Part 3 out of 5
I was going to get my hair cut, and he came hurrying down to meet
me--I suppose he was coming to my house to tell me at once of his
success. I remember that his eyes were unusually bright and his face
flushed, and I noted even then the swift alacrity of his step.
"It's done," he cried, and gripped my hand, speaking very fast;
"it's more than done. Come up to my house and see."
"Really!" he shouted. "Incredibly! Come up and see."
"And it does--twice?
"It does more, much more. It scares me. Come up and see the stuff.
Taste it! Try it! It's the most amazing stuff on earth." He gripped
my arm and, walking at such a pace that he forced me into a trot,
went shouting with me up the hill. A whole char-a-banc-ful of people
turned and stared at us in unison after the manner of people in
chars-a-banc. It was one of those hot, clear days that Folkestone
sees so much of, every colour incredibly bright and every outline
hard. There was a breeze, of course, but not so much breeze as
sufficed under these conditions to keep me cool and dry. I panted for
"I'm not walking fast, am I?" cried Gibberne, and slackened his pace
to a quick march.
"You've been taking some of this stuff," I puffed.
"No," he said. "At the utmost a drop of water that stood in a beaker
from which I had washed out the last traces of the stuff. I took
some last night, you know. But that is ancient history, now."
"And it goes twice?" I said, nearing his doorway in a grateful
"It goes a thousand times, many thousand times!" cried Gibberne, with
a dramatic gesture, flinging open his Early English carved oak gate.
"Phew!" said I, and followed him to the door.
"I don't know how many times it goes," he said, with his latch-key
in his hand.
"It throws all sorts of light on nervous physiology, it kicks the theory
of vision into a perfectly new shape! . . . Heaven knows how many
thousand times. We'll try all that after--The thing is to try the stuff
"Try the stuff?" I said, as we went along the passage.
"Rather," said Gibberne, turning on me in his study. "There it is
in that little green phial there! Unless you happen to be afraid?"
I am a careful man by nature, and only theoretically adventurous.
I WAS afraid. But on the other hand there is pride.
"Well," I haggled. "You say you've tried it?"
"I've tried it," he said, "and I don't look hurt by it, do I?
I don't even look livery and I FEEL--"
I sat down. "Give me the potion," I said. "If the worst comes to
the worst it will save having my hair cut, and that I think is one
of the most hateful duties of a civilised man. How do you take the
"With water," said Gibberne, whacking down a carafe.
He stood up in front of his desk and regarded me in his easy chair;
his manner was suddenly affected by a touch of the Harley Street
specialist. "It's rum stuff, you know," he said.
I made a gesture with my hand.
"I must warn you in the first place as soon as you've got it down
to shut your eyes, and open them very cautiously in a minute or so's
time. One still sees. The sense of vision is a question of length
of vibration, and not of multitude of impacts; but there's a kind
of shock to the retina, a nasty giddy confusion just at the time,
if the eyes are open. Keep 'em shut."
"Shut," I said. "Good!"
"And the next thing is, keep still. Don't begin to whack about.
You may fetch something a nasty rap if you do. Remember you will
be going several thousand times faster than you ever did before,
heart, lungs, muscles, brain--everything--and you will hit hard
without knowing it. You won't know it, you know. You'll feel just
as you do now. Only everything in the world will seem to be going
ever so many thousand times slower than it ever went before. That's
what makes it so deuced queer."
"Lor'," I said. "And you mean--"
"You'll see," said he, and took up a little measure. He glanced
at the material on his desk. "Glasses," he said, "water. All here.
Mustn't take too much for the first attempt."
The little phial glucked out its precious contents.
"Don't forget what I told you," he said, turning the contents of
the measure into a glass in the manner of an Italian waiter measuring
whisky. "Sit with the eyes tightly shut and in absolute stillness
for two minutes," he said. "Then you will hear me speak."
He added an inch or so of water to the little dose in each glass.
"By-the-by," he said, "don't put your glass down. Keep it in your
hand and rest your hand on your knee. Yes--so. And now--"
He raised his glass.
"The New Accelerator," I said.
"The New Accelerator," he answered, and we touched glasses and
drank, and instantly I closed my eyes.
You know that blank non-existence into which one drops when one
has taken "gas." For an indefinite interval it was like that. Then
I heard Gibberne telling me to wake up, and I stirred and opened
my eyes. There he stood as he had been standing, glass still
in hand. It was empty, that was all the difference.
"Well?" said I.
"Nothing out of the way?"
"Nothing. A slight feeling of exhilaration, perhaps. Nothing more."
"Things are still," I said. "By Jove! yes! They ARE still. Except the
sort of faint pat, patter, like rain falling on different things.
What is it?"
"Analysed sounds," I think he said, but I am not sure. He glanced
at the window. "Have you ever seen a curtain before a window fixed
in that way before?"
I followed his eyes, and there was the end of the curtain, frozen,
as it were, corner high, in the act of flapping briskly in the breeze.
"No," said I; "that's odd."
"And here," he said, and opened the hand that held the glass. Naturally
I winced, expecting the glass to smash. But so far from smashing
it did not even seem to stir; it hung in mid-air--motionless.
"Roughly speaking," said Gibberne, "an object in these latitudes
falls 16 feet in the first second. This glass is falling 16 feet in
a second now. Only, you see, it hasn't been falling yet for the
hundredth part of a second. That gives you some idea of the pace
of my Accelerator." And he waved his hand round and round, over and
under the slowly sinking glass. Finally, he took it by the bottom,
pulled it down, and placed it very carefully on the table. "Eh?"
he said to me, and laughed.
"That seems all right," I said, and began very gingerly to raise
myself from my chair. I felt perfectly well, very light and
comfortable, and quite confident in my mind. I was going fast all
over. My heart, for example, was beating a thousand times a second,
but that caused me no discomfort at all. I looked out of the window.
An immovable cyclist, head down and with a frozen puff of dust
behind his driving-wheel, scorched to overtake a galloping char-a-banc
that did not stir. I gaped in amazement at this incredible spectacle.
"Gibberne," I cried, "how long will this confounded stuff last?"
"Heaven knows!" he answered. "Last time I took it I went to bed
and slept it off. I tell you, I was frightened. It must have lasted
some minutes, I think--it seemed like hours. But after a bit it
slows down rather suddenly, I believe."
I was proud to observe that I did not feel frightened--I suppose
because there were two of us. "Why shouldn't we go out?" I asked.
"They'll see us."
"Not they. Goodness, no! Why, we shall be going a thousand times
faster than the quickest conjuring trick that was ever done. Come
along! Which way shall we go? Window, or door?"
And out by the window we went.
Assuredly of all the strange experiences that I have ever had,
or imagined, or read of other people having or imagining, that little
raid I made with Gibberne on the Folkestone Leas, under the influence
of the New Accelerator, was the strangest and maddest of all.
We went out by his gate into the road, and there we made a minute
examination of the statuesque passing traffic. The tops of the wheels
and some of the legs of the horses of this char-a-banc, the end
of the whip-lash and the lower jaw of the conductor--who was just
beginning to yawn--were perceptibly in motion, but all the rest
of the lumbering conveyance seemed still. And quite noiseless except
for a faint rattling that came from one man's throat! And as parts
of this frozen edifice there were a driver, you know, and a conductor,
and eleven people! The effect as we walked about the thing began
by being madly queer, and ended by being disagreeable. There they
were, people like ourselves and yet not like ourselves, frozen
in careless attitudes, caught in mid-gesture. A girl and a man
smiled at one another, a leering smile that threatened to last
for evermore; a woman in a floppy capelline rested her arm on
the rail and stared at Gibberne's house with the unwinking stare
of eternity; a man stroked his moustache like a figure of wax,
and another stretched a tiresome stiff hand with extended fingers
towards his loosened hat. We stared at them, we laughed at them,
we made faces at them, and then a sort of disgust of them came upon
us, and we turned away and walked round in front of the cyclist
towards the Leas.
"Goodness!" cried Gibberne, suddenly; "look there!"
He pointed, and there at the tip of his finger and sliding down the
air with wings flapping slowly and at the speed of an exceptionally
languid snail--was a bee.
And so we came out upon the Leas. There the thing seemed madder
than ever. The band was playing in the upper stand, though all
the sound it made for us was a low-pitched, wheezy rattle, a sort of
prolonged last sigh that passed at times into a sound like the slow,
muffled ticking of some monstrous clock. Frozen people stood erect,
strange, silent, self-conscious-looking dummies hung unstably in
mid-stride, promenading upon the grass. I passed close to a little
poodle dog suspended in the act of leaping, and watched the slow
movement of his legs as he sank to earth. "Lord, look here!" cried
Gibberne, and we halted for a moment before a magnificent person
in white faint-striped flannels, white shoes, and a Panama hat,
who turned back to wink at two gaily dressed ladies he had passed.
A wink, studied with such leisurely deliberation as we could afford,
is an unattractive thing. It loses any quality of alert gaiety,
and one remarks that the winking eye does not completely close,
that under its drooping lid appears the lower edge of an eyeball
and a little line of white. "Heaven give me memory," said I,
"and I will never wink again."
"Or smile," said Gibberne, with his eye on the lady's answering teeth.
"It's infernally hot, somehow," said I. "Let's go slower."
"Oh, come along!" said Gibberne.
We picked our way among the bath-chairs in the path. Many of
the people sitting in the chairs seemed almost natural in their
passive poses, but the contorted scarlet of the bandsmen was not
a restful thing to see. A purple-faced little gentleman was frozen
in the midst of a violent struggle to refold his newspaper against
the wind; there were many evidences that all these people in their
sluggish way were exposed to a considerable breeze, a breeze that
had no existence so far as our sensations went. We came out and
walked a little way from the crowd, and turned and regarded it.
To see all that multitude changed, to a picture, smitten rigid,
as it were, into the semblance of realistic wax, was impossibly
wonderful. It was absurd, of course; but it filled me with an irrational,
an exultant sense of superior advantage. Consider the wonder of it!
All that I had said, and thought, and done since the stuff had begun
to work in my veins had happened, so far as those people, so far
as the world in general went, in the twinkling of an eye. "The
New Accelerator--" I began, but Gibberne interrupted me.
"There's that infernal old woman!" he said.
"What old woman?"
"Lives next door to me," said Gibberne. "Has a lapdog that yaps.
Gods! The temptation is strong!"
There is something very boyish and impulsive about Gibberne at times.
Before I could expostulate with him he had dashed forward, snatched
the unfortunate animal out of visible existence, and was running
violently with it towards the cliff of the Leas. It was most
extraordinary. The little brute, you know, didn't bark or wriggle or
make the slightest sign of vitality. It kept quite stiffly in an
attitude of somnolent repose, and Gibberne held it by the neck. It
was like running about with a dog of wood. "Gibberne," I cried, "put
it down!" Then I said something else. "If you run like that,
Gibberne," I cried, "you'll set your clothes on fire. Your linen
trousers are going brown as it is!"
He clapped his hand on his thigh and stood hesitating on the verge.
"Gibberne," I cried, coming up, "put it down. This heat is too much!
It's our running so! Two or three miles a second! Friction of the air!"
"What?" he said, glancing at the dog.
"Friction of the air," I shouted. "Friction of the air. Going too
fast. Like meteorites and things. Too hot. And, Gibberne! Gibberne!
I'm all over pricking and a sort of perspiration. You can see people
stirring slightly. I believe the stuff's working off! Put that dog
"Eh?" he said.
"It's working off," I repeated. "We're too hot and the stuff's
working off! I'm wet through."
He stared at me. Then at the band, the wheezy rattle of whose
performance was certainly going faster. Then with a tremendous sweep
of the arm he hurled the dog away from him and it went spinning
upward, still inanimate, and hung at last over the grouped parasols
of a knot of chattering people. Gibberne was gripping my elbow.
"By Jove!" he cried. "I believe--it is! A sort of hot pricking
and--yes. That man's moving his pocket-handkerchief! Perceptibly.
We must get out of this sharp."
But we could not get out of it sharply enough. Luckily, perhaps!
For we might have run, and if we had run we should, I believe,
have burst into flames. Almost certainly we should have burst into
flames! You know we had neither of us thought of that. . . . But
before we could even begin to run the action of the drug had ceased.
It was the business of a minute fraction of a second. The effect of
the New Accelerator passed like the drawing of a curtain, vanished in
the movement of a hand. I heard Gibberne's voice in infinite alarm.
"Sit down," he said, and flop, down upon the turf at the edge of the
Leas I sat--scorching as I sat. There is a patch of burnt grass
there still where I sat down. The whole stagnation seemed to wake
up as I did so, the disarticulated vibration of the band rushed
together into a blast of music, the promenaders put their feet down
and walked their ways, the papers and flags began flapping, smiles
passed into words, the winker finished his wink and went on his
way complacently, and all the seated people moved and spoke.
The whole world had come alive again, was going as fast as we were,
or rather we were going no faster than the rest of the world. It was
like slowing down as one comes into a railway station. Everything
seemed to spin round for a second or two, I had the most transient
feeling of nausea, and that was all. And the little dog which had
seemed to hang for a moment when the force of Gibberne's arm was
expended fell with a swift acceleration clean through a lady's parasol!
That was the saving of us. Unless it was for one corpulent old
gentleman in a bath-chair, who certainly did start at the sight of
us and afterwards regarded us at intervals with a darkly suspicious
eye, and, finally, I believe, said something to his nurse about us,
I doubt if a solitary person remarked our sudden appearance among
them. Plop! We must have appeared abruptly. We ceased to smoulder
almost at once, though the turf beneath me was uncomfortably hot. The
attention of every one--including even the Amusements' Association
band, which on this occasion, for the only time in its history,
got out of tune--was arrested by the amazing fact, and the still
more amazing yapping and uproar caused by the fact that a respectable,
over-fed lap-dog sleeping quietly to the east of the bandstand
should suddenly fall through the parasol of a lady on the west--in
a slightly singed condition due to the extreme velocity of its
movements through the air. In these absurd days, too, when we are
all trying to be as psychic, and silly, and superstitious as possible!
People got up and trod on other people, chairs were overturned,
the Leas policeman ran. How the matter settled itself I do not
know--we were much too anxious to disentangle ourselves from
the affair and get out of range of the eye of the old gentleman
in the bath-chair to make minute inquiries. As soon as we were
sufficiently cool and sufficiently recovered from our giddiness
and nausea and confusion of mind to do so we stood up and, skirting
the crowd, directed our steps back along the road below the Metropole
towards Gibberne's house. But amidst the din I heard very distinctly
the gentleman who had been sitting beside the lady of the ruptured
sunshade using quite unjustifiable threats and language to one of
those chair-attendants who have "Inspector" written on their caps.
"If you didn't throw the dog," he said, "who DID?"
The sudden return of movement and familiar noises, and our natural
anxiety about ourselves (our clothe's were still dreadfully hot,
and the fronts of the thighs of Gibberne's white trousers were
scorched a drabbish brown), prevented the minute observations
I should have liked to make on all these things. Indeed, I really
made no observations of any scientific value on that return. The bee,
of course, had gone. I looked for that cyclist, but he was already
out of sight as we came into the Upper Sandgate Road or hidden
from us by traffic; the char-a-banc, however, with its people now
all alive and stirring, was clattering along at a spanking pace
almost abreast of the nearer church.
We noted, however, that the window-sill on which we had stepped
in getting out of the house was slightly singed, and that the
impressions of our feet on the gravel of the path were unusually deep.
So it was I had my first experience of the New Accelerator. Practically
we had been running about and saying and doing all sorts of things
in the space of a second or so of time. We had lived half an hour
while the band had played, perhaps, two bars. But the effect it
had upon us was that the whole world had stopped for our convenient
inspection. Considering all things, and particularly considering our
rashness in venturing out of the house, the experience might certainly
have been much more disagreeable than it was. It showed, no doubt,
that Gibberne has still much to learn before his preparation is
a manageable convenience, but its practicability it certainly
demonstrated beyond all cavil.
Since that adventure he has been steadily bringing its use under
control, and I have several times, and without the slightest bad
result, taken measured doses under his direction; though I must
confess I have not yet ventured abroad again while under its influence.
I may mention, for example, that this story has been written at one
sitting and without interruption, except for the nibbling of some
chocolate, by its means. I began at 6.25, and my watch is now very
nearly at the minute past the half-hour. The convenience of securing
a long, uninterrupted spell of work in the midst of a day full
of engagements cannot be exaggerated. Gibberne is now working
at the quantitative handling of his preparation, with especial reference
to its distinctive effects upon different types of constitution.
He then hopes to find a Retarder with which to dilute its present
rather excessive potency. The Retarder will, of course, have the
reverse effect to the Accelerator; used alone it should enable
the patient to spread a few seconds over many hours of ordinary
time,--and so to maintain an apathetic inaction, a glacier-like
absence of alacrity, amidst the most animated or irritating
surroundings. The two things together must necessarily work an entire
revolution in civilised existence. It is the beginning of our escape
from that Time Garment of which Carlyle speaks. While this Accelerator
will enable us to concentrate ourselves with tremendous impact
upon any moment or occasion that demands our utmost sense and vigour,
the Retarder will enable us to pass in passive tranquillity through
infinite hardship and tedium. Perhaps I am a little optimistic
about the Retarder, which has indeed still to be discovered, but
about the Accelerator there is no possible sort of doubt whatever.
Its appearance upon the market in a convenient, controllable,
and assimilable form is a matter of the next few months. It will be
obtainable of all chemists and druggists, in small green bottles,
at a high but, considering its extraordinary qualities, by no means
excessive price. Gibberne's Nervous Accelerator it will be called,
and he hopes to be able to supply it in three strengths: one in 200,
one in 900, and one in 2000, distinguished by yellow, pink, and
white labels respectively.
No doubt its use renders a great number of very extraordinary things
possible; for, of course, the most remarkable and, possibly, even
criminal proceedings may be effected with impunity by thus dodging,
as it were, into the interstices of time. Like all potent preparations
it will be liable to abuse. We have, however, discussed this aspect
of the question very thoroughly, and we have decided that this
is purely a matter of medical jurisprudence and altogether outside
our province. We shall manufacture and sell the Accelerator, and,
as for the consequences--we shall see.
9. MR. LEDBETTER'S VACATION
My friend, Mr. Ledbetter, is a round-faced little man, whose natural
mildness of eye is gigantically exaggerated when you catch the beam
through his glasses, and whose deep, deliberate voice irritates
irritable people. A certain elaborate clearness of enunciation has
come with him to his present vicarage from his scholastic days, an
elaborate clearness of enunciation and a certain nervous determination
to be firm and correct upon all issues, important and unimportant
alike. He is a sacerdotalist and a chess player, and suspected by many
of the secret practice of the higher mathematics--creditable rather
than interesting things. His conversation is copious and given
much to needless detail. By many, indeed, his intercourse is
condemned, to put it plainly, as "boring," and such have even done
me the compliment to wonder why I countenance him. But, on the other
hand, there is a large faction who marvel at his countenancing
such a dishevelled, discreditable acquaintance as myself. Few appear
to regard our friendship with equanimity. But that is because they
do not know of the link that binds us, of my amiable connection
via Jamaica with Mr. Ledbetter's past.
About that past he displays an anxious modesty. "I do not KNOW what
I should do if it became known," he says; and repeats, impressively,
"I do not know WHAT I should do." As a matter of fact, I doubt if
he would do anything except get very red about the ears. But that
will appear later; nor will I tell here of our first encounter,
since, as a general rule--though I am prone to break it--the end
of a story should come after, rather than before, the beginning.
And the beginning of the story goes a long way back; indeed, it is
now nearly twenty years since Fate, by a series of complicated and
startling manoeuvres, brought Mr. Ledbetter, so to speak, into my
In those days I was living in Jamaica, and Mr. Ledbetter was a
schoolmaster in England. He was in orders, and already recognisably
the same man that he is to-day: the same rotundity of visage,
the same or similar glasses, and the same faint shadow of surprise
in his resting expression. He was, of course, dishevelled when
I saw him, and his collar less of a collar than a wet bandage,
and that may have helped to bridge the natural gulf between us--but
of that, as I say, later.
The business began at Hithergate-on-Sea, and simultaneously with
Mr. Ledbetter's summer vacation. Thither he came for a greatly
needed rest, with a bright brown portmanteau marked "F. W. L.",
a new white-and-black straw hat, and two pairs of white flannel
trousers. He was naturally exhilarated at his release from school--
for he was not very fond of the boys he taught. After dinner he
fell into a discussion with a talkative person established in the
boarding-house to which, acting on the advice of his aunt, he had
resorted. This talkative person was the only other man in the house.
Their discussion concerned the melancholy disappearance of wonder
and adventure in these latter days, the prevalence of globe-trotting,
the abolition of distance by steam and electricity, the vulgarity
of advertisement, the degradation of men by civilisation, and many
such things. Particularly was the talkative person eloquent on
the decay of human courage through security, a security Mr. Ledbetter
rather thoughtlessly joined him in deploring. Mr. Ledbetter, in the
first delight of emancipation from "duty," and being anxious, perhaps,
to establish a reputation for manly conviviality, partook, rather
more freely than was advisable, of the excellent whisky the talkative
person produced. But he did not become intoxicated, he insists.
He was simply eloquent beyond his sober wont, and with the finer
edge gone from his judgment. And after that long talk of the brave
old days that were past forever, he went out into moonlit Hithergate--
alone and up the cliff road where the villas cluster together.
He had bewailed, and now as he walked up the silent road he still
bewailed, the fate that had called him to such an uneventful life
as a pedagogue's. What a prosaic existence he led, so stagnant,
so colourless! Secure, methodical, year in year out, what call was
there for bravery? He thought enviously of those roving, mediaeval
days, so near and so remote, of quests and spies and condottieri
and many a risky blade-drawing business. And suddenly came a doubt,
a strange doubt, springing out of some chance thought of tortures,
and destructive altogether of the position he had assumed that evening.
Was he--Mr. Ledbetter--really, after all, so brave as he assumed?
Would he really be so pleased to have railways, policemen, and
security vanish suddenly from the earth?
The talkative man had spoken enviously of crime. "The burglar,"
he said, "is the only true adventurer left on earth. Think of his
single-handed fight against the whole civilised world!" And Mr.
Ledbetter had echoed his envy. "They DO have some fun out of life,"
Mr. Ledbetter had said. "And about the only people who do. Just
think how it must feel to wire a lawn!" And he had laughed wickedly.
Now, in this franker intimacy of self-communion he found himself
instituting a comparison between his own brand of courage and that of
the habitual criminal. He tried to meet these insidious questionings
with blank assertion. "I could do all that," said Mr. Ledbetter.
"I long to do all that. Only I do not give way to my criminal impulses.
My moral courage restrains me." But he doubted even while he told
himself these things.
"Mr. Ledbetter passed a large villa standing by itself. Conveniently
situated above a quiet, practicable balcony was a window, gaping
black, wide open. At the time he scarcely marked it, but the picture
of it came with him, wove into his thoughts. He figured himself
climbing up that balcony, crouching--plunging into that dark,
mysterious interior. "Bah! You would not dare," said the Spirit
of Doubt. "My duty to my fellow-men forbids," said Mr. Ledbetter's
It was nearly eleven, and the little seaside town was already very
still. The whole world slumbered under the moonlight. Only one
warm oblong of window-blind far down the road spoke of waking life.
He turned and came back slowly towards the villa of the open window.
He stood for a time outside the gate, a battlefield of motives.
"Let us put things to the test," said Doubt. "For the satisfaction
of these intolerable doubts, show that you dare go into that house.
Commit a burglary in blank. That, at any rate, is no crime." Very
softly he opened and shut the gate and slipped into the shadow
of the shrubbery. "This is foolish," said Mr. Ledbetter's caution.
"I expected that," said Doubt. His heart was beating fast, but he
was certainly not afraid. He was NOT afraid. He remained in that
shadow for some considerable time.
The ascent of the balcony, it was evident, would have to be done
in a rush, for it was all in clear moonlight, and visible from
the gate into the avenue. A trellis thinly set with young, ambitious
climbing roses made the ascent ridiculously easy. There, in that
black shadow by the stone vase of flowers, one might crouch and
take a closer view of this gaping breach in the domestic defences,
the open window. For a while Mr. Ledbetter was as still as the night,
and then that insidious whisky tipped the balance. He dashed forward.
He went up the trellis with quick, convulsive movements, swung his
legs over the parapet of the balcony, and dropped panting in the
shadow even as he had designed. He was trembling violently, short
of breath, and his heart pumped noisily, but his mood was exultation.
He could have shouted to find he was so little afraid.
A happy line that he had learnt from Wills's "Mephistopheles" came
into his mind as he crouched there. "I feel like a cat on the tiles,"
he whispered to himself. It was far better than he had expected--
this adventurous exhilaration. He was sorry for all poor men to whom
burglary was unknown. Nothing happened. He was quite safe. And
he was acting in the bravest manner!
And now for the window, to make the burglary complete! Must he dare do
that? Its position above the front door defined it as a landing or
passage, and there were no looking-glasses or any bedroom signs about
it, or any other window on the first floor, to suggest the possibility
of a sleeper within. For a time he listened under the ledge, then
raised his eyes above the sill and peered in. Close at hand, on
a pedestal, and a little startling at first, was a nearly life-size
gesticulating bronze. He ducked, and after some time he peered
again. Beyond was a broad landing, faintly gleaming; a flimsy fabric
of bead curtain, very black and sharp, against a further window; a
broad staircase, plunging into a gulf of darkness below; and another
ascending to the second floor. He glanced behind him, but the
stillness of the night was unbroken. "Crime," he whispered, "crime,"
and scrambled softly and swiftly over the sill into the house. His
feet fell noiselessly on a mat of skin. He was a burglar indeed!
He crouched for a time, all ears and peering eyes. Outside was
a scampering and rustling, and for a moment he repented of his
enterprise. A short "miaow," a spitting, and a rush into silence,
spoke reassuringly of cats. His courage grew. He stood up. Every
one was abed, it seemed. So easy is it to commit a burglary, if one
is so minded. He was glad he had put it to the test. He determined
to take some petty trophy, just to prove his freedom from any abject
fear of the law, and depart the way he had come.
He peered about him, and suddenly the critical spirit arose again.
Burglars did far more than such mere elementary entrance as this:
they went into rooms, they forced safes. Well--he was not afraid.
He could not force safes, because that would be a stupid want
of consideration for his hosts. But he would go into rooms--he would
go upstairs. More: he told himself that he was perfectly secure;
an empty house could not be more reassuringly still. He had to clench
his hands, nevertheless, and summon all his resolution before he
began very softly to ascend the dim staircase, pausing for several
seconds between each step. Above was a square landing with one
open and several closed doors; and all the house was still. For
a moment he stood wondering what would happen if some sleeper
woke suddenly and emerged. The open door showed a moonlit bedroom,
the coverlet white and undisturbed. Into this room he crept in three
interminable minutes and took a piece of soap for his plunder--
his trophy. He turned to descend even more softly than he had
ascended. It was as easy as--
Hist! . . .
Footsteps! On the gravel outside the house--and then the noise of a
latchkey, the yawn and bang of a door, and the spitting of a match
in the hall below. Mr. Ledbetter stood petrified by the sudden
discovery of the folly upon which he had come. "How on earth am
I to get out of this?" said Mr. Ledbetter.
The hall grew bright with a candle flame, some heavy object bumped
against the umbrella-stand, and feet were ascending the staircase. In
a flash Mr. Ledbetter realised that his retreat was closed. He stood
for a moment, a pitiful figure of penitent confusion. "My goodness!
What a FOOL I have been!" he whispered, and then darted swiftly
across the shadowy landing into the empty bedroom from which he
had just come. He stood listening--quivering. The footsteps reached
the first-floor landing.
Horrible thought! This was possibly the latecomer's room! Not a moment
was to be lost! Mr. Ledbetter stooped beside the bed, thanked Heaven
for a valance, and crawled within its protection not ten seconds
too soon. He became motionless on hands and knees. The advancing
candle-light appeared through the thinner stitches of the fabric, the
shadows ran wildly about, and became rigid as the candle was put down.
"Lord, what a day!" said the newcomer, blowing noisily, and it seemed
he deposited some heavy burthen on what Mr. Ledbetter, judging
by the feet, decided to be a writing-table. The unseen then went
to the door and locked it, examined the fastenings of the windows
carefully and pulled down the blinds, and returning sat down upon
the bed with startling ponderosity.
"WHAT a day!" he said. "Good Lord!" and blew again, and Mr. Ledbetter
inclined to believe that the person was mopping his face. His boots
were good stout boots; the shadows of his legs upon the valance
suggested a formidable stoutness of aspect. After a time he removed
some upper garments--a coat and waistcoat, Mr. Ledbetter inferred--
and casting them over the rail of the bed remained breathing less
noisily, and as it seemed cooling from a considerable temperature.
At intervals he muttered to himself, and once he laughed softly. And
Mr. Ledbetter muttered to himself, but he did not laugh. "Of all the
foolish things," said Mr. Ledbetter. "What on earth am I to do now?"
His outlook was necessarily limited. The minute apertures between
the stitches of the fabric of the valance admitted a certain amount
of light, but permitted no peeping. The shadows upon this curtain,
save for those sharply defined legs, were enigmatical, and intermingled
confusingly with the florid patterning of the chintz. Beneath the edge
of the valance a strip of carpet was visible, and, by cautiously
depressing his eye, Mr. Ledbetter found that this strip broadened
until the whole area of the floor came into view. The carpet was
a luxurious one, the room spacious, and, to judge by the castors
and so forth of the furniture, well equipped.
What he should do he found it difficult to imagine. To wait until
this person had gone to bed, and then, when he seemed to be sleeping,
to creep to the door, unlock it, and bolt headlong for that balcony
seemed the only possible thing to do. Would it be possible to jump
from the balcony? The danger of it! When he thought of the chances
against him, Mr. Ledbetter despaired. He was within an ace of thrusting
forth his head beside the gentleman's legs, coughing if necessary
to attract his attention, and then, smiling, apologising and explaining
his unfortunate intrusion by a few well-chosen sentences. But he
found these sentences hard to choose. "No doubt, sir, my appearance
is peculiar," or, "I trust, sir, you will pardon my somewhat ambiguous
appearance from beneath you," was about as much as he could get.
Grave possibilities forced themselves on his attention. Suppose
they did not believe him, what would they do to him? Would his
unblemished high character count for nothing? Technically he was
a burglar, beyond dispute. Following out this train of thought,
he was composing a lucid apology for "this technical crime I have
committed," to be delivered before sentence in the dock, when
the stout gentleman got up and began walking about the room. He
locked and unlocked drawers, and Mr. Ledbetter had a transient hope
that he might be undressing. But, no! He seated himself at the
writing-table, and began to write and then tear up documents.
Presently the smell of burning cream-laid paper mingled with the odour
of cigars in Mr. Ledbetter's nostrils.
"The position I had assumed," said Mr. Ledbetter when he told me of
these things, "was in many respects an ill-advised one. A transverse
bar beneath the bed depressed my head unduly, and threw a
disproportionate share of my weight upon my hands. After a time, I
experienced what is called, I believe, a crick in the neck. The
pressure of my hands on the coarsely-stitched carpet speedily became
painful. My knees, too, were painful, my trousers being drawn tightly
over them. At that time I wore rather higher collars than I do now--two
and a half inches, in fact--and I discovered what I had not remarked
before, that the edge of the one I wore was frayed slightly under
the chin. But much worse than these things was an itching of my face,
which I could only relieve by violent grimacing--I tried to raise
my hand, but the rustle of the sleeve alarmed me. After a time
I had to desist from this relief also, because--happily in time--
I discovered that my facial contortions were shifting my glasses
down my nose. Their fall would, of course, have exposed me, and as it
was they came to rest in an oblique position of by no means stable
equilibrium. In addition I had a slight cold, and an intermittent
desire to sneeze or sniff caused me inconvenience. In fact, quite
apart from the extreme anxiety of my position, my physical discomfort
became in a short time very considerable indeed. But I had to stay
there motionless, nevertheless."
After an interminable time, there began a chinking sound. This
deepened into a rhythm: chink, chink, chink--twenty-five chinks--
a rap on the writing-table, and a grunt from the owner of the stout
legs. It dawned upon Mr. Ledbetter that this chinking was the chinking
of gold. He became incredulously curious as it went on. His curiosity
grew. Already, if that was the case, this extraordinary man must
have counted some hundreds of pounds. At last Mr. Ledbetter could
resist it no longer, and he began very cautiously to fold his arms
and lower his head to the level of the floor, in the hope of peeping
under the valance. He moved his feet, and one made a slight scraping
on the floor. Suddenly the chinking ceased. Mr. Ledbetter became
rigid. After a while the chinking was resumed. Then it ceased again,
and everything was still, except Mr. Ledbetter's heart--that organ
seemed to him to be beating like a drum.
The stillness continued. Mr. Ledbetter's head was now on the floor,
and he could see the stout legs as far as the shins. They were
quite still. The feet were resting on the toes and drawn back,
as it seemed, under the chair of the owner. Everything was quite
still, everything continued still. A wild hope came to Mr. Ledbetter
that the unknown was in a fit or suddenly dead, with his head upon
the writing-table. . . .
The stillness continued. What had happened? The desire to peep
became irresistible. Very cautiously Mr. Ledbetter shifted his hand
forward, projected a pioneer finger, and began to lift the valance
immediately next his eye. Nothing broke the stillness. He saw now
the stranger's knees, saw the back of the writing-table, and then--
he was staring at the barrel of a heavy revolver pointed over
the writing-table at his head.
"Come out of that, you scoundrel!" said the voice of the stout
gentleman in a tone of quiet concentration. "Come out. This side,
and now. None of your hanky-panky--come right out, now."
Mr. Ledbetter came right out, a little reluctantly perhaps, but
without any hanky-panky, and at once, even as he was told.
"Kneel," said the stout gentleman. "and hold up your hands."
The valance dropped again behind Mr. Ledbetter, and he rose from
all-fours and held up his hands. "Dressed like a parson," said
the stout gentleman. "I'm blest if he isn't! A little chap, too!
You SCOUNDREL! What the deuce possessed you to come here to-night?
What the deuce possessed you to get under my bed?"
He did not appear to require an answer, but proceeded at once to
several very objectionable remarks upon Mr. Ledbetter's personal
appearance. He was not a very big man, but he looked strong to Mr.
Ledbetter: he was as stout as his legs had promised, he had rather
delicately-chiselled small features distributed over a considerable
area of whitish face, and quite a number of chins. And the note
of his voice had a sort of whispering undertone.
"What the deuce, I say, possessed you to get under my bed?"
Mr. Ledbetter, by an effort, smiled a wan propitiatory smile. He
coughed. "I can quite understand--" he said.
"Why! What on earth? It's SOAP! No!--you scoundrel. Don't you move
"It's soap," said Mr. Ledbetter. "From your washstand. No doubt it--"
"Don't talk," said the stout man. "I see it's soap. Of all incredible
"If I might explain--"
"Don't explain. It's sure to be a lie, and there's no time for
explanations. What was I going to ask you? Ah! Have you any mates?"
"In a few minutes, if you--"
"Have you any mates? Curse you. If you start any soapy palaver
I'll shoot. Have you any mates?"
"No," said Mr. Ledbetter.
"I suppose it's a lie," said the stout man. "But you'll pay for it
if it is. Why the deuce didn't you floor me when I came upstairs?
You won't get a chance to now, anyhow. Fancy getting under the bed!
I reckon it's a fair cop, anyhow, so far as you are concerned."
"I don't see how I could prove an alibi," remarked Mr. Ledbetter,
trying to show by his conversation that he was an educated man.
There was a pause. Mr. Ledbetter perceived that on a chair beside
his captor was a large black bag on a heap of crumpled papers,
and that there were torn and burnt papers on the table. And in front
of these, and arranged methodically along the edge were rows and
rows of little yellow rouleaux--a hundred times more gold than Mr.
Ledbetter had seen in all his life before. The light of two candles,
in silver candlesticks, fell upon these. The pause continued. "It is
rather fatiguing holding up my hands like this," said Mr. Ledbetter,
with a deprecatory smile.
"That's all right," said the fat man. "But what to do with you
I don't exactly know."
"I know my position is ambiguous."
"Lord!" said the fat man, "ambiguous! And goes about with his own
soap, and wears a thundering great clerical collar. You ARE a blooming
burglar, you are--if ever there was one!"
"To be strictly accurate," said Mr. Ledbetter, and suddenly his
glasses slipped off and clattered against his vest buttons.
The fat man changed countenance, a flash of savage resolution
crossed his face, and something in the revolver clicked. He put
his other hand to the weapon. And then he looked at Mr. Ledbetter,
and his eye went down to the dropped pince-nez.
"Full-cock now, anyhow," said the fat man, after a pause, and his
breath seemed to catch. "But I'll tell you, you've never been so
near death before. Lord! I'M almost glad. If it hadn't been that
the revolver wasn't cocked you'd be lying dead there now."
Mr. Ledbetter said nothing, but he felt that the room was swaying.
"A miss is as good as a mile. It's lucky for both of us it wasn't.
Lord!" He blew noisily. "There's no need for you to go pale-green
for a little thing like that."
"If I can assure you, sir--" said Mr. Ledbetter, with an effort.
"There's only one thing to do. If I call in the police, I'm bust--
a little game I've got on is bust. That won't do. If I tie you up
and leave you again, the thing may be out to-morrow. Tomorrow's
Sunday, and Monday's Bank Holiday--I've counted on three clear
days. Shooting you's murder--and hanging; and besides, it will bust
the whole blooming kernooze. I'm hanged if I can think what to do--
I'm hanged if I can."
"Will you permit me--"
"You gas as much as if you were a real parson, I'm blessed if you
don't. Of all the burglars you are the--Well! No!--I WON'T permit
you. There isn't time. If you start off jawing again, I'll shoot
right in your stomach. See? But I know now-I know now! What we're
going to do first, my man, is an examination for concealed arms--
an examination for concealed arms. And look here! When I tell you
to do a thing, don't start off at a gabble--do it brisk."
And with many elaborate precautions, and always pointing the pistol
at Mr. Ledbetter's head, the stout man stood him up and searched
him for weapons. "Why, you ARE a burglar!" he said "You're a perfect
amateur. You haven't even a pistol-pocket in the back of your
breeches. No, you don't! Shut up, now."
So soon as the issue was decided, the stout man made Mr. Ledbetter
take off his coat and roll up his shirt-sleeves, and, with the revolver
at one ear, proceed with the packing his appearance had interrupted.
From the stout man's point of view that was evidently the only
possible arrangement, for if he had packed, he would have had
to put down the revolver. So that even the gold on the table was
handled by Mr. Ledbetter. This nocturnal packing was peculiar.
The stout man's idea was evidently to distribute the weight of
the gold as unostentatiously as possible through his luggage. It was
by no means an inconsiderable weight. There was, Mr. Ledbetter says,
altogether nearly L18,000 in gold in the black bag and on the table.
There were also many little rolls of L5 bank-notes. Each rouleau
of L25 was wrapped by Mr. Ledbetter in paper. These rouleaux were
then put neatly in cigar boxes and distributed between a travelling
trunk, a Gladstone bag, and a hatbox. About L600 went in a tobacco
tin in a dressing-bag. L10 in gold and a number of L5 notes the stout
man pocketed. Occasionally he objurgated Mr. Ledbetter's clumsiness,
and urged him to hurry, and several times he appealed to Mr.
Ledbetter's watch for information.
Mr. Ledbetter strapped the trunk and bag, and returned the stout man
the keys. It was then ten minutes to twelve, and until the stroke of
midnight the stout man made him sit on the Gladstone bag, while he
sat at a reasonably safe distance on the trunk and held the revolver
handy and waited. He appeared to be now in a less aggressive mood,
and having watched Mr. Ledbetter for some time, he offered a few
"From your accent I judge you are a man of some education," he said,
lighting a cigar. "No--DON'T begin that explanation of yours. I know
it will be long-winded from your face, and I am much too old a liar
to be interested in other men's lying. You are, I say, a person
of education. You do well to dress as a curate. Even among educated
people you might pass as a curate."
"I AM a curate," said Mr. Ledbetter, "or, at least--"
"You are trying to be. I know. But you didn't ought to burgle.
You are not the man to burgle. You are, if I may say it--the thing
will have been pointed out to you before--a coward."
"Do you know," said Mr. Ledbetter, trying to get a final opening,
"it was that very question--"
The stout man waved him into silence.
"You waste your education in burglary. You should do one of two
things. Either you should forge or you should embezzle. For my
own part, I embezzle. Yes; I embezzle. What do you think a man
could be doing with all this gold but that? Ah! Listen! Midnight! . . .
Ten. Eleven. Twelve. There is something very impressive to me
in that slow beating of the hours. Time--space; what mysteries
they are! What mysteries. . . . It's time for us to be moving.
And then kindly, but firmly, he induced Mr. Ledbetter to sling the
dressing bag over his back by a string across his chest, to shoulder
the trunk, and, overruling a gasping protest, to take the Gladstone
bag in his disengaged hand. So encumbered, Mr. Ledbetter struggled
perilously downstairs. The stout gentleman followed with an overcoat,
the hatbox, and the revolver, making derogatory remarks about Mr.
Ledbetter's strength, and assisting him at the turnings of the stairs.
"The back door," he directed, and Mr. Ledbetter staggered through
a conservatory, leaving a wake of smashed flower-pots behind him.
"Never mind the crockery," said the stout man; "it's good for trade.
We wait here until a quarter past. You can put those things down. You
Mr. Ledbetter collapsed panting on the trunk. "Last night," he gasped,
"I was asleep in my little room, and I no more dreamt--"
"There's no need for you to incriminate yourself," said the stout
gentleman, looking at the lock of the revolver. He began to hum.
Mr. Ledbetter made to speak, and thought better of it.
There presently came the sound of a bell, and Mr. Ledbetter was
taken to the back door and instructed to open it. A fair-haired man
in yachting costume entered. At the sight of Mr. Ledbetter he started
violently and clapped his hand behind him. Then he saw the stout
man. "Bingham!" he cried, "who's this?"
"Only a little philanthropic do of mine--burglar I'm trying to reform.
Caught him under my bed just now. He's all right. He's a frightful
ass. He'll be useful to carry some of our things."
The newcomer seemed inclined to resent Mr. Ledbetter's presence
at first, but the stout man reassured him.
"He's quite alone. There's not a gang in the world would own him.
No!--don't start talking, for goodness' sake."
They went out into the darkness of the garden with the trunk still
bowing Mr. Ledbetter's shoulders. The man in the yachting costume
walked in front with the Gladstone bag and a pistol; then came
Mr. Ledbetter like Atlas; Mr. Bingham followed with the hat-box,
coat, and revolver as before. The house was one of those that have
their gardens right up to the cliff. At the cliff was a steep wooden
stairway, descending to a bathing tent dimly visible on the beach.
Below was a boat pulled up, and a silent little man with a black face
stood beside it. "A few moments' explanation," said Mr. Ledbetter;
"I can assure you--" Somebody kicked him, and he said no more.
They made him wade to the boat, carrying the trunk, they pulled
him aboard by the shoulders and hair, they called him no better
name than "scoundrel" and "burglar" all that night. But they spoke
in undertones so that the general public was happily unaware of his
ignominy. They hauled him aboard a yacht manned by strange,
unsympathetic Orientals, and partly they thrust him and partly he
fell down a gangway into a noisome, dark place, where he was to
remain many days--how many he does not know, because he lost count
among other things when he was seasick. They fed him on biscuits and
incomprehensible words; they gave him water to drink mixed with
unwished-for rum. And there were cockroaches where they put him,
night and day there were cockroaches, and in the night-time there
were rats. The Orientals emptied his pockets and took his watch--
but Mr. Bingham, being appealed to, took that himself. And five or
six times the five Lascars--if they were Lascars--and the Chinaman
and the negro who constituted the crew, fished him out and took him
aft to Bingham and his friend to play cribbage and euchre and three-
anded whist, and to listen to their stories and boastings in an
Then these principals would talk to him as men talk to those who
have lived a life of crime. Explanations they would never permit,
though they made it abundantly clear to him that he was the rummiest
burglar they had ever set eyes on. They said as much again and again.
The fair man was of a taciturn disposition and irascible at play;
but Mr. Bingham, now that the evident anxiety of his departure
from England was assuaged, displayed a vein of genial philosophy.
He enlarged upon the mystery of space and time, and quoted Kant
and Hegel--or, at least, he said he did. Several times Mr. Ledbetter
got as far as: "My position under your bed, you know--," but then
he always had to cut, or pass the whisky, or do some such intervening
thing. After his third failure, the fair man got quite to look for
this opening, and whenever Mr. Ledbetter began after that, he would
roar with laughter and hit him violently on the back. "Same old start,
same old story; good old burglar!" the fair-haired man would say.
So Mr. Ledbetter suffered for many days, twenty perhaps; and one
evening he was taken, together with some tinned provisions, over
the side and put ashore on a rocky little island with a spring.
Mr. Bingham came in the boat with him, giving him good advice
all the way, and waving his last attempts at an explanation aside.
"I am really NOT a burglar," said Mr. Ledbetter.
"You never will be," said Mr. Bingham. "You'll never make a burglar.
I'm glad you are beginning to see it. In choosing a profession
a man must study his temperament. If you don't, sooner or later
you will fail. Compare myself, for example. All my life I have
been in banks--I have got on in banks. I have even been a bank
manager. But was I happy? No. Why wasn't I happy? Because it did
not suit my temperament. I am too adventurous--too versatile.
Practically I have thrown it over. I do not suppose I shall ever
manage a bank again. They would be glad to get me, no doubt;
but I have learnt the lesson of my temperament--at last. . . .
No! I shall never manage a bank again.
"Now, your temperament unfits you for crime--just as mine unfits
me for respectability. I know you better than I did, and now I do
not even recommend forgery. Go back to respectable courses, my man.
YOUR lay is the philanthropic lay--that is your lay. With that voice--
the Association for the Promotion of Snivelling among the Young--
something in that line. You think it over.
"The island we are approaching has no name apparently--at least,
there is none on the chart. You might think out a name for it while
you are there--while you are thinking about all these things. It has
quite drinkable water, I understand. It is one of the Grenadines--
one of the Windward Islands. Yonder, dim and blue, are others of
the Grenadines. There are quantities of Grenadines, but the majority
are out of sight. I have often wondered what these islands are
for--now, you see, I am wiser. This one at least is for you. Sooner
or later some simple native will come along and take you off.
Say what you like about us then--abuse us, if you like--we shan't
care a solitary Grenadine! And here--here is half a sovereign's
worth of silver. Do not waste that in foolish dissipation when
you return to civilisation. Properly used, it may give you a fresh
start in life. And do not--Don't beach her, you beggars, he can
wade!--Do not waste the precious solitude before you in foolish
thoughts. Properly used, it may be a turning-point in your career.
Waste neither money nor time. You will die rich. I'm sorry, but
I must ask you to carry your tucker to land in your arms. No; it's
not deep. Curse that explanation of yours! There's not time.
No, no, no! I won't listen. Overboard you go!"
And the falling night found Mr. Ledbetter--the Mr. Ledbetter who
had complained that adventure was dead--sitting beside his cans
of food, his chin resting upon his drawn-up knees, staring through
his glasses in dismal mildness over the shining, vacant sea.
He was picked up in the course of three days by a negro fisherman
and taken to St. Vincent's, and from St. Vincent's he got, by
the expenditure of his last coins, to Kingston, in Jamaica. And there
he might have foundered. Even nowadays he is not a man of affairs,
and then he was a singularly helpless person. He had not the remotest
idea what he ought to do. The only thing he seems to have done was
to visit all the ministers of religion he could find in the place
to borrow a passage home. But he was much too dirty and incoherent--
and his story far too incredible for them. I met him quite by chance.
It was close upon sunset, and I was walking out after my siesta
on the road to Dunn's Battery, when I met him--I was rather bored,
and with a whole evening on my hands--luckily for him. He was trudging
dismally towards the town. His woebegone face and the quasi-clerical
cut of his dust-stained, filthy costume caught my humour. Our eyes met.
He hesitated. "Sir," he said, with a catching of the breath, "could
you spare a few minutes for what I fear will seem an incredible story?"
"Incredible!" I said.
"Quite," he answered eagerly. "No one will believe it, alter it
though I may. Yet I can assure you, sir--"
He stopped hopelessly. The man's tone tickled me. He seemed an odd
character. "I am," he said, "one of the most unfortunate beings alive."
"Among other things, you haven't dined?" I said, struck with an idea.
"I have not," he said solemnly, "for many days."
"You'll tell it better after that," I said; and without more ado led
the way to a low place I knew, where such a costume as his was
unlikely to give offence. And there--with certain omissions which
he subsequently supplied--I got his story. At first I was incredulous,
but as the wine warmed him, and the faint suggestion of cringing
which his misfortunes had added to his manner disappeared, I began
to believe. At last, I was so far convinced of his sincerity that
I got him a bed for the night, and next day verified the banker's
reference he gave me through my Jamaica banker. And that done, I took
him shopping for underwear and such like equipments of a gentleman
at large. Presently came the verified reference. His astonishing
story was true. I will not amplify our subsequent proceedings.
He started for England in three days' time.
"I do not know how I can possibly thank you enough," began the letter
he wrote me from England, "for all your kindness to a total stranger,"
and proceeded for some time in a similar strain. "Had it not been
for your generous assistance, I could certainly never have returned
in time for the resumption of my scholastic duties, and my few
minutes of reckless folly would, perhaps, have proved my ruin.
As it is, I am entangled in a tissue of lies and evasions, of the most
complicated sort, to account for my sunburnt appearance and my
whereabouts. I have rather carelessly told two or three different
stories, not realising the trouble this would mean for me in the end.
The truth I dare not tell. I have consulted a number of law-books
in the British Museum, and there is not the slightest doubt that
I have connived at and abetted and aided a felony. That scoundrel
Bingham was the Hithergate bank manager, I find, and guilty of
the most flagrant embezzlement. Please, please burn this letter
when read--I trust you implicitly. The worst of it is, neither my aunt
nor her friend who kept the boarding-house at which I was staying
seem altogether to believe a guarded statement I have made them
practically of what actually happened. They suspect me of some
discreditable adventure, but what sort of discreditable adventure
they suspect me of, I do not know. My aunt says she would forgive me
if I told her everything. I have--I have told her MORE than everything,
and still she is not satisfied. It would never do to let them know
the truth of the case, of course, and so I represent myself as having
been waylaid and gagged upon the beach. My aunt wants to know
WHY they waylaid and gagged me, why they took me away in their yacht.
I do not know. Can you suggest any reason? I can think of nothing.
If, when you wrote, you could write on TWO sheets so that I could
show her one, and on that one if you could show clearly that I really
WAS in Jamaica this summer, and had come there by being removed
from a ship, it would be of great service to me. It would certainly
add to the load of my obligation to you--a load that I fear I can
never fully repay. Although if gratitude . . ." And so forth.
At the end he repeated his request for me to burn the letter.
So the remarkable story of Mr. Ledbetter's Vacation ends. That breach
with his aunt was not of long duration. The old lady had forgiven him
before she died.
10. THE STOLEN BODY
Mr. Bessel was the senior partner in the firm of Bessel, Hart,
and Brown, of St. Paul's Churchyard, and for many years he was
well known among those interested in psychical research as a
liberal-minded and conscientious investigator. He was an unmarried
man, and instead of living in the suburbs, after the fashion of
his class, he occupied rooms in the Albany, near Piccadilly. He
was particularly interested in the questions of thought transference
and of apparitions of the living, and in November, 1896, he commenced
a series of experiments in conjunction with Mr. Vincey, of Staple Inn,
in order to test the alleged possibility of projecting an apparition
of one's self by force of will through space.
Their experiments were conducted in the following manner: At a pre-
arranged hour Mr. Bessel shut himself in one of his rooms in the
Albany and Mr. Vincey in his sitting-room in Staple Inn, and each then
fixed his mind as resolutely as possible on the other. Mr. Bessel
had acquired the art of self-hypnotism, and, so far as he could,
he attempted first to hypnotise himself and then to project himself
as a "phantom of the living" across the intervening space of nearly
two miles into Mr. Vincey's apartment. On several evenings this
was tried without any satisfactory result, but on the fifth or sixth
occasion Mr. Vincey did actually see or imagine he saw an apparition
of Mr. Bessel standing in his room. He states that the appearance,
although brief, was very vivid and real. He noticed that Mr. Bessel's
face was white and his expression anxious, and, moreover, that
his hair was disordered. For a moment Mr. Vincey, in spite of his
state of expectation, was too surprised to speak or move, and in that
moment it seemed to him as though the figure glanced over its shoulder
and incontinently vanished.
It had been arranged that an attempt should be made to photograph
any phantasm seen, but Mr. Vincey had not the instant presence
of mind to snap the camera that lay ready on the table beside him,
and when he did so he was too late. Greatly elated, however, even
by this partial success, he made a note of the exact time, and
at once took a cab to the Albany to inform Mr. Bessel of this result.
He was surprised to find Mr. Bessel's outer door standing open
to the night, and the inner apartments lit and in an extraordinary
disorder. An empty champagne magnum lay smashed upon the floor;
its neck had been broken off against the inkpot on the bureau
and lay beside it. An octagonal occasional table, which carried
a bronze statuette and a number of choice books, had been rudely
overturned, and down the primrose paper of the wall inky fingers had
been drawn, as it seemed for the mere pleasure of defilement. One of
the delicate chintz curtains had been violently torn from its rings
and thrust upon the fire, so that the smell of its smouldering
filled the room. Indeed the whole place was disarranged in the
strangest fashion. For a few minutes Mr. Vincey, who had entered
sure of finding Mr. Bessel in his easy chair awaiting him, could
scarcely believe his eyes, and stood staring helplessly at these
Then, full of a vague sense of calamity, he sought the porter at
the entrance lodge. "Where is Mr. Bessel?" he asked. "Do you know
that all the furniture is broken in Mr. Bessel's room?" The porter
said nothing, but, obeying his gestures, came at once to Mr. Bessel's
apartment to see the state of affairs. "This settles it," he said,
surveying the lunatic confusion. "I didn't know of this. Mr. Bessel's
gone off. He's mad!"
He then proceeded to tell Mr. Vincey that about half an hour
previously, that is to say, at about the time of Mr. Bessel's
apparition in Mr. Vincey's rooms, the missing gentleman had rushed
out of the gates of the Albany into Vigo Street, hatless and with
disordered hair, and had vanished into the direction of Bond Street.
"And as he went past me," said the porter, "he laughed--a sort of
gasping laugh, with his mouth open and his eyes glaring--I tell you,
sir, he fair scared me!--like this."
According to his imitation it was anything but a pleasant laugh.
"He waved his hand, with all his fingers crooked and clawing--like
that. And he said, in a sort of fierce whisper, 'LIFE!' Just that
one word, 'LIFE!'"
"Dear me," said Mr. Vincey. "Tut, tut," and "Dear me!" He could
think of nothing else to say. He was naturally very much surprised.
He turned from the room to the porter and from the porter to the
room in the gravest perplexity. Beyond his suggestion that probably
Mr. Bessel would come back presently and explain what had happened,
their conversation was unable to proceed. "It might be a sudden
toothache," said the porter, "a very sudden and violent toothache,
jumping on him suddenly-like and driving him wild. I've broken
things myself before now in such a case . . ." He thought. "If it was,
why should he say 'LIFE' to me as he went past?"
Mr. Vincey did not know. Mr. Bessel did not return, and at last
Mr. Vincey, having done some more helpless staring, and having
addressed a note of brief inquiry and left it in a conspicuous
position on the bureau, returned in a very perplexed frame of mind
to his own premises in Staple Inn. This affair had given him a shock.
He was at a loss to account for Mr. Bessel's conduct on any sane
hypothesis. He tried to read, but he could not do so; he went for
a short walk, and was so preoccupied that he narrowly escaped
a cab at the top of Chancery Lane; and at last--a full hour before
his usual time--he went to bed. For a considerable time he could not
sleep because of his memory of the silent confusion of Mr. Bessel's
apartment, and when at length he did attain an uneasy slumber it was
at once disturbed by a very vivid and distressing dream of Mr. Bessel.
He saw Mr. Bessel gesticulating wildly, and with his face white
and contorted. And, inexplicably mingled with his appearance,
suggested perhaps by his gestures, was an intense fear, an urgency
to act. He even believes that he heard the voice of his fellow
experimenter calling distressfully to him, though at the time he
considered this to be an illusion. The vivid impression remained
though Mr. Vincey awoke. For a space he lay awake and trembling
in the darkness, possessed with that vague, unaccountable terror of
unknown possibilities that comes out of dreams upon even the bravest
men. But at last he roused himself, and turned over and went to sleep
again, only for the dream to return with enhanced vividness.
He awoke with such a strong conviction that Mr. Bessel was in
overwhelming distress and need of help that sleep was no longer
possible. He was persuaded that his friend had rushed out to some dire
calamity. For a time he lay reasoning vainly against this belief, but
at last he gave way to it. He arose, against all reason, lit his gas,
and dressed, and set out through the deserted streets--deserted, save
for a noiseless policeman or so and the early news carts--towards Vigo
Street to inquire if Mr. Bessel had returned.
But he never got there. As he was going down Long Acre some
unaccountable impulse turned him aside out of that street towards
Covent Garden, which was just waking to its nocturnal activities. He
saw the market in front of him--a queer effect of glowing yellow
lights and busy black figures. He became aware of a shouting, and
perceived a figure turn the corner by the hotel and run swiftly towards
him. He knew at once that it was Mr. Bessel. But it was Mr. Bessel
transfigured. He was hatless and dishevelled, his collar was torn open,
he grasped a bone-handled walking-cane near the ferrule end, and his
mouth was pulled awry. And he ran, with agile strides, very rapidly.
Their encounter was the affair of an instant. "Bessel!" cried Vincey.
The running man gave no sign of recognition either of Mr. Vincey
or of his own name. Instead, he cut at his friend savagely with
the stick, hitting him in the face within an inch of the eye.
Mr. Vincey, stunned and astonished, staggered back, lost his footing,
and fell heavily on the pavement. It seemed to him that Mr. Bessel
leapt over him as he fell. When he looked again Mr. Bessel had
vanished, and a policeman and a number of garden porters and salesmen
were rushing past towards Long Acre in hot pursuit.
With the assistance of several passers-by--for the whole street
was speedily alive with running people--Mr. Vincey struggled to
his feet. He at once became the centre of a crowd greedy to see
his injury. A multitude of voices competed to reassure him of his
safety, and then to tell him of the behaviour of the madman, as
they regarded Mr. Bessel. He had suddenly appeared in the middle
of the market screaming "LIFE! LIFE!" striking left and right with a
blood-stained walking-stick, and dancing and shouting with laughter
at each successful blow. A lad and two women had broken heads,
and he had smashed a man's wrist; a little child had been knocked
insensible, and for a time he had driven every one before him,
so furious and resolute had his behaviour been. Then he made a raid
upon a coffee stall, hurled its paraffin flare through the window
of the post office, and fled laughing, after stunning the foremost
of the two policemen who had the pluck to charge him.
Mr. Vincey's first impulse was naturally to join in the pursuit
of his friend, in order if possible to save him from the violence
of the indignant people. But his action was slow, the blow had
half stunned him, and while this was still no more than a resolution
came the news, shouted through the crowd, that Mr. Bessel had eluded
his pursuers. At first Mr. Vincey could scarcely credit this, but
the universality of the report, and presently the dignified return
of two futile policemen, convinced him. After some aimless inquiries
he returned towards Staple Inn, padding a handkerchief to a now
very painful nose.
He was angry and astonished and perplexed. It appeared to him
indisputable that Mr. Bessel must have gone violently mad in the midst
of his experiment in thought transference, but why that should make
him appear with a sad white face in Mr. Vincey's dreams seemed
a problem beyond solution. He racked his brains in vain to explain
this. It seemed to him at last that not simply Mr. Bessel, but
the order of things must be insane. But he could think of nothing
to do. He shut himself carefully into his room, lit his fire--it was
a gas fire with asbestos bricks--and, fearing fresh dreams if he
went to bed, remained bathing his injured face, or holding up books
in a vain attempt to read, until dawn. Throughout that vigil he had
a curious persuasion that Mr. Bessel was endeavouring to speak
to him, but he would not let himself attend to any such belief.
About dawn, his physical fatigue asserted itself, and he went to bed
and slept at last in spite of dreaming. He rose late, unrested
and anxious, and in considerable facial pain. The morning papers
had no news of Mr. Bessel's aberration--it had come too late for them.
Mr. Vincey's perplexities, to which the fever of his bruise added
fresh irritation, became at last intolerable, and, after a fruitless
visit to the Albany, he went down to St. Paul's Churchyard to Mr. Hart,
Mr. Bessel's partner, and, so far as Mr. Vincey knew, his nearest
He was surprised to learn that Mr. Hart, although he knew nothing
of the outbreak, had also been disturbed by a vision, the very
vision that Mr. Vincey had seen--Mr. Bessel, white and dishevelled,
pleading earnestly by his gestures for help. That was his impression
of the import of his signs. "I was just going to look him up in the
Albany when you arrived," said Mr. Hart. "I was so sure of something
being wrong with him."
As the outcome of their consultation the two gentlemen decided
to inquire at Scotland Yard for news of their missing friend.
"He is bound to be laid by the heels," said Mr. Hart. "He can't go
on at that pace for long." But the police authorities had not laid
Mr. Bessel by the heels. They confirmed Mr. Vincey's overnight
experiences and added fresh circumstances, some of an even graver
character than those he knew--a list of smashed glass along the upper
half of Tottenham Court Road, an attack upon a policeman in Hampstead
Road, and an atrocious assault upon a woman. All these outrages were
committed between half-past twelve and a quarter to two in the morning,
and between those hours--and, indeed, from the very moment of Mr.
Bessel's first rush from his rooms at half-past nine in the evening--
they could trace the deepening violence of his fantastic career. For
the last hour, at least from before one, that is, until a quarter to
two, he had run amuck through London, eluding with amazing agility
every effort to stop or capture him.
But after a quarter to two he had vanished. Up to that hour witnesses
were multitudinous. Dozens of people had seen him, fled from him or
pursued him, and then things suddenly came to an end. At a quarter to
two he had been seen running down the Euston Road towards Baker Street,
flourishing a can of burning colza oil and jerking splashes of flame
therefrom at the windows of the houses he passed. But none of
the policemen on Euston Road beyond the Waxwork Exhibition, nor
any of those in the side streets down which he must have passed
had he left the Euston Road, had seen anything of him. Abruptly he
disappeared. Nothing of his subsequent doings came to light in spite
of the keenest inquiry.
Here was a fresh astonishment for Mr. Vincey. He had found considerable
comfort in Mr. Hart's conviction: "He is bound to be laid by the heels
before long," and in that assurance he had been able to suspend
his mental perplexities. But any fresh development seemed destined
to add new impossibilities to a pile already heaped beyond the powers
of his acceptance. He found himself doubting whether his memory
might not have played him some grotesque trick, debating whether any
of these things could possibly have happened; and in the afternoon he
hunted up Mr. Hart again to share the intolerable weight on his mind.
He found Mr. Hart engaged with a well-known private detective,
but as that gentleman accomplished nothing in this case, we need
not enlarge upon his proceedings.
All that day Mr. Bessel's whereabouts eluded an unceasingly active
inquiry, and all that night. And all that day there was a persuasion
in the back of Vincey's mind that Mr. Bessel sought his attention,
and all through the night Mr. Bessel with a tear-stained face
of anguish pursued him through his dreams. And whenever he saw
Mr. Bessel in his dreams he also saw a number of other faces, vague
but malignant, that seemed to be pursuing Mr. Bessel.
It was on the following day, Sunday, that Mr. Vincey recalled certain
remarkable stories of Mrs. Bullock, the medium, who was then attracting
attention for the first time in London. He determined to consult her.
She was staying at the house of that well-known inquirer, Dr. Wilson
Paget, and Mr. Vincey, although he had never met that gentleman before,
repaired to him forthwith with the intention of invoking her help.
But scarcely had he mentioned the name of Bessel when Doctor Paget
interrupted him. "Last night--just at the end," he said, "we had
He left the room, and returned with a slate on which were certain
words written in a handwriting, shaky indeed, but indisputably
the handwriting of Mr. Bessel!
"How did you get this?" said Mr. Vincey. "Do you mean--?"
"We got it last night," said Doctor Paget. With numerous interruptions
from Mr. Vincey, he proceeded to explain how the writing had been
obtained. It appears that in her seances, Mrs. Bullock passes into
a condition of trance, her eyes rolling up in a strange way under
her eyelids, and her body becoming rigid. She then begins to talk
very rapidly, usually in voices other than her own. At the same time
one or both of her hands may become active, and if slates and pencils
are provided they will then write messages simultaneously with
and quite independently of the flow of words from her mouth. By many
she is considered an even more remarkable medium than the celebrated
Mrs. Piper. It was one of these messages, the one written by her
left hand, that Mr. Vincey now had before him. It consisted of eight
words written disconnectedly: "George Bessel . . . trial excavn. . . .
Baker Street . . . help . . . starvation." Curiously enough, neither
Doctor Paget nor the two other inquirers who were present had heard
of the disappearance of Mr. Bessel--the news of it appeared only
in the evening papers of Saturday--and they had put the message
aside with many others of a vague and enigmatical sort that
Mrs. Bullock has from time to time delivered.
When Doctor Paget heard Mr. Vincey's story, he gave himself at once
with great energy to the pursuit of this clue to the discovery of
Mr. Bessel. It would serve no useful purpose here to describe the
inquiries of Mr. Vincey and himself; suffice it that the clue was a
genuine one, and that Mr. Bessel was actually discovered by its aid.
He was found at the bottom of a detached shaft which had been sunk
and abandoned at the commencement of the work for the new electric
railway near Baker Street Station. His arm and leg and two ribs were
broken. The shaft is protected by a hoarding nearly 20 feet high, and
over this, incredible as it seems, Mr. Bessel, a stout, middle-aged
gentleman, must have scrambled in order to fall down the shaft.
He was saturated in colza oil, and the smashed tin lay beside him,
but luckily the flame had been extinguished by his fall. And his
madness had passed from him altogether. But he was, of course,
terribly enfeebled, and at the sight of his rescuers he gave way
to hysterical weeping.
In view of the deplorable state of his flat, he was taken to the
house of Dr. Hatton in Upper Baker Street. Here he was subjected to a
sedative treatment, and anything that might recall the violent crisis
through which he had passed was carefully avoided. But on the second
day he volunteered a statement.
Since that occasion Mr. Bessel has several times repeated this
statement--to myself among other people--varying the details as
the narrator of real experiences always does, but never by any
chance contradicting himself in any particular. And the statement
he makes is in substance as follows.
In order to understand it clearly it is necessary to go back to his
experiments with Mr. Vincey before his remarkable attack. Mr. Bessel's
first attempts at self-projection, in his experiments with Mr. Vincey,
were, as the reader will remember, unsuccessful. But through all
of them he was concentrating all his power and will upon getting
out of the body--"willing it with all my might," he says. At last,
almost against expectation, came success. And Mr. Bessel asserts that
he, being alive, did actually, by an effort of will, leave his body
and pass into some place or state outside this world.
The release was, he asserts, instantaneous. "At one moment I was
seated in my chair, with my eyes tightly shut, my hands gripping
the arms of the chair, doing all I could to concentrate my mind
on Vincey, and then I perceived myself outside my body--saw my body
near me, but certainly not containing me, with the hands relaxing
and the head drooping forward on the breast."
Nothing shakes him in his assurance of that release. He describes
in a quiet, matter-of-fact way the new sensation he experienced.
He felt he had become impalpable--so much he had expected, but
he had not expected to find himself enormously large. So, however,
it would seem he became. "I was a great cloud--if I may express it
that way--anchored to my body. It appeared to me, at first, as if
I had discovered a greater self of which the conscious being in my
brain was only a little part. I saw the Albany and Piccadilly and
Regent Street and all the rooms and places in the houses, very minute
and very bright and distinct, spread out below me like a little
city seen from a balloon. Every now and then vague shapes like
drifting wreaths of smoke made the vision a little indistinct, but
at first I paid little heed to them. The thing that astonished me
most, and which astonishes me still, is that I saw quite distinctly
the insides of the houses as well as the streets, saw little people
dining and talking in the private houses, men and women dining,
playing billiards, and drinking in restaurants and hotels, and several
places of entertainment crammed with people. It was like watching
the affairs of a glass hive."
Such were Mr. Bessel's exact words as I took them down when he told
me the story. Quite forgetful of Mr. Vincey, he remained for a space
observing these things. Impelled by curiosity, he says, he stooped
down, and, with the shadowy arm he found himself possessed of,
attempted to touch a man walking along Vigo Street. But he could
not do so, though his finger seemed to pass through the man. Something
prevented his doing this, but what it was he finds it hard to describe.
He compares the obstacle to a sheet of glass.
"I felt as a kitten may feel," he said, "when it goes for the first
time to pat its reflection in a mirror." Again and again, on the
occasion when I heard him tell this story, Mr. Bessel returned to that
comparison of the sheet of glass. Yet it was not altogether a precise
comparison, because, as the reader will speedily see, there were
interruptions of this generally impermeable resistance, means of
getting through the barrier to the material world again. But,
naturally, there is a very great difficulty in expressing these
unprecedented impressions in the language of everyday experience.
A thing that impressed him instantly, and which weighed upon him
throughout all this experience, was the stillness of this place--he
was in a world without sound.
At first Mr. Bessel's mental state was an unemotional wonder.
His thought chiefly concerned itself with where he might be. He was
out of the body--out of his material body, at any rate--but that
was not all. He believes, and I for one believe also, that he was
somewhere out of space, as we understand it, altogether. By a strenuous
effort of will he had passed out of his body into a world beyond
this world, a world undreamt of, yet lying so close to it and so
strangely situated with regard to it that all things on this earth
are clearly visible both from without and from within in this other
world about us. For a long time, as it seemed to him, this realisation
occupied his mind to the exclusion of all other matters, and then
he recalled the engagement with Mr. Vincey, to which this astonishing
experience was, after all, but a prelude.
He turned his mind to locomotion in this new body in which he found
himself. For a time he was unable to shift himself from his attachment
to his earthly carcass. For a time this new strange cloud body
of his simply swayed, contracted, expanded, coiled, and writhed
with his efforts to free himself, and then quite suddenly the link
that bound him snapped. For a moment everything was hidden by
what appeared to be whirling spheres of dark vapour, and then
through a momentary gap he saw his drooping body collapse limply,
saw his lifeless head drop sideways, and found he was driving along
like a huge cloud in a strange place of shadowy clouds that had
the luminous intricacy of London spread like a model below.
But now he was aware that the fluctuating vapour about him was
something more than vapour, and the temerarious excitement of his first
essay was shot with fear. For he perceived, at first indistinctly,
and then suddenly very clearly, that he was surrounded by FACES!
that each roll and coil of the seeming cloud-stuff was a face.
And such faces! Faces of thin shadow, faces of gaseous tenuity.
Faces like those faces that glare with intolerable strangeness
upon the sleeper in the evil hours of his dreams. Evil, greedy eyes
that were full of a covetous curiosity, faces with knit brows and
snarling, smiling lips; their vague hands clutched at Mr. Bessel
as he passed, and the rest of their bodies was but an elusive streak
of trailing darkness. Never a word they said, never a sound from
the mouths that seemed to gibber. All about him they pressed in that
dreamy silence, passing freely through the dim mistiness that was
his body, gathering ever more numerously about him. And the shadowy
Mr. Bessel, now suddenly fear-stricken, drove through the silent,
active multitude of eyes and clutching hands.
So inhuman were these faces, so malignant their staring eyes,
and shadowy, clawing gestures, that it did not occur to Mr. Bessel
to attempt intercourse with these drifting creatures. Idiot phantoms,
they seemed, children of vain desire, beings unborn and forbidden
the boon of being, whose only expressions and gestures told of
the envy and craving for life that was their one link with existence.
It says much for his resolution that, amidst the swarming cloud
of these noiseless spirits of evil, he could still think of Mr. Vincey.
He made a violent effort of will and found himself, he knew not how,
stooping towards Staple Inn, saw Vincey sitting attentive and alert
in his arm-chair by the fire.
And clustering also about him, as they clustered ever about all
that lives and breathes, was another multitude of these vain voiceless
shadows, longing, desiring, seeking some loophole into life.
For a space Mr. Bessel sought ineffectually to attract his friend's
attention. He tried to get in front of his eyes, to move the objects
in his room, to touch him. But Mr. Vincey remained unaffected,
ignorant of the being that was so close to his own. The strange
something that Mr. Bessel has compared to a sheet of glass separated
And at last Mr. Bessel did a desperate thing. I have told how that
in some strange way he could see not only the outside of a man
as we see him, but within. He extended his shadowy hand and thrust
his vague black fingers, as it seemed, through the heedless brain.
Then, suddenly, Mr. Vincey started like a man who recalls his attention
from wandering thoughts, and it seemed to Mr. Bessel that a little
dark-red body situated in the middle of Mr. Vincey's brain swelled
and glowed as he did so. Since that experience he has been shown
anatomical figures of the brain, and he knows now that this is
that useless structure, as doctors call it, the pineal eye. For,
strange as it will seem to many, we have, deep in our brains--where
it cannot possibly see any earthly light--an eye! At the time this,
with the rest of the internal anatomy of the brain, was quite new
to him. At the sight of its changed appearance, however, he thrust
forth his finger, and, rather fearful still of the consequences,
touched this little spot. And instantly Mr. Vincey started, and
Mr. Bessel knew that he was seen.
And at that instant it came to Mr. Bessel that evil had happened
to his body, and behold! a great wind blew through all that world
of shadows and tore him away. So strong was this persuasion that
he thought no more of Mr. Vincey, but turned about forthwith, and all
the countless faces drove back with him like leaves before a gale.
But he returned too late. In an instant he saw the body that he had
left inert and collapsed--lying, indeed, like the body of a man
just dead--had arisen, had arisen by virtue of some strength and
will beyond his own. It stood with staring eyes, stretching its limbs
in dubious fashion.
For a moment he watched it in wild dismay, and then he stooped
towards it. But the pane of glass had closed against him again,
and he was foiled. He beat himself passionately against this, and
all about him the spirits of evil grinned and pointed and mocked.
He gave way to furious anger. He compares himself to a bird that
has fluttered heedlessly into a room and is beating at the window-
pane that holds it back from freedom.
And behold! the little body that had once been his was now dancing
with delight. He saw it shouting, though he could not hear its shouts;
he saw the violence of its movements grow. He watched it fling
his cherished furniture about in the mad delight of existence,
rend his books apart, smash bottles, drink heedlessly from the jagged
fragments, leap and smite in a passionate acceptance of living.
He watched these actions in paralysed astonishment. Then once more
he hurled himself against the impassable barrier, and then with all
that crew of mocking ghosts about him, hurried back in dire confusion
to Vincey to tell him of the outrage that had come upon him.
But the brain of Vincey was now closed against apparitions, and
the disembodied Mr. Bessel pursued him in vain as he hurried out
into Holborn to call a cab. Foiled and terror-stricken, Mr. Bessel
swept back again, to find his desecrated body whooping in a glorious
frenzy down the Burlington Arcade. . . .
And now the attentive reader begins to understand Mr. Bessel's
interpretation of the first part of this strange story. The being
whose frantic rush through London had inflicted so much injury
and disaster had indeed Mr. Bessel's body, but it was not Mr. Bessel.
It was an evil spirit out of that strange world beyond existence,
into which Mr. Bessel had so rashly ventured. For twenty hours it held
possession of him, and for all those twenty hours the dispossessed
spirit-body of Mr. Bessel was going to and fro in that unheard-of
middle world of shadows seeking help in vain. He spent many hours
beating at the minds of Mr. Vincey and of his friend Mr. Hart.
Each, as we know, he roused by his efforts. But the language that
might convey his situation to these helpers across the gulf he did
not know; his feeble fingers groped vainly and powerlessly in their
brains. Once, indeed, as we have already told, he was able to turn
Mr. Vincey aside from his path so that he encountered the stolen
body in its career, but he could not make him understand the thing
that had happened: he was unable to draw any help from that
encounter. . . .
All through those hours the persuasion was overwhelming in Mr. Bessel's
mind that presently his body would be killed by its furious tenant,
and he would have to remain in this shadow-land for evermore.
So that those long hours were a growing agony of fear. And ever
as he hurried to and fro in his ineffectual excitement, innumerable
spirits of that world about him mobbed him and confused his mind.
And ever an envious applauding multitude poured after their successful
fellow as he went upon his glorious career.
For that, it would seem, must be the life of these bodiless things
of this world that is the shadow of our world. Ever they watch,
coveting a way into a mortal body, in order that they may descend,
as furies and frenzies, as violent lusts and mad, strange impulses,
rejoicing in the body they have won. For Mr. Bessel was not the only
human soul in that place. Witness the fact that he met first one,
and afterwards several shadows of men, men like himself, it seemed,
who had lost their bodies even it may be as he had lost his, and
wandered, despairingly, in that lost world that is neither life
nor death. They could not speak because that world is silent, yet
he knew them for men because of their dim human bodies, and because
of the sadness of their faces.
But how they had come into that world he could not tell, nor where
the bodies they had lost might be, whether they still raved about
the earth, or whether they were closed forever in death against
return. That they were the spirits of the dead neither he nor I
believe. But Doctor Wilson Paget thinks they are the rational souls
of men who are lost in madness on the earth.
At last Mr. Bessel chanced upon a place where a little crowd of such
disembodied silent creatures was gathered, and thrusting through them
he saw below a brightly-lit room, and four or five quiet gentlemen
and a woman, a stoutish woman dressed in black bombazine and sitting
awkwardly in a chair with her head thrown back. He knew her from
her portraits to be Mrs. Bullock, the medium. And he perceived
that tracts and structures in her brain glowed and stirred as he had
seen the pineal eye in the brain of Mr. Vincey glow. The light was
very fitful; sometimes it was a broad illumination, and sometimes
merely a faint twilight spot, and it shifted slowly about her brain.
She kept on talking and writing with one hand. And Mr. Bessel saw
that the crowding shadows of men about him, and a great multitude
of the shadow spirits of that shadowland, were all striving and
thrusting to touch the lighted regions of her brain. As one gained
her brain or another was thrust away, her voice and the writing of
her hand changed. So that what she said was disorderly and confused
for the most part; now a fragment of one soul's message, and now
a fragment of another's, and now she babbled the insane fancies
of the spirits of vain desire. Then Mr. Bessel understood that she
spoke for the spirit that had touch of her, and he began to struggle
very furiously towards her. But he was on the outside of the crowd
and at that time he could not reach her, and at last, growing anxious,
he went away to find what had happened meanwhile to his body. For a
long time he went to and fro seeking it in vain and fearing that it
must have been killed, and then he found it at the bottom of the shaft
in Baker Street, writhing furiously and cursing with pain. Its leg and
an arm and two ribs had been broken by its fall. Moreover, the evil
spirit was angry because his time had been so short and because of the
painmaking violent movements and casting his body about.
And at that Mr. Bessel returned with redoubled earnestness to the
room where the seance was going on, and so soon as he had thrust
himself within sight of the place he saw one of the men who stood
about the medium looking at his watch as if he meant that the seance
should presently end. At that a great number of the shadows who had
been striving turned away with gestures of despair. But the thought
that the seance was almost over only made Mr. Bessel the more
earnest, and he struggled so stoutly with his will against the others
that presently he gained the woman's brain. It chanced that just
at that moment it glowed very brightly, and in that instant she wrote
the message that Doctor Wilson Paget preserved. And then the other
shadows and the cloud of evil spirits about him had thrust Mr. Bessel
away from her, and for all the rest of the seance he could regain
her no more.
So he went back and watched through the long hours at the bottom
of the shaft where the evil spirit lay in the stolen body it had
maimed, writhing and cursing, and weeping and groaning, and learning
the lesson of pain. And towards dawn the thing he had waited for
happened, the brain glowed brightly and the evil spirit came out,
and Mr. Bessel entered the body he had feared he should never enter
again. As he did so, the silence--the brooding silence--ended;
he heard the tumult of traffic and the voices of people overhead,
and that strange world that is the shadow of our world--the dark
and silent shadows of ineffectual desire and the shadows of lost
men--vanished clean away.
He lay there for the space of about three hours before he was found.
And in spite of the pain and suffering of his wounds, and of the dim
damp place in which he lay; in spite of the tears--wrung from him
by his physical distress--his heart was full of gladness to know
that he was nevertheless back once more in the kindly world of men.
11. MR. BRISHER'S TREASURE
"You can't be TOO careful WHO you marry," said Mr. Brisher, and
pulled thoughtfully with a fat-wristed hand at the lank moustache
that hides his want of chin.
"That's why--" I ventured.
"Yes," said Mr. Brisher, with a solemn light in his bleary, blue-grey
eyes, moving his head expressively and breathing alcohol INTIMATELY
at me. "There's lots as 'ave 'ad a try at me--many as I could name
in this town--but none 'ave done it--none."
I surveyed the flushed countenance, the equatorial expansion,
the masterly carelessness of his attire, and heaved a sigh to think
that by reason of the unworthiness of women he must needs be the last
of his race.
"I was a smart young chap when I was younger," said Mr. Brisher.
"I 'ad my work cut out. But I was very careful--very. And I got
through . . ."
He leant over the taproom table and thought visibly on the subject
of my trustworthiness. I was relieved at last by his confidence.
"I was engaged once," he said at last, with a reminiscent eye on
the shuv-a'penny board.
"So near as that?"
He looked at me. "So near as that. Fact is--" He looked about him,
brought his face close to mine, lowered his voice, and fenced off an
unsympathetic world with a grimy hand. "If she ain't dead or married
to some one else or anything--I'm engaged still. Now." He confirmed
this statement with nods and facial contortions. "STILL," he said,
ending the pantomime, and broke into a reckless smile at my surprise.
"Run away," he explained further, with coruscating eyebrows.
"That ain't all.
"You'd 'ardly believe it," he said, "but I found a treasure. Found
a regular treasure."
I fancied this was irony, and did not, perhaps, greet it with proper
surprise. "Yes," he said, "I found a treasure. And come 'ome. I tell
you I could surprise you with things that has happened to me."
And for some time he was content to repeat that he had found
a treasure--and left it.
I made no vulgar clamour for a story, but I became attentive to Mr.
Brisher's bodily needs, and presently I led him back to the deserted
"She was a nice girl," he said--a little sadly, I thought. "AND
He raised his eyebrows and tightened his mouth to express extreme
respectability--beyond the likes of us elderly men.
"It was a long way from 'ere. Essex, in fact. Near Colchester.
It was when I was up in London--in the buildin' trade. I was a smart
young chap then, I can tell you. Slim. 'Ad best clo'es 's good
as anybody. 'At--SILK 'at, mind you." Mr. Brisher's hand shot above
his head towards the infinite to indicate it silk hat of the highest.
"Umbrella--nice umbrella with a 'orn 'andle. Savin's. Very careful
I was. . . ."
He was pensive for a little while, thinking, as we must all come
to think sooner or later, of the vanished brightness of youth.
But he refrained, as one may do in taprooms, from the obvious moral.
"I got to know 'er through a chap what was engaged to 'er sister.
She was stopping in London for a bit with an aunt that 'ad a 'am
an' beef shop. This aunt was very particular--they was all very
particular people, all 'er people was--and wouldn't let 'er sister
go out with this feller except 'er other sister, MY girl that is,
went with them. So 'e brought me into it, sort of to ease the crowding.
We used to go walks in Battersea Park of a Sunday afternoon. Me in
my topper, and 'im in 'is; and the girl's--well--stylish. There wasn't
many in Battersea Park 'ad the larf of us. She wasn't what you'd
call pretty, but a nicer girl I never met. _I _ liked 'er from
the start, and, well--though I say it who shouldn't--she liked me.
You know 'ow it is, I dessay?"
I pretended I did.
"And when this chap married 'er sister--'im and me was great
friends--what must 'e do but arst me down to Colchester, close by
where She lived. Naturally I was introjuced to 'er people, and well,
very soon, her and me was engaged."
He repeated "engaged."
"She lived at 'ome with 'er father and mother, quite the lady, in a
very nice little 'ouse with a garden--and remarkable respectable
people they was. Rich you might call 'em a'most. They owned their
own 'ouse--got it out of the Building Society, and cheap because
the chap who had it before was a burglar and in prison--and they 'ad
a bit of free'old land, and some cottages and money 'nvested--all
nice and tight: they was what you'd call snug and warm. I tell you,
I was On. Furniture too. Why! They 'ad a pianner. Jane--'er name
was Jane--used to play it Sundays, and very nice she played too.
There wasn't 'ardly a 'im toon in the book she COULDN'T play . . .
"Many's the evenin' we've met and sung 'ims there, me and 'er
and the family.
"'Er father was quite a leadin' man in chapel. You should ha' seen
him Sundays, interruptin' the minister and givin' out 'ims. He had
gold spectacles, I remember, and used to look over 'em at you while
he sang hearty--he was always great on singing 'earty to the Lord--
and when HE got out o' toon 'arf the people went after 'im--always.
'E was that sort of man. And to walk be'ind 'im in 'is nice black
clo'es--'is 'at was a brimmer--made one regular proud to be engaged
to such a father-in-law. And when the summer came I went down there
and stopped a fortnight.
"Now, you know there was a sort of Itch," said Mr. Brisher. "We wanted
to marry, me and Jane did, and get things settled. But 'E said I 'ad
to get a proper position first. Consequently there was a Itch.
Consequently, when I went down there, I was anxious to show that
I was a good useful sort of chap like. Show I could do pretty nearly
everything like. See?"
I made a sympathetic noise.
"And down at the bottom of their garden was a bit of wild part like.
So I says to 'im, 'Why don't you 'ave a rockery 'ere?' I says.
'It 'ud look nice.'
"'Too much expense,' he says.
"'Not a penny,' says I. 'I'm a dab at rockeries. Lemme make you one.'
You see, I'd 'elped my brother make a rockery in the beer garden
be'ind 'is tap, so I knew 'ow to do it to rights. 'Lemme make you
one,' I says. 'It's 'olidays, but I'm that sort of chap, I 'ate doing
nothing,' I says. 'I'll make you one to rights.' And the long and
the short of it was, he said I might.
"And that's 'ow I come on the treasure."
"What treasure?" I asked.
"Why!" said Mr. Brisher, "the treasure I'm telling you about, what's
the reason why I never married."
"What!--a treasure--dug up?"
"Yes--buried wealth--treasure trove. Come out of the ground. What
I kept on saying--regular treasure. . . ." He looked at me with
"It wasn't more than a foot deep, not the top of it," he said.
"I'd 'ardly got thirsty like, before I come on the corner."
"Go on," I said. "I didn't understand."
"Why! Directly I 'it the box I knew it was treasure. A sort of instinct
told me. Something seemed to shout inside of me--'Now's your chance--
lie low.' It's lucky I knew the laws of treasure trove or I'd 'ave been
shoutin' there and then. I daresay you know--"
"Crown bags it," I said, "all but one per cent. Go on. It's a shame.
What did you do?"
"Uncovered the top of the box. There wasn't anybody in the garden
or about like. Jane was 'elping 'er mother do the 'ouse. I WAS
excited--I tell you. I tried the lock and then gave a whack at
the hinges. Open it came. Silver coins--full! Shining. It made me
tremble to see 'em. And jest then--I'm blessed if the dustman didn't
come round the back of the 'ouse. It pretty nearly gave me 'eart
disease to think what a fool I was to 'ave that money showing. And
directly after I 'eard the chap next door--'e was 'olidaying, too--
I 'eard him watering 'is beans. If only 'e'd looked over the fence!"
"What did you do?"
"Kicked the lid on again and covered it up like a shot, and went
on digging about a yard away from it--like mad. And my face, so
to speak, was laughing on its own account till I had it hid. I tell
you I was regular scared like at my luck. I jest thought that it
'ad to be kep' close and that was all. 'Treasure,' I kep' whisperin'
to myself, 'Treasure' and ''undreds of pounds, 'undreds, 'undreds
of pounds.' Whispering to myself like, and digging like blazes. It
seemed to me the box was regular sticking out and showing, like your
legs do under the sheets in bed, and I went and put all the earth
I'd got out of my 'ole for the rockery slap on top of it. I WAS
in a sweat. And in the midst of it all out toddles 'er father.
He didn't say anything to me, jest stood behind me and stared,
but Jane tole me afterwards when he went indoors, 'e says, 'That
there jackanapes of yours, Jane'--he always called me a jackanapes
some'ow--'knows 'ow to put 'is back into it after all.' Seemed quite
impressed by it, 'e did."
"How long was the box?" I asked, suddenly.
"'Ow long?" said Mr. Brisher.
"Oh! 'bout so-by-so." Mr. Brisher indicated a moderate-sized trunk.
"FULL?" said I.
"Full up of silver coins--'arf-crowns, I believe."
"Why!" I cried, "that would mean--hundreds of pounds."
"Thousands," said Mr. Brisher, in a sort of sad calm. "I calc'lated it
"But how did they get there?"
"All I know is what I found. What I thought at the time was this.
The chap who'd owned the 'ouse before 'er father 'd been a regular
slap-up burglar. What you'd call a 'igh-class criminal. Used to drive
'is trap--like Peace did." Mr. Brisher meditated on the difficulties
of narration and embarked on a complicated parenthesis. "I don't
know if I told you it'd been a burglar's 'ouse before it was my girl's
father's, and I knew 'e'd robbed a mail train once, I did know that.
It seemed to me--"
"That's very likely," I said. "But what did you do?"
"Sweated," said Mr. Brisher. "Regular run orf me. All that morning,"
said Mr. Brisher, "I was at it, pretending to make that rockery
and wondering what I should do. I'd 'ave told 'er father p'r'aps,
only I was doubtful of 'is honesty--I was afraid he might rob me of
it like, and give it up to the authorities--and besides, considering
I was marrying into the family, I thought it would be nicer like
if it came through me. Put me on a better footing, so to speak.
Well, I 'ad three days before me left of my 'olidays, so there
wasn't no hurry, so I covered it up and went on digging, and tried
to puzzle out 'ow I was to make sure of it. Only I couldn't.