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Title: The Celestial Omnibus and other Stories
Author: Forster, E. M. (Edward Morgan), 1879-1970
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Celestial Omnibus and other Stories" ***

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THE CELESTIAL OMNIBUS AND OTHER STORIES

By

E.M. FORSTER



London: Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd.
Adam Street, Adelphi, W.C.

1912.


TO THE MEMORY OF THE
INDEPENDENT REVIEW



These stories first appeared in _The Albany Review, The English Review,
The Independent Review, The Pall Mall Magazine_, and _Putnams Magazine_;
thanks are due to the editors for kindly permitting republication.


CONTENTS


The Story of a Panic
The Other Side of the Hedge
The Celestial Omnibus
Other Kingdom
The Curate's Friend
The Road from Colonus



THE STORY OF A PANIC



I


Eustace's career--if career it can be called--certainly dates from that
afternoon in the chestnut woods above Ravello. I confess at once that I
am a plain, simple man, with no pretensions to literary style. Still, I
do flatter myself that I can tell a story without exaggerating, and I
have therefore decided to give an unbiassed account of the extraordinary
events of eight years ago.

Ravello is a delightful place with a delightful little hotel in which we
met some charming people. There were the two Miss Robinsons, who had
been there for six weeks with Eustace, their nephew, then a boy of about
fourteen. Mr. Sandbach had also been there some time. He had held a
curacy in the north of England, which he had been compelled to resign on
account of ill-health, and while he was recruiting at Ravello he had
taken in hand Eustace's education--which was then sadly deficient--and
was endeavouring to fit him for one of our great public schools. Then
there was Mr. Leyland, a would-be artist, and, finally, there was the
nice landlady, Signora Scafetti, and the nice English-speaking waiter,
Emmanuele--though at the time of which I am speaking Emmanuele was away,
visiting a sick father.

To this little circle, I, my wife, and my two daughters made, I venture
to think, a not unwelcome addition. But though I liked most of the
company well enough, there were two of them to whom I did not take at
all. They were the artist, Leyland, and the Miss Robinsons' nephew,
Eustace.

Leyland was simply conceited and odious, and, as those qualities will be
amply illustrated in my narrative, I need not enlarge upon them here.
But Eustace was something besides: he was indescribably repellent.

I am fond of boys as a rule, and was quite disposed to be friendly. I
and my daughters offered to take him out--'No, walking was such a fag.'
Then I asked him to come and bathe--' No, he could not swim.'

"Every English boy should be able to swim," I said, "I will teach you
myself."

"There, Eustace dear," said Miss Robinson; "here is a chance for you."

But he said he was afraid of the water!--a boy afraid!--and of course I
said no more.

I would not have minded so much if he had been a really studious boy,
but he neither played hard nor worked hard. His favourite occupations
were lounging on the terrace in an easy chair and loafing along the high
road, with his feet shuffling up the dust and his shoulders stooping
forward. Naturally enough, his features were pale, his chest contracted,
and his muscles undeveloped. His aunts thought him delicate; what he
really needed was discipline.

That memorable day we all arranged to go for a picnic up in the chestnut
woods--all, that is, except Janet, who stopped behind to finish her
water-colour of the Cathedral--not a very successful attempt, I am
afraid.

I wander off into these irrelevant details, because in my mind I cannot
separate them from an account of the day; and it is the same with the
conversation during the picnic: all is imprinted on my brain together.
After a couple of hours' ascent, we left the donkeys that had carried
the Miss Robinsons and my wife, and all proceeded on foot to the head of
the valley--Vallone Fontana Caroso is its proper name, I find.

I have visited a good deal of fine scenery before and since, but have
found little that has pleased me more. The valley ended in a vast
hollow, shaped like a cup, into which radiated ravines from the
precipitous hills around. Both the valley and the ravines and the ribs
of hill that divided the ravines were covered with leafy, chestnut, so
that the general appearance was that of a many fingered green hand, palm
upwards, which was clutching, convulsively to keep us in its grasp. Far
down the valley we could see Ravello and the sea, but that was the only
sign of another world.

"Oh, what a perfectly lovely place," said my daughter Rose. "What a
picture it would make!"

"Yes," said Mr. Sandbach. "Many a famous European gallery would be proud
to have a landscape a tithe as beautiful as this upon its walls."

"On the contrary," said Leyland, "it would make a very poor picture.
Indeed, it is not paintable at all."

"And why is that?" said Rose, with far more deference than he deserved.

"Look, in the first place," he replied, "how intolerably straight
against the sky is the line of the hill. It would need breaking up and
diversifying. And where we are standing the whole thing is out of
perspective. Besides, all the colouring is monotonous and crude."

"I do not know anything about pictures," I put in, "and I do not pretend
to know: but I know what is beautiful when I see it, and I am thoroughly
content with this."

"Indeed, who could help being contented!" said the elder Miss Robinson
and Mr. Sandbach said the same.

"Ah!" said Leyland, "you all confuse the artistic view of nature with
the photographic."

Poor Rose had brought her camera with her, so I thought this positively
rude. I did not wish any unpleasantness; so I merely turned away and
assisted my wife and Miss Mary Robinson to put out the lunch--not a very
nice lunch.

"Eustace, dear," said his aunt, "come and help us here."

He was in a particularly bad temper that morning. He had, as usual, not
wanted to come, and his aunts had nearly allowed him to stop at the
hotel to vex Janet. But I, with their permission, spoke to him rather
sharply on the subject of exercise; and the result was that he had come,
but was even more taciturn and moody than usual.

Obedience was not his strong point. He invariably questioned every
command, and only executed it grumbling. I should always insist on
prompt and cheerful obedience, if I had a son.

"I'm--coming--Aunt--Mary," he at last replied, and dawdled to cut a
piece of wood to make a whistle, taking care not to arrive till we had
finished.

"Well, well, sir!" said I, "you stroll in at the end and profit by our
labours." He sighed, for he could not endure being chaffed. Miss Mary,
very unwisely, insisted on giving him the wing of the chicken, in spite
of all my attempts to prevent her. I remember that I had a moment's
vexation when I thought that, instead of enjoying the sun, and the air,
and the woods, we were all engaged in wrangling over the diet of a
spoilt boy.

But, after lunch, he was a little less in evidence. He withdrew to a
tree trunk, and began to loosen the bark from his whistle. I was
thankful to see him employed, for once in a way. We reclined, and took a
_dolce far niente_.

Those sweet chestnuts of the South are puny striplings compared with our
robust Northerners. But they clothed the contours of the hills and
valleys in a most pleasing way, their veil being only broken by two
clearings, in one of which we were sitting.

And because these few trees were cut down, Leyland burst into a petty
indictment of the proprietor.

"All the poetry is going from Nature," he cried, "her lakes and marshes
are drained, her seas banked up, her forests cut down. Everywhere we see
the vulgarity of desolation spreading."

I have had some experience of estates, and answered that cutting was
very necessary for the health of the larger trees. Besides, it was
unreasonable to expect the proprietor to derive no income from his
lands.

"If you take the commercial side of landscape, you may feel pleasure in
the owner's activity. But to me the mere thought that a tree is
convertible into cash is disgusting."

"I see no reason," I observed politely, "to despise the gifts of Nature,
because they are of value."

It did not stop him. "It is no matter," he went on, "we are all
hopelessly steeped in vulgarity. I do not except myself. It is through
us, and to our shame, that the Nereids have left the waters and the
Oreads the mountains, that the woods no longer give shelter to Pan."

"Pan!" cried Mr. Sandbach, his mellow voice filling the valley as if it
had been a great green church, "Pan is dead. That is why the woods do
not shelter him." And he began to tell the striking story of the
mariners who were sailing near the coast at the time of the birth of
Christ, and three times heard a loud voice saying: "The great God Pan is
dead."

"Yes. The great God Pan is dead," said Leyland. And he abandoned himself
to that mock misery in which artistic people are so fond of indulging.
His cigar went out, and he had to ask me for a match.

"How very interesting," said Rose. "I do wish I knew some ancient
history."

"It is not worth your notice," said Mr. Sandbach. "Eh, Eustace?"

Eustace was finishing his whistle. He looked up, with the irritable
frown in which his aunts allowed him to indulge, and made no reply.

The conversation turned to various topics and then died out. It was a
cloudless afternoon in May, and the pale green of the young chestnut
leaves made a pretty contrast with the dark blue of the sky. We were all
sitting at the edge of the small clearing for the sake of the view, and
the shade of the chestnut saplings behind us was manifestly
insufficient. All sounds died away--at least that is my account: Miss
Robinson says that the clamour of the birds was the first sign of
uneasiness that she discerned. All sounds died away, except that, far in
the distance, I could hear two boughs of a great chestnut grinding
together as the tree swayed. The grinds grew shorter and shorter, and
finally that sound stopped also. As I looked over the green fingers of
the valley, everything was absolutely motionless and still; and that
feeling of suspense which one so often experiences when Nature is in
repose, began to steal over me.

Suddenly, we were all electrified by the excruciating noise of Eustace's
whistle. I never heard any instrument give forth so ear-splitting and
discordant a sound.

"Eustace, dear," said Miss Mary Robinson, "you might have thought of
your poor Aunt Julia's head."

Leyland who had apparently been asleep, sat up.

"It is astonishing how blind a boy is to anything that is elevating or
beautiful," he observed. "I should not have thought he could have found
the wherewithal out here to spoil our pleasure like this."

Then the terrible silence fell upon us again. I was now standing up and
watching a catspaw of wind that was running down one of the ridges
opposite, turning the light green to dark as it travelled. A fanciful
feeling of foreboding came over me; so I turned away, to find to my
amazement, that all the others were also on their feet, watching it too.

It is not possible to describe coherently what happened next: but I, for
one, am not ashamed to confess that, though the fair blue sky was above
me, and the green spring woods beneath me, and the kindest of friends
around me, yet I became terribly frightened, more frightened than I ever
wish to become again, frightened in a way I never have known either
before or after. And in the eyes of the others, too, I saw blank,
expressionless fear, while their mouths strove in vain to speak and
their hands to gesticulate. Yet, all around us were prosperity, beauty,
and peace, and all was motionless, save the catspaw of wind, now
travelling up the ridge on which we stood.

Who moved first has never been settled. It is enough to say that in one
second we were tearing away along the hillside. Leyland was in front,
then Mr. Sandbach, then my wife. But I only saw for a brief moment; for
I ran across the little clearing and through the woods and over the
undergrowth and the rocks and down the dry torrent beds into the valley
below. The sky might have been black as I ran, and the trees short
grass, and the hillside a level road; for I saw nothing and heard
nothing and felt nothing, since all the channels of sense and reason
were blocked. It was not the spiritual fear that one has known at other
times, but brutal overmastering physical fear, stopping up the ears, and
dropping clouds before the eyes, and filling the mouth with foul tastes.
And it was no ordinary humiliation that survived; for I had been afraid,
not as a man, but as a beast.



II


I cannot describe our finish any better than our start; for our fear
passed away as it had come, without cause. Suddenly I was able to see,
and hear, and cough, and clear my mouth. Looking back, I saw that the
others were stopping too; and, in a short time, we were all together,
though it was long before we could speak, and longer before we dared to.

No one was seriously injured. My poor wife had sprained her ankle,
Leyland had torn one of his nails on a tree trunk, and I myself had
scraped and damaged my ear. I never noticed it till I had stopped.

We were all silent, searching one another's faces. Suddenly Miss Mary
Robinson gave a terrible shriek. "Oh, merciful heavens! where is
Eustace?" And then she would have fallen, if Mr. Sandbach had not caught
her.

"We must go back, we must go back at once," said my Rose, who was quite
the most collected of the party. "But I hope--I feel he is safe."

Such was the cowardice of Leyland, that he objected. But, finding
himself in a minority, and being afraid of being left alone, he gave in.
Rose and I supported my poor wife, Mr. Sandbach and Miss Robinson helped
Miss Mary, and we returned slowly and silently, taking forty minutes to
ascend the path that we had descended in ten.

Our conversation was naturally disjointed, as no one wished to offer an
opinion on what had happened. Rose was the most talkative: she startled
us all by saying that she had very nearly stopped where she was.

"Do you mean to say that you weren't--that you didn't feel compelled to
go?" said Mr. Sandbach.

"Oh, of course, I did feel frightened"--she was the first to use the
word--"but I somehow felt that if I could stop on it would be quite
different, that I shouldn't be frightened at all, so to speak." Rose
never did express herself clearly: still, it is greatly to her credit
that she, the youngest of us, should have held on so long at that
terrible time.

"I should have stopped, I do believe," she continued, "if I had not seen
mamma go."

Rose's experience comforted us a little about Eustace. But a feeling of
terrible foreboding was on us all, as we painfully climbed the
chestnut-covered slopes and neared the little clearing. When we reached
it our tongues broke loose. There, at the further side, were the remains
of our lunch, and close to them, lying motionless on his back, was
Eustace.

With some presence of mind I at once cried out: "Hey, you young monkey!
jump up!" But he made no reply, nor did he answer when his poor aunts
spoke to him. And, to my unspeakable horror, I saw one of those green
lizards dart out from under his shirt-cuff as we approached.

We stood watching him as he lay there so silently, and my ears began to
tingle in expectation of the outbursts of lamentations and tears.

Miss Mary fell on her knees beside him and touched his hand, which was
convulsively entwined in the long grass.

As she did so, he opened his eyes and smiled.

I have often seen that peculiar smile since, both on the possessor's
face and on the photographs of him that are beginning to get into the
illustrated papers. But, till then, Eustace had always worn a peevish,
discontented frown; and we were all unused to this disquieting smile,
which always seemed to be without adequate reason.

His aunts showered kisses on him, which he did not reciprocate, and then
there was an awkward pause, Eustace seemed so natural and undisturbed,
yet, if he had not had astonishing experiences himself, he ought to have
been all the more astonished at our extraordinary behaviour. My wife,
with ready tact, endeavoured to behave as if nothing had happened.

"Well, Mr. Eustace," she said, sitting down as she spoke, to ease her
foot, "how have you been amusing yourself since we have been away?"

"Thank you, Mrs. Tytler, I have been very happy."

"And where have you been?"

"Here."

"And lying down all the time, you idle boy?"

"No, not all the time."

"What were you doing before?"

"Oh; standing or sitting."

"Stood and sat doing nothing! Don't you know the poem 'Satan finds some
mischief still for----'"

"Oh, my dear madam, hush! hush!" Mr. Sandbach's voice broke in; and my
wife, naturally mortified by the interruption, said no more and moved
away. I was surprised to see Rose immediately take her place, and, with
more freedom than she generally displayed, run her fingers through the
boy's tousled hair.

"Eustace! Eustace!" she said, hurriedly, "tell me everything--every
single thing."

Slowly he sat up--till then he had lain on his back.

"Oh, Rose," he whispered, and, my curiosity being aroused, I moved
nearer to hear what he was going to say. As I did so, I caught sight of
some goats' footmarks in the moist earth beneath the trees.

"Apparently you have had a visit from some goats," I observed. "I had no
idea they fed up here."

Eustace laboriously got on to his feet and came to see; and when he saw
the footmarks he lay down and rolled on them, as a dog rolls in dirt.

After that there was a grave silence, broken at length by the solemn
speech of Mr. Sandbach.

"My dear friends," he said, "it is best to confess the truth bravely. I
know that what I am going to say now is what you are all now feeling.
The Evil One has been very near us in bodily form. Time may yet discover
some injury that he has wrought among us. But, at present, for myself at
all events, I wish to offer up thanks for a merciful deliverance."

With that he knelt down, and, as the others knelt, I knelt too, though I
do not believe in the Devil being allowed to assail us in visible form,
as I told Mr. Sandbach afterwards. Eustace came too, and knelt quietly
enough between his aunts after they had beckoned to him. But when it was
over he at once got up, and began hunting for something.

"Why! Someone has cut my whistle in two," he said. (I had seen Leyland
with an open knife in his hand--a superstitious act which I could hardly
approve.)

"Well, it doesn't matter," he continued.

"And why doesn't it matter?" said Mr. Sandbach, who has ever since tried
to entrap Eustace into an account of that mysterious hour.

"Because I don't want it any more."

"Why?"

At that he smiled; and, as no one seemed to have anything more to say, I
set off as fast as I could through the wood, and hauled up a donkey to
carry my poor wife home. Nothing occurred in my absence, except that
Rose had again asked Eustace to tell her what had happened; and he, this
time, had turned away his head, and had not answered her a single word.

As soon as I returned, we all set off. Eustace walked with difficulty,
almost with pain, so that, when we reached the other donkeys, his aunts
wished him to mount one of them and ride all the way home. I make it a
rule never to interfere between relatives, but I put my foot down at
this. As it turned out, I was perfectly right, for the healthy exercise,
I suppose, began to thaw Eustace's sluggish blood and loosen his
stiffened muscles. He stepped out manfully, for the first time in his
life, holding his head up and taking deep draughts of air into his
chest. I observed with satisfaction to Miss Mary Robinson, that Eustace
was at last taking some pride in his personal appearance.

Mr. Sandbach sighed, and said that Eustace must be carefully watched,
for we none of us understood him yet. Miss Mary Robinson being very
much--over much, I think--guided by him, sighed too.

"Come, come. Miss Robinson," I said, "there's nothing wrong with
Eustace. Our experiences are mysterious, not his. He was astonished at
our sudden departure, that's why he was so strange when we returned. He's
right enough--improved, if anything."

"And is the worship of athletics, the cult of insensate activity, to be
counted as an improvement?" put in Leyland, fixing a large, sorrowful
eye on Eustace, who had stopped to scramble on to a rock to pick some
cyclamen. "The passionate desire to rend from Nature the few beauties
that have been still left her--that is to be counted as an improvement
too?"

It is mere waste of time to reply to such remarks, especially when they
come from an unsuccessful artist, suffering from a damaged finger. I
changed the conversation by asking what we should say at the hotel.
After some discussion, it was agreed that we should say nothing, either
there or in our letters home. Importunate truth-telling, which brings
only bewilderment and discomfort to the hearers, is, in my opinion, a
mistake; and, after a long discussion, I managed to make Mr. Sandbach
acquiesce in my view.

Eustace did not share in our conversation. He was racing about, like a
real boy, in the wood to the right. A strange feeling of shame;
prevented us from openly mentioning our fright to him. Indeed, it seemed
almost reasonable to conclude that it had made but little impression on
him. So it disconcerted us when he bounded back with an armful of
flowering acanthus, calling out:

"Do you suppose Gennaro'll be there when we get back?"

Gennaro was the stop-gap waiter, a clumsy, impertinent fisher-lad, who
had been had up from Minori in the absence of the nice English-speaking
Emmanuele. It was to him that we owed our scrappy lunch; and I could not
conceive why Eustace desired to see him, unless it was to make mock with
him of our behaviour.

"Yes, of course he will be there," said Miss Robinson. "Why do you ask,
dear?"

"Oh, I thought I'd like to see him."

"And why?" snapped Mr. Sandbach.

"Because, because I do, I do; because, because I do." He danced away
into the darkening wood to the rhythm of his words.

"This is very extraordinary," said Mr. Sandbach. "Did he like Gennaro
before?"

"Gennaro has only been here two days," said Rose, "and I know that they
haven't spoken to each other a dozen times."

Each time Eustace returned from the wood his spirits were higher. Once
he came whooping down on us as a wild Indian, and another time he made
believe to be a dog. The last time he came back with a poor dazed hare,
too frightened to move, sitting on his arm. He was getting too
uproarious, I thought; and we were all glad to leave the wood, and start
upon the steep staircase path that leads down into Ravello. It was late
and turning dark; and we made all the speed we could, Eustace scurrying
in front of us like a goat.

Just where the staircase path debouches on the white high road, the next
extraordinary incident of this extraordinary day occurred. Three old
women were standing by the wayside. They, like ourselves, had come down
from the woods, and they were resting their heavy bundles of fuel on the
low parapet of the road. Eustace stopped in front of them, and, after a
moment's deliberation, stepped forward and--kissed the left-hand one on
the cheek!

"My good fellow!" exclaimed Mr. Sandbach, "are you quite crazy?"

Eustace said nothing, but offered the old woman some of his flowers, and
then hurried on. I looked back; and the old woman's companions seemed as
much astonished at the proceeding as we were. But she herself had put
the flowers in her bosom, and was murmuring blessings.

This salutation of the old lady was the first example of Eustace's
strange behaviour, and we were both surprised and alarmed. It was
useless talking to him, for he either made silly replies, or else
bounded away without replying at all.

He made no reference on the way home to Gennaro, and I hoped that that
was forgotten. But, when we came to the Piazza, in front of the
Cathedral, he screamed out: "Gennaro! Gennaro!" at the top of his voice,
and began running up the little alley that led to the hotel. Sure
enough, there was Gennaro at the end of it, with his arms and legs
sticking out of the nice little English-speaking waiter's dress suit,
and a dirty fisherman's cap on his head--for, as the poor landlady truly
said, however much she superintended his toilette, he always man-aged to
introduce something incongruous into it before he had done.

Eustace sprang to meet him, and leapt right up into his arms, and put
his own arms round his neck. And this in the presence, not only of us,
but also of the landlady, the chambermaid, the facchino, and of two
American ladies who were coming for a few days' visit to the little
hotel.

I always make a point of behaving pleasantly to Italians, however little
they may deserve it; but this habit of promiscuous intimacy was
perfectly intolerable and could only lead to familiarity and
mortification for all. Taking Miss Robinson aside, I asked her
permission to speak seriously to Eustace on the subject of intercourse
with social inferiors. She granted it; but I determined to wait till the
absurd boy had calmed down a little from the excitement of the day.
Meanwhile, Gennaro, instead of attending to the wants of the two new
ladies, carried Eustace into the house, as if it was the most natural
thing in the world.

"Ho capito," I heard him say as he passed me. 'Ho capito' is the Italian
for 'I have understood'; but, as Eustace had not spoken to him, I could
not see the force of the remark. It served to increase our bewilderment,
and, by the time we sat down at the dinner-table, our imaginations and
our tongues were alike exhausted.

I omit from this account the various comments that were made, as few of
them seem worthy of being recorded. But, for three or four hours, seven
of us were pouring forth our bewilderment in a stream of appropriate and
inappropriate exclamations. Some traced a connection between our
behaviour in the afternoon and the behaviour of Eustace now. Others saw
no connexion at all. Mr. Sandbach still held to the possibility of
infernal influences, and also said that he ought to have a doctor.
Leyland only saw the development of "that unspeakable Philistine, the
boy." Rose maintained, to my surprise, that everything was excusable;
while I began to see that the young gentleman wanted a sound thrashing.
The poor Miss Robinsons swayed helplessly about between these diverse
opinions; inclining now to careful supervision, now to acquiescence, now
to corporal chastisement, now to Eno's Fruit Salt.

Dinner passed off fairly well, though Eustace was terribly fidgety,
Gennaro as usual dropping the knives and spoons, and hawking and
clearing his throat. He only knew a few words of English, and we were
all reduced to Italian for making known our wants. Eustace, who had
picked up a little somehow, asked for some oranges. To my annoyance,
Gennaro, in his answer made use of the second person singular--a form
only used when addressing those who are both intimates and equals.
Eustace had brought it on himself; but an impertinence of this kind was
an affront to us all, and I was determined to speak, and to speak at
once.

When I heard him clearing the table I went in, and, summoning up my
Italian, or rather Neapolitan--the Southern dialects are execrable--I
said, "Gennaro! I heard you address Signor Eustace with 'Tu.'"

"It is true."

"You are not right. You must use 'Lei' or 'Voi'--more polite forms. And
remember that, though Signor Eustace is sometimes silly and
foolish--this afternoon for example--yet you must always behave
respectfully to him; for he is a young English gentleman, and you are a
poor Italian fisher-boy."

I know that speech sounds terribly snobbish, but in Italian one can say
things that one would never dream of saying in English. Besides, it is
no good speaking delicately to persons of that class. Unless you put
things plainly, they take a vicious pleasure in misunderstanding you.

An honest English fisherman would have landed me one in the eye in a
minute for such a remark, but the wretched down-trodden Italians have no
pride. Gennaro only sighed, and said: "It is true."

"Quite so," I said, and turned to go. To my indignation I heard him add:
"But sometimes it is not important."

"What do you mean?" I shouted.

He came close up to me with horrid gesticulating fingers.

"Signor Tytler, I wish to say this. If Eustazio asks me to call him
'Voi,' I will call him 'Voi.' Otherwise, no."

With that he seized up a tray of dinner things, and fled from the room
with them; and I heard two more wine-glasses go on the court-yard floor.

I was now fairly angry, and strode out to interview Eustace. But he had
gone to bed, and the landlady, to whom I also wished to speak, was
engaged. After more vague wonderings, obscurely expressed owing to the
presence of Janet and the two American ladies, we all went to bed, too,
after a harassing and most extraordinary day.



III


But the day was nothing to the night.

I suppose I had slept for about four hours, when I woke suddenly
thinking I heard a noise in the garden. And, immediately, before my eyes
were open, cold terrible fear seized me--not fear of something that was
happening, like the fear in the wood, but fear of something that might
happen.

Our room was on the first floor, looking out on to the garden--or
terrace, it was rather: a wedge-shaped block of ground covered with
roses and vines, and intersected with little asphalt paths. It was
bounded on the small side by the house; round the two long sides ran a
wall, only three feet above the terrace level, but with a good twenty
feet drop over it into the olive yards, for the ground fell very
precipitously away.

Trembling all over I stole to the window. There, pattering up and down
the asphalt, paths, was something white. I was too much alarmed to see
clearly; and in the uncertain light of the stars the thing took all
manner of curious shapes. Now it was a great dog, now an enormous white
bat, now a mass of quickly travelling cloud. It would bounce like a
ball, or take short flights like a bird, or glide slowly; like a wraith.
It gave no sound--save the pattering sound of what, after all, must be
human feet. And at last the obvious explanation forced itself upon my
disordered mind; and I realized that Eustace had got out of bed, and
that we were in for something more.

I hastily dressed myself, and went down into the dining-room which
opened upon the terrace. The door was already unfastened. My terror had
almost entirely passed away, but for quite five minutes I struggled with
a curious cowardly feeling, which bade me not interfere with the poor
strange boy, but leave him to his ghostly patterings, and merely watch
him from the window, to see he took no harm.

But better impulses prevailed and, opening the door, I called out:

"Eustace! what on earth are you doing? Come in at once."

He stopped his antics, and said: "I hate my bedroom. I could not stop in
it, it is too small."

"Come! come! I'm tired of affectation. You've never complained of it
before."

"Besides I can't see anything--no flowers, no leaves, no sky: only a
stone wall." The outlook of Eustace's room certainly was limited; but,
as I told him, he had never complained of it before.

"Eustace, you talk like a child. Come in! Prompt obedience, if you
please."

He did not move.

"Very well: I shall carry you in by force." I added, and made a few
steps towards him. But I was soon convinced of the futility of pursuing
a boy through a tangle of asphalt paths, and went in instead, to call
Mr. Sandbach and Leyland to my aid.

When I returned with them he was worse than ever. He would not even
answer us when we spoke, but began singing and chattering to himself in
a most alarming way.

"It's a case for the doctor now," said Mr. Sandbach, gravely tapping his
forehead.

He had stopped his running and was singing, first low, then
loud--singing five-finger exercises, scales, hymn tunes, scraps of
Wagner--anything that came into his head. His voice--a very untuneful
voice--grew stronger and stronger, and he ended with a tremendous shout
which boomed like a gun among the mountains, and awoke everyone who was
still sleeping in the hotel. My poor wife and the two girls appeared at
their respective windows, and the American ladies were heard violently
ringing their bell.

"Eustace," we all cried, "stop! stop, dear boy, and come into the
house."

He shook his head, and started off again--talking this time. Never have
I listened to such an extraordinary speech. At any other time it would
have been ludicrous, for here was a boy, with no sense of beauty and a
puerile command of words, attempting to tackle themes which the greatest
poets have found almost beyond their power. Eustace Robinson, aged
fourteen, was standing in his nightshirt saluting, praising, and
blessing, the great forces and manifestations of Nature.

He spoke first of night and the stars and planets above his head, of the
swarms of fire-flies below him, of the invisible sea below the
fire-flies, of the great rocks covered with anemones and shells that
were slumbering in the invisible sea. He spoke of the rivers and
water-falls, of the ripening bunches of grapes, of the smoking cone of
Vesuvius and the hidden fire-channels that made the smoke, of the
myriads of lizards who were lying curled up in the crannies of the
sultry earth, of the showers of white rose-leaves that were tangled in
his hair. And then he spoke of the rain and the wind by which all things
are changed, of the air through which all things live, and of the woods
in which all things can be hidden.

Of course, it was all absurdly high fainting: yet I could have kicked
Leyland for audibly observing that it was 'a diabolical caricature of
all that was most holy and beautiful in life.'

"And then,"--Eustace was going on in the pitiable conversational
doggerel which was his only mode of expression--"and then there are
men, but I can't make them out so well." He knelt down by the parapet,
and rested his head on his arms.

"Now's the time," whispered Leyland. I hate stealth, but we darted
forward and endeavoured to catch hold of him from behind. He was away in
a twinkling, but turned round at once to look at us. As far as I could
see in the starlight, he was crying. Leyland rushed at him again, and we
tried to corner him among the asphalt paths, but without the slightest
approach to success.

We returned, breathless and discomfited, leaving him to his madness in
the further corner of the terrace. But my Rose had an inspiration.

"Papa," she called from the window, "if you get Gennaro, he might be
able to catch him for you."

I had no wish to ask a favour of Gennaro, but, as the landlady had by
now appeared on the scene, I begged her to summon him from the
charcoal-bin in which he slept, and make him try what he could do.

She soon returned, and was shortly followed by Gennaro, attired in a
dress coat, without either waistcoat, shirt, or vest, and a ragged pair
of what had been trousers, cut short above the knees for purposes of
wading. The landlady, who had quite picked up English ways, rebuked him
for the incongruous and even indecent appearance which he presented.

"I have a coat and I have trousers. What more do you desire?"

"Never mind, Signora Scafetti," I put in, "As there are no ladies here,
it is not of the slightest consequence." Then, turning to Gennaro, I
said: "The aunts of Signor Eustace wish you to fetch him into the
house."

He did not answer.

"Do you hear me? He is not well. I order you to fetch him into the
house."

"Fetch! fetch!" said Signora Scafetti, and shook him roughly by the arm.

"Eustazio is well where he is."

"Fetch! fetch!" Signora Scafetti screamed, and let loose a flood of
Italian, most of which, I am glad to say, I could not follow. I glanced
up nervously at the girls' window, but they hardly know as much as I do,
and I am thankful to say that none of us caught one word of Gennaro's
answer.

The two yelled and shouted at each other for quite ten minutes, at the
end of which Gennaro rushed back to his charcoal-bin and Signora
Scafetti burst into tears, as well she might, for she greatly valued her
English guests.

"He says," she sobbed, "that Signer Eustace is well where he is, and
that he will not fetch him. I can do no more."

But I could, for, in my stupid British way, I have got some insight into
the Italian character. I followed Mr. Gennaro to his place of repose,
and found him wriggling down on to a dirty sack.

"I wish you to fetch Signor Eustace to me," I began.

He hurled at me an unintelligible reply.

"If you fetch him, I will give you this." And out of my pocket I took a
new ten lira note.

This time he did not answer.

"This note is equal to ten lire in silver," I continued, for I knew that
the poor-class Italian is unable to conceive of a single large sum.

"I know it."

"That is, two hundred soldi."

"I do not desire them. Eustazio is my friend."

I put the note into my pocket.

"Besides, you would not give it me."

"I am an Englishman. The English always do what they promise."

"That is true." It is astonishing how the most dishonest of nations
trust us. Indeed they often trust us more than we trust one another.
Gennaro knelt up on his sack. It was too dark to see his face, but I
could feel his warm garlicky breath coming out in gasps, and I knew that
the eternal avarice of the South had laid hold upon him.

"I could not fetch Eustazio to the house. He might die there."

"You need not do that," I replied patiently. "You need only bring him to
me; and I will stand outside in the garden." And to this, as if it were
something quite different, the pitiable youth consented.

"But give me first the ten lire."

"No,"--for I knew the kind of person with whom I had to deal. Once
faithless, always faithless.

We returned to the terrace, and Gennaro, without a single word, pattered
off towards the pattering that could be heard at the remoter end. Mr.
Sandbach, Leyland, and myself moved away a little from the house, and
stood in the shadow of the white climbing roses, practically invisible.

We heard "Eustazio" called, followed by absurd cries of pleasure from
the poor boy. The pattering ceased, and we heard them talking. Their
voices got nearer, and presently I could discern them through the
creepers, the grotesque figure of the young man, and the slim little
white-robed boy. Gennaro had his arm round Eustace's neck, and Eustace
was talking away in his fluent, slip-shod Italian.

"I understand almost everything," I heard him say. "The trees, hills,
stars, water, I can see all. But isn't it odd! I can't make out men a
bit. Do you know what I mean?"

"Ho capito," said Gennaro gravely, and took his arm off Eustace's
shoulder. But I made the new note crackle in my pocket; and he heard it.
He stuck his hand out with a jerk; and the unsuspecting Eustace gripped
it in his own.

"It is odd!" Eustace went on--they were quite close now--"It almost
seems as if--as if----"

I darted out and caught hold of his arm, and Leyland got hold of the
other arm, and Mr. Sandbach hung on to his feet. He gave shrill
heart-piercing screams; and the white roses, which were falling early
that year, descended in showers on him as we dragged him into the house.

As soon as we entered the house he stopped shrieking; but floods of
tears silently burst forth, and spread over his upturned face.

"Not to my room," he pleaded. "It is so small."

His infinitely dolorous look filled me with strange pity, but what could
I do? Besides, his window was the only one that had bars to it.

"Never mind, dear boy," said kind Mr. Sandbach. "I will bear you company
till the morning."

At this his convulsive struggles began again. "Oh, please, not that.
Anything but that. I will promise to lie still and not to cry more than
I can help, if I am left alone."

So we laid him on the bed, and drew the sheets over him, and left him
sobbing bitterly, and saying: "I nearly saw everything, and now I can
see nothing at all."

We informed the Miss Robinsons of all that had happened, and returned to
the dining-room, where we found Signora Scafetti and Gennaro whispering
together. Mr. Sandbach got pen and paper, and began writing to the
English doctor at Naples. I at once drew out the note, and flung it down
on the table to Gennaro.

"Here is your pay," I said sternly, for I was thinking of the Thirty
Pieces of Silver.

"Thank you very much, sir," said Gennaro, and grabbed it.

He was going off, when Leyland, whose interest and indifference were
always equally misplaced, asked him what Eustace had meant by saying 'he
could not make out men a bit.'

"I cannot say. Signor Eustazio--" (I was glad to observe a little
deference at last) "has a subtle brain. He understands many things."

"But I heard you say you understood," Leyland persisted.

"I understand, but I cannot explain. I am a poor Italian fisher-lad.
Yet, listen: I will try." I saw to my alarm that his manner was
changing, and tried to stop him. But he sat down on the edge of the
table and started off, with some absolutely incoherent remarks.

"It is sad," he observed at last. "What has happened is very sad. But
what can I do? I am poor. It is not I."

I turned away in contempt. Leyland went on asking questions. He wanted
to know who it was that Eustace had in his mind when he spoke.

"That is easy to say," Gennaro gravely answered. "It is you, it is I. It
is all in this house, and many outside it. If he wishes for mirth, we
discomfort him. If he asks to be alone, we disturb him. He longed for a
friend, and found none for fifteen years. Then he found me, and the
first night I--I who have been in the woods and understood things
too--betray him to you, and send him in to die. But what could I do?"

"Gently, gently," said I.

"Oh, assuredly he will die. He will lie in the small room all night, and
in the morning he will be dead. That I know for certain."

"There, that will do," said Mr. Sandbach. "I shall be sitting with him."

"Filomena Giusti sat all night with Caterina, but Caterina was dead in
the morning. They would not let her out, though I begged, and prayed,
and cursed, and beat the door, and climbed the wall. They were ignorant
fools, and thought I wished to carry her away. And in the morning she
was dead."

"What is all this?" I asked Signora Scafetti.

"All kinds of stories will get about," she replied, "and he, least of
anyone, has reason to repeat them."

"And I am alive now," he went on, "because I had neither parents nor
relatives nor friends, so that, when the first night came, I could run
through the woods, and climb the rocks, and plunge into the water, until
I had accomplished my desire!"

We heard a cry from Eustace's room--a faint but steady sound, like the
sound of wind in a distant wood, heard by one standing in tranquillity.

"That," said Gennaro, "was the last noise of Caterina. I was hanging on
to her window then, and it blew out past me."

And, lifting up his hand, in which my ten lira note was safely packed,
he solemnly cursed Mr. Sandbach, and Leyland, and myself, and Fate,
because Eustace was dying in the upstairs room. Such is the working of
the Southern mind; and I verily believe that he would not have moved
even then, had not Leyland, that unspeakable idiot, upset the lamp with
his elbow. It was a patent self-extinguishing lamp, bought by Signora
Scafetti, at my special request, to replace the dangerous thing that she
was using. The result was, that it went out; and the mere physical
change from light to darkness had more power over the ignorant animal
nature of Gennaro than the most obvious dictates of logic and reason.

I felt, rather than saw, that he had left the room, and shouted out to
Mr. Sandbach: "Have you got the key of Eustace's room in your pocket?"
But Mr. Sandbach and Leyland were both on the floor, having mistaken
each other for Gennaro, and some more precious time was wasted in
finding a match. Mr. Sandbach had only just time to say that he had left
the key in the door, in case the Miss Robinsons wished to pay Eustace a
visit, when we heard a noise on the stairs, and there was Gennaro,
carrying Eustace down.

We rushed out and blocked up the passage, and they lost heart and
retreated to the upper landing.

"Now they are caught," cried Signora Scafetti. "There is no other way
out."

We were cautiously ascending the staircase, when there was a terrific
scream from my wife's room, followed by a heavy thud on the asphalt
path. They had leapt out of her window.

I reached the terrace just in time to see Eustace jumping over the
parapet of the garden wall. This time I knew for certain he would be
killed. But he alighted in an olive tree, looking like a great white
moth; and from the tree he slid on to the earth. And as soon as his bare
feet touched the clods of earth he uttered a strange loud cry, such as I
should not have thought the human voice could have produced, and
disappeared among the trees below.

"He has understood and he is saved," cried Gennaro, who was still
sitting on the asphalt path. "Now, instead of dying he will live!"

"And you, instead of keeping the ten lire, will give them up," I
retorted, for at this theatrical remark I could contain myself no
longer.

"The ten lire are mine," he hissed back, in a scarcely audible voice. He
clasped his hand over his breast to protect his ill-gotten gains, and,
as he did so, he swayed forward and fell upon his face on the path. He
had not broken any limbs, and a leap like that would never have killed
an Englishman, for the drop was not great. But those miserable Italians
have no stamina. Something had gone wrong inside him, and he was dead.

The morning was still far off, but the morning breeze had begun, and
more rose leaves fell on us as we carried him in. Signora Scafetti burst
into screams at the sight of the dead body, and, far down the valley
towards the sea, there still resounded the shouts and the laughter of
the escaping boy.



THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HEDGE


My pedometer told me that I was twenty-five; and, though it is a
shocking thing to stop walking, I was so tired that I sat down on a
milestone to rest. People outstripped me, jeering as they did so, but I
was too apathetic to feel resentful, and even when Miss Eliza Dimbleby,
the great educationist, swept past, exhorting me to persevere, I only
smiled and raised my hat.

At first I thought I was going to be like my brother, whom I had had to
leave by the road-side a year or two round the corner. He had wasted his
breath on singing, and his strength on helping others. But I had
travelled more wisely, and now it was only the monotony of the highway
that oppressed me--dust under foot and brown crackling hedges on either
side, ever since I could remember.

And I had already dropped several things--indeed, the road behind was
strewn with the things we all had dropped; and the white dust was
settling down on them, so that already they looked no better than
stones. My muscles were so weary that I could not even bear the weight
of those things I still carried. I slid off the milestone into the road,
and lay there prostrate, with my face to the great parched hedge,
praying that I might give up.

A little puff of air revived me. It seemed to come from the hedge; and,
when I opened my eyes, there was a glint of light through the tangle of
boughs and dead leaves. The hedge could not be as thick as usual. In my
weak, morbid state, I longed to force my way in, and see what was on the
other side. No one was in sight, or I should not have dared to try. For
we of the road do not admit in conversation that there is another side
at all.

I yielded to the temptation, saying to myself that I would come back in
a minute. The thorns scratched my face, and I had to use my arms as a
shield, depending on my feet alone to push me forward. Halfway through I
would have gone back, for in the passage all the things I was carrying
were scraped off me, and my clothes were torn. But I was so wedged that
return was impossible, and I had to wriggle blindly forward, expecting
every moment that my strength would fail me, and that I should perish in
the undergrowth.

Suddenly cold water closed round my head, and I seemed sinking down for
ever. I had fallen out of the hedge into a deep pool. I rose to the
surface at last, crying for help, and I heard someone on the opposite
bank laugh and say: "Another!" And then I was twitched out and laid
panting on the dry ground.

Even when the water was out of my eyes, I was still dazed, for I had
never been in so large a space, nor seen such grass and sunshine. The
blue sky was no longer a strip, and beneath it the earth had risen
grandly into hills--clean, bare buttresses, with beech trees in their
folds, and meadows and clear pools at their feet. But the hills were not
high, and there was in the landscape a sense of human occupation--so
that one might have called it a park, or garden, if the words did not
imply a certain triviality and constraint.

As soon as I got my breath, I turned to my rescuer and said:

"Where does this place lead to?"

"Nowhere, thank the Lord!" said he, and laughed. He was a man of fifty
or sixty--just the kind of age we mistrust on the road--but there was no
anxiety in his manner, and his voice was that of a boy of eighteen.

"But it must lead somewhere!" I cried, too much surprised at his answer
to thank him for saving my life.

"He wants to know where it leads!" he shouted to some men on the hill
side, and they laughed back, and waved their caps.

I noticed then that the pool into which I had fallen was really a moat
which bent round to the left and to the right, and that the hedge
followed it continually. The hedge was green on this side--its roots
showed through the clear water, and fish swam about in them--and it was
wreathed over with dog-roses and Traveller's Joy. But it was a barrier,
and in a moment I lost all pleasure in the grass, the sky, the trees,
the happy men and women, and realized that the place was but a prison,
for all its beauty and extent.

We moved away from the boundary, and then followed a path almost
parallel to it, across the meadows. I found it difficult walking, for I
was always trying to out-distance my companion, and there was no
advantage in doing this if the place led nowhere. I had never kept step
with anyone since I left my brother.

I amused him by stopping suddenly and saying disconsolately, "This is
perfectly terrible. One cannot advance: one cannot progress. Now we of
the road----"

"Yes. I know."

"I was going to say, we advance continually."

"I know."

"We are always learning, expanding, developing. Why, even in my short
life I have seen a great deal of advance--the Transvaal War, the Fiscal
Question, Christian Science, Radium. Here for example--"

I took out my pedometer, but it still marked twenty-five, not a degree
more.

"Oh, it's stopped! I meant to show you. It should have registered all
the time I was walking with you. But it makes me only twenty-five."

"Many things don't work in here," he said, "One day a man brought in a
Lee-Metford, and that wouldn't work."

"The laws of science are universal in their application. It must be the
water in the moat that has injured the machinery. In normal conditions
everything works. Science and the spirit of emulation--those are the
forces that have made us what we are."

I had to break off and acknowledge the pleasant greetings of people whom
we passed. Some of them were singing, some talking, some engaged in
gardening, hay-making, or other rudimentary industries. They all seemed
happy; and I might have been happy too, if I could have forgotten that
the place led nowhere.

I was startled by a young man who came sprinting across our path, took a
little fence in fine style, and went tearing over a ploughed field till
he plunged into a lake, across which he began to swim. Here was true
energy, and I exclaimed: "A cross-country race! Where are the others?"

"There are no others," my companion replied; and, later on, when we
passed some long grass from which came the voice of a girl singing
exquisitely to herself, he said again: "There are no others." I was
bewildered at the waste in production, and murmured to myself, "What
does it all mean?"

He said: "It means nothing but itself"--and he repeated the words
slowly, as if I were a child.

"I understand," I said quietly, "but I do not agree. Every achievement
is worthless unless it is a link in the chain of development. And I must
not trespass on your kindness any longer. I must get back somehow to the
road, and have my pedometer mended."

"First, you must see the gates," he replied, "for we have gates, though
we never use them."

I yielded politely, and before long we reached the moat again, at a
point where it was spanned by a bridge. Over the bridge was a big gate,
as white as ivory, which was fitted into a gap in the boundary hedge.
The gate opened outwards, and I exclaimed in amazement, for from it ran
a road--just such a road as I had left--dusty under foot, with brown
crackling hedges on either side as far as the eye could reach.

"That's my road!" I cried.

He shut the gate and said: "But not your part of the road. It is through
this gate that humanity went out countless ages ago, when it was first
seized with the desire to walk."

I denied this, observing that the part of the road I myself had left was
not more than two miles off. But with the obstinacy of his years he
repeated: "It is the same road. This is the beginning, and though it
seems to run straight away from us, it doubles so often, that it is
never far from our boundary and sometimes touches it." He stooped down
by the moat, and traced on its moist margin an absurd figure like a
maze. As we walked back through the meadows, I tried to convince him of
his mistake.

"The road sometimes doubles, to be sure, but that is part of our
discipline. Who can doubt that its general tendency is onward? To what
goal we know not--it may be to some mountain where we shall touch the
sky, it may be over precipices into the sea. But that it goes forward
--who can doubt that? It is the thought of that that makes us strive to
excel, each in his own way, and gives us an impetus which is lacking
with you. Now that man who passed us--it's true that he ran well, and
jumped well, and swam well; but we have men who can run better, and men
who can jump better, and who can swim better. Specialization has
produced results which would surprise you. Similarly, that girl----"

Here I interrupted myself to exclaim: "Good gracious me! I could have
sworn it was Miss Eliza Dimbleby over there, with her feet in the
fountain!"

He believed that it was.

"Impossible! I left her on the road, and she is due to lecture this
evening at Tunbridge Wells. Why, her train leaves Cannon Street in--of
course my watch has stopped like everything else. She is the last person
to be here."

"People always are astonished at meeting each other. All kinds come
through the hedge, and come at all times--when they are drawing ahead in
the race, when they are lagging behind, when they are left for dead. I
often stand near the boundary listening to the sounds of the road--you
know what they are--and wonder if anyone will turn aside. It is my great
happiness to help someone out of the moat, as I helped you. For our
country fills up slowly, though it was meant for all mankind."

"Mankind have other aims," I said gently, for I thought him
well-meaning; "and I must join them." I bade him good evening, for the
sun was declining, and I wished to be on the road by nightfall. To my
alarm, he caught hold of me, crying: "You are not to go yet!" I tried to
shake him off, for we had no interests in common, and his civility was
becoming irksome to me. But for all my struggles the tiresome old man
would not let go; and, as wrestling is not my speciality, I was obliged
to follow him.

It was true that I could have never found alone the place where I came
in, and I hoped that, when I had seen the other sights about which he
was worrying, he would take me back to it. But I was determined not to
sleep in the country, for I mistrusted it, and the people too, for all
their friendliness. Hungry though I was, I would not join them in their
evening meals of milk and fruit, and, when they gave me flowers, I flung
them away as soon as I could do so unobserved. Already they were lying
down for the night like cattle--some out on the bare hillside, others in
groups under the beeches. In the light of an orange sunset I hurried on
with my unwelcome guide, dead tired, faint for want of food, but
murmuring indomitably: "Give me life, with its struggles and victories,
with its failures and hatreds, with its deep moral meaning and its
unknown goal!"

At last we came to a place where the encircling moat was spanned by
another bridge, and where another gate interrupted the line of the
boundary hedge. It was different from the first gate; for it was half
transparent like horn, and opened inwards. But through it, in the waning
light, I saw again just such a road as I had left--monotonous, dusty,
with brown crackling hedges on either side, as far as the eye could
reach.

I was strangely disquieted at the sight, which seemed to deprive me of
all self-control. A man was passing us, returning for the night to the
hills, with a scythe over his shoulder and a can of some liquid in his
hand. I forgot the destiny of our race. I forgot the road that lay
before my eyes, and I sprang at him, wrenched the can out of his hand,
and began to drink.

It was nothing stronger than beer, but in my exhausted state it overcame
me in a moment. As in a dream, I saw the old man shut the gate, and
heard him say: "This is where your road ends, and through this gate
humanity--all that is left of it--will come in to us."

Though my senses were sinking into oblivion, they seemed to expand ere
they reached it. They perceived the magic song of nightingales, and the
odour of invisible hay, and stars piercing the fading sky. The man whose
beer I had stolen lowered me down gently to sleep off its effects, and,
as he did so, I saw that he was my brother.



THE CELESTIAL OMNIBUS


I


The boy who resided at Agathox Lodge, 28, Buckingham Park Road,
Surbiton, had often been puzzled by the old sign-post that stood almost
opposite. He asked his mother about it, and she replied that it was a
joke, and not a very nice one, which had been made many years back by
some naughty young men, and that the police ought to remove it. For
there were two strange things about this sign-post: firstly, it pointed
up a blank alley, and, secondly, it had painted on it in faded
characters, the words, "To Heaven."

"What kind of young men were they?" he asked.

"I think your father told me that one of them wrote verses, and was
expelled from the University and came to grief in other ways. Still, it
was a long time ago. You must ask your father about it. He will say the
same as I do, that it was put up as a joke."

"So it doesn't mean anything at all?"

She sent him upstairs to put on his best things, for the Bonses were
coming to tea, and he was to hand the cake-stand.

It struck him, as he wrenched on his tightening trousers, that he might
do worse than ask Mr. Bons about the sign-post. His father, though very
kind, always laughed at him--shrieked with laughter whenever he or any
other child asked a question or spoke. But Mr. Bons was serious as well
as kind. He had a beautiful house and lent one books, he was a
churchwarden, and a candidate for the County Council; he had donated to
the Free Library enormously, he presided over the Literary Society, and
had Members of Parliament to stop with him--in short, he was probably
the wisest person alive.

Yet even Mr. Bons could only say that the sign-post was a joke--the joke
of a person named Shelley.

"Off course!" cried the mother; "I told you so, dear. That was the
name."

"Had you never heard of Shelley?" asked Mr. Bons.

"No," said the boy, and hung his head.

"But is there no Shelley in the house?"

"Why, yes!" exclaimed the lady, in much agitation. "Dear Mr. Bons, we
aren't such Philistines as that. Two at the least. One a wedding
present, and the other, smaller print, in one of the spare rooms."

"I believe we have seven Shelleys," said Mr. Bons, with a slow smile.
Then he brushed the cake crumbs off his stomach, and, together with his
daughter, rose to go.

The boy, obeying a wink from his mother, saw them all the way to the
garden gate, and when they had gone he did not at once return to the
house, but gazed for a little up and down Buckingham Park Road.

His parents lived at the right end of it. After No. 39 the quality of
the houses dropped very suddenly, and 64 had not even a separate
servants' entrance. But at the present moment the whole road looked
rather pretty, for the sun had just set in splendour, and the
inequalities of rent were drowned in a saffron afterglow. Small birds
twittered, and the breadwinners' train shrieked musically down through
the cutting--that wonderful cutting which has drawn to itself the whole
beauty out of Surbiton, and clad itself, like any Alpine valley, with
the glory of the fir and the silver birch and the primrose. It was this
cutting that had first stirred desires within the boy--desires for
something just a little different, he knew not what desires that would
return whenever things were sunlit, as they were this evening, running
up and down inside him, up and down, up and down, till he would feel
quite unusual all over, and as likely as not would want to cry. This
evening he was even sillier, for he slipped across the road towards the
sign-post and began to run up the blank alley.

The alley runs between high walls--the walls of the gardens of "Ivanhoe"
and "Belle Vista" respectively. It smells a little all the way, and is
scarcely twenty yards long, including the turn at the end. So not
unnaturally the boy soon came to a standstill. "I'd like to kick that
Shelley," he exclaimed, and glanced idly at a piece of paper which was
pasted on the wall. Rather an odd piece of paper, and he read it
carefully before he turned back. This is what he read:

            S. AND C.R.C.C.
      _Alteration in Service._

Owing to lack of patronage the Company are regretfully compelled to
suspend the hourly service, and to retain only the

       _Sunrise and Sunset Omnibuses,_

which will run as usual. It is to be hoped that the public will
patronize an arrangement which is intended for their convenience. As an
extra inducement, the Company will, for the first time, now issue

               Return Tickets!

(available one day only), which may be obtained of the driver.
Passengers are again reminded that _no tickets are issued at the other
end_, and that no complaints in this connection will receive
consideration from the Company. Nor will the Company be responsible for
any negligence or stupidity on the part of Passengers, nor for
Hailstorms, Lightning, Loss of Tickets, nor for any Act of God.

                                For the Direction.

Now he had never seen this notice before, nor could he imagine where the
omnibus went to. S. of course was for Surbiton, and R.C.C. meant Road
Car Company. But what was the meaning or the other C.? Coombe and
Maiden, perhaps, of possibly "City." Yet it could not hope to compete
with the South-Western. The whole thing, the boy reflected, was run on
hopelessly unbusiness-like lines. Why no tickets from the other end? And
what an hour to start! Then he realized that unless the notice was a
hoax, an omnibus must have been starting just as he was wishing the
Bonses good-bye. He peered at the ground through the gathering dusk, and
there he saw what might or might not be the marks of wheels. Yet nothing
had come out of the alley. And he had never seen an omnibus at any time
in the Buckingham Park Road. No: it must be a hoax, like the sign-posts,
like the fairy tales, like the dreams upon which he would wake suddenly
in the night. And with a sigh he stepped from the alley--right into the
arms of his father.

Oh, how his father laughed! "Poor, poor Popsey!" he cried. "Diddums!
Diddums! Diddums think he'd walky-palky up to Evvink!" And his mother,
also convulsed with laughter, appeared on the steps of Agathox Lodge.
"Don't, Bob!" she gasped. "Don't be so naughty! Oh, you'll kill me! Oh,
leave the boy alone!"

But all that evening the joke was kept up. The father implored to be
taken too. Was it a very tiring walk? Need one wipe one's shoes on the
door-mat? And the boy went to bed feeling faint and sore, and thankful
for only one thing--that he had not said a word about the omnibus. It
was a hoax, yet through his dreams it grew more and more real, and the
streets of Surbiton, through which he saw it driving, seemed instead to
become hoaxes and shadows. And very early in the morning he woke with a
cry, for he had had a glimpse of its destination.

He struck a match, and its light fell not only on his watch but also on
his calendar, so that he knew it to be half-an-hour to sunrise. It was
pitch dark, for the fog had come down from London in the night, and all
Surbiton was wrapped in its embraces. Yet he sprang out and dressed
himself, for he was determined to settle once for all which was real:
the omnibus or the streets. "I shall be a fool one way or the other," he
thought, "until I know." Soon he was shivering in the road under the gas
lamp that guarded the entrance to the alley.

To enter the alley itself required some courage. Not only was it
horribly dark, but he now realized that it was an impossible terminus
for an omnibus. If it had not been for a policeman, whom he heard
approaching through the fog, he would never have made the attempt. The
next moment he had made the attempt and failed. Nothing. Nothing but a
blank alley and a very silly boy gaping at its dirty floor. It _was_ a
hoax. "I'll tell papa and mamma," he decided. "I deserve it. I deserve
that they should know. I am too silly to be alive." And he went back to
the gate of Agathox Lodge.

There he remembered that his watch was fast. The sun was not risen; it
would not rise for two minutes. "Give the bus every chance," he thought
cynically, and returned into the alley.

But the omnibus was there.



II


It had two horses, whose sides were still smoking from their journey,
and its two great lamps shone through the fog against the alley's walls,
changing their cobwebs and moss into tissues of fairyland. The driver
was huddled up in a cape. He faced the blank wall, and how he had
managed to drive in so neatly and so silently was one of the many things
that the boy never discovered. Nor could he imagine how ever he would
drive out.

"Please," his voice quavered through the foul brown air, "Please, is
that an omnibus?"

"Omnibus est," said the driver, without turning round. There was a
moment's silence. The policeman passed, coughing, by the entrance of the
alley. The boy crouched in the shadow, for he did not want to be found
out. He was pretty sure, too, that it was a Pirate; nothing else, he
reasoned, would go from such odd places and at such odd hours.

"About when do you start?" He tried to sound nonchalant.

"At sunrise."

"How far do you go?"

"The whole way."

"And can I have a return ticket which will bring me all the way back?"

"You can."

"Do you know, I half think I'll come." The driver made no answer. The
sun must have risen, for he unhitched the brake. And scarcely had the
boy jumped in before the omnibus was off.

How? Did it turn? There was no room. Did it go forward? There was a
blank wall. Yet it was moving--moving at a stately pace through the fog,
which had turned from brown to yellow. The thought of warm bed and
warmer breakfast made the boy feel faint. He wished he had not come. His
parents would not have approved. He would have gone back to them if the
weather had not made it impossible. The solitude was terrible; he was
the only passenger. And the omnibus, though well-built, was cold and
somewhat musty. He drew his coat round him, and in so doing chanced to
feel his pocket. It was empty. He had forgotten his purse.

"Stop!" he shouted. "Stop!" And then, being of a polite disposition, he
glanced up at the painted notice-board so that he might call the driver
by name. "Mr. Browne! stop; O, do please stop!"

Mr. Browne did not stop, but he opened a little window and looked in at
the boy. His face was a surprise, so kind it was and modest.

"Mr. Browne, I've left my purse behind. I've not got a penny. I can't
pay for the ticket. Will you take my watch, please? I am in the most
awful hole."

"Tickets on this line," said the driver, "whether single or return, can
be purchased by coinage from no terrene mint. And a chronometer, though
it had solaced the vigils of Charlemagne, or measured the slumbers of
Laura, can acquire by no mutation the double-cake that charms the
fangless Cerberus of Heaven!" So saying, he handed in the necessary
ticket, and, while the boy said "Thank you," continued: "Titular
pretensions, I know it well, are vanity. Yet they merit no censure when
uttered on a laughing lip, and in an homonymous world are in some sort
useful, since they do serve to distinguish one Jack from his fellow.
Remember me, therefore, as Sir Thomas Browne."

"Are you a Sir? Oh, sorry!" He had heard of these gentlemen drivers. "It
_is_ good of you about the ticket. But if you go on at this rate,
however does your bus pay?"

"It does not pay. It was not intended to pay. Many are the faults of my
equipage; it is compounded too curiously of foreign woods; its cushions
tickle erudition rather than promote repose; and my horses are nourished
not on the evergreen pastures of the moment, but on the dried bents and
clovers of Latinity. But that it pays!--that error at all events was
never intended and never attained."

"Sorry again," said the boy rather hopelessly. Sir Thomas looked sad,
fearing that, even for a moment, he had been the cause of sadness. He
invited the boy to come up and sit beside him on the box, and together
they journeyed on through the fog, which was now changing from yellow to
white. There were no houses by the road; so it must be either Putney
Heath or Wimbledon Common.

"Have you been a driver always?"

"I was a physician once."

"But why did you stop? Weren't you good?"

"As a healer of bodies I had scant success, and several score of my
patients preceded me. But as a healer of the spirit I have succeeded
beyond my hopes and my deserts. For though my draughts were not better
nor subtler than those of other men, yet, by reason of the cunning
goblets wherein I offered them, the queasy soul was ofttimes tempted to
sip and be refreshed."

"The queasy soul," he murmured; "if the sun sets with trees in front of
it, and you suddenly come strange all over, is that a queasy soul?"

"Have you felt that?"

"Why yes."

After a pause he told the boy a little, a very little, about the
journey's end. But they did not chatter much, for the boy, when he liked
a person, would as soon sit silent in his company as speak, and this, he
discovered, was also the mind of Sir Thomas Browne and of many others
with whom he was to be acquainted. He heard, however, about the young
man Shelley, who was now quite a famous person, with a carriage of his
own, and about some of the other drivers who are in the service of the
Company. Meanwhile the light grew stronger, though the fog did not
disperse. It was now more like mist than fog, and at times would travel
quickly across them, as if it was part of a cloud. They had been
ascending, too, in a most puzzling way; for over two hours the horses
had been pulling against the collar, and even if it were Richmond Hill
they ought to have been at the top long ago. Perhaps it was Epsom, or
even the North Downs; yet the air seemed keener than that which blows on
either. And as to the name of their destination, Sir Thomas Browne was
silent.

Crash!

"Thunder, by Jove!" said the boy, "and not so far off either. Listen to
the echoes! It's more like mountains."

He thought, not very vividly, of his father and mother. He saw them
sitting down to sausages and listening to the storm. He saw his own
empty place. Then there would be questions, alarms, theories, jokes,
consolations. They would expect him back at lunch. To lunch he would not
come, nor to tea, but he would be in for dinner, and so his day's
truancy would be over. If he had had his purse he would have bought them
presents--not that he should have known what to get them.

Crash!

The peal and the lightning came together. The cloud quivered as if it
were alive, and torn streamers of mist rushed past. "Are you afraid?"
asked Sir Thomas Browne.

"What is there to be afraid of? Is it much farther?"

The horses of the omnibus stopped just as a ball of fire burst up and
exploded with a ringing noise that was deafening but clear, like the
noise of a blacksmith's forge. All the cloud was shattered.

"Oh, listen. Sir Thomas Browne! No, I mean look; we shall get a view at
last. No, I mean listen; that sounds like a rainbow!"

The noise had died into the faintest murmur, beneath which another
murmur grew, spreading stealthily, steadily, in a curve that widened but
did not vary. And in widening curves a rainbow was spreading from the
horses' feet into the dissolving mists.

"But how beautiful! What colours! Where will it stop? It is more like
the rainbows you can tread on. More like dreams."

The colour and the sound grew together. The rainbow spanned an enormous
gulf. Clouds rushed under it and were pierced by it, and still it grew,
reaching forward, conquering the darkness, until it touched something
that seemed more solid than a cloud.

The boy stood up. "What is that out there?" he called. "What does it
rest on, out at that other end?"

In the morning sunshine a precipice shone forth beyond the gulf A
precipice--or was it a castle? The horses moved. They set their feet
upon the rainbow.

"Oh, look!" the boy shouted. "Oh, listen! Those caves--or are they
gateways? Oh, look between those cliffs at those ledges. I see people! I
see trees!"

"Look also below," whispered Sir Thomas. "Neglect not the diviner
Acheron."

The boy looked below, past the flames of the rainbow that licked against
their wheels. The gulf also had cleared, and in its depths there flowed
an everlasting river. One sunbeam entered and struck a green pool, and
as they passed over he saw three maidens rise to the surface of the
pool, singing, and playing with something that glistened like a ring.

"You down in the water----" he called.

They answered, "You up on the bridge----" There was a burst of music.
"You up on the bridge, good luck to you. Truth in the depth, truth on
the height."

"You down in the water, what are you doing?"

Sir Thomas Browne replied: "They sport in the mancipiary possession of
their gold"; and the omnibus arrived.



III


The boy was in disgrace. He sat locked up in the nursery of Agathox
Lodge, learning poetry for a punishment. His father had said, "My boy! I
can pardon anything but untruthfulness," and had caned him, saying at
each stroke, "There is _no_ omnibus, _no_ driver, _no_ bridge, _no_
mountain; you are a _truant_, _guttersnipe_, a _liar_." His father
could be very stern at times. His mother had begged him to say he was
sorry. But he could not say that. It was the greatest day of his life,
in spite of the caning, and the poetry at the end of it.

He had returned punctually at sunset--driven not by Sir Thomas Browne,
but by a maiden lady who was full of quiet fun. They had talked of
omnibuses and also of barouche landaus. How far away her gentle voice
seemed now! Yet it was scarcely three hours since he had left her up the
alley.

His mother called through the door. "Dear, you are to come down and to
bring your poetry with you."

He came down, and found that Mr. Bons was in the smoking-room with his
father. It had been a dinner party.

"Here is the great traveller!" said his father grimly. "Here is the
young gentleman who drives in an omnibus over rainbows, while young
ladies sing to him." Pleased with his wit, he laughed.

"After all," said Mr. Bons, smiling, "there is something a little like
it in Wagner. It is odd how, in quite illiterate minds, you will find
glimmers of Artistic Truth. The case interests me. Let me plead for the
culprit. We have all romanced in our time, haven't we?"

"Hear how kind Mr. Bons is," said his mother, while his father said,
"Very well. Let him say his Poem, and that will do. He is going away to
my sister on Tuesday, and she will cure him of this alley-slopering."
(Laughter.) "Say your Poem."

The boy began. "'Standing aloof in giant ignorance.'"

His father laughed again--roared. "One for you, my son! 'Standing aloof
in giant ignorance!' I never knew these poets talked sense. Just
describes you. Here, Bons, you go in for poetry. Put him through it,
will you, while I fetch up the whisky?"

"Yes, give me the Keats," said Mr. Bons. "Let him say his Keats to me."

So for a few moments the wise man and the ignorant boy were left alone
in the smoking-room.

"'Standing aloof in giant ignorance, of thee I dream and of the
Cyclades, as one who sits ashore and longs perchance to visit----'"

"Quite right. To visit what?"

"'To visit dolphin coral in deep seas,'" said the boy, and burst into
tears.

"Come, come! why do you cry?"

"Because--because all these words that only rhymed before, now that I've
come back they're me."

Mr. Bons laid the Keats down. The case was more interesting than he had
expected. "_You?_" he exclaimed, "This sonnet, _you_?"

"Yes--and look further on: 'Aye, on the shores of darkness there is
light, and precipices show untrodden green.' It _is_ so, sir. All these
things are true."

"I never doubted it," said Mr. Bons, with closed eyes.

"You--then you believe me? You believe in the omnibus and the driver and
the storm and that return ticket I got for nothing and----"

"Tut, tut! No more of your yarns, my boy. I meant that I never doubted
the essential truth of Poetry. Some day, when you read more, you will
understand what I mean."

"But Mr. Bons, it _is_ so. There _is_ light upon the shores of darkness.
I have seen it coming. Light and a wind."

"Nonsense," said Mr. Bons.

"If I had stopped! They tempted me. They told me to give up my
ticket--for you cannot come back if you lose your ticket. They called
from the river for it, and indeed I was tempted, for I have never been
so happy as among those precipices. But I thought of my mother and
father, and that I must fetch them. Yet they will not come, though the
road starts opposite our house. It has all happened as the people up
there warned me, and Mr. Bons has disbelieved me like every one else. I
have been caned. I shall never see that mountain again."

"What's that about me?" said Mr. Bons, sitting up in his chair very
suddenly.

"I told them about you, and how clever you were, and how many books you
had, and they said, 'Mr. Bons will certainly disbelieve you.'"

"Stuff and nonsense, my young friend. You grow impertinent. I--well--I
will settle the matter. Not a word to your father. I will cure you.
To-morrow evening I will myself call here to take you for a walk, and at
sunset we will go up this alley opposite and hunt for your omnibus, you
silly little boy."

His face grew serious, for the boy was not disconcerted, but leapt about
the room singing, "Joy! joy! I told them you would believe me. We will
drive together over the rainbow. I told them that you would come." After
all, could there be anything in the story? Wagner? Keats? Shelley? Sir
Thomas Browne? Certainly the case was interesting.

And on the morrow evening, though it was pouring with rain, Mr. Bons did
not omit to call at Agathox Lodge.

The boy was ready, bubbling with excitement, and skipping about in a way
that rather vexed the President of the Literary Society. They took a
turn down Buckingham Park Road, and then--having seen that no one was
watching them--slipped up the alley. Naturally enough (for the sun was
setting) they ran straight against the omnibus.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Mr. Bons. "Good gracious heavens!"

It was not the omnibus in which the boy had driven first, nor yet that
in which he had returned. There were three horses--black, gray, and
white, the gray being the finest. The driver, who turned round at the
mention of goodness and of heaven, was a sallow man with terrifying jaws
and sunken eyes. Mr. Bons, on seeing him, gave a cry as if of
recognition, and began to tremble violently.

The boy jumped in.

"Is it possible?" cried Mr. Bons. "Is the impossible possible?"

"Sir; come in, sir. It is such a fine omnibus. Oh, here is his name--Dan
some one."

Mr. Bons sprang in too. A blast of wind immediately slammed the omnibus
door, and the shock jerked down all the omnibus blinds, which were very
weak on their springs.

"Dan.... Show me. Good gracious heavens! we're moving."

"Hooray!" said the boy.

Mr. Bons became flustered. He had not intended to be kidnapped. He could
not find the door-handle, nor push up the blinds. The omnibus was quite
dark, and by the time he had struck a match, night had come on outside
also. They were moving rapidly.

"A strange, a memorable adventure," he said, surveying the interior of
the omnibus, which was large, roomy, and constructed with extreme
regularity, every part exactly answering to every other part. Over the
door (the handle of which was outside) was written, "Lasciate ogni
baldanza voi che entrate"--at least, that was what was written, but Mr.
Bons said that it was Lashy arty something, and that baldanza was a
mistake for speranza. His voice sounded as if he was in church.
Meanwhile, the boy called to the cadaverous driver for two return
tickets. They were handed in without a word. Mr. Bons covered his face
with his hand and again trembled. "Do you know who that is!" he
whispered, when the little window had shut upon them. "It is the
impossible."

"Well, I don't like him as much as Sir Thomas Browne, though I shouldn't
be surprised if he had even more in him."

"More in him?" He stamped irritably. "By accident you have made the
greatest discovery of the century, and all you can say is that there is
more in this man. Do you remember those vellum books in my library,
stamped with red lilies? This--sit still, I bring you stupendous
news!--_this is the man who wrote them_."

The boy sat quite still. "I wonder if we shall see Mrs. Gamp?" he asked,
after a civil pause.

"Mrs. ----?"

"Mrs. Gamp and Mrs. Harris. I like Mrs. Harris. I came upon them quite
suddenly. Mrs. Gamp's bandboxes have moved over the rainbow so badly.
All the bottoms have fallen out, and two of the pippins off her bedstead
tumbled into the stream."

"Out there sits the man who wrote my vellum books!" thundered Mr. Bons,
"and you talk to me of Dickens and of Mrs. Gamp?"

"I know Mrs. Gamp so well," he apologized. "I could not help being glad
to see her. I recognized her voice. She was telling Mrs. Harris about
Mrs. Prig."

"Did you spend the whole day in her elevating company?"

"Oh, no. I raced. I met a man who took me out beyond to a race-course.
You run, and there are dolphins out at sea."

"Indeed. Do you remember the man's name?"

"Achilles. No; he was later. Tom Jones."

Mr. Bons sighed heavily. "Well, my lad, you have made a miserable mess
of it. Think of a cultured person with your opportunities! A cultured
person would have known all these characters and known what to have said
to each. He would not have wasted his time with a Mrs. Gamp or a Tom
Jones. The creations of Homer, of Shakespeare, and of Him who drives us
now, would alone have contented him. He would not have raced. He would
have asked intelligent questions."

"But, Mr. Bons," said the boy humbly, "you will be a cultured person. I
told them so."

"True, true, and I beg you not to disgrace me when we arrive. No
gossiping. No running. Keep close to my side, and never speak to these
Immortals unless they speak to you. Yes, and give me the return tickets.
You will be losing them."

The boy surrendered the tickets, but felt a little sore. After all, he
had found the way to this place. It was hard first to be disbelieved and
then to be lectured. Meanwhile, the rain had stopped, and moonlight
crept into the omnibus through the cracks in the blinds.

"But how is there to be a rainbow?" cried the boy.

"You distract me," snapped Mr. Bons. "I wish to meditate on beauty. I
wish to goodness I was with a reverent and sympathetic person."

The lad bit his lip. He made a hundred good resolutions. He would
imitate Mr. Bons all the visit. He would not laugh, or run, or sing, or
do any of the vulgar things that must have disgusted his new friends
last time. He would be very careful to pronounce their names properly,
and to remember who knew whom. Achilles did not know Tom Jones--at
least, so Mr. Bons said. The Duchess of Malfi was older than Mrs.
Gamp--at least, so Mr. Bons said. He would be self-conscious, reticent,
and prim. He would never say he liked any one. Yet when the Wind flew up
at a chance touch of his head, all these good resolutions went to the
winds, for the omnibus had reached the summit of a moonlit hill, and
there was the chasm, and there, across it, stood the old precipices,
dreaming, with their feet in the everlasting river. He exclaimed, "The
mountain! Listen to the new tune in the water! Look at the camp fires in
the ravines," and Mr. Bons, after a hasty glance, retorted, "Water? Camp
fires? Ridiculous rubbish. Hold your tongue. There is nothing at all."

Yet, under his eyes, a rainbow formed, compounded not of sunlight and
storm, but of moonlight and the spray of the river. The three horses put
their feet upon it. He thought it the finest rainbow he had seen, but
did not dare to say so, since Mr. Bons said that nothing was there. He
leant out--the window had opened--and sang the tune that rose from the
sleeping waters.

"The prelude to Rhinegold?" said Mr. Bons suddenly. "Who taught you
these _leit motifs_?" He, too, looked out of the window. Then he behaved
very oddly. He gave a choking cry, and fell back on to the omnibus
floor. He writhed and kicked. His face was green.

"Does the bridge make you dizzy?" the boy asked.

"Dizzy!" gasped Mr. Bons. "I want to go back. Tell the driver."

But the driver shook his head.

"We are nearly there," said the boy, "They are asleep. Shall I call?
They will be so pleased to see you, for I have prepared them."

Mr. Bons moaned. They moved over the lunar rainbow, which ever and ever
broke away behind their wheels. How still the night was! Who would be
sentry at the Gate?

"I am coming," he shouted, again forgetting the hundred resolutions. "I
am returning--I, the boy."

"The boy is returning," cried a voice to other voices, who repeated,
"The boy is returning."

"I am bringing Mr. Bons with me."

Silence.

"I should have said Mr. Bons is bringing me with him."

Profound silence.

"Who stands sentry?"

"Achilles."

And on the rocky causeway, close to the springing of the rainbow bridge,
he saw a young man who carried a wonderful shield.

"Mr. Bons, it is Achilles, armed."

"I want to go back," said Mr. Bons.

The last fragment of the rainbow melted, the wheels sang upon the living
rock, the door of the omnibus burst open. Out leapt the boy--he could
not resist--and sprang to meet the warrior, who, stooping suddenly,
caught him on his shield.

"Achilles!" he cried, "let me get down, for I am ignorant and vulgar,
and I must wait for that Mr. Bons of whom I told you yesterday."

But Achilles raised him aloft. He crouched on the wonderful shield, on
heroes and burning cities, on vineyards graven in gold, on every dear
passion, every joy, on the entire image of the Mountain that he had
discovered, encircled, like it, with an everlasting stream. "No, no," he
protested, "I am not worthy. It is Mr. Bons who must be up here."

But Mr. Bons was whimpering, and Achilles trumpeted and cried, "Stand
upright upon my shield!"

"Sir, I did not mean to stand! something made me stand. Sir, why do you
delay? Here is only the great Achilles, whom you knew."

Mr. Bons screamed, "I see no one. I see nothing. I want to go back."
Then he cried to the driver, "Save me! Let me stop in your chariot. I
have honoured you. I have quoted you. I have bound you in vellum. Take
me back to my world."

The driver replied, "I am the means and not the end. I am the food and
not the life. Stand by yourself, as that boy has stood. I cannot save
you. For poetry is a spirit; and they that would worship it must worship
in spirit and in truth."

Mr. Bons--he could not resist--crawled out of the beautiful omnibus. His
face appeared, gaping horribly. His hands followed, one gripping the
step, the other beating the air. Now his shoulders emerged, his chest,
his stomach. With a shriek of "I see London," he fell--fell against the
hard, moonlit rock, fell into it as if it were water, fell through it,
vanished, and was seen by the boy no more.

"Where have you fallen to, Mr. Bons? Here is a procession arriving to
honour you with music and torches. Here come the men and women whose
names you know. The mountain is awake, the river is awake, over the
race-course the sea is awaking those dolphins, and it is all for you.
They want you----"

There was the touch of fresh leaves on his forehead. Some one had
crowned him.

                 TELOS

       *       *       *       *       *

From the _Kingston Gazette, Surbiton Times,_ and _Paynes Park Observer_.

The body of Mr. Septimus Bons has been found in a shockingly mutilated
condition in the vicinity of the Bermondsey gas-works. The deceased's
pockets contained a sovereign-purse, a silver cigar-case, a bijou
pronouncing dictionary, and a couple of omnibus tickets. The unfortunate
gentleman had apparently been hurled from a considerable height. Foul
play is suspected, and a thorough investigation is pending by the
authorities.

THE END



OTHER KINGDOM


I


"_Quem_, whom; _fugis_, are you avoiding; _ab demens_, you silly ass;
_habitarunt di quoque_, gods too have lived in; _silvas_, the woods.' Go
ahead!"

I always brighten the classics--it is part of my system--and therefore I
translated _demens_ by "silly ass." But Miss Beaumont need not have made
a note of the translation, and Ford, who knows better, need not have
echoed after me. "Whom are you avoiding, you silly ass, gods too have
lived in the woods."

"Ye--es," I replied, with scholarly hesitation. "Ye--es.
_Silvas_--woods, wooded spaces, the country generally. Yes. _Demens_, of
course, is _de--mens_. 'Ah, witless fellow! Gods, I say, even gods have
dwelt in the woods ere now.'"

"But I thought gods always lived in the sky," said Mrs. Worters,
interrupting our lesson for I think the third-and-twentieth time.

"Not always," answered Miss Beaumont. As she spoke she inserted "witless
fellow" as an alternative to "silly ass."

"I always thought they lived in the sky."

"Oh, no, Mrs. Worters," the girl repeated. "Not always." And finding her
place in the note-book she read as follows: "Gods. Where. Chief
deities--Mount Olympus. Pan--most places, as name implies.
Oreads--mountains. Sirens, Tritons, Nereids--water (salt). Naiads
--water (fresh). Satyrs, Fauns, etc.--woods. Dryads--trees."

"Well, dear, you have learnt a lot. And will you now tell me what good
it has done you?"

"It has helped me--" faltered Miss Beaumont. She was very earnest over
her classics. She wished she could have said what good they had done
her.

Ford came to her rescue, "Of course it's helped you. The classics are
full of tips. They teach you how to dodge things."

I begged my young friend not to dodge his Virgil lesson.

"But they do!" he cried. "Suppose that long-haired brute Apollo wants to
give you a music lesson. Well, out you pop into the laurels. Or
Universal Nature comes along. You aren't feeling particularly keen on
Universal Nature so you turn into a reed."

"Is Jack mad?" asked Mrs. Worters.

But Miss Beaumont had caught the allusions--which were quite ingenious
I must admit. "And Croesus?" she inquired. "What was it one turned into
to get away from Croesus?"

I hastened to tidy up her mythology. "Midas, Miss Beaumont, not Croesus.
And he turns you--you don't turn yourself: he turns you into gold."

"There's no dodging Midas," said Ford.

"Surely--" said Miss Beaumont. She had been learning Latin not quite a
fortnight, but she would have corrected the Regius Professor.

He began to tease her. "Oh, there's no dodging Midas! He just comes, he
touches you, and you pay him several thousand per cent, at once. You're
gold--a young golden lady--if he touches you."

"I won't be touched!" she cried, relapsing into her habitual frivolity.

"Oh, but he'll touch you."

"He sha'n't!"

"He will."

"He sha'n't!"

"He will."

Miss Beaumont took up her Virgil and smacked Ford over the head with it.

"Evelyn! Evelyn!" said Mrs. Worters. "Now you are forgetting yourself.
And you also forget my question. What good has Latin done you?"

"Mr. Ford--what good has Latin done you?"

"Mr. Inskip--what good has Latin done us?"

So I was let in for the classical controversy. The arguments for the
study of Latin are perfectly sound, but they are difficult to remember,
and the afternoon sun was hot, and I needed my tea. But I had to justify
my existence as a coach, so I took off my eye-glasses and breathed on
them and said, "My dear Ford, what a question!"

"It's all right for Jack," said Mrs. Worters. "Jack has to pass his
entrance examination. But what's the good of it for Evelyn? None at
all."

"No, Mrs. Worters," I persisted, pointing my eye-glasses at her. "I
cannot agree. Miss Beaumont is--in a sense--new to our civilization. She
is entering it, and Latin is one of the subjects in her entrance
examination also. No one can grasp modern life without some knowledge of
its origins."

"But why should she grasp modern life?" said the tiresome woman.

"Well, there you are!" I retorted, and shut up my eye-glasses with a
snap.

"Mr. Inskip, I am not there. Kindly tell me what's the good of it all.
Oh, I've been through it myself: Jupiter, Venus, Juno, I know the lot of
them. And many of the stories not at all proper."

"Classical education," I said drily, "is not entirely confined to
classical mythology. Though even the mythology has its value. Dreams if
you like, but there is value in dreams."

"I too have dreams," said Mrs. Worters, "but I am not so foolish as to
mention them afterwards."

Mercifully we were interrupted. A rich virile voice close behind us
said, "Cherish your dreams!" We had been joined by our host, Harcourt
Worters--Mrs. Worters' son, Miss Beaumont's fiance. Ford's guardian, my
employer: I must speak of him as Mr. Worters.

"Let us cherish our dreams!" he repeated. "All day I've been fighting,
haggling, bargaining. And to come out on to this lawn and see you all
learning Latin, so happy, so passionless, so Arcadian----"

He did not finish the sentence, but sank into the chair next to Miss
Beaumont, and possessed himself of her hand. As he did so she sang: "Ah
yoù sílly àss góds lìve in woóds!"

"What have we here?" said Mr. Worters with a slight frown.

With the other hand she pointed to me.

"Virgil--" I stammered. "Colloquial translation----"

"Oh, I see; a colloquial translation of poetry." Then his smile
returned. "Perhaps if gods live in woods, that is why woods are so dear.
I have just bought Other Kingdom Copse!"

Loud exclamations of joy. Indeed, the beeches in that copse are as fine
as any in Hertfordshire. Moreover, it, and the meadow by which it is
approached, have always made an ugly notch in the rounded contours of
the Worters estate. So we were all very glad that Mr. Worters had
purchased Other Kingdom. Only Ford kept silent, stroking his head where
the Virgil had hit it, and smiling a little to himself as he did so.

"Judging from the price I paid, I should say there was a god in every
tree. But price, this time was no object." He glanced at Miss Beaumont.

"You admire beeches, Evelyn, do you not?"

"I forget always which they are. Like this?"

She flung her arms up above her head, close together, so that she looked
like a slender column. Then her body swayed and her delicate green dress
quivered over it with the suggestion of countless leaves.

"My dear child!" exclaimed her lover.

"No: that is a silver birch," said Ford,

"Oh, of course. Like this, then." And she twitched up her skirts so that
for a moment they spread out in great horizontal layers, like the layers
of a beech.

We glanced at the house, but none of the servants were looking. So we
laughed, and said she ought to go on the variety stage.

"Ah, this is the kind I like!" she cried, and practised the beech-tree
again.

"I thought so," said Mr. Worters. "I thought so. Other Kingdom Copse is
yours."

"Mine----?" She had never had such a present in her life. She could not
realize it.

"The purchase will be drawn up in your name. You will sign the deed.
Receive the wood, with my love. It is a second engagement ring."

"But is it--is it mine? Can I--do what I like there?"

"You can," said Mr. Worters, smiling.

She rushed at him and kissed him. She kissed Mrs. Worters. She would
have kissed myself and Ford if we had not extruded elbows. The joy of
possession had turned her head.

"It's mine! I can walk there, work there, live there. A wood of my own!
Mine for ever."

"Yours, at all events, for ninety-nine years."

"Ninety-nine years?" I regret to say there was a tinge of disappointment
in her voice.

"My dear child! Do you expect to live longer?"

"I suppose I can't," she replied, and flushed a little. "I don't know."

"Ninety-nine seems long enough to most people. I have got this house,
and the very lawn you are standing on, on a lease of ninety-nine years.
Yet I call them my own, and I think I am justified. Am I not?"

"Oh, yes."

"Ninety-nine years is practically for ever. Isn't it?"

"Oh, yes. It must be."

Ford possesses a most inflammatory note-book. Outside it is labelled
"Private," inside it is headed "Practically a book." I saw him make an
entry in it now, "Eternity: practically ninety-nine years."

Mr. Worters, as if speaking to himself, now observed: "My goodness! My
goodness! How land has risen! Perfectly astounding."

I saw that he was in need of a Boswell, so I said: "Has it, indeed?"

"My dear Inskip. Guess what I could have got that wood for ten years
ago! But I refused. Guess why."

We could not guess why.

"Because the transaction would not have been straight." A most becoming
blush spread over his face as he uttered the noble word. "Not straight.
Straight legally. But not morally straight. We were to force the hands
of the man who owned it. I refused. The others--decent fellows in their
way--told me I was squeamish. I said, 'Yes. Perhaps I am. My name is
plain Harcourt Worters--not a well-known name if you go outside the City
and my own country, but a name which, where it is known, carries, I
flatter myself, some weight. And I will not sign my name to this. That
is all. Call me squeamish if you like. But I will not sign. It is just a
fad of mine. Let us call it a fad.'" He blushed again. Ford believes
that his guardian blushes all over--if you could strip him and make him
talk nobly he would look like a boiled lobster. There is a picture of
him in this condition in the note-book.

"So the man who owned it then didn't own it now?" said Miss Beaumont,
who had followed the narrative with some interest.

"Oh, no!" said Mr. Worters.

"Why no!" said Mrs. Worters absently, as she hunted in the grass for her
knitting-needle. "Of course not. It belongs to the widow."

"Tea!" cried her son, springing vivaciously to his feet. "I see tea and
I want it. Come, mother. Come along, Evelyn. I can tell you it's no
joke, a hard day in the battle of life. For life is practically a
battle. To all intents and purposes a battle. Except for a few lucky
fellows who can read books, and so avoid the realities. But I----"

His voice died away as he escorted the two ladies over the smooth lawn
and up the stone steps to the terrace, on which the footman was placing
tables and little chairs and a silver kettle-stand. More ladies came out
of the house. We could just hear their shouts of excitement as they also
were told of the purchase of Other Kingdom.

I like Ford. The boy has the makings of a scholar and--though for some
reason he objects to the word--of a gentleman. It amused me now to see
his lip curl with the vague cynicism of youth. He cannot understand the
footman and the solid silver kettle-stand. They make him cross. For he
has dreams--not exactly spiritual dreams: Mr. Worters is the man for
those--but dreams of the tangible and the actual robust dreams, which
take him, not to heaven, but to another earth. There are no footmen in
this other earth, and the kettle-stands, I suppose, will not be made of
silver, and I know that everything is to be itself, and not practically
something else. But what this means, and, if it means anything, what the
good of it is, I am not prepared to say. For though I have just said
"there is value in dreams," I only said it to silence old Mrs. Worters.

"Go ahead, man! We can't have tea till we've got through something."

He turned his chair away from the terrace, so that he could sit looking
at the meadows and at the stream that runs through the meadows, and at
the beech-trees of Other Kingdom that rise beyond the stream. Then, most
gravely and admirably, he began to construe the Eclogues of Virgil.



II


Other Kingdom Copse is just like any other beech copse, and I am
therefore spared the fatigue of describing it. And the stream in front
of it, like many other streams, is not crossed by a bridge in the right
place, and you must either walk round a mile or else you must paddle.
Miss Beaumont suggested that we should paddle.

Mr. Worters accepted the suggestion tumultuously. It only became evident
gradually that he was not going to adopt it.

"What fun! what fun! We will paddle to your kingdom. If only--if only it
wasn't for the tea-things."

"But you can carry the tea-things on your back."

"Why, yes! so I can. Or the servants could,"

"Harcourt--no servants. This is my picnic, and my wood. I'm going to
settle everything. I didn't tell you: I've got all the food. I've been
in the village with Mr. Ford."

"In the village----?"

"Yes, We got biscuits and oranges and half a pound of tea. That's all
you'll have. He carried them up. And he'll carry them over the stream. I
want you just to lend me some tea-things--not the best ones. I'll take
care of them. That's all."

"Dear creature...."

"Evelyn," said Mrs. Worters, "how much did you and Jack pay for that
tea?"

"For the half-pound, tenpence."

Mrs. Worters received the announcement in gloomy silence.

"Mother!" cried Mr. Worters. "Why, I forgot! How could we go paddling
with mother?"

"Oh, but, Mrs. Worters, we could carry you over."

"Thank you, dearest child. I am sure you could."

"Alas! alas! Evelyn. Mother is laughing at us. She would sooner die than
be carried. And alas! there are my sisters, and Mrs. Osgood: she has a
cold, tiresome woman. No: we shall have to go round by the bridge."

"But some of us----" began Ford. His guardian cut him short with a quick
look.

So we went round--a procession of eight. Miss Beaumont led us. She was
full of fun--at least so I thought at the time, but when I reviewed her
speeches afterwards I could not find in them anything amusing. It was
all this kind of thing: "Single file! Pretend you're in church and don't
talk. Mr. Ford, turn out your toes. Harcourt--at the bridge throw to the
Naiad a pinch of tea. She has a headache. She has had a headache for
nineteen hundred years." All that she said was quite stupid. I cannot
think why I liked it at the time.

As we approached the copse she said, "Mr. Inskip, sing, and we'll sing
after you: Ah yoù silly àss góds lìve in woóds." I cleared my throat and
gave out the abominable phrase, and we all chanted it as if it were a
litany. There was something attractive about Miss Beaumont. I was not
surprised that Harcourt had picked her out of "Ireland" and had brought
her home, without money, without connections, almost without
antecedents, to be his bride. It was daring of him, but he knew himself
to be a daring fellow. She brought him nothing; but that he could
afford, he had so vast a surplus of spiritual and commercial goods. "In
time," I heard him tell his mother, "in time Evelyn will repay me a
thousandfold." Meanwhile there was something attractive about her. If it
were my place to like people, I could have liked her very much.

"Stop singing!" she cried. We had entered the wood. "Welcome, all of
you." We bowed. Ford, who had not been laughing, bowed down to the
ground. "And now be seated. Mrs. Worters--will you sit there--against
that tree with a green trunk? It will show up your beautiful dress."

"Very well, dear, I will," said Mrs. Worters.

"Anna--there. Mr. Inskip next to her. Then Ruth and Mrs. Osgood. Oh,
Harcourt--do sit a little forward, so that you'll hide the house. I
don't want to see the house at all."

"I won't!" laughed her lover, "I want my back against a tree, too."

"Miss Beaumont," asked Ford, "where shall I sit?" He was standing at
attention, like a soldier.

"Oh, look at all these Worters!" she cried, "and one little Ford in the
middle of them!" For she was at that state of civilization which
appreciates a pun.

"Shall I stand. Miss Beaumont? Shall I hide the house from you if I
stand?"

"Sit down. Jack, you baby!" cried his guardian, breaking in with
needless asperity. "Sit down!"

"He may just as well stand if he will," said she. "Just pull back your
soft hat, Mr. Ford. Like a halo. Now you hide even the smoke from the
chimneys. And it makes you look beautiful."

"Evelyn! Evelyn! You are too hard on the boy. You'll tire him. He's one
of those bookworms. He's not strong. Let him sit down."

"Aren't you strong?" she asked.

"I am strong!" he cried. It is quite true. Ford has no right to be
strong, but he is. He never did his dumb-bells or played in his school
fifteen. But the muscles came. He thinks they came while he was reading
Pindar.

"Then you may just as well stand, if you will."

"Evelyn! Evelyn! childish, selfish maiden! If poor Jack gets tired I
will take his place. Why don't you want to see the house? Eh?"

Mrs. Worters and the Miss Worters moved uneasily. They saw that their
Harcourt was not quite pleased. Theirs not to question why. It was for
Evelyn to remove his displeasure, and they glanced at her.

"Well, why don't you want to see your future home? I must say--though I
practically planned the house myself--that it looks very well from here.
I like the gables. Miss! Answer me!"

I felt for Miss Beaumont. A home-made gable is an awful thing, and
Harcourt's mansion looked like a cottage with the dropsy. But what would
she say?

She said nothing.

"Well?"

It was as if he had never spoken. She was as merry, as smiling, as
pretty as ever, and she said nothing. She had not realized that a
question requires an answer.

For us the situation was intolerable. I had to save it by making a
tactful reference to the view, which, I said, reminded me a little of
the country near Veii. It did not--indeed it could not, for I have never
been near Veii. But it is part of my system to make classical allusions.
And at all events I saved the situation.

Miss Beaumont was serious and rational at once. She asked me the date of
Veii. I made a suitable answer.

"I do like the classics," she informed us. "They are so natural. Just
writing down things."

"Ye--es," said I. "But the classics have their poetry as well as their
prose. They're more than a record of facts."

"Just writing down things," said Miss Beaumont, and smiled as if the
silly definition pleased her.

Harcourt had recovered himself. "A very just criticism," said he. "It is
what I always feel about the ancient world. It takes us but a very
little way. It only writes things down."

"What do you mean?" asked Evelyn.

"I mean this--though it is presumptuous to speak in the presence of Mr.
Inskip. This is what I mean. The classics are not everything. We owe
them an enormous debt; I am the last to undervalue it; I, too, went
through them at school. They are full of elegance and beauty. But they
are not everything. They were written before men began to really feel."
He coloured crimson. "Hence, the chilliness of classical art--its lack
of--of a something. Whereas later things--Dante--a Madonna of
Raphael--some bars of Mendelssohn----" His voice tailed reverently away.
We sat with our eyes on the ground, not liking to look at Miss Beaumont.
It is a fairly open secret that she also lacks a something. She has not
yet developed her soul.

The silence was broken by the still small voice of Mrs. Worters saying
that she was faint with hunger.

The young hostess sprang up. She would let none of us help her: it was
her party. She undid the basket and emptied out the biscuits and oranges
from their bags, and boiled the kettle and poured out the tea, which was
horrible. But we laughed and talked with the frivolity that suits the
open air, and even Mrs. Worters expectorated her flies with a smile.
Over us all there stood the silent, chivalrous figure of Ford, drinking
tea carefully lest it should disturb his outline. His guardian, who is a
wag, chaffed him and tickled his ankles and calves.

"Well, this is nice!" said Miss Beaumont. "I am happy."

"Your wood, Evelyn!" said the ladies.

"Her wood for ever!" cried Mr. Worters. "It is an unsatisfactory
arrangement, a ninety-nine years' lease. There is no feeling of
permanency. I reopened negotiations. I have bought her the wood for
ever--all right, dear, all right: don't make a fuss."

"But I must!" she cried. "For everything's perfect! Every one so
kind--and I didn't know most of you a year ago. Oh, it is so
wonderful--and now a wood--a wood of my own--a wood for ever. All of you
coming to tea with me here! Dear Harcourt--dear people--and just where
the house would come and spoil things, there is Mr. Ford!"

"Ha! ha!" laughed Mr. Worters, and slipped his hand up round the boy's
ankle. What happened I do not know, but Ford collapsed on to the ground
with a sharp cry. To an outsider it might have sounded like a cry of
anger or pain. We, who knew better, laughed uproariously.

"Down he goes! Down he goes!" And they struggled playfully, kicking up
the mould and the dry leaves.

"Don't hurt my wood!" cried Miss Beaumont.

Ford gave another sharp cry. Mr. Worters withdrew his hand. "Victory!"
he exclaimed. "Evelyn! behold the family seat!" But Miss Beaumont, in
her butterfly fashion, had left us, and was strolling away into her
wood.

We packed up the tea-things and then split into groups. Ford went with
the ladies. Mr. Worters did me the honour to stop by me.

"Well!" he said, in accordance with his usual formula, "and how go the
classics?"

"Fairly well."

"Does Miss Beaumont show any ability?"

"I should say that she does. At all events she has enthusiasm."

"You do not think it is the enthusiasm of a child? I will be frank with
you, Mr. Inskip. In many ways Miss Beaumont's practically a child. She
has everything to learn: she acknowledges as much herself. Her new life
is so different--so strange. Our habits--our thoughts--she has to be
initiated into them all."

I saw what he was driving at, but I am not a fool, and I replied: "And
how can she be initiated better than through the classics?"

"Exactly, exactly," said Mr. Worters. In the distance we heard her
voice. She was counting the beech-trees. "The only question is--this
Latin and Greek--what will she do with it? Can she make anything of it?
Can she--well, it's not as if she will ever have to teach it to
others."

"That is true." And my features might have been observed to become
undecided.

"Whether, since she knows so little--I grant you she has enthusiasm. But
ought one not to divert her enthusiasm--say to English literature? She
scarcely knows her Tennyson at all. Last night in the conservatory I
read her that wonderful scene between Arthur and Guinevere. Greek and
Latin are all very well, but I sometimes feel we ought to begin at the
beginning."

"You feel," said I, "that for Miss Beaumont the classics are something
of a luxury."

"A luxury. That is the exact word, Mr. Inskip. A luxury. A whim. It is
all very well for Jack Ford. And here we come to another point. Surely
she keeps Jack back? Her knowledge must be elementary."

"Well, her knowledge _is_ elementary: and I must say that it's
difficult to teach them together. Jack has read a good deal, one way and
another, whereas Miss Beaumont, though diligent and enthusiastic----"

"So I have been feeling. The arrangement is scarcely fair on Jack?"

"Well, I must admit----"

"Quite so. I ought never to have suggested it. It must come to an end.
Of course, Mr. Inskip, it shall make no difference to you, this
withdrawal of a pupil."

"The lessons shall cease at once, Mr. Worters."

Here she came up to us. "Harcourt, there are seventy-eight trees. I have
had such a count."

He smiled down at her. Let me remember to say that he is tall and
handsome, with a strong chin and liquid brown eyes, and a high forehead
and hair not at all gray. Few things are more striking than a photograph
of Mr. Harcourt Worters.

"Seventy-eight trees?"

"Seventy-eight."

"Are you pleased?"

"Oh, Harcourt----!"

I began to pack up the tea-things. They both saw and heard me. It was
their own fault if they did not go further.

"I'm looking forward to the bridge," said he. "A rustic bridge at the
bottom, and then, perhaps, an asphalt path from the house over the
meadow, so that in all weathers we can walk here dry-shod. The boys come
into the wood--look at all these initials--and I thought of putting a
simple fence, to prevent any one but ourselves----"

"Harcourt!"

"A simple fence," he continued, "just like what I have put round my
garden and the fields. Then at the other side of the copse, away from
the house, I would put a gate, and have keys--two keys, I think--one for
me and one for you--not more; and I would bring the asphalt path----"

"But Harcourt-----"

"But Evelyn!"

"I--I--I----"

"You--you--you----?"

"I--I don't want an asphalt path."

"No? Perhaps you are right. Cinders perhaps. Yes. Or even gravel."

"But Harcourt--I don't want a path at all. I--I--can't afford a path."

He gave a roar of triumphant laughter. "Dearest! As if you were going to
be bothered? The path's part of my present."

"The wood is your present," said Miss Beaumont. "Do you know--I don't
care for the path. I'd rather always come as we came to-day. And I don't
want a bridge. No--nor a fence either. I don't mind the boys and their
initials. They and the girls have always come up to Other Kingdom and
cut their names together in the bark. It's called the Fourth Time of
Asking. I don't want it to stop."

"Ugh!" He pointed to a large heart transfixed by an arrow. "Ugh! Ugh!" I
suspect that he was gaining time.

"They cut their names and go away, and when the first child is born they
come again and deepen the cuts. So for each child. That's how you know:
the initials that go right through to the wood are the fathers and
mothers of large families, and the scratches in the bark that soon close
up are boys and girls who were never married at all."

"You wonderful person! I've lived here all my life and never heard a
word of this. Fancy folk-lore in Hertfordshire! I must tell the
Archdeacon: he will be delighted----"

"And Harcourt, I don't want this to stop."

"My dear girl, the villagers will find other trees! There's nothing
particular in Other Kingdom."

"But----"

"Other Kingdom shall be for us. You and I alone. Our initials only." His
voice sank to a whisper.

"I don't want it fenced, in." Her face was turned to me; I saw that it
was puzzled and frightened. "I hate fences. And bridges. And all paths.
It is my wood. Please: you gave me the wood."

"Why, yes!" he replied, soothing her. But I could see that he was angry.
"Of course. But aha! Evelyn, the meadow's mine; I have a right to fence
there--between my domain and yours!"

"Oh, fence me out if you like! Fence me out as much as you like! But
never in. Oh Harcourt, never in. I must be on the outside, I must be
where any one can reach me. Year by year--while the initials deepen--the
only thing worth feeling--and at last they close up--but one has felt
them."

"Our initials!" he murmured, seizing upon the one word which he had
understood and which was useful to him. "Let us carve our initials now.
You and I--a heart if you like it, and an arrow and everything.
H.W.--E.B."

"H.W.," she repeated, "and E.B."

He took out his penknife and drew her away in search of an unsullied
tree. "E.B., Eternal Blessing. Mine! Mine! My haven from the world! My
temple of purity. Oh the spiritual exaltation--you cannot understand it,
but you will! Oh, the seclusion of Paradise. Year after year alone
together, all in all to each other--year after year, soul to soul, E.B.,
Everlasting Bliss!"

He stretched out his hand to cut the initials. As he did so she seemed
to awake from a dream. "Harcourt!" she cried, "Harcourt! What's that?
What's that red stuff on your finger and thumb?"



III


Oh, my goodness! Oh, all ye goddesses and gods! Here's a mess. Mr.
Worters has been reading Ford's inflammatory note-book.

"This my own fault," said Ford. "I should have labelled it 'Practically
Private.' How could he know he was not meant to look inside?"

I spoke out severely, as an _employé_ should. "My dear boy, none of
that. The label came unstuck. That was why Mr. Worters opened the book.
He never suspected it was private. See--the label's off."

"Scratched off," Ford retorted grimly, and glanced at his ankle.

I affect not to understand. "The point is this. Mr. Worters is thinking
the matter over for four-and-twenty hours. If you take my advice you
will apologize before that time elapses."

"And if I don't?"

"You know your own affairs of course. But don't forget that you are
young and practically ignorant of life, and that you have scarcely any
money of your own. As far as I can see, your career practically depends
on the favour of Mr. Worters. You have laughed at him. He does not like
being laughed at. It seems to me that your course is obvious."

"Apology?"

"Complete."

"And if I don't?"

"Departure."

He sat down on the stone steps and rested his head on his knees. On the
lawn below us was Miss Beaumont, draggling about with some croquet
balls. Her lover was out in the meadow, superintending the course of the
asphalt path. For the path is to be made, and so is the bridge, and the
fence is to be built round Other Kingdom after all. In time Miss
Beaumont saw how unreasonable were her objections. Of her own accord,
one evening in the drawing-room, she gave her Harcourt permission to do
what he liked. "That wood looks nearer," said Ford.

"The inside fences have gone: that brings it nearer. But my dear
boy--you must settle what you're going to do."

"How much has he read?"

"Naturally he only opened the book. From what you showed me of it, one
glance would be enough."

"Did he open at the poems?"

"Poems?"

"Did he speak of the poems?"

"No. Were they about him?"

"They were not about him."

"Then it wouldn't matter if he saw them."

"It is sometimes a compliment to be mentioned," said Ford, looking up at
me. The remark had a stinging fragrance about it--such a fragrance as
clings to the mouth after admirable wine. It did not taste like the
remark of a boy. I was sorry that my pupil was likely to wreck his
career; and I told him again that he had better apologize.

"I won't speak of Mr. Worters' claim for an apology. That's an aspect
on which I prefer not to touch. The point is, if you don't apologize,
you go--where?"

"To an aunt at Peckham."

I pointed to the pleasant, comfortable land-scape, full of cows and
carriage-horses out at grass, and civil retainers. In the midst of it
stood Mr. Worters, radiating energy and wealth, like a terrestrial sun.
"My dear Ford--don't be heroic! Apologize."

Unfortunately I raised my voice a little, and Miss Beaumont heard me,
down on the lawn.

"Apologize?" she cried. "What about?" And as she was not interested in
the game, she came up the steps towards us, trailing her croquet mallet
behind her. Her walk was rather listless. She was toning down at last.

"Come indoors!" I whispered. "We must get out of this."

"Not a bit of it!" said Ford.

"What is it?" she asked, standing beside him on the step.

He swallowed something as he looked up at her. Suddenly I understood. I
knew the nature and the subject of his poems. I was not so sure now that
he had better apologize. The sooner he was kicked out of the place the
better.

In spite of my remonstrances, he told her about the book, and her first
remark was: "Oh, do let me see it!" She had no "proper feeling" of any
kind. Then she said: "But why do you both look so sad?"

"We are awaiting Mr. Worters' decision," said I.

"Mr. Inskip! What nonsense! Do you suppose Harcourt'll be angry?"

"Of course he is angry, and rightly so."

"But why?"

"Ford has laughed at him."

"But what's that!" And for the first time there was anger in her voice.
"Do you mean to say he'll punish some one who laughs at him? Why, for
what else--for whatever reason are we all here? Not to laugh at each
other! I laugh at people all day. At Mr. Ford. At you. And so does
Harcourt. Oh, you've misjudged him! He won't--he couldn't be angry with
people who laughed."

"Mine is not nice laughter," said Ford. "He could not well forgive me."

"You're a silly boy." She sneered at him. "You don't know Harcourt. So
generous in every way. Why, he'd be as furious as I should be if you
apologized. Mr. Inskip, isn't that so?"

"He has every right to an apology, I think."

"Right? What's a right? You use too many new words.
'Rights'--'apologies'--'society'--'position'--I don't follow it. What
are we all here for, anyhow?"

Her discourse was full of trembling lights and shadows--frivolous one
moment, the next moment asking why Humanity is here. I did not take the
Moral Science Tripos, so I could not tell her.

"One thing I know--and that is that Harcourt isn't as stupid as you two.
He soars above conventions. He doesn't care about 'rights' and
'apologies.' He knows that all laughter is nice, and that the other nice
things are money and the soul and so on."

The soul and so on! I wonder that Harcourt out in the meadows did not
have an apoplectic fit.

"Why, what a poor business your life would be," she continued, "if you
all kept taking offence and apologizing! Forty million people in England
and all of them touchy! How one would laugh if it was true! Just
imagine!" And she did laugh. "Look at Harcourt though. He knows better.
He isn't petty like that. Mr. Ford! He isn't petty like that. Why, what
's wrong with your eyes?"

He rested his head on his knees again, and we could see his eyes no
longer. In dispassionate tones she informed me that she thought he was
crying. Then she tapped him on the hair with her mallet and said:
"Cry-baby! Cry-cry-baby! Crying about nothing!" and ran laughing down
the steps. "All right!" she shouted from the lawn. "Tell the cry-baby to
stop. I'm going to speak to Harcourt!"

We watched her go in silence. Ford had scarcely been crying. His eyes
had only become large and angry. He used such swear-words as he knew,
and then got up abruptly, and went into the house. I think he could not
bear to see her disillusioned. I had no such tenderness, and it was with
considerable interest that I watched Miss Beaumont approach her lord.

She walked confidently across the meadow, bowing to the workmen as they
raised their hats. Her languor had passed, and with it her suggestion of
"tone." She was the same crude, unsophisticated person that Harcourt had
picked out of Ireland--beautiful and ludicrous in the extreme, and:--if
you go in for pathos--extremely pathetic.

I saw them meet, and soon she was hanging on his arm. The motion of his
hand explained to her the construction of bridges. Twice she interrupted
him: he had to explain everything again. Then she got in her word, and
what followed was a good deal better than a play. Their two little
figures parted and met and parted again, she gesticulating, he most
pompous and calm. She pleaded, she argued and--if satire can carry half
a mile--she tried to be satirical. To enforce one of her childish points
she made two steps back. Splash! She was floundering in the little
stream.

That was the _dénouement_ of the comedy. Harcourt rescued her, while the
workmen crowded round in an agitated chorus. She was wet quite as far as
her knees, and muddy over her ankles. In this state she was conduced
towards me, and in time I began to hear words; "Influenza--a slight
immersion--clothes are of no consequence beside health--pray, dearest,
don't worry--yes, it must have been a shock--bed! bed! I insist on bed!
Promise? Good girl. Up the steps to bed then."

They parted on the lawn, and she came obediently up the steps. Her face
was full of terror and bewilderment.

"So you've had a wetting, Miss Beaumont!"

"Wetting? Oh, yes. But, Mr. Inskip--I don't understand: I've failed."

I expressed surprise.

"Mr. Ford is to go--at once. I've failed."

"I'm sorry."

"I've failed with Harcourt. He's offended. He won't laugh. He won't let
me do what I want. Latin and Greek began it: I wanted to know about gods
and heroes and he wouldn't let me: then I wanted no fence round Other
Kingdom and no bridge and no path--and look! Now I ask that Mr. Ford,
who has done nothing, sha'n't be punished for it--and he is to go away
for ever."

"Impertinence is not 'nothing,' Miss Beaumont." For I must keep in with
Harcourt.

"Impertinence is nothing!" she cried. "It doesn't exist. It's a sham,
like 'claims' and 'position' and 'rights.' It's part of the great
dream."

"What 'great dream'?" I asked, trying not to smile.

"Tell Mr. Ford--here comes Harcourt; I must go to bed. Give my love to
Mr. Ford, and tell him 'to guess.' I shall never see him again, and I
won't stand it. Tell him to guess. I am sorry I called him a cry-baby.
He was not crying like a baby. He was crying like a grown-up person, and
now I have grown up too."

I judged it right to repeat this conversation to my employer.



IV


The bridge is built, the fence finished, and Other Kingdom lies tethered
by a ribbon of asphalt to our front door. The seventy-eight trees
therein certainly seem nearer, and during the windy nights that followed
Ford's departure we could hear their branches sighing, and would find in
the morning that beech-leaves had been blown right up against the house.
Miss Beaumont made no attempt to go out, much to the relief of the
ladies, for Harcourt had given the word that she was not to go out
unattended, and the boisterous weather deranged their petticoats. She
remained indoors, neither reading nor laughing, and dressing no longer
in green, but in brown.

Not noticing her presence, Mr. Worters looked in one day and said with a
sigh of relief: "That's all right. The circle's completed."

"Is it indeed!" she replied.

"You there, you quiet little mouse? I only meant that our lords, the
British workmen, have at last condescended to complete their labours,
and have rounded us off from the world. I--in the end I was a naughty,
domineering tyrant, and disobeyed you. I didn't have the gate out at the
further side of the copse. Will you forgive me?"

"Anything, Harcourt, that pleases you, is certain to please me."

The ladies smiled at each other, and Mr. Worters said: "That's right,
and as soon as the wind goes down we'll all progress together to your
wood; and take possession of it formally, for it didn't really count
that last time."

"No, it didn't really count that last time," Miss Beaumont echoed.

"Evelyn says this wind never will go down," remarked Mrs. Worters. "I
don't know how she knows."

"It will never go down, as long as I am in the house."

"Really?" he said gaily. "Then come out now, and send it down with me."

They took a few turns up and down the terrace. The wind lulled for a
moment, but blew fiercer than ever during lunch. As we ate, it roared
and whistled down the chimney at us, and the trees of Other Kingdom
frothed like the sea. Leaves and twigs flew from them, and a bough, a
good-sized bough, was blown on to the smooth asphalt path, and actually
switchbacked over the bridge, up the meadow, and across our very lawn.
(I venture to say "our," as I am now staying on as Harcourt's
secretary.) Only the stone steps prevented it from reaching the terrace
and perhaps breaking the dining-room window. Miss Beaumont sprang up
and, napkin in hand, ran out and touched it.

"Oh, Evelyn----" the ladies cried.

"Let her go," said Mr. Worters tolerantly. "It certainly is a remarkable
incident, remarkable. We must remember to tell the Archdeacon about it."

"Harcourt," she cried, with the first hint of returning colour in her
cheeks, "mightn't we go up to the copse after lunch, you and I?"

Mr. Worters considered.

"Of course, not if you don't think best."

"Inskip, what's your opinion?"

I saw what his own was, and cried, "Oh, let's go!" though I detest the
wind as much as any one.

"Very well. Mother, Anna, Ruth, Mrs. Osgood--we'll all go."

And go we did, a lugubrious procession; but the gods were good to us for
once, for as soon as we were started, the tempest dropped, and there
ensued an extraordinary calm. After all, Miss Beaumont was something of
a weather prophet. Her spirits improved every minute. She tripped in
front of us along the asphalt path, and ever and anon turned round to
say to her lover some gracious or alluring thing. I admired her for it.
I admire people who know on which side their bread's buttered.

"Evelyn, come here!"

"Come here yourself."

"Give me a kiss."

"Come and take it then."

He ran after her, and she ran away, while all our party laughed
melodiously.

"Oh, I am so happy!" she cried. "I think I've everything I want in all
the world. Oh dear, those last few days indoors! But oh, I am so happy
now!" She had changed her brown dress for the old flowing green one, and
she began to do her skirt dance in the open meadow, lit by sudden gleams
of the sunshine. It was really a beautiful sight, and Mr. Worters did
not correct her, glad perhaps that she should recover her spirits, even
if she lost her tone. Her feet scarcely moved, but her body so swayed
and her dress spread so gloriously around her, that we were transported
with joy. She danced to the song of a bird that sang passionately in
Other Kingdom, and the river held back its waves to watch her (one might
have supposed), and the winds lay spell-bound in their cavern, and the
great clouds spell-bound in the sky. She danced away from our society
and our life, back, back through the centuries till houses and fences
fell and the earth lay wild to the sun. Her garment was as foliage upon
her, the strength of her limbs as boughs, her throat the smooth upper
branch that salutes the morning or glistens to the rain. Leaves move,
leaves hide it as hers was hidden by the motion of her hair. Leaves move
again and it is ours, as her throat was ours again when, parting the
tangle, she faced us crying, "Oh!" crying, "Oh Harcourt! I never was so
happy. I have all that there is in the world."

But he, entrammelled in love's ecstasy, forgetting certain Madonnas of
Raphael, forgetting, I fancy, his soul, sprang to inarm her with,
"Evelyn! Eternal Bliss! Mine to eternity! Mine!" and she sprang away.
Music was added and she sang, "Oh Ford! oh Ford, among all these
Worters, I am coming through you to my Kingdom. Oh Ford, my lover while
I was a woman, I will never forget you, never, as long as I have
branches to shade you from the sun," and, singing, crossed the stream.

Why he followed her so passionately, I do not know. It was play, she was
in his own domain which a fence surrounds, and she could not possibly
escape him. But he dashed round by the bridge as if all their love was
at stake, and pursued her with fierceness up the hill. She ran well, but
the end was a foregone conclusion, and we only speculated whether he
would catch her outside or inside the copse. He gained on her inch by
inch; now they were in the shadow of the trees; he had practically
grasped her, he had missed; she had disappeared into the trees
themselves, he following.

"Harcourt is in high spirits," said Mrs. Osgood, Anna, and Ruth.

"Evelyn!" we heard him shouting within.

We proceeded up the asphalt path.

"Evelyn! Evelyn!"

"He's not caught her yet, evidently."

"Where are you, Evelyn?"

"Miss Beaumont must have hidden herself rather cleverly."

"Look here," cried Harcourt, emerging, "have you seen Evelyn?"

"Oh, no, she's certainly inside."

"So I thought."

"Evelyn must be dodging round one of the trunks. You go this way, I
that. We'll soon find her."

We searched, gaily at first, and always with a feeling that Miss
Beaumont was close by, that the delicate limbs were just behind this
bole, the hair and the drapery quivering among those leaves. She was
beside us, above us; here was her footstep on the purple-brown
earth--her bosom, her neck--she was everywhere and nowhere. Gaiety
turned to irritation, irritation to anger and fear. Miss Beaumont was
apparently lost. "Evelyn! Evelyn!" we continued to cry. "Oh, really, it
is beyond a joke."

Then the wind arose, the more violent for its lull, and we were driven
into the house by a terrific storm. We said, "At all events she will
come back now." But she did not come, and the rain hissed and rose up
from the dry meadows like incense smoke, and smote the quivering leaves
to applause. Then it lightened. Ladies screamed, and we saw Other
Kingdom as one who claps the handsy and heard it as one who roars with
laughter in the thunder. Not even the Archdeacon can remember such a
storm. All Harcourt's seedlings were ruined, and the tiles flew off his
gables right and left. He came to me presently with a white, drawn face,
saying: "Inskip, can I trust you?"

"You can, indeed."

"I have long suspected it; she has eloped with Ford."

"But how----" I gasped.

"The carriage is ready--we'll talk as we drive." Then, against the rain
he shouted: "No gate in the fence, I know, but what about a ladder?
While I blunder, she's over the fence, and he----"

"But you were so close. There was not the time."

"There is time for anything," he said venomously, "where a treacherous
woman is concerned. I found her no better than a savage, I trained her,
I educated her. But I'll break them both. I can do that; I'll break them
soul and body."

No one can break Ford now. The task is impossible. But I trembled for
Miss Beaumont.

We missed the train. Young couples had gone by it, several young
couples, and we heard of more young couples in London, as if all the
world were mocking Harcourt's solitude. In desperation we sought the
squalid suburb that is now Ford's home. We swept past the dirty maid and
the terrified aunt, swept upstairs, to catch him if we could red-handed.
He was seated at the table, reading the _Oedipus Coloneus_ of Sophocles.

"That won't take in me!" shouted Harcourt. "You've got Miss Beaumont
with you, and I know it."

"No such luck," said Ford.

He stammered with rage. "Inskip--you hear that? 'No such luck'! Quote
the evidence against him. I can't speak."

So I quoted her song. "'Oh Ford! Oh Ford, among all these Worters, I am
coming through you to my Kingdom! Oh Ford, my lover while I was a woman,
I will never forget you, never, as long as I have branches to shade you
from the sun.' Soon after that, we lost her."

"And--and on another occasion she sent a message of similar effect.
Inskip, bear witness. He was to 'guess' something."

"I have guessed it," said Ford.

"So you practically----"

"Oh, no, Mr. Worters, you mistake me. I have not practically guessed. I
have guessed. I could tell you if I chose, but it would be no good, for
she has not practically escaped you. She has escaped you absolutely, for
ever and ever, as long as there are branches to shade men from the sun."



THE CURATE'S FRIEND


It is uncertain how the Faun came to be in Wiltshire. Perhaps he came
over with the Roman legionaries to live with his friends in camp,
talking to them of Lucretius, or Garganus or of the slopes of Etna; they
in the joy of their recall forgot to take him on board, and he wept in
exile; but at last he found that our hills also understood his sorrows,
and rejoiced when he was happy. Or, perhaps he came to be there because
he had been there always. There is nothing particularly classical about
a faun: it is only that the Greeks and Italians have ever had the
sharpest eyes. You will find him in the "Tempest" and the "Benedicite;"
and any country which has beech clumps and sloping grass and very clear
streams may reasonably produce him.

How I came to see him is a more difficult question. For to see him there
is required a certain quality, for which truthfulness is too cold a name
and animal spirits too coarse a one, and he alone knows how this quality
came to be in me. No man has the right to call himself a fool, but I may
say that I then presented the perfect semblance of one. I was facetious
without humour and serious without conviction. Every Sunday I would
speak to my rural parishioners about the other world in the tone of one
who has been behind the scenes, or I would explain to them the errors of
the Pelagians, or I would warn them against hurrying from one
dissipation to another. Every Tuesday I gave what I called "straight
talks to my lads"--talks which led straight past anything awkward. And
every Thursday I addressed the Mothers' Union on the duties of wives or
widows, and gave them practical hints on the management of a family of
ten.

I took myself in, and for a time I certainly took in Emily. I have never
known a girl attend so carefully to my sermons, or laugh so heartily at
my jokes. It is no wonder that I became engaged. She has made an
excellent wife, freely correcting her husband's absurdities, but
allowing no one else to breathe a word against them; able to talk about
the sub-conscious self in the drawing-room, and yet have an ear for the
children crying in the nursery, or the plates breaking in the scullery.
An excellent wife--better than I ever imagined. But she has not married
me.

Had we stopped indoors that afternoon nothing thing would have happened.
It was all owing to Emily's mother, who insisted on our tea-ing out.
Opposite the village, across the stream, was a small chalk down, crowned
by a beech copse, and a few Roman earth-works. (I lectured very vividly
on those earthworks: they have since proved to be Saxon). Hither did I
drag up a tea-basket and a heavy rug for Emily's mother, while Emily and
a little friend went on in front. The little friend--who has played all
through a much less important part than he supposes--was a pleasant
youth, full of intelligence and poetry, especially of what he called the
poetry of earth. He longed to wrest earth's secret from her, and I have
seen him press his face passionately into the grass, even when he has
believed himself to be alone. Emily was at that time full of vague
aspirations, and, though I should have preferred them all to centre in
me, yet it seemed unreasonable to deny her such other opportunities for
self-culture as the neighbourhood provided.

It was then my habit, on reaching the top of any eminence, to exclaim
facetiously "And who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with
me?" at the same moment violently agitating my arms or casting my
wide-awake eyes at an imaginary foe. Emily and the friend received my
sally as usual, nor could I detect any insincerity in their mirth. Yet I
was convinced that some one was present who did not think I had been
funny, and any public speaker will understand my growing uneasiness.

I was somewhat cheered by Emily's mother, who puffed up exclaiming,
"Kind Harry, to carry the things! What should we do without you, even
now! Oh, what a view! Can you see the dear Cathedral? No. Too hazy. Now
_I'm_ going to sit _right_ on the rug." She smiled mysteriously. "The
downs in September, you know."

We gave some perfunctory admiration to the landscape, which is indeed
only beautiful to those who admire land, and to them perhaps the most
beautiful in England. For here is the body of the great chalk spider who
straddles over our island--whose legs are the south downs and the north
downs and the Chilterns, and the tips of whose toes poke out at Cromer
and Dover. He is a clean creature, who grows as few trees as he can, and
those few in tidy clumps, and he loves to be tickled by quickly flowing
streams. He is pimpled all over with earth-works, for from the beginning
of time men have fought for the privilege of standing on him, and the
oldest of our temples is built upon his back.

But in those days I liked my country snug and pretty, full of
gentlemen's residences and shady bowers and people who touch their hats.
The great sombre expanses on which one may walk for miles and hardly
shift a landmark or meet a genteel person were still intolerable to me.
I turned away as soon as propriety allowed and said "And may I now
prepare the cup that cheers?"

Emily's mother replied: "Kind man, to help me. I always do say that tea
out is worth the extra effort. I wish we led simpler lives." We agreed
with her. I spread out the food. "Won't the kettle stand? Oh, but _make_
it stand." I did so. There was a little cry, faint but distinct, as of
something in pain.

"How silent it all is up here!" said Emily.

I dropped a lighted match on the grass, and again I heard the little
cry.

"What is that?" I asked.

"I only said it was so silent," said Emily.

"Silent, indeed," echoed the little friend.

Silent! the place was full of noises. If the match had fallen in a
drawing-room it could not have been worse, and the loudest noise came
from beside Emily herself. I had exactly the sensation of going to a
great party, of waiting to be announced in the echoing hall, where I
could hear the voices of the guests, but could not yet see their faces.
It is a nervous moment for a self-conscious man, especially if all the
voices should be strange to him, and he has never met his host.

"My dear Harry!" said the elder lady, "never mind about that match.
That'll smoulder away and harm no one. Tea-ee-ee! I always say--and you
will find Emily the same--that as the magic hour of five approaches, no
matter how good a lunch, one begins to feel a sort of----"

Now the Faun is of the kind who capers upon the Neo-Attic reliefs, and
if you do not notice his ears or see his tail, you take him for a man
and are horrified.

"Bathing!" I cried wildly. "Such a thing for our village lads, but I
quite agree--more supervision--I blame myself. Go away, bad boy, go
away!"

"What will he think of next!" said Emily, while the creature beside her
stood up and beckoned to me. I advanced struggling and gesticulating
with tiny steps and horrified cries, exorcising the apparition with my
hat. Not otherwise had I advanced the day before, when Emily's nieces
showed me their guinea pigs. And by no less hearty laughter was I
greeted now. Until the strange fingers closed upon me, I still thought
that here was one of my parishioners and did not cease to exclaim, "Let
me go, naughty boy, let go!" And Emily's mother, believing herself to
have detected the joke, replied, "Well I must confess they are naughty
boys and reach one even on the rug: the downs in September, as I said
before."

Here I caught sight of the tail, uttered a wild shriek and fled into the
beech copse behind.

"Harry would have been a born actor," said Emily's mother as I left
them.

I realized that a great crisis in my life was approaching, and that if I
failed in it I might permanently lose my self-esteem. Already in the
wood I was troubled by a multitude of voices--the voices of the hill
beneath me, of the trees over my head, of the very insects in the bark
of the tree. I could even hear the stream licking little pieces out of
the meadows, and the meadows dreamily protesting. Above the din--which
is no louder than the flight of a bee--rose the Faun's voice saying,
"Dear priest, be placid, be placid: why are you frightened?"

"I am not frightened," said I--and indeed I was not. "But I am grieved:
you have disgraced me in the presence of ladies."

"No one else has seen me," he said, smiling idly. "The women have tight
boots and the man has long hair. Those kinds never see. For years I have
only spoken to children, and they lose sight of me as soon as they grow
up. But you will not be able to lose sight of me, and until you die you
will be my friend. Now I begin to make you happy: lie upon your back or
run races, or climb trees, or shall I get you blackberries, or
harebells, or wives----"

In a terrible voice I said to him, "Get thee behind me!" He got behind
me. "Once for all," I continued, "let me tell you that it is vain to
tempt one whose happiness consists in giving happiness to others."

"I cannot understand you," he said ruefully. "What is to tempt?"

"Poor woodland creature!" said I, turning round. "How could you
understand? It was idle of me to chide you. It is not in your little
nature to comprehend a life of self-denial. Ah! if only I could reach
you!"

"You have reached him," said the hill.

"If only I could touch you!"

"You have touched him," said the hill.

"But I will never leave you," burst out the Faun. "I will sweep out your
shrine for you, I will accompany you to the meetings of matrons. I will
enrich you at the bazaars."

I shook my head. "For these things I care not at all. And indeed I was
minded to reject your offer of service altogether. There I was wrong.
You shall help me--you shall help me to make others happy."

"Dear priest, what a curious life! People whom I have never
seen--people who cannot see me--why should I make them happy?"

"My poor lad--perhaps in time you will learn why. Now begone: commence.
On this very hill sits a young lady for whom I have a high regard.
Commence with her. Aha! your face falls. I thought as much. You _cannot_
do anything. Here is the conclusion of the whole matter!"

"I can make her happy," he replied, "if you order me; and when I have
done so, perhaps you will trust me more."

Emily's mother had started home, but Emily and the little friend still
sat beside the tea-things--she in her white piqué dress and biscuit
straw, he in his rough but well-cut summer suit. The great pagan figure
of the Faun towered insolently above them.

The friend was saying, "And have you never felt the appalling loneliness
of a crowd?"

"All that," replied Emily, "have I felt, and very much more--"

Then the Faun laid his hands upon them. They, who had only intended a
little cultured flirtation, resisted him as long as they could, but were
gradually urged into each other's arms, and embraced with passion.

"Miscreant!" I shouted, bursting from the wood. "You have betrayed me."

"I know it: I care not," cried the little friend. "Stand aside. You are
in the presence of that which you do not understand. In the great
solitude we have found ourselves at last."

"Remove your accursed hands!" I shrieked to the Faun.

He obeyed and the little friend continued more calmly: "It is idle to
chide. What should you know, poor clerical creature, of the mystery of
love of the eternal man and the eternal woman, of the self-effectuation
of a soul?"

"That is true," said Emily angrily. "Harry, you would never have made me
happy. I shall treat you as a friend, but how could I give myself to a
man who makes such silly jokes? When you played the buffoon at tea, your
hour was sealed. I must be treated seriously: I must see infinities
broadening around me as I rise. You may not approve of it, but so I am.
In the great solitude I have found myself at last."

"Wretched girl!" I cried. "Great solitude! O pair of helpless
puppets----"

The little friend began to lead Emily away, but I heard her whisper to
him: "Dear, we can't possibly leave the basket for Harry after this: and
mother's rug; do you mind having that in the other hand?"

So they departed and I flung myself upon the ground with every
appearance of despair.

"Does he cry?" said the Faun.

"He does not cry," answered the hill. "His eyes are as dry as pebbles."

My tormentor made me look at him. "I see happiness at the bottom of your
heart," said he.

"I trust I have my secret springs," I answered stiffly. And then I
prepared a scathing denunciation, but of all the words I might have
said, I only said one and it began with "D."

He gave a joyful cry, "Oh, now you really belong to us. To the end of
your life you will swear when you are cross and laugh when you are
happy. Now laugh!"

There was a great silence. All nature stood waiting, while a curate
tried to conceal his thoughts not only from nature but from himself. I
thought of my injured pride, of my baffled unselfishness, of Emily, whom
I was losing through no fault of her own, of the little friend, who just
then slipped beneath the heavy tea basket, and that decided me, and I
laughed.

That evening, for the first time, I heard the chalk downs singing to
each other across the valleys, as they often do when the air is quiet
and they have had a comfortable day. From my study window I could see
the sunlit figure of the Faun, sitting before the beech copse as a man
sits before his house. And as night came on I knew for certain that not
only was he asleep, but that the hills and woods were asleep also. The
stream, of course, never slept, any more than it ever freezes. Indeed,
the hour of darkness is really the hour of water, which has been
somewhat stifled all day by the great pulsings of the land. That is why
you can feel it and hear it from a greater distance in the night, and
why a bath after sundown is most wonderful.

The joy of that first evening is still clear in my memory, in spite of
all the happy years that have followed. I remember it when I ascend my
pulpit--I have a living now--and look down upon the best people sitting
beneath me pew after pew, generous and contented, upon the worse people,
crowded in the aisles, upon the whiskered tenors of the choir, and the
high-browed curates and the church-wardens fingering their bags, and the
supercilious vergers who turn late comers from the door. I remember it
also when I sit in my comfortable bachelor reftory, amidst the carpet
slippers that good young ladies have worked for me, and the oak brackets
that have been carved for me by good young men; amidst my phalanx of
presentation teapots and my illuminated testimonials and all the other
offerings of people who believe that I have given them a helping hand,
and who really have helped me out of the mire themselves. And though I
try to communicate that joy to others--as I try to communicate anything
else that seems good--and though I sometimes succeed, yet I can tell no
one exactly how it came to me. For if I breathed one word of that, my
present life, so agreeable and profitable, would come to an end, my
congregation would depart, and so should I, and instead of being an
asset to my parish, I might find myself an expense to the nation.
Therefore in the place of the lyrical and rhetorical treatment, so
suitable to the subject, so congenial to my profession, I have been
forced to use the unworthy medium of a narrative, and to delude you by
declaring that this is a short story, suitable for reading in the train.



THE ROAD FROM COLONUS


I


For no very intelligible reason, Mr. Lucas had hurried ahead of his
party. He was perhaps reaching the age at which independence becomes
valuable, because it is so soon to be lost. Tired of attention and
consideration, he liked breaking away from the younger members, to ride
by himself, and to dismount unassisted. Perhaps he also relished that
more subtle pleasure of being kept waiting for lunch, and of telling the
others on their arrival that it was of no consequence.

So, with childish impatience, he battered the animal's sides with his
heels, and made the muleteer bang it with a thick stick and prick it
with a sharp one, and jolted down the hill sides through clumps of
flowering shrubs and stretches of anemones and asphodel, till he heard
the sound of running water, and came in sight of the group of plane
trees where they were to have their meal.

Even in England those trees would have been remarkable, so huge were
they, so interlaced, so magnificently clothed in quivering green. And
here in Greece they were unique, the one cool spot in that hard
brilliant landscape, already scorched by the heat of an April sun. In
their midst was hidden a tiny Khan or country inn, a frail mud building
with a broad wooden balcony in which sat an old woman spinning, while a
small brown pig, eating orange peel, stood beside her. On the wet earth
below squatted two children, playing some primaeval game with their
fingers; and their mother, none too clean either, was messing with some
rice inside. As Mrs. Forman would have said, it was all very Greek, and
the fastidious Mr. Lucas felt thankful that they were bringing their own
food with them, and should eat it in the open air.

Still, he was glad to be there--the muleteer had helped him off--and
glad that Mrs. Forman was not there to forestall his opinions--glad even
that he should not see Ethel for quite half an hour. Ethel was his
youngest daughter, still unmarried. She was unselfish and affectionate,
and it was generally understood that she was to devote her life to her
father, and be the comfort of his old age. Mrs. Forman always referred
to her as Antigone, and Mr. Lucas tried to settle down to the role of
Oedipus, which seemed the only one that public opinion allowed him.

He had this in common with Oedipus, that he was growing old. Even to
himself it had become obvious. He had lost interest in other people's
affairs, and seldom attended when they spoke to him. He was fond of
talking himself but often forgot what he was going to say, and even when
he succeeded, it seldom seemed worth the effort. His phrases and
gestures had become stiff and set, his anecdotes, once so successful,
fell flat, his silence was as meaningless as his speech. Yet he had led
a healthy, active life, had worked steadily, made money, educated his
children. There was nothing and no one to blame: he was simply growing
old.

At the present moment, here he was in Greece, and one of the dreams of
his life was realized. Forty years ago he had caught the fever of
Hellenism, and all his life he had felt that could he but visit that
land, he would not have lived in vain. But Athens had been dusty, Delphi
wet, Thermopylae flat, and he had listened with amazement and cynicism
to the rapturous exclamations of his companions. Greece was like
England: it was a man who was growing old, and it made no difference
whether that man looked at the Thames or the Eurotas. It was his last
hope of contradicting that logic of experience, and it was failing.

Yet Greece had done something for him, though he did not know it. It had
made him discontented, and there are stirrings of life in discontent. He
knew that he was not the victim of continual ill-luck. Something great
was wrong, and he was pitted against no mediocre or accidental enemy.
For the last month a strange desire had possessed him to die fighting.

"Greece is the land for young people," he said to himself as he stood
under the plane trees, "but I will enter into it, I will possess it.
Leaves shall be green again, water shall be sweet, the sky shall be
blue. They were so forty years ago, and I will win them back. I do mind
being old, and I will pretend no longer."

He took two steps forward, and immediately cold waters were gurgling
over his ankle.

"Where does the water come from?" he asked himself. "I do not even know
that." He remembered that all the hill sides were dry; yet here the road
was suddenly covered with flowing streams.

He stopped still in amazement, saying: "Water out of a tree--out of a
hollow tree? I never saw nor thought of that before."

For the enormous plane that leant towards the Khan was hollow--it had
been burnt out for charcoal--and from its living trunk there gushed an
impetuous spring, coating the bark! with fern and moss, and flowing over
the mule track to create fertile meadows beyond. The simple country folk
had paid to beauty and mystery such tribute as they could, for in the
rind of the tree a shrine was cut, holding a lamp and a little picture
of the Virgin, inheritor of the Naiad's and Dryad's joint abode.

"I never saw anything so marvellous before," said Mr. Lucas. "I could
even step inside the trunk and see where the water comes from."

For a moment he hesitated to violate the shrine. Then he remembered with
a smile his own thought--"the place shall be mine; I will enter it and
possess it"--and leapt almost aggressively on to a stone within.

The water pressed up steadily and noiselessly from the hollow roots and
hidden crevices of the plane, forming a wonderful amber pool ere it
spilt over the lip of bark on to the earth outside. Mr. Lucas tasted it
and it was sweet, and when he looked up the black funnel of the trunk he
saw sky which was blue, and some leaves which were green; and he
remembered, without smiling, another of his thoughts.

Others had been before him--indeed he had a curious sense of
companionship. Little votive offerings to the presiding Power were
fastened on to the bark--tiny arms and legs and eyes in tin, grotesque
models of the brain or the heart--all tokens of some recovery of
strength or wisdom or love. There was no such thing as the solitude of
nature for the sorrows and joys of humanity had pressed even into the
bosom of a tree. He spread out his arms and steadied himself against the
soft charred wood, and then slowly leant back, till his body was resting
on the trunk behind. His eyes closed, and he had the strange feeling of
one who is moving, yet at peace--the feeling of the swimmer, who, after
long struggling with chopping seas, finds that after all the tide will
sweep him to his goal.

So he lay motionless, conscious only of the stream below his feet, and
that all things were a stream, in which he was moving.

He was aroused at last by a shock--the shock of an arrival perhaps, for
when he opened his eyes, something unimagined, indefinable, had passed
over all things, and made them intelligible and good.

There was meaning in the stoop of the old woman over her work, and in
the quick motions of the little pig, and in her diminishing globe of
wool. A young man came singing over the streams on a mule, and there was
beauty in his pose and sincerity in his greeting. The sun made no
accidental patterns upon the spreading roots of the trees, and there was
intention in the nodding clumps of asphodel, and in the music of the
water. To Mr. Lucas, who, in a brief space of time, had discovered not
only Greece, but England and all the world and life, there seemed
nothing ludicrous in the desire to hang within the tree another votive
offering--a little model of an entire man.

"Why, here's papa, playing at being Merlin."

All unnoticed they had arrived--Ethel, Mrs. Forman, Mr. Graham, and the
English-speaking dragoman. Mr. Lucas peered out at them suspiciously.
They had suddenly become unfamiliar, and all that they did seemed
strained and coarse.

"Allow me to give you a hand," said Mr. Graham, a young man who was
always polite to his elders.

Mr. Lucas felt annoyed. "Thank you, I can manage perfectly well by
myself," he replied. His foot slipped as he stepped out of the tree, and
went into the spring.

"Oh papa, my papa!" said Ethel, "what are you doing? Thank goodness I
have got a change for you on the mule."

She tended him carefully, giving him clean socks and dry boots, and then
sat him down on the rug beside the lunch basket, while she went with the
others to explore the grove.

They came back in ecstasies, in which Mr. Lucas tried to join. But he
found them intolerable. Their enthusiasm was superficial, commonplace,
and spasmodic. They had no perception of the coherent beauty was
flowering around them. He tried at least to explain his feelings, and
what he said was:

"I am altogether pleased with the appearance of this place. It impresses
me very favourably. The trees are fine, remarkably fine for Greece, and
there is something very poetic in the spring of clear running water. The
people too seem kindly and civil. It is decidedly an attractive place."

Mrs. Forman upbraided him for his tepid praise.

"Oh, it is a place in a thousand!" she cried "I could live and die here!
I really would stop if I had not to be back at Athens! It reminds me of
the Colonus of Sophocles."

"Well, I must stop," said Ethel. "I positively must."

"Yes, do! You and your father! Antigone and Oedipus. Of course you must
stop at Colonus!"

Mr. Lucas was almost breathless with excitement. When he stood within
the tree, he had believed that his happiness would be independent of
locality. But these few minutes' conversation had undeceived him. He no
longer trusted himself to journey through the world, for old thoughts,
old wearinesses might be waiting to rejoin him as soon as he left the
shade of the planes, and the music of the virgin water. To sleep in the
Khan with the gracious, kind-eyed country people, to watch the bats flit
about within the globe of shade, and see the moon turn the golden
patterns into silver--one such night would place him beyond relapse, and
confirm him for ever in the kingdom he had regained. But all his lips
could say was: "I should be willing to put in a night here."

"You mean a week, papa! It would be sacrilege to put in less."

"A week then, a week," said his lips, irritated at being corrected,
while his heart was leaping with joy. All through lunch he spoke to them
no more, but watched the place he should know so well, and the people
who would so soon be his companions and friends. The inmates of the Khan
only consisted of an old woman, a middle-aged woman, a young man and two
children, and to none of them had he spoken, yet he loved them as he
loved everything that moved or breathed or existed beneath the
benedictory shade of the planes.

"_En route!_" said the shrill voice of Mrs. Forman. "Ethel! Mr. Graham!
The best of things must end."

"To-night," thought Mr. Lucas, "they will light the little lamp by the
shrine. And when we all sit together on the balcony, perhaps they will
tell me which offerings they put up."

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Lucas," said Graham, "but they want to fold up
the rug you are sitting on."

Mr. Lucas got up, saying to himself: "Ethel shall go to bed first, and
then I will try to tell them about my offering too--for it is a thing I
must do. I think they will understand if I am left with them alone."

Ethel touched him on the cheek. "Papa! I've called you three times. All
the mules are here."

"Mules? What mules?"

"Our mules. We're all waiting. Oh, Mr. Graham, do help my father on."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Ethel."

"My dearest papa, we must start. You know we have to get to Olympia
to-night."

Mr. Lucas in pompous, confident tones replied: "I always did wish,
Ethel, that you had a better head for plans. You know perfectly well
that we are putting in a week here. It is your own suggestion."

Ethel was startled into impoliteness. "What a perfectly ridiculous idea.
You must have known I was joking. Of course I meant I wished we could."

"Ah! if we could only do what we wished!" sighed Mrs. Forman, already
seated on her mule.

"Surely," Ethel continued in calmer tones, "you didn't think I meant
it."

"Most certainly I did. I have made all my plans on the supposition that
we are stopping here, and it will be extremely inconvenient, indeed,
impossible for me to start."

He delivered this remark with an air of great conviction, and Mrs.
Forman and Mr. Graham had to turn away to hide their smiles.

"I am sorry I spoke so carelessly; it was wrong of me. But, you know, we
can't break up our party, and even one night here would make us miss the
boat at Patras."

Mrs. Forman, in an aside, called Mr. Graham's attention to the excellent
way in which Ethel managed her father.

"I don't mind about the Patras boat. You said that we should stop here,
and we are stopping."

It seemed as if the inhabitants of the Khan had divined in some
mysterious way that the altercation touched them. The old woman stopped
her spinning, while the young man and the two children stood behind Mr.
Lucas, as if supporting him.

Neither arguments nor entreaties moved him. He said little, but he was
absolutely determined, because for the first time he saw his daily life
aright. What need had he to return to England? Who would miss him? His
friends were dead or cold. Ethel loved him in a way, but, as was right,
she had other interests. His other children he seldom saw. He had only
one other relative, his sister Julia, whom he both feared and hated. It
was no effort to struggle. He would be a fool as well as a coward if he
stirred from the place which brought him happiness and peace.

At last Ethel, to humour him, and not disinclined to air her modern
Greek, went into the Khan with the astonished dragoman to look at the
rooms. The woman inside received them with loud welcomes, and the young
man, when no one was looking, began to lead Mr. Lucas' mule to the
stable.

"Drop it, you brigand!" shouted Graham, who always declared that
foreigners could understand English if they chose. He was right, for the
man obeyed, and they all stood waiting for Ethel's return.

She emerged at last, with close-gathered skirts, followed by the
dragoman bearing the little pig, which he had bought at a bargain.

"My dear papa, I will do all I can for you, but stop in that Khan--no."

"Are there--fleas?" asked Mrs. Forman.

Ethel intimated that "fleas" was not the word.

"Well, I am afraid that settles it," said Mrs. Forman, "I know how
particular Mr. Lucas is."

"It does not settle it," said Mr. Lucas. "Ethel, you go on. I do not
want you. I don't know why I ever consulted you. I shall stop here
alone."

"That is absolute nonsense," said Ethel, losing her temper. "How can you
be left alone at your age? How would you get your meals or your bath?
All your letters are waiting for you at Patras. You'll miss the boat.
That means missing the London operas, and upsetting all your engagements
for the month. And as if you could travel by yourself!"

"They might knife you," was Mr. Graham's contribution.

The Greeks said nothing; but whenever Mr. Lucas looked their way, they
beckoned him towards the Khan. The children would even have drawn him by
the coat, and the old woman on the balcony stopped her almost completed
spinning, and fixed him with mysterious appealing eyes. As he fought,
the issue assumed gigantic proportions, and he believed that he was not
merely stopping because he had regained youth or seen beauty or found
happiness, but because in, that place and with those people a supreme
event was awaiting him which would transfigure the face of the world.
The moment was so tremendous that he abandoned words and arguments as
useless, and rested on the strength of his mighty unrevealed allies:
silent men, murmuring water, and whispering trees. For the whole place
called with one voice, articulate to him, and his garrulous opponents
became every minute more meaningless and absurd. Soon they would be
tired and go chattering away into the sun, leaving him to the cool grove
and the moonlight and the destiny he foresaw.

Mrs. Forman and the dragoman had indeed already started, amid the
piercing screams of the little pig, and the struggle might have gone on
indefinitely if Ethel had not called in Mr. Graham.

"Can you help me?" she whispered. "He is absolutely unmanageable."

"I'm no good at arguing--but if I could help you in any other way----"
and he looked down complacently at his well-made figure.

Ethel hesitated. Then she said: "Help me in any way you can. After all,
it is for his good that we do it."

"Then have his mule led up behind him."

So when Mr. Lucas thought he had gained the day, he suddenly felt
himself lifted off the ground, and sat sideways on the saddle, and at
the same time the mule started off at a trot. He said nothing, for he
had nothing to say, and even his face showed little emotion as he felt
the shade pass and heard the sound of the water cease. Mr. Graham was
running at his side, hat in hand, apologizing.

"I know I had no business to do it, and I do beg your pardon awfully.
But I do hope that some day you too will feel that I was--damn!"

A stone had caught him in the middle of the back. It was thrown by the
little boy, who was pursuing them along the mule track. He was followed
by his sister, also throwing stones.

Ethel screamed to the dragoman, who was some way ahead with Mrs. Forman,
but before he could rejoin them, another adversary appeared. It was the
young Greek, who had cut them off in front, and now dashed down at Mr.
Lucas' bridle. Fortunately Graham was an expert boxer, and it did not
take him a moment to beat down the youth's feeble defence, and to send
him sprawling with a bleeding mouth into the asphodel. By this time the
dragoman had arrived, the children, alarmed at the fate of their
brother, had desisted, and the rescue party, if such it is to be
considered, retired in disorder to the trees.

"Little devils!" said Graham, laughing; with triumph. "That's the modern
Greek all over. Your father meant money if he stopped, and they consider
we were taking it out of their pocket."

"Oh, they are terrible--simple savages! I don't know how I shall ever
thank you. You've saved my father."

"I only hope you didn't think me brutal."

"No," replied Ethel with a little sigh. "I admire strength."

Meanwhile the cavalcade reformed, and Mr. Lucas, who, as Mrs. Forman
said, bore his disappointment wonderfully well, was put comfortably on
to his mule. They hurried up the opposite hillside, fearful of another
attack, and it was not until they had left the eventful place far behind
that Ethel found an opportunity to speak to her father and ask his
pardon for the way she had treated him.

"You seemed so different, dear father, and you quite frightened me. Now
I feel that you are your old self again."

He did not answer, and she concluded that he was not unnaturally
offended at her behaviour.

By one of those curious tricks of mountain scenery, the place they had
left an hour before suddenly reappeared far below them. The Khan was
hidden under the green dome, but in the open there still stood three
figures, and through the pure air rose up a faint cry of defiance or
farewell.

Mr. Lucas stopped irresolutely, and let the reins fall from his hand.

"Come, father dear," said Ethel gently.

He obeyed, and in another moment a spur of the hill hid the dangerous
scene for ever.



II


It was breakfast time, but the gas was alight, owing to the fog. Mr.
Lucas was in the middle of an account of a bad night he had spent,
Ethel, who was to be married in a few weeks, had her arms on the table,
listening.

"First the door bell rang, then you came back from the theatre. Then the
dog started, and after the dog the cat. And at three in the morning a
young hooligan passed by singing. Oh yes: then there was the water
gurgling in the pipe above my head."

"I think that was only the bath water running away," said Ethel, looking
rather worn.

"Well, there's nothing I dislike more than running water. It's
perfectly impossible to sleep in the house. I shall give it up. I shall
give notice next quarter. I shall tell the landlord plainly, 'The reason
I am giving up the house is this: it is perfectly impossible to sleep in
it.' If he says--says--well, what has he got to say?"

"Some more toast, father?"

"Thank you, my dear." He took it, and there was an interval of peace.

But he soon recommenced. "I'm not going to submit to the practising next
door as tamely as they think. I wrote and told them so--didn't I?"

"Yes," said Ethel, who had taken care that the letter should not reach.
"I have seen the governess, and she has promised to arrange it
differently. And Aunt Julia hates noise. It will sure to be all right."

Her aunt, being the only unattached member of the family, was coming to
keep house for her father when she left him. The reference was not a
happy one, and Mr. Lucas commenced a series of half articulate sighs,
which was only stopped by the arrival of the post.

"Oh, what a parcel!" cried Ethel. "For me! What can it be! Greek stamps.
This is most exciting!"

It proved to be some asphodel bulbs, sent by Mrs. Forman from Athens for
planting in the conservatory.

"Doesn't it bring it all back! You remember the asphodels, father. And
all wrapped up in Greek newspapers. I wonder if I can read them still. I
used to be able to, you know."

She rattled on, hoping to conceal the laughter of the children next
door--a favourite source of querulousness at breakfast time.

"Listen to me! 'A rural disaster.' Oh, I've hit on something sad. But
never mind. 'Last Tuesday at Plataniste, in the province of messenia, a
shocking tragedy occurred. A large tree'--aren't I getting on
well?--'blew down in the night and'--wait a minute--oh, dear! 'crushed
to death the five occupants of the little Khan there, who had apparently
been sitting in the balcony. The bodies of Maria Rhomaides, the aged
proprietress, and of her daughter, aged forty-six, were easily
recognizable, whereas that of her grandson'--oh, the rest is really too
horrid; I wish I had never tried it, and what's more I feel to have
heard the name Plataniste before. We didn't stop there, did we, in the
spring?"

"We had lunch," said Mr. Lucas, with a faint expression of trouble on
his vacant face. "Perhaps it was where the dragoman bought the pig."

"Of course," said Ethel in a nervous voice. "Where the dragoman bought
the little pig. How terrible!"

"Very terrible!" said her father, whose attention was wandering to the
noisy children next door. Ethel suddenly started to her feet with
genuine interest.

"Good gracious!" she exclaimed. "This is an old paper. It happened not
lately but in April--the night of Tuesday the eighteenth--and we--we
must have been there in the afternoon."

"So we were," said Mr. Lucas. She put her hand to her heart, scarcely
able to speak.

"Father, dear father, I must say it: you wanted to stop there. All those
people, those poor half savage people, tried, to keep you, and they're
dead. The whole place, it says, is in ruins, and even the stream has
changed its course. Father, dear, if it had not been for me, and if
Arthur had not helped me, you must have been killed."

Mr. Lucas waved his hand irritably. "It is not a bit of good speaking to
the governess, I shall write to the landlord and say, 'The reason I am
giving up the house is this: the dog barks, the children next door are
intolerable, and I cannot stand the noise of running water.'"

Ethel did not check his babbling. She was aghast at the narrowness of
the escape, and for a long time kept silence. At last she said: "Such a
marvellous deliverance does make one believe in Providence."

Mr. Lucas, who was still composing his letter to the landlord, did not
reply.





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