Part 3 out of 4
or Radicalism partakes of the character of the betrayal
of a sacred trust. Far be it from me to say a word against
the Reverend Raymond Percy, the colleague in question.
He was brilliant, I suppose, and to some apparently fascinating;
but a clergyman who talks like a Socialist, wears his hair
like a pianist, and behaves like an intoxicated person,
will never rise in his profession, or even obtain the admiration
of the good and wise. Nor is it for me to utter my personal
judgements of the appearance of the people in the hall.
Yet a glance round the room, revealing ranks of debased
and envious faces--"
"Adopting," said Moon explosively, for he was getting restive--"adopting
the reverend gentleman's favourite figure of logic, may I say that
while tortures would not tear from me a whisper about his intellect,
he is a blasted old jackass."
"Really!" said Dr. Pym; "I protest."
"You must keep quiet, Michael," said Inglewood; "they have a right
to read their story."
"Chair! Chair! Chair!" cried Gould, rolling about exuberantly in his own;
and Pym glanced for a moment towards the canopy which covered all
the authority of the Court of Beacon.
"Oh, don't wake the old lady," said Moon, lowering his voice in a moody
good-humour. "I apologize. I won't interrupt again."
Before the little eddy of interruption was ended the reading
of the clergyman's letter was already continuing.
"The proceedings opened with a speech from my colleague, of which I
will say nothing. It was deplorable. Many of the audience
were Irish, and showed the weakness of that impetuous people.
When gathered together into gangs and conspiracies they seem
to lose altogether that lovable good-nature and readiness to accept
anything one tells them which distinguishes them as individuals."
With a slight start, Michael rose to his feet, bowed solemnly,
and sat down again.
"These persons, if not silent, were at least applausive during the speech
of Mr. Percy. He descended to their level with witticisms about rent
and a reserve of labour. Confiscation, expropriation, arbitration, and such
words with which I cannot soil my lips, recurred constantly. Some hours
afterward the storm broke. I had been addressing the meeting for some time,
pointing out the lack of thrift in the working classes, their insufficient
attendance at evening service, their neglect of the Harvest Festival, and of
many other things that might materially help them to improve their lot.
It was, I think, about this time that an extraordinary interruption occurred.
An enormous, powerful man, partly concealed with white plaster,
arose in the middle of the hall, and offered (in a loud, roaring voice,
like a bull's) some observations which seemed to be in a foreign language.
Mr. Raymond Percy, my colleague, descended to his level by entering into
a duel of repartee, in which he appeared to be the victor. The meeting
began to behave more respectfully for a little; yet before I had said twelve
sentences more the rush was made for the platform. The enormous plasterer,
in particular, plunged towards us, shaking the earth like an elephant;
and I really do not know what would have happened if a man equally large,
but not quite so ill-dressed, had not jumped up also and held him away.
This other big man shouted a sort of speech to the mob as he was shoving
them back. I don't know what he said, but, what with shouting and shoving
and such horseplay, he got us out at a back door, while the wretched people
went roaring down another passage.
"Then follows the truly extraordinary part of my story. When he had got
us outside, in a mean backyard of blistered grass leading into a lane
with a very lonely-looking lamp-post, this giant addressed me as follows:
`You are well out of that, sir; now you'd better come along with me.
I want you to help me in an act of social justice, such as we've all
been talking about. Come along!' And turning his big back abruptly,
he led us down the lean old lane with the one lean old lamp-post,
we scarcely knowing what to do but to follow him. He had certainly
helped us in a most difficult situation, and, as a gentleman, I could
not treat such a benefactor with suspicion without grave grounds.
Such also was the view of my Socialistic colleague, who (with all
his dreadful talk of arbitration) is a gentleman also. In fact,
he comes of the Staffordshire Percies, a branch of the old house,
and has the black hair and pale, clear-cut face of the whole family.
I cannot but refer it to vanity that he should heighten his personal
advantages with black velvet or a red cross of considerable ostentation,
and certainly--but I digress.
"A fog was coming up the street, and that last lost lamp-post
faded behind us in a way that certainly depressed the mind.
The large man in front of us looked larger and larger in the haze.
He did not turn round, but he said with his huge back to us,
`All that talking's no good; we want a little practical Socialism.'
"`I quite agree,' said Percy; `but I always like to understand things
in theory before I put them into practice.'
"`Oh, you just leave that to me,' said the practical Socialist,
or whatever he was, with the most terrifying vagueness.
`I have a way with me. I'm a Permeator.'
"`I could not imagine what he meant, but my companion laughed,
so I was sufficiently reassured to continue the unaccountable journey
for the present. It led us through most singular ways; out of the lane,
where we were already rather cramped, into a paved passage,
at the end of which we passed through a wooden gate left open.
We then found ourselves, in the increasing darkness and vapour,
crossing what appeared to be a beaten path across a kitchen garden.
I called out to the enormous person going on in front, but he answered
obscurely that it was a short cut.
"I was just repeating my very natural doubt to my clerical companion
when I was brought up against a short ladder, apparently leading
to a higher level of road. My thoughtless companion ran up it so
quickly that I could not do otherwise than follow as best I could.
The path on which I then planted my feet was quite unprecedentedly narrow.
I had never had to walk along a thoroughfare so exiguous.
Along one side of it grew what, in the dark and density of air,
I first took to be some short, strong thicket of shrubs. Then I saw
that they were not short shrubs; they were the tops of tall trees.
I, an English gentleman and clergyman of the Church of England--I was
walking along the top of a garden wall like a tom cat.
"I am glad to say that I stopped within my first five steps,
and let loose my just reprobation, balancing myself as best I
could all the time.
"`It's a right-of-way,"' declared my indefensible informant.
`It's closed to traffic once in a hundred years.'
"`Mr. Percy, Mr. Percy!' I called out; `you are not going
on with this blackguard?'
"`Why, I think so,' answered my unhappy colleague flippantly.
`I think you and I are bigger blackguards than he is,
whatever he is.'
"`I am a burglar,' explained the big creature quite calmly.
`I am a member of the Fabian Society. I take back the wealth stolen
by the capitalist, not by sweeping civil war and revolution, but by reform
fitted to the special occasion--here a little and there a little.
Do you see that fifth house along the terrace with the flat roof?
I'm permeating that one to-night.'
"`Whether this is a crime or a joke,' I cried, `I desire to be quit of it.'
"`The ladder is just behind you,' answered the creature
with horrible courtesy; `and, before you go, do let me give
you my card.'
"If I had had the presence of mind to show any proper spirit I
should have flung it away, though any adequate gesture of the kind
would have gravely affected my equilibrium upon the wall.
As it was, in the wildness of the moment, I put it in my
waistcoat pocket, and, picking my way back by wall and ladder,
landed in the respectable streets once more. Not before, however,
I had seen with my own eyes the two awful and lamentable facts--
that the burglar was climbing up a slanting roof towards
the chimneys, and that Raymond Percy (a priest of God and,
what was worse, a gentleman) was crawling up after him.
I have never seen either of them since that day.
"In consequence of this soul-searching experience I severed
my connection with the wild set. I am far from saying that
every member of the Christian Social Union must necessarily
be a burglar. I have no right to bring any such charge.
But it gave me a hint of what courses may lead to in many cases;
and I saw them no more.
"I have only to add that the photograph you enclose, taken by a
Mr. Inglewood, is undoubtedly that of the burglar in question.
When I got home that night I looked at his card, and he was inscribed
there under the name of Innocent Smith.--Yours faithfully,
"John Clement Hawkins."
Moon merely went through the form of glancing at the paper. He knew that
the prosecutors could not have invented so heavy a document; that Moses Gould
(for one) could no more write like a canon than he could read like one.
After handing it back he rose to open the defence on the burglary charge.
"We wish," said Michael, "to give all reasonable facilities to
the prosecution; especially as it will save the time of the whole court.
The latter object I shall once again pursue by passing over all
those points of theory which are so dear to Dr. Pym. I know how they
are made. Perjury is a variety of aphasia, leading a man to say
one thing instead of another. Forgery is a kind of writer's cramp,
forcing a man to write his uncle's name instead of his own.
Piracy on the high seas is probably a form of sea-sickness. But it is
unnecessary for us to inquire into the causes of a fact which we deny.
Innocent Smith never did commit burglary at all.
"I should like to claim the power permitted by our previous arrangement,
and ask the prosecution two or three questions."
Dr. Cyrus Pym closed his eyes to indicate a courteous assent.
"In the first place," continued Moon, "have you the date of Canon Hawkins's
last glimpse of Smith and Percy climbing up the walls and roofs?"
"Ho, yus!" called out Gould smartly. "November thirteen, eighteen ninety-one."
"Have you," continued Moon, "identified the houses in Hoxton up
which they climbed?"
"Must have been Ladysmith Terrace out of the highroad,"
answered Gould with the same clockwork readiness.
"Well," said Michael, cocking an eyebrow at him, "was there any burglary
in that terrace that night? Surely you could find that out."
"There may well have been," said the doctor primly, after a pause,
"an unsuccessful one that led to no legalities."
"Another question," proceeded Michael. "Canon Hawkins, in his
blood-and-thunder boyish way, left off at the exciting moment.
Why don't you produce the evidence of the other clergyman,
who actually followed the burglar and presumably was present
at the crime?"
Dr. Pym rose and planted the points of his fingers on the table,
as he did when he was specially confident of the clearness
of his reply.
"We have entirely failed," he said, "to track the other clergyman,
who seems to have melted into the ether after Canon Hawkins had
seen him as-cending the gutters and the leads. I am fully aware
that this may strike many as sing'lar; yet, upon reflection,
I think it will appear pretty natural to a bright thinker.
This Mr. Raymond Percy is admittedly, by the canon's evidence,
a minister of eccentric ways. His con-nection with England's proudest
and fairest does not seemingly prevent a taste for the society
of the real low-down. On the other hand, the prisoner Smith is,
by general agreement, a man of irr'sistible fascination.
I entertain no doubt that Smith led the Revered Percy into the crime
and forced him to hide his head in the real crim'nal class.
That would fully account for his non-appearance, and the failure
of all attempts to trace him."
"It is impossible, then, to trace him?" asked Moon.
"Impossible," repeated the specialist, shutting his eyes.
"You are sure it's impossible?"
"Oh dry up, Michael," cried Gould, irritably. "We'd 'have
found 'im if we could, for you bet 'e saw the burglary.
Look for your own 'ead in the dustbin. You'll find that--
after a bit," and his voice died away in grumbling.
"Arthur," directed Michael Moon, sitting down, "kindly read
Mr. Raymond Percy's letter to the court."
"Wishing, as Mr. Moon has said, to shorten the proceedings as much
as possible," began Inglewood, "I will not read the first part
of the letter sent to us. It is only fair to the prosecution
to admit the account given by the second clergyman fully ratifies,
as far as the facts are concerned, that given by the first clergyman.
We concede, then, the canon's story so far as it goes. This must
necessarily be valuable to the prosecutor and also convenient to the court.
I begin Mr. Percy's letter, then, at the point when all three men
were standing on the garden wall:--
"As I watched Hawkins wavering on the wall, I made up my own mind
not to waver. A cloud of wrath was on my brain, like the cloud
of copper fog on the houses and gardens round. My decision was
violent and simple; yet the thoughts that led up to it were so
complicated and contradictory that I could not retrace them now.
I knew Hawkins was a kind, innocent gentleman; and I would have
given ten pounds for the pleasure of kicking him down the road.
That God should allow good people to be as bestially stupid as that--
rose against me like a towering blasphemy.
"At Oxford, I fear, I had the artistic temperament rather badly;
and artists love to be limited. I liked the church as a pretty pattern;
discipline was mere decoration. I delighted in mere divisions of time;
I liked eating fish on Friday. But then I like fish; and the fast
was made for men who like meat. Then I came to Hoxton and found men
who had fasted for five hundred years; men who had to gnaw fish because
they could not get meat--and fish-bones when they could not get fish.
As too many British officers treat the army as a review, so I had treated
the Church Militant as if it were the Church Pageant. Hoxton cures that.
Then I realized that for eighteen hundred years the Church Militant
had not been a pageant, but a riot--and a suppressed riot.
There, still living patiently in Hoxton, were the people to whom
the tremendous promises had been made. In the face of that I had
to become a revolutionary if I was to continue to be religious.
In Hoxton one cannot be a conservative without being also an atheist--
and a pessimist. Nobody but the devil could want to conserve Hoxton.
"On the top of all this comes Hawkins. If he had cursed all the Hoxton men,
excommunicated them, and told them they were going to hell, I should
have rather admired him. If he had ordered them all to be burned
in the market-place, I should still have had that patience that all
good Christians have with the wrongs inflicted on other people.
But there is no priestcraft about Hawkins--nor any other kind of craft.
He is as perfectly incapable of being a priest as he is of being a carpenter
or a cabman or a gardener or a plasterer. He is a perfect gentleman;
that is his complaint. He does not impose his creed, but simply his class.
He never said a word of religion in the whole of his damnable address.
He simply said all the things his brother, the major, would have said.
A voice from heaven assures me that he has a brother, and that this
brother is a major.
"When this helpless aristocrat had praised cleanliness in the body
and convention in the soul to people who could hardly keep body
and soul together, the stampede against our platform began.
I took part in his undeserved rescue, I followed his
obscure deliverer, until (as I have said) we stood together
on the wall above the dim gardens, already clouding with fog.
Then I looked at the curate and at the burglar, and decided, in a spasm
of inspiration, that the burglar was the better man of the two.
The burglar seemed quite as kind and human as the curate was--
and he was also brave and self-reliant, which the curate was not.
I knew there was no virtue in the upper class, for I belong to
it myself; I knew there was not so very much in the lower class,
for I had lived with it a long time. Many old texts about
the despised and persecuted came back to my mind, and I thought
that the saints might well be hidden in the criminal class.
About the time Hawkins let himself down the ladder I was crawling
up a low, sloping, blue-slate roof after the large man, who went
leaping in front of me like a gorilla.
"This upward scramble was short, and we soon found
ourselves tramping along a broad road of flat roofs,
broader than many big thoroughfares, with chimney-pots here
and there that seemed in the haze as bulky as small forts.
The asphyxiation of the fog seemed to increase the somewhat
swollen and morbid anger under which my brain and body laboured.
The sky and all those things that are commonly clear seemed
overpowered by sinister spirits. Tall spectres with turbans of vapour
seemed to stand higher than the sun or moon, eclipsing both.
I thought dimly of illustrations to the `Arabian Nights'
on brown paper with rich but sombre tints, showing genii
gathering round the Seal of Solomon. By the way, what was
the Seal of Solomon? Nothing to do with sealing-wax really,
I suppose; but my muddled fancy felt the thick clouds as being
of that heavy and clinging substance, of strong opaque colour,
poured out of boiling pots and stamped into monstrous emblems.
"The first effect of the tall turbaned vapours was that discoloured
look of pea-soup or coffee brown of which Londoners commonly speak.
But the scene grew subtler with familiarity. We stood above the average
of the housetops and saw something of that thing called smoke, which in
great cities creates the strange thing called fog. Beneath us rose
a forest of chimney-pots. And there stood in every chimney-pot, as if it
were a flower-pot, a brief shrub or a tall tree of coloured vapour.
The colours of the smoke were various; for some chimneys were from
firesides and some from factories, and some again from mere rubbish heaps.
And yet, though the tints were all varied, they all seemed unnatural,
like fumes from a witch's pot. It was as if the shameful and ugly
shapes growing shapeless in the cauldron sent up each its separate
spurt of steam, coloured according to the fish or flesh consumed.
Here, aglow from underneath, were dark red clouds, such as might drift
from dark jars of sacrificial blood; there the vapour was dark indigo gray,
like the long hair of witches steeped in the hell-broth. In another
place the smoke was of an awful opaque ivory yellow, such as might
be the disembodiment of one of their old, leprous waxen images.
But right across it ran a line of bright, sinister, sulphurous green,
as clear and crooked as Arabic--"
Mr. Moses Gould once more attempted the arrest of the 'bus.
He was understood to suggest that the reader should shorten
the proceedings by leaving out all the adjectives. Mrs. Duke,
who had woken up, observed that she was sure it was all very nice,
and the decision was duly noted down by Moses with a blue,
and by Michael with a red, pencil. Inglewood then resumed
the reading of the document.
"Then I read the writing of the smoke. Smoke was like the modern
city that makes it; it is not always dull or ugly, but it is always
wicked and vain.
"Modern England was like a cloud of smoke; it could carry
all colours, but it could leave nothing but a stain. It was our
weakness and not our strength that put a rich refuse in the sky.
These were the rivers of our vanity pouring into the void.
We had taken the sacred circle of the whirlwind, and looked down on it,
and seen it as a whirlpool. And then we had used it as a sink.
It was a good symbol of the mutiny in my own mind.
Only our worst things were going to heaven. Only our criminals
could still ascend like angels.
"As my brain was blinded with such emotions, my guide stopped
by one of the big chimney-pots that stood at the regular intervals
like lamp-posts along that uplifted and aerial highway.
He put his heavy hand upon it, and for the moment I thought he was
merely leaning on it, tired with his steep scramble along the terrace.
So far as I could guess from the abysses, full of fog on either side,
and the veiled lights of red brown and old gold glowing through
them now and again, we were on the top of one of those long,
consecutive, and genteel rows of houses which are still to be
found lifting their heads above poorer districts, the remains
of some rage of optimism in earlier speculative builders.
Probably enough, they were entirely untenanted, or tenanted
only by such small clans of the poor as gather also in the old
emptied palaces of Italy. Indeed, some little time later,
when the fog had lifted a little, I discovered that we
were walking round a semi-circle of crescent which fell away
below us into one flat square or wide street below another,
like a giant stairway, in a manner not unknown in the eccentric
building of London, and looking like the last ledges of the land.
But a cloud sealed the giant stairway as yet.
"My speculation about the sullen skyscape, however, were interrupted
by something as unexpected as the moon falling from the sky.
Instead of my burglar lifting his hand from the chimney
he leaned on, he leaned on it a little more heavily, and the whole
chimney-pot turned over like the opening top of an inkstand.
I remembered the short ladder leaning against the low wall and felt
sure he had arranged his criminal approach long before.
"The collapse of the big chimney-pot ought to have been the culmination
of my chaotic feelings; but, to tell the truth, it produced a sudden sense
of comedy and even of comfort. I could not recall what connected this
abrupt bit of housebreaking with some quaint but still kindly fancies.
Then I remembered the delightful and uproarious scenes of roofs and chimneys
in the harlequinades of my childhood, and was darkly and quite irrationally
comforted by a sense of unsubstantiality in the scene, as if the houses
were of lath and paint and pasteboard, and were only meant to be tumbled
in and out of by policemen and pantaloons. The law-breaking of my companion
seemed not only seriously excusable, but even comically excusable.
Who were all these pompous preposterous people with their footmen and their
foot-scrapers, their chimney-pots and their chimney-pot hats, that they
should prevent a poor clown from getting sausages if he wanted them?
One would suppose that property was a serious thing. I had reached,
as it were, a higher level of that mountainous and vapourous visions,
the heaven of a higher levity.
"My guide had jumped down into the dark cavity revealed by the displaced
chimney-pot. He must have landed at a level considerably lower, for,
tall as he was, nothing but his weirdly tousled head remained visible.
Something again far off, and yet familiar, pleased me about this way
of invading the houses of men. I thought of little chimney-sweeps,
and `The Water Babies;' but I decided that it was not that.
Then I remembered what it was that made me connect such topsy-turvy
trespass with ideas quite opposite to the idea of crime.
Christmas Eve, of course, and Santa Claus coming down the chimney.
"Almost at the same instant the hairy head disappeared into the black hole;
but I heard a voice calling to me from below. A second or two afterwards,
the hairy head reappeared; it was dark against the more fiery part of the fog,
and nothing could be spelt of its expression, but its voice called on me
to follow with that enthusiastic impatience proper only among old friends.
I jumped into the gulf, and as blindly as Curtius, for I was still thinking
of Santa Claus and the traditional virtue of such vertical entrance.
"In every well-appointed gentleman's house, I reflected, there was
the front door for the gentlemen, and the side door for the tradesmen;
but there was also the top door for the gods. The chimney is,
so to speak, the underground passage between earth and heaven.
By this starry tunnel Santa Claus manages--like the skylark--
to be true to the kindred points of heaven and home.
Nay, owing to certain conventions, and a widely distributed lack
of courage for climbing, this door was, perhaps, little used.
But Santa Claus's door was really the front door:
it was the door fronting the universe.
"I thought this as I groped my way across the black garret, or loft below
the roof, and scrambled down the squat ladder that let us down into a yet
larger loft below. Yet it was not till I was half-way down the ladder that I
suddenly stood still, and thought for an instant of retracing all my steps,
as my companion had retraced them from the beginning of the garden wall.
The name of Santa Claus had suddenly brought me back to my senses.
I remembered why Santa Clause came, and why he was welcome.
"I was brought up in the propertied classes, and with all
their horror of offences against property. I had heard all
the regular denunciations of robbery, both right and wrong;
I had read the Ten Commandments in church a thousand times.
And then and there, at the age of thirty-four, half-way
down a ladder in a dark room in the bodily act of burglar,
I saw suddenly for the first time that theft, after all,
is really wrong.
"It was too late to turn back, however, and I followed
the strangely soft footsteps of my huge companion across
the lower and larger loft, till he knelt down on a part
of the bare flooring and, after a few fumbling efforts,
lifted a sort of trapdoor. This released a light from below,
and we found ourselves looking down into a lamp-lit sitting room,
of the sort that in large houses often leads out of a bedroom,
and is an adjunct to it. Light thus breaking from beneath
our feet like a soundless explosion, showed that the trapdoor
just lifted was clogged with dust and rust, and had doubtless
been long disused until the advent of my enterprising friend.
But I did not look at this long, for the sight of the shining
room underneath us had an almost unnatural attractiveness.
To enter a modern interior at so strange an angle,
by so forgotten a door, was an epoch in one's psychology.
It was like having found a fourth dimension.
"My companion dropped from the aperture into the room so suddenly
and soundlessly, that I could do nothing but follow him;
though, for lack of practice in crime, I was by no means soundless.
Before the echo of my boots had died away, the big burglar
had gone quickly to the door, half opened it, and stood looking
down the staircase and listening. Then, leaving the door
still half open, he came back into the middle of the room,
and ran his roving blue eye round its furniture and ornament.
The room was comfortably lined with books in that rich and human
way that makes the walls seem alive; it was a deep and full,
but slovenly, bookcase, of the sort that is constantly ransacked
for the purposes of reading in bed. One of those stunted
German stoves that look like red goblins stood in a corner,
and a sideboard of walnut wood with closed doors in its lower part.
There were three windows, high but narrow. After another glance round,
my housebreaker plucked the walnut doors open and rummaged inside.
He found nothing there, apparently, except an extremely
handsome cut-glass decanter, containing what looked like port.
Somehow the sight of the thief returning with this ridiculous little
luxury in his hand woke within me once more all the revelation
and revulsion I had felt above.
"`Don't do it!' I cried quite incoherently, `Santa Claus--'
"`Ah,' said the burglar, as he put the decanter on the table
and stood looking at me, `you've thought about that, too.'
"`I can't express a millionth part of what I've thought of,' I cried,
`but it's something like this... oh, can't you see it? Why are children
not afraid of Santa Claus, though he comes like a thief in the night?
He is permitted secrecy, trespass, almost treachery--because there are
more toys where he has been. What should we feel if there were less?
Down what chimney from hell would come the goblin that should take
away the children's balls and dolls while they slept? Could a Greek
tragedy be more gray and cruel than that daybreak and awakening?
Dog-stealer, horse-stealer, man-stealer--can you think of anything
so base as a toy-stealer?'
"The burglar, as if absently, took a large revolver from his pocket and laid
it on the table beside the decanter, but still kept his blue reflective eyes
fixed on my face.
"`Man!' I said, `all stealing is toy-stealing. That's why
it's really wrong. The goods of the unhappy children of men
should be really respected because of their worthlessness.
I know Naboth's vineyard is as painted as Noah's Ark. I know
Nathan's ewe-lamb is really a woolly baa-lamb on a wooden stand.
That is why I could not take them away. I did not mind so much,
as long as I thought of men's things as their valuables;
but I dare not put a hand upon their vanities.'
"After a moment I added abruptly, `Only saints and sages ought to be robbed.
They may be stripped and pillaged; but not the poor little worldly people
of the things that are their poor little pride.'
"He set out two wineglasses from the cupboard, filled them both,
and lifted one of them with a salutation towards his lips.
"`Don't do it!' I cried. `It might be the last bottle of some rotten
vintage or other. The master of this house may be quite proud of it.
Don't you see there's something sacred in the silliness of such things?'
"`It's not the last bottle,' answered my criminal calmly;
`there's plenty more in the cellar.'
"`You know the house, then?' I said.
"`Too well,' he answered, with a sadness so strange as to have
something eerie about it. `I am always trying to forget what I know--
and to find what I don't know.' He drained his glass.
`Besides,' he added, `it will do him good.'
"`What will do him good?'
"`The wine I'm drinking,' said the strange person.
"`Does he drink too much, then?' I inquired.
"`No,' he answered, `not unless I do.'
"`Do you mean,' I demanded, `that the owner of this house approves
of all you do?'
"`God forbid,' he answered; `but he has to do the same.'
"The dead face of the fog looking in at all three windows
unreasonable increased a sense of riddle, and even terror,
about this tall, narrow house we had entered out of the sky.
I had once more the notion about the gigantic genii--
I fancied that enormous Egyptian faces, of the dead reds
and yellows of Egypt, were staring in at each window of our
little lamp-lit room as at a lighted stage of marionettes.
My companion went on playing with the pistol in front of him,
and talking with the same rather creepy confidentialness.
"`I am always trying to find him--to catch him unawares.
I come in through skylights and trapdoors to find him;
but whenever I find him--he is doing what I am doing.'
"I sprang to my feet with a thrill of fear. `There is some one coming,'
I cried, and my cry had something of a shriek in it. "Not from
the stairs below, but along the passage from the inner bedchamber
(which seemed somehow to make it more alarming), footsteps were
coming nearer. I am quite unable to say what mystery, or monster,
or double, I expected to see when the door was pushed open from within.
I am only quite certain that I did not expect to see what I did see.
"Framed in the open doorway stood, with an air of great serenity,
a rather tall young woman, definitely though indefinably artistic--
her dress the colour of spring and her hair of autumn leaves,
with a face which, though still comparatively young,
conveyed experience as well as intelligence. All she said was,
`I didn't hear you come in.'
"`I came in another way,' said the Permeator, somewhat vaguely.
`I'd left my latchkey at home.'
"I got to my feet in a mixture of politeness and mania.
`I'm really very sorry,' I cried. `I know my position is irregular.
Would you be so obliging as to tell me whose house this is.?'
"`Mine,' said the burglar, `May I present you to my wife?'
"I doubtfully, and somewhat slowly, resumed my seat;
and I did not get out of it till nearly morning. Mrs. Smith
(such was the prosaic name of this far from prosaic household)
lingered a little, talking slightly and pleasantly.
She left on my mind the impression of a certain odd mixture
of shyness and sharpness; as if she knew the world well,
but was still a little harmlessly afraid of it.
Perhaps the possession of so jumpy and incalculable a husband
had left her a little nervous. Anyhow, when she had retired
to the inner chamber once more, that extraordinary man poured
forth his apologia and autobiography over the dwindling wine.
"He had been sent to Cambridge with a view to a mathematical
and scientific, rather than a classical or literary, career.
A starless nihilism was then the philosophy of the schools;
and it bred in him a war between the members and the spirit,
but one in which the members were right. While his brain
accepted the black creed, his very body rebelled against it.
As he put it, his right hand taught him terrible things.
As the authorities of Cambridge University put it, unfortunately,
it had taken the form of his right hand flourishing a loaded
firearm in the very face of a distinguished don, and driving
him to climb out of the window and cling to a waterspout.
He had done it solely because the poor don had professed
in theory a preference for non-existence. For this
very unacademic type of argument he had been sent down.
Vomiting as he was with revulsion, from the pessimism that had
quailed under his pistol, he made himself a kind of fanatic
of the joy of life. He cut across all the associations
of serious-minded men. He was gay, but by no means careless.
His practical jokes were more in earnest than verbal ones.
Though not an optimist in the absurd sense of maintaining that
life is all beer and skittles, he did really seem to maintain
that beer and skittles are the most serious part of it.
`What is more immortal,' he would cry, `than love and war?
Type of all desire and joy--beer. Type of all battle
"There was something in him of what the old world called
the solemnity of revels--when they spoke of `solemnizing'
a mere masquerade or wedding banquet. Nevertheless he was not
a mere pagan any more than he was a mere practical joker.
His eccentricities sprang from a static fact of faith,
in itself mystical, and even childlike and Christian.
"`I don't deny,' he said, `that there should be priests to remind
men that they will one day die. I only say that at certain
strange epochs it is necessary to have another kind of priests,
called poets, actually to remind men that they are not dead yet.
The intellectuals among whom I moved were not even alive enough
to fear death. They hadn't enough blood in them to be cowards.
Until a pistol barrel was poked under their very noses they never
even knew they had been born. For ages looking up an eternal
perspective it might be true that life is a learning to die.
But for these little white rats it was just as true that death
was their only chance of learning to live.'
"His creed of wonder was Christian by this absolute test; that he felt
it continually slipping from himself as much as from others.
He had the same pistol for himself, as Brutus said of the dagger.
He continually ran preposterous risks of high precipice or headlong
speed to keep alive the mere conviction that he was alive.
He treasured up trivial and yet insane details that had once
reminded him of the awful subconscious reality. When the don
had hung on the stone gutter, the sight of his long dangling legs,
vibrating in the void like wings, somehow awoke the naked satire
of the old definition of man as a two-legged animal without feathers.
The wretched professor had been brought into peril by his head,
which he had so elaborately cultivated, and only saved
by his legs, which he had treated with coldness and neglect.
Smith could think of no other way of announcing or recording this,
except to send a telegram to an old friend (by this time a
total stranger) to say that he had just seen a man with two legs;
and that the man was alive.
"The uprush of his released optimism burst into stars like a rocket
when he suddenly fell in love. He happened to be shooting a high
and very headlong weir in a canoe, by way of proving to himself
that he was alive; and he soon found himself involved in some doubt
about the continuance of the fact. What was worse, he found he had
equally jeopardized a harmless lady alone in a rowing-boat, and one
who had provoked death by no professions of philosophic negation.
He apologized in wild gasps through all his wild wet labours to bring
her to the shore, and when he had done so at last, he seems to have
proposed to her on the bank. Anyhow, with the same impetuosity
with which he had nearly murdered her, he completely married her;
and she was the lady in green to whom I had recently and `good-night.'
"They had settled down in these high narrow houses
near Highbury. Perhaps, indeed, that is hardly the word.
One could strictly say that Smith was married, that he was very
happily married, that he not only did not care for any woman
but his wife, but did not seem to care for any place but his home;
but perhaps one could hardly say that he had settled down.
`I am a very domestic fellow,' he explained with gravity,
`and have often come in through a broken window rather than be
late for tea.'
"He lashed his soul with laughter to prevent it falling asleep.
He lost his wife a series of excellent servants by knocking at
the door as a total stranger, and asking if Mr. Smith lived there
and what kind of a man he was. The London general servant is not
used to the master indulging in such transcendental ironies.
And it was found impossible to explain to her that he did it in order
to feel the same interest in his own affairs that he always felt
in other people's.
"`I know there's a fellow called Smith,' he said in his rather
weird way, `living in one of the tall houses in this terrace.
I know he is really happy, and yet I can never catch him at it.'
"Sometimes he would, of a sudden, treat his wife with a kind of paralyzed
politeness, like a young stranger struck with love at first sight.
Sometimes he would extend this poetic fear to the very furniture;
would seem to apologize to the chair he sat on, and climb the staircase
as cautiously as a cragsman, to renew in himself the sense of their skeleton
of reality. Every stair is a ladder and every stool a leg, he said.
And at other times he would play the stranger exactly in the opposite sense,
and would enter by another way, so as to feel like a thief and a robber.
He would break and violate his own home, as he had done with me that night.
It was near morning before I could tear myself from this queer confidence
of the Man Who Would Not Die, and as I shook hands with him on the doorstep
the last load of fog was lifting, and rifts of daylight revealed the stairway
of irregular street levels that looked like the end of the world.
"It will be enough for many to say that I had passed a night with a maniac.
What other term, it will be said, could be applied to such a being?
A man who reminds himself that he is married by pretending not to be married!
A man who tries to covet his own goods instead of his neighbor's! On
this I have but one word to say, and I feel it of my honour to say it,
though no one understands. I believe the maniac was one of those who
do not merely come, but are sent; sent like a great gale upon ships
by Him who made His angels winds and His messengers a flaming fire.
This, at least, I know for certain. Whether such men have laughed
or wept, we have laughed at their laughter as much as at their weeping.
Whether they cursed or blessed the world, they have never fitted it.
It is true that men have shrunk from the sting of a great satirist
as if from the sting of an adder. But it is equally true that men flee
from the embrace of a great optimist as from the embrace of a bear.
Nothing brings down more curses than a real benediction.
For the goodness of good things, like the badness of bad things,
is a prodigy past speech; it is to be pictured rather than spoken.
We shall have gone deeper than the deeps of heaven and grown older than
the oldest angels before we feel, even in its first faint vibrations,
the everlasting violence of that double passion with which God hates
and loves the world.--I am, yours faithfully,
"Oh, 'oly, 'oly, 'oly!" said Mr. Moses Gould.
The instant he had spoken all the rest knew they had been
in an almost religious state of submission and assent.
Something had bound them together; something in the sacred tradition
of the last two words of the letter; something also in the touching
and boyish embarrassment with which Inglewood had read them--
for he had all the thin-skinned reverence of the agnostic.
Moses Gould was as good a fellow in his way as ever lived;
far kinder to his family than more refined men of pleasure,
simple and steadfast in his admiration, a thoroughly wholesome
animal and a thoroughly genuine character. But wherever there
is conflict, crises come in which any soul, personal or racial,
unconsciously turns on the world the most hateful of its hundred faces.
English reverence, Irish mysticism, American idealism,
looked up and saw on the face of Moses a certain smile.
It was that smile of the Cynic Triumphant, which has been the tocsin
for many a cruel riot in Russian villages or mediaeval towns.
"Oh, 'oly, 'oly, 'oly!" said Moses Gould.
Finding that this was not well received, he explained further,
exuberance deepening on his dark exuberant features.
"Always fun to see a bloke swallow a wasp when 'e's corfin' up a fly,"
he said pleasantly. "Don't you see you've bunged up old Smith anyhow.
If this parson's tale's O.K.--why, Smith is 'ot. 'E's pretty 'ot.
We find him elopin' with Miss Gray (best respects!) in a cab.
Well, what abart this Mrs. Smith the curate talks of, with her
blarsted shyness--transmigogrified into a blighted sharpness?
Miss Gray ain't been very sharp, but I reckon she'll be pretty shy."
"Don't be a brute," growled Michael Moon.
None could lift their eyes to look at Mary; but Inglewood sent a glance
along the table at Innocent Smith. He was still bowed above his paper toys,
and a wrinkle was on his forehead that might have been worry or shame.
He carefully plucked out one corner of a complicated paper and tucked it
in elsewhere; then the wrinkle vanished and he looked relieved.
The Round Road;
or, the Desertion Charge
Pym rose with sincere embarrassment; for he was an American,
and his respect for ladies was real, and not at all scientific.
"Ignoring," he said, "the delicate and considerable knightly protests
that have been called forth by my colleague's native sense of oration,
and apologizing to all for whom our wild search for truth seems unsuitable
to the grand ruins of a feudal land, I still think my colleague's question
by no means devoid of rel'vancy. The last charge against the accused was
one of burglary; the next charge on the paper is of bigamy and desertion.
It does without question appear that the defence, in aspiring to rebut
this last charge, have really admitted the next. Either Innocent Smith
is still under a charge of attempted burglary, or else that is exploded;
but he is pretty well fixed for attempted bigamy. It all depends on
what view we take of the alleged letter from Curate Percy. Under these
conditions I feel justified in claiming my right to questions.
May I ask how the defence got hold of the letter from Curate Percy? Did it
come direct from the prisoner?"
"We have had nothing direct from the prisoner," said Moon quietly.
"The few documents which the defence guarantees came to us
from another quarter."
"From what quarter?" asked Dr. Pym.
"If you insist," answered Moon, "we had them from Miss Gray.
"Dr. Cyrus Pym quite forgot to close his eyes, and, instead,
opened them very wide.
"Do you really mean to say," he said, "that Miss Gray was in possession
of this document testifying to a previous Mrs. Smith?"
"Quite so," said Inglewood, and sat down.
The doctor said something about infatuation in a low and painful voice,
and then with visible difficulty continued his opening remarks.
"Unfortunately the tragic truth revealed by Curate Percy's narrative
is only too crushingly confirmed by other and shocking documents
in our own possession. Of these the principal and most certain is
the testimony of Innocent Smith's gardener, who was present at the most
dramatic and eye-opening of his many acts of marital infidelity.
Mr. Gould, the gardener, please."
Mr. Gould, with his tireless cheerfulness, arose to present the gardener.
That functionary explained that he had served Mr. and Mrs. Innocent Smith when
they had a little house on the edge of Croydon. From the gardener's tale,
with its many small allusions, Inglewood grew certain he had seen the place.
It was one of those corners of town or country that one does not forget,
for it looked like a frontier. The garden hung very high above
the lane, and its end was steep and sharp, like a fortress.
Beyond was a roll of real country, with a white path sprawling across it,
and the roots, boles, and branches of great gray trees writhing and twisting
against the sky. But as if to assert that the lane itself was suburban,
were sharply relieved against that gray and tossing upland a lamp-post
that stood exactly at the corner. Inglewood was sure of the place;
he had passed it twenty times in his constitutionals on the bicycle;
he had always dimly felt it was a place where something might occur.
But it gave him quite a shiver to feel that the face of his frightful friend
or enemy Smith might at any time have appeared over the garden bushes above.
The gardener's account, unlike like the curate's, was quite free
from decorative adjectives, however many he may have uttered privately
when writing it. He simply said that on a particular morning Mr. Smith
came out and began to play about with a rake, as he often did.
Sometimes he would tickle the nose of his eldest child (he had two children);
sometimes he would hook the rake on to the branch of a tree,
and hoist himself up with horrible gymnastic jerks, like those of
a giant frog in its final agony. Never, apparently, did he think
of putting the rake to any of its proper uses, and the gardener,
in consequence, treated his actions with coldness and brevity.
But the gardener was certain that on one particular morning in October he
(the gardener) had come round the corner of the house carrying the hose,
had seen Mr. Smith standing on the lawn in a striped red and white jacket
(which might have been his smoking-jacket, but was quite as like a part
of his pyjamas), and had heard him then and there call out to his wife,
who was looking out of the bedroom window on to the garden, these decisive
and very loud expressions--
"I won't stay here any longer. I've got another wife and much
better children a long way from here. My other wife's got redder
hair than yours, and my other garden's got a much finer situation;
and I'm going off to them."
With these words, apparently, he sent the rake flying far up into the sky,
higher than many could have shot an arrow, and caught it again.
Then he cleared the hedge at a leap and alighted on his feet down
in the lane below, and set off up the road without even a hat.
Much of the picture was doubtless supplied by Inglewood's accidental
memory of the place. He could see with his mind's eye that big
bare-headed figure with the ragged rake swaggering up the crooked
woodland road, and leaving lamp-post and pillar-box behind.
But the gardener, on his own account, was quite prepared to swear
to the public confession of bigamy, to the temporary disappearance
of the rake in the sky, and the final disappearance of the man up
the road. Moreover, being a local man, he could swear that, beyond some
local rumours that Smith had embarked on the south-eastern coast,
nothing was known of him again.
This impression was somewhat curiously clinched by Michael Moon in the few
but clear phrases in which he opened the defence upon the third charge.
So far from denying that Smith had fled from Croydon and disappeared on
the Continent, he seemed prepared to prove all this on his own account.
"I hope you are not so insular," he said, "that you will not respect
the word of a French innkeeper as much as that of an English gardener.
By Mr. Inglewood's favour we will hear the French innkeeper."
Before the company had decided the delicate point Inglewood was already
reading the account in question. It was in French. It seemed to them
to run something like this:--
"Sir,--Yes; I am Durobin of Durobin's Cafe on the sea-front at Gras,
rather north of Dunquerque. I am willing to write all I know
of the stranger out of the sea.
"I have no sympathy with eccentrics or poets. A man of sense
looks for beauty in things deliberately intended to be beautiful,
such as a trim flower-bed or an ivory statuette. One does not permit
beauty to pervade one's whole life, just as one does not pave
all the roads with ivory or cover all the fields with geraniums.
My faith, but we should miss the onions!
"But whether I read things backwards through my memory, or whether there
are indeed atmospheres of psychology which the eye of science cannot
as yet pierce, it is the humiliating fact that on that particular evening
I felt like a poet--like any little rascal of a poet who drinks absinthe
in the mad Montmartre.
"Positively the sea itself looked like absinthe, green and bitter
and poisonous. I had never known it look so unfamiliar before.
In the sky was that early and stormy darkness that is so depressing to
the mind, and the wind blew shrilly round the little lonely coloured kiosk
where they sell the newspapers, and along the sand-hills by the shore.
There I saw a fishing-boat with a brown sail standing in silently from
the sea. It was already quite close, and out of it clambered a man
of monstrous stature, who came wading to shore with the water not up
to his knees, though it would have reached the hips of many men.
He leaned on a long rake or pole, which looked like a trident, and made him
look like a Triton. Wet as he was, and with strips of seaweed clinging
to him, he walked across to my cafe, and, sitting down at a table outside,
asked for cherry brandy, a liqueur which I keep, but is seldom demanded.
Then the monster, with great politeness, invited me to partake
of a vermouth before my dinner, and we fell into conversation.
He had apparently crossed from Kent by a small boat got at a private
bargain because of some odd fancy he had for passing promptly in an
easterly direction, and not waiting for any of the official boats.
He was, he somewhat vaguely explained, looking for a house. When I
naturally asked him where the house was, he answered that he did not know;
it was on an island; it was somewhere to the east; or, as he expressed
it with a hazy and yet impatient gesture, `over there.'
"I asked him how, if he did not know the place, he would know it when he
saw it. Here he suddenly ceased to be hazy, and became alarmingly minute.
He gave a description of the house detailed enough for an auctioneer.
I have forgotten nearly all the details except the last two, which were
that the lamp-post was painted green, and that there was a red pillar-box
at the corner.
"`A red pillar-box!' I cried in astonishment. `Why, the place must
be in England!'
"`I had forgotten,' he said, nodding heavily. `That is the island's name.'
"`But, ~nom du nom~,' I cried testily, `you've just come
from England, my boy.'
"`They SAID it was England,' said my imbecile, conspiratorially.
`They said it was Kent. But Kentish men are such liars one can't
believe anything they say.'
"`Monsieur,' I said, `you must pardon me. I am elderly,
and the ~fumisteries~ of the young men are beyond me.
I go by common sense, or, at the largest, by that extension
of applied common sense called science.'
"`Science!' cried the stranger. `There is only one good things
science ever discovered--a good thing, good tidings of great joy--
that the world is round.'
"I told him with civility that his words conveyed no impression
to my intelligence. `I mean,' he said, `that going right round
the world is the shortest way to where you are already.'
"`Is it not even shorter,' I asked, `to stop where you are?'
"`No, no, no!' he cried emphatically. `That way is long and very weary.
At the end of the world, at the back of the dawn, I shall find
the wife I really married and the house that is really mine.
And that house will have a greener lamp-post and a redder pillar-box.
Do you,' he asked with a sudden intensity, `do you never want to rush
out of your house in order to find it?'
"`No, I think not,' I replied; `reason tells a man from
the first to adapt his desires to the probable supply of life.
I remain here, content to fulfil the life of man.
All my interests are here, and most of my friends, and--'
"`And yet,' he cried, starting to his almost terrific height,
`you made the French Revolution!'
"`Pardon me," I said, `I am not quite so elderly.
A relative perhaps.'
"`I mean your sort did!' exclaimed this personage.
`Yes, your damned smug, settled, sensible sort made
the French Revolution. Oh! I know some say it was no good,
and you're just back where you were before. Why, blast it all,
that's just where we all want to be--back where we were before!
That is revolution--going right round! Every revolution,
like a repentance, is a return.'
"He was so excited that I waited till he had taken his seat again,
and then said something indifferent and soothing; but he struck
the tiny table with his colossal fist and went on.
"`I am going to have a revolution, not a French Revolution, but an
English Revolution. God has given to each tribe its own type of mutiny.
The Frenchmen march against the citadel of the city together; the Englishman
marches to the outskirts of the town, and alone. But I am going to turn
the world upside down, too. I'm going to turn myself upside down.
I'm going to walk upside down in the cursed upsidedownland of the Antipodes,
where trees and men hang head downward in the sky. But my revolution,
like yours, like the earth's, will end up in the holy, happy place--
the celestial, incredible place--the place where we were before.'
"With these remarks, which can scarcely be reconciled with reason,
he leapt from the seat and strode away into the twilight,
swinging his pole and leaving behind him an excessive payment,
which also pointed to some loss of mental balance.
This is all I know of the episode of the man landed from the
fishing-boat, and I hope it may serve the interests of justice.--
Accept, Sir, the assurances of the very high consideration,
with which I have the honour to be your obedient servant,
"The next document in our dossier," continued Inglewood,
"comes from the town of Crazok, in the central plains of Russia,
and runs as follows:--
"Sir,--My name is Paul Nickolaiovitch: I am the stationmaster
at the station near Crazok. The great trains go by across
the plains taking people to China, but very few people get
down at the platform where I have to watch. This makes my life
rather lonely, and I am thrown back much upon the books I have.
But I cannot discuss these very much with my neighbours,
for enlightened ideas have not spread in this part of Russia
so much as in other parts. Many of the peasants round here
have never heard of Bernard Shaw.
"I am a Liberal, and do my best to spread Liberal ideas; but since
the failure of the revolution this has been even more difficult.
The revolutionists committed many acts contrary to the pure principles
of humanitarianism, with which indeed, owing to the scarcity of books,
they were ill acquainted. I did not approve of these cruel acts,
though provoked by the tyranny of the government; but now there
is a tendency to reproach all Intelligents with the memory of them.
This is very unfortunate for Intelligents.
"It was when the railway strike was almost over, and a few trains
came through at long intervals, that I stood one day watching
a train that had come in. Only one person got out of the train,
far away up at the other end of it, for it was a very long train.
It was evening, with a cold, greenish sky. A little snow had fallen,
but not enough to whiten the plain, which stretched away a sort
of sad purple in all directions, save where the flat tops
of some distant tablelands caught the evening light like lakes.
As the solitary man came stamping along on the thin snow by the train
he grew larger and larger; I thought I had never seen so large a man.
But he looked even taller than he was, I think, because his
shoulders were very big and his head comparatively little.
From the big shoulders hung a tattered old jacket, striped dull
red and dirty white, very thin for the winter, and one hand rested
on a huge pole such as peasants rake in weeds with to burn them.
"Before he had traversed the full length of the train he was entangled in one
of those knots of rowdies that were the embers of the extinct revolution,
though they mostly disgraced themselves upon the government side.
I was just moving to his assistance, when he whirled up his rake and laid
out right and left with such energy that he came through them without scathe
and strode right up to me, leaving them staggered and really astonished.
"Yet when he reached me, after so abrupt an assertion of his aim,
he could only say rather dubiously in French that he wanted a house.
"`There are not many houses to be had round here,' I answered
in the same language, `the district has been very disturbed.
A revolution, as you know, has recently been suppressed.
Any further building--'
"`Oh! I don't mean that,' he cried; `I mean a real house--a live house.
It really is a live house, for it runs away from me.'
"`I am ashamed to say that something in his phrase or gesture
moved me profoundly. We Russians are brought up in an atmosphere
of folk-lore, and its unfortunate effects can still be seen
in the bright colours of the children's dolls and of the ikons.
For an instant the idea of a house running away from a man gave
me pleasure, for the enlightenment of man moves slowly.
"`Have you no other house of your own?' I asked.
"`I have left it,' he said very sadly. `It was not the house that grew dull,
but I that grew dull in it. My wife was better than all women, and yet I
could not feel it.'
"`And so,' I said with sympathy, `you walked straight out of the front door,
like a masculine Nora.'
"`Nora?' he inquired politely, apparently supposing it to be a Russian word.
"`I mean Nora in "The Doll's House,"' I replied.
"At this he looked very much astonished, and I knew he was an Englishman;
for Englishmen always think that Russians study nothing but `ukases.'
"`"The Doll's House"?' he cried vehemently; `why, that is just where Ibsen
was so wrong! Why, the whole aim of a house is to be a doll's house.
Don't you remember, when you were a child, how those little windows
WERE windows, while the big windows weren't. A child has a doll's house,
and shrieks when a front door opens inwards. A banker has a real house,
yet how numerous are the bankers who fail to emit the faintest shriek
when their real front doors open inwards.'
"Something from the folk-lore of my infancy still kept me foolishly silent;
and before I could speak, the Englishman had leaned over and was saying
in a sort of loud whisper, `I have found out how to make a big thing small.
I have found out how to turn a house into a doll's house. Get a long
way off it: God lets us turn all things into toys by his great gift
of distance. Once let me see my old brick house standing up quite
little against the horizon, and I shall want to go back to it again.
I shall see the funny little toy lamp-post painted green against the gate,
and all the dear little people like dolls looking out of the window.
For the windows really open in my doll's house.'
"`But why?' I asked, `should you wish to return to that particular
doll's house? Having taken, like Nora, the bold step against convention,
having made yourself in the conventional sense disreputable, having dared
to be free, why should you not take advantage of your freedom?
As the greatest modern writers have pointed out, what you called your
marriage was only your mood. You have a right to leave it all behind,
like the clippings of your hair or the parings of your nails.
Having once escaped, you have the world before you. Though the words
may seem strange to you, you are free in Russia.'
"He sat with his dreamy eyes on the dark circles of the plains,
where the only moving thing was the long and labouring trail of smoke
out of the railway engine, violet in tint, volcanic in outline,
the one hot and heavy cloud of that cold clear evening of pale green.
"`Yes,' he said with a huge sigh, `I am free in Russia. You are right.
I could really walk into that town over there and have love all over again,
and perhaps marry some beautiful woman and begin again, and nobody could
ever find me. Yes, you have certainly convinced me of something.'
"His tone was so queer and mystical that I felt impelled to ask
him what he meant, and of what exactly I had convinced him.
"`You have convinced me,' he said with the same dreamy eye,
`why it is really wicked and dangerous for a man to run away
from his wife.'
"`And why is it dangerous?' I inquired.
"`Why, because nobody can find him,' answered this odd person,
`and we all want to be found.'
"`The most original modern thinkers,' I remarked,
`Ibsen, Gorki, Nietzsche, Shaw, would all rather say that what we
want most is to be lost: to find ourselves in untrodden paths,
and to do unprecedented things: to break with the past and belong
to the future.'
"He rose to his whole height somewhat sleepily, and looked round on
what was, I confess, a somewhat desolate scene--the dark purple plains,
the neglected railroad, the few ragged knots of malcontents.
`I shall not find the house here,' he said. `It is still eastward--
further and further eastward.'
"Then he turned upon me with something like fury, and struck the foot
of his pole upon the frozen earth.
"`And if I do go back to my country,' he cried, `I may be locked up in a
madhouse before I reach my own house. I have been a bit unconventional
in my time! Why, Nietzsche stood in a row of ramrods in the silly old
Prussian army, and Shaw takes temperance beverages in the suburbs;
but the things I do are unprecedented things. This round road I
am treading is an untrodden path. I do believe in breaking out;
I am a revolutionist. But don't you see that all these real leaps
and destructions and escapes are only attempts to get back to Eden--
to something we have had, to something we at least have heard of?
Don't you see one only breaks the fence or shoots the moon in order
to get HOME?'
"`No,' I answered after due reflection, `I don't think I should accept that.'
"`Ah,' he said with a sort of a sigh, `then you have explained a second
thing to me.'
"`What do you mean?' I asked; `what thing?'
"`Why your revolution has failed,' he said; and walking across quite
suddenly to the train he got into it just as it was steaming away at last.
And as I saw the long snaky tail of it disappear along the darkening flats.
"I saw no more of him. But though his views were adverse to the best
advanced thought, he struck me as an interesting person: I should
like to find out if he has produced any literary works.--Yours, etc.,
There was something in this odd set of glimpses into foreign lives which kept
the absurd tribunal quieter than it had hitherto been, and it was again
without interruption that Inglewood opened another paper upon his pile.
"The Court will be indulgent," he said, "if the next note lacks the special
ceremonies of our letter-writing. It is ceremonious enough in its own way:--
"The Celestial Principles are permanent: Greeting.--I am Wong-Hi,
and I tend the temple of all the ancestors of my family in the forest
of Fu. The man that broke through the sky and came to me said that it
must be very dull, but I showed him the wrongness of his thought.
I am indeed in one place, for my uncle took me to this
temple when I was a boy, and in this I shall doubtless die.
But if a man remain in one place he shall see that the place changes.
The pagoda of my temple stands up silently out of all the trees,
like a yellow pagoda above many green pagodas. But the skies
are sometimes blue like porcelain, and sometimes green like jade,
and sometimes red like garnet. But the night is always ebony
and always returns, said the Emperor Ho.
"The sky-breaker came at evening very suddenly, for I had hardly
seen any stirring in the tops of the green trees over which I look
as over a sea, when I go to the top of the temple at morning.
And yet when he came, it was as if an elephant had strayed
from the armies of the great kings of India. For palms snapped,
and bamboos broke, and there came forth in the sunshine before
the temple one taller than the sons of men.
"Strips of red and white hung about him like ribbons of a carnival,
and he carried a pole with a row of teeth on it like the teeth of a dragon.
His face was white and discomposed, after the fashion of the foreigners,
so that they look like dead men filled with devils; and he spoke
our speech brokenly.
"He said to me, `This is only a temple; I am trying to find a house.'
And then he told me with indelicate haste that the lamp outside his house
was green, and that there was a red post at the corner of it.
"`I have not seen your house nor any houses,' I answered.
`I dwell in this temple and serve the gods.'
"`Do you believe in the gods?' he asked with hunger in his eyes,
like the hunger of dogs. And this seemed to me a strange question
to ask, for what should a man do except what men have done?
"`My Lord,' I said, `it must be good for men to hold up their hands even
if the skies are empty. For if there are gods, they will be pleased,
and if there are none, then there are none to be displeased.
Sometimes the skies are gold and sometimes porphyry and sometimes
ebony, but the trees and the temple stand still under it all.
So the great Confucius taught us that if we do always the same things
with our hands and our feet as do the wise beasts and birds, with our
heads we may think many things: yes, my Lord, and doubt many things.
So long as men offer rice at the right season, and kindle lanterns
at the right hour, it matters little whether there be gods or no.
For these things are not to appease gods, but to appease men.'
"He came yet closer to me, so that he seemed enormous;
yet his look was very gentle.
"`Break your temple,' he said, `and your gods will be freed.'
"And I, smiling at his simplicity, answered: `And so, if there be no gods,
I shall have nothing but a broken temple.'
"And at this, that giant from whom the light of reason was
withheld threw out his mighty arms and asked me to forgive him.
And when I asked him for what he should be forgiven he answered:
`For being right.'
"`Your idols and emperors are so old and wise and satisfying,'
he cried, `it is a shame that they should be wrong.
We are so vulgar and violent, we have done you so many iniquities--
it is a shame we should be right after all.'
"And I, still enduring his harmlessness, asked him why he thought
that he and his people were right.
"And he answered: `We are right because we are bound where
men should be bound, and free where men should be free.
We are right because we doubt and destroy laws and customs--
but we do not doubt our own right to destroy them. For you live
by customs, but we live by creeds. Behold me! In my country I
am called Smip. My country is abandoned, my name is defiled,
because I pursue around the world what really belongs to me.
You are steadfast as the trees because you do not believe.
I am as fickle as the tempest because I do believe.
I do believe in my own house, which I shall find again.
And at the last remaineth the green lantern and the red post.'
"I said to him: `At the last remaineth only wisdom.'
"But even as I said the word he uttered a horrible shout,
and rushing forward disappeared among the trees.
I have not seen this man again nor any other man.
The virtues of the wise are of fine brass.
"The next letter I have to read," proceeded Arthur Inglewood, "will probably
make clear the nature of our client's curious but innocent experiment.
It is dated from a mountain village in California, and runs as follows:--
"Sir,--A person answering to the rather extraordinary
description required certainly went, some time ago,
over the high pass of the Sierras on which I live and
of which I am probably the sole stationary inhabitant.
I keep a rudimentary tavern, rather ruder than a hut,
on the very top of this specially steep and threatening pass.
My name is Louis Hara, and the very name may puzzle you
about my nationality. Well, it puzzles me a great deal.
When one has been for fifteen years without society it is hard
to have patriotism; and where there is not even a hamlet it
is difficult to invent a nation. My father was an Irishman of
the fiercest and most free-shooting of the old Californian kind.
My mother was a Spaniard, proud of descent from the old
Spanish families round San Francisco, yet accused for all that
of some admixture of Red Indian blood. I was well educated
and fond of music and books. But, like many other hybrids,
I was too good or too bad for the world; and after attempting
many things I was glad enough to get a sufficient though
a lonely living in this little cabaret in the mountains.
In my solitude I fell into many of the ways of a savage.
Like an Eskimo, I was shapeless in winter; like a Red Indian, I wore
in hot summers nothing but a pair of leather trousers, with a
great straw hat as big as a parasol to defend me from the sun.
I had a bowie knife at my belt and a long gun under my arm;
and I dare say I produced a pretty wild impression on the few
peaceable travellers that could climb up to my place.
But I promise you I never looked as mad as that man did.
Compared with him I was Fifth Avenue.
"I dare say that living under the very top of the Sierras has an odd
effect on the mind; one tends to think of those lonely rocks not as peaks
coming to a point, but rather as pillars holding up heaven itself.
Straight cliffs sail up and away beyond the hope of the eagles;
cliffs so tall that they seem to attract the stars and collect them as
sea-crags collect a mere glitter of phosphorous. These terraces and towers
of rock do not, like smaller crests, seem to be the end of the world.
Rather they seem to be its awful beginning: its huge foundations.
We could almost fancy the mountain branching out above us like a tree
of stone, and carrying all those cosmic lights like a candelabrum.
For just as the peaks failed us, soaring impossibly far,
so the stars crowded us (as it seemed), coming impossibly near.
The spheres burst about us more like thunderbolts hurled at the earth
than planets circling placidly about it.
"All this may have driven me mad: I am not sure. I know there is one
angle of the road down the pass where the rock leans out a little,
and on window nights I seem to hear it clashing overhead with other rocks--
yes, city against city and citadel against citadel, far up into the night.
It was on such an evening that the strange man struggled up the pass.
Broadly speaking, only strange men did struggle up the pass.
But I had never seen one like this one before.
"He carried (I cannot conceive why) a long, dilapidated
garden rake, all bearded and bedraggled with grasses,
so that it looked like the ensign of some old barbarian tribe.
His hair, which was as long and rank as the grass, hung down
below his huge shoulders; and such clothes as clung about him
were rags and tongues of red and yellow, so that he had the air
of being dressed like an Indian in feathers or autumn leaves.
The rake or pitchfork, or whatever it was, he used sometimes
as an alpenstock, sometimes (I was told) as a weapon.
I do not know why he should have used it as a weapon, for he had,
and afterwards showed me, an excellent six-shooter in his pocket.
`But THAT,' he said, `I use only for peaceful purposes.'
I have no notion what he meant.
"He sat down on the rough bench outside my inn and drank some wine
from the vineyards below, sighing with ecstasy over it like one
who had travelled long among alien, cruel things and found at last
something that he knew. Then he sat staring rather foolishly at
the rude lantern of lead and coloured glass that hangs over my door.
It is old, but of no value; my grandmother gave it to me long ago:
she was devout, and it happens that the glass is painted with a crude
picture of Bethlehem and the Wise Men and the Star. He seemed
so mesmerized with the transparent glow of Our Lady's blue gown and
the big gold star behind, that he led me also to look at the thing,
which I had not done for fourteen years.
"Then he slowly withdrew his eyes from this and looked out eastward
where the road fell away below us. The sunset sky was a vault
of rich velvet, fading away into mauve and silver round the edges
of the dark mountain ampitheatre; and between us and the ravine below
rose up out of the deeps and went up into the heights the straight
solitary rock we call Green Finger. Of a queer volcanic colour,
and wrinkled all over with what looks undecipherable writing,
it hung there like a Babylonian pillar or needle.
"The man silently stretched out his rake in that direction,
and before he spoke I knew what he meant. Beyond the great green
rock in the purple sky hung a single star.
"`A star in the east,' he said in a strange hoarse voice like one of our
ancient eagles'. `The wise men followed the star and found the house.
But if I followed the star, should I find the house?'
"`It depends perhaps,' I said, smiling, `on whether you are a wise man.'
I refrained from adding that he certainly didn't look it.
"`You may judge for yourself,' he answered. `I am a man who left his own
house because he could no longer bear to be away from it.'
"`It certainly sounds paradoxical,' I said.
"`I heard my wife and children talking and saw them moving
about the room,' he continued, `and all the time I knew
they were walking and talking in another house thousands
of miles away, under the light of different skies, and beyond
the series of the seas. I loved them with a devouring love,
because they seemed not only distant but unattainable.
Never did human creatures seem so dear and so desirable:
but I seemed like a cold ghost; therefore I cast off
their dust from my feet for a testimony. Nay, I did more.
I spurned the world under my feet so that it swung full circle
like a treadmill.'
"`Do you really mean,' I cried, `that you have come right round the world?
Your speech is English, yet you are coming from the west.'
"`My pilgrimage is not yet accomplished,' he replied sadly.
`I have become a pilgrim to cure myself of being an exile.'
"Something in the word `pilgrim' awoke down in the roots
of my ruinous experience memories of what my fathers had
felt about the world, and of something from whence I came.
I looked again at the little pictured lantern at which I had
not looked for fourteen years.
"`My grandmother,' I said in a low tone, `would have said that we
were all in exile, and that no earthly house could cure the holy
home-sickness that forbids us rest.'
"He was silent a long while, and watched a single eagle drift
out beyond the Green Finger into the darkening void.
"Then he said, `I think your grandmother was right,' and stood up
leaning on his grassy pole. `I think that must be the reason,'
he said--`the secret of this life of man, so ecstatic and so unappeased.
But I think there is more to be said. I think God has given us
the love of special places, of a hearth and of a native land,
for a good reason.'
"`I dare say,' I said. `What reason?'
"`Because otherwise,' he said, pointing his pole out at the sky and the abyss,
`we might worship that.'
"`What do you mean?' I demanded.
"`Eternity,' he said in his harsh voice, `the largest of the idols--
the mightiest of the rivals of God.'
"`You mean pantheism and infinity and all that,' I suggested.
"`I mean,' he said with increasing vehemence, `that if there be a house
for me in heaven it will either have a green lamp-post and a hedge,
or something quite as positive and personal as a green lamp-post
and a hedge. I mean that God bade me love one spot and serve it,
and do all things however wild in praise of it, so that this one spot
might be a witness against all the infinities and the sophistries,
that Paradise is somewhere and not anywhere, is something and not anything.
And I would not be so very much surprised if the house in heaven had
a real green lamp-post after all.'
"With which he shouldered his pole and went striding down
the perilous paths below, and left me alone with the eagles.
But since he went a fever of homelessness will often shake me.
I am troubled by rainy meadows and mud cabins that I have
never seen; and I wonder whether America will endure.--
Yours faithfully, Louis Hara."
After a short silence Inglewood said: "And, finally, we desire
to put in as evidence the following document:--
"This is to say that I am Ruth Davis, and have been housemaid to
Mrs. I. Smith at `The Laurels' in Croydon for the last six months.
When I came the lady was alone, with two children; she was not a widow,
but her husband was away. She was left with plenty of money and did not
seem disturbed about him, though she often hoped he would be back soon.
She said he was rather eccentric and a little change did him good.
One evening last week I was bringing the tea-things out on to the lawn
when I nearly dropped them. The end of a long rake was suddenly stuck
over the hedge, and planted like a jumping-pole; and over the hedge,
just like a monkey on a stick, came a huge, horrible man, all hairy
and ragged like Robinson Crusoe. I screamed out, but my mistress didn't
even get out of her chair, but smiled and said he wanted shaving.
Then he sat down quite calmly at the garden table and took a cup
of tea, and then I realized that this must be Mr. Smith himself.
He has stopped here ever since and does not really give much trouble,
though I sometimes fancy he is a little weak in his head.
"P.S.--I forgot to say that he looked round at the garden and said,
very loud and strong: `Oh, what a lovely place you've got;'
just as if he'd never seen it before."
The room had been growing dark and drowsy; the afternoon sun sent one
heavy shaft of powdered gold across it, which fell with an intangible
solemnity upon the empty seat of Mary Gray, for the younger women
had left the court before the more recent of the investigations.
Mrs. Duke was still asleep, and Innocent Smith, looking like a large
hunchback in the twilight, was bending closer and closer to his paper toys.
But the five men really engaged in the controversy, and concerned not
to convince the tribunal but to convince each other, still sat round
the table like the Committee of Public Safety.
Suddenly Moses Gould banged one big scientific book on top of another,
cocked his little legs up against the table, tipped his chair
backwards so far as to be in direct danger of falling over,
emitted a startling and prolonged whistle like a steam engine,
and asserted that it was all his eye.
When asked by Moon what was all his eye, he banged down behind
the books again and answered with considerable excitement,
throwing his papers about. "All those fairy-tales you've
been reading out," he said. "Oh! don't talk to me!
I ain't littery and that, but I know fairy-tales when I hear 'em.
I got a bit stumped in some of the philosophical bits
and felt inclined to go out for a B. and S. But we're living
in West 'Ampstead and not in 'Ell; and the long and the short
of it is that some things 'appen and some things don't 'appen.
Those are the things that don't 'appen."
"I thought," said Moon gravely, "that we quite clearly explained--"
"Oh yes, old chap, you quite clearly explained," assented Mr. Gould
with extraordinary volubility. "You'd explain an elephant
off the doorstep, you would. I ain't a clever chap like you;
but I ain't a born natural, Michael Moon, and when there's
an elephant on my doorstep I don't listen to no explanations.
`It's got a trunk,' I says.--`My trunk,' you says:
`I'm fond of travellin', and a change does me good.'--`But
the blasted thing's got tusks,' I says.--`Don't look a gift 'orse
in the mouth,' you says, `but thank the goodness and the graice
that on your birth 'as smiled.'--`But it's nearly as big as
the 'ouse,' I says.--`That's the bloomin' perspective,' you says,
`and the sacred magic of distance.'--`Why, the elephant's trumpetin'
like the Day of Judgement,' I says.--`That's your own conscience
a-talking to you, Moses Gould,' you says in a grive and
tender voice. Well, I 'ave got a conscience as much as you.
I don't believe most of the things they tell you in church
on Sundays; and I don't believe these 'ere things any more
because you goes on about 'em as if you was in church.
I believe an elephant's a great big ugly dingerous beast--
and I believe Smith's another."
"Do you mean to say," asked Inglewood, "that you still doubt the evidence
of exculpation we have brought forward?"
"Yes, I do still doubt it," said Gould warmly. "It's all
a bit too far-fetched, and some of it a bit too far off.
'Ow can we test all those tales? 'Ow can we drop in and buy
the `Pink 'Un' at the railway station at Kosky Wosky or whatever
it was? 'Ow can we go and do a gargle at the saloon-bar on top
of the Sierra Mountains? But anybody can go and see Bunting's
boarding-house at Worthing."
Moon regarded him with an expression of real or assumed surprise.
"Any one," continued Gould, "can call on Mr. Trip."
"It is a comforting thought," replied Michael with restraint;
"but why should any one call on Mr. Trip?"
"For just exactly the sime reason," cried the excited Moses,
hammering on the table with both hands, "for just exactly the sime
reason that he should communicate with Messrs. 'Anbury and Bootle
of Paternoster Row and with Miss Gridley's 'igh class Academy
at 'Endon, and with old Lady Bullingdon who lives at Penge."
"Again, to go at once to the moral roots of life," said Michael,
"why is it among the duties of man to communicate with old
Lady Bullingdon who lives at Penge?"
"It ain't one of the duties of man," said Gould, "nor one of his pleasures,
either, I can tell you. She takes the crumpet, does Lady Bullingdon
at Penge. But it's one of the duties of a prosecutor pursuin'
the innocent, blameless butterfly career of your friend Smith,
and it's the sime with all the others I mentioned."
"But why do you bring in these people here?" asked Inglewood.
"Why! Because we've got proof enough to sink a steamboat,"
roared Moses; "because I've got the papers in my very 'and;
because your precious Innocent is a blackguard and 'ome smasher,
and these are the 'omes he's smashed. I don't set up for a 'oly man;
but I wouldn't 'ave all those poor girls on my conscience for something.
And I think a chap that's capable of deserting and perhaps
killing 'em all is about capable of cracking a crib or shootin'
an old schoolmaster--so I don't care much about the other yarns
one way or another."
"I think," said Dr. Cyrus Pym with a refined cough,
"that we are approaching this matter rather irregularly.
This is really the fourth charge on the charge sheet,
and perhaps I had better put it before you in an ordered
and scientific manner."
Nothing but a faint groan from Michael broke the silence
of the darkening room.
The Wild Weddings;
or, the Polygamy Charge
"A modern man," said Dr. Cyrus Pym, "must, if he be thoughtful,
approach the problem of marriage with some caution.
Marriage is a stage--doubtless a suitable stage--in the long
advance of mankind towards a goal which we cannot as yet conceive;
which we are not, perhaps, as yet fitted even to desire.
What, gentlemen, is the ethical position of marriage?
Have we outlived it?"
"Outlived it?" broke out Moon; "why, nobody's ever survived it!
Look at all the people married since Adam and Eve--and all
as dead as mutton."
"This is no doubt an inter-pellation joc'lar in its character,"
said Dr. Pym frigidly. "I cannot tell what may be Mr. Moon's
matured and ethical view of marriage--"
"I can tell," said Michael savagely, out of the gloom. "Marriage is a duel
to the death, which no man of honour should decline."
"Michael," said Arthur Inglewood in a low voice, "you MUST keep quiet."
"Mr. Moon," said Pym with exquisite good temper, "probably regards
the institution in a more antiquated manner. Probably he would make
it stringent and uniform. He would treat divorce in some great soul
of steel--the divorce of a Julius Caesar or of a Salt Ring Robinson--
exactly as he would treat some no-account tramp or labourer who
scoots from his wife. Science has views broader and more humane.
Just as murder for the scientist is a thirst for absolute destruction,
just as theft for the scientist is a hunger for monotonous acquisition,
so polygamy for the scientist is an extreme development of the instinct
for variety. A man thus afflicted is incapable of constancy.
Doubtless there is a physical cause for this flitting from flower to flower--
as there is, doubtless, for the intermittent groaning which appears
to afflict Mr. Moon at the present moment. Our own world-scorning
Winterbottom has even dared to say, `For a certain rare and fine
physical type polygamy is but the realization of the variety of females,
as comradeship is the realization of the variety of males.'
In any case, the type that tends to variety is recognized by all
authoritative inquirers. Such a type, if the widower of a negress,
does in many ascertained cases espouse ~en seconde noces~ an albino;
such a type, when freed from the gigantic embraces of a female Patagonian,
will often evolve from its own imaginative instinct the consoling figure of
an Eskimo. To such a type there can be no doubt that the prisoner belongs.
If blind doom and unbearable temptation constitute any slight excuse
for a man, there is no doubt that he has these excuses.
"Earlier in the inquiry the defence showed real chivalric
ideality in admitting half of our story without further dispute.
We should like to acknowledge and imitate so eminently large-hearted
a style by conceding also that the story told by Curate Percy about
the canoe, the weir, and the young wife seems to be substantially true.
Apparently Smith did marry a young woman he had nearly run down in a boat;
it only remains to be considered whether it would not have been
kinder of him to have murdered her instead of marrying her.
In confirmation of this fact I can now con-cede to the defence
an unquestionable record of such a marriage."
So saying, he handed across to Michael a cutting from the
"Maidenhead Gazette" which distinctly recorded the marriage
of the daughter of a "coach," a tutor well known in the place,
to Mr. Innocent Smith, late of Brakespeare College, Cambridge.
When Dr. Pym resumed it was realized that his face had grown
at once both tragic and triumphant.
"I pause upon this pre-liminary fact," he said seriously,
"because this fact alone would give us the victory,
were we aspiring after victory and not after truth.
As far as the personal and domestic problem holds us,
that problem is solved. Dr. Warner and I entered this house at
an instant of highly emotional diff'culty. England's Warner has
entered many houses to save human kind from sickness; this time
he entered to save an innocent lady from a walking pestilence.
Smith was just about to carry away a young girl from this house;
his cab and bag were at the very door. He had told her she was
going to await the marriage license at the house of his aunt.
That aunt," continued Cyrus Pym, his face darkening grandly--"that
visionary aunt had been the dancing will-o'-the-wisp
who had led many a high-souled maiden to her doom.
Into how many virginal ears has he whispered that holy word?
When he said `aunt' there glowed about her all the merriment
and high morality of the Anglo-Saxon home. Kettles began to hum,
pussy cats to purr, in that very wild cab that was being
driven to destruction."
Inglewood looked up, to find, to his astonishment (as many another
denizen of the eastern hemisphere has found), that the American was
not only perfectly serious, but was really eloquent and affecting--
when the difference of the hemispheres was adjusted.
"It is therefore atrociously evident that the man Smith has at
least represented himself to one innocent female of this house
as an eligible bachelor, being, in fact, a married man. I agree with
my colleague, Mr. Gould, that no other crime could approximate to this.
As to whether what our ancestors called purity has any ultimate ethical
value indeed, science hesitates with a high, proud hesitation.
But what hesitation can there be about the baseness of a citizen
who ventures, by brutal experiments upon living females, to anticipate
the verdict of science on such a point?
"The woman mentioned by Curate Percy as living with Smith
in Highbury may or may not be the same as the lady he married
in Maidenhead. If one short sweet spell of constancy and heart
repose interrupted the plunging torrent of his profligate life,
we will not deprive him of that long past possibility.
After that conjectural date, alas, he seems to have plunged deeper
and deeper into the shaking quagmires of infidelity and shame."
Dr. Pym closed his eyes, but the unfortunate fact that there was no more
light left this familiar signal without its full and proper moral effect.
After a pause, which almost partook of the character of prayer, he continued.
"The first instance of the accused's repeated and irregular nuptials,"
he exclaimed, "comes from Lady Bullingdon, who expresses herself
with the high haughtiness which must be excused in those who look
out upon all mankind from the turrets of a Norman and ancestral keep.
The communication she has sent to us runs as follows:--
"Lady Bullingdon recalls the painful incident to which reference
is made, and has no desire to deal with it in detail.
The girl Polly Green was a perfectly adequate dressmaker,
and lived in the village for about two years. Her unattached
condition was bad for her as well as for the general morality
of the village. Lady Bullingdon, therefore, allowed it to be
understood that she favoured the marriage of the young woman.
The villagers, naturally wishing to oblige Lady Bullingdon,
came forward in several cases; and all would have been well had it
not been for the deplorable eccentricity or depravity of the girl
Green herself. Lady Bullingdon supposes that where there is
a village there must be a village idiot, and in her village,
it seems, there was one of these wretched creatures.
Lady Bullingdon only saw him once, and she is quite aware
that it is really difficult to distinguish between actual
idiots and the ordinary heavy type of the rural lower classes.
She noticed, however, the startling smallness of his head
in comparison to the rest of his body; and, indeed, the fact
of his having appeared upon election day wearing the rosette
of both the two opposing parties appears to Lady Bullingdon
to put the matter quite beyond doubt. Lady Bullingdon was
astounded to learn that this afflicted being had put himself
forward as one of the suitors of the girl in question.
Lady Bullingdon's nephew interviewed the wretch upon the point,
telling him that he was a `donkey' to dream of such a thing,
and actually received, along with an imbecile grin,
the answer that donkeys generally go after carrots.
But Lady Bullingdon was yet further amazed to find the unhappy
girl inclined to accept this monstrous proposal, though she
was actually asked in marriage by Garth, the undertaker, a man
in a far superior position to her own. Lady Bullingdon could not,
of course, countenance such an arrangement for a moment,
and the two unhappy persons escaped for a clandestine marriage.
Lady Bullingdon cannot exactly recall the man's name,
but thinks it was Smith. He was always called in the village
the Innocent. Later, Lady Bullingdon believes he murdered
Green in a mental outbreak."
"The next communication," proceeded Pym, "is more conspicuous for brevity,
but I am of the opinion that it will adequately convey the upshot.
It is dated from the offices of Messrs. Hanbury and Bootle, publishers,
and is as follows:--
"Sir,--Yrs. rcd. and conts. noted. Rumour re typewriter possibly refers
to a Miss Blake or similar name, left here nine years ago to marry an
organ-grinder. Case was undoubtedly curious, and attracted police attention.
Girl worked excellently till about Oct. 1907, when apparently went mad.
Record was written at the time, part of which I enclose.--
Yrs., etc., W. Trip."
"The fuller statement runs as follows:--
"On October 12 a letter was sent from this office to Messrs.
Bernard and Juke, bookbinders. Opened by Mr. Juke, it was found
to contain the following: `Sir, our Mr. Trip will call at 3,
as we wish to know whether it is really decided 00000073bb!!!!!xy.'
To this Mr. Juke, a person of a playful mind, returned the answer:
`Sir, I am in a position to give it as my most decided opinion
that it is not really decided that 00000073bb!!!!!xy.' Yrs., etc.,
"On receiving this extraordinary reply, our Mr. Trip asked for the original
letter sent from him, and found that the typewriter had indeed substituted
these demented hieroglyphics for the sentences really dictated to her.
Our Mr. Trip interviewed the girl, fearing that she was in an
unbalanced state, and was not much reassured when she merely remarked
that she always went like that when she heard the barrel organ.
Becoming yet more hysterical and extravagant, she made a series of most
improbable statements--as, that she was engaged to the barrel-organ man,
that he was in the habit of serenading her on that instrument,
that she was in the habit of playing back to him upon the typewriter
(in the style of King Richard and Blondel), and that the organ man's
musical ear was so exquisite and his adoration of herself so ardent
that he could detect the note of the different letters on the machine,
and was enraptured by them as by a melody. To all these statements
of course our Mr. Trip and the rest of us only paid that sort of assent
that is paid to persons who must as quickly as possible be put in the
charge of their relations. But on our conducting the lady downstairs,
her story received the most startling and even exasperating confirmation;
for the organ-grinder, an enormous man with a small head and manifestly
a fellow-lunatic, had pushed his barrel organ in at the office doors
like a battering-ram, and was boisterously demanding his alleged fiancee.
When I myself came on the scene he was flinging his great, ape-like arms about
and reciting a poem to her. But we were used to lunatics coming and reciting
poems in our office, and we were not quite prepared for what followed.
The actual verse he uttered began, I think,
`O vivid, inviolate head,
but he never got any further. Mr. Trip made a sharp
movement towards him, and the next moment the giant picked
up the poor lady typewriter like a doll, sat her on top
of the organ, ran it with a crash out of the office doors,
and raced away down the street like a flying wheelbarrow.
I put the police upon the matter; but no trace of the amazing
pair could be found. I was sorry myself; for the lady was
not only pleasant but unusually cultivated for her position.
As I am leaving the service of Messrs. Hanbury and Bootle, I put
these things in a record and leave it with them.
"(Signed) Aubrey Clarke,
"And the last document," said Dr. Pym complacently, "is from
one of those high-souled women who have in this age introduced
your English girlhood to hockey, the higher mathematics,
and every form of ideality.
"Dear Sir (she writes),--I have no objection to telling you
the facts about the absurd incident you mention; though I would
ask you to communicate them with some caution, for such things,
however entertaining in the abstract, are not always auxiliary
to the success of a girls' school. The truth is this:
I wanted some one to deliver a lecture on a philological
or historical question--a lecture which, while containing
solid educational matter, should be a little more popular and
entertaining than usual, as it was the last lecture of the term.
I remembered that a Mr. Smith of Cambridge had written somewhere
or other an amusing essay about his own somewhat ubiquitous name--
an essay which showed considerable knowledge of genealogy
and topography. I wrote to him, asking if he would come and
give us a bright address upon English surnames; and he did.
It was very bright, almost too bright. To put the matter otherwise,
by the time that he was halfway through it became apparent
to the other mistresses and myself that the man was totally
and entirely off his head. He began rationally enough by dealing
with the two departments of place names and trade names, and he said
(quite rightly, I dare say) that the loss of all significance
in names was an instance of the deadening of civilization.
But then he went on calmly to maintain that every man who had
a place name ought to go to live in that place, and that every
man who had a trade name ought instantly to adopt that trade;
that people named after colours should always dress in those colours,
and that people named after trees or plants (such as Beech or Rose)
ought to surround and decorate themselves with these vegetables.
In a slight discussion that arose afterwards among the elder girls
the difficulties of the proposal were clearly, and even eagerly,
pointed out. It was urged, for instance, by Miss Younghusband
that it was substantially impossible for her to play the part
assigned to her; Miss Mann was in a similar dilemma, from which
no modern views on the sexes could apparently extricate her;
and some young ladies, whose surnames happened to be Low, Coward,
and Craven, were quite enthusiastic against the idea.
But all this happened afterwards. What happened at the crucial
moment was that the lecturer produced several horseshoes and a
large iron hammer from his bag, announced his immediate intention
of setting up a smithy in the neighbourhood, and called on every
one to rise in the same cause as for a heroic revolution.
The other mistresses and I attempted to stop the wretched man,
but I must confess that by an accident this very intercession
produced the worst explosion of his insanity. He was waving
the hammer, and wildly demanding the names of everybody;
and it so happened that Miss Brown, one of the younger teachers,
was wearing a brown dress--a reddish-brown dress that went quietly
enough with the warmer colour of her hair, as well she knew.
She was a nice girl, and nice girls do know about those things.
But when our maniac discovered that we really had a Miss Brown
who WAS brown, his ~idee fixe~ blew up like a powder magazine,
and there, in the presence of all the mistresses and girls,
he publicly proposed to the lady in the red-brown dress.
You can imagine the effect of such a scene at a girls' school.
At least, if you fail to imagine it, I certainly fail
to describe it.
"Of course, the anarchy died down in a week or two, and I can
think of it now as a joke. There was only one curious detail,
which I will tell you, as you say your inquiry is vital; but I should
desire you to consider it a little more confidential than the rest.
Miss Brown, who was an excellent girl in every way, did quite
suddenly and surreptitiously leave us only a day or two afterwards.
I should never have thought that her head would be the one
to be really turned by so absurd an excitement.--Believe me,
yours faithfully, Ada Gridley.
"I think," said Pym, with a really convincing simplicity and seriousness,
"that these letters speak for themselves."
Mr. Moon rose for the last time in a darkness that gave no hint
of whether his native gravity was mixed with his native irony.
"Throughout this inquiry," he said, "but especially in this its
closing phase, the prosecution has perpetually relied upon one argument;
I mean the fact that no one knows what has become of all the unhappy
women apparently seduced by Smith. There is no sort of proof
that they were murdered, but that implication is perpetually made
when the question is asked as to how they died. Now I am not
interested in how they died, or when they died, or whether they died.
But I am interested in another analogous question--that of how they
were born, and when they were born, and whether they were born.
Do not misunderstand me. I do not dispute the existence of
these women, or the veracity of those who have witnessed to them.
I merely remark on the notable fact that only one of these victims,
the Maidenhead girl, is described as having any home or parents.
All the rest are boarders or birds of passage--a guest, a solitary
dressmaker, a bachelor-girl doing typewriting. Lady Bullingdon,
looking from her turrets, which she bought from the Whartons with
the old soap-boiler's money when she jumped at marrying an unsuccessful
gentleman from Ulster--Lady Bullingdon, looking out from those turrets,
did really see an object which she describes as Green. Mr. Trip,
of Hanbury and Bootle, really did have a typewriter betrothed
to Smith. Miss Gridley, though idealistic, is absolutely honest.
She did house, feed, and teach a young woman whom Smith succeeded
in decoying away. We admit that all these women really lived.
But we still ask whether they were ever born?"
"Oh, crikey!" said Moses Gould, stifled with amusement.
"There could hardly," interposed Pym with a quiet smile,
"be a better instance of the neglect of true scientific process.
The scientist, when once convinced of the fact of vitality
and consciousness, would infer from these the previous
process of generation."
"If these gals," said Gould impatiently--"if these gals were all alive
(all alive O!) I'd chance a fiver they were all born."
"You'd lose your fiver," said Michael, speaking gravely out of the gloom.
"All those admirable ladies were alive. They were more alive for having
come into contact with Smith. They were all quite definitely alive,
but only one of them was ever born."
"Are you asking us to believe--" began Dr. Pym.
"I am asking you a second question," said Moon sternly. "Can the court
now sitting throw any light on a truly singular circumstance?
Dr. Pym, in his interesting lecture on what are called, I believe,
the relations of the sexes, said that Smith was the slave
of a lust for variety which would lead a man first to a negress
and then to an albino, first to a Patagonian giantess and then
to a tiny Eskimo. But is there any evidence of such variety here?
Is there any trace of a gigantic Patagonian in the story?