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Title: Visible and Invisible
Author: Benson, E. F. (Edward Frederic)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE

by

E. F. BENSON .  . Author of

“Dodo Wonders,” “Miss Mapp,” “Colin,” etc.  ::  ::



London: Hutchinson and Co.
Paternoster Row, E.C.

Printed in Great Britain
at the Pitman Press, Bath



CONTENTS


                             PAGE

  “AND THE DEAD SPAKE----”      7

  THE OUTCAST                  37

  THE HORROR-HORN              63

  MACHAON                      83

  NEGOTIUM PERAMBULANS        107

  AT THE FARMHOUSE            131

  INSCRUTABLE DECREES         155

  THE GARDENER                177

  MR. TILLY’S SÉANCE          199

  MRS. AMWORTH                223

  IN THE TUBE                 247

  RODERICK’S STORY            269



“And the Dead Spake----”



“And the Dead Spake----”


There is not in all London a quieter spot, or one, apparently, more
withdrawn from the heat and bustle of life than Newsome Terrace. It is
a cul-de-sac, for at the upper end the roadway between its two lines
of square, compact little residences is brought to an end by a high
brick wall, while at the lower end, the only access to it is through
Newsome Square, that small discreet oblong of Georgian houses, a relic
of the time when Kensington was a suburban village sundered from the
metropolis by a stretch of pastures stretching to the river. Both
square and terrace are most inconveniently situated for those whose
ideal environment includes a rank of taxicabs immediately opposite
their door, a spate of ’buses roaring down the street, and a procession
of underground trains, accessible by a station a few yards away,
shaking and rattling the cutlery and silver on their dining tables. In
consequence Newsome Terrace had come, two years ago, to be inhabited
by leisurely and retired folk or by those who wished to pursue their
work in quiet and tranquillity. Children with hoops and scooters are
phenomena rarely encountered in the Terrace and dogs are equally
uncommon.

In front of each of the couple of dozen houses of which the Terrace
is composed lies a little square of railinged garden, in which you
may often see the middle-aged or elderly mistress of the residence
horticulturally employed. By five o’clock of a winter’s evening
the pavements will generally be empty of all passengers except the
policeman, who with felted step, at intervals throughout the night,
peers with his bull’s-eye into these small front gardens, and never
finds anything more suspicious there than an early crocus or an
aconite. For by the time it is dark the inhabitants of the Terrace have
got themselves home, where behind drawn curtains and bolted shutters
they will pass a domestic and uninterrupted evening. No funeral (up to
the time I speak of) had I ever seen leave the Terrace, no marriage
party had strewed its pavements with confetti, and perambulators were
unknown. It and its inhabitants seemed to be quietly mellowing like
bottles of sound wine. No doubt there was stored within them the
sunshine and summer of youth long past, and now, dozing in a cool
place, they waited for the turn of the key in the cellar door, and the
entry of one who would draw them forth and see what they were worth.

Yet, after the time of which I shall now speak, I have never
passed down its pavement without wondering whether each house, so
seemingly-tranquil, is not, like some dynamo, softly and smoothly
bringing into being vast and terrible forces, such as those I once
saw at work in the last house at the upper end of the Terrace, the
quietest, you would have said, of all the row. Had you observed it with
continuous scrutiny, for all the length of a summer day, it is quite
possible that you might have only seen issue from it in the morning
an elderly woman whom you would have rightly conjectured to be the
housekeeper, with her basket for marketing on her arm, who returned
an hour later. Except for her the entire day might often pass without
there being either ingress or egress from the door. Occasionally a
middle-aged man, lean and wiry, came swiftly down the pavement, but
his exit was by no means a daily occurrence, and indeed when he did
emerge, he broke the almost universal usage of the Terrace, for his
appearances took place, when such there were, between nine and ten in
the evening. At that hour sometimes he would come round to my house
in Newsome Square to see if I was at home and inclined for a talk a
little later on. For the sake of air and exercise he would then have an
hour’s tramp through the lit and noisy streets, and return about ten,
still pale and unflushed, for one of those talks which grew to have
an absorbing fascination for me. More rarely through the telephone I
proposed that I should drop in on him: this I did not often do, since I
found that if he did not come out himself, it implied that he was busy
with some investigation, and though he made me welcome, I could easily
see that he burned for my departure, so that he might get busy with his
batteries and pieces of tissue, hot on the track of discoveries that
never yet had presented themselves to the mind of man as coming within
the horizon of possibility.

My last sentence may have led the reader to guess that I am indeed
speaking of none other than that recluse and mysterious physicist Sir
James Horton, with whose death a hundred half-hewn avenues into the
dark forest from which life comes must wait completion till another
pioneer as bold as he takes up the axe which hitherto none but
himself has been able to wield. Probably there was never a man to whom
humanity owed more, and of whom humanity knew less. He seemed utterly
independent of the race to whom (though indeed with no service of love)
he devoted himself: for years he lived aloof and apart in his house
at the end of the Terrace. Men and women were to him like fossils to
the geologist, things to be tapped and hammered and dissected and
studied with a view not only to the reconstruction of past ages, but
to construction in the future. It is known, for instance, that he made
an artificial being formed of the tissue, still living, of animals
lately killed, with the brain of an ape and the heart of a bullock,
and a sheep’s thyroid, and so forth. Of that I can give no first-hand
account; Horton, it is true, told me something about it, and in his
will directed that certain memoranda on the subject should on his death
be sent to me. But on the bulky envelope there is the direction, “Not
to be opened till January, 1925.” He spoke with some reserve and, so I
think, with slight horror at the strange things which had happened on
the completion of this creature. It evidently made him uncomfortable
to talk about it, and for that reason I fancy he put what was then a
rather remote date to the day when his record should reach my eye.
Finally, in these preliminaries, for the last five years before the
war, he had scarcely entered, for the sake of companionship, any
house other than his own and mine. Ours was a friendship dating from
school-days, which he had never suffered to drop entirely, but I doubt
if in those years he spoke except on matters of business to half a
dozen other people. He had already retired from surgical practice in
which his skill was unapproached, and most completely now did he avoid
the slightest intercourse with his colleagues, whom he regarded as
ignorant pedants without courage or the rudiments of knowledge. Now
and then he would write an epoch-making little monograph, which he
flung to them like a bone to a starving dog, but for the most part,
utterly absorbed in his own investigations, he left them to grope along
unaided. He frankly told me that he enjoyed talking to me about such
subjects, since I was utterly unacquainted with them. It clarified his
mind to be obliged to put his theories and guesses and confirmations
with such simplicity that anyone could understand them.

I well remember his coming in to see me on the evening of the 4th of
August, 1914.

“So the war has broken out,” he said, “and the streets are impassable
with excited crowds. Odd, isn’t it? Just as if each of us already was
not a far more murderous battlefield than any which can be conceived
between warring nations.”

“How’s that?” said I.

“Let me try to put it plainly, though it isn’t that I want to talk
about. Your blood is one eternal battlefield. It is full of armies
eternally marching and counter-marching. As long as the armies friendly
to you are in a superior position, you remain in good health; if a
detachment of microbes that, if suffered to establish themselves,
would give you a cold in the head, entrench themselves in your mucous
membrane, the commander-in-chief sends a regiment down and drives them
out. He doesn’t give his orders from your brain, mind you--those aren’t
his headquarters, for your brain knows nothing about the landing of the
enemy till they have made good their position and given you a cold.”

He paused a moment.

“There isn’t one headquarters inside you,” he said, “there are many.
For instance, I killed a frog this morning; at least most people would
say I killed it. But had I killed it, though its head lay in one place
and its severed body in another? Not a bit: I had only killed a piece
of it. For I opened the body afterwards and took out the heart, which
I put in a sterilised chamber of suitable temperature, so that it
wouldn’t get cold or be infected by any microbe. That was about twelve
o’clock to-day. And when I came out just now, the heart was beating
still. It was alive, in fact. That’s full of suggestions, you know.
Come and see it.”

The Terrace had been stirred into volcanic activity by the news of war:
the vendor of some late edition had penetrated into its quietude, and
there were half a dozen parlour-maids fluttering about like black and
white moths. But once inside Horton’s door isolation as of an Arctic
night seemed to close round me. He had forgotten his latch-key, but
his housekeeper, then newly come to him, who became so regular and
familiar a figure in the Terrace, must have heard his step, for before
he rang the bell she had opened the door, and stood with his forgotten
latch-key in her hand.

“Thanks, Mrs. Gabriel,” said he, and without a sound the door shut
behind us. Both her name and face, as reproduced in some illustrated
daily paper, seemed familiar, rather terribly familiar, but before I
had time to grope for the association, Horton supplied it.

“Tried for the murder of her husband six months ago,” he said. “Odd
case. The point is that she is the one and perfect housekeeper. I once
had four servants, and everything was all mucky, as we used to say
at school. Now I live in amazing comfort and propriety with one. She
does everything. She is cook, valet, housemaid, butler, and won’t have
anyone to help her. No doubt she killed her husband, but she planned it
so well that she could not be convicted. She told me quite frankly who
she was when I engaged her.”

Of course I remembered the whole trial vividly now. Her husband, a
morose, quarrelsome fellow, tipsy as often as sober, had, according
to the defence cut his own throat while shaving; according to the
prosecution, she had done that for him. There was the usual discrepancy
of evidence as to whether the wound could have been self-inflicted,
and the prosecution tried to prove that the face had been lathered
after his throat had been cut. So singular an exhibition of forethought
and nerve had hurt rather than helped their case, and after prolonged
deliberation on the part of the jury, she had been acquitted. Yet not
less singular was Horton’s selection of a probable murderess, however
efficient, as housekeeper.

He anticipated this reflection.

“Apart from the wonderful comfort of having a perfectly appointed and
absolutely silent house,” he said, “I regard Mrs. Gabriel as a sort
of insurance against my being murdered. If you had been tried for
your life, you would take very especial care not to find yourself in
suspicious proximity to a murdered body again: no more deaths in your
house, if you could help it. Come through to my laboratory, and look at
my little instance of life after death.”

Certainly it was amazing to see that little piece of tissue still
pulsating with what must be called life; it contracted and expanded
faintly indeed but perceptibly, though for nine hours now it had been
severed from the rest of the organisation. All by itself it went on
living, and if the heart could go on living with nothing, you would
say, to feed and stimulate its energy, there must also, so reasoned
Horton, reside in all the other vital organs of the body other
independent focuses of life.

“Of course a severed organ like that,” he said, “will run down quicker
than if it had the co-operation of the others, and presently I shall
apply a gentle electric stimulus to it. If I can keep that glass bowl
under which it beats at the temperature of a frog’s body, in sterilised
air, I don’t see why it should not go on living. Food--of course
there’s the question of feeding it. Do you see what that opens up in
the way of surgery? Imagine a shop with glass cases containing healthy
organs taken from the dead. Say a man dies of pneumonia. He should, as
soon as ever the breath is out of his body, be dissected, and though
they would, of course, destroy his lungs, as they will be full of
pneumococci, his liver and digestive organs are probably healthy. Take
them out, keep them in a sterilised atmosphere with the temperature
at 98·4, and sell the liver, let us say, to another poor devil who has
cancer there. Fit him with a new healthy liver, eh?”

“And insert the brain of someone who has died of heart disease into the
skull of a congenital idiot?” I asked.

“Yes, perhaps; but the brain’s tiresomely complicated in its
connections and the joining up of the nerves, you know. Surgery will
have to learn a lot before it fits new brains in. And the brain has got
such a lot of functions. All thinking, all inventing seem to belong to
it, though, as you have seen, the heart can get on quite well without
it. But there are other functions of the brain I want to study first.
I’ve been trying some experiments already.”

He made some little readjustment to the flame of the spirit lamp which
kept at the right temperature the water that surrounded the sterilised
receptacle in which the frog’s heart was beating.

“Start with the more simple and mechanical uses of the brain,” he said.
“Primarily it is a sort of record office, a diary. Say that I rap your
knuckles with that ruler. What happens? The nerves there send a message
to the brain, of course, saying--how can I put it most simply--saying,
‘Somebody is hurting me.’ And the eye sends another, saying ‘I perceive
a ruler hitting my knuckles,’ and the ear sends another, saying ‘I hear
the rap of it.’ But leaving all that alone, what else happens? Why, the
brain records it. It makes a note of your knuckles having been hit.”

He had been moving about the room as he spoke, taking off his coat and
waistcoat and putting on in their place a thin black dressing-gown,
and by now he was seated in his favourite attitude cross-legged on the
hearthrug, looking like some magician or perhaps the afrit which a
magician of black arts had caused to appear. He was thinking intently
now, passing through his fingers his string of amber beads, and talking
more to himself than to me.

“And how does it make that note?” he went on. “Why, in the manner in
which phonograph records are made. There are millions of minute dots,
depressions, pockmarks on your brain which certainly record what you
remember, what you have enjoyed or disliked, or done or said. The
surface of the brain anyhow is large enough to furnish writing-paper
for the record of all these things, of all your memories. If the
impression of an experience has not been acute, the dot is not sharply
impressed, and the record fades: in other words, you come to forget it.
But if it has been vividly impressed, the record is never obliterated.
Mrs. Gabriel, for instance, won’t lose the impression of how she
lathered her husband’s face after she had cut his throat. That’s to
say, if she did it.”

“Now do you see what I’m driving at? Of course you do. There is stored
within a man’s head the complete record of all the memorable things
he has done and said: there are all his thoughts there, and all his
speeches, and, most well-marked of all, his habitual thoughts and the
things he has often said; for habit, there is reason to believe, wears
a sort of rut in the brain, so that the life-principle, whatever it is,
as it gropes and steals about the brain, is continually stumbling into
it. There’s your record, your gramophone plate all ready. What we want,
and what I’m trying to arrive at, is a needle which, as it traces its
minute way over these dots, will come across words or sentences which
the dead have uttered, and will reproduce them. My word, what Judgment
Books! What a resurrection!”

Here in this withdrawn situation no remotest echo of the excitement
which was seething through the streets penetrated; through the open
window there came in only the tide of the midnight silence. But from
somewhere closer at hand, through the wall surely of the laboratory,
there came a low, somewhat persistent murmur.

“Perhaps our needle--unhappily not yet invented--as it passed over the
record of speech in the brain, might induce even facial expression,” he
said. “Enjoyment or horror might even pass over dead features. There
might be gestures and movements even, as the words were reproduced
in our gramophone of the dead. Some people when they want to think
intensely walk about: some, there’s an instance of it audible now, talk
to themselves aloud.”

He held up his finger for silence.

“Yes, that’s Mrs. Gabriel,” he said. “She talks to herself by the hour
together. She’s always done that, she tells me. I shouldn’t wonder if
she has plenty to talk about.”

It was that night when, first of all, the notion of intense activity
going on below the placid house-fronts of the Terrace occurred to me.
None looked more quiet than this, and yet there was seething here
a volcanic activity and intensity of living, both in the man who
sat cross-legged on the floor and behind that voice just audible
through the partition wall. But I thought of that no more, for Horton
began speaking of the brain-gramophone again.... Were it possible to
trace those infinitesimal dots and pockmarks in the brain by some
needle exquisitely fine, it might follow that by the aid of some such
contrivance as translated the pockmarks on a gramophone record into
sound, some audible rendering of speech might be recovered from the
brain of a dead man. It was necessary, so he pointed out to me, that
this strange gramophone record should be new; it must be that of one
lately dead, for corruption and decay would soon obliterate these
infinitesimal markings. He was not of opinion that unspoken thought
could be thus recovered: the utmost he hoped for from his pioneering
work was to be able to recapture actual speech, especially when such
speech had habitually dwelt on one subject, and thus had worn a rut on
that part of the brain known as the speech-centre.

“Let me get, for instance,” he said, “the brain of a railway porter,
newly dead, who has been accustomed for years to call out the name
of a station, and I do not despair of hearing his voice through my
gramophone trumpet. Or again, given that Mrs. Gabriel, in all her
interminable conversations with herself, talks about one subject, I
might, in similar circumstances, recapture what she had been constantly
saying. Of course my instrument must be of a power and delicacy still
unknown, one of which the needle can trace the minutest irregularities
of surface, and of which the trumpet must be of immense magnifying
power, able to translate the smallest whisper into a shout. But just as
a microscope will show you the details of an object invisible to the
eye, so there are instruments which act in the same way on sound. Here,
for instance, is one of remarkable magnifying power. Try it if you
like.”

He took me over to a table on which was standing an electric battery
connected with a round steel globe, out of the side of which sprang a
gramophone trumpet of curious construction. He adjusted the battery,
and directed me to click my fingers quite gently opposite an aperture
in the globe, and the noise, ordinarily scarcely audible, resounded
through the room like a thunderclap.

“Something of that sort might permit us to hear the record on a brain,”
he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

After this night my visits to Horton became far more common than they
had hitherto been. Having once admitted me into the region of his
strange explorations, he seemed to welcome me there. Partly, as he had
said, it clarified his own thought to put it into simple language,
partly, as he subsequently admitted, he was beginning to penetrate
into such lonely fields of knowledge by paths so utterly untrodden,
that even he, the most aloof and independent of mankind, wanted some
human presence near him. Despite his utter indifference to the issues
of the war--for, in his regard, issues far more crucial demanded his
energies--he offered himself as surgeon to a London hospital for
operations on the brain, and his services, naturally, were welcomed,
for none brought knowledge or skill like his to such work. Occupied
all day, he performed miracles of healing, with bold and dexterous
excisions which none but he would have dared to attempt. He would
operate, often successfully, for lesions that seemed certainly fatal,
and all the time he was learning. He refused to accept any salary;
he only asked, in cases where he had removed pieces of brain matter,
to take these away, in order by further examination and dissection,
to add to the knowledge and manipulative skill which he devoted to
the wounded. He wrapped these morsels in sterilised lint, and took
them back to the Terrace in a box, electrically heated to maintain
the normal temperature of a man’s blood. His fragment might then, so
he reasoned, keep some sort of independent life of its own, even as
the severed heart of a frog had continued to beat for hours without
connection with the rest of the body. Then for half the night he would
continue to work on these sundered pieces of tissue scarcely dead,
which his operations during the day had given him. Simultaneously, he
was busy over the needle that must be of such infinite delicacy.

One evening, fatigued with a long day’s work, I had just heard with a
certain tremor of uneasy anticipation the whistles of warning which
heralded an air-raid, when my telephone bell rang. My servants,
according to custom, had already betaken themselves to the cellar,
and I went to see what the summons was, determined in any case not to
go out into the streets. I recognised Horton’s voice. “I want you at
once,” he said.

“But the warning whistles have gone,” said I, “And I don’t like
showers of shrapnel.”

“Oh, never mind that,” said he. “You must come. I’m so excited that I
distrust the evidence of my own ears. I want a witness. Just come.”

He did not pause for my reply, for I heard the click of his receiver
going back into its place. Clearly he assumed that I was coming, and
that I suppose had the effect of suggestion on my mind. I told myself
that I would not go, but in a couple of minutes his certainty that I
was coming, coupled with the prospect of being interested in something
else than air-raids, made me fidget in my chair and eventually go to
the street door and look out. The moon was brilliantly bright, the
square quite empty, and far away the coughings of very distant guns.
Next moment, almost against my will, I was running down the deserted
pavements of Newsome Terrace. My ring at his bell was answered by
Horton, before Mrs. Gabriel could come to the door, and he positively
dragged me in.

“I shan’t tell you a word of what I am doing,” he said. “I want you to
tell me what you hear. Come into the laboratory.”

The remote guns were silent again as I sat myself, as directed, in a
chair close to the gramophone trumpet, but suddenly through the wall I
heard the familiar mutter of Mrs. Gabriel’s voice. Horton, already busy
with his battery, sprang to his feet.

“That won’t do,” he said. “I want absolute silence.”

He went out of the room, and I heard him calling to her. While he was
gone I observed more closely what was on the table. Battery, round
steel globe, and gramophone trumpet were there, and some sort of a
needle on a spiral steel spring linked up with the battery and the
glass vessel, in which I had seen the frog’s heart beat. In it now
there lay a fragment of grey matter.

Horton came back in a minute or two, and stood in the middle of the
room listening.

“That’s better,” he said. “Now I want you to listen at the mouth of the
trumpet. I’ll answer any questions afterwards.”

With my ear turned to the trumpet, I could see nothing of what he was
doing, and I listened till the silence became a rustling in my ears.
Then suddenly that rustling ceased, for it was overscored by a whisper
which undoubtedly came from the aperture on which my aural attention
was fixed. It was no more than the faintest murmur, and though no words
were audible, it had the timbre of a human voice.

“Well, do you hear anything?” asked Horton.

“Yes, something very faint, scarcely audible.”

“Describe it,” said he.

“Somebody whispering.”

“I’ll try a fresh place,” said he.

The silence descended again; the mutter of the distant guns was still
mute, and some slight creaking from my shirt front, as I breathed,
alone broke it. And then the whispering from the gramophone trumpet
began again, this time much louder than it had been before--it was
as if the speaker (still whispering) had advanced a dozen yards--but
still blurred and indistinct. More unmistakable, too, was it that the
whisper was that of a human voice, and every now and then, whether
fancifully or not, I thought I caught a word or two. For a moment it
was silent altogether, and then with a sudden inkling of what I was
listening to I heard something begin to sing. Though the words were
still inaudible there was melody, and the tune was “Tipperary.” From
that convolvulus-shaped trumpet there came two bars of it.

“And what do you hear now?” cried Horton with a crack of exultation in
his voice. “Singing, singing! That’s the tune they all sang. Fine music
that from a dead man. Encore! you say? Yes, wait a second, and he’ll
sing it again for you. Confound it, I can’t get on to the place. Ah!
I’ve got it: listen again.”

Surely that was the strangest manner of song ever yet heard on the
earth, this melody from the brain of the dead. Horror and fascination
strove within me, and I suppose the first for the moment prevailed, for
with a shudder I jumped up.

“Stop it!” I said. “It’s terrible.”

His face, thin and eager, gleamed in the strong ray of the lamp which
he had placed close to him. His hand was on the metal rod from which
depended the spiral spring and the needle, which just rested on that
fragment of grey stuff which I had seen in the glass vessel.

“Yes, I’m going to stop it now,” he said, “or the germs will be getting
at my gramophone record, or the record will get cold. See, I spray it
with carbolic vapour, I put it back into its nice warm bed. It will
sing to us again. But terrible? What do you mean by terrible?”

Indeed, when he asked that I scarcely knew myself what I meant. I had
been witness to a new marvel of science as wonderful perhaps as any
that had ever astounded the beholder, and my nerves--these childish
whimperers--had cried out at the darkness and the profundity. But
the horror diminished, the fascination increased as he quite shortly
told me the history of this phenomenon. He had attended that day and
operated upon a young soldier in whose brain was embedded a piece of
shrapnel. The boy was _in extremis_, but Horton had hoped for the
possibility of saving him. To extract the shrapnel was the only chance,
and this involved the cutting away of a piece of brain known as the
speech-centre, and taking from it what was embedded there. But the hope
was not realised, and two hours later the boy died. It was to this
fragment of brain that, when Horton returned home, he had applied the
needle of his gramophone, and had obtained the faint whisperings which
had caused him to ring me up, so that he might have a witness of this
wonder. Witness I had been, not to these whisperings alone, but to the
fragment of singing.

“And this is but the first step on the new road,” said he. “Who knows
where it may lead, or to what new temple of knowledge it may not be the
avenue? Well, it is late: I shall do no more to-night. What about the
raid, by the way?”

To my amazement I saw that the time was verging on midnight. Two hours
had elapsed since he let me in at his door; they had passed like a
couple of minutes. Next morning some neighbours spoke of the prolonged
firing that had gone on, of which I had been wholly unconscious.

Week after week Horton worked on this new road of research, perfecting
the sensitiveness and subtlety of the needle, and, by vastly increasing
the power of his batteries, enlarging the magnifying power of his
trumpet. Many and many an evening during the next year did I listen to
voices that were dumb in death, and the sounds which had been blurred
and unintelligible mutterings in the earlier experiments, developed,
as the delicacy of his mechanical devices increased, into coherence
and clear articulation. It was no longer necessary to impose silence
on Mrs. Gabriel when the gramophone was at work, for now the voice we
listened to had risen to the pitch of ordinary human utterance, while
as for the faithfulness and individuality of these records, striking
testimony was given more than once by some living friend of the dead,
who, without knowing what he was about to hear, recognised the tones
of the speaker. More than once also, Mrs. Gabriel, bringing in syphons
and whisky, provided us with three glasses, for she had heard, so she
told us, three different voices in talk. But for the present no fresh
phenomenon occurred: Horton was but perfecting the mechanism of his
previous discovery and, rather grudging the time, was scribbling at a
monograph, which presently he would toss to his colleagues, concerning
the results he had already obtained. And then, even while Horton was on
the threshold of new wonders, which he had already foreseen and spoken
of as theoretically possible, there came an evening of marvel and of
swift catastrophe.

I had dined with him that day, Mrs. Gabriel deftly serving the meal
that she had so daintily prepared, and towards the end, as she was
clearing the table for our dessert, she stumbled, I supposed, on a
loose edge of carpet, quickly recovering herself. But instantly Horton
checked some half-finished sentence, and turned to her.

“You’re all right, Mrs. Gabriel?” he asked quickly.

“Yes, sir, thank you,” said she, and went on with her serving.

“As I was saying,” began Horton again, but his attention clearly
wandered, and without concluding his narrative, he relapsed into
silence, till Mrs. Gabriel had given us our coffee and left the room.

“I’m sadly afraid my domestic felicity may be disturbed,” he said.
“Mrs. Gabriel had an epileptic fit yesterday, and she confessed when
she recovered that she had been subject to them when a child, and since
then had occasionally experienced them.”

“Dangerous, then?” I asked.

“In themselves not in the least,” said he. “If she was sitting in
her chair or lying in bed when one occurred, there would be nothing
to trouble about. But if one occurred while she was cooking my dinner
or beginning to come downstairs, she might fall into the fire or
tumble down the whole flight. We’ll hope no such deplorable calamity
will happen. Now, if you’ve finished your coffee, let us go into the
laboratory. Not that I’ve got anything very interesting in the way of
new records. But I’ve introduced a second battery with a very strong
induction coil into my apparatus. I find that if I link it up with my
record, given that the record is a--a fresh one, it stimulates certain
nerve centres. It’s odd, isn’t it, that the same forces which so
encourage the dead to live would certainly encourage the living to die,
if a man received the full current. One has to be careful in handling
it. Yes, and what then? you ask.”

The night was very hot, and he threw the windows wide before he settled
himself cross-legged on the floor.

“I’ll answer your question for you,” he said, “though I believe we’ve
talked of it before. Supposing I had not a fragment of brain-tissue
only, but a whole head, let us say, or best of all, a complete corpse,
I think I could expect to produce more than mere speech through the
gramophone. The dead lips themselves perhaps might utter--God! what’s
that?”

From close outside, at the bottom of the stairs leading from the dining
room which we had just quitted to the laboratory where we now sat,
there came a crash of glass followed by the fall as of something heavy
which bumped from step to step, and was finally flung on the threshold
against the door with the sound as of knuckles rapping at it, and
demanding admittance. Horton sprang up and threw the door open, and
there lay, half inside the room and half on the landing outside, the
body of Mrs. Gabriel. Round her were splinters of broken bottles and
glasses, and from a cut in her forehead, as she lay ghastly with face
upturned, the blood trickled into her thick grey hair.

Horton was on his knees beside her, dabbing his handkerchief on her
forehead.

“Ah! that’s not serious,” he said; “there’s neither vein nor artery
cut. I’ll just bind that up first.”

He tore his handkerchief into strips which he tied together, and made a
dexterous bandage covering the lower part of her forehead, but leaving
her eyes unobscured. They stared with a fixed meaningless steadiness,
and he scrutinised them closely.

“But there’s worse yet,” he said. “There’s been some severe blow on the
head. Help me to carry her into the laboratory. Get round to her feet
and lift underneath the knees when I am ready. There! Now put your arm
right under her and carry her.”

Her head swung limply back as he lifted her shoulders, and he propped
it up against his knee, where it mutely nodded and bowed, as his leg
moved, as if in silent assent to what we were doing, and the mouth, at
the extremity of which there had gathered a little lather, lolled open.
He still supported her shoulders as I fetched a cushion on which to
place her head, and presently she was lying close to the low table on
which stood the gramophone of the dead. Then with light deft fingers he
passed his hands over her skull, pausing as he came to the spot just
above and behind her right ear. Twice and again his fingers groped and
lightly pressed, while with shut eyes and concentrated attention he
interpreted what his trained touch revealed.

“Her skull is broken to fragments just here,” he said. “In the middle
there is a piece completely severed from the rest, and the edges of the
cracked pieces must be pressing on her brain.”

Her right arm was lying palm upwards on the floor, and with one hand he
felt her wrist with finger-tips.

“Not a sign of pulse,” he said. “She’s dead in the ordinary sense
of the word. But life persists in an extraordinary manner, you may
remember. She can’t be wholly dead: no one is wholly dead in a moment,
unless every organ is blown to bits. But she soon will be dead, if we
don’t relieve the pressure on the brain. That’s the first thing to
be done. While I’m busy at that, shut the window, will you, and make
up the fire. In this sort of case the vital heat, whatever that is,
leaves the body very quickly. Make the room as hot as you can--fetch an
oil-stove, and turn on the electric radiator, and stoke up a roaring
fire. The hotter the room is the more slowly will the heat of life
leave her.”

Already he had opened his cabinet of surgical instruments, and taken
out of it two drawers full of bright steel which he laid on the floor
beside her. I heard the grating chink of scissors severing her long
grey hair, and as I busied myself with laying and lighting the fire
in the hearth, and kindling the oil-stove, which I found, by Horton’s
directions, in the pantry, I saw that his lancet was busy on the
exposed skin. He had placed some vaporising spray, heated by a spirit
lamp close to her head, and as he worked its fizzing nozzle filled the
air with some clean and aromatic odour. Now and then he threw out an
order.

“Bring me that electric lamp on the long cord,” he said. “I haven’t
got enough light. Don’t look at what I’m doing if you’re squeamish, for
if it makes you feel faint, I shan’t be able to attend to you.”

I suppose that violent interest in what he was doing overcame any qualm
that I might have had, for I looked quite unflinching over his shoulder
as I moved the lamp about till it was in such a place that it threw its
beam directly into a dark hole at the edge of which depended a flap
of skin. Into this he put his forceps, and as he withdrew them they
grasped a piece of blood-stained bone.

“That’s better,” he said, “and the room’s warming up well. But there’s
no sign of pulse yet. Go on stoking, will you, till the thermometer on
the wall there registers a hundred degrees.”

When next, on my journey from the coal-cellar, I looked, two more
pieces of bone lay beside the one I had seen extracted, and presently
referring to the thermometer, I saw that between the oil-stove and
the roaring fire and the electric radiator, I had raised the room to
the temperature he wanted. Soon, peering fixedly at the seat of his
operation, he felt for her pulse again.

“Not a sign of returning vitality,” he said, “and I’ve done all I can.
There’s nothing more possible that can be devised to restore her.”

As he spoke the zeal of the unrivalled surgeon relaxed, and with a sigh
and a shrug he rose to his feet and mopped his face. Then suddenly the
fire and eagerness blazed there again. “The gramophone!” he said. “The
speech centre is close to where I’ve been working, and it is quite
uninjured. Good heavens, what a wonderful opportunity. She served me
well living, and she shall serve me dead. And I can stimulate the motor
nerve-centre, too, with the second battery. We may see a new wonder
to-night.”

Some qualm of horror shook me.

“No, don’t!” I said. “It’s terrible: she’s just dead. I shall go if you
do.”

“But I’ve got exactly all the conditions I have long been wanting,”
said he. “And I simply can’t spare you. You must be witness: I must
have a witness. Why, man, there’s not a surgeon or a physiologist in
the kingdom who would not give an eye or an ear to be in your place
now. She’s dead. I pledge you my honour on that, and it’s grand to be
dead if you can help the living.”

Once again, in a far fiercer struggle, horror and the intensest
curiosity strove together in me.

“Be quick, then,” said I.

“Ha! That’s right,” exclaimed Horton. “Help me to lift her on to the
table by the gramophone. The cushion too; I can get at the place more
easily with her head a little raised.”

He turned on the battery and with the movable light close beside him,
brilliantly illuminating what he sought, he inserted the needle of the
gramophone into the jagged aperture in her skull. For a few minutes,
as he groped and explored there, there was silence, and then quite
suddenly Mrs. Gabriel’s voice, clear and unmistakable and of the normal
loudness of human speech, issued from the trumpet.

“Yes, I always said that I’d be even with him,” came the articulated
syllables. “He used to knock me about, he did, when he came home
drunk, and often I was black and blue with bruises. But I’ll give him a
redness for the black and blue.”

The record grew blurred; instead of articulate words there came from
it a gobbling noise. By degrees that cleared, and we were listening to
some dreadful suppressed sort of laughter, hideous to hear. On and on
it went.

“I’ve got into some sort of rut,” said Horton. “She must have laughed a
lot to herself.”

For a long time we got nothing more except the repetition of the words
we had already heard and the sound of that suppressed laughter. Then
Horton drew towards him the second battery.

“I’ll try a stimulation of the motor nerve-centres,” he said. “Watch
her face.”

He propped the gramophone needle in position, and inserted into the
fractured skull the two poles of the second battery, moving them about
there very carefully. And as I watched her face, I saw with a freezing
horror that her lips were beginning to move.

“Her mouth’s moving,” I cried. “She can’t be dead.”

He peered into her face.

“Nonsense,” he said. “That’s only the stimulus from the current. She’s
been dead half an hour. Ah! what’s coming now?”

The lips lengthened into a smile, the lower jaw dropped, and from her
mouth came the laughter we had heard just now through the gramophone.
And then the dead mouth spoke, with a mumble of unintelligible words, a
bubbling torrent of incoherent syllables.

“I’ll turn the full current on,” he said.

The head jerked and raised itself, the lips struggled for utterance,
and suddenly she spoke swiftly and distinctly.

“Just when he’d got his razor out,” she said, “I came up behind him,
and put my hand over his face, and bent his neck back over his chair
with all my strength. And I picked up his razor and with one slit--ha,
ha, that was the way to pay him out. And I didn’t lose my head, but I
lathered his chin well, and put the razor in his hand, and left him
there, and went downstairs and cooked his dinner for him, and then an
hour afterwards, as he didn’t come down, up I went to see what kept
him. It was a nasty cut in his neck that had kept him----”

Horton suddenly withdrew the two poles of the battery from her head,
and even in the middle of her word the mouth ceased working, and lay
rigid and open.

“By God!” he said. “There’s a tale for dead lips to tell. But we’ll get
more yet.”

Exactly what happened then I never knew. It appeared to me that as he
still leaned over the table with the two poles of the battery in his
hand, his foot slipped, and he fell forward across it. There came a
sharp crack, and a flash of blue dazzling light, and there he lay face
downwards, with arms that just stirred and quivered. With his fall the
two poles that must momentarily have come into contact with his hand
were jerked away again, and I lifted him and laid him on the floor. But
his lips as well as those of the dead woman had spoken for the last
time.



The Outcast



The Outcast


When Mrs. Acres bought the Gate-house at Tarleton, which had stood so
long without a tenant, and appeared in that very agreeable and lively
little town as a resident, sufficient was already known about her past
history to entitle her to friendliness and sympathy. Hers had been a
tragic story, and the account of the inquest held on her husband’s
body, when, within a month of their marriage, he had shot himself
before her eyes, was recent enough, and of as full a report in the
papers as to enable our little community of Tarleton to remember and
run over the salient grimness of the case without the need of inventing
any further details--which, otherwise, it would have been quite capable
of doing.

Briefly, then, the facts had been as follows. Horace Acres appeared to
have been a heartless fortune-hunter--a handsome, plausible wretch,
ten years younger than his wife. He had made no secret to his friends
of not being in love with her but of having a considerable regard for
her more than considerable fortune. But hardly had he married her than
his indifference developed into violent dislike, accompanied by some
mysterious, inexplicable dread of her. He hated and feared her, and on
the morning of the very day when he had put an end to himself he had
begged her to divorce him; the case he promised would be undefended,
and he would make it indefensible. She, poor soul, had refused to grant
this; for, as corroborated by the evidence of friends and servants,
she was utterly devoted to him, and stated with that quiet dignity
which distinguished her throughout this ordeal, that she hoped that he
was the victim of some miserable but temporary derangement, and would
come to his right mind again. He had dined that night at his club,
leaving his month-old bride to pass the evening alone, and had returned
between eleven and twelve that night in a state of vile intoxication.
He had gone up to her bedroom, pistol in hand, had locked the door,
and his voice was heard screaming and yelling at her. Then followed
the sound of one shot. On the table in his dressing-room was found a
half-sheet of paper, dated that day, and this was read out in court.
“The horror of my position,” he had written, “is beyond description
and endurance. I can bear it no longer: my soul sickens....” The
jury, without leaving the court, returned the verdict that he had
committed suicide while temporarily insane, and the coroner, at their
request, expressed their sympathy and his own with the poor lady, who,
as testified on all hands, had treated her husband with the utmost
tenderness and affection.

For six months Bertha Acres had travelled abroad, and then in the
autumn she had bought Gate-house at Tarleton, and settled down to the
absorbing trifles which make life in a small country town so busy and
strenuous.

       *       *       *       *       *

Our modest little dwelling is within a stone’s throw of the Gate-house;
and when, on the return of my wife and myself from two months in
Scotland, we found that Mrs. Acres was installed as a neighbour, Madge
lost no time in going to call on her. She returned with a series of
pleasant impressions. Mrs. Acres, still on the sunny slope that leads
up to the table-land of life which begins at forty years, was extremely
handsome, cordial, and charming in manner, witty and agreeable, and
wonderfully well dressed. Before the conclusion of her call Madge,
in country fashion, had begged her to dispose with formalities, and,
instead of a frigid return of the call, to dine with us quietly next
day. Did she play bridge? That being so, we would just be a party of
four; for her brother, Charles Alington, had proposed himself for a
visit....

I listened to this with sufficient attention to grasp what Madge was
saying, but what I was really thinking about was a chess-problem which
I was attempting to solve. But at this point I became acutely aware
that her stream of pleasant impressions dried up suddenly, and she
became stonily silent. She shut speech off as by the turn of a tap, and
glowered at the fire, rubbing the back of one hand with the fingers of
another, as is her habit in perplexity.

“Go on,” I said.

She got up, suddenly restless.

“All I have been telling you is literally and soberly true,” she said.
“I thought Mrs. Acres charming and witty and good-looking and friendly.
What more could you ask from a new acquaintance? And then, after I had
asked her to dinner, I suddenly found for no earthly reason that I very
much disliked her; I couldn’t bear her.”

“You said she was wonderfully well dressed,” I permitted myself to
remark.... If the Queen took the Knight----

“Don’t be silly!” said Madge. “I am wonderfully well dressed too.
But behind all her agreeableness and charm and good looks I suddenly
felt there was something else which I detested and dreaded. It’s no
use asking me what it was, because I haven’t the slightest idea. If
I knew what it was, the thing would explain itself. But I felt a
horror--nothing vivid, nothing close, you understand, but somewhere in
the background. Can the mind have a ‘turn,’ do you think, just as the
body can, when for a second or two you suddenly feel giddy? I think it
must have been that--oh! I’m sure it was that. But I’m glad I asked her
to dine. I mean to like her. I shan’t have a ‘turn’ again, shall I?”

“No, certainly not,” I said.... If the Queen refrained from taking the
tempting Knight----

“Oh, do stop your silly chess-problem!” said Madge. “Bite him, Fungus!”

Fungus, so called because he is the son of Humour and Gustavus
Adolphus, rose from his place on the hearthrug, and with a horse laugh
nuzzled against my leg, which is his way of biting those he loves. Then
the most amiable of bull-dogs, who has a passion for the human race,
lay down on my foot and sighed heavily. But Madge evidently wanted to
talk, and I pushed the chessboard away.

“Tell me more about the horror,” I said.

“It was just horror,” she said--“a sort of sickness of the soul.”...

I found my brain puzzling over some vague reminiscence, surely
connected with Mrs. Acres, which those words mistily evoked. But next
moment that train of thought was cut short, for the old and sinister
legend about the Gate-house came into my mind as accounting for the
horror of which Madge spoke. In the days of Elizabethan religious
persecutions it had, then newly built, been inhabited by two brothers,
of whom the elder, to whom it belonged, had Mass said there every
Sunday. Betrayed by the younger, he was arrested and racked to death.
Subsequently the younger, in a fit of remorse, hanged himself in the
panelled parlour. Certainly there was a story that the house was
haunted by his strangled apparition dangling from the beams, and the
late tenants of the house (which now had stood vacant for over three
years) had quitted it after a month’s occupation, in consequence, so it
was commonly said, of unaccountable and horrible sights. What was more
likely, then, than that Madge, who from childhood has been intensely
sensitive to occult and psychic phenomena, should have caught, on that
strange wireless receiver which is characteristic of “sensitives,” some
whispered message?

“But you know the story of the house,” I said. “Isn’t it quite possible
that something of that may have reached you? Where did you sit, for
instance? In the panelled parlour?”

She brightened at that.

“Ah, you wise man!” she said. “I never thought of that. That may
account for it all. I hope it does. You shall be left in peace with
your chess for being so brilliant.”

       *       *       *       *       *

I had occasion half an hour later to go to the post-office, a hundred
yards up the High Street, on the matter of a registered letter which
I wanted to despatch that evening. Dusk was gathering, but the red
glow of sunset still smouldered in the west, sufficient to enable me
to recognise familiar forms and features of passers-by. Just as I came
opposite the post-office there approached from the other direction a
tall, finely built woman, whom, I felt sure, I had never seen before.
Her destination was the same as mine, and I hung on my step a moment
to let her pass in first. Simultaneously I felt that I knew, in some
vague, faint manner, what Madge had meant when she talked about a
“sickness of the soul.” It was no nearer realisation to me than is the
running of a tune in the head to the audible external hearing of it,
and I attributed my sudden recognition of her feeling to the fact that
in all probability my mind had subconsciously been dwelling on what
she had said, and not for a moment did I connect it with any external
cause. And then it occurred to me who, possibly, this woman was....

She finished the transaction of her errand a few seconds before me, and
when I got out into the street again she was a dozen yards down the
pavement, walking in the direction of my house and of the Gate-house.
Opposite my own door I deliberately lingered, and saw her pass down the
steps that led from the road to the entrance of the Gate-house. Even as
I turned into my own door the unbidden reminiscence which had eluded
me before came out into the open, and I cast my net over it. It was
her husband, who, in the inexplicable communication he had left on his
dressing-room table, just before he shot himself, had written “my soul
sickens.” It was odd, though scarcely more than that, for Madge to have
used those identical words.

       *       *       *       *       *

Charles Alington, my wife’s brother, who arrived next afternoon, is
quite the happiest man whom I have ever come across. The material
world, that perennial spring of thwarted ambition, physical desire,
and perpetual disappointment, is practically unknown to him. Envy,
malice, and all uncharitableness are equally alien, because he does
not want to obtain what anybody else has got, and has no sense of
possession, which is queer, since he is enormously rich. He fears
nothing, he hopes for nothing, he has no abhorrences or affections,
for all physical and nervous functions are in him in the service of an
intense inquisitiveness. He never passed a moral judgment in his life,
he only wants to explore and to know. Knowledge, in fact, is his entire
preoccupation, and since chemists and medical scientists probe and mine
in the world of tinctures and microbes far more efficiently than he
could do, as he has so little care for anything that can be weighed or
propagated, he devotes himself, absorbedly and ecstatically, to that
world that lies about the confines of conscious existence. Anything not
yet certainly determined appeals to him with the call of a trumpet: he
ceases to take an interest in a subject as soon as it shows signs of
assuming a practical and definite status. He was intensely concerned,
for instance, in wireless transmission, until Signor Marconi proved
that it came within the scope of practical science, and then Charles
abandoned it as dull. I had seen him last two months before, when he
was in a great perturbation, since he was speaking at a meeting of
Anglo-Israelites in the morning, to show that the Scone Stone, which
is now in the Coronation Chair at Westminster, was for certain the
pillow on which Jacob’s head had rested when he saw the vision at
Bethel; was addressing the Psychical Research Society in the afternoon
on the subject of messages received from the dead through automatic
script, and in the evening was, by way of a holiday, only listening
to a lecture on reincarnation. None of these things could, as yet, be
definitely proved, and that was why he loved them. During the intervals
when the occult and the fantastic do not occupy him, he is, in spite of
his fifty years and wizened mien, exactly like a schoolboy of eighteen
back on his holidays and brimming with superfluous energy.

I found Charles already arrived when I got home next afternoon, after a
round of golf. He was betwixt and between the serious and the holiday
mood, for he had evidently been reading to Madge from a journal
concerning reincarnation, and was rather severe to me....

“Golf!” he said, with insulting scorn. “What is there to know about
golf? You hit a ball into the air----”

I was a little sore over the events of the afternoon.

“That’s just what I don’t do,” I said. “I hit it along the ground!”

“Well, it doesn’t matter where you hit it,” said he. “It’s all subject
to known laws. But the guess, the conjecture: there’s the thrill and
the excitement of life. The charlatan with his new cure for cancer, the
automatic writer with his messages from the dead, the reincarnationist
with his positive assertions that he was Napoleon or a Christian
slave--they are the people who advance knowledge. You have to guess
before you know. Even Darwin saw that when he said you could not
investigate without a hypothesis!”

“So what’s your hypothesis this minute?” I asked.

“Why, that we’ve all lived before, and that we’re going to live again
here on this same old earth. Any other conception of a future life
is impossible. Are all the people who have been born and have died
since the world emerged from chaos going to become inhabitants of some
future world? What a squash, you know, my dear Madge! Now, I know
what you’re going to ask me. If we’ve all lived before, why can’t we
remember it? But that’s so simple! If you remembered being Cleopatra,
you would go on behaving like Cleopatra; and what would Tarleton say?
Judas Iscariot, too! Fancy knowing you had been Judas Iscariot! You
couldn’t get over it! you would commit suicide, or cause everybody who
was connected with you to commit suicide from their horror of you. Or
imagine being a grocer’s boy who knew he had been Julius Cæsar....
Of course, sex doesn’t matter: souls, as far as I understand, are
sexless--just sparks of life, which are put into physical envelopes,
some male, some female. You might have been King David, Madge and poor
Tony here one of his wives.”

“That would be wonderfully neat,” said I.

Charles broke out into a shout of laughter.

“It would indeed,” he said. “But I won’t talk sense any more to you
scoffers. I’m absolutely tired out, I will confess, with thinking.
I want to have a pretty lady to come to dinner, and talk to her as
if she was just herself and I myself, and nobody else. I want to win
two-and-sixpence at bridge with the expenditure of enormous thought.
I want to have a large breakfast to-morrow and read _The Times_
afterwards, and go to Tony’s club and talk about crops and golf and
Irish affairs and Peace Conferences, and all the things that don’t
matter one straw!”

“You’re going to begin your programme to-night, dear,” said Madge. “A
very pretty lady is coming to dinner, and we’re going to play bridge
afterwards.”

Madge and I were ready for Mrs. Acres when she arrived, but Charles
was not yet down. Fungus, who has a wild adoration for Charles, quite
unaccountable, since Charles has no feelings for dogs, was helping him
to dress, and Madge, Mrs. Acres, and I waited for his appearance. It
was certainly Mrs. Acres whom I had met last night at the door of the
post-office, but the dim light of sunset had not enabled me to see
how wonderfully handsome she was. There was something slightly Jewish
about her profile: the high forehead, the very full-lipped mouth, the
bridged nose, the prominent chin, all suggested rather than exemplified
an Eastern origin. And when she spoke she had that rich softness
of utterance, not quite hoarseness, but not quite of the clear-cut
distinctness of tone which characterises northern nations. Something
southern, something Eastern....

“I am bound to ask one thing,” she said, when, after the usual
greetings, we stood round the fireplace, waiting for Charles--“but have
you got a dog?”

Madge moved towards the bell.

“Yes, but he shan’t come down if you dislike dogs,” she said. “He’s
wonderfully kind, but I know----”

“Ah, it’s not that,” said Mrs. Acres. “I adore dogs. But I only wished
to spare your dog’s feelings. Though I adore them, they hate me, and
they’re terribly frightened of me. There’s something anti-canine about
me.”

It was too late to say more. Charles’s steps clattered in the little
hall outside, and Fungus was hoarse and amused. Next moment the door
opened, and the two came in.

Fungus came in first. He lolloped in a festive manner into the middle
of the room, sniffed and snored in greeting, and then turned tail. He
slipped and skidded on the parquet outside, and we heard him bundling
down the kitchen stairs.

“Rude dog,” said Madge. “Charles, let me introduce you to Mrs. Acres.
My brother, Mrs. Acres: Sir Charles Alington.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Our little dinner-table of four would not permit of separate
conversations, and general topics, springing up like mushrooms, wilted
and died at their very inception. What mood possessed the others I
did not at that time know, but for myself I was only conscious of
some fundamental distaste of the handsome, clever woman who sat on
my right, and seemed quite unaffected by the withering atmosphere.
She was charming to the eye, she was witty to the ear, she had grace
and gracefulness, and all the time she was something terrible. But
by degrees, as I found my own distaste increasing, I saw that my
brother-in-law’s interest was growing correspondingly keen. The
“pretty lady” whose presence at dinner he had desired and obtained
was enchaining him--not, so I began to guess, for her charm and her
prettiness, but for some purpose of study, and I wondered whether it
was her beautiful Jewish profile that was confirming to his mind some
Anglo-Israelitish theory, whether he saw in her fine brown eyes the
glance of the seer and the clairvoyante, or whether he divined in her
some reincarnation of one of the famous or the infamous dead. Certainly
she had for him some fascination beyond that of the legitimate charm of
a very handsome woman; he was studying her with intense curiosity.

“And you are comfortable in the Gate-house?” he suddenly rapped out at
her, as if asking some question of which the answer was crucial.

“Ah! but so comfortable,” she said--“such a delightful atmosphere.
I have never known a house that ‘felt’ so peaceful and homelike. Or
is it merely fanciful to imagine that some houses have a sense of
tranquillity about them and others are uneasy and even terrible?”

Charles stared at her a moment in silence before he recollected his
manners.

“No, there may easily be something in it, I should say,” he answered.
“One can imagine long centuries of tranquillity actually investing a
home with some sort of psychical aura perceptible to those who are
sensitive.”

She turned to Madge.

“And yet I have heard a ridiculous story that the house is supposed to
be haunted,” she said. “If it is, it is surely haunted by delightful,
contented spirits.”

Dinner was over. Madge rose.

“Come in very soon, Tony,” she said to me, “and let’s get to our
bridge.”

But her eyes said, “Don’t leave me long alone with her.”

Charles turned briskly round when the door had shut.

“An extremely interesting woman,” he said.

“Very handsome,” said I.

“Is she? I didn’t notice. Her mind, her spirit--that’s what intrigued
me. What is she? What’s behind? Why did Fungus turn tail like that?
Queer, too, about her finding the atmosphere of the Gate-house so
tranquil. The late tenants, I remember, didn’t find that soothing touch
about it!”

“How do you account for that?” I asked.

“There might be several explanations. You might say that the late
tenants were fanciful, imaginative people, and that the present tenant
is a sensible, matter-of-fact woman. Certainly she seemed to be.”

“Or----” I suggested.

He laughed.

“Well, you might say--mind, I don’t say so--but you might say that
the--the spiritual tenants of the house find Mrs. Acres a congenial
companion, and want to retain her. So they keep quiet, and don’t upset
the cook’s nerves!”

Somehow this answer exasperated and jarred on me.

“What do you mean?” I said. “The spiritual tenant of the house, I
suppose, is the man who betrayed his brother and hanged himself. Why
should he find a charming woman like Mrs. Acres a congenial companion?”

Charles got up briskly. Usually he is more than ready to discuss such
topics, but to-night it seemed that he had no such inclination.

“Didn’t Madge tell us not to be long?” he asked. “You know how I run on
if I once get on that subject, Tony, so don’t give me the opportunity.”

“But why did you say that?” I persisted.

“Because I was talking nonsense. You know me well enough to be aware
that I am an habitual criminal in that respect.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was indeed strange to find how completely both the first impression
that Madge had formed of Mrs. Acres and the feeling that followed so
quickly on its heels were endorsed by those who, during the next week
or two, did a neighbour’s duty to the newcomer. All were loud in praise
of her charm, her pleasant, kindly wit, her good looks, her beautiful
clothes, but even while this _Lob-gesang_ was in full chorus it would
suddenly die away, and an uneasy silence descended, which somehow was
more eloquent than all the appreciative speech. Odd, unaccountable
little incidents had occurred, which were whispered from mouth to
mouth till they became common property. The same fear that Fungus had
shown of her was exhibited by another dog. A parallel case occurred
when she returned the call of our parson’s wife. Mrs. Dowlett had a
cage of canaries in the window of her drawing-room. These birds had
manifested symptoms of extreme terror when Mrs. Acres entered the room,
beating themselves against the wires of their cage, and uttering the
alarm-note.... She inspired some sort of inexplicable fear, over which
we, as trained and civilised human beings, had control, so that we
behaved ourselves. But animals, without that check, gave way altogether
to it, even as Fungus had done.

Mrs. Acres entertained; she gave charming little dinner-parties of
eight, with a couple of tables at bridge to follow, but over these
evenings there hung a blight and a blackness. No doubt the sinister
story of the panelled parlour contributed to this.

This curious secret dread of her, of which as on that first evening
at my house, she appeared to be completely unconscious differed very
widely in degree. Most people, like myself, were conscious of it,
but only very remotely so, and we found ourselves at the Gate-house
behaving quite as usual, though with this unease in the background.
But with a few, and most of all with Madge, it grew into a sort of
obsession. She made every effort to combat it; her will was entirely
set against it, but her struggle seemed only to establish its power
over her. The pathetic and pitiful part was that Mrs. Acres from
the first had taken a tremendous liking to her, and used to drop in
continually, calling first to Madge at the window, in that pleasant,
serene voice of hers, to tell Fungus that the hated one was imminent.

Then came a day when Madge and I were bidden to a party at the
Gate-house on Christmas evening. This was to be the last of Mrs.
Acres’s hospitalities for the present, since she was leaving
immediately afterwards for a couple of months in Egypt. So, with this
remission ahead, Madge almost gleefully accepted the bidding. But when
the evening came she was seized with so violent an attack of sickness
and shivering that she was utterly unable to fulfil her engagement. Her
doctor could find no physical trouble to account for this: it seemed
that the anticipation of her evening alone caused it, and here was the
culmination of her shrinking from our kindly and pleasant neighbour.
She could only tell me that her sensations, as she began to dress for
the party, were like those of that moment in sleep when somewhere in
the drowsy brain nightmare is ripening. Something independent of her
will revolted at what lay before her....

       *       *       *       *       *

Spring had begun to stretch herself in the lap of winter when next the
curtain rose on this veiled drama of forces but dimly comprehended and
shudderingly conjectured; but then, indeed, nightmare ripened swiftly
in broad noon. And this was the way of it.

Charles Alington had again come to stay with us five days before
Easter, and expressed himself as humorously disappointed to find that
the subject of his curiosity was still absent from the Gate-house. On
the Saturday morning before Easter he appeared very late for breakfast,
and Madge had already gone her ways. I rang for a fresh teapot, and
while this was on its way he took up _The Times_.

“I only read the outside page of it,” he said. “The rest is too full of
mere materialistic dullnesses--politics, sports, money-market----”

He stopped, and passed the paper over to me.

“There, where I’m pointing,” he said--“among the deaths. The first one.”

What I read was this:

  “ACRES, BERTHA. Died at sea, Thursday night, 30th March, and by her
  own request buried at sea. (Received by wireless from P. & O. steamer
  _Peshawar_.)”

He held out his hand for the paper again, and turned over the leaves.

“Lloyd’s,” he said. “The _Peshawar_ arrived at Tilbury yesterday
afternoon. The burial must have taken place somewhere in the English
Channel.”

       *       *       *       *       *

On the afternoon of Easter Sunday Madge and I motored out to the golf
links three miles away. She proposed to walk along the beach just
outside the dunes while I had my round, and return to the club-house
for tea in two hours’ time. The day was one of most lucid spring: a
warm south-west wind bowled white clouds along the sky, and their
shadows jovially scudded over the sandhills. We had told her of Mrs.
Acres’s death, and from that moment something dark and vague which had
been lying over her mind since the autumn seemed to join this fleet of
the shadows of clouds and leave her in sunlight. We parted at the door
of the club-house, and she set out on her walk.

Half an hour later, as my opponent and I were waiting on the fifth tee,
where the road crosses the links, for the couple in front of us to move
on, a servant from the club-house, scudding along the road, caught
sight of us, and, jumping from his bicycle, came to where we stood.

“You’re wanted at the club-house, sir,” he said to me. “Mrs. Carford
was walking along the shore, and she found something left by the tide.
A body, sir. ’Twas in a sack, but the sack was torn, and she saw----
It’s upset her very much, sir. We thought it best to come for you.”

I took the boy’s bicycle and went back to the club-house as fast as I
could turn the wheel. I felt sure I knew what Madge had found, and,
knowing that, realised the shock.... Five minutes later she was telling
me her story in gasps and whispers.

“The tide was going down,” she said, “and I walked along the high-water
mark.... There were pretty shells; I was picking them up.... And then I
saw it in front of me--just shapeless, just a sack ... and then, as I
came nearer, it took shape; there were knees and elbows. It moved, it
rolled over, and where the head was the sack was torn, and I saw her
face. Her eyes were open, Tony, and I fled.... All the time I felt it
was rolling along after me. Oh, Tony! she’s dead, isn’t she? She won’t
come back to the Gate-house? Do you promise me?... There’s something
awful! I wonder if I guess. The sea gives her up. The sea won’t suffer
her to rest in it.”...

The news of the finding had already been telephoned to Tarleton, and
soon a party of four men with a stretcher arrived. There was no doubt
as to the identity of the body, for though it had been in the water
for three days no corruption had come to it. The weights with which at
burial it had been laden must by some strange chance have been detached
from it, and by a chance stranger yet it had drifted to the shore
closest to her home. That night it lay in the mortuary, and the inquest
was held on it next day, though that was a bank-holiday. From there it
was taken to the Gate-house and coffined, and it lay in the panelled
parlour for the funeral on the morrow.

Madge, after that one hysterical outburst, had completely recovered
herself, and on the Monday evening she made a little wreath of the
spring-flowers which the early warmth had called into blossom in the
garden, and I went across with it to the Gate-house. Though the news
of Mrs. Acres’s death and the subsequent finding of the body had
been widely advertised, there had been no response from relations or
friends, and as I laid the solitary wreath on the coffin a sense of the
utter loneliness of what lay within seized and encompassed me. And then
a portent, no less, took place before my eyes. Hardly had the freshly
gathered flowers been laid on the coffin than they drooped and wilted.
The stalks of the daffodils bent, and their bright chalices closed; the
odour of the wallflowers died, and they withered as I watched.... What
did it mean, that even the petals of spring shrank and were moribund?

       *       *       *       *       *

I told Madge nothing of this; and she, as if through some pang of
remorse, was determined to be present next day at the funeral.
No arrival of friends or relations had taken place, and from the
Gate-house there came none of the servants. They stood in the porch as
the coffin was brought out of the house, and even before it was put
into the hearse had gone back again and closed the door. So, at the
cemetery on the hill above Tarleton, Madge and her brother and I were
the only mourners.

The afternoon was densely overcast, though we got no rainfall, and
it was with thick clouds above and a sea-mist drifting between the
grave-stones that we came, after the service in the cemetery-chapel, to
the place of interment. And then--I can hardly write of it now--when it
came for the coffin to be lowered into the grave, it was found that by
some faulty measurement it could not descend, for the excavation was
not long enough to hold it.

Madge was standing close to us, and at this moment I heard her sob.

“And the kindly earth will not receive her,” she whispered.

There was awful delay: the diggers must be sent for again, and meantime
the rain had begun to fall thick and tepid. For some reason--perhaps
some outlying feeler of Madge’s obsession had wound a tentacle round
me--I felt that I must know that earth had gone to earth, but I could
not suffer Madge to wait. So, in this miserable pause, I got Charles to
take her home, and then returned.

Pick and shovel were busy, and soon the resting-place was ready. The
interrupted service continued, the handful of wet earth splashed on the
coffin-lid, and when all was over I left the cemetery, still feeling,
I knew not why, that all was _not_ over. Some restlessness and want of
certainty possessed me, and instead of going home I fared forth into
the rolling wooded country inland, with the intention of walking off
these bat-like terrors that flapped around me. The rain had ceased, and
a blurred sunlight penetrated the sea-mist which still blanketed the
fields and woods, and for half an hour, moving briskly, I endeavoured
to fight down some fantastic conviction that had gripped my mind in its
claws. I refused to look straight at that conviction, telling myself
how fantastic, how unreasonable it was; but as often as I put out a
hand to throttle it there came the echo of Madge’s words: “The sea will
not suffer her; the kindly earth will not receive her.” And if I could
shut my eyes to that there came some remembrance of the day she died,
and of half-forgotten fragments of Charles’s superstitious belief in
reincarnation. The whole thing, incredible though its component parts
were, hung together with a terrible tenacity.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before long the rain began again, and I turned, meaning to go by the
main-road into Tarleton, which passes in a wide-flung curve some
half-mile outside the cemetery. But as I approached the path through
the fields, which, leaving the less direct route, passes close to the
cemetery and brings you by a steeper and shorter descent into the
town, I felt myself irresistibly impelled to take it. I told myself,
of course, that I wished to make my wet walk as short as possible;
but at the back of my mind was the half-conscious, but none the less
imperative need to know by ocular evidence that the grave by which I
had stood that afternoon had been filled in, and that the body of Mrs.
Acres now lay tranquil beneath the soil. My path would be even shorter
if I passed through the graveyard, and so presently I was fumbling in
the gloom for the latch of the gate, and closed it again behind me.
Rain was falling now thick and sullenly, and in the bleared twilight I
picked my way among the mounds and slipped on the dripping grass, and
there in front of me was the newly turned earth. All was finished: the
grave-diggers had done their work and departed, and earth had gone back
again into the keeping of the earth.

It brought me some great lightening of the spirit to know that, and I
was on the point of turning away when a sound of stir from the heaped
soil caught my ear, and I saw a little stream of pebbles mixed with
clay trickle down the side of the mound above the grave: the heavy
rain, no doubt, had loosened the earth. And then came another and yet
another, and with terror gripping at my heart I perceived that this was
no loosening from without, but from within, for to right and left the
piled soil was falling away with the press of something from below.
Faster and faster it poured off the grave, and ever higher at the head
of it rose a mound of earth pushed upwards from beneath. Somewhere out
of sight there came the sound as of creaking and breaking wood, and
then through that mound of earth there protruded the end of the coffin.
The lid was shattered: loose pieces of the boards fell off it, and from
within the cavity there faced me white features and wide eyes. All this
I saw, while sheer terror held me motionless; then, I suppose, came the
breaking-point, and with such panic as surely man never felt before I
was stumbling away among the graves and racing towards the kindly human
lights of the town below.

I went to the parson who had conducted the service that afternoon with
my incredible tale, and an hour later he, Charles Alington, and two
or three men from the undertaker’s were on the spot. They found the
coffin, completely disinterred, lying on the ground by the grave, which
was now three-quarters full of the earth which had fallen back into it.
After what had happened it was decided to make no further attempt to
bury it; and next day the body was cremated.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, it is open to anyone who may read this tale to reject the incident
of this emergence of the coffin altogether, and account for the other
strange happenings by the comfortable theory of coincidence. He can
certainly satisfy himself that one Bertha Acres did die at sea on this
particular Thursday before Easter, and was buried at sea: there is
nothing extraordinary about that. Nor is it the least impossible that
the weights should have slipped from the canvas shroud, and that the
body should have been washed ashore on the coast by Tarleton (why not
Tarleton, as well as any other little town near the coast?); nor is
there anything inherently significant in the fact that the grave, as
originally dug, was not of sufficient dimensions to receive the coffin.
That all these incidents should have happened to the body of a single
individual is odd, but then the nature of coincidence is to be odd.
They form a startling series, but unless coincidences are startling
they escape observation altogether. So, if you reject the last incident
here recorded, or account for it by some local disturbance, an
earthquake, or the breaking of a spring just below the grave, you can
comfortably recline on the cushion of coincidence....

       *       *       *       *       *

For myself, I give no explanation of these events, though my
brother-in-law brought forward one with which he himself is perfectly
satisfied. Only the other day he sent me, with considerable jubilation,
a copy of some extracts from a mediæval treatise on the subject of
reincarnation which sufficiently indicates his theory. The original
work was in Latin, which, mistrusting my scholarship, he kindly
translated for me. I transcribe his quotations exactly as he sent them
to me.

“We have these certain instances of his reincarnation. In one his
spirit was incarnated in the body of a man; in the other, in that of
a woman, fair of outward aspect, and of a pleasant conversation, but
held in dread and in horror by those who came into more than casual
intercourse with her.... She, it is said, died on the anniversary of
the day on which he hanged himself, after the betrayal, but of this I
have no certain information. What is sure is that, when the time came
for her burial, the kindly earth would receive her not, but though the
grave was dug deep and well it spewed her forth again.... Of the man
in whom his cursed spirit was reincarnated it is said that, being on a
voyage when he died, he was cast overboard with weights to sink him;
but the sea would not suffer him to rest in her bosom, but slipped the
weights from him, and cast him forth again on to the coast.... Howbeit,
when the full time of his expiation shall have come and his deadly
sin forgiven, the corporal body which is the cursed receptacle of his
spirit shall at length be purged with fire, and so he shall, in the
infinite mercy of the Almighty, have rest, and shall wander no more.”



The Horror-Horn



The Horror-Horn


For the past ten days Alhubel had basked in the radiant midwinter
weather proper to its eminence of over 6,000 feet. From rising to
setting the sun (so surprising to those who have hitherto associated
it with a pale, tepid plate indistinctly shining through the murky air
of England) had blazed its way across the sparkling blue, and every
night the serene and windless frost had made the stars sparkle like
illuminated diamond dust. Sufficient snow had fallen before Christmas
to content the skiers, and the big rink, sprinkled every evening, had
given the skaters each morning a fresh surface on which to perform
their slippery antics. Bridge and dancing served to while away the
greater part of the night, and to me, now for the first time tasting
the joys of a winter in the Engadine, it seemed that a new heaven and
a new earth had been lighted, warmed, and refrigerated for the special
benefit of those who like myself had been wise enough to save up their
days of holiday for the winter.

But a break came in these ideal conditions: one afternoon the sun grew
vapour-veiled and up the valley from the north-west a wind frozen with
miles of travel over ice-bound hill-sides began scouting through the
calm halls of the heavens. Soon it grew dusted with snow, first in
small flakes driven almost horizontally before its congealing breath
and then in larger tufts as of swansdown. And though all day for a
fortnight before the fate of nations and life and death had seemed
to me of far less importance than to get certain tracings of the
skate-blades on the ice of proper shape and size, it now seemed that
the one paramount consideration was to hurry back to the hotel for
shelter: it was wiser to leave rocking-turns alone than to be frozen in
their quest.

I had come out here with my cousin, Professor Ingram, the celebrated
physiologist and Alpine climber. During the serenity of the last
fortnight he had made a couple of notable winter ascents, but this
morning his weather-wisdom had mistrusted the signs of the heavens, and
instead of attempting the ascent of the Piz Passug he had waited to see
whether his misgivings justified themselves. So there he sat now in the
hall of the admirable hotel with his feet on the hot-water pipes and
the latest delivery of the English post in his hands. This contained
a pamphlet concerning the result of the Mount Everest expedition, of
which he had just finished the perusal when I entered.

“A very interesting report,” he said, passing it to me, “and they
certainly deserve to succeed next year. But who can tell, what that
final six thousand feet may entail? Six thousand feet more when you
have already accomplished twenty-three thousand does not seem much,
but at present no one knows whether the human frame can stand exertion
at such a height. It may affect not the lungs and heart only, but
possibly the brain. Delirious hallucinations may occur. In fact, if I
did not know better, I should have said that one such hallucination had
occurred to the climbers already.”

“And what was that?” I asked.

“You will find that they thought they came across the tracks of some
naked human foot at a great altitude. That looks at first sight like
an hallucination. What more natural than that a brain excited and
exhilarated by the extreme height should have interpreted certain marks
in the snow as the footprints of a human being? Every bodily organ
at these altitudes is exerting itself to the utmost to do its work,
and the brain seizes on those marks in the snow and says ‘Yes, I’m
all right, I’m doing my job, and I perceive marks in the snow which
I affirm are human footprints.’ You know, even at this altitude, how
restless and eager the brain is, how vividly, as you told me, you dream
at night. Multiply that stimulus and that consequent eagerness and
restlessness by three, and how natural that the brain should harbour
illusions! What after all is the delirium which often accompanies high
fever but the effort of the brain to do its work under the pressure
of feverish conditions? It is so eager to continue perceiving that it
perceives things which have no existence!”

“And yet you don’t think that these naked human footprints were
illusions,” said I. “You told me you would have thought so, if you had
not known better.”

He shifted in his chair and looked out of the window a moment. The air
was thick now with the density of the big snow-flakes that were driven
along by the squealing north-west gale.

“Quite so,” he said. “In all probability the human footprints were
real human footprints. I expect that they were the footprints, anyhow,
of a being more nearly a man than anything else. My reason for saying
so is that I know such beings exist. I have even seen quite near at
hand--and I assure you I did not wish to be nearer in spite of my
intense curiosity--the creature, shall we say, which would make such
footprints. And if the snow was not so dense, I could show you the
place where I saw him.”

He pointed straight out of the window, where across the valley lies
the huge tower of the Ungeheuerhorn with the carved pinnacle of rock
at the top like some gigantic rhinoceros-horn. On one side only, as I
knew, was the mountain practicable, and that for none but the finest
climbers; on the other three a succession of ledges and precipices
rendered it unscalable. Two thousand feet of sheer rock form the tower;
below are five hundred feet of fallen boulders, up to the edge of which
grow dense woods of larch and pine.

“Upon the Ungeheuerhorn?” I asked.

“Yes. Up till twenty years ago it had never been ascended, and I, like
several others, spent a lot of time in trying to find a route up it.
My guide and I sometimes spent three nights together at the hut beside
the Blumen glacier, prowling round it, and it was by luck really that
we found the route, for the mountain looks even more impracticable
from the far side than it does from this. But one day we found a long,
transverse fissure in the side which led to a negotiable ledge; then
there came a slanting ice couloir which you could not see till you got
to the foot of it. However, I need not go into that.”

The big room where we sat was filling up with cheerful groups driven
indoors by this sudden gale and snowfall, and the cackle of merry
tongues grew loud. The band, too, that invariable appanage of tea-time
at Swiss resorts, had begun to tune up for the usual potpourri from the
works of Puccini. Next moment the sugary, sentimental melodies began.

“Strange contrast!” said Ingram. “Here are we sitting warm and cosy,
our ears pleasantly tickled with these little baby tunes and outside is
the great storm growing more violent every moment, and swirling round
the austere cliffs of the Ungeheuerhorn: the Horror-Horn, as indeed it
was to me.”

“I want to hear all about it,” I said. “Every detail: make a short
story long, if it’s short. I want to know why it’s _your_ Horror-horn?”

“Well, Chanton and I (he was my guide) used to spend days prowling
about the cliffs, making a little progress on one side and then being
stopped, and gaining perhaps five hundred feet on another side and then
being confronted by some insuperable obstacle, till the day when by
luck we found the route. Chanton never liked the job, for some reason
that I could not fathom. It was not because of the difficulty or danger
of the climbing, for he was the most fearless man I have ever met
when dealing with rocks and ice, but he was always insistent that we
should get off the mountain and back to the Blumen hut before sunset.
He was scarcely easy even when we had got back to shelter and locked
and barred the door, and I well remember one night when, as we ate our
supper, we heard some animal, a wolf probably, howling somewhere out in
the night. A positive panic seized him, and I don’t think he closed his
eyes till morning. It struck me then that there might be some grisly
legend about the mountain, connected possibly with its name, and next
day I asked him why the peak was called the Horror-horn. He put the
question off at first, and said that, like the Schreckhorn, its name
was due to its precipices and falling stones; but when I pressed him
further he acknowledged that there was a legend about it, which his
father had told him. There were creatures, so it was supposed, that
lived in its caves, things human in shape, and covered, except for
the face and hands, with long black hair. They were dwarfs in size,
four feet high or thereabouts, but of prodigious strength and agility,
remnants of some wild primeval race. It seemed that they were still
in an upward stage of evolution, or so I guessed, for the story ran
that sometimes girls had been carried off by them, not as prey, and
not for any such fate as for those captured by cannibals, but to be
bred from. Young men also had been raped by them, to be mated with
the females of their tribe. All this looked as if the creatures, as I
said, were tending towards humanity. But naturally I did not believe a
word of it, as applied to the conditions of the present day. Centuries
ago, conceivably, there may have been such beings, and, with the
extraordinary tenacity of tradition, the news of this had been handed
down and was still current round the hearths of the peasants. As for
their numbers, Chanton told me that three had been once seen together
by a man who owing to his swiftness on skis had escaped to tell the
tale. This man, he averred, was no other than his grandfather, who
had been benighted one winter evening as he passed through the dense
woods below the Ungeheuerhorn, and Chanton supposed that they had
been driven down to these lower altitudes in search of food during
severe winter weather, for otherwise the recorded sights of them
had always taken place among the rocks of the peak itself. They had
pursued his grandfather, then a young man, at an extraordinarily swift
canter, running sometimes upright as men run, sometimes on all-fours
in the manner of beasts, and their howls were just such as that we had
heard that night in the Blumen hut. Such at any rate was the story
Chanton told me, and, like you, I regarded it as the very moonshine
of superstition. But the very next day I had reason to reconsider my
judgment about it.

“It was on that day that after a week of exploration we hit on the
only route at present known to the top of our peak. We started as soon
as there was light enough to climb by, for, as you may guess, on very
difficult rocks it is impossible to climb by lantern or moonlight.
We hit on the long fissure I have spoken of, we explored the ledge
which from below seemed to end in nothingness, and with an hour’s
step-cutting ascended the couloir which led upwards from it. From there
onwards it was a rock-climb, certainly of considerable difficulty, but
with no heart-breaking discoveries ahead, and it was about nine in the
morning that we stood on the top. We did not wait there long, for that
side of the mountain is raked by falling stones loosened, when the sun
grows hot, from the ice that holds them, and we made haste to pass the
ledge where the falls are most frequent. After that there was the long
fissure to descend, a matter of no great difficulty, and we were at
the end of our work by midday, both of us, as you may imagine, in the
state of the highest elation.

“A long and tiresome scramble among the huge boulders at the foot of
the cliff then lay before us. Here the hill-side is very porous and
great caves extend far into the mountain. We had unroped at the base of
the fissure, and were picking our way as seemed good to either of us
among these fallen rocks, many of them bigger than an ordinary house,
when, on coming round the corner of one of these, I saw that which
made it clear that the stories Chanton had told me were no figment of
traditional superstition.

“Not twenty yards in front of me lay one of the beings of which he
had spoken. There it sprawled naked and basking on its back with face
turned up to the sun, which its narrow eyes regarded unwinking. In form
it was completely human, but the growth of hair that covered limbs and
trunk alike almost completely hid the sun-tanned skin beneath. But its
face, save for the down on its cheeks and chin, was hairless, and I
looked on a countenance the sensual and malevolent bestiality of which
froze me with horror. Had the creature been an animal, one would have
felt scarcely a shudder at the gross animalism of it; the horror lay in
the fact that it was a man. There lay by it a couple of gnawed bones,
and, its meal finished, it was lazily licking its protuberant lips,
from which came a purring murmur of content. With one hand it scratched
the thick hair on its belly, in the other it held one of these bones,
which presently split in half beneath the pressure of its finger and
thumb. But my horror was not based on the information of what happened
to those men whom these creatures caught, it was due only to my
proximity to a thing so human and so infernal. The peak, of which the
ascent had a moment ago filled us with such elated satisfaction, became
to me an Ungeheuerhorn indeed, for it was the home of beings more awful
than the delirium of nightmare could ever have conceived.

“Chanton was a dozen paces behind me, and with a backward wave of
my hand I caused him to halt. Then withdrawing myself with infinite
precaution, so as not to attract the gaze of that basking creature,
I slipped back round the rock, whispered to him what I had seen, and
with blanched faces we made a long detour, peering round every corner,
and crouching low, not knowing that at any step we might not come upon
another of these beings, or that from the mouth of one of these caves
in the mountain-side there might not appear another of those hairless
and dreadful faces, with perhaps this time the breasts and insignia of
womanhood. That would have been the worst of all.

“Luck favoured us, for we made our way among the boulders and shifting
stones, the rattle of which might at any moment have betrayed us,
without a repetition of my experience, and once among the trees we ran
as if the Furies themselves were in pursuit. Well now did I understand,
though I dare say I cannot convey, the qualms of Chanton’s mind when he
spoke to me of these creatures. Their very humanity was what made them
so terrible, the fact that they were of the same race as ourselves, but
of a type so abysmally degraded that the most brutal and inhuman of men
would have seemed angelic in comparison.”

The music of the small band was over before he had finished the
narrative, and the chattering groups round the tea-table had dispersed.
He paused a moment.

“There was a horror of the spirit,” he said, “which I experienced
then, from which, I verily believe, I have never entirely recovered.
I saw then how terrible a living thing could be, and how terrible, in
consequence, was life itself. In us all I suppose lurks some inherited
germ of that ineffable bestiality, and who knows whether, sterile as it
has apparently become in the course of centuries, it might not fructify
again. When I saw that creature sun itself, I looked into the abyss
out of which we have crawled. And these creatures are trying to crawl
out of it now, if they exist any longer. Certainly for the last twenty
years there has been no record of their being seen, until we come to
this story of the footprint seen by the climbers on Everest. If that
is authentic, if the party did not mistake the footprint of some bear,
or what not, for a human tread, it seems as if still this bestranded
remnant of mankind is in existence.”

Now, Ingram, had told his story well; but sitting in this warm
and civilised room, the horror which he had clearly felt had not
communicated itself to me in any very vivid manner. Intellectually, I
agreed, I could appreciate his horror, but certainly my spirit felt no
shudder of interior comprehension.

“But it is odd,” I said, “that your keen interest in physiology did
not disperse your qualms. You were looking, so I take it, at some form
of man more remote probably than the earliest human remains. Did not
something inside you say ‘This is of absorbing significance’?”

He shook his head.

“No: I only wanted to get away,” said he. “It was not, as I have told
you, the terror of what according to Chanton’s story, might await us if
we were captured; it was sheer horror at the creature itself. I quaked
at it.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The snowstorm and the gale increased in violence that night, and I
slept uneasily, plucked again and again from slumber by the fierce
battling of the wind that shook my windows as if with an imperious
demand for admittance. It came in billowy gusts, with strange noises
intermingled with it as for a moment it abated, with flutings and
moanings that rose to shrieks as the fury of it returned. These noises,
no doubt, mingled themselves with my drowsed and sleepy consciousness,
and once I tore myself out of nightmare, imagining that the creatures
of the Horror-horn had gained footing on my balcony and were rattling
at the window-bolts. But before morning the gale had died away, and I
awoke to see the snow falling dense and fast in a windless air. For
three days it continued, without intermission, and with its cessation
there came a frost such as I have never felt before. Fifty degrees were
registered one night, and more the next, and what the cold must have
been on the cliffs of the Ungeheuerhorn I cannot imagine. Sufficient,
so I thought, to have made an end altogether of its secret inhabitants:
my cousin, on that day twenty years ago, had missed an opportunity for
study which would probably never fall again either to him or another.

I received one morning a letter from a friend saying that he had
arrived at the neighbouring winter resort of St. Luigi, and proposing
that I should come over for a morning’s skating and lunch afterwards.
The place was not more than a couple of miles off, if one took the path
over the low, pine-clad foot-hills above which lay the steep woods
below the first rocky slopes of the Ungeheuerhorn; and accordingly,
with a knapsack containing skates on my back, I went on skis over the
wooded slopes and down by an easy descent again on to St. Luigi. The
day was overcast, clouds entirely obscured the higher peaks though the
sun was visible, pale and unluminous, through the mists. But as the
morning went on, it gained the upper hand, and I slid down into St.
Luigi beneath a sparkling firmament. We skated and lunched, and then,
since it looked as if thick weather was coming up again, I set out
early about three o’clock for my return journey.

Hardly had I got into the woods when the clouds gathered thick above,
and streamers and skeins of them began to descend among the pines
through which my path threaded its way. In ten minutes more their
opacity had so increased that I could hardly see a couple of yards in
front of me. Very soon I became aware that I must have got off the
path, for snow-cowled shrubs lay directly in my way, and, casting
back to find it again, I got altogether confused as to direction.
But, though progress was difficult, I knew I had only to keep on
the ascent, and presently I should come to the brow of these low
foot-hills, and descend into the open valley where Alhubel stood. So
on I went, stumbling and sliding over obstacles, and unable, owing to
the thickness of the snow, to take off my skis, for I should have sunk
over the knees at each step. Still the ascent continued, and looking at
my watch I saw that I had already been near an hour on my way from St.
Luigi, a period more than sufficient to complete my whole journey. But
still I stuck to my idea that though I had certainly strayed far from
my proper route a few minutes more must surely see me over the top of
the upward way, and I should find the ground declining into the next
valley. About now, too, I noticed that the mists were growing suffused
with rose-colour, and, though the inference was that it must be close
on sunset, there was consolation in the fact that they were there and
might lift at any moment and disclose to me my whereabouts. But the
fact that night would soon be on me made it needful to bar my mind
against that despair of loneliness which so eats out the heart of a man
who is lost in woods or on mountain-side, that, though still there is
plenty of vigour in his limbs, his nervous force is sapped, and he can
do no more than lie down and abandon himself to whatever fate may await
him.... And then I heard that which made the thought of loneliness seem
bliss indeed, for there was a worse fate than loneliness. What I heard
resembled the howl of a wolf, and it came from not far in front of me
where the ridge--was it a ridge?--still rose higher in vestment of
pines.

From behind me came a sudden puff of wind, which shook the frozen snow
from the drooping pine-branches, and swept away the mists as a broom
sweeps the dust from the floor. Radiant above me were the unclouded
skies, already charged with the red of the sunset, and in front I
saw that I had come to the very edge of the wood through which I had
wandered so long. But it was no valley into which I had penetrated,
for there right ahead of me rose the steep slope of boulders and rocks
soaring upwards to the foot of the Ungeheuerhorn. What, then, was that
cry of a wolf which had made my heart stand still? I saw.

Not twenty yards from me was a fallen tree, and leaning against the
trunk of it was one of the denizens of the Horror-Horn, and it was a
woman. She was enveloped in a thick growth of hair grey and tufted,
and from her head it streamed down over her shoulders and her bosom,
from which hung withered and pendulous breasts. And looking on her
face I comprehended not with my mind alone, but with a shudder of my
spirit, what Ingram had felt. Never had nightmare fashioned so terrible
a countenance; the beauty of sun and stars and of the beasts of the
field and the kindly race of men could not atone for so hellish an
incarnation of the spirit of life. A fathomless bestiality modelled the
slavering mouth and the narrow eyes; I looked into the abyss itself
and knew that out of that abyss on the edge of which I leaned the
generations of men had climbed. What if that ledge crumbled in front of
me and pitched me headlong into its nethermost depths?...

In one hand she held by the horns a chamois that kicked and struggled.
A blow from its hindleg caught her withered thigh, and with a grunt
of anger she seized the leg in her other hand, and, as a man may pull
from its sheath a stem of meadow-grass, she plucked it off the body,
leaving the torn skin hanging round the gaping wound. Then putting the
red, bleeding member to her mouth she sucked at it as a child sucks a
stick of sweetmeat. Through flesh and gristle her short, brown teeth
penetrated, and she licked her lips with a sound of purring. Then
dropping the leg by her side, she looked again at the body of the prey
now quivering in its death-convulsion, and with finger and thumb gouged
out one of its eyes. She snapped her teeth on it, and it cracked like a
soft-shelled nut.

It must have been but a few seconds that I stood watching her, in
some indescribable catalepsy of terror, while through my brain there
pealed the panic-command of my mind to my stricken limbs “Begone,
begone, while there is time.” Then, recovering the power of my joints
and muscles, I tried to slip behind a tree and hide myself from this
apparition. But the woman--shall I say?--must have caught my stir of
movement, for she raised her eyes from her living feast and saw me. She
craned forward her neck, she dropped her prey, and half rising began to
move towards me. As she did this, she opened her mouth, and gave forth
a howl such as I had heard a moment before. It was answered by another,
but faintly and distantly.

Sliding and slipping, with the toes of my skis tripping in the
obstacles below the snow, I plunged forward down the hill between
the pine-trunks. The low sun already sinking behind some rampart of
mountain in the west reddened the snow and the pines with its ultimate
rays. My knapsack with the skates in it swung to and fro on my back,
one ski-stick had already been twitched out of my hand by a fallen
branch of pine, but not a second’s pause could I allow myself to
recover it. I gave no glance behind, and I knew not at what pace my
pursuer was on my track, or indeed whether any pursued at all, for my
whole mind and energy, now working at full power again under the stress
of my panic, was devoted to getting away down the hill and out of the
wood as swiftly as my limbs could bear me. For a little while I heard
nothing but the hissing snow of my headlong passage, and the rustle of
the covered undergrowth beneath my feet, and then, from close at hand
behind me, once more the wolf-howl sounded and I heard the plunging of
footsteps other than my own.

The strap of my knapsack had shifted, and as my skates swung to and fro
on my back it chafed and pressed on my throat, hindering free passage
of air, of which, God knew, my labouring lungs were in dire need, and
without pausing I slipped it free from my neck, and held it in the hand
from which my ski-stick had been jerked. I seemed to go a little more
easily for this adjustment, and now, not so far distant, I could see
below me the path from which I had strayed. If only I could reach that,
the smoother going would surely enable me to out-distance my pursuer,
who even on the rougher ground was but slowly overhauling me, and at
the sight of that riband stretching unimpeded downhill, a ray of hope
pierced the black panic of my soul. With that came the desire, keen
and insistent, to see who or what it was that was on my tracks, and
I spared a backward glance. It was she, the hag whom I had seen at
her gruesome meal; her long grey hair flew out behind her, her mouth
chattered and gibbered, her fingers made grabbing movements, as if
already they closed on me.

But the path was now at hand, and the nearness of it I suppose made me
incautious. A hump of snow-covered bush lay in my path, and, thinking
I could jump over it, I tripped and fell, smothering myself in snow. I
heard a maniac noise, half scream, half laugh, from close behind, and
before I could recover myself the grabbing fingers were at my neck, as
if a steel vice had closed there. But my right hand in which I held my
knapsack of skates was free, and with a blind back-handed movement I
whirled it behind me at the full length of its strap, and knew that my
desperate blow had found its billet somewhere. Even before I could look
round I felt the grip on my neck relax, and something subsided into the
very bush which had entangled me. I recovered my feet and turned.

There she lay, twitching and quivering. The heel of one of my skates
piercing the thin alpaca of the knapsack had hit her full on the
temple, from which the blood was pouring, but a hundred yards away I
could see another such figure coming downwards on my tracks, leaping
and bounding. At that panic rose again within me, and I sped off down
the white smooth path that led to the lights of the village already
beckoning. Never once did I pause in my headlong going: there was no
safety until I was back among the haunts of men. I flung myself against
the door of the hotel, and screamed for admittance, though I had but to
turn the handle and enter; and once more as when Ingram had told his
tale, there was the sound of the band, and the chatter of voices, and
there, too, was he himself, who looked up and then rose swiftly to his
feet as I made my clattering entrance.

“I have seen them too,” I cried. “Look at my knapsack. Is there not
blood on it? It is the blood of one of them, a woman, a hag, who tore
off the leg of a chamois as I looked, and pursued me through the
accursed wood. I----”

Whether it was I who spun round, or the room which seemed to spin
round me, I knew not, but I heard myself falling, collapsed on the
floor, and the next time that I was conscious at all I was in bed.
There was Ingram there, who told me that I was quite safe, and another
man, a stranger, who pricked my arm with the nozzle of a syringe, and
reassured me....

A day or two later I gave a coherent account of my adventure, and three
or four men, armed with guns, went over my traces. They found the bush
in which I had stumbled, with a pool of blood which had soaked into
the snow, and, still following my ski-tracks, they came on the body
of a chamois, from which had been torn one of its hindlegs and one
eye-socket was empty. That is all the corroboration of my story that I
can give the reader, and for myself I imagine that the creature which
pursued me was either not killed by my blow or that her fellows removed
her body.... Anyhow, it is open to the incredulous to prowl about
the caves of the Ungeheuerhorn, and see if anything occurs that may
convince them.



Machaon



Machaon


I was returning at the close of the short winter day from my visit to
St. James’s Hospital, where my old servant Parkes, who had been in my
service for twenty years, was lying. I had sent him there three days
before, not for treatment, but for observation, and this afternoon I
had gone up to London, to hear the doctor’s report on the case. He told
me that Parkes was suffering from an internal tumour, the nature of
which could not be diagnosed for certain, but all the symptoms pointed
directly to its being cancerous. That, however, must not be regarded
as proved; it could only be proved by an exploratory operation to
reveal the nature and the extent of the growth, which must then, if
possible, be excised. It might involve, so my old friend Godfrey Symes
told me, certain tissues and would be found to be inoperable, but he
hoped this would not be the case, and that it would be possible to
remove it: removal gave the only chance of recovery. It was fortunate
that the patient had been sent for examination in an early stage, for
thus the chances of success were much greater than if the growth had
been one of long standing. Parkes was not, however, in a fit state to
stand the operation at once; a recuperative week or ten days in bed was
advisable. In these circumstances Symes recommended that he should not
be told at once what lay in front of him.

“I can see that he is a nervous fellow,” he said, “and to lie in bed
thinking of what he has got to face will probably undo all the good
that lying in bed will bring to him. You don’t get used to the idea of
being cut open; the more you think about it, the more intolerable it
becomes. If that sort of adventure faced me, I should infinitely prefer
not to be told about it until they came to give me the anæsthetic.
Naturally, he will have to consent to the operation, but I shouldn’t
tell him anything about it till the day before. He’s not married, I
think, is he?”

“No: he’s alone in the world,” said I. “He’s been with me twenty years.”

“Yes, I remember Parkes almost as long as I remember you. But that’s
all I can recommend. Of course, if the pain became severe, it might be
better to operate sooner, but at present he suffers hardly at all, and
he sleeps well, so the nurse tells me.”

“And there’s nothing else that you can try for it?” I asked.

“I’ll try anything you like, but it will be perfectly useless. I’ll
let him have any quack nostrum you and he wish, as long as it doesn’t
injure his health, or make you put off the operation. There are X-rays
and ultra-violet rays, and violet leaves and radium; there are fresh
cures for cancer discovered every day, and what’s the result? They
only make people put off the operation till it’s no longer possible to
operate. Naturally, I will welcome any further opinion you want.”

Now Godfrey Symes is easily the first authority on this subject, and
has a far higher percentage of cures to his credit than anyone else.

“No, I don’t want any fresh opinion,” said I.

“Very well, I’ll have him carefully watched. By the way, can’t you stop
in town and dine with me? There are one or two people coming, and among
them a perfectly mad spiritualist who has more messages from the other
world than I ever get on my telephone. Trunk-calls, eh? I wonder where
the exchange is. Do come! You like cranks, I know!”

“I can’t, I’m afraid,” said I. “I’ve a couple of guests coming to stay
with me to-day down in the country. They are both cranks: one’s a
medium.”

He laughed.

“Well, I can only offer you one crank, and you’ve got two,” he said. “I
must get back to the wards. I’ll write to you in about a week’s time
or so, unless there’s any urgency which I don’t foresee, and I should
suggest your coming up to tell Parkes. Good-bye.”

I caught my train at Charing Cross with about three seconds to spare,
and we slid clanking out over the bridge through the cold, dense air.
Snow had been falling intermittently since morning, and when we got
out of the grime and fog of London, it was lying thickly on field
and hedgerow, retarding by its reflection of such light as lingered
the oncoming of darkness, and giving to the landscape an aloof and
lonely austerity. All day I had felt that drowsiness which accompanies
snowfall, and sometimes, half losing myself in a doze, my mind crept,
like a thing crawling about in the dark, over what Godfrey Symes had
told me. For all these years Parkes, as much friend as servant, had
given me his faithfulness and devotion, and now, in return for that,
all that apparently I could do was to tell him of his plight. It was
clear, from what the surgeon had said, that he expected a serious
disclosure, and I knew from the experience of two friends of mine who
had been in his condition what might be expected of this “exploratory
operation.” Exactly similar had been these cases; there was clear
evidence of an internal growth possibly not malignant, and in each case
the same dismal sequence had followed. The growth had been removed, and
within a couple of months there had been a recrudescence of it. Indeed,
surgery had proved no more than a pruning-knife, which had stimulated
that which the surgeon had hoped to extirpate into swifter activity.
And that apparently was the best chance that Symes held out: the rest
of the treatments were but rubbish or quackery....

My mind crawled away towards another subject: probably the two visitors
whom I expected, Charles Hope and the medium whom he was bringing with
him, were in the same train as I, and I ran over in my mind all that
he had told me of Mrs. Forrest. It was certainly an odd story he had
brought me two days before. Mrs. Forrest was a medium of considerable
reputation in psychical circles, and had produced some very
extraordinary book-tests which, by all accounts, seemed inexplicable,
except on a spiritualistic hypothesis, and no imputation of trickery
had, at any rate as yet, come near her. When in trance, she spoke and
wrote, as is invariably the case with mediums, under the direction
of a certain “control”--that is to say, a spiritual and discarnate
intelligence which for the time was in possession of her. But lately
there had been signs that a fresh control had inspired her, the nature
of whom, his name, and his identity was at present unknown. And then
came the following queer incident.

Last week only when in trance, and apparently under the direction
of this new control, she began describing in considerable detail a
certain house where the control said that he had work to do. At first
the description aroused no association in Charles Hope’s mind, but as
it went on, it suddenly struck him that Mrs. Forrest was speaking of
my house in Tilling. She gave its general features, its position in a
small town on a hill, its walled-in garden, and then went on to speak
with great minuteness of a rather peculiar feature in the house. She
described a big room built out in the garden a few yards away from
the house itself at right-angles to its front, and approached by half
a dozen stone steps. There was a railing, so she said, on each side
of them, and into the railing were twisted, like snake coils, the
stems of a tree which bore pale mauve flowers. This was all a correct
description of my garden room and the wistaria which writhes in and out
of the railings which line the steps. She then went on to speak of the
interior of the room. At one end was a fireplace, at the other a big
bow-window looking out on to the street and the front of the house, and
there were two other windows opposite each other, in one of which was a
table, while the other, looking out on to the garden, was shadowed by
the tree that twisted itself about the railings. Book-cases lined the
walls, and there was a big sofa at right-angles to the fire....

Now all this, though it was a perfectly accurate description of a place
that, as far as could be ascertained, Mrs. Forrest had never seen,
might conceivably have been derived from Charles Hope’s mind, since he
knew the room well, having often stayed with me. But the medium added a
detail which could not conceivably have been thus derived, for Charles
believed it to be incorrect. She said that there was a big piano near
the bow-window, while he was sure that there was not. But oddly enough
I had hired a piano only a week or so ago, and it stood in the place
that she mentioned. The “control” then repeated that there was work
for him to do in that house. There was some situation or complication
there in which he could help, and he could “get through” better (that
is, make a clearer communication) if the medium could hold a séance
there. Charles Hope then told the control that he believed he knew
the house that he had been speaking of, and promised to do his best.
Shortly afterwards Mrs. Forrest came out of trance, and, as usual, had
no recollection of what had passed.

So Charles came to me with the story exactly as I have given it here,
and though I could not think of any situation or complication in which
an unknown control of a medium I had never seen could be of assistance,
the whole thing (and in especial that detail about the piano) was so
odd that I asked him to bring the medium down for a sitting or a series
of sittings. The day of their arrival was arranged, but when three days
ago Parkes had to go into hospital, I was inclined to put them off. But
a neighbour away for a week obligingly lent me a parlour-maid, and I
let the engagement stand. With regard to the situation in which the
control would be of assistance, I can but assure the reader that as far
as I thought about it at all, I only wondered whether it was concerned
with a book on which I was engaged, which dealt (if I could ever
succeed in writing it) with psychical affairs. But at present I could
not get on with it at all. I had made half a dozen beginnings which had
all gone into the waste-paper basket.

My guests proved not to have come by the same train as I, but arrived
shortly before dinner-time, and after Mrs. Forrest had gone to her
room, I had a few words with Charles, who told me exactly how the
situation now stood.

“I know your caution and your captiousness in these affairs,” he said,
“so I have told Mrs. Forrest nothing about the description she gave
of this house, or of the reason why I asked her to come here. I said
only, as we settled, that you were a great friend of mine and immensely
interested in psychical affairs, but a country-mouse whom it was
difficult to get up to town. But you would be delighted if she would
come down for a few days and give some sittings here.”

“And does she recognise the house, do you think?” I asked.

“No sign of it. As I told you, when she comes out of trance she never
seems to have the faintest recollection of what she has said or
written. We shall have a séance, I hope, to-night after dinner.”

“Certainly, if she will,” said I. “I thought we had better hold it in
the garden-room, for that was the place that was so minutely described.
It’s quite warm there, central-heating and a fire, and it’s only half a
dozen yards from the house. I’ve had the snow swept from the steps.”

Mrs. Forrest turned out to be a very intelligent woman, well spiced
with humour, gifted with a sane appreciation of the comforts of life,
and most agreeably furnished with the small change of talk. She
was inclined to be stout, but carried herself with briskness, and
neither in body nor mind did she suggest that she was one who held
communication with the unseen: there was nothing wan or occult about
her. Her general outlook on life appeared to be rather materialistic
than otherwise, and she was very interesting on the topic when, about
half-way through dinner, the subject of her mediumship came on the
conversational board.

“My gifts, such as they are,” she said, “have nothing to do with this
person who sits eating and drinking and talking to you. She, as Mr.
Hope may have told you, is quite expunged before the subconscious part
of me--that is the latest notion, is it not?--gets into touch with
discarnate intelligences. Until that happens, the door is shut, and
when it is over, the door is shut again, and I have no recollection of
what I have said or written. The control uses my hand and my voice, but
that is all. I know no more about it than a piano on which a tune has
been played.”

“And there is a new control who has lately been using you?” I asked.

She laughed.

“You must ask Mr. Hope about that,” she said. “I know nothing
whatever of it. He tells me it is so, and he tells me--don’t you, Mr.
Hope?--that he hasn’t any idea who or what the new control is. I look
forward to its development; my idea is that the control has to get used
to me, as in learning a new instrument. I assure you I am as eager as
anyone that he should gain facility in communication through me. I
hope, indeed, that we are to have a séance to-night.”

The talk veered again, and I learned that Mrs. Forrest had never been
in Tilling before, and was enchanted with the snowy moonlit glance she
had had of its narrow streets and ancient residences. She liked, too,
the atmosphere of the house: it seemed tranquil and kindly; especially
so was the little drawing-room where we had assembled before dinner.

I glanced at Charles.

“I had thought of proposing that we should sit in the garden-room,” I
said, “if you don’t mind half a dozen steps in the open. It adjoins the
house.”

“Just as you wish,” she said, “though I think we have excellent
conditions in here without going there.”

This confirmed her statement that she had no idea after she had come
out of trance what she had said, for otherwise she must have recognised
at the mention of the garden-room her own description of it, and when
soon after dinner we adjourned there, it was clear that, unless she
was acting an inexplicable part, the sight of it twanged no chord of
memory. There we made the very simple arrangements to which she was
accustomed.

As the procedure in such sittings is possibly unfamiliar to the reader,
I will describe quite shortly what our arrangements were. We had no
idea what form these manifestations--if there were any--might take,
and therefore we, Charles and I, were prepared to record them on the
spot. We three sat round a small table about a couple of yards from
the fire, which was burning brightly; Mrs. Forrest seated herself in
a big armchair. Exactly in front of her on the table were a pencil
and a block of paper in case, as often happened, the manifestation
took the form of automatic script--writing, that is, while in a state
of trance. Charles and I sat on each side of her, also provided with
pencil and paper in order to take down what she said if and when (as
lawyers say) the control took possession of her. In case materialised
spirits appeared, a phenomenon not as yet seen at her séances, our idea
was to jot down as quickly as possible whatever we saw or thought we
saw. Should there be rappings or movements of furniture, we were to
make similar notes of our impressions. The lamp was then turned down,
so that just a ring of flame encircled the wick, but the firelight was
of sufficient brightness, as we tested before the séance began, to
enable us to write and to see what we had written. The red glow of it
illuminated the room, and it was settled that Charles should note by
his watch the time at which anything occurred. Occasionally, throughout
the séance a bubble of coal-gas caught fire, and then the whole room
started into strong light. I had given orders that my servants should
not interrupt the sitting at all, unless somebody rang the bell from
the garden-room. In that case it was to be answered. Finally, before
the séance began, we bolted all the windows on the inside and locked
the door. We took no other precautions against trickery, though, as a
matter of fact, Mrs. Forrest suggested that she should be tied into her
chair. But in the firelight any movement of hers would be so visible
that we did not adopt this precaution. Charles and I had settled to
read to each other the notes we made during the sitting, and cut out
anything that both of us had not recorded. The accounts, therefore, of
this sitting and of that which followed next day are founded on our
joint evidence. The sitting began.

Mrs. Forrest was leaning back at ease with her eyes open and her hands
on the arms of her chair. Then her eyes closed and a violent trembling
seized her. That passed, and shortly afterwards her head fell forward
and her breathing became very rapid. Presently that quieted to normal
pace again, and she began to speak at first in a scarcely audible
whisper and then in a high shrill voice, quite unlike her usual tones.

I do not think that in all England there was a more disappointed man
than I during the next half-hour. “Starlight,” it appeared, was in
control, and Starlight was a personage of platitudes. She had been a
nun in the time of Henry VII, and her work was to help those who had
lately passed over. She was very busy and very happy, and was in the
third sphere where they had a great deal of beautiful music. We must
all be good, said Starlight, and it didn’t matter much whether we were
clever or not. Love was the great thing; we had to love each other
and help each other, and death was no more than the gate of life, and
everything would be tremendously jolly.... Starlight, in fact, might be
better described as clap-trap, and I began thinking about Parkes....

And then I ceased to think about Parkes, for the shrill moralities
of Starlight ceased, and Mrs. Forrest’s voice changed again. The
stale facility of her utterance stopped and she began to speak, quite
unintelligibly, in a voice of low baritone range. Charles leaned across
the table and whispered to me.

“That’s the new control,” he said.

The voice that was speaking stumbled and hesitated: it was like that
of a man trying to express himself in some language which he knew very
imperfectly. Sometimes it stopped altogether, and in one of these
pauses I asked:

“Can you tell us your name?”

There was no reply, but presently I saw Mrs. Forrest’s hand reach
out for the pencil. Charles put it into her fingers and placed the
writing-pad more handily for her. I watched the letters, in capitals,
being traced. They were made hesitatingly, but were perfectly legible.
“Swallow,” she wrote, and again “Swallow,” and stopped.

“The bird?” I asked.

The voice spoke in answer; now I could hear the words, uttered in that
low baritone voice.

“No, not a bird,” it said. “Not a bird, but it flies.”

I was utterly at sea; my mind could form no conjecture whatever
as to what was meant. And then the pencil began writing again.
“Swallow, swallow,” and then with a sudden briskness of movement, as
if the guiding intelligence had got over some difficulty, it wrote
“Swallow-tail.”

This seemed more abstrusely senseless than ever. The only connection
with swallow-tail in my mind was a swallow-tailed coat, but whoever
heard of a swallow-tailed coat flying?

“I’ve got it,” said Charles. “Swallow-tail butterfly. Is it that?”

There came three sudden raps on the table, loud and startling. These
raps, I may explain, in the usual code mean “Yes.” As if to confirm
it the pencil began to write again, and spelled out “Swallow-tail
butterfly.”

“Is that your name?” I asked.

There was one rap, which signifies “No,” followed by three, which
means “Yes.” I had not the slightest idea of what it all signified
(indeed it seemed to signify nothing at all), but the sitting had
become extraordinarily interesting if only for its very unexpectedness.
The control was trying to establish himself by three methods
simultaneously--by the voice, by the automatic writing, and by rapping.
But how a swallow-tail butterfly could assist in some situation which
was now existing in my house was utterly beyond me.... Then an idea
struck me: the swallow-tail butterfly no doubt had a scientific name,
and that we could easily ascertain, for I knew that there was on my
shelves a copy of Newman’s _Butterflies and Moths of Great Britain_, a
sumptuous volume bound in morocco, which I had won as an entomological
prize at school. A moment’s search gave me the book, and by the
firelight I turned up the description of this butterfly in the index.
Its scientific name was _Papilio Machaon_.

“Is Machaon your name?” I asked.

The voice came clear now.

“Yes, I am Machaon,” it said.

With that came the end of the séance, which had lasted not more than
an hour. Whatever the power was that had made Mrs. Forrest speak
in that male voice and struggle, through that roundabout method of
“swallow, swallow-tail, Machaon,” to establish its identity, it now
began to fail. Mrs. Forrest’s pencil made a few illegible scribbles,
she whispered a few inaudible words, and presently with a stretch and a
sigh she came out of trance. We told her that the name of the control
was established, but apparently Machaon meant nothing to her. She was
much exhausted, and very soon I took her across to the house to go to
bed, and presently rejoined Charles.

“Who was Machaon, anyhow?” he asked. “He sounds classical: more in your
line than mine.”

I remembered enough Greek mythology to supply elementary facts, while I
hunted for a particular book about Athens.

“Machaon was the son of Asclepios,” I said, “and Asclepios was the
Greek god of healing. He had precincts, hydropathic establishments,
where people went to be cured. The Romans called him Aesculapius.”

“What can he do for you then?” asked Charles. “You’re fairly fit,
aren’t you?”

Not till he spoke did a light dawn on me. Though I had been thinking so
much of Parkes that day, I had not consciously made the connection.

“But Parkes isn’t,” said I. “Is that possible?”

“By Jove!” said he.

I found my book, and turned to the accounts of the precinct of
Asclepios in Athens.

“Yes, Asclepios had two sons,” I said--“Machaon and Podaleirios. In
Homeric times he wasn’t a god, but only a physician, and his sons were
physicians too. The myth of his godhead is rather a late one----”

I shut the book.

“Best not to read any more,” I said. “If we know all about Asclepios,
we shall possibly be suggesting things to the medium’s mind. Let’s
see what Machaon can tell us about himself, and we can verify it
afterwards.”

It was therefore with no further knowledge than this on the subject
of Machaon that we proposed to hold another séance the next day. All
morning the bitter air had been laden with snow, and now the street
in front of my house, a by-way at the best in the slender traffic of
the town, lay white and untrodden, save on the pavement where a few
passengers had gone by. Mrs. Forrest had not appeared at breakfast, and
from then till lunch-time I sat in the bow-window of the garden-room,
for the warmth of the central heating, of which a stack of pipes was
there installed, and for securing the utmost benefit of light that
penetrated this cowl of snow-laden sky, busy with belated letters. The
drowsiness that accompanies snowfall weighed heavily on my faculties,
but as far as I can assert anything, I can assert that I did not
sleep. From one letter I went on to another, and then for the sixth
or seventh time I tried to open my story. It promised better now
than before, and searching for a word that would not come to my pen,
I happened to look up along the street which lay in front of me. I
expected nothing: I was thinking of nothing but my work; probably I
had looked up like that a dozen times before, and had seen the empty
street, with snow lying thickly on the roadway.

But now the roadway was not untenanted. Someone was walking down the
middle of it, and his aspect, incredible though it seemed, was not
startling. Why I was not startled I have no idea: I can only say that
the vision appeared perfectly natural. The figure was that of a young
man, whose hair, black and curly, lay crisply over his forehead. A
large white cloak reaching down to his knees enveloped him, and he
had thrown the end of it over his shoulder. Below his knees his legs
and feet were bare, so too was the arm up to the elbow, with which he
pressed his cloak to him, and there he was walking briskly down the
snowy street. As he came directly below the window where I sat, he
raised his head and looked at me directly, and smiled. And now I saw
his face: there was the low brow, the straight nose, the curved and
sunny mouth, the short chin, and I thought to myself that this was none
other than the Hermes of Praxiteles, he whose statue at Olympia makes
all those who look on it grow young again. There, anyhow, was a boyish
Greek god, stepping blithely and with gay, incomparable grace along
the street, and raising his face to smile at this stolid, middle-aged
man who blankly regarded him. Then with the certainty of one returning
home, he mounted the steps outside the front door, and seemed to pass
into and through it. Certainly he was no longer in the street, and, so
real and solid-seeming had he been to my vision, that I jumped up, ran
across the few steps of garden, and went into the house, and I should
not have been amazed if I had found him standing in the hall. But there
was no one there, and I opened the front door: the snow lay smooth
and untrodden down the centre of the road where he had walked and on
my doorstep. And at that moment the memory of the séance the evening
before, about which up till now I had somehow felt distrustful and
suspicious, passed into the realm of sober fact, for had not Machaon
just now entered my house, with a smile as of recognition on some
friendly mission?

We sat again that afternoon by daylight, and now, I must suppose, the
control was more actively and powerfully present, for hardly had Mrs.
Forrest passed into trance than the voice began, louder than it had
been the night before, and far more distinct. He--Machaon I must call
him--seemed to be anxious to establish his identity beyond all doubt,
like some newcomer presenting his credentials, and he began to speak of
the precinct of Asclepios in Athens. Often he hesitated for a word in
English, often he put in a word in Greek, and as he spoke, fragments of
things I had learned when an archæological student in Athens came back
into my mind, and I knew that he was accurately describing the portico
and the temple and the well. All this I toss to the sceptic to growl
and worry over and tear to bits; for certainly it seems possible that
my mind, holding these facts in its subconsciousness, was suggesting
them to the medium’s mind, who thereupon spoke of them and, conveying
them back to me, made me aware that I had known them.... My forgotten
knowledge of these things and of the Greek language came flooding back
on me, as he told us, now half in Greek, and half in English, of the
patients who came to consult the god, how they washed in the sacred
well for purification, and lay down to sleep in the portico. They often
dreamed, and in the interpretation of their dreams, which they told to
the priest next day, lay the indication of the cure. Or sometimes the
god healed more directly, and accompanied by the sacred snake walked
among the sleepers and by his touch made them whole. His temple was
hung with _ex-votos_, the gifts of those whom he had cured. And at
Epidaurus, where was another shrine of his, there were great mural
tablets recording the same....

Then the voice stopped, and as if to prove identity by another means,
the medium drew the pencil and paper to her, and in Greek characters,
unknown apparently to her, she traced the words “Machaon, son of
Asclepios....”

There was a pause, and I asked a direct question, which now had been
long simmering in my mind.

“Have you come to help me about Parkes?” I asked. “Can you tell me what
will cure him?”

The pencil began to move again, tracing out characters in Greek. It
wrote [Greek: phengos x], and repeated it. I did not at once guess
what it meant, and asked for an explanation. There was no answer, and
presently the medium stirred, stretched herself and sighed, and came
out of trance. She took up the paper on which she had written.

“Did that come through?” she asked. “And what does it mean? I don’t
even know the characters....”

Then suddenly the possible significance of [Greek: phengos x] flashed
on me, and I marvelled at my slowness. [Greek: phengos], a beam of
light, a ray, and the letter [Greek: x], the equivalent of the English
_x_. That had come in direct answer to my question as to what would
cure Parkes, and it was without hesitation or delay that I wrote to
Symes. I reminded him that he had said that he had no objection to
any possible remedy, provided it was not harmful, being tried on his
patient, and I asked him to treat him with X-rays. The whole sequence
of events had been so frankly amazing, that I believe the veriest
sceptic would not have done otherwise than I did.

Our sittings continued, but after this day we had no further evidence
of this second control. It looked as if the intelligence (even the
most incredulous will allow me, for the sake of convenience, to call
that intelligence Machaon) that had described this room, and told Mrs.
Forrest that he had work to do here, had finished his task. Machaon had
said, or so my interpretation was, that X-rays would cure Parkes. In
justification of this view it is proper to quote from a letter which I
got from Symes a week later.

  “There is no need for you to come up to break to Parkes that an
  operation lies in front of him. In answer to your request, and
  without a grain of faith in its success, I treated him with X-rays,
  which I assured you were useless. To-day, to speak quite frankly,
  I don’t know what to think, for the growth has been steadily
  diminishing in size and hardness, and it is perfectly evident that it
  is being absorbed and is disappearing.

  “The treatment through which I put Parkes is that of ----. Here in
  this hospital we have had patients to whom it brought no shadow of
  benefit. Often it had been continued on these deluded wretches till
  any operation which might possibly have been successful was out of
  the question owing to the encroachment of the growth. But from the
  first dose of the X-rays, Parkes began to get better, the growth was
  first arrested, and then diminished.

  “I am trying to put the whole thing before you with as much
  impartiality as I can command. So, on the other side, you must
  remember that Parkes’s was never a proved case of cancer. I told
  you that it could not be proved till the exploratory operation took
  place. All the symptoms pointed to cancer--you see, I am trying to
  save my own face--but my diagnosis, though confirmed by ----, may
  have been wrong. If he only had what we call a benign tumour, the
  case is not so extraordinary; there have been plenty of cases when
  a benign tumour has disappeared by absorption or what not. It is
  unusual, but by no means unknown. For instance....

  “But Parkes’s case was quite different. I certainly believe he had
  a cancerous growth, and thought that an operation was inevitable if
  his life was to be saved. Even then, the most I hoped for was an
  alleviation of pain, as the disease progressed, and a year or two
  more, at the most, of life. Instead, I apply another remedy, at
  your suggestion, and if he goes on as he has been doing, the growth
  will be a nodule in another week or two, and I should expect it to
  disappear altogether. Taking everything into consideration, if you
  asked me the question whether this X-ray treatment was the cause of
  the cure, I should be obliged to say ‘Yes.’ I don’t believe in such
  a treatment, but I believe it is curing him. I suppose that it was
  suggested to you by a fraudulent, spiritualistic medium in a feigned
  trance, who was inspired by Aesculapius or some exploded heathen
  deity, for I remember you said you were going down into the country
  for some spiritual business....

  “Well, Parkes is getting better, and I am so old-fashioned a fellow
  that I would sooner a patient of mine got better by incredible
  methods, than died under my skilful knife.... Of course, we trained
  people know nothing, but we have to act according to the best chances
  of our ignorance. I entirely believed that the knife was the only
  means of saving the man, and now, when I stand confuted, the only
  thing that I can save is my honesty, which I hereby have done. Let me
  know, at your leisure, whether you just thought you would, on your
  own idea, like me to try X-rays, or whether some faked voice from the
  grave suggested it.
                                               “Ever yours,
                                                         “Godfrey Symes.

  “P.S.--If it was some beastly voice from the grave, you might tell me
  in confidence who the medium was. I want to be fair....”

That is the story; the reader will explain it according to his
temperament. And as I have told Parkes, who is now back with me again,
to look into the garden-room before post-time and take a registered
packet to the office, it is time that I got it ready for him. So here
is the completed packet in manuscript, to be sent to the printer’s.
From my window I shall see him go briskly along the street down which
Machaon walked on a snowy morning.



Negotium Perambulans....



Negotium Perambulans....


The casual tourist in West Cornwall may just possibly have noticed,
as he bowled along over the bare high plateau between Penzance and
the Land’s End, a dilapidated signpost pointing down a steep lane
and bearing on its battered finger the faded inscription “Polearn
2 miles,” but probably very few have had the curiosity to traverse
those two miles in order to see a place to which their guide-books
award so cursory a notice. It is described there, in a couple of
unattractive lines, as a small fishing village with a church of no
particular interest except for certain carved and painted wooden panels
(originally belonging to an earlier edifice) which form an altar-rail.
But the church at St. Creed (the tourist is reminded) has a similar
decoration far superior in point of preservation and interest, and thus
even the ecclesiastically disposed are not lured to Polearn. So meagre
a bait is scarce worth swallowing, and a glance at the very steep lane
which in dry weather presents a carpet of sharp-pointed stones, and
after rain a muddy watercourse, will almost certainly decide him not
to expose his motor or his bicycle to risks like these in so sparsely
populated a district. Hardly a house has met his eye since he left
Penzance, and the possible trundling of a punctured bicycle for half
a dozen weary miles seems a high price to pay for the sight of a few
painted panels.

Polearn, therefore, even in the high noon of the tourist season, is
little liable to invasion, and for the rest of the year I do not
suppose that a couple of folk a day traverse those two miles (long ones
at that) of steep and stony gradient. I am not forgetting the postman
in this exiguous estimate, for the days are few when, leaving his
pony and cart at the top of the hill, he goes as far as the village,
since but a few hundred yards down the lane there stands a large
white box, like a sea-trunk, by the side of the road, with a slit for
letters and a locked door. Should he have in his wallet a registered
letter or be the bearer of a parcel too large for insertion in the
square lips of the sea-trunk, he must needs trudge down the hill and
deliver the troublesome missive, leaving it in person on the owner, and
receiving some small reward of coin or refreshment for his kindness.
But such occasions are rare, and his general routine is to take out
of the box such letters as may have been deposited there, and insert
in their place such letters as he has brought. These will be called
for, perhaps that day or perhaps the next, by an emissary from the
Polearn post-office. As for the fishermen of the place, who, in their
export trade, constitute the chief link of movement between Polearn and
the outside world, they would not dream of taking their catch up the
steep lane and so, with six miles farther of travel, to the market at
Penzance. The sea route is shorter and easier, and they deliver their
wares to the pier-head. Thus, though the sole industry of Polearn is
sea-fishing, you will get no fish there unless you have bespoken your
requirements to one of the fishermen. Back come the trawlers as empty
as a haunted house, while their spoils are in the fish-train that is
speeding to London.

Such isolation of a little community, continued, as it has been, for
centuries, produces isolation in the individual as well, and nowhere
will you find greater independence of character than among the people
of Polearn. But they are linked together, so it has always seemed
to me, by some mysterious comprehension: it is as if they had all
been initiated into some ancient rite, inspired and framed by forces
visible and invisible. The winter storms that batter the coast, the
vernal spell of the spring, the hot, still summers, the season of rains
and autumnal decay, have made a spell which, line by line, has been
communicated to them, concerning the powers, evil and good, that rule
the world, and manifest themselves in ways benignant or terrible....

I came to Polearn first at the age of ten, a small boy, weak and
sickly, and threatened with pulmonary trouble. My father’s business
kept him in London, while for me abundance of fresh air and a mild
climate were considered essential conditions if I was to grow to
manhood. His sister had married the vicar of Polearn, Richard Bolitho,
himself native to the place, and so it came about that I spent three
years, as a paying guest, with my relations. Richard Bolitho owned
a fine house in the place, which he inhabited in preference to the
vicarage, which he let to a young artist, John Evans, on whom the spell
of Polearn had fallen, for from year’s beginning to year’s end he never
left it. There was a solid roofed shelter, open on one side to the
air, built for me in the garden, and here I lived and slept, passing
scarcely one hour out of the twenty-four behind walls and windows.
I was out on the bay with the fisher-folk, or wandering along the
gorse-clad cliffs that climbed steeply to right and left of the deep
combe where the village lay, or pottering about on the pier-head, or
bird’s-nesting in the bushes with the boys of the village. Except on
Sunday and for the few daily hours of my lessons, I might do what I
pleased so long as I remained in the open air. About the lessons there
was nothing formidable; my uncle conducted me through flowering bypaths
among the thickets of arithmetic, and made pleasant excursions into the
elements of Latin grammar, and above all, he made me daily give him an
account, in clear and grammatical sentences, of what had been occupying
my mind or my movements. Should I select to tell him about a walk along
the cliffs, my speech must be orderly, not vague, slip-shod notes of
what I had observed. In this way, too, he trained my observation, for
he would bid me tell him what flowers were in bloom, and what birds
hovered fishing over the sea or were building in the bushes. For that
I owe him a perennial gratitude, for to observe and to express my
thoughts in the clear spoken word became my life’s profession.

But far more formidable than my weekday tasks was the prescribed
routine for Sunday. Some dark embers compounded of Calvinism and
mysticism smouldered in my uncle’s soul, and made it a day of terror.
His sermon in the morning scorched us with a foretaste of the eternal
fires reserved for unrepentant sinners, and he was hardly less
terrifying at the children’s service in the afternoon. Well do I
remember his exposition of the doctrine of guardian angels. A child,
he said, might think himself secure in such angelic care, but let him
beware of committing any of those numerous offences which would cause
his guardian to turn his face from him, for as sure as there were
angels to protect us, there were also evil and awful presences which
were ready to pounce; and on them he dwelt with peculiar gusto. Well,
too, do I remember in the morning sermon his commentary on the carved
panels of the altar-rails to which I have already alluded. There was
the angel of the Annunciation there, and the angel of the Resurrection,
but not less was there the witch of Endor, and, on the fourth panel,
a scene that concerned me most of all. This fourth panel (he came
down from his pulpit to trace its time-worn features) represented
the lych-gate of the church-yard at Polearn itself, and indeed the
resemblance when thus pointed out was remarkable. In the entry stood
the figure of a robed priest holding up a Cross, with which he faced
a terrible creature like a gigantic slug, that reared itself up in
front of him. That, so ran my uncle’s interpretation, was some evil
agency, such as he had spoken about to us children, of almost infinite
malignity and power, which could alone be combated by firm faith and a
pure heart. Below ran the legend “_Negotium perambulans in tenebris_”
from the ninety-first Psalm. We should find it translated there, “the
pestilence that walketh in darkness,” which but feebly rendered the
Latin. It was more deadly to the soul than any pestilence that can
only kill the body: it was the Thing, the Creature, the Business that
trafficked in the outer Darkness, a minister of God’s wrath on the
unrighteous....

I could see, as he spoke, the looks which the congregation exchanged
with each other, and knew that his words were evoking a surmise, a
remembrance. Nods and whispers passed between them, they understood
to what he alluded, and with the inquisitiveness of boyhood I could
not rest till I had wormed the story out of my friends among the
fisher-boys, as, next morning, we sat basking and naked in the sun
after our bathe. One knew one bit of it, one another, but it pieced
together into a truly alarming legend. In bald outline it was as
follows:

A church far more ancient than that in which my uncle terrified us
every Sunday had once stood not three hundred yards away, on the shelf
of level ground below the quarry from which its stones were hewn. The
owner of the land had pulled this down, and erected for himself a house
on the same site out of these materials, keeping, in a very ecstasy of
wickedness, the altar, and on this he dined and played dice afterwards.
But as he grew old some black melancholy seized him, and he would have
lights burning there all night, for he had deadly fear of the darkness.
On one winter evening there sprang up such a gale as was never before
known, which broke in the windows of the room where he had supped, and
extinguished the lamps. Yells of terror brought in his servants, who
found him lying on the floor with the blood streaming from his throat.
As they entered some huge black shadow seemed to move away from him,
crawled across the floor and up the wall and out of the broken window.

“There he lay a-dying,” said the last of my informants, “and him
that had been a great burly man was withered to a bag o’ skin, for
the critter had drained all the blood from him. His last breath was
a scream, and he hollered out the same words as parson read off the
screen.”

“_Negotium perambulans in tenebris_,” I suggested eagerly.

“Thereabouts. Latin anyhow.”

“And after that?” I asked.

“Nobody would go near the place, and the old house rotted and fell in
ruins till three years ago, when along comes Mr. Dooliss from Penzance,
and built the half of it up again. But he don’t care much about such
critters, nor about Latin neither. He takes his bottle of whisky a
day and gets drunk’s a lord in the evening. Eh, I’m gwine home to my
dinner.”

Whatever the authenticity of the legend, I had certainly heard the
truth about Mr. Dooliss from Penzance, who from that day became
an object of keen curiosity on my part, the more so because the
quarry-house adjoined my uncle’s garden. The Thing that walked in
the dark failed to stir my imagination, and already I was so used to
sleeping alone in my shelter that the night had no terrors for me. But
it would be intensely exciting to wake at some timeless hour and hear
Mr. Dooliss yelling, and conjecture that the Thing had got him.

But by degrees the whole story faded from my mind, overscored by
the more vivid interests of the day, and, for the last two years of
my out-door life in the vicarage garden, I seldom thought about Mr.
Dooliss and the possible fate that might await him for his temerity in
living in the place where that Thing of darkness had done business.
Occasionally I saw him over the garden fence, a great yellow lump of
a man, with slow and staggering gait, but never did I set eyes on him
outside his gate, either in the village street or down on the beach.
He interfered with none, and no one interfered with him. If he wanted
to run the risk of being the prey of the legendary nocturnal monster,
or quietly drink himself to death, it was his affair. My uncle, so I
gathered, had made several attempts to see him when first he came to
live at Polearn, but Mr. Dooliss appeared to have no use for parsons,
but said he was not at home and never returned the call.

       *       *       *       *       *

After three years of sun, wind, and rain, I had completely outgrown
my early symptoms and had become a tough, strapping youngster of
thirteen. I was sent to Eton and Cambridge, and in due course ate my
dinners and became a barrister. In twenty years from that time I was
earning a yearly income of five figures, and had already laid by in
sound securities a sum that brought me dividends which would, for
one of my simple tastes and frugal habits, supply me with all the
material comforts I needed on this side of the grave. The great prizes
of my profession were already within my reach, but I had no ambition
beckoning me on, nor did I want a wife and children, being, I must
suppose, a natural celibate. In fact there was only one ambition which
through these busy years had held the lure of blue and far-off hills to
me, and that was to get back to Polearn, and live once more isolated
from the world with the sea and the gorse-clad hills for play-fellows,
and the secrets that lurked there for exploration. The spell of it had
been woven about my heart, and I can truly say that there had hardly
passed a day in all those years in which the thought of it and the
desire for it had been wholly absent from my mind. Though I had been in
frequent communication with my uncle there during his lifetime, and,
after his death, with his widow who still lived there, I had never
been back to it since I embarked on my profession, for I knew that if
I went there, it would be a wrench beyond my power to tear myself away
again. But I had made up my mind that when once I had provided for my
own independence, I would go back there not to leave it again. And yet
I did leave it again, and now nothing in the world would induce me to
turn down the lane from the road that leads from Penzance to the Land’s
End, and see the sides of the combe rise steep above the roofs of the
village and hear the gulls chiding as they fish in the bay. One of the
things invisible, of the dark powers, leaped into light, and I saw it
with my eyes.

The house where I had spent those three years of boyhood had been left
for life to my aunt, and when I made known to her my intention of
coming back to Polearn, she suggested that, till I found a suitable
house or found her proposal unsuitable, I should come to live with her.

“The house is too big for a lone old woman,” she wrote, “and I have
often thought of quitting and taking a little cottage sufficient for me
and my requirements. But come and share it, my dear, and if you find
me troublesome, you or I can go. You may want solitude--most people in
Polearn do--and will leave me. Or else I will leave you: one of the
main reasons of my stopping here all these years was a feeling that I
must not let the old house starve. Houses starve, you know, if they
are not lived in. They die a lingering death; the spirit in them grows
weaker and weaker, and at last fades out of them. Isn’t this nonsense
to your London notions?...”

Naturally I accepted with warmth this tentative arrangement, and on an
evening in June found myself at the head of the lane leading down to
Polearn, and once more I descended into the steep valley between the
hills. Time had stood still apparently for the combe, the dilapidated
signpost (or its successor) pointed a rickety finger down the lane,
and a few hundred yards farther on was the white box for the exchange
of letters. Point after remembered point met my eye, and what I saw
was not shrunk, as is often the case with the revisited scenes of
childhood, into a smaller scale. There stood the post-office, and there
the church and close beside it the vicarage, and beyond, the tall
shrubberies which separated the house for which I was bound from the
road, and beyond that again the grey roofs of the quarry-house damp and
shining with the moist evening wind from the sea. All was exactly as I
remembered it, and, above all, that sense of seclusion and isolation.
Somewhere above the tree-tops climbed the lane which joined the main
road to Penzance, but all that had become immeasurably distant. The
years that had passed since last I turned in at the well-known gate
faded like a frosty breath, and vanished in this warm, soft air. There
were law-courts somewhere in memory’s dull book which, if I cared to
turn the pages, would tell me that I had made a name and a great income
there. But the dull book was closed now, for I was back in Polearn, and
the spell was woven around me again.

And if Polearn was unchanged, so too was Aunt Hester, who met me at the
door. Dainty and china-white she had always been, and the years had
not aged but only refined her. As we sat and talked after dinner she
spoke of all that had happened in Polearn in that score of years, and
yet somehow the changes of which she spoke seemed but to confirm the
immutability of it all. As the recollection of names came back to me, I
asked her about the quarry-house and Mr. Dooliss, and her face gloomed
a little as with the shadow of a cloud on a spring day.

“Yes, Mr. Dooliss,” she said, “poor Mr. Dooliss, how well I remember
him, though it must be ten years and more since he died. I never wrote
to you about it, for it was all very dreadful, my dear, and I did not
want to darken your memories of Polearn. Your uncle always thought that
something of the sort might happen if he went on in his wicked, drunken
ways, and worse than that, and though nobody knew exactly what took
place, it was the sort of thing that might have been anticipated.”

“But what more or less happened, Aunt Hester?” I asked.

“Well, of course I can’t tell you everything, for no one knew it. But
he was a very sinful man, and the scandal about him at Newlyn was
shocking. And then he lived, too, in the quarry-house.... I wonder
if by any chance you remember a sermon of your uncle’s when he got
out of the pulpit and explained that panel in the altar-rails, the
one, I mean, with the horrible creature rearing itself up outside the
lych-gate?”

“Yes, I remember perfectly,” said I.

“Ah. It made an impression on you, I suppose, and so it did on all who
heard him, and that impression got stamped and branded on us all when
the catastrophe occurred. Somehow Mr. Dooliss got to hear about your
uncle’s sermon, and in some drunken fit he broke into the church and
smashed the panel to atoms. He seems to have thought that there was
some magic in it, and that if he destroyed that he would get rid of
the terrible fate that was threatening him. For I must tell you that
before he committed that dreadful sacrilege he had been a haunted man:
he hated and feared darkness, for he thought that the creature on the
panel was on his track, but that as long as he kept lights burning
it could not touch him. But the panel, to his disordered mind, was
the root of his terror, and so, as I said, he broke into the church
and attempted--you will see why I said ‘attempted’--to destroy it. It
certainly was found in splinters next morning, when your uncle went
into church for matins, and knowing Mr. Dooliss’s fear of the panel,
he went across to the quarry-house afterwards and taxed him with its
destruction. The man never denied it; he boasted of what he had done.
There he sat, though it was early morning, drinking his whisky.

“‘I’ve settled your Thing for you,’ he said, ‘and your sermon too. A
fig for such superstitions.’

“Your uncle left him without answering his blasphemy, meaning to go
straight into Penzance and give information to the police about this
outrage to the church, but on his way back from the quarry-house he
went into the church again, in order to be able to give details about
the damage, and there in the screen was the panel, untouched and
uninjured. And yet he had himself seen it smashed, and Mr. Dooliss had
confessed that the destruction of it was his work. But there it was,
and whether the power of God had mended it or some other power, who
knows?”

This was Polearn indeed, and it was the spirit of Polearn that made me
accept all Aunt Hester was telling me as attested fact. It had happened
like that. She went on in her quiet voice.

“Your uncle recognised that some power beyond police was at work, and
he did not go to Penzance or give information about the outrage, for
the evidence of it had vanished.”

A sudden spate of scepticism swept over me.

“There must have been some mistake,” I said. “It hadn’t been broken....”

She smiled.

“Yes, my dear, but you have been in London so long,” she said. “Let
me, anyhow, tell you the rest of my story. That night, for some reason,
I could not sleep. It was very hot and airless; I dare say you will
think that the sultry conditions accounted for my wakefulness. Once and
again, as I went to the window to see if I could not admit more air, I
could see from it the quarry-house, and I noticed the first time that
I left my bed that it was blazing with lights. But the second time I
saw that it was all in darkness, and as I wondered at that, I heard a
terrible scream, and the moment afterwards the steps of someone coming
at full speed down the road outside the gate. He yelled as he ran;
‘Light, light!’ he called out. ‘Give me light, or it will catch me!’ It
was very terrible to hear that, and I went to rouse my husband, who was
sleeping in the dressing-room across the passage. He wasted no time,
but by now the whole village was aroused by the screams, and when he
got down to the pier he found that all was over. The tide was low, and
on the rocks at its foot was lying the body of Mr. Dooliss. He must
have cut some artery when he fell on those sharp edges of stone, for
he had bled to death, they thought, and though he was a big burly man,
his corpse was but skin and bones. Yet there was no pool of blood round
him, such as you would have expected. Just skin and bones as if every
drop of blood in his body had been sucked out of him!”

She leaned forward.

“You and I, my dear, know what happened,” she said, “or at least
can guess. God has His instruments of vengeance on those who bring
wickedness into places that have been holy. Dark and mysterious are His
ways.”

Now what I should have thought of such a story if it had been told me
in London I can easily imagine. There was such an obvious explanation:
the man in question had been a drunkard, what wonder if the demons of
delirium pursued him? But here in Polearn it was different.

“And who is in the quarry-house now?” I asked. “Years ago the
fisher-boys told me the story of the man who first built it and of his
horrible end. And now again it has happened. Surely no one has ventured
to inhabit it once more?”

I saw in her face, even before I asked that question, that somebody had
done so.

“Yes, it is lived in again,” said she, “for there is no end to the
blindness.... I don’t know if you remember him. He was tenant of the
vicarage many years ago.”

“John Evans,” said I.

“Yes. Such a nice fellow he was too. Your uncle was pleased to get so
good a tenant. And now----”

She rose.

“Aunt Hester, you shouldn’t leave your sentences unfinished,” I said.

She shook her head.

“My dear, that sentence will finish itself,” she said. “But what a time
of night! I must go to bed, and you too, or they will think we have to
keep lights burning here through the dark hours.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Before getting into bed I drew my curtains wide and opened all the
windows to the warm tide of the sea air that flowed softly in. Looking
out into the garden I could see in the moonlight the roof of the
shelter, in which for three years I had lived, gleaming with dew. That,
as much as anything, brought back the old days to which I had now
returned, and they seemed of one piece with the present, as if no gap
of more than twenty years sundered them. The two flowed into one like
globules of mercury uniting into a softly shining globe, of mysterious
lights and reflections. Then, raising my eyes a little, I saw against
the black hill-side the windows of the quarry-house still alight.

Morning, as is so often the case, brought no shattering of my illusion.
As I began to regain consciousness, I fancied that I was a boy again
waking up in the shelter in the garden, and though, as I grew more
widely awake, I smiled at the impression, that on which it was based
I found to be indeed true. It was sufficient now as then to be here,
to wander again on the cliffs, and hear the popping of the ripened
seed-pods on the gorse-bushes; to stray along the shore to the
bathing-cove, to float and drift and swim in the warm tide, and bask
on the sand, and watch the gulls fishing, to lounge on the pier-head
with the fisher-folk, to see in their eyes and hear in their quiet
speech the evidence of secret things not so much known to them as
part of their instincts and their very being. There were powers and
presences about me; the white poplars that stood by the stream that
babbled down the valley knew of them, and showed a glimpse of their
knowledge sometimes, like the gleam of their white underleaves; the
very cobbles that paved the street were soaked in it.... All that I
wanted was to lie there and grow soaked in it too; unconsciously, as
a boy, I had done that, but now the process must be conscious. I must
know what stir of forces, fruitful and mysterious, seethed along the
hill-side at noon, and sparkled at night on the sea. They could be
known, they could even be controlled by those who were masters of the
spell, but never could they be spoken of, for they were dwellers in the
innermost, grafted into the eternal life of the world. There were dark
secrets as well as these clear, kindly powers, and to these no doubt
belonged the _negotium perambulans in tenebris_ which, though of deadly
malignity, might be regarded not only as evil, but as the avenger of
sacrilegious and impious deeds.... All this was part of the spell of
Polearn, of which the seeds had long lain dormant in me. But now they
were sprouting, and who knew what strange flower would unfold on their
stems?

It was not long before I came across John Evans. One morning, as I lay
on the beach, there came shambling across the sand a man stout and
middle-aged with the face of Silenus. He paused as he drew near and
regarded me from narrow eyes.

“Why, you’re the little chap that used to live in the parson’s garden,”
he said. “Don’t you recognise me?”

I saw who it was when he spoke: his voice, I think, instructed me, and
recognising it, I could see the features of the strong, alert young man
in this gross caricature.

“Yes, you’re John Evans,” I said. “You used to be very kind to me: you
used to draw pictures for me.”

“So I did, and I’ll draw you some more. Been bathing? That’s a risky
performance. You never know what lives in the sea, nor what lives on
the land for that matter. Not that I heed them. I stick to work and
whisky. God! I’ve learned to paint since I saw you, and drink too for
that matter. I live in the quarry-house, you know, and it’s a powerful
thirsty place. Come and have a look at my things if you’re passing.
Staying with your aunt, are you? I could do a wonderful portrait of
her. Interesting face; she knows a lot. People who live at Polearn get
to know a lot, though I don’t take much stock in that sort of knowledge
myself.”

I do not know when I have been at once so repelled and interested.
Behind the mere grossness of his face there lurked something which,
while it appalled, yet fascinated me. His thick lisping speech had the
same quality. And his paintings, what would they be like?...

“I was just going home,” I said. “I’ll gladly come in, if you’ll allow
me.”

He took me through the untended and overgrown garden into the house
which I had never yet entered. A great grey cat was sunning itself in
the window, and an old woman was laying lunch in a corner of the cool
hall into which the door opened. It was built of stone, and the carved
mouldings let into the walls, the fragments of gargoyles and sculptured
images, bore testimony to the truth of its having been built out of
the demolished church. In one corner was an oblong and carved wooden
table littered with a painter’s apparatus and stacks of canvases leaned
against the walls.

He jerked his thumb towards a head of an angel that was built into the
mantelpiece and giggled.

“Quite a sanctified air,” he said, “so we tone it down for the
purposes of ordinary life by a different sort of art. Have a drink? No?
Well, turn over some of my pictures while I put myself to rights.”

He was justified in his own estimate of his skill: he could paint (and
apparently he could paint anything), but never have I seen pictures
so inexplicably hellish. There were exquisite studies of trees, and
you knew that something lurked in the flickering shadows. There was a
drawing of his cat sunning itself in the window, even as I had just now
seen it, and yet it was no cat but some beast of awful malignity. There
was a boy stretched naked on the sands, not human, but some evil thing
which had come out of the sea. Above all there were pictures of his
garden overgrown and jungle-like, and you knew that in the bushes were
presences ready to spring out on you....

“Well, do you like my style?” he said as he came up, glass in hand.
(The tumbler of spirits that he held had not been diluted.) “I try to
paint the essence of what I see, not the mere husk and skin of it, but
its nature, where it comes from and what gave it birth. There’s much
in common between a cat and a fuchsia-bush if you look at them closely
enough. Everything came out of the slime of the pit, and it’s all going
back there. I should like to do a picture of you some day. I’d hold the
mirror up to Nature, as that old lunatic said.”

After this first meeting I saw him occasionally throughout the months
of that wonderful summer. Often he kept to his house and to his
painting for days together, and then perhaps some evening I would find
him lounging on the pier, always alone, and every time we met thus the
repulsion and interest grew, for every time he seemed to have gone
farther along a path of secret knowledge towards some evil shrine
where complete initiation awaited him.... And then suddenly the end
came.

I had met him thus one evening on the cliffs while the October sunset
still burned in the sky, but over it with amazing rapidity there spread
from the west a great blackness of cloud such as I have never seen for
denseness. The light was sucked from the sky, the dusk fell in ever
thicker layers. He suddenly became conscious of this.

“I must get back as quick as I can,” he said. “It will be dark in a few
minutes, and my servant is out. The lamps will not be lit.”

He stepped out with extraordinary briskness for one who shambled and
could scarcely lift his feet, and soon broke out into a stumbling run.
In the gathering darkness I could see that his face was moist with the
dew of some unspoken terror.

“You must come with me,” he panted, “for so we shall get the lights
burning the sooner. I cannot do without light.”

I had to exert myself to the full to keep up with him, for terror
winged him, and even so I fell behind, so that when I came to the
garden gate, he was already half-way up the path to the house. I saw
him enter, leaving the door wide, and found him fumbling with matches.
But his hand so trembled that he could not transfer the light to the
wick of the lamp.

“But what’s the hurry about?” I asked.

Suddenly his eyes focused themselves on the open door behind me, and he
jumped from his seat beside the table which had once been the altar of
God, with a gasp and a scream.

“No, no!” he cried. “Keep it off!...”

I turned and saw what he had seen. The Thing had entered and now was
swiftly sliding across the floor towards him, like some gigantic
caterpillar. A stale phosphorescent light came from it, for though the
dusk had grown to blackness outside, I could see it quite distinctly in
the awful light of its own presence. From it too there came an odour
of corruption and decay, as from slime that has long lain below water.
It seemed to have no head, but on the front of it was an orifice of
puckered skin which opened and shut and slavered at the edges. It was
hairless, and slug-like in shape and in texture. As it advanced its
fore-part reared itself from the ground, like a snake about to strike,
and it fastened on him....

At that sight, and with the yells of his agony in my ears, the panic
which had struck me relaxed into a hopeless courage, and with palsied,
impotent hands I tried to lay hold of the Thing. But I could not:
though something material was there, it was impossible to grasp it;
my hands sunk in it as in thick mud. It was like wrestling with a
nightmare.

I think that but a few seconds elapsed before all was over. The screams
of the wretched man sank to moans and mutterings as the Thing fell
on him: he panted once or twice and was still. For a moment longer
there came gurglings and sucking noises, and then it slid out even as
it had entered. I lit the lamp which he had fumbled with, and there
on the floor he lay, no more than a rind of skin in loose folds over
projecting bones.



At the Farmhouse



At the Farmhouse


The dusk of a November day was falling fast when John Aylsford came
out of his lodging in the cobbled street and started to walk briskly
along the road which led eastwards by the shore of the bay. He had been
at work while the daylight served him, and now, when the gathering
darkness weaned him from his easel, he was accustomed to go out for air
and exercise and cover half a dozen miles before he returned to his
solitary supper.

To-night there were but few folk abroad, and those scudded along before
the strong south-westerly gale which had roared and raged all day, or,
leaning forward, beat their way against it. No fishing-boats had put
forth on that maddened sea, but had lain moored behind the quay-wall,
tossing uneasily with the backwash of the great breakers that swept
by the pier-head. The tide was low now, and they rested on the sandy
beach, black blots against the smooth wet surface which sombrely
reflected the last flames in the west. The sun had gone down in a wrack
of broken and flying clouds, angry and menacing with promise of a wild
night to come.

For many days past, at this hour John Aylsford had started eastwards
for his tramp along the rough coast road by the bay. The last high
tide had swept shingle and sand over sections of it, and fragments of
seaweed, driven by the wind, bowled along the ruts. The heavy boom of
the breakers sounded sullenly in the dusk, and white towers of foam
appearing and disappearing showed how high they leaped over the reefs
of rock beyond the headland. For half a mile or so, slanting himself
against the gale he pursued this road, then turned up a narrow muddy
lane sunk deep between the banks on either side of it. It ran steeply
uphill, dipped down again, and joined the main road inland. Having
arrived at the junction, John Aylsford went eastwards no more, but
turned his steps to the west, arriving, half an hour after he had set
out, on the top of the hill above the village he had quitted, though
five minutes’ ascent would have taken him from his lodgings to the spot
where he now stood looking down on the scattered lights below him. The
wind had blown all wayfarers indoors, and now in front of him the road
that crossed this high and desolate table-land, sprinkled here and
there with lonely cottages and solitary farms, lay empty and greyly
glimmering in the wind-swept darkness, not more than faintly visible.

Many times during this past month had John Aylsford made this long
detour, starting eastwards from the village and coming back by a wide
circuit, and now, as on these other occasions, he paused in the black
shelter of the hedge through which the wind hissed and whistled,
crouching there in the shadow as if to make sure that none had followed
him, and that the road in front lay void of passengers, for he had no
mind to be observed by any on these journeyings. And as he paused he
let his hate blaze up, warming him for the work the accomplishment of
which alone could enable him to recapture any peace or profit from
life. To-night he was determined to release himself from the millstone
which for so many years had hung round his neck, drowning him in bitter
waters. From long brooding over the idea of the deed, he had quite
ceased to feel any horror of it. The death of that drunken slut was not
a matter for qualms or uneasiness; the world would be well rid of her,
and he more than well.

No spark of tenderness for the handsome fisher-girl who once had been
his model and for twenty years had been his wife pierced the blackness
of his purpose. Just here it was that he had seen her first when on a
summer holiday he had lodged with a couple of friends in the farmhouse
towards which his way now lay. She was coming up the hill with the
late sunset gilding her face, and, breathing quickly from the ascent,
had leaned on the wall close by with a smile and a glance for the
young man. She had sat to him, and the autumn brought the sequel to
the summer in his marriage. He had bought from her uncle the little
farmhouse where he had lodged, adding to its modest accommodation a
studio and a bedroom above it, and there he had seen the flicker of
what had never been love, die out, and over the cold ashes of its
embers the poisonous lichen of hatred spread fast. Early in their
married life she had taken to drink, and had sunk into a degradation of
soul and body that seemed bottomless, dragging him with her, down and
down, in the grip of a force that was hardly human in its malignity.

Often during the wretched years that followed he had tried to leave
her; he had offered to settle the farm on her and make adequate
provision for her, but she had clung to the possession of him, not,
it would seem, from any affection for him, but for a reason exactly
opposite, namely, that her hatred of him fed and glutted itself on the
sight of his ruin. It was as if, in obedience to some hellish power,
she set herself to spoil his life, his powers, his possibilities, by
tying him to herself. And by the aid of that power, so sometimes he had
thought, she enforced her will on him, for, plan as he might to cut the
whole dreadful business and leave the wreck behind him, he had never
been able to consolidate his resolve into action. There, but a few
miles away, was the station from which ran the train that would bear
him out of this ancient western kingdom, where the beliefs in spells
and superstitions grew rank as the herbage in that soft enervating air,
and set him in the dry hard light of cities. The way lay open, but he
could not take it; something unseen and potent, of grim inflexibility,
held him back....

He had passed no one on his way here, and satisfied now that in the
darkness he could proceed without fear of being recognised if a chance
wayfarer came from the direction in which he was going, he left the
shelter of the hedge, and struck out into the stormy sea of that
stupendous gale. Even as a man in the grip of imminent death sees his
past life spread itself out in front of him for his final survey before
the book is closed, so now, on the brink of the new life from which the
deed on which he was determined alone separated him, John Aylsford, as
he battled his advance through this great tempest, turned over page
after page of his own wretched chronicles, feeling already strangely
detached from them; it was as if he read the sordid and enslaved annals
of another, wondering at them, half-pitying, half-despising him who had
allowed himself to be bound so long in this ruinous noose.

Yes; it had been just that, a noose drawn ever tighter round his neck,
while he choked and struggled all unavailingly. But there was another
noose which should very soon now be drawn rapidly and finally tight,
and the drawing of that in his own strong hands would free him. As he
dwelt on that for a moment, his fingers stroked and patted the hank of
whipcord that lay white and tough in his pocket. A noose, a knot drawn
quickly taut, and he would have paid her back with justice and swifter
mercy for the long strangling which he had suffered.

Voluntarily and eagerly at the beginning had he allowed her to slip the
noose about him, for Ellen Trenair’s beauty in those days, so long past
and so everlastingly regretted, had been enough to ensnare a man. He
had been warned at the time, by hint and half-spoken suggestion, that
it was ill for a man to mate with a girl of that dark and ill-famed
family, or for a woman to wed a boy in whose veins ran the blood of
Jonas Trenair, once Methodist preacher, who learned on one All-Hallows’
Eve a darker gospel than he had ever preached before. What had happened
to the girls who had married into that dwindling family, now all
but extinct? One, before her marriage was a year old, had gone off
her head, and now, a withered and ancient crone, mowed and gibbered
about the streets of the village, picking garbage from the gutter and
munching it in her toothless jaws. Another, Ellen’s own mother, had
been found hanging from the banister of her stairs, stark and grim.
Then there was young Frank Pencarris, who had wed Ellen’s sister.
He had sunk into an awful melancholy, and sat tracing on sheets of
paper the visions that beset his eyes, headless shapes, and foaming
mouths, and the images of the spawn of hell.... John Aylsford, in those
early days, had laughed to scorn these old-wife tales of spells and
sorceries: they belonged to ages long past, whereas fair Ellen Trenair
was of the lovely present, and had lit desire in his heart which she
alone could assuage. He had no use, in the brightness of her eye, for
such shadows and superstitions; her beams dispelled them.

Bitter and black as midnight had his enlightenment been, darkening
through dubious dusks till the mirk of the pit itself enveloped him.
His laughter at the notion that in this twentieth century spells and
sorceries could survive, grew silent on his lips. He had seen the
cattle of a neighbour who had offended one whom it was wiser not to
cross, dwindle and pine, though there were rich pastures for their
grazing, till the rib-bones stuck out like the timbers of stranded
wrecks. He had seen the spring on another farm run dry at lambing-time
because the owner, sceptic like himself, had refused that bounty, which
all prudent folk paid to the wizard of Mareuth, who, like Ellen, was of
the blood of Jonas Trenair. From scorn and laughter he had wavered to
an uneasy wonder, and from wonder his mind had passed to the conviction
that there were powers occult and terrible which strove in darkness and
prevailed, secrets and spells that could send disease on man and beast,
dark incantations, known to few, which could maim and cripple, and of
these few his wife was one. His reason revolted, but some conviction,
deeper than reason, held its own. To such a view it seemed that the
deed he contemplated was no crime, but rather an act of obedience to
the ordinance “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” And the sense of
detachment was over that, even as over the memories that oozed up in
his mind. Somebody--not he--who had planned everything very carefully
was in the next hour going to put an end to his bondage.

So the years had passed, he floundering ever deeper in the slough into
which he was plunged, out of which while she lived he could never
emerge. For the last year, she, wearying of his perpetual presence at
the farm, had allowed him to take a lodging in the village. She did
not loose her hold over him, for the days were few on which she did
not come with demands for a handful of shillings to procure her the
raw spirits which alone could slake her thirst. Sometimes as he sat
at work there in the north room looking on to the small garden-yard,
she would come lurching up the path, with her bloated crimson face set
on the withered neck, and tap at his window with fingers shrivelled
like bird’s claws. Body and limbs were no more than bones over which
the wrinkled skin was stretched, but her face bulged monstrously with
layers of fat. He would give her whatever he had about him, and if
it was not enough, she would plant herself there, grinning at him
and wheedling him, or with screams and curses threatening him with
such fate as he had known to overtake those who crossed her will. But
usually he gave her enough to satisfy her for that day and perhaps the
next, for thus she would the more quickly drink herself to death. Yet
death seemed long in coming....

He remembered well how first the notion of killing her came into his
head, just a little seed, small as that of mustard, which lay long
in barrenness. Only the bare idea of it was there, like an abstract
proposition. Then imperceptibly in the fruitful darkness of his mind,
it must have begun to sprout, for presently a tendril, still soft and
white, prodded out into the daylight. He almost pushed it back again,
for fear that she, by some divining art, should probe his purpose.
But when next she came for supplies, he saw no gleam of surmise in
her red-rimmed eyes, and she took her money and went her way, and
his purpose put forth another leaf, and the stem of it grew sappy.
All autumn through it had flourished, and grown tree-like, and fresh
ideas, fresh details, fresh precautions, flocked there like building
birds and made it gay with singing. He sat under the shadow of it and
listened with brightening hopes to their song; never had there been
such peerless melody. They knew their tunes now, there was no need for
any further rehearsal.

He began to wonder how soon he would be back on the road again, with
face turned from this buffeting wind, and on his way home. His business
would not take him long; the central deed of it would be over in a
couple of minutes, and he did not anticipate delay about the setting
to work on it, for by seven o’clock of the evening, as well he knew,
she was usually snoring in the oblivion of complete drunkenness,
and even if she was not as far gone as that, she would certainly be
incapable of any serious resistance. After that, a quarter of an hour
more would finish the job, and he would leave the house secure already
from any chance of detection. Night after night during these last ten
days he had been up here, peering from the darkness into the lighted
room where she sat, then listening for her step on the stairs as
she stumbled up to bed, or hearing her snorings as she slept in her
chair below. The out-house, he knew, was well stocked with paraffin;
he needed no further apparatus than the whipcord and the matches he
carried with him. Then back he would go along the exact route by which
he had come, re-entering the village again from the eastwards, in which
direction he had set out.

This walk of his was now a known and established habit; half the
village during the last week or two had seen him every evening set
forth along the coast road, for a tramp in the dusk when the light
failed for his painting, and had seen him come back again as they hung
about and smoked in the warm dusk, a couple of hours later. None knew
of his detour to the main road which took him westwards again above
the village and so to the stretch of bleak upland along which now he
fought his way against the gale. Always round about the hour of eight
he had entered the village again from the other side, and had stopped
and chatted with the loiterers. To-night, no later than was usual, he
would come up the cobbled road again, and give “good night” to any who
lingered there outside the public-house. In this wild wind it was not
likely that there would be such, and if so, no matter; he had been seen
already setting forth on his usual walk by the coast of the bay, and
if none outside saw him return, none could see the true chart of his
walk. By eight he should be back to his supper, there would be a soused
herring for him, and a cut of cheese, and the kettle would be singing
on the hob for his hot whisky-toddy. He would have a keen edge for the
enjoyment of them to-night; he would drink long healths to the damned
and the dead. Not till to-morrow, probably, would the news of what had
happened reach him, for the farmhouse lay lonely and sheltered by the
wood of firs. However high might mount the beacon of its blazing, it
would scarcely, screened by the tall trees, light up the western sky,
and be seen from the village nestling below the steep hill-crest.

By now John Aylsford had come to the fir wood which bordered the road
on the left, and, as he passed into its shelter, cut off from him the
violence of the gale. All its branches were astir with the sound of
some vexed, overhead sea, and the trunks that upheld them creaked and
groaned in the fury of the tempest. Somewhere behind the thick scud
of flying cloud the moon must have risen, for the road glimmered more
visibly, and the tossing blackness of the branches was clear enough
against the grey tumult overhead. Behind the tempest she rode in serene
skies, and in the murderous clarity of his mind he likened himself to
her. Just for half an hour more he would still grope and scheme and
achieve in this hurly-burly, and then, like a balloon released, soar
through the clouds and find serenity. A couple of hundred yards now
would take him round the corner of the wood; from there the miry lane
led from the high-road to the farm.

He hastened rather than retarded his going as he drew near, for the
wood, though it roared with the gale, began to whisper to him of
memories. Often in that summer before his marriage had he strayed
out at dusk into it, certain that before he had gone many paces he
would see a shadow flitting towards him through the firs, or hear the
crack of dry twigs in the stillness. Here was their tryst; she would
come up from the village with the excuse of bringing fish to the
farmhouse, after the boats had come in, and deserting the high-road
make a short cut through the wood. Like some distant blink of lightning
the memory of those evenings quivered distantly on his mind, and he
quickened his step. The years that followed had killed and buried
those recollections, but who knew what stirring of corpses and dry
bones might not yet come to them if he lingered there? He fingered the
whipcord in his pocket, and launched out, beyond the trees, into the
full fury of the gale.

The farmhouse was near now and in full view, a black blot against
the clouds. A beam of light shone from an uncurtained window on the
ground-floor, and the rest was dark. Even thus had he seen it for many
nights past, and well knew what sight would greet him as he stole up
nearer. And even so it was to-night, for there she sat in the studio he
had built, betwixt table and fireplace with the bottle near her, and
her withered hands stretched out to the blaze, and the huge bloated
face swaying on her shoulders. Beside her to-night were the wrecked
remains of a chair, and the first sight that he caught of her was to
show her feeding the fire with the broken pieces of it. It had been too
troublesome to bring fresh logs from the store of wood; to break up a
chair was the easier task.

She stirred and sat more upright, then reached out for the bottle that
stood beside her, and drank from the mouth of it. She drank and licked
her lips and drank again, and staggered to her feet, tripping on the
edge of the hearthrug. For the moment that seemed to anger her, and
with clenched teeth and pointing finger she mumbled at it; then once
more she drank, and lurching forward, took the lamp from the table.
With it in her hand she shuffled to the door, and the room was left to
the flickering firelight. A moment afterwards, the bedroom window above
sprang into light, an oblong of bright illumination.

As soon as that appeared he crept round the house to the door. He
gently turned the handle of it, and found it unlocked. Inside was a
small passage entrance, on the left of which ascended the stairs to
the bedroom above the studio. All was silent there, but from where he
stood he could see that the door into the bedroom was open, for a shaft
of light from the lamp she had carried up with her was shed on to the
landing there.... Everything was smoothing itself out to render his
course most easy. Even the gale was his friend, for it would be bellows
for the fire. He slipped off his shoes, leaving them on the mat, and
drew the whipcord from his pocket. He made a noose in it, and began to
ascend the stairs. They were well-built of seasoned oak, and no creak
betrayed his advancing footfall.

At the top he paused, listening for any stir of movement within, but
there was nothing to be heard but the sound of heavy breathing from
the bed that lay to the left of the door and out of sight. She had
thrown herself down there, he guessed, without undressing, leaving
the lamp to burn itself out. He could see it through the open door
already beginning to flicker; on the wall behind it were a couple of
water-colours, pictures of his own, one of the little walled garden by
the farm, the other of the pinewood of their tryst. Well he remembered
painting them: she would sit by him as he worked with prattle and
singing. He looked at them now quite detachedly; they seemed to him
wonderfully good, and he envied the artist that fresh, clean skill.
Perhaps he would take them down presently and carry them away with him.

Very softly now he advanced into the room, and looking round the corner
of the door, he saw her, sprawling and fully dressed on the broad
bed. She lay on her back, eyes closed and mouth open, her dull grey
hair spread over the pillow. Evidently she had not made the bed that
day, for she lay stretched on the crumpled back-turned blankets. A
hair-brush was on the floor beside her; it seemed to have fallen from
her hand. He moved quickly towards her.

       *       *       *       *       *

He put on his shoes again when he came to the foot of the stairs,
carrying the lamp with him and the two pictures which he had taken down
from the wall, and went into the studio. He set the lamp on the table
and drew down the blinds, and his eye fell on the half-empty whisky
bottle from which he had seen her drinking. Though his hand was quite
steady and his mind composed and tranquil, there was yet at the back
of it some impression that was slowly developing, and a good dose of
spirits would no doubt expunge that. He drank half a tumbler of it raw
and undiluted, and though it seemed no more than water in his mouth,
he soon felt that it was doing its work and sponging away from his
mind the picture that had been outlining itself there. In a couple
of minutes he was quite himself again, and could afford to wonder
and laugh at the illusion, for it was no less than that, which had
been gaining on him. For though he could distinctly remember drawing
the noose tight, and seeing the face grow black, and struggling with
the convulsive movements of those withered limbs that soon lay quiet
again, there had sprung up in his mind some unaccountable impression
that what he had left there huddled on the bed was not just the bundle
of withered limbs and strangled neck, but the body of a young girl,
smooth of skin and golden of hair, with mouth that smiled drowsily.
She had been asleep when he came in, and now was half-awake, and was
stirring and stretching herself. In what dim region of his mind that
image had formed itself, he had no idea; all he cared about now was
that his drink had shattered it again, and he could proceed with order
and method to make all secure. Just one drop more first: how lucky it
was that this morning he had been liberal with his money when she came
to the village, for he would have been sorry to have gone without that
fillip to his nerves.

He looked at his watch, and saw to his satisfaction that it was still
only a little after seven o’clock. Half an hour’s walking, with this
gale to speed his steps, would easily carry him from door to door,
round the detour which approached the village from the east, and a
quarter of an hour, so he reckoned, would be sufficient to accomplish
thoroughly what remained to be done here. He must not hurry and thus
overlook some precaution needful for his safety, though, on the other
hand, he would be glad to be gone from the house as soon as might
be, and he proceeded to set about his work without delay. There was
brushwood and fire-kindling to be brought in from the wood-shed in
the yard, and he made three journeys, returning each time with his
arms full, before he had brought in what he judged to be sufficient.
Most of this he piled in a loose heap in the studio; with the rest he
ascended once more to the bedroom above and made a heap of it there in
the middle of the floor. He took the curtains down from the windows,
for they would make a fine wick for the paraffin, and stuffed them into
the pile. Before he left, he looked once more at what lay on the bed,
and marvelled at the illusion which the whisky had dispelled, and as
he looked, the sense that he was free mounted and bubbled in his head.
The thing seemed scarcely human at all; it was a monster from which he
had delivered himself, and now, with the thought of that to warm him,
he was no longer eager to get through with his work and be gone, for
it was all part of that act of riddance which he had accomplished, and
he gloried in it. Soon, when all was ready, he would come back once
more and soak the fuel and set light to it, and purge with fire the
corruption that lay humped on the bed.

The fury of the gale had increased with nightfall, and as he went
downstairs again he heard the rattle of loosened tiles on the roof, and
the crash as they shattered themselves on the cobbles of the yard. At
that a sudden misgiving made his breath to catch in his throat, as he
pictured to himself some maniac blast falling on the house and crashing
in the walls that now trembled and shuddered. Supposing the whole
house fell, even if he escaped with his life from the toppling ruin,
what would his life be worth? There would be search made in the fallen
débris to find the body of her who lay strangled with the whipcord
round her neck, and he pictured to himself the slow, relentless march
of justice. He had bought whipcord only yesterday at a shop in the
village, insisting on its strength and toughness ... would it be wiser
now, this moment, to untie the noose and take it back with him or add
it to his brushwood?... He paused on the staircase, pondering that; but
his flesh quaked at the thought, and master of himself though he had
been during those few struggling minutes, he distrusted his power of
making himself handle once more that which could struggle no longer.
But even as he tried to screw his courage to the point, the violence
of the squall passed, and the shuddering house braced itself again.
He need not fear that; the gale was his friend that would blow on the
flames, not his enemy. The blasts that trumpeted overhead were the
voices of the allies who had come to aid him.

All was arranged then upstairs for the pouring of the paraffin and the
lighting of the pyre; it remained but to make similar dispositions in
the studio. He would stay to feed the flames till they raged beyond all
power of extinction; and now he began to plan the line of his retreat.
There were two doors in the studio: one by the fireplace which opened
on to the little garden; the other gave into the passage entrance from
which mounted the stairs and so to the door through which he had come
into the house. He decided to use the garden-door for his exit; but
when he came to open it, he found that the key was stiff in the rusty
lock, and did not yield to his efforts. There was no use in wasting
time over that; it made no difference through which door he finally
emerged, and he began piling up his heap of wood at that end of the
room. The lamp was burning low; but the fire, which only so few minutes
ago she had fed with a broken chair, shone brightly, and a flaming
ember from it would serve to set light to his conflagration. There was
a straw mat in front of it, which would make fine kindling, and with
these two fires, one in the bedroom upstairs and the other here, there
would be no mistake about the incineration of the house and all that
it contained. His own crime, if crime it was, would perish, too, and
all evidence thereof, victim and whipcord, and the very walls of the
house of sin and hate. It was a great deed and a fine adventure, and
as the liquor he had drunk began to circulate more buoyantly through
his veins, he gloried at the thought of the approaching consummation.
He would slip out of the sordid tragedy of his past life, as from a
discarded garment that he threw into the bonfire he would soon kindle.

All was ready now for the soaking of the fuel he had piled with the
paraffin, and he went out to the shed in the yard where the barrel
stood. A big tin ewer stood beside it, which he filled and carried
indoors. That would be sufficient for the soaking of the pile upstairs,
and fetching the smoky and flickering lamp from the studio, he went
up again, and like a careful gardener watering some bed of choice
blossoms, he sprinkled and poured till his ewer was empty. He gave
but one glance to the bed behind him, where the huddled thing lay
so quietly, and as he turned, lamp in hand, to go down again, the
draught that came in through the window against which the gale blew,
extinguished it. A little blue flame of burning vapour rose in the
chimney and went out; so, having no further use for it, he pitched it
on to the pile of soaked material. As he left the room he thought he
heard some small stir of movement behind him, but he told himself that
it was but something slipping in the heap he had built there.

Again he went out into the storm. The clouds that scudded overhead were
thinner now, though the gale blew not less fiercely, and the blurred,
watery moonlight was brighter. Once for a moment, as he approached
the shed, he caught sight of the full orb plunging madly among the
streaming vapours; then she was hidden again behind the wrack. Close in
front of him were the fir trees of the wood where those sweet trysts
had been held, and once again the vision of her as she had been broke
into his mind and the queer conviction that it was no withered and
bloated hag, who lay on the bed upstairs but the fair, comely limbs
and the golden head. It was even more vivid now, and he made haste to
get back to the studio, where he would find the trusty medicine that
had dispelled that vision before. He would have to make two journeys
at least with his tin ewer before he transported enough oil to feed
the larger pyre below, and so, to save time, he took the barrel off
its stand, and rolled it along the path and into the house. He paused
at the foot of the stairs, listening to hear if anything stirred, but
all was silent. Whatever had slipped up there was steady again; from
outside only came the squeal and bellow of the wind.

The studio was brightly but fitfully lit by the flames on the hearth;
at one moment a noonday blazed there, the next but the last smoulder of
some red sunset. It was easier to decant from the barrel into his ewer
than carry the heavy keg and sprinkle from it, and once and once again
he filled and emptied it. One more application would be sufficient,
and after that he could let what remained trickle out on to the floor.
But by some awkward movement he managed to spill a splash of it down
the front of his trousers: he must be sure, therefore (how quickly his
brain responded with counsels of precautions), to have some accident
with his lamp when he came in to his supper, which should account for
this little misadventure. Or, probably, the wind through which he would
presently be walking would dry it before he reached the village.

So, for the last time with matches ready in his hand, he mounted the
stairs to set light to the fuel piled in the room above. His second
dose of whisky sang in his head, and he said to himself, smiling at
the humour of the notion, “She always liked a fire in her bedroom; she
shall have it now.” That seemed a very comical idea, and it dwelt in
his head as he struck the match which should light it for her. Then,
still grinning, he gave one glance to the bed, and the smile died on
his face, and the wild cymbals of panic crashed in his brain. The bed
was empty; no huddled shape lay there.

Distraught with terror, he thrust the match into the soaked pile and
the flame flared up. Perhaps the body had rolled off the bed. It must,
in any case, be here somewhere, and when once the room was alight there
would be nothing more to fear. High rose the smoky flame, and banging
the door, he leaped down the stairs to set light to the pile below and
be gone from the house. Yet, whatever monstrous miracle his eye had
assured him of, it could not be that she still lived and had left the
place where she lay, for she had ceased to breathe when the noose was
tight round her neck, and her fight for life and air had long been
stilled. But, if by some hideous witchcraft, she was not dead, it would
soon be over now with her in the stupefaction of the smoke and the
scorching flames. Let be; the door was shut and she within, for him it
remained to be finished with the business, and flee from the house of
terror, lest he leave the sanity of his soul behind him.

The red glare from the hearth in the studio lit his steps down the
passage from the stairway, and already he could hear from above the
dry crack and snap from the fire that prospered there. As he shuffled
in, he held his hands to his head, as if pressing the brain back into
its cool case, from which it seemed eager to fly out into the welter
of storm and fire and hideous imagination. If he could only control
himself for a few moments more, all would be done and he would escape
from this disordered haunted place into the night and the gale, leaving
behind him the blaze that would burn away all perilous stuff. Again
the flames broke out in the embers on the hearth, bravely burning,
and he took from the heart of the glare a fragment on which the fire
was bursting into yellow flowers. He heeded not the scorching of his
hand, for it was but for a moment that he held it, and then plunged it
into the pile that dripped with the oil he had poured on it. A tower
of flame mounted, licking the rafters of the low ceiling, then died
away as if suffocated by its own smoke, but crept onwards, nosing its
way along till it reached the straw mat, which blazed fiercely. That
blaze kindled the courage in him; whatever trick his imagination had
played on him just now, he had nothing to fear except his own terror,
which now he mastered again, for nothing real could ever escape from
the conflagration, and it was only the real that he feared. Spells and
witchcrafts and superstitions, such as for the last twenty years had
battened on him, were all enclosed in that tight-drawn noose.

It was time to be gone, for all was safe now, and the room was growing
to oven-heat. But as he picked his way across the floor over which
runnels of flames from the split barrel were beginning to spread this
way and that, he heard from above the sound of a door unlatched, and
footsteps light and firm tapped on the stairs. For one second the sheer
catalepsy of panic seized him, but he recovered his control, and with
hands that groped through the thick smoke he found the door. At that
moment the fire shot up in a blaze of blinding flame, and there in the
doorway stood Ellen. It was no withered body and bloated face that
confronted him, but she with whom he had trysted in the wood, with the
bloom of eternal youth upon her, and the smooth soft hand, on which
was her wedding-ring, pointed at him.

It was in vain that he called on himself to rush forward out of that
torrid and suffocating air. The front door was open, he had but to pass
her and speed forth safe into the night. But no power from his will
reached his limbs; his will screamed to him, “Go, go! Push by her: it
is but a phantom which you fear!” but muscle and sinew were in mutiny,
and step by step he retreated before that pointing finger and the
radiant shape that advanced on him. The flames that flickered over the
floor had discovered the paraffin he had spilt, and leaped up his leg.

Just one spot in his brain retained lucidity from the encompassing
terror. Somewhere behind that barrier of fire there was the second
door into the garden. He had but cursorily attempted to unlock its
rusty wards; now, surely, the knowledge that there alone was escape
would give strength to his hand. He leaped backwards through the
flames, still with eyes fixed on her who ever advanced in time with
his retreat, and turning, wrestled and strove with the key. Something
snapped in his hand, and there still in the keyhole was the bare shaft.

Holding his breath, for the heat scorched his throat, he groped towards
where he knew was the window through which he had first seen her that
night. The flames licked fiercely round it, but there, beneath his
hand, was the hasp, and he threw it open. At that the wind poured in as
through the nozzle of a plied bellows, and Death rose high and bright
around him. Through the flames, as he sank to the floor, a face radiant
with revenge smiled on him.



Inscrutable Decrees



Inscrutable Decrees


I had found nothing momentous in the more august pages of _The Times_
that morning, and so, just because I was lazy and unwilling to embark
on a host of businesses that were waiting for me, I turned to the first
page and, beginning with the seventh column, pondered profoundly over
“Situations Vacant,” and hoped that the “Gentlewoman fond of games,”
who desired the position of governess, would find the very thing to
suit her. I glanced at the notices of lectures to be delivered under
the auspices of various learned societies, and was thankful that I had
not got to give or to listen to any of them. I debated over “Business
Opportunities”; I vainly tried to conjecture clues to mysterious
“Personal” paragraphs, and, still pursuing my sideways, crab-fashion
course, came to “Deaths Continued.”

There, with a shock of arrest, I saw that Sybil Rorke, widow of the
late Sir Ernest Rorke, had died at Torquay, suddenly, at the age of
thirty-two. It seemed strange that there should be only this bare
announcement concerning a woman who at one time had been so well-known
and dazzling a figure; and turning to the obituary notices, I found
that my inattentive skimming had overlooked a paragraph there of
appreciation and regret. She had died during her sleep, and it was
announced that an inquest would be held. My laziness then had been
of some use, for Archie Rorke, distant cousin but successor to Sir
Ernest’s estates and title, was arriving that evening to spend a few
country days with me, and I was glad to have known this before he came.
How it would affect him, or whether, indeed, it would affect him at
all, I had no idea.

What a mysterious affair it had been! No one, I supposed, knew the
history of it except he, now that Lady Rorke was dead. If anyone knew,
it should have been myself, and yet Archie, my oldest friend, whose
best man I was to have been, had never opened his lips to a syllable of
explanation. I knew, in fact, no whit more than the whole world knew,
namely, that a year after Sir Ernest Rorke’s death the engagement of
his widow to the new baronet, Sir Archibald Rorke, was made public,
and that within a fortnight of the date fixed for the wedding it was
laconically announced that the marriage would not take place. When,
on seeing that, I rang Archie up on the telephone, I was told that
he had already left London, and he wrote to me a few days later from
Lincote--the place in Hampshire, which he had inherited from his
cousin--saying that he had nothing to tell me about the breaking off
of his engagement beyond the fact that it was true. The whole--he had
written a word and carefully erased it--episode was now an excised leaf
from his life. He was proposing to stay down at Lincote alone for a
month or so, and would then turn on to the new page.

Lady Rorke, so I heard, had also left London immediately and passed
the summer in Italy. Then she took a furnished house in Torquay, where
she lived for the remainder of the year which intervened between
the breaking off of her engagement and her death. She cut herself
completely off from all her friends--and no woman, surely, ever
commanded a larger host of them--saw nobody, seldom went outside her
house and garden, and observed the same unbroken silence as did Archie
about what had happened. And now, with all her youth and charm and
beauty, she had gone down dumb into the Great Silence.

With the prospect of seeing Archie that evening it was no wonder that
the thought of Lady Rorke ran all day in my head like a tune heard
long ago which now recalled itself to my mind in scattered staves of
melody. Meetings and talks with her, phrase by phrase, reconstructed
themselves, and as these memories grew definite and complete I found
that, even as before, when I was actually experiencing them, there
lurked underneath the gay rhythms and joyousness something _macabre_
and mysterious. To-day that was accentuated, whereas before when I
listened for it, trying to isolate it from the rest and so perhaps
dispel it, it was always overscored by some triumphant crescendo: her
presence diverted eye and ear alike. Yet such a simile halts; perhaps,
still in simile, I shall more accurately define this underlying
“something” by saying that her presence was like some gorgeous
rose-bush, full of flowers, and sun, and sweetness; then, even as one
admired and applauded and inhaled, one saw that among its buds and
blossoms there emerged the spikes of some other plant, bitter and
poisonous, but growing from the same soil as the rose, and intertwined
with it. But immediately a fresh glory met your eye, a fresh fragrance
enchanted you.

As I rummaged among my memories of her, certain scenes which
significantly illustrated this curiously vivid impression stirred and
made themselves manifest to me, and now they were not broken in upon
by her presence. One such occurred on the first evening that I ever
met her, which was in the summer before the death of her husband. The
moment that she entered the room where we were waiting before dinner
for her arrival, the stale, sultry air of a June evening grew fresh
and effervescent; never have I come across so radiant and infectious a
vitality. She was tall and big, with the splendour of the Juno-type,
and though she was then close on thirty, the iridescence of girlhood
was still hers. Without effort she Pied-pipered a rather stodgy party
to dance to her flutings, she caused everyone to become silly and
pleased and full of laughter. At her bidding we indulged in ridiculous
games, dumb-crambo, and what not, and after that the carpet was rolled
up and we capered to the strains of a gramophone. And then the incident
occurred.

I was standing with her, for a breath of air, on the balcony outside
the drawing-room windows which faced the park. She had just made a
great curtsey to a slip of the moon that rose above the trees and had
borrowed a shilling of me in order to turn it.

“No, I can’t swear that I believe in moon-luck,” she said, “but after
all it does no harm, and, in case it’s true, you can’t afford to make
an enemy of her. Ah, what’s that?”

A thrush, attracted by the lights inside, had flown between us, dashed
itself against the window, and now lay fluttering on the ground at our
feet. Instantly she was all pity and tenderness. She picked up the
bird, examined it, and found that its wing was broken.

“Ah, poor thing!” she said. “Look, its wing-bone is snapped; the end
protrudes. And how terrified it is! What are we to do?”

It was clear that the kindest thing to do would be to put the bird
out of its pain, but when I suggested that, she took a step back from
me, and covered it with her other hand. Her eyes gleamed, her mouth
smiled, and I saw the tip of her tongue swiftly pass over her lips as
if licking them.

“No, that would be a terrible thing to do,” she said. “I shall take it
home with me ever so carefully, and watch over it. I am afraid it is
badly hurt. But it may live.”

Suddenly--perhaps it was that swift licking of her lips that suggested
the thought to me--I felt instinctively that she was not so much
pitiful as pleased. She stood there with eyes fixed on it, as it feebly
struggled in her hands.

And then her face clouded; over its brightness there came a look of
displeasure, of annoyance.

“I’m afraid it is dying,” she said. “Its poor frightened eyes are
closing.”

The bird fluttered once more, then its legs stretched themselves
stiffly out, and it lay still. She tossed it out of her hands on to the
paved balcony, with a little shrug of her shoulders.

“What a fuss over a bird,” she said. “It was silly of it to fly
against the glass. But I have too soft a heart; I cannot bear that the
poor creatures should die. Let us go in and have one more romp. Oh,
here is your shilling; I hope it will have brought me good luck. And
then I must get home. My husband--do you know him?--always sits up till
I get back, and he will scold me for being so late!”

There, then, was my first meeting with her, and there, too, were the
spikes of the poisonous plant pushing up among the magnificence of her
roses. And yet, so I thought to myself then, and so I think to myself
now, I perhaps was utterly wrong about it all, in thus attributing to
her a secret glee of which she was wholly incapable. So, with a certain
effort I wiped the impression I had received off my mind, determining
to consider myself quite mistaken. But, involuntarily, my mind as if
to justify itself in having delineated such a picture, proceeded to
delineate another.

Very shortly after that first meeting I received from her a charming
note, asking me to dine with her on a date not far distant. I
telephoned a delighted acceptance, for, indeed, I wanted then, even
as I did this morning, to convince myself that I was wholly in error
concerning my interpretation of that incident concerning the thrush.
Though I hold that no man has the right to accept the hospitality
offered by one he does not like, in all points except one I admired
and liked Lady Rorke immensely and wished to get rid of that one. So
I gratefully accepted, and then hurried out on a dismal and overdue
visit to the dentist’s. In the waiting-room was a girl of about twelve,
with a hand nursing a rueful face, and from time to time she stifled
a sob of pain or apprehension. I was just wondering whether it would
be a breach of waiting-room etiquette to attempt to administer comfort
or supply diversion, when the door opened and in came Lady Rorke. She
laughed delightfully when she saw me.

“Hurrah! You’re another occupant of the condemned cell,” she said, “and
very soon we shall both be sent for to the scaffold. I can’t describe
to you what a coward I am about it. Why haven’t we got beaks like
birds?----”

Her glance fell on the forlorn little figure by the window, with the
rueful face and the wet eyes.

“Why, here’s another of us,” she said. “And have they sent you to the
dentist’s all alone, my dear?”

“Y--yes.”

“How horrid of them!” said Lady Rorke. “They’ve sent me alone, too,
and I think it’s most unfeeling. But you shan’t be alone, anyhow, I’ll
come in with you, and sit by you, if you like that, and box the man’s
ears for him if he hurts you. Or shall you and I set on him, as soon
as we’ve got him by himself, and take out all his teeth one after the
other? Just to teach him to be a dentist.”

A faint smile began the break through the clouds.

“Oh, will you come in with me?” she asked. “I shan’t mind nearly so
much, then. It’s--it’s got to come out, you know, and I mayn’t have
gas.”

Just the same gleam of a smile as I had seen on Lady Rorke’s face once
before quivered there now, a light not of pity, surely.

“Ah, but it won’t ache any more after that,” she said, “and after all,
it is so soon over. You’ll just open your mouth as if you were going to
put the largest of all strawberries into it, and you’ll hold tight on
to my hand, and the dentist takes up something which you needn’t look
at----”

There was a want of tact in the vividness of this picture, and the
child began to sob again.

“Oh, don’t, don’t!” she cried.

Again the door opened, and she clung to Lady Rorke.

“Oh, I know it’s for me!” she wailed.

Lady Rorke bent over her, scanning her terrified face.

“Come along, my dear,” she said, “and it will be over in no time.
You’ll be back here again before this gentleman can count a hundred,
and he’ll have all his troubles in front of him still.”

Again this morning I tried to expunge from that picture, so trivial and
yet so vivid to me, the sinister something which seemed to connect it
with the incident about the thrush, and, leaving it, my mind strayed
on over other reminiscences of Lady Rorke. Before the season was over
I had got to know her well, and the better I knew her the more I
marvelled at that many-petalled vitality, which never ceased unfolding
itself. She entertained largely, and had that crowning gift of a good
hostess, namely, that she enjoyed her own parties quite enormously. She
was a very fine horsewoman, and after being up till dawn at some dance,
she would be in the Row by half-past eight on a peculiarly vicious mare
to whom she seemed to pay only the most cursory attention. She had a
good knowledge of music, she dressed amazingly, she was charming to her
meagre little husband, playing piquet with him by the hour (which was
the only thing, apart from herself, that he cared about), and if in
this modern democratic London there could be said to be a queen, there
is no doubt who that season would have worn the crown. Less publicly,
she was a great student of the psychical and occult, and I remembered
hearing that she was herself possessed of very remarkable mediumistic
gifts. But to me that was a matter of hearsay, for I never was present
at any séance of hers.

Yet through the triumphant music of her pageant, there sounded, to
my ears at least, fragments of a very ugly tune. It was not only in
these two instances of its emergence that I heard it, it was chiefly
and most persistently audible in her treatment of Archie Rorke, her
husband’s cousin. Everyone knew, for none could help knowing, that
he was desperately in love with her, and it is impossible to imagine
that she alone was ignorant of it. It is, no doubt, the instinct
of many women to fan a passion which they do not share, and which
they have no intention of indulging, just as the male instinct is to
gratify a passion that he does not really feel, but there are limits
to mercilessness. She was not “cruel to be kind”; she was kind to be
demoniacally cruel. She had him always by her; she gave him those
little touches and comrade-like licences which meant nothing to her,
but crazed him with thirst; she held the glass close to his lips
and then tilted it up and showed it him empty. The more charitable
explanation was that she, perhaps, knew that her husband could not
live long, and that she intended to marry Archie, and such, so it
subsequently appeared, her intentions were. But when I saw her feeding
him with husks and putting an empty glass to his lips, nothing, to
my mind, could account for her treatment of him except a rapture of
cruelty at the sight of his aching. And somehow, awfully and aptly,
that seemed to fit in with the affair of the thrush, and the meeting
with the forlorn child in the dentist’s waiting-room. Yet ever, through
that gruesome twilight, there blazed forth her charm and her beauty and
the beam of her joyous vitality, and I would cudgel myself for my nasty
interpretations.

It was early in the spring of next year that I was spending a week-end
with her and her husband at Lincote. She had suggested my coming down
on Saturday morning before the party assembled later in the day, and
at lunch I was alone with her husband and her. Sir Ernest was very
silent; he looked ill and haggard, and, in fact, hardly spoke a word
except when suddenly he turned to the butler and said, “Has anything
been heard of the child yet?” He was told that there was no news, and
subsided into silence again. I thought that some queer shadow as of
suspense or anxiety crossed Lady Rorke’s face at the question; but
on the answer, it cleared off again, and, as if to sweep the subject
wholly away, she asked me if I could tolerate a saunter with her
through the woods till her guests arrived.

Out she came like some splendid Diana of the Forests, and like the
goddess’s was the swift, swinging pace of her saunter. Spring all round
was riotous in blossom and bird-song; it was just that ecstatic moment
of the year when the hounds of spring have run winter to death, and as
we gained the high ridge of down above the woods she stopped and threw
her arms wide.

“Oh, the sense of spring!” she cried. “The daffodils, and the west
wind, and the shadows of the clouds. How I wish I could take the
whole lot into my arms and hug them. Miracles are flowering every
moment now in the country, while the only miracle in London is the
mud. What sunshine, what air! Drink them in, for they are the one
divine medicine. One wants that medicine sometimes, for there are sad
things and terrible things all round us, pain and anguish, and decay.
Yet I suppose that even those call out the splendour of fortitude
or endurance. Even when one looks on a struggle which one knows is
hopeless, it warms the heart to see it.”

The gleam that shone from her paled, her arms dropped, and she moved
on. Then, soft of voice and soft of eye, she spoke again.

“Such a sad thing happened here two days ago,” she said. “A small
girl--now what was her name? Yes--Ellen Davenport--brought a note from
the village up to the house. I was out, so she left it, and started, it
is supposed, to go back home. She has not been seen since. Descriptions
of her were circulated in all the villages for miles round; but, as
you heard at lunch, there has been no news of her, and the copses and
coverts in the park have been searched, but with no result. And yet out
of that comes splendour. I went to see her mother yesterday, bowed down
with grief, but she won’t give up hope. ‘If it is God’s will,’ she said
to me, ‘we shall find my Ellen alive; and if we find her dead, it will
be God’s will, too.’”

She paused.

“But I didn’t ask you down here to moan over tragedies,” she said.
“I wanted you after all your weeks in town to come and have a
spring-cleaning. Doesn’t the wind take the dust out of you, like one of
those sucking-machines which you put on to carpets? And the sun! Make a
sponge of yourself and soak it up till you’re dripping with it.”

For a couple of miles, at the least, we kept along this high ridge of
down, and the larks were springing from the grass, vocal with song
uncongealed, as they aspired and sank again, dropping at last dumb
and spent with rapture. Then we descended steeply, through the woods
and glades of the park, past thickets of catkinned sallows, and of
willows with soft moleskin buttons, and in the hollows the daffodils
were dancing, and the herbs of the springtime were pushing up through
the brittle withered stuff of the winter. Then, passing along the one
street of the red-tiled village, in which my companion pointed me out
the house where the poor vanished girl had lived, we turned homewards
across the grass and joined the road again at the bottom of the great
lake that lies below the terraced gardens of the house.

This lake was artificial, made a hundred years ago by the erection of a
huge dam across the dip of the valley, so that the stream which flowed
down it was thereby confined and must needs form this sheet of water
before it found outlet again through the sluices. At the centre the dam
is some twenty-five feet in height, and by the side of the road which
crosses it clumps of rhododendrons lean out over the deep water. The
margin on the side towards the lake is reinforced with concrete, now
mossy and overgrown with herbage, and the face of it, burrows down
to the level of the bottom of the dam through four fathoms of dusky
water. The lake was high and the overflow poured sonorously through the
sluices, and the sun in the west made broken rainbows in the foam of
its outpouring.

As we paused there a moment, my companion seemed the incarnation of the
sights and sounds that went to the spell of the spring; singing larks
and dancing daffodils, west wind and rain-bowed foam and, no less, the
dark, deep water, were all distilled into her radiant vitality.

“And now for the house again,” she said, going briskly up the steep
slope. “Is it inhospitable of me to wish that no one was coming except,
of course, our delightful Archie? A houseful brings London into the
country, and we shall talk scandal and stir up mud instead of watching
miracles.”

Another faint memory of her lingered somewhere in the dusk, and I
groped for it, as one gropes in slime for the roots of a water-plant,
and pulled it out. A notorious murderer had been guillotined that
morning in France, and in some Sunday paper next day there was a
brutal, brilliant, inexcusable little sketch of his being led out
between guards for the final scene at dawn outside the prison at
Versailles. And, as I wrote my name in Lady Rorke’s visitors’ book
on Monday morning, I spilt a blot of ink on the page and hastily
had recourse to the blotting-pad on her writing-table in order to
minimize the disfigurement. Inside it was this unpardonable picture,
cut out and put away, and I thought of the thrush and the dentist’s
waiting-room----

A month afterwards her husband died, after three weeks of intolerable
torment. The doctor insisted on his having two trained nurses, but
Lady Rorke never left him. She was present at the painful dressings
of the wound from the operation that only prolonged the misery of his
existence, and even slept on the sofa of the room where he lay.

       *       *       *       *       *

Archie Rorke arrived that evening. He let me know at once that he had
seen the announcement of Lady Rorke’s death, and said no more about
it till later, when he and I were left alone over the fire in the
smoking-room. He looked round to see that the door was shut behind the
last bedgoer of my little party, and then turned to me.

“I’ve got to tell you something,” he said. “It’ll take half an hour, so
to-morrow will do if you want to be off.”

“But I don’t,” said I.

He pulled himself together from his sprawling sunkenness in his chair.

“Very well,” he said. “What I want to tell you is the story of the
breaking-off of my engagement with Sybil. I have often wanted to do so
before, but while she was alive, as you will presently see, I could
tell nobody. I shall ask you, when you know everything, whether you
think I could have done otherwise. And please do not interrupt me till
I have finished, unless there is something you don’t understand, for it
won’t be very easy to get through with it. But I think I can make it
intelligible.”

He was silent a moment, and I saw his face working and twitching.

“I must tell somebody,” he said, “and I choose you, unless you mind it
awfully. But I simply can’t bear it alone any more.”

“Go on, then, old boy,” I said. “I’m glad you chose me, do you know.
And I won’t interrupt.”

Archie spoke.

“A week or two only before our marriage was to have taken place,” he
said, “I went down to Lincote for a couple of days. I had had the house
done up and re-decorated, and now the work was finished and I wanted to
see that all was in order. Nothing could be worthy of Sybil, but--well,
you can guess, more or less, what my feelings were.

“For a week before there had been very heavy rains, and the lake--you
know it--below the garden was very high, higher than I had ever seen
it: the water poured over the road across the dam which leads to the
village. Under the weight and press of it a great crack had appeared
in the concrete with which it is faced, and there was danger of the
dam being carried away. If that happened the whole lake would have
been suddenly released and no end of damage might have been done. It
was therefore necessary to draw off the water as fast as possible to
relieve the pressure and repair the crack. This was done by means of
big siphons. For two days we had them working, but the crack seemed
to extend right to the foundations of the dam, and before it could be
repaired all the water in the lake would have to be drawn off. I was
just leaving for town, when the foreman came up to the house to tell me
that they had found something there. In the ooze and mud at the base
of the dam, twenty-five feet below water-level, they had come upon the
body of a young girl.”

He gripped the arms of his chair tight. Little did he know that I was
horribly aware of what he was going to tell me next.

“About a month before my cousin Ernest’s death,” he said, “a mysterious
affair happened in the village. A girl named Ellen Davenport had
disappeared. She came up one afternoon to the house with a note,
and was never seen again, dead or alive. Her disappearance was now
explained. A chain of beads round the neck and various fragments of
clothing established, beyond any doubt, the identity of what they had
found at the bottom of the lake. I waited for the inquest, telegraphing
to Sybil that business had detained me, and then returned to town, not
intending to tell her what that business was, for our marriage was
close at hand and it was not a topic one would choose. She was very
superstitious, you know, and I thought that it would shock her. That
she would feel it to be unlucky and ill-omened. So I said nothing to
her.

“Sybil had extraordinary mediumistic powers. She did not often exercise
them and she never would give a séance to any one she did not know
extremely well, for she believed that people brought with them the
spiritual influences with which they were surrounded, and that there
was the possibility of very evil intelligences being set free. But she
had sat several times with me, and I had witnessed some very remarkable
manifestations. Her procedure was to put herself, by abstraction of
her mind, into a state of trance, and spirits of the dead who were
connected with the sitters could then communicate through her. On
one occasion my mother, whom she had never seen, and who died many
years ago, spoke through her and told me certain facts which Sybil
could not have known, and which I did not know. But an old friend of
my mother’s, still alive, told me that they were correct. They were
of an exceedingly private nature. Sybil also, so she told me, could
produce materialisations, but up till now I had never seen any. A
remarkable thing about her mediumship was that she would sometimes
regain consciousness from her trance while still these communications
were being made, and she knew what was going on. She could hear herself
speak and be mentally aware of what she was saying. On the occasion,
for instance, of which I have told you, when my mother spoke to me she
was in this state. The same thing occurred at the sitting of which I
shall now speak.

“That night, on my return to London, she and I dined alone. I felt a
very strong desire, for which I could not account, that she should
hold a sitting--just herself and me--and she consented. We sat in her
room, with a shaded lamp, but there was sufficient illumination for me
to see her quite distinctly, for her face was towards the light. There
was a small table in front of us covered with a dark cloth. She sat
close to it, in a high chair, composed herself, and almost immediately
went into trance. Her head fell forward and by her slow breathing and
her absolute immobility I knew she was unconscious. For a long time
we sat there in silence, and I began to think that we should get no
manifestations at all, and that the sitting, as sometimes was the case,
would be a failure; but then I saw that something was happening.”

His hands, with which he gripped the arms of his chair, were trembling.
Twice he tried to speak, but it was not till the third attempt that he
mastered himself.

“There was forming a mist above the table,” he said. “It was slightly
luminous and it spread upwards, pillar-shaped, in height between
two and three feet. Then I saw that below the outlying skeins of it
something was materialising. It moulded itself into human shape, rising
waist-high from the table, and presently shoulders and arms and neck
and head were visible, and features began to outline themselves. For
some time it remained vague and fluid, swaying backwards and forwards a
little; then very quickly it solidified, and there, close in front of
me, was the half-figure of a young girl. The eyes were still closed,
but now they opened. Round her neck was a chain of beads just such as I
had seen laid by the body that had been found in the lake. And then I
spoke to her, asking her who she was, though I already knew.

“Her answer was no more than a whisper, but quite distinct.

“‘Ellen Davenport,’ she said.

“A disordered terror seized me. Yet perhaps this little white figure,
with its wide-gazing eyes, was some hallucination, something that had
no objective existence at all. All day the thought of the poor kiddie
whose remains I had seen taken out of the ooze at the bottom of the
lake had been vivid in my mind, and I tried to think that what I saw
was no more than some strange projection of my thought. And yet I
felt it was not so; it was independent of myself. And why was it made
manifest, and on what errand had it come? I had pressed Sybil to give
me this séance, and God knows what I would have given not to have done
so! For one thing I was thankful, namely, that she was in unconscious
trance. Perhaps the phantom would fade again before she came out of it.

“And then I heard a stir of movement from the chair where she sat, and,
turning, I saw that she had raised her head. Her eyes were open and on
her face such a mask of terror as I have never known human being could
wear. Recognition was there, too; I saw that Sybil knew who the phantom
was.

“The figure that palely gleamed above the table turned its head towards
her, and once more the white lips opened.

“‘Yes, I am Ellen Davenport,’ she said.

“The whisper grew louder.

“‘You might have saved me,’ she said, ‘or you might have tried to save
me; but you watched me struggling till I sank.’

“And then the apparition vanished. It did not die away; it was there
clear and distinct one moment, at the next it was gone. Sybil and I
were sitting alone in her room with the low-burning lamp, and the
silence sang in my ears.

“I got up and turned on the switch that kindled the electric lights,
and knew that something within me had grown cold and that something
had snapped. She still sat where she was, not looking at me at all,
but blankly in front of her. She said no word of denial in answer to
the terrible accusation that had been uttered. And I think I was glad
of that, for there are times when it is not only futility to deny, but
blasphemy. For my part, I could neither look at her nor speak to her. I
remember holding out my hands to the empty grate, as if there had been
a fire burning there. And standing there I heard her rise, and drearily
wondered what she would say and knew how useless it would be. And then
I heard the whisper of her dress on the carpet and the noise of the
door opening and shutting, and when I turned I found that I was alone
in the room. Presently I let myself out of the house.”

There was a long pause, but I did not break it, for I felt he had not
quite finished.

“I had loved her with my whole heart,” he said, “and she knew it.
Perhaps that was why I never attempted to see her again and why she did
not attempt to see me. That little white figure would always have been
with us, for she could not deny the reality of it and the truth of that
which it had spoken. That’s my story, then. You needn’t even tell me if
you think I could have done differently, for I knew I couldn’t. And she
couldn’t.”

He rose.

“I see there is to be an inquest,” he said. “I hope they will find
that she killed herself. It will mean, won’t it, that her remorse was
unbearable. And that’s atonement.”

He moved towards the door.

“Inscrutable decrees,” he said.



The Gardener



The Gardener


Two friends of mine, Hugh Grainger and his wife, had taken for a
month of Christmas holiday the house in which we were to witness such
strange manifestations, and when I received an invitation from them to
spend a fortnight there I returned them an enthusiastic affirmative.
Well already did I know that pleasant heathery country-side, and most
intimate was my acquaintance with the subtle hazards of its most
charming golf-links. Golf, I was given to understand, was to occupy the
solid day for Hugh and me, so that Margaret should never be obliged to
set her hand to the implements with which the game, so detestable to
her, was conducted....

I arrived there while yet the daylight lingered, and as my hosts were
out, I took a ramble round the place. The house and garden stood on a
plateau facing south; below it were a couple of acres of pasture that
sloped down to a vagrant stream crossed by a foot-bridge, by the side
of which stood a thatched cottage with a vegetable patch surrounding
it. A path ran close past this across the pasture from a wicket-gate in
the garden, conducted you over the foot-bridge, and, so my remembered
sense of geography told me, must constitute a short cut to the links
that lay not half a mile beyond. The cottage itself was clearly on
the land of the little estate, and I at once supposed it to be the
gardener’s house. What went against so obvious and simple a theory was
that it appeared to be untenanted. No wreath of smoke, though the
evening was chilly, curled from its chimneys, and, coming closer, I
fancied it had that air of “waiting” about it which we so often conjure
into unused habitations. There it stood, with no sign of life whatever
about it, though ready, as its apparently perfect state of repair
seemed to warrant, for fresh tenants to put the breath of life into it
again. Its little garden, too, though the palings were neat and newly
painted, told the same tale; the beds were untended and unweeded, and
in the flower-border by the front door was a row of chrysanthemums,
which had withered on their stems. But all this was but the impression
of a moment, and I did not pause as I passed it, but crossed the
foot-bridge and went on up the heathery slope that lay beyond. My
geography was not at fault, for presently I saw the club-house just
in front of me. Hugh no doubt would be just about coming in from his
afternoon round, and so we would walk back together. On reaching the
club-house, however, the steward told me that not five minutes before
Mrs. Grainger had called in her car for her husband, and I therefore
retraced my steps by the path along which I had already come. But
I made a detour, as a golfer will, to walk up the fairway of the
seventeenth and eighteenth holes just for the pleasure of recognition,
and looked respectfully at the yawning sandpit which so inexorably
guards the eighteenth green, wondering in what circumstances I should
visit it next, whether with a step complacent and superior, knowing
that my ball reposed safely on the green beyond, or with the heavy
footfall of one who knows that laborious delving lies before him.

The light of the winter evening had faded fast, and when I crossed
the foot-bridge on my return the dusk had gathered. To my right, just
beside the path, lay the cottage, the whitewashed walls of which
gleamed whitely in the gloaming; and as I turned my glance back from
it to the rather narrow plank which bridged the stream I thought I
caught out of the tail of my eye some light from one of its windows,
which thus disproved my theory that it was untenanted. But when I
looked directly at it again I saw that I was mistaken: some reflection
in the glass of the red lines of sunset in the west must have deceived
me, for in the inclement twilight it looked more desolate than ever.
Yet I lingered by the wicket gate in its low palings, for though all
exterior evidence bore witness to its emptiness, some inexplicable
feeling assured me, quite irrationally, that this was not so, and that
there was somebody there. Certainly there was nobody visible, but, so
this absurd idea informed me, he might be at the back of the cottage
concealed from me by the intervening structure, and, still oddly, still
unreasonably, it became a matter of importance to my mind to ascertain
whether this was so or not, so clearly had my perceptions told me that
the place was empty, and so firmly had some conviction assured me
that it was tenanted. To cover my inquisitiveness, in case there was
someone there, I could inquire whether this path was a short cut to
the house at which I was staying, and, rather rebelling at what I was
doing, I went through the small garden, and rapped at the door. There
was no answer, and, after waiting for a response to a second summons,
and having tried the door and found it locked, I made the circuit of
the house. Of course there was no one there, and I told myself that I
was just like a man who looks under his bed for a burglar and would be
beyond measure astonished if he found one.

My hosts were at the house when I arrived, and we spent a cheerful two
hours before dinner in such desultory and eager conversation as is
proper between friends who have not met for some time. Between Hugh
Grainger and his wife it is always impossible to light on a subject
which does not vividly interest one or other of them, and golf,
politics, the needs of Russia, cooking, ghosts, the possible victory
over Mount Everest, and the income tax were among the topics which we
passionately discussed. With all these plates spinning, it was easy
to whip up any one of them, and the subject of spooks generally was
lighted upon again and again.

“Margaret is on the high road to madness,” remarked Hugh on one of
these occasions, “for she has begun using planchette. If you use
planchette for six months, I am told, most careful doctors will
conscientiously certify you as insane. She’s got five months more
before she goes to Bedlam.”

“Does it work?” I asked.

“Yes, it says most interesting things,” said Margaret. “It says things
that never entered my head. We’ll try it to-night.”

“Oh, not to-night,” said Hugh. “Let’s have an evening off.”

Margaret disregarded this.

“It’s no use asking planchette questions,” she went on, “because there
is in your mind some sort of answer to them. If I ask whether it will
be fine to-morrow, for instance, it is probably I--though indeed I
don’t mean to push--who makes the pencil say ‘yes.’”

“And then it usually rains,” remarked Hugh.

“Not always: don’t interrupt. The interesting thing is to let the
pencil write what it chooses. Very often it only makes loops and
curves--though they may mean something--and every now and then a word
comes, of the significance of which I have no idea whatever, so I
clearly couldn’t have suggested it. Yesterday evening, for instance,
it wrote ‘gardener’ over and over again. Now what did that mean? The
gardener here is a Methodist with a chin-beard. Could it have meant
him? Oh, it’s time to dress. Please don’t be late, my cook is so
sensitive about soup.”

We rose, and some connection of ideas about “gardener” linked itself up
in my mind.

“By the way, what’s that cottage in the field by the foot-bridge?” I
asked. “Is that the gardener’s cottage?”

“It used to be,” said Hugh. “But the chin-beard doesn’t live there: in
fact nobody lives there. It’s empty. If I was owner here, I should put
the chin-beard into it, and take the rent off his wages. Some people
have no idea of economy. Why did you ask?”

I saw Margaret was looking at me rather attentively.

“Curiosity,” I said. “Idle curiosity.”

“I don’t believe it was,” said she.

“But it was,” I said. “It was idle curiosity to know whether the
house was inhabited. As I passed it, going down to the club-house, I
felt sure it was empty, but coming back I felt so sure that there was
someone there that I rapped at the door, and indeed walked round it.”

Hugh had preceded us upstairs, as she lingered a little.

“And there was no one there?” she asked. “It’s odd: I had just the same
feeling as you about it.”

“That explains planchette writing ‘gardener’ over and over again,” said
I. “You had the gardener’s cottage on your mind.”

“How ingenious!” said Margaret. “Hurry up and dress.”

A gleam of strong moonlight between my drawn curtains when I went up
to bed that night led me to look out. My room faced the garden and
the fields which I had traversed that afternoon, and all was vividly
illuminated by the full moon. The thatched cottage with its white walls
close by the stream was very distinct, and once more, I suppose, the
reflection of the light on the glass of one of its windows made it
appear that the room was lit within. It struck me as odd that twice
that day this illusion should have been presented to me, but now a yet
odder thing happened. Even as I looked the light was extinguished.

The morning did not at all bear out the fine promise of the clear
night, for when I woke the wind was squealing, and sheets of rain from
the south-west were dashed against my panes. Golf was wholly out of the
question, and, though the violence of the storm abated a little in the
afternoon, the rain dripped with a steady sullenness. But I wearied
of indoors, and, since the two others entirely refused to set foot
outside, I went forth mackintoshed to get a breath of air. By way of
an object in my tramp, I took the road to the links in preference to
the muddy short cut through the fields, with the intention of engaging
a couple of caddies for Hugh and myself next morning, and lingered
awhile over illustrated papers in the smoking-room. I must have read
for longer than I knew, for a sudden beam of sunset light suddenly
illuminated my page, and looking up, I saw that the rain had ceased,
and that evening was fast coming on. So instead of taking the long
detour by the road again, I set forth homewards by the path across
the fields. That gleam of sunset was the last of the day, and once
again, just as twenty-four hours ago, I crossed the foot-bridge in the
gloaming. Till that moment, as far as I was aware, I had not thought
at all about the cottage there, but now in a flash the light I had
seen there last night, suddenly extinguished, recalled itself to my
mind, and at the same moment I felt that invincible conviction that
the cottage was tenanted. Simultaneously in these swift processes of
thought I looked towards it, and saw standing by the door the figure of
a man. In the dusk I could distinguish nothing of his face, if indeed
it was turned to me, and only got the impression of a tallish fellow,
thickly built. He opened the door, from which there came a dim light as
of a lamp, entered, and shut it after him.

So then my conviction was right. Yet I had been distinctly told that
the cottage was empty: who, then, was he that entered as if returning
home? Once more, this time with a certain qualm of fear, I rapped on
the door, intending to put some trivial question; and rapped again,
this time more drastically, so that there could be no question that my
summons was unheard. But still I got no reply, and finally I tried the
handle of the door. It was locked. Then, with difficulty mastering an
increasing terror, I made the circuit of the cottage, peering into each
unshuttered window. All was dark within, though but two minutes ago I
had seen the gleam of light escape from the opened door.

Just because some chain of conjecture was beginning to form itself in
my mind, I made no allusion to this odd adventure, and after dinner
Margaret, amid protests from Hugh, got out the planchette which had
persisted in writing “gardener.” My surmise was, of course, utterly
fantastic, but I wanted to convey no suggestion of any sort to
Margaret.... For a long time the pencil skated over her paper making
loops and curves and peaks like a temperature chart, and she had begun
to yawn and weary over her experiment before any coherent word emerged.
And then, in the oddest way, her head nodded forward and she seemed to
have fallen asleep.

Hugh looked up from his book and spoke in a whisper to me.

“She fell asleep the other night over it,” he said.

Margaret’s eyes were closed, and she breathed the long, quiet breaths
of slumber, and then her hand began to move with a curious firmness.
Right across the big sheet of paper went a level line of writing, and
at the end her hand stopped with a jerk, and she woke.

She looked at the paper.

“Hullo,” she said. “Ah, one of you has been playing a trick on me!”

We assured her that this was not so, and she read what she had written.

“Gardener, gardener,” it ran. “I am the gardener. I want to come in. I
can’t find her here.”

“O Lord, that gardener again!” said Hugh.

Looking up from the paper, I saw Margaret’s eyes fixed on mine, and
even before she spoke I knew what her thought was.

“Did you come home by the empty cottage?” she asked.

“Yes: why?”

“Still empty?” she said in a low voice. “Or--or anything else?”

I did not want to tell her just what I had seen--or what, at any rate,
I thought I had seen. If there was going to be anything odd, anything
worth observation, it was far better that our respective impressions
should not fortify each other.

“I tapped again, and there was no answer,” I said.

Presently there was a move to bed: Margaret initiated it, and after she
had gone upstairs Hugh and I went to the front door to interrogate the
weather. Once more the moon shone in a clear sky, and we strolled out
along the flagged path that fronted the house. Suddenly Hugh turned
quickly and pointed to the angle of the house.

“Who on earth is that?” he said. “Look! There! He has gone round the
corner.”

I had but the glimpse of a tallish man of heavy build.

“Didn’t you see him?” asked Hugh. “I’ll just go round the house, and
find him; I don’t want anyone prowling round us at night. Wait here,
will you, and if he comes round the other corner ask him what his
business is.”

Hugh had left me, in our stroll, close by the front door which was
open, and there I waited until he should have made his circuit. He had
hardly disappeared when I heard, quite distinctly, a rather quick but
heavy footfall coming along the paved walk towards me from the opposite
direction. But there was absolutely no one to be seen who made this
sound of rapid walking. Closer and closer to me came the steps of the
invisible one, and then with a shudder of horror I felt somebody unseen
push by me as I stood on the threshold. That shudder was not merely of
the spirit, for the touch of him was that of ice on my hand. I tried to
seize this impalpable intruder, but he slipped from me, and next moment
I heard his steps on the parquet of the floor inside. Some door within
opened and shut, and I heard no more of him. Next moment Hugh came
running round the corner of the house from which the sound of steps had
approached.

“But where is he?” he asked. “He was not twenty yards in front of me--a
big, tall fellow.”

“I saw nobody,” I said. “I heard his step along the walk, but there was
nothing to be seen.”

“And then?” asked Hugh.

“Whatever it was seemed to brush by me, and go into the house,” said I.

There had certainly been no sound of steps on the bare oak stairs, and
we searched room after room through the ground floor of the house. The
dining-room door and that of the smoking-room were locked, that into
the drawing-room was open, and the only other door which could have
furnished the impression of an opening and a shutting was that into the
kitchen and servants’ quarters. Here again our quest was fruitless;
through pantry and scullery and boot-room and servants’ hall we
searched, but all was empty and quiet. Finally we came to the kitchen,
which too was empty. But by the fire there was set a rocking-chair, and
this was oscillating to and fro as if someone, lately sitting there,
had just quitted it. There it stood gently rocking, and this seemed to
convey the sense of a presence, invisible now, more than even the sight
of him who surely had been sitting there could have done. I remember
wanting to steady it and stop it, and yet my hand refused to go forth
to it.

What we had seen, and in especial what we had not seen, would have been
sufficient to furnish most people with a broken night, and assuredly I
was not among the strong-minded exceptions. Long I lay wide-eyed and
open-eared, and when at last I dozed I was plucked from the borderland
of sleep by the sound, muffled but unmistakable, of someone moving
about the house. It occurred to me that the steps might be those of
Hugh conducting a lonely exploration, but even while I wondered a tap
came at the door of communication between our rooms, and, in answer to
my response, it appeared that he had come to see whether it was I thus
uneasily wandering. Even as we spoke the step passed my door, and the
stairs leading to the floor above creaked to its ascent. Next moment
it sounded directly above our heads in some attics in the roof.

“Those are not the servants’ bedrooms,” said Hugh. “No one sleeps
there. Let us look once more: it must be somebody.”

With lit candles we made our stealthy way upstairs, and just when we
were at the top of the flight, Hugh, a step ahead of me, uttered a
sharp exclamation.

“But something is passing by me!” he said, and he clutched at the empty
air. Even as he spoke, I experienced the same sensation, and the moment
afterwards the stairs below us creaked again, as the unseen passed down.

All night long that sound of steps moved about the passages, as if
someone was searching the house, and as I lay and listened that message
which had come through the pencil of the planchette to Margaret’s
fingers occurred to me. “I want to come in. I cannot find her here.”...
Indeed someone had come in, and was sedulous in his search. He was the
gardener, it would seem. But what gardener was this invisible seeker,
and for whom did he seek?

Even as when some bodily pain ceases it is difficult to recall with
any vividness what the pain was like, so next morning, as I dressed, I
found myself vainly trying to recapture the horror of the spirit which
had accompanied these nocturnal adventures. I remembered that something
within me had sickened as I watched the movements of the rocking-chair
the night before and as I heard the steps along the paved way outside,
and by that invisible pressure against me knew that someone had entered
the house. But now in the sane and tranquil morning, and all day
under the serene winter sun, I could not realise what it had been. The
presence, like the bodily pain, had to be there for the realisation of
it, and all day it was absent. Hugh felt the same; he was even disposed
to be humorous on the subject.

“Well, he’s had a good look,” he said, “whoever he is, and whomever
he was looking for. By the way, not a word to Margaret, please. She
heard nothing of these perambulations, nor of the entry of--of whatever
it was. Not gardener, anyhow: who ever heard of a gardener spending
his time walking about the house? If there were steps all over the
potato-patch, I might have been with you.”

Margaret had arranged to drive over to have tea with some friends of
hers that afternoon, and in consequence Hugh and I refreshed ourselves
at the club-house after our game, and it was already dusk when for the
third day in succession I passed homewards by the whitewashed cottage.
But to-night I had no sense of it being subtly occupied; it stood
mournfully desolate, as is the way of untenanted houses, and no light
nor semblance of such gleamed from its windows. Hugh, to whom I had
told the odd impressions I had received there, gave them a reception as
flippant as that which he had accorded to the memories of the night,
and he was still being humorous about them when we came to the door of
the house.

“A psychic disturbance, old boy,” he said. “Like a cold in the head.
Hullo, the door’s locked.”

He rang and rapped, and from inside came the noise of a turned key and
withdrawn bolts.

“What’s the door locked for?” he asked his servant who opened it.

The man shifted from one foot to the other.

“The bell rang half an hour ago, sir,” he said, “and when I came to
answer it there was a man standing outside, and----”

“Well?” asked Hugh.

“I didn’t like the looks of him, sir,” he said, “and I asked him his
business. He didn’t say anything, and then he must have gone pretty
smartly away, for I never saw him go.”

“Where did he seem to go?” asked Hugh, glancing at me.

“I can’t rightly say, sir. He didn’t seem to go at all. Something
seemed to brush by me.”

“That’ll do,” said Hugh rather sharply.

       *       *       *       *       *

Margaret had not come in from her visit, but when soon after the crunch
of the motor wheels was heard Hugh reiterated his wish that nothing
should be said to her about the impression which now, apparently, a
third person shared with us. She came in with a flush of excitement on
her face.

“Never laugh at my planchette again,” she said. “I’ve heard the most
extraordinary story from Maud Ashfield--horrible, but so frightfully
interesting.”

“Out with it,” said Hugh.

“Well, there was a gardener here,” she said. “He used to live at that
little cottage by the foot-bridge, and when the family were up in
London he and his wife used to be caretakers and live here.”

Hugh’s glance and mine met: then he turned away. I knew, as certainly
as if I was in his mind, that his thoughts were identical with my own.

“He married a wife much younger than himself,” continued Margaret, “and
gradually he became frightfully jealous of her. And one day in a fit
of passion he strangled her with his own hands. A little while after
someone came to the cottage, and found him sobbing over her, trying to
restore her. They went for the police, but before they came he had cut
his own throat. Isn’t it all horrible? But surely it’s rather curious
that the planchette said Gardener. ‘I am the gardener. I want to come
in. I can’t find her here.’ You see I knew nothing about it. I shall do
planchette again to-night. Oh dear me, the post goes in half an hour,
and I have a whole budget to send. But respect my planchette for the
future, Hughie.”

We talked the situation out when she had gone, but Hugh, unwillingly
convinced and yet unwilling to admit that something more than
coincidence lay behind that “planchette nonsense,” still insisted that
Margaret should be told nothing of what we had heard and seen in the
house last night, and of the strange visitor who again this evening, so
we must conclude, had made his entry.

“She’ll be frightened,” he said, “and she’ll begin imagining things. As
for the planchette, as likely as not it will do nothing but scribble
and make loops. What’s that? Yes: come in!”

There had come from somewhere in the room one sharp, peremptory rap. I
did not think it came from the door, but Hugh, when no response replied
to his words of admittance, jumped up and opened it. He took a few
steps into the hall outside, and returned.

“Didn’t you hear it?” he asked.

“Certainly. No one there?”

“Not a soul.”

Hugh came back to the fireplace and rather irritably threw a cigarette
which he had just lit into the fender.

“That was rather a nasty jar,” he observed; “and if you ask me whether
I feel comfortable, I can tell you I never felt less comfortable in my
life. I’m frightened, if you want to know, and I believe you are too.”

I hadn’t the smallest intention of denying this, and he went on.

“We’ve got to keep a hand on ourselves,” he said. “There’s nothing so
infectious as fear, and Margaret mustn’t catch it from us. But there’s
something more than our fear, you know. Something has got into the
house and we’re up against it. I never believed in such things before.
Let’s face it for a minute. _What_ is it anyhow?”

“If you want to know what I think it is,” said I, “I believe it to be
the spirit of the man who strangled his wife and then cut his throat.
But I don’t see how it can hurt us. We’re afraid of our own fear
really.”

“But we’re up against it,” said Hugh. “And what will it do? Good
Lord, if I only knew what it would do I shouldn’t mind. It’s the not
knowing.... Well, it’s time to dress.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Margaret was in her highest spirits at dinner. Knowing nothing of
the manifestations of that presence which had taken place in the
last twenty-four hours, she thought it absorbingly interesting that
her planchette should have “guessed” (so ran her phrase) about the
gardener, and from that topic she flitted to an equally interesting
form of patience for three which her friend had showed her, promising
to initiate us into it after dinner. This she did, and, not knowing
that we both above all things wanted to keep planchette at a distance,
she was delighted with the success of her game. But suddenly she
observed that the evening was burning rapidly away, and swept the cards
together at the conclusion of a hand.

“Now just half an hour of planchette,” she said.

“Oh, mayn’t we play one more hand?” asked Hugh. “It’s the best game
I’ve seen for years. Planchette will be dismally slow after this.”

“Darling, if the gardener will only communicate again, it won’t be
slow,” said she.

“But it is such drivel,” said Hugh.

“How rude you are! Read your book, then.”

Margaret had already got out her machine and a sheet of paper, when
Hugh rose.

“Please don’t do it to-night, Margaret,” he said.

“But why? You needn’t attend.”

“Well, I ask you not to, anyhow,” said he.

Margaret looked at him closely.

“Hughie, you’ve got something on your mind,” she said. “Out with it. I
believe you’re nervous. You think there is something queer about. What
is it?”

I could see Hugh hesitating as to whether to tell her or not, and I
gathered that he chose the chance of her planchette inanely scribbling.

“Go on, then,” he said.

Margaret hesitated: she clearly did not want to vex Hugh, but his
insistence must have seemed to her most unreasonable.

“Well, just ten minutes,” she said, “and I promise not to think of
gardeners.”

She had hardly laid her hand on the board when her head fell forward,
and the machine began moving. I was sitting close to her, and as it
rolled steadily along the paper the writing became visible.

“I have come in,” it ran, “but still I can’t find her. Are you hiding
her? I will search the room where you are.”

What else was written but still concealed underneath the planchette I
did not know, for at that moment a current of icy air swept round the
room, and at the door, this time unmistakably, came a loud, peremptory
knock. Hugh sprang to his feet.

“Margaret, wake up,” he said, “something is coming!”

The door opened, and there moved in the figure of a man. He stood just
within the door, his head bent forward, and he turned it from side to
side, peering, it would seem, with eyes staring and infinitely sad,
into every corner of the room.

“Margaret, Margaret,” cried Hugh again.

But Margaret’s eyes were open too; they were fixed on this dreadful
visitor.

“Be quiet, Hughie,” she said below her breath, rising as she spoke. The
ghost was now looking directly at her. Once the lips above the thick,
rust-coloured beard moved, but no sound came forth, the mouth only
moved and slavered. He raised his head, and, horror upon horror, I saw
that one side of his neck was laid open in a red, glistening gash....

For how long that pause continued, when we all three stood stiff and
frozen in some deadly inhibition to move or speak, I have no idea: I
suppose that at the utmost it was a dozen seconds. Then the spectre
turned, and went out as it had come. We heard his steps pass along the
parqueted floor; there was the sound of bolts withdrawn from the front
door, and with a crash that shook the house it slammed to.

“It’s all over,” said Margaret. “God have mercy on him!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Now the reader may put precisely what construction he pleases on
this visitation from the dead. He need not, indeed, consider it to
have been a visitation from the dead at all, but say that there had
been impressed on the scene, where this murder and suicide happened,
some sort of emotional record, which in certain circumstances could
translate itself into images visible and invisible. Waves of ether,
or what not, may conceivably retain the impress of such scenes; they
may be held, so to speak, in solution, ready to be precipitated.
Or he may hold that the spirit of the dead man indeed made itself
manifest, revisiting in some sort of spiritual penance and remorse
the place where his crime was committed. Naturally, no materialist
will entertain such an explanation for an instant, but then there is
no one so obstinately unreasonable as the materialist. Beyond doubt
a dreadful deed was done there, and Margaret’s last utterance is not
inapplicable.



Mr. Tilly’s Séance



Mr. Tilly’s Séance


Mr. Tilly had only the briefest moment for reflection, when, as he
slipped and fell on the greasy wood pavement at Hyde Park Corner, which
he was crossing at a smart trot, he saw the huge traction-engine with
its grooved ponderous wheels towering high above him.

“Oh, dear! oh, dear!” he said petulantly, “it will certainly crush me
quite flat, and I shan’t be able to be at Mrs. Cumberbatch’s séance!
Most provoking! A-ow!”

The words were hardly out of his mouth, when the first half of his
horrid anticipations was thoroughly fulfilled. The heavy wheels passed
over him from head to foot and flattened him completely out. Then the
driver (too late) reversed his engine and passed over him again, and
finally lost his head, whistled loudly and stopped. The policeman on
duty at the corner turned quite faint at the sight of the catastrophe,
but presently recovered sufficiently to hold up the traffic, and ran to
see what on earth could be done. It was all so much “up” with Mr. Tilly
that the only thing possible was to get the hysterical engine-driver
to move clear. Then the ambulance from the hospital was sent for, and
Mr. Tilly’s remains, detached with great difficulty from the road (so
firmly had they been pressed into it), were reverently carried away
into the mortuary....

Mr. Tilly during this had experienced one moment’s excruciating pain,
resembling the severest neuralgia as his head was ground beneath the
wheel, but almost before he realised it, the pain was past, and he
found himself, still rather dazed, floating or standing (he did not
know which) in the middle of the road. There had been no break in
his consciousness; he perfectly recollected slipping, and wondered
how he had managed to save himself. He saw the arrested traffic, the
policeman with white wan face making suggestions to the gibbering
engine-driver, and he received the very puzzling impression that the
traction engine was all mixed up with him. He had a sensation of
red-hot coals and boiling water and rivets all around him, but yet no
feeling of scalding or burning or confinement. He was, on the contrary,
extremely comfortable, and had the most pleasant consciousness of
buoyancy and freedom. Then the engine puffed and the wheels went round,
and immediately, to his immense surprise, he perceived his own crushed
remains, flat as a biscuit, lying on the roadway. He identified them
for certain by his clothes, which he had put on for the first time that
morning, and one patent leather boot which had escaped demolition.

“But what on earth has happened?” he said. “Here am I, and yet that
poor pressed flower of arms and legs is me--or rather I--also. And how
terribly upset the driver looks. Why, I do believe that I’ve been run
over! It did hurt for a moment, now I come to think of it.... My good
man, where are you shoving to? Don’t you see me?”

He addressed these two questions to the policeman, who appeared to walk
right through him. But the man took no notice, and calmly came out
on the other side: it was quite evident that he did not see him, or
apprehend him in any way.

Mr. Tilly was still feeling rather at sea amid these unusual
occurrences, and there began to steal into his mind a glimpse of the
fact which was so obvious to the crowd which formed an interested but
respectful ring round his body. Men stood with bared heads; women
screamed and looked away and looked back again.

“I really believe I’m dead,” said he. “That’s the only hypothesis which
will cover the facts. But I must feel more certain of it before I do
anything. Ah! Here they come with the ambulance to look at me. I must
be terribly hurt, and yet I don’t feel hurt. I should feel hurt surely
if I was hurt. I must be dead.”

Certainly it seemed the only thing for him to be, but he was far from
realising it yet. A lane had been made through the crowd for the
stretcher-bearers, and he found himself wincing when they began to
detach him from the road.

“Oh, do take care!” he said. “That’s the sciatic nerve protruding there
surely, isn’t it? A-ow! No, it didn’t hurt after all. My new clothes,
too: I put them on to-day for the first time. What bad luck! Now you’re
holding my leg upside down. Of course all my money comes out of my
trouser pocket. And there’s my ticket for the séance; I must have that:
I may use it after all.”

He tweaked it out of the fingers of the man who had picked it up, and
laughed to see the expression of amazement on his face as the card
suddenly vanished. That gave him something fresh to think about, and
he pondered for a moment over some touch of association set up by it.

“I have it,” he thought. “It is clear that the moment I came into
connection with that card, it became invisible. I’m invisible myself
(of course to the grosser sense), and everything I hold becomes
invisible. Most interesting! That accounts for the sudden appearances
of small objects at a séance. The spirit has been holding them, and as
long as he holds them they are invisible. Then he lets go, and there’s
the flower or the spirit-photograph on the table. It accounts, too, for
the sudden disappearances of such objects. The spirit has taken them,
though the scoffers say that the medium has secreted them about his
person. It is true that when searched he sometimes appears to have done
so; but, after all, that may be a joke on the part of the spirit. Now,
what am I to do with myself.... Let me see, there’s the clock. It’s
just half-past ten. All this has happened in a few minutes, for it was
a quarter past when I left my house. Half-past ten now: what does that
mean exactly? I used to know what it meant, but now it seems nonsense.
Ten what? Hours, is it? What’s an hour?”

This was very puzzling. He felt that he used to know what an hour and a
minute meant, but the perception of that, naturally enough, had ceased
with his emergence from time and space into eternity. The conception
of time was like some memory which, refusing to record itself on the
consciousness, lies perdu in some dark corner of the brain, laughing at
the efforts of the owner to ferret it out. While he still interrogated
his mind over this lapsed perception, he found that space as well as
time, had similarly grown obsolete for him, for he caught sight of his
friend Miss Ida Soulsby, whom he knew was to be present at the séance
for which he was bound, hurrying with bird-like steps down the pavement
opposite. Forgetting for the moment that he was a disembodied spirit,
he made the effort of will which in his past human existence would have
set his legs in pursuit of her, and found that the effort of will alone
was enough to place him at her side.

“My dear Miss Soulsby,” he said, “I was on my way to Mrs. Cumberbatch’s
house when I was knocked down and killed. It was far from unpleasant, a
moment’s headache----”

So far his natural volubility had carried him before he recollected
that he was invisible and inaudible to those still closed in by the
muddy vesture of decay, and stopped short. But though it was clear
that what he said was inaudible to Miss Soulsby’s rather large
intelligent-looking ears, it seemed that some consciousness of his
presence was conveyed to her finer sense, for she looked suddenly
startled, a flush rose to her face, and he heard her murmur, “Very odd.
I wonder why I received so vivid an impression of dear Teddy.”

That gave Mr. Tilly a pleasant shock. He had long admired the lady,
and here she was alluding to him in her supposed privacy as “dear
Teddy.” That was followed by a momentary regret that he had been
killed: he would have liked to have been possessed of this information
before, and have pursued the primrose path of dalliance down which it
seemed to lead. (His intentions, of course, would, as always, have
been strictly honourable: the path of dalliance would have conducted
them both, if she consented, to the altar, where the primroses would
have been exchanged for orange blossom.) But his regret was quite
short-lived; though the altar seemed inaccessible, the primrose path
might still be open, for many of the spiritualistic circle in which he
lived were on most affectionate terms with their spiritual guides and
friends who, like himself, had passed over. From a human point of view
these innocent and even elevating flirtations had always seemed to him
rather bloodless; but now, looking on them from the far side, he saw
how charming they were, for they gave him the sense of still having
a place and an identity in the world he had just quitted. He pressed
Miss Ida’s hand (or rather put himself into the spiritual condition of
so doing), and could vaguely feel that it had some hint of warmth and
solidity about it. This was gratifying, for it showed that though he
had passed out of the material plane, he could still be in touch with
it. Still more gratifying was it to observe that a pleased and secret
smile overspread Miss Ida’s fine features as he gave this token of his
presence: perhaps she only smiled at her own thoughts, but in any case
it was he who had inspired them. Encouraged by this, he indulged in
a slightly more intimate token of affection, and permitted himself a
respectful salute, and saw that he had gone too far, for she said to
herself, “Hush, hush!” and quickened her pace, as if to leave these
amorous thoughts behind.

He felt that he was beginning to adjust himself to the new conditions
in which he would now live, or, at any rate, was getting some sort
of inkling as to what they were. Time existed no more for him, nor
yet did space, since the wish to be at Miss Ida’s side had instantly
transported him there, and with a view to testing this further he
wished himself back in his flat. As swiftly as the change of scene in
a cinematograph show he found himself there, and perceived that the
news of his death must have reached his servants, for his cook and
parlour-maid with excited faces, were talking over the event.

“Poor little gentleman,” said his cook. “It seems a shame it does. He
never hurt a fly, and to think of one of those great engines laying him
out flat. I hope they’ll take him to the cemetery from the hospital: I
never could bear a corpse in the house.”

The great strapping parlour-maid tossed her head.

“Well, I’m not sure that it doesn’t serve him right,” she observed.
“Always messing about with spirits he was, and the knockings and
concertinas was awful sometimes when I’ve been laying out supper in
the dining-room. Now perhaps he’ll come himself and visit the rest of
the loonies. But I’m sorry all the same. A less troublesome little
gentleman never stepped. Always pleasant, too, and wages paid to the
day.”

These regretful comments and encomiums were something of a shock to Mr.
Tilly. He had imagined that his excellent servants regarded him with a
respectful affection, as befitted some sort of demigod, and the rôle of
the poor little gentleman was not at all to his mind. This revelation
of their true estimate of him, although what they thought of him could
no longer have the smallest significance, irritated him profoundly.

“I never heard such impertinence,” he said (so he thought) quite out
loud, and still intensely earth-bound, was astonished to see that
they had no perception whatever of his presence. He raised his voice,
replete with extreme irony, and addressed his cook.

“You may reserve your criticism on my character for your saucepans,” he
said. “They will no doubt appreciate them. As regards the arrangements
for my funeral, I have already provided for them in my will, and do not
propose to consult your convenience. At present----”

“Lor’!” said Mrs. Inglis, “I declare I can almost hear his voice, poor
little fellow. Husky it was, as if he would do better by clearing his
throat. I suppose I’d best be making a black bow to my cap. His lawyers
and what not will be here presently.”

Mr. Tilly had no sympathy with this suggestion. He was immensely
conscious of being quite alive, and the idea of his servants behaving
as if he were dead, especially after the way in which they had spoken
about him, was very vexing. He wanted to give them some striking
evidence of his presence and his activity, and he banged his hand
angrily on the dining-room table, from which the breakfast equipage
had not yet been cleared. Three tremendous blows he gave it, and was
rejoiced to see that his parlour-maid looked startled. Mrs. Inglis’s
face remained perfectly placid.

“Why, if I didn’t hear a sort of rapping sound,” said Miss Talton.
“Where did it come from?”

“Nonsense! You’ve the jumps, dear,” said Mrs. Inglis, picking up a
remaining rasher of bacon on a fork, and putting it into her capacious
mouth.

Mr. Tilly was delighted at making any impression at all on either of
these impercipient females.

“Talton!” he called at the top of his voice.

“Why, what’s that?” said Talton. “Almost hear his voice, do you say,
Mrs. Inglis? I declare I did hear his voice then.”

“A pack o’ nonsense, dear,” said Mrs. Inglis placidly. “That’s a prime
bit of bacon, and there’s a good cut of it left. Why, you’re all of a
tremble! It’s your imagination.”

Suddenly it struck Mr. Tilly that he might be employing himself much
better than, with such extreme exertion, managing to convey so slight
a hint of his presence to his parlour-maid, and that the séance at
the house of the medium, Mrs. Cumberbatch, would afford him much
easier opportunities of getting through to the earth-plane again. He
gave a couple more thumps to the table and, wishing himself at Mrs.
Cumberbatch’s, nearly a mile away, scarcely heard the faint scream
of Talton at the sound of his blows before he found himself in West
Norfolk Street.

He knew the house well, and went straight to the drawing-room, which
was the scene of the séances he had so often and so eagerly attended.
Mrs. Cumberbatch, who had a long spoon-shaped face, had already pulled
down the blinds, leaving the room in total darkness except for the
glimmer of the night-light which, under a shade of ruby-glass, stood
on the chimney-piece in front of the coloured photograph of Cardinal
Newman. Round the table were seated Miss Ida Soulsby, Mr. and Mrs.
Meriott (who paid their guineas at least twice a week in order to
consult their spiritual guide Abibel and received mysterious advice
about their indigestion and investments), and Sir John Plaice, who was
much interested in learning the details of his previous incarnation
as a Chaldean priest, completed the circle. His guide, who revealed
to him his sacerdotal career, was playfully called Mespot. Naturally
many other spirits visited them, for Miss Soulsby had no less than
three guides in her spiritual household, Sapphire, Semiramis, and Sweet
William, while Napoleon and Plato were not infrequent guests. Cardinal
Newman, too, was a great favourite, and they encouraged his presence
by the singing in unison of “Lead, kindly Light”: he could hardly ever
resist that....

Mr. Tilly observed with pleasure that there was a vacant seat by the
table which no doubt had been placed there for him. As he entered, Mrs.
Cumberbatch peered at her watch.

“Eleven o’clock already,” she said, “and Mr. Tilly is not here yet. I
wonder what can have kept him. What shall we do, dear friends? Abibel
gets very impatient sometimes if we keep him waiting.”

Mr. and Mrs. Meriott were getting impatient too, for he terribly wanted
to ask about Mexican oils, and she had a very vexing heartburn.

“And Mespot doesn’t like waiting either,” said Sir John, jealous for
the prestige of his protector, “not to mention Sweet William.”

Miss Soulsby gave a little silvery laugh.

“Oh, but my Sweet William’s so good and kind,” she said; “besides, I
have a feeling, quite a psychic feeling, Mrs. Cumberbatch, that Mr.
Tilly is very close.”

“So I am,” said Mr. Tilly.

“Indeed, as I walked here,” continued Miss Soulsby, “I felt that Mr.
Tilly was somewhere quite close to me. Dear me, what’s that?”

Mr. Tilly was so delighted at being sensed, that he could not resist
giving a tremendous rap on the table, in a sort of pleased applause.
Mrs. Cumberbatch heard it too.

“I’m sure that’s Abibel come to tell us that he is ready,” she said. “I
know Abibel’s knock. A little patience, Abibel. Let’s give Mr. Tilly
three minutes more and then begin. Perhaps, if we put up the blinds,
Abibel will understand we haven’t begun.”

This was done, and Miss Soulsby glided to the window, in order
to make known Mr. Tilly’s approach, for he always came along the
opposite pavement and crossed over by the little island in the river
of traffic. There was evidently some lately published news, for the
readers of early editions were busy, and she caught sight of one of
the advertisement-boards bearing in large letters the announcement
of a terrible accident at Hyde Park Corner. She drew in her breath
with a hissing sound and turned away, unwilling to have her psychic
tranquillity upset by the intrusion of painful incidents. But Mr.
Tilly, who had followed her to the window and saw what she had seen,
could hardly restrain a spiritual whoop of exultation.

“Why, it’s all about me!” he said. “Such large letters, too. Very
gratifying. Subsequent editions will no doubt contain my name.”

He gave another loud rap to call attention to himself, and Mrs.
Cumberbatch, sitting down in her antique chair which had once belonged
to Madame Blavatsky, again heard.

“Well, if that isn’t Abibel again,” she said. “Be quiet, naughty.
Perhaps we had better begin.”

She recited the usual invocation to guides and angels, and leaned
back in her chair. Presently she began to twitch and mutter, and
shortly afterwards with several loud snorts, relapsed into cataleptic
immobility. There she lay, stiff as a poker, a port of call, so to
speak, for any voyaging intelligence. With pleased anticipation Mr.
Tilly awaited their coming. How gratifying if Napoleon, with whom he
had so often talked, recognised him and said, “Pleased to see you, Mr.
Tilly. I perceive you have joined us....” The room was dark except for
the ruby-shaded lamp in front of Cardinal Newman, but to Mr. Tilly’s
emancipated perceptions the withdrawal of mere material light made no
difference, and he idly wondered why it was generally supposed that
disembodied spirits like himself produced their most powerful effects
in the dark. He could not imagine the reason for that, and, what
puzzled him still more, there was not to his spiritual perception any
sign of those colleagues of his (for so he might now call them) who
usually attended Mrs. Cumberbatch’s séances in such gratifying numbers.
Though she had been moaning and muttering a long time now, Mr. Tilly
was in no way conscious of the presence of Abibel and Sweet William
and Sapphire and Napoleon. “They ought to be here by now,” he said to
himself.

But while he still wondered at their absence, he saw to his amazed
disgust that the medium’s hand, now covered with a black glove, and
thus invisible to ordinary human vision in the darkness, was groping
about the table and clearly searching for the megaphone-trumpet which
lay there. He found that he could read her mind with the same ease,
though far less satisfaction, as he had read Miss Ida’s half an hour
ago, and knew that she was intending to apply the trumpet to her own
mouth and pretend to be Abibel or Semiramis or somebody, whereas she
affirmed that she never touched the trumpet herself. Much shocked at
this, he snatched up the trumpet himself, and observed that she was not
in trance at all, for she opened her sharp black eyes, which always
reminded him of buttons covered with American cloth, and gave a great
gasp.

“Why, Mr. Tilly!” she said. “On the spiritual plane too!”

The rest of the circle was now singing “Lead, kindly Light” in order to
encourage Cardinal Newman, and this conversation was conducted under
cover of the hoarse crooning voices. But Mr. Tilly had the feeling that
though Mrs. Cumberbatch saw and heard him as clearly as he saw her, he
was quite imperceptible to the others.

“Yes, I’ve been killed,” he said, “and I want to get into touch with
the material world. That’s why I came here. But I want to get into
touch with other spirits too, and surely Abibel or Mespot ought to be
here by this time.”

He received no answer, and her eyes fell before his like those of a
detected charlatan. A terrible suspicion invaded his mind.

“What? Are you a fraud, Mrs. Cumberbatch?” he asked. “Oh, for shame!
Think of all the guineas I have paid you.”

“You shall have them all back,” said Mrs. Cumberbatch. “But don’t tell
of me.”

She began to whimper, and he remembered that she often made that sort
of sniffling noise when Abibel was taking possession of her.

“That usually means that Abibel is coming,” he said, with withering
sarcasm. “Come along, Abibel: we’re waiting.”

“Give me the trumpet,” whispered the miserable medium. “Oh, please give
me the trumpet!”

“I shall do nothing of the kind,” said Mr. Tilly indignantly. “I would
sooner use it myself.”

She gave a sob of relief.

“Oh do, Mr. Tilly!” she said. “What a wonderful idea! It will be
most interesting to everybody to hear you talk just after you’ve been
killed and before they know. It would be the making of me! And I’m
not a fraud, at least not altogether. I do have spiritual perceptions
sometimes; spirits do communicate through me. And when they won’t come
through it’s a dreadful temptation to a poor woman to--to supplement
them by human agency. And how could I be seeing and hearing you now,
and be able to talk to you--so pleasantly, I’m sure--if I hadn’t
super-normal powers? You’ve been killed, so you assure me, and yet I
can see and hear you quite plainly. Where did it happen, may I ask, if
it’s not a painful subject?”

“Hyde Park Corner, half an hour ago,” said Mr. Tilly. “No, it only hurt
for a moment, thanks. But about your other suggestion----”

While the third verse of “Lead, kindly Light” was going on, Mr. Tilly
applied his mind to this difficult situation. It was quite true that
if Mrs. Cumberbatch had no power of communication with the unseen
she could not possibly have seen him. But she evidently had, and had
heard him too, for their conversation had certainly been conducted
on the spirit-plane, with perfect lucidity. Naturally, now that he
was a genuine spirit, he did not want to be mixed up in fraudulent
mediumship, for he felt that such a thing would seriously compromise
him on the other side, where, probably, it was widely known that Mrs.
Cumberbatch was a person to be avoided. But, on the other hand, having
so soon found a medium through whom he could communicate with his
friends, it was hard to take a high moral view, and say that he would
have nothing whatever to do with her.

“I don’t know if I trust you,” he said. “I shouldn’t have a moment’s
peace if I thought that you would be sending all sorts of bogus
messages from me to the circle, which I wasn’t responsible for at all.
You’ve done it with Abibel and Mespot. How can I know that when I don’t
choose to communicate through you, you won’t make up all sorts of
piffle on your own account?”

She positively squirmed in her chair.

“Oh, I’ll turn over a new leaf,” she said. “I will leave all that sort
of thing behind me. And I am a medium. Look at me! Aren’t I more real
to you than any of the others? Don’t I belong to your plane in a way
that none of the others do? I may be occasionally fraudulent, and I can
no more get Napoleon here than I can fly, but I’m genuine as well. Oh,
Mr. Tilly, be indulgent to us poor human creatures! It isn’t so long
since you were one of us yourself.”

The mention of Napoleon, with the information that Mrs. Cumberbatch had
never been controlled by that great creature, wounded Mr. Tilly again.
Often in this darkened room he had held long colloquies with him, and
Napoleon had given him most interesting details of his life on St.
Helena, which, so Mr. Tilly had found, were often borne out by Lord
Rosebery’s pleasant volume _The Last Phase_. But now the whole thing
wore a more sinister aspect, and suspicion as solid as certainty bumped
against his mind.

“Confess!” he said. “Where did you get all that Napoleon talk from? You
told us you had never read Lord Rosebery’s book, and allowed us to look
through your library to see that it wasn’t there. Be honest for once,
Mrs. Cumberbatch.”

She suppressed a sob.

“I will,” she said. “The book was there all the time. I put it into
an old cover called ‘Elegant Extracts....’ But I’m not wholly a fraud.
We’re talking together, you a spirit and I a mortal female. They can’t
hear us talk. But only look at me, and you’ll see.... You can talk to
them through me, if you’ll only be so kind. I don’t often get in touch
with a genuine spirit like yourself.”

Mr. Tilly glanced at the other sitters and then back to the medium,
who, to keep the others interested, was making weird gurgling noises
like an undervitalised siphon. Certainly she was far clearer to him
than were the others, and her argument that she was able to see and
hear him had great weight. And then a new and curious perception came
to him. Her mind seemed spread out before him like a pool of slightly
muddy water, and he figured himself as standing on a header-board
above it, perfectly able, if he chose, to immerse himself in it. The
objection to so doing was its muddiness, its materiality; the reason
for so doing was that he felt that then he would be able to be heard by
the others, possibly to be seen by them, certainly to come into touch
with them. As it was, the loudest bangs on the table were only faintly
perceptible.

“I’m beginning to understand,” he said.

“Oh, Mr. Tilly! Just jump in like a kind good spirit,” she said. “Make
your own test-conditions. Put your hand over my mouth to make sure that
I’m not speaking, and keep hold of the trumpet.”

“And you’ll promise not to cheat any more?” he asked.

“Never!”

He made up his mind.

“All right then,” he said, and, so to speak, dived into her mind.

He experienced the oddest sensation. It was like passing out of some
fine, sunny air into the stuffiest of unventilated rooms. Space and
time closed over him again: his head swam, his eyes were heavy. Then,
with the trumpet in one hand, he laid the other firmly over her mouth.
Looking round, he saw that the room seemed almost completely dark, but
that the outline of the figures sitting round the table had vastly
gained in solidity.

“Here I am!” he said briskly.

Miss Soulsby gave a startled exclamation.

“That’s Mr. Tilly’s voice!” she whispered.

“Why, of course it is,” said Mr. Tilly. “I’ve just passed over at Hyde
Park Corner under a traction engine....”

He felt the dead weight of the medium’s mind, her conventional
conceptions, her mild, unreal piety pressing in on him from all sides,
stifling and confusing him. Whatever he said had to pass through muddy
water....

“There’s a wonderful feeling of joy and lightness,” he said. “I can’t
tell you of the sunshine and happiness. We’re all very busy and active,
helping others. And it’s such a pleasure, dear friends, to be able to
get into touch with you all again. Death is not death: it is the gate
of life....”

He broke off suddenly.

“Oh, I can’t stand this,” he said to the medium. “You make me talk such
twaddle. Do get your stupid mind out of the way. Can’t we do anything
in which you won’t interfere with me so much?”

“Can you give us some spirit lights round the room?” suggested Mrs.
Cumberbatch in a sleepy voice. “You have come through beautifully, Mr.
Tilly. It’s too dear of you!”

“You’re sure you haven’t arranged some phosphorescent patches already?”
asked Mr. Tilly suspiciously.

“Yes, there are one or two near the chimney-piece,” said Mrs.
Cumberbatch, “but none anywhere else. Dear Mr. Tilly, I swear there are
not. Just give us a nice star with long rays on the ceiling!”

Mr. Tilly was the most good-natured of men, always willing to help
an unattractive female in distress, and whispering to her, “I shall
require the phosphorescent patches to be given into my hands after the
séance,” he proceeded, by the mere effort of his imagination, to light
a beautiful big star with red and violet rays on the ceiling. Of course
it was not nearly as brilliant as his own conception of it, for its
light had to pass through the opacity of the medium’s mind, but it was
still a most striking object, and elicited gasps of applause from the
company. To enhance the effect of it he intoned a few very pretty lines
about a star by Adelaide Anne Procter, whose poems had always seemed to
him to emanate from the topmost peak of Parnassus.

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Tilly!” whispered the medium. “It was lovely! Would
a photograph of it be permitted on some future occasion, if you would
be so kind as to reproduce it again?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Mr. Tilly irritably. “I want to get out. I’m
very hot and uncomfortable. And it’s all so cheap.”

“Cheap?” ejaculated Mrs. Cumberbatch. “Why, there’s not a medium in
London whose future wouldn’t be made by a real genuine star like that,
say, twice a week.”

“But I wasn’t run over in order that I might make the fortune of
mediums,” said Mr. Tilly. “I want to go: it’s all rather degrading.
And I want to see something of my new world. I don’t know what it’s
like yet.”

“Oh, but, Mr. Tilly,” said she. “You told us lovely things about it,
how busy and happy you were.”

“No, I didn’t. It was you who said that, at least it was you who put it
into my head.”

Even as he wished, he found himself emerging from the dull waters of
Mrs. Cumberbatch’s mind.

“There’s the whole new world waiting for me,” he said. “I must go and
see it. I’ll come back and tell you, for it must be full of marvellous
revelations....”

Suddenly he felt the hopelessness of it. There was that thick fluid
of materiality to pierce, and, as it dripped off him again, he began
to see that nothing of that fine rare quality of life which he had
just begun to experience, could penetrate these opacities. That was
why, perhaps, all that thus came across from the spirit-world, was so
stupid, so banal. They, of whom he now was one, could tap on furniture,
could light stars, could abound with commonplace, could read as in a
book the mind of medium or sitters, but nothing more. They had to pass
into the region of gross perceptions, in order to be seen of blind eyes
and be heard of deaf ears.

Mrs. Cumberbatch stirred.

“The power is failing,” she said, in a deep voice, which Mr. Tilly felt
was meant to imitate his own. “I must leave you now, dear friends----”

He felt much exasperated.

“The power isn’t failing,” he shouted. “It wasn’t I who said that.”

But he had emerged too far, and perceived that nobody except the medium
heard him.

“Oh, don’t be vexed, Mr. Tilly,” she said. “That’s only a formula. But
you’re leaving us very soon. Not time for just one materialisation?
They are more convincing than anything to most inquirers.”

“Not one,” said he. “You don’t understand how stifling it is even to
speak through you and make stars. But I’ll come back as soon as I find
there’s anything new that I can get through to you. What’s the use of
my repeating all that stale stuff about being busy and happy? They’ve
been told that often enough already. Besides, I have got to see if it’s
true. Good-bye: don’t cheat any more.”

He dropped his card of admittance to the séance on the table and heard
murmurs of excitement as he floated off.

       *       *       *       *       *

The news of the wonderful star, and the presence of Mr. Tilly at
the séance within half an hour of his death, which at the time was
unknown to any of the sitters, spread swiftly through spiritualistic
circles. The Psychical Research Society sent investigators to take
independent evidence from all those present, but were inclined to
attribute the occurrence to a subtle mixture of thought-transference
and unconscious visual impression, when they heard that Miss Soulsby
had, a few minutes previously, seen a news-board in the street outside
recording the accident at Hyde Park Corner. This explanation was rather
elaborate, for it postulated that Miss Soulsby, thinking of Mr. Tilly’s
non-arrival, had combined that with the accident at Hyde Park Corner,
and had probably (though unconsciously) seen the name of the victim on
another news-board and had transferred the whole by telepathy to the
mind of the medium. As for the star on the ceiling, though they could
not account for it, they certainly found remains of phosphorescent
paint on the panels of the wall above the chimney-piece, and came
to the conclusion that the star had been produced by some similar
contrivance. So they rejected the whole thing, which was a pity, since,
for once, the phenomena were absolutely genuine.

Miss Soulsby continued to be a constant attendant at Mrs. Cumberbatch’s
séance, but never experienced the presence of Mr. Tilly again. On
that the reader may put any interpretation he pleases. It looks to me
somewhat as if he had found something else to do.



Mrs. Amworth



Mrs. Amworth


The village of Maxley, where, last summer and autumn, these strange
events took place, lies on a heathery and pine-clad upland of Sussex.
In all England you could not find a sweeter and saner situation.
Should the wind blow from the south, it comes laden with the spices
of the sea; to the east high downs protect it from the inclemencies
of March; and from the west and north the breezes which reach it
travel over miles of aromatic forest and heather. The village itself
is insignificant enough in point of population, but rich in amenities
and beauty. Half-way down the single street, with its broad road and
spacious areas of grass on each side, stands the little Norman Church
and the antique graveyard long disused: for the rest there are a
dozen small, sedate Georgian houses, red-bricked and long-windowed,
each with a square of flower-garden in front, and an ampler strip
behind; a score of shops, and a couple of score of thatched cottages
belonging to labourers on neighbouring estates, complete the entire
cluster of its peaceful habitations. The general peace, however, is
sadly broken on Saturdays and Sundays, for we lie on one of the main
roads between London and Brighton and our quiet street becomes a
race-course for flying motor-cars and bicycles. A notice just outside
the village begging them to go slowly only seems to encourage them to
accelerate their speed, for the road lies open and straight, and there
is really no reason why they should do otherwise. By way of protest,
therefore, the ladies of Maxley cover their noses and mouths with
their handkerchiefs as they see a motor-car approaching, though, as
the street is asphalted, they need not really take these precautions
against dust. But late on Sunday night the horde of scorchers has
passed, and we settle down again to five days of cheerful and leisurely
seclusion. Railway strikes which agitate the country so much leave us
undisturbed because most of the inhabitants of Maxley never leave it at
all.

I am the fortunate possessor of one of these small Georgian houses,
and consider myself no less fortunate in having so interesting and
stimulating a neighbour as Francis Urcombe, who, the most confirmed
of Maxleyites, has not slept away from his house, which stands just
opposite to mine in the village street, for nearly two years, at which
date, though still in middle life, he resigned his Physiological
Professorship at Cambridge University and devoted himself to the study
of those occult and curious phenomena which seem equally to concern the
physical and the psychical sides of human nature. Indeed his retirement
was not unconnected with his passion for the strange uncharted places
that lie on the confines and borders of science, the existence of
which is so stoutly denied by the more materialistic minds, for he
advocated that all medical students should be obliged to pass some sort
of examination in mesmerism, and that one of the tripos papers should
be designed to test their knowledge in such subjects as appearances
at time of death, haunted houses, vampirism, automatic writing, and
possession.

“Of course they wouldn’t listen to me,” ran his account of the matter,
“for there is nothing that these seats of learning are so frightened
of as knowledge, and the road to knowledge lies in the study of things
like these. The functions of the human frame are, broadly speaking,
known. They are a country, anyhow, that has been charted and mapped
out. But outside that lie huge tracts of undiscovered country, which
certainly exist, and the real pioneers of knowledge are those who, at
the cost of being derided as credulous and superstitious, want to push
on into those misty and probably perilous places. I felt that I could
be of more use by setting out without compass or knapsack into the
mists than by sitting in a cage like a canary and chirping about what
was known. Besides, teaching is very bad for a man who knows himself
only to be a learner: you only need to be a self-conceited ass to
teach.”

Here, then, in Francis Urcombe, was a delightful neighbour to one
who, like myself, has an uneasy and burning curiosity about what he
called the “misty and perilous places”; and this last spring we had a
further and most welcome addition to our pleasant little community,
in the person of Mrs. Amworth, widow of an Indian civil servant.
Her husband had been a judge in the North-West Provinces, and after
his death at Peshawar she came back to England, and after a year in
London found herself starving for the ampler air and sunshine of the
country to take the place of the fogs and griminess of town. She had,
too, a special reason for settling in Maxley, since her ancestors up
till a hundred years ago had long been native to the place, and in
the old church-yard, now disused, are many grave-stones bearing her
maiden name of Chaston. Big and energetic, her vigorous and genial
personality speedily woke Maxley up to a higher degree of sociality
than it had ever known. Most of us were bachelors or spinsters or
elderly folk not much inclined to exert ourselves in the expense and
effort of hospitality, and hitherto the gaiety of a small tea-party,
with bridge afterwards and goloshes (when it was wet) to trip home in
again for a solitary dinner, was about the climax of our festivities.
But Mrs. Amworth showed us a more gregarious way, and set an example
of luncheon-parties and little dinners, which we began to follow. On
other nights when no such hospitality was on foot, a lone man like
myself found it pleasant to know that a call on the telephone to Mrs.
Amworth’s house not a hundred yards off, and an inquiry as to whether
I might come over after dinner for a game of piquet before bed-time,
would probably evoke a response of welcome. There she would be, with a
comrade-like eagerness for companionship, and there was a glass of port
and a cup of coffee and a cigarette and a game of piquet. She played
the piano, too, in a free and exuberant manner, and had a charming
voice and sang to her own accompaniment; and as the days grew long
and the light lingered late, we played our game in her garden, which
in the course of a few months she had turned from being a nursery for
slugs and snails into a glowing patch of luxuriant blossoming. She
was always cheery and jolly; she was interested in everything, and in
music, in gardening, in games of all sorts was a competent performer.
Everybody (with one exception) liked her, everybody felt her to bring
with her the tonic of a sunny day. That one exception was Francis
Urcombe; he, though he confessed he did not like her, acknowledged that
he was vastly interested in her. This always seemed strange to me, for
pleasant and jovial as she was, I could see nothing in her that could
call forth conjecture or intrigued surmise, so healthy and unmysterious
a figure did she present. But of the genuineness of Urcombe’s interest
there could be no doubt; one could see him watching and scrutinising
her. In matter of age, she frankly volunteered the information that she
was forty-five; but her briskness, her activity, her unravaged skin,
her coal-black hair, made it difficult to believe that she was not
adopting an unusual device, and adding ten years on to her age instead
of subtracting them.

Often, also, as our quite unsentimental friendship ripened, Mrs.
Amworth would ring me up and propose her advent. If I was busy writing,
I was to give her, so we definitely bargained, a frank negative, and
in answer I could hear her jolly laugh and her wishes for a successful
evening of work. Sometimes, before her proposal arrived, Urcombe would
already have stepped across from his house opposite for a smoke and a
chat, and he, hearing who my intending visitor was, always urged me
to beg her to come. She and I should play our piquet, said he, and
he would look on, if we did not object, and learn something of the
game. But I doubt whether he paid much attention to it, for nothing
could be clearer than that, under that penthouse of forehead and thick
eyebrows, his attention was fixed not on the cards, but on one of the
players. But he seemed to enjoy an hour spent thus, and often, until
one particular evening in July, he would watch her with the air of a
man who has some deep problem in front of him. She, enthusiastically
keen about our game, seemed not to notice his scrutiny. Then came that
evening, when, as I see in the light of subsequent events, began the
first twitching of the veil that hid the secret horror from my eyes. I
did not know it then, though I noticed that thereafter, if she rang up
to propose coming round, she always asked not only if I was at leisure,
but whether Mr. Urcombe was with me. If so, she said, she would not
spoil the chat of two old bachelors, and laughingly wished me good
night.

Urcombe, on this occasion, had been with me for some half-hour
before Mrs. Amworth’s appearance, and had been talking to me about
the mediæval beliefs concerning vampirism, one of those borderland
subjects which he declared had not been sufficiently studied before
it had been consigned by the medical profession to the dust-heap of
exploded superstitions. There he sat, grim and eager, tracing, with
that pellucid clearness which had made him in his Cambridge days so
admirable a lecturer, the history of those mysterious visitations. In
them all there were the same general features: one of those ghoulish
spirits took up its abode in a living man or woman, conferring
supernatural powers of bat-like flight and glutting itself with
nocturnal blood-feasts. When its host died it continued to dwell in the
corpse, which remained undecayed. By day it rested, by night it left
the grave and went on its awful errands. No European country in the
Middle Ages seemed to have escaped them; earlier yet, parallels were to
be found, in Roman and Greek and in Jewish history.

“It’s a large order to set all that evidence aside as being moonshine,”
he said. “Hundreds of totally independent witnesses in many ages
have testified to the occurrence of these phenomena, and there’s no
explanation known to me which covers all the facts. And if you feel
inclined to say ‘Why, then, if these are facts, do we not come across
them now?’ there are two answers I can make you. One is that there
were diseases known in the Middle Ages, such as the black death, which
were certainly existent then and which have become extinct since, but
for that reason we do not assert that such diseases never existed.
Just as the black death visited England and decimated the population
of Norfolk, so here in this very district about three hundred years
ago there was certainly an outbreak of vampirism, and Maxley was the
centre of it. My second answer is even more convincing, for I tell you
that vampirism is by no means extinct now. An outbreak of it certainly
occurred in India a year or two ago.”

At that moment I heard my knocker plied in the cheerful and peremptory
manner in which Mrs. Amworth is accustomed to announce her arrival, and
I went to the door to open it.

“Come in at once,” I said, “and save me from having my blood curdled.
Mr. Urcombe has been trying to alarm me.”

Instantly her vital, voluminous presence seemed to fill the room.

“Ah, but how lovely!” she said. “I delight in having my blood curdled.
Go on with your ghost-story, Mr. Urcombe. I adore ghost-stories.”

I saw that, as his habit was, he was intently observing her.

“It wasn’t a ghost-story exactly,” said he. “I was only telling our
host how vampirism was not extinct yet. I was saying that there was an
outbreak of it in India only a few years ago.”

There was a more than perceptible pause, and I saw that, if Urcombe was
observing her, she on her side was observing him with fixed eye and
parted mouth. Then her jolly laugh invaded that rather tense silence.

“Oh, what a shame!” she said. “You’re not going to curdle my blood
at all. Where did you pick up such a tale, Mr. Urcombe? I have lived
for years in India and never heard a rumour of such a thing. Some
story-teller in the bazaars must have invented it: they are famous at
that.”

I could see that Urcombe was on the point of saying something further,
but checked himself.

“Ah! very likely that was it,” he said.

But something had disturbed our usual peaceful sociability that night,
and something had damped Mrs. Amworth’s usual high spirits. She had no
gusto for her piquet, and left after a couple of games. Urcombe had
been silent too, indeed he hardly spoke again till she departed.

“That was unfortunate,” he said, “for the outbreak of--of a very
mysterious disease, let us call it, took place at Peshawar, where she
and her husband were. And----”

“Well?” I asked.

“He was one of the victims of it,” said he. “Naturally I had quite
forgotten that when I spoke.”

The summer was unreasonably hot and rainless, and Maxley suffered much
from drought, and also from a plague of big black night-flying gnats,
the bite of which was very irritating and virulent. They came sailing
in of an evening, settling on one’s skin so quietly that one perceived
nothing till the sharp stab announced that one had been bitten. They
did not bite the hands or face, but chose always the neck and throat
for their feeding-ground, and most of us, as the poison spread, assumed
a temporary goitre. Then about the middle of August appeared the first
of those mysterious cases of illness which our local doctor attributed
to the long-continued heat coupled with the bite of these venomous
insects. The patient was a boy of sixteen or seventeen, the son of
Mrs. Amworth’s gardener, and the symptoms were an anæmic pallor and a
languid prostration, accompanied by great drowsiness and an abnormal
appetite. He had, too, on his throat two small punctures where, so Dr.
Ross conjectured, one of these great gnats had bitten him. But the odd
thing was that there was no swelling or inflammation round the place
where he had been bitten. The heat at this time had begun to abate, but
the cooler weather failed to restore him, and the boy, in spite of the
quantity of good food which he so ravenously swallowed, wasted away to
a skin-clad skeleton.

I met Dr. Ross in the street one afternoon about this time, and in
answer to my inquiries about his patient he said that he was afraid
the boy was dying. The case, he confessed, completely puzzled him:
some obscure form of pernicious anæmia was all he could suggest. But
he wondered whether Mr. Urcombe would consent to see the boy, on
the chance of his being able to throw some new light on the case,
and since Urcombe was dining with me that night, I proposed to Dr.
Ross to join us. He could not do this, but said he would look in
later. When he came, Urcombe at once consented to put his skill at
the other’s disposal, and together they went off at once. Being thus
shorn of my sociable evening, I telephoned to Mrs. Amworth to know if
I might inflict myself on her for an hour. Her answer was a welcoming
affirmative, and between piquet and music the hour lengthened itself
into two. She spoke of the boy who was lying so desperately and
mysteriously ill, and told me that she had often been to see him,
taking him nourishing and delicate food. But to-day--and her kind eyes
moistened as she spoke--she was afraid she had paid her last visit.
Knowing the antipathy between her and Urcombe, I did not tell her that
he had been called into consultation; and when I returned home she
accompanied me to my door, for the sake of a breath of night air, and
in order to borrow a magazine which contained an article on gardening
which she wished to read.

“Ah, this delicious night air,” she said, luxuriously sniffing in the
coolness. “Night air and gardening are the great tonics. There is
nothing so stimulating as bare contact with rich mother earth. You are
never so fresh as when you have been grubbing in the soil--black hands,
black nails, and boots covered with mud.” She gave her great jovial
laugh.

“I’m a glutton for air and earth,” she said. “Positively I look forward
to death, for then I shall be buried and have the kind earth all round
me. No leaden caskets for me--I have given explicit directions. But
what shall I do about air? Well, I suppose one can’t have everything.
The magazine? A thousand thanks, I will faithfully return it. Good
night: garden and keep your windows open, and you won’t have anæmia.”

“I always sleep with my windows open,” said I.

I went straight up to my bedroom, of which one of the windows looks
out over the street, and as I undressed I thought I heard voices
talking outside not far away. But I paid no particular attention, put
out my lights, and falling asleep plunged into the depths of a most
horrible dream, distortedly suggested no doubt, by my last words with
Mrs. Amworth. I dreamed that I woke, and found that both my bedroom
windows were shut. Half-suffocating I dreamed that I sprang out of
bed, and went across to open them. The blind over the first was drawn
down, and pulling it up I saw, with the indescribable horror of
incipient nightmare, Mrs. Amworth’s face suspended close to the pane
in the darkness outside, nodding and smiling at me. Pulling down the
blind again to keep that terror out, I rushed to the second window on
the other side of the room, and there again was Mrs. Amworth’s face.
Then the panic came upon me in full blast; here was I suffocating in
the airless room, and whichever window I opened Mrs. Amworth’s face
would float in, like those noiseless black gnats that bit before one
was aware. The nightmare rose to screaming point, and with strangled
yells I awoke to find my room cool and quiet with both windows open
and blinds up and a half-moon high in its course, casting an oblong
of tranquil light on the floor. But even when I was awake the horror
persisted, and I lay tossing and turning. I must have slept long before
the nightmare seized me, for now it was nearly day, and soon in the
east the drowsy eyelids of morning began to lift.

I was scarcely downstairs next morning--for after the dawn I slept
late--when Urcombe rang up to know if he might see me immediately. He
came in, grim and preoccupied, and I noticed that he was pulling on a
pipe that was not even filled.

“I want your help,” he said, “and so I must tell you first of all
what happened last night. I went round with the little doctor to see
his patient, and found him just alive, but scarcely more. I instantly
diagnosed in my own mind what this anæmia, unaccountable by any other
explanation, meant. The boy is the prey of a vampire.”

He put his empty pipe on the breakfast-table, by which I had just
sat down, and folded his arms, looking at me steadily from under his
overhanging brows.

“Now about last night,” he said. “I insisted that he should be moved
from his father’s cottage into my house. As we were carrying him on a
stretcher, whom should we meet but Mrs. Amworth? She expressed shocked
surprise that we were moving him. Now why do you think she did that?”

With a start of horror, as I remembered my dream that night before, I
felt an idea come into my mind so preposterous and unthinkable that I
instantly turned it out again.

“I haven’t the smallest idea,” I said.

“Then listen, while I tell you about what happened later. I put out
all light in the room where the boy lay, and watched. One window was
a little open, for I had forgotten to close it, and about midnight I
heard something outside, trying apparently to push it farther open. I
guessed who it was--yes, it was full twenty feet from the ground--and
I peeped round the corner of the blind. Just outside was the face of
Mrs. Amworth and her hand was on the frame of the window. Very softly I
crept close, and then banged the window down, and I think I just caught
the tip of one of her fingers.”

“But it’s impossible,” I cried. “How could she be floating in the air
like that? And what had she come for? Don’t tell me such----”

Once more, with closer grip, the remembrance of my nightmare seized me.

“I am telling you what I saw,” said he. “And all night long, until it
was nearly day, she was fluttering outside, like some terrible bat,
trying to gain admittance. Now put together various things I have told
you.”

He began checking them off on his fingers.

“Number one,” he said: “there was an outbreak of disease similar to
that which this boy is suffering from at Peshawar, and her husband
died of it. Number two: Mrs. Amworth protested against my moving the
boy to my house. Number three: she, or the demon that inhabits her
body, a creature powerful and deadly, tries to gain admittance. And add
this, too: in mediæval times there was an epidemic of vampirism here
at Maxley. The vampire, so the accounts run, was found to be Elizabeth
Chaston ... I see you remember Mrs. Amworth’s maiden name. Finally, the
boy is stronger this morning. He would certainly not have been alive if
he had been visited again. And what do you make of it?”

There was a long silence, during which I found this incredible horror
assuming the hues of reality.

“I have something to add,” I said, “which may or may not bear on it.
You say that the--the spectre went away shortly before dawn.”

“Yes.”

I told him of my dream, and he smiled grimly.

“Yes, you did well to awake,” he said. “That warning came from your
subconscious self, which never wholly slumbers, and cried out to you
of deadly danger. For two reasons, then, you must help me: one to save
others, the second to save yourself.”

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

“I want you first of all to help me in watching this boy, and ensuring
that she does not come near him. Eventually I want you to help me in
tracking the thing down, in exposing and destroying it. It is not
human: it is an incarnate fiend. What steps we shall have to take I
don’t yet know.”

It was now eleven of the forenoon, and presently I went across to his
house for a twelve-hour vigil while he slept, to come on duty again
that night, so that for the next twenty-four hours either Urcombe or
myself was always in the room where the boy, now getting stronger
every hour, was lying. The day following was Saturday and a morning
of brilliant, pellucid weather, and already when I went across to his
house to resume my duty the stream of motors down to Brighton had
begun. Simultaneously I saw Urcombe with a cheerful face, which boded
good news of his patient, coming out of his house, and Mrs. Amworth,
with a gesture of salutation to me and a basket in her hand, walking up
the broad strip of grass which bordered the road. There we all three
met. I noticed (and saw that Urcombe noticed it too) that one finger of
her left hand was bandaged.

“Good morning to you both,” said she. “And I hear your patient is doing
well, Mr. Urcombe. I have come to bring him a bowl of jelly, and to sit
with him for an hour. He and I are great friends. I am overjoyed at his
recovery.”

Urcombe paused a moment, as if making up his mind, and then shot out a
pointing finger at her.

“I forbid that,” he said. “You shall not sit with him or see him. And
you know the reason as well as I do.”

I have never seen so horrible a change pass over a human face as that
which now blanched hers to the colour of a grey mist. She put up her
hand as if to shield herself from that pointing finger, which drew the
sign of the cross in the air, and shrank back cowering on to the road.
There was a wild hoot from a horn, a grinding of brakes, a shout--too
late--from a passing car, and one long scream suddenly cut short. Her
body rebounded from the roadway after the first wheel had gone over it,
and the second followed. It lay there, quivering and twitching, and was
still.

She was buried three days afterwards in the cemetery outside Maxley,
in accordance with the wishes she had told me that she had devised
about her interment, and the shock which her sudden and awful death
had caused to the little community began by degrees to pass off. To
two people only, Urcombe and myself, the horror of it was mitigated
from the first by the nature of the relief that her death brought;
but, naturally enough, we kept our own counsel, and no hint of what
greater horror had been thus averted was ever let slip. But, oddly
enough, so it seemed to me, he was still not satisfied about something
in connection with her, and would give no answer to my questions on
the subject. Then as the days of a tranquil mellow September and
the October that followed began to drop away like the leaves of the
yellowing trees, his uneasiness relaxed. But before the entry of
November the seeming tranquillity broke into hurricane.

I had been dining one night at the far end of the village, and about
eleven o’clock was walking home again. The moon was of an unusual
brilliance, rendering all that it shone on as distinct as in some
etching. I had just come opposite the house which Mrs. Amworth had
occupied, where there was a board up telling that it was to let, when I
heard the click of her front gate, and next moment I saw, with a sudden
chill and quaking of my very spirit, that she stood there. Her profile,
vividly illuminated, was turned to me, and I could not be mistaken in
my identification of her. She appeared not to see me (indeed the shadow
of the yew hedge in front of her garden enveloped me in its blackness)
and she went swiftly across the road, and entered the gate of the
house directly opposite. There I lost sight of her completely.

My breath was coming in short pants as if I had been running--and now
indeed I ran, with fearful backward glances, along the hundred yards
that separated me from my house and Urcombe’s. It was to his that my
flying steps took me, and next minute I was within.

“What have you come to tell me?” he asked. “Or shall I guess?”

“You can’t guess,” said I.

“No; it’s no guess. She has come back and you have seen her. Tell me
about it.”

I gave him my story.

“That’s Major Pearsall’s house,” he said. “Come back with me there at
once.”

“But what can we do?” I asked.

“I’ve no idea. That’s what we have got to find out.”

A minute later, we were opposite the house. When I had passed it
before, it was all dark; now lights gleamed from a couple of windows
upstairs. Even as we faced it, the front door opened, and next moment
Major Pearsall emerged from the gate. He saw us and stopped.

“I’m on my way to Dr. Ross,” he said quickly. “My wife has been taken
suddenly ill. She had been in bed an hour when I came upstairs, and
I found her white as a ghost and utterly exhausted. She had been to
sleep, it seemed---- but you will excuse me.”

“One moment, Major,” said Urcombe. “Was there any mark on her throat?”

“How did you guess that?” said he. “There was: one of those beastly
gnats must have bitten her twice there. She was streaming with blood.”

“And there’s someone with her?” asked Urcombe.

“Yes, I roused her maid.”

He went off, and Urcombe turned to me. “I know now what we have to do,”
he said. “Change your clothes, and I’ll join you at your house.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“I’ll tell you on our way. We’re going to the cemetery.”

       *       *       *       *       *

He carried a pick, a shovel, and a screwdriver when he rejoined me, and
wore round his shoulders a long coil of rope. As we walked, he gave me
the outlines of the ghastly hour that lay before us.

“What I have to tell you,” he said, “will seem to you now too fantastic
for credence, but before dawn we shall see whether it outstrips
reality. By a most fortunate happening, you saw the spectre, the
astral body, whatever you choose to call it, of Mrs. Amworth, going on
its grisly business, and therefore, beyond doubt, the vampire spirit
which abode in her during life animates her again in death. That is
not exceptional--indeed, all these weeks since her death I have been
expecting it. If I am right, we shall find her body undecayed and
untouched by corruption.”

“But she has been dead nearly two months,” said I.

“If she had been dead two years it would still be so, if the vampire
has possession of her. So remember: whatever you see done, it will be
done not to her, who in the natural course would now be feeding the
grasses above her grave, but to a spirit of untold evil and malignancy,
which gives a phantom life to her body.”

“But what shall I see done?” said I.

“I will tell you. We know that now, at this moment, the vampire clad in
her mortal semblance is out; dining out. But it must get back before
dawn, and it will pass into the material form that lies in her grave.
We must wait for that, and then with your help I shall dig up her
body. If I am right, you will look on her as she was in life, with the
full vigour of the dreadful nutriment she has received pulsing in her
veins. And then, when dawn has come, and the vampire cannot leave the
lair of her body, I shall strike her with this”--and he pointed to his
pick--“through the heart, and she, who comes to life again only with
the animation the fiend gives her, she and her hellish partner will be
dead indeed. Then we must bury her again, delivered at last.”

We had come to the cemetery, and in the brightness of the moonshine
there was no difficulty in identifying her grave. It lay some twenty
yards from the small chapel, in the porch of which, obscured by shadow,
we concealed ourselves. From there we had a clear and open sight of
the grave, and now we must wait till its infernal visitor returned
home. The night was warm and windless, yet even if a freezing wind had
been raging I think I should have felt nothing of it, so intense was
my preoccupation as to what the night and dawn would bring. There was
a bell in the turret of the chapel, that struck the quarters of the
hour, and it amazed me to find how swiftly the chimes succeeded one
another.

The moon had long set, but a twilight of stars shone in a clear sky,
when five o’clock of the morning sounded from the turret. A few minutes
more passed, and then I felt Urcombe’s hand softly nudging me; and
looking out in the direction of his pointing finger, I saw that the
form of a woman, tall and large in build, was approaching from the
right. Noiselessly, with a motion more of gliding and floating than
walking, she moved across the cemetery to the grave which was the
centre of our observation. She moved round it as if to be certain
of its identity, and for a moment stood directly facing us. In the
greyness to which now my eyes had grown accustomed, I could easily see
her face, and recognise its features.

She drew her hand across her mouth as if wiping it, and broke into a
chuckle of such laughter as made my hair stir on my head. Then she
leaped on to the grave, holding her hands high above her head, and inch
by inch disappeared into the earth. Urcombe’s hand was laid on my arm,
in an injunction to keep still, but now he removed it.

“Come,” he said.

With pick and shovel and rope we went to the grave. The earth was light
and sandy, and soon after six struck we had delved down to the coffin
lid. With his pick he loosened the earth round it, and, adjusting the
rope through the handles by which it had been lowered, we tried to
raise it. This was a long and laborious business, and the light had
begun to herald day in the east before we had it out, and lying by the
side of the grave. With his screwdriver he loosed the fastenings of
the lid, and slid it aside, and standing there we looked on the face
of Mrs. Amworth. The eyes, once closed in death, were open, the cheeks
were flushed with colour, the red, full-lipped mouth seemed to smile.

“One blow and it is all over,” he said. “You need not look.”

Even as he spoke he took up the pick again, and, laying the point of it
on her left breast, measured his distance. And though I knew what was
coming I could not look away....

He grasped the pick in both hands, raised it an inch or two for the
taking of his aim, and then with full force brought it down on her
breast. A fountain of blood, though she had been dead so long, spouted
high in the air, falling with the thud of a heavy splash over the
shroud, and simultaneously from those red lips came one long, appalling
cry, swelling up like some hooting siren, and dying away again. With
that, instantaneous as a lightning flash, came the touch of corruption
on her face, the colour of it faded to ash, the plump cheeks fell in,
the mouth dropped.

“Thank God, that’s over,” said he, and without pause slipped the coffin
lid back into its place.

Day was coming fast now, and, working like men possessed, we lowered
the coffin into its place again, and shovelled the earth over it....
The birds were busy with their earliest pipings as we went back to
Maxley.



In the Tube



In the Tube


“It’s a convention,” said Anthony Carling cheerfully, “and not a very
convincing one. Time, indeed! There’s no such thing as Time really; it
has no actual existence. Time is nothing more than an infinitesimal
point in eternity, just as space is an infinitesimal point in infinity.
At the most, Time is a sort of tunnel through which we are accustomed
to believe that we are travelling. There’s a roar in our ears and a
darkness in our eyes which makes it seem real to us. But before we came
into the tunnel we existed for ever in an infinite sunlight, and after
we have got through it we shall exist in an infinite sunlight again.
So why should we bother ourselves about the confusion and noise and
darkness which only encompass us for a moment?”

For a firm-rooted believer in such immeasurable ideas as these, which
he punctuated with brisk application of the poker to the brave sparkle
and glow of the fire, Anthony has a very pleasant appreciation of the
measurable and the finite, and nobody with whom I have acquaintance has
so keen a zest for life and its enjoyments as he. He had given us this
evening an admirable dinner, had passed round a port beyond praise,
and had illuminated the jolly hours with the light of his infectious
optimism. Now the small company had melted away, and I was left with
him over the fire in his study. Outside the tattoo of wind-driven sleet
was audible on the window-panes, over-scoring now and again the flap
of the flames on the open hearth, and the thought of the chilly blasts
and the snow-covered pavement in Brompton Square, across which, to
skidding taxicabs, the last of his other guests had scurried, made my
position, resident here till to-morrow morning, the more delicately
delightful. Above all there was this stimulating and suggestive
companion, who, whether he talked of the great abstractions which were
so intensely real and practical to him, or of the very remarkable
experiences which he had encountered among these conventions of time
and space, was equally fascinating to the listener.

“I adore life,” he said. “I find it the most entrancing plaything. It’s
a delightful game, and, as you know very well, the only conceivable
way to play a game is to treat it extremely seriously. If you say to
yourself, ‘It’s only a game,’ you cease to take the slightest interest
in it. You have to know that it’s only a game, and behave as if it
was the one object of existence. I should like it to go on for many
years yet. But all the time one has to be living on the true plane as
well, which is eternity and infinity. If you come to think of it, the
one thing which the human mind cannot grasp is the finite, not the
infinite, the temporary, not the eternal.”

“That sounds rather paradoxical,” said I.

“Only because you’ve made a habit of thinking about things that seem
bounded and limited. Look it in the face for a minute. Try to imagine
finite Time and Space, and you find you can’t. Go back a million
years, and multiply that million of years by another million, and you
find that you can’t conceive of a beginning. What happened before
that beginning? Another beginning and another beginning? And before
that? Look at it like that, and you find that the only solution
comprehensible to you is the existence of an eternity, something that
never began and will never end. It’s the same about space. Project
yourself to the farthest star, and what comes beyond that? Emptiness?
Go on through the emptiness, and you can’t imagine it being finite and
having an end. It must needs go on for ever: that’s the only thing
you can understand. There’s no such thing as before or after, or
beginning or end, and what a comfort that is! I should fidget myself
to death if there wasn’t the huge soft cushion of eternity to lean
one’s head against. Some people say--I believe I’ve heard you say it
yourself--that the idea of eternity is so tiring; you feel that you
want to stop. But that’s because you are thinking of eternity in terms
of Time, and mumbling in your brain, ‘And after that, and after that?’
Don’t you grasp the idea that in eternity there isn’t any ‘after,’
any more than there is any ‘before’? It’s all one. Eternity isn’t a
quantity: it’s a quality.”

Sometimes, when Anthony talks in this manner, I seem to get a glimpse
of that which to his mind is so transparently clear and solidly
real, at other times (not having a brain that readily envisages
abstractions) I feel as though he was pushing me over a precipice,
and my intellectual faculties grasp wildly at anything tangible or
comprehensible. This was the case now, and I hastily interrupted.

“But there is a ‘before’ and ‘after,’” I said. “A few hours ago you
gave us an admirable dinner, and after that--yes, after--we played
bridge. And now you are going to explain things a little more clearly
to me, and after that I shall go to bed----”

He laughed.

“You shall do exactly as you like,” he said, “and you shan’t be a slave
to Time either to-night or to-morrow morning. We won’t even mention
an hour for breakfast, but you shall have it in eternity whenever you
awake. And as I see it is not midnight yet, we’ll slip the bonds of
Time, and talk quite infinitely. I will stop the clock, if that will
assist you in getting rid of your illusion, and then I’ll tell you a
story, which to my mind, shows how unreal so-called realities are; or,
at any rate, how fallacious are our senses as judges of what is real
and what is not.”

“Something occult, something spookish?” I asked, pricking up my ears,
for Anthony has the strangest clairvoyances and visions of things
unseen by the normal eye.

“I suppose you might call some of it occult,” he said, “though there’s
a certain amount of rather grim reality mixed up in it.”

“Go on; excellent mixture,” said I.

He threw a fresh log on the fire.

“It’s a longish story,” he said. “You may stop me as soon as you’ve
had enough. But there will come a point for which I claim your
consideration. You, who cling to your ‘before’ and ‘after,’ has it
ever occurred to you how difficult it is to say _when_ an incident
takes place? Say that a man commits some crime of violence, can we
not, with a good deal of truth, say that he really commits that crime
when he definitely plans and determines upon it, dwelling on it with
gusto? The actual commission of it, I think we can reasonably argue,
is the mere material sequel of his resolve: he is guilty of it when he
makes that determination. When, therefore, in the term of ‘before’ and
‘after,’ does the crime truly take place? There is also in my story a
further point for your consideration. For it seems certain that the
spirit of a man, after the death of his body, is obliged to re-enact
such a crime, with a view, I suppose we may guess, to his remorse and
his eventual redemption. Those who have second sight have seen such
re-enactments. Perhaps he may have done his deed blindly in this life;
but then his spirit re-commits it with its spiritual eyes open, and
able to comprehend its enormity. So, shall we view the man’s original
determination and the material commission of his crime only as preludes
to the real commission of it, when with eyes unsealed he does it and
repents of it?... That all sounds very obscure when I speak in the
abstract, but I think you will see what I mean, if you follow my tale.
Comfortable? Got everything you want? Here goes, then.”

He leaned back in his chair, concentrating his mind, and then spoke:

“The story that I am about to tell you,” he said, “had its beginning
a month ago, when you were away in Switzerland. It reached its
conclusion, so I imagine, last night. I do not, at any rate, expect to
experience any more of it. Well, a month ago I was returning late on
a very wet night from dining out. There was not a taxi to be had, and
I hurried through the pouring rain to the tube-station at Piccadilly
Circus, and thought myself very lucky to catch the last train in this
direction. The carriage into which I stepped was quite empty except
for one other passenger, who sat next the door immediately opposite
to me. I had never, to my knowledge, seen him before, but I found my
attention vividly fixed on him, as if he somehow concerned me. He was
a man of middle age, in dress-clothes, and his face wore an expression
of intense thought, as if in his mind he was pondering some very
significant matter, and his hand which was resting on his knee clenched
and unclenched itself. Suddenly he looked up and stared me in the face,
and I saw there suspicion and fear, as if I had surprised him in some
secret deed.

“At that moment we stopped at Dover Street, and the conductor threw
open the doors, announced the station and added, ‘Change here for Hyde
Park Corner and Gloucester Road.’ That was all right for me since
it meant that the train would stop at Brompton Road, which was my
destination. It was all right apparently, too, for my companion, for he
certainly did not get out, and after a moment’s stop, during which no
one else got in, we went on. I saw him, I must insist, after the doors
were closed and the train had started. But when I looked again, as we
rattled on, I saw that there was no one there. I was quite alone in the
carriage.

“Now you may think that I had had one of those swift momentary dreams
which flash in and out of the mind in the space of a second, but I did
not believe it was so myself, for I felt that I had experienced some
sort of premonition or clairvoyant vision. A man, the semblance of
whom, astral body or whatever you may choose to call it, I had just
seen, would sometime sit in that seat opposite to me, pondering and
planning.”

“But why?” I asked. “Why should it have been the astral body of a
living man which you thought you had seen? Why not the ghost of a dead
one?”

“Because of my own sensations. The sight of the spirit of someone dead,
which has occurred to me two or three times in my life, has always been
accompanied by a physical shrinking and fear, and by the sensation of
cold and of loneliness. I believed, at any rate, that I had seen a
phantom of the living, and that impression was confirmed, I might say
proved, the next day. For I met the man himself. And the next night, as
you shall hear, I met the phantom again. We will take them in order.

“I was lunching, then, the next day with my neighbour Mrs. Stanley:
there was a small party, and when I arrived we waited but for the final
guest. He entered while I was talking to some friend, and presently at
my elbow I heard Mrs. Stanley’s voice--

“‘Let me introduce you to Sir Henry Payle,’ she said.

“I turned and saw my _vis-à-vis_ of the night before. It was quite
unmistakably he, and as we shook hands he looked at me I thought with
vague and puzzled recognition.

“‘Haven’t we met before, Mr. Carling?’ he said. ‘I seem to
recollect----’

“For the moment I forgot the strange manner of his disappearance from
the carriage, and thought that it had been the man himself whom I had
seen last night.

“‘Surely, and not so long ago,’ I said. ‘For we sat opposite each other
in the last tube-train from Piccadilly Circus yesterday night.’

“He still looked at me, frowning, puzzled, and shook his head.

“‘That can hardly be,’ he said. ‘I only came up from the country this
morning.’

“Now this interested me profoundly, for the astral body, we are told,
abides in some half-conscious region of the mind or spirit, and has
recollections of what has happened to it, which it can convey only very
vaguely and dimly to the conscious mind. All lunch-time I could see his
eyes again and again directed to me with the same puzzled and perplexed
air, and as I was taking my departure he came up to me.

“‘I shall recollect some day,’ he said, ‘where we met before, and I
hope we may meet again. Was it not----?’--and he stopped. ‘No: it has
gone from me,’ he added.”

The log that Anthony had thrown on the fire was burning bravely now,
and its high-flickering flame lit up his face.

“Now, I don’t know whether you believe in coincidences as chance
things,” he said, “but if you do, get rid of the notion. Or if you
can’t at once, call it a coincidence that that very night I again
caught the last train on the tube going westwards. This time, so far
from my being a solitary passenger, there was a considerable crowd
waiting at Dover Street, where I entered, and just as the noise of the
approaching train began to reverberate in the tunnel I caught sight of
Sir Henry Payle standing near the opening from which the train would
presently emerge, apart from the rest of the crowd. And I thought to
myself how odd it was that I should have seen the phantom of him at
this very hour last night and the man himself now, and I began walking
towards him with the idea of saying, ‘Anyhow, it is in the tube that we
meet to-night.’... And then a terrible and awful thing happened. Just
as the train emerged from the tunnel he jumped down on to the line in
front of it, and the train swept along over him up the platform.

“For a moment I was stricken with horror at the sight, and I remember
covering my eyes against the dreadful tragedy. But then I perceived
that, though it had taken place in full sight of those who were
waiting, no one seemed to have seen it except myself. The driver,
looking out from his window, had not applied his brakes, there was no
jolt from the advancing train, no scream, no cry, and the rest of the
passengers began boarding the train with perfect nonchalance. I must
have staggered, for I felt sick and faint with what I had seen, and
some kindly soul put his arm round me and supported me into the train.
He was a doctor, he told me, and asked if I was in pain, or what ailed
me. I told him what I thought I had seen, and he assured me that no
such accident had taken place.

“It was clear then to my own mind that I had seen the second act, so
to speak, in this psychical drama, and I pondered next morning over
the problem as to what I should do. Already I had glanced at the
morning paper, which, as I knew would be the case, contained no mention
whatever of what I had seen. The thing had certainly not happened, but
I knew in myself that it would happen. The flimsy veil of Time had been
withdrawn from my eyes, and I had seen into what you would call the
future. In terms of Time of course it was the future, but from my point
of view the thing was just as much in the past as it was in the future.
It existed, and waited only for its material fulfilment. The more I
thought about it, the more I saw that I could do nothing.”

I interrupted his narrative.

“You did nothing?” I exclaimed. “Surely you might have taken some step
in order to try to avert the tragedy.”

He shook his head.

“What step precisely?” he said. “Was I to go to Sir Henry and
tell him that once more I had seen him in the tube in the act of
committing suicide? Look at it like this. Either what I had seen was
pure illusion, pure imagination, in which case it had no existence or
significance at all, or it was actual and real, and essentially it had
happened. Or take it, though not very logically, somewhere between
the two. Say that the idea of suicide, for some cause of which I knew
nothing, had occurred to him or would occur. Should I not, if that was
the case, be doing a very dangerous thing, by making such a suggestion
to him? Might not the fact of my telling him what I had seen put
the idea into his mind, or, if it was already there, confirm it and
strengthen it? ‘It’s a ticklish matter to play with souls,’ as Browning
says.”

“But it seems so inhuman not to interfere in any way,” said I, “not to
make any attempt.”

“What interference?” asked he. “What attempt?”

The human instinct in me still seemed to cry aloud at the thought of
doing nothing to avert such a tragedy, but it seemed to be beating
itself against something austere and inexorable. And cudgel my brain
as I would, I could not combat the sense of what he had said. I had no
answer for him, and he went on.

“You must recollect, too,” he said, “that I believed then and believe
now that the thing had happened. The cause of it, whatever that was,
had begun to work, and the effect, in this material sphere, was
inevitable. That is what I alluded to when, at the beginning of my
story, I asked you to consider how difficult it was to say when an
action took place. You still hold that this particular action, this
suicide of Sir Henry, had not yet taken place, because he had not
yet thrown himself under the advancing train. To me that seems a
materialistic view. I hold that in all but the endorsement of it, so to
speak, it had taken place. I fancy that Sir Henry, for instance, now
free from the material dusks, knows that himself.”

Exactly as he spoke there swept through the warm lit room a current of
ice-cold air, ruffling my hair as it passed me, and making the wood
flames on the hearth to dwindle and flare. I looked round to see if the
door at my back had opened, but nothing stirred there, and over the
closed window the curtains were fully drawn. As it reached Anthony, he
sat up quickly in his chair and directed his glance this way and that
about the room.

“Did you feel that?” he asked.

“Yes: a sudden draught,” I said. “Ice-cold.”

“Anything else?” he asked. “Any other sensation?”

I paused before I answered, for at the moment there occurred to me
Anthony’s differentiation of the effects produced on the beholder by
a phantasm of the living and the apparition of the dead. It was the
latter which accurately described my sensations now, a certain physical
shrinking, a fear, a feeling of desolation. But yet I had seen nothing.
“I felt rather creepy,” I said.

As I spoke I drew my chair rather closer to the fire, and sent a swift
and, I confess, a somewhat apprehensive scrutiny round the walls of the
brightly lit room. I noticed at the same time that Anthony was peering
across to the chimney-piece, on which, just below a sconce holding two
electric lights, stood the clock which at the beginning of our talk he
had offered to stop. The hands I noticed pointed to twenty-five minutes
to one.

“But you saw nothing?” he asked.

“Nothing whatever,” I said. “Why should I? What was there to see? Or
did you----”

“I don’t think so,” he said.

Somehow this answer got on my nerves, for the queer feeling which had
accompanied that cold current of air had not left me. If anything it
had become more acute.

“But surely you know whether you saw anything or not?” I said.

“One can’t always be certain,” said he. “I say that I don’t think I
saw anything. But I’m not sure, either, whether the story I am telling
you was quite concluded last night. I think there may be a further
incident. If you prefer it, I will leave the rest of it, as far as I
know it, unfinished till to-morrow morning, and you can go off to bed
now.”

His complete calmness and tranquillity reassured me.

“But why should I do that?” I asked.

Again he looked round on the bright walls.

“Well, I think something entered the room just now,” he said, “and
it may develop. If you don’t like the notion, you had better go. Of
course there’s nothing to be alarmed at; whatever it is, it can’t hurt
us. But it is close on the hour when on two successive nights I saw
what I have already told you, and an apparition usually occurs at the
same time. Why that is so, I cannot say, but certainly it looks as if
a spirit that is earth-bound is still subject to certain conventions,
the conventions of time for instance. I think that personally I shall
see something before long, but most likely you won’t. You’re not such a
sufferer as I from these--these delusions----”

I was frightened and knew it, but I was also intensely interested, and
some perverse pride wriggled within me at his last words. Why, so I
asked myself, shouldn’t I see whatever was to be seen?...

“I don’t want to go in the least,” I said. “I want to hear the rest of
your story.”

“Where was I, then? Ah, yes: you were wondering why I didn’t do
something after I saw the train move up to the platform, and I said
that there was nothing to be done. If you think it over, I fancy you
will agree with me.... A couple of days passed, and on the third
morning I saw in the paper that there had come fulfilment to my vision.
Sir Henry Payle, who had been waiting on the platform of Dover Street
Station for the last train to South Kensington, had thrown himself in
front of it as it came into the station. The train had been pulled up
in a couple of yards, but a wheel had passed over his chest, crushing
it in and instantly killing him.

“An inquest was held, and there emerged at it one of those dark stories
which, on occasions like these, sometimes fall like a midnight shadow
across a life that the world perhaps had thought prosperous. He had
long been on bad terms with his wife, from whom he had lived apart,
and it appeared that not long before this he had fallen desperately in
love with another woman. The night before his suicide he had appeared
very late at his wife’s house, and had a long and angry scene with
her in which he entreated her to divorce him, threatening otherwise
to make her life a hell to her. She refused, and in an ungovernable
fit of passion he attempted to strangle her. There was a struggle, and
the noise of it caused her manservant to come up, who succeeded in
over-mastering him. Lady Payle threatened to proceed against him for
assault with the intention to murder her. With this hanging over his
head, the next night, as I have already told you, he committed suicide.”

He glanced at the clock again, and I saw that the hands now pointed to
ten minutes to one. The fire was beginning to burn low and the room
surely was growing strangely cold.

“That’s not quite all,” said Anthony, again looking round. “Are you
sure you wouldn’t prefer to hear it to-morrow?”

The mixture of shame and pride and curiosity again prevailed.

“No: tell me the rest of it at once,” I said.

Before speaking, he peered suddenly at some point behind my chair,
shading his eyes. I followed his glance, and knew what he meant by
saying that sometimes one could not be sure whether one saw something
or not. But was that an outlined shadow that intervened between me and
the wall? It was difficult to focus; I did not know whether it was near
the wall or near my chair. It seemed to clear away, anyhow, as I looked
more closely at it.

“You see nothing?” asked Anthony.

“No: I don’t think so,” said I. “And you?”

“I think I do,” he said, and his eyes followed something which was
invisible to mine. They came to rest between him and the chimney-piece.
Looking steadily there, he spoke again.

“All this happened some weeks ago,” he said, “when you were out in
Switzerland, and since then, up till last night, I saw nothing further.
But all the time I was expecting something further. I felt that, as
far as I was concerned, it was not all over yet, and last night, with
the intention of assisting any communication to come through to me
from--from beyond, I went into the Dover Street tube-station at a few
minutes before one o’clock, the hour at which both the assault and
the suicide had taken place. The platform when I arrived on it was
absolutely empty, or appeared to be so, but presently, just as I began
to hear the roar of the approaching train, I saw there was the figure
of a man standing some twenty yards from me, looking into the tunnel.
He had not come down with me in the lift, and the moment before he had
not been there. He began moving towards me, and then I saw who it was,
and I felt a stir of wind icy-cold coming towards me as he approached.
It was not the draught that heralds the approach of a train, for it
came from the opposite direction. He came close up to me, and I saw
there was recognition in his eyes. He raised his face towards me and
I saw his lips move, but, perhaps in the increasing noise from the
tunnel, I heard nothing come from them. He put out his hand, as if
entreating me to do something, and with a cowardice from which I cannot
forgive myself, I shrank from him, for I knew, by the sign that I have
told you, that this was one from the dead, and my flesh quaked before
him, drowning for the moment all pity and all desire to help him, if
that was possible. Certainly he had something which he wanted of me,
but I recoiled from him. And by now the train was emerging from the
tunnel, and next moment, with a dreadful gesture of despair, he threw
himself in front of it.”

As he finished speaking he got up quickly from his chair, still looking
fixedly in front of him. I saw his pupils dilate, and his mouth worked.

“It is coming,” he said. “I am to be given a chance of atoning for
my cowardice. There is nothing to be afraid of: I must remember that
myself....”

As he spoke there came from the panelling above the chimney-piece one
loud shattering crack, and the cold wind again circled about my head.
I found myself shrinking back in my chair with my hands held in front
of me as instinctively I screened myself against something which I knew
was there but which I could not see. Every sense told me that there was
a presence in the room other than mine and Anthony’s, and the horror of
it was that I could not see it. Any vision, however terrible, would, I
felt, be more tolerable than this clear certain knowledge that close to
me was this invisible thing. And yet what horror might not be disclosed
of the face of the dead and the crushed chest.... But all I could see,
as I shuddered in this cold wind, was the familiar walls of the room,
and Anthony standing in front of me stiff and firm, making, as I knew,
a call on his courage. His eyes were focused on something quite close
to him, and some semblance of a smile quivered on his mouth. And then
he spoke again.

“Yes, I know you,” he said. “And you want something of me. Tell me,
then, what it is.”

There was absolute silence, but what was silence to my ears could not
have been so to his, for once or twice he nodded, and once he said,
“Yes: I see. I will do it.” And with the knowledge that, even as there
was someone here whom I could not see, so there was speech going on
which I could not hear, this terror of the dead and of the unknown
rose in me with the sense of powerlessness to move that accompanies
nightmare. I could not stir, I could not speak. I could only strain my
ears for the inaudible and my eyes for the unseen, while the cold wind
from the very valley of the shadow of death streamed over me. It was
not that the presence of death itself was terrible; it was that from
its tranquillity and serene keeping there had been driven some unquiet
soul unable to rest in peace for whatever ultimate awakening rouses the
countless generations of those who have passed away, driven, no less,
from whatever activities are theirs, back into the material world from
which it should have been delivered. Never, until the gulf between the
living and the dead was thus bridged, had it seemed so immense and so
unnatural. It is possible that the dead may have communication with
the living, and it was not that exactly that so terrified me, for such
communication, as we know it, comes voluntarily from them. But here was
something icy-cold and crime-laden, that was chased back from the peace
that would not pacify it.

And then, most horrible of all, there came a change in these unseen
conditions. Anthony was silent now, and from looking straight and
fixedly in front of him, he began to glance sideways to where I sat and
back again, and with that I felt that the unseen presence had turned
its attention from him to me. And now, too, gradually and by awful
degrees I began to see....

There came an outline of shadow across the chimney-piece and the panels
above it. It took shape: it fashioned itself into the outline of a
man. Within the shape of the shadow details began to form themselves,
and I saw wavering in the air, like something concealed by haze, the
semblance of a face, stricken and tragic, and burdened with such a
weight of woe as no human face had ever worn. Next, the shoulders
outlined themselves, and a stain livid and red spread out below them,
and suddenly the vision leaped into clearness. There he stood, the
chest crushed in and drowned in the red stain, from which broken ribs,
like the bones of a wrecked ship, protruded. The mournful, terrible
eyes were fixed on me, and it was from them, so I knew, that the bitter
wind proceeded....

Then, quick as the switching off of a lamp, the spectre vanished, and
the bitter wind was still, and opposite to me stood Anthony, in a
quiet, bright-lit room. There was no sense of an unseen presence any
more; he and I were then alone, with an interrupted conversation still
dangling between us in the warm air. I came round to that, as one comes
round after an anæsthetic. It all swam into sight again, unreal at
first, and gradually assuming the texture of actuality.

“You were talking to somebody, not to me,” I said. “Who was it? What
was it?”

He passed the back of his hand over his forehead, which glistened in
the light.

“A soul in hell,” he said.

Now it is hard ever to recall mere physical sensations, when they
have passed. If you have been cold and are warmed, it is difficult to
remember what cold was like: if you have been hot and have got cool,
it is difficult to realise what the oppression of heat really meant.
Just so, with the passing of that presence, I found myself unable to
recapture the sense of the terror with which, a few moments ago only,
it had invaded and inspired me.

“A soul in hell?” I said. “What are you talking about?”

He moved about the room for a minute or so, and then came and sat on
the arm of my chair.

“I don’t know what you saw,” he said, “or what you felt, but there has
never in all my life happened to me anything more real than what these
last few minutes have brought. I have talked to a soul in the hell of
remorse, which is the only possible hell. He knew, from what happened
last night, that he could perhaps establish communication through me
with the world he had quitted, and he sought me and found me. I am
charged with a mission to a woman I have never seen, a message from the
contrite.... You can guess who it is....”

He got up with a sudden briskness.

“Let’s verify it anyhow,” he said. “He gave me the street and the
number. Ah, there’s the telephone book! Would it be a coincidence
merely if I found that at No. 20 in Chasemore Street, South Kensington,
there lived a Lady Payle?”

He turned over the leaves of the bulky volume.

“Yes, that’s right,” he said.



Roderick’s Story



Roderick’s Story


My powers of persuasion at first seemed quite ineffectual; I could
not induce my friend Roderick Cardew to strike his melancholy tent in
Chelsea, and (leaving it struck) steal away like the Arabs and spend
this month of spring with me at my newly acquired house at Tilling to
observe the spell of April’s wand making magic in the country. I seemed
to have brought out all the arguments of which I was master; he had
been very ill, and his doctor recommended a clearer air with as mild a
climate as he could conveniently attain; he loved the great stretches
of drained marsh-land which lay spread like a pool of verdure round the
little town; he had not seen my new home which made a breach in the
functions of hospitality, and he really could not be expected to object
to his host, who, after all, was one of his oldest friends. Besides (to
leave no stone unturned) as he regained his strength he could begin to
play golf again, and it entailed, as he well remembered, a very mild
exertion for him to keep me in my proper position in such a pursuit.

At last there was some sign of yielding.

“Yes. I should like to see the marsh and the big sky once more,” he
said.

A rather sinister interpretation of his words “once more,” made a
sudden flashed signal of alarm in my mind. It was utterly fanciful, no
doubt, but that had better be extinguished first.

“Once more?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

“I always say ‘once more,’” he said. “It’s greedy to ask for too much.”

The very fact that he fenced so ingeniously deepened my suspicion.

“That won’t do,” I said. “Tell me, Roddie.”

He was silent a moment.

“I didn’t intend to,” he said, “for there can be no use in it. But
if you insist, as apparently you mean to do, I may as well give in.
It’s what you think; ‘once more’ will very likely be the most. But you
mustn’t fuss about it; I’m not going to. No proper person fusses about
death; that’s a train which we are all sure to catch. It always waits
for you.”

I have noticed that when one learns tidings of that sort, one feels,
almost immediately, that one has known them a long time. I felt so now.

“Go on,” I said.

“Well, that’s about all there is. I’ve had sentence of death passed
upon me, and it will probably be carried out, I’m delighted to say, in
the French fashion. In France, you know, they don’t tell you when you
are to be executed till a few minutes before. It is likely that I shall
have even less than that, so my doctor informs me. A second or two will
be all I shall get. Congratulate me, please.”

I thought it over for a moment.

“Yes, heartily,” I said. “I want to know a little more though.”

“Well, my heart’s all wrong, quite unmendably so. Heart-disease!
Doesn’t it sound romantic? In mid-Victorian romance, heroes and
heroines alone die of heart-disease. But that’s by the way. The fact
is that I may die at any time without a moment’s warning. I shall give
a couple of gasps, so he told me when I insisted on knowing details,
and that’ll be all. Now, perhaps, you understand why I was unwilling
to come and stay with you. I don’t want to die in your house; I think
it’s dreadfully bad manners to die in other people’s houses. I long
to see Tilling again, but I think I shall go to an hotel. Hotels are
fair game, for the management over-charges those who live there to
compensate themselves for those who die there. But it would be rude of
me to die in your house; it might entail a lot of bother for you, and I
couldn’t apologize----”

“But I don’t mind your dying in my house,” I said. “At least you see
what I mean----”

He laughed.

“I do, indeed,” he said. “And you couldn’t give a warmer assurance of
friendship. But I couldn’t come and stay with you in my present plight
without telling you what it was, and yet I didn’t mean to tell you. But
there we are now. Think again; reconsider your decision.”

“I don’t,” I said. “Come and die in my house by all means, if you’ve
got to. I would much sooner you lived there: your dying will, in any
case, annoy me immensely. But it would annoy me even more to know that
you had done it in some beastly hotel among plush and looking-glasses.
You shall have any bedroom you like. And I want you dreadfully to see
my house, which is adorable.... O Roddie, what a bore it all is!”

It was impossible to speak or to think differently. I knew well how
trivial a matter death was to my friend, and I was not sure that at
heart I did not agree with him. We were quite at one, too, in that
we had so often gossiped about death with cheerful conjecture and
interested surmise based on the steady assurance that something of new
and delightful import was to follow, since neither of us happened to be
of that melancholy cast of mind that can envisage annihilation. I had
promised, in case I was the first to embark on the great adventure, to
do my best to “get through,” and give him some irrefutable proof of the
continuance of my existence, just by way of endorsement of our belief,
and he had given a similar pledge, for it appeared to us both, that,
whatever the conditions of the future might turn out to be, it would
be impossible when lately translated there, not to be still greatly
concerned with what the present world still held for us in ties of
love and affection. I laughed now to remember how he had once imagined
himself begging to be excused for a few minutes, directly after death,
and saying to St. Peter: “May I keep your Holiness waiting for a minute
before you finally lock me into Heaven or Hell with those beautiful
keys? I won’t be a minute, but I do want so much to be a ghost, and
appear to a friend of mine who is on the look-out for such a visit. If
I find I can’t make myself visible I will come back at once.... Oh,
_thank_ you, your Holiness.”

So we agreed that I should run the risk of his dying in my house, and
promised not to make any reproaches posthumously (as far as he was
concerned) in case he did so. He on his side promised not to die if he
could possibly help it, and next week or so he would come down to me in
the heart of the country that he loved, and see April at work.

“And I haven’t told you anything about my house yet,” I said. “It’s
right at the top of the hill, square and Georgian and red-bricked. A
panelled hall, dining-room and panelled sitting-room downstairs, and
more panelled rooms upstairs. And there’s a garden with a lawn, and
a high brick wall round it, and there is a big garden room, full of
books, with a bow-window looking down the cobbled street. Which bedroom
will you have? Do you like looking on to the garden or on to the
street? You may even have my room if you like.”

He looked at me a moment with eager attention. “I’ll have the square
panelled bedroom that looks out on to the garden, please,” he said.
“It’s the second door on the right when you stand at the top of the
stairs.”

“But how do you know?” I asked.

“Because I’ve been in the house before, once only, three years ago,”
he said. “Margaret Alton took it furnished and lived there for a year
or so. She died there, and I was with her. And if I had known that
this was your house, I should never have dreamed of hesitating whether
I should accept your invitation. I should have thrown my good manners
about not dying in other people’s houses to the winds. But the moment
you began to describe the garden and garden-room I knew what house it
was. I have always longed to go there again. When may I come, please?
Next week is too far ahead. You’re off there this afternoon, aren’t
you?”

I rose: the clock warned me that it was time for me to go to the
station.

“Yes. Come this afternoon,” I suggested. “Come with me.”

“I wish I could, but I take that to mean that it will suit you if I
come to-morrow. For I certainly will. Good Lord! To think of your
having got just that house! It ought to be a wonderfully happy one,
for I saw---- But I’ll tell you about that perhaps when I’m there. But
don’t ask me to: I’ll tell you if and when I can, as the lawyers say.
Are you really off?”

I was really off, for I had no time to spare, but before I got to the
door he spoke again.

“Of course, the room I have chosen was _the_ room,” he said, and there
was no need for me to ask what he meant by _the_ room.

       *       *       *       *       *

I knew no more than the barest and most public outline of that affair,
distant now by the space of many years, but, so I conceived, ever green
in Roderick’s heart, and, as my train threaded its way through the
gleams of this translucent spring evening, I retraced this outline as
far as I knew it. It was the one thing of which Roderick never spoke
(even now he was not sure that he could manage to tell me the end of
it), and I had to rummage in my memory for the reconstruction of the
half-obliterated lines.

Margaret--her maiden-name would not be conjured back into memory--had
been an extremely beautiful girl when Roderick first met her, and, not
without encouragement, he had fallen head over ears in love with her.
All seemed to be going well with his wooing, he had the air of a happy
lover, when there appeared on the scene that handsome and outrageous
fellow, Richard Alton. He was the heir to his uncle’s barony and his
really vast estates, and the girl, when he proceeded to lay siege, very
soon capitulated. She may have fallen in love with him, for he was
an attractive scamp, but the verdict at the time was that it was her
ambition, not her heart, that she indulged. In any case, there was the
end of Roderick’s wooing, and before the year was out she had married
the other.

I remembered seeing her once or twice in London about this time,
splendid and brilliant, of a beauty that dazzled, with the world
very much at her feet. She bore him two sons; she succeeded to a
great position; and then with the granting of her heart’s desire, the
leanness withal followed. Her husband’s infidelities were numerous and
notorious; he treated her with a subtle cruelty that just kept on the
right side of the law, and, finally, seeking his freedom, he deserted
her, and openly lived with another woman. Whether it was pride that
kept her from divorcing him, or whether she still loved him (if she
had ever done so) and was ready to take him back, or whether it was
out of revenge that she refused to have done with him legally, was an
affair of which I knew nothing. Calamity followed on calamity; first
one and then the other of her sons was killed in the European War, and
I remembered having heard that she was the victim of some malignant and
disfiguring disease, which caused her to lead a hermit life, seeing
nobody. It was now three years or so since she had died.

Such, with the addition that she had died in my house, and that
Roderick had been with her, was the sum of my meagre knowledge, which
might or might not, so he had intimated, be supplemented by him. He
arrived next day, having motored down from London for the avoidance
of fatigue, and certainly as we sat after dinner that night in the
garden-room, he had avoided it very successfully, for never had I seen
him more animated.

“Oh, I have been so right to come here,” he said, “for I feel steeped
in tranquillity and content. There’s such a tremendous sense of
Margaret’s presence here, and I never knew how much I wanted it.
Perhaps that is purely subjective, but what does that matter so long as
I feel it? How a scene soaks into the place where it has been enacted;
my room, which you know was her room, is alive with her. I want nothing
better than to be here, prowling and purring over the memory of the
last time, which was the only one, that I was here. Yes, just that; and
I know how odd you must think it. But it’s true, it was here that I saw
her die, and instead of shunning the place, I bathe myself in it. For
it was one of the happiest hours of my life.”

“Because----” I began.

“No; not because it gave her release, if that’s in your mind,” he said.
“It’s because I saw----”

He broke off, and remembering his stipulation that I should ask him
nothing, but that he would tell me “if and when” he could, I put no
question to him. His eyes were dancing with the sparkle of fire that
burned on the hearth, for though April was here, the evenings were
still chilly, and it was not the fire that gave them their light, but
a joyousness that was as bright as glee, and as deep as happiness.

“No, I’m not going on with that now,” he said, “though I expect I
shall before my days are out. At present I shall leave you wondering
why a place that should hold such mournful memories for me, is such a
well-spring. And as I am not for telling you about me, let me enquire
about you. Bring yourself up to date; what have you been doing, and
much more important, what have you been thinking about?”

“My doings have chiefly been confined to settling into this house,” I
said. “I’ve been pulling and pushing furniture into places where it
wouldn’t go, and cursing it.”

He looked round the room.

“It doesn’t seem to bear you any grudge,” he said. “It looks contented.
And what else?”

“In the intervals, when I couldn’t push and curse any more,” I said,
“I’ve been writing a few spook stories. All about the borderland, which
I love as much as you do.”

He laughed outright.

“Do you, indeed?” he said. “Then it’s no use my saying that it is quite
impossible. But I should like to know your views on the borderland.”

I pointed to a sheaf of typewritten stuff that littered my table.

“Them’s my sentiments,” I said, “and quite at your service.”

“Good; then I’ll take them to bed with me when I go, if you’ll allow
me. I’ve always thought that you had a pretty notion of the creepy,
but the mistake that you make is to imagine that creepiness is
characteristic of the borderland. No doubt there are creepy things
there, but so there are everywhere, and a thunder-storm is far more
terrifying than an apparition. And when you get really close to
the borderland, you see how enchanting it is, and how vastly more
enchanting the other side must be. I got right on to the borderland
once, here in this house, as I shall probably tell you, and I never
saw so happy and kindly a place. And without doubt I shall soon be
careering across it in my own person. That’ll be, as we’ve often
determined, wildly interesting, and it will have the solemnity of a
first night at a new play about it. There’ll be the curtain close
in front of you, and presently it will be raised, and you will see
something you never saw before. How well, on the whole, the secret has
been kept, though from time to time little bits of information, little
scraps of dialogue, little descriptions of scenery have leaked out.
Enthrallingly interesting; one wonders how they will come into the
great new drama.”

“You don’t mean the sort of thing that mediums tell us?” I asked.

“Of course I don’t. I hate the sloshy--really there’s no other word for
it, and why should there be, since that word fits so admirably--the
sloshy utterances of the ordinary high-class, beyond-suspicion medium
at half a guinea a sitting, who asks if there’s anybody present who
once knew a Charles, or if not Charles, Thomas or William. Naturally
somebody has known a Charles, Thomas or William who has passed over,
and is the son, brother, father or cousin of a lady in black. So
when she claims Thomas, he tells her that he is very busy and happy,
helping people.... O Lord, what rot! I went to one such séance a month
ago, just before I was taken ill, and the medium said that Margaret
wanted to get into touch with somebody. Two of us claimed Margaret,
but Margaret chose me and said she was the spirit of my wife. Wife,
you know! You must allow that this was a very unfortunate shot. When I
said that I was unmarried, Margaret said that she was my mother, whose
name was Charlotte. Oh dear, oh dear! Well, I shall go to bed with joy,
bringing your spooks with me....”

“Sheaves,” said I.

“Yes, but aren’t they the sheaves? Isn’t one’s gleaning of sheaves in
this world what they call spooks? That is, the knowledge of what one
takes across?”

“I don’t understand one word,” said I.

“But you must understand. All the knowledge--worth anything--which
you or I have collected here, is the beginning of the other life. We
toil and moil, and make our gleanings and our harvestings, and all our
decent efforts help us to realize what the real harvest is. Surely we
shall take with us exactly that which we have reaped....”

After he had gone up to bed I sat trying to correct the errors of a
typist, but still between me and the pages there dwelt that haunting
sense of all that we did here being only the grist for what was to
come. Our achievements were rewarded, so he seemed to say, by a
glimpse. And those glimpses--so I tried to follow him--were the hints
that had leaked out of the drama for which the curtain was twitching.
Was that it?

Roderick came down to breakfast next morning, superlatively frank and
happy.

“I didn’t read a single line of your stories,” he said. “When I got
into my bedroom I was so immeasurably content that I couldn’t risk
getting interested in anything else. I lay awake a long time, pinching
myself in order to prolong my sheer happiness, but the flesh was weak,
and at last, from sheer happiness, I slept and probably snored. Did
you hear me? I hope not. And then sheer happiness dictated my dreams,
though I don’t know what they were, and the moment I was called I got
up, because ... because I didn’t want to miss anything. Now, to be
practical again, what are you doing this morning?”

“I was intending to play golf,” I said, “unless----”

“There isn’t an ‘unless,’ if you mean Me. My plan made itself for me,
and I intend--this is my plan--to drive out with you, and sit in the
hollow by the fourth tee, and read your stories there. There’s a great
south-westerly wind, like a celestial housemaid, scouring the skies,
and I shall be completely sheltered there, and in the intervals of my
reading, I shall pleasantly observe the unsuccessful efforts of the
golfers to carry the big bunker. I can’t personally play golf any more,
but I shall enjoy seeing other people attempting to do it.”

“And no prowling or purring?” I asked.

“Not this morning. That’s all right: it’s there. It’s so much all right
that I want to be active in other directions. Sitting in a windless
hollow is about the range of my activities. I say that for fear that
you should.”

I found a match when we arrived at the club-house, and Roderick
strolled away to the goal of his observations. Half an hour afterwards
I found him watching with criminally ecstatic joy the soaring drives
that, in the teeth of the great wind, were arrested and blown back into
the unholiest bunker in all the world or the low clever balls that
never rose to the height of the shored-up cliff of sand. The couple
in front of my partner and me were sarcastic dogs, and bade us wait
only till they had delved themselves over the ridge, and then we might
follow as soon as we chose. After violent deeds in the bunker they
climbed over the big dune, thirty yards beyond which lay the green on
which they would now be putting.

As soon as they had disappeared, Roderick snatched my driver from my
hand.

“I can’t bear it,” he said. “I must hit a ball again. Tee it low,
caddie.... No, no tee at all.”

He hit a superb shot, just high enough to carry the ridge, and not so
high that it caught the opposing wind and was stopped towards the end
of its flight. He gave a loud croak of laughter.

“That’ll teach them not to insult my friend,” he said. “It must have
been pitched right among their careful puttings. And now I shall read
his ghost-stories.”

I have recorded this athletic incident because better than any analysis
of his attitude towards life and death it conveys just what that
attitude was. He knew perfectly well that any swift exertion might be
fatal to him, but he wanted to hit a golf ball again as sweetly and as
hard as it could be hit. He had done it: he had scored off death. And
as I went on my way I felt perfectly confident that if, with that brisk
free effort, he had fallen dead on the tee, he would have thought it
well worth while, provided only that he had made that irreproachable
shot. While alive, he proposed to partake in the pleasures of life,
amongst which he had always reckoned that of hitting golf balls, not
caring, though he liked to be alive, whether the immediate consequence
was death, just because he did not in the least object to being dead.
The choice was of such little consequence.... The history of that I was
to know that evening.

The stories which Roderick had taken to read were designed to be of
an uncomfortable type: one concerned a vampire, one an elemental, the
third the reincarnation of a certain execrable personage, and as we sat
in the garden-room after tea, he with these pages on his knees, I had
the pleasure of seeing him give hasty glances round, as he read, as if
to assure himself that there was nothing unusual in the dimmer corners
of the room.... I liked that; he was doing as I intended that a reader
should.

Before long he came to the last page.

“And are you intending to make a book of them?” he asked. “What are the
other stories like?”

“Worse,” said I, with the complacency of the horror-monger.

“Then--did you ask for criticism? I shall give it in any case--you will
make a book that not only is inartistic, all shadows and no light, but
a false book. Fiction can be false, you know, inherently false. You
play godfather to your stories, you see: you tell them in the first
person, those at least that I have read, and that, though it need not
be supposed that those experiences were actually yours, yet gives a
sort of guarantee that you believe the borderland of which you write to
be entirely terrible. But it isn’t: there are probably terrors there--I
think for instance that I believe in elemental spirits, of some ghastly
kind--but I am sure that I believe that the borderland, for the most
part, is almost inconceivably delightful. I’ve got the best of reasons
for believing that.”

“I’m willing to be convinced,” said I.

Again, as he looked at the fire, his eye sparkled, not with the
reflected flame, but with the brightness of some interior vision.

“Well, there’s an hour yet before dinner,” he said, “and my story won’t
take half of that. It’s about my previous experience of this house;
what I saw, in fact, in the room which I now occupy. It was because of
that, naturally, that I wanted the same room again. Here goes, then.

“For the twenty years of Margaret’s married life,” he said, “I never
saw her except quite accidentally and casually. Casually, like that,
I had seen her at theatres and what not with her two boys whom thus I
knew by sight. But I had never spoken to either of them, nor, after her
marriage, to their mother. I knew, as all the world knew, that she had
a terrible life, but circumstances being what they were, I could not
bring myself to her notice, the more so because she made no sign or
gesture of wanting me. But I am sure that no day passed on which I did
not long to be able to show her that my love and sympathy were hers.
Only, so I thought, I had to know that she wanted them.

“I heard, of course, of the death of her sons. They were both killed
in France within a few days of each other; one was eighteen, the other
nineteen. I wrote to her then formally, so long had we been strangers,
and she answered formally. After that, she took this house, where she
lived alone. A year later, I was told that she had now for some months
been suffering from a malignant and disfiguring disease.

“I was in London, strolling down Piccadilly when my companion mentioned
it, and I at once became aware that I must go to see her, not to-morrow
or soon, but now. It is difficult to describe the quality of that
conviction, or tell you how instinctive and over-mastering it was.
There are some things which you can’t help doing, not exactly because
you desire to do them, but because they must be done. If, for instance,
you are in the middle of the road, and see a motor coming towards you
at top-speed, you have to step to the side of the road, unless you
deliberately choose to commit suicide. It was just like that; unless I
intended to commit a sort of spiritual suicide there was no choice.

“A few hours later I was at your door here, asked to see her, and was
told that she was desperately ill and could see nobody. But I got her
maid to take the message that I was here, and presently her nurse came
down to tell me that she would see me. I should find Margaret, she
said, wearing a veil so as to conceal from me the dreadful ravages
which the disease had inflicted on her face, and the scars of the two
operations which she had undergone. Very likely she would not speak to
me, for she had great difficulty in speaking at all, and in any case
I was not to stay for more than a few minutes. Probably she could not
live many hours: I had only just come in time. And at that moment I
wished I had done anything rather than come here, for though instinct
had driven me here, yet instinct now recoiled with unspeakable horror.
The flesh wars against the spirit, you know, and under its stress I
now suggested that it was better perhaps that I should not see her....
But the nurse merely said again that Margaret wished to see me, and
guessing perhaps the cause of my unwillingness, ‘Her face will be quite
invisible,’ she added. ‘There will be nothing to shock you.’

“I went in alone: Margaret was propped up in bed with pillows, so that
she sat nearly upright, and over her head was a dark veil through which
I could see nothing whatever. Her right hand lay on the coverlet, and
as I seated myself by her bedside, where the nurse had put a chair for
me, Margaret advanced her hand towards me, shyly, hesitatingly, as if
not sure that I would take it. But it was a sign, a gesture.”

He paused, his face beaming and radiant with the light of that memory.

“I am speaking of things unspeakable,” he said. “I can no more convey
to you all that meant than by a mere enumeration of colours can I steep
your soul in the feeling of a sunset.... So there I sat, with her hand
covered and clasped in mine. I had been told that very likely she would
not speak, and for myself there was no word in the world which would
not be dross in the gold of that silence.

“And then from behind her veil there came a whisper.

“‘I couldn’t die without seeing you,’ she said. ‘I was sure you would
come. I’ve one thing to say to you. I loved you, and I tried to choke
my love. And for years, my dear, I have been reaping the harvest of
what I did. I tried to kill love, but it was so much stronger than I.
And now the harvest is gathered. I have suffered cruelly, you know, but
I bless every pang of it. I needed it all....’

“Only a few minutes before, I had quaked at the thought of seeing her.
But now I could not suffer that the veil should cover her face.

“‘Put up your veil, darling,’ I said. ‘I must see you.’

“‘No, no,’ she whispered. ‘I should horrify you. I am terrible.’

“‘You can’t be terrible to me,’ I said. ‘I am going to lift it.’

“I raised her veil. And what did I see? I might have known, I think: I
might have guessed that at this moment, supreme and perfect, I should
see with vision.

“There was no scar or ravage of disease or disfigurement there. She was
far lovelier than she had ever been, and on her face there shone the
dawn of the everlasting day. She had shed all that was perishable and
subject to decay, and her immortal spirit was manifested to me, purged
and punished if you will, but humble and holy. There was granted to my
frail mortal sight the power of seeing truly; it was permitted to me to
be with her beyond the bounds of mortality....

“And then, even as I was lost in an amazement of love and wonder, I
saw we were not alone in the room. Two boys, whom I recognized, were
standing at the other side of the bed, looking at her. It seemed
utterly natural that they should be there.

“‘We’ve been allowed to come for you, mother darling,’ said one. ‘Get
up.’

“She turned her face to them.

“‘Ah, my dears,’ she said. ‘How lovely of you. But just one moment.’

“She bent over towards me and kissed me.

“‘Thank you for coming, Roderick,’ she said. ‘Good-bye, just for a
little while.’

“At that my power of sight--my power of true sight--failed. Her head
fell back on the pillows and turned over on one side. For one second,
before I let the veil drop over it again, I had a glimpse of her face,
marred and cruelly mutilated. I saw that, I say, but never then nor
afterwards could I remember it. It was like a terrible dream, which
utterly fades on the awaking. Then her hand, which had been clasping
mine, in that moment of her farewell slackened its hold, and dropped on
to the bed. She had just moved away, somewhere out of sight, with her
two boys to look after her.”

He paused.

“That’s all,” he said. “And do you wonder that I chose that room? How
I hope that she will come for me.”

My room was next to Roderick’s, the head of his bed being just opposite
the head of mine on the other side of the wall. That night I had
undressed, lain down, and had just put out my light, when I heard a
sharp tap just above me. I thought it was some fortuitous noise, as of
a picture swinging in a draught, but the moment after it was repeated,
and it struck me that it was perhaps a summons from Roderick who wanted
something. Still quite unalarmed, I got out of bed, and, candle in
hand, went to his door. I knocked, but receiving no answer, opened it
an inch or two.

“Did you want anything?” I asked, and, again receiving no answer, I
went in.

His lights were burning, and he was sitting up in bed. He did not
appear to see me or be conscious of my presence, and his eyes were
fixed on some point a few feet away in front of him. His mouth smiled,
and in his eyes was just such a joy as I had seen there when he told me
his story. Then, leaning on his arm, he moved as if to rise.

“Oh, Margaret, my dear....” he cried.

He drew a couple of short breaths, and fell back.


PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN AT THE PITMAN PRESS, BATH



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber’s note:

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.





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