Part 3 out of 5
But the four ladies finally gathered together in the hall to put in the
time between tea and dinner.
Miss Burnaby was soon nodding over a book close to the fire, while Helen
Brabazon and Blanche Farrow had brought down their work. This consisted,
as far as Helen was concerned, of a complicated baby's garment destined
for the Queen's Needlework Guild. Blanche, sitting close to Helen, was
bending over a frame containing the intricate commencement of a fruit
and bird _petit-point_ picture, which, when finished, she intended
should form a banner screen for this very room.
Three seven-branched silver candlesticks had now been lighted, and
formed pools of soft radiance in the gathering dusk.
After wandering about restlessly for a while, Bubbles ensconced herself
far away from the others, in the old carved wood confessional, which had
seemed in Donnington's eyes so incongruous and unsuitable an object to
form part of the furnishings of a living room.
To Blanche Farrow, the confessional, notwithstanding the beauty of the
carving, suggested an irreverent simile--that of a telephone-box. She
told herself that only Bubbles would have chosen such an uncomfortable
But when stepping up into what had once been the priest's narrow seat,
Bubbles called out that it was delightfully nice and quiet in there, as
well as dark--for there still hung over the aperture through which she
had just passed a curtain of green silk brocade embroidered with pale
There followed a period of absolute silence and quietude in the room.
Then the door leading from the outside porch opened, and Varick came in.
"I hope I'm not intruding," he exclaimed in his full, resonant voice;
and the ladies, with the exception of Bubbles, who remained invisible,
looked up and eagerly welcomed him.
During the last few days he had made a real conquest of Miss Burnaby,
who, with the one startling exception of the emotion betrayed by her at
the seance, secretly struck both him and Blanche Farrow as the most
commonplace human being with whom either had ever come in contact.
"I'm quite warm," he said, in answer to the old lady's invitation to
come up to the fire. "I had to go down to the village Post Office to see
why the London papers hadn't arrived. But I've got them all now."
He came over to where she was sitting and handed her a picture paper.
Then he retreated, far from the fire, close to a table which was
equi-distant from the confessional and the door giving access to the
staircase hall. Bringing forward a deep, comfortable chair out of the
shadows, he sat down, and opening one of the newspapers he had brought
in, began to read it with close attention.
On the table at his elbow, there now stood what looked to Helen's eyes
like a bouquet of light. But this only made the soft darkness which
filled the further side of the great room seem more intense to those
sitting near the fireplace.
They were all pleasantly tired after the doings of the day; and soon
Blanche's quick ears caught a faint, regular sound issuing from the
far-off confessional. Bubbles, so much was clear, had fallen asleep.
And then, not for the first time in the last few days, the aunt began
considering within herself the problem of her niece. Blanche had begun
to like Donnington with a cordiality of liking which surprised herself.
His selfless love for the girl touched her more than she had thought it
possible for anything now to touch her worldly heart. And whereas she
would naturally have considered a marriage between the penniless
Donnington and brilliant, clever, popular Bubbles as being out of the
question, she was beginning to feel that such a marriage might be, nay,
almost certainly was, the only thing likely to ensure for Bubbles a
reasonably happy and normal life. Blanche Farrow knew enough of human
nature to realize that the kind of love Bill Donnington felt for her
strange little niece was of a high and rare quality. It was very unlike
the usual selfish, acquisitive love of a man for a maid. It was more
like the tender, watching, tireless devotion certain mothers have for
their children--it was infinitely protecting, infinitely forgiving,
Blanche sighed, a long, deep sigh, as she told herself sadly that no one
had ever loved _her_ like that--not even her old friend Mark Gifford. He
had loved her long; in fact he rarely saw her, even now, without asking
her to marry him. Also he had been, in his own priggish way, a very,
very good and useful friend to her. But still, Blanche knew, deep in her
heart, that Mark Gifford disapproved of her, that he often misunderstood
her, that he was ashamed of the strength of the attraction which made
him still wish to make her his wife, and which had kept him a bachelor.
As long as this old friend had known her he had always written her a
Christmas letter. The letter had not come this Christmas, and she had
missed it. But Mark had no idea of where she was, and--and after all,
perhaps his faithful friendship had waned at last from lack of real
And then, while thinking these rather melancholy, desultory thoughts,
Blanche Farrow suddenly experienced a very peculiar sensation. It was
that of finding herself as if impelled to look up from the
embroidery-frame over which she was bending.
She did look up; and for a moment her heart--that heart which the way of
her life had so atrophied and hardened--seemed to stop beating, for just
behind Lionel Varick, whose head was still bent over his newspaper with
a complete air of unconcern, interest, and ease--stood, or appeared to
stand, two shadowy figures.
She shut her eyes; then opened them again--wide. _The figures were still
there_, and they had grown clearer, more definite, especially the
countenance of each of the two wraith-like women who stood, like
sentinels, one on either side of the seated man.
Blanche gazed at them fixedly for what seemed to her an eternity of
time. But even while, in a way, she could not deny the evidence of her
senses, she was telling herself that she was really seeing
_nothing_--that this extraordinary experience was but another exercise
of Bubbles' uncanny power.
And as she, literally not believing the evidence of her senses, stared
at the two immobile figures, her eyes became focussed on the face of the
woman standing to Varick's right. There was a coarse beauty in the
mask-like-looking countenance, but it was a beauty now instinct with a
kind of stark ferocity and rage.
At last she slowly concentrated her gaze on the other luminous figure.
Though swathed from neck to heel in what Blanche told herself, with a
peculiar feeling of horror, were old-fashioned grave-clothes, the second
woman yet looked more _real_, more _alive_, than the other. Her face, if
deadly pale, was less mask-like, and the small, dark eyes gleamed, while
the large, ill-shaped mouth seemed to be quivering.
And then, all at once, the form to Varick's right began to dissolve--to
melt, as it were, into the green-grey and blue tapestry which hung
across the farther wall of the hall.
But while this curious phenomenon took place, the woman swathed in her
grave-clothes remained quite clearly visible....
Suddenly Helen Brabazon started to her feet; she uttered a loud and
terrible cry--and at that same moment Blanche saw the more living and
sinister of the two apparitions also become disintegrated, and quickly
dissolve into nothingness.
Lionel Varick leapt from his chair. His face changed from a placid
gravity to one of surprise and distress. "What is it?" he cried, coming
forward. "What is it, Miss Brabazon--Helen?"
The girl whom he addressed fell back into her chair. She covered her
face with her hands. Twice she opened her lips and tried to speak--in
vain. At last she gasped out, "It's all right now. I'll be better in a
"But what happened?" exclaimed Varick. "Did anything happen?"
"I think I must have gone to sleep without knowing it--for I've had a
Miss Burnaby got up slowly, deliberately, from her chair near the fire.
She also came up to her niece.
"You were working up to the very moment you cried out," she said
positively. "I had turned round and I was watching you--when suddenly
you jumped up and gave that dreadful cry."
"Do tell us what frightened you," said Varick solicitously.
"Please don't ask me what I saw--or thought I saw; I would rather not
tell you," Helen said in a low voice.
"But of course you must tell us!" Miss Burnaby roused herself, and spoke
with a good deal of authority. "If you are not well you ought to see a
doctor, my dear child."
Helen burst into bitter sobs. "I thought I saw Milly, Mr. Varick--poor,
poor Milly! She looked exactly as she looked when I last saw her, in her
coffin, excepting that her eyes were open. She was standing just behind
you--and oh, I shall never, never forget her look! It was a terrible,
terrible look--a look of hatred. Yet I cared for her so much! You know I
did all that was possible for one woman to do for another during those
few weeks that I knew her?"
Lionel Varick's face turned a curious, greyly pallid tint. It was as if
all the natural colour was drained out of it.
"Where's Bubbles?" he asked, in a scarcely audible voice.
For a moment no one answered him, and then Blanche said quietly:
"Bubbles is over there, in the confessional, asleep."
He turned and walked quickly over to the carved, box-like confessional,
and drew aside the green-embroidered curtain.
Yes, the girl lay there asleep--or was she only pretending? Her breast
rose and fell, her eyes were closed.
Varick took hold of her arm with no gentle gesture, and she awoke with a
cry of surprise and pain. "What is it? Don't do that!" she said in a
hoarse and sleepy tone.
And then, on seeing who it was, she smiled wryly. "Is it forbidden to
get in here?" she asked, still speaking in a heavy, dull way. "I didn't
know it was,"--and stumblingly she stepped down out of the confessional.
Varick scowled at her, and made no answer to her question. Together they
walked over to where the other three were standing--Miss Burnaby still
gazing at her niece, with an annoyed, frightened expression on her face.
As Bubbles and Varick came up to her, Helen got up from the chair in
which she had sunk back. She held a handkerchief to her face, and was
making a great effort to regain her self-control and composure.
"Please forgive me, Mr. Varick. I oughtn't to have told you what I
thought I saw--for I'm sure it was only a dream, a horrible, startling
dream. But--but you made me tell you, didn't you?"
She looked up into his pale, convulsed face with an anguished
expression. "I think I'll go upstairs now, and rest a little before I
dress for dinner," and then she walked across the room, and out of the
door, with a steady step.
Bubbles stretched out her arms with a weary gesture. "What's all this
fuss about?" she asked. "I feel absolutely done--done--done! Not at all
as if I'd had a good long sleep. I wonder how long I _was_ asleep?"
"You didn't sleep very long," said her aunt dryly--"not half-an-hour in
all. I should advise you, Bubbles, to follow Miss Brabazon's example--go
up and have a good rest, before getting ready for dinner."
Bubbles turned away. She walked very slowly, with dragging steps, to the
door; and a moment later Miss Burnaby also left the room.
Varick walked over towards the fireplace. He held out his hands to the
flames--he felt cold, shiveringly cold.
He turned, as he had so often done in the past, for comfort to the woman
now standing silent by his side, and who knew at once so much and so
little of his real life.
"I wonder what really happened?" he muttered. "It was a most
extraordinary thing! I've seldom met anyone so little hysterical or
fanciful as--as is Miss Brabazon." And then: "Why, Blanche," he
exclaimed, startled, "what's the matter?"
There was a look on her face he had never seen there before--a very
troubled, questioning, perplexed look.
"I saw something too, Lionel," she said in a low voice; "I--I saw more
than Helen Brabazon admits to having seen."
"_You_ saw something?" he echoed incredulously.
"Yes, and were it not that I am an older woman, and have more
self-control than your young friend, I should have cried out too."
"What _did_ you see?" he asked slowly.
"What I think I saw--for I am quite convinced that I saw nothing at all,
and that the extraordinary phenomenon or vision, call it what you will,
was only another of Bubbles' tricks--what I saw--" She stopped dead. She
found it extraordinarily difficult to go on.
"Yes?" he said sharply. "Please tell me, Blanche. What is it you saw, or
thought you saw?"
"I thought I saw _two_ women standing just behind your chair," she said
Varick made a violent movement--so violent that it knocked over a rather
solid little oak stool which always stood before the fire. "I beg your
pardon!" he exclaimed; and, stooping, picked the stool up again. Then,
"What sort of women?" he asked; and though he tried to speak lightly, he
failed, and knew he failed.
"It isn't very easy to describe them," she said reluctantly. "The one
was a stout young woman, with a gipsy type of face--that's the best way
I can describe it. But the other--"
She waited a full minute, but Varick did not, could not, speak.
She went on:
"The other, Lionel, looked more like--well, like what a ghost is
supposed to look like! She was swathed in white from head to foot, and
she appeared--I don't quite know how to describe it--as if at once
alive and dead. Her face looked dead, but her eyes looked alive."
"Had you ever seen either of these women before--I mean in life?"
He had turned away from her, and was staring into the fire.
"No; I've never seen anyone in the least like either of them."
Varick moved a few steps, and then, as if hardly knowing what he was
doing, he began turning over the leaves of the picture paper Miss
Burnaby had been reading.
"Do you suppose that Helen Brabazon saw exactly what you saw?" he asked
"No, I'm sure she didn't; for the younger-looking woman had already
disappeared, it was as if she faded into nothingness, before Helen
Brabazon called out,"--there was a hesitating, dubious tone in Blanche's
voice. "But of course we can't tell what exactly she did see. She may
have seen something--someone--quite different from what I thought I
Varick began staring into the fire again, and Blanche felt intolerably
nervous and uncomfortable. "I think, Lionel, that I must speak to
Bubbles very seriously!" she said at last. "I haven't a doubt _now_ that
she really has got some uncanny power--a power of stirring the
imagination--of making those about her think they see visions."
"But why should she have chosen that you should see such--such a vision
as that?" he asked, almost in a whisper.
"Ah, there you have me! I can't imagine what should prompt her to do
such a cruel, unseemly thing."
"You think it's quite impossible that Bubbles personated either of
these--these"--he hesitated for a word, and Blanche answered his only
half-asked question very decidedly.
"If there'd been only one figure there, I confess I should have thought
that Bubbles had in some way dressed up, and 'worked it.' You know how
fond she used to be of practical jokes? But there were two
forms--absolutely distinct the one from the other."
Lionel Varick took a turn up and down the long room. Then he came and
stood opposite to her, and she was shocked at the change in his face. He
looked as if he had been through some terrible physical experience.
"I wish you'd arrange for her to go away, at once--I mean, to-morrow.
Forgive me for saying such a thing, but I feel that nothing will go
right while Bubbles is at Wyndfell Hall," he exclaimed.
Blanche looked what he had never seen her look before--offended. "I
don't think I can get her away to-morrow, Lionel. She's nowhere to go
to. After all, she gave up a delightful party to come here and help us
"Very well," he said hastily. "Perhaps I ought not to have suggested
anything so inhospitable"--he tried to smile. "But I will ask you to do
me _one_ favour?"
"Yes," she said, still speaking coldly. "What is it?"
"I want you to ask Miss Brabazon and her aunt to keep what happened this
afternoon absolutely to themselves."
"Of course I will!" She was relieved. "I don't think either of them is
in the least likely to be even tempted to speak of it."
But even while Varick and Blanche Farrow were arranging together that
this disturbing and mysterious occurrence should remain secret, Helen
Brabazon was actually engaged in telling one who was still a stranger to
her the story of her amazing experience.
Perhaps this was owing to the fact that the door of the hall had
scarcely shut behind her when she met Sir Lyon Dilsford face to face.
Almost involuntarily he exclaimed, with a good deal of real concern in
his voice: "Is anything the matter? I hope you haven't had bad news?"
She said, "Oh, no," and shook her head; but the tears welled up again
into her eyes.
When an attractive girl who generally shows remarkable powers of
quietude and self-control breaks down, and proves herself a very woman
after all, the average man is generally touched, and more than a little
moved. Sir Lyon felt oddly affected by Helen's evident distress, and an
ardent desire to console and to help her rose instinctively in his mind.
"Come into the study!" he exclaimed in a low voice. "And tell me if
there's anything I can do to help you?"
She obeyed him, and, as he followed her in, he shut the door.
She sat down, and for a while he stood before her, gazing
sympathetically into her flushed, tear-stained face.
"I'm afraid you'll think it so absurd," she said falteringly. "Even I
can hardly believe now that what happened _did_ happen!"
"Don't tell me--if you'd rather not," he said suddenly; a very
disagreeable suspicion entering his mind.
Was it within the bounds of possibility that James Tapster had tried
to--to kiss her? Sir Lyon had a great prejudice against the poor
millionaire, but he instantly rejected the idea. If such a thing had
indeed happened to her, Helen Brabazon was the last girl ever to offer
to tell anyone, least of all a man.
Helen all at once felt that it would be a comfort to confide her
strange, terrifying experience to this kind new friend.
"I'd rather tell you, I think."
She waited a moment, and then came out with a bald statement of what had
happened. "I was sitting knitting, when something seemed to force me to
look up--and I saw, or I thought I saw, the spirit of a dear, dead
Sir Lyon uttered an exclamation of extreme astonishment.
"Yes, I know it was only my imagination," Helen went on in a low,
troubled voice. "But it gave me a most fearful shock, and I feel that,
however long I live, I shall never forget it!"
"I wish you would tell me a little more about it," he said persuasively.
"I don't ask out of idle curiosity. I was very much impressed by what
happened on the first night of our visit here--I mean at the seance."
"So was I," she said reluctantly. "But, of course, this had nothing to
do with--with anything of that sort. In fact, Bubbles (as she has asked
me to call her) was sitting, asleep, I think, in that curious old carved
confessional box. My aunt and Mr. Varick were reading--Mr. Varick had
just come up from the village with this morning's London papers; Miss
Farrow was doing her embroidery, and I'd just been counting some
stitches in my knitting, when I looked up and saw--"
She stopped, as if not able to go on.
"Was what you saw, what you took to be an apparition, close to the
confessional?" asked Sir Lyon abruptly.
"No, not so very close--still, not very far away. It--she--seemed to be
standing behind Mr. Varick, a little to his left, on the door side."
"I suppose you would rather not tell me who it was you saw?"
Sir Lyon thought he knew, but he wished to feel sure.
"I don't see why I shouldn't tell you," yet she hesitated. "It was poor
Milly, Sir Lyon--I mean Mrs. Lionel Varick. She and I became great
friends during the weeks preceding her death. She even told me that,
apart from her husband, she had never cared for anyone as she grew to
care for me. And yet--oh, Sir Lyon, what was so very, very terrible just
now, was that I felt her looking at me with a kind of hatred in her dead
face," and, as she uttered these last words, an expression of deep pain
came over Helen Brabazon's countenance.
Sir Lyon then asked a rather curious question: "How was the apparition
"In her shroud. A woman in Redsands made it. I saw the woman about
it--perhaps that impressed it on my mind," her mouth quivered. "The
figure standing there was exactly like Milly dead, excepting that her
eyes seemed alive, and that there was that dreadful look of anger on
"How long did the vision last?"
"Oh, not a whole minute altogether! When I first saw it I got up, and
without knowing what I was doing, I screamed; and then she, Milly,
seemed to fade away--to melt into the air.
"Did anyone else see anything?" asked Sir Lyon eagerly.
"No, I don't think so. In fact, I'm quite sure not. My aunt was sitting
with her back to Mr. Varick."
There was a pause. And then Helen asked: "You don't believe that the
dead _can_ appear to the living--do you, Sir Lyon?"
"I've never been able quite to make up my mind," he said slowly. "But I
do believe, absolutely, in what is now called materialization. I must
believe in it, because I've witnessed the phenomena a number of times
myself. But, of course, always under a most carefully prepared set of
conditions. I wish you'd tell me," he went on, "exactly how the figure
struck you? Can you describe to me in greater detail the appearance of
what seemed to be the spirit of your friend?"
Helen did not quite understand what he meant, but she answered
obediently: "It's very difficult to describe more exactly what I did
see. As I told you just now, the eyes alone seemed to be really alive in
the pale, waxen-looking face, and I thought the mouth quivered."
"I know," he interjected quickly.
"But the rest of her poor, thin, emaciated looking body seemed to be so
stiff and still, swathed in the long, white grave-clothes--and I can't
express to you the sort of growing horror of it all! I _knew_ it was
only a few moments, yet it _seemed_ like hours of time. I felt as if I
_must_ call out and indeed I did. But before I could go on to utter her
name, Miss Farrow spoke to me, my aunt got up from her chair, and Mr.
Varick rushed forward! Of course it all happened in much less time than
it takes to tell."
She looked at him earnestly. What a kind, dependable face he had!
"Have you, Sir Lyon, any explanation to suggest?" she asked.
"I don't suppose," he said slowly, "that you would accept my
explanation, Miss Brabazon."
"I think I would," she said simply. "After what happened that first
night I feel that anything is possible. I am _sure_ my dear father's
spirit was there."
"I am inclined to think so too. But as to this instance I am not so sure
that what you saw was your dead friend. Unless--"
"Unless?" repeated Helen questioningly.
"You told me that during her lifetime you were on the best terms of
friendship with this poor lady, and yet that on her dead face there was
a look of hatred? How do you account for that?"
He looked questioningly, penetratingly, into the girl's distressed face.
Sir Lyon had always prided himself on his self-command and perfect
self-control, and yet he would have given almost anything for a really
honest answer to this question.
And poor Helen did give him an honest answer--honest, that is, from her
own simple-hearted point of view. "I can't account for it!" she
exclaimed. "But I am sure it was there. I felt the hatred coming out
from her towards me. And oh, Sir Lyon, it was horrible!"
"Try and think it was not Mrs. Varick's spirit," he said impressively.
"Try and tell yourself that it was either a dream, a waking phantom of
your brain, or--or--"
"Or what?" asked Helen eagerly.
But there are thoughts, questions, suspicions that no human being
willingly puts into words.
* * * * *
During the last few days Sir Lyon had become convinced that Lionel
Varick had resolved in his powerful, unscrupulous mind to make Helen
Brabazon his wife. It was in vain that he argued with himself that the
question of Miss Brabazon's future concerned him not at all. He found
himself again and again, when watching those two, giving a great deal of
uneasy thought to the matter. Now and again he would remind himself that
Varick had been no greater an adventurer than many a man who, when
utterly impecunious, has married an heiress amid the hearty approval and
acclamation of most of the people about them. And Varick could not now
be regarded as impecunious; he was a man of substance, though no doubt
even his present income would seem as nothing compared with the Brabazon
Sir Lyon was ashamed of his growing distaste, even dislike, of his
courteous host. It was as if in the last few days a pit had been dug
between them. It was not pleasant to him to be accepting the hospitality
of a man whom he was growing to dislike and suspect more and more every
day. And yet though he could have made a hundred excuses to leave
Wyndfell Hall, he stayed on, refusing to inquire too closely into the
At times he tried to persuade himself that he was keenly interested in
the problem presented by Bubbles Dunster. The girl was beyond question a
most rare and exceptional medium. At one time he had made a close study
of psychic phenomena; and though he had come to certain conclusions
which had led to his entirely giving up the practices which had once
seemed to him the only thing worth living for, he was still sufficiently
interested in the subject to feel that Bubbles' powers were well worth
Sir Lyon would have given much to have been present at what, if Helen's
account were correct, had been an extraordinary example of what is
Had this terrible vision of Mrs. Varick been an emanation of Helen
Brabazon's own brain--some subconscious knowledge that she, Helen, was
now the object of Varick's pursuit? Or was this woman, whom they all
called "poor Milly," an unquiet spirit, wandering about full of jealous,
cruel thoughts, even with regard to the two who had evidently been so
selflessly devoted to her--her girl friend and her husband?
And then, suddenly a queer feeling of intense relief swept over him.
Whether a sentient being or not had appeared to Helen Brabazon, there
could be no doubt that what had just happened would make the course of
Varick's wooing more arduous. He was ashamed to find that this
conviction made him suddenly feel oddly light-hearted--almost, so he
told himself, a young man again!
As he walked into his bedroom, which was pleasantly warm--for there was
a good fire, and the curtains across the three windows were closely
drawn--Dr. Panton told himself that he was indeed beginning the New Year
Half-an-hour ago the whole party, with the exception of Miss Burnaby,
who had gone to bed at her usual time, had stood outside the front door
under the starry sky while the many clocks of Wyndfell Hall rang out the
twelve strokes which said farewell to the Old Year, and brought the New
Year in. Then they had all crowded back again into the hall, and, hand
in hand, sung "Auld Lang Syne."
As everyone had shaken hands and wished each other a Happy New Year,
many and sincere had been the good wishes felt and expressed. Even James
Tapster had looked genial and happy for once. He was beginning to feel
as if he would, after all, throw the handkerchief to Bubbles (his own
secret, graceful paraphrase for making an offer of marriage). But as yet
Dr. Panton knew nothing of this little under-current in the broad stream
which seemed to be flowing so pleasantly before him. Had he done so, he
would have been startled and distressed, for he had already, with a
shrewd medical man's judgment, "sized up" his fellow guest, and found
him very much wanting.
Thus not knowing or divining anything of the various human
under-currents, save, perhaps, that he guessed Donnington to be in love
with Bubbles, Dr. Panton went off to bed in a very cheerful and
contented state of mind. So contented was he that as, with leisurely
fingers, he lit the candles on his dressing-table, he incidentally told
himself that Wyndfell Hall was the only house in which he had ever
stayed which, lacking any other luminant but lamps and candles, yet had
amply enough of both!
Lighting a pipe--for he didn't feel in the least sleepy--he drew forward
a deep, comfortable armchair close to the fire, and took up a book. But
soon he put it down again, and, staring at the dancing flames, his mind
dwelt with retrospective pleasure on the last few hours.
Seated between Helen Brabazon and Bubbles Dunster, he had thoroughly
enjoyed the delicious New Year's Eve dinner composed by Varick's _chef_.
Miss Brabazon had admitted to having a headache this evening, and she
certainly looked very far from well--less well than he had thought her
to be when they had first seen one another again, after so long an
absence, this afternoon.
And yet, as is sometimes the case, a look of languor suited her; and he
thought she had grown decidedly better-looking in the last year. At
Redsands Miss Brabazon had been a little too buxom, a little too
self-possessed, also, for his taste. And yet--and yet how wonderfully
good she had been to poor Mrs. Varick! With what tender patience had she
put up with the invalid's querulous bad temper, never even mentioning it
to him, the doctor, who so often received painful confidences of the
kind from those who were far nearer and dearer to a dying patient than
Helen had been to querulous Milly Varick.
As for Miss Bubbles, he felt it would be easy to lose one's heart to
that strange, queer young creature. They had made real friends over
Span. And, apropos of Span, Dr. Panton frowned to himself. He feared
that the dog was going to be the one blot on this delightful visit. Span
had been very, very badly behaved--setting up that unearthly howl
whenever his master brought him in contact with the rest of the party.
Yet he was quite good in the servants' hall. "It is clear that, like so
many cleverer people than himself, Span likes low company," Bubbles had
whispered mischievously to Span's master. "I daresay they're all very
much nicer than we are, if we only knew it!" she had gone on, but Dr.
Panton had shaken his head. He had no great liking for the modern
domestic servant. He was one of the many people who consider that the
good old type of serving-man and waiting-woman has disappeared for ever.
To-night, remembering Bubbles' words, he gave a careless, rueful thought
to the question of how Varick, who was always generous about money, must
be cheated--"rooked" was the expression the doctor used in his own
mind--by these job servants who were here, so his host told him, just
for the one month. Still, they were all fulfilling their part of their
contract very well, especially the _chef_! Everything seemed to go on
oiled wheels at Wyndfell Hall. But this might be owing to clever Miss
Farrow, for Varick had told him that Miss Farrow was acting as hostess
to the party.
Panton didn't much like that composed, clever-looking lady. She made him
feel a little shy, a little _young_--a sensation he didn't very often
experience nowadays! She treated him with a courtesy which, if
elaborate, was also distant. It was odd to think that Miss Farrow was
the unconventional, friendly Bubbles Dunster's aunt.
Sir Lyon Dilsford, on the other hand, he liked very much. He smiled a
queer little smile as he thought of this new acquaintance. He had looked
up in the middle of dinner, and caught a rather curious look on Sir
Lyon's face. It was a thoughtful, considering, almost tender look. Was
Sir Lyon attracted to Helen Brabazon? Well, Miss Brabazon, with her vast
wealth, and Sir Lyon, with his fine old name, and agreeable, polished
personality, would seem well matched, according to a worldly point of
view. But Panton told himself that he would _far_ prefer Lionel Varick
were _he_ a young woman. But he feared there was no hope of such a chance
coming Miss Brabazon's way. Varick's heart--his big, sensitive
heart--was buried in the grave of his wife....
How strange to think that "poor Milly"--for so had even her doctor come
to call her in his own mind--had been born and brought up in this
delightful old house! She had once spoken to him of her unhappy
girlhood, coupling it with an expression of gratitude to her husband for
having so changed her life.
"Poor Milly" was very present to Dr. Panton to-night. He, who had hardly
given her a thought during the last twelve months, found himself
dwelling on her to an almost uncanny extent. He even recalled some
unusual features of her illness which had puzzled and worried him
greatly. He dismissed the recollection of certain of her symptoms with
an effort. There is no truer saying--at any rate from a doctor's point
of view--than "Let the dead bury their dead." He had done his very best
for Mrs. Varick, lavished on her everything that skill and kindness
could do, and she had been extraordinarily blessed, not only in her
devoted husband, but in that sudden, unexpected friendship with another
woman--and with such a good, conscientious, sweet-tempered young woman
as was Helen Brabazon....
Half-past one struck on the landing outside his room, and Dr. Panton got
up from the comfortable easy chair; time to be going to bed, yet he
still felt quite wide awake.
He walked over to the window nearest to the fire-place, and drew back
the heavy, silk-brocaded curtain. It was a wonderful night, with a
promise, he thought, of fine weather--though one of the men who had
stood outside with him had predicted snow. What a curious, eerie place
this old Suffolk house was! Probably the landscape had scarcely changed
at all in the last five hundred years. Below he could see gleaming
He let fall the curtain, and, blowing out the candles, got slowly,
luxuriously, into the vast, comfortable four-post bed.
As he composed himself to sleep, broken, disconnected images floated
through his brain. Bill Donnington--what a nice boy! And yet not
exactly, he felt, in sympathy with any of the people there. He wondered
why Bill Donnington had come to spend Christmas at Wyndfell Hall. Then
he remembered--and smiled in the fitful firelight. What a pity there
wasn't some nice, simple, gentle girl for young Donnington! That was the
sort of girl he, Panton, would have chosen for him. Miss Bubbles, so
much was clear, rather despised the poor lad. She had implied as much in
her clever, teasing, funny way, more than once.
And the thought of Bubbles unexpectedly brought up another image--that
of James Tapster. Of the little party gathered together at Wyndfell
Hall, Tapster was the one whom the doctor felt he really didn't like. He
couldn't imagine why Varick had asked that disagreeable fellow here!
While the men were still in the dining-room, and Varick had gone out for
a moment to look for some very special, new kind of cigarette which had
come down from London a day or two before, Tapster had spoken very
disagreeably of the richness of the French _chef's_ cooking. He had
seemed to think it an outrage that something of a special, very plain,
nature had not been provided for him every day, and he had hinted that
perhaps the doctor could suggest some antidote to all this richness!
There was another reason, so Panton's sleepy mind told him, why he
didn't like his sulky, plain fellow-guest. It became suddenly,
unexpectedly, clear to him that Tapster was much taken with Miss
Bubbles. The man had hardly taken his eyes off her during the whole of
dinner, and it had been a disagreeable, appraising look--as if he
couldn't quite make up his mind what she was worth! He told himself,
while remembering that look, that Tapster was the kind of man who is
always hesitating, always absorbed in some woman, and yet always afraid
to try his luck--in the hope that if he waits, he may do better next
time! Miss Bubbles was a hundred times too good for such a fellow,
however rich the fellow might be....
Gradually Panton felt himself slipping off into that pleasant condition
which immediately precedes a dreamless, healthful sleep.
And then, all at once, his senses became keenly alert, for a curious
sound became audible in the darkening room. It was without doubt a
sound created by some industrious mouse, or perhaps--though that idea
was a less pleasant one--by a greedy rat. Swish, swish--swish--just like
the rustling of a lady's silk dress!
Panton stretched out his right arm, and knocked the wall behind him
sharply twice or thrice, and the sound stopped suddenly. But after a few
minutes, just as he was dropping off, it began again. But it no longer
startled him, as it had done the first time, and soon he was fast
It might have been a moment, it might have been an hour, later, when
there came a sudden, urgent knocking at his door. He sat up in bed.
"Come in," he called out, now wide awake.
The door opened slowly--and there came through it a curious-looking
figure. It was James Tapster, arrayed in a wonderful dressing-gown made
of Persian shawls, and edged with fur. He held a candlestick in his
hand, and the candle threw up a flickering light on his pallid,
"Dr. Panton," he whispered, "I wish you'd come out here a moment."
And the doctor, cursing his bad luck, and feeling what he very seldom
felt, thoroughly angry, said ungraciously: "What is the matter? Can't
you tell me without my getting out of bed?"
Last night's excellent dinner, which couldn't have hurt any healthy man,
had evidently upset the unhealthy millionaire.
"Can't you hear?" whispered Tapster. His teeth were, chattering; he
certainly looked very ill.
"Hear! Hear what?"
Tapster held up his hand. And then, yes, the man sitting up in the big
four-post bed did hear some very curious noises. It was as if furniture
was being thrown violently about, and as if crockery was being
smashed--but a very, very long way off.
This was certainly most extraordinary! He had done Tapster an injustice.
He jumped out of bed. "Wait a minute!" he exclaimed. "I'll get my
dressing-gown, and we'll go and see what it's all about. What
extraordinary sounds! Where on earth do they come from?"
"They come from the servants' quarters," said Tapster.
There came a sudden silence, and then an awful crash.
"How long have these noises gone on?" asked Panton.
He had put on his dressing-gown, and was now looking for his slippers.
"Oh, for a long time."
Tapster's hand was trembling, partly from excitement, partly from fear.
"How d'you account for it?" he asked.
"One of the servants has gone mad drunk," replied Panton briefly.
"That's what it is--without a doubt! We'd better go down and see what
can be done."
And then, as there came the distant sounds of breaking glass, he
exclaimed: "I wonder everyone hasn't woken up!"
"There is a heavy padded door between that part of the house and this.
My room is on the other side, over what they call the school-room. I
left the padded door open just now when I came through--in fact I
fastened it back."
"That wasn't a very clever thing to do!"
The doctor did not speak pleasantly, but Tapster took no offence.
"I--I wanted someone to hear," he said humbly; "I felt so shut off
"Still, there's no use in waking everybody else up," said Panton, in a
He didn't look forward to the job which he thought lay before him; but,
of course, it wasn't the first time he had been called in to help calm a
man who had become violent under the influence of drink. "Go on," he
said curtly. "Show me the way! I suppose there's a back staircase by
which we can go down?"
He followed his guide along the broad corridor to a heavy green baize
door. Stooping, he undid the hook which fastened the door back. It swung
to, and, as it did so, there came a sudden, complete cessation of the
"Hullo!" he said to himself, "that's odd."
The two men waited for what seemed to Panton a long time, but in reality
it was less than five minutes.
"Would you like to come into my room for a few moments? I wish you
would," said Mr. Tapster plaintively.
Unwillingly the doctor walked through into what was certainly a very
pleasant, indeed a luxurious room. It was furnished in a more modern way
than the other rooms at Wyndfell Hall. "There's a bath-room off this
room. That's why Varick, who's a good-natured chap, gave it me. He knows
I have a great fear of catching a chill," whispered Mr. Tapster.
"We'd better go down," said the doctor at last.
"D'you think so? But the noise has stopped, and, after all, it is no
business of ours."
Dr. Panton did not tell the other what was really in his mind. This was
that the man who had now become so curiously quiet might unwittingly
have done a mischief to himself. All he said was: "I have a feeling that
I ought to go down, at any rate."
The words had hardly left his lips before the noises began again, and,
of course, from where the two men were now, they sounded far louder than
they had done from the doctor's bed-room. Heavy furniture was
undoubtedly being thrown about, and again there came those curious
crashes, as if plates and dishes were being dashed against the wall and
broken there in a thousand pieces.
"I say, this won't do!" Quickly he went towards the door, and as he
reached the corridor he saw the swing door between the two parts of the
house open, and Miss Farrow came through, looking her well-bred,
composed self, and wearing, incidentally, a short, neat, becoming
"I can't think what's happening!" she exclaimed. She looked from the one
man to the other. "What _can_ be happening downstairs?"
As Panton made no answer, Mr. Tapster replied for them both: "The doctor
thinks one of the servants got drunk last night."
"Yes, that must be it, of course. I'll go down and see who it is," she
But Dr. Panton broke in authoritatively: "No, indeed, Miss Farrow! If
it's what I think it is, the fellow will probably be violent. You'd
better let me go down alone and deal with him."
There had come again that extraordinary, sudden stillness.
"I think I'd rather come down with you," she said coolly.
All three started going down the narrow, steep wooden staircase which
connected that portion of the upper floor with the many rambling offices
of the old house.
Tapster and Blanche Farrow each held a candle, but Dr. Panton led the
way; and soon they were treading the whitewashed passages, even their
slippered feet making, in the now absolute stillness, what sounded like
loud thuds on the stone floor.
"Listen!" said Blanche suddenly.
They all stood still, and there came a strange fluttering sound. It was
as if a bird had got in through a window, and was trying to find a way
"D'you know the way to the kitchen? I think that the man must be in the
kitchen, or probably the pantry," whispered the doctor to his hostess.
"I think it's this way."
Miss Farrow led them down a short passage to the right, and cautiously
opened a door which led into the kitchen.
And then they all three uttered exclamations of amazement and of horror.
Holding her candle high in her hand, their hostess was now lighting up a
scene of extraordinary and of widespread disorder.
It was as if a tornado had whirled through the vast, low-ceilinged
kitchen. Heavy tables lay on their sides and upside down, their legs in
the air. Most of the crockery--fortunately, so Blanche said to herself,
kitchen crockery--off the big dresser lay smashed in large and small
pieces here, there, and everywhere. A large copper preserving-pan lay
grotesquely sprawling on the well-scrubbed centre table, which was the
one thing which had not been moved--probably because of its great
weight. And yet--and yet it had been moved--for it was all askew! The
man who did that, if, indeed, one man could alone have done all this
mischief, must have been very, very strong--a Hercules!
The doctor took the candle from Miss Farrow's hand and walked in among
the debris. "He must have gone through that door," he muttered.
Leaving her to be joined by the timorous James Tapster, he went boldly
on across the big kitchen, and through a door which gave into what
appeared to be a scullery. But here everything was in perfect order.
"Where can the man have gone?" he asked himself in astonishment.
Before him there rose a vision of the respectable old butler, and of the
two tall, well-matched, but not physically strong-looking footmen. This
must be the work of some man he had not yet seen? Of course there must
be many men employed about such a place as was Wyndfell Hall.
He retraced his steps. "I think you and Mr. Tapster had better go
upstairs again, and leave me to this," he said decidedly. "I'll have a
thorough hunt through the place, and it'll probably take some time.
Perhaps the man's taken refuge in the pantry. By the way, where do the
"Oddly enough, they're none of them sleeping in the house," said Blanche
quietly. "They're down at what are called 'the cottages.' You may have
seen a row of pretty little buildings not very far from the gate giving
on to the high road? Those cottages belong to Mr. Varick. They're quite
comfortable, and we thought it best to put all the servants together
there. When I say all the servants"--she corrected herself quickly--"the
ladies' maids and Mr. Tapster's valet all sleep in the house. But Mr.
Varick and I agreed that it would be better to put the whole of the
temporary staff down together in the cottages."
"In that case I think it's very probable that the man, when he realized
the mischief he'd done, bolted out of doors. However, I may as well have
a look round."
"I'll come with you," said Blanche decidedly. She turned to Mr. Tapster:
"I think you'd better go upstairs, and try and finish your night more
She spoke quite graciously. Blanche was the one of the party who really
tolerated Mr. Tapster--Blanche and Mr. Tapster's host.
"All right, I think I will. Though I feel rather a brute at leaving you
to do the dirty work," he muttered.
He set off down the passage; and then, a few moments later, he had to
call out and ask Miss Farrow to show him the way--he had lost himself!
It took a long time to search through the big commons of the ancient
dwelling. There were innumerable little rooms now converted into store
cupboards, larders, and so on. But everything was in perfect order--the
kitchen alone being in that, as yet, inexplicable condition of wreckage.
But at last their barren quest was ended, and they came up the narrow
staircase on much more cordial and kindly terms with one another than
either would have thought possible some hours before. Then the doctor,
with an "Allow me," pushed in front of Miss Farrow in order to open wide
the heavy padded door. "I wonder that you heard anything through this!"
She answered, "I was awakened by Mr. Tapster talking to you. Then, of
course, I heard those appalling noises--for he had left the padded door
open. I got up and, opening my own door, listened, after you had both
gone through. When there came that final awful crash I felt I _must_ go
and see what had happened!"
"Spirits? What absolute bosh! Miss Bubbles has been pulling your leg,
Varick. And yet one would like to know who has been at the bottom of it
all--whether, as you say the butler evidently believes, it is the _chef_
himself, or, as the _chef_ told you, one of the under-servants. In any
case, I hope no one will suppose that that sort of thing can be owing to
a supernatural agency."
"Yet John Wesley did so suppose when that sort of thing happened in the
Wesley household," came in the quiet voice of Sir Lyon.
The three men--Dr. Panton, Sir Lyon, and Lionel Varick--were taking a
walk along the high road. It was only eleven o'clock, but it seemed much
later than that to two of them, for all the morning they had been busy.
An hour of it had been taken up with a very close examination of the
servants, especially of the respectable butler and of the French _chef_.
They had both professed themselves, together and separately, as entirely
unable to account for what had happened in the night. But still, it had
been clear to the three who had taken part in the examination--Blanche
Farrow, Varick, and the doctor--that the butler believed the _chef_ to
be responsible. "It's that Frenchman; they're tricky kind of fellows,
ma'am," the man had said in a confidential aside. And, though the _chef_
was less willing to speak, it was equally clear that he, on his side,
put it down to one of the under-servants.
Then, quite at the end of the interrogation, they had all been startled
by not only the _chef_, but the butler also, suddenly admitting that
something very like what happened last night had happened twice before!
But on the former occasions, though everything in the kitchen had been
moved, including the heavy centre table, nothing had been broken. Still,
it had taken the _chef_ and his kitchen-maids two hours to put
everything right. That had happened, so was now revealed, on the very
morning after the party had just been gathered together. And then,
again, four days ago.
Miss Burnaby, who had slept through everything, exclaimed, when the
happenings of the night before were told her by Mr. Tapster, "The place
seems bewitched! I shall never forget what happened yesterday afternoon
to Helen." Turning to Dr. Panton, she continued: "My niece actually
believes that she saw a ghost yesterday!"
Helen said sharply, "I thought nothing was to be said about that,
Meanwhile the doctor stared at her, hardly believing the evidence of his
own ears. "You thought you saw a ghost?" he said incredulously.
And Helen, turning away, answered: "I would so much rather not speak
about it. I don't want even to think about it ever again!"
An hour later, as Panton and Sir Lyon stood outside the house waiting
for Varick, the doctor said a word to the other man: "A most
extraordinary thing happened here yesterday. Miss Brabazon apparently
believes she saw a ghost."
"Did she tell you so herself?" asked Sir Lyon quietly.
"No, her aunt mentioned it, quite as if it was an ordinary incident.
But I could see that it was true, for she was very much upset, and said
she would rather not speak of it."
They had then been joined by their host, and when once through the gate,
the doctor's first words had proved that his mind was still full of all
that had happened in the night.
"Surely _you_ don't put down what happened last night to a supernatural
He was addressing Sir Lyon, and though he spoke quite civilly, there was
an under-current of sarcasm in his pleasant, confident voice.
"At one time I was very deeply interested in what I think one may call
the whole range of psychic phenomena," replied Sir Lyon deliberately,
"and I came to certain very definite conclusions--"
"And what," said Varick, with a touch of real eagerness, "were those
Till now he had not joined in the discussion.
"For one thing, I very soon made up my mind that a great deal of what
occurs at every properly conducted seance can by no means be dismissed
as 'all bosh,'" answered Sir Lyon.
"Do you consider that the seance which took place the first evening you
were here was a properly conducted seance?" asked Varick slowly.
"Yes--as far as I was able to ascertain--it was. I felt convinced, for
instance, that Laughing Water was a separate entity--that was why I
asked her to pass me by. To me there is something indecent about an open
seance. I have always felt that very strongly; and what happened that
evening in the case of Mr. Burnaby of course confirmed my feeling."
Varick uttered under his breath an exclamation of incredulous amazement.
"D'you mean that you believe there was a _spirit_ present? It would take
some time to do it, but I think I could _prove_ that it was what I took
it to be--thought-reading of quite an exceptional quality, joined to a
clever piece of acting."
"You'd find it more difficult than you think to prove that," said Sir
Lyon quietly. "I've been to too many seances to be able to accept that
point of view. I feel sure that Miss Bubbles was what they call
'controlled' by a separate entity calling herself 'Laughing Water.' But
if you ask me what sort of entity, then I cannot reply."
Panton turned on him: "Then you're a spiritualist?" he exclaimed. "Of
course I was quite unaware of that fact when I spoke just now."
There was an underlying touch of scorn in his voice.
"No, I do not call myself a spiritualist. But still--yes, I accept the
term, if by it you mean that I believe there is no natural explanation
for certain of the phenomena we have seen, or heard of, in the last
He purposely did not allude to what had happened between tea and dinner
in the hall last evening, but he felt certain that it was very present
to Varick himself.
"I spoke just now of the curious occurrences in the Wesley household,"
he observed, turning to the young doctor. "That, of course, is the most
famous case on record of the sort of thing which took place in the
kitchen last night."
"But why," cried Varick, with a touch of excitement, "why should all
these things happen just now at Wyndfell Hall? I know, of course, the
story of the haunted room. But most old houses have one respectable
ghost attached to them. I don't mind the ghost Pegler fancies she
saw--but, good heavens, the place now seems full of tricksy spirits!
Still, it's an odd fact that none of the servants, with the one
exception of Miss Farrow's maid, have seen anything out of the way."
Here the doctor broke in: "That's easily accounted for!" he exclaimed.
"I understand from Miss Farrow that her maid--a remarkable person
without doubt--has held her tongue ever since she saw, or thought she
saw, a ghost. But if the other servants knew everything we know, there'd
be no holding them--there'd be no servants!"
"Of course, I admit that in the great majority of instances those who
think they see what's commonly called a ghost probably see no ghost at
all," said Sir Lyon thoughtfully. "They've heard that a ghost is there,
and therefore they _think_ they see it."
"Then," said Varick, turning on him, "you don't believe Pegler did see
the ghost of Dame Grizel Fauncey?"
Sir Lyon smiled. "I daresay you'll think me very illogical, but in this
one case I think Pegler _did_ see what is commonly called a ghost. And
I'll tell you why I think so."
Both men turned and looked at him fixedly, both in their several ways
being much surprised by his words.
"I have discovered," said Sir Lyon in a rather singular tone, "that this
woman Pegler saw nothing for the first few days she occupied the haunted
Panton stared at the speaker with an astonished expression. "What
exactly do you mean to imply?" he asked.
Sir Lyon hesitated. He was, in some of his ways, very old-fashioned. It
was not pleasant to him to bring a lady's name into a discussion. And
yet he felt impelled to go on, for what had happened in the hall
yesterday afternoon had moved and interested him as he had not thought
to be interested and moved again.
"The woman saw nothing," he said, slowly and impressively, "till Miss
Dunster arrived at Wyndfell Hall. I take that to mean that Miss Dunster
is a very strong medium."
"A medium?" repeated the doctor scoffingly. "Who says medium surely says
charlatan, Sir Lyon--not to say something worse than charlatan!"
Sir Lyon looked thoughtfully at the younger man. "I admit that often
mediums are charlatans--or rather, they begin by being mediums pure and
simple, and they end by being mediums _qua_ charlatans. The temptations
which lie in their way are terrible, especially if, as in the majority
of cases, they make a living by their--their"--he hesitated--"their
extraordinary, as yet misunderstood, and generally mishandled gift."
"Do you mean," asked Varick gravely, "that you believe Bubbles possesses
the power of raising the dead?"
Sir Lyon did not answer at once, but at last he said firmly: "Either the
dead, or some class of intermediate spirits who personate the human
dead. Yes, Varick, that is exactly what I do mean."
All three men stopped in their now slow pacing. Dr. Panton felt too much
surprised to speak.
Sir Lyon went on: "I think that Miss Bubbles' arrival at Wyndfell Hall
made visible, and is still making visible, much that would otherwise
As he caught the look of incredulous amazement on the doctor's face, he
repeated very deliberately: "That is my considered opinion. As I said
just now, I have had a very considerable experience of psychic
phenomena, and I realized, during that seance which was held the first
evening I spent here, that this young lady possessed psychic gifts of a
very extraordinary nature. There is no doubt at all, in my mind, that
were she a professional medium, her fame would by now be world-wide."
Perhaps it was the derisive, incredulous look on the young medical man's
face which stung him into adding: "If I understand rightly"--he turned
to Varick--"something very like what I should call an impromptu
materialization took place in the hall yesterday--is that not so?"
There was a pause. Twice Varick cleared his throat. Who had broken faith
and told Sir Lyon what had happened? He supposed it to have been Miss
Burnaby. "Though I was present," he said at last, "I, myself, saw
"I, too, have heard something of it!" exclaimed Dr. Panton, looking from
one of his two now moved, embarrassed, and excited companions to the
other. "And you were actually present when it happened, Varick?"
As the other remained silent, he turned to Sir Lyon. "What was it
exactly Miss Brabazon thought she saw?"
Sir Lyon, after a glance at Varick's pale, set face, was sorry that he
had mentioned the curious, painful occurrence; and, though he was a
truthful man, he now told a deliberate lie. "I don't know what the
apparition purported to be," he observed. And he saw, even as he was
uttering the lying words, a look of intense relief come over Varick's
face. "But to my mind Miss Brabazon evidently saw the rare phenomenon
known as a materialization. Miss Bubbles was lying asleep in the
confessional which is almost exactly opposite the door through which one
enters the hall from the house side, thus the necessary conditions were
"I wish _I_ had been present!" exclaimed the doctor. "Either I should
have seen nothing, or, if I had seen anything, I should have managed to
convince myself that what I saw was flesh and blood."
As neither of his two companions said anything in answer to that
observation, Panton went on, speaking with more hesitation, but also
with more seriousness than he had yet shown: "Do I understand you to
mean, Sir Lyon, that you credit our young fellow-guest with supernatural
gifts denied to the common run of mortals?"
"I should not put it quite that way," answered Sir Lyon. "But yes, I
suppose I must admit that I do credit Miss Bubbles with powers which no
one as yet has been able to analyze or explain--though a great many more
intelligent people than has ever been the case before, are trying to
find a natural explanation."
"If that is so," asked the doctor, "why have you yourself given up such
an extraordinarily important and valuable investigation?"
"Because," said Sir Lyon, "I consider my own personal investigations
yielded a definite result."
"And that result--?"
"--was that what I prefer to call by the old term of occultism makes for
evil rather than for good. Also, I became convinced that the practice of
these arts has been, so to speak, put 'out of bounds'--I can think of
no better expression--by whatever Power it be that rules our strange
He spoke earnestly and slowly, choosing his words with care.
"If your theory contains a true answer to the investigations which are
now taking place," exclaimed the doctor, "there was a great deal to be
said for those mediaeval folk who burnt sorcerers and witches! I suppose
you would admit that they were right in their belief that by so doing
they were getting rid of very dangerous, as well as unpleasant, elements
from out of their midst?"
The speaker looked hard at Sir Lyon. Nothing, as he told himself, with
some excitement, had ever astonished him, or taken him so aback, as was
now doing this conversation with an intelligent, cultivated man who
seemed to have broad and sane views on most things, but who was
evidently as mad as a hatter on this one subject.
And then, before Sir Lyon had perchance made up his mind what to answer
exactly, Varick's voice broke in: "Yes," he observed, smiling a little
grimly, "that's the logical conclusion of your view, Dilsford. You can't
get out of it! If a human being really possesses such dangerous powers,
the sooner that human being is put out of the way the better."
"No, no! I don't agree!" Sir Lyon spoke with more energy than he had yet
displayed. "Everything points to the fact that those unfortunate
people--I mean the witches and sorcerers of the Middle Ages--could have
been, and sometimes were, exorcised."
"Exorcised?" repeated Panton. He had never heard the word "exorcised"
uttered aloud before, though he had, of course, come across it in
books. "Do you mean driving out the devil by means of a religious
ceremony?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes," said Sir Lyon, "I do exactly mean that. As you are probably
aware, there is a form of exorcism still in common use. And if I were
our host here, I should have Wyndfell Hall exorcised, preferably by a
Roman Catholic priest, as soon as Miss Bubbles is safely off the
The doctor again looked sharply at the speaker--but no, Sir Lyon
evidently meant what he said; and even Varick seemed to be taking the
suggestion seriously; for "That's not a bad idea," he muttered.
The three men walked on in silence for a few moments.
"It would be interesting to know," observed Sir Lyon suddenly, "what
Miss Farrow conceives to be the truth as to her niece's peculiar gifts.
I fancy, from something she told me the other day, that she hasn't the
slightest belief in psychic phenomena, I wonder if she feels the same
after what happened yesterday and last night?"
"I can tell you exactly what Miss Farrow thinks," interposed Varick. "I
had a word or two with her about it all this morning, after we'd
examined the servants in the white parlour."
"What _does_ she think," asked Sir Lyon. He had always been interested
in Blanche Farrow, and, in a way, he was fond of her.
"She thinks," said Varick, a little hesitatingly, "that Bubbles, in
addition to her extraordinary thought-reading gift, has inherited from
her Indian ancestress a power of collectively hypnotizing an
audience--of making people see things that she wants them to see. That's
rather awkwardly expressed, but it's the best I can do."
"I quite understand," broke in the doctor. "You mean the sort of power
which certain Indian fakirs undoubtedly possess?"
"Yes," said Varick. "And, as I said just now Bubbles has got Indian
blood in her veins. One of her ancestors actually did marry an Indian
lady of high degree, and Bubbles is descended from one of the children
of that marriage."
"I think that may account for the potency of her gift," said Sir Lyon
thoughtfully, "though, of course, many Europeans have had, and now
possess, these curious powers."
"But though, in a sense, spiritualism is no new thing, even those who
believe in it admit that it has never led to anything," observed Varick
"Very rarely, I admit; but still, sometimes even a dream has contained a
revelation of sorts. Thus it is on positive record that a dream revealed
the truth as to what was called the Murder of the Red Barn."
"Can I take it that you do believe the dead return?" asked the doctor
"I think," said Sir Lyon deliberately, "that certain of the dead desire
ardently to return--not always from the best motives. As to whether they
themselves are permitted to come back, or whether they are able to use
other entities to carry out that purpose, I am still in doubt."
As he spoke he saw a curious change come over Lionel Varick's face. The
rather set smile with which he had been listening to the discussion gave
way to an odd expression of acute unease. But at this particular moment
it was not Varick with whom Sir Lyon was concerned, but with the frank,
eager, pleasant-faced, young doctor, in whose estimation, as he
realized, he was falling further and further down with every word he
"To tell you the honest truth," he went on, "even in the days when I did
little else than attend seances and have sittings with noted mediums,
not only in this country but also on the Continent, I could never quite
make up my mind whether the spirit with whom I was in communication was
really the being he or she purported to be! There was a time," he spoke
with some emotion, "when I would have given anything--certainly most
willingly twenty years of my life--to be so absolutely convinced. But
there it is," he sighed, and was himself surprised at the feeling of
depression which came over him. "Even the most earnest investigation of
the kind resolves itself always, after a while, into a kind of
will-o'-the-wisp that leads no-whither."
"Not always," exclaimed Panton sharply. "Last year I had a patient who'd
become insane owing to what I suppose you would call an investigation
into psychic phenomena."
"And yet," said Sir Lyon rather sternly, "to your mind, Dr. Panton, a
pursuit which you admit was capable of leading one unfortunate human
being into insanity, is 'all bosh'!"
"Of course I could only go by what the poor lady's friends told me,"
Panton said uncomfortably. "She was not under my care long. But I need
hardly tell you, Sir Lyon, that any obsession that takes hold of a human
being may in time lead to insanity."
"I suppose that, according to your theory"--it was now Varick who was
speaking, speaking rather lightly, twirling his stick about as he
spoke--"I suppose," he repeated, "that, according to your theory, if
Bubbles Dunster left Wyndfell Hall to-morrow, the spirits would cease
from troubling, and we should be at rest?"
"No, that doesn't exactly follow. I once heard of a case which
interested me very much. A house which had never been haunted before--as
far as anyone knew--became so, following on the sojourn there of a
professional medium, and it remained haunted for four years. Then,
suddenly, all the psychic phenomena stopped."
"What a strange thing," said Panton, with an under-current of irony in
his voice; "but doubtless the owner had had the house exorcised, as you
"No," said Sir Lyon thoughtfully. "No, the house had not been exorcised.
As a matter of fact, the medium was killed in a railway accident."
They walked on, and fell to talking of indifferent things. But though
Sir Lyon had at one time held many such conversations with sceptical or
interested persons, this particular conversation will never be forgotten
by him, owing to a strange occurrence which happened in the afternoon of
that same day. But for two fortunate facts--the bravery of young
Donnington, and the presence of a clever medical man--the pleasant
comedy in which they were each and all playing an attractive part would
have been transformed into a peculiarly painful tragedy.
While three members of the party had thus been walking and talking, the
principal subject of their discussion, Bubbles Dunster, had gone through
an exciting and unpleasant experience.
When starting out for a solitary walk to give Span a run, she saw, with
annoyance, James Tapster following her, and to her acute discomfiture he
managed to stammer out what was tantamount to an offer of marriage.
Though, in a sense, she had certainly tried to attract him, she felt,
all at once, miserably ashamed of her success. So much so, indeed, that
she pretended at first not to understand what he meant. But at last she
had to leave such pretence aside, and then it was she who surprised Mr.
Tapster, for, "You must let me have time to think over the great honour
you have done me," she said quietly. "If you want an answer now, it must
He protested sulkily that of course he would give her as much time as
she wanted, and then she observed, slyly, "I am sure that you yourself
did not make up your mind to be married all in a minute, Mr. Tapster.
You weighed the pros and cons very carefully, no doubt. So you must give
me time to do so too."
Bubbles' measured words, the feeling that she was, so to speak, keeping
him at arm's length, took the hapless Tapster aback, and frightened him
a little. He had felt so sure that once he had made up his own mind she
would eagerly say "Yes!" Often, during the last few days, he had told
himself, with a kind of mirthless chuckle, that _he_ was not going to be
"caught"; but when, at last, he had made up his mind that Bubbles would
make him, if not an ideal, then a very suitable, wife, it seemed strange
indeed that she was not eager to "nail him." That she was not exactly
eager to do so was apparent, even to him.
Calling Span sharply to her, the girl turned round, and began making her
way towards the house again; finally she disappeared with Span in the
direction of the servants' quarters.
James Tapster, walking on by himself, began to feel unaccountably
frightened. He asked himself, uneasily, almost uttering the words aloud
in his agitation, whether, after all, he had been "caught"; and whether
Bubbles was only "making all this fuss" in order to "bring him to heel"?
But two could play at that game. He toyed seriously, or so he believed,
with the idea of ordering his motor and just "bolting"; but of course he
did nothing of the kind. The more Bubbles hung back, the more he wanted
her; her coldness stung him into something nearer ardour than he had
And Bubbles? Bubbles felt annoyed, uneasy, even obscurely hurt. It often
happens that an offer of marriage leaves a girl feeling lonely and
oppressed. Deep in her heart she knew she would never, never, _never_,
become Mrs. Tapster. On the other hand, she was aware that there were
many people in the London set among whom she now lived and had her
being, who would regard her as mad to refuse a man who, whatever his
peculiarities, possessed enormous wealth. If only she could have had a
tenth part of James Tapster's money without James Tapster, what a happy
woman she would have been!
As it was, Bubbles told herself fretfully that she had no wish to be
married. She was not yet tired of the kind of idle-busy life she led; it
was an amusing and stimulating life; and though she had her dark hours,
when nothing seemed worth while, up to the present time there had been
much more sunshine than shadow. The girl was sufficiently clever and
sensitive to realize her good fortune in the matter of Bill Donnington.
Sometimes, deep in her heart, she told herself that when she had drunk
her cup of pleasure, amusement, and excitement to the dregs--perhaps in
ten years from now--she would at last reward Donnington's long faithful
love and selfless devotion. And rather to her own surprise, during the
half-hour which followed Tapster's uninspired proposal, Bubbles thought
far more of Donnington than she did of the man who had just asked her to
become his wife.
Sitting all alone in the hall, crouching down on a footstool close to
the fire, for somehow she felt tired--tired, and exhausted--she made one
definite resolution. She would give up, as far as she was able, the
practice of those psychic arts which she knew those who loved her
believed to involve a real danger to her general well-being. What had
happened the afternoon before had frightened her. She had been entirely
unconscious of the awful phenomena which had taken place, and she was
becoming seriously alarmed at her own increasing power of piercing the
veil which hangs between the seen and the unseen. What she had told
Donnington during their talk in the old darkened church had been true:
she often felt herself companioned by entities who boded ill, if not to
herself, then to those about her. Since yesterday, also, there had hung
heavily over her mind a premonition that she, personally, was in danger.
Now she told herself that perhaps the peculiar, disturbing sensation had
only been a forerunner of James Tapster's unexpected offer of marriage.
* * * * *
"What would you say to our all going out for a walk?" Luncheon was just
over, and Varick was facing his guests. The only one missing was Dr.
Panton, who had gone up to his room, saying he had some work to do.
"I'm afraid it must be very wet and slushy," said Blanche Farrow
dubiously. It had snowed in the night, and now a thaw had set in.
She had an almost catlike dislike of wet or dirt; on the other hand, she
was one of those people who are generally willing to put aside their own
wishes in favour of what those about them wish to do; and she saw that
for some reason or other Lionel Varick wanted this suggestion of his to
be carried out.
"I can take you to a place," he exclaimed, "where I think we shall find
it dry walking even to-day. It's a kind of causeway, or embankment"--he
turned to Helen Brabazon--"which some people say was built by the
"I think a walk would be very nice," she agreed.
Helen did not look like her usual cheerful, composed self. The
experience which had befallen her the day before still haunted her mind
to the exclusion of everything else. Perhaps a good long walk would make
her feel a different creature, and chase that awful image of Milly
Varick in her grave-clothes from her brain.
And so in the end the whole party started off, with the exception of
Miss Burnaby and Dr. Panton. Bubbles tried hard to get out of going on
what she frankly said seemed to her "a stupid expedition," but
Donnington had a theory that the open air would do her good, and as for
Varick, he exclaimed in a good-humoured but very determined tone: "If
_you_ won't come, Bubbles, I give the whole thing up!" In a lower voice
he added: "Naughty as you are, you're the life and soul of the party."
And thus it was to please Varick, rather than Donnington, that Bubbles
started on what was to be to all those that took part in it a memorable
Poor Donnington! The young man felt alarmed and perplexed concerning
Bubbles' general condition. He knew something that had shocked and
startled her had happened the day before, but when he had tried to find
out what it was, she had snubbed him.
Like so many people wiser and cleverer than himself, Donnington found it
impossible to make up his mind concerning psychic phenomena. When
kneeling by Bubbles' side in the dimly-lit church he had accepted,
almost without question, her own explanation of her strange and sinister
gift, but by now he had argued himself out of the belief that such
things could be in our work-a-day world.
There was someone else of the party who was also giving a great deal of
anxious thought to Bubbles' uncanny powers. Blanche Farrow, like Helen
Brabazon, could not banish from her mind the experience which had
befallen her in the hall last evening. Every time she looked at Lionel
Varick there rose before her that terrible vision of the two unquiet
spirits who had stood, sentinel-wise, on either side of him....
Again and again in the long watches of a wakeful night, Blanche
had-assured herself that what she had seen was no more real than is a
vivid dream. She had further told herself, taking comfort in the
telling, that the power possessed by Bubbles was now understood, and
accounted for, by those learned men who make a scientific study of
hypnotism. Yet, try as she would, she could not banish from her mind and
from her memory the unnerving experience.
They were crossing the moat bridge when there came a shout from the
house. They all stopped, to be joined, a minute later, by Dr. Panton.
"It's an extraordinary thing," he exclaimed, "I fully intended to give
up this afternoon to writing, but somehow I suddenly felt as if I _must_
look out of the window! You all looked so merry and bright that I have
thrown my work to the winds, and here I am, coming with you."
"I was rather counting on you to keep Miss Burnaby company."
Varick's tone was not very pleasant, and Panton for a moment regretted
he had come; but as he had passed through the hall he had seen the old
lady nodding over a book, and he was well aware that had he stayed
indoors, it would have been to work up in his own room.
Bill Donnington suddenly discovered that Bubbles was wearing absurd,
high-heeled, London walking shoes. "Go back and put on something more
sensible," he said shortly; "I'll wait for you--we'll soon pick up the
But Bubbles answered sullenly: "My heavy walking boots got wet this
Even as she spoke, she stood irresolute. Why not make her unsuitable
foot-gear an excuse for staying at home? She told herself discontentedly
that she hated the thought of this walk. But Donnington would have none
of it. "Never mind," he said firmly, "you can change your shoes and
stockings the minute you come in."
Bubbles submitted with an ill grace, and after the whole party were
clear of the islet on which stood Wyndfell Hall, she refused pettishly
to walk anywhere near him. She hung behind, even rejecting the company
of James Tapster, to whom, however, she was for the most part fitfully
gracious; and when, at length, the whole party were sorting themselves
into couples, she found herself walking last with Varick, the others
being all in front of them.
Varick was disagreeably conscious that with his present companion his
charm of manner--that something which drew to him all women and most
men--availed him not at all. Still, to-day, he was determined to get on
good terms with Bubbles. So well did he succeed that at last something
impelled her to say rather penitently: "I want to tell you that what
happened yesterday afternoon was not my fault, and that I'm very sorry
it happened, Lionel."
Donnington, who was just in front, heard Varick answer, lightly: "You
can hardly expect me to believe that, Bubbles! But I would give a good
deal to know how you do it?" As she made no answer, he went on: "It's a
remarkable thing to be able to will people into seeing something which
is not there!"
Donnington strained his ears to hear the low, defiant answer: "I give
you my word of honour that I knew nothing, _nothing_, till you came and
woke me up!"
What was it that had happened yesterday? The young man felt almost
unbearably anxious to know. All he knew was that it had greatly
affected, surprised, and disturbed those who had been there.
Suddenly Varick's tones floated again towards the listener: "I'll take
your word for it, my dear girl. After all, it's all in the picture. What
with our ghosts, our practical jokes, and so on, we're having a regular
old-fashioned Christmas! Still, when I heard Miss Brabazon give that
dreadful cry, I did feel that one could have too much of a good thing."
Even Donnington detected the false _bonhomie_ in Varick's voice.
Bubbles laughed back, not very pleasantly. "I did you a good turn when I
got rid of Mr. Burnaby. I thoroughly scared him! Your nice young
doctor's a very good exchange for that disagreeable old man."
"Yes, and Panton's a very clever fellow, as well as one of the best,"
said Varick heartily. "I am glad he managed to get out this afternoon."
"I thought you didn't want him to come," said Bubbles sharply.
"I knew he had some important work to finish."
Varick felt annoyed. Somehow Bubbles always seemed to be convicting him
They were now close to the embankment, of which their host had drawn an
attractive picture. But Blanche looked up at it with some dismay. The
scene under the wintry sky looked wild and singularly dreary. Many of
the fields were under water, and stretches of the marshy land were
still covered with wide streaks of snow. Across the now sullen-looking,
cloudy sky there moved a long processional flight of cawing rooks.
The whole party closed up for a few moments. Then they walked up the
steps which led to the high causeway along which Varick had promised his
friends a dry walk. Sure enough, once they had reached the top, they
found that the melting snow had already drained off the narrow brick
path. Even so, it was slippery walking, and for her part Blanche Farrow
felt sorry that they had left the muddy road.
The party soon separated into couples again, Miss Farrow and Dr. Panton
leading, while Bubbles and Varick came last, behind all the others. "We
must look just like the animals going into the ark," said the girl
Whatever the others might be feeling, Dr. Panton was thoroughly enjoying
this muddy walk. He found it singularly pleasant to be with agreeable,
well-bred people, who were all so fit that not one of them, with the
exception of James Tapster, had even asked him a question bearing on
health--or the lack of it. It had been pleasant, too, to meet Miss
Brabazon again, for they had become friends, rather than acquaintances,
over poor Mrs. Varick's deathbed.
Behind Dr. Panton and Miss Farrow--for the brick path which formed the
crest of the embankment only held two walkers comfortably--were the
least well-assorted couple of the party, Bill Donnington and James
Tapster. They just plodded along side by side, now and again exchanging
a laconic word or two. Tapster's half-formed hope had been that he would
walk with Bubbles this afternoon; but, when it came to the point, he
had made no real effort to secure her company.
The unfortunate man was feeling very nervous and uneasy--afraid lest he
had been too precipitate in his wooing, for Bubbles frightened as well
as fascinated him. Even he half realized that, as her husband, he would
be tolerated rather than welcomed in a world of which he was anxious to
form part, though in his heart he at once despised and feared its
At times he was even tempted to wish that she had said "No" at once--and
that although he knew that he would have been very surprised and
disappointed had she done so. On the whole he thought that after a
period of maidenly hesitation she would say "Yes"; and, having inherited
from an acquisitive father a positive, concrete kind of mind, as he
trudged along he began ruminating over the question of Bubbles' marriage
settlements. On one thing he was determined. Nothing should induce him
so to arrange matters that in the event of his death Bubbles should be
able to dower some worthless fortune-hunter with his, Tapster's, wealth!
He felt certain that her father's solicitors would try and arrange that
this might come to pass--"lawyers are such cunning devils"--and he grew
purple with rage at the thought.
How surprised Donnington would have been could he have looked into his
dull companion's mind!
In addition to Dr. Panton, two other people were really enjoying this
uncomfortable walk, for Helen Brabazon and Sir Lyon Dilsford had plenty
to say to one another. It was very seldom that Sir Lyon found a young
woman interested in the subjects he himself had most at heart. He found
it a curiously pleasant experience to answer her eager, ignorant
questions on sociological and political subjects. It was clear that Miss
Brabazon only regarded herself as the trustee of her vast wealth, and
this touched her companion very much. Also, what had happened
yesterday--that sudden, intimate confession of what had taken place in
the hall--had made their relations to one another much closer. But
neither of them had alluded to it again.
As for Lionel Varick and Bubbles Dunster, they were now lagging some way
behind the others. More than once the girl suggested that she should
slip away and go back to Wyndfell Hall alone, but her host would not
hear of it. He declared good-humouredly that soon they would all be
homeward bound; so, apathetically, Bubbles walked on, her feet and her
The old Roman embankment now formed part of the works connected with a
big reservoir, and at last the walkers reached a kind of platform from
whence they could see, stretching out to their right, a wide,
triangular-shaped piece of water.
Blanche Farrow was for turning back; but Helen Brabazon, Sir Lyon, and
Varick were all for going on, the more so that Varick declared that at a
cottage which formed the apex of the reservoir they would be able to get
some tea. So off they started again, in the same order as before, to
find, however, that the narrow brick-way, instead of being drier--as one
would have expected it to be above the water--was more slushy and
slippery than had been the path running along the top of the older part
of the embankment. Yet the steep bank leading down to the sullen,
half-frozen surface of the reservoir had been cleared of the grass and
bushes which covered the slopes of the rest of the causeway.
They had all been walking on again for some minutes when Donnington
turned round. "Take care, Bubbles! It's very slippery just here."
"I'm all right," she called back pettishly. "Mind your own business,
Bill. I wish you wouldn't keep looking round!"
Donnington saw Varick put out his right hand and grasp the girl's arm
firmly; but even so it struck him that they were both walking too near
the edge on the side to the water. Still, he didn't feel he could say
any more, and so he turned away, and again began trudging along by the
silent Tapster's side.
For a while nothing happened, and then all at once there occurred
something which Donnington will never recall--and that however long he
may live--without a sensation of unreasoning, retrospective horror
welling up within him.
And yet it was only the sound--the almost stuffless sound--of a splash!
It was as if a lump of earth, becoming detached from the wet bank, had
rolled over into the deep water.
At the same moment, or a fraction of a moment later, Varick laughed
aloud; it was a discordant laugh, evidently at something Bubbles had
just said, for Donnington heard the words, "Really, Bubbles!" uttered in
a loud, remonstrating, and yet jovial voice.
And then, all at once, some instinct caused the young man to wheel
sharply round, to see, a long way back from the others, Varick standing
solitary on the brick path.
His companion had vanished. It was as if the earth had swallowed her up.
"Where's Bubbles?" shouted Donnington.
But Varick, still standing in the middle of the path, did not look as
if he heard Donnington's question. The young man set off running towards
"What's happened?" he cried fiercely. "Where's Bubbles, Varick?"
Varick was ashen; and he looked dazed--utterly unlike his usual
"She stumbled--and went over the side of the embankment. She's in the
water, down there," he said at last, in a hoarse, stifled voice.
Donnington turned quickly, and stared down into the grey water. He could
see nothing--nothing! He threw off his coat.
"Was it just here?"
He looked at Varick with a feeling of anguished exasperation; it was as
if the horror and the shock had congealed the man's mental faculties.
Suddenly Varick roused himself.
"Can you swim?" He gripped Donnington strongly by the arm. "If not,
it's--it's no good your going in--you'd only drown too."
Donnington wrenched himself free from the other's hold, and, rushing
down the bank, threw himself into the icy cold water....
Suddenly he saw, a long way off, a small, shapeless, mass rising ... he
swam towards it, and then he gave a sobbing gasp of relief. It was
Bubbles ... Bubbles already unconscious; but of that he was vaguely
glad, knowing that it would much simplify his task.
Very soon, although he was quite unaware of it, the affrighted, startled
little crowd of people gathered together just above the place where he
was painfully, slowly, swimming about, looking for a spot where he
could try and effect a landing with his now heavy, inert burden.
Dr. Panton threw himself down flat across the path and held out a
walking stick over the slippery mud bank, but the stick was hopelessly,
grotesquely out of Donnington's reach.
All at once Blanche Farrow detached herself from the others and began
running towards the cottage which formed the apex of the reservoir. "I'm
going for a rope," she called out. "I'll be back in three or four
minutes." But, thanks to Dr. Panton's ingenuity, the man in the water
had not to wait even so short a time as that.
"Have any of you a good long scarf?" asked the doctor, and then, quite
eagerly for him, James Tapster produced a wonderful scarf--the sort of
scarf a millionaire would wear, so came the whimsical thought to Sir
Lyon. It was wide and very long, made of the finest knitted silk. When
firmly tied to the handle of the walking stick, the floating end of the
scarf was within reach of Donnington. With its help he even managed to
secure a foothold on the narrow one-brick ledge which terminated the
deep underwater wall of the reservoir.
The doctor called down to him with some urgency: "I wish you could
manage to hoist her up, Donnington. _Time_ is of the utmost importance
in these cases!"
But Donnington, try as he might, was too spent to obey; and it seemed an
eternity to them all before Blanche Farrow reappeared, helping an old
man to drag a short ladder along the muddy path.
And then, at last, after many weary, fruitless efforts, the inert,
sodden mass which had so lately been poor little Bubbles Dunster was
pushed and hoisted up the slippery bank, and stretched out on to the
narrow brick way.
Mr. Tapster, who had shown much more agitation and feeling than any of
those present would have credited him with, had taken off his big loose
coat and laid it on the ground, and at once Varick had followed his
example. But as Bubbles lay there, in the dreadful immobility of utter
unconsciousness, both Blanche Farrow and Helen Brabazon believed her to
A tragic, fearfully anxious time of suspense followed. Blanche looked
on, with steady, dry eyes, but Helen, after a very little while, turned
away and hid her face in her hands, sobbing, while the doctor was
engaged in the painful process of trying to bring the apparently drowned
girl to life. More than once Blanche felt tempted to implore him to
leave off those terribly arduous efforts of his. It seemed to her so--so
horrible, almost degrading, that Bubbles' delicate little body should be
used like that.
Everyone was too concerned over Bubbles to trouble about her rescuer.
But all at once Varick exclaimed: "We don't want you down with rheumatic
fever. I'll just march you back to the house, my boy!"
"Not as long as she's here," muttered Donnington, his teeth chattering.
"I'm all right; it doesn't matter about me."
He alone of the people gathered there believed that Dr. Panton's
perseverance would be rewarded, and that Bubbles would come back to
life. It did not seem to him possible that that which he had saved, and
which he so loved and cherished, could die. Though he was beginning to
feel the reaction of all he had gone through, his mind was working
clearly, and he was praying--praying consciously, in an agony of
And at last, with a sensation of relief which brought the tears starting
to his eyes, Dr. Panton saw that his efforts were to be successful;
Bubbles, after a little choking gasp, gave a long, fluttering sigh....
It was then that the doctor had to thank Sir Lyon and Helen Brabazon.
One of them, or both of them together, had thought of going back to the
house and of getting an invalid chair which Helen remembered having seen
in a corner of one of the rooms when she had been shown over the house
by her host.
Even so, it was a very melancholy little procession which followed the
two men carrying the chair on which Bubbles now lay in apathetic
* * * * *
But everything comes to an end at last, and, after having seen Bubbles
put to bed, Dr. Panton turned his attention to Donnington, and he did
not leave his second patient till the young man felt, if still shivery
and queer, fairly comfortable in bed. Then the doctor went down to find
the other three men in the dining-room, having hot drinks.
Of the three Varick and Sir Lyon showed on their faces traces of the
emotion and anxiety which they had been through; but James Tapster
looked his normal, phlegmatic self.
"I wonder what exactly happened?" exclaimed Panton at last. "I suppose
the whole thing was owing to these high-heeled shoes which women _will_
Varick nodded, and, as he saw that Panton expected him to say
something, he muttered: "Yes, it must have been something of the kind
that made her trip."
"It was a near thing," went on the doctor thoughtfully. "She was very
far gone when we got her out at last. I don't mind admitting now that,
when I began, I had hardly any hope of being able to bring her round."
He waited a moment and then added, as if to himself: "In fact, there
came a time when I would have left off, discouraged, but for the look on
that boy's face."
"What boy?" asked Tapster, surprised.
"Donnington, of course! I felt I must bring her back to life for his
James Tapster opened his mouth. Then he shut it again. He told himself
that it would, of course, have been very disappointing for Donnington to
have plunged into that icy water all for nothing, as it were.
The four men remained silent for awhile, and then Varick said slowly:
"She can't have been in the water more than a minute before Donnington
was in after her--for of course I gave the alarm at once."
Sir Lyon looked at him quickly. "I thought Donnington turned round and
"Donnington must have heard me call out." Varick was lighting a
cigarette, and Sir Lyon saw that his hand shook; "and yet when I saw her
roll down the bank I was so paralyzed with horror that my voice seemed
He looked appealingly at his friend Panton.
"Yes, I can well understand that," said the doctor feelingly. "I have
known shock close the throat absolutely." He added: "Did you see her
sink and rise again twice before Donnington got at her, Varick? I have
always wondered whether drowning people always come up three times--or
if it's only an old wives' tale."
"Yes, no, I can't remember--"
Varick put his hand over his eyes, as if trying to shut out some
dreadful sight. Then he groped his way to a chair, and sat down heavily.
"I say, Varick, I _am_ sorry."
Dr. Panton looked really concerned. "We've been thinking so much of Miss
Bubbles and of her rescuer that we have forgotten you!" he exclaimed.
Their host leant forward; he buried his face in his hands. "I shall
never forget it--never," he muttered brokenly. "The horror that seized
me--the awful feeling that I could do nothing--nothing! I felt so
absolutely distraught that I seemed to see _myself_, not Bubbles,
floating down there--on the surface of the water."
He looked up, and they were all, even Tapster, painfully impressed by
his look of retrospective horror. Dr. Panton told himself that Lionel
Varick was an even more sensitive man than he had hitherto known him to
Dinner was to be half an hour later than usual, and Dr. Panton, as he
went off to his comfortable, warm room, felt pleasantly, healthily
He had gone in to see his patients for a moment on his way upstairs, and
they were both going on well. Bubbles was beginning to look her own
queer, elfish little self again. She was curiously apathetic, as people
so often are after any kind of shock, but it was clear that there were
to be no bad after-effects of the accident. As for Donnington, the young
man declared that he felt quite all right, and he was even anxious to
get up for dinner. But that, of course, could not be allowed.
"All's well that ends well," muttered the doctor, as he threw himself
for a moment into a chair drawn up invitingly before the fire.
He did go on to tell himself, however, that he now felt a little
concerned over Lionel Varick. Varick now looked far more really ill than