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Title: Incredible Adventures
Author: Blackwood, Algernon, 1869-1951
Language: English
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Libraries.)



INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES

  MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
  LONDON · BOMBAY · CALCUTTA
  MELBOURNE

  THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
  NEW YORK · BOSTON · CHICAGO
  DALLAS · SAN FRANCISCO

  THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, Ltd.
  TORONTO



  INCREDIBLE
  ADVENTURES

  BY
  ALGERNON BLACKWOOD

  AUTHOR OF ‘JIMBO,’ ‘JOHN SILENCE,’
  ‘THE CENTAUR,’ ‘A PRISONER IN FAIRYLAND,’ ETC.


  MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
  ST. MARTIN’S STREET, LONDON
  1914


  COPYRIGHT



TO

M. S.-K.



CONTENTS


                                            PAGE

  THE REGENERATION OF LORD ERNIE               3

  THE SACRIFICE                               95

  THE DAMNED                                 131

  A DESCENT INTO EGYPT                       241

  WAYFARERS                                  339



THE REGENERATION OF LORD ERNIE


I

John Hendricks was bear-leading at the time. He had originally studied
for Holy Orders, but had abandoned the Church later for private reasons
connected with his faith, and had taken to teaching and tutoring
instead. He was an honest, upstanding fellow of five-and-thirty,
incorruptible, intelligent in a simple, straightforward way. He played
games with his head, more than most Englishmen do, but he went through
life without much calculation. He had qualities that made boys like
and respect him; he won their confidence. Poor, proud, ambitious,
he realised that fate offered him a chance when the Secretary of
State for Scotland asked him if he would give up his other pupils
for a year and take his son, Lord Ernie, round the world upon an
educational trip that might make a man of him. For Lord Ernie was the
only son, and the Marquess’s influence was naturally great. To have
deposited a regenerated Lord Ernie at the castle gates might have
guaranteed Hendricks’ future. After leaving Eton prematurely the lad
had come under Hendricks’ charge for a time, and with such excellent
results--‘I’d simply swear by that chap, you know,’ the boy used
to say--that his father, considerably impressed, and rather as a
last resort, had made this proposition. And Hendricks, without much
calculation, had accepted it. He liked ‘Bindy’ for himself. It was
in his heart to ‘make a man of him,’ if possible. They had now been
round the world together and had come up from Brindisi to the Italian
Lakes, and so into Switzerland. It was middle October. With a week or
two to spare they were making leisurely for the ancestral halls in
Aberdeenshire.

The nine months’ travel, Hendricks realised with keen disappointment,
had accomplished, however, very little. The job had been exhausting,
and he had conscientiously done his best. Lord Ernie liked him
thoroughly, admiring his vigour with a smile of tolerant good-nature
through his ceaseless cigarette smoke. They were almost like two boys
together. ‘You _are_ a chap and a half, Mr. Hendricks. You really
ought to be in the Cabinet with my father.’ Hendricks would deliver
up his useless parcel at the castle gates, pocket the thanks and the
hard-earned fee, and go back to his arduous life of teaching and
writing in dingy lodgings. It was a pity, even on the lowest grounds.
The tutor, truth to tell, felt undeniably depressed. Hopeful by nature,
optimistic, too, as men of action usually are, he cast about him, even
at the last hour, for something that might stir the boy to life, wake
him up, put zest and energy into him. But there was only Paris now
between them and the end; and Paris certainly could not be relied upon
for help. Bindy’s desire for Paris even was not strong enough to count.
No desire in him was ever strong. There lay the crux of the problem in
a word--Lord Ernie was without desire which is life.

Tall, well-built, handsome, he was yet such a feeble creature, without
the energy to be either wild or vicious. Languid, yet certainly not
decadent, life ran slowly, flabbily in him. He took to nothing. The
first impression he made was fine--then nothing. His only tastes, if
tastes they could be called, were out-of-door tastes: he was vaguely
interested in flying, yet not enough to master the mechanism of it;
he liked motoring at high speed, being driven, not driving himself;
and he loved to wander about in woods, making fires like a Red Indian,
provided they lit easily, yet even this, not for the poetry of the
thing nor for any love of adventure, but just ‘because.’ ‘I like fire,
you know; like to watch it burn.’ Heat seemed to give him curious
satisfaction, perhaps because the heat of life, he realised, was
deficient in his six-foot body. It was significant, this love of fire
in him, though no one could discover why. As a child he had a dangerous
delight in fireworks--anything to do with fire. He would watch a candle
flame as though he were a fire-worshipper, but had never been known to
make a single remark of interest about it. In a wood, as mentioned, the
first thing he did was to gather sticks--though the resulting fire was
never part of any purpose. He had no purpose. There was no wind or fire
of life in the lad at all. The fine body was inert.

Hendricks did wrong, of course, in going where he did--to this little
desolate village in the Jura Mountains--though it was the first time
all these trying months he had allowed himself a personal desire. But
from Domo Dossola the Simplon Express would pass Lausanne, and from
Lausanne to the Jura was but a step--all on the way home, moreover.
And what prompted him was merely a sentimental desire to revisit the
place where ten years before he had fallen violently in love with the
pretty daughter of the Pasteur, M. Leysin, in whose house he lodged.
He had gone there to learn French. The very slight detour seemed
pardonable.

His spiritless charge was easily persuaded.

‘We might go home by Pontarlier instead of Bâle, and get a glimpse
of the Jura,’ he suggested. ‘The line slides along its frontiers
a bit, and then goes bang across it. We might even stop off a
night on the way--if you cared about it. I know a curious old
village--Villaret--where I went at your age to pick up French.’

‘Top-hole,’ replied Lord Ernie listlessly. ‘All on the way to Paris,
ain’t it?’

‘Of course. You see there’s a fortnight before we need get home.’

‘So there is, yes. Let’s go.’ He felt it was almost his own idea, and
that he decided it.

‘If you’d _really_ like it.’

‘Oh, yes. Why not? I’m sick of cities.’ He flicked some dust off his
coat sleeve with an immaculate silk handkerchief, then lit a cigarette.
‘Just as you like,’ he added with a drawl and a smile. ‘I’m ready for
anything.’ There was no keenness, no personal desire, no choice in
reality at all; flabby good-nature merely.

A suggestion was invariably enough, as though the boy had no will of
his own, his opposition rarely more than negative sulking that soon
flattened out because it was forgotten. Indeed, no sign of positive
life lay in him anywhere--no vitality, aggression, coherence of desire
and will; vacuous rather than imbecile; unable to go forward upon any
definite line of his own, as though all wheels had slipped their cogs;
a pasty soul that took good enough impressions, yet never mastered them
for permanent use. Nothing stuck. He would never make a politician,
much less a statesman. The family title would be borne by a nincompoop.
Yet all the machinery was there, one felt--if only it could be driven,
made to go. It was sad. Lord Ernie was heir to great estates, with a
name and position that might influence thousands.

And Hendricks had been a good selection, with his virility and gentle,
understanding firmness. He understood the problem. ‘You’ll do what no
one else could,’ the anxious father told him, ‘for he worships you,
and you can sting without hurting him. You’ll put life and interest
into him if anybody in this world can. I have great hopes of this
tour. I shall always be in your debt, Mr. Hendricks.’ And Hendricks
had accepted the onerous duty in his big, high-minded way. He was
conscientious to the backbone. This little side-trip was his sole
deflection, if such it can be called even. ‘Life, light and cheerful
influences,’ had been his instructions, ‘nothing dull or melancholy;
an occasional fling, if he wants it--I’d welcome a fling as a good
sign--and as much intercourse with decent people, and stimulating
sight-seeing as you can manage--or can stand,’ the Marquess added with
a smile. ‘Only you won’t overtax the lad, will you? Above all, let him
think _he_ chooses and decides, when possible.’

Villaret, however, hardly complied with these conditions; there was
melancholy in it; Hendricks’ mind--whose reflexes the spongy nature of
the empty lad absorbed too easily--would be in a minor key. Yet a night
could work no harm. Whence came, he wondered, the fleeting notion
that it might do good? Was it, perhaps, that Leysin, the vigorous old
Pasteur, might contribute something? Leysin had been a considerable
force in his own development, he remembered; they had corresponded a
little since; Leysin was out of the common, certainly, restless energy
in him as of the sea. Hendricks found difficulty in sorting out his
thoughts and motives, but Leysin was in them somewhere--this idea that
his energetic personality might help. His vitalising effect, at least,
would counteract the melancholy.

For Villaret lay huddled upon unstimulating slopes, the robe of gloomy
pine-woods sweeping down towards its poverty from bleak heights and
desolate gorges. The peasants were morose, ill-living folk. It was
a dark untaught corner in a range of otherwise fairy mountains, a
backwater the sun had neglected to clean out. Superstitions, Hendricks
remembered, of incredible kind still lingered there; a touch of the
sinister hovered about the composite mind of its inhabitants. The
Pasteur fought strenuously this blackness in their lives and thoughts;
in the village itself with more or less success--though even there
the drinking and habits of living were utterly unsweetened--but on
the heights, among the somewhat arid pastures, the mountain men
remained untamed, turbulent, even menacing. Hendricks knew this of
old, though he had never understood too well. But he remembered how
the English boys at _la cure_ were forbidden to climb in certain
directions, because the life in these scattered châlets was somehow
loose and violent. There was danger there, the danger, however, never
definitely stated. Those lonely ridges lay cursed beneath dark skies.
He remembered, too, the savage dogs, the difficulty of approach, the
aggressive attitude towards the plucky Pasteur’s visits to these remote
upland _pâturages_. They did not lie in his parish: Leysin made his
occasional visits as man and missionary; for extraordinary rumours,
Hendricks recalled, were rife, of some queer worship of their own these
lawless peasants kept alive in their distant, windy territory, planted
there first, the story had it, by some renegade priest whose name was
now forgotten.

Hendricks himself had no personal experiences. He had been too deeply
in love to trouble about outside things, however strange. But Marston’s
case had never quite left his memory--Marston, who climbed up by
unlawful ways, stayed away two whole days and nights, and came back
suddenly with his air of being broken, shattered, appallingly used up,
his face so lined and strained it seemed aged by twenty years, and yet
with a singular new life in him, so vehement, loud, and reckless, it
was like a kind of sober intoxication. He was packed off to England
before he could relate anything. But he had suffered shocks. His white,
passionate face, his boisterous new vigour, the way M. Leysin screened
his view of the heights as he put him personally into the Paris
train--almost as though he feared the boy would see the hills and make
another dash for them!--made up an unforgettable picture in the mind.

Moreover, between the sodden village and that string of evil
châlets that lay in their dark line upon the heights there had
been links. Exactly of what nature he never knew, for love made
all else uninteresting; only, he remembered swarthy, dark-faced
messengers descending into the sleepy hamlet from time to time, big,
mountain-limbed fellows with wind in their hair and fire in their eyes;
that their visits produced commotion and excitement of difficult kinds;
that wild orgies invariably followed in their wake; and that, when the
messengers went back, they did not go alone. There was life up there,
whereas the village was moribund. And none who went ever cared to
return. Cudrefin, the young giant _vigneron_, taken in this way, from
the very side of his sweetheart too, came back two years later as a
messenger himself. He did not even ask for the girl, who had meanwhile
married another. ‘There’s life up there with us,’ he told the drunken
loafers in the ‘Guillaume Tell,’ ‘wind and fire to make you spin to the
devil--or to heaven!’ He was enthusiasm personified. In the village
he had been merely drinking himself stupidly to death. Vaguely, too,
Hendricks remembered visits of police from the neighbouring town,
some of them on horseback, all armed, and that once even soldiers
accompanied them, and on another occasion a bishop, or whatever the
church dignitary was called, had arrived suddenly and promised radical
assistance of a spiritual kind that had never materialised--oh, and
many other details that now trooped back with suggestions time had
certainly not made smaller. For the love had passed along its way and
gone, and he was free now to the invasion of other memories, dwarfed at
the time by that dominating, sweet passion.

Yet all the tutor wanted now, this chance week in late October, was
to see again the corner of the mossy forest where he had known that
marvellous thing, first love; renew his link with Leysin who had taught
him much; and see if, perchance, this man’s stalwart, virile energy
might possibly overflow with benefit into his listless charge. The
expenses he meant to pay out of his own pocket. Those wild pagans on
the heights--even if they still existed--there was no need to mention.
Lord Ernie knew little French, and certainly no word of _patois_. For
one night, or even two, the risk was negligible.

Was there, indeed, risk at all of any sort? Was not this vague
uneasiness he felt merely conscience faintly pricking? He could not
feel that he was doing wrong. At worst, the youth might feel depression
for a few hours--speedily curable by taking the train.

Something, nevertheless, did gnaw at him in subconscious fashion,
producing a sense of apprehension; and he came to the conclusion that
this memory of the mountain tribe was the cause of it--a revival of
forgotten boyhood’s awe. He glanced across at the figure of Bindy
lounging upon the hotel lawn in an easy-chair, full in the sunshine,
a newspaper at his feet. Reclining there, he looked so big and
strong and handsome, yet in reality was but a painted lath without
resistance, much less attack, in all his many inches. And suddenly
the tutor recalled another thing, the link, however, undiscoverable,
and it was this: that the boy’s mother, a Canadian, had suffered once
severely from a winter in Quebec, where the Marquess had first made
her acquaintance. Frost had robbed her, if he remembered rightly, of
a foot--with the result, at any rate, that she had a wholesome terror
of the cold. She sought heat and sun instinctively--fire. Also, that
asthma had been her sore affliction--sheer inability to take a full,
deep breath. This deficiency of heat and air, therefore, were in her
mind. And he knew that Bindy’s birth had been an anxious time, the
anxiety justified, moreover, since she had yielded up her life for him.

And so the singular thought flashed through him suddenly as he watched
the reclining, languid boy, Cudrefin’s descriptive phrase oddly singing
in his head--

‘Heat and fire, fire and wind--why, it’s the very thing he lacks! And
he’s always after them. I wonder----!’


II

The lumbering yellow diligence brought them up from the Lake shore, a
long two hours, deposited them at the opening of the village street,
and went its grinding, toiling way towards the frontier. They arrived
in a blur of rain. It was evening. Lowering clouds drew night before
her time upon the world, obscuring the distant summits of the Oberland,
but lights twinkled here and there in the nearer landscape, mapping
the gloom with signals. The village was very still. Above and below
it, however, two big winds were at work, with curious results. For a
lower wind from the east in gusty draughts drove the body of the lake
into quick white horses which shone like wings against the deep _basses
Alpes_, while a westerly current swept the heights immediately above
the village. There was this odd division of two weathers, presaging a
change. A narrow line of clear bright sky showed up the Jura outline
finely towards the north, stars peeping sharply through the pale moist
spaces. Hurrying vapours, driven by the upper westerly wind, concealed
them thinly. They flashed and vanished. The entire ridge, five thousand
feet in the air, had an appearance of moving through the sky. Between
these opposing winds at different levels the village itself lay
motionless, while the world slid past, as it were, in two directions.

‘The earth seems turning round,’ remarked Lord Ernie. He had been
reading a novel all day in train and steamer, and smoking endless
cigarettes in the diligence, his companion and himself its only
occupants. He seemed suddenly to have waked up. ‘What is it?’ he asked
with interest.

Hendricks explained the queer effect of the two contrary winds. Columns
of peat smoke rose in thin straight lines from the blur of houses,
untouched by the careering currents above and below. The winds whirled
round them.

Lord Ernie listened attentively to the explanation.

‘I feel as if I were spinning with it--like a top,’ he observed,
putting his hand to his head a moment. ‘And what are those lights up
there?’

He pointed to the distant ridge, where fires were blazing as though
stars had fallen and set fire to the trees. Several were visible, at
regular intervals. The sharp summits of the limestone mountains cut
hard into the clear spaces of northern sky thousands of feet above.

‘Oh, the peasants burning wood and stuff, I suppose,’ the tutor told
him.

The youth turned an instant, standing still to examine them with a
shading hand.

‘People live up there?’ he asked. There was surprise in his voice, and
his body stiffened oddly as he spoke.

‘In mountain châlets, yes,’ replied the other a trifle impatiently,
noticing his attitude. ‘Come along now,’ he added, ‘let’s get to our
rooms in the carpenter’s house before the rain comes down. You can
see the windows twinkling over there,’ and he pointed to a building
near the church. ‘The storm will catch us.’ They moved quickly down
the deserted street together in the deepening gloom, passing little
gardens, doors of open barns, straggling manure heaps, and courtyards
of cobbled stones where the occasional figure of a man was seen. But
Lord Ernie lingered behind, half loitering. Once or twice, to the
other’s increasing annoyance, he paused, standing still to watch the
heights through openings between the tumble-down old houses. Half a
dozen big drops of rain splashed heavily on the road.

‘Hurry up!’ cried Hendricks, looking back, ‘or we shall be caught.
It’s the mountain wind--the _coup de joran_. You can hear it coming!’
For the lad was peering across a low wall in an attitude of fixed
attention. He made a gesture with one hand, as though he signalled
towards the ridges where the fires blazed. Hendricks called pretty
sharply to him then. It was possible, of course, that he misinterpreted
the movement; it _may_ merely have been that he passed his fingers
through his hair, across his eyes, or used the palm to focus sight, for
his hat was off and the light was quite uncertain. Only Hendricks did
not like the lingering or the gesture. He put authority into his tone
at once. ‘Come along, will you; come along, Bindy!’ he called.

The answer filled him with amazement.

‘All right, all right. I’ll follow in a moment. I like this.’

The tutor went back a few steps towards him. The tone startled him.

‘Like what?’ he asked.

And Lord Ernie turned towards him with another face. There was
fighting in it. There was resolution.

‘This, of course,’ the boy answered steadily, but with excitement shut
down behind, as he waved one arm towards the mountains. ‘I’ve dreamed
this sort of thing; I’ve known it somewhere. We’ve seen nothing like it
all our stupid trip.’ The flash in his brown eyes passed then, as he
added more quietly, but with firmness: ‘Don’t wait for me; I’ll follow.’

Hendricks stood still in his tracks. There was a decision in the voice
and manner that arrested him. The confidence, the positive statement,
the eager desire, the hint of energy--all this was new. He had never
encouraged the boy’s habit of vivid dreaming, deeming the narration
unwise. It flashed across him suddenly now that the ‘deficiency’ might
be only on the surface. Energy and life hid, perhaps, subconsciously in
him. Did the dreams betray an activity he knew not how to carry through
and correlate with his everyday, external world? And were these dreams
evidence of deep, hidden desire--a clue, possibly, to the energy he
sought and needed, the exact kind of energy that might set the inert
machinery in motion and drive it?

He hesitated an instant, waiting in the road. He was on the verge of
understanding something that yet just evaded him. Bindy’s childish,
instinctive love of fire, his passion for air, for rushing wind, for
oceans of limitless----

There came at that moment a deep roaring in the mountains. Far away,
but rapidly approaching, the ominous booming of it filled the air.
The westerly wind descended by the deep gorges, shaking the forests,
shouting as it came. Clouds of white dust spiralled into the sky off
the upper roads, spread into sheets like snow, and swept downwards
with incredible velocity. The air turned suddenly cooler. More big
drops of rain splashed and thudded on the roofs and road. There was a
feeling of something violent and instantaneous about to happen, a sense
almost of attack. The _joran_ tore headlong down into the valley.

‘Come on, man,’ he cried at the top of his voice. ‘That’s the _joran_!
I know it of old! It’s terrific. Run!’ And he caught the lad, still
lingering, by the arm.

But Lord Ernie shook himself free with an excitement almost violent.

‘I’ve been up there with those great fires,’ he shouted. ‘I know the
whole blessed thing. But where was it? Where?’ His face was white, eyes
shining, manner strangely agitated. ‘Big, naked fellows who dance like
wind, and rushing women of fire, and----’

Two things happened then, interrupting the boy’s wild language. The
_joran_ reached the village and struck it; the houses shook, the trees
bent double, and the cloud of limestone dust, painting the darkness
white, swept on between Hendricks and the boy with extraordinary force,
even separating them. There was a clatter of falling tiles, of banging
doors and windows, and then a burst of icy rain that fell like iron
shot on everything, raising actual spray. The air was in an instant
thick. Everything drove past, roared, trembled. And, secondly--just
in that brief instant when man and boy were separated--there shot
between them with shadowy swiftness the figure of a man, hatless,
with flying hair, who vanished with running strides into the darkness
of the village street beyond--all so rapidly that sight could focus
the manner neither of his coming nor of his going. Hendricks caught
a glimpse of a swarthy, elemental type of face, the swing of great
shoulders, the leap of big loose limbs--something rushing and elastic
in the whole appearance--but nothing he could claim for definite
detail. The figure swept through the dust and wind like an animal--and
was gone. It was, indeed, only the contrast of Lord Ernie’s whitened
skin, of his graceful, half-elegant outline, that enabled him to recall
the details that he did. The weather-beaten visage seemed to storm
away. Bindy’s delicate aristocratic face shone so pale and eager.
But that a real man had passed was indubitable, for the boy made a
flurried movement as though to follow. Hendricks caught his arm with a
determined grip and pulled him back.

‘Who was that? Who was it?’ Lord Ernie cried breathlessly, resisting
with all his strength, but vainly.

‘Some mountain fellow, of course. Nothing to do with us.’ And he
dragged the boy after him down the road. For a second both seemed to
have lost their heads. Hendricks certainly felt a gust of something
strike him into momentary consternation that was half alarm.

‘From up there, where the fires are?’ asked the boy, shouting above the
wind and rain.

‘Yes, yes, I suppose so. Come along. We shall be soused. Are you mad?’
For Bindy still held back with all his weight, trying to turn round and
see. Hendricks used more force. There was almost a scuffle in the road.

‘All right, I’m coming. I only wanted to look a second. You needn’t
drag my arm out.’ He ceased resistance, and they lurched forward
together. ‘But what a chap he was! He went like the wind. Did you see
the light streaming out of him--like fire?’

‘Like what?’ shouted Hendricks, as they dashed now through the driving
tempest.

‘Fire!’ bawled the boy. ‘It lit me up as he passed--fire that lights
but does not burn, and wind that blows the world along----’

‘Button your coat and run!’ interrupted the other, hurrying his pace,
and pulling the lad forcibly after him.

‘Don’t twist! You’re hurting! I can run as well as you!’ came back,
with an energy Bindy had never shown before in his life. He was
breathless, panting, charged with excitement still. ‘It touched me as
he passed--fire that lights but doesn’t burn, and wind that blows the
heart to flame--let me go, will you? Let go my hand.’

He dashed free and away. The torrential rain came down in sheets now
from a windless sky, for the _joran_ was already miles beyond them,
tearing across the angry lake. They reached the carpenter’s house,
where their lodging was, soaked to the skin. They dried themselves, and
ate the light supper of soup and omelette prepared for them--ate it in
their dressing-gowns. Lord Ernie went to bed with a hot-water bottle
of rough stone. He declared with decision that he felt no chill. His
excitement had somewhat passed.

‘But, I say, Mr. Hendricks,’ he remarked, as he settled down with his
novel and a cigarette, calmed and normal again, ‘this _is_ a place and
a half, isn’t it? It stirs me all up. I suppose it’s the storm. What do
_you_ think?’

‘Electrical state of the air, yes,’ replied the tutor briefly.

Soon afterwards he closed the shutters on the weather side, said
good-night, and went into his own room to unpack. The singular phrase
Bindy had used kept singing through his head: ‘Fire that lights but
doesn’t burn, and wind that blows the heart to flame’--the first
time he had said ‘blows the world along.’ Where on earth had the boy
got hold of such queer words? He still saw the figure of that wild
mountain fellow who had passed between them with the dust and wind
and rain. There was confusion in the picture, or rather in his memory
of it, perhaps. But it seemed to him, looking back now, that the man
in passing had paused a second--the briefest second merely--and had
spoken, or, at any rate, had stared closely a moment into Bindy’s face,
and that some communication had been between them in that moment of
elemental violence.


III

Pasteur Leysin Hendricks remembered very well. Even now in his old age
he was a vigorous personality, but in his youth he had been almost
revolutionary; wild enough, too, it was rumoured, until he had turned
to God of his own accord as offering a larger field for his strenuous
vitality. The little man was possessed of tireless life, a born leader
of forlorn hopes, attack his _métier_, and heavy odds the conditions
that he loved. Before settling down in this isolated spot--_pasteur de
l’église indépendente_ in a protestant Canton--he had been a missionary
in remote pagan lands. His horizon was a big one, he had seen strange
things. An uncouth being, with a large head upon a thin and wiry body
supported by steely bowed legs, he had that courage which makes itself
known in advance of any proof. Hendricks slipped over to _la cure_
about nine o’clock and found him in his study. Lord Ernie was asleep;
at least his light was out, no sound or movement audible from his room.
The _joran_ had swept the heavens of clouds. Stars shone brilliantly.
The fires still blazed faintly upon the heights.

The visit was not unexpected, for Hendricks had already sent a message
to announce himself, and the moment he sat down, met the Pasteur’s eye,
heard his voice, and observed his slight imperious gestures, he passed
under the influence of a personality stronger than his own. Something
in Leysin’s atmosphere stretched him, lifting his horizon. He had
come chiefly--he now realised it--to borrow help and explanation with
regard to Lord Ernie; the events of two hours before had impressed him
more than he quite cared to own, and he wished to talk about it. But,
somehow, he found it difficult to state his case; no opening presented
itself; or, rather, the Pasteur’s mind, intent upon something of his
own, was too preoccupied. In reply to a question presently, the tutor
gave a brief outline of his present duties, but omitted the scene of
excitement in the village street, for as he watched the furrowed face
in the light of the study lamp, he realised both anxiety and spiritual
high pressure at work below the surface there. He hesitated to intrude
his own affairs at first. They discussed, nevertheless, the psychology
of the boy, and the unfavourable chances of regeneration, while the old
man’s face lit up and flashed from time to time, until at length the
truth came out, and Hendricks understood his friend’s preoccupation.

‘What you’re attempting with an individual,’ Leysin exclaimed with
ardour, ‘is precisely what I’m attempting with a crowd. And it’s
difficult. For poor sinners make poor saints, and the lukewarm I will
spue out of my mouth.’ He made an abrupt, resentful gesture to signify
his disgust and weariness, perhaps his contempt as well. ‘Cut it down!
Why cumbereth it the ground?’

‘A hard, uncharitable doctrine,’ began the tutor, realising that
he must discuss the Parish before he could introduce Bindy’s case
effectively. ‘You mean, of course, that there’s no material to work on?’

‘No energy to direct,’ was the emphatic reply. ‘My sheep here are--real
sheep; mere negative, drink-sodden loafers without desire. Hospital
cases! I could work with tigers and wild beasts, but who ever trained a
slug?’

‘Your proper place is on the heights,’ suggested Hendricks,
interrupting at a venture. ‘There’s scope enough up there, or used to
be. Have they died out, those wild men of the mountains?’ And hit by
chance the target in the bull’s-eye.

The old man’s face turned younger as he answered quickly.

‘Men like that,’ he exclaimed, ‘do not die off. They breed and
multiply.’ He leaned forward across the table, his manner eager,
fervent, almost impetuous with suppressed desire for action. ‘There’s
evil thinking up there,’ he said suggestively, ‘but, by heaven, it’s
alive; it’s positive, ambitious, constructive. With violent feeling and
strong desire to work on, there’s hope of some result. Upon vehement
impulses like that, pagan or anything else, a man can work with a
will. Those are the tigers; down here I have the slugs!’

He shrugged his shoulders and leaned back into his chair. Hendricks
watched him, thinking of the stories told about his missionary days
among savage and barbarian tribes.

‘Born of the vital landscape, I suppose?’ he asked. ‘Wind and frost and
blazing sun. Their wild energy, I mean, is due to----’

A gesture from the old man stopped him. ‘You know who started them
upon their wild performances,’ he said gravely in a lower voice; ‘you
know how that ambitious renegade priest from the Valais chose them
for his nucleus, then died before he could lead them out, trained and
competent, upon his strange campaign? You heard the story when you were
with me as a boy----?’

‘I remember Marston,’ put in the other, uncommonly interested,
‘Marston--the boy who----’ He stopped because he hardly knew how
to continue. There was a minute’s silence. But it was not an empty
silence, though no word broke it. Leysin’s face was a study.

‘Ah, Marston, yes,’ he said slowly, without looking up; ‘you remember
him. But that is at my door, too, I suppose. His father was ignorant
and obstinate; I might have saved him otherwise.’ He seemed talking to
himself rather than to his listener. Pain showed in the lines about
the rugged mouth. ‘There was no one, you see, who knew how to direct
the great life that woke in the lad. He took it back with him, and
turned it loose into all manner of useless enterprises, and the doctors
mistook his abrupt and fierce ambitions for--for the hysteria which
they called the vestibule of lunacy.... Yet small characters may have
big ideas.... They didn’t understand, of course.... It was sad, sad,
sad.’ He hid his face in his hands a moment.

‘Marston went wrong, then, in the end?’ for the other’s manner
suggested disaster of some kind. Hendricks asked it in a whisper.
Leysin uncovered his face, looped his neck with one finger, and pointed
to the ceiling.

‘Hanged himself!’ murmured Hendricks, shocked.

The Pasteur nodded, but there was impatience, half anger in his tone.

‘They checked it, kept it in. Of course, it tore him!’

The two men looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, and something
in the younger of them shrank. This was all beyond his ken a little. An
odd hint of bleak and cruel reality was in the air, making him shiver
along nerves that were normally inactive. The uneasiness he felt about
Lord Ernie became alarm. His conscience pricked him.

‘More than he could assimilate,’ continued Leysin. ‘It broke him. Yet,
had outlets been provided, had he been taught how to use it, this
elemental energy drawn direct from Nature----’ He broke off abruptly,
struck perhaps by the expression in his listener’s eyes. ‘It seems
incredible, doesn’t it, in the twentieth century? I know.’

‘Evil?’ asked Hendricks, stammering rather.

‘Why evil?’ was the impatient reply. ‘How can any force be evil? That’s
merely a question of direction.’

‘And the priest who discovered these forces and taught their use,
then----?’

‘Was genuinely spiritual and followed the truth in his own way. He
was not necessarily evil.’ The little Pasteur spoke with vehemence.
‘You talk like the religion-primers in the kindergarten,’ he went on.
‘Listen. This man, sick and weary of his lukewarm flock, sought vital,
stalwart systems who might be clean enough to use the elemental powers
he had discovered how to attract. Only the bias of the users could
make it “evil” by wrong use. His idea was big and even holy--to train
a corps that might regenerate the world. And he chose unreasoning,
unintellectual types with a purpose--primitive, giant men who could
assimilate the force without risk of being shattered. Under his
direction he intended they should prove as effective as the twelve
disciples of old who were fisher-folk. And, had he gone on----’

‘He, too, failed then?’ asked the other, whose tangled thoughts
struggled with incredulity and belief as he heard this strange new
thing. ‘He died, you mean?’

‘_Maison de santé_,’ was the laconic reply, ‘strait-waistcoats, padded
cells, and the rest; but still alive, I’m told. It was more than he
could manage.’

It was a startling story, even in this brief outline, deep suggestion
in it. The tutor’s sense of being out of his depth increased. After
nine months with a lifeless, devitalised human being, this was--well,
he seemed to have fallen in his sleep from a comfortable bed into a
raging mountain torrent. Strong currents rushed through and over him.
The lonely, peaceful village outside, sleeping beneath the stars,
heightened the contrast.

‘Suppressed or misdirected energy again, I suppose,’ he said in a low
tone, respecting his companion’s emotion. ‘And these mountain men,’ he
asked abruptly, ‘do they still keep up their--practices?’

‘Their ceremonies, yes,’ corrected the other, master of himself again.
‘Turbulent moments of nature, storms and the like, stir them to clumsy
rehearsals of once vital rituals--not entirely ineffective, even in
their incompleteness, but dangerous for that very reason. This _joran_,
for instance, invariably communicates something of its atmospherical
energy to themselves. They light their fires as of old. They blunder
through what they remember of _his_ ceremonies. With the glasses you
may see them in their dozens, men and women, leaping and dancing. It’s
an amazing sight, great beauty in it, impossible to witness even from a
distance without feeling the desire to take part in it. Even my people
feel it--the only time they ever get alive,’--he jerked his big head
contemptuously towards the street--‘or feel desire to act. And some one
from the heights--a messenger perhaps--will be down later, this very
evening probably, on the hunt----’

‘On the hunt?’ Hendricks asked it half below his breath. He felt a
touch of awe as he heard this experienced, genuinely religious man
speak with conviction of such curious things. ‘On the hunt?’ he
repeated more eagerly.

‘Messengers do come down,’ was the reply. ‘A living belief always
seeks to increase, to grow, to add to itself. Where there’s conviction
there’s always propaganda.’

‘Ah, converts----?’

Leysin shrugged his big black shoulders. ‘Desire to add to their
number--desire to _save_,’ he said. ‘The energy they absorb overflows,
that’s all.’

The Englishman debated several questions vaguely in his mind; only
his mind, being disturbed, could not hold the balance exactly true.
Leysin’s influence, as of old, was upon him. A possibility, remote,
seductive, dangerous, began to beckon to him, but from somewhere just
outside his reasoning mind.

‘And they always know when one of their kind is near,’ the voice
slipped in between his tumbling thoughts, ‘as though they get it
instinctively from these universal elements they worship. They select
their recruits with marvellous judgment and precision. No messenger
ever goes back alone; nor has a recruit ever been known to return to
the lazy squalor of the conditions whence he escaped.’

The younger man sat upright in his chair, suddenly alert, and the
gesture that he made unconsciously might have been read by a keen
psychiatrist as evidence of mental self-defence. He felt the forbidden
impulse in him gathering force, and tried to call a halt. At any rate,
he called upon the other man to be explicit. He enquired point-blank
what this religion of the heights might be. What were these elements
these people worshipped? In what did their wild ceremonies consist?

And Leysin, breaking bounds, let his speech burst forth in a stream of
explanation, learned of actual knowledge, as he claimed, and uttered
with a vehement conviction that produced an undeniable effect upon his
astonished listener. Told by no dreamer, but by a righteous man who
lived, not merely preached his certain faith, Hendricks, before the
half was heard, forgot what age and land he dwelt in. Whole blocks
of conventional belief crumbled and fell away. Brick walls erected
by routine to mark narrow paths of proper conduct--safe, moral,
advisable conduct--thawed and vanished. Through the ruins, scrambling
at him from huge horizons never recognised before, came all manner
of marvellous possibilities. The little confinement of modern thought
appalled him suddenly. Leysin spoke slowly, said little, was not even
speculative. It was no mere magic of words that made the dim-lit study
swim these deep waters beyond the ripple of pert creeds, but rather the
overwhelming sense of sure conviction driving behind the statements.
The little man had witnessed curious things, yes, in his missionary
days, and that he had found truth in them in place of ignorant nonsense
was remarkable enough. That silly superstitions prevalent among older
nations could be signs really of their former greatness, linked
mightily close to natural forces, was a startling notion, but it paved
the way in Hendricks’ receptive mind just then for the belief that
certain so-called elements might be worshipped--known intimately, that
is--to the uplifting advantage of the worshippers. And what elements
more suitable for adoring imitation than wind and fire? For in a
human body the first signs of what men term life are heat which is
combustion, and breath which is a measure of wind. Life means fire,
drawn first from the sun, and breathing, borrowed from the omnipresent
air; there might credibly be ways of assaulting these elements and
taking heaven by storm; of seizing from their inexhaustible stores an
abnormal measure, of straining this huge raw supply into effective
energy for human use--vitality. Living with fire and wind in their most
active moments; closely imitating their movements, following in their
footsteps, understanding their ‘laws of being,’ going _identically_
with them--there lay a hint of the method. It was once, when men were
primitively close to Nature, instinctual knowledge. The ceremony was
the teaching. The Powers of fire, the Principalities of air, existed;
and humanity _could_ know their qualities by the ritual of imitation,
could actually absorb the fierce enthusiasm of flame and the tireless
energy of wind. Such transference was conceivable.

Leysin, at any rate, somehow made it so. His description of what
he had personally witnessed, both in wilder lands and here in this
little mountain range of middle Europe, had a reality in it that was
upsetting to the last degree. ‘There is nothing more difficult to
believe,’ he said, ‘yet more certainly true, than the effect of these
singular elemental rites.’ He laughed a short dry laugh. ‘The mediaeval
superstition that a witch could raise a storm is but a remnant of
a once completely efficacious system,’ he concluded, ‘though how
that strange being, the Valais priest, rediscovered the process and
introduced it here, I have never been able to ascertain. That he did
so results have proved. At any rate, it lets in life, life moreover in
astonishing abundance; though, whether for destruction or regeneration,
depends, obviously, upon the use the recipient puts it to. That’s where
direction comes in.’

The beckoning impulse in the tutor’s bewildered thoughts drew closer.
The moment for communicating it had come at last. Without more ado he
took the opening. He told his companion the incident in the village
street, the boy’s abrupt excitement, his new-found energy, the curious
words he used, the independence and vitality of his attitude. He told
also of his parentage, of his mother’s disabilities, his craving for
rushing air in abundance, his love of fire for its own sake, of his
magnificent physical machinery, yet of his uselessness.

And Leysin, as he listened, seemed built on wires. Searching questions
shot forth like blows into the other’s mind. The Pasteur’s sudden
increase of enthusiasm was infectious. He leaped intuitively to the
thing in Hendricks’ thought. He understood the beckoning.

The tutor answered the questions as best he could, aware of the end
in view with trepidation and a kind of mental breathlessness. Yes,
unquestionably, Bindy _had_ exchanged communication of some sort with
the man, though his excitement had been evident even sooner.

‘And you saw this man yourself?’ Leysin pressed him.

‘Indubitably--a tall and hurrying figure in the dusk.’

‘He brought energy with him? The boy felt it and responded?’

Hendricks nodded. ‘Became quite unmanageable for some minutes,’ he
replied.

‘He assimilated it though? There was no distress exactly?’ Leysin asked
sharply.

‘None--that I could see. Pleasurable excitement, something aggressive,
a rather wild enthusiasm. His will began to act. He used that curious
phrase about wind and fire. He turned alive. He wanted to follow the
man----’

‘And the face--how would you describe it? Did it bring terror, I mean,
or confidence?’

‘Dark and splendid,’ answered the other as truthfully as he could. ‘In
a certain sense, rushing, tempestuous, yet stern rather.’

‘A face like the heights,’ suggested Leysin impatiently, ‘a windy,
fiery aspect in it, eh?’

‘The man swept past like the spirit of a storm in imaginative
poetry----’ began the tutor, hunting through his thoughts for adequate
description, then stopped as he saw that his companion had risen from
his chair and begun to pace the floor.

The Pasteur paused a moment beside him, hands thrust deep into his
pockets, head bent down, and shoulders forward. For twenty seconds he
stared into his visitor’s face intently, as though he would force into
him the thought in his own mind. His features seemed working visibly,
yet behind a mask of strong control.

‘Don’t you see what it is? Don’t you see?’ he said in a lower, deeper
tone. ‘_They knew._ Even from a distance they were aware of his coming.
He is one of themselves.’ And he straightened up again. ‘He belongs to
them.’

‘One of them? One of the wind-and-fire lot?’ the tutor stammered.

The restless little man returned to his chair opposite, full of
suppressed and vigorous movement, as though he were strung on springs.

‘He’s _of_ them,’ he continued, ‘but in a peculiar and particular
sense. More than merely a possible recruit, his empty organism would
provide the very link they need, the perfect conduit.’ He watched his
companion’s face with careful keenness. ‘In the country where I first
experienced this marvellous thing,’ he added significantly, ‘he would
have been set apart as the offering, the sacrifice, as they call it
there. The tribe would have chosen him with honour. He would have been
the special bait to attract.’

‘Death?’ whispered the other.

But Leysin shook his head. ‘In the end, perhaps,’ he replied darkly,
‘for the vessel might be torn and shattered. But at first charged to
the brim and crammed with energy--with transformed vitality they could
draw into themselves through him. A monster, if you will, but to them a
deity; and superhuman, in our little sense, most certainly.’

Then Hendricks faltered inwardly and turned away. No words came to him
at the moment. In silence the minds of the two men, one a religious,
the other a secular teacher, and each with a burden of responsibility
to the race, kept pace together without speech. The religious,
however, outstripped the pedagogue. What he next said seemed a little
disconnected with what had preceded it, although Hendricks caught the
drift easily enough--and shuddered.

‘An organism needing heat,’ observed Leysin calmly, ‘can absorb without
danger what would destroy a normal person. Alcohol, again, neither
injures nor intoxicates--up to a given point--the system that really
requires it.’

The tutor, perplexed and sorely tempted, felt that he drifted with a
tide he found it difficult to stem.

‘Up to a point,’ he repeated. ‘That’s true, of course.’

‘Up to a given point,’ echoed the other, with significance that made
his voice sound solemn. ‘Then rescue--in the nick of time.’

He waited two full minutes and more for an answer; then, as none was
audible, he said another thing. His eyes were so intent upon the
tutor’s that the latter raised his own unwillingly, and understood thus
all that lay behind the pregnant little sentence.

‘With a number it would not be possible, but with an individual it
could be done. Brim the empty vessel first. Then rescue--in the nick
of time! Regeneration!’


IV

In the Englishman’s mind there came a crash, as though something
fell. There was dust, confusion, noise. Moral platitudes shouted
at conventional admonitions. Warnings laughed and copy-book maxims
shrivelled up. Above the lot, rising with a touch of grandeur, stood
the pulpit figure of the little Pasteur, his big face shining clear
through all the turmoil, strength and vision in the flaming eyes--a
commanding outline with spiritual audacity in his heart. And Hendricks
saw then that the man himself was standing erect in the centre of
the room, one finger raised to command attention--listening. Some
considerable interval must have passed while he struggled with his
inner confusion.

Leysin stood, intently listening, his big head throwing a grotesque
shadow on wall and ceiling.

‘Hark!’ he exclaimed, half whispering. ‘Do you hear that? Listen.’

A deep sound, confused and roaring, passed across the night, far away,
and slightly booming. It entered the little room so that the air seemed
to tremble a moment. To Hendricks it held something ominous.

‘The wind,’ he whispered, as the noise died off into the distance; ‘yet
a moment ago the night was still enough. The stars were shining.’ There
was tense excitement in the room just then. It showed in Leysin’s face,
which had gone white as a cloth. Hendricks himself felt extraordinarily
stirred.

‘Not wind, but human voices,’ the older man said quickly. ‘It’s
shouting. Listen!’ and his eyes ran round the room, coming to rest
finally in a corner where his hat and cloak hung from a nail. A gesture
accompanied the look. He wanted to be out. The tutor half rose to take
his leave. ‘You have duties to-night elsewhere,’ he stammered. ‘I’m
forgetting.’ His own instinct was to get away himself with Bindy by the
first early diligence. He was afraid of yielding.

‘Hush!’ whispered Leysin peremptorily. ‘Listen!’

He opened the window at the top, and through the crack, where the stars
peeped brightly, there came, louder than before, the uproar of human
voices floating through the night from far away. The air of the great
pine forests came in with it. Hendricks listened intently a moment. He
positively jumped to feel a hand upon his arm. Leysin’s big head was
thrust close up into his face.

‘That’s the commotion in the village,’ he whispered. ‘A messenger has
come and gone; some one has gone back with him. To-night I shall be
needed--down here, but to-morrow night when the great ritual takes
place--up there----!’

Hendricks tried to push him away so as not to hear the words; but the
little man seemed immovable as a rock. The impulse remained probably
in the mind without making the muscles work. For the tutor, sorely
tempted, longed to dare, yet faltered in his will.

‘----if you felt like taking the risk,’ the words continued
seductively, ‘we might place the empty vessel near enough to let it
fill, then rescue it, charged with energy, in the nick of time.’ And
the Pasteur’s eyes were aglow with enthusiasm, his voice even trembling
at the thought of high adventure to save another’s soul.

‘Watch merely?’ Hendricks heard his own voice whisper, hardly aware
that he was saying it, ‘without taking part?’ He said it thickly,
stupidly, a man wavering and unsure of himself. ‘It would be an
experience,’ he stammered. ‘I’ve never----’

‘Merely watch, yes; look on; let him see,’ interrupted the other with
eagerness. ‘We must be very careful. It’s worth trying--a last resort.’

They still stood close together. Hendricks felt the little man’s breath
on his face as he peered up at him.

‘I admit the chance,’ he began weakly.

‘There is no chance,’ was the vigorous reply, ‘there is only
Providence. You have been guided.’

‘But as to risk and failure, what of them? What’s involved?’ he asked,
recklessness increasing in him.

‘New wine in old bottles,’ was the answer. ‘But here, you tell me, the
vessel is not damaged, but merely empty. The machinery is all right. If
he merely watches, as from a little distance----’

‘Yes, yes, the machinery _is_ there, I agree. The boy has breeding,
health, and all the physical qualities--good blood and nerves and
muscles. It’s only that life refuses to stay and drive them.’ His heart
beat with violence even as he said it; he felt the energy and zeal from
the older man pour into him. He was realising in himself on a smaller
scale what might take place with the boy in large. But still he shrank.
Leysin for the moment said no more. His spiritual discernment was equal
to his boldness. Having planted the seed, he left it to grow or die.
The decision was not for him.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the light of the single lamp the two men sat facing each other,
listening, waiting, while Leysin talked occasionally, but in the
main kept silence. Some time passed, though how long the tutor could
not say. In his mind was wild confusion. How could he justify such
a mad proposal? Yet how could he refuse the opening, preposterous
though it seemed? The enticement was very great; temptation rushed
upon him. Striving to recall his normal world, he found it difficult.
The face of the old Marquess seemed a mere lifeless picture on a
wall--it watched but could not interfere. Here was an opportunity to
take or leave. He fought the battle in terms of naked souls, while
the ordinary four-cornered morality hid its face awhile. He heard
himself explaining, delaying, hedging, half-toying with the problem.
But the redemption of a soul was at stake, and he tried to forget the
environment and conditions of modern thought and belief. Sentences
flashed at him out of the battle: ‘I must take him back worse than
when I started, or--what? A violent being like Marston, or a redeemed,
converted system with new energy? It’s a chance, and my last.’
Moreover, odd, half-comic detail--there was the support of the Church,
of a protestant clergyman whose fundamental beliefs were similar to the
evangelical persuasions of the boy’s family. Conversion, as demoniacal
possession, were both traditions of the blood. After all, the old
Marquess might understand and approve. ‘You took the opening God set in
your way in His wisdom. You showed faith and courage. Far be it from me
to condemn you.’ The picture on the wall looked down at him and spoke
the words.

The wild hypothesis of the intrepid little missionary-pasteur swept him
with an effect like hypnotism. Then, suddenly, something in him seemed
to decide finally for itself. He flung himself, morality and all, upon
this vigorous other personality. He leaned across the table, his face
close to the lamp. His voice shook as he spoke.

‘Would _you_?’ he asked--then knew the question foolish, and that such
a man would shrink from nothing where the redemption of a soul was at
stake; knew also that the question was proof that his own decision was
already made.

There was something grotesque almost in the torrent of colloquial
French Leysin proceeded to pour forth, while the other sat listening in
amazement, half ashamed and half exhilarated. He looked at the stalwart
figure, the wiry bowed legs as he paced the floor, the shortness of the
coat-sleeves and the absence of shirt-cuffs round the powerful lean
wrists. It was a great fighting man he watched, a man afraid of nothing
in heaven or earth, prepared to lead a forlorn hope into a hostile
unknown land. And the sight, combined with what he heard, set the seal
upon his half-hearted decision. He would take the risk and go.

‘Pfui!’ exclaimed the little Pasteur as though it might have been an
oath, his loud whisper breaking through into a guttural sound, ‘pfui!
Bah! Would that _my_ people had machinery like that so that I could use
it! I’ve no material to work on, no force to direct, nothing but heavy,
sodden clay. Jelly!’ he cried, ‘negative, useless, lukewarm stuff at
best.’ He lowered his voice suddenly, so as to listen at the same time.
‘I might as well be a baker kneading dough,’ he continued. ‘They drink
and yield and drink again; they never attack and drive; they’re not
worth labouring to save.’ He struck the wooden table with his fist,
making the lamp rattle, while his listener started and drew back. ‘What
good can weak souls, though spotless, be to God? The best have long
ago gone up to them,’ and he jerked his leonine old head towards the
mountains. ‘Where there’s _life_ there’s hope,’ he stamped his foot as
he said it, ‘but the lukewarm--pfui!--I will spue them out of my mouth!’

He paused by the window a moment, listened attentively, then resumed
his pacing to and fro. Clearly, he longed for action. Indifference,
half-heartedness had no place in his composition. And Hendricks felt
his own slower blood take fire as he listened.

‘Ah!’ cried Leysin louder, ‘what a battle I could fight up there for
God, could I but live among them, stem the flow of their dark strong
vitality, then twist it round and up, up, up!’ And he jerked his finger
skywards. ‘It’s the great sinners we want, not the meek-faced saints.
There’s energy enough among those devils to bring a whole Canton to the
great Footstool, could I but direct it.’ He paused a moment, standing
over his astonished visitor. ‘Bring the boy up with you, and let him
drink his fill. And pray, pray, I say, that he become a violent sinner
first in order that later there shall be something worth offering to
God. Over one _sinner_ that repenteth----’

A rapid, nervous knocking interrupted the flow of words, and the figure
of a woman stood upon the threshold. With the opening of the door came
also again the roaring from the night outside. Hendricks saw the tall,
somewhat dishevelled outline of the wife--he remembered her vaguely,
though she could hardly see him now in his darker corner--and recalled
the fact that she had been sent out to Leysin in his missionary days,
a worthy, illiterate, but adoring woman. She wore a shawl, her hair was
untidy, her eyes fixed and staring. Her husband’s sturdy little figure,
as he rose, stood level with her chin.

‘You hear it, Jules?’ she whispered thickly. ‘The _joran_ has brought
them down. You’ll be needed in the village.’ She said it anxiously,
though Hendricks understood the _patois_ with difficulty. They talked
excitedly together a moment in the doorway, their outlines blocked
against the corridor where a single oil lamp flickered. She warned,
urging something; he expostulated. Fragments reached Hendricks in his
corner. Clearly the woman worshipped her husband like a king, yet
feared for his safety. He, for his part, comforted her, scolded a
little, argued, told her to ‘believe in God and go back to bed.’

‘They’ll take you too, and you’ll never return. It’s not your parish
anyhow ...’ a touch of anguish in her tone.

But Leysin was impatient to be off. He led her down the passage. ‘My
parish is wherever I can help. I belong to God. Nothing can harm me but
to leave undone the work He gives me.’ The steps went farther away as
he guided her to the stairs. Outside the roar of voices rose and fell.
Wind brought the drifting sound, wind carried it away. It was like the
thunder of the sea.

And the Englishman, using the little scene as a flashlight upon his own
attitude, saw it for an instant as God might have seen it. Leysin’s
point of view was high, scanning a very wide horizon. His eye being
single, the whole body was full of light. The risk, it suddenly seemed,
was--nothing; to shirk it, indeed, the merest cowardice.

He went up and seized the Pasteur’s hand.

‘To-morrow,’ he said, a trifle shakily perhaps, yet looking straight
into his eyes. ‘If we stay over--I’ll bring the lad with me--provided
he comes willingly.’

‘You will stay over,’ interrupted the other with decision. ‘Come to
supper at seven. Come in mountain boots. Use persuasion, but not force.
He shall see it from a distance--without taking part.’

‘From a distance--yes,’ the tutor repeated, ‘but without taking part.’

‘I know the signs,’ the Pasteur broke in significantly. ‘We can rescue
him in the nick of time--charged with energy and life, yet before the
danger gets----’

A sudden clangour of bells drowned the whispering voice, cutting the
sentence in the middle. It was like an alarm of fire. Leysin sprang
sharply round.

‘The signal!’ he cried; ‘the signal from the church. Some one’s been
taken. I must go at once--I shall be needed.’ He had his hat and cloak
on in a moment, was through the passage and into the street, Hendricks
following at his heels. The whole place seemed alive. Yet the roadway
was deserted, and no lights showed at the windows of the houses. Only
from the farther end of the village, where stood the cabaret, came a
roar of voices, shouting, crying, singing. The impression was that the
population was centred there. Far in the starry sky a line of fires
blazed upon the heights, throwing a lurid reflection above the deep
black valley. Excitement filled the night.

‘But how extraordinary!’ exclaimed Hendricks, hurrying to overtake his
alert companion; ‘what life there is about! Everything’s on the rush.’
They went faster, almost running. ‘I feel the waves of it beating even
here.’ He followed breathlessly.

‘A messenger has come--and gone,’ replied Leysin in a sharp, decided
voice. ‘What you feel here is but the overflow. This is the aftermath.
I must work down here with my people----’

‘I’ll work with you,’ began the other. But Leysin stopped him.

‘Keep yourself for to-morrow night--up there,’ he said with grave
authority, pointing to the fiery line upon the heights, and at the same
time quickening his pace along the street. ‘At the moment,’ he cried,
looking back, ‘your place is yonder.’ He jerked his head towards the
carpenter’s house among the vineyards. The next minute he was gone.


V

And Hendricks, accredited tutor to a sprig of nobility in the twentieth
century, asked himself suddenly how such things could possibly be. The
adventure took on abruptly a touch of nightmare. Only the light in
the sky above the cabaret windows, and the roar of voices where men
drank and sang, brought home the reality of it all. With a shudder of
apprehension he glanced at the lurid glare upon the mountains. He was
committed now; not because he had merely promised, but because he had
definitely made up his mind.

Lighting a match, he saw by his watch that the visit had lasted over
two hours. It was after eleven. He hurried, letting himself in with
the big house-key, and going on tiptoe up the granite stairs. In his
mind rose a picture of the boy as he had known him all these weary,
sight-seeing months--the mild brown eyes, the facile indolence, the
pliant, watery emotions of the listless creature, but behind him now,
like storm clouds, the hopes, desires, fears the Pasteur’s talk had
conjured up. The yearning to save stirred strongly in his heart, and
more and more of the little man’s reckless spiritual audacity came
with it. His own affection for the lad was genuine, but impatience
and adventure pushed eagerly through the tenderness. If only, oh, if
only he could put life into that great six-foot, big-boned frame!
Some energy as of fire and wind into that inert machinery of mind and
body! The idea was utterly incredible, but surely no harm could come
of trying the experiment. There _were_ the huge and elemental forces,
of course, in Nature, and if ... A sound in the bedroom, as he crept
softly past the door, caught his attention, and he paused a moment to
listen. Lord Ernie was not asleep, then, after all. He wondered why the
sound got somehow at his heart. There was shuffling behind the door;
there was a voice, too--or was it voices? He knocked.

‘Who is it?’ came at once, in a tone he hardly recognised. And, as he
answered, ‘It’s I, Mr. Hendricks; let me in,’ there followed a renewal
of the shuffling, but without the sound of voices, and the door flew
open--it was not even locked. Lord Ernie stood before him, dressed to
go out. In the faint starlight the tall ungainly figure filled the
doorway, erect and huge, the shoulders squared, the trunk no longer
drooping. The listlessness was gone. He stood upright, limbs straight
and alert; the sagging limp had vanished from the knees. He looked, in
this semi-darkness, like another person, almost monstrous. And the
tutor drew back instinctively, catching an instant at his breath.

‘But, my dear boy! why aren’t you asleep?’ he stammered. He glanced
half nervously about him. ‘I heard you talking, surely?’ He fumbled for
a match; but, before he found it, the other had turned on the electric
switch. The light flared out. There was no one else in the room. ‘Is
anything wrong with you? What’s the matter?’

But the boy answered quietly, though in a deeper voice than Hendricks
had ever known in him before:

‘I’m all right; only I couldn’t sleep. I’ve been watching those fires
on the mountains. I--I wanted to go out and see.’

He still held the field-glasses in his hand, swinging them vigorously
by the strap. The room was littered with clothes, just unpacked,
the heavy shooting boots in the middle of the floor; and Hendricks,
noticing these signs, felt a wave of excitement sweep through him,
caught somehow from the presence of the boy. There was a sense of
vitality in the room--as though a rush of active movement had just
passed through it. Both windows stood wide open, and the roar of voices
was clearly audible. Lord Ernie turned his head to listen.

‘That’s only the village people drinking and shouting,’ said Hendricks,
closely watching each movement that he made. ‘It’s perfectly natural,
Bindy, that you feel too excited to sleep. We’re in the mountains.
The air stimulates tremendously--it makes the heart beat faster.’ He
decided not to press the lad with questions.

‘But I never felt like this in the Rockies or the Himalayas,’ came the
swift rejoinder, as he moved to the window and looked out. ‘There was
nothing in India or Japan like _that_!’ He swept his hand towards
the wooded heights that towered above the village so close. He talked
volubly. ‘All those things we saw out there were sham--done on purpose
for tourists. Up there it’s real. I’ve been watching through the
glasses till--I felt I simply must go out and join it. You can see men
dancing round the fires, and big, rushing women. Oh, Mr. Hendricks,
isn’t it all glorious--all too glorious and ripping for words!’ And his
brown eyes shone like lamps.

‘You mean that it’s spontaneous, natural?’ the other guided him,
welcoming the new enthusiasm, yet still bewildered by the startling
change. It was not mere nerves he saw. There was nothing morbid in it.

‘They’re doing it, I mean, because they have to,’ came the decided
answer, ‘and because they feel it. They’re not just copying the world.’
He put his hand upon the other’s arm. There was dry heat in it that
Hendricks felt even through his clothes. ‘And that’s what _I_ want,’
the boy went on, raising his voice; ‘what I’ve always wanted without
knowing it--real things that can make me alive. I’ve often had it in my
dreams, you know, but now I’ve found it.’

‘But I didn’t know. You never told me of those dreams.’

The boy’s cheeks flushed, so that the colour and the fire in his eyes
made him positively splendid. He answered slowly, as out of some part
he had hitherto kept deliberately concealed.

‘Because I never could get hold of it in words. It sounded so silly
even to myself, and I thought Father would train it all away and
laugh at it. It’s awfully far down in me, but it’s so real I knew
it must come out one day, and that I should find it. Oh, I say,
Mr. Hendricks,’ and he lowered his voice, leaning out across the
window-sill suddenly, ‘_that_ fills me up and feeds me’--he pointed
to the heights--‘and gives me life. The life I’ve seen till now was
only a kind of show. It starved me. I want to go up there and feel it
pouring through my blood.’ He filled his lungs with the strong mountain
air, and paused while he exhaled it slowly, as though tasting it with
delight and understanding. Then he burst out again, ‘I vote we go. Will
you come with me? What d’you say. Eh?’

They stared at each other hard a moment. Something as primitive and
irresistible as love passed through the air between them. With a great
effort the older man kept the balance true.

‘Not to-night, not now,’ he said firmly. ‘It’s too late. To-morrow, if
you like--with pleasure.’

‘But to-morrow _night_,’ cried the boy with a rush, ‘when the fires are
blazing and the wind is loose. Not in the stupid daylight.’

‘All right. To-morrow night. And my old friend, Monsieur Leysin, shall
be our guide. He knows the way, and he knows the people too.’

Lord Ernie seized his hands with enthusiasm. His vigour was so
disconcerting that it seemed to affect his physical appearance. The
body grew almost visibly; his very clothes hung on him differently;
he was no longer a nonentity yawning beneath an ancient pedigree and
title; he was an aggressive personality. The boy in him rushed into
manhood, as it were, while still retaining boyish speech and gesture.
It was uncanny. ‘We’ll go more than once, I vote; go again and again.
This _is_ a place and a half. It’s _my_ place with a vengeance----!’

‘Not exactly the kind of place your father would wish you to linger
in,’ his tutor interrupted. ‘But we might stay a day or two--especially
as you like it so.’

‘It’s far better than the towns and the rotten embassies; better
than fifty Simlas and Bombays and filthy Cairos,’ cried the other
eagerly. ‘It’s just the thing I need, and when I get home I’ll show ’em
something. I’ll prove it. Why, they simply won’t know me!’ He laughed,
and his face shone with a kind of vivid radiance in the glare of the
electric light. The transformation was more than curious. Waiting a
moment to see if more would follow, Hendricks moved slowly then towards
the door, with the remark that it was advisable now to go to bed since
they would be up late the following night--when he noticed for the
first time that the pillow and sheets were crumpled and that the bed
had already been lain in. The first suspicion flashed back upon him
with new certainty.

Lord Ernie was already taking off his heavy coat, preparatory to
undressing. He looked up quickly at the altered tone of voice.

‘Bindy,’ the tutor said with a touch of gravity, ‘you _were_ alone just
now--weren’t you--of course?’

The other sat up from stooping over his boots. With his hands resting
on the bed behind him, he looked straight into his companion’s eyes.
Lying was not among his faults. He answered slowly after a decided
interval.

‘I--I was asleep,’ he whispered, evidently trying to be accurate,
yet hesitating how to describe the thing he had to say, ‘and had a
dream--one of my real, vivid dreams when something happens. Only, this
time, it was more real than ever before. It was’--he paused, searching
for words, then added--‘sweet and awful.’

And Hendricks repeated the surprising sentence. ‘Sweet and awful,
Bindy! What in the world do you mean, boy?’

Lord Ernie seemed puzzled himself by the choice of words he used.

‘I don’t know exactly,’ he went on honestly, ‘only I mean that it was
awfully real and splendid, a bit of my own life somewhere--somewhere
else--where it lies hidden away behind a lot of days and months that
choke it up. I can never get at it except in woods and places, quite
alone, hearing the wind or making fires, or--in sleep.’ He hid his face
in his hands a moment, then looked up with a hint of censure in his
eyes. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that such things _were_ done? You never
told me,’ he repeated.

‘I didn’t know it myself until this evening. Leysin----’

‘I thought you knew everything,’ Lord Ernie broke in in that same
half-chiding tone.

‘Monsieur Leysin told me to-night for the first time,’ said Hendricks
firmly, ‘that such people and such practices existed. Till now I had
never dreamed that such superstitions survived anywhere in the world
at all.’ He resented the reproach. But he was also aware that the boy
resented his authority. For the first time his ascendency seemed in
question; his voice, his eye, his manner did not quell as formerly.
‘So you mean, when you say “sweet and awful,” that it was very real to
you?’ he asked. He insisted now with purpose. ‘Is that it, Bindy?’

The other replied eagerly enough. ‘Yes, that’s it, I think--partly.
This time it was more than dreaming. It was real. I got there. I
remembered. That’s what I meant. And after I woke up the thing still
went on. The man seemed still in the room beside the bed, calling me to
get up and go with him----’

‘Man! What man?’ The tutor leant upon the back of a chair to steady
himself. The wind just then went past the open windows with a singing
rush.

‘The dark man who passed us in the village, and who pointed to the
fires on the heights. He came with the wind, you remember. He pulled my
coat.’

The boy stood up as he said it. He came across the naked boarding, his
step light and dancing. ‘Fire that heats but does not burn, and wind
that blows the heart alight, or something--I forget now exactly. _You_
heard it too.’ He whispered the words with excitement, raising his arms
and knees as in the opening movements of a dance.

Hendricks kept his own excitement down, but with a distinctly conscious
effort.

‘I heard nothing of the kind,’ he said calmly. ‘I was only thinking of
getting home dry. You say,’ he asked with decision, ‘that you _heard_
those words?’

Lord Ernie stood back a little. It was not that he wished to conceal,
but that he felt uncertain how to express himself. ‘In the street,’ he
said, ‘I heard nothing; the words rose up in my own head, as it were.
But in the dream, and afterwards too, when I was wide awake, I heard
them out loud, clearly: Fire that heats but does not burn, and wind
that blows the heart to flame--that’s how it was.’

‘In French, Bindy? You heard it in French?’

‘Oh, it was no language at all. The eyes said it--both times.’ He
spoke as naturally as though it was the Durbah he described again.
Only this new aggressive certainty was in his voice and manner.
‘Mr. Hendricks,’ he went on eagerly, ‘_you_ understand what I mean,
don’t you? When certain people look at one, words start up in the
mind as though one heard them spoken. I heard the words in my head,
I suppose; only they seemed so familiar, as though I’d known them
before--always----’

‘Of course, Bindy, I understand. But this man--tell me--did he stay on
after you woke up? And how did he go?’ He looked round at the barely
furnished room for hiding-places. ‘It was really the dream you carried
on after waking, wasn’t it?’

Then Bindy laughed, but inwardly, as to himself. There was the faintest
possible hint of derision in his voice. ‘No doubt,’ he said; ‘only it
was one of my big, real dreams. And how he went I can’t explain at
all, for I didn’t see. You knocked at the door; I turned, and found
myself standing in the room, dressed to go out. There was a rush of
wind outside the window--and when I looked he was no longer there.
The same minute you came in. It was all as quick as that. I suppose I
dressed--in my sleep.’

They stood for several minutes, staring at each other without speaking.
The tutor hesitated between several courses of action, unable, for the
life of him, to decide upon any particular one. His instinct on the
whole was to stop nothing, but to encourage all possible expression,
while keeping rigorous watch and guard. Repression, it seemed to him
just then, was the least desirable line to take. Somewhere there was
truth in the affair. He felt out of his depth, his authority impaired,
and under these temporary disadvantages he might so easily make a
grave mistake, injuring instead of helping. While Lord Ernie finished
his undressing he leaned out of the window, taking great draughts of
the keen night air, watching the blazing fires and listening to the
roar of voices, now dying down into the distance.

And the voice of his thinking whispered to him, ‘Let it all come out.
Repress nothing. Let him have the entire adventure. If it’s nonsense
it can’t injure, and if it’s true it’s inevitable.’ He drew his head
in and moved towards the door. ‘Then it’s settled,’ he said quietly,
as though nothing unusual had happened; ‘we’ll go up there to-morrow
night--with Monsieur Leysin to show us the way. And you’ll go to sleep
now, won’t you? For to-morrow we may be up very late. Promise me,
Bindy.’

‘I’m dead tired,’ came the answer from the sheets. ‘I certainly shan’t
dream any more, if that’s what you mean. I promise.’

Hendricks turned the light out and went softly from the room. He could
always trust the boy.

‘Good-night, Bindy,’ he said.

‘Good-night,’ came the drowsy reply.

Upstairs he lingered a long time over his own undressing, listening,
waiting, watching for the least sound below. But nothing happened.
Once, for his own peace of mind, he stole stealthily downstairs to the
boy’s door; then, reassured by the heavy breathing that was distinctly
audible, he went up finally and got into bed himself. The night was
very still now. It was cool, and the stars were brilliant over lake and
forest and mountain. No voices broke the silence. He only heard the
tinkle of the little streams beyond the vineyards. And by midnight he
was sound asleep.


VI

And next day broke as soft and brilliant as though October had stolen
it from June; the Alps gleamed through an almost summery haze across
the lake; the air held no hint of coming winter; and the Jura mountains
wore the true blue of memory in Hendricks’ mind. Patches of red and
yellow splashed the great pine-woods here and there where beech and ash
put autumn in the vast dark carpet.

The tutor woke clear-headed and refreshed. All that had happened the
night before seemed out of proportion and unreasonable. There had
been exaggerated emotion in it: in himself, because he returned to a
place still charged with potent memories of youth; and in Lord Ernie,
because the lad was overwrought by the electrical disturbance of the
atmosphere. The nearness of the ancestral halls, which they both
disliked, had emphasised it; the ominous, wild weather had favoured
it; and the coincidence of these pagan rites of superstitious peasants
had focused it all into a melodramatic form with an added touch of the
supernatural that was highly picturesque and--dangerously suggestive.
Hendricks recovered his common sense; judgment asserted itself again.

Yet, for all that, certain things remained authentic. The effect
upon the boy was not illusion, nor his words about fire and wind
mere meaningless invention. There hid some undivined and significant
correspondence between the gaps in his deficient nature and these two
turbulent elements. The talk with Leysin, as the conduct of his wife,
remained authentic; those facts were too steady to be dismissed, the
Pasteur too genuinely in earnest to be catalogued in dream. Neither
daylight nor common sense could dissipate their actuality. Truth lay
somewhere in it all.

Thus the day, for the tutor, was a battle that shifted with varying
fortune between doubt and certainty. In the morning his mind was
decided: the wild experiment was unjustifiable; in the afternoon,
as the sunshine grew faint and melancholy, it became ‘interesting,
for what harm could come of it?’ but towards evening, when shadows
lengthened across the purple forests and the trees stood motionless in
the calm and windless air, the adventure seemed, as it had seemed the
night before, not only justifiable, but right and necessary. It only
became inevitable, however, when, after tea together on the balcony,
Lord Ernie, mentioning the subject for the first time that day, asked
pointedly what time the Pasteur expected them to supper; then, noticing
the flash of hesitancy in his companion’s eyes, added in his strange
deep voice, ‘You promised we should go.’ Withdrawal after that was out
of the question. To retract would have meant, for one thing, final loss
of the boy’s confidence--a possibility not to be contemplated for a
moment.

Until this moment no word of the preceding night had passed the lips
of either. Lord Ernie had been quiet and preoccupied, silent rather,
but never listless. He was peaceful, perhaps subdued a little, yet with
a suppressed energy in his bearing that Hendricks watched with secret
satisfaction. The tutor, closely observant, detected nothing out of
gear; life stirred strongly in him; there was purpose, interest, will;
there was desire; but there was nothing to cause alarm.

Availing himself then of the lad’s absorption in his own affairs, he
wandered forth alone upon his sentimental tour of inspection. No ghost
of emotion rose to stalk beside him. That early tragedy, he now saw
clearly, had been no more than youthful explosion of mere physical
passion, wholesome and natural, but due chiefly to propinquity. His
thoughts ran idly on; and he was even congratulating himself upon
escape and freedom when, abruptly, he remembered a phrase Bindy had
used the night before, and stumbled suddenly upon a clue when least
expecting it.

He came to a sudden halt. The significance of it crashed through his
mind and startled him. ‘There are big rushing women ...’ It was the
first reference to the other sex, as evidence of their attraction
for him, Hendricks had ever known to pass his lips. Hitherto, though
twenty years of age, the lad had never spoken of women as though he was
aware of their terrible magic. He had not discovered them as females,
necessary to every healthy male. It was not purity, of course, but
ignorance: he had felt nothing. Something had now awakened sex in him,
so that he knew himself a man, and naked. And it had revolutionised the
world for him. This new life came from the roots, transforming listless
indifference into positive desire; the will woke out of sleep, and
all the currents of his system took aggressive form. For all energy,
intellectual, emotional, or spiritual, is fundamentally one: it is
primarily sexual.

Hendricks paused in his sentimental walk, marvelling that he had not
realised sooner this simple truth. It brought a certain logical meaning
even into the pagan rites upon the mountains, these ancient rites
which symbolised the marriage of the two tremendous elements of wind
and fire, heat and air. And the lad’s quiet, busy mood that morning
confirmed his simple discovery. It involved restraint and purpose. Lord
Ernie was alive. Hendricks would take home with him to those ancestral
halls a vessel bursting with energy--creative energy. It was admirable
that he should witness--from a safe distance--this primitive ceremony
of crude pagan origin. It was the very thing. And the tutor hurried
back to the house among the vineyards, aware that his responsibility
had increased, but persuaded more than ever that his course was
justified.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sky held calm and cloudless through the day, the forests brooding
beneath the hazy autumn sunshine. Indications that the second hurricane
lay brewing among the heights were not wanting, however, to experienced
eyes. Almost a preternatural silence reigned; there was a warm
heaviness in the placid atmosphere; the surface of the lake was patched
and streaky; the extreme clarity of the air an ominous omen. Distant
objects were too close. Towards sunset, moreover, the streaks and
patches vanished as though sucked below, while thin strips of tenuous
cloud appeared from nowhere above the northern cliffs. They moved with
great rapidity at an enormous height, touched with a lurid brilliance
as the sun sank out of sight; and when Hendricks strolled over with
Lord Ernie to _la cure_ for supper there came a sudden rush of heated
wind that set the branches sharply rattling, then died away as abruptly
as it rose.

They seemed reflected, too, these disturbances, in the human
atmospheres about the supper table--there was suppression of various
emotions, emotions presaging violence. Lord Ernie was exhilarated,
Hendricks uneasy and preoccupied, the Pasteur grave and thoughtful. In
Hendricks was another feeling as well--that he had lightly summoned
a storm which might carry him off his feet. The boy’s excitement
increased it, as wind-puffs fan a starting fire. His own judgment
had somewhere played him false, betraying him into this incredible
adventure. And yet he could not stop it. The Pasteur’s influence was
over him perhaps. He was ashamed to turn back. He was committed. The
unusual circumstances found the weakness in his character.

For somewhere in the preposterous superstition there lay a big
forgotten truth. He could not believe it, and yet he did believe it.
The world had forgotten how to live truly close to Nature.

A desultory conversation was carried on, chiefly between the two men,
while the boy ate hungrily, and Mme. Leysin watched her husband with
anxiety as she served the simple meal.

‘So you are coming with us, and you like to come?’ the Pasteur observed
quietly, Hendricks translating.

Lord Ernie replied with a gesture of unmistakable enthusiasm.

‘A wild lot of men and women,’ Leysin went on, keeping his eye hard
upon him, ‘with an interesting worship of their own copied from very
ancient times. They live on the heights, and mix little with us valley
folk. You shall see their ceremonies to-night.’

‘They get the wind and fire into themselves, don’t they?’ asked the boy
keenly, and somewhat to the distress of the translator who rendered it,
‘They get into wind and fire.’

‘They worship wind and fire,’ Leysin replied, ‘and they do it by means
of a wonderful dance that somehow imitates the leap of flame and the
headlong rush of wind. If you copy the movements and gestures of a
person you discover the emotion that causes them. You share it. Their
idea is, apparently, that by imitating the movements they invite or
attract the force--draw these elemental powers into their systems, so
that in the end----’

He stopped suddenly, catching the tutor’s eye. Lord Ernie seemed
to understand without translation; he had laid down his knife and
fork, and was leaning forward across the table, listening with deep
absorption. His expression was alert with a new intelligence that was
almost cunning. An acute sensibility seemed to have awakened in him.

‘As with laughing, I suppose?’ he said in an undertone to Hendricks
quickly. ‘If you imitate a laugher, you laugh yourself in the end and
feel all the jolly excitement of laughter. Is that what he means?’

The tutor nodded with assumed indifference. ‘Imitation is always
infectious,’ he said lightly; ‘but, of course, you will not imitate
these wild people yourself, Bindy. We’ll just look on from a distance.’

‘From a distance!’ repeated the boy, obviously disappointed. ‘What’s
the good of that?’ A look of obstinacy passed across his altered face.

Hendricks met his eyes squarely. ‘At a circus,’ he said firmly, ‘you
just watch. You don’t imitate the clown, do you?’

‘If you look on long enough, you do,’ was the rather dogged reply.

‘Well, take the Russian dancers we saw in Moscow,’ the other insisted
patiently; ‘you felt the power and beauty without jumping up and
whirling in your stall?’

Bindy half glared at him. There was almost contempt in his quiet
answer: ‘But your mind whirled with them. And later your body would
too; otherwise it’s given you nothing.’ He paused a second. ‘I can
only get the fun of riding by being on a horse’s back and doing his
movements exactly with him--not by watching him.’

Hendricks smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He did not wish to
discourage the enthusiasm lying behind this analysis. The uneasiness in
him grew apace. He said something rapidly in French, using an undertone
and laughter to confuse the actual words.

‘Of course we must not interfere with their ceremonies,’ put in the
Pasteur with decision. ‘It’s sacred to them. We can hide among the
trees and watch. You would not leave your seat in church to imitate the
priest, would you?’ He glanced smilingly at the eager youth before him.

‘If he did something real, I would.’ It was said with a bright flash in
the eyes. ‘Anything real I’d copy like a shot. Only, I never find it.’

The reply was disconcerting rather: and Hendricks, as he hurriedly
translated, made a clatter with his knife and fork, for something in
him rose to meet the truth behind the curious words. From that moment,
as though catching a little of the boy’s exhilaration, he passed under
a kind of spell perhaps. It was, in spite of the exaggeration, oddly
stimulating. This dull little meal at the village _cure_ masked an
accumulating vehemence, eager to break loose. He heard the old father’s
voice: ‘Well done, Hendricks! You have accomplished wonders!’ He would
take back the boy--alive....

Yet all the time there were streaks and patches on his soul as upon
the surface of the lake that afternoon. There were signs of terror. He
felt himself letting go, an increasing recklessness, a yielding up more
and more of his own authority to that of this triumphant boy. Bindy
understood the meaning of it all and felt secure; Hendricks faltered,
hesitated, stood on the defensive. Yet, ever less and less. Already he
accepted the other’s guidance. Already Lord Ernie’s leadership was in
the ascendant. Conviction invariably holds dominion over doubt.

They ate little. It was near the end of the meal when the wind, falling
from a clear and starlit sky, struck its first violent blow, dropping
with the force of an explosion that shook the wooden house, and passing
with a roar towards the distant lake. The oil lamp, suspended from the
ceiling, trembled; the Pasteur looked apprehensively at the shuttered
windows; and Lord Ernie, with startling abruptness, stood up. His eyes
were shining. His voice was brisk, alert, and deep.

‘The wind, the wind!’ he cried. ‘Think what it’ll be up there! We
shall feel it on our bodies!’ His enthusiasm was like a rush of air
across the table. ‘And the fire!’ he went on. ‘The flames will lick all
over, and tear about the sky. I feel wild and full of them already!
How splendid!’ And the flame of the little lamp leaped higher in the
chimney as he said it.

‘The violence of the _coup de joran_ is extraordinary,’ explained
Leysin as he got up to turn down the wick, ‘and the second
outburst----’ The rest of his sentence was drowned by the noise of
Hendricks’ voice telling the boy to sit down and finish his supper.
And at the same moment the Pasteur’s wife came in as though a stroke
of wind drove behind her down the passage. The door slammed in the
draught. There was a momentary confusion in the room above which her
voice rose shrill and frightened.

‘The fires are alight, Jules,’ she whispered in her half-intelligible
_patois_, ‘the forest is burning all along the upper ridge.’ Her face
was pale and her speech came stumbling. She lowered her lips to her
husband’s ear. ‘They’ll be looking out for recruits to-night. Is it
necessary, is it right for you to go?’ She glanced uneasily at the
English visitors. ‘You know the danger----’

He stopped her with a gesture. ‘Those who look on at life accomplish
nothing,’ he answered impatiently. ‘One must act, always act. Chances
are sent to be taken, not stared at.’ He rose, pushing past her into
the passage, and as he did so she gave him one swift comprehensive
look of tenderness and admiration, then hurried after him to find his
hat and cloak. Willingly she would have kept him at home that night,
yet gladly, in another sense, she saw him go. She fumbled in her
movements, ready to laugh or cry or pray. Hendricks saw her pain and
understood. It was singular how the woman’s attitude intensified his
own misgivings; her behaviour, the mere expression of her face alone,
made the adventure so absolutely real.

Three minutes later they were in the village street. Hendricks and Lord
Ernie, the latter impatient in the road beyond, saw her tall figure
stoop to embrace him. ‘I shall pray all night: I shall watch from my
window for your return. God, who speaks from the whirlwind, and whose
pathway is the fire, will go with you. Remember the younger men; it is
ever the younger men that they seek to take...!’ Her words were half
hysterical. The kiss was given and taken; the open doorway framed her
outline a moment; then the buttress of the church blotted her out, and
they were off.


VII

And at once the curious confusion of strong wind was upon them. Gusts
howled about the corners of the shuttered houses and tore noisily
across the open yards. Dust whirled with the rapidity as of some
spectral white machinery. A tile came clattering down about their feet,
while overhead the roofs had an air of shifting, toppling, bending.
The entire village seemed scooped up and shaken, then dropped upon the
earth again in tottering fashion.

‘This way,’ gasped the little Pasteur, blown sideways like a sail;
‘follow me closely.’ Almost arm-in-arm at first they hurried down the
deserted street, past lampless windows and tight-fastened doors, and
soon were beyond the cabaret in that open stretch between the village
and the forest where the wind had unobstructed way. Far above them ran
the fiery mountain ridge. They saw the glare reflected in the sky as
the tempest first swept them all three together, then separated them in
the same moment. They seemed to spin or whirl. ‘It’s far worse than I
expected,’ shouted their guide; ‘here! Give me your hand!’ then found,
once disentangled from his flapping cloak, that no one stood beside
him. For each of them it was a single fight to reach the shelter of the
woods, where the actual ascent began. An instant the Pasteur seemed to
hesitate. He glanced back at the lighted window of _la cure_ across the
fields, at the line of fire in the sky, at the figure disappearing in
the blackness immediately ahead. ‘Where’s the boy?’ he shouted. ‘Don’t
let him get too far in front. Keep close. Wait till I come!’ They
staggered back against each other. ‘Look how easily he’s slipped ahead
already!’

‘This howling wind----’ Hendricks shouted, as they advanced side by
side, pushing their shoulders against the storm.

The rest of the sentence vanished into space. Leysin shoved him
forward, pointing to where, some twenty yards in front, the figure of
Lord Ernie, head down, was battling eagerly with the hurricane. Already
he stood near to the shelter of the trees waving his arms with energy
towards the summits where the fire blazed. He was calling something at
the top of his voice, urging them to hurry. His voice rushed down upon
them with a pelt of wind.

‘Don’t let him get away from us,’ bawled Leysin, holding his hands
cup-wise to his mouth. ‘Keep him in reach. He may see, but must not
take part....’ A blow full in the face that smote him like the flat
of a great sword clapped the sentence short. ‘That’s _your_ part. He
won’t obey me!’ Hendricks heard it as they plunged across the windswept
reach, panting, struggling, forcing their bodies sideways like
two-legged crabs against the terrific force of the descending _joran_.
They reached the protection of the forest wall without further attempt
at speech. Here there was sudden peace and silence, for the tall, dense
trees received the tempest’s impact like a cushion, stopping it. They
paused a moment to recover breath.

But although the first exhaustion speedily passed, that original
confusion of strong wind remained--in Hendricks’ mind at least,--for
wind violent enough to be battled with has a scattering effect on
thought and blows the very blood about. Something in him snapped its
cables and blew out to sea. His breath drew in an impetuous quality
from the tempest each time he filled his lungs. There was agitation in
him that caused an odd exaggeration of the emotions. The boy, as they
came up, leaped down from a boulder he had climbed. He opened his arms,
making of his cloak a kind of sail that filled and flapped.

‘At last!’ he cried, impatient, almost vexed. ‘I thought you were never
coming. The wind blew me along. We shall be late----’

The tutor caught his arm with vigour. ‘You keep by us, Ernest; d’you
hear now? No rushing ahead like that. Leysin’s the guide, not you.’ He
even shook him. But as he did so he was aware that he himself resisted
something that he did not really want to resist, something that urged
him forcibly; a little more and he would yield to it with pleasure,
with abandon, finally with recklessness. A reaction of panic fear ran
over him.

‘It was the wind, I tell you,’ cried the boy, flinging himself free
with a hint of insolence in his voice, ‘for it’s alive. I mean to see
everything. The wind’s our leader and the fire’s our guide.’ He made a
movement to start on again.

‘You’ll obey me,’ thundered Hendricks, ‘or else you’ll go home. D’you
understand?’

With exasperation, yet with uneasy delight, he noted the words Bindy
made use of. It was in him that he might almost have uttered them
himself. He stepped already into an entirely new world. Exhilaration
caught him even now. Putting the brake on was mere pretence. He seized
the lad by both shoulders and pushed him to the rear, then placed
himself next, so that Leysin moved in front and led the way. The
procession started, diving into the comparative shelter of the forest.
‘Don’t let him pass you,’ he heard in rapid French; ‘guide him, that’s
all. The power’s already in his blood. Keep yourself in hand as well,
and follow me closely.’ The roar of the storm above them carried the
words clean off the world.

Here in the forest they moved, it seemed, along the floor of an
ocean whose surface raged with dreadful violence; any moment one or
other of them might be caught up to that surface and whirled off to
destruction. For the procession was not one with itself. The darkness,
the difficulty of hearing what each said, the feeling, too, that each
climbed for himself, made everything seem at sixes and sevens. And the
tutor, this secret exultation growing in his heart, denied the anxiety
that kept it pace, and battled with his turbulent emotions, a divided
personality. His power over the boy, he realised, had gravely weakened.
A little time ago they had seemed somehow equal. Now, however, a
complete reversal of their relative positions had taken place. The boy
was sure of himself. While Leysin led at a steady mountaineer’s pace
on his wiry, short, bowed legs, Hendricks, a yard or two behind him,
stumbled a good deal in the darkness, Lord Ernie forever on his heels,
eager to push past. But Bindy never stumbled. There was no flagging
in his muscles. He moved so lightly and with so sure a tread that he
almost seemed to dance, and often he stopped aside to leap a boulder or
to run along a fallen trunk. Path there was none. Occasional gusts of
wind rushed gustily down into these depths of forest where they moved,
and now, from time to time, as they rose nearer to the line of fire on
the ridge, an increasing glare lit up the knuckled roots or glimmered
on the bramble thickets and heavy beds of moss. It was astonishing
how the little Pasteur never missed his way. Periods of thick silence
alternated with moments when the storm swept down through gullies among
the trees, reverberating like thunder in the hollows.

Slowly they advanced, buffeted, driven, pushed, the wildness of some
Walpurgis night growing upon all three. In the tutor’s mind was this
strange lift of increasing recklessness, the old proportion gone, the
spiritual aspect of it troubling him to the point of sheer distress. He
followed Leysin as blindly with his body as he followed this new Bindy
eagerly with his mind. For this languid boy, now dancing to the tune
of flooding life at his very heels, seemed magical in the true sense:
energy created as by a wizard out of nothing. From lips that ordinarily
sighed in listless boredom poured now a ceaseless stream of questions
and ejaculations, ringing with enthusiasm. How long would it take to
reach the fiery ridge? Why did they go so slowly? Would they arrive
too late? Would their intrusion be welcomed or understood? Already one
great change was effected--accepted by Hendricks, too--that the rôle
of mere spectator was impossible. The answers Hendricks gave, indeed,
grew more and more encouraging and sympathetic. He, too, was impatient
with their leader’s crawling pace. Some elemental spell of wind and
fire urged him towards the open ridge. The pull became irresistible.
He despised the Pasteur’s caution, denied his wisdom, wholly rejected
now the spirit of compromise and prudence. And once, as the hurricane
brought down a flying burst of voices, he caught himself leaping upon a
big grey boulder in their path. He leaped at the very moment that the
boy behind him leaped, yet hardly realised that he did so; his feet
danced without a conscious order from his brain. They met together on
the rounded top, stumbled, clutched one another frantically, then slid
with waving arms and flying cloaks down the slippery surface of damp
moss--laughing wildly.

‘Fool!’ cried Hendricks, saving himself. ‘What in the world----?’

‘_You_ called,’ laughed Bindy, picking himself up and dropping back to
his place in the rear again. ‘It’s the wind, not me; it’s in our feet.
Half the time you’re shouting and jumping yourself!’

And it was a few minutes after this that Lord Ernie suddenly forged
ahead. He slipped in front as silently as a shadow before a moving
candle in a room. Passing the tutor at a moment when his feet were
entangled among roots and stones, he easily overtook the Pasteur and
found himself in the lead. He never stumbled; there seemed steel
springs in his legs.

From Leysin, too breathless to interfere, came a cry of warning. ‘Stop
him! Take his hand!’ his tired voice instantly smothered by the roaring
skies. He turned to catch Hendricks by the cloak. ‘You see _that_!’ he
shouted in alarm. ‘For the love of God, don’t lose sight of him! He
must see, but not take part--remember----!’

And Hendricks yelled after the vanishing figure, ‘Bindy, go slow, go
slow! Keep in touch with us.’ But he quickened his pace instantly, as
though to overtake the boy. He passed his companion the same minute,
and was out of sight. ‘I’ll wait for you,’ came back the boy’s shrill
answer through the thinning trees. And a flare of light fell with it
from the sky, for the final climb of a steep five hundred feet had now
begun, and overhead the naked ridge ran east and west with its line of
blazing fires. Boulders and rocky ground replaced the pines and spruces.

‘But you’ll never find the way,’ shouted Leysin, while a deep
trumpeting roar of the storm beyond muffled the remainder of the
sentence.

Hendricks heard the next words close beside him from a clump of
shadows. He was in touching distance of the excited boy.

‘The fires and the singing guide me. Only a fool could miss the way.’

‘But you _are_ a----’

He swallowed the unuttered word. A new, extraordinary respect was
suddenly in him. That tall, virile figure, instinct with life,
springing so cleverly through the choking darkness, guiding with
decision and intelligence, almost infallible--it was no fool that led
them thus. He hurried after till his very sinews ached. His eyes,
troubled and confused, strained through the trees to find him. But
these same trees now fled past him in a torrent.

‘Bindy, Bindy!’ he cried, at the top of his voice, yet not with
the imperious tone the situation called for. The sentence dropped
into a lull of wind. Instead of command there was entreaty, almost
supplication, in it. ‘Wait for me, I’m coming. We’ll see the glorious
thing together!’

And then suddenly the forest lay behind him, with a belt of open
pasture-land in front below the actual ridge. He felt the first great
draught of heat, as a line of furnaces burst their doors with a mighty
roar and turned the sky into a blaze of golden daylight. There was a
crackling as of musketry. The flare shot up and burned the air about
him, and the voices of a multitude, as yet invisible, drove through it
like projectiles on the wind. This was the first impression, wholesale
and terrific, that met him as he paused an instant on the edge of the
sheltering forest and looked forward. Leysin and Lord Ernie seemed
to leave his mind, forgotten in this first attack of splendour, but
forgotten, as it were, the first with contempt, the latter with an
overwhelming regret. For the Pasteur’s mistake in that instant seemed
obvious. In half measures lay the fatal error, and in compromise the
danger. Bindy all along had known the better way and followed it. The
lukewarm was the worthless.

‘Bindy, boy, where are you? I’m coming ...’ and stepping on to the
grassy strip of ground, soft to his feet, he met a wind that fell upon
his body with a shower of blows from all directions at once and beat
him to his knees. He dropped, it seemed, into the cover of a sheltering
rock, for there followed then a moment of sudden and delicious
stillness in which the weary muscles recovered themselves and thought
grew slightly steadier. Crouched thus close to the earth he no longer
offered a target to the hurricane’s attack. He peered upwards, making a
screen of his hands.

The ridge, some fifty feet above him, he saw, ran in a generous
platform along the mountain crest; it was wide and flat; between the
enormous fires of piled-up wood that stretched for half a mile coiled a
medley of dense smoke and tearing sparks. No human beings were visible,
and yet he was aware of crowding life quite near. On hands and knees,
crawling painfully, he then slowly retreated again into the shelter of
the forest he had sought to leave. He stood up. The awful blaze was
veiled by the roof of branches once more. But, as he rose, seizing a
sapling to steady himself by, two hands caught him with violence from
behind, and a familiar voice came shouting against his ear. Leysin,
panting, dishevelled and half broken with the speed, stood beside him.

‘The boy! Where is he? We’re just in time!’ He roared the words to
make them carry above the din. ‘Hurry, hurry! I’ll follow.... My older
legs.... See, for the love of God, that he is not taken.... I warned
you!’

And for a second, as he heard, Hendricks caught at the vanished sense
of responsibility again. He saw the face of the old Marquess watching
him among the tree trunks. He heard his voice, amazed, reproachful,
furious: ‘It was criminal of you, criminal----!’

‘Where is the boy--_your_ boy?’ again broke in the shout of the Pasteur
with a slap of hurricane, as he staggered against the tutor, half
collapsing, and trying to point the direction. ‘Watch him, find him for
the love of heaven before it is too late--before they see him...!’

The tutor’s normal and responsible self dived out of sight again as he
heard the cry of weakness and alarm. It seemed the wind got under him,
lifting him bodily from his feet. He did not pause to think. Like a man
midway in a whirling prize-fight, he felt dazed but confident, only
conscious of one thing--that he must hold out to the end, take part in
all the splendid fighting--_win_. The lust of the arena, the pride of
youth and battle, the impetuous recklessness of the charge in primitive
war caught at his heart, brimming it with headlong courage. To play
the game for all it might be worth seemed shouted everywhere about
him, as the abandon of wind and fire rushed through him like a storm.
He felt lifted above all possibility of little failure. The Marquess
with his conventional traditions, the Pasteur with his considerations
of half-way safety, both vanished utterly; safety, indeed, both for
himself and for the boy in his charge lay in unconditional surrender.
This was no time for little thought-out actions. It was all or nothing!

‘God bless the whirlwind and the fire!’ he shouted, opening wide his
arms.

But his voice was inaudible amid the uproar, and the forward movement
of his body remained at first only in the brain. He turned to push the
old man aside, even to strike him down if necessary. ‘Lukewarm yourself
and a coward!’ rose in his throat, yet found no utterance, for in that
moment a tall, slim figure, swift as a shadow, steady as a hawk, shot
hard across the open space between the forest and the ridge. In the
direction of the blazing platform it disappeared against a curtain of
thick smoke, emerged for one second in a storm of light, then vanished
finally behind a ruin of loose rocks. And Hendricks, his eyes wounded
by heat and wind, his muscles paralysed, understood that the boy
deliberately invited capture. The multitude that hid behind the smoke
and fire, feeding the blazing heaps with eager hands, had become aware
of him, and presently would appear to claim him. They would take him
to themselves. Already answering flares ran east and west along the
desolate ridge.

‘I’ll join you! I’m coming! Wait for me!’ he tried to cry. The uproar
smothered it.


VIII

And this uproar, he now perceived, was composed entirely of wind and
fire. Here, on the roof of the hills beneath a starry sky, these two
great elements expressed their nature with unhampered freedom, for
there was neither rain to modify the one, nor solid obstacle to check
the other. Their voices merged in a single sound--the hollow boom of
wind and the deep, resounding clap of flame. The splitting crackle
of burning branches imitated the high, shrill whistle of the tearing
gusts that, javelin-like, flew to and fro in darts of swifter sound.
But one shout rose from the summit, no human cry distinguishable in it,
nor amid the thousand lines of skeleton wood that pierced the golden
background was any human outline visible. Fire and wind encouraged one
another to madness, manifesting in prodigious splendour by themselves.

Then, suddenly, before a gigantic canter of the wind, the driving smoke
rolled upwards like a curtain, and the flames, ceasing their wild
flapping, soared steadily in gothic windows of living gold towards the
stars. In towering rows between columns of black night they transformed
the empty space between them into a colossal temple aisle. They
tapered aloft symmetrically into vanishing crests. And Hendricks stood
upright. Rising so that his shoulders topped the edge of the boulder,
and utterly contemptuous of Leysin’s hand that sought with violence to
drag him into shelter, he gazed as one who sees a vision. For at first
he could only stand and stare, aware of sensation but not of thought.
An enormous, overpowering conviction blew his whole being to white
heat. Here was a supply of elemental power that human beings--empty,
needy, starved, deficient human beings--could use. His love for the boy
leaped headlong at the skirts of this terrific salvation. A majestic
possibility stormed through him.

Yet it was no nightmare wonder that met his staring and half-shielded
eyes, although some touch of awful dream seemed in it, set, moreover,
to a scale that scantier minds might deem distortion. The heat from
some thirty fires, placed at regular intervals, made midnight quiver
with immense vibrations. Of varying, yet calculated size, these
towering heaps emitted notes of measured and alternating depth, until
the roar along the entire line produced a definite scale almost of
melody, the near ones shrilly singing, those more distant booming with
mountainous pedal notes. The consonance was monstrous, yet conformed to
some magnificent diapason. This chord of fire-music paced the starlit
sky, directed, but never overmastered, by the wind that measured it
somehow into meaning. Repeated in quick succession, the notes now
crashing in a mass, now singing alone in solitary beauty, the effect
suggested an idea of ordered sequence, of gigantic rhythm. It seemed,
indeed, as though some controlling agency, mastering excess, coerced
both raging elements to express through this stupendous dance some
definite idea. Here, as it were, was the alphabet of some natural,
undifferentiated language, a language of sight and sound, predating
speech, symbolical in the ultimate, deific sense. Some Lord of Fire
and some Lord of Air were in command. Harnessed and regulated, these
formless cohorts of energy that men call stupidly mere flame and wind,
obeyed a higher power that had invoked them, yet a power that, by
understanding their laws of being, held them most admirably in control.

This, at least, seems a hint of the explanation that flashed into
Hendricks as he stared in amazed bewilderment from the shelter of the
nearest boulder. He read a sentence in some natural, forgotten script.
He watched a primitive ritual that once invoked the gods. He was aware
of rhythm, and he was aware of system, though as yet he did not see the
hand that wrote this marvellous sentence on the night. For still the
human element remained invisible. He only realised--in dim, blundering
fashion--that he witnessed a revelation of those two powers which, in
large, lie at the foundations of the Universe, and, in little, are the
basic essentials of human existence--the powers behind heat and air.
Fragments of that talk with Leysin stammered back across his mind, like
letters in some stupendous word he dared not reconstruct entire. He
shuddered and grew wise. Realms of forgotten being opened their doors
before his dazzled sight. Vision fluttered into far, piercing vistas
of ancient wonder, haunting and half-remembered, then lost its way
in blindness that was pain. For a moment, it seemed, he was aware of
majestic Presences behind the turmoil, shadowy but mighty, charged with
a vague potentiality as of immense algebraical formulae, symbolical
and beyond full comprehension, yet willing and able to be used for
practical results. He _felt_ the elements as nerves of a living
Universe.... Yet thinking was not really in him anywhere; feeling was
all he knew. The world he moved in, as the script he read, belonged
to conditions too utterly remote for reason to recover a single clue
to their intelligible reconstruction. Glory, clean and strong as of
primitive star-worship, passed between what he saw and all that he
had ever known before. The curtain of conventional belief was rent in
twain. The terrific thing was true....

For an unmeasured interval the tutor, oblivious of time and actual
place, stood on the brink of this majestic pageant, staring with
breathless awe, while the swaying of the entire scenery increased, like
the sway of an ocean lifted to the sky by many winds. Then, suddenly,
in one of those temporary lulls that passed between the beat of the
great notes, his searching eyes discovered a new thing. The focus
of his sight was altered, and he realised at last the source of the
directing and the controlling power. Behind the fires and beyond the
smoke he recognised the disc-like, shining ovals that upon this little
earth stand in the image of the one, eternal Likeness. He saw the human
faces, symbols of spiritual dominion over all lesser orders, each one
possessed of belief, intelligence and will. Singly so feeble, together
so invincible, this assemblage, unscorched by the fire and by the wind
unmoved, seemed to him impressive beyond all possible words. And a
further inkling of the truth flashed on him as he stared: that a group
of humans, a crowd, combining upon a given object with concentrated
purpose, possessed of that terrific power, certain faith, may know
in themselves the energy to move great mountains, and therefore that
lesser energy to guide the fluid forces of the elements. And a sense
of cosmic exultation leaped into his being. For a moment he knew a
touch of almost frenzy. Proud joy rose in him like a splendour of
omnipotence. Humanity, it seemed to him, here came into a grand but
long neglected corner of its kingdom as originally planned by Heaven.
Into the hands of a weakling and deficient boy the guidance had been
given.

Motionless beneath the stars, lit by the glare till they shone
like idols of yellow stone, and magnified by the sheets of flying,
intolerable light the wind chased to and fro, these rows of faces
appeared at first as a single line of undifferentiated fire against the
background of the night. The eyes were all cast down in prayer, each
mind focused steadily upon one clear idea--the control and assimilation
of two elemental powers. The crowd was one; feeling was one; desire,
command and certain faith were one. The controlling power that resulted
was irresistible.

Then came a remarkable, concerted movement. With one accord the eyes
all opened, blazing with reflected fire. A hundred human countenances
rose in a single shining line. The men stood upright. Swarthy faces,
tanned by sun and wind, heads uncovered, hair and beards tossing in
the air, turned all one way. Mouths opened too. There came a roar that
even the hurricane could not drown--a word of command, it seemed,
that sprang into the pulses of the dancing elements and reduced their
turmoil to a wave of steadier movement. And at the same moment a
hundred bodies, naked above the waist, arms outstretched and hands with
the palms held upwards, swayed forwards through the smoke and fire.
They came towards the spot where, half concealed from view, the tutor
crouched and watched.

And Hendricks, thinking himself discovered, first quailed, then rose
to meet them. No power to resist was in him. It was, rather, willing
response that he experienced. He stepped out from the shelter of the
boulder and entered the brilliant glare. Hatless himself, shoulders
squared, cloak, flying in the wind, he took three strides towards the
advancing battalion--then, undecided, paused. For the line, he saw,
disregarded him as though he were not there at all. It was not _him_
the worshippers sought. The entire troop swept past to a point some
fifty feet below where the end of the ridge broke out of the thinning
trees. Beautiful as a curving wave of flame, the figures streamed
across the narrow, open space with a drilled precision as of some
battle line, and Hendricks, with a sense of wild, secret triumph, saw
them pause at the brink of the platformed ridge, form up their serried
ranks yet closer, then open two hundred arms to welcome some one whom
the darkness should immediately deliver. Simultaneously, from the
covering trees, the tall, slim shadow of Lord Ernie darted out into the
light.

‘Magnificent!’ cried Hendricks, but his voice was smothered instantly
in a mightier sound, and his movement forward seemed ineffective
stumbling. The hundred voices thundered out a single note. Like a
deer the boy leaped; like a tongue of flame he flew to join his own;
and instantly was surrounded, borne shoulder-high upon those upturned
palms, swept back in triumph towards the procession of enormous fires.
Wrapped by smoke and sparks, lifted by wind, he became part of the
monstrous rhythm that turned that mountain ridge alive. He stood
upright upon the platform of interlacing arms; he swayed with their
movements as a thing of wind and fire that flew. The shining faces
vanished then, turned all towards the blazing piles so that the boy had
the appearance of standing on a wall of living black. His outline was
visible a moment against the sky, firelight between his wide-stretched
legs, streaming from his hair and horizontal arms, issuing almost, as
it seemed, from his very body. The next second he leaped to the ground,
ran forward--appallingly close--between two heaped-up fires, flung both
hands heavenwards, and--knelt.

And Hendricks, sympathetically following the boy’s performance as
though his own mind and body took part in it, experienced then a
singular result: it seemed the heart in him began to roar. This
was no rustle of excited blood that the little cavern of his skull
increased, but a deeper sound that proclaimed the kinship of his
entire being with the ritual. His own nature had begun to answer. From
that moment he perceived the spectacle, not with the senses of sight
and hearing, separately, but with his entire body--synthetically. He
became a part of this assembly that was itself one single instrument:
a cosmic sounding-board for the rhythmical expression of impersonal
Nature Powers. Leysin, he dimly realised, fixed in his churchy tenets,
remained outside, apart, and compromising; Hendricks accepted and went
with. All little customary feelings dipped utterly away, lost, false,
denied, even as a unit in a crowd loses its normal characteristics
in the greater mood that sways the whole. The fire no longer burned
him, for he was the fire; nor did he stagger against the furious wind,
because the wind was in his heart. He moved all over, alive in every
point and corner. With his skin he breathed, his bones and tissue ran
with glorious heat. He cried aloud. He praised. ‘I am the whirlwind and
I am the fire! Fire that lights but does not burn, and wind that blows
the heart to flame!’ His body sang it, or rather the elements sang it
through his body; for the sound of his voice was not audible, and it
was wind and fire that thundered forth his feeling in their crashing
rhythm.


IX

And so it was that he no longer saw this thing pictorially, nor in the
little detached reports the individual senses brought, but knew it in
himself complete, as a man knows love and passion. Memory afterwards
translated these vast central feelings into pictures, but the pictures
touched reality without containing it. Like a vision it happened all
at once, as a room or landscape happens, and what happens all at once,
coming through a synthesis of the senses, is not properly describable
later. To instantaneous knowledge mere sequence is a falsehood. The
sequence first comes in with the telling afterwards. That kneeling
form, he understood, was the empty vessel to which conventional life
had hitherto denied the heat and air it craved. The breath of life
now poured at full tide into it, the fire of deity lit its heart of
touchwood, wind blew into desire; and later flame would burst forth in
action, consuming opposition. He must let it fill to the brim. It was
not salvation, but creation. Then thought went out, extinguished by a
puff of something greater....

For beyond the smoke and sparks, beyond the space the men had occupied,
a new and gentler movement, lyrical with bird-like beauty, ran suddenly
along the ridge. What Hendricks had taken for branches heaped in rows
for the burning, stirred marvellously throughout their whole collective
mass, stirred sweetly, too, and with an exquisite loveliness. The
entire line rose gracefully into the air with a whirr as of sweeping
birds. There was a soft and undulating motion as though a draught of
flowing wind turned faintly visible, yet with an increasing brilliance,
like shining lilies of flame that now flocked forward in a troop,
bending deliciously all one way. And in the same second these tall
lilies of fire revealed themselves as figures, naked above the waist,
hair streaming on the wind, eyes alight and bare arms waving. Above the
men’s deep pedal bass their voices rose with clear, shrill sweetness on
the storm. The band swept forwards swift as wind towards the kneeling
boy. The long line curved about him foldingly. The women took him as
the south wind takes a bird.

There may have been--indeed, there was--an interval, for Hendricks
caught, again and again repeated, the boy’s great cry of passionate
delight above the tumult. Ringing and virile it rose to heaven, clear
as a fine-wrought bell. And instantaneously the knitted figures of
flame disentangled themselves again, the mass unfolded like an opening
flower, and, as by a military word of command, dissolved itself once
more into a long thin line of running fire. The women advanced, and the
waiting men flowed forward in a stream to meet them. This interweaving
of the figures was as easily accomplished as the mingling of light
and heavy threads upon some living loom. Hands joining hands, all
singing, these naked worshippers of fire and wind passed in and out
among the blazing piles with a headlong precision that was torrential
and yet orderly. The speed increased; the faces flashed and vanished,
then flashed and passed again; each woman between two men, each man
between two women, and Lord Ernie, radiantly alive, between two girls
of rich, o’erflowing beauty. Their movements were undulating, like
the undulations of fire, yet with sudden, unexpected upward leaps as
when fire is partnered abruptly by a cantering wind. For the women were
fire, and the men were wind. The imitative dance was in full swing. The
marvellous wind and fire ritual unrolled its old-world magic.

It was awe-inspiring certainly, but for Hendricks, as he watched, the
terror of big conflagrations was wholly absent: rather, he felt the
sense of deep security that rhythmic movement causes. Bathed in a sea
of elemental power, he burned to share the pagan splendour and the
rush of primitive delight. It seemed he had a cosmic body in which
new centres stirred to life, linking him on to this source of natural
forces. Through these centres he drew the chaotic energy into nerves
and blood and muscle, into the very substance of his thought, indeed,
transmuting them into the magic of the will. Abundant and inexhaustible
vigour filled the air, pouring freely into whatever empty receptacle
lay at hand. Sheets of flame, whole separate fragments of it, torn at
the edges, raced, loudly, hungrily flapping on vehement gusts of wind;
curved as they flew; leaped, twisted, flashed and vanished. And the
figures closely copied them. The women tossed their bodies aloft, then
dipped suddenly to the earth, invisible, till the rushing men urged
them into view again with wild impetuous swing, so that the entire line
stretched and contracted like an immense elastic band of life, now
knotted, now dissolved.

Yet, while of raging and terrific beauty, there was never that mad
abandon which is disorder; but rather a kind of sacred natural revel
that prohibited mere licence. There was even a singular austerity in
it that betrayed a definite ritual and not mere reckless pageantry.
No walls could possibly have contained it. In cathedral, temple, or
measured space, however grand, it could only have seemed exaggerated
and apostate; here, beneath the open sky, it was beautiful and true.
For overhead the stars burned clear and steady, the constellations
watching it from their immovable towers--a representation of their own
leisured and hierarchic dance in swifter miniature. And indeed this
relationship it bore to a universal rhythm was the key, it seemed, to
its deep significance; for the close imitation of natural movements
seduced the colossal powers of fire and wind to swell human emotions
till they became mould and vessel for this elemental manifestation
in men and women. Golden yellow in the blaze, the limbs of the women
flashed and passed; their hair flew dark a moment across gleaming
breasts; and their waving arms tossed in ever-shifting patterns through
the driving smoke. The fires boiled and roared, scattering torrents of
showering sparks like stars; and amid it all the slim, white shoulders
of the boy, his clothes torn from him, his eyes ablaze, and his lips
opened to the singing as though he had known it always, drove to and
fro on the crest of the ritual like some flying figure of wind and fire
incarnate.

All of which, instantaneously yet in sequence, Hendricks witnessed,
painted upon the wild night sky. A volcanic energy poured through
him too. He knew a golden enthusiasm of immeasurable strength, of
unconquerable hope, of irresistible delight. Wind set his feet to
dancing, and fire swept across his face without a trace of burning.

Nature was part of him. He had stepped inside. No obstacle existed that
could withstand for a single second the torrential energy that fired
his heart and blood. There was lightning in his veins. He could sweep
aside life’s difficult barriers with the ease of a tornado, and shake
the rubbish of doubt and care from the years with earthquake shocks.
Empires he could mould, and play with nations, drive men and women
before him like a flock of sheep, shatter convention, and dislocate the
machinery time has foisted upon natural energies. He knew in himself
the omnipotence of the lesser elemental deities. Yet, as sympathetic
observer, he can but have felt a tithe of what Lord Ernie felt.

‘We are the whirlwind and we are the fire!’ he cried aloud with the
rushing worshippers. ‘We are unconquerable and immense! We destroy the
lukewarm and absorb the weak! For we can make evil into good by bending
it all one way!...’

The roar swept thunderingly past him, catching at his voice and body.
He felt himself snatched forward by the wind. The fire licked sweetly
at him. It was the final abandonment. He plunged recklessly towards the
surge of dancers....


X

What stopped him he did not know. Some hard and steely thing pricked
sharply into him. An opposing power, fierce as a sword, stabbed at his
heart--and he heard a little sound quite close beside him, a sound that
pierced the babel, reaching his consciousness as from far away.

‘Keep still! Cling tight to this old rock! Hold yourself in, or else
they’ll have you too!’

It was as if some insect scratched within his ear. His arm, that same
instant, was violently seized. He came down with a crash. He had been
half in the air. He had been dancing.

‘Turn your eyes away, away! Take hold of this big tree!’ The voice
cried furiously, but with a petty human passion in it that marred the
world. There was an intolerable revulsion in him as he heard it. He
felt himself dragged forcibly backwards. He lost his balance, stumbling
among loose stones.

‘Loose me! Let me go!’ he shouted, struggling like a wild animal, yet
vainly, against the inflexible grip that held him. ‘I am one with the
fire that lights but does not burn. I am the wind that blows the worlds
along! Damnation take you.... Let me free!...’

Confusion caught him, smothering speech and blinding sight. He fell
backwards, away from the heat and wind. He was furious, but furious
with he knew not whom or what. The interference had destroyed the
rhythm, broken it into fragments. Violent impulses clashed through
him without the will to choose or guide them. For power had deserted
him and flowed elsewhere. He stood no longer in the stream of energy.
He was emptied. And at first he could not tell whether his instinct
was to return himself, to rescue his precious boy, or--to crush the
interfering object out of existence with what was left to him of raging
anger. He turned, stood up, and flung the Pasteur aside with violence.
He raised his feet to stamp and kill ... when a phrase with meaning
darted suddenly across his wild confusion and recalled him to some
fragment of truer responsibility and life.

‘... There’ll be only violence in him--reckless violence instead of
strength--destructive. Save him before it is too late!’

‘It _is_ too late,’ he roared in answer. ‘What devil hinders me?’

But his roar was feeble, and his ironed boots refused the stamping.
Power slipped wholly out of him. The rhythm poured past, instead of
through him. Interference had destroyed the circuit. More glimmerings
of responsibility came back. He stooped like a drunken man and helped
the other to his feet. The rapidity of the change was curious, proving
that the spell had been put upon him from without. It was not, as with
the boy, mere development of pre-existing tendencies.

‘Help me,’ he implored suddenly instead, ‘help me! There has been
madness in me. For God’s sake, help me to get him out!’ It seemed the
face of the old Marquess, stern and terrible, broke an instant through
the smoky air, black with reproach and anger. And, with a violent
effort of the will, Hendricks turned round to face the elemental orgy,
bent on rescue. But this time the heat was intolerable and drove him
back. The hair, hitherto untouched, now singed upon his head. Fire
licked his very breath away. He bent double, covering his face with
arms and cloak.

‘Pray!’ shouted Leysin, dropping to his knees. ‘It is the only way. My
God is higher than this. Pray, pray!’

And, automatically, Hendricks fell upon his knees beside him, though
to pray he knew not how. For no real faith was in him as in the other,
and his eye was far from single. The fast fading grandeur of what he
had experienced still left its pagan tumult in his blood. The pretence
of prayer could only have been blasphemy. He watched instead, letting
the other invoke his mighty Deity alone, that Deity he had served
unflinchingly all his life with faith and fasting, and with belief
beyond assault.

It was an impressive picture, fraught with passionate drama. On his
knees behind a sheltering boulder, a blackened pine-tree tossing
scorched branches above his head, this righteous man prayed to his God,
sure of his triumphant answer. Hendricks watched with an admiration
that made him realise his own insignificance. The eyes were closed,
the leonine big head set firm upon the diminutive body, the face now
lit by flame, now veiled by smoke, the strong hands clasped together
and upraised. He envied him. He recognised, too, that the elements
themselves, with all their chaos of might and terror, were after all
but servants of the Vastness which dips the butterflies in colour
and puts down upon the breasts of little robins. And, because the
Pasteur’s life had been always prayer in action, his little human will
invoked the Will of Greatness, merged with it, used it, and directed
it steadily against the commotion of these unleashed elements. Certain
of himself and of his God, the Pasteur never doubted. His prayer set
instantly in action those forces which balance suns and keep the stars
afloat.

Thus, trembling with terror that made him wholly ineffective, Hendricks
watched, and, as he watched, became aware of the amazing change. For
it seemed as if a stream of power, steady and in opposition to the
tumult, now poured audaciously against the elemental rhythm, altering
its direction, modifying gradually its stupendous impetus. There were
pauses in the huge vibrations: they wavered, broke, and fled. They knew
confusion, as when the prow of a steel-nosed vessel drives against
the tide. The tide is vaster, but the steel is--different. The whole
sky shivered, as this new entering force, so small, so soft, yet of
such incalculable energy, began at once its overmastering effect.
Signs of violence or rout, or of anything disordered, had no part in
it; excess before it slipped into willing harness; there was light
that sponged away all glare, as when morning sunshine cleans a forest
of its shadows. Some little whispering power sang marvellously as of
old across the desolate big mountains, ‘Peace! Be still!’ turning
the monstrous turbulence into obedient sweetness. And upon his face
and hands Hendricks felt faint, delicate touches of some refreshing
softness that he could not understand.

Yet not instantly was this harmony restored; at first there was the
stress of vehement opposition. The night of wind and fire drove roaring
through the sky. There were bursts of triumphant tumult, but convulsion
in them and no true steadiness as before. The human figures hitherto
had danced with that fluid appearance which belongs to fire, and with
that instantaneous rush which is of wind, the men increasing the women,
and the women answering with joy; limbs and faces had melted into each
other till the circular ritual looked like a glowing wheel of flame
rotating audibly. But slowly now the speed of the wheel decreased;
the single utterance was marred by the crying of many voices, all at
different pitch, discordant, inharmonious, dismayed. The fires somehow
dwindled; there came pauses in the wind; and Hendricks became aware of
a curious hissing noise, as more and more of these odd soft touches
found his face and hands. Here and there, he saw, a figure stumbled,
fell, then gathered itself clumsily together again with a frightened
shout, breaking violently out of the circle. More and more these
figures blundered and dropped out; and although they returned again,
so that the dance apparently increased, these were but moments in the
final violence of the dispersing hurricane. The rejected ones dashed
back wildly into the wrong places; men and women no longer stood
alternate, but in groups together, falsely related. The entire movement
was dislocated; the ceremony grew rapidly incoherent; meaning forsook
it. The composite instrument that had transmuted the elemental forces
into human, emotional storage was imperfect, broken, out of tune. The
disarray turned rout.

And then it was, while Leysin continued without ceasing his burning and
successful prayer, that his companion, conscious of returning harmony,
rose to his feet, aware suddenly that he could also help. A portion of
the powers he had absorbed still worked in him, but in a new direction.
He felt confident and unafraid. He did not stumble. With unerring tread
he advanced towards the lessening fires, feeling as he did so the cold
soft touches multiply with a rush upon his skin. From all sides they
came by hundreds, like messengers of help.

‘Ernest!’ he cried aloud, and his voice, though little raised, carried
resonantly above the dying turmoil; ‘Ernest! Come back to us. Your
father calls you!’

And from threescore faces hurrying in confusion through the smoke,
one paused and turned. It stood apart, hovering as though in air,
while the mob of disordered figures rushed in a body along the ridge.
Plunging like frightened cattle below the farther edge, then vanishing
into thick darkness, they left behind them this one solitary face. A
final dying flame licked out at it; a rush of smoke drove past to hide
it; there was a high, wild scream--and the figure shot forward with a
headlong leap and fell with a crash at Hendricks’ feet. Lord Ernie,
blackened by smoke and scorched by fire, lay safe outside the danger
zone.

And Hendricks knelt beside him. Remorse and shame made him powerless
to do more as he pulled the torn clothing over the neck and chest
and heard his own heart begging for forgiveness. He realised his own
weakness and faithlessness. A great temptation had found him wanting....

It was owing to Leysin that the rescue was complete. The Pasteur was
instantly by his side.

‘Saved as by water,’ he cried, as he folded his cloak about the
prostrate body, and then raised the head and shoulders; ‘saved by His
ministers of rain. For His miracles are love, and work through natural
laws.’

He made a sign to Hendricks. Carrying the boy between them, they
scrambled down the slope into the shelter of the trees below. The cold,
soft touches were then explained. The _joran_ had dropped as suddenly
as it rose, and the torrential rain that invariably follows now poured
in rivers from the sky. Water, drenching the fires and padding the
savage wind, had stopped the dancers midway in their frenzied ritual.
It was the element they dreaded, for it was hostile. Rain soused the
mountain ridge, extinguishing the last embers of the numerous fires.
It rushed in rivulets between their feet. The heated earth gave out a
hissing steam, and the only sound in the spaces where wind and fire had
boomed and thundered a little while before was now the splash of water
and the drip of quenching drops.

In the cover of the sheltering trees the body stirred, lifted its head,
and sat up slowly. The eyes opened.

‘I’m cold. I’m frightened,’ whispered a shivering voice. ‘Where am I?’

Only the pelt and thud of the rain sounded behind the quavering words.

‘Where are the others? Have I been away? Hendricks--Mr. Hendricks--is
that you----?’

He stared about him, his face now a mere luminous disc in the thick
darkness. No breath of wind was loose. They spoke to him till he
answered with assurance, groping to find their hands with his own, his
words confused and strange with hidden meaning for a time. ‘I’m all
right now,’ he kept repeating. ‘I know exactly. It was one of my big
dreams ... I suppose I fell asleep ... and the rain woke me. Great
heavens! What a night to be out.’ And then he clambered vigorously to
his feet with a sudden movement of great energy again, saying that
hunger was in him and he must eat. There was no complaint of heat or
cold, of burning or of bruises. The boy recovered marvellously. In ten
minutes, breaking away from all support, he led, as they descended
through the dripping forest in the gloom and chill of very early
morning. It was the others who called to him for guidance in the
tangled woods. Lord Ernie was in the lead. Throughout the difficult
woods he was ever in front, and singing:

‘Fire that lights but does not burn! And wind that blows the heart to
flame! They both are in me now for ever and ever! Oh, praise the Lord
of Fire and the Lord of Wind...!’

And this voice, now near, now distant, sounding through the dripping
forest on their homeward journey, was an experience weird and
unforgettable for those other two. Leysin, it seemed, had one sentence
only which he kept repeating to himself--‘Heaven grant he may direct it
all for good. For they have filled him to the brim, and he is become an
instrument of power.’

But Hendricks, though he understood the risk, felt only confidence.
Lord Ernie’s regeneration had begun.

Soaked and bedraggled, all three, they reached the village about two
o’clock. The boy, utterly unmanageable, said an emphatic No to spirits,
soup, or medical appliances. His skin, indeed, showed no signs of
burning, nor was there the smallest symptom of cold or fever in him.
‘I’m a perfect furnace,’ he laughed; ‘I feel health and strength
personified.’ And the brightness of his eyes, his radiant colour, the
vigour of his voice and manner--both in some way astonishing--made all
pretence of assistance unnecessary and absurd. ‘It’s like a new birth,’
he cried to Hendricks, as he almost cantered beside him down the road
to their house, ‘and, by Jove, I’ll wake ’em up at home and make the
world go round. I know a hundred schemes. I tell you, sir, I’m simply
bursting! For the first time I’m alive!’

And an hour later, when the tutor peeped in upon him, the boy was
calmly sleeping. The candle-light, shaded carefully with one hand, fell
upon the face. There were new lines and a new expression in it. Will
and purpose showed in the stern set of the lips and jaw. It was the
face of a man, and of a man one would not lightly trifle with. Purpose,
will, and power were established on their thrones. To such a man the
entire world might one day bow the head.

‘If only it will last,’ thought Hendricks, as, shaken, bewildered, and
more than a little awed, he tiptoed out of the room again and went
to bed. But through his dreams, sheeted in flame and veiled in angry
smoke, the face of the old Marquess glowered upon him from a heavy sky
above ancestral towers.


XI

From the obituary notices of the 9th Marquess of Oakham the following
selections have their interest: He succeeded to his father, then in
the Cabinet as Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the age of twenty-one.
His career was brief but singular, the early magnificence of the
younger Pitt offering a standard of comparison, though by no means a
parallel, to his short record of astonishing achievement. His effect
upon the world, first as Chief of the Government Labour Department and
subsequently as Home Secretary, and Minister of War, is described as
shattering, even cataclysmic. His public life lasted five years. He
died at the age of twenty-nine. His personality was revolutionary and
overwhelming.

For, judging by these extracts, he was a ‘Napoleonic figure whose
personal influence combined the impetus of Mirabeau and the dominance
of Alexander. His authority held an incalculable element, precisely
described as uncanny. His spirit was puissant, elemental, his activity
irresistible.’ Yet, according to another journal, ‘he was, properly
speaking, neither intellectual, astute, nor diplomatic, and possessed
as little subtlety as might be expected of a miner whose psychology was
called upon to explain the Trinity. In no sense was he Statesman, and
even less strategist, yet his name swept Europe, changed the map of
the Nearer East, its mere whisper among the Chancelleries convulsing
men’s counsels with an influence almost menacing.’

His enthusiasm appears to have been amazing. ‘Some stupendous and
untiring energy drove through him, paralysing attack, and rendering the
bitterest and most skilful opposition nugatory. His hand was imperious,
upsetting with a touch the chessboards set by the most able statecraft,
and his voice was heard with a kind of reverence in every capital.’

The brevity of his astonishing career called for universal comment, as
did the hypnotising effect of his singular ascendency. ‘In five short
years of power he achieved his sway. He rushed upon the world, he shook
it, he retired,’ as one journal picturesquely phrased it. ‘The manner
of his ending, moreover--a stroke of lightning,--seemed in keeping
with his life. There was neither lingering, delay, nor warning. Of
distinguished stock, noble, yet ordinary enough in all but name, his
power is unexplained by heredity; his family furnished no approach to
greatness, as history supplied no parallel to his dynamic intensity.
Nor, we are informed, among his near of kin, does any inherit his
volcanic energy.’

The world, however, was apparently well relieved of his tumultuous
presence, for his influence was generally surveyed as ‘destructive
rather than constructive.’ He was unmarried, and the title went to a
nephew.

The cheaper journals abounded, of course, in details of his personal
and private life that were freely copied into the foreign press, and
supply curious material for the student of human nature and the
psychologist. The amazing revelations no doubt were picturesquely
exaggerated, yet the sub-stratum of truth in them all was generally
admitted. No contradictions, at any rate, appeared. They read
like the story of some primitive, wild giant let loose upon the
world--primitive, because his specific brain power was admittedly of
no high order; wild, because he was in favour of fierce, spontaneous
action, and his mere presence, on occasions, could stir a nation,
not alone a crowd, to vehement, terrific methods. His energy seemed
inexhaustible, his fire inextinguishable.

Legends were rife, even before he died, among the peasantry of his
Scotch estates, that he was in league with the devil. His habit of
keeping enormous fires in his private rooms, fires that burned day and
night from January to December, and in open hearths widened to thrice
their natural size, stimulated the growth of this particular myth among
those of his personal environment. All manner of stories raged. But
it was his strange custom out-of-doors that provided the diabolical
suggestion. For, ‘behind a specially walled-in space on an open ridge,
denuded of pines, in a distant part of the estate, a series of gigantic
heaps of wood, all ready to ignite, were--it was said--kept in a state
of constant preparedness. And on stormy nights, especially when winds
were high, and invariably at the period of the equinoctial tempests,
his lordship would himself light these tremendous bonfires, and spend
the nocturnal hours in their blazing presence, communing, the stories
variously relate, with the witches at their Sabbath, or with hordes
of fire-spirits, who emerged from the Bottomless Pit in order to feed
his soul with their unquenchable supplies. From these nightly orgies,
it seems clear, at any rate, he returned at dawn with a splendour of
energy that no one could resist, and with a mien whose grandeur invited
worship rather than inspired alarm.’

His biography, it was further stated, would be written by Sir John
Hendricks, Bt., who began life as Private Secretary to his father, the
8th Marquess, but whose rapid rise to position was due to his intimate
association as trusted friend and adviser to the subject of these
obituary notices. The biography, however, had not appeared, within five
years of Lord Oakham’s sudden death, and curiosity is only further
stimulated by the suggestive whisper that it never will, and never can
appear.



THE SACRIFICE


I

Limasson was a religious man, though of what depth and quality
were unknown, since no trial of ultimate severity had yet tested
him. An adherent of no particular creed, he yet had his gods; and
his self-discipline was probably more rigorous than his friends
conjectured. He was so reserved. Few guessed, perhaps, the desires
conquered, the passions regulated, the inner tendencies trained
and schooled--not by denying their expression, but by transmuting
them alchemically into nobler channels. He had in him the makings
of an enthusiastic devotee, and might have become such but for two
limitations that prevented. He loved his wealth, labouring to increase
it to the neglect of other interests; and, secondly, instead of
following up one steady line of search, he scattered himself upon many
picturesque theories, like an actor who wants to play all parts rather
than concentrate on one. And the more picturesque the part, the more
he was attracted. Thus, though he did his duty unshrinkingly and with
a touch of love, he accused himself sometimes of merely gratifying a
sensuous taste in spiritual sensations. There was this unbalance in him
that argued want of depth.

As for his gods--in the end he discovered their reality by first
doubting, then denying their existence.

It was this denial and doubt that restored them to their thrones,
converting his dilettante skirmishes into genuine, deep belief; and the
proof came to him one summer in early June when he was making ready to
leave town for his annual month among the mountains.

With Limasson mountains, in some inexplicable sense, were a passion
almost, and climbing so deep a pleasure that the ordinary scrambler
hardly understood it. Grave as a kind of worship it was to him; the
preparations for an ascent, the ascent itself in particular, involved a
concentration that seemed symbolical as of a ritual. He not only loved
the heights, the massive grandeur, the splendour of vast proportions
blocked in space, but loved them with a respect that held a touch
of awe. The emotion mountains stirred in him, one might say, was of
that profound, incalculable kind that held kinship with his religious
feelings, half realised though these were. His gods had their invisible
thrones somewhere among the grim, forbidding heights. He prepared
himself for this annual mountaineering with the same earnestness that a
holy man might approach a solemn festival of his church.

And the impetus of his mind was running with big momentum in this
direction, when there fell upon him, almost on the eve of starting, a
swift series of disasters that shook his being to its last foundations,
and left him stunned among the ruins. To describe these is unnecessary.
People said, ‘One thing after another like that! What appalling luck!
Poor wretch!’ then wondered, with the curiosity of children, how in the
world he would take it. Due to no apparent fault of his own, these
disasters were so sudden that life seemed in a moment shattered, and
his interest in existence almost ceased. People shook their heads and
thought of the emergency exit. But Limasson was too vital a man to
dream of annihilation. Upon him it had a different effect--he turned
and questioned what he called his gods. They did not answer or explain.
For the first time in his life he doubted. A hair’s breadth beyond lay
definite denial.

The ruin in which he sat, however, was not material; no man of his
age, possessed of courage and a working scheme of life, would permit
disaster of a material order to overwhelm him. It was collapse of a
mental, spiritual kind, an assault upon the roots of character and
temperament. Moral duties laid suddenly upon him threatened to crush.
His _personal_ existence was assailed, and apparently must end. He must
spend the remainder of his life caring for others who were nothing to
him. No outlet showed, no way of escape, so diabolically complete was
the combination of events that rushed his inner trenches. His faith
was shaken. A man can but endure so much, and remain human. For him
the saturation point seemed reached. He experienced the spiritual
equivalent of that physical numbness which supervenes when pain has
touched the limit of endurance. He laughed, grew callous, then mocked
his silent gods.

It is said that upon this state of blank negation there follows
sometimes a condition of lucidity which mirrors with crystal
clearness the forces driving behind life at a given moment, a kind of
clairvoyance that brings explanation and therefore peace. Limasson
looked for this in vain. There was the doubt that questioned, there
was the sneer that mocked the silence into which his questions fell;
but there was neither answer nor explanation, and certainly not peace.
There was no relief. In this tumult of revolt he did none of the
things his friends suggested or expected; he merely followed the line
of least resistance. He yielded to the impetus that was upon him when
the catastrophe came. To their indignant amazement he went out to his
mountains.

All marvelled that at such a time he could adopt so trivial a line of
action, neglecting duties that seemed paramount; they disapproved. Yet
in reality he was taking no definite action at all, but merely drifting
with the momentum that had been acquired just before. He was bewildered
with so much pain, confused with suffering, stunned with the crash that
flung him helpless amid undeserved calamity. He turned to the mountains
as a child to its mother, instinctively. Mountains had never failed
to bring him consolation, comfort, peace. Their grandeur restored
proportion whenever disorder threatened life. No calculation, properly
speaking, was in his move at all; but a blind desire for a violent
physical reaction such as climbing brings. And the instinct was more
wholesome than he knew.

In the high upland valley among lonely peaks whither Limasson then
went, he found in some measure the proportion he had lost. He
studiously avoided thinking; he lived in his muscles recklessly. The
region with its little Inn was familiar to him; peak after peak he
attacked, sometimes with, but more often without a guide, until his
reputation as a sane climber, a laurelled member of all the foreign
Alpine Clubs, was seriously in danger. That he overdid it physically
is beyond question, but that the mountains breathed into him some
portion of their enormous calm and deep endurance is also true. His
gods, meanwhile, he neglected utterly for the first time in his life.
If he thought of them at all, it was as tinsel figures imagination had
created, figures upon a stage that merely decorated life for those
whom pretty pictures pleased. Only--he had left the theatre and their
make-believe no longer hypnotised his mind. He realised their impotence
and disowned them. This attitude, however, was subconscious; he lent to
it no substance, either of thought or speech. He ignored rather than
challenged their existence.

And it was somewhat in this frame of mind--thinking little, feeling
even less--that he came out into the hotel vestibule after dinner one
evening, and took mechanically the bundle of letters the porter handed
to him. They had no possible interest for him; in a corner where the
big steam-heater mitigated the chilliness of the hall, he idly sorted
them. The score or so of other guests, chiefly expert climbing men,
were trailing out in twos and threes from the dining-room; but he felt
as little interest in them as in his letters: no conversation could
alter facts, no written phrases change his circumstances. At random,
then, he opened a business letter with a typewritten address--it
would probably be impersonal, less of a mockery, therefore, than the
others with their tiresome sham condolences. And, in a sense, it was
impersonal; sympathy from a solicitor’s office is mere formula, a few
extra ticks upon the universal keyboard of a Remington. But as he
read it, Limasson made a discovery that startled him into acute and
bitter sensation. He had imagined the limit of bearable suffering and
disaster already reached. Now, in a few dozen words, his error was
proved convincingly. The fresh blow was dislocating.

This culminating news of additional catastrophe disclosed within him
entirely new reaches of pain, of biting, resentful fury. Limasson
experienced a momentary stopping of the heart as he took it in, a
dizziness, a violent sensation of revolt whose impotence induced almost
physical nausea. He felt like--death.

‘Must I suffer all things?’ flashed through his arrested intelligence
in letters of fire.

There was a sullen rage in him, a dazed bewilderment, but no positive
suffering as yet. His emotion was too sickening to include the smaller
pains of disappointment; it was primitive, blind anger that he knew.
He read the letter calmly, even to the neat paragraph of machine-made
sympathy at the last, then placed it in his inner pocket. No outward
sign of disturbance was upon him; his breath came slowly; he reached
over to the table for a match, holding it at arm’s length lest the
sulphur fumes should sting his nostrils.

And in that moment he made his second discovery. The fact that further
suffering was still possible included also the fact that some touch of
resignation had been left in him, and therefore some vestige of belief
as well. Now, as he felt the crackling sheet of stiff paper in his
pocket, watched the sulphur die, and saw the wood ignite, this remnant
faded utterly away. Like the blackened end of the match, it shrivelled
and dropped off. It vanished. Savagely, yet with an external calmness
that enabled him to light his pipe with untrembling hand, he addressed
his futile deities. And once more in fiery letters there flashed
across the darkness of his passionate thought:

‘Even this you demand of me--this cruel, ultimate sacrifice?’

And he rejected them, bag and baggage; for they were a mockery and a
lie. With contempt he repudiated them for ever. The stage of doubt
had passed. He denied his gods. Yet, with a smile upon his lips; for
what were they after all but the puppets his religious fancy had
imagined? They never had existed. Was it, then, merely the picturesque,
sensational aspect of his devotional temperament that had created them?
That side of his nature, in any case, was dead now, killed by a single
devastating blow. The gods went with it.

Surveying what remained of his life, it seemed to him like a city that
an earthquake has reduced to ruins. The inhabitants think no worse
thing could happen. Then comes the fire.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two lines of thought, it seems, then developed parallel in him
and simultaneously, for while underneath he stormed against this
culminating blow, his upper mind dealt calmly with the project of a
great expedition he would make at dawn. He had engaged no guide. As
an experienced mountaineer, he knew the district well; his name was
tolerably familiar, and in half an hour he could have settled all
details, and retired to bed with instructions to be called at two. But,
instead, he sat there waiting, unable to stir, a human volcano that any
moment might break forth into violence. He smoked his pipe as quietly
as though nothing had happened, while through the blazing depths of him
ran ever this one self-repeating statement: ‘Even this you demand of
me, this cruel, ultimate sacrifice!...’ His self-control, dynamically
estimated, just then must have been very great and, thus repressed, the
store of potential energy accumulated enormously.

With thought concentrated largely upon this final blow, Limasson had
not noticed the people who streamed out of the _salle à manger_ and
scattered themselves in groups about the hall. Some individual, now and
again, approached his chair with the idea of conversation, then, seeing
his absorption, turned away. Even when a climber whom he slightly knew
reached across him with a word of apology for the matches, Limasson
made no response, for he did not see him. He noticed nothing. In
particular he did not notice two men who, from an opposite corner, had
for some time been observing him. He now looked up--by chance?--and was
vaguely aware that they were discussing him. He met their eyes across
the hall, and started.

For at first he thought he knew them. Possibly he had seen them about
in the hotel--they seemed familiar--yet he certainly had never spoken
with them. Aware of his mistake, he turned his glance elsewhere,
though still vividly conscious of their attention. One was a clergyman
or a priest; his face wore an air of gravity touched by sadness, a
sternness about the lips counteracted by a kindling beauty in the
eyes that betrayed enthusiasm nobly regulated. There was a suggestion
of stateliness in the man that made the impression very sharp. His
clothing emphasised it. He wore a dark tweed suit that was strict in
its simplicity. There was austerity in him somewhere.

His companion, perhaps by contrast, seemed inconsiderable in his
conventional evening dress. A good deal younger than his friend,
his hair, always a tell-tale detail, was a trifle long; the thin
fingers that flourished a cigarette wore rings; the face, though
picturesque, was flippant, and his entire attitude conveyed a
certain insignificance. Gesture, that faultless language which
challenges counterfeit, betrayed unbalance somewhere. The impression
he produced, however, was shadowy compared to the sharpness of the
other. ‘Theatrical’ was the word in Limasson’s mind, as he turned his
glance elsewhere. But as he looked away he fidgeted. The interior
darkness caused by the dreadful letter rose about him. It engulfed him.
Dizziness came with it....

Far away the blackness was fringed with light, and through this light,
stepping with speed and carelessness as from gigantic distance, the two
men, suddenly grown large, came at him. Limasson, in self-protection,
turned to meet them. Conversation he did not desire. Somehow he had
expected this attack.

Yet the instant they began to speak--it was the priest who opened
fire--it was all so natural and easy that he almost welcomed the
diversion. A phrase by way of introduction--and he was speaking of
the summits. Something in Limasson’s mind turned over. The man was a
serious climber, one of his own species. The sufferer felt a certain
relief as he heard the invitation, and realised, though dully, the
compliment involved.

‘If you felt inclined to join us--if you would honour us with your
company,’ the man was saying quietly, adding something then about ‘your
great experience’ and ‘invaluable advice and judgment.’

Limasson looked up, trying hard to concentrate and understand.

‘The Tour du Néant?’ he repeated, mentioning the peak proposed. Rarely
attempted, never conquered, and with an ominous record of disaster, it
happened to be the very summit he had meant to attack himself next day.

‘You have engaged guides?’ He knew the question foolish.

‘No guide will try it,’ the priest answered, smiling, while his
companion added with a flourish, ‘but we--we need no guide--if _you_
will come.’

‘You are unattached, I believe? You are alone?’ the priest enquired,
moving a little in front of his friend, as though to keep him in the
background.

‘Yes,’ replied Limasson. ‘I am quite alone.’

He was listening attentively, but with only part of his mind. He
realised the flattery of the invitation. Yet it was like flattery
addressed to some one else. He felt himself so indifferent, so--dead.
These men wanted his skilful body, his experienced mind; and it was his
body and mind that talked with them, and finally agreed to go. Many a
time expeditions had been planned in just this way, but to-night he
felt there was a difference. Mind and body signed the agreement, but
his soul, listening elsewhere and looking on, was silent. With his
rejected gods it had left him, though hovering close still. It did not
interfere; it did not warn; it even approved; it sang to him from great
distance that this expedition cloaked another. He was bewildered by the
clashing of his higher and his lower mind.

‘At one in the morning, then, if that will suit you ...’ the older man
concluded.

‘I’ll see to the provisions,’ exclaimed the younger enthusiastically,
‘and I shall take my telephoto for the summit. The porters can come as
far as the Great Tower. We’re over six thousand feet here already, you
see, so ...’ and his voice died away in the distance as his companion
led him off.

Limasson saw him go with relief. But for the other man he would have
declined the invitation. At heart he was indifferent enough. What
decided him really was the coincidence that the Tour du Néant was the
very peak he had intended to attack himself _alone_, and the curious
feeling that this expedition cloaked another somehow--almost that these
men had a hidden motive. But he dismissed the idea--it was not worth
thinking about. A moment later he followed them to bed. So careless
was he of the affairs of the world, so dead to mundane interests, that
he tore up his other letters and tossed them into a corner of the
room--unread.


II

Once in his chilly bedroom he realised that his upper mind had
permitted him to do a foolish thing; he had drifted like a schoolboy
into an unwise situation. He had pledged himself to an expedition with
two strangers, an expedition for which normally he would have chosen
his companions with the utmost caution. Moreover, he was guide; they
looked to him for safety, while yet it was they who had arranged and
planned it. But who were these men with whom he proposed to run grave
bodily risks? He knew them as little as they knew him. Whence came,
he wondered, the curious idea that this climb was really planned by
another who was no one of them?

The thought slipped idly across his mind; going out by one door, it
came back, however, quickly by another. He did not think about it more
than to note its passage through the disorder that passed with him just
then for thinking. Indeed, there was nothing in the whole world for
which he cared a single brass farthing. As he undressed for bed, he
said to himself: ‘I shall be called at one ... but why am I going with
these two on this wild plan?... And who made the plan?’...

It seemed to have settled itself. It came about so naturally and
easily, so quickly. He probed no deeper. He didn’t care. And for the
first time he omitted the little ritual, half prayer, half adoration,
it had always been his custom to offer to his deities upon retiring to
rest. He no longer recognised them.

How utterly broken his life was! How blank and terrible and lonely! He
felt cold, and piled his overcoats upon the bed, as though his mental
isolation involved a physical effect as well. Switching off the light
by the door, he was in the act of crossing the floor in the darkness
when a sound beneath the window caught his ear. Outside there were
voices talking. The roar of falling water made them indistinct, yet he
was sure they were voices, and that one of them he knew. He stopped
still to listen. He heard his own name uttered--‘John Limasson.’ They
ceased. He stood a moment shivering on the boards, then crawled into
bed beneath the heavy clothing. But in the act of settling down, they
began again. He raised himself again hurriedly to listen. What little
wind there was passed in that moment down the valley, carrying off the
roar of falling water; and into the moment’s space of silence dropped
fragments of definite sentences:

‘They are close, you say--close down upon the world?’ It was the voice
of the priest surely.

‘For days they have been passing,’ was the answer--a rough, deep tone
that might have been a peasant’s, and a kind of fear in it, ‘for all my
flocks are scattered.’

‘The signs are sure? You know them?’

‘Tumult,’ was the answer in much lower tones. ‘There has been tumult in
the mountains....’

There was a break then as though the voices sank too low to be heard.
Two broken fragments came next, end of a question--beginning of an
answer.

‘... the opportunity of a lifetime?’

‘... if he goes of his own free will, success is sure. For acceptance
is ...’

And the wind, returning, bore back the sound of the falling water, so
that Limasson heard no more....

An indefinable emotion stirred in him as he turned over to sleep. He
stuffed his ears lest he should hear more. He was aware of a sinking of
the heart that was inexplicable. What in the world were they talking
about, these two? What was the meaning of these disjointed phrases?
There lay behind them a grave significance almost solemn. That ‘tumult
in the mountains’ was somehow ominous, its suggestion terrible and
mighty. He felt disturbed, uncomfortable, the first emotion that
had stirred in him for days. The numbness melted before its faint
awakening. Conscience was in it--he felt vague prickings--but it was
deeper far than conscience. Somewhere out of sight, in a region life
had as yet not plumbed, the words sank down and vibrated like pedal
notes. They rumbled away into the night of undecipherable things. And,
though explanation failed him, he felt they had reference somehow
to the morrow’s expedition: how, what, wherefore, he knew not; his
name had been spoken--then these curious sentences; that was all. Yet
to-morrow’s expedition, what was it but an expedition of impersonal
kind, not even planned by himself? Merely his own plan taken and
altered by others--made over? His personal business, his personal life,
were not really in it at all.

The thought startled him a moment. He had no personal life...!

Struggling with sleep, his brain played the endless game of
disentanglement without winning a single point, while the under-mind in
him looked on and smiled--because it _knew_. Then, suddenly, a great
peace fell over him. Exhaustion brought it perhaps. He fell asleep; and
next moment, it seemed, he was aware of a thundering at the door and an
unwelcome growling voice, ‘_’s ist bald ein Uhr, Herr! Aufstehen!_’

Rising at such an hour, unless the heart be in it, is a sordid and
depressing business; Limasson dressed without enthusiasm, conscious
that thought and feeling were exactly where he had left them on going
to sleep. The same confusion and bewilderment were in him; also the
same deep solemn emotion stirred by the whispering voices. Only long
habit enabled him to attend to detail, and ensured that nothing was
forgotten. He felt heavy and oppressed, a kind of anxiety about him;
the routine of preparation he followed gravely, utterly untouched
by the customary joy; it was mechanical. Yet through it ran the old
familiar sense of ritual, due to the practice of so many years,
that cleansing of mind and body for a big Ascent--like initiatory
rites that once had been as important to him as those of some priest
who approached the worship of his deity in the temples of ancient
time. He performed the ceremony with the same care as though no
ghost of vanished faith still watched him, beckoning from the air as
formerly.... His knapsack carefully packed, he took his ice-axe from
beside the bed, turned out the light, and went down the creaking wooden
stairs in stockinged feet, lest his heavy boots should waken the other
sleepers. And in his head still rang the phrase he had fallen asleep
on--as though just uttered:

‘The signs are sure; for days they have been passing--close down upon
the world. The flocks are scattered. There has been tumult--tumult in
the mountains.’ The other fragments he had forgotten. But who were
‘they’? And why did the word bring a chill of awe into his blood?

And as the words rolled through him Limasson felt tumult in his
thoughts and feelings too. There had been tumult in his life, and
all his joys were scattered--joys that hitherto had fed his days.
The signs were sure. Something was close down upon his little
world--passing--sweeping. He felt a touch of terror.

Outside in the fresh darkness of very early morning the strangers stood
waiting for him. Rather, they seemed to arrive in the same instant as
himself, equally punctual. The clock in the church tower sounded one.
They exchanged low greetings, remarked that the weather promised to
hold good, and started off in single file over soaking meadows towards
the first belt of forest. The porter--mere peasant, unfamiliar of
face and not connected with the hotel--led the way with a hurricane
lantern. The air was marvellously sweet and fragrant. In the sky
overhead the stars shone in their thousands. Only the noise of falling
water from the heights, and the regular thud of their heavy boots broke
the stillness. And, black against the sky, towered the enormous pyramid
of the Tour du Néant they meant to conquer.

Perhaps the most delightful portion of a big ascent is the beginning in
the scented darkness while the thrill of possible conquest lies still
far off. The hours stretch themselves queerly; last night’s sunset
might be days ago; sunrise and the brilliance coming seem in another
week, part of dim futurity like children’s holidays. It is difficult to
realise that this biting cold before the dawn, and the blazing heat to
come, both belong to the same to-day.

There were no sounds as they toiled slowly up the zigzag path through
the first fifteen hundred feet of pine-woods; no one spoke; the clink
of nails and ice-axe points against the stones was all they heard. For
the roar of water was felt rather than heard; it beat against the ears
and the skin of the whole body at once. The deeper notes were below
them now in the sleeping valley; the shriller ones sounded far above,
where streams just born out of ponderous snow-beds tinkled sharply....

The change came delicately. The stars turned a shade less brilliant,
a softness in them as of human eyes that say farewell. Between the
highest branches the sky grew visible. A sighing air smoothed all their
crests one way; moss, earth, and open spaces brought keen perfumes; and
the little human procession, leaving the forest, stepped out into the
vastness of the world above the tree-line. They paused while the porter
stooped to put his lantern out. In the eastern sky was colour. The
peaks and crags rushed closer.

Was it the Dawn? Limasson turned his eyes from the height of sky
where the summits pierced a path for the coming day, to the faces of
his companions, pale and wan in the early twilight. How small, how
insignificant they seemed amid this hungry emptiness of desolation. The
stupendous cliffs fled past them, led by headstrong peaks crowned with
eternal snows. Thin lines of cloud, trailing half way up precipice and
ridge, seemed like the swish of movement--as though he caught the earth
turning as she raced through space. The four of them, timid riders on
the gigantic saddle, clung for their lives against her titan ribs,
while currents of some majestic life swept up at them from every side.
He drew deep draughts of the rarefied air into his lungs. It was very
cold. Avoiding the pallid, insignificant faces of his companions, he
pretended interest in the porter’s operations; he stared fixedly on the
ground. It seemed twenty minutes before the flame was extinguished, and
the lantern fastened to the pack behind. This Dawn was unlike any he
had seen before.

For, in reality, all the while, Limasson was trying to bring order
out of the extraordinary thoughts and feelings that had possessed him
during the slow forest ascent, and the task was not crowned with much
success. The Plan, made by others, had taken charge of him, he felt;
and he had thrown the reins of personal will and interest loosely upon
its steady gait. He had abandoned himself carelessly to what might
come. Knowing that he was leader of the expedition, he yet had suffered
the porter to go first, taking his own place as it was appointed to
him, behind the younger man, but before the priest. In this order, they
had plodded, as only experienced climbers plod, for hours without a
rest, until half way up a change had taken place. He had wished it,
and instantly it was effected. The priest moved past him, while his
companion dropped to the rear--the companion who forever stumbled
in his speed, whereas the older man climbed surely, confidently.
And thereafter Limasson walked more easily--as though the relative
positions of the three were of importance somehow. The steep ascent of
smothering darkness through the woods became less arduous. He was glad
to have the younger man behind him.

For the impression had strengthened as they climbed in silence that
this ascent pertained to some significant Ceremony, and the idea had
grown insistently, almost stealthily, upon him. The movements of
himself and his companions, especially the positions each occupied
relatively to the other, established some kind of intimacy that
resembled speech, suggesting even question and answer. And the entire
performance, while occupying hours by his watch, it seemed to him more
than once, had been in reality briefer than the flash of a passing
thought, so that he saw it within himself--pictorially. He thought of a
picture worked in colours upon a strip of elastic. Some one pulled the
strip, and the picture stretched. Or some one released it again, and
the picture flew back, reduced to a mere stationary speck. All happened
in a single speck of time.

And the little change of position, apparently so trivial, gave point to
this singular notion working in his under-mind--that this ascent was a
ritual and a ceremony as in older days, its significance approaching
revelation, however, for the first time--now. Without language, this
stole over him; no words could quite describe it. For it came to him
that these three formed a unit, himself being in some fashion yet the
acknowledged principal, the leader. The labouring porter had no place
in it, for this first toiling through the darkness was a preparation,
and when the actual climb began, he would disappear, while Limasson
himself went first. This idea that they took part together in a
Ceremony established itself firmly in him, with the added wonder that,
though so often done, he performed it now for the first time with full
comprehension, knowledge, truth. Empty of personal desire, indifferent
to an ascent that formerly would have thrilled his heart with ambition
and delight, he understood that climbing had ever been a ritual for
his soul and of his soul, and that power must result from its sincere
accomplishment. It was a symbolical ascent.

In words this did not come to him. He felt it, never criticising. That
is, he neither rejected nor accepted. It stole most sweetly, grandly,
over him. It floated into him while he climbed, yet so convincingly
that he had felt his relative position must be changed. The younger
man held too prominent a post, or at least a wrong one--in advance.
Then, after the change, effected mysteriously as though all recognised
it, this line of certainty increased, and there came upon him the big,
strange knowledge that all of life is a Ceremony on a giant scale, and
that by performing the movements accurately, with sincere fidelity,
there may come--knowledge. There was gravity in him from that moment.

This ran in his mind with certainty. Though his thought assumed no form
of little phrases, his brain yet furnished detailed statements that
clinched the marvellous thing with simile and incident which daily
life might apprehend: That knowledge arises from action; that to do
the thing invites the teaching and explains it. Action, moreover, is
symbolical; a group of men, a family, an entire nation, engaged in
those daily movements which are the working out of their destiny,
perform a Ceremony which is in direct relation somewhere to the
pattern of greater happenings which are the teachings of the Gods. Let
the body imitate, reproduce--in a bedroom, in a wood--anywhere--the
movements of the stars, and the meaning of those stars shall sink
down into the heart. The movements constitute a script, a language.
To mimic the gestures of a stranger is to understand his mood, his
point of view--to establish a grave and solemn intimacy. Temples are
everywhere, for the entire earth is a temple, and the body, House of
Royalty, is the biggest temple of them all. To ascertain the pattern
its movements trace in daily life, _could_ be to determine the relation
of that particular ceremony to the Cosmos, and so learn power. The
entire system of Pythagoras, he realised, could be taught without a
single word--by movements; and in everyday life even the commonest
act and vulgarest movement are part of some big Ceremony--a message
from the Gods. Ceremony, in a word, is three-dimensional language, and
action, therefore, is the language of the Gods. The Gods he had denied
were speaking to him ... passing with tumult close across his broken
life.... Their passage it was, indeed, that had caused the breaking!

In this cryptic, condensed fashion the great fact came over him--that
he and these other two, here and now, took part in some great Ceremony
of whose ultimate object as yet he was in ignorance. The impact with
which it dropped upon his mind was tremendous. He realised it most
fully when he stepped from the darkness of the forest and entered the
expanse of glimmering, early light; up till this moment his mind was
being prepared only, whereas now he knew. The innate desire to worship
which all along had been his, the momentum his religious temperament
had acquired during forty years, the yearning to have proof, in a word,
that the Gods he once acknowledged were really true, swept back upon
him with that violent reaction which denial had aroused.

He wavered where he stood....

Looking about him, then, while the others rearranged burdens the
returning porter now discarded, he perceived the astonishing beauty
of the time and place, feeling it soak into him as by the very
pores of his skin. From all sides this beauty rushed upon him. Some
radiant, wingéd sense of wonder sped past him through the silent
air. A thrill of ecstasy ran down every nerve. The hair of his head
stood up. It was far from unfamiliar to him, this sight of the upper
mountain world awakening from its sleep of the summer night, but never
before had he stood shuddering thus at its exquisite cold glory,
nor felt its significance as now, so mysteriously _within himself_.
Some transcendent power that held sublimity was passing across this
huge desolate plateau, far more majestic than the mere sunrise among
mountains he had so often witnessed. There was Movement. He understood
why he had seen his companions insignificant. Again he shivered and
looked about him, touched by a solemnity that held deep awe.

Personal life, indeed, was wrecked, destroyed, but something greater
was on the way. His fragile alliance with a spiritual world was
strengthened. He realised his own past insolence. He became afraid.


III

The treeless plateau, littered with enormous boulders, stretched for
miles to right and left, grey in the dusk of very early morning. Behind
him dropped thick guardian pine-woods into the sleeping valley that
still detained the darkness of the night. Here and there lay patches
of deep snow, gleaming faintly through thin rising mist; singing
streams of icy water spread everywhere among the stones, soaking the
coarse rough grass that was the only sign of vegetation. No life was
visible; nothing stirred; nor anywhere was movement, but of the quiet
trailing mist and of his own breath that drifted past his face like
smoke. Yet through the splendid stillness there _was_ movement; that
sense of absolute movement which results in stillness--it was owing
to the stillness that he became aware of it--so vast, indeed, that
only immobility could express it. Thus, on the calmest day in summer,
may the headlong rushing of the earth through space seem more real
than when the tempest shakes the trees and water on its surface; or
great machinery turn with such vertiginous velocity that it appears
steady to the deceived function of the eye. For it was not through the
eye that this solemn Movement made itself known, but rather through
a massive sensation that owned his entire body as its organ. Within
the league-long amphitheatre of enormous peaks and precipices that
enclosed the plateau, piling themselves upon the horizon, Limasson felt
the outline of a Ceremony extended. The pulses of its grandeur poured
into him where he stood. Its vast design was knowable because they
themselves had traced--were even then tracing--its earthly counterpart
in little. And the awe in him increased.

‘This light is false. We have an hour yet before the true dawn,’ he
heard the younger man say lightly. ‘The summits still are ghostly. Let
us enjoy the sensation, and see what we can make of it.’

And Limasson, looking up startled from his reverie, saw that the
far-away heights and towers indeed were heavy with shadow, faint still
with the light of stars. It seemed to him they bowed their awful heads
and that their stupendous shoulders lowered. They drew together,
shutting out the world.

‘True,’ said his companion, ‘and the upper snows still wear the
spectral shine of night. But let us now move faster, for we travel very
light. The sensations you propose will but delay and weaken us.’

He handed a share of the burdens to his companion and to Limasson.
Slowly they all moved forward, and the mountains shut them in.

And two things Limasson noted then, as he shouldered his heavier pack
and led the way: first, that he suddenly knew their destination though
its purpose still lay hidden; and, secondly, that the porter’s leaving
before the ascent proper began signified finally that ordinary climbing
was not their real objective. Also--the dawn was a lifting of inner
veils from off his mind, rather than a brightening of the visible earth
due to the nearing sun. Thick darkness, indeed, draped this enormous,
lonely amphitheatre where they moved.

‘You lead us well,’ said the priest a few feet behind him, as he
picked his way unfalteringly among the boulders and the streams.

‘Strange that I do so,’ replied Limasson in a low tone, ‘for the way is
new to me, and the darkness grows instead of lessening.’ The language
seemed hardly of his choosing. He spoke and walked as in a dream.

Far in the rear the voice of the younger man called plaintively after
them:

‘You go so fast, I can’t keep up with you,’ and again he stumbled and
dropped his ice-axe among the rocks. He seemed for ever stooping to
drink the icy water, or clambering off the trail to test the patches of
snow as to quality and depth. ‘You’re missing all the excitement,’ he
cried repeatedly. ‘There are a hundred pleasures and sensations by the
way.’

They paused a moment for him to overtake them; he came up panting and
exhausted, making remarks about the fading stars, the wind upon the
heights, new routes he longed to try up dangerous couloirs, about
everything, it seemed, except the work in hand. There was eagerness in
him, the kind of excitement that saps energy and wastes the nervous
force, threatening a probable collapse before the arduous object is
attained.

‘Keep to the thing in hand,’ replied the priest sternly. ‘We are not
really going fast; it is you who are scattering yourself to no purpose.
It wears us all. We must husband our resources,’ and he pointed
significantly to the pyramid of the Tour du Néant that gleamed above
them at an incredible altitude.

‘We are here to amuse ourselves; life is a pleasure, a sensation, or it
is nothing,’ grumbled his companion; but there was a gravity in the
tone of the older man that discouraged argument and made resistance
difficult. The other arranged his pack for the tenth time, twisting
his axe through an ingenious scheme of straps and string, and fell
silently into line behind his leaders. Limasson moved on again ... and
the darkness at length began to lift. Far overhead, at first, the snowy
summits shone with a hue less spectral; a delicate pink spread softly
from the east; there was a freshening of the chilly wind; then suddenly
the highest peak that topped the others by a thousand feet of soaring
rock, stepped sharply into sight, half golden and half rose. At the
same instant, the vast Movement of the entire scene slowed down; there
came one or two terrific gusts of wind in quick succession; a roar like
an avalanche of falling stones boomed distantly--and Limasson stopped
dead and held his breath.

For something blocked the way before him, something he knew he could
not pass. Gigantic and unformed, it seemed part of the architecture
of the desolate waste about him, while yet it bulked there, enormous
in the trembling dawn, as belonging neither to plain nor mountain.
Suddenly it was there, where a moment before had been mere emptiness of
air. Its massive outline shifted into visibility as though it had risen
from the ground. He stood stock still. A cold that was not of this
world turned him rigid in his tracks. A few yards behind him the priest
had halted too. Farther in the rear they heard the stumbling tread of
the younger man, and the faint calling of his voice--a feeble broken
sound as of a man whom sudden fear distressed to helplessness.

‘We’re off the track, and I’ve lost my way,’ the words came on the
still air. ‘My axe is gone ... let us put on the rope!... Hark! Do you
hear that roar?’ And then a sound as though he came slowly groping on
his hands and knees.

‘You have exhausted yourself too soon,’ the priest answered sternly.
‘Stay where you are and rest, for we go no farther. This is the place
we sought.’

There was in his tone a kind of ultimate solemnity that for a moment
turned Limasson’s attention from the great obstacle that blocked his
farther way. The darkness lifted veil by veil, not gradually, but by a
series of leaps as when some one inexpertly turns a wick. He perceived
then that not a single Grandeur loomed in front, but that others of
similar kind, some huger than the first, stood all about him, forming
an enclosing circle that hemmed him in.

Then, with a start, he recovered himself. Equilibrium and common sense
returned. The trick that sight had played upon him, assisted by the
rarefied atmosphere of the heights and by the witchery of dawn, was no
uncommon one, after all. The long straining of the eyes to pick the way
in an uncertain light so easily deceives perspective. Delusion ever
follows abrupt change of focus. These shadowy encircling forms were but
the rampart of still distant precipices whose giant walls framed the
tremendous amphitheatre to the sky.

Their closeness was a mere gesture of the dusk and distance.

The shock of the discovery produced an instant’s unsteadiness in him
that brought bewilderment. He straightened up, raised his head, and
looked about him. The cliffs, it seemed to him, shifted back instantly
to their accustomed places; as though after all they _had_ been close;
there was a reeling among the topmost crags; they balanced fearfully,
then stood still against a sky already faintly crimson. The roar he
heard, that might well have seemed the tumult of their hurrying speed,
was in reality but the wind of dawn that rushed against their ribs,
beating the echoes out with angry wings. And the lines of trailing
mist, streaking the air like proofs of rapid motion, merely coiled and
floated in the empty spaces.

He turned to the priest, who had moved up beside him.

‘How strange,’ he said, ‘is this beginning of new light. My sight went
all astray for a passing moment. I thought the mountains stood right
across my path. And when I looked up just now it seemed they all ran
back.’ His voice was small and lost in the great listening air.

The man looked fixedly at him. He had removed his slouch hat, hot
with the long ascent, and as he answered, a long thin shadow flitted
across his features. A breadth of darkness dropped about them. It
was as though a mask were forming. The face that now was covered had
been--naked. He was so long in answering that Limasson heard his mind
sharpening the sentence like a pencil.

He spoke very slowly. ‘_They_ move perhaps even as Their powers move,
and Their minutes are our years. Their passage ever is in tumult. There
is disorder then among the affairs of men; there is confusion in their
minds. There may be ruin and disaster, but out of the wreckage shall
issue strong, fresh growth. For like a sea, They pass.’

There was in his mien a grandeur that seemed borrowed marvellously
from the mountains. His voice was grave and deep; he made no sign
or gesture; and in his manner was a curious steadiness that breathed
through the language a kind of sacred prophecy.

Long, thundering gusts of wind passed distantly across the precipices
as he spoke. The same moment, expecting apparently no rejoinder to his
strange utterance, he stooped and began to unpack his knapsack. The
change from the sacerdotal language to this commonplace and practical
detail was singularly bewildering.

‘It is the time to rest,’ he added, ‘and the time to eat. Let us
prepare.’ And he drew out several small packets and laid them in a
row upon the ground. Awe deepened over Limasson as he watched, and
with it a great wonder too. For the words seemed ominous, as though
this man, upon the floor of some vast Temple, said: ‘Let us prepare a
sacrifice...!’ There flashed into him, out of depths that had hitherto
concealed it, a lightning clue that hinted at explanation of the entire
strange proceeding--of the abrupt meeting with the strangers, the
impulsive acceptance of their project for the great ascent, their grave
behaviour as though it were a Ceremonial of immense design, his change
of position, the bewildering tricks of sight, and the solemn language,
finally, of the older man that corroborated what he himself had deemed
at first illusion. In a flying second of time this all swept through
him--and with it the sharp desire to turn aside, retreat, to run away.

Noting the movement, or perhaps divining the emotion prompting it, the
priest looked up quickly. In his tone was a coldness that seemed as
though this scene of wintry desolation uttered words:

‘You have come too far to think of turning back. It is not possible.
You stand now at the gates of birth--and death. All that might hinder,
you have so bravely cast aside. Be brave now to the end.’

And, as Limasson heard the words, there dropped suddenly into him a new
and awful insight into humanity, a power that unerringly discovered
the spiritual necessities of others, and therefore of himself. With
a shock he realised that the younger man who had accompanied them
with increasing difficulty as they climbed higher and higher--was
but a shadow of reality. Like the porter, he was but an encumbrance
who impeded progress. And he turned his eyes to search the desolate
landscape.

‘You will not find him,’ said his companion, ‘for he is gone. Never,
unless you weakly call, shall you see him again, nor desire to hear his
voice.’ And Limasson realised that in his heart he had all the while
disapproved of the man, disliked him for his theatrical fondness of
sensation and effect, more, that he had even hated and despised him.
Starvation might crawl upon him where he had fallen and eat his life
away before he would stir a finger to save him. It was with the older
man he now had dreadful business in hand.

‘I am glad,’ he answered, ‘for in the end he must have proved my
death--our death!’

And they drew closer round the little circle of food the priest had
laid upon the rocky ground, an intimate understanding linking them
together in a sympathy that completed Limasson’s bewilderment. There
was bread, he saw, and there was salt; there was also a little flask
of deep red wine. In the centre of the circle was a miniature fire of
sticks the priest had collected from the bushes of wild rhododendron.
The smoke rose upwards in a thin blue line. It did not even quiver, so
profound was the surrounding stillness of the mountain air, but far
away among the precipices ran the boom of falling water, and behind it
again, the muffled roar as of peaks and snow-fields that swept with a
rolling thunder through the heavens.

‘They are passing,’ the priest said in a low voice, ‘and They know
that you are here. You have now the opportunity of a lifetime; for, if
you yield acceptance of your own free will, success is sure. You stand
before the gates of birth and death. They offer you life.’

‘Yet ... I denied Them!’ He murmured it below his breath.

‘Denial is evocation. You called to them, and They have come. The
sacrifice of your little personal life is all They ask. Be brave--and
yield it.’

He took the bread as he spoke, and, breaking it in three pieces, he
placed one before Limasson, one before himself, and the third he laid
upon the flame which first blackened and then consumed it.

‘Eat it and understand,’ he said, ‘for it is the nourishment that shall
revive your fading life.’

Next, with the salt, he did the same. Then, raising the flask of wine,
he put it to his lips, offering it afterwards to his companion. When
both had drunk there still remained the greater part of the contents.
He lifted the vessel with both hands reverently towards the sky. He
stood upright.

‘The blood of your personal life I offer to Them in your name. By
the renunciation which seems to you as death shall you pass through
the gates of birth to the life of freedom beyond. For the ultimate
sacrifice that They ask of you is--this.’

And bending low before the distant heights, he poured the wine upon the
rocky ground.

For a period of time Limasson found no means of measuring, so terrible
were the emotions in his heart, the priest remained in this attitude of
worship and obeisance. The tumult in the mountains ceased. An absolute
hush dropped down upon the world. There seemed a pause in the inner
history of the universe itself. All waited--till he rose again. And,
when he did so, the mask that had for hours now been spreading across
his features, was accomplished. The eyes gazed sternly down into his
own. Limasson looked--and recognised. He stood face to face with the
man whom he knew best of all others in the world ... himself.

There had been death. There had also been that recovery of splendour
which is birth and resurrection.

And the sun that moment, with the sudden surprise that mountains only
know, rushed clear above the heights, bathing the landscape and the
standing figure with a stainless glory. Into the vast Temple where he
knelt, as into that greater inner Temple which is mankind’s true House
of Royalty, there poured the completing Presence which is--Light.

‘For in this way, and in this way only, shall you pass from death to
life,’ sang a chanting voice he recognised also now for the first time
as indubitably his own.

It was marvellous. But the birth of light is ever marvellous. It
was anguish; but the pangs of resurrection since time began have
been accomplished by the sweetness of fierce pain. For the majority
still lie in the pre-natal stage, unborn, unconscious of a definite
spiritual existence. In the womb they grope and stifle, depending
ever upon another. Denial is ever the call to life, a protest against
continued darkness for deliverance. Yet birth is the ruin of all that
has hitherto been depended on. There comes then that standing alone
which at first seems desolate isolation. The tumult of destruction
precedes release.

Limasson rose to his feet, stood with difficulty upright, looked about
him from the figure so close now at his side to the snowy summit of
that Tour du Néant he would never climb. The roar and thunder of
_Their_ passage was resumed. It seemed the mountains reeled.

‘They are passing,’ sang the voice that was beside him and within him
too, ‘but They have known you, and your offering is accepted. When
They come close upon the world there is ever wreckage and disaster in
the affairs of men. They bring disorder and confusion into the mind, a
confusion that seems final, a disorder that seems to threaten death.
For there is tumult in Their Presence, and apparent chaos that seems
the abandonment of order. Out of this vast ruin, then, there issues
life in new design. The dislocation is its entrance, the dishevelment
its strength. There has been birth....’

The sunlight dazzled his eyes. That distant roar, like a wind, came
close and swept his face. An icy air, as from a passing star, breathed
over him.

‘Are you prepared?’ he heard.

He knelt again. Without a sign of hesitation or reluctance, he bared
his chest to the sun and wind. The flash came swiftly, instantly,
descending into his heart with unerring aim. He saw the gleam in the
air, he felt the fiery impact of the blow, he even saw the stream gush
forth and sink into the rocky ground, far redder than the wine....

       *       *       *       *       *

He gasped for breath a moment, staggered, reeled, collapsed ... and
within the moment, so quickly did all happen, he was aware of hands
that supported him and helped him to his feet. But he was too weak to
stand. They carried him up to bed. The porter, and the man who had
reached across him for the matches five minutes before, intending
conversation, stood, one at his feet and the other at his head. As he
passed through the vestibule of the hotel, he saw the people staring,
and in his hand he crumpled up the unopened letters he had received so
short a time ago.

‘I really think--I can manage alone,’ he thanked them. ‘If you will set
me down I can walk. I felt dizzy for a moment.’

‘The heat in the hall----’ the gentleman began in a quiet, sympathetic
voice.

They left him standing on the stairs, watching a moment to see that he
had quite recovered. Limasson walked up the two flights to his room
without faltering. The momentary dizziness had passed. He felt quite
himself again, strong, confident, able to stand alone, able to move
forward, able to _climb_.



THE DAMNED


I

‘I’m over forty, Frances, and rather set in my ways,’ I said
good-naturedly, ready to yield if she insisted that our going together
on the visit involved her happiness. ‘My work is rather heavy just now
too, as you know. The question is, _could_ I work there--with a lot of
unassorted people in the house?’

‘Mabel doesn’t mention any other people, Bill,’ was my sister’s
rejoinder. ‘I gather she’s alone--as well as lonely.’

By the way she looked sideways out of the window at nothing, it was
obvious she was disappointed, but to my surprise she did not urge
the point; and as I glanced at Mrs. Franklyn’s invitation lying
upon her sloping lap, the neat, childish handwriting conjured up a
mental picture of the banker’s widow, with her timid, insignificant
personality, her pale grey eyes and her expression as of a backward
child. I thought, too, of the roomy country mansion her late husband
had altered to suit his particular needs, and of my visit to it a few
years ago when its barren spaciousness suggested a wing of Kensington
Museum fitted up temporarily as a place to eat and sleep in. Comparing
it mentally with the poky Chelsea flat where I and my sister kept
impecunious house, I realised other points as well. Unworthy details
flashed across me to entice: the fine library, the organ, the quiet
work-room I should have, perfect service, the delicious cup of early
tea, and hot baths at any moment of the day--without a geyser!

‘It’s a longish visit, a month--isn’t it?’ I hedged, smiling at the
details that seduced me, and ashamed of my man’s selfishness, yet
knowing that Frances expected it of me. ‘There _are_ points about it, I
admit. If you’re set on my going with you, I could manage it all right.’

I spoke at length in this way because my sister made no answer. I saw
her tired eyes gazing into the dreariness of Oakley Street and felt
a pang strike through me. After a pause, in which again she said no
word, I added: ‘So, when you write the letter, you might hint, perhaps,
that I usually work all the morning, and--er--am not a very lively
visitor! Then she’ll understand, you see.’ And I half-rose to return to
my diminutive study, where I was slaving, just then, at an absorbing
article on Comparative Æsthetic Values in the Blind and Deaf.

But Frances did not move. She kept her grey eyes upon Oakley Street
where the evening mist from the river drew mournful perspectives into
view. It was late October. We heard the omnibuses thundering across the
bridge. The monotony of that broad, characterless street seemed more
than usually depressing. Even in June sunshine it was dead, but with
autumn its melancholy soaked into every house between King’s Road and
the Embankment. It washed thought into the past, instead of inviting
it hopefully towards the future. For me, its easy width was an avenue
through which nameless slums across the river sent creeping messages
of depression, and I always regarded it as Winter’s main entrance into
London--fog, slush, gloom trooped down it every November, waving their
forbidding banners till March came to rout them. Its one claim upon my
love was that the south wind swept sometimes unobstructed up it, soft
with suggestions of the sea. These lugubrious thoughts I naturally
kept to myself, though I never ceased to regret the little flat whose
cheapness had seduced us. Now, as I watched my sister’s impassive face,
I realised that perhaps she, too, felt as I felt, yet, brave woman,
without betraying it.

‘And, look here, Fanny,’ I said, putting a hand upon her shoulder as I
crossed the room, ‘it would be the very thing for you. You’re worn out
with catering and housekeeping. Mabel is your oldest friend, besides,
and you’ve hardly seen her since _he_ died----’

‘She’s been abroad for a year, Bill, and only just came back,’ my
sister interposed. ‘She came back rather unexpectedly, though I never
thought she would go _there_ to live----’ She stopped abruptly.
Clearly, she was only speaking half her mind. ‘Probably,’ she went on,
‘Mabel wants to pick up old links again.’

‘Naturally,’ I put in, ‘yourself chief among them.’ The veiled
reference to the house I let pass. It involved discussing the dead man
for one thing.

‘I feel _I_ ought to go anyhow,’ she resumed, ‘and of course it
would be jollier if you came too. You’d get in such a muddle here by
yourself, and eat wrong things, and forget to air the rooms, and--oh,
everything!’ She looked up laughing. ‘Only,’ she added, ‘there’s the
British Museum----?’

‘But there’s a big library there,’ I answered, ‘and all the books of
reference I could possibly want. It was of you I was thinking. You
could take up your painting again; you always sell half of what you
paint. It would be a splendid rest too, and Sussex is a jolly country
to walk in. By all means, Fanny, I advise----’

Our eyes met, as I stammered in my attempts to avoid expressing the
thought that hid in both our minds. My sister had a weakness for
dabbling in the various ‘new’ theories of the day, and Mabel, who
before her marriage had belonged to foolish societies for investigating
the future life to the neglect of the present one, had fostered this
undesirable tendency. Her amiable, impressionable temperament was
open to every psychic wind that blew. I deplored, detested the whole
business. But even more than this I abhorred the later influence that
Mr. Franklyn had steeped his wife in, capturing her body and soul in
his sombre doctrines. I had dreaded lest my sister also might be caught.

‘Now that she is alone again----’

I stopped short. Our eyes now made pretence impossible, for the truth
had slipped out inevitably, stupidly, although unexpressed in definite
language. We laughed, turning our faces a moment to look at other
things in the room. Frances picked up a book and examined its cover
as though she had made an important discovery, while I took my case
out and lit a cigarette I did not want to smoke. We left the matter
there. I went out of the room before further explanation could cause
tension. Disagreements grow into discord from such tiny things--wrong
adjectives, or a chance inflection of the voice. Frances had a right to
her views of life as much as I had. At least, I reflected comfortably,
we had separated upon an agreement this time, recognised mutually,
though not actually stated.

And this point of meeting was, oddly enough, our way of regarding some
one who was dead. For we had both disliked the husband with a great
dislike, and during his three years’ married life had only been to the
house once--for a week-end visit; arriving late on Saturday, we had
left after an early breakfast on Monday morning. Ascribing my sister’s
dislike to a natural jealousy at losing her old friend, I said merely
that he displeased me. Yet we both knew that the real emotion lay
much deeper. Frances, loyal, honourable creature, had kept silence;
and beyond saying that house and grounds--he altered one and laid out
the other--distressed her as an expression of his personality somehow
(“distressed” was the word she used), no further explanation had passed
her lips.

Our dislike of his personality was easily accounted for--up to a point,
since both of us shared the artist’s point of view that a creed, cut
to measure and carefully dried, was an ugly thing, and that a dogma to
which believers must subscribe or perish everlastingly was a barbarism
resting upon cruelty. But while my own dislike was purely due to an
abstract worship of Beauty, my sister’s had another twist in it, for
with her ‘new’ tendencies, she believed that all religions were an
aspect of truth and that no one, even the lowest wretch, could escape
‘heaven’ in the long run.

Samuel Franklyn, the rich banker, was a man universally respected
and admired, and the marriage, though Mabel was fifteen years his
junior, won general applause; his bride was an heiress in her own
right--breweries--and the story of her conversion at a revivalist
meeting where Samuel Franklyn had spoken fervidly of heaven, and
terrifyingly of sin, hell and damnation, even contained a touch of
genuine romance. She was a brand snatched from the burning; his
detailed eloquence had frightened her into heaven; salvation came in
the nick of time; his words had plucked her from the edge of that
lake of fire and brimstone where their worm dieth not and the fire is
not quenched. She regarded him as a hero, sighed her relief upon his
saintly shoulder, and accepted the peace he offered her with a grateful
resignation.

For her husband was a ‘religious man’ who successfully combined great
riches with the glamour of winning souls. He was a portly figure,
though tall, with masterful, big hands, the fingers rather thick
and red; and his dignity, that just escaped being pompous, held in
it something that was implacable. A convinced assurance, almost
remorseless, gleamed in his eyes when he preached especially, and his
threats of hell fire must have scared souls stronger than the timid,
receptive Mabel whom he married. He clad himself in long frock-coats
that buttoned unevenly, big square boots, and trousers that invariably
bagged at the knee and were a little short; he wore low collars, spats
occasionally, and a tall black hat that was not of silk. His voice was
alternately hard and unctuous; and he regarded theatres, ball-rooms
and race-courses as the vestibule of that brimstone lake of whose
geography he was as positive as of his great banking offices in the
City. A philanthropist up to the hilt, however, no one ever doubted his
complete sincerity; his convictions were ingrained, his faith borne out
by his life--as witness his name upon so many admirable Societies,
as treasurer, patron, or heading the donation list. He bulked large
in the world of doing good, a broad and stately stone in the rampart
against evil. And his heart was genuinely kind and soft for others--who
believed as he did.

Yet, in spite of this true sympathy with suffering and his desire to
help, he was narrow as a telegraph wire and unbending as a church
pillar; he was intensely selfish; intolerant as an officer of the
Inquisition, his bourgeois soul constructed a revolting scheme of
heaven that was reproduced in miniature in all he did and planned.
Faith was the _sine qua non_ of salvation, and by ‘faith’ he meant
belief in his own particular view of things--‘which faith, except
every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish
everlastingly.’ All the world but his own small, exclusive sect must be
damned eternally--a pity, but alas, inevitable. _He_ was right.

Yet he prayed without ceasing, and gave heavily to the poor--the
only thing he could not give being big ideas to his provincial and
suburban deity. Pettier than an insect, and more obstinate than a mule,
he had also the superior, sleek humility of a ‘chosen one.’ He was
churchwarden too. He read the Lessons in a ‘place of worship,’ either
chilly or overheated, where neither organ, vestments, nor lighted
candles were permitted, but where the odour of hair-wash on the boys’
heads in the back rows pervaded the entire building.

This portrait of the banker, who accumulated riches both on earth and
in heaven, may possibly be overdrawn, however, because Frances and
I were ‘artistic temperaments’ that viewed the type with a dislike
and distrust amounting to contempt. The majority considered Samuel
Franklyn a worthy man and a good citizen. The majority, doubtless,
held the saner view. A few years more, and he certainly would have been
made a baronet. He relieved much suffering in the world, as assuredly
as he caused many souls the agonies of torturing fear by his emphasis
upon damnation. Had there been one point of beauty in him, we might
have been more lenient; only we found it not, and, I admit, took little
pains to search. I shall never forget the look of dour forgiveness with
which he heard our excuses for missing Morning Prayers that Sunday
morning of our single visit to The Towers. My sister learned that
a change was made soon afterwards, prayers being ‘conducted’ after
breakfast instead of before.

The Towers stood solemnly upon a Sussex hill amid park-like modern
grounds, but the house cannot better be described--it would be so
wearisome for one thing--than by saying that it was a cross between
an overgrown, pretentious Norwood villa and one of those saturnine
Institutes for cripples the train passes as it slinks ashamed through
South London into Surrey. It was ‘wealthily’ furnished and at
first sight imposing, but on closer acquaintance revealed a meagre
personality, barren and austere. One looked for Rules and Regulations
on the walls, all signed By Order. The place was a prison that shut out
‘the world.’ There was, of course, no billiard-room, no smoking-room,
no room for play of any kind, and the great hall at the back, once a
chapel which might have been used for dancing, theatricals, or other
innocent amusements, was consecrated in his day to meetings of various
kinds, chiefly brigades, temperance or missionary societies. There was
a harmonium at one end--on the level floor--a raised dais or platform
at the other, and a gallery above for the servants, gardeners and
coachmen. It was heated with hot-water pipes, and hung with Doré’s
pictures, though these latter were soon removed and stored out of sight
in the attics as being too unspiritual. In polished, shiny wood, it was
a representation in miniature of that poky exclusive Heaven he took
about with him, externalising it in all he did and planned, even in the
grounds about the house.

Changes in The Towers, Frances told me, had been made during Mabel’s
year of widowhood abroad--an organ put into the big hall, the library
made liveable and recatalogued--when it was permissible to suppose she
had found her soul again and returned to her normal, healthy views of
life, which included enjoyment and play, literature, music and the
arts, without, however, a touch of that trivial thoughtlessness usually
termed worldliness. Mrs. Franklyn, as I remembered her, was a quiet
little woman, shallow, perhaps, and easily influenced, but sincere as
a dog and thorough in her faithful friendships. Her tastes at heart
were catholic, and that heart was simple and unimaginative. That she
took up with the various movements of the day was sign merely that she
was searching in her limited way for a belief that should bring her
peace. She was, in fact, a very ordinary woman, her calibre a little
less than that of Frances. I knew they used to discuss all kinds of
theories together, but as these discussions never resulted in action,
I had come to regard her as harmless. Still, I was not sorry when she
married, and I did not welcome now a renewal of the former intimacy.
The philanthropist had given her no children, or she would have made a
good and sensible mother. No doubt she would marry again.

‘Mabel mentions that she’s been alone at The Towers since the end of
August,’ Frances told me at tea-time; ‘and I’m sure she feels out of it
and lonely. It would be a kindness to go. Besides, I always liked her.’

I agreed. I had recovered from my attack of selfishness. I expressed my
pleasure.

‘You’ve written to accept,’ I said, half statement and half question.

Frances nodded. ‘I thanked for you,’ she added quietly, ‘explaining
that you were not free at the moment, but that later, if not
inconvenient, you might come down for a bit and join me.’

I stared. Frances sometimes had this independent way of deciding
things. I was convicted, and punished into the bargain.

Of course there followed argument and explanation, as between brother
and sister who were affectionate, but the recording of our talk
could be of little interest. It was arranged thus, Frances and I
both satisfied. Two days later she departed for The Towers, leaving
me alone in the flat with everything planned for my comfort and good
behaviour--she was rather a tyrant in her quiet way--and her last words
as I saw her off from Charing Cross rang in my head for a long time
after she was gone:

‘I’ll write and let you know, Bill. Eat properly, mind, and let me know
if anything goes wrong.’

She waved her small gloved hand, nodded her head till the feather
brushed the window, and was gone.


II

After the note announcing her safe arrival a week of silence passed,
and then a letter came; there were various suggestions for my welfare,
and the rest was the usual rambling information and description Frances
loved, generously italicised.

‘... and we are quite alone,’ she went on in her enormous handwriting
that seemed such a waste of space and labour, ‘though some others
are coming presently, I believe. You could work here to your heart’s
content. Mabel _quite_ understands, and says she would love to have
you when you feel free to come. She has changed a bit--back to her old
natural self: she never mentions _him_. The place has changed too in
certain ways: it has more cheerfulness, I think. _She_ has put it in,
this cheerfulness, spaded it in, if you know what I mean; but it lies
about uneasily and is not natural--quite. The organ is a beauty. She
must be very rich now, but she’s as gentle and sweet as ever. Do you
know, Bill, I think he must have _frightened_ her into marrying him.
I get the impression she was afraid of him.’ This last sentence was
inked out, but I read it through the scratching; the letters being too
big to hide. ‘He had an inflexible will beneath all that oily kindness
which passed for spiritual. He was a real personality, I mean. I’m
sure he’d have sent you and me cheerfully to the stake in another
century--_for our own good_. Isn’t it odd she never speaks of him, even
to me?’ This, again, was stroked through, though without the intention
to obliterate--merely because it was repetition, probably. ‘The only
reminder of him in the house now is a big copy of the presentation
portrait that stands on the stairs of the Multitechnic Institute at
Peckham--you know--that life-size one with his fat hand sprinkled
with rings resting on a thick Bible and the other slipped between
the buttons of a tight frock-coat. It hangs in the dining-room and
rather dominates our meals. I wish Mabel would take it down. I think
she’d like to, if she _dared_. There’s not a single photograph of him
anywhere, even in her own room. Mrs. Marsh is here--you remember her,
_his_ housekeeper, the wife of the man who got penal servitude for
killing a baby or something,--_you_ said she robbed him and justified
her stealing because the story of the unjust steward was in the Bible!
How we laughed over that! _She’s_ just the same too, gliding about all
over the house and turning up when least expected.’

Other reminiscences filled the next two sides of the letter, and
ran, without a trace of punctuation, into instructions about a
Salamander stove for heating my work-room in the flat; these were
followed by things I was to tell the cook, and by requests for several
articles she had forgotten and would like sent after her, two of
them blouses, with descriptions so lengthy and contradictory that
I sighed as I read them--‘unless you come down soon, in which case
perhaps you wouldn’t mind bringing them; _not_ the mauve one I wear
in the evening sometimes, but the pale blue one with lace round the
collar and the crinkly front. They’re in the cupboard--or the drawer,
I’m not sure which--of my bedroom. _Ask Annie_ if you’re in doubt.
Thanks most _awfully_. Send a telegram, remember, and we’ll meet
you in the motor _any time_. I don’t quite know if I shall stay the
whole month--_alone_. It all depends....’ And she closed the letter,
the italicised words increasing recklessly towards the end, with a
repetition that Mabel would love to have me ‘for myself,’ as also to
have a ‘man in the house,’ and that I only had to telegraph the day
and the train.... This letter, coming by the second post, interrupted
me in a moment of absorbing work, and, having read it through to make
sure there was nothing requiring instant attention, I threw it aside
and went on with my notes and reading. Within five minutes, however, it
was back at me again. That restless thing called ‘between the lines’
fluttered about my mind. My interest in the Balkan States--political
article that had been ‘ordered’--faded. Somewhere, somehow I felt
disquieted, disturbed. At first I persisted in my work, forcing myself
to concentrate, but soon found that a layer of new impressions floated
between the article and my attention. It was like a shadow, though a
shadow that dissolved upon inspection. Once or twice I glanced up,
expecting to find some one in the room, that the door had opened
unobserved and Annie was waiting for instructions. I heard the ’buses
thundering across the bridge. I was aware of Oakley Street. Montenegro
and the blue Adriatic melted into the October haze along that
depressing Embankment that aped a river bank, and sentences from the
letter flashed before my eyes and stung me. Picking it up and reading
it through more carefully, I rang the bell and told Annie to find the
blouses and pack them for the post, showing her finally the written
description, and resenting the superior smile with which she at once
interrupted, ‘_I_ know them, sir,’ and disappeared.

But it was not the blouses: it was that exasperating thing ‘between the
lines’ that put an end to my work with its elusive teasing nuisance.
The first sharp impression is alone of value in such a case, for
once analysis begins the imagination constructs all kinds of false
interpretation. The more I thought, the more I grew fuddled. The
letter, it seemed to me, wanted to say another thing; instead the
eight sheets _conveyed_ it merely. It came to the edge of disclosure,
then halted. There was something on the writer’s mind, and I felt
uneasy. Studying the sentences brought, however, no revelation, but
increased confusion only; for while the uneasiness remained, the first
clear hint had vanished. In the end I closed my books and went out to
look up another matter at the British Museum Library. Perhaps I should
discover it that way--by turning the mind in a totally new direction. I
lunched at the Express Dairy in Oxford Street close by, and telephoned
to Annie that I would be home to tea at five.

And at tea, tired physically and mentally after breathing the exhausted
air of the Rotunda for five hours, my mind suddenly delivered up its
original impression, vivid and clear-cut; no proof accompanied the
revelation; it was mere presentiment, but convincing. Frances was
disturbed in her mind, her orderly, sensible, housekeeping mind; she
was uneasy, even perhaps afraid; something in the house distressed
her, and she had need of me. Unless I went down, her time of rest and
change, her quite necessary holiday, in fact, would be spoilt. She was
too unselfish to say this, but it ran everywhere between the lines. I
saw it clearly now. Mrs. Franklyn, moreover--and that meant Frances
too--would like a ‘man in the house.’ It was a disagreeable phrase, a
suggestive way of hinting something she dared not state definitely. The
two women in that great, lonely barrack of a house were afraid.

My sense of duty, affection, unselfishness, whatever the composite
emotion may be termed, was stirred; also my vanity. I acted quickly,
lest reflection should warp clear, decent judgment. ‘Annie,’ I said,
when she answered the bell, ‘you need not send those blouses by the
post. I’ll take them down to-morrow when I go. I shall be away a week
or two, possibly longer.’ And, having looked up a train, I hastened out
to telegraph before I could change my fickle mind.

But no desire came that night to change my mind. I was doing the right,
the necessary thing. I was even in something of a hurry to get down to
The Towers as soon as possible. I chose an early afternoon train.


III

A telegram had told me to come to a town ten miles from the house, so
I was saved the crawling train to the local station, and travelled
down by an express. As soon as we left London the fog cleared off,
and an autumn sun, though without heat in it, painted the landscape
with golden browns and yellows. My spirits rose as I lay back in the
luxurious motor and sped between the woods and hedges. Oddly enough,
my anxiety of overnight had disappeared. It was due, no doubt, to that
exaggeration of detail which reflection in loneliness brings. Frances
and I had not been separated for over a year, and her letters from
The Towers told so little. It had seemed unnatural to be deprived
of those intimate particulars of mood and feeling I was accustomed
to. We had such confidence in one another, and our affection was so
deep. Though she was but five years younger than myself, I regarded
her as a child. My attitude was fatherly. In return, she certainly
mothered me with a solicitude that never cloyed. I felt no desire to
marry while she was still alive. She painted in water-colours with
a reasonable success, and kept house for me; I wrote, reviewed books
and lectured on æsthetics; we were a humdrum couple of quasi-artists,
well satisfied with life, and all I feared for her was that she might
become a suffragette or be taken captive by one of these wild theories
that caught her imagination sometimes, and that Mabel, for one, had
fostered. As for myself, no doubt she deemed me a trifle solid or
stolid--I forget which word she preferred--but on the whole there was
just sufficient difference of opinion to make intercourse suggestive
without monotony, and certainly without quarrelling. Drawing in deep
draughts of the stinging autumn air, I felt happy and exhilarated. It
was like going for a holiday, with comfort at the end of the journey
instead of bargaining for centimes.

But my heart sank noticeably the moment the house came into view. The
long drive, lined with hostile monkey trees and formal wellingtonias
that were solemn and sedate, was mere extension of the miniature
approach to a thousand semi-detached suburban ‘residences’; and
the appearance of The Towers, as we turned the corner with a rush,
suggested a commonplace climax to a story that had begun interestingly,
almost thrillingly. A villa had escaped from the shadow of the Crystal
Palace, thumped its way down by night, grown suddenly monstrous in
a shower of rich rain, and settled itself insolently to stay. Ivy
climbed about the opulent red-brick walls, but climbed neatly and
with disfiguring effect, sham as on a prison or--the simile made me
smile--an orphan asylum. There was no hint of the comely roughness of
untidy ivy on a ruin. Clipped, trained and precise it was, as on a
brand-new protestant church. I swear there was not a bird’s nest nor
a single earwig in it anywhere. About the porch it was particularly
thick, smothering a seventeenth-century lamp with a contrast that was
quite horrible. Extensive glass-houses spread away on the farther side
of the house; the numerous towers to which the building owed its name
seemed made to hold school bells; and the window-sills, thick with
potted flowers, made me think of the desolate suburbs of Brighton
or Bexhill. In a commanding position upon the crest of a hill, it
overlooked miles of undulating, wooded country southwards to the Downs,
but behind it, to the north, thick banks of ilex, holly and privet
protected it from the cleaner and more stimulating winds. Hence, though
highly placed, it was shut in. Three years had passed since I last set
eyes upon it, but the unsightly memory I had retained was justified by
the reality. The place was deplorable.

It is my habit to express my opinions audibly sometimes, when
impressions are strong enough to warrant it; but now I only sighed
‘Oh, dear,’ as I extricated my legs from many rugs and went into the
house. A tall parlour-maid, with the bearing of a grenadier, received
me, and standing behind her was Mrs. Marsh, the housekeeper, whom I
remembered because her untidy back hair had suggested to me that it
had been burnt. I went at once to my room, my hostess already dressing
for dinner, but Frances came in to see me just as I was struggling
with my black tie that had got tangled like a bootlace. She fastened
it for me in a neat, effective bow, and while I held my chin up for
the operation, staring blankly at the ceiling, the impression came--I
wondered, was it her touch that caused it?--that something in her
trembled. Shrinking perhaps is the truer word. Nothing in her face or
manner betrayed it, nor in her pleasant, easy talk while she tidied my
things and scolded my slovenly packing, as her habit was, questioning
me about the servants at the flat. The blouses, though right, were
crumpled, and my scolding was deserved. There was no impatience even.
Yet somehow or other the suggestion of a shrinking reserve and holding
back reached my mind. She had been lonely, of course, but it was more
than that; she was glad that I had come, yet for some reason unstated
she could have wished that I had stayed away. We discussed the news
that had accumulated during our brief separation, and in doing so the
impression, at best exceedingly slight, was forgotten. My chamber was
large and beautifully furnished; the hall and dining-room of our flat
would have gone into it with a good remainder; yet it was not a place
I could settle down in for work. It conveyed the idea of impermanence,
making me feel transient as in a hotel bedroom. This, of course, was
the fact. But some rooms convey a settled, lasting hospitality even
in a hotel; this one did not; and as I was accustomed to work in the
room I slept in, at least when visiting, a slight frown must have crept
between my eyes.

‘Mabel has fitted a work-room for you just out of the library,’ said
the clairvoyant Frances. ‘No one will disturb you there, and you’ll
have fifteen thousand books all catalogued within easy reach. There’s a
private staircase too. You can breakfast in your room and slip down in
your dressing-gown if you want to.’ She laughed. My spirits took a turn
upwards as absurdly as they had gone down.

‘And how are _you_?’ I asked, giving her a belated kiss. ‘It’s jolly
to be together again. I did feel rather lost without you, I’ll admit.’

‘That’s natural,’ she laughed. ‘I’m so glad.’

She looked well and had country colour in her cheeks. She informed me
that she was eating and sleeping well, going out for little walks with
Mabel, painting bits of scenery again, and enjoying a complete change
and rest; and yet, for all her brave description, the words somehow did
not quite ring true. Those last words in particular did not ring true.
There lay in her manner, just out of sight, I felt, this suggestion of
the exact reverse--of unrest, shrinking, almost of anxiety. Certain
small strings in her seemed over-tight. ‘Keyed-up’ was the slang
expression that crossed my mind. I looked rather searchingly into her
face as she was telling me this.

‘Only--the evenings,’ she added, noticing my query, yet rather avoiding
my eyes, ‘the evenings are--well, rather heavy sometimes, and I find it
difficult to keep awake.’

‘The strong air after London makes you drowsy,’ I suggested, ‘and you
like to get early to bed.’

Frances turned and looked at me for a moment steadily. ‘On the
contrary, Bill, I dislike going to bed--here. And Mabel goes so
early.’ She said it lightly enough, fingering the disorder upon my
dressing-table in such a stupid way that I saw her mind was working in
another direction altogether. She looked up suddenly with a kind of
nervousness from the brush and scissors. ‘Billy,’ she said abruptly,
lowering her voice, ‘isn’t it odd, but I _hate_ sleeping alone here?
I can’t make it out quite; I’ve never felt such a thing before in my
life. Do you--think it’s all nonsense?’ And she laughed, with her lips
but not with her eyes; there was a note of defiance in her I failed to
understand.

‘Nothing a nature like yours feels strongly is nonsense, Frances,’ I
replied soothingly.

But I, too, answered with my lips only, for another part of my mind
was working elsewhere, and among uncomfortable things. A touch of
bewilderment passed over me. I was not certain how best to continue. If
I laughed she would tell me no more, yet if I took her too seriously
the strings would tighten further. Instinctively, then, this flashed
rapidly across me: that something of what she felt, I had also felt,
though interpreting it differently. Vague it was, as the coming of
rain or storm that announce themselves hours in advance with their
hint of faint, unsettling excitement in the air. I had been but a
short hour in the house,--big, comfortable, luxurious house,--but had
experienced this sense of being unsettled, unfixed, fluctuating--a kind
of impermanence that transient lodgers in hotels must feel, but that a
guest in a friend’s home ought not to feel, be the visit short or long.
To Frances, an impressionable woman, the feeling had come in the terms
of alarm. She disliked sleeping alone, while yet she longed to sleep.
The precise idea in my mind evaded capture, merely brushing through
me, three-quarters out of sight; I realised only that we both felt the
same thing, and that neither of us could get at it clearly. Degrees of
unrest we felt, but the actual thing did not disclose itself. It did
not happen.

I felt strangely at sea for a moment. Frances would interpret
hesitation as endorsement, and encouragement might be the last thing
that could help her.

‘Sleeping in a strange house,’ I answered at length, ‘is often
difficult at first, and one feels lonely. After fifteen months in
our tiny flat one feels lost and uncared-for in a big house. It’s an
uncomfortable feeling--I know it well. And this _is_ a barrack, isn’t
it? The masses of furniture only make it worse. One feels in storage
somewhere underground--the furniture doesn’t furnish. One must never
yield to fancies, though----’

Frances looked away towards the windows; she seemed disappointed a
little.

‘After our thickly-populated Chelsea,’ I went on quickly, ‘it seems
isolated here.’

But she did not turn back, and clearly I was saying the wrong thing.
A wave of pity rushed suddenly over me. Was she really frightened,
perhaps? She was imaginative, I knew, but never moody; common sense was
strong in her, though she had her times of hypersensitiveness. I caught
the echo of some unreasoning, big alarm in her. She stood there, gazing
across my balcony towards the sea of wooded country that spread dim
and vague in the obscurity of the dusk. The deepening shadows entered
the room, I fancied, from the grounds below. Following her abstracted
gaze a moment, I experienced a curious sharp desire to leave, to
escape. Out yonder was wind and space and freedom. This enormous
building was oppressive, silent, still. Great catacombs occurred to me,
things beneath the ground, imprisonment and capture. I believe I even
shuddered a little.

I touched her shoulder. She turned round slowly, and we looked with a
certain deliberation into each other’s eyes.

‘Fanny,’ I asked, more gravely than I intended, ‘you are not
frightened, are you? Nothing has happened, has it?’

She replied with emphasis, ‘Of course not! How could it--I mean, why
should I?’ She stammered, as though the wrong sentence flustered her a
second. ‘It’s simply--that I have this ter--this dislike of sleeping
alone.’

Naturally, my first thought was how easy it would be to cut our visit
short. But I did not say this. Had it been a true solution, Frances
would have said it for me long ago.

‘Wouldn’t Mabel double-up with you?’ I said instead, ‘or give you an
adjoining room, so that you could leave the door between you open?
There’s space enough, heaven knows.’

And then, as the gong sounded in the hall below for dinner, she said,
as with an effort, this thing:

‘Mabel did ask me--on the third night--after I had told her. But I
declined.’

‘You’d rather be alone than with her?’ I asked, with a certain relief.

Her reply was so gravely given, a child would have known there was more
behind it: ‘Not that; but that she did not really want it.’

I had a moment’s intuition and acted on it impulsively. ‘She feels it
too, perhaps, but wishes to face it by herself--and get over it?’

My sister bowed her head, and the gesture made me realise of a sudden
how grave and solemn our talk had grown, as though some portentous
thing were under discussion. It had come of itself--indefinite as a
gradual change of temperature. Yet neither of us knew its nature, for
apparently neither of us could state it plainly. Nothing happened, even
in our words.

‘That _was_ my impression,’ she said, ‘--that if she yields to it she
encourages it. And a habit forms so easily. Just think,’ she added
with a faint smile that was the first sign of lightness she had yet
betrayed, ‘what a nuisance it would be--everywhere--if everybody was
afraid of being alone--like that.’

I snatched readily at the chance. We laughed a little, though it was a
quiet kind of laughter that seemed wrong. I took her arm and led her
towards the door.

‘Disastrous, in fact,’ I agreed.

She raised her voice to its normal pitch again, as I had done. ‘No
doubt it will pass,’ she said, ‘now that you have come. Of course,
it’s chiefly my imagination.’ Her tone was lighter, though nothing
could convince me that the matter itself was light--just then. ‘And in
any case,’ tightening her grip on my arm as we passed into the bright
enormous corridor and caught sight of Mrs. Franklyn waiting in the
cheerless hall below, ‘I’m _very_ glad you’re here, Bill, and Mabel, I
know, is too.’

‘If it doesn’t pass,’ I just had time to whisper with a feeble attempt
at jollity, ‘I’ll come at night and snore outside your door. After that
you’ll be so glad to get rid of me that you won’t mind being alone.’

‘That’s a bargain,’ said Frances.

I shook my hostess by the hand, made a banal remark about the long
interval since last we met, and walked behind them into the great
dining-room, dimly lit by candles, wondering in my heart how long my
sister and I should stay, and why in the world we had ever left our
cosy little flat to enter this desolation of riches and false luxury
at all. The unsightly picture of the late Samuel Franklyn, Esq.,
stared down upon me from the farther end of the room above the mighty
mantelpiece. He looked, I thought, like some pompous Heavenly Butler
who denied to all the world, and to us in particular, the right of
entry without presentation cards signed by his hand as proof that we
belonged to his own exclusive set. The majority, to his deep grief,
and in spite of all his prayers on their behalf, must burn and ‘perish
everlastingly.’


IV

With the instinct of the healthy bachelor I always try to make myself a
nest in the place I live in, be it for long or short. Whether visiting,
in lodging-house, or in hotel, the first essential is this nest--one’s
own things built into the walls as a bird builds in its feathers. It
may look desolate and uncomfortable enough to others, because the
central detail is neither bed nor wardrobe, sofa nor arm-chair, but
a good solid writing-table that does not wriggle, and that has wide
elbow-room. And The Towers is vividly described for me by the single
fact that I could not ‘nest’ there. I took several days to discover
this, but the first impression of impermanence was truer than I knew.
The feathers of the mind refused here to lie one way. They ruffled,
pointed and grew wild.

Luxurious furniture does not mean comfort; I might as well have tried
to settle down in the sofa and arm-chair department of a big shop. My
bedroom was easily managed; it was the private work-room, prepared
especially for my reception, that made me feel alien and outcast.
Externally, it was all one could desire: an ante-chamber to the great
library, with not one, but two generous oak tables, to say nothing
of smaller ones against the walls with capacious drawers. There were
reading-desks, mechanical devices for holding books, perfect light,
quiet as in a church, and no approach but across the huge adjoining
room. Yet it did not invite.

‘I hope you’ll be able to work here,’ said my little hostess the next
morning, as she took me in--her only visit to it while I stayed in the
house--and showed me the ten-volume Catalogue. ‘It’s absolutely quiet
and no one will disturb you.’

‘If you can’t, Bill, you’re not much good,’ laughed Frances, who was on
her arm. ‘Even I could write in a study like this!’

I glanced with pleasure at the ample tables, the sheets of thick
blotting-paper, the rulers, sealing-wax, paper-knives, and all the
other immaculate paraphernalia. ‘It’s perfect,’ I answered with a
secret thrill, yet feeling a little foolish. This was for Gibbon or
Carlyle, rather than for my pot-boiling insignificancies. ‘If I can’t
write masterpieces here, it’s certainly not _your_ fault,’ and I turned
with gratitude to Mrs. Franklyn. She was looking straight at me, and
there was a question in her small pale eyes I did not understand. Was
she noting the effect upon me, I wondered?

‘You’ll write here--perhaps a story about the house,’ she said;
‘Thompson will bring you anything you want; you only have to ring.’
She pointed to the electric bell on the central table, the wire
running neatly down the leg. ‘No one has ever worked here before, and
the library has been hardly used since it was put in. So there’s no
previous atmosphere to affect your imagination--er--adversely.’

We laughed. ‘Bill isn’t that sort,’ said my sister; while I wished
they would go out and leave me to arrange my little nest and set to
work.

I thought, of course, it was the huge listening library that made me
feel so inconsiderable--the fifteen thousand silent, staring books, the
solemn aisles, the deep, eloquent shelves. But when the women had gone
and I was alone, the beginning of the truth crept over me, and I felt
that first hint of disconsolateness which later became an imperative
No. The mind shut down, images ceased to rise and flow. I read, made
copious notes, but I wrote no single line at The Towers. Nothing
completed itself there. Nothing happened.

The morning sunshine poured into the library through ten long narrow
windows; birds were singing; the autumn air, rich with a faint aroma
of November melancholy that stung the imagination pleasantly, filled
my ante-chamber. I looked out upon the undulating wooded landscape,
hemmed in by the sweep of distant Downs, and I tasted a whiff of the
sea. Rooks cawed as they floated above the elms, and there were lazy
cows in the nearer meadows. A dozen times I tried to make my nest and
settle down to work, and a dozen times, like a turning fastidious dog
upon a hearth-rug, I rearranged my chair and books and papers. The
temptation of the Catalogue and shelves, of course, was accountable
for much, yet not, I felt, for all. That was a manageable seduction.
My work, moreover, was not of the creative kind that requires
absolute absorption; it was the mere readable presentation of data
I had accumulated. My note-books were charged with facts ready to
tabulate--facts, too, that interested me keenly. A mere effort of
the will was necessary, and concentration of no difficult kind. Yet,
somehow, it seemed beyond me: something for ever pushed the facts into
disorder ... and in the end I sat in the sunshine, dipping into a dozen
books selected from the shelves outside, vexed with myself and only
half-enjoying it. I felt restless. I wanted to be elsewhere.

And even while I read, attention wandered. Frances, Mabel, her late
husband, the house and grounds, each in turn and sometimes all
together, rose uninvited into the stream of thought, hindering any
consecutive flow of work. In disconnected fashion came these pictures
that interrupted concentration, yet presenting themselves as broken
fragments of a bigger thing my mind already groped for unconsciously.
They fluttered round this hidden thing of which they were aspects,
fugitive interpretations, no one of them bringing complete revelation.
There was no adjective, such as pleasant or unpleasant, that I could
attach to what I felt, beyond that the result was unsettling. Vague as
the atmosphere of a dream, it yet persisted, and I could not dissipate
it. Isolated words or phrases in the lines I read sent questions
scouring across my mind, sure sign that the deeper part of me was
restless and ill at ease.

Rather trivial questions too--half-foolish interrogations, as of a
puzzled or curious child: Why was my sister afraid to sleep alone, and
why did her friend feel a similar repugnance, yet seek to conquer it?
Why was the solid luxury of the house without comfort, its shelter
without the sense of permanence? Why had Mrs. Franklyn asked _us_ to
come, artists, unbelieving vagabonds, types at the farthest possible
remove from the saved sheep of her husband’s household? Had a reaction
set in against the hysteria of her conversion? I had seen no signs
of religious fervour in her; her atmosphere was that of an ordinary,
high-minded woman, yet a woman of the world. Lifeless, though, a
little, perhaps, now that I came to think about it: she had made no
definite impression upon me of any kind. And my thoughts ran vaguely
after this fragile clue.

Closing my book, I let them run. For, with this chance reflection
came the discovery that I could not _see_ her clearly--could not
feel her soul, her personality. Her face, her small pale eyes, her
dress and body and walk, all these stood before me like a photograph;
but her Self evaded me. She seemed not there, lifeless, empty, a
shadow--nothing. The picture was disagreeable, and I put it by.
Instantly she melted out, as though light thought had conjured up a
phantom that had no real existence. And at that very moment, singularly
enough, my eye caught sight of her moving past the window, going
silently along the gravel path. I watched her, a sudden new sensation
gripping me. ‘There goes a prisoner,’ my thought instantly ran, ‘one
who wishes to escape, but cannot.’

What brought the outlandish notion, heaven only knows. The house was
of her own choice, she was twice an heiress, and the world lay open
at her feet. Yet she stayed--unhappy, frightened, caught. All this
flashed over me, and made a sharp impression even before I had time to
dismiss it as absurd. But a moment later explanation offered itself,
though it seemed as far-fetched as the original impression. My mind,
being logical, was obliged to provide something, apparently. For Mrs.
Franklyn, while dressed to go out, with thick walking-boots, a pointed
stick, and a motor-cap tied on with a veil as for the windy lanes, was
obviously content to go no farther than the little garden paths. The
costume was a sham and a pretence. It was this, and her lithe, quick
movements that suggested a caged creature--a creature tamed by fear
and cruelty that cloaked themselves in kindness--pacing up and down,
unable to realise why it got no farther, but always met the same bars
in exactly the same place. The mind in her was barred.

I watched her go along the paths and down the steps from one terrace
to another, until the laurels hid her altogether; and into this mere
imagining of a moment came a hint of something slightly disagreeable,
for which my mind, search as it would, found no explanation at all.
I remembered then certain other little things. They dropped into the
picture of their own accord. In a mind not deliberately hunting for
clues, pieces of a puzzle sometimes come together in this way, bringing
revelation, so that for a second there flashed across me, vanishing
instantly again before I could consider it, a large, distressing
thought that I can only describe vaguely as a Shadow. Dark and ugly,
oppressive certainly it might be described, with something torn and
dreadful about the edges that suggested pain and strife and terror.
The interior of a prison with two rows of occupied condemned cells,
seen years ago in New York, sprang to memory after it--the connection
between the two impossible to surmise even. But the ‘certain other
little things’ mentioned above were these: that Mrs. Franklyn, in last
night’s dinner talk, had always referred to ‘this house,’ but never
called it ‘home’; and had emphasised unnecessarily, for a well-bred
woman, our ‘great kindness’ in coming down to stay so long with her.
Another time, in answer to my futile compliment about the ‘stately
rooms,’ she said quietly, ‘It is an enormous house for so small a
party; but I stay here very little, and only till I get it straight
again.’ The three of us were going up the great staircase to bed as
this was said, and, not knowing quite her meaning, I dropped the
subject. It edged delicate ground, I felt. Frances added no word of
her own. It now occurred to me abruptly that ‘stay’ was the word made
use of, when ‘live’ would have been more natural. How insignificant to
recall! Yet why did they suggest themselves just at this moment?...
And, on going to Frances’s room to make sure she was not nervous or
lonely, I realised abruptly, that Mrs. Franklyn, of course, had talked
with _her_ in a confidential sense that I, as a mere visiting brother,
could not share. Frances had told me nothing. I might easily have
wormed it out of her, had I not felt that for us to discuss further our
hostess and her house merely because we were under the roof together,
was not quite nice or loyal.

‘I’ll call you, Bill, if I’m scared,’ she had laughed as we parted,
my room being just across the big corridor from her own. I had fallen
asleep, thinking what in the world was meant by ‘getting it straight
again.’

And now in my ante-chamber to the library, on the second morning,
sitting among piles of foolscap and sheets of spotless blotting-paper,
all useless to me, these slight hints came back and helped to frame
the big, vague Shadow I have mentioned. Up to the neck in this Shadow,
almost drowned, yet just treading water, stood the figure of my hostess
in her walking costume. Frances and I seemed swimming to her aid. The
Shadow was large enough to include both house and grounds, but farther
than that I could not see.... Dismissing it, I fell to reading my
purloined book again. Before I turned another page, however, another
startling detail leaped out at me: the figure of Mrs. Franklyn in the
Shadow was not living. It floated helplessly, like a doll or puppet
that has no life in it. It was both pathetic and dreadful.

Any one who sits in reverie thus, of course, may see similar ridiculous
pictures when the will no longer guides construction. The incongruities
of dreams are thus explained. I merely record the picture as it came.
That it remained by me for several days, just as vivid dreams do, is
neither here nor there. I did not allow myself to dwell upon it. The
curious thing, perhaps, is that from this moment I date my inclination,
though not yet my desire, to leave. I purposely say ‘to leave.’ I
cannot quite remember when the word changed to that aggressive, frantic
thing which is escape.


V

We were left delightfully to ourselves in this pretentious country
mansion with the soul of a villa. Frances took up her painting again,
and, the weather being propitious, spent hours out of doors, sketching
flowers, trees and nooks of woodland, garden, even the house itself
where bits of it peered suggestively across the orchards. Mrs. Franklyn
seemed always busy about something or other, and never interfered
with us except to propose motoring, tea in another part of the lawn,
and so forth. She flitted everywhere, preoccupied, yet apparently
doing nothing. The house engulfed her rather. No visitors called. For
one thing, she was not supposed to be back from abroad yet; and for
another, I think, the neighbourhood--her husband’s neighbourhood--was
puzzled by her sudden cessation from good works. Brigades and
temperance societies did not ask to hold their meetings in the big
hall, and the vicar arranged the school-treats in another’s field
without explanation. The full-length portrait in the dining-room, and
the presence of the housekeeper with the ‘burnt’ back-hair, indeed,
were the only reminders of the man who once had lived here. Mrs. Marsh
retained her place in silence, well-paid sinecure as it doubtless
was, yet with no hint of that suppressed disapproval one might have
expected from her. Indeed there was nothing positive to disapprove,
since nothing ‘worldly’ entered grounds or building. In her master’s
lifetime she had been another ‘brand snatched from the burning,’ and it
had then been her custom to give vociferous ‘testimony’ at the revival
meetings where he adorned the platform and led in streams of prayer. I
saw her sometimes on the stairs, hovering, wandering, half-watching and
half-listening, and the idea came to me once that this woman somehow
formed a link with the departed influence of her bigoted employer. She,
alone among us, _belonged_ to the house, and looked at home there. When
I saw her talking--oh, with such correct and respectful mien--to Mrs.
Franklyn, I had the feeling that for all her unaggressive attitude,
she yet exerted some influence that sought to make her mistress stay
in the building for ever--live there. She would prevent her escape,
prevent her ‘getting it straight again,’ thwart somehow her will to
freedom, if she could. The idea in me was of the most fleeting kind.
But another time, when I came down late at night to get a book from the
library ante-chamber, and found her sitting in the hall--alone--the
impression left upon me was the reverse of fleeting. I can never forget
the vivid, disagreeable effect it produced upon me. What was she doing
there at half-past eleven at night, all alone in the darkness? She was
sitting upright, stiff, in a big chair below the clock. It gave me a
turn. It was so incongruous and odd. She rose quietly as I turned the
corner of the stairs, and asked me respectfully, her eyes cast down
as usual, whether I had finished with the library, so that she might
lock up. There was no more to it than that; but the picture stayed with
me--unpleasantly.

These various impressions came to me at odd moments, of course, and
not in a single sequence as I now relate them. I was hard at work
before three days were past, not writing, as explained, but reading,
making notes, and gathering material from the library for future use.
It was in chance moments that these curious flashes came, catching me
unawares with a touch of surprise that sometimes made me start. For
they proved that my under-mind was still conscious of the Shadow, and
that far away out of sight lay the cause of it that left me with a
vague unrest, unsettled, seeking to ‘nest’ in a place that did not want
me. Only when this deeper part knows harmony, perhaps, can good brain
work result, and my inability to write was thus explained. Certainly, I
was always seeking for something here I could not find--an explanation
that continually evaded me. Nothing but these trivial hints offered
themselves. Lumped together, however, they had the effect of defining
the Shadow a little. I became more and more aware of its very real
existence. And, if I have made little mention of Frances and my hostess
in this connection, it is because they contributed at first little or
nothing towards the discovery of what this story tries to tell. Our
life was wholly external, normal, quiet, and uneventful; conversation
banal--Mrs. Franklyn’s conversation in particular. They said nothing
that suggested revelation. Both were in this Shadow, and both knew
that they were in it, but neither betrayed by word or act a hint of
interpretation. They talked privately, no doubt, but of that I can
report no details.

And so it was that, after ten days of a very commonplace visit, I
found myself looking straight into the face of a Strangeness that
defied capture at close quarters. ‘There’s something here that never
happens,’ were the words that rose in my mind, ‘and that’s why none
of us can speak of it.’ And as I looked out of the window and watched
the vulgar blackbirds, with toes turned in, boring out their worms, I
realised sharply that even they, as indeed everything large and small
in the house and grounds, shared this strangeness, and were twisted out
of normal appearance because of it. Life, as expressed in the entire
place, was crumpled, dwarfed, emasculated. God’s meanings here were
crippled, His love of joy was stunted. Nothing in the garden danced
or sang. There was hate in it. ‘The Shadow,’ my thought hurried on to
completion, ‘is a manifestation of hate; and hate is the Devil.’ And
then I sat back frightened in my chair, for I knew that I had partly
found the truth.

Leaving my books I went out into the open. The sky was overcast,
yet the day by no means gloomy, for a soft, diffused light oozed
through the clouds and turned all things warm and almost summery.
But I saw the grounds now in their nakedness because I understood.
Hate means strife, and the two together weave the robe that terror
wears. Having no so-called religious beliefs myself, nor belonging
to any set of dogmas called a creed, I could stand outside these
feelings and observe. Yet they soaked into me sufficiently for me
to grasp sympathetically what others, with more cabined souls (I
flattered myself), might feel. That picture in the dining-room stalked
everywhere, hid behind every tree, peered down upon me from the peaked
ugliness of the bourgeois towers, and left the impress of its powerful
hand upon every bed of flowers. ‘You must not do this, you must not do
that,’ went past me through the air. ‘You must not leave these narrow
paths,’ said the rigid iron railings of black. ‘You shall not walk
here,’ was written on the lawns. ‘Keep to the steps,’ ‘Don’t pick the
flowers; make no noise of laughter, singing, dancing,’ was placarded
all over the rose-garden, and ‘Trespassers will be--not prosecuted
but--_destroyed_’ hung from the crest of monkey-tree and holly.
Guarding the ends of each artificial terrace stood gaunt, implacable
policemen, warders, gaolers. ‘Come with us,’ they chanted, ‘or be
damned eternally.’

I remember feeling quite pleased with myself that I had discovered
this obvious explanation of the prison-feeling the place breathed out.
That the posthumous influence of heavy old Samuel Franklyn might be an
inadequate solution did not occur to me. By ‘getting the place straight
again,’ his widow, of course, meant forgetting the glamour of fear and
foreboding his depressing creed had temporarily forced upon her; and
Frances, delicately-minded being, did not speak of it because it was
the influence of the man her friend had loved. I felt lighter; a load
was lifted from me. ‘To trace the unfamiliar to the familiar,’ came
back a sentence I had read somewhere, ‘is to understand.’ It was a real
relief. I could talk with Frances now, even with my hostess, no danger
of treading clumsily. For the key was in my hands. I might even help to
dissipate the Shadow, ‘to get it straight again.’ It seemed, perhaps,
our long invitation was explained!

I went into the house laughing--at myself a little. ‘Perhaps after all
the artist’s outlook, with no hard and fast dogmas, is as narrow as the
others! How small humanity is! And why is there no possible and true
combination of _all_ outlooks?’

The feeling of ‘unsettling’ was very strong in me just then, in spite
of my big discovery which was to clear everything up. And at that
moment I ran into Frances on the stairs, with a portfolio of sketches
under her arm.

It came across me then abruptly that, although she had worked a great
deal since we came, she had shown me nothing. It struck me suddenly as
odd, unnatural. The way she tried to pass me now confirmed my new-born
suspicion that--well, that her results were hardly what they ought to
be.

‘Stand and deliver!’ I laughed, stepping in front of her. ‘I’ve seen
nothing you’ve done since you’ve been here, and as a rule you show me
all your things. I believe they are atrocious and degrading!’ Then my
laughter froze.

She made a sly gesture to slip past me, and I almost decided to let her
go, for the expression that flashed across her face shocked me. She
looked uncomfortable and ashamed; the colour came and went a moment
in her cheeks, making me think of a child detected in some secret
naughtiness. It was almost fear.

‘It’s because they’re not finished then?’ I said, dropping the tone
of banter, ‘or because they’re too good for me to understand?’ For my
criticism of painting, she told me, was crude and ignorant sometimes.
‘But you’ll let me see them later, won’t you?’

Frances, however, did not take the way of escape I offered. She changed
her mind. She drew the portfolio from beneath her arm instead. ‘You can
see them if you _really_ want to, Bill,’ she said quietly, and her tone
reminded me of a nurse who says to a boy just grown out of childhood,
‘you are old enough now to look upon horror and ugliness--only I don’t
advise it.’

‘I do want to,’ I said, and made to go downstairs with her. But,
instead, she said in the same low voice as before, ‘Come up to my room,
we shall be undisturbed there.’ So I guessed that she had been on her
way to show the paintings to our hostess, but did not care for us all
three to see them together. My mind worked furiously.

‘Mabel asked me to do them,’ she explained in a tone of submissive
horror, once the door was shut, ‘in fact, she begged it of me. You know
how persistent she is in her quiet way. I--er--had to.’

She flushed and opened the portfolio on the little table by the
window, standing behind me as I turned the sketches over--sketches of
the grounds and trees and garden. In the first moment of inspection,
however, I did not take in clearly why my sister’s sense of modesty had
been offended. For my attention flashed a second elsewhere. Another
bit of the puzzle had dropped into place, defining still further the
nature of what I called ‘the Shadow.’ Mrs. Franklyn, I now remembered,
had suggested to me in the library that I might perhaps write something
about the place, and I had taken it for one of her banal sentences
and paid no further attention. I realised now that it was said in
earnest. She wanted our interpretations, as expressed in our respective
‘talents,’ painting and writing. Her invitation _was_ explained. She
left us to ourselves on purpose.

‘I should like to tear them up,’ Frances was whispering behind me with
a shudder, ‘only I promised----’ She hesitated a moment.

‘Promised not to?’ I asked with a queer feeling of distress, my eyes
glued to the papers.

‘Promised always to show them to her first,’ she finished so low I
barely caught it.

I have no intuitive, immediate grasp of the value of paintings; results
come to me slowly, and though every one believes his own judgment to
be good, I dare not claim that mine is worth more than that of any
other layman. Frances had too often convicted me of gross ignorance and
error. I can only say that I examined these sketches with a feeling of
amazement that contained revulsion, if not actually horror and disgust.
They were outrageous. I felt hot for my sister, and it was a relief to
know she had moved across the room on some pretence or other, and did
not examine them with me. Her talent, of course, is mediocre, yet she
has her moments of inspiration--moments, that is to say, when a view
of Beauty not normally her own flames divinely through her. And these
interpretations struck me forcibly as being thus ‘inspired’--not her
own. They were uncommonly well done; they were also atrocious. The
meaning in them, however, was never more than hinted. There the unholy
skill and power came in: they suggested so abominably, leaving most
to the imagination. To find such significance in a bourgeois villa
garden, and to interpret it with such delicate yet legible certainty,
was a kind of symbolism that was sinister, even diabolical. The
delicacy was her own, but the point of view was another’s. And the word
that rose in my mind was not the gross description of ‘impure,’ but the
more fundamental qualification--‘un-pure.’

In silence I turned the sketches over one by one, as a boy hurries
through the pages of an evil book lest he be caught.

‘What does Mabel do with them?’ I asked presently in a low tone, as I
neared the end. ‘Does she keep them?’

‘She makes notes about them in a book and then destroys them,’ was the
reply from the end of the room. I heard a sigh of relief. ‘I’m glad
you’ve seen them, Bill. I wanted you to--but was afraid to show them.
You understand?’

‘I understand,’ was my reply, though it was not a question intended
to be answered. All I understood really was that Mabel’s mind was as
sweet and pure as my sister’s, and that she had some good reason for
what she did. She destroyed the sketches, but first made notes! It
was an interpretation of the place she sought. Brother-like, I felt
resentment, though, that Frances should waste her time and talent, when
she might be doing work that she could sell. Naturally, I felt other
things as well....

‘Mabel pays me five guineas for each one,’ I heard. ‘Absolutely
insists.’

I stared at her stupidly a moment, bereft of speech or wit.

‘I must either accept, or go away,’ she went on calmly, but a little
white. ‘I’ve tried everything. There was a scene the third day I was
here--when I showed her my first result. I wanted to write to you, but
hesitated----’

‘It’s unintentional, then, on your part--forgive my asking it, Frances,
dear?’ I blundered, hardly knowing what to think or say. ‘Between the
lines’ of her letter came back to me. ‘I mean, you make the sketches in
your ordinary way and--the result comes out of itself, so to speak?’

She nodded, throwing her hands out like a Frenchman. ‘We needn’t keep
the money for ourselves, Bill. We can give it away, but--I must either
accept or leave,’ and she repeated the shrugging gesture. She sat down
on the chair facing me, staring helplessly at the carpet.

‘You say there was a scene?’ I went on presently. ‘She insisted?’

‘She begged me to continue,’ my sister replied very quietly. ‘She
thinks--that is, she has an idea or theory that there’s something about
the place--something she can’t get at quite.’ Frances stammered badly.
She knew I did not encourage her wild theories.

‘Something she feels--yes,’ I helped her, more than curious.

‘Oh, you know what I mean, Bill,’ she said desperately. ‘That the place
is saturated with some influence that she is herself too positive or
too stupid to interpret. She’s trying to make herself negative and
receptive, as she calls it, but can’t, of course, succeed. Haven’t you
noticed how dull and impersonal and insipid she seems, as though she
had no personality? She thinks impressions will come to her that way.
But they don’t----’

‘Naturally.’

‘So she’s trying me--us--what she calls the sensitive and
impressionable artistic temperament. She says that until she is sure
exactly what this influence is, she can’t fight it, turn it out, “get
the house straight,” as she phrases it.’

Remembering my own singular impressions, I felt more lenient than I
might otherwise have done. I tried to keep impatience out of my voice.

‘And this influence, what--whose is it?’

We used the pronoun that followed in the same breath, for I answered my
own question at the same moment as she did:

‘_His._’ Our heads nodded involuntarily towards the floor, the
dining-room being directly underneath.

And my heart sank, my curiosity died away on the instant, I felt bored.
A commonplace haunted house was the last thing in the world to amuse
or interest me. The mere thought exasperated, with its suggestions of
imagination, overwrought nerves, hysteria, and the rest. Mingled with
my other feelings was certainly disappointment. To see a figure or feel
a ‘presence,’ and report from day to day strange incidents to each
other would be a form of weariness I could never tolerate.

‘But really, Frances,’ I said firmly, after a moment’s pause, ‘it’s too
far-fetched, this explanation. A curse, you know, belongs to the ghost
stories of early Victorian days.’ And only my positive conviction that
there _was_ something after all worth discovering, and that it most
certainly was _not_ this, prevented my suggesting that we terminate
our visit forthwith, or as soon as we decently could. ‘This is not
a haunted house, whatever it is,’ I concluded somewhat vehemently,
bringing my hand down upon her odious portfolio.

My sister’s reply revived my curiosity sharply.

‘I was waiting for you to say that. Mabel says exactly the same. _He_
is in it--but it’s something more than that alone, something far bigger
and more complicated.’ Her sentence seemed to indicate the sketches,
and though I caught the inference I did not take it up, having no
desire to discuss them with her just then, indeed, if ever.

I merely stared at her and listened. Questions, I felt sure, would be
of little use. It was better she should say her thought in her own way.

‘He is one influence, the most recent,’ she went on slowly, and
always very calmly, ‘but there are others--deeper layers, as it
were--underneath. If his were the only one, something would happen. But
nothing ever does happen. The others hinder and prevent--as though each
were struggling to predominate.’

I had felt it already myself. The idea was rather horrible. I shivered.

‘That’s what is so ugly about it--that nothing ever happens,’ she said.
‘There is this endless anticipation--always on the dry edge of a result
that never materialises. It is torture. Mabel is at her wits’ end, you
see. And when she begged me--what I felt about my sketches--I mean----’
She stammered badly as before.

I stopped her. I had judged too hastily. That queer symbolism in her
paintings, pagan and yet not innocent, was, I understood, the result
of mixture. I did not pretend to understand, but at least I could be
patient. I consequently held my peace. We did talk on a little longer,
but it was more general talk that avoided successfully our hostess,
the paintings, wild theories, and _him_--until at length the emotion
Frances had hitherto so successfully kept under burst vehemently forth
again. It had hidden between her calm sentences, as it had hidden
between the lines of her letter. It swept her now from head to foot,
packed tight in the thing she then said.

‘Then, Bill, if it is not an ordinary haunted house,’ she asked, ‘_what
is it_?’

The words were commonplace enough. The emotion was in the tone of her
voice that trembled; in the gesture she made, leaning forward and
clasping both hands upon her knees, and in the slight blanching of her
cheeks as her brave eyes asked the question and searched my own with
anxiety that bordered upon panic. In that moment she put herself under
my protection. I winced.

‘And why,’ she added, lowering her voice to a still and furtive
whisper, ‘does nothing ever happen? If only,’--this with great
emphasis--‘something _would_ happen--break this awful tension--bring
relief. It’s the waiting I cannot stand.’ And she shivered all over as
she said it, a touch of wildness in her eyes.

I would have given much to have made a true and satisfactory answer.
My mind searched frantically for a moment, but in vain. There lay no
sufficient answer in me. I felt what she felt, though with differences.
No conclusive explanation lay within reach. Nothing happened. Eager
as I was to shoot the entire business into the rubbish heap where
ignorance and superstition discharge their poisonous weeds, I could
not honestly accomplish this. To treat Frances as a child, and merely
‘explain away’ would be to strain her confidence in my protection, so
affectionately claimed. It would further be dishonest to myself--weak,
besides--to deny that I had also felt the strain and tension even as
she did. While my mind continued searching, I returned her stare in
silence; and Frances then, with more honesty and insight than my own,
gave suddenly the answer herself--an answer whose truth and adequacy,
so far as they went, I could not readily gainsay:

‘I think, Bill, because it is too big to happen here--to happen
anywhere, indeed, all at once--and too awful!’

To have tossed the sentence aside as nonsense, argued it away, proved
that it was really meaningless, would have been easy--at any other time
or in any other place; and, had the past week brought me none of the
vivid impressions it had brought me, this is doubtless what I should
have done. My narrowness again was proved. We understand in others only
what we have in ourselves. But her explanation, in a measure, I knew
was true. It hinted at the strife and struggle that my notion of a
Shadow had seemed to cover thinly.

‘Perhaps,’ I murmured lamely, waiting in vain for her to say more. ‘But
you said just now that you felt the thing was “in layers,” as it were.
Do you mean each one--each influence--fighting for the upper hand?’

I used her phraseology to conceal my own poverty. Terminology, after
all, was nothing, provided we could reach the idea itself.

Her eyes said yes. She had her clear conception, arrived at
independently, as was her way. And, unlike her sex, she kept it clear,
unsmothered by too many words.

‘One set of influences gets at me, another gets at you. It’s according
to our temperaments, I think.’ She glanced significantly at the vile
portfolio. ‘Sometimes they are mixed--and therefore false. There has
always been in me, more than in you, the pagan thing, perhaps, though
never, thank God, like _that_.’

The frank confession of course invited my own, as it was meant to do.
Yet it was difficult to find the words.

‘What I have felt in this place, Frances, I honestly can hardly tell
you, because--er--my impressions have not arranged themselves in any
definite form I can describe. The strife, the agony of vainly-sought
escape, and the unrest--a sort of prison atmosphere--this I have felt
at different times and with varying degrees of strength. But I find,
as yet, no final label to attach. I couldn’t say pagan, Christian, or
anything like that, I mean, as you do. As with the blind and deaf, you
may have an intensification of certain senses denied to me, or even
another sense altogether in embryo----’

‘Perhaps,’ she stopped me, anxious to keep to the point, ‘you feel it
as Mabel does. She feels the whole thing _complete_.’

‘That also is possible,’ I said very slowly. I was thinking behind my
words. Her odd remark that it was ‘big and awful’ came back upon me as
true. A vast sensation of distress and discomfort swept me suddenly.
Pity was in it, and a fierce contempt, a savage, bitter anger as well.
Fury against some sham authority was part of it.

‘Frances,’ I said, caught unawares, and dropping all pretence, ‘what in
the world can it be?’ I looked hard at her. For some minutes neither of
us spoke.

‘Have _you_ felt no desire to interpret it?’ she asked presently.

‘Mabel did suggest my writing something about the house,’ was my reply,
‘but I’ve felt nothing imperative. That sort of writing is not my line,
you know. My only feeling,’ I added, noticing that she waited for more,
‘is the impulse to explain, discover, get it out of me somehow, and so
get rid of it. Not by writing, though--as yet.’ And again I repeated my
former question: ‘What in the world do you think it is?’ My voice had
become involuntarily hushed. There was awe in it.

Her answer, given with slow emphasis, brought back all my reserve: the
phraseology provoked me rather:--

‘Whatever it is, Bill, it is not of God.’

I got up to go downstairs. I believe I shrugged my shoulders, ‘Would
you like to leave, Frances? Shall we go back to town?’ I suggested
this at the door, and hearing no immediate reply, I turned back to
look. Frances was sitting with her head bowed over and buried in her
hands. The attitude horribly suggested tears. No woman, I realised, can
keep back the pressure of strong emotion as long as Frances had done,
without ending in a fluid collapse. I waited a moment uneasily, longing
to comfort, yet afraid to act--and in this way discovered the existence
of the appalling emotion in myself, hitherto but half guessed. At all
costs a scene must be prevented: it would involve such exaggeration and
over-statement. Brutally, such is the weakness of the ordinary man, I
turned the handle to go out, but my sister then raised her head. The
sunlight caught her face, framed untidily in its auburn hair, and I saw
her wonderful expression with a start. Pity, tenderness and sympathy
shone in it like a flame. It was undeniable. There shone through all
her features the imperishable love and yearning to sacrifice self for
others which I have seen in only one type of human being. It was the
great mother look.

‘We must stay by Mabel and help her get it straight,’ she whispered,
making the decision for us both.

I murmured agreement. Abashed and half ashamed, I stole softly from
the room and went out into the grounds. And the first thing clearly
realised when alone was this: that the long scene between us was
without definite result. The exchange of confidence was really nothing
but hints and vague suggestion. We had decided to stay, but it was
a negative decision not to leave rather than a positive action. All
our words and questions, our guesses, inferences, explanations, our
most subtle allusions and insinuations, even the odious paintings
themselves, were without definite result. Nothing had happened.


VI

And instinctively, once alone, I made for the places where she had
painted her extraordinary pictures; I tried to see what she had seen.
Perhaps, now that she had opened my mind to another view, I should
be sensitive to some similar interpretation--and possibly by way of
literary expression. If I were to write about the place, I asked
myself, how should I treat it? I deliberately invited an interpretation
in the way that came easiest to me--writing.

But in this case there came no such revelation. Looking closely at
the trees and flowers, the bits of lawn and terrace, the rose-garden
and corner of the house where the flaming creeper hung so thickly, I
discovered nothing of the odious, unpure thing her colour and grouping
had unconsciously revealed. At first, that is, I discovered nothing.
The reality stood there, commonplace and ugly, side by side with her
distorted version of it that lay in my mind. It seemed incredible. I
tried to force it, but in vain. My imagination, ploughed less deeply
than hers, or to another pattern, grew different seed. Where I saw the
gross soul of an overgrown suburban garden, inspired by the spirit of
a vulgar, rich revivalist who loved to preach damnation, she saw this
rush of pagan liberty and joy, this strange licence of primitive flesh
which, tainted by the other, produced the adulterated, vile result.

Certain things, however, gradually then became apparent, forcing
themselves upon me, willy nilly. They came slowly, but overwhelmingly.
Not that facts had changed, or natural details altered in the
grounds--this was impossible--but that I noticed for the first time
various aspects I had not noticed before--trivial enough, yet for me,
just then, significant. Some I remembered from previous days; others
I saw now as I wandered to and fro, uneasy, uncomfortable,--almost,
it seemed, watched by some one who took note of my impressions. The
details were so foolish, the total result so formidable. I was half
aware that others tried hard to make me see. It was deliberate. My
sister’s phrase, ‘one layer got at me, another gets at you,’ flashed,
undesired, upon me.

For I saw, as with the eyes of a child, what I can only call a goblin
garden--house, grounds, trees, and flowers belonged to a goblin world
that children enter through the pages of their fairy tales. And what
made me first aware of it was the whisper of the wind behind me, so
that I turned with a sudden start, feeling that something had moved
closer. An old ash tree, ugly and ungainly, had been artificially
trained to form an arbour at one end of the terrace that was a tennis
lawn, and the leaves of it now went rustling together, swishing as
they rose and fell. I looked at the ash tree, and felt as though I had
passed that moment between doors into this goblin garden that crouched
behind the real one. Below, at a deeper layer perhaps, lay hidden the
one my sister had entered.

To deal with my own, however, I call it goblin, because an odd
aspect of the quaint in it yet never quite achieved the picturesque.
Grotesque, probably, is the truer word, for everywhere I noticed, and
for the first time, this slight alteration of the natural due either
to the exaggeration of some detail, or to its suppression, generally,
I think, to the latter. Life everywhere appeared to me as blocked
from the full delivery of its sweet and lovely message. Some counter
influence stopped it--suppression; or sent it awry--exaggeration. The
house itself, mere expression, of course, of a narrow, limited mind,
was sheer ugliness; it required no further explanation. With the
grounds and garden, so far as shape and general plan were concerned,
this was also true; but that trees and flowers and other natural
details should share the same deficiency perplexed my logical soul, and
even dismayed it. I stood and stared, then moved about, and stood and
stared again. Everywhere was this mockery of a sinister, unfinished
aspect. I sought in vain to recover my normal point of view. My mind
had found this goblin garden and wandered to and fro in it, unable to
escape.

The change was in myself, of course, and so trivial were the details
which illustrated it, that they sound absurd, thus mentioned one by
one. For me, they proved it, is all I can affirm. The goblin touch
lay plainly everywhere: in the forms of the trees, planted at neat
intervals along the lawns; in this twisted ash that rustled just behind
me; in the shadow of the gloomy wellingtonias, whose sweeping skirts
obscured the grass; but especially, I noticed, in the tops and crests
of them. For here, the delicate, graceful curves of last year’s growth
seemed to shrink back into themselves. None of them pointed upwards.
Their life had failed and turned aside just when it should have
become triumphant. The character of a tree reveals itself chiefly at
the extremities, and it was precisely here that they all drooped and
achieved this hint of goblin distortion--in the growth, that is, of the
last few years. What ought to have been fairy, joyful, natural, was
instead uncomely to the verge of the grotesque. Spontaneous expression
was arrested. My mind perceived a goblin garden, and was caught in it.
The place grimaced at me.

With the flowers it was similar, though far more difficult to detect in
detail for description. I saw the smaller vegetable growth as impish,
half-malicious. Even the terraces sloped ill, as though their ends
had sagged since they had been so lavishly constructed; their varying
angles gave a queerly bewildering aspect to their sequence that was
unpleasant to the eye. One might wander among their deceptive lengths
and get lost--lost among open terraces!--with the house quite close
at hand. Unhomely seemed the entire garden, unable to give repose,
restlessness in it everywhere, almost strife, and discord certainly.

Moreover, the garden grew into the house, the house into the garden,
and in both was this idea of resistance to the natural--the spirit
that says No to joy. All over it I was aware of the effort to achieve
another end, the struggle to burst forth and escape into free,
spontaneous expression that should be happy and natural, yet the effort
for ever frustrated by the weight of this dark shadow that rendered it
abortive. Life crawled aside into a channel that was a cul-de-sac, then
turned horribly upon itself. Instead of blossom and fruit, there were
weeds. This approach of life I was conscious of--then dismal failure.
There was no fulfilment. Nothing happened.

And so, through this singular mood, I came a little nearer to
understand the unpure thing that had stammered out into expression
through my sister’s talent. For the unpure is merely negative; it
has no existence; it is but the cramped expression of what is true,
stammering its way brokenly over false boundaries that seek to limit
and confine. Great, full expression of anything is pure, whereas
here was only the incomplete, unfinished, and therefore ugly. There
was strife and pain and desire to escape. I found myself shrinking
from house and grounds as one shrinks from the touch of the mentally
arrested, those in whom life has turned awry. There was almost
mutilation in it.

Past items, too, now flocked to confirm this feeling that I walked,
liberty captured and half-maimed, in a monstrous garden. I remembered
days of rain that refreshed the countryside, but left these grounds,
cracked with the summer heat, unsatisfied and thirsty; and how the big
winds, that cleaned the woods and fields elsewhere, crawled here with
difficulty through the dense foliage that protected The Towers from
the North and West and East. They were ineffective, sluggish currents.
There was no real wind. Nothing happened. I began to realise--far more
clearly than in my sister’s fanciful explanation about ‘layers’--that
here were many contrary influences at work, mutually destructive of one
another. House and grounds were not haunted merely; they were the arena
of past thinking and feeling, perhaps of terrible, impure beliefs,
each striving to suppress the others, yet no one of them achieving
supremacy because no one of them was strong enough, no one of them was
true. Each, moreover, tried to win me over, though only one was able
to reach my mind at all. For some obscure reason--possibly because my
temperament had a natural bias towards the grotesque--it was the goblin
layer. With me, it was the line of least resistance....

In my own thoughts this ‘goblin garden’ revealed, of course, merely my
personal interpretation. I felt now objectively what long ago my mind
had felt subjectively. My work, essential sign of spontaneous life
with me, had stopped dead; production had become impossible. I stood
now considerably closer to the cause of this sterility. The Cause,
rather, turned bolder, had stepped insolently nearer. Nothing happened
anywhere; house, garden, mind alike were barren, abortive, torn by the
strife of frustrate impulse, ugly, hateful, sinful. Yet behind it all
was still the desire of life--desire to escape--accomplish. Hope--an
intolerable hope--I became startlingly aware--crowned torture.

And, realising this, though in some part of me where Reason lost her
hold, there rose upon me then another and a darker thing that caught
me by the throat and made me shrink with a sense of revulsion that
touched actual loathing. I knew instantly whence it came, this wave
of abhorrence and disgust, for even while I saw red and felt revolt
rise in me, it seemed that I grew partially aware of the layer next
below the goblin. I perceived the existence of this deeper stratum. One
opened the way for the other, as it were. There were so many, yet all
inter-related; to admit one was to clear the way for all. If I lingered
I should be caught--horribly. They struggled with such violence for
supremacy among themselves, however, that this latest uprising was
instantly smothered and crushed back, though not before a glimpse had
been revealed to me, and the redness in my thoughts transferred itself
to colour my surroundings thickly and appallingly--with blood. This
lurid aspect drenched the garden, smeared the terraces, lent to the
very soil a tinge as of sacrificial rites, that choked the breath in
me, while it seemed to fix me to the earth my feet so longed to leave.
It was so revolting that at the same time I felt a dreadful curiosity
as of fascination--I wished to stay. Between these contrary impulses I
think I actually reeled a moment, transfixed by a fascination of the
Awful. Through the lighter goblin veil I felt myself sinking down,
down, down into this turgid layer that was so much more violent and so
much more ancient. The upper layer, indeed, seemed fairy by comparison
with this terror born of the lust for blood, thick with the anguish of
human sacrificial victims.

_Upper!_ Then I was already sinking; my feet were caught; I was
actually in it! What atavistic strain, hidden deep within me, had
been touched into vile response, giving this flash of intuitive
comprehension, I cannot say. The coatings laid on by civilisation are
probably thin enough in all of us. I made a supreme effort. The sun
and wind came back. I could almost swear I opened my eyes. Something
very atrocious surged back into the depths, carrying with it a thought
of tangled woods, of big stones standing in a circle, motionless white
figures, the one form bound with ropes, and the ghastly gleam of the
knife. Like smoke upon a battlefield, it rolled away....

I was standing on the gravel path below the second terrace when the
familiar goblin garden danced back again, doubly grotesque now, doubly
mocking, yet, by way of contrast, almost welcome. My glimpse into
the depths was momentary, it seems, and had passed utterly away. The
common world rushed back with a sense of glad relief, yet ominous now
for ever, I felt, for the knowledge of what its past had built upon.
In street, in theatre, in the festivities of friends, in music-room or
playing-field, even indeed in church--how could the memory of what I
had seen and felt not leave its hideous trace? The very structure of my
Thought, it seemed to me, was stained. What has been thought by others
can never be obliterated until ...

With a start my reverie broke and fled, scattered by a violent sound
that I recognised for the first time in my life as wholly desirable.
The returning motor meant that my hostess was back. Yet, so urgent
had been my temporary obsession, that my first presentation of her
was--well, not as I knew her now. Floating along with a face of
anguished torture I saw Mabel, a mere effigy captured by others’
thinking, pass down into those depths of fire and blood that only just
had closed beneath my feet. She dipped away. She vanished, her fading
eyes turned to the last towards some saviour who had failed her. And
that strange intolerable hope was in her face.

The mystery of the place was pretty thick about me just then. It was
the fall of dusk, and the ghost of slanting sunshine was as unreal
as though badly painted. The garden stood at attention all about
me. I cannot explain it, but I can tell it, I think, exactly as it
happened, for it remains vivid in me for ever--that, for the first
time, something _almost happened_, myself apparently the combining link
through which it pressed towards delivery.

I had already turned towards the house. In my mind were pictures--not
actual thoughts--of the motor, tea on the verandah, my sister,
Mabel--when there came behind me this tumultuous, awful rush--as I left
the garden. The ugliness, the pain, the striving to escape, the whole
negative and suppressed agony that _was_ the Place, focused that second
into a concentrated effort to produce a result. It was a blinding
tempest of long-frustrate desire that heaved at me, surging appallingly
behind me like an anguished mob. I was in the act of crossing the
frontier into my normal self again, when it came, catching fearfully at
my skirts. I might use an entire dictionary of descriptive adjectives
yet come no nearer to it than this--the conception of a huge assemblage
determined to escape with me, or to snatch me back among themselves. My
legs trembled for an instant, and I caught my breath--then turned and
ran as fast as possible up the ugly terraces.

At the same instant, as though the clanging of an iron gate cut short
the unfinished phrase, I _thought_ the beginning of an awful thing:

‘The Damned ...’

Like this it rushed after me from that goblin garden that had sought to
keep me:

‘The Damned!’

For there was sound in it. I know full well it was subjective, not
actually heard at all; yet somehow sound was in it--a great volume,
roaring and booming thunderously, far away, and below me. The sentence
dipped back into the depths that gave it birth, unfinished. Its
completion was prevented. As usual, nothing happened. But it drove
behind me like a hurricane as I ran towards the house, and the sound of
it I can only liken to those terrible undertones you may hear standing
beside Niagara. They lie behind the mere crash of the falling flood,
within it somehow, not audible to all--felt rather than definitely
heard.

It seemed to echo back from the surface of those sagging terraces as I
flew across their sloping ends, for it was somehow underneath them. It
was in the rustle of the wind that stirred the skirts of the drooping
wellingtonias. The beds of formal flowers passed it on to the creepers,
red as blood, that crept over the unsightly building. Into the
structure of the vulgar and forbidding house it sank away; The Towers
took it home. The uncomely doors and windows seemed almost like mouths
that had uttered the words themselves, and on the upper floors at that
very moment I saw two maids in the act of closing them again.

And on the verandah, as I arrived breathless, and shaken in my soul,
Frances and Mabel, standing by the tea-table, looked up to greet me.
In the faces of both were clearly legible the signs of shock. They
watched me coming, yet so full of their own distress that they hardly
noticed the state in which I came. In the face of my hostess, however,
I read another and a bigger thing than in the face of Frances. Mabel
_knew_. She had experienced what I had experienced. She had heard that
awful sentence I had heard, but heard it not for the first time; heard
it, moreover, I verily believe, complete and to its dreadful end.

‘Bill, did you hear that curious noise just now?’ Frances asked it
sharply before I could say a word. Her manner was confused; she looked
straight at me; and there was a tremor in her voice she could not hide.

‘There’s wind about,’ I said, ‘wind in the trees and sweeping round the
walls. It’s risen rather suddenly.’ My voice faltered rather.

‘No. It wasn’t wind,’ she insisted, with a significance meant for me
alone, but badly hidden. ‘It was more like distant thunder, we thought.
How you ran too!’ she added. ‘What a pace you came across the terraces!’

I knew instantly from the way she said it that they both had already
heard the sound before and were anxious to know if I had heard it, and
how. My interpretation was what they sought.

‘It was a curiously deep sound, I admit. It may have been big guns at
sea,’ I suggested, ‘forts or cruisers practising. The coast isn’t so
very far, and with the wind in the right direction----’

The expression on Mabel’s face stopped me dead.

‘Like huge doors closing,’ she said softly in her colourless voice,
‘enormous metal doors shutting against a mass of people clamouring
to get out.’ The gravity, the note of hopelessness in her tones, was
shocking.

Frances had gone into the house the instant Mabel began to speak. ‘I’m
cold,’ she had said; ‘I think I’ll get a shawl.’ Mabel and I were
alone. I believe it was the first time we had been really alone since
I arrived. She looked up from the teacups, fixing her pallid eyes on
mine. She had made a question of the sentence.

‘You hear it like that?’ I asked innocently. I purposely used the
present tense.

She changed her stare from one eye to the other; it was absolutely
expressionless. My sister’s step sounded on the floor of the room
behind us.

‘If only----’ Mabel began, then stopped, and my own feelings leaping
out instinctively completed the sentence I felt was in her mind:

‘----something would happen.’

She instantly corrected me. I had caught her thought, yet somehow
phrased it wrongly.

‘We could escape!’ She lowered her tone a little, saying it hurriedly.
The ‘we’ amazed and horrified me; but something in her voice and manner
struck me utterly dumb. There was ice and terror in it. It was a dying
woman speaking--a lost and hopeless soul.

In that atrocious moment I hardly noticed what was said exactly, but I
remember that my sister returned with a grey shawl about her shoulders,
and that Mabel said, in her ordinary voice again, ‘It _is_ chilly, yes;
let’s have tea inside,’ and that two maids, one of them the grenadier,
speedily carried the loaded trays into the morning-room and put a match
to the logs in the great open fireplace. It was, after all, foolish
to risk the sharp evening air, for dusk was falling steadily, and even
the sunshine of the day just fading could not turn autumn into summer.
I was the last to come in. Just as I left the verandah a large black
bird swooped down in front of me past the pillars; it dropped from
overhead, swerved abruptly to one side as it caught sight of me, and
flapped heavily towards the shrubberies on the left of the terraces,
where it disappeared into the gloom. It flew very low, very close. And
it startled me, I think because in some way it seemed like my Shadow
materialised--as though the dark horror that was rising everywhere from
house and garden, then settling back so thickly yet so imperceptibly
upon us all, were incarnated in that whirring creature that passed
between the daylight and the coming night.

I stood a moment, wondering if it would appear again, before I
followed the others indoors, and as I was in the act of closing the
windows after me, I caught a glimpse of a figure on the lawn. It was
some distance away, on the other side of the shrubberies, in fact
where the bird had vanished. But in spite of the twilight that half
magnified, half obscured it, the identity was unmistakable. I knew the
housekeeper’s stiff walk too well to be deceived. ‘Mrs. Marsh taking
the air,’ I said to myself. I felt the necessity of saying it, and I
wondered why she was doing so at this particular hour. If I had other
thoughts they were so vague, and so quickly and utterly suppressed,
that I cannot recall them sufficiently to relate them here.

And, once indoors, it was to be expected that there would come
explanation, discussion, conversation, at any rate, regarding the
singular noise and its cause, some uttered evidence of the mood that
had been strong enough to drive us all inside. Yet there was none. Each
of us purposely, and with various skill, ignored it. We talked little,
and when we did it was of anything in the world but that. Personally,
I experienced a touch of that same bewilderment which had come over
me during my first talk with Frances on the evening of my arrival,
for I recall now the acute tension, and the hope, yet dread, that one
or other of us must sooner or later introduce the subject. It did not
happen, however; no reference was made to it even remotely. It was the
presence of Mabel, I felt positive, that prohibited. As soon might we
have discussed Death in the bedroom of a dying woman.

The only scrap of conversation I remember, where all was ordinary and
commonplace, was when Mabel spoke casually to the grenadier asking
why Mrs. Marsh had omitted to do something or other--what it was I
forget--and that the maid replied respectfully that ‘Mrs. Marsh was
very sorry, but her ‘and still pained her.’ I enquired, though so
casually that I scarcely know what prompted the words, whether she
had injured herself severely, and the reply, ‘She upset a lamp and
burnt herself,’ was said in a tone that made me feel my curiosity was
indiscreet, ‘but she always has an excuse for not doing things she
ought to do.’ The little bit of conversation remained with me, and I
remember particularly the quick way Frances interrupted and turned the
talk upon the delinquencies of servants in general, telling incidents
of her own at our flat with a volubility that perhaps seemed forced,
and that certainly did not encourage general talk as it may have been
intended to do. We lapsed into silence immediately she finished.

But for all our care and all our calculated silence, each knew that
something had, in these last moments, come very close; it had brushed
us in passing; it had retired; and I am inclined to think now that the
large dark thing I saw, riding the dusk, probably bird of prey, was in
some sense a symbol of it in my mind--that actually there had been no
bird at all, I mean, but that my mood of apprehension and dismay had
formed the vivid picture in my thoughts. It had swept past us, it had
retreated, but it was now, at this moment, in hiding very close. And it
was watching us.

       *       *       *       *       *

Perhaps, too, it was mere coincidence that I encountered Mrs. Marsh,
_his_ housekeeper, several times that evening in the short interval
between tea and dinner, and that on each occasion the sight of this
gaunt, half-saturnine woman fed my prejudice against her. Once, on my
way to the telephone, I ran into her just where the passage is somewhat
jammed by a square table carrying the Chinese gong, a grandfather’s
clock and a box of croquet mallets. We both gave way, then both
advanced, then again gave way--simultaneously. It seemed impossible to
pass. We stepped with decision to the same side, finally colliding in
the middle, while saying those futile little things, half apology, half
excuse, that are inevitable at such times. In the end she stood upright
against the wall for me to pass, taking her place against the very door
I wished to open. It was ludicrous.

‘Excuse me--I was just going in--to telephone,’ I explained. And she
sidled off, murmuring apologies, but opening the door for me while she
did so. Our hands met a moment on the handle. There was a second’s
awkwardness--it was so stupid. I remembered her injury, and by way of
something to say, I enquired after it. She thanked me; it was entirely
healed now, but it might have been much worse; and there was something
about the ‘mercy of the Lord’ that I didn’t quite catch. While
telephoning, however--a London call, and my attention focused on it--I
realised sharply that this was the first time I had spoken with her;
also, that I had--touched her.

It happened to be a Sunday, and the lines were clear. I got my
connection quickly, and the incident was forgotten while my thoughts
went up to London. On my way upstairs, then, the woman came back into
my mind, so that I recalled other things about her--how she seemed all
over the house, in unlikely places often; how I had caught her sitting
in the hall alone that night; how she was for ever coming and going
with her lugubrious visage and that untidy hair at the back that had
made me laugh three years ago with the idea that it looked singed or
burnt; and how the impression on my first arrival at The Towers was
that this woman somehow kept alive, though its evidence was outwardly
suppressed, the influence of her late employer and of his sombre
teachings. Somewhere with her was associated the idea of punishment,
vindictiveness, revenge. I remembered again suddenly my odd notion that
she sought to keep her present mistress here, a prisoner in this bleak
and comfortless house, and that really, in spite of her obsequious
silence, she was intensely opposed to the change of thought that had
reclaimed Mabel to a happier view of life.

All this in a passing second flashed in review before me, and I
discovered, or at any rate reconstructed, the real Mrs. Marsh. She
was decidedly in the Shadow. More, she stood in the forefront of it,
stealthily leading an assault, as it were, against The Towers and
its occupants, as though, consciously or unconsciously, she laboured
incessantly to this hateful end.

I can only judge that some state of nervousness in me permitted the
series of insignificant thoughts to assume this dramatic shape, and
that what had gone before prepared the way and led her up at the head
of so formidable a procession. I relate it exactly as it came to me.
My nerves were doubtless somewhat on edge by now. Otherwise I should
hardly have been a prey to the exaggeration at all. I seemed open to so
many strange impressions.

Nothing else, perhaps, can explain my ridiculous conversation with
her, when, for the third time that evening, I came suddenly upon the
woman half-way down the stairs, standing by an open window as if in
the act of listening. She was dressed in black, a black shawl over her
square shoulders and black gloves on her big, broad hands. Two black
objects, prayer-books apparently, she clasped, and on her head she
wore a bonnet with shaking beads of jet. At first I did not know her,
as I came running down upon her from the landing; it was only when she
stood aside to let me pass that I saw her profile against the tapestry
and recognised Mrs. Marsh. And to catch her on the front stairs,
dressed like this, struck me as incongruous--impertinent. I paused
in my dangerous descent. Through the opened window came the sound of
bells--church bells--a sound more depressing to me than superstition,
and as nauseating. Though the action was ill-judged, I obeyed the
sudden prompting--was it a secret desire to attack, perhaps?--and spoke
to her.

‘Been to church, I suppose, Mrs. Marsh?’ I said. ‘Or just going,
perhaps?’

Her face, as she looked up a second to reply, was like an iron doll
that moved its lips and turned its eyes, but made no other imitation of
life at all.

‘Some of us still goes, sir,’ she said unctuously.

It was respectful enough, yet the implied judgment of the rest of the
world made me almost angry. A deferential insolence lay behind the
affected meekness.

‘For those who believe no doubt it _is_ helpful,’ I smiled. ‘True
religion brings peace and happiness, I’m sure--joy, Mrs. Marsh,
JOY!’ I found keen satisfaction in the emphasis.

She looked at me like a knife. I cannot describe the implacable thing
that shone in her fixed, stern eyes, nor the shadow of felt darkness
that stole across her face. She glittered. I felt hate in her. I
knew--she knew too--who was in the thoughts of us both at that moment.

She replied softly, never forgetting her place for an instant:

‘There is joy, sir--in ’eaven--over one sinner that repenteth, and
in church there goes up prayer to Gawd for those ’oo--well, for the
others, sir, ’oo----’

She cut short her sentence thus. The gloom about her as she said it was
like the gloom about a hearse, a tomb, a darkness of great hopeless
dungeons. My tongue ran on of itself with a kind of bitter satisfaction:

‘We must believe there are _no_ others, Mrs. Marsh. Salvation,
you know, would be such a failure if there were. No merciful,
all-foreseeing God could ever have devised such a fearful plan----’

Her voice, interrupting me, seemed to rise out of the bowels of the
earth:

‘They rejected the salvation when it was hoffered to them, sir, on
earth.’

‘But you wouldn’t have them tortured for ever because of one mistake
in ignorance,’ I said, fixing her with my eye. ‘Come now, would you,
Mrs. Marsh? No God worth worshipping could permit such cruelty. Think a
moment what it means.’

She stared at me, a curious expression in her stupid eyes. It seemed
to me as though the ‘woman’ in her revolted, while yet she dared not
suffer her grim belief to trip. That is, she would willingly have had
it otherwise but for a terror that prevented.

‘We may pray for them, sir, and we do--we _may_ ‘ope.’ She dropped her
eyes to the carpet.

‘Good, good!’ I put in cheerfully, sorry now that I had spoken at all.
‘That’s more hopeful, at any rate, isn’t it?’

She murmured something about Abraham’s bosom, and the ‘time of
salvation not being for ever,’ as I tried to pass her. Then a half
gesture that she made stopped me. There was something more she wished
to say--to ask. She looked up furtively. In her eyes I saw the ‘woman’
peering out through fear.

‘Per’aps, sir,’ she faltered, as though lightning must strike her dead,
‘per’aps, would you think, a drop of cold water, given in His name,
might moisten----?’

But I stopped her, for the foolish talk had lasted long enough.

‘Of course,’ I exclaimed, ‘of course. For God is love, remember, and
love means charity, tolerance, sympathy, and sparing others pain,’ and
I hurried past her, determined to end the outrageous conversation
for which yet I knew myself entirely to blame. Behind me, she stood
stock-still for several minutes, half bewildered, half alarmed, as
I suspected. I caught the fragment of another sentence, one word of
it, rather--‘punishment’--but the rest escaped me. Her arrogance and
condescending tolerance exasperated me, while I was at the same time
secretly pleased that I might have touched some string of remorse or
sympathy in her after all. Her belief was iron; she dared not let it
go; yet somewhere underneath there lurked the germ of a wholesome
revulsion. She would help ‘them’--if she dared. Her question proved it.

Half ashamed of myself, I turned and crossed the hall quickly lest I
should be tempted to say more, and in me was a disagreeable sensation
as though I had just left the Incurable Ward of some great hospital.
A reaction caught me as of nausea. Ugh! I wanted such people cleansed
by fire. They seemed to me as centres of contamination whose vicious
thoughts flowed out to stain God’s glorious world. I saw myself,
Frances, Mabel too especially, on the rack, while that odious figure
of cruelty and darkness stood over us and ordered the awful handles
turned in order that we might be ‘saved’--forced, that is, to think and
believe exactly as _she_ thought and believed.

I found relief for my somewhat childish indignation by letting myself
loose upon the organ then. The flood of Bach and Beethoven brought back
the sense of proportion. It proved, however, at the same time that
there _had_ been this growth of distortion in me, and that it had been
provided apparently by my closer contact--for the first time--with that
funereal personality, the woman who, like her master, believed that
all holding views of God that differed from her own, must be damned
eternally. It gave me, moreover, some faint clue perhaps, though a clue
I was unequal to following up, to the nature of the strife and terror
and frustrate influence in the house. That housekeeper had to do with
it. She kept it alive. Her thought was like a spell she waved above her
mistress’s head.


VII

That night I was wakened by a hurried tapping at my door, and before
I could answer, Frances stood beside my bed. She had switched on the
light as she came in. Her hair fell straggling over her dressing-gown.
Her face was deathly pale, its expression so distraught it was almost
haggard. The eyes were very wide. She looked almost like another woman.

She was whispering at a great pace: ‘Bill, Bill, wake up, quick!’

‘I _am_ awake. What is it?’ I whispered too. I was startled.

‘Listen!’ was all she said. Her eyes stared into vacancy.

There was not a sound in the great house. The wind had dropped, and all
was still. Only the tapping seemed to continue endlessly in my brain.
The clock on the mantelpiece pointed to half-past two.

‘I heard nothing, Frances. What is it?’ I rubbed my eyes; I had been
very deeply asleep.

‘Listen!’ she repeated very softly, holding up one finger and turning
her eyes towards the door she had left ajar. Her usual calmness had
deserted her. She was in the grip of some distressing terror.

For a full minute we held our breath and listened. Then her eyes rolled
round again and met my own, and her skin went even whiter than before.

‘It woke me,’ she said beneath her breath, and moving a step nearer to
my bed. ‘It was the Noise.’ Even her whisper trembled.

‘The Noise!’ The word repeated itself dully of its own accord. I would
rather it had been anything in the world but that--earthquake, foreign
cannon, collapse of the house above our heads! ‘The noise, Frances! Are
you _sure_?’ I was playing really for a little time.

‘It was like thunder. At first I thought it _was_ thunder. But a minute
later it came again--from underground. It’s appalling.’ She muttered
the words, her voice not properly under control.

There was a pause of perhaps a minute, and then we both spoke at once.
We said foolish, obvious things that neither of us believed in for a
second. The roof had fallen in, there were burglars downstairs, the
safes had been blown open. It was to comfort each other as children do
that we said these things; also it was to gain further time.

‘There’s some one in the house, of course,’ I heard my voice say
finally, as I sprang out of bed and hurried into dressing-gown and
slippers. ‘Don’t be alarmed. I’ll go down and see,’ and from the
drawer I took a pistol it was my habit to carry everywhere with me. I
loaded it carefully while Frances stood stock-still beside the bed and
watched. I moved towards the open door.

‘You stay here, Frances,’ I whispered, the beating of my heart making
the words uneven, ‘while I go down and make a search. Lock yourself in,
girl. Nothing can happen to you. It was downstairs, you said?’

‘Underneath,’ she answered faintly, pointing through the floor.

She moved suddenly between me and the door.

‘Listen! Hark!’ she said, the eyes in her face quite fixed; ‘it’s
coming again,’ and she turned her head to catch the slightest sound. I
stood there watching her, and while I watched her, shook. But nothing
stirred. From the halls below rose only the whirr and quiet ticking of
the numerous clocks. The blind by the open window behind us flapped out
a little into the room as the draught caught it.

‘I’ll come with you, Bill--to the next floor,’ she broke the silence.
‘Then I’ll stay with Mabel--till you come up again.’ The blind sank
down with a long sigh as she said it.

The question jumped to my lips before I could repress it:

‘Mabel is awake. She heard it too?’

I hardly know why horror caught me at her answer. All was so vague and
terrible as we stood there playing the great game of this sinister
house where nothing ever happened.

‘We met in the passage. She was on her way to me.’

What shook in me, shook inwardly. Frances, I mean, did not see it. I
had the feeling just then that the Noise was upon us, that any second
it would boom and roar about our ears. But the deep silence held. I
only heard my sister’s little whisper coming across the room in answer
to my question:

‘Then what is Mabel doing now?’

And her reply proved that she was yielding at last beneath the dreadful
tension, for she spoke at once, unable longer to keep up the pretence.
With a kind of relief, as it were, she said it out, looking helplessly
at me like a child:

‘She is weeping and gna----’

My expression must have stopped her. I believe I clapped both hands
upon her mouth, though when I realised things clearly again, I found
they were covering my own ears instead. It was a moment of unutterable
horror. The revulsion I felt was actually physical. It would have given
me pleasure to fire off all the five chambers of my pistol into the air
above my head; the sound--a definite, wholesome sound that explained
itself--would have been a positive relief. Other feelings, though,
were in me too, all over me, rushing to and fro. It was vain to seek
their disentanglement; it was impossible. I confess that I experienced,
among them, a touch of paralysing fear--though for a moment only;
it passed as sharply as it came, leaving me with a violent flush of
blood to the face such as bursts of anger bring, followed abruptly
by an icy perspiration over the entire body. Yet I may honestly avow
that it was not ordinary personal fear I felt, nor any common dread
of physical injury. It was, rather, a vast, impersonal shrinking--a
sympathetic shrinking--from the agony and terror that countless others,
somewhere, somehow, felt for themselves. The first sensation of a
prison overwhelmed me in that instant, of bitter strife and frenzied
suffering, and the fiery torture of the yearning to escape that was yet
hopelessly uttered.... It was of incredible power. It was real. The
vain, intolerable hope swept over me.

I mastered myself, though hardly knowing how, and took my sister’s
hand. It was as cold as ice, as I led her firmly to the door and
out into the passage. Apparently she noticed nothing of my so near
collapse, for I caught her whisper as we went. ‘You _are_ brave, Bill;
splendidly brave.’

The upper corridors of the great sleeping house were brightly lit;
on her way to me she had turned on every electric switch her hand
could reach; and as we passed the final flight of stairs to the
floor below, I heard a door shut softly and knew that Mabel had been
listening--waiting for us. I led my sister up to it. She knocked, and
the door was opened cautiously an inch or so. The room was pitch black.
I caught no glimpse of Mabel standing there. Frances turned to me with
a hurried whisper, ‘Billy, you _will_ be careful, won’t you?’ and went
in. I just had time to answer that I would not be long, and Frances
to reply, ‘You’ll find us here----’ when the door closed and cut her
sentence short before its end.

       *       *       *       *       *

But it was not alone the closing door that took the final words.
Frances--by the way she disappeared I knew it--had made a swift and
violent movement into the darkness that was as though she sprang.
She leaped upon that other woman who stood back among the shadows,
for, simultaneously with the clipping of the sentence, another sound
was also stopped--stifled, smothered, choked back lest I should also
hear it. Yet not in time. I heard it--a hard and horrible sound that
explained both the leap and the abrupt cessation of the whispered words.

I stood irresolute a moment. It was as though all the bones had been
withdrawn from my body, so that I must sink and fall. That sound
plucked them out, and plucked out my self-possession with them. I am
not sure that it was a sound I had ever heard before, though children,
I half remembered, made it sometimes in blind rages when they knew
not what they did. In a grown-up person certainly I had never known
it. I associated it with animals rather--horribly. In the history of
the world, no doubt, it has been common enough, alas, but fortunately
to-day there can be but few who know it, or would recognise it even
when heard. The bones shot back into my body the same instant, but
red-hot and burning; the brief instant of irresolution passed; I was
torn between the desire to break down the door and enter, and to
run--run for my life from a thing I dared not face.

Out of the horrid tumult, then, I adopted neither course. Without
reflection, certainly without analysis of what was best to do for
my sister, myself or Mabel, I took up my action where it had been
interrupted. I turned from the awful door and moved slowly towards the
head of the stairs. But that dreadful little sound came with me. I
believe my own teeth chattered. It seemed all over the house--in the
empty halls that opened into the long passages towards the music-room,
and even in the grounds outside the building. From the lawns and barren
garden, from the ugly terraces themselves, it rose into the night, and
behind it came a curious driving sound, incomplete, unfinished, as of
wailing for deliverance, the wailing of desperate souls in anguish, the
dull and dry beseeching of hopeless spirits in prison.

That I could have taken the little sound from the bedroom where I
actually heard it, and spread it thus over the entire house and
grounds, is evidence, perhaps, of the state my nerves were in. The
wailing assuredly was in my mind alone. But the longer I hesitated, the
more difficult became my task, and, gathering up my dressing-gown,
lest I should trip in the darkness, I passed slowly down the staircase
into the hall below. I carried neither candle nor matches; every switch
in room and corridor was known to me. The covering of darkness was
indeed rather comforting than otherwise, for if it prevented seeing,
it also prevented being seen. The heavy pistol, knocking against my
thigh as I moved, made me feel I was carrying a child’s toy, foolishly.
I experienced in every nerve that primitive vast dread which is the
Thrill of darkness. Merely the child in me was comforted by that pistol.

The night was not entirely black; the iron bars across the glass
front door were visible, and, equally, I discerned the big, stiff
wooden chairs in the hall, the gaping fireplace, the upright pillars
supporting the staircase, the round table in the centre with its books
and flower-vases, and the basket that held visitors’ cards. There, too,
was the stick and umbrella stand and the shelf with railway guides,
directory, and telegraph forms. Clocks ticked everywhere with sounds
like quiet footfalls. Light fell here and there in patches from the
floor above. I stood a moment in the hall, letting my eyes grow more
accustomed to the gloom, while deciding on a plan of search. I made
out the ivy trailing outside over one of the big windows ... and then
the tall clock by the front door made a grating noise deep down inside
its body--it was the Presentation clock, large and hideous, given by
the congregation of his church--and, dreading the booming strike it
seemed to threaten, I made a quick decision. If others beside myself
were about in the night, the sound of that striking might cover their
approach.

So I tiptoed to the right, where the passage led towards the
dining-room. In the other direction were the morning- and drawing-room,
both little used, and various other rooms beyond that had been _his_,
generally now kept locked. I thought of my sister, waiting upstairs with
that frightened woman for my return. I went quickly, yet stealthily.

And, to my surprise, the door of the dining-room was open. It had been
opened. I paused on the threshold, staring about me. I think I fully
expected to see a figure blocked in the shadows against the heavy
sideboard, or looming on the other side beneath his portrait. But the
room was empty; I _felt_ it empty. Through the wide bow-windows that
gave on to the verandah came an uncertain glimmer that even shone
reflected in the polished surface of the dinner-table, and again I
perceived the stiff outline of chairs, waiting tenantless all round it,
two larger ones with high carved backs at either end. The monkey-trees
on the upper terrace, too, were visible outside against the sky, and
the solemn crests of the wellingtonias on the terraces below. The
enormous clock on the mantelpiece ticked very slowly, as though its
machinery were running down, and I made out the pale round patch that
was its face. Resisting my first inclination to turn the lights up--my
hand had gone so far as to finger the friendly knob--I crossed the room
so carefully that no single board creaked, nor a single chair, as I
rested a hand upon its back, moved on the parquet flooring. I turned
neither to the right nor left, nor did I once look back.

I went towards the long corridor, filled with priceless _objets d’art_,
that led through various antechambers into the spacious music-room,
and only at the mouth of this corridor did I next halt a moment in
uncertainty. For this long corridor, lit faintly by high windows
on the left from the verandah, was very narrow, owing to the mass
of shelves and fancy tables it contained. It was not that I feared
to knock over precious things as I went, but that, because of its
ungenerous width, there would be no room to pass another person--if I
met one. And the certainty had suddenly come upon me that somewhere
in this corridor another person at this actual moment stood. Here,
somehow, amid all this dead atmosphere of furniture and impersonal
emptiness, lay the hint of a living human presence; and with such
conviction did it come upon me, that my hand instinctively gripped the
pistol in my pocket before I could even think. Either some one had
passed along this corridor just before me, or some one lay waiting
at its farther end--withdrawn or flattened into one of the little
recesses, to let me pass. It was the person who had opened the door.
And the blood ran from my heart as I realised it.

It was not courage that sent me on, but rather a strong impulsion from
behind that made it impossible to retreat: the feeling that a throng
pressed at my back, drawing nearer and nearer; that I was already half
surrounded, swept, dragged, coaxed into a vast prison-house where there
was wailing and gnashing of teeth, where their worm dieth not and their
fire is not quenched. I can neither explain nor justify the storm of
irrational emotion that swept me as I stood in that moment, staring
down the length of the silent corridor towards the music-room at the
far end, I can only repeat that no personal bravery sent me down it,
but that the negative emotion of fear was swamped in this vast sea of
pity and commiseration for others that surged upon me.

My senses, at least, were no whit confused; if anything, my brain
registered impressions with keener accuracy than usual. I noticed, for
instance, that the two swinging doors of baize that cut the corridor
into definite lengths, making little rooms of the spaces between them,
were both wide open--in the dim light no mean achievement. Also that
the fronds of a palm plant, some ten feet in front of me, still stirred
gently from the air of some one who had recently gone past them. The
long green leaves waved to and fro like hands. Then I went stealthily
forward down the narrow space, proud even that I had this command of
myself, and so carefully that my feet made no sound upon the Japanese
matting on the floor.

It was a journey that seemed timeless. I have no idea how fast or slow
I went, but I remember that I deliberately examined articles on each
side of me, peering with particular closeness into the recesses of wall
and window. I passed the first baize doors, and the passage beyond
them widened out to hold shelves of books; there were sofas and small
reading-tables against the wall. It narrowed again presently, as I
entered the second stretch. The windows here were higher and smaller,
and marble statuettes of classical subjects lined the walls, watching
me like figures of the dead. Their white and shining faces saw me, yet
made no sign. I passed next between the second baize doors. They, too,
had been fastened back with hooks against the wall. Thus all doors were
open--had been recently opened.

And so, at length, I found myself in the final widening of the corridor
which formed an ante-chamber to the music-room itself. It had been
used formerly to hold the overflow of meetings. No door separated it
from the great hall beyond, but heavy curtains hung usually to close
it off, and these curtains were invariably drawn. They now stood wide.
And here--I can merely state the impression that came upon me--I knew
myself at last surrounded. The throng that pressed behind me, also
surged in front: facing me in the big room, and waiting for my entry,
stood a multitude; on either side of me, in the very air above my
head, the vast assemblage paused upon my coming. The pause, however,
was momentary, for instantly the deep, tumultuous movement was resumed
that yet was silent as a cavern underground. I felt the agony that
was in it, the passionate striving, the awful struggle to escape. The
semi-darkness held beseeching faces that fought to press themselves
upon my vision, yearning yet hopeless eyes, lips scorched and dry,
mouths that opened to implore but found no craved delivery in actual
words, and a fury of misery and hate that made the life in me stop
dead, frozen by the horror of vain pity. That intolerable, vain Hope
was everywhere.

And the multitude, it came to me, was not a single multitude, but many;
for, as soon as one huge division pressed too close upon the edge of
escape, it was dragged back by another and prevented. The wild host was
divided against itself. Here dwelt the Shadow I had ‘imagined’ weeks
ago, and in it struggled armies of lost souls as in the depths of some
bottomless pit whence there is no escape. The layers mingled, fighting
against themselves in endless torture. It was in this great Shadow I
had clairvoyantly seen Mabel, but about its fearful mouth, I now was
certain, hovered another figure of darkness, a figure who sought to
keep it in existence, since to her thought were due those lampless
depths of woe without escape.... Towards me the multitudes now surged.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a sound and a movement that brought me back into myself. The
great clock at the farther end of the room just then struck the hour
of three. That was the sound. And the movement--? I was aware that a
figure was passing across the distant centre of the floor. Instantly I
dropped back into the arena of my little human terror. My hand again
clutched stupidly at the pistol butt. I drew back into the folds of the
heavy curtain. And the figure advanced.

I remember every detail. At first it seemed to me enormous--this
advancing shadow--far beyond human scale; but as it came nearer, I
measured it, though not consciously, by the organ pipes that gleamed in
faint colours, just above its gradual soft approach. It passed them,
already half-way across the great room. I saw then that its stature was
that of ordinary men. The prolonged booming of the clock died away. I
heard the footfall, shuffling upon the polished boards. I heard another
sound--a voice, low and monotonous, droning as in prayer. The figure
was speaking. It was a woman. And she carried in both hands before her
a small object that faintly shimmered--a glass of water. And then I
recognised her.

There was still an instant’s time before she reached me, and I made use
of it. I shrank back, flattening myself against the wall. Her voice
ceased a moment, as she turned and carefully drew the curtains together
behind her, closing them with one hand. Oblivious of my presence,
though she actually touched my dressing-gown with the hand that pulled
the cords, she resumed her dreadful, solemn march, disappearing at
length down the long vista of the corridor like a shadow. But as she
passed me, her voice began again, so that I heard each word distinctly
as she uttered it, her head aloft, her figure upright, as though she
moved at the head of a procession:

‘A drop of cold water, given in His name, shall moisten their burning
tongues.’

It was repeated monotonously over and over again, droning down into the
distance as she went, until at length both voice and figure faded into
the shadows at the farther end.

For a time, I have no means of measuring precisely, I stood in that
dark corner, pressing my back against the wall, and would have drawn
the curtains down to hide me had I dared to stretch an arm out. The
dread that presently the woman would return passed gradually away. I
realised that the air had emptied, the crowd her presence had stirred
into activity had retreated; I was alone in the gloomy under-spaces of
the odious building.... Then I remembered suddenly again the terrified
women waiting for me on that upper landing; and realised that my skin
was wet and freezing cold after a profuse perspiration. I prepared to
retrace my steps. I remember the effort it cost me to leave the support
of the wall and covering darkness of my corner, and step out into the
grey light of the corridor. At first I sidled, then, finding this
mode of walking impossible, turned my face boldly and walked quickly,
regardless that my dressing-gown set the precious objects shaking as I
passed. A wind that sighed mournfully against the high, small windows
seemed to have got inside the corridor as well; it felt so cold; and
every moment I dreaded to see the outline of the woman’s figure as she
waited in recess or angle against the wall for me to pass.

Was there another thing I dreaded even more? I cannot say. I only know
that the first baize doors had swung-to behind me, and the second ones
were close at hand, when the great dim thunder caught me, pouring up
with prodigious volume so that it seemed to roll out from another
world. It shook the very bowels of the building. I was closer to it
than that other time, when it had followed me from the goblin garden.
There was strength and hardness in it, as of metal reverberation. Some
touch of numbness, almost of paralysis, must surely have been upon me
that I felt no actual terror, for I remember even turning and standing
still to hear it better. ‘That is the Noise,’ my thought ran stupidly,
and I think I whispered it aloud; ‘_the Doors are closing_.’

The wind outside against the windows was audible, so it cannot have
been really loud, yet to me it was the biggest, deepest sound I have
ever heard, but so far away, with such awful remoteness in it, that I
had to doubt my own ears at the same time. It seemed underground--the
rumbling of earthquake gates that shut remorselessly within the rocky
Earth--stupendous ultimate thunder. _They_ were shut off from help
again. The doors had closed.

I felt a storm of pity, an agony of bitter, futile hate sweep through
me. My memory of the figure changed then. The Woman with the glass of
cooling water had stepped down from Heaven; but the Man--or was it
Men?--who smeared this terrible layer of belief and Thought upon the
world!...

I crossed the dining-room--it was fancy, of course, that held my
eyes from glancing at the portrait for fear I should see it smiling
approval--and so finally reached the hall, where the light from the
floor above seemed now quite bright in comparison. All the doors I
closed carefully behind me; but first I had to open them. The woman had
closed every one. Up the stairs, then, I actually ran, two steps at a
time. My sister was standing outside Mabel’s door. By her face I knew
that she had also heard. There was no need to ask. I quickly made my
mind up.

‘There’s nothing,’ I said, and detailed briefly my tour of search. ‘All
is quiet and undisturbed downstairs.’ May God forgive me!

She beckoned to me, closing the door softly behind her. My heart beat
violently a moment, then stood still.

‘Mabel,’ she said aloud.

It was like the sentence of a judge, that one short word.

I tried to push past her and go in, but she stopped me with her arm.
She was wholly mistress of herself, I saw.

‘Hush!’ she said in a lower voice. ‘I’ve got her round again with
brandy. She’s sleeping quietly now. We won’t disturb her.’

She drew me farther out into the landing, and as she did so, the clock
in the hall below struck half-past three. I had stood, then, thirty
minutes in the corridor below. ‘You’ve been such a long time,’ she said
simply. ‘I feared for you,’ and she took my hand in her own that was
cold and clammy.


VIII

And then, while that dreadful house stood listening about us in the
early hours of this chill morning upon the edge of winter, she told
me, with laconic brevity, things about Mabel that I heard as from a
distance. There was nothing so unusual or tremendous in the short
recital, nothing indeed I might not have already guessed for myself. It
was the time and scene, the inference, too, that made it so afflicting:
the idea that Mabel believed herself so utterly and hopelessly
lost--beyond recovery _damned_.

That she had loved him with so passionate a devotion that she had given
her soul into his keeping, this certainly I had not divined--probably
because I had never thought about it one way or the other. He had
‘converted’ her, I knew, but that she had subscribed whole-heartedly
to that most cruel and ugly of his dogmas--this was new to me, and
came with a certain shock as I heard it. In love, of course, the
weaker nature is receptive to all manner of suggestion. This man had
‘suggested’ his pet brimstone lake so vividly that she had listened
and believed. He had frightened her into heaven; and his heaven, a
definite locality in the skies, had its foretaste here on earth in
miniature--The Towers, house and garden. Into his dolorous scheme of a
handful saved and millions damned, his enclosure, as it were, of sheep
and goats, he had swept her before she was aware of it. Her mind no
longer was her own. And it was Mrs. Marsh who kept the thought-stream
open, though tempered, as she deemed, with that touch of craven,
superstitious mercy.

But what I found it difficult to understand, and still more difficult
to accept, was that, during her year abroad, she had been so haunted
with a secret dread of that hideous after-death that she had finally
revolted and tried to recover that clearer state of mind she had
enjoyed before the religious bully had stunned her--yet had tried
in vain. She had returned to The Towers to find her soul again, only
to realise that it was lost eternally. The cleaner state of mind lay
then beyond recovery. In the reaction that followed the removal of his
terrible ‘suggestion,’ she felt the crumbling of all that he had taught
her, but searched in vain for the peace and beauty his teachings had
destroyed. Nothing came to replace these. She was empty, desolate,
hopeless; craving her former joy and carelessness, she found only hate
and diabolical calculation. This man, whom she had loved to the point
of losing her soul for him, had bequeathed to her one black and fiery
thing--the terror of the damned. His thinking wrapped her in this iron
garment that held her fast.

All this Frances told me, far more briefly than I have here repeated
it. In her eyes and gestures and laconic sentences lay the conviction
of great beating issues and of menacing drama my own description fails
to recapture. It was all so incongruous and remote from the world I
lived in that more than once a smile, though a smile of pity, fluttered
to my lips; but a glimpse of my face in the mirror showed rather the
leer of a grimace. There was no real laughter anywhere that night.
The entire adventure seemed so incredible, here, in this twentieth
century--but yet delusion, that feeble word, did not occur once in
the comments my mind suggested though did not utter. I remembered
that forbidding Shadow too; my sister’s water-colours; the vanished
personality of our hostess; the inexplicable, thundering Noise, and the
figure of Mrs. Marsh in her midnight ritual that was so childish yet so
horrible. I shivered in spite of my own ‘emancipated’ cast of mind.

‘There _is_ no Mabel,’ were the words with which my sister sent another
shower of ice down my spine. ‘He has killed her in his lake of fire and
brimstone.’

I stared at her blankly, as in a nightmare where nothing true or
possible ever happened.

‘He killed her in his lake of fire and brimstone,’ she repeated more
faintly.

A desperate effort was in me to say the strong, sensible thing which
should destroy the oppressive horror that grew so stiflingly about us
both, but again the mirror drew the attempted smile into the merest
grin, betraying the distortion that was everywhere in the place.

‘You mean,’ I stammered beneath my breath, ‘that her faith has gone,
but that the terror has remained?’ I asked it, dully groping. I moved
out of the line of the reflection in the glass.

She bowed her head as though beneath a weight; her skin was the pallor
of grey ashes.

‘You mean,’ I said louder, ‘that she has lost her--mind?’

‘She is terror incarnate,’ was the whispered answer. ‘Mabel has lost
her soul. Her soul is--there!’ She pointed horribly below. ‘She is
seeking it...?’

The word ‘soul’ stung me into something of my normal self again.

‘But her terror, poor thing, is not--cannot be--transferable to _us_!’
I exclaimed more vehemently. ‘It certainly is not convertible into
feelings, sights and--even sounds!’

She interrupted me quickly, almost impatiently, speaking with that
conviction by which she conquered me so easily that night.

‘It is her terror that has revived “the Others.” It has brought her
into touch with them. They are loose and driving after her. Her
efforts at resistance have given them also hope--that escape, after
all, _is_ possible. Day and night they strive.’

‘Escape! Others!’ The anger fast rising in me dropped of its own accord
at the moment of birth. It shrank into a shuddering beyond my control.
In that moment, I think, I would have believed in the possibility of
anything and everything she might tell me. To argue or contradict
seemed equally futile.

‘His strong belief, as also the beliefs of others who have preceded
him,’ she replied, so sure of herself that I actually turned to look
over my shoulder, ‘have left their shadow like a thick deposit over
the house and grounds. To them, poor souls imprisoned by thought, it
was hopeless as granite walls--until her resistance, her effort to
dissipate it--let in light. Now, in their thousands, they are flocking
to this little light, seeking escape. Her own escape, don’t you see,
may release them all!’

It took my breath away. Had his predecessors, former occupants of this
house, also preached damnation of all the world but their own exclusive
sect? Was this the explanation of her obscure talk of ‘layers,’ each
striving against the other for domination? And if men are spirits,
and these spirits survive, could strong Thought thus determine their
condition even afterwards?

So many questions flooded into me that I selected no one of them, but
stared in uncomfortable silence, bewildered, out of my depth, and
acutely, painfully distressed. There was so odd a mixture of possible
truth and incredible, unacceptable explanation in it all; so much
confirmed, yet so much left darker than before. What she said did,
indeed, offer a quasi-interpretation of my own series of abominable
sensations--strife, agony, pity, hate, escape--but so far-fetched that
only the deep conviction in her voice and attitude made it tolerable
for a second even. I found myself in a curious state of mind. I could
neither think clearly nor say a word to refute her amazing statements,
whispered there beside me in the shivering hours of the early morning
with only a wall between ourselves and--Mabel. Close behind her words
I remember this singular thing, however--that an atmosphere as of the
Inquisition seemed to rise and stir about the room, beating awful wings
of black above my head.

Abruptly, then, a moment’s common-sense returned to me. I faced her.

‘And the Noise?’ I said aloud, more firmly, ‘the roar of the closing
doors? We have _all_ heard that! Is that subjective too?’

Frances looked sideways about her in a queer fashion that made my
flesh creep again. I spoke brusquely, almost angrily. I repeated the
question, and waited with anxiety for her reply.

‘What noise?’ she asked, with the frank expression of an innocent
child. ‘What closing doors?’

But her face turned from grey to white, and I saw that drops of
perspiration glistened on her forehead. She caught at the back of
a chair to steady herself, then glanced about her again with that
sidelong look that made my blood run cold. I understood suddenly then.
She did not take in what I said. I knew now. She was listening--for
something else.

And the discovery revived in me a far stronger emotion than any mere
desire for immediate explanation. Not only did I not insist upon an
answer, but I was actually terrified lest she _would_ answer. More,
I felt in me a terror lest I should be moved to describe my own
experiences below-stairs, thus increasing their reality and so the
reality of all. She might even explain them too!

Still listening intently, she raised her head and looked me in the
eyes. Her lips opened to speak. The words came to me from a great
distance, it seemed, and her voice had a sound like a stone that drops
into a deep well, its fate though hidden, known.

‘We are in it with her, too, Bill. We are in it with her. Our
interpretations vary--because we are--in parts of it only. Mabel is in
it--_all_.’

The desire for violence came over me. If only she would say a definite
thing in plain King’s English! If only I could find it in me to give
utterance to what shouted so loud within me! If only--the same old
cry--something would happen! For all this elliptic talk that dazed my
mind left obscurity everywhere. Her atrocious meaning, none the less,
flashed through me, though vanishing before it wholly divulged itself.

It brought a certain reaction with it. I found my tongue. Whether I
actually believed what I said is more than I can swear to; that it
seemed to me wise at the moment is all I remember. My mind was in a
state of obscure perception less than that of normal consciousness.

‘Yes, Frances, I believe that what you say is the truth, and that we
are in it with her’--I meant to say it with loud, hostile emphasis,
but instead I whispered it lest she should hear the trembling of my
voice--‘and for that reason, my dear sister, we leave to-morrow, you
and I--to-day, rather, since it is long past midnight--we leave this
house of the damned. We go back to London.’

Frances looked up, her face distraught almost beyond recognition.
But it was not my words that caused the tumult in her heart. It was
a sound--the sound she had been listening for--so faint I barely
caught it myself, and had she not pointed I could never have known
the direction whence it came. Small and terrible it rose again in the
stillness of the night, the sound of gnashing teeth. And behind it came
another--the tread of stealthy footsteps. Both were just outside the
door.

The room swung round me for a second. My first instinct to prevent my
sister going out--she had dashed past me frantically to the door--gave
place to another when I saw the expression in her eyes. I followed her
lead instead; it was surer than my own. The pistol in my pocket swung
uselessly against my thigh. I was flustered beyond belief and ashamed
that I was so.

‘Keep close to me, Frances,’ I said huskily, as the door swung wide and
a shaft of light fell upon a figure moving rapidly. Mabel was going
down the corridor. Beyond her, in the shadows on the staircase, a
second figure stood beckoning, scarcely visible.

‘Before they get her! Quick!’ was screamed into my ears, and our arms
were about her in the same moment. It was a horrible scene. Not that
Mabel struggled in the least, but that she collapsed as we caught her
and fell with her dead weight, as of a corpse, limp, against us. And
her teeth began again. They continued, even beneath the hand that
Frances clapped upon her lips....

We carried her back into her own bedroom, where she lay down peacefully
enough. It was so soon over.... The rapidity of the whole thing robbed
it of reality almost. It had the swiftness of something remembered
rather than of something witnessed. She slept again so quickly that it
was almost as if we had caught her sleep-walking. I cannot say. I asked
no questions at the time; I have asked none since; and my help was
needed as little as the protection of my pistol. Frances was strangely
competent and collected.... I lingered for some time uselessly by the
door, till at length, looking up with a sigh, she made a sign for me to
go.

‘I shall wait in your room next door,’ I whispered, ‘till you come.’
But, though going out, I waited in the corridor instead, so as to hear
the faintest call for help. In that dark corridor upstairs I waited,
but not long. It may have been fifteen minutes when Frances reappeared,
locking the door softly behind her. Leaning over the banisters, I saw
her.

‘I’ll go in again about six o’clock,’ she whispered, ‘as soon as it
gets light. She is sound asleep now. Please don’t wait. If anything
happens I’ll call--you might leave your door ajar, perhaps.’ And she
came up, looking like a ghost.

But I saw her first safely into bed, and the rest of the night I spent
in an armchair close to my opened door, listening for the slightest
sound. Soon after five o’clock I heard Frances fumbling with the key,
and, peering over the railing again, I waited till she reappeared and
went back into her own room. She closed her door. Evidently she was
satisfied that all was well.

Then, and then only, did I go to bed myself, but not to sleep. I could
not get the scene out of my mind, especially that odious detail of it
which I hoped and believed my sister had not seen--the still, dark
figure of the housekeeper waiting on the stairs below--waiting, of
course, for Mabel.


IX

It seems I became a mere spectator after that; my sister’s lead was
so assured for one thing, and, for another, the responsibility of
leaving Mabel alone--Frances laid it bodily upon my shoulders--was a
little more than I cared about. Moreover, when we all three met later
in the day, things went on so exactly as before, so absolutely without
friction or distress, that to present a sudden, obvious excuse for
cutting our visit short seemed ill-judged. And on the lowest grounds it
would have been desertion. At any rate, it was beyond my powers, and
Frances was quite firm that _she_ must stay. We therefore did stay.
Things that happen in the night always seem exaggerated and distorted
when the sun shines brightly next morning; no one can reconstruct the
terror of a nightmare afterwards, nor comprehend why it seemed so
overwhelming at the time.

I slept till ten o’clock, and when I rang for breakfast, a note from
my sister lay upon the tray, its message of counsel couched in a calm
and comforting strain. Mabel, she assured me, was herself again and
remembered nothing of what had happened; there was no need of any
violent measures; I was to treat her exactly as if I knew nothing.
‘And, if you don’t mind, Bill, let us leave the matter unmentioned
between ourselves as well. Discussion exaggerates; such things are best
not talked about. I’m sorry I disturbed you so unnecessarily; I was
stupidly excited. Please forget all the things I said at the moment.’
She had written ‘nonsense’ first instead of ‘things,’ then scratched
it out. She wished to convey that hysteria had been abroad in the
night, and I readily gulped the explanation down, though it could not
satisfy me in the smallest degree.

There was another week of our visit still, and we stayed it out to the
end without disaster. My desire to leave at times became that frantic
thing, desire to escape; but I controlled it, kept silent, watched
and wondered. Nothing happened. As before, and everywhere, there was
no sequence of development, no connection between cause and effect;
and climax, none whatever. The thing swayed up and down, backwards
and forwards like a great loose curtain in the wind, and I could only
vaguely surmise what caused the draught or why there was a curtain at
all. A novelist might mould the queer material into coherent sequence
that would be interesting but could not be true. It remains, therefore,
not a story but a history. Nothing happened.

Perhaps my intense dislike of the fall of darkness was due wholly
to my stirred imagination, and perhaps my anger when I learned that
Frances now occupied a bed in our hostess’s room was unreasonable.
Nerves were unquestionably on edge. I was for ever on the look-out
for some event that should make escape imperative, but yet that never
presented itself. I slept lightly, left my door ajar to catch the
slightest sound, even made stealthy tours of the house below-stairs
while everybody dreamed in their beds. But I discovered nothing; the
doors were always locked; I neither saw the housekeeper again in
unreasonable times and places, nor heard a footstep in the passages
and halls. The Noise was never once repeated. That horrible, ultimate
thunder, my intensest dread of all, lay withdrawn into the abyss
whence it had twice arisen. And though in my thoughts it was sternly
denied existence, the great black reason for the fact afflicted me
unbelievably. Since Mabel’s fruitless effort to escape, the Doors kept
closed remorselessly. She had failed; _they_ gave up hope. For this
was the explanation that haunted the region of my mind where feelings
stir and hint before they clothe themselves in actual language. Only I
firmly kept it there; it never knew expression.

But, if my ears were open, my eyes were opened too, and it were idle
to pretend that I did not notice a hundred details that were capable
of sinister interpretation had I been weak enough to yield. Some
protective barrier had fallen into ruins round me, so that Terror
stalked behind the general collapse, feeling for me through all the
gaping fissures. Much of this, I admit, must have been merely the
elaboration of those sensations I had first vaguely felt, before
subsequent events and my talks with Frances had dramatised them into
living thoughts. I therefore leave them unmentioned in this history,
just as my mind left them unmentioned in that interminable final week.

Our life went on precisely as before--Mabel unreal and outwardly so
still; Frances, secretive, anxious, tactful to the point of slyness,
and keen to save to the point of self-forgetfulness. There were the
same stupid meals, the same wearisome long evenings, the stifling
ugliness of house and grounds, the Shadow settling in so thickly that
it seemed almost a visible, tangible thing. I came to feel the only
friendly things in all this hostile, cruel place were the robins that
hopped boldly over the monstrous terraces and even up to the windows of
the unsightly house itself. The robins alone knew joy; they danced,
believing no evil thing was possible in all God’s radiant world.
They believed in everybody; _their_ god’s plan of life had no room
in it for hell, damnation and lakes of brimstone. I came to love the
little birds. Had Samuel Franklyn known them, he might have preached a
different sermon, bequeathing love in place of terror!...

Most of my time I spent writing; but it was a pretence at best, and
rather a dangerous one besides. For it stirred the mind to production,
with the result that other things came pouring in as well. With
reading it was the same. In the end I found an aggressive, deliberate
resistance to be the only way of feasible defence. To walk far afield
was out of the question, for it meant leaving my sister too long alone,
so that my exercise was confined to nearer home. My saunters in the
grounds, however, never surprised the goblin garden again. It was close
at hand, but I seemed unable to get wholly into it. Too many things
assailed my mind for any one to hold exclusive possession, perhaps.

Indeed, all the interpretations, all the ‘layers,’ to use my sister’s
phrase, slipped in by turns and lodged there for a time. They came day
and night, and though my reason denied them entrance they held their
own as by a kind of squatters’ right. They stirred moods already in
me, that is, and did not introduce entirely new ones; for every mind
conceals ancestral deposits that have been cultivated in turn along the
whole line of its descent. Any day a chance shower may cause this one
or that to blossom. Thus it came to me, at any rate. After darkness the
Inquisition paced the empty corridors and set up ghastly apparatus in
the dismal halls; and once, in the library, there swept over me that
easy and delicious conviction that by confessing my wickedness I could
resume it later, since Confession is expression, and expression brings
relief and leaves one ready to accumulate again. And in such mood I
felt bitter and unforgiving towards all others who thought differently.
Another time it was a Pagan thing that assaulted me--so trivial yet
oh, so significant at the time--when I dreamed that a herd of centaurs
rolled up with a great stamping of hoofs round the house to destroy it,
and then woke to hear the horses tramping across the field below the
lawns; they neighed ominously and their noisy panting was audible as if
it were just outside my windows.

But the tree episode, I think, was the most curious of all--except,
perhaps, the incident with the children which I shall mention in a
moment--for its closeness to reality was so unforgettable. Outside the
east window of my room stood a giant wellingtonia on the lawn, its
head rising level with the upper sash. It grew some twenty feet away,
planted on the highest terrace, and I often saw it when closing my
curtains for the night, noticing how it drew its heavy skirts about
it, and how the light from other windows threw glimmering streaks and
patches that turned it into the semblance of a towering, solemn image.
It stood there then so strikingly, somehow like a great old-world idol,
that it claimed attention. Its appearance was curiously formidable.
Its branches rustled without visibly moving and it had a certain
portentous, forbidding air, so grand and dark and monstrous in the
night that I was always glad when my curtains shut it out. Yet, once in
bed, I had never thought about it one way or the other, and by day had
certainly never sought it out.

One night, then, as I went to bed and closed this window against a
cutting easterly wind, I saw--that there were two of these trees. A
brother wellingtonia rose mysteriously beside it, equally huge, equally
towering, equally monstrous. The menacing pair of them faced me there
upon the lawn. But in this new arrival lay a strange suggestion that
frightened me before I could argue it away. Exact counterpart of its
giant companion, it revealed also that gross, odious quality that all
my sister’s paintings held. I got the odd impression that the rest of
these trees, stretching away dimly in a troop over the farther lawns,
were similar, and that, led by this enormous pair, they had all moved
boldly closer to my windows. At the same moment a blind was drawn down
over an upper room; the second tree disappeared into the surrounding
darkness. It was, of course, this chance light that had brought it
into the field of vision, but when the black shutter dropped over it,
hiding it from view, the manner of its vanishing produced the queer
effect that it had slipped into its companion--almost that it had been
an emanation of the one I so disliked, and not really a tree at all! In
this way the garden turned vehicle for expressing what lay behind it
all!...

The behaviour of the doors, the little, ordinary doors, seems scarcely
worth mention at all, their queer way of opening and shutting of their
own accord; for this was accountable in a hundred natural ways, and to
tell the truth, I never caught one in the act of moving. Indeed, only
after frequent repetitions did the detail force itself upon me, when,
having noticed one, I noticed all. It produced, however, the unpleasant
impression of a continual coming and going in the house, as though,
screened cleverly and purposely from actual sight, some one in the
building held constant invisible intercourse with--others.

Upon detailed descriptions of these uncertain incidents I do not
venture, individually so trivial, but taken all together so impressive
and so insolent. But the episode of the children, mentioned above, was
different. And I give it because it showed how vividly the intuitive
child-mind received the impression--one impression, at any rate--of
what was in the air. It may be told in a very few words. I believe
they were the coachman’s children, and that the man had been in Mr.
Franklyn’s service; but of neither point am I quite positive. I heard
screaming in the rose-garden that runs along the stable walls--it
was one afternoon not far from the tea-hour--and on hurrying up I
found a little girl of nine or ten fastened with ropes to a rustic
seat, and two other children--boys, one about twelve and one much
younger--gathering sticks beneath the climbing rose-trees. The girl
was white and frightened, but the others were laughing and talking
among themselves so busily while they picked that they did not notice
my abrupt arrival. Some game, I understood, was in progress, but a
game that had become too serious for the happiness of the prisoner,
for there was a fear in the girl’s eyes that was a very genuine fear
indeed. I unfastened her at once; the ropes were so loosely and
clumsily knotted that they had not hurt her skin; it was not that which
made her pale. She collapsed a moment upon the bench, then picked up
her tiny skirts and dived away at full speed into the safety of the
stable-yard. There was no response to my brief comforting, but she ran
as though for her life, and I divined that some horrid boys’ cruelty
had been afoot. It was probably mere thoughtlessness, as cruelty with
children usually is, but something in me decided to discover exactly
what it was.

And the boys, not one whit alarmed at my intervention, merely laughed
shyly when I explained that their prisoner had escaped, and told me
frankly what their ‘gime’ had been. There was no vestige of shame in
them, nor any idea, of course, that they aped a monstrous reality.
That it was mere pretence was neither here nor there. To them, though
make-believe, it was a make-believe of something that was right and
natural and in no sense cruel. Grown-ups did it too. It was necessary
for her good.

‘We was going to burn her up, sir,’ the older one informed me,
answering my ‘Why?’ with the explanation, ‘Because she wouldn’t believe
what we wanted ‘er to believe.’

And, game though it was, the feeling of reality about the little
episode was so arresting, so terrific in some way, that only with
difficulty did I confine my admonitions on this occasion to mere
words. The boys slunk off, frightened in their turn, yet not, I felt,
convinced that they had erred in principle. It was their inheritance.
They had breathed it in with the atmosphere of their bringing-up. They
would renew the salutary torture when they could--till she ‘believed’
as they did.

I went back into the house, afflicted with a passion of mingled pity
and distress impossible to describe, yet on my short way across the
garden was attacked by other moods in turn, each more real and bitter
than its predecessor. I received the whole series, as it were, at once.
I felt like a diver rising to the surface through layers of water at
different temperatures, though here the natural order was reversed,
and the cooler strata were uppermost, the heated ones below. Thus, I
was caught by the goblin touch of the willows that fringed the field;
by the sensuous curving of the twisted ash that formed a gateway to
the little grove of sapling oaks where fauns and satyrs lurked to play
in the moonlight before Pagan altars; and by the cloaking darkness,
next, of the copse of stunted pines, close gathered each to each, where
hooded figures stalked behind an awful cross. The episode with the
children seemed to have opened me like a knife. The whole Place rushed
at me.

I suspect this synthesis of many moods produced in me that climax of
loathing and disgust which made me feel the limit of bearable emotion
had been reached, so that I made straight to find Frances in order to
convince her that at any rate _I_ must leave. For, although this was
our last day in the house, and we had arranged to go next day, the
dread was in me that she would still find some persuasive reason for
staying on. And an unexpected incident then made my dread unnecessary.
The front door was open and a cab stood in the drive; a tall, elderly
man was gravely talking in the hall with the parlour-maid we called the
Grenadier. He held a piece of paper in his hand. ‘I have called to see
the house,’ I heard him say, as I ran up the stairs to Frances, who was
peering like an inquisitive child over the banisters....

‘Yes,’ she told me with a sigh, I know not whether of resignation
or relief, ‘the house is to be let or sold. Mabel has decided. Some
Society or other, I believe----’

I was overjoyed: this made our leaving right and possible. ‘You never
told me, Frances!’

‘Mabel only heard of it a few days ago. She told me herself this
morning. It is a chance, she says. Alone she cannot get it “straight.”’

‘Defeat?’ I asked, watching her closely.

‘She thinks she has found a way out. It’s not a family, you see, it’s a
Society, a sort of Community--they go in for thought----’

‘A Community!’ I gasped. ‘You mean religious?’

She shook her head. ‘Not exactly,’ she said smiling, ‘but some kind of
association of men and women who want a headquarters in the country--a
place where they can write and meditate--_think_--mature their plans
and all the rest--I don’t know exactly what.’

‘Utopian dreamers?’ I asked, yet feeling an immense relief come over
me as I heard. But I asked in ignorance, not cynically. Frances would
know. She knew all this kind of thing.

‘No, not that exactly,’ she smiled. ‘Their teachings are grand and
simple--old as the world too, really--the basis of every religion
before men’s mind perverted them with their manufactured creeds----’

Footsteps on the stairs, and the sound of voices, interrupted our odd
impromptu conversation, as the Grenadier came up, followed by the
tall, grave gentleman who was being shown over the house. My sister
drew me along the corridor towards her room, where she went in and
closed the door behind me, yet not before I had stolen a good look at
the caller--long enough, at least, for his face and general appearance
to have made a definite impression on me. For something strong and
peaceful emanated from his presence; he moved with such quiet dignity;
the glance of his eyes was so steady and reassuring, that my mind
labelled him instantly as a type of man one would turn to in an
emergency and not be disappointed. I had seen him but for a passing
moment, but I had seen him twice, and the way he walked down the
passage, looking competently about him, conveyed the same impression
as when I saw him standing at the door--fearless, tolerant, wise. ‘A
sincere and kindly character,’ I judged instantly, ‘a man whom some big
kind of love has trained in sweetness towards the world; no hate in him
anywhere.’ A great deal, no doubt, to read in so brief a glance! Yet
his voice confirmed my intuition, a deep and very gentle voice, great
firmness in it too.

‘Have I become suddenly sensitive to people’s atmospheres in this
extraordinary fashion?’ I asked myself, smiling, as I stood in the room
and heard the door close behind me. ‘Have I developed some clairvoyant
faculty here?’ At any other time I should have mocked.

And I sat down and faced my sister, feeling strangely comforted and at
peace for the first time since I had stepped beneath The Towers’ roof a
month ago. Frances, I then saw, was smiling a little as she watched me.

‘You know him?’ I asked.

‘You felt it too?’ was her question in reply. ‘No,’ she added, ‘I don’t
know him--beyond the fact that he is a leader in the Movement and has
devoted years and money to its objects. Mabel felt the same thing in
him that you have felt--and jumped at it.’

‘But you’ve seen him before?’ I urged, for the certainty was in me that
he was no stranger to her.

She shook her head. ‘He called one day early this week, when you were
out. Mabel saw him. I believe----’ she hesitated a moment, as though
expecting me to stop her with my usual impatience of such subjects--‘I
believe he has explained everything to her--the beliefs he embodies,
she declares, are her salvation--might be, rather, if she could adopt
them.’

‘Conversion again!’ For I remembered her riches, and how gladly a
Society would gobble them.

‘The layers I told you about,’ she continued calmly, shrugging her
shoulders slightly--‘the deposits that are left behind by strong
thinking and _real_ belief--but especially by ugly, hateful belief,
because, you see--there’s more vital passion in that sort----’

‘Frances, I don’t understand a bit,’ I said out loud, but said it a
little humbly, for the impression the man had left was still strong
upon me and I was grateful for the steady sense of peace and comfort he
had somehow introduced. The horrors had been so dreadful. My nerves,
doubtless, were more than a little overstrained. Absurd as it must
sound, I classed him in my mind with the robins, the happy, confiding
robins who believed in everybody and thought no evil! I laughed a
moment at my ridiculous idea, and my sister, encouraged by this sign of
patience in me, continued more fluently.

‘Of course you don’t understand, Bill? Why should you? You’ve never
thought about such things. Needing no creed yourself, you think all
creeds are rubbish.’

‘I’m open to conviction--I’m tolerant,’ I interrupted.

‘You’re as narrow as Sam Franklyn, and as crammed with prejudice,’ she
answered, knowing that she had me at her mercy.

‘Then, pray, what may be his, or his Society’s beliefs?’ I asked,
feeling no desire to argue, ‘and how are they going to prove your
Mabel’s salvation? Can they bring beauty into all this aggressive hate
and ugliness?’

‘Certain hope and peace,’ she said, ‘that peace which is understanding,
and that understanding which explains _all_ creeds and therefore
tolerates them.’

‘Toleration! The one word a religious man loathes above all others! His
pet word is damnation----’

‘Tolerates them,’ she repeated patiently, unperturbed by my explosion,
‘because it includes them all.’

‘Fine, if true,’ I admitted, ‘very fine. But how, pray, does it include
them all?’

‘Because the key-word, the motto, of their Society is, “There is
no religion higher than Truth,” and it has no single dogma of any
kind. Above all,’ she went on, ‘because it claims that no individual
can be “lost.” It teaches universal salvation. To damn outsiders is
uncivilised, childish, impure. Some take longer than others--it’s
according to the way they think and live--but all find peace, through
development, in the end. What the creeds call a hopeless soul, it
regards as a soul having further to go. There is no damnation----’

‘Well, well,’ I exclaimed, feeling that she rode her hobby-horse too
wildly, too roughly over me, ‘but what is the bearing of all this upon
this dreadful place, and upon Mabel? I’ll admit that there is this
atmosphere--this--er--inexplicable horror in the house and grounds, and
that if not of damnation exactly, it is certainly damnable. I’m not too
prejudiced to deny _that_, for I’ve felt it myself.’

To my relief she was brief. She made her statement, leaving me to take
it or reject it as I would.

‘The thought and belief its former occupants--have left behind. For
there has been coincidence here, a coincidence that must be rare. The
site on which this modern house now stands was Roman, before that
Early Britain, with burial mounds, before that again, Druid--the Druid
stones still lie in that copse below the field, the Tumuli among the
ilexes behind the drive. The older building Sam Franklyn altered and
practically pulled down was a monastery; he changed the chapel into a
meeting hall, which is now the music room; but, before he came here,
the house was occupied by Manetti, a violent Catholic without tolerance
or vision; and in the interval between these two, Julius Weinbaum had
it, Hebrew of most rigid orthodox type imaginable--so they all have
left their----’

‘Even so,’ I repeated, yet interested to hear the rest, ‘what of it?’

‘Simply this,’ said Frances with conviction, ‘that each in turn has
left his layer of concentrated thinking and belief behind him; because
each believed intensely, absolutely, beyond the least weakening of any
doubt--the kind of strong belief and thinking that is rare anywhere
to-day, the kind that wills, impregnates objects, saturates the
atmosphere, haunts, in a word. And each, believing he was utterly and
finally right, damned with equally positive conviction the rest of the
world. One and all preached that implicitly if not explicitly. It’s
the root of every creed. Last of the bigoted, grim series came Samuel
Franklyn.’

I listened in amazement that increased as she went on. Up to this point
her explanation was so admirable. It was, indeed, a pretty study in
psychology if it were true.

‘Then why does nothing ever happen?’ I enquired mildly. ‘A place so
thickly haunted ought to produce a crop of no ordinary results!’

‘There lies the proof,’ she went on in a lowered voice, ‘the proof
of the horror and the ugly reality. The thought and belief of each
occupant in turn kept all the others under. They gave no sign of life
at the time. But the results of thinking never die. They crop out again
the moment there’s an opening. And, with the return of Mabel in her
negative state, believing nothing positive herself, the place for the
first time found itself free to reproduce its buried stores. Damnation,
hell-fire, and the rest--the most permanent and vital thought of all
those creeds, since it was applied to the majority of the world--broke
loose again, for there was no restraint to hold it back. Each sought
to obtain its former supremacy. None conquered. There results a
pandemonium of hate and fear, of striving to escape, of agonised,
bitter warring to find safety, peace--salvation. The place is saturated
by that appalling stream of thinking--the terror of the damned. It
concentrated upon Mabel, whose negative attitude furnished the channel
of deliverance. You and I, according to our sympathy with her, were
similarly involved. Nothing happened, because no one layer could ever
gain the supremacy.’

I was so interested--I dare not say amused--that I stared in silence
while she paused a moment, afraid that she would draw rein and end the
fairy tale too soon.

‘The beliefs of this man, of his Society rather, vigorously thought and
therefore vigorously given out here, will put the whole place straight.
It will act as a solvent. These vitriolic layers actively denied, will
fuse and disappear in the stream of gentle, tolerant sympathy which is
love. For each member, worthy of the name, loves the world, and all
creeds go into the melting-pot; Mabel, too, if she joins them out of
real conviction, will find salvation----’

‘Thinking, I know, is of the first importance,’ I objected, ‘but don’t
you, perhaps, exaggerate the power of feeling and emotion which in
religion are _au fond_ always hysterical?’

‘What _is_ the world,’ she told me, ‘but thinking and feeling? An
individual’s world is entirely what that individual thinks and
believes--interpretation. There is no other. And unless he really
thinks and really believes, he has no permanent world at all. I grant
that few people think, and still fewer believe, and that most take
ready-made suits and make them do. Only the strong make their own
things; the lesser fry, Mabel among them, are merely swept up into what
has been manufactured for them. They get along somehow. You and I have
made for ourselves, Mabel has not. She is a nonentity, and when her
belief is taken from her, she goes with it.’

It was not in me just then to criticise the evasion, or pick out the
sophistry from the truth. I merely waited for her to continue.

‘None of us have Truth, my dear Frances,’ I ventured presently, seeing
that she kept silent.

‘Precisely,’ she answered, ‘but most of us have beliefs. And what one
believes and thinks affects the world at large. Consider the legacy of
hatred and cruelty involved in the doctrines men have built into their
creeds where the _sine qua non_ of salvation is absolute acceptance of
one particular set of views or else perishing everlastingly--for only
by repudiating history can they disavow it----’

‘You’re not quite accurate,’ I put in. ‘Not all the creeds teach
damnation, do they? Franklyn did, of course, but the others are a bit
modernised now surely?’

‘Trying to get out of it,’ she admitted, ‘perhaps they are, but
damnation of unbelievers--of most of the world, that is--is their
rather favourite idea if you talk with them.’

‘I never have.’

She smiled. ‘But I have,’ she said significantly, ‘So, if you consider
what the various occupants of this house have so strongly held and
thought and believed, you need not be surprised that the influence
they have left behind them should be a dark and dreadful legacy. For
thought, you know, does leave----’

The opening of the door, to my great relief, interrupted her, as the
Grenadier led in the visitor to see the room. He bowed to both of us
with a brief word of apology, looked round him, and withdrew, and with
his departure the conversation between us came naturally to an end. I
followed him out. Neither of us in any case, I think, cared to argue
further.

       *       *       *       *       *

And, so far as I am aware, the curious history of The Towers ends
here too. There was no climax in the story sense. Nothing ever really
happened. We left next morning for London. I only know that the Society
in question took the house and have since occupied it to their entire
satisfaction, and that Mabel, who became a member shortly afterwards,
now stays there frequently when in need of repose from the arduous and
unselfish labours she took upon herself under its aegis. She dined with
us only the other night, here in our tiny Chelsea flat, and a jollier,
saner, more interesting and happy guest I could hardly wish for. She
was vital--in the best sense; the lay-figure had come to life. I found
it difficult to believe she was the same woman whose fearful effigy
had floated down those dreary corridors and almost disappeared in the
depths of that atrocious Shadow.

What her beliefs were now I was wise enough to leave unquestioned,
and Frances, to my great relief, kept the conversation well away from
such inappropriate topics. It was clear, however, that the woman had
in herself some secret source of joy, that she was now an aggressive,
positive force, sure of herself, and apparently afraid of nothing in
heaven or hell. She radiated something very like hope and courage about
her, and talked as though the world were a glorious place and everybody
in it kind and beautiful. Her optimism was certainly infectious.

The Towers were mentioned only in passing. The name of Marsh came
up--not _the_ Marsh, it so happened, but a name in some book that was
being discussed--and I was unable to restrain myself. Curiosity was too
strong. I threw out a casual enquiry Mabel could leave unanswered if
she wished. But there was no desire to avoid it. Her reply was frank
and smiling.

‘Would you believe it? She married,’ Mabel told me, though obviously
surprised that I remembered the housekeeper at all; ‘and is happy as
the day is long. She’s found her right niche in life. A sergeant----’

‘The army!’ I ejaculated.

‘Salvation Army,’ she explained merrily.

Frances exchanged a glance with me. I laughed too, for the information
took me by surprise. I cannot say why exactly, but I expected at least
to hear that the woman had met some dreadful end, not impossibly by
burning.

‘And The Towers, now called the Rest House,’ Mabel chattered on, ‘seems
to me the most peaceful and delightful spot in England----’

‘Really,’ I said politely.

‘When I lived there in the old days--while you were there, perhaps,
though I won’t be sure,’ Mabel went on, ‘the story got abroad that it
was haunted. Wasn’t it odd? A less likely place for a ghost I’ve never
seen. Why, it had no atmosphere at all.’ She said this to Frances,
glancing up at me with a smile that apparently had no hidden meaning.
‘Did _you_ notice anything queer about it when you were there?’

This was plainly addressed to me.

‘I found it--er--difficult to settle down to anything,’ I said, after
an instant’s hesitation. ‘I couldn’t work there----’

‘But I thought you wrote that wonderful book on the Deaf and Blind
while you stayed with me,’ she asked innocently.

I stammered a little. ‘Oh no, not then. I only made a few notes--er--at
The Towers. My mind, oddly enough, refused to produce at all down
there. But--why do you ask? Did anything--was anything _supposed_ to
happen there?’

She looked searchingly into my eyes a moment before she answered:

‘Not that I know of,’ she said simply.



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT


I

He was an accomplished, versatile man whom some called brilliant.
Behind his talents lay a wealth of material that right selection could
have lifted into genuine distinction. He did too many things, however,
to excel in one, for a restless curiosity kept him ever on the move.
George Isley was an able man. His short career in diplomacy proved it;
yet, when he abandoned this for travel and exploration, no one thought
it a pity. He would do big things in any line. He was merely finding
himself.

Among the rolling stones of humanity a few acquire moss of considerable
value. They are not necessarily shiftless; they travel light; the
comfortable pockets in the game of life that attract the majority are
too small to retain them; they are in and out again in a moment. The
world says, ‘What a pity! They stick to nothing!’ but the fact is
that, like questing wild birds, they seek the nest they need. It is a
question of values. They judge swiftly, change their line of flight,
are gone, not even hearing the comment that they might have ‘retired
with a pension.’

And to this homeless, questing type George Isley certainly belonged. He
was by no means shiftless. He merely sought with insatiable yearning
that soft particular nest where he could settle down in permanently.
And to an accompaniment of sighs and regrets from his friends he found
it; he found it, however, not in the present, but by retiring from the
world ‘without a pension,’ unclothed with honours and distinctions.
He withdrew from the present and slipped softly back into a mighty
Past where he belonged. Why; how; obeying what strange instincts--this
remains unknown, deep secret of an inner life that found no
resting-place in modern things. Such instincts are not disclosable
in twentieth-century language, nor are the details of such a journey
properly describable at all. Except by the few--poets, prophets,
psychiatrists and the like--such experiences are dismissed with the
neat museum label--‘queer.’

So, equally, must the recorder of this experience share the honour of
that little label--he who by chance witnessed certain external and
visible signs of this inner and spiritual journey. There remains,
nevertheless, the amazing reality of the experience; and to the
recorder alone was some clue of interpretation possible, perhaps,
because in himself also lay the lure, though less imperative, of a
similar journey. At any rate the interpretation may be offered to the
handful who realise that trains and motors are not the only means of
travel left to our progressive race.

In his younger days I knew George Isley intimately. I know him now.
But the George Isley I knew of old, the arresting personality with
whom I travelled, climbed, explored, is no longer with us. He is not
here. He disappeared--gradually--into the past. There is no George
Isley. And that such an individuality could vanish, while still his
outer semblance walks the familiar streets, normal apparently, and not
yet fifty in the number of his years, seems a tale, though difficult,
well worth the telling. For I witnessed the slow submergence. It was
very gradual. I cannot pretend to understand the entire significance
of it. There was something questionable and sinister in the business
that offered hints of astonishing possibilities. Were there a corps
of spiritual police, the matter might be partially cleared up, but
since none of the churches have yet organised anything effective
of this sort, one can only fall back upon variants of the blessed
‘Mesopotamia,’ and whisper of derangement, and the like. Such labels,
of course, explain as little as most other _clichés_ in life. That
well-groomed, soldierly figure strolling down Piccadilly, watching
the Races, dining out--there is no derangement there. The face is not
melancholy, the eye not wild; the gestures are quiet and the speech
controlled. Yet the eye is empty, the face expressionless. Vacancy
reigns there, provocative and significant. If not unduly noticeable, it
is because the majority in life neither expect, nor offer, more.

At closer quarters you may think questioning things, or you may
think--nothing; probably the latter. You may wonder why something
continually expected does not make its appearance; and you may watch
for the evidence of ‘personality’ the general presentment of the man
has led you to expect. Disappointed, therefore, you may certainly be;
but I defy you to discover the smallest hint of mental disorder, and
of derangement or nervous affliction, absolutely nothing. Before long,
perhaps, you may feel you are talking with a dummy, some well-trained
automaton, a nonentity devoid of spontaneous life; and afterwards
you may find that memory fades rapidly away, as though no impression
of any kind has really been made at all. All this, yes; but nothing
pathological. A few may be stimulated by this startling discrepancy
between promise and performance, but most, accustomed to accept face
values, would say, ‘a pleasant fellow, but nothing in him much ...’ and
an hour later forget him altogether.

For the truth is as you, perhaps, divined. You have been sitting beside
no one, you have been talking to, looking at, listening to--no one.
The intercourse has conveyed nothing that can waken human response
in you, good, bad or indifferent. There is no George Isley. And the
discovery, if you make it, will not even cause you to creep with the
uncanniness of the experience, because the exterior is so wholly
pleasing. George Isley to-day is a picture with no meaning in it that
charms merely by the harmonious colouring of an inoffensive subject. He
moves undiscovered in the little world of society to which he was born,
secure in the groove first habit has made comfortably automatic for
him. No one guesses; none, that is, but the few who knew him intimately
in early life. And his wandering existence has scattered these; they
have forgotten what he was. So perfect, indeed, is he in the manners
of the commonplace fashionable man, that no woman in his ‘set’ is
aware that he differs from the type she is accustomed to. He turns a
compliment with the accepted language of her text-book, motors, golfs
and gambles in the regulation manner of his particular world. He is an
admirable, perfect automaton. He is nothing. He is a human shell.


II

The name of George Isley had been before the public for some years
when, after a considerable interval, we met again in a hotel in
Egypt, I for my health, he for I knew not what--at first. But I soon
discovered: archaeology and excavation had taken hold of him, though
he had gone so quietly about it that no one seemed to have heard. I
was not sure that he was glad to see me, for he had first withdrawn,
annoyed, it seemed, at being discovered, but later, as though after
consideration, had made tentative advances. He welcomed me with a
curious gesture of the entire body that seemed to shake himself free
from something that had made him forget my identity. There was pathos
somewhere in his attitude, almost as though he asked for sympathy.
‘I’ve been out here, off and on, for the last three years,’ he told
me, after describing something of what he had been doing. ‘I find it
the most repaying hobby in the world. It leads to a reconstruction--an
imaginative reconstruction, of course, I mean--of an enormous thing the
world had entirely lost. A very gorgeous, stimulating hobby, believe
me, and a very entic--’ he quickly changed the word--‘exacting one
indeed.’

I remember looking him up and down with astonishment. There was a
change in him, a lack; a note was missing in his enthusiasm, a colour
in the voice, a quality in his manner. The ingredients were not mixed
quite as of old. I did not bother him with questions, but I noted
thus at the very first a subtle alteration. Another facet of the man
presented itself. Something that had been independent and aggressive
was replaced by a certain emptiness that invited sympathy. Even in his
physical appearance the change was manifested--this odd suggestion of
lessening. I looked again more closely. Lessening was the word. He had
somehow dwindled. It was startling, vaguely unpleasant too.

The entire subject, as usual, was at his finger-tips; he knew all the
important men; and had spent money freely on his hobby. I laughed,
reminding him of his remark that Egypt had no attractions for him,
owing to the organised advertisement of its somewhat theatrical charms.
Admitting his error with a gesture, he brushed the objection easily
aside. His manner, and a certain glow that rose about his atmosphere as
he answered, increased my first astonishment. His voice was significant
and suggestive. ‘Come out with me,’ he said in a low tone, ‘and see
how little the tourists matter, how inappreciable the excavation is
compared to what remains to be done, how gigantic’--he emphasised
the word impressively--‘the scope for discovery remains.’ He made a
movement with his head and shoulders that conveyed a sense of the
prodigious, for he was of massive build, his cast of features stern,
and his eyes, set deep into the face, shone past me with a sombre gleam
in them I did not quite account for. It was the voice, however, that
brought the mystery in. It vibrated somewhere below the actual sound
of it. ‘Egypt,’ he continued--and so gravely that at first I made the
mistake of thinking he chose the curious words on purpose to produce
a theatrical effect--‘that has enriched her blood with the pageant of
so many civilisations, that has devoured Persians, Greeks and Romans,
Saracens and Mamelukes, a dozen conquests and invasions besides,--what
can mere tourists or explorers matter to her? The excavators scratch
their skin and dig up mummies; and as for tourists!’--he laughed
contemptuously--‘flies that settle for a moment on her covered face, to
vanish at the first signs of heat! Egypt is not even aware of them. The
real Egypt lies underground in darkness. Tourists must have light, to
be seen as well as to see. And the diggers----!’

He paused, smiling with something between pity and contempt I did not
quite appreciate, for, personally, I felt a great respect for the
tireless excavators. And then he added, with a touch of feeling in
his tone as though he had a grievance against them, and had not also
‘dug’ himself, ‘Men who uncover the dead, restore the temples, and
reconstruct a skeleton, thinking they have read its beating heart....’
He shrugged his great shoulders, and the rest of the sentence may
have been but the protest of a man in defence of his own hobby, but
that there seemed an undue earnestness and gravity about it that made
me wonder more than ever. He went on to speak of the strangeness of
the land as a mere ribbon of vegetation along the ancient river, the
rest all ruins, desert, sun-drenched wilderness of death, yet so
breakingly alive with wonder, power and a certain disquieting sense of
deathlessness. There seemed, for him, a revelation of unusual spiritual
kind in this land where the Past survived so potently. He spoke almost
as though it obliterated the Present.

Indeed, the hint of something solemn behind his words made it difficult
for me to keep up the conversation, and the pause that presently came I
filled in with some word of questioning surprise, which yet, I think,
was chiefly in concurrence. I was aware of some big belief in him,
some enveloping emotion that escaped my grasp. Yet, though I did not
understand, his great mood swept me.... His voice lowered, then, as
he went on to mention temples, tombs and deities, details of his own
discoveries and of their effect upon him, but to this I listened with
half an ear, because in the unusual language he had first made use of
I detected this other thing that stirred my curiosity more--stirred it
uncomfortably.

‘Then the spell,’ I asked, remembering the effect of Egypt upon myself
two years before, ‘has worked upon you as upon most others, only with
greater power?’

He looked hard at me a moment, signs of trouble showing themselves
faintly in his rugged, interesting face. I think he wanted to say more
than he could bring himself to confess. He hesitated.

‘I’m only glad,’ he replied after a pause, ‘it didn’t get hold of me
earlier in life. It would have absorbed me. I should have lost all
other interests. Now,’--that curious look of helplessness, of asking
sympathy, flitted like a shadow through his eyes--‘now that I’m on the
decline ... it matters less.’

On the decline! I cannot imagine by what blundering I missed this
chance he never offered again; somehow or other the singular phrase
passed unnoticed at the moment, and only came upon me with its full
significance later when it was too awkward to refer to it. He tested my
readiness to help, to sympathise, to share his inner life. I missed the
clue. For, at the moment, a more practical consideration interested me
in his language. Being of those who regretted that he had not excelled
by devoting his powers to a single object, I shrugged my shoulders.
He caught my meaning instantly. Oh, he was glad to talk. He felt the
possibility of my sympathy underneath, I think.

‘No, no, you take me wrongly there,’ he said with gravity. ‘What
I mean--and I ought to know if any one does!--is that while most
countries give, others take away. Egypt changes you. No one can live
here and remain exactly what he was before.’

This puzzled me. It startled, too, again. His manner was so earnest.
‘And Egypt, you mean, is one of the countries that take away?’ I asked.
The strange idea unsettled my thoughts a little.

‘First takes away from you,’ he replied, ‘but in the end takes _you_
away. Some lands enrich you,’ he went on, seeing that I listened,
‘while others impoverish. From India, Greece, Italy, all ancient
lands, you return with memories you can use. From Egypt you return
with--nothing. Its splendour stupefies; it’s useless. There is a change
in your inmost being, an emptiness, an unaccountable yearning, but you
find nothing that can fill the lack you’re conscious of. Nothing comes
to replace what has gone. You have been drained.’

I stared; but I nodded a general acquiescence. Of a sensitive, artistic
temperament this was certainly true, though by no means the superficial
and generally accepted verdict. The majority imagine that Egypt has
filled them to the brim. I took his deeper reading of the facts. I was
aware of an odd fascination in his idea.

‘Modern Egypt,’ he continued, ‘is, after all, but a trick of
civilisation,’ and there was a kind of breathlessness in his measured
tone, ‘but ancient Egypt lies waiting, hiding, underneath. Though dead,
she is amazingly alive. And you feel her touching you. She takes from
you. She enriches herself. You return from Egypt--less than you were
before.’

What came over my mind is hard to say. Some touch of visionary
imagination burned its flaming path across my mind. I thought of some
old Grecian hero speaking of his delicious battle with the gods--battle
in which he knew he must be worsted, but yet in which he delighted
because at death his spirit would join their glorious company beyond
this world. I was aware, that is to say, of resignation as well as
resistance in him. He already felt the effortless peace which follows
upon long, unequal battling, as of a man who has fought the rapids with
a strain beyond his strength, then sinks back and goes with the awful
mass of water smoothly and indifferently--over the quiet fall.

Yet, it was not so much his words which clothed picturesquely an
undeniable truth, as the force of conviction that drove behind them,
shrouding my mind with mystery and darkness. His eyes, so steadily
holding mine, were lit, I admit, yet they were calm and sane as those
of a doctor discussing the symptoms of that daily battle to which we
all finally succumb. This analogy occurred to me.

‘There _is_’--I stammered a little, faltering in my speech--‘an
incalculable element in the country ... somewhere, I confess. You put
it--rather strongly, though, don’t you?’

He answered quietly, moving his eyes from my face towards the window
that framed the serene and exquisite sky towards the Nile.

‘The real, invisible Egypt,’ he murmured, ‘I do find rather--strong.
I find it difficult to deal with. You see,’ and he turned towards me,
smiling like a tired child, ‘I think the truth is that Egypt deals
with me.’

‘It draws----’ I began, then started as he interrupted me at once.

‘Into the Past.’ He uttered the little word in a way beyond me to
describe. There came a flood of glory with it, a sense of peace and
beauty, of battles over and of rest attained. No saint could have
brimmed ‘Heaven’ with as much passionately enticing meaning. He went
willingly, prolonging the struggle merely to enjoy the greater relief
and joy of the consummation.

For again he spoke as though a struggle were in progress in his being.
I got the impression that he somewhere wanted help. I understood
the pathetic quality I had vaguely discerned already. His character
naturally was so strong and independent. It now seemed weaker, as
though certain fibres had been drawn out. And I understood then that
the spell of Egypt, so lightly chattered about in its sensational
aspect, so rarely known in its naked power, the nameless, creeping
influence that begins deep below the surface and thence sends delicate
tendrils outwards, was in his blood. I, in my untaught ignorance, had
felt it too; it is undeniable; one is aware of unaccountable, queer
things in Egypt; even the utterly prosaic feel them. Dead Egypt is
marvellously alive....

I glanced past him out of the big windows where the desert glimmered
in its featureless expanse of yellow leagues, two monstrous pyramids
signalling from across the Nile, and for a moment--inexplicably, it
seemed to me afterwards--I lost sight of my companion’s stalwart
figure that was yet so close before my eyes. He had risen from his
chair; he was standing near me; yet my sight missed him altogether.
Something, dim as a shadow, faint as a breath of air, rose up and bore
my thoughts away, obliterating vision too. I forgot for a moment who
I was; identity slipped from me. Thought, sight, feeling, all sank
away into the emptiness of those sun-baked sands, sank, as it were,
into nothingness, caught away from the Present, enticed, absorbed....
And when I looked back again to answer him, or rather to ask what
his curious words could mean--he was no longer there. More than
surprised--for there was something of shock in the disappearance--I
turned to search. I had not seen him go. He had stolen from my side so
softly, slipped away silently, mysteriously, and--so easily. I remember
that a faint shiver ran down my back as I realised that I was alone.

Was it that, momentarily, I had caught a reflex of his state of mind?
Had my sympathy induced in myself an echo of what he experienced in
full--a going backwards, a loss of present vigour, the enticing, subtle
draw of those immeasurable sands that hide the living dead from the
interruptions of the careless living...?

I sat down to reflect and, incidentally, to watch the magnificence of
the sunset; and the thing he had said returned upon me with insistent
power, ringing like distant bells within my mind. His talk of the
tombs and temples passed, but this remained. It stimulated oddly. His
talk, I remembered, had always excited curiosity in this way. Some
countries give, while others take away. What did he mean precisely?
What had Egypt taken away from him? And I realised more definitely
that something in him was missing, something he possessed in former
years that was now no longer there. He had grown shadowy already in
my thoughts. The mind searched keenly, but in vain ... and after some
time I left my chair and moved over to another window, aware that a
vague discomfort stirred within me that involved uneasiness--for him.
I felt pity. But behind the pity was an eager, absorbing curiosity as
well. He seemed receding curiously into misty distance, and the strong
desire leaped in me to overtake, to travel with him into some vanished
splendour that he had rediscovered. The feeling was a most remarkable
one, for it included yearning--the yearning for some nameless,
forgotten loveliness the world has lost. It was in me too.

At the approach of twilight the mind loves to harbour shadows. The
room, empty of guests, was dark behind me; darkness, too, was creeping
across the desert like a veil, deepening the serenity of its grim,
unfeatured face. It turned pale with distance; the whole great sheet
of it went rustling into night. The first stars peeped and twinkled,
hanging loosely in the air as though they could be plucked like golden
berries; and the sun was already below the Libyan horizon, where gold
and crimson faded through violet into blue. I stood watching this
mysterious Egyptian dusk, while an eerie glamour seemed to bring the
incredible within uneasy reach of the half-faltering senses.... And
suddenly the truth dropped into me. Over George Isley, over his mind
and energies, over his thoughts and over his emotions too, a kind of
darkness was also slowly creeping. Something in him had dimmed, yet not
with age; it had gone out. Some inner night, stealing over the Present,
obliterated it. And yet he looked towards the dawn. Like the Egyptian
monuments his eyes turned--eastwards.

And so it came to me that what he had lost was personal ambition. He
was glad, he said, that these Egyptian studies had not caught him
earlier in life; the language he made use of was peculiar: ‘Now I am on
the decline it matters less.’ A slight foundation, no doubt, to build
conviction on, and yet I felt sure that I was partly right. He was
fascinated, but fascinated against his will. The Present in him battled
against the Past. Still fighting, he had yet lost hope. The desire
_not_ to change was now no longer in him....

I turned away from the window so as not to see that grey, encroaching
desert, for the discovery produced a certain agitation in me. Egypt
seemed suddenly a living entity of enormous power. She stirred about
me. She was stirring now. This flat and motionless land pretending
it had no movement, was actually busy with a million gestures that
came creeping round the heart. She was reducing him. Already from
the complex texture of his personality she had drawn one vital
thread that in its relation to the general woof was of central
importance--ambition. The mind chose the simile; but in my heart where
thought fluttered in singular distress, another suggested itself as
truer. ‘Thread’ changed to ‘artery.’ I turned quickly and went up to my
room where I could be alone. The idea was somewhere ghastly.


III

Yet, while dressing for dinner, the idea exfoliated as only a living
thing exfoliates. I saw in George Isley this great question mark
that had not been there formerly. All have, of course, some question
mark, and carry it about, though with most it rarely becomes visible
until the end. With him it was plainly visible in his atmosphere at
the hey-day of his life. He wore it like a fine curved scimitar above
his head. So full of life, he yet seemed willingly dead. For, though
imagination sought every possible explanation, I got no further than
the somewhat negative result--that a certain energy, wholly unconnected
with mere physical health, had been withdrawn. It was more than
ambition, I think, for it included intention, desire, self-confidence
as well. It was life itself. He was no longer in the Present. He was no
longer _here_.

‘Some countries give while others take away.... I find Egypt
difficult to deal with. I find it ...’ and then that simple,
uncomplex adjective--‘strong.’ In memory and experience the entire
globe was mapped for him; it remained for Egypt, then, to teach him
this marvellous new thing. But not Egypt of to-day; it was vanished
Egypt that had robbed him of his strength. He had described it
as underground, hidden, waiting.... I was again aware of a faint
shuddering--as though something crept secretly from my inmost heart to
share the experience with him, and as though my sympathy involved a
willing consent that this should be so. With sympathy there must always
be a shedding of the personal self; each time I felt this sympathy, it
seemed that something left me. I thought in circles, arriving at no
definite point where I could rest and say ‘that’s it; I understand.’
The giving attitude of a country was easily comprehensible; but this
idea of robbery, of deprivation baffled me. An obscure alarm took hold
of me--for myself as well as for him.

At dinner, where he invited me to his table, the impression passed off
a good deal, however, and I convicted myself of a woman’s exaggeration;
yet, as we talked of many a day’s adventure together in other lands, it
struck me that we oddly left the present out. We ignored to-day. His
thoughts, as it were, went most easily backwards. And each adventure
led, as by its own natural weight and impetus, towards one thing--the
enormous glory of a vanished age. Ancient Egypt was ‘home’ in this
mysterious game life played with death. The specific gravity of his
being, to say nothing for the moment of my own, had shifted lower,
farther off, backwards and below, or as he put it--underground. The
sinking sensation I experienced was of a literal kind....

And so I found myself wondering what had led him to this particular
hotel. I had come out with an affected organ the specialist promised
me would heal in the marvellous air of Helouan, but it was queer that
my companion also should have chosen it. Its _clientèle_ was mostly
invalid, German and Russian invalid at that. The Management set its
face against the lighter, gayer side of life that hotels in Egypt
usually encourage eagerly. It was a true rest-house, a place of repose
and leisure, a place where one could remain undiscovered and unknown.
No English patronised it. One might easily--the idea came unbidden,
suddenly--hide in it.

‘Then you’re doing nothing just now,’ I asked, ‘in the way of digging?
No big expeditions or excavating at the moment?’

‘I’m recuperating,’ he answered carelessly. ‘I’ve have had two years up
at the Valley of the Kings, and overdid it rather. But I’m by way of
working at a little thing near here across the Nile.’ And he pointed in
the direction of Sakkhâra, where the huge Memphian cemetery stretches
underground from the Dachûr Pyramids to the Gizeh monsters, four miles
lower down. ‘There’s a matter of a hundred years in that alone!’

‘You must have accumulated a mass of interesting material. I suppose
later you’ll make use of it--a book or----’

His expression stopped me--that strange look in the eyes that had
stirred my first uneasiness. It was as if something struggled up a
moment, looked bleakly out upon the present, then sank away again.

‘More,’ he answered listlessly, ‘than I can ever use. It’s much more
likely to use me.’ He said it hurriedly, looking over his shoulder as
though some one might be listening, then smiled significantly, bringing
his eyes back upon my own again. I told him that he was far too modest.
‘If all the excavators thought like that,’ I added, ‘we ignorant ones
should suffer.’ I laughed, but the laughter was only on my lips.

He shook his head indifferently. ‘They do their best; they do wonders,’
he replied, making an indescribable gesture as though he withdrew
willingly from the topic altogether, yet could not quite achieve it. ‘I
know their books; I know the writers too--of various nationalities.’
He paused a moment, and his eyes turned grave. ‘I cannot understand
quite--how they do it,’ he added half below his breath.

‘The labour, you mean? The strain of the climate, and so forth?’ I
said this purposely, for I knew quite well he meant another thing. The
way he looked into my face, however, disturbed me so that I believe I
visibly started. Something very deep in me sat up alertly listening,
almost on guard.

‘I mean,’ he replied, ‘that they must have uncommon powers of
resistance.’

There! He had used the very word that had been hiding in me! ‘It
puzzles me,’ he went on, ‘for, with one exception, they are not unusual
men. In the way of gifts--oh yes. It’s in the way of resistance and
protection that I mean. Self-protection,’ he added with emphasis.

It was the way he said ‘resistance’ and ‘self-protection’ that sent
a touch of cold through me. I learned later that he himself had made
surprising discoveries in these two years, penetrating closer to the
secret life of ancient sacerdotal Egypt than any of his predecessors or
co-labourers--then, inexplicably, had ceased. But this was told to me
afterwards and by others. At the moment I was only conscious of this
odd embarrassment. I did not understand, yet felt that he touched upon
something intimately personal to himself. He paused, expecting me to
speak.

‘Egypt, perhaps, merely pours through them,’ I ventured. ‘They give
out mechanically, hardly realising how much they give. They report
facts devoid of interpretation. Whereas with you it’s the actual
spirit of the past that is discovered and laid bare. You live it. You
feel old Egypt and disclose her. That divining faculty was always
yours--uncannily, I used to think.’

The flash of his sombre eyes betrayed that my aim was singularly good.
It seemed a third had silently joined our little table in the corner.
Something intruded, evoked by the power of what our conversation
skirted but ever left unmentioned. It was huge and shadowy; it was
also watchful. Egypt came gliding, floating up beside us. I saw her
reflected in his face and gaze. The desert slipped in through walls and
ceiling, rising from beneath our feet, settling about us, listening,
peering, waiting. The strange obsession was sudden and complete. The
gigantic scale of her swam in among the very pillars, arches, and
windows of that modern dining-room. I felt against my skin the touch
of chilly air that sunlight never reaches, stealing from beneath the
granite monoliths. Behind it came the stifling breath of the heated
tombs, of the Serapeum, of the chambers and corridors in the pyramids.
There was a rustling as of myriad footsteps far away, and as of sand
the busy winds go shifting through the ages. And in startling contrast
to this impression of prodigious size, Isley himself wore suddenly an
air of strangely dwindling. For a second he shrank visibly before my
very eyes. He was receding. His outline seemed to retreat and lessen,
as though he stood to the waist in what appeared like flowing mist,
only his head and shoulders still above the ground. Far, far away I saw
him.

It was a vivid inner picture that I somehow transferred objectively. It
was a dramatised sensation, of course. His former phrase ‘now that I am
declining’ flashed back upon me with sharp discomfort. Again, perhaps,
his state of mind was reflected into me by some emotional telepathy. I
waited, conscious of an almost sensible oppression that would not lift.
It seemed an age before he spoke, and when he did there was the tremor
of feeling in his voice he sought nevertheless to repress. I kept my
eyes on the table for some reason. But I listened intently.

‘It’s you that have the divining faculty, not I,’ he said, an
odd note of distance even in his tone, yet a resonance as though
it rose up between reverberating walls. ‘There _is_, I believe,
something here that resents too close inquiry, or rather that resists
discovery--almost--takes offence.’

I looked up quickly, then looked down again. It was such a startling
thing to hear on the lips of a modern Englishman. He spoke lightly,
but the expression of his face belied the careless tone. There was no
mockery in those earnest eyes, and in the hushed voice was a little
creeping sound that gave me once again the touch of goose-flesh. The
only word I can find is ‘subterranean’: all that was mental in him had
sunk, so that he seemed speaking underground, head and shoulders alone
visible. The effect was almost ghastly.

‘Such extraordinary obstacles are put in one’s way,’ he went on,
‘when the prying gets too close to the--reality; physical, external
obstacles, I mean. Either that, or--the mind loses its assimilative
faculties. One or other happens--’ his voice died down into a
whisper--‘and discovery ceases of its own accord.’

The same minute, then, he suddenly raised himself like a man emerging
from a tomb; he leaned across the table; he made an effort of some
violent internal kind, on the verge, I fully believe, of a pregnant
personal statement. There was confession in his attitude; I think he
was about to speak of his work at Thebes and the reason for its abrupt
cessation. For I had the feeling of one about to hear a weighty secret,
the responsibility unwelcome. This uncomfortable emotion rose in me, as
I raised my eyes to his somewhat unwillingly, only to find that I was
wholly at fault. It was not me he was looking at. He was staring past
me in the direction of the wide, unshuttered windows. The expression
of yearning was visible in his eyes again. Something had stopped his
utterance.

And instinctively I turned and saw what he saw. So far as external
details were concerned, at least, I saw it.

Across the glare and glitter of the uncompromising modern dining-room,
past crowded tables, and over the heads of Germans feeding
unpicturesquely, I saw--the moon. Her reddish disc, hanging unreal
and enormous, lifted the spread sheet of desert till it floated off
the surface of the world. The great window faced the east, where the
Arabian desert breaks into a ruin of gorges, cliffs, and flat-topped
ridges; it looked unfriendly, ominous, with danger in it; unlike the
serener sand-dunes of the Libyan desert, there lay both menace and
seduction behind its flood of shadows. And the moonlight emphasised
this aspect: its ghostly desolation, its cruelty, its bleak hostility,
turning it murderous. For no river sweetens this Arabian desert;
instead of sandy softness, it has fangs of limestone rock, sharp and
aggressive. Across it, just visible in the moonlight as a thread of
paler grey, the old camel-trail to Suez beckoned faintly. And it was
this that he was looking at so intently.

It was, I know, a theatrical stage-like glimpse, yet in it a
seductiveness most potent. ‘Come out,’ it seemed to whisper, ‘and
taste my awful beauty. Come out and lose yourself, and die. Come out
and follow my moonlit trail into the Past ... where there is peace and
immobility and silence. My kingdom is unchanging underground. Come
down, come softly, come through sandy corridors below this tinsel of
your modern world. Come back, come down into my golden past....’

A poignant desire stole through my heart on moonlit feet; I was
personally conscious of a keen yearning to slip away in unresisting
obedience. For it was uncommonly impressive, this sudden, haunting
glimpse of the world outside. The hairy foreigners, uncouthly garbed,
all busily eating in full electric light, provided a sensational
contrast of emphatically distressing kind. A touch of what is called
unearthly hovered about that distance through the window. There was
weirdness in it. Egypt looked in upon us. Egypt watched and listened,
beckoning through the moonlit windows of the heart to come and find
her. Mind and imagination might flounder as they pleased, but something
of this kind happened undeniably, whether expression in language fails
to hold the truth or not. And George Isley, aware of being seen, looked
straight into the awful visage--fascinated.

Over the bronze of his skin there stole a shade of grey. My own feeling
of enticement grew--the desire to go out into the moonlight, to leave
my kind and wander blindly through the desert, to see the gorges in
their shining silver, and taste the keenness of the cool, sharp air.
Further than this with me it did not go, but that my companion felt the
bigger, deeper draw behind this surface glamour, I have no reasonable
doubt. For a moment, indeed, I thought he meant to leave the table; he
had half risen in his chair; it seemed he struggled and resisted--and
then his big frame subsided again; he sat back; he looked, in the
attitude his body took, less impressive, smaller, actually shrunken
into the proportions of some minuter scale. It was as though something
in that second had been drawn out of him, decreasing even his physical
appearance. The voice, when he spoke presently with a touch of
resignation, held a lifeless quality as though deprived of virile
timbre.

‘It’s always there,’ he whispered, half collapsing back into his chair,
‘it’s always watching, waiting, listening. Almost like a monster of the
fables, isn’t it? It makes no movement of its own, you see. It’s far
too strong for that. It just hangs there, half in the air and half upon
the earth--a gigantic web. Its prey flies into it. That’s Egypt all
over. D’you feel like that too, or does it seem to you just imaginative
rubbish? To me it seems that she just waits her time; she gets you
quicker that way; in the end you’re bound to go.’

‘There’s power certainly,’ I said after a moment’s pause to collect my
wits, my distress increased by the morbidness of his simile. ‘For some
minds there may be a kind of terror too--for weak temperaments that are
all imagination.’ My thoughts were scattered, and I could not readily
find good words. ‘There is startling grandeur in a sight like that,
for instance,’ and I pointed to the window. ‘You feel drawn--as if you
simply _had_ to go.’ My mind still buzzed with his curious words, ‘In
the end you’re bound to go.’ It betrayed his heart and soul. ‘I suppose
a fly does feel drawn,’ I added, ‘or a moth to the destroying flame. Or
is it just unconscious on their part?’

He jerked his big head significantly. ‘Well, well,’ he answered,
‘but the fly isn’t necessarily weak, or the moth misguided.
Over-adventurous, perhaps, yet both obedient to the laws of their
respective beings. They get warnings too--only, when the moth wants
to know too much, the fire stops it. Both flame and spider enrich
themselves by understanding the natures of their prey; and fly and moth
return again and again until this is accomplished.’

Yet George Isley was as sane as the head waiter who, noticing our
interest in the window, came up just then and enquired whether we felt
a draught and would prefer it closed. Isley, I realised, was struggling
to express a passionate state of soul for which, owing to its rarity,
no adequate expression lies at hand. There is a language of the mind,
but there is none as yet of the spirit. I felt ill at ease. All this
was so foreign to the wholesome, strenuous personality of the man as I
remembered it.

‘But, my dear fellow,’ I stammered, ‘aren’t you giving poor old Egypt
a bad name she hardly deserves? I feel only the amazing strength and
beauty of it; awe, if you like, but none of this resentment you so
mysteriously hint at.’

‘You understand, for all that,’ he answered quietly; and again he
seemed on the verge of some significant confession that might ease his
soul. My uncomfortable emotion grew. Certainly he was at high pressure
somewhere. ‘And, if necessary, you could help. Your sympathy, I mean,
_is_ a help already.’ He said it half to himself and in a suddenly
lowered tone again.

‘A help!’ I gasped. ‘My sympathy! Of course, if----’

‘A witness,’ he murmured, not looking at me, ‘some one who understands,
yet does not think me mad.’

There was such appeal in his voice that I felt ready and eager to
do anything to help him. Our eyes met, and my own tried to express
this willingness in me; but what I said I hardly know, for a cloud
of confusion was on my mind, and my speech went fumbling like a
schoolboy’s. I was more than disconcerted. Through this bewilderment,
then, I just caught the tail-end of another sentence in which the
words ‘relief it is to have ... some one to hold to ... when the
disappearance comes ...’ sounded like voices heard in dream. But I
missed the complete phrase and shrank from asking him to repeat it.

Some sympathetic answer struggled to my lips, though what it was I know
not. The thing I murmured, however, seemed apparently well chosen. He
leaned across and laid his big hand a moment on my own with eloquent
pressure. It was cold as ice. A look of gratitude passed over his
sunburned features. He sighed. And we left the table then and passed
into the inner smoking-room for coffee--a room whose windows gave upon
columned terraces that allowed no view of the encircling desert. He
led the conversation into channels less personal and, thank heaven,
less intensely emotional and mysterious. What we talked about I now
forget; it was interesting but in another key altogether. His old charm
and power worked; the respect I had always felt for his character
and gifts returned in force, but it was the pity I now experienced
that remained chiefly in my mind. For this change in him became more
and more noticeable. He was less impressive, less convincing, less
suggestive. His talk, though so knowledgeable, lacked that spiritual
quality that drives home. He was uncannily less _real_. And I went up
to bed, uneasy and disturbed. ‘It is not age,’ I said to myself, ‘and
assuredly it is not death he fears, although he spoke of disappearance.
It is mental--in the deepest sense. It is what religious people would
call soul. Something is happening to his soul.’


IV

And this word ‘soul’ remained with me to the end. Egypt was taking his
soul away into the Past. What was of value in him went willingly; the
rest, some lesser aspect of his mind and character, resisted, holding
to the present. A struggle, therefore, was involved. But this was being
gradually obliterated too.

How I arrived gaily at this monstrous conclusion seems to me now a
mystery; but the truth is that from a conversation one brings away a
general idea that is larger than the words actually heard and spoken.
I have reported, naturally, but a fragment of what passed between
us in language, and of what was suggested--by gesture, expression,
silence--merely perhaps a hint. I can only assert that this troubling
verdict remained a conviction in my mind. It came upstairs with me;
it watched and listened by my side. That mysterious Third evoked in
our conversation was bigger than either of us separately; it might
be called the spirit of ancient Egypt, or it might be called with
equal generalisation, the Past. This Third, at any rate, stood by me,
whispering this astounding thing. I went out on to my little balcony
to smoke a pipe and enjoy the comforting presence of the stars before
turning in. It came out with me. It was everywhere. I heard the barking
of dogs, the monotonous beating of a distant drum towards Bedraschien,
the sing-song voices of the natives in their booths and down the
dim-lit streets. I was aware of this invisible Third behind all these
familiar sounds. The enormous night-sky, drowned in stars, conveyed
it too. It was in the breath of chilly wind that whispered round the
walls, and it brooded everywhere above the sleepless desert. I was
alone as little as though George Isley stood beside me in person--and
at that moment a moving figure caught my eye below. My window was on
the sixth story, but there was no mistaking the tall and soldierly
bearing of the man who was strolling past the hotel. George Isley was
going slowly out into the desert.

There was actually nothing unusual in the sight. It was only ten
o’clock; but for doctor’s orders I might have been doing the same
myself. Yet, as I leaned over the dizzy ledge and watched him, a chill
struck through me, and a feeling nothing could justify, nor pages of
writing describe, rose up and mastered me. His words at dinner came
back with curious force. Egypt lay round him, motionless, a vast grey
web. His feet were caught in it. It quivered. The silvery meshes in
the moonlight announced the fact from Memphis up to Thebes, across the
Nile, from underground Sakkhâra to the Valley of the Kings. A tremor
ran over the entire desert, and again, as in the dining-room, the
leagues of sand went rustling. It seemed to me that I caught him in the
act of disappearing.

I realised in that moment the haunting power of this mysterious still
atmosphere which is Egypt, and some magical emanation of its mighty
past broke over me suddenly like a wave. Perhaps in that moment I felt
what he himself felt; the withdrawing suction of the huge spent wave
swept something out of me into the past with it. An indescribable
yearning drew something living from my heart, something that longed
with a kind of burning, searching sweetness for a glory of spiritual
passion that was gone. The pain and happiness of it were more poignant
than may be told, and my present personality--some vital portion of it,
at any rate--wilted before the power of its enticement.

I stood there, motionless as stone, and stared. Erect and steady,
knowing resistance vain, eager to go yet striving to remain, and half
with an air of floating off the ground, he went towards the pale grey
thread which was the track to Suez and the far Red Sea. There came
upon me this strange, deep sense of pity, pathos, sympathy that was
beyond all explanation, and mysterious as a pain in dreams. For a
sense of his awful loneliness stole into me, a loneliness nothing on
this earth could possibly relieve. Robbed of the Present, he sought
this chimera of his soul, an unreal Past. Not even the calm majesty
of this exquisite Egyptian night could soothe the dream away; the
peace and silence were marvellous, the sweet perfume of the desert air
intoxicating; but all these intensified it only.

And though at a loss to explain my own emotion, its poignancy was so
real that a sigh escaped me and I felt that tears lay not too far away.
I watched him, yet felt I had no right to watch. Softly I drew back
from the window with the sensation of eavesdropping upon his privacy;
but before I did so I had seen his outline melt away into the dim world
of sand that began at the very walls of the hotel. He wore a cloak of
green that reached down almost to his heels, and its colour blended
with the silvery surface of the desert’s dark sea-tint. This sheen
first draped and then concealed him. It covered him with a fold of its
mysterious garment that, without seam or binding, veiled Egypt for a
thousand leagues. The desert took him. Egypt caught him in her web. He
was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sleep for me just then seemed out of the question. The change in _him_
made me feel less sure of myself. To see him thus invertebrate shocked
me. I was aware that I had nerves.

For a long time I sat smoking by the window, my body weary, but my
imagination irritatingly stimulated. The big sign-lights of the hotel
went out; window after window closed below me; the electric standards
in the streets were already extinguished; and Helouan looked like a
child’s white blocks scattered in ruin upon the nursery carpet. It
seemed so wee upon the vast expanse. It lay in a twinkling pattern,
like a cluster of glow-worms dropped into a negligible crease of the
tremendous desert. It peeped up at the stars, a little frightened.

The night was very still. There hung an enormous brooding beauty
everywhere, a hint of the sinister in it that only the brilliance of
the blazing stars relieved. Nothing really slept. Grouped here and
there at intervals about this dun-coloured world stood the everlasting
watchers in solemn, tireless guardianship--the soaring Pyramids, the
Sphinx, the grim Colossi, the empty temples, the long-deserted tombs.
The mind was aware of them, stationed like sentries through the night.
‘This is Egypt; you are actually in Egypt,’ whispered the silence.
‘Eight thousand years of history lie fluttering outside your window.
_She_ lies there underground, sleepless, mighty, deathless, not to be
trifled with. Beware! Or she will change you too!’

My imagination offered this hint: Egypt _is_ difficult to realise. It
remains outside the mind, a fabulous, half-legendary idea. So many
enormous elements together refuse to be assimilated; the heart pauses,
asking for time and breath; the senses reel a little; and in the end
a mental torpor akin to stupefaction creeps upon the brain. With a
sigh the struggle is abandoned and the mind surrenders to Egypt on her
own terms. Alone the diggers and archaeologists, confined to definite
facts, offer successful resistance. My friend’s use of the words
‘resistance’ and ‘protection’ became clearer to me. While logic halted,
intuition fluttered round this clue to the solution of the influences
at work. George Isley realised Egypt more than most--but as she had
been.

And I recalled its first effect upon myself, and how my mind had been
unable to cope with the memory of it afterwards. There had come to
its summons a colossal medley, a gigantic, coloured blur that merely
bewildered. Only lesser points lodged comfortably in the heart. I saw a
chaotic vision: sands drenched in dazzling light, vast granite aisles,
stupendous figures that stared unblinking at the sun, a shining river
and a shadowy desert, both endless as the sky, mountainous pyramids
and gigantic monoliths, armies of heads, of paws, of faces--all set to
a scale of size that was prodigious. The items stunned; the composite
effect was too unwieldy to be grasped. Something that blazed with
splendour rolled before the eyes, too close to be seen distinctly--at
the same time very distant--unrealised.

Then, with the passing of the weeks, it slowly stirred to life. It had
attacked unseen; its grip was quite tremendous; yet it could be neither
told, nor painted, nor described. It flamed up unexpectedly--in the
foggy London streets, at the Club, in the theatre. A sound recalled the
street-cries of the Arabs, a breath of scented air brought back the
heated sand beyond the palm groves. Up rose the huge Egyptian glamour,
transforming common things; it had lain buried all this time in deep
recesses of the heart that are inaccessible to ordinary daily life. And
there hid in it something of uneasiness that was inexplicable; awe, a
hint of cold eternity, a touch of something unchanging and terrific,
something sublime made lovely yet unearthly with shadowy time and
distance. The melancholy of the Nile and the grandeur of a hundred
battered temples dropped some unutterable beauty upon the heart. Up
swept the desert air, the luminous pale shadows, the naked desolation
that yet brims with sharp vitality. An Arab on his donkey tripped in
colour across the mind, melting off into tiny perspective, strangely
vivid. A string of camels stood in silhouette against the crimson
sky. Great winds, great blazing spaces, great solemn nights, great
days of golden splendour rose from the pavement or the theatre-stall,
and London, dim-lit England, the whole of modern life, indeed, seemed
suddenly reduced to a paltry insignificance that produced an aching
longing for the pageantry of those millions of vanished souls. Egypt
rolled through the heart for a moment--and was gone.

I remembered that some such fantastic experience had been mine. Put it
as one may, the fact remains that for certain temperaments Egypt can
rob the Present of some thread of interest that was formerly there.
The memory became for me an integral part of personality; something in
me yearned for its curious and awful beauty. He who has drunk of the
Nile shall return to drink of it again.... And if for myself this was
possible, what might not happen to a character of George Isley’s type?
Some glimmer of comprehension came to me. The ancient, buried, hidden
Egypt had cast her net about his soul. Grown shadowy in the Present,
his life was being transferred into some golden, reconstructed Past,
where it was real. Some countries give, while others take away. And
George Isley was worth robbing....

Disturbed by these singular reflections, I moved away from the open
window, closing it. But the closing did not exclude the presence of
the Third. The biting night air followed me in. I drew the mosquito
curtains round the bed, but the light I left still burning; and, lying
there, I jotted down upon a scrap of paper this curious impression
as best I could, only to find that it escaped easily between the
words. Such visionary and spiritual perceptions are too elusive to
be trapped in language. Reading it over after an interval of years,
it is difficult to recall with what intense meaning, what uncanny
emotion, I wrote those faded lines in pencil. Their rhetoric seems
cheap, their content much exaggerated; yet at the time truth burned
in every syllable. Egypt, which since time began has suffered robbery
with violence at the hands of all the world, now takes her vengeance,
choosing her individual prey. Her time has come. Behind a modern
mask she lies in wait, intensely active, sure of her hidden power.
Prostitute of dead empires, she lies now at peace beneath the same
old stars, her loveliness unimpaired, bejewelled with the beaten gold
of ages, her breasts uncovered, and her grand limbs flashing in the
sun. Her shoulders of alabaster are lifted above the sand-drifts; she
surveys the little figures of to-day. She takes her choice....

That night I did not dream, but neither did the whole of me lie down in
sleep. During the long dark hours I was aware of that picture endlessly
repeating itself, the picture of George Isley stealing out into the
moonlight desert. The night so swiftly dropped her hood about him;
so mysteriously he merged into the unchanging thing which cloaks the
past. It lifted. Some huge shadowy hand, gloved softly yet of granite,
stretched over the leagues to take him. He disappeared.

They say the desert is motionless and has no gestures! That night I
saw it moving, hurrying. It went tearing after him. You understand my
meaning? No! Well, when excited it produces this strange impression,
and the terrible moment is--when you surrender helplessly--you desire
it shall swallow you. You let it come. George Isley spoke of a web. It
is, at any rate, some central power that conceals itself behind the
surface glamour folk call the spell of Egypt. Its home is not apparent.
It dwells with ancient Egypt--underground. Behind the stillness of hot
windless days, behind the peace of calm, gigantic nights, it lurks
unrealised, monstrous and irresistible. My mind grasped it as little as
the fact that our solar system with all its retinue of satellites and
planets rushes annually many million miles towards a star in Hercules,
while yet that constellation appears no closer than it did six thousand
years ago. But the clue dropped into me. George Isley, with his entire
retinue of thought and life and feeling, was being similarly drawn. And
I, a minor satellite, had become aware of the horrifying pull. It was
magnificent.... And I fell asleep on the crest of this enormous wave.


V

The next few days passed idly; weeks passed too, I think; hidden
away in this cosmopolitan hotel we lived apart, unnoticed. There
was the feeling that time went what pace it pleased, now fast, now
slow, now standing still. The similarity of the brilliant days, set
between wondrous dawns and sunsets, left the impression that it was
really one long, endless day without divisions. The mind’s machinery
of measurement suffered dislocation. Time went backwards; dates were
forgotten; the month, the time of year, the century itself went down
into undifferentiated life.

The Present certainly slipped away curiously. Newspapers and politics
became unimportant, news uninteresting, English life so remote as
to be unreal, European affairs shadowy. The stream of life ran in
another direction altogether--backwards. The names and faces of
friends appeared through mist. People arrived as though dropped from
the skies. They suddenly were there; one saw them in the dining-room,
as though they had just slipped in from an outer world that once was
real--somewhere. Of course, a steamer sailed four times a week, and
the journey took five days, but these things were merely known, not
realised. The fact that here it was summer, whereas over there winter
reigned, helped to make the distance not quite thinkable. We looked at
the desert and made plans. ‘We will do this, we will do that; we must
go there, we’ll visit such and such a place ...’ yet nothing happened.
It always was to-morrow or yesterday, and we shared the discovery of
Alice that there was no real ‘to-day.’ For our thinking made everything
happen. That was enough. It _had_ happened. It was the reality of
dreams. Egypt was a dream-world that made the heart live backwards.

It came about, thus, that for the next few weeks I watched a fading
life, myself alert and sympathetic, yet unable somehow to intrude and
help. Noticing various little things by which George Isley betrayed
the progress of the unequal struggle, I found my assistance negatived
by the fact that I was in similar case myself. What he experienced in
large and finally, I, too, experienced in little and for the moment.
For I seemed also caught upon the fringe of the invisible web. My
feelings were entangled sufficiently for me to understand.... And the
decline of his being was terrible to watch. His character went with it;
I saw his talents fade, his personality dwindle, his very soul dissolve
before the insidious and invading influence. He hardly struggled. I
thought of those abominable insects that paralyse the motor systems
of their victims and then devour them at their leisure--alive. The
incredible adventure was literally true, but, being spiritual, may not
be told in the terms of a detective story. This version must remain
an individual rendering--an aspect of _one_ possible version. All who
know the real Egypt, that Egypt which has nothing to do with dams and
Nationalists and the external welfare of the falaheen, will understand.
The pilfering of her ancient dead she suffers still; she, in revenge,
preys at her leisure on the living.

The occasions when he betrayed himself were ordinary enough; it was
the glimpse they afforded of what was in progress beneath his calm
exterior that made them interesting. Once, I remember, we had lunched
together at Mena, and, after visiting certain excavations beyond
the Gizeh pyramids, we made our way homewards by way of the Sphinx.
It was dusk, and the main army of tourists had retired, though some
few dozen sight-seers still moved about to the cries of donkey-boys
and baksheesh. The vast head and shoulders suddenly emerged, riding
undrowned above the sea of sand. Dark and monstrous in the fading
light, it loomed, as ever, a being of non-human lineage; no amount of
familiarity could depreciate its grandeur, its impressive setting,
the lost expression of the countenance that is too huge to focus as a
face. A thousand visits leave its power undiminished. It has intruded
upon our earth from some uncommon world. George Isley and myself both
turned aside to acknowledge the presence of this alien, uncomfortable
thing. We did not linger, but we slackened pace. It was the obvious,
inevitable thing to do. He pointed then, with a suddenness that made me
start. He indicated the tourists standing round.

‘See,’ he said, in a lowered tone, ‘day and night you’ll always find a
crowd obedient to that thing. But notice their behaviour. People don’t
do that before any other ruin in the world I’ve ever seen.’ He referred
to the attempts of individuals to creep away alone and stare into the
stupendous visage by themselves. At different points in the deep sandy
basin were men and women, standing solitary, lying, crouching, apart
from the main company where the dragomen mouthed their exposition with
impertinent glibness.

‘The desire to be alone,’ he went on, half to himself, as we paused a
moment, ‘the sense of worship which insists on privacy.’

It _was_ significant, for no amount of advertising could dwarf the
impressiveness of the inscrutable visage into whose eyes of stone
the silent humans gazed. Not even the red-coat, standing inside one
gigantic ear, could introduce the commonplace. But my companion’s words
let another thing into the spectacle, a less exalted thing, dropping a
hint of horror about that sandy cup: It became easy, for a moment, to
imagine these tourists worshipping--against their will; to picture the
monster noticing that they were there; that it might slowly turn its
awful head; that the sand might visibly trickle from a stirring paw;
that, in a word, they might be taken--changed.

‘Come,’ he whispered in a dropping tone, interrupting my fancies as
though he half divined them, ‘it is getting late, and to be alone with
the thing is intolerable to me just now. But you notice, don’t you,’
he added, as he took my arm to hurry me away, ‘how little the tourists
matter? Instead of injuring the effect, they increase it. It uses
_them_.’

And again a slight sensation of chill, communicated possibly by his
nervous touch, or possibly by his earnest way of saying these curious
words, passed through me. Some part of me remained behind in that
hollow trough of sand, prostrate before an immensity that symbolised
the past. A curious, wild yearning caught me momentarily, an intense
desire to understand exactly why that terror stood there, its actual
meaning long ago to the hearts that set it waiting for the sun, what
definite rôle it played, what souls it stirred and why, in that
system of towering belief and faith whose indestructible emblem it
still remained. The past stood grouped so solemnly about its menacing
presentment. I was distinctly aware of this spiritual suction backwards
that my companion yielded to so gladly, yet against his normal, modern
self. For it made the past appear magnificently desirable, and loosened
all the rivets of the present. It bodied forth three main ingredients
of this deep Egyptian spell--size, mystery, and immobility.

Yet, to my relief, the cheaper aspect of this Egyptian glamour left him
cold. He remained unmoved by the commonplace mysterious; he told no
mummy stories, nor ever hinted at the supernatural quality that leaps
to the mind of the majority. There was no play in him. The influence
was grave and vital. And, although I knew he held strong views with
regard to the impiety of disturbing the dead, he never in my hearing
attached any possible revengeful character to the energy of an outraged
past. The current tales of this description he ignored; they were for
superstitious minds or children; the deities that claimed his soul were
of a grander order altogether. He lived, if it may be so expressed,
already in a world his heart had reconstructed or remembered; it drew
him in another direction altogether; with the modern, sensational view
of life his spirit held no traffic any longer; he was living backwards.
I saw his figure receding mournfully, yet never sentimentally, into
the spacious, golden atmosphere of recaptured days. The enormous
soul of buried Egypt drew him down. The dwindling of his physical
appearance was, of course, a mental interpretation of my own; but
another, stranger interpretation of a spiritual kind moved parallel
with it--marvellous and horrible. For, as he diminished outwardly
and in his modern, present aspect, he grew within--gigantic. The size
of Egypt entered into him. Huge proportions now began to accompany
any presentment of his personality to my inner vision. He towered.
These two qualities of the land already obsessed him--magnitude and
immobility.

And that awe which modern life ignores contemptuously woke in my heart.
I almost feared his presence at certain times. For one aspect of the
Egyptian spell is explained by sheer size and bulk. Disdainful of
mere speed to-day, the heart is still uncomfortable with magnitude;
and in Egypt there is size that may easily appal, for every detail
shunts it laboriously upon the mind. It elbows out the present. The
desert’s vastness is not made comprehensible by mileage, and the
sources of the Nile are so distant that they exist less on the map
than in the imagination. The effort to realise suffers paralysis; they
might equally be in the moon or Saturn. The undecorated magnificence
of the desert remains unknown, just as the proportions of pyramid and
temple, of pylons and Colossi approach the edge of the mind yet never
enter in. All stand outside, clothed in this prodigious measurement
of the past. And the old beliefs not only share this titanic effect
upon the consciousness, but carry it stages further. The entire scale
haunts with uncomfortable immensity, so that the majority run back with
relief to the measurable details of a more manageable scale. Express
trains, flying machines, Atlantic liners--these produce no unpleasant
stretching of the faculties compared to the influence of the Karnak
pylons, the pyramids, or the interior of the Serapeum.

Close behind this magnitude, moreover, steps the monstrous. It is
revealed not in sand and stone alone, in queer effects of light and
shadow, of glittering sunsets and of magical dusks, but in the very
aspect of the bird and animal life. The heavy-headed buffaloes betray
it equally with the vultures, the myriad kites, the grotesqueness of
the mouthing camels. The rude, enormous scenery has it everywhere.
There is nothing lyrical in this land of passionate mirages. Uncouth
immensity notes the little human flittings. The days roll by in a tide
of golden splendour; one goes helplessly with the flood; but it is an
irresistible flood that sweeps backwards and below. The silent-footed
natives in their coloured robes move before a curtain, and behind
that curtain dwells the soul of ancient Egypt--the Reality, as George
Isley called it--watching, with sleepless eyes of grey infinity. Then,
sometimes the curtain stirs and lifts an edge; an invisible hand creeps
forth; the soul is touched. And some one disappears.


VI

The process of disintegration must have been at work a long time before
I appeared upon the scene; the changes went forward with such rapidity.

It was his third year in Egypt, two of which had been spent without
interruption in company with an Egyptologist named Moleson, in the
neighbourhood of Thebes. I soon discovered that this region was for
him the centre of attraction, or as he put it, of the web. Not Luxor,
of course, nor the images of reconstructed Karnak; but that stretch
of grim, forbidding mountains where royalty, earthly and spiritual,
sought eternal peace for the physical remains. There, amid surroundings
of superb desolation, great priests and mighty kings had thought
themselves secure from sacrilegious touch. In caverns underground they
kept their faithful tryst with centuries, guarded by the silence of
magnificent gloom. There they waited, communing with passing ages in
their sleep, till Ra, their glad divinity, should summon them to the
fulfilment of their ancient dream. And there, in the Valley of the
Tombs of the Kings, their dream was shattered, their lovely prophecies
derided, and their glory dimmed by the impious desecration of the
curious.

That George Isley and his companion had spent their time, not merely
digging and deciphering like their practical confrères, but engaged in
some strange experiments of recovery and reconstruction, was matter
for open comment among the fraternity. That incredible things had
happened there was the big story of two Egyptian seasons at least.
I heard this later only--tales of utterly incredible kind, that the
desolate vale of rock was seen repeopled on moonlit nights, that the
smoke of unaccustomed fires rose to cap the flat-topped peaks, that
the pageantry of some forgotten worship had been seen to issue from
the openings of these hills, and that sounds of chanting, sonorous and
marvellously sweet, had been heard to echo from those bleak, repellent
precipices. The tales apparently were grossly exaggerated; wandering
Bedouins brought them in; the guides and dragomen repeated them with
mysterious additions; till they filtered down through the native
servants in the hotels and reached the tourists with highly picturesque
embroidery. They reached the authorities too. The only accurate fact
I gathered at the time, however, was that they had abruptly ceased.
George Isley and Moleson, moreover, had parted company. And Moleson,
I heard, was the originator of the business. He was, at this time,
unknown to me; his arresting book on ‘A Modern Reconstruction of
Sun-worship in Ancient Egypt’ being my only link with his unusual mind.
Apparently he regarded the sun as the deity of the scientific religion
of the future which would replace the various anthropomorphic gods of
childish creeds. He discussed the possibility of the zodiacal signs
being some kind of Celestial Intelligences. Belief blazed on every
page. Men’s life is heat, derived solely from the sun, and men were,
therefore, part of the sun in the sense that a Christian is part of
his personal deity. And absorption was the end. His description of
‘sun-worship ceremonials’ conveyed an amazing reality and beauty. This
singular book, however, was all I knew of him until he came to visit us
in Helouan, though I easily discerned that his influence somehow was
the original cause of the change in my companion.

At Thebes, then, was the active centre of the influence that drew
my friend away from modern things. It was there, I easily guessed,
that ‘obstacles’ had been placed in the way of these men’s too
close enquiry. In that haunted and oppressive valley, where profane
and reverent come to actual grips, where modern curiosity is most
busily organised, and even tourists are aware of a masked hostility
that dogs the prying of the least imaginative mind--there, in the
neighbourhood of the hundred-gated city, had Egypt set the headquarters
of her irreconcilable enmity. And it was there, amid the ruins of
her loveliest past, that George Isley had spent his years of magical
reconstruction and met the influence that now dominated his entire life.

And though no definite avowal of the struggle betrayed itself in
speech between us, I remember fragments of conversation, even at this
stage, that proved his willing surrender of the present. We spoke of
fear once, though with the indirectness of connection I have mentioned.
I urged that the mind, once it is forewarned, can remain master of
itself and prevent a thing from happening.

‘But that does not make the thing unreal,’ he objected.

‘The mind can deny it,’ I said. ‘It then becomes unreal.’

He shook his head. ‘One does not deny an unreality. Denial is a
childish act of self-protection against something you expect to
happen.’ He caught my eye a moment. ‘You deny what you are afraid
of,’ he said. ‘Fear invites.’ And he smiled uneasily. ‘You know it
must get you in the end.’ And, both of us being aware secretly to
what our talk referred, it seemed bold-blooded and improper; for
actually we discussed the psychology of his disappearance. Yet, while I
disliked it, there was a fascination about the subject that compelled
attraction.... ‘Once fear gets in,’ he added presently, ‘confidence is
undermined, the structure of life is threatened, and you--go gladly.
The foundation of everything is belief. A man is what he believes about
himself; and in Egypt you can believe things that elsewhere you would
not even think about. It attacks the essentials.’ He sighed, yet with
a curious pleasure; and a smile of resignation and relief passed over
his rugged features and was gone again. The luxury of abandonment lay
already in him.

‘But even belief,’ I protested, ‘must be founded on some experience or
other.’ It seemed ghastly to speak of his spiritual malady behind the
mask of indirect allusion. My excuse was that he so obviously talked
willingly.

He agreed instantly. ‘Experience of one kind or another,’ he said
darkly, ‘there always is. Talk with the men who live out here; ask
any one who thinks, or who has the imagination which divines. You’ll
get only one reply, phrase it how they may. Even the tourists and
the little commonplace officials feel it. And it’s not the climate,
it’s not nerves, it’s not any definite tendency that they can name or
lay their finger on. Nor is it mere orientalising of the mind. It’s
something that first takes you from your common life, and that later
takes common life from you. You willingly resign an unremunerative
Present. There are no half-measures either--once the gates are open.’

There was so much undeniable truth in this that I found no corrective
by way of strong rejoinder. All my attempts, indeed, were futile in
this way. He meant to go; my words could not stop him. He wanted
a witness,--he dreaded the loneliness of going--but he brooked no
interference. The contradictory position involved a perplexing state
of heart and mind in both of us. The atmosphere of this majestic land,
to-day so trifling, yesterday so immense, most certainly induced a
lifting of the spiritual horizon that revealed amazing possibilities.


VII

It was in the windless days of a perfect December that Moleson, the
Egyptologist, found us out and paid a flying visit to Helouan. His
duties took him up and down the land, but his time seemed largely at
his own disposal. He lingered on. His coming introduced a new element
I was not quite able to estimate; though, speaking generally, the
effect of his presence upon my companion was to emphasise the latter’s
alteration. It underlined the change, and drew attention to it. The
new arrival, I gathered, was not altogether welcome. ‘I should never
have expected to find you _here_,’ laughed Moleson when they met, and
whether he referred to Helouan or to the hotel was not quite clear. I
got the impression he meant both; I remembered my fancy that it was a
good hotel to hide in. George Isley had betrayed a slight involuntary
start when the visiting card was brought to him at tea-time. I think he
had wished to escape from his former co-worker. Moleson had found him
out. ‘I heard you had a friend with you and were contemplating further
exper--work,’ he added. He changed the word ‘experiment’ quickly to the
other.

‘The former, as you see, is true, but not the latter,’ replied my
companion dryly, and in his manner was a touch of opposition that
might have been hostility. Their intimacy, I saw, was close and of
old standing. In all they said and did and looked, there was an
undercurrent of other meaning that just escaped me. They were up to
something--they _had_ been up to something; but Isley would have
withdrawn if he could!

Moleson was an ambitious and energetic personality, absorbed in his
profession, alive to the poetical as well as to the practical value
of archaeology, and he made at first a wholly delightful impression
upon me. An instinctive _flair_ for his subject had early in life
brought him success and a measure of fame as well. His knowledge was
accurate and scholarly, his mind saturated in the lore of a vanished
civilisation. Behind an exterior that was quietly careless, I divined
a passionate and complex nature, and I watched him with interest as
the man for whom the olden sun-worship of unscientific days held
some beauty of reality and truth. Much in his strange book that
had bewildered me now seemed intelligible when I saw the author. I
cannot explain this more closely. Something about him somehow made it
possible. Though modern to the finger-tips and thoroughly equipped with
all the tendencies of the day, there seemed to hide in him another self
that held aloof with a dignified detachment from the interests in which
his ‘educated’ mind was centred. He read living secrets beneath museum
labels, I might put it. He stepped out of the days of the Pharaohs if
ever man did, and I realised early in our acquaintance that this was
the man who had exceptional powers of ‘resistance and self-protection,’
and was, in his particular branch of work, ‘unusual.’ In manner he
was light and gay, his sense of humour strong, with a way of treating
everything as though laughter was the sanest attitude towards life.
There is, however, the laughter that hides--other things. Moleson, as
I gathered from many clues of talk and manner and silence, was a deep
and singular being. His experiences in Egypt, if any, he had survived
admirably. There were at least two Molesons. I felt him more than
double----multiple.

In appearance tall, thin, and fleshless, with a dried-up skin and
features withered as a mummy’s, he said laughingly that Nature had
picked him physically for his ‘job’; and, indeed, one could see him
worming his way down narrow tunnels into the sandy tombs, and writhing
along sunless passages of suffocating heat without too much personal
inconvenience. Something sinuous, almost fluid in his mind expressed
itself in his body too. He might go in any direction without causing
surprise. He might go backwards or forwards. He might go in two
directions at once.

And my first impression of the man deepened before many days were past.
There was irresponsibility in him, insincerity somewhere, almost want
of heart. His morality was certainly not to-day’s, and the mind in him
was slippery. I think the modern world, to which he was unattached,
confused and irritated him. A sense of insecurity came with him.
His interest in George Isley was the interest in a psychological
‘specimen.’ I remembered how in his book he described the selection
of individuals for certain functions of that marvellous worship, and
the odd idea flashed through me--well, that Isley exactly suited some
purpose of his re-creating energies. The man was keenly observant from
top to toe, but not with his sight alone; he seemed to be aware of
motives and emotions before he noticed the acts or gestures that these
caused. I felt that he took me in as well. Certainly he eyed me up and
down by means of this inner observation that seemed automatic with him.

Moleson was not staying in our hotel; he had chosen one where social
life was more abundant; but he came up frequently to lunch and dine,
and sometimes spent the evening in Isley’s rooms, amusing us with
his skill upon the piano, singing Arab songs, and chanting phrases
from the ancient Egyptian rituals to rhythms of his own invention.
The old Egyptian music, both in harmony and melody, was far more
developed than I had realised, the use of sound having been of radical
importance in their ceremonies. The chanting in particular he did with
extraordinary effect, though whether its success lay in his sonorous
voice, his peculiar increasing of the vowel sounds, or in anything
deeper, I cannot pretend to say. The result at any rate was of a unique
description. It brought buried Egypt to the surface; the gigantic
Presence entered sensibly into the room. It came, huge and gorgeous,
rolling upon the mind the instant he began, and something in it was
both terrible and oppressive. The repose of eternity lay in the sound.
Invariably, after a few moments of that transforming music, I saw the
Valley of the Kings, the deserted temples, titanic faces of stone,
great effigies coifed with zodiacal signs, but above all--the twin
Colossi.

I mentioned this latter detail.

‘Curious _you_ should feel that too--curious you should say it, I
mean,’ Moleson replied, not looking at me, yet with an air as if I had
said something he expected. ‘To me the Memnon figures express Egypt
better than all the other monuments put together. Like the desert, they
are featureless. They sum her up, as it were, yet leave the message
unuttered. For, you see, they cannot.’ He laughed a little in his
throat. ‘They have neither eyes nor lips nor nose; their features are
gone.’

‘Yet they tell the secret--to those who care to listen,’ put in Isley
in a scarcely noticeable voice. ‘Just because they have no words. They
still sing at dawn,’ he added in a louder, almost a challenging tone.
It startled me.

Moleson turned round at him, opened his lips to speak, hesitated,
stopped. He said nothing for a moment. I cannot describe what it was
in the lightning glance they exchanged that put me on the alert for
something other than was obvious. My nerves quivered suddenly, and
a breath of colder air stole in among us. Moleson swung round to me
again. ‘I almost think,’ he said, laughing when I complimented him
upon the music, ‘that I must have been a priest of Aton-Ra in an
earlier existence, for all this comes to my finger-tips as if it were
instinctive knowledge. Plotinus, remember, lived a few miles away at
Alexandria with his great idea that knowledge is recollection,’ he
said, with a kind of cynical amusement. ‘In those days, at any rate,’
he added more significantly, ‘worship was real and ceremonials actually
expressed great ideas and teaching. There was power in them.’ Two of
the Molesons spoke in that contradictory utterance.

I saw that Isley was fidgeting where he sat, betraying by certain
gestures that uneasiness was in him. He hid his face a moment in his
hands; he sighed; he made a movement--as though to prevent something
coming. But Moleson resisted his attempt to change the conversation,
though the key shifted a little of its own accord. There were numerous
occasions like this when I was aware that both men skirted something
that had happened, something that Moleson wished to resume, but that
Isley seemed anxious to postpone.

I found myself studying Moleson’s personality, yet never getting beyond
a certain point. Shrewd, subtle, with an acute rather than a large
intelligence, he was cynical as well as insincere, and yet I cannot
describe by what means I arrived at two other conclusions as well about
him: first, that this insincerity and want of heart had not been so
always; and, secondly, that he sought social diversion with deliberate
and un-ordinary purpose. I could well believe that the first was
Egypt’s mark upon him, and the second an effort at resistance and
self-protection.

‘If it wasn’t for the gaiety,’ he remarked once in a flippant way
that thinly hid significance, ‘a man out here would go under in a
year. Social life gets rather reckless--exaggerated--people do things
they would never dream of doing at home. Perhaps you’ve noticed it,’
he added, looking suddenly at me; ‘Cairo and the rest--they plunge
at it as though driven--a sort of excess about it somewhere.’ I
nodded agreement. The way he said it was unpleasant rather. ‘It’s
an antidote,’ he said, a sub-acid flavour in his tone. ‘I used to
loathe society myself. But now I find gaiety--a certain irresponsible
excitement--of importance. Egypt gets on the nerves after a bit. The
moral fibre fails. The will grows weak.’ And he glanced covertly at
Isley as with a desire to point his meaning. ‘It’s the clash between
the ugly present and the majestic past, perhaps.’ He smiled.

Isley shrugged his shoulders, making no reply; and the other went on
to tell stories of friends and acquaintances whom Egypt had adversely
affected: Barton, the Oxford man, school teacher, who had insisted
in living in a tent until the Government relieved him of his job. He
took to his tent, roamed the desert, drawn irresistibly, practical
considerations of the present of no avail. This yearning took him,
though he could never define the exact attraction. In the end his
mental balance was disturbed. ‘But now he’s all right again; I saw
him in London only this year; he can’t say what he felt or why he
did it. Only--he’s different.’ Of John Lattin, too, he spoke, whom
agarophobia caught so terribly in Upper Egypt; of Malahide, upon
whom some fascination of the Nile induced suicidal mania and attempts
at drowning; of Jim Moleson, a cousin (who had camped at Thebes with
himself and Isley), whom megalomania of a most singular type attacked
suddenly in a sandy waste--all radically cured as soon as they left
Egypt, yet, one and all, changed and made otherwise in their very souls.

He talked in a loose, disjointed way, and though much he said
was fantastic, as if meant to challenge opposition, there was
impressiveness about it somewhere, due, I think, to a kind of
cumulative emotion he produced.

‘The monuments do not impress merely by their bulk, but by their
majestic symmetry,’ I remember him saying. ‘Look at the choice of
form alone--the Pyramids, for instance. No other shape was possible:
dome, square, spires, all would have been hideously inadequate. The
wedge-shaped mass, immense foundations and pointed apex were the _mot
juste_ in outline. Do you think people without greatness in themselves
chose that form? There was no unbalance in the minds that conceived the
harmonious and magnificent structures of the temples. There was stately
grandeur in their consciousness that could only be born of truth and
knowledge. The power in their images is a direct expression of eternal
and essential things they knew.’

We listened in silence. He was off upon his hobby. But behind
the careless tone and laughing questions there was this lurking
passionateness that made me feel uncomfortable. He was edging up, I
felt, towards some climax that meant life and death to himself and
Isley. I could not fathom it. My sympathy let me in a little, yet not
enough to understand completely. Isley, I saw, was also uneasy, though
for reasons that equally evaded me.

‘One can almost believe,’ he continued, ‘that something still hangs
about in the atmosphere from those olden times.’ He half closed his
eyes, but I caught the gleam in them. ‘It affects the mind through the
imagination. With some it changes the point of view. It takes the soul
back with it to former, quite different, conditions, that must have
been almost another kind of consciousness.’

He paused an instant and looked up at us. ‘The _intensity_ of belief in
those days,’ he resumed, since neither of us accepted the challenge,
‘was amazing--something quite unknown anywhere in the world to-day. It
was so sure, so positive; no mere speculative theories, I mean;--as
though something in the climate, the exact position beneath the stars,
the “attitude” of this particular stretch of earth in relation to
the sun--thinned the veil between humanity--and other things. Their
hierarchies of gods, you know, were not mere idols; animals, birds,
monsters, and what-not, all typified spiritual forces and powers
that influenced their daily life. But the strong thing is--they
_knew_. People who were scientific as they were did not swallow
foolish superstitions. They made colours that could last six thousand
years, even in the open air; and without instruments they measured
accurately--an enormously difficult and involved calculation--the
precession of the equinoxes. You’ve been to Denderah?’--he suddenly
glanced again at me. ‘No! Well, the minds that realised the zodiacal
signs could hardly believe, you know, that Hathor was a cow!’

Isley coughed. He was about to interrupt, but before he could find
words, Moleson was off again, some new quality in his tone and manner
that was almost aggressive. The hints he offered seemed more than
hints. There was a strange conviction in his heart. I think he was
skirting a bigger thing that he and his companion knew, yet that
his real object was to see in how far I was open to attack--how far
my sympathy might be with them. I became aware that he and George
Isley shared this bigger thing. It was based, I felt, on some certain
knowledge that experiment had brought them.

‘Think of the grand teaching of Aknahton, that young Pharaoh who
regenerated the entire land and brought it to its immense prosperity.
He taught the worship of the sun, but not of the visible sun. The
deity had neither form nor shape. The great disk of glory was but
the manifestation, each beneficent ray ending in a hand that blessed
the world. It was a god of everlasting energy, love and power, yet
men could know it at first hand in their daily lives, worshipping it
at dawn and sunset with passionate devotion. No anthropomorphic idol
masqueraded in _that_!’

An extraordinary glow was about him as he said it. The same minute he
lowered his voice, shifting the key perceptibly. He kept looking up at
me through half-closed eyelids.

‘And another thing they wonderfully knew,’ he almost whispered, ‘was
that, with the precession of their deity across the equinoctial
changes, there came new powers down into the world of men. Each
cycle--each zodiacal sign--brought its special powers which they
quickly typified in the monstrous effigies we label to-day in our dull
museums. Each sign took some two thousand years to traverse. Each
sign, moreover, involved a change in human consciousness. There was
this relation between the heavens and the human heart. All that they
knew. While the sun crawled through the sign of Taurus, it was the Bull
they worshipped; with Aries, it was the ram that coifed their granite
symbols. Then came, as you remember, with Pisces the great New Arrival,
when already they sank from their grand zenith, and the Fish was taken
as the emblem of the changing powers which the Christ embodied. For
the human soul, they held, echoed the changes in the immense journey
of the original deity, who is its source, across the Zodiac, and the
truth of “As above, so Below” remains the key to all manifested life.
And to-day the sun, just entering Aquarius, new powers are close upon
the world. The old--that which has been for two thousand years--again
is crumbling, passing, dying. New powers and a new consciousness are
knocking at our doors. It is a time of change. It is also’--he leaned
forward so that his eyes came close before me--‘the time to make the
change. The soul can choose its own conditions. It can----’

A sudden crash smothered the rest of the sentence. A chair had fallen
with a clatter upon the wooden floor where the carpet left it bare.
Whether Isley in rising had stumbled against it, or whether he had
purposely knocked it over, I could not say. I only knew that he had
abruptly risen and as abruptly sat down again. A curious feeling came
to me that the sign was somehow prearranged. It was so sudden. His
voice, too, was forced, I thought.

‘Yes, but we can do without all that, Moleson,’ he interrupted with
acute abruptness. ‘Suppose we have a tune instead.’


VIII

It was after dinner in his private room, and he had sat very silent in
his corner until this sudden outburst. Moleson got up quietly without
a word and moved over to the piano. I saw--or was it imagination
merely?--a new expression slide upon his withered face. He meant
mischief somewhere.

From that instant--from the moment he rose and walked over the
thick carpet--he fascinated me. The atmosphere his talk and stories
had brought remained. His lean fingers ran over the keys, and at
first he played fragments from popular musical comedies that were
pleasant enough, but made no demand upon the attention. I heard them
without listening. I was thinking of another thing--his walk. For
the way he moved across those few feet of carpet had power in it. He
looked different; he seemed another man; he was changed. I saw him
curiously--as I sometimes now saw Isley too--bigger. In some manner
that was both enchanting and oppressive, his presence from that moment
drew my imagination as by an air of authority it held.

I left my seat in the far corner and dropped into a chair beside the
window, nearer to the piano. Isley, I then noticed, had also turned
to watch him. But it was George Isley not quite as he was now. I felt
rather than saw the change. Both men had subtly altered. They seemed
extended, their outlines shadowy.

Isley, alert and anxious, glanced up at the player, his mind of earlier
years--for the expression of his face was plain--following the light
music, yet with difficulty that involved effort, almost struggle.
‘Play that again, will you?’ I heard him say from time to time. He
was trying to take hold of it, to climb back to a condition where that
music had linked him to the present, to seize a mental structure that
was gone, to grip hold tightly of it--only to find that it was too far
forgotten and too fragile. It would not bear him. I am sure of it, and
I can swear I divined his mood. He fought to realise himself as he had
been, but in vain. In his dim corner opposite I watched him closely.
The big black Blüthner blocked itself between us. Above it swayed
the outline, lean and half shadowy, of Moleson as he played. A faint
whisper floated through the room. ‘You are in Egypt.’ Nowhere else
could this queer feeling of presentiment, of anticipation, have gained
a footing so easily. I was aware of intense emotion in all three of us.
The least reminder of To-day seemed ugly. I longed for some ancient
forgotten splendour that was lost.

The scene fixed my attention very steadily, for I was aware of
something deliberate and calculated on Moleson’s part. The thing
was well considered in his mind, intention only half concealed. It
was Egypt he interpreted by sound, expressing what in him was true,
then observing its effect, as he led us cleverly towards--the past.
Beginning with the present, he played persuasively, with penetration,
with insistent meaning too. He had that touch which conjured up real
atmosphere, and, at first, that atmosphere termed modern. He rendered
vividly the note of London, passing from the jingles of musical
comedy, nervous rag-times and sensuous Tango dances, into the higher
strains of concert rooms and ‘cultured’ circles. Yet not too abruptly.
Most dexterously he shifted the level, and with it our emotion. I
recognised, as in a parody, various ultra-modern thrills: the tumult
of Strauss, the pagan sweetness of primitive Debussy, the weirdness
and ecstasy of metaphysical Scriabin. The composite note of To-day in
both extremes, he brought into this private sitting-room of the desert
hotel, while George Isley, listening keenly, fidgeted in his chair.

‘“Après-midi d’un Faune,”’ said Moleson dreamily, answering the
question as to what he played. ‘Debussy’s, you know. And the thing
before it was from “Til Eulenspiegel”--Strauss, of course.’

He drawled, swaying slowly with the rhythm, and leaving pauses between
the words. His attention was not wholly on his listener, and in the
voice was a quality that increased my uneasy apprehension. I felt
distress for Isley somewhere. Something, it seemed, was coming; Moleson
brought it. Unconsciously in his walk, it now appeared consciously in
his music; and it came from what was underground in him. A charm, a
subtle change, stole oddly over the room. It stole over my heart as
well. Some power of estimating left me, as though my mind were slipping
backwards and losing familiar, common standards.

‘The true modern note in it, isn’t there?’ he drawled; ‘cleverness, I
think--intellectual--surface ingenuity--no depth or permanence--just
the sensational brilliance of To-day.’ He turned and stared at me
fixedly an instant. ‘Nothing _everlasting_,’ he added impressively. ‘It
tells everything it knows--because it’s small enough----’

And the room turned pettier as he said it; another, bigger shadow
draped its little walls. Through the open windows came a stealthy
gesture of eternity. The atmosphere stretched visibly. Moleson was
playing a marvellous fragment from Scriabin’s ‘Prometheus.’ It sounded
thin and shallow. This modern music, all of it, was out of place and
trivial. It was almost ridiculous. The scale of our emotion changed
insensibly into a deeper thing that has no name in dictionaries, being
of another age. And I glanced at the windows where stone columns framed
dim sections of great Egypt listening outside. There was no moon; only
deep draughts of stars blazed, hanging in the sky. I thought with awe
of the mysterious knowledge that vanished people had of these stars,
and of the Sun’s huge journey through the Zodiac....

And, with astonishing suddenness as of dream, there rose a pictured
image against that starlit sky. Lifted into the air, between heaven and
earth, I saw float swiftly past a panorama of the stately temples, led
by Denderah, Edfu, Abou Simbel. It paused, it hovered, it disappeared.
Leaving incalculable solemnity behind it in the air, it vanished, and
to see so vast a thing move at that easy yet unhasting speed unhinged
some sense of measurement in me. It was, of course, I assured myself,
mere memory objectified owing to something that the music summoned,
yet the apprehension rose in me that the whole of Egypt presently
would stream past in similar fashion--Egypt as she was in the zenith
of her unrecoverable past. Behind the tinkling of the modern piano
passed the rustling of a multitude, the tramping of countless feet on
sand.... It was singularly vivid. It arrested in me something that
normally went flowing.... And when I turned my head towards the room to
call attention to my strange experience, the eyes of Moleson, I saw,
were laid upon my own. He stared at me. The light in them transfixed
me, and I understood that the illusion was due in some manner to his
evocation. Isley rose at the same moment from his chair. The thing I
had vaguely been expecting had shifted closer. And the same moment the
musician abruptly changed his key.

‘You may like this better,’ he murmured, half to himself, but in tones
he somehow made echoing. ‘It’s more suited to the place.’ There was a
resonance in the voice as though it emerged from hollows underground.
‘The other seems almost sacrilegious--here.’ And his voice drawled
off in the rhythm of slower modulations that he played. It had grown
muffled. There was an impression, too, that he did not strike the
piano, but that the music issued from himself.

‘Place! What place?’ asked Isley quickly. His head turned sharply as he
spoke. His tone, in its remoteness, made me tremble.

The musician laughed to himself. ‘I meant that this hotel seems really
an impertinence,’ he murmured, leaning down upon the notes he played
upon so softly and so well; ‘and that it’s but the thinnest kind of
pretence--when you come to think of it. We are in the desert really.
The Colossi are outside, and all the emptied temples. Or ought to be,’
he added, raising his tone abruptly with a glance at me.

He straightened up and stared out into the starry sky past George
Isley’s shoulders.

‘That,’ he exclaimed with betraying vehemence, ‘is where we are and
what we play to!’ His voice suddenly increased; there was a roar in it.
‘That,’ he repeated, ‘is the thing that takes our hearts away.’ The
volume of intonation was astonishing.

For the way he uttered the monosyllable suddenly revealed the man
beneath the outer sheath of cynicism and laughter, explained his
heartlessness, his secret stream of life. He, too, was soul and body
in the past. ‘That’ revealed more than pages of descriptive phrases.
His heart lived in the temple aisles, his mind unearthed forgotten
knowledge; his soul had clothed itself anew in the seductive glory
of antiquity: he dwelt with a quickening magic of existence in the
reconstructed splendour of what most term only ruins. He and George
Isley together had revivified a power that enticed them backwards;
but whereas the latter struggled still, the former had already made
his permanent home there. The faculty in me that saw the vision of
streaming temples saw also this--remorselessly definite. Moleson
himself sat naked at that piano. I saw him clearly then. He no longer
masqueraded behind his sneers and laughter. He, too, had long ago
surrendered, lost himself, gone out, and from the place his soul now
dwelt in he watched George Isley sinking down to join him. He lived in
ancient, subterranean Egypt. This great hotel stood precariously on the
merest upper crust of desert. A thousand tombs, a hundred temples lay
outside, within reach almost of our very voices. Moleson was merged
with ‘that.’

This intuition flashed upon me like the picture in the sky; and both
were true.

And, meanwhile, this other thing he played had a surge of power in it
impossible to describe. It was sombre, huge and solemn. It conveyed the
power that his walk conveyed. There was distance in it, but a distance
not of space alone. A remoteness of time breathed through it with that
strange sadness and melancholy yearning that enormous interval brings.
It marched, but very far away; it held refrains that assumed the
rhythms of a multitude the centuries muted; it sang, but the singing
was underground in passages that fine sand muffled. Lost, wandering
winds sighed through it, booming. The contrast, after the modern,
cheaper music, was dislocating. Yet the change had been quite naturally
effected.

‘It would sound empty and monotonous elsewhere--in London, for
instance,’ I heard Moleson drawling, as he swayed to and fro, ‘but here
it is big and splendid--true. You hear what I mean,’ he added gravely.
‘You understand?’

‘What is it?’ asked Isley thickly, before I could say a word. ‘I forget
exactly. It has tears in it--more than I can bear.’ The end of his
sentence died away in his throat.

Moleson did not look at him as he answered. He looked at me.

‘You surely ought to know,’ he replied, the voice rising and falling as
though the rhythm forced it. ‘You have heard it all before--that chant
from the ritual we----’

Isley sprang up and stopped him. I did not hear the sentence
complete. An extraordinary thought blazed into me that the voices
of both men were not quite their own. I fancied--wild, impossible
as it sounds--that I heard the twin Colossi singing to each other
in the dawn. Stupendous ideas sprang past me, leaping. It seemed as
though eternal symbols of the cosmos, discovered and worshipped in
this ancient land, leaped into awful life. My consciousness became
enveloping. I had the distressing feeling that ages slipped out of
place and took me with them; they dominated me; they rushed me off my
feet like water. I was drawn backwards. I, too, was changing--being
changed.

‘I remember,’ said Isley softly, a reverence of worship in his voice.
But there was anguish in it too, and pity; he let the present go
completely from him; the last strands severed with a wrench of pain. I
imagined I heard his soul pass weeping far away--below.

‘I’ll sing it,’ murmured Moleson, ‘for the voice is necessary. The
sound and rhythm are utterly divine!’


IX

And forthwith his voice began a series of long-drawn cadences that
seemed somehow the root-sounds of every tongue that ever was. A spell
came over me I could touch and feel. A web encompassed me; my arms and
feet became entangled; a veil of fine threads wove across my eyes. The
enthralling power of the rhythm produced some magical movement in the
soul. I was aware of life everywhere about me, far and near, in the
dwellings of the dead, as also in the corridors of the iron hills.
Thebes stood erect, and Memphis teemed upon the river banks. For the
modern world fell, swaying, at this sound that restored the past, and
in this past both men before me lived and had their being. The storm
of present life passed o’er their heads, while they dwelt underground,
obliterated, gone. Upon the wave of sound they went down into their
recovered kingdom.

I shivered, moved vigorously, half rose up, then instantly sank back
again, resigned and helpless. For I entered by their side, it seemed,
the conditions of their strange captivity. My thoughts, my feelings,
my point of view were transplanted to another centre. Consciousness
shifted in me. I saw things from another’s point of view--antiquity’s.

The present forgotten but the past supreme, I lost Reality. Our
room became a pin-point picture seen in a drop of water, while this
subterranean world, replacing it, turned immense. My heart took on the
gigantic, leisured stride of what had been. Proportions grew; size
captured me; and magnitude, turned monstrous, swept mere measurement
away. Some hand of golden sunshine picked me up and set me in the
quivering web beside those other two. I heard the rustle of the
settling threads; I heard the shuffling of the feet in sand; I heard
the whispers in the dwellings of the dead. Behind the monotony of
this sacerdotal music I heard them in their dim carved chambers. The
ancient galleries were awake. The Life of unremembered ages stirred in
multitudes about me.

The reality of so incredible an experience evaporates through the
stream of language. I can only affirm this singular proof--that the
deepest, most satisfying knowledge the Present could offer seemed
insignificant beside some stalwart majesty of the Past that utterly
usurped it. This modern room, holding a piano and two figures
of To-day, appeared as a paltry miniature pinned against a vast
transparent curtain, whose foreground was thick with symbols of temple,
sphinx and pyramid, but whose background of stupendous hanging grey
slid off towards a splendour where the cities of the Dead shook off
their sand and thronged space to its ultimate horizons.... The stars,
the entire universe, vibrating and alive, became involved in it. Long
periods of time slipped past me. I seemed living ages ago.... I was
living backwards....

The size and eternity of Egypt took me easily. There was an
overwhelming grandeur in it that elbowed out all present standards. The
whole place towered and stood up. The desert reared, the very horizons
lifted; majestic figures of granite rose above the hotel, great faces
hovered and drove past; huge arms reached up to pluck the stars and
set them in the ceilings of the labyrinthine tombs. The colossal
meaning of the ancient land emerged through all its ruined details ...
reconstructed--burningly alive....

It became at length unbearable. I longed for the droning sounds to
cease, for the rhythm to lessen its prodigious sweep. My heart cried
out for the gold of the sunlight on the desert, for the sweet air by
the river’s banks, for the violet lights upon the hills at dawn. And I
resisted, I made an effort to return.

‘Your chant is horrible. For God’s sake, let’s have an Arab song--or
the music of To-day!’

The effort was intense, the result was--nothing. I swear I used these
words. I heard the actual sound of my voice, if no one else did, for
I remember that it was pitiful in the way great space devoured it,
making of its appreciable volume the merest whisper as of some bird or
insect cry. But the figure that I took for Moleson, instead of answer
or acknowledgment, merely grew and grew as things grow in a fairy tale.
I hardly know; I certainly cannot say. That dwindling part of me which
offered comments on the entire occurrence noted this extraordinary
effect as though it happened naturally--that Moleson himself was
marvellously increasing.

The entire spell became operative all at once. I experienced both the
delight of complete abandonment and the terror of letting go what _had_
seemed real. I understood Moleson’s sham laughter, and the subtle
resignation of George Isley. And an amazing thought flashed birdlike
across my changing consciousness--that this resurrection into the
Past, this rebirth of the spirit which they sought, involved taking
upon themselves the guise of these ancient symbols each in turn. As
the embryo assumes each evolutionary stage below it before the human
semblance is attained, so the souls of those two adventurers took upon
themselves the various emblems of that intense belief. The devout
worshipper takes on the qualities of his deity. They wore the entire
series of the old-world gods so potently that I perceived them, and
even objectified them by my senses. The present was their pre-natal
stage; to enter the past they were being born again.

But it was not Moleson’s semblance alone that took on this awful
change. Both faces, scaled to the measure of Egypt’s outstanding
quality of size, became in this little modern room distressingly
immense. Distorting mirrors can suggest no simile, for the symmetry of
proportion was not injured. I lost their human physiognomies. I saw
their thoughts, their feelings, their augmented, altered hearts, the
thing that Egypt put there while she stole their love from modern life.
There grew an awful stateliness upon them that was huge, mysterious,
and motionless as stone.

For Moleson’s narrow face at first turned hawk-like in the semblance
of the sinister deity, Horus, only stretched to tower above the
toy-scaled piano; it was keen and sly and monstrous after prey, while
a swiftness of the sunrise leaped from both the brilliant eyes. George
Isley, equally immense of outline, was in general presentment more
magnificent, a breadth of the Sphinx about his spreading shoulders,
and in his countenance an inscrutable power of calm temple images.
These were the first signs of obsession; but others followed. In rapid
series, like lantern-slides upon a screen, the ancient symbols flashed
one after another across these two extended human faces and were gone.
Disentanglement became impossible. The successive signatures seemed
almost superimposed as in a composite photograph, each appearing and
vanished before recognition was even possible, while I interpreted the
inner alchemy by means of outer tokens familiar to my senses. Egypt,
possessing them, expressed herself thus marvellously in their physical
aspect, using the symbols of her intense, regenerative power....

The changes merged with such swiftness into one another that I did not
seize the half of them--till, finally, the procession culminated in
a single one that remained fixed awfully upon them both. The entire
series merged. I was aware of this single masterful image which summed
up all the others in sublime repose. The gigantic thing rose up in
this incredible statue form. The spirit of Egypt synthesised in this
monstrous symbol, obliterated them both. I saw the seated figures of
the grim Colossi, dipped in sand, night over them, waiting for the
dawn....


X

I made a violent effort, then, at self-assertion--an effort to focus my
mind upon the present. And, searching for Moleson and George Isley, its
nearest details, I was aware that I could not find them. The familiar
figures of my two companions were not discoverable.

I saw it as plainly as I also saw that ludicrous, wee piano--for a
moment. But the moment remained; the Eternity of Egypt stayed. For
that lonely and terrific pair had stooped their shoulders and bowed
their awful heads. They were in the room. They imaged forth the power
of the everlasting Past through the little structures of two human
worshippers. Room, walls, and ceiling fled away. Sand and the open sky
replaced them.

The two of them rose side by side before my bursting eyes. I knew
not where to look. Like some child who confronts its giants upon the
nursery floor, I turned to stone, unable to think or move. I stared.
Sight wrenched itself to find the men familiar to it, but found
instead this symbolising vision. I could not see them properly. Their
faces were spread with hugeness, their features lost in some uncommon
magnitude, their shoulders, necks, and arms grown vast upon the air. As
with the desert, there was physiognomy yet no personal expression, the
human thing all drowned within the mass of battered stone. I discovered
neither cheeks nor mouth nor jaw, but ruined eyes and lips of broken
granite. Huge, motionless, mysterious, Egypt informed them and took
them to herself. And between us, curiously presented in some false
perspective, I saw the little symbol of To-day--the Blüthner piano. It
was appalling. I knew a second of majestic horror. I blenched. Hot and
cold gushed through me. Strength left me, power of speech and movement
too, as in a moment of complete paralysis.

The spell, moreover, was not within the room alone; it was outside and
everywhere. The Past stood massed about the very walls of the hotel.
Distance, as well as time, stepped nearer. That chanting summoned the
gigantic items in all their ancient splendour. The shadowy concourse
grouped itself upon the sand about us, and I was aware that the great
army shifted noiselessly into place; that pyramids soared and towered;
that deities of stone stood by; that temples ranged themselves in
reconstructed beauty, grave as the night of time whence they emerged;
and that the outline of the Sphinx, motionless but aggressive, piled
its dim bulk upon the atmosphere. Immensity answered to immensity....
There were vast intervals of time and there were reaches of enormous
distance, yet all happened in a moment, and all happened within a
little space. It was now and here. Eternity whispered in every second
as in every grain of sand. Yet, while aware of so many stupendous
details all at once, I was really aware of one thing only--that the
spirit of ancient Egypt faced me in these two terrific figures, and
that my consciousness, stretched painfully yet gloriously, included
all, as She also unquestionably included them--and me.

For it seemed I shared the likeness of my two companions. Some lesser
symbol, though of similar kind, obsessed me too. I tried to move, but
my feet were set in stone; my arms lay fixed; my body was embedded in
the rock. Sand beat sharply upon my outer surface, urged upwards in
little flurries by a chilly wind. There was nothing felt: I _heard_ the
rattle of the scattering grains against my hardened body....

And we waited for the dawn; for the resurrection of that unchanging
deity who was the source and inspiration of all our glorious life....
The air grew keen and fresh. In the distance a line of sky turned from
pink to violet and gold; a delicate rose next flushed the desert; a
few pale stars hung fainting overhead; and the wind that brought the
sunrise was already stirring. The whole land paused upon the coming of
its mighty God....

Into the pause there rose a curious sound for which we had been
waiting. For it came familiarly, as though expected. I could have sworn
at first that it was George Isley who sang, answering his companion.
There beat behind its great volume the same note and rhythm, only so
prodigiously increased that, while Moleson’s chant had waked it, it
now was independent and apart. The resonant vibrations of what he
sang had reached down into the places where it slept. _They_ uttered
synchronously. Egypt spoke. There was in it the deep muttering as of a
thousand drums, as though the desert uttered in prodigious syllables. I
listened while my heart of stone stood still. There were two voices in
the sky. _They_ spoke tremendously with each other in the dawn:

‘So easily we still remain possessors of the land.... While the
centuries roar past us and are gone.’

Soft with power the syllables rolled forth, yet with a booming depth as
though caverns underground produced them.

‘Our silence is disturbed. Pass on with the multitude towards the
East.... Still in the dawn we sing the old-world wisdom.... They shall
hear our speech, yet shall not hear it with their ears of flesh. At
dawn our words go forth, searching the distances of sand and time
across the sunlight.... At dusk they return, as upon eagles’ wings,
entering again our lips of stone.... Each century one syllable, yet no
sentence yet complete. While our lips are broken with the utterance....’

It seemed that hours and months and years went past me while I
listened in my sandy bed. The fragments died far away, then sounded
very close again. It was as though mountain peaks sang to one another
above clouds. Wind caught the muffled roar away. Wind brought it
back.... Then, in a hollow pause that lasted years, conveying
marvellously the passage of long periods, I heard the utterance more
clearly. The leisured roll of the great voice swept through me like a
flood:

‘We wait and watch and listen in our loneliness. We do not close our
eyes. The moon and stars sail past us, and our river finds the sea. We
bring Eternity upon your broken lives.... We see you build your little
lines of steel across our territory behind the thin white smoke. We
hear the whistle of your messengers of iron through the air.... The
nations rise and pass. The empires flutter westwards and are gone....
The sun grows older and the stars turn pale.... Winds shift the line
of the horizons, and our River moves its bed. But we, everlasting and
unchangeable, remain. Of water, sand and fire is our essential being,
yet built within the universal air.... There is no pause in life, there
is no break in death. The changes bring no end. The sun returns....
There is eternal resurrection.... But our kingdom is underground in
shadow, unrealised of your little day.... Come, come! The temples still
are crowded, and our Desert blesses you. Our River takes your feet. Our
sand shall purify, and the fire of our God shall burn you sweetly into
wisdom.... Come, then, and worship, for the time draws near. It is the
dawn....’

The voices died down into depths that the sand of ages muffled, while
the flaming dawn of the East rushed up the sky. Sunrise, the great
symbol of life’s endless resurrection, was at hand. About me, in
immense but shadowy array, stood the whole of ancient Egypt, hanging
breathlessly upon the moment of adoration. No longer stern and terrible
in the splendour of their long neglect, the effigies rose erect with
passionate glory, a forest of stately stone. Their granite lips were
parted and their ancient eyes were wide. All faced the east. And the
sun drew nearer to the rim of the attentive Desert.


XI

Emotion there seemed none, in the sense that _I_ knew feeling. I knew,
if anything, the ultimate secrets of two primitive sensations--joy and
awe.... The dawn grew swiftly brighter. There was gold, as though the
sands of Nubia spilt their brilliance on each shining detail; there was
glory, as though the retreating tide of stars spilt their light foam
upon the world; and there was passion, as though the beliefs of all the
ages floated back with abandonment into the--Sun. Ruined Egypt merged
into a single temple of elemental vastness whose floor was the empty
desert, but whose walls rose to the stars.

Abruptly, then, chanting and rhythm ceased; they dipped below. Sand
muffled them. And the Sun looked down upon its ancient world....

A radiant warmth poured through me. I found that I could move my limbs
again. A sense of triumphant life ran through my stony frame. For one
passing second I heard the shower of gritty particles upon my surface
like sand blown upwards by a gust of wind, but this time I could _feel_
the sting of it upon my skin. It passed. The drenching heat bathed me
from head to foot, while stony insensibility gave place with returning
consciousness to flesh and blood. The sun had risen.... I was alive,
but I was--changed.

It seemed I opened my eyes. An immense relief was in me. I turned; I
drew a deep, refreshing breath; I stretched one leg upon a thick, green
carpet. Something had left me; another thing had returned. I sat up,
conscious of welcome release, of freedom, of escape.

There was some violent, disorganising break. I found myself; I found
Moleson; I found George Isley too. He had got shifted in that room
without my being aware of it. Isley had risen. He came upon me like a
blow. I saw him move his arms. Fire flashed from below his hands; and I
realised then that he was turning on the electric lights. They emerged
from different points along the walls, in the alcove, beneath the
ceiling, by the writing-table; and one had just that minute blazed into
my eyes from a bracket close above me. I was back again in the Present
among modern things.

But, while most of the details presented themselves gradually to my
recovered senses, Isley returned with this curious effect of speed
and distance--like a blow upon the mind. From great height and from
prodigious size--he dropped. I seemed to find him rushing at me.
Moleson was simply ‘there’; there was no speed or sudden change in him
as with the other. Motionless at the piano, his long thin hands lay
down upon the keys yet did not strike them. But Isley came back like
lightning into the little room, signs of the monstrous obsession still
about his altering features. There was battle and worship mingled in
his deep-set eyes. His mouth, though set, was smiling. With a shudder I
positively saw the vastness slipping from his face as shadows from a
stretch of broken cliff. There was this awful mingling of proportions.
The colossal power that had resumed his being drew slowly inwards.
There was collapse in him. And upon the sunburned cheek of his rugged
face I saw a tear.

Poignant revulsion caught me then for a moment. The present showed
itself in rags. The reduction of scale was painful. I yearned for
the splendour that was gone, yet still seemed so hauntingly almost
within reach. The cheapness of the hotel room, the glaring ugliness of
its tinsel decoration, the baseness of ideals where utility instead
of beauty, gain instead of worship, governed life--this, with the
dwindled aspect of my companions to the insignificance of marionettes,
brought a hungry pain that was at first intolerable. In the glare
of light I noticed the small round face of the portable clock upon
the mantelpiece, showing half-past eleven. Moleson had been two
hours at the piano. And this measuring faculty of my mind completed
the disillusionment. I was, indeed, back among present things. The
mechanical spirit of To-day imprisoned me again.

For a considerable interval we neither moved nor spoke; the sudden
change left the emotions in confusion; we had leaped from a height,
from the top of the pyramid, from a star--and the crash of landing
scattered thought. I stole a glance at Isley, wondering vaguely why
he was there at all; the look of resignation had replaced the power
in his face; the tear was brushed away. There was no struggle in him
now, no sign of resistance; there was abandonment only; he seemed
insignificant. The real George Isley was elsewhere: he himself had not
returned.

By jerks, as it were, and by awkward stages, then, we all three came
back to common things again. I found that we were talking ordinarily,
asking each other questions, answering, lighting cigarettes, and all
the rest. Moleson played some commonplace chords upon the piano, while
he leaned back listlessly in his chair, putting in sentences now and
again and chatting idly to whichever of us would listen. And Isley came
slowly across the room towards me, holding out cigarettes. His dark
brown face had shadows on it. He looked exhausted, worn, like some
soldier broken in the wars.

‘You liked it?’ I heard his thin voice asking. There was no interest,
no expression; it was not the real Isley who spoke; it was the little
part of him that had come back. He smiled like a marvellous automaton.

Mechanically I took the cigarette he offered me, thinking confusedly
what answer I could make.

‘It’s irresistible,’ I murmured; ‘I understand that it’s easier to go.’

‘Sweeter as well,’ he whispered with a sigh, ‘and very wonderful!’


XII

The hand that lit my cigarette, I saw, was trembling. A desire to do
something violent woke in me suddenly--to move energetically, to push
or drive something away.

‘What was it?’ I asked abruptly, in a louder, half-challenging
voice, intended for the man at the piano. ‘Such a performance--upon
others--without first asking their permission--seems to me
unpermissible--it’s----’

And it was Moleson who replied. He ignored the end of my sentence as
though he had not heard it. He strolled over to our side, taking a
cigarette and pressing it carefully into shape between his long thin
fingers.

‘You may well ask,’ he answered quietly; ‘but it’s not so easy to
tell. We discovered it’--he nodded towards Isley--‘two years ago in
the “Valley.” It lay beside a Priest, a very important personage,
apparently, and was part of the Ritual he used in the worship of the
sun. In the Museum now--you can see it any day at the Boulak--it is
simply labelled “Hymn to Ra.” The period was Aknahton’s.’

‘The words, yes,’ put in Isley, who was listening closely.

‘The words?’ repeated Moleson in a curious tone. ‘There _are_ no words.
It’s all really a manipulation of the vowel sounds. And the rhythm, or
chanting, or whatever you like to call it, I--I invented myself. The
Egyptians did not write their music, you see.’ He suddenly searched my
face a moment with questioning eyes. ‘Any words you heard,’ he said,
‘or thought you heard, were merely your own interpretation.’

I stared at him, making no rejoinder.

‘They made use of what they called a “root-language” in their rituals,’
he went on, ‘and it consisted entirely of vowel sounds. There were no
consonants. For vowel sounds, you see, run on for ever without end or
beginning, whereas consonants interrupt their flow and break it up and
limit it. A consonant has no sound of its own at all. Real language is
continuous.’

We stood a moment, smoking in silence. I understood then that this
thing Moleson had done was based on definite knowledge. He had
rendered some fragment of an ancient Ritual he and Isley had unearthed
together, and while he knew its effect upon the latter, he chanced it
on myself. Not otherwise, I feel, could it have influenced me in the
extraordinary way it did. In the faith and poetry of a nation lies its
soul-life, and the gigantic faith of Egypt blazed behind the rhythm
of that long, monotonous chant. There were blood and heart and nerves
in it. Millions had heard it sung; millions had wept and prayed and
yearned; it was ensouled by the passion of that marvellous civilisation
that loved the godhead of the Sun, and that now hid, waiting but still
alive, below the ground. The majestic faith of ancient Egypt poured up
with it--that tremendous, burning elaboration of the after-life and of
Eternity that was the pivot of those spacious days. For centuries vast
multitudes, led by their royal priests, had uttered this very form and
ritual--believed it, lived it, felt it. The rising of the sun remained
its climax. Its spiritual power still clung to the great ruined
symbols. The faith of a buried civilisation had burned back into the
present and into our hearts as well.

And a curious respect for the man who was able to produce this effect
upon two modern minds crept over me, and mingled with the repulsion
that I felt. I looked furtively at his withered, dried-up features. He
wore some vague and shadowy impress still of what had just been in him.
There was a stony appearance in his shrunken cheeks. He looked smaller.
I saw him lessened. I thought of him as he had been so short a time
before, imprisoned in his great stone captors that had obsessed him....

‘There’s tremendous power in it,--an awful power,’ I stammered, more
to break the oppressive pause than for any desire in me to speak with
him. ‘It brings back Egypt in some extraordinary way--ancient Egypt, I
mean--brings it close--into the heart.’ My words ran on of their own
accord almost. I spoke with a hush, unwittingly. There was awe in me.
Isley had moved away towards the window, leaving me face to face with
this strange incarnation of another age.

‘It must,’ he replied, deep light still glowing in his eyes, ‘for the
soul of the old days is in it. No one, I think, can hear it and remain
the same. It expresses, you see, the essential passion and beauty
of that gorgeous worship, that splendid faith, that reasonable and
intelligent worship of the sun, the only scientific belief the world
has ever known. Its popular form, of course, was largely superstitious,
but the sacerdotal form--the form used by the priests, that is--who
understood the relationship between colour, sound and symbol, was----’

He broke off suddenly, as though he had been speaking to himself. We
sat down. George Isley leaned out of the window with his back to us,
watching the desert in the moonless night.

‘You have tried its effect before upon--others?’ I asked point-blank.

‘Upon myself,’ he answered shortly.

‘Upon others?’ I insisted.

He hesitated an instant.

‘Upon one other--yes,’ he admitted.

‘Intentionally?’ And something quivered in me as I asked it.

He shrugged his shoulders slightly. ‘I’m merely a speculative
archaeologist,’ he smiled, ‘and--and an imaginative Egyptologist. My
bounden duty is to reconstruct the past so that it lives for others.’

An impulse rose in me to take him by the throat.

‘You know perfectly well, of course, the magical effect it’s
sure--likely at least--to have?’

He stared steadily at me through the cigarette smoke. To this day I
cannot think exactly what it was in this man that made me shudder.

‘I’m sure of nothing,’ he replied smoothly, ‘but I consider it quite
legitimate to try. Magical--the word you used--has no meaning for
me. If such a thing exists, it is merely scientific--undiscovered or
forgotten knowledge.’ An insolent, aggressive light shone in his eyes
as he spoke; his manner was almost truculent. ‘You refer, I take it,
to--our friend--rather than to yourself?’

And with difficulty I met his singular stare. From his whole person
something still emanated that was forbidding, yet overmasteringly
persuasive. It brought back the notion of that invisible Web, that dim
gauze curtain, that motionless Influence lying waiting at the centre
for its prey, those monstrous and mysterious Items standing, alert
and watchful, through the centuries. ‘You mean,’ he added lower, ‘his
altered attitude to life--his going?’

To hear him use the words, the very phrase, struck me with sudden
chill. Before I could answer, however, and certainly before I could
master the touch of horror that rushed over me, I heard him continuing
in a whisper. It seemed again that he spoke to himself as much as he
spoke to me.

‘The soul, I suppose, has the right to choose its own conditions and
surroundings. To pass elsewhere involves translation, not extinction.’
He smoked a moment in silence, then said another curious thing, looking
up into my face with an expression of intense earnestness. Something
genuine in him again replaced the pose of cynicism. ‘The soul is
eternal and can take its place anywhere, regardless of mere duration.
What is there in the vulgar and superficial Present that should hold
it so exclusively; and where can it find to-day the belief, the faith,
the beauty that are the very essence of its life--where in the rush
and scatter of this tawdry age can it make its home? Shall it flutter
for ever in a valley of dry bones, when a living Past lies ready and
waiting with loveliness, strength, and glory?’ He moved closer; he
touched my arm; I felt his breath upon my face. ‘Come with us,’ he
whispered awfully; ‘come back with us! Withdraw your life from the
rubbish of this futile ugliness! Come back and worship with us in the
spirit of the Past. Take up the old, old splendour, the glory, the
immense conceptions, the wondrous certainty, the ineffable knowledge of
essentials. It all lies about you still; it’s calling, ever calling;
it’s very close; it draws you day and night--calling, calling,
calling....’

His voice died off curiously into distance on the word; I can hear it
to this day, and the soft, droning quality in the intense yet fading
tone: ‘Calling, calling, calling.’ But his eyes turned wicked. I felt
the sinister power of the man. I was aware of madness in his thought
and mind. The Past he sought to glorify I saw black, as with the
forbidding Egyptian darkness of a plague. It was not beauty but Death
that I heard calling, calling, calling.

‘It’s real,’ he went on, hardly aware that I shrank, ‘and not a dream.
These ruined symbols still remain in touch with that which was. They
are potent to-day as they were six thousand years ago. The amazing
life of those days brims behind them. They are not mere masses of
oppressive stone; they express in visible form great powers that still
are--_knowable_.’ He lowered his head, peered up into my face, and
whispered. Something secret passed into his eyes.

‘I saw you change,’ came the words below his breath, ‘as you saw the
change in us. But only worship can produce that change. The soul
assumes the qualities of the deity it worships. The powers of its deity
possess it and transform it into its own likeness. You also felt it.
_You_ also were possessed. I saw the stone-faced deity upon your own.’

I seemed to shake myself as a dog shakes water from its body. I stood
up. I remember that I stretched my hands out as though to push him from
me and expel some creeping influence from my mind. I remember another
thing as well. But for the reality of the sequel, and but for the
matter-of-fact result still facing me to-day in the disappearance of
George Isley--the loss to the present time of all George Isley _was_--I
might have found subject for laughter in what I saw. Comedy was in it
certainly. Yet it was both ghastly and terrific. Deep horror crept
below the aspect of the ludicrous, for the apparent mimicry cloaked
truth. It was appalling because it was real.

In the large mirror that reflected the room behind me I saw myself
and Moleson; I saw Isley too in the background by the open window.
And the attitude of all three was the attitude of hieroglyphics come
to life. My arms indeed were stretched, but not stretched, as I had
thought, in mere self-defence. They were stretched--unnaturally. The
forearms made those strange obtuse angles that the old carved granite
wears, the palms of the hands held upwards, the heads thrown back,
the legs advanced, the bodies stiffened into postures that expressed
forgotten, ancient minds. The physical conformation of all three was
monstrous; and yet reverence and truth dictated even the uncouthness
of the gestures. Something in all three of us inspired the forms our
bodies had assumed. Our attitudes expressed buried yearnings, emotions,
tendencies--whatever they may be termed--that the spirit of the Past
evoked.

I saw the reflected picture but for a moment. I dropped my arms, aware
of foolishness in my way of standing. Moleson moved forward with his
long, significant stride, and at the same instant Isley came up quickly
and joined us from his place by the open window. We looked into each
other’s faces without a word. There was this little pause that lasted
perhaps ten seconds. But in that pause I felt the entire world slide
past me. I heard the centuries rush by at headlong speed. The present
dipped away. Existence was no longer in a line that stretched two ways;
it was a circle in which ourselves, together with Past and Future,
stood motionless at the centre, all details equally accessible at once.
The three of us were falling, falling backwards....

‘Come!’ said the voice of Moleson solemnly, but with the sweetness as
of a child anticipating joy. ‘Come! Let us go together, for the boat
of Ra has crossed the Underworld. The darkness has been conquered. Let
us go out together and find the dawn. Listen! It is calling, calling,
calling....’


XIII

I was aware of rushing, but it was the soul in me that rushed. It
experienced dizzy, unutterable alterations. Thousands of emotions,
intense and varied, poured through me at lightning speed, each
satisfyingly known, yet gone before its name appeared. The life of many
centuries tore headlong back with me, and, as in drowning, this epitome
of existence shot in a few seconds the steep slopes the Past had so
laboriously built up. The changes flashed and passed. I wept and prayed
and worshipped; I loved and suffered; I battled, lost and won. Down the
gigantic scale of ages that telescoped thus into a few brief moments,
the soul in me went sliding backwards towards a motionless, reposeful
Past.

I remember foolish details that interrupted the immense descent--I put
on coat and hat; I remember some one’s words, strangely sounding as
when some bird wakes up and sings at midnight--‘We’ll take the little
door; the front one’s locked by now’; and I have a vague recollection
of the outline of the great hotel, with its colonnades and terraces,
fading behind me through the air. But these details merely flickered
and disappeared, as though I fell earthwards from a star and passed
feathers or blown leaves upon the way. There was no friction as my
soul dropped backwards into time; the flight was easy and silent as a
dream. I felt myself sucked down into gulfs whose emptiness offered
no resistance ... until at last the appalling speed decreased of its
own accord, and the dizzy flight became a kind of gentle floating.
It changed imperceptibly into a gliding motion, as though the angle
altered. My feet, quite naturally, were on the ground, moving through
something soft that clung to them and rustled while it clung.

I looked up and saw the bright armies of the stars. In front of me I
recognised the flat-topped, shadowy ridges; on both sides lay the open
expanses of familiar wilderness; and beside me, one on either hand,
moved two figures who were my companions. We were in the desert, but
it was the desert of thousands of years ago. My companions, moreover,
though familiar to some part of me, seemed strangers or half known.
Their names I strove in vain to capture; Mosely, Ilson, sounded in my
head, mingled together falsely. And when I stole a glance at them, I
saw dark lines of mannikins unfilled with substance, and was aware
of the grotesque gestures of living hieroglyphics. It seemed for an
instant that their arms were bound behind their backs impossibly, and
that their heads turned sharply across their lineal shoulders.

But for a moment only; for at a second glance I saw them solid and
compact; their names came back to me; our arms were linked together as
we walked. We had already covered a great distance, for my limbs were
aching and my breath was short. The air was cold, the silence absolute.
It seemed, in this faint light, that the desert flowed beneath our
feet, rather than that we advanced by taking steps. Cliffs with hooded
tops moved past us, boulders glided, mounds of sand slid by. And then I
heard a voice upon my left that was surely Moleson speaking:

‘Towards Enet our feet are set,’ he half sang, half murmured, ‘towards
Enet-te-ntōrē. There, in the House of Birth, we shall dedicate
our hearts and lives anew.’

And the language, no less than the musical intonation of his voice,
enraptured me. For I understood he spoke of Denderah, in whose majestic
temple recent hands had painted with deathless colours the symbols of
our cosmic relationships with the zodiacal signs. And Denderah was our
great seat of worship of the goddess Hathor, the Egyptian Aphrodite,
bringer of love and joy. The falcon-headed Horus was her husband, from
whom, in his home at Edfu, we imbibed swift kinds of power. And--it was
the time of the New Year, the great feast when the forces of the living
earth turn upwards into happy growth.

We were on foot across the desert towards Denderah, and this sand we
trod was the sand of thousands of years ago.

The paralysis of time and distance involved some amazing lightness of
the spirit that, I suppose, touched ecstasy. There was intoxication
in the soul. I was not divided from the stars, nor separate from this
desert that rushed with us. The unhampered wind blew freshly from my
nerves and skin, and the Nile, glimmering faintly on our right, lay
with its lapping waves in both my hands. I knew the life of Egypt, for
it was in me, over me, round me. I was a part of it. We went happily,
like birds to meet the sunrise. There were no pits of measured time and
interval that could detain us. We flowed, yet were at rest; we were
endlessly alive; present and future alike were inconceivable; we were
in the Kingdom of the Past.

The Pyramids were just a-building, and the army of Obelisks looked
about them, proud of their first balance; Thebes swung her hundred
gates upon the world. New, shining Memphis glittered with myriad
reflections into waters that the tears of Isis sweetened, and the
cliffs of Abou Simbel were still innocent of their gigantic progeny.
Alone, the Sphinx, linking timelessness with time, brooded unguessed
and underived upon an alien world. We marched within antiquity towards
Denderah....

How long we marched, how fast, how far we went, I can remember as
little as the marvellous speech that passed across me while my two
companions spoke together. I only remember that suddenly a wave
of pain disturbed my wondrous happiness and caused my calm, which
had seemed beyond all reach of break, to fall away. I heard their
voices abruptly with a kind of terror. A sensation of fear, of loss,
of nightmare bewilderment came over me like cold wind. What _they_
lived naturally, true to their inmost hearts, _I_ lived merely by
means of a temperamental sympathy. And the stage had come at which
my powers failed. Exhaustion overtook me. I wilted. The strain--the
abnormal backwards stretch of consciousness that was put upon me by
another--gave way and broke. I heard their voices faint and horrible.
My joy was extinguished. A glare of horror fell upon the desert and
the stars seemed evil. An anguishing desire for the safe and wholesome
Present usurped all this mad yearning to obtain the Past. My feet fell
out of step. The rushing of the desert paused. I unlinked my arms. We
stopped all three.

The actual spot is to this day well known to me. I found it afterwards,
I even photographed it. It lies actually not far from Helouan--a few
miles at most beyond the Solitary Palm, where slopes of undulating
sand mark the opening of a strange, enticing valley called the Wadi
Gerraui. And it is enticing because it beckons and leads on. Here, amid
torn gorges of a limestone wilderness, there is suddenly soft yellow
sand that flows and draws the feet onward. It slips away with one too
easily; always the next ridge and basin must be seen, each time a
little farther. It has the quality of decoying. The cliffs say, No; but
this streaming sand invites. In its flowing curves of gold there is
enchantment.

And it was here upon its very lips we stopped, the rhythm of our steps
broken, our hearts no longer one. My temporary rapture vanished. I
was aware of fear. For the Present rushed upon me with attack in it,
and I felt that my mind was arrested close upon the edge of madness.
Something cleared and lifted in my brain.

The soul, indeed, could ‘choose its dwelling-place’; but to live
elsewhere completely was the choice of madness, and to live divorced
from all the sweet wholesome business of To-day involved an exile
that was worse than madness. It was death. My heart burned for George
Isley. I remembered the tear upon his cheek. The agony of his struggle
I shared suddenly with him. Yet with him was the reality, with me
a sympathetic reflection merely. _He_ was already too far gone to
fight....

I shall never forget the desolation of that strange scene beneath the
morning stars. The desert lay down and watched us. We stood upon the
brink of a little broken ridge, looking into the valley of golden sand.
This sand gleamed soft and wonderful in the starlight some twenty feet
below. The descent was easy--but I would not move. I refused to advance
another step. I saw my companions in the mysterious half-light beside
me peering over the edge, Moleson in front a little.

And I turned to him, sure of the part I meant to play, yet conscious
painfully of my helplessness. My personality seemed a straw in
mid-stream that spun in a futile effort to arrest the flood that bore
it. There was vivid human conflict in the moment’s silence. It was an
eddy that paused in the great body of the tide. And then I spoke. Oh,
I was ashamed of the insignificance of my voice and the weakness of my
little personality.

‘Moleson, we go no farther with you. We have already come too far. We
now turn back.’

Behind my words were a paltry thirty years. His answer drove sixty
centuries against me. For his voice was like the wind that passed
whispering down the stream of yellow sand below us. He smiled.

‘Our feet are set towards Enet-te-ntōrē. There is no turning
back. Listen! It is calling, calling, calling!’

‘We will go home,’ I cried, in a tone I vainly strove to make
imperative.

‘Our home is there,’ he sang, pointing with one long thin arm towards
the brightening east, ‘for the Temple calls us and the River takes our
feet. We shall be in the House of Birth to meet the sunrise----’

‘You lie,’ I cried again, ‘you speak the lies of madness, and this Past
you seek is the House of Death. It is the kingdom of the underworld.’

The words tore wildly, impotently out of me. I seized George Isley’s
arm.

‘Come back with me,’ I pleaded vehemently, my heart aching with a
nameless pain for him. ‘We’ll retrace our steps. Come home with me!
Come back! Listen! The Present calls you sweetly!’

His arm slipped horribly out of my grasp that had seemed to hold it so
tightly. Moleson, already below us in the yellow sand, looked small
with distance. He was gliding rapidly farther with uncanny swiftness.
The diminution of his form was ghastly. It was like a doll’s. And his
voice rose up, faint as with the distance of great gulfs of space.

‘Calling ... calling.... You hear it for ever calling ...’

It died away with the wind along that sandy valley, and the Past swept
in a flood across the brightening sky. I swayed as though a storm was
at my back. I reeled. Almost I went too--over the crumbling edge into
the sand.

‘Come back with me! Come home!’ I cried more faintly. ‘The Present
alone is real. There is work, ambition, duty. There is beauty too--the
beauty of good living! And there is love! There is--a woman ...
calling, calling...!’

That other voice took up the word below me. I heard the faint refrain
sing down the sandy walls. The wild, sweet pang in it was marvellous.

‘Our feet are set for Enet-te-ntōrē. It is calling, calling...!’

My voice fell into nothingness. George Isley was below me now, his
outline tiny against the sheet of yellow sand. And the sand was moving.
The desert rushed again. The human figures receded swiftly into the
Past they had reconstructed with the creative yearning of their souls.

I stood alone upon the edge of crumbling limestone, helplessly watching
them. It was amazing what I witnessed, while the shafts of crimson dawn
rose up the sky. The enormous desert turned alive to the horizon with
gold and blue and silver. The purple shadows melted into grey. The
flat-topped ridges shone. Huge messengers of light flashed everywhere
at once. The radiance of sunrise dazzled my outer sight.

But if my eyes were blinded, my inner sight was focused the more
clearly upon what followed. I witnessed the disappearance of George
Isley. There was a dreadful magic in the picture. The pair of them,
small and distant below me in that little sandy hollow, stood out
sharply defined as in a miniature. I saw their outlines neat and
terrible like some ghastly inset against the enormous scenery. Though
so close to me in actual space, they were centuries away in time. And a
dim, vast shadow was about them that was not mere shadow of the ridges.
It encompassed them; it moved, crawling over the sand, obliterating
them. Within it, like insects lost in amber, they became visibly
imprisoned, dwindled in size, borne deep away, absorbed.

And then I recognised the outline. Once more, but this time recumbent
and spread flat upon the desert’s face, I knew the monstrous shapes of
the twin obsessing symbols. The spirit of ancient Egypt lay over all
the land, tremendous in the dawn. The sunrise summoned her. She lay
prostrate before the deity. The shadows of the towering Colossi lay
prostrate too. The little humans, with their worshipping and conquered
hearts, lay deep within them.

George Isley I saw clearest. The distinctness, the reality were
appalling. He was naked, robbed, undressed. I saw him a skeleton,
picked clean to the very bones as by an acid. His life lay hid in the
being of that mighty Past. Egypt had absorbed him. He was gone....

       *       *       *       *       *

I closed my eyes, but I could not keep them closed. They opened of
their own accord. The three of us were nearing the great hotel that
rose yellow, with shuttered windows, in the early sunshine. A wind
blew briskly from the north across the Mokattam Hills. There were soft
cannon-ball clouds dotted about the sky, and across the Nile, where the
mist lay in a line of white, I saw the tops of the Pyramids gleaming
like mountain peaks of gold. A string of camels, laden with white
stone, went past us. I heard the crying of the natives in the streets
of Helouan, and as we went up the steps the donkeys arrived and camped
in the sandy road beside their _bersim_ till the tourists claimed them.

‘Good morning,’ cried Abdullah, the man who owned them. ‘You all
go Sakkhâra to-day, or Memphis? Beat’ful day to-day, and vair good
donkeys!’

Moleson went up to his room without a word, and Isley did the same.
I thought he staggered a moment as he turned the passage corner from
my sight. His face wore a look of vacancy that some call peace. There
was radiance in it. It made me shudder. Aching in mind and body, and
no word spoken, I followed their example. I went upstairs to bed, and
slept a dreamless sleep till after sunset....


XIV

And I woke with a lost, unhappy feeling that a withdrawing tide had
left me on the shore, alone and desolate. My first instinct was for my
friend, George Isley. And I noticed a square, white envelope with my
name upon it in his writing.

Before I opened it I knew quite well what words would be inside:

‘We are going up to Thebes,’ the note informed me simply. ‘We leave
by the night train. If you care to----’ But the last four words were
scratched out again, though not so thickly that I could not read them.
Then came the address of the Egyptologist’s house and the signature,
very firmly traced, ‘Yours ever, GEORGE ISLEY.’ I glanced at
my watch and saw that it was after seven o’clock. The night train left
at half-past six. They had already started....

The pain of feeling forsaken, left behind, was deep and bitter, for
myself; but what I felt for him, old friend and comrade, was even more
intense, since it was hopeless. Fear and conventional emotion had
stopped me at the very gates of an amazing possibility--some state of
consciousness that, _realising_ the Past, might doff the Present, and
by slipping out of Time, experience Eternity. That was the seduction
I had escaped by the uninspired resistance of my pettier soul. Yet,
he, my friend, yielding in order to conquer, had obtained an awful
prize--ah, I understood the picture’s other side as well, with an
unutterable poignancy of pity--the prize of immobility which is sheer
stagnation, the imagined bliss which is a false escape, the dream of
finding beauty away from present things. From that dream the awakening
must be rude indeed. Clutching at vanished stars, he had clutched the
oldest illusion in the world. To me it seemed the negation of life that
had betrayed him. The pity of it burned me like a flame.

But I did not ‘care to follow’ him and his companion. I waited at
Helouan for his return, filling the empty days with yet emptier
explanations. I felt as a man who sees what he loves sinking down
into clear, deep water, still within visible reach, yet gone beyond
recovery. Moleson had taken him back to Thebes; and Egypt, monstrous
effigy of the Past, had caught her prey.

The rest, moreover, is easily told. Moleson I never saw again. To this
day I have never seen him, though his subsequent books are known to
me, with the banal fact that he is numbered with those energetic and
deluded enthusiasts who start a new religion, obtain notoriety, a few
hysterical followers and--oblivion.

George Isley, however, returned to Helouan after a fortnight’s absence.
I saw him, knew him, talked and had my meals with him. We even did
slight expeditions together. He was gentle and delightful as a woman
who has loved a wonderful ideal and attained to it--in memory. All
roughness was gone out of him; he was smooth and polished as a crystal
surface that reflects whatever is near enough to ask a picture.
Yet his appearance shocked me inexpressibly: there was nothing in
him--_nothing_. It was the representation of George Isley that came
back from Thebes; the outer simulacra; the shell that walks the London
streets to-day. I met no vestige of the man I used to know. George
Isley had disappeared.

With this marvellous automaton I lived another month. The horror of
him kept me company in the hotel where he moved among the cosmopolitan
humanity as a ghost that visits the sunlight yet has its home elsewhere.

This empty image of George Isley lived with me in our Helouan
hotel until the winds of early March informed his physical frame
that discomfort was in the air, and that he might as well move
elsewhere--elsewhere happening to be northwards.

And he left just as he stayed--automatically. His brain obeyed
the conventional stimuli to which his nerves, and consequently his
muscles, were accustomed. It sounds so foolish. But he took his ticket
automatically; he gave the natural and adequate reasons automatically;
he chose his ship and landing-place in the same way that ordinary
people chose these things; he said good-bye like any other man who
leaves casual acquaintances and ‘hopes’ to meet them again; he lived,
that is to say, entirely in his brain. His heart, his emotions, his
temperament and personality, that nameless sum-total for which the
great sympathetic nervous system is accountable--all this, his soul,
had gone elsewhere. This once vigorous, gifted being had become a
normal, comfortable man that everybody could understand--a commonplace
nonentity. He was precisely what the majority expected him to
be--ordinary; a good fellow; a man of the world; he was ‘delightful.’
He merely reflected daily life without partaking of it. To the majority
it was hardly noticeable; ‘very pleasant’ was a general verdict. His
ambition, his restlessness, his zeal had gone; that tireless zest whose
driving power is yearning had taken flight, leaving behind it physical
energy without spiritual desire. His soul had found its nest and flown
to it. He lived in the chimera of the Past, serene, indifferent,
detached. I saw him immense, a shadowy, majestic figure, standing--ah,
not moving!--in a repose that was satisfying because it _could_ not
change. The size, the mystery, the immobility that caged him in seemed
to me--terrible. For I dared not intrude upon his awful privacy, and
intimacy between us there was none. Of his experiences at Thebes I
asked no single question--it was somehow not possible or legitimate;
he, equally, vouchsafed no word of explanation--it was uncommunicable
to a dweller in the Present. Between us was this barrier we both
respected. He peered at modern life, incurious, listless, apathetic,
through a dim, gauze curtain. He was behind it.

People round us were going to Sakkhâra and the Pyramids, to see
the Sphinx by moonlight, to dream at Edfu and at Denderah. Others
described their journeys to Assouan, Khartoum and Abou Simbel, and
gave details of their encampments in the desert. Wind, wind, wind! The
winds of Egypt blew and sang and sighed. From the White Nile came the
travellers, and from the Blue Nile, from the Fayum, and from nameless
excavations without end. They talked and wrote their books. They had
the magpie knowledge of the present. The Egyptologists, big and little,
read the writing on the wall and put the hieroglyphs and papyri into
modern language. Alone George Isley _knew_ the secret. He lived it.

And the high passionate calm, the lofty beauty, the glamour and
enchantment that are the spell of this thrice-haunted land, were in
_my_ soul as well--sufficiently for me to interpret his condition. I
could not leave, yet having left I could not stay away. I yearned for
the Egypt that he knew. No word I uttered; speech could not approach
it. We wandered by the Nile together, and through the groves of palms
that once were Memphis. The sandy wastes beyond the Pyramids knew our
footsteps; the Mokattam Ridges, purple at evening and golden in the
dawn, held our passing shadows as we silently went by. At no single
dawn or sunset was he to be found indoors, and it became my habit
to accompany him--the joy of worship in his soul was marvellous.
The great, still skies of Egypt watched us, the hanging stars, the
gigantic dome of blue; we felt together that burning southern wind; the
golden sweetness of the sun lay in our blood as we saw the great boats
take the northern breeze upstream. Immensity was everywhere and this
golden magic of the sun....

But it was in the Desert especially, where only sun and wind observe
the faint signalling of Time, where space is nothing because it is not
divided, and where no detail reminds the heart that the world is called
To-Day--it was in the desert this curtain hung most visibly between us,
he on that side, I on this. It was transparent. He was with a multitude
no man can number. Towering to the moon, yet spreading backwards
towards his burning source of life, drawn out by the sun and by the
crystal air into some vast interior magnitude, the spirit of George
Isley hung beside me, close yet far away, in the haze of olden days.

And, sometimes, he moved. I was aware of gestures. His head was
raised to listen. One arm swung shadowy across the sea of broken
ridges. From leagues away a line of sand rose slowly. There was a
rustling. Another--an enormous--arm emerged to meet his own, and two
stupendous figures drew together. Poised above Time, yet throned upon
the centuries, They knew eternity. So easily they remained possessors
of the land. Facing the east, they waited for the dawn. And their
marvellously forgotten singing poured across the world....



WAYFARERS


I missed the train at Evian, and, after infinite trouble, discovered a
motor that would take me, ice-axe and all, to Geneva. By hurrying, the
connection might be just possible. I telegraphed to Haddon to meet me
at the station, and lay back comfortably, dreaming of the precipices of
Haute Savoie. We made good time; the roads were excellent, traffic of
the slightest, when--crash! There was an instant’s excruciating pain,
the sun went out like a snuffed candle, and I fell into something as
soft as a bed of flowers and as yielding to my weight as warm water....

It was _very_ warm. There was a perfume of flowers. My eyes opened,
focused vividly upon a detailed picture for a moment, then closed
again. There was no context--at least, none that I could recall--for
the scene, though familiar as home, brought nothing that I definitely
remembered. Broken away from any sequence, unattached to any past,
unaware even of my own identity, I simply saw this picture as a camera
snaps it off from the world, a scene apart, with meaning only for those
who knew the context:

The warm, soft thing I lay in was a bed--big, deep, comfortable; and
the perfume came from flowers that stood beside it on a little table.
It was in a stately, ancient chamber, with lofty ceiling and immense
open fireplace of stone; old-fashioned pictures--familiar portraits
and engravings I knew intimately--hung upon the walls; the floor was
bare, with dignified, carved furniture of oak and mahogany, huge chairs
and massive cupboards. And there were latticed windows set within deep
embrasures of grey stone, where clambering roses patterned the sunshine
that cast their moving shadows on the polished boards. With the perfume
of the flowers there mingled, too, that delicate, elusive odour of
age--of wood, of musty tapestries in spacious halls and corridors, and
of chambers long unopened to the sun and air.

By the door that stood ajar far away at the end of the room--very far
away it seemed--an old lady, wearing a little cap of silk embroidery,
was whispering to a man of stern, uncompromising figure, who, as he
listened, bent down to her with a grave and even solemn face. A wide
stone corridor was just visible through the crack of the open door
behind her.

The picture flashed, and vanished. The numerous details I took in
because they were well known to me already. That I could not supply the
context was merely a trick of the mind, the kind of trick that dreams
play. Darkness swamped vision again. I sank back into the warm, soft,
comfortable bed of delicious oblivion. There was not the slightest
desire to know; sleep and soft forgetfulness were all I craved.

But a little later--or was it a very great deal later?--when I opened
my eyes again, there was a thin trail of memory. I remembered my name
and age. I remembered vaguely, as though from some unpleasant dream,
that I was on the way to meet a climbing friend in the Alps of Haute
Savoie, and that there was need to hurry and be very active. Something
had gone wrong, it seemed. There had been a stupid, violent disaster,
pain in it somewhere, an accident. Where were my belongings? Where, for
instance, was my precious ice-axe--tried old instrument on which my
life and safety depended? A rush of jumbled questions poured across my
mind. The effort to sort them hurt atrociously....

A figure stood beside my bed. It was the same old lady I had seen a
moment ago--or was it a month ago, even last year perhaps? And this
time she was alone. Yet, though familiar to me as my own right hand, I
could not for the life of me attract her name. Searching for it brought
the pain again. Instead, I asked an easier question; it seemed the most
important somehow, though a feeling of shame came with it, as though I
knew I was talking nonsense:

‘My ice-axe--is it safe? It should have stood any ordinary strain. It’s
ash....’ My voice failed absurdly, caught away by a whisper half-way
down my throat. What _was_ I talking about? There was vile confusion
somewhere.

She smiled tenderly, sweetly, as she placed her small, cool hand
upon my forehead. Her touch calmed me as it always did, and the pain
retreated a little.

‘All your things are safe,’ she answered, in a voice so soft beneath
the distant ceiling it was like a bird’s note singing in the sky. ‘And
_you_ are also safe. There is no danger now. The bullet has been taken
out and all is going well. Only you must be patient, and lie very
still, and rest.’ And then she added the morsel of delicious comfort
she knew quite well I waited for: ‘Marion is near you all day long,
and most of the night besides. She rarely leaves you. She is in and out
all day.’

I stared, thirsting for more. Memory put certain pieces in their place
again. I heard them click together as they joined. But they only tried
to join. There were several pieces missing. They must have been lost in
the disaster. The pattern was too ridiculous.

‘I ought to tel--telegraph----’ I began, seizing at a fragment that
poked its end up, then plunged out of sight again before I could read
more of it. The pieces fell apart; they would not hold together without
these missing fragments. Anger flamed up in me.

‘They’re badly made,’ I said, with a petulance I was secretly ashamed
of; ‘you have chosen the wrong pieces! I’m not a child--to be
treated----’ A shock of heat tore through me, led by a point of iron,
with blasting pain.

‘Sleep, my poor dear Félix, sleep,’ she murmured soothingly, while her
tiny hand stroked my forehead, just in time to prevent that pointed,
hot thing entering my heart. ‘Sleep again now, and a little later you
shall tell me their names, and I will send on horseback quickly----’

‘Telegraph----’ I tried to say, but the word went lost before I could
pronounce it. It was a nonsense word, caught up from dreams. Thought
fluttered and went out.

‘I will send,’ she whispered, ‘in the quickest possible way. You shall
explain to Marion. Sleep first a little longer; promise me to lie quite
still and sleep. When you wake again, she will come to you at once.’

She sat down gently on the edge of the enormous bed, so that I saw her
outline against the window where the roses clambered to come in. She
bent over me--or was it a rose that bent in the wind across the stone
embrasure? I saw her clear blue eyes--or was it two raindrops upon a
withered rose-leaf that mirrored the summer sky?

‘Thank you,’ my voice murmured with intense relief, as everything sank
away and the old-world garden seemed to enter by the latticed windows.
For there was a power in her way that made obedience sweet, and her
little hand, besides, cushioned the attack of that cruel iron point so
that I hardly felt its entrance. Before the fierce heat could reach me,
darkness again put out the world....

Then, after a prodigious interval, my eyes once more opened to the
stately, old-world chamber that I knew so well; and this time I found
myself alone. In my brain was a stinging, splitting sensation, as
though Memory shook her pieces together with angry violence, pieces,
moreover, made of clashing metal. A degrading nausea almost vanquished
me. Against my feet was a heated metal body, too heavy for me to move,
and bandages were tight round my neck and the back of my head. Dimly,
it came back to me that hands had been about me hours ago, soft,
ministering hands that I loved. Their perfume lingered still. Faces
and names fled in swift procession past me, yet without my making any
attempt to bid them stay. I asked myself no questions. Effort of any
sort was utterly beyond me. I lay and watched and waited, helpless and
strangely weak.

One or two things alone were clear. They came, too, without the effort
to think them:

There had been a disaster; they had carried me into the nearest house;
and--the mountain heights, so keenly longed for, were suddenly denied
me. I was being cared for by kind people somewhere far from the world’s
high routes. They were familiar people, yet for the moment I had lost
the name. But it was the bitterness of losing my holiday climbing
that chiefly savaged me, so that strong desire returned upon itself
unfulfilled. And, knowing the danger of frustrated yearnings, and the
curious states of mind they may engender, my tumbling brain registered
a decision automatically:

‘Keep careful watch upon yourself,’ it whispered.

For I saw the peaks that towered above the world, and felt the wind
rise from the hidden valleys. The perfume of lonely ridges came to me,
and I saw the snow against the blue-black sky. Yet I could not reach
them. I lay, instead, broken and useless upon my back, in a soft,
deep, comfortable bed. And I loathed the thought. A dull and evil fury
rose within me. Where was Haddon? He would get me out of it if any one
could. And where was my dear, old trusted ice-axe? Above all, who were
these gentle, old-world people who cared for me?... And, with this last
thought, came some fairy touch of sweetness so delicious that I was
conscious of sudden resignation--more, even of delight and joy.

This joy and anger ran races for possession of my mind, and I knew not
which to follow: both seemed real, and both seemed true. The cruel
confusion was an added torture. Two sets of places and people seemed to
mingle.

‘Keep a careful watch upon yourself,’ repeated the automatic caution.

Then, with returning, blissful darkness, came another thing--a tiny
point of wonder, where light entered in. I thought of a woman....
It was a vehement, commanding thought; and though at first it was
very close and real--as much of To-day as Haddon and my precious
ice-axe--the next second it was leagues away in another world
somewhere. Yet, before the confusion twisted it all askew, I knew her;
I remembered clearly even where she lived; that I knew her husband,
too--had stayed with them in--in Scotland--yes, in Scotland. Yet no
word in this life had ever crossed my lips, for she was not free to
come. Neither of us, with eyes or lips or gesture, had ever betrayed
a hint to the other of our deeply hidden secret. And, although for me
she was _the_ woman, my great yearning--long, long ago it was, in early
youth--had been sternly put aside and buried with all the vigour nature
gave me. Her husband was my friend as well.

Only, now, the shock had somehow strained the prison bars, and the
yearning escaped for a moment full-fledged, and vehement with passion
long denied. The inhibition was destroyed. The knowledge swept
deliciously upon me that we had the right to be together, because we
always _were_ together. I had the right to ask for her.

My mind was certainly a mere field of confused, ungoverned images. No
thinking was possible, for it hurt too vilely. But this one memory
stood out with violence. I distinctly remember that I called to her
to come, and that she had the right to come because my need was so
peremptory. To the one most loved of all this life had brought me, yet
to whom I had never spoken because she was in another’s keeping, I
called for help, and called, I verily believe, aloud:

‘Please come!’ Then, close upon its heels, the automatic warning
again: ‘Keep close watch upon yourself...!’

It was as though one great yearning had loosed the other that was even
greater, and had set it free.

Disappearing consciousness then followed the cry for an incalculable
distance. Down into subterraneans within myself that were positively
frightening it plunged away. But the cry was real; the yearning appeal
held authority in it as of command. Love gave the right, supplied the
power as well. For it seemed to me a tiny answer came, but from so far
away that it was scarcely audible. And names were nowhere in it, either
in answer or appeal.

‘I am always here. I have never, never left you!’

       *       *       *       *       *

The unconsciousness that followed was not complete, apparently.
There was a memory of effort in it, of struggle, and, as it were, of
searching. Some one was trying to get at me. I tossed in a troubled
sea upon a piece of wreckage that another swimmer also fought to
reach. Huge waves of transparent green now brought this figure nearer,
now concealed it, but it came steadily on, holding out a rope. My
exhaustion was too great for me to respond, yet this swimmer swept up
nearer, brought by enormous rollers that threatened to engulf us both.
The rope was for my safety, too. I saw hands outstretched. In the deep
water I saw the outline of the body, and once I even saw the face. But
for a second, merely. The wave that bore it crashed with a horrible
roar that smothered us both and swept me from my piece of wreckage. In
the violent flood of water the rope whipped against my feeble hands.
I grasped it. A sense of divine security at once came over me--an
intolerable sweetness of utter bliss and comfort, then blackness and
suffocation as of the grave. The white-hot point of iron struck me. It
beat audibly against my heart. I heard the knocking. The pain brought
me up to the surface, and the knocking of my dreams was in reality a
knocking on the door. Some one was gently tapping.

Such was the confusion of images in my pain-racked mind, that I
expected to see the old lady enter, bringing ropes and ice-axes, and
followed by Haddon, my mountaineering friend; for I thought that I had
fallen down a deep crevasse and had waited hours for help in the cold,
blue darkness of the ice. I was too weak to answer, and the knocking
for that matter was not repeated. I did not even hear the opening of
the door, so softly did she move into the room. I only knew that before
I actually saw her, this wave of intolerable sweetness drenched me once
again with bliss and peace and comfort, my pain retreated, and I closed
my eyes, knowing I should feel that cool and soothing hand upon my
forehead.

The same minute I did feel it. There was a perfume of old gardens in
the air. I opened my eyes to look the gratitude I could not utter, and
saw, close against me--not the old lady, but the young and lovely face
my worship had long made familiar. With lips that smiled their yearning
and eyes of brown that held tears of sympathy, she sat down beside me
on the bed. The warmth and fragrance of her atmosphere enveloped me. I
sank away into a garden where spring melts magically into summer. Her
arms were round my neck. Her face dropped down, so that I felt her hair
upon my cheek and eyes. And then, whispering my name twice over, she
kissed me on the lips.

‘Marion,’ I murmured.

‘Hush! Mother sends you this,’ she answered softly. ‘You are to take it
all; she made it with her own hands. But _I_ bring it to you. You must
be quite obedient, please.’

She tried to rise, but I held her against my breast.

‘Kiss me again and I’ll promise obedience always,’ I strove to say.
But my voice refused so long a sentence, and anyhow her lips were on
my own before I could have finished it. Slowly, very carefully, she
disentangled herself, and my arms sank back upon the coverlet. I sighed
in happiness. A moment longer she stood beside my bed, gazing down with
love and deep anxiety into my face.

‘And when all is eaten, all, mind, _all_,’ she smiled, ‘you are to
sleep until the doctor comes this afternoon. You are much better. Soon
you shall get up. Only, remember,’ shaking her finger with a sweet
pretence of looking stern, ‘I shall exact complete obedience. You must
yield your will utterly to mine. You are in my heart, and my heart must
be kept very warm and happy.’

Her eyes were tender as her mother’s, and I loved the authority and
strength that were so real in her. I remembered how it was this
strength that had sealed the contract her beauty first drew up for me
to sign. She bent down once more to arrange my pillows.

‘What happened to--to the motor?’ I asked hesitatingly, for my thoughts
_would_ not regulate themselves. The mind presented such incongruous
fragments.

‘The--what?’ she asked, evidently puzzled. The word seemed strange to
her. ‘What is that?’ she repeated, anxiety in her eyes.

I made an effort to tell her, but I could not. Explanation was
suddenly impossible. The whole idea dived away out of sight. It utterly
evaded me. I had again invented a word that was without meaning. I was
talking nonsense. In its place my dream came up. I tried to tell her
how I had dreamed of climbing dangerous heights with a stranger, and
had spoken another language with him than my own--English, was it?--at
any rate, not my native French.

‘Darling,’ she whispered close into my ear, ‘the bad dreams will not
come back. You are safe here, quite safe.’ She put her little hand like
a flower on my forehead and drew it softly down the cheek. ‘Your wound
is already healing. They took the bullet out four days ago. I have
got it,’ she added with a touch of shy embarrassment, and kissed me
tenderly upon my eyes.

‘How long have you been away from me?’ I asked, feeling exhaustion
coming back.

‘Never once for more than ten minutes,’ was the reply. ‘I watched with
you all night. Only this morning, while mother took my place, I slept a
little. But, hush!’ she said, with dear authority again; ‘you are not
to talk so much. You must eat what I have brought, then sleep again.
You must rest and sleep. Good-bye, good-bye, my love. I shall come back
in an hour, and I shall always be within reach of your dear voice.’

Her tall, slim figure, dressed in the grey I loved, crossed silently to
the door. She gave me one more look--there was all the tenderness of
passionate love in it--and then was gone.

I followed instructions meekly, and when a delicious sleep stole over
me soon afterwards, I had forgotten utterly the ugly dream that I
was climbing dangerous heights with another man, forgotten as well
everything else, except that it seemed so many days since my love had
come to me, and that my bullet wound would after all be healed in time
for our wedding on the day so long, so eagerly waited for.

And when, several hours later, her mother came in with the doctor--his
face less grave and solemn this time--the news that I might get up next
day and lie a little in the garden, did more to heal me than a thousand
bandages or twice that quantity of medical instructions.

I watched them as they stood a moment by the open door. They went out
very slowly together, speaking in whispers. But the only thing I caught
was the mother’s voice, talking brokenly of the great wars. Napoleon,
the doctor was saying in a low, hushed tone, was in full retreat from
Moscow, though the news had only just come through. They passed into
the corridor then, and there was a sound of weeping as the old lady
murmured something about her son and the cruelty of Heaven. ‘Both will
be taken from me,’ she was sobbing softly, while he stooped to comfort
her; ‘one in marriage, and the other in death.’ They closed the door
then, and I heard no more.


I

Convalescence seemed to follow very quickly then, for I was utterly
obedient as I had promised, and never spoke of what could excite me
to my own detriment--the wars and my own unfortunate part in them. We
talked instead of our love, our already too-long engagement, and of the
sweet dream of happiness that life held waiting for us in the future.
And, indeed, I was sufficiently weary of the world to prefer repose to
much activity, for my body was almost incessantly in pain, and this old
garden where we lay between high walls of stone, aloof from the busy
world and very peaceful, was far more to my taste just then than wars
and fighting.

The orchards were in blossom, and the winds of spring showered their
rain of petals upon the long, new grass. We lay, half in sunshine, half
in shade, beneath the poplars that lined the avenue towards the lake,
and behind us rose the ancient grey stone towers where the jackdaws
nested in the ivy and the pigeons cooed and fluttered from the woods
beyond.

There was loveliness everywhere, but there was sadness too, for though
we both knew that the wars had taken her brother whence there is no
return, and that only her aged, failing mother’s life stood between
ourselves and the stately property, there hid a sadness yet deeper
than either of these thoughts in both our hearts. And it was, I think,
the sadness that comes with spring. For spring, with her lavish,
short-lived promises of eternal beauty, is ever a symbol of passing
human happiness, incomplete and always unfulfilled. Promises made on
earth are playthings, after all, for children. Even while we make them
so solemnly, we seem to know they are not meant to hold. They are made,
as spring is made, with a glory of soft, radiant blossoms that pass
away before there is time to realise them. And yet they come again with
the return of spring, as unashamed and glorious as if Time had utterly
forgotten.

And this sadness was in her too. I mean it was part of her and she was
part of it. Not that our love could change to pass or die, but that
its sweet, so-long-desired accomplishment must hold away, and, like the
spring, must melt and vanish before it had been fully known. I did not
speak of it. I well understood that the depression of a broken body can
influence the spirit with its poisonous melancholy, but it must have
betrayed itself in my words and gestures, even in my manner too. At any
rate, she was aware of it. I think, if truth be told, she felt it too.
It seemed so painfully inevitable.

My recovery, meanwhile, was rapid, and from spending an hour or two in
the garden, I soon came to spend the entire day. For the spring came on
with a rush, and the warmth increased deliciously. While the cuckoos
called to one another in the great beech-woods behind the château,
we sat and talked and sometimes had our simple meals or coffee there
together, and I particularly recall the occasion when solid food was
first permitted me and she gave me a delicate young _bondelle_, fresh
caught that very morning in the lake. There were leaves of sweet, crisp
lettuce with it, and she picked the bones out for me with her own white
hands.

The day was radiant, with a sky of cloudless blue, soft airs stirred
the poplar crests; the little waves fell on the pebbly beach not fifty
metres away, and the orchard floor was carpeted with flowers that
seemed to have caught from heaven’s stars the patterns of their yellow
blossoms. The bees droned peacefully among the fruit trees; the air was
full of musical deep hummings. My former vigour stirred delightfully
in my blood, and I knew no pain, beyond occasional dull twinges in the
head that came with a rush of temporary darkness over my mind. The
scar was healed, however, and the hair had grown over it again. This
temporary darkness alarmed her more than it alarmed me. There were
grave complications, apparently, that I did not know of.

But the deep-lying sadness in me seemed independent of the glorious
weather, due to causes so intangible, so far off that I never could
dispel them by arguing them away. For I could not discover what they
actually were. There was a vague, distressing sense of restlessness
that I ought to have been elsewhere and otherwise, that we were
together for a few days only, and that these few days I had snatched
unlawfully from stern, imperative duties. These duties were immediate,
but neglected. In a sense I had no right to this springtide of bliss
her presence brought me. I was playing truant somehow, somewhere. It
was _not_ my absence from the regiment; that I know. It was infinitely
deeper, set to some enormous scale that vaguely frightened me, while it
deepened the sweetness of the stolen joy.

Like a child, I sought to pin the sunny hours against the sky and
make them stay. They passed with such a mocking swiftness, snatched
momentarily from some big oblivion. The twilights swallowed our days
together before they had been properly tasted, and on looking back,
each afternoon of happiness seemed to have been a mere moment in a
flying dream. And I must have somehow betrayed the aching mood, for
Marion turned of a sudden and gazed into my face with yearning and
anxiety in the sweet brown eyes.

‘What is it, dearest?’ I asked, ‘and why do your eyes bring questions?’

‘You sighed,’ she answered, smiling a little sadly; ‘and sighed so
deeply. You are in pain again. The darkness, perhaps, is over you?’
And her hand stole out to meet my own. ‘You are in pain?’

‘Not physical pain,’ I said, ‘and not _the_ darkness either. I see
_you_ clearly,’ and would have told her more, as I carried her soft
fingers to my lips, had I not divined from the expression in her eyes
that she read my heart and knew all my strange, mysterious forebodings
in herself.

‘I know,’ she whispered before I could find speech, ‘for I feel it too.
It is the shadow of separation that oppresses you--yet of no common,
measurable separation you can understand. Is it not that?’

Leaning over then, I took her close into my arms, since words in that
moment were mere foolishness. I held her so that she could not get
away; but even while I did so it was like trying to hold the spring, or
fasten the flying hour with a fierce desire. All slipped from me, and
my arms caught at the sunshine and the wind.

‘We have both felt it all these weeks,’ she said bravely, as soon as
I had released her, ‘and we both have struggled to conceal it. But
now----’ she hesitated for a second, and with so exquisite a tenderness
that I would have caught her to me again but for my anxiety to hear her
further words--‘now that you are well, we may speak plainly to each
other, and so lessen our pain by sharing it.’ And then she added, still
more softly: ‘You feel there is “something” that shall take you from
me--yet what it is you cannot discover nor divine. Tell me, Félix--all
your thought, that I in turn may tell you mine.’

Her voice floated about me in the sunny air. I stared at her, striving
to focus the dear face more clearly for my sight. A shower of apple
blossoms fell about us, and her words seemed floating past me like
those passing petals of white. They drifted away. I followed them
with difficulty and confusion. With the wind, I fancied, a veil of
indefinable change slipped across her face and eyes.

‘Yet nothing that could alter feeling,’ I answered; for she had
expressed my own thought completely. ‘Nor anything that either of us
can control. Only--perhaps, that everything must fade and pass away,
just as this glory of the spring must fade and pass away----’

‘Yet leaving its sweetness in us,’ she caught me up passionately, ‘and
to come again, my beloved, to come again in every subsequent life,
each time with an added sweetness in it too!’ Her little face showed
suddenly the courage of a lion in its eyes. Her heart was ever braver
than my own, a vigorous, fighting soul. She spoke of lives, I prattled
of days and hours merely.

A touch of shame stole over me. But that delicate, swift change in her
spread too. With a thrill of ominous warning I noticed how it rose and
grew about her. From within, outwards, it seemed to pass--like a shadow
of great blue distance. Shadow was somewhere in it, so that she dimmed
a little before my very eyes. The dreadful yearning searched and shook
me, for I could not understand it, try as I would. She seemed going
from me--drifting like her words and like the apple blossoms.

‘But when we shall no longer be here to know it,’ I made answer
quickly, yet as calmly as I could, ‘and when we shall have passed to
some other place--to other conditions--where we shall not recognise the
joy and wonder. When barriers of mist shall have rolled between us--our
love and passion so made-over that we shall not know each other’--the
words rushed out feverishly, half beyond control--‘and perhaps shall
not even dare to speak to each other of our deep desire----’

I broke off abruptly, conscious that I was speaking out of some
unfamiliar place where I floundered, helpless among strange conditions.
I was saying things I hardly understood myself. Her bigger, deeper mood
spoke through me, perhaps.

Her darling face came back again; she moved close within reach once
more.

‘Hush, hush!’ she whispered, terror and love both battling in her
eyes. ‘It is the truth, perhaps, but you must not say such things. To
speak them brings them closer. A chain is about our hearts, a chain
of fashioning lives without number, but do not seek to draw upon
it with anxiety or fear. To do so can only cause the pain of wrong
entanglement, and interrupt the natural running of the iron links.’ And
she placed her hand swiftly upon my mouth, as though divining that the
bleak attack of anguish was again upon me with its throbbing rush of
darkness.

But for once I was disobedient and resisted. The physical pain, I
realised vividly, was linked closely with this spiritual torture.
One caused the other somehow. The disordered brain received, though
brokenly, some hints of darker and unusual knowledge. It had stammered
forth in me, but through her it flowed easily and clear. I saw the
change move more swiftly then across her face. Some ancient look passed
into both her eyes.

And it was inevitable; I must speak out, regardless of mere bodily
well-being.

‘We shall have to face them some day,’ I cried, although the effort
hurt abominably, ‘then why not now?’ And I drew her hand down and
kissed it passionately over and over again. ‘We are not children, to
hide our faces among shadows and pretend we are invisible. At least
we have the Present--the Moment that is here and now. We stand side
by side in the heart of this deep spring day. This sunshine and these
flowers, this wind across the lake, this sky of blue and this singing
of the birds--all, all are ours _now_. Let us use the moment that Time
gives, and so strengthen the chain you speak of that shall bring us
again together times without number. We shall then, perhaps, remember.
Oh, my heart, think what that would mean--to remember!’

Exhaustion caught me, and I sank back among my cushions. But Marion
rose up suddenly and stood beside me. And as she did so, another Sky
dropped softly down upon us both, and I smelt again the incense of old,
old gardens that brought long-forgotten perfumes, incredibly sweet, but
with it an ache of far-off, passionate remembrance that was pain. This
great ache of distance swept over me like a wave.

I know not what grand change then was wrought upon her beauty, so that
I saw her defiant and erect, commanding Fate because she understood
it. She towered over me, but it was her soul that towered. The rush of
internal darkness in me blotted out all else. The familiar, present sky
grew dim, the sunshine faded, the lake and flowers and poplars dipped
away. Conditions a thousand times more vivid took their place. She
stood out, clear and shining in the glory of an undressed soul, brave
and confident with an eternal love that separation strengthened but
could never, never change. The deep sadness I abruptly realised, was
very little removed from joy--because, somehow, it was the condition of
joy. I could not explain it more than that.

And her voice, when she spoke, was firm with a note of steel in it;
intense, yet devoid of the wasting anger that passion brings. She was
determined beyond Death itself, upon a foundation sure and lasting
as the stars. The heart in her was calm, because she _knew_. She was
magnificent.

‘We are together--always,’ she said, her voice rich with the knowledge
of some unfathomable experience, ‘for separation is temporary merely,
forging new links in the ancient chain of lives that binds our hearts
eternally together.’ She looked like one who has conquered the
adversity Time brings, by accepting it. ‘You speak of the Present as
though our souls were already fitted now to bid it stay, needing no
further fashioning. Looking only to the Future, you forget our ample
Past that has made us what we are. Yet our Past is here and now, beside
us at this very moment. Into the hollow cups of weeks and months, of
years and centuries, Time pours its flood beneath our eyes. Time is
our schoolroom.... Are you so soon afraid? Does not separation achieve
that which companionship never could accomplish? And how shall we dare
eternity together if we cannot be strong in separation first?’

I listened while a flood of memories broke up through film upon film
and layer upon layer that had long covered them.

‘This Present that we seem to hold between our hands,’ she went on in
that earnest, distant voice, ‘_is_ our moment of sweet remembrance that
you speak of, of renewal, perhaps, too, of reconciliation--a fleeting
instant when we may kiss again and say good-bye, but with strengthened
hope and courage revived. But we may not stay together finally--we
_cannot_--until long discipline and pain shall have perfected sympathy
and schooled our love by searching, difficult tests, that it may last
for ever.’

I stretched my arms out dumbly to take her in. Her face shone down upon
me, bathed in an older, fiercer sunlight. The change in her seemed
in an instant then complete. Some big, soft wind blew both of us ten
thousand miles away. The centuries gathered us back together.

‘Look, rather, to the Past,’ she whispered grandly, ‘where first we
knew the sweet opening of our love. Remember, if you can, how the pain
and separation have made it so worth while to continue. And be braver
thence.’

She turned her eyes more fully upon my own, so that their light
persuaded me utterly away with her. An immense new happiness broke
over me. I listened, and with the stirrings of an ampler courage. It
seemed I followed her down an interminable vista of remembrance till
I was happy with her among the flowers and fields of our earliest
pre-existence.

Her voice came to me with the singing of birds and the hum of summer
insects.

‘Have you so soon forgotten,’ she sighed, ‘when we knew together the
perfume of the hanging Babylonian Gardens, or when the Hesperides were
so soft to us in the dawn of the world? And do you not remember,’
with a little rise of passion in her voice, ‘the sweet plantations of
Chaldea, and how we tasted the odour of many a drooping flower in the
gardens of Alcinous and Adonis, when the bees of olden time picked
out the honey for our eating? It is the fragrance of those first hours
we knew together that still lies in our hearts to-day, sweetening our
love to this apparent suddenness. Hence comes the full, deep happiness
we gather so easily To-day.... The breast of every ancient forest is
torn with storms and lightning ... that’s why it is so soft and full of
little gardens. You have forgotten too easily the glades of Lebanon,
where we whispered our earliest secrets while the big winds drove their
chariots down those earlier skies....’

There rose an indescribable tempest of remembrance in my heart as I
strove to bring the pictures into focus; but words failed me, and the
hand I eagerly stretched out to touch her own, met only sunshine and
the rain of apple blossoms.

‘The myrrh and frankincense,’ she continued in a sighing voice that
seemed to come with the wind from invisible caverns in the sky, ‘the
grapes and pomegranates--have they all passed from you, with the train
of apes and peacocks, the tigers and the ibis, and the hordes of
dark-faced slaves? And this little sun that plays so lightly here upon
our woods of beech and pine--does it bring back nothing of the old-time
scorching when the olive slopes, the figs and ripening cornfields
heard our vows and watched our love mature?... Our spread encampment
in the Desert--do not these sands upon our little beach revive its
lonely majesty for you, and have you forgotten the gleaming towers of
Semiramis ... or, in Sardis, those strange lilies that first tempted
our souls to their divine disclosure...?’

Conscious of a violent struggle between pain and joy, both too deep for
me to understand, I rose to seize her in my arms. But the effort dimmed
the flying pictures. The wind that bore her voice down the stupendous
vista fled back into the caverns whence it came. And the pain caught
me in a vice of agony so searching that I could not move a muscle.
My tongue lay dry against my lips. I could not frame a word of any
sentence....

Her voice presently came back to me, but fainter, like a whisper from
the stars. The light dimmed everywhere; I saw no more the vivid,
shining scenery she had summoned. A mournful dusk instead crept down
upon the world she had momentarily revived.

‘... we may not stay together,’ I heard her little whisper, ‘until long
discipline shall have perfected sympathy, and schooled our love to
last. For this love of ours _is_ for ever, and the pain that tries it
is the furnace that fashions precious stones....’

Again I stretched my arms out. Her face shone a moment longer in that
forgotten fiercer sunlight, then faded very swiftly. The change, like a
veil, passed over it. From the place of prodigious distance where she
had been, she swept down towards me with such dizzy speed. As she was
To-day I saw her again, more and more.

‘Pain and separation, then, are welcome,’ I tried to stammer, ‘and we
will desire them’--but my thought got no further into expression than
the first two words. Aching blotted out coherent utterance.

She bent down very close against my face. Her fragrance was about
my lips. But her voice ran off like a faint thrill of music, far,
far away. I caught the final words, dying away as wind dies in high
branches of a wood. And they reached me this time through the droning
of bees and of waves that murmured close at hand upon the shore.

‘... for our love is of the soul, and our souls are moulded in
Eternity. It is not yet, it is not now, our perfect consummation. Nor
shall our next time of meeting know it. We shall not even speak.... For
I shall not be free....’ was what I heard. She paused.

‘You mean we shall not know each other?’ I cried, in an anguish of
spirit that mastered the lesser physical pain.

I barely caught her answer:

‘My discipline then will be in another’s keeping--yet only that I may
come back to you ... more perfect ... in the end....’

The bees and waves then cushioned her whisper with their humming. The
trail of a deeper silence led them far away. The rush of temporary
darkness passed and lifted. I opened my eyes. My love sat close beside
me in the shadow of the poplars. One hand held both my own, while with
the other she arranged my pillows and stroked my aching head. The world
dropped back into a tiny scale once more.

‘You have had the pain again,’ Marion murmured anxiously, ‘but it is
better now. It is passing.’ She kissed my cheek. ‘You must come in....’

But I would not let her go. I held her to me with all the strength that
was in me. ‘I had it, but it’s gone again. An awful darkness came with
it,’ I whispered in the little ear that was so close against my mouth.
‘I’ve been dreaming,’ I told her, as memory dipped away, ‘dreaming of
you and me--together somewhere--in old gardens, or forests--where the
sun was----’

But she would not let me finish. I think, in any case, I could not
have said more, for thought evaded me, and any language of coherent
description was in the same instant beyond my power. Exhaustion came
upon me, that vile, compelling nausea with it.

‘The sun here is too strong for you, dear love,’ I heard her saying,
‘and you must rest more. We have been doing too much these last few
days. You must have more repose.’ She rose to help me move indoors.

‘I have been unconscious then?’ I asked, in the feeble whisper that was
all I could manage.

‘For a little while. You slept, while I watched over you.’

‘But I was away from you! Oh, how could you let me sleep, when our time
together is so short?’

She soothed me instantly in the way she knew we both loved so. I clung
to her until she released herself again.

‘Not away from me,’ she smiled, ‘for I was with you in your dreaming.’

‘Of course, of course you were’; but already I knew not exactly why I
said it, nor caught the deep meaning that struggled up into my words
from such unfathomable distance.

‘Come,’ she added, with her sweet authority again, ‘we must go in now.
Give me your arm, and I will send out for the cushions. Lean on me. I
am going to put you back to bed.’

‘But I shall sleep again,’ I said petulantly, ‘and we shall be
separated.’

‘We shall dream together,’ she replied, as she helped me slowly and
painfully towards the old grey walls of the château.


II

Half an hour later I slept deeply, peacefully, upon my bed in the big
stately chamber where the roses watched beside the latticed windows.

And to say I dreamed again is not correct, for it can only be expressed
by saying that I saw and knew. The figures round the bed were actual,
and in life. Nothing could be more real than the whisper of the
doctor’s voice--that solemn, grave-faced man who was so tall--as he
said, sternly yet brokenly, to some one: ‘You must say good-bye; and
you had better say it _now_.’ Nor could anything be more definite and
sure, more charged with the actuality of living, than the figure of
Marion, as she stooped over me to obey the terrible command. For I saw
her face float down towards me like a star, and a shower of pale spring
blossoms rained upon me with her hair. The perfume of old, old gardens
rose about me as she slipped to her knees beside the bed and kissed my
lips--so softly it was like the breath of wind from lake and orchard,
and so lingeringly it was as though the blossoms lay upon my mouth and
grew into flowers that she planted there.

‘Good-bye, my love; be brave. It is only separation.’

‘It is death,’ I tried to say, but could only feebly stir my lips
against her own.

I drew her breath of flowers into my mouth ... and there came then the
darkness which is final.

       *       *       *       *       *

The voices grew louder. I heard a man struggling with an unfamiliar
language. Turning restlessly, I opened my eyes--upon a little, stuffy
room, with white walls whereon no pictures hung. It was very hot.
A woman was standing beside the bed, and the bed was very short. I
stretched, and my feet kicked against the boarding at the end.

‘Yes, he _is_ awake,’ the woman said in French. ‘Will you come in? The
doctor said you might see him when he woke. I think he’ll know you.’
She spoke in French. I just knew enough to understand.

And of course I knew him. It was Haddon. I heard him thanking her for
all her kindness, as he blundered in. His French, if anything, was
worse than my own. I felt inclined to laugh. I did laugh.

‘By Jove! old man, this is bad luck, isn’t it? You’ve had a narrow
shave. This good lady telegraphed----’

‘Have you got my ice-axe? Is it all right?’ I asked. I remembered
clearly the motor accident--everything.

‘The ice-axe is right enough,’ he laughed, looking cheerfully at the
woman, ‘but what about yourself? Feel bad still? Any pain, I mean?’

‘Oh, I feel all right,’ I answered, searching for the pain of broken
bones, but finding none. ‘What happened? I was stunned, I suppose?’

‘Bit stunned, yes,’ said Haddon. ‘You got a nasty knock on the head, it
seems. The point of the axe ran into you, or something.’

‘Was that all?’

He nodded. ‘But I’m afraid it’s knocked our climbing on the head.
Shocking bad luck, isn’t it?’

‘I telegraphed last night,’ the kind woman was explaining.

‘But I couldn’t get here till this morning,’ Haddon said. ‘The telegram
didn’t find me till midnight, you see.’ And he turned to thank the
woman in his voluble, dreadful French. She kept a little pension on
the shores of the lake. It was the nearest house, and they had carried
me in there and got the doctor to me all within the hour. It proved
slight enough, apart from the shock. It was not even concussion. I had
merely been stunned. Sleep had cured me, as it seemed.

‘Jolly little place,’ said Haddon, as he moved me that afternoon to
Geneva, whence, after a few days’ rest, we went on into the Alps of
Haute Savoie, ‘and lucky the old body was so kind and quick. Odd,
wasn’t it?’ He glanced at me.

Something in his voice betrayed he hid another thought. I saw nothing
‘odd’ in it at all, only very tiresome.

‘What’s its name?’ I asked, taking a shot at a venture.

He hesitated a second. Haddon, the climber, was not skilled in the
delicacies of tact.

‘Don’t know its present name,’ he answered, looking away from me across
the lake, ‘but it stands on the site of an old château--destroyed a
hundred years ago--the Château de Bellerive.’

And then I understood my old friend’s absurd confusion. For Bellerive
chanced also to be the name of a married woman I knew in Scotland--at
least, it was her maiden name, and she was of French extraction.


THE END

_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh_.



By ALGERNON BLACKWOOD

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BENDISH: A STUDY IN PRODIGALITY.

By MAURICE HEWLETT. Extra crown 8vo. 6_s._

  _Daily Chronicle._--“This novel is one of Mr. Hewlett’s finest....
  One must confess that English fiction is as great now as ever it
  was. One swells with pride to think that modern men can write so
  well.”

  _Morning Post._--“The novel is full of fascination and interest.”

  _World._--“Considered as a work of deliberate, delicate, highly
  finished art, Mr. Maurice Hewlett has probably done nothing better
  than this his latest book.”

  _Guardian._--“A powerful piece of work well told.”



Three Books by James Stephens


HERE ARE LADIES.

Crown 8vo. 5_s._ net.

  _Daily Chronicle._--“Work admirably representative of the writer’s
  genius. The subtle and humorous criticism of life, the deep yet
  simple philosophy wrought into apothegms after the manner of Blake
  and Lavater, which added such lustre to _The Crock of Gold_.”

  _Times._--“A story may have many and diverse effects upon its
  reader. It may leave him smiling, laughing, frowning (perhaps
  weeping), angry, perplexed, exalted, afraid. The bits of stories in
  _Here are Ladies_, the sketches, essays, snapshots, call them what
  you will, will leave him for the most part happy and hungry--for
  more.”

  _Daily Graphic._--“One might go on quoting, and perhaps quoting to
  more persuasive effect; but for ourselves we need no persuading
  that Mr. Stephens’ humour is to our liking, his writing entrancing
  to us, his originality beyond question.”


THE CROCK OF GOLD.

Crown 8vo. 5_s._ net.

  _Times._--“It is crammed full of life and beauty ... this
  delicious, fantastical, amorphous, inspired medley of
  topsy-turvydom.”

  _Punch._--“A fairy fantasy, elvish, grotesque, realistic,
  allegorical, humorous, satirical, idealistic, and poetical by turns
  ... and very beautiful.”

  _Pall Mall Gazette._--“A wise, beautiful, and humorous book.... If
  you could have given Sterne a soul and made him a poet he might
  have produced _The Crock of Gold_.”


THE CHARWOMAN’S DAUGHTER.

Crown 8vo. 3_s._ 6_d._ net.

  _Punch._--“A little gem.... It is a very long time indeed since we
  read such a human, satisfying book. Every page contains some happy
  phrase or illuminating piece of character-drawing.”

  _Evening Standard._--“Will give many honest English men and women
  delight of a kind very few novelists give them to-day.”

  _Daily News and Leader._--“Mary is surely one of the most gracious
  figures of girlhood in modern fiction. She is made out of music and
  flowers.... A wholly delightful and buoyant book.”



RECENT FICTION


THE INSIDE OF THE CUP.

By WINSTON CHURCHILL. With Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo. 6_s._

  _Daily Chronicle._--“Calculated to arouse much thought and great
  argument among those who read it.... One’s feeling about the whole
  story is that it is in some way magnificent, with many a fine and
  noble personality coming into it, both men and women.”

  _Times._--“Mr. Churchill has written a fine and moving book.”

  _Truth._--“This brilliant novel.... In a word, _The Inside of
  the Cup_ is a sign of the times, and a book for the times which
  everyone should read.”

  _World._--“It is a work which can be argued over _ad infinitum_,
  and it is one which is as finely conceived as it is admirably
  worked out.... This is a book for clergy and laity alike to read,
  mark, and learn.”


A PRISONER IN FAIRYLAND. (THE BOOK THAT “UNCLE PAUL” WROTE.)

By ALGERNON BLACKWOOD. Extra crown 8vo. 6_s._

  _Globe._--“A story in many ways the most beautiful of all Mr.
  Blackwood’s remarkable achievements, and one which leaves behind it
  a bright, ineffaceable memory, and a desire to acquire something of
  its joyousness.”

  _Westminster Gazette._--“A book which every lover of Mr.
  Blackwood’s unique work will hail with enthusiasm and close with
  satisfaction.”

  _Daily Express._--“A supremely beautiful book. Every now and again
  one reads a book that gives one complete joy, and then analysis
  and summary become impossible, and all the reviewer can do is to
  express his gratitude, and to implore his readers to buy or borrow
  the book and read it for themselves.”

  _Country Life._--“Mr. Algernon Blackwood has now produced the
  eagerly anticipated ‘book that “Uncle Paul” wrote,’ and it is
  the finest he has yet given us ... this delicate and exquisite
  phantasy.”


THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY.

By EDITH WHARTON. Extra crown 8vo 6_s._

  _Daily Graphic._--“It only remains to ask if Mrs. Wharton has made
  the narrative interesting. She has made it enthralling. We watch
  Undine with a fearful fascination.... Most brilliant novel.”

  _Daily Express._--“Mrs. Wharton writes with splendid force and
  humour. Her book grips, from the beginning to the end.”

  _Standard._--“We read this book of close on 600 pages at a sitting.
  Mrs. Wharton’s literary skill is of a high order. Her prose is a
  delight to read, and her manner captivates us.”

  _Globe._--“Mrs. Wharton has written a fine novel, or rather, she
  has not so much written a fine novel as handled finely a big theme.
  It is surely too late in the day to say that no other woman who
  writes in English writes so well.”


A LAD OF KENT.

By HERBERT HARRISON. Illustrated. Extra crown 8vo. 6_s._

  _Athenæum._--“Mr. Harrison supplies full measure of adventures,
  both serious and comic, deftly intermingled, and he introduces to
  us a variegated crowd of most life-like and interesting personages
  who play vivid parts in a vivid and convincing manner.... We
  congratulate the author on an excellent and stirring tale of a most
  interesting epoch.”

  _Globe._--“A fine story, grave and gay by turns, and always
  interesting.”

  _The Times._--“What lends a special flavour and character to the
  tale is its continual variety.... A tale which will appeal alike
  to the manhood in almost any boy and to the spirit of boyhood
  persistent in most men.”


BEHIND THE SCENES IN THE SCHOOLROOM. BEING THE EXPERIENCES OF A
YOUNG GOVERNESS.

By FLORENCE MONTGOMERY, Author of “Misunderstood.” Extra crown 8vo.
6_s._

  _Daily Chronicle._--“Full of the charm of _Misunderstood_.”

  _Daily Telegraph._--“Miss Montgomery is thoroughly interested in
  her subject, and writes a thoughtful, individual story.”

  _Liverpool Daily Post._--“Miss Montgomery’s simple charm of diction
  and of construction is too well known to the majority of readers to
  require comment, and it will be sufficient to say of her present
  story that it is just as attractive as _Misunderstood_, and
  contains exactly the same qualities.”

  _Review of Reviews._--“A picture of the ups and downs of the life
  of a governess and the troubles of her little charges, intermingled
  with a pleasantly romantic love story.”


JOAN’S GREEN YEAR: LETTERS FROM THE MANOR FARM TO HER BROTHER IN
INDIA.

By E. L. DOON. Extra crown 8vo. 6_s._

  _Bookman._--“The story told in this series of letters has the
  supreme merits of simplicity and naturalness, and the letters also
  abound in pleasant anecdotes and in happy turns of phrase. We
  congratulate Miss Doon upon a very likeable piece of work.”

  _Westminster Gazette._--“It touches many interests, and has points
  in it which will appeal to almost every reader.”

  _T. P.’s Weekly._--“There is real love of the country and
  understanding of it in every page.”

  _Birmingham Post._--“The book is written with great taste and
  charm, and breathes a delightful sense of quiet humour, sanity of
  outlook, and a fine spirit of camaraderie.”


LONDON: MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD.

_R. Clay and Sons, Ltd., Brunswick St., S.E._



Transcriber’s Note:

Punctuations has been standardised. Spelling and hyphenation have been
retained as in the original publication except as follows.

  Page 131
    and rather sot in my ways _changed to_
    and rather set in my ways





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