* A Distributed Proofreaders Canada eBook *

This ebook is made available at no cost and with very few restrictions. These restrictions apply only if (1) you make a change in the ebook (other than alteration for different display devices), or (2) you are making commercial use of the ebook. If either of these conditions applies, please contact a FP administrator before proceeding.

This work is in the Canadian public domain, but may be under copyright in some countries. If you live outside Canada, check your country's copyright laws. IF THE BOOK IS UNDER COPYRIGHT IN YOUR COUNTRY, DO NOT DOWNLOAD OR REDISTRIBUTE THIS FILE.

Title: The Short Stories of Warwick Deeping

Date of first publication: 1930

Author: Warwick Deeping (1877-1950)

Date first posted: Aug. 13, 2018

Date last updated: Aug. 13, 2018

Faded Page eBook #20180859

This ebook was produced by: Al Haines, Mardi Desjardins & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net



 

 

 

The

 

SHORT STORIES

 

of

 

WARWICK DEEPING

 

 

 

 

 

CASSELL

AND COMPANY, LIMITED

London, Toronto, Melbourne & Sydney


First published 1930

 

 

Printed in Great Britain


CONTENTS

PAGE
   
1.Wilmer’s Wife1
2.Two Men23
3.The Pool of the Satyr37
4.Old Fagus83
5.That Vulgar Person97
6.The Immortals112
7.The Harmless Satyr133
8.Tom Silver’s Bus159
9.Poet and Peasant174
10.Gustave189
11.Sand Dunes204
12.The First Wrinkle222
13.Shipwreck and a Shrew237
14.Caliban258
15.Noise277
16.Six Months to Live296
17.Sennen Climbs a Wall347
18.Rachel in Search of Reality360
19.Ridicule374
20.The Great Saaba Bridge388
21.The Blue Tulip404
22.A Red Blind418
23.The Three Trees437
24.The Red Van454
25.Stockings472
26.Sappho485
27.The Black Cat503
28.The Other Woman517
29.What About It?535
30.Contraband549
31.Heritage597
32.Discord615
33.Restitution628
34.At “The Golden Palace643
35.The Hesperides660
36.Elizabeth674
37.The Man Who Came Back688
38.The Child705
39.Paternity720
40.The Strange Case of Sybil Carberry736
41.The Cave791
42.Precious Stones805
43.Barron’s Broken Head823
44.In the Snow838
45.Laughing Sickness852
46.The Man with the Red Tie867
47.Escape881
48.The Sand-pit896
49.The Liars911
50.The Broken Violin923
51.The Son940

THE SHORT STORIES

 

OF

 

WARWICK DEEPING


WILMER’S WIFE

I

Wilmer was sitting in front of the fire, his elbows on his knees, his fists under his chin. His slippers lay on the hearth-rug just as he had kicked them off. His pipe had gone out, but he held it gripped between his teeth.

“What a mockery!” he thought, and glanced at the empty chair beside him.

It was a very ordinary arm-chair, upholstered in blue tapestry, with rolled arms and a comfortable sloping back. A green cushion lay on the seat, and as Wilmer glanced at it a flicker of pain seemed to pass across his face. It had been his wife’s chair, and that green cushion had formed the familiar halo behind her bronze-brown head.

He stared at the cushion.

His wife had been dead for a year. She lay in that North London cemetery, deep in the dreary clay of it, and she had died just before he had become so fatuously famous.

For his fame was fatuous, since it had come to Wilmer when it had ceased to matter, when it was useless, and he had ceased to care.

Had it come a year earlier how different things might have been.

The house-bell rang. He heard the maid go to the door, and a moment later she was looking kindly at the bent back of him and holding out his letters.

“Letters, sir.”

“Put them on the table, Mary.”

“Shall I turn on the light, sir?”

“No; don’t bother.”

She went out, closing the door gently, with pity in her pleasant, unsubtle eyes. “Poor gentleman, he had taken it to heart;” and Wilmer sat there, staring at the fire, that most lonely and lost of creatures, a man whose soul-mate had vanished and left him in the darkness.

Presently he turned and picked up the letters. There were quite a number of them, a proof of the public’s delight in one of its latest pets. Wilmer glanced perfunctorily at the envelopes, bending down before the firelight, with his thin and sensitive face lit up by the glow. What a budget! Letters from enthusiastic young ladies beseeching him for an autograph. Another letter from a titled person asking him to present her with some of his books to be sold at a charity bazaar. Yet another letter from a cinematograph company, desiring to be informed whether the film rights of his next novel had been disposed of.

And a letter from his literary agents. He recognized the impressive notepaper used by Messrs. Wagstaffe and Plater.

Dear Mr. Wilmer,

“Messrs. Macalpine are anxious to receive the MS. of your autumn novel.

“We have pleasure in informing you that ‘Tempest’ has reached a tenth large edition.

“The news from the U.S.A. is magnificent. ‘Tempest’ is still the bestseller. Etc. etc.——”

Wilmer threw the letter into the fire and watched it burn. The curling, reddening sheets seemed to writhe mockingly.

Yes, what a damned mockery it was!

A year ago he had been a poor man—so poor that he had been unable to give his wife that last great chance which might have saved her life. For fifteen years she had given him love, courage and understanding; she had been the human triumph behind the bitterness of his failure; she had worked and smiled in this shabby little Canonbury house, filling it with a spiritual tenderness. When he had gone down into the deeps, her love had picked him up, and with a comrade’s courage had set him on his feet again.

“Go on, Peter. Some day it will come to you.”

And it had come, but after her death, after he had ceased to care, and that was where the damned irony of it wounded him. “Tempest,” a fragment of blood and of tears that had brought him so much material plunder, had been written while death had come nearer and nearer. He had read it to her, chapter by chapter. He had finished it a month before she had died. And it had gone out to the world with her name upon the page of dedication.

To Kitty.

And Kitty did not know.

Yet, how he had striven to convince himself that Catharine Wilmer did know, and that all that had happened to him since was as real to her as it was to him. Death and survival had not vexed him until he had found himself alone, and then he had struggled in the darkness outside the gate of the great mystery, trying to penetrate it, to feel Kitty’s presence somewhere in the beyond.

He had failed, though there had been moments when he could have sworn that she was near him, sitting in that chair.

He could remember waking at night after she had died, and imagining her near him, quietly breathing.

“Kitty!”

And then, emptiness, and the realization of it, and the anguish of an inexorable silence.

II

Sitting before the fire, Wilmer told himself that there was no survival. Death was the end of things—a disaster that could not be retrieved.

A flutter of black ash recalled his agent’s letter and its opening sentence:

“Messrs. Macalpine are anxious to receive the MS. of your autumn novel.”

Wilmer got up and turned on the light. At the curtained window stood his desk, with papers of notes and a wad of unruled foolscap upon it, the pen laid neatly across the inkstand. During the daytime the window looked out on a little, black walled sooty garden in which grew a scraggy lilac, one or two hollies, and a few other shrubs. For ten years he had sat at that window, writing. He had been a man of an impetuous untidiness, but now this table of his was meticulously neat, for it was a dead table where no live thought flowed.

Wilmer was unable to write. Since his wife’s death his inspiration had deserted him.

For six months he had made a fight of it, sitting down grimly at that desk, and producing nothing but disjointed and unconvincing nonsense. In the end he had given it up. His agents were asking for the autumn book, and the book did not exist. Moreover, Wilmer did not care.

What did it matter? He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece, stood a moment in an attitude of deep thought, and then went upstairs to his bedroom. At the top of the stairs he paused to call to the old servant.

“Mary.”

A door opened.

“Did you call, sir?”

“I shall be out to dinner. Take the evening off. Go to the pictures.”

“I would just as soon be at home, sir.”

“No, go out,” he said, with a touch of irritation; “it will do you good.”

A few minutes later Wilmer was in the street, walking fast, but with no definite objective before him. His body was a mere automaton. He felt dissociated from it, this poor thing of the flesh that had to be fed and clothed and put to bed. His mood was one of strange detachment, for the ties that bound him to life had grown weak and frail, mere threads of gossamer waiting to be broken by some sudden impulse.

“Why should one live?”

He found himself in Upper Street—a shadow among shadows—under the haze of a February sky. It was cold, with a dry frostiness in the air, and the lights from the street lamps and the shop windows spread a soft blurred canopy between the houses. People passed him, and were passed by him; the roadway was clamorous and discordant, and yet he had a feeling that everything was unreal, and that he—the man who proposed to die—was the one and only reality. All these people were the mere shadows of his own sense impressions. Already—they were dead and did not know it. Beyond the edge of desire lay the one reality, nothingness.

Wilmer was unconscious of the passing of time, but when he returned to the familiar street he seemed to recognize something dramatic in its dullness. He leaned against a brick gate-pillar and looked at his own house, that little black early Victorian box of bricks where so much and yet so little had happened. The house had a friendly and intimate look. Its eyes seemed to meet his with a stare of infinite understanding.

“Yes, come in out of the night,” it said. “You and I will be together. You shall do just what you please, and I shall not utter a word.”

Wilmer smiled. He crossed the road, walked up the paved path, took out his key and opened the door. A moment later he had closed it behind him, and found himself standing in the darkness of the passage hall. It was familiar, yet strange and silent; and yet—as he stood there—he felt that its silence was alive. A shiver of awe went down his spine. He listened. For a moment he held his breath.

He had a feeling that there was someone in the house, and so strong was this feeling that he challenged the house’s silence.

“Mary—Mary—have you gone out?”

No one answered; but for fully a minute Wilmer stood straining his ears, his heart beating fast and hard. It was as though there—was—something there, something that lay just beyond the perceptive power of his senses—a presence intuitively felt. He was aware of a sense of strain and of tension, as though his self were striving to reach up and out beyond the limitations of his physical body. There was something to be touched, heard, seen, if only he could get beyond the ineffectual flesh.

“Kitty?”

A mysterious excitement seized him. He groped his way down the passage, arms extended, his eyes searching the darkness. A faint line of light showed under the sitting-room door. He found the handle, and pushing the door open, stood looking into the room.

Mary had made up the fire before going out and hung the fire-guard on the bars, and in the light of the little quiet flames Wilmer saw his wife’s chair. It was empty. Of course it was empty. And yet, as he closed the door and moved towards the centre of the room, he found himself questioning its emptiness.

“Supposing she is there?”

He felt an inward trembling.

“There—but invisible. After all one’s senses shut one in. There may be something that can go beyond the senses.”

He drew into the shadow of a corner where the bookcase stood.

“I could swear—that I felt——”

And then his hands went out appealingly.

“Kitty, if you are there, give me some sign, if such a thing is possible.”

The firelight flickered and there was silence; and swept away by some helpless impulse, Wilmer threw himself on his knees by the chair, and buried his face in the green cushion. He remained quite still, with a rigid stillness, but presently he raised his face, and it was the face of one who listened.

Moreover, it had an expression of wonder and of expectancy. He turned, and leaning against the chair, stared at the fire, for somewhere within himself a little, distant voice seemed to be speaking.

“Peter, the holiday we never had, the holiday we always talked of. Sunlight—and the blueness of sea and sky.”

His face twitched; one hand gripped the green cushion.

“Somewhere in the south. I want to see palm trees, Peter, and the mimosa——”

A spasm of emotion seized him.

“By God—I remember. Why shouldn’t she be with me in the spirit? We’ll go.”

III

Wilmer made all his arrangements through Messrs. Cook’s office in Pall Mall.

When he entered the office about ten o’clock next morning he held the heavy swing-door open for a moment as though allowing a companion to pass through. He was smiling. At the long counter a clerk glanced at him inquiringly.

“Yes, sir?”

“I want to go to Algiers. Can you arrange everything?”

“You will want a sleeper, sir, and a cabin? There is rather a rush just now. And the hotel?”

“The best there is. It must have a garden, and not be in the middle of the town.”

“The ‘Mustapha’ would suit you, sir; fairly quiet and beautifully situated.”

“Can you wire for a room?”

“Certainly. Accommodation on the train and on the boat from Marseilles for one?”

“For two.”

“A two-berthed cabin, and a sleeper for two. And the hotel? The ‘Mustapha’ has suites.”

“I should want a suite facing south.”

“Very good, sir. You have a passport?”

“No.”

“We shall have to arrange that. I take it, sir, that you wish to leave——?”

“As soon as you can obtain the necessary tickets and accommodation.”

“We will wire at once, sir. I will make a note of all the details.”

Wilmer left by the boat train on a raw February morning. No one saw him off; in fact, no one but the old servant knew that he was going, and in his pocket he carried a letter from his literary agents—an anxious and worried letter. Wilmer had written to tell Messrs. Wagstaffe and Plater that his next novel would not be ready for autumn publication, and had hinted that its completion was a matter of indifference to him. His agents had diagnosed “swelled head.”

He had the expectant look of a man setting out upon a memorable adventure. At Calais his calmness in the ridiculous scuffle at the “customs,” might have suggested the experienced traveller. He had a detached air; he seemed to dream above the heads of the excited crowd.

Premier classe, monsieur?

Wagons-lits.

His porter delivered him into the hands of a little swarthy man in a chocolate-coloured uniform who conducted Wilmer to his sleeper.

“For two, monsieur.”

“Yes.”

Wilmer closed the door and arranged his baggage, and he behaved as though someone were sitting on the seat by the window.

“Not a bad crossing, Kitty. You would like the lower berth, dear. I shall be able to tuck you up before climbing upstairs.”

Later, the attendant—a man of commerce—realized that Wilmer had no travelling companion.

“But monsieur is alone?”

“No.”

The man stared.

“There is a gentleman who has no berth. If monsieur is agreeable——”

Wilmer was not agreeable. He showed a touch of fierceness. He had paid for his compartment and he did not wish to be disturbed, and the attendant, pocketing a fifty-franc note, left him alone. The Englishman was either a rich egoist or a lunatic. The tip was the thing that mattered.

At Marseilles the sun shone, and Wilmer, the sole occupant of a two-berthed cabin, stood on the deck of the Timgad and watched the golden figure of Notre Dame de Mont Gard grow dim against the blue of the northern sky. The sea was calm, and the deck-steward was portioning out deck-chairs. Wilmer asked him to reserve two.

“What name, monsieur?”

“Wilmer.”

Monsieur et madame?

“If you please.”

So the red chair next to Wilmer bore on its little white card “Madame Wilmer,” as he sat and watched the sea.

A florid, sanguine, talkative old lady occupied the chair beyond the vacant one. She and Wilmer went in to meals and returned to their two chairs; and, in due course the sociable person attacked the dreamy man. She had a book in her lap—Wilmer’s novel “Tempest.”

“Beautiful crossing.”

“Perfect.”

“I am afraid your wife must be rather a bad sailor.”

Wilmer started.

“Yes.”

“What a pity. The cabins are so stuffy. I always believe in staying on deck.”

Before Algiers flashed its whiteness across the blue, the sociable lady had discovered that she had made the acquaintance of the great novelist, and she showed that she was impressed, but she was a good deal puzzled by seeing Wilmer disembarking with no travel-weary wife leaning upon his arm. And she was still more puzzled when she found herself sitting opposite to him in the omnibus of the Mustapha Hotel.

The bus swept them out of Algiers up to Mustapha Superieur, while Wilmer sat and dreamed, and the sociable lady exercised a tactful reticence. It was obvious to her that Wilmer was an unusual man, and he behaved in an unusual manner, for when the omnibus deposited them in the hotel courtyard, Wilmer got out and wandered aside into the garden. He strolled along the terrace, with the late sunlight splashing upon the palms, olives and cypresses, and the flowers aglow in the green alley-ways, and the red earthy spaces. He carried his hat in his hand. He was looking for a mimosa tree, and when he found one he stood and smiled at some imagined person who stood close beside him.

“Mimosa—Kitty. This is the sort of place we always dreamed of.”

At the reception bureau a polite under-manager greeted him smilingly.

“Ah—Mr. Wilmer—we thought that you might have missed the boat. Yes—your suite is ready. Perhaps you would like to see it.”

The under-manager led the way to the lift, and paused as though he expected a third person. His eyes met Wilmer’s.

“Are you alone, sir?”

Wilmer replied with a slight movement of the head, and the under-manager bowed him into the lift.

“Pardon—but I understood—— The suite we reserved is for two.”

“If I approve of it—you can charge me for two.”

“It is a little unusual, sir.”

“Does it matter? I like—space.”

Wilmer approved of the suite. It consisted of a spacious bedroom, a bathroom, and a small sitting-room, and its windows looked out over the garden and into the fragrant yellow heart of a mimosa tree. Cap Matifou was visible, purple horn thrusting into the deep blue sea. Wilmer stood at one of the windows and his face dreamed. A porter came in with his light luggage, to be followed by a waiter who wished to know if monsieur desired tea.

Wilmer ordered tea, and he drank it at one of the open windows, watching the changing lights upon the garden below him. In the distance, the sea, softened to a blue-grey silkiness, reflected the glowing whiteness of a mass of cumulus cloud. Cap Matifou grew opalescent. He was aware of a sudden dewy freshness in the air, and of the perfumes rising from the garden where great patches of soft gloom began to spread under the trees.

“Good, isn’t it, dear? Just what we dreamed of.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Gallaby, the lady of the Timgad, was chattering over her tea to a party of friends whom she had come to join.

“Who do you think came over in the boat with me? Yes; and he is staying here—Mr. Wilmer who wrote ‘Tempest.’ And, oh, my dear, there was something most odd.”

“These literary people——!”

“No; he looks quite ordinary. But he had two chairs on deck labelled ‘Monsieur et Madame Wilmer.’ His wife’s chair was empty, and so—of course I thought—we had been chatting—you know—I thought she was a bad sailor or an invalid——”

Mrs. Gallaby had a sense of the dramatic, she paused to refill her tea-cup.

“And wasn’t she?”

“My dear, there wasn’t a Mrs. Wilmer.”

“Oh!”

“He got off the boat alone, and he came up in the bus with me—alone. Now—why——?”

“Did you mention his wife?”

“I asked him if she was a bad sailor.”

“Well?”

“And he said ‘yes.’ Wasn’t it odd?”

When Wilmer walked into the dining-room he was quite unaware of the fact that a dozen people were watching him with interest. He stood in the middle of the big room, with that air of dreamy detachment, looking like a visionary. The head-waiter bustled up to him.

“A table for one, monsieur?”

“For two, please.”

“Two? monsieur.”

“Yes.”

The man was polite but puzzled. He led the way to a corner.

“Madame is dining in her room, monsieur?”

Wilmer produced something from the side pocket of his dinner-jacket, and that something was transferred to the head-waiter’s hand.

“I wish to have a table for two. Someone will be joining me here—very soon.”

“Very good, monsieur. Shall we lay two covers?”

“Please.”

The head-waiter pocketed two hundred-franc notes, and Mrs. Gallaby, who had been sufficiently near to hear the conversation touched her neighbour’s sleeve.

“Did you hear? He asked for a table for two. Isn’t it odd?”

As the days went by the Mustapha Hotel found itself becoming more and more interested in Wilmer’s oddness. He spoke to no one, though his reserve was not studied and wilful; he ignored his fellow humans because he had ceased to be aware of them. He idled about, or sat in the sun, and on his face was a look of gentle expectancy. Unsubtle people thought him “sidy,” and reduced his aloofness to a question of “pose.” He spent much of his time in wandering about the hills, steeping himself and his growing obsession in the African spring, breathing the colour and the smell of it. Kitty had been a great lover of flowers, and all the flowers that he saw were hers.

He became a source of interest to the “staff.” They liked him, for he was generous and courteous. The femme de chambre and the valet who looked after him thought him pleasantly and romantically mad. “Some great trouble!” For on his dressing-table he kept a silver mirror and hair-brush, a tortoiseshell comb, a box of hairpins, scent bottles, women’s things. A lace bed-cap hung on the mirror frame, and a pair of grey suede shoes and of pink satin slippers waited under a chair.

“And he has a lady’s night-dress in a silk case on the pillow beside him. Poor fellow!”

“How ridiculous!”

“Why should it be ridiculous. I always dust the shoes and the slippers, and clean the silver, and put it just as he placed it.”

“And he tips well.”

“You say he is an author?”

“He keeps a portfolio on the table. It is full of clean paper. I have seen him sitting there, but he never writes anything. Sometimes I open the portfolio and look.”

“Touched in the head.”

“I have no quarrel with such queerness. I wish some of the old ladies had a little of it.”

There was one person in the hotel who had begun to observe Wilmer with the eyes of a clinician, and that person was the English doctor, a man with a quiet blue eye and an air of laconic kindness. Wilmer interested him. The doctor watched him for some days with a keen and sympathetic curiosity. He noticed that when Wilmer went to sit in a quiet corner of the terrace he always kept a vacant chair next to him, and that sometimes he spread a coat over the chair. The doctor followed him on one or two occasions up the hill to the Bois, and observed that Wilmer walked on the outside of the path, and that he kept turning his head to the right.

“Just as though—a woman—were walking beside him!”

On another occasion, Rome—the doctor—witnessed a curious incident. One of the hotel bores, a little, pursy, ape-headed profiteer with a face of brass, who was for ever talking about “my suite”—went up and laid a hand on Wilmer’s other chair. Curmudgeon needed the chair, and chairs were free, and Wilmer had no right to it.

The doctor saw Wilmer betray a sudden, unexpected fierceness.

“This chair’s reserved.”

Curmudgeon appeared inclined to challenge the assertion.

“No one’s sitting in it, my dear sir.”

Wilmer jerked the chair from the other man’s grip, and placed it carefully on the far side of him.

“It is reserved. If you want a chair, find another.”

The chair-stealer came away fuming and appealed in a thick voice to Dr. Rome.

“Did you see that? The fellow’s cracked.”

“Why?”

“Stuck to that chair. I thought he was going to get up and hit me. Just as though his best girl was coming to sit in it.”

“Perhaps she is,” said the doctor.

“He ought not to be allowed here. Everybody’s talking about him.”

“Well—they must talk about something. Besides, there is nothing offensive about the man.”

“Nothing offensive? Why, my dear sir, if he isn’t cracked, he is the most swollen-headed idiot that ever——”

“Talked about a ‘suite’,” said the doctor who had moments of wanton puckishness.

But in Wilmer’s dream-world the illusion was not all that it seemed. He had moments of bitter loneliness when the dream seemed nothing but an illusion, for what proof had he of that dear, invisible presence? There were times when he was most strangely sure that his wife was near him, and though his senses were too unsubtle to detect her immaterial presence, the soul of him felt some other being near him. The look of expectancy remained in his eyes, but it was more anxious and less radiant.

“O—words—words!” he would say to himself; “they are as useless and as limited as our senses. Something in me feels that which can neither be defined or explained. The blind worm is on the edge of vision.”

Often, in the evening, he would walk up to the Bois and, standing there among the silent pines, look up at the star dust, and at the lights of Algiers below him. Like a visionary, alone in some very solitary place, he would try to penetrate the eternal mystery, to thrust himself through into a world of other dimensions. His dream was a beautiful conception, but the love in him cried out for some convincing sign.

Standing there he would speak to his dear, unseen comrade.

“Kitty—I am waiting. I want you. I feel you—there. Give me some proof, dear, for sometimes my spirit is weak.”

He would try and justify the silence.

“We are so much in the dark, dear. I can understand that it may be very difficult for you to get back to me in this world—as we know it. My senses limit me. These bondages of the flesh! Is it possible for you to unroll them—and to make me see or feel—or divine the imperishable ‘you’? If you could touch me—but once——”

His feeling of anxiety increased. Dream as he might, Wilmer knew that he could not prove to his eager, critical self that the obsession was anything but a dream. He might surround himself with his memories of her, with tender imaginings, pathetic make-believe, yet the illusion cast no shadow.

People noticed that he went about with a slight droop of the shoulders. His eyes looked anxious, and his face had lost its expression of happy expectancy. He avoided his fellow humans more and more; he ceased to appear in the dining-room and took his meals in his own suite.

Dr. Rome’s interest grew more personal and grave. He began seriously to think of laying a gentle hand on this quiet madman’s illusion. Something tragic might happen, for Wilmer’s face suggested a possible tragedy.

IV

One day the Hotel Mustapha realized that Wilmer had disappeared.

Gossip put it about that he had gone to the desert. Someone had seen him driven off very early in a closed car; and Mrs. Gallaby, who lived on the same floor, questioned the femme de chambre.

“Yes, madame, Monsieur Wilmer has gone to Bou Saada. He will return in a few days.”

Wilmer saw the sunset from the balcony of the little hotel at Bou Saada. Below him lay a garden with cherries and apricots in blossom and a yellow foliaged lemon tree full of pale fruit. Bou Saada spread itself in brown cubes among the palms and against a streak of yellow sand, with here and there a solitary tower or the dome of a mosque rising above the flat-roofed houses. The mountains were camel coloured. Amid the palms and prickly pear a stream flickered. Somewhere, a blackbird scolded between bursts of deep piping.

Wilmer leaned his arms on the rail. He had come over the Atlas mountains and across the leagues of stony desert that lie beyond Aumale, and he had felt tired, but as he looked at the fruit blossom, the grey-green palms, the flickering water, and the outlined strangeness of the little eastern village, his tiredness seemed to pass. He heard the powerful voice of a muezzin calling the people to prayer. The desert flashed a momentary gold. He could catch the sound of running water, and a sense of peace descended on him.

“This—is what she wished to see. Can she see it? She—does—see it.”

There were violets in the garden below, crimson stocks, and roses. It had been raining earlier in the day, and the air felt fresh. And Wilmer lingered there, watching the light die, and the palms growing black under the stars.

Someone knocked at his door.

Monsieur, le diner est servi.

He went down and dined, though he hardly noticed what he ate, or the people at the other tables, and afterwards he returned to the galleried balcony and watched the dim town, and the still dimmer mountains. A great silence held. A murmur of voices came from some of the other rooms, but he was not disturbed by them. A man and a girl came and stood under one of the other arches; he heard their laughter and their soft, happy chatter, and the human part of him was glad.

“Lovers,” he thought, “like we were—and are.”

And his right arm hollowed itself as though to enclose the invisible figure of his mate.

A spiritual calm descended upon him. He went to bed and slept without dreams, to be wakened just before the dawn by the muezzin’s voice. It sent a tremor of awe through him, a quiver of expectation, and he slipped out of bed, and putting on his overcoat, stood on the balcony and watched the dawn.

Birds sang. The hills bathed their faces in the light, and the palms grew gently green under a cloudless sky. The strange town began to add its murmurs to the sound of running water; and Wilmer’s brain seemed to grow as clear and as cloudless as the sky, and a tremor of exultation and of wonder stirred in him. The dawn—the inevitable dawn—symbol of the eternal mystery!

From the very beginning of it that day seemed to him to be unlike all other days. He dressed, and with a strange sense of lightness at the heart he went out and, ignoring the casual crowd of guides and beggars at the hotel door, made his way down to the bed of the stream. He was alone here under the palms, but as he sat among the stones and listened to the running water he felt that he was not alone.

There he remained, with the shadows of the palms and the sunlight falling about him. The hours passed. Time had ceased to count, nor did he feel hunger or thirst, for his body was no more than the shadow of a tree, or the water upon which the sunlight played. He waited, his eyes expectant, his mouth tremulous with a kind of smiling tenderness.

“One whole day thou shalt fast, and towards evening the spirit shall descend upon thee.”

Where he had read these words Wilmer could not remember, but they seemed to come to him out of the clear desert sky.

About sunset he arose and stood leaning against a palm tree, his face to the west. His eyes were lit up.

“Kitty—I cannot go back, unless you go back with me.”

And then, something came to him, a directing impulse, an inward urge, something that he found it impossible to describe.

He felt impelled towards the hotel. He returned to it, walking like a somnambulist, past the chattering Arabs and a staring waiter who said something to him that Wilmer did not hear. He went up to his room, closed the door and locked it, and stood still by the end of the bed.

“What do you want me to do, Kitty?”

He seemed to listen. Then he moved to the table by the window where he had left a note-book and pencil. He sat down, opened the note-book, picked up the pencil, and for a few seconds he remained motionless, rigid. Then the pencil began to move; it jerked, traced a few meaningless scrawls, and then, with a queer aim of deliberate swiftness, it began to write.

Ten minutes later, just as the sun set, Wilmer was holding up the note-book and reading what he had written.

“I am here—Peter—with you—always. Write, write for Kitty. Go back, help, mend life.”

And the handwriting was not his own handwriting—but the handwriting of his wife.

V

Wilmer’s chauffeur, a grizzled Italian whose smile uncovered two rows of strong white teeth, had brought Wilmer over the Atlas mountains with irresponsible and brilliant recklessness, but before starting on the homeward journey from Bou Saada his English passenger cautioned him:

“Drive slowly, and be careful on the mountains.”

The Italian beamed.

“Monsieur is a little afraid of the mountains?”

Wilmer’s French was not of the best, but the Italian understood him to say that there was a second passenger in the car. The chauffeur comforted him with a beneficent flash of his white teeth, and on the mountain road he drove most sympathetically, to be rewarded in the courtyard of the Mustapha Hotel with a tip of a hundred francs.

The Italian took off his hat and bowed low. Later, he was heard to say that the Englishman was moonstruck but generous.

Yet, the Wilmer who had returned to the Mustapha Hotel was a different Wilmer. He walked into the dining-room that night, with a happy erectness; an inward light seemed to burn in him. He bowed to Mrs. Gallaby, and joked with the head-waiter.

After dinner he sat in the lounge and smoked, and when Dr. Rome came and sat beside him Wilmer broke into conversation. He laughed. He appeared light-hearted, but not in the least light-headed.

At nine o’clock he went up to his suite and rang for the femme de chambre. She found him standing by the writing-table, his portfolio open, with a photograph lying on the top of the white sheets.

“Madame—I shall have some work to do. Would it be possible for you to tidy my room at nine o’clock each morning?”

“Certainly, monsieur. Monsieur does not wish to be disturbed.”

A month passed, and Wilmer had become part of the life of the hotel. He went about with a serenely radiant face; he attended concerts; he talked to the old ladies. On the terrace he still kept that empty chair beside him, and the hotel respected it. He went on botanizing expeditions with Dr. Rome.

And he was working five hours a day, and never before had he done such work, for the invisible presence was with him, filling his whole life.

One April day, a week before his return to England, Wilmer walked down through the garden to where Dr. Rome was sitting contemplating a bed of anemones. There was a vacant chair beside the doctor, and Wilmer took it.

“Rome, I want to ask you a question.”

“Well—my dear man?”

“Don’t you think me just a little mad?”

Rome, posed for the moment, found himself meeting the mystery of a smile.

“I must say—Wilmer, that I thought you a little strange.”

“Life is strange, doctor. Has anyone explained it?”

“Not yet.”

“My wife died—you know; but now she is with me again. Look here: I am going to send you my next book, and I want you to write and tell me whether you think it to be the book of a madman.”

VI

In the early winter Dr. Rome read Wilmer’s latest book. What the critics said about “Peace Haven” does not matter, for its success was not a mere material triumph, but a capture of the great heart of the world.

Dr. Rome wrote his letter:

My dear Wilmer,

“I think this is the most sane and human thing that I have ever read——”

So the years passed; and in a Surrey garden somewhere in the deeps of a green valley, Wilmer wrote and dreamed and grew flowers. He brought peace to many sufferers. And in the evenings, when he wandered in his garden he was not alone, for the garden was full of an invisible presence that was more real to him than the perfume of the flowers.


TWO MEN

They disliked each other from the first, meeting like two dogs who growl and pass each other with bristling hair.

For in the very nature of things they were antipathetic: Garland, fair and high-coloured and intense; Costello, yellow and faded and complacently corrupt. Costello was some ten years older than Garland; he had been in the East, and had come back with the East in his blood and in his skin. He drawled. He smoked innumerable cigarettes. To Garland he was somehow a thing of slime.

They met at the Tennis Club.

“Who’s the babe in the bib?”

Costello had a scurrilous tongue; and Garland, overhearing that remark and hearing it addressed to the girl whom he wished to marry, went hot about the ears. For Garland was vexed by a youthful and impetuous awkwardness, a sensitive self-regard. He was wearing a tie, and he knew quite well that he should not have been wearing a tie, but a taffeta shirt with the collar flopping open. He had had to put on a tie and a collar because his conventional shirts were both in the wash. But, after all . . . !

He kept an eye on Costello. He had marked him down—for young Garland, unlike most of his generation was a good hater, a lad who in the old days would have whipped out a sword and made ugly thrusts. He was high-coloured, and thin, and long in the head, and his blue eyes would grow brittle like glass.

He asked someone about Costello.

“Who’s that smeary chap?”

“That? Oh, new member. Here from India or China. Believe he’s rather hot stuff.”

Life, as though for the fun of it, chose to push young Garland and Costello on to a court to play singles. Costello’s face and throat might be yellow, but his forearms had a kind of muddy greyness. He looked as flabby as a slug, and yet he wasn’t. When in play, a little satisfied smile seemed to trickle down his chin.

He took the first three games from young Garland as though he were taking candy from a child, and yet Garland rather fancied himself and was playing in the club team. He felt himself going hot about the ears. He whipped himself up; he put more sting into his drives; he rushed up to volley. But always, on the other side of the net, that other fellow with the greyish-yellow face returned his shots and beat him. Costello’s strokes were made with a kind of easy languor. Without appearing to move he was always in the right place, and from the tip of a long nose, which gave him a curiously goat-like look, the little smile seemed to trickle.

Garland knew that they were being watched; Betty Lambert was watching them. Also he knew that he was losing his temper, while knowing that he was a fool to lose it. This sniggering, complacent fellow was putting shots out of his reach, and doing it easily, and enjoying the doing of it. He would lure Garland up to the net, and then pass him down the side lines with a kind of mocking neatness.

Garland had not won a game. It was his service, and he served a stinger.

“No.”

Now Garland was quite sure that the serve had been a good one. His anger was sure of it. He paused, racket lowered, his fair head up.

“All right?”

“No—fault.”

Garland glanced at the row of spectators on the green seats. His blue eyes were angry and accusing.

“No—fault, Ronny.”

It was Betty’s voice and it stung him.

“Oh, all right. Sorry.”

But from that moment he played atrocious and tempestuous stuff, and knew that he was doing it and was making a nasty ass of himself, and somehow could not help it. And, at the end of the affair, Costello, strolling round with his languid shuffle and picking up his coat to extract a cigarette, asked Garland for a match.

“Got a match?”

Garland, wondering at himself, produced a box.

“Here. Off my game, rather.”

Costello lit his cigarette.

“Your back-hand grip’s all wrong. Besides—you hit too soon.”

Garland repocketed his matches. Damn the fellow!

They met at the club during week-ends for the rest of the summer, and nearly every week-end they played singles together, not because they liked it, but because of their mutual hate. It was a perpetual attack and repulse. Garland was most furiously urged to beat Costello at the game, but never was he able to overcome the other man’s sallow complacency or to remove that little trickle of a smile. It became a joke at the club.

“Hallo! There’s Garland having another shot at Costello.”

Invariably he was licked, though he spent a week of his summer holiday being coached by a pro. and another week of it playing at one of the south-coast tournaments. He came back in September and found Costello waiting for him; he played him and was beaten as usual.

For it was not that Garland was a poor sportsman and a bad loser. He was not. But in Costello he had come against his blood-enemy—his dog with an offensive smell. He hated him, and hated him without reason. He hated Costello’s trousers, his nose, his sallow skin, his smeary little smile, the way he walked, the cigarettes he smoked, the very chair he sat on. His hatred made him take Costello with a kind of frantic seriousness, whereas the rest of the club took Costello rather casually. He was disliked. He had a nasty tongue and unpleasant ways.

He was both servile and insolent. He seemed to have picked up something from the East. He was a cadger. He cadged cigarettes and matches. He would forget to pay for his tea. He never had tennis balls of his own. And having, with an air of friendliness, borrowed something from somebody, he would go behind the lender’s back and mock him.

On one of the last days, Garland, having received his usual licking, asked Costello a question in the middle of the tea-room.

“I say, Costello, have you ever bought a tennis ball?”

There was a laugh, but Costello had his answer ready.

“Oh, no need; I expect the rabbit to provide the balls.”

Someone gave a tug to Garland’s sleeve. It was Betty Lambert, for there was something in young Garland’s eyes that frightened her, and she did not want a scene. Scenes are absurd. They do not happen.

“Ronny, I want the cakes.”

He gazed at her with a kind of blind stare, and then suddenly sat down. He had felt like going for Costello’s throat.

Another year came; but Costello had departed, leaving various unpaid bills behind him and an unpleasant memory among the local tradesmen. He had borrowed money from his landlady and had left her in the lurch. The Club itself had some trouble in recovering one of the “cups” that Costello had won and held for the year. An Agag of a fellow. And in due course Garland married his Betty, and rented a nice new house, and gave himself to gardening and domesticity. Garland was a bright lad, and a junior partner in the firm of Phips, Heath & Garland. He had character and keenness, and a flair for the particular business in which he was engaged, and since the firm prospered exceedingly, Garland prospered with it. He was a somebody on the morning train, and he travelled first, and wore spats, and was known as a warm young man with a future. He was making his two-thousand a year, and, being in the know, had opportunities for pretty little dabbles in financial ventures. He kept a car and a gardener, and two little Garlands, and had forgotten to vex himself needlessly over games. The Garlands were people. They dined and danced and bridged with the best people, but always young Garland maintained a strenuous attention to business. He was prosperous, happy and healthy.

Every morning he caught the eight-fifty-seven train to Waterloo, and took the tube from Waterloo to the City. He had a walk of three or four hundred yards, and his walking was rapid and purposeful. His keen, fresh profile was turned towards the day’s adventure, for his successful career was very much an adventure. He loved it; he was absorbed in it. And then, one morning, he ran up against Costello. Almost they collided on a crowded piece of pavement in Threadneedle Street.

Their eyes met, and Costello’s face looked greyer and less yellow, but it wore that little trickle of a smile.

“ ’Morning, Garland.”

Something flared in Garland. He shouldered past Costello.

“Hallo! Still pot-hunting?”

And he passed on, but in the flash of Costello’s reappearance he had realized something about the man, a shabbiness, a sickliness, a smeary, seedy surface. Costello’s face was thinner; it had lost its sallow, larded complacency.

It did not occur to Garland that Costello might not have enough to eat, for that is the last thing to occur to a man whose blood is warm, and who has breakfasted well, and who proposes to breakfast well for the rest of his life. Garland had very definite views upon success and failure; and, like most practical men, he had a shrewd idea that most of the woe of the world is made for themselves by the woeful. But Costello had given him the impression of shabbiness, and he was glad of Costello’s shabbiness—healthily and humanly glad about it. He walked on to the office of Messrs. Phips, Heath & Garland with an added zest for the day’s work. That smeary old cad was fulfilling his destiny, and if he fell to hunting for fag-ends instead of for cups, so much the better for civilization.

But Garland did not foresee that the meeting with Costello would be repeated. It was. Their morning time-tables were so synchronized that they happened to pass each other in Threadneedle Street three mornings out of six. And Garland found himself expecting those meetings and looking forward to them. His enemy was his enemy still, a man whom he had never had the satisfaction of taking by the throat.

He would look Costello in the face with an air of amused and casual scorn.

“ ’Morning, Costello.”

He addressed the man as he would have addressed a groom—and a bad groom at that.

“ ’Morning, Costello.”

It was the flick of a whip, a nod and a patronizing word to the shabby dog, and Garland enjoyed it; for men do enjoy such things—whatever the moralists may have to say about it. Hatred is elemental. Your enemy is not worth while unless you can trample upon him.

As for Costello, he still wore that little smeary smile, but he wore it with a difference. It was surreptitious and a little forced, more ingratiating, less complacent. It had an edge of hunger and worry and haste. It sidled past people, and fawned on them, and was false and shameful and shameless. It was the smirk of the shabby cad and the cadger betrayed at last in the very failure of his cadging.

Garland told his wife.

“Funny thing—met that fellow Costello looking like a bookmaker’s tout. Pretty down, I should gather.”

He spoke of it with pleasure. Also, he was taking pleasure in observing the details of Costello’s person. He observed them minutely and with an interest that was obvious to the man observed. Costello’s face was a mass of little wrinkles; his lips were pale, his teeth yellow. His hair had grown thin, and Garland could postulate a bald patch under the grey felt hat. The hat itself suggested a greasiness; it needed a new band. The fellow’s soft collar was frayed. The insides of his trousers where they rubbed against his boots would be thin and shiny. The sleeves of his coat were badly wrinkled.

Pleasurable realities. Obviously Costello was not hitting the business ball very cleanly. His game was not bringing him cups, and his cadging had been found out. The world would not lend him anything on the security of that smeary smile. Excellent! Garland felt good. It was right and proper that the world should call the bluff of such creatures as Costello.

Then, one morning, Costello hesitated, smiled his smile, and stopped.

“Garland.”

“Hallo!”

“Still down at Malton?”

“I am.”

“Tennis club still going?”

“Yes; don’t go there often. Something better to do.”

“Making money?”

“Oh, plenty!”

He talked down at Costello. He let his voice drop on him like coppers tossed to a street singer. He was easy, and casual, and successful.

“Couldn’t lend me a quid, could you?”

Costello’s face was grey and eager. It had no smile. Its eyes were shifty and anxious.

Garland pulled out his pocket-book.

“I’ll give you a quid, Costello; I don’t lend money.”

“I’ll pay you back.”

“I don’t suppose so; it’s a chuck-away.”

He offered Costello the note, and Costello’s fingers accepted it, and something in Garland exulted. Miserable sponger! He watched Costello slip the note into his pocket. So the fellow could squirm and accept.

“Thanks awfully, old chap.”

Garland’s blue eyes hardened.

“You needn’t call me that; I’m not charitable.”

And he walked on, feeling that he had left Costello in the gutter.

Again, on going home, he told his wife about Costello; and Betty, being the mother of two children, and more kind to the world, perhaps, because children are not always kind, looked gravely at her husband.

“I am glad you gave him the money. Poor devil!”

But Garland did not wish to be misunderstood.

“Oh, I didn’t give it out of pity. One doesn’t pity a thing like Costello. One kicks him.”

“Ronny!”

“It’s a fact. Some dogs seem to be born mangy. The thing is to make a chap like Costello realize that he is mangy. Ask any normal man and he’ll tell you the same thing.”

She looked shocked.

“Is it because he used to beat you at tennis?”

It was a thrust, but to her surprise her husband accepted the charge, and dealt with it as he would have dealt with a business problem.

“Partly—perhaps. But that’s only what the highbrow people would call symbolism. Because there is something about a chap like Costello that makes the ordinary clean man see red. He belongs to that slimy sort of world that includes lounge-lizards, and hangers-on to pretty ladies, and young men who are deuced clever and superior and sponge on their fathers, and back-stair poets.”

Mrs. Garland opened her brown eyes more widely. She had known the babe and the passionate child in man, but even quiet and successful husbands could supply you with surprises.

“You men are very hard to each other!”

Her husband pointed the stem of his pipe at their garden.

“Have to be—sometimes. Life means that, and you and the kids. Peace here, Betty, and war in the city. But there are rules to a game even when it is a bit rough, and Costello is one of the fellows who plays to no rule. That’s why we out him—push him off the field.”

“Deliberately?”

“Certainly. Yellow men and red men are no use to us.”

In Threadneedle Street Garland continued to meet Costello, and Costello appeared to grow greyer and shabbier. He had made no attempt to return Garland’s pound note, and Garland would have been disappointed had Costello returned it. He had painted his portrait of Costello, and the fellow had to be like his portrait, sinister and shameful and futile. He noticed that Costello glanced at him with a kind of furtive insolence. His smile remained, but it had assumed the suggestion of a snarl.

“ ’Morning, Costello.”

Garland still gave him the casual, patronizing flick of the voice. Costello’s snarl pleased him. It was more significant than mere servility, for it betrayed the fact that Costello could be rubbed on the raw, and that like a cur he showed his teeth, but dared not bite. Yes, life was flaying Costello and rubbing in the salt, and Costello winced and snarled, and got shabbier and shabbier.

Came a raw morning in November when Costello faltered and stopped. He had a grizzled, grey, starved look. His nose was blue. His voice seemed to come stiffly, as though half frozen.

“Excuse me, Garland.”

“Well?”

“I’m rather put to it this week. You couldn’t let me have a fiver, could you?”

Carefully and deliberately Garland took silver from his trousers’ pocket, selected two half-crowns, and offered them to Costello. Neither man spoke. They looked into each other’s eyes for a moment with scorn and hatred. Mutely they said to each other terrible things.

Then Costello’s claw of a hand came out and took the five shillings. It made Garland think of the pecking beak of a hungry, cold-eyed bird.

They glared and went their ways, and Garland knew that he had planted the steel of his scorn deep in the other man’s body. He saw Costello as a body, not as a soul. Such a fellow had no soul. And Garland went on to his day’s work and enjoyed it, and lunched well at his city club, and entered his first-class compartment on the five-thirty-four train, and felt warm. He lit a pipe. It was a raw evening, and the London night was blue and blurred, and the lights looked huge. Garland watched them, and the glare of an occasional street, and the dreary and dead faces of the strange houses. Dim back-yards, and little squalid gardens, and chimney-pots, and slimy roofs. Probably Costello slunk home to some such kennel; and Garland was glad. All the bad things were good things when they happened to Costello.

Three days passed. It snowed; and then a raw, drizzling thaw set in, and people hurried in the streets. Breath steamed. Garland was strong and healthy, but even he enjoyed rubbing his hands in front of the office fire. His room was comfortable: it had a Turkey carpet and well-padded chairs; and a thick Harris-tweed overcoat hung behind the screen. He remembered that on the last occasion when he had seen Costello the fellow had had no overcoat.

Splendid; let the beast freeze!

Yes, he had not run up against Costello during the last few days. Probably Costello was feeling a bit pinched, and wished himself back in India. Garland sat down to read his morning’s letters.

A clerk opened the door.

“Someone wanting to see you, sir.”

“Who?”

“A man. He wouldn’t give his name. Looks rather a seedy customer.”

“What’s his business? . . . Shut that door, Spicer—there’s a deuce of a draught.”

“He said he would tell you his business, sir.”

“You can tell him I don’t see strangers who refuse their names and won’t state their business.”

The clerk vanished, to reappear half a minute later. He closed the door.

“The fellow looks funny, sir.”

“Funny! What d’you mean?”

“Well, he looks almost as though he had been fished out of the water, frozen stiff. He wouldn’t give me his name.”

“Did you tell him——?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, tell him again. It’s perfectly absurd!”

The door closed on the clerk, and Garland heard voices. He could not help hearing them, for one of the voices was like a hoarse and rusty hinge, and both voices were raised. The hoarse voice was saying: “I don’t care a damn! I’m going to stay here till Garland comes out. You had better tell him to come out. My name’s Costello.”

Garland’s hands gripped the arms of his desk chair. He got up and went quickly to the door and opened it. The clerk was holding open the glass door leading into the vestibule, and in the open doorway stood Costello, with the grey steps and the grey street behind him. Almost he stood there like a man who was intoxicated and making a great effort to keep his balance. His feet were wide apart; he swayed.

Garland was angry. What the devil did the fellow mean by coming to his office and making a scene? He advanced upon Costello.

“Look here—clear out!”

A little, thin smile trickled down Costello’s face, but his eyes were smileless; they stared.

“I always licked you at tennis!”

Then something happened to him. He seemed both to crumple at the knees and to stagger backwards. He went down the steps like a man forcibly ejected, and lay there with his legs pointing up the steps and his head on the pavement. His deplorable felt hat had fallen off; he looked skull-headed and bald.

A man who was passing and the clerk hurried and bent over him. They got him by the shoulders.

“He’s fainted.”

Garland stood at the top of the steps.

“Better carry him in. Bring him into my office.”

So Costello was carried into Garland’s office, and they laid him on the hearth-rug before the fire and put a cushion under his head. The clerk, happening to touch one of his hands, found it as cold as stone.

“He looks pretty bad, sir.”

“Undo his collar.”

The clerk was kneeling beside Costello, and the other two were bending over him. The clerk unbuttoned Costello’s waistcoat and unfastened his tie and collar, and the thin shirt, lacking buttons, came open and disclosed Costello’s chest. He was wearing nothing but that thin shirt, and the ribs stood out under the yellow skin.

The clerk looked scared.

“Good Lord!—no wonder his hands felt cold! Regular skeleton!”

Garland had gone to his desk and had picked up the telephone. He spoke to the exchange.

“Put me on to the nearest doctor, please. Someone very ill here. You probably know a doctor and his number. . . . You do? Thanks very much. It’s urgent!”

Holding the receiver, he looked at the group before the fire. The clerk had risen and was standing staring at Costello, and over Costello’s grey and shrunken face, with its beak of a nose and bony forehead, the firelight flickered.

“He’s not breathing, sir.”

“Oh?”

“I believe he’s dead!”

When the doctor arrived, his problem was of the simplest. He looked at the grey face and the ashy lips. There was no need to listen for heart-beats. The stark stillness of the figure was sufficient.

“The man’s dead. . . . Starvation and cold—by the look of him.”

Garland travelled home by the usual train. He walked from the station and entered the house rather silently, nor did he rush upstairs to the nursery. His wife found him sitting and smoking before the drawing-room fire, with the lights switched off. She was a woman who noticed things, and especially things about her husband. She switched on the light over the sofa and sat down, and became busy with some piece of mending; but though she did not remark upon it, she was conscious of her husband’s silence.

“The Cuthberts have asked us to dine to-morrow. Shall we go?”

“Not very keen.”

She gave him a mother look.

“Not feeling seedy, old thing?”

“No. . . . Just thinking, that’s all.”

She allowed the silence to resettle itself. If her husband was preoccupied, it was probably a matter of business.

But suddenly, holding his pipe by the bowl, he spoke as though addressing the fire:

“One shouldn’t scorn some things—no, not in a particular sort of way.”

She was surprised. She let her hands rest in her lap.

“What . . . are . . . you talking about, Ronny?”

“Oh, nothing. Just meditating. Had rather hectic day.”

“Worries?”

“Oh, much as usual. Nothing to worry about—really. But sometimes one sits and thinks.”


THE POOL OF THE SATYR

I

The Englishman heard the sound of piping in the green gloom of the chestnut woods, a piping such as Pan might make after drinking Falernian wine on a very hot May morning.

The Englishman was piqued, and a little puzzled. He had been lying at the foot of a tree, making a meal of bread and olives, and reading Ariosto between the mouthfuls—a lean, brown, Milton of a man, dressed in rusty black, and with a knapsack over his shoulders. He wore his own fair hair, and had the chin and mouth of a Jesuit.

“Pan in Arcady! And Pan is merry!”

He turned on one elbow and had a glimpse of a very tall old man tripping it down a woodland aisle, and playing sedulously and foolishly upon a flute. Now and again he would skip like a young ram, or take a few staid and solemn steps like a dancer dancing a minuet. He had a long nose, black eyebrows, white hair, a pair of mad and wandering eyes, a little tufted beard, and a black mole on one cheek.

The old man footed it under the trees, piping jerkily on that flute of his, till he set eyes on the Englishman lying at the foot of the tree. He drew up sharply, stared, and wiped his flute on the tail of his coat.

“Good morning, sir.”

“Good morning, sir,” said the Englishman.

“You will observe that spring is here, sir. Bacchus drinks wine in the heat of the morning. And Pan, the great god sleeps in the shade. My name is Cæsare, sir; Cæsare Lombardi.”

He bowed, and the Englishman got up and returned the bow.

“My name is Trevanion, Nigel Trevanion,” said he, speaking good Tuscan Italian.

“And you eat bread and olives?”

“And read Ariosto.”

The old gentleman grimaced.

“Ariosto! One of the Jew creatures. Nothing happened after Augustus and Ptolemy. Diocletian, sir! Diocletian was a fool. And have you tarried long in these parts?”

“Three days.”

“Perhaps you are a Patagonian, sir?”

“No; merely an Englishman.”

“Ah, indeed, the oyster island. And are your people still painted blue?”

“No, we wear red coats and powder our heads white.”

“Red and white,” and he blew a shrill note on his flute. “Venus and Adonis. Dear me! But we must not talk too loud, sir, for Pan and the Satyrs are sleeping.”

He was mad, quite mad; but this Englishman understood some sorts of madness, being something of a vagabond and a visionary, half-soldier, half-poet, not a mere Beefeater in a black bonnet and a red tabard. The old man was a courtier, despite his madness. His linen was clean, and he had the head of an aristocrat.

“These are very fine woods, sir. I started out this morning from Monte Verde to find a certain famous spot called the Pool of the Satyr; but, as you see, I have not found it.”

“Very droll, very droll indeed. Let me see, what o’clock is it? About an hour after noon. I can show you the pool, sir, because the Pool of the Satyr belongs to me.”

“There is some tale, is there not, about this pool?”

Cæsare tucked his flute under one arm and took Trevanion by the elbow.

“This way, my friend. Perhaps you are a scholar; perhaps you have read even the effeminate and luxurious Ovid?”

“I have. But about this pool?”

The old man sniggered.

“Did you ever see Pan bathing by moonlight? No, young man, for you have not lived long enough. Thirty years in Arcady before the true vision comes! But I shall see the great god bathing there before I die, and I shall hear the satyrs squealing and making love in the woods.”

“Certainly you are quite mad,” thought Trevanion; “but no doubt it is a harmless sort of madness.”

They went on through the sun-splashed gloom of the chestnut woods, the old gentleman chattering, and sometimes blowing on his flute.

The ground fell away suddenly, the woods opened, and a little valley caught and filled itself with sunlight. A grove of stately chestnuts carried the woodland shade into the yellow lap of the valley. The drooping boughs of the outer trees reached nearly to the ground and shut out the view like heavy green curtains.

Cæsare drew up with a sort of goat’s leap, and stood pointing with his flute.

“Belphœbe bathes! O daughter of Helen! And Pan is asleep! Yonder you see my daughter, sir.”

Trevanion stood amazed. Below him, and not a hundred paces away, lay a blue pool set in a hollow of grey rocks and rich green grass. Beyond it, and skirting it on the north, ran a stone wall all yellow in the sunlight, and behind the wall were piled masses of green foliage, great ilexes and stone pines, with tall cypresses intermingled, like spires in a city. A yellow villa showed among the trees on the hillside.

Trevanion saw all this, and more. It was a wonder world of blue, green and yellow, with one white figure burning like a little flame in the midst of it. A young girl had just stepped up out of the pool, and was standing on a flat rock, drying herself in the sunlight. A great mass of red-gold hair tossed and flowed about her naked shoulders and bosom as she moved, and when she stooped it poured down like liquid metal and touched the grey rock on which she stood. That wonderful hair of hers and her white body showed up against the blue of the still water like a cameo of ivory and amber set in lapis lazuli.

“A naiad, sir, a beautiful creature, or the Spirit of the Pool, if it pleases you. We are before time was, in this valley, before the Jews brought their slaves’ hymns into the land. Some day the great god Pan——”

Trevanion’s blue eyes had a strangely serious look.

“It is your daughter, signor?”

“My daughter, sir? What is my daughter? Why nothing but a pagan child, sir, a naiad, a Bacchic girl, a beautiful slip of nature, such a girl as Leda was.”

The Englishman studied him narrowly. The old gentleman was mad, his brain full of mythological nonsense, and yet there was a queer ferocity about him, a jubilant and savage paganism that suggested the tusks of a boar. The beauty of the scene was incontestable, the bathing girl a picture of Artemis, and yet this old man breathed the spirit of a wise and cynical faun.

Before Trevanion could stop him he had skipped out into the sunlight and was piping away on that flute of his. The girl had drawn up her white underwear, and was fastening the laces, while a gown of flowered blue lay at her feet. She raised her head and looked toward the chestnut trees, and Trevanion, hesitating, troubled, held back.

“Phœnician, Tin Man, come hither.”

Cæsare had pirouetted round, and was beckoning with his flute.

“Come hither, brother scholar. You shall see your own face in the pool.”

Trevanion obeyed one of those impulses that are more potent than all the meditations of a philosopher. He walked out from under the shade of the trees, and accompanied Master Cæsare down to the pool. The girl was fastening the laces of her dress, her little bare feet showing, and her wet hair all glossy in the sunlight. She smiled at Cæsare, and turned the clearest of clear eyes on the Englishman.

“The water was not so cold to-day. Maria is cross, father; you went without dinner.”

Cæsare kissed her.

“What are broken meats to a scholar? And here, my child, is a strange fellow, an Englishman, who set out to find the Satyr’s Pool, and ended by setting his teeth on edge by eating olives.”

The girl looked straight at Trevanion and smiled at him. She was utterly unembarrassed, more clean and natural than any child that he had ever met, and so lovely that his heart felt strangely moved. Her youth was just at its blossoming, smooth, dewy, glowing with the bloom of ripening fruit. La Bionda they called her, and La Bionda she was, with her red-gold hair, and her warm skin slightly tanned by the sun. Her vivid blue eyes were like the water in the pool; her little red mouth and sensitive nose made Trevanion think of an exquisite child.

“So you have come to see the Pool of the Satyr? And it is very beautiful, is it not?”

Her hands were still busy with her dress, and Trevanion noticed that it was such a dress as her mother might have worn, quaint, flowing, yet quite simple, the dress of fifty years ago.

“It is all very beautiful,” he said, glancing across the pool and up at the ilexes and stone pines.

The girl shook her hair, and slipped her feet into a pair of old red leather shoes.

“So you are an Englishman,” she said. “England is an island, is it not?”

“Yes, far away in the north.”

For the moment he found himself wondering whether the old man’s madness had lighted on her, or whether she was merely a strangely innocent and untaught child.

“And what is your name?”

“Nigel Trevanion.”

She repeated the words after him with great seriousness.

“Now I shall never forget it. My name is Rosamunda; it was my mother’s name. I do not remember my mother.”

“You live here?”

She pointed to the yellow villa.

“Yes”

“Always?”

“Always. Where else would one live? It is very beautiful, and father is happy here.”

“And you have never travelled, signorina?”

“No.”

“Not even to Monte Verde?”

“Never.”

He was amazed. What sort of wild woodland girl was this, this exquisite creature who had never wandered even so far as Monte Verde, who had heard of England as some sort of vague island in the northern seas, who wore the simple dresses of fifty years ago, and to whom this sunny, lonely life seemed most natural and good.

“I have travelled much,” he told her, as she led the way to the wooden gate in the yellow wall.

“Ah, is that so?”

She was as alive and as inquisitive as a bird.

“America, France, Spain, Austria, Greece, Italy.”

“You speak almost like an Italian. And which country do you love best?”

His manhood answered the spell of her naiveté.

“Which? England is green and soft, but it rains too much. Italy, well, Italy is the country of the gods.”

“The gods? Why, to be sure: Jove and Juno, Venus and Apollo, and Pan, whom father says is the greatest of all. I have not chosen a god or a goddess.”

He was still more amazed.

“But surely there is another god,” he said. “Our Father, and Christ, and the Holy Virgin. At Monte Verde you will see the churches—the churches of God and the saints.”

She looked round at him with frank eyes.

“Yes, Maria prays to the Holy Virgin, but father laughs at these new gods and goddesses, and I have never read of them in any of his books.”

“I understand,” he said. “Signor Cæsare is a classic. But you have never seen a priest?”

“A priest? Oh—yes. Father Tolomeo comes to see Maria; but father says he is very ignorant, and I do not like Father Tolomeo; he has eyes like an ox, and his beard is always dirty.”

Trevanion laughed softly, for the charm and the mystery of it all were working in his blood. Rosamunda went up the steps like a gazelle.

He was hard and sinewy, a man who had led a clean, marching life; but he lost distance to her red shoes and cloud of sunny hair. The whole place was mad, and the madness was infecting him.

Trevanion touched her hand. His chest was heaving, his nostrils dilated.

“You are Atalanta.”

“Atalanta of the Apples! But she was cruel, was she not? I am never cruel.”

“And you speak the truth,” he said, looking into her innocent eyes, and marvelling at her and at himself, for that grey stairway seemed the stairway to Paradise, and that wonderful hair of hers like folded golden wings.

“Come.”

She took his hand like a child, and led him up more steps to the terrace. The Englishman could see that it was a wilderness of a place where the very weeds were flowers, and vines and roses grew as they pleased. The plaster was peeling off the walls of the villa, and the green shutters looked as though they had not been painted for fifty years.

“What is the name of your home?”

“The Villa Lunetta.”

“The House of the Little Moon!” and he added under his breath, “The House of Midsummer Madness.”

The rest of that Italian day had all the strangeness of a dream. The villa was full of old furniture, armour, pictures, antiques. The tapestry on the wall of the salon told the tale of the rape of Lucrece, and there were frescoes in the pillared hall showing Circe and her enchanted beasts. A head of Julius Cæsar looked at Trevanion from beside a cinque-cento cabinet in ebony and mother-of-pearl. The curtains were of Venetian velvet, very faded and old.

Rosamunda sat there in a gilded chair, sipping red wine out of a Venetian beaker, while Cæsare and the Englishman talked. The scholar was less of a madman when he spoke of books, and their words were of Anacreon and Plato, Euripides and the Man of Mantua. They even argued about the makers of Glossaries, and the wise men of the Renaissance; yet Trevanion had drunk of that other madness and the red wine that was in Rosamunda’s heart.

It was four o’clock when the Englishman remembered that the gates of Monte Verde were shut at sundown. He had to break away from a panegyric on Homer, pick up his knapsack, and leave Cæsare to his flute. Rosamunda went with him to the terrace, and the westering sunlight was in her eyes.

“You will come again?” she said, with the simplicity of a child.

And Trevanion’s heart and lips answered her.

“I will come again, O Princess of the Pool.”

II

When Trevanion found himself on the edge of the chestnut woods he turned and looked back at the blue pool and the yellow villa, as though to assure himself that they were still there.

“The House of the Little Moon,” he said to himself; “The House of Midsummer Madness. And an old gentleman who looks for Pan! And the girl!”

Trevanion had not gone a furlong, when he hesitated, looked about him, and stood still. For a moment he could not tell why he had stopped and why he was standing there. It was as though he had lost something and could not remember what. Yes! He had lost the sound of falling water. There was nothing but silence, and more than silence, a sense of things hidden, a feeling of being watched, of being followed by invisible creatures. He listened, and heard nothing; looked about him and saw only the great trunks of the trees and the path that was spattered with little beams of golden light.

“Idiot!”

He walked on again, but the poet and the mystic in him were holding a debate.

“The spirit of the woods—nothing more. Yes, my friend—but can you deny this strangeness and this mystery? If Pan came skipping down the path? Tut! you are as mad as the old gentleman! Perhaps there is reason in the mythologist’s madness? The truth is you have been drinking red wine, and you are very nearly falling in love. Rosamunda, Rosamunda!”

Presently the path struck the rough track that threaded the wooded country between Monte Verde and Castella Nero. A horse and a mule were coming up the hill, and Trevanion heard the thudding of their hoofs before they swung into view round the edge of a thicket of pines. The horse was black, and the mule white. On the black horse sat a man in a red coat faced with silver. A priest in a brown frock rode the mule.

Trevanion edged aside as though to take cover, thought better of it, and walked on. The man on the black horse was Count Otto von Mirenbach, the Man with the Red Mouth.

These two—the Austrian and the priest—stared hard at Trevanion, and then glanced questioningly at each other.

“The English fool from Monte Verde!”

“What does he do here?”

“Make poetry and tramp everywhere on olives and black bread. These English are quite harmless.”

Otto von Mirenbach was a big man, very handsome in a black and arrogant way, save for that mouth of his that looked like a red gash in his broad face. He was the Austrian tyrant in these parts, and had his home at Castella Nero.

His companion, the priest on the white mule, was a certain Fra Bartolomeo, who had a chapel to serve on the road to Castella Nero. He was a bouncing, black-eyed, juicy rogue, a pimp as to his religion, and fond of a succulent tale.

The Englishman met these two worldlings in a narrow part of the track. He stared hard at von Mirenbach, and made as if to pass on, but the Austrian reined in and put his horse across the path. He was accustomed to men who grovelled before him, and he did not love the English.

“One moment, my friend; not in such a hurry.”

Trevanion stood looking up at him and saying nothing. He did not even pull off his hat.

“You will observe, Fra Tolomeo, what pleasant manners the man has. I believe you are an Englishman, Mr. Black Coat, and that your name is Trevanion. They tell me you speak Italian like a Florentine.”

Trevanion still looked at him steadily.

“My name is what you say it is, and I am an Englishman. How does it concern you?”

Von Mirenbach showed that smile of his.

“Everything concerns me, dear sir. I am the little god in these parts, and if I choose to ask people questions, they answer me. It is my business to know everything that goes on. And if I do not approve of certain people, I have them arrested and deposited on the other side of the frontier.”

Now Trevanion was no fool, and he had the sense to keep his temper.

Von Mirenbach was not boasting, and the Englishman knew it.

“You have the advantage of me,” he said, parrying the Austrian’s insolence by pretending to be ignorant, “but I do not know to whom I am speaking.”

“I happen to be Otto von Mirenbach, the Governor of Castella Nero.”

Trevanion bowed to him with great gravity.

“My ignorance is chastened, sir. In England I may boast myself something of a gentleman. In Italy I am just a traveller and a scholar; I go where I please, with my knapsack on my back.”

Von Mirenbach nodded.

“One has to be so careful in these days, Mr. Trevanion, and my sbirri have a habit of being hasty and rather rough. I have no wish to see harmless people in trouble. You have papers, credentials?”

Trevanion slipped his hand under his coat.

“If you choose to see them, sir, I have letters to the Embassies at Rome, Florence, Naples; also my banker’s letter of credit.”

The Austrian made a deprecating gesture.

“No, no; it is quite unnecessary. I must apologize for stopping you, but it is a habit of mine. I have my responsibilities, Mr. Trevanion. And may I remind you that I have a very passable library at Castella Nero. The books are at your service.”

Trevanion bowed again as von Mirenbach prepared to ride on.

“Your courtesy is appreciated, sir.”

“The English are always welcome, Mr. Trevanion.”

And they parted, disliking each other wholeheartedly, neither of them deceived by the other’s dissembling.

It did not occur to the Englishman that these two worthies were bent upon adventure, and that their faces were set towards the Pool of the Satyr. Fra Tolomeo had drawn his white mule close to the Austrian’s black horse.

“A nymph, sir, a veritable Aphrodite! Pomegranates and milk and peaches! And innocent as a bit of snow from the mountains!”

“And the father is mad, eh?”

“Mad as Nebuchadnezzar. A great scholar in his day, sir; but now he runs about looking for Pan and Bacchus.”

“The old dog!”

“You mistake me, sir. He is a most eminent, erudite, and childish madman. He is so simple, dear count.”

The priest dropped his voice, and the two heads drew close together. It was Fra Tolomeo who talked, von Mirenbach who guffawed and exclaimed. That red mouth of his seemed to grow bigger, but his brown eyes looked hard as glass.

“You rogue! You mean to tell me you have seen—this performance?”

“Sir, it was thrust upon me. A man cannot help having eyes.”

“But you have a sleeve, you scoundrel. I would have you remember that I am a very sensitive gentleman. No smiles, mind you, but gravity, seriousness.”

Fra Tolomeo grimaced.

“I will be more solemn than a bishop, sir, a dignified and fatherly creature.”

“You rogue!”

So these two worthies rode down through the chestnut woods to the Satyr’s Pool, and found nothing but sunlight and silence there and calm blue water. They dismounted, and tethered the black horse and the white mule to a couple of old arbutus trees, and climbed the steps to the villa.

“The old fellow keeps good wine, sir.”

“You have tasted it have you?”

“Once or twice, dear Count. I see no one about. Their woman, Maria, knows me.”

It was Maria, a swarthy peasant of five-and-thirty, with a Roman shawl over her bosom, who met them in the loggia. She stared at Fra Tolomeo with her dull black eyes, and waited.

“Maria, the Count has come to visit your master. Is the signor at home?”

“Signor Cæsare is in his library, Father. Will you come in?” And she made von Mirenbach a curtsy. “The signorina shall be told of your presence.”

Fra Tolomeo winked at his patron.

“A good girl,” he said softly, “and very religious.”

Rosamunda, caught sleeping on a couch in the salon with her head on a cushion covered with old Venetian velvet, sat up and stared at these portentous visitors. Maria had crowded them in with a cry of “Count Otto von Mirenbach, signorina.”

Now this child had met very few men in her lifetime, and she had never set eyes on anything as stately as the Austrian.

Fra Tolomeo attempted to heal the silence.

“Pardon this intrusion, signorina, but Count Otto has heard so much of your father’s scholarship, that, being no mean scholar himself, he must needs ride over and make his acquaintance.”

Tolomeo was very impressive and paternal, but the girl threw a mere casual glance at his perspiring face.

“My father will be here.”

Von Mirenbach was bowing to her, and making ready to kiss her hand.

“Signorina, this intrusion is our sin, and yet our reward. You will forgive me for waking you from so charming a siesta.”

He advanced two steps, stooping slightly, his cocked hat under his left arm, his whole pose a courtly caress. And all the while her blue eyes were looking him straight in the face, the eyes of a child that read him without fear or favour.

“Permit me.”

He advanced another step, but she was up and away like a bird, and standing by one of the open windows, her eyes still holding his.

“I do not like you,” she said quite simply. “I do not like you at all.”

Next moment she was gone, and the window showed nothing but the tops of green trees and the blue sky. Those red shoes of hers were flitting along the terrace.

Otto von Mirenbach was left standing there, like a man who has been fooled by a shadow, rather foolish and very angry.

“Damn the minx!”

His red mouth was ugly. He heard Fra Tolomeo chuckle.

“You see how simple and wild she is, sir. A thing of the woods and waters.”

The Austrian was moistening his lips with the tip of his tongue.

“Something to be caught and tamed,” he said reflectively. “Something fit for Pan to handle. There is reason in all this mythology, my friend. Now, let us see this mad father of hers, and talk antique moon rubbish.”

A door opened jerkily, and Cæsare was with them, sage, big-eyed, and eccentric. He was the grandee, the scholar, the gentleman, less moonstruck in these moments, and just as quick with his courtliness as was this big animal of an Austrian.

“Welcome, gentlemen. It is hot in the sun to-day, and the wine will come cool from the cellar.”

Otto von Mirenbach bowed to him with great deference.

“I have the honour to salute that most eminent, classic and scholar, Maestro Cæsare. Though I come from the north, sir, I make my reverence to the man of the Augustan age.”

Cæsare bowed to him in turn.

“If my villa, sir, holds a few books and some noble learning, it is at the service of all noble scholars and poets.”

“A sweet spot, Maestro, a most sweet spot, a veritable Arcady.”

For five minutes they stood and made solemn and ambassadorial speeches to each other, while Fra Tolomeo grinned in the background, mopped his head, and wondered when the wine was coming. Von Mirenbach was a very great courtier, and a supreme harlequin when he pleased. His scholarliness was not mere tinsel. He could air a fine Latinity, and quote you obscure poets and philosophers with an aptness that filled old Cæsare with delight.

“Will you be seated, Count? The presence of so cultured and erudite a gentleman is an honour to my house. Touching the writings of Plato, I may say——”

They kept it up for an hour or more, and if Otto von Mirenbach had failed with the daughter, he had nothing to complain of in his conquest of the old man.

“My books at Castella Nero, Maestro, wait for your fingers. I need a scholar to handle them. It may be that you will grant me the honour.”

Cæsare waved his hands.

“Your excellency is too kind. Some day it shall be my privilege and pleasure. At present I am very busy, sir, very occupied against the coming of the full moon. The great mysteries are ripe, Count Otto.”

He began to babble about Pan and his woodland crew, and all that wonderful old life that was invisible because of blindness and artificiality of the age. And von Mirenbach listened, solemn as a doge of Venice, and vastly interested, because of other motives and other passions. The old madman was painting a wild, sensuous picture.

“The books can wait, dear Maestro,” he said as he rose to go. “I would not meddle with these learned mysteries.”

“You will be welcome always, and at all hours, sir.”

“You will find no scoffer in me. Perhaps you will make me a disciple.”

He went down the steps to the pool, smiling, licking his lips, with Fra Tolomeo at his heels.

At Monte Verde, Trevanion the Englishman lodged at the house of Luigi the bookseller. He was a little hunchback, with a wild mane of grey-black hair, fierce eyes, and the face of a broken god. He had little to say, but his words, when they did fall, were like bits of glowing wood dropping out of a fire. He lived alone, hated all women, and would not let anything in petticoats enter in his shop.

His enemies said: “He has the evil eye.”

People who knew and who honoured him would tell you: “His wife ran away with a German.”

Trevanion had bought books from this old man, talked to him, and then gone to lodge at his house—for Luigi was more than a bookseller. He was a philosopher and a scholar.

They were sitting out under the vines that night when Trevanion asked him a question.

“Have you ever ridden to Castella Nero?”

“Twice since last autumn.”

“Is there a library there?”

Luigi scowled.

“Yes, the library of Otto von Mirenbach. Why do you ask?”

“Because I met the Austrian to-day.”

“Looking like his books, eh, all bound in red, and gorgeous as sin. I know the beast.”

“He offered me the use of his library, Luigi.”

The Italian’s venom was not assumed.

“Beware of von Mirenbach,” he said, “he is clever and cruel; a man who loves mischief. And yet, I say it, I had the honour of fooling him. I spoilt two ‘Aldines’ for him because he bullied me, and he never knew it.”

When Trevanion went to his little room under the tiles he stood for a long while at the window, looking at the stars. The great enchantment was upon him, though for the moment it was no more to him than a perfume, and the colour of a sunset and haunting music.

But his path in the web had been marked for him, and it led him back to those chestnut woods through the early heat of a June day. The road from the hill-town was dry and dusty, and Trevanion was glad of the deep shade.

He was tired and the day was hot, and lying on his back, there he fell asleep.

The sound of someone playing on a flute awakened him, about an hour later. The notes were rather disjointed and jerky, as though produced by a man who was none too sure of his instrument.

Trevanion turned on his side and raised himself on one elbow so as to bring his head above the lip of the hollow in which he was lying, expecting to glimpse old Cæsare evolving some freakish new canzonetta. What he saw was something quite different, and his surprise was so sudden that he lay there stiff and rigid, like a dog, motionless and at gaze.

Not twenty yards away a man was sitting at the foot of a tree, his back against the trunk. He was dressed in a green hunting suit; a fowling-piece lay on the ground beside him. Trevanion knew him at once by his mouth and his swarthiness and the arrogant bulge of his chin. It was Count Otto von Mirenbach of Castella Nero.

He saw von Mirenbach pull out a big silver watch, glance at it, unscrew his flute and slip it away in his pocket. The sun stood at noon. The hour had some particular significance.

Next moment he was out of his hollow and shadowing the man in the green through the chestnut woods, treading warily, his eyes set in a stare, his mouth a hard line. Von Mirenbach was going down towards the pool in the valley, his fowling-piece under his arm, his hat tilted over his eyes. He went no farther than the outer fringe of chestnut trees, and stood leaning against one of the dark trunks, his green figure almost invisible under the heavy shadows.

Trevanion turned away to the left and pushed on until a gap in the foliage gave him a view of the Satyr’s Pool, and in an instant he understood the meaning of von Mirenbach’s movements. A slim, white figure, showed there in the sunlight, a figure poised upon a flat rock that dipped into the blue water. It was Rosamunda at the pool.

Now Trevanion was something more than a vagrant and a scholar. There was much of the Bayard in him, and not a little of the St. Francis. He loved trees and wild things, innocence, and good books, and beauty wherever he found it, but he was no fool. He could handle a duelling sword with any man, shoot straight, ride a vicious horse, and was hard and tough as a frontiers-man.

He retraced his steps, sighted von Mirenbach still gloating behind his tree, walked down to within ten paces of him, and stood waiting. The ground was mossy here, and the Austrian had heard nothing. Some minutes passed before he happened to turn his head and awoke to the fact that he was not alone.

He faced sharply round, and stood with head up, like some proud beast, angry at being caught at a disadvantage, and for a minute or so these two men looked at each other without speaking a word. Then Trevanion walked straight at von Mirenbach, stopped within a yard of him, and stared him straight in the eyes.

It was an accusation, a challenge, and a warning. No words went with it; neither man uttered a sound. And Trevanion walked out into the sunlight, and down to the Satyr’s Pool where Rosamunda was lacing her dress and shaking out the wet splendour of her hair.

Her eyes lit at the sight of him, for the child wisdom in her had hailed the playmate and the good comrade, yet to Trevanion her delightful and precious innocence had become a thing of difficulty and danger. Pan was alive and in the flesh, skulking red-mouthed in the woods up yonder.

Posed and challenged, the man in him chose simplicity, and threw away the scabbard. Of a sudden he loved this child, as he had never loved any living thing, and in this love of his he found an answer to all that troubled him.

“I have kept my promise. It was very easy to keep.”

“And why was it easy, signor?”

“Because I gave you the promise.”

She smiled and let him have her hand to kiss.

“I like you,” she said, “are all Englishmen the same?”

“In what way, Rosamunda?”

“Your eyes look straight at me, and they tell me I have nothing to fear. What is it that I fear? I cannot tell. But that other day, when you had gone, that other man came.”

Trevanion still held her hand, and she made no movement to withdraw it. Moreover it was good that Otto von Mirenbach should see what he was seeing.

“What man, Rosamunda? Not Otto von Mirenbach?”

“Yes. How did you know?”

“I met him riding through the woods. And he did not please you?”

She answered quite simply.

“I ran away. He made me afraid. Why did he make me afraid?”

Trevanion looked straight into her eyes.

“Because he is evil and you are good. Because he is ugly and you are beautiful.”

Her exquisite face was lost in a moment’s seriousness, the questioning, wondering seriousness of a child.

“Am I beautiful?”

“You have only to look into the pool. But this man came to the villa?”

“Fra Tolomeo brought him. He spoke with my father about books, and some day father is to go to Castella Nero to see the man’s library, but I shall not go.”

“You are right, Rosamunda. The Austrian is evil, and no good friend for your father.”

He had thought to try and tell her of von Mirenbach’s spying upon her while she bathed, but her innocence made him keep silent, and his heart disliked the telling of it.

His seriousness touched her. There was no Atalanta spirit in her that day, and she went slowly up the steps with him as though some new emotion were stirring in her heart. She had never had a lover, and hardly knew the meaning of the word, but this tall man with the kind and shining eyes brought a new note into her life.

“Tell me,” she said to him, “why do you live in Italy, and travel so far? Maria says it is only the rich people who travel.”

He was touched and amused.

“Are you sorry for me because you think I am poor, Rosamunda?”

“It is not a sin to be poor. And you look so strong and happy.”

He laughed, and loved her more and more.

“And so I am. And now I thank God for my strength and a clean life; but I am not poor, Rosamunda.”

“It does not matter whether you are poor or rich. I hardly know what money is, and I am happy.”

They reached the terrace, and saw Cæsare coming towards them, his flute under his arm. He looked rather madder and more dishevelled than before.

“Ah, it is the Tin Man, the scholar from Oyster Island! Hail, brother scholar! Get you in, child, and see to the wine.”

He took Trevanion by the arm with an air of moonstruck solemnity, and began to walk him up and down the terrace.

“You did not believe me, sir, but the mystery is there, the great mystery. In three days we have the full moon.”

Trevanion had a glimpse of Rosamunda looking at him.

“What is it that I do not believe, signor? And what of the full moon?”

“I am about to see the great god, sir, the great god Pan. For thirty years I have waited and never seen him. But yesterday I heard the pipes.”

Trevanion gave him a quick and almost fierce glance.

“The pipes of Pan?”

“Yes, sir, the pipes of Pan. He is here, he is there, and on the night of the full moon he will come to the pool.”

“Is that so?”

“And my daughter, sir, shall be there to do honour to the great god.”

Trevanion faced round, caught Cæsare by the shoulder, and his other hand was ready for the old man’s throat. But he mastered himself and that moment of anger and disgust, and stood there looking grimly into Cæsare’s face, and wondering what to make of him.

“You are quite mad, signor,” he said very quietly.

Cæsar blinked in his face.

“Mad, am I? We shall see, when the moon is full, and the god steals down.”

Trevanion dropped his hand from the madman’s shoulder.

“Yes, we shall see, signor,” he said; “we shall see. These mysteries are not to be trifled with.”

He had realized Cæsare’s hopelessness, and the perilous futility of trying to reason with him or to warn him. He thought of von Mirenbach haunting those chestnut woods and watching the pool. What if the Austrian had stolen the key of the old man’s madness and had guessed how to use it?

But old Lombardi clung like a pestilence, sensing nothing of the Englishman’s angry yet pitying scorn. They went in to their wine, and Rosamunda left them together when her father began to babble of the classics and to bring out his books. Trevanion was patient with him. The old fool needed subtle handling, and Trevanion gave him his voice, but kept his thoughts to himself.

The full heat of the day was upon them when Trevanion escaped and wandered out on to the terrace. He looked about him in the glare and heard Rosamunda calling him.

“Nigel! Nigel!”

She gave the name in soft Italian, and a smile came into his eyes. There was a little stone belvedere at the end of the terrace, overshadowed by a great pine and half hidden by trailing vines, and there Trevanion found her, sitting on an old bench carved out of chestnut wood, combing her hair.

“My father is very strange these days.”

He bent over her.

“May I sit here beside you, Rosamunda?”

“Why—yes. Are we not friends?”

“I want to speak to you of your father, and it is not easy. Do not do all that he bids you do.”

“But I do not understand.”

“You are too good and too beautiful to understand some things, child. The time of the full moon will be dangerous for your father. And tell me, have you no friends near?”

“Friends? There is Maria; but Maria is always talking of Fra Tolomeo, and I do not like Fra Tolomeo.”

“Yes.”

“There are Sandro and Catarina at the farm. Sandro is a good man, and I love them very much.”

“Where is the farm?”

“Down yonder, at the end of the valley.”

Trevanion told himself that he would go and see Sandro and Catarina.

Her exquisite face had grown serious and a little sad.

“Why should the full moon be dangerous for my father?”

“Your father is not as other men, Rosamunda. Much learning has made him strange, and sometimes such men dream strange dreams.”

“You make me afraid. And you will go away and leave me perhaps.”

He bent and kissed her fingers.

“No, on my oath. I shall be near you, near you so long as you bid me stop. That is a promise, Rosamunda.”

“Dear friend,” she said, smiling. “I have known you but two days, and yet—I trust you.”

“Go on trusting me,” he answered, “and I shall be proud and happy.”

He was loth to leave her; she seemed very much a child to him, a little triste, and a little lonely, and his man’s tenderness went out to her.

“I am so sad to-day, Nigel, and yet I cannot tell you why.”

He touched her arm very gently.

“Then, I am sad also. For you are the sunshine, Rosamunda, and when the sunlight is clouded——”

“Why must you go?”

“It is not for myself that I go, child. Some day I may tell you more of all this. And I will come to the Villa Lunetta to-morrow.”

He wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her, but he was shy of her innocence, and this new, swift love of his was a white flame.

“To-morrow.”

“To-morrow,” she answered him.

Trevanion made straight for the woods, and his path had a double end. He wanted no one to know of his going to Sandro’s farm, and remembered that von Mirenbach might still be loitering there, and that the Austrian was armed. However, he saw nothing of the man in green, even though he lay low awhile and watched.

Half an hour later Trevanion came down through a grove of beech trees and sighted Sandro’s farm. The house lay in the valley, a low, white house half hidden by juniper, acacias, and a smother of vines. There were a few rough outbuildings round it; some grazing land lay between it and the stream, and a stretch of vineyard on the opposite slope of the hill.

Trevanion noted all this with the keen eyes of a man who had fought and hunted. He saw a figure near the orchard wall, the figure of a big man in a white shirt and blue breeches, who was working amid the corn. The green stalks rose above the man’s knees. Trevanion guessed that this was Sandro. He walked round by the stream and across the grassland to the edge of the cornfield. The man went on working, not troubling to look up till Trevanion was close to him, although he had seen him long ago.

“Good day to you, Farmer Sandro.”

The man straightened himself and looked at Trevanion with a pair of grave, dark eyes. He was the old Roman type, eagle-nosed, square-chinned, hard as oak, reticent, practical, a good friend and a merciless enemy.

“Good day to you, Tadeschi,” he said.

Trevanion smiled.

“I’m no Austrian, but an Englishman. It has been told me, padrone, that you are a good friend to the little lady of the Villa Lunetta. Is that so?”

Sandro’s eyes narrowed a little.

“That is so, stranger. And what of it?”

“If you are her friend you will swear faith to her and to me.”

“And who are you, stranger, that you ask me to swear oaths?”

Trevanion spoke straight at him, judging his fibre.

“Man, would it please you to see the little signorina in the hands of Otto von Mirenbach?”

“God forbid!”

“Then you are her friend, even as I am her friend. It is a strange household up there, padrone.”

“Very strange, signor. But who are you?”

“An Englishman who travels as he pleases. I lodge at Monte Verde in the house of Luigi the bookseller. In England I own a great house and many farms. And, man, if you want the truth from me, know that I think of that little lady as my wife. Her father is mad, and that damned Austrian sneaks in the woods to see her bathing. The Pool of the Satyr—there is some tale about it, some mystery?”

Sandro grew dark as a thundercloud.

“An old woman’s tale,” he said; “and yet—who knows! There are devils, signor, as well as men. Catarina, my wife, has worried about the little lady, because of that pool and her innocence.”

“What is the tale, Sandro?”

“It was like this, signor. Once upon a time a girl used to bathe in that pool, just as the signorina bathes there now. In the old days the pool was sacred to the goat-god of the woods, and on certain nights at the full moon this goat-god has the power to escape out of Hades and run wild as of old. They say he found this girl bathing by moonlight and loved her, and next morning she was dead, floating in the pool. And the old women say, signor, that the girl must be fair-headed and that the goat-god goes mad when he seizes La Bionda.”

Trevanion look very grim.

“Old Cæsare knows that tale, Sandro. He waits for the goat-god at the next full moon, and would make his child bathe there at midnight!”

Sandro crossed himself.

“It must not happen,” he said; “the old man is possessed by a devil. Even if no harm came of it, it is an infamy, for the little lady is an angel.”

Trevanion held out his hand.

“Padrone, we can trust each other. I shall watch that pool each night till the time is past, but Monte Verde is too far for me, nor have I any reason to think that the Austrian loves me over much. I could make a shelter in the woods, and if you could sell me food?”

The Italian was more generous.

“My house is yours, signor. You can be as secret as you please. No one need know that you are here. And when will you come?”

“To-morrow. I must see Luigi, and get him to spin a tale for me—say I have gone to Rome.”

“Good. Then to-morrow.”

III

Trevanion reached Monte Verde about dusk, just before the gates were closed, and since a couple of peasants were quarrelling with the guard, he passed through unnoticed. The via Flavia was very dark, and there was no light in the bookseller’s house, but Luigi was sitting on the stool among his books, listening and waiting.

“So it is you.”

He closed the door quickly behind Trevanion.

“I wondered whether you would return, my friend. People are becoming interested in you here, so interested that von Mirenbach’s sbirri visited my house to-day.”

“The devil! At what hour?”

“Less than two hours ago. I lied to them, and said you had left, and had spoken of Rome.”

Trevanion was greatly disturbed.

“Luigi, I must not be meddled with by these fools. And von Mirenbach has his reasons.”

“If you take my advice you will get out of the town to-night.”

“But the gates are shut.”

“I will show you a way out of the town. A little nerve is needed and a steady head; it is not that I am a coward, sir, but if you have offended the Austrian——”

Trevanion was in no mood for tarrying.

“Wait while I get my sword and pistols and put a few things into my haversack. You will have to hide what little is left, Luigi; the things are yours, and here is what I owe you.”

“Tut, tut! never worry. I will wait here for you. The swine may come back any minute. It is their way.”

Trevanion was with him again in less than five minutes, and Luigi led the way out into the garden. He stood listening a moment, and then moved forward into the darkness. The moon was not yet up.

“Give me a hand with the ladder, friend. It is just long enough to get a man on to the city wall, but too short for the other side.”

They carried the ladder to the end of the garden and reared it against the grey stones. Luigi went up first, bidding Trevanion wait a moment. A path ran along the top of the wall, linking up the old towers and bastions.

“All is quiet. Come.”

Trevanion joined him on the wall. They moved along it for about fifty yards till something dark and huge loomed up close to them. It was a big cypress tree that grew close to the wall, so close that its branches brushed against it.

“There is your ladder. I have used it more than once; you jump well into the thick of the foliage, and get your arms round the trunk.”

“Thanks, Luigi; you are a good friend.”

“Have you any food?”

“Enough for the morning; after that I shall manage. Tell them I have gone to Rome. Good-bye.”

Half an hour later there came a knocking at the bookseller’s door. Luigi opened it, candle in hand, and with the air of a man who was sleepy and on the point of going to bed.

“Who’s there?”

A big fellow pushed in, and some half-dozen more were ready to follow him. He held a pistol at Luigi’s head and grinned cheerfully.

“Not a sound, old man. We are going to search this house for the Englishman.”

“I have told you that he left this morning, and spoke of travelling to Rome.”

“Yes, no doubt; but he was seen at the Mola gate about dusk.”

“Well, he is not here; I have not seen him.”

The sergeant of the sbirri left a guard at both doors, and went up with Luigi and the rest of his men to search the house. They missed nothing, not even a cupboard-ful of old clothes and lumber, but they found no Englishman, and came down disappointed. The garden and the cellar were equally unsympathetic, and the sbirri did not happen to notice the ladder lying along a fence and half hidden by rank herbage and vines.

Luigi pretended to sulk.

“What did I tell you, but you thought me a liar. A nice state of things when a quiet old man has his house turned upside down after dark.”

Basta,” said the sergeant far less cheerfully, “he is in the town somewhere, and we shall find him.”

The little bookseller said nothing, but banged the door on them.

About the time that Trevanion was making his escape from Monte Verde, the woman Maria had thrown a dark shawl over her head and slipped down through the garden of the Villa Lunetta to a place where the wall had fallen and never been repaired. Someone was waiting for her there, someone who chuckled softly, and took his kisses as he pleased.

“Ten gold pieces, my love, for you, and twenty for me. It is only necessary that you should not meddle; that you should be asleep or deaf.”

The woman agreed.

“And no harm shall come to the child?”

“Harm! If it will harm her to become a countess—well, the answer is ‘Yes!’ But my noble friend is an original, and goes about his wooing like a romancer.”

“And when will it happen?”

“When the moon is full.”

“And the old man?”

“He can become the count’s librarian at Castella Nero. As for me, Mrs. Mischief, I shall be in great favour.”

“You are an old rascal,” she said, laughing.

Just as dawn was breaking, Nigel Trevanion came to the edge of the beech wood over against Sandro’s farm.

Trevanion took no chances. He went down through the cornfield on his hands and knees, crawled through the garden hedge and sat down to wait with his back against the house wall. It was not long before he heard someone stirring in the house. A shutter was thrown open, and a man’s head appeared, the head of Sandro the farmer taking stock of the morning.

Trevanion gave a soft whistle and held up two fingers. Sandro stared hard at him a moment, nodded, and disappeared from the window.

They went into a corner of the orchard together and talked.

“The Austrian is after me, padrone. I slipped out of Monte Verde last night. They have been told that I have taken the road to Rome. If you can hide me here for two days?”

“That should be easy.”

“And it is necessary that I should see the Little Lady without going to the Villa Lunetta. Von Mirenbach must not know that I am near.”

Sandro meditated a moment.

“I have a strange hiding-place that no one knows of save myself. As for the Little Lady, I can go and tell her that Giuseppe is ill.”

“And who is Giuseppe?”

“My boy of six. He is a great favourite. As to my men, they would be in the fields, and even if they discovered anything they would hold their tongues.”

IV

About nine o’clock that morning Sandro walked into the courtyard of the Villa Lunetta, and found Maria at work at her wash-tub under the big fig tree.

Now Sandro had no great love for Maria; they had quarrelled more than once, and Sandro’s wife, who had a quick eye for a jade, had warned him against her.

“Good day to you, Maria.”

She looked at him with her hard black eyes and went on with her washing.

“Is the signorina in the house?”

“She may be. You know what the signorina is. She may be anywhere.”

“Then I will go in and see for myself, since you are too busy.”

He turned towards the house, but Maria followed him.

“Since when have you become a gentleman to walk as you please into the house of a Lombardi?”

“Hold your tongue, Maria. Am I to stand and wait on your whims and temper? My boy has the fever, and the signorina cured him last leaf fall with a touch of her hand.”

“Black magic, perhaps.”

“White magic, you slut. The Little Lady has the hand of a saint.”

Rosamunda was alone in the great salon. She looked up at Sandro, smiling.

“Good morning, padrone.”

“Good morning, signorina.”

Maria hung in the doorway, alert and meddlesome, but Sandro waited till she had gone.

“Giuseppe has the fever, signorina. He cries out for you, because your touch healed him last leaf fall. Perhaps you will come to the farm?”

“Poor Giuseppe! I will come now, Sandro. I will walk back with you.”

She jumped up, and reached for her big sun-hat that lay on the couch.

They were half way to the farm before Sandro told her the truth, and in the telling of it saw her eyes grow big and shadowy and the colour deepen in her cheeks.

“The Signor Nigel! And Giuseppe is not ill! But why is there danger, Sandro? Who would do us any harm?”

“This English lord can explain things better than I can, signorina, even though he speaks in Italian. I judge a man by his eyes.”

When they came to the house Sandro’s wife was waiting for them, a big, sunny woman with a soft voice and wise eyes.

Sandro glanced at his wife, and Catarina understood. She led Rosamunda across the little courtyard, under a stone arch and into the orchard. There was a well in the orchard, its mouth surrounded by a stone well-head, and covered by a shelter of timber and thatch. It was half hidden by a trellis of vines so that the well-head was almost concealed by a curtain of leaves.

“He is there, signorina. It is a secret.”

Trevanion had heard their voices. He was leaning against the stone coping, looking rather dusty and unshaven, and with a green smear on one sleeve, but his eyes were the eyes of a lover, and Rosamunda saw little else. She went and stood beside him behind the screen of vines, her sweet face serious and questioning, her eyes looking straight into his.

“What does it mean?”

“I could not keep my promise to you, Rosamunda, and since I could not come to you, I asked Sandro to bring you to me.”

“And you are hiding here?”

“Yes, in the well, if necessary.”

“The well!”

“There is a funny little chamber opening from it, and it is quite dry and warm.”

“But why are you hiding?”

“Because the Austrian, Otto von Mirenbach, considers me in the way, and would like me in one of his prisons; but I do not mean to be put out of the way, Rosamunda, till the full moon is done with.”

She looked troubled.

“The full moon! Always it is the full moon! My father is stranger than ever. It is his wish, Nigel, that I should bathe in the Satyr’s Pool at midnight on the night of the full moon.”

“And you will do it?”

“Yes, if it will please him. For what is there to fear? I have asked Maria to come with me.”

Trevanion opened his lips to speak, and then smothered the words that were on his tongue. Why should he shock her innocence, tell her that lewd fable, and make her afraid of the thing that lurked in the woods? No harm could come to her so long as he was free to watch, and if von Mirenbach trusted to guile, guile was the sword to meet him with.

“Rosamunda.”

He took her hands.

“I want you to trust me, dear.”

“I trust you,” she answered him simply.

“If anything should happen to me, trust Sandro, and no one else; he is good and brave and will protect you. Tell no one that I am here.”

Her face drew near to his.

“But why are you in danger? Why should the Austrian hate you? I do not understand.”

“Perhaps some day soon I will tell you,” he said; “but do not worry your heart about me. If Sandro should come again to the Villa and say that Giuseppe is sick, go with him at once, and leave everything to Sandro.”

And then, quite suddenly, she drew very close and put up her face to be kissed.

“How good you are. I feel that you are being good to me, even though I do not understand. Have men such secrets?”

He held her hands, and kissed her forehead.

“Sometimes, yes; we lay our cloaks in the mud, dear, so that your feet may not be soiled. Trust me; that is all I ask of you. And now, you must go.”

Sandro walked back with her to the Villa Lunetta, and when he returned to the farm he found von Mirenbach’s sbirri there, drinking wine, and resting in the shade. An Austrian officer was in charge of the band, a bluff, good-natured booby who sat himself down in the kitchen and suffered Catarina to cook him an omelette and bring him a bottle of Asti. He was bored with his business, and scoffed at it quite frankly.

“Good day, padrone. Your good lady has saved my life, for I was choked with dust and with the bad language of my men.”

Sandro sat down and stared at him stolidly.

“You are very welcome, captain. There are no brigands in these parts, surely?”

“Brigands!” the Austrian laughed; “nothing so exciting, padrone, nothing but some scarecrow of an Englishman, who is supposed to have political views that do not please us. He escaped out of Monte Verde, and my orders were to make sure that he is not in these woods. I suppose you have no six feet of English madness hidden on your farm?”

Sandro stared.

“Is it likely, captain! But I ask you to search the place.”

“I will take your word, padrone.”

“No sir; I would have you search the place. A man has to be careful these days. The fellow might be in my barn, or hiding among the faggots, and I never know it.”

So the farm was searched, Sandro himself going with the captain and showing a serious interest in the affair. No one thought of looking down the well in the orchard, and they would have seen nothing if they had, save a length of brown rope disappearing into the darkness. The Austrian scoffed at the fuss he had been ordered to make, mounted his horse, and marched off with his men.

The day passed very slowly for Trevanion. He lay on a bundle of straw in that quaint hiding-place of his, watching the glimmer of light in the dark throat of the well, and listening to the faint drip of water below. The inaction irked him, for he was a man in love, cooped up, blind for the moment, the sport of a quick imagination.

About dusk Sandro came to the well, and whispered down it.

“Signor?”

“Hallo!”

“It is very quiet. I have been up to the woods. The Austrian and his sbirri must have gone on to Musa.”

The brown rope tightened to Trevanion’s weight. His head and shoulders appeared.

“Hallo! it is growing dark. I am going up to the woods, Sandro. Supposing you come with me.”

“I am ready; but some wine and a little supper? I have it here.”

“Excellent. I don’t like your ‘guest’s hole,’ padrone. It makes one think too much.”

It was growing dark when Trevanion and the farmer struck the fringe of the woods.

They moved on, Sandro in front a little, with a cudgel over his shoulder, striding slowly in a world of puzzling shadows.

Suddenly Sandro stopped, and Trevanion stopped with him like a man jerked by a string.

“Listen!”

From somewhere, very faint and near, came a queer sound of piping, very wayward and strange.

Big Sandro was stiff and bristling like a dog.

“Cæsare—perhaps?”

Trevanion had held his breath to listen.

“I think not,” he said; “it is the goat-god calling the moon.”

“Sst, signor, but you do not believe such things?”

“I believe what I see.”

They went on again, for the piping had ceased, and when next they heard it the sound seemed much nearer. Then an abrupt silence fell, a silence that was more uncanny than that wayward music without a tune.

Sandro was sweating.

“Did you notice anything, signor?”

“I saw nothing.”

“No; but the creature must have been quite close to us and we never heard the sound of its feet. It was running too, for the sound came to us very fast.”

Trevanion was puzzled, but he was less superstitious than the Italian.

“Where are we now?” he asked.

“About two furlongs from the Pool, so far as I can judge.”

They came at last to the open ride that led down to the big chestnut wood above the Satyr’s Pool. They lay down there, close together, between the roots of a great tree, and heard that Pan’s music break out again at no great distance. It seemed to come from behind them in little trills and bird notes that suggested the beginnings of a melody, and then broke into mad fooling. Big Sandro crossed himself, and twisted round so as to face the sound, but it died away again, and they could hear nothing but the stream running.

Presently the moon rose and added a new mystery to the woodland, and with the moonlight came a new and grotesque figure, the black shape of an old man with long hair, dancing like a madman and playing on a pipe.

Sandro nudged Trevanion.

“It is Cæsare. Did I not say it was Cæsare?”

“Listen. Tell me what you hear.”

And Sandro shivered, for there was another piping in the wood, the piping that had haunted them since nightfall, and it seemed to answer Cæsare as one bird answers another.

“There is an evil spirit here, signor.”

“Sst, make no noise. If it is the goat-god we may see him.”

Old Cæsare went skipping past them, and was lost among the trees.

“That old man has sold himself to a devil, signor.”

“I have seen that devil by daylight, Sandro, and it may be that he is of the same flesh as you and I.”

They saw no more of Cæsare, though that capricious piping still sent an occasional shiver of mystery through the moonlit woods. Trevanion was lying with his chin resting on his crossed forearms, very wakeful and alert, and full of shrewd surmises.

“Your bed is waiting for you, padrone. I shall stay here to-night.”

“You are not afraid, signor?”

“Not yet. And I can sleep in that precious hole of yours to-morrow. Go back by way of the stream; you will see me soon after daybreak.”

Trevanion had learnt the patience of a hunter, and his patience brought him his reward at the end of that long night’s vigil. The luck of the day, too, was with him, a luck that had always been his since boyhood. Just when the world was on the edge of dawn and the great trees were growing grey, he heard a sudden cracking of dead wood behind him, and something very like an honest, human oath.

In the grey light of the dawn he saw a man scramble down the trunk of a tree, and make off into the wood.

Trevanion waited ten minutes, listening, watching before he moved. Then he raised himself cautiously, and went forward, keeping his eyes fixed on that particular tree. About seven feet up the trunk a black gash showed in the bark, broadening upwards till it lost itself in the spread of the main limbs.

Trevanion’s eyes gave a gleam of light. He went up to the tree, got his right hand in the cleft, worked himself up, and discovered a part of the mystery. The tree was hollow.

He knelt there, looking down into the dark hollow, and thinking. This was the piper’s post, where a man could lie hidden, and by a cunning use of his instrument make his music seem far and near. He could blow hard and soft, smother the sound deep in the bowels of the tree, or climb up and let his piping float out as from a musician’s gallery. Trevanion smiled.

Before he left for Sandro’s farm he looked about him and found what he desired, a big oak tree standing a little apart, its branches nearly touching the ground. The main fork of the tree was like a great nest where a man could lie curled up and concealed. The hollow chestnut could be watched, and when Trevanion had made sure of this, he walked back through the woods to Sandro’s farm.

V

Rosamunda came to the farm of her own free will that morning. Trevanion was asleep in his ‘guest’s hole,’ and to wake him Catarina had to let the bucket clatter against the well wall.

“Hallo, signor!”

“Who’s there?”

“A visitor, signor.”

Catarina went off smiling, with her bucket of water.

Trevanion’s face was very close to Rosamunda’s when he reached the top of the rope, and he hung there a moment like a lover at a window. She stretched out her hands to him with an impulsive welcome that had the sweetness of a caress, and Trevanion caught one of her hands and kissed it.

“Why are you here, Rosamunda? Has anything happened?”

“No; but I was troubled, and I could not sleep last night!”

“And why?”

“Because I was thinking of you here, and of your danger.”

“Dear heart, I was never happier in my life, and safe here in Sandro’s farm. Have you any news for me from the Villa Lunetta?”

“None; but that father cannot rest or eat. He wanders all day, talking to himself. He has the same strange wish that I should go down to the pool to-morrow at midnight.”

“And you will go?”

“Yes, to please him. What harm can it do to satisfy a mad whim? I have spoken to Maria, and she will come.”

Trevanion had swung himself on to the wall. She was so dear to him now that even the thought of touching her seemed very wonderful. She made him think of some soft, trustful bird, but her eyes were the eyes of a woman.

“You must not come to the farm again, Rosamunda, unless you are in trouble.”

“Then I shall not see you.”

“Yes, you will see me, for I do not think that I could live now without seeing you. When the full moon is past, we shall begin our fairy story.”

“Always the full moon! I am beginning to hate the full moon!”

Cara mia,” he said to her, “trust me for two more days. That is all I ask of you.”

It was Sandro who kept watch that night, lying under the arbutus trees near the Satyr’s Pool with an old musket for company. He saw nothing but Cæsare wandering like a sleep-walker and staring at the moon; nor did he hear any sounds of the pipes in the woods across the valley. Sandro was back at the farm well before daybreak. Trevanion had to be roused so that he could reach the woods before dawn and get to his post.

Sandro slid down the well rope.

“Signor.”

“Hallo! Any news, Sandro?”

“I saw nothing but old Cæsare, moonstruck and solemn. Nor did I hear any of that devil’s music.”

“Good. I will follow you up. Catarina has filled my knapsack with food. You will not see me again, Sandro, till we have finished with the full moon.”

Trevanion was in the woods well before daybreak and safely posted in the fork of his oak tree. The spread of the old trunk was like a flat basket, and he could curl up in it and lie hidden with the dome of leaves screening him above. The hollow chestnut tree was visible through a gap in the foliage. Trevanion had fastened a spray of oak leaves over his hat, so that he could look out over the edge of his eyrie and keep the whiteness of his face from betraying him to any bird of prey who might perch in that tree over yonder.

The day passed at last, with the setting sun sending long rays of light into every woodland eyelet-hole and window. The cool of the evening was in comradeship with Trevanion’s quickened suspense.

And then he stiffened and raised his head like a startled dog.

A moment later he saw the thing that he had heard, a strange, hairy thing that trotted on goat’s legs, and whose throat, arms and shoulders were white like a man’s. It was the figure of Pan, Pan himself, old Cæsare’s woodland god, and Trevanion saw it lift itself up into the chestnut tree and disappear.

VI

Maestro Lombardi had been very restless all that day, and about sunset Rosamunda heard the sound of strange laughter, laughter that made her afraid. Going out to see the meaning of it, she found her father skipping up and down the terrace, laughing and beating time with his flute to some quite mad and imaginary music.

“Thrice Blessed Virgin, it is the night of the great god. To-night the pride of your father will be complete. Pan comes, my daughter; Pan the great lover!”

She shrank away and fled into the house.

“I am afraid, Maria, afraid of something that I can feel but cannot see or hear. There is a something in my father’s madness.”

“It is the moon, signorina; nothing but the moon.”

“Maria, I shall not go down and bathe in the pool to-night.”

“S-sh, s-sh, it is nothing but fancy! I will go with you, signorina, and it is best to humour the old man.”

“You will not leave me, Maria.”

Cara mia, why should I leave you?”

Trevanion spent quite five minutes in getting out and away from that oak tree. He had waited till it was dark, and then slipped down the trunk with the caution of a man creeping from a prison and with an enemy on the alert hardly thirty paces away. He had had to leave his sword in that crow’s nest, for the thing would have cumbered him, but he had kept his pistols.

He got on his feet as soon as he judged it safe, and made his way down through the open woods towards the Satyr’s Pool. It was very dark now, but he was glad of the darkness. Reaching the valley, he turned slightly towards the left and walked on very slowly, pausing often to listen. It was his plan to strike the half-dry stream that was the overflow from the pool, and work up it till he reached the pool itself, for should any of the Austrian’s people be on the watch, there was less chance of his blundering into them if he followed the stream.

The plan worked well. He crawled the last fifty yards, till his hands touched the flattish rocks around the pool and he saw the level gleam of the water with the silver point of a star reflected in it here and there. He remembered that a stunted old laurel grew on the south side of the pool. It was visible as a bunch of blackness, and he crawled to it and crept in under the branches. As he squirmed himself comfortable, his hand touched something hard and round and heavy. It was an old water-worn stone about the size of a six-pound shot, a thing that persuaded his fingers that it might have its uses where pistols were not to be trusted.

The night was extraordinarily still, and when the moon heaved a yellow rim over the edge of the world the night seemed even more eerily silent. Trevanion felt like a taut wire. He had raised himself on his elbows, for he could judge now how he was placed with regard to his field of vision. The foliage of the laurel hung short of the ground, much like a tent with the “flies” looped up, and Trevanion had no reason for quarrelling with his luck. He found that he could see most of the valley ahead of him, the fringe of the woods on his right, and on his left the white wall, wooden gate and the end of the stairway leading up to the villa. The laurel hid him in its smother of black shadow. He could not have been more cunningly placed.

The first sounds he heard that night were the shrill notes of a pipe and bursts of faun-like laughter. The laughter sent a little shiver of emotion through him. It was so mad, so unrestrained, so gloating, so naively exultant. Then old Cæsare appeared crowned with vine leaves, and dancing in the moonlight.

On the terrace of the Villa Lunetta the madman began piping under his daughter’s window. Rosamunda was seated on her bed, filled with a dread of some vague horror, a kind of ghost fear that made her eyes look like the eyes of a frightened child.

She went to the window.

“Father!”

He stretched out his arms to her.

“Hail, virgin; hail, fortunate and sacred one!”

Then she heard Maria’s voice in the room.

“Tst, it is near midnight, cara mia, and when the play is over and the old gentleman happy, we can please ourselves and get to bed. To-morrow he will be himself again. It is the moon.”

“I cannot go, Maria!”

“Courage, signorina; it is just a child’s game played to please a child. I have brought you a cup of warm wine.”

“You will stop with me, Maria?”

“Have I not promised?”

That warm wine had poppy seeds crushed in it, but Rosamunda drank it and suspected nothing.

Maria threw a cloak over the girl’s shoulders, and they passed out of the house, across the moonlit terrace, and down the steps between the black ilexes and pines. Cæsare had vanished, and they heard his piping and his laughter in the valley below, and when Trevanion saw him he was capering up and down like a faun calling on another faun to come and romp in the moonlight. Trevanion forgot the madman for a moment, for he heard a sound of women’s voices and saw figures moving down the steps. They came out through the little gate, Rosamunda first, the woman following her, and from the uncertain and almost shrinking way she moved Trevanion knew that Rosamunda was afraid.

His heart went out to her with fierce tenderness, but he lay still and bided his time.

Then Cæsare came into his view again, a figure that had grown silent and attentive and strangely sinister. He had drawn near and yet stood aloof, arms folded, head cocked, very straight and stiff. Trevanion could have sworn that his ears were pricked and that there was a mad leer on his face.

A quick glance to the right showed him an empty sweep of moonlit ground ending in the blackness of the woods.

Nothing moved there. Pan still tarried.

“Maria!”

Rosamunda’s voice brought Trevanion’s eyes back to the pool. She was standing on the flat rock which she always used, and Maria had taken her cloak. Trevanion saw her white hands unfastening the laces of her dress, and she had shaken her hair free so that it hung in a cloud.

“Maria!”

Cara mia?

“Have you the towel? It will be so cold, Maria, and I feel so sleepy.”

“Tut, tut! Go in to your knees and no further, signorina. It should satisfy the old man.”

The dark dress dropped and lay in a ring about her feet. She was in white now; her hands seemed to fumble, and her face was like the face of one dazed. Trevanion was on his knees, tense, awed, counting this night a sacrament, love, pity, and a great anger stirring in his heart. He was watching Maria, the woman, for the whole vile wickedness of the thing seemed to hang upon her treachery.

“Maria, are you there?”

“Behind you.”

“Take my necklace. It’s all so strange; I feel I am falling asleep.”

“Tut, tut! It will soon be over.”

The last white drapery fell about Rosamunda’s feet, and as it fell Trevanion saw the woman start, turn quickly, and move stealthily away. She threw a half-frightened look behind her as she went, and that glance of hers gave Trevanion his warning.

“Good God!”

For old Cæsare had sent up a strange, exultant cry, and was standing like a man in an ecstasy, staring at the goat-god of his dreams. It had come leaping from the woods, and was within a stone’s throw of the pool before Trevanion turned and saw it, a great creature of hair and nakedness with horns showing black on its forehead. So close was it that Trevanion uttered the oath of a man who has been caught asleep at his post. He groped for that stone of his, and broke out into the moonlight.

He was late, late by two score yards, and that cry of Rosamunda’s was like a bitter cry of accusation. He had one glimpse of her in the creature’s arms, a white figure that drooped and struggled feebly, head drawn back, hair hanging. Trevanion made never a sound, but his eyes were the eyes of a man who meant to kill.

Cæsare’s Pan had thrown the girl to the ground and was bending over her, when he heard the sound of a man running and glanced up. His eyeballs shone white in the moonlight. His lower lip seemed to droop and to show his teeth.

“Von Mirenbach!”

That challenge answered. The thing’s hand went to its hairy belly, and drew out something that flashed. He was up and striking at Trevanion, but Trevanion was too quick for the Austrian. His hand whirled; the stone found Pan’s face and that god of hair and of horns fell forward and lay still.


OLD FAGUS

It was a very old garden.

John Osbald, the gardener, had worked in it for nearly forty years, and even in his time the soft, blurred texture of the red brick wall had changed but little. It had changed much less than the gardener’s face, for the red wall of “Bassets” drank the wind and the rain, and old John’s complexion owed something to ale as well as to the weather.

He was a hale, upstanding, handsome old fellow, a bit of an oddity, and something of an autocrat. In the village of Bury St. James he was held to be a man of repute, “Mr. Osbald o’ ‘Bassets’,” very wise in the ways of all things that grew. Other men came to him for advice. “Ask old John.”

So at seventy he looked what he was, white and wise-headed and fresh of face, a man who had a right to feel that he was somebody in those parts. The garden at Bassets was part of him and his pride. He might be the tyrant of the potting-shed; it was his privilege to be incredibly obstinate, and to rule his under-gardener and boy as they deserved to be ruled. John Osbald was very much a person.

For he had been fortunate in those whom he served: both plants and people. He had been grower of flowers and fruit to the Tremaines, and the Tremaines had treated him as they treated the garden, lovingly and with the respect of those who live on the soil. The garden was—in a sense—John Osbald’s garden; also, it was John Osbald, blood and muscle and soul of him.

Bury St. James looked at things in the same way. The old red Jacobean house was Tremaine; but the lawns and the borders and the yew hedges and the cedars and the fruit trees were John Osbald. The stone pillars of the great gates carried two shields, and upon them were the arms of the Tremaines; but upon the iron gates themselves hung a fairy scroll upon which was written—“John—His Garden.”

He loved it. For years he had given it all that was strong and patient and cunning in himself. He loved every tree; but particularly did he love the great beech tree by the postern gate close to the ivy-covered garden house. Every morning of his life John entered by that gate, and every morning he would look up at that stately tree.

He saw it in its naked, winter symmetry; in the young sheen of May; in the massive greenness of summer; in the splendour of autumn.

Almost he raised a hat to that tree. They knew each other, and between tree and gardener there was mystic understanding.

“Good morning, Old Fagus.”

“Good morning, John.”

So, for years, they had greeted each other, and the tree had seemed to stretch friendly hands over the figure of the working man.

But the Tremaines were a failing force. The two sons were killed in the Great War. Old Roger Tremaine died soon after peace had been declared; and his wife lasted two years longer—a sad woman who had wandered about the garden as though it was a place of ghosts. She and old John had been the last ones left.

“It seems so strange, John, so very strange, to be here alone.”

She had looked like a Christmas rose trying to flower for the last time in the deeps of winter, and before the Lent lilies bloomed, she was dead.

John Osbald emptied his hot-houses to grace her coffin, and said deep silent things to the great beech tree.

“You and I go on, Old Fagus, but you’ll last longer than I.”

Bassets went to a cousin, but the old ways and means were dead. Somerset House had to have its blood money, and the Tremaines were not the Tremaines of a memorable tradition. Bassets was put on the market, and was bought by a gentleman, one—Percy Prance—head of a syndicate that operated provincial music-halls and theatres. This gentleman had been knighted during the war. No one knew why; but that did not matter.

John Osbald and Sir Percy Prance met for the first time on a September afternoon. A bright young architect had descended upon Bassets, an easy, accommodating fellow who lauded the new gentleman with “sirs.” That there were to be changes, renovations, improvements, was evident. The motor-car had displaced the horse, and Olivia Tremaine’s piano would be less than a memory when the loud-speaker got going.

Percy Prance himself was a “loud-speaker”—a trombone of a man. He was cheerful, florid, slightly greasy, with one of those resonant voices that continue like a fog-horn in thick weather. He was not a bad sort of man provided he had his way, but his way was rather like the track of saurian. There was more belly in him than brain.

These two men met on the terrace. Osbald had been sent for, and had come slowly from the fruit-garden with an expression of watchfulness in his blue eyes. Sir Percy had brought tea with him in the car. He stood with feet well apart on the terrace, his thick fingers rolling a cigar.

“You’re Osbald, are you?”

He had been expecting Osbald to touch his hat, and Osbald did not touch it. He stood and looked at the knight. He was oak, not willow like the bright young architect.

“Yes—I be.”

Sir Percy bit off the end of the cigar. He prided himself on having bitten off more than most men could chew. He was rather full of his new glory, and he expected to be treated with deference.

“What’s your age?”

Osbald’s blue eyes were unblinking.

“Seventy, come Michaelmas.”

Sir Percy looked at him slant-wise out of his clever and commercial little eyes. He was not pleased with Osbald. He seemed to sense in Osbald a contumacy, a bucolic stiff-neckedness that did not bend as it should have bent to the new glory. Sir Percy believed that there was but one way to deal with such people, the prompt application of pressure. Always he had found such pressure effective, perhaps because he had had to deal only with a scared and sycophantic society that had to walk mincingly in the presence of a monopolist.

“Look here, my man, if you want to stay on here you had better call me ‘sir’.”

It was a fairly blatant letting loose of the realities of the new dispensation, and it seemed to catch John Osbald like a sudden icy wind in the eyes. The finger and thumb of his right hand picked at the flap of his pocket. Something very singular and terrible had happened. The new presence had promulgated a threat, and never before in his life had John Osbald been threatened.

He might be slow and deliberate both in speech and movement, but he was more sensitive than was the knight to such subtle variations as a changing sky or of sudden sunlight and the moods of men and of things. He had a quick understanding of what those words implied. Unless he truckled to this fellow with the flabby red face he would be sacked. He would come no more into this garden, and the garden of Bassets was himself. Even at seventy a man’s soul may utter a bitter cry, and as old Osbald’s fingers fumbled at the flap of his pocket he rolled shame under his tongue and swallowed it. Yet the whole business occupied but little more time than it would take to swing a scythe.

He nodded.

“As it may please you, sir.”

Sir Percy smiled. He could be bland when the oil was applied. This was much better.

“You’ve been here a pretty long time, Osbald.”

“Near forty years.”

He forgot the “sir,” and added it; and the knight noticed the delay in Osbald’s production of the title. It annoyed him; it annoyed him more than had the previous omission. It was as though the badge of respect did not stick to him naturally.

“That’s a long time. Do you think you’re up to your work?”

Osbald fingered his chin.

“The Tremaines, they was satisfied, sir.”

“Oh, I dare say; but I’m not a Tremaine, my man. I shall want changes here. You understand that, eh?”

Again his fat voice threatened, and old Osbald’s eyes gazed past him at the house.

“Oh, aye, I’ve seen changes. I’ve kept this garden in high fettle for nigh on forty years. It’s my job, sir.”

Almost the oak of him trembled. His eyes were anxious.

“All right. I’ll give you a trial, Osbald. How many men have you under you?”

“Another man and a boy, sir.”

“Is that enough?”

“It was enough, sir, for the Tremaines.”

And again the new knight was annoyed. Damn the Tremaines! It was his wish to efface the Tremaines, and to make “Bassets” “Prance” from tennis-court to garage, and here was this old brown stump of a man stuck in the soil and reminding him of rotten old traditions. He cleared his throat.

“One last word, Osbald. This place isn’t Tremaine. It’s me! You had better stick that in your pipe and smoke it. It’s what I want about the place. See?”

Osbald looked strangely ashamed.

“I see, sir.”

So the struggle between them began, though in old John’s case the turmoil was inward and silent. He had surrendered and he knew it; he had humbled himself in order to stay with his beloved garden. He was an old man, and he had no soul left to him outside those red brick walls; he had grown into the very crevices of the place; he was rooted in it.

As for Sir Percy Prance his attitude to old Osbald was natural and inevitable. This old stump of a man irritated him; it was as though he was always catching his foot against this relic of the past, and yet he did not have the stump grubbed up. That was not his way. It is possible that he proposed to himself that the obstruction should crumble away piecemeal, and that, in a rather ugly sort of fashion he would enjoy the process. Most of his life had been spent in imposing his loud will upon other people.

The Prance family arrived and inserted itself into the new Bassets. My lady was large and equine, and very much “my lady.” There were three scions of the new stock, two young women and a pup. There were chauffeurs, a butler, a footman, a lady’s maid, and four motor-cars and other accessories. During that first winter old John saw the fruit-garden ripped up and replaced by a bright, new, red-surfaced tennis-court.

He groaned and endured. He addressed Florence Prance as “Your ladyship.” He accepted her prancings and her tramplings. His shoulders bowed themselves. He grew morose, and more and more silent.

But every morning he looked up at the great beech tree. “Changes, Old Fagus. You and I together. But I’ll go and you’ll stay. Maybe they’ll grub me up; but you’ll stay on, Old Fagus.”

Spring came, and among other things Sir Percy bought a motor-mower and imposed it upon Bassets and old Osbald. A strong man and a boy had been good enough for the grass of the Tremaines, and to old John the new machine was like some beastly mechanical devil dropped from the planet Mars. Somehow he could not keep it in order, and it was rough in its treatment of his beloved turf. In fact, this noisy, self-assertive machine became associated in old Osbald’s mind with Sir Percy Prance himself.

John might say: “I don’t hold with these new-fangled things,” but he did not say it. He was afraid of the machine; it was a sly and treacherous beast; it was always breaking down, and just as though it did it on purpose. Like Sir Percy it was trying to catch him out.

“You don’t seem to get on very well with that mower, Osbald.”

The old man looked frightened—sulky and frightened.

“I’ll get the hang of it, sir.”

“Perhaps; you’re a bit old to learn.”

Sir Percy was always saying to his wife: “I must get rid of that old fellow. He’s not up to his job. But I’ll give him his chance.”

To Osbald her ladyship was the source of other sorrows. She knew nothing of gardening, but that did not prevent her from assuming that she did. She was devastation. She would send out a maid with a huge basket and a table-knife, and old John’s delphiniums would be cut to the bone. She wanted everything that was new. She would go to flower-shows and nurseries, and come back with pencilled catalogues, and ask John if he had such-and-such a plant. And if not—why not? She hinted that he had never heard of it, that he was ignorant.

She caused a monstrous, rustic pergola to be built right across the sweep of John’s favourite lawn. She had a mess of limestone piled round one of the cedars, and called it a rock garden. She possessed a restless, rooting energy, and no feeling for what was or what had been. And she was quite sure that Osbald was a cantankerous and ignorant old fool.

Now, according to their lights, the Prances were excellent people. They gave to charities, and encouraged trade, and paid their bills, but as for understanding the mystic marriage of mind to matter, that was beyond them. Old John had a wife, but he was married to two entities: his wife and his garden. Nor can such marriages be broken without mortal injury to the souls concerned. Sir Percival might talk with a certain loud assurance about music, but he never credited old John Osbald with a soul, nor did he realize that the old worker was attached inseparably to his garden.

John’s wife knew it. The village knew it. All old men who laboured with their hands, understood this mystical reality.

The garden of Bassets was old John Osbald’s garden. It belonged to him, and he to it. Sir Percival Prance might have paid so much money for the property, but deep down in the soul of the worker was the conviction that the garden was John Osbald’s and not his.

Old John was not a very articulate person, but he could talk to his wife.

“I’ve been made to feel shame, mother, but I reckon I’ve got to swallow it. It’s my job, isn’t it? It’s been my job for forty year.”

She understood him, for was not their home, the cottage beyond the stables, dependent upon the pleasure of this same Percy Prance. Mary felt for her cottage much as John felt for his garden. She had grown into it. It contained the associations of a life-time. It was—her.

So things continued for a season, and old John went about dumbly, and felt the loss of this and of that. He could say to himself: “They haven’t got no feel for the place, but so long as I’m here I’ll make up for it to the garden.” But his sense of insecurity increased. Tranter, the man under him, glib, swarthy, sycophantic, had his eyes on John’s shoes. He knew how to butter a cat’s paws.

Inevitably the situation developed its crisis. Her ladyship was not a lover of trees. She was restless; she had a passion for altering everything that was; she liked to impose her will upon her surroundings. Her disapproval fell upon Old Fagus. The beech tree was superfluous, a nuisance; nothing would grow under it.

She said to Sir Percival: “That tree. It ought to come down.”

Sir Percival agreed with her.

“Shuts out too much sunlight, what! I’ll give Osbald orders. A tree like that’s no use to anybody.”

So the doom of Old Fagus was pronounced, and John Osbald was told by Sir Percival in person that the beech tree was to be felled.

Old John stood and stared. His hands, hanging limply, slowly clenched themselves. He had reached the limits of surrender.

“That there tree, sir, has stood there for two hundred years.”

Sir Percival did not like John’s tone.

“Well, it’s coming down now. You see about it.”

Old John moistened his lips.

“I won’t have no hand in it. I’ve known that tree——”

The crisis was instant.

“You heard my orders.”

“I did, sir.”

“And you refuse?”

“I won’t stand by and see that tree—felled.”

Sir Percival Prance’s ruddy face grew turgid.

“Oh, you won’t! All right, you’ll go. I’ve given you your chance here, Osbald. I’ll pay you to the end of this month.”

John stood stock still.

“That means——”

“Yes, I shall want that cottage. You had better look out for something down in the village.”

Osbald said never a word. But he went and put on his coat, and walked out of the garden, and under the autumn foliage of the beech tree. He looked up at it.

“You’ve stood by me, and I’ve stood by you, Old Fagus.”

He returned to the cottage and his wife.

“I’ve been sacked, mother.”

He sat down in the rush-bottomed chair.

“After forty year. We’ve got to the end of the month. Reckon I’d better go down and see what I can get in the village.”

Old Fagus fell to the axe and the cross-cut saw, and the Osbalds went to live in the village, but since there was no vacant cottage to be had, they were compelled to take lodgings. Old John managed to get one or two odd jobs, and the old people had their pensions, but Osbald did not keep his odd jobs long. He seemed to shrink and to wither up. He lost his straightness, for he had been very straight in the back for a gardener; his head sank and his shoulders sagged. He had come to the end of his job, not happily so, but with a sense of being broken. In a spell of bitter January weather he caught a cold that went to his chest; but the village would not have it that it was the bronchitis that killed him. The village agreed with John’s wife.

“They took the pride of his job away, and I tell ’ee it broke his heart. At his age, too. Things oughtn’t to be done rough like that.”

She did not outlive her man for many months, but died in the fall of the year, and was buried with him in Bury St. James’s churchyard.

Sir Percy Prance, if he thought at all about the matter, considered the business of no importance. He had had to sack an obstinate old man who had become obsolete, and a mere obstructionist. The sycophantic Tranter stepped into Osbald’s shoes, and was known in the village as Jim Lickspittle.

But that was not the end of the chapter. Sir Percy Prance did what he considered to be his duty by the village. He subscribed to this and that; he presented the Bury St. James’s cricket club with a new pavilion; at Christmas he helped to dine the old people and the children. He was under the impression that he was popular in the neighbourhood, though certainly these rustics were a rather glum and silent lot. When her ladyship opened the village flower show the day happened to be wet, and the human atmosphere had a certain dampness. Moreover, Tranter’s exhibits from the Bassets’ garden did not secure a single prize, though the local post-master, an ex-police inspector and the blacksmith were the judges.

Sir Percy was piqued. He could not understand it. He spoke to Tranter about it, and Tranter sneered.

“They’re a nasty, jealous crowd, sir. They just ruled us out.”

Came a day when politics were to the fore. An election was at hand, and Sir Percy, as a good citizen and a man of prominence, assumed the position that was his. Bury St. James was to have a meeting, and the electors were to be addressed by the particular candidate whom Sir Percy favoured. Sir Percy was to take the chair. He assumed that he had every right to occupy that chair.

There were people in the village who knew there would be trouble, and that Bury St. James had been waiting for Sir Percy; but no one attempted to tell him so. The business had been boiling up, but the psychological occasion for an outburst had been lacking. Bury St. James was like a dour, watchful old sheep-dog that went about with its yellow eyes obscurely resentful under a mass of hair. It had not forgotten; it did not forget easily—it waited for the chance to bite.

The meeting was held in the village institute, no objection being raised to the use of the room, since both candidates were to hold meetings in it. It was a winter evening. Sir Percy and Lady Prance dined early, and were driven down in the big limousine. In spite of the night being cold and raw the roadway and the path leading to the village institute were crowded, and it was a crowd that allowed Sir Percy to arrive in silence. Yet, all those obscure figures and faces were mutely attentive, hostility paraded in the darkness, and Sir Percy was not aware of it. He had dined well. He and her ladyship were met at the doorway of the institute by Mr. Marter who kept the village shop, and Mr. Higgs, one of the principal farmers. The room was packed.

Sir Percy and his lady were conducted to the platform. The knight had the air of a well-fleshed and successful man who felt himself lord and master of the occasion. Probably he expected applause, but there was no applause. The room remained strangely silent.

Mr. Marter looked anxious. He was one of those who knew how a working man felt about certain happenings. He could remember the days when a Tremaine had sat in that chair, and a Tremaine had always been listened to. When they reached the platform, Mr. Marter bent forward and whispered to Sir Percy Prance.

“The candidate isn’t here yet, sir. He’s coming on from Thornfield. Do you think we had better wait?”

Prance saw no reason why the meeting should not be opened. He had certain things to say to Bury St. James—loud, sonorous things.

“We may as well begin, Mr. Marter. I’ll address them.”

They mounted the platform, and seated themselves in the row of chairs. Sir Percy Prance looked at his audience, produced his notes, rose, and with a kind of shining, well-fed effulgence, prepared to dominate and to declaim.

Suddenly, from somewhere at the back of the room, a man’s voice broke the silence.

“Who killed old John Osbald.”

For some five seconds the silence held. It was as though a stone had been thrown, and glass had been broken, and then from the back of the room, and from the packed doorway, and from the crowd outside, the voices stormed.

“We don’t want to hear ’ee.”

“Who killed old Osbald?”

“Get out o’ that chair.”

“If ye don’t get out we’ll throw ’ee out.”

People rose to their feet. There was pandemonium. Men surged in, and tried to force their way towards the platform. Women screamed. The roar of voices continued, angry, ugly, unsilenceable. There was no doubt about the threatening sincerity of that country crowd.

Prance stood holding his notes. His face looked turgid and swollen. People saw his lips move. He was trying to say something. He did say something—and he said it with fury.

“It’s a lie. If you fools can’t be quiet——”

He had to be hustled out of the room and by way of the door at the back of the platform. He swore and protested. Two police constables and a few supporters bunched themselves round him, not out of love, but because something had to be done when such a storm broke loose. But they could not get him to his car, for his car had been pushed off the road and upset into a ditch. They smuggled him down the dark path into the churchyard where the old Osbalds lay, and across the churchyard into the vicarage garden. They put him into the vicarage, and went back to rescue the lady.

But when Bury St. James had extruded all that was Prance, it sat down and listened to Mr. Higgs of Tithe Farm, and later it listened to the candidate who had come on from Thornfield to speak to it. Bury St. James had expressed itself. It had fastened its teeth into a certain pair of trousers.

Meanwhile, Sir Percy stood on the vicarage hearthrug and said things to the vicar.

“Your people are a lot of damned savages. Mark you, I’ve done things for them. I’ve been generous. It’s absolutely——”

The vicar, a mild man, lit his pipe. His wife and her ladyship were together in the drawing-room.

“Oh, they take a little knowing, Sir Percy. They don’t see things quite—perhaps—as you see them.”

The knight seemed to swell behind his bulging shirt-front.

“Savages. I wash my hands of the whole damned show. They’ll never get another penny out of me. And that’s that!”


THAT VULGAR PERSON

No one could understand why—when there were at least a dozen hotels in Belleplage—he should have chosen to stay at the Hotel Victoria, for the “Victoria” was eminently and aggressively the English hotel, and though he registered himself as British he did not look English as the Hotel Victoria understood it. His name was Sabbine. He was of a quite extraordinary plainness, and the Hotel Victoria, having prejudices of its own, found his plainness repulsive. Everything about him was ugly: his jowl, his negroid mouth, his complexion suggesting hot moist veal, his large hands, his massive thighs, his feet. He had little dark eyes tucked away in bladders of fat. He had a tummy. Quite inevitably the Hotel Victoria referred to him as “That gross person.”

He appeared as a topical figure, symbol of the New Riches, and probably a profiteer. Obviously he was very well-to-do. He was occupying the best suite in the hotel, and he had a valet. In the dining-room Gustave, the head-waiter, had assigned to Mr. Sabbine the most special corner by the window, with its view of the sea. The Victorians were shocked at Gustave, that he should be so obviously servile and a sycophant in search of tips.

No one spoke to Mr. Sabbine. He wore brilliants in his dress-studs, and collected on his table an amazing array of bottles. He was most excellently served. He was smiled upon by the staff, and cold-shouldered by the guests.

Mrs. Horrocks, who had wintered for fifteen successive years at the Hotel Victoria, and who ran everything in Belleplage: the English church and the chaplain, and the library, and the Society for Salving Russian Refugees, disapproved instantly of Mr. Sabbine. Possibly his name suggested to her that most indecent incident in the history of Rome, and the vulgarities of Rubens. She spoke of him openly as “That gross person.”

Seated at her table, which happened to be too close to Mr. Sabbine, she surveyed him like a desiccated Britannia whose urge was to use her trident, and to pitchfork Mr. Sabbine out into the street.

“I can’t think what the man is doing here.”

Colonel Blenkinsop, to whom everything was either pukkah or pariah, and who managed to be extraordinarily like the French cartoonist’s idea of an Englishman, agreed with Mrs. Horrocks.

“Demned superfluous. A bottle-wallah with diamonds in his shirt-front! I must speak to Muller about it.”

Muller was the manager, and when Colonel Blenkinsop did speak about it, the shrewd Swiss asked to be instructed.

“But what is the objection to the gentleman, sir? He is very quiet.”

Quiet, indeed! Why the loudness of him screamed! But, of course, Muller could not be expected to distinguish such sounds emerging from the person of so profitable a client.

“Just freeze the fellah out.”

That he should arouse such hostility was a subtle challenge to the League of Nations and to all those who preach brotherly love, but Mr. Sabbine appeared unaffected by it. He waddled about with an air of aloof good humour, and refused to be frozen. No one spoke to him save the staff, and he spoke to no-one. And he conveyed to the world of the Hotel Victoria the impression that he was quite aware of the feeling of hostility he aroused, and was amused by it. Not only was he repulsive, but he was repulsively complacent. It was as though he gloried secretly in his grossness.

He sat on one of the green chairs in the garden and watched Belleplage playing tennis. He was there during the tournament when an Italian won the men’s singles, and a German girl defeated the English tigress. He was seen to applaud, to clap his fat hands together. It was a subtle offence, for though the English are a sporting people, the English abroad—or some of them—retain prejudices. Colonel Blenkinsop still referred to the whole Mediterranean race as dagos.

He included Mr. Sabbine in that category.

“Registered himself as British. Demned alien.”

Also, he was able to explain Mr. Sabbine’s presence in the hotel.

“A fellah like that usually has something tucked away. Keeps it round the corner, you know.”

Mrs. Horrocks looked shocked.

“You mean—a woman?”

“Precisely.”

The hotel was particularly offended when it saw the young English tigress of the tennis-court chatting to Mr. Sabbine in the ball-room. The Victoria danced twice a week. Someone impatiently expostulated with young England.

“What on earth made you speak to that man?”

“He spoke to me. Well, and why not? He’s a rather decent old thing.” For Mr. Sabbine had said—“May I congratulate you on losing as charmingly as you play.” Which was true. For Mr. Sabbine liked young England better in some respects than he liked old England. It might be noisier, but it was less tolerant of humbug.

During the last week in February the English Club gave its yearly dance, and as usual it gave it at the Hotel Victoria. It was an invitation dance. Mrs. Horrocks presided at the committee, and with bottle-bright blue eyes and trident at the slope, held the seas sacred. The Duke was expected. He accepted the invitation yearly, but his acceptance was rather an act of courtesy, and being a man of seventy and a semi-invalid, he had every excuse to send his equerry to represent him. The Duke was a very great gentleman.

On the night of the dance Mr. Sabbine strolled down the gallery to the ball-room. He had an air of innocence, but at the ball-room door he was stopped by young Lovelace who had been placed there by the committee. Young Lovelace was a nice lad. He spoke gently to Mr. Sabbine.

“Your card, sir, please.”

“I haven’t a card.”

“I’m awfully sorry, sir, but it’s an invitation dance.”

“I’m staying in the hotel.”

Mrs. Horrocks had her eyes on the doorway. It is possible that she suspected young Lovelace of too much niceness, for she sailed down and intervened.

“Can I help?”

Mrs. Horrocks’ offers to assist were ominous.

“This gentleman has no card.”

“Have you explained?”

“Yes.”

Mrs. Horrocks spoke with stateliness to Mr. Sabbine.

“This—is an invitation dance. Quite so. I need not explain that an invitation is essential. You will appreciate the fact that the committee——”

Mr. Sabbine made her a little bow.

“I must apologize. Being an old man, and a resident here, I thought——”

“We can make no exceptions——”

“I quite understand, madam.”

He walked away, but later in the evening he heard Mrs. Horrocks’ voice in the lounge on the other side of one of the white pillars.

“What a pity the dear duke could not come. He has to be so very careful. Yes; did you see that vulgar person try to get past young Lovelace? I soon settled that.”

Mr. Sabbine did not pack up and go, for in spite of the unfriendliness of the residents he was very comfortable at the Victoria. His suite was comparatively quiet, and its windows were full of the unspoilt sea and sky. The hotel staff was very attentive. For some reason the staff liked Mr. Sabbine, for in those little dark eyes of his there was both sadness and laughter, an understanding of the why and the wherefore of life, humour and kindliness. He had carried about with him a preposterous and grotesque body, and yet had contrived to enjoy its very ugliness. It had provided him with mischievous provocations, delicate surprises, and at times it had made the obvious people look so shallow and foolish.

Placards appeared in Belleplage. They advertised a concert by Max Spindler the pianist, an artist better known in Berlin and Vienna than in London. The concert was to be given in the big salon of the Hotel Metropole, and Mr. Sabbine took a ticket. It was said that Spindler was going to play Debussy, and no other man could interpret Debussy with such delicacy and whimsicalness. A large part of the Hotel Victoria attended the concert, because it was the thing to do, and by some quite undeserved misfortune Mr. Sabbine found himself very much involved in that part of the audience. He had Colonel Blenkinsop behind him, and three chairs away on his right Mrs. Horrocks and Miss Blaber had matters to discuss.

Mr. Sabbine felt uneasy. On his left he had heard a big German in spectacles saying to a girl of fourteen: “This afternoon you will listen to a great and exquisite artist, a man unique in his rendering of certain masters. It is a great privilege to listen to such an artist.” Yes, the audience was cosmopolitan; it came to listen and to enjoy, but Mr. Sabbine knew by experience that the English of the Hotel Victoria were not musical. They could neither understand nor enjoy, and in the enjoyment efface themselves. They were apt to behave in the presence of a pianist like children at a pantomime remarking loudly upon the antics of a performing pig. It was distressing and exasperating. Moreover, Mr. Sabbine had exchanged a smile and a flutter of the programme with a certain little person in the audience who was intimately connected with the performer.

Colonel Blenkinsop kept clearing his throat. From the Horrocks and Blaber chairs, conversation floated.

“My dear, I don’t know why I came here. I’m afraid I’m going to be awfully bored, but our bridge party fell through.”

“Do you know anything about the man? What’s his name? Spindly?”

“Spindler? Never heard of him before.”

“It sounds German.”

“Or Austrian.”

“Well, that’s much the same, isn’t it. How they do overheat these places. I must get a window opened.”

Mr. Sabbine felt uneasy. How was it that these people could never keep quiet, and must advertise their little stupidities? He caught the gleam of the stout German’s spectacles—“Ach—these English, they will spoil everything.”

And then Max Spindler appeared on the platform, a strange, lumpy figure in a frock coat, and of an ugliness that almost equalled Mr. Sabbine’s. He seemed to have no chin, and his hair stood up uncouthly; his flaccid face was the colour of cream.

Most distinctly did Mr. Sabbine hear those words.

“My dear, he’s just like a pig!”

Quite a number of other people must have heard them, including the little person who had waved to Mr. Sabbine. And Mr. Sabbine felt hot. The Blaber woman was giggling—yes—actually giggling. “My dear—I—really—shall have to go out.”

Spindler looked at his audience for a moment, and his glance seemed to rest on the Horrocks—Blaber chairs. Then he began, and the little gentle sneer seemed to melt from his face. Someone was tittering into a handkerchief, and the fat German leant across and glared. Sabbine sat very still. Really, it was deplorable. He had sat in the cheap seats at Queen’s Hall in the midst of people who worked for a living, and he had felt their tense, exquisite silence. But these other English—!

But Spindler had forgotten the women. He was away in that other world, a queer, grotesque figure becoming mysterious and beautiful in a mystery of sound. The fat German nursed his corporation and dreamed. His face had a radiance.

The piece was over, and Colonel Blenkinsop became vocal.

“Can’t make head or tail of this new stuff. Sullivan’s good enough for me. This fellah——”

There were murmurings, for Spindler had struck the first notes of a thing of Debussy’s. It flickered and flaunted puckishly; it played in and out of the shadows and the sunlight. And Colonel Blenkinsop blew his nose, vigorously and at his leisure.

“These dem places always full of germs. My doctor man says——”

Mr. Sabbine turned on him and said softly: “Excuse me, sir, may I suggest that I have paid to listen to the music and not to your conversation?”

The fat German, understanding English, grunted ecstatically.

There was silence, save for one sniff from Blenkinsop. At the end of the piece he bent forward and touched Mr. Sabbine’s shoulder.

“I’ll trouble you, sir, not to address a stranger impertinently.”

Mr. Sabbine smiled, and said nothing. What he wanted to say was: “Please blow your nose and blow it now.”

Later, Max Spindler played something with an obvious tune to it, and Mr. Sabbine heard a buzzing behind him. Colonel Blenkinsop was humming. And in the hurry of applause at the end of the selection Mr. Sabbine heard him say: “Now—that was better. The fellah doesn’t play so badly. I remember a sub of mine at Buddlebooda who could sit down and give you the Mikado—yes, all of it—slap off. Not so much as a postage-stamp of music.”

Mr. Sabbine murmured:

“Quite so.”

When the concert was over and the audience drifted out into the lounge of the hotel, Mr. Sabbine remained behind. He knew that for one particular person the afternoon had been spoilt. She must have heard those words of the Horrocks’ woman, and as he made his way towards Max Spindler’s wife he wondered at the insensate vulgarity of the insular mind. Madame Spindler was fluttering her programme at him. She looked flushed.

“Oh, Sabbine, do I look murderous?”

She addressed him as Sabbine, and in the most English of voices, and with an impulsive and affectionate frankness. Mr. Sabbine raised her hand and kissed it. His little eyes twinkled.

“You did not know I was here. I am here. Max is better than ever.”

“Yes! isn’t he great. Where are you staying?”

Not for a moment would she confess that she had heard Mrs. Horrocks liken her husband to a pig. Her anger made her animated and pretty, like some inward glow, restrained and shaded.

“Where are you staying?”

“At the Victoria.”

“Oh, Sabbine, why? It is so—English.”

“And so are we, my dear, other English. Really, it amuses me. They think me a hideous and gross person, all greasy with the slime of war profits. It amuses me. You’ll come and dine?”

“There? Never!”

“Oh, yes, you will. We will amuse ourselves a little. Hallo, Max.”

The two ugly men shook hands.

“Better than ever, Max; better than ever.”

“Thanks to you.”

“Nonsense. I was telling Rose that you must dine with me. She says ‘never.’ ”

Spindler smiled at his wife.

“The applause did not satisfy her? Or the asides. You know, Sabbine, some of these people seem to think that the man at the piano is deaf. And I have such ears——”

He laughed and without bitterness.

“They present us with pig’s heads and bull’s heads.”

Sabbine patted his shoulder.

“You are a great artist, Max, and a master. He who can laugh at such people is—the master.”

They dined at the Victoria and the Victoria stared rather rudely. It was Blenkinsop who said: “Well, that’s a sight for the blind! The two ugliest fellahs in France. A couple of Calibans, what!” He chortled. “That Ike was rude to me. Tell him something? You bet I did. The woman with ’em ain’t so bad. Wonder she can feed with two such faces.” But not all the English were Horrocks—Blenkinsop. To a few Mr. Sabbine’s reputation had gained distinction.

Mr. Sabbine had an idea.

“Max, I want you to give a concert. My particular show.”

“I’ll play for you—always and anywhere.”

“In this hotel?”

The pianist looked surprised.

“If you wish it.”

“Good. It will be a concert—for three. By invitation. May I arrange?”

“I play for you always and anywhere.”

Mr. Sabbine inwardly chuckled, and next morning his car carried him up to the Villa Miramar, where a certain great gentleman lived. Mr. Sabbine sent in his card, and apparently the card was good value, for the man-servant returned to take Mr. Sabbine in charge.

“Will you come this way, sir, please.”

Mr. Sabbine was led into the garden, and along a pergola to a sunny space where a very tall man with a white head and a face the colour of old red brick was pottering about in his shirtsleeves. Mr. Sabbine stood with his hat off in the presence of this tall old man.

“Hallo, Sabbine. Glad to see you. Bought any more pictures lately?”

“A few, sir. A Goya, and one or two Dutch pieces.”

The great man put on his coat—a comfortable old coat. He was pleased to see Mr. Sabbine.

“Sit down. We are out of the wind here. Yes, there are some of the new irises I am trying. I have raised two rather charming hybrids of my own. I did not know you were here, Sabbine.”

“Why should you, sir?”

“Oh, well, some people are worth hearing about. I meant to have come down to Spindler’s concert yesterday, but I had a function. Were you there? But—of course—you would be there. How is Max?”

“Better than ever.”

“What did he play?”

Mr. Sabbine ran through the programme, and the great man smiled.

“I wish I had been there. Is he playing again here?”

“That is what I have come to see you about, sir. I am having an afternoon of my own. If you would do me the honour——”

“When is it?”

“To-morrow, sir, at the Victoria. Max has to be in Paris on Thursday.”

The great man gave Mr. Sabbine a droll frown. “The Victoria! But why? My dear Sabbine, the Victoria is so—so——”

“Exclusive, sir.”

“Those people distress me. At the Victoria I always feel covered with gold lace. But not a word.” Mr. Sabbine understood.

“The concert will be a private affair, sir. The audience will consist of three people. I am taking the ball-room because its sound effects are good. Max will play what you please.”

“Would he give me some Chopin?”

“You have only to express a wish, sir.”

“Splendid. What time, Sabbine?”

“Shall we say five o’clock, sir. Some tea in my suite—first. Max will give us an hour.”

“All to ourselves?”

“Yes; all to ourselves.”

“What a privilege!”

So Mr. Sabbine returned to the Hotel Victoria, and arranged with Monsieur Muller, the manager, for the hotel ball-room to be reserved from five o’clock till six-thirty on the afternoon of Wednesday. He said—“I think it would be as well, Mr. Muller, for you to keep the doors locked till five. Then—if you will place one of the porters on duty to see that no one without a card of invitation—intrudes. I hope you understand me?”

Monsieur Muller understood.

“It shall be arranged, sir. Will there be many people? I should wish to know the number of chairs.”

“Just three, Mr. Muller.”

“Three!”

“That number, exactly. I suggest arm-chairs. I am arranging to have a piano sent in.”

The Swiss put his heels together and bowed.

“Always at your service, Mr. Sabbine.”

But Mr. Sabbine, in staging his effect, perfected his atmosphere. He had a notice posted in the hall:

Mr. Max Spindler will give a piano recital in the hotel on the afternoon of Wednesday at five o’clock. Admission by ticket of invitation.

He bribed the head-porter and the maître d’hôtel, and gave them special instructions. The concert became gossip. It floated from table to table during dinner and lunch. Apparently it was to be a feeless affair—and exceptional.

Mrs. Horrocks thought of two or three acquaintances against whom she could wipe off an obligation. She called up the maître d’hôtel.

“Oh, Gustave, about this concert? Who is issuing the invitations?”

Gustave was bland and innocent.

“I do not know, madame. You had better apply to the head-porter.”

Mrs. Horrocks attacked the head-porter, who, equally and innocently ignorant, referred her to the hotel bureau. In the bureau they knew nothing—or nothing that was of any use to Mrs. Horrocks.

She pulled out Monsieur Muller.

“About this concert.”

“Yes, madame.”

“I want tickets.”

“It is by invitation, madame.”

“Yes, yes; but who is issuing the invitations?”

Monsieur Muller shrugged politely.

“It is a private affair. Doubtless madame will receive an invitation. I can say no more.”

Mrs. Horrocks felt opposition in the air, and inevitably she felt more and more determined to have her chair. With two or three friends she went down to the ball-room at a quarter to five, and found the glass doors locked, and a card with “Private,” affixed to them. The ball-room was empty.

She shook the doors.

“How impertinent! The management cannot exclude hotel residents. I shall go and see Muller.”

But Monsieur Muller had removed himself out of danger, and when Mrs. Horrocks and her party returned to the glass doors she found them still locked, and Gaston, the head-porter, on guard.

“About this concert——”

“Yes, madame?”

“I wish to know——”

Gaston was very polite.

“It is a private concert, madame. Only those——”

Mrs. Horrocks clicked her tongue, and peered through the glass doors.

“But—what’s this? Only three chairs!”

“Yes, madame. It is a very select concert.”

The Hotel Victoria was rather like a farmyard quickly infected by feathered agitation. There was nothing to get excited about, but that was just what the Hotel Victoria did get excited about. Mrs. Horrocks carried her grievance into the lounge where a great number of people were having tea, and selecting Colonel Blenkinsop, she addressed him publicly.

“I think it is a perfect scandal. Muller has locked us out of our ball-room because someone is giving a piano recital.”

Colonel Blenkinsop wiped his moustache.

“I thought it was a concert.”

“There are just three chairs. Perfectly disgraceful. If this German had been playing for charity, one would have said nothing. I shall complain to Muller. I think we ought to insist on being allowed to use that room.”

She gathered a party together and advanced once more upon Gaston and the glass doors of the ball-room. They heard the sound of a piano being played. Max Spindler had begun, for Mr. Sabbine’s party had gained the ball-room without passing through the lounge.

Mrs. Horrocks issued an order.

“Gaston, you will unlock that door.”

“It is not permitted, madame.”

“I insist!”

“Madame had better look.”

He stood aside, and Mrs. Horrocks and her supporters first saw a row of chairs at the far end of the ballroom, and on the chairs were seated a number of the hotel waiters, the valets, the chambermaids and some of the kitchen staff. A democratic affair! But not wholly so, for when Mrs. Horrocks turned her attention to the three arm-chairs that were placed in an alcove on the right of the pianist she saw Mr. Sabbine and the pianist’s wife, and a certain great gentleman.

Mrs. Horrocks’ lips moved, but no sound came from them. It was Colonel Blenkinsop who supplied the words.

“By George, the Duke! What the devil is he doin’ sittin’ with that fellah?”

Gaston, who was listening, dared to answer the question.

“It is a very select party, monsieur. Mr. Sabbine is a very great authority on art and music. He is intimate with His Highness.”

Colonel Blenkinsop made a sort of snarling noise in his throat.

“These Jews are the limit! What about a game before dinner?”

The amateur door-crashers returned to the lounge, where there was much conversation, a sibilant hissing, broken occasionally by shriller exclamations. Even the card-tables were conversational. A catastrophic thing happened. Mrs. Horrocks revoked. She was trying to explain away the catastrophe when somebody said: “Ssh!” and the lounge of the Hotel Victoria rose from its chairs. The Duke was passing through. He was walking with Mr. Sabbine, and he held Mr. Sabbine by the arm, and while acknowledging the salutes of the Hotel Victoria his shy and pleasant smile protested. “Oh, do, please, sit down. This sort of thing is not necessary. It is not a public occasion.” He stood talking to Mr. Sabbine in the vestibule, and the silent lounge listened.

“Yes—I know no pianist who has what I should call the mystic touch—as Max has it. That was a prophetic act of yours, Sabbine. Oh, yes, kindness. You collect more than pictures. You will come and dine with me to-morrow night?”

“It will be a great pleasure, sir.”

The Duke was helped on with his coat, and handed his scarf and hat. The doors were held open for him, and as he went out the lounge of the Hotel Victoria had a view of Mr. Sabbine’s fat back paying homage to a great gentleman.

Colonel Blenkinsop picked up the cards that had been left lying on the table.

He said:

“Well—I’m demned!”


THE IMMORTALS

The white steamer lay motionless for a moment in the broken blue of the sea. She had dropped a boat like a white shell that dipped and rolled in the swell beside her.

Two men were scrambling about the boat, unhitching the falls and poling off from the ship’s side. A third man lay on a mattress in the stern sheets—one man whose face looked all red and mottled, and who sucked his lips in and out as he breathed. He wore nothing but a white shirt and a pair of dark coloured trousers; his feet were bare.

The two men got the oars out and began to pull, the blades of the oars cutting white into the green-blue water under the ship’s side. Rows of faces looked down at them—silent, solemn faces. Something dramatic was happening, and happening quietly as things happen with the English in war or at sea. A woman began to cheer and to wave her handkerchief, and the cheer ran along those rows of solemn, staring masks.

“That’s what I call courage! Oh, good luck, good luck!” The woman had tears in her eyes.

“Damned plucky!”

An officer stood on the rail and waved his cap.

“Cheerio! The doc. is weeping because he can’t come with you. We’ll be quarantined—but we’ll send someone back.”

The rowers looked up and smiled.

“Cheerio!”

“Good-bye, Mr. Cumberledge. Bollard, I’m proud of you.”

Bollard spat into the sea.

“Let’s get out of the limelight, Mister,” he said, loving it all the same.

They pulled clear of the steamer, and saw the white chasm at her stern as the screws began to revolve. She glided away, a white shape between the blue of the sky and the angrier blue of the sea. Obeying some common impulse the two men rested on their oars and stared at her, Bollard with his flattened head and projecting jaw, Cumberledge long and lean, with breed in every line of him. Then they looked at the man lying on the mattress. He was conscious of nothing; his dusky face was a grotesque attachment to his heavy, breathless chest.

Bollard spat again into the sea.

“Come on,” he said.

They resumed their rowing—staring over the boat’s stern at the white hull of the steamer that seemed to be sinking more deeply into the blue of the sea. Neither of them spoke; they pulled in silence towards the purple outline of the rocky island which was to be a sort of lazar house, refuge and home. The wind came with an increasing whip out of the clear sky; white horses were showing, and sometimes the top of a wave slapped heavily against the boat’s stern.

Bollard turned to look over his shoulder.

“How fur’s that durned island?”

Cumberledge stopped rowing and turned his head, and the boat began to swing across the seas.

“Look out, Mister—keep on pulling.”

“Sorry, Bollard. It looks as though we had another mile or so yet.”

“That ain’t worrying me. It’s the getting ashore—with that thing.”

“There’s a strip of sand. Mr. Carter made sure of that—through his glasses.”

“Funny, ain’t it!” and Bollard nodded his head at the sick man on the mattress; “suppose he’ll be a stiff in a day or two.”

“Not much doubt about it, I’m afraid. It is one of the deadliest things on earth.”

Bollard meditated—his blue jerseyed back swinging steadily.

“Now, if we’d been dagos,” he said presently, “we should have dropped the feller into the sea—two days before he was due for heaven. But being British——”

“Just so,” said Cumberledge; “we don’t do that sort of thing.”

There was another length of silent rowing before Bollard turned his head.

“Say—Mister?”

“Yes?”

“D’you believe in that squirt of stuff the doc. gave us both?”

“A bit.”

“Durned if I do.”

The top of a wave spilled itself over the stern of the boat. The wind had freshened suddenly as though a big door had been opened in that hard blue sky, and Bollard gave an anxious cock of the chin.

“The sooner we get ashore the better. Queer sea—this. I’ve known squalls drop on you—out of nothing—like a bucket of water. Keep her steady. Put yer back into it, Mister.”

They rowed hard, and Cumberledge—landsman that he was—noticed a peculiar and abrupt change in the surface of the sea. The troughs between the waves seemed broader and deeper, and the waves themselves had a steeper and more menacing curl. He heard Bollard grunt expressively.

“Shallow water. There must be a durned reef round the b—— island. Look out, Mister, or we’ll be swamped.”

“Can you swim, Bollard?”

“Not a yard.”

Suddenly the boat jarred under them—swung round broadside to the seas—heeled over and filled. A wave caught her and rolled her right over.


Cumberledge lay panting on a flat rock just beyond the suck of the sea. His last three minutes had been spent in a chaotic struggle among the breakers that rumbled and splashed on a broken edged headland that jutted into the sea. The end of his long swim had found him fighting to make the strip of sand—but the set of the sea had carried him round the headland to the rocks.

He lay there, conscious only of exhaustion and a most damnable pain in his left leg. In his scramble up the rocks he had caught his left foot in a deep crevice, and the next wave had knocked him over, and the bones had given just above the ankle. His clothes were torn; his body felt one great bruise, and he had swallowed a lot of salt water.

For quite a long while he lay there in a semi-dazed state, with the sunlight beating on him, and the wind blowing flakes of spray over his body.

Presently he raised his head. The man in him revived. He began to work his way up the slope of the headland—dragging his left foot and cursing it. He crawled beyond the reach of the spray, and gained a little hollow on the top low headland; he was in the sun here and out of the wind, and he could see along the curve of towing sand strung between his headland and the next. But the climb and the pain had exhausted him. His head went down again.

He felt shocked, vastly discouraged, ready almost to weep. What an ending to a day of stiff-lipped courage! Poor Bollard dead—and the dying man soused in the sea! He had had no glimpse of Bollard since the over-turning of the boat—though he had swum round and round for a while, looking for him, and he guessed that the sailor had been stunned and had sunk in the deep water beyond the reef. And what a prospect for himself, marooned with a broken leg on an island that he believed to be deserted, foodless, waterless, without shelter!

Everything had been lost with the boat. What a futile sacrifice! They might just as well have dropped that moribund mass of infection over the ship’s side into the sea.

Again he raised his head and his manhood stiffened itself. Sunset had come, and behind the sky was a sheet of orange above the deep sombreness of the sea. He blinked, closed his eyes, opened them again, and raised an astonished head above the ledge of rock. He stared. Then he closed his eyes, and kept them closed for half a minute. But when he opened them again, the thing was still there; it had come nearer.

Cumberledge saw two figures in the sands. One figure lay half on the sand and half in the wash of the sea—a figure in a white shirt and dark breeches, and most obviously dead. The other was a thing of life—amazing, incredible—the figure of a girl running wild upon the sands. Cumberledge saw her as a vivid and brilliant creature; a little distant figure that glowed and raced at the edge of the sea.

She came nearer. It was obvious to Cumberledge that she had not seen the dead body lying on the shore, for a ridge of black rock jutted up just beyond it. He was absorbed in watching the girl, and as she came nearer, sometimes running with arms spread, sometimes taking a few quick steps that were like the steps of a dance, he was fascinated by her strangeness. She looked like a girl of three thousand years ago, some dark-haired child of Minoan Crete.

Her shoulders and arms were bare. Her bodice was red, her skirt an emerald green. She had a green fillet about her hair, great gold earrings, and a massive, barbaric chain of red beads dangling from her neck. And she wore sandals made of some stuff that glittered in the sunlight.

Cumberledge closed his eyes.

“It can’t be true,” he said to himself; “I must have had a knock on the head.”

He reopened his eyes and saw her close to the wall of black rock. She gave a little run, and rising like a bird, stood poised upon a flat boulder. For a moment she remained utterly still, save for the flutter of her green skirt. She had seen the body lying on the sands.

It was impossible for Cumberledge even to suspect that though she appeared most strange to him, the dead man appeared to her far more strange and impossible. He saw her leap down from the rock, run quickly towards the body and then stop. Her pose as of terror, of astonishment, of immense wonder. He saw her move forward step by step, shirkingly, one arm rigid—the four fingers spread—her other hand at her throat. She was close to the dead man’s head and looking down at him. Every part of her seemed to quail.

A vivid phrase came into his head.

“Life discovers Death!”

A moment later he had raised his head and was shouting to her.

“Keep away—keep away.”

She did not hear him, for the noise of the sea drowned his voice; nor need he have feared that she would touch the body of the man who had died of pneumonic plague, for she turned and fled with arms spread like the white wings of a bird.

Cumberledge felt dashed. He had a personal interest in life, and a broken leg that called for sympathy; night was coming on and he had no wish to spend it lying in the wind on the cold face of a rock. He hollowed his hands about his mouth and hailed her again. He saw her pause—only to realize that it was not his shout that had slowed her sandalled feet.

A second figure had appeared, the figure of a man. He had come over the further headland, and as the evening sunlight played upon him he looked like a tiny figure of gold. Cumberledge saw the girl run towards him and cling to him like a frightened child.

Then she pointed—and drew him by the hand—but for a minute or more they remained there, and even their gestures seemed strange. They were freer, more dramatic, more human than the gestures of the moderns and made Cumberledge think of two figures in a Greek tragedy. He forgot his broken leg in watching them, and their slow advance along the sands. The girl was clasping the man’s right arm—while he walked like a troubled Zeus treading the stately earth, a Zeus whom some Promethean treachery had angered. His hair and beard were a tawny gold; his loose cloak and tunic were of the same colour, and he wore sandals like the girl.

“I suppose I—do—see them?” thought Cumberledge, feeling his head.

He turned his eyes towards the body of Steel Maitland.

“That’s real. And the girl saw it. They must be real.”

When he looked again they were close to the black ridge of rock that screened the body. The man climbed it and went on, but the girl remained poised upon a rock—her arms folded over her bosom.

Cumberledge got on his knees, waved, and shouted:

“Keep away from that body.”

Again the noise of the great sea drowned his voice; but the girl saw his waving arm and his head and shoulders outlined against the yellow sky. She gave a cry. The man in gold turned and saw her pointing hand. For a moment he stood at gaze, and then walked slowly forward towards the headland. The girl followed him. He suffered her to come with him as far as the rocks—but there he motioned her back.

“Stay here, Ariadne.”

Cumberledge heard the words, and thrilled. The man had spoken in classic Greek.

His head appeared above the top of the rocks, a fine head, strangely young yet venerable, with sea-blue eyes that were clouded and angry, and for a moment these two men looked at each other with curiosity and mistrust.

“I should not come too close, sir,” said Cumberledge in English.

He was surprised when the man replied in English that was as English as his own.

“What are you doing here? No one is allowed to land on this island.”

His solemnity was epic. He looked like a god questioning a slave. His yellow, Zeus-like head seemed to have passed through life without any sound of laughter. It was Cumberledge who laughed. He could not help seeing the man as a clerified and superhuman squire asking some river party how they had dared to land on his island.

And then he was ashamed of his laughter. There was something in the man’s eyes that sobered him.

“I beg your pardon. Our boat was upset, and one of the men with me drowned. We did not know whether there was anyone on this island. Didn’t you see our steamer?”

The man regarded him steadily, and then looked out to sea.

“There is no steamer.”

“No—she dropped us. By the way—does the girl understand English?”

The man nodded.

“Well—I think you had better send her away. If she is your daughter——”

“Ariadne——!”

Her immense seriousness, her dark-eyed wonder, changed to a sudden smile. She turned quickly and disappeared. They heard her sandals on the rocks—and when Cumberledge saw her again she was walking slowly along the sands. Once or twice she turned and looked back.

“She is more obedient than I was,” said Cumberledge.

The man’s blue eyes flared.

“Now! Have you any excuses—anything to plead?”

Cumberledge looked at him in astonishment. If ever he had dreamed of an angry and outraged god——!

“I don’t understand you——”

“I am going to throw you back into the sea.”

For the moment, Cumberledge thought that the man was mad, and yet his face was not the face of a madman. It betrayed—rather—a calm wrath, a vast resentment against the mischance that had thrown a dead man and a live man upon this island. His eyes were lucid and steady. He meant what he said.

“That’s very hospitable of you!”

Cumberledge gave a cracked smile, and turned to ease his broken leg.

“But—before you throw me back into the sea—and by the way—I have got a broken leg—may I explain how and why I happened to land on your island?”

The man sat down on a flat rock.

“Be quick,” he said.

“Thank you. My name is Cumberledge; I was a passenger on the Otranto, and bound for England. Three or four days ago my cabin companion fell sick; it turned out to be pneumonic plague. The news leaked through the ship and there was something like a panic. Well, to be brief—another man and myself volunteered to take the fellow off the ship—land on one of these islands, and run an isolation hospital for one. We might develop the disease; we had to chance that—and we chanced it. As it happened—our boat upset on that reef—the sailor with me was drowned; so was our patient. That’s him—there.”

He nodded towards the body on the darkening sands. The sky had lost its warm flush and the sea had changed to amethyst. The man turned his head and looked at the dead man who had been washed ashore—and the wind seemed to blow more coldly.

“So, you will observe, sir, that I did not land on your island for a picnic. Also, I would suggest that I am an infected person, and that in throwing me into the sea, you might inbreathe the infection.”

He ended with a touch of fierceness, sarcasm. The man sat very still on his rock, his yellow hair and beard turning to a ghostly silver. Presently, he spoke.

“Is that a threat?”

“I should call it a warning.”

They eyed each other in the dusk and, somehow, Cumberledge felt that the other man had softened, that his inexplicable anger had entered a shadow of perplexity.

“By the way—it would interest me to know what sin I have committed in being washed ashore on this island?”

The man seemed to reflect.

“The sin of bringing death where no death is.”

“You mean——?”

“Man,” and his voice had a fierce solemnity, “you have blundered in upon a great experiment. That dead thing down there has spoilt the work of twenty years.”

Cumberledge’s pale face strained out of the dusk.

“Do you mean to say that nothing has ever died on this island?”

“Not since I have been here.”

“And your daughter——?”

“She does not know that there is such a thing as death. I have brought her up to believe that we go on living and living for a thousand years, and that then—the Great Messenger comes for us. I wanted to see whether the body would grow old, when the soul did not know that old age—as we know it—and death, existed.”

“But, good heavens, man,” said Cumberledge, “what about heredity, the habit of millions of years?”

“I am a mystic. The body is for the soul, not the soul for the body.”

He looked over the darkening sea, and then he turned to Cumberledge.

“How old do you think I am?”

“You look forty-five.”

“I am seventy, and my daughter is thirty.”

“She looks eighteen.”

“Exactly. I expect to live another thirty years, and I expected the girl to look just as she is now, thirty years hence. But you, and that body——”

“Look here,” said Cumberledge a little testily; “do you mean to tell me that nothing has died here, that she has never seen a dead bird or a dead animal?”

“There are no birds and no animals on the island.”

“Fish, then?”

“I have never seen a dead fish.”

“And there are just you two?”

“I have three servants.”

“And how would you explain, then, to your daughter, supposing——?”

“She believes that they are nearly a thousand years old.”

“And they pretend——?”

“Yes. There are reasons.”

“But how do you live?”

“On fruit and vegetables. Twice a year a ship calls, and we land stores in our boat, but the sailors never come ashore. Of course, I have had to pay, and pay heavily.”

It grew darker, and they could no longer see the body on the sands.

“It seems to me,” said Cumberledge, “that the solution of the difficulty is very simple, I mean, the explaining of that dead body. He was a thousand years old, and the Great Messenger had come for his soul.”

The man made a movement of the head.

“Then—there is me.”

“Yes, there is you.”

They looked at each other steadily in the dusk, this Englishman and this neo-Greek who once had been an Englishman. There was a sense of struggle and of perplexity; the present became penetrated by the past.

“Let us consider,” said Cumberledge, “the idea of your pitching me back into the sea. The trouble is that the girl has seen me—very much alive.”

The man sat with bowed head.

“Wait,” he said; “be patient—a moment. Something is speaking inside me——!”

He stood up; he seemed strangely agitated. Then, he clambered down the rocks and began to walk up and down on the sand. He was visible to Cumberledge as a dim, moving shape, a ghost, troubled, distracted. The stars were shining; the wind seemed to blow less keenly.

Presently, he came climbing back to where Cumberledge lay.

“Your father was at Trinity?”

“Yes.”

“He rowed in the Cambridge boat?”

“That’s true.”

“So did I.”

There was a pause, tense with significance.

“My name is Ringwood,” said the man; “you may have heard it.”

Cumberledge had heard it.

“Not the Ringwood, Lord Test——?”

“Yes, twenty years ago—I was that.”

Cumberledge sat silent. Young man that he was that name was known to him, a name that had drawn to itself a little world of mystery and tragic strangeness. He had heard old gossips at the “clubs” speak of the “Ringwood affair,” and of the tales that were told of its vague aftermath. No one had ended the tale in the same way. Ringwood was alive and he was dead; he had disappeared in Central Africa; he had been last heard of in Thibet; he had died of drink in Paris. Some men still remembered him as the scholar, the traveller, the collector of old books and of precious stones, the great gentleman, the maker of gardens, and the planter of trees.

“I see,” said Cumberledge in a hushed voice; “I see.”

Ringwood was standing and looking down at him.

“The easiest way would be for me to take you on my back,” he said.

Cumberledge gave a jerk of the chin.

“What! You mean——?”

“I have a garden-house on the edge of my wood of cypresses and pines. You could be isolated there; no one else need come near you.”

There was a short, tense silence. Then Cumberledge spoke.

“It can’t be done,” he said.

“It must be done,” said the other.

He came close, but Cumberledge put up a hand.

“No, stand off. If you could rig up a shelter or something in the sands, and bring food and water, and lash up this leg of mine, I could manage.”

A calm but stubborn voice answered him out of the darkness.

“Is that our tradition? No. You were ready to risk your life for the sake of a lot of strangers. What do you think your father would have done in my place? The moon will be up soon.”

“But, look here, sir, what about the others, your daughter?”

“That will be arranged. The servants will not come too near to the garden-house. They will leave us food.”

Cumberledge half rose on one knee.

“Us! You are not going to——?”

“That is just what I am going to do.”

“But your theory—the living-for-ever idea——?”

“Life is stronger than theories, Cumberledge, so is tradition, sometimes. I realized that—an hour ago when I was down there on the sands.”


The sun shone full on the garden-house, but Cumberledge lay in the shade. He looked out between pillars of white stone at the house standing in the valley below, surrounded by its gardens, and for its background the blue of the sea. It was not such a house as northern Europe knows, but a thing of the old Ægean life, and Cumberledge could see its white porticoes and colonnades shining behind the cypresses and pines. A tiny stream coming down from the hills was caught in great cisterns of white marble. Everywhere the water had been led into little murmuring channels among the orange groves, and between the vines Cumberledge could hear nothing but the trickle of the water, and the sighing of the wind in the cypresses and pines. A life that was thousands of years old, a life that seemed capable of going on for ever.

And yet this air of permanency was an illusion, and Cumberledge knew it to be an illusion. He lay and wondered what Ringwood thought—the Zeus of this little island who had had rugs spread under the shade of a pine, and who sat and slept there, and talked. Two days had gone by, and it seemed to Cumberledge that Ringwood had grown suddenly and perceptibly older, that he had withered slightly in a night. Was it possible that Time, his seventy years, had suddenly overtaken him?

And the girl?

Daily, she came as far as the low stone wall that divided the wood and the wilderness from the garden. There was a stone seat here under the shade of the tree, and she would sit there and watch the two men as though she was trying to understand something, to fathom their secret. Cumberledge felt that she had begun to realize that there was a secret. He conceived an immense pity for her, and something more than pity. This father of hers had dreamed of giving her a sort of perennial youth, a beautiful, cold immaturity. Was such a youth desirable? Had he not withheld from her the real food of the immortals, love, pain, sacrifice?

Sometimes she sang to them, touching the strings of her zither; sometimes she talked; for the seat was less than thirty paces away, and in that serene stillness the voice carried far. Cumberledge understood that she had been forbidden to come nearer, and that she had accepted Ringwood’s orders as she had accepted life upon the island. Yet she, too, had changed. Her eyes had begun to question things. There were moments when they betrayed resentment, impatience; the impatience of a child who is learning to ask questions, the resentment of the woman who demands that they shall be answered.

Very often the eyes of these two met with questioning significance across that space of thyme and lavender.

“Oh, stranger, what art thou?”

“Ariadne, I am life and death.”

The servants brought food, wine and water, and left them half-way between the garden-house and the garden. They were quiet, softly-moving, sombre creatures dressed in some coarse white material, and looking like old Cistercian monks. Cumberledge never heard them speak. Their eyes regarded Ringwood as though he were no common man, but a clean god and a master.

Two more days slipped by, and Cumberledge had listened to all the mystical philosophy that had filled the life of this strange exile. On the fifth day he noticed a change in Ringwood’s voice, it seemed flatter and less vital, less full of confidence. He appeared restless; his blue eyes had lost their tranquility. In the cool of the evening he disappeared, and darkness was falling before he returned, walking slowly and with a suggestion of effort.

Cumberledge heard him cough. That most prosaic of sounds was the opening note of the tragedy.

He sat down a few yards from the door of the garden-house, and Cumberledge could hear him breathing, and it was the breathing of physical distress.

“Ringwood,” he said, “what is wrong?”

The doomed man remained very still.

“It has come,” he answered, “and it has come suddenly. I have been deciding what I ought to do.”

“Good God!” said Cumberledge, sitting up, “forgive me.”

Ringwood stretched out an expressive hand.

“It is fate—my message. Listen to what I have to say. Let us look at things calmly. This disease kills, and kills quickly. Yet—I should be lying there on those rugs, a thing sodden with fever, delirious, unconscious. What would happen? The child would come to me. Nothing, no persuasion would be able to keep her away. She would catch the disease and die.”

He spoke very calmly yet with tragic tenderness.

“That must not happen. You, you, when the thing has passed over, will have to tell her——”

“Man, what do you mean?”

“You will have to tell her the truth, for I shall not be here.”

And then, he stretched out his hands eloquently, pleadingly, with infinite meaning.

“Cumberledge, I have loved this child, and perhaps too well. Perhaps, I have been wrong; perhaps I have made her life too much that of a beautiful figure in a case of glass. I appeal to you, the son of my old friend. She will not lack anything of the grosser things of life, but you can give her what I can no longer give.”

He bowed his head, and seemed to struggle for breath.

“Love,” he said—and lost his voice in a spasm of coughing—“the most sacred of all things, the immortal fire.”

He covered his head with his arms and stood up.

“Promise——”

“I promise. But, Ringwood——”

“The truth, tell her——”

“I will try. But, man, what is in your mind——?”

Explicit,” said Ringwood suddenly, and passed into the darkness out of Cumberledge’s view.

Cumberledge sat and trembled. He could hear a rustling sound as though a man were groping for something among the bushes.

“Ringwood,” he called. “Ringwood, where are you——?”

The shadowy figure reappeared; it had something dark, like a loose bundle on its shoulder.

“I shall burn these,” it said, “down by the shore—the rugs and blankets. Man—remember.”

He drew back and disappeared; but Cumberledge called after him in a voice of tragedy:

“Ringwood, come back. Where are you going?”

There was no answer. Cumberledge sat and listened, overwhelmed by a sense of his own helplessness. He knew Ringwood had gone to the sea.


It was the most perfect dawn that Cumberledge ever remembered, an enchanted, Homeric dawn of purple and gold. The motionless cypresses stood as black spires against the changing sapphire of the sea. There was no wind, no movement; nothing but a solemn ecstasy of silence, a beautiful sadness in the eyes of the day’s joy.

And Cumberledge waited. He had lain awake half the night, had watched the stars grow pale and night snatching her dark robe from off the sea. He was wondering what he would say to Ariadne, how he would tell her, what she would do.

Presently he saw one of the servants come up from the garden with the morning’s meal in two Samian bowls. Cumberledge called to him.

“Andrew——”

The man set the bowls down on a patch of grass, and stood staring. He saw that the rugs had gone, and that his master was not there.

“Andrew, did your master tell you why none of you were to come near us?”

“No, sir.”

“It was because I had come from a ship in which there had been a deadly disease. He wished no one else to face the danger of taking it. The disease has passed me over; but last night your master sickened.”

The man looked scared.

“He has taken his bed away, sir.”

Cumberledge was leaning forward, his face tense and lined.

“Andrew, I believe that your master has drowned himself; he did it so that your mistress shall be safe. Go, all three of you, and search the island; make sure. But say nothing to her.”

The man’s face was like a tragic mask.

“That was like him,” he said; “he was more of a god than a man.”

An hour passed, and Cumberledge lay back and waited, his eyes fixed on the two Samian bowls, one of which held the mortal food that Ringwood would taste no more. He had drunk the wine of self-sacrifice; he was with the immortals; the Samian bowl was for the living, not for the dead.

Presently Cumberledge heard a voice, the voice of a girl singing as she came up through the garden.

“Dear God!” he thought, “and I must tell her that it was I who brought death to this island!”

As she climbed the steps he saw her dark beauty rise against the green of the cypresses and the blue of the sea. She stood there, looking across the white portico of the garden-house, her hands clasped behind her head, a Greek girl, a woman, a child.

Cumberledge called to her, softly.

“Ariadne.”

She dropped her hands, smiled and came across to him through the knee-deep lavender and thyme, and when she saw the two Samian bowls with the food in them untouched she paused, surprised.

“You have had no food, neither you nor my father.”

He saw her glance pass to the place where Ringwood’s bed had been.

“The bed has gone!”

Cumberledge was sitting up, watching her between the stone pillars.

“Ariadne,” he said, “I have something to say to you. Your father left a message for you.”

Her eyes were fixed on him, they seemed to grow larger, to fill themselves with darkness. Her body lost its flowing youthfulness and grew rigid.

“I do not understand.”

“The Great Messenger——” he said.

For one moment she remained very still, then she flung herself down on the scented maquis. Her arms were folded over her head, her face buried in the grey foliage; she did not move or utter a sound, but lay there like a mourner in a temple stretched at the feet of her god. And into the silence came the figure of the man Andrew. He looked at Cumberledge and made a sign, and Cumberledge understood.

The man vanished, but Ariadne did not move. Cumberledge sat and watched her, wondering whether it was time to speak. Yet, while he was hesitating, she raised herself a little; he could see her dark hair but not her face.

“He did not say good-bye to me,” she said.

The seal of a perplexed silence fell from the man’s lips.

“Ariadne, have you never heard of death?”

Her sombre eyes lifted to his.

“Death! What is death?”

“The Great Messenger. He called your father, and your father heard him. Death comes for us all. Listen, and I will tell you.”

She lay curled up like a wounded thing, listening, half-hidden in the scented bushes. Cumberledge spoke very simply, just as he would have spoken to a child. He told her the truth—that most difficult of all things to tell.

“It was I who brought death here—thinking to save other lives. Your father saved me, and when the Great Messenger came for him he went like the great man that he was. He did not stay to say good-bye to you, for if he had stayed death might have taken you also. He did not wish you to die.”

She stood up; she turned away and went slowly down towards the garden, her arms hanging limply. She disappeared down the steps and was lost in a grove of cypresses, but presently Cumberledge heard her voice utter one wailing bitter cry. Then there was silence, a silence that hurt his heart.

“How she must hate me!” he thought.

His own helplessness exasperated him. His glance lighted again on the two Samian bowls standing on the patch of grass in the morning sunlight. He remembered that he had not eaten, and realized that his fast could not last for ever.

“God helps those . . .” he thought, and sat considering his splinted leg and how best he could crawl to fetch his food. He was in the very act of moving himself from the mattress that was laid upon the floor when he saw Ariadne reascending the steps that led from the garden. She came forward, bent down, picked up one of the Samian bowls and carried it towards the portico.


THE HARMLESS SATYR

I saw him first in the Kursaal at Clareux.

He arrived at the moment when Herr Muller, the first violin and director of the orchestra, had paused to give his head a toss before attacking Wienawski’s sonata. The place was crowded. Very tall and very pale, and wearing a black plush hat that was rather too small for him, he searched shyly for a vacant chair. In one hand he clutched a pair of black kid gloves; the other held a white paper bag that might have contained half a dozen very fragile eggs. He was both deprecating and dignified. Obviously he did not desire to disturb either the orchestra or the audience, but he did wish to get seated and to submerge himself in the crowd.

The head waitress insinuated herself between the tables. She managed to attract his attention. She was a very capable young woman with a nose and a forehead and a chin that shone as though she polished them with one of those velvet pads that are used for adding gloss to a glacé shoe.

“You will find a chair here, monsieur.”

He appeared immensely relieved. He gave her a little stiff bow, and a gentle smile. She disposed of him in a chair by one of the pillars. He placed his gloves and the paper bag on a table, removed his black plush hat, and held it to his chest for a moment before tucking it away under the table. His pallor was remarkable; it was a kind of gentle, dim greyness as though he had lived for years in a sort of twilight world.

Herr Muller was tossing his head and acknowledging the applause when Major Jeremy caught my eye.

“See that fellow?”

“The gentleman with the paper bag?”

“That’s it. Anything strike you?”

Quite a number of things had struck me. At five-and-fifty one is either very dead or very alive. Being a woman—and quite undomesticated—I continued to find the world absurdly interesting. Moreover, I had just come from Rome, and my Rome is always the Rome of the ancients. I go back to the marble nymphs and fauns, the naked girls and gods and satyrs. They refresh one. They belong to the years when life was very much younger. And in the cloisters of the Baths of Diocletian I had been amused and intrigued by a particular piece of statuary.

“It’s quite absurd,” I said.

Major Jeremy cocked an eye at me from under a bushy white eyebrow.

“German, or Austrian?”

“Oh, that’s too modern and superfluous. A living satyr.”

He tapped a cigarette on the table.

“That’s it! I was groping. Pan in a plush hat.”

“But a very gentle Pan.”

Why the ancients should have assigned that particular type of face to Pan and his creatures I do not know. Its expression may be brutal and sensual, but it can also express gentleness and humour and a kind of naïve sympathy with birds and beasts. Yet it seemed to me that the man disturbed the very conventional people who were seated near him, just as the odour of a white man is unpleasing to a negro or an Arab. I saw a woman edge her chair away. And I think he must have been aware of the curious repugnance he inspired, that he was familiar with it, and pained by it, and unable to understand it. It explained both his dignity and his air of gentle and sad shyness. He was the cause of an unhappy physical flinching among his fellows, just because puckish Nature had endowed him with a particular cast of countenance.

Even old Jeremy was susceptible to it.

“Sinister looking beggar.”

I did not agree with him.

“It’s a mask,” I said. “Try and look a bit deeper.”

“I don’t know that I want to.”

Even the much polished head waitress appeared moved to treat the man with severity. He had ordered a cup of chocolate. The white paper bag reposed upon the table, and the woman objected to the bag and its probable contents. There happened to be a lull in the conversation, and I heard what passed.

“Monsieur will excuse me, but visitors are not permitted to bring food with them.”

His pale eyelashes flickered.

“It is not for myself, madame. Biscuits—biscuits for the birds.”

He went so far as to open the bag and show her the contents, and she gazed down at it and at him a little scornfully. She was a full-blooded young woman, and this pale creature with his bag of biscuits and his shy and wayward eyes must have seemed to her both uninteresting and futile.

I glanced at old Jeremy. He was a very quick person who resented unnecessary questions.

“A bag of biscuits for the little birds! A St. Francis disguised as Pan.”

“Why not? A bag of shot is your ideal.”

He smiled at me.

“Used to be. I’m not so fond of killing things—as I was.”

Life may be little more than a series of glimpses, and I had my glimpses of the man in the black plush hat. He came daily to the Kursaal, but he refrained from introducing his paper bag. No one ever spoke to him, save the waitress who brought him his tea or his chocolate. It was both obvious that he was a lover of music and that he understood it, but it seemed to me that music did not satisfy him. I would catch him looking wistfully at his fellow humans, as though he felt his isolation, and was hungry for human sympathy. So eager did he appear to exchange a few words with someone that I saw him pause and try to talk to the very dry and polite person in a blue coat who sat at the bureau just inside the door.

Obviously, he was a very lonely creature, though he looked no more than forty. His height—he was six feet or more—made him all the more noticeable, and he held himself very straight like a Prussian prisoner refusing to bend. He was very fair. His pale blue eyes looked at the world as though they asked for everything and nothing, and concealed their yearning behind a mute and deprecating mildness.

I christened him the Harmless Satyr.

Once or twice I found him standing by the edge of the lake, a solitary and very black figure surrounded by seagulls. He was feeding them with broken biscuits from a paper bag, throwing the pieces up in the air, and smiling as the birds swooped to catch them. I felt very much tempted to stop and speak to him, but he appeared so absorbed in feeding the creatures that I left him alone with them. Moreover, the gull is a bird I fail to appreciate. I mislike the coldness of its eye.

Major Jeremy had missed three afternoons at the Kursaal. I supposed that he had had one of his attacks of asthma, and was fuming and wheezing and re-reading the old magazines in the hotel lounge, but on the Saturday he turned up at the Kursaal wearing a new suit.

Does a man ever cease to be susceptible? I believe old Jeremy had three love affairs per year, and bought a new suit whenever the divine occasion had arrived. He looked at me with his brazen blue eyes, just like a guilty and self-pleased boy, and sat down, and beckoned to the waitress.

“You’ll tea with me to-day.”

I said that I would, provided he would allow me to eat nothing but brown bread and butter.

“You’re so Spartan, dear lady. Do you really like it?”

“Of course I do.”

He gave the waitress his order as though he were paying her a compliment.

“Oh, by the way, remember that German chap?”

“My Harmless Satyr?”

“I say, that’s a good name. The fellow is staying at my hotel.”

The coincidence would have lacked either significance or interest had not Jeremy gone on to comment upon the H.S.’s isolation.

“Not a soul will speak to him. If he goes and sits in a corner—he has that corner to himself.”

“But why?”

“Well, he’s a German—you see, and it isn’t so very long since the war.”

“But—in Switzerland——?”

“Clareux is a sort of little England. Ninety per cent. of the “Grand” is English, the rest French or Belgian. And then—you know—the fellow has a rather queer physiognomy. The English like things just so.”

“I know we do. But a poor lonely creature with the eyes of a lost dog, a man who feeds the birds, and wears a pathetic hat——!”

“Dear lady, it may be the hat——”

“Oh, I know, the heinousness of hats!”

The tea arrived, and when I had poured out Jeremy’s cup he gave me one of his droll, kind glances.

“Well—anyway—I spoke to the chap.”

“Good for you.”

“His name’s Halberg—Heinrich Halberg. My German is as formless as a haggis, but he has plenty of English. I thought he was going to kiss me.”

“That’s an exaggeration.”

“Granted. But—do you know—I rather took to the chap. He’s got a sort of natural niceness. He doesn’t splurge. He has dignity.”

A somewhat creamy cake occupied his attention for the moment, and I thought what a pet he was, with his brick-red face, and his air of fierceness, and his very generous heart. He had the old English phlegm.

His blue eyes stared under their white eyebrows.

“That fellow has had a very bad time—dear lady. That’s my feeling about him. He gives you the impression of having been bled white. I never thought that a German would offer me a cigar, and that I should take it.”

“And the cigar——?”

“Minx!” he said. “Oh—perfect. But—hallo——”

He glanced up and I saw the Harmless Satyr not two yards from our table. He bowed to Jeremy, and he bowed with a kind of grave shyness to me. I saw Jeremy’s moustache twitch, a sign that mischief was in the air. He got up and introduced us.

“Herr Halberg—Miss Fraser.”

I found myself suggesting that Herr Halberg should take the third chair.

His grey face lit up. The pallor of it was actually suffused with pink. He gave me a second little bow, holding his plush hat to his chest. His pale blue eyes had a kind of Northern innocence.

“You are very kind. I accept.”

His English was good, and later I was to learn that his French was almost as good as his English. He sat down, and he gave me a proof of his sensitive restraint, for the orchestra began to play “Madame Butterfly,” and with one courteous little explanatory smile, he sat silent and still, enjoying the music. His very stillness was a thing of breeding. He did not fidget or attempt to be self-consciously appreciative. He just sat there and listened.

With Muller distributing his acknowledging bows Jeremy thought it time to make a remark. For an Englishman he was very patient when an orchestra was attacking.

“That fellow’s an artist. Always looks rather ill—though——”

I saw Herr Halberg press his pale lips together, and I suddenly remembered that Muller had been a prisoner in Russia during the war, and that the conversation might verge upon the painful, so I asked Halberg whether he would take tea or chocolate.

He blushed.

“Oh, no—you must not give me tea. Though I have the honour of your kindness——”

He made a sign to the waitress, and ordered himself a cup of chocolate, and turning to me began to talk music until he realized that Jeremy knew nothing about music save that he liked it tuneful. His divergence was instant. Were we fond of flowers? And had we seen the crocus fields? Jeremy had the Englishman’s passion for flowers, so all was well.

Like many sensitive people I follow my intuitions, and my intuition told me that my Harmless Satyr was the gentlest of creatures. Being old enough to be his mother I could observe and study him without the prejudices of a mother or the merciless severity of a young girl. His Nature God was of the North. He had the Northerner’s blue-eyed and dreamy romanticism. Tear an illusion from him and he would instantly possess himself of another. Besides, you cannot deprive a man of music and birds and mountains unless you shut him up in a prison, and even in prison his Northern imagination will find the grey mists and the sea.

But that was what had happened to Halberg. He had been a prisoner, and a Russian prisoner, a white man in a land of red slime. I did not know it then, but he was to tell me about it later, though he did not tell me the whole of it. He told that to Jeremy, as man to man, for Russia was a red rag to Jeremy. “Better at butchery than soldiering.” He said that he did not understand the Russian and did not want to understand him.

But I was to be brought to see my Harmless Satyr in a different situation, and to get my glimpse of the man as God may have seen him. I love poking about in the picturesque back streets of the continental towns, and the old parts of Clareux had to be searched for up steep lanes and along grey passages, and I was exploring what was a mere donkey track on the hillside below Guyon when I chanced upon Halberg in a singular situation.

He was standing outside a little stone cottage, holding his plush hat in one hand and some money in the other. He was being harangued with emphasis by a very square and confident Swiss woman. On the front of the cottage hung a bird’s cage, the wire door of which was open.

I effaced myself in a deep doorway.

“It is not a question of money, monsieur,” the Swiss woman was saying. “You have interfered with our property——”

I listened. I gathered that there had been a goldfinch in that cage, and that Halberg—deliberately—had opened the door of the cage and let the bird out. Afterwards he had knocked up the woman, told her what he had done, and had offered her the price of the bird.

But she would have none of his money. She protested that the bird had been a great pet, and Halberg put his money away, but still stood with his hat in his hand.

“Madame—I—too—have been a prisoner. Until one has been shut up behind wire—one does not understand. You will forgive me—but I cannot bear now to see a bird in a cage.”

“But it was not your bird, monsieur.”

“Are the birds and the beasts our slaves, madame?” he asked.

I came out of my doorway. Halberg had produced a fountain pen and an envelope, and was writing down the woman’s name and her address.

“I hope you will permit me to make some little recompense, madame. I wish to.”

Then he saw me and blushed. He had put on his hat. He raised it to me, and including the Swiss woman in the salute, paused for a moment to hand her his card.

“If you wish to take proceedings, madame——”

Obviously she did not. You could not be angry with the man, and she shrugged her shoulders and smiled, and Halberg came down the path to join me, still carrying his hat, and looking shy.

“Is it not strange,” he said, “that good people who feed wild birds in winter will yet shut up a wild bird in a cage.”

I supposed that it was due to our childish egotism, and he adjusted his plush hat, and for a moment looked as fierce as it was possible for him to look.

“Yes, our egotism. I suppose it is egotism—even when I cannot bear to see a bird in a cage, and must let the creature out. Do I do it to please myself? No—I think not—not wholly. I do feel for the bird.”

“I’m sure you do. Have you opened many cages in Clareux?”

“Three: A blackbird, a linnet, and a goldfinch. They will not miss this spring.”

There was emotion in his voice. He walked beside me, erect, courteous, serious, yet his eyes seemed to be watching the happy flutterings of some liberated bird.

“I agree with you,” I said, “but what an inconvenient person you would be in a Zoo. Would you let out the lions and the tigers?”

He answered me with a kind of stark gravity.

“I never go to Zoos. The cages smell. They are unhappy places, very unhappy, and full of children. And children can be so cruel——”

So it appeared that he wandered about Clareux looking for bird-cages that could be opened, though he admitted that his liberating passion did not spend itself upon canaries. Mercifully he excluded the little yellow birds from his endeavours. His gentle, droll smile showed me that he was not one of your brass-bound reformers who cannot let life alone.

“A canary is a canary. Canaries and cages go together.”

“Yes—Herr Halberg—there are human canaries who appear to ask for cages, and a sunny window.”

I saw that I hurt him. He winced. His pale lips matched his pale eyes. I could only wonder whether I had touched a sore memory—if I had hurt him, or whether he was the sort of man who was always hurting himself. Possibly he had been the possessor of a pet canary, and it had died.

But the explanation came to me through Jeremy some days later. Men make queer friendships, and yet there was nothing queer in the friendship that appeared to spring up between the red Englishman and the pale German. They were such contrasts, pepper and salt, red wine and white.

I ran into Jeremy in the English library where he was pulling books from the shelves and putting them back again with an air of bored impatience.

“What a lot of stuff! You only get a live book once in a blue moon.”

Jeremy’s “live books” dealt mostly with the shooting of elephants and tigers, or with descriptions of very greasy and very primitive peoples of a horrible degree of ugliness. He would never allow them their ugliness, and would accuse me of being suburban and prejudiced because I looked at a black man with the eyes of a white woman.

“Here’s just the thing for you,” I said. “How I explored the Amazon in a Wash Tub.”

He grinned and took the book.

“Canoe—to be correct—dear lady. Got ten minutes to spare?”

“Probably.”

“Let’s go and sit by the lake. I have something to tell you. I suppose I may tell you.”

He was strapping up his collection of books, and I smiled over him.

“I suppose you may, if it is not about a third person.”

He bushed his eyebrows at me.

“Of course it’s about a third person. It always is, isn’t it? I don’t go in for confessionals.”

It was about Halberg. We sat on an iron seat under the drooping gold of a weeping willow, and looked across the blue lake at the mountains of Savoy. Jeremy could sit for an hour and stare at these mountains as though he was considering how each one could be climbed. He had a very serious face this morning, for he was confronting the tragedy of a man’s life.

“Suppose I can tell you.”

“I suppose that depends——”

“You are the one woman in this place who doesn’t reduce life to gossip. Gossip is talking about other people’s frailties and troubles—without any decent human feeling for them. Like turning over odds and ends of meat in a butcher’s shop. Life’s a serious business.”

“In this case—would the third person mind?”

“I don’t think he would. Not you. Besides the poor beggar is very plucky and big about it.”

“A woman?”

“Oh—of course.”

“Not inevitable—you know. Well——?”

Jeremy rested his elbows on his knees.

“Oh—well—quite an unusual sort of tale. But is anything usual when you know one of the characters? Halberg had a young wife—a sort of pretty canary in a cage—I should imagine——”

I was inwardly startled.

“A canary?”

“That’s how I sense it. Well, he went to the war, and was taken prisoner by the Russians, and shut up for three years in a damned wire cage. And presently his wife’s letters ceased—and when he got back to Germany—after the war——”

“The canary’s cage was empty?”

Jeremy gave one of his characteristic grunts.

“That’s the long and short of it,” he said.

So that was how a woman and the war had treated my poor Harmless Satyr, leaving him no doubt with that peculiar and secret feeling of humiliation that such an affair produces in a man. I have Jeremy’s word for that. A man loves both his wife and himself, and his self-regard may be interwoven with his love for the woman. Strip out that love from the pattern and you leave the man’s pride all shreds and tatters.

“Poor Halberg! With his pale and gentle eyes.”

Jeremy grunted.

“Don’t be sentimental. The fellow’s better off as he is. He’s not shut up in a cage.”

“No, my dear, but he may be horribly lonely. All men are not predestined bachelors——”

“You’re wrong there, if you are being personal. If my confounded pension weren’t so paltry——”

I laughed, but Jeremy did not know what I was laughing at. Moreover it was not unkind laughter, though how many “little pretties” he would have collected during his earthly course had his income been adequate, is a question for the people who can calculate probabilities.

But I don’t think either of us foresaw the ultimate adventure.

Herr Halberg and I met fairly regularly at the Kursaal and I supposed that he was still wandering round Clareux and its neighbouring villages looking for birds to liberate. It struck me that his Northern eyes were even more dreamy, and that music was even more intimately his. We should not have found out—perhaps—what was happening had not Jeremy been dragged off to dance at the Clareux Palace Hotel by a young thing who had to dance with somebody.

I met him next day. He had an air of mystery. He asked me if I ever went to the Palace dances. They were held twice a week.

“Why should I?”

“It would be worth your while to see the young fools doing that new dance.”

“The Charleston?”

“Believe that’s it. I call it leg-waggling.”

“Why don’t you take me?”

“I will—if you like.”

Half Europe and a part of America must know the “Palace” at Clareux. It is huge and obvious and expensive and comfortable, as efficient an establishment as that most efficient little country can show. That it lacked “atmosphere” was a matter of no importance. The cuisine, the tennis-courts, the dance floor, and the orchestra were the fundamentals. I don’t know why, but the “Palace” at Clareux always made me think of a French cemetery, with its pompous little graves decorated with horrible bead wreaths and crosses, and framed photographs of the departed. Even the garden on the edge of the lake was as artificial as one of the shops where they sell you cheap china and picture-postcards, and little wooden chalets and boxes covered with shells.

Jeremy and I wandered in about nine o’clock. I went to the cloak-room, and he waited for me in the broad gallery between the lounge and the ballroom. The orchestra was playing dance music, and half a dozen couples were walking busily up and down the polished vastness of the floor. When I rejoined Jeremy I found that he had taken possession of a settee and a table in the lounge.

“I’ve ordered coffee. Will you have a liqueur?”

“No, just coffee, thank you.”

But I was wondering why he had chosen the lounge when there were a dozen vacant chairs in the ballroom, and we had come to watch the young things “leg-waggling.” True, I had a view through one of the big doorways, and I could look along one half of the ballroom, but I did not understand why the show should be split in half for me.

He appeared to divine my inward protest.

“You’ll understand in a minute or two. I have brought you here to see something else. We don’t want to be too obvious.”

“Why so secretive?”

“Oh, well; you wait and see.”

“Nothing to observe at present?”

“Yes, part of the show. Just look straight ahead and tell me if anything catches your eye.”

At the far end of the ballroom, and close to a group of palms and the orchestra’s grand piano I saw two people seated in gilded and red velvet chairs. They sat side by side, within a foot of each other, staring straight down the room like a couple of royal supers posed on a stage.

The man was very old. He had a bush of white hair standing up fiercely on his square head; the corners of his hard mouth curved down to form a circle with his prominent chin. His eyes had a peculiar, set, glassy stare; they were both dead and very alive. A couple of sticks were tucked in beside him. He had the biggest hands that I have ever seen, and they rested on his thighs like the paws of some grim old animal.

He looked French, and yet not quite French, whereas the girl who sat beside him was neither white nor brown, but an exquisite, soft blending of the two. She should have worn a wreath of exotic flowers. Her eyes were like the eyes of a gentle animal, large, brown, and a little frightened. She was dressed in some saffron-coloured stuff, with a necklace of magnificent diamonds round her slim throat. She sat beside that rather terrible old man as though chained to his chair.

I glanced at Jeremy.

“Those two figures?”

He nodded.

“At twenty-five one would have said father and daughter. But—at fifty-five——”

“That’s so.”

“Abominable! Who are they?”

Jeremy was lighting a cigar.

“Old chap’s French, colonial, Guadeloupe or Martinique or somewhere. Name of Legros. Beastly rich. Yes; that’s his wife.”

“Mixed blood somewhere?”

“Obviously. Pretty thing. Much too pretty for that old ogre. They tell me he never lets her out of his sight.”

“Jeremy,” I said, “how do you get hold of all this gossip?”

“It isn’t gossip,” he retorted. “I picked up the human facts from a fellow at the club who is staying here at the ‘Palace.’ I was watching ’em the other night when I was dancin’ here. They just sit like that. They never seem to speak to each other or to anybody, and nobody speaks to them.”

“Your ogre doesn’t look very approachable. But the girl——”

“They tell me that nobody is allowed to speak to her. If anyone tries to—that old curmudgeon growls like a dog with a bone. Well, here we are.”

He pointed with his cigar, and I saw Halberg pass along the broad space between the lounge and the ballroom like a man passing across a stage. He was wearing a black overcoat over evening dress. In his left hand he carried his black plush hat, in the other a bouquet of white carnations. It struck me that he had a rapt, visionary look. He disappeared in the direction of the cloak-room, and when he reappeared he was still carrying the carnations. He did not see us. In fact he had the air of seeing nobody. He went and sat down at a little table just inside the ballroom, and I could see the back of his head and three-quarters of his thin, flat back. He placed his bouquet carefully on the table.

I glanced inquiringly at Jeremy.

“Is he part of the play?”

And Jeremy nodded.

“He was here the other night. He has that table reserved for him. They tell me that he has been here every night.”

“And the carnations?”

“Yes, every night he has a bunch of carnations.”

“And presents them to somebody?”

“No, takes them away with him. Can’t bring himself to the sticking point, I suppose.”

“How quaint! I wonder—— Who is it?”

“That’s what everybody is wondering. Personally—I have a sort of idea—that it is that Creole girl.”

“Oh, come now! Poor Halberg!”

“Well, she looks rather like a bird in a cage, doesn’t she?”

I was startled. I had not believed Jeremy’s blue eyes to be capable of such vision, but no sooner had he made the suggestion than I realized its significance. It was possible that my Harmless Satyr with his passion for opening prison doors had discovered a human thing in a cage, a gentle, wide-eyed creature, mute and chained.

“Jeremy,” I said, “do you really think——?”

He nodded his white head.

“A fellow who can sit for five hours and listen to Wagner! A chap who lets birds out of cages. An idealist! The most dangerous people on earth. Explosive. Besides—they imagine things. I daresay he imagines that girl—a victim——”

“Isn’t she?”

“Nonsense. She has plenty to eat and plenty to wear; and look at her diamonds.”

“You can’t talk materialism to me, my dear. I know you too well. But these Legros people, are they living here?”

“Not in the hotel. The old chap has a huge villa up on the high ground between Chambard and the lake. He just brings the girl out on a chain. Big closed car. Suppose he likes showing her off. Old Sultan.”

All this time I was watching the back of Halberg’s head and the faces of Monsieur Legros and his wife. Halberg sat as still as a stone faun, with the bouquet of white carnations lying on the table in front of him, but I had a feeling that his eyes were fixed steadily upon the old man and the girl. People were dancing. Their figures kept moving across my field of vision, and the flow of their movements seemed to emphasize the stillness of the two figures in the red velvet chairs.

The old man sat and glared like a wax figure with fatal eyes. The girl never moved an eyelash. She sat as though under a spell, a frozen princess with the warm life in her glowing but congealed. The music was persuasive. Even my old feet felt rhythmical, but there was not a flicker of those little saffron-coloured shoes.

“Jeremy,” I said suddenly, “go and get Halberg.”

He gave me a queer look.

“Nothing doing, dear lady——”

“I’m horribly afraid he’ll make a fool of himself.”

“Men will. Look out!”

For old Legros had made a movement. He had put his two huge hands on the gilded arms of the chair. His square, creased face expressed will force, effort. I saw the girl give a startled glance at him, rise quickly, and put herself behind his chair. Her hands slipped under his arms. She helped him up, and he stood on his feet, slouching rather like a huge old ape. She put his two sticks into his hands, and slowly—very slowly—they came down the long room together, he—with a kind of terrible and defiant grin on his face, she—like a sleep-walker.

I watched Halberg. He sat there with stiff shoulders. His right arm hung at his side, and I saw the fingers of his right hand make a slight, twitching movement as though to grasp the frame of the chair. My impression was that he was looking at the girl. Anyhow they went past him, and he did not stir, the old man with that defiant grin still on his face, the girl—wide-eyed and frightened. I saw Halberg’s chin jerk round, and that queer profile of his very white and set.

The girl had her cloak with her, a black velvet thing. She put it on as she and old Legros went slowly over the pile carpet towards the glass doors of the vestibule. They disappeared from my view, and turning to glance again at Halberg, I saw him snatch up his bunch of carnations, rise, and go stalking with a kind of fierce stiffness in the direction of the vestibule.

Without moving, and without looking at him I spoke in a whisper to Jeremy. I knew that half the hotel had been watching Halberg.

“Go after him—stop him.”

And this time he went, getting up with an air of English casualness, and pausing for a moment to simulate interest in an Argentino boy who was tangoing with the dancing instructress. He disappeared, and I sat praying that Halberg would not make a scene, or that Jeremy would waylay him before he could begin fumbling with bird-cages. Jeremy had left his cigarette case on the table, and I purloined a cigarette, and sat smoking.

I had half finished the cigarette before Jeremy returned. He strolled across to the table with his hands in his pockets, his red face studiously blank. He beckoned to a waiter and ordered a whisky and soda. He sat down.

“Halberg’s gone.”

“What, minus overcoat and hat?”

“Yes, and it’s raining. By George—what a chap!”

His blue eyes were very serious.

“What do you think he did?”

“Be quick,” I said.

“Dashed out just when their car was moving off, and threw those white carnations in at the window. I was watching him through the glass doors.”

I crushed out the lighted stump of the cigarette.

“You ought to have stopped him.”

“Thank you! But how was I to know that the mad idiot——? Besides——”

“That old fellow may burst a blood vessel.”

“By Jove,” said Jeremy with an air of sudden and extraordinary brightness, “why—that would do the trick, wouldn’t it? Supposing Halberg’s not so mad? There’s a kind of madness——”

I sat and stared at the dancers. It occurred to me that there may be other ways of getting rid of an old watch-dog besides the throwing of poisoned meat.

Of course Halberg had no right to assume that because a pretty girl is married to an old curmudgeon like Legros, she is a bird in a cage and predestined to be rescued, though I do believe that Halberg’s inspiration was absurdly disinterested. A caged bird or a chained soul roused him to action. It was as though three years of heartbreak in a wire cage had accumulated in him such a head of passionate rage against all cruelty and oppression that his reaction against them had become instinctive. Idealism has one blind eye, and Halberg’s blind eye was turned upon Legros.

The old man was a monster, a jailor, a wrinkled old vampire sucking the blood of youth. Halberg—the Northern hero—had no more pity for him than had Siegfried for the dragon. But here was my poor Harmless Satyr innocently proving himself to the world’s eyes just what he was not, a Pan in pursuit of the nymph, of a nymph mated to a very grim old Silenus.

The lord of the villa above Chambard might dodder on two sticks, but he too was something of an original. I suppose that when Halberg’s white bouquet came tumbling into the car there was very little said. I could imagine old Legros picking up the bouquet, and with a grin—presenting it to his wife.

“Accept these tributes, my dear. Let us amuse ourselves with this idiot.”

Anyway, that was what his subsequent behaviour suggested. Shut his wife up behind the gates of the villa? Not he! For when a man remains masterful and potent to the end and has had some woman trailing dutifully at his heels, he does not surrender to the Halbergs.

Old Legros brought his Yvonne down to the “Palace,” and sat with her in the same velvet chairs, and stared with his glassy and fatal eyes at Halberg who persisted in placing himself at that table by the door. They confronted each other across the polished floor. As for the girl—she looked just as she had looked on the first night, a dusky victim, but how much a victim who can say?

And as though to dip irony in sentiment the girl wore each night in her dress a few of Halberg’s white carnations. For each night he arrived with his bouquet, and sat there stiff and white and solitary. Whether it was shyness, or self-restraint, or inherent delicacy of feeling I do not know, but he never made a public offering of his flowers, though he might easily have contrived some sort of introduction. He and old Legros sat and stared at each other. And every night—I believe—a white bouquet came tumbling into the Frenchman’s car.

Such a situation could not continue. No doubt my poor Harmless Satyr became more humanly involved than was satisfying to a disinterested inspiration. I suppose he fell in love with Legros’ wife. He seemed to grow thinner and paler. I would meet him walking at a great rate round the lake, skirting the edge of a new tragedy.

Always he would seem glad to see me. He would stop and stand holding his hat in his old courteous and gentle way, and sometimes I saw him at the Kursaal. Of Jeremy I think he saw very little, for Jeremy was shy of people who—as he expressed it—“Were baying the moon.” For, apparently, Halberg would go wandering in the hotel garden at eleven o’clock at night, and talk to himself and the stars when Jeremy—who had a room on the first floor above the garden—was trying to get to sleep. It annoyed Jeremy that a man should be such an ass, and so disturbing an ass.

“My dear lady, one doesn’t expect to have a Hamlet under your window; no, not in these days, with trams scrooping on the other side of the house. It is no comfort to me to hear a chap saying to the Swiss night—‘She has taken my flowers.’ Damn it! it’s too much like Italian opera. I have begun to feel a sort of sympathy for old Legros.”

I think I sympathized with all of them.

And then—suddenly—Halberg changed the colour of his carnations. I happened to be at the “Palace” on the night when he appeared with red flowers instead of white. He and the Legros went through the same dumb, staring, triangular contest. He followed them out as usual to their car.

How and why it happened I do not know. Possibly the colour of the red carnations had a more apoplectic effect upon the old gentleman. He may have been feeling irritable and stormy. I confess that I did decide to go home on the heels of the three, and when I got to the door I found myself the spectator of pitiful and human happenings.

A powerful electric lamp glared under the glass shell of the hotel porch. Halberg’s bouquet of red carnations lay like a red stain on one of the steps, and I was aware of him as a mute and rigid figure posed half in the light and half in the shadow. The car itself was the centre of a little knot of figures, the chauffeur, the “Palace” concierge, and an under-porter. They were trying to get old Legros out of the car, and I had a glimpse of the face of the girl, a very white still face as she bent forward to try and help them.

I slipped out into the drive and watched. Halberg remained where he was, a fatal figure observing the tragic outcome of its interference. One of the men climbed into the car, and I saw a limp, bunch of a figure lifted out and carried towards the glass doors. Legros’ wife followed.

I saw her almost put a foot on Halberg’s carnations, and bridle and step aside as though avoiding a pool of blood. She paused. She seemed to hesitate. Then she bent and picked up the bouquet, took three deliberate steps towards Halberg, and threw the red flowers in his face.

After that I smothered myself in between the flowering shrubs that edged the drive. I did not want Halberg to see me, or to realize that the climax had been pried upon by other eyes. I saw the girl disappear through the glass doors. Not a word had been uttered. She left Halberg standing there like a man who was so shocked and astonished that he was incapable of movement. I think he must have stood there for quite three minutes, and with so dreadful a stillness that I too was shocked.

Presently he bent down and picked up the bunch of carnations, holding them flinchingly as though they were white flowers that had been splashed with blood. He had opened the door of a cage, and the bird had flown in his face. Poor, Harmless Satyr! What he did with those fatal flowers I do not know, but he walked off into the night still carrying them. I have a feeling that he went down and threw them into the lake.

Yet the affair was not to end as it appeared to have ended. Old Legros died on a sofa in the office of the manager of the Palace Hotel, and the body was taken up to the huge, red villa above Chambard. Moreover there must have been someone on the watch in Clareux, some little assiduous relative, for the very next day half a dozen alert French people—four men and two women—all solemnly blacked—invaded the villa above Chambard. They had a lawyer with them. I heard all this afterwards from Halberg himself.

And the curmudgeonly of old Legros was exposed to the world. That grin of his had not been without significance. He had left his wife ten thousand francs in 3 per cent rentes. Just that! Villa and diamonds, and motor-car and an estate somewhere in the West Indies reverted to a stuffy and sallow-faced French family who owned a velour factory at Amiens.

The inwardness of women is peculiar. I have often wondered whether the girl knew of the cynicism of old Legros’ will when she threw those red carnations in Halberg’s face. My impression is that she did not. It was the emotional act of an excitable child, a gesture of protest against man’s eternal and sentimental interference.

She had been far happier in her cage than a man like Halberg could credit, for even a man’s idealism is apt to be so coloured by his consciousness of a woman’s sex that he assumes her to be the victim of fate unless she is busy with husband and babies.

But to revert to facts. It was the Amiens family who bundled the girl out of the red villa, shood her out of her cage. She had no legal redress. They straight-way handed her over her ten thousand francs—French—and were quit of their responsibilities. No doubt they were immensely relieved. Uncle Legros had had his senile romance, and had behaved in the end like a good Frenchman.

As usual, it was Jeremy who supplied me with the latest information. It appeared that Legros’ widow had taken refuge in a shabby little hotel—the “Étoile” in one of the streets behind the station. She had perched there like a rather bewildered bird let out of a cage, helplessly free, and with her supply of bird-seed cut off. Poor Halberg had made a bad mess of the liberation.

But had he?

Jeremy’s eyes had a human twinkle.

“He has been patrolling round her hotel like a policeman. Sort of figure of pale and passionate determination—wearing a plush hat. Having let her out he wants to shut her up again.”

“All men do,” I said.

And I was permitted to witness the beginnings of the last phase. I had wandered up above Chambard, between tea and dinner, to look at the orchards in bloom and the fields full of flowers, and to watch the sun flush the Savoyard peaks, and on a little path under the cherry trees I saw two figures. They were walking shyly and demurely, like a couple of very proper but unconfessed lovers, tremulous but coy, and no doubt discussing music or the mountains, or perhaps even the rate of exchange. Halberg’s tall figure seemed to overshadow hers. He was carrying his black plush hat in his hand.

I walked on to meet them.

He was very correct, very courteous. His pale blue eyes seemed to glimpse something humorous in my appearance, but without realizing what it was. He introduced the girl to me.

“Yvonne—this is Miss Fraser. Miss Fraser—Madame Legros.”

We shook hands. She had a wise, shy, gentle look. She did not remind me of the girl who had thrown those flowers in the face of the Harmless Satyr.

“Mademoiselle is enjoying the sunset?”

Yes—I admitted that I was enjoying the sunset, and added that I hoped to enjoy my dinner; and after a few more amiable nothings I smiled upon them and passed on.

My last glimpse of them—as I turned to get a view of the lake—showed them to me standing side by side under a cherry tree. They, too, were enjoying the sunset—and something more than the sunset. It seemed to me that Halberg, devoted, adoring, hat in hand, was tempting her to re-enter the eternal cage.


TOM SILVER’S BUS

His wife was troubled about him, for when, after fifteen years of married life, a man becomes moody and strange and sits and stares at the fire and does not always hear what is said to him, a woman begins to ask herself questions.

The Silvers had no children. They had lived in the same cottage in Paradise Row ever since they had been married, a red brick cottage with a green door and railings, and Tom Silver had always kept the little front garden full of flowers. At the back of Paradise Row ran a branch of the River Bourne, and the strips of ground belonging to the cottages ended in the green of old pollarded willows. The Silvers had in their piece of garden a magnificent old pear tree, all white in the spring, and flaming red and gold in the autumn. Blackbirds loved this tree, and on spring mornings early a cock would usually be singing in it.

But Mary Silver was troubled.

For Tom had always been a man of calculable moods and habits, and for years she had had the feeling that she knew all about him that there was to know, but now she was not so sure.

“Hear the bird, mother?”

This spring he had not called her attention to the blackbird in the pear tree, nor had he boasted gently about the size of the polyanthus flowers in the patch of front garden. She had seen him standing quite still with his foot on the garden fork, staring at the soil, but not as though he saw anything singular in the soil. He stared at the fire in just the same way.

Mary would say to herself: “Now, what’s wrong with my Tom?”

For a deep and sure affection united them, and like many childless people they had grown into and through each other. Silver was a driver-mechanic, and had worked for a dozen years at “Green’s Garage,” in Malton. Old Green thought a lot of him, this silent Tom Silver, blond and fresh-coloured, with blue eyes that were apt to go dreamy, a man who did not like to be talked to when he was at work, and who resented interference. If a sick engine needed a physician, Silver was the man for it. His big, strong, dexterous hands were loving and patient.

For the job was his, and a mere money-getting world is slow to realize how much the job is part of the worker’s soul. Tom Silver found his secret joy in it, his justification, little strange ecstasies of self-expression. Something clicked to beneath his skilful fingers, or a stammering engine became sweet and alive.

Always he had come back to Mary with a kind of contentment in his eyes.

“Tea ready, mother?”

He had had the air of a man who had completed something, exorcised some little devil of disharmony. The job was good.

But this spring his eyes had changed. They had a sort of sadness, a perplexity. He did not look at the familiar things about the cottage and garden as he had been accustomed to look at them. He was silent, preoccupied.

Mary was troubled. She knew her man, and that Tom did not go off round the corner. She had never known him to get silly about a girl, and to come back to her looking sheepishly and deceitfully cheerful. He did not drink; he was not interested in “horses.” He had no worries, save the worries that attach themselves inevitably to the life of a man who works for a weekly wage.

Was it their lack of children?

Now between Mary and Tom there had always been a simple and intimate confidence. They had nothing to conceal from each other. They were simple people uttering simple words, and giving expression to their natural feelings. They had become necessary to each other in a way that is not understood by those whose mating has been solely and transiently of the flesh.

Mary asked her question.

“What’s worrying you, Tom?”

He had slipped his feet into his slippers, and was lighting his pipe while she mended the fire. He held the match to the tobacco, and his hand was steady. He neither resented nor shirked her question; he answered it.

“Blessed if I know, mother.”

Which was strange, so strange that she stood holding the poker and looking down at him with a puzzled intentness.

“How can that be?”

His blue eyes raised themselves to her dark ones.

“Sounds silly. Yes, I guess it does. But it isn’t exactly worry, mother, it’s a sort of feeling.”

“A sort of feeling?”

“Yes—that’s all I can call it.”

She stirred the fire, and her face was thoughtful. She was wise as to the ordinary problems of a working woman’s life: the rent, the bills, the fear of sickness, a dread of strikes.

“Nothing wrong at the shop?”

“Nothing.”

“No one’s been hurting your feelings?”

He smiled. He patted her back.

“No; I’ve no grouse on. It’s a decent shop, and I count a bit with the boss. I’m on the job all the time.”

She said, gravely and softly:

“I’ve never known you like this before.”

He answered her just as simply:

“Maybe I’m a blooming fool. It’s news to me, mother, but I don’t get the feel I did from handling tools.”

“You’re fed up?”

“No; not exactly that. It’s as though something funny was working inside me and couldn’t get out.”

Now this might have seemed a strange confession for a working-man to make, and a woman less wise than Mary Silver might have been sceptical, but Tom was not the sort of man who boiled over like some fussy little kettle. There was something funny and restless inside him, and what exactly—was it? He could not give it a name, and an unnamed thing casts a shadow.

“Is it something you want and haven’t got, Tom?”

“I don’t know, old girl.”

“Is it because I haven’t given you children?”

He looked up suddenly at that. He reached out and drew her against him.

“No; nothing that touches you, mother. I know what I’ve got. It’s just a sort of restlessness. Don’t you worry.”

But Mary did worry, though she worried in secret; for she had a feeling that her man was not happy, and when he was not happy, no blackbird sang for her in the pear tree. But what was the matter with him? He had a good job; he was respected. When anything difficult had to be done at the garage Tom Silver was turned loose upon it. That sort of pride mattered to a man like Tom; and yet, as she watched him, it seemed to her that the pride had gone out of him. He was less taut about the shoulders. A vague listlessness possessed him.

She lay awake at night, worrying. She even wondered whether Tom was ill, and whether this moodiness was a symptom, the first shadow of some insidious, creeping sickness. She lay and listened to his breathing, but Tom slept as he had always slept.

Tom Silver knew one thing, he had lost the joy of his hands. He could not say how or why. The strange inwardness of the change was beyond him—that steel should have become dead metal, and an engine a mere machine. The wrench and the drill and the pliers, the reamer, the hack-saw and the hammer did not leap lovingly into his hands. There were days when he was short of temper. He would curse, and in cursing begin to fume and to fumble. Something was out of gear between Tom Silver and his craft.

Then, one evening, looking at the faces of the pansies in his garden, he remembered.

“Funny little devils! They’re alive, just like people.”

Yes; he remembered. His discontent had dated from that day when there had been a smash in the London road in front of him, and he had gone to help and had found himself helpless. A woman was screaming. She lay there by the kerb, all bloody. And he had stood and stared. The job had beaten him.

He went into the cottage. His eyes had a strange look. He spoke to Mary, who was putting fresh buttonholes into a shirt.

“I’ve got it, mother.”

“What, my dear?” For there were times when she called him “my dear” like a child.

“It isn’t steel; it’s flesh.”

She waited upon this strange saying.

“A machine’s a dead thing. I haven’t got the hands for a thing that’s alive.”

He went on to tell her about the smash in the London road. He had been in charge of a private car for the day, driving two ladies up to town; they were going to a theatre. His blue eyes seemed to be looking at the things he described; his big hands rested on his knees.

“It gave me a sort of shock, mother. I was shaky for the rest of the drive. I think it’s been on my mind, made me sort of discontented.”

“But it wasn’t your job, Tom. You can’t blame yourself.”

His blue eyes stared.

“Well, that’s so. But somehow—I seemed to feel that it was the sort of job I wanted to be able to tackle. It wasn’t that I was afraid of it. I didn’t just know how to tackle it.”

“It’s a doctor’s job, my dear.”

“In a manner of speaking—yes, old girl. When a machine goes wrong, it’s been my job to help to put it right. But a body’s more than a machine. I’m always seeing that poor lady lying screaming in the road, and me as helpless as one of those rich young boobs who hog it in high-powered cars and can’t do more than lift the bonnet flap when something goes wrong.”

She nodded her head at him.

“You want to get to know?”

“That’s it, mother.”

Knowing him as she did Mary was not surprised when little red books appeared in the cottage, and her man sat at night studying them. She consented. Tom had always been a man for teaching himself things. He was thorough—through and through. He would spread out diagrams on the kitchen table, and go to the trouble of making large copies of them in blue and red chalk. He hung these diagrams on the bedroom door, and stood and studied them when he was dressing in the morning.

He was teaching himself the anatomy of the human body as he had taught himself the anatomy of cars. He could have talked to Mary about the brachial and the femoral arteries, and what you might be able to do when a fellow got his throat cut on the jagged glass of a broken windscreen, but he was not a talkative person. Bandages appeared in the cottage, and at night his wife would humour him and pull off her shoe, and allow him to make use of her leg. She would sit and sew and watch his serious, absorbed face, and his deliberate and dexterous fingers.

One day he came back with the strangest of purchases, an awkward looking object in a sack. Using the backyard as an operating theatre he extracted the object from the sack. He explained the affair to Mary.

“I had to drive old Mr. Morriaty over to that sale at Milford. He said to me: ‘Tom, I shall be here most of the day. You had better amuse yourself, somehow.’ I had a look over the house, and there was this doll shoved away in a job lot. I had a brain wave, mother, and I bought it.”

He exhibited his purchase, a battered lay-model such as is used by artists. Its articulated limbs could be set in any position, and to Tom Silver it would serve as a model of the human figure.

“I can work on it, mother; practise putting up fractures.”

Tom’s dummy was put to live in the tool-shed at the end of the garden, and on summer evenings Tom would get busy on “Cuthbert,” as he called the creature. He applied splints and bandages to fractured legs and thighs and arms, and Cuthbert was a model patient. He never struggled or made a fuss.

Mary bore with her man’s obsession. She could not see that it was going to have any practical bearing on life, or that Tom would be able to exercise his new craft in the world of reality. But he was absorbed in it; it seemed to have cured his restlessness. He had ceased to sit and stare.

Now, Malton was a rapidly growing town. It had shed its village smock. Houses were springing up everywhere, and new building estates eating into the green fields and causing the death of old trees. Motor cars multiplied. And Malton and its responsible citizens began to visualize the expanding needs of the community.

Malton had its cottage hospital and its local fire brigade, its district nurses, and its various clubs, but its hospital was proving itself inadequate. Also, Malton had taken to itself a bright and brisk new doctor, “Young Smith,” as Malton called him. Young Smith was a very live person, and a very capable surgeon. He began to be felt in the place.

One morning Mr. Green came down to the workshop where Tom was fitting new pistons in an engine.

“Heard the news, Tom?”

Tom had heard some news.

“The town’s to have a motor-ambulance, and they have asked me to run it.”

Tom straightened his long back. His eyes had grown dreamy.

“Going to do it, sir?”

“Well, yes; but it isn’t the job for any ordinary chap. Dr. Smith’s been talking to me. Naturally the man who drives the ambulance has got to know how to handle a case.”

Tom nodded.

“Obviously. It’s not an amateur job. I could take it on.”

Old Green stared at him.

“You may be a damned fine mechanic, Tom, but what do you know about first aid?”

“I’ve been studying. I guess I’m as good as any St. John’s Ambulance man, any day. I’m not gassing.”

Mr. Green knew that Tom Silver did not gas, but his curiosity was piqued.

“You’ve been studying? What for?”

Tom wiped his hands on a wad of cotton waste.

“Just felt I had to, that’s all. I’ve seen one bad smash, and it got me cold. No more use than a bloody kid. After that I felt I’d learn something in case I saw another.”

Mr. Green—who was a shrewd old John Bull of a man, and who knew just what a fellow like Silver was worth—grunted and looked thoughtful.

“Well, you’d better go up and see Dr. Smith. He’s one of those thorough chaps. He doesn’t take things on tick.”

Tom knocked off work a little earlier than usual, and when Mary heard him coming in the back door she glanced at the clock and wondered why her man was half an hour before his time, but when she saw Tom’s face she knew that something had happened, and something that he found good. Also, she allowed him the pleasure of giving her a surprise, because if a man has no one to whom he can say: “Well, what do you think of that!” life is no better than an old clothes shop.

He assumed a casualness.

“Can you put on tea, mother?”

“The kettle’s just on the boil.”

“Then I’ll have a little shaving-water.”

She allowed him his mystery. But what was the great occasion which demanded that Tom should shave himself a second time in one day? In any other man she would have postulated woman. She heard him rummaging about upstairs, and when he came down to her he was wearing a clean collar and shirt and his dark blue Sunday suit. His eyes had a deep, challenging smile.

She looked him over.

“Well, what’s on, my lad?”

“Going up to see Dr. Smith.”

“That’s the new doctor. Is he wanting a chauffeur?”

“No; it’s like this, mother. The town’s getting a motor-ambulance. Our people are going to run it. I told the boss I was for the job.”

“Whole time?”

“No; part time job. But Dr. Smith’s hot stuff. Naturally they don’t want a chap on the car who can’t handle a case.”

Mary poured out his tea.

“I’m glad, Tom,” she said. “I know it’s what you’ve been hankering after. I’m glad.”

So Tom Silver went up to see Dr. Smith, who was a brisk, stout fellow with the cut of a naval man, and Dr. Smith looked at Silver and liked him. He liked him very well.

Dr. Smith had a bright eye and a mischievous tongue. As a student he had been a slogging boxer, and even now he liked to give a man a punch and see how he reacted.

He questioned Tom.

“Look here, supposing you found a chap in the road with his throat cut, broken glass, and bleeding like hell, what would you do?”

Tom stood like a man on parade.

“Put my fingers to the wound, sir, and try to get hold of the bleeding point.”

“You would. And supposing you found a fellow lying beside the road, after an accident, what would you do first?”

“Look at him, sir.”

“Look at him?”

“See if I could spot anything before messing him about.”

Dr. Smith laughed.

“Who taught you that?”

“Well, when an engine has chucked up, sir; you have a look round before getting out a spanner. Besides, I’m not raw to the job.”

Dr. Smith’s glance said: “You’ll do. You’ll do damned well.”

And Tom Silver went back to his wife and sat by the fire with her and looked happy.

Tom Silver was very proud of the new ambulance. It had a cream-coloured body, black wings, and a red cross on the side panels, and he cherished it as a man cherishes his first car. But more so, for this ambulance symbolized to Silver his passion to serve; and, in serving, to express that something in himself which makes man imagine God. This was no mere handling of cold steel, but a task into which compassion entered, and in helping the sick and the injured the soul of Tom Silver was satisfied.

There were other men who did not understand this. They said: “Old Tom’s got a nerve. No sort of bloody mess seems to put the wind up him. He’s a hard nut.”

But Tom Silver was anything but hard; he was gentle. His urge to help was so strong that he did not flinch or hesitate. And as his confidence grew his pride in his job grew with it. He knew that he could help those who were helpless.

One winter morning, when the wet pavements had been iced by a sudden frost, someone slipped and broke a leg. It happened just outside the post-office, and at an hour when all the doctors were out on their rounds. Tom was sent for, and with a police constable to help him he set the broken leg, and carried the patient off in the ambulance.

Dr. Smith, intercepted somewhere on his round by a telephone message, drove down to the hospital, and seeing Silver afterwards, asked him a question.

“Was that your job, Tom?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Couldn’t have done it better myself.”

Silver went pink under his brown skin, and that flush remained with him all the morning. He carried the warmth of it back to Mary at the dinner hour, and it helped to add savour to Irish stew.

“That sort of thing makes a job seem worth while, mother.”

And Mary knew that her man was finding life good.

Meanwhile Malton grew and flourished amazingly; and its citizens, confronted with the inadequacy of a ten-bed cottage hospital, decided that Malton must step into the line of progress. Dr. Smith blew hither and thither like a stout breeze. Money was promised, fêtes organized, beds endowed. And so it came about that a new hospital was planned and put into being, and Tom Silver watched it grow. He had given his guinea; but he felt that there was more of him than twenty-one shillings in that handsome, red brick building.

It was to be so, for it had been decided by the committee that the new hospital should have a motor-ambulance, and a driver permanently attached to it, and Tom Silver was offered the post.

Old Green was inclined to growl about it. He did not want to part with his prize mechanic. He tackled Tom.

“I’ll make it worth your while to stay on.”

Tom looked embarrassed.

“It’s very good of you, sir, but I’ve got to go. It isn’t that I’m not well satisfied here.”

“You’ll be dropping good money, and the chance of a share. I’ll give you a day to think it over.”

Tom went home and put it to his wife.

“I shall be dropping fifteen bob a week, mother.”

“Well, drop them, my dear.”

He crossed over to where she was sitting and kissed her.

“You always were a great little woman. My heart’s in the job.”

Two more years passed, and Tom Silver was very much a person. He had a local reputation. Other men said: “There goes old Tom in his bloody old bus.” But it was said kindly, for Tom and his sanguinary vehicle were realities in the life of Malton and the neighbourhood. He was something of an autocrat: no one else was allowed to touch his ambulance; the blankets had to be just so, and the stretchers spotless. When Tom had to collect a case from a cottage he was addressed as “Mr. Silver,” and there is no doubt that Tom was considered to be as much a public institution as the local police inspector, or the clerk to the Urban District Council.

Well-to-do cases sometimes offered Tom Silver tips. He accepted tips; he passed them on to Mary, so that there should be less chance of her missing those fifteen shillings.

One foggy day in November, about two o clock in the afternoon, the ambulance was rung for. The hospital porter who took the message, dashed out to warn Tom.


Station bus had a smash on Tipsy Hill.—Urgent.


Tom knew those station buses, clattering, ramshackle, go-as-you-please crates of glass and tin that careered up and down to and from Malton station. Often he had cursed those buses and their drivers, but the strangest thing of all was that he did not remember that Mary was going over to Telford market to shop, and that she had taken one of those buses to the station. He just forgot, or his job and its urgency left a blind spot in his mind. He had his ambulance out and on the road in less than a minute after the porter had warned him.

He got to the place before the doctors. In the fog he saw a row of fir trees, and one of those tin-pot buses with its silly wheels in the air half in and half out of a clump of furze, and round it a little group of people. He sprang down; he elbowed through.

“Anybody hurt?”

Someone stared him in the face. And then he heard a voice, a little, moaning voice: “I want my Tom. Will someone fetch my Tom.”

Silver saw her lying there on the grass; two men were kneeling, and one of them was fumbling with a handkerchief. The handkerchief was all red, so were the man’s hands, and he had the flurried, helpless air of a fellow who was frightened.

“She’s bleeding like—— I can’t—— Where are the doctors?”

Silver was down on his knees. He had edged the other man aside.

“It’s all right, mother; I’m here.”

But within him there was terror, such fear as he had never known. He remembered afterwards that his hands had felt paralysed until the warm blood had touched them, and they had seemed to become alive. They were him: the man, Tom Silver. Afterwards, his lower lip showed red where he had bitten it.

The doctor came. It was Smith.

“What, Tom? Good lord, man! It’s——”

Silver’s teeth showed in a kind of smile.

“All right, sir; I’ve got my fingers in it. Artery—broken glass.”

“Good. Can you hang on?”

“What do you think.”

“Right, you stick to it while we lift.”

That night Tom Silver was sitting in front of the fire in the hospital porter’s room. He had been home once to the cottage in Paradise Row to fetch some things for his wife, and to feed the cat, but he had not wanted to stay there. The cottage was too empty and strange. So he sat and waited and wondered; and the hospital seemed a silent place, and this silence was like a door that presently would open.

It did open. A face looked in—the waggish, kindly, mischievous face of Dr. Smith.

“All right, Tom. She’ll do.”

That was all. He closed the door, and Tom sat and stared at the fire. He thought: “Seems strange somehow how things happen. Just as though they were meant to happen. Maybe God means ’em to happen.”


POET AND PEASANT

It happened in the days before short skirts, and it happened to three people who were considered rather eccentric by the conventionalists of that epoch.

Sanchia painted pictures and rented a bungalow on Chudleigh Moor. Her pictures were approaching the pose of the purple and orange school, and she was one of the first persons to indulge in black ceilings and white floors. Sanchia’s attitude to life was such that if she saw a vase or a convention standing right way up, she was impelled to turn it upside down. Incidentally, a bungalow on Chudleigh Moor in January was a reversal of the seasons in their sanity, more especially so when a little flat in Chelsea offered her a hot bath that was neither of the hip-bath order nor filled by the aid of cans.

Oscar wrote poetry. He was fat and flaccid and sallow, and wore his very black hair plastered like a Dutch doll’s, a sort of art-cretonne of a man, and of an amazing and drawling insolence. He wore flame-coloured dressing-gowns, and cultivated an odour of decadence. Also, he cultivated Sanchia, because he thought her thin and fierce, and farouche, a sort of beggar wench who could scratch like a cat. Oscar liked to write poems—he called them “pomes”—about gutter-ladies and cocottes and amateur Madame Bovaries, and be-drugged French artists, and he had added Sanchia to the collection, which—of course—was an insult to Sanchia; but Oscar posed and prospered upon his impertinences.

John neither posed nor painted. He was a rather shaggy, large, blue-eyed creature who strode through the world in rough tweeds. He had a cottage on the Moor; he had had cottages and shacks all over the world. He was a tramping naturalist of the Hudson school, with a passion for birds, a private income of a few hundreds a year, and a public that purchased his books by the dozen. He was a somewhat silent person, perhaps because he had spent so much of his life in open spaces, listening and watching and lying under hedges and bushes and in heather and long grass. Sanchia described him as “having hay in his hair.”

Early in the January of that year Oscar came down to stay with the Careys of Lee Manor. It was a strange thing of Oscar to do in January, for the Careys were dull people; but the weather was mild, and Lee Manor was only four miles from Sanchia’s bungalow. Also, the Careys had a car, and to Oscar—who never walked more than a mile—a car was a necessity. He borrowed it, as he borrowed everything, with the air of conferring a favour.

“You had better keep that car, Carey. You can tell people that Oscar Flack once sat in it.”

He was a flaneur, but he took his poetry very seriously, and John, arriving at Sanchia’s bungalow about tea-time, and dreaming himself into a tête-à-tête with Sanchia before the fire, completed the new triangle.

Martha, Sanchia’s indispensable, met him and took his hat. She approved of John.

“There’s another gentleman here, sir.”

John’s blue eyes stared.

“Oh, well, that’s all right.”

He was ushered in, and his arrival interrupted Oscar’s reading of a little thing of his on “Orange Pulp in Covent Garden.”

They had not met before. Sanchia introduced them, and it occurred to her to think that they might be rather amusing together. Oscar, remaining seated on the tuffet, presented John with a first finger to shake.

“How de do.”

John, holding the finger, and looking surprised and not knowing what to do with it, was suddenly moved to give that fat finger a twist, but he refrained. He was mute. He sat down in a chair and displayed his big boots and thick grey stockings. He seemed to smell of the heather.

There should have been the silence of embarrassment, but silence and Oscar never cohabited. As a conversationalist he was what they called in those days “utterly utter.” He did utter. He talked while tea was coming in, and while it was being poured out, and while it was being consumed. He got hold of bits of buttered toast with his fat white fingers, and managed to talk and toast himself simultaneously. He talked about Debussy, and “poor old Tom Hardy and his poetical pomposities,” and the last thing in Grand Guignol. He knew that he was annoying John, and he went on annoying him. He was like a griffon yapping at a St. Bernard.

John sat malevolently still, and ate buttered toast, or as much of it as Oscar chose to leave him. And Sanchia, at her ease on the hearthrug, with her arms clasping her knees, thought John’s solemn face infinitely funny. Almost he looked as though Oscar was a bad cheese.

But she did try to drag John into the conversation. She liked John. She told him to light his pipe, and she mentioned to Oscar that John was interested in birds.

Oscar tried a quip.

“My dear sir, do you keep canaries? I once had a canary.”

“Indeed,” said John; “did you?”

“The most Victorian bird. It must have been a she. It used to tweet—‘Albert—Albert.’ ”

John plugged tobacco in his pipe.

“I see, quite lyrical. These things are catching.”

And then they looked at each other slantwise as men will, and knew that there could be murder between them, though in John’s hands Oscar would have been less than a sack of stale flour.

Now when Oscar was annoying anybody he felt his sleekest and his happiest, and if he could combine impertinencies towards Mrs. Grundy with a mild intrigue with some attractive woman, then the situation was flawless. For to Oscar, John symbolized the British Constitution, and the lions in Trafalgar Square, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, and a public that could go dotty over a novel like “Lorna Doone.” Oscar, being Irish, was always making terrible fun of the English, and John was so very English. It was easy to twist his tail.

At least, it appeared so, and Oscar sat him out at Sanchia’s on two successive afternoons, and treated John like an overgrown boy, and had the best of the fire, and apparently the best of Sanchia. He absorbed so much of the fire that Sanchia was moved towards playfulness.

“Martha tells me that we are down to the last hundredweight.”

“Of what, dear lady?”

“Coal.”

“A shortage of coal! But surely there are coal merchants in Devon, as well as Drakes and noble fellows.”

“My coal comes seven miles by road. I have two tons on order.”

Oscar spread his hands.

“Oh, God will provide.”

He looked at John.

“Besides, here we have Master Ridd who looks as though he could carry a sack of coal or a sheep.”

John brooded.

“Yes, I might manage to dispose of a sheep.”

Meanwhile a most strange conglomeration of circumstances combined to produce an unexpected situation. The weather changed suddenly; it grew cold; it banked up masses of blue-grey cloud; the dry bracken shivered in a north-east wind.

Martha’s mother fell sick in a distant village, and Martha begged a day off and disappeared to catch the carrier’s van which would take her into Boon Tracey.

Sanchia’s coal had not arrived, though it was supposed to be on the road.

The Careys’ car brought Oscar to Sanchia’s bungalow, but Oscar had been told that the car could not wait for him and that he would have to walk back. The Careys might be dull people, but they were growing a little tired of Oscar, and of being listed on life’s store-list under the heading of “Poets, people for the use of, Mark Three.”

The north-east wind set its teeth. The sky grew more and more ominous.

When John walked over the moor he knew what was coming, and Oscar should have known; but to Oscar snow was about as real as sugar icing on a cake, and when John arrived at Sanchia’s cottage he found the poet and Sanchia sitting in front of a very small fire. Oscar was not feeling poetical; he was feeling the cold, and that in spite of all the white blubber that he carried. Sanchia looked both a little worried and amused. She rose to make tea.

“Martha’s had to go to Tedworthy.”

“Oh,” said John, with an air of being profoundly wise about something.

“You did not see my coal-cart anywhere?”

“No. Nothing but one old crow.”

They had tea, they sat, they smoked, they talked, though Oscar did most of the talking, and from time to time, being next to the coal-box, he would extract a lump of coal with the tongs and place it on the fire. He kept most of the heat from John, just as he contrived to keep him out of the conversation. But the moment arrived when Oscar groped for the last time in the coal-box.

“Do be careful. That’s my last scuttle.”

Oscar looked blandly amused.

“Dear lady, is that so? For it seems that I have fished out the last lump.”

He chuckled faintly. Really, the joke was against Sanchia, for he was walking back to Lee Manor where there was plenty of coal.

“Subject for a picture. The last cartridge! Obviously, Sanchie, you will have to go to bed, and be Miss Moody till the coal comes.”

Almost he winked at John who was filling a second pipe and staring at the diminishing fire. And suddenly John asked him a question.

“Ever been down a mine?”

“Dear sir—I should get so dirty.”

And John smiled, a quiet sort of smile. It was as though he could hear the snow falling outside Sanchia’s bungalow, a veritable blizzard, banking up against walls and doors, clogging windows, effacing roads, and piling drifts on Chudleigh Moor. He smiled and lit his pipe. Yes, this fat and flabby ass could go on talking, while the snow came down, and turned Chudleigh Moor into a primitive wilderness.

Sanchia was looking a little anxious. Also, the room was growing very cold, and Martha had not returned.

“I think it must be snowing.”

John got up slowly and went to the window and drew back the edge of a curtain.

“Oh, just a few flakes, nothing much.”

He wanted Oscar to go on talking, for when Oscar’s interior warned him that dinner at Lee Manor was at seven-thirty, and that he had an hour’s walk before him, the snow might have some surprises for this conceited ass; so John listened with an air of interest to Oscar’s views upon the poetical genius of Yeats. Meanwhile the fire grew less and less, and Sanchia began to hunch her shoulders and to indulge in little suggestive shivers. Really, the situation was growing serious, for the log-box was as empty as the scuttle, and on Chudleigh Moor gas stoves and electric heaters did not exist. Certainly there was a small oil stove in the kitchen, but Sanchia did not know how much oil might be left in the five gallon drum that stood in the scullery. Yes, the situation was ominous. Supposing it snowed hard during the night and the roads became blocked? Oscar’s dissertation upon the poetic genius of Mr. Yeats became impertinent and superfluous.

She looked at the clock.

“My lad, it’s five minutes past six.”

“Five past six! The minstrel and the winter wind. They are most disgustingly punctual at the Manor.”

Sanchia rose. She was not worrying about Oscar’s winter walk; she was wondering why Martha had not arrived, and what would happen to the evening meal. Oscar was putting on his overcoat, and John lighting a third pipe. He had the air of a man who was waiting for the fun to begin.

Sanchia went to the door. John heard her open it, utter a sudden exclamation, and close the door hurriedly.

“Good heavens! It’s an absolute blizzard.”

She came back into the light. A snowflake had settled on her hair, and others on her dress.

“It’s an absolute blizzard. How utterly surreptitious of it.”

She looked at John as though she expected him to do something, but John sat smoking his pipe.

“Yes, it happens rather suddenly up here, at times.”

He glanced at Oscar.

“You had better push off before it gets too thick. I’ll see you as far as the lane.”

He got up and put on his cap, took his ash stick, and opened the door. A whirl of white flakes drifted in, and Oscar, who was thinking of his dinner and the fires at Lee Manor, stood and stared at the unexpectedness of the winter night.

“By Jove—I can’t go out in that. It’s too——”

John turned and looked at him.

“Oh, yes, you can. You have only got to follow the road. No use hanging about. Good night, Sanchia.”

He edged Oscar out into the snow, and closed the door, and found Oscar’s black shape blocking the path.

“I say—I can’t see——”

“Come on. I’ll put you in the lane. You have only to follow the lane.”

He took Oscar by the arm and shepherded him down the path and out of the gate. He was most unsympathetic.

“You turn left—I turn right. I should make tracks if I were you. It’s getting rather thick. Good night.”

John stood there until he had convinced himself that Oscar was making a sincere attempt to walk to Lee Manor, and then he turned to the right, and made for his cottage. It was less than a quarter of a mile away, but when he reached it he was like a snow man. He stamped his feet and shook himself in the porch. He gave way to inward laughter. It was a nice situation. Possibly it might teach Sanchia a thing or two, and prove to the poet that a winter night on Chudleigh Moor was not a mere cream meringue.

Though, as a matter of fact, the situation was developing on lines that were unforeseen by John. He had supposed that Oscar would get about as far as The Green Yaffle down by Stone Bridge, and take refuge there for the night. It would not be a very comfortable night, and John was glad.

But Oscar did not get as far as the inn. He fell into a young snowdrift and was considerably frightened. He was not made of the stuff which goes to the creating of Arctic explorers.

Sanchia was investigating the contents of the paraffin drum in the scullery. It contained a little less than a pint of oil, and in transferring it to the stove’s container she spilt quite a lot of it over one foot.

“Oh, damn!”

She did not like paraffin or paraffin stoves. Messy things! But she might be able to warm up something on the stove. Also, the bungalow was beginning to feel like a flimsy cricket pavilion on the top of a mountain. No coal, no Martha, and John had gone and left her in the lurch. She felt very much peeved.

And then she heard a knocking, and gave inward thanks. It would be Martha or the coal, and she hurried to the bungalow’s door and opened it and let in a swirl of snow, and discovered Oscar.

“You!”

There was no joy in her voice, and there was no joy in Oscar. He wore a white plaster all over him. He was not quoting poetry.

“Sanchie. Quite impossible. Awful night. I should have got lost.”

She said:

“But you can’t come in here.”

He stared. What a shock to be met on such a night by the creature of convention in the person of his Isoult of the Moor.

“Can’t?”

“Of course not. You must go on to John’s.”

Almost he whimpered.

“But I don’t know where John lives. Besides——”

The snow was drifting in and she let him into the passage, and half-closed the door, and when she had done it she realized that probably he would stay in. Also, she had a feeling that Oscar was rather a mean creature. He was like a fat and selfish boy who would snivel, and then burst into nasty giggles when the crisis had passed.

She said:

“Why haven’t we a telephone! It’s perfectly—— I’d better take you up to John’s.”

But he was removing his coat. He gave way to an incipient shiver.

“Can’t be done, Sanchie. You’ve no idea what the night’s like.”

She began to have new ideas of Oscar as a man.

“Oh—very well. Do you mean to stay the night?”

“Well—really! Do you expect me to——?”

“There’s no bed for you.”

“No bed?”

“Of course not. I’m not going to give you Martha’s.”

With characteristic casualness he hung his caked coat over a chair which was covered by a beloved piece of Japanese embroidery, and Sanchia exclaimed:

“Take that thing off. It will ruin——”

He stared, and removed it. Yes, certainly Sanchia was rather touchy.

“I can sleep on the sofa.”

He suggested it with an air of magnanimity, and she turned to go back to the kitchen.

“Perhaps. I’ll see.”


About eight o’clock in the morning, John, having had his early cup of tea, lit a pipe, and went out upon the day’s adventure. Sanchia might need rescuing; though, cunning watcher of birds that he was, he had found wisdom in leaving her to discover what Chudleigh Moor was like when the snow came down. He ploughed through it. The day was gorgeous, but bitterly cold, with the sun shining on a white world, and a little crisp, icy breeze blowing from the north.

John approached the bungalow, and avoiding the door, went round to the sitting-room window. He flattened himself against the wall and looked in. He was presented with the most unexpected of tableaux. Sanchia was on her knees in front of the grate, trying to make some sort of fire out of the remains of a sugar-box and last night’s cinders. Oscar sat huddled on the sofa with his back to the window, wrapped up in a blue eiderdown, and looking as blue as the quilt.

John’s eyebrows bristled.

“So you sneaked back, did you!”

He drew away towards the bungalow’s porch. He stood and considered the situation. Now, how exactly should it be handled? He had left a hearty fire leaping up the cottage chimney, and a frying-pan ready for bacon and eggs. He smiled. He knocked at Sanchia’s door.

She opened it. Her hands were black, her little nose pinched, and John met her breezily.

“Well, how’s life?”

She was in a temper near to tears. Things had been sufficiently exasperating without having a helpless mass of fat like Oscar sitting shivering on the sofa.

“John, it’s simply too awful.”

“What—the weather?”

“Oh, yes, that. But we’re simply frozen, and the oil stove has given out.”

“We? Has Martha come back?”

She lowered her voice. She glanced malevolently over her shoulder, and then went and shut the inner door.

“He—sneaked back!”

“What, Oscar?”

“He’s about as useless as—— I let him sleep on the sofa. He expects me—somehow—to produce a breakfast. There’s not going to be any breakfast.”

John wanted to laugh, but he appeared immensely grave.

“I say, Sanchia, you don’t mean to say that fellow spent the night——”

“Oh, don’t be silly. Do you think I wanted him?”

She rubbed her hands together; her little nose was like ivory, and John noticed that she had buttoned herself up in a Scotch tweed coat. His inspiration was upon him.

“Look here, I’ve got a fire up at my place, and plenty of coal, and bacon and eggs, my dear, and hot tea.”

Almost she moistened her cold lips with her tongue. She looked at the snow.

“Could I walk? And what about Oscar?”

“Oh, damn Oscar! Besides——”

And suddenly he caught her up and held her like a baby.

“No need to walk. Rather deep in places. You leave it to me.”

Her astonishment hesitated between anger and delight.

“Bacon and eggs, John?”

“Yes.”

“How lovely.”

He carried her down the path into the lane, the deep snow muffling the sound of his footsteps; and Oscar, who had gone down on his knees and was puffing at a little wad of paper that he had lit under Sanchia’s pile of box wood, remained in ignorance of this act of brigandage. He blew sedulously at the timid flames.

And Sanchia was laughing, and looking strangely into John’s face.

“You—are—strong. I wonder what Oscar will do?”

John smiled.

“That’s his problem. Let him solve it.”

But for the moment Oscar was absorbed in making that small fire burn, even if it should not burn for very long. He wanted to impress Sanchia; he had more than a suspicion that he had lacked impressiveness, and that an unshaven chin did not suit him. Confound the snow! It was a barbarous business, and he had neither razor nor hair brushes, and his hands felt like two lumps of cold fat. Just like a couple of women to leave ordering in fresh coal until there was none left in the house. But what was Sanchia doing? He had fancied that he had heard John’s voice, but he was not going to show himself to that bucolic person. He wanted Sanchia to come in so that he could say: “Look at the fire I’ve made,” and no Sanchia reappeared.

He grew suspicious. He called to her:

“Sanchie! Hallo, come and look at the fire.”

No one answered. He grew anxious, anxious about all sorts of things, his breakfast, his dignity, but when he discovered those footmarks in the snow he forgot his dignity. Actually he blundered out into the lane and saw those deep impressions full of shadow stippling the white surface and disappearing over the hill. They puzzled him, for there appeared to be only one set of tracks, and Sanchia could not have made those huge hoofmarks.

Angry and depressed, he went in to forage some sort of breakfast. He found half a cold tongue in the larder, and the remains of yesterday’s milk, and bread and butter. Hopefully he tried to warm up the kettle on that decrepit fire, and the fire gave up the ghost under that chilly weight of metal and cold water.

Oscar sat down and ate cold tongue and bread and butter, but the food did not seem to warm him. The room grew more and more of an ice-house. He gloomed; he wrapped the quilt round him. He had a feeling that somehow Sanchia had played him a dirty trick. Oh, damn the cold! His pride began to shiver.

Up at John’s cottage things were otherwise. A fire blazed, and Sanchia, on two cushions, unfolded herself like a flower. A kettle steamed on the hob, and that practical person of a John was cracking eggs and dropping them neatly into the frying pan.

“Here you are, Sanchia, you fry while I lay the table.”

“What a joke!”

“Rather, isn’t it.”

“Just lovely. I wonder what Oscar’s doing?”

She laughed so that the eggs shook.

“Did you see him?”

“I did. Rolled up in a quilt.”

“A blue quilt. And his hair! Oscar doesn’t look nice in the morning, especially with a beard.”

John was laying the table.

“Be careful with that pan, young woman. I don’t like my eggs broken.”

“You—are—a tyrant.”

“Perhaps.”

Cold tongue and bread and butter lay heavy on Oscar’s stomach. Oh, for a warm drink! And that flimsy bungalow seemed to grow colder and colder. He worked up a rage, a humiliated heat, he put on his coat and dared the snow. He floundered up hill in the direction of John’s cottage, following those huge depressions. He came to John’s cottage, and saw smoke ascending from the chimney. So there was a fire.

His pride oozed out of his boots. Hot tea! And perhaps that fellow would lend him a razor, and allow him a jug of hot water. But he, too, went to peer through a window, and there in front of the fire he saw two people seated upon cushions. John was smoking a pipe, and had an arm round Sanchia, and in Sanchia’s mouth there was a cigarette. On the table lay the tantalizing relics of a hot breakfast.

And Oscar felt grieved, disillusioned. He despaired of the world.

“Selfish beggars.”

But he tapped at the window.

“Hallo, you two.”

Incredible selfishness! John got up and deliberately pulled down the blind!


GUSTAVE

On my first night at the Hôtel Telamone at Tindaro he came and stood beside my table. That he was uncomely to the point of grotesqueness I will not deny, and yet when he spoke in his deliberate and accurate English I received so pleasant an impression of courtesy and kindliness that his very plainness became likeable.

He hoped that I had had a good journey, and did I wish for the wine list?

As a matter of fact, my “sleeper” from Rome had been shared by a gentleman who had coughed when he was not sleeping and had snored when he was not awake. I accepted the wine list from the maître d’hôtel’s fat hand. I noticed that he wore a gold signet ring.

“Anything that you can recommend?”

He gave me a little, deprecating and humorous smile, and when he smiled his eyes rolled upwards and disappeared behind closed eyelids. He had a queer, porcine profile, and half a lemon stuck in his mouth would have completed the picture. He wore his brown hair en brosse. A gold watch-chain looped itself across the bulge of a white waistcoat.

“Every wine in the list is recommended, sir.”

I caught his droll little eye reappearing.

“That’s rather embarrassing.”

“But some are more recommended than others, sir; and we have English whisky.”

That settled it: Wine, French, Italian or Spanish, red or white, liked me less than I liked its flavour. I ordered a bottle of whisky and a syphon, and watched the maître d’hôtel waddle briskly away. His black trousers were very baggy, his dress coat well cut. He had an air, a certain presence; he looked meticulously clean and well polished, a man of substance. That he was to become for me a figure of human and naïve dignity was for the moment beyond my foreseeing. I regarded him as a polite and capable person who was about to provide me with a drink.

Half of the tables of the Telamone were unoccupied, for it was early in the season, and when the maître d’hôtel returned with my whisky and a syphon he remained for a moment beside my table. But his little, intelligent eyes watched everything. He had a way of turning on his heels, his stout body revolving as though his feet were pivoted.

“If you would prefer a table by one of the windows, sir.”

I supposed that there was a view when the windows were unshuttered. He raised his hands, palms turned towards me.

“Magnificent, sir.”

“Then—I would like a window.”

He said that he would arrange it to-morrow.

My friend had not exaggerated the beauty of the view from the windows of the Hôtel Telamone. It stood on the edge of a cliff, with the rocks below it grey-green with agave, aloe and prickly pear, and the foot of the cliff seemed washed by the Ionian sea. Across the sheeted blueness the Calabrian coast loomed dimly like a cloud bank, with here and there a white town glimmering. North and south—the Sicilian coast—thrusting out into blue-black headlands or creased with the green of lemon groves and olives—had the same exquisite texture as sky and sea. The almonds and the fruit trees were beginning to whiten. Cypresses threw long shadows. Under my window a golden mimosa sent up its perfume.

Of Tindaro itself many people have written. I would describe it as a conglomeration of goats, mangy donkeys, swarthy dogs with moles and moustaches, chickens, curio shops, vociferous motors, smells, garbage, and very dirty children. It has a picturesqueness: old houses, old walls, the red and grey ruins of a fine Greco-Roman theatre. It has one passably clean street—the Corso—where you met everybody—from the waiter who attends to you, to some novelist or other spending royalties. I am not concerned with Tindaro. It is a place where people with money can strike attitudes and buy old rugs and gilded furniture and Roman pottery and velvets and damasks—and blue amber, and smell some superlative smells. I am concerned with Gustave—a Swiss—with a protuding white waistcoat, and two intelligent little eyes, and an air of benignly bearing some secret and human burden. He interested me more than Tindaro. He appeared like a sagacious and patient elephant going solidly about his particular business in a land of melancholy monkeys.

For Gustave did the unexpected. He began straight-away to pique my curiosity. I had a favourite chair in the hotel garden at the edge of a terrace, and every morning at twelve o’clock Gustave would appear in his black clothes and white waistcoat, toddle down a flight of narrow steps to a ledge where a few olive trees grew, seat himself on a garden chair, produce a pair of field-glasses, and observe something going on below. The railway line and Tindaro station lay between the cliff and the sea. The station was visible, with its rank of waiting cars and buses, and at about twelve o’clock the train from the north arrived. It seemed obvious to me that Gustave watched the train and the arrivals. It was part of his thoroughness, his foresight; he was one of the most thorough persons I have ever met.

“Counting the people who get into the Telamone bus,” I thought; “the number of the new arrivals for lunch. How Swiss!”

But I was wrong. I found that out later.

Also, Gustave had a friend, a huge grey goat belonging to one of the flocks that grazed on the stony hillsides, an enterprising creature, carrying mythology to the very door of the hotel. It shared with a one-legged player upon the Sicilian pipe the privilege of loitering upon the roadway leading to the hotel. It seemed a very tractable creature, nibbling the herbage growing on the low stone parapet above the deep drop to the olive groves below. Occasionally when the piper was piping the goat would get up on its hind legs or buck. I never saw it threaten anybody with its horns. Had it done so the management of the Telamone would have intervened.

Gustave would feed this thing daily with a little bunch of green food. Whenever he appeared at the doorway of the hotel the goat—if it happened to be in sight—would trot up to him. It would offer its head to be rubbed, now and again giving a little playful tap at Gustave’s hand with its horns.

Being present one morning, I shared the attentions of the goat, and words of wisdom with Gustave.

“Pan and his pipes?” I asked; “is that it?”

No, it was not; though Gustave knew all about Pan, and the old ruffian of a one-legged piper who had a ready cap and Sicilian blessings, and curses—which no tourist understood.

“I prefer the goat, sir,” said Gustave; “animals don’t mutter foul words if you don’t throw five centimes.”

I was inclined to agree with Gustave.

“You ought to keep a dog,” I said.

He gave me one of his droll and blessed smiles.

“Sir—I keep a daughter.”

I was interested. His heavy face had grown suddenly tender.

“Here, in Tindaro?”

“Yes. She is just as high as that.”

He extended a hand, palm downwards.

“Seven years. She lodges with the Swiss woman who keeps the tea-shop. A very good woman. Rosalie is quite happy there.”

“Of course—you see her every day?”

“Of course, sir. I have two hours each afternoon. We go out together. That is why I work so hard.”

I liked the man, and I suppose he felt my liking, for he began to tell me of some of his early experiences. As a lad of nineteen he had gone to London to learn the language; he had obtained a post as waiter at the Cosmopolis Hotel. “They allowed you three drops there, sir. I was a nervous boy. I had two drops. And then—one evening—a gentleman getting up suddenly knocked a sauce-boat with his shoulder. I was discharged next day. I had six weeks walking the streets, with nothing in my pocket.”

“How did you live?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“How does one? I was young then. I could not do it now. But I have never forgotten. Nor the good Samaritan——”

“There are such people, Gustave.”

He smiled.

“Oh, yes; people who have eyes and hearts.”

He was not in the least bitter, but somehow I divined in him a sadness, a vague fear. Perhaps it was the fear that those six weeks of hunger and homelessness had planted in him—fear, too, for his child.

“I save money, sir. I do not smoke; I do not drink. There shall be no such six weeks for my daughter.”

I liked the man. He was a good fellow. The Swiss staff in the dining-room worked under him with admirable and contented briskness. I never saw him bullying any of them, nor heard him raise his voice; apparently it was not necessary; they respected him. And my whisky remained my whisky; no surreptitious nips were taken from the bottle.

One afternoon, when I was idling away an hour in the sun amid the ruins of the classic theatre, I came upon Gustave and a child sitting on the grass. The child had the father’s soft felt hat in her lap, and Gustave’s cropped head was profiting by the sunlight.

She was a pretty, dark little thing with bright eyes, very red lips, and a mop of crisp black hair, as unlike her father as a child could be. She looked sensitive and rather fragile, and in her brown eyes something seemed to lurk.

“This is Rosalie, Mr. Stephens.”

Gustave was for getting up, but I told him to stay where he was, and after taking the child’s shyly-offered hand, I sat down on the grass with them. About us rose the old red walls, their crevices and broken arches filled with the intense blue of the sea. Behind us rose a little rocky hill covered with prickly pear, and rosemary and asphodel. Away south Ætna loomed in the distance.

The child seemed shy of me, so I talked to Gustave, and found myself wondering about the child’s mother. Gustave had never mentioned his wife; one might presume that she was dead, and that the good fellow kept the sorrow locked away with himself. Yet the child was so different from the father; she was graceful and aery, and quick with her glances and her colour. She looked out at you from her shyness like a little woodland sprite peeping from a thicket.

Gustave sat and beamed. It was easy to see that the child was everything to him. He held out a hand, and she snuggled over to him; she had been tucking flowers into the band of her father’s hat.

“You are being decorated, Gustave.”

He rolled his eyes at me.

“To-morrow is Rosalie’s birthday. We were planning——”

I smiled at the child.

“Felicitations, Rosalie. And what is the age to be?”

“Eight, monsieur.”

Gustave cuddled her.

“We are going for a drive in an autocar: Rosalie, papa, and Mademoiselle Lulu. Lulu is a doll, sir; the principal doll in Tindaro. We shall buy her on the way home.”

Rosalie threw me an elf’s glance.

“Her eyes move, monsieur, and she has a shingled head.”

“An up-to-date young lady. Even dolls, Gustave——”

“Even dolls, sir, have to move with the times.”

They were so happy together that I took myself off and had tea at the English tea-shop, and on the way back to Telamone I came upon Gustave and his daughter walking up the Corso. He had the child by the hand. He looked huge and clumsy beside her, a grotesque parading with a fairy, but I knew by now that the soul of a Swiss waiter can walk with God.

I think it was two days later when I saw Gustave go down to his look-out on the terrace where the olives grew, and turn his glasses on to Tindaro station. The twelve o’clock train had arrived, but I had grown accustomed to the mid-day train and Gustave’s binoculars, and I turned over the pages of my paper. A breeze made the paper play tricks with me, and I was struggling with a mischievous sheet when I happened to catch sight of Gustave’s face as he came up the narrow steps. The man had a scared, breathless look. He paid no attention to me, but went trotting up the garden, still holding his binoculars in his right hand.

“Heavens!” I thought, “a whole trainload has arrived for the Telamone, and Gustave is short of hors d’œuvres.”

I saw him pass through the arched gate of the garden, and ascend the steps to the hotel. But he did not enter the hotel. I saw him go hurrying along the raised roadway. He had been joined by that absurd grey goat, who appeared to regard Gustave’s haste as part of a game and went frisking beside him. They disappeared together into Tindaro, a hatless and stout head-waiter in evening dress and that prancing, horned creature.

Something was in the air. The memory of Gustave’s scared and hurrying face began to suggest happenings more serious than a shortage or an omission. He had not entered Tindaro in search of a few tins of sardines, or a bottle of olives, and somehow his fat and anxious face seemed to connect itself with my mind-picture of his child. For some reason or other he had dashed off to his Rosalie, to the pâtissèrie shop kept by Madame Bozio. But why? And what had the arrival of the twelve o’clock train to do with it, if it had anything to do with it?

I went into lunch feeling interested. Gustave was there, but not the Gustave of normal and attentive blandness. The man had a worried face, and eyes that expressed secret apprehension. He was restless; he kept fussing up and down among the tables; he bumped against one and upset a vase of flowers. He apologized. His forehead had a moist look. When he came to my table with a menu card in his hand I noticed that his fingers were conveying a fine tremor to the card.

I felt that I wanted to say something to the man, something friendly and reassuring.

“How’s Rosalie to-day——? Quite well——?”

He did not seem to hear me. He was staring at the glass door of the salle-à-manger. New arrivals were entering.

“Excuse me, monsieur.”

He disappeared behind my back, and I heard him being polite to the newcomers, but the voice was not the placid, debonair voice of the Gustave whom I knew. It was the voice of a man speaking empty words while his inward self remained inarticulate in the presence of some torturing emotion.

It was my habit to indulge in a little siesta after lunch. The window of my room looked south towards Ætna. I had closed the jalousies and dozed off, when the voice woke me. It was a woman’s voice, loud and resonant and angry; it seemed to be tearing a temper to tatters; it scolded and threatened and declaimed. Also, it tore my sense of peace to tatters; it was the sort of voice that throws grit into the eyes of a man’s soul.

“Confound it! Who the devil——?”

I got up and opened the shutters, and the little drama displayed itself in the hotel roadway below me. There was poor Gustave making expostulating and placating gestures to a tall woman who had come there determined to make an abominable scene. She was a handsome creature, very smartly dressed. She seemed to be clawing the air in front of his face. Obviously she was his wife, for she was announcing the fact to my window. She was calling poor Gustave a pig, and a dog and a villain. He had deserted her. He had taken her child away, her dear little Rosalie, her angel. But she was a woman and a mother. She would have her rights.

Poor Gustave flapped his arms rather helplessly.

“Be quiet, Hortense. If you will be quiet——”

“Where is the child—you——”

His stout figure seemed to solidify.

“She is not here——”

“Liar——”

It was a deplorable scene. I could see the heads of the concierge and the two porters protruding from the hotel doorway, and suddenly it occurred to me that I ought to go down and rescue poor Gustave. I might be able to put an end to the scene. I did go down. I found the woman walking to and fro like a fury in a cage, her handsome face suffused and venomous. Gustave was standing obdurately still, a hulk of a man splashed by her invective.

I spoke to him.

“Gustave——”

He turned with a kind of dead stare.

“Gustave—I’m giving a lunch to-morrow. Can you spare me a minute?”

I think he saw the rescue in my eyes. He absconded from the fight. He followed me into the lounge, fumbling pathetically with a little notebook. But with a nod at him I made for the garden door and he followed me like a dog following someone with a sympathetic voice.

I got him away to a little quiet corner in the garden where three stiff chairs and an iron table stood under the thin shade of two pepper trees. I sat on the edge of the iron table, while he fumbled with his notebook, and could not look at me for shame.

“Monsieur’s luncheon party——?”

Together we concocted some sort of imaginary menu, he scribbling in his little notebook, while I felt my compassion for him growing more articulate. I had my cigar case in my pocket, and I offered it to Gustave.

“Smoke——?”

“Monsieur is very kind——”

I saw his little eyes filmed with moisture. He lit one of my cigars, and handed me back the case with a little bow, and drew in a deep breath.

“Such is life, sir! Nine years ago, and moonlight on Lake Leman, and the lime trees smelling sweet——”

He hunched his shoulders, and puffed silently for some seconds.

“One should never marry a handsome girl with a temper. But I thought—that as I was a placid sort of fellow—— But then—I did not know that she had such a devil of a temper. It was unsupportable; it seemed to grow worse and worse. I do believe, sir, that some people are possessed. Even the child was terrified, and used to run away and hide, or wake up at night—screaming——”

He gave me a pleading, deprecating glance.

“I tried everything, sir. And then—she took to drinking. The storms became abominable. At last—for the sake of the child—I ran away, and took a place in Hungary. I used to send her money, while concealing my address. I promised to send her money regularly—if she would keep away. For she had become a bad woman—sir——”

He gulped smoke and emotion.

“But she found me out. She always does find me out. Six months of peace—and then. It’s just the devil in her, fury for fury’s sake. She comes and makes a scene. She tries to get hold of the child——”

I was sorry for the man, and yet—what could one say? I asked him why he had not divorced her, and he spread his hands and besought me to consider the life of a head-waiter.

“I go from place to place. I have to earn money. I have had no time to collect evidence. And some women are very cunning, sir. Always she contrives to put me in the wrong.”

“But surely,” I said, “it would save you money—in the end—if you divorced her.”

He agreed.

“But she has taken so much money from me. I gave her money to try and keep her away from the child. Imagine, sir, how such a woman can poison the innocence of a child. And now—I shall have to disappear, give her the slip somehow. And everything was very pleasant here and the season is just beginning, and I shall lose much money, and forfeit my contract.”

He looked very miserable, and when he tucked the cigar between his lips it added an ironic touch to his unhappy face.

“Why go? Let her make a scene or two. She will get tired of it. And we respect you here—Gustave.”

He gave me a grateful look.

“Thank you, monsieur. But the child——? And the management might object—— Such scenes——”

“Why not tell the Swiss woman to keep the child in the house. If you can trust her.”

“She is a good woman, sir.”

“Well—why not try it. Make a stand. If you allow yourself to be hunted from place to place—you give her the advantage.”

“It is true,” he said. “Perhaps I have been too much a coward for the sake of the child.”

It is possible that my sympathy and advice helped to harden his over-soft heart, for that evening at dinner he came and stood beside my table with an air of reinflated confidence. His white waistcoat had more of its natural civic dignity.

“I have decided to stay, sir.”

“Good.”

“The management has been very sympathetic. It seems, sir, that they appreciate my work here.”

“We all do that, Gustave.”

“And Madame Bozio is a tower of strength. Rosalie is not to leave the house or garden. Madame Bozio is a very determined and kind-hearted woman, sir. She says that she will be quite able to keep—her—out of the house.”

I was glad. It seemed to me that Gustave had only to show a determined front to this fury, and she would soon tire of persecuting him. Obviously the thing for him to do was to refuse to send her money unless she promised to keep her distance. But Gustave was a sentimental creature. It may be that he still thought of Hortense as the girl he had known her when the moon shone on Lake Leman, and the lime trees were in bloom. He would rather run away than be brutally and firmly final.

But this domestic drama was to end in a manner beyond the most fantastic imaginings. The climax was both shocking and tragic and grotesque. Gustave’s wife remained in Tindaro; she lodged at some cheap little hotel; she appeared upon the Corso very flashily dressed; she frequented a certain café and a dancing cabaret that were more than a little dubious. It appeared that she made one or two attempts upon Madame Bozio’s defences, and was stoutly repulsed.

I met the woman once or twice in the Corso. She was a bold, handsome creature, but if ever a woman had evil painted upon her face Gustave’s wife had it. She was the sort of woman to make any decent man feel wholesomely afraid, and to run from her as from a devouring pestilence. The angry and lascivious eyes of her, and that red and greedy mouth were only too suggestive. I understood why poor Gustave was afraid of her, and especially so when he looked into the eyes of his child.

Every day she would walk to the gates of the Telamone. She would enter with an air of defiance, and parade up and down the private road between the hotel and the low stone wall that guarded the miniature precipice at the road’s edge. She was waiting for the eternal chance of humiliating poor Gustave; and no doubt she enjoyed it.

But Gustave was shy. Only once again did she catch him in public, and that when he emerged for a moment to feed the grey goat with a handful of green stuff. I happened to witness the interview, for I was writing a letter at my bedroom window.

She came suddenly upon Gustave. I imagine she had been sitting upon one of the hotel seats that were screened by low hedges of Banksia rose. Apparently she objected to the goat, as she would have objected to anything for which Gustave had a liking; anyway, she rapped the creature over the head with her red sunshade, and the goat withdrew. But I saw the creature’s light eyes fixed on the woman as she stood and abused her husband. She had a particularly unpleasant voice. I heard her asking Gustave for money.

But he stood his ground. In fact he ordered her out of the place, and having shown so much boldness, he retreated with dignity and deliberation. He disappeared from my view. His wife stood and watched him enter the hotel, and her handsome face expressed vindictive surprise, for I suppose this was the first time that he had defied her. She looked up at the hotel windows as though the Telamone was Jericho, ready to fall flat when she sounded her trumpet.

She put up her red parasol. Gustave had ordered her to leave the hotel grounds, and like a defiant and malicious child she walked to the low wall and stood looking over. She was in no hurry; she would remain there just as long as she pleased, and depart at her leisure.

I had resumed the writing of my letter when I heard a pattering sound in the road below. I glanced up just in time to see the grey goat scampering with head down towards the woman standing by the parapet. She did not seem to hear the creature, and until the thing had happened I did not foresee that such a thing could happen. The creature’s charge flung her headlong over the low wall.

Gustave must have been standing in the vestibule and watching his wife through the glass door, for as I started up from my chair I saw him rush out. Some fifty yards away a flight of steps led down to the lower terrace, and I saw him make for the steps. I, too, found myself in the roadway and running for the steps. A waiter and the concierge were following me.

But at the bottom of the flight of steps I turned and motioned them back. I had seen Gustave on his knees, raising the woman’s figure.

I loitered for a moment and then went slowly along the path under the flickering shadows of the olive trees. Gustave was still kneeling there; he was in tears. He looked up at me pathetically.

“She is dead, sir.”

He looked at the poor, painted face.

“After all—she was—the mother of my child, sir; and there was a time——”


SAND DUNES

Millard met me at the station with his car, and we drove over to Milford through the green freshness of a summer evening. We had seen very little of each other during the last two years, but Millard was a man to whom the lapse of time made no difference. Friendship with him was a thing of the country: robust, steadfast, of slow growth, not given to change like the mere fickle friendships of a city.

“Well, how’s life?” he asked.

I told him that I was tired, that the business world was like a pirate ship, and that I was taking a holiday.

“So you are beginning with us,” he said; “that’s good. Grace shall take you in hand. A long chair in the garden, eggs and milk, and a little mild tennis.”

He smiled at me in the old way with his quiet blue eyes. There was no need for me to ask how life was treating him, for his brown and healthy happiness was as obvious as the sunset.

“How long can we keep you?”

“A week, if that is not too long.”

“Of course not. And what are you going to do afterwards?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“Waiting for an inspiration!”

“Yes, that’s about it.”

The Millards had an old white house at the end of an old green garden. The place had an atmosphere: it was mellow, meditative, and very quiet; it was a house that did not stand; it reclined on a green carpet, surrounded by flowers and trees. You felt yourself relax directly you entered it. The rooms were long and not too brightly lit, full of soft colours and old wood. You saw flowers everywhere, and smelt them. Grace Millard lived in a world of flowers.

My first thought was: “Ah—I am going to be happy here.”

And Grace Millard’s welcoming brown eyes seemed to smile a silent acquiescence.

The whole house charmed me with the exception of my bedroom. I do not know what it was about the room that troubled me, for there was everything in it that a thoughtful woman could think of to make a bachelor comfortable. I saw it first just when twilight was beginning to fall. The light was cold, and even a blackbird’s singing could not charm away the room’s impression of sadness, chilliness. The furniture was of lightish oak, the curtains and bedspread purple, the carpet a soft grey. Millard, who was with me, asked if I should like a fire.

“My dear chap, no,” I said; “I haven’t quite forgotten that I am an old soldier.”

The room depressed me. It filled me with a vague sense of unaccountable restlessness, which I explained by the sudden lost feeling that sometimes falls upon a hard-worked man when he has thrown off his harness, and finds himself with nothing to do.

I am a good sleeper, but I slept badly in that room.

“Well, had a good night?”

Millard was spooning out porridge.

“Oh, splendid,” I said, lying cheerfully; “you have no confounded taxis in this corner of Surrey.”

“Some people say the birds are rather noisy.”

“That reminds me of the huntsman who had a grievance against ‘them stinking violets’!”


We lounged, we motored, we played some not very strenuous tennis; I loafed in the hammock and smoked and read novels. I was out in the open air all day, and going in to my meals with immense zest, and yet my sleep in that purple and grey room was brittle and uncertain. The night would begin well—for I was healthily tired—but I woke each night about two, and from that time onwards I dozed between intervals of restless wakefulness. I could not understand this broken sleep, and the feeling of expectancy that would come upon me suddenly. I would lie still and listen just as though I expected to hear some movement.

“Nerves!” I thought; “sudden change of habit. You are more tired than you suspected. Two years of worry and work, without a proper holiday.”

It is unusual for me to dream, but on the fourth night in that room I had a dream that was so vivid and so peculiar that I got up in the grey of the dawn and wrote down its strange details. I was most extraordinarily impressed by it. It made me feel as though I had been somewhere out of myself, and that my conscious self still felt a little bewildered and scared in the body to which it had returned.

I give the jottings as I scribbled them down:

It began with some war picture. I was lying with twenty or thirty men in more or less open ground. Germans rather above us and quite invisible.

Bombing. Rather crude and antiquated, more suggestive of one’s ideas of the XVIIIth Century grenades. Not very serious; no one hurt. Much red flare and smoke, and pieces of metal falling about. One big piece—red hot—fell near me as I lay, a little to my right side, and I made the remark that it would have been unpleasant if that piece had fallen in the middle of my back. Men laughing and joking. No terror.

An interlude.

Billets in some foreign hotel, rather vague. A garden with a group of middle-aged women, English—I think.

Again, the earlier scene. All quiet. I am suddenly alone, rather high up, on sandy ground covered with tussocks of coarse grass. Sand dunes stretch away like the dunes round Nieuport, country I had known during the war. Silence; desolation.

Observed in series:

1. A hole rather like a rabbit hole, and lying in it a leather case with a strap. I did not touch it. Some vague suggestion of a booby trap.

2. I have moved on. I see a man’s civilian overcoat, dark, neatly folded lengthwise with the lining outermost, laid on the sand.

3. I go further. On a rather terrace-like stretch of sand there are three or four hats scattered, Panama or canvas. One, a woman’s, with a faded purple band. I am conscious of surprise. (I have heard it said that one never feels surprise in dreams. I did.)

4. Further on I see things scattered about: rugs, overcoats, one or two tennis rackets in presses! This struck me as very queer.

5. Lower down, another slight, sandy terrace. On it—very vividly—two travelling trunks, bleached rather white, with black leather bindings. A black hand-camera. Next to the camera a white wooden box about nine inches by six, dovetailed, with a sliding lid, sealed at one end with a strip of paper or a big label.

Flashing through my mind the thought: “Fugitives, Belgians, early in war, luggage abandoned. How did they come? By car. How queer!”

6. I turn round and see behind me a low bank of sand and three figures, half sitting, half lying, muffled up, brown coloured and swollen, looking as though they are asleep. Instinctively I know them to be dead. One man wears a cap with ear-flaps. The faces make me think of the brown, flat faces of rag dolls. They are almost featureless, and mummified. I see the small black dot of an eye on one face which turns out to be a fly.

7. I find myself looking over the bank and down into a hollow beyond. More figures, two or three, lying there and seeming to melt into the sand.

8. I look over my left shoulder. About half a mile away over the dunes a white Flemish house flashes up in the grey light, a rather tall and narrow house with a high white gable. A few dark figures are moving about the house.

9. I realize that I have wandered into a place of peril, perhaps behind the German posts or into no-man’s-land close to their trenches. It is all strange. I seem to be standing on ground where no man has stood in open daylight since the beginning of the war. I am conscious of fear, terror, a desire to lie down and crawl somewhere.

10. I woke. The dawn is grey. I hear the sound of birds, and a cock pheasant calling.

I did not mention this dream to the Millards, for it seemed to me so morbid and so uncanny, that having put it on record, I thought it best to pigeon-hole it and to forget. Nor did I in any way connect it with the room or the house. I am not a psychic person. I am afraid my inclination would be to ask myself what I had had for dinner on the previous night. But I could not get away from the vividness of this dream; all its details were extraordinarily distinct; there seemed to be a sort of grim inevitableness running through it. I found myself wondering who those people were who lay dead among the dunes; how had they come there, how had they died? Had I seen something that had actually happened quite a number of years ago?

The dream haunted me all that day, but that night I slept without a break. I found the memory much less vivid; it had begun to fade like the proof of a photograph that has been exposed to the light.

Millard came in from the garden as I wandered downstairs.

“Hallo, Toby; slept well?”

“Splendidly.”

“There is a batch of letters for you somewhere. Where’s that girl put them? Oh, there, on the side-board.”

Grace had not yet appeared, and Millard picked up the morning paper and glanced at the news while I went through my letters. The envelope of the last one carried a very familiar scrawl—Jamie Hamilton’s big, virile hand. There was a foreign postage stamp in the right, upper corner, a Belgian stamp, and I stared at it for a moment with a feeling of surprise.

I opened the letter. The Hamiltons were staying at Ostend, Jamie, Norah, and the two children. Their hotel was the Leopold, very comfortable and all cleaned up, as he had put it. His suggestion was that I should run over and spend part of my holiday with them, and he promised me quite a pleasant time. “It is not half bad here, and not a little amusing. We bathe and play tennis, and I have been teaching the kids to swim. I have had one or two jaunts with Norah to some of the old places. Do you remember Nieuport, and that damned footbridge over the Yser? If family life won’t bore you, come along and join us. Bring your clubs if you care to. We dance a bit. There are one or two quite nice girls here, and Norah is always hinting that you ought to get married.”

All the time I was reading Jamie’s letter I heard a voice inside me saying “You will go.” And yet there was a part of me which did not want to go, for my queer dream had thrown a blight of fear and of horror over all that dune country.

“Do you remember Hamilton?” I asked Millard.

He glanced up from the cricket news.

“Rather. Awful good chap.”

“He and his people are over at Ostend; they want me to join them. I think I shall go.”

I did go. I wired to Hamilton, asking him to book me a room at the Leopold, and I took the Dover-Ostend boat on a still and rather misty day when the sea was like a sheet of ground glass. I leant over the rail and watched the Belgian coast slide by, dim and rather strange with its pale dunes and little watering-places crouching at the edge of the sea. How familiar they were, St. Idesbald, Coxyde, Nieuport Bains, Westende! They had come to life again; but for me they were full of the strange, sad smell of the War, and as for the dunes, they were dominated by my dream. It insinuated itself into my consciousness, permeated it, coloured my impression of things, threw a ghostly blight over all that pale coast. I fought against the absurdity of this curious obsession.

“What rot! You are out for a holiday. Get rid of all this dyspeptic nonsense.”

Hamilton and two very vital young people met me as I came off the boat, Pauline and Phœbe, one dark, the other red, both with long, slim, active legs and dancing eyes. Jamie was his lean, old, quizzical self. The haze had cleared, and Ostend warmed itself in the sunlight at the edge of the yellow sands and the blue of the sea. The atmosphere of my dream dispersed itself. Pauline held on to my left hand and asked me what I had done with my moustache. Phœbe, mischievous yet enigmatical, eddied along between me and Jamie and studied me with friendly intentness. When I smiled she smiled. There was no gloom here, no mystery, save the delightful mystery of childhood, eager and unspoilt.

“I hope you have brought your plus fours, old chap?”

“I have.”

“Daddy—what are plus fours?”

“A certain form of knickerbocker, my dear.”

“Mr. Mayne—I’ve got knickers on. What would they be?”

“Minus tens—I should say!” said her father.

Norah Hamilton was waiting for us on the terrace in front of the hotel. She always smiled at you as though you were some delightful yet whimsical sort of joke. She had been bathing, and her red hair looked massively rebellious.

“So glad you’ve come. I think Jamie was getting a little bored with the family.”

“I have not seen any signs of it,” I said.

My first impression of the Hôtel Leopold was a pleasant one. It was clean and sunny, and not too large; it overlooked the sea; the concierge spoke English, and had a smile that would not be included in the bill. I found that Hamilton had engaged me a really excellent room on the second floor, and I realized that when lying in that comfortable bed with its deep mattress I should be sung to by the sea.

“I shall sleep like the dead here,” I thought, as I began to unpack my baggage.

Dinner found me very ready to enjoy everything, and in a mood to talk nonsense to Norah and the two children. The salle-à-manger was fairly full, and the people were English, Belgian or French “Quite a nice crowd,” according to Jamie—“not too beastly rich. We have made quite a lot of friends.” Our table was in the middle of the room, and they had given me a chair where I faced the windows and could look out over the sea. A series of small tables were ranged next to the windows, and they were the favoured places presented to the Leopold’s longest stayers. I noticed a girl sitting by herself in a corner at one of these little tables. She was very dark and very pale, and not English. Her face interested me. It had a slightly bewildered look, and the eyes were sad.

Pauline and Phœbe were telling me the names of half the people in the room.

“That’s Miss Ferguson.”

“And that’s Major Iles, the purple one.”

“Ssh!” said Norah.

“It’s all right,” Jamie interposed, “Iles is attacking his soup.”

“And that’s Ma’mselle Merville. Isn’t she pretty?”

“Which one?” I asked.

“She—in the corner.”

“Don’t point!” said Norah.

“I think she looks rather sad.”

Hamilton frowned slightly.

“I don’t blame her for that,” he said.

The weather was all that a man could desire, and I spent the next two days romping with the Hamiltons, or rather, with Phœbe and Pauline. They took me in hand; they flicked and teased and laughed the last shreds of worldly seriousness out of me, and I became an irresponsible creature who bathed and basked in the sun, and ran races, and put ten-centime pieces on a flat stone for two young women to shy at. I felt better than I had felt for years, and I went in to my meals like a ploughboy.

But there was one serious note in that big, sunny room with its chattering voices and clatter of knives and forks. My eyes were always being drawn to the Belgian girl who sat alone in the corner. She seemed so much aloof; she never appeared to speak to anybody, though she would smile across to Phœbe and Pauline. I had a feeling that she was not only sad and lonely, but that the money was not too plentiful, and the longer I watched her the more I began to wonder what her history was.

“Why don’t you ask Mademoiselle Merville to play with you?” I asked Pauline.

“Do—you—want to play with her?” retorted that disconcerting young woman.

The laugh was against me.

“She looks lonely,” I said.

“But she won’t play,” Phoebe told me; “she’s awfully sweet, but she doesn’t seem able to play.”

“Have you tried?”

“Of course we’ve tried; but Mumsie told us not to be nuisances. Do you find us nuisances, Uncle Mayne?”

“Oh, not at all,” said I.

That evening in a corner of the smoking-room, while Jamie and I were snatching half an hour’s peace with our pipes before the Leopold’s weekly dance, I asked him about the pale girl in the corner.

“Do you know anything about her?”

He gave me a quizzical look.

“Interested?”

“A bit. She has such a lost look.”

“Well, I do know something about her; half the hotel knows it. A most tragic thing happened to her early in the war.”

“Over here?”

“No, she was in England at the time, learning the language. Her people lived at Brussels, quite wealthy people. The whole family was wiped out.”

“Good heavens! How?”

“That is the strange part of it; nobody knows.”

“Nobody knows!”

“Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? All that the girl ever discovered was that her people and another family left Brussels in two cars. It was at the time of the stampede. They were supposed to be making for this place or for the frontier along the coast.”

He paused to relight his pipe, and in that moment of silence I had a most extraordinary feeling of inward attention. I seemed to know what he was going to tell me, that I knew more about it than he did.

“Well?” I said.

“They simply disappeared, vanished. They were never heard of again.”

“What—the two families?”

“Yes. They and their cars and their luggage.”

“It sounds impossible. But what is the theory?”

“There is no theory. The only thing I can think of is that they fell in somewhere with some German scouting party, some particularly unpleasant party. Oh, well, the men had had drink. All sorts of things happened. We were told so, weren’t we? Men were apt to become savages.”

“You mean—they were butchered?”

“Perhaps.”

“But surely——?”

“Not a trace. And it turned out to be more than a mere tragedy of the affections. The girl lost everything—or nearly everything. Her father took some documents with him. I don’t know anything about the Belgian law, but apparently another side of the family came in for the property. There had been bad feeling, a sort of feud; anyhow, with certain documents missing, the other crowd got all the estate.”

I said nothing for a moment; I was too conscious of a tense feeling of excitement.

“I wish you could introduce me to Mademoiselle Merville.”

“Of course I will.”

“To-night?”

“I’ll try. I warn you—she is rather elusive.”

We knocked out our pipes and went into the lounge. The orchestra had begun to play in the room where the dance was held, and Pauline and Phœbe, who were on the jig with their small feet, made a rush at me.

“Oh, Uncle Mayne, do come and dance with us.”

“Mumsie says we may stay up for an hour.”

Hamilton suppressed them, but quite gently.

“You run along—you two—and begin. You haven’t hired Uncle Mayne for the fortnight.”

He had seen Mademoiselle Merville sitting alone in a corner of the lounge, and he went across, bowed, and spoke to her. She looked startled; she glanced at me. For a moment I thought that she was going to refuse, and then she smiled faintly, and made a slight movement of the head. Hamilton beckoned, and I crossed over.

“Mr. Richard Mayne—Mademoiselle Lucie Merville.”

Hamilton left us and I sat down beside her. She was in black, and it emphasized her pallor and the darkness of her eyes. They were very troubled eyes, and they made me think of her as someone who had never quite recovered from some shock, and who was still bewildered by it. I felt that she was a woman who had to be spoken to very gently. She left the conversation to me, and she listened as though the real Lucie was somewhere far away. I talked about Ostend, the life here, the children.

Her eyes brightened when I brought in Phœbe and Pauline.

“They are dears,” she said.

She spoke English very well, and it gave me an opening.

“You were at school in England, were you not?”

“Yes.”

“You must have lived in England quite a long while.”

She gave me a queer and almost frightened look.

“Yes.”

“During the war?”

For a moment I thought that I had touched with too great a boldness on a matter that was painful to her. Her eyes darkened; I had a feeling that she was about to make some excuse and escape.

“Perhaps you do not care to talk of the war. I am sorry.”

There must have been some sympathy between us, and perhaps she felt that subtle something, an attraction that drew us together.

“People were very kind to me in England. I shall never forget.”

“Oh, well,” I said; “the war drew us all together. Don’t talk about it if you do not wish to.”

“I think that depends.”

“You made friends in England?”

“Yes.”

“Do you ever go over?”

“No.”

There was a pause. We looked at each other rather like two shy children.

“What part of England did you stay in?”

“I spent most of my time in Surrey.”

“Surrey!”

“Yes, near a little village called Milford. Some people were very good to me there.”

I felt something flash in my brain.

“Not the Millards?” I said.

I saw the surprise in her eyes.

“Why—yes; how did you know?”

“I did not know. But I have just been staying with them. They are very old friends of mine.”

We were silent a moment. A faint smile seemed to be playing about her mouth; her thoughts had gone back.

“They were very dear people; they were very kind to me. They gave me a home when I was in very great trouble. It was such a peaceful house, so good.”

It came into my mind that there was one question I wanted to ask her.

“Tell me, did you have that quaint little room with the window looking down over the lawn to the woods?”

Again she looked surprised.

“Yes. It had purple curtains and a greyish carpet, and early in the morning you heard the birds singing.”

I was amazed. She had slept in that room in which I had dreamed my dream, and as I realised it and the almost frightening significance of it I became aware of thoughts that were uncanny. What if her dead had been trying to communicate with her and had failed, while I—a casual stranger—had dreamed of the thing—seen it—years after it had happened. I remembered the curious way in which the room had affected me.

“A most queer coincidence,” I said, “that you and I should meet here.”

I told her nothing of my dream, or hinted at my sudden conjecturing as to whether our meeting in this Ostend hotel was not more than a coincidence. It seemed to me that I—a tired and overworked business man—had had an attack of clairvoyance, but what was more suggestive was my realization of what I had to do. The dune country lay out there, and my dream seemed more vivid than ever. Was it possible that I might find some wild spot in the dunes where my dream would fit like a picture into its frame?

I led the talk away to other things, but before I went to bed that night I got hold of Jamie Hamilton, and told him the whole tale. I could see that he was mildly incredulous, but that at the same time he was quite ready to join in something that had the lure of an adventure.

“Well, what are you going to do?”

“Tramp the dune country.”

“What, all the way from here to Dunkirk?”

“Not so far as that. They would not have got beyond Nieuport, you know.”

“My dear chap!” he said, looking at me as though he thought that I had tumbled too easily into a pit of superstitious foolishness.

“Of course you need not come.”

“Oh, I’ll come. I’ve got an inquiring mind. But I suppose you have said nothing to the girl?”

“Not a word. It would be rather cruel unless I had some proof to give her.”

So Hamilton and I set out next morning to explore the country of the dunes, pretending that we intended to visit some of the old places we had known during the war. We took our lunch with us, and engaged a car to run us out and wait for us. It was a blazing day, with the sea like a mirror and the sand like pale brass, and anyone who has tried to march over loose, sun-warmed sand will tell you that it can be an exhausting and exasperating form of exercise. And, of course, we found nothing that we could point to or identify. One sand dune is much like another, and we tramped that tossed and desolate land-sea, getting very hot and tired, and towards the end of the day Hamilton grew slightly tense and facetious. He had sweated all the sense of adventure out of his long, lean body. Our shoes were full of sand. The glare and the heat of it beat up into our faces.

“Say, old thing, what about getting home for a drink and a bathe?”

I felt disgruntled and a little touchy.

“Yes, it’s the wrong atmosphere.”

“It’s a damned hot one, anyway. The next time you dream a dream, Toby, I’d insist on having a notice board put up.”

We picked up the car and drove back to Ostend, where Jamie went to cool himself in the sea, while I sat in my bedroom examining a map that I had bought. “System is the thing,” I reflected. “I ought to go over the ground systematically, bit by bit. I ought to get the feel of the place, and to do that I must go alone.”

I spent an hour that evening talking to Lucie Merville, feeling more and more attracted by her, and ignoring Hamilton’s suggestion that I should come and play bridge. He was wilfully and wickedly tactless in pretending that I was needed to make up a four. I kept my chair beside Lucie Merville. I had a feeling that she liked me, that she felt at ease with me, and I wanted her to like me. In fact I began to suspect that I wanted much more than that. She appealed to me, as a certain particular woman appeals to a certain man, not for any tangible and purely physical reason, but because there seemed to be some mysterious vibration that we shared. Love is like life; you can analyse its characteristics, but you cannot create it.

We talked about the Millards, and the next day I was out again among the dunes, tramping, watching, trying to discover some familiar undulations, some stretch of sand that might make me feel that I had seen it before. But the dunes baffled me, and after three consecutive days of such sand-slogging, I was thoroughly discouraged and tempted to give up. Hamilton’s quizzical face met me at the dinner-table each evening, and the family was beginning to wonder what morose sort of creature I must be to disappear daily with my lunch stowed away in an old haversack.

“Mayne goes botanizing,” said Hamilton, with a wicked look; “you did not know he was a botanist, did you?”

I felt tired and exasperated, but an hour’s talk with Lucie Merville rested me and put me in such a happy temper that I saw myself going out again on the morrow on the same wild quest. I went. The weather had changed. The sky and the sea were overcast, and I felt that rain was coming on the wings of the west wind. Wayward gleams of pale sunlight touched the dunes, and when my chauffeur put me down and I wandered away towards the Yser I had a curious feeling of being in familiar country. The whole atmosphere had changed. I seemed to be re-entering the atmosphere of my dream, for I remembered the clouds, the pale sunlight, the grey blue distances of approaching rain.

I wandered about among the sandhills; but, in spite of my strange feeling of expectancy, I found nothing that could guide me. The sky grew more solidly grey. I turned a little towards the sea and began to climb a sort of hummocky ridge which spread out in an undulating plateau. I stood there looking over the tumbled landscape, and suddenly—something happened.

I was looking over my left shoulder, and I saw something white flash up in the near distance. It was a tall and rather narrow house with a white gable, lit by a passing gleam of sunlight. It was the house that I had seen in my dream.

I stood and stared. There were one or two figures moving about the house.

I felt a shiver pass down my spine; my knees were tremulous; I looked about me with a sense of awe and of fear.

Within three yards of me rose a bank of sand. It undulated slightly, showed little hummocks and hollows.

I turned to the right. Yes; there was a sort of sandy terrace here of pale, crisp sand.

Yes; but there was nothing else to be seen.

And then I remembered that in this dune country the sand was blown by the wind; it collected against solid objects and covered them.

My sense of fear passed into action. I bent down and began to scrape at one of the hummocks on the sloping bank. I must have scraped away six inches of sand when my fingers touched something hard.

I drew up and back. I stared. I was sweating, and the feeling of fear had returned.

Then, I knelt down and made myself go on with the job. A black thing came into view. It was a man’s boot, but a man’s boot by itself had no significance. It was the thing that the boot covered that mattered.

I knelt, staring at two white sticks that disappeared into the top of the boot. They were the two shin-bones of a skeleton.


THE FIRST WRINKLE

The daily details of life had begun to bore Wilton Carr.

At half-past four his secretary brought in his tea—China tea and buttered toast. She seated herself in the chair on the other side of his desk, her shorthand pad ready, her pince-nez tilted attentively. She, too, was a machine—an automaton that went through the same actions at the same hour each day. Her life never seemed to vary; it was as plain and as uninteresting and as obvious as her face.

“No letters to-night, Miss Sims.”

She was surprised, and her surprise amazed him. He knew that for the last ten years he had dictated his letters to her while he was drinking his tea. Hundreds of thousands of letters—dull letters that he had come to associate with the glimmer of her pince-nez and her thin and dusty face!

“No letters, sir?”

There seemed to be some hitch in the machinery of life. She knew that there were a dozen letters that were waiting to be answered, and that Wilton Carr’s whole career had preached punctuality, patience, routine. There had been days when she could have screamed as her pencil jabbed its way across the paper. Had he ever suspected? Did this man of forty know what it was to have to live two lives?

She rose, and the telephone on his desk twittered.

“Hold on,” he said.

She waited, watching his face, vaguely aware of a change in it that she could not describe. There were little, irritable wrinkles on his forehead and round his eyes. She knew how she felt and how she looked when she was irritable with fatigue and hunger, and Wilton Carr’s face made her wonder whether he was hungry, and if so—for what?

He was speaking into the telephone.

“What? Oh, it’s Rigby & Harden again, is it? Tell them to go to hell!”

She saw his nostrils twitching, and the impatience in his eyes.

“Yes—that’s what I said. Wait, I’ll send them a letter. I’m tired of their slipping ways.”

He rang off, gulped a mouthful of tea, and glanced at Miss Sims.

“Take this down, please.”

It was the most uncharacteristic letter of his that she had ever recorded—abrupt and frank to the point of violence. But was it so uncharacteristic? She had read somewhere that at forty a man’s suppressed self is apt to erupt.

“That’s all.” Ten minutes later he went out, and Miss Sims caught the 5.33 from Waterloo.

It was one of those soft, pearl-grey November afternoons—the western sky reddening as for a carnival. Carr found himself walking down Regent Street with a queer sense of having broken away from some boring tradition, a routine that had begun to be exasperating. He felt exhilarated, restless, suddenly alive to new sensations, new impressions. A lighted window attracted him, and he turned aside to look at a glowing model of Monte Carlo bathed in improvised sunlight—brilliant, youthful, and alluring.

Two girls in fur coats were standing beside him, and one of them brushed against his sleeve. The faint perfume of her clothes suggested the warm and exotic south, and he had a glimpse of a little, pale, provoking face with red lips and sidelong eyes.

“I should like a month down there.”

“Have you been?” twittered the other voice.

“I had some luck last year.”

Carr walked on with a feeling that life was slipping past him. He saw himself growing grey in the dull but comfortable room that housed the brain of the firm of Ellerby and Carr, while life went past him like a carnival procession, a procession in which he had no place. These girls—these richly dressed and sensuous women, these young men who idled along with eyes that were the eyes of men who hunted! The lights, the jazz-roll of the traffic, the blazing windows, the rush of humanity, the passion of life hurrying to spend itself, the intoxications, the adventures! Had he not missed it all—he—who was on the edge of growing old? The ego in him uttered a cry of desire and of pain.

The lights and the life-vortex of Piccadilly Circus held him bemused.

He looked at his watch.

Was he going to catch the 6.4 at Euston?

No!

He walked on like a stranger in a strange city, lacking any definite object, hardly noticing whither he went. His newly-revolted body was controlled by ancient, immemorial instincts. He was aware of the lights, the colours, the luxury of the shop-windows, the interminable traffic, the women and girls who hurried or loitered past him, the va et vient of it all. He diverged up a side-street and saw opalescent darkness, a spacious quiet, the lights of a few taxis, trees. He was in Darlington Square. A portico outlined by a string-course of electric lights attracted his attention. There were letters of light on the cornice.

“THE DARLINGTON ROOMS:

DANCING.”

He paused and stood reading a poster:

“LESSONS:

FOX-TROT—WALTZ—TANGO.”

“How long is it since I danced?” said a voice from the depths of him.

A moment later he was speaking to the commissionaire who had opened one of the swing doors.

“Can I have lessons here?”

“Upstairs, sir; first door on the right.”

Wilton Carr went up. He found himself in a sort of lounge, and talking to a fair-haired young woman behind a long desk and an array of ledgers. The sound of a piano came from the next room. Two settees stood at right angles to the fire-place, and they were occupied by three young women in black dresses, an Italian and a Frenchman. The upholstery of the place struck Carr as being vaguely familiar—perhaps because the Darlington Rooms had been decorated and furnished by the firm of Ellerby & Carr.

“Can I have a lesson, now?”

“It’s rather late.”

The fair-haired girl glanced at the clock over the door, and then at the three instructresses.

“There is half an hour. Pepita?”

One of the young women got up with an air of protesting languor. She was a dark girl with a snake’s head of black hair, a brilliant pallor, and large soft eyes. Her nose was short, audacious, predatory. She had a full, red mouth—a mouth that made Carr think of an unfolding flower.

“This gentleman wants a lesson.”

The girl looked at Carr and her gaze puzzled him. It was a quick, comprehensive, critical stare, a glance that summed him up from spats to collar and made an estimate of his social state. Yet this protected and domesticated male thought what beautiful and gentle eyes she had! And she looked tired!

“Half an hour. Will you come with me, sir.”

She had pronounced in his favour, perhaps because she had secured the softness of the man. He had an opulent look, and was well-groomed and ruddy. Men of forty are prone to be sentimental and generous.

Carr took off his overcoat, and followed Pepita into the dancing-room.

He began by being absurdly clumsy and self-conscious, for there was something about Pepita that confused his stolid, normal self. She made him feel absurdly boyish and sentimental. She looked tired and his clumsiness seemed brutal. He kept kicking her feet.

“I’m awfully sorry! You ought not to be dragging an idiotic bulk like me round the room.”

“Why not?”

“You are tired.”

“I’m used to it. I’m paid to get tired.”

In spite of her name she spoke very good English, having been born in Lewisham and christened Florence Smith. Her Spanish-South American atmosphere was part of her art.

Carr felt ashamed of himself—ashamed of all men who made this graceful creature the slave of their elephantic ambitions.

“Look here, let’s sit out for five minutes.”

“We are not allowed to sit out—except for the two minutes between each dance.”

“And you do this all day?”

“From ten till six.”

“What a shame!”

She looked at him curiously. Carr was quite sober, and yet something seemed to have gone to his head and made him furiously sympathetic. The experience was not new to her: she had met it most often in boys, and men over forty. One of the two-minute intervals had arrived, and they sat on a blue and yellow settee and smoked Carr’s cigarettes. There were only two other couples in the room. The pianist—a Russian with a mop of tow-coloured hair—watched Pepita with cynical interest.

“I am afraid I am ruining your shoes.”

She smiled suddenly at him with her large soft eyes.

“Shoes are rather precious—now. And I have to begin again at half-past eight.”

“What, to-night?”

“Yes; we have to dance with some of the men at the evening dances. Sometimes I’m so tired at six o’clock that I can’t eat any dinner.”

Carr’s sentimentality was shocked. The pianist began to pound out a waltz, and Pepita jumped up.

“Come along.”

“But it seems so confoundedly hard on you.”

“Oh, I never give in,” and she laughed intimately and confidingly in his face.

Carr stammered through the waltz. He was not thinking of his feet or of her instructions—but of a soft-eyed, weary girl who seemed so full of pluck and resolution.

“I say,” he ventured, “don’t think me impertinent, but what you want is a rest, a little wine, and a good dinner.”

She smiled up at him.

“I get a shilling an hour for pushing you round. That doesn’t provide——”

He plunged.

“Look here, I’m dining in town at seven. Will you do me the honour——?”

She knew her man, and she looked him straight in the eyes.

“Thank you—but I am not that sort of girl.”

Carr blushed like a boy.

“My dear girl—I did not mean that! I’m not a cad. Now—you will have to let me prove it——”

Of course—she allowed him to prove it—and they dined at Carbonaro’s, and drank Bollinger 1910. Pepita found out quite a lot about Wilton Carr: that he was Carr of Ellerby & Carr, that he was married, that he had a big place at Melfont. But, about Pepita, Carr learnt nothing.

He left her in the vestibule of the Darlington Rooms, took a taxi to Euston, and travelled down to Melfont by the 9.52. The Melfont church clock was striking eleven when he walked up the drive to his old Georgian house among its cedars, conscious of a vivid freshness in his life, a little guilty tremor under the starlit sky. He let himself into the house, hung up his hat and coat, and opened the door of the drawing-room. Lucy was there, curled up in a big chair in front of the fire.

He had hoped that she would be in bed.

“Sorry I’m late, dear. I was kept in town—business.”

Then he realized with a shock of emotion that it was the first conscious lie that he had ever told her. Lucy was not a woman who provoked deceit. Repose was her great charm, restfulness, a kind of wise and quiet candour. She had one of those fair, tranquil, and slightly indolent faces, blue eyes set well apart, a mass of warm brown hair, a comely figure.

“You must be tired.”

She looked up at him unsuspiciously, and Carr—the infatuated—thought her phlegmatic—even a little stupid. He was so accustomed to Lucy. She had made his life very easy and very comfortable, and it never occurred to him that this wife of his had had her moments of restlessness, dreams that had never come true.

“We are getting too much business,” he said, walking to a table where whisky, a syphon, and glasses were ready. He poured himself out a drink. The details of life were always in order in this house that Lucy managed, and he had come to accept the smoothness of it all as a man expects a comfortable bed.

She leant forward and stared at the fire.

“Too much business! Do you know, Will, there are times when I almost wish that we were poor.”

“Good Lord!” he exclaimed, the commercial man in him naïvely shocked.

She laughed.

“We are so successful. Sometimes it may be a very terrible thing to be too successful. I’d like to go blackberrying.”

“My dear girl,” he said pompously, “one’s commercial responsibilities are very serious things.”

She looked at him with veiled pity and tenderness.

“I know. Some people wonder whether they are worth while.”

“Of course they are worth while. Progress, civilization. You can’t get away from progress.”

“Yes, progress,” she said a little sadly; “and then—at the end of it—you find——”

“Come along to bed, dear.”

She was making him uncomfortable, challenging him to think, and your middle-class Englishman hates nothing so much as thinking. It is like putting on a suit of clothes that have not been cut by his orthodox and pet tailor.

But what the devil did she mean? Progress! And at the end of it—you find—what?

Then she completed the sentence he had interrupted: “You may find that you have left the most important thing behind; and sometimes it is too late to go back for it.”

That was the whole secret of Wilton Carr’s sudden and violent dissatisfaction with life, this sudden feverishness, this impulse towards reckless adventure.

During the next three weeks Carr went regularly to the Darlington Rooms. He was infatuated, but in a sentimental and benignant fashion. He told himself that he felt a fatherly interest in Pepita—which is the decent man’s excuse for not calling himself a cad. Carr was not a cad.

He resembled, perhaps, a half-blind man groping towards a light, towards beauty, romance, the dawn on the hills, the intangible loveliness and mystery of life. He was more innocent than any boy. He thought that he had discovered beauty and mystery in this Pepita who taught dancing.

She understood that he was not the ordinary coarse male out upon adventure. There were possibilities in Wilton Carr, and she set out to develop them.

He had begun to give her presents, the extravagantly generous presents of a lover. She scolded him, and ordered him not to waste his money.

“Money!” he said, “—oh—I have too much money.”

She had no doubts as to his financial solidity. All sorts of men came to the Darlington Rooms, and one of Pepita’s pupils was a little stockbroker whose infatuation was almost as fatherly as Carr’s. She told him that she dabbled in shares and fancied “Industrials.” And what about Ellerby & Carr’s new issue?

“Sound stuff,” said her adviser; “it’s the richest ‘house’ of its kind in London.”

She had no intention of buying “Billy’s” shares, but she had serious thoughts of—Billy. Five years of rag-time life had left Pepita with few illusions, and a passion for respectability and a solid future. She wanted security, a comfortable house, a car, winters at Monte Carlo, a soft and easy-going husband. Carr was the sort of man for whom she had been watching—but then Carr was married. If she could persuade him to jump over the cliff with her—a great passion might carry her to ultimate prosperity.

“Oh, how I loathe this life, Billy.”

They were dining at Carbonaro’s, and she looked at him with her large, tragic eyes. She had no pity for the other woman, that dull and dowdy somebody who lived down at Melfont.

“It’s rotten. I meet rotten men, rotten people. And there’s no escape for a girl like me.”

“You are ambitious, Pepita?”

“Ambitious! Not a bit. I should like to go right away and see beautiful scenery and pictures and all that. And then I should like to settle down in a sweet old home with the one dear man. And children——”

Carr thought he saw a sacred light in her eyes when she uttered the words: “children.”

“Perhaps you have never met the right man.”

She traced invisible patterns on the table-cloth with a tragic forefinger.

“I don’t know. Sometimes one meets him too late.”

And then she pushed her chair back and sent the waiter for her cloak.

“What’s the use? I’m tired; I seem to have got to the end of things. Take me home, Billy; I shall go to bed.”

He walked back with her to the seedy house in a seedy street where she had a room, and the apparent pathos of her life filled Carr with reckless and compassionate dreams. This beautiful body, this tired soul, in prison! He felt that he loved her as he had loved no other woman.

They said good-bye at the doorway.

“Good night—dear.”

“Billy—do take me out to-morrow. I feel I shall do something desperate unless someone cares.”

He bent over her as he held her hand.

“There is someone who cares,” he said; “someone who can’t help caring.”

For the next two days Wilton Carr hesitated on the edge of the precipice. He stood there, seeing strange and wonderful distances, blue skies, mountains, exotic lands, made for a lover’s pilgrimage. He imagined Pepita’s kisses, the kisses of that flower-like mouth.

Miss Sims thought him ill—on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He was extraordinarily restless, and quite unable to concentrate upon the details of his business. On the Tuesday before Christmas week, he went out at half-past three, leaving a dozen letters undealt with. A casual acquaintance saw him strolling along Piccadilly in the direction of Bond Street.

He wanted to buy Pepita a pearl necklace, and he paused outside a jeweller’s window. In ten days it would be Christmas, and quite suddenly he remembered that he had not bought Lucy’s present. He stood there shocked and ashamed. The buying of his wife’s Christmas present had always been a happy and almost romantic event with him.

But—damn it I how could he buy her a present? It would be like giving Lucy some treacherous gift that was poisoned. Wilton Carr walked on.

He dined with Pepita, made up his mind that there could be only one ending to the affair, and reached Melfont soon after ten.

He found Lucy reading in front of the fire, and somehow her complete and unsuspecting happiness shocked him. She looked so secure, so surely and innocently anchored in the quiet waters of their home. And he was going to inflict upon her the greatest humiliation that a man can lay upon a woman. Was it possible?

He poured himself out a drink, keeping his back turned to his wife.

“I’ll settle the house on her,” he thought, “and three thousand a year. I rather wish——”

Then he heard her speaking.

“Will, I want you to take me to see a play.”

He turned, slowly.

“A play! What play?”

“That thing of Barrie’s——”

He came and sat by the fire.

“What sort of play is it? I’m not much of a theatre-goer.”

“But you will take me? I think you will like it. We don’t go out much.”

“Do you want to go out—more?”

“I’m still young,” she said gently.

Some unexplainable impulse stirred in Carr.

“All right,” he said; “what about to-morrow evening? I dare say I can get tickets.”

He was not looking at her face.

“Thank you, Will. I can come up and dine with you.”

Carr managed to get seats in the dress-circle, and Lucy called for him at Ellerby & Carr’s about half-past six. He had had a difficult day with Miss Sims, and several rather exasperating business details to deal with, and he was tired. He sat back in his chair, conscious of a sense of relief on finding himself surprised by the happy and restful comeliness of his wife. She was wearing her furs, and as she sat by the fire in Carr’s big room, the firelight made little gleams upon her hair. She seemed to have brought a warm and subtly perfumed atmosphere with her into the room, a serenity that was like the serenity of a beautiful garden.

She looked extraordinarily handsome, and she was not restless like Pepita.

“You look tired, Will.”

“Oh, a bit fagged. I have got seats all right. Where shall we dine?”

“Let’s go to one of our little old places.”

They went.

That dinner was a very pleasant affair, and Carr caught other men looking admiringly at his wife. The play followed. Carr was the sort of Englishman who always resented the idea that literary and dramatic art were to be taken seriously, but this play of Barrie’s was peculiarly apposite, and carried to Carr a vivid and almost prophetic appeal. It moved him most strangely. During the last interval he went out and walked up and down the foyer with a feeling that something was about to happen to him, something that he could not foresee.

He returned, and sat in the dim light beside his wife. She was leaning forward slightly, absorbed, unconscious of his presence, and Carr kept glancing at her with secret curiosity. Was it possible that they were strangers to each other—utter strangers?

The curtain descended for the last time; the lights were up, lights that seemed particularly brilliant. Lucy was still sitting beside him with an expression of rapt and mysterious serenity, as though the beautiful and human suggestiveness of the play held her happily enthralled.

And then Wilton Carr saw something that was new to him, something that he had never noticed before, just—a faint wrinkle—the first wrinkle on his wife’s face. She was smiling at her own thoughts, and this faint line showed where her cheek and lower eye-lid met. Carr felt a sudden thickness in his throat. The whole human truth flashed on him. This woman was happy with a happiness that was in his keeping, and he had been about to push this happiness of his over the cliff and on to the rocks below. For years she had been his mate, this woman who loved him. Even that little wrinkle was part of their comradeship. It was time’s seal upon his love for her.

“Good God!” he thought, “what have I been doing?”

An immense and penitent tenderness rushed over him. He was helping his wife into her fur coat. Purposely, caressingly he touched her cheek, and she turned with a quick smile, her eyes meeting his. And what dear eyes they were, so trustful, so deep with those sacred memories that he had almost sacrificed to a little vampire of five-and-twenty!

“What a fool!” he said to himself; “please God she’ll never guess.”

It was late when they reached home, but a bright fire was still burning in the drawing-room. Carr helped Lucy off with her furs, and then—impulsively—he caught her and held her close.

“Dear, I want to kiss you—just there.”

He kissed the place where he had seen the wrinkle, and she smiled happily, tenderly.

“Why—just there?”

“Oh, a whim of mine. I’ve never seen you looking so young.”

He led her to the sofa, and they sat down before the fire.

“Lucy, I have been thinking over what you said the other day.”

“What was that?”

“That we are in such a hurry these days that we forget the things that matter, and sometimes it’s too late to go back and find them. My life has been just business—and more business. Oh, damn the business!”

He kissed her with sudden contrite playfulness.

“Hang it, I’m going to be a boy again. Can you be ready in three days?”

“Ready? What for?”

“A holiday. You will have to come up to town and have your passport photo taken to-morrow morning. I’m seeing about tickets and an hotel. We’ll stop a day or two in Paris. Can you manage it?”

“Will!”

She snuggled up to him like a surprised and delighted child.

“Where are we going?”

“The South of France, Italy. I’ll leave Parsons in charge. The business can rip for six months.”

“What a dear you are,” she said.

Carr stared at the fire.

“I was letting my life dry up, Lucy. We’ll buy your Christmas present somewhere down in the sunshine.”


SHIPWRECK AND A SHREW

Like a piece of white pulp, and yet a live thing that still had the will to live, Bob Gretton floundered through the surf and dug his fingers and toes into the sand. Three times he was caught by the wash of a wave and sucked back like a cat sliding down a roof. The last crawl took him clear of the claws of the sea, and he lay on his face on the sand and was sick.

“My God——!”

It had all happened with such catastrophic suddenness. A little more than an hour ago they had been sitting at dinner under the Sappho’s awning—Gretton, Enderby, Hanson, Helen Glaber, Mildred, and Captain Dick. The day had been rather sultry and very still, too oppressive even for that irrepressible egoist, Helen Glaber, who had talked of exploring this derelict little island with its mountain, its palm groves, and its scrub. Gretton could remember Dick’s silence, his restlessness, his worried watching of the horizon. They had been ready to laugh at him when he had ordered the engineer to get up steam.

“Have another peg, Dick!”

Half an hour later the cyclone had caught them, and the Sappho had turned turtle. Gretton could still hear Mildred Arkell’s cry when she had been swept away from him in that struggle on the top of the companion-way. She had been tossed into that black hell of boiling water, and in that moment Gretton had realized that he loved her.

He squirmed on the sand in an anguish of physical exhaustion. The great waves had knocked the breath out of his body, bruised him, trodden him into the sand. He was one great wet ache—dazed, half-drowned—and yet at the back of the mere physical anguish was that other anguish, the face of a drowned girl and her floating hair.

Presently he got up on his hands and knees and looked about him like a wounded animal. A patch of tawny light still showed in the west, the glare of a furnace seen through smoke. A furious wind was blowing, and scud flew over him as he crawled up the beach. He was conscious of the vast, black movement of the sea behind him, and ahead a huge swaying cloud that seemed mysteriously anchored to the ground. As Gretton neared it, pushing his way in through the quaking bushes, he realized that this swaying cloud was a palm grove, a shrieking mass of frightened trees, their foliage blown all one way—like hair.

The sound of the sea and of the wind in the palms were so overwhelming that he lay down under the bushes with a feeling of helplessness. It seemed like the end of the world, and he a wet, bruised, half-naked thing caught in the cataclysm, a mere bit of white slime spilt on a rock. The uproar bewildered him. He curled himself up under the bushes, and shivered, like the last man left alive in a doomed world.

Presently the wind died away almost as suddenly as it had come. The palms ceased to shriek; they stood still—astonished, conscious of mockery. The stars came out, soft and ironical. There was still the labouring of the sea—a sense of savage distress down yonder—but the face of the night was the calm face of an uncaring god.

Gretton sat up. Something revived in him. The conscious man in him felt challenged.

And then he began to curse. The passionate and frightened child that is in all of us sent Gretton running wild through the scrub and down to the pale sands. He was in a panic of loneliness. He limped along the sands, shouting and waving his arms like a man gone mad.

“Hanson, Dick, Mildred! Is anyone alive? Am I all alone on this damned island?”

He called them by name, throwing his puny voice against the surge of the sea, vaguely conscious of the absurdity of this raving.

“You’re not dead, all of you! Can’t you hear me shouting? It’s Gretton, Bob Gretton.”

Presently calmness came to him as it had come to the island. He stood very still on the sands, watching the waves rolling in and out of the darkness.

“I’m all alone here,” said an inward voice; “they are dead, all of them. What’s the use; what’s the use?”

He went back to the palm grove and sat down in the darkness at the foot of a tree. His brain seemed to grow clear like the sky. It was full of pictures, the memories of the last few days. He saw the Sappho’s deck under the awning, the comfortable chairs, the flat sea, the blue sky. He saw Helen Glaber’s hard, sunburnt face, with its beaked nose, its ruff of sandy hair, its flashing smile that came and went like the flash of a lighthouse. He saw the men: Hanson, big and easy; Enderby, droll and thin. He saw Mildred Arkell—shy, gentle, always a little afraid—watching the Glaber woman, whose slave she was.

He seemed to hear Helen Glaber giving the girl her orders in that serene and insolent voice of hers: “Fetch me that book”; “I want a cushion.”

Something raged in Gretton. He shouted aloud: “Damn her, damn her! Only yesterday she made Mildred cry.”

He was absurdly moved by the thought of it, and by the recollection of what had happened. He had been talking to Mildred by the “gig”; he realized now that he had been making love to her; and suddenly Helen Glaber had sailed in. He could see her hard, blue eyes and the flash of her teeth in her sunburnt face.

“Mildred, I pay you to darn my stockings.”

Yes, just that; just those silly, brutal words. His cabin was next to the Glaber woman’s. He had sat on his bunk before dinner and listened to that metallic voice uttering venomous things that only a woman can say to another. Mildred had wept.

“But I can’t help it! If he——”

“I do not choose that you should cheapen yourself with any fool who wants to be amused.”

And again—Gretton raged. For weeks he had been incensed by the vast egotism of the woman, her cruelty, her cleverness, her determination to be first. Someone had nicknamed her “Mrs. One-better.” She could not endure competition. If you differed from her she was insulted. If you agreed with her she thought you a fool.

“Curse her,” he thought; “I wish I had her alone on this island! She made that girl’s life a hell.”

And then he burst out laughing, ironical laughter that laughed at itself.

“But what am I shouting about? The sea has washed the tears out of that child’s eyes.”

Emotion exhausts itself, and Gretton fell asleep, lying curled up in a little sandy hollow at the foot of the tree. Creeping things crawled over him, and he did not feel them. The stars grew pale and the sea flattened itself towards a tropical calm.


The dawn was coming up when Gretton woke. He sat up, stiff and bewildered, staring at the ragged fringe of white “duck” where one trouser leg had been torn off below the knee. He looked at the tops of the palms still black against a green-blue sky, at the sun domed on the horizon, at the shadowy scrub and the amber sand. It was very beautiful; but its beauty seemed evil, for he was alone.

Almost before Gretton was aware of it, the physical part of him had taken control, pushing his spiritual nausea aside. He was hungry, almost savagely hungry. He scrambled up. His clothes had dried on him in the night, and he was naïvely surprised to find that he was still wearing his light canvas shoes. But food! Something with which to stuff that emptiness inside him! He knew that there was water on the island. And then he stood astonished, leaning against the palm tree under which he had slept, and looking seawards in the broadening light.

Less than a quarter of a mile away a flat reef jutted out into the sea, and hanging upon the reef and doubled over it like a half-filled sack thrown across a wall lay the wreck of the Sappho gleaming white in the dawn. She lay high and dry, her funnel and masts gone, her back broken and a black chasm showing amidships. But it was the Sappho, a bit of yesterday, a thing of human meaning.

Gretton ran. He forgot his stiffness and his hunger as he cut through the scrub and along the sands.

“Somebody may be alive there! Somebody may be alive!”

His heart beat like a bell. Even the tallow-grease face of Brough, the “trimmer,” would be more humanly welcome than any angel face looking down out of heaven, but as he ran the hope drizzled out of Gretton’s eyes. The Sappho stood out in all her battered nakedness. The sea had capsized her, played with her awhile, and then thrown her broken but deck uppermost upon the reef. She hung there smashed, ridiculous, dead. No live thing could have survived in that squash of timber and steel.

But there might be other things left in the Sappho—clothing, food. The savage man elbowed the civilized man aside and made a rush for the wreck. Gretton picked his way along the reef, the vitals of the Sappho visible to his eyes, the sections of a model cut in half. He saw cabin doors, strips of deck, machinery, dark crevices, twisted plates, a sort of pigeon-hole effect. The reef was littered with wreckage. He saw a body wedged in a crevice, glanced at it, recognized Jennings, the engineer, and went on with a sense of chilliness at the pit of his stomach.

An axe lay in a pool of water. It came to Gretton’s hand as a rude tool leaps to the hand of a primitive man. He climbed in and up through the V-shaped chasm in the Sappho’s hulk, and there were things here that made him set his teeth, glimpses of the live men who had been trapped, suffocated, crushed. The soul in him cried out “Thank God she was drowned!”

But he was alive and he was hungry. He scrambled and burrowed into the wreck, to be astonished by the tricks the storm had played. He found the little saloon almost intact, save for the smashed fittings and an ooze of sand and water everywhere. He had remembered seeing a door marked “Stores,” and he found it, down below, not five yards from the place where the yacht had broken in half. The door was jammed. He attacked it with his axe.

Gretton broke in, and through a porthole saw the yellow sun hanging over the sea. This store-room made him gloat, even though it resembled a grocery shop into which some giant had scooped a hand. Tins everywhere, tinned fruit, fish, meat and vegetables, bottles broken and unbroken, bags, sacks, cases, canisters. And all these tins and cases were intact! The wild man in him yelped exultantly.

Gretton operated with the axe, and squatting on a sack of wet flour, ate corn-beef from the jagged and rudely-opened tin. Two blows from the hammer end of the axe knocked in the top of a canister of biscuits. He was in the act of leaning over to help himself when he heard the voice:

“Who’s there?”

Gretton stiffened, doubting his own ears.

“Hallo! Who’s there?”

The voice was real enough, a woman’s voice, flat and metallic, and disastrously familiar. Gretton stood up, the tin of corned beef in one hand, a biscuit in the other. There had been a momentary flicker of joy in his eyes at the sound of a human voice, but it was replaced by an expression of ironical and amazed disgust.

“Helen Glaber!”

Then others might be alive! There was compensation in the thought, but when he heard her climbing through the wreckage he felt shot through by a thrill of anger. This woman of all women! This piece of sun-baked brick and leather!

He turned out of the storeroom and, walking along the alley-way, saw her face rising above the edge of the broken deck. He stood still, the creature of nameless repulsions, instincts.

“It’s you, Gretton.”

He nodded and bit off a piece of biscuit. She was lifting herself up by a twisted stanchion, dressed in nothing but a petticoat and a torn white blouse. Her short, sandy hair hung about her neck, and her blue eyes were fierce with hunger. She looked at his tin of meat and his biscuit.

“Thanks; I’ll have some of that.”

She had taken the tin out of his hand even before he had realized her hunger, and he stared and said nothing, though the savage in him had uttered a whimper of resentment. She leant against the plating, eating the meat and using her fingers. Gretton’s face had grown watchful, almost sinister.

“Have you seen any of the others?”

It cost him an effort to speak to her.

She went on eating.

“Hanson is lying dead on the sand over there. After all, it was his fault.”

Something generous glowed in Gretton. It was like her—to condemn the dead.

“What do you mean—his fault?”

“He upset Captain Dick’s judgment by quizzing him. We ought to have been under full steam and head on. Where did you find those biscuits? Get me one.”

The silent part of him was in instant rebellion, and aloud he said: “You’ll find them in the storeroom, down there.”

She gave him a look that he had so often seen her give Mildred Arkell, a sort of crushing stare, but Gretton turned his back on her, and scrambled to the sunlight on the reef. He wanted to be alone—he, a lone animal who had been ready to howl for a human mate!

“Great Saints!” he found himself thinking, “I believe if she were dropped down a volcano she’d be blown up again the same bit of heartless, hell-cat brass!”

She was just the same. That was the amazing and ominous fact. Her hard “I lead the field” egotism had always astonished him, until he had learnt to hate her for it when he had seen her cruelty to Mildred Arkell. She did things well. She was a fine horsewoman and a crack shot, a woman whose complacency it seemed impossible to hurt. If she corrected you, which she often did, you would generally find that she was right. As Enderby had put it, “If you hit her on the head with a hammer, the thing would bounce off her and leave no mark.”

But the irony of this coincidence, that he should be marooned on this derelict island with this very woman as his mate! Even in those first few moments he had felt himself up against her immense and unchastened egotism. But to live with it? In five minutes she would be running the island—and him.

He heard her voice crying from the wreck:

“Bob Gretton, I want some of these stores carried ashore.”

She flashed into his vision, munching a biscuit, her white teeth gleaming in her fierce brown face.

Her eyes looked angry. There are eyes that are always like that.

“I’ll tell you the first thing you have got to do. Get a spar up—and a flag. I’ll show you the place.”

And then something very strange happened suddenly to this civilized man. He seemed to go back ten thousand years. All the smooth and conventional compromises fell from him. He became man, the dominant male.

Climbing back into the wreck with a swift and swinging aggressiveness, he swarmed up to the broken deck where the woman stood watching him, the woman who had not changed. Now Gretton was a big man, with a big face and a big jaw; he had a leonine largeness of head and eyes. And he looked wild, wilder than he knew, with his unshaven chin, his torn clothes and his bare chest showing hair.

He said nothing, but began to haul in the slack of a length of rope that dangled over the crust-edge of the upper deck. Then he went into the storeroom and carried out a case of biscuits. Roping it, he lowered it, and with a swing of the arms and body swung it through the gap in the yacht’s side and on to the reef.

“Wait a bit. I’ll tell you——”

He turned on her with a ferocity that was like the stroke of a lion’s paw.

“Shut up. I don’t want any talking. Get down there.”

She flashed one of her brilliant and mechanical smiles at him.

“That’s quite a good gaff!”

Next moment he had taken her by the shoulders, and pushed her over the edge of the broken deck, holding her by one arm till she had got a grip of something and seeing her descend like a clawing and astonished cat. He followed her. They finished up among the Sappho’s bilge-plates, looking at each other across the bent propeller shaft.

“What’s the joke?”

She was a little out of breath, hugely angry, and inclined to think him mad.

“Come on.”

He reached over and caught her by the hair.

“Come on. This is my show.”

For an instant her eyes flared; they were the eyes of a devil. And then she came climbing over the propeller shaft with that antarctic smile on her face.

“Oh, I see the joke alright!”

She thought him mad. The catastrophe had knocked his reason edgeways, but he stood six feet one and had the chest of a gladiator!

Gretton led her to the reef, holding her by the hair.

“See that clump of palms?”

He pointed and she nodded, her thin mouth furious.

“Unlash that case, and shoulder it over to the palm grove. Then come back for something else. That’s your job. See?

He let her go, and she looked at him as though she had a knife hidden behind her back, and was wondering where to strike him. Then she unknotted the rope, got the case on her right shoulder, and started off.

Gretton watched her. His nostrils were quivering, and he was breathing hard. For a moment his old, tame, civilized self tried to obtrude itself, but was kicked back into its kennel. He was looking at the female figure in front of him. She was not female; he felt that as he looked at her. Her torn blouse showed two humpy shoulder-blades with a deep hollow between them, and in the hollow swam a big brown mole. He looked at the two bare legs below the short petticoat. They were irritating legs, rather like badly shaped stockings stuffed with bran, complacent, sleek, sexless. Her feet were too long. There was a flatness about her whole figure, a flatness that displeased him. He turned back to the wreck.

“She thinks me mad!”

He stood and laughed, opening his shoulders and throwing back his head.

“She can go on thinking it—till I have taught her her lesson.”

And then he thought of Mildred Arkell and dead Hanson, and his laughter died away.

“What irony! Hell! but I wonder how long this has got to last?”

He set to work on the wreck, collecting all the undamaged stores from the storeroom and slinging them over the side. The Sappho’s water-tanks had caved in, but he found a small tank in the steward’s pantry that still held water, enough to last for a couple of days. He drank from an aluminium tumbler that he had found, and remembered Helen Glaber.

“I wonder if she’ll come back?”

He walked to the end of the broken deck, and found her waiting down below. She was polite, venomously formal.

“What next, Mr. Gretton?”

His distaste for her increased, but he felt himself responsible.

“I have found some water. Come up and drink.”

She obeyed him, but he let her use an enamelled mug. The aluminium tumbler was his. He saw that she hated him, and knew that her acquiescence humoured his supposed insanity.

“All those stores must be carried across.”

She smiled.

“Don’t you think, Mr. Gretton——?”

“I am thinking,” he said roughly; and she turned about, but he called her back.

“You will have a meal ready at noon. Here’s what you want. A tin opener, knives and forks, four plates. I’ll pass them down to you.”

She went like a lamb, but he suspected the wolf in the lambskin, and all through the morning between his pitching of ropes, spars, tools, and sail-cloth on to the reef, he kept an eye on her activities. She was as strong as most men, and she stuck to her work, going sullenly to and fro between the wreck and the palm grove, but Gretton had no pity.

“If Mildred were alive,” he thought, “and you were in my place, you would be making her toil like a galley-slave.”

When noon came, he walked across to the palm grove and found that she had everything ready, three boxes to serve as seats and a table, plates and knives and forks laid out, biscuits piled neatly, a tin of tongue and a tin of peaches open. He sat down and waited. She carved the tongue, helped herself, and was about to push it across to him when she found him looking hard at her.

She understood his look quite well. There was a moment’s hesitation, then she passed the plate to him. He nodded, and pointed to his mug.

“Water.”

He had filled a metal jug with water and brought it across. She got up and poured water into his tumbler. The man-emperor was served.

They worked together all the afternoon, carrying up stores and gear, and Gretton spent two hours putting up a couple of canvas shelters under the palms. The sun blazed, but they carried on. About five o’clock they knocked off for tea, a tea that consisted of water, biscuits and jam. The man-emperor did not unbend; the silence between them was so stiff with mutual antipathy that it showed no signs of becoming ridiculous.

“Mr. Gretton, I want to go to the wreck.”

He was sitting with his back against a tree, examining a box of sodden cigars, and wondering how long they would take to dry in the sun.

“All right.”

“Clothes, you know.” She flashed a smile at him. “Dick had a petrol-lighter. I might find it, or matches.”

He nodded.

“There’s Hanson, lying on the sands.”

“I haven’t forgotten him,” he said curtly. “You’ll bring back some matches and dry them. You can have an hour.”

She looked at him queerly and went her way, and Gretton spent the time rigging up a spar and a flag in a conspicuous position on the beach. He meant to bury Hanson and the engineer at sundown, and he was suddenly confronted with the thought that Mildred Arkell’s body might be washed ashore. He straightened himself and looked at the sea. “Keep her,” he said aloud, “it is better so;” and turning, found Helen Glaber behind him.

Her eyes said: “Yes, you are mad. Mad people talk to themselves.”

But there was more in her eyes than that. She had a sly, smooth look, like a cat that has stolen something and feels sleek with successful cleverness. Gretton noticed the change in her. This reversion to a more primitive attitude of the sexes seemed to have quickened his instincts, and made him as observant of detail as a savage. He felt things; he felt the change in the woman and in her mood towards him. “She has found something. She thinks she has got behind my back!” What was that something? He decided that it was a weapon.

Gretton dissembled.

“Any matches?”

She showed him a little canvas bag full of soaked packets.

“Good. I suppose they will dry.”

They walked back to the palm grove, Gretton keeping slightly behind her and observing her with vague eyes. If she had found a weapon she had hidden it on her person or near the camp.

“Did you find your clothes?”

“No; but some of Mildred’s.”

This angered him most strangely, and he said no more.

When they reached the camp he took the matches from her and pretended to amuse himself in opening the boxes and laying the sticks to dry on the top of a biscuit box. Helen Glaber had rescued some blankets from the yacht. She had carried them up in a tangled rope, and was bending over them and spreading them on the ground. Gretton was behind her, right hand poised and holding a match. As she bent down he saw something swing under her petticoat and bulge it out ever so slightly, and Gretton smiled.

He got up, yawned, stretched himself, edging near to her with casual indirectness as though vaguely interested in the blankets. She had disentangled them, meaning to spread them on the bushes. She glanced round. Gretton was close to her.

And suddenly he made a leap and caught her wrists. They stood close, looking into each other’s eyes. The woman was afraid.

“Put your hands up, over your head! Keep them there.”

She obeyed him, furious yet cowed. He knelt down, groped for a moment, gave a fierce twitch of the arm and stood up holding a revolver that she had slung from her waist with a piece of tape.

“I thought so.”

He examined it and saw that it was loaded.

“You thought that you might like to use it?”

She said nothing. Her impression of his madness began to fade away. Her angry eyes masked a sudden respect for him.

“Any more of these toys?”

She shook her head.

“Thank you. But no more tricks. You understand.”

He towered over her, and for the moment he thought that she was going to try the feminine trick of tears. She blinked, looked up at him with a sort of absurd bewilderment and then nodded her head. The man in him felt that he had her beaten.

Gretton walked down to the sea, and tossed the revolver well out into the water. Then he strolled along to the Sappho and searched every available nook and corner for any more toys of the same order. Hanson had owned a couple of sporting rifles, and Gretton found them in a case under Hanson’s bunk. He carried them away with him, and buried them in the sand close to the graves he dug for Hanson and the engineer. He marked the two graves with the blade of the broken oar, and stood awhile in solemn silence before returning to the palms.

Here a new spirit surprised him. The woman had supper ready, and on the box that was to serve as a table he saw his own whisky-flask, a petrol-lighter, a pipe and a tin of tobacco. He glanced at them and said nothing. Helen Glaber was busy in one of the canvas shelters; she had collected dry grass and was making a bed.

His bed! He guessed that at once, and yet the man in him was not touched. She had reverted suddenly to the primæval, feminine methods. The beast was to be managed, if he could not be ruled.

“Is that my bed?”

“Yes.”

He accepted her labours and her ingenuities with casual matter-of-factness. They supped; they sat awhile in silence, and then crawled each into their respective shelters. Gretton smoked for an hour, but he did not lie down until he knew by the sound of her breathing that the woman was asleep.


Gretton was up early, while Helen Glaber was still asleep.

With a big can slung over his shoulder he started westwards along the beach, intending to find the place where the island’s minute stream of fresh water made its way into the sea. Passing the wreck of the Sappho, and the two graves, he paused to light his pipe. His mood was one of grimness and depression, a mood of reaction after the strenuous happenings of the first day upon the island. Man is in the main a less persistent creature than woman, and Gretton was savagely bored by the prospect of a daily battle of wills between himself and Helen Glaber. He glimpsed the only possible law upon the island, an autocracy of one, the law of the male fist.

And then fate blew his pessimism into the limbo of forgotten ills. He had walked another half mile along the beach, and had stopped to relight his pipe, when the island behaved like Prospero’s island in The Tempest. Gretton stood absolutely still, the match burning between finger and thumb. He felt his heart beating fast and hard, for he had heard a voice, or rather the ghost of a voice, that cried out feebly, “Water, water!”

Gretton could see nothing but the broad stretch of sand between the scrub and the sea. This “Ariel” voice seemed to have come from nowhere, and then he heard it again, a little moaning cry, and the words:

“Water, water!”

He was trembling like a dog; and the next moment he was running along the sands, shouting as he ran:

“Where are you? Where are you?”

He came quite suddenly upon her, lying in a sandy hollow, and for a moment he stood on the low ridge above her resting-place, hardly able to believe that she was real. The coincidence seemed too impossible. Both women alive, and all the men, save himself, dead.

Almost instantly he was down on the sands beside her, bending over her with immense tenderness. The miracle had changed him and the whole island. She was looking at him vaguely, and then, stretching out an unsteady hand, touched his face as though she doubted its solidity. He saw that her right leg was broken, for it lay all twisted. She had crawled a little way up the beach and lain there for thirty-six hours, with nothing to drink all through the blaze of a southern day.

“Thank God I found you,” he said.

Her lips and mouth were so dry that she could hardly speak.

“Bob, is it you, really?”

“Thank God!” he said again; “thank God I came this way.”

She was so feeble and so spent that he began to be in terror for her life, and his heart beat to action. He bent over her, whispering like a mother to a child.

“Don’t be frightened any more, I am going to fetch you water. I have a camp over there, and a tent and food. I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”

She touched his face again with her fingers and smiled very faintly.

“Dear Bob!”

He kissed her forehead and ran back to the palm grove. Helen Glaber was just emerging from her shelter; she flashed him a limelight smile, but he had no words for Helen Glaber. He was a whirlwind, and she sat on her heels and watched him with suspicious eyes. His actions revived her opinion of his madness. He half filled the water can, stuffed the whisky flask and the tumbler into the pockets of his drill jacket, and added some biscuits and a jack-knife. Two pieces of wood from the lid of a box, a length of frayed rope, and a blanket completed his equipment. He started off again at full speed, and without a word to the woman.

“The man’s off his head,” she said to herself; “a nice life this, with a mad dog on an island!”

She picked up the lid of a biscuit tin and looked at the reflection of her own face. It seemed to please her. She sat and smiled.

After a morning dip, and an alfresco toilet made while the madman was playing Crusoe somewhere on the beach, she set herself to prepare breakfast, and even rose to the refinement of lighting a fire and boiling a kettle. She was opening a tin of tongue and making rather a mess of it when she heard Gretton pushing through the scrub. She had decided to try a coy and persuasive attitude, and she did not look round at him.

“Those blankets on the bushes. Get them.”

She glanced up, and her face seemed to lengthen till it was as long as the face of a Roman-nosed horse. She blinked, screwed up her hard mouth, and was on her feet instantly.

“What? Mildred!”

Gretton carried the girl past her.

“Wait. Is her leg broken? If so—you ought not——”

Gretton swung a look at her over his shoulder.

“Did you hear me? Get—those—blankets.”

For at the sight of the girl whom she had bullied for two years Helen Glaber’s matchless egotism had reasserted itself. The whole situation had changed. The man-thing was in the minority. Moreover, she had once more revised her opinion of his madness.

But Gretton’s words were like a blow in her face, a male fist that threatened. She hesitated, and then went for the blankets.

Gretton had carried Mildred Arkell into his canvas shelter and, kneeling, laid her very gently on the ground. He had splinted the broken leg and lashed her feet together so as to steady the broken limb while he carried her to the palm grove.

“How’s that? Have I hurt you?”

She smiled at him.

“No.”

He turned to find Helen Glaber pushing into the shelter with the blankets in her arms; but Gretton took the blankets from her and extruded her with a broad and uncompromising back.

“Go and pull some more grass for a pillow.”

It was then that Helen Glaber showed fight. Mildred Arkell belonged to her. Had she not taken the girl out of a country parsonage, paid her thirty pounds a year, and used her as the scapegoat for all her moods and tempers? Gretton had lost the supreme advantage that solitude had given him. Three constitutes a crowd, a society. Helen Glaber believed that she could dominate Mildred, and so control this desert island.

“Will you get out of my way, please. This is my affair. Mildred belongs to me.”

Gretton was spreading the blankets on the dry grass that had formed his bed.

“I think not,” he said quietly.

She tried to push past him.

“Mildred, dear, I must set that leg of yours—properly——”

It was her bid for power in that little world of three, but she was to be met and defeated by a force that she had always ignored, the thing that we call “love,” the power that is behind all the strivings and the sufferings of a civilization that began in a jungle life thousands of centuries ago. The girl on the ground cried out with sudden and passionate vehemence:

“I won’t be touched by her! I couldn’t bear to be touched by her. Bob, send her away.”

Gretton rose from his knees and turned on Helen Glaber.

Their eyes met.

“You are not wanted in here. I think that’s obvious.”

With a firm hand on her shoulder he pushed her out of Mildred Arkell’s sail-cloth tent and pointed to the other shelter.

“That’s yours. It’s a bit too near to our half of the camp. I’ll shift it for you presently.”

Her eyes flared with sudden hatred.

“I can do that for myself,” she said.


So love outvoted hate; and when, some six weeks later, the tramp steamship Alabama put in to water at the island where the Sappho’s wreck and the flag flying on the beach spoke of a tragedy, the captain’s glass discovered people who lived. A boat had put off from the Alabama, and a man and a girl were standing on the edge of the palm grove, watching the boat’s crew pulling towards the island. A hundred yards away a third figure, the figure of a woman, showed against the dark trunks of the palms. There appeared to be two separate camps on the island, one with two shelters placed side by side, the other with a solitary tent standing alone.

“Gee, that’s queer!” said the man with the telescope; “seems as though one of them has seceded! Two republics on one derelict island!”

The three figures moved down to the beach, but the man and the girl held aloof from the woman.

“This beats the band!” said the Alabama’s captain; “they don’t even recognize each other! It’s a clean cut! Not on speaking terms! Wa’l, I always did say that to find out what the inside of life was like you’d got to be wrecked on a desert island with two women and no dog!”

But in the course of a few days he had learnt to appreciate the human irony of the affair, and had taken off his shoes in the “Court of the Lovers.”

“I guess that hell-cat has had her tail twisted!”

And when the girl and the man were married, he put on white cotton gloves and went ashore to help in the blessing.


CALIBAN

I was turning away from the bookstall at Waterloo when I met Netta Rainsford.

“The ubiquitous Josiah!” she said, smiling in my face; “I thought you were in Egypt.”

It had seemed to me Netta’s destiny to provoke the archaic, romantic and obvious man in me, and if I had been disastrously in love with her, I had found my love a disaster. A month ago we had quarrelled.

She provoked me now, this slim, audacious thing, so defiant, so fragile, so elusive. Her hair was the colour of honey, her red mouth the most tantalizing mouth I had ever seen. Her grey eyes with their long dark lashes always made one think of a sword half hidden under a cloak of black velvet.

“I suppose you are going to Merlin Court?” she added.

“I am.”

“And so am I.”

I saw her eyes defy me. It was Netta’s recklessness, her passion for discovering anything bizarre and unusual that had made me afraid for her.

“It’s impossible,” I said angrily; “you can’t go there.”

“Thank you. If you can go—why not I?”

“It’s different. I have a reason for going, and I happen to be a man.”

She looked at me and laughed.

“We can’t stand here quarrelling. You should not allow yourself to quarrel with a mere woman. A great big man who has hunted lions, and who was solemnly christened Josiah Orchardson.”

I know she thought me a fool, an old-fashioned, muscular, sentimental fool with all the passions and prejudices of an Elizabethan. She thought my name foolish. She was as quick as light, and I a great blundering bumble-bee, yet there were ugly shadows in life that this audacious and wilful child had not discovered, and we had quarrelled because I had tried to put myself between her and these shadows.

“You won’t go,” I said with sudden gentleness. “You may laugh at me and at my name, but you won’t go to Merlin Court.”

“I have my ticket and my luggage is labelled. Besides—it will be so amusing down there.”

“Amusing! I think I shall thrash that man Jerram for having the impertinence to ask you. What a set!”

She flushed up, and then grew very pale.

“Mr. Jerram is a genius. He interests me. I shall meet clever people there. I think it is Mr. Josiah Orchardson who shall stay behind.”

“He will be the fool—or Caliban. I am expected to take part in some futurist fooling or other: The Tempest—as it Really Happened, I think Musgrave called it.”

She turned and walked slowly towards the platform. People had begun to stare.

“How did you get your invitation?” she asked.

“Through Musgrave.”

“And why?”

“Because I thought you might be there.”

She was angry, and yet I had a feeling that there was something behind her anger. If that little red mouth of hers was tempted to exclaim, “Who will rid me of this turbulent fool?” her heart had a certain liking for the fool. I loved her. She might be a brilliant, elusive, mischievous Greek child of the Sun, but some day she might need the strong brown arms of a mortal man to seize the reins of her falling chariot.

I followed her through the gates. Her porter had secured her a corner seat in a first-class carriage in the centre of the train. She stepped in, sat down and opened a magazine.

“Please go away and smoke,” she said; “I might find it rather trying being caged up with a lion.”

I closed the door.

“Some day——” I began.

But she put up the magazine and pretended to hide a yawn.

I got into a “smoker” a few carriages away from her, but there was not much comfort in my pipe. So we had quarrelled again, and it appeared that we should go on quarrelling, my male creed clashing with her too restive feminine independence. I knew that she was far cleverer than I was, and yet her cleverness seemed no shield against the evil genius of Ambrose Jerram.

Perhaps it was the sinister and strange genius of the man that attracted her. If I thought of Netta as a white nymph of the woods, I could picture Jerram as a faun. He was extraordinarily ugly, monstrously yet magnificently ugly, a great swarthy creature with the head of a Pan and eyes of fire. The Jerrams had all been wild men, from the first Jerram in history who had blown up his own ship and two Spaniards who lay beside him, rather than surrender. If genius spells madness, then this last of the Jerrams was mad, and with a malicious, brilliant and extravagant madness that seemed inspired by the Spirit of Evil. Clever people had read his poems, and some of them had burnt the book—and gone out into a place where flowers grew. With all that coarse Pan’s face of his he had touches of the divine fire. No narcotized, anæmic decadent—this. At Oxford he had been feared for his wild, mad animal strength. He was a musician, a rhapsodist, a fine horseman, a powerful swimmer. He had wit, a sort of devilish, playful eloquence that made the average man sit and stare like a yokel in a thunderstorm.

His house-parties were famous. He always had some mad burlesque to amuse people, and worldlings who were exquisitely bored with life gathered at Merlin Court. It was Musgrave who had obtained me the invitation by boasting that I could bray like an ass. “We are going to revise Shakespeare” was all he had said to me; “bring a Monsieur Beaucaire suit and a white wig.”

A big, black limousine was waiting for us at Frencham station, and whirled us towards the sunset and Merlin Court. We went down into a deep green valley that was all dusky with the shadows of huge beech-trees. Netta sat with her hands in her lap, her dark eyes looking towards the sunset, her hair ashine with it, and I thought that I had never seen any creature look more ethereal and enchanting.

I had apologized for being in the car, and she had made my sarcasm sound foolish.

“Why did they christen you Josiah?” she had asked.

We drove through Jerram’s woods in silence.

I felt strangely sensitive that summer evening, sensitive to Netta’s beauty, to the sun-splashed splendour of the woods and their strange, mysterious shadows. This valley seemed enchanted. It was part of a goblin world, and yet the very beauty of it was evil. I am not a “psychic,” but this landscape breathed whisperings of tragedy. When the car climbed out of the gloom of the park into a gorgeous wilderness of rhododendrons and azaleas, the world seemed on fire, aflame to the very foot of the old red Jacobean house. The cedars on the lawn were black against the sunset, and from under one of them came Ambrose Jerram with his tawny eyes and all his magnificent ugliness. It struck me suddenly that he should have been naked, a figure of barbaric bronze, horned and hoofed like a satyr.

I noticed a group of people under the nearest cedar, all dressed in the costume of the Georges. Jerram himself wore a suit of black satin. He stood bowing to Netta—and when I saw him look at her I knew that I hated Jerram with all my body and soul.

“I hope you will excuse the incongruity of the car. You see—we have all gone back a hundred and fifty years.”

He kissed her hand, and his big red mouth seemed to cover the whole of it.

Netta smiled at him.

“If you had sent a coach we should have missed our dinner, and Mr. Orchardson cannot bear to be unpunctual.”

Jerram looked at me and held out a hand. It was a big hand, shaded with black hair.

“Glad to see you; I hope you have come dressed for the part.”

I took his hand. His tawny eyes looked into mine. They were like the eyes of some great cat—menacing, yet ironical.

Musgrave came up to my room and helped me to change. He was in white and silver, colours that suited his florid and handsome face. I liked Musgrave. His world was the world of the man about town, but there was no harm in him. He helped me into my green satin coat and tied my lace cravat for me, and from him I learnt the names of Jerram’s other guests. The group under the cedar had included Bertrand Blare, poet and decadent; Agatha Western, secretary of the Pomegranate Club; Haines of the Foreign Office, a “highbrow”; Millie Cumberbatch, who looked like a Watteau shepherdess; and Backhouse of the “Guards,” one of the finest polo players in the world. There were others; but they were mere supernumeraries, figures in Ambrose Jerram’s landscape.

Musgrave had two letters to write, and I went out to explore. My bedroom door opened on a great gallery that ran from east to west. It was hung with pictures and armour and lined with old furniture, and its black and polished floor caught the last sunlight that poured in through the western window, making me think of the still black waters of some Flemish canal mirroring the old houses on either side of it. The surface gave one a strange sense of depth and of mystery. I saw the silver of the armour reflected in it, the red and blue and gold of the lacquer cabinets, even the colours of the pictures. I was standing there obsessed by its almost sinister beauty when I saw Netta Rainsford come out of her room, and pause to look at some portrait that hung opposite her door. She was dressed in white, and the great western window gave her figure an aura of yellow light.

I walked slowly up the gallery and stood by her side. She was looking at the portrait of one of the Jerrams, a man in black satin and wearing a heavy black periwig. The portrait was two hundred years old, but the face was the face of Ambrose Jerram.

“Heredity,” I said.

She gave me a slightly impatient look.

“And minute, my dear Josh?”

“The obvious thing may be very remarkable. I wonder which Jerram this was?”

She continued to gaze at the portrait.

“Lucifer Jerram. He was supposed to be mad. Some Italian killed him at Naples.”

“My sympathies are with the Italian,” I said.

I heard a door open, and turning my head saw Jerram looking at us. It was as though the man had stepped down from the picture, and the likeness troubled me.

So did Jerram’s smile. It was so ugly, so full of some unfathomable madness. His eyes looked like two points of fire.

“You know my ancestor, Miss Rainsford?”

She laughed.

“I was trying to explain him to Mr. Orchardson.”

“There are some things that it would be difficult to explain to Mr. Orchardson——”

His smiling eyes were on me, and I knew that we hated each other.

“Sometimes the unexplainable things are obvious,” I said.

Dinner was an exotic affair, and the long “cavalier table” so piled with flowers and fruit that it made me think of some Bacchic feast. Jerram had Netta on his right, and I sat next to her with Agatha Western as my partner. Jerram was brilliant. I think he had acknowledged me as his rival, and that his placing me next to Netta was a challenge. He meant to out-talk me, eclipse me, make me seem a heavy, sententious fool, and he succeeded.

I could make nothing of Agatha Western; she was too modern and too cynical, and I think she enjoyed seeing me blundering in the mazes of Jerram’s wit. He was mad, divinely mad, and even his gigantic ugliness came to have devilish fascination. He seemed to mesmerise Netta, and I saw little more than the curves of her profile and of her shoulder; and once, when Jerram stung me with some stab of wit, she laughed like a Bacchic girl.

I was angry, and my anger made me more clumsy.

“I am afraid I am not much good at blowing froth,” I said.

Someone laughed.

“Define froth,” drawled Blare from the other side of the table.

Jerram took up the challenge.

“Froth is the foam that genius blows from the muddy ale of mediocrity. Mr. Orchardson prefers the ale.”

“It is honest stuff,” I said.

The whole party mocked me.

“Say, rather—respectable.”

“Perhaps Mr. Orchardson will lecture us on his duty towards his neighbour?”

I looked at Netta.

“That might be too personal.”

She gave a defiant lift of the head.

“Mr. Orchardson is too—-sane,” said Jerram; “sanity is the great illusion. We are mad, hopelessly mad. Of course, Mr. Orchardson would argue——”

“I won’t argue the extent of your madness.”

His eyes gave me a flash of mockery. He picked up a pomegranate from a silver dish and put it on Netta’s plate.

“Madness is the seed of life. It was Eve who coveted the first pomegranate.”

From that moment I felt that I was contending with him for Netta’s soul, that the Spirit of Evil in him coveted her, and that the strife between us was as old as Time.

I laughed, and in laughing saved my dignity and recovered my poise. A sportsman learns to keep his temper, and I kept it the whole evening in spite of some rather vicious teasing. I watched Netta and was puzzled, for I had not realized then that a woman can be clever and audacious and yet remain most amazingly ingenuous. To Netta all this fooling was mere preposterous and amusing mischief. She was still an incorrigible child chasing butterflies, suspecting no guile.

Jerram played the violin, and he played like a divine madman. Backhouse and Millie Cumberbatch began to waltz on the terrace. Soon they were all dancing in the moonlight to the sound of Jerram’s violin. I was sitting on the balustrade talking to a pleasant little widow who seemed lost in such company; Netta was dancing with Musgrave. Suddenly I saw Jerram start up and begin to dance to his own music. A sudden childish madness seized everybody. Agatha Western had run in through one of the French windows, seated herself at the piano, and caught up the waltz that Jerram was playing.

I saw Jerram toss his violin through the window, sweep across the terrace with arms spread, and take Musgrave by the neck.

“Mine, sir, mine.”

He took Netta from Musgrave, and next moment he had her in his arms, and they were moving together in the moonlight, the white figure and the black. There was an abandonment in Jerram’s dancing that made me savage. He swept Netta close to me, looking me in the face with a smile of triumph.

“Hallo, Mr. Dull Ale.”

I gripped the stone coping of the balustrade, and made myself go on talking to little Mrs. Erskine whose eyes made me think of the shocked eyes of a child.

When this mad mood had passed I walked across the terrace to Netta who was standing by one of the open windows. Jerram had disappeared and I heard him talking to Agatha Western.

“Play the Hungarian Rhapsody,” I heard him say to her.

I took Netta’s arm. She was still a little breathless and excited.

“You are not going to dance again,” I said very quietly.

She looked at me over her shoulder.

“Why not?”

“That man is mad.”

“Oh, don’t be so foolish.”

I kept my hand on her arm.

“You don’t realize his madness,” I said, “but I do. It is for you to choose. Either you go to bed—or——”

Her eyes met mine.

“How impossible you are! You are hurting my arm.”

“I’m sorry. Are you going to bed—or shall I have to pitch Jerram over that balustrade? He is my host—you know.”

“Josh, you are a savage!”

I drew her away towards the end of the terrace.

“Netta, won’t you believe that I care a little, that I am not a jealous fool? You ought not to be here; you are much too fine, and too clean. You can’t marry that man. He would make your life a hell.”

She was angry; I had hurt her pride.

“Thank you. Do you think that I am quite incapable of managing my own affairs? Don’t be so absurd. I have no intention of marrying Ambrose Jerram, or any other man.”

“But Jerram may not agree.”

She turned quickly and faced me.

“What do you mean?”

“That man is dangerous; he is not sane.”

“Mr. Orchardson—you——”

She twisted herself free.

“You—you are quite impossible. You cannot even enjoy a little mad fooling. Good night.”

She turned and walked into the house, putting everyone—even Jerram—aside with a merciless dignity.

“No; I am tired. Good night.”

Jerram looked at me with his eyes of fire.

“You fool,” they seemed to say.

They were still dancing when I went to bed, and I had turned out the light before I heard their laughter and a shutting of doors in the great gallery. The moon was full on my window. I had left the curtains undrawn and the blind up, for I felt that I should not go to sleep. I was too angry and too troubled, and too much in love with Netta Rainsford. Even my exasperation at being pushed by circumstances into this second quarrel was effaced by the impatience of my tenderness for her.

I could not sleep and, getting out of bed, I pushed an arm-chair to the window and sat there in the full light of the moon. It was an exquisite night, and so still that I could hear the water falling over the weir in the valley half a mile away. The great trees were masses of black silence, their trunks splashed with the moonlight. The park was a roiling sheet of silver stippled with patches of shadow. I could smell the strange, pungent scent of the azaleas in the beds below the terrace.

Suddenly I sat forward in my chair, listening. A sound had come to me out of the night, a sound that seemed to send a mysterious tremor through my body. There was laughter down there in the woods, mad and vibrant laughter that made me picture some wild man leaping and dancing under the trees. There was something so primitive about it, so faunlike that I could imagine myself back in the dim and pagan past, and waiting to see Pan push his grotesque head from behind some tree.

The laughter came nearer. I leant forward with my arms on the window sill, my skin all aprickle with a sense of cold. Then there was silence, quite a long silence. I had almost begun to doubt whether I had really heard that laughter when I caught a sound that made me lean forward out of the window. Something was running up one of the paths and with quick, padding footsteps, and a patter that only naked feet could make.

Something appeared in the moonlight, leaping up the white steps of the terrace, a half-naked figure in a coat of skins. Its right hand waved a branch that had been torn from a tree; its head seemed to rock between its great brown shoulders.

It was Jerram.

He came loping across the terrace and entered the house. Next moment I was across the room with my hand on the door-handle. I opened the door about an inch and stood listening, and presently I heard those naked feet on the stairs. They passed along the gallery to the east wing of the house. I heard a door open and close. Then there was silence.

“The man’s mad,” I said to myself.

I half dressed myself, and leaving my door ajar, sat in the chair for the rest of the night.

At breakfast I found myself alone with Musgrave, but I could not make up my mind to tell him what I had seen, and Jerram joined us before the end of the meal. There was something strange about the man. He sat and glared, and said nothing; but now and again a smile would break out on his face—the brutish smile of a Caliban.

I loitered about, waiting for Netta. She came down with Millie Cumberbatch, and she gave me no chance to speak with her alone. The whole house-party collected with desultory leisureliness in chairs on the terrace. We lounged and gossiped, and discussed Jerram’s programme for the day, and the grotesque fooling that might be expected. He had disappeared, and was supposed to be writing letters.

Backhouse, Haines and two of the girls were talking of a mixed four at tennis, but they were still in their deck-chairs, dallying with the idea, when Ambrose Jerram joined us. His ugly face looked sly, elvish and mischievous, but there was more than mischief in his tawny eyes. He had a number of slips of paper in his hand.

“May I explain the day to the inmates of the asylum?”

Blare glanced at him from his long cane-chair.

“You won’t expect me to run about, Jerram? I detest running about.”

Jerram handed him one of the slips of paper.

Blare looked at it.

“Gonzalo. That’s a heavy, ponderous part!”

“You can lie under a tree and be prosy.”

Jerram distributed the remaining slips of paper. Netta was to be Miranda; Musgrave, Prospero; Agatha Western, Ariel; Backhouse, Alanso; Haines, Antonio; and so on. I read Ferdinand on my slip, and sat searching for Jerram’s motive in linking me with Miranda.

“Yes, and who is Caliban? Who is to be Caliban?”

The whole group joined in the question.

Jerram looked.

“Being the ugliest of you all, I have reserved the part for myself.”

From that moment I began to glimpse the sinister possibilities that were working in this madman’s brain.

He stood in the midst of us.

“Neo-Shakespeareans—all—we are not so mad as Shakespeare. At four o’clock the bell will ring, and this landscape will become the island. Prospero’s cell is the boathouse by the pool, but no one is under any obligation to follow Shakespeare. You can dress as you please, go where you please, play your parts as you please.”

Blare sat up.

“That’s an idea. We originate, eh?”

“Quite so; Mr. Orchardson will make what he pleases of Ferdinand. I shall make what I please of Caliban. Musgrave will modernize Prospero.”

“Do we go out in a procession, or each as the whim jumps?”

“Each one goes out alone.”

“What a game of hide and seek! But supposing that we never find each other?”

“That should add to the originality of it,” said Jerram; “even Ariel may not be able to persecute Caliban.”

He bowed to us all with flamboyant archness.

“Miranda, Ceres, Juno and the nymphs will be preoccupied with the question of clothes. After lunch we will all of us remain invisible——”

“But what about the tempest?” drawled Blare; “can’t you raise some thunder.”

“Take an umbrella with you, my dear man, and use your imagination.”

None of us saw Jerram again. He walked down the steps into the garden and disappeared. I loitered near Netta, and just before the luncheon bell rang Millie Cumberbatch gave me my opportunity.

“Where are we to meet,” I asked her.

“Do we meet?”

“If you are Miranda and I am Ferdinand——”

“Oh, it is all altered; we follow our own inclinations. Miranda may improve upon the play.”

There was no impishness in Netta’s eyes this morning, though she was ready to tantalize me with her playfulness. Something had happened to her. She was serious below the surface, a little distraught, a little less sure of herself and her surroundings. I thought that I saw a glimmer of friendliness in her eyes.

“Then you will not quarrel with me,” I asked her, “if I follow my inclination?”

“May I ask what it will be?”

“That silly old sentiment we call chivalry.”

Her long black lashes hid her eyes. The bell rang, and she rose.

“I shall run away,” she said, “and play hide and seek.”

She looked quickly at the others, and then added in an undertone:

“But keep near me; I would like to have you near me.”

I think she had begun to be a little afraid of Jerram.

At four o’clock I was sitting on the terrace steps, dressed in my green satin court suit, and wondering what was going to happen. I was in a supercilious mood, and quite convinced that there were the makings of a tragedy in the deeps of those great woods. I had seen Jerram as Caliban, and I could not forget his laughter. I did not mean to let Netta out of my sight, and there was a devout rage at the back of my thoughts.

I did not see any of the others, save Blare and Mrs. Erskine who passed me on the steps, Mrs. Erskine dressed as a Watteau shepherdess, Blare looking like a sort of bored Svengali in a black velvet coat. Agatha Western, Haines, Backhouse and the rest had caught the spirit of the adventure and had gone off different ways. I waited there for Netta.

She came out to me in a loose robe of deep, rose-coloured silk. Her honey-coloured hair hung in a tawny mass. She wore sandals on her little white feet.

“Are you ready?”

I stood up and bowed to her, and she must have seen all that was in my eyes.

“Do you think that Miranda was like this, Josh?”

“No,” I said; “I don’t. What a loathsome name that is of mine.”

She smiled, half shy, half mischievous.

“It is an honest name—I think I rather like it. But what would be the difference between me and Miranda?”

“It’s so obvious. You would have made Miranda look an utter Victorian.”

“Thank you, Josh,” she said.

We went down together through the garden and into the park where the shadows of the trees were beginning to lie with long gentleness upon the grass. A path led down through the woods to the boat-house by the pool, and we found Musgrave and Mrs. Erskine there sitting in the punt and abusing the flies.

“You are a pretty Prospero,” said Netta, “a magician worried by midges! Has anyone seen Caliban?”

Musgrave looked bored.

“I’ve seen nothing but Blare. He had forgotten his matches and wanted to borrow mine.”

There was a canoe in the boat-house. I persuaded Netta into it, and we paddled about for half an hour among the waterlilies and the reeds. Then she protested that we were not helping the others to evolve a masterpiece and we landed in the beech wood on the other side of the pool.

We must have wandered about for an hour, and we saw no one, but all the time I had a most strange feeling that we were being watched. This beech wood stretched for a mile or more, a mile of shadows and of mystery, with its wayward paths in and out among the trunks of the great trees. The silence was extraordinary, yet once or twice I thought I heard a rustling of dead leaves.

“It is like the world before time was,” she said.

And suddenly a spirit of mischief woke in her. She shook her hair at me in the deepening gloom of the woodland evening.

“We haven’t escaped yet. I am still Netta Rainsford and you are Josiah Orchardson, two dull twentieth century people. Let’s go back, back to the beginning of things.”

“All right,” I said, “what is it to be?”

“Hide and seek. I am a wild woman——”

She laughed and ran up the path.

“Give me three minutes, and then come and find me.”

I watched her disappear into the shadows, and when she was lost in them a great uneasiness seized me. I could not explain it, but the feeling was so strong in me that before a minute had passed I was following her up the path.

“Netta,” I shouted, “where are you?”

I stood still, listening. The foliage of the beeches was growing dusky in the twilight, and here and there a patch of deep blue sky showed between the branches. The place seemed a great smothering mystery, a net, a maze in which we were entangled. I shouted again and had no answer.

I ran on, with a vision in my mind of Jerram as I had seen him the night before.

Suddenly I stood still. I heard a movement of the wood, a cry, and then laughter, laughter that made me bristle.

I could see nothing but the trees.

“Netta,” I shouted.

Next moment I heard her cry to me for help.

“Josh—Josh—oh! be quick——”

Something smothered her cry, but I was running like a madman in the direction from which it had come. The luck of the gods was with me.

A little glade opened in front of me, and half way down it I saw the brown-black figure of a man running with Netta in his arms. I saw her head hanging and her fair hair atrail, and the brawny breadth of the man’s back.

The anger of the gods was in me. It was a love chase, and Jerram was hindered by having Netta in his arms. I saw her look back over his right shoulder, and I caught the mad flare of his eyes. I was closing in on him, and he knew that he could not escape.

I was within ten yards of Jerram when he flung Netta down and turned on me. He had flung her down brutally, and she did not move.

“Ho—lo—Caliban.”

He roared and came at me like a wild beast, and the anger in me blessed God for his madness. I knew that he was stronger than I was, but then I knew things that Jerram did not know. My anger was a sword against the club of his brute madness.

He came in swinging his arms, and I let him come till he was almost clawing me, and then I struck and sent him down. He was up again, squealing with fury, but he was a child with his fists and his rushes were easily countered. I kept clear, using my feet, and working for the blow that should knock him out. He had the head of a negro, and I could have pummelled it all day. I was waiting for that blow on the throat, and when I gave it him, full on the larynx, he crumpled up and lay choking.

Netta was sitting up, dazed, her eyes big with fear. She stretched out her arms to me.

“Oh, Josh! take me away.”

I picked her up in my arms, and with a look at Caliban, who was still sprawling and coughing on the ground, carried her through the beech wood towards the pool. Her right arm was round my neck, her head on my shoulder.

“I won’t quarrel with you again, Josh,” she said; “please let me walk now.”

I set her on her feet, but she kept hold of my hand. It was growing very dark under the trees and she drew close to me. I put my arm round her.

“Josh,” she said.

“My darling!”

“I thought I was so clever, so modern. You will take me back to town to-night?”

“Of course. I’m your——”

She laid her fingers on my mouth.

“Dear, old-fashioned, romantic lover! Oh, stay like that, Josh. I know now what a woman asks for, to be able to trust to a man’s strength and honour.”

I kissed her fingers.

“Often—you will think me a fool, dear.”

“Never,” she said.


NOISE

Sefton had come to Rome.

He had come because he had been a sick man and was not allowed to winter in England, and because he was poor, and was engaged in writing a masterpiece.

He had taken Holford’s advice. Holford was one of those healthy, full-noon, confident fellows who know nothing of sickness or the writing of novels, and who could live serenely in the room next to a French lady who kept a poodle, a highly scented laugh, and a selection of lovers.

Holford had said: “That’s it: go to Rome. I know the very hotel for you. Room on the fourth floor—view of the Borghese. You’ll write great stuff in Rome. They know me at the ‘Paradiso.’ Mention my name.”

Holford appeared to have been everywhere. Had Sefton said that he was going to Timbuctoo, Holford would have advised him—“Timbuctoo, just the place. Put up at the ‘Palm Tree.’ Mention my name.”

Sefton took Holford’s advice and chose the Paradiso. He was given his room on the fourth floor, a little pink tank with a high door and a high window, and a view that held him in exquisite, eager gazing. He thought: “How splendid. I shall be able to write here. Holford does know a thing or two.”

He settled himself in. He arranged a little table near the window. He found that when he sat at the table he had only to raise his eyes, and the greenness of the Borghese was spread above the redness of the Aurelian wall. It was very beautiful, but it would not distract him. Trees understand thought.

This upper floor of the Paradiso seemed very quiet. He decided to begin work after tea, and he went down and had tea in the lounge, and then ascended to that upper chamber. He was full of contentment, and at peace with the world.

But Sefton had failed to notice a door half way down the corridor shutting off a portion of the fourth floor, and when he reclimbed the stairs that door was open and another world revealed itself, a world that had been deceitfully silent during the earlier part of the afternoon. Sefton received a shock. The voices of two strapping young Italian women reverberated in the corridor. A small boy was pushing a wooden horse up and down. Two small girls were in the midst of an argument over the possession of a brown bear. There were sudden screams. Somewhere an infant was hammering the top of a tin box. The two nurses adjourned for a moment to deal with the squabbling pair upon the floor, and then resumed their vigorous discussion.

Sefton hesitated. He was a rather shy person. Then he went into his room and closed the door, and filled a pipe and sat down at his table and looked at the green and tranquil trees. The situation was unexpected. He ventured to suppose that the two Italian women would exhaust their vocal energy in the course of a few minutes, and that the door would be closed, and some peace return.

He picked up his pen and sat poised.

But he did not know the Latin race. The door remained open, and the argument continued. So did the infant playfulness. It had the inevitableness of youth.

Sefton began to fidget. He heard loud, admonishing exclamations. Hercules was addressed repeatedly. Hercules appeared to be the small boy with the wooden horse. He was a vigorous child.

“Hercules! Hercules! do not pull Maria’s hair.”

Then an infant began to give tongue, and one of the young women collected it and began to prance up and down the corridor, uttering strident and soothing noises and such language as all women use on these occasions. It was all very domesticated and natural, but not conducive to the production of literature, and Sefton began to be irritated. He got up and opened his door, and glared at the Italian woman with the baby. She took no notice of him at all.

Something would have to be done. Obviously. He closed his door, and went downstairs and sought out the manageress in her office. She was a little dark, compact person, suave, but with the beady and determined eye. Sefton was polite.

“Madam, you told me it was quiet on the fourth floor.”

Madam looked surprised.

“Why, yes, it is very quiet.”

“But—the children.”

Madam looked yet more surprised.

“Why, yes, the children. But does monsieur object to children?”

Sefton felt himself accused, challenged by the basic sentiment of humanity.

“Unfortunately—I have to work.”

“But there is a door; it is kept closed.”

“It is not closed now.”

“Monsieur can close it, if it is left open.”

This was infinite condescension, but Sefton hesitated. He did not feel satisfied.

“Possibly you have another room?”

“The hotel is full. There will be no room vacant for a week.”

Sefton returned to the fourth floor. Exercising moral force he went and closed the door which shut off the children’s quarters, and, re-entering his room, sat down and prepared for the effort of re-inserting himself into literary serenity. He lit another pipe, and was picking up his pen when he heard that fatal door reopened.

Suddenly angry, he got up, went out and closed it with emphasis. He had regained his own doorway when the door was reopened. The Italian woman surveyed him, laughed, and said something to the other nurse. A fussy English fellow. Mother of God, but the English were always so thin and red and irritable!

Sefton heard their laughter as he returned to his table and to the view of the Borghese trees. He sat down. He supposed that the more sensitive and serious northerner must appear rather ridiculous to the deep-chested and voluble south. But, damn it, he would write in spite of those women! Should one be vanquished by a wench’s laughter?

He managed to stuff a willed silence into his ears. He wrote two pages of manuscript, but the angry concentration tired him. It was like planing wood against the grain.

Nor had the Paradiso and Rome finished with its attack upon Sefton’s sensitive surface. He went to bed soon after ten; his doctor had warned him against late hours. The children were asleep, the nurses silent, and the street became less full of hootings and the roarings of Fiat taxis. Sefton began to congratulate himself. He dozed off.

Bang! A hand had seized him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him back into consciousness.

Bang! His neighbour’s door shook the flimsy wall. He heard a voice, and yappings of a little dog. The voice was a woman’s and French. Translated it expressed the usual patter.

“Oh, my Poo-poo! Wow-wow-wow! Poo-poo kiss his dear Mumsy-mumsy!” And so on. The lady was a cheerful person who could talk to herself and a dog, and she talked as a Frenchwoman talks, as though her bedroom were a desert island. She opened drawers and shut them noisily. She walked about the room on high-heeled shoes that clattered and squeaked. The door of her wardrobe also had a squeak. She talked to Poo-poo. She put her shoes outside in the corridor, and closed the door with a crash.

Sefton sat up in bed, with a tight feeling in his stomach. He was flushed, trembling, furious. He switched on the light beside the bed and looked at his watch. Nine minutes to twelve! Damnation! Why couldn’t the woman come to bed at a decent hour, and with a decent consideration for her neighbours!

The voice continued.

“Poor Poo-poo! Is my little darly-warling tired? Here is his nicy little bedsy.”

Sefton uttered a “Good God!” and, feeling hot and moist, bumped protestingly upon the partition wall. The protest was without effect, save that the Frenchwoman appeared to make more noise.

He lay down and tried to reason with himself. No use getting in a state over the affair. This was reality, life, progress. But as he lay there trying to will himself into resignation, he could feel his heart beating tensely, and the knotting of something in his stomach.

Would the woman come to bed at this hour every night? And during the day there would be the nurses and the children.

Well, he would have to change his hotel, find a quiet corner somewhere. It was only a question of finding the right place.

But for Sefton, a man who was made ill by noise, there seemed to be no right place in Rome, and the Paradiso was Rome in miniature. Go where you would in Rome it continued to be the city of hideous noise. It was a vast playground swarmed over by grown-up children who blew tin trumpets and hailed Caesar and the New Toy Imperialism.

Sefton waged war on the upper floor of the hotel. He might be foolishly sensitive, if not quite so truculent as Schopenhauer, but he had persistence, a streak of Mars. He wrote, but he wrote like a man recording a sonnet in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. He fought against the various domestic noises as he had fought against the fear and the fury of the trenches. It was war. Whenever that door in the corridor was left open by the Italian women, he went out and closed it. They had begun jestingly and gone on to open malice, but Sefton’s persistence wore them down. He never said a word; he never looked at them when they met in the passage. His hatred of them remained hidden by a mask of apparent indifference. At the end of the fourth day they refrained from leaving the door open.

But Sefton had been writing and living under tension, and he was a sick man in the sense that his reserves were slender, almost as slender as his finances. On the fourth night, when Madame Poo-poo woke him up with the crash of her door, he had a heart attack. He sat up in bed with his arteries drumming, and a sense of disaster impending over his soul.

“I must get out of this.”

But where in Rome was he to get to? He had been exploring the Eternal City, but in the quarters where the foreign element resided he had been unable to find his Via Sacra. And after a night of broken sleep and mental exasperations, he found himself afraid of his little writing-table. He did not dare to sit down. He had a sudden feeling of helplessness in the face of the effort of grim concentration. He put on his hat and went out and, passing through the Golden Gate, sought for silence and green shadows in the Borghese. Was there any green and silent spot in Rome, or was everything Progress and the Great God Fiat?

He wandered under the stone pines. He sat about in the most solitary places, where the sunlight flickered and there was a sense of coolness and moisture; but the silence and the solitude were very thin. He explored still further. He passed through a great stone arch that held a blue distance framed in its tympanum; he found himself on a terrace laid out with formal beds. There were some big white buildings down below. This part seemed but half decorated and more deserted. He wandered about under some scattered pines, and coming to a clump of ilex, found a little winding path that led him into a kind of shrubbery. And suddenly he discovered himself in a little space shut in by shrubs and trees; there was a seat, and on the seat a girl was sitting with a book and a packet of sandwiches.

She glanced up at him with an air of surprise and of reproach. She was a delicate-looking thing with large dark eyes and a slim throat. Her glance registered a protest. It was hostile. She saw in him man, the intruder, the destroyer of sanctuaries, the prophet of progress, the poet of petrol and of skyscrapers.

Sefton, instead of retreating, allowed shyness to urge him awkwardly to the other end of the seat. The girl edged to the opposite extremity with her book and her sandwiches. She looked English, and with an air of defensive aloofness she sat immersed in her novel.

Sefton began to feel uncomfortable. It occurred to him that she came here for silence and solitude, and that he, in searching for the same old-world tranquillities had disturbed hers. He glanced at her a little apologetically. He stood up. He should have removed himself unobtrusively, but something moved him to speak to her, and to disappear as a man and not as a mere shadow.

He raised his hat.

“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I’ve blundered into your little sanctuary. I’ll clear out.”

She looked up at him, startled. She had a fear of strange men, but her eyes met Sefton’s. She thought he looked very miserable, and so tired.

“Oh—it’s not my private property.”

He hesitated.

“But you found it first. You have the first mortgage. Rome is so devastating.”

He still hesitated. He was poised there momentarily like a poor, obsolete god with draggled wings ready to take to flight. She had only to be silent or to reply with a few casual and commonplace words. But her face had changed its expression. It suggested the petals of a windflower opening to a shaft of unexpected sunlight.

“Yes—devastating. That’s the very word. I’ve been searching for it.”

Her defensiveness had disappeared. She sat with the open book on her knees, looking a little expectant. He lingered.

“Yes, just a word. But this city is like a beautiful woman with a voice like a steam-saw. You’ll excuse me; I ought not to have spoken to you——”

“No. But sometimes——”

“One does. Perhaps one has to. I’m sorry I disturbed you.”

Again he waited for the hint that he should go, but she did not give it. She was looking up at him.

“Are you new to Rome?”

“Not quite a week.”

“A holiday?”

“No; I came to work.”

“I have been here two months.”

“Working?”

“Yes.”

He moved a little nearer to the seat. He hesitated.

“May I?”

She nodded. He sat down. A sudden feeling of inevitableness possessed him.

“What do you do in Rome?”

“I’m a typist and clerk at an agency—Miss Walker’s agency.”

She waited for him to respond.

“I see. And I write books. At present I am trying to write one on the top floor of an hotel, and next door to two Italian nurses and five children.”

“Can you?”

“In fragments, and with much inward cursing. This morning I gave it up.”

It was her turn to take up the chant.

“How horrible! I think I know. When I had been here a week I felt that I could not bear it. Nothing but noise, noise, noise all day and most of the night. It’s like having sharp stones flung at one continually.”

“Do you still feel like that?”

“Not quite so badly. I had to—to suppress something in myself, to let it go numb so to speak.”

“But that’s damnable. It’s the sort of resignation that eats one’s soul out. So you come here——”

“I bring my lunch here. No one else seems to come here. I suppose it is too quiet for Italians.”

“Thank God.”

She smiled faintly and looked at her wrist watch.

“I shall have to go. Our place is in the Piazza Barberini. Miss Walker’s a dear. She’s been through things.”

He stood up.

“It’s the crass, stupid, selfish thoughtlessness of the sensational people. I hope you’ll forgive me. My name is Sefton.”

“Mine is Millard.”

She, too, stood up.

“There is nothing to forgive, is there? You were just looking for what I had found. I’ll leave it to you.”

He wanted to ask her if he might share it in the future, but he did not put the plea into words. He had a feeling that this little secret spot belonged to a mutual sympathy. And perhaps she understood.

Sefton went back to the Hotel Paradiso, and Ruth Millard to the agency overlooking the Piazza Barberini. Possibly the noises of Rome sounded less discordant now that each had found someone who suffered from those discords. But Sefton was unable to work; the will to work had deserted him; he was tired; he wanted to escape from the tension of effort. There are times when the self becomes so turgid and concentrated that it ceases to flow. He sat at his window and dreamed.

There was a voice that said: “I will go there again to-morrow.”

He went, only to find that little secret place occupied by two lovers. They were kissing, and Sefton felt vaguely envious of their kisses. He retreated, to loiter up and down the path waiting for the girl to whom Rome was torment. Ridiculous, hypersensitive pair! What did those lovers care for street noises, and it was to lovers that the world looked.

He met Ruth Millard by a group of cypresses. He raised his hat.

“I’m sorry. We are ousted. Lovers.”

His half whimsical smile excused the confession.

“Such people are privileged.”

She, too, was smiling and looking past him.

“Oh—these two. Are they the ones?”

The man and the girl had emerged; youth’s half-hour was up; they came towards and past Sefton and Ruth Millard, arms linked, smiling in each other’s faces.

“Yes.”

“They are there every day. They come out just about the time I arrive.”

“So the sanctuary is ours.”

Both of them divined the intimate implication, and neither of them questioned it. The coincidence had an inevitableness. They wandered on together and took possession of the seat among the ilexes. Sefton noticed that she had brought no book with her.

He studied her face. It had a gentleness, which is rare in modern cities. She seemed to look at life questioningly. She was so unsure.

“How is the Piazza to-day?”

“We have three typewriters in the room I work in.”

“So there is noise within and without.”

“The noise you make yourself is never so bad as the noise made by other people. Besides—I’m used to typewriters. How’s the hotel?”

“Just an hotel. I have not done any work to-day.”

“Oh; couldn’t you?”

“Submerged. Couldn’t get my chin up, somehow. It’s such a scuffle.”

She brooded.

“Yes, a scuffle. They’re so strong—those people.”

“Vigorous children. We must be very old.”

“Perhaps.”

“Is it that we belong to a type that can’t adapt to the new environment? We’re not meant to survive. We shall go under in the thick of the crowd. We shall be ground up in the wheels of the machine.”

She glanced at him a little wistfully.

“Really? But I don’t feel——”

“You think we have got into the wrong hutch.”

She gave a little laugh.

“I don’t know. I don’t want to be ground up. There are museums left, you know.”

“Say—zoological gardens. I wonder if there is a quiet cage to be found in Rome.”

She had brought her lunch with her, a neat little parcel, and she untied the string.

“Do you mind?”

“Oh—please. It’s your feeding-time. I take mine in the Paradiso monkey-house.”

She reproved him.

“You sound bitter. One shouldn’t be——”

“I apologize. I’m not bitter, only exasperated. I have got a sore brain. But is there anywhere in Rome——?”

She bit at a sandwich. She had good teeth.

“There must be, if you have the time to search and can afford it.”

“Yes—that’s it.”

She looked sympathetic.

“Can’t you?”

“I could—within reason.”

“Supposing I ask Miss Walker. She knows Rome like a book.”

“Will you?”

“Of course.”

They met every day in the boschetto, and Ruth would bring him addresses, and they would discuss Rome as a couple of birds might confer over the choosing of a nesting-place. The search began to have a double significance hardly appreciated at first by either of them, but growing insensibly. Man is the supreme egoist, but Sefton had the temperament of the artist, and the artist was tired of being no more and no less than himself. Rome had flung him into the thick of the crowd, and he had felt lost and crushed and rather helpless. His self-pity became sublimated into a more delicate divining of this girl’s case. She was his counterpart. She had to scuffle for a living; she had an inherent gentleness; she had been pushed out of a needy suburban home in England, and the rudeness of life hurt her.

Sefton ceased to be single-minded. His consciousness began to double itself. He saw two persons where there had been one.

He took the addresses that Ruth brought him, and explored and climbed endless staircases in high houses, but nothing quite pleased him until he discovered that house in one of the new areas. It was one of a row of high new buildings in a very new and unfinished street, but on the top story he found a little flat with windows opening upon blue distances and the brown sea of Rome’s roofs. Also it had a kind of roof-garden and loggia combined, where green things could be trained to scramble, and flowers made to bloom in vases and tubs. It had silence. The restless stir of the city was no more disturbing than the distant sound of the sea.

Sefton’s Italian was patchy. The owner of the house lived on the ground floor, and their discussion of the matter in hand was inadequate. Sefton managed to make the Roman understand that he would return and bring an interpreter.

Ruth spoke Italian quite passably, and Ruth was taking to herself a new meaning. If Sefton were in love with the woman, he was also in love with the possible partner, an unexpectedly capable person with a gentle voice. He thought for himself and he thought for her, which meant that he was ripe for the right sort of mating.

Ruth was taken to see the flat, and to act as interpreter between Sefton and the proprietor, and when Ruth had seen the little kitchen and the salon and the two bedrooms, she was led out into the loggia to look at Rome.

She was enthusiastic.

“It’s perfect, and quite reasonable. But you will need a servant.”

“No; I shall do without a servant. Make my own morning coffee, and get my meals at a restaurant.”

She thought the idea rather dreary and unintimate, but she did not say so. She did not like to make too many suggestions, because her new feeling for Sefton made her shy.

But when Sefton returned to the Paradiso and sat at the window of his lonely little room, he saw more than the trees of the Borghese. He saw Ruth as his wife at the top of that high building. He saw himself peacefully at work.

It was then that life began to hurt him, not with its noises and discords, but with other disharmonies. How could he, a man of five-and-thirty with old scars in his lungs, marry a healthy girl nearly ten years younger than himself? He was an exile. Marriage with him would make her an exile.

And did she care?

His sensitive conscience began to complicate the issue. He ought not to give her a chance of caring. He ought to tell her just what he was.

But he wanted her to care. He wanted to make all sorts of excuses for letting her care. It would be so easy.

And then he fell into a sudden rage with himself.

“You selfish beast! You want to be comfortable. You want to persuade yourself that it would be pleasant to have a housekeeper. You want to feather your own nest.”

But was it so? Was he not wanting certain things for Ruth’s sake? Did he not care as he had never expected to care?

Well, if he cared, he would not condemn her to exile and a partnership in which nine-tenths of the risk would be hers.

For three days he did not go near their meeting-place in the gardens of the Borghese. He left it to those two healthy Roman lovers. He envied them. He tried to feel ironical and dispassionate, and failed. He wandered restlessly about Rome, and lay in the grass among the ruins on the Palatine, and watched the afternoon crowds on the Pincio. A band made music; children played. He tried to convince himself that he was cut off from all these human, physical things. He had his craft; he was a writer of books, and nothing more.

Returning to the Paradiso he was handed a letter by the concierge.

“A lady left it, sir.”

Sefton sat in the lounge and read her letter. Its brevity equalled its simplicity:

Dear Mr. Sefton,

“I hope you are not ill. I came to inquire.

“Sincerely yours,

Ruth Millard.”

Just those few words, seemingly so formal, and yet they moved him as no other words had ever done. They had a hidden meaning. They gave him the kind of courage that is supposed to inspire a man who leads a forlorn hope, and knows himself marked for a bullet. Why mess about and temporise, and let the business drift? He ought to tell her why he was in Italy.

He decided to tell her.

Next day he went to their old meeting-place and found it empty and the lovers gone. He sat down on the seat to wait, but no Ruth appeared. The same thing happened the next day, and on the third day it rained. Sefton began to feel baulked and restless. Why had she given up going to her sanctuary? Was it possible that she was ill?

He decided to call at the English Agency in the Piazza Barberini. The agency was on the first floor, and on a glazed door at the top of a flight of stone steps Sefton saw Miss Walker’s name. He knocked. He was aware of the clatter of typewriters. A voice said: “Come in.”

He entered. Two girls seated at tables glanced at him inquiringly. He stood there holding his hat and looking shy.

“Excuse me, is Miss Millard in?”

No; Miss Millard was not at the office. Miss Millard was not very well, and Miss Walker had sent her to her lodgings. The girls looked at him with interest.

“Nothing serious, I hope? You see, I am a friend of Miss Millard.”

The girls did not think it was serious. They knew that Ruth Millard had appeared worried and troubled and “funny” during the last few days, but they could not tell Sefton so. He might be the cause of it. Very probably he was the cause of it.

Sefton thanked them and disappeared. He went back to the Paradiso and wrote a letter, and carried his letter to the back street in the Ludovisi quarter where Ruth had a bed-sitting room. He thought it a very dismal street, and the Italian woman who opened the door looked equally dismal.

“The Signorina Millard?”

He handed the woman the letter, and she examined it rather like a melancholy monkey fingering a piece of waste paper.

Si, signore.”

“Give it to her, please.”

He went away, and the Italian woman carried the letter up to the fourth floor, and opened the door of a back room. Ruth was lying in the bed, with the shutters closed. Her face looked dim and vague.

“A letter. A gentleman left it.”

She placed Sefton’s letter on the table beside the bed, and Ruth did not move until the door had closed. She sat up and looked at the envelope. It was as though she was afraid of it. She gazed at it for quite a long while before she had the courage to open and read it.

Dear Ruth,

“I have been worried. I have not seen you for so long. I must see you, because I have something to tell you. It is something about myself. I ought to have told you earlier, but I did not realize then that the thing would lie heavy on my soul.

“If you can be kind, and are well enough, and it is not raining, please come to the Borghese to-morrow. I shall be there every day at twelve.

“Yours ever sincerely,

Sefton.”

When she had read his letter she looked frightened. What was it that he had to tell her? It could not be as unhappy as the thing she felt it her duty to tell him? She had had sudden panic. Her conscience matched his, and a worrying conscience can produce a pain that is more fretting than any physical ache. She sat and brooded. Yes, she would have to go, and she would have to tell him.

The following day was fine, fresh and rain-washed, with the tops of the stone pines very green against the blue of the sky. Ruth passed through the Golden Gate and, entering the Borghese, paused by the railings above the riding-track to look at the Roman crowd. There were nurses on the seats and children, and old men. Two girls and three Italian cavalry officers were cantering round the earth track. A groom was placing a small boy on a pony. People lounged and looked at each other and gossiped. It seemed a happy, careless, sun-loving crowd.

Ruth went on towards the rendezvous, feeling that life was a bitter business, and that parents who brought unfit children into the world were the worst sort of sinners, for they tempted you to lie about yourself when a lie might mean marriage. Like Sefton she had to love nakedly and with a clear conscience, and in marriage you gave yourself either as a rotten vessel or a whole one. And if he asked her to marry him——?

She came to the path leading in among the ilexes. She felt weak at the knees. If only she could shirk, keep her secret as dozens of women would have done had they been in her place. The shadows of the ilexes fell across her. She had a sudden glimpse of the seat and of Sefton sitting there.

He rose quickly to meet her. His eyes looked strained. He was not at his ease.

“Thank you for coming.”

She sat down. She had to sit down. She was feeling breathless.

“I have something to tell you.”

“I have something to tell you.”

They uttered the words simultaneously, and then sat gazing at each other rather like two people who have tried to sit on the same chair.

“Sorry. May I begin?”

She faltered. Well, perhaps he had better begin. She would have to hear what he had to say. It might be about the flat, or his work—anything but the problem that lay heavy over her heart.

“Yes. But—perhaps——”

“I have never told you why I came to Rome. I had to come out here because I’m not fit to spend the winter in England. I have had a chest. They say I may be all right if I keep out of England in the winter.”

He was not looking at her while he spoke, but when he had made the confession he turned to glance at her face. It held him surprised and silent. Her eyes had a strange dilated look as though some sudden wonderful thing had been shown her. She was not looking at him, but at the dark foliage of the ilexes.

He wondered. Why did she look like that? Didn’t she guess what lay behind his confession?

He said: “I had to tell you. It’s pretty rotten to be a wretched crock. Because—you see, I’ve come to care for you rather much. Of course, that might mean nothing.”

Suddenly she seemed to come to life, and to emerge from her stillness. She put out a hand and touched his sleeve.

“Oh, Dick——! It’s too wonderful.”

“Why?”

“Why! Oh—my dear, I’m what you call a wretched crock—also. My people managed to send me out here.”

“What—you have had the same trouble?”

“Yes.”

“But you ought not to be in an office.”

“I had to try and do something. My father’s only a managing clerk in a solicitor’s office, and there are five of us. I felt I had to take a working job.”

Half-an-hour ago two other lovers had been sitting on that seat, but they did not look at life as did these two exiles.

“Ruth, don’t you see? If we choose not to have children, why, there is nothing to prevent us. Why, it’s perfectly splendid! You’ll come out of that office. There’s the flat, and plenty of fresh air and sunshine. I can manage for both.”

She let her head rest gently against his shoulder.

“But the risk, Dick? Supposing I got ill again? I should feel so——”

“It’s a mutual risk, dear. Loneliness kills people, you know, and boredom, and having no one who cares.”

“Yes, caring must help.”

“I rather believe it’s the elixir of life.”


SIX MONTHS TO LIVE

When Mr. James Callendar opened the glass-panelled door of the office of Callendar, Tebbs and Hartley—Solicitors—Rutley, the commissionaire, noticed that Mr. Callendar was carrying his umbrella in an unusual way. The umbrella was wet and Mr. Callendar’s right hand grasped its middle. Usually he carried the umbrella by the handle, much as a beau of the old days carried his flowered cane and as though the silver top contained a phial of sweet-scented essence that could be raised modishly to the beau’s nostrils. For Callendar was a bachelor and a man of routine. Rutley had known him to do the same things and to do them in the same way for the last fifteen years. His hats and his ties and his air of austere shyness had seemed never to vary. But on this January morning he appeared gripping that wet umbrella as though he held something by the throat.

“Good morning, sir.”

Rutley got off his stool, but Mr. Callendar was looking with an air of vacancy at the church spire showing through the window above Rutley’s bald head.

“Morning, Rutley. Mr. Tebbs here yet?”

Rutley’s stolidity varied seldom. Mr. Callendar was an hour late. And, of course, Mr. Tebbs was here. Mr. Tebbs had been interviewing one of Mr. Callendar’s clients, a fussy gentleman up from Surrey whom Mr. Callendar should have been propitiating.

“Mr. Iremonger’s come and gone, sir. Mr. Tebbs saw him.”

“Just as well. You might tell Mr. Tebbs I’m here and that I should like to see him when he can spare the time.”

Mr. Callendar walked down the long, dark passage towards his private room, still gripping that umbrella like a man carrying a furled flag. He kept his hat on. Rutley saw him pause outside the door of Mr. Hartley’s room and Rutley’s curiosity was aroused, because Mr. Callendar’s movements had always been as precise and unvaried as those of a clockwork figure. Never had there been hesitations, vacancies, pausings; and Rutley, pursuing the simile of the clockwork figure, was led to the fanciful impression of Mr. Callendar as a mechanism that had run itself down.

“Works too hard. Always did.”

Mr. Callendar went on into his own room and closed the door and the commissionaire delivered the senior partner’s message to Mr. Tebbs.

“Mr. Callendar’s here, sir. Wants to see you—if you can spare the time.”

Gordon Tebbs was never in a hurry, though his deliberation suggested something well oiled and balanced. He was ruddy. He had very black hair and very dark eyes. He had never been seriously ill; he enjoyed life as he enjoyed a cigar or his golf; he was a happy, healthy pagan.

When he walked into a room he seemed to cock his coat-tails. Almost you expected him to crow, for his redness was the redness of a cock’s comb.

“Morning—Callendar.”

He closed the door and gave the figure in the revolving chair one of his dark, deliberate and jocund glances. Callendar’s hands were resting on the arms of the chair, the long, white fingers extended. He was looking out of the window at a slate roof that was a shade greyer than the sky in the congealed gloom of an English winter. His face had a dreaminess, a look of strange and gentle surprise, as though he had been asleep for twenty years and had been awakened to a world of unfamiliar mystery.

“That you—Gordon. Sit down. I have a few things to tell you.”

But Mr. Tebbs did not sit down. He stood on the hearthrug with his back to the fire. He, too, felt himself confronting an unusualness in James Callendar and he eyed him as he might have eyed a golf ball badly tucked up in a bunker. Callendar had lost all his crispiness. He looked fagged.

“A little below par, James?”

Callendar, smiling faintly, raised his eyes to the ridge of the grey roof.

“We’re a very tired people, Gordon. I think I was beginning to realize it. It’s this tiredness that’s at the bottom of our unrest. We’ve led the world—more or less—for a century. The war tried us a lot——”

Tebbs, standing square to the fire, looked anything but tired.

“You want a holiday, old man. I’ve always said——”

“I’m taking a holiday——”

“Sound business. I’ve always said you kept your nose too close to the grindstone. A couple of months in the sun——”

Callendar’s eyes came to rest on his partner’s face. They still seemed to express a gentle and half-amused surprise and they aroused in Gordon Tebbs a queer feeling of uncertainty, a sense of seeing something strange and yet not seeing it quite clearly. Like an argument that you could not follow or a piece of foggy transcendental philosophy. He put on his pragmatical expression and became emphatic.

“A couple of months in the sun—somewhere. Why don’t you go to Madeira? You’ll come back——”

Callendar appeared to be looking through the wall above his partner’s head.

“I’m not coming back, Gordon.”

“What—retiring?”

“Yes, in a way. I have only six months or so to live.”

His partner looked sincerely shocked. He had an affection for Callendar, more of an affection than he had realized, for old Jim was a white man. He was so reliable, a little dry perhaps, but full of a quiet and patient magnanimity. An unselfish sort of beggar. A fellow who had always had his pockets full of other people’s troubles and foolishnesses. He had had to help to keep two married sisters and to educate a young milord of a brother.

“Six months! But, my dear old chap——”

“Something in the throat, Gordon. Gone much further than I thought it had. Wasn’t bothering. I’m not bothering—now. It won’t matter—much—to anybody.”

“But—my dear old chap!”

“You hadn’t noticed anything?”

“Can’t say that I had. Just a little huskiness——”

James Callendar smiled.

“Just a little huskiness.”

II

Callendar booked a “sleeper” on the Rome express. During his last week in England he came daily to the city office and sat in his accustomed chair. He made his will, he signed the deeds dissolving the partnership, he interviewed a few old clients, and handed over to his partners the various professional affairs for which he had been responsible.

His calmness was astonishing. Not only did he appear to have accepted the inevitable, but there was a kind of brightness in his eyes. Almost, he had the air of a man who had uttered a sigh of relief and whose tired spirit had folded its wings. He seemed utterly unafraid.

Rutley, a warm-hearted creature, spoke of it with awe and in a voice that tended to drop to a thick whisper.

“Six months. Believe me, he’s less upset about it than any of us. Makes you feel queer when he walks in and you hear a voice inside you saying: ‘That’s Mr. Callendar, a man who’s going to die.’ And he’s going for a holiday, just as though he was going down to Brighton for the week-end. Makes you marvel. It’s religion—I suppose. He’s one of the quiet, serious sort.”

The most astonishing thing to the live man was the doomed man’s smile. It was a new smile, gentle and quite effortless. It was neither sad nor happy; it was the kind of smile that is seen on a sufferer’s face when a spasm of pain has passed. It had something of mystery; it was like a light seen dimly and indistinctly. It gave to Gordon Tebbs’s voice an emotional quality when he spoke of it to his wife.

“You know the sort of light you see on a face in an old picture? Just like that. It makes me wonder. You’d think he was glad.”

“Perhaps he is.”

But the man of the jocund eyes could not understand such gladness.

“He’s not a religious chap. Work was his religion. And he’s never enjoyed life. Always—work—work. Never was in love—I gather. He had to keep those two sisters for years and educate a young cub of a brother. But for the last five years he could have enjoyed things. He’s only forty-seven and he’s leaving a private income of seven hundred a year.”

England was in a sleety mood when the boat-train pulled out of Victoria station. Callendar sat in his Pullman seat and watched the sodden suburbs pass into the still more sodden fields. It was a grey country and he was going away into the sunlight, and into his eyes came that quiet and mysterious smile. Probably he did not realize that his life had been a very grey one, a laborious and dusty affair, for he had had nothing with which to compare its unselfish monotony. His consciousness had remained undifferentiated.

In fact his life had been so quiet and humdrum that when that fatal judgment had been delivered to him he had taken it with supreme quietness. He had been conscious of no shock. He had felt no fear.

A calm voice had said within him: “My friend, you are going to die,” and he had listened to the voice and replied with tranquillity: “Oh, very well. I’ll make a note of it.” He had gone out holding that umbrella by the middle.

For—after all—what had he to live for? He had never known life’s more passionate urges; the flesh in him did not rebel. His spirit consented, as it had always consented, sitting down to the daily routine in an office chair. The man in Callendar had forgotten to insist upon its essential manhood. Besides, Tony—his younger brother—was qualified and established in a country practice, and Iruna and Kate—his sisters—had ceased to be daughters of misfortune. He had settled money on them. Having collected more money than he needed, he had ceased to need it. He mattered to no one in particular. He did not matter very supremely to himself.

The car attendant came to his table.

“Are you taking lunch, sir?”

Callendar came out of his musings for a moment.

“Yes, please.”

He relapsed again into reflection. Obviously the normal daily routine would go on, the material happenings that the body demanded, though he had come to feel that his doomed shell was a superfluity. He would have to go on washing it and feeding it and putting it to bed, until such a time as the doctors and the nurses should take final charge of it from him and relieve him of all responsibility.

The gloomy landscape drifted by.

Would there be much pain?

But why think of it? He had had no pain as yet and the doctor had told him that these throat cases were—at times—extraordinarily painless. He would just grow thin and shrivel up.

“Let’s leave it at that,” he said to himself; “I’m going to Rome. Eternity—and the Eternal City!”

Only twice in his life had Callendar been abroad, once—after passing his final—when he had gone tramping with a friend in the Austrian Tyrol; and again—a year or two later—when he had spent a fortnight in Normandy. But that was nearly twenty years ago and, like many professional men, he had become the slave of the career that he had created. His holidays had been provincial and unexciting, a week’s fishing, or ten days’ golf on some seaside course, or a few days spent with his sisters. Work had absorbed him. He had grown dull and content with his dullness, his club, his flat at Notting Hill, his daily comings and goings, the quiet and sedulous attention to business.

It had occurred to him that he would miss the daily routine—but when a man has but six months to live the loss of the old interests must seem a very transient consideration. But one aspect of the change had not revealed itself to him. He had not set out in search of the unexpected, and the legal surface of his mind had received very few impressions that could be described as unexpected. He had accepted the inevitable. Like an old man, he had asked to be allowed to sit for a little while in the sun and to see Rome before he died. Rome was a lawyer’s city. Always it had had a distant glamour for him. Pax Romana; lex Romana.

He did not foresee—or forefeel. . . .

But the first glimmerings, a kind of strange stirring of his self, happened when he raised the blind of his “sleeper” and saw mountains, snow, peaks flushing with the dawn, black pine woods, a river rushing over rocks. In his blue-and-white pyjama suit he stood and gazed. He had the “sleeper” to himself, and yet suddenly he had a feeling that there was another man standing beside him in that narrow space.

“Magnificent!”

He uttered the word and it surprised him. It was as though some other self had uttered it.

III

Callendar had reserved a room at the Hôtel Eliseo in the Via Porta Pinciana. The hotel was a small one; it had been recommended to him for its comfort, its reasonable charges and its view, for towards the Via Pinciana the upper windows overlooked the Borghese.

Arriving very late at night he found Rome sleeping, but restlessly so, for in these post-war days the Romans never seem to sleep. Taxis and trains make of the night a bowl of black glass that is broken eternally upon the pavements of progress. But Callendar was very tired. He went up to his third-floor room and slept in spite of motor-cars and argumentative Latins.

He woke with a sense of freshness. He got out of bed and, unfastening a shutter, pushed it back to uncover a miraculous picture. The stealth of the dawn still glided in and out among the trees. He found himself looking at a stretch of the old red Aurelian wall and, beyond it, into the greenness of the Borghese, with its grassy spaces and its stately trees. The sunlight was dispersing a thin white mist. It shone upon the tops of the huge stone pines, the ilexes, the cypresses. Dim hills floated against a sky of a soft blueness. And to the left lay, apart of Rome, the Pincio, the Villa Medici, St. Peter’s, the Janiculum.

Callendar stood and gazed.

“Wonderful!”

Yes, it was very wonderful and, for the first time since judgment of death had been passed upon him, he was conscious of a little tremor, a spasm of inward pain, a kind of vague yearning.

The day was young, but he had no wish to go back to his bed. Doomed he might be, but he was a live man, standing upright; and as he glanced at the bed he seemed to see it as a flat, white surface upon which a stiff, straight figure would soon be lying. Death, with its lower jaw tied up and its eyes carefully closed!

Something stirred in him. He crossed the room and rang the bell and, returning to the window, watched the sunlight on those Roman trees.

Someone knocked at the door.

“Hot water, please—and coffee.”

Callendar had some French, but no Italian; and young Italy does not ask to be addressed in French. English is preferred, especially American-English.

“ ’Ot water, sir. Cer-tain-lee.”

Callendar was shaving himself when he seemed to become intimately and strangely aware of his face as his own face. He had looked at it in a mirror each morning, but on this Roman morning he looked at it differently. So—that—was James Callendar! His age was forty-seven. He had quite a youngish look. There was very little grey in his brownish hair; he had a good skin, clear eyes, no stringiness about the throat.

“I’m going to die,” he thought.

It seemed rather incredible. He could smell hot coffee. The tray was waiting on the table by the window, with a plate of rolls and a dish of butter.

He felt hungry.

Having finished his shaving, he sat down at the table and enjoyed the coffee and rolls; while, beyond the old red Roman wall the sunlight grew stronger and the sky more blue. The stone pines threw shadows. The tall trees seemed to wrap themselves in a deep tranquillity.

Somewhere below a man was singing, and Callendar rose and stood at the window. Between the street and the old wall a florist had his garden and a gardener in patched blue trousers was carrying out pink and white azaleas and placing them in a row ready for transport to some shop. The man was singing. He had a right to sing. He was young and the spring was coming.

Callendar felt strangely mocked.

IV

He had thought of Rome as a city of the memorable dead, of forgotten Popes and Cæsars, of palaces in ruins, of marble and alabaster and the red robes of cardinals. He found it a city of life and, like life, full of intoxicating contrasts. It is the living who matter, not the dead. Funeral bells are out of fashion. And young Rome is flamboyant and noisy, and its sacred chariot is the motor-car and its god a youth in a black shirt.

Callendar was astonished—and more than astonished. The raw and galliard youth of the city was provoking. It was a city of infinite beauty and of dreadful discords.

He wandered. He was jostled. And about the sunset hour on his first day he stood by Bemins fountain and looked past the diminished colour of the flower-stalls up the grey sweep of the Spanish steps. He went slowly up the steps and towards the ilexes outside the Villa Medici. He looked over Rome.

He heard Rome, modern Rome.

In the dusk it sounded to him like a zoo gone mad, full of frightened and bleating beasts, or like an immense playground where thousands of vigorous children were blowing tin trumpets. It was a chaos of hooting cars, an increasing noise that was childish and horrible and ridiculous.

He was shocked.

For he had come to Rome to sit in the sunlight and to spread his hands consentingly towards the fate that the gods had chosen for him. He had come, as it were, to contemplate death in a city of the mighty and the memorable dead; and death was not here—but the living.

Yes; raw, red-lipped, eager life—swaggering, urgent and vociferous. It clashed cymbals and blew trumpets and beat drums. It was full of elemental vibrations and their effect upon Callendar was distressful. He felt that he had no right to be disturbed by this human vitalism; and yet he was disturbed by it, a pale and dusty St. Anthony in the sudden presence of a crowd of southern girls.

Yes, it seemed symbolical.

He turned back from under the massive gloom of the ilexes and retraced his steps. He descended into the Piazzi di Spagna. He was turning into the Via Condotti, keeping close to a shop window to let one of the red trams grind its way past him in that narrow space, when a woman accosted him. She was dark and pale; she had queer, glittering eyes; she thrust her elbow against his body.

Callendar walked on quickly.

La belle dame sans merci,” he thought.

Troubled and depressed, he returned to his hotel.

V

When a man walks into a hotel dining-room and sits by himself at a little table in a corner he is challenging observation and Callendar was observed.

To the women who sat on either side of the doorway he appeared as a tall, spare man with a thoughtful face, rather shy eyes and an air of aloofness. He was sufficiently young to be interesting. Since his Oxford days, he had been well tailored.

Also, he walked across the yellow carpet of the white dining-room as though going to his own particular corner in his London club. He had an air of dissociation and seemed unaware of human eyes. That he was a sick man was not apparent. When he spoke to his waiter or to the maître d’hôtel his voice had a slight huskiness, but to strangers its blurred timbre sounded natural.

“Legal—my dear.”

“Or—a doctor.”

“No; a little too dry—I think.”

He was a man of detail with an orderly mind. When he removed himself after dinner to the lounge and sat in one of the deep plum-coloured arm-chairs whose padded arms were protected with lace mats that were for ever getting disarranged, he would smooth out these lace covers. He would smoke one cigarette with an air of leisurely primness. He sat and read Hare’s “Rome,” not as though he enjoyed it, but rather like a professional man conscientiously reading a lease or a will.

That he could be of any interest to women was a possibility unrealised by him. Still more impossible would it have seemed that he could be interested in a woman. Such vexings of the spirit were the privilege or the curse of live people, and Callendar had come to Rome feeling like a man who was dead. Or as a ghost of a man permitted to walk the earth for a little while before vanishing into some other dimension.

The Hôtel Eliseo was very full. If you dined early you had a chance of obtaining a comfortable chair and Callendar dined to the minute. The fullness of the hotel did not concern him. He did not notice people. He was like a ghost moving among a number of solid humans. At least, that is how he behaved and felt until the eternal liveness of Rome somehow seemed to reinfect him with a new vitality. It happened on the third day that he opened his eyes and looked at people. He was feeling a little lonely.

He observed his neighbours at the other tables or in the lounge. Mostly they were women and elderly women, English, American, Colonial. There was an Italian family that talked like a public demonstration. An elderly son dined brightly with a decrepit mother and aunt. There were two young things seeing Rome with a conscientious father. Also, life was not lacking. Smartness flashed here and there like a precious stone in a dull setting.

Callendar could not help observing the two women who shared a table by one of the white pillars. They were just out of earshot, but well within range of an exchange of glances. They were very smart women. They came in late to all meals. They ordered special dishes. They were a source of anxiety to the head-waiter.

One was small and thin and yellow-headed and restless. Her lips were narrow and red. She threw hard and blue-eyed glances about the room, and was always fidgeting and posturing and touching things on the table with little, affected gestures. A feverish woman, sharp, silly, cruel, greedy. Her friend and vis-à-vis had one of those formless faces of a bluish-red, with exuding brown eyes and a mouth that was always unbuttoned. She looked heavily amiable—to herself—perhaps—more than to others. Her smartness suggested effort. She had a very unfinished physical product to polish, and she was a woman who would wear the latest thing in hats even though the hat should set on her head like a shako knocked out of shape. The little woman was a Mrs. Pym, the fully fleshed friend a Miss Gubbins. Unfortunate patronymic. They knew Callendar’s name long before he knew theirs. There are women who will ask a concierge any sort of question.

But it did occur to Callendar—it had to occur to him—that these two women contrived to be a good deal in his vicinity. They asserted themselves in his corner of the lounge. At meals he was always meeting the restless and questioning blue eyes of Mrs. Pym.

They had marked him down. He was the one solitary man of a possible age in the Hôtel Eliseo.

They talked a great deal and for the benefit of the world at large.

“Oh, my dear, that new Venus at the Diocletian is simply—a dream.”

For Callendar read his Rome religiously. And you had to consider a man’s prejudices, though a man who wears a decently cut dinner-jacket and a tie tied by himself should be of more use at the “Excelsior” than in a museum.

“My dear—wasn’t it lovely last night?”

“Yes, the little capitano——”

“Rather too monkeyish, my dear. Too much shimmy-shimmy. I prefer to dance English.”

It was obvious to them both that Callendar should be able to dance. A man with a Savile Row cut to his coat! And an unattached man, too—and probably a bachelor. So Mrs. Pym dropped her cigarette case close to Callendar’s feet and waited till Callendar had to pick it up for her.

“Thanks—so much.”

She turned on her glitter.

“Do have one—won’t you—for the trouble.”

So Hare had to be laid upon the table between the coffee cups and the chase was begun.

But Mrs. Pym had other responsibilities. She was a widow, but the mother of two children—Eileen and Pam, who resided on the top floor of the Hôtel Eliseo and came down to meals with their governess three-quarters of an hour before their elders. Callendar had noticed the children, two quiet little bob-headed things. He had not paid any attention to Una Summerhayes, the governess.

But, coming in rather tired one morning after wandering about the Palatine, he was sitting in the lounge opposite the glass doors of the dining-room when Mrs. Pym’s children and their governess came out.

Callendar happened to glance up. The governess was looking over the heads of the children into the lounge. She was a dark girl, in age about eight-and-twenty, tall and well made. Her face was full and pleasant, with large brown eyes. But it was the expression upon her face that arrested Callendar’s attention and stirred in him a sudden consciousness of life—as he had not known it.

The girl was afraid.

At least—that was his impression. She came out through the glass doors of the dining-room like a large-eyed and timid creature emerging from a cage. It was as though she feared something in the sedate and comfortable little lounge, but what that something could be Callendar could not conjecture.

Anyway, he was staring rather hard at her and suddenly her eyes sank to his with a flicker of resentment and shyness. She seemed to flinch. She went quickly by him after the two children as though she feared that he was going to speak to her.

He noticed one or two details. Her skin had a pallor that was not the pallor of perfect health. She wore her dark hair bobbed and it needed the attention of a hairdresser, having been allowed to grow too long. Her beige-coloured knitted coat fitted her badly. Obviously it was a cheap article and probably she could not afford a better.

But the picture of her frightened, flinching face remained with him and seemed to grow more vivid and challenging when Mrs. Pym and her friend came in late to lunch and threw smiles in his direction and twittered and preened themselves like a couple of paroquets.

Some men retain a kind of boyish innocence to the end of their days, and Callendar was that sort of man; but as a lawyer he had had his experience of women, even of the yellow-haired, meagre, predatory type as represented by Mrs. Pym. She was a very vain little woman and a very hard one. It would appear that something had annoyed her. She called up the head-waiter and, with the menu held in one sharp-fingered hand, rated him and the cuisine.

“It is perfectly absurd. Veal and macaroni every other day. Have an omelette cooked at once.”

The man was very polite, malignantly polite.

“We are not Italians—you know.”

“I will order an omelette for madame.”

He was moving off when she called him back.

“Send in one of the page-boys. I want a message taken.”

The page-boy was sent in and stood, cap in hand, beside Mrs. Pym’s chair.

“Go up to Number Eighty-three and tell the English girl I wish to speak to her. Understand?”

He understood neither her English nor her Italian and the head-waiter had to be called in to interpret. Meanwhile, Callendar was busy eating macaroni and grated cheese and was keeping his eyes from the other table. This little bully of a woman was making him feel uncomfortable, and he understood the feelings of the head-waiter—who was a man and an Italian.

A moment later he realised that Mrs. Pym was addressing him. Her voice was a different voice, thinly gay and gracious.

“People—are—trying—aren’t they? I—do—hate making complaints—but sometimes one has to.”

“Of course,” he agreed.

She smiled across at Miss Gubbins.

“A morning of rows, my dear. We had a row with a wretched cabman who wanted to charge us ten lire for driving us from St. Peter’s. In England—we should have sent him to prison for daring to come out with such a horse.”

Callendar saw the governess entering by the glass doors. She came up the room, walking very quickly, with a queer set look on her face. She stood beside Mrs. Pym’s table, her brown eyes fixed upon the top of Mrs. Pym’s bright head.

“You sent for me?”

Mrs. Pym’s face seemed to sharpen. She did not trouble to look at the girl.

“Miss Summerhayes, did I see you in the Via Nationale this morning with Eileen and Pamela?”

Callendar, suddenly and intensely interested, watched the girl’s face.

“Yes. The children—wanted—to look at the shops.”

Mrs. Pym kept her standing there for a moment in silence.

“Didn’t I give you orders—that the children were to go to the gardens?”

“I think you did.”

“You think! You will do what I tell you—in the future. That’s all.”

Miss Summerhayes reddened and Callendar felt himself flushing in sympathy. She gave one downward glance at Mrs. Pym’s head and walked away from the table, looking over the heads of the people as though she wished to forget that they were there. The head-waiter hurried to open the door for her, for he, too, knew what it was to be politely mute. She gave him a faint smile.

Mrs. Pym was examining the contents of her wine bottle. You could not trust foreigners when a cork had been drawn.

“Someone has been at it again.”

“Oh—I don’t think so—really,” said her friend, who was not all leather.

Callendar was remembered and appealed to.

“I’m afraid I’m a bit of a disciplinarian.”

He met her eyes, and was silent for a moment.

“Is it—necessary—in public?”

His voice had a sharp gentleness, and she opened her blue eyes rather wide at him. And then she gave a little acid laugh.

“You men—are—so sentimental.”

Callendar made no reply, and for the rest of the meal there was silence between the two tables, but Callendar was not feeling silent. Did a woman like Mrs. Pym enjoy humiliating a girl in public? And why did certain women do that sort of thing? It was pretty beastly. And he was conscious of an urgent desire to tell that little fashionable virago exactly how beastly her behaviour had been. You might employ a young woman to look after your children and drag her about the continent with you and perhaps pay her a wretched salary, but when it came to scolding her in public. . . . Yet, after all, what business was it of his?

He hurried through the rest of the meal and went out into the lounge. Business—indeed! But he had not come to Rome on business. He was a man with death in his body. And yet he felt himself most strangely concerned about that girl. It was as though she appealed to him somehow in a way that was astonishing and sudden and unexpected. He stood looking at himself in a mirror, but he was not aware of his own reflection. He was thinking of a pair of frightened brown eyes and a sensitive face that flinched.

What a beast that woman was!

Turning to ascend the three steps that led to the vestibule, he became aware of the girl talking to the manageress, a little woman with kind, bright eyes. He paused at the bottom of the steps and saw Miss Summerhayes go towards the stairs.

“Thank you, signora, you are always very kind.”

Poor child! Her voice ended on an emotional note, and Callendar, watching her disappear up the stairs, wondered how many people—or how few—had been kind to her.

VI

Next morning he spoke to Mrs. Pym’s children. He found them in the lounge, sitting side by side on a settee, their heads close together over a month-old copy of the Graphic.

He asked them how they liked Rome and whether they had any wish to see Mussolini. Eileen, the elder, a beautiful and softened edition of her mother, showed him gentle eyes.

“We like Rome—very much—thank you. But we’d rather see the wolves at the Capitol.”

“Well—and why not?”

“We are waiting for Miss Summerhayes. Mother won’t let us go anywhere but into the gardens.”

“There’s the Zoo——”

“Oh, we’ve been there. It’s lovely. Summer—I mean Miss Summerhayes—is going to take us there again. Oh, here she is.”

Callendar turned with a smile and a slight bow to a girl who appeared loath to acknowledge either. He was just a strange man in a foreign hotel who had chosen to interest himself in Mrs. Pym’s children, and Una Summerhayes seemed to be in a great hurry to get the children away from him. Her eyes had that same anxious look. She shepherded the children out of the lounge, giving Callendar the impression that she was refusing to allow herself to be aware of him. It was not a deliberate rebuff, but an evasion, a flight and, being such, it failed in its essential purpose.

The two children gave him backward and friendly glances and, when they and their “Summer” had vanished, Callendar wandered out into the Roman sunlight and, passing through the Porta Pinciana, entered the Borghese. On the seats under the tall pines, old men and gaily-dressed nurses watched the children at play. Cars streamed in and out of the gates. Idle people were leaning on the wooden rails, watching Rome taking its saddle exercise. Here were officers and Roman dandies, and dogs, and smartly-dressed women, and dark-eyed girls, and children—the soft-voiced, piquant, Roman children.

Callendar found a place on one of the green seats. And suddenly this life of Rome—on horseback and on foot, with the voices of its children and the hooting of its cars—made him realize that he had ceased to be a live man in the sense that he could count on life. He was a potential corpse sitting on a seat, death among the children and the young girls and these proud-fleshed men and women. He was conscious of a chilliness, of an impulse to resist and to escape. He ceased to be the tired and consenting acceptor of his fate. A new awareness of life seemed born in him, a sensitiveness to colour, sounds, perfumes. And all this would pass. Or rather—it would continue; while he—and his consciousness of life—would vanish. Youth would still be youth and children would play under the trees, and red wine would be poured into glasses, and horses would gallop, and men would follow women and mate with them.

The man in him—the man of twenty years ago—cried out: “Bless me—too—even me—oh—my Father.” It was a bitter cry, and he sat and felt afraid because of the strength of the yearning in him. No longer did he seem able to fold his arms and sink resignedly into the deep waters. His impulse was to struggle, to fight for the sunlight and for air and all that beautiful life.

For—life was beautiful. He seemed to realize it suddenly, the colour and the galliard emotions, the desiring, the possessing. And what had he done with life? Sat in a chair and pushed papers about a table, and been dustily and meticulously efficient over other people’s affairs. He had not lived. He was going to lose all this beautiful consciousness of things without having enjoyed that consciousness. The love in the eyes of a woman, great music, the climbing of peaks, the flush and the scent of the rose, the clinging together of lovers. . . .

He trembled.

He felt—somehow—that he had to escape from this yearning and so tire himself by walking that life’s urge would become exhausted and the spirit in him limp and resigned. He got up. He walked rapidly along the path until he came to a place where four roads met. Across the way he saw a grey wall, an open gate, old trees spreading a sense of green shadowiness and gloom. He felt a desire to cool his sudden fever under the shadows of the trees.

He crossed the road and, entering the gateway, had beauty flung at him like an intoxicating and subtle perfume. He was in a place that was half park, half garden, and looking along a walk shaded by high trees. At the end of the vista the arch of a stone gateway framed the soft blueness of distant trees and hills. It was like looking through a window into some other world that floated beyond your reach in mysterious and Elysian distances.

Callendar stood and gazed. He thought: “What a strange thing is consciousness—my consciousness. Thousands of eyes have looked at the landscape through that arch and felt it theirs—in consciousness. But the heart stops beating—and the eyes shrivel—and, for me, all the world will be dead.”

He walked on under the trees. The shade was very deep and yet he was conscious of the sunlight striking the upper foliage. Ahead of him, between the tree trunks, he saw water shining, with water-birds paddling in the sunlight; and on the edge of it a scattering of children and nursemaids and men and women who had come out to bask and to stare. He turned towards the lake. Close by, under an ilex, a girl was sitting on a seat with a book on her knees and two children were throwing pieces of bread to the birds.

Callendar came to an abrupt pause. The children were Mrs. Pym’s children, and the girl, Una Summerhayes. And, standing there in the shade of the high trees, he allowed himself to suppose that this was her particular seat and that she came here regularly with the children. He thought, too, that she looked almost as lonely as he felt and his impulse was to go and sit down on that seat beside her.

He wanted to talk to her. He wanted to see those brown eyes lose their look of anxiety and of fear. He knew that he would like to hear her telling him things.

He was on the edge of a love affair and did not realize it—he, a man who had some twenty-odd weeks to live.

VII

The two children had scampered off to the other side of the lake when Callendar, coming from behind the seat, stood so that his shadow fell across her book. But for the moment she did not look up. She may have judged him to be some casual person pausing to look at the lake and its life, but when his shadow remained there she raised her head.

“I’m sorry,” he said; “I’m afraid I’m disturbing you.”

The shadow of him lay across her face as well as across the book. Yes, he still could cast a shadow. And he seemed to see her covered by other shadows and looking up at him with resentment and a kind of alarm.

“Yes—I’m reading. . . .”

Her glance hardened. She lowered her eyes and appeared to resume her reading and Callendar’s impression was that of a blind being lowered, shutting him out. His nearness embarrassed her and, feeling towards her as he did, he was hurt by her attempt to repulse him. His natural shyness stood there, busy with its conjectures. Was it that she mistrusted him or did not wish to be bothered by a casual man; or was there something about him that repelled her?

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I did not mean. . . .”

She was reading the same line over and over again, without absorbing the sense of it. His voice disturbed her. Like many a lone girl who has had to struggle for life’s little decencies, she had grown shy of men, though it might not be the man who had to be feared but some other woman.

“I have to look after the children.”

He seemed to detect in her a quivering, a trembling of the drawn curtain.

“I know. They are rather dear kiddies. I know I’m just a casual——”

Suddenly she looked up.

“Please—don’t sit down here. They are dear children, but they’ll come back. If you have—any——”

She grew inarticulate. She flushed.

“Chivalry,” he said. “Is that the word?”

He moved back a step and glanced over his shoulder, but the children were not to be seen.

“Yes.”

She seemed to breathe out surprise and relief.

“It’s a very old word. Rather obsolete——”

“Is it?”

He was observing the lowered lashes under the brim of her hat.

“Would you mind telling me, does it offend you—my talking to you? You see, I’m——”

She interrupted him with a suggestion of emotional haste.

“No. I feel—you are not the kind of man. But then, perhaps, you noticed—yesterday.”

He stood very still.

“Yes. You mean at lunch?”

She nodded.

“It made me—angry.”

He saw her look anxiously beyond him for the children.

“Thank you. Perhaps—now—if you think—you will understand. One tries to avoid—humiliation, especially when—one’s bread has to be buttered with it. Life can be so beastly.”

She was aware of him raising his hat.

“I understand. I’ll say good-bye for this morning. But life needn’t be like that—not always, I mean. I’ll go and find the children.”

She gave him an appealing look.

“She’s jealous, even of them.”

“Good heavens!” said he, and found himself meeting her eyes and finding no fear in them.

“So—you see——”

He made a movement of the head.

“I’ll wander off somewhere, Miss Summerhayes. But—you’ll forgive me—if I may have something more to say. I’m rather a lonely man.”

He left her and, making for the arched gateway through which he had seen the distant landscape, he found himself leaning upon the stone balustrading of a formal garden. He had been most strangely moved by that fumbling exchange of confidences with Una Summerhayes. He had felt so very inarticulate, such an awkward creature, yet, somehow, he seemed to have stumbled into an intimate relationship with her. It was as though their hands had touched without their meaning them to touch. And he had been conscious of a deep and poignant exultation. She had suffered him to understand the why and wherefore. She had drawn the curtain aside.

His first feeling had been one of compassion, but as he realized her pride, the sensitive self-negations of her dependence upon that yellow-headed little woman, his compassion merged itself into homage. There was something about her that made him feel towards her as he had never felt to any other woman. Was it her eyes? Or her gentle and expressive voice? Or was it everything about her?

And then he knew.

Good heavens, he was on the edge of loving this woman—he, a doomed man! The great thing had happened just when life was closing, slipping over the final precipice. He had come to look death in the eyes and, instead, he was looking into the eyes of a woman.

He tried to laugh. His hands gripped the outer edge of the stone coping. Madman, sentimental fool! He was letting life trick him, allowing sex to flare up in one last blaze after all these years of dusty tranquillity. He was like an old man putting a match to a pile of useless papers in an office grate.

But was he? He tried to laugh at himself and failed. Was this sudden surge in him an idiotic anti-climax? Might it not be something else, something essentially fine and beautiful, a sort of spiritual sunset before the fall of night, a beautiful experience, a conception and a fulfilment of life and love as it might be? Why grovel and kiss the feet of Death? Had he no manhood left in him? Had he not still the right to look into a woman’s eyes and say: “Beloved, I am nothing; and yet—for your sake—I am everything?” Could he not set her free, strike off the sordid shackles, dispel life’s fearfulness?

He straightened.

“Why not? I matter to no one. I need not matter very much to her. And yet—I should like a woman to think of me sometimes and to say: ‘He loved me—and he made no bargain.’ Doomed men should make no bargains.”

Callendar felt the warm sun on his face.

“Why not? I came here to find the sun. And isn’t the sunlight symbolical?”

VIII

Mrs. Pym was going to the opera. They were giving Otello and Mrs. Pym had reserved a box. She came down to dinner in a wonderful saffron-coloured frock and stockings of gold and smiled obliquely at Callendar, who was reading the New York Herald.

“Ruffi’s singing to-night. I’ve got a box. If you have nothing to do—come along.”

She looked like a woman of forty dressed in a nursery frock. In fact, one gold garter was visible, though the nudity of her shoulders was not of the nursery. Callendar put down his paper and stood up.

“Delighted. It’s very kind of you.”

He went. Otello would have bored him had he been concerned with the music, but he was not. He sat between the two women and made it his business to be gallant to Mrs. Pym; not for his own sake, but for someone else’s. For an hour or two he was both the man of the world and the lawyer. And this vain, little creature wriggled her shoulders at him and gave him those oblique, blue smiles and assumed that he was growing interested. She became playful.

“You know—I’m so terribly critical. I always see the skeleton at the feast.”

He asked her whether she regarded Desdemona as a skeleton and she tapped his sleeve with her programme.

“Bad man! She’s enormous—and fifty—and makes me think of a boarding-house lady shouting for the plumber—after a bad frost.”

Callendar laughed. He was wondering how she would behave were he to tell her that she had a skeleton sitting beside her, a living figure of death. He could imagine her giving a little scream and drawing away with a look of fear and disgust. Death is terrifying to such a woman.

He wondered whether it would appear terrifying to Una Summerhayes.

“All this—is so horribly artificial.”

“Tin swords and paper roses.”

“Yes; I prefer your children. They are charming.”

He emphasized the “your” and she gave him a little hard simper.

“They are rather dears.”

“I wish you would let me take them out to a show of some kind.”

Cleverly he managed to convey to her the impression that he was interested in the children because they were her children. He was not ashamed of his finesse. And she fell to it. Her thin, high-pitched voice expressed an accepted intimacy.

“It’s sweet of you. I always find other people’s children so boring.”

“It so happens—that I don’t.”

“Nice man. I’ll sign your passport form for you. What’s it to be?”

“Oh, the Zoo perhaps, and tea at the Russian tea-rooms—perhaps.”

“The Zoo is beyond me. But you can ask me to join you at tea.”

“Splendid. What about to-morrow—at half-past four?”

“Right you are. You’d better take the governess girl to the Zoo. She’s rather a dull creature. She need not come to tea—of course.”

“No, of course not,” said Callendar; “she would be an odd number.”

At ten o’clock next morning Una Summerhayes had her orders. Mrs. Pym was breakfasting in bed, wearing a white lace cap with a blue ribbon threaded through it. Her nose had an added sharpness in the morning.

“Oh, Mr. Callendar is taking the kids to the Zoo this afternoon. You’d better go with them and see they don’t make little nuisances of themselves. We are all going to the Russian tea-rooms afterwards. You needn’t bother about that.”

Miss Summerhayes maintained a consenting face. But, inwardly, she had a moment of indecision. Had he done this purposely and, if so, why? Also he must have handled the matter very delicately and she was pleased and reassured, for a delicate touch is precious to a sensitive plant. And at half-past two she came downstairs with Eileen and Pam and found him waiting in the hall. Her face expressed a kind of gentle austerity, though she allowed him a slight comprehending smile.

“Shall we walk or taxi?”

“Oh, walk.”

He observed her for an instant with a protecting carefulness.

“I think we’ll drive. These places make you stand a lot.”

She was not as strong as her years and gave him a look of thanks.

The Roman Zoo is much like other zoos. It has its stage effects and its rocks and its posed lions, but the two children lost instant hearts to two tiger cubs caged with their mother near the gate. For a quarter of an hour the party got no further than that cage and, so absorbed were Mrs. Pym’s children in watching the ways of these two young creatures, that Callendar and the girl were left to talk.

“I hope you’ll forgive me for this?”

Her face had softened. It looked smoother, happier.

“I think I can. But I wouldn’t—if I thought. . . .”

Her hesitation led him on.

“If I was the sort of man? But I’m not. I’ve never had much to do with women—save as a lawyer. I have never been married. My life has been nothing—but work. So that when one meets a woman who works——”

She seemed to be watching the two cubs playing with their mother.

“I work—because I have to.”

“Bread and butter——”

“And often—the butter—is rather rancid. I’m not complaining. But you see. . . .”

Again she hesitated.

“I ought not to talk—like this.”

“I want you to. Shall I tell you what first struck me about you?”

Her lashes flickered.

“Aren’t we being rather personal? Besides——”

“What else should you and I be? It seemed to me that you lived in fear of something.”

For a moment she seemed to stiffen and he wondered whether his touch had been too intimate.

“I do. Aren’t we all like that?”

He remembered his narrowing future and felt a spasm of conscious yearning.

“Oh, yes. But you?”

“I? I have had to scratch a living for myself for the last ten years. A girl who works and has no capital and no friends—has some pretty bad moments. Cheap lodgings and your last pound note. And the fear of losing your job and being stranded.”

“Have you been stranded?”

“Twice. So people have got you rather badly, like their mother. Oh, but I’m not being fair. It’s the idea of being sent adrift—in a strange country perhaps, without the money to take you home.”

“It ought not to be,” he said. “Believe me—I understand.”

It seemed to him that she shrank into herself for a moment. She had that tragic sensitiveness that is for ever drawing a curtain and feeling shocked with itself. She had been blurting out confidences to a comparative stranger, showing herself perhaps as a poor, plaintive, beggarly thing.

She flushed.

“But—I’m getting harder. Don’t you think we ought to be moving on?”

He stood his ground. He pretended to be watching the children, who had christened the two tiger cubs “Pip” and “Squeak.” He did not like the idea of her getting harder. Those brown eyes were not meant to be hard. Also, he had become suddenly and acutely conscious of his own fate. He began to suffer, for he was becoming so very conscious of her as a woman, a pleasant and gracious creature, a live and comely thing.

“They are quite happy. Don’t hurry me. I was going to tell you——”

But he was not allowed to tell her just then, for Eileen and Pam came and collected them, the tiger cubs having insisted on going to sleep.

“Let’s see the lions.”

“Yes, to the lions,” said Callendar, echoing that cry of old Imperial Rome.

To tell her or not to tell her? He shirked the issue and as the days passed the decision became more difficult. For insensibly they found themselves lovers, though it was love unconfessed—shy, diffident, an affair of glances and of little meetings on the stairs or in the lounge or under the trees of the Borghese. How else could it happen, with that little yellow-headed shrew of a woman, thinly licentious, picking at life with jealous fingers. Yet Callendar realized that Una Summerhayes did not avoid him. Her eyes lifted to meet his. They were such very honest eyes.

He found himself looking in his mirror at the face of a man of seven-and-forty who had cancer of the throat. His face might be a little thinner, but it was still a youngish face. The skin had not lost its colour or its fine texture. He had some grey in his hair.

“How astonishing,” he thought, “and how tragic!”

A lover with death on his shoulders, the heart of youth in the body of dissolution! And he wanted to remain the lover for a day or a week or a month, to enjoy the exquisite stealth of it, to watch that other love awakening in a woman’s eyes.

But was it fair?

True, he was going to strike the shackles from her and put her beyond the power of such women as Mrs. Pym; but would not the Una Summerhayes of his second youth ask for something more than an alteration in his will? A good woman who loves is the least mercenary of creatures. His loving her was a beautiful reality. Death was a reality. And if she cared—was not her caring a reality to be tenderly reverenced?

He came to realize that he would have to tell her and to tell her soon and that an attitude of sentimental fatherliness was false. He was her lover. He loved her with the head of forty-seven and the heart of five-and-twenty.

Standing beside the fountain of the nymph with the pitcher in the Pincian gardens, he began to prepare the stage. The Pym children had found other children to play with and were running races round the bandstand.

“Don’t you ever get a day to yourself?”

Her eyes had a liquid look.

“Oh, once a month.”

“When does it happen?”

“It could happen next Thursday.”

He touched her shoulder with shy gentleness.

“I am hiring a car. I am going to Hadrian’s villa and Tivoli. Will you come?”

“On Thursday?”

“Yes, on Thursday. It is very serious to me, Una. I want you to come.”

She was silent for a moment, but it was not the silence of hesitation.

“Ought I to tell Mrs. Pym?”

“Mrs. Pym does not matter. Tell her anything or nothing. You need not think of the woman.”

“What right has she to be told?”

“None.”

IX

It was a day of live, warm sunlight. They drove across the Campagna, with Tivoli and the little hill towns rising into white distinctness. They had their lunch with them, a bottle of red wine, two glasses, and coffee in a thermos. When they left the car at the entrance to the villa, the hedges of box were sending out their fragrance and the cypresses pointed to an exquisite blueness.

The padrone of the little restaurant looked disapprovingly at Callendar’s luncheon-basket. A grizzled, old guide, kindly denied even the privilege of carrying the basket, was given a ten-lire note to save the human touch.

They passed up and along the cypresses and box.

“How peaceful!”

Her face dreamed and Callendar observed her as a man might gaze at his beloved in heaven.

“It’s a wonderful spot. Have you been here before?”

“Never.”

They paused by the ruins of the little theatre.

“It is Nature that matters here,” he said. “I should imagine that it was a pompous, garish place in Hadrian’s day. But the trees have come into their own. When the trees grow as they please, vulgarity goes.”

She smiled round at him.

“Imagine Leicester Square in ruins and oaks and beeches growing out of the ruins!”

“Exactly!” he said. “Everything comes back to beauty.”

They wandered up and on and under the ilex shade, with the Vale of Tempe a hollow full of sunlight. And Callendar felt an inward trembling. The day was so alive—and so was she—and he had brought her here to tell her that he was a dying man. Oh, bitterness and exquisite pain! How would she take it? What would she say? And when he told her that never again need she be humiliated by the world’s Mrs. Pyms, would she accept his last homage? He had no thought of asking her for anything. He wanted to see her happy, secure, unexposed to vulgar things. He would impose upon her no conditions.

She noticed his silence, but it seemed part of the day’s blessedness. She had no other woman to fear. She was free, herself, a happy and unselfconscious creature—for this one day at least.

“Mayn’t I have my turn with the basket?”

“No,” he said; “man likes to carry things while he can.”

“Protected womanhood!”

“Do you resent it?”

She shook her head.

“Does any woman like to be—independent—really? We have to make the best of things—and pretend.”

“There’s such a thing as freedom,” he said. “I don’t believe wholly in the male hand. After all—everything is relative. And men like giving.”

“So do we.”

“And a woman gives—when she really gives. A cheque-book is a poor reply, but it is something.”

They idled about amid massive ruins. Here were old red walls and chambers and naked arches and fragments of pavement. What each ruin had been mattered nothing. What mattered was the sky and the sun and the stately stone pines and the clouding blackness of the ilexes and each other. Callendar still carried the basket and her eyes grew playful and tender.

“Since you won’t let me help with the basket, hadn’t we better have lunch and empty it?”

“I’m ready.”

“Let’s choose a place. Not—any place, though all of this is lovely.”

The sun was so strong that they chose the thin shade of an old olive tree and, spreading their raincoats on the grass, knelt down to open the basket. Callendar had had a special lunch put up. The red wine was old, but not too old.

“Hungry?”

“I am.”

“You—unpack.”

“Shall I?”

He watched her and between them they spread a cloth; and, as he watched her hands, he thought: “They are young hands. I’ll tell her after lunch. I wonder if she’ll shrink from me? Disease—is so repulsive. I should like to have kissed her—once—without her knowing that I’m rotten fruit. But it wouldn’t have been fair. And perhaps—after all—she doesn’t care and I am fancying things. I must be nearly twenty years older than she is.”

They lunched. The red wine had the warmth of the sun in it and, after the second glass, he began to tell her things about himself and his life, as though she had a right to know them. He was leading up to the stark reality. She was a good listener, perhaps because no other man had interested her as he did. The appeal was not wholly emotional. She could see him sitting in his office chair, what the world called a dull man, doing the same things from day to day and doing them with patient efficiency. He had had sisters to help and a young brother to educate. Yes, work had been his inspiration, until—as he confessed—he had discovered that his work was at an end.

She was surprised. He happened to appear younger to her than he was.

“You have retired?”

He leant over and refilled her glass.

“Life has retired me. I came out here for the first long holiday I have ever had. It had a most strange effect upon me, Una. I realized—oh, well, something had been asleep in me all these years; I had missed things. But in Rome—I woke up.”

She touched the glass with her lips.

“Here’s to your awakening.”

He smiled.

“That’s to—you.”

Her lashes remained a-droop. She was very still.

“To—me?”

“You drink—to yourself. But let me tell you everything. Try and be forbearing——”

She gave him a questioning glance.

“Forbearing? To you——?”

“Wait, my dear. I want to tell you quickly. I came out here—a doomed man. I came just to sit in the sun for a month or two. And then—you happened. Just think, how beautiful and ironical and strange to find the woman—the beloved—just when you are face to face with death.”

She was gazing at him. He saw the glass tilt and some of the red wine spill over upon her dress. She had a strange, poignant, incredulous look. Her eyes seemed to grow larger.

“To die? You?”

He nodded.

“They told me in London that I had only a few months to live. It’s true. Though, sitting here with you in the sunlight—I can hardly believe it——”

He saw her lips move.

“No, let me go right through with it, dear. It’s both so sweet and so bitter. If you could have cared a little—I should have asked. But how could I? It wasn’t fair. You—with your youth—and I—a dying man. And yet—the great thing has been mine. You—appeared to me—just before dusk. But there will be no more Mrs. Pym.”

He did not look at her; he felt that he dared not look, while she, shocked, almost incredulous and a little frightened, sat mute for a moment. What a bewildering, tragic climax! For she had allowed herself to dream during the early days of this Roman spring and—now—there was death in her dream. But with the first heart-pang came compassion, a reaching out of the hand.

“Oh, my dear friend, is it true?”

He grasped her hand and held it for a moment.

“It is true. And here—in the sunlight—I had to tell you. How strange! Perhaps—if it had been otherwise—you could have cared a little.”

She answered him instantly and with a flash of feeling.

“I do care.”

“My dear!”

“Why should you be surprised? But tell me, is it so certain? You look. . . . What is it?”

He touched his throat.

“There. Haven’t you noticed my voice? It may be quite easy for me. I may not have much pain. I shall just shrivel up——”

“Oh, don’t,” she said and her mouth and eyes were tremulous. “It’s too—too tragic. You—of all men.”

His face seemed to catch the sunlight.

“Well, there it is. Forgive me—for being a man. You—just happened. But there is one thing death cannot do. It cannot cheat me of asking you to take a part of me that would have been yours and is yours.”

“You don’t mean——?”

“I mean, Una, that there shall be no more Mrs. Pym, no more strandings. Oh, my dear, you’ll let me do this? There is so little that I can do. I don’t ask for anything.”

“You mean——?”

“Oh, money, dirt—but blessed dirt. I want to go out—seeing you, yourself, free, secure, unhindered. I want to leave you five hundred a year. You are robbing no one. My sisters and my brother will each have something, though they need nothing—now. I’m not a facile fool, my dearest. It’s just my wish, a sacred sort of wish. Will you quarrel with it? I ask you not to quarrel with it.”

“And you ask—for nothing?”

“Nothing. Only—that you’ll try not to feel any shrinking. I shall just go back to England, to finish things. You need not ever see me—when—I’m getting beyond being seen.”

He saw her put down her wine-glass and she did it with a steady hand. She had been holding it all this time. Her face perplexed him. Her young, dark dignity seemed to be taking counsel with itself. Almost, her eyes looked hard. And he wondered and felt a little afraid and, when she got up slowly and stood and gazed, he remained very still, fearing her youth and its fastidiousness. She gave him the impression of being utterly alone with herself for the moment. And suddenly she turned and walked slowly towards a group of cypresses that cut the blue distance of the Campagna.

He watched her with miserable eyes.

“Yes, she shrinks,” he thought. “I must have the smell of death about me. It’s natural.”

And, with the submissive courage of the plain man, he reached for the thermos and poured himself out a cup of coffee.

X

He was replacing the cup of the thermos when he received the impression that she had spoken to him. He glanced towards the group of cypresses. She was leaning against one of the trees, looking at him with peculiar intentness, her eyes like two little circles of shadows. And as he looked at her, he seemed to know that his impression had been both fanciful and real; that she had uttered no sound and yet that her inward self had called to him.

He said: “You have forgotten your coffee.”

She did not reply. Her eyes continued to look at him with that compelling, dark intentness, and he aware of his whole consciousness becoming centred upon her motionless, young figure. It was as though he saw her as an allegory, a live soul evolved and evolving out of the world’s past, a creature more gracious and sensitive and mysterious than any of the pagan women who had known an emperor’s embraces. He still had the illusion of life in him and yet she was no illusion. Her consciousness called to his.

He rose and went towards her across the grass. He was aware of her leaning against the trunk of the tree like some young priestess in an ecstasy leaning against the pillar of a temple. Her face was upturned. He saw the white of her throat. Her eyes looked straight into his. They never wavered. They gave him a feeling of infinite understanding. They seemed to have the comprehending and tranquillizing softness of a southern sky at night.

Neither of them uttered a word. When he was quite near to her she met him with a little upward movement of the chin, naïve and tender and confiding.

“Kiss me,” it said; “I am not afraid of the death in you—if death it is.”

Very gently he touched her lips with his. He felt the warmth and the youth and the freshness of them. It seemed to him like death touching a flower.

“My dear,” he said, and stood speechless holding her hands.

XI

In the days of old Rome, men drove hard bargains, but the argument between these two was less utilitarian.

She said: “I don’t take everything and give nothing. I’m not that sort of woman. I don’t want to be that sort of woman.”

They had wandered away to a kind of a high cliff of a ruin where the old red brickwork raised a platform above the valley. They sat on the grass in the sun. No one disturbed them, not even the crowd of black-frocked students who drifted about like crows seeking historical carrion. Her love was wide-eyed and brave, almost a young widow’s love and, in listening to her voice, he seemed to hear life and death in argument.

“If you wish me to accept that money, dear, you must marry me.”

But here he spoke of other terms; not for his own sake, but for hers.

“Why—marriage? I don’t expect. Does one go into partnership with a ghost? For that’s what I am—a ghost.”

She would not have it.

“No, a spirit, the very soul of a man, dear one. I ask for marriage, not as a kind of insurance. I’ve no business instincts towards you.”

He smiled at her.

“No; I don’t think you have. But—if I marry you—I shan’t expect——”

She touched his hand.

“What’s in your mind—exactly? Are you humouring a child? Because—I’m not a child, you know.”

“Just this: I’m not buying your love, or the kindness of a woman who consents to nurse a wreck—till the wreckage goes to pieces. Let us have our month together and then I’ll go away and get through the last chapter. I don’t want you to have to read it.”

She looked at him wide-eyed.

“You mean—I should have—what you call the pleasant part—and be spared—if you think of it as being spared?”

“Exactly. I want to keep the beauty. Is it vanity, or something better? I shall wither up in some nursing home among people who are politely kind and mercifully indifferent. One can pay to die in decent privacy and get the ugliness—put away.”

But his sentimental cynicism failed to deceive her. He was neither a sentimentalist nor a cynic, nor was she a middle-class opportunist, but a girl who knew the shabby side of life and the number of stitches you had to give for a shilling. She might be a little governess at the mercy of a dozen vulgar mischances, but she would give value for value. She would carry through her part of the job. And she put it to him bluntly, with a kind of pragmatical tenderness. If his little governess was to be granted a pension—well—she would earn it—to the limits of her capacity.

“I’m not that sort of woman. I’m not afraid of what you call—the ugliness. Besides—I won’t allow that it need be ugly.”

“But—think——”

She put out a hand.

“Hold it. If what we call loving—is worth anything—doesn’t it—make things possible? If I had to die, would you want to run away and leave me to die alone with your politely kind and mercifully indifferent people? I know better. And so do you.”

He could not move her from her decision and it is probable that in his heart of hearts he was infinitely glad of her decision and grateful to her for it. He had found no shrinking in her and he was both touched and astonished. She had not avoided his lips, but had sought them. For a few kisses she might have won five hundred a year, with no unpleasant restrictions attached to the contract, but she had elected to choose otherwise.

“You are thorough,” he said to her.

“Oh, my dear, don’t you realize? I care. And for the little while—we shall have. . . . Oh, somehow, I can’t believe it. Are you sure?”

“The doctors were very sure.”

“But surely—something—can be done?”

“Not in my case. Besides—six weeks ago I accepted the alternative—and in six weeks—such a thing spreads. It’s final.”

She sat holding his hand.

“I wish you would see someone in Rome.”

“I will—if you wish it.”

“I do. It seems so cruel and ironical.”

He pointed to a mass of broken brickwork.

“So it was in their day. Death sits in the sun beside every man and woman. But life goes on.”

She made a little shivering movement and drew closer to him.

“Let’s feel the sun—while we have it. Oh, if only one could will things.”

“So we can, certain things. We can will beauty and good memories and courage. Let’s will them together, Una, while we can.”

XII

At the end of the day Mrs. Pym intervened.

They had forgotten the very existence of that bright little woman and forgotten it so thoroughly that they drove up to the Eliseo without fear or favour. Callendar handed out his betrothed and, at this very moment of homage, Mrs. Pym happened upon them. Miss Summerhayes’s official holiday closed at five o’clock and the hour was half-past five.

Callendar was paying the chauffeur and Una was intercepted in the vestibule. The catechizing, vicious and abrupt, developed in the presence of the two page-boys.

“Where have you been?”

“To Hadrian’s villa and Tivoli.”

“With Mr. Callendar?”

“Yes, with Mr. Callendar.”

Mrs. Pym glistened.

“An affair—I suppose. I don’t encourage affairs. They are rather superfluous—in a governess.”

Callendar caught those last words. He came into the vestibule with a kind of dry and serene smile; he was both the lawyer and the lover.

“I think I ought to explain. Miss Summerhayes and I are engaged to be married. Yes, in Rome, at the earliest opportunity. So, obviously—in the absence of any proper agreement—Miss Summerhayes’s responsibilities lapse.”

Mrs. Pym behaved like a vulgar woman.

“Oh, indeed! But I engaged Miss Summerhayes for six months, on trial. She has been with me just four. I shall insist——”

Callendar had had to deal, professionally, with many such women, but more impartially so; and, to him, Mrs. Pym was just a gadfly. He turned to the girl. No longer need she be stung by these humiliations.

“I don’t think we need argue the matter. Though, for the sake of the children——?”

“I am quite ready to stay on for a week with Eileen and Pam, until Mrs. Pym has had time——”

But Mrs. Pym rushed in the opposite direction, as Callendar had expected that she would. He had piqued her into the inevitable contradiction.

“No favours—thank you. I can look after my own children. But Miss Summerhayes will be responsible for her week’s bill.”

Callendar made a movement in the direction of the lounge. He drew Una Summerhayes with him. He left a silence behind him as the most efficient of gags. He went down the steps into the lounge, holding the glass door open for his betrothed and drawing about her the cloak of their dear and intimate aloofness.

“Supposing we go and make a few arrangements? Or are you tired?”

No, she was not tired. But would he not like to rest? He let the glass door swing back upon the little, yellow-headed figure in the hall.

“That’s finished. We’ll go and look up rooms elsewhere, though I shall always feel kindly towards this little place. Adieu to Mrs. Pym.”

She gave him a deep, full glance.

“Perhaps I had better pack. And would you settle my bill for me? I have some money.”

She opened her bag and offered him her purse. He took it. He knew that she wished him to take it.

“I’ll see to that. And my own. But—afterwards—it will be my affair, please. You will allow me that?”

She answered with a little, silent movement of the head.

XIII

Callendar bought her betrothal ring in a shop on the Piazza de Spagna. They had descended the Spanish steps from their new hotel in the Via Sistina, where Una Summerhayes had a room on the second floor and Callendar one on the third. The ring he bought her was a very fine emerald set in an old Italian silver setting. She had tried on at least a dozen rings, but this was hers; the shape of it seemed to suit the sensitive slimness of her hand.

“Yes, that’s yours,” he said. “There is something fine and fastidious—about that ring.”

She smiled up at him and the shopman smiled at both of them. That ring was going to cost Callendar five thousand lire.

“A week ago I couldn’t afford to be fastidious.”

“Oh, yes, you could.”

“No; I had to ration my visits to the hairdresser. But five thousand lire, dear man?”

He was looking with a queer dreaminess at the ring on her finger. Would she have to pay death-duty on that stone? And what a thing to think of!

They left the shop and, crossing the crowded piazza, paused by the flower-stalls at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. Here were roses and carnations, violets and anemones, narcissi and tulips.

“Which will you have?”

“Oh, violets.”

He bought her violets and they went up the steps and each of them glanced instinctively at the window of the room in which John Keats died.

“I am luckier than poor Keats,” thought Callendar.

And she, with a little spasm of heart pain, pressed the violets he had given her to her lips.

Under the ilexes of the Villa Medici he asked her a question.

“Shall it be before or afterwards?”

She understood his meaning. They were standing by the big stone basin of the fountain and in the shadow of the trees, and she moved out into the sunlight and sat down on the low wall of the terrace. Rome was all sunset and noise, a pit in which beasts howled and bleated. The dome of St. Peter’s floated like a grey-blue bubble and, defying it, the Victor Emmanuel monument—flashed its white false teeth. But with the Janiculum a stage over which the sun poured its eloquence upon the narrow streets and the domes and the old brown roofs, she felt Rome as Rome, a city of symbolism, even though its modern note was the shout of the motor-car.

“Our marriage—first, unless. . . .”

She seemed to hesitate. Her decision fluttered like a hand over a case of rings, sacramental rings.

“They said at the Consulate?”

“We should have to wait some days.”

She turned to look up at him.

“Our marriage first. And yet——”

He was thinking how she had changed in the course of a week. She looked so much more alive, so much more like a flower that had needed sunlight. Her aliveness tantalized him and yet he divined in it an exquisite mystery. It was of the spirit and not of the flesh.

“And yet——?”

Smiling down at her, he echoed the words.

“What—exactly—is in your dear head?”

“It’s in my heart—I think. I would like to feel that I was giving myself to you, as I gave myself on that wonderful day, believing——”

“I think I understand,” he said.

XIV

They were married on the morning of a soft spring day. It was a social gesture—nothing more—an individual occasion. They walked out into the Piazza di Spagna and went to lunch in the little Italian restaurant in the Via Bocca Leone, where to be cosmopolitan was to be Roman. There were flowers on the table. Giuseppe, son of the house, served them as though it was he who conferred the favour, for Giuseppe was a notable black-shirt and young Italy is a little arrogant.

They smiled together over Giuseppe’s condescension.

“These—Imperialists! Well, do you feel very different?”

She both felt and was different, for to a woman marriage is always more of a mystery than it is to a man. Also, this sacramental day was to have a double crisis, marriage in the morning, judgment in the afternoon. Quaint people! It was she who had proposed that he should arrange with Dr. Tellford for a consultation with an Italian specialist and their appointment was for three o’clock at Dr. Tellford’s flat. She had a wild, impulsive hope which she strove to chasten. Death seemed so incredible on such a day and as she sat at the table and drank her wine she stole little secret and fearful glances at this dear comrade. His face had a certain thin fragility and the skin a faint pallor, but he did not look ill. Not as a doomed man might be expected to look. His voice had not changed; it still had that slight huskiness. And she tried to believe that his illness was a dreadful illusion and that, somehow, it would be dispelled and vanish like an unhappy dream.

Afterwards they went and sat in the Pincian gardens and watched the children playing. They sat in the sun. They had an hour to kill before the appointment at the English doctor’s flat. And Rome seemed so alive, with its thronging girls and mothers and its children chasing each other under the trees. People basked and gossiped. These strong, buxom, southern women, who looked so much more solid than their children, displayed their black hair burnished by the sunlight.

Callendar, watching his wife as her glances followed some particular child, wondered how deeply the urge towards motherhood penetrated the modern woman. He had been accustomed to think of himself as a conventional old fellow, a sentimental bachelor, a baby and rosebuds sort of idiot. He supposed that he had the usual illusions about children, because he had had nothing to do with them. But Una had lived with and known the child.

“Rather charming—these Roman kiddies.”

It seemed to him that her eyes were big and suffused with some inward tenderness.

“Here is another sort of imperialism. Baby is King and Emperor—in Italy.”

“You think so?”

“Well, look. What are nearly all these women here for? Either with children, or to look at children.”

He smiled to himself and at her.

“Yes, I suppose so. But what strikes me about these Roman children is their soft voices. So different from the northern children.”

She agreed and he asked her to explain it and she sat beside him with an air of mystery and of sadness.

“Perhaps—because children are wanted here. All children are little egotists, you know; and many of them are little savages.”

“Barbarians? And Rome—the mother—civilizes the little savage. Is that it?”

She nodded.

“I think so. Every woman—who has the mother in her—is like Rome. I think you have to love a child very much and wisely.”

Leaning forward, with his elbows on his knees, he looked at the two rings she was wearing.

“Some women—want children? Is it true?”

“It might be very true,” she said, and saw that he was feeling for his watch.

Climbing together the stone stairway leading to Dr. Tellford’s flat, they held hands and pretended to a calmness that was wholly on the surface. Dr. Tellford and a very insignificant-looking man were waiting for them, but the little Italian ceased to appear insignificant when he took Callendar in hand. Tellford, tall and austere, suggested that Mrs. Callendar should wait in the salon.

She glanced at Callendar and he nodded.

“Better, dear. I don’t suppose we shall be long.”

She managed to smile at him and went out with a memory of her husband sitting in a chair and of the Italian with a shining bulb of light upon his forehead busy with little mirrors. She stood at one of the windows of Dr. Tellford’s room and looked down into the narrow Roman street, but without being aware of it as a street. She seemed to be counting her own heart-beats. How would these moments of suspense end? Would it be death or life.

She heard the door open long before she had expected it to open. Callendar had come into the room; he closed the door. A moment ago he had been speaking to Dr. Tellford: “Yes, I thought so. If you don’t mind, I’ll go and tell my wife.” Yet his face told her nothing, save that he loved her very dearly. He was very calm.

“They have given me a little longer, Una—that’s all.”

She ran to him and hid her face.

“Oh, my dear, my darling.”

He held her fast.

“There, there. They think it is not going to be so very hard for me. Slow, but sure. No—nothing to be done.”

He kissed her wet face.

“I’m making you suffer. It’s wrong. I want you to be happy. Let’s go back into the sunlight and watch the children playing.”

XV

Callendar lived another eleven months, long enough to see the child—a boy—that Una bore him. They had taken and furnished a little house in Berkshire in the pine-and-heather country south of Reading and not far from the ruins of Silchester, that relic of old Rome.

Even towards the end it was difficult for those who saw him to realize that Callendar was a dying man. He was very thin and his voice was little more than a whisper, but he managed to keep on his feet, as though the spirit that was in him compelled his body to serve him to the last. Moreover, his face did not express suffering; it was strangely serene and gentle, a lover’s face to the very end. The woman whom he loved had borne him a child. He had given a child to a woman who had asked for his child. That is the only survival that a man can be sure of.

It is probable that the last year of his life was the happiest that he had known. Happiness is relative and those last months were full of deep self-expression. One can do no more than love and insure one’s love against calculable mischances. The incalculable is still with us, because we are still but children playing on the edge of the great deeps.

Callendar passed over on a February afternoon. He seemed to fall into a little fluttering sleep and he never emerged from it. His wife, sitting beside him, suddenly realized that he had ceased breathing and, with a look at his still, calm face, fell—as by instinct—upon her knees.

“Oh, my dear!”

He had gone from her, her good comrade of a year; and yet, as she let her tears come and pressed that thin, right hand, she knew that both of them had had cause for pride. It had been a marriage without a shadow, perhaps because it had been lived under the edge of that great, impending shadow. Nothing but good memories remained behind.

She looked at Callendar as he lay there with the February sunlight shining in upon his face. She did not draw down the blind. Why should one draw down blinds? He had loved the sunlight.

Her eyes were poignant.

“Beloved, how much you have given me. All that you could give. This was our sacred year.”

She bent and kissed his forehead. She went and fetched her son and, carrying him into the room where the father lay dead, she knelt down and placed the child upon the bed. She looked from the dead man to that little piece of ruddy flesh and back again to the dead face.

“Death and Life,” she thought. “But is there such a thing as death? Oh, my dear, I feel that you will still be looking down on me from the windows of some other and greater Rome.”


SENNEN CLIMBS A WALL

Sennen got into the third-class compartment rather like a sick animal creeping into a hutch.

“Wish I were dead.”

Which was a coward’s wish, and he knew it, though a man cannot always be at the top of his courage, and especially a man of Sennen’s age and build and temperament. He was dark and slight and sallow, and tinged with white at the temples, a serious and rather gentle soul, prematurely aged.

What a day it had been! Eighty in the shade and both windows of the compartment had been left up. He lowered the window nearest to him and hoped that he would be left to himself, which was not likely. He was going home as he had gone home hundreds of times in the same sort of way, and yet how differently!

Had he taken that fruit to his wife in the nursing-home and had he heard aright the words they had spoken to him?

“It is very serious. . . . Yes; a complication, quite unexpected. I’m afraid there is not much hope. . . . No; you must not see her. Come to-morrow.”

As if that had not been sufficient! It had been sufficient to deal Sennen a blow over the heart, and when that other blow had been dealt him he had felt a kind of dull pain, a vague wonder. He had been called into young Sackville’s office. Of course, everybody knew that Prout & Sackville were amalgamating with another firm, but everybody had hoped that they would be the fortunate indispensables.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Sennen, but owing to the new arrangement certain members of our staff will become superfluous.”

Superfluous! What a word, and to a man of three-and-forty who had gone through the War and had married a French girl, and had craved for nothing but peace.

Dully, Sennen had asked bland young Sackville a question.

“When will it be, sir?”

“At the end of the month.”

“It’s rather hard. You see—my wife’s dangerously ill. I suppose you couldn’t——?”

“I’m sorry. It’s not easy to have to do these things. Business is rather beastly—sometimes—Sennen.”

And Sennen had said: “Yes, when a man’s past forty.”

He was going home to that little post-war house at Walsham where he and Marie had made such a happy business of being at home. He had nowhere else to go. He could not walk up and down the London streets all night, waiting for the morning and a few words with his dying wife. How hot it was! Usually on such a day as this he would have rushed home and got out the piece of garden-hose secreted in the tool-shed and, having attached it to the scullery tap, flourished a plume of refreshing water over the grass and the beds of their potty but cherished garden. Their water-rate did not allow for the use of a hose, but that was part of the excitement. And Marie’s lettuces and tomatoes! She was such a great little woman for salads. Was this reality—the fact that she would make no more salads?

The carriage filled up. A fat man sat on Sennen’s pocket and puffed at a foul and bubbling pipe and kept turning an evening paper, but Sennen was not conscious of his fellow-humans. A curious feeling of apartness possessed him. These other people were shadows: he and his tragedy were the sole realities. He sat and stared out of the window, yet the passing country was a mere sunlit blur. He did not recognize the familiar landmarks. Crushed into his corner, he became less and less the little City man and more and more Sennen the Cornishman. He was both awake and asleep.

The train stopped at Walsham, and Sennen was staring at nothing with wide, brown eyes. The train went on. The fat man got up to get out at Ladybridge; he slammed the door; the train rolled on. Sennen, as though relieved of a sense of pressure, came to life for a moment and glanced about him questioningly.

“What station was that?”

A young fellow opposite looked over the top of his paper.

“Ladybridge.”

“We’ve passed Walsham?”

“Yes; twenty minutes ago.”

Sennen gave a kind of faint, pallid smile and sat back in his corner. The young fellow supposed that he might be feeling the heat.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Firford next station. You can get a train back.”

“Yes—get a train back.”

Sennen got out at Firford. He wandered rather aimlessly along the platform to the exit. He spoke to the ticket collector.

“Passed my station—Walsham. When’s the next train back?”

“Half an hour.”

“I think I’ll go out and look round.”

The ticket collector let him pass.

Sennen had never been to Firford. It had remained a mere village, untouched by the splurge of new houses, for it was a little too far from town to suit either the pockets or the time-tables of the black-coated brotherhood. But, to Sennen, Firford as Firford was less than nothing. He passed through it, but he did not see it. His legs took him through the village as though they had been wound up and would go on walking until the person who was Stephen Sennen decided that they should stop. He was conscious of a most strange feeling of unreality; life had no object and objects no solidity. The country beyond the village—with its pinewoods and its gorse and heather—was like a dim tapestry, faded and thin. He walked. He seemed to lose all sense of time and space; he was a mere dull, confused pain drifting upon a pair of legs; there was a part of him that was vaguely aware of a railway station and of a train to be caught, and of a place called Walsham; but these realities were like trivial memories left over from some other world.

He took a lane that diverged into the pinewoods. He did not will himself to go that way. Possibly the evening gloom of the trees and the blue shadows under them attracted him, offering a sense of coolness, of a peace. The dark wood was like a cool hand laid upon the hot forehead of the dying day. He met no one. A great silence and solitude encompassed him. The last rays of the sun lingered upon the red throats and the green tops of the trees. Twilight was at hand. He realized it merely as a gentle darkness spreading among the tree-trunks.

But this world seemed real, most strangely real, while London and the Southern Railway and houses became less than shadows. He wandered on. The lane branched and, taking the left-hand fork, he came quite suddenly upon a different greenness, the greenness of old beech trees shutting in a park. A grey stone wall stretched right and left under the branches of the trees. It seemed to have no end and no beginning; it was like the grey body of some monstrous and mystical snake encircling the earth.

Sennen stood and stared at the wall. His impulse was to climb it, though he could not explain the impulse and did not try to explain it. He seemed to be obeying an instinct. He approached the wall, got his hands on the top of it and his toes in the crevices, and hauled himself up. A branch brushed his face. He straddled the wall for a few seconds, and then let himself down into the green gloom under the trees. He had a feeling as of being in another world, a strange, secret world. He had left that other hustling world behind.

Something drew him on. He passed through the belt of beeches into a little park where old trees stood like dark green obelisks and pyramids. He saw a yellow sky and what seemed to him to be another mass of trees and the twisted chimneys of an old house. There was a gleam of water under the afterglow. Everything was very secret and still.

Normally, Sennen would have thought: “I’m trespassing; I’ve no right here. I ought to get out of this.” But the Sennen of this August twilight had a feeling of rightness. Besides, what did it matter what happened to him in some other man’s park. Nothing mattered; he was vaguely forty and about to be unemployed, and Marie was dying. Also, all this English greenness and the twilight were so very gentle that he accepted them as though they had been prepared for him. It felt cool here, with a strange, refreshing coolness, and he walked on to explore, heading towards those banks of foliage that seemed to enclose a garden.

Suddenly he stood and gazed at a wicket gate in an oak fence. He seemed to have seen that gate before, and the path that disappeared between the massive yews and hollies. A queer idea came into his head.

“That gate was meant.”

He took off his hat and passed a hand across his forehead. What did the words mean? Was he a little touched in the head? But he knew—somehow—that he was going to pass through that gate, though he did not know what was behind those walls of foliage.

He went through the gate and along the grass path between the yews and the hollies. The sky was a deep, dark blue above his head. A star blinked. The stillness was extraordinary. Not a leaf moved. His own footsteps seemed soundless, as though he was gliding over dark water in a world that knew no wind. The path ended suddenly and opened into another path or walk that stretched to the west in one broad sweep, its dark green turf seeming to meet the pale primrose of the western sky.

Sennen stood still. For a moment he felt like a startled child who, trespassing in a garden, comes suddenly upon an unexpected figure, some grotesque shape, a tree in a dark wood that mimics a brown bear or a man with a club. This broad walk or terrace-way was lined by strange shapes and, outlined against the fading sky, they stood black and mysterious and huge. There were castles and crowns and the heads of strange beasts, human figures that held banners or spears. And then he realized that all these shapes were trees, yews clipped into scores of fantastic emblems.

Almost, as he went slowly over the grass, he expected some of these creatures to move, and once he did fancy that the jaws of a strange beast opened. He paused to stare at the grotesque head. The sky was growing dark, but the twilight lingered. And then he heard a clock striking with a note like a bell. He counted the strokes—one to twelve.

Midnight? But how absurd! He pulled out his own watch, and in the dim light the hands stood at nine. He wandered on. This wall of the yews seemed endless, and suddenly he was startled and more than startled. There was the clang as of a sword striking metal, and from a great yew clipped like a sentry-box a white figure emerged, a shape in shining armour, sword raised.

Sennen recoiled, but the figure remained motionless outside the dark niche cut in the tree, and Sennen tried to laugh.

“Hallo, old chap——”

He took two steps towards the knight in armour and suddenly the sword fell and struck the shield, and with that same clanging sound the figure drew back into its recess. Sennen stood and stared. His skin felt cold. He assured himself that he had been scared by some ridiculous, mechanical toy, some rich man’s whimsical jest.

But was it just that? Had he invaded the garden of some wealthy and eccentric soul? Why was he afraid? Why did his skin tingle and creep? And this most strange feeling of reality in the midst of unreality?

He avoided that recess in the clipped yew. He took the other side of the grass walk. He had gone about ten yards when a plume of water shot up from the snout of a dolphin. A fountain. He seemed to see the dim glitter of it; but when he went near and held out a hand towards the grey moisture his hand remained dry.

Again he was more than startled. He touched his mouth with his fingers. Yes—they were dry; and when he stood in the midst of that visible spray—it had no moisture.

“What’s the matter with me?”

But that question was like the place itself: a mouth that was silent, a suggestion of eyes that saw and remained invisible. His sense of wonder increased. That creepy feeling left him. He became aware of a sense of profound and expectant curiosity. He seemed to see the end of this gallery of strange shapes; and, walking on, he came to a low, stone wall with a seat set against it. On the other side of the wall there was a drop of fifteen feet, and Sennen saw the sheen of water, the still, dark surface of a pool. He leant against the wall. He felt himself trembling with expectancy. What would he see and hear? Something? Yes, he seemed to know that in this most strange place other things would happen. But not with terror or with malignity. He divined a gentleness, a beautiful melancholy.

What was that? A violin? Yes, somewhere a violin was being played; but the music was unfamiliar, like nothing that he had heard before. It made him think of that fountain that was not water. It suggested string music without strings.

He sat down on the seat. The music ceased. He was aware of a gradual radiance spreading behind him, the light of a rising moon. The rays struck along the broad, grass walk with the strange shapes guarding it on either side.

Something moved in the moonlight, and Sennen rose from the stone seat. A figure approached between the clipped yews, and Sennen saw it as the figure of a little old man. It came briskly towards the seat, as though it knew that someone was waiting there.

“Now,” thought Sennen, “apologies—or something stranger than that.”

The old man’s clothes were of other times. He wore a big beaver hat, black knee-breeches and white stockings, and a tail-coat with brass buttons. His shoes had buckles. He raised his hat and gave Sennen a little bow.

“Good evening, sir. I expected you.”

Sennen returned the bow.

“I’m afraid I’m trespassing.”

“Not at all, sir, not at all. Let us sit down. Or perhaps you would prefer to walk.”

“As you please, sir,” said Sennen.

The little old man sat down and, removing that hat with the big brim, laid it carefully on the seat. He had a very white head, and eyes tucked away under bushy eyebrows, and one of those firm, plump faces that are neither old nor young. He struck Sennen as being a mixture of drollness and dignity; he was both puckish and punctilious. An eccentric old gentleman—very.

“You have a wonderful garden, sir,” said Sennen.

The dark eyes observed him.

“How did you get in?”

“I’m ashamed to say I climbed over the wall.”

The old gentleman went through the action of taking snuff and, producing a big yellow silk handkerchief, dusted his coat with it.

“Quite in order. But you have failed to appreciate the fact, sir, that the climbing of walls is inevitable.”

“How so, sir?”

“There is always a wall, sir. What we call a mystery. You solve a mystery by climbing over it.”

“Does your wall, sir——?”

The old gentleman interrupted him.

“For instance, the wall between this world and the next, the wall between you and us. Of course—in these highly scientific days you people remain on the other side of the wall and ignore it, or explain it away, or scoff at the idea that there can be anything on the other side of the wall. Why—you are not even allowed to be conscious.”

“Of course,” said Sennen to himself, “this nice old fellow is quite mad. That accounts for the garden.”

And then his host startled him.

“I’m sorry your wife is so ill, Mr. Sennen.”

Sennen was voiceless. Now, how on earth did the old fellow know? And his name, too.

“Yes; she’s dying——”

He gulped, and the old fellow looked at him kindly.

“I must speak to them about that. I suppose you want her. Of course you want her.”

“How do you mean, sir?”

“You want her to remain on your side of the wall?”

Sennen’s voice was unsteady.

“I shouldn’t want to live—if she——”

The old fellow nodded and made a show of taking more snuff.

“Exactly. Also, Messrs. Prout & Sackville might change their minds. I’ll have them spoken to.”

Said Sennen, with a kind of desperate impulsiveness:

“Look here, sir—who are you? . . .”

And things seemed to fade away.


Sennen woke to find himself lying on the grass at the bottom of a stone wall. It was daylight. A labourer was standing on the edge of the grass, staring at him.

Sennen sat up.

“Hallo! Good morning. I seem to have been asleep.”

The man grinned.

“I’d say so, mister. And you’ve been lying on your hat.”

Sennen recovered his hat and persuaded it back into shape. He was beginning to remember.

“I say—can you tell me who lives in the house in there?”

“What house?”

“The house with the twisted chimneys and all those yews clipped like animals and men in the garden.”

“There ain’t no house.”

They stared at each other.

“And there ain’t no garden. You’ve been dreaming, mister. I’ve heard tell how there used to be a house.”

Sennen got up and looked at the wall. There were no beech trees. He scrambled up and looked over the wall, and saw a grass field with a few cows in it.

“Well—I’m damned!” he said.

What the labourer said to himself was:

“Reckon you were drunk last night.”


Sennen found his way back to Firford, and had a wash and was shaved at the village barber’s. A little inn near the station gave Sennen breakfast: coffee, bread and butter, and cold ham, though he did not eat much ham. He should have felt desperately depressed, and yet he did not feel depressed. His dream—he called it a dream—remained with him very vividly; it seemed to him that there might be a suggestion of hope in it. But to save his own face he assumed an attitude of cynicism.

He caught the nine-three from Firford. It became full of the usual people going to their usual work and, as the compartment filled up at Walsham, Sennen felt himself being entered and possessed by habit and by all the details of a life of routine. He became again the Sennen of Prout & Sackville’s. At Waterloo he went at once down the familiar steps and along the sloping way to the platform where the City train waited. He produced his twopence. He would be late at the office, but he was quite callous about it.

When Sennen pushed open the familiar swing-door, Bates, the commissionaire, looked up from his desk. Bates was a fatherly person with a bald head and a huge, black moustache and with a pleasant plumpness at the waist-line.

“ ’Morning, Mr. Sennen. Mr. Sackville has been asking for you.”

“I’m late.”

“I don’t think that’s got anything to do with it, sir. Mr. Sackville wants to see you. Told me to tell you to go straight to his private room.”

“Thank you, Bates.”

Sennen went up the stairs and hesitated outside the particular door that concealed a possible hope or a renewed despair. He drew himself up; he knocked. After all—nothing could be worse than the worst.

“Come in!”

Sennen entered, and Sackville smiled at him.

“Oh, it’s you, Sennen. I wanted to see you. Sit down. How’s your wife—to-day?”

“I was going to see, sir, but I came here first. I suppose you won’t object? . . . I can stay late——”

Sackville was fingering a typed sheet.

“Of course not. But what I wanted to say was that it suddenly occurred to me last night that we shall have a billet for you—in spite of the reorganization. I was going through some of my notes. Funny—how one misses a step. Same salary. Will that satisfy you?” Sennen’s natural pallor had increased. His mouth felt dry.

“I’m very grateful, sir. I’ve always tried——”

“Quite. That’s all right, Sennen. I’ve got your name down. Now, you had better go along and see—— Yes, let me know the news.”


Again, in Hallech Street, Sennen experienced that fear of a closed door. He stood on the doorstep of the nursing-home and, after ringing the bell, stared at the brass numerals on the green surface. Thirteen. Surely the omen was not happy.

A nurse opened the door and, like Bates, she smiled at Sennen.

“Good morning.”

Sennen clutched his hat.

“How is she? I hope——”

“Extraordinarily better. There seems to have been a wonderful change in the night.”

“Can I see her?”

“Oh, yes; she has been asking for you.”

Sennen went up without feeling the stairs under his feet. The nurse opened a door. Marie was propped up on pillows; she looked very pale, but her eyes had a brightness. She held out her hands.

The nurse closed the door, for Sennen was down on his knees beside the bed, kissing his wife’s hands.

“Oh, my dear——”

“Poor boyee. Did I frighten you?”

“They told me——”

She caressed him, looking at him with the deep glance of a woman conscious of being loved.

“Yes—I thought I was going to die, Stephen. I seemed to be just sinking through the bed. And then I had such a funnee dream.”

He looked at her intently.

“A dream? Tell me!”

“Yes, a funny old man came and stood beside my bed. He had a blue coat with yellow buttons. He was just like a picture out of a book. And there were other people, but I couldn’t see them clearly. They looked like ghosts.”

Sennen held his breath.

“Did the old man speak to you?”

“Yes. He said: ‘Stephen wants you. We have come to tell you that you must stay on your side of the wall.’ Now, wasn’t that strange! A wall! What did he mean by a wall? But, of course, it was just a dream——”

“Yes,” said Sennen—“extraordinary! I—too—had a dream. I’ll tell you about it—when you are stronger, chérie. Oh, my dear, I’m—I’m so happy!”


RACHEL IN SEARCH OF REALITY

She arrived at Barbury Station, a dark, silent, self-contained young woman, neatly dressed in black. Her trunk of green fibre was removed from the van and trundled on a truck to the entrance, where two or three cars were waiting. A young chauffeur in dark blue livery, his cap pushed back, removed a cigarette and eyed the green trunk.

“Anyone for Barbury Place? Anyone for Barbury Place?”

He was the obvious wag, the young fellow-my-lad in uniform but very much off duty. The elderly porter turned the trunk in his direction.

“Something for you, Bossy.”

“Right you are, old man. We’ve clicked.”

He smiled at the dark girl, who was obviously the owner of the green trunk.

“This is our bus, miss.”

He jerked a thumb at an old four-seater car that did duty as a staff and luggage car at Barbury Place. His grin was friendly and familiar. He opened the near front door.

“Bates—that’s me. Nice evenin’ for a drive.”

He looked at her, and his blue eyes seemed to lose their easy, shallow smile, for the girl was not responsive. She gave him a curt nod and, opening the rear door for herself, got in.

The chauffeur, with an ironic and perplexed adjustment of his cap, went behind to assist in strapping the green trunk to the grid. The stump of the cigarette remained between his lips. He was saying things to himself, things that could not be said to the elderly porter without the girl overhearing them.

“Ain’t she ’aughty? Back seat. Well, I’m blowed! Why, the real ladies are much more pally.”

He climbed into the driver’s seat, slammed the door with a suggestion of swagger, and drove her to Barbury Place at forty-five miles an hour.


Barbury Place stood on the southern slope of a hill and in the midst of a park. Everything was old about it, the beeches and the cedars and the magnificent chestnuts, the terrace, the walled garden, the lake. But not quite everything; for there were two new hard tennis-courts close to the rose garden, and a bright timber and plaster garage splashed and spoilt the blurred harmony of the older buildings. The garage had to house five cars, and at week-ends there would be yet more cars.

Also, the Crasswell family was not ancient. Someone had described them as “Hims and Hers, Ancient and Modern, Revised Version.”

Bates drove her round to the back of the hall, and skipping out, with an ironic hat in his hand, opened the door for her.

“We have arrived, madam. Mrs. Mills should be waiting to receive you.”

Mrs. Mills was the housekeeper; also she was the wife of Mr. Mills, the butler. She had a sitting-room of her own which she shared with Mr. Mills and a Yorkshire terrier, but Mr. Mills was there on sufferance. In the passage a girl’s head was poked out of the staff-room doorway, and a very up-to-date young person greeted the new arrival.

“Hello! Name of Smith?”

The dark girl smiled and nodded.

“The new housemaid.”

“I’m parlour. Name of Sass. The old girl wants you upstairs. She left word.”

“What, Mrs. Crasswell?”

“No; old Mother Mills. I’ll show you.”

Miss Smith was shown the way up to the house-keeper’s room, where the Yorkshire terrier yapped at her.

Mrs. Mills was a formidable person with a fringe and a big bosom, and the girth of her suggested that a voluminous voice should emanate from the chair in which she sat.

“Miss Smith, I suppose?”

Mrs. Mills’ voice was a little squeak. It reminded the girl of the sound emitted by one of those figures which—when squeezed—give out a thin complaint. But the housekeeper did not wait for a reply, but went on addressing her, for Mrs. Mills always had plenty to say, and the more mute you remained the more quickly the discourse was done with. She observed the girl. She did not ask her to sit down, but Miss Smith did sit down.

“I hope you are up to your work.”

“I believe so.”

“It’s an exacting house. I always believe in being frank, though it isn’t so easy to face both ways. Bribery—that’s it. You’re one of those who have to be bribed to come down here. Well, there’s plenty of bribery, and the tips are not so bad. There’s wireless, and a gramophone, and a weekly dance, and a car into Woking or Guildford twice a week, though I can’t say I think much of either place, if you ask me. And you’re to get sixty. That’s the situation.”

The dark girl nodded.

“Caps worn?”

“Caps—are—worn. Now you had better go and get your tea.”

The dark girl smiled and went towards the door, but Mrs. Mills had one other remark to make.

“You look a quiet, dignified sort of girl. Some of the gentlemen who come down here are a bit larky. Keep it in mind.”

“Thank you, I will.”

So Miss Rachel Smith had her tea in the staff-room and made the acquaintance of the cook and Mrs. Crasswell’s French maid and the various other ladies who lived and worked at Barbury Place. They were a cheerful and a friendly crowd, and they had no illusions as to the splendour of the Crasswell family. No one had.

Rachel found that her room overlooked the fruit garden and the wooded hillside behind the house. It was not a bad little room, and she unpacked and changed into her uniform, and at six o’clock she went on duty under the direction of Mrs. Mills.

The Crasswell family had its idiosyncrasies, and it was as well for her to know them. Mr. Crasswell disliked any interference with the books and papers on the table beside his bed, and he took dry toast with his early morning tea. Mrs. Crasswell disliked conversation in the early morning. The Misses Crasswell preferred pulling up their own blinds, and a discreet maid would leave Mr. Tony Crasswell to pull up his.

Rachel did a tour of the upper floors of Barbury Place. It had been very much renovated in the new style, and it had bedsteads that were painted blue and scarlet and yellow, and sofas with zigzag patterns and cushions of black and orange and purple. The Misses Crasswell kept gramophones in their bedrooms.

Rachel’s introduction to the Crasswell family was gradual and incidental.

Mr. Crasswell, very large and red, with a flat head and staring blue eyes, seemed to float about the place like a thunderstorm seeking an explosion. He was very rich and very irritable. There were occasions when he shouted. His wife had an equine face and a bosom of sound dimensions, like a cushion very tightly stuffed. She spoke haughtily.

Miss Pip and Miss Polly were long leggy young women with Eton crops and carefully cultivated complexions. They talked like a snappy gossip on the wireless.

Mr. Tony wore sky-blue and cerise pyjamas, and had his morning bath at nine, and used solid brilliantine on his very black hair, and did nothing in particular—and did not do it very well.

Rachel had no conversation with the members of the Crasswell family. They were people apart.

Mr. Crasswell grunted when she entered his room in the morning.

“Your tea, sir.”

“Put it there.”

She ceased to announce the arrival of his tea. She went swiftly and silently about her affairs. She had much to do, and the Misses Crasswell provided her with etceteras. They were incredibly casual and untidy. They threw things about, stockings, shoes, undies, dresses. They never put anything away. They were abrupt and exacting.

“Smith, there’s something off my knickers. See to it.”

Or—“Smith, I’m out of gramophone needles. Get some up from the music-room.”

They were expensive, expansive, restless young women. They would turn a car out at ten o’clock at night, and rush up to some night-club. They started up their gramophones while they were dressing in the morning. They were far more active than their brother, who put eau-de-Cologne into his shaving water, and went up to town looking like a male mannequin—an exquisite drooping lily of a lad.

Barbury Place contained two worlds, and the lower world stood in no awe of the upper one. It was completely candid in its criticisms. It made fun of the Crasswell family; it had nicknames for all its members.

Mr. Crasswell was “Old Rhino;” his wife, “Mrs. Buster Brown;” the young ladies, “Pip and Squeak;” Mr. Anthony, “The Little Bow-wow.” A most irreverent crowd, and especially so when Mr. Crasswell expected to be knighted, and Mrs. Crasswell’s bosom was preparing to add yet another cushion to its distinguished but unfashionable firmness.

Rachel was very much amused. She found the staff-room breezy yet a little tiring, but the Crasswells were gorgeous. She rolled them under her tongue. She went about with a demure, aloof apartness. She watched and listened, and laughed within herself. Yes, they were gorgeous. She wallowed in the splendour of these charming people. Almost she loved them.

But that was a passing mood. There came a time when she ceased to love them, because she became infected with somebody else’s secret shame and hatred. It happened quite suddenly.

There were week-end parties at Barbury Place.

One week-end in June Mr. Crasswell, having been lodged at his London flat for some days, returned to Barbury with his secretary. Mr. Main had been to Barbury on other occasions, but not during Rachel’s maidship, and when she first cast eyes upon him she was puzzled. There was something about Mr. Richard Main that set her wondering.

He was a fiercely restrained, palely polite young man, yet not so very young. He had a scar on one cheek. His eyes suggested wounded prides and secret dissatisfactions. He was very silent; he went about silently; he appeared to spend most of his time in the library.

Rachel heard Mr. Crasswell shouting for Mr. Main.

“Main—Main!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why don’t you keep about?”

“I was in the library, sir, waiting for you.”

“I don’t want a man in the library when I’m rowing with the head chauffeur, do I? Too much petrol used here. You’ve got to check it.”

Something in Rachel grew hot and combative. How dared that commercial bully shout at his secretary like a farmer at a plough-boy! And why did Main stand it?

In the staff-room she heard the secretary referred to as Mr. Main. He had no nickname. Apparently, for some reason or other, he was liked and respected. Even the hoity-toity Miss Sass allowed him to be a gentleman and a “sport.” The staff were sorry for Mr. Main.

For Mr. Main had committed a ghastly blunder. He wrote poetry; he had published a volume of poems, and he had allowed the Crasswell family to discover this secret sottishness. Apparently they had found Mr. Main as a poet intensely and toppingly funny. Mr. Tony always referred to him as “The Bard.”

Rachel, in the course of her duties, had to go into Mr. Main’s room. It was a poor little room, high up in one of the gables and facing north, yet Mr. Main managed to have a table by the window, and it was obvious to Rachel that Mr. Main sat at that table and worked. Rachel allowed herself to glance at the papers on Mr. Main’s table, and she discovered half the body and soul of a sonnet. It began—“What a slave of sottishness am I?” She read five or six lines, and then turned away as though she had caught herself prying into the man’s secret humiliations.

Mr. Main kept a photograph on the table, and out of the little round silver frame a gentle and elderly face looked at the world with tired yet humorous eyes. Yes; obviously it was the face of Mr. Main’s mother. The likeness between them was evident.

Miss Smith was touched, though the soul of a housemaid is not supposed to be touched by lyric sadness and suffering. But she had remembered something, and her compassion was able to allow itself the flicker of a secret smile.


For Mr. Main’s martyrdom was relative. Being what he was, he heated his own hot plate and walked on it with naked, sensitive feet. Pip and Squeak were raffish young women, and a man with less of Mr. Main’s looks and more beef to his soul might have found compensations.

But, as it was, they persecuted. Always they addressed him as Mr. Main, as though carefully classing him one grade below Mr. Mills, the butler.

“Mr. Main, get out the cushions, will you?” or, “Mr. Main, did you order those tennis balls?”

They did not catch him out on these details. He was too murderously thorough both in his functioning and in his pride. He allowed them no self-made opportunities; but with Mr. Anthony it was otherwise. He might be Mr. Crasswell’s pup, but he would be no pup to Tony.

Rachel happened to overhear that row. It happened somewhere on the stairs. It was heard or seen by no one else.

“Oh—I say—Mr. Main. You might go and tell Bates that I want the ‘Spitz’ at two sharp.”

There was a moment of silence.

“I’m not an errand-boy. I suggest that you——”

“Oh, don’t be a silly ass, Main.”

“You can go to hell, my lad.”

Which rude forcefulness caused Rachel a little tremor of approval. She looked over the rail and saw Mr. Anthony mincing down the stairs and Main looking as though he was restraining a foot. Though Mr. Anthony sneaked to his father.

“That fellow Main’s getting a bit uppish.”

Mr. Crasswell had a liver.

“You leave Main alone; he’s my pup.”

It became evident to Rachel that she was giving more service to Mr. Main’s little room than any of the Crasswell chambers. She noticed that he had things that needed mending. She noticed that he was writing a short story, and also, having read three pages of it, she knew that it was a very good short story. Also, she became aware of the fact that Mr. Main looked at her queerly whenever they met or passed. Always he was cautious, a little shy, friendly.

“Good morning, Smith. Somebody put flowers——”

“Did they, sir?”

“Thank you.”

“I think it was someone else, sir.”

“Oh, possibly.”

There came a day when Rachel was dusting the library, and Mr. Main walked in with a letter file and a book of accounts, and sat down at the desk, and Rachel offered to remove herself.

“I shall be disturbing you, sir.”

“Not a bit. Please continue.”

She continued, and he sat down at the desk and arranged his papers, and there was the silence of their mutual and almost noiseless activities. Rachel had to move the steps to get at another shelf, and she had reascended the steps when she became aware of him speaking.

“Haven’t been here long, have you?”

He was speaking to her.

“No, Mr. Main.”

“Staying long?”

“I don’t know.”

“Most of you don’t. What a blessed thing is the scarcity of labour! I would——”

But he pulled himself up. He rustled the leaves of the ledger; he bent over the desk, and she went on with her dusting. He was entering items in the ledger, and his shoulders looked intent and rebellious.


And then, suddenly, he rose to get some papers and looked at her fixedly.

“Where have I seen you before?”

She went on with her dusting, taking out book after book, and flicking it with her feather duster.

“Have you seen me before, sir?”

“Sure of it.”

“Where?”

“For the life of me I can’t remember. I have been worrying about it for days.”

“Surely there is no need to worry, sir.”

“But I have seen you somewhere else. Where was it?”

“How should I know, Mr. Main?”

“Then you don’t know?”

“How should I?”

He stared at her, and his stare was a little embarrassing.

“Yours is not the sort of face one forgets.”

“It is a very ordinary sort of face, Mr. Main. I’m quite familiar with it.”

“Oh, possibly. But I have seen you somewhere.”

He was very persistent, and she continued busy with the books.

“Is this your usual job?”

“What, sir?”

“Domestic service.”

She looked down at him with a whimsical smile.

“Well—I have done other things.”

“What things?”

“I have worked in a factory.”

“Indeed!”

“I have been a Lyons girl.”

“A Nippy! Rather extraordinary.”

“Not a bit, sir. Then I was in a shop—two shops.”

“Your experience seems to have been rather varied.”

“Doesn’t it? Perhaps you saw me in a shop.”

“What kind of shop?”

“A draper’s at Clapham. Do you know Clapham, Mr. Main?”

“Never been there in my life.”

“It could not have been there, then, could it?”

But there were voices in the hall, and Main turned again to his desk, and she went on with her dusting.


For the rest of that particular week-end Mr. Main and Miss Smith were kept apart by circumstances over which neither of them chose to exercise control, and on Monday Mr. Main returned to town with Mr. Crasswell. He left behind him in his bedroom a quantity of socks and shirts and etceteras that needed attention, and also the typescript of a novel.

Miss Smith contrived to do Mr. Main’s mending, and also to read a portion of his novel. She smuggled whole chapters of it to her room, and was surprised to find that it was a remarkable novel, for of all the secret novels that are written probably but one in a thousand is worth even the most casual attention.

Mr. Crasswell and his secretary came down to Barbury Place on the following Saturday. There was tension between them, which meant that Mr. Crasswell had mislaid his temper and that Mr. Main had to preserve his.

Mr. Main, when proceeding to unpack, found his novel where he had left it, under a pair of pale cotton pyjamas. But he was an observant person. Something had been done to the pyjamas, and also to the neat piles of vests and socks and shirts.

At half-past six Miss Smith brought him a can of hot water.

“Good evening, sir.”

He confronted her.

“Someone has been at my things.”

“Oh, sir?”

“Yes—I’m—I’m much obliged. It was awfully decent of you.”

“Of me, sir? Perhaps it was Mrs. Mills.”

He said looking at her fixedly:

“I’m quite sure it wasn’t Mrs. Mills.”

Now, on the Sunday, God spoke. He spoke to Mr. Main in the library, and he spoke loudly and with passion, and Rachel happened to be Eve, an innocent and coincidental Eve listening outside a door.

Mr. Crasswell held forth.

“Look here, what do I pay you for? Damn it—I can’t look into everything. I’ve told you over and over again that you are to be responsible for all the accounts down here. It’s perfectly monstrous. Petrol! Look at that bill. Seven new tyres in a month.”

“Well, sir, the cars are used a good deal.”

“Yes; but, damn it, I’m being done, and it’s your business to see that I’m not done. Then—the garden. Thirty loads of cow manure! Do they eat manure?”

“I should hardly think so, sir.”

“Look here, I don’t want you to be facetious. If this sort of thing isn’t stopped, I’ll fire you. Understand that. Now you go and have it out with the chaps in the garage. Check all the speedometers. See?”

“I see, sir.”

“Well, get on with it.”

Mr. Main, emerging from the library with a face of whiteness and of silent fury, found Rachel leaning against an oak table. She was playing with her feather duster. She did not look directly at him, for she knew that he did not wish to be looked at, with his pride thrashed into rags.

She said:

“Mr. Main, I am leaving to-morrow. Do I give you notice? I’d rather prefer to give it to Mr. Crasswell personally.”

“Leaving?”

She looked at him.

“Why don’t you do it, too?”

He reddened. He glanced fiercely out of the window.

“That’s my business.”

“Of course. But when you can write a short story like ‘City Smoke,’ why stay here?”

His head gave a jerk. He went and stood over her.

“Look here, who are you? What the devil do you mean——?”

She caressed the feathers of the duster.

“My name is Rachel Smith North.”

His face expressed astonishment, sudden illumination.

“Good Lord! Of course—I remember now. It was the Authors’ Club dinner. But what the devil are you doing here, a best seller, a——?”

She said:

“I’m a rather thorough person, Mr. Main. I like reality. I like to write about reality, and when I want to know about reality, I live it for a couple of months.” He stared.

“Well—I’m——!”

“And that’s a rather remarkable novel of yours, too.”

“What d’you mean?”

“I did your mending while you were away, and so I didn’t see why I shouldn’t have some pleasure out of it. I got it out of your novel.”

For a moment he was mute.

“But—I say—you know——”

“Why not send that novel to my agent? I shall be seeing him to-morrow.”

“It’s most awfully——”

“Not a bit.”

“You see, I’ve had to stick this. My mater, left without a halfpenny. She’s a——”

The feather duster gave a suggestive flick.

“Well, what about it? I’ll go in first. I suggest that we go to-day; there’s a train at 12.30. I think I can get that story of yours placed in three days. Risk it?”

“By George—I will.”

She smiled, waved the duster, and passed into the room. He heard her voice.

“Excuse me, Mr. Crasswell, but I am giving notice.”

“What! Who are you? Oh, yes——”

“I find that the atmosphere of this house does not agree with me. It’s too—too—shall we say—uncultivated.”

“What! Here—you—— Clear out; go and be rude to my secretary.”

The door opened and Main stood there.

“Did you call, sir?”

“Here, Main, this young woman——”

“Excuse me, sir, but I have come to tell you that I am leaving this morning. I find that the atmosphere of this house does not agree with me. It is too—uncultivated.”

Mr. Crasswell’s jaw fell.

“Well—I’m—— What’s the game?”

Mr. Main bowed to him.

“Good morning, sir.”

He turned to Miss Smith and smiled, and Mr. Crasswell saw his secretary and the housemaid go out arm-in-arm.


RIDICULE

There were few things that Martin Isherwood had not done successfully. By the age of forty-seven he had experienced only one considerable failure, but having married the wrong woman he had been spared the full consequences of this one failure, for his wife had run away with his worst enemy, and Isherwood, after settling a thousand a year on her for life, had said:

“Thank God!”

He sat in the bow window of a very famous club in St. James’s Street, with one of the faded puce-coloured curtains drawn to keep off the afternoon sunlight. The world went by beneath him—his world, the world in which he cut no inconsiderable figure. Bald heads reposed about him. Panter, one of the club waiters, was discreetly removing empty coffee-cups.

Isherwood beckoned to Panter.

“Yes, sir?”

“Bring me ‘Who’s Who.’ ”

“Yes, sir.”

Panter brought Martin Isherwood “Who’s Who,” and delivered it with the impressiveness of a local mayor presenting a casket to royalty, and Isherwood opened the book and looked himself up in it.

Yes, there he was, with all his successes. The whole social pattern of his life was nicely woven in a column of some twenty lines. Anybody could look up Martin Isherwood and discover that he had a town house in Clarges Street and that his country place was Isherwood Court. The garlands of his many accomplishments hung about him.

He had rowed in the Oxford boat; for five years he had sat in the “House,” for a Hampshire constituency; he had explored the Amazon; he had shot in the English team at Bisley; he had owned racehorses and had won races with them. He was something of an authority on English water-colour art and on Chinese lacquer. His publications included a treatise on “Rural Education,” and a “Fisherman’s Log off Florida.” He hunted; he played golf; and his clubs were the Carlton and Jerrys. His age was forty-seven. He had no children. Unofficially it was known that he was a very marriageable man.

Isherwood closed the book and placed it on the mahogany table beside him. He meditated. He had arrived at one of those moments when the ordered level of life’s road bored him. He was so secure. He had nothing to fear.

Yet he was aware of a sense of unreality. His mood was tending towards irony.

How easy life was—like the routine of this club, where you rang a bell and a polite servant came to satisfy your desires. But was life so easy? Could he not ascribe this seeming easiness to the fact that he was so well protected by circumstances?

Yes; and by the conventions. He behaved in a certain way; he dressed in a particular style; he did—in the main—all that these bald-headed gentlemen did, and so ordered his life that he was nicely inconspicuous.

Yes, the conventional atmosphere of his class, its habits of thought and of behaviour. Provided you did nothing eccentric!

And supposing—supposing he were to rise from his chair with a yell and pitch “Who’s Who,” at one of these bald heads? No, there would be no scene. Jerrys did not countenance scenes. There would be dignified surprise. Isherwood could picture Gurney, the secretary, being sent for, also Howarth, that monumental porter. “Mr. Isherwood is not quite himself.” His case would be considered as either mental or alcoholic.

The voice of his own restlessness accused him, the murmur of a vague dissatisfaction.

“Yes, you are afraid. And ridicule is the thing you are afraid of. Your success depends on your tailor. Ridicule, ridicule that is more terrible than Mrs. Grundy.”

Isherwood reflected. His fresh-coloured face assumed a combative expression.

“Now—supposing—for instance—that you were to appear in public without your tie?”

The inward and mocking voice now challenged him.

“You daren’t do it. You have shot tigers, but you haven’t the courage to walk down Piccadilly without a tie.”

It became obvious from his inward and immediate reaction that Isherwood was less of the social beast than the world imagined. There was a strain of Puckishness in him, and at the age of forty-seven, when a man is rather alone in the world and has lost nine-tenths of his illusions, his sense of humour may become mischievously grim. An ironical playfulness is apt to grimace at the world.

“You dare not do it,” said the voice.

“Confound you, but—I—will do it,” the Puck in Isherwood retorted.

He left Jerrys and returned to Clarges Street. He had been wearing a grey lounge suit, and Verity, his valet, following him upstairs, and needing no suggestions, laid out a morning coat and vest and pair of dark striped trousers.

“Right, you need not wait, Verity.”

Half an hour later Verity met his master on the lower landing. Verity had the impressive face of a Chinaman, but he received the shock of his life.

“Excuse me, sir——”

Isherwood’s eyes conveyed a casual interrogation.

“You are not—quite—dressed, sir.”

“Oh?”

“Your tie, sir.”

Isherwood continued calmly down the stairs towards the hall.

“I have given up ties, Verity.”

He went out into Clarges Street, leaving his valet a problem that was far knottier and more urgent than anything that Einstein had evolved.

Isherwood returned to St. James’s Street, conscious of being the inspirer of occasional surprise and amusement. Piccadilly had been too busy with its own affairs to trouble to observe the fact that a well-dressed man had forgotten his tie.

Twenty yards down St. James’s Street he met the Hon. Sylvia Curmody, a woman with a high colour and a hard blue roving eye. Her glance went instantly to that tieless expanse of shirt and collar. She nodded unsmilingly, and Isherwood raised his hat.

“I have met my publicity agent,” he thought, “and by to-morrow night it will be known everywhere that Martin Isherwood has been seen in St. James’s Street without a tie.”

Would they say that he was in love or approaching a sudden senility?

And, after all, did it matter?

At Jerrys he turned aside to the little glass-fronted holy of holies where Howarth, the hall porter, sat on a leather-topped stool. Howarth and Jerrys had lived a symbolic life for thirty years, and there were people to whom the bald, round-faced, massive porter was a greater man than any member of the club.

“Any letters, Howarth?”

Howarth might have been doorkeeper to the gods. Nothing flurried him. He looked straight at you through his gold-rimmed spectacles. He was polite, but with that air of superior and tolerant politeness that one associates with police sergeants.

“No, sir.”

Of course he had observed the monstrous lapse. Only on one other occasion had Howarth had to exercise his immense sagacity in dealing with such a problem, and that had been when old Sir Hercules Crutchet had forgotten a certain detail of his toilet. As the writers of the active school put it, Howarth did some rapid thinking.

“One moment, sir. Do you mind looking in the glass behind you.”

“What’s the matter, Howarth?”

“Well, sir, something has fallen off, unless——”

It was inconceivable that a member of Jerrys should wear a ready-made bow-tie.

Isherwood dealt with the insinuation.

“Howarth, do you really suggest, man, that I buy my ties made up?”

“No, sir.”

“Right. I think you said there were no letters?”

“No letters, sir.”

Isherwood ascended the steps to the pillared lobby, and Howarth removed his spectacles and polished the lenses with a very clean handkerchief. Had Mr. Isherwood really forgotten to put on a tie? If so——

Well, it might be a “wager.” A sporting challenge might justify a gentleman’s parading in St. James’s Street in a suit of pyjamas. Perhaps it had been tactless of him to refer to the detail? Howarth felt ruffled, and when one of the club pages appeared giggling in the lobby doorway, Howarth dealt with him as irresponsible urchins should be dealt with.

Isherwood strolled into the smoking-room. He had made the first plunge and overcome the terror that seizes upon the social man when he discovers himself to be differing conspicuously from his fellows. He was conscious of a sense of adventure. And how absurd that one should be able to capture the spirit of adventure by omitting to put on a tie!

He nodded to several acquaintances, and stood for a moment by Peter Blunt’s chair and discussed with him the imminent political crisis. Blunt had observed the lapse, but he treated Isherwood as a creature of sanity. Still, the lapse was there, and in the back of his mind Blunt was asking questions concerning the Isherwood family history. And had Isherwood’s youth been what it should have been?

“It’s a matter of suggestion, my dear chap; everything is suggestion.”

“Yes, I suppose it is,” said Isherwood, strolling across to the table where the daily papers were kept.

He had sighted the club bore standing by the newspaper table—one General Crackenthorn—who had a fatal passion for seizing the obvious and holding it under his fellows’ noses. Isherwood wished to try the effect of his tielessness upon Crackenthorn.

The general put up his eye-glass. He became immensely solemn. He tapped Isherwood quite confidentially upon the shoulder.

He whispered the horrid truth.

“My dear Isherwood—one moment—your tie—my dear fellow.”

Isherwood stared.

“My tie, general? What about it?”

Crackenthorn’s whisper grew more pontifical.

“You haven’t got a tie.”

Isherwood smiled brightly.

“Is that so? Well, it’s the first original thing that has happened in this club since old Trelawney died while he was writing that hundred and first letter of his to The Times.”

Crackenthorn looked greatly shocked. A man did not wax facetious when he had committed such a solecism unless he was a rather vulgar person or touched in the head. Crackenthorn had expected Isherwood to disappear instantly into some secret refuge, and to remain there until the great Howarth had despatched an urgent message to Clarges Street.

In the general’s mind Isherwood was from that moment a man to be watched—a suspect.

His tielessness was to have been the self-mockery of a day, but Isherwood found the experiment so intriguing that he continued to go about offending against the normal prejudices of his fellows. Also, it must be confessed, that he discovered a mischievous pleasure in being different. He enjoyed the self-conscious smirk of the nonconformist. His pose was not quite forgetful of mirrors.

He became aware of a subtle change in the atmosphere of Jerrys. He found himself being observed over the tops of books and newspapers. He was a case, a suspect. The attitude of the club towards him was one of kind but silent suspicion. He more than suspected that the absence of Isherwood’s tie was discussed at the meetings of the house committee.

Yet he had not changed. He was the same Isherwood. All that had happened centred itself about a minor deficiency in his toilet. And yet, absurd though it seemed, his whole life and its atmosphere was being altered by the absence of a tie.

Men avoided him. Insensibly he became isolated. And then, one day at lunch, Sir Morton Prince came and seated himself at the table where Isherwood sat solitary in his corner by one of the windows.

Sir Morton smiled at him. He had the head of a sagacious and a kindly satyr, and he was one of the most noted of alienists. Isherwood could claim him as a club acquaintance.

“Very dark in here these days. I don’t wonder that you prefer a window.”

He gave Isherwood a look of veiled shrewdness.

“Yes, Sir Morton, like Goethe my cry is for more light.”

Sir Morton reached for the menu card, and while he was evolving his lunch, Isherwood indulged in silent comments.

“I’ll bet that he has been asked by the committee to come and tactfully investigate my mental state. I’m a case!”

Sir Morton, having ordered his lunch, beamed upon Isherwood and engaged him in conversation. Sir Morton was an amusing conversationalist, and Isherwood played up to him. They discussed bobbed heads and Wembley, and the language of Labour, and Sir Morton got nothing out of Isherwood. The fellow was as sound and as rosy as a well-ripened apple.

Afterwards, Sir Morton met the secretary and one or two paternal committee men in a corner of the deserted library.

“The fellow seems as sane as I am. But—then—of course—one has to remember that some of these cases begin in this way. Just a faint crack in a man’s sanity, some seemingly trivial lapse——”

“But what are we to do about it?”

“What can you do about it? You can’t ask a member of Isherwood’s standing to resign because he omits to wear a tie. Of course—had it been trousers——”

It was agreed that the case was one for observation.

Nevertheless, some officious friend communicated with Isherwood’s relatives, and on returning to Clarges Street one afternoon he found Grace Lambrick—his married sister—sitting in his drawing-room. She lived in Devonshire. Her first glance betrayed to Isherwood the esoteric significance of her visit.

“Hallo, Gracie, I didn’t know you were in town!”

“Oh, just up for some shopping!”

“Well, you can pour out my tea.”

She never referred to the absence of his tie, though she had been putting Verity through a careful cross-examination. She talked about the children, and how Jack had got into the Eton boat, and about Lambrick’s bronchitis, and how horribly difficult it was to get servants. And she went away puzzled. She refused to dine with him at Claridges. She had a bit of a head, “shopping, you know,” and she was catching the Exeter express on the morrow.

“Poor old Gracie,” thought Isherwood; “she couldn’t face Claridges with a man without a tie. Well, I don’t blame her.”

A moment later, old Isumbras Isherwood—his uncle—dropped down out of the sky. Isumbras was a rather abrupt person; he lived in Sussex, and believed in calling a dung-heap exactly what it was.

“Look here, my boy, what’s all this about your not wearing a tie?”

“So you have heard about it?”

“I should think I have! Well, what about it?”

“Exactly,” said Isherwood, “what about it?”

Their conversation developed towards an extreme frankness, and Uncle Isumbras left Clarges Street with the air of a man who has had a difference of opinion with his solicitor.

“Damned rot!”

His philosophy of life could carry him no farther.

The experiment had proved both uncomfortable and interesting, and Isherwood had discovered that when once you had shocked your fellow-men boldly and conscientiously, the worst was over. It resembled the taking of a cold plunge. You came out greatly invigorated. But the result depended upon your boldness. There had to be no self-conscious flinching, and society stared boldly in the face and defied like a fussy old woman, would proceed to cover the rebel’s nakedness with seemly excuses. “The eccentric Mr. Isherwood.” To label a man eccentric will still allow him to leave a card on your hall table.

But Isherwood discovered more than this. He discovered loneliness. It was all very well to have a jest against your class fellows, but the jest needed sharing, and preferably by a woman.

Deplorable bachelor that he was! Even the phlegmatic Verity treated him as a potential lunatic.

Conversely, it was necessary for him to remain consistent, for, having proved his courage in going tieless through London, he could share the jest only with a woman who could show equal courage.

And Isherwood was sure that such a woman did not exist.

None the less, some six months ago he had contemplated the possibility of a second marriage, but he had not moved beyond contemplation, perhaps because the one most possible woman had gone to Malta for the winter. There were at least half a dozen other women who had been ready to oblige him, but he had no doubt that his tieless collar had cured them of their complacency. He was suspect.

But Sanchia—Sanchia Mordaunt?

He had always credited her with a sense of humour, and his newly discovered loneliness emphasized Sanchia’s aloofness. One of those tall, dark, supple and rather silent women. Her silences had rendered the ordinary social babblers inarticulate. A man can be a very shy bird at forty-seven, and Isherwood had been very shy of eager women.

But what would Sanchia think of his quixotry? Would it matter to her that he had discarded his tie? Would she understand the inwardness of his puckish protest?

Their meeting was sudden and unheralded. It happened at the corner of New Bond Street, and for the first time since the beginning of his experiment Isherwood was false to his ideal. He regretted the absence of a tie.

“Hallo! So you are back again?”

She smiled at him, and he had a sudden feeling that he had nothing to fear from her deep eyes.

“I have been back for a month. And what have you been doing?”

“Oh, playing the fool!” he said.

She seemed quite unaware of the absence of his tie. She did not look at him with the diagnostic eyes of a doctor. In fact, he detected a little glimmer of sympathetic mischief somewhere beneath the polished surface of her serenity.

“It does one good,” she observed.

“You think so?”

“Some of it. Provided——”

“Provided one knows where to stop?”

“Exactly.”

Isherwood faced the crisis.

“Which way are you going?”

“Park Lane way.”

“May I——?”

She gave him a glance of subtly expressed surprise.

“Of course,” it said. “Why be so formal?”

They turned and walked along Piccadilly, and Isherwood began to repent of his momentary falseness. He had had a moment of illumination. The seal of his seeming eccentricity might prove a secret sign, a Masonic symbol. Sanchia had accepted it and had said nothing. She sailed along beside him like a tranquil young goddess, and when her eyes met his he felt that she was laughing with him at the world’s conventions.

“Heavens!” he thought, “she’s enjoying it! She’s not afraid.”

They entered the park, and wandering through it with the leisureliness of two people who were mutually appreciative they sat down on two chairs overlooking the water. And Isherwood smiled. He prepared for the final ordeal.

“Doing anything to-night?”

“No.”

“I want to ask you to dine with me somewhere. Will you?”

“I should love it.”

“Even with the eccentric Martin Isherwood?”

“Yes,” she said; and her glance was a laughing acceptance of the challenge.

“Splendid,” he said; “I have a sort of feeling that Diogenes can come out of his tub.”

They had been observed, and without their having noticed the observer; but, about half-past three that afternoon, an old friend called upon Sanchia Mordaunt at her flat in Ashley Gardens. The visitor was one of those eagerly affectionate persons, and a very modern type, with an effusive manner and a cold eye.

“My dear, I should have been here before, but I have been down in the country. And I suppose you have had a gorgeous time. Yes, of course. And I want to hear all about it.”

From women who “my deared” you Sanchia always expected the Judas kiss. Also, Molly Courthope was widow, ingenious, absurdly youthful, with a ginger coloured and shingled head. And Sanchia remained expectant. She gave the snake a cigarette and made it curl itself up on the sofa.

“Well, what’s the news?”

“Our news? Oh, nothing very startling. Vi Carver has run off with a jockey; and poor Marie has twins.”

“What a lapse!”

“And Martin Isherwood. I suppose you have heard about poor old Martin?”

“No. What is Martin’s trouble?”

“Clean off his nut, you know—goes about without a tie, and doesn’t know people. His relations are awfully worried.”

“How sad,” said Sanchia serenely; “poor old Martin. Does it run in the family?”

“No. That is why they are so annoyed. I believe some of his people want to get him certified.”

“Quite harmless, I suppose?”

Mrs. Courthope was not quite sure.

“I hear he has awful rages.”

Having planted the poison Mrs. Courthope threw away the stump of her third cigarette, carefully powdered her nose, and then passed breezily on to her next social duty.

“So long, old dear. I’ve got to dance at the Miskins. Fed up with dancing.”

Sanchia followed her to the door.

“Yes, it does get a bit boring. I’m thinking of returning to the country and taking up gardening.”

She smiled, and her smile should have suggested to Molly Courthope that Sanchia had discovered the antidote to the particular social poison that the brisk widow always carried under her tongue.

Sanchia dressed herself with particular care, and if her mirror was a candid friend, at least it was a kind one. Punctually at 7.45 her taxi deposited her at the doorway of the St. Cloud. Isherwood was waiting for her in the foyer. He wore no tie.

Her level eyes met his, and did not drop below his collar, and in Isherwood’s eyes there was a new homage.

“I make my obeisance,” he said.

She smiled.

“To me?”

“To a brave woman.”

They stood considering each other for a moment in the crowded and conventionally fashionable foyer. Then Isherwoood offered her his arm.

“You said brave.”

“I did.”

“Might it not be designing?”

He glanced down at her.

“I think not. Courage and a sense of humour—what!”

The head-waiter met them, and with discreet composure bowed them to the table that Isherwood had reserved.

“The wine list, sir?”

“Please.”


The great Howarth was sorting letters behind his glass screen when Mr. Martin Isherwood made his next appearance at Jerrys.

“ ’Morning, Howarth, any letters for me?”

Howarth was never guilty of staring, but he could not help being interested in the fact that Mr. Isherwood was wearing a tie, and the particular sort of tie that well-dressed men considered it necessary for them to wear at the moment.

“One letter, sir.”

“Thank you, Howarth.”

Mr. Isherwood ascended the steps leaving Howarth to reflect upon the phenomenon.

“Never seen him better dressed, or looking fitter. Now, what’s Mr. Isherwood been at?”

Jerrys asked the same question, but the club was never honoured with a satisfactory answer, unless of course it could be expected to disentangle an answer from a subsequent announcement in the Morning Post that a marriage had been arranged between Mr. Martin Isherwood and Miss Sanchia Mordaunt.


THE GREAT SAABA BRIDGE

There is in man a ferocity that turns to stand at bay with bared teeth when Nature balks it—the old Ajax spirit—ready to give blow for blow and curse for curse, but in the man of highly civilized contrivings the struggle is driven inwards. Therefore, indeed, it may be more grim and protracted, more full of wanton and casual interference on Nature’s part, more stiff with hatred and defiance for the man.

The looker-on may be deeply involved in the struggle, or merely mischievously curious, but in the matter of the Saaba Bridge, Grace Ramsden was sunk in it to the lips and eyes, silently perhaps, for the woman’s part may be a silent one.

She had learnt to smile and to keep quiet, and to show a courage that is all the greater because it has to support in silence the courage of another. She passed the days and nights in that scorched and simmering tin bungalow on the dusty hillside, worn thin with the summer heat, waiting upon the gruff and fiercely combative moods of a man who once had loved her.

In a way, she supposed, he loved her still, but like a man in a delirium, or like one half dazed and all bloody with giving blows and taking them.

“I’m his shield-bearer,” was all that she could say to herself. “If I fail him he will fail too.”

She sat in a deck-chair on the stoep of their bungalow, watching the tawniness of the landscape turn to orange, with the mountains tinted blue. Below her lay the Saaba River, muddy and sluggish, oiling its way sulkily in its central and circuitous channel, with all the strong flood-flats beside it looking scorched and hateful.

She saw the grey sweep of her husband’s bridge, the huts and workshops, the dumps of stone and timber, the ant-like swarming of men, the railway line, a little puffing engine—fussy and self-assertive. She hated the scene and loved it; it was both hell and a dimly divined heaven.

She heard a whistle blowing. The little black figures began to swarm in one direction, pouring over the scorched soil, or moving like dots along the threaded girders of the bridge. The work of the day was over. Ramsden would be coming back, tired, fierce, absorbed, to feed upon her patience and her courage, to wallow in it, to suck it up with dry and thirsty lips. Not knowing——Yes, he did not seem to know.

She saw him coming up the slope, carrying his sun-helmet, his jacket slung over his left shoulder, the lean length of him bent a little. His eyes were on the ground, moodily, as though searching for something that he had lost and did not hope to find. He looked all brown, save his teeth, and the whites of his eyes, and even they had a muddy tinge.

Tired, yes, fiercely tired, and vaguely resentful. That was how he came home to her day by day, a sort of unhappy and morose caricature of the man whom she had married.

She smothered a sigh, and forced aside a sudden sense of depression, conscious while she did it of a moment of impatience. Was she never to be allowed to be irritable or depressed, but always to be ready with the unsoured milk of her kindness?

He came up to her through the patch of soil where she had struggled to make a garden, and had fought with the sun and the drought, and had given up. She had to fight Ramsden’s nature without making a war of her own. It was sufficient.

“Your bath’s ready, Jack.”

He looked at her feet as though he did not see them, but was still in a tense world of strains and stresses.

“Right.”

She did not ask him any questions. He had come to be in that state when a man resents questions.

“A perfectly wretched day.”

She made a movement in her chair as though preparing herself to meet something, to support a weight, and to do it with an assumption of ease. Sympathy. That was the woman’s milk, and he drained her of it each day.

“I’m sorry. The men—again?”

“Those infernal riveters. A deputation—threats. Well—I settled them——If the fools will only get on with the job.”

He flung his coat into a chair, and stood looking down over the parched hill-side to the bridge—his bridge.

“Only another month—before we break our contract. It’s damnable——”

She seemed to steady herself with her two hands on the arms of the chair. She too was tired, desperately tired, but Ramsden was never aware of it.

“You’ll do it,” she said.

She watched his face, gaunt and brown and moody, with its hollow chin and the bony nose that seemed to be pushing through the skin. There was something in his eyes that always made her courage rise on a surge of compassion.

“If I had a decent second. Moody’s a cad. Of course he wants to see me crash——”

“But you won’t,” she said in her gentle voice; “go and have your bath. Ching will have dinner ready by the time you have changed.”

It is said that women are less just than men, but Grace Ramsden was more than just to her husband. She allowed him his provocations, for Ramsden had had to deal with interferences that would have maddened a much more level-tempered man.

At Saaba they had had epidemics of sickness, strikes, an exasperating mishandling of the transport of the material for the bridge, a sky like a glowing metal dome, flies, mosquitoes, and Heaven knows what. As Ramsden put it: “An offended Jehovah might have emptied all the plagues of Egypt on the place.”

And he had to carry on, to meet and overcome all the various interferences, to smother his own rages, to speak reasonably to unceasing fools, to placate the fussiness of people nearer home. His good temper was less potent than his pride.

For the Saaba Bridge was to be his collar of honour or a chain of failure. He had done the lesser things, working steadily upwards towards that big moment in a man’s life when all that is in him and all that he has learnt are gathered and thrown into the effort that will make him master. The Saaba Bridge was the edge of Ramsden’s plateau; there were other men who would rejoice to see him go slithering down from it.

He had had to fight jealousy, secret opposition, inertia, the various stupidities. He knew that he had a little clique against him away yonder where men sat in office chairs. He appeared to some men as a haughty and irascible beast, a fellow with insulting silences. Yes, some of them would like to see him down.

At dinner that night he said little. He had his usual self-absorbed stare. The elderly and almost hairless Chinaman moving about the room was not more silent. It was this silence that bore most heavily upon his wife, for she was one of those women with a brown warmth of eyes and hair, a sanguine creature, most happy when she was giving.

And on this night she felt that she must talk or stifle. All day she had been suffering from a spasm of home-sickness, a yearning for that moist greenness that was England, the smell of it. Another month, the twelfth in this yellow brazier of a valley—and then——!

She felt that she could not bear much more, even for his sake.

“Only another month, Jack.”

He gave her a vague glance.

“A month——?”

“Leave. They must give you leave. Six months. You need it.”

“Oh—I’m all right.”

She said gently:

“We both need it. Grey skies. One’s brain gets scorched. Think of green fields——”

But it was obvious to her that he could not think of them. He had the eyes of a man who had been staring into the open door of a furnace, and he could see nothing but the glare of it, the glare of his immediate purpose. All else was blotted out.

Afterwards he did not stay with her, but lit a cigar and took the smell of it with him out into the night, as though out there he would find some assuagement for his restlessness. A full moon was up, beautiful or beastly according to your mood, but there was a soreness in Ramsden that resented the moon. He wanted darkness like a cool compress laid upon his soul, utter darkness; he wanted to think, for if your mind must go round and round like an animal in a cage it is better that the cage should be a dark one.

Ramsden’s mind was working in a circle, an eternal circle of strains and stresses, thrusts and breaking weights, and all the complicated histology of that bridge of his. There are moments when a man is attacked by leering doubts, and Ramsden, irritable and tired, was like a lamp to the moths of worry.

Had he got everything right? Had he allowed sufficiently for every malignancy of Nature, for wind and water, scour and flood? Was the stuff what it should be? He had had his doubts. He had had to fight the miserable economies of men in chairs, economies that might bring a man’s good name crashing, and lose other men their lives.

And Moody?

That big, well-oiled, slimy brute! He did not trust Moody, and yet he had had to trust him.

Craft pride! Could a man be false to it?

He sat down on a rock and smoked, while up yonder his wife, sitting alone in a lighted room, and turning the pages of an old illustrated paper that showed her England, heard footsteps. She paused to listen, with one page half turned, and her eyes on the open doorway. Loneliness sat in her eyes, the loneliness that only a woman knows.

A voice said:

“Excuse me, is your husband at home?”

She was startled. She knew to whom that fat and well-oiled voice belonged, and she saw the dim shape of the man on the stoep.

“Oh, it is you, Mr. Moody. Come in. My husband has gone for a stroll.”

He came in, a big fat man, too fat for his age, brown, loose-lipped, self-assured. His round thighs showed through his trousers. He was going bald, and he grew his hair in a rolled and shiny fringe over the nape of his neck. His blue eyes were adventurous and shifty.

“Mr. Ramsden back soon?”

“Yes. Please sit down.”

“I wanted to ask him about something.”

The light from the hanging lamp fell full upon him as he let his largeness down into a rocking-chair. There were little blue gleams in his eyes; he looked at her as a man of his type looks at most women.

And instantly a queer cunning stirred in her. Her mind grasped it as her hand might have grasped a knife. The man was false; she knew it, but she did not know how false. But if she knew——

She smiled at him.

“Have a drink——”

She saw those eyes of his react to hers.

“I don’t mind——”

“I’ll get it——”

“Oh, let me——”

“No—sit still. I know you are tired.”

She mixed him his drink and he allowed her to bring it to him, while he looked up at her with an adventurous inquiry in his eyes. Their fingers touched as he took the glass, and rocking himself slightly in the chair he thought:

“Ha, ha, you’re a warm creature, and you are beginning to find that man of leather a bit dull.”

He smiled and raised the glass to her.

“Good luck! In this confounded climate—one must—you know. Doesn’t seem to trouble you, though.”

The compliment was slimy, and edged with insolence, but she took it as her first score!

“You don’t think so?”

“Hardly. How do you manage it?”

She laughed.

“Cold storage, Mr. Moody.”

“Come,” said he after a second drink, “I have been Mr. Moody rather a long time. Why not Frank?”

She sat at the table with her chin on her hands.

“Oh, perhaps! Frankness is welcome at times. And I’m—a little bit bored.”

“Now?”

His audacity began to swagger.

“No—with life—the bridge—and everything about the bridge.”

“Sick of it?”

“Yes.”

She played with him awhile, meeting his half-amorous persiflage with masked eyes and a set smile. She let him drift more and more into a splurge of confidences, and when she had him roped she drew the noose to a sudden purpose.

“Tell me about the bridge.”

“Does the bridge matter?”

“It does. To me. Can’t you understand? It is a sort of nightmare, a curse. I get it everywhere and every way. I want to be done with it.”

He looked at her narrowly over his glass.

“What way?”

“I want it finished and done with. Then—we can all of us—get away down to civilization and shops.”

He laughed, rocking himself in the chair.

“Live the life, eh? Well—what about this confounded bridge?”

“He—is worrying himself—sick about it. I get all the worries—transferred—I can’t stand much more of it. It is all imagination—isn’t it? You know.”

“What?”

“The bridge is all right? Safe? Some of the nightmare would lift if I felt sure.”

She felt his little hot blue eyes fixed on her, and she made herself meet them as she knew he wished her to meet them.

“You are asking me?”

“Some men have plenty of nerve. Inspire confidence. One knows—that when——”

He smiled at her.

“Yes—I don’t get rattled.”

“That’s what I mean. Do tell me, Frank, as an engineer, what you really think. I know that as an engineer——”

She was aware of a sudden queer change in him, of a something serious and stable behind the shimmerings of sex. She had appealed to the craftsman, the creator.

“The bridge is all right—absolutely. Don’t you worry.”

“I’m glad,” she said, and hearing her husband’s footsteps, rose with a sudden smile at the man in the chair, a smile that left him perched on an illusion.

“Oh, Jack. Mr. Moody’s here. I thought you would not be long.”

And she left the two men together.

Indifference walks through life so easily, unwounded and unbleeding, for those who care most suffer most. And Grace Ramsden cared. There are certain things about which men will not lie, for lying about them would be as unnatural as talking away the honour of your wife, and Grace Ramsden felt very sure that Moody had not lied to her.

The bridge was sound, but the scheming and the building of it had strained the soundness of her husband. And more than that; it had turned him into a hard-eyed fanatic, a man who has lost the power of sympathy and almost the power of speech. The bridge was in his brain, like a monstrous spider, devouring all other impressions, so that his consciousness had become a thing of steel, of overstrained and complaining metal.

There were times during the month that followed when Ramsden’s wife asked that the Saaba Bridge might vanish in the night. It was taking her husband and comrade from her, raising a barrier between them.

It was his, and she had been proud of all that was his, but in those last days she began to be jealous, and bitterly afraid. She had to bear with her man’s frettings. Almost she felt like a mother trying to be patient with a son in the blind ecstasy of a first unpropitious love affair.

She repeated the same phrases.

“Don’t worry, Jack; it will be all right.”

His moodiness was exhausting her. She felt herself becoming like him, irritable, suspicious, querulous. There were times when her jealousy threatened to burst into flame, this absurd jealousy inspired by a thing of steel. She could have cried out:

“Damn your bridge. Oh, run away and live with it. I’m nothing, a mere woman.”

Nor was this the limit of her fear. There was that night when she could not sleep because of the heat, and getting up from beside him, went out and stood upon the stoep to feel the darkness and the stars, those alien stars, and in looking down towards the Saaba Bridge she had realized that this structure of steel and stone was but symbolical. It symbolized her husband’s craft, the passion of the creator.

He was like a man destined to have many love affairs, and this was the first of them. And she——?

She would have to stand aside and watch and wait, and perhaps now and then in the empty pauses he would come back to her, and expect to find in her the same woman. And she, a woman, starved, denied for months at a time her full free right of self-expression, would be expected to open her arms, to give herself, to make a soft cushion of her starveling love.

“I can’t bear it!” was her cry. “I can’t bear it.”

Yet, with that very cry in her heart she knew that she would have to bear it; for, through all time—woman has been a bearer of burdens. She may rebel. She may shake the burden from her shoulders, but bare shoulders do not carry happiness, or that which is more important than happiness, the realization of the inevitableness of our human fate.

She went back to her room and found Ramsden awake.

“What’s wrong, Gracie?”

“Oh, the heat. I wanted air.”

“You’ll find it easier in the cooler season.”

As she stood by the bed, a dim figure hardly visible in the darkness, he seemed to divine in her an equally shadowy distress, and a distress that was not physical. He came out of his steel cage for a moment.

“You have stuck it very pluckily, old girl. Only another week or two.”

She sat down on the edge of the bed, her whole self softened and reaching out to him.

“Oh, it’s my part of the job, Jack! And when it is over——”

Her hand met one of his.

“We’ll have a fortnight’s haymaking.”

“No more than that?”

He was silent for a moment, and she waited eagerly in the warm silence.

“I’ve been thinking, Gracie—you ought to have a change. There is no reason why you should not take six months in England.”

“Alone?”

“It is good for people to be alone sometimes.”

“I know. But you——?”

“There’s that big irrigation scheme in the Kaarhi Valley. After this—I ought to get it. We shall have to build a monster dam.”

She held her breath.

“How long will that take?”

“A three years’ job—perhaps.”

His voice sounded resonant and eager, and she was conscious of a sudden spasm of despair. A three years’ job in this ghastly country, three years of striving and self-absorption, of moods and silences. The Kaarhi Valley Dam would be his second love—while she——

Her courage failed her. She had to fight back her tears, while her hand gripped him as though she felt him slipping away from her.

“Jack—I’m not so strong as I was. Won’t you take me home for six months, and let the Kaarhi Valley go?”

She was aware of tenseness in the silence. His fingers seemed to stiffen.

“My dear girl—I can’t.”

“Can’t?”

“It has taken me ten years to push my way; I’m just on the peak. The Kaarhi Valley will be the biggest thing yet. I can’t let it go if it comes my way. A man has to go on.”

She bowed her head.

“And a woman, too,” she thought, “following behind, breathless and hungry. I haven’t the strength.”

She saw him climbing away from her into the clouds of his strivings and creatings, while she followed like an unnoticed shadow.

Aloud she said:

“It is your life, Jack. I suppose a man has to choose. I’m very proud, of course; I shall always be proud. But don’t forget me—quite——”

He was astonished.

“Why—aren’t you here? We are doing things together, aren’t we?”

How little he understood her! And she left it at that.

During those last days of the bridge’s growth when the last rivets were being hammered, and the masons were pointing the stonework of the piers and facing the embankments with stone, Grace Ramsden sat on the stoep of the bungalow and looked down upon her husband’s world. It might have been her world, too, had he been one of those men who have the knack of taking a woman by the hand.

Married comradeship, that most difficult and blessed of comradeships, can be made so easy, but Ramsden was one of those men to whom the sentiment of life is no more than the unseen oil in the machine’s bearings. He took things for granted, and his wife was among the things.

She felt that she had lost him, the real, conscious, comradely self of him, and that nothing would give him back to her. His work had absorbed him. And sometimes there is humiliation as well as heart-ache in a woman’s loneliness.

“I’m no more use. And yet—why should I think of being a mere useful thing? A woman has rights.”

Rights—yes! But what are rights, elusive personal perquisites which we wring from life and try to believe them ours. For things come of themselves, haphazard, unexpectedly. Plan, and you are deceived. She knew it. She knew, too, that the only wisdom may be in waiting, and that the flower fades in the clutching hand.

His face looked dark and thin, and obscure, when he came back to her one evening. She wondered. A woman does so much wondering. He stood a moment beside her chair before going in to his bath, but he told her nothing. That was his way now.

When he came in to dinner she saw that he was wearing a suit of drill. She observed it, and said nothing, and watched him eat like a worried man in a hurry. She felt on edge, and the meaningless words that passed between them were like sand-grains rubbed into a raw surface.

“Going out again?” she asked at last.

He stared at his glass.

“Got to.”

“Nothing wrong?”

“News from up-country. Storms. They work down the river—usually.”

“Rains? Flood water?”

He nodded curtly.

“Yes—that’s it.”

And then he added savagely:

“A month too early, before the time. Just like my luck. Start to build something and you provoke the Devil.”

Certainly, the devil of Nature’s casual inevitableness was upon the builders of the Saaba Bridge weeks and hours before they had calculated upon her wet interference.

Ramsden was away half the night, and came back morosely tired, with news of rising water and the work that would have to be done on the morrow; and when Grace Ramsden looked out from her window over the Saaba Valley she saw that the river had spread, and that its tawny width was oozing into other channels.

Ramsden, on the stoep, was looking up with a face of thunder at an ominous sky, and biting hard on his pipe. She joined him there, and his moroseness was like the moroseness of some man before a battle.

“Look at that!”

He pointed with the stem of his pipe.

“All that lumber to be cleared away above flood level before nightfall! And the sky getting angry—already. We should have had another month.”

He went down to his labours, teeth showing behind tight lips, and all through the day the river channel swarmed with little black figures clearing away timber dumps and piles of stores, but some hours before darkness fell the storm burst upon them. It seemed to come out of a thundering and purple sky with the suddenness of a mighty bomb exploding, bringing darkness with it and lightning and a roar of wind and rain.

Ramsden’s wife had never seen such rain. It steamed and rattled on the iron roof; it blotted out everything. The shutters, blowing loose, creaked and clashed. Outside in that deluge she could picture the yellow Saaba River lifting a tawny head.

Hours passed, and the darkness of the storm became the darkness of the night. No message came to her. The howling valley below would be full of desperate and striving men; the woman would be forgotten.

The Chinaman, looking like a scared and sandy cat, brought in dinner, but she could not touch it. She sat on and on, wondering, vaguely aware of some crisis in her life, their lives.

About midnight, a queer silence fell—comparative silence—though she fancied that she could hear the hoarse voice of the river. The rain and the wind had ceased. A surprising glimmer of moonlight flickered down.

She was standing in the doorway when she heard voices, a muffled muttering, and the squelching of feet in the soaked soil. She was aware of a stillness within her, a sudden vivid presentiment.

“Gently—gently.”

A figure drew into the light, squat and square; she recognized Campbell—the company’s doctor.

“Mrs. Ramsden——”

He stood there wet and ominous, a man bringing some solemn news out of the night.

“There has been an accident,” she said.

She saw his glistening sun-helmet move.

“Yes; your husband. A piece of timber hit him. No—not that. Rather bad—but not that.”

Her calmness did not astonish him, for in his life he had met the courage of women.

“He is there?”

“Yes.”

She stood back.

“Will you bring him in. I—can help you.”

In the night a man’s moanings and the doctor’s careful words made her understand that the Saaba River had given her husband back to her. It had broken him and thrown him at her feet. She had gone out for a moment with Dr. Campbell into the dining-room, and he had told her the truth.

“A fractured spine, low down—luckily. Yes—he ought to get over it. Too early to say yet—you know—how much will remain.”

He had been puzzled by her full, clear eyes.

“Will he be the same?”

“Impossible to say just yet. A long time. Probably not. Much will depend on the nursing.”

And then she heard her husband’s voice from the inner room.

“Gracie—Gracie—I want you.”

She stayed with him all that night, and when the morphia had put him to sleep she sat holding his hand, for he had fallen asleep holding firmly to her hand. A strange happiness possessed her, and mingled with it a profound and gentle compassion. She did not want to sleep—and when the dawn came, she was still there with her hand in his.

About an hour after dawn he woke, looked at her and sighed. His lips moved; she bent her head to his.

“Gracie—dear—don’t leave me——”

A slight frown creased his forehead; his eyes grew suddenly anxious.

“The bridge——?”

She laid his hand on the bed, pressed it with hers, and getting up went out to find the sun shining. The Saaba River was a great swirling yellow flood, but Ramsden’s bridge stood over it like a master.

She smiled, and behind her smile tears quivered. Her exultation was a double one. She went back to the dim room, and kissed him on the forehead.

“Your bridge stands—dear, safe and sure.”

He looked at her and muttered something that sounded:

“Like a woman’s love.”


THE BLUE TULIP

To thousands of garden enthusiasts the name of Horatio Best must be pressingly familiar.

Best’s Bulbs are the Best Bulbs.

A great advertiser, with a fine declamatory style, he had caught some of the Dutch spirit, and his genial greetings were there upon thousands of breakfast tables with the porridge and the toast. That he had no modesty goes without saying. He was modern and enterprising and sentimental, shouting succulent slush at the great public, crying up the beauties of his tulips and his hyacinths and his lilies as though he were selling Circassian beauties to hot-blooded pashas.

He had a great fondness for pretty pictures in which he cultivated the “child idea.”

No Garden is Complete Without a Child—or Best’s Bulbs.

And having no young children of his own, but only one daughter—Miss Flora Irene Best—aged three-and-twenty, he imported young maidens from Kings Barton, presented them with their tea and a shilling a-piece, and had them photographed among his flowers. For his catalogues he would label the pictures “Innocence”—or “Beautiful Children grow in Beautiful gardens like Best’s Beautiful Bulbs.”

Now in Mr. Best’s nurseries at Kings Barton there was a certain foreman named Robert Maskray, a quiet, reticent, flaxen-haired creature whom Mr. Best always considered a bit of a fool.

As the world wags these days there is no doubt that Robert Maskray had no tail. He was religious, with a dreamy and a visionary other-worldliness that moved gently among the flowers, contentedly loving them for themselves and not as children of commerce. He read a great deal. He had an austere mouth, and blue eyes that always seemed to be looking beyond the Best scheme of things; but he was reliable and very intelligent—if a little slow.

In his brisk moods, when business was booming, Mr. Best would sometimes show a teasing playfulness in his attitude to Bob Maskray. He was a facetious little man; the sort who, in the old days, wore a hard felt hat and side whiskers and shaved his long and keen and cunning upper lip.

“How’s Clara Butt this year, Bob?”

Maskray would look at his employer with those slow and serene blue eyes of his, and answer with vague solemnity:

“Very well, Mr. Best, thank you.”

Maskray had no sense of humour, being one of those men born with a great capacity for reverence and wonder and a feeling for the beautiful. He would have made an ideal gardener in heaven, scattering grape hyacinths over the Elysian fields and spreading over the blessed valleys legions of fragrant narcissi.

“Writing any more poetry, Bob?”

The man’s slow and solemn blush was curious.

“No, sir; not exactly.”

“Better do me some verses for the adverts, or the catalogue. Nice and pink and juicy, Bob.”

Maskray took people seriously.

“Might try, sir.”

He did not tell Mr. Best that he had written sonnets to the black hair and eyes and cottage-maid cheeks of Flora Irene, Mr. Best’s daughter.

Now a wonderful thing happened to Robert Maskray in the spring of 1924. He had a cottage and a small parcel of ground beyond Kings Barton Bridge, at the back of the Mordaunt almshouses, where he lived alone, with a woman coming in occasionally to cook and wash and scrub. Even during his moments of leisure he was a gardener, experimenting with sweet peas and tulips and narcissi, and trying for new strains in violas and delphiniums.

A small greenhouse—a tenant’s fixture—stood at the back of his cottage, and in this spring of 1924 it sheltered, among other things, some pots of Darwin tulips raised from some crossed seed three or four seasons back. These young bulbs had never bloomed. Maskray’s interest in them was less fervent than it might have been, simply because his unsophisticated soul had sprouted the wings of a hopeless and romantic love.

These tulip bulbs were sending up their flower stalks, with the fat, green, spear-shaped buds rising a foot or more in the air, and after a day or two’s sunlight the greenness began to blush—red, rose and purple.

Maskray had returned after the day’s work and had had his tea. He was sad, sad as only an obscure lover can be when the great lady who was not quite so great as to be utterly beyond him, had passed mercilessly through her father’s nurseries in search of flowers. Poor Robert had put himself in the way, and had been removed from it with indifferent frankness.

“I haven’t come here to waste your time.”

Yes, of course he was employed to help in the production of Best’s bulbs, and not to select flowers for the daughter.

Egregious Bob! With pocketed hands he wandered out into the garden and into his greenhouse, looking at nothing in particular, for the snub was sore in him. Flowers! What were flowers—after all—when the one particular and heavenly flower——?

And then his head gave a little attentive jerk. He was looking at one of the pots of tulips, the last pot in the row.

“It can’t be,” said the voice of the gardener in him. “It can’t be. I’m dreaming.”

But he wasn’t. He frowned, blinked his blue eyes—and went nearer. His face expressed extreme astonishment, for one of the tulip’s buds was showing a clear gentian blue.

“Someone’s been fooling,” was his thought.

But how could anyone fool him with a flower and turn a pot upside down and dip one bloom of the three in a pot of dye? The other flowers were a rich red, and they seemed to enhance the miraculous blueness of that other blossom.

He felt weak at the knees. He picked up the pot and scrutinized the amazing flower, while a voice prattled in him of primary colours and of the impossibility of his having produced a blue tulip by any trick of hybridization. To put it genteelly—“The thing wasn’t done.” But the blueness of that flower was supremely undeniable. He was not colour-blind.

And then the man’s mystic bent betrayed itself. He put the pot back on the staging with a reverent carefulness and went down on his knees.

“God’s given it me. Didn’t I pray for something? God’s sent an answer.”

Now, somehow, from that very wonderful moment his blue tulip became mixed up in Robert Maskray’s soul with the image of Flora Irene Best. He christened it “Irene,” but no one knew. Oh, yes, no one knew. The only blue tulip bulb in the world, and it belonged to him!

Meanwhile there could be no penny press sensation. That precious bulb had to be watched and cherished like something sacred, and another year would elapse before it could bloom a second time. Yes—that would be the proof of its sincerity, a second blueness to prove that it had not played on Robert Maskray some Puckish trick. And then—its progeny, those tiny bulbils, and another two or three years of waiting till the children bloomed and assured him of their likeness to their parent.

In three years’ time Robert Maskray would be thirty-seven, and Flora Irene twenty-six. A multitude of things can happen in three years. Husband, children——

Grievously was he tempted to go to Mr. Horatio Best and to whisper to him:

“I—Robert Maskray—have raised a blue tulip!”

But there was a Quakerish thoroughness in the man that held him back from seeking the immediate effect. He was cautious, conscientious; he wanted to be sure. If he had to wait for his Rachel until he could show to an astonished world a young family of blue-flowered tulips, well—that was nature and the Bible. Maskray had some of the qualities of a fanatic.

Yet the secret dominated him. He went about carrying with him the thought of that precious tulip—dried and dormant and locked away in his old oak desk. He smiled secret smiles; he had the air of a man conscious of divine favour, of being one of the chosen. Even Mr. Horatio Best noticed a change in him; the shy, reticent creature exhaled a puzzling perfume of mingled humility and arrogance.

It was so evident that Mr. Best remarked on it to his daughter.

“Bob Maskray’s going soft in the head.”

Miss Best was not interested in Robert Maskray. She bloomed like a rose and was as cold as a winter hellebore. Her romance—when admitted—was to be of a suitable dignity. Kings Barton was Kings Barton simply because Mr. Best’s bulbs had made it a household word.

“He’s a silly creature,” she observed. “What has he been doing?”

“Nothing extraordinary.”

Mr. Best had a second helping of roast mutton.

“Love or religious mania or something. He has got a queer smile these days, and talks like the Bible. Why, he couldn’t let me by the common white lilies without quoting scripture.”

“ ‘Solomon in all his glory?’ ”

“Precisely so,” said her father. “Begins to make you wonder when one of your foremen starts quoting scripture.”

Miss Best thought it a bad sign.

“I’d sack him. Remember Bates—who used to preach on Sundays?”

“Yes,” said her father grimly; “and I caught him on the Saturday going forth with his pockets full of lilium auratum.”

But Robert Maskray was not sacked. There was nothing that he could be reproached with, and a queer, seraphic, secret smile cannot be charged as a sin. He continued to worship from afar, as though he had planted Flora Irene in a pot in his greenhouse and was waiting for the great consummation. But the dear fool had some worldly wisdom.

He fitted a second and more complex lock to the door of his greenhouse, and two weeks before the miraculous bulb’s annunciation was due he tacked a white calico screen round the lower part of the glazed walls. No prying eyes were to peep. But Robert Maskray and his greenhouse were of no interest to Kings Barton.

That year the blue tulip flowered true. And when the gentian blue cup had opened, Maskray carried the pot up to the little attic in his cottage, and placed it on a stool by the window. He kept the attic door locked.

Later his joy grew exultant, for the blue tulip bulb gave him two tiny bulbils.

Three years passed. Miss Best was still Miss Best, though no less than five possible partners had tried to persuade her to attempt matrimony. Meanwhile Best’s Bulbs were not booming like the May-bugs; an unexplainable dullness had descended upon Mr. Best’s business; and thin lipped—he pointed an accusing finger at Holland.

“Those Dutchmen!”

It occurred to him on occasions that his daughter should be thinking of getting married. Some comfortable young fellow with money to put into the business; but Flora Irene’s fastidiousness seemed to increase as her father’s appeals to the bulb-buying public grew more urgent and flamboyant.

No—the man she married was to be able to build a nice, new arty house on Monk’s Hill, and provide her with a solid, four-seater touring car. None of your hip baths for two with a dicky not fit for a dog to ride in.

Robert Maskray, exercising a Biblical patience, became more and more obsessed by his dream, developing—simple soul though he was—a divinely inspired slyness. Flora Irene was still Flora Irene, and Best’s Bulbs were not as marketable as they had been.

But he—Robert Maskray—was the possessor of a blue tulip, a miraculous flower, a living talisman with which to conjure love and fortune. He would sit in his little garden and dream. He would see himself unveiling this blue prodigy before the eyes of the amazed father, and the daughter—grown suddenly and exquisitely melting—throwing her arms about his neck. “Oh, wonderful Robert!”

The blue tulip—the only blue tulip in the world, with the whole horticultural community speechless, and nurserymen and bulb growers scrambling for one small child of it! How much would each bulb be worth? Hundreds of pounds—perhaps. And the blue Irene would be the cynosure, his peerless queen.

He sat and exulted.

For now he had three bulbs all ripe to flower, and a dozen or so bulbils of different sizes, and he could think of seed.

Yes, the great day of revelation was near. He would wait until all three flowering bulbs had proved their purity, and then he would go to Mr. Horatio Best and invite him to come and look at a novelty that waited in his greenhouse. Yes, he meant to be a little mysterious about it—dramatic. Why should he not ask Mr. Best to bring his daughter?

The wonderful day arrived. It was sunny, as it should be, and Robert Maskray, making a sedate entry into the nursery office, asked for Mr. Horatio. Shown in by a girl clerk, he found Mr. Best looking rather thin and pinched about the upper lip.

His glance was irritable.

“What d’you want, Bob?”

Maskray seethed with the delicious secret.

“I have a flower I should like you to see.”

“Oh—what sort?”

“Tulip. Might interest you, sir.”

“Busy. Bring a bloom in.”

“Too precious to cut, sir.”

“Oh, all right——”

He gave a push to his chair, but the foreman checked such useless haste.

“Not in the nursery, sir; but in my greenhouse. Perhaps you will come down and drink a cup of tea with me, sir, and look at the flower. It’s worth looking at, though I did raise it.”

Mr. Best stared. He seemed suspicious.

“Rather busy, Bob. But might manage it.”

He was aware of a seraphic smile.

“And perhaps Miss Best would come too. I would be honoured. I have christened the flower Irene, sir. No impertinence intended.”

Mr. Best stared still harder, and on going home to lunch informed his daughter of Robert Maskray’s apparent madness.

“Balmy, my dear! Raised some sort of tulip, and called it ‘Irene.’ Wants me to go and have tea and look at it. You too.”

“Me!” said Miss Best sharply.

“Yes—you.”

“I have something better to do,” said the lady. “Silly fool! A fool like that—with calf’s eyes.”

About five o’clock Mr. Best strolled down over Kings Barton Bridge and, turning past the almshouses, came to Robert Maskray’s cottage. The dreamer had arrived there half-an-hour before him, having stopped to buy a bag of fancy cakes at Bowdens just above the bridge.

The tea-table had been laid in the morning, with a pink-and-white check cloth and Robert’s best china, and there were flowers—white narcissi in an old blue vase. The queen should have her cakes and flowers. Mr. Best came to the cottage door and knocked, and Maskray, peering through the window, saw that Mr. Horatio was alone. His dream face fell a little.

“Come in, sir. Sorry Miss Irene——”

“Got a bun-party or something,” said the father, who seemed gruff and worried.

He was fidgety and absent all through the meal. A silly business this, sitting down with a foreman at a tea-table. And flowers and fancy cakes! Not for him obviously! Now what had this fool of a fellow got in his bonnet?

“What about this thing of yours, Bob?”

Maskray rose with the air of a high priest about to unveil sacred mysteries.

“In the greenhouse, sir. If you will come through into the garden.”

When Mr. Best saw those three tulips with their gentian blue cups open to the sunlight he did not believe them to be what they appeared to be. It was impossible. This fool Maskray was playing some silly trick on him. The flowers could not be real.

“Nice imitation, Bob. Never tried dyeing flowers before. Or they’re not paper, are they?”

Maskray flushed.

“Do you think I’m that sort of man, Mr. Best? I’m showing you a blue tulip, the first blue tulip——”

Mr. Best put out a sudden hand towards one of the pots; but Maskray, with a quick eagerness that was almost mistrustful, interposed, and taking a pot in his hands, held the flower within a foot of Mr. Horatio’s face.

“Real, sir. Gives you a shock, doesn’t it? It gave me one the first time I saw it four years ago.”

Mr. Best seemed to be squinting down his predaceous nose.

“By Jove!” he said; and then: “Where the devil did you get——”

“Came in a lot, sir, I bought from De Vries. No; it didn’t come from your nursery.”

“A sport. But does it come true?”

“It has flowered true four years—and the other two in bloom were bulbils from it.”

The bulb merchant stood amazedly yet intelligently silent. His little eyes glimmered. He stroked his long upper lip.

“How many of them have you, Bob?”

“These three full-sized bulbs and a dozen or so youngsters. I wanted to be sure, sir, and to work up a small stock.”

“By Jove!” said Mr. Best in a whisper, and again, “By Jove!”

And suddenly their eyes met. Those of the bulb merchant were watchful, glinting with business; Maskray’s seemed to be looking through Mr. Best at something beyond him.

“Say, Bob, this is going to be the sensation of the century. What about it?”

He saw Maskray smile.

“I take these bulbs up to my bedroom at night——”

“Jove, man! They’re more valuable than bullion.”

“I know. Is it—is it—a question of business between us, sir?”

“Well—what’s your idea?” said the cautious one.

“I’m in love with your daughter,” said Maskray with abrupt quietness. “I have been in love with her for years.”

Another shock! Mr. Best sat down on the greenhouse staging, half off and half on a box of mustard and cress.

“Well—I’m——!”

But he did not damn himself. The possibilities of the situation were too extraordinary. He stared at one of the blue tulips.

“Began as a working-man myself,” he said; and then, “What’s the exact idea, Robert?”

Maskray, standing with one of the precious pots in his hand, and with a queer, luminous shine on his face, seemed to speak to the blue tulip.

“I called it ‘Irene,’ the first blue tulip. Yet it isn’t so wonderful as she is. I’m a plain man, but there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to make her happy. Money—oh—yes! I’d want her to live as she has always lived. I’m not a man for mere money, Mr. Best, but there is money in this flower—and I want the gold to throw at your daughter’s feet.”

Mr. Best observed his foreman’s transfigured face. Talk about miracles! And all this devotion prayerfully on its knees before Flora Irene! Miss Best might be his daughter, but Mr. Horatio knew his daughter’s limitations. Wonderful! Was she? Poor Robert! But, chiefly, he was concerned with the business proposition, for he had no doubt at all that Maskray had opened a floral gold-mine.

“A partnership, Bob. Is that your idea?”

“In a way, sir, on the understanding——”

“That you marry my daughter? But, come, come, she has to be considered.”

Maskray answered with quiet humility:

“Of course, sir. I’m no more than a plain man at her feet. I have got to work and fit myself, and all I ask is that I may have my chance with her.”

He raised his head and smiled suddenly.

“But the Maskray who raised the blue tulip. Maskray of Best and Maskray. Not plain Bob.”

Mr. Horatio understood him.

“Ah—that’s it. There’s a fortune in that flower-pot. By Jove, the sensation, the splash! Saved any money, Robert?”

“About three hundred pounds.”

“Well—well, not so bad. Supposing you were to bring your money and the tulip into the business, and take a third share. We could talk about the details later.”

Maskray looked at his tulip.

“Something comes before that, sir. I want to be allowed to speak to Miss Irene, to tell her what’s in my heart. I want to show her her tulip. Maybe—she’ll be willing to let me hope.”

Mr. Best concealed a business man’s impatience. Hang it all, was not business good enough without importing a young woman into it?

“Quite so, Robert, quite so. Supposing I give my daughter a hint. And supposing you come up this evening—and bring that flower.”

Robert Maskray’s face seemed to see heaven opened.

“Thank you, sir. Tell her I’m a plain man and know it; but, as sure as God has given me this flower, I’ll try to be worthy of her.”

Mr. Horatio shook hands with Maskray and hurried home. Diplomacy—yes, diplomacy was needed, for his daughter was a young woman who could go off like a Chinese cracker. Obviously she must be persuaded to smile, even if the smile were only temporary. The thing was to get control of that tulip. Mr. Best had foresight and a quick sense of smell. The horticultural sensation of the century! What a coup! His brain seethed with the possibilities of it.

He found his daughter at home, amusing herself with a cross-word puzzle.

“My dear, I have had a surprise, the surprise of my life.”

He declaimed, and she listened with a perfectly expressionless yet attentive face. So, fool Bob Maskray—a working man—was in love with her! No new news that. And he was hoping to climb to her favour like a Jack-of-the-Beanstalk up the stem of a monstrous tulip!

She kept a quiet face, but inwardly she raged, for it so happened that on this very day life had hurt her and humiliated her, and she was no gentle creature. Her raw young spirit raged to pass on the pain.

“So he’s coming up?”

“Yes, my dear. Now, sentiment apart, it’s a business proposition.”

“Quite so,” said she. “I’ll see him.”

When the critical hour and Robert Maskray and his tulip arrived, Mr. Horatio withdrew himself to the dining-room and lit a cigar and straddled in front of the fire. Rum business this! But then—Flora Irene should be able to handle it successfully.

But—good heavens—what was that? A smashing of glass? Investigation was needed, and when Mr. Best opened the drawing-room door he beheld an open window, and his daughter standing by the sofa and laughing hysterically.

“My dear——”

He went to the window, and pulling it down, found one of the big panes smashed.

“How—who——? Where’s Maskray?”

Her laughter frightened him.

“He—oh, he went out of the window after I had thrown his tulip—pot and all—through the glass.”

Mr. Best’s upper lip quivered. He stared for a moment, and then rushed to the door and, going out into the garden, shouted to Robert Maskray; but no one answered him. On the path in front of the drawing-room window he was able to discover a few broken pieces of pot.

“Oh—women, women!”

He went in again, snatched a hat, and hurried down the road in the direction of Kings Barton. It took him a quarter of an hour to reach Maskray’s cottage, and he calculated that the tulip grower could not have been very far ahead of him. There was a light in the cottage. He knocked.

“Who’s that?” said a voice.

Mr. Best tried the door and it opened to him, but he paused on the threshold of Maskray’s room, for Robert Maskray was sitting all hunched up on a Windsor chair in front of the fire with a coal shovel in his hand. He was staring at the fire.

“Bob,” said Mr. Horatio softly, but suddenly afraid.

Maskray did not turn his head, but continued to stare at the fire.

“The tulips?”

“I have burnt them,” said the man.

And then he added:

“God gave it me. ’Twas a beautiful thing, and I was for selling the soul of a flower. But the Devil spoke the word. Yes, I have burnt the lot.”


A RED BLIND

It was a window with a red blind.

Anthony Vance passed it twice a day: at 7.30 in the morning and at 8.30 at night. Always there was light burning behind the red blind, because it was December when Vance began to travel to and fro from Rickmansworth, and his morning train was early and his evening train late. He worked some twelve hours a day—a young man creating his own opportunities and collecting a career. He was a departmental manager with the world-renowned firm of Killick & Paul.

His parents had christened him Anthony Dawn Vance. Inevitably at school he had been known as Advance, or more vulgarly as Hustle. Nicknames are not always fair to the victim; Vance was not all hustle.

He had imagination, curiosity, a sense of colour. Probably that was why he noticed the red window and continued to notice it—an unknown window in an unknown street. It was one of many windows at the back of an ugly row of flat-faced houses of a yellowish blackness. It belonged to the third floor. It had the bare branches of a black old poplar tree in front of it, and like a miniature sunset or dawn it outlined the spreading twigs.

The railway line passed through a deepish cutting below this row of houses. Vance was rather vague as to the neighbourhood; it might be Chalk Farm or Camden Town, but certainly it would be shabby and semi-respectable, a neighbourhood that would make you wonder who lived there, and how and why?

But the red window continued to interest him; in fact his interest in it increased. It set him speculating as to the human contents of the room to which it belonged. Was the window male or female, or both? He had a feeling that it was feminine. And what sort of woman would occupy such a room? A clerk, or typist, or shop-girl or waitress? His tendencies were towards youthfulness. It was just speculation, for Vance was not exactly a sentimentalist; Killick & Paul demanded a fierce efficiency, not sentimentalism. And there were occasions when he would laugh at his speculations, and reflect that probably the red blind veiled a very frowsy person, the kind of stout lady you saw serving in a greengrocer’s shop, and looking like a cold and over-ripe plum on the edge of bursting its integument.

In Vance, speculation tended to become active. In his Bloomsbury days when he had occupied a very top-floor bed sitting-room, and had lunched at Messrs. Lyons’ or with the Aerated Bread Company, on sixpence, he had been an inveterate explorer. The red window was like a solitary light seen in strange, wild country after dark. It occurred to him that it would be quite amusing to hunt up that unknown house in an unknown street. It would not be altogether easy. The red blind was visible only from the railway line.

It happened that towards Christmas life became so strenuous at Killick & Paul’s that Vance, who courted strenuosities and their possibilities, decided to sleep in town for a week. He put up at a little private hotel not far from Russell Square. And with a week-end arriving, and providing him with a portion of Saturday and the whole of Sunday to do as he chose with, he thought of the red window. The locating of it suggested the solving of a sort of Chinese puzzle. There was much of the boy in Anthony Vance.

He had looked up possible streets in a large-scale section map of London, and had jotted down the names of several that ran parallel to the railway. He chose Camden Town. He had scribbled the names of these streets on the back of an envelope.

He set out. It was rather foggy, and all that shabby neighbourhood grew more dim and grey; it seemed to fade away into the dusk. It was endless, and Vance got lost. His explorations had never carried him into these parts, and as the dusk changed to a darkness that was smudged with the lights of lamps and windows, he knew himself much lost.

He stopped a postman, and plumped for one of his hypothetical addresses.

“Excuse me, do you know Endover Street?”

“Yes. First on left, and take the second to the right.”

“Thanks.”

Vance found Endover Street, only to realize that it could not contain that row of houses with the red window. Endover Street offered him nothing but squat little semi-detached villas. It seemed to specialize in prowling cats.

He stopped a baker’s boy who was out late trundling a hand-cart.

“D’you know Mordant Street?”

The boy did.

“Go along ’ere. Cut through a sort o’ passage between a pub and a row of ’ouses, and you’ll be in Mordant Street.”

“Runs beside the railway line, doesn’t it?”

“Can’t say. But that’s the way to Mordant Street.”

Vance found the passage between the public-house and the row of houses. The pub had steaming windows, and the mouth of the passage was denied to wheeled traffic by a couple of iron posts resembling cannon with their breeches let into the ground. The passage passed the entrance to a builder’s yard, where two dark figures were bending over the engine of a lorry. Mordant Street displayed itself in the darkness as two rows of highish houses set back behind dingy little gardens. The houses had semi-basements and flights of steps going up to the front doors.

Vance paused at the end of Mordant Street. The row of houses on the left had the appearance of being the very row of houses he was in search of. They were three stories high, and as far as he could judge the brickwork was of the same sooty yellowness. And then he heard a train pass in the cutting at the back of the row, and the rumble of its wheels seemed to applaud the conviction that Mordant Street held the window with the red blind.

He strolled on. The house with the red window would be somewhere in the centre of the row, and he saw the numbers of the houses painted upon the glass lights above the doors. Seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one. The red window was on the side of the odd numbers.

He paused outside the iron gate of No. 21. Mordant Street was as melancholy and depressing a street as you could wish for in order to stress a hideous utilitarianism, yet it was like hundreds of other streets, hiding its shabby secrets behind dingy lace curtains. The houses seemed to peer at each other suspiciously across the roadway. Their windows looked short-sighted and dim. A fire was burning in the basement of No. 21; the blind was up, and Vance could see the white leg and corner of a kitchen table.

He was leaning on the iron gate, thinking that Mordant Street was no very glorious discovery, when the front door opened and closed and a woman came down the steps. She carried a little attaché case; she moved with the deliberate swiftness of a person who had a purpose in life; also, her movements were youthful. She caught Vance in the act of withdrawing from the gate.

She spoke to him.

“Don’t hang about here. I suppose you are one of them. If you want to see him, go up.”

Astonishing salutation! But delivered with a brusqueness and a touch of contempt, and Vance raised his hat.

“Thank you. Very good of you——”

But she left him standing there. Obviously, she had business of her own, and no particular use for the loafing male. Her face, with its firm chin and straight nose had a crispness. And Vance stood possessed of an extraordinary situation. She had supposed that he was “one of them”; but who were “them”? And if he wanted to see “him,” he was to go up, and not loaf outside the gate.

But who was “him”? and what was “him’s” mysterious business in life? and was he not becoming rather ungrammatical with his thems and his hims? Intriguing situation! But why not accept it; why not seize it? Was it possible that “he” occupied the room with the red blind? The adventure was becoming actual; it was not to be resisted.

Then Vance had an idea. Of course! “He”—was a bookie, and people came to 21 Mordant Street to make their bets. Yes; that was the most probable explanation.

The girl’s footsteps had died away, and Vance went up the path, and climbed the steps. Should he ring, or go straight in? He decided to ring.

He heard shuffling footsteps. The door was opened six inches by a short, stout, elderly woman. She did not ask any questions. She eyed the dim, masculine figure on the doorstep with a kind of passive and stolid hostility.

“Is—he—in?”

The woman stood back and opened the door, and Vance walked into the narrow hall where a gas jet, turned low, showed him the foot of the stairs covered with brown linoleum.

“May I go up?”

“They always do.”

“My first visit. Which floor?”

“Top-floor back.”

“Thank you.”

He started to climb the stairs. He was very much aware of the strangeness of those stairs, and of the unexpectedness of the whole affair. Surely it was both an impudent and imprudent adventure. Danger? No, he did not think there was any danger in his climbing of those unknown stairs. The girl would not have spoken to him as she had done; she had struck him as being a very practical young person, and not in the least sinister.

He arrived on the top-floor landing; it was in semi-darkness; he saw a line of light at the bottom of a door, the door of the third-floor back. Obviously “he” was in there, and for a moment Vance’s boyish cheek failed him. He was on the edge of bolting down the stairs and out into the street. But, hang it, was he going to funk at the last moment? Did he not flatter himself that in business he could call any man’s bluff.

He knocked at the door. A clear, sharp voice answered from within. It was one of those voices that suggest the bugle—a metallic, ringing quality.

“Come in.”

Vance opened the door, and found himself looking at a red blind. Extraordinary linking up of circumstances! So this was the very room whose window he had looked at so often. He saw a narrow bed with a red coverlet, tucked away in a far corner, a round table, a chest of drawers. There were books and writing materials on the table. But for the moment the occupant of the room was screened by the open door, and he did not come into view until Vance stepped into the room.

He stared.

“I beg your pardon. I was told to come up.”

He stood holding the handle of the door, and looking down at the man in the arm-chair beside the fire. This man had an old grey rug over his knees; he was dressed in dark-blue dressing-gown and flannel shirt. And he was as unexpected as the whole absurd adventure, though there was nothing absurd about the figure by the fire. On the contrary “he” looked a rather formidable person, with his head of red hair going grey, and the fierceness of his striking face. His eyes were of an extraordinary light-blueness, rather like brittle ice. He had a disconcerting way of staring.

“Quite right. Shut the door. Sit down.”

“He” was even more abrupt than the girl, and Vance obeyed him rather like a boy obeying a schoolmaster. He put his hat on the table. He was wondering what the devil to say.

“You’ll excuse me, sir—but this is a rather singular occasion.”

It was. And so was the remark; but to Vance’s surprise “he” appeared to regard the statement as natural, inevitable. The harsh and handsome face emitted a little gleam of self-conscious complacency.

“Other people have made that remark. The prophet is not quite without honour. Your name?”

“My name is Vance.”

“He” allowed himself a transient, grim smile.

“Advance! Yet another omen. Even a great man must have his joke.”

“Quite so,” said Vance, wondering whether the man in the chair was a madman, or a sort of self-made prophet, or both.

He felt that the old man in the chair had him at a disadvantage, for “he” now knew his visitor’s name and could assume some reason for the visit, whereas Vance was like a small boy caught trespassing. Apparently “he” was accustomed to visitors calling upon him, for he had shown no surprise when Vance—another stranger—had walked into his room. Vance used his eyes, and tried guile. He noticed what appeared to be a pile of manuscript lying on the table.

“May I ask you a favour, sir? I should like your autograph.”

The angry blue eyes observed him.

“Autographs! Are you a collector of autographs? Is that the only reason——?”

“Not at all, sir. But I should value——”

He produced a fountain-pen and a note-book and, getting up, offered them to the man in the arm-chair. And with complete solemnity the man in the chair proceeded to sign his name on a blank page of Vance’s note-book. He signed it with a flourish, and with éclat:

“Hector March.”

He handed the pen and the book back to Vance with the air of a great man accustomed to the conferring of such favours.

“Some day, Mr. Vance, I think that signature will possess some significance.”

Vance hurried to agree.

“Inevitably so, sir.”

But who the devil was Hector March? Was he anybody; had he been anybody? Obviously Mr. Hector March himself had no doubts upon the matter. He took himself with very great seriousness. He was not exactly humble.

Vance put his pen and note-book away, and wondered what the next move was to be. Possibly he may have appeared a little embarrassed, but his embarrassment suited the occasion. Hector March was not unaccustomed to finding embarrassment in his visitors. Apparently he accepted it as a natural tribute.

He said:

“So, you are one of my disciples, Mr. Vance.”

Vance, caught unawares, sustained the illusion.

“Obviously, sir. That is to say—I was powerfully attracted. I had to come.”

Mr. March replied with a stately and consenting movement of his arrogant head.

“I understand. The light shines—even from this upper chamber. People come to me from the ends of the earth. They carry away my message.”

Vance, thinking of the red blind, could say truthfully that he had been conscious of Mr. March’s light for quite a long time. He was reminded of the eastern sages, and of the words of wisdom spoken to their disciples. No doubt this red-headed old man would present him with words of wisdom, and having expressed his gratitude he would be able to get up and go.

“If I might say so, sir—I should like to carry away a message.”

Mr. March’s blue eyes fixed him.

“Ah, yes, a message. My message is always the same. Nearly two thousand years ago a man preached the religion of love. Then—I—came to preach the religion of hate. Hate alone, young man, can cleanse and renew the world.”

So that was it! And Vance decided that he was ready to go, but he was not to get away so easily. The prophet of hate was a multitudinous talker; he welcomed an audience, even an audience of one; and for another half an hour Vance sat there and was made to feel like a boy listening to a fanatical sermon.

Mr. March breathed upon him like a dragon of wrath. His angry blue eyes glared. He had an extraordinary flow of language. He erupted hate as a volcano spews lava.

But at the end of half an hour Vance did manage to leave his chair, and edge gradually towards the door.

“I assure you, sir, it has been a great privilege to listen——”

“Come again, Mr. Vance, come again. Youth is ripe soil. I sow the seed.”

“You do, sir. Good night, sir,” and Vance escaped down the stairs and out into the dingy dimness of Mordant Street.

What a man! What an adventure! So the red blind had veiled a furious old herald of revolution. And Vance wanted to laugh. He did laugh, but his laughter had a raw edge to it. He felt that he had been in the presence of something that was evil.

He remembered the girl. What was her share in the business? Was she the old red dragon’s daughter?

Anthony Vance’s curiosity was increased; it became humanized. On the Sunday morning he went to his club, and searched for the name of Hector March in “Who’s Who” and in a biographical dictionary. It was possible that March had been a somebody in his day, and had lived on as a derelict, back-street celebrity, but Vance did not find the name of March in “Who’s Who.”

Vance lunched at his club. On entering the dining-room he saw old Vansittart, one of the club worthies, sitting at a window table, and Vance joined him. Vansittart knew everybody or about everybody who was or had been, and he liked to talk. Vance opened the subject.

“I’ve come across a queer person, a sort of second edition of Karl Marx. Came across him quite by chance. I have been looking up his name, but I can’t find it anywhere.”

Vance was a very young and new member, but he was what is called a nice lad, bright but not too obviously opinionated, and old Vansittart smiled upon him.

“A back number?”

“Very much a front number, sir, in his own estimation. Has a message for civilization. Writes, too—I should imagine.”

“What’s his name?”

“March, Hector March.”

Old Vansittart’s wrinkled face seemed to sharpen.

“March?—March? Not—the—March?”

“That’s all I know, sir. He has a red head growing grey, and he talks red ruin.”

“Good Lord, man, don’t tell me you have unearthed Hector March? Why—that was one of the sensations of the political world some thirty years ago. The sudden and utter disappearance of March.”

“I have never heard about it. May I know?”

“March was one of those comet-like persons who flash out of nowhere. He could talk; he had a wonderful gift of the gab, and an immense swelled head. He appeared first in the Midlands. He carried a fiery cross. He had a very red tail. He lost his first two contests; but at the third attempt he was elected for some manufacturing constituency.

“For some years he was a sort of infant terror in the ‘House,’ a red-headed, irrepressible Jack-in-the-box. He was brilliant. Obviously he thought himself the coming man on the side of what he called progress. He talked hate. He was the sort of man who would shed tears while proposing to string every little tradesman to a lamp-post. And then he disappeared, vanished like a red-hot shot dropped into the sea.”

“Disappeared? But members of Parliament don’t disappear.”

“March did. It was a mystery. He vanished. Even his constituents did not know what had become of him. Not that anyone was vastly grieved. His hymn of hate had began to be a little boring. We English are not good haters. His career went plop. He was turned out like a gas jet.”

“But surely——?”

“There was gossip. Of course, the obvious explanation was that March had to disappear. There was some very good reason for it.”

“A scandal?”

“Oh, more than a mere scandal. I’ve heard that his private life was a bit ragged. Probably—something—happened. But how the devil did you come across him? He was supposed to be dead and forgotten.”

Vance did not tell the whole tale.

“Just chance. I met him through a mutual acquaintance. He lives in the top-floor back room of a house in a seedy street. He just sits in a chair and spouts universal hatred. There seems to be people who go to listen to him. But—by Jove——”

A sudden idea had come to him. He remembered the grey rug covering March’s knees, and that March had sat there rather like a man who had lost the power of movement.

“By Jove!—that’s it. I believe he is paralysed. He can’t walk.”

“Ah!” said old Vansittart with a look of interest and of shrewdness; “that rather tallies with the tale that was told. March broke himself over—oh—well—you can guess. And he has nothing left but a tongue.”

Vance smoked his Sunday cigar alone in a corner of the reading-room. He wanted to think over Vansittart’s recollections. They were like the settings of a strange picture; they made it more vividly sinister and singular, the live portrait of that immense old egotist with his angry eyes and his palsied legs, frothing out hatred in that back-street room. Helpless, forgotten, abandoned, he retained nothing but hatred and a poisonous tongue.

But the girl? Was she the daughter? And how did March live? Did he live on the girl’s earnings? Was he both prophet and parasite?—for so many prophets have condescended to exist as parasites.

Vance’s interest deepened and broadened.

He wanted to find out about that girl with her crisp, cold face, and her air of deliberate detachment.

Recalling approximately the time when she had descended upon him with her little attaché case Vance supposed that he might count upon her appearing in Mordant Street at much the same hour. He decided to try and shadow her. He wanted to complete his human cross-word puzzle. He was somewhat his own master at Killick & Paul’s, and late on the Monday afternoon he took a taxi to Camden Town.

Dusk was falling when he entered Mordant Street, the same dim, foggy dusk. He walked past No. 21, and decided to loiter by the builder’s yard at the end of the passage. From there he would just be able to distinguish anyone’s emergence from No. 21.

He had waited less than ten minutes when he saw a figure detach itself from the door of No. 21. It descended the steps, and on leaving the gate turned towards him. Vance lounged against the wall with his hat pulled down and his overcoat collar turned up. The girl went past him as though he were part of the wall.

He followed, but with circumspection. She led him through various unknown streets; she walked fast; her goal was Mornington Crescent tube station. Vance managed to get sufficiently near to see her take a twopenny ticket from the automatic machine. He had to hurry. He got into the lift with her, and into the same coach; she appeared quite unaware of him as her shadow. She left the train at Leicester Square, and he followed her out into the street.

Three minutes later he had pursued her to the back entrance of the “Pantheon.” She disappeared, and he could draw his own conclusions. In all probability she was employed at the Pantheon as a waitress, or book-keeper, or cloak-room attendant.

Vance strolled on. In the tube lift he had been able to observe the girl’s face. It attracted him. It had aloofness, and pride. She was not the sort of girl to whom you applied the word “pretty.” She looked hard with that modern, feminine hardness; she had a sleek, firm skin; her chin and lips were crisp and decided. But there was a something in her eyes, a sense of mystery behind the mask.

Vance decided to dine at the Pantheon. It was a popular restaurant, but not too much so. It was patronized by people who had a margin, and did not go grey over the spending of an unexpected sixpence. You might dress, or you might not. Vance turned in and reserved a table, and then walked on to his club to kill time until half-past seven.

Now—if his luck continued? It did continue. The Pantheon had three big rooms, and Vance found that a table had been reserved in a corner of the central room. He sat down with his back to the wall, and looked about him. The service was feminine, with a maître d’hotel and a wine waiter in addition. Two girls approached Vance’s table. One of them wore a red rosette with red letters in the centre: H.W. The head waitress was March’s supposed daughter.

It was she who handed Vance the menu. She was polite, detached yet attentive.

“What will you take, sir. Grape fruit? Yes. Thick or clear soup?”

She wrote down the dishes, and left the slip with the other waitress.

“Do you wish for the wine list, sir?”

“Please.”

“I’ll send the wine waiter to you.”

Obviously she was supremely efficient. She served, because it was her job, and she did not appear to despise it. She did not suggest a condescending superiority. She was natural and courteous and cold. She did not smile. She kept her dignity.

During the meal Vance watched her. It seemed to him that she held herself very much apart from the other girls; in her free moments she stood aloof, surveying the room. Almost she had an air of being above all these prosperous people who did nothing but eat and drink and chatter; her very slimness and her calm pallor suggested asceticism; she saw so much food.

Vance took to dining at the Pantheon every evening. He arranged to have the same table reserved. And every evening March’s daughter went through the same ritual; she wrote down his dishes; she remained impersonal and polite.

“Soup to-night, sir?”

That was the only indication that she gave that she recognized him as a regular patron.

But he began to dare to give her a little bow and to wish her good evening. His homage, such as it was, took care to be frigid and formal. She was the gentlewoman. If the average man should dare to assume her to be as silly as his sex playfulness he would be withered, frozen.

For Vance had a feeling that this girl had her own Godiva ride through life, and that she kept her scorn for Peeping Toms. She had something to bear, something to suffer. Her pale slimness was like a stalk carrying the serenity of a voiceless scorn. In her way she had an uniqueness.

He waited. He dined and was persistently courteous and careful. If the ice of her aloofness was to be broken it would have to be done delicately.

But how?

The easy thing made no appeal to such a man as Vance. He might be a merchant, but he valued some of the goods that cannot be had for money. He was the hunter and he had the hunter’s guile. He decided that the time was ripe for a second visit to the prophet of red ruin; he might meet the daughter and he might not. Diplomacy has its appeal.

So No. 21 Mordant Street saw him again. He arrived there at about three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. The same glum, square person opened the door.

“Is Mr. March in?”

“Oh, yes; he’s always in.”

Said Vance, drawing a bow at a venture:

“It’s rather hard—to be paralysed. Is Miss March in?”

“No.”

Vance climbed the stairs, having made sure of two pieces of information. He found the prophet sitting in the same chair. He looked older, feebler, but his blue eyes still glared. He welcomed his audience.

“Ha! So you’ve come again. And you are English, young man. That’s unusual.”

Vance led the conversation in a particular direction.

“The English are slow to move, sir.”

“Fools, Mr. Vance; fools. Sentimental fools. A prophet is not without honour—save——”

“Exactly, sir. But then there are people who believe in you. Your daughter must believe in you.”

And suddenly he saw those harsh blue eyes flare up.

“Children, sir! I have suffered indescribable things from my children. Egotists, individualists, English. I have cast them off. Kitty—alone—has respect, reverence.”

“Had you many children, sir?”

“Seven. But we are not speaking of children. And what is your work, young man?”

Vance was not quite candid.

“I work in a big business.”

“Ha, big business! What I call big blackguardism. One of the exploited, a black ant.”

Vance could not resist a sly question.

“Yes, black ants, if you like. But granting the ant idea, your scheme, sir, would just change our colour, and make us red ants instead of black.”

Mr. March’s fingers gripped the folds of the grey rug covering his knees; he had a way of clawing at that grey rug when he was excited. Vance’s question had excited him, and he was about to reply to it when the door opened and the daughter entered. She was wearing a black hat and a coat edged with some cheap fur.

Vance stood up. He made a little stiff movement; he managed to smile.

She stared at him. Her eyes were like two dark points. He felt transfixed. She said nothing.

Her father, as ever, absorbed in his own affairs, saw nothing.

“Catherine—this is Mr. Vance—one of my disciples.”

There was a pause, a kind of brittleness in the air, and then Vance, with a faintly smiling assumption of serenity, picked up his hat and made for the door.

“Time I was going, sir. Perhaps—another day—we will continue the argument.”

He found himself on the stairs, only to realize that Kitty March was following him. He was just a little scared of Kitty March. He paused in the hall with his hand on the door-handle.

“Remarkable man, your father.”

She said not a word, and he opened the door and was about to close it when she made it plain that she too was coming out. And Vance walked to the little iron gate and waited. He knew that she intended him to wait, and that if he did not wait she would claim him as a coward.

She stood there looking straight into his face.

“What’s the game?”

“I beg your pardon, Miss March.”

“Are you one of the fools?”

“Well, really—I don’t quite know. I’d like to explain if I can.”

She said:

“Look here, are you one of his crowd? I don’t quite get you. Idiots who talk that sort of stuff don’t dine regularly at a place like the Pantheon.”

He looked at her appeasingly.

“No, I suppose they don’t. But I’m the victim of rather extraordinary circumstances. My name’s Vance. I’ve got rather a good post with Killick & Paul. I’m not a cad. If you would allow that I might be able to explain.”

She looked at him intently and then turned away.

“Think it over.”

He said:

“I will—if you will. That’s fair, isn’t it?”

But she did not answer his question. She went in and closed the door.

For the next three weeks Vance dined regularly at the Pantheon; the same table was reserved for him; and the same young woman attended with polite impressiveness. He behaved to her just as he had behaved before their meeting in old March’s bedroom. He was the perfect patron; she the perfect head-waitress. The same ritual was continued with every attention to detail.

With unsmiling courtesy he could allow himself to wish her good evening. She allowed him the echo.

“Good evening, sir.”

And yet, there was a something back of the eyes of both of them, a watchfulness, interrogation, conflict.

The ceremony of life continued.

“Thick or clear soup, sir?”

Vance was gazing intently at the menu.

“Oh—clear, I think. Am I allowed to have clear soup?”

“Just as you choose, sir.”

“Clear soup then, please. And some sole. And—when am I to be allowed—to explain?”

He looked up at her. She was busy with her pencil and her pink paper slip. Her face was unreadable.

“That particular dish is not on the menu, sir.”

“No. But I have been waiting three weeks for it to turn up.”

She continued to scribble with her pencil.

“The manager and the chef are responsible.”

“But won’t you put in a word?”

Deliberately she placed one of the slips from her book close to his bread plate, and turned to the next table. Vance glanced at the slip of paper, and then crumpled it up, and with an air of self-conscious innocence—slipped it into his pocket.


THE THREE TREES

It was a stormy September with huge clouds piling themselves in an intense blue sky, and scuds of rain and floods of sunshine following fast upon each other, but to Pauline Marsac, the artist who was staying at Yew Tree Farm, this wet September was a glory and a delight.

She had come down to the Wealden country for atmosphere and an inspiration for one of her typical landscapes, England in one of its many moods, and though the weather made her expeditions somewhat patchy, never had she felt happier in her work. These stormy skies: blue, white and black; these woods and hills of green and gold and amethyst; these sudden gushes of yellow light; the grey smoke of the rain! She revelled, for in colour and the mystery of colour she saw the mystic garments of her god.

One evening she came back past Mount Hall, smokeless and tragic among its oaks and beeches, its two great cedars black against a green blue sky. The old, red, Queen Anne house surprised her. It was her first glimpse of it; and as she stood looking at it across the park she realized its emptiness. Another English home, she supposed, killed by the great war.

At the farm Mrs. Hathaway suggested a fire.

“It might be winter, Miss.”

A sudden shower was beating against the windows, and the quick clouds had shut out a transiently gleaming sun.

“Yes; a fire. I’m rather wet. What a comfortable woman you are, Mrs. Hathaway.”

She drew up a chair, delighting in the thought of a blaze, while Mrs. Hathaway knelt down, matchbox in hand.

“Who does the old red house belong to?”

“What, Mount Hall, Miss?”

“Is that its name? It looks empty and unhappy.”

The farmer’s wife was holding a match to the paper.

“Miss Orchardson lived there.”

“Not Miss Eleanor Orchardson who wrote the famous book that caused all that scandal?”

“I don’t know much about the book, Miss, save that after her death it was found out that she had written it; and that a man—a friend—had pretended——”

“Yes—I know. Hangard. It was one of our last year’s sensations. A very dirty affair. But when did Miss Orchardson die?”

“She didn’t die; she was killed.”

“Oh!”

“Thrown off her horse. Yes; she was queer, a tall woman with big black eyes. Hated men—they say—and loved horses. Lived alone there—with a cousin—Miss Horn. That fellow who tried to thieve her book used to come——”

Pauline was watching the kindling fire.

“A character! Yes; I heard a good deal. We were interested. Didn’t Miss Orchardson paint?”

“What, her face, Miss? No; she had one of those white faces.”

“I meant pictures.”

“Oh, pictures. I believe she did. And wrote poetry, and used to go riding about the country at all hours. A wild woman. She liked wild horses, and it was a wild horse that killed her.”

“How old was she?”

“How old? Oh, well—what you would call thirtyish.”

“That means thirty-nine. And what about the house?”

Mrs. Hathaway got up, with a lift of the shoulders.

“Ah, there you are! They say her will was the queerest thing. The house was to be left just as it was, furniture and all, though once a month two women from the village have the job of cleaning it up a bit. Empty. Yes. Uncomfortable—I call it. And that’s to go on for twenty years. Leastways—that’s the gossip.”

Pauline Marsac spread her hands to the fire.

“This is lovely. But what a queer story. And where did her money go?”

“To a home for worn-out horses, most of it. Though I suppose Miss Horn—the cousin—had some. She’s got a little house in the village.”

“That’s the woman who showed up Stephen Hangard when he had stolen ‘Mary Wilberforce.’ ”

“I never heard he stole a lady, Miss.”

“No; that was the name of Miss Orchardson’s book. Well—I think I will have China tea to-day, Mrs. Hathaway. And I’ll make myself some toast.”

At ten o’clock Pauline Marsac went to bed in a room whose ceiling was a crisscross of beams and joists. The floor undulated, tilting her towards the mirror, and back again towards the mahogany bedstead, with its orange-coloured quilt. The quilt belonged to Pauline. Happy in her craft she went to bed like a child, ready for the next day’s game, and as she grew drowsy she had the impression that the wind had dropped, and that stars were shining in a clear sky.

At Yew Tree Farm there was nothing to disturb you save the natural noises: chanticleer saluting the grey dawn, twittering sparrows, the wind in the trees; but Pauline slept less well than usual. She dreamed, and yet it was not quite a dream. Something seemed to be pressing through the portals of sleep. She woke twice with the impression that a voice had been calling her, an urgent voice.

“Pauline Marsac—Pauline Marsac?”

On the second occasion she lay and stared at the blind which was neither black nor grey, but a tint between the two, and as she lay there she saw projected upon the blind a very distinct picture. Three trees on a big and swelling mound. The mound had the shape of an old round tumulus, and the trees were Scotch pines, tall of trunk, with wind-blown, spreading tops.

An hallucination!

She sat up. The thing on the blind had vanished, but it hung vividly before the eyes of her mind, so vividly that she saw the characteristic gestures of the trees.

One of them had a very long, flat branch stretching out horizontally. She got out of bed and pulled up the blind, finding the first greyness of a still, September morning, with a moon low down towards the sea, and no wind moving.

A ghost world.

She was aware of a peculiar impulse. A sketch book and pencil lay on a round table near the window, and they seemed to offer themselves.

Those three trees on the mound!

She had never seen them, and might never see them, but she felt impelled to put them on paper. She slipped on her dressing-gown, sat down, and sketched the tumulus and the Scotch pines as she had seen them on the blind.

Her comments were practical.

“Of course—it was some sort of projection. My subconsciousness. I must have seen three such trees and forgotten them. But where?”

In the morning, when Mrs. Hathaway came in with the breakfast tray, Pauline Marsac showed her the sketch.

“Have you ever seen anything like that?”

Mrs. Hathaway had an immediate answer.

“You have got it exact, Miss.”

“What?”

“Why, The Mount.”

She looked at Pauline as though to say:

“Why, of course you know it. You’ve drawn it, and you have eyes in your head.”

Pauline said nothing. She picked up the teapot, and glanced for a moment at the window.

“The weather looks better.”

“Sure. There’s a change. And about time, I think.”

It was a day of blue and gold, and Pauline went out with the deliberate purpose of discovering those three Scotch pines. She asked Mrs. Hathaway no questions beyond an enquiry as to the Mount Hall park and gardens.

“Are visitors allowed in?”

“Sure. You would be. Ask at the lodge; there’s someone in charge.”

Pauline’s frank face and her happy smile carried her through most gateways, and the lodge-keeper proved friendly. In this wild Wealden country few people troubled to trespass over a derelict estate, and as the lodge-keeper put it and considering the state of the fences—a stranger might get in and go anywhere without a “by-your-leave.” The lady from Mrs. Hathaway’s could paint what she pleased. The only person likely to make trouble would be Miss Horn who lived down in the village: “An obstropolous—funny-tempered sort of woman,” but she was away at the moment.

Pauline invaded the park. The beauty of it delighted her for it was a place of many vistas that ended in the blue of the hills or the blue of the sea. She wandered, glancing now and again at the white window frames and red walls of the house. Glycine and roses and a vine hung there, and the vine was turning colour. But she had come to discover those three trees; they should form an obvious and a conspicuous landmark, and yet she could not find them.

She wandered for an hour before she tried a narrow green valley running between hanging beechwoods. It took her up and up, curving westwards, to open upon rolling bluffs and great sweeps of turf and bracken, and as she climbed the slopes she saw suddenly before her on the sky line a mound and three tall trees.

“Of course I must have seen it before and not taken it in—consciously,” she reflected.

But the knoll and the trees puzzled her. They formed so distinct and arrestive a feature, a landmark not likely to be missed by an artist’s eyes. Their wind-blown isolation, their tinted trunks and dark outline would have made her pause, and pause with a little exultant thrill.

“Queer!” she thought.

She climbed the slope behind them. Yes; there was that flat, projecting bough spread like a big hand. The outlines seemed exact, and she was studying the towering tops of the trees when she realized the presence of the man.

He was sitting with his back to one of the trees, his face towards the great sweep of country that ended in the sea. He was quite unaware of her. He had no hat and was dressed in rough tweeds. He just sat and stared seawards with a kind of melancholy fixity as though all the life of the landscape lay in the past, and he was nothing more than a sad spectator of the present. He was dark and clean shaven, and sombre, a man who would take sorrow hardly, who would not struggle and protest. Weak, yes, in a way, but with elements of fineness, of quixotry. She felt that she had seen him before.

Anyway, he was there, very much in possession, though judging by the look of him he would easily be dispossessed. Her intuition was to sketch these trees and to compare the sketch made from the original with the vision of them she had seen projected upon her bedroom blind.

She walked round the base of the mound, realizing that the man would be in the picture, and she hated being watched when she was at work. Some silly little human figure dotted in the foreground! She glanced up at him. He was staring at her.

She withdrew until she had the mound and the trees at the right distance, and then seated herself on the grass. She was busy with her sketch-book, and when her glance returned to the mound she found that the man had risen and was coming down the hill towards her.

He looked annoyed, but his annoyance included curiosity. And his curiosity had an element of fierceness. She wondered why he made her think of a man who was starving.

His obvious intention was to pass her, but an interchange of glances appeared to make him pause.

“I’ll get out of your way,” he said.

Pauline Marsac smiled at him.

“Thank you. But I have no right here.”

His eyes gave her their melancholy and self-conscious stare.

“Nor have I.”

It was his business to walk on, but he hesitated, and she felt that he wanted to ask her some question. The thing that surprised her was that she found herself feeling suddenly and unexplainably sorry for the man, which was absurd, so she took it upon herself to ask him a question.

“I suppose this is The Mount?”

He looked startled.

“Oh—yes——” and his glance touched her sketch-book.

“Thank you. It took me quite a long while to find it.”

His eyes narrowed. He stood fidgeting one foot against a grass tussock.

“I suppose you are doing this for Miss Horn?”

Her surprise was obvious.

“I beg your pardon? I am doing it for myself.”

“Oh—I thought she might have commissioned you; illustrations—you know—for a book.”

Pauline had begun to be more interested in the man than in the trees.

“Is Miss Horn writing a book?”

“I have heard so.”

“Let me see, she was Miss Orchardson’s cousin, wasn’t she?”

“That’s so.”

“Is it a life of the woman who wrote ‘Mary Wilberforce?’ ”

He gave her a queer, flaring look as though he were a wild creature and she had shot an arrow into him.

“She didn’t write it,” he said.

And then he went past her and down the hill like a man running away from something, leaving her to grope at the meaning of it all. For she felt sure now that she had seen his face somewhere, in a crowd, or in a magazine or picture paper.

She made her sketch of The Mount, and on comparing it with the rough drawing that she had made in the farmhouse bedroom she found an almost complete correspondence between them, though the finished sketch had more atmosphere.

“Well, it’s a rum incident,” she reflected.

That evening Pauline Marsac decided to paint The Mount, and she went to bed thinking of it, and fell asleep almost at once. Something woke her at the same hour, just between the black and the grey, and she saw The Mount projected upon the blind, but this time there was a figure in the picture, the seated figure of a man.

“Oh, hang it,” she thought; “I’m not a sentimentalist. I don’t want him there.”

She sat up in bed, and it occurred to her with peculiar suddenness that the man had a right to be there, more right than she had.

“Well—anyway—I’ll paint those trees,” she decided.

When she set out next morning for The Mount Pauline Marsac wondered whether she would find him there. It seemed to her improbable yet likely—fated almost. And he was there, sitting at the foot of the big flat branch spread out like a huge hand or a sounding-board.

He got up and came down to meet her, and she thought that his eyes looked queer. He glanced at all her artist’s paraphernalia that she had brought with her.

“Excuse me—are you going to paint this?”

In spite of her curiosity she was annoyed with him for being here. He distracted her.

“I am.”

“But what right have you——?”

If there was going to be an argument, she thought that she would get it over straight away.

“No legal right. Do you happen to be the agent or something?”

“I’m nothing!” he said with a touch of dramatic self-pity.

She put down her belongings.

“Yet you seem to suggest——”

“I?”

“Yes—a sort of authority. You seem to come here often—but I’ll bet you that the cause of my coming was much more curious. I’ll tell you if you are out to question my right to come here.”

“I thought that Miss Horn——”

“I know nothing about Miss Horn, save that she was Miss Orchardson’s cousin, and took the principal part in proving that Hangard had purloined——”

And then she paused, for she saw on his face a kind of exasperated despair.

“I happen to be Hangard,” he said, “and I wrote that book. That’s the irony of it—that they should have thought me capable. You see—I loved her.”

He looked over her head towards the sea, and she saw that he was smiling, a tormented smile.

“Of course—I don’t expect you to believe it. No one does. I’m just a shabby and ingenious cad. The woman got back at me as she always said she would.”

“What, Eleanor Orchardson?”

“Good God! no. Kate Horn. Jealousy. But I should never have dreamed——”

Pauline Marsac looked at the three trees.

“Why not tell me about it,” she said. “I don’t suppose it will take long.”

His eyes faltered.

“You wouldn’t believe. It sounds too queer.”

“Queer things happen. Let’s sit under the trees.”

She climbed to the top of the mound and he followed her, and stood hesitating.

“Do you mind if I sit there——?”

“Where?”

“At the foot of this tree. She—used to sit here, and I used to lie at her feet. It was here that I told her the plot of ‘Mary Wilberforce.’ ”

She let him have the sacred place, seating herself a little to one side of it.

“The trouble was the manuscript, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. You see—it was my first book. In a way she had inspired it. We were rather—devoted. She said the book held the blood of both of us. Kate Horn typed it; she acted as Eleanor’s secretary. My publishers never saw the manuscript, only the typescript. Eleanor wanted the original. She had queer whims; she set herself to copy the whole of my manuscript; she said that when we died I should have her manuscript, and she mine. And then she was killed, just three months before the book was published.”

He paused, pulling at the short grass.

“When the book had been out a week my publishers had a most amazing letter.”

“From Miss Horn?”

“Exactly. It asserted that Eleanor had written the book—and that I was exploiting the work of a dead woman. My publishers wired to me. I went to see them. I said the whole thing was absurd. They asked for the manuscript. Well, I hadn’t got it. I came down here and had a most ghastly row with Kate. She swore there was only one manuscript, Eleanor’s.

“Well—what could I do? I had to go through with it. I was bewildered by the woman’s vindictiveness. She wrote to the papers. Oh, well, perhaps you know what happened. She produced Eleanor’s manuscript, she swore that she had seen Eleanor writing the book, and that she herself had typed it. My tale did look a little lame.”

“But then—your previous work?”

“That was just part of the trouble. You see ‘Mary Wilberforce,’ was different from anything I had done before. It was a thing by itself, an inspiration. The literary experts who were called had to admit this. Even the style was different. So Kate Horn had me in the mud.”

Pauline stroked her cheek.

“But couldn’t you have written another book—a masterpiece—to prove——?”

He shrugged.

“I did—at least, I tried to. But things wouldn’t come. I was too jarred. I had lost her. And all my thoughts were of trying to find the original manuscript.”

“The woman burnt it?”

“But did she? I have a feeling that Kate never had it, that it is hidden away somewhere.”

He sat and gloomed. She felt that he was sorry in a way that he had told her, and that he was suffering from an exaggerated sense of humiliation. His attitude towards her became vaguely defiant. Of course she did not believe him.

“What a tragedy,” she said.

He remained mute.

“To lose—two such things. And what had you done to the woman Horn that she was so much your enemy?”

“Nothing.”

“That was just the reason. Well—I haven’t told you how it was I happened to come here.”

She could see that he was too absorbed in his own tragedy to care to listen to her gossip, but she thought that it would be good for him to be dragged for a moment out of his slough of despond, so she jumped up and went down to where her things were lying, and returned with her sketch-book.

“I am staying at Yew Tree Farm.”

“Oh,” he said vaguely.

“The night before last I woke about dawn and saw a picture on my window blind. I had had a feeling that someone had called me by name. ‘Pauline Marsac.’ The experience was so vivid that I got up and drew what I had seen on the blind, and next morning I showed the sketch to Mrs. Hathaway at the farm, and asked her if she knew any place near here that was like it.”

She passed him the original sketch, and watched his face as he examined it.

“But this is The Mount.”

“Yes.”

“And you say you saw this on your blind, and drew it from memory, though you had never seen it before?”

“It’s a fact.”

“Extraordinary! So—yesterday——?”

“I was looking for the original. That’s how we met. And early this morning I saw The Mount a second time on my blind.”

“Just the same?”

“Not quite. There was a figure.”

“Hers?”

“No; yours.”

He studied the two sketches, and then, handing them back to her, sat and looked towards the sea.

“Do you believe in this sort of thing?”

“What sort of thing?”

“All the psychic stuff?”

“I’m afraid I do.”

“But you must have seen these trees before.”

“I hadn’t; at least, not consciously.”

“Ah—that’s it.”

“Yes; but why should I see them, as I did, projected upon my window blind? That’s the point, isn’t it? There must be a reason.”

“Oh, I suppose so. Possibly.”

He appeared sceptical, wilfully so, and she felt that his wilfulness was part of the reaction caused by his suffering. He would not let himself feel or believe that there could be any significance in the incident.

“You have never had any such experience?” she asked him.

“No; nothing definite.”

“You are sceptical. But supposing someone who was dead, wanted to get a message to you, a message of vital importance?”

“Well, supposing there was such a message, why should it come through you.”

“Obviously, because you are not receptive.”

“That’s nonsense,” he said rather rudely.

And then he apologized.

“I’m sorry. But I’m all on edge. I wish to God I could get some such message.”

“With regard to the manuscript of ‘Mary Wilberforce’?”

“Ah—if it were possible!”

Pauline spent the day painting The Mount while Stephen Hangard lay on the grass and gloomed. She was conscious of his presence, but it did not distract her, for he kept quiet and did not talk, and about noon he got up and left her. She gathered that he was staying at a farmhouse somewhere between Mount Hill and Beechhurst village.

“That woman comes back to-morrow,” he said. “I shall clear out as soon as she returns.”

“Isn’t that doing what she wants?”

“I can’t help it. The thought of her being about here makes me ill.”

That night Pauline Marsac’s experience was repeated.

She saw The Mount upon her blind, but instead of there being three trees there were four.

The discrepancy astonished her, and she lay awake puzzling over it.

At breakfast she put a question to Mrs. Hathaway.

“By the way, I am painting The Mount. I suppose there were never more than three trees there?”

“There used to be four, Miss.”

“Four! You are quite sure?”

“Certain. One of the four died, and was cut down. That must have been about ten years ago.”

Her climb to the mound that morning was a flutter of excitement. She had left all her paraphernalia behind, for the artist had been lost in the woman, and she wanted to reach the tumulus before Hangard should arrive if he intended paying the place a last visit. Her curiosity centred itself about that fourth tree; she wondered whether there was any vestige of it remaining.

The Mount was deserted, and she had no trouble in discovering the position of the fourth tree. A slight swelling of the turf on the very summit of the mound partly concealed the old stump, and a portion of the old butt protruded. One or two of the twisted roots were visible, and she noticed that a rabbit had been scratching in the grassy hollow between two of the roots.

“That ought to satisfy him,” she thought.

Glancing seawards she discovered him far below her on the green slope toiling slowly upwards. She waved. Her excitement stood unconcealed.

“I have found something.”

He heard her, and came hurrying with eager and upturned face.

“What is it?”

“Last night I saw a fourth tree. There was a fourth tree. I have found the stump of it.”

He looked vastly disappointed, and he made no attempt to conceal it.

“I’m afraid the discovery leaves me cold.”

“Heavens!” she said, “with your imagination, too! Lend me your stick.”

She seized it from him, and running to the top of the mound she began to poke at the turf about the butt of the vanished tree, while Hangard stood and watched her with ironic gloom. What did she expect to find there, this absurd but rather charming creature with the bright eyes. And suddenly he saw the stick disappear for half its length into the green turf, like a stage dagger that slides into its hilt.

Her eyes were all lit up. He heard her cry out.

“Oh—come, feel this.”

He put his hand to the crook of the stick.

“Tap—tap gently.”

He obeyed her, and felt the jarring of the ferrule upon a metallic surface.

“There’s a hollow there, and something in it. Don’t you realize——?”

It took them less than twenty minutes—working with stick and hands—to grub the thing from the hollow under the tree stump. They knelt and stared at it in silence, a black deed-box, sealed, and with E. Orchardson painted in white upon the top. The box was locked.

“Well—your scepticism——”

“Scepticism! What’s in it? If——”

She laid a hand on his shoulder.

“One moment, had it not better be opened officially—before witnesses?”

He nodded.

“There’s old Carfax, her lawyer, down in the village.”

“Yes; and what about Kate Horn? Wouldn’t it be as well——?”

“My God,” he said, “if it should prove——!”

At six o’clock that evening the strange affair was carried to its crisis. They had had to wait till six for Kate Horn’s arrival. She came in with those cold and defiant eyes of hers set hard in her thin pale face. Old Carfax waggled his pince-nez at her.

“This box, Miss Horn, do you know anything of it?”

She stared at the thing on the table, and her face twitched slightly.

“No; nothing.”

“It has been found. We thought it fair that you should be present. Smith, you can get to work.”

When the local locksmith bent over the box Miss Horn gave Hangard one look of hatred and defiance. But Hangard’s eyes were watching the man. It seemed to him a long while before the lid was raised, and old Carfax—bending over the box—took out a parcel and a letter.

He read the writing on the envelope and then looked over the tops of his glasses at Hangard.

“It is addressed to you in Miss Orchardson’s writing. And this parcel.”

Hangard, white as the paper, broke the pink tapes that bound the parcel. He turned back the wrappings.

“My manuscript! The manuscript of ‘Mary Wilberforce’! The letter—her letter. It explains. Eleanor had buried it—there.”


THE RED VAN

Against the black bulk of the cathedral and facing the “Panier d’Or,” a red van diffused a half circle of light over the heads and shoulders of a small crowd. Not only was the van painted red, but the open side of it displayed a row of electric lights brilliant behind screens of red glass. The thing was both a shop and a stage, and beneath the glare of the lights a little figure in a top hat, black dinner-jacket and white shirt gesticulated and declaimed.

It was Monsieur François, or just François, proclaiming the virtues of his Electric Pills.

Nearly everyone in the Pas de Calais or Nord knew François and his red motor-van. He would arrive on market day in St. Omer, or Hazebrouk, Amiens, Abbeville or St. Venant, let down the side of his travelling show and display to the provincial mind all that electrical gear from which he extracted buzzings and chatterings and flashes of light. He made a great noise, but even so his noise was less silly and more pragmatical than the noise made by the children of the silly rich who turn on gramophones in hotels at nine o’clock on a summer morning.

François was both an artist and a wag. He had a little, white, fat, cheeky face, bright black eyes, immense self-assurance, and a manner. He could shout and declaim for hours through all the bravura of market day, and his voice never failed him. Once or twice during the performance he would swallow one of his own pills.

“There, you see. I never tire; I am never ill. I can talk all day and work half the night. I have a voice. You hear it. The cock on the church steeple hears it. And muscle—too. Look.”

He seized a cavalry sabre and brandished it, and the red light from above ran along it and seemed to drop from it like blood.

“I am strong; I am healthy. And why? Because of my great discovery. A drug may be just a drug, my friends, but charge it with electricity—and voilà! Life is electricity. Oh, yes, the doctors, the doctors, the Faculty of Medicine! Poof! They will not believe; they are jealous. But you want the right drug, and the right charge of electricity. That is my discovery.”

He raised his top hat impressively. He was an actor. He had all the tricks and the emotional suggestiveness of a priest in a pulpit.

“I salute Science. I salute all the eminent and noble searchers. I salute Galvani and Volta, Pasteur and Koch. I am jealous of no man. I, too, have made my discovery.”

He spread his arms as though preparing to embrace humanity, and babbled his fat cheeks at the crowd.

“Come, I will show you how these wonderful pills are charged with the life force. It looks very simple. All great things look simple. But it takes the great man to discover them. Ha! Someone laughs! I love laughter. I, too, can laugh.”

And he went off into a burst of buoyant, irresponsible laughter, and took a long glass tube, and closed one end of it with red wool, and dropped in half a dozen of his pills, and closed the other end of the tube with more red wool.

Voilà! We are ready. Now watch. I place the tube between these powerful batteries. Gr-r-r—t-t-ch!”

He turned a handle and there were splutterings and flashings, and he raised his hat and gazed reverently upon the glass tube.

“There. You see. The wonderful thing has now happened. Swallow those pills and you swallow life, health, happiness.”

François had a wife, rather small and solid like himself, and very much the Dea Mater behind the scenes. Madame François had fair hair, a squarish head and chin, eyes of greyish-green suggesting the eyes of a determined child. In fact there was something child-like about her, and while François lived on his loquacity, this little woman in miniature was silent and somewhat inscrutable.

She had a soft squareness, an air of sturdy wisdom, and François adored her. It is still possible for a man to adore his wife, and François might marvel, for Madame Claire somehow managed to believe in him. She liked to speak of him as The Professor, and it is possible that Monsieur François after years of fervid declaiming, and encouraged by his wife’s admiration, had come to believe that he had made a discovery, that he had fumbled his way into some mystery like a child playing with a bunch of keys. The Electric Pills did possess some potent virtue. They were more than nux-vomica and aloes.

At Bethune the show was over. Madame Claire had ceased to pass little boxes of pills to her husband through a slit in the red curtain behind the lamps and batteries. Beasts, human and otherwise, had been sold. The great tower of the church—with its two round windows which gave it the look of an owl—was lost in obscurity. François removed his hat and carefully laid it aside. His forehead glistened. A few children still stood and stared.

François threw them two five-centime pieces for a scramble. He was feeling rich; the day had been good.

“Run away, my dears. Pills—at your age—are not necessary.”

From behind the red curtain came sounds of tidying up.

“What was that, François?”

“Two small pieces of money, chérie, to the children.”

Madame sighed. Such a life as theirs did not permit of children, and both of them had a liking for children. She said:

“We have sold thirty-seven boxes.”

François made a clicking noise with his tongue.

“This is an intelligent town. My dear, I’m hungry.”

“Shall we have supper here?”

“No; I prefer to be at my ease. We will run the old bus into the yard of the ‘Three Stars.’ ”

He was detaching wires and making things shipshape for the night. With the click of a switch all the red lights went out. He said, with a voice of fat contentment:

“To-morrow we will go to Paradis.”

The voice behind the curtain protested.

“Not Paradis.”

“Why not? It is a good place.”

“But the doctor is méchant there.”

François laughed.

“The doctor! Poof, a jealous fellow. I will run him through with my sabre.”

“But you remember the last occasion.”

“Yes; that was a joke, certainly. The fellow should not come and stand on the edge of the crowd and glare. And he had jaundice, and I offered to present him with a box of pills. Ta-ra-ra! And he called me a dirty quack.”

“It does not do you any good, François.”

“Why, I’m not afraid of the fellow. It was a good advertisement. And I had the best of the small talk. We did well there. Come along, my dear, let’s get the old ship under way.”

Madame Francois joined him, and together they raised the side of the van, and bolted it, shutting away all that mystery. François lit the lamps; they were oil lamps to save electricity for the pills. He raised the bonnet flap and tickled the carburettor.

“Is she in a good temper? I wonder?”

She was. The engine started at the third pull of the handle, making a chattering roar which François rushed to control with a tweak at the throttle lever. He climbed into the driving-seat and his wife placed herself beside him. The red van and the magnetic pills rolled away to the yard of the “Three Stars.”

Parked there, Monsieur and Madame François were at home in the apartment behind the red curtains which was salon, kitchen, and bedchamber. They supped. Claire could produce excellent little dishes over the oil stove; she ceased to be mute. But on this particular night she had an air of depression. Her round eyes looked at the omelette as though she saw poison in it.

“I do not like the idea of going to Paradis.”

François, in his shirt-sleeves, was jocular.

“Oh, come now, you are bound to go there. Had I proposed the other place, well, an objection would have been reasonable. Angel.”

He kissed his wife.

“Paradis! Inevitable. If the doctor is a devil we’ll order him to go to hell.”

Monsieur François’ vitality was such, that, like the exuberances of a child, it seemed churlish to quarrel with it. Monsieur François was Madame Claire’s child, and she loved him at all times and in all places, even when he shaved himself and reproached her if she shook their flimsy house on wheels by moving about in it. So the red van trundled along the road to Paradis between rows of Lombardy poplars through which the wind played and made perpetual murmuring. It was June, and the wheat-fields were as vivid as young grass in wet meadows. Great white clouds sailed the sky. The professor’s red van raised little swirls of dust; he drove with less exuberance than he wished, for the Chariot of the Pills was more than twelve years old and very precious. François had to cherish it as he cherished his health.

But, strangely enough, on that perfect June day, with the spire of the church of Paradis piercing the green canopy of groves of poplars, Monsieur François did not feel himself. He was aware of a chilliness, a languor, vague inward discomfort. He perspired, but he persisted.

“Surely it is very hot.”

Claire agreed with him as to the heat.

“It is the engine, too, perhaps. Look.”

A faint plume of steam was rising from the radiator cap.

Tien. Yes, she is feeling it too. She needs some of our pills.”

He insisted on jocularity. He had set out to go to Paradis and defy that devil of a doctor; and go there he would, in spite of the heat and this feeling of vague physical distress. He was aware of inward qualms, but doubtless they too were due to the heat. Courage! Business was business.

So he drove the red van up the long street of Paradis, and past the house of Dr. Georges Blanc, a tall and narrow house with sneering windows, and parked his show in the “place” by the church, close to a row of pollarded limes. He raised his hat to a group of old women who had brought out their crochet and their mending to the seats under the shade of the trees.

Monsieur François was always polite, especially to the ladies. He knew how to enter a town or village, and also how to leave. It was necessary to be a little gaillard and sensational. But it seemed even hotter in the “place” of Paradis, with the sun blazing down and the houses shutting off the air. It was as though their doorways, like greedy mouths, sucked in all the freshness.

Monsieur François mopped his forehead.

“My dear,” he said, “I think I will have a little glass of cognac with my lunch. And perhaps a little sleep afterwards. We will open the show when it gets cooler. Besides, we must wait till the people come back from the fields.”

Monsieur François had his little glass of cognac and his little sleep, while his wife sat silently mending a pair of her husband’s socks. It was unusual for François to sleep in the middle of the day, and she wondered, and watched him a little anxiously. He appeared uneasy in his sleep, as though some grumble of pain made itself felt.

He woke about half-past three. The van was insufferably hot, though Claire had opened the window and set the door ajar. If you opened the door too lavishly children would be sure to poke their heads inside.

Mon Dieu, it is hot!”

He sat up, and with a wince of the mouth, put his hand to his side.

Madame regarded him intently.

“François, you are ill?”

But the pride of the Professor was piqued. He—ill? Not a bit of it. It was the heat, and he was feeling a little upset inside, and he would take a dose of salts before going to bed. Besides, there was Dr. Georges Blanc to be considered. Monsieur François was going to sell his pills in Paradis and under the doctor’s nose, even if the sky turned to molten brass.

“Give me a glass of water, my dear. François is never ill.”

About six o’clock the show opened. The side of the van had been lowered, and Monsieur François, looking rather pallid and greasy, began to potter about and make mysterious preparations. He wore his top hat at a jaunty angle; his white shirt bulged. People began to gather, women, children, men back from the fields who grinned at each other and tried to look sceptical. François smiled at them and rubbed his hands.

“Ha, you look very healthy in Paradis, but I am going to tell you a thing or two. The ladies have bright eyes, but I have something that will make them brighter.”

The crowd increased, and François switched on all his lights and crackled his electric gear. He seemed as full of joy as usual. He was inspired, strung up to a particular effort. His bright little eyes watched for his enemy, and in due course he saw the long, sardonic face of Dr. Blanc hung like a mocking mask at the back of the crowd.

Dr. Blanc was a very tall man with moustachios like one of the great Napoleon’s grenadiers, and a spot of bright colour on either cheek. His eyes were set rather like the eyes of a goat.

No doubt professional dignity and a nice sense of proportion should have prevented Dr. Blanc from meddling with the activities of a sedulous little quack, but Dr. Blanc was a quarrelsome person. He held very strong views upon irresponsible charlatanry. Moreover, for some years he had been a childless widower, and a man who lives alone and has no one either to spoil or to contradict him, is always in danger of riding the lean horse of prejudice to death. Dr. Blanc was something of a fanatic, and as ready as a priest to challenge and attack heresy.

He stood and stared fixedly upon the busy little figure of François. His nostrils quivered; his long grey moustachios were fierce and Gallic. It is possible that he thought that the concentrated stare of an accredited practitioner might disconcert the quack, but it had an opposite effect upon Monsieur François. Like the heat it both upset and enraged him; it broiled him in exceptional efforts; it inflamed his audacity. He began to return the doctor’s glare, and to throw his remarks in the direction of that formidable face.

“My discovery, ladies and gentlemen, was not made in the provinces. I, too, have studied in Paris. I have visited the United States of America. I do not keep a drug-shop at the back of an old house. I travel and see the world. I am ready to challenge the whole Faculty of Medicine, the Sorbonne, all the Academies. I live and prove my profession. Look at me.”

He spread his arms.

“Health. Have I ever been ill? Never. In Paradis is there illness—sometimes? I see there your eminent physician. I will challenge him to answer that question.”

The crowd shuffled and stirred. It felt the excitement of an emotional situation, conflict, the spice of a hot argument. Faces were turned towards Dr. Blanc.

His eyes seemed to stand out on stalks. He stood with his heels together, shoulders squared.

“I am not a liar.”

Monsieur François bowed.

“That is a good answer. Monsieur tells us the truth. He confesses——”

But Dr. Blanc’s voice cut him short. It was like a tusk jabbed into Francois’ plump little body.

“But that man is a liar. I have a box of his pills. I have analysed them. It is my duty to stand here and save my fellow-citizens from trash and humbug. I do not argue.”

François was perspiring, for the pain in him had ceased to be a vague qualm and had suddenly become acute and poignant.

“Nor do I argue, my friends. I say that my discovery is a cure which the learned profession——”

He winced, and Dr. Blanc’s sergeant-major’s voice cut the air.

“That man is a liar. I will tell you. That man is ill. He stands up and pretends to all you healthy people who work in the fields that he is healthier than you are. Look at him. I am a doctor. I say that man is ill.”

The crowd gazed upon François, and it gazed in silence, for something was happening in front of the red lamps. In spite of all that rosy glow the professor’s face had a ghastly sallowness. His mouth was twisted; his eyes looked sunken. And suddenly and incontinently before them all Monsieur François was sick. It was a catastrophe, a disaster.

Dr. Blanc stood with his head reared, gazing. Something flickered in his eyes. Triumph—perhaps? He appeared to stand stiffly, hesitating, as though casual man and social man were in conflict. Then he turned and walked slowly away.

But a woman’s voice had uttered a cry. The red curtains were pulled aside, and François’ wife had her hands on her husband’s shoulders. She drew him through the curtains. Both of them disappeared.

The crowd dispersed itself from about the red van; but much of it remained in doorways and under the shade of the trees, for its interest in the red van and its inhabitants had become controversial. The men were inclined to laugh, and to applaud Dr. Georges. “That fat little humbug has it in the stomach.” The women were more for the professor, for women rally to any man who makes a mystery of things. Also, there was another woman in the van—a woman whose man was sick.

One or two of them approached the door of the van, and the eldest of them knocked.

“Madame, can we be of any use?”

Claire’s face appeared in the doorway, very serious and pale.

“A thousand thanks. If we could have a little fresh milk. Monsieur François is resting. It is the heat which has affected him.”

Meanwhile, inside the van, François was confronting his Waterloo. The pain had abated, and he was talking of resuming the battle, but Claire was obdurate.

“I told you this place was unlucky. That doctor and his goat’s eyes! We will get out of it. We will go to Merville; Merville is a good place.”

François, peevish and pale, was compelled to agree. Very well then, but he would retreat in order; there should be no rout, with that beast of a Prussian in pursuit. He would get up and make a speech to the people of Paradis, apologize for his lapse and explain it, and promise to return to Paradis. He would depart with a dignified gesture.

Dusk was filling the “place” when the professor arose and donned his helmet, the inevitable top hat. Looking very white, he stood on the steps of the red van and addressed a few women and some children. He raised his hat to them and attempted a flourish, a jocular sally, but his wit lacked sparkle. The side of the van had to be raised and bolted, and Madame François assisted, standing on a wooden box, for she was too short to reach the bolts without it.

François removed himself to the starting handle of the red van, bent down, gripped a dumb-iron and gave a pull. But nothing happened. He tried again, groaning slightly, and uttering soft imprecations. His hat fell off. He picked it up, dusted it, flooded the carburettor, and tried again, but when he tried to pull, something hurt inside him.

Mon Dieu, she is a devil!”

He pushed his hat back, wiped his forehead, and readjusted his hat.

“My dear, we shall have to swing her. I am not myself.”

His wife joined him, and together they bent and wound at the starting handle, their two bodies pressed together in a kind of anguish of effort. The engine, relenting, started with a roar. François, livid and perspiring, climbed up behind the wheel; his wife joined him; the red van lurched forward over the cobbles of the “place.” A few children scampered after it with shouts of derision.

Standing at his window, and conscious of a strange and accusing melancholy, Dr. Georges Blanc saw the red van go by.

“Exodus,” he thought; “Paradis is purged of them. Pedlars of pills. But they are two and I am one. But for my work I would wish to die.”

Night fell. The red van had lit its lights and had travelled a couple of kilometres when it swerved to the side of the road and stopped. A row of beech trees threw a mass of shadow over the vehicle. Monsieur François, with teeth set, was leaning over the steering wheel.

“Oh, mon Dieu, the pain!” he groaned. “I cannot do it. It is too much, too bad. I am sorry, my dear, but I am beaten.”

She embraced him, her face close to his.

“Where is the pain?”

“Down here. Like a hot iron—jabbing. I must lie down.”

Claire helped him out of the seat and into one of the narrow bunks in the interior of the van, and he lay there groaning and twisting. She sat on the other bunk, looking at him, her hands clenched under her chin. She felt helpless.

“François, you must have a doctor.”

“A doctor! The devil! Why, no doctor would touch me. Anathema, outcast.”

“But you are ill.”

He groaned.

“The pain; oh, the pain!”

And suddenly panic seized her, but it was panic with a purpose. She searched for the cognac bottle, gave him a good draught, covered him with a blanket, kissed him and fled. François heard the door slammed, and was suddenly aware of the emptiness of that little cabin. He called after her.

“Claire, Claire, where are you going?”

The wind made a rustling in the leaves of the beech trees.

Madame François ran, she ran towards Paradis. She did not run as Madame François, the wife of a little wandering quack, but as woman in search of help. She was an impulse on two sturdy legs, compassion, poignant and passionate. Her man was in pain, in danger. He was a little, whimpering, groaning boy.

Dr. Georges Blanc had put on his spectacles and was sitting down to read a scientific journal when the door bell rang. It clanged; it appealed; it insisted. The doctor, who for thirty years had listened to the ringing of that bell, and could diagnose from the quality of its clangour the urge and the need of the messenger, looked over the top of his spectacles at his study door.

“Most certainly a midwifery case. Probably young Blanchard. He is a very new husband, and excitable. Probably he has run all the way from Tete Bois.”

Dr. Blanc continued to look over the tops of his spectacles at the study door. He was a man who loved his work, and who persisted in loving it even at the age of five-and-fifty, and because he loved the truth, as he saw it, he hated all quackery and moonshine. The door opened, and his housekeeper put her head into the room.

“A message from the Blanchards?” asked Dr. Georges.

“No; a woman. She says that she must see you.”

“Very well. Show her in.”

Madame François confronted the doctor. He did not know who she was until she began to speak and to explain with a kind of fierce calmness the nature of her need. She stood looking straight up into the doctor’s face, like a determined child; she was flushed; her eyes shone.

“Monsieur, my husband is very ill and in great pain. We are the people who own the red van. Perhaps you will think it gross impertinence that I should come to you, but when a man is in pain——”

The doctor laid his scientific journal on the table.

“Exactly, madame; when there is pain——”

“You will come?”

“Of course.”

Her little, determined face lit up.

“You understand, monsieur? My husband is he who sells pills. We were not polite to you to-day.”

Dr. Georges, looking even more like a fierce old grenadier, raised his hand to his forehead.

“I understand—perfectly. I salute the spirit of my profession. I am at your service, madame.”

“Monsieur, you are a great man. You have the nature of greatness.”

Dr. Georges smiled at her.

“Madame, we are two men in one, sometimes three men in one, but when my bell rings I am the doctor. Where is your husband?”

“In our van, monsieur. He could drive no farther. It is on the road, not very far.”

“I will come with you.”

So in the darkness of that summer night the doctor of Paradis and the wife of the pedlar of pills set out together for the red van and the grove of beech trees, and the rising moon threw their shadows upon the road—a long shadow and a short one. And because of the mystery of things and the interplay of her emotions Madame François’ tongue was loosed, and she began to speak to Dr. Georges as though he were priest, doctor, and man.

She spoke of her husband, and how he in his early days had desired to be a doctor, but that the way of the world and poverty and an early marriage had made such a dream impossible.

“He wanted to go to Paris, monsieur, and study; but in those days a crust of bread was a crust of bread. He would have made a good doctor. But now—of course—he is too old. We had to do the best we could. And his pills, monsieur, are really very good pills, and we are not swindlers, for people have been the better for them. Moreover, monsieur, I love my husband; he has always been bon garçon. So you will forgive me.”

The doctor’s figure looked straight and thin; he carried himself like a grenadier, and he, too, had his head in the moonlight. He was walking suddenly in a world of memories, listening to a woman’s voice.

He said:

“Madame, I had advantages. In some of us there is a strange passion to help and to heal. But I love truth. And yet, what is truth? We may see it by moonlight or at full noon, and sometimes we are a little arrogant. And I have my work to do.”

She looked up at his fierce old face softened by the moonlight.

“Monsieur, if we came to Paradis no more will you forgive us? We do a little good in our way.”

He stalked along like a man thinking deeply.

“Madame, perhaps the little good that we do—is mysterious, willed into us. I do not know. The scientists dogmatize. Perhaps faith still works. It may be that faith can be compounded in a pill.”

They came to the red van with its two eyes burning under the beech trees, and Madame François opened the door and spoke softly.

“François—François, the doctor has come.”

Her husband’s voice sounded small and faint.

“The doctor? Mon Dieu, then it is a miracle. What doctor?”

“The doctor from Paradis. How is the pain, my dear?”

“The doctor from Paradis! Well, let him come in. I would take off my hat if I could. The pain, oh—yes—the pain.”

Dr. Blanc climbed the steps of the van and removed his hat and sat down on the edge of the bunk beside Monsieur François. Madame held the lamp, and the professor’s face, all creased and puckered and pale, looked up at them.

“Monsieur doctor—you came to see me! It is astonishing.”

Dr. Georges gently turned back the blanket.

“It is my work.”

“Monsieur, I apologize. I wish to withdraw——”

Said Dr. Georges:

“Let us see what the matter is.”

The matter was serious, a sudden flare of rebellion in that little vermiform appendage that man carries about with him in a smaller edition than does his brother the rabbit. Dr. Georges felt and stroked and tapped, and looking grave, announced the fact that Monsieur François could not stay in his van. An operation might be necessary; Monsieur François must be in bed.

But where? Madame, with a finger crooked against her chin, observed that they were homeless people.

Dr. Georges pulled a moustachio thoughtfully.

“We will take him to my house. There is a good, airy bedroom. I will send a telegram. I have a friend, a surgeon.”

Paradis had its sensation; for, next morning it became known the red van of the pill seller was standing in the yard at the back of Dr. Georges’ tall house, and that Monsieur François himself lay in one of the doctor’s beds. Surely this was magnanimity. And the doctor himself had driven off in his automobile to the station five kilometres away and he brought back another doctor with him.

Paradis held its breath, and gossipped under the lime trees. It saw Madame François enter the church. Doubtless she went to pray there, and when she emerged it was seen that she had been weeping.

Paradis waited. It might be full of tongues, but it was human; and when it was known some days later that an operation had been performed on Monsieur François, and that it had been successful, Paradis in the spirit saluted Dr. Georges. Paradis had pride. Its doctor might sometimes appear to be a rather fierce old curmudgeon, but it seemed that he had the grace of le bon Dieu.

But the heart of Monsieur François was troubled. He lay in bed and pondered, for life had become perplexing. He could not boast as he had boasted of yore, and somehow his electric pills had lost their potency. He had a bill to pay, and other liabilities.

He said to his wife:

“My dear, what shall we do? Something has happened in Paradis.”

Madame François looked thoughtful.

“I have some money in a stocking. And the pills are good pills. Perhaps, if we talked a little less. But then—people—do like a mystery. It seems to me that we shall have to go on selling pills, but not in Paradis.”

Such was their fate, but it was not to be final, for when Monsieur François had shaken hands with the doctor and made a little grimace, he knew in his heart of hearts that somehow the virtue was no longer in the business. He had had a shock. The little bladder of his gaillard boastfulness was shrunken.

For a year or so the red van wandered about the roads of northern France, but Monsieur François had ceased to flourish his sabre and to boast of eternal health. He advertised the virtues of his pills more soberly, and the sale of them dwindled.

But one day, the red van reappeared in Paradis. Its coat was the same, though its inwardness had changed. It glittered with crockery, hardware, and was gay with fabrics. It advertised sewing-machines; Monsieur François had obtained a travelling agency.

He stood up as of old and extolled the virtues of sewing-machines. He did it admirably and with conviction. His wife looked a little plumper, and quite happy. A little François inhabited the interior of the van.

Monsieur François called on Dr. Georges.

“Monsieur, my gratitude survives. I now sell sewing-machines. I know all about the inside of sewing-machines. I am a doctor to sick sewing-machines. No; it is not a boast.”

The doctor brought out a bottle of red wine.

“Let a man know what he knows. Monsieur, I salute you. I will with pleasure buy one of your sewing-machines.”

Said Monsieur François:

“Monsieur, let us be honest. Already I have sold a sewing-machine to your housekeeper.”


STOCKINGS

The sun was shining, and the sea bit a great blue curve into the rocky coast. From the tennis-courts of the Hôtel Bristol came the sharp “ping” of rackets striking white balls. The palms made a pleasant, crepitant murmuring. And Mr. Fothergill sat on a seat in the Beaulieu gardens where the stocks and the wallflowers smelt better than a perfume shop in the Rue de la Paix.

Yet Mr. Fothergill was depressed, more than depressed. He felt suicidal.

“What’s the use of sunlight?”

Imagine the depth of his gloom! A little man in a grey suit and biscuit-coloured spats, dismissing the Mediterranean sun so slightingly; and this after months of rain and a summer that had degenerated into a splendour of slime and slugs!

“That doctor of mine was a fool.”

He pulled his hat over his eyes, and stared at the silver-scaled sea. Someone was hoisting the sail of a small yacht, and a figure in a bright cerise jumper reminded Mr. Fothergill of the existence of artificial silk. He looked pathetic.

“There! It hits you everywhere. What’s the use of sunlight if you can’t leave your worries at home? Did that doctor of mine think I should leave them on the Channel boat—with—other things?”

He let himself sink deeper into pessimism.

“Tennis! He said I was to play tennis—and dance! Dashed fool. What did I come for? Waste of money.”

John Fothergill had been at the Hôtel Metropole for more than a week. It was a gem of an hotel, all rose and gold, with the blue of the sea filling its windows; but Fothergill was a domesticated man, and he could not forget the wife and two girls left behind in Shacklesfield.

“Poor Molly! Poor Bertha and Jean! I’m a failure.”

Someone else arrived to share the seat with him, and Fothergill recognized the rather pleasant and great-auntly person who sat at the next table in the salle à manger of the Metropole. They had exchanged confidences. They had praised or blamed the food, and held up hands of horror over the state of England!

“Isn’t this lovely?”

Miss Ferguson was all smiles and white hair under a youthful rose-coloured hat.

“Too hot—almost,” said Mr. Fothergill; feeling that it was his fate to disagree with anything and everything.

“Oh—no.”

“It gives me a—excuse me—a liver. Rather sudden, after Shacklesfield.”

“But contrasts are so good for one.”

“That’s what my doctor said. Unimaginative ass! Oh—I beg your pardon.”

Miss Ferguson laughed.

“It takes one a week or two to get acclimatized.”

“Does it? What about worry?”

“Worry?”

“Yes, worry. You can’t get acclimatized to that. At least, I can’t. Four years of it. Or rather, ever since the boom stopped. My business, you know.”

Miss Ferguson had a sympathetic nature.

“Strikes, and all that, and foreign competition, and the exchanges, and new fads—dead in three months.”

“It must be very worrying.”

“It’s like going round and round in a whirlpool, wondering how long it will be before you are sucked down. I got giddy.”

“I see. Overworked.”

“No, over-worried. I’m a serious fellow; I have a wife and children. One’s business going to pot, you know, and your wife making herself smile. ‘Your health is everything, John’—that’s my wife. Said—she—would cut her allowance. I—was—to have a holiday—at all costs. A—holiday——!”

He sat up straight and spread his hands like a Frenchman.

“Holiday! That confounded sun—regular Mark Tapley of a sun! Of all the offensive characters in fiction. And this last summer—all slush and slime, and nobody buying anything. A slump in sunlight. Suppose I’ve got a grievance.”

It was obvious that he had.

“I’m sorry,” said the lady in the rose-coloured hat; “one feels so helpless sometimes.”

“One—is—helpless. That’s just it.”

For the next ten days John Fothergill’s sense of helplessness continued. All the blueness of sea and sky, these flowers, this happy glare of sunlight, what were they but stage scenery? His tragedy was too real, too sordid, too commercially urgent. His thoughts reverted to Shacklesfield—with its muck and its cobbled streets and its clogs. What did his health matter—anyway—if he had to go back to Shacklesfield and face bankruptcy?

The one active thing he did was to walk and to climb. He walked desperately, carrying an hotel lunch in a paper bag with a handle of red string, and poking the roads or the mule paths with a restless stick. He wore out his boots; but he did not wear out his worries.

But, by the grace of God, he was given an adventure.

He climbed to Eze. He had tea there at a café, and as he took the long mule-path that plunged down the hillside to the lower Corniche the setting sun flushed the Tête de Chien. It was a wonderful scene. Colour rushed to meet colour. It made John Fothergill think of Tree’s staging of Stephen Phillips’ Ulysses; he and Molly had seen the play on their honeymoon a hundred thousand years ago.

Wonderful days those! And what a comfortable country England had been then. Poor Molly! He paused in a sort of a dream, staring down at the lapis lazuli of the sea. So absorbed was he that he might have missed and passed by his adventure.

Someone was shouting.

Mr. Fothergill became aware of the shouting. It penetrated his mood of self-absorption, and he realized that the voice was a woman’s, and that it was calling for help. It seemed to come from a group of scattered pines on a steep slope below the path.

“Hallo——!”

“Is anything the matter——?”

“Hallo! hallo! I’m here. Please be quick, will you.”

A somewhat peremptory call from a person who appeared to be in distress, but Mr. Fothergill’s soul leapt to the distraction, and he went in search of the owner of the voice. He found her half-seated and half-lying amid a jumble of rocks beyond the pines, one slim leg stretched out, a very graceful black leg.

“Have you hurt yourself?”

“Have I not?”

Mr. Fothergill stood and stared. The woman disconcerted him, for some instinct warned him that she belonged to that mysterious and notable world that suburbia glimpses in the illustrated papers. She was what was called a “striking-looking woman.” Her hair was the colour of amber, and her eyes looked black in the glow of her face. She was tall. She wore an apple-green silk knitted dress, and white shoes, and a black hat.

Mr. Fothergill looked awkward and shy.

“Is it your ankle——?”

“Yes; I scrambled down to look at this view, and I twisted my foot between two rocks.”

“Dear me——!”

The lady was much more emphatic. Dear me—indeed!

“My dear man, don’t stand and stare. Help me back to the path——”

Mr. Fothergill hesitated.

“But ought you——?”

“Damn it; but I—must—get back to Monte in time for dinner. It’s furiously important.”

Obviously, and for some reason, it was, and her fierceness appeared to energize Mr. Fothergill.

“There is quite a lot of path left——”

“I know.”

She held out a commanding hand.

“Come on. If you help me I expect I can hobble. Once down on the road——”

“A tram or a taxi.”

“Just so.”

“Or I can stop a car for you. Excuse me——”

As the Good Samaritan he was exceedingly polite. He raised his hat before presuming to stoop to that ministering embrace.

“Supposing you put one arm——”

She had no fool self-consciousness.

“Obviously. Hold on.”

Mr. Fothergill’s left arm encircled her, and her right arm clasped his shoulders. Movement hurt her, but she had been hurt often in the hunting-field; she was determined. She encouraged him to drag her along.

“That’s it.”

“I’m afraid—it is hurting you.”

“It is. Never mind. It’s necessary——”

Mr. Fothergill felt a glow of romantic admiration for her. Indeed—this was some adventure. He got her back to the mule-path and they began to descend, while the dusk threatened to make the descent still more difficult. Fothergill was a sturdy little man; there had been days when he had played a notable game as scrum-half for Shacklesfield.

“We are getting along.”

“Splendid!” said she. “I’ll do it.”

“You’ve got some pluck. Excuse me saying so.”

“I shall be—most damnably—in your debt.”

“Oh, not at all. Lucky I turned up. By the way, where in Monte——?”

“Oh—the Grand Hotel. My name’s Mandeville.”

And then Mr. Fothergill realized the uniqueness of the adventure.

“Lady Minerva?”

“That’s me.”

Domesticated creature though he was he thrilled. Lady Minerva Mandeville! That most illustrious and meteoric woman of the world! A romantic and a sensational figure—the goddess of fashion. And he—John Fothergill—had his arm round her waist, and she was leaning upon him!

His shyness returned.

“I feel quite important—your ladyship. Hallo, mind the stone——”

“Dash the stone,” said she; “the one important thing is that I should get back in time for dinner.”

It took them three-quarters of an hour to reach the road, but reach it they did, and here Lady Minerva sat down on a bank and said things under her breath. For her ankle felt like hot metal, and it was nearly dark, and she had smoked her last cigarette.

Mr. Fothergill was standing in the middle of the road, a dramatic and determined figure. He meant to stop the first car going in the direction of Monte Carlo.

“I say—Mr——”

“Fothergill——”

“Got such a thing as a cigarette?”

“I have. Virginian?”

“Top-hole. Thanks—awfully. Hallo, there are the lights of a car.”

“I’ll stop it,” said he, as though he were Horatius, planting himself in the middle of the road.

The lights blazed down on him, and he—waving his arms like a semaphore, dared the callousness of a French chauffeur who pulled up suspiciously. Mr. Fothergill had no French; Lady Minerva supplied the language.

“What—Marquis—is it you? What luck! I’ve sprained my ankle—and I must get back——”

A little fat man was being effusively sympathetic.

“How fortunate for me. Let me assist. Now, gently——”

Mr. Fothergill was not to be effaced by a Marquis, though he did come from Shacklesfield, and his business was going to pot. He, too, assisted.

“Thanks awfully; awfully sweet of you both. Oh, Mr. Fothergill, I’m most tremendously grateful. Do come and lunch with me to-morrow——”

Mr. Fothergill blushed in the darkness.

“I shall be delighted—your ladyship.”

“Half-past twelve at The Grand. So long! You have been a regular mascot.”

John Fothergill set out to tramp back to Beaulieu, thinking what a wonderful thing it was to have been a mascot to such a woman, and wishing that someone would play mascot to his poor, derelict business.

He turned up punctually next day at The Grand, a little nervous, and unsure about his tie. Would it be a formal and fashionable luncheon? A polite chasseur took his hat and coat, and conducted him to the lounge. Her ladyship was there, in a wheel chair, and looking what the newspaper gentlemen call “radiant.”

She received Mr. Fothergill with enthusiasm.

“Good morning, Mr. Mascot. Well, everything happened as I wanted it to happen, thanks to you. Now, what about the ‘eats’—as they say in Main Street?”

Mr. Fothergill found himself lunching alone with Lady Minerva. It was an excellent lunch; they drank champagne, and she was kind and charming to him, for Mr. Fothergill made her think of a rather pathetic-looking little dog, a Pom that had lost its biscuit. He was worrying about something; he had a background of worry, and his troubled face looked out of it.

She made him talk, the champagne assisting, and he talked about himself.

“Out here for my health. Overworked—you know. I come from Shacklesfield. Has your ladyship ever visited Shacklesfield?”

No; Lady Minerva had missed that pleasure.

“Isn’t that where the ‘undies,’ come from?”

“Some of them,” said Mr. Fothergill coyly.

“The pretty-pretties. Of course.”

He did not tell her of his business worries, but it is possible that she divined them.

The wonderful meal was over, and Lady Minerva’s chair was wheeled into the lounge where, after coffee and cigarettes, Mr. Fothergill became so much part of the crowd that found it necessary to come and inquire about the great lady’s ankle, that he politely and regretfully slipped away. But she threw a smile and a few admonishing words at him over the fat back of an American film-merchant.

“Now—don’t worry—and come to see me again.”

Mr. Fothergill returned to Beaulieu, and gloom descended on him once more, a natural reaction no doubt after that glimpse into what had seemed to him a carefree world. Also, the champagne may have had something to do with it. He told himself that he would never see Lady Minerva again.

But he did see her again, or rather she saw him, a most desperately depressed-looking little man, sitting on a seat in the Casino gardens. His face shocked her. She was in a bath-chair, and she ordered the man who was pushing it to stop.

“The poor little thing is going to gamble. People who sit there—looking like the Day of Judgment——!”

Aloud, to the attendant—she said:

“Wheel me over to that seat where the gentleman in the grey suit is sitting, and then—go away for half an hour.”

She surprised Mr. Fothergill. He looked confused, disconcerted, standing hat in hand.

“Naughty Fido!” she said, wagging a finger at him; “you haven’t been to see me.”

“Really—your ladyship, I did not want to presume——”

“Presume! I owe you—ten thousand pounds—Mr. Mascot. And tell me—you were going into that place to gamble. Oh, yes, I saw it in your eyes. What we call retrieving our fortunes. Now, my dear Fido, sit down and tell me all about it.”

“Why do you call me ‘Fido’?”

“Oh, I always call people by the first name that comes into my head. Don’t be offended, my dear man. Sit down and tell me all about it.”

Mr. Fothergill was amazed at himself, but he did sit down, and he did tell her all about his tottering business, and about his wife and his two daughters.

Having listened with the sympathetic shrewdness of the woman of the world she asked him what exactly his business was.

“I’m a manufacturer.”

“Yes; but what—exactly——?”

“I make stockings and socks.”

“Now—that’s really very interesting. Can you manufacture silk stockings?”

“Most of my stockings are silk.”

“My dear man, I must think this over. Come and lunch with me to-morrow. And don’t go inside the Casino.”

“I promise,” he said.

How Lady Minerva’s cerebrations were to help his business Mr. Fothergill could not imagine; but she was a young woman of such supreme confidence—and her confidence in herself had been so triumphant—that he became infected with a vague cheerfulness. At lunch next day she made him talk to her about the stocking trade, and after lunch, in a quiet corner of the lounge, she produced a sheet of notepaper from her bag.

“Look at that.”

Mr. Fothergill sat examining the drawing of a very graceful leg encased in stocking of black and of gold, the gold being in the shape of curved lance-shaped leaves winding delicately upwards.

“Ever seen anything like that—Fido?”

Mr. Fothergill had not.

“Could you manufacture stockings like that?”

Yes; he had no doubt that he could.

“Well—it’s a novelty. Consider a moment. Supposing you rush home, could you turn out a pair of stockings like that in three weeks?”

He looked puzzled.

“I could—at a pinch.”

“Right-o. Now listen. My doctor says that I ought not to walk for three weeks—if my ankle is to be like its fellow.”

She laughed and gave a twitch of the skirts.

“Her ladyship has very——”

“So everybody says, Mr. Fothergill. Now, listen; supposing when I make my first appearance on the Terrace—I am wearing a very original and taking pair of silk stockings? Your stockings. It’s a silly world—but half the women in London appear to take an interest in what I wear. The Press knows it. The Press has an eye for my—audacities. So you see, very discreetly, I push my novelty in the way of stockings. Probably, you might read:

“ ‘Lady Mandeville was seen out for the first time. She was wearing—etc.—etc.—but the sensation was something very new and chic in silk stockings. We understand that these stockings were specially made for her by the well-known firm of Fothergill’s of Shacklesfield.’ D’you see?”

Mr. Fothergill did see.

“You really mean it?” he asked.

“Of course I do.”

“You think you can launch a new rage?”

“Well, can’t I? What about the Minerva scarf, and the Minerva corsets?”

“Your ladyship, I wasn’t questioning you——”

“Right, Fido; call the stocking the Minerva. Rush home and get busy. Be ready to turn out the new idea by the thousand, and in other colours. I think there might be something in it.”

Mr. Fothergill’s dog-like eyes had grown bright.

“By Jove! yes. A possible boom. With me weeks ahead. And what——?”

“And what——?”

“Your ladyship—naturally. I’m a business man——”

“Fudge,” said she; “I owe you a good turn. Do you think I shan’t enjoy it? Why—as the Yanks say—if the game comes off, I shall be tickled to death.”

The very next day Molly Fothergill received a telegram:

“Returning at once.—John.

And Mr. Fothergill was only a few hours behind the telegram. The holiday appeared to have done him an amazing amount of good. He kissed his wife like a lover.

“I’ve got an idea—a great idea. There’s hope.”

But he was mysteriously reticent as to the nature of the idea. He was concealing a possible triumph.

In three weeks Lady Mandeville had her stockings. She tried them on in front of her long mirror, and certainly—on her legs—the effect was delightful.

“H’m,” she reflected, “in six months Kensington High Street and the Clapham Road may be full of this sort of thing. Such is fame!”

Nor had she miscalculated either her own importance or the suggestibility of the great public. Granted that her skirts were a trifle brief on the day that she wore Mr. Fothergill’s stockings, and that her legs were—well—the legs of Lady Minerva Mandeville. Even a Scandinavian Prince fell to the flicker of the black and the gold. People asked questions.

“Where—did she get those stockings?”

Enterprising ladies connected with the Press came for interviews.

“Oh—these stockings? Rather ducks, aren’t they. Yes; specially made for me by Fothergill’s of Shacklesfield. What? Haven’t heard of Fothergill’s? Most nutty firm in the north.”

She sent a telegram to Mr. Fothergill:

“Be ready. I think the disease is catching.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Fothergill was cautiously and secretly manufacturing stockings. It was a gamble, but a safer gamble than roulette. He was buying every sort of illustrated paper, and all those very feminine journals, beginning with the Bystander, and ending with Fashion Snippets. And one day he saw the first gleam of those black-and-gold inspirations.

It spread. One paper produced a whole page photo of a leg sheathed in the new creation.

All the feminine tittle-tattle began to be full of stockings—silk hose. They crept into the gossipy “pars.” Aunt Polly talked about them in Mignonette. A daily paper reproduced them on its woman’s page. The Minerva Stocking, made by Fothergill’s of Shacklesfield.

It was a boom.

Mr. Fothergill, in a state of strenuous hilarity, began to be smothered with inquiries, orders. He was turning out stockings, cataracts of stockings. He began to advertise on his own account.

“Wear the Minerva Stocking. Made by Fothergill’s of Shacklesfield. Eve wore them in the Garden of Eden. That is why Adam——”

He wrote letters of gratitude and exultation to Lady Minerva.

“We are being flooded; we can’t make the things fast enough——”

The only fly in the ointment was the rather enigmatic attitude of his wife.

“John—did you really—meet Lady Minerva?”

“Of course I did. I’ll tell you all about it.”

“And you made these stockings specially—to fit her leg——?”

“Well—I should not have sent her out a misfit, my dear, should I?”

“John, did she give you one of her stockings—for a pattern?”

Mr. Fothergill held his breath. He was conscious of a moment of illumination.

“Of course. Do you think I measured——?”

But, by Jove, what a dog he was! He had never suspected it. And here was the devoted Molly accusing him of doggishness. Life was worth living—after all.

Some time in the autumn Lady Minerva, piqued by curiosity, took a walk up Kensington High Street.

Every other leg or so advertised her fame.


SAPPHO

The girl had come running from where the goats were feeding on the hillside, and at the gateway in the rude stone wall of the farm she paused and stood for a moment at gaze. She was out of breath, a long, dark, wild creature, bare-footed, her unstockinged legs showing red scratches where the scrub upon the hillside had left its marks upon her.

“Mother, mother, a boat!”

The slimness of her shadow fell projected upon the flattened boulders of the path, and here another shadow joined it, rotund, immense, the sun-shaped outline of Kyria Anna Zapta, lady of Leros. She, too, stood and stared with her coffee-coloured eyes, her red apron bulging, her feet well apart.

Kyria Anna’s greeting of the unexpected took the sound of a grunt.

“A boat.”

It was passing between the grey and rocky horns of the inlet below them, a white bird of a boat, gliding under jib and mainsail, with a figure in a white sweater seated in the well behind the cabin. It forged into the blue-green circle of the little bay, and coming up into the wind, lay with sails flapping. The white figure became busy with the tackle. The white wings fell. The boat lay there in the calm blueness, with two portholes of its little cabin blinking.

“The sea sends us a stranger,” said the big woman.

Sappho—her daughter—was leaning a shoulder against the stone wall, one bare foot curved over the instep of the other.

“Who will it be? A strange boat.”

Her mother, swarthy and laconic, with two deep grooves framing her broad nose, and her large eyes ominously shrewd, watched the boat and its solitary occupant. He had stowed the sails, and was standing up and looking towards the green cleft of the valley in which the Zapta farm stood solitary and white. It was the only inhabited building on the island, and the Zaptas were its only inhabitants, the mother, the daughter and the three sons. Once a month or so a caique would come across from Zante, to unload and to load what Leros had to give and to take.

“He is going to land,” said the girl.

Her dark eyes showed a flickering excitement. The man in the boat had got out two sculls, and standing up like an Italian, was propelling the little yacht towards the rocky jetty where Yannie Zapta’s boat lay moored.

“He has fair hair,” said the girl, with a sudden suggestion of breathlessness.

Kyria Anna drew a broad hand across her mouth.

“A Frank. I saw them in the old days. English.”

Her swelling, yellow eyelids seemed to close over her coffee-coloured eyes until the irises were no more than two brown slits. She had a watchful, calculating air. In her the hard cunning of the eternal peasant stood at gaze. Life was a shrewd business; the hoarding of gold coins in a hole under Mother Zapta’s immense bed.

The stranger had moored his boat to the jetty. They saw him standing there, looking boyish and tall, his eyes taking in all that part of Leros that was visible to him, the grassy valley, the patches of corn, the scattered olive trees, the grey hills streaked with yellow lichen, the farm with its three cypresses, the outline of the old Venetian tower rising on a ridge against the blue of the sky. He began to stroll up towards the farm, his hands in his trouser pockets, his eyes at gaze, searching the valley like the eyes of a lover.

“He has come ashore for water,” said the mother.

“We can give him water.”

“We can sell him water. Water is scarce in the islands.”

They stood and waited. The three sons of Anna Zapta were at work in the vineyard beyond the hill, and the stranger was greeted by the two women, the laconic and massive mother and the quick-eyed girl. He had fair hair, a smooth chin, and blue eyes that smiled and looked into the distance and smiled again, and he stood there easily, his hands resting on his hips.

“Many days to you, lady. I am a traveller—a sailor; I came in a boat—as you see. I visit the islands—your island.”

He smiled at the girl who was watching him, all eyes for his newness, his strangeness. She looked at his clothes, his hair, his skin, his string-soled shoes. He had spoken to them in the pure Greek, and to the Zapta women the pureness of the tongue sounded strange, for in Leros they spoke the demotic.

“English?”

Kyria Anna’s deep voice was like the grasp of a hand drawing his attention from her daughter to herself.

“English—yes. I visit the islands in my boat. I wish to stay in Leros a few days. I ask your permission.”

The Greek woman nodded.

“I have a tent—you understand? If I may put it up under the shade of one of the poplars beside the stream? Greek earth under one’s feet! A change from the sea. And the lady will perhaps let me buy vegetables—and eggs?”

Again Anna Zapta nodded.

“As you wish,” she said.

An hour later they saw him pitching a little tent by one of the poplars beside the stream. Demetrios, the eldest of the three Zapta brothers, happening to return to the farmhouse, found the girl and the woman watching something over the top of the yard wall. The white tent and its owner had been hidden from the Greek by the buildings of the farm. He, too, called upon to gaze and to listen, hung a morose black beard over the stones, and contemplated this stranger. Demetrios resembled his mother; he had the same huge frame, and the same coffee-coloured eyes, and in the son the mother’s harshness had repeated itself in the form of a fanged truculence.

Anna Zapta sent the girl away to cut up vegetables for the evening meal. There are some things that are better kept away from a girl’s ears, and Kyria Anna’s interest lay in knowing why the man had come here. She was not one who believed in motiveless pilgrimages.

“These English may be strange fools.”

“But it will be easy,” said her son, “to go down and ask him.”

His mother emitted one of those expressive grunts.

“Easy. Yes; and if he has a reason, he is less likely to tell it to you. A man does not sail to Leros without a reason.”

Demetrios meditated.

“I will go down and speak to him.”

“Ask him to sup with us,” said his mother. “And do not forget to smile.”

But the Englishman was better at smiling than were the Zaptas, for at this season of his life he was doing just that which his heart had always yearned to do, and the man who accomplishes his desire smiles easily. Demetrios found him erecting a camp-bed. They exchanged courtesies, and Demetrios accepted a cigarette. He stood in the opening of the little tent, in his baggy white breeches and red sash, smiling whenever the Englishman looked at him, but in the intervals between his smiles the Greek’s face seemed covered by a swarthy shadow.

All Greeks are inquisitive, and Rupert Merrow had nothing to hide. He talked to Demetrios as though Demetrios had a right to know why he had come to Leros.

“I am a sailor’s son, and a scholar.”

“Ah—a scholar.”

“A Greek scholar. It had always been my dream to come and sail among the islands, Delos, Naxos, to visit the homes of your ancestors, Kyr Zapta. Sometimes a man’s dreams come true.”

Demetrios smiled.

“That’s so.”

“For five years I was a schoolmaster.”

“A schoolmaster.”

“And then—someone—left me a little money.”

“Money is very useful.”

“And here I am.”

Just when the sky had begun to grow yellow above the hills of Leros and the sea had turned to violet, Rupert Merrow strolled up to the farm. The Zaptas greeted him with swarthy ceremony. In the kitchen where strings of dried vegetables hung from the beams, and ikons glimmered dimly on the walls, Kyria Zapta sat at the end of a table of Spanish mahogany. Yannie and Christobulos, her two other sons, stood behind her and smiled. Sappho, the girl, perched on a stool, watched the Englishman with Delphic eyes.

Merrow felt at home with these people, for were they not Greeks, his Greeks, the beloved children of his beloved ancients. He saw in them a stateliness, a dignity, much that he wished to see. He talked like an eager boy; he had no guile, and he sensed no guile in the eyes of these tall islanders. To him Anna Zapta was the lady of Leros, a swarthy Penelope, a little vast in her majesty, no doubt, but the mother of Greek children.

Merrow told them why he had come to Leros.

“To see the place where your great temple stood, the temple of the Lady of the Myrtles.”

They did not understand him. He had to explain that he was speaking of the temple of the Lerine Venus, that famous, white-pillared shrine that had glimmered in the green valley above the sea.

“The books tell me that some of the stones are still to be seen.”

Demetrios, at the end of the table, exchanged a stare with his mother.

“Yes, there are stones,” he said guardedly.

His mother was peeling an orange.

“Some of the stones were built into this house.”

Sappho, on her stool, her feet thrust into a pair of red Turkish slippers, ate her supper, and fed upon the stranger’s words. It was evident that he puzzled her, as all new maleness must puzzle the incipient woman, and her wide eyes envisaged the fairness of him, something glowing both of spirit and of face. He was so different from these brothers of hers, and from the dark-chinned men who came from Zante, men who looked as though their thoughts had to be hidden. She contrasted their obscure, dark, inward faces with the face of this northerner, the face of the eternal dreamer, of the immortal and questioning boy. She was too young to understand the upward winging of her wonder, though she was very conscious of this wonder.

Merrow had risen and was wishing them good night.

“My tent is very small,” he was saying, “but if the Lady of Leros will lend me her kitchen I will return her her welcome.”

He went out into the night where a full moon hung poised over the sea. The girl had made a quick movement and from the doorway she had watched him cross the little courtyard. The room was silent behind her, and feeling its silence she turned to see her three brothers standing by the table looking at their mother, for it was from Anna Zapta that the silence had spread. She was the core and the cause of it, sitting there huge and thoughtful in her chair, like some doom figure brooding upon its own inevitableness.

Sappho shrank against the wall. She felt a sudden fear of her mother; why, she did not know.

Anna Zapta’s eyes rose slowly to the face of her firstborn. She made a pointing movement with her hand, and Demetrios understood her. They had the same thoughts.

Demetrios went out into the night, and there for Sappho the action of the evening ended. A wave of her mother’s large and yellow hand sent her to her little room above the kitchen, and she lay there listening for voices; but there were no voices. She heard Yannie and Christobulos go to the room above the stable, and after that there was more silence. Later, when she was on the edge of drowsiness, she heard voices, and knew that Demetrios had returned. He and Anna Zapta were talking. The murmur of their talk was vague and distant.

“I followed him,” the son was saying; “he did not go to his tent, but wandered up the valley. The moonlight is very bright; I had to be careful. He kept walking round and round where those white stones lie. He sat on one of the stones, and talked.”

“He talked? With nobody there?”

Demetrios nodded.

“It was like a man putting a spell. He held out a hand to the moon. Presently he went away to his tent, and lit a light there. I saw his shadow. When the light went out I crept down to his boat. He had left the doors of the cabin unfastened.”

His mother listened with vast immobility.

“You searched.”

“There was nothing—nothing to show.”

She looked slantwise along the table.

“We must find out. A man does not come to look at old stones. He has heard of the secret; some sailor man has told him. These scholars—cunning people——”

Demetrios’ face showed a vague smile.

“The hoard of Dandolo,” he said. “But if we have searched, and our fathers before us——”

“He has heard of it,” said Anna Zapta. “Perhaps the secret of it was to be found in some old book. We must watch.”

So the game began, for it was not to be believed that a man would sail hundreds of miles in a little white boat just to look at a few old stones on an island. The Zaptas were hard people with gnarled souls. For generations they had torn sustenance from this rocky island; they had suffered the rule of the Turk; life had been grim and careful and secretive. The Englishman’s story was absurd. They had no doubt but that he had heard this Monte Cristo legend, and that he had been lured to Leros by the story of that Venetian hoard buried somewhere. But where? Sundry generations of Zaptas had asked that question and had tried to answer it. They believed in the legend; they had dug and burrowed, delving deep into the cellar of the old Venetian watch-tower. They had hoarded this mysterious and unsolved secret; it belonged to them.

“We must watch. We must find out how much he knows, and what he knows.”

Anna Zapta had spoken.

Merrow, the enthusiast, the dreamer, was like a child in the midst of their imaginings. The sun shone, the sea was blue, and between the grey knees of the hills lay the valley where the Venus of Leros had smiled upon her worshippers. The stones were there, sunk in the soil, looking like the backs of couchant sheep. His enthusiasm began with a swim in the sea, and breakfast under the shade of the poplar. Then he would get to work with measuring tape and notebook and the eyes of the scholar, tracing out the foundations of the temple of the Lady of the Myrtles.

He was watched. And what could be more suspicious than these careful activities, these measurings and scribblings? Even his pocket-book was suspect.

Yet he was to win a disciple.

The girl, leaving her goats, or her work about the house or in the garden or vineyard, would come gliding on those long legs of her, velvet-eyed, hair loose, a veritable Œnone.

The Englishman was a strange creature, mercurial, blue-eyed, incredibly appealing. He smiled at her; he talked. He would let her stand behind him while he sat on one of the old worn stones and drew things in his notebook.

“What do you do, Englishman?”

She was a Greek girl and he accepted her as a fellow enthusiast. The temple of the Venus of the Myrtles! He pictured it to her, its white marble pillars, its light and soaring architrave, the gleaming steps, the forecourt, the groves of cypresses, the mysterious violet-coloured gloom with its portals. And she saw it, its beauty, its symbolical mystery. She saw it in him, and heard it in his voice. He convinced her. He was not like the men—her brothers.

It became a magic game between them. She joined in the dream building of a thing that was dead. She held one end of the measuring tape, and ran about with quick and eager movements, uttering little cries, or looked over his shoulder, and pointed with a slim brown finger, and sparkled, and made sudden discoveries, and was full of quick colour under her olive skin. In three days she knew as much as he did, or all that he knew of the dead temple.

“We must dig,” she said.

“Yes; we must dig.”

It was she who ran up to the farm for a mattock and a long-handled spade, and Anna Zapta, listening with half-closed eyes, put no refusal in the path of the adventure.

“Ah! he wants to dig?”

“Yes; to find the old stones that are buried.”

“Very good,” said the mother; “let him dig.”

When Sappho had gone to bed Kyria Zapta and her sons held council together. They were angry with the Englishman, for it seemed to them that he was treating them as very simple people, fools who would believe anything, and of course all this digging of his appeared the most insolent make-believe. He was even using the girl—their sister, telling her fairy tales. Obviously he had some knowledge that was not theirs, and he had trumped up a pretty story to excuse his playing about with mattock and shovel. He would go on telling Sappho fairy tales, and one night he would dig up something and be off like a thief in that white boat.

“We must find out,” said Anna Zapta.

She stroked a broad nose with a thoughtful finger.

“These English talk easily when they are full of wine. I remember—in the old days. He shall come here and drink wine.”

So it was planned; but Anna Zapta’s Greek wine failed to loosen Merrow’s tongue or to make a babbling and boastful fool of him, for the Englishman was no wine-drinker. The filled glass, sipped at occasionally, remained at his elbow. But he talked, and he talked like a young Homer, while Anna Zapta silently raged.

Obviously, the fellow was cunning.

“Set the girl on him,” said Demetrios with one swarthy, sidelong glance at his mother, when Merrow had gone to his tent.

Anna Zapta’s face became a thunder-cloud.

“What are you saying? My girl is no——”

Demetrios shrugged.

“No; not that. There are different keys to different men’s hearts. The wine will not open him. But some men can be fooled——”

They talked it over, bending forward over the table and looking into each other’s eyes. Demetrios had his say. Some men were soft about women, and though Sappho was little more than a child, the fellow seemed taken with her.

Sappho was fetched out of bed, and made to stand in that grim family circle, listened wide-eyed to the monstrous accusation. Her Englishman was a thief, a cunning fellow who had come to rob poor people, and to dig in the soil and carry away their treasure.

She would not believe it.

But when those intent and greedy faces drew closer about her, and she felt the menace of their anger, and was made to grasp the part she was to play, she grew suddenly and strangely silent. She nodded; she acquiesced. Like a wild thing she was aware of the danger, but she hid her knowledge of it, dissembling, even smiling, while the soul of her fluttered.

“Yes; I will try.”

They made her dress herself next morning in a milk white petticoat and red jacket, with a green sash about her slimness.

“You shall say it is your name-day.”

They gave her red leather shoes and gold earrings.

“Somewhere there is treasure hidden. Make him tell you. One of us will be watching.”

Merrow, sitting on the stones of a foundation wall they had uncovered, with a pipe stuck in the corner of his mouth, and his notebook beside him, saw this gay figure descending. She came quickly, and yet with an air of unwillingness; she had ceased to be the Sappho of yesterday, the fellow-playmate. Her eyes avoided him; she stood there staring into the open trench.

He held his pipe in his hand and smiled.

“What is this? A birthday?”

She raised the two corners of a white apron edged with blue embroidery, and suddenly her impulse had its way.

“They are saying that there is treasure here, and that you have come to take it away from us. They say that you must know where it is hidden.”

Her eyes held his.

“You would not tell me a lie. I do not believe it. But they are angry——”

His inclination had been to laugh, but her eyes were not for laughter. He looked at those gay clothes of hers, and at the figure of her flowering with southern significance.

“Treasure, Sappho? What do they mean?”

“The treasure of the Venetians, hidden here somewhere years and years ago.”

“I know nothing of it. And they think——?”

“Yes.”

Her dark eyes hid something of shame, and her shame was an appeal.

“I swear to you, Sappho, that I know nothing of this treasure.”

“You need not swear to me,” she said quickly. “What you say—I believe.”

He put out a hand, but she stood there, sullen and troubled, struggling with words that were hard to utter.

“But—Kyr Merrow—will they believe——? You see, life is hard here, and money does not come easily. And I am afraid. Oh, go away; go away quickly.”

He climbed out of the trench and stood beside her.

“Oh, but they will believe. I have nothing to fear.”

But she was afraid, and behind her fear were the swarthy faces of her mother and her brothers. She sat down on one of the stones and pleaded with Merrow, showing a sensitiveness that surprised him. She pleaded both for them and for him, understanding their grudging suspicions and Merrow’s lack of seriousness in meeting their suspicion. They would not believe his story, and he could not believe theirs.

The child in her seemed to become aware of the double involvement. She jumped up, and putting her hands upon his shoulders, pushed him gently from her.

“Please—please go away.”

Her earnestness troubled him.

“Well—perhaps—to-morrow.”

“You promise?”

“I will think it over,” he said.

But she would not leave him until he had given her a half promise that he would embark his tent and his belongings in the white boat very early next morning, and sail away from Leros.

“For,” as she said to him, “we and you are strangers. You came here, and they do not understand. I—understand—but they do not. Nor can you understand the suspicions in their hearts. You and they are strangers.”

He tried to smile it off, and to convince himself that he had no cause to feel mortified because his Greeks were not the Greeks of his scholar’s dream.

“If my being here casts a shadow,” he said, “then I will go.”

She folded her hands over her bosom and looked at him with dark and immense self-questioning.

“I will go and tell them. What shall I tell them? It must be a lie. They must think——”

And then she left him, slowly climbing the hillside towards the farm, while Rupert Merrow sat down and smoked a pipe over this problem of the peasant mind. These Zaptas could not believe that a lone man could come to an island, following the light that was in him, but they must needs seek a material purpose, seeing their own narrow greed in the eyes of a stranger.

The truth depressed him, and more than it should have done, for he was one of those men who like to believe people to be better than they are.

“It’s absurd,” he said to himself; “I’ll stay here and see it out. To run away from such a silly fable! To-morrow—perhaps—I will go and talk to that old woman.”

Yet the Zapta mind was to be more previous than the scholar’s, and more quick in action. That night one of the brothers lay across Sappho’s door, listening for any sound from her, while the others spoke their minds.

“It is better to be sure. If he knows anything—he must share it with us.”

The mother, with hands folded over her obese implacability, nodded a ruthless head.

“Let it be done. There will be no boat from Zante for many days. We will say——”

So, by the light of the moon the three brothers went down to the little bay, and unmooring Merrow’s boat, unshipped the mast and sunk the boat in deepish water. They swam ashore, and crept up cautiously to the silent tent where the Englishman lay sleeping.

When Sappho opened the shutter and looked out of her window she saw that the white tent had disappeared, and that Merrow’s boat no longer lay beside Yannie’s caique.

“He has gone,” was the cry of her heart; “he has kept his promise.”

She was both glad and sorry; she put on her old clothes and went down to the day’s work as though nothing had happened, and she pretended to a surprise that hid secret thoughts.

“What, he has gone?”

Her mother had the air of a woman who was not in a temper to be spoken to.

“Yes; and he owes us for a string of onions and six eggs. To sneak away in the night—like that!”

Her face expressed disgusted scorn.

But Anna Zapta was an autocrat, and whatever the mood was that possessed her, she gave way to it, and all the population of Leros bowed the knee, and on the day after the Englishman’s disappearance she appeared to be consumed by a fever of activity. The burden of it was laid upon Sappho’s shoulders. There came the sudden announcement that the whole house was a pigsty, and from the early meal until sunset Sappho toiled and swept and washed, and carried in clean water and carried it out dirty. Anna Zapta was relentless when these restless moods were upon her.

Not till sunset was the girl able to escape from the house, and even then she was watched by Christobulos who sat and smoked upon the yard wall. She went down the hill to the poplar tree, and let the first sadness of her youth spend itself in the blue dusk. She looked at his stones, at the hollows in the valley where they had played that game of rebuilding a dream past.

“It is just like a dream,” she thought. “He came, and he has gone; and my heart is heavy.”

Two days passed, and Anna Zapta’s passion for cleanliness continued, but on the third night a strange and secret restlessness attacked the girl. She had a feeling that something was happening, something that she could neither hear nor see. Her mother was strange, tempestuous, yet sullen. And Demetrios would sit all hunched up at his meals, gnawing his bread with those long teeth of his.

Moreover, she had seen Demetrios—or a figure that was like her eldest brother’s—outlined against the dawn on the ridge where the tower of the Venetians stood. No one ever went there. She had wondered why Demetrios was there.

Such was her restlessness, her intuitive dread of some unknown horror, that she slipped out of her window that third night, and stepping with bare feet on the tiled roof of the pent-house below it, let herself down to the ground. A waning moon was coming up over the sea. She was full of tremors of fear and of nameless excitement. She ran and yet held her breath, climbing through the rough scrub towards the black and squat outline of the ruined tower. It was as though it held something—had a dark and silent mouth that tried to utter a cry of distress.

She was close to the tower, under the bulky shadow of it, when she heard a cry, a faint sound like the cry of someone entombed. Her heart seemed to leap to her mouth. Shivering, she slipped in through the broken doorway, and stood leaning against the wall, the roofless circle above her showing the stars.

Had she imagined that sound?

But no; it came to her again.

“Sappho—Sappho—water.”

In an instant she understood, and understood with horror and tumult and a hurrying tenderness. An old wooden trap-door covered the entrance to the cellar-pit below the floor. She groped and found it, and found it covered with a pile of heavy stones.

Panting, she rolled them away. She fought the door with her thin brown fingers, and with torn finger nails, swung it back and up.

“Is it you?”

His voice came in a dry whisper:

“Sappho—water——”

She brought him water in an earthenware pot, but to descend to him she had to make a second journey to the farm for a rough ladder that hung under the eaves of one of the outhouses. Meanwhile, her terror became a thing of horror and of tenderness. Merrow was very weak. For two days he had had neither food nor water, and she had to support his shoulders while he drank, and in that dark pit their bodies and breath were mingled. She learnt the truth from him. Her brothers had cast him into the pit, and each night he had had the same words thrown down to him:

“Tell us the secret and we will give you water.”

“My Virgin!” she cried, and held his head against her shoulder; “and they are my brothers!”

But she was strong, and she got him up the ladder and down the hillside to the stone jetty where Yannie’s boat lay moored. A dog had begun to bark up at the farm, and in that moment of terror she realized that Merrow was too weak to save himself. He lay there in the bottom of the caique, incapable of hoisting a sail or of pulling at a sweep.

She cast off the moorings, and with a brown foot thrusting against the stones, she scrambled over the gunwale as the caique slid away from the jetty, while Merrow lay there watching her. She got out the light sweeps, and urged the boat slowly towards the open sea. On the island someone was shouting.

Clear of the bay she shipped the sweeps, and went to the sail, but she was not strong enough to hoist it.

“Help. They are coming. They can swim.”

Merrow, struggling to his knees, got hold of the tackle, and adding his weight to hers, they managed to hoist the sail. A light breeze caught it, and Sappho, scrambling over Merrow to the tiller, gave the caique the wind.

“It is over,” she said, and choking suddenly, wept as she held the boat’s head from the island, the exile of circumstance.

Merrow listened to the sound of her weeping, and the prattle of the water against the planks. A stupor descended upon him; he was no more than a child in a cradle, while she—the sudden woman, held to her course. And presently, Merrow fell asleep.

It was daylight when he woke. He was lying in the bottom of the boat, with his head on a coil of rope and turned towards the boat’s bow. Sappho was at the tiller, standing, her eyes looking westwards over the purple sea. And behind her the sun was rising, a great knot of cerise in the midst of a blue-black cloud.

“Sappho?”

Her eyes fixed themselves on him suddenly.

“I can never go back again—never.”

And Merrow, watching the sun shake itself free of the flat cloud, knew that what she had said was true.


THE BLACK CAT

He stood in the vestibule of the Hôtel de Provence while the blue-coated concierge signalled for a taxi. Of medium height, dressed in black, with a cigar tucked between his full red lips, he had the air of a man who enjoyed life, and who enjoyed it with suave ferocity. His little black beard was cut to a point. He wore a soft collar, a big black tie, and a large-brimmed soft hat. His boots were of patent leather. He looked the musician or the artist.

The concierge returned through the swing doors.

“The taxi, monsieur.”

He held back one of the leaves of the door and watched the man in the soft hat cross the pavement. The man’s name was Muller—at least that was the name in the hotel register—and his French was not the French of a native. The concierge observed him; for it was part of his business to observe people, and his pleasure was to make inward comments upon them.

“A fellow who enjoys life. Fond of women. Plenty of money. Purrs like a cat.”

Monsieur Muller was speaking to the taxi-driver.

“The bureau of the Compagnie Transatlantique.”

Bien, monsieur.”

The taxi rattled down the Cannebière towards the old port, and Muller sat smoking his cigar and watching the crowd. His eyes dwelt principally upon the women. It was obvious that he was a connoisseur. His red lips were appreciative, and when he smiled his sharp white teeth made his lips look more red. As the artist—or the musician—and the man of pleasure he tasted life delicately, and with success. He smiled; he was well fed; but there were moments when his red mouth and his glassy brown eyes were cruel.

The taxi passed the Fort St. Jean, and the broad sky opened above the Bassin de la Joliette. Masts and funnels showed. Casks and sacks and cases were piled in the sheds; rough-looking men lounged and spat. The taxi drew up outside the offices of the Compagnie Transatlantique, and Monsieur Muller alighted.

The footwalk had become a temporary camping ground for a complex crowd of Arabs, Maltese, Negroes, Corsicans, and people of mixed colour, who had either arrived or were awaiting departure, and when Mr. Muller had dismissed his taxi, he had to find a passage through this assortment of humans who sprawled or squatted, with their nondescript luggage scattered about them. There were women in the crowd, and children, and Mr. Muller showed his good nature by chucking a small child under the chin, and by smiling upon its parents. The people made way for him. He walked softly and politely like a sleek black cat.

Leaning against the wall was a tall man dressed in the dirty clothes of a coal-porter. He had a knife in one hand and a raw onion in the other, and he was cutting slices from the onion and slipping them into his mouth. His hair and beard were grey, and yet he was a youngish man who looked as though he had been frosted before his time.

Muller was emerging from the crowd when the coal-porter happened to raise his eyes, and the slice that he had cut from the onion remained poised upon the blade of the knife. His blue eyes stared. They looked like two hard circles of stone. He remained absolutely still, with the onion slice balanced upon the blade of the knife.

Muller was not conscious of the man’s stare. He was moving towards the main doorway, and he disappeared into the vestibule. The man with the onion made a quick, gliding movement along the wall, and saw Muller pushing open the glass door of the office. There were a number of people strung along the counter, waiting to buy tickets or to make inquiries as to the boat-sailings, and Muller took his place at the counter, and leaning easily against it, glanced at some of the pamphlets and advertisements that were displayed there.

The man with the onion had disappeared. He was running across the road in the direction of a lorry that had unloaded a pile of cases outside one of the sheds. A group of stevedores had gathered behind the lorry; they were arguing and making a great deal of noise. A slightly-built man with melancholy eyes and a pale face was leaning against the lorry, smoking a cigarette.

The man with the onion called to him and made a sign.

“Gorouki——”

The melancholy eyes expressed surprise. He moved languidly in the direction of the coal-porter, who stood waiting with an air of suppressed fierceness.

“What’s the trouble, Saratoff? Seen a ghost?”

The man with the onion uttered two words.

“Petrovsky—Ginkelstein.”

They had an extraordinary effect upon Gorouki. His melancholy eyes seemed to fill with red light; his languor disappeared; the whole of him seemed to stiffen.

“What are you saying——?”

Saratoff pointed with his knife.

“Over there in the office. Sure of it. His white rubber face and red mouth. Come and look——”

They went—these two—Saratoff, tall and lined and grey, and with eyes that seemed to stare at something that was a long way off; and Gorouki, fragile and fierce and trembling—and they stood among those Mediterranean people upon the pavement, and watched the doorway of the Compagnie Transatlantique. Gorouki was shaking. Saratoff kept a hand on his arm.

“Be careful, little mouse.”

Gorouki made a noise in his throat.

“Mouse! Yes; and does he still slide about like a sleek black cat? You—remember?”

The big man’s fingers tightened on his arm.

“Yes; that was a filthy night. He sat there and purred. Look——!”

Muller had reappeared. He stood for a moment on the step examining a steamer ticket. He smiled as he slipped it into a wallet, and replaced the wallet in his pocket. He did not see the two men.

Saratoff was holding Gorouki by the arm.

“Quiet, Paul.”

Gorouki’s eyes were red.

“Lend me your knife.”

Saratoff restrained him.

“Not so fast. We did not expect such luck to come to us, did we? And just to use a knife is too easy. Besides, it is my knife.”

“You are afraid?”

“Hardly. Don’t you remember how often we have sat and discussed what we would like to do to that evil beast? And here he is. A miracle!”

Muller, alias Petrovsky, alias Ginkelstein, was walking away along the quay in the direction of Fort St. Jean.

“We shall lose him.”

“I think not. Did you not see that ticket, and the colour? Let us enjoy ourselves.”

Saratoff’s deliberation was far more grim than Gorouki’s febrile ferocity, and as they followed Ginkelstein along the Quay de la Joliette, a light came into the tall man’s grey-blue eyes. He walked with a long-limbed jauntiness, holding Gorouki above the elbow; Ginkelstein was strolling, very much at his leisure; he paused to light another cigar.

Saratoff swung his friend round and made a show of being interested in a ship lying in the Bassin.

“He will be staying at an hotel. We will follow him there. He will dine. It is possible that he will stroll out to sit at a café and to look at the women. We shall be there. But we must be very careful; we must not waste this God-sent opportunity.”

“Saratoff,” said the little man, “if you will lend me your knife—I will do it now.”

“Not so fast. There is a time and a place for everything. Besides—why should we have to pay up? We are going to collect a debt, and no one need know about it.”

They followed Ginkelstein along the Quay de la Port, and up the Cannebière to the Cours Belsunce. The imagined smell of Ginkelstein’s cigar drifted back to provoke them; he was the comfortable lounger, looking in the faces of the women, or dawdling by shop windows. The two friends had to be very careful in the crowded streets, for if Saratoff and Gorouki had recognized Ginkelstein, Ginkelstein might recognize Gorouki and Saratoff.

“But it is not very likely,” said the tall man. “Who would imagine us here, carrying coal and cement; two aristos—ex-officers? Our friend is more interested in the women. Have you noticed it?”

Again Gorouki made that noise in his throat.

“Yes; and on that night—it was our women, my friend. Our helpless women. And we were trussed up. I wish you would give me that knife.”

“My child, that would be too easy for Ginkelstein. Does one gulp down choice wine?”

They shadowed the suave, black Bohemian figure to the Hôtel de Provence, and they saw the blue-coated concierge open the door to it. Saratoff looked up at the windows of the hotel and at the great gilded letters of its name, and then he glanced humorously at his own rough, coal-grimed hands.

“The hands of a worker, Paul! What rot! And that little fat friend of the poor has the soft hands of a parasite! What is he doing in Marseilles? Why is he going to Algiers?”

Gorouki was staring like a starved man at the hotel doorway.

“Does it matter? The only thing that matters—is—that I shall tear his throat out to-night.”

Saratoff caught the little man by the arm and swung him round.

“Come, a little drink; we must get on the other side of the street. That café. Now, I want to ask you a question.”

“Ask away.”

“Do you like to gulp down good wine, or sit and sip it, and let it trickle down slowly?”

“I want to make sure of my wine,” said the little man grimly.

“Yes, yes; so do I. But, I tell you, I mean to enjoy it.”

But the procuring of the rich red wine of their revenge was not to be the simple matter that it appeared to Paul Gorouki. Here were they, a couple of exiles, common toilers in this Mediterranean port, while the notorious Ginkelstein—alias Petrovsky—alias Muller, was well sheltered behind the plunder that he—like other of his ilk—had taken care to transfer to other countries. Muller put on a starched shirt, and dined à la carte at the Hôtel de Provence, while the two exiles skulked in the street and watched the door of the hotel. They watched it in vain, for it is possible that the suave Muller preferred to remain in the hotel after dark, for Marseilles can be a wicked city.

It grew cold, for the mistral was blowing, and the two Russians were thinly clad. Gorouki began to cough, but if the wind blew through him, his eyes remained two furnaces of hate.

“I shall stay here all night.”

Big Saratoff would not hear of it.

“No, my friend. Besides, the police might begin to take notice. Obviously, he is not coming out. By the way, how much money have we?”

Gorouki kept the firm’s books.

“About thirty francs. Why?”

“Because we may have to go to Algiers. It would do you good, my little Paul, and the Black Cat’s affairs interest me. To-morrow, he will drive straight to the quay, and go on board the General Chanzy. We too must sail on the General Chanzy. I shall have to sell that ring.”

He put his arm across Gorouki’s shoulders and walked him down the street, but this little hater with the melancholy eyes was loth to leave his watch upon the hotel that sheltered the murderer of children and women.

“That butcher may not be going to Algiers. He may be going to Paris, or Rome.”

“I tell you I saw his ticket, and I ought to know a boat ticket when I see it. You will go to bed, and at dawn I shall be out here on the watch, while you go and raise money on the ring. It is a good thing we kept it—for some great occasion.”

“It will be a very great occasion,” said Gorouki with terrible simplicity.

The General Chanzy sailed from Marseilles at noon. It was a blue day with a north wind blowing gently. The golden figure of Nôtre Dame de la Garde glittered against the azure north, and upon the grey Château d’If the sun shone as though that grim island had no memories. The first-class passengers were at lunch in the saloon, and on the main deck—among the riff-raff of all colours—Saratoff and Gorouki gnawed dry bread. But the third-class passengers could look into the windows of the saloon, though they were shut out like beggars in a street, and Saratoff peered in through one of the windows.

He beckoned to Gorouki.

Ginkelstein was at one of the tables. They saw him in profile, a napkin tucked into his collar, and a bottle of choice wine before him. They watched the movements of his jaw and of his full red lips. He was enjoying his meal; he looked sleek and complacent; his voracity was smiling and bland.

“Why does he go to Algiers?” murmured Gorouki, with eyes of fierce desire.

“We shall see. I managed to get a glimpse of his luggage. His name is Muller these days.”

“And what was the address?”

“Muller—Algiers. That was all.”

They had a rough passage, and both Saratoff and his friend lay about on deck with that African crowd, dolorously sick; but Mr. Muller enjoyed himself on the boat promenade. He smoked his cigars, and went in to his meals; he was like white rubber, and he had no qualms. He was as superior to sea-sickness as he had been superior to pity during the days of the terror.

At Algiers the sun shone on the white houses, and the sea was very blue, but Gorouki was the colour of a lemon, even when the General Chanzy was roped up beside the quay. The crowd poured down the gangway to merge into that other many-coloured crowd thronging under the high walls of the harbour. Saratoff ploughed through alone towards a space where hotel buses and motor-cars were picking up the wealthy. He knew Ginkelstein by his big, broad-brimmed black hat and his spreading tie. An Arab porter was loading luggage into a taxi, and Mr. Muller stood with one foot on the step of the taxi, smiling and showing his white teeth.

He spoke to the driver.

“The Villa Felix, Mustapha. You know it?”

The driver scratched his head. There were so many new villas with strange names.

“The lane turns off the road to El Biar.”

“Ah, from the Colonne Voirol.”

“That’s it.”

Mr. Muller tipped his porter, got into the car, and was driven up into Algiers; while Saratoff looked about him for a little man with burning eyes and a yellow face.

“Come, little one, the earth is solid, and I know where the Black Cat has his saucer of milk.”

Gorouki smiled faintly.

“My stomach is still going up and down. What do we do next, big one?”

“Look for a lodging. I’m hungry. Never have I felt so hungry in all my life.”

The road from Algiers to Mustapha climbs steadily, with clanging trams and hooting automobiles and labouring carts, and ever the sea grows broader and the hills more green. The swinging curves of this great road seem to turn the landscape upon its axis. It is a dusty road, full of tree shadows and broad sunlight, and when Saratoff and Gorouki toiled up it on that spring morning it showed them life in rags and in royal blue. They passed the Governor’s summer residence, where two or three Spahis lounged in their red cloaks, and the cosmopolitan Hôtel St. George where Americans make quick lunches and buy innumerable picture-postcards, and the gardens offer to red-faced northern ladies the white trumpets of arum lilies. They passed under the pines of the Bois and so came to the Colonne Voirol, and here Saratoff leaned against a wall and produced a carefully-folded piece of paper.

“Never trust to your memory, little one.”

Gorouki snuggled up beside him, glancing at the paper upon which Saratoff had scribbled in pencil those magic words:

“Villa Felix. Lane off the road from the Colonne Voirol to El Biar.”

He had spelt the names incorrectly, but that did not matter.

A sign indicated the road to El Biar. Saratoff produced two oranges, and gave one to Gorouki.

“We begin to explore. It is unwise to ask questions.”

They went up the El Biar road, scattering orange peel, and discussing life. Once or twice Gorouki had to slip a hand under his shirt, for their lodging in the Kasbah had been full of other sorts of life.

There were roses in the hedgerows.

“I gather that our friend has a bed of roses. It is very peaceful country.”

“Plenty of cream for the cat.”

“It is a sly animal.”

They came to a lane running to the right, and they adventured down this lane. It was leafy and still, and on either side of it the hidden gardens of scattered villas were full of secret flowers and perfumes. Cypresses close the blue of the sky. There were fruit trees, and old pines and olives, and mimosa, and creepers of purple and gold. Birds sang. White walls glimmered amid the green, and the hillside sunned itself happily.

“If he lives up here——” said the little man.

“Ah, it is gentler than Russia. The cat has chosen a spot in the sun. Wise cat.”

They looked at each other and smiled.

Quite suddenly they arrived at the gateway of Monsieur Muller’s retreat. It was an inconspicuous gate of wood, set back in a recess between two high stone pillars and overshadowed by trees. “Villa Felix.” It was impossible to see over the gate, and from the lane the villa itself was invisible, for trees and shrubs screened it.

The two stood in silence, eyeing the gate.

“Oh, wise cat,” said Saratoff in a whisper, “and yet—not quite wise enough. Life finds one out.”

The lane descended, and Saratoff and Gorouki descended with it, peering cautiously into the green tangle for a glimpse of Ginkelstein’s house. Where the garden ended a rough path led from the lane along a wild old terrace overgrown with trees. The two Russians explored the terrace. The garden of the Villa Felix was shut off from it by a bank of oleander and arbutus, and it was little Gorouki who found the spy-hole in the bottom of this evergreen hedge. He went on his knees. He held up a hand for silence, and then beckoned.

“I see him.”

Saratoff crouched beside his friend. They were looking up towards the villa, and against its whiteness cherries and peach trees made a smother of white and cerise. The villa had a pillared loggia partly in sunlight and partly in shadow, and hung with creepers. There were palms and orange trees in the garden, and beds of many coloured anemone, violets and crimson stock; and between two of the white pillars of the loggia a man reclined in a long, cane chair. He was dressed in a suit of white drill, with a big black tie. He had just finished his morning coffee and rolls, and was lighting a cigar.

“By the blood of our martyrs,” said the little man, “he takes his ease.”

Somewhere in the white villa a woman began to sing. Her voice went up into the sunlight—a sensuous and happy voice. They saw her come to an upper window and lean out; she was combing a mass of honey-coloured hair, and she laughed down at the man in the chair. And he, sitting up and blowing smoke, enjoyed the desirableness of her, and spoke to her softly with a voice that was suave and tender.

Gorouki gripped Saratoff’s arm.

“My God! The beast! He is happy. He has slunk away with the plunder. And our women lie tumbled together in a filthy hole in the ground.”

“He is ours,” said Saratoff softly.

They lay there in the grass like a couple of fierce beasts, watching this other beast and his mate, and yet there was a rightness, an ethical inevitableness in their ferocity. Their thoughts went back to Russia—where this man who sat in a chair and sunned himself had perpetrated unthinkable things. Red-handed, suavely cruel, and loving cruelty for its own sake, he had robbed and butchered. Then, like the sly, suave, cunning creature that he was he had gathered up his plunder and disappeared. The black leopard had become the sleek black cat, a cosmopolitan animal, hiding itself in new countries, with the blood washed from its paws.

They talked in whispers.

“The Villa Felix! He feels himself safe. All his loot turned into foreign bonds.”

“A respectable householder!”

“Wealthy and happy.”

“He can travel like a rich merchant, and drink his wine and ogle the women, and own a villa in the sun. What do you think about it, little one?”

Gorouki made that noise in his throat.

“My wife and two children were kicked into a frozen hole in the ground. Why did we not die—then, my friend? Was it fate—hope, faith in the day that would come?”

He rested his chin on his crossed wrists.

“Yes, you were right—not to hurry. It is good to have seen him here, thinking himself so safe. How ironical! And—I wish him to die slowly——”

“Not one plunge of the knife, little one.”

“No, no. Slowly. And I shall feel like a priest of justice. It will be a solemn moment, my friend, so very solemn. And afterwards—my heart will sing like the heart of a bird.”

When the warm dusk descended upon the garden of the Villa Felix two figures crawled towards the white loggia. A table had been laid for dinner, and Saratoff and Gorouki lay curled up in one of the flower-beds, watching. Two Arab servants served the dinner, and Muller and his mate sat under a softly-shaded lamp, and laughed and talked and clinked glasses. When the meal was over, and the coffee had been served, Muller smoked, while the woman sat on his knees. He blew smoke at her, and she ruffled his oiled hair with her hands.

“Go and make music,” he said.

Her figure flickered through the doorway of the room opening upon the loggia. There was the ripple of a piano; she began to sing, and while she sang two crouching figures with naked feet slipped into the further end of the loggia.

The woman sang:

L’amour—c’est la vie.

Muller lay relaxed—purring.

And then two hands came from behind him and closed upon his throat, and a folded cap was pressed over his mouth.

The woman’s voice floated out into the night:

“Love is life——”

Presently she ceased her singing, and sat with her hands resting upon the keyboard, and smiling.

Chéri,” she called, “what next?”

No one answered her, and with a little amused jerk of the shoulders, she rose and went out into the loggia.

Méchant,” she laughed; “when I sing—you sleep.”

But Petrovsky—alias Ginkelstein—was sleeping the last, sleep—with a look of terror in his widely-open eyes.


THE OTHER WOMAN

They met in Switzerland. It was on the rink at Caux; but not as most people meet for the first time, decorously, casually, but with sudden, breathless impact.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

He had to grip her by the arms and hold her up. She was a beginner, and somehow she had come slithering into him while he was in the midst of weaving some complicated pattern.

“I’m so sorry. I’m only learning.”

“That’s all right.”

He was aware of her as a breathless, glowing thing with copper-coloured hair tucked under a grass-green knitted cap. Her jumper was of the same vivid greenness. And for a moment her eyes looked into his grey eyes with the pupils of a bigness that made the eyes look black.

“All right—now?”

“Yes.”

His smile was no more than a slight relaxing of his very grave face. He removed his hands, and let her stand unsupported.

“That was a near thing. My fault.”

“No; mine. I saw you, and somehow I simply couldn’t stop. That paralysed feeling.”

“You’ll soon get over it.”

“I hope so.”

She laughed. She was not wearing breeches, but a white skirt, and he was glad of the skirt, but without realizing that such a prejudice might have possibilities. She glowed. She had the red, winter sun behind her, and the ice spread a blueness over its white powdering. And he became aware of a sudden sense of being up among the pine woods and the mountains in a world of light and of youth.

He said:

“I think I have seen you dancing.”

She stood off and looked at him attentively rather like a grave and sensitive child.

“I expect you have.”

“You’ll skate well—pretty soon. They go together.”

“Thank you. Really, you put that rather nicely.”

So it began.

Richard Service had snatched ten days from a London that froze and thawed and drizzled. He belonged to the firm of Blair, Goss & Service, solicitors, of Carfax Street, Mayfair. He had a house at Lelham; but he had let it furnished since the death of his wife two years ago, and had occupied a small service-flat in Blandford Terrace. He was thirty-seven and childless. There were times when he loathed London with a very great loathing.

Joyce Muirhead lived with an aunt at No. 203 Pelham Crescent. She was twenty-four and an orphan. She had some two hundred a year of her own, and a passion for Alsatian puppies, the plays of John Galsworthy, and the music of Ravel and Debussy. Being sufficiently sanguine to have passions for things other than motor-cars and tennis stars, she was not too modern.

Service puzzled her; he seemed to be unusual, and to be unusual is to attract that which is worth attracting. Joyce saw him as a tall, thin, darkish man, with one of those grave, shut-up faces that suggest a window with the blind drawn down. He held aloof. A beautiful skater, he kept to himself, and appeared content to weave patterns of his own, and to be absorbed in his own smooth glidings. Aloof he might be, but not superciliously so. She had never seen him dance. He had a chair in the smoking-room and a book. Sometimes she would see him standing for a few minutes in the doorway of the hotel ball-room, watching.

She thought him sad and rather lonely, interestingly lonely.

Her aunt—Mrs. Lomax—stout and solid, who stodged about in Bedford cord breeches, trailing a luge, and who fell down a great deal, and played bridge every night from half-past eight to eleven-thirty, remained unaware of Richard Service. He played his games by himself; he was not a card man; you never met him in the American bar.

Mrs. Lomax liked her cocktails.

She always referred to herself as a very observant person, which meant that she had eyes for the pips on a card, and the loose thread on a jumper, and for little else. For quite a week she failed to observe that her niece and Service were beginning to play a game together. Someone said to her:

“It looks like a case.”

Mrs. Lomax, debating the question whether she should go three no trumps, betrayed another obsession.

“Not ’flu, I hope?”

She had a horror of ’flu and of being ill in hotels. It was so expensive, and it interfered with your bridge.

“No; your niece.”

Mrs. Lomax’s very blue eyes stared.

“Joyce? There’s nothing the matter with Joyce. There never is. Three no trumps, partner.”

The other lady smiled at a smoke ring.

“Yes; your niece looks a very healthy young woman. Quite—normal, I should say.”

So normal that she had persuaded Service to dance, though the persuasion was like the music of the Immortal Hour. His dancing, unlike his skates, was a little rusty, but that was of no great consequence, for the rustiness soon wore away. Joyce had the frankness of modernity, even though her temperament matched the colour of her hair.

“I’d give anything to be able to waltz on skates.”

He offered to try and teach her. And then he remembered that he had only four more days, and that Joyce’s enthusiasm was still none too steady on the outside edge, and he debated with himself, and then sent off a wire to Blair.

“Staying another week.”

Old Blair grumbled. These junior partners were not what junior partners had been forty years ago. Too much this, and too much that, and too damned independent. But Service had his week. Who was to deny it to him when skates rang on the Swiss ice?

Joyce’s explorings of the waltz on ice were enthusiastic and always on the edge of a catastrophe.

“Oh, Mr. Service, I am a fool.”

There were occasions when she clutched him, and he had to hold her up, and they laughed in each other’s faces. Such intimacies were obviously good or bad for both of them, and in a little while her cry became:

“Oh, Dick, I am a poisonous idiot.”

She was supremely good-tempered, and her good temper mattered to Richard Service. He did not tell her so. He was thirty-seven, and he had lived in one particular sort of human hell, and when the flare of Joyce’s head seemed to lure him over the edge of himself, he still hung back and hesitated. She was adorable; but just how adorable was she? He was afraid of being scorched, because he knew that he could care rather terribly.

He asked for a sign from heaven, and it was given him—and by a waiter carrying a plate of soup. Mrs. Lomax and her niece sat at a table in the middle of the dining-room; Service had a table by the wall, but it gave him a view of Joyce’s back, and her aunt’s very neat head so permanently waved.

Someone jostled the waiter, and half a plate of soup descended upon Joyce’s back. The soup was hot; also she was wearing her particular frock, a green crêpe de Chine.

Service’s impulse was to grab his table-napkin and make a rush; but, being English, he remained in his chair and did not add to the scene. For there was a scene. Mrs. Lomax made it. She called the waiter a bête cochon, and the man looked tempted to throw the rest of the soup at her.

He was insolent, and Mrs. Lomax stood up on her solid feet, and called for the head-waiter and the manager. But Service was not interested in this rather unseemly pother; he was interested only in Joyce’s face. She was standing. She was looking poignantly at her aunt.

“Oh, don’t, auntie. It doesn’t matter.”

She smiled at the frightened and insulted waiter.

“I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.”

She went down the room towards the door. She was going to change her frock. The incident had hurt her, but it had not made her angry.

Service watched her go, and his eyes had a softness. Presently he would be saying to her:

“You were awfully decent to that waiter.”

He did say it; and next day, trailing a desultory luge up in the pine woods, he said other things.

He asked her to marry him, but not before he had told her that she would be his second wife.

She looked very grave over it. Marriage—or the prospect of marriage—is not much the mode these days, but Joyce had not contemplated a perpetual and armed neutrality. With certain temperaments some sort of sex compact is inevitable, and Joyce had always had marriage at the end of her vista, but she had not thought of herself as becoming a second edition, an encore. It was to have been very much her marriage, not a stepping into another woman’s shoes. Even in these divorceful days some women remain fastidious.

She said:

“I don’t know, Dick. It’s so serious.”

Besides, he was thirteen years older than she was.

“I don’t want to rush you, Joyce, but I do care, and pretty badly. But I don’t care—just for myself.”

She let him hold her hand.

“It’s not quite the same, Dick, as if——I want to be honest.”

“I know. But a man learns, unless he is a beast or a fool.”

“You do want me?”

“Not unless——One gets out of the way of being greedy. But you are rather unique. I’m not much good at the casual lingo of the day.”

She said:

“I shouldn’t like you to be. I think we’re more in earnest. But life’s such a pose.”

“That’s just what you are not.”

“Oh, my dear, when one’s awfully in earnest one can be afraid.”

“You need not be afraid of me.”

She wasn’t. But somehow she was a little afraid of the shadow and of the lingering perfume of that other woman.

“Dick, if I marry you, promise——”

“Well?”

“You won’t think of me as a second edition, and always be quoting the first.”

“I promise.”


They were to be married in April. Service’s tenants vacated the house at Lelham at the end of March, so that matters promised to accommodate themselves to the occasion. Service was giving up the flat in Carfax Terrace, for Joyce asked for the country after five years in Pelham Crescent with Mrs. Lomax. She wanted to garden, to keep two dogs, and have a punt on the river.

Service, feeling absurdly young and happy and with a sense of life renewed, arranged to have a large part of Weir House redecorated while he and Joyce were away on their honeymoon. They had decided to go to Switzerland to see the Spring flowers. Service bought a two-seater car. Old Blair grumbled. He supposed that Service would be demanding another holiday in August or September, but Service muzzled him.

“No; I think we shall be quite happy down there. We want to get the garden in order.”

Early in April, before the decorators did their damndest, Service drove Joyce down to Lelham in the new car. H