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A Mere Accident by George Moore

Part 3 out of 3

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only a few pools flashed silver amid the ooze; and the masts of the tall
vessels,--tall vessels aground in that strange canal or rather dyke
which runs parallel with and within a few yards of the sea for so many
miles,--tapered and leaned out over the sea banks, and the points of the
top masts could be counted. Then on the left hand towards Brighton, the
sea streamed with purple, it was striped with green, and it hung like a
blue veil behind the rich trees of Leywood and Little Leywood, and the
trees and the fields were full of golden rays.

The lovers stood on a grassy plain; sheep were travelling over the great
expanses of the valleys; rooks were flying about. Looking over the plain
you saw Southwick,--a gleam of gables, a gleam of walls,--skirting a
plantation; and further away still, Brighton lay like a pile of rocks
heaped about a low shore.

To the lovers life was now as an assortment of simple but beautiful
flowers; and they passed the blossoms to and fro and bound them into
a bouquet. They talked of the Miss Austins, of their flirtations, of
the Rectory, of Thornby Place, of Italy, for there they were going
next month on their honeymoon. The turnip and corn lands were as
inconceivable widths of green and yellow satin rolling through the rich
light of the crests into the richer shadow of the valleys. And there
there was a farm-house surrounded by buildings, surrounded by trees,--it
looked like a nest in its snug hollow; the smoke ascended blue and
peacefully. It was the last habitation. Beyond it the downs extend, in
almost illimitable ranges ascending to the wild golden gorse, to the
purple heather.

We are on the burgh. The hills tumble this way and that; below is the
great weald of Sussex, blue with vapour, spotted with gold fields, level
as a landscape by Hobbema; Chanctonbury Ring stands up like a gaunt
watcher; its crown of trees is pressed upon its brow, a dark and
imperial crown.

Overhead the sky is full of dark grey clouds; through them the sun
breaks and sheds silver dust over the landscape; in the passing gleams
the green of the furze grows vivid. If you listen you hear the tinkling
of the bell-wether; if you look you see a solitary rabbit. A stunted
hawthorn stands by the circle of stone, and by it the lovers were
sitting. He was talking to her of Italy, of cathedrals and statues,
for although he now loves her as a man should love, he still saw his
honeymoon in a haze of Botticellis, cardinals, and chants. They stood
up and bid each other good-bye, and waving hands they parted.

Night was coming on apace, a long way lay still before him, and he
walked hastily; she being nearer home, sauntered leisurely, swinging her
parasol. The sweetness of the evening was in her blood and brain, and
the architectural beauty of the landscape--the elliptical arches of the
hills--swam before her. But she had not walked many minutes before a
tramp, like a rabbit out of a bush, sprang out of the furze where he had
been sleeping. He was a gaunt hulking fellow, six feet high.

"Now 'aven't you a copper or two for a poor fellow, Missie?"

Kitty started from him frightened. "No, I haven't, I have nothing ... go
away."

He laughed hoarsely, she ran from him. "Now, don't run so fast, Missie,
won't you give a poor fellow something?"

"I have nothing."

"Oh, yes you 'ave; what about those pretty lips?"

A few strides brought him again to her side. He laid his hand upon her
arm. She broke her parasol across his face, he laughed hoarsely. She saw
his savage beast-like eyes fixed hungrily upon her. She fainted for fear
of his look of dull tigerish cruelty. She fell....

When shaken and stunned and terrified she rose from the ground, she saw
the tall gaunt figure passing away like a shadow. The wild solitary
landscape was pale and dim. In the fading light it was a drawing made on
blue paper with a hard pencil. The long undulating lines were defined
on the dead sky, the girdle of blue encircling sea was an image of
eternity. All now was the past, there did not seem to be a present. Her
mind was rocked to and fro, and on its surface words and phrases floated
like sea weed.... To throw her down and ill-treat her. Her frock is
spoilt; they will ask her where she has been to, and how she got herself
into such a state. Mechanically she brushed herself, and mechanically,
very mechanically she picked bits of furze from her dress. She held each
away from her and let it drop in a silly vacant way, all the while
running the phrases over in her mind: "What a horrible man ... he threw me
down and ill-treated me; my frock is ruined, utterly ruined, what a
state it is in! I had a narrow escape of being murdered. I will tell
them that ... that will explain ... I had a narrow escape of being
murdered." But presently she grew conscious that these thoughts were
fictitious thoughts, and that there was a thought, a real thought,
lying in the background of her mind, which she dared not face, which she
could not think of, for she did not think as she desired to; her
thoughts came and went at their own wild will, they flitted lightly,
touching with their wings but ever avoiding this deep and formless
thought which lay in darkness, almost undiscoverable, like a monster in
a nightmare.

She rose to her feet, she staggered, her sight seemed to fail her. There
was a darkness in the summer evening which she could not account for;
the ground seemed to slide beneath her feet, the landscape seemed to be
in motion and to be rolling in great waves towards the sea. Would it
precipitate itself into the sea, and would she be engulphed in the
universal ruin? O! the sea, how implacably serene, how remorselessly
beautiful; green along the shore, purple along the horizon! But the land
was rolling to it. By Lancing College it broke seaward in a soft lapsing
tide, in front of her it rose in angry billows; and Leywood hill,
green, and grand, and voluted, stood up a great green wave against the
waveless sea.

"What a horrible man ... he attacked me, ill-treated me ... what for?" Her
thoughts turned aside. "He should be put in prison.... If father knew
it, or John knew it, he would be put in prison, and for a very long
time.... Why did he attack me?... Perhaps to rob me; yes, to rob me, of
course to rob me." The evening seemed to brighten, the tumultuous
landscape to grow still, To rob her, and of what?... of her watch; where
was it? It was gone. The happiness of a dying saint when he opens arms
to heaven descended upon her. The watch was gone ... but, had she lost it?
Should she go back and see if she could find it? Oh! impossible; see the
place again--impossible! search among the gorse--impossible! Horror! She
would die. O to die on the lonely hills, to lie stark and cold beneath
the stars! But no, she would not be found upon these hills. She would
die and be seen no more. O to die, to sink in that beautiful sea, so
still, so calm, so calm--why would it not take her to its bosom and hide
her away? She would go to it, but she could not get to it; there were
thousands of men between her and it.... An icy shiver passed through
her.

Then as her thoughts broke away, she thought of how she had escaped
being murdered. How thankful she ought to be--but somehow she is not
thankful. And she was above all things conscious of a horror of
returning, of returning to where she would see men and women's faces ...
men's faces. And now with her eyes fixed on the world that awaited her,
she stood on the hillside. There was Brighton far away, sparkling in the
dying light; nearer, Southwick showed amid woods, winding about the foot
of the hills; in front Shoreham rose out of the massy trees of Leywood,
the trees slanted down to the lawn and foliage and walls, made spots of
white and dark green upon a background of blue sea; further to the
right there was a sluggish silver river, the spine of the skeleton
bridge, a spur of Lancing hill, and then mist, pale mist, pale grey
mist.

"I cannot go home", thought the girl, and acting in direct contradiction
to her thoughts, she walked forward. Her parasol--where was it? It was
broken. The sheep, how sweet and quiet they looked, and the clover, how
deliciously it smelt.... This is Mr Austin's farm, and how well kept it
is. There is the barn. And Evy and Mary, when would they be married? Not
so soon as she, she was going to be married in a month. In a month. She
repeated the words over to herself; she strove to collect her thoughts,
and failing to do so, she walked on hurriedly, she almost ran as if in
the motion to force out of sight the thoughts that for a moment
threatened to define themselves in her mind. Suddenly she stopped; there
were some children playing by the farm gate. They did not know that she
was by, and she listened to their childish prattle unsuspected. To
listen was an infinite assuagement, one that was overpoweringly sweet,
and for some moments she almost forgot. But she woke from her ecstacy in
deadly fear and great pain, for coming along the hedgerow the voice of a
man was heard, and the children ran away. And she ran too, like a
terrified fawn, trembling in every limb, and sick with fear she sped
across the meadows. The front door was open; she heard her father
calling. To see him she felt would be more than she could bear; she must
hide from his sight for ever, and dashing upstairs she double locked her
door.

CHAPTER VII.

The sky was still flushed, there was light upon the sea, but the room
was dim and quiet. The room! Kitty had seen it under all aspects, she
had lived in it many years: then why does she look with strained eyes?
Why does she shrink? Nothing has been changed. There is her little
narrow bed, and her little bookcase full of novels and prayer-books;
there is her work-basket by the fireplace, by the fireplace closed in
with curtains that she herself embroidered; above her pillow there is a
crucifix; there are photographs of the Miss Austins, and pictures of
pretty children cut from the Christmas Numbers on the walls. She starts
at the sight of these familiar objects! She trembles in the room which
she thought of as a haven of refuge. Why does she grasp the rail of the
bed--why? She scarcely knows: something that is at once remembrance and
suspicion fills her mind. Is this her room?

The thought ended. She walked hurriedly to and fro, and as she passed
the fuchsia in the window a blossom fell.

She sat down and stared into dark space. She walked languidly and
purposelessly to the wardrobe. She stopped to pick a petal from the
carpet. The sound of the last door was over, the retiring footfall had
died away in the distance, the last voice was hushed; the moon was
shining on the sea. A lovely scene, silver and blue; but how the girl's
heart was beating! She sighed.

She sighed as if she had forgotten, and approaching her bedside she
raised her hands to her neck. It was the instinctive movement of
undressing. Her hands dropped, she did not even unbutton her collar. She
could not. She resumed her walk, she picked up a blossom that had
fallen, she looked out on the pale white sea. There was moonlight now in
the room, a ghastly white spot was on the pillow. She was tired. The
moonlight called her. She lay down with her profile in the light.

But there were smell and features in the glare--the odour was that of
the tramp's skin, the features--a long thin nose, pressed lips, small
eyes, a look of dull liquorish cruelty. And this presence was beside
her; she could not rid herself of it, she repulsed it with cries, but it
came again, and mocking, lay on the pillow.

Horrible, too horrible! She sprang from the bed. Was there anyone in her
room? How still it was! The mysterious moonlight, the sea white as a
shroud, the sward so chill and death-like. What! Did it move? Was it he?
That fearsome shadow! Was she safe? Had they forgotten to bar up the
house? Her father's house! Horrible, too horrible, she must shut out
this treacherous light--darkness were better....

* * * * *

The curtains are closed, but a ray glinting between the wall and curtain
shows her face convulsed. Something follows her: she knows not what, her
thoughts are monstrous and obtuse. She dares not look round, she would
turn to see if her pursuer is gaining upon her, but some invincible
power restrains her.... Agony! Her feet catch in, and she falls over
great leaves. She falls into the clefts of ruined tombs, and her hands
as she attempts to rise are laid on sleeping snakes--rattlesnakes: they
turn to attack her, and they glide away and disappear in moss and
inscriptions. O, the calm horror of this region! Before her the trees
extend in complex colonnades, silent ruins are grown through with giant
roots, and about the mysterious entrances of the crypts there lingers
yet the odour of ancient sacrifices. The stem of a rare column rises
amid the branches, the fragment of an arch hangs over and is supported
by a dismantled tree trunk. Ages ago the leaves fell, and withered; ages
ago; and now the skeleton arms, lifted in fantastic frenzy against the
desert skies, are as weird and symbolic as the hieroglyphics on the
tombs below.

And through the torrid twilight of the approaching storm the cry of the
hyena is heard.

Flowers hang on every side,--flowers as strange and as gorgeous as
Byzantine chalices; flowers narrow and fluted and transparent as long
Venetian glasses; opaque flowers bulging and coloured with gold devices
like Chinese vases, flowers striped with cinnamon and veined with azure;
a million flower-cups and flower chalices, and in these as in censers
strange and deadly perfumes are melting, and the heavy fumes descend
upon the girl, and they mix with the polluting odour of the ancient
sacrifices. She sinks, her arms are raised like those of a victim; she
sinks overcome, done to death or worse in some horrible asphyxiation.

And through the torrid twilight of the approaching storm the cry of the
hyena is heard. His claws are upon the crumbling tombs.

The suffocating girl utters a thin wail. The vulture pauses, and is
stationary on the white and desert skies. She strives with her last
strength to free herself from the thrall of the great lianas, and she
falls into fresh meshes.... The claws are heard amid the ruins, there is
a hirsute smell; she turns with terrified eyes to plead, but she meets
only the dull liquorish eyes, and the breath of the obscene animal is on
her face.

Then she finds herself in the pleasure grounds of Thornby Place. There
are the evergreen oaks, there is the rosary flaring all its wealth of
red, purple, and white flowers, there is the park encircled by elms,
there is the vista filled in with the line of the lofty downs. For a
moment she is surprised, and fails to understand. Then she forgets the
change of place in new sensations of terror. For across the park
something is coming, she knows not what; it will pass her by. She
watches a brown and yellow serpent, cubits high. Cubits high. It rears
aloft its tawny hide, scenting its prey. The great coiling body, the
small head, small as a man's hand, the black beadlike eyes shine out
upon the intoxicating blue of the sky. The narrow long head, the fixed
black eyes are dull, inexorable desire, conscious of nothing beyond, and
only dimly conscious of itself. Will the snake pass by the hiding girl?
She rushes to meet it. What folly! She turns and flies.

She takes refuge in the rosary. It follows her, gathering its immense
body into horrible and hideous heights. How will she save herself? She
will pluck roses, and build a wall between her and it. She collects huge
bouquets, armfuls of beautiful flowers, garlands and wreaths. The
flower-wall rises, and hoping to combat the fury of the beast with
purity, she goes to where beautiful and snowy blossoms grow in
clustering millions. She gathers them in haste; her arms and hands are
streaming with blood, but she pays no heed, and as the snake surmounts
one barricade, she builds another. But in vain. The reptile leans over
them all, and the sour dirty smell of the scaly hide befouls the odorous
breath of the roses. The long thin neck is upon her; she feels the
horrid strength of the coils as they curl and slip about her, drawing
her whole life into one knotted and loathsome embrace. And all the while
the roses fall in a red and white rain about her. And through the ruin
of the roses she escapes from the stench and the coils, and all the
while the snake pursues her even into the fountain. The waves and the
snake close about her.

Then without any transition in place or time, she finds herself
listening to the sound of rippling water. There is an iron drinking cup
close to her hand. She seems to recognise the spot. It is Shoreham.
There are the streets she knows so well, the masts of the vessels, the
downs. But suddenly something darkens the sunlight, the tawny body of
the snake oscillates, the people cry to her to escape. She flies along
the streets, like the wind she seems to pass. She calls for help.
Sometimes the crowds are stationary as if frozen into stone, sometimes
they follow the snake and attack it with sticks and knives. One man with
colossal shoulders wields a great sabre; it flashes about him like
lightning. Will he kill it? He turns and chases a dog, and disappears.
The people too have disappeared. She is flying now along a wild plain
covered with coarse grass and wild poppies. When she glances behind her
she sees the outline of the little coast town, the snake is near her,
and there is no one to whom she can call for help. But the sea is in
front of her, bound like a blue sash about the cliff's edge. She will
escape down the rocks--there is still a chance! The descent is sheer,
but somehow she retains foothold. Then the snake drops, she feels his
weight upon her, and both fall, fall, fall, and the sea is below
them....

* * * * *

With a shriek she sprang from the bed, and still under the influence of
the dream, rushed to the window. The moon hung over the sea, the sea
flowed with silver, the world was as chill as an icicle.

"The roses, the snake, the cliff's edge, was it then only a dream?" the
girl thought. "It was only a dream, a terrible dream, but after all only
a dream!" In her hope breathes again, and she smiles like one who thinks
he is going to hear that he will not die, but as the old pain returns
when the last portion of the deceptive sentence is spoken, so despair
came back to her when remembrance pierced the cloud of hallucination,
and told her that all was not a dream--there was something that was
worse than a dream.

She uttered a low cry, and she moaned. Centuries seemed to have passed,
and yet the evil deed remained. It was still night, but what would the
day bring to her? There was no hope. Abstract hope from life, and what
blank agony you create!

She drew herself up on her bed, and lay with her face buried in the
pillow. For the face was beside her: the foul smell was in her nostrils,
and the dull, liquorish look of the eyes shone through the darkness.
Then sleep came again, and she lay stark and straight as if she were
dead, with the light of the moon upon her face. And she sees herself
dead. And all her friends are about her crowning her with flowers,
beautiful garlands of white roses, and dressing her in a long white
robe, white as the snowiest cloud in heaven, and it lies in long
straight plaits about her limbs like the robes of those who lie in
marble in cathedral aisles. And it falls over her feet, and her hands
are crossed over her breast, and all praise in low but ardent words the
excessive whiteness of the garment. For none sees but she that there is
a black spot upon the robe which they believe to be immaculate. And she
would warn them of their error, but she cannot; and when they avert
their faces to wipe away their tears, the stain might be easily seen,
but when they turn to continue the last offices, folds or flowers have
mysteriously fallen over the stain, and hide it from view.

And it is great pain to her to feel herself thus unable to tell them of
their error, for she well knows that when she is placed in the tomb, and
the angels come, that they will not fail to perceive the stain, and
seeing it they will not fail to be shocked and sorrowful,--and seeing it
they will turn away weeping, saying, "She is not for us, alas, she is
not for us!"

And Kitty, who is conscious of this fatal oversight, the results of
which she so clearly foresees, is grievously afflicted, and she makes
every effort to warn her friends of their error: but in vain, for there
appears to be one amid the mourners who knows that she is endeavouring
to announce to them the black stain, and this one whose face she cannot
readily distinguish, maliciously and with diabolical ingenuity withdraws
attention at the moment when it should fall upon it.

And so it comes that she is buried in the stained robe, and she is
carried amid flowers and white cloths to a white marble tomb, where
incense is burning, and where the walls are hung with votive wreaths and
things commemorative of virginal life and its many lovelinesses. But,
strange to say, upon all these, upon the flowers and images alike there
is some small stain which none sees but she and the one in shadow, the
one whose face she cannot recognise. And although she is nailed fast in
her coffin, she sees these stains vividly, and the one whose face she
cannot recognise sees them too. And this is certain, for the shadow of
the face is sometimes stirred by a horrible laugh.

The mourners go, the evening falls, and the wild sunset floats for a
while through the western Heavens; and the cemetery becomes a deep
green, and in the wind that blows out of Heaven, the cypresses rock like
things sad and mute.

And the blue night comes with stars in her tresses, and out of those
stars a legion of angels float softly; their white feet hang out of the
blown folds, their wings are pointed to the stars. And from out of the
earth, out of the mist, but whence and how it is impossible to say,
there come other angels dark of hue and foul smelling. But the white
angels carry swords, and they wave these swords, and the scene is
reflected in them as in a mirror; and the dark angels cower in a corner
of the cemetery, but they do not utterly retire.

And then the tomb is opened, and the white angels enter the tomb. And
the coffin is opened, and the girl trembles lest the angels should
discover the stain she knew of. But lo! to her great joy they do not see
it, and they bear her away through the blue night, past the sacred
stars, even within the glory of Paradise. And it is not until one whose
face she cannot recognize, and whose presence among the angels of
Heaven she cannot comprehend, steals away one of the garlands of white
with which she was entwined, that the fatal stain becomes visible. The
angels are overcome with a mighty sorrow, and relinquishing their
burden, they break into song, and the song they sing is one of grief;
and above an accompaniment of spheral music it travels through the
spaces of Heaven; and she listens to its wailing echoes as she falls,
falls,--falls past the sacred stars to the darkness of terrestrial
skies,--falls towards the sea where the dark angels are waiting for her;
and as she falls she leans with reverted neck and strives to see their
faces, and as she nears them she distinguishes one into whose arms she
is going; it is, it is--the...

* * * * *

"Save me, save me!" she cried; and bewildered and dazed with the dream,
she stared on the room, now chill with summer dawn; the pale light broke
over the Shoreham sea, over the lordly downs and rich plantations of
Leywood. Again she murmured, it was only a dream, it was only a dream;
again a sort of presentiment of happiness spread like light through her
mind, and again remembrance came with its cruel truths--there was
something that was not a dream, but that was worse than the dream. And
then with despair in her heart she sat watching the cold sky turn to
blue, the delicate bright blue of morning, and the garden grow into
yellow and purple and red. There lay the sea, joyous and sparkling in
the light of the mounting sun, and the masts of the vessels at anchor in
the long water way. The tapering masts were faint on the shiny sky, and
now between them and about them a face seemed to be. Sometimes it was
fixed on one, sometimes it flashed like a will o' the wisp, and appeared
a little to the right or left of where she had last seen it. It was the
face that was now buried in her very soul, and sometimes it passed out
of the sky into the morning mist, which still heaved about the edges of
the woods; and there she saw something grovelling, crouching,
crawling,--a wild beast, or was it a man?

She did not weep, nor did she moan. She sat thinking. She dwelt on the
remembrance of the hills and the tramp with strange persistency, and yet
no more now than before did she attempt to come to conclusions with her
thought; it was vague, she would not define it; she brooded over it
sullenly and obtusely. Sometimes her thoughts slipped away from it, but
with each returning, a fresh stage was marked in the progress of her
nervous despair.

So the hours went by. At eight o'clock the maid knocked at the door.
Kitty opened it mechanically, and she fell into the woman's arms,
weeping and sobbing passionately. The sight of the female face brought
infinite relief; it interrupted the jarred and strained sense of the
horrible; the secret affinities of sex quickened within her. The woman's
presence filled Kitty with the feelings that the harmlessness of a lamb
or a soft bird inspires.

CHAPTER VIII.

"But what is it, Miss, what is it? Are you ill? Why, Miss, you haven't
taken your things off; you haven't been to bed."

"No, I lay down.... I have had frightful dreams--that is all."

"But you must be ill, Miss; you look dreadful, Miss. Shall I tell Mr
Hare? Perhaps the doctor had better be sent for."

"No, no; pray say nothing about me. Tell my father that I did not sleep,
that I am going to lie down for a little while, that he is not to expect
me down for breakfast."

"I really think, Miss, that it would be as well for you to see the
doctor."

"No, no, no. I am going to lie down, and I am not to be disturbed."

"Shall I fill the bath, Miss? Shall I leave hot water here, Miss?"

"Bath.... Hot water...." Kitty repeated the words over as if she were
striving to grasp a meaning which was suggested, but which eluded her.
Then her face relaxed, the expression was one of pitiful despair, and
that expression gave way to a sense of nausea, expressed by a quick
contraction of the eyes.

She listened to the splashing of the water, and its echoes were repeated
indefinably through her soul.

The maid left the room. Kitty's attention was attracted to her dress. It
was torn, it was muddy, there were bits of furze sticking to it. She
picked these off, and slowly she commenced settling it: but as she did
so, remembrance, accurate and simple recollection of facts, returned to
her, and the succession was so complete that the effect was equivalent
to a re-enduring of the crime, and with a foreknowledge of it, as if to
sharpen its horror and increase the sense of the pollution. The lovely
hills, the engirdling sea, the sweet glow of evening--she saw it all
again. And as if afraid that her brain, now strained like a body on the
rack, would suddenly snap, she threw up her arms, and began to take off
her dress, as violently as if she would hush thought in abrupt
movements. In a moment she was in stays and petticoat. The delicate and
almost girlish arms were disfigured by great bruises. Great black and
blue stains were spreading through the skin.

Kitty lifted up her arm: she looked at it in surprise; then in horror
she rushed to the door where her dressing gown was hanging, and wrapped
herself in it tightly, hid herself in it so that no bit of her flesh
could be seen.

She threw herself madly on the bed. She moved, pressing herself against
the mattress as if she would rub away, free herself from her loathed
self. The sight of her hand was horrible to her, and she covered it over
hurriedly.

The maid came up with a tray. The trivial jingle of the cups and plates
was another suffering added to the ever increasing stress of mind, and
now each memory was accompanied by sensations of physical sickness, of
nausea.

She slipped from the bed and locked the door. Again she was alone. An
hour passed.

Her father came up. His footsteps on the stairs caused her intolerable
anguish. On entering the house she had hated to hear his voice, and now
that hatred was intensified a thousandfold. His voice sounded in her
ears false, ominous, abominable. She could not have opened the door to
him, and the effort required to speak a few words, to say she was tired
and wished to be left alone, was so great that it almost cost her her
reason. It was a great relief to hear him go. She asked herself why she
hated to hear his voice, but before she could answer a sudden
recollection of the tramp sprang upon her. Her nostrils recalled the
smell, and her eyes saw the long, thin nose and the dull liquorish eyes
beside her on the pillow.

She got up and walked about the room, and its appearance contrasted
with and aggravated the fierceness of the fever of passion and horror
that raged within her. The homeliness of the teacups and the plates, the
tin bath, painted yellow and white, so grotesque and so trim.

But not its water nor even the waves of the great sea would wash away
remembrance. She pressed her face against the pane. The wide sea, so
peaceful, so serene! Oblivion, oblivion, O for the waters of oblivion!

Then for an hour she almost forgot; sometimes she listened, and the
shrill singing of the canary was mixed with thoughts of her dead
brothers and sisters, of her mother. She was waked from her reveries by
the farm bell ringing the labourers' dinner hour.

Night had been fearsome with darkness and dreams, but the genial
sunlight and the continuous externality of the daytime acted on her
mind, and turned vague thoughts, as it were, into sentences, printed in
clear type. She often thought she was dead, and she favoured this idea,
but she was never wholly dead. She was a lost soul wandering on those
desolate hills, the gloom descending, and Brighton and Southwick and
Shoreham and Worthing gleaming along the sea banks of a purple sea.
There were phantoms--there were two phantoms. One turned to reality, and
she walked by her lover's side, talking of Italy. Then he disappeared,
and she shrank from the horrible tramp; then both men grew confused in
her mind, and in despair she threw herself on her bed. Raising her eyes
she caught sight of her prayer-book, but she turned from it moaning, for
her misery was too deep for prayer.

The lunch bell rang. She listened to the footsteps on the staircase; she
begged to be excused, and she refused to open the door.

The day grew into afternoon. She awoke from a dreamless sleep of about
an hour, and still under its soothing influence, she pinned up her
hair, settled the ribbons of her dressing gown, and went downstairs. She
found her father and John in the drawing-room.

"Oh, here is Kitty!" they exclaimed.

"But what is the matter, dear? Why are you not dressed?" said Mr Hare.
"But what is the matter.... Are you ill?" said John, and he extended his
hand.

"No, no, 'tis nothing," she replied, and avoiding the outstretched hand
with a shudder, she took the seat furthest away from her father and
lover.

They looked at her in amazement, and she at them in fear and trembling.
She was conscious of two very distinct sensations--one the result of
reason, the other of madness. She was not ignorant of the causes of
each, although she was powerless to repress one in favour of the other.
Both struggled for mastery and for the moment without disturbing the
equipoise. On the side of reason she knew very well she was looking at
and talking to her dear, kind father, and that the young man sitting
next him was John Norton, the son of her dear friend, Mrs Norton; she
knew he was the young man who loved her, and whom she was going to
marry, marry, marry. On the other side she saw that her father's kind
benign countenance was not a real face, but a mask which he wore over
another face, and which, should the mask slip--and she prayed that it
might not--would prove as horrible and revolting as--

But the mask John wore was as nothing, it was the veriest make believe.
And she could not but doubt now but that the face she had known him so
long by was a fictitious face, and as the hallucination strengthened,
she saw his large mild eyes grow small, and that vague dreamy look
turn to the dull liquorish look, the chin came forward, the brows
contracted ... the large sinewy hands were, oh, so like! Then reason
asserted itself; the vision vanished, and she saw John Norton as she
had always seen him.

But was she sure that she did? Yes, yes--she must not give way. But her
head seemed to be growing lighter, and she did not appear to be able to
judge things exactly as she should; a sort of new world seemed to be
slipping like a painted veil between her and the old. She must resist.

John and Mr Hare looked at her.

John at length rose, and advancing to her, said, "My dear Kitty, I am
afraid you are not well...."

She strove to allow him to take her hand, but she could not overcome the
instinctive feeling which, against her will, caused her to shrink from
him.

"Oh, don't come near me, I cannot bear it!" she cried, "don't come near
me, I beg of you."

More than this she could not do, and giving way utterly, she shrieked
and rushed from the room. She rushed upstairs. She stood in the middle
of the floor listening to the silence, her thoughts falling about her
like shaken leaves. It was as if a thunderbolt had destroyed the world,
and left her alone in a desert. The furniture of the room, the bed, the
chairs, the books she loved, seemed to have become as grains of sand,
and she forgot all connection between them and herself. She pressed her
hands to her forehead, and strove to separate the horror that crowded
upon her. But all was now one horror--the lonely hills were in the room,
the grey sky, the green furze, the tramp; she was again fighting
furiously with him; and her lover and her father and all sense of the
world's life grew dark in the storm of madness. Suddenly she felt
something on her neck. She put her hand up ...

And now with madness on her face she caught up a pair of scissors and
cut off her hair: one after the other the great tresses of gold and
brown fell, until the floor was strewn with them.

A step was heard on the stairs; her quick ears caught the sound, and she
rushed to the door to lock it. But she was too late. John held it fast.

"Kitty, Kitty," he cried, "for God's sake, tell me what is the matter!"

"Save me! save me!" she cried, and she forced the door against him with
her whole strength. He was, however, determined on questioning her, on
seeing her, and he passed his head and shoulders into the room. His
heart quailed at the face he saw.

For now had gone that imperceptible something which divides the life of
the sane from that of the insane, and he who had so long feared lest a
woman might soil the elegant sanctity of his life, disappeared forever
from the mind of her whom he had learned to love, and existed to her
only as the foul dull brute who had outraged her on the hills.

"Save me, save me! help, help!" she cried, retreating from him.

"Kitty, Kitty, what do you mean? Say, say--"

"Save me; oh mercy, mercy! Let me go, and I will never say I saw you, I
will not tell anything. Let me go!" she cried, retreating towards the
window.

"For Heaven's sake, Kitty, take care--the window, the window!"

But Kitty heard nothing, knew nothing, was conscious of nothing but a
mad desire to escape. The window was lifted high--high above her head,
and her face distorted with fear, she stood amid the soft greenery of
the Virginia creeper.

"Save me," she cried, "mercy, mercy!"

"Kitty, Kitty darling!"

* * * * *

The white dress passed through the green leaves. John heard a dull thud.

CHAPTER IX.

And the pity of it! The poor white thing lying like a shot dove,
bleeding, and the dreadful blood flowing over the red tiles....

Mr Hare was kneeling by his daughter when John, rushing forth, stopped
and stood aghast.

"What is this? Say--speak, speak man, speak; how did this happen?"

"I cannot say, I do not know; she did not seem to know me; she ran away.
Oh my God, I do not understand; she seemed as if afraid of me, and she
threw herself out of the window. But she is not dead ..."

The word rang out in the silence, ruthlessly brutal in its significance.
Mr Hare looked up, his face a symbol of agony. "Oh, dead, how can you
speak so ..."

John felt his being sink and fade like a breath, and then, conscious of
nothing, he helped to lift Kitty from the tiles. But it was her father
who carried her upstairs. The blood flowed from the terrible wound in
the head. Dripped. The walls were stained. When she was laid upon the
bed, the pillow was crimson; and the maid-servant coming in, strove to
staunch the wound with towels. Kitty did not move.

Both men knew there was no hope. The maid-servant retired, and she did
not close the door, nor did she ask if the doctor should be sent for.
One man held the bed rail, looking at his dead daughter; the other sat
by the window. That one was John Norton. His brain was empty, everything
was far away. He saw things moving, moving, but they were all so far
away. He could not re-knit himself with the weft of life; the thread
that had made him part of it had been snapped, and he was left
struggling in space. He knew that Kitty had thrown herself out of the
window and was dead. The word shocked him a little, but there was no
sense of realisation to meet it. She had walked with him on the hills,
she had accompanied him as far as the burgh; she had waved her hand to
him before they walked quite out of each other's sight. They had been
speaking of Italy ... of Italy where they would have spent their
honeymoon. Now she was dead! There would be no honeymoon, no wife. How
unreal, how impossible it all did seem, and yet it was real, yes, real
enough. There she lay dead; here is her room, and there is her
book-case; there are the photographs of the Miss Austins, here is the
fuchsia with the pendent blossoms falling, and her canary is singing.
John glanced at the cage, and the song went to his brain, and he was
horrified, for there was no grief in his heart.

Had he not loved her? Yes, he was sure of that; then why was there no
burning grief nor any tears? He envied the hard-sobbing father's grief,
the father who, prostrate by the bedside, held his dead daughter's hand,
and showed a face wild with fear--a face on which was printed so deeply
the terror of the soul's emotion, that John felt a supernatural awe
creep upon him; felt that his presence was a sort of sacrilege. He crept
downstairs. He went into the drawing-room, and looked about for the
place he had last seen her in. There it was.... There. But his eyes
wandered from the place, for it was there he had seen the startled face,
the half mad face which he had seen afterwards at the window, quite mad.

On that sofa she usually sat; how often had he seen her sitting there!
And now he would not see her any more. And only three days ago she had
been sitting in the basket chair. How well he remembered her words, her
laughter, and now ... now; was it possible he never would hear her laugh
again? How frail a thing is human life, how shadow-like; one moment it
is here, the next it is gone. Here is her work-basket; and here the very
ball of wool which he had held for her to wind; and here is a novel
which she had lent to him, and which he had forgotten to take away. He
would never read it now; or perhaps he should read it in memory of her,
of her whom yesterday he parted with on the hills,--her little puritan
look, her external girlishness, her golden brown hair and the sudden
laugh so characteristic of her.... She had lent him this book--she who
was now but clay; she who was to have been his wife. His wife! The
thought struck him. Now he would never have a wife. What was there for
him to do? To turn his house into a Gothic monastery, and himself into a
monk. Very horrible and very bitter in its sheer grotesqueness was the
thought. It was as if in one moment he saw the whole of his life
summarised in a single symbol, and understood its vanity and its folly.
Ah, there was nothing for him, no wife, no life.... The tears welled up
in his eyes; the shock which in its suddenness had frozen his heart,
began to thaw, and grief fell like a penetrating rain.

We learn to suffer as we learn to love, and it is not to-day, nor yet
to-morrow, but in weeks and months to come, and by slow degrees, that
John Norton will understand the irreparableness of his loss. There is a
man upstairs who crouches like stone by his dead daughter's side; he is
motionless and pale as the dead, he is as great in his grief as an
expression of grief by Michael Angelo. The hours pass, he is unconscious
of them; he sees not the light dying on the sea, he hears not the
trilling of the canary. He knows of nothing but his dead child, and
that the world would be nothing to give to have her speak to him once
again. His is the humblest and the worthiest sorrow, but such sorrow
cannot affect John Norton. He has dreamed too much and reflected too
much on the meaning of life; his suffering is too original in himself,
too self-centred, and at the same time too much, based on the inherent
misery of existence, to allow him to project himself into and suffer
with any individual grief, no matter how nearly it might be allied
to him and to his personal interest. He knew his weakness in this
direction, and now he gladly welcomed the coming of grief, for indeed
he had felt not a little shocked at the aridness of his heart, and
frightened lest his eyes should remain dry even to the end.

Suddenly he remembered that the Miss Austins had said that they would
call to-morrow early for Kitty, to take her to Leywood to lunch.... They
were going to have some tennis in the afternoon. He too was expected
there. They must be told what had occurred. It would be terrible if they
came calling for Kitty under her window, and she lying dead! This slight
incident in the tragedy wrung his heart, and the effort of putting the
facts upon paper brought the truth home to him, and lured and led him to
see down the lifelong range of consequences. The doctor too, he thought,
must be warned of what had happened. And with the letter telling the sad
story in his hand, and illimitable sorrow in his soul, he went out in
the evening air. It was just such an evening as yester evening--a little
softer, a little lovelier, perhaps; earth, sea, and sky appeared like an
exquisite vision upon whose lips there is fragrance, yet in whose eyes a
glow of passion still survives.

The beauty of the last hour of light is upon that crescent of sea, and
the ships loll upon the long strand, the tapering masts and slacking
ropes vanish upon the pallid sky. There is the old town, dusty, and
dreamy, and brown, with neglected wharfs and quays; there is the new
town, vulgar and fresh with green paint and trees, and looking hungrily
on the broad lands of the Squire, the broad lands and the rich woods
which rise up the hill side to the barn on the limit of the downs. How
beautiful the great green woods look as they sweep up a small expanse of
the downs, like a wave over a slope of sand. And there is a house with
red gables where the girls are still on the tennis lawn. John walked
through the town; he told the doctor he must go at once to the rectory.
He walked to Leywood and left his letter with the lodge-keeper; and
then, as if led by a strange fascination, he passed through the farm
gate and set out to return home across the hills.

"She was here with me yesterday; how beautiful she looked, and how
graceful were her laughter and speech," he said, turning suddenly and
looking down on the landscape; on the massy trees contrasting with the
walls of the town, the spine-like bridge crossing the marshy shore, the
sails of the mill turning over the crest of the hill. The night was
falling fast, as a blue veil it hung down over the sea, but the deep
pure sky seemed in one spot to grow clear, and suddenly the pale moon
shone and shimmered upon the sea. The landscape gained in loveliness,
the sheep seemed like phantoms, the solitary barns like monsters of the
night. And the hills were like giants sleeping, and the long outlines
were prolonged far away into the depths and mistiness of space. Turning
again and looking through a vista in the hills, John could see Brighton,
a pale cloud of fire, set by the moon-illumined sea, and nearer was
Southwick, grown into separate lines of light, that wandered into and
lost themselves among the outlying hollows of the hills; and below him
and in front of him Shoreham lay, a blaze of living fire, a thousand
lights; lights everywhere save in one gloomy spot, and there John knew
that his beloved was lying dead. And further away, past the shadowy
marshy shores, was Worthing, the palest of nebulae in these earthly
constellations; and overhead the stars of heaven shone as if in pitiless
disdain. The blown hawthorn bush that stands by the burgh leaned out, a
ship sailed slowly across the rays of the moon. Yesterday they parted
here in the glad golden sunlight, parted for ever, for ever.

"Yesterday I had all things--a sweet wife and happy youthful days to
look forward to. To-day I have nothing; all my hopes are shattered, all
my illusions have fallen. So is it always with him who places his trust
in life. Ah, life, life, what hast thou for giving save cruel deceptions
and miserable wrongs? Ah, why did I leave my life of contemplation and
prayer to enter into that of desire.... Ah, I knew, well I knew there
was no happiness save in calm and contemplation. Ah, well I knew; and
she is gone, gone, gone!"

We suffer differently indeed, but we suffer equally. The death of his
sweetheart forces one man to reflect anew on the slightness of life's
pleasures and the depth of life's griefs. In the peaceful valley of
natural instincts and affections he had slept for a while, now he awoke
on one of the high peaks lit with the rays of intense consciousness,
and he cried aloud, and withdrew in terror at a too vivid realisation of
self. The other man wept for the daughter that had gone out of his life,
wept for her pretty face and cheerful laughter, wept for her love, wept
for the years he would live without her. We know which sorrow is the
manliest, which appeals to our sympathy, but who can measure the depth
of John Norton's suffering? It was as vast as the night, cold as the
stream of moonlit sea.

He did not arrive home till late, and having told his mother what had
happened, he instantly retired to his room. Dreams followed him. The
hills were in his dreams. There were enemies there; he was often pursued
by savages, and he often saw Kitty captured; nor could he ever evade
their wandering vigilance and release her. Again and again he awoke, and
remembered that she was dead.

Next morning John and Mrs Norton drove to the rectory, and without
asking for Mr Hare, they went up to _her_ room. The windows were open,
and Annie and Mary Austin sat by the bedside watching. The blood had
been washed out of the beautiful hair, and she lay very white and fair
amid the roses her friends had brought her. She lay as she had lain in
one of her terrible dreams--quite still, the slender body covered by a
sheet, moulding it with sculptured delight and love. From the feet the
linen curved and marked the inflections of the knees; there were long
flowing folds, low-lying like the wash of retiring water; the rounded
shoulders, the neck, the calm and bloodless face, the little nose, and
the beautiful drawing of the nostrils, the extraordinary waxen pallor,
the eyelids laid like rose leaves upon the eyes that death has closed
for ever. Within the arm, in the pale hand extended, a great Eucharis
lily had been laid, its carved blossoms bloomed in unchanging stillness,
and the whole scene was like a sad dream in the whitest marble.

Candles were burning, and the soft smell of wax mixed with the perfume
of the roses. For there were roses everywhere--great snowy bouquets, and
long lines of scattered blossoms, and single roses there and here, and
petals fallen and falling were as tears shed for the beautiful dead, and
the white flowerage vied with the pallor and the immaculate stillness of
the dead.

The calm chastity, the lonely loveliness, so sweetly removed from taint
of passion, struck John with all the emotion of art. He reproached
himself for having dreamed of her rather as a wife than as a sister, and
then all art and all conscience went down as a broken wreck in the wild
washing sea of deep human love: he knelt by her bedside, and sobbed
piteously, a man whose life is broken.

When they next saw her she was in her coffin. It was almost full of
white blossoms--jasmine, Eucharis lilies, white roses, and in the midst
of the flowers you saw the hands folded, and the face was veiled with
some delicate filmy handkerchief.

For the funeral there were crosses and wreaths of white flowers, roses
and stephanotis. And the Austin girls and their cousins who had come
from Brighton and Worthing carried loose flowers. How black and sad, how
homely and humble they seemed. Down the short drive, through the iron
gate, through the farm gate, the bearers staggering a little under the
weight of lead, the little cortege passed two by two. A broken-hearted
lover, a grief-stricken father, and a dozen sweet girls, their eyes and
cheeks streaming with tears. Kitty, their girl-friend was dead, dead,
dead! The words rang in their hearts in answer to the mournful tolling
of the bell. The little by-way along which they went, the little green
path leading over the hill, under trees shot through and through with
the whiteness of summer seas, was strewn with blossoms fallen from the
bier and the dolent fingers of the weeping girls.

The old church was all in white; great lilies in vases, wreaths of
stephanotis; and, above all, roses--great garlands of white roses had
been woven, and they hung along and across. A blossom fell, a sob
sounded in the stillness; and how trivial it all seemed, and how
impotent to assuage the bitter burning of human sorrow: how paltry and
circumscribed the old grey church, with its little graveyard full of
forgotten griefs and aspirations! This hour of beautiful sorrow and
roses, how long will it be remembered? The coffin sinks out of sight,
out of sight for ever, a snow-drift of delicate bloom descending into
the earth.

CHAPTER X.

From the Austin girls, whose eyes followed him, from Mr Hare, from Mrs
Norton, John wandered sorrowfully away,--he wandered through the green
woods and fields into the town. He stood by the railway gates. He saw
the people coming and going in and out of the public houses; and he
watched the trains that whizzed past, and he understood nothing, not
even why the great bar of the white gate did not yield beneath the
pressure of his hands; and in the great vault of the blue sky, white
clouds melted and faded to sheeny visions of paradise, to a white form
with folded wings, and eyes whose calm was immortality....

A train stopped. He took a ticket and went to Brighton. As they
steamed along a high embankment, he found himself looking into a
little suburban cemetery. The graves, the yews, the sharp church spire
touching the range of the hills. _Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust
to dust_, and the dread responsive rattle given back by the coffin lid.
He watched the group in the distant corner, and its very remoteness and
removal from his personal knowledge and concern, moved him to passionate
grief and tears....

He walked through the southern sunlight of the town to the long expanse
of sea. The mundane pier is taut and trim, and gay with the clangour
of the band, the brown sails of the fishing boats wave in the translucid
greens of water; and the white field of the sheer cliff, and all the
roofs, gables, spires, balconies, and the green of the verandahs are
exquisitely indicated and elusive in the bright air; and the beach
is strange with acrobats and comic songs, nursemaids lying on the
pebbles reading novels, children with their clothes tied tightly about
them building sand castles zealously; see the lengthy crowd of
promenaders--out of its ranks two little spots of mauve come running
to meet the advancing wave, and now they fly back again, and now they
come again frolicking like butterflies, as gay and as bright.

Under the impulse of his ravening grief, John watched the spectacle
of the world's forgetfulness, and the seeming obscenity horrified him
even to the limits of madness. He cried that it might pass from him.
Solitude--the solemn peace of the hills, the appealing silence of a
pine wood at even; how holy is the idea of solitude, find it where you
will. The Gothic pile, the apostles and saints of the windows, the deep
purples and crimsons, and the sunlight streaming through, and the
pathetic responses and the majesty of the organ do not take away, but
enhance and affirm the sensation of idea and God. The quiet rooms
austere with Latin and crucifix; John could see them. Fondly he allowed
these fancies to linger, but through the dream a sense of reality began
to grow, and he remembered the narrowness of the life, when viewed from
the material side, and its necessary promiscuousness, and he thought
with horror of the impossibility of the preservation of that personal
life, with all its sanctuary-like intensity, which was so dear to him.
He waved away all thought of priesthood, and walking quickly down the
pier, looking on the gay panorama of town and beach, he said, "The
world shall be my monastery."

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