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Title: All Men are Ghosts
Author: Jacks, L. P. (Lawrence Pearsall), 1860-1955
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 "All Men are Ghosts" ***

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                        ALL MEN ARE GHOSTS

                          BY L. P. JACKS

AUTHOR OF "MAD SHEPHERDS," "AMONG THE IDOLMAKERS," "THE ALCHEMY OF
THOUGHT"


    LONDON
    WILLIAMS & NORGATE
    14 HENRIETTA STREET, COVENT GARDEN
    1913


           I DEDICATE THIS VOLUME
                     TO
              STOPFORD BROOKE
    TO WHOM I OWE MORE THAN COULD BE TOLD
          WERE MANY PAGES EMPLOYED
               IN THE RECITAL



CONTENTS


PANHANDLE AND THE GHOSTS:

I. PANHANDLE LAYS DOWN A PRINCIPLE

II. PANHANDLE NARRATES HIS HISTORY AND DESCRIBES THE HAUNTED HOUSE

III. PANHANDLE'S REMARKABLE ADVENTURE. THE GHOST APPEARS


THE MAGIC FORMULA


ALL MEN ARE GHOSTS:

I. DR PIECRAFT BECOMES CONFUSED

II. "THE HOLE IN THE WATER-SKIN"

III. DR PIECRAFT CLEARS HIS MIND


THE PROFESSOR'S MARE


FARMER JEREMY AND HIS WAYS


WHITE ROSES



Of the stories in this volume, "Farmer Jeremy and his Ways" has already
appeared in the _Cornhill_; "The Magic Formula," "The Professor's Mare,"
and "White Roses" in the _Atlantic Monthly_. These are reprinted with
the permission of the respective Editors. Some additions have been made
which were precluded by the shorter form of the magazine story.



    "He that hath found some fledged bird's nest may know,
      At first sight, if the bird be flown;
    But what fair well or grove he sings in now,
      That is to him unknown.

    And yet, as angels in some brighter dreams
      Call to the soul while man doth sleep;
    So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted themes,
      And into glory peep."

    HENRY VAUGHAN, 1655.



ALL MEN ARE GHOSTS



PANHANDLE AND THE GHOSTS

    "'Oh,' dissi lui, 'Or se' tu ancor morto?'
        Ed egli a me, 'Come il mio corpo stea
        Nel mondo su, nulla scienza porto.'"

    DANTE, _Inferno_, Canto xxxiii.



I

PANHANDLE LAYS DOWN A PRINCIPLE


"The first principle to guide us in the study of the subject," said
Panhandle, "is that no genuine ghost ever recognised itself as what you
suppose it to be. The conception which the ghost has of its own being is
fundamentally different from yours. Because it lacks solidity you deem
it less real than yourself. The ghost thinks the opposite. You imagine
that its language is a squeak. From the ghost's point of view the
squeaker is yourself. In short, the attitude of mankind towards the
realm of ghosts is regarded by them as a continual affront to the
majesty of the spiritual world, perpetrated by beings who stand on a low
level of intelligence; and for that reason they seldom appear or make
any attempt at open communication, doing their work in secret and
disclosing their identity only to selected souls. Far from admitting
that they are less real than you, they regard themselves as possessed of
reality vastly more intense than yours. Imagine what your own feelings
would be if, at this moment, I were to treat you as a gibbering bogey,
and you will then have some measure of the contempt which ghosts
entertain for human beings."

"You must confess, my dear Panhandle," I answered, "that you are flying
in the face of the greatest authorities, and have the whole literature
of the subject against you. You tell me that no genuine ghost ever
recognised itself as such."

"I mean, of course," interrupted Panhandle, "that it never recognised
itself as a ghost in your inadequate sense of the term."

"Then," said I, "what do you make of the Ghost's words in _Hamlet_:

     'I am thy father's spirit'?

This one, at all events, recognised itself as such."

"In attributing those words to the Ghost," said Panhandle, "Shakespeare
was using him as a stage property and as a means of playing to the
gallery, which is incapable of right notions on this subject. But there
is another passage in the same group of scenes which shows that
Shakespeare was not wholly ignorant of the inner mind of ghosts. Listen
to this:--


    '_Enter Ghost._

    _Horatio._ What art thou, that usurp'st this time of night,
    Together with that fair and warlike form
    In which the majesty of buried Denmark
    Did sometimes march? By Heaven I charge thee, speak!

    _Marcellus._ It is offended.

    _Bernardo._ See, it stalks away'"

"Now, what does that mean?" he continued. "The words of Horatio imply
that the Ghost has _usurped_ a reality which does not belong to him;
that he is a wraith, a goblin, or some such absurdity--that, in short,
he is going to be treated in the idiotic manner which is usual with men
in the presence of such apparitions. Doubtless the Ghost saw that these
men were afraid of him, that their hair was standing on end and their
knees knocking together. Disgusted at such an exhibition of what to him
would appear as a mixture of stupidity and bad manners, he turned up his
nose at the lot of them and stalked away in wrath. No self-respecting
ghost would ever consent to be so treated; and that may help you to
understand why communications from the world of spirits are
comparatively rare. Ghosts who believe in the existence of human beings
often regard them as idiots. To communicate with such imbeciles is to
court an insult, or at least to expose the communicating spirit to an
exhibition of revolting antics and limited intelligence. From their
point of view, men are a race of beings whose acquaintance is not worth
cultivating."

"Your words imply," I said, "that some of the ghosts do not believe in
our existence at all."

"The majority are of that mind," he answered. "Belief in the existence
of beings like yourself is regarded among them as betokening a want of
mental balance. A ghost who should venture to assert that you, for
example, were real would certainly risk his reputation, and if he held a
scientific professorship or an ecclesiastical appointment he would be
sneered at by his juniors and made the victim of some persecution. I may
tell you incidentally that the ghosts have among them a Psychical
Research Society which has been occupied for many years in investigating
the reality of the inhabitants of this planet. By the vast majority of
ghosts the proceedings of the Society are viewed with indifference, and
the claim, which is occasionally made, that communication has been
established with the beings whom we know as men is treated with
contempt. The critics point to the extreme triviality of the alleged
communications from this world. They say that nothing of the least
importance has ever come through from the human side, and are wont to
make merry over the imbecility and disjointed nonsense of the messages
reported by the mediums; for you must understand that there are mediums
on that side as well as on this. I happen to know of two instances. Some
time ago two questions, purporting to come from this world, reached the
ghosts. One was, 'What will be the price of Midland Preferred on January
1, 1915?' The other, 'Will it be a boy or a girl?' For months a
committee of ghostly experts has been investigating these
communications, the meaning of which proved at first sight utterly
unintelligible in that world. The matter is still undecided; but the
conclusion most favoured at the moment is that the messages are garbled
quotations from an eminent poet among the ghosts. Meanwhile more than
one great reputation has been sacrificed and the sceptics are jubilant."

"As you speak, Panhandle," I said, "it suddenly occurs to me, with a
kind of shock, that at this moment these beings may be investigating
the reality of my own existence. It would be interesting if I could find
out what they suppose me to be."

"I doubt if the knowledge would flatter you," he answered. "It is highly
probable that you would hear yourself interpreted in lower terms than
even the most malicious of your enemies could invent. A friend of mine,
who is a Doctor of Science, and extremely scornful as to the existence
of spirits, is actually undergoing that investigation by the ghosts the
results of which, if applied to yourself, you would find so interesting.
Some assert that he is a low form of mental energy which has managed to
get astray in the universe. Others declare that he is a putrid emanation
from some kind of matter which science has not yet identified, without
consciousness, but by no means without odour. They allege that they have
walked through him."

At this point of the conversation I suddenly remembered a question which
I had several times had on the tip of my tongue to ask.

"Panhandle," I said, "you seem to be on a familiar footing with the
ghosts. How did you acquire it?"

"Ah, my friend," he replied, "the answer to that is a long story. Come
down to my house in the country, stay a fortnight, and I promise to give
you abundant material for your next book."



II

PANHANDLE NARRATES HIS HISTORY AND DESCRIBES THE HAUNTED HOUSE


Panhandle's residence was situated in a remote part of the country, and
at this moment I have no clear recollection of the complicated journey,
with its many changes at little-known junctions, which I had to make in
order to find my friend.

The residence stood in the midst of elevated woodlands, and was well
hidden by the trees. An immense sky-sign, standing out high above all
other objects and plainly visible to the traveller from whatever side he
made his approach, had been erected on the roof. The sky-sign carried
the legend "No Psychologists!" It turned with the wind, gyrating
continually, and when darkness fell the letters were outlined in
electric lamps. Only a blind man could miss the warning.

This legend was repeated over the main entrance to the grounds, with the
addition of the word "Beware!" I thought of mantraps and ferocious dogs,
and for some minutes I stood before the gates, wondering if it would be
safe for me to enter. At last, remembering how several friends had
assured me that I was "no psychologist," I concluded that little harm
awaited me, plucked up my courage, and boldly advanced.

Beyond the gates I found the warning again repeated with a more emphatic
truculence and a finer particularity. At intervals along the drive I saw
notice-boards projecting from the barberries and the laurels, each with
some new version of the original theme. "_Death to the Psychology of
Religion_" were the words inscribed on one. The next was even more
precise in its application, and ran as follows:--

    "_Inquisitive psychologists take notice!
            Panhandle has a gun,
        And will not hesitate to shoot._"

Somewhat shaken I approached the front door and was startled to see a
long, glittering thing suddenly thrust through an open window in the
upper storey; and the man behind the weapon was unquestionably Panhandle
himself. "Can it be," I said aloud, "that Panhandle has taken me for an
inquisitive psychologist?"

"Advance," cried my host, who had a keen ear for such undertones.
"Advance and fear nothing." A moment later he grasped me warmly by the
hand, "Welcome, dearest of friends," he was saying. "You have arrived at
an opportune moment. The house is full of guests who are longing to meet
you."

"But, Panhandle," I expostulated as we stood on the doorstep, "I
understood we were to be alone. I have come for one purpose only, that
you might explain your familiarity with--with _those people_."

I used this expression, rather than one more explicit, because the
footman was still present, knowing from long experience how dangerous it
is to speak plainly about metaphysical realities in the hearing of the
proletariat.

"Those very people are now awaiting you," said Panhandle, as he drew me
into the library. "I will be quite frank with you at once. _This house
is haunted_; and if on consideration you find your nerves unequal to an
encounter with ghosts, you had better go back at once, for there is no
telling how soon the apparitions will begin."

"I have been longing to see a ghost all my life," I answered; "and now
that the chance has come at last, I am not going to run away from it.
But I confess that with the encounter so near at hand my knees are not
as steady as I could wish."

"A turn in the open air will set that right," said he, "and we will take
it at once; for I perceive an indication that the first ghost has
already entered the room and is only waiting for your nerves to calm
before presenting himself to your vision."

I bolted into the garden, and Panhandle, with an irritating smile at the
corners of his mouth, followed. As we walked among the lawns and
shrubberies we both fell silent: he, for a reason unknown to me; I,
because something in his plan of gardening had absorbed my attention and
filled me with wonder. Presently I said, "Panhandle, I cannot refrain
from asking you a question. I observe that in your style of gardening
you have embodied an idea which I have long cherished but never dared to
carry out lest people should think me morbid. You have planted cypress
at the back of your roses; and the plan is so unusual and yet so
entirely in accord with my own mind on the subject that I suspect
telepathy between you and me."

He looked at me closely for a few seconds, and then said:

"It may be. I too have often suspected that throughout the whole of my
gardening operations I was under the control of an intelligence other
than my own. But I would never have guessed that it was yours. Anyhow,
this particular idea, no matter what its origin may be, is admirable.
No other background will compare with the cypress for bringing out the
colour of the roses. See how gorgeous they look at this moment."

"And the cypress too," I said, "are, thanks to the contrast, full of
majesty. But, though you and I understand one another so completely at
this point, there is another at which I confess you bewilder me." And I
indicated the sky-sign, which at that moment had turned its legend--"No
Psychologists"--full towards us.

"You will not be surprised to learn," he answered, "that this house,
like other haunted houses, has been the scene of a tragedy. The tragedy
is the explanation of the sign, and it is essential you should know the
story, as the ghosts are certain to refer to it. You remember that I
once had a religion?"

"I trust you have one still," I said.

"I prefer to be silent on that point," he answered. "Whatever religion I
may have at the present moment I am resolved to protect from the
disasters which befell the religion I had long ago. A certain
psychologist got wind of it, and I, in my innocence, granted his request
to submit my religious consciousness to a scientific investigation. I
was highly flattered by the result. The man, having completed his
investigation, came to the conclusion that my religion was destined to
be _the religion of the future_, and went up and down the country
announcing his prophecy. But the strange thing was that as soon as we
all knew that this was going to be the religion of the future it ceased
to be the religion of the present. What followed? Why, in a couple of
years I and my followers had no religion at all. Incidentally our minds
had become a mass of self-complacency and conceit, and the public were
coming to regard us as a set of intolerable wind-bags. Such was the
tragedy, and ever since its occurrence I have led a haunted life."

"There may be compensations in that," I suggested.

"There are, and I am resolved to maintain them. This house and these
grounds are kept as a strict preserve for spirits of every denomination;
and you will understand the severity of my measures for their protection
when I tell you that the slightest taint of an earth-born psychology in
the atmosphere, or the footprint of one of its exponents on the
greensward, would instantly cause a general exodus of my ghostly
visitors, and thus deprive me of the company which is at once the solace
and the inspiration of my declining years. On all such intrusions I
decree the penalty of death, being fully determined that no psychology
shall pollute this neighbourhood until such time as the ghosts, having
completed a psychology of their own, are able to protect themselves. I
assure you that my intercourse with the spirits more than makes amends
for all that I lost when my former religion was destroyed."

"Which never became the religion of the future after all?" I asked, more
sarcastically perhaps than was quite decent.

"Of course not. And the same cause, if suffered to operate, will prevent
anything else from becoming the religion of the future. It is one of the
signs of decadence in the present age that livelihoods should be
procurable by the scientific analysis of religion. Had I the power, I
would make it a penal offence to publish the results of such inquiries.
As it is, we must protect ourselves. Arm, therefore, my friend--arm
yourself with the like of this; and whenever you see one of those
marauders, do not hesitate to shoot! The only good psychologist is a
dead one."

As Panhandle said this, he drew from his pocket quite the most
formidable six-shooting pistol I have ever seen.

I was about to protest against the atrocious obscurantism of this
outburst, when my attention was caught by a strange sound of fluttering
in the letters of the sky-sign above the house. Looking up, I saw to my
amazement that the former legend had disappeared and a new one was
gradually forming. "_Change the conversation_," were the words I read
when the swaying letters had settled down into a position of rest.
Immediately afterwards the letters fluttered again and the original
legend reappeared. "Certainly," I said to myself, "this house is
haunted."

Obedient to the mandate of the fluttering letters, I began at once to
cast about for an opening that would change the conversation. I could
find none, and I was embarrassed by the pause. There was nothing for it
but to break out suddenly on a new line. But in the sequel I was
astonished to observe with what ease Panhandle, in spite of the violence
of the transition, turned the conversation back to its original theme.

"My dear Panhandle," I said, "you are doubtless familiar with the remark
of Charles Dickens to the effect that writers of fiction seldom _dream_
of the characters they have created, the reason being that they know
those characters to be unreal."

"I am perfectly familiar with the passage," he replied, "but I am
astonished to hear it quoted by you. Have you not often insisted, in
pursuance, I suppose, of the principles of your philosophy, that
characters created by imaginative genius, such as Hamlet or Faust,
possess a deeper reality than beings of flesh and blood? Did you not
cite instances from Dickens himself and say that Sam Weller and Mr
Micawber were more real to you than Louis XIV or George Washington?"

"I certainly said so, and adhere to the statement."

"Then you will not hesitate to admit that a character who is more real
than George Washington is at least as capable of being interested in the
problem of his own creation as George Washington could have been."

"You are leading me into a trap," I replied.

"I am only requiring you to be in earnest. Like many persons who express
the opinion you have just reiterated, you have never taken the trouble
to realise what it implies. But I will now show you its implications.
Nor could a better means be found of introducing the revelations I am
about to make as to what you may expect in this haunted house. It was
your good genius who led you to this topic. You will learn presently
that the phenomena peculiar to my house are entirely in harmony with
your own philosophy on this point, that philosophy being, as I
understand, some new brand of Idealism."

"I desire you to proceed with the revelations immediately," I said. "We
live in an age which abhors introductions as fiercely as Nature abhors a
vacuum, and I beg you to leave it with me to adjust what you are about
to deliver to the principles of my philosophy."

"Know, then," said Panhandle, with a readiness that marked his approval
of my attitude, "that your opinion as to the reality of these imaginary
characters is entirely sound. Many of them are in the habit of haunting
this very house, and I think it extremely probable that some will put
in an appearance to-night. You have quoted Charles Dickens to the effect
that their creators know them to be unreal--a remarkable error for so
gifted a man. But it may astonish you to learn that they return the
compliment by having no belief in the reality of their reputed creators.
It is more than possible, after what you have said, that Mr Micawber,
who has now become a philosopher, will appear to you during your stay in
the house. Tell him by way of experiment that his creator was a certain
Charles Dickens. You will find that he wholly fails to understand what
you mean. He regards himself as a fortuitous concourse of ideas. Only
this morning I tried the same experiment on Colonel Newcome. I told him
all about Thackeray, who, said I, was the author of his being.[1] He was
utterly amazed, and just as incredulous as it is possible for so perfect
a gentleman to be. He accused me of talking metaphysics."

[Footnote 1: "In the novel of _Pendennis_, written ten years ago, there
is an account of a certain Costigan, whom I had invented.... I was
smoking in a tavern-parlour one night, and this Costigan came into the
room alone--the very man: the most remarkable resemblance of the printed
sketches of the man, and of the rude drawings in which I had depicted
him. He had the same little coat, the same battered hat, cocked on one
eye, the same twinkle in that eye. 'Sir,' said I, knowing him to be an
old friend whom I had met in unknown regions, 'sir,' I said, 'may I
offer you a glass of brandy and water?' ... How had I come to know him,
to divine him? Nothing shall convince me that I have not seen that man
in the world of spirits." (Thackeray, _De Finibus_.) See the whole
passage, from which it is evident that Costigan did not recognise his
creator.]

My long acquaintance with Panhandle had schooled me to betray no
astonishment at anything he might say. So, assuming as cool an air as I
could command, I merely asked:

"Would you mind telling me, Panhandle, by what means you have managed to
ascertain the views of these gentlemen concerning their creator?"

"Like yourself," he answered, "I was convinced long ago that the
creations of genius, Hamlet and the rest, are more real than the Johns,
Toms, and Marys who seem to walk the earth. But, unlike you, I have not
been content that so important a truth should remain at the level of a
mere elegant opinion. By a course of spiritual exercises carefully
devised, into which I shall presently initiate you, I have placed myself
in direct communication with these personalities; and so successful has
the discipline proved, that intelligent intercourse has become possible
between them and me. I frequently invite them to haunt the house, and
the response is always favourable. I am on terms of intimacy with the
principal characters of the Classic Drama, of Shakespeare, Goethe, and
many eminent novelists of modern times."

On hearing this all my efforts to keep cool broke down.

"Panhandle," I cried, "you must initiate me into those exercises without
a moment's delay."

"Be patient," he replied, "until you have heard the further results to
which they will lead. I have not yet told you the half, and it may be
that when you have heard the rest you will prefer to have no part in
these Mysteries. The realm to which they will lead you has an immense
population of ghosts; it is vastly more populous than our planet; and
notwithstanding that my exercises have brought me abundant knowledge of
them and their doings, I have not been able to classify more than a
small portion of the inhabitants. The characters created by imaginative
genius are only one among the orders of ghosts to whom you will
presently be introduced. You will be haunted by _Ideas_ in every
variety, all of them living organisms of high complexity, and all more
or less ignorant of whence they come or whose they are. Possibly you
will encounter your own ideas among them; and I must warn you against
claiming to be the author of any of them, even the most original. There
is nothing that offends them more deeply. They have their own notions as
to their origin, which they conceive to lie in something infinitely
superior to the brain of a being like yourself. By many of them their
reputed authors are treated with contempt; some deny the existence of
these 'authors' in any capacity whatsoever; others regard them as mere
phrases, metaphors, or abstractions. A notable instance is that of your
friend Professor Gunn, who wrote the famous treatise to prove the
non-existence of God. The potent ideas projected in the course of that
work had long enjoyed an independent being of their own in the spiritual
world; and it may interest you--and Professor Gunn also, if you will be
kind enough to tell him what I am now saying--to learn that these ideas
of his have formed themselves into a congregation or society whose
principal tenet is that there is no such being as Professor Gunn. They
regard him alternatively as a sun-myth or an exploded fiction."

"How absurd!" I cried.

"In your present darkness," he answered, "the exclamation is to be
excused. But I assure you that after passing one night in this house you
will find that nothing in heaven or earth is less absurd than the
statement you have just heard."

"As to _your own_ Ideas," he continued, "know that their relation to
yourself is, in their eyes, widely different from what you conceive it
to be. Between yourself and them there is the utmost divergence of view
on this matter. Under no circumstances whatsoever will they consent to
regard themselves as your _property_, and no claim of that kind, nor
even the semblance of a claim, must ever be suffered to appear in your
dealings with these ghosts. Remember that your common-sense is their
metaphysic, and their metaphysic your common-sense; what you dream of,
they see; what you see, they dream of; and the consequence is that many
truths, which appear to you as the least certain of your conclusions,
are used by them as the familiar axioms of thought. On the other hand,
what are axioms to you are often problems to them. Your _cogito ergo
sum_, for example, will not go down in the spiritual world. For just as
you, on your side of the theory of knowledge, are busy in trying to
account for your Ideas, so they, on theirs, have much ado in their
efforts to account for _you_; all of them find you the most illusive of
beings, while some, as I have already hinted, deny your existence
altogether, or treat you as a highly questionable hypothesis. With
several of your leading Ideas I hope to make you personally acquainted
this very night. To convince them of your identity will be no easy
matter, and the most vigilant circumspection will be necessary on your
part. I counsel an attitude of uttermost modesty; anything else is
certain to give them the impression that you are an impostor. Betray,
then, not the least surprise on finding yourself treated by your own
Ideas as a being of little importance to their concerns. Above all, you
must not expect them to take more than a passing interest in _your
brain_. Your best course is to avoid all reference to that topic. 'The
brain' is seldom, if ever, mentioned in the best circles of the
spiritual world--to which circles, I assume, your leading Ideas belong.
You must never forget that in the realm of Ideas class distinctions are
rigidly observed; there is an aristocracy and a proletariat, with all
the intermediate grades; and many topics which may be safely mentioned
among the commons are an offence when introduced to the nobility. 'The
brain' is one of these. Its use, among the ghosts, is confined
exclusively to the working class; and you will commit a breach of good
manners by flaunting its functions in the presence of august society.
Were you, for example, in the course of some conversation with a noble
Principle, to offer him the use of your own brain, or to suggest that he
was in need of such an implement, or in the habit of using it, you would
commit an indiscretion of the first magnitude; and it is certain the
offended spirit would strike you off his visiting list and decline to
haunt you any more. Pardon my insistence on this point. Knowing, as I
do, how apt you are to talk about your brain, I am naturally
apprehensive lest, in an unguarded moment, you should thrust that organ
under the nose of some Great Idea. Believe me, it would be a fatal
mistake. Remember, I implore you, what I have already said: that, in the
spiritual world, the brain-habit is strictly confined to the working
class."[2]

[Footnote 2: "Ni pour le jugement, ni pour le raisonnement, ni pour
aucune autre faculté de la pensée proprement dite nous n'avons la
moindre raison de supposer qu'elle soit attachée à tels ou tels
processus cérébraux determinés.... Les phénomènes cérébraux sont en
effet à la vie mentale ce que les gestes du chef d'orchestre sont à la
symphonie: ils en dessinent les articulations motrices, ils ne font pas
autre chose. On ne trouverait done rien des opérations de l'esprit
proprement dit à l'intérieur du cerveau." (Professor Henri Bergson:
Presidential Address to the Society for Psychical Research, 1913.)]

"Before you can persuade me of all this," I said, "you will have to turn
my intelligence clean inside out."

"That is precisely what I intend doing, and the first step shall be
taken this very instant. Begin the exercises by repeating the Formula of
Initiation. It runs as follows:

    '_Till another speaks to me I am nothing._'"

"Why, Panhandle," I said laughing, "that is the very formula they taught
me when I first entered a Public School. And they enforced it with
kicks."

"The Universe enforces it in the same manner. But let us keep to the
matter in hand. Repeat the formula at once."

"Wait," I said. "The situation is growing ominous, and I will not embark
upon this enterprise till I know more of what it will lead to."

"Take your own time," said Panhandle. "The rules of my system forbid me
to hurry the neophyte. If what I have told you already is not enough,
you shall hear more. Among the ghosts who haunt this house are beings
far mightier than any I have so far described. For a long time their
identification baffled me, until one night I overheard them in high
debate, and found they were occupied in an attempt to account for their
own existence in the scheme of things. Then I knew who they were."

"These," I said, catching him up, "must assuredly be the ghosts of the
great philosophies, or systems of thought, which in their earthly state
accounted for the existence of everything else, but left the problem of
their own existence untouched."

"A most happy anticipation, and one that augurs well for your future
success as an entertainer of ghosts. Have we not heard on high authority
that no philosophy is complete until it has explained its own presence
in the universe? Having neglected this at the first stage of their
existence, the systems exercise their wits at the second in attempts to
make good the oversight."

"Do many of them succeed?" I asked.

"Most of them fail; and for that reason their ghosts linger for ages in
the neighbourhood of houses which, like my own, are hospitable to their
presence. For it is a rule of the realm to which they now belong that so
soon as any system succeeds in explaining its own origin it vanishes and
passes on to a still higher state of existence."

"Panhandle," I said, "you have identified these ghosts beyond the
possibility of cavil. A more conclusive proof could not be given."

"Beware, then, how you proceed!" said he. "It is possible that you will
be haunted to-night not only by your Ideas in their severalty, but by
your whole system of thought organised as one Synthetic Ghost. It will
certainly question you on the subject of its creator, that being, as I
have said, the central and absorbing interest of all these spirits. But
again let me implore you to be on your guard against claiming to be its
author. To inform such a ghost that it originates in a human
intelligence, and that intelligence your own, would be treated as an
outbreak of impudence deserving the highest resentment, and it is more
than likely that the indignant phantom would put a lasting blight on
your intellect or punish your presumption in ways yet more fearful to
contemplate."

The flow of Panhandle's speech had now become extremely rapid, and my
intelligence was beginning to lag in the rear. "Give me a
breathing-space," I cried; "I need an interval for silent meditation."
Then, in a voice so low that he could not hear me, I repeated to myself
the Formula of Initiation and, after musing for a few minutes, begged
him to proceed. "A light is breaking," I said, "and your warnings are
taking hold."

"In this connection," he resumed, "I could relate many things that would
surprise you. Just as the personalities created by genius are apt to
repudiate their creators, so the great philosophies when translated to
the higher state are apt to disown all connection with the persons to
whom their origin is humanly attributed. The philosophy of Spencer, for
example, believes its author to be absolutely inscrutable; that of von
Hartmann suspects a Professor, but declares him to have been unconscious
of what he was doing. Pessimism, again, ascribes its beginning to a
desire on the part of the Primal Power to give away the secret of its
conspiracies against its own subjects; the doctrine that mind is
mechanism believes itself the outcome of a non-mechanical principle, and
has become in consequence the most superstitious of all the ghosts; and
a group of materialistic systems have concluded, after long debate,
that all philosophies originate from Ink and a Tendency in the Ink to
get itself transferred to Paper."

"It is evident," I interposed, "that even in their higher existence the
systems are by no means free from illusions."

"Be cautious how you judge them," said Panhandle, "for it may be that in
accounting for their origin they are less astray than yourself. None the
less, you are right in declaring them defective. _Fallacies_ perpetrated
in a system at the first stage of its existence become _diseases_ when
translated to the second, and some of the ghosts in consequence live the
life of invalids. The ghost of Evolution, for example, will appear
before you in a deplorable condition. This ghost has recently learnt
that it is suffering from an Undistributed Middle, a disease unamenable
to treatment, being proof even against the Method of Eloquence, which as
you know is a potent specific for most logical defects. You may easily
identify the spirit by remembering what I have told you. If you
encounter an apparition walking about with hands pressed hard on its
Middle, and groaning heavily, know that the spectre of Evolution is
before you."

"Panhandle," I said, "your revelations have awakened my uttermost
curiosity, and every nerve in my body is tense with eagerness to
encounter an apparition. Heaven grant that the ghost of my own
philosophy may appear! And yet, in a sense, I am disappointed. You
promised that you would furnish me with material for my next book. But
the public has no interest in the phantoms you have described, and will
not believe in their existence."

"That remains to be seen," he answered. "Meanwhile, I give you my solemn
pledge that you shall see a ghost before the night is out."

He said this in a tone so ominous that I could not refrain from
starting. What could he mean? A sudden thought flashed upon me, and I
cried aloud:

"My dear friend, you fill me with alarm, and I am on the point of giving
way! I begin to suspect that I shall never see the ghosts until I have
passed to another world. I believe that I am doomed to die in this house
to-night! It was indicated in the tone of your voice."

With a quick motion Panhandle swung round in his chair and looked me
full in the face.

"How do you know," he said, "that you are not dead now, and already
passed to the existence of which you speak?"

The effort to answer his question revived my courage. But in all my life
I have never found a problem half so difficult. To prove that I was not
dead already and become a ghost! Forty or fifty times did I lay down a
new set of premises, only to be reminded by Panhandle that I begged the
question in every one. My ingenuity was taxed to breaking point, my
voice was exhausted, the sweat was pouring from my brows, when, once
again, from the upper airs where the sky-sign was swinging, I heard the
same fluttering and rustling which had arrested my attention at a former
crisis. It was growing dark, and the arc-lamps which outlined the
letters were all aglow. I watched the transformation, and suddenly saw,
flashed out for a moment into the gathering darkness, these words:

     "_Give it up._"



III

PANHANDLE'S REMARKABLE ADVENTURE. THE GHOST APPEARS


Dinner was now served. We dined alone, and, in the intervals when the
footman was out of the room, I seized the opportunity to probe further
into the mystery of the haunted house.

"The ghosts," I said, "have not appeared. Neither in my own apartment,
nor in the corridors, nor in the various empty rooms which I have
visited, have I seen or heard anything to suggest that the house is
haunted."

"May I ask," said my companion, "for the grounds of your statement that
so far the ghost has failed to appear?"

"Save for yourself," I answered, "the only person I have seen since
entering is the footman."

"And how do you know that the footman is not a ghost?"

"Why," said I, "he carried my bag upstairs, and pocketed the balance of
half a crown I gave him to pay for a telegram."

"I never heard a feebler argument," he replied. "It is obvious that you
resemble the majority of mankind, who, if they were to see a thousand
ghosts every day, would never recognise one of them for what it was.
Now, as to the footman----"

But at that moment the individual in question entered the room bringing
coffee and cigars. When he had gone Panhandle resumed:

"We were speaking of the footman. But perhaps it would be wiser to deal
with the matter in general terms. I have already said enough to satisfy
any reasonable judge of evidence that this is a genuinely haunted house.
I have now to add that a doubt may be raised as to _who is the haunter
and who the haunted_."

I sat silent, staring at Panhandle with wide eyes of astonishment, for
I had no universe of discourse to which I could relate the strange
things I was hearing. He went on:

"From what I have told you already you have no doubt drawn the inference
that the ghosts are haunting _me_. But the ghosts themselves are not of
that mind. In their opinion it is I who am haunting _them_. My first
discovery of this, which is destined to revolutionise the whole theory
of ghosts, was made under circumstances which I will now relate.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Many years ago I was seated in the library late one night engaged in
writing a report of certain mysterious phenomena which had been observed
in this house. I had just completed a copy of the signed evidence of the
cook, the gardener, and the housemaid, all of whom had left that day
without notice in consequence of something they alleged they had seen.
Suddenly I thought I heard a whispered voice from the further side of
the room, and looking up I saw seated at a table two beings of human
semblance, who were gazing intently in my direction.

"'Do you not see something on yonder chair?' asked one.

"'Yes,' answered the other, 'I certainly see something. Probably a gleam
of light. Observe, the curtains are not quite closed, and this is about
the time when they turn on the searchlight at the barracks. Draw the
curtains close and it will instantly disappear.'

"The speaker went to the window, leaving the other still staring
fearfully in my direction. Having closed the curtains, the man returned
to his place.

"'By heaven!' he cried, 'the thing is still there!' And I could see the
pallor creeping over his face.

"A moment later I heard one of them say, 'It has gone. Well, whatever it
was, I have had a shock. I am trembling all over.' And with that he rang
the bell.

"Presently a footman appeared with a bottle of spirits and a siphon.
Having deposited the tray, he chanced to look towards the place where I
was sitting. A piercing cry followed, and the man ran screaming out of
the room. The two men also started to their feet and began shouting
something I could not hear. I suppose they were calling to some person
in the house, for the shouts were quickly followed by the entry of a
young fellow of athletic build and truculent countenance.

"'Show me your damned ghost,' he said, 'and I'll soon settle him.'

"'He's over there--in that seat,' cried one. 'For heaven's sake, go up
to him, Reginald, and see what he's made of.'

"The truculent youth darted forward, but suddenly came to a dead stop,
with a face as white as a sheet. Then with a trembling hand he whipped a
revolver out of his pocket, and at five paces fired all six barrels
point-blank at my body. At each shot I was aware of a painful feeling in
the penumbra of my consciousness, like the sudden awakening of a buried
sorrow."

At this point Panhandle paused to relight his cigar, and I took the
opportunity to make a remark.

"Count it no grievance," I said, "if one who shoots at psychologists is
himself occasionally shot at. I surmise that the truculent youth was the
ghost of a promising psychologist, foully murdered by your nefarious
gun."

"Name it a righteous execution, and I shall agree," he answered.

"Or it may be," I added, "that many of the sudden and inexplicable pains
that break out in our minds and in our bodies are caused by ghosts, or
whatever you call them, shooting at us, or stabbing us, to test our
reality."

Panhandle turned a keen glance at my face to see if I was serious, and,
being satisfied that I was, continued:

"I have heard more unlikely explanations of such pains, and your theory
is precisely one of those which medical science will have to investigate
when these discoveries of mine are made public. But let me resume the
narrative.

"At the sound of the firing the whole household seemed to be aroused.
And what a household it was! In a few moments the room was crowded with
beings of reverend countenance and stately carriage. Looking round with
slow, grave eyes, they conversed in whispers. 'Science must investigate
this,' one of them said. 'We will arrange that a committee of the
Society shall make a thorough examination of the house and test the
phenomena. Don't forget to engage two shorthand writers and an expert in
spirit photography. And let the room be sealed up till the experts
arrive.'

"During the whole of these proceedings I remained absolutely still, my
acquaintance with the other world having taught me the wisdom of
reticence. At this point, however, I resolved to attempt communication
with my visitors, and, looking round for a person to whom I might
address myself, I observed a bright little fellow of twelve years old
staring about him in an absent-minded way, quite inattentive to all that
was going on. As I walked over to where he was standing he saw me
plainly, and showed not the least surprise on being addressed.

"'What is your name, my little man?' I asked.

"'Billy Burst,' said he.

"'And what are you thinking about while all those people are making such
a fuss?'

"'_I am wondering how people weigh the planets_,' he answered.

"'Come along with me,' said I, 'and I will show you just what you want
to know.'

"Then taking him by the hand I led him across the room to the seat I had
just left; but though the sages who were present saw him cross the room,
not one of them saw me, who was leading him by the hand.

"I took out a sheet of paper and began to draw figures and work formulæ,
the boy meanwhile standing by the side of my chair and saying not a
word. When I had finished I said:

"'Do you understand?'

"'Perfectly,' he answered; 'I see it at last. Thank you ever so much.'

"'Now Billy,' I said, 'there is something you can do for _me_. I want
you to stand on that chair and tell the people that the person they are
making the fuss about is named Panhandle, that you know him, that he is
real and quite harmless, and that he hopes they won't shoot at him any
more, because it hurts. Say you are _quite certain_ he is real, because
he has just told you how the planets are weighed.'

"'Dear Pan,' said Billy, 'don't ask me to do that. I never tell people
about _you_; they would only laugh at me if I did. Let us keep just as
we are, old fellow, and not tell our secret to anybody.'

"Unprepared for a style of address so familiar, 'Why, Billy,' I said, 'I
have never seen you before.'

"'Are you quite sure you see me _now_?' he replied.

"Our positions had become reversed--Billy sitting in my study chair that
he might read over what I had written about the planets, I standing by
his side. I looked down to answer his last question, and for the
briefest fraction of a second a vision passed before me. The object
beneath me was not my study chair, but a small iron bedstead on which
there lay a boy, fast asleep. It passed in the twinkling of an eye, and
I found myself seated as before at my desk; the half-finished report was
before me, and, save myself, not a soul was in the room. 'It is
certain,' thought I, 'that I am haunting somebody. In the name of all
the secret Powers that guide the fates of men--whom am I haunting?'"

       *       *       *       *       *

"A marvellous story," I cried; "and more significant than even you,
Panhandle, are aware. I knew Billy Burst. He and I were schoolmates, and
practised magic together under the guidance of a mysterious Power whose
name Billy would never disclose."

"You knew Billy Burst!" exclaimed Panhandle. "My friend, you fill me
with astonishment and delight. Did I not say we were on the eve of great
discoveries? Tell me all you know about Billy, for the matter is of the
utmost importance."

"You are making _me_ wait for the appearance of the ghost," said I, "and
must not be aggrieved if I make _you_ wait for information about Billy."

"I again pledge my word to you," he answered, "that you shall see a
ghost this very night."

"And I pledge mine to you that you shall hear all about Billy as soon as
the ghost appears. But it is my turn first."

"Let us make it a covenant," he said.

"Agreed!" I answered.

"Then shake hands over the bargain."

As he said this he stood up and extended his hand.

With the utmost eagerness I sprang to my feet and made the reciprocating
gesture. For an instant I thought that excitement had unsteadied me, for
my hand, seeking his, seemed to move at random in the vacant air. Then I
made a second attempt, carefully noting the position of his extended
palm, and this time the truth dawned upon me in a flash. My hand,
indeed, grasped what seemed to be his. But there was no substance to
resist my closing fingers, no hardness of interior bones, no softness of
enveloping tissues, no pressure, no contact, no warmth.

"Panhandle," I cried, "you are a ghost!"

"Hush!" he answered; "we never use that term in addressing one another.
Whatever I _am_, you are also in process of _becoming_. You have been
slow in making the discovery. I thought you had found me out when we
stood among the cypress in the garden."

I was trembling all over and had no control over the next words that
came to my tongue. What they were I cannot remember, but Panhandle's
reply seems to indicate that I had been imploring him to tell me what
kind of a ghost he was.

"Certainly not a character taken out of a novel," he was saying. "Think
of the other orders of spirits who I told you were haunting the house,
and place me in the last and highest."

"You are the ghost of a philosophy!" I said.

"I am."

"Whose philosophy are you?" I shouted, for the figure of Panhandle was
rapidly sliding away into the distance.

"Your own!" was the answer.

"Come back, beloved Panhandle!" I called after the retreating figure.
"Come back and let me fulfil my part of the compact before you go. I
have yet to tell you the story of Billy Burst."

"I shall read it in the next chapter of your book," was the reply, now
almost inaudible, so great was the distance from which it came.

I called yet louder, "I have a ghost-story to tell _you_, dear
Panhandle. Very important. About the ghost of a novelist. Far better
than yours about the novelist's characters!"

"I shall read about that in the next chapter but one."

Such, I am fain to believe, was the answer. But the voice had now become
so faint that this rendering of the words is given with reserve. My
first impression was that Panhandle said simply, "Pooh, pooh!"

I was determined not to let him go. Raising my voice to the uttermost, I
continued to call him. "Come back," I kept shouting, "and arm me with
one more word of wisdom for the battle of life! Without you, Panhandle,
I have no protector, and the psychologists will surely devour me."

At the sound of the word "psychologists" Panhandle's flight was suddenly
arrested. In one swoop he retraversed the vast space that now lay
between us, and returned to his original position.

"Hear, then, my last word," he said. "The chief errors of mankind issue
from the notion that thinking is a solitary process and the thinker an
isolated being. In writing their works or monologues the thinkers, with
few exceptions, have mistaken the form which is proper to philosophy and
thereby done violence to the true nature of thought. All thinking is the
work of a community; its form is conversational and, in the highest
stages, dramatic. For want of this knowledge many philosophers have gone
astray. Ignorant of the other minds with which their own are in
communion, deaf to the voices which mingle with theirs in the eternal
dialogue of thought, they have uttered their message as a weary
monologue, and the vivid interplay of mind with mind, the quick debate
of reacting spirits, which is the very life of thought, has fallen dead.
In the course of your education, which has properly begun to-day, you
will become acquainted with a multitude of interlocutors whose existence
you have never suspected, though they have been addressing you from the
first moment you began to think and contributing much of what you
consider most original in your thought. These are the ghosts by whom you
will henceforth be haunted, until, finally, they make you one of
themselves and carry you to heaven in a whirlwind of fire. Farewell."

Having said this, he instantly vanished, leaving behind him a faint
odour of Havana cigars.

At the same moment a marvellous change, the stages of which have left no
record on my memory, passed over me. I found myself in the place where
I am at this moment, this identical sheet of paper was under my hand,
this pen was writing, and the ink of the last paragraph was still wet.



THE MAGIC FORMULA


I

Many years ago I had a schoolfellow and bosom friend whom I knew as
Billy, but whose name as it stood in the Register was William Xavier
Plosive. Where his family came from, or where they got their outlandish
name, I know not. From its rarity I infer that the Plosive stock has not
multiplied lavishly on the earth. Only twice, since the days of my
friendship with Billy, have I encountered that name. There is, or was, a
wayside public-house in Devonshire, the landlord of which was a Plosive;
it bore the sign of the "Dog and Ladle," which the signboard interpreted
by a picture of a large retriever in precipitate flight with a tin ladle
tied to his tail. The other Plosive of my acquaintance kept a shop in a
Canadian city; he was a French half-breed, and, as I have heard, a great
rascal.

Billy's father was said to have been a Roman Catholic; and I infer from
the name he bestowed on his son that he had a turn for waggishness of a
sort. Plosive senior must have foreseen what would happen. No sooner, of
course, was the name William X. Plosive seen on the outside of the poor
boy's copy-books than a whisper passed through the whole school--"Billy
Burst." And that name remained with him to the end. It was more
appropriate than its bestowers knew.

"_When_ did Billy burst?" "_Why_ did Billy burst?" "Will Billy burst
again?" and a hundred questions of the like order were asked all day
long apropos of nothing. They were shouted in the playground. They were
whispered in the class. They broke the silence of the dormitory in the
dead of night. With them we relieved our pent-up feelings in hours of
tedium or of gloom. Introduced _pianissimo_, they profaned the daily
half-hour devoted to the study of Divinity. Innumerable impositions
followed in their train. One morning the Rev. Cyril Puttock, M.A., who
"took" us in Divinity, saw written large on the blackboard in front of
him these words: "What burst Billy?" I spent my next half-holiday in
writing out the Beatitudes a hundred times.

Billy and I slept in the same dormitory and our beds were side by side.
Both of us were bad sleepers, and many a deep affinity did our souls
discover in the silent watches of the night. As a place to observe the
workings of telepathy I know of no spot on earth to compare with the
dormitory of a boarding-school. The atmosphere of our dormitory was, if
I may say so, in a state of chronic telepathic saturation, and the area
where the currents ran strongest was in the space between Billy's bed
and mine. This is the sort of thing that would go on:

"Billy, are you awake?"

"Yes; I knew _you_ were."

"Shall we talk?"

"I want to, ever so."

"I say, we are going to have that beastly pudding for dinner to-morrow."

"That's just what I want to talk about."

"I've got an idea. Billy, I found out yesterday where they cook those
puddings. They boil them in the copper of the outhouse, and the cook
leaves them there while she looks after the rest of the dinner."

"Ripping!" answered Billy. "_I'll_ tell you what we'll do.--Hush! Is old
Ginger awake?--All right. Well, we'll sneak into the outhouse to-morrow
when the cook isn't looking, pinch the puddings out of the copper and
chuck 'em in the pond."

"Why, Billy, that's just what I was going to say to you. But won't we
scald ourselves?"

"I've thought of that. We'll get the garden fork and jab it into the
puddings. They boil 'em in bags, you know."

"There's a better way than that. We'll get in before the copper has
begun to boil."

"I hadn't thought of that, _but I was just going to_," said Billy.
"Yes, that's the way."

Enterprises such as these, however, were episodic, and merely serve to
show how great souls, born under the same star, and united in the grand
trend of their life-directions, share also the minor details of their
activity. The seat of our affinities lay deeper. Both Billy and I were
persons with an "end" in life, and breathed in common the atmosphere of
great designs. We were like two young trees planted side by side on a
breezy hill-top. Our roots were in the same soil; our branches swayed to
the same rhythm; we heard the same secrets from the whispering winds. We
were always on the heights. Few were the days of our companionship when
we were not infatuated about something or other; and I sometimes doubt
whether even yet I have outgrown the habit, so deep was its spring in my
own nature and so strong the reinforcement it received from the
influence of Billy. Sometimes we were infatuated about the same thing;
and sometimes each of us struck out an independent line of his own; but
always we were the victims of one mania or another.

At the time this history begins the particular mania that afflicted me
was the collecting of tramcar tickets. My friends used to save them for
me; I begged them from passengers as they alighted from the cars; I
picked them up in the street; and I had over seven thousand collected in
a box. I thought that when the sum had risen to ten thousand the goal of
my existence would be reached; and it may be said that I lived for
little else.

Billy's mania was astronomy. He would spend the hours of his playtime
lying on his stomach with a map of the stars spread out before him on
the floor. Billy was a great astronomer--in secret. On the very day when
he and I were being initiated into the mysteries of Decimals, he
whispered to me in class, "I say, I wonder how people found out the
weight of the planets." He was an absent-minded boy, and many a clout on
the head did he receive at this time for paying no attention to what
was going on in class. Little did the master know what Billy was
thinking of as he stared at the wall before him with his great, dreamy
eyes--and not for ten thousand worlds would Billy have told him. He was
thinking about the weight of the planets, and the problem lay heavy on
his soul; and Billy grew ever more absent-minded, and spent more time on
his stomach every day. At last he suddenly waked up and began to get
top-marks not only in Arithmetic but in every other subject as well. And
later on, when we came to the Quadratic Equations and the Higher
Geometry, the master was amazed to find that Billy required no teaching
at all.

"What has happened to Billy?" asked somebody; and the answer came, "Why,
of course, Billy has _burst_."

So he had. Billy had found out "how they weighed the planets," and the
mass of darkness that oppressed him had been blown away in the
explosion. About the same time I burst also. On counting up my tickets
I found there were ten thousand of them.

Then came a pause, during which Billy and I wandered about in dry places
seeking rest and finding none. Life lost its spring and the world seemed
very flat, stale, and unprofitable. Conversation flagged, or became
provocative of irritable rejoinders. "I say, what are you going to do
with all those tramcar tickets?" asked Billy one day. "Oh, shut up!" I
replied. Shortly afterwards it was my turn. "Billy, tell me what they
mean by 'sidereal time.'" "Oh, shut up!" said he.

We were both waiting for the new birth, or the new explosion, utterly
unconscious of our condition. But the Powers-that-be were maturing their
preparations, and, all being complete, they put the match to the train
in the following manner.

The usual exchange of measles and whooping-cough had been going on in
our school, and Billy and I being convalescent from the latter
complaint, to which we had both succumbed at the same time, were sent
out one day to take an airing in the Park. On passing down a certain
walk, shaded by planes, we noticed a very old gentleman seated in a
bath-chair which had been wheeled under the shadow of one of the trees.
He sat in the chair with his head bent forward on his chest, and his
wasted hands were spread out on the cover. He seemed an image of
decrepitude, a symbol of approaching death. He was absolutely still. A
young woman on the bench beside him was reading aloud from a book.

I think it was the immobility of the old man that first arrested our
attention. The moment we saw him we stopped dead in our walk and stood,
motionless as the figure before us, staring at what we saw. We just
stared without thinking, but even at this long distance I can remember a
vague emotion that stirred me, as though I had suddenly heard the wings
of time beating over my innocent head, or as though a faint scent of
death had arisen in the air around; such, I suppose, as horses or dogs
may feel when they pass over the spot where a man has been slain.

Suddenly Billy Burst clutched my arm--he had a habit of doing that.

"I say," he whispered, "let's go up to him and _ask him to tell us the
time_."

We crept up to the bath-chair like two timid animals, literally sniffing
the air as we went. Neither the old man nor his companion had noticed
us, and it was not until we had both stopped in front of them that the
reader looked up from her book. The old man was still unaware of our
presence.

"If you please," said Billy, "would you mind telling us the time?"

At the sound of Billy's voice the old man seemed to wake from his dream.
He lifted his head and listened, as though he heard himself summoned
from a far point in space; and his eyes wandered vaguely from side to
side unable to focus the speaker. Then they fell on Billy and his gaze
was arrested.

Now Billy was a beautiful person--_the very image of his mater_. The
eyes of the houri were his, the lids slightly elevated at the outer
angle; he had the mouth of them that are born to speak good things; and
about his brow there played a light which made you dream of high Olympus
and of ancestors who had lived with the gods. Yes, there was a star on
Billy's forehead; and this star it was that arrested the gaze of the old
man.

A look of indescribable pleasure overspread the withered face. It almost
seemed as if, for a moment, youth returned to him, or as if a breath of
spring had awakened in the midst of the winter's frost.

"The time, laddie?" said he, "Why, yes, of course I can give you the
time; as much of it as you want. For, don't you see, I'm a very old
fellow--ninety-one last birthday; which I should think is not more than
eighty years older than you, my little man. So I've plenty of time to
spare. But don't take too much of it, my laddie. It's not good for
little chaps like you. Now, _how much_ of the time would you like?"

"The _correct_ time, if you please, sir," said Billy, ignoring the
quantitative form in which the question had been framed.

So the old gentleman gave us the correct time. When we had passed on, I
looked back and saw that he was talking eagerly to his companion and
pointing at Billy.

"I'll tell you what," said Billy as soon as we were out of hearing.
"I've found out something. _It does old gentlemen good to ask them the
time._ Let's ask some more."

So for an hour or more we wandered about looking out for old
gentlemen--"to do them good." Several whom we met were rejected by Billy
on the ground that they were not old enough, and allowed to pass
unquestioned. Some three or four came up to the standard, and at each
experiment we found that our magic formula worked with wonderful
success. It provoked smiles and kind words; it pleased the old
gentlemen; it did them good. Old hands were laid on young shoulders; old
faces lit up; old watches were pulled out of old pockets. One was a
marvel with a long inscription on the gold back of it. And the old
gentleman showed us the inscription, which stated that the watch had
been presented to him by his supporters for his services to political
progress and for the gallant way in which he had fought the election at
So-and-so in 1867. Yes, it did the old gentlemen good. But, be it
observed, Billy was the spokesman every time.

From that time onward, Billy and I were Masters in Magic, no less,
infatuated with our calling and devoted to our formula. The star-books
were bundled into Billy's play-box; the ten thousand tramcar tickets
were thrown into the fire.

Never since the world began, thought we, had a more glorious game been
invented, never had so important an enterprise been conceived by the wit
of man and entrusted to two apostles twelve years old. A world-wide
mission to old gentlemen was ours. Who would have believed there were so
many of them? They seemed to spring into existence, to gather themselves
from the four quarters of the earth, in order that they might receive
the healing touch of our formula. We met them in the street, in the
Park, by the river, at the railway station, coming out of
church--everywhere. And all were completely in our power. Oh, it was
magnificent!

So it went on for three or four weeks. But a shock was in store for us.

At first, as I have said, Billy was the spokesman. But there came a day
when it seemed good that some independence of action should be
introduced into the partnership. Billy went one way and I another.

Going on alone, I presently espied an old gentleman, of promising
antiquity, walking briskly down one of the gravel paths. He was
intermittently reading a newspaper. Trotting up behind him, I observed
that in the intervals of his reading he would be talking to himself. He
would read for half a minute and then, whipping the newspaper behind his
back, begin to declaim, as though he were making a speech, quickening
his pace meanwhile, so that I was hard put to it to keep up with him.
Indeed I had to run, and was out of breath when, coming up alongside, I
popped out my question, "If you please, sir, what o'clock is it?"

"Go to the devil!" growled the old ruffian. And without pausing even to
look at me he strode on, continuing his declamation, of which I happen
to remember very distinctly these words: "I cannot, my Lords, I will
not, join in congratulating the government on the disgrace into which
they have brought the country." I recall these words because they
resembled something in a speech of Chatham's which I had to learn by
heart at school, and I remember wondering whether the old gentleman was
trying to learn the same speech and getting it wrong, or whether he was
making up something of his own.

Be that as it may, I had received a blow and my fondest illusion was
shattered. I was personally insulted. As a professional magician I was
flouted, and my calling dishonoured. And, worst of all, the magic had
broken down. For the first time the formula had failed to work--had done
the old gentleman _no good_. It cut me to the heart.

I ran about in great distress, seeking Billy, whom finding presently I
informed in general terms of what had happened.

"What did you say to the old beast?" asked Billy.

"I said, 'If you please, sir, what o'clock is it?'"

"Oh, you ass!" cried Billy. "_Those are the wrong words._ If you'd said,
'Would you mind telling me the time?' he'd have gone down like a
ninepin. Only cads say 'what o'clock.' He thought you were a cad! Oh,
you idiot! Leave me to do it next time."

Thus it came to pass that the partnership was resumed on its old basis,
with Billy as the predominant member and spokesman of the Firm.

And now we entered on what I still regard as an enterprise of pith and
moment. We determined, after long colloquy in the bedroom, to waylay
this recalcitrant old gentleman once more, and repeat our question in
its proper form, and with Billy as spokesman. Had I been alone, my
courage would certainly have failed to carry me through. But with Billy
at my side I was never afraid of anything either then or afterwards. O
Billy, if only you had been with me--then--and then--if only I had felt
your presence when the great waters went over me, if only I could have
seen your tilted dreaming eyes when--I would have made a better thing of
it, indeed I would! But one was taken and the other left; and I had to
fight those battles alone--alone, but not forgetful of you. I did not
fight them very well, Billy; and yet not so ill as I should have done
had I never known you.

Well, for several days the declaiming gentleman, whom we now knew as
"the old beast," and never called by any other name, failed to appear.
But at last we caught sight of him, striding along and violently
whipping his newspaper behind his back, just as before.

On the former occasion, when I was alone, I had operated from the rear,
but with Billy in support, I proposed that we should attack from the
front. So we threw ourselves in his path and marched steadily to meet
him. On he came, and as he drew near, down went the newspaper, and, as
though he were spitting poison, he hissed out from between his teeth a
fearful sentence, of which the last words were: "the most iniquitous
government that has ever betrayed and abused the confidence of a
sovereign people"--staring meanwhile straight over our heads.

"If you please, sir," said Billy in his singing voice, "would you mind
telling us the time?"

"Go to----" But at that moment the gentleman lowered his fierce old eyes
and encountered the gaze of Billy, who was standing full in his path.

Have you ever seen a wild beast suddenly grow tame? I have not, but I
saw something like it on the occasion of which I speak. Never did a
swifter or more astonishing change pass over the countenance of any
human being. I really think the old fellow suffered a physical shock,
for he stepped back two paces and looked for a moment like one who has
been seriously hurt. Then he recovered himself; lowered his spectacles
to the tip of his nose; gazed over them, at me for a moment, at Billy
for a quarter of a minute, and finally broke out into a hearty laugh.

"Well," he exclaimed, in the merriest of voices, "you're a couple of
young rascals. What are your names, and how old are you, and what school
do you belong to, and who are your fathers?"

We answered his questions in a fairly business-like manner until we came
to that about the fathers. Here there was an interlude. For Billy had to
explain, in succession, that he had no father, and no mother, and no
brothers, and no sisters--indeed, no relations at all that he knew of.
And there was some emotion at this point.

"Bless my soul," said the old gentleman, "that's very sad--very sad
indeed. But who pays for your schooling?"

"A friend of my mater's," said Billy. "He's very good to me and has me
to his house for the holidays."

"And gives you plenty of pocket-money?"

"Lots," answered Billy.

The old gentleman ruminated, and there was more emotion.

"Then you are not an unhappy boy?" he said at length.

"Not a bit," answered Billy.

"Thank God for that! Thank God for that! I should be very sorry to learn
you were unhappy. I hope you never will be. You don't _look_ unhappy."

"I'm not," repeated Billy.

All this time the old gentleman seemed quite unconscious of my
existence. But I was not hurt by that. I was well used to being
overlooked when Billy was with me, and never questioned for a moment the
justice of the arrangement. But now the old gentleman seemed to
recollect himself.

"What was it you asked me just now?" said he.

"We asked if you would mind telling us the time."

"Ha, just so. Now are you quite sure that what you asked for is what you
want? You said '_the_ time' not 'time.' For you must know, my dears,
that there's a great difference between 'time' and '_the_ time.'"

Billy and I looked at each other, perplexed and disgusted--perplexed by
the subtle distinction just drawn by the old gentleman; disgusted at
being addressed as "my dears." ("He might as well have given us a kiss
while he was about it," we thought.)

"We want _the_ time, if you please," we said at length.

"What, _the whole of it_?" said the old gentleman.

"No," answered Billy, "we only want the bit of it that's going on now."

"Which bit is that?" said our venerable friend.

"That's just what we want to know," answered Billy.

This fairly floored the old gentleman. "You'll be a great Parliamentary
debater one day, my boy," he said, "but the bit of time that's going on
now is not an easy thing to catch. My watch can't catch it."

"Give us the best your watch can do," answered Billy.

This made the old fellow laugh again. "Better and better," said he.
"Well, the best my watch can do is a quarter past twelve. And that
reminds me that you two young scamps have made me late for an
appointment. Now be good boys, both of you; and don't forget to write
every week to your moth--to your friends. And put that in your pockets."
Whereupon he gave each of us half-a-sovereign.

We walked on in silence, not pondering what had happened, for we
pondered nothing in those days, but serenely conscious of triumph. A
potent secret was in our hands and the world was at our feet.

"It worked," said Billy at length.

"Rather!" I answered.

"It did him good."

"Rather!"

"We beat him."

"Rather!"

Presently we were greeted by the Park-keeper, who was a friend of ours.

"Well, young hopefuls," he said, "and who have you been asking the time
of to-day?"

We pointed to the old gentleman whose figure was still visible in the
distance.

"Him!" cried the Park-keeper. "Well, bless your rascal impudence! Do you
know who _he_ is?"

"No."

"Why, he's Lord----."

The name mentioned was that of a distinguished member of the Cabinet
which had recently gone out of office.

Did we quail and cower at the mention of that mighty name? Did we cover
ourselves with confusion? Not we.

"I'm awfully glad we asked him," said Billy as we walked away.

"So am I--I say, Billy, I wish we could meet the Pope. He's jolly old,
and I'll bet he's jolly miserable, too."

"You shut up about his being miserable," answered Billy, who, as we
know, was a Roman Catholic. "He ain't half as miserable as the
Archbishop of Canterbury. I wish we could meet _him_!"

"Or the Emperor of Germany," I suggested.

"Yes, he'd do. I'd ask him, and you bet he'd tell us. But"--and here
Billy's manner became explosive--"I'll tell you what! _I wish we could
meet God!_ He's a jolly sight older than the Pope, or the Archbishop of
Canterbury, or the Emperor of Germany. I believe he'd like to be asked
more than any of them. And I'd ask him like a shot!"

"But _he's_ not miserable," I interposed.

"How do you know he isn't--_sometimes_? It would do him good anyhow."

I was getting out of my depth. As a speculator I had none of the
boldness which prompted the explosions of Billy, and an instinct of
decency suggested a change of conversation.

"What shall we do with those half-sovereigns?" I asked.

"Hush!" said Billy, "_they'll_ hear you."

"Who'll hear me?"

"Never mind who. They're listening, you bet. Never say 'half-sovereigns'
again."

"But what are we to do with them?"

"Keep them. Let's put a cross on each of them at once."

So we took out the coins, and with our penknives we scratched a cross on
the cheek of her gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria.

Both coins are now in my possession. The cross on the cheek of Queen
Victoria has worked wonders. It has brought me good luck. In return I
have hedged the coins with safeguards both moral and material. When I am
gone they will be----But I am anticipating.

And now the fever was in full possession of our souls. I believe we were
secretly determined to bring all the old gentlemen in the world under
the sway of our formula. We were beneficent magicians. Had we been
older, a vast prospect of social regeneration would have opened before
us. But all we knew at the time was that we possessed a power for
rejuvenating the aged. An ardent missionary fervour burned in our bones;
and we were swept along as by a whirlwind. Never was infatuation more
complete.

As a preliminary step to the accomplishment of these great designs we
resolved to ask ten thousand old gentlemen to tell us the time. Making a
calculation, we reckoned that, at the normal rate of progress, nine
years would be required to complete the task. We were a little
disconcerted, and, in order to expedite matters, we resolved to include
old ladies, and any young persons of either sex with grey hair, or who,
in our opinion, showed other signs of prematurely growing old. This led
on to further extensions. We agreed, first, that anyone who looked
"miserable" should have the benefit of our formula; next, that all
limitations whatsoever, save one, should be withdrawn, and the formula
allowed a universal application. The outstanding limitation was that
nobody should be asked the question until he had been previously viewed
by Billy, who was a psychologist, and pronounced by him to be "the right
sort." What constituted the "right sort" we never succeeded in
defining; enough that Billy knew the "right sort" when he saw it and
never made a mistake. We believed that all mankind were divided into two
classes, the sheep and the goats; in other words, those who were worthy
to be asked the time and those who were not, and Billy was the
infallible judge for separating them the one from the other. To ask the
question of any person was to seal that person's election and to put
upon him the stamp of immortality.

I believed, and still believe, that many whom we accosted were instantly
conscious of a change for the better in their general conditions. Years
afterwards I met a man who remembered these things and bore testimony to
the good we had done him. "It so happened," said he, "that just before I
met you boys, that day, I had been speculating heavily on the Stock
Exchange and had had a run of infernal bad luck. But the moment that
little chap with the tilted eyes spoke to me I said to myself, 'The
clouds are breaking.' And, by George, sir, my luck turned that very
day. I walked straight to the telegraph office and sent my broker a wire
which netted me a matter of £7000."

As became a firm of business-like magicians, Billy and I kept books,
duly averaged and balanced, entering in them day by day the names of the
persons to whom we had applied the formula. Are the names worthy of
being recorded? Perhaps not. But a few specimens will do no harm and may
incidentally serve to reveal the scope and catholicity of our
operations. One of these books is before me now, and here are a few of
the names, culled almost at random from its pages. It will be observed
that in the last group our faculty of invention gave out and we were
compelled to plagiarise.

Mr Smoky, Mr Shinytopper, Uncle Jelly-bones, Aunt Ginger, Lady
Peppermint, Bishop Butter, Canon Sweaty, Dirty Boots, Holy Toad, Satan,
Old Hurry, Old Bless-my-soul, Old Chronometer, Miss No-watch, Dr Beard,
Lord Splutters, Aurora, Mrs Proud, Polly Sniggers, Diamond Pin, Cigar,
Cuttyperoozle, Jim, Alfred Dear! Mr Just-engaged, Miss Ditto, Mr
Catch-his-train, Mr Hot, The Reverend Hum, The Reverend Ha-ha,
So-there-you-be, Mrs Robin, Mr High-mind, Mr Love-lust, Mr Heady.


II

All of a sudden, and in the most unexpected manner, these vast designs
of ours contracted their dimensions, or, as one might say, our outlook
became focussed on a solitary point. From a world-wide mission to all
mankind we narrowed down at a single stroke to a concentrated operation
on a strictly limited class. But I can tell you that what our mission
lost in scope it gained in intensity. You shall hear how all this
happened and judge for yourself.

One night Billy and I were lying awake as usual, and the question "shall
we talk?" had been asked and duly answered in the affirmative. We had
raised ourselves in bed, leaning toward each other, and the telepathic
current was running strong.

"Billy," I whispered, "I've got a ripping notion, a regular stunner. I'm
bursting to tell you."

"What is it?"

"Put your ear a little closer, Billy, and listen like mad. Suppose you
were to meet a beautiful woman--_what would you do_?"

Quick as thought came the answer--"I should ask her to tell me the
time."

"Why, that's _exactly_ what _I_ should do. We'll do it, the very next
time we meet one. And, Billy, I'm sure we shall meet one _soon_."

"So am I."

Next day, the instant we were freed from school we bolted for the Park,
exalted in spirit and full of resolution. A lovely Presence floated in
the light above us and accompanied us as we ran. Arrived in the Park, we
seemed to have reached the threshold of a new world. We stood on a peak
in Darien; and before us there shimmered an enchanted sea lit by the
softest of lights and tinted with the fairest of colours. Forces as old
as the earth and as young as the dawn were stirring within us; the
breath of spring was in our souls, and a vision of living beauty, seen
only in the faintest of glimpses, lured us on.

Think not that we lacked discrimination. "Let's wait, Billy," I said, as
he made a dart forward at a girl in a white frock, "till we find one
beautiful _enough_. That one won't do. Look at the size of her feet."

"_Whackers!_" said he, checking himself. And then he made a remark which
I have often thought was the strangest thing Billy ever uttered. "I
wouldn't be surprised," came the solemn whisper, "_if her feet were made
of clay_."

So day by day we ranged the Park, sometimes together, sometimes
separate, possessed of one thought only--that of a woman beautiful
enough _to be asked the time_. Hundreds of faces--and forms--were
examined, sometimes to the surprise of their owners; but the more we
examined, the more inexorable, the more difficult to satisfy, became our
ideal. At each fresh contact with reality it rose higher and outran the
facts of life, until we were on the point of concluding that the world
contained no woman beautiful enough to be asked the time. Never were
women stared at with greater innocence of heart, but never were they
judged by a more fastidious taste. And yet we had no definable
criterion. Of each new specimen examined all we could say was, "That one
won't do." But _why_ she wouldn't do we didn't know. We never disagreed.
What wouldn't do for Billy wouldn't do for me, and _vice versa_.

Once we met a charming little girl about our own age, walking all alone.
"That's the one!" cried I. "Come on, Billy."

I started forward, Billy close behind. Presently he clutched my jacket,
"Stop!" he said, "_What if she has no watch?_"

The little girl was running away.

"We've frightened her," said Billy, who was a little gentleman. "We're
two beasts."

"She heard what you said about the watch," I answered, "and thought we
wanted to steal it. She had one after all. Billy, we've lost our
chance."

As we went home that day, something gnawed cruelly at our hearts. Things
had gone wrong. An ideal world had been on the point of realisation, and
a freak of contingency had spoiled it. In another moment "time" would
have been revealed to us by one worthy to make the revelation. But the
sudden thought of a watch had ruined all. Once more we had tasted the
tragic quality of life.

With ardour damped but not extinguished, we continued the quest day
after day. But we were now half-hearted and we became aware of a strange
falling-off in the beauty of the ladies who frequented the Park.

"We shall never find her here," said Billy. "Let's try the walk down by
the river. They are better-looking down there, especially on Sunday
afternoon. And I'll bet you most of them have watches."

The very day on which Billy made this proposal another nasty thing
happened to us. We were summoned into the Headmaster's study and
informed that complaints had reached him concerning two boys who were
in the habit of walking about in the Park and staring in the rudest
manner at the young ladies, and making audible remarks about their
personal appearance. Were we the culprits? We confessed that we were.
What did we mean by it? We were silent: not for a whole Archipelago
packed full of buried treasure would we have answered that question. Did
we consider it conduct worthy of gentlemen? We said we did not, though
as a matter of fact we did. Dark hints of flagitiousness were thrown
out, which our innocence wholly failed to comprehend. The foolish man
then gave himself away by telling us that whenever we met Miss
Overbury's school on their daily promenade we were to walk on the other
side of the road.

Billy and I exchanged meaning glances: we knew now who had complained
(as though we would ever think of asking _them_ to tell us the time!).
Finally we were forbidden, under threat of corporal chastisement, to
enter the Park under any pretexts or circumstances whatsoever.

"The old spouter doesn't know," said I to Billy as we left the room,
"that we've already made up our minds not to go there again. What a
'suck-in' for him!"

Necessity having thus combined with choice, the scene of our quest was
now definitely shifted to the river-bank, where a broad winding path,
with seats at intervals, ran under the willows. Here a new order of
beauty seemed to present itself, and our hopes ran high. Several
promising candidates presented themselves at once. One, I remember, wore
a scarlet feather; another carried a gray muff. The scarlet feather was
my fancy; the gray muff Billy's.

I think it was on the occasion of our third visit to the river that the
crisis came. We sat down on the bank and held a long consultation.
"Well," said Billy at last, "I'm willing to ask Scarlet Feather. She's
ripping. Her _nose_ takes the cake; but, mind you, Gray Muff has the
prettier _boots_. And I know Scarlet Feather has a watch--I saw the
chain when we passed her just now. But before deciding I'm going to
have another look at Gray Muff. She's just round the bend. You wait
here--I'll be back in half a second."

I was left alone, and for some minutes I continued to gaze at the
flowing stream in front of me. Suddenly I saw, dancing about on the
surface of the water--but doubtless the whole thing was hallucination!
My nerves were in high tension at the moment, and in those days I could
have dreams without going to sleep.

The dream was interrupted by the sudden return of Billy. He was white as
the tablecloth and trembling all over.

"Come on!" he gasped. "I've found the very one! Quick, quick, or she'll
be gone!"

"Is it Gray Muff?" I asked.

"No, no. It's another. The Very One, I tell you. The One we've been
looking for."

"Billy," I said, "I've just seen a Good One too. She was dancing about
on the water."

"Oh, rot!" cried Billy. "Mine's the One! Come on, I say! I'm certain she
won't wait. She looked as though she wouldn't sit still for a single
minute."

"What is she like, Billy?" I asked as we hurried away.

"She's--_oh, she's the exact image of my mater_!" he said.

Billy's mater had died about a year ago. At the age of twelve I had been
deeply in love with her, and to this hour her image remains with me as
the type of all that is most lovely and commendable in woman. O Billy's
mater, will these eyes ever see you again? How glad I am to remember
you! I know where you lie buried, but I doubt if there lives another
soul who could find your resting-place. Harshly were you judged and
conveniently were you forgotten! But I will scatter lilies on your grave
this very night.

Well, we ran with all our might. Scarlet Feather, Gray Muff, and the
dancing "good one" on the surface of the water were clean forgotten as
if they had never existed--as perhaps one of them never did. "_Just_
like my mater!" Billy kept gasping. "Hurry up! I tell you she won't
wait! She's on the seat watching the water; no, not _that_ seat. It's
round the next bend but one."

We turned the bend and came in sight of the seat where Billy had seen
what he saw. The seat was empty. We looked round us: not a soul was in
sight. We checked our pace and in utter silence, and very slowly, crept
up to the empty seat, gazing round us as we walked. Was there ever such
a melancholy walk! Oh, what a _Via Dolorosa_ we found it! Arrived at the
seat, Billy felt it all over with his hands and, finding nothing, flung
himself face downwards on the turf and uttered the most lamentable cry I
have ever heard.

"I knew she wouldn't wait," he moaned. "Oh, why weren't we quicker! Oh,
why didn't I ask her the time the minute I saw her!"

As, shattered and silent, we crawled back to school, continually
loitering to gaze at a world that was all hateful, I realised with a
feeling of awe that I had become privy to something deep in Billy's
soul. And I inwardly resolved that, so far as I could, I would set the
matter right, and put friendship on a footing of true equality, by
telling Billy the deepest secret of _mine_.

"Billy," I said, as we lay wakeful in the small hours of the next
morning, "come and stay with us next holidays, _and I will show you
something_."

"What is it?"

"You wait and see."

The great adventure was over. It had ended in disaster and tears. Never
again did Billy and I ask any human being to tell us the time.


III

In those days I was a great metaphysician. Unassisted by any
philosopher, ancient or modern, I had made a discovery in the
metaphysical line. This discovery was _my_ secret.

In the church-tower of the village where I was nurtured there was an
ancient and curious clock, said to have been brought from Spain by a
former owner of the parish. This clock was worked by an enormous
pendulum which hung down, through a slit in the ceiling, into the body
of the church, swinging to and fro at the west end of the nave. Its
motion was even and beautiful; and the sight of it fascinated me
continually through the hours of divine service. To those who were not
attentive, the pendulum was inaudible; but if you listened you could
detect a gentle tick, tock, between the pauses of the hymns or the
parson's voice. "Let us pray," said the parson. "Tick," whispered the
pendulum. "We beseech Thee--" cried the clerk, (tick!);--"to hear us,
good Lord" (tock!). The clerk had unconsciously fallen into the habit of
timing his cadence in the responses to correspond with these whispers of
the pendulum. For my part, I used to think that this correspondence was
the most beautiful arrangement in the universe. I loved the even motion
of the pendulum; but I loved the faithful whispers more. To this day I
have only to shut my eyes on entering a village church, and sit still
for half a minute, and sure enough, stealing through the silence, comes
the "tick, tock" of that ancient pendulum.

Of all the religious instruction I received during the eight or nine
years we attended that church I confess I have not the faintest
recollection. I cannot remember whether the sermons were good or bad,
long or short, high, low, or broad. I know they never wearied me, for I
never listened to a word that was said. The pendulum saw to that. There
were two parsons in our time. The first, I have heard, was a very good
man, but by no effort of memory can I recall what he was like. The
second I do remember, and could draw his face on this sheet of paper,
were I to try. I respected and admired him, not, I am sorry to say, for
the purity of his life or his faithfulness in preaching the Gospel, but
because he had fought and licked our gardener, whom I detested, outside
the village Pub. With a little concentration of mind I can reconstruct
the scene in church during this parson's tenure of office. I can see the
rascal eminent in his pulpit, plodding through his task. I can hear the
thud of the hymn-book which my father used to toss into the clerk's pew
when he thought the sermon had lasted long enough: immediately the
sermon stops and a great bull-voice roars out, "Now to God the Father,"
and so on. But all such incidents are as a fringe to the main theme of
my memory--the restless curve of the swinging disc, and the whispered
syllables of Time.

The question that haunted me was this: Did the pendulum _stop_ on
reaching the highest point of the ascending arc? Did it pause before
beginning the descent? And if it stopped, did _time_ stop with it? I
answered both questions in the affirmative. Well, then, what was a
_second_? Did the stoppage at the end of the swing make the second, or
was the second made by the swing, the movement between the two points of
rest? I concluded that it was the stoppage. For, mark you, it _takes_ a
second for the pendulum to reach the stopping point on either side;
therefore there can be no second till that point is reached; the second
must _wait_ for the stoppage to do the business. I saw no other way of
getting _any_ seconds. And if no seconds, no minutes; and if no
minutes, no hours, no days, and therefore no time at all--which is
absurd.

I found great peace in this conclusion; but none the less I continued to
support it by collateral reasonings, and by observation. In particular I
determined, for reasons of my own, to make a careful survey of the hands
of the clock. With this object I borrowed my father's field-glass, and,
retiring to a convenient point of observation, focussed it on the
clock-face. Instantly a startling phenomenon sprang into view. I saw
that the big hand of the clock, instead of moving evenly as it seemed to
do when viewed by the naked eye, was visibly _jerking_ on its way, in
time with the seconds that were being ticked off by the pendulum inside.
By George, the hand was going jerk, jerk! The pendulum and the hand were
moving together! Jerk went the hand: then a pause. What's happening now?
thought I. Why the pendulum has just ticked and is going to tock. Tock
it goes and--there you are!--jerk goes the hand again. "Why, of course,"
I said to myself, "that proves it. The hand _stops_, as well as the
pendulum. The evidence of the hand corroborates the evidence of the
pendulum. The seconds _must_ be the stoppages. They can't be anything
else. There's nothing else for them to be. I'll tell Billy Burst this
very day! But no, I won't. I'll wait till the holidays and _show_ it
him."

Such was the secret which I resolved to impart to Billy in return for
what he had disclosed to me.

Some months after this amazing discovery Billy came down for the
holidays. He arrived late in the afternoon, and I could hardly restrain
my impatience while he was having his tea. Hardly had he swallowed the
last mouthful when I had him by the jacket. "Come on, Billy," I cried.
"I'm going to show you something"--and we ran together to the church.
Arrived there, I placed him in front of the pendulum, which seemed to be
swinging that afternoon with an even friendlier motion than usual.

"There!" I said, "look at him."

Billy stood spell-bound. Oh, you should have seen his face! You should
have seen his eyes slowly moving their lambent lights as they followed
the rhythm of the pendulum from side to side. If Billy was hypnotised by
the pendulum, I was hypnotised by Billy. Suddenly he clutched my arm in
his wonted way.

"I say," he whispered, "_it knows us_. Here, old chap" (addressing the
pendulum), "you know us, don't you? You're glad to see us, aren't you?"

"Tick, tock," said the pendulum.

"Can't he talk--just!" said Billy. "Look at his eye! He winked at me
that time, I'll swear." And, by the Powers, the very next time the
pendulum reached the top of the arc I saw the crumpled metal in the
middle of the disc double itself up and wink at _me_ also, plain as
plain.

"Billy," I said, "if we stare at him much longer we shall both go
cracked. Let's go into the churchyard. I've something else to show
you."

So to the churchyard we went, and there, among the mouldering
tombstones, I expounded to Billy my new theory as to the nature of Time,
reserving the crowning evidence until Billy had grasped the main
principle.

"So you see," I concluded, "the seconds are the stoppages."

"There aren't any stoppages," said he. "Pendulums don't stop."

"How can they go down after coming up unless they stop between?" I
asked.

"Wait till you get to the Higher Mathematics."

"Then where do the seconds come in?"

"They don't _come_ in: they _are_ in all along."

"Then," I said triumphantly, "look at that clock face. Can't you see how
the big hand goes jerk, jerk?"

"Well, what of that?"

"What of that? Why, if the seconds aren't the stoppages, what becomes of
time between the jerks?"

"Why," answered Billy, "_it's plugging ahead all the time_."

"All _what_ time?" I countered, convinced now that I had him in a
vicious circle.

"Blockhead!" cried Billy. "Don't you remember what that old Johnny told
us in the Park? There's all the difference in the world between _the_
time and _time_."

"I'll bet you can't tell me what the difference is."

"Yes, I can. It's the difference between the pendulum and the
clock-hand. Look at the jerking old idiot! _That_ thing can't talk;
_that_ thing can't wink; _that_ thing doesn't know us. Why, you silly,
it only does what the pendulum tells it to do. The pendulum _knows_ what
it's doing. But _that_ thing doesn't. Here, let's go back into the
church and have another talk with the jolly old chap!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ten years later when Billy, barely twenty-three, had half finished a
book which would have made him famous, I handed him an essay by a
distinguished philosopher, and requested him to read it. The title was
"On translating Time into Eternity." When Billy returned it, I asked him
how he had fared. "Oh," he answered, "I translated time into eternity
without much difficulty. _But it was plugging ahead all the time._"

Shortly after that, Billy rejoined his mater--a victim to the same
disease. Poor Billy! You brought luck to others; God knows you had
little yourself. He died in a hospital, without kith or kin to close his
eyes. The Sister who attended him brought me a small purse which she
said Billy had very urgently requested her to give me. On opening the
purse I found in it a gold coin, marked with a cross. The nurse also
told me that an hour before he died Billy sat up suddenly in his bed
and, opening his eyes very wide, said in a singing voice:

"If you please, Sir, would you mind telling me the time?"



ALL MEN ARE GHOSTS



I

DR PIECRAFT BECOMES CONFUSED

    "'To be or not to be--that is the _question_,' said Hamlet:
    'To be is not to be--that is the _answer_,' said Hegel."


Dr Phippeny Piecraft invented this couplet one night for his own
edification, as, inert in body and despondent in mind, he lay back in
the arm-chair of his consulting-room. "There is more point," he went on,
"in Hamlet's 'question' than in Hegel's 'answer.' But the gospel is not
in either. Both are futile as physic. At all events, neither of them
brings any consolation to me."

Dr Piecraft was reflecting on the hardness of his lot. Ten years had
elapsed since he first mounted his brass plate, and he was still
virtually without a practice. He earned just enough from casual
patients to pay his rent and keep body and soul together. To be sure,
his father had left him a hundred a year; but Piecraft had given the old
man a promise "that he would look after Jim." Now Jim was a
half-brother, many years younger than himself; and he was also the one
being in the world whom Piecraft loved with an undivided heart. So the
whole of his income from that source was ear-marked for the boy's
education; not for worlds would the doctor have spent a penny of it on
himself. He even denied himself cigars, of which he was exceedingly
fond, restricting himself to the cheapest of tobacco, in order that Jim
might have plenty of pocket-money; and whenever the question arose as to
who was to have a new suit of clothes, Jim or the doctor, it was always
Jim who went smart and the doctor who went shabby.

He was over forty years of age, and, in his own eyes, a failure. Yet no
man could have done more to deserve success. His medical qualifications
were of the widest and highest; diplomas of all sorts covered the walls
of his consulting-room; a gold medal for cerebral pathology lay in a
glass case on his writing-table. He was actively abreast of advancing
medical science; he had run into debt that he might keep himself
supplied with the best literature of his profession, and he was prepared
at a moment's notice to treat a difficult case in the light of the
latest discoveries at Paris, St Petersburg, or New York. Moreover, he
had led a clean life, and was known among his friends as a man of
irreproachable honour. But somehow the patients seemed to avoid him, and
only once in two years had he been summoned to a consultation.

To account for Piecraft's failure as a medical man several theories were
in circulation, and it is probable that each of them contained an
element of truth. Some persons would set it down to the shabbiness of
his appearance, or to the brusqueness of his manners, or to the fact
that his consulting-room often reeked with the fumes of cheap tobacco.
Others would say that Piecraft was constitutionally unable to practise
those "intelligent hesitations" so often needed in the application of
medical principles. They would remind you of his fatal tendency to
determine diagnosis on a sudden impulse, which Piecraft called
"psychological intuition," and in illustration of this they would tell
you a story: how once, when the vicar's wife had brought her petted
daughter to be treated for hysteria, the fit happening to come on in the
consulting-room, Piecraft had cured the young lady on the spot by
soundly boxing her ears. Concerning this incident he had been taken
severely to task by an intimate friend of his, an old practitioner of
standing. "It will be time enough to adopt those methods of treatment,"
the friend had said to him, "when you are earning five thousand a year.
At the present stage of your career it is almost fatal. Learn so to
treat a patient that the story of the cure when subsequently related
after dinner may have the characteristics of High Tragedy, or at all
events may reflect some credit on the sufferer. Help him to create a
drama, and see to it that he comes out ultimately as its hero. Don't
you see that in the present instance you have spoilt a moving story,
than which nothing gives greater offence, turning the whole situation
into Low Comedy and making the patient a laughing-stock? People will
never stand that, Piecraft. It is idle to insist that the cure was
efficacious and permanent. So no doubt it was. A better remedy for that
type of hysteria could not be devised. But reflect on the fact that you
have deprived the vicar's family of a legitimate opportunity for
dramatic expression and dethroned the vicar's daughter from her place as
heroine. In short, you have committed an outrage on the artistic rights
of medicine, and, mark my words, you will have to pay for it. Always
remember, Piecraft, that in medicine, as in many other things, it is not
the act alone which ensures success, but the gesture with which the act
is accompanied."

Moreover, Piecraft held a theory which he never took the least pains to
conceal, though it was extremely provoking to his patients both rich
and poor. His theory was that more than half the ailments of the human
body are best treated by leaving them alone. For example, a certain old
gentleman having consulted him about some senile malady, the doctor had
dismissed him with the following remark: "My dear sir, the best remedy
for the troubles of old age is to grow still older. The matter is in
your own hands." Many suchlike epigrams were reported of him, and often
they constituted the sole return which the patients received for the two
guineas deposited on the table of the consulting-room. Obviously this
kind of thing could not go on. As most of his patients consulted
Piecraft because they wished to be extensively interfered with, and
objected to nothing so much as being left alone, with or without an
epigram to console them, it followed of course that they seldom
consulted him a second time.

But beneath these peripheral causes of irritation there lay a deeper
offence. The truth is that Piecraft had made himself highly obnoxious to
the members of his own profession, and had acquired--though I doubt if
he fully deserved it--the reputation of a traitor. "Futile as physic"
was a phrase constantly on his lips; and the words, offensive as they
were, were only the foam that broke forth from the deeper waters of his
treachery. He had gone so far as to embark on a propaganda for what he
called "the Simplification of Medical Practice," publicly proposing that
a Society should be founded for that object; and in pursuance of this
proposal he had published a series of articles in which he had argued
that the healing art is still dominated by the spirit of Magic and
encumbered with a mass of dogmatic assumptions and superstitious
observances. "The Seat of Authority in Therapeutics," "Medicine without
Priest and without Ritual," "Big Words and Little Bottles," were the
titles of some of these abominable essays. The last-named especially had
aroused great indignation, not only by the excessively vehement language
in which Piecraft pleaded for "simple and rational" principles, but far
more by a caustic parallel he had drawn between the doings of a
successful London practitioner and the ritual of a medicine-man among
the Australian aborigines. The offence went deep, and the matter became
the more serious for Piecraft because the indignation extended from the
doctors to the theologians, who suspected--though the suspicion was
utterly unfounded--that under the cover of an attack on orthodox
medicine he was really engaged in putting a knife, from the back, into
official religion; a suspicion which deprived the unfortunate doctor of
every one of his clerical patients, including their wives and daughters,
at a single stroke.

The combined effect of all these causes was, of course, disastrous. If,
for example, you happened to be suffering from a severe pain in the
head--_le mal des beaux esprits_--which your family doctor had failed to
cure, and suggested to the latter that Piecraft, as a distinguished
cerebral pathologist, should be summoned to a consultation, you were
pretty certain to be met with this rejoinder: "Yes, Piecraft has beyond
all question an unrivalled knowledge of the human brain. But please
understand that if you call him in I shall have to retire from the
case." And if you pressed for further explanation you would at first be
put off with airs of mystery which would gradually consolidate into some
such statement as this: "Well, in the profession we don't regard
Piecraft as a medical man in the strict sense of the term. He is really
a literary man who has mistaken his vocation"; or, "Nature intended
Piecraft for a popular agitator"; or, "Piecraft's forte is journalism";
or, "Piecraft's title of 'doctor' should always be written in inverted
commas"; or, "Piecraft is trying to live in two worlds, the world of
imagination and the world of pure science; he will come to grief in both
of them." And once the prophetic remark was made: "Piecraft's proper
rôle is that of a character in the Arabian Nights." I have been told,
too, that one day the Senior Physician of the hospital where Piecraft
held a minor appointment overheard him muttering his favourite phrase by
the bedside of a patient, "Futile as physic! futile as physic!"
Whereupon the Senior Physician stepped up to him and, laying his hand on
his shoulder in the kindest possible manner, whispered in his ear,
"Resign, Piecraft; resign!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr Phippeny Piecraft had no belief in the immortality of the soul: his
studies in cerebral pathology had disposed of that question long ago.
"What a philosopher most requires," he used to reflect, "is not so much
a big brain of his own as a little knowledge of the brains of other
people. Hamlet, for example, if he had studied Yorick's brain instead of
sentimentalising over his skull, might have framed his question
differently. And as to Hegel--well, that thing knocked all the Hegelism
out of me," and he glanced at the gold medal in the glass case.

But, like many another man who disbelieves in the future life, Dr
Piecraft was not a little curious as to what might happen to him after
death. He was indulging that curiosity on the very evening we first
encounter him. "There is a pill in that little bottle," he was
thinking, "which would end the whole wretched business in something less
than thirty seconds. I wonder I don't swallow it. I should do it if it
were not for Jim. But no, I shouldn't! Hamlet, old boy, you were quite
right. I'm as big a coward as the rest of them. There's just a chance
that if I were to swallow that pill I should find myself in hell-fire in
half a minute--and I'm not fool enough, or not hero enough, to run it.
Of course, there's just a chance of heaven too; for, after all, I've
been a decent sort of chap, and, as Stevenson says, there's an ultimate
decency in the Universe. _Heaven!_--my stars, heaven doesn't attract me!
I've never yet heard a description of heaven which doesn't make it
almost as bad as the other place. Extraordinary, that when people try to
conceive a better world than this they almost invariably picture
something infinitely worse! Mahomet knew that: 'cute fellow, Mahomet.
And yet he was no more successful than the rest."

Piecraft's reflections, once started on that line, plunged further. "I
wonder what sort of heaven _would_ attract me," he thought. "Let me see.
Why, yes! If I could be sure of going to a place where I should be
professionally busy all day long, plenty of interesting and difficult
cases, and no need to worry about Jim's education and his future--I'd
swallow the pill this instant. _By heaven_, I would! I'd do harder
things than that. I'd stick it out in this wretched hole for another ten
years, I'd give up smoking shag, I'd give up everything, except Jim--if
only at the end of the time I could go to some heaven where the stream
of patients would never cease! I really don't think I could accept
salvation on any other terms. But wait! Yes, there is just one other
offer I would look at. If only they'd let me go back to the old home in
Gower Street, if they'd make the old street _look_ as it did in those
days, and _smell_ as it did, and give tobacco the same taste it had
then, and show me Dad standing at the window with Jim in his arms, and
let me be in love again with that nice girl at the Slade School--yes,
and if they'd let me go into the shilling seats at the Lyceum to see
Mary Anderson as Perdita--by Gad, I'd take the pill for that, indeed I
would!"

He was pursuing these reflections when his housekeeper entered the room
with three or four letters. He looked them over, and his face brightened
when he saw that one of them was from his half-brother Jim. A pipe was
instantly filled and Piecraft re-settled himself in his arm-chair with
the open letter in his hand. Jim's letter was dated from Harrow and ran
as follows:--

     "DEAR PHIP,--Many thanks for your congratulations on my
     eighteenth birthday and for the enclosure of two pounds. Don't
     be angry, old chap, when I tell you how I spent them. I got
     leave at once to go down town, and bought you a silk hat, a
     pair of gloves, some collars, and a couple of ties. You will
     get them all to-morrow, and I hope the hat and gloves are the
     right size. I am pretty sure they are. I was half inclined to
     buy you a box of cigars, but I thought you needed the other
     things more.

     "The fact of the case is, Phip, I have definitely made up my
     mind to be a burden on you no longer. True, I might get a
     scholarship at the 'Varsity, as I got one at Harrow. But you
     would still have to pinch to maintain me; and when I remember
     how long you have done it already, I feel a perfect beast. I am
     old enough now to understand what it means, and I tell you,
     Phip, that nothing will induce me to come back to Harrow after
     the present term. So please give notice at once. I mean to go
     out to the Colonies with a man from the Modern Side, and I
     shall earn my living somehow--as a labourer if need be, for I
     am big and strong enough. Indeed, I would rather enlist than go
     on with this.

     "Have you ever thought of trying to make a bit _by writing_,
     Phip? I believe you could write a novel. Don't you remember
     what bully stories you used to tell me when I was a kid? Have a
     shot at it, old boy. There's a person here in the Sixth who
     has a knack that way, and he made a hundred pounds by a thing
     he wrote. He got the tip for it out of a book on the art of
     novel-writing, the advertisement of which I have cut out of the
     _Daily Mail_ and send you enclosed. I would have sent you the
     book itself had there been enough left out of the two pounds.
     But there was only fourpence.

     "The Head preached a capital sermon last night on the text, 'Of
     such is the Kingdom of Heaven.' The instant he gave out the
     words I thought of you, old Phip. And I went on thinking of you
     till he had done. That's how I know the sermon was a good one,
     though I didn't listen to another word. Anything that makes me
     think of you _must_ be good. Phip, _you are a dead cert. for
     heaven when you die_. But don't die yet, there's a good chap.
     For if you go, I shall go too.--Ever yours, JIM.

     "_P.S._--Don't forget to give notice that I am leaving this
     term."

When Dr Piecraft laid down the letter his eyes were full of tears. "The
only bit of heaven that's left me," he said aloud, "is going to be
taken away. There's one person in the world, anyhow, who doesn't think
me a failure. If you go to the Colonies, Jim, I shall take the pill,
come what may. You're a warm-hearted boy, Jim, but cruel too. I'd rather
spend a hundred a year on you and go threadbare in consequence, than
earn ten thousand a year and not have you to spend it on. At the same
time, my only chance of making you relent is to earn some money.--What
the deuce is all this about novel-writing?"

He took up the advertisement which had fallen in his lap, and read as
follows: "How to Write Novels--a Guide to Fortune in Literature.
Containing Practical Instructions for Amateurs, whereby Success is
assured. By an Old Hand."

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning Piecraft bought the book. As no patients came that day he
had ample leisure to read it. "Easy as lying," he said to himself when
he had finished. "I see the trick of it. And, by George, I'll make the
first attempt this very night. I have half a dozen ideas already.
Cerebral pathology is no bad training for a novelist."

So he sat down to work, and by two in the morning had written the first
chapter of a very promising novel. In ten days more the novel was
complete.

Reading over his manuscript, and severely criticising himself by the
rules of his Manual, he found that he had put in too much scenery, had
undercoloured the beauty of the heroine, had forgotten to describe her
dress, and had introduced no action to break the tedious sentiment of
the love-dialogues. These errors he at once set himself to correct,
pruning down the excesses and making good the defects. Then, reviewing
the whole, he satisfied himself that he had done well. The plot turned
on a love affair, and was easily intelligible. The sexes were evenly
balanced, and every character had its foil. There was plenty of incident
and continuous action. And the whole was unified by a single purpose or
controlling idea.

This last gave Piecraft peculiar satisfaction. He had feared when he
began that unity of purpose would be of all the rules the most difficult
to satisfy. In the purpose of his life he had failed; was it likely, he
asked himself, that he would do any better in romance? Judge, then, of
his pleasure on discovering that a clear thread of intention ran through
the novel from the first sentence to the last, and came to adequate
fulfilment in the final catastrophe. "Purpose," he reflected, "is going
to be my strongest point. I shall score heavily on that."

He sent his manuscript to a publisher, and was rejoiced to hear of its
acceptance within a week. In the six months that followed, having little
else to do, he produced two more novels. Each of them had a Purpose. The
publisher bought the manuscripts outright for fifty pounds apiece.

"It's the Purpose that pays," thought Piecraft. "It's the Purpose that
works the oracle. It's the Purpose the public like. Next time I'll
introduce more Purpose and stand out for better terms with the
publisher."

Meanwhile he had been compelled, much against his will, to give notice
of Jim's withdrawal from school. In spite of the brightening of his
prospects the half-brother had proved inexorable. "I will borrow from
you," wrote Jim, "enough to pay my third-class fare across the ocean and
leave me with a pound or two on landing. After that, not another penny."
"All right, Jim; have it your own way," was Phippeny's answer. "I shall
work away until I have saved £500, and then, my boy, _I'll join you on
the other side and life will begin again for both of us_. Meanwhile, I'm
growing uncommonly prolific in the way of pot-boilers. But I'm not
exactly in love with it, and shall abandon my new profession without a
sigh. I wish I could produce something really good. Perhaps when I join
you I shall get a new inspiration. I believe one can find a pen and ink
in the Colonies."--Thus the matter was arranged.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr Phippeny Piecraft was not in the habit of going to church, but one
Sunday evening, shortly after these events, he found himself there by
accident and heard a sermon, some sentences of which caught his
attention. It happened that just then he was gravelled for lack of
matter; and he was busy during the service in vainly attempting to
construct a plot in which a gamekeeper's daughter was to be betrayed by
a young lord under circumstances of excruciating novelty. In spite of
the novelty of the circumstances he could not help recognising that the
main theme was a trifle stale; and as they were singing the hymn before
the sermon he confessed to himself that the plot was not worth
elaboration, and began to think about other things.

Piecraft's mind, indeed, was just then in a state of extreme confusion.
Now he would be listening to the words of the preacher, now giving way
to anxieties about Jim, now returning to the plot of his novel like a
moth to a candle-light, and now reflecting, with the acute discomfort of
a double consciousness, on his inability to concentrate his thoughts.
"There is nothing," he mused, "which sooner demoralises a man's
intelligence than the discovery that he can make money by following the
demand of a degenerate public taste. It leads to mental incoherence and
to the most extraordinary self-deception. I am afraid that that cursed
Manual has undone me. It seems to have resurrected another personality
who belongs to a lower order of being than my true and proper self.
Having failed to earn my living by being the man I am, I am now in a way
to make money by being the man I am not. What business have I to be
constructing these ridiculous plots? And how is it that, once started on
that line, I am unable to prevent myself going further? I had thought
that a scientific training was the best safeguard against obsession. But
I perceive it is no such thing. Is it possible that I am so far like
Frate Alberigo--my proper soul expelled to another world, and perhaps
practising medicine there, while a demon holds possession of my body and
writes third-rate novels in this?"

A moment later he was thinking about Jim.

"I hope the boy won't forget to send me a cable when he reaches the
port; somehow I feel unaccountably anxious about him." Then he turned to
wondering how much he would be able to screw out of the publishers for
the next novel, and how everything would depend on the breadth of the
Purpose.

Suddenly a sentence of the sermon caught his ear: "_Illusion is an
integral part of Reality_."

"Tip-top," thought Piecraft. "So it is." And in a moment his imagination
began to cast about for a reality of which three parts should be
illusion. But he could think of nothing that answered the description,
and again he said to himself, "I am not in a normal condition to-day.
One should never force a reluctant brain. And I can't help being anxious
about Jim. I had better turn my attention to the sermon."

"For example," the preacher was just then saying, "many a man who has
determined to abandon the pursuit of happiness has subsequently realised
that he was still pursuing happiness in another form. Others have found
that actions which they thought they were doing for the love of God were
really done out of hatred of the devil.... Nor can we ever be sure that
we are the authors of our own acts. No doubt we usually think we are.
But if the testimony of holy men--and of bad men too--counts for
anything, we shall be forced to the conclusion that many acts which we
think _we_ have performed have really been performed by some person who
is not ourselves, or by some force or motivation whose source is not in
our own souls. This, my friends, applies to our bad actions as well as
to our good ones. Thus we see how of all reality, even of moral reality,
illusion is an integral part."

Dr Phippeny Piecraft did not trouble himself for one instant about the
truth or error of these doctrines. An idea suddenly leaped into his mind
as he heard them, and the preacher had hardly concluded the last period
before the novelist saw himself secure of at least eighty pounds for his
next manuscript. Such are the strange reactions which the best-meant
sermons often provoke in the minds of the hearers, especially when there
is genius in the congregation.

The title of his new novel was the first thing that came into Piecraft's
head. It was to be called _Dual Personality_, and cerebral pathology was
to supply the atmosphere. The plot came next--at least the outline of
it. The main actors were to be two young lords, or something of that
sort, the one as good as they make them and the other as bad. Each of
these young lords was to play the part of motivating force to the
actions of the other. "We'll call them A and B," reflected Phippeny. "A,
the good young lord, shall intend nothing but good and do nothing but
evil. B, the bad one, shall intend nothing but evil and do nothing but
good: that is, A's actions shall represent B's character, and _vice
versa_. Each, of course, must be exhibited as under the influence of the
other; and this mutual influence must be so strong that A's virtues are
converted by B's influence into vices, and B's vices by A's influence
into virtues. Thus each of them shall be the author, not of his own
actions, but of the actions of his friend. A splendid idea, and one that
has never yet occurred to any novelist living or dead! It is certain to
lead to some tremendous situations."

Before the sermon concluded the pot was beginning to simmer. Several
situations had been rapidly sketched by way of experiment: a trial trip,
so to say, had been taken. For example: Scene, a labyrinthine wood.
Time, the dead of night. An intermittent moonlight, and a gale causing
strange voices in the tree-tops. The bad young lord, on his way to the
gamekeeper's daughter, is stealing among the trees. Suddenly a figure
steps into his path. It is the good young lord. Conversation:
upshot--the bad young lord resolves to take Holy Orders. Takes them, but
becomes a worse villain than before; psychology to be arranged later.
Second situation: good young lord now leader of Labour movement: the bad
young lord (in Orders) persuades the other, by casuistry, to misapply
trust funds to support coal-strike. And so on and so on. End:
Archbishopric for villain, penal servitude for hero. Reader all the time
kept in doubt as to which is villain and which hero; and sometimes led
to think, by cerebral pathology, that the two men are one
personality--the two halves of one brain. Counter-plot for the
women--each lord in love with the woman who is matched to the other.
Keynote of whole--tragic irony.

Piecraft had advanced thus far when his mind received another jostle.
His attention was again caught by the words of the sermon. "I have
heard," the preacher was saying, "of a distinguished author who, on
reading one of his own books ten years after it was written, entirely
failed to recognise it as his own work, and insisted that it had been
written by somebody else. Such is the force of illusion."

"The fellow's an idiot," thought Piecraft, "to believe such a story. The
thing couldn't happen. At least, I'm pretty sure it will never happen to
_me_. None the less, it might be worked in for a literary effect." And
again he fell to musing.

The preacher was now coming to the end of his sermon. He had been saying
something about the relations of St Paul to the older apostles, and
about the various illusions current at the time; and then, after
alluding to St Paul's sojourn in the wilderness of Arabia, was winding
up a period with the following questions: "But meanwhile, my brethren,
where is Peter? Where is John? Where is James? And what are they doing?"

"_Where is James?_" These, and what followed them, were the only words
that penetrated to Piecraft's intelligence, and they struck so sharply
into the current of his thoughts that he almost forgot himself. He sat
bolt upright, opened his mouth, and was on the point of shouting an
answer to the question, when he suddenly remembered where he was and
checked himself in time. The answer he had on the tip of his tongue was
this: "_James, so far as I can judge, is just getting into wireless
touch with New York, but I would to God I knew what he was doing!_"

A moment later he was thinking, "I'm getting light-headed, and shall be
making an ass of myself if I'm not careful. I'm certainly not in my
usual health. What the deuce is the matter with me? When, I wonder,
shall I have news of Jim's arrival?"

When Piecraft left the church he was in a state of acute depression and
distress. His pulse was throbbing and his head aching, and it seemed to
him as he paced the streets that the preacher was following close behind
him, and constantly repeating the question, "Where is James, where is
James?" Sometimes the voice would sound like a distant echo, sometimes
like a mocking cry.

On reaching home he said to his housekeeper: "Mrs Avory, I shall be glad
if you will sit up till you hear me go to bed. For the first time in my
life I am afraid of being left alone. I can't imagine what has come over
me."

He tried to read the paper, to write a letter, to play the piano; paced
the floor; wandered into the housekeeper's sitting-room; went out for a
walk and came back after going twenty yards. Then he took up a volume of
his favourite _Arabian Nights_ and found, after reading a page, that he
had not understood a sentence of the print. Towards midnight his
agitation was so great that he could bear it no longer. He rang the
bell.

"Mrs Avory," he said, "something has gone wrong with me--or with
somebody else. I can't help thinking about James--and fancying all sorts
of things. I believe I am going mad. In heaven's name, what am I to do?"

"Well, sir," said the woman, "you are a doctor and should know better
than I. But if I were you, sir, I'd take a sleeping draught and go to
bed."

In despair Piecraft took the woman's advice. As a doctor he avoided the
use of every kind of drug on principle, and was terrified when he
realised how much morphia he had put into the draught. "Now indeed I am
mad," he thought, "for the smallest dose of morphia was always enough
to give me the horrors."

His fears were not ungrounded. There is no record of what he saw,
fancied, or suffered during the night and the following day; but when he
entered his dining-room late next evening, Mrs Avory started as though
she had seen a ghost. "Give me the newspaper," he cried, and before she
could prevent him he snatched it out of her hand.

"_'Titanic' sinks after collision with iceberg. Enormous loss of
life_"--were the first words he read.

"I knew it!" he exclaimed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Those who saw the tragic throng of men and women who for the next few
days hung round the doors of the White Star offices in London will not
have forgotten that poor fellow who was beside himself--how he would
walk among the crowd accosting this person and that, and how he would
then take off his hat, or his gloves, or pull at his tie and say, "Look
at this hat, sir; look at those gloves; look at that tie! Jim gave me
those, sir. He bought them with two pounds I gave him to spend on
himself. What do you think of that for a noble act? And I tell you that
Jim's lying at this moment fathoms deep in the ocean. He's among the
lost, sir; by God, I know it. A mere boy in years, madam, only eighteen
last birthday; but a man in character. Loyal to the core! And take my
word for one thing. Jim played the man at the last, sir; you bet your
stars he did! He didn't wear a lifebelt; not he--that is, if there was a
woman around who hadn't got one! A man who would spend his money as he
spent those two pounds wouldn't keep a lifebelt for himself. Would he,
now? Look at this hat! Look at these gloves! Look at that tie!...."

For two whole days Piecraft maintained this requiem. On the evening of
the second day some kind-hearted fellow-sufferer persuaded him to go
home, and volunteered to bear him company. It was a long hour's journey
to the other end of London. A telegraph boy arrived at the house at the
same moment as the two men and handed Piecraft a telegram. He broke it
open and read. Then he suddenly tore off his hat, and, handing it with a
quick movement to his companion, staggered forward and collapsed on the
doorstep.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he came to himself he was lying on the sofa in his study. In the
room were several people who, as soon as Piecraft opened his eyes, gazed
upon him attentively for a few moments and then, nodding to each other,
as though to say "all right," quietly withdrew.

The novelist looked round him. Yes, he was assuredly in his own familiar
room. But one thing struck him as strange. The room was usually in a
state of extreme disorder--dust everywhere, books and papers lying about
in confusion, hats, sticks, pipes, photographs and golf-balls mingling
in the chaos. Now everything was neat and orderly. The furniture had
been polished, the carpet cleaned, the hearth swept up and the
fire-irons in their place. On the table, too, was a vase of flowers.
"There must have been a spring cleaning," he thought.

He felt remarkably well. "I believe that I fell asleep during a sermon.
Well, the sleep has done me good and cleared my brain. But who on earth
brought me here? Strange: but I'll think it out when I have time. Just
now I want to write. That was a capital idea for my new novel. I must
work it out at once while the inspiration is still active; for I never
felt keener and fitter in my life. Let me see.--Yes, _Dual Personality_
was to be the title." These were his first reflections.

Then without more ado he sat down to the table; lit his pipe; ruminated
for five minutes, and began to write.

He wrote rapidly and continuously for many hours, and midnight had
passed when Piecraft flung down the last sheet on the floor and uttered
a triumphant "Done!"

"I thought," he said aloud, "that it would run to at least 100,000
words. But I don't believe there's a fifth that number. The thing has
come out a Short Story. Never mind, I'm safe for a twenty-pound note
anyhow. Not so bad for one day's work. I'll read it over in the
morning." Then, feeling hungry, he rang the bell.

To his great surprise there entered not the fussy old lady who usually
waited on him, but a girl neatly dressed and with a remarkably
intelligent face.

"Are you the new servant?" said he.

The girl made no reply, but, having placed food on the table, withdrew.
"As modest as she is pretty," thought Piecraft as he ate his meal.
"Well, I'll give her no cause to complain of me. And I hope she'll
continue to wait on me. For in all my life I never knew bread and wine
to taste so delicious."

On the following morning he had barely finished his breakfast, supplied
him in the same silent manner, when a tap came at the door and a young
man stepped into the room. "Is there anything I can do for you, sir?"
said he.

"Who are you?" said Piecraft. "I have never seen you before."

"Oh," said the young man, "I'm a messenger. Your friends have sent me to
look after you."

"It's the first time they have ever done such a thing," returned the
other, "and I'm much obliged to them. Anyhow, you came at the right
time. There _is_ something you can do for me; at least I think so. Can
you read aloud?"

"I like nothing better," said the young man.

"Well, then, you are the very man I want. It so happens that I wrote a
story for the press last night, and I was just wishing that I had a kind
friend who would do me the service of reading it aloud. There's nothing
that gives an author a better idea of the effect of his work than to
hear it read aloud."

"I will read it with the greatest pleasure," said the youth.

"Then let us get to work at once," said Piecraft--and he handed his
manuscript across the table.

The young man settled himself in a good light and began to read. The
first sentence ran as follows:

"_For the fourth time that day, Abdulla, the water-seller of Damascus,
had come to the river's bank to fill his water-skin._"

"Stop!" cried Piecraft. "I never wrote that! I must have given you the
wrong manuscript. What is the title on the outside?"

"_The Hole in the Water-skin_," answered the reader.

"It's not the title of my story," said Piecraft. "Here, hand the papers
over to me and let me look at them. Extraordinary! Where did this thing
come from? I presume you're attempting some kind of practical joke. What
have you done with the manuscript I gave you?"

"The confusion will soon pass," said the other.

"Confusion, indeed!" answered Piecraft, as his eye glanced over the
sheets. "You've hit the right word this time, my boy. For the odd thing
is that the whole piece is written in my hand and on my paper, and is, I
could swear, the identical bundle of sheets I laid away last night. And
yet there is not a word in it I can recognise as my own. But
wait--what's this on page 32? I see something about 'dual personality.'
That was the title of my story. But no! The words are scratched out.
Yes, a whole page--two pages--more pages--are deleted at that point.
What on earth does it all mean?"

"Perhaps," said the young man, "if you allow me to read the whole to
you, your connection with the story will gradually become clear."

"You had better do so," answered Piecraft. "At all events, read on till
I stop you. For, from what I see, I don't like the fellow's style, and
may soon grow tired of it. And make a point of reading the portions that
are scratched out."

"I shall remember your wishes," said the other; "and as to not liking
the fellow's style, I think you may find that it is to some extent
founded on your own."

"I don't believe it," said Piecraft. "Anyhow, if he hasn't been copying
my style, he has been stealing my ideas. The passage about 'dual
personality' proves it. But go ahead, and let us hear what it's all
about."

The young man again settled himself in a good light and read as
follows.



II

"THE HOLE IN THE WATER-SKIN"


For the fourth time that day Abdulla, the water-seller of Damascus, had
come to the river's bank to fill his water-skin. The day was hot beyond
endurance; the drinkers had been clamorous and trade had been brisk; and
a bag of small money, the fruits of his merchandise, hung within the
folds of his gaberdine.

Weary with going to and fro in the burning streets, Abdulla seated
himself under a palm tree, the last of a long line that ran down to the
pool where the skins were filled. Resting his back against the cool side
of the tree, the setting sun being behind him, he drew forth his bag and
counted his coins. "One more journey," he said to himself, "and the bag
will be full. Zobeida shall have sweetmeats to-morrow."

The pleasing thought lingered in his mind; fled for a moment and then
returned; Abdulla saw the shop of the infidel Greek, with boxes of
chocolate in the window; he saw himself inside making his choice among
innumerable boxes, and holding the bag of money in his hand. Then his
head fell forward on his chest and he was asleep.

The plunge into sleep had been so sudden, and its duration was so brief,
that no memory of it was left, and Abdulla knew not that he had slept
nor the moment when he awaked. Fluctuating images rose and wavered and
vanished; and then, as though in answer to a signal, the incoherence
ceased, the forms became defined, and a steady stream of consciousness
began to flow.

He was conscious of the figure of a man in the foreground whose presence
he had not previously noticed. The man was sitting motionless on a low
rock less than a stone-cast distant, and close to the river's brim; and
he seemed to be watching the still flow of the stream. A moment later he
stood upright, turned round, and crossed the fifty paces of sand that
lay between him and Abdulla.

As the man drew nearer, Abdulla observed that he bore a bewildering
resemblance to himself. Not many minutes before he had been looking at
his own reflection in a small pocket mirror which he had purchased that
morning from a Jew as a present for Zobeida; and as he had looked at the
image, still thinking of Zobeida, he wished that God had bestowed upon
him a countenance of nobler cast. The face he now saw before him was the
face he had just seen in the mirror, with the nobler cast introduced;
and Abdulla, noticing the difference as well as the resemblance, was
afraid.

"Depart from me, O my master," said he, "for I am a man of no account."
And he bowed himself to the ground.

"Rise," said the other, "and make haste; for the sun is low, and scarce
an hour remains for thy merchandise. Dip thy water-skin into the stream;
and, as thou dippest, think on the hour of thy death, when the
All-merciful will dip into the river of thy life, and thou shalt sleep
for the twinkling of an eye, and know not when thou awakest, and there
shall be no mark left on thee, even as no mark is left on the river when
thou hast filled thy water-skin from its abundance."

"I know not what thou sayest," said Abdulla, "for I am a poor man and
ignorant."

"Thou art young," said the other, "and there is time for thee to learn.
Hear, then, and I will enlighten thee. Everything hath its double, and
the double is redoubled again. To this world there is a next before and
a next after, and to each next a nearest, through a counting that none
can complete. Worlds without end lie enfolded one within another like
the petals of a rose; and as the fragrance of one petal penetrates and
intermingles with the fragrance of all the rest, so is the vision of the
world thou seest now blended with the vision of that which was and of
that which is to come. And I tell thee, O thou seller of water, that
between this world and its next fellow the difference is so faint that
none save the enlightened can discern it. A man may live a thousand
lives, as thou hast already done, and dream but of one. Again thou shalt
sleep and again thou shalt awake, and the world of thy sleeping shall
differ from the world of thy waking no more than thy full water-skin
differs from itself when two drops of water have fallen from its mouth."

"Thou speakest like a devotee," answered Abdulla. "The matter of thy
discourse is utterly beyond me, save for that thou sayest concerning the
dipping of the water-skin. There thy thought is as the echo of mine own.
But know that I am ashamed in thy presence; and again I entreat thee to
depart." And Abdulla bowed himself as before.

"Do, then, as I bid thee," said the man; "dip thy skin in the water of
the flowing river, think on the hour of thy death, and forget not as
thou dippest to pronounce the name of God."

Then Abdulla rose up and did what he was commanded to do. While he was
dipping the skin he tried to think of the hour of his death; but he
could think only of the words, and dying seemed to him a thing of
naught; for he was young and Zobeida was fair. Nevertheless, when he had
lifted the full skin from the river, and saw that his taking left no
mark, an old thought came back to him, and for the thousandth time he
began to wonder at the ways of flowing water. "Only God can understand
them," he murmured. "May the Compassionate have mercy upon the
ignorant!"

Then he adjusted the burden on his back and turned to the palm-belt. But
the stranger was gone.

As one who walks in sleep, Abdulla retraced the path on which for more
than half the year he came and went three or four times a day. Now he
pondered the words of his visitant; now the image of flowing water rose
and glided before the inner eye.

He passed under the gate of the city without noting where he was. But
here a sudden jostle interrupted his reverie. A man driving a string of
donkeys thrust him against the wall, cursing him as he passed. Abdulla
looked up and, when he heard the curses, repeated the name of God as a
protection against evil.

Re-settling the water-skin in the position from which it had been
displaced by the collision with the donkey, he took up the thread of his
musing and went on. He thought of Zobeida, of the Cadi, of the contract
of marriage, of the sweetmeats he would purchase on the morrow, of the
shop of the Greek. But again his reverie was broken; this time by the
sound of his own voice. The cry of his trade had burst automatically
from his lips: "Water; sweet water! Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come
and buy!"

A vision lay before him, and he seemed to be gazing at it from a point
in mid-air. He saw a street in Damascus; the crowd is coming and going,
the merchants are in their shops, and some are crying their wares. Close
by the door of a house a boy is holding forth a wooden bowl, and in
front of him a water-seller is in the act of opening his water-skin.
Abdulla watches the filling of the bowl, and sees the man put forth his
hand to take the coin the boy is offering. The man touches the coin and
instantly becomes Abdulla himself! Abdulla closes his water-skin and
replaces it on his back, not without a momentary sense of bewilderment.
He observes also that some of the water is spilt on the ground. But he
has no memory of the spilling.

Abdulla would fain have questioned himself. But he found no question to
ask and could not begin the interrogation. Something seemed to have
disturbed him, but so completely had it vanished that he could give the
disturbance neither form nor name. Otherwise the chain of his memory was
unbroken. He had finished his last round for the day; scarce a cup of
water remained in the skin, and as he flung the flaccid thing over his
shoulder he began to recall, one by one, the names and faces of his
customers, forty in all, reflecting with satisfaction that the last
skinful had brought him the best gains of the day. Then he remembered
the driver of donkeys who had thrust him against the wall, and,
examining the skin, found that it was frayed almost to bursting. And
Abdulla uttered a curse on the driver and turned homewards.

His road lay through narrow streets, crowded with people, and as he
passed down one of them a veiled woman cried to him from the door of a
hovel.

"O compassionate water-seller, I have two children within who are sore
athirst, for the fever is burning them. Give them, I pray thee, a
mouthful of water, and Allah shall recompense thee in Paradise."

"Woman," said Abdulla, "there is less water in the skin than would
suffice to cool the tongue of a soul in hell. Nevertheless, what I have
I will give thee." And he lowered the mouth of his water-skin into the
woman's bowl.

Not a drop came forth. In vain Abdulla shook the skin and pressed the
corners between the palms of his hands. Then, discovering what had
happened, he began to curse and to swear.

"By the beard of the Prophet," he cried, "the skin has burst! A driver
of donkeys, begotten of Satan, thrust me against the wall at the
entering in of the city, and frayed the water-skin. And now, by the
permission of God, the heat has dried up the remnant of the water and
cracked the skin, thus completing the work of the Deviser of Mischief.
Alas, alas! for the skin was borrowed. And to-morrow restitution will be
demanded, for the lender is likewise a son of the Devil, and the bowels
of mercy are not within him."

"Verily thou raisest a great cry for a small evil," said the woman.
"Bethink thee of them who are perishing with thirst, and hold thy
peace."

"Nay, but I am mindful of them," said Abdulla; "for had not the
water-skin been burst, I would have had the wherewithal to give them to
drink. But know, O mother of sorrows, that the motives of mankind are of
a mixed nature, especially when grief oppresseth them. And my griefs are
greater than thou deemest. Woe is me! Behold this bag of money, and
raise thy voice with mine in lamentation over the miseries of the
unfortunate. A damsel, more beautiful than the full moon seen beyond the
summits of waving palms, is at this hour hungering for the sweetmeats of
the infidel, even as the children of thy body are thirsting for water;
and within this bag is the money which, by the favour of Allah, would
have purchased abundance of all that she desireth. But ere to-morrow's
sun has risen from the edge of the desert, four coins out of every five
will be claimed as damages by the lender of the skin (whom may the
Prophet utterly reject!), the rest being reserved for the daily food
which the All-merciful provides for his creatures. And the damsel will
sit in the corner of the house, rocking her goodly body, which was
created for the angels to gaze upon; and she will bite her hands and
beat them on the wall, and wail for the sweetmeats that come not, and
curse the name of Abdulla, the breaker of vows!"

"Most excellent of water-sellers," said the woman, "many are the damsels
in this city addicted to the sweetmeats of the infidel, and of those
that are beautiful as the full moon beyond the waving palms there are
not a few. Thy description, therefore, availeth not for the
identification of thy beloved. Describe her more narrowly, I beseech
thee, that hereafter, when my children are dead, I may bring her the
balm of consolation. For I am afflicted in her woes; and between women
in sorrow there is ever a bond."

"Yea, verily," answered Abdulla. "I will so describe my beloved that
thou shall recognise her among ten thousand. Know, then, that her form
is like unto a minaret of ivory built by the Waters of Silence in a
king's garden; her eyes are as lighted lamps in the house of the
Enchanter; the flowing of her hair is a troop of wild horses pursued by
Bedouîn in the wilderness of Arabia; and the fragrance of her coming is
like an odour of precious nards wafted on the evening breeze from the
Islands of Wak-Wak."

"O Abdulla," replied the other, "of a truth I know this damsel. And now
I perceive that the Devourer of Bliss hath taken thee in his net and
multiplied thy sorrows upon thy head. But forget not the grief of this
thy handmaid, and the suffering of those she has nursed at the breast.
Hear even now the wailing that is within! Lo, a worker of spells has
sent destruction among us, and the sickness is sore in the habitations
of the poor. Press, then, thy skin once more, if peradventure Allah may
have left there one drop of water, that the mouth of the little ones may
be moistened before they die. And add a curse, I pray thee, on the
Worker of Spells; for the Giver of Gifts hath made thy tongue of great
alacrity, and taught thee the putting-together of wise judgments and the
rounding-off of memorable sayings."

By this time a crowd, attracted by the cries and the cursing, had
gathered round the speakers, and so thick was the press that Abdulla had
much ado to move his hands that he might press the water-skin as he was
bidden.

"O wise and much-enduring woman," he cried, "I greatly fear me that thy
prayer is vain. But I will even do as thou biddest, if only these
foolish ones will make room that I may pass my hands craftily over the
skin. Thereafter I will add a goodly curse on the worker of spells, and
at the last thou and I and all this multitude will wail and lament
together, that the heart of the All-merciful may be moved to pity and
his will turned to work us good."

So spake Abdulla, and the crowd began to give way. But, behold, a
marching squad of soldiery, going to the war, with drums beating and
bayonets all aflash, suddenly swings down the street, filling its whole
breadth from side to side. Instantly the crowd backs, and Abdulla and
the woman, separated from one another, are swept along as driftwood by
the torrent. Arrived in the open space into which the street discharged,
Abdulla rushes hither and thither in search of the woman, examining
every face in the crowd, and raising himself on tiptoe that he may look
over their heads. But the woman is nowhere to be seen.

Perturbed by the sudden disappearance of the woman, Abdulla turned once
more into the homeward way. Before he had taken many steps it occurred
to him to examine the rent in his water-skin. Standing quite still and
holding the skin at arm's length before him, he gazed intently at the
small hole, about the size of an olive-stone, which had resulted from
the donkey-driver's assault. As he thus gazed, the incident which had so
abruptly terminated a few minutes before seemed to retreat into the
distant past. Then it became a story, heard he knew not where, about a
water-seller who lived long ago. Next, it seemed a dream of the night
before, the details of which he could not recall. Finally, it vanished
from his memory altogether.

Abdulla, realising that it was gone, turned quickly and found, with some
surprise, that he was standing in front of a large shop with plate-glass
windows, behind which were boxes of chocolate arranged in rows. A
mirror--at least it seemed so to Abdulla,--of equal length with the shop
front, was set at the back and doubled the objects in the window.

The sight of the sweetmeats instantly brought back the memory of his
misfortunes, and, in so doing, gave an occasion to the Tempter.

"I will conceal what has happened from the lender of the skin," thought
Abdulla. "I will insert a cunning patch, which will assuredly burst so
soon as the skin is filled with water, and I will then swear by God and
the Prophet that the skin was patched when I borrowed it. And now I will
go in and bargain with the infidel for yonder box, the circumference
whereof is wide as the belly of a well-fattened sheep."

Raising his eyes from the great box of chocolates, Abdulla's attention
was strangely arrested by the reflection of his own face and figure in
the mirror at the back of the shop front. He noted, with a start, the
unwonted dignity of the figure as thus presented, and immediately
recalled the man who had accosted him but lately by the Water-sellers'
Pool.

Abdulla gazed on what was before him, and thought thus within himself,
"Of a truth I knew not that Allah had bestowed so dignified a
countenance on the least worthy of his servants. The eyes are the eyes
of eagles; the nose is a promontory looking seawards; the brow is a
tower of brass built for defence at the gateway of a kingdom. Verily,
the mirror of Zobeida must have been at fault. Surely God hath now
provided me, in my own countenance, with the means of endearment, and
the sweetmeats of the infidel are needed not. Moreover, it becometh not
one thus favoured to deal crookedly with the followers of the Prophet.
Is Abdulla a man of violence, as the driver of the donkey; or a man of
no bowels, as the lender of the skin? Is he an accursed Greek or a more
accursed Armenian that he should play the cheat with his neighbour,
inserting a cunning patch, which will assuredly produce leakage and make
the rent worse than before? God forbid! Abdulla is a man of pure
occupation, even as yonder image reveals him. Nevertheless, it may be
that the Author of Deception has fashioned a lying picture in the
mirror, that he may cause me to forgo the purchase of the box, and undo
me with the beloved, who will soil her cheeks with rivers of tears, and
rock her body in the corner of the house. Go to, now; I will see whether
the Evil One be not hidden behind the mirror; or if, perchance, there be
not here some witchcraft contrivance of the Franks."

So thinking, Abdulla stepped into the entry of the shop, that he might
examine the back of the mirror. What was his astonishment on discovering
that there was no mirror at all, the boxes of chocolate he had taken for
reflections being just as real as all the rest!

The Greek proprietor, suspecting him to be a thief, rushed out to
apprehend him. He was too late, for Abdulla had fled into the darkness.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sudden night had fallen; aloft, in a firmament of violet-black, the
great stars were shining, and the city was still.

Pursuing his way, Abdulla found himself in front of a lofty house with a
solitary latticed window immediately beneath the roof. It was the
appointed hour. Presently a handkerchief was waved from between the
lattice, and the soft voice of a woman began to speak.

"O Abdulla, my beloved," said the voice, "though it be dark in the
street, yet there is a light round about thee so that I can see thy
countenance as if it were noonday. Wherefore hast thou anointed thyself
with radiance, and made thyself to shine like the sons of the morning?
Where hast thou been? For thy fashion is passing strange, and my heart
turns to water at the sight of thee."

"I have been," said Abdulla, "in the company of the wise, who have
taught me the way of understanding, and shown me all knowledge, and
opened the dark things that are hidden in the secret parts of the earth.
All day have I conversed with enlightened and honourable men, and they
have made me the chief of their company and the father of their sect."

"Begone, then," answered the woman, "for I know thee not, and thy
comeliness makes me afraid. I had deemed that thou wert Abdulla, the
seller of water; and I am even now prepared to let down a basket that he
may place therein the thing for which my soul is an hungered, even the
sweetmeats of the infidel, which I would then draw up again with a cord
of silk, and be refreshed after my manner. But as for the ways of
understanding, thou mayest tread them alone, and the opening up of that
which is hidden is a thing that my soul hateth."

"O thou that speakest behind the lattice," said Abdulla, "thy discourse
is of matters that lack importance in the eyes of the sagacious. I
perceive thou art possessed by a demon, and surmise that the Whetter of
Appetite is leading thee in the path of destruction. Retire, therefore,
to thy inner chamber, and recite quickly the Seven Exorcisms and the Two
Professions of Faith."

"O Abdulla, if indeed thou art he," replied the voice, "I discern thou
art contending for a purpose. Peradventure, the eyes of the wanton have
entangled thee in the way, and thou hast bestowed on another that which,
when thy heart was upright, thou designedst for me. Come now and prove
thine integrity, for I will presently let down the basket that thou
mayest fill it with the delicacies of the Franks."

"Thou fallest deeper into the snares of the demon," said Abdulla, "and
thy voice soundeth afar off, even as the voice of one crying for water
from the flames of the nethermost pit. Know that he to whom thou
speakest is of them that walk in the light; and what have these to do
with the delicacies of the Franks? Verily, I understand not thy topic,
having heard but a rumour thereof among the conversations of the
ignorant."

"O despiser of the knowledge that sweetens life," said the woman,
"verily, I deem thee a man of limited information and degenerate wit.
But hearken unto my words, and I will enlighten thee concerning the
topic of our discourse, that ignorance may excuse thee no further. Know,
then, that the delicacies of the Franks are of many kinds, arranged in
boxes that are tied with silver cords. And the chief of them all is a
thing of two natures, cunningly blended, whereof one nature appertaineth
to the outer shell, and the other to the inner substance. The outer
shell tasteth bitter, and the colour is of the second degree of
blackness, like unto the skin of the Ethiopian eunuch. The inner
substance is sweeter than the honeycomb, and white as the wool of
Helbon, interspersed with all manner of nuts. This is the chief among
the delicacies of the Franks; and such is the marvel of the blending of
the natures that the palate knoweth neither the bitterness of the shell,
nor the sweetness of the kernel, but a third flavour of more eminent
rank, to which Allah hath appointed no name. Hie thee, therefore, O man
of no excuse, and buy from them that sell."

"That for which thou askest," said Abdulla, "is utterly beneath the
dignity of the enlightened to give thee. Ask for the wisdom of the
ancients and thou shalt have it. Ask for the revelation of things
hidden, and it shall be accorded thee. But the delicacies of the
Franks, cunningly blended as to their two natures, and arranged in boxes
that are tied with silver cords, shalt thou in no wise receive."

"O raiser of false expectations," cried the lady, "and betrayer of her
that has trusted thee, among all the sons of Adam there is none more
utterly contemptible than thou. In the dignity of thy carriage thou
appearest unto me as a thing abhorred; I like not thy wisdom; I have no
fellowship with thy knowledge, and I despise the insolent shining of thy
inner light."

"O woman of a light mind and a debased appetite," said Abdulla, "thy
wits have gone astray, and thou babblest like one asleep, confounding
the things that are not with the things that are. Abdulla, the
water-seller, of whom thou speakest, is long numbered with the dead, and
the waters of forgetfulness have flowed over his record. Only this day I
heard afar off the last rumour which the world hath concerning him. And
this was the rumour: that, on a day, perceiving one athirst in the
byways, Abdulla gave him freely three drops of water from the dregs of
his water-skin, thereby earning the favour of Allah (whose name he
exalted!) and the promise of Paradise. But going forth in the way he met
a man having the Evil Eye; and lo, it straightway entered into the heart
of Abdulla to fill his water-skin with the sweetmeats of the infidel,
that he might find favour in the eyes of a frivolous woman--even one
such as thou art. And God (than whom there is no other!), being angered
at the folly of Abdulla, made a hole in the skin, and sent forth the
Terminator of Delights to end his days. So the water-seller died, and
the weight of his water-skin, laden with sweetmeats, went forth with his
soul. And this, being heavy, dragged him down to the place of darkness,
where the sweetmeats fell out through the hole in the skin and were
eaten of devils."

At this the woman banged-to the lattice and disappeared.

Abdulla started at the sound of the closing lattice. He was in a
standing posture on the roof of his house. The mat on which he slept was
tossed into a heap, and the empty water-skin, which served him for a
pillow, had been thrown some yards from its place. Abdulla looked over
the parapet eastwards; and he saw the desert rose-red in the dawn.

For a long time Abdulla walked to and fro on the roof of his house
pondering the things that had happened to him both in the day and the
night. To piece the story together was no easy matter, for there were
gaps in his memory, and, though some of the incidents were clear, others
were perplexingly dim. Moreover, the incidents that were clear seemed to
change places with those that were dim, so that the line between his
dreams and his waking experiences was now in one place and now in
another. He could not be sure, for example, that the fraying of his
water-skin belonged to the one class rather than the other, and so rapid
was the transition from conviction to doubt that he examined the skin
no less than five times to satisfy himself the hole was there.

The longer he meditated on these things the greater became his confusion
of mind, and by the time the sun was fully risen from the desert he was
well-nigh distracted and beginning to doubt of his own identity. In vain
did he repeat the Seven Exorcisms, the Four Prayers, the Tecbir, the
Adan, and the Two Professions of Faith, calling on the name of Allah
between the exercises, and extolling His majesty every time. At last
Abdulla began to wring his hands and to cry aloud like one bereft of
intelligence.

While thus lamenting, it suddenly seemed to him that one from a far
distance was calling him by name. Checking his cries, he listened. The
voice came nearer and nearer, and presently broke out in familiar tones
at his very side.

"What aileth thee, O Abdulla?" said the voice. "Hast thou partaken of
the intoxicating drug? Has the Evil Eye encountered thee? Or sufferest
thou from a visitation of God?"

"O my mother," answered Abdulla, "there is none else besides thee under
heaven who can ease my pain and give me counsel in my perplexity. The
sound of thy voice is to me like running waters to him that perisheth of
thirst. Know that a great bewilderment has overtaken me, so that I
discern no more the things that are not from the things that are."

"That which was foreordained has come to pass," said the woman. "Thou
wast marked on thy forehead in the hour of thy birth; and I saw it, and
knew that things hidden from the foundation of the earth would be
revealed unto thee. Lo, the mark is on thy forehead still. O Abdulla, my
son, thou art no longer a seller of water, but a seer of the Inner
Substance, and divulger of secrets."

"O my mother," said Abdulla, "I know not what thou sayest. The Inner
Substance is a thing whereof I have never heard, and there is no secret
that I can divulge. Only a dream of the night season has troubled me,
and even now it seemeth to mingle with the things that God makes
visible, so that the desert floats like a yellow cloud, and thine own
form undulates before me like the morning mist."

"Thy confusion," said the woman, "is caused by the intermingling of the
worlds, which few among the sons of men are permitted to note; and the
undulations that bewilder thee are made by the river of Time. What thou
seest is the passing of that which was into that which is, and of that
which is into that which is to be. But rouse thy mind quickly, O my son,
and betake thyself on the instant to a skilful Interpreter of Dreams,
that the matter be resolved."

"I hear and obey," said Abdulla; and he ran down the steps of his house
into the street.

As he passed through the door, Selim the courier called to him from the
other side.

"O thou that dwellest alone," cried Selim, "hast thou taken to thyself a
wife? Has Zobeida proved gracious?"

"Nay, verily," answered Abdulla. "I have broken a vow and Zobeida
rejecteth me utterly. And know, O Selim, that I am a man sore troubled
with dreams in the night season, so that a spirit of amazement hath
possessed me, and I discern not the light from the darkness, nor the
shadow from the substance."

"Thou tellest a strange thing," said Selim. "Nevertheless, I heard thee
speaking scarce a moment gone with one on the roof."

"My mother was come from the lower parts of the house to comfort me,"
said Abdulla, "and it was with her that I spake."

"Verily, thou art bewitched," answered the other. "More than twenty
years have passed since thy mother entered into the Mercy of God, and
her body is dust within the tomb."

Abdulla's answer was a piteous cry. He leaned for support against the
wall of his house, spreading out his hands like one who would save
himself from falling.

"O Selim," he cried, "I am encompassed with forgetfulness, and my heart
is eradicated within me. Said I not unto thee that I discern no more
between the darkness and the light, between the shadow and the
substance? But I swear to thee, by the beard of the Prophet, that she
with whom I spake was the mother who bore me. She stretched out her arms
towards me and touched the mark on my forehead, and bade me hasten to
the Interpreter of Dreams that the matter might be resolved."

"It is a sign from Allah," said Selim; "and I doubt not that thou wilt
die the death at the hand of the infidel and be received into Paradise.
For know that thou hast been called two days ago, and the sergeant is
even now seeking for thee."

"That also I had forgotten," said Abdulla. "I will hasten forthwith to
the Interpreter of Dreams, and thereafter I will report me to the
sergeant. And the rest shall be as Allah willeth."

And Abdulla passed on his way to the Interpreter of Dreams.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly he realised that his path was blocked by a crowd, and looking
up he saw above him, on the other side of the street, the lattice of
Zobeida. "Verily," he thought, "I have made a long circuit; for this
house lieth not in the way."

Loud cries were coming from the house, mingled with curses and the sound
of hands beaten against the wall. As soon as Abdulla appeared, one of
the crowd called out towards the lattice:

"O woman that cursest in the darkness, come now to the light, that we
may hear thy maledictions more plainly, and be refreshed by the beauty
of thy countenance. Lo, he who is thy enemy passeth even now beneath the
window. Come forth, then, and the sight of him shall be as a fire in thy
bones, inspiring thy tongue to the invention of disastrous epithets and
calamitous imprecations. And we, on our part, will hold him fast, even
the accursed Abdulla, that he run not away till his destiny is
pronounced and his doom completed."

At this the lattice was burst open, and Zobeida, tearing aside her veil,
displayed a countenance of wrath. Her hair was dishevelled, her cheeks
were soiled with ashes and tears, her eyes were like coals of fire, and
her voice hissed and rang like the sword of a slayer in the day of
battle.

"O Abdulla," she cried, "of a truth thou art the Emperor of liars and
the Sultan of rogues. May the Abaser of Pride rub thy nose in the dust!"

"O my mistress," answered Abdulla, "impose upon thyself, I beseech thee,
the obligation of good manners."

"Dog and son of a dog----" cried Zobeida. But Abdulla heard no more. A
distant confusion of sounds had arisen. It drew nearer with amazing
rapidity, and finally broke forth into the tramp of marching feet, the
rumbling of wheels, and the booming of a drum. The houses melted away,
the sound of Zobeida's voice grew fainter and fainter, and the knot of
bystanders was gone.

Abdulla sprang to attention and looked about him. He was in the main
street of the city, and opposite was the house of the Interpreter of
Dreams. Coming down the street was a regiment of Turkish infantry, with
a battery of guns following behind. And a dim memory passed, like a
swift shadow, over the mind of Abdulla.

For an instant he was bemused, and one who passed by heard him muttering
broken words. "The long way round," he murmured; "the lattice of
Zobeida--a caravan of camels laden with sweetmeats--dog and the son of a
dog." Then a wind passed over his face, and it seemed to him that he had
been thinking foolishly. "Well for me," he replied, "that I went not
round by the house of Zobeida. For the time is short and I too am
called." And with that he crossed over, making haste that he might reach
the other side before the marching column blocked the street.

The house of the Interpreter was built after the European fashion, and
on the door was a large brass knocker after the manner of the Franks.
Abdulla stretched forth his hand, and was about to raise the knocker
when one plucked him by the sleeve. Turning round he saw a man in the
uniform of an officer of artillery.

"Wherefore hast thou not reported thyself?" said the officer. "Thy name
was called two days ago, and verily thou runnest a risk of being shot."

"O my master, a bewilderment hath overtaken me," said Abdulla, "so that
I forget all things and know not the day from the night. Lo, even now, I
seek the Interpreter of Dreams that the matter may be resolved."

"Thou art in a way to have thy dreams interpreted by a bullet through
the brain," said the officer. "Leave then thy dreaming and hold thy
peace; or, by Allah, I will proclaim thy cowardice forthwith and order
thy arrest. Fall in!"

Abdulla had no choice. A moment later he was marching in step with a
squad of reservists who followed in the rear of the guns.

As the column passed down the street a veiled woman stepped out from the
edge of the crowd, and, taking three paces by the side of Abdulla,
whispered in his ear:

"Play the man."

       *       *       *       *       *

They were now at the station, entraining for the seat of war. The
carriages were crowded with shouting soldiery, and many, unable to find
room within, had clambered on the roofs. Among these was Abdulla,
crouching silent.

Suddenly a man in European costume forced his way along the platform and
called him by name.

"Art thou Abdulla, the water-seller of Damascus?" said the man.

"I am he."

"Come down, then, that I may speak with thee. And hasten, for the time
is short."

"Stay thou behind and let these go," said the European, when Abdulla had
descended from the roof. "I will purchase thy release from the Pasha.
Nay, the matter is already arranged, and none of these will hinder thee
if thou stayest."

"And wherefore should I do this?" asked Abdulla.

"For a weighty and good reason," said the European. "Know that the fame
of thee has reached to London, to Paris, to New York. Thou art spoken
of as one who hath a power upon thee which may aid in opening up the
things that have been hidden from the foundation of the earth. And the
probers of secrets have sent me that I may search thee out, and engage
thee at a great salary, and take thee with me to the seats of the
learned and the cities of the West."

"Thou art in error," said Abdulla, "for power such as thou speakest of
belongeth not to me. Of a truth, I am one who walketh in a great
bewilderment, and the spirit of forgetfulness hath overpowered me. But
withal I am a common man, of whom Allah hath created millions, and it
was but yesterday I was seeking the Interpreter of Dreams, that I might
pay him the fee and have the matter resolved."

"I am the Interpreter of Dreams whom thou soughtest," said the other,
"and I dwell in the house built in the European fashion, with the great
knocker of brass, after the manner of the Franks."

"Thy name?" said Abdulla.

"My name is Professor----"--but an escape of steam from the panting
locomotive drowned the next word,--"and I am come from London to fetch
thee."

"I go not with thee," said Abdulla, "for thou seemest to be one whom the
Deluder of Intelligence is leading astray. I have but dreams to tell
thee; and if thou wantest dreams, hast thou none of thine own? Verily, a
dream is but a little thing."

"Thou errest," shouted the other--for Abdulla had now climbed back on to
the roof,--"a dream is a thing more wonderful than aught else the
Creator hath appointed, and there is none among the sons of Adam who
understandeth the coming and the going thereof. But if thou wilt come
with me----"

The Interpreter broke off in the middle of his sentence, for the train
was moving out of the station, and he saw that Abdulla could no longer
hear the words.

       *       *       *       *       *

The battery to which Abdulla was attached lay in a hollow to the rear of
the main battle, awaiting orders to take up a position in the front. It
was the first time he had been under fire. Dead bodies, horridly
mangled, lay around, and a straggling throng of wounded men, some
silent, some unmanned by agony, and all terrible to look upon, was
passing by. As Abdulla saw these things, the fear of death grew strong
within him. His body trembled and his face was blanched.

Seeing his state his companions began to deride him. Presently a gaily
dressed officer, passing where he was, paused in front of him, and
drawing a small mirror from his pocket held it in front of the trembling
man, and said:

"Look in this, O Abdulla, and thou wilt see the face of a coward."

Abdulla looked in the mirror and saw there the very face which had
confronted him not long ago in the shop window of the Greek.

The soldiers around him burst into a roar of laughter as Abdulla looked
in the mirror; but he heard them not.

He was busy in inward colloquy. "O thou that tremblest in thy body," he
was saying to himself, "O Abdulla the coward, hearken unto me. Behold
yon rider coming swiftly, and know, O thou craven carcase, that he
bringeth the order to advance. Thinkest thou to stay behind, and then
run away stealthily, and get thee back to thy water-selling in Damascus
and to thy dallyings with a woman? Yea, verily, thou thinkest it; and
even now contrivest within thyself how thou mayest steal away and not be
seen. But know thou that I who speak to thee will suffer not thy
cowardice. I will force thee presently to carry thy trembling limbs to
yonder line, whence come these whom thou seest in their pain. Thither
will I take thee, and I will hold thee fast in a place where death
cometh to four of every five. Not a step backward shalt thou go. Nay,
rather, I will blow a flame through thy nostrils into the marrow of thy
bones, driving thee forward, until I have thee firm in the very hottest
of the fire. See, the signal rises! Hark, the trumpet sounds! Up then,
thou quaking carrion, for thy hour is come.--Well done! Those behind
thee are taking note that thou tremblest no more! By Allah, I have
conquered thee and have thee utterly in my power!"

Every man was in his place. Abdulla, firm and ready, the rebuking voice
now silent within him, sat on the leading gun-horse; the traces that
bound it to the gun were already taut, and the whip-hand of the driver
was aloft in air. The word is given, the whips descend, and the whole
thundering train of men and beasts, with Abdulla at its head, sweeps
forward to the place of sacrifice.

       *       *       *       *       *

The battle was lost, and the long ridge on which Abdulla's battery had
been posted was carpeted with dead and dying men. A pall of yellow
smoke, broken from moment to moment by the flashes of exploding
shrapnel, hung over the ridge, and a blazing house immediately behind
the position shed a copper-coloured glare over the appalling scene. A
cold and cursed rain was falling, and stricken men, in extremities of
thirst, were lapping pools of water defiled with their own blood.

Of the twelve guns that formed the battery, all were dismantled save
one, and by this there stood a solitary man, the only upright figure
from end to end of the ridge. It was Abdulla. For five hours he had done
his duty untouched by shot, shell, or bayonet. He had continued the
service of his gun till the last round of ammunition was expended; and
when a cry arose among the survivors that they should save themselves,
he had watched the last stragglers depart and refused to stir from his
post. And now he stood inactive and motionless, alone in a
copper-coloured wilderness of agony and death.

Twice the enemy had attempted by desperate charges to storm the hill,
and, save for the lull in the artillery fire which preceded these
attacks, the work of death had hardly ceased for a moment. Even now it
still went on, slaying those who were half slain. Unable to see clearly
the state of things on the ridge, or behind it, and unaware that the
defence was totally annihilated, the enemy had hardly slackened his
fire. Scores of shrapnel were bursting overhead, and the singing of the
rifle bullets was like the hum of bees in swarming time. As the shells
exploded and the pitiless missiles came thrashing down, Abdulla noticed
how, after each explosion, some portion of the human carpet would toss
and undulate for a moment, as though the wind had got under it, and then
subside again into its place. The numbness and exhaustion of other
faculties had liberated his powers of observation, and at that moment
they were abnormally acute.

Fear, even the memory of fear, had long departed, and of mental distress
there was none, save a sense of immobility and powerlessness, such as a
man may have in an ugly dream. Abdulla leaned on the wheel of the
gun-carriage, gazing on the scene around him as a spectacle to be
studied; and he watched the shells bursting overhead with no more
concern than he would have felt for a passing flight of birds. He was
aware of his utter loneliness, and now and then a slight stir of
self-compassion would ripple the lucid depths of his consciousness. With
a certain repugnance, also, he noticed the copper-coloured light, which
shed its glare in every direction as far as he could see.

The tensest hours of his life, during which he had exerted his body with
furious energy, and his senses had been incessantly assailed with every
kind of shock, had ended in a feeling, amounting almost to conviction,
that the events in which he had participated, the deeds he had done, and
the spectacle now before him were the tissue of a dream.

Blustering facts that bludgeon and bombard the senses, often provoke us,
by the very violence of their self-announcement, to suspect them as
illusory. Reality is a low-voiced, soft-footed thing; a mean between two
extremes, clothed at all times in the garments of modesty and reserve,
which neither strives nor cries nor lifts up its voice in the streets.
But when the gods are drunk and the heavens in uproar, and the thing
called "fact" is unrestrained, ranting and storming about the stage like
an ill-mannered actor--then it is that the cup begins to pass away from
us, and a still small voice whispers within that the whole performance
is a masquerade.

Thus had it happened to Abdulla. Dreamer as he was, he had never yet
been able to detect himself in the act of dreaming. But now the waking
state was over-wakeful, and at the very moment when each nerve in his
body was strung to utmost tension, and the sense organs in full
commission, and fact in its most brutal form thundering on the gates of
his mind, there came to him a calm that was more than vacancy, a
conviction that he was in the land of dreams, and a peaceful
foreshadowing that he would soon awake.

"And yet," he thought, "it is weary work, this waiting for the spell to
break. Ha, that one would have done it, had I stood a span further to
the left! Why cannot they wake me? Are not a hundred pieces of artillery
sufficient to rouse one solitary man from his dreams? Stay! What if I am
wakened already? And what if this be hell? If so, is it so much worse
than earth? But please Allah that I stand not thus for all eternity,
waiting for the dream to pass. Ah! I was hit that time"--and he put his
hand to the region of his heart. "A mere graze. Perhaps the next will do
better. Allah send me a thing to do! Ho, thou Selim! Hast thou life in
thee to stand upright and do a thing? I saw thee raise thyself a moment
ago. If thou hast strength, bestir thyself a little, and thou and I will
find another round, and fire a last shot before we pass."

Selim the courier was lying behind the gun with a dozen others, dead or
wounded to death. Abdulla had hardly finished speaking when a shrapnel
burst over the heap, and Selim, who had been lying face downward on the
top, flung himself round in the last agony. As the bullets struck, the
whole heap seemed to disperse, the bodies spreading outward into a ring
with a hollow space in the midst.

Then Abdulla saw a thing that caused his heart to leap for joy. Lying in
the hollow made by the dispersion of the bodies was a round of
ammunition which some man had been carrying at the moment he was
stricken down, and which had hitherto been covered up by the dead. At
the sight of it, a sudden inspiration fell like a thunderbolt upon
Abdulla's dream. The sense of immobility was gone. "By Allah, thou art
alive and awake!" he cried, addressing himself. "Quick, thou slave of a
body! Thou hast yet strength in thee to open the breech-piece of the
gun, and the cartridge is not so heavy but that these arms can lift it.
Up, then, and act!"

He sprang forward. Quick as thought he seized the cartridge and carried
his burden back to the gun.

Then he stretched forth his hand to grasp the lever which controlled the
mechanism of the breech. But before his fingers closed on the metal he
paused for the briefest instant to look around him. In one glance he
took in the whole scene in all its extent and detail--the long ridge
under the copper-coloured light, the carpet of moaning or silent forms,
the dead body of Selim, the dismantled guns, the valley below, the
enemy's position on the further side, and the red spurts of flame from
his artillery. He noted also that the rain had ceased and the setting
sun had broken through the cloud.

Then, on a sudden, the vast view seemed to fall away into an
immeasurable distance, and, as a landscape contracts when seen from the
wrong end of the telescope, drew inwards from its edges with incredible
rapidity until it occupied no more space than is enclosed by the
circumference of the smallest coin. And in the same flash of time it was
gone altogether.

As it went, Abdulla felt his fingers close on the cold metal.

They closed on the metal, and Abdulla saw without the least surprise
that the thing he held in his hand was the knocker of brass on the door
of the Interpreter of Dreams.

       *       *       *       *       *

He knew no shock, asked himself no questions, perceived no breach of
continuity. He lifted the knocker, and its fall sounded in the street of
Damascus at the very instant that the boom of the bursting shell, which
had blown the water-seller to fragments, was reverberating over
Tchatalja.

Abdulla knocked. As he waited for the door to open he looked up and down
the street. He had arrived in Damascus overnight, and his surroundings
were yet strange to him. Nevertheless, as he continued to look at the
houses and the passers-by, a suspicion crossed his mind that he had been
in this place before. "Perhaps I have dreamed of such a place," he
thought. "But surely the face of yonder man is familiar. Where did I see
one like him? In Paris? In London? Ho thou, with the courier's badge on
thine arm! A word with thee."

The man paused at the doorstep, and Abdulla looked him full in the face.
Instantly his mind became confused, his tongue began to stammer, and he
heard himself speaking of he knew not what. "Hast thou life in thee?" he
said. "If so, bestir thyself and thou and I----" But the words broke
off, and Abdulla stood mouthing.

"Thou babblest like one intoxicated," said the man. "May Allah preserve
thy wits!" And he passed on.

The door opened, and Abdulla's mind became clear. A moment later he
stood in the presence of the Interpreter of Dreams.

"Who art thou?" said the Interpreter, "and what is the occasion of thy
coming?"

"I am a Cairene," said Abdulla, "born of Syrian parentage in this city,
but taken hence when I was an infant of five years. I am come to
Damascus for a purpose which thou and I have in common. I, too, am a
student of dreams."

"Of which kind?" asked the Interpreter. "For know that dreams are of two
kinds: dreams of the worlds that were, and dreams of the worlds that are
to be. Of which hast thou knowledge?"

"Of a world that was," said Abdulla.

"Thou hast chosen a thankless study," answered the other. "Few will
trust thy discoveries. For a thousand who will believe thee if thou
teachest of a world that is to be, there is scarce one who will listen
if thou speakest of a world that was. But tell me thy history, and name
thy qualifications."

"I have been educated in the Universities of the West," said Abdulla,
"and there I sat at the feet of one who taught me a doctrine which he
had learnt from a master of the ancient time. And the doctrine was this:
that worlds without end lie enfolded one within the other like the
petals of a rose; and the next world after differs from the next world
before no more than a full water-skin differs from itself when two drops
of water have fallen from its mouth. 'The world,' taught the master, 'is
a memory and a dream, and at every stage of its existence it beholds the
image of its past and the fainter image of its future reflected as in a
glass.'"

"And why makest thou the world that was before of more account than the
world that comes after?"

"I said not that I made it of more account," answered Abdulla, "but that
my knowledge was of this rather than of that. But know that I am a
dreamer of dreams, and it is the world before that my dreams have
revealed to me."

"Tell me thy dreams."

"It is of them that I came to speak with thee. There is one dream that
ever recurreth both in the day and the night. Seventy times seven have I
seen a frayed water-skin, having a hole in a certain part, no larger
than an olive-stone."

"That is a small matter," said the Interpreter, "and such things concern
us not. But I suspect that thou art not at the end of thy story. For,
verily, thou hast not travelled from the cities of the West to speak of
a thing so slight. Say, therefore, what has brought thee to Damascus."

"That also I would tell thee; for it is a matter to be pondered. Thou
art of the wise, and knowest, therefore, that there is a virtue in
places and a power in localities. In one, the light of the soul is
extinguished; in another, it is kindled; in one, the reason dies; in
another, the half-thought becomes a whole, and the doctrine that is
dimly apprehended becomes clear. Now, being in the city of Paris, I
conversed with one of the French who had visited the holy places of his
religion, where he had meditated in solitude and seen visions and
dreamed dreams; and I told him that I had a doctrine newly born, half
grown. 'O Abdulla,' he said, 'there is a virtue in places and a power in
localities. Go thou, therefore, to the city of Damascus, for that is a
place where, in days that are gone, the half-thought became a whole, and
the doctrine dimly apprehended became clear. Put thyself on the way to
Damascus and await the issue.'"

At these words the Interpreter rose from his seat and paced the room in
thought.

"The man of whom thou speakest," he said at length, "is known to me; and
many are they whom he has guided to this place. Rightly sayest thou that
there is a virtue in places and a power in localities. And here the
power still lingers which the world lost when mankind took to babbling.
Thy reason for coming hither is mine also. Seest thou not that I have
made my dwelling in the Street that is called Straight?"

"I see and understand," said Abdulla.

There was another pause, and again the Interpreter paced the room. Then
he resumed:

"Between thee and me there is need of little speech to attain a
comprehension, and the short sentence meaneth more than the long
explanation. Nevertheless, I would fain hear the rest of thy story.
Proceed then, and tell me of the dreams that came to thee on the way to
Damascus."

"On the way itself," said Abdulla, "there came no dreams. But this very
day I sat by the bank of the river, full of thought, and methinks sleep
overpowered me--though I know not. And there came a poor man carrying a
water-skin, and I, looking upon him, saw that his face was like unto
mine own, but marred by his toil and his poverty. And the man sat
himself down, leaning against a palm-tree on the side away from the sun,
and slept. Then I arose and stood before him, and expounded to him my
doctrine, and he seemed as one that saw and heard, though asleep. And
when his eyes were opened he saw me no more, but took up his water-skin
and filled it at the river, making mention of the name of God.

"I followed him into the city, and saw one thrust him against the wall
so that his water-skin was frayed. Thereafter the water-skin burst, and
a hole appeared in a certain part the size of an olive-stone, and the
remnant of the water flowed forth. But, passing a certain street, a
woman called to him to give her little ones to drink. And I, being hard
by, and seeming to know the woman, whispered to the man that he should
pass his hands craftily over the skin, if peradventure a drop remained
to moisten the lips of them that cried out for the thirst. But none
remained, and the man went on his way sorrowing.

"Then I lost him for a while; but as night fell I found him again,
standing in front of a glass window and meditating a thing that was
dishonest. And the man looking through the window saw me standing among
the goods that were in the shop. Whereupon he changed his design and
ran away.

"I wandered through the streets of the city, and passing by a certain
house, a frivolous woman looked out from a lattice and reviled me. I
understood not the things that she spake, and having answered the woman
I departed. Then I bethought me that she had taken me for another, and,
remembering that the face of the water-seller was like unto mine own, I
surmised that it was he.

"Suddenly, I know not how, I found myself in a place of battle, armed
like the rest, and, turning aside, I saw, standing among the harnessed
horses of a gun-team, the man whose water-selling I had watched in the
city. And the spirit of fear was upon him; his countenance was blanched
and his body all aquake; and I, ashamed that one who bore my own
semblance should stand disgraced among his fellows, rebuked him for his
cowardice; and methought I blew a fire through his nostrils into the
marrow of his bones. Then the man took courage and, mounting his horse
with alacrity, went forward with the bravest to the place of death.

"Thereafter I saw him no more. But this very hour, even as I lifted thy
knocker of brass, a great light shone round about me, a sound of thunder
shook the air, and a voice said, 'Lo! thy broken water-skin is mended
and full of water. Go forth, therefore, and give to them that are
athirst.' Whereupon it seemed to me that the half-thought became a
whole, and the doctrine that was dimly apprehended grew clear. And now I
am a man prepared to go forward, even as he was into whom I blew the
breath of courage on the field of death. A thing that was holding me
back is gone from me, and lo! I am free."

"Perchance one has ministered unto thee, even as thou didst minister to
that other in the hour when he was afraid," said the Interpreter.

"That may be," said Abdulla. "But did I not tell thee that as yet I have
no knowledge of the world that will be?"

"The knowledge awaits thee, and will begin from this hour," said the
Interpreter. "Most assuredly that which thou tellest is an image of the
world that was; and he that dreameth of the one world dreameth also in
due season of the other. But hearken now while I put thee to the
question; and if thou answerest according to thy doctrine, peradventure
the interpretation of thy vision will appear in the issue."

"Say on," said Abdulla.

"This, then, is the question. Thinkest thou, O Dreamer, that when a man
dies and enters Paradise, he knows of his condition, as who should say,
'Lo, I am now a disembodied spirit, having just passed through the
article of death, and these before me are the Gates of Heaven, and
yonder shining thing is the Throne of God?'"

"Nay, verily," said Abdulla, "in this and in every world the Throne of
God is revealed after one and the same manner, and never shall it be
seen in any world save by such as follow there the Loyal Path whereby it
is found in this. And he who beholdeth not the Gates of Paradise in the
world where he is, will look for them in vain in the world where he is
to be."

"Art thou willing to think, then, that thou and I are in Paradise even
at this hour?"

"Thou hintest at the doctrine that has been revealed to me," said the
other. "It may be even as thou sayest. For certain am I that thou and I
have died many deaths; and as there is another world in respect of this,
so is this world another in respect of them that went before. Great is
the error which deemeth that the number of the worlds is but two, and
that death, therefore, cometh once only to a man, when he passeth from
the first to the second. Of death, as of life, the kinds are
innumerable; and of these, that which destroyeth the body at the end is
only one, and perhaps not the chief. Whatsoever changeth into its
contrary must needs die in the act; so that except one die, grief cannot
pass into joy, nor darkness into light, nor evil into good; neither can
the lost be found, nor the sleeper awake. Wherefore it may be that thou
and I are in Paradise even now."

"Thou speakest to the question," said the Interpreter. "Some there are,
as thou sayest, who, being in Paradise already, will still be asking
whether Paradise awaits them. And if the enlightened go thus astray, how
much deeper is the ignorance of the darkened! For in no place, O
Abdulla, is Hell more doubted of than in Hell itself."

"I have lived in the cities of the West and have observed that very
thing," said Abdulla. "Many a damned soul have I heard making boast of
his good estate, and many a doubt of Judgment shouted forth from the
very flames of the Pit. For how shall a man know when he is now dead and
come to Judgment? Doth he live in his dying, and, taking note of his
last breath, say within himself, 'Lo, now I am dead'? And if he know not
the single occasion of his dying, how should he remember even though
death worketh upon him daily and passeth over him a thousand times?"

"Death and forgetting are one," said the Interpreter, "and the memory of
dying perisheth like a dream. But some there are to whom Allah hath
appointed a station at the place of passage and set as watchmen at the
intermingling of the worlds. These pass to and fro over the bridges,
gathering tidings from forgotten realms; and much of majesty and worth
that escapeth the common sort is apparent unto them. And of such, O
Abdulla, thy dreams declare thee to be one."

"Hast thou no further interpretation?" asked Abdulla.

"Hark!" said the other. "The full interpretation cometh even now."

And, as he spoke, the brass knocker sounded on the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Thus endeth "The Hole in the Water-skin."_



III

DR PIECRAFT CLEARS HIS MIND


Throughout the whole of this long prelection Dr Phippeny Piecraft had
scarcely moved a muscle, listening with ever deeper attention as the
story went on. Once only had he interrupted the reader.

"You are coming now," he had said, "to the deleted passage about Dual
Personality. Don't forget to read it."

"Pardon me," said the young man, "I passed that point some minutes
since. The writer had pencilled against the passage, '_Omit, spoils the
unity_.' So, from respect to his wishes, I left it out."

"It was well done," Piecraft had answered. "Unity is all-important.
Proceed."

And now, the reading being over, the two men sat for several minutes
facing one another in silence. Presently the reader said:

"Well, have you identified the author?"

"I have," said Piecraft. "The tale is a reminiscence of some old
speculations of mine. I wrote every word of it myself, and I finished it
last night."

"How came you to think that it was written by somebody else?"

"That is what puzzles me. But I can give a partial explanation.
Last night, after finishing the tale, I had a dream, which was
extremely vivid, though I find it impossible now to recall the details.
I dreamt that I was writing a story under the title of _Dual
Personality_--something about a gamekeeper and two young lords who
interchanged their characters. It was a sort of nightmare, partly
accounted for by the fact that my health, until to-day, has been
indifferent. When you came in this morning the influence of the dream
lingered in sufficient strength to make me think I had actually written
the story dreamed about, and not the one you have just read out. It was
an illusion."

"Illusion is an integral part of reality," said the young man.

"Is that an original remark?" asked Piecraft. "Somehow I seem to
remember having heard it before."

"It is a quotation," answered the other. "I am in the habit of using it
for the enlightenment of new-comers."

"New-comers!" exclaimed Piecraft. "My dear fellow, do you know that my
brass plate has been on this house for over ten years. It is you who are
the new-comer, not I."

The young man smiled. "It has been on this house much longer than that,
but you are a new-comer all the same," said he.

"I don't catch your drift," said Piecraft. "What do you mean?"

"It takes time to answer that," said the other. "Be content to learn
gradually."

"There's something strange about all this," said Piecraft, "which I
should like to clear up at once. I don't seem to know exactly where I
am. Do you mind shaking me? For I'm half inclined to think that I'm fast
asleep and dreaming--like Abdulla, in the story."

"You were never so wide-awake in your life. But if you wish for an
immediate enlightenment, I can take you to a house in the next street,
when the whole position will be cleared up at once."

"Come along," said Piecraft. "I feel like a man who is in for a big
adventure. There's something interesting in this."

As they passed down the street, Piecraft said: "Would you mind telling
me as we walk along what you think of the story you read just now? It's
not in my usual style; in fact, it's quite a new departure, and I'm very
anxious, before publishing, to know what impression it makes on good
judges."

"The story is not bad for a first attempt," said the young man. "You'll
learn to express yourself better later on. It was a bold thing on your
part to tackle that subject right away. To handle it properly requires
much more experience than you have had. There are one or two points
which you have presented in a false light, and you have mixed some
things up which ought to have been kept separate. But, on the whole, you
have no reason to be discouraged."

"I'm surprised at what you say," returned Piecraft. "As to my being a
beginner, I had a notion that I was a novelist of standing, as well as a
Gold Medallist in Cerebral Pathology. But just now I'm not going to
dogmatise about that or anything else. It's just possible that I'm still
under the illusion produced by the dream of last night. Meanwhile, I'm
really anxious to know what has happened. The things about me are
familiar--and yet somehow not the same as I remember them. They look as
though the old dirt had been washed out of them."

"You are getting on remarkably well," said his companion. "The whole
world has been spring-cleaned since you saw it last."

"You have an original way of expressing yourself," said Piecraft. "Your
style reminds me of a young half-brother of mine. He was lost in a
steamer whose name I can't remember--when was it? His conversation was
always picturesque. And, by the way, that suggests another thing. The
young girl who waited on me, this morning--who is she?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Because she's so uncommonly like a girl I used to run after in the old
days--a student at the Slade School of Art. And a wonderfully good, nice
girl she was. Her father, who was said to be a scoundrel, got ten years
for alleged embezzlement; and the girl gave me up because I wouldn't
take his side. How she stuck to him through thick and thin! I tell you,
my boy, she was a loyal soul! I wonder if she is still alive."

"Such souls are hard to kill," said the other.

       *       *       *       *       *

By this time the pair had arrived at the house indicated by the
messenger. On the door of it was an enormous knocker of brass.

"Knock, and it shall be opened," said the young man.

Dr Piecraft had lifted the knocker and was about to let it fall when he
heard his name called loudly down the street and saw a man running
towards him with a piece of paper in his hand. The man approached and
Piecraft, taking the paper, read as follows:

"_Dr Phippeny Piecraft is needed at once for a matter of life and
death._"

"I must be off immediately," he said to his companion; "I am called to
an urgent case. It's a matter of life and death. Duty first, my boy, and
the clearing-up of mysteries afterwards! Remember what the sergeant said
to Abdulla when he plucked him by the sleeve. Besides--who knows?--this
may mean that the practice is going to revive."

"That is precisely what it does mean," said the young man. "Matters of
life and death are extremely common just now, and you are the very man
to deal with them."

"How do you know that?" said Piecraft with some astonishment; and, as he
spoke the words, without thinking he released the lifted knocker from
his hand.

The knocker fell, and the instant it struck the door Dr Phippeny
Piecraft knew where he was.

"_It's wonderfully like the old home_," he said.

A familiar laugh sounded behind him.

He turned round; and the man who grasped his hand was Jim.



THE PROFESSOR'S MARE


I

The Reverend John Scattergood, D.D., Professor of Systematic Theology,
was of Puritan descent. The founder of the family was Caleb
Scatter-the-good-seed, a cornet of horse in Cromwell's army, who had
earned his master's favour by prowess at the battle of Dunbar. The
family tradition averred that when Cromwell halted the pursuit of
Leslie's shattered forces for the purpose of singing the 117th Psalm, it
was Caleb Scatter-the-good-seed who gave out the tune and led the
psalmody. This he did at the beginning of every verse by striking a
tuning-fork on his bloody sword. He was mounted, said the tradition, on
a coal-black horse.

John Scattergood, D.D., was a hard-headed theologian. His lectures on
Systematic Theology ended, as all who attended them will remember, in a
cogent demonstration of the Friendliness of the Universe, firmly
established by the Inflexible Method. This was a masterpiece of
ratiocination. The impartial observation of facts, the even-handed
weighing of evidence, the right ordering of principles and their
application, the separation and weaving together of lines of thought,
the careful disentangling of necessary pre-suppositions, the just
treatment of objectors--all the qualities demanded of one who handles
the deepest problems of thought were combined in Dr Scattergood's
demonstration of the Friendliness of the Universe according to the
Inflexible Method. Most of his hearers were convinced by his arguments,
and went forth into the world to publish the good news that the Universe
was friendly.

Hard-headed as Scattergood was, it would be unjust to his character to
describe him as free from superstition. Much of his life, indeed, had
been spent in attacking the superstitions of the ignorant and the
thoughtless; but this very practice had bred in him, as in so many
others, a superstitious regard for the argumentative weapons used in the
attack. Like his ancestor at Dunbar, he struck his tuning-fork on his
sword. To be sure, he was a Rational Theist, and a cause of Rational
Theism in others; but, unless I am much mistaken, the ultimate object of
his faith, the Power behind his Deity, was the Inflexible Method.
Superstition never dies; it merely changes its form. It is not a
confession we make to ourselves so much as a charge we bring against
others, and its greatest power is always exercised in directions where
we are least aware of its existence. And Scattergood, of course, was
unaware that his attitude towards the Inflexible Method was profoundly
superstitious. It follows that he was unprepared for the part which
superstition, changing its form, was destined to play in his life.

Theology, then, was his vocation, but I have now to add, the horse was
his hobby. Although he had taken to riding late in life, he was by no
means an incapable rider or an ignorant horseman. Next to the Universe,
the horse had been the subject of his profoundest study; and as he was a
close reasoner in regard to the one, he was a tight rider in regard to
the other. His seat, like his philosophy, was a trifle stiff; but what
else could you expect in one who had passed his sixtieth year? He never
rode to hounds, nor otherwise unduly jeopardised his neck; but for
managing a high-spirited horse, when all the rest of us were in
difficulties, I never knew his better. "Let Scattergood go first," we
cried as the traction engine came snorting down the road and our elderly
hacks were prancing on the pavement; and sure enough his young
thoroughbred would walk by the monster without so much as changing its
feet.

"Scattergood," I once asked him, "what do you _do_ to that young mare of
yours when you meet a traction engine or a military band?"

"Nothing," he replied.

"Then what do you _say_ to her?"

"Nothing."

"Then how do you manage it?"

"I haven't the faintest idea."

Needless to say, he was deeply respected in the stables. "A gen'l'man
with a wonderful _'orse-sense_," said the old ostler one day,
expatiating, as usual, on Scattergood's virtues. "If I'd had a
'orse-sense like him, I'd be one o' the richest men in England. If ever
there was a man as throwed himself away, there he goes! 'Orse-sense
isn't a thing as you see every day, sir. The only other man I've ever
knowed as had it was his Lordship, as I was his coachman in Ireland more
than twenty years ago. His Lordship used to say to me, 'Tom,' he says,
'Tom, it all comes of my grandfather and his father before him bein'
jockeys.' And between you and me, sir, that's what's the matter with his
Reverence. He's jockey-bred, sir, you take my word for it."

"His father was a bishop," I interposed.

"Well, his father may have been a bishop, for all I care," said Tom.
"But what about his mother, and what about his mother's father, and his
father before him, and all the rest on 'em? When it comes to a matter
o' breedin', you don't stop at fathers; you take in the whole pedigree.
Wasn't his Lordship's father a brewer? And what difference did that
make? When 'orse-sense once gets started in a family it takes more than
brewin' and more than bishopin' to wash it out o' the blood."

"I've heard that gypsies have the same gift," I said.

"I've 'eard it too, sir. But I never would have nothing to do with
gypsies; though his Lordship was as thick as thieves with 'em. And
thieves are just what they are, sir, and if it weren't for that I'd say
as the gen'l'man was as like to be gypsy-bred as jockey. Don't you never
let the gypsies sell _you_ a 'oss, sir; you'll be took in if you do. But
they couldn't gypsy _him_! Why, I don't believe as there's a 'oss-dealer
for twenty miles round as wouldn't go out for a walk if he 'eard as Dr
Scattergood was comin' to buy a 'oss."

That the ostler's last remark was true in the spirit if not in the
letter the following incident seems to prove. Once I was myself
entrapped into the folly of buying a horse, and I was on the point of
concluding the bargain, which seemed to be all in my favour, when a
friendly daimon whispered in my ear that I had better be cautious. So I
said, "Yes, the horse seems all right. But before coming to a final
decision, I'll bring Dr Scattergood round to have a look at him." And
the dealer presently abated his price by twenty pounds, on the
understanding that "that there interferin' Scattergood, as had already
done him more bad turns than one, was not allowed to poke his nose into
business which was none of his."

"Pretty good," said the Professor when I showed him my purchase. "Pretty
good. But I think I could have saved you another ten pounds, had you
taken the trouble to consult me."

He kept but one horse, and it was observed, as a strange thing in a
lover of horses, that he never kept that one for long. He was constantly
changing his mount. By superficial observers this was set down to a
certain fickleness of disposition; but the truth seems rather to have
been that Scattergood, consciously or unconsciously, was engaged in the
quest for the Perfect Horse. No man knew better than he what equine
perfection involved, and none was ever more painfully sensitive to the
slightest deviation from the Absolute Ideal. Whatever good qualities his
horse might possess--and they were always numerous--the presence of a
single fault, however slight, would haunt and oppress him in much the
same way as a venial sin will trouble the consciousness of a saint. I
remember one beautiful animal in which the severest judges could find no
defect save that it had half a dozen miscoloured hairs hidden away on
one of its hind-legs. Every time the good doctor rode that horse he saw
the miscoloured hairs through the back of his head; and away went the
beast to Tattersall's after a week's trial. Another followed, and
another after that; but we soon ceased to count them, and took it for
granted that Scattergood's horse, seen once, would not be seen again. So
it went on until in the fullness of time there appeared a horse, or
more strictly a mare, which did not depart as swiftly as it came.

Whatever perfection may be in other realms, perfection in horses seems
after all to be a relative thing; for though Dr Scattergood himself
regarded this one as perfect, I doubt if he could have found a single
soul in the wide world to agree with him. To be sure, she was beautiful
enough to cause a flutter of excitement as she passed down the street;
but a beast of more dangerous mettle never pranced on two feet or kicked
out with one. She was the terror of every stable she entered, and it was
only by continual largesse on the part of Scattergood that any groom
could be induced to feed or tend her. What she cost him monthly for
tips, for broken stable furniture, and for veterinary attendance on the
horses she kicked in the ribs, I should be sorry to say. But Scattergood
paid it all without a murmur; no infatuated lover ever bore the
extravagance of his mistress with a lighter heart. For the truth of the
matter was, that he was deeply attached to this mare, and the mare was
deeply attached to him.

Why the mare was fond of Scattergood is a problem requiring for its
solution more horse-sense than most of us possess; so we had better
leave it alone. But Scattergood's reason for being fond of the mare can
be stated in a sentence. She reminded him, constantly and vividly, of
Ethelberta. Her high spirits, her dash, her unexpectedness, her
brilliant eyes, her gait, and especially the carriage of her head, were
a far truer likeness of Ethelberta than was the faded photograph, or
even the miniature set in gold, which the reverend professor kept locked
in his secret drawer.

Now Ethelberta was the name of the lady whom Scattergood wished he had
married. For five-and-thirty years he had never ceased wishing he had
married _her_--and not someone else. Someone else! Ay, there was the
rub! The lawful Mrs Scattergood was not a person whose portrait I should
care to draw in much detail. Can you imagine a harder lot than that of
a world-famous Systematic Theologian, publicly pledged to maintain the
Friendliness of the Universe, but privately consumed with anxiety lest
on returning home (_horresco referens!_) he should find a
heavy-featured, blear-eyed, irredeemable woman, the woman who called
herself his wife, narcotised on the drawing-room sofa, with an empty
bottle of chloral at her side? That was the lot of John Scattergood,
D.D., and he bore it like a man, keeping up a pathetic show of devotion
to his intolerable wife, and concealing his personal misery from the
world with an ingenuity only equal to that with which he published
abroad the Friendliness of the Universe. To be sure, he had long
abandoned the quest for happiness as a thing unworthy of a Systematic
Theologian--what else, indeed, could he do? Still, it was hardly
possible to avoid reflecting that he would have been happier if he had
married Ethelberta. Each day something happened to convince him that he
would. For example, his first duty every morning, before settling down
to work, was to make a tour of the house, sometimes in the company of a
trusted domestic, hunting for a concealed bottle of morphia; and when at
last the servant, with her arm under a mattress, said, "I've got it,
sir," he could not help reflecting that the burden of life would have
been lighter had he married the high-souled Ethelberta. And with the
thought a cloud seemed to pass between John Scattergood and the sun.

He would often say to himself that he wished he could forget Ethelberta.
But in point of fact he wished nothing of the kind. He secretly
cherished her memory, and the efforts he made to banish her from his
thoughts only served to incorporate her more completely with the
atmosphere of his life.

All through life John Scattergood had been a deeply conscientious man.
But conscience--or rather something that called itself conscience, but
was in reality nothing of the kind,--which had served him so well in
other respects, had been his undoing in the matter of Ethelberta. At the
age of twenty-five he was not aware that a man's evil genius, bent on
doing its victim the deadliest turn, will often disguise itself in the
robes of his heavenly guide. Later on in life he learned to penetrate
these disguises, but at twenty-five he was at their mercy. He was, as we
have seen, of Puritan descent; his evangelical upbringing had taught him
to regard as heaven-sent all inner voices which bade him sacrifice his
happiness; and this it was of which the enemy took advantage. In his
relationship with Ethelberta the young man was radiantly happy; but that
very circumstance aroused his suspicions. "You are not worthy of this
happiness," said an inner voice; "and, what is far more to the point,
you are not worthy of Ethelberta. She is too good for such as you."

"Who are you?" said the young Scattergood, addressing the inner voice.
"Who are you that haunt me night and day with this horrible fear?"

"I am your conscience," answered the voice. "You are unworthy of
Ethelberta; and it is I, your conscience, that tell you so. I am a
voice from heaven, and beware of disregarding me."

Had Scattergood been thirty years older, this strange anxiety on the
part of his conscience to establish its claims as a voice from heaven
would have put him on his guard; he would have lifted those shining
robes and seen the hoofs beneath them. But these precautions had not
occurred to him in the days when he and Ethelberta were walking hand in
hand. So he listened to that inner voice with awe: he listened until its
lying words became an obsession; until they darkened his mind; until
they drowned the voices of love and began to find utterance in his
manners, and even in his speech, with Ethelberta. She, on her part, did
not understand--what woman ever could or would?--and a cloud came
between them. "The cloud is from heaven," said the inner voice. "I have
sent it; let it grow; you are not good enough for Ethelberta, and it
will be a sin to link your life with hers."

So the cloud grew, till one day a woman's wrath shot out of it; there
was an explosion, a quarrel, a breach; and the two parted, never to
meet again. "You have done your duty," said the false conscience. "You
have dealt me a mortal hurt," said the soul. But Scattergood was still
convinced that he was not good enough for Ethelberta.

Within a year or two the usual results had followed. Scattergood married
a woman who was not good enough for _him_; and that other man, who had
been watching his opportunity, like a wolf around the sheepfold, married
Ethelberta. And he was not good enough for _her_.

And now many years had passed, and Ethelberta was long since dead. But
that made no difference to the aching wound; for Professor Scattergood,
who was intelligent about all things, and far too intelligent about
Ethelberta, used to reflect that probably she would still be alive had
she married him. "They went to Naples for their honeymoon," he would say
aloud--for he was in the habit of talking to himself--"they went to
Naples for their honeymoon; there she caught typhoid fever, and died
six weeks after her marriage. But things would have happened differently
had she married _me_. _We_ were not going to Naples for the honeymoon.
We were going to Switzerland: we settled it that night after the dance
at Lady Brown's--the night I first told her I was not worthy of her.
Fool that I was!" Such were the meditations of Professor John
Scattergood, D.D., as he trotted under the hedgerow elms and heard the
patter of his horse's hoofs falling softly on the withered leaves.

Thus we can understand how it came to pass that Dr Scattergood's
imagination was abnormally sensitive to anything which could remind him
of Ethelberta. And I have no doubt that his peculiar horse-sense was
also involved in the particular reminder with which we have now to deal.

Certain it is that he discerned the resemblance to Ethelberta the moment
he cast eyes upon his mare. He was standing in the dealer's yard, and
the dealer was leading the animal out of the stable. Suddenly catching
sight of the strange black-coated figure, she stopped abruptly, lowered
her head, curved her neck, and looked Scattergood straight between the
eyes. For a moment he was paralysed with astonishment and thought he was
dreaming. The movement, the attitude, the look were all Ethelberta's!
Exactly thus had she stopped abruptly, lowered her head, curved her
neck, and looked him in the face when thirty-five years ago he had been
introduced to her at an Embassy Ball in Vienna. A vision swept over his
inner eye: he saw bright uniforms, heard music, felt the presence of a
crowd; and so completely was the actuality of things blotted out that he
made a low reverence to the animal as though he were being introduced to
some highborn dame. The dealer noticed the movement and wondered what
"new hanky-panky old Scattergood was trying on the mare."

"Now, that's a mare I raised myself," said the dealer. "I've watched her
every day since she was foaled, and I'll undertake to say as there isn't
another like her in----"

"In the wide world: I know there isn't," said Scattergood, cutting him
short. Then, suddenly, "What's her name?"

"Meg," replied the dealer, who was expecting a very different question.

"Meg--Meg," said the Doctor. "Why, it ought to be----Well, never mind,
Meg will do. So you bred her yourself? Will you swear you didn't _steal_
her?"

This was too much even for a horse-dealer. "We're not a firm of
horse-thieves," he said, and he was preparing to lead her back into the
stable.

"I'm only joking," said Scattergood in a tremulous voice which belied
him. "She's the living likeness of one I remember years ago--one that
_was_ stolen. Come, bring her back. I'm ready to buy that mare at her
full value."

"And what may that be?" replied the dealer, glad that the enemy had made
the first move.

"A hundred and twenty."

The dealer was astonished; for his customer had offered the exact sum at
which he hoped to sell the mare. For a moment he thought of standing
out for a hundred and fifty, but he knew it was useless to bargain with
Scattergood, so he said:

"It's giving her away, sir, at a hundred and twenty. But for the sake of
quick business, and you being a gentleman as knows a horse when you sees
one, I'll take you at your own figure."

"Done," said Scattergood. "I'll send you a cheque round in ten minutes."
And without another word he walked out of the yard. He had found the
perfect horse.

The dealer stood dumbfoundered, halter in hand--he was unconscious that
Meg had already caught his shirt-sleeve between her teeth. Could that
retreating figure be the wary Scattergood, Scattergood of the thousand
awkward questions, Scattergood the terror of every horse-dealer in the
countryside? Never before had he found so prompt, so reckless a
customer. Were his eyes deceiving him? Was it a dream? A violent jerk on
his right arm, and the simultaneous sound of tearing linen, recalled him
to himself. "You she-devil!" he said, "I'll take the skin off you for
this. But I hope the old gentleman's well insured."

Meanwhile the Professor was walking home in a state of profound mental
perturbation. Visions of the Embassy Ball in Vienna, Buddhist theories
of reincarnation, problems of animal psychology, doubts as to the
validity of the Inflexible Method, vague and nameless feelings that
accompanied the disappearance of his "horse-sense," a yet vaguer joy as
of one who has found something precious which he had lost, and beneath
all the ever-present subconscious fear that he would find his wife
narcotised on the drawing-room sofa, were buzzing and dancing through
his mind.

"It's the _likeness_ that puzzles me," he began to reflect. "A universal
resemblance, borne by particulars not one of which is really like the
original. Quite unmistakable, and yet quite unthinkable. An indubitable
fact, and yet a fact which no one who has not seen could ever be induced
to believe."

Had anyone half an hour earlier propounded the statement that a woman
could bear a closer resemblance to a horse than to her own portrait, he
would have treated the proposition as one which no amount of evidence
could make good. So far from the evidence proving the proposition true,
he would have said, it is the proposition which proves the evidence
false. Otherwise, what is the use of the Inflexible Method? But now the
thing was flashed on him with the brightness of authentic revelation,
and there was no gainsaying its truth. Not once during the
five-and-thirty years of his mourning for Ethelberta had anything
happened to bring her so vividly to mind; not even among the dreams that
haunt the borderland of sleep and waking; no, nor even when he listened
to the great singer whose voice had pierced his heart with the sad and
angry music of Heine's bitterest song. Professor Scattergood was a firm
believer in the efficacy of _a priori_ thought; but though by means of
it he had excogitated a system in which the plan of an entire Universe
was sufficiently laid down, there was not one of his principles either
primary or secondary which could have built a niche for the experience
he had just undergone in the horse-dealer's yard.

As he neared his doorstep the confusion of his mind suddenly ranged
itself into form and gave birth to an articulate thought. "I'm sure," he
said to himself, drawing his latch-key out of his pocket and inserting
it in the keyhole--"I'm sure that Ethelberta is not far off. Yes, as
sure as I am of anything in this world."


II

The "horse-sense," which gave Professor Scattergood his reputation in
the stables, was always accompanied by a well-marked physical
sensation--to wit, a continuous tingling at the back of the head,
seemingly located at an exact spot in the cortex of the brain. So long
as the back of his head was tingling, every horse was completely at
Scattergood's mercy; he could do with it whatever he willed. But I have
it on his own authority that at the moment he cast eyes on his new mare
the sensation suddenly ceased and his horse-sense deserted him.

Accordingly, the first time he took her out he mounted with trepidation,
and fear possessed his soul that she would run away with him. Though
nothing very serious followed, the fear was not entirely groundless. His
daily ride, which usually occupied exactly two hours and five minutes,
was accomplished on this occasion in one hour and twenty, and for a week
afterwards the Professor's man rubbed liniment into his back three times
a day. On the second occasion he had the ill luck to encounter the local
Hunt in full career, a thing he would have minded not the least under
ordinary circumstances, but extremely disconcerting at a moment when his
horse-sense happened to be in abeyance. Before he had time to take in
the situation, Meg joined the rushing tide, and for the next forty
minutes the field was led by the first Systematic Theologian in Europe,
who had given himself up for lost and was preparing for death. And
killed he probably would have been but for two things: the first was the
fine qualities of his mount, and the second was a literary reminiscence
which enabled him to retain his presence of mind. Even in these
desperate circumstances, the Professor's habit of talking to himself
remained in force. A friend of mine who was riding close behind him told
me that he distinctly heard Scattergood repeating the lines of the
_Odyssey_ which tell how Ulysses, on the point of suffocation in the
depths of the sea, kept his wits about him and made a spring for his
raft the instant he rose to the surface. Again and again, as the
Professor raced across the open, did he repeat those lines to himself;
and whenever a dangerous fence or ditch came in sight he would break off
in the middle of the Greek and cry aloud in English, "Now, John
Scattergood, prepare for death and sit well back"--resuming the Greek
the moment he was safely landed on the other side, and thus proving once
more that the blood of the Ironsides still ran in his veins.

Said a farmer to me one day:

"Who's that gentleman as has just gone up the lane on the chestnut
mare?"

"That," said I, "is Professor Scattergood--one of our greatest men."

"H'm," said the farmer; "I reckon he's a clergyman--to judge by his
clothes."

"He is."

"Well, he's a queer 'un for a clergyman, danged if he isn't. He's allus
talking aloud to himself. And what do you think I hear him say when he
come through last Thursday? 'John Scattergood,' says he, 'you were a
damned fool. Yes, there's no other word for it, John; you were a
_damned_ fool!'"

"That," I said, "is language which no clergyman ought to use, not even
when he is talking to himself. But perhaps the words were not his own.
They may have been used about him by some other person--possibly by his
wife, who, people say, is a bit of a Tartar. In that case he would be
just repeating them to himself, by way of refreshing his memory."

The farmer laughed at this explanation. "I see you're a gentleman with
a kind 'eart," said he. "But a man with a swearin' wife don't ride about
the country lanes refreshin' his memory in that way. He knows his missus
will do all the refreshin' he wants when he gets 'ome. No, you'll never
persuade _me_ as them words weren't the gentleman's own. From the way he
said 'em you could see as they tasted good. Why, he said 'em just like
this----"

And the farmer repeated the objectionable language, with a voice and
manner that entirely disposed of my charitable theory. He then added:
"Clergyman or no clergyman, I'll say one thing for him--he rides a good
'oss. I'll bet you five to one as that chestnut mare cost him a hundred
and twenty guineas, if she cost him a penny."

From the tone in which the farmer said this I gathered that a gentleman
whose 'oss cost him a hundred and twenty guineas was entitled to use any
language he liked; and that my explanation, therefore, even if true, was
superfluous.

What did the Professor mean by apostrophising himself in the strong
language overheard by the farmer? The exegesis of the passage, it must
be confessed, is obscure, and, not unnaturally, there is a division of
opinion among the higher critics. Some, of whom I am one, argue that the
words refer to a long-past error of judgment in the Professor's life;
more precisely, to the loss of Ethelberta. Others maintain that this
theory is far-fetched and fanciful. The Professor, they say, was plainly
cursing himself for the purchase of Meg. For, is there not reason to
believe that at the very moment when the obnoxious words were uttered he
was again in trouble with the mare, and therefore in a state of mind
likely to issue in the employment of this very expression?

Now, although I have always held the first of these two theories, I must
hasten to concede the last point in the argument of the other side. It
is a fact that at the very moment when the Professor cursed himself for
a fool he was again in trouble with Meg. On previous occasions her
faults had been those of excess; but to-day she was erring by defect:
instead of going too fast she was going too slow, and occasionally
refusing to go at all. She would neither canter nor trot; it was with
difficulty that she could be induced to walk, and then only at a
snail's-pace; apparently she wanted to fly. In consequence of which the
Professor's daily ride promised to occupy at least three hours, thereby
causing him to be twenty-five minutes late for his afternoon lecture.

Meg's behaviour that day had been irritating to the last degree. She
began by insisting on the wrong side of the road, and before Professor
Scattergood could emerge from the traffic of the town he had been
threatened with legal proceedings by two policemen and cursed by several
drivers of wheeled vehicles. Arrived in the open country, Meg spent her
time in examining the fields on either side of the road, in the hope
apparently of again discovering the Hunt; she would dart down every lane
and through every open gate, and now and then would stop dead and gaze
at the scenery in the most provoking manner. Coming to a blacksmith's
shop with which she was acquainted, a desire for new shoes possessed her
feminine soul, and, suddenly whisking round through the door of the
shoeing shed, she knocked off the Professor's hat and almost decapitated
him against the lintel. The Professor had not recovered from the shock
of this incident when a black Berkshire pig that was being driven to
market came in sight round a turn of the road. Meg, as became a highbred
horse, positively refused to pass the unclean thing, or even to come
within twenty yards of it. She snorted and pranced, reared and curveted,
and was about to make a bolt for home when the pig-driver, who had
considerately driven his charge into a field where it was out of sight,
seized Meg's bridle and led her beyond the dangerous pass.

"Meg, Meg," said the professor, as soon as they were alone and order had
been restored--"Meg, Meg, this will never do. You and I will have to
part company. I don't mind your _looking_ like Ethelberta, but I can't
allow you to _act_ as she did. To be sure, Ethelberta broke my heart
thirty-five years ago. But that is no reason why I should suffer _you_
to break my neck to-day. We'll go home, Meg, and I'll take an early
opportunity of breaking off the engagement, just as I broke it off with
Ethelberta--though, between you and me, Meg, I was a damned fool for
doing it."

Professor Scattergood spoke these words in a low, soft, musical voice;
the voice he always used when talking to horses or to himself about
Ethelberta. Even the obnoxious adjective was pronounced by the Professor
with that tenderness of intonation which only a horse or a woman can
fully understand. And here I must explain that this particular tone came
to him naturally in these two connections only. In all others his voice
was high-pitched, hard, and a trifle forced. Years of lecturing on
Systematic Theology had considerably damaged his vocal apparatus. He had
developed a throat-clutch; he had a distressing habit of ending all his
sentences on the rising inflection; and whenever he was the least
excited in argument he had a tendency to scream. It was in this voice
that he addressed his class. But whenever he happened to be talking to
horses, or to himself about Ethelberta--and you might catch him doing so
almost any time when he was alone,--you would hear something akin to
music, and would reflect what a pity it was that Professor Scattergood
had never learned to sing.

It was, I say, in this low, soft, musical voice that he addressed his
mare, perhaps with some exceptional sadness, on the day when, sorely
tried by her bad behaviour, he had come to the conclusion that the
engagement must be broken off. And now I must once more risk my
reputation for veracity; and if the pinch comes and I have to defend
myself from the charge of lying, I shall appeal for confirmation to my
old friend the ostler, who knows a great deal about 'osses, and believes
my story through and through. What happened was this.

The moment Professor Scattergood began to address his mare in the tones
aforesaid, she stood stock-still, with ears reversed in the direction
from which the sounds were coming. When he had finished, a gentle quiver
passed through her body. Then, suddenly lowering her head, she turned it
round with a quick movement towards the off stirrup, and slightly bit
the toe of Professor Scattergood's boot. This done, she recovered her
former attitude of attention, and again reversed her ears as though
awaiting a response. Taking in the meaning of her act with a swift
instinct which he never allowed to mar his treatment of Systematic
Theology, the professor said one word--"Ethelberta"; and the word had
hardly passed his lips when something began to tingle at the back of his
head. Instantly the mare broke into the gentlest and evenest canter that
ever delighted a horseman of sixty years; carried him through the
remainder of his ride without a single hitch, shy, or other
misdemeanour, and brought him to his own doorstep in exactly two hours
and five minutes from the time he had left it. Thenceforward, until the
last day of his life, he never had the slightest trouble with his mare.
That is the story which the ostler believes through and through.

Next day the Professor said to this man:

"Tom, I'm going to change the name of my mare."

"You can't do that, sir. You'll never get her to answer to a new name."

"I mean to try, anyhow. Here"--and he slipped half a sovereign into the
man's hand. "You make this mare answer to the name of _Ethelberta_, and
I'll give you as much more when it's done."

"Beg your pardon, sir," said the man, slipping the coin into his
pocket--"Beg your pardon, sir, but there never was a 'oss with a name
like that. It's not a 'oss's name at all, sir."

"Never mind that. Do as I tell you, and you won't regret it.
Ethelberta--don't forget."

The groom touched his hat. Professor Scattergood left the stables, and
presently the groom and his chief pal were rolling in laughter on a heap
of straw.

A fortnight later the groom said:

"The mare answers wonderful well to that new name, sir. Stopped her
kicking and biting altogether, sir. Why, the day before we give it her,
she tore the shirt off my back and bit a hole in my breeches as big as a
mangel-wurzel."

"I'll pay for both of them," said Professor Scattergood.

"Thank 'ee, sir. But since we give her the new name she's not even made
as though she _wanted_ to bite anybody. And as for kicking, why, you
might take tea with your mother-in-law right under her heels and she
wouldn't knock a saucer over. I nivver see such a thing in all my life,
and don't expect nivver to see such another! _Wonderful's_ what I calls
it! Though, since I've come to think of it, there _was_ once a 'oss
named Ethelberta as won the Buddle Stakes. Our foreman says as he
remembers the year it won. Maybe as you had a bit yourself, sir, on that
'oss--though beg your pardon for saying so."

"Yes," said the Professor, "I backed Ethelberta for all I was worth,
and won ten times as much. Only, some fellow stole the winnings out of
my--my inner pocket just before I got home. It was thirty-five years
ago."

"So it was a bit o' bad luck after all, sir?"

"It was," said Scattergood, "extremely bad luck."

"Did they ever catch the man, sir?"

"They did. They caught him within a year after the theft."

"I expect they give it 'im 'ot, sir?"

"Yes. He got a life-sentence, the same as mi--the same as that man got
who was convicted the other day."

At this lame conclusion the groom looked puzzled, and Scattergood had to
extricate himself. "You see, Tom," he went on, "the value of what I lost
was enormous."

"It must have been a tidy haul to get the thief a sentence like that,"
said Tom. "But maybe he give you a tap on the head into the bargain,
sir."

"He put a knife into me," said Scattergood, "and the wound aches to this
day."

For some reason he felt an unwonted pleasure in pursuing this
conversation with the sympathetic groom, and inwardly resolved that he
would give him a handsome tip.

"Put a _knife_ into you, did he?" cried Tom. "Why, that's just like what
happened to _me_ when I was coachman to his Lordship. We was livin' in
Ireland, and it was the days of the Land League. Me and his Lordship had
been to Ballymunny Races, and his Lordship had got his pockets stuffed
full o' money as he'd won, and I don't say I hadn't won a bit myself,
seein' as I allus backed the same 'osses as he did. Well, we had about
fifteen miles to drive in the dark, and before we starts his Lordship
says to me, 'Tom, my lad,' he says, 'go round the town and buy me the
most grievous big stick you can find in the place.' 'What's that for, my
Lord?' I says, for me and his Lordship was a'most like brothers. 'Tom,'
he says, 'I've been losin' my 'orse-sense all day, and whenever that
happens I knows there's trouble a-brewin'.' So I goes and buys him a
stick, and a beauty it were, too, made o' bog oak, and that 'eavy that
I couldn't 'elp feelin' sorry for the wife o' the man as was goin' to
get it on the top of 'is 'ead. 'All right, Tom,' says his Lordship as he
jumps on the car; 'and give the reins a turn round the palm o' your
'and.' So off we starts, and we 'adn't gone more than four miles when
three men springs out on us just like shadows. 'Look out, my Lord,' I
shouts; 'there's three on 'em!' His Lordship, as was sitting just behind
me, he hits out splendid, and I could 'ear his big stick going crack,
crack on their 'eads. 'Well done, my Lord!' I shouts. '_Hit_ 'em, my
Lord!' I says; 'give it 'em 'ome-brewed!' 'It's hittin' 'em that I'm
after,' says he. 'I've made one on 'em comfortable. Tom, you're a great
boy for choosin' a stick; but what's become o' that big fellow?' 'He's
on the near side, creepin' under the car,' I says; 'look out for that
one, my Lord; he's got a knife!' And I was just givin' the reins another
turn round the palm o' my 'and when I feels summat sharp under my right
shoulder-blade, and I begins catchin' my breath. The last as I remember
was seein' his Lordship bendin' over me, like as if he'd been my own
mother. 'Tom, my own darlin',' he says, 'if the black villains have
killed you, it's a sorrowin' man I'll be for the rest of my days. But
I've given that big one a sleepin'-draught as he won't wake up till the
Angel Gabriel knocks at his bedroom door.'--I'd got it proper, I can
tell you! Touched the lung, too, that it did; and whenever I catches a
bit o' cold and begins coughin', it's that painful that I can't----'"

"Ay, ay," said Scattergood. "Well, here's something that's good for an
old wound--though," he muttered to himself, as he rode away, "it never
made much difference to mine." He had given the man a sovereign.

As the Professor walked his horse down the yard, Tom said to his pal,
"'E must ha' bin a warm 'un in his young days. Good-'earted, too. But
why the old bloke should call his 'oss Ethelberta, seeing he lost his
money after all, licks me 'oller."

"Just look at the pair on 'em!" said the pal. "Why, to see that mare
walkin' down the yard, you might think as she was a little gel goin' to
Sunday-school. But you'll never persuade _me_ as she isn't foxin'.
She'll do a down on him yet, you mark my word! She's as tricky as a
woman. I can see it in her eye."

"Ha!" said Tom, "that reminds me of something his Lordship once said to
me. It 'appened at the Dublin 'Orse Show, as his Lordship was one o' the
judges, with me by to 'elp 'im. There was a roan mare just brought into
the ring, and his Lordship says to me, lookin' 'ard at the mare all the
time, 'Tom, my boy,' he says, 'did you ever 'ave a sweetheart?' 'Yes, my
Lord,' I says, 'several.' 'Are they livin' or dead?' says he. 'I never
killed none on 'em, my Lord,' I says; 'that's all _I_ knows about it.'
'Treat 'em 'andsome, my boy, treat 'em 'andsome,' says he in the
solemnest voice you ever 'eard; 'it's desperate bad luck on a man as has
to do wi' 'osses when a' angry sweetheart dies on him. And look 'ere,
Tom,' he says in a whisper, 'from the way the back o' my 'ead's
a-tinglin', _it's a' angry sweetheart as we're judgin' now_.--Pass her
down,' he says to the groom as were leadin' the mare, 'pass her down.
Divil a prize shall that one have! She's a dangerous bad 'oss."


III

Among Professor Scattergood's numerous admirers there have always been
some to whom his arguments for the Friendliness of the Universe proved
unconvincing. They would begin by pulling his logic to pieces, and
conclude by saying, with the air of people who keep their strongest
argument to the last: "It looks, at all events, as though the friendly
Universe had done our good Professor a most unfriendly turn by depriving
him of Ethelberta and substituting the present Mrs Scattergood in her
place." And there was no denying the force of the argument.

For half a long lifetime John Scattergood had lived his earnest days
with little aid from those sources of spiritual vitality upon which
most of us depend. Love in all its finer essences had been denied
him--denied him, as he knew better than anybody, by that very Universe
whose friendliness he had set himself to prove. Among the many lonely
souls who live in crowded places it would be hard to find one lonelier
than he. Even the demonstrated friendliness of the Universe did not seem
to thaw his heart, or to break down the barriers of his reserve. The
surest means of discovering his inner mind was to put your ear to the
keyhole on one of the many occasions when he was talking to himself.
"_Wie brennt mein alte Wunde!_" is what you would often hear him say.

Mrs Scattergood was said to have once been a very beautiful woman; and I
can well believe it was even so. She was the daughter of a baronet, and
had been brought up to think that the mission of women in this world is
to have a good time. But her husband had thwarted this mission; at all
events, he had not provided its fulfilment. And the lady made it a
point of daily practice to remind him of the failure, driving the
reminder home with the help of expletives learnt in her father's stables
long ago. John Scattergood would retire from these interviews talking to
himself. "If I could keep her from the morphia," he would say, "I think
I could bear the rest." He would then shut himself up in his study,
would take out the miniature of Ethelberta from his secret drawer--a
foolish thing to do, but a thing which somehow he couldn't help; would
shake his head and say for the thousandth time, "Wie brennt mein alte
Wunde!" After which, having brushed aside a tear, he would take up his
pen and continue his proof of the Friendliness of the Universe according
to the Inflexible Method.

If Scattergood could have seen himself, as I see him in memory, seated
in his quiet study, with the household skeleton, the philosophical
thesis, and the gold-rimmed miniature of Ethelberta, in their respective
positions, forming as it were the three points of a mystic triangle, I
think he might have discerned in the Universe something of deeper
import than ever appeared within the four corners of his philosophy. But
alas! All Q.E.D.'s are fatal to emotion, and it was Q.E.D. that
Scattergood had placed at the end of his great thesis. In some respects
he resembled that other great philosopher who became so absorbed in his
proof of the existence of God that he forgot to say his prayers. The
fact of the matter is, that after proving the ultimate nature of the
Universe to be friendly his heart was no warmer than before. Indeed, his
interest in that august Object had stiffened into the chill rigidity of
a professional pose. His thesis, by becoming demonstrably true, had
ceased to be morally exciting. He actually looked forward to his
afternoon ride as a means of getting the taste of the Universe out of
his mouth.

By long and devious ways, John Scattergood had thus arrived at the point
from which he had set out; he had arrived, I mean, at that extremely
common state of mind when one actual smile seen on the face of the
world, or a moment of contact with any one of the innumerable friendly
presences which the world harbours, was worth more to him, both as
philosopher and man, than were all the achievements of the Inflexible
Method, past, present, and to come. And I have now to record that such a
smile was vouchsafed to him, and such a living contact provided, by the
mediation of a four-footed beast.

Let no one suppose, however, that our Professor was led astray by
fatuous fancies concerning his mare. He did not jump to the conclusion
that she was a reincarnation of the long-lost Ethelberta. The Inflexible
Method, thank God, saved him from that. But if you ask me how it all
came about, I am bound to confess I don't know. All we can be sure of is
that his mare did for Professor Scattergood something which a lifetime
of reflection had been unable to accomplish. No doubt the lifetime of
reflection had dried the fuel. But it was the influence of Ethelberta
that brought the flame.

"It's quite true," he said one day, "that I prepare my lectures on
horseback; and people tell me that I have fallen into a habit of
preparing them aloud. But the fact is, I am going to deliver a new
course; and I find that horse-exercise quickens the action of the
brain--a necessary thing at my time of life, when one's powers of
expression are on the wane, and new ideas increasingly difficult to put
into form."

"You ride a beautiful animal," said his interlocutor.

"Yes, and as good as she's beautiful." And then in his softest voice he
repeated the line:

    "Tra bell'e buona, non so qual fosse più."

This favourable view of Ethelberta's qualities was by no means
convincing to Professor Scattergood's friends. We knew she was "bella";
but we doubted the "buona." The spectacle of an elderly Doctor of
Divinity setting out for his daily ride on a magnificent racehorse in
the pink of condition was indeed a vision to fill the bold with
astonishment and the timid with alarm. "The man is mad," said some;
"will no one warn him of his danger?" Various attempts were made, but
they came to nothing. Knowing myself to be the least cogent of
advisers, I kept silence to the last; but when all the others had failed
I resolved to try my hand.

"Scattergood," I said, "that thoroughbred of yours is not a suitable
mount for a man of your years. She ought to be ridden by a jockey. I
wish to Heaven you would sell her."

"Nothing in this world would induce me to part with Ethelberta," he
answered.

"I'm sorry to hear it. There's no man living in England at this moment
whose life is more precious than yours. We can't afford to lose you.
Then think of your----" I was going to say "your wife," but I checked
myself in time: "Think of your work. It's a very serious matter. Sure as
fate that brute"--("She's not a _brute_," he interrupted)--"sure as fate
that beauty will run away with you one of these days and break your
neck."

"How do you know that?" he asked quietly.

"Because she's run away with you twice already, and you escaped only by
a miracle. She'll do it again, and next time you may not be quite so
fortunate."

"She'll never do it again," he said in the same quiet voice.

"How do you know that?" I said, thinking that I had turned the tables on
him.

"Never mind how. I know it well enough."

"By the Inflexible Method?"

"Of course not," he said with some annoyance. "There are different kinds
of certainty, and this is one of the most certain of all."

"More certain than the Inflexible----?"

"Oh, damn the Inflexible Method!" he cried. "I'm sick to death of it.
You'll do me a kindness by not mentioning it again."

"All right; I'm as sick of it as you are. After all, it's not your
philosophy I'm thinking of; what I am concerned about is your life. Now,
Scattergood," I added--for I was an old friend,--"frankly, between you
and me, don't you think you're a fool?"

"My dear fellow, I am and always have been a ----" and here he used that
objectionable word--"always have been a certain sort of fool. But not
about Ethelberta. We understand each other perfectly. She looks after
me and takes care of me like a--like a mother. My life is absolutely
safe in her hands--I mean, of course, on her back."

"Confound those mixed metaphors!" I cried. "That's the seventh I've
heard to-day, and they're horribly confusing, even when they are
corrected as you corrected yours. Now, what on earth do you mean?"

He looked at me curiously. "I mean," he said, "that Ethelberta may be
trusted to the uttermost."

"Scattergood," I said, "there's a sort of friendship in the Universe
which does not scruple on occasion to break every bone in a man's body,
and I greatly fear that Ethelberta may be one of its ministers. Now,
here's a plain question. Would you be prepared to stand before your
class to-morrow morning and bid them trust the Universe for no better
reasons than those on which you trust your life to the tender mercies of
that bru----of Ethelberta?"

"I only wish I could find them reasons half as good."

"Half as good as what?"

"As those for which I trust my life to Ethelberta."

"What are they?"

"I can't tell you. If I did tell, the reasons would lose their force.
But until they are uttered they are quite conclusive."

"What!" I cried; "are the reasons _taboo_? Have you found a magic
formula?"

"Don't jest," he said. "The matter's far too serious. There is more at
stake than the mere safety of my life."

"Then you admit your life _is_ at stake," said I; and I thought I had
scored a point.

"No, I don't. But other things are--things of far greater importance. My
life, however, runs no risk from Ethelberta."

"Then tell me this. Who runs the bigger risk--you who trust your life to
a beast for no reasons you can assign; or we, your disciples, who trust
ourselves to the Universe in the name of your philosophy?"

"By far the bigger risk," he answered, "is yours."

"Then you mean to say that you have better reasons for trusting your
beast than we have for trusting your system?"

"I do."

"You are quite serious?"

"I am."

"But follow this out," I said. "If we, your disciples, run the bigger
risk in trusting ourselves to your system, you, its author, run the same
risk yourself."

"You're strangely mistaken," he answered.

"Surely," said I, "we are all in the same boat. What reasons can you
have, other than those you have given us, for trusting your conclusion
as to the friendliness of the Universe?"

"You forget," he said. "In addition to the reasons I have given you, I
have all those which induce me to trust my life to Ethelberta."

"But how do they affect your philosophy?"

"They affect it vitally."

"In the way of confirmation or otherwise?"

"Confirmation."

"You mean that your philosophy is already conclusively proved, and yet
made more conclusive by Ethelberta?"

"Put it that way, if you like."

"Is there no hope," I asked, "that you will be able one day to
communicate the reasons to _us_?"

"None," he answered. "But what I can do, and will do, if I live long
enough, is to show that all of you are acting much as I am acting in
regard to Ethelberta."

"But we are not all risking our lives on thoroughbred horses."

"You are running far bigger risks than that," he said; "and you are
fools not to see it. Did I not tell you that I am revising my lectures?"

"Scattergood," I said, "it's plain to me that you will have to do one of
two things. Either you must radically change your system--or you must
sell Ethelberta. Personally, I hope you'll do the last."

"In any case," he replied, "I shall not sell Ethelberta."

"Then," said I, "may the friendly Universe preserve you from being
killed." And with that I took my departure.


IV

That very afternoon, Professor Scattergood, arrayed in a pair of goodly
riding-boots, went round to the stables to mount his mare. The groom met
him as usual.

"She's been wonderful restless all night, sir," said he. "She's broke
her halter and a'most kicked the door out. And she's bitin' as though
she'd just been married to the devil's son."

"She wants exercise," said Scattergood. "Put the saddle on at once."

"Not me, sir!" answered the groom. "It's as much as a man's life's worth
to go near her."

"Bring me the saddle, then, and I'll do it myself," said Scattergood. He
opened the door of the stable, and the moment the light was let in
Ethelberta announced her intentions by a smashing kick on the wooden
partition.

"Have a care, sir," cried the terrified groom, as Scattergood, with the
saddle on his arm, passed through the door. "She'll give you no time to
say yer prayers. Look out, sir! She'll whip round on you like a bit o'
sin and put her heel through you before you know where you are. Good
Lord!" he added, addressing another man, "it's a _hexecution_! The
gen'l'man'll be in heaven in less than half a minute."

"Ethelberta, Ethelberta, what's the meaning of all this?" said
Scattergood in a quiet voice, as he faced the animal's blazing eyes.
"Come, come, sweetheart, let us behave for once like rational beings."
And he put his arm round Ethelberta's neck and rubbed his cheek against
her nose.

In five minutes the saddle was on, and Scattergood, seated on as quiet a
beast as ever submitted to bridle, was riding down the stable-yard.

"That ole Johnnie knows a trick or two about 'osses," said the groom as
soon as the Professor was out of hearing. "I'd give a month's wages to
know how he quieted that mare. Did ye 'ear 'im talkin' to 'er, Bill?
Well, could you 'ear what 'e said? No? Well, you listen the next time
you 'ear 'im talkin' to her and see if you can get the very words 'e
says. It's the _words_ as does it; and if we can find out what they are,
it'll be worth 'undreds o' pounds to you and me. I tell yer, it's the
_words_ as does it! I reckon as it's summat out o' the Bible. Why, when
I was groom to Lord Charles I knowed a man as give Scripture to 'osses
regular. A Psalm-smitin' ole teapot he were; and whenever we'd got a
kicker, he used to put his 'ead in at the stable-door and say a hymn.
Then he'd go in and get 'old o' the oss's ear between his teeth and say
texts o' Scripture right into it's ear-'ole. I've knowed a gen'l'man
give him five pounds for scripturin' a 'oss. Only, don't you let on to
the other blokes what I've told you now. Keep it quiet, Bill, and you be
here wi' me when Dr Scattergood comes back at four o'clock."

"All right," said Bill; "we'll get the _words_--but they won't be no
use to _us_ when we've got 'em. I've 'eard all about scripturin' 'osses,
but you won't ketch me tryin' it on--I can tell yer _that_! You know
that saller-faced man as works for Bullivant--'im as limps on his left
leg?"

"Do you mean 'im wi' the watery eyes?" asked the other.

"That's 'im. Well, he was takin' some polo-ponies to London, and one on
'em was a bit o' reg'lar hot ginger, and begins buckin' one day in the
middle o' the road. There was a chap workin' in a field as sees what was
goin' on, and 'e comes up and offers to scripture the pony for a pint o'
ale. So he takes the pony's ear in his teeth and scriptures 'im same as
that man did as was workin' wi' you at Lord Charles's. '_Genesis and
Revelations_,' he says, whispering into the pony's ear; and the pony
became as quiet as a lamb. The saller-faced chap 'eard 'im, and says 'e
to 'imself, 'I'll remember them words.' So the next time as they had a
kicker at Bullivant's, the saller-faced chap thinks 'e'll try 'is 'and
at scripturin' 'im. So out he goes for a drop o' whisky, to put a bit
o' 'eart into 'im, for between you and me 'e didn't 'alf like his job.
Then he goes into the stables and makes a grab at the 'oss's ear. But
the 'oss catches 'old of his breeches with his teeth and pitches 'im to
the back o' the stable in no time. The saller-faced chap, seeing 'imself
under the 'oss's 'eels, roars out '_Genesis and Revelations_' just as
though 'is 'ouse was on fire. And no sooner had 'e spoken them words
than the 'oss let 'im 'ave it red-'ot. Broke 'is thigh in two places,
that it did, and kep 'im in 'orspital three months. And that's 'ow 'e
got 'is limp."

"Looks as though it were no use gettin' the right words unless you're
the _right sort o' man_," said the other groom.

"That's what does it," answered Bill. "My old dad, as was in the
Balaklava Charge, used to say as no man could scripture a 'oss unless
he'd been _converted_."

"I reckon that's what 'appened to old Shiny-boots and his Ethelberta.
Haven't I always said that he must 'a been a warm 'un in his young
days? What about 'im puttin' his money on that 'oss as won the Buddle
Stakes? And what about 'im bein' robbed of his winnings just as 'e was
gettin' 'ome? He 'adn't got 'is white tie on then, Bill, eh? What state
must a man be in when 'e comes 'ome after a race and lets another feller
pinch his money out of his inside pocket?"

"Drunk as a lord, no doubt," said Bill; "though to see the old joker now
you wouldn't think it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Professor Scattergood, after trotting three or four miles down
the London Road, had turned into the by-lane that led to the villages of
Medbury and Charlton Towers. Up to this point the behaviour of
Ethelberta had been beyond reproach. But as they turned down the lane a
tramp with a wooden leg, who was nursing a fire of sticks in the hedge,
some fifty yards ahead, got up and stepped out into the road. For a few
moments Ethelberta did not see him, and maintained her swinging trot.
Professor Scattergood tightened his grip. The mare went on until the
tramp was not more than five paces distant, and then, suddenly noticing
his deformity, she planted her fore-feet and stopped dead. Scattergood,
nearly unhorsed by the sudden stoppage, was thrown off his guard, and in
momentary confusion of mind called out in his rasping voice, "Steady,
Meg, steady!"

"_Meg_": the sound stung Ethelberta like the lash of a whip, and in an
instant she was off.

Professor Scattergood did not lose his presence of mind. For a moment he
tried to check the bolting mare, but feeling her mouth like iron he
loosened his rein and let her race. He knew the road for the next five
miles was fairly straight, except at one point; there was a long steep
hill on this side of Charlton Towers, and he reflected that his mare was
certain to be blown before she reached the top. He could keep his seat,
and, barring a collision with some passing vehicle, the chances were
that he would win through. He shouted, indeed, and tried such resources
of language as his breathlessness allowed; but Ethelberta was far
beyond the reach of endearments, and the race had to be run. So
Scattergood sat tight and awaited the issue.

His mind was perfectly clear. It seemed as if his desperate condition
had given him a large quiet leisure for introspection. As objects on the
road shot by him he noted each one; and, with a curious double
consciousness, began watching the flow of his own thoughts. He even
wondered at the calmness and lucidity of his mind, and asked himself the
reason. "Perhaps it is the imminence of death," he reflected; "but
death, now that it has come so near, has no terrors. That is John
Hawksbury's cottage. I wonder if his son has returned from India. I must
be careful on the bridge. God grant that we don't meet a cart!"

They were nearing a village, and Scattergood heard the pealing of bells
mingled with the roar of the wind in his ear. As they shot past the
church he saw a wedding-party standing aghast in the churchyard. He saw
the bride, leaning on the bridegroom's arm. The party had just emerged
from the porch, and the look of terror on the bride's face was clearly
visible to Scattergood. "Poor girl," he reflected; "she'll take this for
a bad omen." He saw men running and heard their shouts. At the end of
the village street a brave lad stood with arms outstretched. "A hero,"
thought Scattergood; "he will surely be rewarded in the resurrection of
the just."

They were out of the village in a flash. A furlong beyond it the road
turned sharply at right angles. "She will jump the hedge at that point,"
thought Scattergood; "I must be ready." Ethelberta swung round the bend
with hardly a check; but the rider, ready for that also, still kept his
seat. A moment later she leapt over some obstacle in the road which
Scattergood, short-sighted as he was, could not see. His glasses were
gone, and the cold wind beating in his eyes had half blinded him. He was
losing the sense of his whereabouts, and there were moments when he saw
himself as a mere inanimate object held in the grip of the brute force
that was pulsing beneath him. "And yet," he reflected, "I am not utterly
abandoned after all. I know what is happening; the leaf on the torrent
knows nothing. A point for a lecture on Necessity and Freedom--all the
difference between the two involved in that single fact! To have one's
wits about him and be unafraid--what a power is that to break the ruling
of Fate! Nothing save a shock can unhorse me. It is a match between Pure
Reason in Scattergood and madness in Ethelberta. Would that it had been
so in the old days! But, please God, I shall beat her this time. Ha!
She's giving in!" They were breasting the two-mile hill on this side
Charlton Towers, and with the rise in the gradient came a slackening of
the pace. Ethelberta, with head down, still held the bit between her
teeth; but the first rush of her speed was exhausted. Scattergood felt
the difference instantly, and marked its gradual increase, promising
himself that he would have her in hand before they reached the level
ground on the top of the hill. Some distance ahead of him he could
dimly see the form of a tall tree. With admirable presence of mind he
roughly measured the distance and said to himself: "On passing that
tree, but not before, I will tighten the rein, and gradually tighten it
until on reaching the summit I shall have completely pulled her up."

They were almost abreast of the tree when a dark-plumaged bird,
frightened from its roost, fluttered out of the upper branches and flew
with a whir of wings right athwart the road. At the sight of the black
object, flung as it were into her eyes, Ethelberta made a rapid swerve,
and, placing her near fore-foot on a rolling stone, plunged forward with
her head between her knees. Down she came, almost turning a somersault
with the violence of her impetus, and Professor Scattergood, hurled far
out of his saddle, fell prone with a terrific shock on the newly
metalled road.

       *       *       *       *       *

When consciousness at length returned it brought no pain of wounds; but
cold pierced him like a knife and a shock of sounds was in his ears. A
flood of memories was sweeping over him. Beginning in the distant past,
and streaming through the years with incredible rapidity, they
terminated abruptly in a vision seen far below him, as though he were a
watcher in the skies. He saw a deeply wounded man lying outstretched, as
it seemed, on the circumpolar ice, and a horse stood by him like a
ministering priest. The horse was warming the man with its breath, and
the steam of its body rose high into the frozen air. The consciousness
of Scattergood, hovering in a present which had well-nigh become a past,
was on the borderland which separates a running experience from a
completed fact--vaguely suffering, yet aloof from the sufferer, whom he
seemed to remember as one who long ago endured the bitterness of death.
The vision was hardly more than a spectacle, the last link in a long
chain of memories, and the past would have claimed it entirely had not
the stunning sounds still fettered some fragment of conscious distress
in the body of the freezing man.

The din increased, and in great bewilderment of mind he began to seek
for its cause. Now it was one thing, now another. "This sound," he
thought, "is the grind and roar of colliding ice-floes and the crackle
of the Northern Lights." The sounds thus identified immediately became
something else. They seemed to scatter and retreat, and then,
concentrating again, returned as the tolling of an enormous bell. Nearer
and nearer it came till the quivering metal lay close against his ear
and the iron tongue of the bell smote him like a bludgeon.

A warmth passed over his face and a troubled thought began to disturb
him. "I am sleeping through the summer; I must rouse myself before
winter comes back." And with a great reluctant effort he opened his
eyes.

A scarlet veil hung before them. He tried to thrust it aside with his
hands, which seemed to fail him and miss the mark. Succeeding at last,
he saw a vast creature standing motionless above him, its hot breath
mingling with his, its great eyes, only a hand-breadth away, looking
with infinite tenderness into his own.

He tried to recollect himself, and something in his hand gave him a
clue. "This thing," he mused, "is surely my handkerchief. It belongs to
John Scattergood. It is one of a dozen his poor drug-sodden wife gave
him on Christmas Day. And here, close to me, is Ethelberta. How red her
feet are!" And he stared vacantly at a deep gash on Ethelberta's chest,
and watched the great gouts that were dripping from her knees and
forming crimson pools around her hoofs.

The crimson pools were full of mystery; they fascinated and troubled
him; they were problems in philosophy he couldn't solve. "Surely," he
thought, "I _have_ solved them, but forgotten the solution. I have lost
the notes of my lecture. Dyed garments from Bozrah--red, red! The colour
of my doctor's gown--I have trodden the wine-press alone. The colour of
poppies--drowsy syrups--deadly drugs! The ground-tint of the Universe--a
difficult problem! Strange that a friendly Universe should be so red.
Gentlemen, I am not well to-day--don't laugh at a sick man. The red is
quite simple. It only means that someone is hurt. Not I, certainly. Who
can it be? Ah, now I see. Poor old girl!" And he feebly reached out his
handkerchief, already soaked with his own blood, as though he would
staunch the streaming wounds of Ethelberta.

As he did this, the great bell broke out afresh. It fell away into the
distance. A second joined it; a third, a fourth, a fifth, until a whole
peal was ringing and the air seemed full of music and of summer warmth.

Then Scattergood began to dream his last dream, ineffably content.

He stood by the open door of a church: inside he could see the ringers
pulling at the ropes. And Ethelberta, young and happy as himself, was
leaning on his arm.

"Sweetheart," she whispered, "let us behave ourselves like rational
beings."

He laughed and would have spoken. But a din of clattering hoofs, which
drowned the pealing of the bells, struck him dumb. The swift image of a
grey-headed man, riding a maddened horse, shot out of the darkness,
passed by, and vanished; and the wedding-party stood aghast.

"Who is yonder rider?" he said, with a great effort, bending over
Ethelberta.

"A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," said a soft voice in his
ear.

A thousand echoes caught up the words and flung them far abroad. Then
thunders awoke behind, and rolled after the echoes like pursuing
cavalry. "_A man of sorrows_," cried the echoes. "_He has come through
great tribulations_," the thunders shouted in reply.

On went the chase, the flying echoes in retreat, the deep-voiced thunder
in pursuit. Then Scattergood saw himself swept into the torrent of
riders, and it seemed as if the solid frame of things were dissolved
into a flight of whispers and a pursuit of shouts. A fugitive secret,
that fled with unapproachable speed, was the quarry, and the hunters
were billows of sound, and the rhythm of beating hoofs gave the time to
their undulations. A tide of joy awoke within the dreamer; he was
horsed on the thunder; he was leading the field; he was close on the
heels of the game; he was captain of the host to an innumerable company
of loud-voiced and meaningless things. Then would come expansions,
accelerations, and sudden checks. Fissures yawned in front; mountains
barred the way; the time was broken, and voices from the rear were
calling a halt. But the thunders have the bit between their teeth; they
are clearing the chasms; they are leaping over the mountain tops; and
clouds of witnesses are shouting "Well done!" The wide heavens fill with
the tumult; myriads of eager stars are watching, and great waters are
clapping their hands.

"Who is this that leads the chase?" a voice was asking. "Who is this
that feels the thunder leap beneath him like a living thing?" "It is
I--John Scattergood--it is I!" And ever before him fled the secret; it
mocked the chasing squadrons, and the wild winds aided its flight.

And now the pursuer perceived himself pursued. A swarm of troubled
thoughts, on winged horses, was overtaking him. They swept by on either
side; they forged ahead; they pressed close and jostled him on his
rocking seat. There was a shock; the thunder collapsed beneath him, and
he fell and fell into bottomless gloom.

Suddenly his fall was stayed. A hand caught him; a presence encircled
him, something touched him on the lips, and a voice said, "At last! At
last!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Professor Scattergood was sitting on the stones, his body bowed forward,
his hands feebly clasped round the head of his motionless horse; the
breath of life was leaving him, and his heart was almost still. Then the
dying flame flickered once more. He opened his eyes, gazing into the
darkness like one who sees a long-awaited star. His fingers tightened;
he seemed to draw the head of Ethelberta a little nearer his own; and it
was as if they two were holding some colloquy of love.

In the twinkling of an eye it was done, and the pallor of death crept
over the wounded face. The clasped hands, with the blood-stained
handkerchief still between them, slowly relaxed; the glance withered;
the arms fell; the head drooped. It rested for a moment on the soft
muzzle of the beast; and then, with a quiet breath, the whole body
rolled backwards and lay face upward to the stars.

       *       *       *       *       *

Clouds swept over the sky, the winds were hushed, and the dense darkness
of a winter's night fell like a pall over the dead. Not a soul came nigh
the spot, and for hours the silence was unbroken by the footfall of any
living creature or by the stirring of a withered leaf. And far away in
the dead's man's home lay an oblivious woman, drenched in the sleep of
opium.

It was near midnight when a carrier's cart, drawn by an old horse and
lit by a feeble lantern, began to climb the silent hill. Weary with the
labours of a long day, the carrier sat dozing among the village
merchandise. Suddenly he woke with a start: his cart had stopped.
Leaning forward, he peered ahead; and the gleam of his lantern fell on
the stark figure of a man lying in the middle of the road. A larger
mass, dimly outlined, lay immediately beyond. Raising his light a little
higher, the carrier saw that the further object was the dead body of a
horse.



FARMER JEREMY AND HIS WAYS


Mr Jeremy's system for the regulation of human life was summed up in the
maxim, "Put your back into it"; and a lifetime of practising what he
preached has endowed that part, or aspect, of his person with an
astonishing vitality and developed it to an enormous size. Not without
reason did our yeomanry sergeant exhibit his stock joke by informing
Jeremy on parade that if only his head had been set the other way he
would have had the finest chest in the British army.

But the full significance of Jeremy's back was not to be perceived by
one who looked upon it from the drill-sergeant's point of view. It was
not only the broadest but the most expressive organ of the farmer's
body, and a poet's eye was needed to interpret the meaning it conveyed.
For myself, I should never have suspected that it meant anything more
than great physical strength employed in a strenuous life, had not a
poetical friend of mine taken the matter up and enlightened me. My
friend and I were crossing a field by the footpath, and Jeremy, walking
rapidly in the same direction, was a few yards ahead.

"There goes a man," I whispered, "who is worth your study. You could
write a poem about him. He's one of the few remaining specimens of a
type that is becoming extinct. He represents agriculture as it was
before the advent of science and Radical legislation. He is the most
honest and prosperous farmer in the county: a man, moreover, who has
endured many sorrows and conquered them. Let us overtake him, for I
should like you to see him face to face."

"Not so," said my friend. "The man's history, as you have told it, and
much more beside, is written on his back. Let us remain, therefore, as
we are, and study him where such men can best be studied, from the
rear. His back, I perceive, especially the upper portion of it, is the
principal organ of his intelligence. Observe, he is thinking with his
back even now--he hitched his trousers up a moment ago. His thoughts are
pleasant--you can see it in the rhythmical movement of the muscles under
his coat. He has some great design on hand and is sure he can carry it
through--see how his shoulders, as he swings along, seem to be tumbling
forward over his chest. He has had great sorrows--the droop in the
cervical vertebræ confirms it; he has conquered them--hence that forward
plunge into his task. He understands his business; of course; for the
back is the organ by which all business is understood. He is honest; he
is temperate; he has never broken the seventh commandment. You can read
his innocence in the back of his head--I wish mine were like his." And
my poetical friend turned round and showed me his villainous cerebellum.

Thus enlightened, I began a closer study of the farmer's habits. I saw
a new significance in an odd trick he had of suddenly swinging round on
his heels at the interesting point of a conversation and delivering his
remarks, and sometimes shaking his fist, with his back to the
interlocutor. I say his back, but functionally considered it was not so;
since at those moments the functions of the two sides of his body were
interchanged, the organ of expression being the side now towards you,
with every smile and frown accurately registered in the creases of the
coat as they followed the movements of the muscles beneath. So, too,
when Jeremy laughed. No doubt his face, while laughing, was expressive
enough, but you couldn't see it, because it was turned the other way.
What you did see was the farmer's coat, _a tergo_, twitching up and down
as though pulled by a cord and then suddenly released like a Venetian
blind; and this was quite enough to ensure your hearty participation in
the merriment.

I also managed to take several interesting photographs from the rear;
and (may the saints forgive him!) a young gentleman of my acquaintance
once attempted to snapshot the hinder parts of Jeremy while in church.
Unfortunately the light was bad, and the negative proved a failure.
Otherwise my poetical friend, for whom I intended the photograph, would
certainly have found in it material for a new poem. Be it recorded that
Jeremy when engaged in devotion did not kneel, but stretched his body
forward from the seat to the book-rest, presenting his back to the
heavens and his face to the inner regions of the earth; and, as his body
was very long and the pew very wide, the back formed a solid and
substantial bridge over which you might have trundled a wheelbarrow
laden with turnips. No photograph, indeed, save one of the cinematograph
order, the apparatus for which was too large to lie concealed beneath
the young gentleman's waistcoat, would have reproduced the creepings,
ripplings, and dimplings of the farmer's coat. These gave animation to
the picture; but even without them, the mere contour of the mass, thrust
upwards like the back of a diving whale, was a spectacle of vigour and
concentrated purpose of which my poetical friend would not have lost the
significance.

Jeremy was the oldest of the Duke's tenantry, and the land he farmed,
which was of high quality throughout, had been held by his father, his
grandfather, his great-grandfather, and by ancestors of yet remoter
date. If there is any calling in which heredity is of importance to
success it is surely the farmer's, and Jeremy was fully conscious that
he "had it in the blood," and recognised the debt he owed to his fathers
before him.

People are wont to criticise the old-fashioned farmer as a stiff and
unadaptable person; but what struck me about Jeremy, who was
old-fashioned enough, was the adaptiveness and flexibility of his mind
in dealing with the ever-varying conditions the farmer has to face. He
had an extraordinary instinct for doing the right thing at the right
time, and handled his land as though it were a living thing, with a kind
of unconscious tact which seemed to me the exact opposite to that blind
and mechanical following of habit which so often, but so mistakenly, is
said to be the standing fault of his class. Obstinate and incredulous as
he seemed to the new teachings of veterinary or agricultural science, I
yet noticed that Jeremy managed to absorb enough of these things to
produce the results he desired; and though he never absorbed as much of
them as the experts required, his crops were always larger and his stock
healthier than those of his neighbours whose farming was strictly
according to the modern card.

I have read one or two books on the nature of soils, and it is not
without significance to me that the little, the very little, useful
knowledge I have of these things was derived not from the books but from
Mr Jeremy. There was a bit of ground in my garden where I could make
nothing grow, and I hunted in vain through all the gardening books I
could find for a remedy, and even went the length of consulting some of
the gifted authors, two of whom were ladies. I sent them specimens of
the soil for examination; they teased them with formulæ and tormented
them with acids; they boiled them in retorts and pickled them in glass
tubes; they sent me the names of marauding bacteria whose lodgings they
had discovered in that morsel of earth: and I, following their
instructions, dosed the land with atrocious chemicals, until the
earth-worms sickened and the very snails forsook the tainted spot. Still
nothing would grow.

Then came Mr Jeremy. He picked up a handful of the soil; gazed at it as
a lapidary gazes at diamonds; smelt it; felt it tenderly with his
forefinger; spat upon it; rubbed the mixture on his breeches; inspected
the result, first on his breeches and then on his hand--and now my
barren patch is blossoming like the garden of the Lord. The others had
advised me to try I know not what--nitrates of this and phosphates of
that, sulphates of the other and carbonates of something else. Mr Jeremy
said, "Chuck a cart-load o' fine sand on her and then rip her up."

Mr Jeremy, I have said, was aware that his roots struck deeply into the
past, and this consciousness, I believe, helped to give him that
confidence in himself without which no man can successfully till the
earth or battle with destiny--the two things, I believe, being at bottom
much the same.

His farmhouse, so far as I could judge, was built--and built of almost
imperishable stone--in the later years of the reign of Charles II., and
had never been structurally modified since its erection. Some of the
out-buildings were of yet earlier date. Scattered about in odd corners
were not a few interesting relics of the past. For example, there was a
case of coins, which had been arranged for Jeremy by the late Rector's
wife, representing every reign from Charles I. to George IV., every one
of which coins had been dug up on the farm. In the big courtyard there
was a block of hard stone scored with grooves and notches, where the
troopers in some forgotten battle were said to have sharpened their
swords; on the outside wall was a row of rings and stables where the
same troopers had tethered their horses. In the cellar there was a
collection of large shot, which there was reason to think had been
stored there at the time of the forgotten battle; and with these were a
lot of iron buckles, and broken tobacco-pipes of ancient form, which had
been dug up in a mound on the hillside through which Jeremy was cutting
a drain. A good pint-measure of human teeth, in excellent preservation,
had been discovered in the same place, and these were kept in an old
tobacco-box. Connected with all this, I suppose, were the names of
several of the fields on the farm: one of which was called "The
Slaughters"; another, "Horses' Water"; another, "The Guns." And besides
these, which reminded one of "old, unhappy, far-off things and battles
long ago," there were two other fields, the names of which were also
interesting to me. One, a beautiful meadow with a southern slope, was
"Abbot's Vineyard," and the big pond with the aspens beside it was
"Benedict's Pool." Of these names the explanation was utterly lost; nor
could I invent a theory, for the nearest religious house of
pre-Reformation times was many miles away. The other field was called
"Quebec," and the coppice at its upper end was "Monckton Wood."

These latter names I am able to explain. Several of Jeremy's ancestors
had been to the wars, among them his great-great-grandfather Silas
Jeremy, who had fought under Wolfe at the capture of Quebec, and
probably under Monckton in some earlier campaign. In the house there
were several mementoes of this man: the identical George II. shilling he
had received on enlisting--proving, as Jeremy would often say, that his
great-great-grandfather was a "sober" man; a gold watch with a
beautifully executed design of the death of Wolfe engraved on the case,
said to have been presented to Silas on his return from the wars by the
reigning Duke; and, above all, a flint-lock musket, with bayonet
attached, which Jeremy asserted his ancestor had used in the battle, but
which I judged on examination to have been of French manufacture, and
therefore most probably a relic picked up from the battle-field--perhaps
the identical musket along whose barrel some French grenadier had taken
aim at the noble heart of Wolfe--who knows?

Another memorial of this ancestor--a pretty obvious one--I can myself
claim to have identified. It was an obstinate rule of the farm that the
annual "harvest-home" should be held on September 13; and even if the
harvest was much belated and only a portion then gathered in, still
September 13 was the date, provided only that it did not fall on a
Sunday. September 13, I need hardly say, is the anniversary of the
battle of the Heights of Abraham. The coincidence had been entirely
forgotten by the Jeremys, and was unrecorded in the traditions of our
village; but not many days after I had pointed it out, the gossips
having been at work in the meantime, an old man came in from a
neighbouring parish and told me "as how" his father had talked with a
man who knew another man who had been present at the Jeremys'
harvest-home in 1760, when Silas Jeremy, who had just come back from
foreign parts, and whose tomb was in the churchyard, sang a song about
the taking of Quebec, which the old man's father used to sing--though he
himself couldn't remember it--and declared that for all time to come the
feast should be held on Quebec Day, and on no other.

This little circumstance, I may say in passing, was the beginning of my
friendship with the Jeremy who forms the subject of the present story.
My discovery of the coincidence gave him a most exaggerated opinion of
my abilities and worth. To quote his own words, it proved me to be "a
gentleman as knows what's what"--a characteristic which, so far as I am
aware, has never been revealed to anybody else. And Jeremy's good
opinion of me was yet further enhanced when he learnt that I had twice
visited the Plains of Abraham; that I knew the place by heart; that I
had climbed up the goat-path by which his ancestor had scaled the
heights, and had laid my head on the spot where Wolfe met his most
enviable death. He would have me into his house that very night to tell
him all about it; showed me the George II. shilling and the gold watch;
took down the old musket and let me handle it and put it to my shoulder
and even pull the trigger; spent two hours in rapt attention while I
read out Parkman's account of the battle; and finally summed up the
whole campaign and its significance in one sweeping comment, "By Gum,
sir, them fellers put their backs into it, and that's _just_ what they
did!"

The same held true, I should think, of Jeremy's grandfather, to judge by
another relic carefully treasured in the house. This was an enormous
iron crowbar, the mere lifting of which was a challenge to "put your
back into it." With this weapon the Jeremy of that day had successfully
defended himself against a crowd of rascals who came out to burn his
ricks in '32. Some memories of that fight were still extant in the
village, and a bonny fight it must have been. My informant, an
eyewitness of the scene, was too nearly imbecile to stand
cross-examination; but what he remembered was to the point. Aware of
the impending danger, Jeremy had built his ricks that year within the
defences of his courtyard, the walls of which he had rendered unscalable
by various devices. It only remained, therefore, to defend the gate; and
here were posted Timothy Caine with a maul, Job Henderson with a flail,
an unnamed woman with a cauldron of flour to fling in the face of the
enemy, and the farmer with the crowbar. These won the day; and more I
cannot tell you, because my informant's language, which I could never
induce him to vary, became extremely metaphorical at this point: "Master
Jeremy, he give 'em pen and ink: pen and ink is what he give 'em with
the crowbar, sir, that he did; there was none on 'em wanted hitting
twice, no, not one; and, my eye! to see the flour a-flying! What a steam
it made! I can see it now."

Agricultural experts who visited our parish, though forced to admire the
excellence of Jeremy's farming, were wont to criticise him for being
"too slow." Now there, I think, they were distinctly wrong. I have
nothing to say against Agricultural Science: I wish there was more of
it; but if it has a weakness it lies in a certain tendency to be "quick"
precisely at those points where Jeremy was triumphantly "slow." His
slowness was simply the instinctive timing of his action to the
movements of Nature, who is also "slow" in relation to yet higher
powers. You would often think that he was dawdling; but if you looked
into the matter you were sure to find that just then Nature was dawdling
too, and that Jeremy was beating her at a waiting game. So, too, if you
watched a python creeping from branch to branch or lying coiled in a
glass case you would judge it to be the slowest of beasts; but not if
you saw it springing on its prey. There was much of the wisdom of the
serpent in Mr Jeremy, as there must be in every man who earns his living
by battle with the natural order of the world. "I wakes regularly at
five o'clock," he said. "But I never gets up till a quarter past. What
do I think about in that quarter of an hour? Why, I spends it in
_cutting out_." By "cutting out" he meant the process of mentally
arranging the day's work for himself and for every man on the farm. The
python on the branch, I imagine, is often engaged in "cutting out." "In
farming," he added, for he was giving a lesson, "you ought to cut out
fresh every day, and not every week, as some farmers do--though I've
knowed them as never cut out at all. And cutting out's a thing you can
never learn in books and colleges. It comes by experience--and a light
hand. Sometimes you must cut out _rough_, and sometimes you must cut out
_fine_--mostly according to the weather and the time o' year--and always
_leave a bit somewhere as isn't cut out at all_. And when you've done
the cutting out, take a look out o' the window and tap your glass. Do it
the minute you jumps out o' bed. And if there's been a change in the
wind during the night, cut out _again_ while you're pulling your
breeches on and tear up what you've cut out already. And don't give no
orders to anybody till you've had your breakfast--leastways a cup o'
tea; it clears a man's head and lets you see if you've been making any
mistakes. I've often cut out six or seven times between waking and
giving the day's orders--what with the tricks of the weather and my head
not being as clear as it ought to have been." And I wondered how often
Napoleon had done the same thing.

Indeed, if I may venture on a quite innocent paradox, there is a kind of
slowness which takes the form of rapidity in reducing one's pace. Such
slowness is nothing but inverted speed, and is highly effective in
farming, in war, and in many other things. And of Mr Jeremy we may say
that whereas, on the one hand, he was extremely slow in the acquisition
of new knowledge, on the other he was equally quick to check himself in
the application of such knowledge as he possessed already. This gave
him, in the eyes of superficial observers, the appearance of being
"slow." At the same time it enabled him to make a better thing out of
farming than any of his neighbours, some of whom had been trained in
Agricultural Colleges.

I have to confess that my acquaintance with Mr Jeremy has not been
without a certain demoralising effect. It has corrupted the brightness
of many comfortable truths which excellent preceptors taught me in my
youth. I will not say that my hold on these truths has altogether
vanished; but, thanks to Mr Jeremy's influence, I have learned to see
them in so many new lights, and with so many qualifications, that for
purposes of platform oratory on all questions connected with the land
and its uses I have entirely lost the very little effectiveness I once
had. There was a time when if anyone mentioned the land I always wanted
to make a speech. Now I feel--what no doubt I ought to have felt
then--that I must hold my tongue. To be quite frank, my views on the
land have become confused, hesitating, and politically ineffective. That
a farmer owning his own land was _cæteris paribus_ necessarily better
off than a tenant once seemed to me a truth so plain as not to be worth
discussion. But if I had to speak on that point now, I should hesitate
and hedge about to a degree which would force any intelligent audience
to regard me as a fool. Instead of speaking out loud and strong for
peasant proprietorship, I should be thinking all the time of the three
peasant proprietors in our neighbourhood--George Corey, Charles
Narroway, and Billy Hoare, who are the meanest, the stingiest, the most
underhand and generally despicable rascals I have ever met. Were a
resolution placed before the meeting in favour of bringing the
townspeople back on to the land, I should say in support that while it
is infinitely sad to see the real peasantry drifting into the towns, it
is yet worse to see people like Prendergast, the ex-draper, drifting out
of the towns and setting up as country gentlemen. I should want to tell
the audience all about Prendergast and the hideous human packing-case he
has built on the opposite hillside; how he swindled the village
shopkeeper out of twenty pounds; how he sweats his labourers just as he
sweated the poor girls who used to serve behind his counter; how he told
me to go to the devil when I begged him not to build his abominable
house where it would spoil the view: and then I should want to add a few
details about his personal habits which I am afraid would cause the
ladies to walk out of the room. And I should wind up by saying, amid the
derisive laughter of the audience, that one reason, at all events, why
the real peasants go _into_ the towns is to escape from slavery to these
pinchbeck fellows who come _out_ of the towns. I should want to
quote--but I am afraid my courage would have already broken down--what
Jeremy once said to me:--"The Dook--when did you ever hear of any man
going into the town as worked on _his_ estate? But as for this 'ere
Prendergast, I wonder the very pigs stop in his stye."

Undoubtedly it was due to Jeremy's influence that I came to appreciate
this side of the matter. He also taught me to regard the tenant farmer
as superior to all other varieties of his class. I know it is
wrong-headed, generalising from a particular case and all that--but I
would rather be wrong-headed with Jeremy, who took a back-view of
everything, than right-headed with some forward spirits who treat the
land as a _corpus vile_ for political experiments. And what logical mind
could resist arguments like the following, back-views though they be?

"It takes _two_, sir," said Jeremy, "for to handle the land. A nobleman
to own it, and a farmer to cultivate it. There's nothing that gives you
_confidence_ like having a real gentleman behind you--and the Dook's a
real gentleman if ever there was one. And you want confidence in
farming--and that's what these 'ere Radicals don't see. I don't want
none o' _their_ safeguards! Give me the Dook--he's safeguard enough for
me! And what safeguard have you when fellers like Prendergast begin
buying up the land? Look at _his_ tenants--not a real farmer among 'em,
no, and not one as can make both ends meet. These little landlords are
the men they ought to shoot at, not the big 'uns. Now isn't it a
wonderful thing that my family and the Dook's has kept step with one
another for a matter of two hundred years? Eight Dooks in that time and
eight Jeremys--one Jeremy to each Dook! But who'll ever keep step with
Prendergast? Who'll ever _want_ to? Why, I wouldn't be seen walking down
the street with him, no, not if you was to give me a thousand pounds.
And if he was to offer me his best farm rent-free to-morrow, I'd tell
him to go and boil hisself.

"No, sir," he continued, "it don't pay to own the land you farm; and
don't you believe them as tells you it does. Leastways, it pays a sight
better to farm under a good landlord. Them as can't make farming pay
under a landlord, can't make it pay at all. Now look at me and then look
at Charley Shott. Me and Charley started the same year, him with 400
acres of his own, and me with 380 acres under the Dook, rented all round
at twenty-eight shillings an acre. And where are we both now after
thirty years? Why, if Charley's land, and all he's made on it, and all
he's put into it, were set at auction to-morrow, I could buy him up
twice over! And me paying over five hundred pounds a year rent for
thirty years, and him not paying a penny. How does that come about?
Well, you're not a farmer, and you wouldn't understand if I told you.
But I'll tell you one thing as perhaps you can understand. It hurts the
land to break it up. And it _hurts_ the land still more to _sell_ it.
Now I dare say you never heard of that before."

I confessed that I had not.

"Well, it's a fact. When you break land up it won't _keep_. It goes like
rotten apples: first a bit goes rotten here and then a bit there; and
the rottenness spreads and runs together. And as to _selling_, I tell
you there's something in the land _as knows when you're goin' to sell
it, and loses heart_. I've seen the same thing in 'osses. It takes the
land longer to get used to a new master than it does a 'oss; and there's
some land as never will.

"No, sir, I say again, if you want to make farming _pay_, take a farm on
a big estate, one that's never been broke up and's never likely to be,
one that's been in the same hands for hundreds o' years, one that's
never been shaken up and messed with and slopped all over with lawyer's
ink, and made sour with lawyer's lies. Never mind if the rent's a bit
stiffish. Rent never bothered _me_."

I ventured to dissent from these opinions, for I had given lectures on
Political Economy, and I knew of at least four different theories of
Rent all at variance with Jeremy's--and with one another. Perhaps I
should have succeeded better had I known of only one. But, knowing of
four, I may have become a little confused in my attempts to confute
Farmer Jeremy. Not that this made very much difference. On all questions
relating to the nature of land and its uses Jeremy was a mystic, and
orthodox Political Economy was as futile to his mind as it was to Mr
Ruskin's. Every position I took up was immediately stormed by the
rejoinder, "Ah, well, you're not a farmer, and you don't understand." I
could not help remembering that I had often been overthrown in more
abstruse arguments by the same sort of answer. I might, indeed, have
countered by saying, "Ah, well, Mr Jeremy, you're not an economist, and
_you_ don't understand." But it occurred to me that the reply would be
feeble.

"I tell you," he went on, "that good land _likes_ to be high-rented. It
sort o' keeps it in humour. Land _likes_ to be owned by a gentleman, and
keeps its heart up accordin'. Whenever the rent o' land goes down, the
quality goes down too. I've noticed it again and again."

I tried to indicate that this last statement was an inversion of cause
and effect, but the argument made not the faintest impression on Mr
Jeremy, who merely brushed away a fly that had settled on his nose, and
continued:

"I never spoke to the Dook but once. I met him one morning riding to
hounds with Lady Sybil and Lady Agatha. As soon as he sees me he trots
his horse up to where I was standing and holds out his hand. 'Jeremy,'
says he, 'I want to shake hands with you. You're a splendid specimen of
the British farmer.' 'Thank you, your Grace,' I says; 'and you're a
splendid specimen of the British Dook,' for I was never afraid of
speaking my mind to anyone. At that his Grace bursts out laughin', and
so did Lady Sybil and Lady Agatha too. 'Let me introduce you to my two
daughters,' says he. So he introduces me, and I can tell you I stood up
to 'em like a man, though I did keep my hat in my hand all the time.
'Well, Jeremy,' says he, 'you've got your farm in tip-top condition';
and then he begins talking about putting up some new buildings, as me
and the agent had been talking over before. 'We'll put 'em up next
spring,' says his Grace; 'and remember, Jeremy, that in all that
concerns the development of this farm you have me behind you.' 'I've
never forgotten it, your Grace,' I says, 'and I never shall. And I'm not
the only one who remembers it. _The land_ remembers it too, your Grace,'
I says. 'I hope it does, Jeremy,' says he, 'for I love it.' And I never
see a young lady look prettier than Lady Agatha did when she heard her
father say them words."

I had heard this story so often from Farmer Jeremy, and always with the
same reference to Lady Agatha at the end, that I was familiar with every
word of it. He was growing old, and I believe that in the course of the
year he managed to tell the story a hundred times over. "I was coming
home from market last Saturday," said he, "and a lot of other farmers
was in the same compartment with me. We begins talkin' about the Dook,
and I happened to tell 'em about that time when I met his Grace with
Lady Sybil and Lady Agatha. There was a chap sitting in one corner as
didn't belong to our lot, and as soon as he hears the Dook's name
mentioned he drops his paper and begins listening. Well, I never see
such a rage anywhere as that man got into when I told 'em how I kept my
hat in my hand while talking to the ladies. Regular insultin' is what he
was; and I can tell you I never came nearer giving a man one in the eye
than I did him. I believe I'd ha' done it if there'd been room in the
carriage for him to put up his hands and make a square fight on it. I
don't say as he weren't a plucky chap too; for there wasn't a man in
the carriage as couldn't ha' knocked his head off with the flat of his
hand, if he'd had a mind to. 'Look here, you fellows,' he says, 'you're
a lot of blasted idiots, that's what you are. It's because of the
besotted ignorance of men like you that England has the worst
land-system in the world. Slaverin' and grovellin' before a lot o'
rotten Dooks--why, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves! I'll bet that
Dook o' yours and his two painted gals was mounted on fine horses and
dressed up to the nines.' 'Of course they was,' I says, 'and so they
ought to be.' 'Well,' says he, 'who paid for the horses and the
clothes--and the paint?' 'Here,' I says, jumping up from my seat, 'you
drop the paint, or I'll pitch you out o' that winder.' 'Well, then,'
says he, 'who paid for the horses and the clothes?' 'I neither know nor
care,' says I; 'so long as they was paid for, it's no business of mine
or yourn who paid for 'em.' '_You paid for 'em_, you fool,' says he.
'Oh, indeed,' says I. 'And now, young man, perhaps you'll allow me to
give you a word of advice.' 'Fire away,' says he. 'Well,' I says, 'the
next time your missus has a washin' day, you just wait till she's made
the copper 'ot, and then jump into it and boil yourself!'"

The "chap" in the railway carriage was by no means the only person to
whom Mr Jeremy addressed this drastic advice. It was his usual mode of
clinching an argument when his instincts supported a conclusion to which
his intelligence could not find the way. This method of arriving at
truth was especially useful in regard to politics and theology, in both
of which Mr Jeremy took a lively, or even violent, interest. Needless to
say, his political aversions were of the strongest, and Mr Lloyd George
was the statesman who had to bear the hottest flame of Jeremy's wrath.
More than once I have seen him fling his weekly paper on the floor with
the words, "I wish this 'ere Lloyd George would jump into the copper and
boil hisself"; and on my remarking that I thought this a rather inhuman
suggestion, he would wave his arm round the room, in a manner to
indicate the entire Liberal Party, and say, "I wish the whole lot on
'em would jump into coppers and boil themselves." As to theology, I
seldom dared to address a hint of my heresies to Mr Jeremy. But on my
once saying to another person, in his presence, something to the effect
that I did not believe in eternal damnation, he quickly crossed over to
where I was sitting, and, giving me a rather ugly dig with his powerful
forefinger, said, "Look here! You just jump into the copper and boil
yourself." A wise stupidity was the keynote of Mr Jeremy's life.

Another expression reserved for occasions when great emphasis was
needed, was "a finished specimen." A thing, in Mr Jeremy's eyes,
deserved this title when its general condition was so bad that nothing
worse of its kind could be conceived, and the expression accordingly was
only used after the ordinary resources of descriptive language had given
out. It was applied to persons as well as to things. Mr Lloyd George
was, naturally, "a finished specimen": so was the German Emperor: so was
Dr Crippen: so was a lady of uncertain reputation who "had taken a
cottage" in the neighbourhood. A wet harvest, a badly built hayrick, a
measly pig, a feeble sermon by the curate, were all "finished
specimens." Once when the curate, getting gravelled for lack of matter
at the end of five minutes--for he was preaching _ex tempore_--abruptly
concluded his sermon by promising to complete the subject next week, I
heard Jeremy whisper to his wife, "Well, _he_'s a finished specimen,
that he is." Nothing irritated the good man so much as an unfinished
job, and the fact that a thing was unfinished was precisely what he
meant to express when he called it "a finished specimen." A great deal
of human language, especially philosophical language, seems to be
constructed on the same principle.

Mr Jeremy was a regular church-goer. The Church in his eyes was part of
the established order of Nature, on due observance of which the farmer's
welfare depends, and merely extended into the next world those desirable
results which sound instincts, punctuality, and "putting your back into
it" produced in this. On week-days Mr Jeremy farmed the broad acres of
the "Dook"; on Sundays he farmed Palestine, and occasionally drove a
straight furrow clean across the back of the Universe. To both
operations he applied the same methods, the same instincts, the same
ideas. I confess that I have often smiled with the air of a superior
person when listening to a highly trained Cathedral choir proclaiming to
the strains of great music that "Moab was their washpot"; but when Mr
Jeremy repeated the words in the village church I felt that he spoke the
truth, and I went away with a clearer conception of Moab than I have
ever gained from the works of Kuenen or Cheyne. "Moab," I reflected,
"can be no other than the little field on the hillside, where Jeremy
washes his sheep in the pool behind the willows." Again, I was morally
certain that if Jeremy had lived in the neighbourhood of Edom he would
have "cast out his shoe" upon that country, accurately aiming the
missile at the head of any rascally Edomite who happened to be prowling
about with a rabbit-snare in his pocket. So too when he shouted
"Manasseh is mine"--he always shouted the Psalms--I was sure that
Manasseh really was his, in a tenant-farmer way of speaking, and that
next Thursday he would begin to rip up Manasseh with his great steam
plough, and reap in due course a crop of forty bushels to the acre,
paying the "Dook" a high rent for the privilege. Nor was Jeremy making
any idle boast when he thundered out his further intentions, which were
"to divide Sichem," "to mete out the valley of Succoth," and "to
triumph" over Philistia. All this was Pragmatism of the purest water;
you were sure he would keep his promise to the letter; you were glad for
Sichem and Succoth, which were to be "divided" and "meted out," though
perhaps a little sorry for the Philistines, who were to be "triumphed
over," that a man like Jeremy should have undertaken the business; but
you recognised that no better man for the job could be found anywhere
than he. To be sure, Mr Jeremy, although he would have gladly boiled
the whole Liberal Party in coppers, was much too tender-hearted to wish
that anybody's little ones should be dashed against the stones; but I
believe that in his innermost thought he launched the words against
"them tarnation sparrers" and "that plague o' rats." On the whole, no
one who listened to Mr Jeremy's repetition of these Psalms could doubt
their entire appropriateness as a religious exercise for men such as he,
or refrain from hoping that they would never be expunged from the Book
of Common Prayer until the last British farmer had gone to church for
the last time.

So too with the Creeds. I believed every one of them as recited by Mr
Jeremy, and I found the Athanasian the most convincing of them all. The
Sundays set down for the use of that Creed--and its use was never
omitted in our parish--were the most serious Sundays of the year to Mr
Jeremy, and the vigour of his voice and his attitude, and the fervour of
his participation, made a spectacle to be remembered. I wish William
James might have seen it before he wrote his _Varieties of Religions
Experience_; it would have given him a new chapter. At the very first
words Jeremy joined in like a trained sprinter starting for a race; and
though the clergyman rattled through the clauses as fast as he could
pronounce, or mispronounce, the syllables, the farmer headed him by a
word or two from the very first, gradually increasing his lead as the
race proceeded until towards the end he was a full sentence to the good.
It was evident that to Jeremy's mind, and perhaps to the clergyman's
also, a subtle relation existed between the truth of the Creed and the
speed with which it could be rendered. Long before the end was in sight,
and while Jeremy was still battling with various "incomprehensibles,"
the rest of the competitors had retired from sheer exhaustion; the
children were munching sweets; the lads and lasses were ogling one
another at the back of the church; Mrs Jeremy was staring in front of
her, wondering perhaps if the careless Susan would remember that onion
sauce _always_ went with a leg of mutton on Sundays; while Lady Agatha
and Lady Sybil--I grieve to record this, but my historical conscience
compels me--sat down. As to those of us who remained attentive to what
was going on, our confidence in Catholic Truth gradually took the form
of a certainty that the farmer would come in first and the clergyman be
nowhere. So it always proved. Standing in the pew behind that of Jeremy,
I could see the muscles of his mighty back working up and down beneath
the broadcloth of his Sunday coat; and as I looked from him to the
easily winded gentleman from Pusey House who was running against him in
the chancel, I could not help reflecting how ridiculous, nay, how
unsportsmanlike, it was to allow two men so ill matched to compete for
the same event. This, no doubt, was the first symptom that, in spite of
the standing attitude, I was going to sleep. But before it could happen
I was suddenly brought to my senses by the _fortissimo e prestissimo_ of
Jeremy's conclusion. "He _cannot_ be saved," he roared out, banging his
prayer-book down on the book-rest, with a defiant look around him, as
though the whole Liberal Party were in church. "He _cannot_ be
saved,"--and visions of all sorts of people boiling in coppers filled
the mental eye.

Jeremy, for a farmer, was the most outrageous optimist I have ever met.
He never grumbled, save at politicians, and the worst weather could
hardly disconcert him. "You can always turn a bit o' bad weather to good
account--if you put your back into it. Yes, it's been a _wet_ season, no
doubt, but not what I should call a _bad_ season. It's true we've made
but little hay, and that not good; but the meadows isn't dried up as
they was last year, and there'll be feed for the stock in the open most
of the winter. I bought fifty new head o' stock last Wednesday--bought
'em cheap of a man as got frightened--and they'll be well fattened by
Christmas." Serious setbacks, of course, often occurred; but Jeremy,
unlike most of his kind, was not the man to talk about them. "What I
believe in," he said, "is not only keeping your own heart up, but
helping your neighbours to keep up theirs. I've no patience with all
this 'ere grumbling and growling. Of course, a person has a lot to put
up with in farming; but it doesn't do a person no good to be always
thinking about that. Pleasant thoughts goes a long way in making money.
And I tell you there's money to be made in farming, let folks say what
they will. What farmers want is not for Parliament to help 'em, but for
Parliament to leave 'em alone. That's why I can't stand this 'ere
Liberal Government. Why can't they stop messing wi' things--messing wi'
the land, messing wi' the landlords, messing wi' the tenants, messing
wi' the farm-labourers? Why can't they leave it all alone and stick to
what they understand, if there's anything they _do_ understand, which I
doubt? No, sir; I don't want their laws, good or bad. Give me the custom
of the county, and a good bench o' magistrates, and a cheerful
disposition, and a farmyard full o' muck, and I've got all I want to
make farming _pay_--always provided you put your back into it."

But during the long-continued rain of last summer I could not help
observing that Jeremy, in spite of his fidelity to these principles, was
making an effort to keep up his heart. Not only was his hay ruined, but
the finest crop of wheat he had ever raised was sprouting in the ear.
There was sickness among the sheep and the pigs; and the standing crop
in his great orchard was sold to a middleman for a quarter the usual
price. But Jeremy made no complaint. Only, meeting the clergyman one day
in the road, he said, "Parson, it's high time you put up the prayer for
fine weather." Jeremy had a firm belief in the power of prayer--and
especially of this one.

On the first occasion when this prayer was used in the village church I
was present in my usual place behind Jeremy. As the prayer proceeded it
was evident that the farmer was putting his back into it. I could see
the movement of the deltoid muscles, and I watched a great crease form
itself in the lower portion of his coat and gradually creep upwards
until it formed a straight line from one shoulder-blade to the other.
When the prayer concluded Jeremy said "Amen _and_ Amen!" with the utmost
fervour; and the crease in his coat slowly disappeared. I am afraid I
was more occupied in watching this crease than in recalling the lesson
that was taught to us sinners when it pleased Jehovah to "drown all the
world, except eight persons."

During the next ten days the rain fell with increasing volume and fury:
the ditches were in flood; the roads were watercourses, and much damage
was done on Jeremy's farm. Meeting him at this time, I said in the
course of conversation, perhaps foolishly, "Mr Jeremy, the prayer for
fine weather seems to have done us very little good." For a moment he
looked at me rather angrily, as though suspecting that some lukewarmness
on my part had deprived the prayer of its due effect. Then he checked
himself and seemed to reflect. "No," he said at length, "it's done us no
good at all. But what else can you expect, _with all them gigglin'
wenches at the back of the church_?"

For three miserable weeks the heavens were deaf to our entreaties, and
matters began to look pretty black. A change for the better was
confidently expected with the new moon; and though I have never been
able to discover the origin of the superstition, nor a reason for it, I
found myself as expectant as any of my neighbours--like that other great
philosopher, who didn't believe in ghosts, but was desperately afraid of
them. However, the new moon brought no relief to our sorry plight--and
the superstition lives on in our parish, unimpaired. Ominous rumours
about the end of the world spread from cottage to cottage, and our wits
were busy in discovering the culprit whose misdeeds had precipitated the
coming catastrophe. Most of us were persuaded that it was Tom Mellon the
waggoner, a good workman but an irredeemable drunkard; and Tom, who was
aware of our suspicions, became thoroughly scared. For the first time in
twenty years Tom kept away from the public-house when his wages were
paid, and went to bed sober but terribly depressed on Saturday night. On
Monday morning, Mrs Mellon, whose face for once bore no trace of
bruises, informed our cook that "her master had had a dreadful bad
night. He would keep jumping out o' bed and going to the window, to look
into the sky and _see if anything was up_." Tom had communicated his
fears, when in an early stage of development, to his boon companion,
Charley Stamp the ex-roadman, whose old-age pension went the way of
Tom's wages and swelled the revenues of the public-house by the regular
sum of five shillings per week. These two Arcadians, as they sat over
their cups, concerted a plan, composed mainly of bad language, for
defeating the ends of justice on the Day of Doom; and on the Saturday
night previous to the one last mentioned came home together abominably
intoxicated, waving their hats and roaring out as they went up the
village that they were "ready" for Judgment--"with a tooral-ri-looral,
and a rooral-li-ray." Subsequent events proved that neither of them was
"ready." Tom's courage, as we have seen, went to pieces on hearing it
definitely whispered that the universe was about to be wiped out in
consequence of his bad habits. Charley's downfall was even more sudden.
In the small hours of the very morning after his performance in the
village street it happened that Farmer Jeremy's bull, scenting a cow in
a neighbouring pasture, expressed his sentiments by emitting a loud
bellow. The sound travelled to Charley's cottage, and, descending the
chimney, mingled with his drunken dreams. "Get up, missis," he shouted,
"get up; _the trumpet's sounding_!" and rushing into the garden he began
to howl like a jackal. The howls woke the village, and a score of
terrified souls, myself among them, convinced that "it was come at
last," looked out of their windows--only to find that a lovely morning
was breaking over the hills. Fine weather returned soon after; and I am
sorry to say that with its coming the moral reformation which had begun
so hopefully in Tom and Charley, and spread to several less hardened
sinners in our village, was terminated at a stroke.

       *       *       *       *       *

It must have been some four or five days before the change came in the
weather that I took advantage of a bright interval in the evening to
walk across the summit of the hill which shades my house from the
setting sun. I pushed on into the upland until the dusk had fallen, and
found myself at last in a deserted quarry--a long familiar spot, where
in old days I used to meet Snarley Bob. There I sat down on the very
heap of stones on which he sat as he talked to me of the stars. In due
time the stars came out, and I wondered in which of them the great
spirit of my old friend had found its abode. I imagined it was Capella;
why I know not, unless it be that Capella was the star to which
Snarley's finger often pointed when he lifted up his voice about the
things on high. This has nothing to do with my story, and I mention it
here only because I find myself wondering at this moment how spirits so
diverse as those of Snarley Bob and Tom Mellon could have breathed the
same atmosphere and drawn their sustenance from the same environment.

I lingered in the quarry pondering my memories until the great
rain-clouds, creeping up from different points of the horizon, had met
in the zenith and every star had disappeared. A sullen rain began to
fall, and black darkness was over the hill.

I turned homewards, reflecting that it might not be easy to find my way
by the sheep-tracks on so dark a night. I remembered that on the summit
of the hill, some two miles from where I was, there stood an isolated
barn surrounded by sheds for the shelter of cattle. From this point the
way down into the village could hardly be missed, and thither
accordingly I turned my steps. With some difficulty I found the barn;
for the ways were wet and in some places impassable, and the night, as I
have said, was very dark.

On nearing the barn I was astonished to notice a gleam of light issuing
from the half-closed door. I approached, and as I did so I was yet more
astonished, and a little scared, to hear the loud and lamentable tones
of a human voice. I listened, and at once recognised the voice as
Jeremy's, though I could not hear what he was saying nor explain to
myself the preternatural solemnity of the tone. It was not a cry of
pain, nor that of a man in need of human help. I drew yet nearer, and it
became plain to me that Jeremy was praying.

Curiosity tempting me on, I crept up to the barn and looked in through
the partly opened door. This is what I saw. Kneeling on the floor
towards the further side of the barn, with a lighted stable-lantern
suspended over his head, was Jeremy. His back was towards me, but I
could see that he had a book in his hand. A glance was sufficient to
show me that I was looking at a man in wrestle with his God. I knew the
signs of Jeremy's earnestness; and they were there--intense,
unmistakable. Never have I witnessed a more solemn spectacle, and, had
not something held me spell-bound to the spot, I should have retreated
in very shame of my intrusion.

At the moment when I first caught sight of his figure Jeremy was silent.
His head was bowed on his chest, his feet were drawn close together,
and his right hand, holding the book--which I saw was the Book of Common
Prayer--drooped on the ground. I noted the head of a steel rat-trap
protruding from the big side-pocket of his coat. I also remember how the
bright nails of his boots, of which the soles were turned towards me,
glittered in the light of the lantern.

Presently Jeremy raised the book, turned over the leaves--for he had
lost the place--slightly readjusted his position, and in a deep and
solemn voice again began to pray. And this was his prayer:

     "O Almighty Lord God, who for the sin of man didst once drown
     all the world, except eight persons, and afterward of thy great
     mercy didst promise never to destroy it so again: we humbly
     beseech thee, that although we for our iniquities have worthily
     deserved a plague of rain and waters, yet upon our true
     repentance thou wilt send us such weather, as that we may
     receive the fruits of the earth in due season; and learn both
     by thy punishment to amend our lives, and for thy clemency to
     give thee praise and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
     _Amen._"

It was enough. Quickly and silently as I could I slipped away into the
darkness, filled with a sense of the sacrilege of my intrusion and the
solemnity of the hour. I have listened in my time to many prayers of
many men; I have heard the Almighty flattered, complimented, instructed
in the metaphysics of his own nature, and insulted by the grovelling and
insincere self-depreciation of his own creatures; I have heard him
talked at, and talked about, by cowardly men-pleasers who had no more
religion than a rhinoceros; and I have wondered much at the patience of
heaven with all this detestable eloquence. I have heard also the short
and stumbling prayers of the honest, of the Salvationist kneeling in the
thoroughfare of a town full of sin, of the mother with her arms round
the neck of a dying child; but none even of these have dealt so shrewd a
thrust at my self-satisfaction as did the prayer of Farmer Jeremy. What
strange secrets, I thought, are hidden in the human heart! Verily, the
ways of man, like the ways of God, are past finding out.

Now, it so happened that I had given Jeremy a promise that I would, that
very night, join him at supper and "have a chat." I would gladly have
found an excuse if I could. But it was not easy to excuse oneself to
Jeremy; his discernments were keen. Moreover, I half feared that he
might have discovered my footsteps outside the barn; and I knew that if
he had, the only wise course was to face the situation, tell the truth,
and have it out. It was soon evident, however, that he had discovered
nothing; and I, of course, kept my counsel.

I entered the farm kitchen and found Mrs Jeremy awaiting her husband by
the fire. "Master's late in coming home," she said. "He's gone up the
hill with a lantern, to set traps in the Grey Barn. He says it's full o'
rats. But he ought to have come back half an hour ago."

"He'll be back soon," I answered; and a moment later I heard the ring of
his boots on the stone flags outside.

Entering the room, Jeremy, without greeting me, walked across the floor
and tapped the barometer on the wall. "It's rising," he said. "I thought
it would by the look of the moon last night. Well, given a bit o' fine
weather now, we shall not do so badly after all. The wheat's less
sprouted than I thought it was; just a little down in 'the Guns,' but
none at all in 'Quebec.' Please God, we shall get forty-five to the
acre, up there; and all in tip-top condition."

"How are the root-crops?" I asked.

"Looking splendid; couldn't be better. You see, they're all on the high
ground."

"Did you set your traps?" said Mrs Jeremy.

"I did. But there's too many rats for trappin' to do much good. We must
try this 'ere new poison. That'll cook their gooses for 'em, according
to what I hear."

After supper the conversation turned once more on the weather. "It's
bound to mend," said Jeremy; "there's a rising glass, and the wind's
gone round to the north-west since I went up the hill. Just look out o'
this winder at them clouds drifting across the sky. And they're a lot
higher up than they were this afternoon. And I tell you these 'ere
prayers as we've been puttin' up in church are bound to do _some_ good,
though they mayn't do _all_ the good as we want. I've noticed it again
and again, both wet seasons and droughty."

"The prayer of a righteous man availeth much," said Mrs Jeremy, who,
notwithstanding her mental wanderings during the Athanasian Creed, was a
pious soul.

I was sorry the conversation had taken this turn, being disinclined to
discuss the subject just then. But Jeremy was only too ready to take the
cue.

"Yes," he said; "and the prayer of a sinner is sometimes _almost_ as
good as the prayer of a righteous man; though, mind you, I don't say
it's _quite_ as good. I'm a bit of a sinner myself; but I've had lots of
answers to prayer in my life. _Lots_, I tell you. You see, it's this
way. My belief is, that you've no business to want a thing unless you're
ready to pray for it. Of course, you can't always tell what you ought to
want and what you oughtn't--that's the difficulty. But my plan is to
pray for everything as I wants and then leave the Lord to sort out the
bad from the good. There's a Collect in church as puts it in that way.
Mind you, I wouldn't pray for anything as I _knowed_ were bad. There'd
be no sense in that. And as for fine weather, all points to that being
_good_, and your prayer stands a fair chance of being answered. Of
course, it may be bad for reasons we don't know about; though I don't
think it is _myself_. So it's right to pray for it. Pray for everything
you want--that's what I says; and leave the rest to the Lord."

Jeremy would no doubt have said much more, for he was a great talker
when started on his favourite themes, and this was one of them. But we
were interrupted by a cry from Mrs Jeremy at the other side of the
table. It was simply, "Oh dear!"

Looking up, I saw that she was leaning forward with her face buried in
her hands, sobbing violently.

"Darn my gaiters!" said Jeremy, "I'm nought but a fool. I oughtn't to
ha' talked about them things before my missus. I never do; but
something's made me forget myself to-night. You see, it's reminded her
of our trouble."

I did not understand this last remark. But I asked no question, being
too much occupied in watching the infinite tenderness of the good man as
he sought to comfort his wife. I draw a veil over that. "Now go to bed,
there's a good girl, and think no more about it," was the end of what he
had to say.

Mrs Jeremy retired, the tears standing in her eyes. She shook hands with
me, but didn't speak.

Jeremy resumed his seat, lit his pipe, and began to explain. His voice
trembled and almost broke down with the first sentence.

"You see," he said, waving his hand towards the fire, "it's a childless
hearth.... It hasn't always been. There was one, once--fifteen years
ago. He was six years of age--as bright a little nipper as ever you see.
Oh yes, he said his prayers: said one too many, that he did.... O my
God!... Well, it was this way. It was one Christmas Eve, and a young
lady as we had for his governess had been telling the little nipper all
about Father Christmas--I don't blame _her_; she's never got over it any
more than we have, and never will--... all about Father Christmas, as I
was saying; and he drinks it all in with his wide little eyes, as though
it was Gospel truth. 'I'll tell Father Christmas to bring me something
real nice,' he says. So just before they put him to bed that night he
goes to that open fireplace, where you're sitting now, and pops his head
up the chimney, and calls out, 'Father Christmas, please bring me
to-night a magic lantern, a pair of roller skates, four wax candles, and
a box o' them chocolates with the little nuts inside 'em, for Jesus
Christ sake, Amen.' Then he goes away from the fire, and I says, 'All
right, nipper, I'll bring 'em,' from behind that door, in a voice to
make him believe as Father Christmas was answering. Well, he starts to
go to bed; but just as he reached them stairs in the passage he runs
back, and pops his little head up the chimney again. 'Father Christmas,'
he says, 'don't forget the little nuts in the chocolates. I don't want
none o' them pink 'uns.' And, O my God! he'd hardly spoken the words
when more than half a hundredweight of blazing soot comes slathering
down the chimney and falls right on the top of him just where he stood.
I tell you there never was a thing seen like it since this world began!
The room was filled with black smoke in a second; we were all blinded;
we could neither breathe nor see. We couldn't see him, we couldn't find
him; and we all stumbled up against one another; and the missus fell
insensible on the floor. And him screaming with pain all the time--and I
tell you I couldn't find him, though I rushed like a madman all over the
room and groped everywhere, and put my hands into the very fire! Then I
went too--dropped like a stone. It was all over in a minute. They pulled
the rest of us out in the nick of time: but the poor little nipper was
burned to death...."

Farmer Jeremy rose from his seat and went to the window. He was shaking
all over; but I averted my glance, for it is a terrible thing to see a
strong man in the agony of his soul, and the eyes cannot bear it long.
"The clouds are breaking," he said; "and, please God, I'll cut 'the
Slaughters' to-morrow. But there's one harvest as will never be reaped:
and there's one cloud that will never break. Not till the Resurrection
Morn. Ah me!"

       *       *       *       *       *

On the lovely afternoon of an autumn Sunday, about a fortnight after
these things, I met Jeremy in the fields, walking the round with his
terrier dog.

"Grand weather for farmers," I cried.

"Grand it is, sir," he answered, "and let us be thankful for it."

"Yes," I said; "it has been long enough in coming, and is all the more
welcome now it has come."

I felt that the words struck the wrong note; or rather they struck none
at all, where a note of music was needed. But I knew not what else to
say. Jeremy with all his reserve was less timid and more affluent than
I.

"Have you never thought, sir," he said, drawing near to me, "what
brought the fine weather?"

I hesitated and was silent.

"Then I'll tell you," said he. "_The power o' prayer._"

That very day I had been reading a book on Primitive Religion; and as I
parted from Jeremy a question flashed through my mind. "May it not be,"
I asked myself, "that Primitive Religion is the only religion that has
ever existed, or will exist, in the world?"



WHITE ROSES


Of all the conversations of the learned, those in which History and
Philosophy maintain the dialogue are probably the most instructive. Such
a conversation I was fortunate enough to hear not long ago at the
dinner-table of a friend; and the occasion was the more interesting
inasmuch as the Philosopher of the party was led by a turn of the
argument to lay aside his mantle and assume the rôle of the
story-teller; thereby providing us with a valuable comment on the very
philosophy with which his own illustrious name has been long associated.

We had been talking during dinner about a certain Expedition to the
South Seas undertaken by the British Government in the eighteenth
century; and the Historian had just finished a most surprising
narration of the facts, based on his recent investigation of unpublished
documents, when our Hostess glanced at the clock, and rising from her
chair gave the signal to the ladies to depart.

When we had resumed our places the Professor of Philosophy said to the
Historian:

"I wish you would tell us what in your opinion it was that caused the
Expedition to turn out such an utter failure."

"The Expedition failed," said the Historian, "because the commander was
not allowed to select his own crews. The Government of the day was
corrupt, and insisted on manning the ships with men of its own choosing.
Some were diseased; others were criminals; many had never handled a rope
in their lives. Before the fleet had doubled Cape Horn one-third of the
crews had perished, and the rest were mutinous. The enterprise was
doomed to failure from the start."

"The whole planet is manned in the same manner," said the Pessimist, as
he helped himself to one of our Host's superlative cigars. "I'm sorry
for the Commander, whoever he is."

"What precisely do you mean?" said the Professor of Philosophy, holding
a lighted match to the end of the Pessimist's cigar.

"I mean," said the Pessimist, "that the prospects of the Human
Expedition can't be very bright so long as Society has to put up with
anybody and everybody who happens to be born. I suppose there _is_ a
Human Expedition," he went on. "At least, _you_ have written as though
there were. But who selects the crew? Nobody. They come aboard as they
happen to be born, and the unfortunate Commander has to put up with them
as they come--broken men, jail-deliveries, invalids, sea-sick
land-lubbers, and Heaven knows what. Who in his senses would put to sea
with such a crowd? Humanity is always in a state like that of your
Expedition when it doubled Cape Horn--incompetent, mutinous, or sick
unto death. And what else can you expect in view of the conditions under
which we all arrive on the planet?"

The Host now glanced uneasily at the Professor of Philosophy, whose
treatise on _The World Purpose_ was famous throughout three continents.
The Professor was visibly arming himself for the fray: he had just
filled his claret-glass with port.

"Remember," said the Host, "that we must join the ladies in twenty
minutes at the utmost."

"I'm not going to argue," replied the Philosopher, after a resolute sip
at his port; "I'm going to tell you a story."

"Tell it in the drawing-room," said the Son of the House, who had taken
his pretty cousin down to dinner, and was a little exhilarated by that
and by the excellence of his father's wine; "that is to say,"--and he
spoke eagerly, as if a bright idea had struck him,--"that is to say, of
course, if it will bear telling in the presence of ladies."

There was a roar of laughter, and the Son of the House blushed to the
roots of his hair.

"I am inclined to think," said the Professor, "that my story, so far
from being unsuitable for the ladies, will be intelligible to no one
else."

"We'll join the ladies at once," said the Host, "and hear the
Professor's story."

The Pessimist, who was fond of talking, now broke in. "That," he said,
"is most attractive, but not quite fair to me. I should like to finish
what I have begun. And I doubt if my views will be quite in place in the
drawing-room. Besides, the Professor must finish his port. I was only
going to say," he went on, "that the having to put up with all that
comes in human shape is a very serious affair. It seems to me that we
all arrive in the world like dumped goods. Nobody has 'ordered' us, and
perhaps nobody wants us. Our parents wanted us, did you say? Well, I
suppose our parents wanted children; but it doesn't follow that they
wanted _you_ or _me_. Somebody else might have filled the book as well,
or better. Our birth is a matter of absolute chance. For example, my
father has often told me how he met my mother. There was a picnic on a
Swiss lake. My father's watch was slow, and when he arrived at the quay
the boat that carried his party was out of sight. It so happened that
there was another party--people my father didn't know--going to another
island, and seeing him disconsolate on the quay they took pity on him
and made him go with them. It was in that boat that he first met my
mother. The moral is obvious. If my father's watch had kept better time
I should never have been in existence. ["A jolly good thing, too,"
whispered the Son of the House.] Neither would my six brothers, nor any
of our descendants to the _n_th generation. Well, that's how the whole
planet gets itself _manned_. That's how the crew is 'chosen.' And that's
why the Expedition gets into trouble on rounding Cape Horn."

"It's a capital introduction to my story," said the Professor, in whom,
after his second claret-glass of port, _The World Purpose_ had assumed a
new intensity. "I wish the ladies could have heard it."

"I venture to think," said our Host, "that the ladies will understand
the story all the better for not having heard the introduction. You see,
I am assuming that the story is a good one--which is as much as to say
that no introduction is needed."

"Thank you," said the Professor.

"I say," broke in the Son of the House, "I say, Professor, it's a pity
you didn't take that question up in _The World Purpose_. That's an
awfully good point of the Pessimist's, and a jolly difficult one to
answer, too. I should like to see you tackle it. Why, I once heard the
Pater here say to the Mater----"

"We'll go upstairs," said our Host.

       *       *       *       *       *

"About ten years ago," the Professor began, "I was travelling one night
in a third-class carriage to a town on the North-east Coast. My two
companions in the compartment were evidently mother and daughter. The
mother had a singularly beautiful and intelligent face; and the
daughter, who was about twelve years old, resembled her. They were
dressed in good taste, without rings or finery, and, so far as I am
able to judge such things, without expense.

"Prior to the departure of the train from the London terminus, I had
noticed the two walking up and down the platform and looking into the
carriages, apparently endeavouring to find a compartment to themselves.
They did not succeed, and finally entered the compartment where I was.
Whether I ought to have been flattered by this, or the reverse, I knew
not.

"I could see they wanted to be alone, and I felt a brief impulse to
leave them to themselves and go elsewhere. It would have been a
chivalrous act; but whether from indolence, or curiosity, or some other
feeling, I let the impulse die, and remained where I was.

"The girl began immediately to arrange cushions for her mother in the
corner of the carriage; and from the solicitude she showed, I gathered
that the mother, though to all appearance in health, was either ill or
convalescent. By the time I had come to this conclusion the train was
already in motion, or I verily believe I should have obeyed my first
impulse and left the carriage. I am glad, however, that I did not.

"When all had been arranged I noticed that the two had settled
themselves in the attitude of lovers, their hands clasped, the girl
resting her head on the mother's shoulder and gazing into her face from
time to time with a look of infinite tenderness. And it was some relief
to me to observe that, lover-like, they seemed indifferent to my
presence.

"I was reading a book, though I confess that my eyes and mind would
constantly wander to the other side of the carriage. I am not a
sentimental person, and scenes of sentiment are particularly
objectionable to my temper of mind; but for once in my life I was
overawed by the consciousness that I was in the presence of deep and
genuine emotion. Finally, I gave up the effort to read; a strange mental
atmosphere seemed to surround me; I fell into a reverie, and I remember
waking suddenly from a kind of dream, or incoherent meditation on the
pathos and tragedy of human life.

"I looked at my companions and I saw that both were weeping. The girl
was in the same position as before. The mother had turned her face away,
and was looking out into the blackness of the night. Tear after tear
rolled down her cheek.

"They must have become conscious that I was observing them, though God
knows I had little will to do so. I took up my book and pretended to
read; and I knew that an effort was being made, that tears were being
checked, that some climbing sorrow was being held down. Presently the
lady said, speaking in a steady voice--

"'Do you know the name of the station we have just passed?'

"I told her the name of the station; asked if I should raise the window;
spoke to the girl; offered an illustrated paper, and so on through the
usual preliminaries of a traveller's talk. The answers I received were
such as one expects from people of charming manners. But nothing
followed, for a time, and I again took up my book.

"The book I was reading, or pretending to read, was a volume of the
Ingersoll Lectures, bearing on the back the title _Human Immortality_.
Once or twice I noticed the eyes of the woman resting on this, but I was
greatly surprised when, in one of the pauses when I laid down the book,
she said--

"'Would you mind my asking you a question?'

"'Certainly not.'

"'Do you believe in the Immortality of the Soul?'

"As a teacher of philosophy I am accustomed to leading questions at all
sorts of inopportune moments, but never in my life was I so completely
taken aback. However, I collected my thoughts as best I could, and,
though the subject is one on which I never like to speak without
prolonged preparation, I briefly told her my opinions on that great
problem, as you may find them expressed in my published works. Possibly
I spoke with some fervour; the more likely, because I spoke without
preparation. She listened with great attention; and as for the young
girl, her face was lit up with a look of intelligent eagerness which,
had I seen it for one moment in my own class-room, would have rewarded
me for the labour of a long course of lectures.

"I had still much to say when the train drew up at the platform of St
Beeds.

"'I'm sorry not to hear more,' said the lady, 'but this is our
destination.'

"'And there's Dad!' cried the girl.

"A man in working clothes stood at the carriage-door.

"'Good-bye,' said the woman, warmly shaking me by the hand; 'you have
been most kind to me.'

"'Good-bye,' said the daughter; 'you're a dear old dear!'

"And with that she threw her arms round my neck and kissed me fervently
three or four times. I was greatly surprised, but not altogether
displeased.

"They were evidently a most affectionate family. As the train moved off
the three stood arm in arm before the carriage-door.

"'Got two sweethearts to-night, sir,' said the man.

"'And without jealousy,' said I. 'I congratulate you on each of them.'

"'I hope you'll forgive my daughter,' he said; 'she's an impulsive
little baggage.'

"'She may repeat the offence the next time we meet,' I replied; and we
all laughed.

"It was a joyful ending to what had been, in some respects, a painful
experience."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I don't see the point of your story, Professor; and I am at a loss to
imagine what it has to do with my introduction." This from the
Pessimist.

"The story has only begun," said the Professor, who was sipping his tea.

"Those kisses at the end were jolly hard lines on a man who dislikes
sentiment," said the Son of the House.

"I didn't find them so," answered the Professor. "But remember, they
were only the kisses of a child."

"The best sort," growled the Pessimist.

"True," said our Hostess. "The judgments of children are the judgments
of God. But let the Professor go on."

       *       *       *       *       *

"It was seven or eight months later," the Professor resumed, "when on
opening the _Times_ one morning my attention was caught by an item of
news relating to the town at which my two companions had alighted from
the train. The news itself was of no importance, but the name of the
town printed at the head of the paragraph strangely arrested me, and
served to recall with singular vividness the incident of my former
journey. I found myself repeating, in order and minute detail,
everything that had happened in the carriage, some of the particulars of
which I had forgotten till that moment. The end of it was that I became
possessed with a strong desire to visit St Beeds, though I had no
connections whatever with the place, and had never stayed there in my
life. I knew, of course, that it was an interesting old town, with a
famous Cathedral, and I remember persuading myself at the time, and
indeed telling my wife, that I ought to visit that Cathedral without
further delay. As the day wore on the impulse grew stronger, and
eventually overpowered me. I travelled down to St Beeds that night, and
put up at one of the principal hotels.

"The next morning was spent in the usual manner of sight-seers in an
ancient town. Reserving the Cathedral for the afternoon, I visited the
old wall and the dismantled quays, and wandered among the narrow
streets, reading history, as my habit is, from the monuments with which
the place abounded. About noon I found my way to the spacious
market-place, and began inspecting the beautiful front of the old Town
Hall.

"I suddenly became aware of a man on the opposite pavement, who was
watching me with some interest. What drew my attention to him was a
large mass of white roses which he was carrying in a basket; for, as you
know, I have been for many years an enthusiastic rose-grower, and there
is nothing which attracts the mind so rapidly as any circumstance
connected with one's hobby. The man was dressed in good clothes; and it
was this that prevented me at first from recognising him as the person
who had met my two companions at the station seven months before.

"Seeing that I had observed him, he crossed the street.

"'You remember me?' he said. 'Well, I have been looking for you all over
the town. Had I known your name I should have asked at the hotels.'

"'But how did you know I had arrived?' I asked.

"'My wife told me you were here.'

"'She must have seen me, then,' I said.

"'Yes, she saw you. She saw you arrive last night at the station. And
she saw you later, standing under an electric lamp, in front of the
Cathedral.'

"This struck me as odd, for I had purposely waited till near midnight
before going to the Cathedral, that I might see the exterior in the
light of the moon; and I had been confident that not a soul was about.

"'How is she?' I asked, for I remembered my previous impression that she
was an invalid.

"'Oh, much better,' he answered; 'in fact, quite restored. It's a great
comfort.'

"'It was very kind of her to send you to look for me,' I said. 'Perhaps
I shall have the pleasure of seeing her later on in the day--and your
daughter as well. You remember I congratulated you on your two
sweethearts?'

"'Yes,' he answered, 'and you were not far wrong in that. But wouldn't
you like to take a turn round the old town first? It's a wonderful place
and full of interest. And I know it through and through.'

"I was greatly puzzled by his manner. His speech and address were
certainly remarkable for a working man; and I confess that for a moment
the thought crossed my mind that he was some sort of impostor, and that
I should be well advised to have nothing to do with him. I suppose it
was his basket of roses that reassured me.

"'Well,' I said, 'I've seen a good deal already. But I've no objection
to seeing it all again. I'll put myself in your hands.'

"'Splendid!' he cried. 'It's an ideal day, and I'm hungering for
sunlight and beauty, and thirsting for the peace of ancient memories.
And it will please my wife to know that I've taken you round. What do
you say to going up the river first? There's a glorious reach beyond the
bridge. And the sun's in the right position to give you the best view of
the Cathedral.'

"'Nothing would please me better,' said I; and we set off at once toward
the river.

"On passing a certain building he bade me carefully examine the roof,
the form of which was remarkable. While I was engaged in so doing,
unconscious for a moment of his presence, I suddenly seemed to hear him
groan behind me; and turning round I saw that he was holding tight to
the iron railings on the other side of the foot-walk, and swaying his
body backward and forward, as though he were in pain.

"'Are you ill?' I asked, in some alarm.

"'Not at all. This is just my way of resting when I'm tired. Come
along.'

"'That's a splendid lot of roses in your basket,' I said, as we took our
places in the boat, he sculling and I steering. 'Frau Carl Druschki,
unless I'm much mistaken.'

"'Yes. I grew them on my allotment. I'm taking them home to my wife.'

"For some time we talked roses. He had a theory of pruning, which
differed from mine, and led to a good deal of argument. Finally, he
dropped his sculls, and, taking a piece of paper from his pocket, drew
on it the diagram of a rose-bush pruned according to his method. We had
forgotten the Cathedral.

"I took his drawing and began to criticise. 'Oh!' he said, 'let's drop
it. We're missing one of the noblest sights in England. Look at that!'
And he pointed to the heights.

"As we dropped down the river half an hour later, my companion, who had
been silent for some time, again broke out on the subject of roses.
'Rose-growing is a thing that takes time and patience and thought,' he
said. 'More perhaps than it's worth. If it were not for my wife, I
should give it up. She's desperately fond of roses.'

"'That's the best of reasons for not giving it up,' I answered. 'I
happen to be a great admirer of your wife.'

"'That's another link between us,' said he. 'She's the best wife man
ever had. She's worthy of all the admiration you can give her.'

"She's worthy of all the roses you can grow for her,' I said.

"'By God, she is!' he answered with an emphasis that startled me.

"We grew confidential, and a story followed. He told me that he was the
illegitimate son of a baronet; that his father had made him an allowance
to study art in London; that he had married his model, in opposition to
the wishes of his father; that the baronet had thereupon thrown him
over for good and all; that he had failed to make a living by his
original art; that he had got an engagement with a great
furnishing-house as a skilled painter; that he was earning four pounds a
week in doing artistic work in rich men's houses and elsewhere; that he
was now engaged in restoring some fifteenth-century frescoes in a parish
church. His wife earned money too, though he did not tell me how, and
his daughter was being trained as a singer. 'We're all more or less in
art,' he said, 'and we are a very happy family.'

"By this time we were back at the landing-place, and as the man stepped
ashore he said: 'It's about time I took these roses to my wife. We'll
just walk along to where I live, and I'll show you the rest of the
sights afterwards. I'll take you to the Cathedral when the afternoon
service is over.'

"As we walked through the streets the man kept up an incessant stream of
talk, pointing to this and that, and discoursing with great eagerness on
the history and antiquities of the town. It struck me as strange that
he never waited for any answer but passed from one thing to another
without a pause. Presently we stopped in front of a small house, one of
a row of villas.

"'This is where I live,' he said, and stopped on the doorstep.

"'Good!' I cried; 'and now you will take me in and reintroduce me to
your charming wife.'

"'I'm sorry,' he answered, 'but the thing's quite impossible.'

"I was so startled by this unexpected answer that, without thinking, I
blurted out the question, 'Why?'

"'_Because_,' he said, '_she's in her coffin. She died at four o'clock
this morning._'

"At the words he sank down on his doorstep, put the basket of roses on
his knees and bowed himself over them in a passion of tears.

"The door opened, and the young girl, who had been with me in the train,
ran down the steps. Sitting down beside her father she put her arms
round his neck and said, 'Daddy, Daddy, don't cry!'"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Professor ceased and there was a long pause.

"Did you discover," said the Pessimist at length, "why the two were
weeping in the train?"

"No need to ask that," said our Hostess. "The woman had received
sentence of death."

"Did you ever follow it up?" said the Historian. "What, for example,
became of the young girl?"

"_She was married to my eldest son last month_," said the Professor.

"I knew the Pessimist's introduction would not be needed," said our
Host.

"Nevertheless, it was the introduction that reminded me of the story,"
said the Professor. "And now," he continued, "can anyone here explain to
me the strange conduct of the man with the white roses? For I confess
that I can find no place for it in any system of Psychology known to
me."

At this question the Son of the House, who for some reason had become
the gravest member of the party, looked up and seemed about to speak.
But as he raised his eyes they met the bright glance of his pretty
cousin, on whose cheek there was a tear. And when the Son of the House
saw that, the impulse to speech died within him.

No one else ventured an explanation. But my impression was that there
were two persons in the room to whom the strange conduct of the man with
the white roses presented no enigma.



_By the Same Author_


AMONG THE IDOLMAKERS

"A MAN OF KENT" in _The British Weekly_. "Mr Jacks has written a book
which, for sheer ability, for rightmindedness, and for driving force,
will compare favourably with any book of the season.... This is a book
which strongly makes for cleanness, for sanity, for Christianity."


MAD SHEPHERDS: And Other Human Studies

_With a Frontispiece Drawing by MR LESLIE BROOKE_

"A series of highly original studies of some human types portrayed with
a wealth of irony and humour. The character Snarley Bob, the old
shepherd, is destined to take its place among the unforgettable figures
of literature."--_Outlook._


THE ALCHEMY OF THOUGHT

Professor J. H. MUIRHEAD in _The Christian Commonwealth_ says: "It is a
significant book ... eloquent, imaginative, humorous. Philosophy here
forsakes its usual 'grey in grey.'"

From _The Westminster Review_: "The book is one which no philosophical
student of to-day can safely do without."





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