing hills, and wandering at large through the woods and leafy
lanes which stretched far and wide in all directions of the compass.
One of his chief diversions had been sheep-chasing; nothing delighted
him more than to start a whole flock of the astonished creatures
careering madly round some broad green meadow, their fat woolly backs
wobbling and jolting along in a compact mass of mild perplexity at
this sudden interruption of their never-ending meal, while Austin
scampered at their tails, as much excited with the sport as Don
Quixote himself when he dispersed the legions of Alifanfaron. Let
hare-coursers, otter-hunters, and pigeon-torturers blame him if they
choose; the exercise probably did the sheep a vast amount of good, and
Austin fully believed that they enjoyed it quite as much as he did.
Then suddenly a great calamity befell him. A weakness made itself
apparent in his right knee, accompanied by considerable pain. The
family doctor looked anxious and puzzled; a great surgeon was called
in, and the two shook their heads together in very portentous style.
It was a case of caries, they said, and Austin mustn't hunt sheep any
more. Soon he had to lie upon the sofa for several hours a day, and
what made Aunt Charlotte more anxious than anything else was that he
didn't seem to mind lying on the sofa, as he would have done if he had
felt strong and well; on the contrary, he grew thin and listless, and
instead of always jumping up and trying to evade the doctor's orders,
appeared quite content to lie there, quiet and resigned, from one
week's end to another. That, thought shrewd Aunt Charlotte, betokened
mischief. Another consultation followed, and then a very terrible
sentence was pronounced. It was necessary, in order to save his life,
that Austin should lose his leg.

What does a boy generally feel under such circumstances? What would
you and I feel? Austin's first impulse was to burst into a passionate
fit of weeping, and he yielded to it unreservedly. But, the fit once
past, he smiled brilliantly through his tears. True, he would never
again be able to enjoy those glorious ramps up hill and down dale that
up till then had sent the warm life coursing through his veins. Never
more would he go scorching along the level roads against the wind on
his cherished bicycle. The open-air athletic days of stress and effort
were gone, never to return. But there might be compensations; who
could tell? Happiness, all said and done, need not depend upon a
shin-bone more or less. He might lose a leg, but legs were, after all,
a mere concomitant to life--life did not consist in legs. There would
still be something left to live for, and who could tell whether that
something might not be infinitely grander and nobler and more
satisfying than even the rapture of flying ten miles an hour on his
wheel, or chevying a flock of agitated sheep from one pasture to

Where this sudden inspiration came from, he then had no idea; but come
it did, in the very nick of time, and helped him to dry his tears. The
day of destiny also came, and his courage was put to the test. He knew
well enough, of course, that of the operation he would feel nothing.
But the sight of the hard, white, narrow pallet on which he had to
lie, the cold glint of the remorseless instruments, the neatly folded
packages of lint and cotton-wool, and the faint, horrible smell of
chloroform turned him rather sick for a minute. Then he glanced
downwards, with a sense of almost affectionate yearning, at the limb
he was about to lose. "Good-bye, dear old leg!" he murmured, with a
little laugh which smothered a rising sob. "We've had some lovely
ramps together, but the best of friends must part."

Afterwards, during the long days of dreary convalescence, he began to
feel an interest in what remained of it; and then he found himself
taking a sort of æsthetic pleasure in the smooth, beautifully-rounded
stump, which really was in its way quite an artistic piece of work. At
last, when the flesh was properly healed, and the white skin growing
healthily again around his abbreviated member, he grew eager to make
acquaintance with his new leg; for of course it was never intended
that he should perform the rest of his earthly pilgrimage with only a
leg and a half--let the added half be of what material it might. And
his excitement may be better imagined than described when, one
afternoon, the surgeon came in with a most wonderful object in his
arms--a lovely prop of bright, black, burnished wood, set off with
steel couplings and the most fascinating straps you ever saw. And the
best of all was the socket, in which his soft white stump fitted as
comfortably as though they had been made for one another--as, in fact,
one of them had been. It was a little difficult to walk just at first,
for Austin was accustomed to begin by throwing out his foot, whereas
now he had to begin by moving his thigh; this naturally made him
stagger, and for some time he could only get along with the aid of a
crutch. But to be able to walk again at all was a great achievement,
and then, if you only looked at it in the proper light, it really was
great fun.

There was, however, one person who, probably from a defective sense of
humour, was unable to see any fun in it at all. Aunt Charlotte would
have given her very ears for Austin, but her affection was of a
somewhat irritable sort, and generally took the form of scolding. She
was not a stupid woman by any means, but there was one thing in the
world she never could understand, and that was Austin himself. He
wasn't like other boys one bit, she always said. He had such a queer,
topsy-turvy way of looking at things; would express the most
outrageous opinions with an innocent unconsciousness that made her
long to box his ears, and support the most arrant absurdities by
arguments that conveyed not the smallest meaning to her intellect.
Look at him now, for instance; a cripple for life, and pretending to
see nothing in it but a joke, and expressing as much admiration for
his horrible wooden leg as though it had been a king's sceptre! In
Aunt Charlotte's view, Austin ought to have pitied himself immensely,
and expressed a hope that God would help him to bear his burden with
orthodox resignation to the Divine will; instead of which, he seemed
totally unconscious of having any burden at all--a state of mind that
was nothing less than impious. Austin was now seventeen, and it was
high time that he took more serious views of life. Ever since he was a
baby he had been her special charge; for his mother had died in giving
him birth, and his father had followed her about a twelvemonth later.
She had always done her duty to the boy, and loved him as though he
had been her own; but she reminded onlookers rather of a conscientious
elderly cat with limited views of natural history condemned by
circumstances to take care of a very irresponsible young eaglet. The
eaglet, on his side, was entirely devoted to his protectress, but it
was impossible for him not to feel a certain lenient and amused
contempt for her very limited horizon.

"Auntie," he said to her one day, "you're just like a frog at the
bottom of a well. You think the speck of blue you see above you is the
entire sky, and the water you paddle up and down in is the ocean. Why
can't you take a rather more cosmic view of things?"

This extraordinary remark occurred in the course of a wrangle between
the two, because Austin insisted on his pet cat--a plump, white,
matronly creature he had christened 'Gioconda,' because (so _he_ said)
she always smiled so sweetly--sitting up at the dinner-table and being
fed with tit-bits off his own fork; and Aunt Charlotte objected to
this proceeding on the ground that the proper place for cats was in
the kitchen. Austin, on his side, averred that cats were in many ways
much superior to human beings; that they had been worshipped as gods
by the philosophical Egyptians because they were so scornful and
mysterious; and that Gioconda herself was not only the divinest cat
alive, but entitled to respect, if only as an embodiment and
representative of cat-hood in the abstract, which was a most important
element in the economy of the universe. It was when Aunt Charlotte
stigmatised these philosophical reflections as a pack of impertinent
twaddle that Austin had had the audacity to say that she was like a

And now her eaglet had been maimed for life, and whatever he might
feel about it himself her own responsibilities were certainly much
increased. At this very moment, for instance, after having practised
stumping about the room for half-an-hour he insisted on going
downstairs. Of course the idea was ridiculous. Even the doctor shook
his head, while old Martha, who had tubbed Austin when he was two
years old, joined in the general protest. But Austin, disdaining to
argue the point with any one of them, had already hobbled out of the
room, and before they were well aware of it had begun to essay the
descent perilous. Ominous bumps were heard, and then a dull thud as of
a body falling. But a bend in the wall had caught the body, and the
explorer was none the worse. Then Aunt Charlotte, rushing back into
the bedroom, flung open the window wide.

"Lubin!" she shouted lustily.

A young gardener boy, tall, round-faced and curly-haired, glanced up
astonished from his work among the sweet-peas.

"Come up here directly and carry Master Austin downstairs. He's got a
wooden leg and hasn't learnt how to use it."

The consequence of which was that two minutes later Austin, panting
and enraged at the failure of his first attempt at independence, found
himself firmly encircled by a pair of strong young arms, lifted gently
from the ground, and carried swiftly and safely downstairs and out at
the garden door.

"Now you just keep quiet, Master Austin," murmured Lubin, chuckling as
Austin began to kick. "No use your starting to run before you know how
to walk. Wooden legs must be humoured a bit, Sir; 'twon't do to expect
too much of 'em just at first, you see. This one o' yours is mighty
handsome to look at, I don't deny, but it's not accustomed to
staircases and maybe it'll take some time before it is. Hold tight,
Sir; only a few yards more now. There! Here we are on the lawn at
last. Now you can try your paces at your leisure."

"You're awfully nice to me, Lubin," gasped Austin, red with
mortification, as he slipped from the lad's arms on to the grass, "but
I felt just now as if I could have killed you, all the same."

"Lor', Sir, I don't mind," said Lubin. "I doubt that was no more'n
natural. Can you stand steady? Here--lay hold o' my arm. Slow and
sure's the word. Look out for that flower-bed. Now, then, round you
go--that's it. Ah!"--as Austin fell sprawling on the grass. "Now how
are you going to get up again, I should like to know? Seems to me the
first thing you've got to learn is not to lose your balance, 'cause
once you're down 'tain't the easiest thing in creation to scramble up
again. You'll have to stick to the crutch at first, I reckon. Up we
come! Now let's see how you can fare along a bit all by yourself."

Austin was thankful for the support of his crutch, with the aid of
which he managed to stagger about for a few minutes at quite a
respectable speed. It reminded him almost of the far-off days when he
was learning to ride his bicycle. At last he thought he would like to
rest a bit, and was much surprised when, on flinging himself down
upon a garden seat, his leg flew up in the air.

"Lively sort o' limb, this new leg o' yours, Sir," commented Lubin, as
he bent it into a more decorous position. "You'll have to take care it
don't carry you off with it one o' these fine days. Seems to me it
wants taming, and learning how to behave itself in company. I heard
tell of a cork leg once upon a time as was that nimble it started off
running on its own account, and no earthly power could stop it.
Wouldn't have mattered so much if it'd had nobody but itself to
consider, but unluckily the gentleman it belonged to happened to be
screwed on to the top end of it, and of course he had to follow. They
do say as how he's following it still--poor beggar! Must be worn to a
shadow by this time, I should think. But p'raps it ain't true after
all. There are folks as'll say anything."

"I expect it's true enough," replied Austin cheerfully. "If you want a
thing to be true, all you've got to do is to believe it--believe it as
hard as you can. That makes it true, you see. At least, that's what
the new psychology teaches. Thought creates things, you
understand--though how it works I confess I can't explain. But never
mind. Oh, dear, how drunk I am!"

"Drunk, Sir? No, no, only a bit giddy," said Lubin, as he stood
watching Austin with his hands upon his hips. "You're not over strong
yet, and that new leg of yours has been giving you too much exercise
to begin with. You just keep quiet a few minutes, and you'll soon be
as right as ninepence."

Then Austin slid carefully off the seat, and stretched himself full
length upon the grass. "I _am_ drunk," he murmured, closing his eyes,
"drunk with the scent of the flowers. Don't you smell them, Lubin? The
air's heavy with it, and it has got into my brain. And how sweet the
grass smells too. I love it--it's like breathing the breath of Nature.
What do legs matter? It's much nicer to roll over the grass wherever
you want to go than to have the bother of walking. Don't worry about
me any more, nice Lubin. Go on tying up your sweet-peas. I'll come and
help you when I'm tired of rolling about. Just now I don't want
anything; I'm drunk--I'm happy--I'm satisfied--I'm happier than I ever
was before. Be kind to the flowers, Lubin; don't tie them too tight.
They're my friends and my lovers. Aren't you a little fond of them

Then, left to his own reflections, he lay perfectly peaceful and
content staring up into the sky. For months he had been fated to lead
an entirely new life, and now it had actually begun. His entrance upon
it was not bitter. He had flowers growing by his path, and books that
he loved, and one or two friends who loved him. It was all right! And
that was how he spent his first day of acknowledged cripplehood.

Chapter the Second

In a very short time Austin had overcome the initial difficulties of
locomotion, and now began to take regular exercise out of doors. It
would be too much to say that his gait was particularly elegant; but
there really was something triumphal about the way in which he learnt
to brandish his leg with every step he took, and the majestic swing
with which he brought it round to its place in advance of the other.
In fact, he soon found himself stumping along the highroads with
wonderful speed and safety; though to clamber over stiles, and work a
bicycle one-footed, of course took much more practice.

Hitherto I have said nothing about the neighbourhood of Austin's home.
Now when I say neighbourhood, I don't mean the topographical
surroundings--I use the word in its correcter sense of neighbours; and
these it is necessary to refer to in passing. Of course there were
several people living round about. There was the MacTavish family,
for instance, consisting of Mr and Mrs MacTavish, five daughters and
two sons. Mrs MacTavish had a brother who had been knighted, and on
the strength of such near relationship to Sir Titus and Lady
Clandougal, considered herself one of the county. But her claim was
not endorsed, even by the humbler gentry with whom she was forced to
associate, while as for the county proper it is not too much to say
that that august community had never even heard of her. The Miss
MacTavishes, ranging in age from fifteen to five-and-twenty, were
rather gawky young persons, with red hair and a perpetual giggle; in
fact they could not speak without giggling, even if it was to tell you
that somebody was dead. Every now and then Mrs MacTavish would
proclaim, with portentous complacency, that Florrie, or Lizzie, or
Aggie, was "out"--to the awe-struck admiration of her friends; which
meant that the young person referred to had begun to do up her hair in
a sort of bun at the back of her head, and had had her frock let down
a couple of tucks. Austin couldn't bear them, though he was always
scrupulously polite. And the boys were, if anything, less interesting
than the girls. The elder of the two--a freckled young giant named
Jock--was always asking him strange conundrums, such as whether he was
going to put the pot on for the Metropolitan--which conveyed no more
idea to Austin's mind than if he had said it in Chinese; while Sandy,
the younger, used to terrify him out of his wits by shouting out that
Yorkshire had got the hump, or that Jobson was 'not out' for a
century, or that wickets were cheap at the Oval. In fact, the entire
family bored him to extinction, though Aunt Charlotte, who had been an
old school-friend of the mamma, sang their praises perseveringly, and
said that the girls were dears.

Then there was the inevitable vicar, with a wife who piqued herself on
her smart bonnets; a curate, who preached Socialism, wore
knickerbockers, and belonged to the Fabian Society; a few unattached
elderly ladies who had long outlived the reproach of their virginity;
and just two or three other families with nothing particular to
distinguish them one way or another. It may readily be inferred,
therefore, that Austin had not many associates. There was really no
one in the place who interested him in the very least, and the
consequence was that he was generally regarded as unsociable. And so
he was--very unsociable. The companionship of his books, his bicycle,
his flowers and his thoughts was far more precious to him than that of
the silly people who bothered him to join in their vapid diversions
and unseasonable talk, and he rightly acted upon his preference. His
own resources were of such a nature that he never felt alone; and
having but few comrades in the flesh, he wisely courted the society of
those whom, though long since dead, he held in far higher esteem than
all the elderly ladies and curates and MacTavishes who ever lived. His
appetite in literature was keen, but fastidious. He devoured all the
books he could procure about the Renaissance of art in Italy. The
works of Mr Walter Pater were as a treasure-house of suggestion to
him, and did much to form and guide his gradually developing
mentality. He read Plato, being even more fascinated by the exquisite
technique of the dialectic than by the ethical value of the teaching.
And there was one small, slim book that he always carried about with
him, and kept for special reading in the fields and woods. This was
Virgil's Eclogues, the sylvan atmosphere of which penetrated the very
depths of his being, and created in him a moral or spiritual
atmosphere which was its counterpart. He seemed to live amid gracious
pastoral scenes, where beautiful youths and maidens passed a
perpetual springtime in a land of dewy lawns, and shady groves, and
pools, and rippling streams. Daphnis and Mopsus, Corydon, Alexis, and
Amyntas, were all to him real personages, who peopled his solitude,
inspired his poetic fancy, and fostered in his imagination the
elements of an ideal life where the beauty and purity and freshness of
untainted Nature reigned supreme. The accident of his lameness, by
incapacitating him for violent exercise out of doors, ministered to
the development of this spiritual tendency, and threw him back upon
the allurements of a refined idealism. Daphnis became to him the
embodiment, the concrete image, of eternal youthhood, of adolescence
in the abstract, the attribute of an idealised humanity. To lead the
pure Daphnis life of simplicity, stainlessness, communion with
beautiful souls, was to lead the highest life. To find one's bliss in
sunshine, flowers, and the winds of heaven--in both the physical and
moral spheres--was to find the highest bliss. Why should not he,
Austin Trevor, cripple as he was, so live the Daphnis life as to be
himself a Daphnis?

No wonder a boy like this was voted unsociable. No wonder Sandy and
Jock despised him as a muff, and the young ladies deplored his
unaccountably elusive ways. The truth was that Austin simply had no
use for any of them; his life was complete without them, it contained
no niche into which they could ever fit. Lubin was a far more
congenial comrade. Lubin never bothered him about football, or
cricket, or horse-racing, never worried him with invitations to
horrible picnics, never outraged his sensibilities in any way. On the
contrary, Lubin rather contributed to his happiness by the care he
took of the flowers, and the intelligence he showed in carrying out
all Austin's elaborately conveyed instructions. Why, Lubin himself was
a sort of Daphnis--in a humble way. But Sandy! No, Austin was not
equal to putting up with Sandy.

There was, however, one gentleman in the neighbourhood whom Master
Austin was gracious enough to approve. This was a certain Mr Roger St
Aubyn, a man of taste and culture, who possessed a very rare
collection of fine pictures and old engravings which nobody had ever
seen. St Aubyn was, in fact, something of a recluse, a student who
seldom went beyond his park gates, and found his greatest pleasure in
reading Greek and cultivating orchids. It was by the purest accident
that the two came across each other. Austin was lying one afternoon on
a bank of wild hyacinths just outside Combe Spinney, lazily admiring
the effect of his bright black leg against the bright blue sky, and
thinking of nothing in particular. Mr St Aubyn, who happened to be
strolling in that direction, was attracted by the unwonted spectacle,
and ventured on some good-humoured quizzical remark. This led to a
conversation, in the course of which the scholar thought he discovered
certain original traits in the modest observations of the youth. One
topic drifted into another, and soon the two were engaged in an
animated discussion about pursuits in life. It was in the course of
this that Austin let drop the one word--Art.

"What is Art?" queried St Aubyn.

Austin hesitated for some moments. Then he said, very slowly:

"That is a question to which a dozen answers might be given. A whole
book would be required to deal with it."

St Aubyn was delighted, both at the reply and at the hesitation that
had preceded it.

"And are you an artist?" he enquired.

"I believe I am," replied Austin, very seriously. "Of course one
doesn't like to be too confident, and I can't draw a single line, but

"Good again," approved the other. "Here as in everything else all
depends upon the definition. What is an artist?"

"An artist," exclaimed Austin, kindling, "is one who can see the
beauty everywhere."

"_The_ beauty?" repeated St Aubyn.

"The beauty that exists everywhere, even in ugly things. The beauty
that ordinary people don't see," returned Austin. "Anybody can see
beauty in what are _called_ beautiful things--light, and colour, and
grace. But it takes an artist to see beauty in a muddy road, and
dripping branches, and drenching rain. How people cursed and grumbled
on that rainy day we had last week; it made me sick to hear them. Now
I saw the beauty _under_ the ugliness of it all--the wonderful soft
greys and browns, the tiny glints of silver between the leaves, the
flashes of pearl and orpiment behind the shifting clouds. Do you know,
I even see beauty in this wooden leg of mine, great beauty, though
everybody else thinks it perfectly hideous! So that is why I hope I am
not wrong in imagining that perhaps I may, really, be in some sense an

For a moment St Aubyn did not speak. "The boy's a great artist," he
muttered to himself. His interest was now excited in good earnest; here
was no common mind. Of art Austin knew practically nothing, but the
artistic instinct was evidently tingling in every vein of him. St Aubyn
himself lived for art and literature, and was amazed to have come
across so curiously exceptional a personality. He drew the boy out a
little more, and then, in a moment of impulse, did a most unaccustomed
thing: he invited Austin to lunch with him on the following Thursday,
promising, in addition, that they should spend the afternoon together
looking over his conservatories and picture-gallery.

So great an honour, so undreamt-of a privilege, sent Austin's blood to
the roots of his hair. He flourished his leg more proudly than ever as
he stumped victoriously home and announced the great news to Aunt
Charlotte. That estimable lady was fingering some notepaper on her
writing-table as her excited nephew came bursting in upon her with his
face radiant.

"Auntie," he cried, "what do you think? You'll never guess. I'm going
to lunch with Mr St Aubyn on Thursday!"

Aunt Charlotte turned round, looking slightly dazed.

"Going to lunch with whom?" she asked.

"With Mr St Aubyn. You know--he lives at Moorcombe Court. I met him in
the woods and had a long talk with him, and now he's going to show me
all his pictures--_and_ his engravings--_and_ his wonderful orchids
and things. I'm to spend all the afternoon with him. Isn't it
splendid! I could never have hoped for such an opportunity. And he's
so awfully nice--so cultured and clever, you know--"

"Really!" said Aunt Charlotte, drawing herself up. "Well, you're
vastly honoured, Austin, I must say. Mr St Aubyn is chary of his
civilities. It is very kind of him to ask you, I'm sure, but I think
it's rather a liberty all the same."

"A liberty!" repeated Austin, aghast.

"He has never called on me," returned Aunt Charlotte, statelily. "If
he had wished to cultivate our acquaintance, that would have been at
least the usual thing to do. However, of course I've no objection. On
Thursday, you say. Well, now just give me your attention to something
rather more important. I intend to invite some people here to tea next
week, and you may as well write the invitations for me now."

Austin's face lengthened. "Oh, why?" he sighed. "It isn't as though
there was anybody worth asking--and really, the horrid creatures that
infest this neighbourhood--. Whom do you want to ask?"

"I'm astonished at you, speaking of our friends like that," replied
his aunt, severely. "They're not horrid creatures; they're all very
nice and kind. Of course we must have the MacTavishes----"

"I knew it," groaned Austin, sinking into a chair. "Those dear
MacTavishes! There are nineteen of them, aren't there? Or is it only

"Don't be ridiculous, Austin," said Aunt Charlotte. "Then there are
the Miss Minchins--that'll be eleven; the vicar and his wife, of
_course_; and old Mr and Mrs Cobbledick. Now just come and sit

"The Cobbledicks--those old murderers!" cried Austin. "Do you want us
to be all assassinated together?"

"Murderers!" exclaimed Aunt Charlotte, horrified. "I think you've gone
out of your mind. A dear kindly old couple like the Cobbledicks! Not
very handsome, perhaps, but--murderers! What in the world will you say

"The most sinister-looking old pair of cut-throats in the parish,"
returned Austin. "I should be sorry to meet them on a lonely road on a
dark night, I know that. But really, auntie, I do wish you'd think
better of all this. We're quite happy alone; what do we want of all
these horrible people coming to bore us for Heaven knows how many
hours? Of course _I_ shall be told off to amuse the MacTavishes; just
think of it! Seven red-haired, screaming, giggling monsters----"

"Hold your tongue, do, you abominable boy!" cried Aunt Charlotte. "I'm
inviting our friends for _my_ pleasure, not for yours, and I forbid
you to speak of them in that wicked, slanderous, disrespectful way.
Come now, sit down here and write me the invitations at once."

"For the last time, auntie, I entreat you----" began Austin.

"Not a word more!" replied his aunt. "Begin without more ado."

"Well, if you insist," consented Austin, as he dragged himself into
the seat. "Have you fixed upon a day?"

"No--any day will do. Just choose one yourself," said Aunt Charlotte,
as she dived after an errant ball of worsted. "What day will suit you

"Shall we say the 24th?" suggested Austin.

"By all means," replied his aunt briskly. "If you're sure that that
won't interfere with anything else. I've such a wretched memory for
dates. To-day is the 19th. Yes, I should say the 24th will do very
well indeed."

"It will suit me admirably," said Austin, sitting down and beginning
to write with great alacrity, while his aunt busied herself with her
knitting. As soon as the envelopes were addressed, he slipped them
into his coat pocket, and, rising, said he might as well go out and
post them there and then.

"Do," said Aunt Charlotte, well pleased at Austin's sudden
capitulation. "That is, unless you're too tired with your walk. Martha
can always give them to the milkman if you are."

"Not a bit of it," said Austin hastily, as he swung himself out of the
room. "I shall be back in time for dinner."

"He certainly is the very oddest boy," soliloquised Aunt Charlotte, as
she settled herself comfortably on the sofa and went on clicking her
knitting-needles. "Why he dislikes the MacTavishes so I can't imagine;
nice, cheerful young persons as anyone would wish to see. It really is
very queer. And then the way he suddenly gave in at last! It only
shows that I must be firm with him. As soon as he saw I was in earnest
he yielded at once. He's got a sweet nature, but he requires a firm
hand. He's different, too, since he lost his leg--more full of
fancies, it seems to me, and a great deal too much wrapped up in those
books of his. I suppose that when one's body is defective, one's mind
feels the effects of it. I shall have to keep him up to the mark, and
see that he has plenty of cheerful society. Nothing like nice
companions for maintaining the brain in order."

Thus did Aunt Charlotte decide to her own satisfaction what she
thought would be best for Austin.

Chapter the Third

He stood leaning against the old stone fountain on the straight lawn
under the noonday sun. The bees hummed slumberously around him,
sailing from flower to flower, and the hot air, laden with the scents
of the soil, seemed to penetrate his body at every pore, infusing a
sense of vitality into him which pulsed through all his veins. Austin
always said that high noon was the supreme moment of the day. To some
folks the most beautiful time was dawn, to others sunset, but at noon
Nature was like a flower at its full, a flower in the very zenith of
its strength and glory. He had always loved the noon.

"The world seems literally palpitating with life," he thought, as he
rested his arm on the rim of the time-worn fountain. "I'm sure it's
conscious, in some way or other. How it must enjoy itself! Look at the
trees; so strong, and calm, and splendid. They know well enough how
strong they are, and when there's a storm that tries to blow them
down, how they do revel in battling with it! And then the hot air,
embracing the earth so voluptuously--playing with the slender plants,
and caressing the upstanding flowers. They stand up because they want
to be caressed, the amorous creatures. How wonderful it is--the
different characters that flowers have. Some are shrill and fierce and
passionate, while others are meek and sly, and pretend to shrink when
they are even noticed. Some are wicked--shamelessly, insolently,
magnificently wicked--like those scarlet anthuriums, with their
curling yellow tongues. That flower is the very incarnation of sin;
no, not incarnation--what's the word? I can't think, but it doesn't
matter. Incarnation will do, for the thing is exactly like
recalcitrant human flesh. Lubin!"

"Yes, Sir?" responded Lubin, who was digging near.

"What are the wickedest flowers you know?" asked Austin.

"Well, Sir, I should say them as had most thorns," said Lubin

"I wonder," mused Austin. Then he relapsed into his meditations. "How
thick with life the air is. I'm sure it's populated, if we only had
eyes to see. I feel it throbbing all round me--full of beings as much
alive as I am, only invisible. People used to see them once upon a
time--why can't we now? Naiads, and dryads, and fauns, and the great
god Pan everywhere; oh, to think we may be actually surrounded by
these wonders of beauty, and yet unable to talk to any of them!
Nothing but wicked old women, and horrible young men in plaid
knickerbockers and bowler hats, who worry one about odds and
handicaps. It's all very sad and ugly."

"Aren't you rather hot, standing there in the sun, Sir, all this
time?" said Lubin, looking up.

"Very hot," replied Austin. "I wonder what time it is?"

Lubin glanced up at the sundial. "Just five minutes past the hour, or
thereabouts, I make it."

"Oh, Lubin, let's go and bathe!" cried Austin suddenly. "You must be
far hotter than I am. There's plenty of time--we don't lunch till
half-past one. How long would it take us to get to the bathing-pool
just at the bend of the river?"

"Well--not above ten minutes, I should say," was Lubin's answer. "I'd
like a dip myself more'n a little, but I'm not quite sure if I ought
to--you see the mistress wants all this finished up by the afternoon,
and then----"

"But you must!" insisted Austin. "You forget that I've only got one
leg, so I can't swim as I used, and you've got to come and take care I
don't get drowned. 'O weep for Adonais--he is dead!' How angry Aunt
Charlotte would be. And then she'd cry, poor dear, and go into hideous
mourning for her poor Austin. Come along, Lubin--but wait, I must just
go and get a couple of towels. Oh, I'm simply mad for the water. I'll
be back in less than a flash."

Lubin drove his spade into the earth, turned down his sleeves, and
rested--a fair-skinned, bronzed, wholesome object, good to look
at--while Austin stumped away. In less than five minutes the two
youths started off together, tramping through the long, lush
meadow-grass which lay between the end of the garden and the river.
The sun burned fiercely overhead, and the air quivered in the heat.

"Isn't it wonderful!" cried Austin, when they reached the edge of the
water, and were standing under the shade of some trees that overhung
the towing-path. "Come, Lubin, strip--I'm half undressed already. Look
at the white and purple lights in the water--aren't they marvellous?
Now we're going right down into them. Oh the freedom of air, and
colour, and body--how I do _hate_ clothes! I say, how funny my stump
looks, doesn't it? Just like a great white rolling-pin. You must go in
first, Lubin, and then you'll be prepared to catch me when I begin

Lubin, standing nude and shapely, like a fair Greek statue, for a
moment on the bank, took a silent header and disappeared. Then Austin
prepared to follow. He tumbled rather than plunged into the water,
and, unable to attain an erect position owing to his imperfect
organism, would have fared badly if Lubin had not caught him in his
arms and turned him deftly over on his back.

"You just content yourself with floating face upwards, Sir," he said.
"There's no sort of use in trying to strike out, you'd only sink to
the bottom like a boat with a hole in it. There--let me hold you like
this; one hand'll do it. Look out for the river-weeds. Now try and
work your foot. Seems to be making you go round and round, somehow.
But that don't matter. A bathe's a bathe, all said and done. How jolly
cool it is!"

"Isn't it exquisite?" murmured Austin, with closed eyes. "I do think
that drowning must be a lovely death. We're like the minnows, Lubin,
'staying their wavy bodies 'gainst the streams, to taste the luxury of
sunny beams tempered with coolness.' That's what _our_ wavy bodies are
doing now. Don't you like it? 'Now more than ever it seems rich to

But the next moment, owing probably to Lubin having lost his
equilibrium, the young rhapsodist found himself, spluttering and
half-choked, nearer to the bed of the river than the surface, while
his leg was held in chancery by a network of clinging water-weeds.
Lubin had some slight difficulty in extricating him, and for the
moment, at least, his poetic fantasies came to an abrupt and
unromantic finish.

"Here, get on my back, and I'll swim you out as far as them
water-lilies," said Lubin, giving him a dexterous hoist. "I'm awfully
keen on the yellow sort, and they look wonderful fine ones. That's
better. Now, Sir, you can just imagine yourself any drownded heathen
as comes into your head, only hold tight and don't stir. If you do
you'll get drownded in good earnest, and I shall have to settle
accounts with your aunt afterwards. Are you ready? Right, then. And
now away we go."

He struck out strongly and slowly, with Austin crouching on his
shoulders. They arrived in safety at the point aimed at, and managed
to tear away a grand cluster of the great, beautiful yellow flowers;
but the process was a very ticklish one, and the struggle resulted,
not unnaturally, in Austin becoming dislodged from his not very secure
position, and floundering head foremost into the depths. Lubin caught
him as he rose again, and, taking him firmly by one hand, helped him
to swim alongside of him back to the shore. It was a difficult feat,
and by the time they had accomplished the distance they were both
pretty well exhausted.

"You _have_ been good to me, Lubin," gasped Austin, as he flung
himself sprawling on the grass. "I've had a lovely time--haven't you
too? Was I very heavy? Perhaps it is rather a bore to have only one
leg when one wants to swim. But now you can always say you've saved me
from drowning, can't you. I should have gone under a dozen times if
you hadn't held me up and lugged me about. Oh, dear, now we must put
on our clothes again--what a barbarism clothes are! I do hate them so,
don't you? But I suppose there's no help for it.

          "Rise, Lubin, rise, and twitch thy mantle blue;
          To-morrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.

"Oh, do help me to screw on my leg. That's it. I say, it's a
quarter-past one! We must hurry up, or Aunt Charlotte will be cursing.
What _does_ it matter if one eats at half-past one or at a quarter to
two? I really am very fond of Aunt Charlotte, you know, though I find
it awfully difficult to educate her. I sometimes despair of ever being
able to bring her up properly at all, she is so hopelessly Early
Victorian, poor thing. But, then, so many people are, aren't they? Now
animals are never Early Victorian; that's why I respect them so. If
you weren't a human being, Lubin--and a very nice one, as you
are--what sort of an animal would you like to be?"

"Well, I don't rightly know as I ever considered the point," said
Lubin, passing his fingers through his drenched curls. "Perhaps I'd as
lief be a squirrel as anything. I'm awfully fond o' nuts, and when I
was a kid I used to spend half my time a-climbing trees. A squirrel
must have rather a jolly life of it, when one comes to think."

"What a splendid idea!" cried Austin, as they prepared to start. "You
_are_ clever, Lubin. It would be lovely to live in a tree, curtained
all round with thousands of quivering green leaves. I wish I knew what
animals think about all day. It must be very dull for them never to
have any thoughts, poor dears, and yet they seem happy enough
somehow. Perhaps they have something else instead to make up for
it--something that we've no idea of. I _say_--it's half-past one!"

So Austin was late for lunch after all, and got a scolding from Aunt
Charlotte, who told him that it was exceedingly ill-bred to
inconvenience other people by habitual unpunctuality. Austin was very
penitent, and promised he'd never be unpunctual again if he lived to
be a hundred. Then Aunt Charlotte was mollified, and regaled him with
an improving account of a most excellent book she had just been
reading, upon the importance of instilling sound principles of
political economy into the mind of the agricultural labourer. It was
so essential, she explained, that people in that position should
understand something about the laws which govern prices, the relations
of capital and labour, the _metayer_ system, and the ratio which
should exist between an increase of population and the exhaustion of
the soil by too frequent crops of wheat; and she wound up by
propounding a series of hypothetical problems based on the doctrines
she had set forth, for Austin to solve offhand.

Austin listened very dutifully for some time, but the subject bored
him atrociously, and his attention began to wander. At last he made
some rather vague and irrelevant replies, and then announced boldly
that he thought all politicians were very silly old gentlemen,
particularly economists; for his own part, he hated economy,
especially when he wanted to buy something beautiful to look at; he
further considered that political economists would be much better
employed if they sat contemplating tulips instead of writing horrid
books, and that Lubin was a great deal wiser than the whole pack of
them put together. Then Aunt Charlotte got extremely angry, and a
great wrangle ensued, in the course of which she said he was a
foolish, ignorant boy, who talked nonsense for the sake of talking it.
Austin replied by asking if she knew what a quincunx was, or what
Virgil was really driving at when he composed the First Eclogue, and
whether she had ever heard of Lycidas; and when she said that she had
something better to do than stuff her head with quidnunxes and all
such pagan rubbish, he remarked very politely that ignorance was
evidently not all of the same sort. Which sent Aunt Charlotte bustling
away in a huff to look after her household duties.

"It's all very sad and very ugly, isn't it, Gioconda?" sighed Austin,
as he lifted the large, white, fluffy animal upon his lap. "You're a
great philosopher, my dear; I wish I were as wise as you. You're so
scornful, so dignified, so divinely egoistic. But you don't mind being
worshipped, do you, Gioconda? Because you know it's your right, of
course. There--she's actually condescending to purr! Now we'll come
and disport ourselves under the trees, and you shall watch the birds
from a safe distance. I know your wicked ways, and I must teach you
how to treat your inferiors with proper benignity and toleration."

But Gioconda had plans of her own for the afternoon, and declined the
proposed discipline; so Austin strolled off by himself, and lay down
under the trees with a large book on Italian gardens to console him.
His improvised exertions in the water had produced a certain fatigue,
and he felt lazy and inert. Gradually he dropped off into a doze,
which lasted more than an hour. And he had a curious dream. He thought
he was in some strange land--a land like a garden seen through yellow
glass--where everything was transparent, and people glided about as
though they were skating, without any conscious effort. Then Aunt
Charlotte appeared upon the scene, and he saw by her eyes that she was
very angry because Lycidas had been drowned while bathing; but Austin
assured her that it was Lubin who was drowned, and that it really was
of no consequence, because Lubin was only a squirrel after all. At
this point things got extremely mixed, and the sound of voices broke
in upon his slumbers. He opened his eyes, and saw Aunt Charlotte
herself in the act of walking away with a toss of her head that
betokened a ruffled temper.

Austin's interest was immediately aroused. "Lubin!" he called softly,
motioning the lad to come nearer. "What was she rowing you about? Was
she blowing you up about this morning?"

"Well," confessed Lubin with a broad smile, "she didn't seem
over-pleased. Said you might have lost your life, going out o' your
depth with only one leg to stand on, and that if you'd been drownded I
should have had to answer for it before a judge and jury."

"What a wicked, abandoned old woman!" cried Austin. "Only one leg to
stand on, indeed!--she hasn't a single leg to stand on when she says
such things. She ought to have gone down on her knees and thanked you
for taking such care of me. But I shall never make anything of her,
I'm afraid. The more I try to educate her the worse she gets."

"I shouldn't wonder," replied Lubin sagely. "The old hen feels herself
badly off when the egg teaches her to cackle. That's human nature,
that is. And then she was riled because she was afraid I shouldn't
have time to get the garden-things in order by to-morrow, when it
seems there's some sort o' company expected. I told her 'twould be all

"Oh, those brutes! Of course, they're coming to-morrow. I'd nearly
forgotten all about it. It's just like Aunt Charlotte to be so fond of
all those hideous people. You hate the MacTavishes, don't you, Lubin?
_Do_ hate the MacTavishes! Fancy--nine of them, no less, counting the
old ones, and all of them coming together. What a family! I despise
people who breed like rabbits, as though they thought they were so
superlative that the rest of the world could never have enough of

"Ay, fools grow without watering," assented Lubin. "Can't say I ever
took to 'em myself--though it's not my place to say so. The young
gents make a bit too free with one, and when they opens their mouths
no one else may so much as sneeze. Think they know everything, they
do. There's a saying as I've heard, that asses sing badly 'cause they
pitch their voices too high. Maybe it's the same wi' them."

"Well, I hope Aunt Charlotte will enjoy their conversation," said
Austin comfortably. "I say, Lubin, do you know anything about a Mr St
Aubyn, who lives not far from here?"

"What, him at the Court?" replied Lubin. "I don't know him myself, but
they say as _he's_ a gentleman, and no mistake. Keeps himself to
himself, he does, and has always got a civil word for everybody. Fine
old place, too, that of his."

"Have you ever been inside?" asked Austin.

"Lor' no, Sir," answered Lubin. "Don't know as I'm over anxious to,
either. The garden's a sight, it's true--but it seems there's
something queer about the house. Can't make out what it can be, unless
the drains are a bit out of order. But it ain't that neither. Sort o'
frightening--so folks say. But lor', some folks'll say anything. I
never knew anybody as ever _saw_ anything there. It's only some old
woman's yarn, I reckon."

"Oh, is it haunted? Are there any ghosts?" cried Austin, in great
excitement. "I'd give anything in this world to see a ghost!"

"I don't know as I'd care to sleep in a haunted house myself," said
Lubin, beginning to sweep the lawn. "Some folks don't mind that sort
o' thing, I s'pose; must have got accustomed to it somehow. Then
there's those as is born ghost-seers, and others as couldn't see one,
not if it was to walk arm-in-arm with 'em to church. Let's hope Mr St
Aubyn's one o' that sort, seeing as he's got to live there. It's poor
work being a baker if your head's made of butter, I've heard say."

"Then it _is_ haunted!" exclaimed Austin. "What a bit of luck. You
see, Lubin, I know Mr St Aubyn just a little, and soon I'm going to
lunch with him. How I shall be on the look-out! I wonder how it feels
to see a ghost. You've never seen one, have you?"

"Oh no, Sir," replied Lubin, shaking his head. "I doubt I'm not put
together that way. A blind man may shoot a crow by mistake, but he
ain't no judge o' colours. Though ghosts are mostly white, they say.
Well, it may be different with you, and when you go to lunch at the
Court, I'm sure I hope you'll see all the ghosts on the premises if
you've a fancy for that kind of wild fowl. Let ghosts leave me alone
and I'll leave them alone--that's all I've got to say. I never had no
hankering after gentry as go flopping around without their bodies.
'Tain't commonly decent, to my thinking. Don't hold with such goings
on myself."

"Oh, but you must make allowances for their circumstances," answered
Austin. "If they've got no bodies of course they can't put them on,
you know. Besides, there are ghosts and ghosts. Some are mischievous,
and some are very, very unhappy, and others come to do us good and
help us to find wills, and treasures, and all sorts of pleasant
things. I'd love to talk with one, and have it out with him. What
wonderful things one might learn!"

"Ay, there's more in the world than what's taught in the catechism,"
said Lubin. "Let's hope you'll have picked up a few crumbs when you've
been to lunch at the Court. Every little helps, as the sow said when
she swallowed the gnat. I confess I'm not curious myself."

"Well, I'm awfully curious," replied Austin, as he began to get up.
"But now I must stir about a bit. You know my wooden leg gets horribly
lazy sometimes, and I've got to exercise it every now and then for its
own good. I know Aunt Charlotte wants me to go into the town with her
to buy provender for this bun-trouble of hers to-morrow. It's very
curious what different ideas of pleasure different people have."

"He's a rare sort o' boy, the young master," soliloquised Lubin as
Austin went pegging along towards the house. "Game for no end of
mischief when the fit takes him, for all he's only got one leg. One'd
think he was half daft to hear him talk sometimes, too. Seems like as
if it galled him a bit to rub along with the old auntie, and I
shouldn't wonder if the old auntie herself felt about as snug as a
bell-wether tied to a frisky colt. However, I s'pose the A'mighty
knows what He's about, and it's always the old cow's notion as she
never was a calf herself."

With which philosophical reflection Lubin slipped on his green
corduroy jacket, shouldered his broom, and trudged cheerfully home
to tea.

Chapter the Fourth

The next day the great heat had moderated, and the sky was covered
with a thin pearly veil of gossamer greyness which afforded a
delightful relief after the glare of the past week. A smart shower had
fallen during the night, and the parched earth, refreshed after its
bath, appeared more fragrant and more beautiful than ever. Aunt
Charlotte busied herself all the morning with various household
diversions, while Austin, swaying lazily to and fro in a hammock under
an old apple tree, read 'Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight.' At last he
looked at his watch, and found that it was about time to go and dress.

"Well, you _have_ made yourself smart," commented Aunt Charlotte
complacently, as Austin, sprucely attired in a pale flannel suit, with
a lilac tie and a dark-red rose in his button-hole, came into the
morning-room to say good-bye. "But why need you have dressed so early?
Our friends aren't coming till three o'clock at the very earliest,
and it's not much more than twelve--at least, so says my watch. You
needn't have changed till after lunch, at any rate."

"My dear auntie, have you forgotten?" asked Austin, in innocent
surprise. "To-day's Thursday, and I'm engaged to lunch and spend the
afternoon with Mr St Aubyn. You know I told you all about it the very
day he asked me."

"Mr St Aubyn?--I don't understand," said Aunt Charlotte, with a
bewildered air. "I have a recollection of your telling me a few days
ago that you were lunching out some day or other, but----"

"On Thursday, you know, I said."

"Did you? Well, but--but our friends are coming _here_ to-day! You
must have been dreaming, Austin," cried Aunt Charlotte, sitting bolt
upright. "How can you have made such a blunder? Of course you can't
possibly go!"

"Do you really propose, auntie, that I should break my engagement with
Mr St Aubyn for the sake of entertaining people like the MacTavishes
and the Cobbledicks?" replied Austin, quite unmoved.

"But why did you fix on the same day?" exclaimed Aunt Charlotte
desperately. "I cannot understand it. I left the date to you, you know
I did--I told you I didn't care what day it was, and said you might
choose whichever suited yourself best. What on earth induced you to
pitch on the very day when you were invited out?"

"For the very reason you yourself assign--that you let me choose any
day that suited me best. For the very reason that I _was_ invited out.
You see, my dear auntie----"

"Oh, you false, cunning boy!" cried Aunt Charlotte, who now saw how
she had been trapped. "So you let me agree to the 24th, and took care
not to tell me that the 24th was Thursday because you knew quite well
I should never have consented if you had. What abominable deception!
But you shall suffer for it, Austin. Of course you'll remain at home
now, if only as a punishment for your deceit. I shouldn't dream of
letting you go, after such disgraceful conduct. To think you could
have tricked me so!"

"My dear auntie, of course I shall go," said Austin, drawing on his
gloves. "Why you should wish me to stay, I cannot imagine. What on
earth makes you so insistent that I should meet these friends of

"It's for your own good, you ungrateful little creature," replied Aunt
Charlotte, quivering. "You know what I've always said. You require
more companionship of your own age, you want to mix with other young
people instead of wasting and dreaming your time away as you do, and
it was for your sake, for your sake only, that I asked our

"Oh, no, auntie, it wasn't. You told me so yourself," Austin reminded
her. "You told me distinctly that it was for your own pleasure and not
for mine that you were going to invite them. So that argument won't
do. And you were perfectly right. If you find intellectual joy in the
society of Mrs Cobbledick and Shock-headed Peter----"

"Shock-headed Peter? Who in the name of fortune is that?" interrupted
Aunt Charlotte, amazed.

"One of the MacTavish enchantresses--Florrie, I think, or perhaps
Aggie. How am I to know? Everybody calls her Shock-headed Peter. But
as I was saying, if you find happiness in the society of such people,
invite them by all means. I only ask you not to cram them down my
throat. I wouldn't mind the others so much, but the MacTavishes I
_bar_. I will not have them forced upon me. I detest them, and I've
no doubt they despise me. We simply bore each other out of our lives.
There! Let that suffice. I'm very fond of _you_, auntie, and I don't
want anyone else. Do you perfectly understand?"

"I shall evidently never understand _you_, Austin," replied Aunt
Charlotte. "You have treated me shockingly, shockingly. And now you
leave me in the most heartless way with all these people on my

"Then why did you insist on inviting them?" put in Austin. "I
entreated you not to. I'd have gone down on my knees to you, only
unfortunately I've only one. And when I entreated you for the last
time, you said you wouldn't listen to another word. I saw that further
appeal was useless, so I was compelled by you yourself to play for my
own safety. So now good-bye, dear auntie. It's time I was off. Cheer
up--you'll all enjoy yourselves much more without an awkward
unsympathetic creature like me among you, see if you don't. And you
can make any excuse for me you like," he added with a smile as he left
the room. Aunt Charlotte remained transfixed.

"I suppose he must go his own gait," she muttered, as she picked up
her knitting again. "There's no use in trying to force him this way
or that; if he doesn't want to do a thing he won't do it. Of course
what he says is true enough--I did let him choose the date, and I did
ask these people because I thought it would be good for him, and I did
insist on doing so when he begged me not to. Well, I'm hoist with my
own petard this time, though I wouldn't confess as much to him if my
life depended on it. But the trickery of the little wretch! It's that
I can't get over."

Meanwhile Austin meditated on the little episode on his side, as he
made his way along the road. "I daresay dear old auntie was a bit put
out," he thought, "but she brought it all upon herself. She doesn't
see that everybody must live his own life, that it's a duty one owes
to oneself to realise one's own individuality. Now it's _bad_ for me
to associate with people I detest--bad for my soul's development; just
as bad as it is for anyone's body to eat food that doesn't agree with
him. Those MacTavishes poison my soul just as arsenic poisons the
body, and I won't have my soul poisoned if I can help it. It's very
sad to see how blind she is to the art and philosophy of life. But
she'll have to learn it, and the sooner she begins the better."

Here he left the high road, and turned into a long, narrow lane
enclosed between high banks, which led into a pleasant meadow by the
river side. This shortened the way considerably, and when he reached
the stile at the further end of the meadow he found himself only some
ten minutes' walk from the park gates. Then a subdued excitement fell
upon him. He was going to see the beautiful picture-gallery and the
great collection of engravings, and the gardens with conservatories
full of lovely orchids. He was going to hold delightful converse with
the cultured and agreeable man to whom all these things belonged.
And--well, he might possibly even see a ghost! But now, in the genial
daylight, with the prospect of luncheon immediately before him, the
idea of ghosts seemed rather to retire into the background. Ghosts did
not appear so attractive as they had done yesterday afternoon, when he
had talked about them with Lubin. However--here he was.

Mr St Aubyn, tall and middle-aged, with a refined face set in a short,
pointed beard, received him with exquisite cordiality. How seldom does
a man realise the positive idolatry he can inspire by treating a
well-bred youth on equal terms, instead of assuming airs of patronage
and condescension! The boy accepts such an attitude as natural,
perhaps, but he resents it nevertheless, and never gives the man his
confidence. The perfect manners of St Aubyn won Austin's heart at
once, and he responded with a modest ardour that touched and gratified
his host. The Court, too, exceeded his expectations. It was a grand
old mansion dating from the reign of Elizabeth, with mullioned
casements, and carved doorways, and cool, dim rooms oak-panelled, and
broad fireplaces; and around it lay a shining garden enclosed by old
monastic walls of red brick, with shaped beds of carnations glowing
redly in the sunlight, and, beyond the straight lines of lawn, a
wilderness of nut-trees, with a pool of yellow water-lilies, where
wild hyacinths and pale jonquils rioted when it was spring. On one
side of the garden, at right angles to the house, the wall shelved
into a great grass terrace, and here stood a sort of wing, flanked by
two glorious old towers, crumbling and ivy-draped, forming entrances
to a vast room, tapestried, which had been a banqueting hall in the
picturesque Tudor days. Meanwhile, Austin was ushered by his host into
the library--a moderate-sized apartment, lined with countless books
and adorned with etchings of great choiceness; whence, after a few
minutes' chat on indifferent subjects, they adjourned to the
dining-room, where a luncheon, equally choice and good, awaited them.

At first they played a little at cross-purposes. St Aubyn, with the tact
of an accomplished man entertaining a clever youth, tried to draw Austin
out; while Austin, modest in the presence of one whom he recognised as
infinitely his superior in everything he most valued, was far more
anxious to hear St Aubyn talk than to talk himself. The result was that
Austin won, and St Aubyn soon launched forth delightfully upon art, and
books, and travel. He had been a great traveller in his day, and the boy
listened with enraptured ears to his description of the magnificent
gardens in the vicinity of Rome--the Lante, the Torlonia, the
Aldobrandini, the Falconieri, and the Muti--architectural wonders that
Austin had often read of, but of course had never seen; and then he
talked of Viterbo and its fountains, Vicenza the city of Palladian
palaces, every house a gem, and Sicily, with its hidden wonders, hidden
from the track of tourists because far in the depths of the interior. He
had travelled in Burma too, and inflamed the boy's imagination by
telling him of the gorgeous temples of Rangoon and Mandalay; he had
been--like everybody else--to Japan; and he had lived for six weeks up
country in China, in a secluded Buddhist monastery perched on the edge
of a precipice, like an eagle's nest, where his only associates were
bonzes in yellow robes, and the stillness was only broken by the
deep-toned temple bell, booming for vespers. Then, somehow, his thoughts
turned back to Europe, and he began a disquisition upon the great old
masters--Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Tiziano, and Peter Paul--with
whose immortal works he seemed as familiar as he subsequently showed
himself with the pictures in his own house. He described the Memlings at
Bruges, the Botticellis at Florence and the Velasquezes in
Spain--averring in humorous exaggeration that beside a Velasquez most
other paintings were little better than chromolithographs. Austin put in
a word now and then, asked a question or two as occasion served, and so
suggested fresh and still more fascinating reminiscences; but he had no
desire whatever to interrupt the illuminating stream of words by airing
any opinions of his own. It was not until the meal was drawing to a
close that the conversation took a more personal turn, and Austin was
induced to say something about himself, his tastes, and his
surroundings. Then St Aubyn began deftly and diplomatically to elicit
something in the way of self-disclosure; and before long he was able to
see exactly how things stood--the boy of ideals, of visionary and
artistic tastes, of crude fresh theories and a queer philosophy of life,
full of a passion for Nature and a contempt for facts, on one hand; and
the excellent, commonplace, uncomprehending aunt, with her philistine
friends and blundering notions as to what was good for him, upon the
other. It was an amusing situation, and psychologically very
interesting. St Aubyn listened attentively with a sympathetic smile as
Austin stated his case.

"I see, I see," he said nodding. "You feel it imperative to lead your
own life and try to live up to your own ideals. That is good--quite
good. And you are not in sympathy with your aunt's friends. Nothing
more natural. Of course it is important to be sure that your ideals
are the highest possible. Do you think they are?"

"They seem so. They are the highest possible for _me_," replied Austin

"That implies a limitation," observed St Aubyn, emitting a stream of
blue smoke from his lips. "Well, we all have our limitations. You
appear to have a very strong sense that every man should realise his
own individuality to the full; that that is his first duty to
himself. Tell me then--does it never occur to you that we may also
have duties to others?"

"Why, yes--certainly," said Austin. "I only mean that we have _no
right_ to sacrifice our own individualities to other people's ideas.
For instance, my aunt, who has always been the best of friends to me,
is for ever worrying me to associate with people who rasp every nerve
in my body, because she thinks that it would do me good. Then I rebel.
I simply will not do it."

"What friends have you?" asked St Aubyn quietly.

"I don't think I have any," said Austin, with great simplicity.
"Except Lubin. My best companionship I find in books."

"The best in the world--so long as the books are good," replied St
Aubyn. "But who is Lubin?"

"He's a gardener," said Austin. "About two years older than I am. But
he's a gentleman, you understand. And if you could only see the sort
of people my poor aunt tries to force upon me!"

"I think you may add me to Lubin--as your friend," observed St Aubyn;
at which Austin flushed with pleasure. "But now, one other word. You
say you want to realise your highest self. Well, the way to do it is
not to live for yourself alone; it is to live for others. To save
oneself one must first lose oneself--forget oneself, when occasion
arises--for the sake of other people. It is only by self-sacrifice for
the sake of others that the supreme heights are to be attained."

For the first time Austin's face fell. He tossed his long hair off his
forehead, and toyed silently with his cigarette.

"Is that a hard saying?" resumed St Aubyn, smiling. "It has high
authority, however. Think it over at your leisure. Have you finished?
Come, then, and let me show you the pictures. We have the whole
afternoon before us."

They explored the fine old house well-nigh from roof to basement,
while St Aubyn recounted all the associations connected with the
different rooms. Then they went into the picture-gallery. Austin,
breathless with interest, hung upon St Aubyn's lips as he pointed out
the peculiarities of each great master represented, and explained how,
for instance, by a fold of the drapery or the crook of a finger, the
characteristic mannerisms of the painter could be detected, and the
school to which a given work belonged could approximately be
determined; drew attention to the unifying and grouping of the
different features of a composition; spoke learnedly of textures,
qualities, and tactile values; and laid stress on the importance of
colour, light, atmosphere, and the sense of motion, as contrasted with
the undue preponderance too often attached by critics to mere outline.
All this was new to Austin, who had really never seen any good
pictures before, and his enthusiasm grew with what it fed on. St Aubyn
was an admirable cicerone; he loved his pictures, and he knew
them--knew everything that could be known about them--and, inspired by
the intelligent appreciation of his guest, spared no pains to do them
justice. A good half-hour was then spent over the engravings, which
were kept in a quaint old room by themselves; and afterwards they
adjourned to the garden. St Aubyn's conservatories were famous, and
his orchids of great variety and beauty. Austin seemed transported
into a world where everything was so arranged as to gratify his
craving for harmony and fitness, and he moved almost silently beside
his host in a dream of satisfaction and delight.

"By the way, there's still one room you haven't seen," remarked St
Aubyn, as they were strolling at their leisure through the grounds.
"We call it the Banqueting Hall--in that wing between the two old
towers. Queen Elizabeth was entertained there once, and it contains
some rather beautiful tapestries. I should like to have them moved
into the main building, only there's really no place where they'd fit,
and perhaps it's better they should remain where they were originally
intended for. Are you fond of tapestry?"

"I've never seen any," said Austin, "but of course I've read about
it--Gobelin, Bayeux, and so on. I should love to see what it looks
like in reality."

"Come, then," said St Aubyn, crossing the lawn. "I have the key in my

He flung open the door. Austin found himself in the vast apartment,
groined and vaulted, measuring about a hundred and twenty feet by
fifty, and lighted by exquisite pointed windows enriched with
coats-of-arms and other heraldic devices in jewel-like stained glass.
The walls were completely hidden by tapestries of rare beauty, woven
into the semblance of gardens, palaces, arcades and bowers of clipped
hedges and pleached trees with slender fountains set meetly in green
shade; while some again were crowded with swaying Gothic figures of
saints and kings and warriors and angels, all far too beautiful,
thought Austin, to have ever lived. Yet surely there must be some
prototypes of all these wonderful conceptions somewhere. There must be
a world--if we could only find it--where loveliness that we only know
as pictured exists in actual reality. What a dream-like hall it was,
on that still summer afternoon. Yet there was something uncanny about
it too. St Aubyn had stepped out of sight, and Austin left by himself
began to experience a very extraordinary sensation. He felt that he
was not alone. The immense chamber seemed _full of presences_. He
could see nothing, but he felt them all about him. The place was
thickly populated, but the population was invisible. Everything looked
as empty as it had looked when the door was first thrown open, and yet
it was really full of ghostly palpitating life, crowded with the
spirits of bygone men and women who had held stately revels there
three hundred years before. He was not frightened, but a sense of awe
crept over him, rooting him to the spot and imparting a rapt
expression to his face. Did he hear anything? Wasn't there a faint
rustling sound somewhere in the air behind him? No. It must have been
his fancy. Everything was as silent as the grave.

He turned and saw St Aubyn close beside him. "The place is haunted!"
he exclaimed in a husky voice.

"What makes you think so?" asked St Aubyn, without any intonation of

"I feel it," he replied.

"Come out," said the other abruptly. "It's curious you should say
that. Other people seem to have felt the same. I'm not so sensitive
myself. You're looking pale. Let's go into the library and have a cup
of tea."

The hot stimulant revived him, and he was soon talking at his ease
again. But the curious impression remained. It seemed to him as if he
had had an experience whose effects would not be easily shaken off. He
had seen no ghosts, but he had felt them, and that was quite enough.
The sensation he had undergone was unmistakable; the hall was full of
ghosts, and he had been conscious of their presence. This, then, was
apparently what Lubin had alluded to. Oh, it was all real
enough--there was no room left for any doubt whatever.

It was a quarter to five when he took leave of his entertainer,
responding warmly to an injunction to look in again whenever he felt
disposed. He walked very thoughtfully homewards, revolving many
questions in his busy brain. How much he had seen and learnt since he
left home that morning! Worlds of beauty, of art, of intellect had
dawned upon his consciousness; a world of mystery too. Even now,
tramping along the road, he felt a different being. Even now he
imagined the presence of unseen entities--walking by his side, it
might be, but anyhow close to him. Was it so? Could it be that he
really was surrounded by intelligences that eluded his physical senses
and yet in some mysterious fashion made their existence _known_?

At last he arrived at the stile leading into the meadow, and prepared
to clamber over. Then he hesitated. Why? He could not tell. A queer,
invincible repugnance to cross that stile suddenly came over him. The
meadow looked fresh and green, and the road--hot, dusty, and
white--was certainly not alluring; besides, he longed to saunter along
the grass by the river and think over his experiences. But something
prevented him. With a sense of irritation he took a few steps along
the road; then the thought of the cool field reasserted itself, and
with a determined effort he retraced his steps and threw one leg over
the top bar of the stile. It was no use. Gently, but unmistakably,
something pushed him back. He _could_ not cross. He wanted to, and he
was in full possession of both his physical and mental faculties, but
he simply could not do it.

In great perplexity, not unmixed with some natural sense of umbrage,
Austin set off again along the ugly road. The sun had come out once
more, and it was very hot. What could be the matter with him? Why had
he been so silly as to take the highway, with its horrid dust and
glare, when the field and the lane would have been so much more
pleasant? He felt puzzled and annoyed. How Mr St Aubyn would have
laughed at him could he but have known. This long tramp along the
disagreeable road was the only jarring incident that had befallen him
that day. Well, it would soon be over. And what a day it had been,
after all. How marvellous the pictures were, and the gardens; what an
acquisition to his life was the friendship--not only the
acquaintanceship--of St Aubyn; and then the tapestries, the great
mysterious hall, and the strange revelations that had come upon him in
the hall itself! At last his thoughts reverted, half in
self-reproach, to Aunt Charlotte. How had she fared, meanwhile? Had
she enjoyed her Cobbledicks and her MacTavishes as much as he had
enjoyed his experiences at the Court?

For all his theories about living his own life and developing his own
individuality, Austin was not a selfish boy. Egoistic he might be, but
selfish he was not. His impulses were always generous and kindly, and
he was full of thought for others. He was for ever contriving delicate
little gifts for those in want, planning pleasant little surprises for
people whom he loved. And now he hoped most ardently that dear Aunt
Charlotte had not been very dull, and for the moment felt quite kindly
towards the Cobbledicks and the MacTavishes as he reflected that, no
doubt, they had helped to make his auntie happy on that afternoon.

At last he came to the entrance of the lane through which he had
passed in the morning. At that moment a crowd of men and boys, most of
them armed with heavy sticks and all looking terribly excited, rushed
past him, and precipitated themselves into the narrow opening. He
asked one of them what was the matter, but the man took no notice and
ran panting after the others. So Austin pursued his way, and in a few
minutes arrived at the garden gate, where to his great surprise he
found Aunt Charlotte waiting for him--the picture of anxiety and

"Well, auntie!--why, what's the matter?" he exclaimed, as Aunt
Charlotte with a cry of relief threw herself into his arms.

"Oh, my dear boy!" she uttered in trembling agitation. "How thankful I
am to see you! Which way did you come back?"

"Which way? Along the road," said Austin, much astonished. "Why?"

"Thank God!" ejaculated Aunt Charlotte. "Then you're really safe. I've
been out of my mind with fear. A most dreadful thing has happened. Let
us sit down a minute till I get my breath, and I'll tell you all about

Austin led her to a garden seat which stood near, and sat down beside
her. "Well, what is it all about?" he asked.

"My dear, it was like this," began Aunt Charlotte, as she gradually
recovered her composure. "Our friends were just going away--oh, I
forgot to tell you that of course they came; we had a most delightful
time, and dear Lottie--no, Lizzie--I always do forget which is
which--I can't remember, but it doesn't matter--was the life and soul
of the party; however, as I was saying, they were just going away, and
I was there at the gate seeing them off, when the butcher's boy came
running up and warned them on no account to venture into the road, as
Hunt's dog--that's the butcher, you know--I mean Hunt is--had gone
raving mad, and was loose upon the streets. Of course we were all most
horribly alarmed, and wanted to know whether anybody had been bitten;
but the boy was off like a shot, and two minutes afterwards the
wretched dog itself came tearing past, as mad as a dog could be, its
jaws a mass of foam, and snapping right and left. As soon as ever it
was safe our friends took the opportunity of escaping--of course in
the opposite direction; and then a crowd of villagers came along in
pursuit, but not knowing which turning to take till some man or other
told them that the dog had gone up the lane. Then imagine my terror!
For I felt perfectly convinced that you'd be coming home that way, as
the road was hot and dusty, and I know how fond you are of lanes and
fields. Oh, my dear, I can't get over it even now. How was it you
chose the road?"

For a moment Austin did not speak. Then he said very slowly:

"I don't know how to tell you. Of course I _could_ tell you easily
enough, but I don't think you'd understand. Auntie, I intended to come
home by the lane. Twice or three times I tried to cross the stile into
the meadows, and each time I was prevented. Something stopped me.
Something pushed me back. Naturally I wanted to come by the
meadow--the road was horrid--and I wanted to stroll along on the grass
and enjoy myself by the river. But there it was--I couldn't do it. So
I gave up trying, and came by the road after all."

"What _do_ you mean, Austin?" asked Aunt Charlotte. "I never heard
such a thing in my life. What was it that pushed you back?"

"I don't know," replied the boy deliberately. "I only know that
something did. And as the lane is very narrow, and enclosed by
excessively steep banks, the chances are that I should have met the
dog in it, and that the dog would have bitten me and given me
hydrophobia. And now you know as much as I do myself."

"I can't tell what to think, I'm sure," said Aunt Charlotte. "Anyhow,
it's most providential that you escaped, but as for your being
prevented, as you say--as for anything pushing you back--why, my dear,
of course that was only your fancy. What else could it have been? I'm
far too practical to believe in presentiments, and warnings, and
nonsense of that sort. I'd as soon believe in table-rapping. No, my
dear; I thank God you've come back safe and sound, but don't go
hinting at anything supernatural, because I simply don't believe in

"Then why do you thank God?" asked Austin, "Isn't He supernatural?
Why, He's the only really supernatural Being possible, it seems to

That was a poser. Aunt Charlotte, having recovered her equanimity,
began to feel argumentative. It was incumbent on her to prove that she
was not inconsistent in attributing Austin's preservation to the
intervention of God, while disclaiming any belief in what she called
the supernatural. And for the moment she did not know how to do it.

"By the supernatural, Austin," she said at last, in a very oracular
tone, "I mean superstition. And I call that story of yours a piece of
superstition and nothing else."

"Auntie, you do talk the most delightful nonsense of any elderly lady
of my acquaintance," cried Austin, as he laughingly patted her on the
back. "It's no use arguing with you, because you never can see that
two and two make four. It's very sad, isn't it? However, the thing to
be thankful for is that I've got back safe and sound, and that we've
both had a delightful afternoon. And now tell me all your adventures.
I'm dying to hear about the vicar, and the Cobbledicks, and the
ingenious Jock and Sandy. Did all your friends turn up?"

"Indeed they did, and a most charming time we had," replied Aunt
Charlotte briskly. "Of course they were astonished to find that you
weren't here to welcome them, and I was obliged to say how unfortunate
it was, but a most stupid mistake had arisen, and that you were
dreadfully sorry, and all the rest of it. Ah, you don't know what you
missed, Austin. The boys were full of fun as usual, and dear
Lizzie--or was it Florrie? well, it doesn't matter--said she was sure
you'd gone to the Court in preference because you were expecting to
meet a lot of girls there who were much prettier than she was. Of
course she was joking, but----"

"The vulgar, disgusting brute!" cried Austin, in sudden anger. "And
these are the creatures you torment me to associate with. Well----"

"Austin, you've no right to call a young lady a brute; it's abominably
rude of you," said Aunt Charlotte severely. "There was nothing vulgar
in what she said; it was just a playful sally, such as any sprightly
girl might indulge in. I assured her you were going to meet nobody but
Mr St Aubyn himself, and then she said it was a shame that you should
have been inveigled away to be bored by----"

"I don't want to hear what the woman said," interrupted Austin, with a
gesture of contempt. "Such people have no right to exist. They're not
worthy for a man like St Aubyn to tread upon. It's a pity you know
nothing of him yourself, auntie. You wouldn't appreciate your Lotties
and your Florries quite so much as you do now, if you did."

"Then you enjoyed yourself?" returned Aunt Charlotte, waiving the
point. "Oh, I've no doubt he's an agreeable person in his way. And the
gardens are quite pretty, I'm told. Hasn't he got a few rather nice
pictures in his rooms? I'm very fond of pictures myself. Well, now,
tell me all about it. How did you amuse yourself all the afternoon,
and what did you talk to him about?"

But before Austin could frame a fitting answer the butcher's boy
looked over the gate to tell them that the rabid dog had been found in
the lane and killed.

Chapter the Fifth

It will readily be understood that Austin was in no hurry to confide
anything about his experiences in the Banqueting Hall to his Aunt
Charlotte. The way in which she had received his straightforward,
simple account of the curious impressions which had determined his
choice of a route in coming home was enough, and more than enough, to
seal his tongue. He was sensitive in the extreme, and any lack of
sympathy or comprehension made him retire immediately into his shell.
His aunt's demeanour imparted an air of reserve even to the
description he gave her of the attractions of Moorcombe Court. Perhaps
the good lady was a trifle sore at never having been invited there
herself. One never knows. At any rate, her attitude was chilling. So
as regarded the incident in the Banqueting Hall he preserved entire
silence. Her scepticism was too complacent to be attacked.

He was aroused next morning by the sweetest of country sounds--the
sound of a scythe upon the lawn. Then there came the distant call of
the street flower-seller, "All a-growing, all a-blowing," which he
remembered as long as he could remember anything. The world was waking
up, but it was yet early--not more than half-past six at the very
latest. So he lay quietly and contentedly in his white bed, lazily
wondering how it would feel in the Banqueting Hall at that early hour,
and what it would be like there in the dead of night, and how soon it
would be proper for him to go and leave a card on Mr St Aubyn, and
what Lubin would think of it all, and how it was he had never before
noticed that great crack in the ceiling just above his head. At last
he slipped carefully out of bed without waiting for Martha to bring
him his hot water, and hopped as best he could to the open window and
looked out. There was Lubin, mowing vigorously away, and the air was
full of sweet garden scents and the early twittering of birds. He
could not go back to bed after that, but proceeded forthwith to dress.

After a hurried toilet, he bumped his way downstairs; intercepted the
dairyman, from whom he extorted a great draught of milk, and then
went into the garden. How sweet it was, that breath of morning air!
Lubin had just finished mowing the lawn, and the perfume of the cool
grass, damp with the night's dew, seemed to pervade the world. No one
else was stirring; there was nothing to jar his nerves; everything was
harmonious, fresh, beautiful, and young. And the harmony of it all
consisted in this, that Austin was fresh, and beautiful, and young

"Well, and how did ye fare at the Court?" asked Lubin, as Austin
joined him. "Was it as fine a place as you reckoned it would be?"

"Oh, Lubin, it was lovely!" cried Austin, enthusiastically. "I do wish
you could see it. And the garden! Of course this one's lovely too, and
I love it, but the garden at the Court is simply divine. It's on a
great scale, you know, and there are huge orchid-houses, and flaming
carnations, and stained tulips, and gilded lilies, and a wonderful
grass terrace, and--"

"Ay, ay, I've heard tell of all that," interrupted Lubin. "But how
about the ghosts? Did you see any o' them, as you was so anxious

"No--I didn't see any; but they're there all the same," returned
Austin. "I felt them, you know. But only in one place; that great
room, they say, was a Banqueting Hall once upon a time. You know,
Lubin, I'm going back there before long. Mr St Aubyn asked me to come
again, and I intend to go into that room again to see if I feel
anything more. It was the very queerest thing! I never felt so strange
in my life. The place seemed actually full of them. I could feel them
all round me, though I couldn't see a thing. And the strangest part of
it is that I've never felt quite the same since."

"How d'ye mean?" asked Lubin, looking up.

"I don't know--but I fancy I may still be surrounded by them in some
sort of way," replied Austin. "It's possibly nothing but imagination
after all. However, we shall see. Now this morning I want to go a long
ramp into the country--as far as the Beacon, if I can. It's going to
be a splendid day, I'm sure."

"I'm not," said Lubin. "The old goose was dancing for rain on the
green last night, and that's a sure sign of a change."

"Dancing for rain! What old goose?" asked Austin, astonished.

"The geese always dance when they want rain," replied Lubin, "and what
the goose asks for God sends. Did you never hear that before? It's a
sure fact, that is. It'll rain within four-and-twenty hours, you mark
my words."

"I hope it won't," said Austin. "And so your mother keeps geese?"

"Ay, that she does, and breeds 'em, and fattens 'em up against
Michaelmas. And we've a fine noise o' ducks on the pond, too. They
pays their way too, I reckon."

"A noise o' ducks? What, do they quack so loud?"

"Lor' bless you, Master Austin, where was you brought up? Everybody
hereabouts know what a noise o' ducks is. Same as a flock o' geese,
only one quacks and the other cackles. Well, now I'm off home, for its
peckish work mowing on an empty belly, and the mother'll be looking
out for me. Geese for me, ghosts for you, and in the end we'll see
which pans out the best."

So Lubin trudged away to his breakfast and left Austin to his
reflections. The predicted rain held off in spite of the terpsichorean
importunity of Lubin's geese, and Austin passed a lovely morning on
the moors; but next day it came down with a vengeance, and for six
hours there was a regular deluge. However, Austin didn't mind. When it
was fine he spent his days in the fields and woods; if it rained, he
sat at a window where he could watch the grey mists, and the driving
clouds, and the straight arrows of water falling wonderfully through
the air. His books, too, were a resource that never failed, and if he
was unable personally to participate in beautiful scenes, he could
always read about them, which was the next best thing after all.

The weather continued unsettled for some days, and then it cleared up
gloriously, so that Austin was able to lead what he called his Daphnis
life once more. The rains had had rather a depressing effect upon his
general health, and once or twice he had fancied that something was
troubling him in his stump; but with the return of the sun all such
symptoms disappeared as though by magic, and he felt younger and
lighter than ever as he stepped forth again into the glittering air.
More than a week had elapsed since his day at the Court, and he began
to think that now he really might venture to go and call. So off he
set one sunny afternoon, and with rather a beating heart presented
himself at the park gates.

Here, however, a disappointment awaited him. The lodge-keeper shook
his head, and announced that Mr St Aubyn was away and wouldn't be back
till night. Austin could do nothing but leave a card, and hope that he
might be lucky enough to meet him by accident before long.

So he turned back and made for the meadow by the river side, feeling
sure that he would be safe from rabid dogs that time at any rate. And
certainly no mysterious influences intervened to prevent him sitting
on the stile for a rest, and indulging in pleasant thoughts. Then he
pulled out his pocket-volume of the beloved Eclogues, and read the
musical contest between Menalcas and Damætas with great enjoyment.
Why, he wondered, were there no delightful shepherd-boys now-a-days,
who spent their time in lying under trees and singing one against the
other? Lubin was much nicer than most country lads, but even Lubin was
not equal to improvising songs about Phyllis, and Delia, and the
Muses. Then he looked up, and saw a stranger approaching him across
the field.

He was a big, stoutish man, with a fat face, a frock-coat tightly
buttoned up, a large umbrella, and a rather shabby hat of the shape
called chimney-pot. A somewhat incongruous object, amid that rural
scene, and not a very prepossessing one; but apparently a gentleman,
though scarcely of the stamp of St Aubyn. At last he came quite near,
and Austin moved as though to let him pass.

"Don't trouble yourself, young gentleman," said the newcomer, in a
good-humoured, offhand way. "Can you tell me whether I'm anywhere near
a place called Moorcombe Court?"

"Yes--it's not far off," replied Austin, immediately interested. "I've
just come from there myself."

"Really, now!" was the gentleman's rejoinder. "And how's me friend St

So he was Mr St Aubyn's friend--or claimed to be. "I really
suspected," said Austin to himself, "that he must be a bailiff." From
which it may be inferred that the youth's acquaintance with bailiffs
was somewhat limited. Then he said, aloud:

"I believe he's quite well, thank you, but I'm afraid you'll not be
able to see him. He's gone out somewhere for the day."

"Dear me, now, that's a pity!" exclaimed the stranger, taking off his
hat and wiping his hot, bald head. "Dear old Roger--it's years since
we met, and I was quite looking forward to enjoying a chat with him
about old times. Well, well, another day will do, no doubt. You don't
live at the Court, do you?"

"I? Oh, no," said Austin. "I only visit there. It is such a charming

"Shouldn't wonder," remarked the other, nodding. "Our friend's a rich
man, and can afford to gratify his tastes--which are rather expensive
ones, or used to be when I knew him years ago. I must squeeze an hour
to go and see him some time or other while I'm here, if I can only
manage it."

"Then you are not here for long?" asked Austin, wondering who the man
could be.

"Depends upon business, young gentleman," replied the stranger.
"Depends upon how we draw. We shall have a week for certain, but after

"How you draw?" repeated Austin, politely mystified.

"Yes, draw--what houses we draw, to be sure," explained the stranger.
"What, haven't you seen the bills? I'm on tour with 'Sardanapalus'!"

A ray of light flashed upon Austin's memory. "Oh! I think I
understand," he ventured hesitatingly. "Are you--can you perhaps
be--er--Mr Buckskin?"

"For Buckskin read Buskin, and you may boast of having hazarded a
particularly shrewd guess," replied the gentleman. "Bucephalus Buskin,
at your service; and, of course, the public's."

"Ah, now I know," exclaimed Austin. "The greatest actor in Europe, on
or off the stage."

"Oh come, now, come; spare my blushes, young gentleman, draw it a
_little_ milder!" cried the delighted manager, almost bursting with
mock modesty. "Greatest actor in Europe--oh, very funny, very good
indeed! Off the stage, too! Oh dear, dear, dear, what wags there are
in the world! And pray, young gentleman, from whom did you pick up

"I think it must have been the milkman," replied Austin simply.

"The milkman, eh? A most discriminating milkman, 'pon my word. Well,
it's always encouraging to find appreciation of high art, even among
milkmen," observed Mr Buskin. "Only shows how much we owe the growing
education of the masses to the drama. Talk of the press, the pulpit,
the schoolroom----"

"I believe he was quoting an advertisement," interpolated Austin.

"An ad., eh?" said the mummer, somewhat disconcerted. "Oh, well, I
shouldn't be surprised. Of course _I_ have nothing to do with such
things. That's the business of the advance-agent. And did he really
put in that? I positively must speak to him about it. A good fellow,
you know, but rather inclined to let his zeal outrun his discretion.
It's not good business to raise too great expectations, is it, now?"

Austin, in his innocence, scarcely took in the meaning of all this.
But it was clear enough that Mr Buskin was a great personage in his
way, and extremely modest into the bargain. His interest was now very
much excited, and he awaited eagerly what the communicative gentleman
would say next.

"I should think it would take," continued Mr Buskin, warming to his
subject. "It's a most magnificent spectacle when it's properly done--as
we do it. There's a scene in the third act--the Banquet in the Royal
Palace--that's something you won't forget as long as you live. A
gorgeous hall, brilliantly illuminated--the whole Court in glittering
costumes--the tables covered with gold and silver plate. Peals of
thunder, and a frightful tempest raging outside. In the midst of the
revels a conspiracy breaks out--enter Pania, bloody--Sardanapalus
assumes a suit of armour, and admires himself in a looking-glass--and
then the rival armies burst in, and a terrific battle ensues----"

"What, in the dining-room?" asked the astonished Austin.

"Well, well, the poet allows himself a bit of licence there, I admit;
but that only gives us an opportunity of showing what fine
stage-management can do," said Mr Buskin complacently. "It's a
magnificent situation. You'll say you never saw anything like it since
you were born, you just mark my words."

"It certainly must be very wonderful," remarked Austin. "But I'm
afraid I'm rather ignorant of such matters. What _is_ 'Sardanapalus,'
may I ask?"

"What, never heard of Byron's 'Sardanapalus'?" exclaimed the actor,
throwing up his hands. "Why, it's one of the finest things ever put
upon the boards. Full of telling effects, and not too many bothering
lengths, you know. The Poet Laureate, dear good man, worried my life
out a year ago to let him write a play upon the subject especially for
me. The part of Sardanapalus was to be devised so as to bring out all
my particular--er--capabilities, and any little hints that might occur
to me were to be acted upon and embodied in the text. But I wouldn't
hear of it. 'Me dear Alfred,' I said, 'it isn't that I underrate your
very well-known talents, but Byron's good enough for _me_. Hang it
all, you know, an artist owes something to the classics of his
country.' So now, if that uneasy spirit ever looks this way from the
land of the eternal shades, he'll see something at least to comfort
him. He'll see that one actor, at least, not unknown to Europe, has
vindicated his reputation as a playwright in the face of the British

Austin felt immensely flattered at such confidences being vouchsafed
to him by the eminent exponent of Lord Byron, and said he was certain
that the theatre would be crammed. Mr Buskin shrugged his shoulders,
and replied he was sure he hoped so.

"And now," he added, "I think I'll be walking back. And look you here,
young gentleman. We've had a pleasant meeting, and I'd like to see
you again. Just take this card"--scribbling a few words on it in
pencil--"and the night you favour us with your presence in the house,
come round and see me in me dressing-room between the acts. You've
only to show that, and they'll let you in at once. I'd like your
impressions of the thing while it's going on."

Austin accepted the card with becoming courtesy, and offered his own
in exchange. Mr Buskin shook hands in a very cordial manner, and the
next moment was making his way rapidly in the direction of the town.

"What a very singular gentleman," thought Austin, when he was once
more alone. "I wonder whether all actors are like that. Scarcely, I
suppose. Well, now I'm to have a glimpse of another new world. Mr St
Aubyn has shown me one or two; what will Mr Buskin's be like? It's all
extremely interesting, anyhow."

Then he stumped along to the river side, giving a majestic twirl to
his wooden leg with every step he took through the long grass. How he
would have loved a bathe! The pool where he had so enjoyed himself
with Lubin was not far off--the pool of Daphnis, as he had christened
it; but he hesitated to venture in alone. So he lay down on the bank
and watched the yellow water-lilies from afar, dreaming of many
things. How clever Lubin was, and what a lot he knew! Why geese should
dance for rain he couldn't even imagine; but the rain had actually
come, and it was all a most suggestive mystery. How many other curious
connections there must be among natural occurrences that nobody ever
dreamt of! It was in the country one learnt about such things; in the
fields and woods, and by the side of rivers. Nature was the great
school, after all. History and geography were all very well in their
way, but what food for the soul was there in knowing whether Norway
was an island or a peninsula, or on what date some silly king had had
his crown put on? What did it matter, after all? Those were the facts
he despised; facts that had no significance for him whatever, that
left him exactly as they found him first. The sky and the birds and
the flowers taught him lessons that were worth more than all the
histories and geographies that were ever written. The schoolroom was a
desert, arid and unsatisfying; whereas the garden, the enclosed space
which held stained cups of beauty and purple gold-eyed bells, that was
a jewelled sanctuary. Lubin was nearer the heart of things than
Freeman and Macaulay, though they would have disdained him as a clod.
Virgil and Theocritus were greater philosophers than either Comte or
Hegel. Daphnis and Corydon represented the finest flower, the purest
type of human evolution, and Herbert Spencer was nothing better than a
particularly silly old man.

Having disposed of the education question thus conclusively, it
occurred to Austin that it must be about time for tea; so he struggled
to his legs and turned his footsteps homeward. Just as he arrived at
the house he met Lubin outside the gate with a wheelbarrow.

"Off already?" he asked.

"Ay," said Lubin. "I say, Master Austin, there's something I want to
tell you. I see a magpie not an hour ago!"

"A magpie? I don't think I ever saw one in my life. What was it like?"
enquired Austin.

"Don't matter what it was like," replied Lubin, sententiously. "But it
was just outside your bedroom window. You'd better be on the

"What for?" asked Austin. "Did it say it was coming back?"

"'Tain't nothing to laugh at," said Lubin, nodding his head. "A magpie
bodes ill-luck. That's well known, that is. So you just keep your eye
open, that's all I've got to say. It's a warning, you see. Did ye
never hear that before?"

Austin's first impulse was to laugh; then he remembered the dancing
goose, and the rain which followed in due course. "All right, Lubin,"
he said cheerfully. "I'm not afraid of magpies; I don't think they're
very dangerous. But I _have_ heard that they've a fancy for silver
spoons, so I'll tell Aunt Charlotte to lock the plate up safely before
she goes to bed."

As he had expected, Aunt Charlotte was much pleased at hearing of his
encounter with Mr Buskin, who, she thought, must be a most delightful
person. It would be so good, too, for Austin to see something of the
gay world instead of always mooning about alone; and then he would be
sure to meet other young people at the performance, friends from the
neighbouring town, with whom he could talk and be sociable. Austin, on
his side, was quite willing to go and be amused, though he felt,
perhaps, more interested in what promised to be an entirely new
experience than excited at the prospect of a treat. He wanted to see
and to study, and then he would be able to judge.

"By the way, Austin," said his aunt, as they were separating for the
night a few hours later, "I want you to go into the town to-morrow and
tell Snewin to send a man up at once to look at the roof. I'm afraid
it's been in rather a bad state for some time past, and those heavy
rains we had last week seem to have damaged it still more. Be sure you
don't forget. It won't do to have a leaky roof over our heads; it
might come tumbling down, and cost a mint of money to put right

Austin gave the required promise, and thought no more about it. He
also forgot entirely to tell his aunt she had better lock up the
spoons with particular care that night because Lubin had seen a magpie
in suspicious proximity to his window. He went straight up to his
room, feeling rather sleepy, and bent on getting between the sheets as
soon as possible. But just as he was putting on his nightgown, a light
pattering sound attracted his attention, and he immediately became all

"Rain?" he exclaimed. "Why, there wasn't a sign of it an hour ago!"

He drew up the blind and looked out. The sky was perfectly clear, and
a brilliant moon was shining.

"That's queer!" he murmured. "I could have sworn I heard it raining.
What in the world could it have been?"

He turned away and put out the candle. As he approached the bed a
curious disinclination to get into it came over him. Then he heard the
same pattering noise again. He stopped short, and listened more
attentively. It seemed to come from the walls.

A shower of raps, rather like tiny explosions, now sounded all around
him. He leant his head against the wall, and the sound became
distincter. This time there was no mistake about it. He had never
heard anything like it in his life. He was quite cool, not in the
least frightened, and very much on the alert. The raps continued at
intervals for about five minutes. Then, seeing that it was impossible
to solve the mystery, he suddenly jumped into bed. At that moment the
raps ceased.

For nearly an hour he lay awake, wondering. Certainly he had not been
the victim of hallucination. He was in perfect health, and in full
possession of all his faculties. Indeed his faculties were
particularly alive; he had been thinking of something else altogether
when the raps first forced themselves upon his consciousness, and
afterwards he had listened to them for several minutes with close and
critical attention. No explanation of the strange phenomenon suggested
itself in spite of endless theories and speculations. Could it be
mice? But mice only gnawed and scuttled about; they did not rap. It
was more like crackling than anything else; the noise produced by
thousands of faint discharges. No, it was inexplicable, and he
wondered more and more.

Gradually he fell asleep. How long he slept he didn't know, but he
awoke with a sensation of cold. Instinctively he put out his hand to
pull the coverings closer over him, and found that they seemed to have
slipped down somehow, leaving his chest exposed. Then, warm again, he
dozed off once more and dreamt that he was at the pool of Daphnis with
Lubin. How cool and blue the water looked, and how lovely the plunge
would be! But when he was stripped the weather suddenly changed; a
chill wind sprang up which made his teeth chatter; and then Lubin--who
somehow wasn't Lubin but had unaccountably turned into Mr
Buskin--insisted on throwing him into the water, which now looked cold
and black. He struggled furiously, and awoke shivering.

There was not a rag upon him. Again he stretched out his hand to feel
for the clothes, but they had disappeared. Instinctively he threw
himself out of bed and flung open the shutters. The moon had set, and
the first faint gleams of approaching dawn filtered into the room,
showing, to his amazement, the bedclothes drawn completely away from
the mattress and hanging over the rail at the foot, so as to be quite
out of the reach of his hand as he had lain there. What on earth was
the matter with the bed? Was it bewitched? Who had uncovered him in
that unceremonious way, leaving him perished with cold? No wonder he
had dreamt of that chilly wind, numbing his body as he stood naked by
the pool. Had he by any chance kicked the coverlet off in his sleep,
as he engaged in that dream-struggle with the absurdly impossible
Buskin-Lubin who had attempted to pitch him into the dark water?
Clearly not; for that would not account for the sheet and blanket
being dragged so carefully out of the range of his hands, and hung
over the foot-rail so that they touched the floor.

Such were the thoughts that flashed through his mind as he stood
motionless by the window, with wide open eyes, in the chill morning
light. Suddenly a rending, bursting noise was heard in the ceiling.
The crack widened into a chasm, and then, with a heavy thud, down fell
a confused mass of old bricks, crumbling mortar, and rotten,
worm-eaten wood full on the mattress he had just relinquished,
scattering pulverised rubble in all directions, and covering the bed
with a layer of horrible dust and _débris_.

Chapter the Sixth

Had her very life depended on it, old Martha would have been totally
unable to give any coherent account of what she felt, said, or did,
when she came into Master Austin's room that morning at half-past
seven with his hot water. She thought she must have screamed, but such
was her bewilderment and terror she really could not remember whether
she did or no. But she never had any doubt as to what she saw. Instead
of a fair white bed with Austin lying in it, she was confronted by the
sight of a gaping hole in the roof, something that looked like a
rubbish heap in a brickfield immediately underneath, and the long
slender form of Austin himself wrapped in a comfortable wadded
dressing-gown fast asleep upon the sofa. "Bless us and save us!" she
ejaculated under her breath. "And to think that the boy's lived
through it!"

Austin, roused by her entrance, yawned, stretched himself, and lazily
opened his eyes. "Is that you already, Martha?" he said. "Oh, how
sleepy I am. Is it really half-past seven?"

"But what does it all mean--how it is you're not killed?" cried
Martha, putting down the jug, and finding her voice at last. "The good
Lord preserve us--here's the house tumbling down about our ears and
never a one of us the wiser. And the man was to 'ave come this very
day to see to that blessed roof. Come, wake up, do, Master Austin, and
tell me how it happened."

"Is Aunt Charlotte up yet?" asked Austin turning over on his side.

"Ay, that she be, and making it lively for the maids downstairs.
Whatever will she say when she hears about this to-do?" exclaimed
Martha, with her hands upon her hips as she gazed at the desolation
round her.

"Well, please go down and ask her to come up here at once," said
Austin. "I see I shall have to say something, and it really will be
too much bother to go over it to everybody in turn. I've had rather a
disturbed night, and feel most awfully tired. So just run down and
bring her up as soon as ever you can, and then we'll get it over."

"A pretty business--and me with forty-eleven things to do already
to-day," muttered the old servant as she hurried out. "True it is that
except the Lord builds the house they labour in vain as builds it. He
didn't have no hand in building this one, that's as plain as I am--as
never was a beauty at my best. Well, the child's safe, that's one
mercy. Though what he was doing out of his bed when the roof came
down's a mystery to _me_. Talking to the moon, I shouldn't wonder. The
good Lord's got 'is own ways o' doing things, and it ain't for the
likes of us to pick holes when they turn out better than the worst."

Meanwhile Austin lay quietly and drowsily on his couch piecing things
together. Seen from the distance of a few hours, now that he had
leisure to reflect, how wonderfully they fitted in! First of all,
there had been that sudden outburst of raps just as he was stepping
into bed. That, evidently, was intended as a warning. It was as much
as to say, "Don't! don't!" But of course he couldn't be expected to
know this, and so he could only wonder where the raps came from, and
get into bed as usual. Then, the instant he did so the raps ceased.
That was because it wasn't any use to go on. The rappers, he
supposed, had benevolently tried to frighten him away, and induce him
to go and sleep on the sofa at the other end of the room where he was
now; but the attempt had failed. So there was nothing for them to do,
as he was actually in bed, but to get him out again; and this they had
succeeded in doing by dragging all his clothes off. Now he saw it all.
Nothing, it seemed to him, could possibly be clearer. But who were the
unseen friends who had thus interposed to save his life? Ah, that was
a secret still.

Then footsteps were heard outside, and in bustled Aunt Charlotte, with
Martha chattering in her wake. Austin raised himself upon his
cushions, and then sank back again. "Lord save us!" cried Aunt
Charlotte, coming to a dead stop, as she surveyed the ruins.

"It's rather a mess, isn't it?" remarked Austin, folding a red
table-cover round his single leg by way of counterpane.

"A mess!" repeated Aunt Charlotte. "I should think it _was_ a mess.
How in the world, Austin, did you manage to escape?"

"Well--I happened to get out of bed a minute or two before the ceiling
broke," said Austin, "and it's just as well I did. Otherwise my
artless countenance would have got rather disfigured, and I might
even have been hurt. You see all that raw material isn't composed of

"What time did it occur?" asked Aunt Charlotte, shortly.

"The dawn was just breaking. I suppose it must have been about four
o'clock, but I didn't look at my watch," replied Austin. "I was too
cold and sleepy."

"Cold and sleepy!" exclaimed Aunt Charlotte. "And the house collapsing
over your head. You seem to have had time to pull the bedclothes away,
though. That's very curious. What did you do that for?"

"I didn't," replied Austin.

"Then who did?" asked Aunt Charlotte, getting more and more excited.
"I do wish you'd be a little more communicative, Austin; I have to
drag every word out of you as though you were trying to hide
something. Who hung the bedclothes over the footrail if you didn't?"

"I can't tell you. I don't know. All I know is that I found them where
they are now when I woke up, and I woke up because I was so cold. Then
I got out of bed, and a minute afterwards down came all the bricks."

"Do you mean to tell me----" began Aunt Charlotte, in her most
scathing tones.

"Certainly I do. Exactly what I _have_ told you. Why?"

"Do you expect me to believe," resumed his aunt, "that somebody came
into the room when you were asleep, and deliberately pulled off all
your bedclothes for the fun of doing it? Am I to understand----"

"My dear auntie, I am not an idiot, nor am I in the habit of perjuring
myself," interrupted Austin. "I saw nobody come into the room, and I
saw nobody pull off the clothes. If you really want to know what I
'expect you to believe,' I've already told you. I might tell you a
little more, but then I shouldn't expect you to believe it, so what
would be the good? It seems to me the best thing to do now is to send
for Snewin to take away all this mess, move the furniture, and mend
the hole in the ceiling. If once it begins to rain----"

"Oh! You might tell me a little more, might you?" said Aunt Charlotte,
bristling. "So you haven't told me everything after all. Now, then,
never mind whether I believe it or not, that's my affair. What is
there more to tell?"

"Nothing," replied Austin. "Because it isn't only your affair whether
you believe me or not; it's my affair as well. Why, you don't even
believe what I've told you already! So I won't tax your credulity any

Aunt Charlotte now began to get rather angry, "Look here, Austin," she
said, "I intend to get to the bottom of this business, so it's not the
slightest use trying to beat about the bush. I insist on your telling
me how it was you happened to get out of bed just before the accident
occurred, and how the bedclothes came to be pulled away and hung where
they are now. There's a mystery about the whole thing, and I hate
mysteries, so you'd better make a clean breast of it at once."

"Had I?" said Austin, pretending to reflect. "I wonder whether it
would be wise. You see, dear auntie, you're such a sensitive creature;
your nerves are so highly strung, you're so easily frightened out of
your dear old wits--"

"Be done with all this nonsense!" snapped Aunt Charlotte brusquely.
"Come, I can't stand here all day. Just tell me exactly what took
place--why you woke up, and what you saw, and everything about it you

"Dear auntie, I don't want you to stand there all day; in fact I'd
much rather you didn't stand there a minute longer, because I want to
get up," Austin assured her earnestly. "I awoke because I had a horrid
dream, caused by the cold which in its turn was produced by my being
left with nothing on. And I didn't see anything, for the simple reason
that the room was as dark as pitch. Is there anything else you want to

"Yes, there is. Everything that you haven't told me," said the
uncompromising aunt.

"Very well, then," said Austin, leaning upon his elbow and looking her
full in the face. "But on one condition only--that you believe every
word I say."

"Of course, Austin, I should never dream of doubting your good faith,"
replied Aunt Charlotte. "But don't romance. Now then."

"It's very simple, after all," began Austin. "Just as I was getting
into bed a strange noise, like a shower of little raps, broke out all
around me. It went on for nearly five minutes, and I was listening all
the time and trying to find out what it was and where it came from. At
the moment I had no clue, but now I fancy I can guess. Those raps
were warnings. They--the rappers--were trying to prevent me getting
into bed. They didn't succeed, of course, and so, just as the ceiling
was on the point of giving way, they compelled me to get out of bed by
pulling all the clothes off. If they hadn't, I should have been half
killed. Now, what do you make of that?"

"I knew it must be some nonsense of the sort!" exclaimed Aunt
Charlotte, in her most vigorous tones. "Raps, indeed! I never heard
such twaddle. Of course I don't doubt your word, but it's clear enough
that you dreamt the whole thing. You always were a dreamer, Austin,
and you're getting worse than ever. I don't believe you know half the
time whether you're asleep or awake."

"Did I dream _that_?" asked Austin, pointing to the bedclothes as they

"You dragged them there in your sleep, of course," retorted Aunt
Charlotte triumphantly. "I see the whole thing now. You had a dream,
you kicked the clothes off in your sleep, and then you got out of bed,
still in your sleep----"

"I didn't do anything of the sort," interrupted Austin. "I was wide
awake the whole time. You see, auntie, I was here and you weren't, so
I ought to know something about it."

"It's no use arguing with you," replied Aunt Charlotte, loftily. "It's
a clear case of sleep-walking--as clear as any case I ever heard of.
And then all that nonsense about raps! Of course, if you heard
anything at all--which I only half believe--it was something beginning
to give way in the roof. There! It only requires a little
common-sense, you see, to explain the whole affair. And now, my

"Hush!" whispered Austin suddenly.

"What's the matter?" exclaimed Aunt Charlotte, not liking to be

"Listen!" said Austin, under his breath.

A torrent of raps burst out in the wall immediately behind him,
plainly audible in the silence. Then they stopped, as suddenly as they
had begun.

"Did you hear them?" said Austin. "Those were the raps I told you of.
Hark! There they are again. I wish they would sound a little louder."
A distinct increase in the sound was noticeable. "Oh, isn't it
perfectly wonderful? Now, what have you to say?"

Aunt Charlotte stood agape. It was no use pretending she didn't hear
them. They were as unmistakable as knocks at a front door.

"What jugglery is this?" she demanded, in an angry tone.

"Really, dear auntie, I am not a conjurer," replied Austin, as he sank
back upon his cushions. "That was what I heard last night. But of
course _you_ don't believe in such absurdities. It's only your fancy
after all, you know."

"'Tain't _my_ fancy, anyhow," put in old Martha, speaking for the
first time. "I heard 'em plain enough. 'Tis the 'good people,' for

"Hold your tongue, do!" cried Aunt Charlotte in sore perplexity. "Good
people, indeed!--the devil himself, more likely. I tell you what it
is, Austin----"

"Why, I thought you weren't superstitious!" observed Austin, in a tone
of most exasperating surprise. Three gentle knocks, running off into a
ripple of pattering explosions, were then heard in a farther corner of
the room. "There, don't you hear them laughing at you? Thank you, dear
people, whoever you are, that was very kind. And it was awfully sweet
of you to save me from those bricks last night. It _was_ good of them,
wasn't it, auntie dear?"

"If all this devilry goes on I shall take serious measures to stop
it," gasped Aunt Charlotte, who was almost frightened to death. "I
cannot and will not live in a haunted house. It's you who are haunted,
Austin, and I shall go and see the vicar about it this very day. It's
an awful state of things, positively awful. To think that you are
actually holding communication with familiar spirits! The vicar shall
come here at once, and I'll get him to hold a service of exorcism. I
believe there is such a service, and----"

"Oh, do, do, _do_!" screamed Austin, clapping his hands with delight.
"What fun it would be! Fancy dear Mr Sheepshanks, in all his tippets
and toggery, ambling and capering round poor me, and trying to drive
the devil out of me with a broomful of holy water! That's a lovely
idea of yours, auntie. Lubin shall come and be an acolyte, and we'll
get Mr Buskin to be stage-manager, and you shall be the pew-opener.
And then I'll empty the holy-water pot over dear Mr Sheepshanks' head
when he's looking the other way. You _are_ a genius, auntie, though
you're too modest to be conscious of it. But you're very ungrateful
all the same, for if it hadn't been for----"

"There, stop your ribaldry, Austin, and get up," said Aunt Charlotte,
impatiently. "The sooner we're all out of this dreadful room the
better. And let me tell you that you'd be better employed in thanking
God for your deliverance than in turning sacred subjects into

"Thanking God? Why, not a moment ago you said it was the devil!"
exclaimed Austin. "How you do chop and change about, auntie. You can't
possibly expect me to be orthodox when you go on contradicting
yourself at such a rate. However, if you really must go, I think I
_will_ get up. It must be long past eight, and I want my breakfast

The day so excitingly ushered in turned out a busy one. As soon as he
had finished his meal, Austin pounded off to invoke the immediate
presence of Mr Snewin the builder, and before long there was a mighty
bustle in the house. The furniture had all to be removed from the
scene of the disaster, the bed cleared of the _débris_, preparations
made for the erection of light scaffolding for repairing the roof, and
Austin himself installed, with all his books and treasures, in another
bedroom overlooking a different part of the garden. It was all a most
enjoyable adventure, and even Aunt Charlotte forgot her terrors in
the more practical necessities of the occasion. Just before lunch
Austin snatched a few minutes to run out and gossip with Lubin on the
lawn. Lubin listened with keen interest to the boy's picturesque
account of his experiences, and then remarked, sagely nodding his

"I told you to be on the look-out, you know, Master Austin. Magpies
don't perch on folks' window-sills for nothing. You'll believe me a
little quicker next time, maybe."

For once in his life Austin could think of nothing to say in reply. To
ask Lubin to explain the connection between magpies and misadventures
would have been useless; it evidently sufficed for him that such was
the order of Nature, and only a magpie would have been able to clear
up the mystery. Besides, there are many such mysteries in the world.
Why do cats occasionally wash their heads behind the ear? Clearly, to
tell us that we may expect bad weather; for the bad weather invariably
follows. These are all providential arrangements intended for our
personal convenience, and are not to be accounted for on any
cut-and-dried scientific theory. Lubin's erudition was certainly very
great, but there was something exasperating about it too.

So Austin went in to lunch thoughtful and dispirited, wondering why
there were so many absurdities in life that he could neither elucidate
nor controvert. He decided not to say anything to Aunt Charlotte about
Lubin's magpie sciolisms, lest he should provoke a further outburst of
the discussion they had held in the morning; he had had the best of
that, anyhow, and did not care to compromise his victory by dragging
in extraneous considerations in which he did not feel sure of his
ground. Aunt Charlotte, on her side, was inclined to be talkative,
taking refuge in the excitement of having work-men in the house from
the uneasy feelings which still oppressed her in consequence of those
frightening raps. But now that the haunted room was to be invaded by
friendly, commonplace artisans from the village, and turned inside
out, and almost pulled to pieces, there was a chance that the ghosts
would be got rid of without invoking the aid of Mr Sheepshanks; a
reflection that inspired her with hope, and comforted her greatly.

"You know you're a great anxiety to me, Austin," she said, as,
refreshed by food and wine, she took up her knitting after lunch. "I
wish you were more like other boys, indeed I do. I never could
understand you, and I suppose I never shall."

"But what does that matter, auntie?" asked Austin. "I don't understand
_you_ sometimes, but that doesn't make me anxious in the very least.
Why you should worry yourself about me I can't conceive. What do I do
to make you anxious? I don't get tipsy, I don't gamble away vast
fortunes at a sitting, and although I'm getting on for eighteen I
haven't had a single action for breach of promise brought against me
by anybody. Now _I_ think that's rather a creditable record. It isn't
everybody who can say as much."

"I want you to be more _serious_, Austin," replied his aunt, "and not
to talk such nonsense as you're talking now. I want you to be
sensible, practical, and alive to the sober facts of life. You're too
dreamy a great deal. Soon you won't know the difference between dreams
and realities----"

"I don't even now. No more do you. No more does anybody," interrupted
Austin, lighting a cigarette.

"There you are again!" exclaimed Aunt Charlotte, clicking her needles
energetically. "Did one ever hear such rubbish? It all comes from
those outlandish books you're always poring over. If you'd only take
_my_ advice, you'd read something solid, and sensible, and improving,
like 'Self Help,' by Dr Smiles. That would be of some use to you, but
these others----"

"I read a whole chapter of it once," said Austin. "I can scarcely
believe it myself, but I did. It's the most immoral, sordid, selfish
book that was ever printed. It deifies Success--success in
money-making--success of the coarsest and most materialistic kind. It
is absolutely unspiritual and degrading. It nearly made me sick."

"Be silent!" cried Aunt Charlotte, horrified. "How dare you talk like
that? I will not sit still and hear you say such things. Few books
have had a greater influence upon the age. Degrading? Why, it's been
the making of thousands!"

"Thousands of soulless money-grubbers," retorted Austin. "That's what
it has made. Men without an idea or an aspiration above their horrible
spinning-jennies and account-books. I hate your successful
stockbrokers and shipowners and manufacturers. They are an odious
race. Wasn't it a stockjobber who thought Botticelli was a cheese?
Everyone knows the story, and I believe the hero of it was either a
stockjobber or a man who made screws in Birmingham."

Aunt Charlotte let her knitting fall on her lap in despair. "Austin,"
she said, in her most solemn tones, "I never regretted your poor
mother's death as I regret it at this moment."

"Why, auntie?" he asked, surprised.

"Perhaps she would have understood you better; perhaps she might even
have been able to manage you," replied the poor lady. "I confess that
you're beyond me altogether. Do you know what it was she said to me
upon her death-bed? 'Charlotte,' she said, 'my only sorrow in dying is
that I shall never be able to bring up my boy. Who will ever take such
care of him as I should?' You were then two days old, and the very
next day she died. I've never forgotten it. She passed away with that
sorrow, that terrible anxiety, tearing at her heart. I took her place,
as you know, but of course I was only a makeshift. I often wonder
whether she is still as anxious about you as she was then."

"My dearest auntie, you've been an angel in a lace cap to me all my
life, and I'm sure my mother isn't worrying herself about me one bit.
Why should she?" argued Austin. "I'm leading a lovely life, I'm as
happy as the days are long, and if my tastes don't run in the
direction of selling screws or posting ledgers, nothing that anybody
can say will change them. And I tell you candidly that if they were so
changed they would certainly be changed for the worse. I hate ugly
things as intensely as I love beautiful ones, and I'm very thankful
that I'm not ugly myself. Now don't look at me like that; it's so
conventional! Of course I know I'm not ugly, but rather the reverse
(that's a modest way of putting it), and I pray to beloved Pan that he
will give me beauty in the inward soul so that the inward and the
outward man may be at one. That's out of the 'Phædrus,' you know--a
very much superior composition to 'Self Help.' So cheer up, auntie,
and don't look on me as a doomed soul because we're not both turned
out of the same melting-pot. Now I'm just going upstairs to see to the
arrangement of my new room, and then I shall go and help Lubin in the

So saying, he strolled out. But poor Aunt Charlotte only shook her
head. She could not forget how Austin's mother had grieved at not
living to bring up her boy, and wished more earnestly than ever that
the responsibility had fallen into other hands than hers. There was
something so dreadfully uncanny about Austin. His ignorance about the
common facts of life was as extraordinary as his perfect familiarity
with matters known only to great scholars. His views and tastes were
strange to her, so strange as to be beyond her comprehension
altogether. She found herself unable to argue with him because their
minds were set on different planes, and her representations did not
seem to touch him in the very least. And yet, after all, he was a very
good boy, full of pure thoughts and kindly impulses and spiritual
intuitions and intellectual proclivities which certainly no moralist
would condemn. If only he were more practical, even more commonplace,
and wouldn't talk such nonsense! Then there would not be such a gulf
between them as there was at present; then she might have some
influence over him for good, at any rate. Her thoughts recurred,
uneasily, to the strange experiences of that morning. The mystery of
the raps distracted her, puzzled her, frightened her; whereas Austin
was not frightened at all--on the contrary, he accepted the whole
thing with the serenest cheerfulness and _sang-froid_, finding it
apparently quite natural that these unseen agencies, coming from
nobody knew where, should take him under their protection and make
friends with him. What could it all portend?

Of course it was very foolish of the good lady to fret like this
because Austin was so different from what she thought he should be.
She did not see that his nature was infinitely finer and subtler than
her own, and that it was no use in the world attempting to stifle his
intellectual growth and drag him down to her own level. A burly,
muscular boy, who played football and read 'Tom Brown,' would have
been far more to her taste, for such a one she would at least have
understood. But Austin, with his queer notions and audacious
paradoxes, was utterly beyond her. Unluckily, too, she had no sense of
humour, and instead of laughing at his occasionally preposterous
sallies, she allowed them to irritate and worry her. A person with no
sense of humour is handicapped from start to finish, and is as much to
be pitied as one born blind or deaf.

But Austin had his limitations too, and among them was a most
deplorable want of tact. Otherwise he would never have said, as he
was going to bed that night:

"By the way, auntie, what day have you arranged for the vicar to come
and cast all those devils out of me?"

He might as well have let sleeping dogs lie. Aunt Charlotte turned
round upon him in almost a rage, and solemnly forbade him, in any
circumstances and under whatsoever provocation, ever to mention the
subject in her presence again.

Chapter the Seventh

But by one of those curious coincidences that occur every now and
then, who should happen to drop in the very next afternoon but the
vicar himself, just as Austin and his aunt were having tea upon the
lawn. Now Aunt Charlotte and the vicar were great friends. They had
many interests in common--the same theological opinions, for example;
and then Aunt Charlotte was indefatigable in all sorts of parish work,
such as district-visiting, and the organisation of school teas,
village clubs, and those rather formidable entertainments known as
"treats"; so that the two had always something to talk about, and were
very fond of meeting. Besides all this, there was another bond of
union between them which scarcely anybody would have guessed. Mr
Sheepshanks, though as unworldly a man as any in the county,
considered himself unusually shrewd in business matters; and Aunt
Charlotte, like many middle-aged ladies in her position, found it a
great comfort to have a gentleman at her beck and call with whom she
could talk confidentially about her investments, and who could be
relied upon to give her much disinterested advice that he often acted
on himself. On this particular afternoon the vicar hinted that he had
something of special importance to communicate, and Aunt Charlotte was
unusually gracious. He was a short gentleman, with a sloping forehead,
a prominent nose, a clean-shaven, High-Church face, narrow, dogmatic
views, and small, twinkling eyes; not the sort of person whom one
would naturally associate with financial acumen, but endowed with an
air of self-confidence, and a pretension to private information, which
would have done credit to any stockbroker on 'Change.

"I've been thinking over that little matter of yours that you
mentioned to me the other day," he began, when he had finished his
third cup, and Austin had strolled away. "You say your mortgage at
Southport has just been paid off, and you want a new investment for
your money. Well, I think I know the very thing to suit you."

"Do you really? How kind of you!" exclaimed Aunt Charlotte. "What is
it--shares or bonds?"

"Shares," replied Mr Sheepshanks; "shares. Of course I know that very
prudent people will tell you that bonds are safer. And no doubt, as a
rule they are. If a concern fails, the bond-holder is a creditor,
while the shareholder is a debtor--besides having lost his capital.
But in this case there is no fear of failure."

"Dear me," said Aunt Charlotte, beginning to feel impressed. "Is it an
industrial undertaking?"

"I suppose it might be so described," answered her adviser,
cautiously. "But it is mainly scientific. It is the outcome of a great
chemical analysis."

"Oh, pray tell me all about it; I am so interested!" urged Aunt
Charlotte, eagerly. "You know what confidence I have in your judgment.
Has it anything to do with raw material? It isn't a plantation
anywhere, is it?"

"It's gold!" said Mr Sheepshanks.

"Gold?" repeated Aunt Charlotte, rather taken aback. "A gold mine, I
suppose you mean?"

"The hugest gold-mine in the world," replied the vicar, enjoying her
evident perplexity. "An inexhaustible gold mine. A gold mine without

"But where--whereabouts is it?" cried Aunt Charlotte.

"All around you," said the vicar, waving his hands vaguely in the air.
"Not in any country at all, but everywhere else. In the ocean."

"Gold in the ocean!" ejaculated the puzzled lady, dropping her
knitting on her lap, and gazing helplessly at her financial mentor.

"Gold in the ocean--precisely," affirmed that gentleman in an
impressive voice. "It has been discovered that sea-water holds a large
quantity of gold in solution, and that by some most interesting
process of precipitation any amount of it can be procured ready for
coining. I got a prospectus of the scheme this morning from Shark,
Picaroon & Co., Fleece Court, London, and I've brought it for you to
read. A most enterprising firm they seem to be. You'll see that it's
full of very elaborate scientific details--the results of the analyses
that have been made, the cost of production, estimates for machinery,
and I don't know what all. I can't say I follow it very clearly
myself, for the clerical mind, as everybody knows, is not very well
adapted to grasping scientific terminology, but I can understand the
general tenor of it well enough. It seems to me that the enterprise is
promising in a very high degree."

"How very remarkable!" observed Aunt Charlotte, as she gazed at the
tabulated figures and enumeration of chemical properties in bewildered
awe. "And you think it a safe investment?"

"_I_ do," replied Mr Sheepshanks, "but don't act on my opinion--judge
for yourself. What's the amount you have to invest--two thousand
pounds, isn't it? Well, I believe that you'd stand to get an income to
that very amount by investing just that sum in the undertaking. Look
what they say overleaf about the cost of working and the estimated
returns. It all sounds fabulous, I admit, but there are the figures,
my dear lady, in black and white, and figures cannot lie."

"I'll write to my bankers about it this very night," said Aunt
Charlotte, folding up the prospectus and putting it carefully into her
pocket. "It's evidently not a chance to be missed, and I'm most
grateful to you, dear Mr Sheepshanks, for putting it in my way."

"Always delighted to be of service to you--as far as my poor judgment
can avail," the vicar assured her with becoming modesty. "Ah, it's
wonderful when one thinks of the teeming riches that lie around us,
only waiting to be utilised. There _was_ another scheme I thought of
for you--a scheme for raising the sunken galleons in the Spanish main,
and recovering the immense treasures that are now lying, safe and
sound, at the bottom of the sea. Curious that both enterprises should
be connected with salt water, eh? And the prospectus was headed with a
most appropriate text--'The Sea shall give up her Dead.' That rather
appealed to me, do you know. It cast an air of solemnity over the
undertaking, and seemed to sanctify it somehow. However, I think the
other will be the best. Well, Austin, and what are you reading now?"

"Aunt Charlotte's face," laughed Austin, sauntering up. "She looks as
though you had been giving her absolution, Mr Sheepshanks--so beaming
and refreshed. Why, what's it all about?"

"I expect you want more absolution than your aunt," said the vicar,
humorously. "A sad useless fellow you are, I'm afraid. You and I must
have a little serious talk together some day, Austin. I really want
you to do something--for your own sake, you know. Now, how would you
like to take a class in the Sunday-school, for instance? I shall have
a vacancy in a week or two."

"Austin teach in the Sunday-school! He'd be more in his place if he
went there as a scholar than as a teacher," said Aunt Charlotte,

"I don't know why you should say that," remarked Austin, with perfect
gravity. "I think it would be delightful. I should make a beautiful
Sunday-school teacher, I'm convinced."

"There, now!" exclaimed the vicar, approvingly.

Austin was standing under an apple-tree, and over him stretched a
horizontal branch laden with ripening fruit. He raised his hands on
either side of his head and clasped it, and then began swinging his
wooden leg round and round in a way that bade fair to get on Aunt
Charlotte's nerves. He was so proud of that leg of his, while his aunt
abhorred the very sight of it.

"No doubt they're all very charming boys, and I should love to tell
them things," he went on. "I think I'd begin with 'The Gods of
Greece'--Louis Dyer, you know--and then I'd read them a few
carefully-selected passages from the 'Phædrus.' Then, by way of
something lighter, and more appropriate to their circumstances, I'd
give them a course of Virgil--the 'Georgics', because, I suppose,
most of them are connected with farming, and the 'Eclogues,' to
initiate them into the poetical side of country life. When once I'd
brought out all their latent sense of the Beautiful--for I'm afraid it
_is_ latent----"

"But it's a _Sunday_-school!" interrupted the vicar, horrified.
"Virgil and the Phædrus indeed! My dear boy, have you taken leave of
your senses? What in the world can you be thinking of?"

"Then what would you suggest?" enquired Austin, mildly.

"You'd have to teach them the Bible and the Catechism, of course,"
said Mr Sheepshanks, with an air of slight bewilderment.

"H'm--that seems to me rather a limited curriculum," replied Austin,
dubiously. "I only remember one passage in the Catechism, beginning,
'My good child, know this.' I forget what it was he had to know, but
it was something very dull. The Bible, of course, has more
possibilities. There is some ravishing poetry in the Bible. Well, I
can begin with the Bible, if you really prefer it, of course. The Song
of Solomon, for instance. Oh, yes, that would be lovely! I'll divide
it up into characters, and make each boy learn his part--the
shepherd, the Shulamite, King Solomon, and all the rest of them. The
Spring Song might even be set to music. And then all those lovely
metaphors, about the two roes that were twins, and something else that
was like a heap of wheat set about with lilies. Though, to be sure, I
never could see any very striking resemblance between the objects
typified and----"

"Hold your tongue, do, Austin!" cried Aunt Charlotte, scandalised.
"And for mercy's sake, keep that leg of yours quiet, if you can. You
are fidgeting me out of my wits."

Mr Sheepshanks, his mouth pursed up in a deprecating and uneasy smile,
sat gazing vaguely in front of him. "I think it might be wise to defer
the Song of Solomon," he suggested. "A few simple stories from the
Book of Genesis, perhaps, would be better suited to the minds of your
young pupils. And then the sublime opening chapters----"

"Oh, dear Mr Sheepshanks! Those stories in Genesis are some of them
too _risqués_ altogether," protested Austin. "One must draw the line
somewhere, you see. We should be sure to come upon something improper,
and just think how I should blush. Really, you can't expect me to read
such things to boys actually younger than myself, and probably be
asked to explain them into the bargain. There's the Creation part,
it's true, but surely when one considers how occult all that is one
wants to be familiar with the Kabbala and all sorts of mystical works
to discover the hidden meaning. Now I should propose 'The Art of
Creation'--do you know it? It shows that the only possible creator is
Thought, and explains how everything exists in idea before it takes
tangible shape. This applies to the universe at large, as well as to
everything we make ourselves. I'd tell the boys that whenever they
_think_, they are really _creating_, so that----"

"I should vastly like to know where you pick up all these
extraordinary notions!" interrupted the vicar, who could not for the
life of him make out whether Austin was in jest or earnest. "They're
most dangerous notions, let me tell you, and entirely opposed to sound
orthodox Church teaching. It's clear to me that your reading wants to
be supervised, Austin, by some judicious friend. There's an excellent
little work I got a few days ago that I think you would like to see.
It's called 'The Mission-field in Africa.' There you'll find a most
remarkable account of all those heathen superstitions----"

"Where is Africa?" asked Austin, munching a leaf.

"There!" exclaimed Aunt Charlotte. "That's Austin all over. He'll talk
by the hour together about a lot of outlandish nonsense that no
sensible person ever heard of, and all the time he doesn't even know
where Africa is upon the map. What is to be done with such a boy?"

"Well, I think we'll postpone the question of his teaching in the
Sunday-school, at all events," remarked the vicar, who began to feel
rather sorry that he had ever suggested it. "It's more than probable
that his ideas would be over the children's heads, and come into
collision with what they heard in church. Well, now I must be going.
You'll think over that little matter we were speaking of?" he said, as
he took a neighbourly leave of his parishioner and ally.

"Indeed I will, and I'll write to my bankers to-night," replied that
lady cordially.

Then the vicar ambled across the lawn, and Austin accompanied him, as
in duty bound, to the garden gate. Meanwhile, Aunt Charlotte leant
comfortably back in her wicker chair, absorbed in pleasant meditation.
The repairs to the roof would, no doubt, run into a little money, but
the vicar's tip about this wonderful company for extracting gold from
sea-water made up for any anxiety she might otherwise have experienced
upon that score. What a kind, good man he was--and _so_ clever in
business matters, which, of course, were out of her range altogether.
She took the prospectus out of her pocket, and ran her eyes over it
again. Capital, £500,000, in shares of £100 each. Solicitors, Messrs
Somebody Something & Co., Fetter Lane, E.C. Bankers, The Shoreditch &
Houndsditch Amalgamated Banking Corporation, St Mary Axe. Acquisition
of machinery, so much. Cost of working, so much. Estimated
returns--something perfectly enormous. It all looked wonderful, quite
wonderful. She again determined to write to her bankers that very
evening before dinner.

"You're going to the theatre to-night, aren't you, Austin?" she said,
as he returned from seeing Mr Sheepshanks courteously off the
premises. "I want you to post a letter for me on your way. Post it at
the Central Office, so as to be sure it catches the night mail. It's a
business letter of importance."

"All right, auntie," he replied, arranging his trouser so that it
should fall gracefully over his wooden leg.

"And I do wish, Austin, that you'd behave rather more like other
people when Mr Sheepshanks comes to see us. There really is no
necessity for talking to him in the way you do. Of course it was a
great compliment, his asking you to take a class in the Sunday-school,
though I could have told him that he couldn't possibly have made an
absurder choice, and you might very well have contented yourself with
regretting your utter unfitness for such a post without exposing your
ignorance in the way you did. The idea of telling a clergyman, too,
that the Book of Genesis was too improper for boys to read, when he
had just been recommending it! I thought you'd have had more respect
for his position, whatever silly notions you may have yourself."

"I do respect the vicar; he's quite a nice little thing," replied
Austin, in a conciliatory tone. "And of course he thinks just what a
vicar ought to think, and I suppose what all vicars do think. But as
I'm not a vicar myself I don't see that I am bound to think as they

"You a vicar, indeed!" sniffed Aunt Charlotte. "A remarkable sort of
vicar you'd make, and pretty sermons you'd preach if you had the
chance. What time does this performance of yours begin to-night?"

"At eight, I believe."

"Well, then, I'll just go in and tell cook to let us have dinner a
quarter of an hour earlier than usual," said Aunt Charlotte, as she
folded up her work. "The omnibus from the 'Peacock' will get you into
town in plenty of time, and the walk back afterwards will do you

       *       *       *       *       *

The town in question was about a couple of miles from the village
where Austin lived--a clean, cheerful, prosperous little borough, with
plenty of good shops, a commodious theatre, several churches and
chapels, and a fine market. Dinner was soon disposed of, and as the
omnibus which plied between the two places clattered and rattled along
at a good speed--having to meet the seven-fifty down-train at the
railway station--he was able to post his aunt's precious letter and
slip into his stall in the dress-circle before the curtain rose. The
orchestra was rioting through a composition called 'The Clang o' the
Wooden Shoon,' as an appropriate introduction to a tragedy the scene
of which was laid in Nineveh; the house seemed fairly full, and the
air was heavy with that peculiar smell, a sort of doubtfully aromatic
stuffiness, which is so grateful to the nostrils of playgoers. Austin
gazed around him with keen interest. He had not been inside a theatre
for years, and the vivid description that Mr Buskin had given him of
the show he was about to witness filled him with pleasurable
anticipation. To all intents and purposes, the experience that awaited
him was something entirely new; how, he wondered, would it fit into
his scheme of life? What room would there be, in his idealistic
philosophy, for the stage?

Then the music came to an end in a series of defiant bangs, the
curtain rolled itself out of sight, and a brilliant spectacle
appeared. The only occupant of the scene at first was a gentleman in a
thick black beard and fantastic garb who seemed to have acquired the
habit of talking very loudly to himself. In this way the audience
discovered that the gentleman, who was no less a personage than the
Queen's brother, was seriously dissatisfied with his royal
brother-in-law, whose habits were of a nature which did not make for
the harmony of his domestic circle. Then soft music was heard, and in
lounged Sardanapalus himself--a glittering figure in flowing robes of
silver and pale blue, garlanded with flowers, and surrounded by a
crowd of slaves and women all very elegantly dressed; and it really
was quite wonderful to notice how his Majesty lolled and languished
about the stage, how beautifully affected all his gestures were, and
with what a high-bred supercilious drawl he rolled out his behests
that a supper should be served at midnight in the pavilion that
commanded a view of the Euphrates. And this magnificent, absurd
creature--this mouthing, grimacing, attitudinising popinjay, thought
Austin, was no other than Mr Bucephalus Buskin, with whom he had
chatted on easy terms in a common field only a few days previously!
The memory of the umbrella, the tight frock-coat, the bald head, the
fat, reddish face, and the rather rusty "chimney-pot" here recurred to
him, and he nearly giggled out loud in thinking how irresistibly funny
Mr Buskin would look if he were now going through all these fanciful
gesticulations in his walking dress. The fact was that the man himself
was perfectly unrecognisable, and Austin was mightily impressed by
what was really a signal triumph in the art of making up.

The play went on, and Sardanapalus showed no signs of moral
improvement. In fact, it soon became evident that his code of ethics
was deplorable, and Austin could only console himself with the
thought that the real Mr Buskin was, no doubt, a most virtuous and
respectable person who never gave Mrs Buskin--if there was one--any
grounds for jealousy. Then the first act came to an end, the lights
went up, and a subdued buzz of conversation broke out all over the
theatre. The second act was even more exciting, as Sardanapalus,
having previously confessed himself unable to go on multiplying
empires, was forced to interfere in a scuffle between his
brother-in-law and Arbaces--who was by way of being a traitor; but the
most sensational scene of all was the banquet in act the third, of
which so glowing an account had been given to Austin by the great
tragedian himself. That, indeed, was something to remember.

                      "Guests, to my pledge!
    Down on your knees, and drink a measure to
    The safety of the King--the monarch, say I?
    The god Sardanapalus! mightier than
    His father Baal, the god Sardanapalus!"
                             [_Thunder. Confusion._]

Ah, that was thrilling, if you like, in spite of the halting rhythm.
And yet, even at that supreme moment, the vision of the umbrella and
the rather shabby hat would crop up again, and Austin didn't quite
know whether to let himself be thrilled or to lean back and roar. The
conspiracy burst out a few minutes afterwards, and then there ensued
a most terrifying and portentous battle, rioters and loyalists
furiously attempting to kill each other by the singular expedient of
clattering their swords together so as to make as much noise as
possible, and then passing them under their antagonists' armpits, till
the stage was heaped with corpses; and all this bloody work entirely
irrespective of the valuable glass and china on the supper-table, and
the costly hearthrugs strewn about the floor. Even Sardanapalus,
having first looked in the glass to make sure that his helmet was
straight, performed prodigies of valour, and the curtain descended to
his insatiable shouting for fresh weapons and a torrent of tumultuous
applause from the gallery.

"Now for it!" said Austin to himself, when another act had been got
through, in the course of which Sardanapalus had suffered from a
distressing nightmare. He took Mr Buskin's card out of his pocket,
and, hurrying out as fast as he could manage, stumped his way round to
the stage door. Cerberus would fain have stopped him, but Austin
flourished his card in passing, and enquired of the first
civil-looking man he met where the manager was to be found. He was
piloted through devious ways and under strange scaffoldings, to the
foot of a steep and very dirty flight of steps--luckily there were
only seven--at the top of which was dimly visible a door; and at this,
having screwed his courage to the sticking-place, he knocked.

"Come in!" cried a voice inside.

He found himself on the threshold of a room such as he had never seen
before. There was no carpet, and the little furniture it contained was
heaped with masses of heterogeneous clothes. Two looking-glasses were
fixed against the walls, and in front of one of them was a sort of
shelf, or dresser, covered with small pots of some ungodly looking
materials of a pasty appearance--rouge, grease-paint, cocoa-butter,
and heaven knows what beside--with black stuff, white stuff, yellow
stuff, paint-brushes, gum-pots, powder-puffs, and discoloured rags
spread about in not very picturesque confusion. In a corner of this
engaging boudoir, sitting in an armchair with a glass of liquor beside
him and smoking a strong cigar, was the most extraordinary and
repulsive object he had ever clapped his eyes on. The face, daubed and
glistening with an unsightly coating of red, white, and yellow-ochre
paint, and adorned with protuberant bristles by way of eyebrows,
appeared twice its natural dimensions. The throat was bare to the
collar-bones. A huge wig covered the head, falling over the shoulders;
while the whole was encircled by a great wreath of pink calico roses,
the back of which, just under the nape of the neck, was fastened by a
glittering pinchbeck tassel. The arms were nude, their natural growth
of dark hair being plastered over with white chalk, which had a
singularly ghastly effect; a short-skirted, low-necked gold frock, cut
like a little girl's, partly covered the body, and over this were
draped coarse folds of scarlet, purple, and white, with tinsel stars
along the seams, and so disposed as to display to fullest advantage
the brawny calves of the tragedian.

"Great Scott, if it isn't young Dot-and-carry-One!" exclaimed Mr
Sardanapalus Buskin, as the slim figure of Austin, in his simple
evening-dress, appeared at the entrance. "Come in, young gentleman,
come in. So you've come to beard the lion in his den, have you? Well,
it's kind of you not to have forgotten. You're welcome, very welcome.
That was a very pleasant little meeting we had the other day, over
there in the fields. And what do you think of the performance? Been in

"Oh, yes--thank you so very much," said Austin, hesitatingly. "It is
awfully kind of you to let me come and see you like this. I've never
seen anything of the sort in all my life."

"Ah, I daresay it's a sort of revelation to you," said Sardanapalus,
with good-humoured condescension. "Have a drop of whiskey-and-water?
Well, well, I won't press you. And so you've enjoyed the play?"

"The whole thing has interested me enormously," replied Austin. "It
has given me any amount to think of."

"Ah, that's good; that's very good, indeed," said the actor, nodding
sagely. "Do you remember what I was saying to you the other day about
the educative power of the stage? That's what it is, you see; the
greatest educative power in the land. How did that last scene go? Made
the people in the stalls sit up a bit, I reckon. Ah, it's a great
life, this. Talk of art! I tell you, young gentleman, acting's the
only art worthy of the name. The actor's all the artists in creation
rolled into one. Every art that exists conspires to produce him and to
perfect him. Painting, for instance; did you ever see anything to
compare with that Banqueting Scene in the Palace? Why, it's a triumph
of pictorial art, and, by Jove, of architecture too. And the actor
doesn't only paint scenes--or get them painted for him, it comes to
the same thing--he paints himself. Look at me, for instance. Why, I
could paint you, young gentleman, so that your own mother wouldn't
know you. With a few strokes of the brush I could transform you into a
beautiful young girl, or a wrinkled old Jew, or an Artful Dodger, or
anything else you had a fancy for. Music, again--think of the effect
of that slow music in the first act. There was pathos for you, if you
like. Oratory--talk of Demosthenes or Cicero, Mr Gladstone or John
Bright! Why, they're nowhere, my dear young friend, literally nowhere.
Didn't my description of the dream just _fetch_ you? Be honest now; by
George, Sir, it thrilled the house. Look here, young man"--and
Sardanapalus began to speak very slowly, with tremendous emphasis and
solemnity--"and remember what I'm going to say until your dying day.
If I were to drink too much of this, I should be intoxicated; but what
is the intoxication produced by whiskey compared with the intoxication
of applause? Just think of it, as soberly and calmly as you
can--hundreds of people, all in their right minds, stamping and
shouting and yelling for you to come and show yourself before the
curtain; the entire house at your feet. Why, it's worship, Sir, sheer
worship; and worship is a very sacred thing. Show me the man who's
superior to _that_, and I'll show you a man who's either above or
below the level of human nature. Whatever he may be, I don't envy him.
To-morrow morning I shall be an ordinary citizen in a frock-coat and a
tall hat. To-night I'm a king, a god. What other artist can say as

So saying, Sardanapalus puffed up his cigar and swallowed another
half-glass of liquor. The pungent smoke made Austin cough and blink.
"It must indeed be an exciting life," he ventured; "quite delirious,
to judge from what you say."

"It requires a cool head," replied Sardanapalus, with a stoical shrug.
"Ah! there's the bell," he added, as a loud ting was heard outside.
"The curtain's going up. Now hurry away to the front, and see the last
act. The scene where I'm burnt on the top of all my treasures isn't to
be missed. It's the grandest and most moving scene in any play upon
the stage. And watch the expression of my face," said Mr Buskin, as he
applied the powder-puff to his cheeks and nose. "Gestures are all very
well--any fool can be taught to act with his arms and legs. But
expression! That's where the heaven-born genius comes in. However, I
must be off. Good-night, young gentleman, good-night."

He shook Austin warmly by the hand, and precipitated himself down the
wooden steps. Austin followed, regained the stage-door, and was soon
back in the dress-circle. But he felt that really he had seen almost
enough. The last act seemed to drag, and it was only for the sake of
witnessing the holocaust at the end that he sat it out. Even the
varying "expressions" assumed by Sardanapalus failed to arouse his
enthusiasm. He reproached himself for this, for poor Buskin rolled his
eyes and twisted his mouth and pulled such lugubrious faces that
Austin felt how pathetic it all was, and how hard the man was trying
to work upon the feelings of the audience. But the flare-up at the end
was really very creditable. Blue fire, red fire, and clouds of smoke
filled the entire stage, and when Myrrha clambered up the burning pile
to share the fate of her paramour the enthusiasm of the spectators
knew no bounds. Calls for Sardanapalus and all his company resounded
from every part of the house, and it was a tremendous moment when the
curtain was drawn aside, and the great actor, apparently not a penny
the worse for having just been burnt alive, advanced majestically to
the footlights. Then all the other performers were generously
permitted to approach and share in the ovation, bowing again and again
in acknowledgment of the approbation of their patrons, and looking,
thought Austin rather cruelly, exactly like a row of lacqueys in
masquerade. This marked the close of the proceedings, and Austin, with
a sigh of relief, soon found himself once more in the cool streets,
walking briskly in the direction of the country.

Well, he had had his experience, and now his curiosity was satisfied.
What was the net result? He began sifting his sensations, and trying
to discover what effect the things he had seen and heard had really
had upon him. It was all very brilliant, very interesting; in a
certain way, very exciting. He began to understand what it was that
made so many people fond of theatre-going. But he felt at the same
time that he himself was not one of them. For some reason or other he
had escaped the spell. He was more inclined to criticise than to
enjoy. There was something wanting in it all. What could that
something be?

The sound of footsteps behind him, echoing in the quiet street, just
then reached his ears. The steps came nearer, and the next moment a
well-known voice exclaimed:

"Well, Austin! I hoped I should catch you up!"

"Oh, Mr St Aubyn, is that you? How glad I am to see you!" cried the
boy, grasping the other's hand. "This is a delightful surprise. Have
you been to the theatre, too?"

"I have," replied St Aubyn. "You didn't notice me, I daresay, but I
was watching you most of the time. It amused me to speculate what
impression the thing was making on you. Were you very much carried

"I certainly was not," said Austin, "though I was immensely
interested. It gave me a lot to think about, as I told Mr Buskin
himself when I went to see him for a few minutes behind the scenes.
You know I happened to meet him a few days ago, and he asked me to--it
really was most kind of him. By the way, he was just on his way to
call upon you at the Court."

"Well--and now tell me what you thought of it all. What impressed you
most about the whole affair?"

"I think," said Austin, speaking very slowly, as though weighing every
word, "that the general impression made upon me was that of utter
unreality. I cannot conceive of anything more essentially artificial.
The music was pretty, the scenery was very fine, and the costumes were
dazzling enough--from a distance; but when you've said that you've
said everything. The situations were impossible and absurd. The
speeches were bombast. The sentiment was silly and untrue. And
Sardanapalus himself was none so distraught by his unpleasant dream
and all his other troubles but that he was looking forward to his
glass of whiskey-and-water between the acts. No, he didn't impose on
me one bit. I didn't believe in Sardanapalus for a moment, even before
I had the privilege of seeing and hearing him as Mr Buskin in his
dressing-room. The entire business was a sham."

"But surely it doesn't pretend to be anything else?" suggested St
Aubyn, surprised.

"Be it so. I don't like shams, I suppose," returned the boy.

"Still, you shouldn't generalise too widely," urged the other. "There
are plays where one's sensibilities are really touched, where the
situations are not forced, where the performers move and speak like
living, ordinary human beings, and, in the case of great actors, work
upon the feelings of the audience to such an extent----"

"And there the artificiality is all the greater!" chipped in Austin,
tersely. "The more perfect the illusion, the hollower the
artificiality. Of course, no one could take Sardanapalus seriously,
any more than if he were a marionette pulled by strings instead of the
sort of live marionette he really is. But where the acting and the
situations are so perfect, as you say, as to cause real emotion, the
unreality of the whole business is more flagrantly conspicuous than
ever. The emotions pourtrayed are not real, and nobody pretends they
are. The art, therefore, of making them appear real, and even
communicating them to the audience, must of necessity involve greater
artificiality than where the acting is bad and the situations
ridiculous. There's a person I know, near where I live--you never
heard of him, of course, but he's called Jock MacTavish--and he told
me he once went to see a really very great actress do some part or
other in which she had to die a most pathetic death. It was said to be
simply heart-rending, and everybody used to cry. Well, the night Jock
MacTavish was there something went wrong--a sofa was out of its place,
or a bolster had been forgotten, or a rope wouldn't work, I don't know
what it was--and the language that woman indulged in while she was in
the act of dying would have disgraced a bargee. Jock was in a
stage-box and heard every filthy word of it. Of course _he_ told me
the story as a joke, and I was rather disgusted, but I'm glad he did
so now. That was an extreme case, I know--such things don't occur one
time in ten thousand, no doubt--but it's an illustration of what I
mean when I say that the finer the illusion produced the hollower the
sham that produces it."

"You're a mighty subtle-minded young person for your age," exclaimed
St Aubyn, with a good-humoured laugh. "I confess that your theory is
new to me; it had never occurred to me before. For one who has only
been inside a theatre two or three times in his life you seem to have
elaborated your conclusions pretty quickly. I may infer, then, that
you're not exactly hankering to go on the stage yourself?"

"_I_?" said Austin, drawing himself up. "I, disguise myself in paint
and feathers to be a public gazing-stock? Of course you mean it as a

"And yet there _are_ gentlemen upon the stage," observed St Aubyn, in
order to draw him on.

"So much the better for the stage, perhaps; so much the worse for the
gentlemen," replied Austin haughtily.

A pause. They were now well out in the open country, with the moonlit
road stretching far in front of them. Then St Aubyn said, in a
different tone altogether:

"You surprise me beyond measure by what you say. I should have thought
that a boy of your poetical and artistic temperament would have had
his imagination somewhat fired, even by the efforts of the poor
showman whom we've seen to-night. Now I will make you a confession. At
the bottom of my heart I agree with every word you've said. I may be
one-sided, prejudiced, what you will, but I cannot help looking upon a
public performer as I look upon no other human being. And I pity the
performer, too; he takes himself so seriously, he fails so completely
to realise what he really is. And the danger of going on the stage is
that, once an actor, always an actor. Let a man once get bitten by the
craze, and there's no hope for him. Only the very finest natures can
escape. The fascination is too strong. He's ruined for any other
career, however honourable and brilliant."

"Is that so, really?" asked Austin. "I cannot see where all this
wonderful fascination comes in. I should think it must be a dreadful
trade myself."

"So it is. Because they don't know it. Because of the very fascination
which exists, although you can't understand it. Let me tell you a
story. I knew a man once upon a time--he was a great friend of
mine--in the navy. Although he was quite young, not more than
twenty-six, he was already a distinguished officer; he had seen active
service, been mentioned in despatches, and all the rest of it. He was
also, curiously enough, a most accomplished botanist, and had written
papers on the flora of Cambodia and Yucatan that had been accepted
with marked appreciation by the Linnæan Society. Well--that man, who
had a brilliant career before him, and would probably have been an
admiral and a K.C.B. if he had stuck to it, got attacked by the
theatrical microbe. He chucked everything, and devoted his whole life
to acting. He is acting still. He cares for nothing else. It is the
one and only thing in the universe he lives for. The service of his
country, the pure fame of scientific research and authorship, are as
nothing to him, the merest dust in the balance, as compared with the
cheap notoriety of the footlights."

"He must be mad. And is he a success?" asked Austin.

"Judge for yourself--you've just been seeing him," replied St Aubyn.
"Though, of course, his name is no more Buskin than yours or mine."

"Good Heavens!" cried the boy. "And Mr Buskin was--all that?"

"He was all that," responded the other. "It was rather painful for me
to see him this evening in his present state, as you may imagine. As
to his being successful in a monetary sense, I really cannot tell you.
But, to do him justice, I don't think he cares for money in the very
least. So long as he makes two ends meet he's quite satisfied. All he
cares about is painting his face, and dressing himself up, and
ranting, and getting rounds of applause. And, so far, he certainly has
his reward. His highest ambition, it is true, he has not yet attained.
If he could only get his portrait published in a halfpenny paper
wearing some new-shaped stock or collar that the hosiers were anxious
to bring into fashion, he would feel that there was little left to
live for. But that is a distinction reserved for actors who stand at
the tip-top of their profession, and I'm afraid that poor Buskin has
but little chance of ever realising his aspiration."

"Are you serious?" said Austin, open-eyed.

"Absolutely," replied St Aubyn. "I know it for a fact."

"Well," exclaimed Austin, fetching a deep breath, "of course if a man
has to do this sort of thing for a living--if it's his only way of
making money--I don't think I despise him so much. But if he does it
because he loves it, loves it better than any other earthly thing,
then I despise him with all my heart and soul. I cannot conceive a
more utterly unworthy existence."

"And to such an existence our friend Buskin has sacrificed his whole
career," replied St Aubyn, gravely.

"What a tragedy," observed the boy.

"Yes; a tragedy," agreed the other. "A truer tragedy than the
imitation one that he's been acting in, if he could only see it. Well,
here is my turning. Good-night! I'm very glad we met. Come and see me
soon. I'm not going away again."

Then Austin, left alone, stumped thoughtfully along the country road.
The sweet smell of the flowery hedges pervaded the night air, and from
the fields on either side was heard ever and anon the bleating of some
wakeful sheep. How peaceful, how reposeful, everything was! How strong
and solemn the great trees looked, standing here and there in the wide
meadows under the moonlight and the stars! And what a contrast--oh,
_what_ a contrast--was the beauty of these calm pastoral scenes to
the tawdry gorgeousness of those other "scenes" he had been witnessing,
with their false effects, and coloured fires, and painted, spouting
occupants! There was no need for him to argue the question any more,
even with himself. It was as clear as the moon in the steel-blue sky
above him that the associations of the theatre were totally, hopelessly,
and radically incompatible with the ideals of the Daphnis life.

Chapter the Eighth

It is scarcely necessary to say that Austin knew nothing whatever
about his aunt's preoccupation, and that even if she had taken him
into her confidence, he would have paid little or no attention to the
matter. I am afraid that his ideas about finance were crude in the
extreme, being limited to a sort of vague impression that capital was
what you put into a bank, and interest was what you took out; while
the difference between the par value of a security and the price you
could get for it on the market, would have been to him a hopelessly
unfathomable mystery. Aunt Charlotte, therefore, was very wise in
abstaining from any reference, in conversation, to the great
enterprise for extracting gold from sea-water, in which she hoped to
purchase shares; for one could never have told what foolish remark he
might have made, though it was quite certain that he would have said
something foolish, and probably very exasperating. So she kept her
secret locked up in her own breast, and silently counted the hours
till she could get a reply from her bankers.

Of course Austin had to give his aunt an account, at breakfast-time
next morning, of the pageant of the previous night; and as he confined
himself to saying that the scenery and dresses were very fine, and
that Mr Buskin was quite unrecognisable, and that all the performers
knew their parts, and that he had walked part of the way home with
Roger St Aubyn afterwards, the impression left on the good lady's mind
was that he had enjoyed himself very much. This inevitable duty
accomplished, Austin straightway banished the whole subject from his
memory and gave himself up more unreservedly than ever to his garden
and his thoughts. How fresh and sweet and welcoming the garden looked
on that calm, lovely summer day! How brightly the morning dewdrops
twinkled on the leaves, like a sprinkling of liquid diamonds! Every
flower seemed to greet him with silent laughter: "Aha, you've been
playing truant, have you? Straying into alien precincts, roving in
search of something newer and gaudier than anything you have here?
Sunlight palls on you; gas is so much more festive! The scents of the
fields are vulgar; finer the hot smells of the playhouse, more meet
for a cultured nostril!" Of course Austin made all this nonsense up
himself, but he felt so happy that it amused him to attribute the
words to the dear flower-friends who were all around him, and to whom
he could never be really faithless. Faugh! that playhouse! He would
never enter one again. Be an actor! Lubin was a cleaner gentleman than
any painted Buskin on the stage. Here, in the clear, pure splendour of
the sunlit air, the place where he had been last night loomed up in
his consciousness as something meretricious and unwholesome. Yet he
was glad he had been, for it made everything so much purer and sweeter
by contrast. Never had the garden looked more meetly set, never had
the sun shone more genially, and the air impelled the blood and sent
it coursing more joyously through his veins, than on that morning of
the rejuvenescence of all his high ideals.

Then he drew a small blue volume out of his pocket, and lay down on
the grass with his back against the trunk of an apple-tree. Austin's
theory--or one of his theories, for he had hundreds--was that one's
literature should always be in harmony with one's surroundings; and
so, intending to pass his morning in the garden, he had chosen 'The
Garden of Cyrus' as an appropriate study. He opened it reverently, for
it was compact of jewelled thoughts that had been set to words by one
of the princes of prose. He, the young garden-lover, sat at the feet
of the great garden-mystic, and began to pore wonderingly over the
inscrutable secrets of the quincunx. His fine ear was charmed by the
rhythm of the sumptuous and stately sentences, and his pulses throbbed
in response to every measured phrase in which the lore of garden
symmetry and the principles of garden science were set forth. He read
of the hanging gardens of Babylon, first made by Queen Semiramis,
third or fourth from Nimrod, and magnificently renewed by
Nabuchodonosor, according to Josephus: "_from whence, overlooking
Babylon, and all the region about it, he found no circumscription to
the eye of his ambition; till, over-delighted with the bravery of this
Paradise, in his melancholy metamorphosis he found the folly of that
delight, and a proper punishment in the contrary habitation--in wild
plantations and wanderings of the fields_." Austin shook his head over
this; he did not think it possible to love a garden too much, and
demurred to the idea that such a love deserved any punishment at all.
But that was theology, and he had no taste for theological
dissertations. So he dipped into the pages where the quincunx is
"naturally" considered, and here he admired the encyclopædic learning
of the author, which appeared to have been as wide as that attributed
to Solomon; then glanced at the "mystic" part, which he reserved for
later study. But one paragraph riveted his attention, as he turned
over the leaves. Here was a mine of gold, a treasure-house of
suggestiveness and wisdom.

_"Light, that makes things seen, makes some things invisible; were it
not for darkness and the shadow of the earth, the noblest part of the
creation had remained unseen, and the stars in heaven as invisible as
on the fourth day, when they were created above the horizon with the
sun, or there was not an eye to behold them. The greatest mystery of
religion is expressed by adumbration, and in the noblest part of
Jewish types, we find the cherubim shadowing the mercy-seat. Life
itself is but the shadow of death, and souls departed but the shadows
of the living. All things fall under this name. The sun itself is but
the dark simulacrum, and light but the shadow of God."_

Austin delighted in symbolism, and these apparent paradoxes fascinated
him. But was it all true? He loved to think that life was the shadow,
and death--what we call death--the substance; he had always felt that
the reality of everything was to be sought for on the other side. But
he could not see why departed souls should be regarded as the shadows
of living men. Rather it was we who lived in a vain show, and would
continue to do so until the spirit, the true substance of us, should
be set free. Well, whatever the truth of it might be, it was all a
charming puzzle, and we should learn all about it some day, and
meantime he had been furnished with an entirely new idea--the
revealing power of darkness. He loved the light because it was
beautiful, and now he loved the darkness because it was mysterious,
and held such wondrous secrets in its folds. He had never been afraid
of the dark even when a child. It had always been associated in his
mind with sleep and dreams, and he was very fond of both.

Of course it would have been no use attempting to instruct Lubin in
the cryptic properties of the quincunx, or any other theories of
garden arrangement propounded by Sir Thomas Browne. And Aunt Charlotte
would have proved a still more hopeless subject. She had no head for
mysticism, poor dear, and Austin often told her she was one of the
greatest sceptics he had ever known. "You believe in nothing but your
dinner, your bank-book, and your Bible, auntie; I declare it's
perfectly shocking," he said to her one day. "And a very good creed
too," she replied; "it wouldn't be a bad thing for you either, if you
had a little more sound religion and practical common-sense." Just now
it was the bank-book phase that was uppermost, and when a letter was
brought in to her at breakfast-time next morning bearing the London
postmark, she clutched it eagerly and opened it with evident
anticipation. But as she read the contents her brow clouded and her
face fell. Clearly she was disappointed and surprised, but made no
remark to Austin.

A couple of days passed without anything of importance happening,
except that she wrote again to her bankers and looked out anxiously
for their reply. But none came, and she grew irritable and disturbed.
It really was most extraordinary; she had always thought that bankers
were so shrewd, and prompt, and business-like, and yet here they were,
treating her as though she were of no account whatever, and actually
leaving her second letter without an answer. The affair was pressing,
too. There was certain to be a perfect rush for shares in so
exceptional an undertaking, and when once they were all allotted, of
course up they'd go to an enormous premium, and all her chances of
investing would be lost. It was too exasperating for words. What were
the men thinking of? Why were they so neglectful of her interests? She
had always been an excellent customer, and had never overdrawn her
account--never. And now they were leaving her in the lurch. However,
she determined she would not submit. She fumed in silence for yet
another day, and then, at dinner in the evening, came out with a most
unexpected declaration.

"Austin," she said suddenly, after a long pause, "I'm going to town
to-morrow by the 10.27 train."

Austin was peeling an apple, intent on seeing how long a strip he
could pare off without breaking it. "Won't it be very hot?" he asked

"Hot? Well, perhaps it will," said Aunt Charlotte, rather nettled at
his indifference. "But I can't help that. The fact is that my bankers
are giving me a great deal of annoyance just now, and I'm going up to
London to have it out with them."

"Really?" replied Austin, politely interested. "I hope they haven't
been embezzling your money?"

"Do, for goodness sake, pull yourself together and try not to talk
nonsense for once in your life," retorted Aunt Charlotte, tartly.
"Embezzling my money, indeed!--I should just like to catch them at it.
Of course it's nothing of the kind. But I've lately given them certain
instructions which they virtually refuse to carry out, and in a case
of that sort it's always better to discuss the affair in person."

"I see," said Austin, beginning to munch his apple. "I wonder why they
won't do what you want them to. Isn't it very rude of them?"

"Rude? Well--I can't say they've been exactly rude," acknowledged Aunt
Charlotte. "But they're making all sorts of difficulties, and hint
that they know better than I do----"

"Which is absurd, of course," put in Austin, with his very simplest

Aunt Charlotte glanced sharply at him, but there was not the faintest
trace of irony in his expression. "I fancy they don't quite understand
the question," she said, "so I intend to run up and explain it to
them. One can do these things so much better in conversation than by
writing. I shall get lunch in town, and then there'll be time for me
to do a little shopping, perhaps, before catching the 4.40 back. That
will get me here in ample time for dinner at half-past seven."

"And what train do you go by in the morning?" enquired Austin.

"The 10.27," replied his aunt. "I shall take the omnibus from the
Peacock that starts at a quarter to ten."

It cannot be said that Aunt Charlotte's projected trip to town
interested Austin much. Business of any sort was a profound mystery to
him, and with regard to speculations, investments, and such-like
matters his mind was a perfect blank. He had a vague notion that
perhaps Aunt Charlotte wanted some money, and that the bankers had
refused to give her any; though whether she had a right to demand it,
or they a right to withhold it, he had no more idea than the man in
the moon. So he dismissed the whole affair from his mind as something
with which he had nothing whatever to do, and spent the evening in the
company of Sir Thomas Browne. At ten o'clock he went forth into the
garden, and became absorbed in an attempt to identify the different
colours of the flowers in the moonlight. It proved a fascinating
occupation, for the pale, cold brightness imparted hues to the
flowers that were strange and weird, so that it was a matter of real
difficulty to say what the colours actually were. Then he wondered how
it was he had never before discovered what an inspiring thing it was
to wander all alone at night about a garden illuminated by a brilliant
moon. The shadows were so black and secret, the radiance so spiritual,
the shapes so startlingly fantastic, it was like being in another
world. And then the silence. That was the most compelling charm of
all. It helped him to feel. And he felt that he was not alone, though
he heard nothing and saw nobody. The garden was full of
flower-fairies, invisible elves and sprites whose mission it was to
guard the flowers, and who loved the moonlight more than they loved
the day; dainty, diaphanous creatures who were wafted across the
smooth lawns on summer breezes, and washed the thirsty petals and
drooping leaves in the dew which the clear blue air of night diffuses
so abundantly. He had a sense--almost a knowledge--that the garden he
was in was a dream-garden, a sort of panoramic phantasm, and that the
real garden lay _behind_ it somehow, hidden from material eyesight,
eluding material touch, but there all the same, unearthly and elysian,
more beautiful a great deal than the one in which he was standing,
and teeming with gracious presences. It seemed a revelation to him,
this sudden perception of a real world underlying the apparent one;
and for nearly half-an-hour he sauntered to and fro in a reverie,
leaning sometimes against the old stone fountain, and sometimes
watching the pale clouds as they began flitting together as though to
keep a rendezvous in space, until they concealed the face of the moon
entirely from view and left the garden dark.

       *       *       *       *       *

Whether Austin had strange dreams that night or no, certain it is that
when he came down to breakfast in the morning his face was set and
there was a look of unusual preoccupation in his eyes. Aunt Charlotte,
being considerably preoccupied with her own affairs, noticed nothing,
and busied herself with the teapot as was her wont. Austin chipped his
egg in silence, while his auntie, helping herself generously to fried
bacon, made some remark about the desirability of laying a good
foundation in view of her journey up to town. Thereupon Austin said:

"Is it absolutely necessary for you to go to town this morning,

"Of course it is," replied Aunt Charlotte, munching heartily. "I told
you so last night."

"Why can't you go to-morrow instead?" asked Austin, tentatively.
"Would it be too late?"

"I've arranged to go _to-day_," said Aunt Charlotte, with decision.
"The sooner this business is settled the better. What should I gain by

"I don't see any particular hurry," said Austin. "It's only giving
yourself trouble for nothing. If I were you I'd write what you want to
say, and then go up to see these people if their answer was still

"But you see you don't know anything about the matter," retorted Aunt
Charlotte, beginning to wonder at the boy's persistency. "What in the
world makes you want me not to go?"

"Oh--I only thought it might prove unnecessary," replied he, rather
lamely. "It's going to be very hot, and after all----"

"It'll be quite as hot to-morrow," said Aunt Charlotte, as she stirred
her tea.

"Well, why not go by a later train, then?" suggested Austin. "Look
here; go by the 4.20 this afternoon, and take me with you. We'll go to
a nice quiet hotel, and have a beautiful dinner, and see some of the
sights, and then you'd have all to-morrow morning to do your business
with these horrid old gentlemen at the bank. Now don't you think
that's rather a good idea?"

"I--dare--_say_!" cried Aunt Charlotte, in her highest key. "So that's
what you're aiming at, is it? Oh, you're a cunning boy, my dear, if
ever there was one. But your little project would cost at least four
times as much as I propose to spend to-day, and for that reason alone
it's not to be thought of for a moment. What in creation ever put such
an idea into your head?"

"I don't want to come with you in the very least, really--especially
as you don't want to have me," replied Austin. "But I do wish you'd
give up your idea of going to London by the 10.27 this morning. If
you'll only do that I don't care for anything else. Take the same
train to-morrow, if you like, but not to-day. That's all I have to ask

"But why--why--why?" demanded Aunt Charlotte, in not unnatural

"I can't tell you why," said Austin. "It wouldn't be any use."

"You are the very absurdest child I ever came across!" exclaimed Aunt
Charlotte. "I've often had to put up with your fancies, but never with
any so outrageously unreasonable as this. Now not another word. I'm
going to travel by the 10.27 this morning, and if you like to come and
see me off, you're at perfect liberty to do so."

Austin made no reply, and breakfast proceeded in silence. Then he
glanced at the clock, and saw that it was ten minutes to nine. As soon
as the meal was finished, he rose from his chair and moved slowly
towards the door.

"You still intend to go by the----"

"Hold your tongue!" snapped his aunt. Whereupon Austin left the room
without another word. Then he stumped his way upstairs and was not
seen again. Aunt Charlotte, meanwhile, began preparations for her
journey. It was now close on nine o'clock, and she had to order the
dinner, see that she had sufficient money for her expenses, choose a
bonnet for travelling in, and look after half-a-dozen other important
trifles before setting out to catch the railway omnibus at the
Peacock. At last Austin, waiting behind a door, heard her enter her
room to dress. Very gently he stole out with something in his pocket,
and two minutes afterwards was standing on the lawn with his straw
hat tilted over his eyes, chattering with Lubin about tubers, corms,
and bulbs, potting and bedding-out, and other pleasant mysteries of

It was not very long, however, before a singular bustle was heard on
the first floor. Maids ran scuttling up and down stairs, voices
resounded through the open windows, and then came the sound of thumps,
as of somebody vigorously battering at a door. Austin turned round,
and began walking towards the house. He was met by old Martha, who
seemed to be in a tremendous fluster about something.

"Master Austin! Master Austin! Oh, here you are. What in the world is
to be done? Your aunt's locked up in her bedroom, and nobody can find
the key!"

"Is that all?" answered Austin calmly. "Then she'll have to stay there
till it turns up, evidently."

"But the mistress says she's sure you know all about it," panted
Martha, in great distress, "and she's in a most terrible taking. Now,
Master Austin, I do beseech you--'tain't no laughing matter, for the
omnibus starts in a few minutes, and your aunt----"

A terrific banging was now heard from the locked-up room, accompanied
by shouts and cries from the imprisoned lady. Austin advanced to the
foot of the staircase, looking rather white, and listened.

"Austin! Austin! Where are you? What have you done with the key?"
shrieked Aunt Charlotte, in a tempest of despair and rage. "Let me
out, I say, let me out at once! It's you who have done this, I know it
is. Open the door, or I shall lose the train!" A fresh bombardment
from the lady's fists here followed. "Where _is_ Austin, Martha? Can't
you find him anywhere?"

"He's here, ma'am," cried back Martha, in quavering tones, "but he
don't seem as if----"

"Call Lubin with a ladder!" interrupted the desperate lady. "I must
catch the omnibus, if I break all my bones in getting out of the
window. Where's Lubin? Isn't there a ladder tall enough? Austin!
Austin! Where _is_ Austin, and why doesn't he open the door?"

"He was here not a moment ago," replied Martha, tremulously, "but
where he's got to now, or where he's put the key, the Lord only knows.
Perhaps he's gone to see about a ladder. Lubin! have you seen Master
Austin anywhere?"

But Austin, unobserved in the confusion, having stealthily glanced at
his watch, had slipped out at the garden gate, and now stood looking
down the road. The omnibus had just started, and for about thirty
seconds he remained watching it as it lumbered and clattered along in
a cloud of dust until it was lost to view. Then he went back to the
house, and handed the key to Martha. "There's the key," he said. "Tell
Aunt Charlotte I'm going for a walk, and I'll let her know all about
it when I come back to lunch."

He was out of the house in a twinkling, stumping along as hard as he
could go until he reached the moors. He had played a daring game, but
felt quite satisfied with the result so far, as he knew that there
were no cabs to be had in the village, and that, even if his aunt were
mad enough to brave a two-mile tramp along the broiling road, she
could not possibly reach the station in time to catch the train. Now
that the deed was done, a sensation of fatigue stole over him, and
with a sigh of relief he flung himself down on the soft tussocks of
purple heather, and covered his eyes with his straw hat. For
half-an-hour he lay there motionless and deep in thought. No suspicion
that he had acted wrongly disturbed him for a moment. Of course it was
a pity that poor Aunt Charlotte should have been disappointed, and
certainly that locking of her up in her bedroom had been a very
painful duty; but if it was necessary--as it was--what else could he
have done? No doubt she would forgive him when she understood his
reasons; and, after all, it was really her own fault for having been
so obstinate.

It was now half-past ten, and Austin had no intention of getting home
before it was time for lunch. He had thus the whole morning before
him, and he spent it rambling about the moors, struggling up hills,
revelling in the heat tempered by cool grass, and wondering how
Daphnis would have behaved if he had had an unreasonable old aunt to
take care of; for Aunt Charlotte was really a great responsibility,
and dreadfully difficult to manage. Then, coming on a deep, clear
rivulet which ran between two meadows, he yielded to a sudden impulse,
and, stripping himself to the skin, plunged into it, wooden leg and
all. There he floated luxuriously for a while, the sun blazing
fiercely overhead, and the cool waters playing over his white body.
When he emerged, covered with sparkling drops, he remembered that he
had no towel; so there was nothing to be done but to stagger about and
disport himself like a naked faun among the buttercups and bulrushes,
until the sun had dried him. As soon as he was dressed, he looked at
his watch, and found that it was nearly twelve. Then he consulted a
little time-table, and made a rapid calculation. It would take him
just half-an-hour to reach the station from where he was, and
therefore it was high time to start.

Off he set, and arrived there, as it seemed, at a moment of great
excitement. The station-master was on the platform, in the act of
posting up a telegram, around which a number of people--travellers,
porters, and errand-boys--were crowding eagerly. Austin joined the
group, and read the message carefully and deliberately twice through.
He asked no questions, but listened to the remarks he heard around
him. Then he passed rapidly through the booking-office, and struck out
on his way home.

Meantime Aunt Charlotte had passed the hours fuming. To her, Austin's
extraordinary behaviour was absolutely unaccountable, except on the
hypothesis that he was not responsible for his actions. Her rage was
beyond control. That the boy should have had the unheard-of audacity
to lock her up in her own bedroom in order to gratify some mad whim,
and so have upset her plans for the entire day, was an outrage
impossible to forgive. If he was not out of his mind he ought to be,
for there was no other excuse for him that she could think of. What
_was_ to be done with such a boy? He was too old to be whipped, too
young to be sent to college, too delicate to be placed under
restraint. But she would let him feel the full force of her
indignation when he returned. He should apologise, he should eat his
fill of humble pie, he should beg for mercy on his knees. She had put
up with a good deal, but this last escapade was not to be overlooked.
Even Martha, when she came in to lay the cloth for lunch, could think
of nothing to say in extenuation of his offence.

It was certainly two hours before her excitement allowed her to sit
down and begin to knit. Even then--and naturally enough--while she was
musing the fire burned. It never occurred to her to reflect that there
must have been some _reason_ for Austin's extraordinary prank, and
that the first thing to be done was to discover what that was. She was
too angry to take this obvious fact into consideration, and so, when
Austin at last appeared, his eyes full of suppressed excitement and
his forehead bathed in sweat, her pent-up wrath found vent and she
flamed out at him in a rage.

For some minutes Austin stood quite silent while she stormed. If it
made her feel better to storm, well, let her do it. Half-a-dozen times
she demanded what he meant by his behaviour, and how he dared, and
whether he had suddenly gone crazy, and then went on storming without
waiting for his reply. Once, when he opened his mouth to speak, she
sharply told him to shut it again. It was clear, even to Martha, that
if Austin's conduct had been inexplicable, his aunt's was utterly

"You've asked me several times what made me lock you up this morning,"
he said at last, when she paused for breath, "and each time you've
refused to let me answer you. That's not very reasonable, you know.
Now I've got something to tell you, but if you want to do any more
raving please do it at once and get it over, and then I'll have my

"Will you go to your room this instant and stay there?" cried Aunt
Charlotte, pointing to the door.

"Certainly not," replied Austin. "And now I'll ask you to listen to me
for a minute, for you must be tired with all that shouting." Aunt
Charlotte took up her work with trembling hands, ostentatiously
pretending that Austin was no longer in the room. "You wanted to go to
town by the 10.27 train, and I took forcible measures to prevent you.
It may therefore interest you to know what became of that train, and
what you have escaped. There's been a frightful collision. The down
express ran into it at the curve just beyond the signal station at
Colebridge Junction, owing to some mistake of the signalman, I
believe. Anyhow, in the train you wanted to go by there were five
people killed outright, and fourteen others crunched up and mangled in
a most inartistic style. And if I hadn't locked you up as I did you'd
probably be in the County Hospital at this moment in an exceedingly
unpleasant predicament."

Dead silence. Then, "The Lord preserve us!" ejaculated Martha, who
stood by, in awe-struck tones. Aunt Charlotte slowly raised her eyes
from her knitting, and fixed them on Austin's face. "A collision!" she
exclaimed. "Why, what do you know about it?"

"I called at the station and read the telegram myself. There was a
crowd of people on the platform all discussing it," returned Austin,

"Your life has been saved by a miracle, ma'am, and it's Master Austin
as you've got to thank for it," cried Martha, her eyes full of tears,
"though how it came about, the good Lord only knows," she added,
turning as though for enlightenment to the boy himself.

Then Aunt Charlotte sank back in her chair, looking very white. "I
don't understand it, Austin," she said tremulously. "It's terrible to
think of such a catastrophe, and all those poor creatures being
killed--and it's most providential, of course, that--that--I was kept
from going. But all that doesn't explain what share _you_ had in it.
You don't expect me to believe that you knew what was going to happen
and kept me at home on purpose? The very idea is ridiculous. It was a
coincidence, of course, though a most remarkable one, I must admit. A
collision! Thank God for all His mercies!"

"If it was only a coincidence I don't exactly see what there is to
thank God for," remarked Austin, very drily.

"'Twarn't no coincidence," averred old Martha, solemnly. "On that I'll
stake my soul."

"What was it, then?" retorted Aunt Charlotte. "Anyhow, Austin, there
seems no doubt that, under God, it was what you did that saved my life
to-day. But what made you do it? How could you possibly tell that you
were preventing me from getting killed?"

"I should have told you all that long ago if you weren't so hopelessly
illogical, auntie," he replied. "But you never can see the connection
between cause and effect. That was the reason I couldn't explain why I
didn't want you to go, even before I locked you up. It wouldn't have
been any use. You'd have simply laughed in my face, and have gone to
London all the same."

"I don't know what you mean. Don't beat about the bush, Austin, and
worry my head with all this vague talk about cause and effect and such
like. What has my being illogical got to do with it?"

"Well--if you want me to explain, of course I'll do so; but I don't
suppose it'll make any difference," said Austin. "Some time ago, I
told you that just as I was going to get over a stile, I felt
something push me back, and so I came home another way. You'll
recollect that if I _had_ got over that stile I should have come
across a rabid dog where there was no possibility of escape, and no
doubt have got frightfully bitten. But when I told you how I was
prevented, you scoffed at the whole story, and said that I was
superstitious.--Stop a minute! I haven't finished yet.--Then, only
the other day, my life was saved from all those bricks tumbling on me
when I was asleep by just the same sort of interposition. Again you
jeered at me, and when I told you I had heard raps in the wall you
ridiculed the idea, and--do you remember?--the words were scarcely out
of your mouth when you heard the raps yourself, and then you got
nearly beside yourself with fright and anger, and said it was the
devil. And now for the third time the same sort of thing has happened.
What is the good of telling you about it? You'd only scoff and jeer as
you did before, although on this occasion it is your own life that has
been saved, not mine."

Certainly Master Austin was having his revenge on Aunt Charlotte for
the torrent of abuse she had poured upon him a few minutes previously.
For a short time she sat quite still, the picture of perplexity and
irritation. The facts as Austin stated them were incontrovertible, and
yet--probably because she lacked the instinct of causality--she could
not accept his explanation of them. There are some people in the world
who are constituted like this. They create a mental atmosphere around
them which is as impenetrable to conviction in certain matters as a
brick wall is to a parched pea. They will fall back on any loophole
of a theory, however imbecile and far-fetched, rather than accept some
simple and self-evident solution that they start out by regarding as
impossible. And Aunt Charlotte was a very apposite specimen of the

"I'll not scoff, at anyrate, Austin," she said at last. "I cannot
forget--and I never will forget--that it's to you I owe it that I am
sitting here this moment. Tell me what moved you to act as you did
this morning. I may not share your belief, but I will not ridicule it.
Of that you may rest assured."

"It is all simple enough," he said. "I had a horrid dream just before
I woke--nothing circumstantial, but a general sense of the most awful
confusion, and disaster, and terror. I fancy it was that that woke me.
And as I was opening my eyes, a voice said to me quite distinctly, as
distinctly as I am speaking now, '_Keep auntie at home this morning._'
The words dinned themselves into my ears all the time I was dressing,
and then I acted upon them as you know. But what would have been the
good of telling you? None whatever. So I tried persuasion, and when
that failed I simply locked you in."

Now there are two sorts of superstition, each of which is the very
antithesis of the other. The victim of one believes all kinds of
absurdities blindfold, oblivious of evidence or causality. The
upsetting of a salt-cellar or the fall of a mirror is to him a
harbinger of disaster, entirely irrespective of any possible
connection between the cause and the effect. A bit of stalk floating
on his tea presages an unlooked-for visitor, and the guttering of a
candle is a sign of impending death. All this he believes firmly, and
acts upon, although he would candidly acknowledge his inability to
explain the principle supposed to underlie the sequence between the
omen and its fulfilment. It is the irrationality of the belief that
constitutes its superstitious character, the contented acquiescence in
some inconceivable and impossible law, whether physical or
metaphysical, in virtue of which the predicted event is expected to
follow the wholly unrelated augury. The other sort of superstition is
that of which, as we have seen, Aunt Charlotte was an exemplification.
Here, again, there is a splendid disregard of evidence, testimony, and
causal laws. But it takes the form of scepticism, and a scepticism so
blindly partial as to sink into the most abject credulity. The wildest
sophistries are dragged in to account for an unfamiliar happening, and
scientific students are accused, now of idiocy, now of fraud, rather
than the fact should be confessed that our knowledge of the universe
is limited. If Aunt Charlotte, for instance, had seen a table rise
into the air of itself in broad daylight she would have said, "I
certainly saw it happen, and as an honest woman I can't deny it; but I
don't believe it for all that." The succession of abnormal
occurrences, however, of which Austin had been the subject, had begun
to undermine her dogmatism; and this last event, the interposition of
something, she knew not what, to save her from a horrible accident,
appealed to her very strongly. There was a pathos, too, about the part
played in it by Austin which touched her to the quick, and she
reproached herself keenly for the injustice with which she had treated
him in her unreasoning anger.

She felt a great lump come in her throat as he ceased speaking, and
for a moment or two found it impossible to answer. "A voice!" she
uttered at last. "What sort of a voice, Austin?"

"It sounded like a woman's," he replied.

Chapter the Ninth

From this time forward Austin seemed to live a double life. Perhaps it
would be more accurate to say that he inhabited two worlds. Around him
the flowers bloomed in the garden, Lubin worked and whistled, Aunt
Charlotte bustled about her duties, and everything went on as usual.
But beyond and behind all this there was something else. The dreams
and reveries that had hitherto invaded him became felt realities; he
no longer had any doubt that he was encircled by beings whom he could
not see, but who were none the less actual for that. And the curious
feature of the case was that it all seemed perfectly natural to him,
and so far from feeling frightened, or suffering from any sense of
being haunted, he experienced a sort of pleasure in it, a grateful
consciousness of friendly though unseen companionship that heightened
his joy in life. Who these invisible guardians could be, of course he
had no idea; it was enough for him just then to know that they were
there, and that, by their timely intervention on no fewer than three
ocasions, they had given ample proof that they both loved and trusted

Aunt Charlotte, on her side, could not but acknowledge that there must
be "something in it," as she said; it could not all be nothing but
Austin's fancy. She remembered that people who wrote hymns and poems
talked sometimes of guardian angels, and it was possible that a belief
in guardian angels might be orthodox. It was even conceivable that it
was a benevolent functionary of this class who had let St Peter out of
prison; and if the institution had existed then, why, there was
nothing unreasonable in the conclusion that it might possibly exist
now. She revolved these questionings in her mind during her journey up
to town the day after Austin's escapade, when, as she told herself,
she would be perfectly safe from accident; for it was not in the
nature of things that two collisions should happen so close together.
And she had reason to be glad she went, seeing that her bankers
received her with perfect cordiality, and convinced her that she would
certainly lose all her money if she insisted on investing it in any
such wild-cat scheme as the one she had set her heart upon. They
suggested, instead, certain foreign bonds on which she would receive a
perfectly safe four-and-a-half per cent.; and so pleased was she at
having been preserved from risking her two thousand pounds that she
not only indulged in a modest half-bottle of Beaune with her lunch,
but bought a pretty pencil-case for Austin. She determined at the same
time to let the vicar know what her bankers had said about the
investment he had urged upon her, and promised herself that she would
take the opportunity--of course without mentioning names--of
consulting him about the orthodoxy of guardian angels. He might be
expected to prove a safer guide in such a matter as that than in
questions of high finance.

A few days afterwards, Austin went to call upon his friend St Aubyn.
He longed to see the beautiful gardens at the Court again, now that he
had obtained a glimpse into the mystic side of garden-craft through
the writings of Sir Thomas Browne; he felt intensely curious to pay
another visit to the haunted Banqueting Hall, which had a special
fascination for him since his own abnormal experiences; and he felt
that a confidential talk with Mr St Aubyn himself would do him no end
of good. _There_ was a man, at anyrate, to whom he could open his
heart; a man of high culture, wide sympathies, and great knowledge of
life. He was shown into the big, dim drawing-room, where a faint
perfume of lavender seemed to hang about, imparting to him a sense of
quiet and repose that was very soothing; through the half-closed
shutters the colours of the garden again gleamed brilliantly in the
sunshine, and there was heard a faint liquid sound, as of the plashing
of an adjacent fountain. St Aubyn entered in a few minutes, and
greeted him very cordially.

"Well, and what have you been about?" he said, after a few
preliminaries had been exchanged. "Reading and dreaming, I suppose, as

"I'm afraid I've done both, and very little else to speak of," replied
Austin, laughing. "I'm always reading, off and on, without much
system, you know. But if I'm rather desultory I always enjoy reading,
because books give me so many new ideas, and it's delightful to have
always something fresh to think about."

"Yes, yes," rejoined St Aubyn. "I don't know what you read, of course,
but it's clear you don't read many novels."

"Novels!" exclaimed Austin scornfully. "How _can_ people read novels,
when there are so many other books in the world?"

"Well, what have you been reading, then?" enquired St Aubyn, lighting
a cigarette.

"I've been dipping into one of the most puzzling, fascinating,
bothering books I ever came across," replied Austin, following his
example. "I mean 'The Garden of Cyrus,' by Sir Thomas Browne. I can't
follow him a bit, and yet, somehow, he drags me along with him. All
that about the quincunx is most baffling. He seems to begin with the
arrangement of a garden, and then to lead one on through a maze of
arithmetical progressions till one finds oneself landed in a mystical
philosophy of life and creation, and I don't know what all. If I could
only understand him better I should probably enjoy him more."

St Aubyn smiled. "Well, of course, it all sounds very fanciful," he
said. "One must read him as one reads all those curious old mediæval
authors, who are full of pseudo-science and theories based on fables.
His great charm to me is his style, which is singularly rich and
chaste. But I've no doubt whatever, myself, that a great deal of this
ancient lore, which we have been accustomed to regard as so much
sciolism, not to say pure nonsense, had a germ of truth in it, and
that truth I believe we are gradually beginning to re-discover. You
see, one mustn't always take the formulas employed by these old
writers in their literal sense. Many were purely symbolic, and
concealed occult meanings. Now the philosopher's stone, to take a
familiar example, was not a stone at all. The word was no more than a
symbol, and covered a search for one of the great secrets--the origin
of life, or the nature of matter, or the attainment of immortality.
They seem to us to have taken a very roundabout route in their
investigations, but their object was often very much the same as that
of every chemist and biologist of the present day. Take alchemy,
again, which is supposed by people generally to have been nothing but
an attempt to turn the baser metals into gold. According to the
Rosicrucians, who may be supposed to have known something about it,
alchemy was the science of guiding the invisible processes of life for
the purpose of attaining certain results in both the physical and
spiritual spheres. Chemistry deals with inanimate substances, alchemy
with the principle of life itself. The highest aim of the alchemist
was the evolution of a divine and immortal being out of a mortal and
semi-animal man; the development, in short, of all those hidden
properties which lie latent in man's nature."

"That is a very valuable thing to know," observed Austin, greatly
interested. "Every day I live, the more I realise the truth that
everything we see is on the surface, and that there's a whole world of
machinery--I can't think of a better term--working at the back of it.
It's like a clock. The face and the hands are all we see, but it's the
works inside that we can't see that make it go."

"Excellently put," returned St Aubyn. "There are influences and forces
all round us of which we only notice the effects, and how far these
forces are intelligent is a very curious question. I see nothing
unscientific myself in the hypothesis that they may be."

"I wonder!" exclaimed Austin. "Do you know--I have had some very funny
experiences myself lately, that can't be explained on any other ground
that I can think of. The first occurred the very day that I was here
first. Would you mind if I told you about them? Would it bother you
very much?"

"On the contrary! I shall listen with the greatest interest, I assure
you," replied St Aubyn, with a smile.

So Austin began at the beginning, and gave his friend a clear, full,
circumstantial account of the three occurrences which had made so deep
an impression on his mind. The story of the bricks riveted the
attention of his hearer, who questioned him closely about a number of
significant details; then he went on to the incident of Aunt
Charlotte's proposed journey, the mysterious warning he had received,
and the desperate measures to which he had been driven to keep her
from going out. St Aubyn shouted with laughter as Austin gravely
described how he had locked her up in her bedroom, and how lustily she
had banged and screamed to be released before it was too late to catch
the train. The sequel seemed to astonish him, and he fell into a
musing silence.

"You tell your story remarkably well," he said at last, "and I don't
mind confessing that the abnormal character of the whole thing strikes
me as beyond question. Any attempt to explain such sequences by the
worn-out old theory of imagination or coincidence would be manifestly
futile. Such coincidences, like miracles, do not happen. Many things
have happened that people call miracles, by which they mean a sort of
divine conjuring-trick that is performed or brought about by violating
or annihilating natural laws. That, of course, is absurd. Nothing
happens but in virtue of natural laws, laws just as natural and
inherent in the universal scheme of things as gravitation or the
precession of the equinoxes, _only_ outside our extremely limited
knowledge of the universe. That, under certain conditions, such
interpositions affecting physical organisms may be produced by
invisible agencies is, in my view, eminently conceivable. It is purely
a question of evidence."

"I am so glad you think so," replied Austin. "It makes things so much
easier. And then it's so pleasant to think that one is really
surrounded by unseen friends who are looking after one. I was never a
bit afraid of ghosts, and _my_ ghosts are apparently a charming set of
people. I wonder who they are?"

"Ah, that is more than I can tell you," answered the other, laughing.
"I'm not so favoured as you appear to be. But come, let's have a
stroll round the garden. You don't mind the sun, I know."

"And the Banqueting Hall! I insist on the Banqueting Hall," added
Austin, who now began to feel quite at home with his genial host. "I
long to be in there again. I'm sure it's full of wonders, if one only
had eyes to see."

"By all means," smiled St Aubyn, as they went out. "You shall take
your fill of them, never fear. Don't forget your hat--the sun's pretty
powerful to-day. Doesn't the lawn look well?"

"Lovely," assented Austin, admiringly. "Like a great green velvet
carpet. How do you manage to keep it in such good condition?"

"By plenty of rolling and watering. That's the only secret. Let's walk
this way, down to the pool where the lilies are. There'll be plenty of
shade under the trees. Do you see that old statue, just over there by
the wall? That's a great favourite of mine. It always looks to me like
a petrified youth, a being that will never grow old in soul although
its form has existed for centuries, and the stone it's made of for
thousands of thousands of years. That's an illustration of the saying
that whom the gods love die young. Not that they die in youth, but
that they never really grow old, let them live for eighty years or
more, as we count time. They remain always young in soul, however long
their bodies last. Perhaps that's what Isaiah had in his mind when he
talked about a child dying at a hundred. _You'll_ never grow old, you

"Shan't I? How nice," exclaimed Austin, brightly. "I certainly can't
fancy myself old a bit. How funny it would be if one always preserved
one's youthful shape and features, while one's skin got all cracked
and rough and wrinkled like that old youth over there! The effect
would be rather ghastly. But I don't want to grow old in any sense. I
should like to remain a boy all my life. I suppose that in the other
world people may live a thousand years and always remain eighteen. I'm
nearly eighteen myself."

St Aubyn could not help casting a glance of keen interest at the boy
as he said this. A presentiment shot through him that that might
actually be the destiny of the pure-souled, enthusiastic young
creature who had just uttered the suggestive words. Austin's long,
pale face, slender form, and bright, far-away expression carried with
them the idea that perhaps he might not stay very long where he was. A
sudden pang made itself felt as the possibility occurred to him, and
he rapidly changed the subject.

"I don't think I'd let my thoughts run too much on mystical questions
if I were you, Austin," he said. "I mean in connection with these
curious experiences you've been having. You have enough joy in life,
joy from the world around you, to dispense with speculations about the
unseen. All that sort of thing is premature, and if it takes too great
a hold upon you its tendency will be to make you morbid."

"It hasn't done so yet," replied Austin. "As far as I can judge of the
other world, it seems quite as joyous and lively as this one, and in
reality I expect it's a good deal more so. I don't hanker after
experiences, as you call them, but hitherto whenever they've come
they've always been helpful and agreeable--never terrifying or ghastly
in the very least. And I don't lay myself out for them, you know. I
just feel that there _is_ something near me that I can't see, and that
it's pleasant and friendly. The thought is a happy one, and makes me
enjoy the world I live in all the more."

"Well, then, let us enjoy it together, and talk about orchids and
tulips, and things we can see and handle," said St Aubyn, cheerfully.
"How's Aunt Charlotte, for instance? Has she quite forgiven you for
having saved her life?"

"Oh, quite, I think," replied Austin, his eyes twinkling. "I believe
she's almost grateful, for when she came back from town she presented
me with a gold pencil-case. She doesn't often do that sort of thing,
poor dear, and I'm sure she meant it as a sign of reconciliation. It's
pretty, isn't it?" he added, taking it out of his pocket.

"Charming," assented St Aubyn. "That bit of lapis lazuli at the top,
with a curious design upon it, is by way of being an amulet, I

"H'm! I don't believe in amulets, you know," said Austin, nodding
sagely. "I consider that all nonsense."

"Yet there's no doubt that some amulets have influence," remarked St
Aubyn. "If a piece of amber, for example, has been highly magnetised
by a 'sensitive,' as very psychic persons are called, it is quite
possible that, worn next the skin, a certain amount of magnetic fluid
may be transmitted to the wearer, producing a distinct effect upon his
vitality. There's nothing occult about that. The most thoroughgoing
materialist might acknowledge it. But when it comes to spells, and all
that gibberish, there, of course, I part company. The magical power of
certain precious stones may be a fact of nature, but I see no proof
of its truth, and therefore I don't believe in it."

"And now may we go and look at the flowers?" suggested Austin.

"Come along," returned St Aubyn. "What a boy you are for flowers! Do
you know much of botany?"

"No--yes, a little--but not nearly as much as I ought," said Austin,
as they strolled through the blaze of colour. "I love flowers for
their beauty and suggestiveness, irrespective of the classifications
to which they may happen to belong. A garden is to me the most
beautiful thing in the world. There's something sacred about it.
Everything that's beautiful is good, and if it isn't beautiful it
can't be good, and when one realises beauty one is happy. That's why I
feel so much happier in gardens than in church."

"Why, aren't you fond of church?" asked St Aubyn, amused.

"A garden makes me happier," said Austin. "Religion seems to encourage
pain, and ugliness, and mourning. I don't know why it should, but
nearly all the very religious people I know are solemn and melancholy,
as though they hadn't wits enough to be anything else. They only
understand what is uncomfortable, just as beasts of burden only
understand threats and beatings. I suppose it's a question of culture.
Now I learn more of what _I_ call religion from fields, and trees, and
flowers than from anything else. I don't believe that if the world had
consisted of nothing but cities any real religion would ever have been
evolved at all."

"Crude, my dear Austin, very crude!" remarked St Aubyn, patting his
shoulder as they walked. "There's more in religion than that, a great
deal. Beware of generalising too widely, and don't forget the personal
equation. Now, come and have a look at the orchids. I've got one or
two rather fine ones that you haven't seen."

He led the way towards the orchid-houses. Here they spent a delightful
quarter of an hour, and it was only the thought of his visit to the
Banqueting Hall that reconciled Austin to tearing himself away. St
Aubyn seemed much diverted at his insistence, and asked him whether he
expected to find the figures on the tapestry endowed with life and
disporting themselves about the room for his entertainment.

"I wish they would!" laughed Austin. "What fun it would be. I'm sure
they'd enjoy it too. How old is the tapestry, by the way?"

"It's fifteenth century work, I believe," replied St Aubyn. "Here we
are. It really is very good of its kind, and the colours are
wonderfully preserved."

"It's lovely!" sighed Austin, as he walked slowly up the hall,
feasting his eyes once more on the beautiful fabrics. "What a thing to
live with! Just think of having all these charming people as one's
daily companions. I shouldn't want them to come to life, I like them
just as they are. If they moved or spoke the charm would be broken.
Why don't you spend hours every day in this wonderful place?"

"My dear boy, I haven't such an imagination as you have," answered St
Aubyn, laughing. "But as a mere artist, of course I appreciate them as
much as anyone, just as I appreciate statuary or pictures. And I prize
them for their historical value too."

Austin made no reply. He began to look abstracted, as though listening
to something else. The sun had begun to sink on the other side of the
house, leaving the hall itself in comparative shadow.

"Don't you feel anything?" he said at last, in an undertone.

"Nothing whatever," replied St Aubyn. "Do you?"

"Yes. Hush! No--it was nothing. But I feel it--all round me. The most
curious sensation. The room's full. Some of them are behind me. Don't
you feel a wind?"

"Indeed I don't," said St Aubyn. "There's not a breath stirring

They were standing side by side. Austin gently put out his right hand
and grasped St Aubyn's left.

"_Now_ don't you feel anything?" he asked.

"Yes--a sort of thrill. A tingling in my arm," replied St Aubyn.
"That's rather strange. But it comes from you, not from----" He

"It comes _through_ me," said Austin.

They stood for a few seconds in unbroken silence. Then St Aubyn
suddenly withdrew his hand. "This is unhealthy!" he said, with a touch
of abruptness. "You must be highly magnetic. Your organism is
'sensitive,' and that's why you experience things that I don't."

"Oh, why did you break the spell?" cried Austin, regretfully. "What
harm could it have done you? You said yourself just now that nothing
happens that isn't natural. And this is natural enough, if one could
only understand the way it works."

"Many things are natural that are not desirable," returned St Aubyn,
walking up and down. "It's quite natural for people to go to sea, but
it makes some of them sea-sick, nevertheless, and they had better stay
on shore. It's all a matter of temperament, I suppose, and what is
pleasant for you is something that my own instincts warn me very
carefully to avoid."

Austin drew his handkerchief across his eyes, as though beginning to
come back to the realities of life. "I daresay," he said, vaguely.
"But it's very restful here. The air seems to make me sleepy. I almost

At this point a servant appeared at the other end of the hall, and St
Aubyn went to see what he wanted. The next moment he returned, with
quickened steps.

"Come away with you--you and your spooks!" he cried, cheerfully,
taking Austin by the arm. "Here's an old aunt of mine suddenly dropped
from the skies, and clamouring for a cup of tea. We must go in and
entertain her. She's all by herself in the library."

"I shall be very glad," said Austin. "You go on first, and I'll be
with you in two minutes."

So St Aubyn strode off to welcome his elderly relative, and when
Austin came into the room he found his friend stooping over a very
small, very dowdy old lady dressed in rusty black silk, with a large
bonnet rather on one side, who was standing on tiptoe, the better to
peck at St Aubyn's cheek by way of a salute. She had small, twinkling
eyes, a wrinkled face, and the very honestest wig that Austin had ever
seen; and yet there was an air and a style about the old body which
somehow belied her quaint appearance, and suggested the idea that she
was something more than the insignificant little creature that she
looked at first sight. And so in fact she was, being no less a
personage than the Dowager-Countess of Merthyr Tydvil, and a very
great lady indeed.

"But, my dear aunt, why did you never let me know that I might expect
you?" St Aubyn was saying as Austin entered. "I might have been miles
away, and you'd have had all your journey for nothing."

"My dear, I'm staying with the people at Cleeve Castle, and I thought
I'd just give 'em the slip for an hour or two and take you by
surprise," answered the old lady as she sat down. "No, you needn't
ring--I ordered tea as soon as I came in. They just bore me out of my
life, you see, and they've got a pack o' riffraff staying with 'em
that I don't know how to sit in the same room with. But who's your
young friend over there? Why don't you introduce him?"

"I beg your pardon!" said St Aubyn. "Mr Austin Trevor, a near
neighbour of mine. Austin, my aunt, Lady Merthyr Tydvil."

"Why, of course I know now," said the old lady, nodding briskly. "So
you're Austin, are you? Roger was telling me about you not three weeks
ago. Well, Austin, I like the looks of you, and that's more than I can
say of most people, I can tell you. How long have you been living

"Ever since I can remember," Austin said.

"Roger, do touch the bell, there's a good creature," said Lady Merthyr
Tydvil. "That man of yours must be growing the tea-plants, I should
think. Ah, here he is. I'm gasping for something to drink. Did the
water boil, Richards? You're sure? How many spoonfuls of tea did you
put in? H'm! Well, never mind now. I shall be better directly. What
are those? Oh--Nebuchadnezzar sandwiches. Very good. That's all we
want, I think."

She dismissed the man with a gesture as though the house belonged to
her, while St Aubyn looked on, amused.

"I thought I should never get here," she continued. "The driver was a
perfect imbecile, my dear--didn't know the country a bit. And it's not
more than seven miles, you know, if it's as much. I was sure the
wretch was going wrong, and if I hadn't insisted on pulling him up and
asking a respectable-looking body where the house was I believe we
should have been wandering about the next shire at this moment. I've
no patience with such fools."

"And how long are you staying at Cleeve?" asked St Aubyn, supplying
her with sandwiches.

"I've been there nearly a week already, and the trouble lasts three
days more," replied his aunt, as she munched away. "The Duke's a fool,
and she's worse. Haven't the ghost of an idea, either of 'em, how to
mix people, you know. And what with their horrible charades, and their
nonsensical round games, and their everlasting bridge, I'm pretty well
at the end of my tether. Never was among such a beef-witted set of
addlepates since I was born. The only man among 'em who isn't a
hopeless booby's a Socialist, and he's been twice in gaol for inciting
honest folks not to pay their taxes. Oh, they're a precious lot, I
promise you. I don't know what we're coming to, I'm sure."

"But it's so easy not to do things," observed St Aubyn, lazily. "Why
on earth do you go there? I wouldn't, I know that."

"Why does anybody do anything?" retorted the old lady. "We can't all
stay at home and write books that nobody reads, as you do."

Austin looked up enquiringly. He had no idea that St Aubyn was an
author, and said so.

"What, you didn't know that Roger wrote books?" said the old lady,
turning to him. "Oh yes, he does, my dear, and very fine books
too--only they're miles above the comprehension of stupid old women
like me. Probably you've not a notion what a learned person he really
is. I don't even know the names of the things he writes of."

"And you never told me!" said Austin to his friend. "But you'll have
to lend me some of your books now, you know. I'm dying to know what
they're all about."

"They're chiefly about antiquities," responded St Aubyn; "early
Peruvian, Mexican, Egyptian, and so on. You're perfectly welcome to
read them all if you care to. They're not at all deep, whatever my
aunt may say."

During this brief interchange of remarks, Lady Merthyr Tydvil had been
gazing rather fixedly at Austin, with her head on one side like an
enquiring old bird, and a puzzled expression on her face.

"The most curious likeness!" she exclaimed. "Now, how is it that your
face seems so familiar to me, I wonder? I've certainly never seen you
anywhere before, and yet--and yet--who _is_ it you remind me of, for
goodness' sake?"

"I wish I could tell you," replied Austin, laughing. "Likenesses are
often quite accidental, and it may be----"

"Stuff and nonsense, my dear," interrupted the old lady, brusquely.
"There's nothing accidental about this. You're the living image of
somebody, but who it is I can't for the life of me imagine. What do
you say your name is?"

"My surname, you mean?--Trevor," replied Austin, beginning to be
rather interested.

"Trevor!" cried Lady Merthyr Tydvil, her voice rising almost to a
squeak. "No relation to Geoffrey Trevor who was in the 16th Lancers?"

"He was my father," said Austin, much surprised.

"Why, my dear, my dear, he was a _great_ friend of mine!" exclaimed
the old lady, raising both her hands. "I knew him twenty years ago and
more, and was fonder of him than I ever let out to anybody. Of course
it doesn't matter a bit now, but I always told him that if I'd been a
single woman, and a quarter of a century younger, I'd have married him
out of hand. That was a standing joke between us, for I was old enough
to be his mother, and he was already engaged--ah, and a sweet pretty
creature she was, too, and I don't wonder he fell in love with her. So
you are Geoffrey's son! I can scarcely believe it, even now. But it's
your mother you take after, not Geoffrey. She was a Miss--Miss----"

"Her maiden name was Waterfield," interpolated Austin.

"So it was, so it was!" assented the old lady, eagerly. "What a memory
you've got, to be sure. One of Sir Philip Waterfield's daughters, down
in Leicestershire. And her other name was Dorothea. Why, I remember it
all now as though it had happened yesterday. Your father made me his
confidante all through; such a state as he was in you never saw,
wondering whether she'd have him, never able to screw up his courage
to ask her, now all down in the dumps and the next day halfway up to
the moon. Well, of course they were married at last, and then I
somehow lost sight of them. They went abroad, I think, and when they
came back they settled in some place on the other side of nowhere and
I never saw them again. And you are their son Austin!"

Interested as he was in these reminiscences, Austin could not help
being struck with the wonderful grace of this curious old lady's
gestures. In spite of her skimpy dress and antiquated bonnet, she was,
he thought, the most exquisitely-bred old woman he had ever seen.
Every movement was a charm, and he watched her, as she spoke, with
growing fascination and delight.

"It is quite marvellous to think you knew my parents," he said in
reply, "while I have no recollection of either of them. My mother died
when I was born, and my father a year or two later. What was my mother
like? Did you know her well?"

"She was a delicate-looking creature, with a pale face and dark-grey
eyes," answered the old lady, "and you put me in mind of her very
strongly. I didn't know her very well, but I remember your father
bringing her to call on me when they were first engaged, and a
wonderfully handsome couple they were. No doubt they were very happy,
but their lives were cut short, as so often happens, leaving a lot of
stupid people alive that the world could well dispense with. But I see
you've lost one of your legs! How did that come about, I should like
to know?"

"Oh--something went wrong with the bone, and it had to be cut off,"
said Austin, rather vaguely.

"Dear, dear, what a pity," was the old lady's comment. "And are you
very sorry for yourself?"

"Not in the least," said Austin, smiling brightly. "I've got quite
fond of my new one."

"You're quite a philosopher, I see," said the old lady, nodding; "as
great a philosopher as the fox who couldn't reach the grapes, and he
was one of the wisest who ever lived. And now I think I'll have
another cup of tea, Roger, if there's any left. Give me two lumps of
sugar, and just enough cream to swear by."

The conversation now became more general, and Austin, thinking that
the countess would like to be alone with her nephew for a few minutes
before returning to the Castle, watched for an opportunity of taking
leave. He soon rose, and said he must be going home. The old lady
shook hands with him in the most cordial manner, telling him that in
no case must he ever forget his mother--oblivious, apparently, of the
fact that by no earthly possibility could he remember her; and St
Aubyn accompanied him to the door. "You've quite won her heart," he
said, laughingly, as he bade the boy farewell. "If she was ever in
love with your father, she seems to have transferred her affections to
you. Good-bye--and don't let it be too long before you come again."

Austin brandished his leg with more than usual haughtiness as he
thudded his way home along the road. He always gave it a sort of
additional swing when he was excited or pleased, and on this
particular occasion his gait was almost defiant. It must be confessed
that, never having known either of his parents, he had not hitherto
thought much about them. There was one small and much-faded photograph
of his father, which Aunt Charlotte kept locked up in a drawer, but
of his mother there was no likeness at all, and he had no idea
whatever of her appearance. But now he began to feel more interest in
them, and a sense of longing, not unmixed with curiosity, took
possession of him. What sort of a woman, he wondered, could that
unknown mother have been? Well, physically he was himself like her--so
Lady Merthyr Tydvil had said; and so much like her that it was through
that very resemblance that all these interesting discoveries had been
made. Then his thoughts reverted to what Aunt Charlotte had told him
about his mother's dying words, and how bitterly she had grieved at
not living to bring him up herself. And yet she was still
alive--somewhere--though in a world removed. Of course he couldn't
remember her, having never seen her, _but she had not forgotten
him_--of that he felt convinced. That was a curious reflection. His
mother was alive, and mindful of him. He could not prove it,
naturally, but he knew it all the same. He realised it as though by
instinct. And who could tell how near she might be to him? Distance,
after all, is not necessarily a matter of miles. One may be only a few
inches from another person, and yet if those inches are occupied by an
impenetrable wall of solid steel, the two will be as much separated
as though an ocean rolled between them. On the other hand, Austin had
read of cases in which two friends were actually on the opposite sides
of an ocean, and yet, through some mysterious channel, were sometimes
conscious, in a sub-conscious way, of each other's thoughts and
circumstances. Perhaps his mother could even see him, although he
could not see her. It was all a very fascinating puzzle, but there was
some truth underlying it somewhere, if he could only find it out.

Chapter the Tenth

Austin returned in plenty of time to spend a few minutes loitering in
the garden after he had dressed for dinner. It was a favourite habit
of his, and he said it gave him an appetite; but the truth was that he
always loved to be in the open air to the very last moment of the day,
watching the colours of the sky as they changed and melted into
twilight. On this particular evening the heavens were streaked with
primrose, and pale iris, and delicate limpid green; and so absorbed
was he in gazing at this splendour of dissolving beauty that he forgot
all about his appetite, and had to be called twice over before he
could drag himself away.

"Well, and did you have an interesting visit?" asked Aunt Charlotte,
when dinner was halfway through. "You found Mr St Aubyn at home?"

Austin had been unusually silent up till then, being somewhat
preoccupied with the experiences of the afternoon. He wanted to ask
his aunt all manner of questions, but scarcely liked to do so as long
as the servant was waiting. But now he could hold out no longer.

"Yes--even more interesting than I hoped," he answered. "I had plenty
of delightful chat with St Aubyn, and then a visitor came in. It's
that that I want to talk about."

"A visitor, eh?" said Aunt Charlotte, her attention quickening. "What
sort of a visitor? A lady?"

"Yes, an old lady," replied Austin, "who----"

"Did she come in an open fly?" pursued Aunt Charlotte, helping herself
to sauce.

"Why, how did you know? I believe she did," said Austin. "She had
driven over from Cleeve."

"Well, then, I must have seen her," said Aunt Charlotte. "A
queer-looking old person in a great bonnet. I happened to be walking
through the village, and she stopped the fly to ask me the way to the
Court, and I remember wondering who she could possibly be. I suppose
it was she whom you met there."

"What, was it _you_ she asked?" exclaimed Austin, opening his eyes.
"She told us the driver didn't know the way, and that she'd
enquired--oh dear, oh dear, how funny!"

"What's funny?" demanded Aunt Charlotte, abruptly.

"Oh, never mind, I can't tell you, and it doesn't matter in the
least," said Austin, beginning to giggle. "Only I shouldn't have known
it was you from her description."

"Why, what did she say?" Aunt Charlotte was getting suspicious.

"My dear auntie, she didn't know who you were, of course," replied
Austin, "and she bore high testimony to the respectability of your
appearance, that's all. Only it's so funny to think it was you. It
never occurred to me for a moment."

"What did she _say_, Austin?" repeated Aunt Charlotte, sternly. "I
insist upon knowing her exact words. Of course it doesn't really
matter what a poor old thing like that may have said, but I always
like to be precise, and it's just as well to know how one strikes a
stranger. It wasn't anything rude, I hope, for I'm sure I answered her
quite kindly."

The servant was out of the room. "No, auntie, I don't think it was
rude, but it was so comic----"

"Do stop giggling, and tell me what it was," interrupted Aunt
Charlotte, impatiently.

"Well, she only said you were a respectable-looking body," replied
Austin, as gravely as he could. "And so you are, you know, auntie,
though, perhaps, if I had to describe you I should put it in rather
different words. I'm sure she meant it as a compliment."

"Upon my word, I feel extremely flattered!" exclaimed Aunt Charlotte,
reddening. "A respectable-looking body, indeed! Well, it's something
to know I look respectable. And who was this very patronising old
person, pray? Some old nurse or other, I should say, to judge by her

"She was the Countess of Merthyr Tydvil, St Aubyn's aunt," said
Austin, enjoying the joke.

"The Countess of Merthyr Tydvil!" echoed Aunt Charlotte, amazed.

"And she's staying with the Duke at Cleeve Castle," added Austin. "But
that's not the point. Just fancy, auntie, she actually knew my father!
She knew him before he was married, and they were tremendous friends.
It all came out because she said I was so like somebody, and she
couldn't think who it could be, and then she asked what my surname
was, and so on, till we found out all about it. Wasn't it curious? Did
you ever hear of her before?"

"Indeed I never knew of her existence till this moment," answered Aunt
Charlotte, beginning to get interested. "Your father had any number of
friends, and of course we didn't know them all. Well, it is curious, I
must say. But she didn't say you were like your father, did she?"

"No--my mother," replied Austin. "She didn't know her much, but she
remembers her very well. She said she was a very lovely person, too."

"Your father was good-looking in a way," said Aunt Charlotte, falling
into a reminiscent mood, "but not in the least like you. He used to go
a great deal into society, and no doubt it was there he met this Lady
Merthyr Tydvil, and any number of others. Did she tell you anything
about him--anything, I mean, that you didn't know before?"

"No, I don't think she did, except that she was very fond of him and
would like to have married him herself. But as she was married
already, and he was engaged to somebody else, of course it was too

"What! She told you that?" cried Aunt Charlotte, scandalized. "What a
shameless old hussy she must be!"

"Not a bit of it," retorted Austin. "She's a sweet old woman, and I
love her very much. Besides, she only meant it in fun."

"Fun, indeed!" sniffed Aunt Charlotte, primly. "She may call me a
respectable-looking body as much as she likes now. It's more than I
can say for her."

"Auntie, you _are_ an old goose!" exclaimed Austin, with a burst of
laughter. "You never could see a joke. She called you a
respectable-looking body, and you called her a queer old woman like a
nurse. Now you say she's a shameless old hussy, and so, on the whole,
I think you've won the match."

Aunt Charlotte relapsed into silence, and did not speak again until
the dessert had been brought in. Austin helped himself to a plateful
of black cherries, while his aunt toyed with a peach. At last she
said, in rather a hesitating tone:

"Well, you've told me your adventures, so there's an end of that. But
I've had a little adventure of my own this afternoon; though whether
it would interest you to hear it----"

"Oh, do tell me!" said Austin, eagerly. "An adventure--you?"

"I'm not sure whether adventure is quite the correct expression,"
replied Aunt Charlotte, "and I don't quite know how to begin. You see,
my dear Austin, that you are very young."

"It isn't anything improper, is it?" asked Austin, innocently.

"If you say such things as that I won't utter another word," rejoined
his aunt. "I simply state the fact--that you are very young."

"And I hope I shall always remain so," Austin said.

"That being the case," resumed his aunt, impressively, "a great many
things happened long before you were born."

"I've never doubted that for a moment, even in my most sceptical
moods," Austin assured her seriously.

"Well, I once knew a gentleman," continued Aunt Charlotte, "of whom I
used to see a great deal. Indeed I had reasons for believing that--the
gentleman--rather appreciated my--conversation. Perhaps I was a little
more sprightly in those days than I am now. Anyhow, he paid me
considerable attention----"

"Oh!" cried Austin, opening his eyes as wide as they would go. "Oh,

"Of course things never went any further," said Aunt Charlotte,
"though I don't know what might have happened had it not been that I
gave him no encouragement whatever."

"But why didn't you? What was he like? Tell me all about him!"
interrupted Austin, excitedly. "Was he a soldier, like father? I'm
sure he was--a beautiful soldier in the Blues, whatever the Blues may
be, with a grand uniform and clanking spurs. That's the sort of man
that would have captivated you, auntie. Was he wounded? Had he a
wooden leg? Oh, go on, go on! I'm dying to hear all about it."

"That he had a uniform is possible, though I never saw him wear one,
and it may have been blue for anything I know; but that wouldn't imply
that he was in the Blues," replied his aunt, sedately. "No; the
strange thing was that he suddenly went abroad, and for
five-and-twenty years I never heard of him. And now he has written me
a letter."

"A letter!" cried Austin. "This _is_ an adventure, and no mistake. But
go on, go on."

"I never was more astounded in my life," resumed his aunt. "A letter
came from him this afternoon. He recalls himself to my remembrance,
and says--this is the most singular part--that he was actually staying
quite close to here only a short time ago, but had no idea that I was
living here. Had he known it he would most certainly have called, but
as he has only just discovered it, quite accidentally, he says he
shall make a point of coming down again, when he hopes he may be
permitted to renew our old acquaintance."

"Now look here, auntie," said Austin, sitting bolt upright. "Let him
call, by all means, and see how well you look after being deserted for
five-and-twenty years; but I don't want a step-uncle, and you are not
to give me one. Fancy me with an Uncle Charlotte! That wouldn't do,
you know. You won't give me a step-uncle, will you? Please!"

"Don't be absurd, my dear; and do, for goodness' sake, keep that
dreadful leg of yours quiet if you can. It always gives me the jumps
when you go on jerking it about like that. Of course I should never
dream of marrying now; but I confess I do feel a little curious to see
what my old friend looks like after all these years----"

"Your old admirer, you mean," interpolated Austin. "To think of your
having had a romance! You can't throw stones at Lady Merthyr Tydvil
now, you know. I believe you're a regular flirt, auntie, I do indeed.
This poor young man now; you say he disappeared, but _I_ believe you
simply drove him away in despair by your cruelty. Were you a 'cruel
maid' like the young women one reads about in poetry-books? Oh,
auntie, auntie, I shall never have faith in you again."

"You're a very disrespectful boy, that's what _you_ are," retorted
Aunt Charlotte, turning as pink as her ribbons. "The gentleman we're
speaking of must be quite elderly, several years older than I am, and,
for all I know, he may have a wife and half-a-dozen grown-up children
by this time. You let your tongue wag a very great deal too fast, I
can tell you, Austin."

"But what's his name?" asked Austin, not in the least abashed. "We
can't go on for ever referring to him as 'the gentleman,' as though
there were no other gentlemen in the world, can we now?"

"His name is Ogilvie--Mr Granville Ogilvie," replied his aunt. "He
belongs to a very fine old family in the north. There have been
Ogilvies distinguished in many ways--in literature, in the services,
and in politics. But there was always a mystery about Granville,
somehow. However, I expect he'll be calling here in a few days, and
then, no doubt, your curiosity will be gratified."

"Oh, I know what he'll be like," said Austin. "A lean, brown
traveller, with his face tanned by tropic suns and Arctic snows to the
colour of an old saddle-bag. His hair, of course, prematurely grey. On
his right cheek there'll be a lovely bright-blue scar, where a
charming tiger scratched him just before he killed it with unerring
aim. I know the sort of person exactly. And now he comes to say that
he lays his battered, weather-worn old carcase at the feet of the
cruel maid who spurned it when it was young and strong and beautiful.
And the cruel maid, now in the full bloom of placid maternity--I mean

"Hold your tongue or I'll pull your ears!" exclaimed Aunt Charlotte,
scarlet with confusion. "You'll make me sorry I ever said anything to
you on the subject. Mr Ogilvie, as far as I can judge from his letter,
is a most polished gentleman. There's a quaint, old-world courtesy
about him which one scarcely ever meets with at the present day. Just
remember, if you please, that we're simply two old friends, who are
going to meet again after having lost sight of each other for
five-and-twenty years; and what there is to laugh about in that I
entirely fail to see."

"Dear auntie, I won't laugh any more, I promise you," said Austin.
"I'm sure he'll turn out a most courtly old personage, and perhaps
he'll have an enormous fortune that he made by shaking pagoda-trees in
India. How do pagodas grow on trees, I wonder? I always thought a
pagoda was a sort of odalisque--isn't that right? Oh, I mean
obelisk--with beautiful flounces all the way up to the top. It seems a
funny way of making money, doesn't it. Where is India, by the bye?
Anywhere near Peru?"

"Your ignorance is positively disgraceful, Austin," said Aunt
Charlotte, with great severity. "I only hope you won't talk like that
in the presence of Mr Ogilvie. I expect you're right in surmising that
he's been a great traveller, for he says himself that he has led a
very wandering, restless life, and he would be shocked to think I had
a nephew who didn't know how to find India upon the map. There, you've
had quite as many cherries as are good for you, I'm sure. Let us go
and see if it's dry enough to have our coffee on the lawn, while
Martha clears away."

Now although Austin was intensely tickled at the idea of Aunt Charlotte
having had a love-affair, and a love-affair that appeared to threaten
renewal, the fact was that he really felt just a little anxious. Not
that he believed for a moment that she would be such a goose as to
marry, at her age; that, he assured himself, was impossible. But it is
often the very things we tell ourselves are impossible that we fear the
most, and Austin, in spite of his curiosity to see his aunt's old flame,
looked forward to his arrival with just a little apprehension. For some
reason or other, he considered himself partly responsible for Aunt
Charlotte. The poor lady had so many limitations, she was so hopelessly
impervious to a joke, her views were so stereotyped and conventional--in
a word, she was so terribly Early Victorian, that there was no knowing
how she might be taken in and done for if he did not look after her a
bit. But how to do it was the difficulty. Certainly he could not prevent
the elderly swain from calling, and, of course, it would be only proper
that he himself should be absent when the two first came together. A
_tête-à-tête_ between them was inevitable, and was not likely to be
decisive. But, this once over, he would appear upon the scene, take
stock of the aspirant, and shape his policy accordingly. What sort of a
man, he wondered, could Mr Ogilvie be? He had actually passed through
the town not so very long ago; but then so had hundreds of strangers,
and Austin had never noticed anyone in particular--certainly no one who
was in the least likely to be the gentleman in question. There was
nothing to be done, meanwhile, then, but to wait and watch. Perhaps the
gentleman would not want to marry Aunt Charlotte after all. Perhaps, as
she herself had suggested, he had a wife and family already. Neither of
them knew anything at all about him. He might be a battered old
traveller, or an Anglo-Indian nabob, or a needy haunter of Continental
pensions, or a convict just emerged from a term of penal servitude. He
might be as rich as Midas, or as poor as a church-mouse. But on one
thing Austin was determined--Aunt Charlotte must be saved from herself,
if necessary. They wanted no interloper in their peaceful home. And he,
Austin, would go forth into the world, wooden leg and all, rather than
submit to be saddled with a step-uncle.

As for Aunt Charlotte, she, too, deemed it beyond the dreams of
possibility that she would ever marry. In fact, it was only Austin's
nonsense that had put so ridiculous a notion into her head. It was
true that, in the years gone by, the attentions of young Granville
Ogilvie had occasioned her heart a flutter. Perhaps some faint,
far-off reverberation of that flutter was making itself felt in her
heart now. It is so, no doubt, with many maiden ladies when they look
back upon the past. But if she had ever felt a little sore at her
sudden abandonment by the mercurial young man who had once touched her
fancy, the tiny scratch had healed and been forgotten long ago. At the
same time, although the idea of marriage after five-and-twenty years
was too absurd to be dwelt on for a moment, the worthy lady could not
help feeling how delightful it would be to be _asked_. Of course, that
would involve the extremely painful process of refusing; and Aunt
Charlotte, in spite of her rough tongue, was a merciful woman, and
never willingly inflicted suffering upon anybody. Even blackbeetles,
as she often told herself, were God's creatures, and Mr Ogilvie,
although he had deserted her, no doubt had finer sensibilities than a
blackbeetle. So she did not wish to hurt him if she could avoid it;
still, a proposal of marriage at the age of forty-seven would be
rather a feather in her cap, and she was too true a woman to be
indifferent to that coveted decoration. But then, once more, it was
quite possible that he would not propose at all.

The next morning Austin put on his straw hat, and went and sat down by
the old stone fountain in the full blaze of the sun, as was his
custom. Lubin was somewhere in the shrubbery, and, unaware that anyone
was within hearing, was warbling lustily to himself. Austin
immediately pricked up his ears, for he had had no idea that Lubin was
a vocalist. Away he carolled blithely enough, in a rough but not
unmusical voice, and Austin was just able to catch some of the words
of the quaint old west-country ballad that he was singing.

    "Welcome to town, Tom Dove, Tom Dove,
       The merriest man alive,
     Thy company still we love, we love,
       God grant thee still to thrive.
     And never will we, depart from thee,
       For better or worse, my joy!
     For thou shalt still, have our good will,
       God's blessing on my sweet boy."

"Bravo, Lubin!" cried Austin, clapping his hands. "You do sing
beautifully. And what a delightful old song! Where did you pick it

"Eh, Master Austin," said Lubin, emerging from among the
rhododendrons, "if I'd known you was a-listening I'd 'a faked up
something from a French opera for you. Why, that's an old song as I've
known ever since I was that high--'Tom of Exeter' they calls it. It's
a rare favourite wi' the maids down in the parts I come from."

"Shows their good taste," said Austin. "It's awfully pretty. Who was
Tom Dove, and why did he come to town?"

"Nay, I can't tell," replied Lubin. "Tis some made-up tale, I doubt.
They do say as how he was a tailor. But there is folks as'll say
anything, you know."

"A tailor!" exclaimed Austin, scornfully, "That I'm sure he wasn't.
But oh, Lubin, there _is_ somebody coming to town in a day or
two--somebody I want to find out about. Do you often go into the

"Eh, well, just o' times; when there's anything to take me there,"
answered Lubin, vaguely. "On market-days, every now and again."

"Oh yes, I know, when you go and sell ducks," put in Austin. "Now
what I want to know is this. Have you, within the last three or four
weeks, seen a stranger anywhere about?"

"A stranger?" repeated Lubin. "Ay, that I certainly have. Any amount
o' strangers."

"Oh well, yes, of course, how stupid of me!" exclaimed Austin,
impatiently. "There must have been scores and scores. But I mean a
particular stranger--a certain person in particular, if you understand
me. Anybody whose appearance struck you in any way."

"Well, but what sort of a stranger?" asked Lubin. "Can't you tell me
anything about him? What'd he look like, now?"

"That's just what I want to find out," replied Austin. "If I could
describe him I shouldn't want you to. All I know is that he's a sort
of elderly gentleman, rather more than fifty. He may be fifty-five, or
getting on for sixty. Now, isn't that near enough? Oh--and I'm almost
sure that he's a traveller."

"H'm," pondered Lubin, leaning on his broom reflectively. "Well, yes,
I did see a sort of elderly gentleman some three or four weeks ago,
standing at the bar o' the 'Coach-and-Horses.' What his age might be I
couldn't exactly say, 'cause he was having a drink with his back
turned to the door. But he was a traveller, that I know."

"A traveller? I wonder whether that was the one!" exclaimed Austin.
"Had he a dark-brown face? Or a wooden leg? Or a scar down one of his

"Not as I see," answered Lubin, beginning to sweep the lawn. "But a
traveller he was, because the barmaid told me so. Travelled all over
the country in bonnets."

"Travelled in bonnets?" cried Austin. "What _do_ you mean, Lubin? How
can a man go travelling about the country in a bonnet? Had he a bonnet
on when you saw him drinking in the bar?"

"Lor', Master Austin, wherever was you brought up?" exclaimed Lubin,
in grave amazement at the youth's ignorance. "When a gentleman
'travels' in anything, it means he goes about getting orders for it.
Now this here gentleman was agent, I take it, for some big millinery
shop in London, and come down here wi' boxes an' boxes o' bonnets, an'
tokes, and all sorts o' female headgear as women goes about in----"

"In short, he was a commercial traveller," said Austin, very mildly.
"You see, my dear Lubin, we have been talking of different things. I
wasn't thinking of a gentleman who hawks haberdashery. When I said
traveller, I meant a man who goes tramping across Africa, and shoots
elephants, and gets snowed up at the North Pole, and has all sorts of
uncomfortable and quite incredible adventures. They always have faces
as brown as an old trunk, and generally limp when they walk. That's
the sort of person I'm looking out for. You haven't seen anyone like
that, have you?"

"Nay--nary a one," said Lubin, shaking his head. "Would he have been
putting up at one o' the inns, now, or staying long wi' some o' the

"I haven't the slightest idea," acknowledged Austin.

"Might as well go about looking for a ram wi' five feet," remarked
Lubin. "Some things you can't find 'cause they don't exist, and other
things you can't find 'cause there's too many of 'em. And as you don't
know nothing about this gentleman, and wouldn't know him if you met
him in the street permiscuous, I take it you'll have to wait to see
what he looks like till he turns up again of his own accord. 'Tain't
in reason as you can go up to every old gentleman with a brown face
as you never see before an' ask him if he's ever been snowed up at the
North Pole and why he hasn't got a wooden leg. He'd think, as likely
as not, as you was trying to get a rise out of him. Don't you know
what the name may be, neither?"

"Oh yes, I do, of course," responded Austin. "He's a Mr Ogilvie."

"Never heard of 'im," said Lubin. "Might find out at one o' the inns
if any party o' that name's been staying there, but I doubt they
wouldn't remember. Folks don't generally stay more'n one night, you
see, just to have a look at the old market-place and the church, and
then off they go next morning and don't leave no addresses. Th' only
sort as stays a day or two are the artists, and they'll stay painting
here for more'n a week at a time. It may 'a been one o' them."

"I wonder!" exclaimed Austin, struck by the idea. "Perhaps he's an
artist, after all; artists do travel, I know. I never thought of that.
However, it doesn't matter. It's only some old friend of Aunt
Charlotte's, and he's coming to call on her soon, so it isn't worth
bothering about meanwhile."

He therefore dismissed the matter from his mind, and set about the far
more profitable employment of fortifying himself by a morning's
devotion to garden-craft, both manual and mental, against the
martyrdom (as he called it) that he was to undergo that afternoon. For
Aunt Charlotte had insisted on his accompanying her to tea at the
vicarage, and this was a function he detested with all his heart. He
never knew whom he might meet there, and always went in fear of
Cobbledicks, MacTavishes, and others of the same sort. The vicar
himself he did not mind so much--the vicar was not a bad little thing
in his way; but Mrs Sheepshanks, with her patronising disapproval and
affected airs of smartness, he couldn't endure, while the Socialistic
curate was his aversion. The reason he hated the curate was partly
because he always wore black knickerbockers, and partly because he was
such chums with the MacTavish boys. How any self-respecting individual
could put up with such savages as Jock and Sandy was a problem that
Austin was wholly unable to solve, until it was suggested to him by
somebody that the real attraction was neither Jock nor Sandy, but one
of their screaming sisters--a Florrie, or a Lottie, or an Aggie--it
really did not matter which, since they were all alike. When this
once dawned upon him, Austin despised the knickerbockered curate more
than ever.

On the present occasion, however, the MacTavishes were happily not
there; the only other guest (for of course the curate didn't count)
being a friend of the curate's, who had come to spend a few days with
him in the country. The friend was a harsh-featured, swarthy young
man, belonging to what may be called the muscular variety of high
Ritualism; much given to a sort of aggressive slang--he had been known
to refer to the bishop of his diocese as "the sporting old jester that
bosses our show"--and representing militant sacerdotalism in its most
blusterous and rampant form. He was also in the habit of informing
people that he was "nuts" on the Athanasian Creed, and expressing the
somewhat arbitrary opinion that if the Rev. John Wesley had had his
deserts he would have been exhibited in a pillory and used as a target
for stale eggs. There are a few such interesting youths in Holy
Orders, and the curate's friend was one of them.

The party were assembled in the garden, where Mrs Sheepshanks's best
tea-service was laid out. To say that the conversation was brilliant
would be an exaggeration; but it was pleasant and decorous, as
conversations at a vicarage ought to be. The two ladies compared notes
about the weather and the parish; the curate asked Austin what he had
been doing with himself lately; the friend kept silence, even from
good words, while the vicar, one of the mildest of his cloth, sat
blinking in furtive contemplation of the friend. Certainly it was not
a very exhilarating entertainment, and Austin felt that if it went on
much longer he should scream. What possible pleasure, he marvelled,
could Aunt Charlotte find in such a vapid form of dissipation? Even
the garden irritated him, for it was laid out in the silly Early
Victorian style, with wriggling paths, and ribbon borders, and shrubs
planted meaninglessly here and there about the lawn, and a dreadful
piece of sham rockwork in one corner. Of course the vicar's wife
thought it quite perfect, and always snubbed Austin in a very lofty
way if he ever ventured to express his own views as to how a garden
should be fitly ordered. Then his eye happened to fall upon the
curate's friend; and he caught the curate's friend in the act of
staring at him with a most offensive expression of undisguised

Now, Austin was courteous to everyone; but to anybody he disliked his
politeness was simply deadly. Of course he took no notice of the young
parson's tacit insolence; he only longed, as fervently as he knew how
to long, for an opportunity of being polite to him. And the occasion
was soon forthcoming. The conversation growing more general by
degrees, a reference was made by the vicar, in passing, to a certain
clergyman of profound scholarship and enlightened views, whose
recently published book upon the prophet Daniel had been painfully
exercising the minds of the editor and readers of the _Church Times_;
and it was then that the curate's friend, without moving a muscle of
his face, suddenly leaned forward and said, in a rasping voice:

"The man's an impostor and a heretic. He ought to be burned. I would
gladly walk in the procession, singing the 'Te Deum,' and set fire to
the faggots myself."[A]

And there was no doubt he meant it. A dead silence fell upon the
party. The curate looked horribly annoyed. The ladies exclaimed "Oh!"
with a little shudder of dismay. The vicar started, fidgeted, and
blinked more nervously than ever. Then Austin, with the most charming
manner in the world, broke the spell.

"Really!" he exclaimed, turning towards the speaker, a bright smile of
interest upon his face. "That's a most delightfully original
suggestion. May I ask what religion you belong to?"

"What religion!" scowled the curate's friend, astounded at the

"Yes--it must be one I never heard of," replied Austin, sweetly. "I am
so awfully ignorant, you know; I know nothing of geography, and
scarcely anything about the religions of savage countries. Are you a

"Oh, Austin!" breathed Aunt Charlotte, faintly.

"I always do make such mistakes," continued Austin, with his most
engaging air; "I'm so sorry, please forgive me if I'm stupid. I
forgot, of course Thugs don't burn people alive, they only strangle
them. Perhaps I'm thinking of the Bosjesmans, or the Andaman
Islanders, or the aborigines of New Guinea. I do get so mixed up! But
I've often thought how lovely it would be to meet a cannibal. You
aren't a cannibal, are you?" he added wistfully.

"I'm a priest of the Church of England," replied the curate's friend,
with crushing scorn, though his face was livid. "When you're a little
older you'll probably understand all that that implies."

"Fancy!" exclaimed Austin, with an air of innocent amazement. "I've
heard of the Church of England, but I quite thought you must belong to
one of those curious persuasions in Africa, isn't it--or is it
Borneo?--where the services consist in skinning people alive and then
roasting them for dinner. It occurred to me that you might have gone
there as a missionary, and that the savages had converted you instead
of you converting the savages. I'm sure I beg your pardon. And have
you ever set fire to a bishop?"

"Austin! Austin!" came still more faintly from Aunt Charlotte.

The vicar, scandalised at first, was now in convulsions of silent
laughter. Mrs Sheepshanks's parasol was lowered in a most suspicious
manner, so as completely to hide her face; while the unfortunate
curate, with his head almost between his knees, was working havoc in
the vicarage lawn with the point of a heavy walking-stick. The only
person who seemed perfectly at his ease was Austin, and he was
enjoying himself hugely. Then the vicar, feeling it incumbent upon
him, as host, to say something to relieve the strain, attempted to
pull himself together.

"My dear boy," he said, in rather a quavering voice, "you may be
perfectly sure that our valued guest has no sympathy with any of the
barbarous religions you allude to, but is a most loyal member of the
Church of England; and that when he said he would like to 'burn' a
brother clergyman--one of the greatest Talmudists and Hebrew scholars
now alive--it was only his humorous way of intimating that he was
inclined to differ from him on one or two obscure points of historical
or verbal criticism which----"

"It was not," said the curate's friend.

Mrs Sheepshanks immediately turned to Aunt Charlotte, and remarked
that feather boas were likely to be more than ever in fashion when the
weather changed; and Aunt Charlotte said she had heard from a most
authoritative source that pleated corselets were to be the rage that
autumn. Both ladies then agreed that the days were certainly beginning
to draw in, and asked the curate if he didn't think so too. The curate
fumbled in his pocket, and offered Austin a cigarette, and Austin,
noticing the unconcealed annoyance of the unfortunate young man, who
was really not a bad fellow in the main, felt kindly towards him, and
accepted the cigarette with effusion. The vicar relapsed into silence,
making no attempt to complete his unfinished sentence; then he stole a
glance at the saturnine face of the stranger, and from that moment
became an almost liberal-minded theologian; He had had an
object-lesson that was to last him all his life, and he never forgot

"Well, Austin," said Aunt Charlotte, when they were walking home, a
few minutes later, "of course you _ought_ to have a severe scolding
for your behaviour this afternoon; but the fact is, my dear, that on
this occasion I do not feel inclined to give you one. That man was
perfectly horrible, and deserved everything he got. I only hope it may
have done him good. I couldn't have believed such people existed at
the present day. The most charitable view to take of him is that he
can scarcely be in his right mind."

"What, because he wanted to burn somebody alive?" said Austin. "Oh,
that was natural enough. I thought it rather an amusing idea, to tell
the truth. The reason I went for him was that I caught him making
faces at me when he thought I wasn't looking. I saw at once that he
was a beast, so the instant he gave me an opportunity of settling
accounts with him I took it. Oh, what a blessing it is to be at home
again! Dear auntie, let's make a virtuous resolution. We'll neither of
us go to the vicarage again as long as we both shall live."

He strolled into the garden--the good garden, with straight walks, and
clipped hedges, and fair formal shape--and threw himself down upon a
long chair. He had already begun to forget the incidents of the
afternoon. Here was rest, and peace, and beauty. How tired he was! Why
did he feel so tired? He could not tell. A deep sense of satisfaction
and repose stole over him. Lubin was there, tidying up, but he did not
feel any inclination to talk to Lubin or anybody else. He liked
watching Lubin, however, for Lubin was part of the garden, and all his
associations with him were pleasant. The scent of the flowers and the
grass possessed him. The sun was far from setting, and a young
crescent moon was hovering high in the heavens, looking like a silver
sickle against the blue. From the distant church came the sound of
bells ringing for even-song, faint as horns of elf-land, through the
still air. He felt that he would like to lie there always--just
resting, and drinking in the beauty of the world.

Suddenly he half-rose. "Lubin!" he called out quickly, in an

"Sir," responded Lubin, turning round.

"Who was that lady looking over the garden-gate just now?"

"Lady?" repeated Lubin. "I never saw no lady. Whereabouts was she?"

"On the path of course, outside. A second ago. She stood looking at me
over the gate, and then went on. Run to the gate and see how far she's

Lubin did as he was bidden without delay, looking up and down the
road. Then he returned, and soberly picked up his broom.

"There ain't no lady there," he said. "No one in sight either way.
Must 'a been your fancy, Master Austin, I expect."

"Fancy, indeed!" retorted Austin, excitedly. "You'll tell me next it's
my fancy that I'm looking at you now. A lady in a large hat and a sort
of light-coloured dress. She _must_ be there. There's nowhere else for
her to be, unless the earth has swallowed her up. I'll go and look

He struggled up and staggered as fast as he could go to the gate. Then
he pushed it open and went out as far as the middle of the road from
which he could see at least a hundred yards each way. But not a living
creature was in sight.

"It's enough to make one's hair stand on end!" he exclaimed, as he
came slowly back. "Where can she have got to? She was here--here, by
the gate--not twenty seconds ago, only a few yards from where I was
sitting. Don't talk to me about fancy; that's sheer nonsense. I saw
her as distinctly as I see you now, and I should know her again
directly if I saw her a year hence. Of all inexplicable things!"

There was no more lying down. He was too much puzzled and excited to
keep still. Up and down he paced, cudgelling his brains in search of
an explanation, wondering what it could all mean, and longing for
another glimpse of the mysterious visitor. For one brief moment he had
had a full, clear view of her face, and in that moment he had been
struck by her unmistakable resemblance to himself.


[A] A fact. Said in the writer's presence by a young clergyman of the
same breed as the one here described.

Chapter the Eleventh

The repairs to the ceiling in Austin's room were now finished, and it
was with great satisfaction that he resumed possession of his old
quarters. The mysterious events that had befallen him when he slept
there last, some weeks before, recurred very vividly to his mind as he
found himself once more amid the familiar surroundings, and although
he heard no more raps or anything else of an abnormal nature, he felt
that, whatever dangers might threaten him in the future, he would
always be protected by those he thought of as his unseen friends. Aunt
Charlotte, meanwhile, had taken an opportunity of consulting the vicar
as to the orthodoxy of a belief in guardian angels, and the vicar had
reassured her at once by referring her to the Collect for St Michael
and All Angels, in which we are invited to pray that they may succour
and defend us upon earth; so that there really was nothing
superstitious in the conclusion that, as Austin had undoubtedly been
succoured and defended in a very remarkable manner on more than one
occasion, some benevolent entity from a better world might have had a
hand in it. The worthy lady, of course, could not resist the
temptation of informing Mr Sheepshanks of what her bankers had said
about the investment he had so earnestly urged upon her, and the vicar
seemed greatly surprised. He had not put any money into it himself, it
was true, but was being sorely tempted by another prospectus he had
just received of an enterprise for recovering the baggage which King
John lost some centuries ago in the Wash. The only consideration that
made him hesitate was the uncertainty whether, in view of the
perishable nature of the things themselves, they would be worth very
much to anybody if ever they were fished up.

"Austin," said Aunt Charlotte, two days afterwards at breakfast, "I
have had another letter from Mr Ogilvie. Of course I wrote to him when
I heard first, saying how pleased I should be to see him whenever he
was in the neighbourhood again; and now I have his reply. He proposes
to call here to-morrow afternoon, and have a cup of tea with us."

"So the fateful day has come at last," remarked Austin. "Very well,
auntie, I'll make myself scarce while you're talking over old times
together, but I insist on coming in before he goes, remember. I'm
awfully curious to see what he's like. Do you think he wears a wig?"

"I really haven't thought about it," replied his aunt. "It's nothing
to me whether he does or not--or to you either, for the matter of
that. Of course you must present yourself to him some time or other;
it would be most discourteous not to. And do, if you can, try and
behave rather more like other people. Don't parade your terrible
ignorance of geography, for instance, as you do sometimes. He would
think that I had neglected your education disgracefully, and seeing
what a traveller he's been himself--"

"All right, auntie, I won't give you away," Austin assured her. "You'd
better tell him what a horrid dunce I am before I come in, and then he
won't be so surprised if I do put my foot in it. After all, we're not
sure that he's been a traveller. He may be a painter. Lubin says that
lots of painters come down here sometimes. My own idea is that he'll
turn out to be nothing but a bank manager, or perhaps a stockbroker. I
expect he's rolling in money."

Austin had said nothing to his aunt about the lady who had looked over
the gate for one brief moment and then so unaccountably disappeared.
What would have been the use? He felt baffled and perplexed, but it
was not likely that Aunt Charlotte would be able to throw any light
upon the mystery. She would probably say that he had been dreaming, or
that he only imagined it, or that it was an old gipsy woman, or one of
the MacTavish girls playing a trick, or something equally fatuous and
absurd. But the more he thought of it the more he was convinced of the
reality of the whole thing, and of the existence of some great marvel.
That he had seen the lady was beyond question. That she had vanished
the next moment was also beyond question. That she had hidden behind a
tree or gone crouching in a ditch was inconceivable, to say the least
of it; so fair and gracious a person would scarcely descend to such
undignified manoeuvres, worthy only of a hoydenish peasant girl. And
yet, what could possibly have become of her? The enigma was quite

The next morning brought with it a surprise. Aunt Charlotte had some
very important documents that she wanted to deposit with her
bankers--so important, indeed, that she did not like to entrust them
to the post; so Austin, half in jest, proposed that he should go to
town himself by an early train, and leave them at the bank in person.
To his no small astonishment, Aunt Charlotte took him at his word,
though not without some misgivings; instructed him to send her a
telegram as soon as ever the papers were in safe custody, and assured
him that she would not have a moment's peace until she got it. Austin,
much excited at the prospect of a change, packed the documents away in
the pistol-pocket of his trousers, and started off immediately after
breakfast in high spirits. The journey was a great delight to him, as
he had not travelled by railway for nearly a couple of years, and he
derived immense amusement from watching his fellow-passengers and
listening to their conversation. There was a party of very
serious-minded American tourists, with an accent reverberant enough to
have cracked the windows of the carriage had they not, luckily, been
open; and from the talk of these good people he learnt that they came
from a place called New Jerusalem, that they intended to do London in
two days, and that they answered to the names of Mr Thwing, Mr Moment,
and Mr and Mrs Skull. The gentlemen were arrayed in shiny
broad-cloth, with narrow black ties, tied in a careless bow; the lady
wore long curls all down her back and a brown alpaca gown; and they
all seemed under the impression that the most important sights which
awaited them were the Metropolitan Tabernacle and some tunnel under
the Thames. The only other passenger was a rather smart-looking
gentleman with a flower in his buttonhole, who made himself very
pleasant; engaged Austin in conversation, gave him hints as to how
best to enjoy himself in London, asked him a number of questions about
where he lived and how he spent his time, and finished up by inviting
him to lunch. But Austin, never having seen the man before, declined;
and no amount of persuasion availed to make him alter his decision.

On arrival in London, he got into an omnibus--not daring to call a
cab, lest he should pay the cabman a great deal too much or a great
deal too little--and in a short time was set down near Waterloo Place,
where the bank was situated. His first care was to relieve himself of
the precious documents, and this he did at once; but he thought the
clerk looked at him in a disagreeably sharp and suspicious manner, and
wondered whether it was possible he might be accused of forgery and
given in charge to a policeman. The papers consisted of some
dividend-warrants payable to bearer, and an endorsed cheque, and the
clerk examined them with a most formidable and inquisitorial frown.
Then he asked Austin what his name was, and where he lived; and Austin
blushed and stammered to such an extent and made such confused replies
that the clerk looked more suspiciously at him than ever, and Austin
had it on the tip of his tongue to assure him that he really had not
stolen the documents, or forged Aunt Charlotte's name, or infringed
the laws in any way whatever that he could think of. But just then the
clerk, who had been holding a muttered consultation with another
gentleman of equally threatening aspect, turned to him again with a
less aggressive expression, as much as to say that he'd let him off
this time if he promised never to do it any more, and intimated, with
a sort of grudging nod, that he was free to go if he liked. Which
Austin, much relieved, forthwith proceeded to do.

Then he stumped off as hard as he could go to the Post-Office near by,
to despatch the telegram which should set Aunt Charlotte's mind at
ease; and by dint of carefully observing what all the other people did
managed to get hold of a telegraph-form and write his message.
"Documents all safe in the Bank.--Your affectionate Austin." That
would do beautifully, he thought. Then he offered it to a
proud-looking young lady who lived behind a barricade of brass
palings, and the young lady, having read it through (rather to his
indignation) and rapidly counted the words, gave him a couple of
stamps. But he explained, with great politeness, that he did not wish
it to go by post, as it was most important that it should reach its
destination before lunch-time; whereupon the young lady burst into a
hearty laugh, and asked him how soon he was going back to school.
Austin coloured furiously, rectified his mistake, and bolted.

In Piccadilly Circus his attention was immediately attracted by a
number of stout, florid, elderly ladies who were selling some most
lovely bouquets for the buttonhole. This was a temptation impossible
to resist, and he lost no time in choosing one. It cost fourpence, and
Austin was so charmed at the skilful way in which the florid lady he
had patronised pinned it into the lapel of his jacket that he raised
his hat to her on parting with as much ceremony as though she had been
a duchess at the very least. Then, observing that his shoe was dusty,
he submitted it to a merry-looking shoeblack, who not only cleaned it
and creamed it to perfection but polished up his wooden leg as well;
Austin, in his usual absent-minded way, humming to himself the while.
During the operation there suddenly rushed up a drove of very
ungainly-looking objects, who, in point of fact, were persons lately
arrived from Lancashire to play a football match at the Alexandra
Palace--though Austin, of course, could not be expected to know that;
and two of these, staring at him as though he were a wild animal that
they had never seen before, enquired with much solicitude how his
mother was, and whether he was having a happy day. Austin took no more
notice of them than if they had been flies, but as soon as the
shoeblack had finished, and been generously rewarded, he presented
them each with a penny.

"Wot's this for?" growled the foremost. "We ain't beggars, we ain't.
Wot d'ye mean by it?"

"Aren't you? I thought you were," said Austin. "However, you can keep
the pennies. They will buy you bread, you know."

The fellows edged off, muttering resentfully, and Austin prepared to
cross the road to Piccadilly. The next moment he received a violent
blow on the shoulder from an advancing horse, and was knocked clean
off his legs. He was in the act of half-consciously taking off his hat
and begging the horse's pardon when a stout policeman, coming to the
rescue, lifted him bodily up in one arm, and, carrying him over the
crossing, deposited him safely on the pavement. He recovered his
breath in a minute or two, and then began to walk down Piccadilly
towards the Park.

The streets were gay and crowded, partly with black and grey people
who seemed to be going about some business or other, but starred
beautifully here and there with bright-eyed, clear-skinned, slender
youths in straw hats, something like Austin himself, enjoying their
release from school. Phalanxes of smartly-dressed ladies impeded the
traffic outside the windows of all the millinery shops, omnibuses
rattled up and down in a never-ending procession, and strident urchins
with little pink newspapers under their arms yelled for all they were
worth. Austin, absorbed in the cheerful spectacle, sauntered hither
and thither, now attracted by the fresh verdure of the Green Park, now
gazing with vivid interest at the ever-varying types of humanity that
surged around him; blissfully unconscious that every one was staring
at him, as though wondering who the pale-faced boy with eager eyes and
a shiny black wooden leg could be, and why he went zigzagging to and
fro and peering so excitedly about as though he had never seen any
shops or people in his life before. At last he arrived at the Corner,
and, turning into the Park, spent a quarter of an hour watching the
riders in Rotten Row; then he crossed to the Marble Arch, passing a
vast array of gorgeous flowers in full bloom, listened wonderingly to
an untidy orator demolishing Christianity for the benefit of a little
knot of errand-boys and nursemaids, took another omnibus along Oxford
Street to the Circus, and, after an enchanting walk down Regent
Street, entered a bright little Italian restaurant in the Quadrant,
where he had a delightful lunch. This disposed of, he found that he
could afford a full hour to have a look at the National Gallery
without danger of losing his train, and off he plodded towards
Trafalgar Square to make the most of his opportunity.

Meanwhile Aunt Charlotte received her telegram, and, greatly relieved
by its contents, spent an agreeable day. It was not to be wondered at
if she felt a little fluttering excitement at the prospect of seeing
her old suitor, and was more than usually fastidious in the
arrangement of her modest toilet. Lubin had been requisitioned to
provide a special supply of the freshest and finest flowers for the
drawing-room, and she had herself gone to the pastrycook's to order
the cheese-cakes and cream-tarts on which the expected visitor was to
be regaled. Of course she kept on telling herself all the time what a
foolish old woman she was, and how silly Mr Ogilvie would think her if
he only knew of all her little fussy preparations; men who had knocked
about the world hated to be fidgeted over and made much of, and no
doubt it was quite natural they should. And then she went bustling off
to impress on Martha the expediency of giving the silver tea-service
an extra polish, and to be sure and see that the toast was crisp and
fresh. When at last she sat down with a book in front of her in order
to pass the time she found her attention wandering, and her thoughts
recurring to the last occasion on which she had seen Granville
Ogilvie. He had been rather a fine-looking young man in those
days--tall, straight, and well set up; and well she remembered the
whimsical way he had of speaking, the humorous glance of his eye, and
those baffling intonations of voice that made it so difficult for her
to be sure whether he were in jest or earnest. That he had
confessedly been attracted by her was a matter of common knowledge.
Why had she given him no encouragement? Perhaps it was because she had
never understood him; because she had never been able to feel any real
rapport between them, because their minds moved on different planes,
and never seemed to meet. She had no sense of humour, and no insight;
he was elusive, difficult to get into touch with; all she knew of him
was his exterior, and that, for her, was no guide to the man beneath.
Then he had dropped out of her life, and for five and twenty years she
had never heard of him. Whatever chance she may have had was gone, and
gone for ever. Did she regret it, now that she was able to look back
upon the past so calmly? She thought not. And yet, as she meditated on
those far-off days when she was young and pretty, the intervening
years seemed to be annihilated, and she felt herself once more a girl
of twenty-two, with a young man hovering around her, always on the
verge of a proposal that she herself staved off.

She was not agitated, but she was very curious to see what he would
look like, and just a little anxious lest there should be any
awkwardness about their meeting. But eventually it came about in the
most natural manner in the world, and if anybody had peeped into the
shady drawing-room just at the time when Austin's train was steaming
into the station, there would certainly have been nothing in the scene
to suggest any tragedy or romance whatever. Aunt Charlotte, in a
pretty white lace _fichu_ set off with rose-coloured bows, was
dispensing tea with hospitable smiles, while Martha handed cakes and
poured a fresh supply of hot water into the teapot. Opposite, sat the
long expected visitor; no lean, brown adventurer, no Indian nabob, and
certainly no artist, but a tallish, large-featured, and somewhat
portly gentleman, with a ruddy complexion, good teeth, and a general
air of prosperity. His fashionable pale-grey frock-coat, evidently the
work of a good tailor, fitted him like a glove; he wore, also, a white
waistcoat, a gold eye-glass, and patent leather shoes. His appearance,
in short, was that of a thoroughly well-groomed, though slightly
over-dressed, London man; and he impressed both Martha and Aunt
Charlotte with being a very fine gentleman indeed, for his manners
were simply perfect, if perhaps a little studied. He dropped his
gloves into his hat with a graceful gesture as he accepted a cup of
tea, and then, turning to his hostess, said----

"It is indeed delightful to meet you after all these years; it seems
to bring back old times so vividly. And the years have dealt very
gently with you, my dear friend. I should have known you anywhere."

It was not quite certain to Aunt Charlotte whether she could
truthfully have returned the compliment. There are some elderly people
in whom it is the easiest thing in the world to recognise the features
of their youth. Allow for a little accentuation of facial lines, a
little roughening of the skin, a little modification in the
arrangement of the hair, and the face is virtually the same. Aunt
Charlotte herself was one of these, but Granville Ogilvie was not. She
might even have passed him in the street. That he was the man she had
known was beyond question, but there was a puffiness under the eyes
and a fulness about the cheeks that altered the general effect of his
appearance, and in spite of his modish dress and elaborate manners he
seemed to have grown just a little coarse. Still, remembering what a
bird of passage he had been, and the many experiences he must have had
by land and sea, all that was not to be wondered at. It was really
remarkable, everything considered, that he had managed to preserve
himself so well.

"Oh, I'm an old woman now," replied Aunt Charlotte with an almost
youthful blush. "But I've had a peaceful life if rather a monotonous
one, and I've nothing to complain of. It is very good of you to have
remembered me, and I'm more glad than I can say to see you again. It's
a quarter of a century since we met!"

"It seems like yesterday," Mr Ogilvie assured her. "And yet how many
things have happened in the meantime! This charming house of yours is
a perfect haven of rest. Why do people knock about the world as they
do, when they might stay quietly at home?"

"Nay, it is rather I who should ask you that," laughed Aunt Charlotte.
"It is you who have been knocking about, you know, not I. Men are so
fond of adventures, while we women have to content ourselves with a
very humdrum sort of life. You've been a great traveller, have you

This was a mild attempt at pumping on the part of Aunt Charlotte, for
Mr Ogilvie certainly did not give one the idea of an explorer. But she
was consumed with curiosity to knew where he had spent the years
since she had seen him last, and now brought all her artless ingenuity
into play in order to find out.

"Yes, I was always a roving, restless sort of fellow," said Mr
Ogilvie. "Never could stay long in the same place, you know. I often
wonder how long it will be before I settle down for good."

"Well, I almost envy you," confessed Aunt Charlotte, nibbling a
cheese-cake. "I love travels and adventures; in books, of course, I
mean. I've been reading Captain Burnaby's 'Ride to Khiva' lately, and
that wonderful 'Life of Sir Richard Burton.' What marvellous nerve
such men must have! To think of the disguises, for instance, they were
forced to adopt, when detection would have cost them their lives! You
should write your travels too, you know; I'm sure they'd be most
exciting. Were you ever compelled to disguise yourself when you were

"I should rather think so," replied Mr Ogilvie, nodding his head
impressively. "And that, my dear lady, under circumstances in which
disguise was absolutely imperative. The most serious results would
have followed if I hadn't done so; not death, perhaps, but utter and
irretrievable ruin. However, here I am, you see, safe and sound, and
none the worse for it after all. What delicious cream-tarts these are,
to be sure! They remind one of the Arabian Nights. In Persia, by the
way, they put pepper in them."

"Oh dear! I don't think I should like that at all," exclaimed Aunt
Charlotte, naïvely. "And have you really been in Persia? You must have
enjoyed that very much. I suppose you saw some magnificent scenery in
your wanderings?"

"Oh, magnificent, magnificent," assented the great traveller.
"Mountains, forests, castles, glaciers, and everything you can think
of. But I've never got quite as far as Persia, you understand, and
just at present I feel more interested in England. I sometimes think
that I shall never leave English shores again."

"And you are not married?" ventured the lady, with a tremor of
hesitation in her voice. She had rushed on her destruction unawares.

"No--no," replied the man who had once wanted to marry her. "And at
this moment I'm very glad I'm not."

"Oh, are you? Why?" exclaimed the foolish woman. "Don't you believe in

"In the abstract--oh, yes," said Mr Ogilvie, with meaning. "But my
chance of married happiness escaped me years ago."

Aunt Charlotte blushed hotly. She felt angry with herself for having
given him an opening for such a remark, and annoyed with him for
taking advantage of it. "Let me give you some more tea," she said.

"Thank you so much, but I never exceed two cups," replied Mr Ogilvie,
who did not particularly care for tea. "And yet there comes a time,
you know, when the sight of so peaceful and attractive a home as this
makes one wish that one had one like it of one's own. Of course a man
has his tastes, his hobbies, his ambitions--every man, I mean, of
character. And I am a man of character. But indulgence in a hobby is
not incompatible with the love of a fireside, and the blessings of
_dulce domum_, to say nothing of the _placens uxor_, who is the only
true goddess of the hearth. Yes, dear friend, I confess that I should
like--that I positively long--to marry. That is why, paradoxical as it
may appear, I congratulate myself on not being married already. But,
of course, in all such cases, the man himself is not the only factor
to be reckoned with. The lady must be found, and the lady's consent
obtained. And there we have the rub."

"Dear me! how very unfortunate!" was all Aunt Charlotte could think of
to remark. "And can't you find the lady?"

"I thought I had found her once," said Mr Ogilvie.

Then he deliberately rose from his chair, brushed a few crumbs from his
coat, and took a few steps up and down the room. "Listen to me, dear
friend," he began, in low, earnest tones. "There was a time--far be it
from me to take undue advantage of these reminiscences--when you and I
were thrown considerably together. At that time, that far-off, happy,
and yet most tantalising time, I was bold enough to cherish certain
aspirations." Here he took up his position behind a chair, resting his
hands lightly on the back of it. "That those aspirations were not wholly
unsuspected by you I had reason to believe. I may, of course, have been
mistaken; love, or vanity if you prefer it, may blind the wisest of us.
In any case, if I was vain, my pride came to the rescue, and sooner than
incur the humiliation of a refusal--possibly a scornful refusal--I kept
my secret locked in the inmost sanctuary of my heart, and went away."
Mr Ogilvie illustrated his disappearance into vacancy by a slight but
most expressive gesture of his arms. "I simply went away. And now I have
come back. I have unburdened myself before you. In the years that are
past, I was silent. Now I have spoken. And I am here to know what answer
you have in your heart to give me."

It had actually come. She remembered how she had told herself that,
though she could never dream of marrying, it really would be very
pleasant to be asked. But now that the proposal had been made she felt
most horribly embarrassed. What in the world was she to say to the
man? She knew him not one bit better than she had done when she saw
him last. He puzzled her more than ever. He did not look like a
despairing lover, but a singularly plump and prosperous gentleman; and
certainly the silver-grey frock-coat, and gold eye-glass, and
varnished shoes struck her as singularly out of harmony with the
extraordinary speech he had just delivered. Yet it was evidently
impromptu, and possibly would never have been delivered at all had not
she herself so blunderingly led up to it. And it was not a bad speech
in its way. There was something really effective about it--or perhaps
it was in the manner of its delivery. So she sat in silence, most
dreadfully ill at ease, and not finding a single word wherewith to
answer him.

"Charlotte," said Mr Ogilvie in a low voice, bending over her,

"Mr Ogilvie!" gasped the unhappy lady, almost frightened out of her

"You _once_ called me Granville," he murmured, trying to take her

"But I can't do it again!" cried Aunt Charlotte, shaking her head
vigorously. "It wouldn't be proper. We are just two old people, you
see, and--and----"

"H'm!" Mr Ogilvie straightened himself again. "It is true I am no
longer in my first youth, and time has certainly left its mark upon my
lineaments; but you, dear friend, are one of those whose charms
intensify with years." Here he took out a white pocket-handkerchief,
and passed it lightly across his eyes. "But I have startled you, and I
am sorry. I have sprung upon you, suddenly and thoughtlessly, what I
ought to have only hinted at. I have erred from lack of delicacy.
Forgive me my impulsiveness, my ardour. I was ever a blunt man, little
versed in the arts of diplomacy and _finesse_. For years I have
looked forward to this moment; in my dreams, in my waking hours,

"Pardon me one moment," said Aunt Charlotte, starting to her feet. "I
know I'm sadly rude to interrupt you, but I hear my nephew in the
hall, and I must just say a word to him before he comes in. I'll be
back immediately. You will forgive me--won't you?"

She floundered to the door, leaving Mr Ogilvie no little disconcerted
at his appeal being thus cut short. Austin had just come in, and was
in the act of hanging up his hat when his aunt appeared.

"Well, auntie!" he said. "And has the gentleman arrived?"

"Hush!" breathed Aunt Charlotte, as she pointed a warning finger to
the door. "He's in the drawing-room. Austin, you've come back in the
very nick of time. Don't ask me any questions. My dear, you were right
after all."

"Ah!" was all Austin said. "Well?"

"Come in with me at once, we can't keep him waiting," said Aunt
Charlotte hastily. "I'll explain everything to you afterwards. Never
mind your hair--you look quite nice enough. And mind--your very
prettiest manners, for my sake."

What in the world she meant by this Austin couldn't imagine, but
instantly took up the cue. The two entered the room together. Mr
Ogilvie was standing a little distance off in an attitude of
expectancy, his eyes turned towards the door. Aunt Charlotte took a
step forward, and prepared to introduce her nephew. Austin suddenly
paused; gazed at the visitor for one instant with an expression that
no one had ever seen upon his face before; and then, falling flop upon
the nearest easy-chair, went straightway into a paroxysm of hysterical
and frantic laughter.

"Austin! Austin! Have you gone out of your mind?" cried his aunt,
almost beside herself with stupefaction. "Is this your good behaviour?
What in the world's the matter with the boy now?"

"It's _Mr Buskin!_" shrieked Austin, hammering his leg upon the floor
in a perfect ecstasy of delight. "The step-uncle! Oh, do slap me,
auntie, or I shall go on laughing till I die!"

"_Who's_ Mr Buskin?" gasped his aunt, bewildered. "This is Mr
Granville Ogilvie. What Buskin are you raving about, for Heaven's

"It's Mr Buskin the actor," panted Austin breathlessly, as he began to
recover himself. "He was at the theatre here, some time ago. How do
you do, Mr Buskin? Oh, please forgive me for being so rude. I hope
you're pretty well?"

Mr Ogilvie had not budged an inch. But when Austin came in he had
started violently. "Great Scott! Young Dot-and-carry-One!" he
muttered, but so low that no one heard him. He now advanced a pace or
two, and cleared his throat.

"I have certainly had the honour of meeting this young gentleman
before," he said, in his most stately manner. "He was even kind enough
to present me with his card, but I fear I did not pay as much
attention to the name as it deserved. It is true, my dear lady, that I
am known to Europe under the designation he ascribes to me; but to you
I am what I have always been and always shall be--Granville Ogilvie,
and your most humble slave."

"Is it possible?" ejaculated Aunt Charlotte faintly.

"You will, no doubt, attribute to its true source the concealment I
have exercised towards you respecting my life for the last
five-and-twenty years," resumed Mr Ogilvie, with a candid air. "I was
ever the most modest of men, and the modesty which, from a gross and
worldly point of view, has always been the most formidable obstacle in
my path, prohibited my avowing to you the secret of my profession.
Still, I practised no deceit; indeed, I confessed in the most artless
fashion that, in my wanderings--in other words, on tour--I was
compelled to assume disguises, and that some of my scenery was
magnificent. But why should I defend myself? _Qui s'excuse s'accuse_;
and now that this very engaging young gentleman has saved me the
trouble of revealing the position in life that I am proud to occupy,
there is nothing more to be said. We were interrupted, you remember,
at a crisis of our conversation. I crave your permission to add, at a
crisis of our lives. Far be it from me to----"

"I am afraid I am scarcely equal to renewing the conversation at the
point where we broke off," said Aunt Charlotte, who now felt her wits
getting more under control. "Indeed, Mr Ogilvie, I have nothing to
reproach you with. I had no right to enquire what your profession was,
and still less have I a right to criticise it. But of course you will
understand that the subject we were speaking of must never be
mentioned again."

The lover sighed. It was not a bad situation, and his long experience
enabled him to make it quite effective. Silently he took his gloves
out of his hat, paused, and then dropped them in again, with the very
faintest and most dramatic gesture of despair. The action was trifling
in the extreme, but it was performed by a play-actor who knew his
business, and Aunt Charlotte felt as though cold water were running
down her back. Then he turned, quite beautifully, to Austin.

"And you, young gentleman. And what have _you_ to say?" he asked in a
carefully choking voice.

"That I like you even better in your present part than as
Sardanapalus," replied Austin, cordially.

"The tribute is two-edged," observed the actor with a shrug. And
certainly he had acted well, and dressed the character to perfection.
But the takings of the performance, alas, had not paid expenses. He
really had a sentiment for the lady he had been wooing, and the
prospect of a solid additional income--for it was clear she was in
very easy circumstances--had smiled upon him not unpleasantly. And
why should she not have married him? He was her equal in birth, they
had been possible lovers in their youth, he had made a name for
himself meanwhile, and, after all, there was no stain upon his honour.
But she had now definitely refused. The little comedy had been played
out. There was nothing for him to do but to make a graceful exit, and
this he did in a way that brought tears to the lady's eyes. "Oh, need
you go?" she urged with fatuous politeness. Austin was more friendly
still; he reminded Mr Ogilvie that having returned so late he had had
no opportunity of enjoying a renewal of their acquaintance, and begged
him to remain a little longer for a chat and a cigarette. But Mr
Ogilvie was too much of an artist to permit an anti-climax. The
catastrophe had come off, and the curtain must be run down quick. So
he wrenched himself away with what dignity he might, and, relapsing
into his natural or Buskin phase as soon as he got outside, comforted
himself with a glass of stiff whiskey and water at the refreshment bar
of the railway station before getting into the train for London.

Chapter the Twelfth

As the weeks rolled on the days began perceptibly to draw in, and the
leaves turned gradually from green to golden brown. It was the fall of
the year, when the wind acquires an edge, and blue sky disappears behind
purple clouds, and the world is reminded that ere very long all nature
will be wrapped in a shroud of grey and silver. Rain fell with greater
frequency, the uplands were often veiled in a damp mist, the hours of
basking in noontide suns by the old stone fountain were gone, and Austin
was fain to relinquish, one by one, those summer fantasies that for so
many happy months had made the gladness of his life. There is always
something sad about the autumn. It is associated, undeniably, with
golden harvests and purple vintages, the crimson and yellow magnificence
of foliage, and a few gorgeous blooms; but these, after all, are no more
than indications that the glory of the year has reached its zenith,
that its labours have attained fruition, and that the death of winter
must be passed through before the resurrection-time of spring.

    "Ihr Matten lebt wohl,
        Ihr sonnigen Waiden,
        Der Senne muss scheiden,
    Die Sommer ist bin."

And yet the summer did not carry everything away with it. As the year
ripened and decayed, other fantasies arose to take the place of those
he was losing--or rather, he grew more and more under the obsession of
ideas not wholly of this world, ideas and phases of consciousness
that, as we have seen, had for some time past been gradually gaining
an entrance into his soul. As the beauties of the material world
faded, the wonders of a higher world superseded them. He still lived
much in the open air, drinking in all the influences of the scenery in
earth and sky, and marvelling at the loveliness of the year's
decadence; but, as though in subtle sympathy with nature's phases, it
seemed to him as though his own body had less vitality, and that,
while his mind was as keen and vigorous as ever, he felt less and less
inclined to explore his beloved, fields and woods. Aunt Charlotte
looked first critically and then anxiously at his face, which
appeared to her paler and thinner than before. His stump began to
trouble him again, and once or twice he confessed, in a reluctant sort
of way, that his back did not feel quite comfortable. Of course he
thought it was very silly of his back, and was annoyed that it did not
behave more sensibly. But he didn't let it trouble him over-much, for
he was always very philosophical about pain. Once, when he had a
toothache, somebody expressed surprise that he bore it with such
stoicism, and asked him jokingly for the secret. "Oh," he replied, "I
just fix my attention on my great toe, or any other part of my body,
and think how nice it is that I haven't got a toothache there."

Aunt Charlotte had meanwhile grown to have much more respect for
Austin than she had ever felt previously. He was now nearly eighteen,
and his character and mental force had developed very rapidly of late.
In spite of his inconceivable ignorance in some respects--geography,
for instance--he had shown a shrewdness for which she had been totally
unprepared, and a quiet persistence in matters where he felt that he
was right and she was wrong that had begun to impress her very
seriously. Many instances had arisen in which there had been a
struggle for the mastery between them, and in every case not only had
Austin had his own way but she had been compelled to acknowledge to
herself that the wisdom had been on his side and not on hers. It was
not so much that his reasoning powers were exceptionally acute as that
he seemed to have a mysterious instinct, a sort of sub-conscious
intuition, that never led him astray. And then there were those
baffling, inexplicable premonitions that on three occasions had
intervened to prevent some great disaster. The thought of these made
her very pensive, and now that the vicar had set her mind at rest upon
the abstract theory of invisible protectors she felt that she could
harbour speculations about them without danger to her soul's welfare.
That the power at work could scarcely emanate from the devil was now
clear even to her, timid and narrow-minded as she was. Still, with
that illogical shrinking from any tangible proof that her creed was
true that is so characteristic of the orthodox, the whole thing gave
her rather an uncomfortable sensation, and she would vastly have
preferred to believe in spiritual or angelic ministrations as a pious
opinion or casual article of faith than to have it brought home to her
in the guise of knocks and raps. There are millions like her in the
world to-day. Her religion, like everything else about her, was
conventional, though not a whit the less sincere for that.

And so it came about that she felt very much more dependent upon
Austin than Austin did on her, although neither of them was conscious
of the fact. The chief result was that, now they had fallen into their
proper positions, they got on together much better than they had done
before. Austin had really accomplished something towards "educating"
his aunt, as he used humorously to say, and as he represented the
newer and fresher thought it was well that it should be so. I do not
know that he troubled himself very much about the future. In spite of
his delicate health he was full of the joy of life, and he accepted it
as a matter of course that wherever his future might be spent it would
be a happy and a joyous one. What was the use of worrying about a
matter over which he had absolutely no control? The universe was very
beautiful, and he was a part of it. And as the universe would
certainly endure, so would he endure. Why, then, should he concern
himself about what might be in store for him?

"You must take care of yourself, Austin," said Aunt Charlotte to him
one day. "I'm afraid you've been overtaxing your strength, you know.
You never would remain quiet even on the hottest days, and we've had
rather a trying summer, you must remember."

"It's been a lovely summer," replied Austin, who was lying down.

"And how are you feeling, my dear?" asked Aunt Charlotte, anxiously.

"Splendid!" he assured her. "I never felt better in my life."

"But those little pains you spoke of; that weakness in your back----"

"Oh, _that_!" said Austin, slightingly. "I wasn't thinking of my body.
What does one's body matter? I meant _myself_. I'm all right. I
daresay my bones may be doing something silly, but really I'm not
responsible for their vagaries, am I now?"

Aunt Charlotte sighed, and dropped the subject for the time being. But
she was not quite easy in her mind.

One day a great joy came to Austin. He was hobbling about the garden
with his aunt, when all of a sudden he saw Roger St Aubyn approaching
them across the lawn. It was with immense pride that he presented his
friend to Aunt Charlotte, who, as may be remembered, had been just a
little huffy that St Aubyn had never called on her before; but now
that he had actually come the small grievance was forgotten in a
moment, and she welcomed him with charming cordiality.

"It is all the pleasanter to meet you," she said, "as I have now an
opportunity of thanking you for all your kindness to Austin. He is
never tired of telling me how much he has enjoyed himself with you."

"The pleasure has been divided; he certainly has given me quite as
much as ever I have been fortunate enough to give him," replied St
Aubyn, smiling, "What a very dear old garden you have here; I don't
wonder that he's so fond of it. It seems a place one might spend one's
life in without ever growing old."

"That's what I mean to do," said Austin, laughing.

"But yours is magnificent, I'm told," observed Aunt Charlotte. "A
little place like this is nothing in comparison, of course. Still, you
are right; we are both extremely fond of it, and have spent many happy
hours in it during the years that we've lived here."

"And is that Lubin?" asked St Aubyn, noticing the young gardener a
little distance off.

"Yes, that's Lubin," replied Austin, delighted that St Aubyn should
have remembered him. Then Lubin looked up with a respectful smile, and
bashfully touched his cap. "Lubin's awfully clever," he continued, as
they sauntered out of hearing, "and _so_ nice every way. He's what I
call a real gentleman, and knows all sorts of curious things. It's
perfectly wonderful how much more country people know than townsfolk.
Of course I mean about _real_ things--nature, and all that--not silly
stuff you find in history-books, which is of no consequence to anybody
in the world."

"Now, Austin," began Aunt Charlotte, warningly.

"Oh, you needn't be afraid," laughed St Aubyn; "Austin's heresies are
no novelty to me. And a heresy, you must recollect, has always some
forgotten truth at the bottom of it."

"I'm sure I hope so," replied Aunt Charlotte. "But the wind's getting
a trifle chilly, and I think it's about time for tea. Austin isn't
very strong just now, and mustn't run any risks."

So they went indoors and had their tea in the drawing-room, when St
Aubyn let fall the information that he was starting in a few days for
a short tour in Italy. It would not be long, however, before he was
back, and then of course he should look forward to seeing a great deal
of Austin at the Court. Then Aunt Charlotte had to promise that she
would honour the Court with a visit too; whereupon Austin launched out
into a most glowing and picturesque description of the orchid-houses,
and the pool of water-lilies, and the tapestry in the Banqueting Hall,
being extremely curious to know whether his prosaic relative would
experience any of those queer sensations that had so greatly impressed
himself. This suggested a reference to Lady Merthyr Tydvil, who had
taken so great an interest in Austin when last he had been at the
Court; and here Aunt Charlotte chimed in, being naturally anxious to
hear all about the wonderful old lady who had known Austin's father so
well in years gone by, and remembered his mother too. Of course St
Aubyn said, as in duty bound, that he hoped the countess would have
the pleasure of meeting Austin's aunt some day under his own roof, and
Aunt Charlotte acknowledged the courtesy in fitting terms.

So the visit was quite a success, and Austin felt much more at his
ease now that he could talk to his aunt about St Aubyn as one whom
they both knew. She, on her side, was delighted with her new
acquaintance, particularly as he seemed quite familiar with Austin's
ethical and intellectual eccentricities, and did not seem horrified at
them in the very least. The only thing that disturbed her just a
little was the state of the boy's health. His spirits were as good as
ever, and he seemed quite indifferent to the fact that he was not
robust and hale; but there could be no doubt that he was paler and
more fragile than he ought to have been, and the uneasiness he was
fain to acknowledge in his hip and back worried her not a
little--more, in fact, a great deal than it worried Austin himself.

The truth was that his attention was taken up with something wholly
different. The allusions to his unknown mother that had been made by
Lady Merthyr Tydvil, and the cropping-up of the same subject during St
Aubyn's visit, had somehow connected themselves in his mind with the
mysterious appearance of the strange lady at the garden gate on the
evening of the tea-party at the vicarage. Lady Merthyr Tydvil had
recognised a strong resemblance between his mother as she had known
her and himself, and he had noticed the very same thing in the
strange lady. There were the same dark eyes, the same long, pale face,
even (as far as he could judge) the same shade in colour of the hair.
He would have thought little or nothing of this had it not been for
the inexplicable and almost miraculous vanishing of the figure when
there was absolutely nowhere for it to vanish to. Austin knew nothing
of such happenings; with all his reading he had never chanced to open
a single book that dealt with phenomena of this class, much less any
written by scientific and sober investigators, so that the entire
subject was an undiscovered country to him. Had he done so, his
perplexity would not have been nearly so great, and very probably he
might have recognised the fact of his own remarkable psychic powers.
Still, in spite of this disadvantage, the conviction was slowly but
surely forcing itself upon his mind that the lady he had seen was no
one but his own mother. From this to a belief that it was she who had
intervened to save both himself and his Aunt Charlotte from serious
disasters was but a single step; and like Mary of old, in the presence
of an even greater mystery, he revolved all these things silently in
his heart.

It was during the period when he was occupied with this train of
thought that another strange thing occurred. One evening he strolled
into the garden just as the sun was setting. It was one of those lurid
sunsets peculiar to autumn, which look like a distant conflagration
obscured by a veil of smoke. The western sky was aglow with a dull,
murky crimson flecked by clouds of the deepest indigo, from behind
which there seemed to shoot up luminous pulsations like the reflection
of unseen flames. The effect of this red, throbbing light upon the
garden in which he stood was almost unearthly, something resembling
that of an eclipse viewed through warm-coloured glass; beautiful in
itself, yet abnormal, fantastic, suggestive of weird imaginings.
Austin, absorbed in contemplation, moved slowly through the shrubbery
until he reached the lawn; then came to a dead stop. An astounding
vision appeared before him. Standing by the old stone fountain,
scarcely ten yards away, he saw the figure of a youth. The slender
form was partly draped in a loose tunic of some dim, pale, reddish
hue, descending halfway to his knees; on his feet were sandals of the
old classic type; his golden hair was bound by a narrow fillet, and in
his right hand he held a round, shallow cup, apparently of gold,
towards which he was bending his head as though to drink from it.
Austin stood transfixed. So exquisite a being he had never dreamt of
or conceived. The contour of the limbs, the fall of the tunic, the
pose of the head and throat, the ruddy lips, ever so slightly parted
to meet the edge of the vessel he was in the act of raising to them,
were something more than human. The whole thing stood out with
stereoscopic clearness, and seemed as though self-luminous, although
it shed no light on its surroundings. At that moment the youth turned
his head, and met Austin's eyes with an expression that was not a
smile, but something far more subtle, something that bore the same
relation to a smile that a smile does to a laugh--thrilling,
penetrating, indescribable. Austin flung out his hands in rapture.

"Daphnis!" he ejaculated, with a flash of intuition.

He threw himself forward impulsively, in a mad attempt to approach the
wonderful phantasm. As he did so, the colours lost their sheen, and
the figure faded into transparency. By the time he was near enough to
touch it, it was no longer there, and the next instant he found
himself clinging to the cold stone margin of the old fountain, all
alone upon the lawn in the fast gathering twilight, shivering,
panting, marvelling, but exultant in the consciousness of having been
vouchsafed just one glimpse of the being who, so long unseen, had
constituted for many years his cherished ideal of physical and
spiritual beauty.

He leant upon the fountain, in the spot that the vision had occupied.
"And I believe he's always been here--all these many years," mused the
boy, coming gradually to himself again. "He has stood beside me, often
and often, inspiring me with beautiful ideas, though I never guessed
it, never suspected it for a single moment. And now he has shown
himself to me at last. The fountain is haunted, haunted by the
beautiful earth-spirit that has been my guide, that I've dreamt of all
my life without ever having seen him. It's a sacred fountain now--like
the fountains of old Hellas, sacred with the hauntings of the gods.
And he actually drank of the water--or was going to, if I hadn't
frightened him away. Perhaps he's still here, although I can't see him
any more. I wonder whether he knows my mother. It may be that they're
great friends, and keep watch over me together. How wonderful it all

Then he walked slowly and rather painfully back to the house. He was
in great spirits that night at dinner, though he ate no more than
would have satisfied a bird, greatly to his aunt's disturbance. With
much tact he abstained from saying anything to her about the
extraordinary experience he had just gone through, feeling very justly
that, though she seemed more or less reconciled to the ministry of
angels, Daphnis was frankly a pagan spirit, and would, as such, be
open to grave suspicion from the standpoint of his aunt's orthodoxy.
But it didn't matter much, after all. He was happy in the
consciousness that every day he was getting into nearer touch with a
beautiful world that he could not see as yet, but in the existence of
which he now believed as firmly as in that of his own garden. The
spirit-land was fast becoming a reality to him, and although he had
never beheld the glories of its scenery he had actually had a visit
from two of its inhabitants. That, he thought, constituted the
difference between Aunt Charlotte and himself. She believed in some
place she called heaven, and had a vague notion that it was like a
sort of religious transformation-scene, millions of miles away, up
somewhere in the sky. He, on the contrary, knew that the spirit-world
was all around him, because he had had ocular as well as intuitive
demonstration of its proximity.

It must not be supposed, however, that he sank into a state of mystic
contemplation that unfitted him for every-day life. On the contrary,
he took more interest in his physical surroundings than ever. It was
now October, and he threw himself with almost feverish energy into the
garden-work belonging to that month. There were potted carnations to
be removed into warmth and shelter, hyacinths and tulips for the
spring bloom to be planted in different beds, roses and honeysuckles
to be carefully and scientifically pruned, and dead leaves to be
plucked off everywhere. His fragile health prevented him from helping
in the more onerous tasks, but he followed Lubin about indefatigably,
watching everything he did with eager vigilance, whether he was
planting ranunculuses and anemones, or clipping hedges, or trimming
evergreens; while he himself was fain to be content with pruning and
budding, and directing how the plants should be most fitly set. He
said he wanted the show of flowers next year to be a triumph of
gardencraft. The garden was a sort of holy of holies to him, and he
tended it, and planned for it, and worked in it more enthusiastically
than he had ever done before. This interest in common things was
gratifying to Aunt Charlotte, who distrusted and discouraged his
dwelling on what she called the uncanny side of life; but she was
anxious, at the same time, that he should not overtax his strength,
and gave secret orders to Lubin to see that the young master did not
allow his ardour to outrun the dictates of discretion.

One afternoon, Austin, who was feeling unusually tired, was lying in
an easy-chair in the drawing-room with a book. He had been all the
morning standing about in the garden, and after lunch Aunt Charlotte
had put her foot down, and peremptorily forbidden him to go out any
more that day. Austin had tried to get up a small rebellion,
protesting that there were a lot of jonquils to be planted, and that
Lubin would be sure to stick them too close together if he were not
there to look after him; but his aunt was firm, and Austin was
compelled on this occasion to submit. So there he lay, very calm and
comfortable, while Aunt Charlotte knitted industriously, close by.

"You see, my dear, you're not strong--not nearly so strong as you
ought to be," she said, as she glanced at his drawn face. "I intend to
take extra care of you this winter, and if you're not good about it I
shall have to call in the doctor. I feel I have a great
responsibility, you know, Austin. Oh, if only your poor mother were
here, and could look after you herself!"

"How do you know she doesn't?" asked Austin.

"My dear!" exclaimed Aunt Charlotte, rather shocked.

"Well, you can't be sure," retorted Austin, "and I believe myself she
does. I'm sure of one thing, anyhow--and that is that if she came into
the room at this moment I should recognise her at once."

"You? Why, you never saw her in your life!" said Aunt Charlotte. "You
shouldn't indulge such fancies, Austin. You could only think it might
possibly be your mother, from the descriptions you've heard of her. Of
course you could never be certain."

"How is it she never had her likeness taken?" enquired Austin, laying
his book aside.

"She did have her likeness taken once; but she didn't care for it, and
I don't think she kept any copies," replied Aunt Charlotte. "It was
just a common cabinet photograph, you know, done by some man or other
in a country town. There may be one or two in existence, but I've
never come across any. I've often wished I could."

"There are a lot of old trunks up in the attic, full of all sorts of
rubbish," suggested Austin. "It might be amusing to go up and grub
about among them some day. One might find wonderful heirlooms, and
jewels, and forgotten wills. I should like to hunt there awfully. I'm
sure they haven't been touched for a century."

"In that case it isn't likely we should find your mother's photograph
among them," retorted Aunt Charlotte briskly.

Austin laughed. "But may I?" he persisted.

"My dear, of course you may if you like," replied Aunt Charlotte. "I
don't suppose there are any treasures or secrets to be unearthed;
probably you'll find nothing but a lot of old bills, and school-books,
and such-like useless lumber. There _may_ be some forgotten
photographs--I couldn't swear there aren't; but if you do find
anything of interest I shall be much surprised."

Austin was on his legs in a moment. "Just the thing for an afternoon
like this!" he cried impulsively. "I'll go up now, and have a look
round. Don't worry, auntie; I won't fatigue myself, I promise you. I
only want to see if there's anything that looks as though it might be
worth examining."

He hopped out of the room in some excitement, full of this new
project. Aunt Charlotte, less enthusiastic, continued knitting
placidly, her only anxiety being lest Austin should strain his back in
leaning over the boxes. In about twenty minutes or so he returned,
followed by Martha, the two carrying between them a battered green
chest full of odds and ends, which she had carefully dusted before
bringing into the drawing-room. "There!" he said, triumphantly;
"here's treasure-trove, if you like. Put it on the chair, Martha,
close by me, and then I can empty it at my leisure. Now for a plunge
into the past. Isn't it going to be fun, auntie?"

"I hope, my dear, that the entertainment will come up to your
expectations," observed Aunt Charlotte, equably.

"Sure to," said Austin, beginning to rummage about. "What are these?
Old exercise-books, as I live! Oh, do look here; isn't this wonderful?
Here's a translation: 'Horace, Liber I, Satire 5.' How brown the ink
is. _Aricia a little town on the way to Appia received me coming from
the magnificent city of Rome with poor accommodation. Heliodorus by far
the most learned orator of the Greeks accompanied me. We came to the
market-place of Appius filled with sailors and insolent brokers._--Were
they stockbrokers, I wonder? Oh, auntie, these are exercises done by my
grandfather when he was a little boy. Poor little grandfather; what
pains he seems to have taken over it, and how beautifully it's written.
I hope he got a lot of marks; do you think he did? _The sailor, soaked
in poor wine, and the passenger, earnestly celebrate their absent
mistresses._ Poor things! They don't seem to have had a very enjoyable
excursion. However, I can't read it all through. Oh--here are a lot of
letters. Not very interesting. All about contracts and sales, and silly
things like that. Here's a funny book, though. Do look, auntie. It must
have been printed centuries ago by the look of it. I wonder what it's
all about. _A Sequel to the Antidote to the Miseries of Human Life,
containing a Further Account of Mrs Placid and her daughter Rachel. By
the Author of the Antidote._ What _does_ it all mean? 'Squire
Bustle'--'Miss Finakin'--'Uncle Jeremiah'--used people to read books
like this when grandfather was a little boy? It looks quite charming,
but I think we'll put it by for the present. What's this? Oh, a
daguerreotype, I suppose--an extraordinary-looking, smirking old
person in a great bonnet with large roses all round her face, and tied
with huge ribbons under her chin. Dear auntie, why don't you wear
bonnets like that? You _would_ look so sweet! Pamphlets--tracts--oh
dear, these are all dreadfully dry. What a mixture it all is, to be
sure. The things seem to have been shot in anyhow. Hullo--an album.
_Now_ we shall see. This is evidently of much later date than the other
treasures, though it is at the bottom of them all."

He dragged out an old, soiled, photographic album bound in purple
morocco, and all falling to pieces. It proved to contain family
portraits, none of them particularly attractive in themselves, but
interesting enough to Austin. He turned over the pages one by one,
slowly. Aunt Charlotte glanced curiously at them over her spectacles
from where she sat.

"I don't think I remember ever seeing that album," she said. "I wonder
whom it can have belonged to. Ah! I expect it must have been your
father's. Yes--there's a photograph of your Uncle Ernest, when he was
just of age. You never saw him, he went to Australia before you were
born. Those ladies I don't know. What a string of them there are, to
be sure. I suppose they were----"

"There she is!" cried Austin, suddenly bringing his hand down upon the
page. "That's my mother. I told you I should know her, didn't I?"

Aunt Charlotte jumped. "The very photograph!" she exclaimed. "I had no
idea there was a copy in existence. But how in the wide world did you
recognise it?"

Austin continued examining it for some seconds without replying. "I
don't think it quite does her justice," he said at last, thoughtfully.
"The position isn't well arranged. It makes the chin too small."

"Quite true!" assented Aunt Charlotte. "It's the way she's holding her
head." Then, with another start: "But how can you know that?"

"Because I saw her only the other day," said Austin.

For a moment Aunt Charlotte thought he was wool-gathering. He spoke in
such a perfectly calm, natural tone, that he might have been referring
to someone who lived in the next street. But a glance at his face
convinced her that he meant exactly what he said.

"Austin!" she exclaimed. "What can you be thinking about?"

"It's perfectly true," he assured her. "I saw her a few weeks ago in
the garden. She stood and looked at me over the gate, and then
suddenly disappeared."

"And you really believe it?" cried Aunt Charlotte in amaze.

"I don't believe it, I know it," he answered, laying down the
photograph. "I saw her as distinctly as I see you now. It was that day
we had been having tea at the vicarage, when we met the man who wanted
to set fire to some bishop or other. Ask Lubin; he'll remember it fast

This time Aunt Charlotte fairly collapsed. It was no longer any use
flouting Austin's statements; they were too calm, too collected, to be
disposed of by mere derision. There could be no doubt that he firmly
believed he had seen something or somebody, and whatever might be the
explanation of that belief it had enabled him not only to recognise
his mother's photograph but to criticise, and criticise correctly, a
certain defect in the portrait. She could not deny that what he said
was true. "Can such things really be?" she uttered under her breath.

"Dear auntie, they _are_," said Austin. "I've been conscious of it for
months, and lately I've had the proof. Indeed, I've had more than
one. There are people all round us, only it isn't given to everybody
to see them. And it isn't really very astonishing that it should be
so, when one comes to think of it."

From that day forward Aunt Charlotte watched Austin with a sense of
something akin to awe. Certainly he was different from other folk.
With all his love of life, his keen interest in his surroundings, and
his wealth of boyish spirits, he seemed a being apart--a being who
lived not only in this world but on the boundary between this world
and another. As an orthodox Christian woman of course she believed in
that other--"another and a better world," as she was accustomed to
call it. But that that world was actually around her, hemming her in,
within reach of her fingertips so to speak, that was quite a new idea.
It gave her the creeps, and she strove to put it out of her head as
much as possible. But ere many weeks elapsed, it was forced upon her
in a very painful way, and she could no longer ignore the feeling
which stole over her from time to time that not only was the boundary
between the two worlds a very narrow one, but that her poor Austin
would not be long before he crossed it altogether.

For there was no doubt that he was beginning to fade. He got paler
and thinner by degrees, and one day she found him in a dead faint upon
the floor. The slight uneasiness in his hip had increased to actual
pain, and the pain had spread to his back. In an agony of apprehension
she summoned the doctor, and the doctor with hollow professional
cheerfulness said that that sort of thing wouldn't do at all, and that
Master Austin must make up his mind to lie up a bit. And so he was put
to bed, and people smiled ghastly smiles which were far more
heartrending than sobs, and talked about taking him away to some
beautiful warm southern climate where he would soon grow strong and
well again. Austin only said that he was very comfortable where he
was, and that he wouldn't think of being taken away, because he knew
how dreadfully poor Aunt Charlotte suffered at sea, and travelling was
a sad nuisance after all. And indeed it would have been impossible to
move him, for his sufferings were occasionally very great. Sometimes
he would writhe in strange agonies all night long, till they used to
wonder how he would live through it; but when morning came he scarcely
ever remembered anything at all, and in answer to enquiries always
said that he had had a very good night indeed, thank you. Once or
twice he seemed to have a dim recollection of something--some "bustle
and fluff," as he expressed it--during his troubled sleep; and then he
would ask anxiously whether he really had been giving them any bother,
and assure them that he was so very sorry, and hoped they would
forgive him for having been so stupid. At which Aunt Charlotte had to
smile and joke as heroically as she knew how.

There were some days, however, when he was quite free from pain, and
then he was as bright and cheerful as ever. He lay in his white bed
surrounded by the books he loved, which he read intermittently; and
every now and then, when Aunt Charlotte thought he was strong enough,
a visitor would be admitted. Roger St Aubyn, now back from Italy,
often dropped in to sit with him, and these were golden hours to
Austin, who listened delightedly to his friend's absorbing
descriptions of the beautiful places he had been to and the wonderful
old legends that were attached to them. Then nothing would content him
but that Lubin must come up occasionally and tell him how the garden
was looking, and what he thought of the prospects for next summer, and
answer all sorts of searching questions as to the operations in which
he had been engaged since Austin had been a prisoner. Austin enjoyed
these colloquies with Lubin; the very sight of him, he said, was like
having a glimpse of the garden. But somehow Lubin's eyes always looked
rather red and misty when he came out of the room, and it was noticed
that he went about his work in a very half-hearted and listless

One day, however, a visitor called whose presence was not so
sympathetic. This was Mr Sheepshanks, the vicar. Of course he was
quite right to call--indeed it would have been an unpardonable
omission had he not done so; at the same time his little furtive
movements and professional air of solemnity got on Austin's nerves,
and produced a sense of irritation that was certainly not conducive to
his well-being. At last the point was reached to which the vicar had
been gradually leading up, and he suggested that, now that it had
pleased Providence to stretch Austin on a couch of pain, it was
advisable that he should think about making his peace with God.

"Make my peace with God?" repeated Austin, opening his eyes. "What
about? We haven't quarrelled!"

"My dear young friend, that is scarcely the way for a creature to
speak of its relations with its Creator," said the vicar, gravely

"Isn't it?" said Austin. "I'm very sorry; I thought you were hinting
that I had some grudge against the Creator, and that I ought to make
it up. Because I haven't, not in the very least. I've had a lovely
life, and I'm more obliged to Him for it than I can say."

"Ahem," coughed the vicar dubiously. "One scarcely speaks of being
_obliged_ to the Almighty, my dear Austin. We owe Him our everlasting
gratitude for His mercies to us, and when we think how utterly
unworthy the best of us are of the very least attention on His

"I don't see that at all," interrupted Austin. "On the contrary,
seeing that God brought us all into existence without consulting any
one of us I think we have a right to expect a great deal of attention
on His part. Surely He has more responsibility towards somebody He has
made than that somebody has towards Him. That's only common sense, it
seems to me."

The vicar thought he had never had such an unmanageable penitent to
deal with since he took orders. "But how about sin?" he suggested,
shifting his ground. "Have you no sense of sin?"

"I'm almost afraid not," acknowledged Austin, with well-bred concern.
"Ought I to have?"

"We all ought to have," replied the vicar sternly. "We have all
sinned, and come short of the glory of God."

"I don't see how we could have done otherwise," remarked Austin, who
was getting rather bored. "Little people like us can't be expected to
come up to a standard which I suppose implies divine perfection. I
dare say I've done lots of sins, but for the life of me I've no idea
what they were. I don't think I ever thought about it."

"It's time you thought about it now, then," said the vicar, getting
up. "I won't worry you any more to-day, because I see you're tired.
But I shall pray for you, and when next I come I hope you'll
understand my meaning more clearly than you do at present."

"That is very kind of you," said Austin, putting out his almost
transparent hand. "I'm awfully sorry to give you so much trouble.
You'll see Aunt Charlotte before you go away? I know she'll expect
you to go in for a cup of tea."

So the vicar escaped, almost as glad to do so as Austin was to be left
in peace. And the worst of it was that, though he cudgelled his brains
for many hours that night, he could not think of any sins in
particular that Austin had been in the habit of committing. He was
kind, he was pure, and he was unselfish. His exaggerated abuse of
people he didn't like was more than half humorous, and was rather a
fault than a sin. Yet he must be a sinner somehow, because everybody
was. Perhaps his sin consisted in his not being pious in the
evangelical sense of the word. Yet he loved goodness, and the vicar
had once heard a great Roman Catholic divine say that loving goodness
was the same thing as loving God. But Austin had never said that he
loved God; he had only said that he was much obliged to Him. The poor
vicar worried himself about all this until he fell asleep, taking
refuge in the reflection that if he couldn't understand the state of
Austin's soul there was always the probability that God did.

Aunt Charlotte, on her side, was too much absorbed in her anxiety and
sorrow to trouble herself with such misgivings. The light of her life
was burning very low, and bade fair to be extinguished altogether.
What were theological conundrums to her now? It would be positively
wicked to fear that anything dreadful could happen to Austin because
he had forgotten his catechism and was not impressed by the vicar's
prosy discourses in church. Face to face with the possibility of
losing him, all her conventionality collapsed. The boy had been
everything in the world to her, and now he was going elsewhere.

The house was a very mournful place just then, and the servants moved
noiselessly about as though in the presence of some strange mystery.
The only person in it who seemed really happy was Austin himself. A
great London surgeon came to see him once, and then there was talk of
hiring a trained nurse. But Austin combatted this project with all the
vigour at his command, protesting that trained nurses always scented
themselves with chloroform and put him in mind of a hospital; he
really could not have one in the room. Some assistance, however, was
necessary, for the disease was making such rapid progress that he
could no longer turn himself in bed; and Austin, recognising the fact,
insisted that Lubin and no other should tend him. So Lubin, tearfully
overjoyed at the distinction, exchanged the garden for the
sick-chamber, into which, as Austin said, he seemed to bring the very
scent of grass and flowers; and there he passed his time, day after
day, raising the helpless boy in his strong arms, shifting his
position, anticipating his slightest wish, and even sleeping in a low
truckle-bed in a corner of the room at night.

Sometimes Austin would lie, silent and motionless, for hours, with a
perfectly calm and happy look upon his face. This was when the pain
relaxed its grip upon him. At other times he would talk almost
incessantly, apparently holding a conversation with people whom Lubin
could not see. One would have thought that someone very dear to him
had come to pay him a visit, and that he and this mysterious someone
were deeply attached to each other, so bright and playful were the
smiles that rippled upon his lips. He spoke in a low, rapid undertone,
so that Lubin could only catch a word or two here and there; then
there would be a pause, as though to allow for some unheard reply, to
which Austin appeared to be listening intently; and then off he would
go again as fast as ever. His eyes had a wistful, far-off look in
them, and every now and then he seemed puzzled at Lubin's presence,
not being quite able to reconcile the actual surroundings of the
sick-room with those other scenes that were now dawning upon his
sight, scenes in which Lubin had no place. There was a little
confusion in his mind in consequence; but as the days went on things
gradually became much clearer.

Now Austin, in spite of his utter indifference to, or indeed aversion
from, theological religion, had always loved his Sundays. To him they
were as days of heaven upon earth, and in them he appeared to take an
instinctive delight, as though the very atmosphere of the day filled
him with spiritual aspirations, and thoughts which belonged not to
this world. Above all, he loved Sunday evenings, which appeared to him
a season hallowed in some special way, when all high and pure
influences were felt in their greatest intensity. And now another
Sunday came round, and, as had been the case all through his illness,
he felt and knew by instinct what day it was. He lay quite still, as
the distant chime of the church bells was wafted through the air,
faint but just audible in the silent room. Aunt Charlotte smiled
tenderly at him through her tears; she was going to church, poor soul,
to pray for his recovery, though knowing quite well that what she
called his recovery was beyond hope. Austin shot a brilliant smile at
her in return, and Aunt Charlotte rushed out of the room choking.

The day drew to its close, the darkness gathered, and Austin, who had
been suffering considerably during the afternoon, was now easier. At
about seven o'clock his aunt stole softly in, unable to keep away, and
looked at him. His eyes were closed, and he appeared to be asleep.

"How has he been this afternoon?" she asked of Lubin in an undertone.

"Seemed to be sufferin' a bit about two hour ago, but nothing more 'n
usual," said Lubin. "Then he got easier and sank asleep, quite
quiet-like. He's breathin' regular enough."

"He doesn't look worse--there's even a little colour in his cheeks,"
observed Aunt Charlotte, as she watched the sleeping boy. "He's in
quite a nice, natural slumber. If nursing could only bring him round!"

"I'd nurse him all my life for that matter," replied Lubin huskily,
standing on the other side of the bed.

"I know you would, Lubin," cried Aunt Charlotte. "You've been
goodness itself to my poor darling. What wouldn't I do--what wouldn't
we all do--to save his precious life!"

"Is he waking up?" whispered Lubin, bending over. "Nay--just turning
his head a bit to one side. He's comfortable enough for the time
being. If it wasn't for them crooel pains as seizes him----"

"Ah, but they're only the symptoms of the disease!" sighed Aunt
Charlotte, mournfully. "And the doctor says that if they were to leave
him suddenly, it--wouldn't--be a good--sign." Here she began to sob
under her breath. "It might mean that his poor body was no longer
capable of feeling. Well, God knows what's best for all of us. Aren't
you getting nearly worn out yourself, Lubin?"

"I? Laws no, ma'am," answered Lubin almost scornfully. "I get a sort
o' dog's snooze every now and again, and when Martha was here this
morning I slept for four hour on end. No fear o' me caving in. Ah,
would ye now?" observing some feeble attempt on Austin's part to shift
his position. "There!" as he deftly slipped his hands under him, and
turned him a little to one side. "That eases him a bit. It's stiff
work, lying half the day with one's back in the same place."

Then Martha appeared at the door, and insisted on Aunt Charlotte going
downstairs and trying to take some nourishment. In the sick-room all
was silent. Austin continued sleeping peacefully, an expression of
absolute contentment and happiness upon his face, while Lubin sat by
the bedside watching.

But Austin did not go on sleeping all the night. There came a time
when his deep unconsciousness was invaded by a very strange and
wonderful sensation. He no longer felt himself lying motionless in
bed, as he had been doing for so long. He seemed rather to be
floating, as one might float along the current of a strong, swift
stream. He felt no bed under him, though what it was that held him up
he couldn't guess, and it never occurred to him to wonder. All he knew
was that his pains had vanished, that his body was scarcely palpable,
and that the smooth, gliding motion--if motion it could be called--was
the most exquisite sensation he had ever felt. What _could_ be
happening? Austin, his mind now wide awake, and thoroughly on the
alert, lay for some time in rapt enjoyment of this new experience.
Then he opened his eyes, and found that he was in bed after all; the
nightlight was burning on a table by the window, the bookcase stood
where it did, and he could even discern Lubin, who seemed to have
dropped asleep, in an armchair three or four yards away. That made the
mystery all the greater, and Austin waited in expectant silence to see
what would happen next.

Suddenly, as in a flash, the whole of his past life unrolled itself
before his consciousness. He saw himself a toddling baby, a growing
child, a schoolboy, a happy young rascal chasing sheep; then came a
period of pain, a gradual convalescence, a joyful life in the country
air, a life of reading, a life of pleasant dreams, a life into which
entered his friendship with St Aubyn, his days with Lubin in the
garden, his encounters with Mr Buskin, and those strange experiences
that had reached him from another world. That other world was coming
very near to him now, and he was coming very near to it! And all these
recollections formed one marvellous panorama, one great simultaneous
whole, with no appearance of succession, but just as though it had
happened all at once. Austin seemed to be past reasoning; he had
advanced to a stage where thinking and speculating were things gone by
for ever, and his perceptions were wholly passive. There was his
life, spread out in consciousness before him; and meanwhile he was
undergoing a change.

He looked up, and saw a dim, violet cloud hanging horizontally over
him. It was in shape like a human form; his own form. At that moment a
great tremor, a sort of convulsive thrill, passed through him as he
lay, jarring every nerve, and awaking him, at that supreme crisis, to
the existence of his body. A sense of confusion followed; and then he
seemed to pass out of his own head, and found himself poised in the
air immediately over the place where he had just been lying. He saw
the violet cloud no more, though whether he had coalesced with it, or
the cloud itself had become disintegrated, he could not tell; then, by
a sort of instinct, he assumed an erect position, and saw that he was
balanced, somehow, a little distance from the bed, looking down upon
it. And on the bed, connected with him by a faintly luminous cord, lay
the white, still, beautiful form of a dead boy. "And that was my
body!" he cried, in awestruck wonder, though his words caused no
vibration in the air.

He looked at himself, and saw that he was glorious, encircled by a
radiant fire-mist. And he was throbbing and pulsating with life, able
to move hither and thither without effort, free from lameness, free
from weight, strong, vigorous, full of energy, poised like a bird in
the pure air of heaven, ready to take his flight in any conceivable
direction at the faintest motion of his own will. Then the
resplendence that enveloped him extended, until the whole room was
full of it; and in the midst of it there stood a very sweet and
gracious figure, robed in white drapery, and with eyes of intensest
love, more beautiful to look at than anything that Austin had ever
dreamed of. "Mother!" he whispered, as he glided swiftly towards her.

The walls and ceiling of the room dissolved, and a wonderful
landscape, the pageantry and splendour of the Spirit Land, revealed
itself. It was bathed in a light that never was on land or sea, and
there were sunny slopes, and jewelled meadows, and silvery streams,
and flowers that only grow in Paradise. Austin was dazzled with its
glory; here at last was the realisation of all he had dimly fancied,
all he had ever longed for. And yet as he floated outwards and upwards
into the heavenly realms, the crown and climax of his happiness lay in
the thought that he could always, by the mere impulse of desire,
revisit the sweet old garden he had loved, and watch Lubin at his
work among the flowers, and stand, though all unseen, beside the old
stone fountain where he had passed such happy times in the earth-life
he was leaving.

M'laren and Co., Limited

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