In truth the mastery of flying was the work of thousands of men--this
man a suggestion and that an experiment, until at last only one vigorous
intellectual effort was needed to finish the work. But the inexorable
injustice of the popular mind has decided that of all these thousands,
one man, and that a man who never flew, should be chosen as the
discoverer, just as it has chosen to honour Watt as the discoverer of
steam and Stephenson of the steam-engine. And surely of all honoured
names none is so grotesquely and tragically honoured as poor Filmer's,
the timid, intellectual creature who solved the problem over which the
world had hung perplexed and a little fearful for so many generations,
the man who pressed the button that has changed peace and warfare and
well-nigh every condition of human life and happiness. Never has that
recurring wonder of the littleness of the scientific man in the face of
the greatness of his science found such an amazing exemplification.
Much concerning Filmer is, and must remain, profoundly obscure--Filmers
attract no Boswells--but the essential facts and the concluding scene
are clear enough, and there are letters, and notes, and casual allusions
to piece the whole together. And this is the story one makes, putting
this thing with that, of Filmer's life and death.
The first authentic trace of Filmer on the page of history is a document
in which he applies for admission as a paid student in physics to the
Government laboratories at South Kensington, and therein he describes
himself as the son of a "military bootmaker" ("cobbler"
in the vulgar
tongue) of Dover, and lists his various examination proofs of a high
proficiency in chemistry and mathematics. With a certain want of dignity
he seeks to enhance these attainments by a profession of poverty and
disadvantages, and he writes of the laboratory as the "gaol" of
ambitions, a slip which reinforces his claim to have devoted himself
exclusively to the exact sciences. The document is endorsed in a manner
that shows Filmer was admitted to this coveted opportunity; but until
quite recently no traces of his success in the Government institution
could be found.
It has now, however, been shown that in spite of his professed zeal
for research, Filmer, before he had held this scholarship a year, was
tempted, by the possibility of a small increase in his immediate income,
to abandon it in order to become one of the nine-pence-an-hour computers
employed by a well-known Professor in his vicarious conduct of those
extensive researches of his in solar physics--researches which are still
a matter of perplexity to astronomers. Afterwards, for the space of
seven years, save for the pass lists of the London University, in which
he is seen to climb slowly to a double first class B.Sc., in mathematics
and chemistry, there is no evidence of how Filmer passed his life. No
one knows how or where he lived, though it seems highly probable that he
continued to support himself by teaching while he prosecuted the studies
necessary for this distinction. And then, oddly enough, one finds him
mentioned in the correspondence of Arthur Hicks, the poet.
"You remember Filmer," Hicks writes to his friend Vance; "well,
hasn't altered a bit, the same hostile mumble and the nasty chin--how
CAN a man contrive to be always three days from shaving?--and a sort of
furtive air of being engaged in sneaking in front of one; even his
coat and that frayed collar of his show no further signs of the passing
years. He was writing in the library and I sat down beside him in the
name of God's charity, whereupon he deliberately insulted me by covering
up his memoranda. It seems he has some brilliant research on hand that
he suspects me of all people--with a Bodley Booklet a-printing!--of
stealing. He has taken remarkable honours at the University--he went
through them with a sort of hasty slobber, as though he feared I might
interrupt him before he had told me all--and he spoke of taking his
D.Sc. as one might speak of taking a cab. And he asked what I was
doing--with a sort of comparative accent, and his arm was spread
nervously, positively a protecting arm, over the paper that hid the
precious idea--his one hopeful idea.
"'Poetry,' he said, 'Poetry. And what do you profess to teach in
"The thing's a Provincial professorling in the very act of budding,
I thank the Lord devoutly that but for the precious gift of indolence I
also might have gone this way to D.Sc. and destruction..."
A curious little vignette that I am inclined to think caught Filmer in
or near the very birth of his discovery. Hicks was wrong in anticipating
a provincial professorship for Filmer. Our next glimpse of him is
lecturing on "rubber and rubber substitutes," to the Society of
had become manager to a great plastic-substance manufactory--and at
that time, it is now known, he was a member of the Aeronautical
Society, albeit he contributed nothing to the discussions of that body,
preferring no doubt to mature his great conception without external
assistance. And within two years of that paper before the Society of
Arts he was hastily taking out a number of patents and proclaiming in
various undignified ways the completion of the divergent inquiries which
made his flying machine possible. The first definite statement to that
effect appeared in a halfpenny evening paper through the agency of a man
who lodged in the same house with Filmer. His final haste after his long
laborious secret patience seems to have been due to a needless panic,
Bootle, the notorious American scientific quack, having made an
announcement that Filmer interpreted wrongly as an anticipation of his
Now what precisely was Filmer's idea? Really a very simple one. Before
his time the pursuit of aeronautics had taken two divergent lines, and
had developed on the one hand balloons--large apparatus lighter than
air, easy in ascent, and comparatively safe in descent, but floating
helplessly before any breeze that took them; and on the other, flying
machines that flew only in theory--vast flat structures heavier than
air, propelled and kept up by heavy engines and for the most part
smashing at the first descent. But, neglecting the fact that the
inevitable final collapse rendered them impossible, the weight of the
flying machines gave them this theoretical advantage, that they could
go through the air against a wind, a necessary condition if aerial
navigation was to have any practical value. It is Filmer's particular
merit that he perceived the way in which the contrasted and hitherto
incompatible merits of balloon and heavy flying machine might be
combined in one apparatus, which should be at choice either heavier or
lighter than air. He took hints from the contractile bladders of fish
and the pneumatic cavities of birds. He devised an arrangement of
contractile and absolutely closed balloons which when expanded could
lift the actual flying apparatus with ease, and when retracted by the
complicated "musculature" he wove about them, were withdrawn almost
completely into the frame; and he built the large framework which these
balloons sustained, of hollow, rigid tubes, the air in which, by an
ingenious contrivance, was automatically pumped out as the apparatus
fell, and which then remained exhausted so long as the aeronaut desired.
There were no wings or propellers to his machine, such as there had been
to all previous aeroplanes, and the only engine required was the compact
and powerful little appliance needed to contract the balloons. He
perceived that such an apparatus as he had devised might rise with frame
exhausted and balloons expanded to a considerable height, might
then contract its balloons and let the air into its frame, and by an
adjustment of its weights slide down the air in any desired direction.
As it fell it would accumulate velocity and at the same time lose
weight, and the momentum accumulated by its down-rush could be utilised
by means of a shifting of its weights to drive it up in the air again
as the balloons expanded. This conception, which is still the structural
conception of all successful flying machines, needed, however, a vast
amount of toil upon its details before it could actually be
realised, and such toil Filmer--as he was accustomed to tell the
numerous interviewers who crowded upon him in the heyday of his
fame--"ungrudgingly and unsparingly gave." His particular difficulty
the elastic lining of the contractile balloon. He found he needed a new
substance, and in the discovery and manufacture of that new substance he
had, as he never failed to impress upon the interviewers, "performed
a far more arduous work than even in the actual achievement of my
seemingly greater discovery."
But it must not be imagined that these interviews followed hard upon
Filmer's proclamation of his invention. An interval of nearly five years
elapsed during which he timidly remained at his rubber factory--he
seems to have been entirely dependent on his small income from this
source--making misdirected attempts to assure a quite indifferent
public that he really HAD invented what he had invented. He occupied
the greater part of his leisure in the composition of letters to the
scientific and daily press, and so forth, stating precisely the net
result of his contrivances, and demanding financial aid. That alone
would have sufficed for the suppression of his letters. He spent such
holidays as he could arrange in unsatisfactory interviews with the
door-keepers of leading London papers--he was singularly not adapted for
inspiring hall-porters with confidence--and he positively attempted
to induce the War Office to take up his work with him. There remains a
confidential letter from Major-General Volleyfire to the Earl of Frogs.
"The man's a crank and a bounder to boot," says the Major-General
his bluff, sensible, army way, and so left it open for the Japanese
to secure, as they subsequently did, the priority in this side of
warfare--a priority they still to our great discomfort retain.
And then by a stroke of luck the membrane Filmer had invented for his
contractile balloon was discovered to be useful for the valves of a new
oil-engine, and he obtained the means for making a trial model of his
invention. He threw up his rubber factory appointment, desisted from all
further writing, and, with a certain secrecy that seems to have been an
inseparable characteristic of all his proceedings, set to work upon
the apparatus. He seems to have directed the making of its parts and
collected most of it in a room in Shoreditch, but its final putting
together was done at Dymchurch, in Kent. He did not make the affair
large enough to carry a man, but he made an extremely ingenious use of
what were then called the Marconi rays to control its flight. The first
flight of this first practicable flying machine took place over some
fields near Burford Bridge, near Hythe, in Kent, and Filmer followed and
controlled its flight upon a specially constructed motor tricycle.
The flight was, considering all things, an amazing success. The
apparatus was brought in a cart from Dymchurch to Burford Bridge,
ascended there to a height of nearly three hundred feet, swooped thence
very nearly back to Dymchurch, came about in its sweep, rose again,
circled, and finally sank uninjured in a field behind the Burford
Bridge Inn. At its descent a curious thing happened. Filmer got off his
tricycle, scrambled over the intervening dyke, advanced perhaps
twenty yards towards his triumph, threw out his arms in a strange
gesticulation, and fell down in a dead faint. Every one could then
recall the ghastliness of his features and all the evidences of extreme
excitement they had observed throughout the trial, things they might
otherwise have forgotten. Afterwards in the inn he had an unaccountable
gust of hysterical weeping.
Altogether there were not twenty witnesses of this affair, and those
the most part uneducated men. The New Romney doctor saw the ascent but
not the descent, his horse being frightened by the electrical apparatus
on Filmer's tricycle and giving him a nasty spill. Two members of
the Kent constabulary watched the affair from a cart in an unofficial
spirit, and a grocer calling round the Marsh for orders and two lady
cyclists seem almost to complete the list of educated people. There were
two reporters present, one representing a Folkestone paper and the
other being a fourth-class interviewer and "symposium" journalist,
expenses down, Filmer, anxious as ever for adequate advertisement--and
now quite realising the way in which adequate advertisement may be
obtained--had paid. The latter was one of those writers who can throw
a convincing air of unreality over the most credible events, and his
half-facetious account of the affair appeared in the magazine page of
a popular journal. But, happily for Filmer, this person's colloquial
methods were more convincing. He went to offer some further screed upon
the subject to Banghurst, the proprietor of the New Paper, and one of
the ablest and most unscrupulous men in London journalism, and Banghurst
instantly seized upon the situation. The interviewer vanishes from
the narrative, no doubt very doubtfully remunerated, and Banghurst,
Banghurst himself, double chin, grey twill suit, abdomen, voice,
gestures and all, appears at Dymchurch, following his large, unrivalled
journalistic nose. He had seen the whole thing at a glance, just what it
was and what it might be.
At his touch, as it were, Filmer's long-pent investigations exploded
into fame. He instantly and most magnificently was a Boom. One turns
over the files of the journals of the year 1907 with a quite incredulous
recognition of how swift and flaming the boom of those days could be.
The July papers know nothing of flying, see nothing in flying, state by
a most effective silence that men never would, could or should fly. In
August flying and Filmer and flying and parachutes and aerial tactics
and the Japanese Government and Filmer and again flying, shouldered
the war in Yunnan and the gold mines of Upper Greenland off the leading
page. And Banghurst had given ten thousand pounds, and, further,
Banghurst was giving five thousand pounds, and Banghurst had devoted his
well-known, magnificent (but hitherto sterile) private laboratories and
several acres of land near his private residence on the Surrey hills
to the strenuous and violent completion--Banghurst fashion--of the
life-size practicable flying machine. Meanwhile, in the sight of
privileged multitudes in the walled-garden of the Banghurst town
residence in Fulham, Filmer was exhibited at weekly garden parties
putting the working model through its paces. At enormous initial cost,
but with a final profit, the New Paper presented its readers with a
beautiful photographic souvenir of the first of these occasions.
Here again the correspondence of Arthur Hicks and his friend Vance comes
to our aid.
"I saw Filmer in his glory," he writes, with just the touch
natural to his position as a poet passe. "The man is brushed and shaved,
dressed in the fashion of a Royal-Institution-Afternoon Lecturer, the
very newest shape in frock-coats and long patent shoes, and altogether
in a state of extraordinary streakiness between an owlish great man and
a scared abashed self-conscious bounder cruelly exposed. He hasn't a
touch of colour in the skin of his face, his head juts forward, and
those queer little dark amber eyes of his watch furtively round him for
his fame. His clothes fit perfectly and yet sit upon him as though he
had bought them ready-made. He speaks in a mumble still, but he says,
you perceive indistinctly, enormous self-assertive things, he backs into
the rear of groups by instinct if Banghurst drops the line for a minute,
and when he walks across Banghurst's lawn one perceives him a little out
of breath and going jerky, and that his weak white hands are clenched.
His is a state of tension--horrible tension. And he is the Greatest
Discoverer of This or Any Age--the Greatest Discoverer of This or Any
Age! What strikes one so forcibly about him is that he didn't somehow
quite expect it ever, at any rate, not at all like this. Banghurst is
about everywhere, the energetic M.C. of his great little catch, and
I swear he will have every one down on his lawn there before he has
finished with the engine; he had bagged the prime minister yesterday,
and he, bless his heart! didn't look particularly outsize, on the very
first occasion. Conceive it! Filmer! Our obscure unwashed Filmer, the
Glory of British science! Duchesses crowd upon him, beautiful, bold
peeresses say in their beautiful, clear loud voices--have you noticed
how penetrating the great lady is becoming nowadays?--'Oh, Mr. Filmer,
how DID you do it?'
"Common men on the edge of things are too remote for the answer.
imagines something in the way of that interview, 'toil ungrudgingly
and unsparingly given, Madam, and, perhaps--I don't know--but perhaps a
little special aptitude.'"
So far Hicks, and the photographic supplement to the New Paper is in
sufficient harmony with the description. In one picture the machine
swings down towards the river, and the tower of Fulham church appears
below it through a gap in the elms, and in another, Filmer sits at his
guiding batteries, and the great and beautiful of the earth stand around
him, with Banghurst massed modestly but resolutely in the rear. The
grouping is oddly apposite. Occluding much of Banghurst, and looking
with a pensive, speculative expression at Filmer, stands the Lady Mary
Elkinghorn, still beautiful, in spite of the breath of scandal and her
eight-and-thirty years, the only person whose face does not admit a
perception of the camera that was in the act of snapping them all.
So much for the exterior facts of the story, but, after all, they are
very exterior facts. About the real interest of the business one is
necessarily very much in the dark. How was Filmer feeling at the time?
How much was a certain unpleasant anticipation present inside that
very new and fashionable frock-coat? He was in the halfpenny, penny,
six-penny, and more expensive papers alike, and acknowledged by the
whole world as "the Greatest Discoverer of This or Any Age." He
invented a practicable flying machine, and every day down among the
Surrey hills the life-sized model was getting ready. And when it was
ready, it followed as a clear inevitable consequence of his having
invented and made it--everybody in the world, indeed, seemed to take
it for granted; there wasn't a gap anywhere in that serried front of
anticipation--that he would proudly and cheerfully get aboard it, ascend
with it, and fly.
But we know now pretty clearly that simple pride and cheerfulness
in such an act were singularly out of harmony with Filmer's private
constitution. It occurred to no one at the time, but there the fact is.
We can guess with some confidence now that it must have been drifting
about in his mind a great deal during the day, and, from a little
note to his physician complaining of persistent insomnia, we have the
soundest reason for supposing it dominated his nights,--the idea that it
would be after all, in spite of his theoretical security, an abominably
sickening, uncomfortable, and dangerous thing for him to flap about in
nothingness a thousand feet or so in the air. It must have dawned upon
him quite early in the period of being the Greatest Discoverer of This
or Any Age, the vision of doing this and that with an extensive void
below. Perhaps somewhen in his youth he had looked down a great height
or fallen down in some excessively uncomfortable way; perhaps some habit
of sleeping on the wrong side had resulted in that disagreeable falling
nightmare one knows, and given him his horror; of the strength of that
horror there remains now not a particle of doubt.
Apparently he had never weighed this duty of flying in his earlier days
of research; the machine had been his end, but now things were opening
out beyond his end, and particularly this giddy whirl up above there. He
was a Discoverer and he had Discovered. But he was not a Flying Man, and
it was only now that he was beginning to perceive clearly that he was
expected to fly. Yet, however much the thing was present in his mind he
gave no expression to it until the very end, and meanwhile he went to
and fro from Banghurst's magnificent laboratories, and was interviewed
and lionised, and wore good clothes, and ate good food, and lived in
an elegant flat, enjoying a very abundant feast of such good, coarse,
wholesome Fame and Success as a man, starved for all his years as he had
been starved, might be reasonably expected to enjoy.
After a time, the weekly gatherings in Fulham ceased. The model had
failed one day just for a moment to respond to Filmer's guidance, or he
had been distracted by the compliments of an archbishop. At any rate,
it suddenly dug its nose into the air just a little too steeply as the
archbishop was sailing through a Latin quotation for all the world like
an archbishop in a book, and it came down in the Fulham Road within
three yards of a 'bus horse. It stood for a second perhaps, astonishing
and in its attitude astonished, then it crumpled, shivered into pieces,
and the 'bus horse was incidentally killed.
Filmer lost the end of the archiepiscopal compliment. He stood up and
stared as his invention swooped out of sight and reach of him. His long,
white hands still gripped his useless apparatus. The archbishop followed
his skyward stare with an apprehension unbecoming in an archbishop.
Then came the crash and the shouts and uproar from the road to relieve
Filmer's tension. "My God!" he whispered, and sat down.
Every one else almost was staring to see where the machine had vanished,
or rushing into the house.
The making of the big machine progressed all the more rapidly for this.
Over its making presided Filmer, always a little slow and very careful
in his manner, always with a growing preoccupation in his mind. His care
over the strength and soundness of the apparatus was prodigious. The
slightest doubt, and he delayed everything until the doubtful part could
be replaced. Wilkinson, his senior assistant, fumed at some of these
delays, which, he insisted, were for the most part unnecessary.
Banghurst magnified the patient certitude of Filmer in the New
Paper, and reviled it bitterly to his wife, and MacAndrew, the second
assistant, approved Filmer's wisdom. "We're not wanting a fiasco, man,"
said MacAndrew. "He's perfectly well advised."
And whenever an opportunity arose Filmer would expound to Wilkinson and
MacAndrew just exactly how every part of the flying machine was to be
controlled and worked, so that in effect they would be just as capable,
and even more capable, when at last the time came, of guiding it through
Now I should imagine that if Filmer had seen fit at this stage to define
just what he was feeling, and to take a definite line in the matter of
his ascent, he might have escaped that painful ordeal quite easily. If
he had had it clearly in his mind he could have done endless things. He
would surely have found no difficulty with a specialist to demonstrate a
weak heart, or something gastric or pulmonary, to stand in his way--that
is the line I am astonished he did not take,--or he might, had he been
man enough, have declared simply and finally that he did not intend to
do the thing. But the fact is, though the dread was hugely present in
his mind, the thing was by no means sharp and clear. I fancy that all
through this period he kept telling himself that when the occasion came
he would find himself equal to it. He was like a man just gripped by a
great illness, who says he feels a little out of sorts, and expects to
be better presently. Meanwhile he delayed the completion of the machine,
and let the assumption that he was going to fly it take root and
flourish exceedingly about him. He even accepted anticipatory
compliments on his courage. And, barring this secret squeamishness,
there can be no doubt he found all the praise and distinction and fuss
he got a delightful and even intoxicating draught.
The Lady Mary Elkinghorn made things a little more complicated for him.
How THAT began was a subject of inexhaustible speculation to Hicks.
Probably in the beginning she was just a little "nice" to him
impartial partiality of hers, and it may be that to her eyes, standing
out conspicuously as he did ruling his monster in the upper air, he had
a distinction that Hicks was not disposed to find. And somehow they must
have had a moment of sufficient isolation, and the great Discoverer a
moment of sufficient courage for something just a little personal to
be mumbled or blurted. However it began, there is no doubt that it did
begin, and presently became quite perceptible to a world accustomed
to find in the proceedings of the Lady Mary Elkinghorn a matter of
entertainment. It complicated things, because the state of love in
such a virgin mind as Filmer's would brace his resolution, if not
sufficiently, at any rate considerably towards facing a danger he
feared, and hampered him in such attempts at evasion as would otherwise
be natural and congenial.
It remains a matter for speculation just how the Lady Mary felt for
Filmer and just what she thought of him. At thirty-eight one may
have gathered much wisdom and still be not altogether wise, and the
imagination still functions actively enough in creating glamours and
effecting the impossible. He came before her eyes as a very central man,
and that always counts, and he had powers, unique powers as it seemed,
at any rate in the air. The performance with the model had just a touch
of the quality of a potent incantation, and women have ever displayed an
unreasonable disposition to imagine that when a man has powers he must
necessarily have Power. Given so much, and what was not good in Filmer's
manner and appearance became an added merit. He was modest, he hated
display, but given an occasion where TRUE qualities are needed,
then--then one would see!
The late Mrs. Bampton thought it wise to convey to Lady Mary her opinion
that Filmer, all things considered, was rather a "grub." "He's
not a sort of man I have ever met before," said the Lady Mary, with
quite unruffled serenity. And Mrs. Bampton, after a swift, imperceptible
glance at that serenity, decided that so far as saying anything to Lady
Mary went, she had done as much as could be expected of her. But she
said a great deal to other people.
And at last, without any undue haste or unseemliness, the day dawned,
the great day, when Banghurst had promised his public--the world in
fact--that flying should be finally attained and overcome. Filmer saw it
dawn, watched even in the darkness before it dawned, watched its stars
fade and the grey and pearly pinks give place at last to the clear blue
sky of a sunny, cloudless day. He watched it from the window of his
bedroom in the new-built wing of Banghurst's Tudor house. And as the
stars were overwhelmed and the shapes and substances of things grew
into being out of the amorphous dark, he must have seen more and more
distinctly the festive preparations beyond the beech clumps near the
green pavilion in the outer park, the three stands for the privileged
spectators, the raw, new fencing of the enclosure, the sheds and
workshops, the Venetian masts and fluttering flags that Banghurst had
considered essential, black and limp in the breezeless dawn, and amidst
all these things a great shape covered with tarpauling. A strange and
terrible portent for humanity was that shape, a beginning that must
surely spread and widen and change and dominate all the affairs of men,
but to Filmer it is very doubtful whether it appeared in anything but a
narrow and personal light. Several people heard him pacing in the small
hours--for the vast place was packed with guests by a proprietor editor
who, before all understood compression. And about five o'clock, if not
before, Filmer left his room and wandered out of the sleeping house into
the park, alive by that time with sunlight and birds and squirrels and
the fallow deer. MacAndrew, who was also an early riser, met him near
the machine, and they went and had a look at it together.
It is doubtful if Filmer took any breakfast, in spite of the urgency
of Banghurst. So soon as the guests began to be about in some number he
seems to have retreated to his room. Thence about ten he went into the
shrubbery, very probably because he had seen the Lady Mary Elkinghorn
there. She was walking up and down, engaged in conversation with her old
school friend, Mrs. Brewis-Craven, and although Filmer had never met the
latter lady before, he joined them and walked beside them for some time.
There were several silences in spite of the Lady Mary's brilliance. The
situation was a difficult one, and Mrs. Brewis-Craven did not master
its difficulty. "He struck me," she said afterwards with a luminous
self-contradiction, "as a very unhappy person who had something to
and wanted before all things to be helped to say it. But how was one to
help him when one didn't know what it was?"
At half-past eleven the enclosures for the public in the outer park were
crammed, there was an intermittent stream of equipages along the belt
which circles the outer park, and the house party was dotted over the
lawn and shrubbery and the corner of the inner park, in a series of
brilliantly attired knots, all making for the flying machine. Filmer
walked in a group of three with Banghurst, who was supremely and
conspicuously happy, and Sir Theodore Hickle, the president of the
Aeronautical Society. Mrs. Banghurst was close behind with the Lady Mary
Elkinghorn, Georgina Hickle, and the Dean of Stays. Banghurst was large
and copious in speech, and such interstices as he left were filled in by
Hickle with complimentary remarks to Filmer. And Filmer walked between
them saying not a word except by way of unavoidable reply. Behind, Mrs.
Banghurst listened to the admirably suitable and shapely conversation of
the Dean with that fluttered attention to the ampler clergy ten years
of social ascent and ascendency had not cured in her; and the Lady
Mary watched, no doubt with an entire confidence in the world's
disillusionment, the drooping shoulders of the sort of man she had never
There was some cheering as the central party came into view of the
enclosures, but it was not very unanimous nor invigorating cheering.
They were within fifty yards of the apparatus when Filmer took a hasty
glance over his shoulder to measure the distance of the ladies behind
them, and decided to make the first remark he had initiated since the
house had been left. His voice was just a little hoarse, and he cut in
on Banghurst in mid-sentence on Progress.
"I say, Banghurst," he said, and stopped.
"Yes," said Banghurst.
"I wish--" He moistened his lips. "I'm not feeling well."
Banghurst stopped dead. "Eh?" he shouted.
"A queer feeling." Filmer made to move on, but Banghurst was
"I don't know. I may be better in a minute. If not--perhaps...
"You're not feeling WELL?" said Banghurst, and stared at his
"My dear!" he said, as Mrs. Banghurst came up with them, "Filmer
isn't feeling WELL."
"A little queer," exclaimed Filmer, avoiding the Lady Mary's
may pass off--"
There was a pause.
It came to Filmer that he was the most isolated person in the world.
"In any case," said Banghurst, "the ascent must be made.
Perhaps if you
were to sit down somewhere for a moment--"
"It's the crowd, I think," said Filmer.
There was a second pause. Banghurst's eye rested in scrutiny on Filmer,
and then swept the sample of public in the enclosure.
"It's unfortunate," said Sir Theodore Hickle; "but still--I
assistants--Of course, if you feel out of condition and disinclined--"
"I don't think Mr. Filmer would permit THAT for a moment,"
"But if Mr. Filmer's nerve is run--It might even be dangerous for
attempt--" Hickle coughed.
"It's just because it's dangerous," began the Lady Mary, and
had made her point of view and Filmer's plain enough.
Conflicting motives struggled for Filmer.
"I feel I ought to go up," he said, regarding the ground. He
and met the Lady Mary's eyes. "I want to go up," he said, and
whitely at her. He turned towards Banghurst. "If I could just sit down
somewhere for a moment out of the crowd and sun--"
Banghurst, at least, was beginning to understand the case. "Come
little room in the green pavilion," he said. "It's quite cool
took Filmer by the arm.
Filmer turned his face to the Lady Mary Elkinghorn again. "I shall
all right in five minutes," he said. "I'm tremendously sorry--"
The Lady Mary Elkinghorn smiled at him. "I couldn't think--"
he said to
Hickle, and obeyed the compulsion of Banghurst's pull.
The rest remained watching the two recede.
"He is so fragile," said the Lady Mary.
"He's certainly a highly nervous type," said the Dean, whose
it was to regard the whole world, except married clergymen with enormous
families, as "neurotic."
"Of course," said Hickle, "it isn't absolutely necessary
for him to go
up because he has invented--"
"How COULD he avoid it?" asked the Lady Mary, with the faintest
"It's certainly most unfortunate if he's going to be ill now,"
Banghurst a little severely.
"He's not going to be ill," said the Lady Mary, and certainly
met Filmer's eye.
"YOU'LL be all right," said Banghurst, as they went towards
pavilion. "All you want is a nip of brandy. It ought to be you, you
know. You'll be--you'd get it rough, you know, if you let another man--"
"Oh, I want to go," said Filmer. "I shall be all right.
As a matter of
fact I'm almost inclined NOW--. No! I think I'll have that nip of brandy
Banghurst took him into the little room and routed out an empty
decanter. He departed in search of a supply. He was gone perhaps five
The history of those five minutes cannot be written. At intervals
Filmer's face could be seen by the people on the easternmost of the
stands erected for spectators, against the window pane peering out, and
then it would recede and fade. Banghurst vanished shouting behind the
grand stand, and presently the butler appeared going pavilionward with a
The apartment in which Filmer came to his last solution was a pleasant
little room very simply furnished with green furniture and an old
bureau--for Banghurst was simple in all his private ways. It was hung
with little engravings after Morland and it had a shelf of books. But as
it happened, Banghurst had left a rook rifle he sometimes played with on
the top of the desk, and on the corner of the mantelshelf was a tin with
three or four cartridges remaining in it. As Filmer went up and down
that room wrestling with his intolerable dilemma he went first towards
the neat little rifle athwart the blotting-pad and then towards the neat
little red label
The thing must have jumped into his mind in a moment.
Nobody seems to have connected the report with him, though the gun,
being fired in a confined space, must have sounded loud, and there
were several people in the billiard-room, separated from him only by a
lath-and-plaster partition. But directly Banghurst's butler opened the
door and smelt the sour smell of the smoke, he knew, he says, what had
happened. For the servants at least of Banghurst's household had guessed
something of what was going on in Filmer's mind.
All through that trying afternoon Banghurst behaved as he held a man
should behave in the presence of hopeless disaster, and his guests
for the most part succeeded in not insisting upon the fact--though to
conceal their perception of it altogether was impossible--that Banghurst
had been pretty elaborately and completely swindled by the deceased. The
public in the enclosure, Hicks told me, dispersed "like a party that
been ducking a welsher," and there wasn't a soul in the train to London,
it seems, who hadn't known all along that flying was a quite impossible
thing for man. "But he might have tried it," said many, "after
the thing so far."
In the evening, when he was comparatively alone, Banghurst broke down
and went on like a man of clay. I have been told he wept, which must
have made an imposing scene, and he certainly said Filmer had ruined
his life, and offered and sold the whole apparatus to MacAndrew for
half-a-crown. "I've been thinking--" said MacAndrew at the conclusion
the bargain, and stopped.
The next morning the name of Filmer was, for the first time, less
conspicuous in the New Paper than in any other daily paper in the world.
The rest of the world's instructors, with varying emphasis, according to
their dignity and the degree of competition between themselves and the
New Paper, proclaimed the "Entire Failure of the New Flying Machine,"
and "Suicide of the Impostor." But in the district of North Surrey
reception of the news was tempered by a perception of unusual aerial
Overnight Wilkinson and MacAndrew had fallen into violent argument on
the exact motives of their principal's rash act.
"The man was certainly a poor, cowardly body, but so far as his
went he was NO impostor," said MacAndrew, "and I'm prepared to
proposition a very practical demonstration, Mr. Wilkinson, so soon as
we've got the place a little more to ourselves. For I've no faith in all
this publicity for experimental trials."
And to that end, while all the world was reading of the certain failure
of the new flying machine, MacAndrew was soaring and curvetting with
great amplitude and dignity over the Epsom and Wimbledon divisions;
and Banghurst, restored once more to hope and energy, and regardless of
public security and the Board of Trade, was pursuing his gyrations and
trying to attract his attention, on a motor car and in his pyjamas--he
had caught sight of the ascent when pulling up the blind of his bedroom
window--equipped, among other things, with a film camera that was
subsequently discovered to be jammed. And Filmer was lying on the
billiard table in the green pavilion with a sheet about his body.
2. THE MAGIC SHOP
I had seen the Magic Shop from afar several times; I had passed it once
or twice, a shop window of alluring little objects, magic balls, magic
hens, wonderful cones, ventriloquist dolls, the material of the basket
trick, packs of cards that LOOKED all right, and all that sort of
thing, but never had I thought of going in until one day, almost without
warning, Gip hauled me by my finger right up to the window, and so
conducted himself that there was nothing for it but to take him in. I
had not thought the place was there, to tell the truth--a modest-sized
frontage in Regent Street, between the picture shop and the place where
the chicks run about just out of patent incubators, but there it was
sure enough. I had fancied it was down nearer the Circus, or round the
corner in Oxford Street, or even in Holborn; always over the way and
a little inaccessible it had been, with something of the mirage in its
position; but here it was now quite indisputably, and the fat end of
Gip's pointing finger made a noise upon the glass.
"If I was rich," said Gip, dabbing a finger at the Disappearing
"I'd buy myself that. And that"--which was The Crying Baby, Very
Human--"and that," which was a mystery, and called, so a neat
asserted, "Buy One and Astonish Your Friends."
"Anything," said Gip, "will disappear under one of those
cones. I have
read about it in a book.
"And there, dadda, is the Vanishing Halfpenny--, only they've put
this way up so's we can't see how it's done."
Gip, dear boy, inherits his mother's breeding, and he did not propose
enter the shop or worry in any way; only, you know, quite unconsciously
he lugged my finger doorward, and he made his interest clear.
"That," he said, and pointed to the Magic Bottle.
"If you had that?" I said; at which promising inquiry he looked
a sudden radiance.
"I could show it to Jessie," he said, thoughtful as ever of
"It's less than a hundred days to your birthday, Gibbles,"
I said, and
laid my hand on the door-handle.
Gip made no answer, but his grip tightened on my finger, and so we came
into the shop.
It was no common shop this; it was a magic shop, and all the prancing
precedence Gip would have taken in the matter of mere toys was wanting.
He left the burthen of the conversation to me.
It was a little, narrow shop, not very well lit, and the door-bell
pinged again with a plaintive note as we closed it behind us. For a
moment or so we were alone and could glance about us. There was a tiger
in papier-mache on the glass case that covered the low counter--a grave,
kind-eyed tiger that waggled his head in a methodical manner; there were
several crystal spheres, a china hand holding magic cards, a stock
of magic fish-bowls in various sizes, and an immodest magic hat that
shamelessly displayed its springs. On the floor were magic mirrors; one
to draw you out long and thin, one to swell your head and vanish your
legs, and one to make you short and fat like a draught; and while we
were laughing at these the shopman, as I suppose, came in.
At any rate, there he was behind the counter--a curious, sallow, dark
man, with one ear larger than the other and a chin like the toe-cap of a
"What can we have the pleasure?" he said, spreading his long,
fingers on the glass case; and so with a start we were aware of him.
"I want," I said, "to buy my little boy a few simple tricks."
"Legerdemain?" he asked. "Mechanical? Domestic?"
"Anything amusing?" said I.
"Um!" said the shopman, and scratched his head for a moment
thinking. Then, quite distinctly, he drew from his head a glass ball.
"Something in this way?" he said, and held it out.
The action was unexpected. I had seen the trick done at entertainments
endless times before--it's part of the common stock of conjurers--but I
had not expected it here.
"That's good," I said, with a laugh.
"Isn't it?" said the shopman.
Gip stretched out his disengaged hand to take this object and found
merely a blank palm.
"It's in your pocket," said the shopman, and there it was!
"How much will that be?" I asked.
"We make no charge for glass balls," said the shopman politely.
them,"--he picked one out of his elbow as he spoke--"free."
another from the back of his neck, and laid it beside its predecessor on
the counter. Gip regarded his glass ball sagely, then directed a look
of inquiry at the two on the counter, and finally brought his round-eyed
scrutiny to the shopman, who smiled.
"You may have those too," said the shopman, "and, if you
DON'T mind, one
from my mouth. SO!"
Gip counselled me mutely for a moment, and then in a profound silence
put away the four balls, resumed my reassuring finger, and nerved
himself for the next event.
"We get all our smaller tricks in that way," the shopman remarked.
I laughed in the manner of one who subscribes to a jest. "Instead
going to the wholesale shop," I said. "Of course, it's cheaper."
"In a way," the shopman said. "Though we pay in the end.
so heavily--as people suppose.... Our larger tricks, and our daily
provisions and all the other things we want, we get out of that
hat... And you know, sir, if you'll excuse my saying it, there ISN'T a
wholesale shop, not for Genuine Magic goods, sir. I don't know if
you noticed our inscription--the Genuine Magic shop." He drew a
business-card from his cheek and handed it to me. "Genuine," he
said, with his finger on the word, and added, "There is absolutely
He seemed to be carrying out the joke pretty thoroughly, I thought.
He turned to Gip with a smile of remarkable affability. "You, you
are the Right Sort of Boy."
I was surprised at his knowing that, because, in the interests of
discipline, we keep it rather a secret even at home; but Gip received it
in unflinching silence, keeping a steadfast eye on him.
"It's only the Right Sort of Boy gets through that doorway."
And, as if by way of illustration, there came a rattling at the door,
and a squeaking little voice could be faintly heard. "Nyar! I WARN
in there, dadda, I WARN 'a go in there. Ny-a-a-ah!" and then the accents
of a down-trodden parent, urging consolations and propitiations. "It's
locked, Edward," he said.
"But it isn't," said I.
"It is, sir," said the shopman, "always--for that sort
of child," and as
he spoke we had a glimpse of the other youngster, a little, white face,
pallid from sweet-eating and over-sapid food, and distorted by evil
passions, a ruthless little egotist, pawing at the enchanted pane.
"It's no good, sir," said the shopman, as I moved, with my natural
helpfulness, doorward, and presently the spoilt child was carried off
"How do you manage that?" I said, breathing a little more freely.
"Magic!" said the shopman, with a careless wave of the hand,
sparks of coloured fire flew out of his fingers and vanished into the
shadows of the shop.
"You were saying," he said, addressing himself to Gip, "before
in, that you would like one of our 'Buy One and Astonish your Friends'
Gip, after a gallant effort, said "Yes."
"It's in your pocket."
And leaning over the counter--he really had an extraordinarily long
body--this amazing person produced the article in the customary
conjurer's manner. "Paper," he said, and took a sheet out of the
hat with the springs; "string," and behold his mouth was a string-box,
from which he drew an unending thread, which when he had tied his parcel
he bit off--and, it seemed to me, swallowed the ball of string. And then
he lit a candle at the nose of one of the ventriloquist's dummies, stuck
one of his fingers (which had become sealing-wax red) into the flame,
and so sealed the parcel. "Then there was the Disappearing Egg,"
remarked, and produced one from within my coat-breast and packed it, and
also The Crying Baby, Very Human. I handed each parcel to Gip as it was
ready, and he clasped them to his chest.
He said very little, but his eyes were eloquent; the clutch of his arms
was eloquent. He was the playground of unspeakable emotions. These,
you know, were REAL Magics. Then, with a start, I discovered something
moving about in my hat--something soft and jumpy. I whipped it off, and
a ruffled pigeon--no doubt a confederate--dropped out and ran on the
counter, and went, I fancy, into a cardboard box behind the papier-mache
"Tut, tut!" said the shopman, dexterously relieving me of my
"careless bird, and--as I live--nesting!"
He shook my hat, and shook out into his extended hand two or three eggs,
a large marble, a watch, about half-a-dozen of the inevitable glass
balls, and then crumpled, crinkled paper, more and more and more,
talking all the time of the way in which people neglect to brush their
hats INSIDE as well as out, politely, of course, but with a certain
personal application. "All sorts of things accumulate, sir.... Not
of course, in particular.... Nearly every customer.... Astonishing what
they carry about with them...." The crumpled paper rose and billowed
the counter more and more and more, until he was nearly hidden from us,
until he was altogether hidden, and still his voice went on and on. "We
none of us know what the fair semblance of a human being may conceal,
sir. Are we all then no better than brushed exteriors, whited
His voice stopped--exactly like when you hit a neighbour's gramophone
with a well-aimed brick, the same instant silence, and the rustle of the
paper stopped, and everything was still....
"Have you done with my hat?" I said, after an interval.
There was no answer.
I stared at Gip, and Gip stared at me, and there were our distortions
the magic mirrors, looking very rum, and grave, and quiet....
"I think we'll go now," I said. "Will you tell me how
much all this
"I say," I said, on a rather louder note, "I want the
bill; and my hat,
It might have been a sniff from behind the paper pile....
"Let's look behind the counter, Gip," I said. "He's making
fun of us."
I led Gip round the head-wagging tiger, and what do you think there
was behind the counter? No one at all! Only my hat on the floor, and a
common conjurer's lop-eared white rabbit lost in meditation, and looking
as stupid and crumpled as only a conjurer's rabbit can do. I resumed my
hat, and the rabbit lolloped a lollop or so out of my way.
"Dadda!" said Gip, in a guilty whisper.
"What is it, Gip?" said I.
"I DO like this shop, dadda."
"So should I," I said to myself, "if the counter wouldn't
extend itself to shut one off from the door." But I didn't call Gip's
attention to that. "Pussy!" he said, with a hand out to the rabbit
came lolloping past us; "Pussy, do Gip a magic!" and his eyes
it as it squeezed through a door I had certainly not remarked a moment
before. Then this door opened wider, and the man with one ear larger
than the other appeared again. He was smiling still, but his eye met
mine with something between amusement and defiance. "You'd like to
our show-room, sir," he said, with an innocent suavity. Gip tugged
my finger forward. I glanced at the counter and met the shopman's eye
again. I was beginning to think the magic just a little too genuine.
"We haven't VERY much time," I said. But somehow we were inside
show-room before I could finish that.
"All goods of the same quality," said the shopman, rubbing
hands together, "and that is the Best. Nothing in the place that isn't
genuine Magic, and warranted thoroughly rum. Excuse me, sir!"
I felt him pull at something that clung to my coat-sleeve, and then
I saw he held a little, wriggling red demon by the tail--the little
creature bit and fought and tried to get at his hand--and in a moment
he tossed it carelessly behind a counter. No doubt the thing was only an
image of twisted indiarubber, but for the moment--! And his gesture was
exactly that of a man who handles some petty biting bit of vermin. I
glanced at Gip, but Gip was looking at a magic rocking-horse. I was
glad he hadn't seen the thing. "I say," I said, in an undertone,
indicating Gip and the red demon with my eyes, "you haven't many things
like THAT about, have you?"
"None of ours! Probably brought it with you," said the shopman--also
in an undertone, and with a more dazzling smile than ever. "Astonishing
what people WILL carry about with them unawares!" And then to Gip,
you see anything you fancy here?"
There were many things that Gip fancied there.
He turned to this astonishing tradesman with mingled confidence and
respect. "Is that a Magic Sword?" he said.
"A Magic Toy Sword. It neither bends, breaks, nor cuts the fingers.
renders the bearer invincible in battle against any one under eighteen.
Half-a-crown to seven and sixpence, according to size. These panoplies
on cards are for juvenile knights-errant and very useful--shield of
safety, sandals of swiftness, helmet of invisibility."
"Oh, daddy!" gasped Gip.
I tried to find out what they cost, but the shopman did not heed me.
He had got Gip now; he had got him away from my finger; he had embarked
upon the exposition of all his confounded stock, and nothing was going
to stop him. Presently I saw with a qualm of distrust and something very
like jealousy that Gip had hold of this person's finger as usually he
has hold of mine. No doubt the fellow was interesting, I thought,
and had an interestingly faked lot of stuff, really GOOD faked stuff,
I wandered after them, saying very little, but keeping an eye on this
prestidigital fellow. After all, Gip was enjoying it. And no doubt when
the time came to go we should be able to go quite easily.
It was a long, rambling place, that show-room, a gallery broken up
by stands and stalls and pillars, with archways leading off to other
departments, in which the queerest-looking assistants loafed and stared
at one, and with perplexing mirrors and curtains. So perplexing, indeed,
were these that I was presently unable to make out the door by which we
The shopman showed Gip magic trains that ran without steam or clockwork,
just as you set the signals, and then some very, very valuable boxes of
soldiers that all came alive directly you took off the lid and said--. I
myself haven't a very quick ear and it was a tongue-twisting sound,
but Gip--he has his mother's ear--got it in no time. "Bravo!"
shopman, putting the men back into the box unceremoniously and handing
it to Gip. "Now," said the shopman, and in a moment Gip had made
all alive again.
"You'll take that box?" asked the shopman.
"We'll take that box," said I, "unless you charge its
full value. In
which case it would need a Trust Magnate--"
"Dear heart! NO!" and the shopman swept the little men back
the lid, waved the box in the air, and there it was, in brown paper,
tied up and--WITH GIP'S FULL NAME AND ADDRESS ON THE PAPER!
The shopman laughed at my amazement.
"This is the genuine magic," he said. "The real thing."
"It's a little too genuine for my taste," I said again.
After that he fell to showing Gip tricks, odd tricks, and still odder
the way they were done. He explained them, he turned them inside out,
and there was the dear little chap nodding his busy bit of a head in the
I did not attend as well as I might. "Hey, presto!" said the
Shopman, and then would come the clear, small "Hey, presto!" of
But I was distracted by other things. It was being borne in upon me just
how tremendously rum this place was; it was, so to speak, inundated by
a sense of rumness. There was something a little rum about the fixtures
even, about the ceiling, about the floor, about the casually distributed
chairs. I had a queer feeling that whenever I wasn't looking at them
straight they went askew, and moved about, and played a noiseless
puss-in-the-corner behind my back. And the cornice had a serpentine
design with masks--masks altogether too expressive for proper plaster.
Then abruptly my attention was caught by one of the odd-looking
assistants. He was some way off and evidently unaware of my presence--I
saw a sort of three-quarter length of him over a pile of toys and
through an arch--and, you know, he was leaning against a pillar in an
idle sort of way doing the most horrid things with his features! The
particular horrid thing he did was with his nose. He did it just as
though he was idle and wanted to amuse himself. First of all it was a
short, blobby nose, and then suddenly he shot it out like a telescope,
and then out it flew and became thinner and thinner until it was like
a long, red, flexible whip. Like a thing in a nightmare it was! He
flourished it about and flung it forth as a fly-fisher flings his line.
My instant thought was that Gip mustn't see him. I turned about, and
there was Gip quite preoccupied with the shopman, and thinking no evil.
They were whispering together and looking at me. Gip was standing on
a little stool, and the shopman was holding a sort of big drum in his
"Hide and seek, dadda!" cried Gip. "You're He!"
And before I could do anything to prevent it, the shopman had clapped
the big drum over him. I saw what was up directly. "Take that off,"
cried, "this instant! You'll frighten the boy. Take it off!"
The shopman with the unequal ears did so without a word, and held the
big cylinder towards me to show its emptiness. And the little stool was
vacant! In that instant my boy had utterly disappeared?...
You know, perhaps, that sinister something that comes like a hand out
of the unseen and grips your heart about. You know it takes your common
self away and leaves you tense and deliberate, neither slow nor hasty,
neither angry nor afraid. So it was with me.
I came up to this grinning shopman and kicked his stool aside.
"Stop this folly!" I said. "Where is my boy?"
"You see," he said, still displaying the drum's interior, "there
I put out my hand to grip him, and he eluded me by a dexterous movement.
I snatched again, and he turned from me and pushed open a door to
escape. "Stop!" I said, and he laughed, receding. I leapt after
him--into utter darkness.
"Lor' bless my 'eart! I didn't see you coming, sir!"
I was in Regent Street, and I had collided with a decent-looking working
man; and a yard away, perhaps, and looking a little perplexed with
himself, was Gip. There was some sort of apology, and then Gip had
turned and come to me with a bright little smile, as though for a moment
he had missed me.
And he was carrying four parcels in his arm!
He secured immediate possession of my finger.
For the second I was rather at a loss. I stared round to see the door
of the magic shop, and, behold, it was not there! There was no door, no
shop, nothing, only the common pilaster between the shop where they sell
pictures and the window with the chicks!...
I did the only thing possible in that mental tumult; I walked straight
to the kerbstone and held up my umbrella for a cab.
"'Ansoms," said Gip, in a note of culminating exultation.
I helped him in, recalled my address with an effort, and got in also.
Something unusual proclaimed itself in my tail-coat pocket, and I felt
and discovered a glass ball. With a petulant expression I flung it into
Gip said nothing.
For a space neither of us spoke.
"Dada!" said Gip, at last, "that WAS a proper shop!"
I came round with that to the problem of just how the whole thing had
seemed to him. He looked completely undamaged--so far, good; he was
neither scared nor unhinged, he was simply tremendously satisfied with
the afternoon's entertainment, and there in his arms were the four
Confound it! what could be in them?
"Um!" I said. "Little boys can't go to shops like that
He received this with his usual stoicism, and for a moment I was sorry
was his father and not his mother, and so couldn't suddenly there, coram
publico, in our hansom, kiss him. After all, I thought, the thing wasn't
so very bad.
But it was only when we opened the parcels that I really began to be
reassured. Three of them contained boxes of soldiers, quite ordinary
lead soldiers, but of so good a quality as to make Gip altogether forget
that originally these parcels had been Magic Tricks of the only genuine
sort, and the fourth contained a kitten, a little living white kitten,
in excellent health and appetite and temper.
I saw this unpacking with a sort of provisional relief. I hung about
the nursery for quite an unconscionable time....
That happened six months ago. And now I am beginning to believe it is
all right. The kitten had only the magic natural to all kittens, and
the soldiers seem as steady a company as any colonel could desire. And
The intelligent parent will understand that I have to go cautiously with
But I went so far as this one day. I said, "How would you like your
soldiers to come alive, Gip, and march about by themselves?"
"Mine do," said Gip. "I just have to say a word I know
before I open the
"Then they march about alone?"
"Oh, QUITE, dadda. I shouldn't like them if they didn't do that."
I displayed no unbecoming surprise, and since then I have taken occasion
to drop in upon him once or twice, unannounced, when the soldiers were
about, but so far I have never discovered them performing in anything
like a magical manner.
It's so difficult to tell.
There's also a question of finance. I have an incurable habit of paying
bills. I have been up and down Regent Street several times, looking for
that shop. I am inclined to think, indeed, that in that matter honour is
satisfied, and that, since Gip's name and address are known to them, I
may very well leave it to these people, whoever they may be, to send in
their bill in their own time.
3. THE VALLEY OF SPIDERS
Towards mid-day the three pursuers came abruptly round a bend in the
torrent bed upon the sight of a very broad and spacious valley. The
difficult and winding trench of pebbles along which they had tracked
the fugitives for so long, expanded to a broad slope, and with a common
impulse the three men left the trail, and rode to a little eminence set
with olive-dun trees, and there halted, the two others, as became them,
a little behind the man with the silver-studded bridle.
For a space they scanned the great expanse below them with eager eyes.
It spread remoter and remoter, with only a few clusters of sere thorn
bushes here and there, and the dim suggestions of some now waterless
ravine, to break its desolation of yellow grass. Its purple distances
melted at last into the bluish slopes of the further hills--hills it
might be of a greener kind--and above them invisibly supported, and
seeming indeed to hang in the blue, were the snowclad summits of
mountains that grew larger and bolder to the north-westward as the sides
of the valley drew together. And westward the valley opened until a
distant darkness under the sky told where the forests began. But the
three men looked neither east nor west, but only steadfastly across the
The gaunt man with the scarred lip was the first to speak. "Nowhere,"
said, with a sigh of disappointment in his voice. "But after all, they
had a full day's start."
"They don't know we are after them," said the little man on
"SHE would know," said the leader bitterly, as if speaking
"Even then they can't go fast. They've got no beast but the mule,
all to-day the girl's foot has been bleeding---"
The man with the silver bridle flashed a quick intensity of rage on him.
"Do you think I haven't seen that?" he snarled.
"It helps, anyhow," whispered the little man to himself.
The gaunt man with the scarred lip stared impassively. "They can't
over the valley," he said. "If we ride hard--"
He glanced at the white horse and paused.
"Curse all white horses!" said the man with the silver bridle,
turned to scan the beast his curse included.
The little man looked down between the melancholy ears of his steed.
"I did my best," he said.
The two others stared again across the valley for a space. The gaunt
passed the back of his hand across the scarred lip.
"Come up!" said the man who owned the silver bridle, suddenly.
little man started and jerked his rein, and the horse hoofs of the three
made a multitudinous faint pattering upon the withered grass as they
turned back towards the trail....
They rode cautiously down the long slope before them, and so came
through a waste of prickly, twisted bushes and strange dry shapes of
horny branches that grew amongst the rocks, into the levels below.
And there the trail grew faint, for the soil was scanty, and the only
herbage was this scorched dead straw that lay upon the ground. Still, by
hard scanning, by leaning beside the horses' necks and pausing ever and
again, even these white men could contrive to follow after their prey.
There were trodden places, bent and broken blades of the coarse grass,
and ever and again the sufficient intimation of a footmark. And once
the leader saw a brown smear of blood where the half-caste girl may have
trod. And at that under his breath he cursed her for a fool.
The gaunt man checked his leader's tracking, and the little man on the
white horse rode behind, a man lost in a dream. They rode one after
another, the man with the silver bridle led the way, and they spoke
never a word. After a time it came to the little man on the white horse
that the world was very still. He started out of his dream. Besides the
little noises of their horses and equipment, the whole great valley kept
the brooding quiet of a painted scene.
Before him went his master and his fellow, each intently leaning forward
to the left, each impassively moving with the paces of his horse; their
shadows went before them--still, noiseless, tapering attendants; and
nearer a crouched cool shape was his own. He looked about him. What was
it had gone? Then he remembered the reverberation from the banks of the
gorge and the perpetual accompaniment of shifting, jostling pebbles.
And, moreover--? There was no breeze. That was it! What a vast, still
place it was, a monotonous afternoon slumber. And the sky open and
blank, except for a sombre veil of haze that had gathered in the upper
He straightened his back, fretted with his bridle, puckered his lips
to whistle, and simply sighed. He turned in his saddle for a time, and
stared at the throat of the mountain gorge out of which they had come.
Blank! Blank slopes on either side, with never a sign of a decent beast
or tree--much less a man. What a land it was! What a wilderness! He
dropped again into his former pose.
It filled him with a momentary pleasure to see a wry stick of purple
black flash out into the form of a snake, and vanish amidst the brown.
After all, the infernal valley WAS alive. And then, to rejoice him still
more, came a little breath across his face, a whisper that came and
went, the faintest inclination of a stiff black-antlered bush upon a
little crest, the first intimations of a possible breeze. Idly he wetted
his finger, and held it up.
He pulled up sharply to avoid a collision with the gaunt man, who had
stopped at fault upon the trail. Just at that guilty moment he caught
his master's eye looking towards him.
For a time he forced an interest in the tracking. Then, as they rode
again, he studied his master's shadow and hat and shoulder, appearing
and disappearing behind the gaunt man's nearer contours. They had ridden
four days out of the very limits of the world into this desolate place,
short of water, with nothing but a strip of dried meat under their
saddles, over rocks and mountains, where surely none but these fugitives
had ever been before--for THAT!
And all this was for a girl, a mere wilful child! And the man had whole
cityfuls of people to do his basest bidding--girls, women! Why in the
name of passionate folly THIS one in particular? asked the little man,
and scowled at the world, and licked his parched lips with a blackened
tongue. It was the way of the master, and that was all he knew. Just
because she sought to evade him....
His eye caught a whole row of high plumed canes bending in unison, and
then the tails of silk that hung before his neck flapped and fell. The
breeze was growing stronger. Somehow it took the stiff stillness out of
things--and that was well.
"Hullo!" said the gaunt man.
All three stopped abruptly.
"What?" asked the master. "What?"
"Over there," said the gaunt man, pointing up the valley.
"Something coming towards us."
And as he spoke a yellow animal crested a rise and came bearing down
upon them. It was a big wild dog, coming before the wind, tongue out, at
a steady pace, and running with such an intensity of purpose that he
did not seem to see the horsemen he approached. He ran with his nose up,
following, it was plain, neither scent nor quarry. As he drew nearer the
little man felt for his sword. "He's mad," said the gaunt rider.
"Shout!" said the little man, and shouted.
The dog came on. Then when the little man's blade was already out, it
swerved aside and went panting by them and past. The eyes of the little
man followed its flight. "There was no foam," he said. For a space
man with the silver-studded bridle stared up the valley. "Oh, come
on!" he cried at last. "What does it matter?" and jerked
his horse into
The little man left the insoluble mystery of a dog that fled from
nothing but the wind, and lapsed into profound musings on human
character. "Come on!" he whispered to himself. "Why should
it be given
to one man to say 'Come on!' with that stupendous violence of effect.
Always, all his life, the man with the silver bridle has been saying
that. If _I_ said it--!" thought the little man. But people marvelled
when the master was disobeyed even in the wildest things. This
half-caste girl seemed to him, seemed to every one, mad--blasphemous
almost. The little man, by way of comparison, reflected on the gaunt
rider with the scarred lip, as stalwart as his master, as brave and,
indeed, perhaps braver, and yet for him there was obedience, nothing but
to give obedience duly and stoutly...
Certain sensations of the hands and knees called the little man back
more immediate things. He became aware of something. He rode up beside
his gaunt fellow. "Do you notice the horses?" he said in an undertone.
The gaunt face looked interrogation.
"They don't like this wind," said the little man, and dropped
the man with the silver bridle turned upon him.
"It's all right," said the gaunt-faced man.
They rode on again for a space in silence. The foremost two rode
downcast upon the trail, the hindmost man watched the haze that crept
down the vastness of the valley, nearer and nearer, and noted how the
wind grew in strength moment by moment. Far away on the left he saw a
line of dark bulks--wild hog perhaps, galloping down the valley, but of
that he said nothing, nor did he remark again upon the uneasiness of the
And then he saw first one and then a second great white ball, a great
shining white ball like a gigantic head of thistle-down, that drove
before the wind athwart the path. These balls soared high in the air,
and dropped and rose again and caught for a moment, and hurried on
and passed, but at the sight of them the restlessness of the horses
Then presently he saw that more of these drifting globes--and then soon
very many more--were hurrying towards him down the valley.
They became aware of a squealing. Athwart the path a huge boar rushed,
turning his head but for one instant to glance at them, and then hurling
on down the valley again. And at that, all three stopped and sat in
their saddles, staring into the thickening haze that was coming upon
"If it were not for this thistle-down--" began the leader.
But now a big globe came drifting past within a score of yards of them.
It was really not an even sphere at all, but a vast, soft, ragged, filmy
thing, a sheet gathered by the corners, an aerial jelly-fish, as it
were, but rolling over and over as it advanced, and trailing long,
cobwebby threads and streamers that floated in its wake.
"It isn't thistle-down," said the little man.
"I don't like the stuff," said the gaunt man.
And they looked at one another.
"Curse it!" cried the leader. "The air's full of it up
there. If it
keeps on at this pace long, it will stop us altogether."
An instinctive feeling, such as lines out a herd of deer at the approach
of some ambiguous thing, prompted them to turn their horses to the wind,
ride forward for a few paces, and stare at that advancing multitude
of floating masses. They came on before the wind with a sort of smooth
swiftness, rising and falling noiselessly, sinking to earth, rebounding
high, soaring--all with a perfect unanimity, with a still, deliberate
Right and left of the horsemen the pioneers of this strange army passed.
At one that rolled along the ground, breaking shapelessly and trailing
out reluctantly into long grappling ribbons and bands, all three horses
began to shy and dance. The master was seized with a sudden unreasonable
impatience. He cursed the drifting globes roundly. "Get on!" he
"get on! What do these things matter? How CAN they matter? Back to
the trail!" He fell swearing at his horse and sawed the bit across
He shouted aloud with rage. "I will follow that trail, I tell you!"
cried. "Where is the trail?"
He gripped the bridle of his prancing horse and searched amidst the
grass. A long and clinging thread fell across his face, a grey streamer
dropped about his bridle-arm, some big, active thing with many legs ran
down the back of his head. He looked up to discover one of those grey
masses anchored as it were above him by these things and flapping out
ends as a sail flaps when a boat comes, about--but noiselessly.
He had an impression of many eyes, of a dense crew of squat bodies, of
long, many-jointed limbs hauling at their mooring ropes to bring the
thing down upon him. For a space he stared up, reining in his prancing
horse with the instinct born of years of horsemanship. Then the flat
of a sword smote his back, and a blade flashed overhead and cut the
drifting balloon of spider-web free, and the whole mass lifted softly
and drove clear and away.
"Spiders!" cried the voice of the gaunt man. "The things
are full of big
spiders! Look, my lord!"
The man with the silver bridle still followed the mass that drove away.
"Look, my lord!"
The master found himself staring down at a red, smashed thing on the
ground that, in spite of partial obliteration, could still wriggle
unavailing legs. Then when the gaunt man pointed to another mass that
bore down upon them, he drew his sword hastily. Up the valley now it was
like a fog bank torn to rags. He tried to grasp the situation.
"Ride for it!" the little man was shouting. "Ride for
it down the
What happened then was like the confusion of a battle. The man with
the silver bridle saw the little man go past him slashing furiously at
imaginary cobwebs, saw him cannon into the horse of the gaunt man and
hurl it and its rider to earth. His own horse went a dozen paces before
he could rein it in. Then he looked up to avoid imaginary dangers, and
then back again to see a horse rolling on the ground, the gaunt man
standing and slashing over it at a rent and fluttering mass of grey that
streamed and wrapped about them both. And thick and fast as thistle-down
on waste land on a windy day in July, the cobweb masses were coming on.
The little man had dismounted, but he dared not release his horse. He
was endeavouring to lug the struggling brute back with the strength of
one arm, while with the other he slashed aimlessly, The tentacles of a
second grey mass had entangled themselves with the struggle, and this
second grey mass came to its moorings, and slowly sank.
The master set his teeth, gripped his bridle, lowered his head, and
spurred his horse forward. The horse on the ground rolled over, there
were blood and moving shapes upon the flanks, and the gaunt man,
suddenly leaving it, ran forward towards his master, perhaps ten paces.
His legs were swathed and encumbered with grey; he made ineffectual
movements with his sword. Grey streamers waved from him; there was
a thin veil of grey across his face. With his left hand he beat at
something on his body, and suddenly he stumbled and fell. He struggled
to rise, and fell again, and suddenly, horribly, began to howl,
The master could see the great spiders upon him, and others upon the
As he strove to force his horse nearer to this gesticulating, screaming
grey object that struggled up and down, there came a clatter of hoofs,
and the little man, in act of mounting, swordless, balanced on his belly
athwart the white horse, and clutching its mane, whirled past. And again
a clinging thread of grey gossamer swept across the master's face.
All about him, and over him, it seemed this drifting, noiseless cobweb
circled and drew nearer him....
To the day of his death he never knew just how the event of that moment
happened. Did he, indeed, turn his horse, or did it really of its own
accord stampede after its fellow? Suffice it that in another second
he was galloping full tilt down the valley with his sword whirling
furiously overhead. And all about him on the quickening breeze, the
spiders' airships, their air bundles and air sheets, seemed to him to
hurry in a conscious pursuit.
Clatter, clatter, thud, thud--the man with the silver bridle rode,
heedless of his direction, with his fearful face looking up now right,
now left, and his sword arm ready to slash. And a few hundred yards
ahead of him, with a tail of torn cobweb trailing behind him, rode the
little man on the white horse, still but imperfectly in the saddle.
The reeds bent before them, the wind blew fresh and strong, over his
shoulder the master could see the webs hurrying to overtake....
He was so intent to escape the spiders' webs that only as his horse
gathered together for a leap did he realise the ravine ahead. And then
he realised it only to misunderstand and interfere. He was leaning
forward on his horse's neck and sat up and back all too late.
But if in his excitement he had failed to leap, at any rate he had not
forgotten how to fall. He was horseman again in mid-air. He came off
clear with a mere bruise upon his shoulder, and his horse rolled,
kicking spasmodic legs, and lay still. But the master's sword drove its
point into the hard soil, and snapped clean across, as though Chance
refused him any longer as her Knight, and the splintered end missed his
face by an inch or so.
He was on his feet in a moment, breathlessly scanning the onrushing
spider-webs. For a moment he was minded to run, and then thought of the
ravine, and turned back. He ran aside once to dodge one drifting terror,
and then he was swiftly clambering down the precipitous sides, and out
of the touch of the gale.
There under the lee of the dry torrent's steeper banks he might crouch,
and watch these strange, grey masses pass and pass in safety till the
wind fell, and it became possible to escape. And there for a long time
he crouched, watching the strange, grey, ragged masses trail their
streamers across his narrowed sky.
Once a stray spider fell into the ravine close beside him--a full foot
it measured from leg to leg, and its body was half a man's hand--and
after he had watched its monstrous alacrity of search and escape for a
little while, and tempted it to bite his broken sword, he lifted up his
iron-heeled boot and smashed it into a pulp. He swore as he did so, and
for a time sought up and down for another.
Then presently, when he was surer these spider swarms could not drop
into the ravine, he found a place where he could sit down, and sat and
fell into deep thought and began after his manner to gnaw his knuckles
and bite his nails. And from this he was moved by the coming of the man
with the white horse.
He heard him long before he saw him, as a clattering of hoofs, stumbling
footsteps, and a reassuring voice. Then the little man appeared, a
rueful figure, still with a tail of white cobweb trailing behind him.
They approached each other without speaking, without a salutation. The
little man was fatigued and shamed to the pitch of hopeless bitterness,
and came to a stop at last, face to face with his seated master. The
latter winced a little under his dependant's eye. "Well?" he said
last, with no pretence of authority.
"You left him?"
"My horse bolted."
"I know. So did mine."
He laughed at his master mirthlessly.
"I say my horse bolted," said the man who once had a silver-studded
"Cowards both," said the little man.
The other gnawed his knuckle through some meditative moments, with his
eye on his inferior.
"Don't call me a coward," he said at length.
"You are a coward like myself."
"A coward possibly. There is a limit beyond which every man must
That I have learnt at last. But not like yourself. That is where the
difference comes in."
"I never could have dreamt you would have left him. He saved your
two minutes before.... Why are you our lord?"
The master gnawed his knuckles again, and his countenance was dark.
"No man calls me a coward," he said. "No. A broken sword
is better than
none.... One spavined white horse cannot be expected to carry two men
a four days' journey. I hate white horses, but this time it cannot be
helped. You begin to understand me?... I perceive that you are minded,
on the strength of what you have seen and fancy, to taint my reputation.
It is men of your sort who unmake kings. Besides which--I never liked
"My lord!" said the little man.
"No," said the master. "NO!"
He stood up sharply as the little man moved. For a minute perhaps they
faced one another. Overhead the spiders' balls went driving. There was a
quick movement among the pebbles; a running of feet, a cry of despair, a
gasp and a blow....
Towards nightfall the wind fell. The sun set in a calm serenity, and
the man who had once possessed the silver bridle came at last very
cautiously and by an easy slope out of the ravine again; but now he led
the white horse that once belonged to the little man. He would have gone
back to his horse to get his silver-mounted bridle again, but he feared
night and a quickening breeze might still find him in the valley, and
besides he disliked greatly to think he might discover his horse all
swathed in cobwebs and perhaps unpleasantly eaten.
And as he thought of those cobwebs and of all the dangers he had been
through, and the manner in which he had been preserved that day, his
hand sought a little reliquary that hung about his neck, and he clasped
it for a moment with heartfelt gratitude. As he did so his eyes went
across the valley.
"I was hot with passion," he said, "and now she has met
her reward. They
also, no doubt--"
And behold! Far away out of the wooded slopes across the valley, but
the clearness of the sunset distinct and unmistakable, he saw a little
spire of smoke.
At that his expression of serene resignation changed to an amazed anger.
Smoke? He turned the head of the white horse about, and hesitated. And
as he did so a little rustle of air went through the grass about him.
Far away upon some reeds swayed a tattered sheet of grey. He looked at
the cobwebs; he looked at the smoke.
"Perhaps, after all, it is not them," he said at last.
But he knew better.
After he had stared at the smoke for some time, he mounted the white
As he rode, he picked his way amidst stranded masses of web. For some
reason there were many dead spiders on the ground, and those that lived
feasted guiltily on their fellows. At the sound of his horse's hoofs
Their time had passed. From the ground without either a wind to carry
them or a winding sheet ready, these things, for all their poison, could
do him little evil. He flicked with his belt at those he fancied came
too near. Once, where a number ran together over a bare place, he was
minded to dismount and trample them with his boots, but this impulse he
overcame. Ever and again he turned in his saddle, and looked back at the
"Spiders," he muttered over and over again. "Spiders!
Well, well.... The
next time I must spin a web."
4. THE TRUTH ABOUT PYECRAFT
He sits not a dozen yards away. If I glance over my shoulder I can see
him. And if I catch his eye--and usually I catch his eye--it meets me
with an expression.
It is mainly an imploring look--and yet with suspicion in it.
Confound his suspicion! If I wanted to tell on him I should have told
long ago. I don't tell and I don't tell, and he ought to feel at his
ease. As if anything so gross and fat as he could feel at ease! Who
would believe me if I did tell?
Poor old Pyecraft! Great, uneasy jelly of substance! The fattest clubman
He sits at one of the little club tables in the huge bay by the fire,
stuffing. What is he stuffing? I glance judiciously and catch him biting
at a round of hot buttered tea-cake, with his eyes on me. Confound
him!--with his eyes on me!
That settles it, Pyecraft! Since you WILL be abject, since you WILL
behave as though I was not a man of honour, here, right under your
embedded eyes, I write the thing down--the plain truth about Pyecraft.
The man I helped, the man I shielded, and who has requited me by making
my club unendurable, absolutely unendurable, with his liquid appeal,
with the perpetual "don't tell" of his looks.
And, besides, why does he keep on eternally eating?
Well, here goes for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
Pyecraft--. I made the acquaintance of Pyecraft in this very
smoking-room. I was a young, nervous new member, and he saw it. I was
sitting all alone, wishing I knew more of the members, and suddenly
he came, a great rolling front of chins and abdomina, towards me, and
grunted and sat down in a chair close by me and wheezed for a space, and
scraped for a space with a match and lit a cigar, and then addressed
me. I forget what he said--something about the matches not lighting
properly, and afterwards as he talked he kept stopping the waiters one
by one as they went by, and telling them about the matches in that thin,
fluty voice he has. But, anyhow, it was in some such way we began our
He talked about various things and came round to games. And thence to
my figure and complexion. "YOU ought to be a good cricketer,"
he said. I
suppose I am slender, slender to what some people would call lean, and
I suppose I am rather dark, still--I am not ashamed of having a Hindu
great-grandmother, but, for all that, I don't want casual strangers to
see through me at a glance to HER. So that I was set against Pyecraft
from the beginning.
But he only talked about me in order to get to himself.
"I expect," he said, "you take no more exercise than I
do, and probably
you eat no less." (Like all excessively obese people he fancied he
nothing.) "Yet,"--and he smiled an oblique smile--"we differ."
And then he began to talk about his fatness and his fatness; all he did
for his fatness and all he was going to do for his fatness; what people
had advised him to do for his fatness and what he had heard of people
doing for fatness similar to his. "A priori," he said, "one
a question of nutrition could be answered by dietary and a question of
assimilation by drugs." It was stifling. It was dumpling talk. It made
me feel swelled to hear him.
One stands that sort of thing once in a way at a club, but a time came
when I fancied I was standing too much. He took to me altogether too
conspicuously. I could never go into the smoking-room but he would come
wallowing towards me, and sometimes he came and gormandised round and
about me while I had my lunch. He seemed at times almost to be clinging
to me. He was a bore, but not so fearful a bore as to be limited to me;
and from the first there was something in his manner--almost as though
he knew, almost as though he penetrated to the fact that I MIGHT--that
there was a remote, exceptional chance in me that no one else presented.
"I'd give anything to get it down," he would say--"anything,"
at me over his vast cheeks and pant.
Poor old Pyecraft! He has just gonged, no doubt to order another
He came to the actual thing one day. "Our Pharmacopoeia," he
Western Pharmacopoeia, is anything but the last word of medical science.
In the East, I've been told--"
He stopped and stared at me. It was like being at an aquarium.
I was quite suddenly angry with him. "Look here," I said, "who
about my great-grandmother's recipes?"
"Well," he fenced.
"Every time we've met for a week," I said, "and we've
often--you've given me a broad hint or so about that little secret of
"Well," he said, "now the cat's out of the bag, I'll admit,
yes, it is
so. I had it--"
"Indirectly," he said, which I believe was lying, "yes."
"Pattison," I said, "took that stuff at his own risk."
He pursed his mouth and bowed.
"My great-grandmother's recipes," I said, "are queer things
My father was near making me promise--"
"No. But he warned me. He himself used one--once."
"Ah!... But do you think--? Suppose--suppose there did happen to
"The things are curious documents," I said.
"Even the smell of 'em.... No!"
But after going so far Pyecraft was resolved I should go farther. I was
always a little afraid if I tried his patience too much he would fall
on me suddenly and smother me. I own I was weak. But I was also annoyed
with Pyecraft. I had got to that state of feeling for him that disposed
me to say, "Well, TAKE the risk!" The little affair of Pattison
I have alluded was a different matter altogether. What it was doesn't
concern us now, but I knew, anyhow, that the particular recipe I used
then was safe. The rest I didn't know so much about, and, on the whole,
I was inclined to doubt their safety pretty completely.
Yet even if Pyecraft got poisoned--
I must confess the poisoning of Pyecraft struck me as an immense
That evening I took that queer, odd-scented sandalwood box out of my
safe and turned the rustling skins over. The gentleman who wrote the
recipes for my great-grandmother evidently had a weakness for skins of
a miscellaneous origin, and his handwriting was cramped to the last
degree. Some of the things are quite unreadable to me--though my family,
with its Indian Civil Service associations, has kept up a knowledge of
Hindustani from generation to generation--and none are absolutely plain
sailing. But I found the one that I knew was there soon enough, and sat
on the floor by my safe for some time looking at it.
"Look here," said I to Pyecraft next day, and snatched the
from his eager grasp.
"So far as I--can make it out, this is a recipe for Loss of Weight.
("Ah!" said Pyecraft.) I'm not absolutely sure, but I think it's
And if you take my advice you'll leave it alone. Because, you know--I
blacken my blood in your interest, Pyecraft--my ancestors on that side
were, so far as I can gather, a jolly queer lot. See?"
"Let me try it," said Pyecraft.
I leant back in my chair. My imagination made one mighty effort and
fell flat within me. "What in Heaven's name, Pyecraft," I asked,
think you'll look like when you get thin?"
He was impervious to reason. I made him promise never to say a word to
me about his disgusting fatness again whatever happened--never, and then
I handed him that little piece of skin.
"It's nasty stuff," I said.
"No matter," he said, and took it.
He goggled at it. "But--but--" he said.
He had just discovered that it wasn't English.
"To the best of my ability," I said, "I will do you a
I did my best. After that we didn't speak for a fortnight. Whenever
he approached me I frowned and motioned him away, and he respected our
compact, but at the end of a fortnight he was as fat as ever. And then
he got a word in.
"I must speak," he said. "It isn't fair. There's something
done me no good. You're not doing your great-grandmother justice."
"Where's the recipe?"
He produced it gingerly from his pocket-book.
I ran my eye over the items. "Was the egg addled?" I asked.
"No. Ought it to have been?"
"That," I said, "goes without saying in all my poor dear
great-grandmother's recipes. When condition or quality is not specified
you must get the worst. She was drastic or nothing.... And there's one
or two possible alternatives to some of these other things. You got
FRESH rattlesnake venom."
"I got a rattlesnake from Jamrach's. It cost--it cost--"
"That's your affair, anyhow. This last item--"
"I know a man who--"
"Yes. H'm. Well, I'll write the alternatives down. So far as I know
the language, the spelling of this recipe is particularly atrocious.
By-the-bye, dog here probably means pariah dog."
For a month after that I saw Pyecraft constantly at the club and as
fat and anxious as ever. He kept our treaty, but at times he broke
the spirit of it by shaking his head despondently. Then one day in the
cloakroom he said, "Your great-grandmother--"
"Not a word against her," I said; and he held his peace.
I could have fancied he had desisted, and I saw him one day talking to
three new members about his fatness as though he was in search of other
recipes. And then, quite unexpectedly, his telegram came.
"Mr. Formalyn!" bawled a page-boy under my nose, and I took
and opened it at once.
"For Heaven's sake come.--Pyecraft."
"H'm," said I, and to tell the truth I was so pleased at the
rehabilitation of my great grandmother's reputation this evidently
promised that I made a most excellent lunch.
I got Pyecraft's address from the hall porter. Pyecraft inhabited the
upper half of a house in Bloomsbury, and I went there so soon as I had
done my coffee and Trappistine. I did not wait to finish my cigar.
"Mr. Pyecraft?" said I, at the front door.
They believed he was ill; he hadn't been out for two days.
"He expects me," said I, and they sent me up.
I rang the bell at the lattice-door upon the landing.
"He shouldn't have tried it, anyhow," I said to myself. "A
man who eats
like a pig ought to look like a pig."
An obviously worthy woman, with an anxious face and a carelessly placed
cap, came and surveyed me through the lattice.
I gave my name and she let me in in a dubious fashion.
"Well?" said I, as we stood together inside Pyecraft's piece
"'E said you was to come in if you came," she said, and regarded
making no motion to show me anywhere. And then, confidentially, "'E's
locked in, sir."
"Locked himself in yesterday morning and 'asn't let any one in since,
sir. And ever and again SWEARING. Oh, my!"
I stared at the door she indicated by her glances.
"In there?" I said.
She shook her head sadly, "'E keeps on calling for vittles, sir.
vittles 'e wants. I get 'im what I can. Pork 'e's 'ad, sooit puddin',
sossiges, noo bread. Everythink like that. Left outside, if you please,
and me go away. 'E's eatin', sir, somethink AWFUL."
There came a piping bawl from inside the door: "That Formalyn?"
"That you, Pyecraft?" I shouted, and went and banged the door.
"Tell her to go away."
Then I could hear a curious pattering upon the door, almost like some
one feeling for the handle in the dark, and Pyecraft's familiar grunts.
"It's all right," I said, "she's gone."
But for a long time the door didn't open.
I heard the key turn. Then Pyecraft's voice said, "Come in."
I turned the handle and opened the door. Naturally I expected to see
Well, you know, he wasn't there!
I never had such a shock in my life. There was his sitting-room in a
state of untidy disorder, plates and dishes among the books and writing
things, and several chairs overturned, but Pyecraft--
"It's all right, o' man; shut the door," he said, and then
There he was right up close to the cornice in the corner by the door,
though some one had glued him to the ceiling. His face was anxious and
angry. He panted and gesticulated. "Shut the door," he said. "If
woman gets hold of it--"
I shut the door, and went and stood away from him and stared.
"If anything gives way and you tumble down," I said, "you'll
"I wish I could," he wheezed.
"A man of your age and weight getting up to kiddish gymnastics--"
"Don't," he said, and looked agonised.
"I'll tell you," he said, and gesticulated.
"How the deuce," said I, "are you holding on up there?"
And then abruptly I realised that he was not holding on at all, that
was floating up there--just as a gas-filled bladder might have floated
in the same position. He began a struggle to thrust himself away
from the ceiling and to clamber down the wall to me. "It's that
prescription," he panted, as he did so. "Your great-gran--"
He took hold of a framed engraving rather carelessly as he spoke and
it gave way, and he flew back to the ceiling again, while the picture
smashed onto the sofa. Bump he went against the ceiling, and I knew then
why he was all over white on the more salient curves and angles of his
person. He tried again more carefully, coming down by way of the mantel.
It was really a most extraordinary spectacle, that great, fat,
apoplectic-looking man upside down and trying to get from the ceiling to
the floor. "That prescription," he said. "Too successful."
"Loss of weight--almost complete."
And then, of course, I understood.
"By Jove, Pyecraft," said I, "what you wanted was a cure
But you always called it weight. You would call it weight."
Somehow I was extremely delighted. I quite liked Pyecraft for the time.
"Let me help you!" I said, and took his hand and pulled him down.
kicked about, trying to get a foothold somewhere. It was very like
holding a flag on a windy day.
"That table," he said, pointing, "is solid mahogany and
very heavy. If
you can put me under that---"
I did, and there he wallowed about like a captive balloon, while I stood
on his hearthrug and talked to him.
I lit a cigar. "Tell me," I said, "what happened?"
"I took it," he said.
"How did it taste?"
I should fancy they all did. Whether one regards the ingredients or
the probable compound or the possible results, almost all of my
great-grandmother's remedies appear to me at least to be extraordinarily
uninviting. For my own part--
"I took a little sip first."
"And as I felt lighter and better after an hour, I decided to take
"My dear Pyecraft!"
"I held my nose," he explained. "And then I kept on getting
lighter--and helpless, you know."
He gave way to a sudden burst of passion. "What the goodness am
DO?" he said.
"There's one thing pretty evident," I said, "that you
mustn't do. If you
go out of doors, you'll go up and up." I waved an arm upward. "They'd
have to send Santos-Dumont after you to bring you down again."
"I suppose it will wear off?"
I shook my head. "I don't think you can count on that," I said.
And then there was another burst of passion, and he kicked out at
adjacent chairs and banged the floor. He behaved just as I should
have expected a great, fat, self-indulgent man to behave under trying
circumstances--that is to say, very badly. He spoke of me and my
great-grandmother with an utter want of discretion.
"I never asked you to take the stuff," I said.
And generously disregarding the insults he was putting upon me, I sat
down in his armchair and began to talk to him in a sober, friendly
I pointed out to him that this was a trouble he had brought upon
himself, and that it had almost an air of poetical justice. He had eaten
too much. This he disputed, and for a time we argued the point.
He became noisy and violent, so I desisted from this aspect of his
lesson. "And then," said I, "you committed the sin of euphuism.
called it not Fat, which is just and inglorious, but Weight. You--"
He interrupted to say he recognised all that. What was he to DO?
I suggested he should adapt himself to his new conditions. So we came
the really sensible part of the business. I suggested that it would
not be difficult for him to learn to walk about on the ceiling with his
"I can't sleep," he said.
But that was no great difficulty. It was quite possible, I pointed out,
to make a shake-up under a wire mattress, fasten the under things on
with tapes, and have a blanket, sheet, and coverlet to button at the
side. He would have to confide in his housekeeper, I said; and after
some squabbling he agreed to that. (Afterwards it was quite delightful
to see the beautifully matter-of-fact way with which the good lady took
all these amazing inversions.) He could have a library ladder in his
room, and all his meals could be laid on the top of his bookcase. We
also hit on an ingenious device by which he could get to the floor
whenever he wanted, which was simply to put the British Encyclopaedia
(tenth edition) on the top of his open shelves. He just pulled out a
couple of volumes and held on, and down he came. And we agreed there
must be iron staples along the skirting, so that he could cling to those
whenever he wanted to get about the room on the lower level.
As we got on with the thing I found myself almost keenly interested.
was I who called in the housekeeper and broke matters to her, and it was
I chiefly who fixed up the inverted bed. In fact, I spent two whole days
at his flat. I am a handy, interfering sort of man with a screw-driver,
and I made all sorts of ingenious adaptations for him--ran a wire to
bring his bells within reach, turned all his electric lights up
instead of down, and so on. The whole affair was extremely curious and
interesting to me, and it was delightful to think of Pyecraft like some
great, fat blow-fly, crawling about on his ceiling and clambering round
the lintels of his doors from one room to another, and never, never,
never coming to the club any more....
Then, you know, my fatal ingenuity got the better of me. I was sitting
by his fire drinking his whisky, and he was up in his favourite corner
by the cornice, tacking a Turkey carpet to the ceiling, when the
idea struck me. "By Jove, Pyecraft!" I said, "all this is
And before I could calculate the complete consequences of my notion I
blurted it out. "Lead underclothing," said I, and the mischief
Pyecraft received the thing almost in tears. "To be right ways up
again--" he said. I gave him the whole secret before I saw where it
would take me. "Buy sheet lead," I said, "stamp it into discs.
all over your underclothes until you have enough. Have lead-soled boots,
carry a bag of solid lead, and the thing is done! Instead of being a
prisoner here you may go abroad again, Pyecraft; you may travel--"
A still happier idea came to me. "You need never fear a shipwreck.
All you need do is just slip off some or all of your clothes, take the
necessary amount of luggage in your hand, and float up in the air--"
In his emotion he dropped the tack-hammer within an ace of my head. "By
Jove!" he said, "I shall be able to come back to the club again."
The thing pulled me up short. "By Jove!" I said faintly. "Yes.
He did. He does. There he sits behind me now, stuffing--as I
live!--a third go of buttered tea-cake. And no one in the whole world
knows--except his housekeeper and me--that he weighs practically
nothing; that he is a mere boring mass of assimilatory matter, mere
clouds in clothing, niente, nefas, the most inconsiderable of men. There
he sits watching until I have done this writing. Then, if he can, he
will waylay me. He will come billowing up to me....
He will tell me over again all about it, how it feels, how it doesn't
feel, how he sometimes hopes it is passing off a little. And always
somewhere in that fat, abundant discourse he will say, "The secret's
keeping, eh? If any one knew of it--I should be so ashamed.... Makes a
fellow look such a fool, you know. Crawling about on a ceiling and all
And now to elude Pyecraft, occupying, as he does, an admirable strategic
position between me and the door.
5. MR. SKELMERSDALE IN FAIRYLAND
"There's a man in that shop," said the Doctor, "who has
"Nonsense!" I said, and stared back at the shop. It was the
village shop, post-office, telegraph wire on its brow, zinc pans and
brushes outside, boots, shirtings, and potted meats in the window. "Tell
me about it," I said, after a pause.
"_I_ don't know," said the Doctor. "He's an ordinary sort
lout--Skelmersdale is his name. But everybody about here believes it
like Bible truth."
I reverted presently to the topic.
"I know nothing about it," said the Doctor, "and I don't
WANT to know. I
attended him for a broken finger--Married and Single cricket match--and
that's when I struck the nonsense. That's all. But it shows you the sort
of stuff I have to deal with, anyhow, eh? Nice to get modern sanitary
ideas into a people like this!"
"Very," I said in a mildly sympathetic tone, and he went on
to tell me
about that business of the Bonham drain. Things of that kind, I observe,
are apt to weigh on the minds of Medical Officers of Health. I was as
sympathetic as I knew how, and when he called the Bonham people "asses,"
I said they were "thundering asses," but even that did not allay
Afterwards, later in the summer, an urgent desire to seclude myself,
while finishing my chapter on Spiritual Pathology--it was really, I
believe, stiffer to write than it is to read--took me to Bignor. I
lodged at a farmhouse, and presently found myself outside that little
general shop again, in search of tobacco. "Skelmersdale," said
myself at the sight of it, and went in.
I was served by a short, but shapely, young man, with a fair downy
complexion, good, small teeth, blue eyes, and a languid manner. I
scrutinised him curiously. Except for a touch of melancholy in
his expression, he was nothing out of the common. He was in the
shirt-sleeves and tucked-up apron of his trade, and a pencil was thrust
behind his inoffensive ear. Athwart his black waistcoat was a gold
chain, from which dangled a bent guinea.
"Nothing more to-day, sir?" he inquired. He leant forward over
as he spoke.
"Are you Mr. Skelmersdale?" said I.
"I am, sir," he said, without looking up.
"Is it true that you have been in Fairyland?"
He looked up at me for a moment with wrinkled brows, with an aggrieved,
exasperated face. "O SHUT it!" he said, and, after a moment of
hostility, eye to eye, he went on adding up my bill. "Four, six and
half," he said, after a pause. "Thank you, Sir."
So, unpropitiously, my acquaintance with Mr. Skelmersdale began.
Well, I got from that to confidence--through a series of toilsome
efforts. I picked him up again in the Village Room, where of a night
I went to play billiards after my supper, and mitigate the extreme
seclusion from my kind that was so helpful to work during the day. I
contrived to play with him and afterwards to talk with him. I found the
one subject to avoid was Fairyland. On everything else he was open
and amiable in a commonplace sort of way, but on that he had been
worried--it was a manifest taboo. Only once in the room did I hear the
slightest allusion to his experience in his presence, and that was by
a cross-grained farm hand who was losing to him. Skelmersdale had run
a break into double figures, which, by the Bignor standards, was
uncommonly good play. "Steady on!" said his adversary. "None
Skelmersdale stared at him for a moment, cue in hand, then flung it down
and walked out of the room.
"Why can't you leave 'im alone?" said a respectable elder who
enjoying the game, and in the general murmur of disapproval the grin of
satisfied wit faded from the ploughboy's face.
I scented my opportunity. "What's this joke," said I, "about
"'Tain't no joke about Fairyland, not to young Skelmersdale,"
respectable elder, drinking. A little man with rosy cheeks was more
communicative. "They DO say, sir," he said, "that they took
Aldington Knoll an' kep' him there a matter of three weeks."
And with that the gathering was well under weigh. Once one sheep had
started, others were ready enough to follow, and in a little time I
had at least the exterior aspect of the Skelmersdale affair. Formerly,
before he came to Bignor, he had been in that very similar little shop
at Aldington Corner, and there whatever it was did happen had taken
place. The story was clear that he had stayed out late one night on
the Knoll and vanished for three weeks from the sight of men, and had
returned with "his cuffs as clean as when he started," and his
full of dust and ashes. He returned in a state of moody wretchedness
that only slowly passed away, and for many days he would give no account
of where it was he had been. The girl he was engaged to at Clapton
Hill tried to get it out of him, and threw him over partly because he
refused, and partly because, as she said, he fairly gave her the "'ump."
And then when, some time after, he let out to some one carelessly that
he had been in Fairyland and wanted to go back, and when the thing
spread and the simple badinage of the countryside came into play, he
threw up his situation abruptly, and came to Bignor to get out of the
fuss. But as to what had happened in Fairyland none of these people
knew. There the gathering in the Village Room went to pieces like a pack
at fault. One said this, and another said that.
Their air in dealing with this marvel was ostensibly critical and
sceptical, but I could see a considerable amount of belief showing
through their guarded qualifications. I took a line of intelligent
interest, tinged with a reasonable doubt of the whole story.
"If Fairyland's inside Aldington Knoll," I said, "why
don't you dig it
"That's what I says," said the young ploughboy.
"There's a-many have tried to dig on Aldington Knoll," said
respectable elder, solemnly, "one time and another. But there's none
goes about to-day to tell what they got by digging."
The unanimity of vague belief that surrounded me was rather impressive;
I felt there must surely be SOMETHING at the root of so much conviction,
and the already pretty keen curiosity I felt about the real facts of the
case was distinctly whetted. If these real facts were to be got from any
one, they were to be got from Skelmersdale himself; and I set myself,
therefore, still more assiduously to efface the first bad impression
I had made and win his confidence to the pitch of voluntary speech. In
that endeavour I had a social advantage. Being a person of affability
and no apparent employment, and wearing tweeds and knickerbockers, I was
naturally classed as an artist in Bignor, and in the remarkable code
of social precedence prevalent in Bignor an artist ranks considerably
higher than a grocer's assistant. Skelmersdale, like too many of his
class, is something of a snob; he had told me to "shut it," only
sudden, excessive provocation, and with, I am certain, a subsequent
repentance; he was, I knew, quite glad to be seen walking about the
village with me. In due course, he accepted the proposal of a pipe and
whisky in my rooms readily enough, and there, scenting by some happy
instinct that there was trouble of the heart in this, and knowing that
confidences beget confidences, I plied him with much of interest and
suggestion from my real and fictitious past. And it was after the third
whisky of the third visit of that sort, if I remember rightly, that a
propos of some artless expansion of a little affair that had touched
and left me in my teens, that he did at last, of his own free will and
motion, break the ice. "It was like that with me," he said, "over
at Aldington. It's just that that's so rum. First I didn't care a bit
and it was all her, and afterwards, when it was too late, it was, in a
manner of speaking, all me."
I forbore to jump upon this allusion, and so he presently threw out
another, and in a little while he was making it as plain as daylight
that the one thing he wanted to talk about now was this Fairyland
adventure he had sat tight upon for so long. You see, I'd done the
trick with him, and from being just another half-incredulous, would-be
facetious stranger, I had, by all my wealth of shameless self-exposure,
become the possible confidant. He had been bitten by the desire to show
that he, too, had lived and felt many things, and the fever was upon
He was certainly confoundedly allusive at first, and my eagerness
to clear him up with a few precise questions was only equalled and
controlled by my anxiety not to get to this sort of thing too soon. But
in another meeting or so the basis of confidence was complete; and from
first to last I think I got most of the items and aspects--indeed, I got
quite a number of times over almost everything that Mr. Skelmersdale,
with his very limited powers of narration, will ever be able to tell.
And so I come to the story of his adventure, and I piece it all together
again. Whether it really happened, whether he imagined it or dreamt it,
or fell upon it in some strange hallucinatory trance, I do not profess
to say. But that he invented it I will not for one moment entertain.
The man simply and honestly believes the thing happened as he says it
happened; he is transparently incapable of any lie so elaborate
and sustained, and in the belief of the simple, yet often keenly
penetrating, rustic minds about him I find a very strong confirmation of
his sincerity. He believes--and nobody can produce any positive fact to
falsify his belief. As for me, with this much of endorsement, I transmit
his story--I am a little old now to justify or explain.
He says he went to sleep on Aldington Knoll about ten o'clock one
night--it was quite possibly Midsummer night, though he has never
thought of the date, and he cannot be sure within a week or so--and it
was a fine night and windless, with a rising moon. I have been at
the pains to visit this Knoll thrice since his story grew up under my
persuasions, and once I went there in the twilight summer moonrise on
what was, perhaps, a similar night to that of his adventure. Jupiter was
great and splendid above the moon, and in the north and northwest the
sky was green and vividly bright over the sunken sun. The Knoll stands
out bare and bleak under the sky, but surrounded at a little distance by
dark thickets, and as I went up towards it there was a mighty starting
and scampering of ghostly or quite invisible rabbits. Just over
the crown of the Knoll, but nowhere else, was a multitudinous thin
trumpeting of midges. The Knoll is, I believe, an artificial mound,
the tumulus of some great prehistoric chieftain, and surely no man ever
chose a more spacious prospect for a sepulchre. Eastward one sees along
the hills to Hythe, and thence across the Channel to where, thirty miles
and more perhaps, away, the great white lights by Gris Nez and Boulogne
wink and pass and shine. Westward lies the whole tumbled valley of the
Weald, visible as far as Hindhead and Leith Hill, and the valley of the
Stour opens the Downs in the north to interminable hills beyond Wye.
All Romney Marsh lies southward at one's feet, Dymchurch and Romney and
Lydd, Hastings and its hill are in the middle distance, and the hills
multiply vaguely far beyond where Eastbourne rolls up to Beachy Head.
And out upon all this it was that Skelmersdale wandered, being troubled
in his earlier love affair, and as he says, "not caring WHERE he went."
And there he sat down to think it over, and so, sulking and grieving,
was overtaken by sleep. And so he fell into the fairies' power.
The quarrel that had upset him was some trivial matter enough between
himself and the girl at Clapton Hill to whom he was engaged. She was
a farmer's daughter, said Skelmersdale, and "very respectable,"
no doubt an excellent match for him; but both girl and lover were very
young and with just that mutual jealousy, that intolerantly keen edge of
criticism, that irrational hunger for a beautiful perfection, that
life and wisdom do presently and most mercifully dull. What the precise
matter of quarrel was I have no idea. She may have said she liked men in
gaiters when he hadn't any gaiters on, or he may have said he liked her
better in a different sort of hat, but however it began, it got by
a series of clumsy stages to bitterness and tears. She no doubt got
tearful and smeary, and he grew dusty and drooping, and she parted with
invidious comparisons, grave doubts whether she ever had REALLY cared
for him, and a clear certainty she would never care again. And with this
sort of thing upon his mind he came out upon Aldington Knoll grieving,
and presently, after a long interval, perhaps, quite inexplicably, fell
He woke to find himself on a softer turf than ever he had slept on
before, and under the shade of very dark trees that completely hid the
sky. Always, indeed, in Fairyland the sky is hidden, it seems. Except
for one night when the fairies were dancing, Mr. Skelmersdale, during
all his time with them, never saw a star. And of that night I am in
doubt whether he was in Fairyland proper or out where the rings and
rushes are, in those low meadows near the railway line at Smeeth.
But it was light under these trees for all that, and on the leaves and
amidst the turf shone a multitude of glow-worms, very bright and fine.
Mr. Skelmersdale's first impression was that he was SMALL, and the next
that quite a number of people still smaller were standing all about him.
For some reason, he says, he was neither surprised nor frightened, but
sat up quite deliberately and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. And
there all about him stood the smiling elves who had caught him sleeping
under their privileges and had brought him into Fairyland.
What these elves were like I have failed to gather, so vague and
imperfect is his vocabulary, and so unobservant of all minor detail
does he seem to have been. They were clothed in something very light and
beautiful, that was neither wool, nor silk, nor leaves, nor the petals
of flowers. They stood all about him as he sat and waked, and down the
glade towards him, down a glow-worm avenue and fronted by a star, came
at once that Fairy Lady who is the chief personage of his memory and
tale. Of her I gathered more. She was clothed in filmy green, and about
her little waist was a broad silver girdle. Her hair waved back from
her forehead on either side; there were curls not too wayward and yet
astray, and on her brow was a little tiara, set with a single star. Her
sleeves were some sort of open sleeves that gave little glimpses of her
arms; her throat, I think, was a little displayed, because he speaks of
the beauty of her neck and chin. There was a necklace of coral about
her white throat, and in her breast a coral-coloured flower. She had the
soft lines of a little child in her chin and cheeks and throat. And
her eyes, I gather, were of a kindled brown, very soft and straight and
sweet under her level brows. You see by these particulars how greatly
this lady must have loomed in Mr. Skelmersdale's picture. Certain things
he tried to express and could not express; "the way she moved,"
several times; and I fancy a sort of demure joyousness radiated from
And it was in the company of this delightful person, as the guest and
chosen companion of this delightful person, that Mr. Skelmersdale set
out to be taken into the intimacies of Fairyland. She welcomed him
gladly and a little warmly--I suspect a pressure of his hand in both of
hers and a lit face to his. After all, ten years ago young Skelmersdale
may have been a very comely youth. And once she took his arm, and once,
I think, she led him by the hand adown the glade that the glow-worms
Just how things chanced and happened there is no telling from Mr.
Skelmersdale's disarticulated skeleton of description. He gives little
unsatisfactory glimpses of strange corners and doings, of places where
there were many fairies together, of "toadstool things that shone pink,"
of fairy food, of which he could only say "you should have tasted
it!" and of fairy music, "like a little musical box," that
came out of
nodding flowers. There was a great open place where fairies rode and
raced on "things," but what Mr. Skelmersdale meant by "these
they rode," there is no telling. Larvae, perhaps, or crickets, or the
little beetles that elude us so abundantly. There was a place where
water splashed and gigantic king-cups grew, and there in the hotter
times the fairies bathed together. There were games being played and
dancing and much elvish love-making, too, I think, among the moss-branch
thickets. There can be no doubt that the Fairy Lady made love to Mr.
Skelmersdale, and no doubt either that this young man set himself to
resist her. A time came, indeed, when she sat on a bank beside him, in
a quiet, secluded place "all smelling of vi'lets," and talked
to him of
"When her voice went low and she whispered," said Mr. Skelmersdale,
laid 'er 'and on my 'and, you know, and came close with a soft, warm
friendly way she 'ad, it was as much as I could do to keep my 'ead."
It seems he kept his head to a certain limited unfortunate extent. He
saw "'ow the wind was blowing," he says, and so, sitting there
place all smelling of violets, with the touch of this lovely Fairy Lady
about him, Mr. Skelmersdale broke it to her gently--that he was engaged!
She had told him she loved him dearly, that he was a sweet human lad
her, and whatever he would ask of her he should have--even his heart's
And Mr. Skelmersdale, who, I fancy, tried hard to avoid looking at her
little lips as they just dropped apart and came together, led up to the
more intimate question by saying he would like enough capital to start a
little shop. He'd just like to feel, he said, he had money enough to do
that. I imagine a little surprise in those brown eyes he talked
about, but she seemed sympathetic for all that, and she asked him many
questions about the little shop, "laughing like" all the time.
So he got
to the complete statement of his affianced position, and told her all
"All?" said I.
"Everything," said Mr. Skelmersdale, "just who she was,
and where she
lived, and everything about her. I sort of felt I 'ad to all the time, I
"'Whatever you want you shall have,' said the Fairy Lady. 'That's
good as done. You SHALL feel you have the money just as you wish. And
now, you know--YOU MUST KISS ME.'"
And Mr. Skelmersdale pretended not to hear the latter part of her
remark, and said she was very kind. That he really didn't deserve she
should be so kind. And--
The Fairy Lady suddenly came quite close to him and whispered, "Kiss
"And," said Mr. Skelmersdale, "like a fool, I did."
There are kisses and kisses, I am told, and this must have been quite
the other sort from Millie's resonant signals of regard. There was
something magic in that kiss; assuredly it marked a turning point.
At any rate, this is one of the passages that he thought sufficiently
important to describe most at length. I have tried to get it right, I
have tried to disentangle it from the hints and gestures through which
it came to me, but I have no doubt that it was all different from my
telling and far finer and sweeter, in the soft filtered light and the
subtly stirring silences of the fairy glades. The Fairy Lady asked him
more about Millie, and was she very lovely, and so on--a great many
times. As to Millie's loveliness, I conceive him answering that she was
"all right." And then, or on some such occasion, the Fairy Lady
she had fallen in love with him as he slept in the moonlight, and so
he had been brought into Fairyland, and she had thought, not knowing of
Millie, that perhaps he might chance to love her. "But now you know
can't," she said, "so you must stop with me just a little while,
then you must go back to Millie." She told him that, and you know
Skelmersdale was already in love with her, but the pure inertia of his
mind kept him in the way he was going. I imagine him sitting in a sort
of stupefaction amidst all these glowing beautiful things, answering
about his Millie and the little shop he projected and the need of a
horse and cart.... And that absurd state of affairs must have gone on
for days and days. I see this little lady, hovering about him and trying
to amuse him, too dainty to understand his complexity and too tender
to let him go. And he, you know, hypnotised as it were by his earthly
position, went his way with her hither and thither, blind to everything
in Fairyland but this wonderful intimacy that had come to him. It is
hard, it is impossible, to give in print the effect of her radiant
sweetness shining through the jungle of poor Skelmersdale's rough and
broken sentences. To me, at least, she shone clear amidst the muddle of
his story like a glow-worm in a tangle of weeds.
There must have been many days of things while all this was
happening--and once, I say, they danced under the moonlight in the fairy
rings that stud the meadows near Smeeth--but at last it all came to an
end. She led him into a great cavernous place, lit by a red nightlight
sort of thing, where there were coffers piled on coffers, and cups
and golden boxes, and a great heap of what certainly seemed to all Mr.
Skelmersdale's senses--coined gold. There were little gnomes amidst this
wealth, who saluted her at her coming, and stood aside. And suddenly she
turned on him there with brightly shining eyes.
"And now," she said, "you have been kind to stay with
me so long, and it
is time I let you go. You must go back to your Millie. You must go back
to your Millie, and here--just as I promised you--they will give you
"She choked like," said Mr. Skelmersdale. "At that, I
had a sort of
feeling--" (he touched his breastbone) "as though I was fainting
I felt pale, you know, and shivering, and even then--I 'adn't a thing to
He paused. "Yes," I said.
The scene was beyond his describing. But I know that she kissed him
"And you said nothing?"
"Nothing," he said. "I stood like a stuffed calf. She
just looked back
once, you know, and stood smiling like and crying--I could see the
shine of her eyes--and then she was gone, and there was all these little
fellows bustling about me, stuffing my 'ands and my pockets and the back
of my collar and everywhere with gold."
And then it was, when the Fairy Lady had vanished, that Mr. Skelmersdale
really understood and knew. He suddenly began plucking out the gold
they were thrusting upon him, and shouting out at them to prevent their
giving him more. "'I don't WANT yer gold,' I said. 'I 'aven't done
I'm not going. I want to speak to that Fairy Lady again.' I started off
to go after her and they held me back. Yes, stuck their little 'ands
against my middle and shoved me back. They kept giving me more and more
gold until it was running all down my trouser legs and dropping out of
my 'ands. 'I don't WANT yer gold,' I says to them, 'I want just to speak
to the Fairy Lady again.'"
"And did you?"
"It came to a tussle."
"Before you saw her?"
"I didn't see her. When I got out from them she wasn't anywhere
So he ran in search of her out of this red-lit cave, down a long grotto,
seeking her, and thence he came out in a great and desolate place
athwart which a swarm of will-o'-the-wisps were flying to and fro. And
about him elves were dancing in derision, and the little gnomes came out
of the cave after him, carrying gold in handfuls and casting it after
him, shouting, "Fairy love and fairy gold! Fairy love and fairy gold!"
And when he heard these words, came a great fear that it was all over,
and he lifted up his voice and called to her by her name, and suddenly
set himself to run down the slope from the mouth of the cavern, through
a place of thorns and briers, calling after her very loudly and often.
The elves danced about him unheeded, pinching him and pricking him, and
the will-o'-the-wisps circled round him and dashed into his face, and
the gnomes pursued him shouting and pelting him with fairy gold. As he
ran with all this strange rout about him and distracting him, suddenly
he was knee-deep in a swamp, and suddenly he was amidst thick twisted
roots, and he caught his foot in one and stumbled and fell....
He fell and he rolled over, and in that instant he found himself
sprawling upon Aldington Knoll, all lonely under the stars.
He sat up sharply at once, he says, and found he was very stiff and
cold, and his clothes were damp with dew. The first pallor of dawn and
a chilly wind were coming up together. He could have believed the whole
thing a strangely vivid dream until he thrust his hand into his side
pocket and found it stuffed with ashes. Then he knew for certain it
was fairy gold they had given him. He could feel all their pinches and
pricks still, though there was never a bruise upon him. And in that
manner, and so suddenly, Mr. Skelmersdale came out of Fairyland back
into this world of men. Even then he fancied the thing was but the
matter of a night until he returned to the shop at Aldington Corner and
discovered amidst their astonishment that he had been away three weeks.
"Lor'! the trouble I 'ad!" said Mr. Skelmersdale.
"Explaining. I suppose you've never had anything like that to explain."
"Never," I said, and he expatiated for a time on the behaviour
person and that. One name he avoided for a space.
"And Millie?" said I at last.
"I didn't seem to care a bit for seeing Millie," he said.
"I expect she seemed changed?"
"Every one was changed. Changed for good. Every one seemed big,
know, and coarse. And their voices seemed loud. Why, the sun, when it
rose in the morning, fair hit me in the eye!"
"I didn't want to see Millie."
"And when you did?"
"I came up against her Sunday, coming out of church. 'Where you
she said, and I saw there was a row. _I_ didn't care if there was. I
seemed to forget about her even while she was there a-talking to me. She
was just nothing. I couldn't make out whatever I 'ad seen in 'er ever,
or what there could 'ave been. Sometimes when she wasn't about, I did
get back a little, but never when she was there. Then it was always the
other came up and blotted her out.... Anyow, it didn't break her heart."
"Married?" I asked.
"Married 'er cousin," said Mr. Skelmersdale, and reflected
pattern of the tablecloth for a space.
When he spoke again it was clear that his former sweetheart had clean
vanished from his mind, and that the talk had brought back the Fairy
Lady triumphant in his heart. He talked of her--soon he was letting out
the oddest things, queer love secrets it would be treachery to repeat. I
think, indeed, that was the queerest thing in the whole affair, to hear
that neat little grocer man after his story was done, with a glass of
whisky beside him and a cigar between his fingers, witnessing, with
sorrow still, though now, indeed, with a time-blunted anguish, of
the inappeasable hunger of the heart that presently came upon him. "I
couldn't eat," he said, "I couldn't sleep. I made mistakes in
and got mixed with change. There she was day and night, drawing me and
drawing me. Oh, I wanted her. Lord! how I wanted her! I was up there,
most evenings I was up there on the Knoll, often even when it rained. I
used to walk over the Knoll and round it and round it, calling for them
to let me in. Shouting. Near blubbering I was at times. Daft I was
and miserable. I kept on saying it was all a mistake. And every Sunday
afternoon I went up there, wet and fine, though I knew as well as you do
it wasn't no good by day. And I've tried to go to sleep there."
He stopped sharply and decided to drink some whisky.
"I've tried to go to sleep there," he said, and I could swear
trembled. "I've tried to go to sleep there, often and often. And, you
know, I couldn't, sir--never. I've thought if I could go to sleep there,
there might be something. But I've sat up there and laid up there, and
I couldn't--not for thinking and longing. It's the longing.... I've
He blew, drank up the rest of his whisky spasmodically, stood up
suddenly and buttoned his jacket, staring closely and critically at the
cheap oleographs beside the mantel meanwhile. The little black notebook
in which he recorded the orders of his daily round projected stiffly
from his breast pocket. When all the buttons were quite done, he patted
his chest and turned on me suddenly. "Well," he said, "I
must be going."
There was something in his eyes and manner that was too difficult for
him to express in words. "One gets talking," he said at last at
door, and smiled wanly, and so vanished from my eyes. And that is the
tale of Mr. Skelmersdale in Fairyland just as he told it to me.
6. THE STORY OF THE INEXPERIENCED GHOST
The scene amidst which Clayton told his last story comes back very
vividly to my mind. There he sat, for the greater part of the time,
in the corner of the authentic settle by the spacious open fire, and
Sanderson sat beside him smoking the Broseley clay that bore his name.
There was Evans, and that marvel among actors, Wish, who is also a
modest man. We had all come down to the Mermaid Club that Saturday
morning, except Clayton, who had slept there overnight--which indeed
gave him the opening of his story. We had golfed until golfing was
invisible; we had dined, and we were in that mood of tranquil kindliness
when men will suffer a story. When Clayton began to tell one, we
naturally supposed he was lying. It may be that indeed he was lying--of
that the reader will speedily be able to judge as well as I. He began,
it is true, with an air of matter-of-fact anecdote, but that we thought
was only the incurable artifice of the man.
"I say!" he remarked, after a long consideration of the upward
sparks from the log that Sanderson had thumped, "you know I was alone
here last night?"
"Except for the domestics," said Wish.
"Who sleep in the other wing," said Clayton. "Yes. Well--"
He pulled at
his cigar for some little time as though he still hesitated about his
confidence. Then he said, quite quietly, "I caught a ghost!"
"Caught a ghost, did you?" said Sanderson. "Where is it?"
And Evans, who admires Clayton immensely and has been four weeks in
America, shouted, "CAUGHT a ghost, did you, Clayton? I'm glad of it!
Tell us all about it right now."
Clayton said he would in a minute, and asked him to shut the door.
He looked apologetically at me. "There's no eavesdropping of course,
we don't want to upset our very excellent service with any rumours of
ghosts in the place. There's too much shadow and oak panelling to trifle
with that. And this, you know, wasn't a regular ghost. I don't think it
will come again--ever."
"You mean to say you didn't keep it?" said Sanderson.
"I hadn't the heart to," said Clayton.
And Sanderson said he was surprised.
We laughed, and Clayton looked aggrieved. "I know," he said,
flicker of a smile, "but the fact is it really WAS a ghost, and I'm
sure of it as I am that I am talking to you now. I'm not joking. I mean
what I say."
Sanderson drew deeply at his pipe, with one reddish eye on Clayton, and
then emitted a thin jet of smoke more eloquent than many words.
Clayton ignored the comment. "It is the strangest thing that has
happened in my life. You know, I never believed in ghosts or anything of
the sort, before, ever; and then, you know, I bag one in a corner; and
the whole business is in my hands."
He meditated still more profoundly, and produced and began to pierce
second cigar with a curious little stabber he affected.
"You talked to it?" asked Wish.
"For the space, probably, of an hour."
"Chatty?" I said, joining the party of the sceptics.
"The poor devil was in trouble," said Clayton, bowed over his
and with the very faintest note of reproof.
"Sobbing?" some one asked.
Clayton heaved a realistic sigh at the memory. "Good Lord!"
"yes." And then, "Poor fellow! yes."
"Where did you strike it?" asked Evans, in his best American
"I never realised," said Clayton, ignoring him, "the poor
sort of thing
a ghost might be," and he hung us up again for a time, while he sought
for matches in his pocket and lit and warmed to his cigar.
"I took an advantage," he reflected at last.
We were none of us in a hurry. "A character," he said, "remains
same character for all that it's been disembodied. That's a thing we too
often forget. People with a certain strength or fixity of purpose may
have ghosts of a certain strength and fixity of purpose--most haunting
ghosts, you know, must be as one-idea'd as monomaniacs and as obstinate
as mules to come back again and again. This poor creature wasn't."
suddenly looked up rather queerly, and his eye went round the room. "I
say it," he said, "in all kindliness, but that is the plain truth
case. Even at the first glance he struck me as weak."
He punctuated with the help of his cigar.
"I came upon him, you know, in the long passage. His back was towards
me and I saw him first. Right off I knew him for a ghost. He was
transparent and whitish; clean through his chest I could see the glimmer
of the little window at the end. And not only his physique but his
attitude struck me as being weak. He looked, you know, as though he
didn't know in the slightest whatever he meant to do. One hand was on
the panelling and the other fluttered to his mouth. Like--SO!"
"What sort of physique?" said Sanderson.
"Lean. You know that sort of young man's neck that has two great
flutings down the back, here and here--so! And a little, meanish head
with scrubby hair--And rather bad ears. Shoulders bad, narrower than the
hips; turn-down collar, ready-made short jacket, trousers baggy and a
little frayed at the heels. That's how he took me. I came very quietly
up the staircase. I did not carry a light, you know--the candles are on
the landing table and there is that lamp--and I was in my list slippers,
and I saw him as I came up. I stopped dead at that--taking him in. I
wasn't a bit afraid. I think that in most of these affairs one is
never nearly so afraid or excited as one imagines one would be. I was
surprised and interested. I thought, 'Good Lord! Here's a ghost at
last! And I haven't believed for a moment in ghosts during the last
"Um," said Wish.
"I suppose I wasn't on the landing a moment before he found out
there. He turned on me sharply, and I saw the face of an immature young
man, a weak nose, a scrubby little moustache, a feeble chin. So for an
instant we stood--he looking over his shoulder at me and regarded one
another. Then he seemed to remember his high calling. He turned round,
drew himself up, projected his face, raised his arms, spread his hands
in approved ghost fashion--came towards me. As he did so his little jaw
dropped, and he emitted a faint, drawn-out 'Boo.' No, it wasn't--not a
bit dreadful. I'd dined. I'd had a bottle of champagne, and being all
alone, perhaps two or three--perhaps even four or five--whiskies, so I
was as solid as rocks and no more frightened than if I'd been assailed
by a frog. 'Boo!' I said. 'Nonsense. You don't belong to THIS place.
What are you doing here?'
"I could see him wince. 'Boo-oo,' he said.
"'Boo--be hanged! Are you a member?' I said; and just to show I
care a pin for him I stepped through a corner of him and made to light
my candle. 'Are you a member?' I repeated, looking at him sideways.
"He moved a little so as to stand clear of me, and his bearing became
crestfallen. 'No,' he said, in answer to the persistent interrogation of
my eye; 'I'm not a member--I'm a ghost.'
"'Well, that doesn't give you the run of the Mermaid Club. Is there
one you want to see, or anything of that sort?' and doing it as steadily
as possible for fear that he should mistake the carelessness of whisky
for the distraction of fear, I got my candle alight. I turned on him,
holding it. 'What are you doing here?' I said.
"He had dropped his hands and stopped his booing, and there he stood,
abashed and awkward, the ghost of a weak, silly, aimless young man. 'I'm
haunting,' he said.
"'You haven't any business to,' I said in a quiet voice.
"'I'm a ghost,' he said, as if in defence.
"'That may be, but you haven't any business to haunt here. This
respectable private club; people often stop here with nursemaids and
children, and, going about in the careless way you do, some poor little
mite could easily come upon you and be scared out of her wits. I suppose
you didn't think of that?'
"'No, sir,' he said, 'I didn't.'
"'You should have done. You haven't any claim on the place, have
Weren't murdered here, or anything of that sort?'
"'None, sir; but I thought as it was old and oak-panelled--'
"'That's NO excuse.' I regarded him firmly. 'Your coming here is
mistake,' I said, in a tone of friendly superiority. I feigned to see
if I had my matches, and then looked up at him frankly. 'If I were you I
wouldn't wait for cock-crow--I'd vanish right away.'
"He looked embarrassed. 'The fact IS, sir--' he began.
"'I'd vanish,' I said, driving it home.
"'The fact is, sir, that--somehow--I can't.'
"'No, sir. There's something I've forgotten. I've been hanging about
here since midnight last night, hiding in the cupboards of the empty
bedrooms and things like that. I'm flurried. I've never come haunting
before, and it seems to put me out.'
"'Put you out?'
"'Yes, sir. I've tried to do it several times, and it doesn't come
There's some little thing has slipped me, and I can't get back.'
"That, you know, rather bowled me over. He looked at me in such
abject way that for the life of me I couldn't keep up quite the high,
hectoring vein I had adopted. 'That's queer,' I said, and as I spoke I
fancied I heard some one moving about down below. 'Come into my room and
tell me more about it,' I said. 'I didn't, of course, understand this,'
and I tried to take him by the arm. But, of course, you might as well
have tried to take hold of a puff of smoke! I had forgotten my number,
I think; anyhow, I remember going into several bedrooms--it was lucky I
was the only soul in that wing--until I saw my traps. 'Here we are,' I
said, and sat down in the arm-chair; 'sit down and tell me all about it.
It seems to me you have got yourself into a jolly awkward position, old
"Well, he said he wouldn't sit down! he'd prefer to flit up and
room if it was all the same to me. And so he did, and in a little
while we were deep in a long and serious talk. And presently, you know,
something of those whiskies and sodas evaporated out of me, and I began
to realise just a little what a thundering rum and weird business it was
that I was in. There he was, semi-transparent--the proper conventional
phantom, and noiseless except for his ghost of a voice--flitting to
and fro in that nice, clean, chintz-hung old bedroom. You could see
the gleam of the copper candlesticks through him, and the lights on the
brass fender, and the corners of the framed engravings on the wall,--and
there he was telling me all about this wretched little life of his that
had recently ended on earth. He hadn't a particularly honest face, you
know, but being transparent, of course, he couldn't avoid telling the
"Eh?" said Wish, suddenly sitting up in his chair.
"What?" said Clayton.
"Being transparent--couldn't avoid telling the truth--I don't see
"_I_ don't see it," said Clayton, with inimitable assurance.
"But it IS
so, I can assure you nevertheless. I don't believe he got once a nail's
breadth off the Bible truth. He told me how he had been killed--he
went down into a London basement with a candle to look for a leakage
of gas--and described himself as a senior English master in a London
private school when that release occurred."
"Poor wretch!" said I.
"That's what I thought, and the more he talked the more I thought
There he was, purposeless in life and purposeless out of it. He talked
of his father and mother and his schoolmaster, and all who had ever been
anything to him in the world, meanly. He had been too sensitive, too
nervous; none of them had ever valued him properly or understood him, he
said. He had never had a real friend in the world, I think; he had never
had a success. He had shirked games and failed examinations. 'It's
like that with some people,' he said; 'whenever I got into the
examination-room or anywhere everything seemed to go.' Engaged to be
married of course--to another over-sensitive person, I suppose--when the
indiscretion with the gas escape ended his affairs. 'And where are you
now?' I asked. 'Not in--?'
"He wasn't clear on that point at all. The impression he gave me
of a sort of vague, intermediate state, a special reserve for souls too
non-existent for anything so positive as either sin or virtue. _I_ don't
know. He was much too egotistical and unobservant to give me any clear
idea of the kind of place, kind of country, there is on the Other Side
of Things. Wherever he was, he seems to have fallen in with a set of
kindred spirits: ghosts of weak Cockney young men, who were on a footing
of Christian names, and among these there was certainly a lot of talk
about 'going haunting' and things like that. Yes--going haunting! They
seemed to think 'haunting' a tremendous adventure, and most of them
funked it all the time. And so primed, you know, he had come."
"But really!" said Wish to the fire.
"These are the impressions he gave me, anyhow," said Clayton,
"I may, of course, have been in a rather uncritical state, but that
the sort of background he gave to himself. He kept flitting up and down,
with his thin voice going talking, talking about his wretched self, and
never a word of clear, firm statement from first to last. He was thinner
and sillier and more pointless than if he had been real and alive. Only
then, you know, he would not have been in my bedroom here--if he HAD
been alive. I should have kicked him out."
"Of course," said Evans, "there ARE poor mortals like
"And there's just as much chance of their having ghosts as the rest
us," I admitted.
"What gave a sort of point to him, you know, was the fact that he
seem within limits to have found himself out. The mess he had made of
haunting had depressed him terribly. He had been told it would be
a 'lark'; he had come expecting it to be a 'lark,' and here it was,
nothing but another failure added to his record! He proclaimed himself
an utter out-and-out failure. He said, and I can quite believe it, that
he had never tried to do anything all his life that he hadn't made a
perfect mess of--and through all the wastes of eternity he never
would. If he had had sympathy, perhaps--. He paused at that, and stood
regarding me. He remarked that, strange as it might seem to me, nobody,
not any one, ever, had given him the amount of sympathy I was doing now.
I could see what he wanted straight away, and I determined to head him
off at once. I may be a brute, you know, but being the Only Real Friend,
the recipient of the confidences of one of these egotistical weaklings,
ghost or body, is beyond my physical endurance. I got up briskly. 'Don't
you brood on these things too much,' I said. 'The thing you've got to do
is to get out of this get out of this--sharp. You pull yourself together
and TRY.' 'I can't,' he said. 'You try,' I said, and try he did."
"Try!" said Sanderson. "HOW?"
"Passes," said Clayton.
"Complicated series of gestures and passes with the hands. That's
he had come in and that's how he had to get out again. Lord! what a
business I had!"
"But how could ANY series of passes--?" I began.
"My dear man," said Clayton, turning on me and putting a great
on certain words, "you want EVERYTHING clear. _I_ don't know HOW. All
I know is that you DO--that HE did, anyhow, at least. After a fearful
time, you know, he got his passes right and suddenly disappeared."
"Did you," said Sanderson, slowly, "observe the passes?"
"Yes," said Clayton, and seemed to think. "It was tremendously
he said. "There we were, I and this thin vague ghost, in that silent
room, in this silent, empty inn, in this silent little Friday-night
town. Not a sound except our voices and a faint panting he made when
he swung. There was the bedroom candle, and one candle on the
dressing-table alight, that was all--sometimes one or other would flare
up into a tall, lean, astonished flame for a space. And queer things
happened. 'I can't,' he said; 'I shall never--!' And suddenly he sat
down on a little chair at the foot of the bed and began to sob and sob.
Lord! what a harrowing, whimpering thing he seemed!
"'You pull yourself together,' I said, and tried to pat him on the
and... my confounded hand went through him! By that time, you know,
I wasn't nearly so--massive as I had been on the landing. I got the
queerness of it full. I remember snatching back my hand out of him, as
it were, with a little thrill, and walking over to the dressing-table.
'You pull yourself together,' I said to him, 'and try.' And in order to
encourage and help him I began to try as well."
"What!" said Sanderson, "the passes?"
"Yes, the passes."
"But--" I said, moved by an idea that eluded me for a space.
"This is interesting," said Sanderson, with his finger in his
"You mean to say this ghost of yours gave away--"
"Did his level best to give away the whole confounded barrier? YES."
"He didn't," said Wish; "he couldn't. Or you'd have gone
"That's precisely it," I said, finding my elusive idea put
"That IS precisely it," said Clayton, with thoughtful eyes
For just a little while there was silence.
"And at last he did it?" said Sanderson.
"At last he did it. I had to keep him up to it hard, but he did
last--rather suddenly. He despaired, we had a scene, and then he got up
abruptly and asked me to go through the whole performance, slowly, so
that he might see. 'I believe,' he said, 'if I could SEE I should spot
what was wrong at once.' And he did. '_I_ know,' he said. 'What do you
know?' said I. '_I_ know,' he repeated. Then he said, peevishly, 'I
CAN'T do it if you look at me--I really CAN'T; it's been that, partly,
all along. I'm such a nervous fellow that you put me out.' Well, we had
a bit of an argument. Naturally I wanted to see; but he was as obstinate
as a mule, and suddenly I had come over as tired as a dog--he tired me
out. 'All right,' I said, '_I_ won't look at you,' and turned towards
the mirror, on the wardrobe, by the bed.
"He started off very fast. I tried to follow him by looking in the
looking-glass, to see just what it was had hung. Round went his arms
and his hands, so, and so, and so, and then with a rush came to the last
gesture of all--you stand erect and open out your arms--and so, don't
you know, he stood. And then he didn't! He didn't! He wasn't! I wheeled
round from the looking-glass to him. There was nothing, I was alone,
with the flaring candles and a staggering mind. What had happened? Had
anything happened? Had I been dreaming?... And then, with an absurd note
of finality about it, the clock upon the landing discovered the moment
was ripe for striking ONE. So!--Ping! And I was as grave and sober as
a judge, with all my champagne and whisky gone into the vast serene.
Feeling queer, you know--confoundedly QUEER! Queer! Good Lord!"
He regarded his cigar-ash for a moment. "That's all that happened,"
"And then you went to bed?" asked Evans.
"What else was there to do?"
I looked Wish in the eye. We wanted to scoff, and there was something,
something perhaps in Clayton's voice and manner, that hampered our
"And about these passes?" said Sanderson.
"I believe I could do them now."
"Oh!" said Sanderson, and produced a penknife and set himself
the dottel out of the bowl of his clay.
"Why don't you do them now?" said Sanderson, shutting his pen-knife
"That's what I'm going to do," said Clayton.
"They won't work," said Evans.
"If they do--" I suggested.
"You know, I'd rather you didn't," said Wish, stretching out
"Why?" asked Evans.
"I'd rather he didn't," said Wish.
"But he hasn't got 'em right," said Sanderson, plugging too
in his pipe.
"All the same, I'd rather he didn't," said Wish.
We argued with Wish. He said that for Clayton to go through those
gestures was like mocking a serious matter. "But you don't believe--?"
I said. Wish glanced at Clayton, who was staring into the fire, weighing
something in his mind. "I do--more than half, anyhow, I do," said
"Clayton," said I, "you're too good a liar for us. Most
of it was all
right. But that disappearance... happened to be convincing. Tell us,
it's a tale of cock and bull."
He stood up without heeding me, took the middle of the hearthrug, and
faced me. For a moment he regarded his feet thoughtfully, and then for
all the rest of the time his eyes were on the opposite wall, with an
intent expression. He raised his two hands slowly to the level of his
eyes and so began....
Now, Sanderson is a Freemason, a member of the lodge of the Four Kings,
which devotes itself so ably to the study and elucidation of all the
mysteries of Masonry past and present, and among the students of this
lodge Sanderson is by no means the least. He followed Clayton's motions
with a singular interest in his reddish eye. "That's not bad,"
said, when it was done. "You really do, you know, put things together,
Clayton, in a most amazing fashion. But there's one little detail out."
"I know," said Clayton. "I believe I could tell you which."
"This," said Clayton, and did a queer little twist and writhing
thrust of the hands.
"That, you know, was what HE couldn't get right," said Clayton.
"Most of this business, and particularly how you invented it, I
understand at all," said Sanderson, "but just that phase--I do."
reflected. "These happen to be a series of gestures--connected with
certain branch of esoteric Masonry. Probably you know. Or else--HOW?"
reflected still further. "I do not see I can do any harm in telling
just the proper twist. After all, if you know, you know; if you don't,
"I know nothing," said Clayton, "except what the poor
devil let out last
"Well, anyhow," said Sanderson, and placed his churchwarden
carefully upon the shelf over the fireplace. Then very rapidly he
gesticulated with his hands.
"So?" said Clayton, repeating.
"So," said Sanderson, and took his pipe in hand again.
"Ah, NOW," said Clayton, "I can do the whole thing--right."
He stood up before the waning fire and smiled at us all. But I think
there was just a little hesitation in his smile. "If I begin--"
"I wouldn't begin," said Wish.
"It's all right!" said Evans. "Matter is indestructible.
You don't think
any jiggery-pokery of this sort is going to snatch Clayton into the
world of shades. Not it! You may try, Clayton, so far as I'm concerned,
until your arms drop off at the wrists."
"I don't believe that," said Wish, and stood up and put his
Clayton's shoulder. "You've made me half believe in that story somehow,
and I don't want to see the thing done!"
"Goodness!" said I, "here's Wish frightened!"
"I am," said Wish, with real or admirably feigned intensity.
that if he goes through these motions right he'll GO."
"He'll not do anything of the sort," I cried. "There's
only one way out
of this world for men, and Clayton is thirty years from that. Besides...
And such a ghost! Do you think--?"
Wish interrupted me by moving. He walked out from among our chairs and
stopped beside the tole and stood there. "Clayton," he said, "you're
Clayton, with a humorous light in his eyes, smiled back at him. "Wish,"
he said, "is right and all you others are wrong. I shall go. I shall
to the end of these passes, and as the last swish whistles through the
air, Presto!--this hearthrug will be vacant, the room will be blank
amazement, and a respectably dressed gentleman of fifteen stone will
plump into the world of shades. I'm certain. So will you be. I decline
to argue further. Let the thing be tried."
"NO," said Wish, and made a step and ceased, and Clayton raised
hands once more to repeat the spirit's passing.
By that time, you know, we were all in a state of tension--largely
because of the behaviour of Wish. We sat all of us with our eyes on
Clayton--I, at least, with a sort of tight, stiff feeling about me as
though from the back of my skull to the middle of my thighs my body had
been changed to steel. And there, with a gravity that was imperturbably
serene, Clayton bowed and swayed and waved his hands and arms before us.
As he drew towards the end one piled up, one tingled in one's teeth. The
last gesture, I have said, was to swing the arms out wide open, with the
face held up. And when at last he swung out to this closing gesture I
ceased even to breathe. It was ridiculous, of course, but you know that
ghost-story feeling. It was after dinner, in a queer, old shadowy house.
Would he, after all--?
There he stood for one stupendous moment, with his arms open and his
upturned face, assured and bright, in the glare of the hanging lamp. We
hung through that moment as if it were an age, and then came from all
of us something that was half a sigh of infinite relief and half a
reassuring "NO!" For visibly--he wasn't going. It was all nonsense.
had told an idle story, and carried it almost to conviction, that was
all!... And then in that moment the face of Clayton, changed.
It changed. It changed as a lit house changes when its lights are
suddenly extinguished. His eyes were suddenly eyes that were fixed, his
smile was frozen on his lips, and he stood there still. He stood there,
very gently swaying.
That moment, too, was an age. And then, you know, chairs were scraping,
things were falling, and we were all moving. His knees seemed to give,
and he fell forward, and Evans rose and caught him in his arms....
It stunned us all. For a minute I suppose no one said a coherent thing.
We believed it, yet could not believe it.... I came out of a muddled
stupefaction to find myself kneeling beside him, and his vest and shirt
were torn open, and Sanderson's hand lay on his heart....
Well--the simple fact before us could very well wait our convenience;
there was no hurry for us to comprehend. It lay there for an hour; it
lies athwart my memory, black and amazing still, to this day. Clayton
had, indeed, passed into the world that lies so near to and so far from
our own, and he had gone thither by the only road that mortal man
may take. But whether he did indeed pass there by that poor ghost's
incantation, or whether he was stricken suddenly by apoplexy in the
midst of an idle tale--as the coroner's jury would have us believe--is
no matter for my judging; it is just one of those inexplicable riddles
that must remain unsolved until the final solution of all things shall
come. All I certainly know is that, in the very moment, in the very
instant, of concluding those passes, he changed, and staggered, and fell
down before us--dead!
7. JIMMY GOGGLES THE GOD
"It isn't every one who's been a god," said the sunburnt man.
happened to me. Among other things."
I intimated my sense of his condescension.
"It don't leave much for ambition, does it?" said the sunburnt
"I was one of those men who were saved from the Ocean Pioneer. Gummy!
how time flies! It's twenty years ago. I doubt if you'll remember
anything of the Ocean Pioneer?"
The name was familiar, and I tried to recall when and where I had read
it. The Ocean Pioneer? "Something about gold dust," I said vaguely,
"That's it," he said. "In a beastly little channel she
business in--dodging pirates. It was before they'd put the kybosh on
that business. And there'd been volcanoes or something and all the rocks
was wrong. There's places about by Soona where you fair have to follow
the rocks about to see where they're going next. Down she went in twenty
fathoms before you could have dealt for whist, with fifty thousand
pounds worth of gold aboard, it was said, in one form or another."
"I remember the case now," I said. "There was something
But at the word salvage the sunburnt man exploded into language so
extraordinarily horrible that I stopped aghast. He came down to more
ordinary swearing, and pulled himself up abruptly. "Excuse me,"
He leant over towards me. "I was in that job," he said. "Tried
myself a rich man, and got made a god instead. I've got my feelings--
"It ain't all jam being a god," said the sunburnt man, and
for some time
conversed by means of such pithy but unprogressive axioms. At last he
took up his tale again.
"There was me," said the sunburnt man, "and a seaman named
Always, the mate of the Ocean Pioneer. And him it was that set the
whole thing going. I remember him now, when we was in the jolly-boat,
suggesting it all to our minds just by one sentence. He was a wonderful
hand at suggesting things. 'There was forty thousand pounds,' he said,
'on that ship, and it's for me to say just where she went down.' It
didn't need much brains to tumble to that. And he was the leader from
the first to the last. He got hold of the Sanderses and their brig; they
were brothers, and the brig was the Pride of Banya, and he it was bought
the diving-dress--a second-hand one with a compressed air apparatus
instead of pumping. He'd have done the diving too, if it hadn't made him
sick going down. And the salvage people were mucking about with a chart
he'd cooked up, as solemn as could be, at Starr Race, a hundred and
twenty miles away.
"I can tell you we was a happy lot aboard that brig, jokes and drink
and bright hopes all the time. It all seemed so neat and clean and
straightforward, and what rough chaps call a 'cert.' And we used to
speculate how the other blessed lot, the proper salvagers, who'd started
two days before us, were getting on, until our sides fairly ached. We
all messed together in the Sanderses' cabin--it was a curious crew, all
officers and no men--and there stood the diving-dress waiting its turn.
Young Sanders was a humorous sort of chap, and there certainly was
something funny in the confounded thing's great fat head and its stare,
and he made us see it too. 'Jimmie Goggles,' he used to call it, and
talk to it like a Christian. Asked if he was married, and how Mrs.
Goggles was, and all the little Goggleses. Fit to make you split. And
every blessed day all of us used to drink the health of Jimmy Goggles in
rum, and unscrew his eye and pour a glass of rum in him, until, instead
of that nasty mackintosheriness, he smelt as nice in his inside as
a cask of rum. It was jolly times we had in those days, I can tell
you--little suspecting, poor chaps! what was a-coming.
"We weren't going to throw away our chances by any blessed hurry,
know, and we spent a whole day sounding our way towards where the Ocean
Pioneer had gone down, right between two chunks of ropy grey rock--lava
rocks that rose nearly out of the water. We had to lay off about half a
mile to get a safe anchorage, and there was a thundering row who should
stop on board. And there she lay just as she had gone down, so that
you could see the top of the masts that was still standing perfectly
distinctly. The row ending in all coming in the boat. I went down in the
diving-dress on Friday morning directly it was light.
"What a surprise it was! I can see it all now quite distinctly.
a queer-looking place, and the light was just coming. People over here
think every blessed place in the tropics is a flat shore and palm trees
and surf, bless 'em! This place, for instance, wasn't a bit that way.
Not common rocks they were, undermined by waves; but great curved banks
like ironwork cinder heaps, with green slime below, and thorny shrubs
and things just waving upon them here and there, and the water glassy
calm and clear, and showing you a kind of dirty grey-black shine, with
huge flaring red-brown weeds spreading motionless, and crawling and
darting things going through it. And far away beyond the ditches and
pools and the heaps was a forest on the mountain flank, growing again
after the fires and cinder showers of the last eruption. And the other
way forest, too, and a kind of broken--what is it?--ambytheatre of black
and rusty cinders rising out of it all, and the sea in a kind of bay in
"The dawn, I say, was just coming, and there wasn't much colour
things, and not a human being but ourselves anywhere in sight up or down
the channel. Except the Pride of Banya, lying out beyond a lump of rocks
towards the line of the sea.
"Not a human being in sight," he repeated, and paused.
"I don't know where they came from, not a bit. And we were feeling
safe that we were all alone that poor young Sanders was a-singing. I was
in Jimmy Goggles, all except the helmet. 'Easy,' says Always, 'there's
her mast.' And after I'd had just one squint over the gunwale, I caught
up the bogey and almost tipped out as old Sanders brought the boat
round. When the windows were screwed and everything was all right, I
shut the valve from the air belt in order to help my sinking, and
jumped overboard, feet foremost--for we hadn't a ladder. I left the boat
pitching, and all of them staring down into the water after me, as my
head sank down into the weeds and blackness that lay about the mast.
I suppose nobody, not the most cautious chap in the world, would have
bothered about a lookout at such a desolate place. It stunk of solitude.
"Of course you must understand that I was a greenhorn at diving.
us were divers. We'd had to muck about with the thing to get the way of
it, and this was the first time I'd been deep. It feels damnable. Your
ears hurt beastly. I don't know if you've ever hurt yourself yawning or
sneezing, but it takes you like that, only ten times worse. And a pain
over the eyebrows here--splitting--and a feeling like influenza in the
head. And it isn't all heaven in your lungs and things. And going down
feels like the beginning of a lift, only it keeps on. And you can't turn
your head to see what's above you, and you can't get a fair squint at
what's happening to your feet without bending down something painful.
And being deep it was dark, let alone the blackness of the ashes and mud
that formed the bottom. It was like going down out of the dawn back into
the night, so to speak.
"The mast came up like a ghost out of the black, and then a lot
fishes, and then a lot of flapping red seaweed, and then whack I came
with a kind of dull bang on the deck of the Ocean Pioneer, and the
fishes that had been feeding on the dead rose about me like a swarm of
flies from road stuff in summer time. I turned on the compressed air
again--for the suit was a bit thick and mackintoshery after all, in
spite of the rum--and stood recovering myself. It struck coolish down
there, and that helped take off the stuffiness a bit.
"When I began to feel easier, I started looking about me. It was
an extraordinary sight. Even the light was extraordinary, a kind of
reddy-coloured twilight, on account of the streamers of seaweed that
floated up on either side of the ship. And far overhead just a moony,
deep green-blue. The deck of the ship, except for a slight list to
starboard, was level, and lay all dark and long between the weeds, clear
except where the masts had snapped when she rolled, and vanishing into
black night towards the forecastle. There wasn't any dead on the decks,
most were in the weeds alongside, I suppose; but afterwards I found two
skeletons lying in the passengers' cabins, where death had come to them.
It was curious to stand on that deck and recognise it all, bit by bit; a
place against the rail where I'd been fond of smoking by starlight, and
the corner where an old chap from Sydney used to flirt with a widow we
had aboard. A comfortable couple they'd been, only a month ago, and now
you couldn't have got a meal for a baby crab off either of them.
"I've always had a bit of a philosophical turn, and I dare say I
the best part of five minutes in such thoughts before I went below
to find where the blessed dust was stored. It was slow work hunting,
feeling it was for the most part, pitchy dark, with confusing blue
gleams down the companion. And there were things moving about, a dab at
my glass once, and once a pinch at my leg. Crabs, I expect. I kicked a
lot of loose stuff that puzzled me, and stooped and picked up something
all knobs and spikes. What do you think? Backbone! But I never had
any particular feeling for bones. We had talked the affair over pretty
thoroughly, and Always knew just where the stuff was stowed. I found it
that trip. I lifted a box one end an inch or more."
He broke off in his story. "I've lifted it," he said, "as
near as that!
Forty thousand pounds worth of pure gold! Gold! I shouted inside my
helmet as a kind of cheer and hurt my ears. I was getting confounded
stuffy and tired by this time--I must have been down twenty-five minutes
or more--and I thought this was good enough. I went up the companion
again, and as my eyes came up flush with the deck, a thundering great
crab gave a kind of hysterical jump and went scuttling off sideways.
Quite a start it gave me. I stood up clear on deck and shut the valve
behind the helmet to let the air accumulate to carry me up again--I
noticed a kind of whacking from above, as though they were hitting the
water with an oar, but I didn't look up. I fancied they were signalling
me to come up.
"And then something shot down by me--something heavy, and stood
in the planks. I looked, and there was a long knife I'd seen young
Sanders handling. Thinks I, he's dropped it, and I was still calling him
this kind of fool and that--for it might have hurt me serious--when I
began to lift and drive up towards the daylight. Just about the level
of the top spars of the Ocean Pioneer, whack! I came against something
sinking down, and a boot knocked in front of my helmet. Then something
else, struggling frightful. It was a big weight atop of me, whatever it
was, and moving and twisting about. I'd have thought it a big octopus,
or some such thing, if it hadn't been for the boot. But octopuses don't
wear boots. It was all in a moment, of course. I felt myself sinking
down again, and I threw my arms about to keep steady, and the whole lot
rolled free of me and shot down as I went up--"
"I saw young Sanders's face, over a naked black shoulder, and a
driven clean through his neck, and out of his mouth and neck what looked
like spirts of pink smoke in the water. And down they went clutching
one another, and turning over, and both too far gone to leave go. And
in another second my helmet came a whack, fit to split, against the
niggers' canoe. It was niggers! Two canoes full.
"It was lively times, I tell you! Overboard came Always with three
spears in him. There was the legs of three or four black chaps kicking
about me in the water. I couldn't see much, but I saw the game was up at
a glance, gave my valve a tremendous twist, and went bubbling down again
after poor Always, in as awful a state of scare and astonishment as you
can well imagine. I passed young Sanders and the nigger going up again
and struggling still a bit, and in another moment I was standing in the
dim again on the deck of the Ocean Pioneer.
"'Gummy,' thinks I, 'here's a fix!' Niggers? At first I couldn't
anything for it but Stifle below or Stabs above. I didn't properly
understand how much air there was to last me, but I didn't feel like
standing very much more of it down below. I was hot and frightfully
heady--quite apart from the blue funk I was in. We'd never repined with
these beastly natives, filthy Papuan beasts. It wasn't any good, coming
up where I was, but I had to do something. On the spur of the moment, I
clambered over the side of the brig and landed among the weeds, and set
off through the darkness as fast as I could. I just stopped once and
knelt, and twisted back my head in the helmet and had a look up. It was
a most extraordinary bright green-blue above, and the two canoes and the
boat floating there very small and distant like a kind of twisted H. And
it made me feel sick to squint up at it, and think what the pitching and
swaying of the three meant.
"It was just about the most horrible ten minutes I ever had, blundering
about in that darkness, pressure something awful, like being buried in
sand, pain across the chest, sick with funk, and breathing nothing as it
seemed but the smell of rum and mackintosh. Gummy! After a bit, I found
myself going up a steepish sort of slope. I had another squint to see
if anything was visible of the canoes and boats, and then kept on. I
stopped with my head a foot from the surface, and tried to see where I
was going, but, of course, nothing was to be seen but the reflection of
the bottom. Then out I dashed like knocking my head through a mirror.
Directly I got my eyes out of the water, I saw I'd come up a kind of
beach near the forest. I had a look round, but the natives and the brig
were both hidden by a big, hummucky heap of twisted lava, the born fool
in me suggested a run for the woods. I didn't take the helmet off, but
eased open one of the windows, and, after a bit of a pant, went on out
of the water. You'd hardly imagine how clean and light the air tasted.
"Of course, with four inches of lead in your boot soles, and your
in a copper knob the size of a football, and been thirty-five minutes
under water, you don't break any records running. I ran like a ploughboy
going to work. And half way to the trees I saw a dozen niggers or more,
coming out in a gaping, astonished sort of way to meet me.
"I just stopped dead, and cursed myself for all the fools out of
I had about as much chance of cutting back to the water as a turned
turtle. I just screwed up my window again to leave my hands free, and
waited for them. There wasn't anything else for me to do.
"But they didn't come on very much. I began to suspect why. 'Jimmy
Goggles,' I says, 'it's your beauty does it.' I was inclined to be
a little light-headed, I think, with all these dangers about and the
change in the pressure of the blessed air. 'Who're ye staring at?'
I said, as if the savages could hear me. 'What d'ye take me for? I'm
hanged if I don't give you something to stare at,' I said, and with that
I screwed up the escape valve and turned on the compressed air from the
belt, until I was swelled out like a blown frog. Regular imposing it
must have been. I'm blessed if they'd come on a step; and presently one
and then another went down on their hands and knees. They didn't know
what to make of me, and they was doing the extra polite, which was very
wise and reasonable of them. I had half a mind to edge back seaward and
cut and run, but it seemed too hopeless. A step back and they'd have
been after me. And out of sheer desperation I began to march towards
them up the beach, with slow, heavy steps, and waving my blown-out arms
about, in a dignified manner. And inside of me I was singing as small as
"But there's nothing like a striking appearance to help a man over
difficulty,--I've found that before and since. People like ourselves,
who're up to diving-dresses by the time we're seven, can scarcely
imagine the effect of one on a simple-minded savage. One or two of these
niggers cut and run, the others started in a great hurry trying to knock
their brains out on the ground. And on I went as slow and solemn and
silly-looking and artful as a jobbing plumber. It was evident they took
me for something immense.
"Then up jumped one and began pointing, making extraordinary gestures
to me as he did so, and all the others began sharing their attention
between me and something out at sea. 'What's the matter now?' I said. I
turned slowly on account of my dignity, and there I saw, coming round
a point, the poor old Pride of Banya towed by a couple of canoes. The
sight fairly made me sick. But they evidently expected some recognition,
so I waved my arms in a striking sort of non-committal manner. And then
I turned and stalked on towards the trees again. At that time I was
praying like mad, I remember, over and over again: 'Lord help me through
with it! Lord help me through with it!' It's only fools who know nothing
of dangers can afford to laugh at praying.
"But these niggers weren't going to let me walk through and away
that. They started a kind of bowing dance about me, and sort of pressed
me to take a pathway that lay through the trees. It was clear to me they
didn't take me for a British citizen, whatever else they thought of
me, and for my own part I was never less anxious to own up to the old
"You'd hardly believe it, perhaps, unless you're familiar with savages,
but these poor misguided, ignorant creatures took me straight to their
kind of joss place to present me to the blessed old black stone there.
By this time I was beginning to sort of realise the depth of their
ignorance, and directly I set eyes on this deity I took my cue. I
started a baritone howl, 'wow-wow,' very long on one note, and began
waving my arms about a lot, and then very slowly and ceremoniously
turned their image over on its side and sat down on it. I wanted to sit
down badly, for diving-dresses ain't much wear in the tropics. Or, to
put it different like, they're a sight too much. It took away their
breath, I could see, my sitting on their joss, but in less time than a
minute they made up their minds and were hard at work worshipping me.
And I can tell you I felt a bit relieved to see things turning out so
well, in spite of the weight on my shoulders and feet.
"But what made me anxious was what the chaps in the canoes might
when they came back. If they'd seen me in the boat before I went down,
and without the helmet on--for they might have been spying and hiding
since over night--they would very likely take a different view from the
others. I was in a deuce of a stew about that for hours, as it seemed,
until the shindy of the arrival began.
"But they took it down--the whole blessed village took it down.
cost of sitting up stiff and stern, as much like those sitting Egyptian
images one sees as I could manage, for pretty nearly twelve hours, I
should guess at least, on end, I got over it. You'd hardly think what
it meant in that heat and stink. I don't think any of them dreamt of the
man inside. I was just a wonderful leathery great joss that had come
up with luck out of the water. But the fatigue! the heat! the beastly
closeness! the mackintosheriness and the rum! and the fuss! They lit a
stinking fire on a kind of lava slab there was before me, and brought
in a lot of gory muck--the worst parts of what they were feasting on
outside, the Beasts--and burnt it all in my honour. I was getting a bit
hungry, but I understand now how gods manage to do without eating, what
with the smell of burnt offerings about them. And they brought in a lot
of the stuff they'd got off the brig and, among other stuff, what I was
a bit relieved to see, the kind of pneumatic pump that was used for the
compressed air affair, and then a lot of chaps and girls came in and
danced about me something disgraceful. It's extraordinary the different
ways different people have of showing respect. If I'd had a hatchet
handy I'd have gone for the lot of them--they made me feel that wild.
All this time I sat as stiff as company, not knowing anything better to
do. And at last, when nightfall came, and the wattle joss-house place
got a bit too shadowy for their taste--all these here savages are afraid
of the dark, you know--and I started a sort of 'Moo' noise, they built
big bonfires outside and left me alone in peace in the darkness of my
hut, free to unscrew my windows a bit and think things over, and feel
just as bad as I liked. And, Lord! I was sick.
"I was weak and hungry, and my mind kept on behaving like a beetle
pin, tremendous activity and nothing done at the end of it. Come round
just where it was before. There was sorrowing for the other chaps,
beastly drunkards certainly, but not deserving such a fate, and young
Sanders with the spear through his neck wouldn't go out of my mind.
There was the treasure down there in the Ocean Pioneer, and how one
might get it and hide it somewhere safer, and get away and come back for
it. And there was the puzzle where to get anything to eat. I tell you
I was fair rambling. I was afraid to ask by signs for food, for fear of
behaving too human, and so there I sat and hungered until very near
the dawn. Then the village got a bit quiet, and I couldn't stand it any
longer, and I went out and got some stuff like artichokes in a bowl
and some sour milk. What was left of these I put away among the other
offerings, just to give them a hint of my tastes. And in the morning
they came to worship, and found me sitting up stiff and respectable on
their previous god, just as they'd left me overnight. I'd got my back
against the central pillar of the hut, and, practically, I was asleep.
And that's how I became a god among the heathen--a false god no doubt,
and blasphemous, but one can't always pick and choose.
"Now, I don't want to crack myself up as a god beyond my merits,
must confess that while I was god to these people they was extraordinary
successful. I don't say there's anything in it, mind you. They won
a battle with another tribe--I got a lot of offerings I didn't want
through it--they had wonderful fishing, and their crop of pourra was
exceptional fine. And they counted the capture of the brig among the
benefits I brought 'em. I must say I don't think that was a poor record
for a perfectly new hand. And, though perhaps you'd scarcely credit it,
I was the tribal god of those beastly savages for pretty nearly four
"What else could I do, man? But I didn't wear that diving-dress
time. I made 'em rig me up a sort of holy of holies, and a deuce of a
time I had too, making them understand what it was I wanted them to do.
That indeed was the great difficulty--making them understand my wishes.
I couldn't let myself down by talking their lingo badly--even if I'd
been able to speak at all--and I couldn't go flapping a lot of gestures
at them. So I drew pictures in sand and sat down beside them and hooted
like one o'clock. Sometimes they did the things I wanted all right,
and sometimes they did them all wrong. They was always very willing,
certainly. All the while I was puzzling how I was to get the confounded
business settled. Every night before the dawn I used to march out in
full rig and go off to a place where I could see the channel in which
the Ocean Pioneer lay sunk, and once even, one moonlight night, I tried
to walk out to her, but the weeds and rocks and dark clean beat me. I
didn't get back till full day, and then I found all those silly niggers
out on the beach praying their sea-god to return to them. I was that
vexed and tired, messing and tumbling about, and coming up and going
down again, I could have punched their silly heads all round when they
started rejoicing. I'm hanged if I like so much ceremony.
"And then came the missionary. That missionary! It was in the afternoon,
and I was sitting in state in my outer temple place, sitting on that old
black stone of theirs when he came. I heard a row outside and jabbering,
and then his voice speaking to an interpreter. 'They worship stocks and
stones,' he said, and I knew what was up, in a flash. I had one of my
windows out for comfort, and I sang out straight away on the spur of
the moment. 'Stocks and stones!' I says. 'You come inside,' I says, 'and
I'll punch your blooming head.' There was a kind of silence and more
jabbering, and in he came, Bible in hand, after the manner of them--a
little sandy chap in specks and a pith helmet. I flatter myself that me
sitting there in the shadows, with my copper head and my big goggles,
struck him a bit of a heap at first. 'Well,' I says, 'how's the trade in
calico?' for I don't hold with missionaries.
"I had a lark with that missionary. He was a raw hand, and quite
outclassed with a man like me. He gasped out who was I, and I told him
to read the inscription at my feet if he wanted to know. Down he goes
to read, and his interpreter, being of course as superstitious as any of
them, took it as an act of worship and plumped down like a shot. All my
people gave a howl of triumph, and there wasn't any more business to be
done in my village after that journey, not by the likes of him.
"But, of course, I was a fool to choke him off like that. If I'd
sense I should have told him straight away of the treasure and taken him
into Co. I've no doubt he'd have come into Co. A child, with a few hours
to think it over, could have seen the connection between my diving-dress
and the loss of the Ocean Pioneer. A week after he left I went out
one morning and saw the Motherhood, the salver's ship from Starr Race,
towing up the channel and sounding. The whole blessed game was up, and
all my trouble thrown away. Gummy! How wild I felt! And guying it in
that stinking silly dress! Four months!"
The sunburnt man's story degenerated again. "Think of it,"
he said, when
he emerged to linguistic purity once more. "Forty thousand pounds worth
"Did the little missionary come back?" I asked.
"Oh, yes! Bless him! And he pledged his reputation there was a man
inside the god, and started out to see as much with tremendous ceremony.
But there wasn't--he got sold again. I always did hate scenes and
explanations, and long before he came I was out of it all--going home to
Banya along the coast, hiding in bushes by day, and thieving food from
the villages by night. Only weapon, a spear. No clothes, no money.
Nothing. My face was my fortune, as the saying is. And just a squeak
of eight thousand pounds of gold--fifth share. But the natives cut up
rusty, thank goodness, because they thought it was him had driven their
8. THE NEW ACCELERATOR
Certainly, if ever a man found a guinea when he was looking for a pin
it is my good friend Professor Gibberne. I have heard before of
investigators overshooting the mark, but never quite to the extent that
he has done. He has really, this time at any rate, without any touch of
exaggeration in the phrase, found something to revolutionise human life.
And that when he was simply seeking an all-round nervous stimulant to
bring languid people up to the stresses of these pushful days. I have
tasted the stuff now several times, and I cannot do better than describe
the effect the thing had on me. That there are astonishing experiences
in store for all in search of new sensations will become apparent
Professor Gibberne, as many people know, is my neighbour in Folkestone.
Unless my memory plays me a trick, his portrait at various ages has
already appeared in The Strand Magazine--I think late in 1899; but I am
unable to look it up because I have lent that volume to some one who has
never sent it back. The reader may, perhaps, recall the high forehead
and the singularly long black eyebrows that give such a Mephistophelian
touch to his face. He occupies one of those pleasant little detached
houses in the mixed style that make the western end of the Upper
Sandgate Road so interesting. His is the one with the Flemish gables and
the Moorish portico, and it is in the little room with the mullioned bay
window that he works when he is down here, and in which of an evening
we have so often smoked and talked together. He is a mighty jester, but,
besides, he likes to talk to me about his work; he is one of those men
who find a help and stimulus in talking, and so I have been able to
follow the conception of the New Accelerator right up from a very early
stage. Of course, the greater portion of his experimental work is not
done in Folkestone, but in Gower Street, in the fine new laboratory next
to the hospital that he has been the first to use.
As every one knows, or at least as all intelligent people know, the
special department in which Gibberne has gained so great and deserved a
reputation among physiologists is the action of drugs upon the nervous
system. Upon soporifics, sedatives, and anaesthetics he is, I am told,
unequalled. He is also a chemist of considerable eminence, and I suppose
in the subtle and complex jungle of riddles that centres about the
ganglion cell and the axis fibre there are little cleared places of
his making, little glades of illumination, that, until he sees fit to
publish his results, are still inaccessible to every other living man.
And in the last few years he has been particularly assiduous upon this
question of nervous stimulants, and already, before the discovery of the
New Accelerator, very successful with them. Medical science has to thank
him for at least three distinct and absolutely safe invigorators
of unrivalled value to practising men. In cases of exhaustion the
preparation known as Gibberne's B Syrup has, I suppose, saved more lives
already than any lifeboat round the coast.
"But none of these little things begin to satisfy me yet,"
he told me
nearly a year ago. "Either they increase the central energy without
affecting the nerves or they simply increase the available energy by
lowering the nervous conductivity; and all of them are unequal and local
in their operation. One wakes up the heart and viscera and leaves
the brain stupefied, one gets at the brain champagne fashion and does
nothing good for the solar plexus, and what I want--and what, if it's an
earthly possibility, I mean to have--is a stimulant that stimulates all
round, that wakes you up for a time from the crown of your head to the
tip of your great toe, and makes you go two--or even three--to everybody
else's one. Eh? That's the thing I'm after."
"It would tire a man," I said.
"Not a doubt of it. And you'd eat double or treble--and all that.
just think what the thing would mean. Imagine yourself with a little
phial like this"--he held up a little bottle of green glass and marked
his points with it--"and in this precious phial is the power to think
twice as fast, move twice as quickly, do twice as much work in a given
time as you could otherwise do."
"But is such a thing possible?"
"I believe so. If it isn't, I've wasted my time for a year. These
various preparations of the hypophosphites, for example, seem to show
that something of the sort... Even if it was only one and a half times
as fast it would do."
"It WOULD do," I said.
"If you were a statesman in a corner, for example, time rushing
against you, something urgent to be done, eh?"
"He could dose his private secretary," I said.
"And gain--double time. And think if YOU, for example, wanted to
"Usually," I said, "I wish I'd never begun 'em."
"Or a doctor, driven to death, wants to sit down and think out a
Or a barrister--or a man cramming for an examination."
"Worth a guinea a drop," said I, "and more to men like
"And in a duel, again," said Gibberne, "where it all depends
quickness in pulling the trigger."
"Or in fencing," I echoed.
"You see," said Gibberne, "if I get it as an all-round
thing it will
really do you no harm at all--except perhaps to an infinitesimal degree
it brings you nearer old age. You will just have lived twice to other
"I suppose," I meditated, "in a duel--it would be fair?"
"That's a question for the seconds," said Gibberne.
I harked back further. "And you really think such a thing IS possible?"
"As possible," said Gibberne, and glanced at something that
throbbing by the window, "as a motor-bus. As a matter of fact--"
He paused and smiled at me deeply, and tapped slowly on the edge of his
desk with the green phial. "I think I know the stuff.... Already I've
got something coming." The nervous smile upon his face betrayed the
gravity of his revelation. He rarely talked of his actual experimental
work unless things were very near the end. "And it may be, it may be--I
shouldn't be surprised--it may even do the thing at a greater rate than
"It will be rather a big thing," I hazarded.
"It will be, I think, rather a big thing."
But I don't think he quite knew what a big thing it was to be, for all
I remember we had several talks about the stuff after that. "The
Accelerator" he called it, and his tone about it grew more confident
each occasion. Sometimes he talked nervously of unexpected physiological
results its use might have, and then he would get a little unhappy; at
others he was frankly mercenary, and we debated long and anxiously how
the preparation might be turned to commercial account. "It's a good
thing," said Gibberne, "a tremendous thing. I know I'm giving
something, and I think it only reasonable we should expect the world to
pay. The dignity of science is all very well, but I think somehow I must
have the monopoly of the stuff for, say, ten years. I don't see why ALL
the fun in life should go to the dealers in ham."
My own interest in the coming drug certainly did not wane in the time.
I have always had a queer little twist towards metaphysics in my mind. I
have always been given to paradoxes about space and time, and it seemed
to me that Gibberne was really preparing no less than the absolute
acceleration of life. Suppose a man repeatedly dosed with such a
preparation: he would live an active and record life indeed, but he
would be an adult at eleven, middle-aged at twenty-five, and by thirty
well on the road to senile decay. It seemed to me that so far Gibberne
was only going to do for any one who took his drug exactly what Nature
has done for the Jews and Orientals, who are men in their teens and aged
by fifty, and quicker in thought and act than we are all the time. The
marvel of drugs has always been great to my mind; you can madden a man,
calm a man, make him incredibly strong and alert or a helpless log,
quicken this passion and allay that, all by means of drugs, and here was
a new miracle to be added to this strange armoury of phials the doctors
use! But Gibberne was far too eager upon his technical points to enter
very keenly into my aspect of the question.
It was the 7th or 8th of August when he told me the distillation that
would decide his failure or success for a time was going forward as we
talked, and it was on the 10th that he told me the thing was done and
the New Accelerator a tangible reality in the world. I met him as I was
going up the Sandgate Hill towards Folkestone--I think I was going to
get my hair cut, and he came hurrying down to meet me--I suppose he was
coming to my house to tell me at once of his success. I remember that
his eyes were unusually bright and his face flushed, and I noted even
then the swift alacrity of his step.
"It's done," he cried, and gripped my hand, speaking very fast;
more than done. Come up to my house and see."
"Really!" he shouted. "Incredibly! Come up and see."
"And it does--twice?
"It does more, much more. It scares me. Come up and see the stuff.
it! Try it! It's the most amazing stuff on earth." He gripped my arm
and, walking at such a pace that he forced me into a trot, went shouting
with me up the hill. A whole char-a-banc-ful of people turned and stared
at us in unison after the manner of people in chars-a-banc. It was one
of those hot, clear days that Folkestone sees so much of, every colour
incredibly bright and every outline hard. There was a breeze, of course,
but not so much breeze as sufficed under these conditions to keep me
cool and dry. I panted for mercy.
"I'm not walking fast, am I?" cried Gibberne, and slackened
his pace to
a quick march.
"You've been taking some of this stuff," I puffed.
"No," he said. "At the utmost a drop of water that stood
in a beaker
from which I had washed out the last traces of the stuff. I took some
last night, you know. But that is ancient history, now."
"And it goes twice?" I said, nearing his doorway in a grateful
"It goes a thousand times, many thousand times!" cried Gibberne,
dramatic gesture, flinging open his Early English carved oak gate.
"Phew!" said I, and followed him to the door.
"I don't know how many times it goes," he said, with his latch-key
"It throws all sorts of light on nervous physiology, it kicks the
of vision into a perfectly new shape!... Heaven knows how many thousand
times. We'll try all that after--The thing is to try the stuff now."
"Try the stuff?" I said, as we went along the passage.
"Rather," said Gibberne, turning on me in his study. "There
it is in
that little green phial there! Unless you happen to be afraid?"
I am a careful man by nature, and only theoretically adventurous. I WAS
afraid. But on the other hand there is pride.
"Well," I haggled. "You say you've tried it?"
"I've tried it," he said, "and I don't look hurt by it,
do I? I don't
even look livery and I FEEL--"
I sat down. "Give me the potion," I said. "If the worst
comes to the
worst it will save having my hair cut, and that I think is one of the
most hateful duties of a civilised man. How do you take the mixture?"
"With water," said Gibberne, whacking down a carafe.
He stood up in front of his desk and regarded me in his easy chair; his
manner was suddenly affected by a touch of the Harley Street specialist.
"It's rum stuff, you know," he said.
I made a gesture with my hand.
"I must warn you in the first place as soon as you've got it down
shut your eyes, and open them very cautiously in a minute or so's
time. One still sees. The sense of vision is a question of length of
vibration, and not of multitude of impacts; but there's a kind of shock
to the retina, a nasty giddy confusion just at the time, if the eyes are
open. Keep 'em shut."
"Shut," I said. "Good!"
"And the next thing is, keep still. Don't begin to whack about.
may fetch something a nasty rap if you do. Remember you will be going
several thousand times faster than you ever did before, heart, lungs,
muscles, brain--everything--and you will hit hard without knowing
it. You won't know it, you know. You'll feel just as you do now. Only
everything in the world will seem to be going ever so many thousand
times slower than it ever went before. That's what makes it so deuced
"Lor'," I said. "And you mean--"
"You'll see," said he, and took up a little measure. He glanced
material on his desk. "Glasses," he said, "water. All here.
too much for the first attempt."
The little phial glucked out its precious contents.
"Don't forget what I told you," he said, turning the contents
measure into a glass in the manner of an Italian waiter measuring
whisky. "Sit with the eyes tightly shut and in absolute stillness for
two minutes," he said. "Then you will hear me speak."
He added an inch or so of water to the little dose in each glass.
"By-the-by," he said, "don't put your glass down. Keep
it in your hand
and rest your hand on your knee. Yes--so. And now--"
He raised his glass.
"The New Accelerator," I said.
"The New Accelerator," he answered, and we touched glasses
and instantly I closed my eyes.
You know that blank non-existence into which one drops when one has
taken "gas." For an indefinite interval it was like that. Then
Gibberne telling me to wake up, and I stirred and opened my eyes. There
he stood as he had been standing, glass still in hand. It was empty,
that was all the difference.
"Well?" said I.
"Nothing out of the way?"
"Nothing. A slight feeling of exhilaration, perhaps. Nothing more."
"Things are still," I said. "By Jove! yes! They ARE still.
sort of faint pat, patter, like rain falling on different things. What
"Analysed sounds," I think he said, but I am not sure. He glanced
window. "Have you ever seen a curtain before a window fixed in that
I followed his eyes, and there was the end of the curtain, frozen, as
were, corner high, in the act of flapping briskly in the breeze.
"No," said I; "that's odd."
"And here," he said, and opened the hand that held the glass.
I winced, expecting the glass to smash. But so far from smashing it did
not even seem to stir; it hung in mid-air--motionless.
"Roughly speaking," said Gibberne, "an object in these
16 feet in the first second. This glass is falling 16 feet in a second
now. Only, you see, it hasn't been falling yet for the hundredth part of
a second. That gives you some idea of the pace of my Accelerator."
he waved his hand round and round, over and under the slowly sinking
glass. Finally, he took it by the bottom, pulled it down, and placed it
very carefully on the table. "Eh?" he said to me, and laughed.
"That seems all right," I said, and began very gingerly to
from my chair. I felt perfectly well, very light and comfortable, and
quite confident in my mind. I was going fast all over. My heart, for
example, was beating a thousand times a second, but that caused me no
discomfort at all. I looked out of the window. An immovable cyclist,
head down and with a frozen puff of dust behind his driving-wheel,
scorched to overtake a galloping char-a-banc that did not stir. I gaped
in amazement at this incredible spectacle. "Gibberne," I cried,
long will this confounded stuff last?"
"Heaven knows!" he answered. "Last time I took it I went
to bed and
slept it off. I tell you, I was frightened. It must have lasted some
minutes, I think--it seemed like hours. But after a bit it slows down
rather suddenly, I believe."
I was proud to observe that I did not feel frightened--I suppose because
there were two of us. "Why shouldn't we go out?" I asked.
"They'll see us."
"Not they. Goodness, no! Why, we shall be going a thousand times
than the quickest conjuring trick that was ever done. Come along! Which
way shall we go? Window, or door?"
And out by the window we went.
Assuredly of all the strange experiences that I have ever had, or
imagined, or read of other people having or imagining, that little raid
I made with Gibberne on the Folkestone Leas, under the influence of the
New Accelerator, was the strangest and maddest of all. We went out by
his gate into the road, and there we made a minute examination of the
statuesque passing traffic. The tops of the wheels and some of the legs
of the horses of this char-a-banc, the end of the whip-lash and the
lower jaw of the conductor--who was just beginning to yawn--were
perceptibly in motion, but all the rest of the lumbering conveyance
seemed still. And quite noiseless except for a faint rattling that came
from one man's throat! And as parts of this frozen edifice there were a
driver, you know, and a conductor, and eleven people! The effect as we
walked about the thing began by being madly queer, and ended by being
disagreeable. There they were, people like ourselves and yet not like
ourselves, frozen in careless attitudes, caught in mid-gesture. A girl
and a man smiled at one another, a leering smile that threatened to last
for evermore; a woman in a floppy capelline rested her arm on the rail
and stared at Gibberne's house with the unwinking stare of eternity; a
man stroked his moustache like a figure of wax, and another stretched a
tiresome stiff hand with extended fingers towards his loosened hat. We
stared at them, we laughed at them, we made faces at them, and then
a sort of disgust of them came upon us, and we turned away and walked
round in front of the cyclist towards the Leas.
"Goodness!" cried Gibberne, suddenly; "look there!"
He pointed, and there at the tip of his finger and sliding down the air
with wings flapping slowly and at the speed of an exceptionally languid
snail--was a bee.
And so we came out upon the Leas. There the thing seemed madder than
ever. The band was playing in the upper stand, though all the sound it
made for us was a low-pitched, wheezy rattle, a sort of prolonged last
sigh that passed at times into a sound like the slow, muffled ticking
of some monstrous clock. Frozen people stood erect, strange, silent,
self-conscious-looking dummies hung unstably in mid-stride, promenading
upon the grass. I passed close to a little poodle dog suspended in the
act of leaping, and watched the slow movement of his legs as he sank
to earth. "Lord, look here!" cried Gibberne, and we halted for
before a magnificent person in white faint-striped flannels, white
shoes, and a Panama hat, who turned back to wink at two gaily dressed
ladies he had passed. A wink, studied with such leisurely deliberation
as we could afford, is an unattractive thing. It loses any quality of
alert gaiety, and one remarks that the winking eye does not completely
close, that under its drooping lid appears the lower edge of an eyeball
and a little line of white. "Heaven give me memory," said I, "and
never wink again."
"Or smile," said Gibberne, with his eye on the lady's answering
"It's infernally hot, somehow," said I. "Let's go slower."
"Oh, come along!" said Gibberne.
We picked our way among the bath-chairs in the path. Many of the people
sitting in the chairs seemed almost natural in their passive poses, but
the contorted scarlet of the bandsmen was not a restful thing to see.
A purple-faced little gentleman was frozen in the midst of a violent
struggle to refold his newspaper against the wind; there were many
evidences that all these people in their sluggish way were exposed to
a considerable breeze, a breeze that had no existence so far as our
sensations went. We came out and walked a little way from the crowd, and
turned and regarded it. To see all that multitude changed, to a picture,
smitten rigid, as it were, into the semblance of realistic wax, was
impossibly wonderful. It was absurd, of course; but it filled me with an
irrational, an exultant sense of superior advantage. Consider the wonder
of it! All that I had said, and thought, and done since the stuff had
begun to work in my veins had happened, so far as those people, so
far as the world in general went, in the twinkling of an eye. "The
Accelerator--" I began, but Gibberne interrupted me.
"There's that infernal old woman!" he said.
"What old woman?"
"Lives next door to me," said Gibberne. "Has a lapdog
that yaps. Gods!
The temptation is strong!"
There is something very boyish and impulsive about Gibberne at times.
Before I could expostulate with him he had dashed forward, snatched the
unfortunate animal out of visible existence, and was running violently
with it towards the cliff of the Leas. It was most extraordinary. The
little brute, you know, didn't bark or wriggle or make the slightest
sign of vitality. It kept quite stiffly in an attitude of somnolent
repose, and Gibberne held it by the neck. It was like running about with
a dog of wood. "Gibberne," I cried, "put it down!" Then
I said something
else. "If you run like that, Gibberne," I cried, "you'll
clothes on fire. Your linen trousers are going brown as it is!"
He clapped his hand on his thigh and stood hesitating on the verge.
"Gibberne," I cried, coming up, "put it down. This heat is
It's our running so! Two or three miles a second! Friction of the air!"
"What?" he said, glancing at the dog.
"Friction of the air," I shouted. "Friction of the air.
Going too fast.
Like meteorites and things. Too hot. And, Gibberne! Gibberne! I'm all
over pricking and a sort of perspiration. You can see people stirring
slightly. I believe the stuff's working off! Put that dog down."
"Eh?" he said.
"It's working off," I repeated. "We're too hot and the
off! I'm wet through."
He stared at me. Then at the band, the wheezy rattle of whose
performance was certainly going faster. Then with a tremendous sweep
of the arm he hurled the dog away from him and it went spinning upward,
still inanimate, and hung at last over the grouped parasols of a knot of
chattering people. Gibberne was gripping my elbow. "By Jove!"
"I believe--it is! A sort of hot pricking and--yes. That man's moving
his pocket-handkerchief! Perceptibly. We must get out of this sharp."
But we could not get out of it sharply enough. Luckily, perhaps! For
might have run, and if we had run we should, I believe, have burst into
flames. Almost certainly we should have burst into flames! You know we
had neither of us thought of that.... But before we could even begin to
run the action of the drug had ceased. It was the business of a minute
fraction of a second. The effect of the New Accelerator passed like
the drawing of a curtain, vanished in the movement of a hand. I heard
Gibberne's voice in infinite alarm. "Sit down," he said, and flop,
upon the turf at the edge of the Leas I sat--scorching as I sat. There
is a patch of burnt grass there still where I sat down. The whole
stagnation seemed to wake up as I did so, the disarticulated vibration
of the band rushed together into a blast of music, the promenaders
put their feet down and walked their ways, the papers and flags began
flapping, smiles passed into words, the winker finished his wink and
went on his way complacently, and all the seated people moved and spoke.
The whole world had come alive again, was going as fast as we were, or
rather we were going no faster than the rest of the world. It was like
slowing down as one comes into a railway station. Everything seemed
to spin round for a second or two, I had the most transient feeling of
nausea, and that was all. And the little dog which had seemed to hang
for a moment when the force of Gibberne's arm was expended fell with a
swift acceleration clean through a lady's parasol!
That was the saving of us. Unless it was for one corpulent old gentleman
in a bath-chair, who certainly did start at the sight of us and
afterwards regarded us at intervals with a darkly suspicious eye, and,
finally, I believe, said something to his nurse about us, I doubt if a
solitary person remarked our sudden appearance among them. Plop! We must
have appeared abruptly. We ceased to smoulder almost at once, though
the turf beneath me was uncomfortably hot. The attention of every
one--including even the Amusements' Association band, which on this
occasion, for the only time in its history, got out of tune--was
arrested by the amazing fact, and the still more amazing yapping and
uproar caused by the fact that a respectable, over-fed lap-dog sleeping
quietly to the east of the bandstand should suddenly fall through the
parasol of a lady on the west--in a slightly singed condition due to the
extreme velocity of its movements through the air. In these absurd
days, too, when we are all trying to be as psychic, and silly, and
superstitious as possible! People got up and trod on other people,
chairs were overturned, the Leas policeman ran. How the matter settled
itself I do not know--we were much too anxious to disentangle ourselves
from the affair and get out of range of the eye of the old gentleman in
the bath-chair to make minute inquiries. As soon as we were sufficiently
cool and sufficiently recovered from our giddiness and nausea and
confusion of mind to do so we stood up and, skirting the crowd, directed
our steps back along the road below the Metropole towards Gibberne's
house. But amidst the din I heard very distinctly the gentleman who
had been sitting beside the lady of the ruptured sunshade using quite
unjustifiable threats and language to one of those chair-attendants who
have "Inspector" written on their caps. "If you didn't throw
he said, "who DID?"
The sudden return of movement and familiar noises, and our natural
anxiety about ourselves (our clothe's were still dreadfully hot, and
the fronts of the thighs of Gibberne's white trousers were scorched a
drabbish brown), prevented the minute observations I should have liked
to make on all these things. Indeed, I really made no observations of
any scientific value on that return. The bee, of course, had gone. I
looked for that cyclist, but he was already out of sight as we came into
the Upper Sandgate Road or hidden from us by traffic; the char-a-banc,
however, with its people now all alive and stirring, was clattering
along at a spanking pace almost abreast of the nearer church.
We noted, however, that the window-sill on which we had stepped in
getting out of the house was slightly singed, and that the impressions
of our feet on the gravel of the path were unusually deep.
So it was I had my first experience of the New Accelerator. Practically
we had been running about and saying and doing all sorts of things in
the space of a second or so of time. We had lived half an hour while the
band had played, perhaps, two bars. But the effect it had upon us
was that the whole world had stopped for our convenient inspection.
Considering all things, and particularly considering our rashness in
venturing out of the house, the experience might certainly have been
much more disagreeable than it was. It showed, no doubt, that Gibberne
has still much to learn before his preparation is a manageable
convenience, but its practicability it certainly demonstrated beyond all
Since that adventure he has been steadily bringing its use under
control, and I have several times, and without the slightest bad result,
taken measured doses under his direction; though I must confess I have
not yet ventured abroad again while under its influence. I may mention,
for example, that this story has been written at one sitting and without
interruption, except for the nibbling of some chocolate, by its means.
I began at 6.25, and my watch is now very nearly at the minute past the
half-hour. The convenience of securing a long, uninterrupted spell of
work in the midst of a day full of engagements cannot be exaggerated.
Gibberne is now working at the quantitative handling of his preparation,
with especial reference to its distinctive effects upon different types
of constitution. He then hopes to find a Retarder with which to dilute
its present rather excessive potency. The Retarder will, of course, have
the reverse effect to the Accelerator; used alone it should enable the
patient to spread a few seconds over many hours of ordinary time,--and
so to maintain an apathetic inaction, a glacier-like absence of
alacrity, amidst the most animated or irritating surroundings. The two
things together must necessarily work an entire revolution in civilised
existence. It is the beginning of our escape from that Time Garment
of which Carlyle speaks. While this Accelerator will enable us to
concentrate ourselves with tremendous impact upon any moment or occasion
that demands our utmost sense and vigour, the Retarder will enable us
to pass in passive tranquillity through infinite hardship and tedium.
Perhaps I am a little optimistic about the Retarder, which has indeed
still to be discovered, but about the Accelerator there is no possible
sort of doubt whatever. Its appearance upon the market in a convenient,
controllable, and assimilable form is a matter of the next few months.
It will be obtainable of all chemists and druggists, in small green
bottles, at a high but, considering its extraordinary qualities, by no
means excessive price. Gibberne's Nervous Accelerator it will be called,
and he hopes to be able to supply it in three strengths: one in 200, one
in 900, and one in 2000, distinguished by yellow, pink, and white labels
No doubt its use renders a great number of very extraordinary things
possible; for, of course, the most remarkable and, possibly, even
criminal proceedings may be effected with impunity by thus dodging, as
it were, into the interstices of time. Like all potent preparations it
will be liable to abuse. We have, however, discussed this aspect of
the question very thoroughly, and we have decided that this is purely a
matter of medical jurisprudence and altogether outside our province.
We shall manufacture and sell the Accelerator, and, as for the
consequences--we shall see.
9. MR. LEDBETTER'S VACATION
My friend, Mr. Ledbetter, is a round-faced little man, whose natural
mildness of eye is gigantically exaggerated when you catch the beam
through his glasses, and whose deep, deliberate voice irritates
irritable people. A certain elaborate clearness of enunciation has come
with him to his present vicarage from his scholastic days, an elaborate
clearness of enunciation and a certain nervous determination to be firm
and correct upon all issues, important and unimportant alike. He is a
sacerdotalist and a chess player, and suspected by many of the secret
practice of the higher mathematics--creditable rather than interesting
things. His conversation is copious and given much to needless detail.
By many, indeed, his intercourse is condemned, to put it plainly, as
"boring," and such have even done me the compliment to wonder
countenance him. But, on the other hand, there is a large faction
who marvel at his countenancing such a dishevelled, discreditable
acquaintance as myself. Few appear to regard our friendship with
equanimity. But that is because they do not know of the link that binds
us, of my amiable connection via Jamaica with Mr. Ledbetter's past.
About that past he displays an anxious modesty. "I do not KNOW what
should do if it became known," he says; and repeats, impressively,
not know WHAT I should do." As a matter of fact, I doubt if he would
anything except get very red about the ears. But that will appear
later; nor will I tell here of our first encounter, since, as a general
rule--though I am prone to break it--the end of a story should come
after, rather than before, the beginning. And the beginning of the story
goes a long way back; indeed, it is now nearly twenty years since
Fate, by a series of complicated and startling manoeuvres, brought Mr.
Ledbetter, so to speak, into my hands.
In those days I was living in Jamaica, and Mr. Ledbetter was a
schoolmaster in England. He was in orders, and already recognisably the
same man that he is to-day: the same rotundity of visage, the same or
similar glasses, and the same faint shadow of surprise in his resting
expression. He was, of course, dishevelled when I saw him, and his
collar less of a collar than a wet bandage, and that may have helped to
bridge the natural gulf between us--but of that, as I say, later.
The business began at Hithergate-on-Sea, and simultaneously with Mr.
Ledbetter's summer vacation. Thither he came for a greatly needed rest,
with a bright brown portmanteau marked "F. W. L.", a new white-and-black
straw hat, and two pairs of white flannel trousers. He was naturally
exhilarated at his release from school--for he was not very fond of the
boys he taught. After dinner he fell into a discussion with a talkative
person established in the boarding-house to which, acting on the advice
of his aunt, he had resorted. This talkative person was the only
other man in the house. Their discussion concerned the melancholy
disappearance of wonder and adventure in these latter days, the
prevalence of globe-trotting, the abolition of distance by steam and
electricity, the vulgarity of advertisement, the degradation of men
by civilisation, and many such things. Particularly was the talkative
person eloquent on the decay of human courage through security, a
security Mr. Ledbetter rather thoughtlessly joined him in deploring. Mr.
Ledbetter, in the first delight of emancipation from "duty," and
anxious, perhaps, to establish a reputation for manly conviviality,
partook, rather more freely than was advisable, of the excellent whisky
the talkative person produced. But he did not become intoxicated, he
He was simply eloquent beyond his sober wont, and with the finer edge
gone from his judgment. And after that long talk of the brave old days
that were past forever, he went out into moonlit Hithergate--alone and
up the cliff road where the villas cluster together.
He had bewailed, and now as he walked up the silent road he still
bewailed, the fate that had called him to such an uneventful life as
a pedagogue's. What a prosaic existence he led, so stagnant, so
colourless! Secure, methodical, year in year out, what call was there
for bravery? He thought enviously of those roving, mediaeval days, so
near and so remote, of quests and spies and condottieri and many a risky
blade-drawing business. And suddenly came a doubt, a strange doubt,
springing out of some chance thought of tortures, and destructive
altogether of the position he had assumed that evening.
Was he--Mr. Ledbetter--really, after all, so brave as he assumed? Would
he really be so pleased to have railways, policemen, and security vanish
suddenly from the earth?
The talkative man had spoken enviously of crime. "The burglar,"
"is the only true adventurer left on earth. Think of his single-handed
fight against the whole civilised world!" And Mr. Ledbetter had echoed
his envy. "They DO have some fun out of life," Mr. Ledbetter had
"And about the only people who do. Just think how it must feel to wire
a lawn!" And he had laughed wickedly. Now, in this franker intimacy
self-communion he found himself instituting a comparison between his
own brand of courage and that of the habitual criminal. He tried to
meet these insidious questionings with blank assertion. "I could do
that," said Mr. Ledbetter. "I long to do all that. Only I do not
way to my criminal impulses. My moral courage restrains me." But he
doubted even while he told himself these things.
Mr. Ledbetter passed a large villa standing by itself. Conveniently
situated above a quiet, practicable balcony was a window, gaping black,
wide open. At the time he scarcely marked it, but the picture of it came
with him, wove into his thoughts. He figured himself climbing up that
balcony, crouching--plunging into that dark, mysterious interior. "Bah!
You would not dare," said the Spirit of Doubt. "My duty to my
forbids," said Mr. Ledbetter's self-respect.
It was nearly eleven, and the little seaside town was already very
still. The whole world slumbered under the moonlight. Only one warm
oblong of window-blind far down the road spoke of waking life. He turned
and came back slowly towards the villa of the open window. He stood for
a time outside the gate, a battlefield of motives. "Let us put things
to the test," said Doubt. "For the satisfaction of these intolerable
doubts, show that you dare go into that house. Commit a burglary in
blank. That, at any rate, is no crime." Very softly he opened and
shut the gate and slipped into the shadow of the shrubbery. "This is
foolish," said Mr. Ledbetter's caution. "I expected that,"
His heart was beating fast, but he was certainly not afraid. He was NOT
afraid. He remained in that shadow for some considerable time.
The ascent of the balcony, it was evident, would have to be done in a
rush, for it was all in clear moonlight, and visible from the gate into
the avenue. A trellis thinly set with young, ambitious climbing roses
made the ascent ridiculously easy. There, in that black shadow by the
stone vase of flowers, one might crouch and take a closer view of this
gaping breach in the domestic defences, the open window. For a while
Mr. Ledbetter was as still as the night, and then that insidious whisky
tipped the balance. He dashed forward. He went up the trellis with
quick, convulsive movements, swung his legs over the parapet of the
balcony, and dropped panting in the shadow even as he had designed. He
was trembling violently, short of breath, and his heart pumped noisily,
but his mood was exultation. He could have shouted to find he was so
A happy line that he had learnt from Wills's "Mephistopheles"
his mind as he crouched there. "I feel like a cat on the tiles,"
whispered to himself. It was far better than he had expected--this
adventurous exhilaration. He was sorry for all poor men to whom burglary
was unknown. Nothing happened. He was quite safe. And he was acting in
the bravest manner!
And now for the window, to make the burglary complete! Must he dare
do that? Its position above the front door defined it as a landing or
passage, and there were no looking-glasses or any bedroom signs about
it, or any other window on the first floor, to suggest the possibility
of a sleeper within. For a time he listened under the ledge, then raised
his eyes above the sill and peered in. Close at hand, on a pedestal,
and a little startling at first, was a nearly life-size gesticulating
bronze. He ducked, and after some time he peered again. Beyond was a
broad landing, faintly gleaming; a flimsy fabric of bead curtain, very
black and sharp, against a further window; a broad staircase, plunging
into a gulf of darkness below; and another ascending to the second
floor. He glanced behind him, but the stillness of the night was
unbroken. "Crime," he whispered, "crime," and scrambled
swiftly over the sill into the house. His feet fell noiselessly on a mat
of skin. He was a burglar indeed!
He crouched for a time, all ears and peering eyes. Outside was a
scampering and rustling, and for a moment he repented of his enterprise.
A short "miaow," a spitting, and a rush into silence, spoke reassuringly
of cats. His courage grew. He stood up. Every one was abed, it seemed.
So easy is it to commit a burglary, if one is so minded. He was glad he
had put it to the test. He determined to take some petty trophy, just to
prove his freedom from any abject fear of the law, and depart the way he
He peered about him, and suddenly the critical spirit arose again.
Burglars did far more than such mere elementary entrance as this: they
went into rooms, they forced safes. Well--he was not afraid. He could
not force safes, because that would be a stupid want of consideration
for his hosts. But he would go into rooms--he would go upstairs. More:
he told himself that he was perfectly secure; an empty house could not
be more reassuringly still. He had to clench his hands, nevertheless,
and summon all his resolution before he began very softly to ascend the
dim staircase, pausing for several seconds between each step. Above was
a square landing with one open and several closed doors; and all the
house was still. For a moment he stood wondering what would happen if
some sleeper woke suddenly and emerged. The open door showed a moonlit
bedroom, the coverlet white and undisturbed. Into this room he crept in
three interminable minutes and took a piece of soap for his plunder--his
trophy. He turned to descend even more softly than he had ascended. It
was as easy as--
Footsteps! On the gravel outside the house--and then the noise of a
latchkey, the yawn and bang of a door, and the spitting of a match in
the hall below. Mr. Ledbetter stood petrified by the sudden discovery
of the folly upon which he had come. "How on earth am I to get out
this?" said Mr. Ledbetter.
The hall grew bright with a candle flame, some heavy object bumped
against the umbrella-stand, and feet were ascending the staircase. In a
flash Mr. Ledbetter realised that his retreat was closed. He stood for
a moment, a pitiful figure of penitent confusion. "My goodness! What
a FOOL I have been!" he whispered, and then darted swiftly across the
shadowy landing into the empty bedroom from which he had just come.
He stood listening--quivering. The footsteps reached the first-floor
Horrible thought! This was possibly the latecomer's room! Not a moment
was to be lost! Mr. Ledbetter stooped beside the bed, thanked Heaven for
a valance, and crawled within its protection not ten seconds too soon.
He became motionless on hands and knees. The advancing candle-light
appeared through the thinner stitches of the fabric, the shadows ran
wildly about, and became rigid as the candle was put down.
"Lord, what a day!" said the newcomer, blowing noisily, and
it seemed he
deposited some heavy burthen on what Mr. Ledbetter, judging by the feet,
decided to be a writing-table. The unseen then went to the door and
locked it, examined the fastenings of the windows carefully and pulled
down the blinds, and returning sat down upon the bed with startling
"WHAT a day!" he said. "Good Lord!" and blew again,
and Mr. Ledbetter
inclined to believe that the person was mopping his face. His boots were
good stout boots; the shadows of his legs upon the valance suggested
a formidable stoutness of aspect. After a time he removed some upper
garments--a coat and waistcoat, Mr. Ledbetter inferred--and casting
them over the rail of the bed remained breathing less noisily, and as it
seemed cooling from a considerable temperature. At intervals he muttered
to himself, and once he laughed softly. And Mr. Ledbetter muttered to
himself, but he did not laugh. "Of all the foolish things," said
Ledbetter. "What on earth am I to do now?"
His outlook was necessarily limited. The minute apertures between the
stitches of the fabric of the valance admitted a certain amount of
light, but permitted no peeping. The shadows upon this curtain, save
for those sharply defined legs, were enigmatical, and intermingled
confusingly with the florid patterning of the chintz. Beneath the
edge of the valance a strip of carpet was visible, and, by cautiously
depressing his eye, Mr. Ledbetter found that this strip broadened until
the whole area of the floor came into view. The carpet was a luxurious
one, the room spacious, and, to judge by the castors and so forth of the
furniture, well equipped.
What he should do he found it difficult to imagine. To wait until this
person had gone to bed, and then, when he seemed to be sleeping, to
creep to the door, unlock it, and bolt headlong for that balcony seemed
the only possible thing to do. Would it be possible to jump from the
balcony? The danger of it! When he thought of the chances against him,
Mr. Ledbetter despaired. He was within an ace of thrusting forth his
head beside the gentleman's legs, coughing if necessary to attract his
attention, and then, smiling, apologising and explaining his unfortunate
intrusion by a few well-chosen sentences. But he found these sentences
hard to choose. "No doubt, sir, my appearance is peculiar," or,
trust, sir, you will pardon my somewhat ambiguous appearance from
beneath you," was about as much as he could get.
Grave possibilities forced themselves on his attention. Suppose they
not believe him, what would they do to him? Would his unblemished
high character count for nothing? Technically he was a burglar, beyond
dispute. Following out this train of thought, he was composing a lucid
apology for "this technical crime I have committed," to be delivered
before sentence in the dock, when the stout gentleman got up and
began walking about the room. He locked and unlocked drawers, and Mr.
Ledbetter had a transient hope that he might be undressing. But, no! He
seated himself at the writing-table, and began to write and then tear up
documents. Presently the smell of burning cream-laid paper mingled with
the odour of cigars in Mr. Ledbetter's nostrils.
"The position I had assumed," said Mr. Ledbetter when he told
these things, "was in many respects an ill-advised one. A transverse
beneath the bed depressed my head unduly, and threw a disproportionate
share of my weight upon my hands. After a time, I experienced what is
called, I believe, a crick in the neck. The pressure of my hands on the
coarsely-stitched carpet speedily became painful. My knees, too, were
painful, my trousers being drawn tightly over them. At that time I wore
rather higher collars than I do now--two and a half inches, in fact--and
I discovered what I had not remarked before, that the edge of the one
I wore was frayed slightly under the chin. But much worse than these
things was an itching of my face, which I could only relieve by violent
grimacing--I tried to raise my hand, but the rustle of the sleeve
alarmed me. After a time I had to desist from this relief also,
because--happily in time--I discovered that my facial contortions were
shifting my glasses down my nose. Their fall would, of course, have
exposed me, and as it was they came to rest in an oblique position of
by no means stable equilibrium. In addition I had a slight cold, and an
intermittent desire to sneeze or sniff caused me inconvenience. In
fact, quite apart from the extreme anxiety of my position, my physical
discomfort became in a short time very considerable indeed. But I had to
stay there motionless, nevertheless."
After an interminable time, there began a chinking sound. This deepened
into a rhythm: chink, chink, chink--twenty-five chinks--a rap on the
writing-table, and a grunt from the owner of the stout legs. It dawned
upon Mr. Ledbetter that this chinking was the chinking of gold. He
became incredulously curious as it went on. His curiosity grew. Already,
if that was the case, this extraordinary man must have counted some
hundreds of pounds. At last Mr. Ledbetter could resist it no longer,
and he began very cautiously to fold his arms and lower his head to the
level of the floor, in the hope of peeping under the valance. He moved
his feet, and one made a slight scraping on the floor. Suddenly the
chinking ceased. Mr. Ledbetter became rigid. After a while the chinking
was resumed. Then it ceased again, and everything was still, except Mr.
Ledbetter's heart--that organ seemed to him to be beating like a drum.
The stillness continued. Mr. Ledbetter's head was now on the floor, and
he could see the stout legs as far as the shins. They were quite still.
The feet were resting on the toes and drawn back, as it seemed, under
the chair of the owner. Everything was quite still, everything continued
still. A wild hope came to Mr. Ledbetter that the unknown was in a fit
or suddenly dead, with his head upon the writing-table....
The stillness continued. What had happened? The desire to peep became
irresistible. Very cautiously Mr. Ledbetter shifted his hand forward,
projected a pioneer finger, and began to lift the valance immediately
next his eye. Nothing broke the stillness. He saw now the stranger's
knees, saw the back of the writing-table, and then--he was staring at
the barrel of a heavy revolver pointed over the writing-table at his
"Come out of that, you scoundrel!" said the voice of the stout
in a tone of quiet concentration. "Come out. This side, and now. None
your hanky-panky--come right out, now."
Mr. Ledbetter came right out, a little reluctantly perhaps, but without
any hanky-panky, and at once, even as he was told.
"Kneel," said the stout gentleman, "and hold up your hands."
The valance dropped again behind Mr. Ledbetter, and he rose from
all-fours and held up his hands. "Dressed like a parson," said
gentleman. "I'm blest if he isn't! A little chap, too! You SCOUNDREL!
What the deuce possessed you to come here to-night? What the deuce
possessed you to get under my bed?"
He did not appear to require an answer, but proceeded at once to several
very objectionable remarks upon Mr. Ledbetter's personal appearance. He
was not a very big man, but he looked strong to Mr. Ledbetter: he was as
stout as his legs had promised, he had rather delicately-chiselled small
features distributed over a considerable area of whitish face, and quite
a number of chins. And the note of his voice had a sort of whispering
"What the deuce, I say, possessed you to get under my bed?"
Mr. Ledbetter, by an effort, smiled a wan propitiatory smile. He
coughed. "I can quite understand--" he said.
"Why! What on earth? It's SOAP! No!--you scoundrel. Don't you move
"It's soap," said Mr. Ledbetter. "From your washstand.
No doubt it--"
"Don't talk," said the stout man. "I see it's soap. Of
"If I might explain--"
"Don't explain. It's sure to be a lie, and there's no time for
explanations. What was I going to ask you? Ah! Have you any mates?"
"In a few minutes, if you--"
"Have you any mates? Curse you. If you start any soapy palaver I'll
shoot. Have you any mates?"
"No," said Mr. Ledbetter.
"I suppose it's a lie," said the stout man. "But you'll
pay for it if
it is. Why the deuce didn't you floor me when I came upstairs? You won't
get a chance to now, anyhow. Fancy getting under the bed! I reckon it's
a fair cop, anyhow, so far as you are concerned."
"I don't see how I could prove an alibi," remarked Mr. Ledbetter,
to show by his conversation that he was an educated man. There was a
pause. Mr. Ledbetter perceived that on a chair beside his captor was a
large black bag on a heap of crumpled papers, and that there were torn
and burnt papers on the table. And in front of these, and arranged
methodically along the edge were rows and rows of little yellow
rouleaux--a hundred times more gold than Mr. Ledbetter had seen in all
his life before. The light of two candles, in silver candlesticks, fell
upon these. The pause continued. "It is rather fatiguing holding up
hands like this," said Mr. Ledbetter, with a deprecatory smile.
"That's all right," said the fat man. "But what to do
with you I don't
"I know my position is ambiguous."
"Lord!" said the fat man, "ambiguous! And goes about with
soap, and wears a thundering great clerical collar. You ARE a blooming
burglar, you are--if ever there was one!"
"To be strictly accurate," said Mr. Ledbetter, and suddenly
slipped off and clattered against his vest buttons.
The fat man changed countenance, a flash of savage resolution crossed
his face, and something in the revolver clicked. He put his other hand
to the weapon. And then he looked at Mr. Ledbetter, and his eye went
down to the dropped pince-nez.
"Full-cock now, anyhow," said the fat man, after a pause, and
seemed to catch. "But I'll tell you, you've never been so near death
before. Lord! I'M almost glad. If it hadn't been that the revolver
wasn't cocked you'd be lying dead there now."
Mr. Ledbetter said nothing, but he felt that the room was swaying.
"A miss is as good as a mile. It's lucky for both of us it wasn't.
Lord!" He blew noisily. "There's no need for you to go pale-green
little thing like that."
"If I can assure you, sir--" said Mr. Ledbetter, with an effort.
"There's only one thing to do. If I call in the police, I'm bust--a
little game I've got on is bust. That won't do. If I tie you up and
leave you again, the thing may be out to-morrow. Tomorrow's Sunday, and
Monday's Bank Holiday--I've counted on three clear days. Shooting
you's murder--and hanging; and besides, it will bust the whole blooming
kernooze. I'm hanged if I can think what to do--I'm hanged if I can."
"Will you permit me--"
"You gas as much as if you were a real parson, I'm blessed if you
Of all the burglars you are the--Well! No!--I WON'T permit you. There
isn't time. If you start off jawing again, I'll shoot right in your
stomach. See? But I know now-I know now! What we're going to do first,
my man, is an examination for concealed arms--an examination for
concealed arms. And look here! When I tell you to do a thing, don't
start off at a gabble--do it brisk."
And with many elaborate precautions, and always pointing the pistol at
Mr. Ledbetter's head, the stout man stood him up and searched him for
weapons. "Why, you ARE a burglar!" he said "You're a perfect
You haven't even a pistol-pocket in the back of your breeches. No, you
don't! Shut up, now."
So soon as the issue was decided, the stout man made Mr. Ledbetter take
off his coat and roll up his shirt-sleeves, and, with the revolver at
one ear, proceed with the packing his appearance had interrupted. From
the stout man's point of view that was evidently the only possible
arrangement, for if he had packed, he would have had to put down
the revolver. So that even the gold on the table was handled by Mr.
Ledbetter. This nocturnal packing was peculiar. The stout man's idea was
evidently to distribute the weight of the gold as unostentatiously
as possible through his luggage. It was by no means an inconsiderable
weight. There was, Mr. Ledbetter says, altogether nearly L18,000 in gold
in the black bag and on the table. There were also many little rolls
of L5 bank-notes. Each rouleau of L25 was wrapped by Mr. Ledbetter
in paper. These rouleaux were then put neatly in cigar boxes and
distributed between a travelling trunk, a Gladstone bag, and a hatbox.
About L600 went in a tobacco tin in a dressing-bag. L10 in gold and a
number of L5 notes the stout man pocketed. Occasionally he objurgated
Mr. Ledbetter's clumsiness, and urged him to hurry, and several times he
appealed to Mr. Ledbetter's watch for information.
Mr. Ledbetter strapped the trunk and bag, and returned the stout man
the keys. It was then ten minutes to twelve, and until the stroke of
midnight the stout man made him sit on the Gladstone bag, while he sat
at a reasonably safe distance on the trunk and held the revolver handy
and waited. He appeared to be now in a less aggressive mood, and having
watched Mr. Ledbetter for some time, he offered a few remarks.
"From your accent I judge you are a man of some education,"
lighting a cigar. "No--DON'T begin that explanation of yours. I know
will be long-winded from your face, and I am much too old a liar to be
interested in other men's lying. You are, I say, a person of education.
You do well to dress as a curate. Even among educated people you might
pass as a curate."
"I AM a curate," said Mr. Ledbetter, "or, at least--"
"You are trying to be. I know. But you didn't ought to burgle. You
not the man to burgle. You are, if I may say it--the thing will have
been pointed out to you before--a coward."
"Do you know," said Mr. Ledbetter, trying to get a final opening,
was that very question--"
The stout man waved him into silence.
"You waste your education in burglary. You should do one of two
Either you should forge or you should embezzle. For my own part, I
embezzle. Yes; I embezzle. What do you think a man could be doing with
all this gold but that? Ah! Listen! Midnight!... Ten. Eleven. Twelve.
There is something very impressive to me in that slow beating of the
hours. Time--space; what mysteries they are! What mysteries.... It's
time for us to be moving. Stand up!"
And then kindly, but firmly, he induced Mr. Ledbetter to sling the
dressing bag over his back by a string across his chest, to shoulder the
trunk, and, overruling a gasping protest, to take the Gladstone bag in
his disengaged hand. So encumbered, Mr. Ledbetter struggled perilously
downstairs. The stout gentleman followed with an overcoat, the hatbox,
and the revolver, making derogatory remarks about Mr. Ledbetter's
strength, and assisting him at the turnings of the stairs.
"The back door," he directed, and Mr. Ledbetter staggered through
conservatory, leaving a wake of smashed flower-pots behind him. "Never
mind the crockery," said the stout man; "it's good for trade.
here until a quarter past. You can put those things down. You have!"
Mr. Ledbetter collapsed panting on the trunk. "Last night,"
"I was asleep in my little room, and I no more dreamt--"
"There's no need for you to incriminate yourself," said the
gentleman, looking at the lock of the revolver. He began to hum. Mr.
Ledbetter made to speak, and thought better of it.
There presently came the sound of a bell, and Mr. Ledbetter was taken
the back door and instructed to open it. A fair-haired man in yachting
costume entered. At the sight of Mr. Ledbetter he started violently and
clapped his hand behind him. Then he saw the stout man. "Bingham!"
cried, "who's this?"
"Only a little philanthropic do of mine--burglar I'm trying to reform.
Caught him under my bed just now. He's all right. He's a frightful ass.
He'll be useful to carry some of our things."
The newcomer seemed inclined to resent Mr. Ledbetter's presence at
first, but the stout man reassured him.
"He's quite alone. There's not a gang in the world would own him.
No!--don't start talking, for goodness' sake."
They went out into the darkness of the garden with the trunk still
bowing Mr. Ledbetter's shoulders. The man in the yachting costume walked
in front with the Gladstone bag and a pistol; then came Mr. Ledbetter
like Atlas; Mr. Bingham followed with the hat-box, coat, and revolver as
before. The house was one of those that have their gardens right up to
the cliff. At the cliff was a steep wooden stairway, descending to a
bathing tent dimly visible on the beach. Below was a boat pulled up, and
a silent little man with a black face stood beside it. "A few moments'
explanation," said Mr. Ledbetter; "I can assure you--" Somebody
him, and he said no more.
They made him wade to the boat, carrying the trunk, they pulled him
aboard by the shoulders and hair, they called him no better name than
"scoundrel" and "burglar" all that night. But they spoke
so that the general public was happily unaware of his ignominy. They
hauled him aboard a yacht manned by strange, unsympathetic Orientals,
and partly they thrust him and partly he fell down a gangway into a
noisome, dark place, where he was to remain many days--how many he does
not know, because he lost count among other things when he was seasick.
They fed him on biscuits and incomprehensible words; they gave him water
to drink mixed with unwished-for rum. And there were cockroaches
where they put him, night and day there were cockroaches, and in the
night-time there were rats. The Orientals emptied his pockets and took
his watch--but Mr. Bingham, being appealed to, took that himself.
And five or six times the five Lascars--if they were Lascars--and the
Chinaman and the negro who constituted the crew, fished him out and
took him aft to Bingham and his friend to play cribbage and euchre and
three-anded whist, and to listen to their stories and boastings in an
Then these principals would talk to him as men talk to those who have
lived a life of crime. Explanations they would never permit, though they
made it abundantly clear to him that he was the rummiest burglar they
had ever set eyes on. They said as much again and again. The fair man
was of a taciturn disposition and irascible at play; but Mr. Bingham,
now that the evident anxiety of his departure from England was assuaged,
displayed a vein of genial philosophy. He enlarged upon the mystery of
space and time, and quoted Kant and Hegel--or, at least, he said he did.
Several times Mr. Ledbetter got as far as: "My position under your
you know--," but then he always had to cut, or pass the whisky, or
some such intervening thing. After his third failure, the fair man got
quite to look for this opening, and whenever Mr. Ledbetter began after
that, he would roar with laughter and hit him violently on the back.
"Same old start, same old story; good old burglar!" the fair-haired
So Mr. Ledbetter suffered for many days, twenty perhaps; and one evening
he was taken, together with some tinned provisions, over the side and
put ashore on a rocky little island with a spring. Mr. Bingham came in
the boat with him, giving him good advice all the way, and waving his
last attempts at an explanation aside.
"I am really NOT a burglar," said Mr. Ledbetter.
"You never will be," said Mr. Bingham. "You'll never make
a burglar. I'm
glad you are beginning to see it. In choosing a profession a man must
study his temperament. If you don't, sooner or later you will fail.
Compare myself, for example. All my life I have been in banks--I have
got on in banks. I have even been a bank manager. But was I happy? No.
Why wasn't I happy? Because it did not suit my temperament. I am too
adventurous--too versatile. Practically I have thrown it over. I do not
suppose I shall ever manage a bank again. They would be glad to get me,
no doubt; but I have learnt the lesson of my temperament--at last....
No! I shall never manage a bank again.
"Now, your temperament unfits you for crime--just as mine unfits
for respectability. I know you better than I did, and now I do not even
recommend forgery. Go back to respectable courses, my man. YOUR lay
is the philanthropic lay--that is your lay. With that voice--the
Association for the Promotion of Snivelling among the Young--something
in that line. You think it over.
"The island we are approaching has no name apparently--at least,
is none on the chart. You might think out a name for it while you are
there--while you are thinking about all these things. It has quite
drinkable water, I understand. It is one of the Grenadines--one of the
Windward Islands. Yonder, dim and blue, are others of the Grenadines.
There are quantities of Grenadines, but the majority are out of sight.
I have often wondered what these islands are for--now, you see, I am
wiser. This one at least is for you. Sooner or later some simple native
will come along and take you off. Say what you like about us then--abuse
us, if you like--we shan't care a solitary Grenadine! And here--here
is half a sovereign's worth of silver. Do not waste that in foolish
dissipation when you return to civilisation. Properly used, it may give
you a fresh start in life. And do not--Don't beach her, you beggars,
he can wade!--Do not waste the precious solitude before you in foolish
thoughts. Properly used, it may be a turning-point in your career. Waste
neither money nor time. You will die rich. I'm sorry, but I must ask you
to carry your tucker to land in your arms. No; it's not deep. Curse
that explanation of yours! There's not time. No, no, no! I won't listen.
Overboard you go!"
And the falling night found Mr. Ledbetter--the Mr. Ledbetter who had
complained that adventure was dead--sitting beside his cans of food,
his chin resting upon his drawn-up knees, staring through his glasses in
dismal mildness over the shining, vacant sea.
He was picked up in the course of three days by a negro fisherman
and taken to St. Vincent's, and from St. Vincent's he got, by the
expenditure of his last coins, to Kingston, in Jamaica. And there he
might have foundered. Even nowadays he is not a man of affairs, and then
he was a singularly helpless person. He had not the remotest idea what
he ought to do. The only thing he seems to have done was to visit all
the ministers of religion he could find in the place to borrow a passage
home. But he was much too dirty and incoherent--and his story far
too incredible for them. I met him quite by chance. It was close upon
sunset, and I was walking out after my siesta on the road to Dunn's
Battery, when I met him--I was rather bored, and with a whole evening
on my hands--luckily for him. He was trudging dismally towards the
town. His woebegone face and the quasi-clerical cut of his dust-stained,
filthy costume caught my humour. Our eyes met. He hesitated. "Sir,"
said, with a catching of the breath, "could you spare a few minutes
what I fear will seem an incredible story?"
"Incredible!" I said.
"Quite," he answered eagerly. "No one will believe it,
alter it though I
may. Yet I can assure you, sir--"
He stopped hopelessly. The man's tone tickled me. He seemed an odd
character. "I am," he said, "one of the most unfortunate
"Among other things, you haven't dined?" I said, struck with
"I have not," he said solemnly, "for many days."
"You'll tell it better after that," I said; and without more
ado led the
way to a low place I knew, where such a costume as his was unlikely to
give offence. And there--with certain omissions which he subsequently
supplied--I got his story. At first I was incredulous, but as the wine
warmed him, and the faint suggestion of cringing which his misfortunes
had added to his manner disappeared, I began to believe. At last, I was
so far convinced of his sincerity that I got him a bed for the night,
and next day verified the banker's reference he gave me through my
Jamaica banker. And that done, I took him shopping for underwear
and such like equipments of a gentleman at large. Presently came the
verified reference. His astonishing story was true. I will not amplify
our subsequent proceedings. He started for England in three days' time.
"I do not know how I can possibly thank you enough," began
the letter he
wrote me from England, "for all your kindness to a total stranger,"
proceeded for some time in a similar strain. "Had it not been for your
generous assistance, I could certainly never have returned in time for
the resumption of my scholastic duties, and my few minutes of reckless
folly would, perhaps, have proved my ruin. As it is, I am entangled in
a tissue of lies and evasions, of the most complicated sort, to account
for my sunburnt appearance and my whereabouts. I have rather carelessly
told two or three different stories, not realising the trouble this
would mean for me in the end. The truth I dare not tell. I have
consulted a number of law-books in the British Museum, and there is
not the slightest doubt that I have connived at and abetted and aided a
felony. That scoundrel Bingham was the Hithergate bank manager, I find,
and guilty of the most flagrant embezzlement. Please, please burn this
letter when read--I trust you implicitly. The worst of it is, neither my
aunt nor her friend who kept the boarding-house at which I was staying
seem altogether to believe a guarded statement I have made them
practically of what actually happened. They suspect me of some
discreditable adventure, but what sort of discreditable adventure they
suspect me of, I do not know. My aunt says she would forgive me if I
told her everything. I have--I have told her MORE than everything, and
still she is not satisfied. It would never do to let them know the truth
of the case, of course, and so I represent myself as having been waylaid
and gagged upon the beach. My aunt wants to know WHY they waylaid and
gagged me, why they took me away in their yacht. I do not know. Can
you suggest any reason? I can think of nothing. If, when you wrote, you
could write on TWO sheets so that I could show her one, and on that one
if you could show clearly that I really WAS in Jamaica this summer,
and had come there by being removed from a ship, it would be of great
service to me. It would certainly add to the load of my obligation
to you--a load that I fear I can never fully repay. Although if
gratitude..." And so forth. At the end he repeated his request for
burn the letter.
So the remarkable story of Mr. Ledbetter's Vacation ends. That breach
with his aunt was not of long duration. The old lady had forgiven him
before she died.
10. THE STOLEN BODY
Mr. Bessel was the senior partner in the firm of Bessel, Hart, and
Brown, of St. Paul's Churchyard, and for many years he was well known
among those interested in psychical research as a liberal-minded and
conscientious investigator. He was an unmarried man, and instead of
living in the suburbs, after the fashion of his class, he occupied rooms
in the Albany, near Piccadilly. He was particularly interested in the
questions of thought transference and of apparitions of the living, and
in November, 1896, he commenced a series of experiments in conjunction
with Mr. Vincey, of Staple Inn, in order to test the alleged possibility
of projecting an apparition of one's self by force of will through
Their experiments were conducted in the following manner: At a
pre-arranged hour Mr. Bessel shut himself in one of his rooms in the
Albany and Mr. Vincey in his sitting-room in Staple Inn, and each then
fixed his mind as resolutely as possible on the other. Mr. Bessel
had acquired the art of self-hypnotism, and, so far as he could, he
attempted first to hypnotise himself and then to project himself as a
"phantom of the living" across the intervening space of nearly
into Mr. Vincey's apartment. On several evenings this was tried without
any satisfactory result, but on the fifth or sixth occasion Mr. Vincey
did actually see or imagine he saw an apparition of Mr. Bessel standing
in his room. He states that the appearance, although brief, was very
vivid and real. He noticed that Mr. Bessel's face was white and his
expression anxious, and, moreover, that his hair was disordered. For
a moment Mr. Vincey, in spite of his state of expectation, was too
surprised to speak or move, and in that moment it seemed to him as
though the figure glanced over its shoulder and incontinently vanished.
It had been arranged that an attempt should be made to photograph any
phantasm seen, but Mr. Vincey had not the instant presence of mind to
snap the camera that lay ready on the table beside him, and when he
did so he was too late. Greatly elated, however, even by this partial
success, he made a note of the exact time, and at once took a cab to the
Albany to inform Mr. Bessel of this result.
He was surprised to find Mr. Bessel's outer door standing open to the
night, and the inner apartments lit and in an extraordinary disorder.
An empty champagne magnum lay smashed upon the floor; its neck had
been broken off against the inkpot on the bureau and lay beside it.
An octagonal occasional table, which carried a bronze statuette and
a number of choice books, had been rudely overturned, and down the
primrose paper of the wall inky fingers had been drawn, as it seemed for
the mere pleasure of defilement. One of the delicate chintz curtains had
been violently torn from its rings and thrust upon the fire, so that
the smell of its smouldering filled the room. Indeed the whole place was
disarranged in the strangest fashion. For a few minutes Mr. Vincey, who
had entered sure of finding Mr. Bessel in his easy chair awaiting him,
could scarcely believe his eyes, and stood staring helplessly at these
Then, full of a vague sense of calamity, he sought the porter at the
entrance lodge. "Where is Mr. Bessel?" he asked. "Do you
know that all
the furniture is broken in Mr. Bessel's room?" The porter said nothing,
but, obeying his gestures, came at once to Mr. Bessel's apartment to see
the state of affairs. "This settles it," he said, surveying the
confusion. "I didn't know of this. Mr. Bessel's gone off. He's mad!"
He then proceeded to tell Mr. Vincey that about half an hour previously,
that is to say, at about the time of Mr. Bessel's apparition in Mr.
Vincey's rooms, the missing gentleman had rushed out of the gates of
the Albany into Vigo Street, hatless and with disordered hair, and had
vanished into the direction of Bond Street. "And as he went past me,"
said the porter, "he laughed--a sort of gasping laugh, with his mouth
open and his eyes glaring--I tell you, sir, he fair scared me!--like
According to his imitation it was anything but a pleasant laugh. "He
waved his hand, with all his fingers crooked and clawing--like that.
And he said, in a sort of fierce whisper, 'LIFE!' Just that one word,
"Dear me," said Mr. Vincey. "Tut, tut," and "Dear
me!" He could think
of nothing else to say. He was naturally very much surprised. He turned
from the room to the porter and from the porter to the room in the
gravest perplexity. Beyond his suggestion that probably Mr. Bessel would
come back presently and explain what had happened, their conversation
was unable to proceed. "It might be a sudden toothache," said
the porter, "a very sudden and violent toothache, jumping on him
suddenly-like and driving him wild. I've broken things myself before now
in such a case..." He thought. "If it was, why should he say 'LIFE'
me as he went past?"
Mr. Vincey did not know. Mr. Bessel did not return, and at last Mr.
Vincey, having done some more helpless staring, and having addressed
a note of brief inquiry and left it in a conspicuous position on the
bureau, returned in a very perplexed frame of mind to his own premises
in Staple Inn. This affair had given him a shock. He was at a loss to
account for Mr. Bessel's conduct on any sane hypothesis. He tried to
read, but he could not do so; he went for a short walk, and was so
preoccupied that he narrowly escaped a cab at the top of Chancery Lane;
and at last--a full hour before his usual time--he went to bed. For a
considerable time he could not sleep because of his memory of the silent
confusion of Mr. Bessel's apartment, and when at length he did attain an
uneasy slumber it was at once disturbed by a very vivid and distressing
dream of Mr. Bessel.
He saw Mr. Bessel gesticulating wildly, and with his face white and
contorted. And, inexplicably mingled with his appearance, suggested
perhaps by his gestures, was an intense fear, an urgency to act. He
even believes that he heard the voice of his fellow experimenter calling
distressfully to him, though at the time he considered this to be an
illusion. The vivid impression remained though Mr. Vincey awoke. For a
space he lay awake and trembling in the darkness, possessed with that
vague, unaccountable terror of unknown possibilities that comes out of
dreams upon even the bravest men. But at last he roused himself, and
turned over and went to sleep again, only for the dream to return with
He awoke with such a strong conviction that Mr. Bessel was in
overwhelming distress and need of help that sleep was no longer
possible. He was persuaded that his friend had rushed out to some dire
calamity. For a time he lay reasoning vainly against this belief, but at
last he gave way to it. He arose, against all reason, lit his gas, and
dressed, and set out through the deserted streets--deserted, save for a
noiseless policeman or so and the early news carts--towards Vigo Street
to inquire if Mr. Bessel had returned.
But he never got there. As he was going down Long Acre some
unaccountable impulse turned him aside out of that street towards Covent
Garden, which was just waking to its nocturnal activities. He saw the
market in front of him--a queer effect of glowing yellow lights and busy
black figures. He became aware of a shouting, and perceived a figure
turn the corner by the hotel and run swiftly towards him. He knew at
once that it was Mr. Bessel. But it was Mr. Bessel transfigured. He
was hatless and dishevelled, his collar was torn open, he grasped a
bone-handled walking-cane near the ferrule end, and his mouth was pulled
awry. And he ran, with agile strides, very rapidly. Their encounter was
the affair of an instant. "Bessel!" cried Vincey.
The running man gave no sign of recognition either of Mr. Vincey or of
his own name. Instead, he cut at his friend savagely with the stick,
hitting him in the face within an inch of the eye. Mr. Vincey, stunned
and astonished, staggered back, lost his footing, and fell heavily on
the pavement. It seemed to him that Mr. Bessel leapt over him as he
fell. When he looked again Mr. Bessel had vanished, and a policeman and
a number of garden porters and salesmen were rushing past towards Long
Acre in hot pursuit.
With the assistance of several passers-by--for the whole street was
speedily alive with running people--Mr. Vincey struggled to his feet.
He at once became the centre of a crowd greedy to see his injury. A
multitude of voices competed to reassure him of his safety, and then to
tell him of the behaviour of the madman, as they regarded Mr. Bessel.
He had suddenly appeared in the middle of the market screaming "LIFE!
LIFE!" striking left and right with a blood-stained walking-stick,
dancing and shouting with laughter at each successful blow. A lad and
two women had broken heads, and he had smashed a man's wrist; a little
child had been knocked insensible, and for a time he had driven every
one before him, so furious and resolute had his behaviour been. Then he
made a raid upon a coffee stall, hurled its paraffin flare through
the window of the post office, and fled laughing, after stunning the
foremost of the two policemen who had the pluck to charge him.
Mr. Vincey's first impulse was naturally to join in the pursuit of
his friend, in order if possible to save him from the violence of the
indignant people. But his action was slow, the blow had half stunned
him, and while this was still no more than a resolution came the news,
shouted through the crowd, that Mr. Bessel had eluded his pursuers. At
first Mr. Vincey could scarcely credit this, but the universality of
the report, and presently the dignified return of two futile policemen,
convinced him. After some aimless inquiries he returned towards Staple
Inn, padding a handkerchief to a now very painful nose.
He was angry and astonished and perplexed. It appeared to him
indisputable that Mr. Bessel must have gone violently mad in the midst
of his experiment in thought transference, but why that should make him
appear with a sad white face in Mr. Vincey's dreams seemed a problem
beyond solution. He racked his brains in vain to explain this. It seemed
to him at last that not simply Mr. Bessel, but the order of things
must be insane. But he could think of nothing to do. He shut himself
carefully into his room, lit his fire--it was a gas fire with asbestos
bricks--and, fearing fresh dreams if he went to bed, remained bathing
his injured face, or holding up books in a vain attempt to read, until
dawn. Throughout that vigil he had a curious persuasion that Mr. Bessel
was endeavouring to speak to him, but he would not let himself attend to
any such belief.
About dawn, his physical fatigue asserted itself, and he went to bed
slept at last in spite of dreaming. He rose late, unrested and anxious,
and in considerable facial pain. The morning papers had no news of
Mr. Bessel's aberration--it had come too late for them. Mr. Vincey's
perplexities, to which the fever of his bruise added fresh irritation,
became at last intolerable, and, after a fruitless visit to the Albany,
he went down to St. Paul's Churchyard to Mr. Hart, Mr. Bessel's partner,
and, so far as Mr. Vincey knew, his nearest friend.
He was surprised to learn that Mr. Hart, although he knew nothing of
outbreak, had also been disturbed by a vision, the very vision that Mr.
Vincey had seen--Mr. Bessel, white and dishevelled, pleading earnestly
by his gestures for help. That was his impression of the import of his
signs. "I was just going to look him up in the Albany when you arrived,"
said Mr. Hart. "I was so sure of something being wrong with him."
As the outcome of their consultation the two gentlemen decided to
inquire at Scotland Yard for news of their missing friend. "He is bound
to be laid by the heels," said Mr. Hart. "He can't go on at that
for long." But the police authorities had not laid Mr. Bessel by the
heels. They confirmed Mr. Vincey's overnight experiences and added fresh
circumstances, some of an even graver character than those he knew--a
list of smashed glass along the upper half of Tottenham Court Road, an
attack upon a policeman in Hampstead Road, and an atrocious assault upon
a woman. All these outrages were committed between half-past twelve and
a quarter to two in the morning, and between those hours--and, indeed,
from the very moment of Mr. Bessel's first rush from his rooms at
half-past nine in the evening--they could trace the deepening violence
of his fantastic career. For the last hour, at least from before one,
that is, until a quarter to two, he had run amuck through London,
eluding with amazing agility every effort to stop or capture him.
But after a quarter to two he had vanished. Up to that hour witnesses
were multitudinous. Dozens of people had seen him, fled from him or
pursued him, and then things suddenly came to an end. At a quarter to
two he had been seen running down the Euston Road towards Baker Street,
flourishing a can of burning colza oil and jerking splashes of flame
therefrom at the windows of the houses he passed. But none of the
policemen on Euston Road beyond the Waxwork Exhibition, nor any of
those in the side streets down which he must have passed had he left the
Euston Road, had seen anything of him. Abruptly he disappeared. Nothing
of his subsequent doings came to light in spite of the keenest inquiry.
Here was a fresh astonishment for Mr. Vincey. He had found considerable
comfort in Mr. Hart's conviction: "He is bound to be laid by the heels
before long," and in that assurance he had been able to suspend his
mental perplexities. But any fresh development seemed destined to add
new impossibilities to a pile already heaped beyond the powers of his
acceptance. He found himself doubting whether his memory might not have
played him some grotesque trick, debating whether any of these things
could possibly have happened; and in the afternoon he hunted up Mr. Hart
again to share the intolerable weight on his mind. He found Mr. Hart
engaged with a well-known private detective, but as that gentleman
accomplished nothing in this case, we need not enlarge upon his
All that day Mr. Bessel's whereabouts eluded an unceasingly active
inquiry, and all that night. And all that day there was a persuasion in
the back of Vincey's mind that Mr. Bessel sought his attention, and all
through the night Mr. Bessel with a tear-stained face of anguish pursued
him through his dreams. And whenever he saw Mr. Bessel in his dreams he
also saw a number of other faces, vague but malignant, that seemed to be
pursuing Mr. Bessel.
It was on the following day, Sunday, that Mr. Vincey recalled certain
remarkable stories of Mrs. Bullock, the medium, who was then attracting
attention for the first time in London. He determined to consult her.
She was staying at the house of that well-known inquirer, Dr. Wilson
Paget, and Mr. Vincey, although he had never met that gentleman before,
repaired to him forthwith with the intention of invoking her help.
But scarcely had he mentioned the name of Bessel when Doctor Paget
interrupted him. "Last night--just at the end," he said, "we
He left the room, and returned with a slate on which were certain words
written in a handwriting, shaky indeed, but indisputably the handwriting
of Mr. Bessel!
"How did you get this?" said Mr. Vincey. "Do you mean--?"
"We got it last night," said Doctor Paget. With numerous interruptions
from Mr. Vincey, he proceeded to explain how the writing had been
obtained. It appears that in her seances, Mrs. Bullock passes into a
condition of trance, her eyes rolling up in a strange way under her
eyelids, and her body becoming rigid. She then begins to talk very
rapidly, usually in voices other than her own. At the same time one
or both of her hands may become active, and if slates and pencils are
provided they will then write messages simultaneously with and quite
independently of the flow of words from her mouth. By many she is
considered an even more remarkable medium than the celebrated Mrs.
Piper. It was one of these messages, the one written by her left hand,
that Mr. Vincey now had before him. It consisted of eight words written
disconnectedly: "George Bessel... trial excavn.... Baker Street...
help... starvation." Curiously enough, neither Doctor Paget nor the
other inquirers who were present had heard of the disappearance of
Mr. Bessel--the news of it appeared only in the evening papers of
Saturday--and they had put the message aside with many others of a vague
and enigmatical sort that Mrs. Bullock has from time to time delivered.
When Doctor Paget heard Mr. Vincey's story, he gave himself at once with
great energy to the pursuit of this clue to the discovery of Mr. Bessel.
It would serve no useful purpose here to describe the inquiries of Mr.
Vincey and himself; suffice it that the clue was a genuine one, and that
Mr. Bessel was actually discovered by its aid.
He was found at the bottom of a detached shaft which had been sunk and
abandoned at the commencement of the work for the new electric railway
near Baker Street Station. His arm and leg and two ribs were broken.
The shaft is protected by a hoarding nearly 20 feet high, and over this,
incredible as it seems, Mr. Bessel, a stout, middle-aged gentleman,
must have scrambled in order to fall down the shaft. He was saturated in
colza oil, and the smashed tin lay beside him, but luckily the flame
had been extinguished by his fall. And his madness had passed from him
altogether. But he was, of course, terribly enfeebled, and at the sight
of his rescuers he gave way to hysterical weeping.
In view of the deplorable state of his flat, he was taken to the house
of Dr. Hatton in Upper Baker Street. Here he was subjected to a sedative
treatment, and anything that might recall the violent crisis through
which he had passed was carefully avoided. But on the second day he
volunteered a statement.
Since that occasion Mr. Bessel has several times repeated this
statement--to myself among other people--varying the details as the
narrator of real experiences always does, but never by any chance
contradicting himself in any particular. And the statement he makes is
in substance as follows.
In order to understand it clearly it is necessary to go back to his
experiments with Mr. Vincey before his remarkable attack. Mr. Bessel's
first attempts at self-projection, in his experiments with Mr. Vincey,
were, as the reader will remember, unsuccessful. But through all of
them he was concentrating all his power and will upon getting out of the
body--"willing it with all my might," he says. At last, almost
expectation, came success. And Mr. Bessel asserts that he, being alive,
did actually, by an effort of will, leave his body and pass into some
place or state outside this world.
The release was, he asserts, instantaneous. "At one moment I was
in my chair, with my eyes tightly shut, my hands gripping the arms of
the chair, doing all I could to concentrate my mind on Vincey, and then
I perceived myself outside my body--saw my body near me, but certainly
not containing me, with the hands relaxing and the head drooping forward
on the breast."
Nothing shakes him in his assurance of that release. He describes in
quiet, matter-of-fact way the new sensation he experienced. He felt he
had become impalpable--so much he had expected, but he had not expected
to find himself enormously large. So, however, it would seem he became.
"I was a great cloud--if I may express it that way--anchored to my
It appeared to me, at first, as if I had discovered a greater self of
which the conscious being in my brain was only a little part. I saw the
Albany and Piccadilly and Regent Street and all the rooms and places in
the houses, very minute and very bright and distinct, spread out below
me like a little city seen from a balloon. Every now and then vague
shapes like drifting wreaths of smoke made the vision a little
indistinct, but at first I paid little heed to them. The thing that
astonished me most, and which astonishes me still, is that I saw quite
distinctly the insides of the houses as well as the streets, saw little
people dining and talking in the private houses, men and women dining,
playing billiards, and drinking in restaurants and hotels, and several
places of entertainment crammed with people. It was like watching the
affairs of a glass hive."
Such were Mr. Bessel's exact words as I took them down when he told
me the story. Quite forgetful of Mr. Vincey, he remained for a space
observing these things. Impelled by curiosity, he says, he stooped down,
and, with the shadowy arm he found himself possessed of, attempted to
touch a man walking along Vigo Street. But he could not do so, though
his finger seemed to pass through the man. Something prevented his doing
this, but what it was he finds it hard to describe. He compares the
obstacle to a sheet of glass.
"I felt as a kitten may feel," he said, "when it goes
for the first time
to pat its reflection in a mirror." Again and again, on the occasion
when I heard him tell this story, Mr. Bessel returned to that comparison
of the sheet of glass. Yet it was not altogether a precise comparison,
because, as the reader will speedily see, there were interruptions of
this generally impermeable resistance, means of getting through the
barrier to the material world again. But, naturally, there is a very
great difficulty in expressing these unprecedented impressions in the
language of everyday experience.
A thing that impressed him instantly, and which weighed upon him
throughout all this experience, was the stillness of this place--he was
in a world without sound.
At first Mr. Bessel's mental state was an unemotional wonder. His
thought chiefly concerned itself with where he might be. He was out of
the body--out of his material body, at any rate--but that was not all.
He believes, and I for one believe also, that he was somewhere out of
space, as we understand it, altogether. By a strenuous effort of will
he had passed out of his body into a world beyond this world, a world
undreamt of, yet lying so close to it and so strangely situated with
regard to it that all things on this earth are clearly visible both from
without and from within in this other world about us. For a long time,
as it seemed to him, this realisation occupied his mind to the exclusion
of all other matters, and then he recalled the engagement with Mr.
Vincey, to which this astonishing experience was, after all, but a
He turned his mind to locomotion in this new body in which he found
himself. For a time he was unable to shift himself from his attachment
to his earthly carcass. For a time this new strange cloud body of
his simply swayed, contracted, expanded, coiled, and writhed with his
efforts to free himself, and then quite suddenly the link that bound
him snapped. For a moment everything was hidden by what appeared to be
whirling spheres of dark vapour, and then through a momentary gap he saw
his drooping body collapse limply, saw his lifeless head drop sideways,
and found he was driving along like a huge cloud in a strange place of
shadowy clouds that had the luminous intricacy of London spread like a
But now he was aware that the fluctuating vapour about him was something
more than vapour, and the temerarious excitement of his first essay
was shot with fear. For he perceived, at first indistinctly, and then
suddenly very clearly, that he was surrounded by FACES! that each roll
and coil of the seeming cloud-stuff was a face. And such faces! Faces of
thin shadow, faces of gaseous tenuity. Faces like those faces that glare
with intolerable strangeness upon the sleeper in the evil hours of his
dreams. Evil, greedy eyes that were full of a covetous curiosity, faces
with knit brows and snarling, smiling lips; their vague hands clutched
at Mr. Bessel as he passed, and the rest of their bodies was but an
elusive streak of trailing darkness. Never a word they said, never a
sound from the mouths that seemed to gibber. All about him they pressed
in that dreamy silence, passing freely through the dim mistiness that
was his body, gathering ever more numerously about him. And the shadowy
Mr. Bessel, now suddenly fear-stricken, drove through the silent, active
multitude of eyes and clutching hands.
So inhuman were these faces, so malignant their staring eyes, and
shadowy, clawing gestures, that it did not occur to Mr. Bessel to
attempt intercourse with these drifting creatures. Idiot phantoms, they
seemed, children of vain desire, beings unborn and forbidden the boon of
being, whose only expressions and gestures told of the envy and craving
for life that was their one link with existence.
It says much for his resolution that, amidst the swarming cloud of these
noiseless spirits of evil, he could still think of Mr. Vincey. He made
a violent effort of will and found himself, he knew not how, stooping
towards Staple Inn, saw Vincey sitting attentive and alert in his
arm-chair by the fire.
And clustering also about him, as they clustered ever about all that
lives and breathes, was another multitude of these vain voiceless
shadows, longing, desiring, seeking some loophole into life.
For a space Mr. Bessel sought ineffectually to attract his friend's
attention. He tried to get in front of his eyes, to move the objects in
his room, to touch him. But Mr. Vincey remained unaffected, ignorant of
the being that was so close to his own. The strange something that Mr.
Bessel has compared to a sheet of glass separated them impermeably.
And at last Mr. Bessel did a desperate thing. I have told how that in
some strange way he could see not only the outside of a man as we see
him, but within. He extended his shadowy hand and thrust his vague black
fingers, as it seemed, through the heedless brain.
Then, suddenly, Mr. Vincey started like a man who recalls his attention
from wandering thoughts, and it seemed to Mr. Bessel that a little
dark-red body situated in the middle of Mr. Vincey's brain swelled and
glowed as he did so. Since that experience he has been shown anatomical
figures of the brain, and he knows now that this is that useless
structure, as doctors call it, the pineal eye. For, strange as it will
seem to many, we have, deep in our brains--where it cannot possibly
see any earthly light--an eye! At the time this, with the rest of the
internal anatomy of the brain, was quite new to him. At the sight of
its changed appearance, however, he thrust forth his finger, and,
rather fearful still of the consequences, touched this little spot. And
instantly Mr. Vincey started, and Mr. Bessel knew that he was seen.
And at that instant it came to Mr. Bessel that evil had happened to his
body, and behold! a great wind blew through all that world of shadows
and tore him away. So strong was this persuasion that he thought no more
of Mr. Vincey, but turned about forthwith, and all the countless faces
drove back with him like leaves before a gale. But he returned too
late. In an instant he saw the body that he had left inert and
collapsed--lying, indeed, like the body of a man just dead--had arisen,
had arisen by virtue of some strength and will beyond his own. It stood
with staring eyes, stretching its limbs in dubious fashion.
For a moment he watched it in wild dismay, and then he stooped towards
it. But the pane of glass had closed against him again, and he was
foiled. He beat himself passionately against this, and all about him the
spirits of evil grinned and pointed and mocked. He gave way to furious
anger. He compares himself to a bird that has fluttered heedlessly
into a room and is beating at the window-pane that holds it back from
And behold! the little body that had once been his was now dancing with
delight. He saw it shouting, though he could not hear its shouts; he saw
the violence of its movements grow. He watched it fling his cherished
furniture about in the mad delight of existence, rend his books apart,
smash bottles, drink heedlessly from the jagged fragments, leap and
smite in a passionate acceptance of living. He watched these actions
in paralysed astonishment. Then once more he hurled himself against the
impassable barrier, and then with all that crew of mocking ghosts about
him, hurried back in dire confusion to Vincey to tell him of the outrage
that had come upon him.
But the brain of Vincey was now closed against apparitions, and the
disembodied Mr. Bessel pursued him in vain as he hurried out into
Holborn to call a cab. Foiled and terror-stricken, Mr. Bessel swept back
again, to find his desecrated body whooping in a glorious frenzy down
the Burlington Arcade....
And now the attentive reader begins to understand Mr. Bessel's
interpretation of the first part of this strange story. The being whose
frantic rush through London had inflicted so much injury and disaster
had indeed Mr. Bessel's body, but it was not Mr. Bessel. It was an evil
spirit out of that strange world beyond existence, into which Mr. Bessel
had so rashly ventured. For twenty hours it held possession of him, and
for all those twenty hours the dispossessed spirit-body of Mr. Bessel
was going to and fro in that unheard-of middle world of shadows seeking
help in vain. He spent many hours beating at the minds of Mr. Vincey and
of his friend Mr. Hart. Each, as we know, he roused by his efforts. But
the language that might convey his situation to these helpers across the
gulf he did not know; his feeble fingers groped vainly and powerlessly
in their brains. Once, indeed, as we have already told, he was able to
turn Mr. Vincey aside from his path so that he encountered the stolen
body in its career, but he could not make him understand the thing that
had happened: he was unable to draw any help from that encounter....
All through those hours the persuasion was overwhelming in Mr. Bessel's
mind that presently his body would be killed by its furious tenant, and
he would have to remain in this shadow-land for evermore. So that those
long hours were a growing agony of fear. And ever as he hurried to and
fro in his ineffectual excitement, innumerable spirits of that world
about him mobbed him and confused his mind. And ever an envious
applauding multitude poured after their successful fellow as he went
upon his glorious career.
For that, it would seem, must be the life of these bodiless things of
this world that is the shadow of our world. Ever they watch, coveting
a way into a mortal body, in order that they may descend, as furies and
frenzies, as violent lusts and mad, strange impulses, rejoicing in the
body they have won. For Mr. Bessel was not the only human soul in that
place. Witness the fact that he met first one, and afterwards several
shadows of men, men like himself, it seemed, who had lost their bodies
even it may be as he had lost his, and wandered, despairingly, in that
lost world that is neither life nor death. They could not speak because
that world is silent, yet he knew them for men because of their dim
human bodies, and because of the sadness of their faces.
But how they had come into that world he could not tell, nor where the
bodies they had lost might be, whether they still raved about the earth,
or whether they were closed forever in death against return. That they
were the spirits of the dead neither he nor I believe. But Doctor Wilson
Paget thinks they are the rational souls of men who are lost in madness
on the earth.
At last Mr. Bessel chanced upon a place where a little crowd of such
disembodied silent creatures was gathered, and thrusting through them
he saw below a brightly-lit room, and four or five quiet gentlemen and a
woman, a stoutish woman dressed in black bombazine and sitting awkwardly
in a chair with her head thrown back. He knew her from her portraits to
be Mrs. Bullock, the medium. And he perceived that tracts and structures
in her brain glowed and stirred as he had seen the pineal eye in the
brain of Mr. Vincey glow. The light was very fitful; sometimes it was a
broad illumination, and sometimes merely a faint twilight spot, and it
shifted slowly about her brain. She kept on talking and writing with one
hand. And Mr. Bessel saw that the crowding shadows of men about him,
and a great multitude of the shadow spirits of that shadowland, were all
striving and thrusting to touch the lighted regions of her brain. As one
gained her brain or another was thrust away, her voice and the writing
of her hand changed. So that what she said was disorderly and confused
for the most part; now a fragment of one soul's message, and now a
fragment of another's, and now she babbled the insane fancies of the
spirits of vain desire. Then Mr. Bessel understood that she spoke
for the spirit that had touch of her, and he began to struggle very
furiously towards her. But he was on the outside of the crowd and at
that time he could not reach her, and at last, growing anxious, he went
away to find what had happened meanwhile to his body. For a long time
he went to and fro seeking it in vain and fearing that it must have been
killed, and then he found it at the bottom of the shaft in Baker Street,
writhing furiously and cursing with pain. Its leg and an arm and two
ribs had been broken by its fall. Moreover, the evil spirit was angry
because his time had been so short and because of the painmaking violent
movements and casting his body about.
And at that Mr. Bessel returned with redoubled earnestness to the room
where the seance was going on, and so soon as he had thrust himself
within sight of the place he saw one of the men who stood about the
medium looking at his watch as if he meant that the seance should
presently end. At that a great number of the shadows who had been
striving turned away with gestures of despair. But the thought that the
seance was almost over only made Mr. Bessel the more earnest, and he
struggled so stoutly with his will against the others that presently he
gained the woman's brain. It chanced that just at that moment it glowed
very brightly, and in that instant she wrote the message that Doctor
Wilson Paget preserved. And then the other shadows and the cloud of evil
spirits about him had thrust Mr. Bessel away from her, and for all the
rest of the seance he could regain her no more.
So he went back and watched through the long hours at the bottom of
the shaft where the evil spirit lay in the stolen body it had maimed,
writhing and cursing, and weeping and groaning, and learning the lesson
of pain. And towards dawn the thing he had waited for happened, the
brain glowed brightly and the evil spirit came out, and Mr. Bessel
entered the body he had feared he should never enter again. As he did
so, the silence--the brooding silence--ended; he heard the tumult of
traffic and the voices of people overhead, and that strange world that
is the shadow of our world--the dark and silent shadows of ineffectual
desire and the shadows of lost men--vanished clean away.
He lay there for the space of about three hours before he was found.
in spite of the pain and suffering of his wounds, and of the dim damp
place in which he lay; in spite of the tears--wrung from him by his
physical distress--his heart was full of gladness to know that he was
nevertheless back once more in the kindly world of men.
11. MR. BRISHER'S TREASURE
"You can't be TOO careful WHO you marry," said Mr. Brisher,
thoughtfully with a fat-wristed hand at the lank moustache that hides
his want of chin.
"That's why--" I ventured.
"Yes," said Mr. Brisher, with a solemn light in his bleary,
eyes, moving his head expressively and breathing alcohol INTIMATELY at
me. "There's lots as 'ave 'ad a try at me--many as I could name in
town--but none 'ave done it--none."
I surveyed the flushed countenance, the equatorial expansion, the
masterly carelessness of his attire, and heaved a sigh to think that
by reason of the unworthiness of women he must needs be the last of his
"I was a smart young chap when I was younger," said Mr. Brisher.
my work cut out. But I was very careful--very. And I got through..."
He leant over the taproom table and thought visibly on the subject of
trustworthiness. I was relieved at last by his confidence.
"I was engaged once," he said at last, with a reminiscent eye
"So near as that?"
He looked at me. "So near as that. Fact is--" He looked about
brought his face close to mine, lowered his voice, and fenced off an
unsympathetic world with a grimy hand. "If she ain't dead or married
some one else or anything--I'm engaged still. Now." He confirmed this
statement with nods and facial contortions. "STILL," he said,
pantomime, and broke into a reckless smile at my surprise. "ME!"
"Run away," he explained further, with coruscating eyebrows.
"That ain't all.
"You'd 'ardly believe it," he said, "but I found a treasure.
I fancied this was irony, and did not, perhaps, greet it with proper
surprise. "Yes," he said, "I found a treasure. And come 'ome.
I tell you
I could surprise you with things that has happened to me." And for
time he was content to repeat that he had found a treasure--and left it.
I made no vulgar clamour for a story, but I became attentive to Mr.
Brisher's bodily needs, and presently I led him back to the deserted
"She was a nice girl," he said--a little sadly, I thought.
He raised his eyebrows and tightened his mouth to express extreme
respectability--beyond the likes of us elderly men.
"It was a long way from 'ere. Essex, in fact. Near Colchester. It
when I was up in London--in the buildin' trade. I was a smart young
chap then, I can tell you. Slim. 'Ad best clo'es 's good as anybody.
'At--SILK 'at, mind you." Mr. Brisher's hand shot above his head towards
the infinite to indicate it silk hat of the highest. "Umbrella--nice
umbrella with a 'orn 'andle. Savin's. Very careful I was...."
He was pensive for a little while, thinking, as we must all come to
think sooner or later, of the vanished brightness of youth. But he
refrained, as one may do in taprooms, from the obvious moral.
"I got to know 'er through a chap what was engaged to 'er sister.
was stopping in London for a bit with an aunt that 'ad a 'am an' beef
shop. This aunt was very particular--they was all very particular
people, all 'er people was--and wouldn't let 'er sister go out with this
feller except 'er other sister, MY girl that is, went with them. So 'e
brought me into it, sort of to ease the crowding. We used to go walks in
Battersea Park of a Sunday afternoon. Me in my topper, and 'im in 'is;
and the girl's--well--stylish. There wasn't many in Battersea Park 'ad
the larf of us. She wasn't what you'd call pretty, but a nicer girl I
never met. _I_ liked 'er from the start, and, well--though I say it who
shouldn't--she liked me. You know 'ow it is, I dessay?"
I pretended I did.
"And when this chap married 'er sister--'im and me was great
friends--what must 'e do but arst me down to Colchester, close by where
She lived. Naturally I was introjuced to 'er people, and well, very
soon, her and me was engaged."
He repeated "engaged."
"She lived at 'ome with 'er father and mother, quite the lady, in
nice little 'ouse with a garden--and remarkable respectable people they
was. Rich you might call 'em a'most. They owned their own 'ouse--got
it out of the Building Society, and cheap because the chap who had it
before was a burglar and in prison--and they 'ad a bit of free'old land,
and some cottages and money 'nvested--all nice and tight: they was what
you'd call snug and warm. I tell you, I was On. Furniture too. Why! They
'ad a pianner. Jane--'er name was Jane--used to play it Sundays, and
very nice she played too. There wasn't 'ardly a 'im toon in the book she
"Many's the evenin' we've met and sung 'ims there, me and 'er and
"'Er father was quite a leadin' man in chapel. You should ha' seen
Sundays, interruptin' the minister and givin' out 'ims. He had gold
spectacles, I remember, and used to look over 'em at you while he sang
hearty--he was always great on singing 'earty to the Lord--and when HE
got out o' toon 'arf the people went after 'im--always. 'E was that sort
of man. And to walk be'ind 'im in 'is nice black clo'es--'is 'at was a
brimmer--made one regular proud to be engaged to such a father-in-law.
And when the summer came I went down there and stopped a fortnight.
"Now, you know there was a sort of Itch," said Mr. Brisher.
to marry, me and Jane did, and get things settled. But 'E said I 'ad
to get a proper position first. Consequently there was a Itch.
Consequently, when I went down there, I was anxious to show that I was a
good useful sort of chap like. Show I could do pretty nearly everything
I made a sympathetic noise.
"And down at the bottom of their garden was a bit of wild part like.
I says to 'im, 'Why don't you 'ave a rockery 'ere?' I says. 'It 'ud look
"'Too much expense,' he says.
"'Not a penny,' says I. 'I'm a dab at rockeries. Lemme make you
You see, I'd 'elped my brother make a rockery in the beer garden be'ind
'is tap, so I knew 'ow to do it to rights. 'Lemme make you one,' I says.
'It's 'olidays, but I'm that sort of chap, I 'ate doing nothing,' I
says. 'I'll make you one to rights.' And the long and the short of it
was, he said I might.
"And that's 'ow I come on the treasure."
"What treasure?" I asked.
"Why!" said Mr. Brisher, "the treasure I'm telling you
about, what's the
reason why I never married."
"What!--a treasure--dug up?"
"Yes--buried wealth--treasure trove. Come out of the ground. What
kept on saying--regular treasure...." He looked at me with unusual
"It wasn't more than a foot deep, not the top of it," he said.
'ardly got thirsty like, before I come on the corner."
"Go on," I said. "I didn't understand."
"Why! Directly I 'it the box I knew it was treasure. A sort of instinct
told me. Something seemed to shout inside of me--'Now's your chance--lie
low.' It's lucky I knew the laws of treasure trove or I'd 'ave been
shoutin' there and then. I daresay you know--"
"Crown bags it," I said, "all but one per cent. Go on.
It's a shame.
What did you do?"
"Uncovered the top of the box. There wasn't anybody in the garden
about like. Jane was 'elping 'er mother do the 'ouse. I WAS excited--I
tell you. I tried the lock and then gave a whack at the hinges. Open it
came. Silver coins--full! Shining. It made me tremble to see 'em. And
jest then--I'm blessed if the dustman didn't come round the back of the
'ouse. It pretty nearly gave me 'eart disease to think what a fool I
was to 'ave that money showing. And directly after I 'eard the chap next
door--'e was 'olidaying, too--I 'eard him watering 'is beans. If only
'e'd looked over the fence!"
"What did you do?"
"Kicked the lid on again and covered it up like a shot, and went
digging about a yard away from it--like mad. And my face, so to speak,
was laughing on its own account till I had it hid. I tell you I was
regular scared like at my luck. I jest thought that it 'ad to be
kep' close and that was all. 'Treasure,' I kep' whisperin' to myself,
'Treasure' and ''undreds of pounds, 'undreds, 'undreds of pounds.'
Whispering to myself like, and digging like blazes. It seemed to me the
box was regular sticking out and showing, like your legs do under the
sheets in bed, and I went and put all the earth I'd got out of my 'ole
for the rockery slap on top of it. I WAS in a sweat. And in the midst of
it all out toddles 'er father. He didn't say anything to me, jest stood
behind me and stared, but Jane tole me afterwards when he went indoors,
'e says, 'That there jackanapes of yours, Jane'--he always called me
a jackanapes some'ow--'knows 'ow to put 'is back into it after all.'
Seemed quite impressed by it, 'e did."
"How long was the box?" I asked, suddenly.
"'Ow long?" said Mr. Brisher.
"Oh! 'bout so-by-so." Mr. Brisher indicated a moderate-sized
"FULL?" said I.
"Full up of silver coins--'arf-crowns, I believe."
"Why!" I cried, "that would mean--hundreds of pounds."
"Thousands," said Mr. Brisher, in a sort of sad calm. "I
"But how did they get there?"
"All I know is what I found. What I thought at the time was this.
chap who'd owned the 'ouse before 'er father 'd been a regular slap-up
burglar. What you'd call a 'igh-class criminal. Used to drive 'is
trap--like Peace did." Mr. Brisher meditated on the difficulties of
narration and embarked on a complicated parenthesis. "I don't know
told you it'd been a burglar's 'ouse before it was my girl's father's,
and I knew 'e'd robbed a mail train once, I did know that. It seemed to
"That's very likely," I said. "But what did you do?"
"Sweated," said Mr. Brisher. "Regular run orf me. All
said Mr. Brisher, "I was at it, pretending to make that rockery and
wondering what I should do. I'd 'ave told 'er father p'r'aps, only I was
doubtful of 'is honesty--I was afraid he might rob me of it like, and
give it up to the authorities--and besides, considering I was marrying
into the family, I thought it would be nicer like if it came through me.
Put me on a better footing, so to speak. Well, I 'ad three days before
me left of my 'olidays, so there wasn't no hurry, so I covered it up and
went on digging, and tried to puzzle out 'ow I was to make sure of it.
Only I couldn't.
"I thought," said Mr. Brisher, "AND I thought. Once I
doubtful whether I'd seen it or not, and went down to it and 'ad it
uncovered again, just as her ma came out to 'ang up a bit of washin'
she'd done. Jumps again! Afterwards I was just thinking I'd 'ave another
go at it, when Jane comes to tell me dinner was ready. 'You'll want it,'
she said, 'seeing all the 'ole you've dug.'
"I was in a regular daze all dinner, wondering whether that chap
door wasn't over the fence and filling 'is pockets. But in the afternoon
I got easier in my mind--it seemed to me it must 'ave been there so long
it was pretty sure to stop a bit longer--and I tried to get up a bit of
a discussion to dror out the old man and see what 'E thought of treasure
Mr. Brisher paused, and affected amusement at the memory.
"The old man was a scorcher," he said; "a regular scorcher."
"What!" said I; "did he--?"
"It was like this," explained Mr. Brisher, laying a friendly
hand on my
arm and breathing into my face to calm me. "Just to dror 'im out, I
a story of a chap I said I knew--pretendin', you know--who'd found a
sovring in a novercoat 'e'd borrowed. I said 'e stuck to it, but I said
I wasn't sure whether that was right or not. And then the old man
began. Lor'! 'e DID let me 'ave it!" Mr. Brisher affected an insincere
amusement. "'E was, well--what you might call a rare 'and at Snacks.
Said that was the sort of friend 'e'd naturally expect me to 'ave. Said
'e'd naturally expect that from the friend of a out-of-work loafer who
took up with daughters who didn't belong to 'im. There! I couldn't tell
you 'ARF 'e said. 'E went on most outrageous. I stood up to 'im about
it, just to dror 'im out. 'Wouldn't you stick to a 'arf-sov', not if you
found it in the street?' I says. 'Certainly not,' 'e says; 'certainly
I wouldn't.' 'What! not if you found it as a sort of treasure?'
'Young man,' 'e says, 'there's 'i'er 'thority than mine--Render unto
Caesar'--what is it? Yes. Well, he fetched up that. A rare 'and at
'itting you over the 'ed with the Bible, was the old man. And so he
went on. 'E got to such Snacks about me at last I couldn't stand it. I'd
promised Jane not to answer 'im back, but it got a bit TOO thick. I--I
give it 'im..."
Mr. Brisher, by means of enigmatical facework, tried to make me think
had had the best of that argument, but I knew better.
"I went out in a 'uff at last. But not before I was pretty sure
to lift that treasure by myself. The only thing that kep' me up was
thinking 'ow I'd take it out of 'im when I 'ad the cash."
There was a lengthy pause.
"Now, you'd 'ardly believe it, but all them three days I never 'ad
chance at the blessed treasure, never got out not even a 'arf-crown.
There was always a Somethink--always.
"'Stonishing thing it isn't thought of more," said Mr. Brisher.
treasure's no great shakes. It's gettin' it. I don't suppose I slep' a
wink any of those nights, thinking where I was to take it, what I was to
do with it, 'ow I was to explain it. It made me regular ill. And days I
was that dull, it made Jane regular 'uffy. 'You ain't the same chap you
was in London,' she says, several times. I tried to lay it on 'er father
and 'is Snacks, but bless you, she knew better. What must she 'ave but
that I'd got another girl on my mind! Said I wasn't True. Well, we had a
bit of a row. But I was that set on the Treasure, I didn't seem to mind
a bit Anything she said.
"Well, at last I got a sort of plan. I was always a bit good at
planning, though carrying out isn't so much in my line. I thought it
all out and settled on a plan. First, I was going to take all my pockets
full of these 'ere 'arf-crowns--see?--and afterwards as I shall tell.
"Well, I got to that state I couldn't think of getting at the Treasure
again in the daytime, so I waited until the night before I had to go,
and then, when everything was still, up I gets and slips down to
the back door, meaning to get my pockets full. What must I do in the
scullery but fall over a pail! Up gets 'er father with a gun--'e was a
light sleeper was 'er father, and very suspicious and there was me: 'ad
to explain I'd come down to the pump for a drink because my water-bottle
was bad. 'E didn't let me off a Snack or two over that bit, you lay a
"And you mean to say--" I began.
"Wait a bit," said Mr. Brisher. "I say, I'd made my plan.
That put the
kybosh on one bit, but it didn't 'urt the general scheme not a bit.
I went and I finished that rockery next day, as though there wasn't a
Snack in the world; cemented over the stones, I did, dabbed it green and
everythink. I put a dab of green just to show where the box was. They
all came and looked at it, and sai 'ow nice it was--even 'e was a bit
softer like to see it, and all he said was, 'It's a pity you can't
always work like that, then you might get something definite to do,' he
"'Yes,' I says--I couldn't 'elp it--'I put a lot in that rockery,'
says, like that. See? 'I put a lot in that rockery'--meaning--"
"I see," said I--for Mr. Brisher is apt to overelaborate his
"_'E_ didn't," said Mr. Brisher. "Not then, anyhow.
"Ar'ever--after all that was over, off I set for London.... Orf
"On'y I wasn't going to no London," said Mr. Brisher, with
animation, and thrusting his face into mine. "No fear! What do YOU
"I didn't go no further than Colchester--not a yard.
"I'd left the spade just where I could find it. I'd got everything
planned and right. I 'ired a little trap in Colchester, and pretended I
wanted to go to Ipswich and stop the night, and come back next day, and
the chap I 'ired it from made me leave two sovrings on it right away,
and off I set.
"I didn't go to no Ipswich neither.
"Midnight the 'orse and trap was 'itched by the little road that
the cottage where 'e lived--not sixty yards off, it wasn't--and I was at
it like a good 'un. It was jest the night for such games--overcast--but
a trifle too 'ot, and all round the sky there was summer lightning and
presently a thunderstorm. Down it came. First big drops in a sort of
fizzle, then 'ail. I kep'on. I whacked at it--I didn't dream the old man
would 'ear. I didn't even trouble to go quiet with the spade, and the
thunder and lightning and 'ail seemed to excite me like. I shouldn't
wonder if I was singing. I got so 'ard at it I clean forgot the thunder
and the 'orse and trap. I precious soon got the box showing, and started
to lift it...."
"Heavy?" I said.
"I couldn't no more lift it than fly. I WAS sick. I'd never thought
that I got regular wild--I tell you, I cursed. I got sort of outrageous.
I didn't think of dividing it like for the minute, and even then I
couldn't 'ave took money about loose in a trap. I hoisted one end sort
of wild like, and over the whole show went with a tremenjous noise.
Perfeck smash of silver. And then right on the heels of that, Flash!
Lightning like the day! and there was the back door open and the old
man coming down the garden with 'is blooming old gun. He wasn't not a
'undred yards away!
"I tell you I was that upset--I didn't think what I was doing. I
stopped-not even to fill my pockets. I went over the fence like a shot,
and ran like one o'clock for the trap, cussing and swearing as I went. I
WAS in a state....
"And will you believe me, when I got to the place where I'd left
'orse and trap, they'd gone. Orf! When I saw that I 'adn't a cuss left
for it. I jest danced on the grass, and when I'd danced enough I started
off to London.... I was done."
Mr. Brisher was pensive for an interval. "I was done," he repeated,
"Well?" I said.
"That's all," said Mr. Brisher.
"You didn't go back?"
"No fear. I'd 'ad enough of THAT blooming treasure, any'ow for a
Besides, I didn't know what was done to chaps who tried to collar a
treasure trove. I started off for London there and then...."
"And you never went back?"
"But about Jane? Did you write?"
"Three times, fishing like. And no answer. We'd parted in a bit
'uff on account of 'er being jealous. So that I couldn't make out for
certain what it meant.
"I didn't know what to do. I didn't even know whether the old man
it was me. I sort of kep' an eye open on papers to see when he'd give
up that treasure to the Crown, as I hadn't a doubt 'e would, considering
'ow respectable he'd always been."
"And did he?"
Mr. Brisher pursed his mouth and moved his head slowly from side to
side. "Not 'IM," he said.
"Jane was a nice girl," he said, "a thorough nice girl
mind you, if
jealous, and there's no knowing I mightn't 'ave gone back to 'er after a
bit. I thought if he didn't give up the treasure I might 'ave a sort
of 'old on 'im.... Well, one day I looks as usual under Colchester--and
there I saw 'is name. What for, d'yer think?"
I could not guess.
Mr. Brisher's voice sank to a whisper, and once more he spoke behind
his hand. His manner was suddenly suffused with a positive joy. "Issuing
counterfeit coins," he said. "Counterfeit coins!"
"You don't mean to say--?"
"Yes-It. Bad. Quite a long case they made of it. But they got 'im,
though he dodged tremenjous. Traced 'is 'aving passed, oh!--nearly a
dozen bad 'arf-crowns."
"And you didn't--?"
"No fear. And it didn't do 'IM much good to say it was treasure
12. MISS WINCHELSEA'S HEART
Miss Winchelsea was going to Rome. The matter had filled her mind for
a month or more, and had overflowed so abundantly into her conversation
that quite a number of people who were not going to Rome, and who were
not likely to go to Rome, had made it a personal grievance against her.
Some indeed had attempted quite unavailingly to convince her that Rome
was not nearly such a desirable place as it was reported to be, and
others had gone so far as to suggest behind her back that she was
dreadfully "stuck up" about "that Rome of hers." And
Hardhurst had told her friend Mr. Binns that so far as she was concerned
Miss Winchelsea might "go to her old Rome and stop there; SHE (Miss
Hardhurst) wouldn't grieve." And the way in which Miss Winchelsea put
herself upon terms of personal tenderness with Horace and Benvenuto
Cellini and Raphael and Shelley and Keats--if she had been Shelley's
widow she could not have professed a keener interest in his grave--was
a matter of universal astonishment. Her dress was a triumph of tactful
discretion, sensible, but not too "touristy"--Miss Winchelsea,
great dread of being "touristy"--and her Baedeker was carried
in a cover
of grey to hide its glaring red. She made a prim and pleasant little
figure on the Charing Cross platform, in spite of her swelling pride,
when at last the great day dawned, and she could start for Rome. The
day was bright, the Channel passage would be pleasant, and all the
omens promised well. There was the gayest sense of adventure in this
She was going with two friends who had been fellow-students with her
at the training college, nice honest girls both, though not so good at
history and literature as Miss Winchelsea. They both looked up to her
immensely, though physically they had to look down, and she anticipated
some pleasant times to be spent in "stirring them up" to her own
of aesthetic and historical enthusiasm. They had secured seats already,
and welcomed her effusively at the carriage door. In the instant
criticism of the encounter she noted that Fanny had a slightly
"touristy" leather strap, and that Helen had succumbed to a serge
with side pockets, into which her hands were thrust. But they were much
too happy with themselves and the expedition for their friend to
attempt any hint at the moment about these things. As soon as the first
ecstasies were over--Fanny's enthusiasm was a little noisy and crude,
and consisted mainly in emphatic repetitions of "Just FANCY! we're
going to Rome, my dear!--Rome!"--they gave their attention to their
fellow-travellers. Helen was anxious to secure a compartment to
themselves, and, in order to discourage intruders, got out and planted
herself firmly on the step. Miss Winchelsea peeped out over her
shoulder, and made sly little remarks about the accumulating people on
the platform, at which Fanny laughed gleefully.
They were travelling with one of Mr. Thomas Gunn's parties--fourteen
days in Rome for fourteen pounds. They did not belong to the personally
conducted party of course--Miss Winchelsea had seen to that--but they
travelled with it because of the convenience of that arrangement. The
people were the oddest mixture, and wonderfully amusing. There was a
vociferous red-faced polyglot personal conductor in a pepper-and-salt
suit, very long in the arms and legs and very active. He shouted
proclamations. When he wanted to speak to people he stretched out an arm
and held them until his purpose was accomplished. One hand was full of
papers, tickets, counterfoils of tourists. The people of the personally
conducted party were, it seemed, of two sorts; people the conductor
wanted and could not find, and people he did not want and who followed
him in a steadily growing tail up and down the platform. These people
seemed, indeed, to think that their one chance of reaching Rome lay
in keeping close to him. Three little old ladies were particularly
energetic in his pursuit, and at last maddened him to the pitch of
clapping them into a carriage and daring them to emerge again. For the
rest of the time, one, two, or three of their heads protruded from the
window wailing enquiries about "a little wickerwork box" whenever
drew near. There was a very stout man with a very stout wife in shiny
black; there was a little old man like an aged hostler.
"What CAN such people want in Rome?" asked Miss Winchelsea.
"What can it
mean to them?" There was a very tall curate in a very small straw hat,
and a very short curate encumbered by a long camera stand. The contrast
amused Fanny very much. Once they heard some one calling for "Snooks."
"I always thought that name was invented by novelists," said Miss
Winchelsea. "Fancy! Snooks. I wonder which IS Mr. Snooks." Finally
picked out a very stout and resolute little man in a large check suit.
"If he isn't Snooks, he ought to be," said Miss Winchelsea.
Presently the conductor discovered Helen's attempt at a corner in
carriages. "Room for five," he bawled with a parallel translation
his fingers. A party of four together--mother, father, and two
daughters--blundered in, all greatly excited. "It's all right, Ma,
let me," said one of the daughters, hitting her mother's bonnet with
a handbag she struggled to put in the rack. Miss Winchelsea detested
people who banged about and called their mother "Ma." A young
travelling alone followed. He was not at all "touristy" in his
Miss Winchelsea observed; his Gladstone bag was of good pleasant leather
with labels reminiscent of Luxembourg and Ostend, and his boots, though
brown, were not vulgar. He carried an overcoat on his arm. Before these
people had properly settled in their places, came an inspection of
tickets and a slamming of doors, and behold! they were gliding out of
Charing Cross station on their way to Rome.
"Fancy!" cried Fanny, "we are going to Rome, my dear!
Rome! I don't seem
to believe it, even now."
Miss Winchelsea suppressed Fanny's emotions with a little smile, and
the lady who was called "Ma" explained to people in general why
had "cut it so close" at the station. The two daughters called
several times, toned her down in a tactless effective way, and drove her
at last to the muttered inventory of a basket of travelling requisites.
Presently she looked up. "Lor'!" she said, "I didn't bring
Both the daughters said "Oh, Ma!" but what "them" was
did not appear.
Presently Fanny produced Hare's Walks in Rome, a sort of mitigated
guide-book very popular among Roman visitors; and the father of the two
daughters began to examine his books of tickets minutely, apparently in
a search after English words. When he had looked at the tickets for a
long time right way up, he turned them upside down. Then he produced
a fountain pen and dated them with considerable care. The young man,
having completed an unostentatious survey of his fellow travellers,
produced a book and fell to reading. When Helen and Fanny were looking
out of the window at Chiselhurst--the place interested Fanny because the
poor dear Empress of the French used to live there--Miss Winchelsea took
the opportunity to observe the book the young man held. It was not a
guide-book, but a little thin volume of poetry--BOUND. She glanced at
his face--it seemed a refined pleasant face to her hasty glance. He wore
a little gilt pince-nez. "Do you think she lives there now?" said
and Miss Winchelsea's inspection came to an end.
For the rest of the journey Miss Winchelsea talked little, and what she
said was as pleasant and as stamped with refinement as she could make
it. Her voice was always low and clear and pleasant, and she took care
that on this occasion it was particularly low and clear and pleasant.
As they came under the white cliffs the young man put his book of poetry
away, and when at last the train stopped beside the boat, he displayed
a graceful alacrity with the impedimenta of Miss Winchelsea and her
friends. Miss Winchelsea hated nonsense, but she was pleased to see
the young man perceived at once that they were ladies, and helped
them without any violent geniality; and how nicely he showed that his
civilities were to be no excuse for further intrusions. None of her
little party had been out of England before, and they were all excited
and a little nervous at the Channel passage. They stood in a little
group in a good place near the middle of the boat--the young man had
taken Miss Winchelsea's carry-all there and had told her it was a good
place--and they watched the white shores of Albion recede and quoted
Shakespeare and made quiet fun of their fellow travellers in the English
They were particularly amused at the precautions the bigger-sized people
had taken against the little waves--cut lemons and flasks prevailed, one
lady lay full-length in a deck chair with a handkerchief over her face,
and a very broad resolute man in a bright brown "touristy" suit
all the way from England to France along the deck, with his legs
as widely apart as Providence permitted. These were all excellent
precautions, and, nobody was ill. The personally conducted party pursued
the conductor about the deck with enquiries in a manner that suggested
to Helen's mind the rather vulgar image of hens with a piece of bacon
peel, until at last he went into hiding below. And the young man with
the thin volume of poetry stood at the stern watching England receding,
looking rather lonely and sad to Miss Winchelsea's eye.
And then came Calais and tumultuous novelties, and the young man had
forgotten Miss Winchelsea's hold-all and the other little things. All
three girls, though they had passed government examinations in French
to any extent, were stricken with a dumb shame of their accents, and
the young man was very useful. And he did not intrude. He put them in a
comfortable carriage and raised his hat and went away. Miss Winchelsea
thanked him in her best manner--a pleasing, cultivated manner--and Fanny
said he was "nice" almost before he was out of earshot. "I
he can be," said Helen. "He's going to Italy, because I noticed
tickets in his book." Miss Winchelsea almost told them of the poetry,
and decided not to do so. And presently the carriage windows seized hold
upon them and the young man was forgotten. It made them feel that they
were doing an educated sort of thing to travel through a country whose
commonest advertisements were in idiomatic French, and Miss Winchelsea
made unpatriotic comparisons because there were weedy little sign-board
advertisements by the rail side instead of the broad hoardings that
deface the landscape in our land. But the north of France is really
uninteresting country, and after a time Fanny reverted to Hare's Walks
and Helen initiated lunch. Miss Winchelsea awoke out of a happy reverie;
she had been trying to realise, she said, that she was actually going to
Rome, but she perceived at Helen's suggestion that she was hungry, and
they lunched out of their baskets very cheerfully. In the afternoon they
were tired and silent until Helen made tea. Miss Winchelsea might have
dozed, only she knew Fanny slept with her mouth open; and as their
fellow passengers were two rather nice critical-looking ladies of
uncertain age--who knew French well enough to talk it--she employed
herself in keeping Fanny awake. The rhythm of the train became
insistent, and the streaming landscape outside became at last quite
painful to the eye. They were already dreadfully tired of travelling
before their night's stoppage came.
The stoppage for the night was brightened by the appearance of the young
man, and his manners were all that could be desired and his French quite
serviceable. His coupons availed for the same hotel as theirs, and by
chance as it seemed he sat next Miss Winchelsea at the table d'hote.
In spite of her enthusiasm for Rome, she had thought out some such
possibility very thoroughly, and when he ventured to make a remark upon
the tediousness of travelling--he let the soup and fish go by before he
did this--she did not simply assent to his proposition, but responded
with another. They were soon comparing their journeys, and Helen and
Fanny were cruelly overlooked in the conversation. It was to be the same
journey, they found; one day for the galleries at Florence--"from what
hear," said the young man, "it is barely enough,"--and the
rest at Rome.
He talked of Rome very pleasantly; he was evidently quite well read, and
he quoted Horace about Soracte. Miss Winchelsea had "done" that
Horace for her matriculation, and was delighted to cap his quotation. It
gave a sort of tone to things, this incident--a touch of refinement to
mere chatting. Fanny expressed a few emotions, and Helen interpolated
a few sensible remarks, but the bulk of the talk on the girls' side
naturally fell to Miss Winchelsea.
Before they reached Rome this young man was tacitly of their party. They
did not know his name nor what he was, but it seemed he taught, and Miss
Winchelsea had a shrewd idea he was an extension lecturer. At any rate
he was something of that sort, something gentlemanly and refined without
being opulent and impossible. She tried once or twice to ascertain
whether he came from Oxford or Cambridge, but he missed her timid
importunities. She tried to get him to make remarks about those places
to see if he would say "come up" to them instead of "go down"--she
that was how you told a 'Varsity man. He used the word "'Varsity"--not
university--in quite the proper way.
They saw as much of Mr. Ruskin's Florence as the brief time permitted;
he met them in the Pitti Gallery and went round with them, chatting
brightly, and evidently very grateful for their recognition. He knew a
great deal about art, and all four enjoyed the morning immensely. It was
fine to go round recognising old favourites and finding new beauties,
especially while so many people fumbled helplessly with Baedeker. Nor
was he a bit of a prig, Miss Winchelsea said, and indeed she detested
prigs. He had a distinct undertone of humour, and was funny, for
example, without being vulgar, at the expense of the quaint work of
Beato Angelico. He had a grave seriousness beneath it all, and was quick
to seize the moral lessons of the pictures. Fanny went softly among
these masterpieces; she admitted "she knew so little about them,"
she confessed that to her they were "all beautiful." Fanny's "beautiful"
inclined to be a little monotonous, Miss Winchelsea thought. She had
been quite glad when the last sunny Alp had vanished, because of the
staccato of Fanny's admiration. Helen said little, but Miss Winchelsea
had found her a little wanting on the aesthetic side in the old days and
was not surprised; sometimes she laughed at the young man's hesitating
delicate little jests and sometimes she didn't, and sometimes she seemed
quite lost to the art about them in the contemplation of the dresses of
the other visitors.
At Rome the young man was with them intermittently. A rather "touristy"
friend of his took him away at times. He complained comically to Miss
Winchelsea. "I have only two short weeks in Rome," he said, "and
friend Leonard wants to spend a whole day at Tivoli, looking at a
"What is your friend Leonard?" asked Miss Winchelsea abruptly.
"He's the most enthusiastic pedestrian I ever met," the young
replied, amusingly, but a little unsatisfactorily, Miss Winchelsea
thought. They had some glorious times, and Fanny could not think what
they would have done without him. Miss Winchelsea's interest and
Fanny's enormous capacity for admiration were insatiable. They never
flagged--through pictures and sculpture galleries, immense crowded
churches, ruins and museums, Judas trees and prickly pears, wine carts
and palaces, they admired their way unflinchingly. They never saw a
stone pine or a eucalyptus but they named and admired it; they never
glimpsed Soracte but they exclaimed. Their common ways were made
wonderful by imaginative play. "Here Caesar may have walked,"
say. "Raphael may have seen Soracte from this very point." They
on the tomb of Bibulus. "Old Bibulus," said the young man. "The
monument of Republican Rome!" said Miss Winchelsea.
"I'm dreadfully stupid," said Fanny, "but who WAS Bibulus?"
There was a curious little pause.
"Wasn't he the person who built the wall?" said Helen.
The young man glanced quickly at her and laughed. "That was Balbus,"
said. Helen reddened, but neither he nor Miss Winchelsea threw any light
upon Fanny's ignorance about Bibulus.
Helen was more taciturn than the other three, but then she was always
taciturn, and usually she took care of the tram tickets and things like
that, or kept her eye on them if the young man took them, and told him
where they were when he wanted them. Glorious times they had, these
young people, in that pale brown cleanly city of memories that was once
the world. Their only sorrow was the shortness of the time. They said
indeed that the electric trams and the '70 buildings, and that criminal
advertisement that glares upon the Forum, outraged their aesthetic
feelings unspeakably; but that was only part of the fun. And indeed Rome
is such a wonderful place that it made Miss Winchelsea forget some
of her most carefully prepared enthusiasms at times, and Helen, taken
unawares, would suddenly admit the beauty of unexpected things. Yet
Fanny and Helen would have liked a shop window or so in the English
quarter if Miss Winchelsea's uncompromising hostility to all other
English visitors had not rendered that district impossible.
The intellectual and aesthetic fellowship of Miss Winchelsea and the
scholarly young man passed insensibly towards a deeper feeling.
The exuberant Fanny did her best to keep pace with their recondite
admiration by playing her "beautiful," with vigour, and saying
LET'S go," with enormous appetite whenever a new place of interest
mentioned. But Helen developed a certain want of sympathy towards the
end, that disappointed Miss Winchelsea a little. She refused to "see
anything" in the face of Beatrice Cenci--Shelley's Beatrice Cenci!--in
the Barberini gallery; and one day, when they were deploring the
electric trams, she said rather snappishly that "people must get about
somehow, and it's better than torturing horses up these horrid little
hills." She spoke of the Seven Hills of Rome as "horrid little
And the day they went on the Palatine--though Miss Winchelsea did not
know of this--she remarked suddenly to Fanny, "Don't hurry like that,
my dear; THEY don't want us to overtake them. And we don't say the right
things for them when we DO get near."
"I wasn't trying to overtake them," said Fanny, slackening
pace; "I wasn't indeed." And for a minute she was short of breath.
But Miss Winchelsea had come upon happiness. It was only when she came
to look back across an intervening tragedy that she quite realised
how happy she had been, pacing among the cypress-shadowed ruins, and
exchanging the very highest class of information the human mind
can possess, the most refined impressions it is possible to convey.
Insensibly emotion crept into their intercourse, sunning itself
openly and pleasantly at last when Helen's modernity was not too near.
Insensibly their interest drifted from the wonderful associations about
them to their more intimate and personal feelings. In a tentative way
information was supplied; she spoke allusively of her school, of her
examination successes, of her gladness that the days of "Cram"
over. He made it quite clear that he also was a teacher. They spoke of
the greatness of their calling, of the necessity of sympathy to face its
irksome details, of a certain loneliness they sometimes felt.
That was in the Colosseum, and it was as far as they got that day,
because Helen returned with Fanny--she had taken her into the upper
galleries. Yet the private dreams of Miss Winchelsea, already vivid and
concrete enough, became now realistic in the highest degree. She figured
that pleasant young man, lecturing in the most edifying way to his
students, herself modestly prominent as his intellectual mate and
helper; she figured a refined little home, with two bureaus, with white
shelves of high-class books, and autotypes of the pictures of Rossetti
and Burne-Jones, with Morris's wall papers and flowers in pots of beaten
copper. Indeed she figured many things. On the Pincio the two had a few
precious moments together, while Helen marched Fanny off to see the muro
Torto, and he spoke at once plainly. He said he hoped their friendship
was only beginning, that he already found her company very precious to
him, that indeed it was more than that.
He became nervous, thrusting at his glasses with trembling fingers as
though he fancied his emotions made them unstable. "I should of course,"
he said, "tell you things about myself. I know it is rather unusual
speaking to you like this. Only our meeting has been so accidental--or
providential--and I am snatching at things. I came to Rome expecting
a lonely tour... and I have been so very happy, so very happy. Quite
recently I found myself in a position--I have dared to think--. And--"
He glanced over his shoulder and stopped. He said "Damn!" quite
distinctly--and she did not condemn him for that manly lapse into
profanity. She looked and saw his friend Leonard advancing. He drew
nearer; he raised his hat to Miss Winchelsea, and his smile was almost
a grin. "I've been looking for you everywhere, Snooks," he said.
promised to be on the Piazza steps half an hour ago."
Snooks! The name struck Miss Winchelsea like a blow in the face. She
did not hear his reply. She thought afterwards that Leonard must have
considered her the vaguest-minded person. To this day she is not sure
whether she was introduced to Leonard or not, nor what she said to
him. A sort of mental paralysis was upon her. Of all offensive
Helen and Fanny were returning, there were civilities, and the young
men were receding. By a great effort she controlled herself to face the
enquiring eyes of her friends. All that afternoon she lived the life
of a heroine under the indescribable outrage of that name, chatting,
observing, with "Snooks" gnawing at her heart. From the moment
first rang upon her ears, the dream of her happiness was prostrate in
the dust. All the refinement she had figured was ruined and defaced by
that cognomen's unavoidable vulgarity.
What was that refined little home to her now, spite of autotypes, Morris
papers, and bureaus? Athwart it in letters of fire ran an incredible
inscription: "Mrs. Snooks." That may seem a little thing to the
but consider the delicate refinement of Miss Winchelsea's mind. Be as
refined as you can and then think of writing yourself down:--"Snooks."
She conceived herself being addressed as Mrs. Snooks by all the people
she liked least, conceived the patronymic touched with a vague quality
of insult. She figured a card of grey and silver bearing "Winchelsea,"
triumphantly effaced by an arrow, Cupid's arrow, in favour of "Snooks."
Degrading confession of feminine weakness! She imagined the terrible
rejoicings of certain girl friends, of certain grocer cousins from whom
her growing refinement had long since estranged her. How they would
make it sprawl across the envelope that would bring their sarcastic
congratulations. Would even his pleasant company compensate her for
that? "It is impossible," she muttered; "impossible! SNOOKS!"
She was sorry for him, but not so sorry as she was for herself. For him
she had a touch of indignation. To be so nice, so refined, while all the
time he was "Snooks," to hide under a pretentious gentility of
the badge sinister of his surname seemed a sort of treachery. To put it
in the language of sentimental science she felt he had "led her on."
There were of course moments of terrible vacillation, a period even when
something almost like passion bid her throw refinement to the winds. And
there was something in her, an unexpurgated vestige of vulgarity, that
made a strenuous attempt at proving that Snooks was not so very bad a
name after all. Any hovering hesitation flew before Fanny's manner, when
Fanny came with an air of catastrophe to tell that she also knew the
horror. Fanny's voice fell to a whisper when she said SNOOKS. Miss
Winchelsea would not give him any answer when at last, in the Borghese,
she could have a minute with him; but she promised him a note.
She handed him that note in the little book of poetry he had lent her,
the little book that had first drawn them together. Her refusal was
ambiguous, allusive. She could no more tell him why she rejected
him than she could have told a cripple of his hump. He too must feel
something of the unspeakable quality of his name. Indeed he had avoided
a dozen chances of telling it, she now perceived. So she spoke of
"obstacles she could not reveal"--"reasons why the thing
he spoke of was
impossible." She addressed the note with a shiver, "E. K. Snooks."
Things were worse than she had dreaded; he asked her to explain. How
COULD she explain? Those last two days in Rome were dreadful. She was
haunted by his air of astonished perplexity. She knew she had given him
intimate hopes, she had not the courage to examine her mind thoroughly
for the extent of her encouragement. She knew he must think her the most
changeable of beings. Now that she was in full retreat, she would not
even perceive his hints of a possible correspondence. But in that matter
he did a thing that seemed to her at once delicate and romantic. He made
a go-between of Fanny. Fanny could not keep the secret, and came and
told her that night under a transparent pretext of needed advice. "Mr.
Snooks," said Fanny, "wants to write to me. Fancy! I had no idea.
should I let him?" They talked it over long and earnestly, and Miss
Winchelsea was careful to keep the veil over her heart. She was
already repenting his disregarded hints. Why should she not hear of
him sometimes--painful though his name must be to her? Miss Winchelsea
decided it might be permitted, and Fanny kissed her good-night with
unusual emotion. After she had gone Miss Winchelsea sat for a long time
at the window of her little room. It was moonlight, and down the street
a man sang "Santa Lucia" with almost heart-dissolving tenderness....
sat very still.
She breathed a word very softly to herself. The word was "SNOOKS."
she got up with a profound sigh, and went to bed. The next morning he
said to her meaningly, "I shall hear of you through your friend."
Mr. Snooks saw them off from Rome with that pathetic interrogative
perplexity still on his face, and if it had not been for Helen he
would have retained Miss Winchelsea's hold-all in his hand as a sort of
encyclopaedic keepsake. On their way back to England Miss Winchelsea on
six separate occasions made Fanny promise to write to her the longest of
long letters. Fanny, it seemed, would be quite near Mr. Snooks. Her new
school--she was always going to new schools--would be only five miles
from Steely Bank, and it was in the Steely Bank Polytechnic, and one or
two first-class schools, that Mr. Snooks did his teaching. He might even
see her at times. They could not talk much of him--she and Fanny always
spoke of "him," never of Mr. Snooks,--because Helen was apt to
unsympathetic things about him. Her nature had coarsened very much,
Miss Winchelsea perceived, since the old Training College days; she
had become hard and cynical. She thought he had a weak face, mistaking
refinement for weakness as people of her stamp are apt to do, and when
she heard his name was Snooks, she said she had expected something of
the sort. Miss Winchelsea was careful to spare her own feelings after
that, but Fanny was less circumspect.
The girls parted in London, and Miss Winchelsea returned, with a new
interest in life, to the Girls' High School in which she had been
an increasingly valuable assistant for the last three years. Her new
interest in life was Fanny as a correspondent, and to give her a lead
she wrote her a lengthy descriptive letter within a fortnight of her
return. Fanny answered, very disappointingly. Fanny indeed had no
literary gift, but it was new to Miss Winchelsea to find herself
deploring the want of gifts in a friend. That letter was even criticised
aloud in the safe solitude of Miss Winchelsea's study, and her
criticism, spoken with great bitterness, was "Twaddle!" It was
just the things Miss Winchelsea's letter had been full of, particulars
of the school. And of Mr. Snooks, only this much: "I have had a
letter from Mr. Snooks, and he has been over to see me on two Saturday
afternoons running. He talked about Rome and you; we both talked about
you. Your ears must have burnt, my dear...."
Miss Winchelsea repressed a desire to demand more explicit information,
and wrote the sweetest long letter again. "Tell me all about yourself,
dear. That journey has quite refreshed our ancient friendship, and I do
so want to keep in touch with you." About Mr. Snooks she simply wrote
on the fifth page that she was glad Fanny had seen him, and that if
he SHOULD ask after her, she was to be remembered to him VERY KINDLY
(underlined). And Fanny replied most obtusely in the key of that
"ancient friendship," reminding Miss Winchelsea of a dozen foolish
things of those old schoolgirl days at the training college, and saying
not a word about Mr. Snooks!
For nearly a week Miss Winchelsea was so angry at the failure of Fanny
as a go-between that she could not write to her. And then she wrote less
effusively, and in her letter she asked point-blank, "Have you seen
Snooks?" Fanny's letter was unexpectedly satisfactory. "I HAVE
Snooks," she wrote, and having once named him she kept on about him;
it was all Snooks--Snooks this and Snooks that. He was to give a public
lecture, said Fanny, among other things. Yet Miss Winchelsea, after
the first glow of gratification, still found this letter a little
unsatisfactory. Fanny did not report Mr. Snooks as saying anything about
Miss Winchelsea, nor as looking a little white and worn, as he ought
to have been doing. And behold! before she had replied, came a second
letter from Fanny on the same theme, quite a gushing letter, and
covering six sheets with her loose feminine hand.
And about this second letter was a rather odd little thing that Miss
Winchelsea only noticed as she re-read it the third time. Fanny's
natural femininity had prevailed even against the round and clear
traditions of the training college; she was one of those she-creatures
born to make all her m's and n's and u's and r's and e's alike, and to
leave her o's and a's open and her i's undotted. So that it was only
after an elaborate comparison of word with word that Miss Winchelsea
felt assured Mr. Snooks was not really "Mr. Snooks" at all! In
first letter of gush he was Mr. "Snooks," in her second the spelling
changed to Mr. "Senoks." Miss Winchelsea's hand positively trembled
she turned the sheet over--it meant so much to her. For it had already
begun to seem to her that even the name of Mrs. Snooks might be avoided
at too great a price, and suddenly--this possibility! She turned over
the six sheets, all dappled with that critical name, and everywhere the
first letter had the form of an E! For a time she walked the room with a
hand pressed upon her heart.
She spent a whole day pondering this change, weighing a letter of
inquiry that should be at once discreet and effectual, weighing too what
action she should take after the answer came. She was resolved that if
this altered spelling was anything more than a quaint fancy of Fanny's,
she would write forthwith to Mr. Snooks. She had now reached a stage
when the minor refinements of behaviour disappear. Her excuse remained
uninvented, but she had the subject of her letter clear in her mind,
even to the hint that "circumstances in my life have changed very
greatly since we talked together." But she never gave that hint. There
came a third letter from that fitful correspondent Fanny. The first line
proclaimed her "the happiest girl alive."
Miss Winchelsea crushed the letter in her hand--the rest unread--and
sat with her face suddenly very still. She had received it just before
morning school, and had opened it when the junior mathematicians were
well under way. Presently she resumed reading with an appearance of
great calm. But after the first sheet she went on reading the third
without discovering the error:--"told him frankly I did not like
his name," the third sheet began. "He told me he did not like
himself--you know that sort of sudden frank way he has"--Miss Winchelsea
did know. "So I said 'Couldn't you change it?' He didn't see it at
first. Well, you know, dear, he had told me what it really meant; it
means Sevenoaks, only it has got down to Snooks--both Snooks and Noaks,
dreadfully vulgar surnames though they be, are really worn forms of
Sevenoaks. So I said--even I have my bright ideas at times--'if it
got down from Sevenoaks to Snooks, why not get it back from Snooks
to Sevenoaks?' And the long and the short of it is, dear, he couldn't
refuse me, and he changed his spelling there and then to Senoks for the
bills of the new lecture. And afterwards, when we are married, we shall
put in the apostrophe and make it Se'noks. Wasn't it kind of him to mind
that fancy of mine, when many men would have taken offence? But it is
just like him all over; he is as kind as he is clever. Because he knew
as well as I did that I would have had him in spite of it, had he been
ten times Snooks. But he did it all the same."
The class was startled by the sound of paper being viciously torn, and
looked up to see Miss Winchelsea white in the face, and with some very
small pieces of paper clenched in one hand. For a few seconds they
stared at her stare, and then her expression changed back to a more
familiar one. "Has any one finished number three?" she asked in
tone. She remained calm after that. But impositions ruled high that day.
And she spent two laborious evenings writing letters of various sorts
to Fanny, before she found a decent congratulatory vein. Her reason
struggled hopelessly against the persuasion that Fanny had behaved in an
exceedingly treacherous manner.
One may be extremely refined and still capable of a very sore heart.
Certainly Miss Winchelsea's heart was very sore. She had moods of sexual
hostility, in which she generalised uncharitably about mankind. "He
forgot himself with me," she said. "But Fanny is pink and pretty
soft and a fool--a very excellent match for a Man." And by way of a
wedding present she sent Fanny a gracefully bound volume of poetry by
George Meredith, and Fanny wrote back a grossly happy letter to say that
it was "ALL beautiful." Miss Winchelsea hoped that some day Mr.
might take up that slim book and think for a moment of the donor. Fanny
wrote several times before and about her marriage, pursuing that fond
legend of their "ancient friendship," and giving her happiness
fullest detail. And Miss Winchelsea wrote to Helen for the first
time after the Roman journey, saying nothing about the marriage, but
expressing very cordial feelings.
They had been in Rome at Easter, and Fanny was married in the August
vacation. She wrote a garrulous letter to Miss Winchelsea, describing
her home-coming, and the astonishing arrangements of their "teeny weeny"
little house. Mr. Se'noks was now beginning to assume a refinement in
Miss Winchelsea's memory out of all proportion to the facts of the case,
and she tried in vain to imagine his cultured greatness in a "teeny
weeny" little house. "Am busy enamelling a cosey corner,"
sprawling to the end of her third sheet, "so excuse more." Miss
Winchelsea answered in her best style, gently poking fun at Fanny's
arrangements and hoping intensely that Mr. Sen'oks might see the letter.
Only this hope enabled her to write at all, answering not only that
letter but one in November and one at Christmas.
The two latter communications contained urgent invitations for her to
come to Steely Bank on a Visit during the Christmas holidays. She tried
to think that HE had told her to ask that, but it was too much like
Fanny's opulent good-nature. She could not but believe that he must be
sick of his blunder by this time; and she had more than a hope that he
would presently write her a letter beginning "Dear Friend." Something
subtly tragic in the separation was a great support to her, a sad
misunderstanding. To have been jilted would have been intolerable. But
he never wrote that letter beginning "Dear Friend."
For two years Miss Winchelsea could not go to see her friends, in
spite of the reiterated invitations of Mrs. Sevenoaks--it became full
Sevenoaks in the second year. Then one day near the Easter rest she felt
lonely and without a soul to understand her in the world, and her mind
ran once more on what is called Platonic friendship. Fanny was clearly
happy and busy in her new sphere of domesticity, but no doubt HE had his
lonely hours. Did he ever think of those days in Rome--gone now beyond
recalling? No one had understood her as he had done; no one in all the
world. It would be a sort of melancholy pleasure to talk to him again,
and what harm could it do? Why should she deny herself? That night she
wrote a sonnet, all but the last two lines of the octave--which would
not come, and the next day she composed a graceful little note to tell
Fanny she was coming down.
And so she saw him again.
Even at the first encounter it was evident he had changed; he seemed
stouter and less nervous, and it speedily appeared that his conversation
had already lost much of its old delicacy. There even seemed a
justification for Helen's description of weakness in his face--in
certain lights it WAS weak. He seemed busy and preoccupied about his
affairs, and almost under the impression that Miss Winchelsea had
come for the sake of Fanny. He discussed his dinner with Fanny in an
intelligent way. They only had one good long talk together, and that
came to nothing. He did not refer to Rome, and spent some time abusing a
man who had stolen an idea he had had for a text-book. It did not seem a
very wonderful idea to Miss Winchelsea. She discovered he had forgotten
the names of more than half the painters whose work they had rejoiced
over in Florence.
It was a sadly disappointing week, and Miss Winchelsea was glad when
came to an end. Under various excuses she avoided visiting them again.
After a time the visitor's room was occupied by their two little boys,
and Fanny's invitations ceased. The intimacy of her letters had long
since faded away.
13. A DREAM OF ARMAGEDDON
The man with the white face entered the carriage at Rugby. He moved
slowly in spite of the urgency of his porter, and even while he was
still on the platform I noted how ill he seemed. He dropped into the
corner over against me with a sigh, made an incomplete attempt to
arrange his travelling shawl, and became motionless, with his eyes
staring vacantly. Presently he was moved by a sense of my observation,
looked up at me, and put out a spiritless hand for his newspaper. Then
he glanced again in my direction.
I feigned to read. I feared I had unwittingly embarrassed him, and in
moment I was surprised to find him speaking.
"I beg your pardon?" said I.
"That book," he repeated, pointing a lean finger, "is
"Obviously," I answered, for it was Fortnum-Roscoe's Dream
the title was on the cover. He hung silent for a space as if he sought
words. "Yes," he said at last, "but they tell you nothing."
I did not
catch his meaning for a second.
"They don't know," he added.
I looked a little more attentively at his face.
"There are dreams," he said, "and dreams."
That sort of proposition I never dispute.
"I suppose--" he hesitated. "Do you ever dream? I mean
"I dream very little," I answered. "I doubt if I have
three vivid dreams
in a year."
"Ah!" he said, and seemed for a moment to collect his thoughts.
"Your dreams don't mix with your memories?" he asked abruptly.
don't find yourself in doubt; did this happen or did it not?"
"Hardly ever. Except just for a momentary hesitation now and then.
suppose few people do."
"Does HE say--" he indicated the book.
"Says it happens at times and gives the usual explanation about
intensity of impression and the like to account for its not happening as
a rule. I suppose you know something of these theories--"
"Very little--except that they are wrong."
His emaciated hand played with the strap of the window for a time. I
prepared to resume reading, and that seemed to precipitate his next
remark. He leant forward almost as though he would touch me.
"Isn't there something called consecutive dreaming--that goes on
"I believe there is. There are cases given in most books on mental
"Mental trouble! Yes. I dare say there are. It's the right place
them. But what I mean--" He looked at his bony knuckles. "Is that
of thing always dreaming? IS it dreaming? Or is it something else?
Mightn't it be something else?"
I should have snubbed his persistent conversation but for the drawn
anxiety of his face. I remember now the look of his faded eyes and the
lids red-stained--perhaps you know that look.
"I'm not just arguing about a matter of opinion," he said.
"If you call them dreams. Night after night. Vivid!--so vivid...
(he indicated the landscape that went streaming by the window) "seems
unreal in comparison! I can scarcely remember who I am, what business I
He paused. "Even now--"
"The dream is always the same--do you mean?" I asked.
"Smashed and killed, and now, so much of me as that dream was, is
dead. Dead for ever. I dreamt I was another man, you know, living in a
different part of the world and in a different time. I dreamt that night
after night. Night after night I woke into that other life. Fresh scenes
and fresh happenings--until I came upon the last--"
"When you died?"
"When I died."
"And since then--"
"No," he said. "Thank God! That was the end of the dream...."
It was clear I was in for this dream. And after all, I had an hour
before me, the light was fading fast, and Fortnum-Roscoe has a dreary
way with him. "Living in a different time," I said: "do you
mean in some
"No, to come--to come."
"The year three thousand, for example?"
"I don't know what year it was. I did when I was asleep, when I
dreaming, that is, but not now--not now that I am awake. There's a lot
of things I have forgotten since I woke out of these dreams, though I
knew them at the time when I was--I suppose it was dreaming. They called
the year differently from our way of calling the year.... What DID they
call it?" He put his hand to his forehead. "No," said he,
He sat smiling weakly. For a moment I feared he did not mean to tell
me his dream. As a rule I hate people who tell their dreams, but this
struck me differently. I proffered assistance even. "It began--"
"It was vivid from the first. I seemed to wake up in it suddenly.
it's curious that in these dreams I am speaking of I never remembered
this life I am living now. It seemed as if the dream life was enough
while it lasted. Perhaps--But I will tell you how I find myself when I
do my best to recall it all. I don't remember anything dearly until I
found myself sitting in a sort of loggia looking out over the sea. I
had been dozing, and suddenly I woke up--fresh and vivid--not a bit
dream-like--because the girl had stopped fanning me."
"Yes, the girl. You must not interrupt or you will put me out."
He stopped abruptly. "You won't think I'm mad?" he said.
"No," I answered; "you've been dreaming. Tell me your
"I woke up, I say, because the girl had stopped fanning me. I was
surprised to find myself there or anything of that sort, you understand.
I did not feel I had fallen into it suddenly. I simply took it up at
that point. Whatever memory I had of THIS life, this nineteenth-century
life, faded as I woke, vanished like a dream. I knew all about myself,
knew that my name was no longer Cooper but Hedon, and all about my
position in the world. I've forgotten a lot since I woke--there's a want
of connection--but it was all quite clear and matter of fact then."
He hesitated again, gripping the window strap, putting his face forward
and looking up at me appealingly.
"This seems bosh to you?"
"No, no!" I cried. "Go on. Tell me what this loggia was
"It was not really a loggia--I don't know what to call it. It faced
south. It was small. It was all in shadow except the semicircle above
the balcony that showed the sky and sea and the corner where the
girl stood. I was on a couch--it was a metal couch with light striped
cushions-and the girl was leaning over the balcony with her back to me.
The light of the sunrise fell on her ear and cheek. Her pretty white
neck and the little curls that nestled there, and her white shoulder
were in the sun, and all the grace of her body was in the cool blue
shadow. She was dressed--how can I describe it? It was easy and flowing.
And altogether there she stood, so that it came to me how beautiful and
desirable she was, as though I had never seen her before. And when at
last I sighed and raised myself upon my arm she turned her face to me--"
"I have lived three-and-fifty years in this world. I have had mother,
sisters, friends, wife, and daughters--all their faces, the play of
their faces, I know. But the face of this girl--it is much more real to
me. I can bring it back into memory so that I see it again--I could draw
it or paint it. And after all--"
He stopped--but I said nothing.
"The face of a dream--the face of a dream. She was beautiful. Not
beauty which is terrible, cold, and worshipful, like the beauty of
a saint; nor that beauty that stirs fierce passions; but a sort of
radiation, sweet lips that softened into smiles, and grave grey eyes.
And she moved gracefully, she seemed to have part with all pleasant and
He stopped, and his face was downcast and hidden. Then he looked up
at me and went on, making no further attempt to disguise his absolute
belief in the reality of his story.
"You see, I had thrown up my plans and ambitions, thrown up all
ever worked for or desired for her sake. I had been a master man away
there in the north, with influence and property and a great reputation,
but none of it had seemed worth having beside her. I had come to the
place, this city of sunny pleasures, with her, and left all those things
to wreck and ruin just to save a remnant at least of my life. While I
had been in love with her before I knew that she had any care for me,
before I had imagined that she would dare--that we should dare, all my
life had seemed vain and hollow, dust and ashes. It WAS dust and ashes.
Night after night and through the long days I had longed and desired--my
soul had beaten against the thing forbidden!
"But it is impossible for one man to tell another just these things.
It's emotion, it's a tint, a light that comes and goes. Only while it's
there, everything changes, everything. The thing is I came away and left
them in their Crisis to do what they could."
"Left whom?" I asked, puzzled.
"The people up in the north there. You see--in this dream, anyhow--I
had been a big man, the sort of man men come to trust in, to group
themselves about. Millions of men who had never seen me were ready to
do things and risk things because of their confidence in me. I had
been playing that game for years, that big laborious game, that vague,
monstrous political game amidst intrigues and betrayals, speech and
agitation. It was a vast weltering world, and at last I had a sort of
leadership against the Gang--you know it was called the Gang--a sort of
compromise of scoundrelly projects and base ambitions and vast public
emotional stupidities and catchwords--the Gang that kept the world noisy
and blind year by year, and all the while that it was drifting, drifting
towards infinite disaster. But I can't expect you to understand the
shades and complications of the year--the year something or other ahead.
I had it all down to the smallest details--in my dream. I suppose I had
been dreaming of it before I awoke, and the fading outline of some queer
new development I had imagined still hung about me as I rubbed my eyes.
It was some grubby affair that made me thank God for the sunlight. I
sat up on the couch and remained looking at the woman and
rejoicing--rejoicing that I had come away out of all that tumult and
folly and violence before it was too late. After all, I thought, this is
life--love and beauty, desire and delight, are they not worth all those
dismal struggles for vague, gigantic ends? And I blamed myself for
having ever sought to be a leader when I might have given my days to
love. But then, thought I, if I had not spent my early days sternly and
austerely, I might have wasted myself upon vain and worthless women, and
at the thought all my being went out in love and tenderness to my dear
mistress, my dear lady, who had come at last and compelled me--compelled
me by her invincible charm for me--to lay that life aside.
"'You are worth it,' I said, speaking without intending her to hear;
'you are worth it, my dearest one; worth pride and praise and all
things. Love! to have YOU is worth them all together.' And at the murmur
of my voice she turned about.
"'Come and see,' she cried--I can hear her now--'come and see the
sunrise upon Monte Solaro.'
"I remember how I sprang to my feet and joined her at the balcony.
put a white hand upon my shoulder and pointed towards great masses of
limestone, flushing, as it were, into life. I looked. But first I noted
the sunlight on her face caressing the lines of her cheeks and neck. How
can I describe to you the scene we had before us? We were at Capri--"
"I have been there," I said. "I have clambered up Monte
Solaro and drunk
vero Capri--muddy stuff like cider--at the summit."
"Ah!" said the man with the white face; "then perhaps
you can tell
me--you will know if this was indeed Capri. For in this life I have
never been there. Let me describe it. We were in a little room, one of a
vast multitude of little rooms, very cool and sunny, hollowed out of the
limestone of a sort of cape, very high above the sea. The whole island,
you know, was one enormous hotel, complex beyond explaining, and on the
other side there were miles of floating hotels, and huge floating stages
to which the flying machines came. They called it a pleasure city. Of
course, there was none of that in your time rather, I should say, IS
none of that NOW. Of course. Now!--yes.
"Well, this room of ours was at the extremity of the cape, so that
could see east and west. Eastward was a great cliff--a thousand feet
high perhaps--coldly grey except for one bright edge of gold, and beyond
it the Isle of the Sirens, and a falling coast that faded and passed
into the hot sunrise. And when one turned to the west, distinct and near
was a little bay, a little beach still in shadow. And out of that shadow
rose Solaro straight and tall, flushed and golden crested, like a beauty
throned, and the white moon was floating behind her in the sky. And
before us from east to west stretched the many-tinted sea all dotted
with little sailing boats.
"To the eastward, of course, these little boats were grey and very
minute and clear, but to the westward they were little boats of
gold--shining gold--almost like little flames. And just below us was a
rock with an arch worn through it. The blue sea-water broke to green and
foam all round the rock, and a galley came gliding out of the arch."
"I know that rock," I said. "I was nearly drowned there.
It is called
"I Faraglioni? Yes, she called it that," answered the man with
face. "There was some story--but that--"
He put his hand to his forehead again. "No," he said, "I
"Well, that is the first thing I remember, the first dream I had,
little shaded room and the beautiful air and sky and that dear lady of
mine, with her shining arms and her graceful robe, and how we sat
and talked in half whispers to one another. We talked in whispers not
because there was any one to hear, but because there was still such a
freshness of mind between us that our thoughts were a little frightened,
I think, to find themselves at last in words. And so they went softly.
"Presently we were hungry and we went from our apartment, going
a strange passage with a moving floor, until we came to the great
breakfast room--there was a fountain and music. A pleasant and joyful
place it was, with its sunlight and splashing, and the murmur of plucked
strings. And we sat and ate and smiled at one another, and I would not
heed a man who was watching me from a table near by.
"And afterwards we went on to the dancing-hall. But I cannot describe
that hall. The place was enormous--larger than any building you have
ever seen--and in one place there was the old gate of Capri, caught into
the wall of a gallery high overhead. Light girders, stems and threads
of gold, burst from the pillars like fountains, streamed like an Aurora
across the roof and interlaced, like--like conjuring tricks. All about
the great circle for the dancers there were beautiful figures, strange
dragons, and intricate and wonderful grotesques bearing lights. The
place was inundated with artificial light that shamed the newborn day.
And as we went through the throng the people turned about and looked at
us, for all through the world my name and face were known, and how I had
suddenly thrown up pride and struggle to come to this place. And they
looked also at the lady beside me, though half the story of how at last
she had come to me was unknown or mistold. And few of the men who were
there, I know, but judged me a happy man, in spite of all the shame and
dishonour that had come upon my name.
"The air was full of music, full of harmonious scents, full of the
rhythm of beautiful motions. Thousands of beautiful people swarmed about
the hall, crowded the galleries, sat in a myriad recesses; they were
dressed in splendid colours and crowned with flowers; thousands danced
about the great circle beneath the white images of the ancient gods, and
glorious processions of youths and maidens came and went. We two danced,
not the dreary monotonies of your days--of this time, I mean--but
dances that were beautiful, intoxicating. And even now I can see my lady
dancing--dancing joyously. She danced, you know, with a serious face;
she danced with a serious dignity, and yet she was smiling at me and
caressing me--smiling and caressing with her eyes.
"The music was different," he murmured. "It went--I cannot
but it was infinitely richer and more varied than any music that has
ever come to me awake.
"And then--it was when we had done dancing--a man came to speak
me. He was a lean, resolute man, very soberly clad for that place, and
already I had marked his face watching me in the breakfasting hall, and
afterwards as we went along the passage I had avoided his eye. But now,
as we sat in a little alcove, smiling at the pleasure of all the people
who went to and fro across the shining floor, he came and touched me,
and spoke to me so that I was forced to listen. And he asked that he
might speak to me for a little time apart.
"'No,' I said. 'I have no secrets from this lady. What do you want
"He said it was a trivial matter, or at least a dry matter, for
"'Perhaps for me to hear,' said I.
"He glanced at her, as though almost he would appeal to her. Then
asked me suddenly if I had heard of a great and avenging declaration
that Evesham had made. Now, Evesham had always before been the man next
to myself in the leadership of that great party in the north. He was a
forcible, hard and tactless man, and only I had been able to control and
soften him. It was on his account even more than my own, I think, that
the others had been so dismayed at my retreat. So this question about
what he had done reawakened my old interest in the life I had put aside
just for a moment.
"'I have taken no heed of any news for many days,' I said. 'What
Evesham been saying?'
"And with that the man began, nothing loath, and I must confess
was struck by Evesham's reckless folly in the wild and threatening words
he had used. And this messenger they had sent to me not only told me of
Evesham's speech, but went on to ask counsel and to point out what
need they had of me. While he talked, my lady sat a little forward and
watched his face and mine.
"My old habits of scheming and organising reasserted themselves.
even see myself suddenly returning to the north, and all the dramatic
effect of it. All that this man said witnessed to the disorder of the
party indeed, but not to its damage. I should go back stronger than I
had come. And then I thought of my lady. You see--how can I tell you?
There were certain peculiarities of our relationship--as things are I
need not tell you about that--which would render her presence with me
impossible. I should have had to leave her; indeed, I should have had to
renounce her clearly and openly, if I was to do all that I could do in
the north. And the man knew THAT, even as he talked to her and me, knew
it as well as she did, that my steps to duty were--first, separation,
then abandonment. At the touch of that thought my dream of a return
was shattered. I turned on the man suddenly, as he was imagining his
eloquence was gaining ground with me.
"'What have I to do with these things now?' I said. 'I have done
them. Do you think I am coquetting with your people in coming here?'
"'No,' he said; 'but--'
"'Why cannot you leave me alone? I have done with these things.
ceased to be anything but a private man.'
"'Yes,' he answered. 'But have you thought?--this talk of war, these
reckless challenges, these wild aggressions--'
"I stood up.
"'No,' I cried. 'I won't hear you. I took count of all those things,
weighed them--and I have come away.'
"He seemed to consider the possibility of persistence. He looked
to where the lady sat regarding us.
"'War,' he said, as if he were speaking to himself, and then turned
slowly from me and walked away. I stood, caught in the whirl of thoughts
his appeal had set going.
"I heard my lady's voice.
"'Dear,' she said; 'but if they have need of you--'
"She did not finish her sentence, she let it rest there. I turned
sweet face, and the balance of my mood swayed and reeled.
"'They want me only to do the thing they dare not do themselves,'
said. 'If they distrust Evesham they must settle with him themselves.'
"She looked at me doubtfully.
"'But war--' she said.
"I saw a doubt on her face that I had seen before, a doubt of herself
and me, the first shadow of the discovery that, seen strongly and
completely, must drive us apart for ever.
"Now, I was an older mind than hers, and I could sway her to this
"'My dear one,' I said, 'you must not trouble over these things.
will be no war. Certainly there will be no war. The age of wars is past.
Trust me to know the justice of this case. They have no right upon me,
dearest, and no one has a right upon me. I have been free to choose my
life, and I have chosen this.'
"'But WAR--' she said.
"I sat down beside her. I put an arm behind her and took her hand
mine. I set myself to drive that doubt away--I set myself to fill her
mind with pleasant things again. I lied to her, and in lying to her I
lied also to myself. And she was only too ready to believe me, only too
ready to forget.
"Very soon the shadow had gone again, and we were hastening to our
bathing-place in the Grotta del Bovo Marino, where it was our custom to
bathe every day. We swam and splashed one another, and in that buoyant
water I seemed to become something lighter and stronger than a man. And
at last we came out dripping and rejoicing and raced among the rocks.
And then I put on a dry bathing-dress, and we sat to bask in the sun,
and presently I nodded, resting my head against her knee, and she put
her hand upon my hair and stroked it softly and I dozed. And behold! as
it were with the snapping of the string of a violin, I was awakening,
and I was in my own bed in Liverpool, in the life of to-day.
"Only for a time I could not believe that all these vivid moments
been no more than the substance of a dream.
"In truth, I could not believe it a dream for all the sobering reality
of things about me. I bathed and dressed as it were by habit, and as I
shaved I argued why I of all men should leave the woman I loved to go
back to fantastic politics in the hard and strenuous north. Even if
Evesham did force the world back to war, what was that to me? I was a
man, with the heart of a man, and why should I feel the responsibility
of a deity for the way the world might go?
"You know that is not quite the way I think about affairs, about
affairs. I am a solicitor, you know, with a point of view.
"The vision was so real, you must understand, so utterly unlike
that I kept perpetually recalling little irrelevant details; even the
ornament of a book-cover that lay on my wife's sewing-machine in the
breakfast-room recalled with the utmost vividness the gilt line that ran
about the seat in the alcove where I had talked with the messenger from
my deserted party. Have you ever heard of a dream that had a quality
"So that afterwards you remembered little details you had forgotten."
I thought. I had never noticed the point before, but he was right.
"Never," I said. "That is what you never seem to do with
"No," he answered. "But that is just what I did. I am
a solicitor, you
must understand, in Liverpool, and I could not help wondering what the
clients and business people I found myself talking to in my office would
think if I told them suddenly I was in love with a girl who would
be born a couple of hundred years or so hence, and worried about the
politics of my great-great-great-grandchildren. I was chiefly busy that
day negotiating a ninety-nine-year building lease. It was a private
builder in a hurry, and we wanted to tie him in every possible way. I
had an interview with him, and he showed a certain want of temper that
sent me to bed still irritated. That night I had no dream. Nor did I
dream the next night, at least, to remember.
"Something of that intense reality of conviction vanished. I began
feel sure it WAS a dream. And then it came again.
"When the dream came again, nearly four days later, it was very
different. I think it certain that four days had also elapsed in the
dream. Many things had happened in the north, and the shadow of them was
back again between us, and this time it was not so easily dispelled.
I began, I know, with moody musings. Why, in spite of all, should I go
back, go back for all the rest of my days to toil and stress, insults
and perpetual dissatisfaction, simply to save hundreds of millions of
common people, whom I did not love, whom too often I could do no other
than despise, from the stress and anguish of war and infinite misrule?
And after all I might fail. THEY all sought their own narrow ends, and
why should not I--why should not I also live as a man? And out of such
thoughts her voice summoned me, and I lifted my eyes.
"I found myself awake and walking. We had come out above the Pleasure
City, we were near the summit of Monte Solaro and looking towards the
bay. It was the late afternoon and very clear. Far away to the left
Ischia hung in a golden haze between sea and sky, and Naples was coldly
white against the hills, and before us was Vesuvius with a tall and
slender streamer feathering at last towards the south, and the ruins of
Torre dell' Annunziata and Castellamare glittering and near."
I interrupted suddenly: "You have been to Capri, of course?"
"Only in this dream," he said, "only in this dream. All
across the bay
beyond Sorrento were the floating palaces of the Pleasure City moored
and chained. And northward were the broad floating stages that received
the aeroplanes. Aeroplanes fell out of the sky every afternoon, each
bringing its thousands of pleasure-seekers from the uttermost parts of
the earth to Capri and its delights. All these things, I say, stretched
"But we noticed them only incidentally because of an unusual sight
evening had to show. Five war aeroplanes that had long slumbered useless
in the distant arsenals of the Rhinemouth were manoeuvring now in the
eastward sky. Evesham had astonished the world by producing them and
others, and sending them to circle here and there. It was the threat
material in the great game of bluff he was playing, and it had taken
even me by surprise. He was one of those incredibly stupid energetic
people who seem sent by Heaven to create disasters. His energy to
the first glance seemed so wonderfully like capacity! But he had no
imagination, no invention, only a stupid, vast, driving force of will,
and a mad faith in his stupid idiot 'luck' to pull him through. I
remember how we stood out upon the headland watching the squadron
circling far away, and how I weighed the full meaning of the sight,
seeing clearly the way things must go. And then even it was not too
late. I might have gone back, I think, and saved the world. The people
of the north would follow me, I knew, granted only that in one thing I
respected their moral standards. The east and south would trust me as
they would trust no other northern man. And I knew I had only to put it
to her and she would have let me go.... Not because she did not love me!
"Only I did not want to go; my will was all the other way about.
so newly thrown off the incubus of responsibility: I was still so fresh
a renegade from duty that the daylight clearness of what I OUGHT to do
had no power at all to touch my will. My will was to live, to gather
pleasures and make my dear lady happy. But though this sense of vast
neglected duties had no power to draw me, it could make me silent and
preoccupied, it robbed the days I had spent of half their brightness and
roused me into dark meditations in the silence of the night. And as I
stood and watched Evesham's aeroplanes sweep to and fro--those birds
of infinite ill omen--she stood beside me watching me, perceiving the
trouble indeed, but not perceiving it clearly her eyes questioning my
face, her expression shaded with perplexity. Her face was grey because
the sunset was fading out of the sky. It was no fault of hers that she
held me. She had asked me to go from her, and again in the night time
and with tears she had asked me to go.
"At last it was the sense of her that roused me from my mood. I
upon her suddenly and challenged her to race down the mountain slopes.
'No,' she said, as if I jarred with her gravity, but I was resolved to
end that gravity, and made her run--no one can be very grey and sad who
is out of breath--and when she stumbled I ran with my hand beneath
her arm. We ran down past a couple of men, who turned back staring in
astonishment at my behaviour--they must have recognised my face.
And halfway down the slope came a tumult in the air, clang-clank,
clang-clank, and we stopped, and presently over the hill-crest those war
things came flying one behind the other."
The man seemed hesitating on the verge of a description.
"What were they like?" I asked.
"They had never fought," he said. "They were just like
our ironclads are
nowadays; they had never fought. No one knew what they might do, with
excited men inside them; few even cared to speculate. They were great
driving things shaped like spearheads without a shaft, with a propeller
in the place of the shaft."
"No, no, nothing of that sort. An alloy that was very common--as
as brass, for example. It was called--let me see--." He squeezed his
forehead with the fingers of one hand. "I am forgetting everything,"
"And they carried guns?"
"Little guns, firing high explosive shells. They fired the guns
backwards, out of the base of the leaf, so to speak, and rammed with the
beak. That was the theory, you know, but they had never been fought. No
one could tell exactly what was going to happen. And meanwhile I suppose
it was very fine to go whirling through the air like a flight of young
swallows, swift and easy. I guess the captains tried not to think
too clearly what the real thing would be like. And these flying war
machines, you know, were only one sort of the endless war contrivances
that had been invented and had fallen into abeyance during the long
peace. There were all sorts of these things that people were routing out
and furbishing up; infernal things, silly things; things that had never
been tried; big engines, terrible explosives, great guns. You know the
silly way of these ingenious sort of men who make these things; they
turn 'em out as beavers build dams, and with no more sense of the rivers
they're going to divert and the lands they're going to flood!
"As we went down the winding stepway to our hotel again, in the
twilight, I foresaw it all: I saw how clearly and inevitably things
were driving for war in Evesham's silly, violent hands, and I had some
inkling of what war was bound to be under these new conditions. And even
then, though I knew it was drawing near the limit of my opportunity, I
could find no will to go back."
"That was my last chance.
"We didn't go into the city until the sky was full of stars, so
walked out upon the high terrace, to and fro, and--she counselled me to
"'My dearest,' she said, and her sweet face looked up to me, 'this
Death. This life you lead is Death. Go back to them, go back to your
"She began to weep, saying, between her sobs, and clinging to my
she said it, 'Go back--Go back.'
"Then suddenly she fell mute, and, glancing down at her face, I
an instant the thing she had thought to do. It was one of those moments
when one SEES.
"'No!' I said.
"'No?' she asked, in surprise, and I think a little fearful at the
answer to her thought.
"'Nothing,' I said, 'shall send me back. Nothing! I have chosen.
I have chosen, and the world must go. Whatever happens I will live this
life--I will live for YOU! It--nothing shall turn me aside; nothing, my
dear one. Even if you died--even if you died--'
"'Yes,' she murmured, softly.
"'Then--I also would die.'
"And before she could speak again I began to talk, talking
eloquently--as I COULD do in that life--talking to exalt love, to make
the life we were living seem heroic and glorious; and the thing I was
deserting something hard and enormously ignoble that it was a fine thing
to set aside. I bent all my mind to throw that glamour upon it, seeking
not only to convert her but myself to that. We talked, and she clung to
me, torn too between all that she deemed noble and all that she knew
was sweet. And at last I did make it heroic, made all the thickening
disaster of the world only a sort of glorious setting to our
unparalleled love, and we two poor foolish souls strutted there at
last, clad in that splendid delusion, drunken rather with that glorious
delusion, under the still stars.
"And so my moment passed.
"It was my last chance. Even as we went to and fro there, the leaders
the south and east were gathering their resolve, and the hot answer that
shattered Evesham's bluffing for ever, took shape and waited. And all
over Asia, and the ocean, and the south, the air and the wires were
throbbing with their warnings to prepare--prepare.
"No one living, you know, knew what war was; no one could imagine,
all these new inventions, what horror war might bring. I believe most
people still believed it would be a matter of bright uniforms and
shouting charges and triumphs and flags and bands--in a time when half
the world drew its food supply from regions ten thousand miles away--."
The man with the white face paused. I glanced at him, and his face was
intent on the floor of the carriage. A little railway station, a string
of loaded trucks, a signal-box, and the back of a cottage, shot by the
carriage window, and a bridge passed with a clap of noise, echoing the
tumult of the train.
"After that," he said, "I dreamt often. For three weeks
of nights that
dream was my life. And the worst of it was there were nights when I
could not dream, when I lay tossing on a bed in THIS accursed life; and
THERE--somewhere lost to me--things were happening--momentous, terrible
things.... I lived at nights--my days, my waking days, this life I am
living now, became a faded, far-away dream, a drab setting, the cover of
"I could tell you all, tell you every little thing in the dream,
to what I did in the daytime--no. I could not tell--I do not remember.
My memory--my memory has gone. The business of life slips from me--"
He leant forward, and pressed his hands upon his eyes. For a long time
he said nothing.
"And then?" said I.
"The war burst like a hurricane."
He stared before him at unspeakable things.
"And then?" I urged again.
"One touch of unreality," he said, in the low tone of a man
to himself, "and they would have been nightmares. But they were not
nightmares--they were not nightmares. NO!"
He was silent for so long that it dawned upon me that there was a danger
of losing the rest of the story. But he went on talking again in the
same tone of questioning self-communion.
"What was there to do but flight? I had not thought the war would
Capri--I had seemed to see Capri as being out of it all, as the contrast
to it all; but two nights after the whole place was shouting and
bawling, every woman almost and every other man wore a badge--Evesham's
badge--and there was no music but a jangling war-song over and over
again, and everywhere men enlisting, and in the dancing halls they were
drilling. The whole island was awhirl with rumours; it was said, again
and again, that fighting had begun. I had not expected this. I had seen
so little of the life of pleasure that I had failed to reckon with this
violence of the amateurs. And as for me, I was out of it. I was like
a man who might have prevented the firing of a magazine. The time had
gone. I was no one; the vainest stripling with a badge counted for more
than I. The crowd jostled us and bawled in our ears; that accursed song
deafened us; a woman shrieked at my lady because no badge was on her,
and we two went back to our own place again, ruffled and insulted--my
lady white and silent, and I aquiver with rage. So furious was I,
I could have quarrelled with her if I could have found one shade of
accusation in her eyes.
"All my magnificence had gone from me. I walked up and down our
cell, and outside was the darkling sea and a light to the southward that
flared and passed and came again.
"'We must get out of this place,' I said over and over. 'I have
choice, and I will have no hand in these troubles. I will have nothing
of this war. We have taken our lives out of all these things. This is no
refuge for us. Let us go.'
"And the next day we were already in flight from the war that covered
"And all the rest was Flight--all the rest was Flight."
He mused darkly.
"How much was there of it?"
He made no answer.
"How many days?"
His face was white and drawn and his hands were clenched. He took no
heed of my curiosity.
I tried to draw him back to his story with questions.
"Where did you go?" I said.
"When you left Capri."
"Southwest," he said, and glanced at me for a second. "We
went in a
"But I should have thought an aeroplane?"
"They had been seized."
I questioned him no more. Presently I thought he was beginning again.
broke out in an argumentative monotone:
"But why should it be? If, indeed, this battle, this slaughter and
stress IS life, why have we this craving for pleasure and beauty? If
there IS no refuge, if there is no place of peace, and if all our dreams
of quiet places are a folly and a snare, why have we such dreams? Surely
it was no ignoble cravings, no base intentions, had brought us to this;
it was Love had isolated us. Love had come to me with her eyes and robed
in her beauty, more glorious than all else in life, in the very shape
and colour of life, and summoned me away. I had silenced all the voices,
I had answered all the questions--I had come to her. And suddenly there
was nothing but War and Death!"
I had an inspiration. "After all," I said, "it could have
been only a
"A dream!" he cried, flaming upon me, "a dream--when even
For the first time he became animated. A faint flush crept into his
cheek. He raised his open hand and clenched it, and dropped it to his
knee. He spoke, looking away from me, and for all the rest of the time
he looked away. "We are but phantoms," he said, "and the
phantoms, desires like cloud shadows and wills of straw that eddy in the
wind; the days pass, use and wont carry us through as a train carries
the shadow of its lights, so be it! But one thing is real and certain,
one thing is no dreamstuff, but eternal and enduring. It is the centre
of my life, and all other things about it are subordinate or altogether
vain. I loved her, that woman of a dream. And she and I are dead
"A dream! How can it be a dream, when it drenched a living life
unappeasable sorrow, when it makes all that I have lived for and cared
for, worthless and unmeaning?
"Until that very moment when she was killed I believed we had still
chance of getting away," he said. "All through the night and morning
that we sailed across the sea from Capri to Salerno, we talked of
escape. We were full of hope, and it clung about us to the end, hope for
the life together we should lead, out of it all, out of the battle and
struggle, the wild and empty passions, the empty arbitrary 'thou shalt'
and 'thou shalt not' of the world. We were uplifted, as though our quest
was a holy thing, as though love for one another was a mission....
"Even when from our boat we saw the fair face of that great rock
Capri--already scarred and gashed by the gun emplacements and
hiding-places that were to make it a fastness--we reckoned nothing of
the imminent slaughter, though the fury of preparation hung about in
puffs and clouds of dust at a hundred points amidst the grey; but,
indeed, I made a text of that and talked. There, you know, was the
rock, still beautiful, for all its scars, with its countless windows and
arches and ways, tier upon tier, for a thousand feet, a vast carving
of grey, broken by vine-clad terraces, and lemon and orange groves, and
masses of agave and prickly pear, and puffs of almond blossom. And out
under the archway that is built over the Piccola Marina other boats were
coming; and as we came round the cape and within sight of the mainland,
another little string of boats came into view, driving before the wind
towards the southwest. In a little while a multitude had come out, the
remoter just little specks of ultramarine in the shadow of the eastward
"'It is love and reason,' I said, 'fleeing from all this madness,
"And though we presently saw a squadron of aeroplanes flying across
southern sky we did not heed it. There it was--a line of little dots in
the sky--and then more, dotting the southeastern horizon, and then still
more, until all that quarter of the sky was stippled with blue specks.
Now they were all thin little strokes of blue, and now one and now
a multitude would heel and catch the sun and become short flashes of
light. They came rising and falling and growing larger, like some huge
flight of gulls or rooks, or such-like birds moving with a marvellous
uniformity, and ever as they drew nearer they spread over a greater
width of sky. The southward wing flung itself in an arrow-headed cloud
athwart the sun. And then suddenly they swept round to the eastward and
streamed eastward, growing smaller and smaller and clearer and clearer
again until they vanished from the sky. And after that we noted to the
northward and very high Evesham's fighting machines hanging high over
Naples like an evening swarm of gnats.
"It seemed to have no more to do with us than a flight of birds.
"Even the mutter of guns far away in the southeast seemed to us
"Each day, each dream after that, we were still exalted, still seeking
that refuge where we might live and love. Fatigue had come upon us,
pain and many distresses. For though we were dusty and stained by our
toilsome tramping, and half starved and with the horror of the dead
men we had seen and the flight of the peasants--for very soon a gust of
fighting swept up the peninsula--with these things haunting our minds it
still resulted only in a deepening resolution to escape. O, but she was
brave and patient! She who had never faced hardship and exposure had
courage for herself--and me. We went to and fro seeking an outlet, over
a country all commandeered and ransacked by the gathering hosts of war.
Always we went on foot. At first there were other fugitives, but we did
not mingle with them. Some escaped northward, some were caught in
the torrent of peasantry that swept along the main roads; many gave
themselves into the hands of the soldiery and were sent northward. Many
of the men were impressed. But we kept away from these things; we had
brought no money to bribe a passage north, and I feared for my lady at
the hands of these conscript crowds. We had landed at Salerno, and
we had been turned back from Cava, and we had tried to cross towards
Taranto by a pass over Mount Alburno, but we had been driven back for
want of food, and so we had come down among the marshes by Paestum,
where those great temples stand alone. I had some vague idea that by
Paestum it might be possible to find a boat or something, and take once
more to sea. And there it was the battle overtook us.
"A sort of soul-blindness had me. Plainly I could see that we were
hemmed in; that the great net of that giant Warfare had us in its toils.
Many times we had seen the levies that had come down from the north
going to and fro, and had come upon them in the distance amidst the
mountains making ways for the ammunition and preparing the mounting of
the guns. Once we fancied they had fired at us, taking us for spies--at
any rate a shot had gone shuddering over us. Several times we had hidden
in woods from hovering aeroplanes.
"But all these things do not matter now, these nights of flight
pain.... We were in an open place near those great temples at Paestum,
at last, on a blank stony place dotted with spiky bushes, empty and
desolate and so flat that a grove of eucalyptus far away showed to the
feet of its stems. How I can see it! My lady was sitting down under
a bush, resting a little, for she was very weak and weary, and I was
standing up watching to see if I could tell the distance of the firing
that came and went. They were still, you know, fighting far from each
other, with those terrible new weapons that had never before been used:
guns that would carry beyond sight, and aeroplanes that would do--What
THEY would do no man could foretell.
"I knew that we were between the two armies, and that they drew
together. I knew we were in danger, and that we could not stop there and
"Though all these things were in my mind, they were in the background.
They seemed to be affairs beyond our concern. Chiefly, I was thinking of
my lady. An aching distress filled me. For the first time she had owned
herself beaten and had fallen a-weeping. Behind me I could hear her
sobbing, but I would not turn round to her because I knew she had need
of weeping, and had held herself so far and so long for me. It was well,
I thought, that she would weep and rest and then we would toil on again,
for I had no inkling of the thing that hung so near. Even now I can see
her as she sat there, her lovely hair upon her shoulder, can mark again
the deepening hollow of her cheek.
"'If we had parted,' she said, 'if I had let you go.'
"'No,' said I. 'Even now, I do not repent. I will not repent; I
choice, and I will hold on to the end."
"Overhead in the sky something flashed and burst, and all about
heard the bullets making a noise like a handful of peas suddenly thrown.
They chipped the stones about us, and whirled fragments from the bricks
He put his hand to his mouth, and then moistened his lips.
"At the flash I had turned about....
"You know--she stood up--
"She stood up; you know, and moved a step towards me--
"As though she wanted to reach me--
"And she had been shot through the heart."
He stopped and stared at me. I felt all that foolish incapacity an
Englishman feels on such occasions. I met his eyes for a moment, and
then stared out of the window. For a long space we kept silence. When at
last I looked at him he was sitting back in his corner, his arms folded,
and his teeth gnawing at his knuckles.
He bit his nail suddenly, and stared at it.
"I carried her," he said, "towards the temples, in my
arms--as though it
mattered. I don't know why. They seemed a sort of sanctuary, you know,
they had lasted so long, I suppose.
"She must have died almost instantly. Only--I talked to her--all
"I have seen those temples," I said abruptly, and indeed he
those still, sunlit arcades of worn sandstone very vividly before me.
"It was the brown one, the big brown one. I sat down on a fallen
and held her in my arms.... Silent after the first babble was over. And
after a little while the lizards came out and ran about again, as though
nothing unusual was going on, as though nothing had changed.... It was
tremendously still there, the sun high, and the shadows still; even the
shadows of the weeds upon the entablature were still--in spite of the
thudding and banging that went all about the sky.
"I seem to remember that the aeroplanes came up out of the south,
that the battle went away to the west. One aeroplane was struck, and
overset and fell. I remember that--though it didn't interest me in
the least. It didn't seem to signify. It was like a wounded gull, you
know--flapping for a time in the water. I could see it down the aisle of
the temple--a black thing in the bright blue water.
"Three or four times shells burst about the beach, and then that
Each time that happened all the lizards scuttled in and hid for a space.
That was all the mischief done, except that once a stray bullet gashed
the stone hard by--made just a fresh bright surface.
"As the shadows grew longer, the stillness seemed greater.
"The curious thing," he remarked, with the manner of a man
who makes a
trivial conversation, "is that I didn't THINK--I didn't think at all.
I sat with her in my arms amidst the stones--in a sort of
"And I don't remember waking up. I don't remember dressing that
know I found myself in my office, with my letters all slit open in front
of me, and how I was struck by the absurdity of being there, seeing that
in reality I was sitting, stunned, in that Paestum temple with a dead
woman in my arms. I read my letters like a machine. I have forgotten
what they were about."
He stopped, and there was a long silence.
Suddenly I perceived that we were running down the incline from Chalk
Farm to Euston. I started at this passing of time. I turned on him with
a brutal question, with the tone of Now or never.
"And did you dream again?"
He seemed to force himself to finish. His voice was very low.
"Once more, and as it were only for a few instants. I seemed to
suddenly awakened out of a great apathy, to have risen into a sitting
position, and the body lay there on the stones beside me. A gaunt body.
Not her, you know. So soon--it was not her....
"I may have heard voices. I do not know. Only I knew clearly that
were coming into the solitude and that that was a last outrage.
"I stood up and walked through the temple, and then there came into
sight--first one man with a yellow face, dressed in a uniform of dirty
white, trimmed with blue, and then several, climbing to the crest of
the old wall of the vanished city, and crouching there. They were little
bright figures in the sunlight, and there they hung, weapon in hand,
peering cautiously before them.
"And further away I saw others and then more at another point in
wall. It was a long lax line of men in open order.
"Presently the man I had first seen stood up and shouted a command,
his men came tumbling down the wall and into the high weeds towards the
temple. He scrambled down with them and led them. He came facing towards
me, and when he saw me he stopped.
"At first I had watched these men with a mere curiosity, but when
had seen they meant to come to the temple I was moved to forbid them. I
shouted to the officer.
"'You must not come here,' I cried, '_I_ am here. I am here with
"He stared, and then shouted a question back to me in some unknown
"I repeated what I had said.
"He shouted again, and I folded my arms and stood still. Presently
spoke to his men and came forward. He carried a drawn sword.
"I signed to him to keep away, but he continued to advance. I told
again very patiently and clearly: 'You must not come here. These are old
temples and I am here with my dead.'
"Presently he was so close I could see his face clearly. It was
face, with dull grey eyes, and a black moustache. He had a scar on
his upper lip, and he was dirty and unshaven. He kept shouting
unintelligible things, questions perhaps, at me.
"I know now that he was afraid of me, but at the time that did not
occur to me. As I tried to explain to him he interrupted me in imperious
tones, bidding me, I suppose, stand aside.
"He made to go past me, And I caught hold of him.
"I saw his face change at my grip.
"'You fool,' I cried. 'Don't you know? She is dead!'
"He started back. He looked at me with cruel eyes. I saw a sort
exultant resolve leap into them--delight. Then, suddenly, with a scowl,
he swept his sword back--SO--and thrust."
He stopped abruptly. I became aware of a change in the rhythm of the
train. The brakes lifted their voices and the carriage jarred and
jerked. This present world insisted upon itself, became clamorous. I saw
through the steamy window huge electric lights glaring down from tall
masts upon a fog, saw rows of stationary empty carriages passing by, and
then a signal-box, hoisting its constellation of green and red into the
murky London twilight marched after them. I looked again at his drawn
"He ran me through the heart. It was with a sort of astonishment--no
fear, no pain--but just amazement, that I felt it pierce me, felt the
sword drive home into my body. It didn't hurt, you know. It didn't hurt
The yellow platform lights came into the field of view, passing first
rapidly, then slowly, and at last stopping with a jerk. Dim shapes of
men passed to and fro without.
"Euston!" cried a voice.
"Do you mean--?"
"There was no pain, no sting or smart. Amazement and then darkness
sweeping over everything. The hot, brutal face before me, the face
of the man who had killed me, seemed to recede. It swept out of
"Euston!" clamoured the voices outside; "Euston!"
The carriage door opened, admitting a flood of sound, and a porter stood
regarding us. The sounds of doors slamming, and the hoof-clatter of
cab-horses, and behind these things the featureless remote roar of the
London cobble-stones, came to my ears. A truckload of lighted lamps
blazed along the platform.
"A darkness, a flood of darkness that opened and spread and blotted
"Any luggage, sir?" said the porter.
"And that was the end?" I asked.
He seemed to hesitate. Then, almost inaudibly, he answered, "No."
"I couldn't get to her. She was there on the other side of the
"Yes," I insisted. "Yes?"
"Nightmares," he cried; "nightmares indeed! My God! Great
fought and tore."