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Title: Uncanny Stories - Where Their Fire is Not Quenched; The Token; The Flaw in the Crystal; The Nature of the Evidence; If the Dead Knew; The Victim; The Finding of the Absolute
Author: Sinclair, May
Language: English
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UNCANNY STORIES


[Illustration: “A terrified bird flew out of the hedge ...”]


UNCANNY STORIES

by

May Sinclair

Author of “Anne Severn and the Fieldings,” etc.

Illustrations by Jean de Bosschère



London: Hutchinson & Co.
Paternoster Row

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                CONTENTS

                    Where their Fire is not Quenched
                    The Token
                    The Flaw in the Crystal
                    The Nature of the Evidence
                    If the Dead Knew
                    The Victim
                    The Finding of the Absolute

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

 A terrified bird flew out of the hedge ...
 Then, suddenly the room began to come apart ...
 ... each held there by the other’s fear
 ... moving slowly, like figures in some monstrous and appalling dance
 “I’ve told you not to touch my things”
 ... her face was turned to Donald ...
 He stepped forward, opening his arms
 And she wondered whether really she would find him well
 “I saw the Powells at the station”
 Milly opened a door on the left
 “No place ever will be strange when It’s there”
 ... he stood for a moment in the open doorway ...
 ... stretching out her arms to keep him back
 ... drew itself after him along the floor
 ... her whole body listened ...
 The apparition maintained itself with difficulty
 Then all of a sudden she had burst out crying ...
 Steven waited with his hand on the tap ...
 It stood close against the window, looking in
 ... the figure became clear and solid ...
 “_Now_ he’s coming alive—”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                            UNCANNY STORIES



                    WHERE THEIR FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED


There was nobody in the orchard. Harriott Leigh went out, carefully,
through the iron gate into the field. She had made the latch slip into
its notch without a sound.

The path slanted widely up the field from the orchard gate to the stile
under the elder tree. George Waring waited for her there.

Years afterwards, when she thought of George Waring she smelt the sweet,
hot, wine-scent of the elder flowers. Years afterwards, when she smelt
elder flowers she saw George Waring, with his beautiful, gentle face,
like a poet’s or a musician’s, his black-blue eyes, and sleek,
olive-brown hair. He was a naval lieutenant.

Yesterday he had asked her to marry him and she had consented. But her
father hadn’t, and she had come to tell him that and say good-bye before
he left her. His ship was to sail the next day.

He was eager and excited. He couldn’t believe that anything could stop
their happiness, that anything he didn’t want to happen could happen.

“Well?” he said.

“He’s a perfect beast, George. He won’t let us. He says we’re too
young.”

“I was twenty last August,” he said, aggrieved.

[Illustration]

“And I shall be seventeen in September.”

“And this is June. We’re quite old, really. How long does he mean us to
wait?”

“Three years.”

“Three years before we can be engaged even— Why, we might be dead.”

She put her arms round him to make him feel safe. They kissed; and the
sweet, hot, wine-scent of the elder flowers mixed with their kisses.
They stood, pressed close together, under the elder tree.

Across the yellow fields of charlock they heard the village clock strike
seven. Up in the house a gong clanged.

“Darling, I must go,” she said.

“Oh stay—Stay _five_ minutes.”

He pressed her close. It lasted five minutes, and five more. Then he was
running fast down the road to the station, while Harriott went along the
field-path, slowly, struggling with her tears.

“He’ll be back in three months,” she said. “I can live through three
months.”

But he never came back. There was something wrong with the engines of
his ship, the _Alexandra_. Three weeks later she went down in the
Mediterranean, and George with her.

Harriott said she didn’t care how soon she died now. She was quite sure
it would be soon, because she couldn’t live without him.

Five years passed.

[Illustration]

The two lines of beech trees stretched on and on, the whole length of
the Park, a broad green drive between. When you came to the middle they
branched off right and left in the form of a cross, and at the end of
the right arm there was a white stucco pavilion with pillars and a
three-cornered pediment like a Greek temple. At the end of the left arm,
the west entrance to the Park, double gates and a side door.

Harriott, on her stone seat at the back of the pavilion, could see
Stephen Philpotts the very minute he came through the side door.

He had asked her to wait for him there. It was the place he always chose
to read his poems aloud in. The poems were a pretext. She knew what he
was going to say. And she knew what she would answer.

There were elder bushes in flower at the back of the pavilion, and
Harriott thought of George Waring. She told herself that George was
nearer to her now than he could ever have been, living. If she married
Stephen she would not be unfaithful, because she loved him with another
part of herself. It was not as though Stephen were taking George’s
place. She loved Stephen with her soul, in an unearthly way.

But her body quivered like a stretched wire when the door opened and the
young man came towards her down the drive under the beech trees.

She loved him; she loved his slenderness, his darkness and sallow
whiteness, his black eyes lighting up with the intellectual flame, the
way his black hair swept back from his forehead, the way he walked,
tiptoe, as if his feet were lifted with wings.

He sat down beside her. She could see his hands tremble. She felt that
her moment was coming; it had come.

“I wanted to see you alone because there’s something I must say to you.
I don’t quite know how to begin....”

Her lips parted. She panted lightly.

“You’ve heard me speak of Sybill Foster?”

Her voice came stammering, “N-no, Stephen. Did you?”

“Well, I didn’t mean to, till I knew it was all right. I only heard
yesterday.”

“Heard what?”

“Why, that she’ll have me. Oh, Harriott—do you know what it’s like to be
terribly happy?”

She knew. She had known just now, the moment before he told her. She sat
there, stone-cold and stiff, listening to his raptures; listening to her
own voice saying she was glad.

Ten years passed.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Harriott Leigh sat waiting in the drawing-room of a small house in Maida
Vale. She had lived there ever since her father’s death two years
before.

She was restless. She kept on looking at the clock to see if it was
four, the hour that Oscar Wade had appointed. She was not sure that he
would come, after she had sent him away yesterday.

She now asked herself, why, when she had sent him away yesterday, she
had let him come to-day. Her motives were not altogether clear. If she
really meant what she had said then, she oughtn’t to let him come to her
again. Never again.

She had shown him plainly what she meant. She could see herself, sitting
very straight in her chair, uplifted by a passionate integrity, while he
stood before her, hanging his head, ashamed and beaten; she could feel
again the throb in her voice as she kept on saying that she couldn’t,
she couldn’t; he must see that she couldn’t; that no, nothing would make
her change her mind; she couldn’t forget he had a wife; that he must
think of Muriel.

To which he had answered savagely: “I needn’t. That’s all over. We only
live together for the look of the thing.”

And she, serenely, with great dignity: “And for the look of the thing,
Oscar, we must leave off seeing each other. Please go.”

“Do you mean it?”

“Yes. We must never see each other again.”

And he had gone then, ashamed and beaten.

She could see him, squaring his broad shoulders to meet the blow. And
she was sorry for him. She told herself she had been unnecessarily hard.
Why shouldn’t they see each other again, now he understood where they
must draw the line? Until yesterday the line had never been very clearly
drawn. To-day she meant to ask him to forget what he had said to her.
Once it was forgotten, they could go on being friends as if nothing had
happened.

It was four o’clock. Half-past. Five. She had finished tea and given him
up when, between the half-hour and six o’clock, he came.

[Illustration]

He came as he had come a dozen times, with his measured, deliberate,
thoughtful tread, carrying himself well braced, with a sort of held-in
arrogance, his great shoulders heaving. He was a man of about forty,
broad and tall, lean-flanked and short-necked, his straight, handsome
features showing small and even in the big square face and in the flush
that swamped it. The close-clipped, reddish-brown moustache bristled
forwards from the pushed-out upper lip. His small, flat eyes shone,
reddish-brown, eager and animal.

She liked to think of him when he was not there, but always at the first
sight of him she felt a slight shock. Physically, he was very far from
her admired ideal. So different from George Waring and Stephen
Philpotts.

He sat down, facing her.

There was an embarrassed silence, broken by Oscar Wade.

“Well, Harriott, you said I could come.” He seemed to be throwing the
responsibility on her.

“So I suppose you’ve forgiven me,” he said.

“Oh, yes, Oscar, I’ve forgiven you.”

He said she’d better show it by coming to dine with him somewhere that
evening.

She could give no reason to herself for going. She simply went.

He took her to a restaurant in Soho. Oscar Wade dined well, even
extravagantly, giving each dish its importance. She liked his
extravagance. He had none of the mean virtues.

It was over. His flushed, embarrassed silence told her what he was
thinking. But when he had seen her home he left her at her garden gate.
He had thought better of it.

She was not sure whether she were glad or sorry. She had had her moment
of righteous exaltation and she had enjoyed it. But there was no joy in
the weeks that followed it. She had given up Oscar Wade because she
didn’t want him very much; and now she wanted him furiously, perversely,
because she had given him up. Though he had no resemblance to her ideal,
she couldn’t live without him.

She dined with him again and again, till she knew Schnebler’s Restaurant
by heart, the white panelled walls picked out with gold; the white
pillars, and the curling gold fronds of their capitals; the Turkey
carpets, blue and crimson, soft under her feet; the thick crimson velvet
cushions, that clung to her skirts; the glitter of silver and glass on
the innumerable white circles of the tables. And the faces of the
diners, red, white, pink, brown, grey and sallow, distorted and excited;
the curled mouths that twisted as they ate; the convoluted electric
bulbs pointing, pointing down at them, under the red, crinkled shades.
All shimmering in a thick air that the red light stained as wine stains
water.

And Oscar’s face, flushed with his dinner. Always, when he leaned back
from the table and brooded in silence she knew what he was thinking. His
heavy eyelids would lift; she would find his eyes fixed on hers,
wondering, considering.

She knew now what the end would be. She thought of George Waring, and
Stephen Philpotts, and of her life, cheated. She hadn’t chosen Oscar,
she hadn’t really wanted him; but now he had forced himself on her she
couldn’t afford to let him go. Since George died no man had loved her,
no other man ever would. And she was sorry for him when she thought of
him going from her, beaten and ashamed.

She was certain, before he was, of the end. Only she didn’t know when
and where and how it would come. That was what Oscar knew.

It came at the close of one of their evenings when they had dined in a
private sitting-room. He said he couldn’t stand the heat and noise of
the public restaurant.

She went before him, up a steep, red-carpeted stair to a white door on
the second landing.

From time to time they repeated the furtive, hidden adventure. Sometimes
she met him in the room above Schnebler’s. Sometimes, when her maid was
out, she received him at her house in Maida Vale. But that was
dangerous, not to be risked too often.

Oscar declared himself unspeakably happy. Harriott was not quite sure.
This was love, the thing she had never had, that she had dreamed of,
hungered and thirsted for; but now she had it she was not satisfied.
Always she looked for something just beyond it, some mystic, heavenly
rapture, always beginning to come, that never came. There was something
about Oscar that repelled her. But because she had taken him for her
lover, she couldn’t bring herself to admit that it was a certain
coarseness. She looked another way and pretended it wasn’t there. To
justify herself, she fixed her mind on his good qualities, his
generosity, his strength, the way he had built up his engineering
business. She made him take her over his works and show her his great
dynamos. She made him lend her the books he read. But always, when she
tried to talk to him, he let her see that _that_ wasn’t what she was
there for.

“My dear girl, we haven’t time,” he said. “It’s waste of our priceless
moments.”

She persisted. “There’s something wrong about it all if we can’t talk to
each other.”

He was irritated. “Women never seem to consider that a man can get all
the talk he wants from other men. What’s wrong is our meeting in this
unsatisfactory way. We ought to live together. It’s the only sane thing.
I would, only I don’t want to break up Muriel’s home and make her
miserable.”

“I thought you said she wouldn’t care.”

“My dear, she cares for her home and her position and the children. You
forget the children.”

Yes. She had forgotten the children. She had forgotten Muriel. She had
left off thinking of Oscar as a man with a wife and children and a home.

He had a plan. His mother-in-law was coming to stay with Muriel in
October and he would get away. He would go to Paris, and Harriott should
come to him there. He could say he went on business. No need to lie
about it; he _had_ business in Paris.

He engaged rooms in an hotel in the rue de Rivoli. They spent two weeks
there.

For three days Oscar was madly in love with Harriott and Harriott with
him. As she lay awake she would turn on the light and look at him as he
slept at her side. Sleep made him beautiful and innocent; it laid a
fine, smooth tissue over his coarseness; it made his mouth gentle; it
entirely hid his eyes.

In six days reaction had set in. At the end of the tenth day, Harriott,
returning with Oscar from Montmartre, burst into a fit of crying. When
questioned, she answered wildly that the Hotel Saint Pierre was too
hideously ugly it was getting on her nerves. Mercifully Oscar explained
her state as fatigue following excitement. She tried hard to believe
that she was miserable because her love was purer and more spiritual
than Oscar’s; but all the time she knew perfectly well she had cried
from pure boredom. She was in love with Oscar, and Oscar bored her.
Oscar was in love with her, and she bored him. At close quarters, day in
and day out, each was revealed to the other as an incredible bore.

At the end of the second week she began to doubt whether she had ever
been really in love with him.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Her passion returned for a little while after they got back to London.
Freed from the unnatural strain which Paris had put on them, they
persuaded themselves that their romantic temperaments were better fitted
to the old life of casual adventure.

Then, gradually, the sense of danger began to wake in them. They lived
in perpetual fear, face to face with all the chances of discovery. They
tormented themselves and each other by imagining possibilities that they
would never have considered in their first fine moments. It was as
though they were beginning to ask themselves if it were, after all,
worth while running such awful risks, for all they got out of it. Oscar
still swore that if he had been free he would have married her. He
pointed out that his intentions at any rate were regular. But she asked
herself: Would I marry _him_? Marriage would be the Hotel Saint Pierre
all over again, without any possibility of escape. But, if she wouldn’t
marry him, was she in love with him? That was the test. Perhaps it was a
good thing he wasn’t free. Then she told herself that these doubts were
morbid, and that the question wouldn’t arise.

One evening Oscar called to see her. He had come to tell her that Muriel
was ill.

“Seriously ill?”

“I’m afraid so. It’s pleurisy. May turn to pneumonia. We shall know one
way or another in the next few days.”

A terrible fear seized upon Harriott. Muriel might die of her pleurisy;
and if Muriel died, she would have to marry Oscar. He was looking at her
queerly, as if he knew what she was thinking, and she could see that the
same thought had occurred to him and that he was frightened too.

Muriel got well again; but their danger had enlightened them. Muriel’s
life was now inconceivably precious to them both; she stood between them
and that permanent union, which they dreaded and yet would not have the
courage to refuse.

After enlightenment the rupture.

It came from Oscar, one evening when he sat with her in her
drawing-room.

“Harriott,” he said, “do you know I’m thinking seriously of settling
down?”

“How do you mean, settling down?”

“Patching it up with Muriel, poor girl.... Has it never occurred to you
that this little affair of ours can’t go on for ever?”

“You don’t want it to go on?”

“I don’t want to have any humbug about it. For God’s sake, let’s be
straight. If it’s done, it’s done. Let’s end it decently.”

“I see. You want to get rid of me.”

“That’s a beastly way of putting it.”

“Is there any way that isn’t beastly? The whole thing’s beastly. I
should have thought you’d have stuck to it now you’ve made it what you
wanted. When I haven’t an ideal, I haven’t a single illusion, when
you’ve destroyed everything you didn’t want.”

“What didn’t I want?”

“The clean, beautiful part of it. The part _I_ wanted.”

“My part at least was real. It was cleaner and more beautiful than all
that putrid stuff you wrapped it up in. You were a hypocrite, Harriott,
and I wasn’t. You’re a hypocrite now if you say you weren’t happy with
me.”

“I was never really happy. Never for one moment. There was always
something I missed. Something you didn’t give me. Perhaps you couldn’t.”

“No. I wasn’t spiritual enough,” he sneered.

“You were not. And you made me what you were.”

“Oh, I noticed that you were always very spiritual _after_ you’d got
what you wanted.”

“What I wanted?” she cried. “Oh, my God—”

“If you ever knew what you wanted.”

“What—I—wanted,” she repeated, drawing out her bitterness.

“Come,” he said, “why not be honest? Face facts. I was awfully gone on
you. You were awfully gone on me—once. We got tired of each other and
it’s over. But at least you might own we had a good time while it
lasted.”

“A good time?”

“Good enough for me.”

“For you, because for you love only means one thing. Everything that’s
high and noble in it you dragged down to that, till there’s nothing left
for us but that. _That’s_ what you made of love.”

Twenty years passed.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was Oscar who died first, three years after the rupture. He did it
suddenly one evening, falling down in a fit of apoplexy.

His death was an immense relief to Harriott. Perfect security had been
impossible as long as he was alive. But now there wasn’t a living soul
who knew her secret.

Still, in the first moment of shock Harriott told herself that Oscar
dead would be nearer to her than ever. She forgot how little she had
wanted him to be near her, alive. And long before the twenty years had
passed she had contrived to persuade herself that he had never been near
to her at all. It was incredible that she had ever known such a person
as Oscar Wade. As for their affair, she couldn’t think of Harriott Leigh
as the sort of woman to whom such a thing could happen. Schnebler’s and
the Hotel Saint Pierre ceased to figure among prominent images of her
past. Her memories, if she had allowed herself to remember, would have
clashed disagreeably with the reputation for sanctity which she had now
acquired.

For Harriott at fifty-two was the friend and helper of the Reverend
Clement Farmer, Vicar of St. Mary the Virgin’s, Maida Vale. She worked
as a deaconess in his parish, wearing the uniform of a deaconess, the
semi-religious gown, the cloak, the bonnet and veil, the cross and
rosary, the holy smile. She was also secretary to the Maida Vale and
Kilburn Home for Fallen Girls.

Her moments of excitement came when Clement Farmer, the lean, austere
likeness of Stephen Philpotts, in his cassock and lace-bordered
surplice, issued from the vestry, when he mounted the pulpit, when he
stood before the altar rails and lifted up his arms in the Benediction;
her moments of ecstasy when she received the Sacrament from his hands.
And she had moments of calm happiness when his study door closed on
their communion. All these moments were saturated with a solemn
holiness.

And they were insignificant compared with the moment of her dying.

She lay dozing in her white bed under the black crucifix with the ivory
Christ. The basins and medicine bottles had been cleared from the table
by her pillow; it was spread for the last rites. The priest moved
quietly about the room, arranging the candles, the Prayer Book and the
Holy Sacrament. Then he drew a chair to her bedside and watched with
her, waiting for her to come up out of her doze.

She woke suddenly. Her eyes were fixed upon him. She had a flash of
lucidity. She was dying, and her dying made her supremely important to
Clement Fanner.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“Not yet. I think I’m afraid. Make me not afraid.”

He rose and lit the two candles on the altar. He took down the crucifix
from the wall and stood it against the foot-rail of the bed.

She sighed. That was not what she had wanted.

“You will not be afraid now,” he said.

“I’m not afraid of the hereafter. I suppose you get used to it. Only it
may be terrible just at first.”

“Our first state will depend very much on what we are thinking of at our
last hour.”

“There’ll be my—confession,” she said.

“And after it you will receive the Sacrament. Then you will have your
mind fixed firmly upon God and your Redeemer.... Do you feel able to
make your confession now, Sister? Everything is ready.”

Her mind went back over her past and found Oscar Wade there. She
wondered: Should she confess to him about Oscar Wade? One moment she
thought it was possible; the next she knew that she couldn’t. She could
not. It wasn’t necessary. For twenty years he had not been part of her
life. No. She wouldn’t confess about Oscar Wade. She had been guilty of
other sins.

She made a careful selection.

“I have cared too much for the beauty of this world.... I have failed in
charity to my poor girls. Because of my intense repugnance to their
sin.... I have thought, often, about—people I love, when I should have
been thinking about God.”

After that she received the Sacrament.

“Now,” he said, “there is nothing to be afraid of.”

“I won’t be afraid if—if you would hold my hand.”

He held it. And she lay still a long time, with her eyes shut. Then he
heard her murmuring something. He stooped close.

“This—is—dying. I thought it would be horrible. And it’s bliss....
Bliss.”

The priest’s hand slackened, as if at the bidding of some wonder. She
gave a weak cry.

“Oh—don’t let me go.”

His grasp tightened.

“Try,” he said, “to think about God. Keep on looking at the crucifix.”

“If I look,” she whispered, “you won’t let go my hand?”

“I will not let you go.”

He held it till it was wrenched from him in the last agony.

                  *       *       *       *       *

She lingered for some hours in the room where these things had happened.

Its aspect was familiar and yet unfamiliar, and slightly repugnant to
her. The altar, the crucifix, the lighted candles, suggested some
tremendous and awful experience the details of which she was not able to
recall. She seemed to remember that they had been connected in some way
with the sheeted body on the bed; but the nature of the connection was
not clear; and she did not associate the dead body with herself. When
the nurse came in and laid it out, she saw that it was the body of a
middle-aged woman. Her own living body was that of a young woman of
about thirty-two.

Her mind had no past and no future, no sharp-edged, coherent memories,
and no idea of anything to be done next.

Then, suddenly, the room began to come apart before her eyes, to split
into shafts of floor and furniture and ceiling that shifted and were
thrown by their commotion into different planes. They leaned slanting at
every possible angle; they crossed and overlaid each other with a
transparent mingling of dislocated perspectives, like reflections fallen
on an interior seen behind glass.

The bed and the sheeted body slid away somewhere out of sight. She was
standing by the door that still remained in position.

She opened it and found herself in the street, outside a building of
yellowish-grey brick and freestone, with a tall slated spire. Her mind
came together with a palpable click of recognition. This object was the
Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Maida Vale. She could hear the droning of
the organ. She opened the door and slipped in.

[Illustration: Then, suddenly the room began to come apart ...]

She had gone back into a definite space and time, and recovered a
certain limited section of coherent memory. She remembered the rows of
pitch-pine benches, with their Gothic peaks and mouldings; the
stone-coloured walls and pillars with their chocolate stencilling; the
hanging rings of lights along the aisles of the nave; the high altar
with its lighted candles, and the polished brass cross, twinkling. These
things were somehow permanent and real, adjusted to the image that now
took possession of her.

She knew what she had come there for. The service was over. The choir
had gone from the chancel; the sacristan moved before the altar, putting
out the candles. She walked up the middle aisle to a seat that she knew
under the pulpit. She knelt down and covered her face with her hands.
Peeping sideways through her fingers, she could see the door of the
vestry on her left at the end of the north aisle. She watched it
steadily.

Up in the organ loft the organist drew out the Recessional, slowly and
softly, to its end in the two solemn, vibrating chords.

The vestry door opened and Clement Farmer came out, dressed in his black
cassock. He passed before her, close, close outside the bench where she
knelt. He paused at the opening. He was waiting for her. There was
something he had to say.

She stood up and went towards him. He still waited. He didn’t move to
make way for her. She came close, closer than she had ever come to him,
so close that his features grew indistinct. She bent her head back,
peering, short-sightedly, and found herself looking into Oscar Wade’s
face.

He stood still, horribly still, and close, barring her passage.

She drew back; his heaving shoulders followed her. He leaned forward,
covering her with his eyes. She opened her mouth to scream and no sound
came.

She was afraid to move lest he should move with her. The heaving of his
shoulders terrified her.

One by one the lights in the side aisles were going out. The lights in
the middle aisle would go next. They had gone. If she didn’t get away
she would be shut up with him there, in the appalling darkness.

She turned and moved towards the north aisle, groping, steadying herself
by the book ledge.

When she looked back, Oscar Wade was not there.

Then she remembered that Oscar Wade was dead. Therefore, what she had
seen was not Oscar; it was his ghost. He was dead; dead seventeen years
ago. She was safe from him for ever.

                  *       *       *       *       *

When she came out on to the steps of the church she saw that the road it
stood in had changed. It was not the road she remembered. The pavement
on this side was raised slightly and covered in. It ran under a
succession of arches. It was a long gallery walled with glittering shop
windows on one side; on the other a line of tall grey columns divided it
from the street.

She was going along the arcades of the rue de Rivoli. Ahead of her she
could see the edge of an immense grey pillar jutting out. That was the
porch of the Hotel Saint Pierre. The revolving glass doors swung forward
to receive her; she crossed the grey, sultry vestibule under the
pillared arches. She knew it. She knew the porter’s shining,
wine-coloured mahogany pen on her left, and the shining wine-coloured
mahogany barrier of the clerk’s bureau on her right; she made straight
for the great grey carpeted staircase; she climbed the endless flights
that turned round and round the caged-in shaft of the well, past the
latticed doors of the lift, and came up on to a landing that she knew,
and into the long, ash-grey, foreign corridor lit by a dull window at
one end.

It was there that the horror of the place came on her. She had no longer
any memory of St. Mary’s Church, so that she was unaware of her backward
course through time. All space and time were here.

She remembered she had to go to the left, the left. But there was
something there; where the corridor turned by the window; at the end of
all the corridors. If she went the other way she would escape it.

The corridor stopped there. A blank wall. She was driven back past the
stairhead to the left.

At the corner, by the window, she turned down another long ash-grey
corridor on her right, and to the right again where the night-light
sputtered on the table-flap at the turn.

This third corridor was dark and secret and depraved. She knew the
soiled walls and the warped door at the end. There was a sharp-pointed
streak of light at the top. She could see the number on it now, 107.

Something had happened there. If she went in it would happen again.

Oscar Wade was in the room waiting for her behind the closed door. She
felt him moving about in there. She leaned forward, her ear to the key
hole, and listened. She could hear the measured, deliberate, thoughtful
footsteps. They were coming from the bed to the door.

She turned and ran; her knees gave way under her; she sank and ran on,
down the long grey corridors and the stairs, quick and blind, a hunted
beast seeking for cover, hearing his feet coming after her.

The revolving doors caught her and pushed her out into the street.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The strange quality of her state was this, that it had no time. She
remembered dimly that there had once been a thing called time; but she
had forgotten altogether what it was like. She was aware of things
happening and about to happen; she fixed them by the place they
occupied, and measured their duration by the space she went through.

So now she thought: If I could only go back and get to the place where
it hadn’t happened.

To get back farther—

She was walking now on a white road that went between broad grass
borders. To the right and left were the long raking lines of the hills,
curve after curve, shimmering in a thin mist.

The road dropped to the green valley. It mounted the humped bridge over
the river. Beyond it she saw the twin gables of the grey house pricked
up over the high, grey garden wall. The tall iron gate stood in front of
it between the ball-topped stone pillars.

And now she was in a large, low-ceilinged room with drawn blinds. She
was standing before the wide double bed. It was her father’s bed. The
dead body, stretched out in the middle under the drawn white sheet, was
her father’s body.

The outline of the sheet sank from the peak of the upturned toes to the
shin bone, and from the high bridge of the nose to the chin.

She lifted the sheet and folded it back across the breast of the dead
man. The face she saw then was Oscar Wade’s face, stilled and smoothed
in the innocence of sleep, the supreme innocence of death. She stared at
it, fascinated, in a cold, pitiless joy.

Oscar was dead.

She remembered how he used to lie like that beside her in the room in
the Hotel Saint Pierre, on his back with his hands folded on his waist,
his mouth half open, his big chest rising and falling. If he was dead,
it would never happen again. She would be safe.

The dead face frightened her, and she was about to cover it up again
when she was aware of a light heaving, a rhythmical rise and fall. As
she drew the sheet up tighter, the hands under it began to struggle
convulsively, the broad ends of the fingers appeared above the edge,
clutching it to keep it down. The mouth opened; the eyes opened; the
whole face stared back at her in a look of agony and horror.

Then the body drew itself forwards from the hips and sat up, its eyes
peering into her eyes; he and she remained for an instant motionless,
each held there by the other’s fear.

[Illustration: ... each held there by the other’s fear]

Suddenly she broke away, turned and ran, out of the room, out of the
house.

She stood at the gate, looking up and down the road, not knowing by
which way she must go to escape Oscar. To the right, over the bridge and
up the hill and across the downs she would come to the arcades of the
rue de Rivoli and the dreadful grey corridors of the hotel. To the left
the road went through the village.

If she could get further back she would be safe, out of Oscar’s reach.
Standing by her father’s death-bed she had been young, but not young
enough. She must get back to the place where she was younger still, to
the Park and the green drive under the beech trees and the white
pavilion at the cross. She knew how to find it. At the end of the
village the high road ran right and left, east and west, under the Park
walls; the south gate stood there at the top, looking down the narrow
street.

She ran towards it through the village, past the long grey barns of
Goodyer’s farm, past the grocer’s shop, past the yellow front and blue
sign of the “Queen’s Head,” past the post office, with its one black
window blinking under its vine, past the church and the yew-trees in the
churchyard, to where the south gate made a delicate black pattern on the
green grass.

These things appeared insubstantial, drawn back behind a sheet of air
that shimmered over them like thin glass. They opened out, floated past
and away from her; and instead of the high road and park walls she saw a
London street of dingy white facades, and instead of the south gate the
swinging glass doors of Schnebler’s Restaurant.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The glass doors swung open and she passed into the restaurant. The scene
beat on her with the hard impact of reality: the white and gold panels,
the white pillars and their curling gold capitals, the white circles of
the tables, glittering, the flushed faces of the diners, moving
mechanically.

She was driven forward by some irresistible compulsion to a table in the
corner, where a man sat alone. The table napkin he was using hid his
mouth, and jaw, and chest; and she was not sure of the upper part of the
face above the straight, drawn edge. It dropped; and she saw Oscar
Wade’s face. She came to him, dragged, without power to resist; she sat
down beside him, and he leaned to her over the table; she could feel the
warmth of his red, congested face; the smell of wine floated towards her
on his thick whisper.

“I knew you would come.”

She ate and drank with him in silence, nibbling and sipping slowly,
staving off the abominable moment it would end in.

At last they got up and faced each other. His long bulk stood before
her, above her; she could almost feel the vibration of its power.

“Come,” he said. “Come.”

And she went before him, slowly, slipping out through the maze of the
tables, hearing behind her Oscar’s measured, deliberate, thoughtful
tread. The steep, red-carpeted staircase rose up before her.

She swerved from it, but he turned her back.

“You know the way,” he said.

At the top of the flight she found the white door of the room she knew.
She knew the long windows guarded by drawn muslin blinds; the gilt
looking-glass over the chimney-piece that reflected Oscar’s head and
shoulders grotesquely between two white porcelain babies with bulbous
limbs and garlanded loins, she knew the sprawling stain on the drab
carpet by the table, the shabby, infamous couch behind the screen.

They moved about the room, turning and turning in it like beasts in a
cage, uneasy, inimical, avoiding each other.

At last they stood still, he at the window, she at the door, the length
of the room between.

“It’s no good your getting away like that,” he said. “There couldn’t be
any other end to it—to what we did.”

“But that _was_ ended.”

“Ended there, but not here.”

“Ended for ever. We’ve done with it for ever.”

“We haven’t. We’ve got to begin again. And go on. And go on.”

“Oh, no. No. Anything but that.”

“There isn’t anything else.”

“We can’t. We can’t. Don’t you remember how it bored us?”

“Remember? Do you suppose I’d touch you if I could help it?... That’s
what we’re here for. We must. We must.”

“No. No. I shall get away—now.”

She turned to the door to open it.

“You can’t,” he said. “The door’s locked.”

“Oscar—what did you do that for?”

“We always did it. Don’t you remember?”

She turned to the door again and shook it; she beat on it with her
hands.

“It’s no use, Harriott. If you got out now you’d only have to come back
again. You might stave it off for an hour or so, but what’s that in an
immortality?”

“Immortality?”

“That’s what we’re in for.”

“Time enough to talk about immortality when we’re dead.... Ah—”

[Illustration: ... moving slowly, like figures in some monstrous and
appalling dance ...]

They were being drawn towards each other across the room, moving slowly,
like figures in some monstrous and appalling dance, their heads thrown
back over their shoulders, their faces turned from the horrible
approach. Their arms rose slowly, heavy with intolerable reluctance;
they stretched them out towards each other, aching, as if they held up
an overpowering weight. Their feet dragged and were drawn.

Suddenly her knees sank under her; she shut her eyes; all her being went
down before him in darkness and terror.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was over. She had got away, she was going back, back, to the green
drive of the Park, between the beech trees, where Oscar had never been,
where he would never find her. When she passed through the south gate
her memory became suddenly young and clean. She forgot the rue de Rivoli
and the Hotel Saint Pierre; she forgot Schnebler’s Restaurant and the
room at the top of the stairs. She was back in her youth. She was
Harriott Leigh going to wait for Stephen Philpotts in the pavilion
opposite the west gate. She could feel herself, a slender figure moving
fast over the grass between the lines of the great beech trees. The
freshness of her youth was upon her.

She came to the heart of the drive where it branched right and left in
the form of a cross. At the end of the right arm the white Greek temple,
with its pediment and pillars, gleamed against the wood.

She was sitting on their seat at the back of the pavilion, watching the
side door that Stephen would come in by.

The door was pushed open; he came towards her, light and young, skimming
between the beech trees with his eager, tiptoeing stride. She rose up to
meet him. She gave a cry.

“Stephen!”

It had been Stephen. She had seen him coming. But the man who stood
before her between the pillars of the pavilion was Oscar Wade.

And now she was walking along the field-path that slanted from the
orchard door to the stile; further and further back, to where young
George Waring waited for her under the elder tree. The smell of the
elder flowers came to her over the field. She could feel on her lips and
in all her body the sweet, innocent excitement of her youth.

“George, oh, George!”

As she went along the field-path she had seen him. But the man who stood
waiting for her under the elder tree was Oscar Wade.

“I told you it’s no use getting away, Harriott. Every path brings you
back to me. You’ll find me at every turn.”

“But how did you get _here?_”

“As I got into the pavilion. As I got into your father’s room, on to his
death-bed. Because I _was_ there. I am in all your memories.”

“My memories are innocent. How could you take my father’s place, and
Stephen’s, and George Waring’s? You?”

“Because I did take them.”

“Never. My love for _them_ was innocent.”

“Your love for me was part of it. You think the past affects the future.
Has it never struck you that the future may affect the past? In your
innocence there was the beginning of your sin. You _were_ what you _were
to be_.”

“I shall get away,” she said.

“And, this time, I shall go with you.”

The stile, the elder tree, and the field floated away from her. She was
going under the beech trees down the Park drive towards the south gate
and the village, slinking close to the right-hand row of trees. She was
aware that Oscar Wade was going with her under the left-hand row,
keeping even with her, step by step, and tree by tree. And presently
there was grey pavement under her feet and a row of grey pillars on her
right hand. They were walking side by side down the rue de Rivoli
towards the hotel.

They were sitting together now on the edge of the dingy white bed. Their
arms hung by their sides, heavy and limp, their heads drooped, averted.
Their passion weighed on them with the unbearable, unescapable boredom
of immortality.

“Oscar—how long will it last?”

“I can’t tell you. I don’t know whether _this_ is one moment of
eternity, or the eternity of one moment.”

“It must end some time,” she said. “Life doesn’t go on for ever. We
shall die.”

“Die? We _have_ died. Don’t you know what this is? Don’t you know where
you are? This is death. We’re dead, Harriott. We’re in hell.”

“Yes. There can’t be anything worse than this.”

“This isn’t the worst. We’re not quite dead yet, as long as we’ve life
in us to turn and run and get away from each other; as long as we can
escape into our memories. But when you’ve got back to the farthest
memory of all and there’s nothing beyond it—When there’s no memory but
this—

“In the last hell we shall not run away any longer; we shall find no
more roads, no more passages, no more open doors. We shall have no need
to look for each other.

“In the last death we shall be shut up in this room, behind that locked
door, together. We shall lie here together, for ever and ever, joined so
fast that even God can’t put us asunder. We shall be one flesh and one
spirit, one sin repeated for ever, and ever; spirit loathing flesh,
flesh loathing spirit; you and I loathing each other.”

“Why? Why?” she cried.

“Because that’s all that’s left us. That’s what you made of love.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

The darkness came down swamping, it blotted out the room. She was
walking along a garden path between high borders of phlox and larkspur
and lupin. They were taller than she was, their flowers swayed and
nodded above her head. She tugged at the tall stems and had no strength
to break them. She was a little thing.

She said to herself then that she was safe. She had gone back so far
that she was a child again; she had the blank innocence of childhood. To
be a child, to go small under the heads of the lupins, to be blank and
innocent, without memory, was to be safe.

The walk led her out through a yew hedge on to a bright green lawn. In
the middle of the lawn there was a shallow round pond in a ring of
rockery cushioned with small flowers, yellow and white and purple.
Gold-fish swam in the olive-brown water. She would be safe when she saw
the gold-fish swimming towards her. The old one with the white scales
would come up first, pushing up his nose, making bubbles in the water.

At the bottom of the lawn there was a privet hedge cut by a broad path
that went through the orchard. She knew what she would find there; her
mother was in the orchard. She would lift her up in her arms to play
with the hard red balls of the apples that hung from the tree. She had
got back to the farthest memory of all; there was nothing beyond it.

There would be an iron gate in the wall of the orchard. It would lead
into a field.

Something was different here, something that frightened her. An ash-grey
door instead of an iron gate.

She pushed it open and came into the last corridor of the Hotel Saint
Pierre.



                               THE TOKEN


                                   I


I have only known one absolutely adorable woman, and that was my
brother’s wife, Cicely Dunbar.

Sisters-in-law do not, I think, invariably adore each other, and I am
aware that my chief merit in Cicely’s eyes was that I am Donald’s
sister; but for me there was no question of extraneous quality—it was
all pure Cicely.

And how Donald— But then, like all the Dunbars, Donald suffers from
being Scottish, so that, if he has a feeling, he makes it a point of
honour to pretend he hasn’t it. I daresay he let himself go a bit during
his courtship, when he was not, strictly speaking, himself; but after he
had once married her I think he would have died rather than have told
Cicely in so many words that he loved her. And Cicely wanted to be told.
You say she ought to have known without telling? You don’t know Donald.
You can’t conceive the perverse ingenuity he could put into hiding his
affection. He has that peculiar temper—I think it’s Scottish—that
delights in snubbing and faultfinding and defeating expectation. If he
knows you want him to do a thing, that alone is reason enough with
Donald for not doing it. And my sister, who was as transparent as white
crystal, was never able to conceal a want. So that Donald could, as we
said, “have” her at every turn.

And, then, I don’t think my brother really knew how ill she was. He
didn’t want to know. Besides, he was so wrapt up in trying to finish his
“Development of Social Economics” (which, by the way, he hasn’t finished
yet) that he had no eyes to see what we all saw: that, the way her poor
little heart was going, Cicely couldn’t have very long to live.

[Illustration]

Of course he understood that this was why, in those last months, they
had to have separate rooms. And this in the first year of their marriage
when he was still violently in love with her.

I keep those two facts firmly in my mind when I try to excuse Donald;
for it was the main cause of that unkindness and perversity which I find
it so hard to forgive. Even now, when I think how he used to discharge
it on the poor little thing, as if it had been her fault, I have to
remind myself that the lamb’s innocence made her a little trying.

She couldn’t understand why Donald didn’t want to have her with him in
his library any more while he read or wrote. It seemed to her sheer
cruelty to shut her out now when she was ill, seeing that, before she
was ill, she had always had her chair by the fireplace, where she would
sit over her book or her embroidery for hours without speaking, hardly
daring to breathe lest she should interrupt him. Now was the time, she
thought, when she might expect a little indulgence.

Do you suppose that Donald would give his feelings as an explanation?
Not he. They were _his feelings_, and he wouldn’t talk about them; and
he never explained anything you didn’t understand.

That—her wanting to sit with him in the library—was what they had the
awful quarrel about, the day before she died: that and the paper-weight,
the precious paper-weight that he wouldn’t let anybody touch because
George Meredith had given it him. It was a brass block, surmounted by a
white alabaster Buddha painted and gilt. And it had an inscription: _To
Donald Dunbar, from George Meredith. In Affectionate Regard_.

My brother was extremely attached to this paper-weight, partly, I’m
afraid, because it proclaimed his intimacy with the great man. For this
reason it was known in the family ironically as the Token.

It stood on Donald’s writing-table at his elbow, so near the ink-pot
that the white Buddha had received a splash or two. And this evening
Cicely had come in to us in the library, and had annoyed Donald by
staying in it when he wanted her to go. She had taken up the Token, and
was cleaning it to give herself a pretext.

She died after the quarrel they had then.

It began by Donald shouting at her.

“What are you doing with that paper-weight?”

“Only getting the ink off.”

I can see her now, the darling. She had wetted the corner of her
handkerchief with her little pink tongue and was rubbing the Buddha. Her
hands had begun to tremble when he shouted.

“Put it down, can’t you? I’ve told you not to touch my things.”

[Illustration: “I’ve told you not to touch my things.”]

“_You_ inked him,” she said. She was giving one last rub as he rose,
threatening.

“Put—it—down.”

And, poor child, she did put it down. Indeed, she dropped it at his
feet.

“Oh!” she cried out, and stooped quickly and picked it up. Her large
tear-glassed eyes glanced at him, frightened.

“He isn’t broken.”

“No thanks to you,” he growled.

“You beast! You know I’d die rather than break anything you care about.”

“It’ll be broken some day, if you _will_ come meddling.”

I couldn’t bear it. I said, “You mustn’t yell at her like that. You know
she can’t stand it. You’ll make her ill again.”

That sobered him for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” he said; but he made it sound as if he wasn’t.

“If you’re sorry,” she persisted, “you might let me stay with you. I’ll
be as quiet as a mouse.”

“No; I don’t want you—I can’t work with you in the room.”

“You can work with Helen.”

“You’re not Helen.”

“He only means he’s not in love with _me_, dear.”

“He means I’m no use to him. I know I’m not. I can’t even sit on his
manuscripts and keep them down. He cares more for that damned
paper-weight than he does for me.”

“Well—George Meredith gave it me.”

“And nobody gave you me. I gave myself.”

That worked up his devil again. He _had_ to torment her.

“It can’t have cost you much,” he said. “And I may remind you that the
paper-weight has _some_ intrinsic value.”

With that he left her.

“What’s he gone out for?” she asked me.

“Because he’s ashamed of himself, I suppose,” I said. “Oh, Cicely, why
_will_ you answer him? You know what he is.”

“No!” she said passionately—“that’s what I don’t know. I never have
known.”

“At least you know he’s in love with you.”

“He has a queer way of showing it, then. He never does anything but
stamp and shout and find fault with me—all about an old paper-weight!”

She was caressing it as she spoke, stroking the alabaster Buddha as if
it had been a live thing.

“His poor Buddha. Do you think it’ll break if I stroke it? Better
not.... Honestly, Helen, I’d rather die than hurt anything he really
cared for. Yet look how he hurts me.”

“Some men _must_ hurt the things they care for.”

“I wouldn’t mind his hurting, if only I knew he cared. Helen—I’d give
anything to know.”

“I think you might know.”

“I don’t! I don’t!”

“Well, you’ll know some day.”

“Never! He won’t tell me.”

“He’s Scotch, my dear. It would kill him to tell you.”

“Then how’m I to know! If I died to-morrow I should die not knowing.”

And that night, not knowing, she died.

She died because she had never really known.


                                   II


We never talked about her. It was not my brother’s way. Words hurt him,
to speak or to hear them.

He had become more morose than ever, but less irritable, the source of
his irritation being gone. Though he plunged into work as another man
might have plunged into dissipation, to drown the thought of her, you
could see that he had no longer any interest in it; he no longer loved
it. He attacked it with a fury that had more hate in it than love. He
would spend the greater part of the day and the long evenings shut up in
his library, only going out for a short walk an hour before dinner. You
could see that soon all spontaneous impulses would be checked in him and
he would become the creature of habit and routine.

[Illustration]

I tried to rouse him, to shake him up out of his deadly groove; but it
was no use. The first effort—for he did make efforts—exhausted him, and
he sank back into it again.

But he liked to have me with him; and all the time that I could spare
from my housekeeping and gardening I spent in the library. I think he
didn’t like to be left alone there in the place where they had the
quarrel that killed her; and I noticed that the cause of it, the Token,
had disappeared from his table.

And all her things, everything that could remind him of her, had been
put away. It was the dead burying its dead.

Only the chair she had loved remained in its place by the side of the
hearth—_her_ chair, if you could call it hers when she wasn’t allowed to
sit in it. It was always empty, for by tacit consent we both avoided it.

We would sit there for hours at a time without speaking, while he worked
and I read or sewed. I never dared to ask him whether he sometimes had,
as I had, the sense of Cicely’s presence there, in that room which she
had so longed to enter, from which she had been so cruelly shut out. You
couldn’t tell what he felt or didn’t feel. My brother’s face was a
heavy, sombre mask; his back, bent over the writing-table, a wall behind
which he hid himself.

You must know that twice in my life I have more than _felt_ these
presences; I have seen them. This may be because I am on both sides a
Highland Celt, and my mother had the same uncanny gift. I had never
spoken of these appearances to Donald because he would have put it all
down to what he calls my hysterical fancy. And I am sure that if he ever
felt or saw anything himself he would never own it.

I ought to explain that each time the vision was premonitory of a death
(in Cicely’s case I had no such warning), and each time it only lasted
for a second; also that, though I am certain I was wide awake each time,
it is open to anybody to say I was asleep and dreamed it. The queer
thing was that I was neither frightened nor surprised.

And so I was neither surprised nor frightened now, the first evening
that I saw her.

It was in the early autumn twilight, about six o’clock. I was sitting in
my place in front of the fireplace; Donald was in his arm-chair on my
left, smoking a pipe, as usual, before the lamplight drove him out of
doors into the dark.

I had had so strong a sense of Cicely’s being there in the room that I
felt nothing but a sudden sacred pang that was half joy when I looked up
and saw her sitting in her chair on my right.

The phantasm was perfect and vivid, as if it had been flesh and blood. I
should have thought that it was Cicely herself if I hadn’t known that
she was dead. She wasn’t looking at me; her face was turned to Donald
with that longing, wondering look it used to have, searching his face
for the secret that he kept from her.

[Illustration: ... her face was turned to Donald ...]

I looked at Donald. His chin was sunk a little, the pipe drooping from
the corner of his mouth. He was heavy, absorbed in his smoking. It was
clear that he did not see what I saw.

And whereas those other phantasms that I told you about disappeared at
once, _this_ lasted some little time, and always with its eyes fixed on
Donald. It even lasted while Donald stirred, while he stooped forward,
knocking the ashes out of his pipe against the hob, while he sighed,
stretched himself, turned, and left the room. Then, as the door shut
behind him, the whole figure went out suddenly—not flickering, but like
a light you switch off.

I saw it again the next evening and the next, at the same time and in
the same place, and with the same look turned towards Donald. And again
I was sure that he did not see it. But I thought, from his uneasy
sighing and stretching, that he had some sense of something there.

No; I was not frightened. I was glad. You see, I loved Cicely. I
remember thinking, “At last, at last, you poor darling, you’ve got in.
And you can stay as long as you like now. He can’t turn you away.”

The first few times I saw her just as I have said. I would look up and
find the phantasm there, sitting in her chair. And it would disappear
suddenly when Donald left the room. Then I knew I was alone.

But as I grew used to its presence, or perhaps as it grew used to mine
and found out that I was not afraid of it, that indeed I loved to have
it there, it came, I think, to trust me, so that I was made aware of all
its movements. I would see it coming across the room from the doorway,
making straight for its desired place, and settling in a little
curled-up posture of satisfaction, appeased, as if it had expected
opposition that it no longer found. Yet that it was not happy, I could
still see by its look at Donald. _That_ never changed. It was as
uncertain of him now as she had been in her lifetime.

Up till now, the sixth or seventh time I had seen it, I had no clue to
the secret of its appearance; and its movements seemed to me mysterious
and without purpose. Only two things were clear: it was Donald that it
came for—the instant he went it disappeared; and I never once saw it
when I was alone. And always it chose this room and this hour before the
lights came, when he sat doing nothing. It was clear also that he never
saw it.

But that it was there with him sometimes when I was not I knew; for,
more than once, things on Donald’s writing-table, books or papers, would
be moved out of their places, though never beyond reach; and he would
ask me whether I had touched them.

“Either you lie,” he would say, “or I’m mistaken. I could have sworn I
put those notes on the left-hand side; and they aren’t there now.”

And once—that was wonderful—I saw, yes, I _saw_ her come and push the
lost thing under his hand. And all he said was, “Well, I’m—I could have
sworn—”

For whether it had gained a sense of security, or whether its purpose
was now finally fixed, it began to move regularly about the room, and
its movements had evidently a reason and an aim.

It was looking for something.

One evening we were all there in our places, Donald silent in his chair
and I in mine, and it seated in its attitude of wonder and of waiting,
when suddenly I saw Donald looking at me.

“Helen,” he said, “what are you staring for like that?”

I started. I had forgotten that the direction of my eyes would be bound,
sooner or later, to betray me.

I heard myself stammer, “W—w—was I staring?”

“Yes. I wish you wouldn’t.”

I knew what he meant. He didn’t want me to keep on looking at that
chair; he didn’t want to know that I was thinking of her. I bent my head
closer over my sewing, so that I no longer had the phantasm in sight.

It was then I was aware that it had risen and was crossing the
hearthrug. It stopped at Donald’s knees, and stood there, gazing at him
with a look so intent and fixed that I could not doubt that this had
some significance. I saw it put out its hand and touch him; and, though
Donald sighed and shifted his position, I could tell that he had neither
seen nor felt anything.

It turned to me then—and this was the first time it had given any sign
that it was conscious of my presence—it turned on me a look of
supplication, such supplication as I had seen on my sister’s face in her
lifetime, when she could do nothing with him and implored me to
intercede. At the same time three words formed themselves in my brain
with a sudden, quick impulsion, as if I had heard them cried.

“Speak to him—speak to him!”

[Illustration]

I knew now what it wanted. It was trying to make itself seen by him, to
make itself felt, and it was in anguish at finding that it could not.

It knew then that I saw it, and the idea had come to it that it could
make use of me to get through to him.

I think I must have guessed even then what it had come for.

I said, “You asked me what I was staring at, and I lied. I was looking
at Cicely’s chair.”

I saw him wince at the name.

“Because,” I went on, “I don’t know how _you_ feel, but _I_ always feel
as if she were there.”

He said nothing; but he got up, as though to shake off the oppression of
the memory I had evoked, and stood leaning on the chimney-piece with his
back to me.

The phantasm retreated to its place, where it kept its eyes fixed on him
as before.

I was determined to break down his defences, to make him say something
it might hear, give some sign that it would understand.

“Donald, do you think it’s a good thing, a _kind_ thing, never to talk
about her?”

“Kind? Kind to whom?”

“To yourself, first of all.”

“You can leave me out of it.”

“To me, then.”

“What’s it got to do with you?” His voice was as hard and cutting as he
could make it.

“Everything,” I said. “You forget, I loved her.”

He was silent. He did at least respect my love for her.

“But that wasn’t what she wanted.”

That hurt him. I could feel him stiffen under it.

“You see, Donald,” I persisted, “_I_ like thinking about her.”

It was cruel of me; but I _had_ to break him.

“You can think as much as you like,” he said, “provided you stop
talking.”

“All the same, it’s as bad for you,” I said, “as it is for me, not
talking.”

“I don’t care if it is bad for me. I _can’t_ talk about her, Helen. I
don’t want to.”

“How do you know,” I said, “it isn’t bad for _her_?”

“For _her_?”

I could see I had roused him.

“Yes. If she really is there, all the time.”

“How d’you mean, _there?_”

“Here—in this room. I tell you I can’t get over that feeling that she’s
here.”

“Oh, feel, feel,” he said; “but don’t talk to me about it!”

And he left the room, flinging himself out in anger. And instantly her
flame went out.

I thought, “How he must have hurt her!” It was the old thing over again:
I trying to break him down, to make him show her; he beating us both
off, punishing us both. You see, I knew now what she had come back for:
she had come back to find out whether he loved her. With a longing
unquenched by death, she had come back for certainty. And now, as
always, my clumsy interference had only made him more hard, more
obstinate. I thought, “If only he could see her! But as long as he beats
her off he never will.”

Still, if I could once get him to believe that she was there—

I made up my mind that the next time I saw the phantasm I would tell
him.

The next evening and the next its chair was empty, and I judged that it
was keeping away, hurt by what it had heard the last time.

But the third evening we were hardly seated before I saw it.

It was sitting up, alert and observant, not staring at Donald as it
used, but looking round the room, as if searching for something that it
missed.

“Donald,” I said, “if I told you that Cicely is in the room now, I
suppose you wouldn’t believe me?”

“Is it likely?”

“No. All the same, I see her as plainly as I see you.”

The phantasm rose and moved to his side.

“She’s standing close beside you.”

And now it moved and went to the writing-table. I turned and followed
its movements. It slid its open hands over the table, touching
everything, unmistakably feeling for something it believed to be there.

I went on. “She’s at the writing-table now. She’s looking for
something.”

It stood back, baffled and distressed. Then suddenly it began opening
and shutting the drawers, without a sound, searching each one in turn.

I said, “Oh, she’s trying the drawers now!”

Donald stood up. He was not looking at the place where it was. He was
looking hard at me, in anxiety and a sort of fright. I supposed that was
why he remained unaware of the opening and shutting of the drawers.

It continued its desperate searching.

The bottom drawer stuck fast. I saw it pull and shake it, and stand back
again, baffled.

“It’s locked,” I said.

“What’s locked?”

“That bottom drawer.”

“Nonsense! It’s nothing of the kind.”

“It is, I tell you. Give me the key. Oh, Donald, give it me!”

He shrugged his shoulders; but all the same he felt in his pockets for
the key, which he gave me with a little teasing gesture, as if he
humoured a child.

I unlocked the drawer, pulled it out to its full length, and there,
thrust away at the back, out of sight, I found the Token.

I had not seen it since the day of Cicely’s death.

“Who put it there?” I asked.

“I did.”

“Well, that’s what she was looking for,” I said.

I held out the Token to him on the palm of my hand, as if it were the
proof that I had seen her.

“Helen,” he said gravely, “I think you must be ill.”

“You think so? I’m not so ill that I don’t know what you put it away
for,” I said. “It was because she thought you cared for it more than you
did for her.”

“You can remind me of that? There must be something very badly wrong
with you, Helen,” he said.

“Perhaps. Perhaps I only want to know what _she_ wanted.... You _did_
care for her, Donald?”

I couldn’t see the phantasm now, but I could feel it, close, close,
vibrating, palpitating, as I drove him.

“Care?” he cried. “I was mad with caring for her! And she knew it.”

“She didn’t. She wouldn’t be here now if she knew.”

At that he turned from me to his station by the chimney-piece. I
followed him there.

“What are you going to do about it?” I said.

“Do about it?”

“What are you going to do with this?”

I thrust the Token close towards him. He drew back, staring at it with a
look of concentrated hate and loathing.

“Do with it?” he said. “The damned thing killed her! This is what I’m
going to do with it—”

He snatched it from my hand and hurled it with all his force against the
bars of the grate. The Buddha fell, broken to bits, among the ashes.

[Illustration: He stepped forward, opening his arms.]

Then I heard him give a short, groaning cry. He stepped forward, opening
his arms, and I saw the phantasm slide between them. For a second it
stood there, folded to his breast; then suddenly, before our eyes, it
collapsed in a shining heap, a flicker of light on the floor, at his
feet.

Then that went out too.


                                  III


I never saw it again.

Neither did my brother. But I didn’t know this till some time
afterwards; for, somehow, we hadn’t cared to speak about it. And in the
end it was he who spoke first.

We were sitting together in that room, one evening in November, when he
said, suddenly and irrelevantly:

“Helen—do you never see her now?”

“No,” I said—“Never!”

“Do you think, then, she doesn’t come?”

“Why should she?” I said. “She found what she came for. She knows what
she wanted to know.”

“And that—was what?”

“Why, that you loved her.”

His eyes had a queer, submissive, wistful look.

“You think that was why she came back?” he said.



                        THE FLAW IN THE CRYSTAL


                                   I


It was Friday, the day he always came, if (so she safeguarded it) he was
to come at all. They had left it that way in the beginning, that it
should be open to him to come or not to come. They had not even settled
that it should be Fridays, but it always was, the week-end being the
only time when he could get away; the only time, he had explained to
Agatha Verrall, when getting away excited no remark. He had to, or he
would have broken down. Agatha called it getting away from “things;” but
she knew that there was only one thing, his wife Bella.

To be wedded to a mass of furious and malignant nerves (which was all
that poor Bella was now) simply meant destruction to a man like Rodney
Lanyon. Rodney’s own nerves were not as strong as they had been, after
ten years of Bella’s. It had been understood for long enough (understood
even by Bella) that if he couldn’t have his week-ends he was done for;
he couldn’t possibly have stood the torment and the strain of her.

Of course she didn’t know he spent the greater part of them with Agatha
Verrall. It was not to be desired that she should know. Her obtuseness
helped them. Even in her younger and saner days she had failed,
persistently, to realize any profound and poignant thing that touched
him; so by the mercy of heaven she had never realized Agatha Verrall.
She used to say she had never seen anything _in_ Agatha, which amounted,
as he once told her, to not seeing Agatha at all. Still less could she
have compassed any vision of the tie—the extraordinary, intangible,
immaterial tie that held them.

Sometimes, at the last moment, his escape to Agatha would prove
impossible; so they had left it further that he was to send her no
forewarning; he was to come when and as he could. He could always get a
room in the village inn or at the farm near by, and in Agatha’s house he
would find his place ready for him, the place which had become his
refuge, his place of peace.

There was no need to prepare her. She was never not prepared. It was as
if by her preparedness, by the absence of preliminaries, of adjustments
and arrangements, he was always there, lodged in the innermost chamber.
She had set herself apart; she had swept herself bare and scoured
herself clean for him. Clean she had to be; clean from the desire that
he should come; clean, above all, from the thought, the knowledge she
now had, that she could make him come.

For if she had given herself up to _that_....

But she never had; never since the knowledge came to her; since she
discovered, wonderfully, by a divine accident, that at any moment she
could make him—that she had whatever it was, the power, the uncanny,
unaccountable Gift.

She was beginning to see more and more how it worked; how inevitably,
how infallibly it worked. She was even a little afraid of it, of what it
might come to mean. It _did_ mean that without his knowledge, separated
as they were and had to be, she could always get at him.

And supposing it came to mean that she could get at him to make him do
things? Why, the bare idea of it was horrible.

Nothing could well have been more horrible to Agatha. It was the secret
and the essence of their remarkable relation that she had never tried to
get at him; whereas Bella _had_, calamitously; and still more
calamitously, because of the peculiar magic that there was (there must
have been) in her, Bella had succeeded. To have tried to get at him
would have been for Agatha the last treachery, the last indecency; while
for Rodney it would have been the destruction of her charm. She was the
way of escape for him from Bella; but she had always left her door, even
the innermost door, wide open; so that where shelter and protection
faced him there faced him also the way of departure, the way of escape
from _her_.

And if her thought could get at him and fasten on him and shut him in
there....

It could, she knew; but it need not. She was really all right. Restraint
had been the essence and the secret of the charm she had, and it was
also the secret and the essence of her gift. Why, she had brought it to
so fine a point that she could shut out, and by shutting out destroy,
any feeling, any thought that did violence to any other. She could shut
them all out, if it came to that, and make the whole place empty. So
that, if this knowledge of her power did violence, she had only to close
her door on it.

She closed it now on the bare thought of his coming; on the little
innocent hope she had that he would come. By an ultimate refinement and
subtlety of honour she refused to let even expectation cling to him.

But though it was dreadful to “work” her gift that way, to make him do
things, there was another way in which she did work it, lawfully,
sacredly, incorruptibly—the way it first came to her. She had worked it
twenty times (without his knowledge, for how he would have scoffed at
her) to make him well.

Before it had come to her, he had been, ever since she knew him, more or
less ill, more or less tormented by the nerves that were wedded so
indissolubly to Bella’s. He was always, it seemed to her terror, on the
verge. And she could say to herself: “Look at him _now!_”

[Illustration]

His abrupt, incredible recovery had been the first open manifestation of
the way it worked. Not that she had tried it on him first. Before she
dared do that once she had proved it on herself twenty times, till she
found it infallible.

But to ensure continuous results it had to be a continuous process; and
in order to give herself up to it, to him (to his pitiful case), she had
lately, as her friends said, “cut herself completely off.” She had gone
down into Buckinghamshire and taken a small, solitary house at Sarratt
End in the valley of the Chess, three miles from the nearest station.
She had shut herself up in a world half a mile long; one straight hill
to the north, one to the south, two strips of flat pasture, the river
and the white farm-road between. A world closed east and west by the
turn the valley takes there between the hills, and barred by a gate at
each end of the farm-road. A land of pure curves, of delicate colours,
delicate shadows; all winter through a land of grey woods and sallow
fields, of ploughed hillsides pale with the white strain of the chalk.
In April (it was April now) a land shining with silver and green. And
the ways out of it led into lanes; it had neither sight nor hearing of
the high roads beyond.

There were only two houses in that half-mile of valley, Agatha’s house
and Woodman’s Farm.

Agatha’s house, white as a cutting in the chalk downs, looked
south-west, up the valley and across it, to where a slender beech-wood
went lightly up the hill and then stretched out in a straight line along
the top, with the bare fawn-coloured flank of the ploughed land below.
The farm-house looked east towards Agatha’s house across a field; a
red-brick house—dull, dark red with the grey bloom of weather on
it—flat-faced and flat-eyed, two windows on each side of the door and a
row of five above, all nine staring at the small white house across the
field. The narrow, flat farm-road linked the two.

Except Rodney when his inn was full, nobody ever came to Woodman’s Farm;
and Agatha’s house, set down inside its east gate, shared its isolation,
its immunity. Two villages, unseen, unheard, served her, not a mile
away. It was impossible to be more sheltered, more protected and more
utterly cut off. And only fifteen miles, as the crow flies, between this
solitude and London, so that it was easy for Rodney Lanyon to come down.

At two o’clock, the hour when he must come if he were coming, she began
to listen for the click of the latch at the garden gate. She had agreed
with herself that at the last moment expectancy could do no harm; it
couldn’t influence him; for either he had taken the twelve-thirty train
at Marylebone or he had not (Agatha was so far reasonable); so at the
last moment she permitted herself that dangerous and terrible joy.

When the click came and his footsteps after it, she admitted further
(now when it could do no harm) that she had had foreknowledge of him;
she had been aware all the time that he would come. And she wondered, as
she always wondered at his coming, whether really she would find him
well, or whether this time it had incredibly miscarried. And her almost
unbearable joy became suspense, became vehement desire to see him and
gather from his face whether this time also it had worked.

[Illustration: And she wondered whether really she would find him
well ...]

“How are you? How have you been?” was her question when he stood before
her in her white room, holding her hand for an instant.

“Tremendously fit,” he answered; “ever since I last saw you.”

“Oh—seeing me—” It was as if she wanted him to know that seeing her made
no difference.

She looked at him and received her certainty. She saw him clear-eyed and
young, younger than he was, his clean, bronzed face set, as it used to
be, in a firmness that obliterated the lines, the little agonized lines,
that had made her heart ache.

“It always does me good,” he said, “to see you.”

“And to see you—you know what it does to me.”

He thought he knew as he caught back his breath and looked at her,
taking in again her fine whiteness, and her tenderness, her purity of
line, and the secret of her eyes, whose colour (if they had colour) he
was never sure about; taking in all of her, from her adorable feet to
her hair, vividly dark, that sprang from the white parting like—was it
like waves or wings?

What had once touched and moved him unspeakably in Agatha’s face was the
capacity it had, latent in its tragic lines, for expressing terror.
Terror was what he most dreaded for her, what he had most tried to keep
her from, to keep out of her face. And latterly he had not found it; or
rather he had not found the unborn, lurking spirit of it there. It had
gone, that little tragic droop in Agatha’s face. The corners of her eyes
and of her beautiful mouth were lifted, as if by—he could find no other
word for the thing he meant but wings. She had a look which, if it were
not of joy, was of something more vivid and positive than peace.

He put it down to their increased and undisturbed communion, made
possible by her retirement to Sarratt End. Yet as he looked at her he
sighed again.

In response to his sigh she asked suddenly: “How’s Bella?”

His face lighted wonderfully. “It’s extraordinary,” he said; “she’s
better. Miles better. In fact, if it wasn’t tempting Providence, I
should say she was well. She’s been, for the last week anyhow, a perfect
angel.”

His amazed, uncomprehending look gave her the clue to what had happened.
It was another instance of the astounding and mysterious way it worked.
She must have got at Bella somehow in getting at him. She saw now no end
to the possibilities of the thing. There wasn’t anything so wonderful in
making him what, after all, he was; but if she, Bella, had been, even
for a week, a perfect angel, it had made her what she was not and never
had been.

His next utterance came to her with no irrelevance.

“You’ve been found out.”

For a moment she wondered, had he guessed it then, her secret? He had
never known anything about it, and it was not likely that he should know
now. He was indeed very far from knowing when he could think that it was
seeing her that did it.

There was, of course, the other secret, the fact that he did see her;
but she had never allowed that it _was_ a secret, or that it need be,
although they guarded it so carefully. Anybody, except Bella, who
wouldn’t understand it, was welcome to know that he came to see her. He
must mean that.

“Found out?” she repeated.

“If you haven’t been, you will be.”

“You mean,” she said, “Sarratt End has been found out?”

“If you put it that way. I saw the Powells at the station.” (She
breathed freely.)

[Illustration: “I saw the Powells at the station.”]

“They told me they’d taken rooms at some farm here.”

“Which farm?”

He didn’t remember.

“Was it Woodman’s Farm?” she asked. And he said, “Yes, that was the name
they’d told him. Whereabouts was it?”

“Don’t you know,” she said. “That’s the name of _your_ farm.”

He had not known it, and was visibly annoyed at knowing it now. And
Agatha herself felt some dismay. If it had been any other place but
Woodman’s Farm—it stared at them; it watched them; it knew all their
goings out and their comings in; it knew Rodney; not that that had
mattered in the least, but the Powells, when they came, would know too.

She tried to look as if that didn’t matter either, while they faced each
other in a silence, a curious, unfamiliar discomposure.

She recovered first. “After all,” she said, “why shouldn’t they?”

“Well—I thought you weren’t going to tell people.”

Her face mounted a sudden flame, a signal of resentment. She had always
resented the imputation of secrecy in their relations. And now it was as
if he were dragging forward the thought that she perpetually put away
from her.

“Tell about what?” she asked, coldly.

“About Sarratt End. I thought we’d agreed to keep it for ourselves.”

“I haven’t told everybody. But I did tell Milly Powell.”

“My dear girl, that wasn’t very clever of you.”

“I told her not to tell. She knows what I want to be alone for.”

“Good God.” As he stared in dismay at what he judged to be her
unspeakable indiscretion, the thought rushed in on her straight from
him, the naked, terrible thought, that there _should_ be anything they
had to hide, they had to be alone for. She saw at the same time how
defenceless he was before it; he couldn’t keep it back; he couldn’t put
it away from him. It was always with him, a danger watching on his
threshold.

“Then” (he made her face it with him) “we’re done for.”

“No, no,” she cried; “how could you think that? It was another thing.
Something I’m trying to do.”

“You told her,” he insisted. “What did you tell her?”

“That I’m doing it. That I’m here for my health. She understands it that
way.”

He smiled as if he were satisfied, knowing her so well. And still his
thought, his terrible, naked thought, was there. It was looking at her
straight out of his eyes.

“Are you sure she understands?” he said.

“Yes. Absolutely.”

He hesitated, and then put it differently.

“Are you sure she doesn’t understand? That she hasn’t an inkling?”

He wasn’t sure whether Agatha understood, whether she realized the
danger.

“About you and me,” he said.

“Ah, my dear, I’ve kept _you_ secret. She doesn’t know we know each
other. And if she did—”

She finished it with a wonderful look, a look of unblinking yet vaguely,
pitifully uncandid candour.

She had always met him, and would always have to meet him, with the idea
that there was nothing in it; for, if she once admitted that there was
anything, then they _were_ done for. She couldn’t (how could she?) let
him keep on coming with that thought in him, acknowledged by them both.

That was where she came in, and where her secret, her gift, would work
now more beneficently than ever. The beauty of it was that it would make
them safe, absolutely safe. She had only got to apply it to that thought
of his, and the thought would not exist. Since she could get at him, she
could do for him what he, poor dear, couldn’t perhaps always do for
himself; she could keep that dreadful possibility in him under; she
could, in fact, make their communion all that she wanted it to be.

“I don’t like it,” he said miserably. “I don’t like it.”

A little line of worry was coming in his face again.

The door opened and a maid began to go in and out, laying the table for
their meal. He watched the door close on her and said, “Won’t that woman
wonder what I come for?”

“She can see what you come for.” She smiled.

“Why are you spoiling it with thinking things?”

“It’s for you I think them. _I_ don’t mind. It doesn’t matter so much
for me. But I want you to be safe.”

“Oh, _I’m_ safe, my dear,” she answered.

“You were. And you would be still, if these Powells hadn’t found you
out.”

He meditated.

“What do you suppose _they’ve_ come for?” he asked.

“They’ve come, I imagine, for his health.”

“What? To a god-forsaken place like this?”

“They know what it’s done for me. So they think, poor darlings, perhaps
it may do something—even yet—for him.”

“What’s the matter with him?”

“Something dreadful. And they say—incurable.”

“It isn’t—?” He paused.

“I can’t tell you what it is. It isn’t anything you’d think it was. It
isn’t anything bodily.”

“I never knew it.”

“You’re not supposed to know. And you wouldn’t, unless you _did_ know.
And please—you don’t; you don’t know anything.”

He smiled. “No. You haven’t told me, have you?”

“I only told you because you never tell things, and because—”

“Because?” He waited, smiling.

“Because I wanted you to see he doesn’t count.”

“Well—but _she’s_ all right, I take it?”

At first she failed to grasp his implication that if, owing to his
affliction, Harding Powell didn’t count, Milly, his young wife, did. Her
faculties of observation and of inference would, he took it, be
unimpaired.

“She’ll wonder, won’t she?” he expounded.

“About us? Not she. She’s too much wrapped up in him to notice anyone.”

“And he?”

“Oh, my dear—he’s too much wrapped up in _it_.” Another anxiety then
came to him.

“I say, you know, he isn’t dangerous, is he?” She laughed.

“Dangerous? Oh dear me, no! A lamb.”


                                   II


She kept on saying to herself. Why shouldn’t they come? What difference
did it make?

Up till now she had not admitted that anything could make a difference,
that anything could touch, could alter by a shade the safe, the
intangible, the unique relation between her and Rodney. It was proof
against anything that anybody could think. And the Powells were not
given to thinking things. Agatha’s own mind had been a crystal without a
flaw, in its clearness, its sincerity.

It had to be, to ensure the blessed working of the gift; as again, it
was by the blessed working of the gift that she kept it so. She could
only think of that, the secret, the gift, the inexpressible thing, as
itself a flawless crystal, a charmed circle; or rather, as a sphere that
held all the charmed circles that you draw round things to keep them
safe, to keep them holy.

She had drawn her circle round Rodney Lanyon and herself. Nobody could
break it. They were super-naturally safe.

And yet the presence of the Powells had made a difference. She was
forced to own that, though she remained untouched, it had made a
difference in him. It was as if, in the agitation produced by them, he
had brushed aside some veil and had let her see something that up till
now her crystal vision had refused to see, something that was more than
a lurking possibility. She discovered in him a desire, an intention that
up till now he had concealed from her. It had left its hiding place; it
rose on terrifying wings and fluttered before her, troubling her. She
was reminded that, though there were no lurking possibilities in her,
with him it might be different. For him the tie between them might come
to mean something it had never meant and could not mean for her,
something she had refused not only to see but to foresee and provide
for.

She was aware of a certain relief when Monday came and he had left her
without any further unveilings and revealings. She was even glad when,
about the middle of the week, the Powells came with a cart-load of
luggage and settled at the farm. She said to herself that they would
take her mind off him. They had a way of seizing on her and holding her
attention to the exclusion of all other objects.

She could hardly not have been seized and held by a case so pitiful, so
desperate as theirs. How pitiful and desperate it had become she learned
almost at once from the face of her friend, the little pale-eyed wife,
whose small, flat, flower-like features were washed out and worn fine by
watchings and listenings on the border, on the threshold.

Yes, he was worse. He had had to give up his business (Harding Powell
was a gentle stock-broker). It wasn’t any longer, Milly Powell
intimated, a question of borders and of thresholds. They had passed all
that. He had gone clean over; he was in the dreadful interior; and she,
the resolute and vigilant little woman, had no longer any power to get
him out. She was at the end of her tether.

Agatha knew what he had been for years? Well—he was worse than that; far
worse than he had been, ever. Not so bad, though, that he hadn’t
intervals in which he knew how bad he was, and was willing to do
everything, to try anything. They were going to try Sarratt End. It was
her idea. She knew how marvellously it had answered with dear Agatha
(not that Agatha ever was, or could be, where _he_ was, poor darling).
And besides, Agatha herself was an attraction. It had occurred to Milly
Powell that it might do Harding good to be near Agatha. There was
something about her; Milly didn’t know what it was, but she felt it,
_he_ felt it—an influence, or something, that made for mental peace. It
was, Mrs. Powell said, as if she had some secret.

She hoped Agatha wouldn’t mind. It couldn’t possibly hurt her. _He_
couldn’t. The darling couldn’t hurt a fly; he could only hurt himself.
And if he got really bad, why then, of course, they would have to leave
Sarratt End. He would have, she said sadly, to go away somewhere. But
not yet—oh, not yet; he wasn’t bad enough for that. She would keep him
with her up to the last possible moment—the last possible moment. Agatha
could understand, couldn’t she?

Agatha did indeed.

Milly Powell smiled her desperate white smile, and went on; always with
her air of appeal to Agatha. That was why she wanted to be near her. It
was awful not to be near somebody who understood, who would understand
him. For Agatha would understand—wouldn’t she?—that to a certain extent
he must be given in to? _That_—apart from Agatha—was why they had chosen
Sarratt End. It was the sort of place—wasn’t it?—where you would go if
you didn’t want people to get at you; where (Milly’s very voice became
furtive as she explained it) you could hide. His idea—his last—seemed to
be that something _was_ trying to get at him.

No, not people. Something worse, something terrible. It was always after
him. The most piteous thing about him—piteous but adorable—was that he
came to her—to _her_, imploring her to hide him.

And so she had hidden him here.

Agatha took in her friend’s high courage as she looked at the eyes where
fright barely fluttered under the poised suspense. She approved of the
plan. It appealed to her by its sheer audacity. She murmured that if
there were anything that she could do, Milly had only to come to her.

Oh, well, Milly _had_ come. What she wanted Agatha to do—if she saw him
and he should say anything about it—was simply to take the line that he
was safe.

Agatha said that was the line she did take. She wasn’t going to let
herself think, and Milly mustn’t think—not for a moment—that he wasn’t,
that there was anything to be afraid of.

“Anything to be afraid of _here_. That’s my point,” said Milly.

“Mine is that here or anywhere—wherever _he_ is—there mustn’t be any
fear. How can he get better if we keep him wrapped in it? You’re _not_
afraid. You’re not afraid.”

Persistent, invincible affirmation was part of her method, her secret.

Milly replied a little wearily (she knew nothing about the method).

“I haven’t time to be afraid,” she said. “And as long as you’re not—”

“It’s you who matter,” Agatha cried. “You’re so near him. Don’t you
realize what it means to be so near?”

Milly smiled sadly, tenderly. (As if she didn’t know!)

“My dear, that’s all that keeps me going. I’ve got to make him feel that
he’s protected.”

“He _is_ protected,” said Agatha.

Already she was drawing her charmed circle round him.

“As long as I hold out. If I give in he’s done for.”

“You mustn’t think it. You mustn’t say it!”

“But—I know it. Oh, my dear! I’m all he’s got.”

At that she looked for a moment as if she might break down. She said the
terrible part of it was that they were left so much alone. People were
beginning to shrink from him, to be afraid of him.

“You know,” said Agatha, “I’m not. You must bring him to see me.”

The little woman had risen, as she said, “to go to him.” She stood
there, visibly hesitating. She couldn’t bring him. He wouldn’t come.
Would Agatha go with her and see him?

Agatha went.

As they approached the farm, she saw to her amazement that the door was
shut and the blinds, the ugly, ochreish yellow blinds, were down in all
the nine windows of the front, the windows of the Powells’ rooms. The
house was like a house of the dead.

“Do you get the sun on this side?” she said; and as she said it she
realized the stupidity of her question; for the nine windows looked to
the east, and the sun, wheeling down the west, had been in their faces
as they came.

Milly answered mechanically, “No, we don’t get any sun.” She added with
an irrelevance that was only apparent, “I’ve had to take all four rooms
to keep other people out.”

“They never come,” said Agatha.

“No,” said Milly, “but if they did—”

The front door was locked. Milly had the key. When they had entered
Agatha saw her turn it in the lock again, slowly and without a sound.

All the doors were shut in the passage, and it was dark there. Milly
opened a door on the left at the foot of the steep stairs.

“He will be in here,” she said.

[Illustration: Milly opened the door on the left ...]

The large room was lit with a thick ochreish light through the squares
of its drawn blinds. It ran the whole width of the house and had a third
window looking west where the yellow light prevailed. A horrible light
it was. It cast thin, turbid, brown shadows on the walls.

Harding Powell was sitting between the drawn blinds, alone in the black
hollow of the chimney place. He crouched in his chair, and his bowed
back was towards them as they stood there on the threshold.

“Harding,” said Milly, “Agatha has come to see you.”

He turned in his chair and rose as they entered.

His chin was sunk on his chest, and the first thing Agatha noticed was
the difficult, slow, forward-thrusting movement with which he lifted it.
His eyes seemed to come up last of all from the depths to meet her. With
a peculiar foreign courtesy he bowed his head again over her hand as he
held it.

He apologized for the darkness in which they found him. Harding Powell’s
manners had always been perfect, and it struck Agatha as strange and
pathetic that his malady should have left untouched the incomparable
quality he had.

Milly went to the windows and drew the blinds up. The light revealed him
in his exquisite perfection, his small fragile finish. He was fifty or
thereabouts, but slight as a boy, and nervous, and dark as Englishmen
are dark; jaw and chin shaven; his mouth hidden by the straight droop of
his moustache. From the eyes downwards the outlines of his face and
features were of an extreme regularity and a fineness undestroyed by the
work of the strained nerves on the sallow, delicate texture. But his
eyes, dark like an animal’s, were the eyes of a terrified thing, a thing
hunted and on the watch, a thing that listened continually for the soft
feet of the hunter. Above these eyes his brows were twisted, were
tortured with his terror.

He turned to his wife.

“Did you lock the door, dear?” he said.

“I did. But you know, Harding, we needn’t—here.”

He shivered slightly and began to walk up and down before the
hearthplace. When he had his back to Milly, Milly followed him with her
eyes of anguish; when he turned and faced her, she met him with her
white smile.

Presently he spoke again. He wondered whether they would object to his
drawing the blinds down. He was afraid he would have to. Otherwise, he
said, _he would be seen_.

Milly laid her hand on the arm that he stretched towards the window.

“Darling,” she said, “you’ve forgotten. You can’t possibly be seen—here.
It’s just the one place—isn’t it, Agatha?—where you can’t be.” Her eyes
signalled to Agatha to support her. (Not but what she had perfect
confidence in the plan.)

It was, Agatha assented. “And Agatha knows,” said Milly.

He shivered again. He had turned to Agatha.

“Forgive me if I suggest that you cannot really know. Heaven forbid that
you _should_ know.”

Milly, intent on her “plan,” persisted.

“But, dearest, you said yourself it was. The one place.”

“I said that? When did I say it?”

“Yesterday.”

“Yesterday? I daresay. But I didn’t sleep last night. It wouldn’t let
me.”

“Very few people do sleep,” said Agatha, “for the first time in a
strange place.”

“The place isn’t strange. That’s what I complain of. That’s what keeps
me awake. No place ever will be strange when It’s there. And it was
there last night.”

[Illustration: “No place ever will be strange when It’s there.”]

“Darling—” Milly murmured.

“You know what I mean,” he said. “The Thing that keeps me awake. Of
course if I’d slept last night I’d have known it wasn’t there. But when
I didn’t sleep—”

He left it to them to draw the only possible conclusion.

They dropped the subject. They turned to other things and talked a
little while, sitting with him in his room with the drawn blinds. From
time to time when they appealed to him he gave an urbane assent, a
murmur, a suave motion of his hand. When the light went they lit a lamp.
Agatha stayed and dined with them, that being the best thing she could
do.

At nine o’clock she rose and said good-night to Harding Powell. He
smiled a drawn smile.

“Ah—if I could sleep—,” he said.

“That’s the worst of it—his not sleeping,” said Milly at the gate.

“He will sleep. He will sleep,” said Agatha.

Milly sighed. She knew he wouldn’t.

The plan, she said, was no good after all. It wouldn’t work.


                                  III


How could it? There was nothing behind it. All Milly’s plans had been
like that; they fell to dust; they _were_ dust. There had been always
that pitiful, desperate stirring of the dust to hide the terror; the
futile throwing of the dust in the poor thing’s eyes. As if he couldn’t
see through it. As if, with the supernatural ludicity, the invincible
cunning of the insane, he didn’t see through anything and provide for
it. It was really only his indestructible urbanity, persisting through
the wreck of him, that bore, tolerantly, temperately, with Milly and her
plans. Without it he might be dangerous. With it, as long as it lasted,
little Milly, plan as she would, was safe.

But they couldn’t count on its lasting. Agatha had realized that from
the moment when she had seen him draw down the blind again after his
wife had drawn it up. That was the maddest thing he had done yet. She
had shuddered at it as at an act of violence. It outraged, cruelly, his
exquisite quality. It was so unlike him.

She was not sure that Milly hadn’t even made things worse by her latest
plan, the flight to Sarratt End. It emphasized the fact that they were
flying, that they had to fly. It had brought her to the house with the
drawn blinds in the closed, barred valley, to the end of the world, to
the end of her tether. And when she realized that it _was_ the end, when
he realized it....

Agatha couldn’t leave him there. She couldn’t (when she had the secret)
leave him to poor Milly and her plans. That had been in her mind when
she had insisted on it that he would sleep.

She knew what Milly meant by her sigh and the look she gave her. If
Milly could have been impolite she would have told her that it was all
very well to say so, but how were they going to make him? And she, too,
felt that something more was required of her than that irritating
affirmation. She had got to make him. His case, his piteous case, cried
out for an extension of the gift.

She hadn’t any doubt as to its working. There were things she didn’t
know about it yet, but she was sure of that. She had proved it by a
hundred experimental intermissions, abstentions, and recoveries. In
order to be sure you had only to let go and see how you got on without
it. She had tried in that way, with scepticism and precaution, on
herself.

But not in the beginning. She could not say that she had tried it in the
beginning at all, even on herself. It had simply come to her, as she put
it, by a divine accident. Heaven knew she had needed it. She had been,
like Rodney Lanyon, on the verge, where he, poor dear, had brought her;
so impossible had it been then to bear her knowledge and, what was
worse, her divination of the things he bore from Bella. It was her
divination, her compassion, that had wrecked her as she stood aside, cut
off from him, he on the verge and she near it, looking on, powerless to
help while Bella tore at him. Talk of the verge, the wonder was they
hadn’t gone clean over it, both of them.

[Illustration]

She couldn’t say then from what region, what tract of unexplored,
incredible mystery her help had come. It came one day, one night when
she was at her worst. She remembered how, with some resurgent, ultimate
instinct of surrender, she had sunk on the floor of her room, flung out
her arms across the bed in the supreme gesture of supplication, and thus
gone, eyes shut and with no motion of thought or sense in her, clean
into the blackness where, as if it had been waiting for her, the thing
had found her.

It had found her. Agatha was precise on that point. She had not found
it. She had not even stumbled on it, blundered up against it in the
blackness. The way it worked, the wonder of her instantaneous
well-being, had been the first, the very first hint she had that it was
there.

She had never quite recaptured her primal, virgin sense of it; but to
set against that, she had entered more and more into possession. She had
found out the secret of its working and had controlled it, reduced it to
an almost intelligible method. You could think of it as a current of
transcendent power, hitherto mysteriously inhibited. You made the
connection, having cut off all other currents that interfered, and then
you simply turned it on. In other words, if you could put it into words
at all, you shut your eyes and ears, you closed up the sense of touch,
you made everything dark around you and withdrew into your innermost
self; you burrowed deep into the darkness there till you got beyond it;
you tapped the Power, as it were, underground at any point you pleased
and turned it on in any direction.

She could turn it on to Harding Powell without any loss to Rodney
Lanyon; for it was immeasurable, inexhaustible.

She looked back at the farm-house with its veiled windows. Formless and
immense, the shadow of Harding Powell swayed uneasily on one of the
yellow blinds. Across the field her own house showed pure and dim
against the darkening slope behind it, showed washed and watered white
in the liquid, lucid twilight. Her house was open always and on every
side; it flung out its casement arms to the night and to the day. And
now all the lamps were lit, every doorway was a golden shaft, every
window a golden square; the whiteness of its walls quivered and the
blurred edges flowed into the dark of the garden. It was the fragile
shell of a sacred and a burning light.

She did not go in all at once. She crossed the river and went up the
hill through the beech-wood. She walked there every evening in the
darkness, calling her thoughts home to sleep. The Easter moon,
golden-white and holy, looked down at her, shrined under the long, sharp
arch of the beech-trees; it was like going up and up towards a dim
sanctuary where the holiest sat enshrined. A sense of consecration was
upon her. It came, solemn and pure and still, out of the tumult of her
tenderness and pity; but it was too awful for pity and for tenderness;
it aspired like a flame and lost itself in light; it grew like a wave
till it was vaster than any tenderness or any pity. It was as if her
heart rose on the swell of it and was carried away into a rhythm so
tremendous that her own pulses of compassion were no longer felt, or
felt only as the hushed and delicate vibration of the wave. She
recognized her state. It was the blessed state desired as the condition
of the working of the gift.

She turned when the last arch of the beech-trees broke and opened to the
sky at the top of the hill, where the moon hung in immensity, free of
her hill, free of the shrine that held her. She went down with slow soft
footsteps as if she carried herself, her whole fragile being, as a
vessel, a crystal vessel for the holy thing, and was careful lest a
touch of the earth should jar and break her.


                                   IV


She went still more gently and with half-shut eyes through her
illuminated house. She turned the lights out in her room and undressed
herself in the darkness. She laid herself on the bed with straight lax
limbs, with arms held apart a little from her body, with eyelids shut
lightly on her eyes; all fleshly contacts were diminished.

It was now as if her being drank at every pore the swimming darkness; as
if the rhythm of her heart and of her breath had ceased in the pulse of
its invasion. She sank in it and was covered with wave upon wave of
darkness. She sank and was upheld; she dissolved and was gathered
together again, a flawless crystal. She was herself the heart of the
charmed circle, poised in the ultimate unspeakable stillness, beyond
death, beyond birth, beyond the movement, the vehemence, the agitations
of the world. She drew Harding Powell into it and held him there.

To draw him to any purpose she had first to loosen and destroy the
fleshly, sinister image of him that, for the moment of evocation, hung
like a picture on the darkness. In a moment the fleshly image receded,
it sank back into the darkness. His name, Harding Powell, was now the
only earthly sign of him that she suffered to appear. In the third
moment his name was blotted out. And then it was as if she drew him by
intangible, supersensible threads; she touched, with no sense of peril,
his innermost essence; the walls of flesh were down between them; she
had got at him.

And having got at him she held him, a bloodless spirit, a bodiless
essence, in the fount of healing. She said to herself, “He will sleep
now. He will sleep. He will sleep.” And as she slid into her own sleep
she held and drew him with her.

He would sleep; he would be all right as long as _she_ slept. Her sleep,
she had discovered, did more than carry on the amazing act of communion
and redemption. It clinched it. It was the seal on the bond.

Early the next morning she went over to the Farm. The blinds were up;
the doors and windows were flung open. Milly met her at the garden gate.
She stopped her and walked a little way with her across the field. “It’s
worked,” she said. “It’s worked after all, like magic.” For a moment
Agatha wondered whether Milly had guessed anything; whether she divined
the Secret and had brought him there for that, and had refused to
acknowledge it before she knew.

“What has?” she asked.

“The plan. The place. He slept last night. Ten hours straight on end. I
know, for I stayed awake and watched him. And this morning—oh, my dear,
if you could see him! He’s all right. He’s all right.”

“And you think,” said Agatha, “it’s the place?”

Milly knew nothing, guessed, divined nothing.

“Why, what else can it be?” she said.

“What does _he_ think?”

“He doesn’t think. He can’t account for it. He says himself it’s
miraculous.”

“Perhaps,” said Agatha, “it is.”

They were silent a moment over the wonder of it.

“I can’t get over it,” said Milly presently. “It’s so odd that it should
make all that difference. I could understand it if it had worked that
way at first. But it didn’t. Think of him yesterday. And yet—if it isn’t
the place, what is it? What is it?”

Agatha did not answer. She wasn’t going to tell Milly what it was. If
she did, Milly wouldn’t believe her, and Milly’s unbelief might work
against it. It might prove, for all she knew, an inimical, disastrous
power.

“Come and see for yourself.” Milly spoke as if it had been Agatha who
doubted.

They turned again towards the house. Powell had come out and was in the
garden, leaning on the gate. They could see how right he was by the mere
fact of his being there, presenting himself like that to the vivid
light.

He opened the gate for them, raising his hat and smiling as they came.
His face witnessed to the wonder worked on him. The colour showed clean,
purged of his taint. His eyes were candid and pure under brows smoothed
by sleep.

As they went in he stood for a moment in the open doorway and looked at
the view, admiring the river and the green valley and the bare upland
fields under the wood. He had always had (it was part of his rare
quality) a prodigious capacity for admiration.

“My God,” he said, “how beautiful the world is!”

He looked at Milly. “And all that isn’t a patch on my wife.”

He looked at her with tenderness and admiration, and the look was the
flower, the perfection of his sanity.

Milly drew in her breath with a little sound like a sob. Her joy was so
great that it was almost unbearable.

Then he looked at Agatha and admired the green gown she wore. “You don’t
know,” he said, “how exquisitely right you are.”

She smiled. She knew how exquisitely right _he_ was.


                                   V


Night after night, she continued and without an effort. It was as easy
as drawing your breath; it was indeed the breath you drew. She found
that she had no longer to devote hours to Harding Powell, any more than
she gave hours to Rodney; she could do his business in moments, in
points of inappreciable time. It was as if from night to night the times
swung together and made one enduring timeless time. For the process
belonged to a region that was not of times or time.

She wasn’t afraid, then, of not giving enough time to it, but she _was_
afraid of omitting it altogether. She knew that every intermission would
be followed by a relapse, and Harding’s state did not admit of any
relapses.

Of course, if time _had_ counted, if the thing was measurable, she would
have been afraid of losing hold of Rodney Lanyon. She held him now by a
single slender thread, and the thread was Bella. She “worked” it
regularly now through Bella. He was bound to be all right as long as
Bella was; for his possibilities of suffering were thus cut off at their
source. Besides, it was the only way to preserve the purity of her
intention, the flawlessness of the crystal.

That was the blessedness of her attitude to Harding Powell. It was
passionless, impersonal. She wanted nothing of Harding Powell except to
help him, and to help Milly, dear little Milly. And never before had she
been given so complete, so overwhelming a sense of having helped. It was
nothing—unless it was a safeguard against vanity—that they didn’t know
it, that they persisted in thinking it was Milly’s plan that worked. Not
that that altogether accounted for it to Harding Powell. He said so at
last to Agatha.

They were returning, he and she, by the edge of the wood at the top of
the steep field after a long walk. He had asked her to go with him—it
was her country—for a good stretch, further than Milly’s little feet
could carry her. They stood a moment up there and looked around them.
April was coming on, but the ploughed land at their feet was still bare;
the earth waited. On that side of the valley she was delicately
unfruitful, spent with rearing the fine, thin beauty of the woods. But,
down below, the valley ran over with young grass and poured it to the
river in wave after wave, till the last surge of green rounded over the
water’s edge. Rain had fallen in the night, and the river had risen; it
rested there, poised. It was wonderful how a thing so brimming, so
shining, so alive could be so still; still as marsh water, flat to the
flat land.

[Illustration: ... he stood for a moment in the open doorway ...]

At that moment, in a flash that came like a shifting of her eyes, the
world she looked at suffered a change.

And yet it did not change. All the appearances of things, their colours,
the movement and the stillness remained as if constant in their rhythm
and their scale; but they were heightened, intensified; they were
carried to a pitch that would have been vehement, vibrant, but that the
stillness as well as the movement was intense. She was not dazzled by it
or confused in any way. Her senses were exalted, adjusted to the pitch.

She would have said now that the earth at her feet had become
insubstantial, but that she knew, in a flash, that what she saw was the
very substance of the visible world; live and subtle as flame; solid as
crystal and as clean. It was the same world, flat field for flat field
and hill for hill; but radiant, vibrant, and, as it were, infinitely
transparent.

Agatha in her moment saw that the whole world brimmed and shone and was
alive with the joy that was its life, joy that flowed flood-high and yet
was still. In every leaf, in every blade of grass, this life was
manifest as a strange, a divine translucence. She was about to point it
out to the man at her side when she remembered that he had eyes for the
beauty of the earth, but no sense of its secret and supernatural light.
Harding Powell denied, he always had denied, the supernatural. And when
she turned to him her vision had passed from her.

They must have another tramp some day, he said. He wanted to see more of
this wonderful place. And then he spoke of his recovery.

“It’s all very well,” he said, “but I can’t account for it. Milly says
it’s the place.”

“It _is_ a wonderful place,” said Agatha.

“Not so wonderful as all that. You saw how I was the day after we came.
Well—it can’t be the place altogether.”

“I rather hope it isn’t,” Agatha said.

“Do you? What do you think it is, then?”

“I think it’s something in you.”

“Of course, of course. But what started it? That’s what I want to know.
Something’s happened. Something queer and spontaneous and unaccountable.
It’s—it’s uncanny. For, you know, I oughtn’t to feel like this. I got
bad news this morning.”

“Bad news?”

“Yes. My sister’s little girl is very ill. They think it’s meningitis.
They’re in awful trouble. And I—I’m feeling like this.”

“Don’t let it distress you.”

“It doesn’t distress me. It only puzzles me. That’s the odd thing. Of
course, I’m sorry, and I’m anxious and all that; but I _feel_ so well.”

“You _are_ well. Don’t be morbid.”

“I haven’t told my wife yet. About the child, I mean. I simply daren’t.
It’ll frighten her. She won’t know how I’ll take it, and she’ll think
it’ll make me go all queer again.”

He paused and turned to her.

“I say, if she _did_ know how I’m taking it, she’d think _that_ awfully
queer, wouldn’t she?” He paused.

“The worst of it is,” he said, “I’ve got to tell her.”

“Will you leave it to me?” Agatha said. “I think I can make it all
right.”

“How?” he queried.

“Never mind how. I can.”

“Well,” he assented, “there’s hardly anything you can’t do.”

That was how she came to tell Milly.

She made up her mind to tell her that evening as they sat alone in
Agatha’s house. “Harding,” Milly said, “was happy over there with his
books; just as he used to be, only more so.” So much more so that she
was a little disturbed about it. She was afraid it wouldn’t last. And
again she said it was the place, the wonderful place.

“If you want it to last,” Agatha said, “don’t go on thinking it’s the
place.”

“Why shouldn’t it be? I feel that he’s safe here. He’s out of it. Things
can’t reach him.”

“Bad news reached him to-day.”

“Aggy—what?” Milly whispered in her fright.

“His sister is very anxious about her little girl.”

“What’s wrong?”

Agatha repeated what she had heard from Harding Powell.

“Oh—” Milly was dumb for an instant while she thought of her
sister-in-law. Then she cried aloud:

“If the child dies, it’ll make him ill again?”

“No, Milly, it won’t.”

“It will, I tell you. It’s always been that sort of thing that does it.”

“And supposing there was something that keeps it off?”

“What is there? What is there?”

“I believe there’s something. Would you mind awfully if it wasn’t the
place?”

“What do you mean, Agatha?” (There was a faint resentment in Milly’s
agonized tone.)

It was then that Agatha told her. She made it out for her as far as she
had made it out at all, with the diffidence that a decent attitude
required.

Milly raised doubts which subsided in a kind of awe when Agatha faced
her with the evidence of dates.

“You remember, Milly, the night when he slept?”

“I do remember. He said himself it was miraculous.” She meditated.

“And so you think it’s that?” she said presently.

“I do indeed. If I dared leave off (I daren’t) you’d see for yourself.”

“What do you think you’ve got hold of?”

“I don’t know yet.”

There was a long, deep silence which Milly broke.

“What do you _do_?” she said.

“I don’t do anything. It isn’t me.”

“I see,” said Milly. “I’ve prayed. You didn’t think I hadn’t?”

“It’s not that—not anything _you_ mean by it. And yet it is; only it’s
more, much more. I can’t explain it. I only know it isn’t me.”

She was beginning to feel vaguely uncomfortable about having told her.

“And, Milly, you mustn’t tell him. Promise me you won’t tell him.”

“No, I won’t tell him.”

“Because, you see, he’d think it was all rot.”

“He would,” said Milly. “It’s the sort of thing he does think rot.”

“And that might prevent its working.”

Milly smiled faintly. “I haven’t the ghost of an idea what ‘it’ is. But
whatever it is, can you go on doing it?”

“Yes, I think so. You see, it depends rather—”

“It depends on what?”

“Oh, on a lot of things—on your sincerity; on your—your purity. It
depends so much on _that_ that it frightens you, lest, perhaps, you
mightn’t, after all be so very pure.” Milly smiled again a little
differently. “Darling, if that’s all, I’m not frightened.
Only—supposing—supposing you gave out? You might, you know.”

“_I_ might. But It couldn’t. You mustn’t think it’s me, Milly. Because
if anything happened to me, if I did give out, don’t you see how it
would let him down? It’s as bad as thinking it’s the place.”

“Does it matter what it is—or who it is,” said Milly passionately; “as
long as—” Her tears came and stopped her.

Agatha divined the source of Milly’s passion.

“Then you don’t mind, Milly? You’ll let me go on?” Milly rose; she
turned abruptly, holding her head high, so that she might not spill her
tears.

Agatha went with her over the grey field towards the farm. They paused
at the gate. Milly spoke.

“Are you sure?” she said.

“Certain.”

“And you won’t let go?” Her eyes shone towards her friend’s in the
twilight. “You _will_ go on?”

“_You_ must go on.”

“Ah—how?”

“Believing that he’ll be all right.”

“Oh, Aggy, he was devoted to Winny. And if the child dies—”


                                   VI


The child died three days later. Milly came over to Agatha with the
news.

She said it had been an awful shock, of course. She’d been dreading
something like that for him. But he’d taken it wonderfully. If he came
out of it all right, she _would_ believe in what she called Agatha’s
“thing.”

He did come out of it all right. His behaviour was the crowning proof,
if Milly wanted more proof, of his sanity. He went up to London and made
still the arrangements for his sister. When he returned he forestalled
Milly’s specious consolations with the truth. It was better, he told
her, that the dear little girl should have died, for there was distinct
brain trouble anyway. He took it as a sane man takes a terrible
alternative.

Weeks passed. He had grown accustomed to his own sanity and no longer
marvelled at it.

And still, without intermission, Agatha went on. She had been so far
affected by Milly’s fright (that was the worst of Milly’s knowing) that
she held on to Harding Powell with a slightly exaggerated intensity. She
even began to give more and more time to him, she who had made out that
time in this process did not matter. She was afraid of letting go,
because the consequences (Milly was perpetually reminding her of the
consequences) of letting go would be awful.

For Milly kept her at it. Milly urged her on. Milly, in Milly’s own
words, sustained her. She praised her; she praised the Secret, praised
the Power. She said you could see how it worked. It was tremendous; it
was inexhaustible. Milly, familiarized with its working, had become a
fanatical believer in the Power. But she had her own theory. She knew,
of course, that they were all, she and Agatha and poor Harding,
dependent on the Power, that it was the Power that did it, and not
Agatha. But Agatha was _their_ one link with it, and if the link gave
way where were they? Agatha felt that Milly watched her and waylaid her;
that she was suspicious of failures and of intermissions; that she
wondered; that she peered and pried. Milly would, if she could, have
stuck her fingers into what she called the machinery of the thing. Its
vagueness baffled and even annoyed her, for her mind was limited; it
loved and was at home with limits; it desired above all things precise
ideas, names, phrases, anything that constricted and defined.

[Illustration]

But still, with it all, she believed; and the great thing was that Milly
_should_ believe. She might have worked havoc if, with her temperament,
she had doubted.

What did suffer was the fine poise with which she, Agatha, had held
Rodney Lanyon and Harding Powell each by his own thread. Milly had
compelled her to spin a stronger thread for Harding and, as it were, to
multiply her threads, so as to hold him at all points. And because of
this, because of giving more and more time to him, she could not always
loose him from her and let him go. And she was afraid lest the pull he
had on her might weaken Rodney’s thread.

Up till now, the Powells’ third week at Sarratt End, she had had the
assurance that his thread still held. She heard from him that Bella was
all right, which meant that he too was all right, for there had never
been anything wrong with him _but_ Bella. And she had a further glimpse
of the way the gift worked its wonders.

Three Fridays had passed, and he had not come.

Well—she had meant that; she had tried (on that last Friday of his),
with a crystal sincerity, to hold him back so that he should not come.
And up till now, with an ease that simply amazed her, she had kept
herself at the highest pitch of her sincere and beautiful intention.

Not that it was the intention that had failed her now. It had succeeded
so beautifully, so perfectly, that he had no need to come at all. She
had given Bella back to him. She had given him back to Bella. Only, she
faced the full perfection of her work. She had brought it to so fine a
point that she would never see him again; she had gone to the root of
it; she had taken from him the desire to see her. And now it was as if
subtly, insidiously, her relation to him had become inverted. Whereas
hitherto it had been she who had been necessary to him, it seemed now
that he was far more, beyond all comparison, more necessary to her.
After all, Rodney had had Bella; and she had nobody but Rodney. He was
the one solitary thing she cared for. And hitherto it had not mattered
so immensely, for all her caring, whether he came to her or not. Seeing
him had been, perhaps, a small mortal joy; but it had not been the
tremendous and essential thing. She had been contented, satisfied beyond
all mortal contentments and satisfactions, with the intangible,
immaterial tie. Now she longed, with an unendurable longing, for his
visible, bodily presence. She had not realized her joy as long as it was
with her; she had refused to acknowledge it because of its mortal
quality, and it had raised no cry that troubled her abiding spiritual
calm. But now that she had put it from her, it thrust itself on her, it
cried, it clung piteously to her and would not let her go. She looked
back to the last year, her year of Fridays, and saw it following her,
following and entreating. She looked forward and she saw Friday after
Friday coming upon her, a procession of pitiless days, trampling it
down, her small, piteous mortal joy, and her mortality rose in her and
revolted. She had been disturbed by what she had called the “lurking
possibilities” in Rodney; they were nothing to the lurking possibilities
in her.

There were moments when her desire to see Rodney sickened her with its
importunity. Each time she beat it back, in an instant, to its burrow
below the threshold, and it hid there, it ran underground. There were
ways below the threshold by which desire could get at him. Therefore,
one night—Tuesday of the fourth week—she cut him off. She refused to
hold him even by a thread. It was Bella and Bella only that she held
now.

On Friday of that week she heard from him. Bella was still all right.
But _he_ wasn’t. Anything but. He didn’t know what was the matter with
him. He supposed it was the same old thing again. He couldn’t think how
poor Bella stood him, but she did. It must be awfully bad for her. It
was beastly—wasn’t it?—that he should have got like that, just when
Bella was so well.

She might have known it. She had, in fact, known. Having once held him,
and having healed him, she had no right—as long as the Power consented
to work through her—she had no right to let him go.

She began again from the beginning, from the first process of
purification and surrender. But what followed was different now. She had
not only to recapture the crystal serenity, the holiness of that state
by which she had held Rodney Lanyon and had healed him; she had to
recover the poise by which she had held him and Harding Powell together.
She was bound equally not to let Harding go.

It was now almost a struggle to concentrate on both Rodney and Harding,
a struggle in which Harding persisted and prevailed. Yes, there was no
blinking it, he prevailed.

She had been prepared for it, but not as for a thing that could really
happen. It was contrary to all that she knew of the beneficent working
of the Power. She thought she knew all its ways, its silences, its
reassurances, its inexplicable reservations and evasions. She couldn’t
be prepared for this—that it, the high and holy, the unspeakably pure
thing should allow Harding to prevail, should connive (that was what it
looked like) at his taking the gift into his own hands and turning it to
his own advantage against Rodney Lanyon.

Not that she thought it really had connived. That was unthinkable, and
Agatha did not think these things; she felt them. Hitherto she had had
no misgivings as to the possible behaviour of the Power. And now she was
afraid, not of It, and not, certainly not, of poor Harding (how could
she be afraid of him?); she was afraid mysteriously, without knowing why
or how.

It was her fear that made her write to Rodney Lanyon. She wrote in the
beginning of the fifth week (she was counting the weeks now). She only
wanted to know, she said, that he was better, that he was well. She
begged him to write and tell her that he was well.

He did not write.

And every night of that week, in those “states” of hers, Powell
predominated. He was becoming almost a visible presence impressed upon
the blackness of the “state.” All she could do then was to evoke the
visible image of Rodney Lanyon and place it there over Harding’s image,
obliterating him. Now, properly speaking, the state, the perfection of
it, did not admit of visible presences, and that Harding could so
impress himself showed more than anything the extent to which he had
prevailed.

He prevailed to such good purpose that he was now, Milly said, well
enough to go back to business. They were to leave Sarratt End in about
ten days, when they would have been there seven weeks.

She had come over on the Sunday to let Agatha know that; and also, she
said, to make a confession.

Milly’s face, as she said it, was all candour. It had filled out; it had
bloomed in her happiness; it was shadowless, featureless almost, like a
flower.

She had done what she said she wouldn’t do; she had told Harding.

“Oh, Milly, what on earth did you do that for?” Agatha’s voice was
strange.

“I thought it better,” Milly said, revealing the fine complacence of her
character.

“Why better?”

“Because secrecy is bad. And he was beginning to wonder. He wanted to go
back to business; and he wouldn’t, because he thought it was the place
that did it.”

“I see,” said Agatha. “And what does he think it is now?”

“He thinks it’s _you_, dear.”

“But I told you—I told you—that was what you were not to think.”

“My dear, it’s an immense concession that he should think it’s you.”

“A concession to what?”

“Well, I suppose, to the supernatural.”

“Milly, you shouldn’t have told him. You don’t know what harm you might
have done. I’m not sure even now that you haven’t done it.”

“Oh, have I?” said Milly triumphantly. “You’ve only got to look at him.”

“When did you tell him, then?”

“I told him—let me see—it was a week ago last Friday.” Agatha was
silent. She wondered. It had been after Friday a week ago that he had
prevailed so terribly.

“Agatha,” said Milly solemnly, “when we go away you won’t lose sight of
him? You won’t let go of him?”

“You needn’t be afraid. I doubt now if he will let go of me.”

“How do you mean—_now_?” Milly flushed slightly as a flower might flush.

“Now that you’ve told him, now that he thinks it’s me.

“Perhaps,” said Milly, “that was why I told him. I don’t want him to let
go.”


                                  VII


It was the sixth week, and still Rodney did not write; and Agatha was
more and more afraid.

By this time she had definitely connected her fear with Harding Powell’s
dominion and persistence. She was certain now that what she could only
call his importunity had proved somehow disastrous to Rodney Lanyon. And
with it all, unacknowledged, beaten back, her desire to see Rodney ran
to and fro in the burrows underground.

He did not write, but on the Friday of that week, the sixth week, he
came.

She saw him coming up the garden path, and she shrank back into her room
but the light searched her and found her, and he saw her there. He never
knocked; he came straight and swiftly to her through the open doors. He
shut the door of the room behind him and held her by her arms with both
his hands.

“Rodney,” she said, “did you mean to come, or did I make you?”

“I meant to come. You couldn’t make me.”

“Couldn’t I? Oh, _say_ I couldn’t.”

“You could,” he said, “but you didn’t. And what does it matter so long
as I’m here?”

“Let me look at you.”

She held him at arm’s length and turned him to the light. It showed his
face white, worn as it used to be, all the little lines of worry back
again, and two new ones that drew down the corners of his mouth.

“You’ve been ill,” she said. “You _are_ ill.”

“No. I’m all right. What’s the matter with _you?_”

“With me? Nothing. Do I look as if anything was wrong?”

“You look as if you’d been frightened.”

He paused, considering it.

“This place isn’t good for you. You oughtn’t to be here like this, all
by yourself.”

“Oh! Rodney, it’s the dearest place. I love every inch of it. Besides,
I’m not altogether by myself.”

He did not seem to hear her; and what he said next arose evidently out
of his own thoughts.

“I say, are those Powells still here?”

“They’ve been here all the time.”

“Do you see much of them?”

“I see them every day. Sometimes nearly all day.”

“That accounts for it.”

Again he paused.

“It’s my fault, Agatha. I shouldn’t have left you to them. I knew.”

“What did you know?”

“Well—the state he was in, and the effect it would have on you—that it
would have on anybody.”

“It’s all right. He’s going. Besides, he isn’t in a state any more. He’s
cured.”

“Cured? What’s cured him?”

She evaded him.

“He’s been well ever since he came; absolutely well after the first
day.”

“Still, you’ve been frightened; you’ve been worrying; you’ve had some
shock or other, or some strain. What is it?”

“Nothing. Only—just the last week—I’ve been a little frightened about
you—when you wouldn’t write to me. Why didn’t you?”

“Because I couldn’t.”

“Then you _were_ ill?”

“I’m all right. I know what’s the matter with me.”

“It’s Bella?”

He laughed harshly.

“No, it isn’t this time. I haven’t that excuse.”

“Excuse for what?”

“For coming. Bella’s all right. Bella’s a perfect angel. God knows
what’s happened to her. I don’t. I haven’t had anything to do with it.”

“You had. You had everything. You were an angel too.”

“I haven’t been much of an angel lately, I can tell you.”

“She’ll understand. She does understand.”

They had sat down on the couch in the corner so that they faced each
other. Agatha faced him, but fear was in her eyes.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, “whether she understands or not. I don’t
want to talk about her.”

Agatha said nothing, but there was a movement in her face, a white wave
of trouble, and the fear fluttered in her eyes. He saw it there.

“You needn’t bother about Bella. She’s all right. You see, it’s not as
if she cared.”

“Cared?”

“About _me_ much.”

“But she does, she does care!”

“I suppose she did once, or she couldn’t have married me. But she
doesn’t now. You see—you may as well know it, Agatha—there’s another
man.”

“Oh, Rodney, no.”

“Yes. It’s been perfectly all right, you know; but there he is, and
there he’s been for years. She told me. I’m awfully sorry for her.”

He paused.

“What beats me is her being so angelic now, when she doesn’t care.”

“Rodney, she does. It’s all over, like an illness. It’s you she cares
for _now_.”

“Think so?”

“I’m sure of it.”

“I’m not.”

“You will be. You’ll see it. You’ll see it soon.”

He glanced at her under his bent brows.

“I don’t know,” he said, “that I want to see it. _That_ isn’t what’s the
matter with me. You don’t understand the situation. It isn’t all over.
She’s only being good about it. She doesn’t care a rap about me. She
_can’t_. And what’s more, I don’t want her to.”

[Illustration]

“You—don’t—want her to?”

He burst out. “My God, I want nothing in this world but _you_. And I
can’t have you. That’s what’s the matter with me.”

“No, no, it isn’t,” she cried. “You don’t know.”

“I do know. It’s hurting me. And”—he looked at her and his voice
shook—“it’s hurting you. I won’t have you hurt.”

He started forward suddenly as if he would have taken her in his arms.
She put up her hands to keep him off.

“No, no!” she cried. “I’m all right. I’m all right. It isn’t that. You
mustn’t think it.”

“I know it. That’s why I came.”

He came near again. He seized her struggling hands.

“Agatha, why can’t we? Why shouldn’t we?”

“No, no,” she moaned. “We can’t. We mustn’t. Not _that_ way. I don’t
want it, Rodney, that way.”

“It shall be any way you like. Only don’t beat me off.”

“I’m not—beating—you—off.”

She stood up. Her face changed suddenly.

“Rodney—I forgot. They’re coming.”

“Who are they?”

“The Powells. They’re coming to lunch.”

“Can’t you put them off?”

“I can, but it wouldn’t be very wise, dear. They might think—”

“Confound them—they _would_ think.”

He was pulling himself visibly together.

“I’m afraid, Aggy, I ought—”

“I know—you must. You must go soon.”

He looked at his watch.

“I must go _now_, dear. I daren’t stay. It’s dangerous.”

“I know,” she whispered.

“But when is the brute going?”

“Poor darling, he’s going next week—next Thursday.”

“Well then, I’ll—I’ll—”

“Please, you must go.”

“I’m going.”

She held out her hand.

“I daren’t touch you,” he whispered. “I’m going now. But I’ll come again
next Friday, and I’ll stay.”

As she saw his drawn face, there was not any strength in her to say
“No.”


                                  VIII


He had gone. She gathered herself together and went across the field to
meet the Powells as if nothing had happened.

Milly and her husband were standing at the gate of the Farm. They were
watching; yes, they were watching Rodney Lanyon as he crossed the river
by the Farm bridge. The bridge carried the field path that slanted up
the hill to the farther and western end of the wood. Their attitude
showed that they were interested in his brief appearance on the scene,
and that they wondered what he had been doing there. And as she
approached them she was aware of something cold, ominous and inimical,
that came from them, and set towards her and passed by. Her sense of it
only lasted for a second, and was gone so completely that she could
hardly realize that she had ever felt it.

For they were charming to her. Harding, indeed, was more perfect in his
beautiful quality than ever. There was something about him that she had
not been prepared for, something strange and pathetic, humble almost and
appealing. She saw it in his eyes, his large, dark, wild animal eyes,
chiefly. But it was a look that claimed as much as it deprecated; that
assumed between them some unspoken communion and understanding. With all
its pathos it was a look that frightened her. Neither he nor his wife
said a word about Rodney Lanyon. She was not even sure, now, that they
had recognized him.

They stayed with her all that afternoon; for their time, they said, was
getting short; and when, about six o’clock, Milly got up to go she took
Agatha aside and said that, if Agatha didn’t mind, she would leave
Harding with her for a little while. She knew he wanted to talk to her.

Agatha proposed that they should walk up the hill through the wood. They
went in a curious silence and constraint; and it was not until they had
got into the wood and were shut up in it together that he spoke.

“I think my wife told you I had something to say to you?”

“Yes, Harding,” she said. “What is it?”

“Well, it’s this—first of all, I want to thank you. I know what you’re
doing for me.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to know. I thought Milly wasn’t going to
tell you.”

“She didn’t tell me.”

Agatha said nothing. She was bound to accept his statement. Of course,
he must have known that Milly had broken her word, and he was trying to
shield her.

“I mean,” he went on, “that whether she told me or not, it’s no matter;
I knew.”

“You—knew?”

“I knew that something was happening, and I knew it wasn’t the place.
Places never make any difference. I only go to ’em because Milly thinks
they do. Besides, if it came to that, this place—from my peculiar point
of view, mind you—was simply beastly. I couldn’t have stood another
night of it.”

“Well.”

“Well, the thing went; and I got all right. And the queer part of it is,
I felt as if you were in it somehow, as if you’d done something. I half
hoped you might say something, but you never did.”

“One oughtn’t to speak about these things, Harding. And I told you I
didn’t want you to know.”

“I didn’t know what you did. I don’t know now, though Milly tried to
tell me. But I felt you. I felt you all the time.”

“It was not I you felt. I implore you not to think it was.”

“What can I think?”

“Think as I do; think—think—” She stopped herself. She was aware of the
futility of her charge to this man who denied, who always had denied,
the supernatural. “It isn’t a question of thinking,” she said at last.

“Of believing, then? Are you going to tell me to believe?”

“No; it isn’t believing either. It’s knowing. Either you know it or you
don’t know, though you may come to know. But whatever you think, you
mustn’t think it’s me.”

“I rather like to. Why shouldn’t I?”

She turned on him her grave white face, and he noticed a curious
expression there as of incipient terror.

“Because you might do some great harm either to yourself or—”

His delicate, sceptical eyebrows questioned her.

“Or me.”

“You?” he murmured gently, pitifully almost.

“Yes, me. Or even—well, one doesn’t quite know where the harm might end.
If I could only make you take another view. I tried to make you—to work
it that way—so that you might find the secret and do it for yourself.”

“I can’t do anything for myself. But, Agatha, I’ll take any view you
like of it, so long as you’ll keep on at me.”

“Of course I’ll keep on.”

At that he stopped suddenly in his path, and faced her.

“I say, you know, it isn’t hurting you, is it?”

She felt herself wince. “Hurting me? How could it hurt me?”

“Milly said it couldn’t.”

Agatha sighed. She said to herself, “Milly—if only Milly hadn’t
interfered.”

“Don’t you think it’s cold here in the wood?” she said.

“Cold?”

“Yes. Let’s go back.”

As they went Milly met them at the Farm bridge. She wanted Agatha to
come and stay for supper; she pressed, she pleaded, and Agatha, who had
never yet withstood Milly’s pleading, stayed.

It was from that evening that she really dated it, the thing that came
upon her. She was aware that in staying she disobeyed an instinct that
told her to go home. Otherwise she could not say that she had any sort
of premonition. Supper was laid in the long room with the yellow blinds,
where she had first found Harding Powell. The blinds were drawn
to-night, and the lamp on the table burnt low; the oil was giving out.
The light in the room was still daylight and came level from the sunset,
leaking through the yellow blinds. It struck Agatha that it was the same
light, the same ochreish light that they had found in the room six weeks
ago. But that was nothing.

What it was she did not know. The horrible light went when the flame of
the lamp burnt clearer. Harding was talking to her cheerfully and Milly
was smiling at them both, when half through the meal Agatha got up and
declared that she must go. She was ill; she was tired; they must forgive
her, but she must go.

The Powells rose and stood by her, close to her, in their distress.
Milly brought wine and put it to her lips; but she turned her head away
and whispered: “Please let me go. Let me get away.”

Harding wanted to walk back with her, but she refused with a vehemence
that deterred him.

“How very odd of her,” said Milly, as they stood at the gate and watched
her go. She was walking fast, almost running, with a furtive step, as if
something pursued her.

Powell did not speak. He turned from his wife and went slowly back into
the house.


                                   IX


She knew now what had happened to her. She was afraid of Harding Powell;
and it was her fear that had cried to her to go, to get away from him.

The awful thing was that she knew she could not get away from him. She
had only to close her eyes and she would find the visible image of him
hanging before her on the wall of darkness. And to-night, when she tried
to cover it with Rodney’s it was no longer obliterated. Rodney’s image
had worn thin and Harding’s showed through. She was more afraid of it
than she had been of Harding; and more than anything, she was afraid of
being afraid. Harding was the object of a boundless and indestructible
compassion, and her fear of him was hateful to her and unholy. She knew
that it would be terrible to let it follow her into that darkness where
she would presently go down with him alone. “It would be all right,” she
said to herself, “if only I didn’t keep on seeing him.”

But he, his visible image, and her fear of it, persisted even while the
interior darkness, the divine, beneficent darkness rose round her, wave
on wave, and flooded her; even while she held him there and healed him;
even while it still seemed to her that her love pierced through her fear
and gathered to her, spirit to spirit, flame to pine flame, the
nameless, innermost essence of Rodney and of Bella. She had known in the
beginning that it was by love that she held them; but now, though she
loved Rodney and had almost lost her pity for Harding in her fear of
him, it was Harding rather than Rodney that she held.

In the morning she woke with a sense, which was almost a memory, of
Harding having been in the room with her all night. She was tired, as if
she had had some long and unrestrained communion with him.

She put away at once the fatigue that pressed on her (the gift still
“worked” in a flash for the effacing of bodily sensation). She told
herself that, after all, her fear had done no harm. Seldom in her
experience of the Power had she had so tremendous a sense of having got
through to it, of having “worked” it, of having held Harding under it
and healed him. For, when all was said and done, whether she had been
afraid of him or not, she had held him, she had never once let go. The
proof was that he still went sane, visibly, indubitably cured.

All the same, she felt that she could not go through another day like
yesterday. She could not see him. She wrote a letter to Milly. Since it
concerned Milly so profoundly, it was well that Milly should be made to
understand. She hoped that Milly would forgive her if they didn’t see
her for the next day or two. If she was to go on (she underlined it) she
must be left absolutely alone. It seemed unkind when they were going so
soon, but—Milly knew—it was impossible to exaggerate the importance of
what she had to do.

Milly wrote back that, of course, she understood. It should be as Agatha
wished. Only (so Milly “sustained” her) Agatha must not allow herself to
doubt the Power. How could she, when she saw what it had done for
Harding? If _she_ doubted, what could she expect of Harding? But, of
course, she must take care of her own dear self. If she failed—if she
gave way—what on earth would the poor darling do, now that he had become
dependent on her?

She wrote as if it was Agatha’s fault that he had become dependent; as
if Agatha had nothing, had nobody in the world to think of but Harding;
as if nobody, as if nothing in the world beside Harding mattered. And
Agatha found herself resenting Milly’s view. As if to her anything in
the world mattered beside Rodney Lanyon.

For three days she did not see the Powells.


                                   X


The three nights passed as before, but with an increasing struggle and
fear.

She knew, she knew what was happening. It was as if the walls of
personality were wearing thin, and through them she felt him trying to
get at her.

She put the thought from her. It was absurd. It was insane. Such things
could not be. It was not in any region of such happenings that she held
him, but in the place of peace, the charmed circle, the flawless crystal
sphere.

Still the thought persisted; and still, in spite of it, she held him,
she would not let him go. By her honour and by her love for Milly she
was bound to hold him, even though she knew how terribly, how implacably
he prevailed.

She was aware now that the persistence of his image on the blackness was
only a sign to her of his being there in his substance; in his supreme
innermost essence. It had obviously no relation to his bodily
appearance, since she had not seen him for three days. It tended more
and more to vanish, to give place to the shapeless, nameless,
all-pervading presence. And her fear of him became pervading, nameless
and shapeless too.

Somehow it was always behind her now, it followed her from room to room
of her house; it drove her out of doors. It seemed to her that she went
before it with quick, uncertain feet and a fluttering heart, aimless and
tormented as a leaf driven by a vague light wind. Sometimes it sent her
up the field towards the wood; sometimes it would compel her to go a
little way towards the Farm; and then it was as if it took her by the
shoulders and turned her back again towards her house.

[Illustration]

On the fourth day (which was Tuesday of the Powells’ last week) she
determined to fight this fear. She could not defy it to the extent of
going on to the Farm where she might see Harding, but certainly she
would not suffer it to turn her from her hill-top. It was there that she
had always gone as the night fell, calling home her thoughts to sleep;
and it was there, seven weeks ago, that the moon, the golden-white and
holy moon, had led her to the consecration of her gift. She had returned
softly, seven weeks ago, carrying carefully her gift, as a fragile,
flawless crystal. Since then how recklessly she had held it! To what
jars and risks she had exposed the exquisite and sacred thing!

She waited for her hour between sunset and twilight. It was perfect,
following a perfect day. Above the wood the sky had a violet lucidity,
purer than the day; below it, the pale brown earth wore a violet haze,
and over that a web of green, woven of the sparse, thin blades of the
young wheat. There were two ways up the hill; one over her own bridge
across the river, that led her to the steep, straight path through the
wood; one over the Farm bridge by the slanting path up the field. She
chose the wood.

She paused on the bridge, and looked down the valley. She saw the
farm-house standing in the stillness that was its own secret and the
hour’s. A strange, pale lamplight, lit too soon, showed in the windows
of the room she knew. The Powells would be sitting there at their
supper.

She went on and came to the gate of the wood. It swung open on its
hinges, a sign to her that some time or other Harding Powell had passed
there. She paused and looked about her. Presently she saw Harding Powell
coming down the wood-path.

He stopped. He had not yet seen her. He was looking up to the arch of
the beech-trees, where the green light still came through. She could see
by his attitude of quiet contemplation the sane and happy creature that
he was. He was sane, she knew. And yet, no; she could not really see him
as sane. It was her sanity, not his own, that he walked in. Or else what
she saw was the empty shell of him. _He_ was in her. Hitherto it had
been in the darkness that she had felt him most, and her fear of him had
been chiefly fear of the invisible Harding, and of what he might do
there in the darkness. Now her fear, which had become almost hatred, was
transferred to his person. In the flesh, as in the spirit, he was
pursuing her.

He had seen her now. He was making straight for her. And she turned and
ran round the eastern bend of the hill (a yard or so to the left of her)
and hid from him. From where she crouched at the edge of the wood she
saw him descend the lower slope to the river; by standing up and
advancing a little she could see him follow the river path on the nearer
side and cross by the Farm bridge.

She was sure of all that. She was sure that it did not take her more
than twelve or fifteen minutes (for she had gone that way a hundred
times) to get back to the gate, to walk up the little wood, to cut
through it by a track in the undergrowth, and turn round the further and
western end of it. Thence she could either take the long path that
slanted across the field to the Farm bridge or keep to the upper ground
along a trail in the grass skirting the wood, and so reach home by the
short, straight path and her own bridge.

She decided on the short, straight path as leading her farther from the
farm-house, where there could be no doubt that Harding Powell was now.
At the point she had reached, the jutting corner of the wood hid from
her the downward slope of the hill, and the flat land at its foot.

As she turned the corner of the wood, she was brought suddenly in sight
of the valley. A hot wave swept over her brain, so strong that she
staggered as it passed. It was followed by a strange sensation of
physical sickness, that passed also. It was then as if what went through
her had charged her nerves of sight to a pitch of insane and horrible
sensibility. The green of the grass, and of the young corn, the very
colour of life, was violent and frightful. Not only was it abominable in
itself, it was a thing to be shuddered at, because of some still more
abominable significance it had.

Agatha had known once, standing where she stood now, an exaltation of
sense that was ecstasy; when every leaf and every blade of grass shone
with a divine translucence; when every nerve in her thrilled, and her
whole being rang with the joy which is immanent in the life of things.

What she experienced now (if she could have given any account of it) was
exaltation at the other end of the scale. It was horror and fear
unspeakable. Horror and fear immanent in the life of things. She saw the
world in a loathsome transparency; she saw it with the eye of a soul in
which no sense of the divine had ever been, of a soul that denied the
supernatural. It had been Harding Powell’s soul, and it had become hers.

Furiously, implacably, he was getting at her.

Out of the wood and the hedges that bordered it there came sounds that
were horrible, because she knew them to be inaudible to any ear less
charged with insanity; small sounds of movement, of strange shiverings,
swarmings, crepitations; sounds of incessant, infinitely subtle urging,
of agony and recoil. Sounds they were of the invisible things unborn,
driven towards birth; sounds of the worm unborn, of things that creep
and writhe towards dissolution. She knew what she heard and saw. She
heard the stirring of the corruption that Life was; the young blades of
corn were frightful to her, for in them was the push, the passion of the
evil which was Life; the trees, as they stretched out their arms and
threatened her, were frightful with the terror which was Life. Down
there, in that gross green hot-bed, the earth teemed with the
abomination; and the river, livid, white, a monstrous thing, crawled,
dragging with it the very slime.

All this she perceived in a flash, when she had turned the corner. It
sank into stillness and grew dim; she was aware of it only as the scene,
the region in which one thing, her terror, moved and hunted her. Among
sounds of the rustling of leaves, and the soft crush of grass, and the
whining of little wings in fright, she heard it go; it went on the other
side of the hedge, a little way behind her as she skirted the wood. She
stood still to let it pass her, and she felt that it passed, and that it
stopped and waited. A terrified bird flew out of the hedge, no further
than a fledgling’s flight in front of her. And in that place it flew
from she saw Harding Powell.

He was crouching under the hedge as she had crouched when she had hidden
from him. His face was horrible, but not more horrible than the Terror
that had gone behind her; and she heard herself crying out to him:
“Harding! Harding!” appealing to him against the implacable, unseen
Pursuer.

He had risen (she saw him rise), but as she called his name he became
insubstantial, and she saw a Thing, a nameless, unnameable, shapeless
Thing, proceeding from him. A brown, blurred Thing, transparent as dusk
is, that drifted on the air. It was torn and tormented, a fragment
parted and flung off from some immense and as yet invisible cloud of
horror. It drifted from her; it dissolved like smoke on the hillside;
and the Thing that had born and begotten it pursued her.

She bowed under it, and turned from the edge of the wood, the horrible
place it had been born in; she ran before it, headlong down the field,
trampling the young corn under her feet. As she ran she heard a voice in
the valley, a voice of amazement and entreaty, calling to her in a sort
of song.

“What—are—you—running for—Aggy—Aggy?”

It was Milly’s voice that called.

Then as she came, still headlong, to the river, she heard Harding’s
voice saying something, she did not know what. She couldn’t stop to
listen to him, or to consider how he came to be there in the valley,
when a minute ago she had seen him by the edge of the wood, up on the
very top of the hill.

He was on the bridge—the Farm bridge—now. He held out his hand to steady
her as she came on over the swinging plank.

She knew that he had led her to the other side, and that he was standing
there, still saying something, and that she answered.

“Have you no pity on me? Can’t you let me go?” And then she broke from
him and ran.


                                   XI


She was awake all that night. Harding Powell and the horror begotten of
him had no pity; he would not let her go. Her gift, her secret, was
powerless now against the pursuer.

She had a light burning in her room till morning, for she was afraid of
sleep. Those unlit roads down which, if she slept, the Thing would
surely hunt her, were ten times more terrible than the white-washed,
familiar room where it merely watched and waited.

In the morning she found a letter on her breakfast-table, which she said
Mrs. Powell had left late last evening, after Agatha had gone to bed.
Milly wrote: “Dearest Agatha,— Of course I understand. But are we
_never_ going to see you again? What was the matter with you last night?
You terrified poor Harding.— Yours ever, M. P.”

Without knowing why, Agatha tore the letter into bits and burned them in
the flame of a candle. She watched them burn.

“Of course,” she said to herself, “that isn’t sane of me.”

And when she had gone round her house and shut all the doors and locked
them, and drawn down the blinds in every closed window, and found
herself cowering over her fireless hearth, shuddering with fear, she
knew that, whether she were mad or not, there was madness in her. She
knew that her face in the glass (she had the courage to look at it) was
the face of an insane terror let loose.

That she did know it, that there were moments—flashes—in which she could
contemplate her state and recognize it for what it was, showed that
there was still a trace of sanity in her. It was not her own madness
that possessed her. It was, or rather, it had been, Harding Powell’s;
she had taken it from him. That was what it meant—to take away madness.

There could be no doubt as to what had happened, nor as to the way of
its happening. The danger of it, utterly unforeseen, was part of the
very operation of the gift. In the process of getting at Harding to heal
him she had had to destroy, not only the barriers of flesh and blood,
but those innermost walls of personality that divide and protect,
mercifully, one spirit from another. With the first thinning of the
walls Harding’s insanity had leaked through to her, with the first
breach it had broken in. It had been transferred to her complete with
all its details, with its very gestures, in all the phases that it ran
through; Harding’s premonitory fears and tremblings; Harding’s exalted
sensibility; Harding’s abominable vision of the world, that vision from
which the resplendent divinity had perished; Harding’s flight before the
pursuing Terror. She was sitting now as Harding had sat when she found
him crouching over the hearth in that horrible room with the drawn
blinds. It seemed to her that to have a madness of your own would not be
so very horrible. It would be, after all, your own. It could not
possibly be one-half so horrible as this, to have somebody else’s
madness put into you.

The one thing by which she knew herself was the desire that no longer
ran underground, but emerged and appeared before her, lit by her lucid
flashes, naked and unshamed.

She still knew her own. And there was something in her still that was
greater than the thing that inhabited her, the pursuer, the pursued, who
had rushed into her as his refuge, his sanctuary; and that was her fear
of him and of what he might do there. If her doors stood open to him,
they stood open to Bella and to Rodney Lanyon too. What else had she
been trying for, if it were not to break down in all three of them the
barriers of flesh and blood, and to transmit the Power? In the
unthinkable sacrament to which she called them they had all three
partaken. And since the holy thing could suffer her to be thus
permeated, saturated with Harding Powell, was it to be supposed that she
could keep him to herself, that she would not pass him on to Rodney
Lanyon?

It was not, after all, incredible. If he could get at her, of course he
could get, through her, at Rodney.

That was the Terror of terrors, and it was her own. That it could
subsist together with that alien horror, that it remained supreme beside
it, proved that there was still some tract in her where the invader had
not yet penetrated. In her love for Rodney and her fear for him she
entrenched herself against the destroyer. There at least she knew
herself impregnable.

It was in such a luminous flash that she saw the thing still in her own
hands, and resolved that it should cease.

She would have to break her word to Milly. She would have to let Harding
go, to loosen deliberately his hold on her and cut him off. It could be
done. She had held him through her gift, and it would be still possible,
through the gift, to let him go. Of course she knew it would be hard.

It _was_ hard. It was terrible; for he clung. She had not counted on his
clinging. It was as if, in their undivided substance, he had had
knowledge of her purpose and had prepared himself to fight it. He hung
on desperately; he refused to yield an inch of the ground he had taken
from her. He was no longer a passive thing in that world where she had
brought him. And he had certain advantages. He had possessed her for
three nights and for three days. She had made herself porous to him; and
her sleep had always been his opportunity.

It took her three nights and three days to cast him out. In the first
night she struggled with him. She lay with all her senses hushed, and
brought the divine darkness round her, but in the darkness she was aware
that she struggled. She could build up the walls between them, but she
knew that as fast as she built them he tore at them and pulled them
down.

She bore herself humbly towards the Power that permitted him. She
conceived of it as holiness—estranged and offended; she pleaded with it.
She could no longer trust her knowledge of its working, but she tried to
come to terms with it. She offered herself as a propitiation, as a
substitute for Rodney Lanyon, if there was no other way by which he
might be saved.

Apparently, that was not the way it worked. Harding seemed to gain. But,
as he kept her awake all night, he had no chance to establish himself,
as he would otherwise have done, in her sleep. The odds between her and
her adversary were even.

The second night _she_ gained. She felt that she had built up her walls
again; that she had cut Harding off. With spiritual pain, with the
tearing of the bonds of compassion, with a supreme agony of rupture, he
parted from her.

Possibly the Power was neutral; for in the dawn after the second night
she slept. That sleep left her uncertain of the event. There was no
telling into what unguarded depths it might have carried her. She knew
that she had been free of her adversary before she slept, but the
chances were that he had got at her in her sleep. Since the Power held
the balance even between her and the invader, it would no doubt permit
him to enter by any loophole that he could seize.

On the third night, as it were in the last watch, she surrendered, but
not to Harding Powell.

She could not say how it came to her; she was lying in her bed with her
eyes shut and her arms held apart from her body, diminishing all
contacts, stripping for her long slide into the cleansing darkness, when
she found herself recalling some forgotten, yet inalienable knowledge
that she had. Something said to her: “Do you not remember? There is no
striving and no crying in the world which you would enter. There is no
more appeasing where peace _is_. You cannot make your own terms with the
high and holy Power. It is not enough to give yourself for Rodney
Lanyon, for he is more to you than you are yourself. Besides, any
substitution of self for self would be useless, for there is no more
self there. That is why the Power cannot work that way. But if it should
require you, here on this side the threshold, to give him up, to give up
your desire of him, what then? Would you loose your hold on him and let
him go?”

“Would you?” the voice insisted.

She heard herself answer from the pure threshold of the darkness: “I
would.”

Sleep came on her there; a divine sleep from beyond the threshold;
sacred, inviolate sleep.

It was the seal upon the bond.


                                  XII


She woke on Friday morning to a vivid and indestructible certainty of
escape.

But there had been a condition attached to her deliverance; and it was
borne in on her that instead of waiting for the Power to force its terms
on her, she would do well to be beforehand with it. Friday was Rodney’s
day, and this time she knew that he would come. His coming, of course,
was nothing, but he had told her plainly that he would not go. She must,
therefore, wire to him not to come.

In order to do this she had to get up early and walk about a mile to the
nearest village. She took the shortest way, which was by the Farm
bridge, and up the slanting path to the far end of the wood. She knew
vaguely that once, as she turned the corner of the wood, there had been
horrors, and that the divine beauty of green pastures and still waters
had appeared to her as a valley of the shadow of evil, but she had no
more memory of what she had seen than of a foul dream, three nights
dead. She went at first uplifted in the joy of her deliverance, drawing
into her the light and fragrance of the young morning. Then she
remembered Harding Powell. She had noticed as she passed the Farm-house
that the blinds were drawn again in all the windows. That was because
Harding and Milly were gone. She thought of Harding, of Milly, with an
immense tenderness and compassion, but also with lucidity, with sanity.
They had gone—yesterday—and she had not seen them. That could not be
helped. She had done all that was possible. She could not have seen them
as long as the least taint of Harding’s malady remained with her. And
how could she have faced Milly after having broken her word to her?

Not that she regretted even that, the breaking of her word, so sane was
she. She could conceive that, if it had not been for Rodney Lanyon, she
might have had the courage to have gone on. She might have considered
that she was bound to save Harding, even at the price of her own sanity,
since there _was_ her word to Milly. But it might be questioned whether
by holding on to him she would have kept it, whether she really could
have saved him that way. She was no more than a vehicle, a crystal
vessel for the inscrutable and secret Power, and in destroying her
utterly, Harding would have destroyed himself. You could not transmit
the Power through a broken crystal—why, not even through one that had a
flaw.

[Illustration]

There had been a flaw somewhere; so much was certain. And as she
searched now for the flaw, with her luminous sanity, she found it in her
fear. She knew, she had always known, the danger of taking fear, and the
thought of fear with her into that world where to think was to will, and
to will was to create. But for the rest, she had tried to make herself
clear as crystal. And what could she do more than give up Rodney?

As she set her face towards the village, she was sustained by a sacred
ardour, a sacrificial exaltation. But as she turned homewards across the
solitary fields, she realized the sadness, the desolation of the thing
she had accomplished. He would not come. Her message would reach him two
hours before the starting of the train he always came by.

Across the village she saw her white house shining, and the windows of
his room (her study, which was always his room when he came); its
lattices were flung open as if it welcomed him.

Something had happened there.

Her maid was standing by the garden gate, looking for her. As she
approached, the girl came over the field to meet her. She had an air of
warning her, of preparing her for something.

It was Mrs. Powell, the maid said. She had come again. She was in there,
waiting for Miss Agatha. She wouldn’t go away; she had gone straight in.
She was in an awful state. The maid thought it was something to do with
Mr. Powell.

They had not gone, then.

“If I were you, miss,” the maid was saying, “I wouldn’t see her.”

“Of course I shall see her.”

She went at once into the room where Rodney might have been, where Milly
was. Milly rose from the corner where she sat averted.

“Agatha,” she said, “I had to come.”

Agatha kissed the white, suppliant face that Milly lifted. “I thought,”
she said, “you’d gone—yesterday.”

“We couldn’t go. He—he’s ill again.”

“Ill?”

“Yes. Didn’t you see the blinds down as you passed?”

“I thought it was because you’d gone.”

“It’s because that _thing’s_ come back again.”

“When did it come, Milly?”

“It’s been coming for three days.”

Agatha drew in her breath with a pang. It was just three days since she
began to let him go.

Milly went on. “And now he won’t come out of the house. He says he’s
being hunted. He’s afraid of being seen, being found. He’s in there—in
that room. He made me lock him in.”

They stared at each other and at the horror that their faces took and
gave back each to each.

“Oh, Aggy—” Milly cried it out in her anguish.

“You _will_ help him?”

“I can’t.” Agatha heard her voice go dry in her throat.

“You _can’t_?”

Agatha shook her head.

“You mean you haven’t, then?”

“I haven’t. I couldn’t.”

“But you told me—you told me you were giving yourself up to it. You said
that was why you couldn’t see us.”

“It _was_ why. Do sit down, Milly.”

They sat down, still staring at each other. Agatha faced the window, so
that the light ravaged her.

Milly went on. “That was why I left you alone. I thought you were going
on. You said you wouldn’t let him go; you promised me you’d keep on—”

“I did keep on, till—”

But Milly had only paused to hold down a sob. Her voice broke out again,
clear, harsh, accusing.

“What were you doing all that time?”

“Of course,” said Agatha, “you’re bound to think I let you down.”

“What am I to think?”

“Milly—I asked you not to think it was me.”

“Of course I knew it was the Power, not you. But you had hold of it. You
did something. Something that other people can’t do. You did it for one
night, and that night he was well. You kept on for six weeks, and he was
well all that time. You leave off for three days—I know when you left
off—and he’s ill again. And then you tell me it isn’t you. It _is_ you;
and if it’s you, you can’t give him up. You can’t stand by, Aggy, and
refuse to help him. You know what it was. How can you bear to let him
suffer? How can you?”

“I can, because I must.”

“And why must you?”

Milly raised her head more in defiance than in supplication.

“Because—I told you—I might give out. Well—I _have_ given out.”

“You told me the Power can’t give out—that you’ve only got to hold on to
it—that it’s no effort. I’m only asking you, Aggy, to hold on.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking.”

“I’m asking you only to do what you have done, to give five minutes in
the day to him. You said it was enough. Only five minutes. It isn’t much
to ask.”

Agatha sighed.

“What difference could it make to you—five minutes?”

“You don’t understand,” said Agatha.

“I do. I don’t ask you to see him, or to bother with him; only to go on
as you were doing.”

“You don’t understand. It isn’t possible to explain it. I can’t go on.”

“I see. You’re tired, Aggy. Well—not now, not to-day. But later, when
you’re rested, won’t you?”

“Oh, Milly, dear Milly, if I could—”

“You can. You will. I know you will—”

“No. You must understand it. Never again. Never again.”

“Never?”

“Never.”

There was a long silence. At last Milly’s voice crept through, strained
and thin, feebly argumentative, the voice of a thing defeated and yet
unconvinced.

“I don’t understand you, Agatha. You say it isn’t you; you say you’re
only a connecting link; that you do nothing; that the Power that does it
is inexhaustible; that there’s nothing it can’t do, nothing it won’t do
for us, and yet you go and cut yourself off from it—deliberately, from
the thing you believe to be divine.”

“I haven’t cut myself off from it.”

“You’ve cut Harding off,” said Milly. “If you refuse to hold him.”

“That wouldn’t cut him off—from It. But, Milly, holding him was bad; it
wasn’t safe.”

“It saved him.”

“All the same, Milly, it wasn’t safe. The thing itself isn’t.”

“The Power? The divine thing?”

“Yes. It’s divine and it’s—it’s terrible. It does terrible things to
us.”

“How could it? If it’s divine, wouldn’t it be compassionate? Do you
suppose it’s less compassionate than—_you_ are? Why, Agatha, when it’s
goodness and purity itself—?”

“Goodness and purity are terrible. We don’t understand it. It’s got its
own laws. What you call prayer’s all right—it would be safe, I mean—I
suppose it might get answered anyway, however we fell short. But
_this_—this is different. It’s the highest, Milly; and if you rush in
and make for the highest, can’t you see, oh, can’t you _see_ how it
might break you? Can’t you see what it requires of _you_? Absolute
purity. I told you, Milly. You have to be crystal to it—crystal without
a flaw.”

“And—if there were a flaw?”

“The whole thing, don’t you see, would break down; it would be no good.
In fact, it would be awfully dangerous.”

“To whom?”

“To you—to them, the people you’re helping. You make a connection; you
smash down all the walls so that you—you get through to each other; and
supposing there was something wrong with _you_, and it doesn’t work any
longer (the Power, I mean), don’t you see you might do harm where you
were trying to help?”

“But—Agatha—there was nothing wrong with you.”

“How do I know? Can anybody be sure there’s nothing wrong with them?”

“You think,” said Milly, “there was a flaw somewhere?”

“There must have been—somewhere—”

“What was it? Can’t you find out? Can’t you think? Think.”

“Sometimes—I’ve thought it may have been my fear.”

“Fear?”

“Yes, it’s the worst thing. Don’t you remember, I told you not to be
afraid?”

“But, Agatha, you were _not_ afraid.”

“I was—afterwards. I got frightened.”

“_You_? And you told _me_ not to be afraid,” said Milly.

“I had to tell you.”

“And I wasn’t afraid—afterwards. I believed in you. He believed in you.”

“You shouldn’t have. You shouldn’t. That was just it.”

“That was it? I suppose you’ll say next it was I who frightened you?”

As they faced each other there, Agatha, with the terrible, the almost
supernatural lucidity she had, saw what was making Milly say that. Milly
had been frightened; she felt that she had probably communicated her
fright; she knew that was dangerous, and she knew that if it had done
harm to Harding, she, and not Agatha, would be responsible. And because
she couldn’t face her responsibility, she was trying to fasten upon
Agatha some other fault than fear.

“No, Milly, I don’t say you frightened me; it was my own fear.”

“What was there for _you_ to be afraid of?”

Agatha was silent. That was what she must never tell her, not even to
make her understand. She did not know what Milly was trying to think of
her; Milly might think what she liked; but she should never know what
her terror had been and her danger.

Agatha’s silence helped Milly.

“Nothing,” she said, “will make me believe it was your fear that did it.
That would never have made you give Harding up. Besides, you were not
afraid at first, though you may have been afterwards.”

“Afterwards?”

It was her own word, but it had as yet no significance for her.

“After—whatever it was you gave him up for. You gave him up for
something.”

“I did not. I never gave him up until I was afraid.”

“You gave It up. You wouldn’t have done that if there had not been
something. Something that stood between.”

“If,” said Agatha, “you could only tell me what it was.”

“I can’t tell you. I don’t know what came to you. I only know that if
I’d had a gift like that, I would not have given it up for anything. I
wouldn’t have let anything come between. I’d have kept myself—”

“I did keep myself—for it. I couldn’t keep myself entirely for Harding;
there were other things, other people. I couldn’t give them up for
Harding or for anybody.”

“Are you quite sure you kept yourself what you were, Aggy?”

“What _was_ I?”

“My dear—you were absolutely pure. You said _that_ was the condition.”

“Yes. And, don’t you see, who _is_ absolutely? If you thought I was, you
didn’t know me.”

As she spoke she heard the sharp click of the latch as the garden gate
fell to; she had her back to the window so that she saw nothing, but she
heard footsteps that she knew, resolute and energetic footsteps that
hurried to their end. She felt the red blood surge into her face, and
saw that Milly’s face was white with another passion, and that Milly’s
eyes were fixed on the figure of the man who came up the garden path.
And without looking at her Milly answered:

“I don’t know now; but I think I see, my dear—” In Milly’s pause the
door-bell rang violently. Milly rose and let her have it. “What the flaw
in the crystal was.”


                                  XIII


Rodney entered the room, and it was then that Milly looked at her.
Milly’s face was no longer the face of passion, but of sadness and
reproach, almost of recovered incredulity. It questioned rather than
accused her. It said unmistakably, “You gave him up for _that_?”

Agatha’s voice recalled her. “Milly, I think you know Mr. Lanyon.”

Rodney, in acknowledging Milly’s presence, did not look at her. He saw
nothing there but Agatha’s face, which showed him at last the expression
that to his eyes had always been latent in it, the look of the tragic,
hidden soul of terror that he had divined in her. He saw her at last as
he had known he should some day see her. Terror was no longer there, but
it had possessed her; it had passed through her and destroyed that other
look she had from her lifted mouth and hair, the look of a thing borne
on wings. Now, with her wings beaten, with her white face and haggard
eyes, he saw her as a flying thing tracked down and trampled under the
feet of the pursuer. He saw it in one flash as he stood there holding
Milly’s hand.

Milly’s face had no significance for him. He didn’t see it. When at last
he looked at her his eyes questioned her; they demanded an account from
her of what he saw.

For Agatha, Milly’s face, prepared as it was for leave-taking, remained
charged with meaning; it refused to divest itself of reproach and of the
incredulity that challenged her. Agatha rose to it.

“You’re not going, Milly, just because he’s come? You needn’t.”

Milly _was_ going.

He rose to it also.

If Mrs. Powell _would_ go like that—in that distressing way—she must at
least let him walk back with her. Agatha wouldn’t mind. He hadn’t seen
Mrs. Powell for ages.

He had risen to such a height that Milly was bewildered by him. She let
him walk back with her to the Farm and a little way beyond it. Agatha
said good-bye to Milly at the garden gate and watched them go. Then she
went up into her own room.

He was gone so long that she thought he was never coming back again. She
didn’t want him to come back just yet, but she knew she was not afraid
to see him. It didn’t occur to her to wonder why, in spite of her
message, he had come, nor why he had come by an earlier train than
usual; she supposed he must have started before her message could have
reached him. All that, his coming or his not coming, mattered so little
now.

For now the whole marvellous thing was clear to her. She knew the secret
of the gift. She saw luminously, almost transparently, the way it
worked. Milly had shown her. Milly knew; Milly had seen; she had put her
finger on the flaw.

It was not fear; Milly had been right there too. Until the moment when
Harding Powell had begun to get at her Agatha had never known what fear
felt like. It was the strain of mortality in her love for Rodney; the
hidden thing, unforeseen and unacknowledged, working its work in the
darkness. It had been there all the time, undermining her secret, sacred
places. It had made the first breach through which the fear that was not
_her_ fear had entered. She could tell the very moment when it happened.

She had blamed poor little Milly; but it was the flaw, the flaw that had
given their deadly point to Milly’s interference and Harding’s
importunity. But for the flaw they could not have penetrated her
profound serenity. Her gift might have been trusted to dispose of them.

For before that moment the gift had worked indubitably; it had never
missed once. She looked back on its wonders; on the healing of herself;
the first healing of Rodney and Harding Powell; the healing of Bella. It
had worked with a peculiar rhythm of its own, and always in a strict, a
measurable proportion to the purity of her intention. To Harding’s case
she had brought nothing but innocent love and clean compassion; to
Bella’s nothing but a selfless and beneficent desire to help. And
because in Bella’s case at least she had been flawless, of the three,
Bella’s was the only cure that had lasted. It had most marvellously
endured. And because of the flaw in her she had left Harding worse than
she had found him. No wonder that poor Milly had reproached her.

It mattered nothing that Milly’s reproaches went too far, that in
Milly’s eyes she stood suspected of material sin (anything short of the
tangible had never been enough for Milly); it mattered nothing that
(though Milly mightn’t believe it) she had sinned only in her thought;
for Agatha, who knew, that was enough; more than enough; it counted
more.

For thought went wider and deeper than any deed; it was of the very
order of the Powers intangible wherewith she had worked. Why, thoughts
unborn and shapeless, that run under the threshold and hide there,
counted more in that world where It, the Unuttered, the Hidden and the
Secret, reigned.

She knew now that her surrender of last night had been the ultimate
deliverance. She was not afraid any more to meet Rodney; for she had
been made pure from desire; she was safeguarded for ever.

He had been gone about an hour when she heard him at the gate again and
in the room below.

She went down to him. He came forward to meet her as she entered; he
closed the door behind them; but her eyes held them apart.

“Did you not get my wire?” she said.

“Yes. I got it.”

“Then why—?”

“Why did I come? Because I knew what was happening. I wasn’t going to
leave you here for Powell to terrify you out of your life.”

“Surely—you thought they’d gone?”

“I knew they hadn’t or you wouldn’t have wired.”

“But I would. I’d have wired in any case.”

“To put me off?”

“To—put—you—off.”

“Why?”

He questioned without divination or forewarning. The veil of flesh was
as yet over his eyes, so that he could not see.

“Because I didn’t mean that you should come, that you should ever come
again, Rodney.”

He smiled.

“So you went back on me, did you?”

“If you call it going back.”

She longed for him to see.

“That was only because you were frightened,” he said. He turned from her
and paced the room uneasily, as if he saw. Presently he drew up by the
hearth and stood there for a moment, puzzling it out; and she thought he
had seen.

He hadn’t. He faced her with a smile again.

“But it was no good, dear, was it? As if I wouldn’t know what it meant.
You wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t been ill. You lost your nerve.
No wonder, with those Powells preying on you, body and soul, for weeks.”

“No, Rodney, no. I didn’t _want_ you to come back. And I think—now—it
would be better if you didn’t stay.”

It seemed to her now that perhaps he had seen and was fighting what he
saw.

“I’m not going to stay,” he said, “I am going—in another hour—to take
Powell away somewhere.”

He took it up where she had made him leave it. “Then, Agatha, I shall
come back again. I shall come back—let me see—on Sunday.”

She swept that aside.

“Where are you going to take him?”

“To a man I know who’ll look after him.”

“Oh, Rodney, it’ll break Milly’s heart.”

She had come, in her agitation, to where he stood. She sat on the couch
by the corner of the hearth, and he looked down at her there.

“No,” he said, “it won’t. It’ll give him a chance to get all right. I’ve
convinced her it’s the only thing to do. He can’t be left here for you
to look after.”

“Did she tell you?”

“She wouldn’t have told me a thing if I hadn’t made her. I dragged it
out of her, bit by bit.”

“Rodney, that was cruel of you.”

“Was it? I don’t care. I’d have done it if she’d bled.”

“What did she tell you?”

“Pretty nearly everything, I imagine. Quite enough for me to see what,
between them, they’ve been doing to you.”

“Did she tell you _how he got well_?”

He did not answer all at once. It was as if he drew back before the
question, alien and disturbed, shirking the discerned, yet
unintelligible issue.

“Did she tell you, Rodney?” Agatha repeated.

“Well, yes. She _told_ me.”

He seemed to be making, reluctantly, some admission. He sat down beside
her, and his movement had the air of ending the discussion. But he did
not look at her.

“What do you make of it?” she said.

This time he winced visibly.

“I don’t make anything. If it happened—if it happened like _that_,
Agatha—”

“It did happen.”

“Well, I admit it was uncommonly queer.”

He left it there and reverted to his theme.

“But it’s no wonder—if you sat down to that for six weeks—it’s no wonder
you got scared. It’s inconceivable to me how that woman could have let
you in for him. She knew what he was.”

“She didn’t know what I was doing till it was done.”

“She’d no business to let you go on with it when she did know.”

“Ah, but she knew—then—it was all right.”

“All right?”

“Absolutely right. Rodney—” She called to him as if she would compel him
to see it as it was. “I did no more for him than I did for you and
Bella.”

He started. “Bella?” he repeated.

He stared at her. He had seen something.

“You wondered how she got all right, didn’t you?”

He said nothing.

“That was how.”

And still he did not speak. He sat there, leaning forward, staring now
at his own clasped hands. He looked as if he bowed himself before the
irrefutable.

“And there was you, too, before that.”

“I know,” he said then; “I can understand _that_. But —why Bella?”

“Because Bella was the only way.”

She had not followed his thoughts, nor he hers.

“The only way?” he said.

“To work it. To keep the thing pure. I had to be certain of my motive,
and I knew that if I could give Bella back to you that would prove—to
me, I mean—that it was pure.”

“But Bella,” he said softly—“Bella. Powell I can understand—and me.”

It was clear that he could get over all the rest. But he could not get
over Bella. Bella’s case convinced him. Bella’s case could not be
explained away—or set aside. Before Bella’s case he was baffled, utterly
defeated. He faced it with a certain awe.

“You were right, after all, about Bella,” he said at last. “And so was
I. She didn’t care for me, as I told you. But she does care now.”

She knew it.

“That was what I was trying for,” she said. “That was what I meant.”

“You meant it?”

“It was the only way. That’s why I didn’t want you to come back.”

He sat silent, taking that in.

“Don’t you see now how it works? You have to be pure crystal. That’s why
I didn’t want you to come back.”

Obscurely, through the veil of flesh, he saw.

“And I am never to come back?” he said.

“You will not need to come.”

“You mean you won’t want me?”

“No. I shall not want you. Because, when I did want you, it broke down.”

He smiled.

“I see. When you want me, it breaks down.”

He rallied for a moment. He made his one last pitiful stand against the
supernatural thing that was conquering him.

He had risen to go.

“And when _I_ want to come, when I long for you, what then?”

“_Your_ longing will make no difference.”

She smiled also, as if she foresaw how it would work, and that soon,
very soon, he would cease to long for her.

His hand was on the door. He smiled back at her.

“I don’t want to shake your faith in it,” he said.

“You can’t shake my faith in It.”

“Still—it breaks down. It breaks down,” he cried.

“Never. You don’t understand,” she said. “It was the flaw in the
crystal.”

Soon, very soon he would know it. Already he had shown submission.

She had no doubt of the working of the Power. Bella remained as a sign
that it had once been, and that, given the flawless crystal, it should
be again.



                       THE NATURE OF THE EVIDENCE


[Illustration]

This is the story Marston told me. He didn’t want to tell it. I had to
tear it from him bit by bit. I’ve pieced the bits together in their time
order, and explained things here and there, but the facts are the facts
he gave me. There’s nothing that I didn’t get out of him somehow.

Out of _him_—you’ll admit my source is unimpeachable. Edward Marston,
the great K.C., and the author of an admirable work on “The Logic of
Evidence.” You should have read the chapters on “What Evidence Is and
What It Is Not.” You may say he lied; but if you knew Marston you’d know
he wouldn’t lie, for the simple reason that he’s incapable of inventing
anything. So that, if you ask me whether I believe this tale, all I can
say is, I believe the things happened, because he said they happened and
because they happened to him. As for what they _were_—well, I don’t
pretend to explain it, neither would he.

You know he was married twice. He adored his first wife, Rosamund, and
Rosamund adored him. I suppose they were completely happy. She was
fifteen years younger than he, and beautiful. I wish I could make you
see how beautiful. Her eyes and mouth had the same sort of bow, full and
wide-sweeping, and they stared out of her face with the same grave,
contemplative innocence. Her mouth was finished off at each corner with
the loveliest little moulding, rounded like the pistil of a flower. She
wore her hair in a solid gold fringe over her forehead, like a child’s,
and a big coil at the back. When it was let down it hung in a heavy
cable to her waist. Marston used to tease her about it. She had a trick
of tossing back the rope in the night when it was hot under her, and it
would fall smack across his face and hurt him.

There was a pathos about her that I can’t describe—a curious, pure,
sweet beauty, like a child’s; perfect, and perfectly immature; so
immature that you couldn’t conceive its lasting—like that—any more than
childhood lasts. Marston used to say it made him nervous. He was afraid
of waking up in the morning and finding that it had changed in the
night. And her beauty was so much a part of herself that you couldn’t
think of her without it. Somehow you felt that if it went she must go
too.

Well, she went first.

For a year afterwards Marston existed dangerously, always on the edge of
a break-down. If he didn’t go over altogether it was because his work
saved him. He had no consoling theories. He was one of those bigoted
materialists of the nineteenth century type who believe that
consciousness is a purely physiological function, and that when your
body’s dead, _you’re_ dead. He saw no reason to suppose the contrary.
“When you consider,” he used to say, “the nature of the evidence!”

It’s as well to bear this in mind, so as to realize that he hadn’t any
bias or anticipation. Rosamund survived for him only in his memory. And
in his memory he was still in love with her. At the same time he used to
discuss quite cynically the chances of his marrying again.

It seems that in their honeymoon they had gone into that. Rosamund said
she hated to think of his being lonely and miserable, supposing she died
before he did. She would like him to marry again. If, she stipulated, he
married the right woman.

He had put it to her: “And if I marry the wrong one?” And she had said,
That would be different. She couldn’t bear that.

He remembered all this afterwards; but there was nothing in it to make
him suppose, at the time, that she would take action.

We talked it over, he and I, one night.

“I suppose,” he said, “I shall have to marry again. It’s a physical
necessity. But it won’t be anything more. I shan’t marry the sort of
woman who’ll expect anything more. I won’t put another woman in
Rosamund’s place. There’ll be no unfaithfulness about it.”

And there wasn’t. Soon after that first year he married Pauline Silver.

She was a daughter of old Justice Parker, who was a friend of Marston’s
people. He hadn’t seen the girl till she came home from India after her
divorce.

Yes, there’d been a divorce. Silver had behaved very decently. He’d let
her bring it against _him_, to save her. But there were some queer
stories going about. They didn’t get round to Marston, because he was so
mixed up with her people; and if they had he wouldn’t have believed
them. He’d made up his mind he’d marry Pauline the first minute he’d
seen her. She was handsome; the hard, black, white and vermilion kind,
with a little aristocratic nose and a lascivious mouth.

It was, as he had meant it to be, nothing but physical infatuation on
both sides. No question of Pauline’s taking Rosamund’s place.

Marston had a big case on at the time.

They were in such a hurry that they couldn’t wait till it was over; and
as it kept him in London they agreed to put off their honeymoon till the
autumn, and he took her straight to his own house in Curzon Street.

This, he admitted afterwards, was the part he hated. The Curzon Street
house was associated with Rosamund; especially their bedroom—Rosamund’s
bedroom—and his library. The library was the room Rosamund liked best,
because it was his room. She had her place in the corner by the hearth,
and they were always alone there together in the evenings when his work
was done, and when it wasn’t done she would still sit with him, keeping
quiet in her corner with a book.

Luckily for Marston, at the first sight of the library Pauline took a
dislike to it.

I can hear her. “Br-rr-rh! There’s something beastly about this room,
Edward. I can’t think how you can sit in it.”

And Edward, a little caustic:

“_You_ needn’t, if you don’t like it.”

“I certainly shan’t.”

She stood there—I can see her—on the hearthrug by Rosamund’s chair,
looking uncommonly handsome and lascivious. He was going to take her in
his arms and kiss her vermilion mouth, when, he said, something stopped
him. Stopped him clean, as if it had risen up and stepped between them.
He supposed it was the memory of Rosamund, vivid in the place that had
been hers.

You see it was just that place, of silent, intimate communion, that
Pauline would never take. And the rich, coarse, contented creature
didn’t even want to take it. He saw that he would be left alone there,
all right, with his memory.

But the bedroom was another matter. That, Pauline had made it understood
from the beginning, she would have to have. Indeed, there was no other
he could well have offered her. The drawing-room covered the whole of
the first floor. The bedrooms above were cramped, and this one had been
formed by throwing the two front rooms into one. It looked south, and
the bathroom opened out of it at the back. Marston’s small northern room
had a door on the narrow landing at right angles to his wife’s door. He
could hardly expect her to sleep there, still less in any of the tight
boxes on the top floor. He said he wished he had sold the Curzon Street
house.

But Pauline was enchanted with the wide, three-windowed piece that was
to be hers. It had been exquisitely furnished for poor little Rosamund;
all seventeenth century walnut wood, Bokhara rugs, thick silk curtains,
deep blue with purple linings, and a big, rich bed covered with a purple
counterpane embroidered in blue.

One thing Marston insisted on: that _he_ should sleep on Rosamund’s side
of the bed, and Pauline in his own old place. He didn’t want to see
Pauline’s body where Rosamund’s had been. Of course he had to lie about
it and pretend he had always slept on the side next the window.

I can see Pauline going about in that room, looking at everything;
looking at herself, her black, white and vermilion, in the glass that
had held Rosamund’s pure rose and gold; opening the wardrobe where
Rosamund’s dresses used to hang, sniffing up the delicate, flower scent
of Rosamund, not caring, covering it with her own thick trail. And
Marston (who cared abominably)—I can see him getting more miserable and
at the same time more excited as the wedding evening went on. He took
her to the play to fill up the time, or perhaps to get her out of
Rosamund’s rooms; God knows. I can see them sitting in the stalls, bored
and restless, starting up and going out before the thing was half over,
and coming back to that house in Curzon Street before eleven o’clock.

[Illustration]

It wasn’t much past eleven when he went to her room.

I told you her door was at right angles to his, and the landing was
narrow, so that anybody standing by Pauline’s door must have been seen
the minute he opened his. He hadn’t even to cross the landing to get to
her.

Well, Marston swears that there was nothing there when he opened his own
door; but when he came to Pauline’s he saw Rosamund standing up before
it; and, he said, “_She wouldn’t let me in._”

Her arms were stretched out, barring the passage. Oh yes, he saw her
face, Rosamund’s face; I gathered that it was utterly sweet, and utterly
inexorable. He couldn’t pass her.

So he turned into his own room, backing, he says, so that he could keep
looking at her. And when he stood on the threshold of his own door she
wasn’t there.

No, he wasn’t frightened. He couldn’t tell me what he felt; but he left
his door open all night because he couldn’t bear to shut it on her. And
he made no other attempt to go in to Pauline; he was so convinced that
the phantasm of Rosamund would come again and stop him.

I don’t know what sort of excuse he made to Pauline the next morning. He
said she was very stiff and sulky all day; and no wonder. He was still
infatuated with her, and I don’t think that the phantasm of Rosamund had
put him off Pauline in the least. In fact, he persuaded himself that the
thing was nothing but a hallucination, due, no doubt, to his excitement.

Anyhow, he didn’t expect to see it at the door again the next night.

Yes. It was there. Only, this time, he said, it drew aside to let him
pass. It smiled at him, as if it were saying, “Go in, if you must;
you’ll see what’ll happen.”

He had no sense that it had followed him into the room; he felt certain
that, this time, it would let him be.

It was when he approached Pauline’s bed, which had been Rosamund’s bed,
that she appeared again, standing between it and him, and stretching out
her arms to keep him back.

[Illustration: ... stretching out her arms to keep him back.]

All that Pauline could see was her bridegroom backing and backing, then
standing there, fixed, and the look on his face. That in itself was
enough to frighten her.

She said, “What’s the matter with you, Edward?”

He didn’t move.

“What are you standing there for? Why don’t you come to bed?”

Then Marston seems to have lost his head and blurted it out:

“I can’t. I can’t.”

“Can’t what?” said Pauline from the bed.

“Can’t sleep with you. She won’t let me.”

“She?”

“Rosamund. My wife. She’s there.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“She’s there, I tell you. She won’t let me. She’s pushing me back.”

He says Pauline must have thought he was drunk or something. Remember,
she _saw_ nothing but Edward, his face, and his mysterious attitude. He
must have looked very drunk.

She sat up in bed, with her hard, black eyes blazing away at him, and
told him to leave the room that minute. Which he did.

The next day she had it out with him. I gathered that he kept on talking
about the “state” he was in.

“You came to my room, Edward, in a _disgraceful_ state.”

I suppose Marston said he was sorry; but he couldn’t help it; he wasn’t
drunk. He stuck to it that Rosamund was there. He had seen her. And
Pauline said, if he wasn’t drunk then he must be mad, and he said
meekly, “Perhaps I _am_ mad.”

That set her off, and she broke out in a fury. He was no more mad than
she was; but he didn’t care for her; he was making ridiculous excuses;
shamming, to put her off. There was some other woman.

Marston asked her what on earth she supposed he’d married her for. Then
she burst out crying and said she didn’t know.

Then he seems to have made it up with Pauline. He managed to make her
believe he wasn’t lying, that he really had seen something, and between
them they arrived at a rational explanation of the appearance. He had
been overworking. Rosamund’s phantasm was nothing but a hallucination of
his exhausted brain.

This theory carried him on till bed-time. Then, he says, he began to
wonder what would happen, what Rosamund’s phantasm would do next. Each
morning his passion for Pauline had come back again, increased by
frustration, and it worked itself up crescendo, towards night. Supposing
he _had_ seen Rosamund. He might see her again. He had become suddenly
subject to hallucinations. But as long as you _knew_ you were
hallucinated you were all right.

So what they agreed to do that night was by way of precaution, in case
the thing came again. It might even be sufficient in itself to prevent
his seeing anything.

Instead of going in to Pauline he was to get into the room before she
did, and she was to come to him there. That, they said, would break the
spell. To make him feel even safer he meant to be in bed before Pauline
came.

Well, he got into the room all right.

It was when he tried to get into bed that—he saw her (I mean Rosamund).

She was lying there, in his place next the window, her own place, lying
in her immature child-like beauty and sleeping, the firm full bow of her
mouth softened by sleep. She was perfect in every detail, the lashes of
her shut eyelids golden on her white cheeks, the solid gold of her
square fringe shining, and the great braided golden rope of her hair
flung back on the pillow.

He knelt down by the bed and pressed his forehead into the bedclothes,
close to her side. He declared he could feel her breathe.

He stayed there for the twenty minutes Pauline took to undress and come
to him. He says the minutes stretched out like hours. Pauline found him
still kneeling with his face pressed into the bedclothes. When he got up
he staggered.

She asked him what he was doing and why he wasn’t in bed. And he said,
“It’s no use. I can’t. I can’t.”

But somehow he couldn’t tell her that Rosamund was there. Rosamund was
too sacred; he couldn’t talk about her. He only said:

“You’d better sleep in my room to-night.”

He was staring down at the place in the bed where he still saw Rosamund.
Pauline couldn’t have seen anything but the bedclothes, the sheet
smoothed above an invisible breast, and the hollow in the pillow. She
said she’d do nothing of the sort. She wasn’t going to be frightened out
of her own room. He could do as he liked.

He couldn’t leave them there; he couldn’t leave Pauline with Rosamund,
and he couldn’t leave Rosamund with Pauline. So he sat up in a chair
with his back turned to the bed. No. He didn’t make any attempt to go
back. He says he knew she was still lying there, guarding his place,
which was her place. The odd thing is that he wasn’t in the least
disturbed or frightened or surprised. He took the whole thing as a
matter of course. And presently he dozed off into a sleep.

A scream woke him and the sound of a violent body leaping out of the bed
and thudding on to its feet. He switched on the light and saw the
bedclothes flung back and Pauline standing on the floor with her mouth
open.

He went to her and held her. She was cold to the touch and shaking with
terror, and her jaws dropped as if she was palsied.

She said, “Edward, there’s something in the bed.”

He glanced again at the bed. It was empty.

“There isn’t,” he said. “Look.”

He stripped the bed to the foot-rail, so that she could see.

“There _was_ something.”

“Do you see it?”

[Illustration]

“No, I felt it.”

She told him. First something had come swinging, smack across her face.
A thick, heavy rope of woman’s hair. It had waked her. Then she had put
out her hands and felt the body. A woman’s body, soft and horrible; her
fingers had sunk in the shallow breasts. Then she had screamed and
jumped.

And she couldn’t stay in the room. The room, she said, was “beastly.”

She slept in Marston’s room, in his small single bed, and he sat up with
her all night, on a chair.

She believed now that he had really seen something, and she remembered
that the library was beastly, too. Haunted by something. She supposed
that was what she had felt. Very well. Two rooms in the house were
haunted; their bedroom and the library. They would just have to avoid
those two rooms. She had made up her mind, you see, that it was nothing
but a case of an ordinary haunted house; the sort of thing you’re always
hearing about and never believe in till it happens to yourself. Marston
didn’t like to point out to her that the house hadn’t been haunted till
she came into it.

The following night, the fourth night, she was to sleep in the spare
room on the top floor, next to the servants, and Marston in his own
room.

But Marston didn’t sleep. He kept on wondering whether he would or would
not go up to Pauline’s room. That made him horribly restless, and
instead of undressing and going to bed, he sat up on a chair with a
book. He wasn’t nervous; but he had a queer feeling that something was
going to happen, and that he must be ready for it, and that he’d better
be dressed.

It must have been soon after midnight when he heard the door-knob
turning very slowly and softly. The door opened behind him and Pauline
came in, moving without a sound, and stood before him. It gave him a
shock; for he had been thinking of Rosamund, and when he heard the
door-knob turn it was the phantasm of Rosamund that he expected to see
coming in. He says, for the first minute, it was this appearance of
Pauline that struck him as the uncanny and unnatural thing.

She had nothing, absolutely nothing on but a transparent white chiffony
sort of dressing-gown. She was trying to undo it. He could see her hands
shaking as her fingers fumbled with the fastenings. He got up suddenly,
and they just stood there before each other, saying nothing, staring at
each other. He was fascinated by her, by the sheer glamour of her body,
gleaming white through the thin stuff, and by the movement of her
fingers. I think I’ve said she was a beautiful woman, and her beauty at
that moment was overpowering.

And still he stared at her without saying anything. It sounds as if
their silence lasted quite a long time, but in reality it couldn’t have
been more than some fraction of a second.

Then she began. “Oh, Edward, for God’s sake say something. Oughtn’t I to
have come?”

And she went on without waiting for an answer. “Are you thinking of
_her_? Because, if—if you are, I’m not going to let her drive you away
from me.... I’m not going to.... She’ll keep on coming as long as we
don’t— Can’t you see that this is the way to stop it...? When you take
me in your arms.”

She slipped off the loose sleeves of the chiffon thing and it fell to
her feet. Marston says he heard a queer sound, something between a groan
and a grunt, and was amazed to find that it came from himself.

He hadn’t touched her yet—mind you, it went quicker than it takes to
tell, it was still an affair of the fraction of a second—they were
holding out their arms to each other, when the door opened again without
a sound, and, without visible passage, the phantasm was there. It came
incredibly fast, and thin at first, like a shaft of light sliding
between them. It didn’t do anything; there was no beating of hands,
only, as it took on its full form, its perfect likeness of flesh and
blood, it made its presence felt like a push, a force, driving them
asunder.

Pauline hadn’t seen it yet. She thought it was Marston who was beating
her back. She cried out: “Oh, don’t, don’t push me away!” She stooped
below the phantasm’s guard and clung to his knees, writhing and crying.
For a moment it was a struggle between her moving flesh and that still,
supernatural being.

And in that moment Marston realized that he hated Pauline. She was
fighting Rosamund with her gross flesh and blood, taking a mean
advantage of her embodied state to beat down the heavenly, discarnate
thing.

He called to her to let go.

“It’s not I,” he shouted. “Can’t you _see_ her?”

Then, suddenly, she saw, and let go, and dropped, crouching on the floor
and trying to cover herself. This time she had given no cry.

The phantasm gave way; it moved slowly towards the door, and as it went
it looked back over its shoulder at Marston, it trailed a hand,
signalling to him to come.

He went out after it, hardly aware of Pauline’s naked body that still
writhed there, clutching at his feet as they passed, and drew itself
after him, like a worm, like a beast, along the floor.

[Illustration: ... drew itself after him along the floor.]

She must have got up at once and followed them out on to the landing;
for, as he went down the stairs behind the phantasm, he could see
Pauline’s face, distorted with lust and terror, peering at them above
the stairhead. She saw them descend the last flight, and cross the hall
at the bottom and go into the library. The door shut behind them.

Something happened in there. Marston never told me precisely what it
was, and I didn’t ask him. Anyhow, that finished it.

The next day Pauline ran away to her own people. She couldn’t stay in
Marston’s house because it was haunted by Rosamund, and he wouldn’t
leave it for the same reason.

And she never came back; for she was not only afraid of Rosamund, she
was afraid of Marston. And if she _had_ come it wouldn’t have been any
good. Marston was convinced that, as often as he attempted to get to
Pauline, something would stop him. Pauline certainly felt that, if
Rosamund were pushed to it, she might show herself in some still more
sinister and terrifying form. She knew when she was beaten.

And there was more in it than that. I believe he tried to explain it to
her; said he had married her on the assumption that Rosamund was dead,
but that now he knew she was alive; she was, as he put it, “there.” He
tried to make her see that if he had Rosamund he couldn’t have _her_.
Rosamund’s presence in the world annulled their contract.

You see I’m convinced that something _did_ happen that night in the
library. I say, he never told me precisely what it was, but he once let
something out. We were discussing one of Pauline’s love-affairs (after
the separation she gave him endless grounds for divorce).

“Poor Pauline,” he said, “she thinks she’s so passionate.”

“Well,” I said, “wasn’t she?”

Then he burst out. “No. She doesn’t know what passion is. None of you
know. You haven’t the faintest conception. You’d have to get rid of your
bodies first. _I_ didn’t know until—”

He stopped himself. I think he was going to say, “until Rosamund came
back and showed me.” For he leaned forward and whispered: “It isn’t a
localized affair at all.... If you only knew—”

So I don’t think it was just faithfulness to a revived memory. I take it
there had been, behind that shut door, some experience, some terrible
and exquisite contact. More penetrating than sight or touch. More—more
extensive: passion at all points of being.

Perhaps the supreme moment of it, the ecstasy, only came when her
phantasm had disappeared.

He couldn’t go back to Pauline after _that_.



                            IF THE DEAD KNEW


                                   I


The voluntary swelled, it rose, it rushed to its climax. The organist
tossed back his head with a noble gesture, exalted; he rocked on his
bench; his feet shuffled faster and faster, pedalling passionately.

The young girl who stood beside him drew in a deep, rushing breath; her
heart swelled; her whole body listened, with hurried senses desiring the
climax, the climax, the crash of sound. Her nerves shook as the organist
rocked towards her; when he tossed back his head her chin lifted; she
loved his playing hands, his rocking body, his superb, excited gesture.

Three times a week Wilfrid Hollyer went down to Lower Wyck, to give
Effie Carroll a music lesson; three times a week Effie Carroll came up
to Wyck on the Hill to listen to Hollyer’s organ practice.

The climax had come. The voluntary fell from its height and died in a
long cadence, thinned out, a trickling, trembling diminuendo. It was all
over.

The young girl released her breath in a long, trembling sigh.

[Illustration: ... her whole body listened ...]

The organist rose and put out the organ lights. He took Effie by the arm
and led her down the short aisles of the little country church and out
on to the flagged path of the churchyard between the tombstones.

“Wilfrid,” she said, “you’re too good for Wyck. You ought to be playing
in Gloucester Cathedral.”

“I’m not good enough. Perhaps—if I’d been trained—”

“Why weren’t you?”

“My mother couldn’t afford it. Besides, I couldn’t leave her. She hasn’t
anybody but me.”

“I know. You’re awfully fond of her, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” he said shortly.

They had passed down the turn of the street into the Market Square.
There was a plot of grass laid down in the north-east corner. Two tall
elms stood up on the grass, and behind the elms a small, ivy-covered
house with mullioned windows, looking south.

“That’s our house,” Hollyer said. “Won’t you come in and see her?”

They found her sitting by herself in the little cramped, green
drawing-room. She was the most beautiful old lady; small, upright and
perfect; slender, like a girl, in her grey silk blouse. She had a
miniature oval face, pretty and white: a sharp chin, and a wide forehead
under a pile of pure white hair. And sorrowful blue eyes, white-lidded,
in two rings of mauve and bistre.

She couldn’t be so very old, Effie thought. Not more than sixty.

Mrs. Hollyer rose, holding out a fragile hand.

Presently she said: “I wanted to see you; after all you’ve done for
him.”

“I? I haven’t done anything.”

“You’ve listened to his playing. He can’t get anybody to do that for him
in Wyck.”

“They hear enough of me on Sundays.”

“Then they haven’t heard him. He plays much better on week-days, when he
plays to me,” said Effie.

“So I can imagine,” Mrs. Hollyer said.

“She thinks I’m better than I am,” said Hollyer.

“Go on thinking it. That’s the way to make him better.” She was smiling
at Effie as if she liked her.

All through tea-time and after they talked about Wilfrid’s playing and
Wilfrid and Wyck, and the people of Wyck, and how they knew nothing and
cared nothing about Wilfrid’s playing.

Twilight came, twilight of October. He was going to walk back with Effie
down the hill to Lower Wyck.

As the house door closed behind them he said: “Now you know why I’m
nothing but an organist at Wyck.”

“Wilfrid, she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen yet—your mother. No
wonder you can’t leave her.”

“It isn’t that altogether. I mean we’re tied here because we can’t
afford to leave; and because I’ve got this organ job. I should never
have had it anywhere else.” He paused. “And you know, I couldn’t live on
it—without mother. She’s got the house.”

Effie said nothing.

“So here I am. Thirty-five and still dependent on my mother.”

“Oh, Wilfrid, what will you do when—when—”

“When my mother dies? That’s the awful thing. I shall have enough then.
There’ll be the house and her income. I hate to think of it. I don’t
think of it—”

“You see,” he went on, “when I was a kid I was so seedy they didn’t
think I’d live. So I was brought up to do nothing. Nothing but my
playing. They gave me this job just to keep me quiet. And now I’m strong
enough, but there’s nothing else I can do.”

He hung his head, frowning gloomily.

“You know why I’m telling you all this?”

“No. But I’m glad you’ve told me.”

“It’s because—because—if I had a decent income, Effie, I’d ask you to
marry me. As it is, I can only hope that you won’t ever care for me as I
care for you.”

[Illustration]

“But I _do_ care for you. You know I do.”

“Would you have married me, Effie? Do you care as much as that?”

“You know I would. I will the minute you ask me.”

“I shall never ask you.”

“Why not? I can wait.”

“My dear, for what?” He paused again. “I can’t marry in my mother’s
lifetime.”

“Oh, Wilfrid—I didn’t mean that. Your dear, beautiful mother. You know I
didn’t.”

“Of course, darling, I know. But there it is.”

He left her at the gate of the cottage where she lived with her father.

As he went back up the hill he meditated on his position. He was right
to make it clear to her, now that she had begun to care for him. He
would have told her long ago if he had known that she cared. Yesterday
he didn’t know it. But to-day there had been something, in her manner,
in her voice, in the way she looked at him in the church after his
playing, that had told him.

Poor little Effie. She would have nothing either, unless her father—and
Effie’s father was a robust man, not quite fifty.

Well—he mustn’t think of it. And he mustn’t let his mother think. He
wondered whether he was too late, whether she had seen anything. He
tried to slink past the drawing-room and up the stairs. But his mother
had heard him come in. She called to him. He went to her, shame-faced,
as if he had committed a sin.

Her large, gentle eyes looked at him, wondering. He could see them
wondering.

“Wilfrid,” she said suddenly, “do you care for that little girl?”

“What’s the good of my caring? I can’t marry her. I’ve just told her
so.”

“It’s too late. She’s in love with you. You should have told her
before.”

“How could I if she didn’t care? You can’t be fatuous.”

“No—poor boy. Poor Effie.”

“Mother—why couldn’t I have been brought up to a profession?”

“You know why—you weren’t strong enough. It was as much as I could do to
keep you alive.”

“I’m strong enough now.”

“Only because I took such care of you. Only because you hadn’t to go out
and earn your own living. You’d have been dead before you were twenty if
I hadn’t kept you with me.”

“It would have been better if you’d let me die.”

“Don’t say that, Wilfrid. What should I have done without you? What
should I do without you now?”

“You mean if I married?”

“No, my dear. I’d be glad if you could marry. I don’t want to keep you
tied to me for ever. If you can get better work and better pay by going
anywhere else, I shan’t mind your leaving me.”

“I shouldn’t get anything. I’m not good enough. I shall never be worth
more than fifty pounds a year anywhere. We can’t live on that.”

“If you could live on half my income, I’d give it you, but you
couldn’t.”

“No. We’ll just have to wait.”

“I hope for your sake, my dear, it won’t be too long.”

“What do you mean, mother?”

“What did _you_ mean?”

“Why, I meant we’d have to wait till I heard of something.”

“You _might_ have meant something else.” She smiled.

“Oh, mother—_don’t_.”

“Why not?” she said cheerfully.

“You know—you know I couldn’t bear it.”

“You’ll have to bear it some day—I’m an old woman.”

“Well, I shall be an old man—by then.”

He tossed it back to her, laughing, as he left her to wash his hands and
brush his hair. He laughed, to shake off her pathos and to hide his own.

When he talked about waiting, he hadn’t meant what she thought he meant.
He was simply trying to dismiss a too serious situation with a
reassuring levity. Waiting to hear of something? Was it likely he would
ever hear of anything? Could he have made a more frivolous suggestion?

It was she who had faced it. She had made him see how hopeless their
case was, his and Effie’s. He saw it now, as he saw his own face in the
glass, between two hair-brushes, a little drawn, even now, a little
sallow and haggard. Not a young face.

He would be an old man—an old man before he could dream of marrying. His
mother, after all, was only sixty, and she came of a long-lived family.
Her apparent fragility was an illusion; she had never had a day’s
illness as long as he could remember. Nerves like whipcord, young
arteries, and every organ sound. She would live ten—fifteen—twenty years
longer, live to be eighty. He was thirty-five now, and Effie was
twenty-five. Before they could marry, they would be fifty-five and
forty-five; old, old; too old to feel, to care passionately. He had no
right to ask Effie to wait twenty years for him.

He must give up thinking about her.

His mother was still in her chair by the drawing-room fire, waiting for
him. She turned as he came to her, and held up her face to be kissed,
like a child, he thought, or like a young wife waiting for her husband.
She put her hands on his hair and stroked it. And he remembered the time
when he used to say to her: “I shall never marry. You’re all the wife I
want, Mother.”

And now it was as if he had been calculating on her death.

But he hadn’t. He hadn’t. You couldn’t calculate on anything so far-off,
so unlikely. He had done the only possible, the only decent thing. He
had given Effie up.


                                   II


The doctor had gone. Hollyer went back into his mother’s room. She lay
there, dozing, in the big white bed, propped high on the pillows.
Through her mouth, piteously open, he could hear her short quick breath,
struggling and gasping.

[Illustration]

The illness had lasted nine days. Even now Hollyer hadn’t got used to
it. He still looked at the figure in the bed with the same stare of
shocked incredulity. It was still incredible that his mother’s influenza
should have turned to pleurisy, that she should lie like that, utterly
abandoned, the neat pile of her hair undone, and her face, with its open
mouth, loose and infirm between the two white loops that hung askew,
rumpled by the pillow. He knew in a vague way how it had happened. First
his own attack of influenza, then his mother’s. His had been pretty bad,
but hers had been slight, so slight that it had not been recognized, and
through it she had still nursed him. Then she had gone out too soon, in
the raw January weather. And now the doctor came morning and evening;
she had a trained nurse for the night, and Hollyer looked after her all
day.

He had got used to the nurse. Her expensive presence proved to him that
he had nothing to reproach himself with; he had done, as they said,
everything that could be done.

He knew that the nurse and the doctor disagreed about the case. Nurse
Eden declared that his mother would get over it. Dr. Ransome was
convinced she wouldn’t; she hadn’t strength in her for another rally.
Hollyer himself agreed with Nurse Eden. He couldn’t believe that his
mother would die. The thought of her death was unbearable, therefore he
denied it, he put it from him. When he left her for the night he would
come creeping back at midnight and dawn, to make sure that she was still
there.

The little room was half filled by the big white bed. It seemed to him
there was nothing in it but the white bed and his mother and Nurse Eden
in her white uniform. She had looked in on her way downstairs to tea.
Everything was cold and white. On the window-panes the frost made a
white pattern of moss and feathers. From his seat between the bed and
the fire he could see Nurse Eden and her small, pure face brooding above
the pillows as she shifted them with tender, competent hands.

“She’ll be better in the morning,” she said. “She always gets better in
the night.”

She did. Always she gained ground in the night under Nurse Eden and
always she lost it in the daytime, getting worse and worse towards
evening.

The afternoon wore on. At four o’clock old Martha, the servant, tapped
at the door. Miss Carroll, she said, was downstairs and wanted to see
him. Martha took his place at the bedside.

Every day Effie came to inquire, and every day she went away sad, as if
it had been her own mother who was dying. This time she stayed, for the
old doctor had stopped her in the Square and told her to get Hollyer out
of his mother’s room, if possible. “Talk to him. Take him off it. Make
him buck up.”

She sat in his mother’s chair behind the round tea-table and poured out
his tea for him, and talked to him about his music and a book she had
been reading. When he looked at her, at her sweet face, soft and clear
with youth, at her hands moving with pretty gestures, his heart
trembled. That was how it would be if Effie was his wife. They would sit
there every day and she would pour out his tea for him. He would hear
her feet ruftning up and down the stairs.

When she got up to go she said, “Whatever you do, Wilfrid, don’t keep on
thinking about it.”

“I can’t help thinking.”

She put her hand on his sleeve and stroked it. At her touch he broke
down.

“Oh, Effie—I cannot bear it. If she dies, I shall never forgive myself.”

“Nonsense. Don’t talk about her dying. Don’t think about it.”

She turned to him on the doorstep. “Just think how strong she is. I
can’t see her ill, somehow. I see her there, all the time, sitting
upright in her chair, looking beautiful.”

That was how _he_ had once seen her, sitting there between the fire and
the round tea-table, for years and years, as long as his own life
lasted.

But now he saw Effie. Upstairs, in his mother’s room, as he watched, he
saw Effie. Effie—the sweet face, and the sweet hands moving. He heard
Effie’s voice in the rooms, Effie’s feet on the stairs. That was how it
would be if Effie was his wife.

That was how it would be if his mother died.

He would have an income of his own, and a house of his own; he would be
his own master in his house.

If his mother died, Effie and he would sleep together. Perhaps in that
bed, on those pillows.

He shut his eyes and covered his face with his hands, pressing in on his
eyelids as if that way he could keep out the sight of Effie.


                                  III


That evening the doctor came again. He left a little before nine
o’clock, the hour when Nurse Eden would begin her night watch. He
refused to hold out any hope. She was sinking fast.

As Hollyer turned from the front-door he met Nurse Eden coming
downstairs. She signed to him to follow her into the drawing-room,
moving before him without a sound. She shut the door.

[Illustration]

He was afraid of Nurse Eden; there was something—he didn’t know what it
was, but—there was something unbearable in her small, pure face; in the
thrust of her chin tilted by the stiff cap-strings; in her brave,
slender mouth, straightening itself against the droop of its compassion;
and in the stillness of her dense, grey eyes. Her eyes made him feel
uneasy, somehow, and unsafe. He was going to sit up with her to-night;
but he would rather have shared his night-watch with old Martha.

“Well?” she said.

“He says this is the end.”

“It may be,” said Nurse Eden. “But it needn’t.”

“You’ve seen her.”

“Yes.”

“_Well—?_”

“She hasn’t gone yet, Mr. Hollyer—”

“She’s on the edge. She’s in that state when a breath would tip her one
way or the other.”

“A breath?”

“Yes, Mr. Hollyer. Or a thought.”

“A thought?”

“A thought. If I had Mrs. Hollyer to myself, I believe I could bring her
round even now.”

“Oh, Nurse—”

“I _have_ brought her round. Night after night I’ve brought her.”

“What do you do?”

“I don’t know what I do. But it works. Haven’t you noticed she gets
better in the night when I’ve had her; and that she slips back in the
day?”

“Yes, I have.”

“You see, Mr. Hollyer, Dr. Ransome’s made up his mind. And when the
doctor makes up his mind that the patient’s going to die, ten to one the
patient does die. It lowers their resistance. It isn’t every one that
would feel it; but your mother would.”

“If,” she went on, “I had her day _and_ night, I might save her.”

“You really think that?”

“I think there’s a chance.”

He didn’t know whether he believed her or not. Dr. Ransome shrugged his
shoulders and said Nurse Eden could try it if she liked. She had a
wonderful way with her; but he wouldn’t advise Hollyer to count on it.
Nothing but a miracle, he said, could save his mother.

Hollyer didn’t count on Nurse Eden’s way. But he thought—something
stronger than himself compelled him to think—that his mother would not
die.

And each hour showed her slowly coming back. Under his eyes the miracle
was being accomplished. At midnight her breathing and temperature and
pulse were normal; and by noon of the next day even Ransome was
convinced. He wouldn’t swear to the miracle, but whatever Nurse Eden had
or had not done, he believed Mrs. Hollyer would recover.

Hollyer not only believed it, but he was certain, as Nurse Eden was
certain. She came to him, radiant with certainty, and told him that his
mind could be at rest now.

But his mind was not at rest. It had only rested while he doubted, as if
doubt absolved him from knowledge of some secret that he could not face.
With the first moment of certainty he was aware of it. It was given to
him in physical sensations, a weight and pain about his heart that did
not lie. In a flash he saw himself back in his old life of dependence
and frustration. There would be no Effie sitting with him in the house,
no Effie running up and down the stairs. He would not sleep with Effie
in the big, white bed. They would grow old, wanting each other.

He tried to jerk his mouth into a smile, but it had stiffened. It
opened, gasping, as his muffled heart-beats choked him.

He went upstairs to his mother’s room. She was sitting up in bed,
clear-eyed, almost alert, and she turned her face to him as he entered.

“I don’t know how it is,” she said. “I thought I was going, but there’s
something that won’t let me go. It keeps on pulling me back and back.”
(Nurse Eden looked at him.) “Is it you, Wilfrid?”

He knelt down and buried his face in the bedclothes by her side. His
sobs shook the mattress. The nurse took him by the arm; he got up and
stared at her as if dazed and drunk with grief. She led him from the
room.

“You’re upsetting her,” she said. “Don’t come back till you’ve pulled
yourself together.”

When he went back his mother was sleeping calmly. Hollyer and the nurse
withdrew from the bedside to the window and talked there in low voices.

“Did you hear what she said. Nurse?”

“Yes. We can get her through, between us, if we make up our minds she’s
to live. Think of what she was yesterday.”

“But do you think we ought to? I don’t want her brought back to suffer.”

“She isn’t going to suffer. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t be as
well as ever. If you want her to live.”

“Want her? Of course I want her to live.”

“I know you do. But you must get rid of your fear.”

“My fear?”

“Your fear of her dying.”

“Do you think my fear could—could make her?”

“I know it could. Make up your mind with me that she’s going to get
well.”

“Supposing she wants to go? Supposing she’s fighting against us all the
time?”

“She isn’t fighting. She hasn’t any fight in her— Now, while she’s
sleeping, is the time. You’ve only got to say to yourself ‘She shall
live. She’s going to live.’ There—you sit in that chair, make yourself
quite comfortable, shut your eyes, and keep on saying it. Don’t think of
anything else.”

He sat down. He said it over and over again: “She shall live. She’s
going to live. She shall live—” He tried to think of nothing else; but
all the time he was aware of the dragging of his heart. He shut his
eyes, but he couldn’t get rid of the vision of Effie. Effie sitting in
his mother’s place. Effie sleeping beside him in the big bed.

“She _shall_ live. She’s going to live.” The words meant nothing. Only
the dragging weight at his heart had meaning. And it didn’t lie.

He thought: If that’s how I feel about it, I’d better keep my mind off
her.

Then he was aware that he was tired, dead beat, too tired to think. And
presently, sitting upright in the chair, he fell asleep.

He was waked by Nurse Eden’s voice calling to him from the bed: “Mr.
Hollyer! She’s going!”

His mother lay in the nurse’s arms, her head had fallen forward on her
chest, her mouth was open; and through it there came a groaning, grating
cry. Once, twice, three times; and she was gone.

After the funeral Hollyer went up into his mother’s room. Nurse Eden was
there, removing the signs of death. She had covered the bed with a white
counterpane. She had opened the door and window wide, and a flood of
dean cold air streamed through the room.

“Nurse,” he said, “come here a minute.”

She followed him into his bed-sitting room on the other side of the
landing. Hollyer shut the door.

“You remember that night when my mother got better?”

“Indeed I do.”

“Do you still think you brought her back?”

“I do think it.”

“Do you really believe that a thought—_a thought_ could do that?”

“Yes.”

“But it doesn’t always work. It breaks down.”

“Sometimes. That night she died I felt it wasn’t working. I was up
against a wall. I couldn’t get through. But remember, before that, she
was going when I brought her back.”

“Could a thought—another thought—kill?”

“It depends. Perhaps, if it was a very strong thought. A wish.”

Her queer eyes looked through him and beyond him, not seeing him, seeing
some reality that was not he. He had gone to her for her truth and she
had given it him. A wish, even a hidden wish, could kill. In the dark,
secret places of the mind your thoughts ran loose beyond your knowing;
they burrowed under the walls that shut off one self from another; they
got through. It was as if his secret self had broken loose, and got
through to his mother, and had killed her secretly, in the dark. His
wish was a part of himself, but stronger than himself. The force behind
it was indestructible, for it was a form of his desire for Effie; so
that while he lived he could not kill it.

It had been there all the time, cunningly disguised. It was there in his
fear of Nurse Eden; it was there in that obstinate belief of his that
his mother would live. His beliefs were always the expression of his
fears. He had been afraid that his mother would not die. That was his
fear. He saw it all clearly in the moment while Nurse Eden’s voice went
on.

“But it wasn’t _that_, Mr. Hollyer,” she was saying. “We were all
wishing her to live— No. I think she was too far gone. She had got
beyond us.”

It was too late for Nurse Eden to go back on it. He knew. He was
certain.


                                   IV


He knew, and if he were to keep on thinking about it—but he was afraid
to think. You could go mad, thinking. The moment of his certainty
remained in his memory; he knew where to find it if he chose to look
that way. But he refused to look. Such things were better forgotten.

He told himself there was nothing in it. Nothing but Nurse Eden’s
hysteria and vanity. She wanted you to believe she was wonderful, that
she could do things. She didn’t really believe it herself. In her own
last moment of honesty she had confessed as much. He was a fool to have
been taken in by her.

Meanwhile, three months after his mother’s death, he had married Effie
Carroll. Her father, who had held out against the engagement,
surrendered suddenly on the day of the wedding, and made his daughter an
allowance of fifty pounds a year. He said he didn’t want to profit by
her folly, and the fifty pounds were no more than the cost of her keep.

It was horrible to think they should owe their happiness to his mother’s
death; but as things had turned out they didn’t owe it; they could have
married even if she had lived. And as he had now no motive for wishing
her dead, he almost forgot that he had ever wished it.

Not that Hollyer reproached himself; his tendency, when he thought it
all over, was to reproach his mother. He had found out something about
himself. Before he married he had gone to Dr. Ransome to be overhauled,
and Ransome had told him there was nothing much the matter with him;
never was. And if the old pessimist said there wasn’t much the matter,
you might depend upon it there wasn’t anything at all. Except, Ransome
said, molly-coddling; and that wasn’t Hollyer’s fault.

“Whose was it, then?” Hollyer had asked. “My mother’s?”

“No. Your dear mother, Hollyer, had no faults. But she made mistakes, as
we all do.”

“You mean, if I’d been allowed to live like other people I’d have been
all right?”

“Well—you weren’t a very robust infant; and later on there _was_ a
slight risk. Personally, I’d have taken it. You must take some risks.
But your mother was afraid. You were all she had. And I daresay she
wasn’t sorry to keep you with her.”

“I see.”

He saw it clearly. He had been sacrificed to his mother’s selfishness.
Nothing but that had doomed him to his humiliating dependence, his
poverty, his intolerable celibacy. He found himself brooding over it,
going back and back to it, with a certain gratification, as if it
justified him. His mind was appeased by this righteous resentment. When
the remembrance of his mother’s beauty and sweetness rushed at him and
accused him he turned from it to his brooding.

He had begun to talk, to say things about his mother. Put into spoken
words his grievance seemed more real; it acquired validity.

He had felt so safe. His mother couldn’t hear him. She would never know
what he thought about her; he would have died rather than let her know.
And he had only talked to Effie. Talking to his wife was no worse than
thinking to himself. After all he had gone through, he felt he was
entitled to that relief.

It was June, a hot, close evening before lamplight; they were sitting
together in the drawing-room, Effie in his mother’s chair and he at his
piano in the recess on the other side of the fireplace. And there was
something that Effie said when he had stopped playing and had turned to
her, smiling.

“Wilfrid—are you happy?”

“Of course I’m happy.”

“No, but—really?”

“Really. Absolutely. You make me happy.”

“Do I? I’m so glad. You see, when I married you I was afraid I couldn’t.
It was so hard to come after your mother.”

He winced.

“How do you mean? You don’t come ‘after’ her.”

“I mean, after all she was to you. After all she did. Your life with her
was so perfect.”

“If it’s any consolation to you, Effie, it wasn’t.”

“Wasn’t?”

“No. Anything but.”

“Oh, Wilfrid!”

He seemed to her to be uttering blasphemy.

“It’s better you should know it. My dear mother didn’t understand me in
the least. My whole up-bringing was a ghastly blunder. If I’d been let
live a decent fife, like any other boy, like any other man, I might have
been good for something. But she wouldn’t let me. She pretended there
was something the matter with me when there wasn’t, so that she could
keep me dependent on her.”

“Wilfrid _dear_, it may have been a blunder and it may have been
ghastly—”

“It was.”

“But it was only her love for you.”

“A very selfish sort of love, Effie.”

“Oh _don’t_,” she cried. “Don’t. She’s _dead_, Wilfrid.”

“I’m not likely to forget it.”

“You talk as if you’d forgotten— If the dead knew—”

If the dead knew—

“If they knew,” she said, “how we spoke about them, how we thought—”

If the dead knew—

If his mother had heard him; if she knew what he had been thinking; if
she knew that he had wished her dead and that his wish had killed her—

If the dead knew—

“Happily for us and them, they don’t know,” he said.

And he began playing again. He was aware that Effie had risen and was
now seated at the writing-table. As he played he had his back to the
writing-table and the door.

The book on the piano ledge before him was Mendelssohn’s _Lieder ohne
Worte_. open as Effie had left it at Number Nine. He remembered that was
the one his mother had loved so much. His fingers fell of their own
accord into the prelude, into the melody, pressing out its thick, sweet,
deliberate sadness. It wounded him, each note a separate stab, yet he
went on, half-voluptuously enjoying the self-inflicted pain, trying to
work it up and up into a supreme poignancy of sorrow, of regret.

As he stopped on the closing chord he heard somewhere behind him a
thick, sobbing sigh.

“Effie—”

He looked round. But Effie was not there. He could hear her footsteps in
the room overhead. She had gone, then, before he had stopped playing,
shutting the door without a sound. It must have been his imagination.

He played a few bars, then paused, listening. The sighing had begun
again; it was close behind him.

He swung round sharply. There was nobody there. But the door, which had
been shut a minute ago, stood wide open. A cold wind blew in, cutting
through the hot, stagnant air. He got up and shut the door. The cold
wind wrapped him in a belt, a swirl; he stood still in it for a moment,
stiff with fear. When he crossed the room to the piano it was as if he
moved breast high in deep, cold water.

Somewhere in the secret place of his mind a word struggled to form
itself, to be born.

“Mother.”

It came to him with a sense of appalling, supernatural horror. Horror
that was there with him in the room like a presence.

“Mother.”

The word had lost its meaning. It stood for nothing but that horror.

He tried to play again, but his fingers, slippery with sweat, dropped
from the keyboard.

Something compelled him to turn round and look towards his mother’s
chair.

Then he saw her.

She stood between him and the chair, straight and thin, dressed in the
clothes she had died in, the yellowish flannel nightgown and bed jacket.

[Illustration: The apparition maintained itself with difficulty.]

The apparition maintained itself with difficulty. Already its hair had
grown indistinct, a cap of white mist. Its face was an insubstantial
framework for its mouth and eyes, and for the tears that fell in two
shining tracks between. It was less a form than a visible emotion, an
anguish.

Hollyer stood up and stared at it. Through the glasses of its tears it
gazed back at him with an intense, a terrible reproach and sorrow.

Then, slowly and stiffly, it began to recede from him, drawn back and
back, without any movement of its feet, in an unearthly stillness,
keeping up, to the last minute, its look of indestructible reproach.

And now it was a formless mass that drifted to the window and hung there
a second, and passed, shrinking like a breath on the pane.

Hollyer, rigid, pouring out sweat, still stared at the place where it
had stood. His heart-beats came together in a running tremor: it was as
if all the blood in his body was gathered into his distended heart,
dragging it down to meet his heaving belly.

Then he turned and went headlong towards the door, stumbling and
lurching. He threw out his hands to clutch at a support and found
himself in Effie’s arms.

“Wilfrid—darling—what is it?”

“Nothing. I’m giddy. I—I think I’m going to be sick.”

He broke from her and dragged himself upstairs and shut himself into his
study. That night his old single bed was brought back and made up there.
He was afraid to sleep in the room that had been his mother’s.


                                   V


He had run through all the physical sensations of his terror. What he
felt now was the sharp, abominable torture of the mind.

If the dead knew—

The dead _did_ know. She had come back to tell him that she knew. She
knew that he thought of her with unkindness. She had been there when he
talked about her to Effie. She knew the thought he had hidden even from
himself. She knew that she had died because, secretly, he had wished her
dead.

That was the meaning of her look and of her tears.

No fleshly eyes could have expressed such an intensity of suffering, of
unfathomable grief. He thought: the pain of a discarnate spirit might be
infinitely sharper than any earthly pain. It might be inexhaustible. Who
was to say that it was not?

Yet could it—could even an immortal suffering—be sharper than the
anguish he felt now? If only he had known what he was doing to her— If
he had known. If he had known—

But, he thought, we know nothing, and we care less. We say we believe in
immortality, but we do not believe in it. We treat the dead as if they
_were_ dead, as if they were not there. If he had really believed that
she was there, he would have died rather than say the things he had said
to Effie. Nobody, he told himself, could have accused him of unkindness
to his mother while she lived. He had really loved her up to the moment,
the moment of supreme temptation, when he wanted Effie. He had not
willed her to die. He had been barely conscious of his wish. How, then,
could he be held accountable? How could he have destroyed the thing
whose essence was the hidden, unknown darkness? Yet, if men are
accountable at all, he was accountable. There had been a moment when he
was conscious of it. He could have destroyed it then. He should have
faced it; he should have dragged it out into the light and fought it.

Instead, he had let it sink back into its darkness, to work there
unseen.

And if he had really loved his mother, he would have wished, not willed
her to live. He would have wanted her as he wanted her now.

For, now that it was too late, he did want her. His whole mind had
changed. He no longer thought of her with resentment. He thought, with a
passionate adoration and regret, of her beauty, her goodness, and her
love for him. What if she _had_ kept him with her? It had been, as Effie
had said, because she loved him. How did he know that if she had let him
go he would have been good for anything? What on earth could he have
been but the third-rate organist he was?

He remembered the happiness he had had with her before _he_ had loved
Effie; her looks, her words, the thousand Clings she used to do to
please him. The Mendelssohn she had given him. A certain sweet cake she
made for him on his birthdays. And the touch of her hands, her kisses.

He thought of these things with an agony of longing. If only he could
have her back; if only she would come to him again, that he might show
her—

He asked himself: How much did Effie know? She must wonder why he had
taken that sudden dislike to the drawing-room; why he insisted on
sleeping in his study. She had never said anything.

A week had passed—they were sitting in the dining-room after supper,
when she spoke.

“Wilfrid, why do you always want to sit here?”

“Because I hate the other room.”

“You didn’t use to. It’s only since that day you were ill, the last time
you were playing. Why do you hate it?”

“Well, if you want to know—you remember the beastly things I said about
mother?”

[Illustration]

“You didn’t mean them.”

“I did mean them— But it wasn’t that. It was something you said.”

“I?”

“Yes. You said ‘If the dead knew—’”

“Well—?”

“Well—they do know—I’m certain my mother knew. Certain, as I’m certain
I’m sitting here, that she heard.”

“Oh, Wilfrid, what makes you think that?”

“I can’t tell you what makes me think it— But—she was there.”

“You only think it because you’re feeling sorry. You must get over it.
Go back into the room and play.”

He shook his head and still sat there thinking. Effie did not speak
again; she saw that she must let him think.

Presently he got up and went into the drawing-room, shutting the doors
behind him.

The Mendelssohn was still on the piano ledge, open at Number Nine. He
began to play it. But at the first bars of the melody he stopped,
overwhelmed by an agony of regret. He slid down on his knees, with his
arms on the edge of the piano and his head bowed on his arms.

His soul cried out in him with no sound.

“Mother—Mother—if only I had you back. If only you would come to me.
Come—Come—”

And suddenly he felt her come. From far-off, from her place among the
blessed, she came rushing, as if on wings. He heard nothing; he saw
nothing; but with every nerve he felt the vibration of her approach, of
her presence. She was close to him now, closer than hearing or sight or
touch could bring her; her self to his self; her inmost essence was
there.

The phantasm of a week ago was a faint, insignificant thing beside this
supreme manifestation. No likeness of flesh and blood could give him
such an assurance of reality, of contact.

For, more certain than any word of flesh and blood, her meaning flashed
through him and thrilled.

She knew. She knew she had him again; she knew she would never lose him.
He was her son. As she had once given him flesh of her flesh, so now,
self to innermost self, she gave him her blessedness, her peace.



                               THE VICTIM


Steven Acroyd, Mr. Greathead’s chauffeur, was sulking in the garage.

Everybody was afraid of him. Everybody hated him except Mr. Greathead,
his master, and Dorsy, his sweetheart.

And even Dorsy now, after yesterday!

Night had come. On one side the yard gates stood open to the black
tunnel of the drive. On the other the high moor rose above the wall,
immense, darker than the darkness. Steven’s lantern in the open doorway
of the garage and Dorsy’s lamp in the kitchen window threw a blond
twilight into the yard between. From where he sat, slantways on the step
of the car, he could see, through the lighted window, the table with the
lamp and Dorsy’s sewing huddled up in a white heap as she left it just
now, when she had jumped up and gone away. Because she was afraid of
him.

She had gone straight to Mr. Greathead in his study, and Steven,
sulking, had flung himself out into the yard.

He stared into the window, thinking, thinking. Everybody hated him. He
could tell by the damned spiteful way they looked at him in the bar of
the “King’s Arms”; kind of sideways and slink-eyed, turning their dirty
tails and shuffling out of his way.

He had said to Dorsy he’d like to know what he’d done. He’d just dropped
in for his glass as usual; he’d looked round and said “Good-evening,”
civil, and the dirty tykes took no more notice of him than if he’d been
a toad. Mrs. Oldishaw, Dorsy’s aunt, _she_ hated him, boiled-ham-face,
swelling with spite, shoving his glass at the end of her arm, without
speaking, as if he’d been a bloody cockroach.

[Illustration]

All because of the thrashing he’d given young Ned Oldishaw. If she
didn’t want the cub’s neck broken she’d better keep him out of mischief.
Young Ned knew what he’d get if he came meddling with _his_ sweetheart.

It had happened yesterday afternoon, Sunday, when he had gone down with
Dorsy to the “King’s Arms” to see her aunt. They were sitting out on the
wooden bench against the inn wall when young Ned began it. He could see
him now with his arm round Dorsy’s neck and his mouth gaping.

And Dorsy laughing like a silly fool and the old woman snorting and
shaking.

He could hear him. “She’s my cousin if she _is_ your sweetheart. You
can’t stop me kissing her.” _Couldn’t_ he!

Why, what did they think? When he’d given up his good job at the
Darlington Motor Works to come to Eastthwaite and black Mr. Greathead’s
boots, chop wood, carry coal and water for him, and drive his shabby
secondhand car. Not that he cared what he did so long as he could live
in the same house with Dorsy Oldishaw. It wasn’t likely he’d sit like a
bloody Moses, looking on, while Ned—

To be sure, he had half killed him. He could feel Ned’s neck swelling
and rising up under the pressure of his hands, his fingers. He had
struck him first, flinging him back against the inn wall, then he had
pinned him—till the men ran up and dragged him off.

And now they were all against him. Dorsy was against him. She had said
she was afraid of him.

“Steven,” she had said, “tha med ’a killed him.”

“Well—p’r’aps next time he’ll knaw better than to coom meddlin’ with
_my_ lass.”

“I’m not thy lass, ef tha canna keep thy hands off folks. I should be
feared for my life of thee. Ned wum’t doing naw ’arm.”

“Ef he doos it again, ef he cooms between thee and me, Dorsy, I shall do
’im in.”

“Naw, tha maunna talk that road.”

“It’s Gawd’s truth. Anybody that cooms between thee and me, loove, I
shall do ’im in. Ef ’twas thy aunt, I should wring ’er neck, same as I
wroong Ned’s.”

“And ef it was me, Steven?”

“Ef it wur thee, ef tha left me— Aw, doan’t tha assk me, Dorsy.”

“There—that’s ’ow tha scares me.”

“But tha’ ’astna left me—’tes thy wedding daithes tha’rt making.”

“Aye, ’tes my wedding claithes.”

She had started fingering the white stuff, looking at it with her head
on one side, smiling prettily. Then all of a sudden she had flung it
down in a heap and burst out crying. When he tried to comfort her she
pushed him off and ran out of the room, to Mr. Greathead.

It must have been half an hour ago and she had not come back yet.

He got up and went through the yard gates into the dark drive. Turning
there, he came to the house front and the lighted window of the study.
Hidden behind a clump of yew he looked in.

Mr. Greathead had risen from his chair. He was a little old man, shrunk
and pinched, with a bowed narrow back and slender neck under his grey
hanks of hair.

Dorsy stood before him, facing Steven. The lamplight fell full on her.
Her sweet flower-face was flushed. She had been crying.

Mr. Greathead spoke.

“Well, that’s my advice,” he said. “Think it over, Dorsy, before you do
anything.”

That night Dorsy packed her boxes, and the next day at noon, when Steven
came in for his dinner, she had left the Lodge. She had gone back to her
father’s house in Garthdale.

She wrote to Steven saying that she had thought it over and found she
daren’t marry him. She was afraid of him. She would be too unhappy.

[Illustration: Then all of a sudden she had burst out crying ...]


                                   II


That was the old man, the old man. He had made her give him up. But for
that, Dorsy would never have left him. She would never have thought of
it herself. And she would never have got away if he had been there to
stop her. It wasn’t Ned. Ned was going to marry Nancy Peacock down at
Morfe. Ned hadn’t done any harm.

It was Mr. Greathead who had come between them. He hated Mr. Greathead.

His hate became a nausea of physical loathing that never ceased. Indoors
he served Mr. Greathead as footman and valet, waiting on him at meals,
bringing the hot water for his bath, helping him to dress and undress.
So that he could never get away from him. When he came to call him in
the morning, Steven’s stomach heaved at the sight of the shrunken body
under the bedclothes, the flushed, pinched face with its peaked,
finicking nose upturned, the thin silver tuft of hair pricked up above
the pillow’s edge. Steven shivered with hate at the sound of the
rattling, old-man’s cough, and the “shoob-shoob” of the feet shuffling
along the flagged passages.

He had once had a feeling of tenderness for Mr. Greathead as the tie
that bound him to Dorsy. He even brushed his coat and hat tenderly, as
if he loved them. Once Mr. Greathead’s small, close smile—the greyish
bud of the lower lip pushed out, the upper lip lifted at the corners—and
his kind, thin “Thank you, my lad,” had made Steven smile back, glad to
serve Dorsy’s master. And Mr. Greathead would smile again and say, “It
does me good to see your bright face, Steven.” Now Steven’s face writhed
in a tight contortion to meet Mr. Greathead’s kindliness, while his
throat ran dry and his heart shook with hate.

At meal-times from his place by the sideboard he would look on at Mr.
Greathead eating, in a long contemplative disgust. He could have
snatched the plate away from under the slow, fumbling hands that hovered
and hesitated. He would catch words coming into his mind: “He ought to
be dead. He ought to be dead.” To think that this thing that ought to be
dead, this old, shrivelled skin-bag of creaking bones should come
between him and Dorsy, should have power to drive Dorsy from him.

[Illustration]

One day when he was brushing Mr. Greathead’s soft felt hat a paroxysm of
hatred gripped him. He hated Mr. Greathead’s hat. He took a stick and
struck at it again and again; he threw it on the flags and stamped on
it, clenching his teeth and drawing in his breath with a sharp hiss. He
picked up the hat, looking round furtively, for fear lest Mr. Greathead
or Dorsy’s successor, Mrs. Blenkiron, should have seen him. He pinched
and pulled it back into shape and brushed it carefully and hung it on
the stand. He was ashamed, not of his violence, but of its futility.

Nobody but a damned fool, he said to himself, would have done that. He
must have been mad.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t know what he was going to do. He had known
ever since the day when Dorsy left him.

“I shan’t be myself again till I’ve done him in,” he thought.

He was only waiting till he had planned it out; till he was sure of
every detail; till he was fit and cool. There must be no hesitation, no
uncertainty at the last minute, above all, no blind, headlong violence.
Nobody but a fool would kill in mad rage, and forget things, and be
caught and swing for it. Yet that was what they all did. There was
always something they hadn’t thought of that gave them away.

Steven had thought of everything, even the date, even the weather.

Mr. Greathead was in the habit of going up to London to attend the
debates of a learned Society he belonged to that held its meetings in
May and November. He always travelled up by the five o’clock train, so
that he might go to bed and rest as soon as he arrived. He always stayed
for a week and gave his housekeeper a week’s holiday. Steven chose a
dark, threatening day in November, when Mr. Greathead was going up to
his meeting and Mrs. Blenkiron had left Eastthwaite for Morfe by the
early morning bus. So that there was nobody in the house but Mr.
Greathead and Steven.

Eastthwaite Lodge stands alone, grey, hidden between the shoulder of the
moor and the ash-trees of its drive. It is approached by a bridle-path
across the moor, a turning off the road that runs from Eastthwaite in
Rathdale to Shawe in Westleydale, about a mile from the village and a
mile from Hardraw Pass. No tradesmen visited it. Mr. Greathead’s letters
and his newspaper were shot into a post-box that hung on the ash-tree at
the turn.

The hot water laid on in the house was not hot enough for Mr.
Greathead’s bath, so that every morning, while Mr. Greathead shaved,
Steven came to him with a can of boiling water.

Mr. Greathead, dressed in a mauve and grey striped sleeping-suit, stood
shaving himself before the looking-glass that hung on the wall beside
the great white bath. Steven waited with his hand on the cold tap,
watching the bright curved rod of water falling with a thud and a
splash.

In the white, stagnant light from the muffed window-pane the knife-blade
flame of a small oil-stove flickered queerly. The oil sputtered and
stank.

Suddenly the wind hissed in the water-pipes and cut off the glittering
rod. To Steven it seemed the suspension of all movement. He would have
to wait there till the water flowed again before he could begin. He
tried not to look at Mr. Greathead and the lean wattles of his lifted
throat. He fixed his eyes on the long crack in the soiled green
distemper of the wall. His nerves were on edge with waiting for the
water to flow again. The fumes of the oil-stove worked on them like a
rank intoxicant. The soiled green wall gave him a sensation of physical
sickness.

He picked up a towel and hung it over the back of a chair. Thus he
caught sight of his own face in the glass above Mr. Greathead’s; it was
livid against the soiled green wall. Steven stepped aside to avoid it.

“Don’t you feel well, Steven?”

“No, sir.” Steven picked up a small sponge and looked at it.

Mr. Greathead had laid down his razor and was wiping the lather from his
chin. At that instant, with a gurgling, spluttering haste, the water
leaped from the tap.

It was then that Steven made his sudden, quiet rush. He first gagged Mr.
Greathead with the sponge, then pushed him back and back against the
wall and pinned him there with both hands round his neck, as he had
pinned Ned Oldishaw. He pressed in on Mr. Greathead’s throat, strangling
him.

Mr. Greathead’s hands flapped in the air, trying feebly to beat Steven
off; then his arms, pushed back by the heave and thrust of Steven’s
shoulders, dropped. Then Mr. Greathead’s body sank, sliding along the
wall, and fell to the floor, Steven still keeping his hold, mounting it,
gripping it with his knees. His fingers tightened, pressing back the
blood. Mr. Greathead’s face swelled up; it changed horribly. There was a
groaning and rattling sound in his throat. Steven pressed in till it had
ceased.

Then he stripped himself to the waist. He stripped Mr. Greathead of his
sleeping-suit and hung his naked body face downwards in the bath. He
took the razor and cut the great arteries and veins in the neck. He
pulled up the plug of the waste-pipe, and left the body to drain in the
running water.

He left it all day and all night.

He had noticed that murderers swung just for want of attention to little
things like that; messing up themselves and the whole place with blood;
always forgetting something essential. He had no time to think of
horrors. From the moment he had murdered Mr. Greathead his own neck was
in danger; he was simply using all his brain and nerve to save his neck.
He worked with the stem, cool hardness of a man going through with an
unpleasant, necessary job. He had thought of everything.

He had even thought of the dairy.

[Illustration: Steven waited with his hand on the tap ...]

It was built on to the back of the house under the shelter of the high
moor. You entered it through the scullery, which cut it off from the
yard. The window-panes had been removed and replaced by sheets of
perforated zinc. A large corrugated glass sky-light lit it from the
roof. Impossible either to see in or to approach it from the outside. It
was fitted up with a long, black slate shelf, placed, for the
convenience of butter-makers, at the height of an ordinary work-bench.
Steven had his tools, a razor, a carving-knife, a chopper and a
meat-saw, laid there ready, beside a great pile of cotton waste.

Early the next day he took Mr. Greathead’s body out of the bath, wrapped
a thick towel round the neck and head, carried it down to the dairy and
stretched it out on the slab. And there he cut it up into seventeen
pieces.

These he wrapped in several layers of newspaper, covering the face and
the hands first, because, at the last moment, they frightened him. He
sewed them up in two sacks and hid them in the cellar.

He burnt the towel and the cotton waste in the kitchen fire; he cleaned
his tools thoroughly and put them back in their places; and he washed
down the marble slab. There wasn’t a spot on the floor except for one
flagstone where the pink rinsing of the slab had splashed over. He
scrubbed it for half an hour, still seeing the rusty edges of the splash
long after he had scoured it out.

He then washed and dressed himself with care.

As it was war-time Steven could only work by day, for a light in the
dairy roof would have attracted the attention of the police. He had
murdered Mr. Greathead on a Tuesday; it was now three o’clock on
Thursday afternoon. Exactly at ten minutes past four he had brought out
the car, shut in close with its black hood and side curtains. He had
packed Mr. Greathead’s suit-case and placed it in the car with his
umbrella, railway rug, and travelling cap. Also, in a bundle, the
clothes that his victim would have gone to London in.

He stowed the body in the two sacks beside him on the front.

By Hardraw Pass, half-way between Eastthwaite and Shawe, there are three
round pits, known as the Churns, hollowed out of the grey rock and said
to be bottomless. Steven had thrown stones, big as a man’s chest, down
the largest pit, to see whether they would be caught on any ledge or
boulder. They had dropped clean, without a sound.

It poured with rain, the rain that Steven had reckoned on. The Pass was
dark under the clouds and deserted. Steven turned his car so that the
headlights glared on the pit’s mouth. Then he ripped open the sacks and
threw down, one by one, the seventeen pieces of Mr. Greathead’s body,
and the sacks after them, and the clothes.

It was not enough to dispose of Mr. Greathead’s dead body; he had to
behave as though Mr. Greathead were alive. Mr. Greathead had disappeared
and he had to account for his disappearance. He drove on to Shawe
station to the five o’clock train, taking care to arrive close on its
starting. A troop-train was due to depart a minute earlier. Steven, who
had reckoned on the darkness and the rain, reckoned also on the hurry
and confusion on the platform.

As he had foreseen, there were no porters in the station entry; nobody
to notice whether Mr. Greathead was or was not in the car. He carried
his things through on to the platform and gave the suit-case to an old
man to label. He dashed into the booking-office and took Mr. Greathead’s
ticket, and then rushed along the platform as if he were following his
master. He heard himself shouting to the guard, “Have you seen Mr.
Greathead?” And the guard’s answer, “Naw!” And his own inspired
statement, “He must have taken his seat in the front, then.” He ran to
the front of the train, shouldering his way among the troops. The drawn
blinds of the carriages favoured him.

Steven thrust the umbrella, the rug, and the travelling cap into an
empty compartment, and slammed the door to. He tried to shout something
through the open window; but his tongue was harsh and dry against the
roof of his mouth, and no sound came. He stood, blocking the window,
till the guard whistled. When the train moved he ran alongside with his
hand on the window ledge, as though he were taking the last instructions
of his master. A porter pulled him back.

“Quick work, that,” said Steven.

Before he left the station he wired to Mr. Greathead’s London hotel,
announcing the time of his arrival.

He felt nothing, nothing but the intense relief of a man who has saved
himself by his own wits from a most horrible death. There were even
moments, in the week that followed, when, so powerful was the illusion
of his innocence, he could have believed that he had really seen Mr.
Greathead off by the five o’clock train. Moments when he literally stood
still in amazement before his own incredible impunity. Other moments
when a sort of vanity uplifted him. He had committed a murder that for
sheer audacity and cool brain work surpassed all murders celebrated in
the history of crime. Unfortunately the very perfection of his
achievement doomed it to oblivion. He had left not a trace.

Not a trace.

Only when he woke in the night a doubt sickened him. There was the
rusted ring of that splash on the dairy floor. He wondered, had he
really washed it out clean. And he would get up and light a candle and
go down to the dairy to make sure. He knew the exact place; bending over
it with the candle, he could imagine that he still saw a faint outline.

Daylight reassured him. _He_ knew the exact place, but nobody else knew.
There was nothing to distinguish it from the natural stains in the
flagstone. Nobody would guess. But he was glad when Mrs. Blenkiron came
back again.

On the day that Mr. Greathead was to have come home by the four o’clock
train Steven drove into Shawe and bought a chicken for the master’s
dinner. He met the four o’clock train and expressed surprise that Mr.
Greathead had not come by it. He said he would be sure to come by the
seven. He ordered dinner for eight; Mrs. Blenkiron roasted the chicken,
and Steven met the seven o’clock train. This time he showed uneasiness.

The next day he met all the trains and wired to Mr. Greathead’s hotel
for information. When the manager wired back that Mr. Greathead had not
arrived, he wrote to his relatives and gave notice to the police.

Three weeks passed. The police and Mr. Greathead’s relatives accepted
Steven’s statements, backed as they were by the evidence of the booking
office clerk, the telegraph clerk, the guard, the porter who had
labelled Mr. Greathead’s luggage and the hotel manager who had received
his telegram. Mr. Greathead’s portrait was published in the illustrated
papers with requests for any information which might lead to his
discovery. Nothing happened, and presently he and his disappearance were
forgotten. The nephew who came down to Eastthwaite to look into his
affairs was satisfied. His balance at his bank was low owing to the
non-payment of various dividends, but the accounts and the contents of
Mr. Greathead’s cash-box and bureau were in order and Steven had put
down every penny he had spent. The nephew paid Mrs. Blenkiron’s wages
and dismissed her and arranged with the chauffeur to stay on and take
care of the house. And as Steven saw that this was the best way to
escape suspicion, he stayed on.

Only in Westleydale and Rathdale excitement lingered. People wondered
and speculated. Mr. Greathead had been robbed and murdered in the train
(Steven said he had had money on him). He had lost his memory and
wandered goodness knew where. He had thrown himself out of the railway
carriage. Steven said Mr. Greathead wouldn’t do _that_, but he shouldn’t
be surprised if he had lost his memory. He knew a man who forgot who he
was and where he lived. Didn’t know his own wife and children.
Shell-shock. And lately Mr. Greathead’s memory hadn’t been what it was.
Soon as he got it back he’d turn up again. Steven wouldn’t be surprised
to see him walking in any day.

But on the whole people noticed that he didn’t care to talk much about
Mr. Greathead. They thought this showed very proper feeling. They were
sorry for Steven. He had lost his master and he had lost Dorsy Oldishaw.
And if he _did_ half kill Ned Oldishaw, well, young Ned had no business
to go meddling with his sweetheart. Even Mrs. Oldishaw was sorry for
him. And when Steven came into the bar of the King’s Arms everybody said
“Good-evening, Steve,” and made room for him by the fire.


                                  III


Steven came and went now as if nothing had happened. He made a point of
keeping the house as it would be kept if Mr. Greathead were alive. Mrs.
Blenkiron, coming in once a fortnight to wash and clean, found the fire
lit in Mr. Greathead’s study and his slippers standing on end in the
fender. Upstairs his bed was made, the clothes folded back, ready. This
ritual guarded Steven not only from the suspicions of outsiders, but
from his own knowledge. By behaving as though he believed that Mr.
Greathead was still living he almost made himself believe it. By
refusing to let his mind dwell on the murder he came to forget it. His
imagination saved him, playing the play that kept him sane, till the
murder became vague to him and fantastic like a thing done in a dream.
He had waked up and this was the reality; this round of caretaking, this
look the house had of waiting for Mr. Greathead to come back to it. He
had left off getting up in the night to examine the place on the dairy
floor. He was no longer amazed at his impunity.

[Illustration]

Then suddenly, when he really had forgotten, it ended. It was on a
Saturday in January, about five o’clock. Steven had heard that Dorsy
Oldishaw was back again, living at the “King’s Arms” with her aunt. He
had a mad, uncontrollable longing to see her again.

But it was not Dorsy that he saw.

His way from the Lodge kitchen into the drive was through the yard gates
and along the flagged path under the study window. When he turned on to
the flags he saw it shuffling along before him. The lamplight from the
window lit it up. He could see distinctly the little old man in the
long, shabby black overcoat, with the grey woollen muffler round his
neck hunched up above his collar, lifting the thin grey hair that stuck
out under the slouch of the black hat.

In the first moment that he saw it Steven had no fear. He simply felt
that the murder had not happened, that he really _had_ dreamed it, and
that this was Mr. Greathead come back, alive among the living. The
phantasm was now standing at the door of the house, its hand on the
door-knob as if about to enter.

But when Steven came up to the door it was not there.

He stood, fixed, staring at the space which had emptied itself so
horribly. His heart heaved and staggered, snatching at his breath. And
suddenly the memory of the murder rushed at him. He saw himself in the
bathroom, shut in with his victim by the soiled green walls. He smelt
the reek of the oil-stove; he heard the water running from the tap. He
felt his feet springing forward, and his fingers pressing, tighter and
tighter, on Mr. Greathead’s throat. He saw Mr. Greathead’s hands
flapping helplessly, his terrified eyes, his face swelling and
discoloured, changing horribly, and his body sinking to the floor.

He saw himself in the dairy, afterwards; he could hear the thudding,
grinding, scraping noises of his tools. He saw himself on Hardraw Pass
and the headlights glaring on the pit’s mouth. And the fear and the
horror he had not felt then came on him now.

He turned back; he bolted the yard gates and all the doors of the house,
and shut himself up in the lighted kitchen. He took up his magazine.
_The Autocar_, and forced himself to read it. Presently his terror left
him. He said to himself it was nothing. Nothing but his fancy. He didn’t
suppose he’d ever see anything again.

Three days passed. On the third evening, Steven had lit the study lamp
and was bolting the window when he saw it again.

It stood on the path outside, close against the window, looking in. He
saw its face distinctly, the greyish, stuck-out bud of the under-lip,
and the droop of the pinched nose. The small eyes peered at him,
glittering. The whole figure had a glassy look between the darkness
behind it and the pane. One moment it stood outside, looking in; and the
next it was mixed up with the shimmering picture of the lighted room
that hung there on the blackness of the trees. Mr. Greathead then showed
as if reflected, standing with Steven in the room.

[Illustration: It stood close against the window, looking in.]

And now he was outside again, looking at him, looking at him through the
pane.

Steven’s stomach sank and dragged, making him feel sick. He pulled down
the blind between him and Mr. Greathead, clamped the shutters to and
drew the curtains over them. He locked and double-bolted the front door,
all the doors, to keep Mr. Greathead out. But, once that night, as he
lay in bed, he heard the “shoob-shoob” of feet shuffling along the
flagged passages, up the stairs, and across the landing outside his
door. The door handle rattled; but nothing came. He lay awake till
morning, the sweat running off his skin, his heart plunging and
quivering with terror.

When he got up he saw a white, scared face in the looking-glass. A face
with a half-open mouth, ready to blab, to blurt out his secret; the face
of an idiot. He was afraid to take that face into Eastthwaite or into
Shawe. So he shut himself up in the house, half starved on his small
stock of bread, bacon and groceries.

Two weeks passed; and then it came again in broad daylight.

It was Mrs. Blenkiron’s morning. He had lit the fire in the study at
noon and set up Mr. Greathead’s slippers in the fender. When he rose
from his stooping and turned round he saw Mr. Greathead’s phantasm
standing on the hearthrug dose in front of him. It was looking at him
and smiling in a sort of mockery, as if amused at what Steven had been
doing. It was solid and completely lifelike at first. Then, as Steven in
his terror backed and backed away from it (he was afraid to turn and
feel it there behind him), its feet became insubstantial. As if
undermined, the whole structure sank and fell together on the floor,
where it made a pool of some whitish glistening substance that mixed
with the pattern of the carpet and sank through.

That was the most horrible thing it had done yet, and Steven’s nerve
broke under it. He went to Mrs. Blenkiron, whom he found scrubbing out
the dairy.

She sighed as she wrung out the floor-doth.

“Eh, these owd yeller stawnes, scroob as you will they’ll nawer look
dean.”

“Naw,” he said. “Scroob and scroob, you’ll nawer get them clean.”

She looked up at him.

“Eh, lad, what ails ’ee? Ye’ve got a faace like a wroong dishdout
hanging ower t’ sink.”

“I’ve got the colic.”

“Aye, an’ naw woonder wi’ the damp, and they misties, an’ your awn bad
cooking. Let me roon down t’ ‘King’s Arms’ and get you a drop of
whisky.”

“Naw, I’ll gaw down mysen.”

He knew now he was afraid to be left alone in the house. Down at the
“King’s Arms” Dorsy and Mrs. Oldishaw were sorry for him. By this time
he was really ill with fright. Dorsy and Mrs. Oldishaw said it was a
chill. They made him lie down on the settle by the kitchen fire and put
a rug over him, and gave him stiff hot grog to drink. He slept. And when
he woke he found Dorsy sitting beside him with her sewing.

He sat up and her hand was on his shoulder.

“Lay still, lad.”

“I maun get oop and gaw.”

“Nay, there’s naw call for ’ee to gaw. Lay still and I’ll make thee a
coop o’ tea.”

He lay still.

Mrs. Oldishaw had made up a bed for him in her son’s room, and they kept
him there that night and till four o’clock the next day.

When he got up to go Dorsy put on her coat and hat.

“Is tha gawing out, Dorsy?”

“Aye. I canna let thee gaw and set there by thysen. I’m cooming oop to
set with ’ee till night time.”

She came up and they sat side by side in the Lodge kitchen by the fire
as they used to sit when they were together there, holding each other’s
hands and not talking.

“Dorsy,” he said at last, “what astha coom for? Astha coom to tall me
tha’ll nawer speak to me again?”

“Nay. Tha knaws what I’ve coom for.”

“To saay tha’ll marry me?”

“Aye.”

“I maunna marry thee, Dorsy. ’twouldn’ be right.”

“Right? What dostha mean? ’twouldn’t be right for me to coom and set wi’
thee this road ef I doan’t marry thee.”

“Nay. I darena’. Tha said tha was afraid of me, Dorsy. I doan’t want ’ee
to be afraid. Tha said tha’d be unhappy. I doan’t want ’ee to be
unhappy.”

“That was lasst year. I’m not afraid of ’ee, now, Steve.”

“Tha doan’t knaw me, lass.”

“Aye, I knaw thee. I knaw tha’s sick and starved for want of me. Tha
canna live wi’out thy awn lass to take care of ’ee.”

She rose.

“I maun gaw now. But I’ll be oop to-morrow and the next day.”

And to-morrow and the next day and the next, at dusk, the hour that
Steven most dreaded, Dorsy came. She sat with him till long after the
night had fallen.

Steven would have felt safe so long as she was with him, but for his
fear that Mr. Greathead would appear to him while she was there and that
she would see him. If Dorsy knew he was being haunted she might guess
why. Or Mr. Greathead might take some horrible blood-dripping and
dismembered shape that would show her how he had been murdered. It would
be like him, dead, to come between them as he had come when he was
living.

They were sitting at the round table by the fireside. The lamp was lit
and Dorsy was bending over her sewing. Suddenly she looked up, her head
on one side, listening. Far away inside the house, on the flagged
passage from the front door, he could hear the “shoob-shoob” of the
footsteps. He could almost believe that Dorsy shivered. And somehow, for
some reason, this time he was not afraid.

“Steven,” she said, “didsta ’ear anything?”

“Naw. Nobbut t’ wind oonder t’ roogs.”

She looked at him; a long wondering look. Apparently it satisfied her,
for she answered: “Aye. Mebbe ’tes nobbut wind,” and went on with her
sewing.

He drew his chair nearer to her to protect her if it came. He could
almost touch her where she sat.

The latch lifted. The door opened, and, his entrance and his passage
unseen, Mr. Greathead stood before them.

The table hid the lower half of his form; but above it he was steady and
solid in his terrible semblance of flesh and blood.

Steven looked at Dorsy. She was staring at the phantasm with an
innocent, wondering stare that had no fear in it at all. Then she looked
at Steven. An uneasy, frightened, searching look, as though to make sure
whether he had seen it.

That was her fear—that _he_ should see it, that _he_ should be
frightened, that _he_ should be haunted.

He moved closer and put his hand on her shoulder. He thought, perhaps,
she might shrink from him because she knew that it _was_ he who was
haunted. But no, she put up her hand and held his, gazing up into his
face and smiling.

Then, to his amazement, the phantasm smiled back at them; not with
mockery, but with a strange and terrible sweetness. Its face lit up for
one instant with a sudden, beautiful, shining light; then it was gone.

“Did tha see ’im, Steve?”

“Aye.”

“Astha seen annything afore?”

“Aye, three times I’ve seen ’im.”

“Is it that ’as scared thee?”

“’Oo tawled ’ee I was scared?”

“I knawed. Because nowt can ’appen to thee but I maun knaw it.”

“What dostha think, Dorsy?”

“I think tha needna be scared, Steve. ’E’s a kind ghawst. Whatever ’e is
’e doan’t mean thee no ’arm. T’ owd gentleman nawer did when he was
alive.”

“Didn’ ’e? Didn’ ’e? ’E served me the woorst turn ’e could when ’e
coomed between thee and me.”

“Whatever makes ’ee think that, lad?”

“I doan’ think it. I _know_.”

“Nay, loove, tha dostna.”

“’E did. ’E did, I tell thee.”

“Doan’ tha say that,” she cried. “Doan’ tha say it, Stevey.”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“Tha’ll set folk talking that road.”

“What do they knaw to talk about?”

“Ef they was to remember what tha said.”

“And what did I say?”

“Why, that ef annybody was to coom between thee and me, tha’d do them
in.”

“I wasna thinking of _’tin_. Gawd knaws I wasna.”

“_They_ doan’t,” she said.

“_Tha_ knaws? Tha knaws I didna mean ’im?”

“Aye, _I_ knaw, Steve.”

“An’, Dorsy, tha ’m’t afraid of me? Tha ’m’t afraid of me anny more?”

“Nay, lad. I loove thee too mooch. I shall nawer be afraid of ’ee again.
Would I coom to thee this road ef I was afraid?”

“Tha’ll be afraid now.”

“And what should I be afraid of?”

“Why—’m.”

“_’Im?_ I should be a deal more afraid to think of ’ee setting with ’im
oop ’ere, by thysen. Wuntha coom down and sleep at aunt’s?”

“That I wunna. But I shall set ’ee on t’ road passt t’ moor.”

He went with her down the bridle-path and across the moor and along the
main road that led through Eastthwaite. They parted at the turn where
the lights of the village came in sight.

The moon had risen as Steven went back across the moor. The ash-tree at
the bridle-path stood out clear, its hooked, bending branches black
against the grey moor-grass. The shadows in the ruts laid stripes along
the bridle-path, black on grey. The house was black-grey in the darkness
of the drive. Only the lighted study window made a golden square in its
long wall.

Before he could go up to bed he would have to put out the study lamp. He
was nervous; but he no longer felt the sickening and sweating terror of
the first hauntings. Either he was getting used to it, or—something had
happened to him.

He had closed the shutters and put out the lamp. His candle made a ring
of light round the table in the middle of the room. He was about to take
it up and go when he heard a thin voice calling his same: “Steven.” He
raised his head to listen. The thin thread of sound seemed to come from
outside, a long way off, at the end of the bridle-path.

“Steven, Steven—”

This time he could have sworn the sound came from inside his head, like
the hiss of air in his ears.

“Steven—”

He knew the voice now. It was behind him in the room. He turned, and saw
the phantasm of Mr. Greathead sitting, as he used to sit, in the
arm-chair by the fire. The form was dim in the dusk of the room outside
the ring of candlelight. Steven’s first movement was to snatch up the
candlestick and hold it between him and the phantasm, hoping that the
light would cause it to disappear. Instead of disappearing the figure
became clear and solid, indistinguishable from a figure of flesh and
blood dressed in black broadcloth and white linen. Its eyes had the
shining transparency of blue crystal; they were fixed on Steven with a
look of quiet, benevolent attention. Its small, narrow mouth was lifted
at the corners, smiling.

[Illustration: ... the figure became clear and solid ...]

It spoke.

“You needn’t be afraid,” it said.

The voice was natural now, quiet, measured, slightly quavering. Instead
of frightening Steven it soothed and steadied him.

He put the candle on the table behind him and stood up before the
phantasm, fascinated.

“_Why_ are you afraid?” it asked.

Steven couldn’t answer. He could only stare, held there by the shining,
hypnotizing eyes.

“You are afraid,” it said, “because you think I’m what you call a ghost,
a supernatural thing. You think I’m dead and that you killed me. You
think you took a horrible revenge for a wrong you thought I did you. You
think I’ve come back to frighten you, to revenge myself in my turn.

“And every one of those thoughts of yours, Steven, is wrong. I’m real,
and my appearance is as natural and real as anything in this room—_more_
natural and more real if you did but know. You didn’t kill me, as you
see; for here I am, as alive, more alive than you are. Your revenge
consisted in removing me from a state which had become unbearable to a
state more delightful than you can imagine. I don’t mind telling you,
Steven, that I was in serious financial difficulties (which, by the way,
is a good thing for you, as it provides a plausible motive for my
disappearance). So that, as far as revenge goes, the thing was a
complete frost. You were my benefactor. Your methods were somewhat
violent, and I admit you gave me some disagreeable moments before my
actual deliverance; but as I was already developing rheumatoid arthritis
there can be no doubt that in your hands my death was more merciful than
if it had been left to Nature. As for the subsequent arrangements, I
congratulate you, Steven, on your coolness and resource. I always said
you were equal to any emergency, and that your brains would pull you
safe through any scrape. You committed an appalling and dangerous crime,
a crime of all things the most difficult to conceal, and you contrived
so that it was not discovered and never will be discovered. And no doubt
the details of this crime seemed to you horrible and revolting to the
last degree; and the more horrible and the more revolting they were, the
more you piqued yourself on your nerve in carrying the thing through
without a hitch.

“I don’t want to put you entirely out of conceit with your performance.
It was very creditable for a beginner, very creditable indeed. But let
me tell you, this idea of things being horrible and revolting is all
illusion. The terms are purely relative to your limited perceptions.

“I’m speaking now to your intelligence—I don’t mean that practical
ingenuity which enabled you to dispose of me so neatly. When I say
intelligence I mean intelligence. All you did, then, was to redistribute
matter. To our incorruptible sense matter never takes any of those
offensive forms in which it so often appears to you. Nature has evolved
all this horror and repulsion just to prevent people from making too
many little experiments like yours. You mustn’t imagine that these
things have any eternal importance. Don’t flatter yourself you’ve
electrified the universe. For minds no longer attached to flesh and
blood, that horrible butchery you were so proud of, Steven, is simply
silly. No more terrifying than the spiffing of red ink or the
rearrangement of a jig-saw puzzle. I saw the whole business, and I can
assure you I felt nothing but intense amusement. Your face, Steven, was
so absurdly serious. You’ve no idea what you looked like with that
chopper. I’d have appeared to you then and told you so, only I knew I
should frighten you into fits.

“And there’s another grand mistake, my lad—your thinking that I’m
haunting you out of revenge, that I’m trying to frighten you.... My dear
Steven, if I’d wanted to frighten you I’d have appeared in a very
different shape. I needn’t remind you what shape I _might_ have appeared
in.... What do you suppose I’ve come for?”

“I don’t know,” said Steven in a husky whisper. “Tell me.

“I’ve come to forgive you. And to save you from the horror you _would_
have felt sooner or later. And to stop your going on with your crime.”

“You needn’t,” Steven said. “I’m not going on with it. I shall do no
more murders.”

“There you are again. Can’t you understand that I’m not talking about
your silly butcher’s work? I’m talking about your _real_ crime. Your
real crime was hating me.

“And your very hate was a blunder, Steven. You hated me for something I
hadn’t done.”

“Aye, what did you do? Tell me that.”

“You thought I came between you and your sweetheart. That night when
Dorsy spoke to me, you thought I told her to throw you over, didn’t
you?”

“Aye. And what did you tell her?”

“I told her to stick to you. It was you, Steven, who drove her away. You
frightened the child. She said she was afraid for her life of you. Not
because you half killed that poor boy, but because of the look on your
face before you did it. The look of hate, Steven.

“I told her not to be afraid of you. I told her that if she threw you
over you might go altogether to the devil; that she might even be
responsible for some crime. I told her that if she married you and was
faithful—_if she loved you_—I’d answer for it you’d never go wrong.

“She was too frightened to listen to me. Then I told her to think over
what I’d said before she did anything. You heard me say that.”

“Aye. That’s what I heard you say. I didn’ knaw. I didn’ knaw. I thought
you’d set her agen me.”

“If you don’t believe me, you can ask her, Steven.”

“That’s what she said t’ other night. That you nawer coom between her
and me. Nawer.”

“Never,” the phantasm said. “And you don’t hate me now.”

“Naw. Naw. I should nawer ’a hated ’ee. I should nawer ’a laid a finger
on thee, ef I’d knawn.”

“It’s not your laying fingers on me, it’s your hatred that matters. If
that’s done with, the whole thing’s done with.”

“Is it? Is it? Ef it was knawn, I should have to hang for it. Maunna I
gie mysen oop? Tell me, maun I gie mysen oop?”

“You want me to decide that for you?”

“Aye. Doan’t gaw,” he said. “Doan’t gaw.”

It seemed to him that Mr. Greathead’s phantasm was getting a little
thin, as if it couldn’t last more than an instant. He had never so
longed for it to go, as he longed now for it to stay and help him.

“Well, Steven, any flesh-and-blood man would tell you to go and get
hanged to-morrow; that it was no more than your plain duty. And I
daresay there are some mean, vindictive spirits even in my world who
would say the same, not because _they_ think death important but because
they know _you_ do, and want to get even with you that way.

“It isn’t _my_ way. I consider this little affair is strictly between
ourselves. There isn’t a jury of flesh-and-blood men who would
understand it. They all think death so important.”

“What do you want me to do, then? Tell me and I’ll do it! Tell me!”

He cried it out loud; for Mr. Greathead’s phantasm was getting thinner
and thinner; it dwindled and fluttered, like a light going down. Its
voice came from somewhere away outside, from the other end of the
bridle-path.

“Go on living,” it said. “Marry Dorsy.”

“I darena’. She doan’ knaw I killed ’ee.”

“Oh, yes”—the eyes flickered up, gentle and ironic—“she does. She knew
all the time.”

And with that the phantasm went out.



                      THE FINDING OF THE ABSOLUTE


                                   I


Mr. Spalding had gone out into the garden to find peace, and had not
found it. He sat there, with hunched shoulders and bowed head, dejected
in the spring sunshine.

Jerry, the black cat, invited him to play; he stood on his hind legs and
danced, and bowed sideways, and waved his forelegs in the air like
wings. At any other time his behaviour would have enchanted Mr.
Spalding, but now he couldn’t even look at him; he was too miserable.

He had gone to bed miserable; he had passed a night of misery, and he
had waked up more miserable than ever. He had been like that for three
days and three nights straight on end, and no wonder. It wasn’t only
that his young wife Elizabeth had run away with Paul Jeffreson, the
Imagist poet. Besides the frailty of Elizabeth, he had discovered a
fatal flaw in his own system of metaphysics. His belief in Elizabeth was
gone. So was his belief in the Absolute.

The two things had come at once, to crush him. And he had to own
bitterly that they were not altogether unrelated. “If,” Mr. Spalding
said to himself, “I had served my wife as faithfully as I have served my
God, she would not now have deserted me for Paul Jeffreson.” He meant
that if he had not been wrapped up in his system of metaphysics,
Elizabeth might still have been wrapped up in him. He had nobody but
himself to thank for her behaviour.

If she had run away with anybody else, since run she must, he might have
forgiven her; he might have forgiven himself; but there could be nothing
but misery in store for Elizabeth. Paul Jeffreson had genius, Mr.
Spalding didn’t deny it; immortal genius; but he had no morals; he
drank; he drugged; in Mr. Spalding’s decent phrase, he did everything he
shouldn’t do.

You would have thought this overwhelming disaster would have completely
outweighed the other trouble. But no; Mr. Spalding had a balanced mind;
he mourned with equal sorrow the loss of his wife and the loss of his
Absolute. A flaw in a metaphysical system may seem to you a small thing;
but you must bear in mind that, ever since he could think at all, Mr.
Spalding had been devoured by a hunger and thirst after metaphysical
truth. He had flung over the God he had been taught to believe in
because, besides being an outrage to Mr. Spalding’s moral sense, he
wasn’t metaphysical enough. The poor man was always worrying about
metaphysics; he wandered from system to system, seeking truth, seeking
reality, seeking some supreme intellectual satisfaction that never came.
He thought he had found it in his theory of Absolute Pantheism. But
really, Spalding’s Pantheism, anybody’s Pantheism for that matter,
couldn’t, when you brought it down to bed-rock thinking, hold water for
a minute. And the more Absolute he made it, the leakier it was.

For, consider, on Mr. Spalding’s theory, there isn’t any reality except
the Absolute. Things are only real because they exist in It; because It
is Them. Mr. Spalding conceived that his consciousness and Elizabeth’s
consciousness and Paul Jeffreson’s consciousness existed somehow in the
Absolute unchanged. For, if that inside existence changed them you would
have to say that the ground of their present appearance lay somewhere
outside the Absolute, which to Mr. Spalding was rank blasphemy. And if
Elizabeth and Paul Jeffreson existed in the Absolute unchanged, then
their adultery existed there unchanged. And an adultery within the
Absolute outraged his moral sense as much as anything he had been told
about God in his youth. The odd thing was that until Elizabeth had run
away and committed it he had never thought of that. The metaphysics of
Pantheism had interested him much more than its ethics. And now he could
think of nothing else.

And it wasn’t only Elizabeth and her iniquity; there were all the
intolerable people he had ever known. There was his Uncle Sims, a mean
sneak if ever there was one; and his Aunt Emily, a silly fool; and his
cousin, Tom Rumbold, an obscene idiot. And his uncle’s mean
sneak-ishness, and his aunt’s silly folly, and his cousin’s obscene
idiocy would have to exist in the Absolute, too; and unchanged, mind
you.

And the things you see and hear—A blue sky, now, would it be blue in the
Sight of God, or just something inconceivable? And noises, music? For
example, I am listening to Grand Opera, and you to the jazz band in your
restaurant; but the God of Pantheism is listening to both, to all the
noises in the universe at once. As if He had sat down on the piano. This
idea shocked Mr. Spalding even more than the thought of Elizabeth’s
misconduct.

Time went on. Paul Jeffreson drank himself to death. Elizabeth, worn out
with grief, died of pneumonia following influenza; and Mr. Spalding
still went about worrying over his inadjustable metaphysics.

And at last he, too, found himself dying.

And then he began to worry about other things. Things that had, as he
put it, “happened” in his youth, before he knew Elizabeth, and one thing
that had happened after she left him. He thought of them as just
happening; happening _to_ him rather than _through_ him, against his
will. In calm, philosophic moments he couldn’t conceive how they had
ever happened at all, how, for example, he could have endured Connie
Larkins. The episodes had been brief, because in each case boredom and
disgust had supervened to put asunder what Mr. Spalding owned should
never have been joined. Brief, insignificant as they were, Mr. Spalding,
in his dying state, was worried when he looked back on them. Supposing
they were more significant than they had seemed? Supposing they had an
eternal significance and entailed tremendous consequences in the
after-life? Supposing you were not just wiped out, that there really
_was_ an after-life? Supposing that in that other world there was a
hell?

Mr. Spalding could imagine no worse hell than the eternal repetition of
such incidents; eternal repetition of boredom and disgust. Fancy going
on with Connie Larkins for ever and ever, never being able to get away
from her, doomed to repeat—And, if there _was_ an Absolute, if there was
reality, truth, never knowing it; being cut off from it for ever—

“He that is filthy let him be filthy still.”

That was hell, the continuance of the filthy state.

He wondered whether goodness was not, after all, _the_ important thing;
he wondered whether there really was a next world; with an extreme
uneasiness he wondered what would happen to him in it.

He died wondering.


                                   II


His first thought was: Well, here I am again. I’ve not been wiped out.
His next, that he hadn’t died at all. He had gone to sleep and was now
dreaming. He was not in the least agitated, nor even surprised.

He found himself alone in an immense grey space, in which there was no
distinguishable object but himself. He was aware of his body as
occupying a portion of this space. For he had a body; a curious,
tenuous, whitish body. The odd thing was that this empty space had a
sort of solidity under him. He was lying on it, stretched out on it,
adrift. It supported him with the buoyancy of deep water. And yet his
body was part of it, netted in.

He was now aware of two figures approaching. They came and stood, like
figures treading water, one on each side of him, and he saw that they
were Elizabeth and Paul Jeffreson.

Then he concluded that he was really dead; dead like Elizabeth and
Jeffreson, and (since they were there) that he was in hell.

Elizabeth was speaking, and her voice sounded sweet and very kind. All
the same he knew he was in hell.

“It’s all right,” she said. “It’s queer at first, but you’ll get used to
it. You don’t mind our coming to meet you?”

Mr. Spalding said he’d no business to mind, no right to reproach her,
since they were all in the same boat. They had, all three, deserved
their punishment.

“Punishment?” (Jeffreson spoke). “Why, where does he think he is?”

“I’m in hell, aren’t I? If—”

“If _we’re_ here. Is that it?”

“Well, Jeffreson, I don’t want to rake up old unpleasantness, but
after—after what happened, you’ll forgive my saying so, but what else
_can_ I think?”

He heard Jeffreson laugh; a perfectly natural laugh.

“Will _you_ tell him, Elizabeth, or shall I?”

“You’d better. He always respected your intelligence.”

“Well, old chap, if you really want to know where you are, you’re in
heaven.”

“You don’t mean to say so?”

“Fact. I daresay you’re wondering what we’re doing here?”

“Well, Elizabeth—perhaps. But, frankly, Jeffreson,

“Yes. How about me?”

“With your record I should have thought you’d even less business here
than I have.”

“Wouldn’t you? I lived on unpaid bills. I drank. I drugged. There was
nothing I didn’t do. What do you suppose I got in on? You’ll never
guess.”

“No. No. I give it up.”

“My love of beauty. You wouldn’t think it, but it seems that actually
counts here, in the eternal world.”

“And Elizabeth, what did she get in on?”

“Her love of me.”

“Then all I can say is,” said Mr. Spalding, “Heaven must be a most
immoral place.”

“Oh, no. Your parochial morality doesn’t hold good here, that’s all. Why
should it? It’s entirely relative. Relative to a social system with
limits in time and space. Relative to a certain biological configuration
that ceased with our terrestrial organisms. Not absolute. Not eternal.

“But beauty—Beauty _is_ eternal, is absolute. And I—I loved beauty more
than credit, more than drink or drugs or women, more even than
Elizabeth.

“And love is eternal. And Elizabeth loved me more than you, more than
respectability, more than peace and comfort, and a happy life.”

“That’s all very well, Jeffreson; and Elizabeth may be all right. Mary
Magdalene, you know. _Quia mulium amavit_, and so forth. But if a
blackguard like you can slip into heaven as easily as all that, where
_are_ our ethics?”

“Your ethics, my dear Spalding, are where they’ve always been, where you
came from, not here. And if I _was_ what they call a bad man, that’s to
say a bad terrestrial organism, I was a thundering good poet. You say I
slipped in easily; do you suppose it’s easy to be a poet? My dear
fellow, it requires an inflexibility, a purity, a discipline of mind—of
_mind_, remember—that you haven’t any conception of. And surely _you_
should be the last person in the world to regard mind as an inferior
secondary affair. Anyhow, the consequence is that I’ve not only got into
heaven, I’ve got into one of the best heavens, a heaven reserved
exclusively for the very finest spirits.”

“Then,” said Mr. Spalding, “if we’re in heaven, who’s in hell?”

“Couldn’t say for certain. But we shouldn’t put it that way. We should
say: Who’s gone back to earth?”

“Well—am I likely to meet Uncle Sims, or Aunt Emily, or Tom Rumbold
here? You remember them, Elizabeth?”

“Oh, yes, I remember. They’d be almost certain to be sent back. They
couldn’t stand eternal things. There’s nothing eternal about meanness
and stupidity and nastiness.”

“What’ll happen to them, do you suppose?”

“What should you say, Paul?”

“I should say they’d suffer damnably till they’d got some bigness and
intelligence and decency knocked into them.”

“It’ll be a sell for Aunt Emily. She was brought up to believe that
stupidity was no drawback to getting into heaven.”

“Lots of people,” said Jeffreson, “will be sold. Like my father, the
Dean of Eastminster; he was cocksure he’d get in; but they won’t let
him. And why, do you suppose? Because the poor old boy couldn’t see that
my poems were beautiful.

“But even that wouldn’t have dished him, if he’d had a passion for
anybody; or if he’d cared two straws about metaphysical truth. Your
truth, Spalding.”

“Bless me, all our preconceived ideas seem to have been wrong.”

“Yes. Even I wasn’t prepared for that. By the way, that’s what you got
in on, your passion for truth. It’s like my passion for beauty.”

“But—aren’t you distressed about your father, Jeffreson?”

“Oh, no. He’ll get into some heaven or other some day. He’ll find out
that he cares for somebody, perhaps. Then he’ll be all right— But don’t
you want to look about a bit?”

“I don’t see very much to look at. It strikes me as a bit bare, your
heaven.”

“Oh, that’s because you’re only at the landing-state.”

“The landing _what_?”

“State. What we used to call landing place. Times and spaces here, you
know, are states. States of mind.”

Mr. Spalding sat up, excited. “But—but that’s what I always said they
were. I and Kant.”

“Well, you’d better talk to him about it.”

“Talk to _him_? Shall I see Kant?”

“Look at him, Elizabeth. _Now_ he’s coming alive— Of course you’ll see
him when you get into your own place—state, I mean. You’d better get up
and come along with me and Elizabeth. We’ll show you round.”

[Illustration: “_Now_ he’s coming alive—”]

He rose, they steadied him, and he made his way between them through the
grey immensity, over a half-seen yet perfectly solid tract of something
that he thought of, absurdly, as condensed space. As yet there were no
objects in sight but the figures of Elizabeth and Jeffreson; the
half-seen, yet tangible floor he went on seemed to create itself out of
nothing, under his feet, as the desire to walk arose in him. And as yet
he had felt no interest or curiosity; but as he went on he was aware of
a desire to see things that became more and more urgent. He would see.
He must see. He felt that before him and around him there were endless
things to be seen. His mind strained forwards towards vision.

And then, suddenly, he saw.

He saw a landscape more beautiful than anything he could have imagined.
It was, Jeffreson informed him, very like the umbrella pine country
between Florence and Siena. As they came out of it on a great, curving
road they had their faces towards the celestial west. To the south the
land fell away in great red cliffs to a shining, blue sea. Like,
Jeffreson said, the Riviera, the Estérel. West and north the landscape
rolled in green hill after green hill, pine-tufted, to a sweeping
rampart of deep blue; such a rampart, such blue as Mr. Spalding had seen
from the heights above Sidmouth, looking towards Dartmoor. Only this
country had a grace, a harmony of line and colour that gave it an
absolute beauty; and over it there lay a serene, unearthly radiance.

Before them, on a hill, was an exquisite little white, golden and
rose-red town.

“You may or may not believe me,” said Jeffreson, “but the beauty of all
this is that I made it. I mean Elizabeth and I made it between us.”

“You made it?”

“Made it.”

“How?”

“By thinking of it. By wanting it. By imagining it.”

“But—out of what?”

“I don’t know and I don’t much care. Our scientists here will tell you
we made it out of the ultimate constituents of matter. Matter, unformed,
only exists for us in its ultimate constituents. Something like
electrons of electrons of electrons. Here we are all suspended in a web,
immersed, if you like, in a sea, an air of this matter. It is utterly
plastic to our imagination and our will. Imperceptible in its unformed
state, it becomes visible and tangible as our minds get to work on it,
and we can make out of it anything we want, including our own bodies.
Only, so far as our imaginations are still under the dominion of our
memories, so far will the things they create resemble the things we knew
on earth. Thus you will notice that while Elizabeth and I are much more
beautiful than we were on earth” (he _had_ noticed it), “because we
desired to be more beautiful, we are still recognizable as Paul and
Elizabeth because our imaginations are controlled by our memories. You
are as you always were, only younger than when we knew you, because your
imagination had nothing but memory to go on. Everything you create here
will probably be a replica of something on earth you remember.”

“But if I want something new, something beautiful that I haven’t seen
before, can’t I have it?”

“Of course you can have it. Only, just at first, until your own
imagination develops, you’ll have to come to me or Turner or Michael
Angelo to make it for you.”

“And will these things that you and Turner and Michael Angelo make for
me be permanent?”

“Absolutely, unless we unmade them. And I don’t think we should do that
against your will. Anyhow, though we can destroy our own works we can’t
destroy each other’s, that is to say, reduce them to their ultimate
constituents. What’s more, we shouldn’t dream of trying.”

“Why not?”

“Because old motives don’t work here. Envy, greed, theft, robbery,
murder, or any sort of destruction, are unknown. They can’t happen.
Nothing alters matter here but mind, and I can’t will your body to come
to pieces so long as you want it to keep together. You can’t destroy it
yourself as you can other things you make, because your need of it is
greater than your need of other things.

“We can’t thieve or rob for the same reason. Things that belong to us
belong to our state of mind and can’t be torn away from it, so that we
couldn’t remove anything from another person’s state into our own. And
if we could we shouldn’t want to, because each of us can always have
everything he wants. If I like your house or your landscape better than
my own, I can make one for myself just like it. But we don’t do this,
because we’re proud of our individualities here, and would rather have
things different than the same— By the way, as you haven’t got a house
yet, let alone a landscape, you’d better share ours.”

“That’s very good of you,” Mr. Spalding said. He was thinking of Oxford.
Oxford. Quiet rooms in Balliol. He seemed to hesitate.

“If you’re still sitting on that old grievance of yours, I tell you,
once for all, Spalding, I’m not going to express any regret. I’m _not_
sorry, I’m glad I took Elizabeth away from you. I made her more happy
than unhappy even on earth. And please notice it’s I who got her into
heaven, not you. If she’d stayed with you and hated you, as she would
have done, she couldn’t have got in.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” said Mr. Spalding. “I was only wondering
where I could put my landscape.”

“How do you mean—‘put’ it?”

“Place it—so as not to interfere with other people’s landscapes.”

“But how on earth could you interfere? You ‘place’ it, as you call it,
in your own space and in your own time.” His own space, his own time—Mr.
Spalding got more and more excited.

“But—how?”

“Oh, I can’t tell you how. It simply happens.”

“But I want to understand it. I—I _must_ understand.”

“You shouldn’t put him off like that, Paul,” Elizabeth said. “He always
did want to understand things.”

“But when I don’t understand them myself—”

“You’d better take him to Kant, or Hegel.”

“I should prefer Kant,” said Mr. Spalding.

“Well, Kant then. You’ll have to get into his state first.”

“How do I do that?”

“It’s very simple. You just think him up and ask him if you can come
in.”

Elizabeth explained. “Like ringing somebody up, you know, and asking if
you can come and call.”

“Supposing he won’t let me.”

“Trust him to say so. Of course, we mayn’t get through. He may have
_thought off_.”

“You can think off, can you?”

“Yes, that’s how you protect yourself. Otherwise life here would be
unbearable. Just keep quiet for a second, will you?”

There was an intense silence. Presently Jeffreson said: “Now you’re
through.”

And Mr. Spalding found himself in a white-washed room, scantily
furnished with three rows of bookshelves, a writing-table, a table set
with mysterious instruments, and two chairs. A shaded lamp on the
writing-table gave light. Mr. Spalding had left the umbrella pine
country blazing with sunlight, but it seemed that Kant’s time was
somewhere about ten o’clock at night. The large window was bared to a
dark-blue sky of stars.

A little, middle-aged man sat at the writing-table. He wore
eighteenth-century clothes and a tie wig. The face that looked up at Mr.
Spalding was lean and dried, the mouth tight, the eyes shining distantly
with a deep, indrawn intelligence. Mr. Spalding understood that he was
in the presence of Immanuel Kant.

“You thought me up?”

“Forgive me. I am James Spalding, a student of philosophy. I was told
that you might, perhaps, be willing to explain to me the—the very
extraordinary conditions in which I find myself.”

“May I ask, Mr. Spalding, if you have paid any particular attention to
_my_ philosophy?”

“I am one of your most devoted disciples, sir. I refuse to believe that
philosophy has made any considerable advance since the Critique of Pure
Reason.”

“T-t-t. My successor, Hegel, made a very considerable advance. If you
have neglected Hegel—”

“Pardon me, I have not. I was once Hegel’s devoted disciple. An
entrancing fantasy, the Triple Dialectic. But I came to see that yours,
sir, was the safer and the saner system, and that the recurrent tendency
of philosophy must be back to Kant.”

“Better say Forward with him. If you are indeed my disciple, I do not
think that conditions here should have struck you as extraordinary.”

“They struck me as an extraordinary confirmation of your theory of space
and time, sir.”

“They are that. They are that. But they go far beyond anything I ever
dreamed of. It was not in my scheme that the Will—to which, if you
remember, I gave a purely ethical and pragmatical rôle—that the Will and
the imagination of individuals, of you and me, Mr. Spalding, should
create their own space and time, and their own objects in space and
time. I did not anticipate this multiplicity of spaces and times. In my
time there was only one space and one time for everybody.

“Still, it is a very remarkable confirmation, and you may imagine, Mr.
Spalding, that I was gratified when I first came here to find everybody
talking and thinking correctly about time and space. You will have
noticed that here we say state, meaning state of consciousness, where we
used to say place. In the same way we talk about states of time, meaning
time as a state of consciousness. My present state, you will observe, is
exactly ten minutes past ten by my clock, which is my consciousness. My
consciousness registers time automatically. My own time, mind you, not
other people’s.”

“But isn’t that frightfully inconvenient? If your time isn’t everybody
else’s time, how on earth—I mean how in heaven—do you keep your
appointments? How do you co-ordinate?”

“We keep appointments, we co-ordinate, exactly as we used to do, by a
purely arbitrary system. We measure time by space, by events, movements
in space-time. Only, whereas under earthly conditions there was
apparently one earth and one sun, one day and one night for everybody,
here everybody has his own earth, his own sun and his own day and night.
So we are obliged to take an ideal earth and sun, an ideal day and
night. Their revolutions are measured exactly as we measured them on
earth, by the movements of hands on a dial marking minutes and hours.
Only our public clocks have five hands marking the revolutions of weeks,
months and years. That is our public standardized time, and all
appointments are kept, all scientific calculations made by it. The only
difference between heaven and earth is that here public space-time is
regarded as it really is—an unreal, a purely arbitrary and artificial
convention. We know, not as a result of philosophic or mathematical
reasoning, but as part of our ordinary conscious experience, that there
is no absolute space and no absolute time. I would say no _real_ space
and no real time, but that in heaven a state of consciousness carries
its own reality with it as such; and the time state or the space state
is as real as any other.

“Of course, without an arbitrary public space-time, a public clock,
states of consciousness from individual to individual could never be
co-ordinated. For example, you have come straight from Mr. Jeffreson’s
twelve-noon to my ten o’clock p.m. But the public clock, which you will
see out there in the street—we are in Königsberg; I have no visual
imagination and must rely entirely on memory for my scenery—the public
dock, I say, marks time at a quarter to eight; and if I were asking Mr.
Jeffreson to spend the evening with me, the hour would be fixed for us
by public time at eight. But he would find himself in my time at ten.

“Now I want to point out to you, Mr. Spalding, that this way of
regarding space and time is not so revolutionary as it may appear. I
said, if you remember, that under terrestrial conditions there was
apparently one earth and one sun, one day and night for everybody. But
really, even then, everybody carried about with him his own private
space and time, and his own private world in space and time. It was
only, even then, by an arbitrary system of mathematical conventions,
mostly geometrical, that all these private times and spaces were
co-ordinated, so as to constitute one universe. Public clock time, based
on the revolutions of bodies in a mathematically determined public
space, was as conventional and relative an affair on earth as it is in
heaven.

“Our private consciousnesses registered their own times automatically
then as now, by the passage of internal events. If events passed
quickly, our private time outran clock time; if they dragged, it was
behindhand.

“Thus in dream experience there are many more events to the second than
in waking experience; and consciousness registers by the tick-tick of
events, so that in a dream we may live through crowded hours and days in
the fraction of time that coincides with the knock on the door that
waked us. It is absurd to say that in this case we do not live in two
different time-systems.”

“Yes, and—” Mr. Spalding cried out excitedly—

“Einstein has proved that motion in public space-time is a purely
relative and arbitrary thing, and that the velocity, or time value, of a
ray of light moving under different conditions is a constant; when on
any theory of absolute time and absolute motion it should be a variant.”

“That,” said Kant, “is no more than I should have expected.”

“You said, sir, that the only distinction between earthly and heavenly
conditions is that this artificial character of standardized space-time
is recognized in heaven and not on earth. I should have said that the
most striking differences were, firstly, that in heaven our experience
is created for us by our imagination and our will, whereas on earth it
was, in your own word, sir, ‘given.’ Secondly that in heaven our states
are not closed as they were on earth, but that anybody can enter anybody
else’s. It seems to me that these differences are so great as to surpass
anything in our experience on earth.”

“They are not so great,” said Kant, “as all that. In dreaming you
already had an experience of a world created by each person for himself
in a space and time of his own; a world in which you transcended the
conditions of ordinary space and time. In telepathy and clairvoyance you
had experience of entering other people’s states.”

“But,” Mr. Spalding said, “on earth my consciousness was dependent on a
world apparently outside it, arising presumably in God’s consciousness,
my body being the ostensible medium. Here, on the contrary, I have my
world inside me, created by my consciousness, and my body is not so much
a medium as an accessory after the fact.”

“And what inference do you draw, Mr. Spalding?”

“Why, that on earth I was nearer God, more dependent on him than in
heaven. I seem to have become my own God.”

“Doesn’t it strike you that in becoming more god-like you are actually
nearer God? That in this power of your imagination to conceive, this
freedom of your will to create your universe, God is cutting a clearer
path for himself than through that constrained and obstructed
consciousness you had on earth?”

“That’s it. When I think of that appalling life of earth, the pain, sir,
the horrible pain, the wickedness, the imbecility, the endless
struggling through blood and filth, and being beaten, I can’t help
wondering how such things can exist in the Absolute, and why the
Absolute shouldn’t have put us—or as you would say, _thought_ us into
this heavenly state from the beginning.”

“Do you suppose that any finite intelligence—any finite will could have
been trusted, untrained, with the power we have here? Only wills
disciplined by struggling against earth’s evil, only intelligences
braced by wrestling with earth’s problems are fitted to create
universes. You may remember my enthusiasm for the moral law, my
Categorical Imperative? It is not diminished. The moral law still holds
and always will hold on earth. But I see now it is not an end in itself,
only the means to which this power, this freedom is the end.

“That is how and why pain and evil exist in the Absolute. It is obvious
that they cannot exist in it as such, being purely relative to states of
terrestrial organisms. That is why the comparatively free wills of
terrestrial organisms are permitted to create pain and evil.

“When you talk of such things existing in the Absolute, unchanged and
unabridged, you are talking nonsense. You are thinking of pain and evil
in terms of one dimension of time and three dimensions of space, by
which they are indefinitely multiplied.”

“How do you mean—one dimension of time?”

“I mean time taken as linear extension, the pure succession of past,
present and future. You think of pain and evil as indefinitely
distributed in space and indefinitely repeated in time, whereas in the
idea, which is their form of eternity, at their worst they are not many,
but one.”

“That doesn’t make them less unbearable,”

“I am not talking about that I am talking about their significance for
eternity, or in the Absolute, since you said that was what distressed
you.

“You will see this for yourself if you will come with me into the state
of three dimensional time.”

“What’s that?” said Mr. Spalding, deeply intrigued. “That,” said the
philosopher, “is time which is not linear succession, time which has
turned on itself twice to take up the past and future into its present.
For as the point is repeated to form the line of space, so the instant
is repeated to form the linear time of past, present, future. And as the
one-dimensional line turns at right angles to itself to form the
two-dimensional plane, so linear or one-dimensional time turns on itself
to form two-dimensional or plane time, the past-present, or
present-future. And as the plane turns on itself to form the cube, so
past-present and present-future double back to meet each other and form
cubic time, or past-present-future all together.

“This is the three dimensional state of consciousness we shall have to
think ourselves into.”

“Do you mean to say that if we get into it we shall have solved the
riddle of the universe?”

[Illustration]

“Hardly. The universe is a tremendous jig-saw puzzle. If God wanted to
keep us amused to all eternity, he couldn’t have hit on anything better.
We shall not be able to stay very long, or to take in _all_
past-present-future at once. But you will see enough to realize what
cubic time is. You will begin with one small cubic section, which will
gradually enlarge until you have taken in as much cubic time as you can
hold together in one duration.

“Look out through that window. You see that cart coming down the street.
It will have to pass Herr Schmidt’s house opposite and the ‘Prussian
Soldier,’ and that grocer’s shop and the clock before it gets to the
church.

“Now you’ll see what’ll happen.”


                                  III


What Mr. Spalding saw was the sudden stoppage of the cart, which now
appeared as standing simultaneously at each station, Herr Schmidt’s
house, the inn, the grocery, the clock, the church and the side street
up which it had not yet turned.

In this vision solid objects became transparent, so that he saw the side
street through the intervening houses. In the same way, distributed in
space as on a Mercator’s projection, he saw all the subsequent stations
of the cart, up to its arrival in a farmyard between a stable and a
haystack. In the same duration of time, which was his present, he saw
the townspeople moving in their houses, eating, smoking and going to
bed, and the peasants in their farms and cottages, and the household of
the Graf in his castle. These figures retained all their positions while
the amazing experience lasted.

The scene widened. It became all Königsberg, and Königsberg became all
Prussia, and Prussia all Europe. Mr. Spalding seemed to have eyes at the
sides and back of his head. He saw time rising up round him as an
immense cubic space. He was aware of the French Revolution, the
Napoleonic wars, the Franco-Prussian war, the establishment of the
French Republic, the Boer war, the death of Queen Victoria, the
accession and death of King Edward VII., the accession of King George
V., the Great War, the Russian and German Revolutions, the rise of the
Irish Republic, the Indian Republic, the British Revolution, the British
Republic, the conquest of Japan by America, and the federation of the
United States of Europe and America, all going on at once.

The scene stretched and stretched, and still Mr. Spalding kept before
him every item as it had first appeared. He was now aware of the vast
periods of geologic time. On the past side he saw the mammoth and the
caveman; on the future he saw the Atlantic flooding the North Sea and
submerging the flats of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk,
Essex, and Kent. He saw the giant tree-ferns; he saw the great saurians
trampling the marshlands and sea-beaches of the past. A flight of
fearful pterodactyls darkened the air. And he saw the ice creep down and
down from the poles to the vast temperate zone of Europe, America and
Australasia; he saw men and animals driven before it to the belt of the
equator.

And now he sank down deeper; he was swept into the stream that flowed,
thudding and throbbing, through all live things; he felt it beat in and
around him, jet after jet from the beating heart of God; he felt the
rising of the sap in trees, the delight of animals at mating-time. He
knew the joy that made Jerry, the black cat, dance on his hind legs and
bow sideways and wave his forelegs like wings. The stars whirled past
him with a noise like violin strings, and through it he heard the voice
of Paul Jeffreson, singing a song. He was aware of an immense,
all-pervading rapture pierced with stabs of pain. At the same time he
was drawn back on the ebb of life into a curious peace.

His stretch widened. He was present at the beginning and the end. He saw
the earth flung off, an incandescent ball, from the wheeling sun. He saw
it hang like a dead white moon in a sky strewn with the corpses of spent
worlds. But to his surprise he saw no darkness. He learned that light is
older than the suns; that they are born of it, not it of them. The whole
universe stood up on end round him, doubling all its future back upon
all its past.

He saw the vast planes of time intersecting each other, like the planes
of a sphere, wheeling, turning in and out of each other. He saw other
space and time systems rising up, toppling, enclosing and enclosed. And
as a tiny inset in the immense scene, his own life from birth to the
present moment, together with the events of his heavenly life to come.
In this vision Elizabeth’s adultery, which had once appeared so
monstrous, so overpowering an event, was revealed as slender and
insignificant.

And now the universe dissolved into the ultimate constituents of matter,
electrons of electrons of electrons, an unseen web, intensely vibrating,
stretched through all space and all time. He saw it sucked back into the
space of space, the time of time, into the thought of God.

Mr. Spalding was drawn in with it. He passed from God’s immanent to his
transcendent life, into the Absolute. For one moment he thought that
this was death; the next his whole being swelled and went on swelling in
an unspeakable, an unthinkable bliss.

Joined with him, vibrating with him in one tremendous rapture, were the
spirits of Elizabeth and Paul Jeffreson. He had now no memory of their
adultery or of his own.

When he came out of his ecstasy he was aware that God was spinning his
thought again, stretching the web of matter through space and time.

He was going to make another jig-saw puzzle of a universe.


                               PRINTED AT
                        THE CHAPEL RIVER PRESS,
                           KINGSTON, SURREY.





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