Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Best British Short Stories of 1922 by Edward J. O'Brien and John Cournos, editors

Part 3 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Mary took a paper-backed book from the table and came over to the


She started. It was not the sharp, querulous voice of the deaf old
woman, it was more like the voice of the young aunt whom Mary
remembered in childhood. The old woman was leaning forward, looking at
her intently.

"Mary! A happy Christmas to 'ee."

And, as if in spite of herself, Mary answered in her ordinary low

"The same to you, auntie."

"Thank 'ee. Thank 'ee."

Mary gasped.

"Aunt! Can you hear me speaking like this?"

The old woman laughed, silently, rocking to and fro in her chair as if
with pent-up merriment of years.

"Yes, I can hear 'ee, child. I've allus heard 'ee."

Mary clasped her hand eagerly.

"Then--you're cured, Aunt--"

"Ay. I'm cured as far as there was ever anything to be cured."


"I was never deaf, child, nor never will be, please God. I've took you
all in fine."

Mary stood up in bewilderment.

"You? Never deaf?"

The old woman chuckled again.

"No, nor my mother--nor her mother neither."

Mary shrank back from her.

"I--I don't know what you mean," she said, unsteadily. "Have you

"I'll make you a Christmas present of it, dearie," said the old woman.
"My mother made me a Christmas present of it when I was your age, and
her mother made her one. I haven't a lass of my own to give it to, so I
give it to you. It can come on quite sudden like, if you want it, and
then you can hear what you choose and not hear what you choose. Do you
see?" She leant nearer and whispered, "You're shut out of it all--of
having to fetch and carry for 'em, answer their daft questions and run
their errands like a dog. I've watched you, my lass. You don't get much
peace, do you?"

Mary was trembling.

"Oh, I don't know what to think," she said. "I--I couldn't do it."

"Do what you like," said the old woman. "Take it as a present,
anyways--the Crewe deafness for a Christmas present," she chuckled.
"Use it or not as you like. You'll find it main amusin', anyways."

And into the old face there came again that curious smile as if she
carried in her heart some jest fit for the gods on Olympus.

The door opened suddenly with another gust of cold air, and the two men
came in again, covered with fine snow.

"I--I'll not do it," whispered Mary, trembling.

"We didn't get far. It's coming on again," remarked John, hanging up
his cap.

The old woman rose and began to lay the supper, silently and deftly,
moving from cupboard to table without looking up. Mary sat by the fire,
motionless and speechless, her eyes fixed on the glowing coals.

"Any signs o' the deafness in her?" whispered James, looking towards
Mary. "It come on my wife jus' when she was that age."

"Aye. So I've heered."

Then he said loudly, "Mary!"

A faint pink colour came into her cheeks, but she did not show by look
or movement that she had heard. James looked significantly at her

The old woman stood still for a minute with a cup in each hand and
smiled her slow, subtle smile.


(From _The London Mercury_)


I had heard rumours of Seaton's Aunt long before I actually encountered
her. Seaton, in the hush of confidence, or at any little show of
toleration on our part, would remark, "My aunt," or "My old aunt, you
know," as if his relative might be a kind of cement to an _entente

He had an unusual quantity of pocket-money; or, at any rate, it was
bestowed on him in unusually large amounts; and he spent it freely,
though none of us would have described him as an "awfully generous
chap." "Hullo, Seaton," he would say, "the old Begum?" At the beginning
of term, too, he used to bring back surprising and exotic dainties in a
box with a trick padlock that accompanied him from his first appearance
at Gummidge's in a billycock hat to the rather abrupt conclusion of his

From a boy's point of view he looked distastefully foreign, with his
yellow skin, and slow chocolate-coloured eyes, and lean weak figure.
Merely for his looks he was treated by most of us true-blue Englishmen
with condescension, hostility, or contempt. We used to call him
"Pongo," but without any better excuse for the nickname than his skin.
He was, that is, in one sense of the term what he assuredly was not in
the other sense, a sport.

Seaton and I were never in any sense intimate at school, our orbits
only intersected in class. I kept instinctively aloof from him. I felt
vaguely he was a sneak, and remained quite unmollified by advances on
his side, which, in a boy's barbarous fashion, unless it suited me to
be magnanimous, I haughtily ignored.

We were both of us quick-footed, and at Prisoner's Base used
occasionally to hide together. And so I best remember Seaton--his
narrow watchful face in the dusk of summer evening; his peculiar
crouch, and his inarticulate whisperings and mumblings. Otherwise he
played all games slackly and limply; used to stand and feed at his
locker with a crony or two until his "tuck" gave out; or waste his
money on some outlandish fancy or other. He bought, for instance, a
silver bangle, which he wore above his left elbow, until some of the
fellows showed their masterly contempt of the practice by dropping it
nearly red-hot down his neck.

It needed, therefore, a rather peculiar taste, a rather rare kind of
schoolboy courage and indifference to criticism, to be much associated
with him. And I had neither the taste nor the courage. None the less,
he did make advances, and on one memorable occasion went to the length
of bestowing on me a whole pot of some outlandish mulberry-coloured
jelly that had been duplicated in his term's supplies. In the
exuberance of my gratitude I promised to spend the next half-term
holiday with him at his aunt's house.

I had clean forgotten my promise when, two or three days before the
holiday, he came up and triumphantly reminded me of it.

"Well, to tell you the honest truth, Seaton, old chap----" I began
graciously; but he cut me short.

"My aunt expects you," he said; "she is very glad you are coming. She's
sure to be quite decent to _you_, Withers."

I looked at him in some astonishment; the emphasis was unexpected. It
seemed to suggest an aunt not hitherto hinted at, and a friendly
feeling on Seaton's side that was more disconcerting than welcome.

* * * * *

We reached his home partly by train, partly by a lift in an empty
farm-cart, and partly by walking. It was a whole-day holiday, and we
were to sleep the night; he lent me extraordinary night-gear, I
remember. The village street was unusually wide, and was fed from a
green by two converging roads, with an inn, and a high green sign at
the corner. About a hundred yards down the street was a chemist's
shop--Mr. Tanner's. We descended the two steps into his dusky and
odorous interior to buy, I remember, some rat poison. A little beyond
the chemist's was the forge. You then walked along a very narrow path,
under a fairly high wall, nodding here and there with weeds and tufts
of grass, and so came to the iron garden-gates, and saw the high flat
house behind its huge sycamore. A coach-house stood on the left of the
house, and on the right a gate led into a kind of rambling orchard. The
lawn lay away over to the left again, and at the bottom (for the whole
garden sloped gently to a sluggish and rushy pond-like stream) was a

We arrived at noon, and entered the gates out of the hot dust beneath
the glitter of the dark-curtained windows. Seaton led me at once
through the little garden-gate to show me his tadpole pond, swarming
with what, being myself not the least bit of a naturalist, I considered
the most horrible creatures--of all shapes, consistencies, and sizes,
but with whom Seaton seemed to be on the most intimate of terms. I can
see his absorbed face now as he sat on his heels and fished the slimy
things out in his sallow palms. Wearying at last of his pets, we
loitered about awhile in an aimless fashion. Seaton seemed to be
listening, or at any rate waiting, for something to happen or for some
one to come. But nothing did happen and no one came.

That was just like Seaton. Anyhow, the first view I got of his aunt was
when, at the summons of a distant gong, we turned from the garden, very
hungry and thirsty, to go into luncheon. We were approaching the house
when Seaton suddenly came to a standstill. Indeed, I have always had
the impression that he plucked at my sleeve. Something, at least,
seemed to catch me back, as it were, as he cried, "Look out, there she

She was standing in an upper window which opened wide on a hinge, and
at first sight she looked an excessively tall and overwhelming figure.
This, however, was mainly because the window reached all but to the
floor of her bedroom. She was in reality rather an under-sized woman,
in spite of her long face and big head. She must have stood, I think,
unusually still, with eyes fixed on us, though this impression may be
due to Seaton's sudden warning and to my consciousness of the cautious
and subdued air that had fallen on him at sight of her. I know that
without the least reason in the world I felt a kind of guiltiness, as
if I had been "caught." There was a silvery star pattern sprinkled on
her black silk dress, and even from the ground I could see the immense
coils of her hair and the rings on her left hand which was held
fingering the small jet buttons of her bodice. She watched our united
advance without stirring, until, imperceptibly, her eyes raised and
lost themselves in the distance, so that it was out of an assumed
reverie that she appeared suddenly to awaken to our presence beneath
her when we drew close to the house.

"So this is your friend, Mr. Smithers, I suppose?" she said, bobbing to

"Withers, aunt," said Seaton.

"It's much the same," she said, with eyes fixed on me. "Come in, Mr.
Withers, and bring him along with you."

She continued to gaze at me--at least, I think she did so. I know that
the fixity of her scrutiny and her ironical "Mr." made me feel
peculiarly uncomfortable. But she was extremely kind and attentive to
me, though perhaps her kindness and attention showed up more vividly
against her complete neglect of Seaton. Only one remark that I have any
recollection of she made to him: "When I look on my nephew, Mr.
Smithers, I realise that dust we are, and dust shall become. You are
hot, dirty, and incorrigible, Arthur."

She sat at the head of the table, Seaton at the foot, and I, before a
wide waste of damask tablecloth, between them. It was an old and rather
close dining-room, with windows thrown wide to the green garden and a
wonderful cascade of fading roses. Miss Seaton's great chair faced this
window, so that its rose-reflected light shone full on her yellowish
face, and on just such chocolate eyes as my schoolfellow's, except that
hers were more than half-covered by unusually long and heavy lids.

There she sat, eating, with those sluggish eyes fixed for the most part
on my face; above them stood the deep-lined fork between her eyebrows;
and above that the wide expanse of a remarkable brow beneath its
strange steep bank of hair. The lunch was copious, and consisted, I
remember, of all such dishes as are generally considered mischievous
and too good for the schoolboy digestion--lobster mayonnaise, cold game
sausages, an immense veal and ham pie farced with eggs and numberless
delicious flavours; besides sauces, kickshaws, creams, and sweetmeats.
We even had wine, a half-glass of old darkish sherry each.

Miss Seaton enjoyed and indulged an enormous appetite. Her example and
a natural schoolboy voracity soon overcame my nervousness of her, even
to the extent of allowing me to enjoy to the best of my bent so rare a
"spread." Seaton was singularly modest; the greater part of his meal
consisted of almonds and raisins, which he nibbled surreptitiously and
as if he found difficulty in swallowing them.

I don't mean that Miss Seaton "conversed" with me. She merely scattered
trenchant remarks and now and then twinkled a baited question over my
head. But her face was like a dense and involved accompaniment to her
talk. She presently dropped the "Mr.," to my intense relief, and called
me now Withers, or Wither, now Smithers, and even once towards the
close of the meal distinctly Johnson, though how on earth my name
suggested it, or whose face mine had reanimated in memory, I cannot

"And is Arthur a good boy at school, Mr. Wither?" was one of her many
questions. "Does he please his masters? Is he first in his class? What
does the reverend Dr. Gummidge think of him, eh?"

I knew she was jeering at him, but her face was adamant against the
least flicker of sarcasm or facetiousness. I gazed fixedly at a
blushing crescent of lobster.

"I think you're eighth, aren't you, Seaton?"

Seaton moved his small pupils towards his aunt. But she continued to
gaze with a kind of concentrated detachment at me.

"Arthur will never make a brilliant scholar, I fear," she said, lifting
a dexterously-burdened fork to her wide mouth....

After luncheon she preceded me up to my bedroom. It was a jolly little
bedroom, with a brass fender and rugs and a polished floor, on which it
was possible, I afterwards found, to play "snow-shoes." Over the
washstand was a little black-framed water-colour drawing, depicting a
large eye with an extremely fishlike intensity in the spark of light on
the dark pupil; and in "illuminated" lettering beneath was printed very
minutely, "Thou God Seest ME," followed by a long looped monogram,
"S.S.," in the corner. The other pictures were all of the sea: brigs on
blue water; a schooner overtopping chalk cliffs; a rocky island of
prodigious steepness, with two tiny sailors dragging a monstrous boat
up a shelf of beach.

"This is the room, Withers, my brother William died in when a boy.
Admire the view!"

I looked out of the window across the tree-tops. It was a day hot with
sunshine over the green fields, and the cattle were standing swishing
their tails in the shallow water. But the view at the moment was only
exaggeratedly vivid because I was horribly dreading that she would
presently enquire after my luggage, and I had not brought even a
toothbrush. I need have had no fear. Hers was not that highly-civilised
type of mind that is stuffed with sharp material details. Nor could her
ample presence be described as in the least motherly.

"I would never consent to question a schoolfellow behind my nephew's
back," she said, standing in the middle of the room, "but tell me,
Smithers, why is Arthur so unpopular? You, I understand, are his only
close friend." She stood in a dazzle of sun, and out of it her eyes
regarded me with such leaden penetration beneath their thick lids that
I doubt if my face concealed the least thought from her. "But there,
there," she added very suavely, stooping her head a little, "don't
trouble to answer me. I never extort an answer. Boys are queer fish.
Brains might perhaps have suggested his washing his hands before
luncheon; but--not my choice, Smithers. God forbid! And now, perhaps,
you would like to go into the garden again. I cannot actually see from
here, but I should not be surprised if Arthur is now skulking behind
that hedge."

He was. I saw his head come out and take a rapid glance at the windows.

"Join him, Mr. Smithers; we shall meet again, I hope, at the tea-table.
The afternoon I spend in retirement."

Whether or not, Seaton and I had not been long engaged with the aid of
two green switches in riding round and round a lumbering old gray horse
we found in the meadow, before a rather bunched-up figure appeared,
walking along the field-path on the other side of the water, with a
magenta parasol studiously lowered in our direction throughout her slow
progress, as if that were the magnetic needle and we the fixed pole.
Seaton at once lost all nerve in his riding. At the next lurch of the
old mare's heels he toppled over into the grass, and I slid off the
sleek broad back to join him where he stood, rubbing his shoulder and
sourly watching the rather pompous figure till it was out of sight.

"Was that your aunt, Seaton?" I enquired; but not till then.

He nodded.

"Why didn't she take any notice of us, then?"

"She never does."

"Why not?"

"Oh, she knows all right, without; that's the dam awful part of it."
Seaton was about the only fellow at Gummidge's who ever had the
ostentation to use bad language. He had suffered for it, too. But it
wasn't, I think, bravado. I believe he really felt certain things more
intensely than most of the other fellows, and they were generally
things that fortunate and average people do not feel at all--the
peculiar quality, for instance, of the British schoolboy's imagination.

"I tell you, Withers," he went on moodily, slinking across the meadow
with his hands covered up in his pockets, "she sees everything. And
what she doesn't see she knows without."

"But how?" I said, not because I was much interested, but because the
afternoon was so hot and tiresome and purposeless, and it seemed more
of a bore to remain silent. Seaton turned gloomily and spoke in a very
low voice.

"Don't appear to be talking of her, if you wouldn't mind. It's--because
she's in league with the devil." He nodded his head and stooped to pick
up a round flat pebble. "I tell you," he said, still stooping, "you
fellows don't realise what it is. I know I'm a bit close and all that.
But so would you be if you had that old hag listening to every thought
you think."

I looked at him, then turned and surveyed one by one the windows of the

"Where's your _pater_?" I said awkwardly.

"Dead, ages and ages ago, and my mother too. She's not my aunt by

"What is she, then?"

"I mean she's not my mother's sister, because my grandmother married
twice; and she's one of the first lot. I don't know what you call her,
but anyhow she's not my real aunt."

"She gives you plenty of pocket-money."

Seaton looked steadfastly at me out of his flat eyes. "She can't give
me what's mine. When I come of age half of the whole lot will be mine;
and what's more"--he turned his back on the house--"I'll make her hand
over every blessed shilling of it."

I put my hands in my pockets and stared at Seaton. "Is it much?"

He nodded.

"Who told you?" He got suddenly very angry; a darkish red came into his
cheeks, his eyes glistened, but he made no answer, and we loitered
listlessly about the garden until it was time for tea....

Seaton's aunt was wearing an extraordinary kind of lace jacket when we
sidled sheepishly into the drawing-room together. She greeted me with a
heavy and protracted smile, and bade me bring a chair close to the
little table.

"I hope Arthur has made you feel at home," she said as she handed me my
cup in her crooked hand. "He don't talk much to me; but then I'm an old
woman. You must come again, Wither, and draw him out of his shell. You
old snail!" She wagged her head at Seaton, who sat munching cake and
watching her intently.

"And we must correspond, perhaps." She nearly shut her eyes at me. "You
must write and tell me everything behind the creature's back." I
confess I found her rather disquieting company. The evening drew on.
Lamps were brought by a man with a nondescript face and very quiet
footsteps. Seaton was told to bring out the chess-men. And we played a
game, she and I, with her big chin thrust over the board at every move
as she gloated over the pieces and occasionally croaked "Check!" after
which she would sit back inscrutably staring at me. But the game was
never finished. She simply hemmed me defencelessly in with a cloud of
men that held me impotent, and yet one and all refused to administer to
my poor flustered old king a merciful _coup de grace_.

"There," she said, as the clock struck ten--"a drawn game, Withers. We
are very evenly matched. A very creditable defence, Withers. You know
your room. There's supper on a tray in the dining-room. Don't let the
creature over-eat himself. The gong will sound three-quarters of an
hour before a punctual breakfast." She held out her cheek to Seaton,
and he kissed it with obvious perfunctoriness. With me she shook hands.

"An excellent game," she said cordially, "but my memory is poor,
and"--she swept the pieces helter-skelter into the box--"the result
will never be known." She raised her great head far back. "Eh?"

It was a kind of challenge, and I could only murmur: "Oh, I was
absolutely in a hole, you know!" when she burst out laughing and waved
us both out of the room.

Seaton and I stood and ate our supper, with one candlestick to light
us, in a corner of the dining-room. "Well, and how would you like it?"
he said very softly, after cautiously poking his head round the

"Like what?"

"Being spied on--every blessed thing you do and think?"

"I shouldn't like it at all," I said, "if she does."

"And yet you let her smash you up at chess!"

"I didn't let her!" I said indignantly.

"Well, you funked it, then."

"And I didn't funk it either," I said; "she's so jolly clever with her
knights." Seaton stared fixedly at the candle. "You wait, that's all,"
he said slowly. And we went upstairs to bed.

I had not been long in bed, I think, when I was cautiously awakened by
a touch on my shoulder. And there was Seaton's face in the candlelight
and his eyes looking into mine.

"What's up?" I said, rising quickly to my elbow.

"Don't scurry," he whispered, "or she'll hear. I'm sorry for waking
you, but I didn't think you'd be asleep so soon."

"Why, what's the time, then?" Seaton wore, what was then rather
unusual, a night-suit, and he hauled his big silver watch out of the
pocket in his jacket.

"It's a quarter to twelve. I never get to sleep before twelve--not

"What do you do, then?"

"Oh, I read and listen."


Seaton stared into his candle-flame as if he were listening even then.
"You can't guess what it is. All you read in ghost stories, that's all
rot. You can't see much, Withers, but you know all the same."

"Know what?"

"Why, that they're there."

"Who's there?" I asked fretfully, glancing at the door.

"Why, in the house. It swarms with 'em. Just you stand still and listen
outside my bedroom door in the middle of the night. I have, dozens of
times; they're all over the place."

"Look here, Seaton," I said, "you asked me to come here, and I didn't
mind chucking up a leave just to oblige you and because I'd promised;
but don't get talking a lot of rot, that's all, or you'll know the
difference when we get back."

"Don't fret," he said coldly, turning away. "I shan't be at school
long. And what's more, you're here now, and there isn't anybody else to
talk to. I'll chance the other."

"Look here, Seaton," I said, "you may think you're going to scare me
with a lot of stuff about voices and all that. But I'll just thank you
to clear out; and you may please yourself about pottering about all

He made no answer; he was standing by the dressing-table looking across
his candle into the looking-glass; he turned and stared slowly round
the walls.

"Even this room's nothing more than a coffin. I suppose she told
you--'It's all exactly the same as when my brother William died'--trust
her for that! And good luck to him, say I. Look at that." He raised his
candle close to the little water-colour I have mentioned. "There's
hundreds of eyes like that in the house; and even if God does see you,
he takes precious good care you don't see Him. And it's just the same
with them. I tell you what, Withers, I'm getting sick of all this. I
shan't stand it much longer."

The house was silent within and without, and even in the yellowish
radiance of the candle a faint silver showed through the open window on
my blind. I slipped off the bedclothes, wide awake, and sat irresolute
on the bedside.

"I know you're only guying me," I said angrily, "but why is the house
full of--what you say? Why do you hear--what you _do_ hear? Tell me
that, you silly foal!"

Seaton sat down on a chair and rested his candlestick on his knee. He
blinked at me calmly. "She brings them," he said, with lifted eyebrows.

"Who? Your aunt?"

He nodded.


"I told you," he answered pettishly. "She's in league. You don't know.
She as good as killed my mother; I know that. But it's not only her by
a long chalk. She just sucks you dry. I know. And that's what she'll do
for me; because I'm like her--like my mother, I mean. She simply hates
to see me alive. I wouldn't be like that old she-wolf for a million
pounds. And so"--he broke off, with a comprehensive wave of his
candlestick--"they're always here. Ah, my boy, wait till she's dead!
She'll hear something then, I can tell you. It's all very well now, but
wait till then! I wouldn't be in her shoes when she has to clear
out--for something. Don't you go and believe I care for ghosts, or
whatever you like to call them. We're all in the same box. We're all
under her thumb."

He was looking almost nonchalantly at the ceiling at the moment, when I
saw his face change, saw his eyes suddenly drop like shot birds and fix
themselves on the cranny of the door he had just left ajar. Even from
where I sat I could see his colour change; he went greenish. He
crouched without stirring, simply fixed. And I, scarcely daring to
breathe, sat with creeping skin, simply watching him. His hands
relaxed, and he gave a kind of sigh.

"Was that one?" I whispered, with a timid show of jauntiness. He looked
round, opened his mouth, and nodded. "What?" I said. He jerked his
thumb with meaningful eyes, and I knew that he meant that his aunt had
been there listening at our door cranny.

"Look here, Seaton," I said once more, wriggling to my feet. "You may
think I'm a jolly noodle; just as you please. But your aunt has been
civil to me and all that, and I don't believe a word you say about her,
that's all, and never did. Every fellow's a bit off his pluck at night,
and you may think it a fine sport to try your rubbish on me. I heard
your aunt come upstairs before I fell asleep. And I'll bet you a level
tanner she's in bed now. What's more, you can keep your blessed ghosts
to yourself. It's a guilty conscience, I should think."

Seaton looked at me curiously, without answering for a moment. "I'm not
a liar, Withers; but I'm not going to quarrel either. You're the only
chap I care a button for; or, at any rate, you're the only chap that's
ever come here; and it's something to tell a fellow what you feel. I
don't care a fig for fifty thousand ghosts, although I swear on my
solemn oath that I know they're here. But she"--he turned
deliberately--"you laid a tanner she's in bed, Withers; well, I know
different. She's never in bed much of the night, and I'll prove it,
too, just to show you I'm not such a nolly as you think I am. Come on!"

"Come on where?"

"Why, to see."

I hesitated. He opened a large cupboard and took out a small dark
dressing-gown and a kind of shawl-jacket. He threw the jacket on the
bed and put on the gown. His dusky face was colourless, and I could see
by the way he fumbled at the sleeves he was shivering. But it was no
good showing the white feather now. So I threw the tasselled shawl over
my shoulders and, leaving our candle brightly burning on the chair, we
went out together and stood in the corridor. "Now then, listen!" Seaton

We stood leaning over the staircase. It was like leaning over a well,
so still and chill the air was all around us. But presently, as I
suppose happens in most old houses, began to echo and answer in my ears
a medley of infinite small stirrings and whisperings. Now out of the
distance an old timber would relax its fibers, or a scurry die away
behind the perishing wainscot. But amid and behind such sounds as these
I seemed to begin to be conscious, as it were, of the lightest of
footfalls, sounds as faint as the vanishing remembrance of voices in a
dream. Seaton was all in obscurity except his face; out of that his
eyes gleamed darkly, watching me.

"You'd hear, too, in time, my fine soldier," he muttered. "Come on!"

He descended the stairs, slipping his lean fingers lightly along the
balusters. He turned to the right at the loop, and I followed him
barefooted along a thickly-carpeted corridor. At the end stood a door
ajar. And from here we very stealthily and in complete blackness
ascended five narrow stairs. Seaton, with immense caution, slowly
pushed open a door and we stood together looking into a great pool of
duskiness, out of which, lit by the feeble clearness of a night-light,
rose a vast bed. A heap of clothes lay on the floor; beside them two
slippers dozed, with noses each to each, two yards apart. Somewhere a
little clock ticked huskily. There was a rather close smell of lavender
and eau de Cologne, mingled with the fragrance of ancient sachets,
soap, and drugs. Yet it was a scent even more peculiarly commingled
than that.

And the bed! I stared warily in; it was mounded gigantically, and it
was empty.

Seaton turned a vague pale face, all shadows: "What did I say?" he
muttered. "Who's--who's the fool now, I say? How are we going to get
back without meeting her, I say? Answer me that! Oh, I wish to goodness
you hadn't come here, Withers."

He stood visibly shivering in his skimpy gown, and could hardly speak
for his teeth chattering. And very distinctly, in the hush that
followed his whisper, I heard approaching a faint unhurried voluminous
rustle. Seaton clutched my arm, dragged me to the right across the room
to a large cupboard, and drew the door close to on us. And, presently,
as with bursting lungs I peeped out into the long, low, curtained
bedroom, waddled in that wonderful great head and body. I can see her
now, all patched and lined with shadow, her tied-up hair (she must have
had enormous quantities of it for so old a woman), her heavy lids above
those flat, slow, vigilant eyes. She just passed across my ken in the
vague dusk; but the bed was out of sight.

We waited on and on, listening to the clock's muffled ticking. Not the
ghost of a sound rose up from the great bed. Either she lay archly
listening or slept a sleep serener than an infant's. And when, it
seemed, we had been hours in hiding and were cramped, chilled, and half
suffocated, we crept out on all fours, with terror knocking at our
ribs, and so down the five narrow stairs and back to the little
candle-lit blue-and-gold bedroom.

Once there, Seaton gave in. He sat livid on a chair with closed eyes.

"Here," I said, shaking his arm, "I'm going to bed; I've had enough of
this foolery; I'm going to bed." His lids quivered, but he made no
answer. I poured out some water into my basin and, with that cold
pictured azure eye fixed on us, bespattered Seaton's sallow face and
forehead and dabbled his hair. He presently sighed and opened fish-like

"Come on!" I said. "Don't get shamming, there's a good chap. Get on my
back, if you like, and I'll carry you into your bedroom."

He waved me away and stood up. So, with my candle in one hand, I took
him under the arm and walked him along according to his direction down
the corridor. His was a much dingier room than mine, and littered with
boxes, paper, cages, and clothes. I huddled him into bed and turned to
go. And suddenly, I can hardly explain it now, a kind of cold and
deadly terror swept over me. I almost ran out of the room, with eyes
fixed rigidly in front of me, blew out my candle, and buried my head
under the bedclothes.

When I awoke, roused by a long-continued tapping at my door, sunlight
was raying in on cornice and bedpost, and birds were singing in the
garden. I got up, ashamed of the night's folly, dressed quickly, and
went downstairs. The breakfast-room was sweet with flowers and fruit
and honey. Seaton's aunt was standing in the garden beside the open
French window, feeding a great flutter of birds. I watched her for a
moment, unseen. Her face was set in a deep reverie beneath the shadow
of a big loose sunhat. It was deeply lined, crooked, and, in a way I
can't describe, fixedly vacant and strange. I coughed, and she turned
at once with a prodigious smile to inquire how I had slept. And in that
mysterious way by which we learn each other's secret thoughts without a
sentence spoken I knew that she had followed every word and movement of
the night before, and was triumphing over my affected innocence and
ridiculing my friendly and too easy advances.

We returned to school, Seaton and I, lavishly laden, and by rail all
the way. I made no reference to the obscure talk we had had, and
resolutely refused to meet his eyes or to take up the hints he let
fall. I was relieved--and yet I was sorry--to be going back, and strode
on as fast as I could from the station, with Seaton almost trotting at
my heels. But he insisted on buying more fruit and sweets--my share of
which I accepted with a very bad grace. It was uncomfortably like a
bribe; and, after all, I had no quarrel with his rum old aunt, and
hadn't really believed half the stuff he had told me.

I saw as little of him as I could after that. He never referred to our
visit or resumed his confidences, though in class I would sometimes
catch his eye fixed on mine, full of a mute understanding, which I
easily affected not to understand. He left Gummidge's, as I have said,
rather abruptly, though I never heard of anything to his discredit. And
I did not see him or have any news of him again till by chance we met
one summer's afternoon in the Strand.

He was dressed rather oddly in a coat too large for him and a bright
silky tie. But we instantly recognised one another under the awning of
a cheap jeweler's shop. He immediately attached himself to me and
dragged me off, not too cheerfully, to lunch with him at an Italian
restaurant near by. He chattered about our old school, which he
remembered only with dislike and disgust; told me cold-bloodedly of the
disastrous fate of one or two of the old fellows who had been among his
chief tormentors; insisted on an expensive wine and the whole gamut of
the "rich" menu; and finally informed me, with a good deal of niggling,
that he had come up to town to buy an engagement-ring.

And of course: "How is your aunt?" I enquired at last.

He seemed to have been awaiting the question. It fell like a stone into
a deep pool, so many expressions flitted across his long un-English

"She's aged a good deal," he said softly, and broke off.

"She's been very decent," he continued presently after, and paused
again. "In a way." He eyed me fleetingly. "I dare say you heard that
she--that is, that we--had lost a good deal of money."

"No," I said.

"Oh, yes!" said Seaton, and paused again.

And somehow, poor fellow, I knew in the clink and clatter of glass and
voices that he had lied to me; that he did not possess, and never had
possessed, a penny beyond what his aunt had squandered on his too ample
allowance of pocket-money.

"And the ghosts?" I enquired quizzically. He grew instantly solemn,
and, though it may have been my fancy, slightly yellowed. But "You are
making game of me, Withers," was all he said.

He asked for my address, and I rather reluctantly gave him my card.

"Look here, Withers," he said, as we stood in the sunlight on the
thronging kerb, saying good-bye, "here I am, and it's all very well;
I'm not perhaps as fanciful as I was. But you are practically the only
friend I have on earth--except Alice.... And there--to make a clean
breast of it, I'm not sure that my aunt cares much about my getting
married. She doesn't say so, of course. You know her well enough for
that." He looked sidelong at the rattling gaudy traffic.

"What I was going to say is this. Would you mind coming down? You
needn't stay the night unless you please, though, of course, you know
you would be awfully welcome. But I should like you to meet my--to meet
Alice; and then, perhaps, you might tell me your honest opinion of--of
the other too."

I vaguely demurred. He pressed me. And we parted with a half promise
that I would come. He waved his ball-topped cane at me and ran off in
his long jacket after a 'bus.

A letter arrived soon after, in his small weak handwriting, giving me
full particulars regarding route and trains. And without the least
curiosity, even, perhaps with some little annoyance that chance should
have thrown us together again, I accepted his invitation and arrived
one hazy midday at his out-of-the-way station to find him sitting on a
low seat under a clump of double hollyhocks, awaiting me.

His face looked absent and singularly listless; but he seemed, none the
less, pleased to see me.

We walked up the village street, past the little dingy apothecary's and
the empty forge, and, as on my first visit, skirted the house together,
and, instead of entering by the front door, made our way down the green
path into the garden at the back. A pale haze of cloud muffled the sun;
the garden lay in a grey shimmer--its old trees, its snap-dragoned
faintly glittering walls. But there seemed now an air of neglect where
before all had been neat and methodical. There was a patch of
shallowly-dug soil and a worn-down spade leaning against a tree. There
was an old broken wheelbarrow. The goddess of neglect was there.

"You ain't much of a gardener, Seaton," I said, with a sigh of ease.

"I think, do you know, I like it best like this," said Seaton. "We
haven't any gardener now, of course. Can't afford it." He stood staring
at his little dark square of freshly-turned earth. "And it always seems
to me," he went on ruminatingly, "that, after all, we are nothing
better than interlopers on the earth, disfiguring and staining wherever
we go. I know it's shocking blasphemy to say so, but then it's
different here, you see. We are farther away."

"To tell you the truth, Seaton, I don't quite see," I said; "but it
isn't a new philosophy, is it? Anyhow, it's a precious beastly one."

"It's only what I think," he replied, with all his odd old stubborn

We wandered on together, talking little, and still with that expression
of uneasy vigilance on Seaton's face. He pulled out his watch as we
stood gazing idly over the green meadow and the dark motionless

"I think, perhaps, it's nearly time for lunch," he said. "Would you
like to come in?"

We turned and walked slowly towards the house, across whose windows I
confess my own eyes, too, went restlessly wandering in search of its
rather disconcerting inmate. There was a pathetic look of draggledness,
of want of means and care, rust and overgrowth and faded paint.
Seaton's aunt, a little to my relief, did not share our meal. Seaton
carved the cold meat, and dispatched a heaped-up plate by the elderly
servant for his aunt's private consumption. We talked little and in
half-suppressed tones, and sipped a bottle of Madeira which Seaton had
rather heedfully fetched out of the great mahogany sideboard.

I played him a dull and effortless game of chess, yawning between the
moves he generally made almost at haphazard, and with attention
elsewhere engaged. About five o'clock came the sound of a distant ring,
and Seaton jumped up, overturning the board, and so ending a game that
else might have fatuously continued to this day. He effusively excused
himself, and after some little while returned with a slim, dark, rather
sallow girl of about nineteen, in a white gown and hat, to whom I was
presented with some little nervousness as "his dear old friend and

We talked on in the pale afternoon light, still, as it seemed to me,
and even in spite of real effort to be clear and gay, in a
half-suppressed, lack-lustre fashion. We all seemed, if it were not my
fancy, to be expectant, to be rather anxiously awaiting an arrival, the
appearance of someone who all but filled our collective consciousness.
Seaton talked least of all, and in a restless interjectory way, as he
continually fidgeted from chair to chair. At last he proposed a stroll
in the garden before the sun should have quite gone down.

Alice walked between us. Her hair and eyes were conspicuously dark
against the whiteness of her gown. She carried herself not
ungracefully, and yet without the least movement of her arms or body,
and answered us both without turning her head. There was a curious
provocative reserve in that impassive and rather long face, a
half-unconscious strength of character.

And yet somehow I knew--I believe we all knew--that this walk, this
discussion of their future plans was a futility. I had nothing to base
such a cynicism on, except only a vague sense of oppression, the
foreboding remembrance of the inert invincible power in the background,
to whom optimistic plans and love-making and youth are as chaff and
thistledown. We came back, silent, in the last light. Seaton's aunt was
there--under an old brass lamp. Her hair was as barbarously massed and
curled as ever. Her eye-lids, I think, hung even a little heavier in
age over their slow-moving inscrutable pupils. We filed in softly out
of the evening, and I made my bow.

"In this short interval, Mr. Withers," she remarked amiably, "you have
put off youth, put on the man. Dear me, how sad it is to see the young
days vanishing! Sit down. My nephew tells me you met by chance--or act
of Providence, shall we call it?--and in my beloved Strand! You, I
understand, are to be best man--yes, best man, or am I divulging
secrets?" She surveyed Arthur and Alice with overwhelming graciousness.
They sat apart on two low chairs and smiled in return.

"And Arthur--how do you think Arthur is looking?"

"I think he looks very much in need of a change," I said deliberately.

"A change! Indeed?" She all but shut her eyes at me and with an
exaggerated sentimentality shook her head. "My dear Mr. Withers! Are we
not _all_ in need of a change in this fleeting, fleeting world?" She
mused over the remark like a connoisseur. "And you," she continued,
turning abruptly to Alice, "I hope you pointed out to Mr. Withers all
my pretty bits?"

"We walked round the garden," said Alice, looking out of the window.
"It's a very beautiful evening."

"Is it?" said the old lady, starting up violently. "Then on this very
beautiful evening we will go in to supper. Mr. Withers, your arm;
Arthur, bring your bride."

I can scarcely describe with what curious ruminations I led the way
into the faded, heavy-aired dining-room, with this indefinable old
creature leaning weightily on my arm--the large flat bracelet on the
yellow-laced wrist. She fumed a little, breathed rather heavily, as if
with an effort of mind rather than of body; for she had grown much
stouter and yet little more proportionate. And to talk into that great
white face, so close to mine, was a queer experience in the dim light
of the corridor, and even in the twinkling crystal of the candles. She
was naive--appallingly naive; she was sudden and superficial; she was
even arch; and all these in the brief, rather puffy passage from one
room to the other, with these two tongue-tied children bringing up the
rear. The meal was tremendous. I have never seen such a monstrous
salad. But the dishes were greasy and over-spiced, and were
indifferently cooked. One thing only was quite unchanged--my hostess's
appetite was as Gargantuan as ever. The old solid candelabra that
lighted us stood before her high-backed chair. Seaton sat a little
removed, with his plate almost in darkness.

And throughout this prodigious meal his aunt talked, mainly to me,
mainly at Seaton, with an occasional satirical courtesy to Alice and
muttered explosions of directions to the servant. She had aged, and
yet, if it be not nonsense to say so, seemed no older. I suppose to the
Pyramids a decade is but as the rustling down of a handful of dust. And
she reminded me of some such unshakable prehistoricism. She certainly
was an amazing talker--racy, extravagant, with a delivery that was
perfectly overwhelming. As for Seaton--her flashes of silence were for
him. On her enormous volubility would suddenly fall a hush: acid
sarcasm would be left implied; and she would sit softly moving her
great head, with eyes fixed full in a dreamy smile; but with her whole
attention, one could see, slowly, joyously absorbing his mute

She confided in us her views on a theme vaguely occupying at the
moment, I suppose, all our minds. "We have barbarous institutions, and
so must put up, I suppose, with a never-ending procession of fools--of
fools _ad infinitum_. Marriage, Mr. Withers, was instituted in the
privacy of a garden; _sub rosa_, as it were. Civilization flaunts it in
the glare of day. The dull marry the poor; the rich the effete; and so
our New Jerusalem is peopled with naturals, plain and coloured, at
either end. I detest folly; I detest still more (if I must be frank,
dear Arthur) mere cleverness. Mankind has simply become a tailless host
of uninstinctive animals. We should never have taken to Evolution, Mr.
Withers. 'Natural Selection!'--little gods and fishes!--the deaf for
the dumb. We should have used our brains--intellectual pride, the
ecclesiastics call it. And by brains I mean--what do I mean, Alice?--I
mean, my dear child," and she laid two gross fingers on Alice's narrow
sleeve. "I mean courage. Consider it, Arthur. I read that the
scientific world is once more beginning to be afraid of spiritual
agencies. Spiritual agencies that tap, and actually float, bless their
hearts! I think just one more of those mulberries--thank you.

"They talk about 'blind Love,'" she ran inconsequently on as she helped
herself, with eyes fixed on the dish, "but why blind? I think, do you
know, from weeping over its rickets. After all, it is we plain women
that triumph, Mr. Withers, beyond the mockery of time. Alice, now!
Fleeting, fleeting is youth, my child! What's that you were confiding
to your plate, Arthur? Satirical boy! He laughs at his old aunt: nay,
but thou didst laugh. He detests all sentiment. He whispers the most
acid asides. Come, my love, we will leave these cynics; we will go and
commiserate with each other on our sex. The choice of two evils, Mr.
Smithers!" I opened the door, and she swept out as if borne on a
torrent of unintelligible indignation; and Arthur and I were left in
the clear four-flamed light alone.

For a while we sat in silence. He shook his head at my cigarette-case,
and I lit a cigarette. Presently he fidgeted in his chair and poked his
head forward into the light. He paused to rise and shut again the shut

"How long will you be?" he said, standing by the table.

I laughed.

"Oh, it's not that!" he said, in some confusion. "Of course, I like to
be with her. But it's not that only. The truth is, Withers, I don't
care about leaving her too long with my aunt."

I hesitated. He looked at me questioningly.

"Look here, Seaton," I said, "you know well enough that I don't want to
interfere in your affairs, or to offer advice where it is not wanted.
But don't you think perhaps you may not treat your aunt quite in the
right way? As one gets old, you know, a little give and take. I have an
old godmother, or something. She talks, too.... A little allowance: it
does no harm. But, hang it all, I'm no talker."

He sat down with his hands in his pockets and still with his eyes fixed
almost incredulously on mine. "How?" he said.

"Well, my dear fellow, if I'm any judge--mind, I don't say that I
am--but I can't help thinking she thinks you don't care for her; and
perhaps takes your silence for--for bad temper. She has been very
decent to you, hasn't she?"

"'Decent'? My God!" said Seaton.

I smoked on in silence; but he still continued to look at me with that
peculiar concentration I remembered of old.

"I don't think, perhaps, Withers," he began presently, "I don't think
you quite understand. Perhaps you are not quite our kind. You always
did, just like the other fellows, guy me at school. You laughed at me
that night you came to stay here--about the voices and all that. But I
don't mind being laughed at--because I know."

"Know what?" It was the same old system of dull question and evasive

"I mean I know that what we see and hear is only the smallest fraction
of what is. I know she lives quite out of this. She _talks_ to you; but
it's all make-believe. It's all a 'parlour game.' She's not really with
you; only pitting her outside wits against yours and enjoying the
fooling. She's living on inside, on what you're rotten without. That's
what it is--a cannibal feast. She's a spider. It does't much matter
what you call it. It means the same kind of thing. I tell you, Withers,
she hates me; and you can scarcely dream what that hatred means. I used
to think I had an inkling of the reason. It's oceans deeper than that.
It just lies behind: herself against myself. Why, after all, how much
do we really understand of anything? We don't even know our own
histories, and not a tenth, not a tenth of the reasons. What has life
been to me?--nothing but a trap. And when one is set free, it only
begins again. I thought you might understand; but you are on a
different level: that's all."

"What on earth are you talking about?" I said, half contemptuously, in
spite of myself.

"I mean what I say," he said gutturally. "All this outside's only
make-believe--but there! what's the good of talking? So far as this is
concerned I'm as good as done. You wait."

Seaton blew out three of the candles and, leaving the vacant room in
semi-darkness, we groped our way along the corridor to the
drawing-room. There a full moon stood shining in at the long garden
windows. Alice sat stooping at the door, with her hands clasped,
looking out, alone.

"Where is she?" Seaton asked in a low tone.

Alice looked up; their eyes met in a kind of instantaneous
understanding, and the door immediately afterwards opened behind us.

"_Such_ a moon!" said a voice that, once heard, remained unforgettably
on the ear. "A night for lovers, Mr. Withers, if ever there was one.
Get a shawl, my dear Arthur, and take Alice for a little promenade. I
dare say we old cronies will manage to keep awake. Hasten, hasten,
Romeo! My poor, poor Alice, how laggard a lover!"

Seaton returned with a shawl. They drifted out into the moonlight. My
companion gazed after them till they were out of hearing, turned to me
gravely, and suddenly twisted her white face into such a convulsion of
contemptuous amusement that I could only stare blankly in reply.

"Dear innocent children!" she said, with inimitable unctuousness.
"Well, well, Mr. Withers, we poor seasoned old creatures must move with
the times. Do you sing?"

I scouted the idea.

"Then you must listen to my playing. Chess"--she clasped her forehead
with both cramped hands--"chess is now completely beyond my poor wits."

She sat down at the piano and ran her fingers in a flourish over the
keys. "What shall it be? How shall we capture them, those passionate
hearts? That first fine careless rapture? Poetry itself." She gazed
softly into the garden a moment, and presently, with a shake of her
body, began to play the opening bars of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata.
The piano was old and woolly. She played without music. The lamplight
was rather dim. The moonbeams from the window lay across the keys. Her
head was in shadow. And whether it was simply due to her personality or
to some really occult skill in her playing I cannot say: I only know
that she gravely and deliberately set herself to satirise the beautiful
music. It brooded on the air, disillusioned, charged with mockery and
bitterness. I stood at the window; far down the path I could see the
white figure glimmering in that pool of colourless light. A few faint
stars shone; and still that amazing woman behind me dragged out of the
unwilling keys her wonderful grotesquerie of youth and love and beauty.
It came to an end. I knew the player was watching me. "Please, please,
go on!" I murmured, without turning. "Please go on playing, Miss

No answer was returned to my rather fluttering sarcasm, but I knew in
some indefinite way that I was being acutely scrutinised, when suddenly
there followed a procession of quiet, plaintive chords which broke at
last softly into the hymn, _A Few More Years Shall Roll_.

I confess it held me spellbound. There is a wistful strained, plangent
pathos in the tune; but beneath those masterly old hands it cried
softly and bitterly the solitude and desperate estrangement of the
world. Arthur and his lady-love vanished from my thoughts. No one could
put into a rather hackneyed old hymn-tune such an appeal who had never
known the meaning of the words. Their meaning, anyhow, isn't
commonplace. I turned very cautiously and glanced at the musician. She
was leaning forward a little over the keys, so that at the approach of
my cautious glance she had but to turn her face into the thin flood of
moonlight for every feature to become distinctly visible. And so, with
the tune abruptly terminated, we steadfastly regarded one another, and
she broke into a chuckle of laughter.

"Not quite so seasoned as I supposed, Mr. Withers. I see you are a real
lover of music. To me it is too painful. It evokes too much

I could scarcely see her little glittering eyes under their penthouse

"And now," she broke off crisply, "tell me, as a man of the world, what
do you think of my new niece?"

I was not a man of the world, nor was I much flattered in my stiff and
dullish way of looking at things by being called one; and I could
answer her without the least hesitation.

"I don't think, Miss Seaton, I'm much of a judge of character. She's
very charming."

"A brunette?"

"I think I prefer dark women."

"And why? Consider, Mr. Withers; dark hair, dark eyes, dark cloud, dark
night, dark vision, dark death, dark grave, dark DARK!"

Perhaps the climax would have rather thrilled Seaton, but I was too
thick-skinned. "I don't know much about all that," I answered rather
pompously. "Broad daylight's difficult enough for most of us."

"Ah," she said, with a sly inward burst of satirical laughter.

"And I suppose," I went on, perhaps a little nettled, "it isn't the
actual darkness one admires, its the contrast of the skin, and the
colour of the eyes, and--and their shining. Just as," I went blundering
on, too late to turn back, "just as you only see the stars in the dark.
It would be a long day without any evening. As for death and the grave,
I don't suppose we shall much notice that." Arthur and his sweetheart
were slowly returning along the dewy path. "I believe in making the
best of things."

"How very interesting!" came the smooth answer. "I see you are a
philosopher, Mr. Withers. H'm! 'As for death and the grave, I don't
suppose we shall much notice that.' Very interesting.... And I'm sure,"
she added in a particularly suave voice, "I profoundly hope so." She
rose slowly from her stool. "You will take pity on me again, I hope.
You and I would get on famously--kindred spirits--elective affinities.
And, of course, now that my nephew's going to leave me, now that his
affections are centred on another, I shall be a very lonely old
woman.... Shall I not, Arthur?"

Seaton blinked stupidly. "I didn't hear what you said, Aunt."

"I was telling our old friend, Arthur, that when you are gone I shall
be a very lonely old woman."

"Oh, I don't think so;" he said in a strange voice.

"He means, Mr. Withers, he means, my dear child," she said, sweeping
her eyes over Alice, "he means that I shall have memory for
company--heavenly memory--the ghosts of other days. Sentimental boy!
And did you enjoy our music, Alice? Did I really stir that youthful
heart?... O, O, O," continued the horrible old creature, "you billers
and cooers, I have been listening to such flatteries, such confessions!
Beware, beware, Arthur, there's many a slip." She rolled her little
eyes at me, she shrugged her shoulders at Alice, and gazed an instant
stonily into her nephew's face.

I held out my hand. "Good night, good night!" she cried. "'He that
fights and runs away.' Ah, good night, Mr. Withers; come again soon!"
She thrust out her cheek at Alice, and we all three filed slowly out of
the room.

Black shadow darkened the porch and half the spreading sycamore. We
walked without speaking up the dusty village street. Here and there a
crimson window glowed. At the fork of the high-road I said good-bye.
But I had taken hardly more than a dozen paces when a sudden impulse
seized me.

"Seaton!" I called.

He turned in the moonlight.

"You have my address; if by any chance, you know, you should care to
spend a week or two in town between this and the--the Day, we should be
delighted to see you."

"Thank you, Withers, thank you," he said in a low voice.

"I dare say"--I waved my stick gallantly to Alice--"I dare say you will
be doing some shopping; we could all meet," I added, laughing.

"Thank you, thank you, Withers--immensely;" he repeated.

And so we parted.

But they were out of the jog-trot of my prosaic life. And being of a
stolid and incurious nature, I left Seaton and his marriage, and even
his aunt, to themselves in my memory, and scarcely gave a thought to
them until one day I was walking up the Strand again, and passed the
flashing gloaming of the covered-in jeweller's shop where I had
accidentally encountered my old schoolfellow in the summer. It was one
of those still close autumnal days after a rainy night. I cannot say
why, but a vivid recollection returned to my mind of our meeting and of
how suppressed Seaton had seemed, and of how vainly he had endeavoured
to appear assured and eager. He must be married by now, and had
doubtless returned from his honeymoon. And I had clean forgotten my
manners, had sent not a word of congratulation, nor--as I might very
well have done, and as I knew he would have been immensely pleased at
my doing--the ghost of a wedding-present.

On the other hand, I pleaded with myself, I had had no invitation. I
paused at the corner of Trafalgar Square, and at the bidding of one of
those caprices that seize occasionally on even an unimaginative mind, I
suddenly ran after a green 'bus that was passing, and found myself
bound on a visit I had not in the least foreseen.

All the colours of autumn were over the village when I arrived. A
beautiful late afternoon sunlight bathed thatch and meadow. But it was
close and hot. A child, two dogs, a very old woman with a heavy basket
I encountered. One or two incurious tradesmen looked idly up as I
passed by. It was all so rural and so still, my whimsical impulse had
so much flagged, that for a while I hesitated to venture under the
shadow of the sycamore-tree to enquire after the happy pair. I
deliberately passed by the faint-blue gates and continued my walk under
the high green and tufted wall. Hollyhocks had attained their topmost
bud and seeded in the little cottage gardens beyond; the Michaelmas
daisies were in flower; a sweet warm aromatic smell of fading leaves
was in the air. Beyond the cottages lay a field where cattle were
grazing, and beyond that I came to a little churchyard. Then the road
wound on, pathless and houseless, among gorse and bracken. I turned
impatiently and walked quickly back to the house and rang the bell.

The rather colourless elderly woman who answered my enquiry informed me
that Miss Seaton was at home, as if only taciturnity forbade her
adding, "But she doesn't want to see _you_."

"Might I, do you think, have Mr. Arthur's address?" I said.

She looked at me with quiet astonishment, as if waiting for an
explanation. Not the faintest of smiles came into her thin face.

"I will tell Miss Seaton," she said after a pause. "Please walk in."

She showed me into the dingy undusted drawing-room, filled with evening
sunshine and the green-dyed light that penetrated the leaves
overhanging the long French windows. I sat down and waited on and on,
occasionally aware of a creaking footfall overhead. At last the door
opened a little, and the great face I had once known peered round at
me. For it was enormously changed; mainly, I think, because the old
eyes had rather suddenly failed, and so a kind of stillness and
darkness lay over its calm and wrinkled pallor.

"Who is it?" she asked.

I explained myself and told her the occasion of my visit.

She came in and shut the door carefully after her and, though the
fumbling was scarcely perceptible, groped her way to a chair. She had
on an old dressing-gown, like a cassock, of a patterned cinnamon

"What is it you want?" she said, seating herself and lifting her blank
face to mine.

"Might I just have Arthur's address?" I said deferentially. "I am so
sorry to have disturbed you."

"H'm. You have come to see my nephew?"

"Not necessarily to see him, only to hear how he is, and, of course,
Mrs. Seaton too. I am afraid my silence must have appeared...."

"He hasn't noticed your silence," croaked the old voice out of the
great mask; "besides, there isn't any Mrs. Seaton."

"Ah, then," I answered, after a momentary pause, "I have not seemed so
black as I painted myself! And how is Miss Outram?"

"She's gone into Yorkshire," answered Seaton's aunt.

"And Arthur too?"

She did not reply, but simply sat blinking at me with lifted chin, as
if listening, but certainly not for what I might have to say. I began
to feel rather at a loss.

"You were no close friend of my nephew's, Mr. Smithers?" she said

"No," I answered, welcoming the cue, "and yet, do you know, Miss
Seaton, he is one of the very few of my old schoolfellows I have come
across in the last few years, and I suppose as one gets older one
begins to value old associations...." My voice seemed to trail off into
a vacuum. "I thought Miss Outram," I hastily began again, "a
particularly charming girl. I hope they are both quite well."

Still the old face solemnly blinked at me in silence.

"You must find it very lonely, Miss Seaton, with Arthur away?"

"I was never lonely in my life," she said sourly. "I don't look to
flesh and blood for my company. When you've got to be my age, Mr.
Smithers (which God forbid), you'll find life a very different affair
from what you seem to think it is now. You won't seek company then,
I'll be bound. It's thrust on you." Her face edged round into the clear
green light, and her eyes, as it were, groped over my vacant,
disconcerted face. "I dare say, now," she said, composing her mouth, "I
dare say my nephew told you a good many tarradiddles in his time. Oh,
yes, a good many, eh? He was always a liar. What, now, did he say of
me? Tell me, now." She leant forward as far as she could, trembling,
with an ingratiating smile.

"I think he is rather superstitious," I said coldly, "but, honestly, I
have a very poor memory, Miss Seaton."

"Why?" she said. "_I_ haven't."

"The engagement hasn't been broken off, I hope."

"Well, between you and me," she said, shrinking up and with an
immensely confidential grimace, "it has."

"I'm sure I'm very sorry to hear it. And where is Arthur?"


"Where is Arthur?"

We faced each other mutely among the dead old bygone furniture. Past
all my scrutiny was that large, flat, grey, cryptic countenance. And
then, suddenly, our eyes for the first time, really met. In some
indescribable way out of that thick-lidded obscurity a far small
something stooped and looked out at me for a mere instant of time that
seemed of almost intolerable protraction. Involuntarily I blinked and
shook my head. She muttered something with great rapidity, but quite
inarticulately; rose and hobbled to the door. I thought I heard,
mingled in broken mutterings, something about tea.

"Please, please, don't trouble," I began, but could say no more, for
the door was already shut between us. I stood and looked out on the
long-neglected garden. I could just see the bright greenness of
Seaton's old tadpole pond. I wandered about the room. Dusk began to
gather, the last birds in that dense shadowiness of trees had ceased to
sing. And not a sound was to be heard in the house. I waited on and on,
vainly speculating. I even attempted to ring the bell; but the wire was
broken, and only jangled loosely at my efforts.

I hesitated, unwilling to call or to venture out, and yet more
unwilling to linger on, waiting for a tea that promised to be an
exceedingly comfortless supper. And as darkness drew down, a feeling of
the utmost unease and disquietude came over me. All my talks with
Seaton returned on me with a suddenly enriched meaning. I recalled
again his face as we had stood hanging over the staircase, listening in
the small hours to the inexplicable stirrings of the night. There were
no candles in the room; every minute the autumnal darkness deepened. I
cautiously opened the door and listened, and with some little dismay
withdrew, for I was uncertain of my way out. I even tried the garden,
but was confronted under a veritable thicket of foliage by a padlocked
gate. It would be a little too ignominious to be caught scaling a
friend's garden fence!

Cautiously returning into the still and musty drawing-room, I took out
my watch and gave the incredible old woman ten minutes in which to
reappear. And when that tedious ten minutes had ticked by I could
scarcely distinguish its hands. I determined to wait no longer, drew
open the door, and, trusting to my sense of direction, groped my way
through the corridor that I vaguely remembered led to the front of the

I mounted three or four stairs and, lifting a heavy curtain, found
myself facing the starry fanlight of the porch. Hence I glanced into
the gloom of the dining-room. My fingers were on the latch of the outer
door when I heard a faint stirring in the darkness above the hall. I
looked up and became conscious of, rather than saw, the huddled old
figure looking down on me.

There was an immense hushed pause. Then, "Arthur, Arthur," whispered an
inexpressively peevish, rasping voice, "is that you? Is that you,

I can scarcely say why, but the question horribly startled me. No
conceivable answer occurred to me. With head craned back, hand clenched
on my umbrella, I continued to stare up into the gloom, in this fatuous

"Oh, oh;" the voice croaked. "It is you, is it? _That_ disgusting
man!... Go away out. Go away out."

Hesitating no longer, I caught open the door and, slamming it behind
me, ran out into the garden, under the gigantic old sycamore, and so
out at the open gate.

I found myself half up the village street before I stopped running. The
local butcher was sitting in his shop reading a piece of newspaper by
the light of a small oil-lamp. I crossed the road and enquired the way
to the station. And after he had with minute and needless care directed
me, I asked casually if Mr. Arthur Seaton still lived with his aunt at
the big house just beyond the village. He poked his head in at the
little parlour door.

"Here's a gentleman enquiring after young Mr. Seaton, Millie," he said.
"He's dead, ain't he?"

"Why, yes, bless you," replied a cheerful voice from within. "Dead and
buried these three months or more--young Mr. Seaton. And just before he
was to be married, don't you remember, Bob?"

I saw a fair young woman's face peer over the muslin of the little door
at me.

"Thank you," I replied, "then I go straight on?"

"That's it, sir; past the pond, bear up the hill a bit to the left, and
then there's the station lights before your eyes."

We looked intelligently into each other's faces in the beam of the
smoky lamp. But not one of the many questions in my mind could I put
into words.

And again I paused irresolutely a few paces further on. It was not, I
fancy, merely a foolish apprehension of what the raw-boned butcher
might "think" that prevented my going back to see if I could find
Seaton's grave in the benighted churchyard. There was precious little
use in pottering about in the muddy dark merely to find where he was
buried. And yet I felt a little uneasy. My rather horrible thought was
that, so far as I was concerned--one of his esteemed few friends--he
had never been much better than "buried" in my mind.



(From _The English Review_)


Milgate is a rich farmer, owning his own machines; not like those
poorer, smaller men who hire an engine from a neighbour. He has his
reaping machine, a red and yellow "Walter Wood" Cleveland brand. Every
morning now, as soon as it's dry enough, about nine o'clock, the engine
starts, and from the farmer's Manor House its heavy, drowsy sounds are
heard. For those on the machine the noise is harder. The only human
sound that penetrates it is the old conductor's "Ohoy!" to the driver
if the canvas sticks, or if weeds are making a "block." Then the young
man in front slows his engine down, and wipes his forehead with his
hand. Reaping goes on until nine at night.

No strange workman sits on the reaper, but one of Milgate's best men,
the most trustworthy, most faithful--the waggoner; a man well over
sixty, with side-whiskers, grey eyes, a long nose, and forehead and
chin carved out of granite. On his head a flat "wide-awake" hat, on his
bent back a white jacket. When he speaks, his mouth moves sideways
first; there's always a spot of dried blood on his lip; when he smiles
a tooth-stump appears like an ancient fossil. He talks slowly, stopping
to spit now and then; every day of his life he gets up at half-past
three. Now, mounted on the high iron seat (a crumpled sack for saddle),
he rides like some old charioteer, a Hercules with great bowed back,
head jutting out, chin straight; a hard, weathered look about his face,
and in his heart disgust--this year, for the first time, they are using
a motor engine to pull the reaper round instead of horses. He lives for
his horses; he's the "Waggoner," they are his "job;" if one falls ill,
he sleeps with it. He believes in horses; but, speaking of the motor,
he says: "She's arlraight--when she's arlraight!" with a look which
ends the sentence for him! In his youth he had reaped with a scythe.

This "Walter Wood" is a neat arrangement, you can't deny that; one bit
of mechanism works as a divider, while a big, light kind of wooden
windmill arrangement, continually revolving, beats the corn down into a
flat pan from which it's carried, on a canvas slide, up an incline,
then shot over and down the other side in one continual long, flat
stream like yellow matting. And then the needle, the "threadle" as he
calls it, nips in somewhere, binding the flat mass into separate, neat,
round sheaves, pitched out every few moments with perfect precision by
a three-pronged iron fork. Above the one big, heavy central wheel the
charioteer is shaken and jolted from nine till nine. In front, on
another iron seat by the boxlike engine, the driver works. Behind runs
a red-faced labourer "clearing corners." The motor has to run out the
full length of its cogged iron wheel bands before it can turn, and
sheaves dropped on the last round get in the way; so at each corner
they have to be lifted and set back. The labourer "clears," then runs
after the machine--now half-way up the field--stops at the next corner,
stoops once more to lift and shift three sheaves, then runs again.

This labourer was a man of forty with a face as naive as a boy of
fifteen. Though getting bald, his eyes were young; his mouth loose,
untrained as a child's. He's "touched," as we say, and had never really
grown up. He slept in an attic, ate in a kitchen, and worked, but was
not "responsible;" he was always given "light jobs"--walking with the
"clappers," weeding, cleaning sties, "clearing." His greatest friend
was a boy of twelve; on Sundays they'd laugh for an hour at nothing.
Going to the coast for the first time last year, he was so taken by a
Punch and Judy show that he never saw the sea. His smile was the most
ridiculous thing in the world. He blushed continually, panted, grinned
like some boy caught kissing, and was always apologetic. Lightning made
him hide his head, and he was afraid of engines--their regularity upset
him. Running behind the reaper--this quick-moving, noisy thing smelling
of oil, made up of sliding chains--appalled him; there were five wheels
at an angle, and all the time an oil-wet, black, flat, chain-band ran
round over them! Underneath, the heavy central wheel ran round and
round! To the imbecile the waggoner's courage appeared supernatural.

There should have been another man to take two corners, but all hands
were wanted; so the labourer had to run all day. It was hot, no wind,
no shade. If he looked up for a moment, the hills and distant elms
appeared bright blue. The big field itself was ablaze with colour;
wheat like brown burnt amber, poppies, small white daisies, thistles.
When the engine stopped the only sounds were plaintive, anxious
bird-calls from the centre of the field; sometimes a rabbit or a hare
looked out, then bolted back. Once five graceful, sleek, brown
pheasants ran out towards the hedge, then lost their nerve, turned and
went running back. The sun shone steadily; sheaves picked up by the
labourer made his hands smell oily, their string band raised a blister
on his forefinger. Very often he grabbed hold of nettles and sharp
thistles, and the backs of his hands were swollen and covered with
stings. Blue butterflies twirled in front of his face, pale moths flew
out. When his hat fell off he had no time to get it. The sweat ran down
his egg-shaped forehead to his long, square, hairy chin (though he
could shave himself on Sundays, he looked a little like a monkey).

When the engine stuck, the waggoner asked in his slow, flat voice:

"Woan't she speak?"

"She's not comin' out!" was the youth's reply.

Once the driver was thrown up a foot when the motor went over a hole.
He yelled: "Men are often killed by the reaper." The imbecile got the
startled look of a child seeing snakes at the Zoo. Each time the engine
snorted, or the waggoner called out "Ohoy!" a spurt of sweat ran down
his spine; the blood was beating in his head; the sun shone mercilessly
on his pale, bald patch; the field began to bounce before his eyes,
bloodshot from stooping. When yards of bindweed shackled the machinery,
the waggoner just turned his head--a sign--for the labourer, who had to
run, had to catch and tear away the long green chains full of small
pink flowers.

By four o'clock they were overtaking him before he got round; the
driver had to turn more sharply, the canvas stuck.

"Doan you do that agen!" the old waggoner scolded with stern eye;
"you'll tourn us oover!"

The engine stuck when they tried to start again; for half an hour the
young driver tinkered with tools from the box, unscrewing small oily
"nuts," testing "wires," feeling "levers," and in desperation wiping
his black, dripping hands on his hair. Twenty times he turned the
"starting handle," but "she wouldn't speak!" Then, suddenly, with a
sound like a pistol-shot, the engine "fired," the machine ran
backwards, upsetting the labourer, and before he could move, the
central wheel ran over his ankles.

When the imbecile came to himself they were still at the corner, his
feet were tied up in a jacket, he was suffering horribly, yet seemed
unable to focus it; but seeing the red and yellow reaper standing close
beside his head, some memory soaked his face with sweat; he fainted.

Brandy was fetched; they had lifted him on to a hurdle when he
recovered again. The whole group were still at the corner. His employer
stood there, stout, well-dressed, and anxious, in his grey felt hat,
dark coat and trousers; the driver stood there, too, and the old
waggoner. Corn was still "up" in the middle of the field. The labourer
looked surprised at seeing sky before him; as a rule when he stared he
saw fields. He turned his face; the men watching saw his round, boyish
eyes project at sight of something red and wet and sticky (like the
mess they made out sheep-killing) splashed on the stubble, while two
broken boots lay oozing the same stuff in a large pool of it. Following
this look, the old waggoner said slowly:

"Eh, me boy, they'm youers...." Tears were running down his stiff,
dried cheeks.

"How d'you feel?" asked the farmer. His labourer blushed, then
whispered to the waggoner:

"What's 'appened, Mister Collard?"

"Why, you've a-loarst your feet."

For yet another minute the imbecile lay panting, shy, self-conscious
under his master's eye--until an idea struck him; once more whispering
to the waggoner, he said:

"'Elp me oop. I'll get 'ome, Willy."

"You carn't walk," said the old man simply. "You carn't walk no moar."

Black hairs stiffened suddenly on the idiot's chin; he had understood
that in those bleeding, mangled boots his feet were lying; he began to
cry. But then, catching sight of his master, smiled as though to



(From _Lloyd's Story Magazine_)


Charlie had no true vice in him. All the same, a man may be overtaxed,
over-harassed, over-routined, over-driven, over-pricked, over-preached
and over-starved right up to the edge; and then the fascination of the
big space below may easily pull him over.

But his wife's uncle's assertion that he must always, inwardly, have
been naturally wild and bad, was as wrong as such assertions usually
are, for he was no more truly vicious than his youngest baby was.

On the warm evening when he came home on that fateful autumn day,
Charlie had been pushed, in the course of years, right up to the edge,
and was looking into the abyss, though he was hardly aware of it, so
well had he been disciplined. He emerged from a third-class carriage of
the usual train without an evening paper because his wife had shown him
the decency of cutting down small personal expenses, and next morning's
papers would have the same news in anyway; he walked home up the
suburban road for the four thousandth five hundredth and fiftieth time;
entered quietly not to disturb the baby; rubbed his boots on the mat;
answered his wife brightly and manfully; washed his hands in cold
water--the hot water being saved for the baby's bath and the washing-up
in the evenings--and sat down to about the four thousandth five
hundredth and fiftieth cold supper.

His wife said she was tired and seemed proud of it.

"But never mind," she said, "one must expect to be tired." He went on
eating without verbally questioning her; it was an assertion to which
she always held firmly. But in his soul something stirred vaguely, as
if mutinous currents fretted there.

"I have been thinking," she said, "that you really ought not to buy
that new suit you were considering if Maud is to go to a better school
next term. I have been looking over your pepper-and-salt, and there are
those people who turn suits like new. You can have that done."

"But----" he murmured.

"We ought not to think of ourselves," she added.

"I never have," said Charlie in rather a low voice.

"We ought to give a little subscription to the Parish Magazine," she
continued. "The Vicar is calling round for extra subscriptions."

Charlie nodded. He was wishing he knew the football results in the
evening paper.

His wife served a rice shape. She doled out jam with a careful hand and
a measuring eye. "We ought to see about the garden gate," she said.

"I'll mend it on Saturday," Charlie replied.

"I was thinking," she said presently, "that we ought to ask Uncle Henry
and Aunt round soon. They will be expecting it."

Charlie put his spoon and fork together, hesitated and then replied
slowly: "Life is nothing but 'ought.' 'Ought' to do this: 'Ought' to do

His wife looked at him, astonished. He could see that she was
grieved--or rather, aggrieved--at his glimmer of anarchy.

"Of course," she explained at last. "People can't have what they like.
There's one's duty to do. Life isn't for enjoyment, Charlie. It's given
to us ... it is given to us...."

As she paused to crystallise an idea, Charlie cut in.

"Yes," he said, "it is given to us.... What for?"

He leaned his head on his hand. He was not looking at her. He was
looking at the cloth, weaving patterns upon it. And with this question
something of boyhood came upon him again, and he weaved visions upon
the cloth.

"To do one's duty in," she replied gently, but rebukingly.

Charlie did not know the classic phrase, "Cui bono." He merely

"What for?"

After supper he helped her to wash up, for the daily help left early in
the afternoon; and then he asked her, idle as he knew the question to
be, if she would like to come for a walk--just a short walk up the

She shook her head. "I ought not to leave the children."

"They're in bed," he argued, "and Maud's big enough to look after the
others for half-an-hour. Maud's twelve."

She shook her head. "I ought not to leave the house."

"But," he began slowly.

"I am not the kind of woman who leaves her house and children in the
evenings," she said gently, but finally.

Charlie took his hat. He turned it round and round in his hands,
pinching the crown in, and punching it out. He had a curious, almost
uncontrollable wish to cry. For a moment it was terrible. Before it was
over, she was speaking again.

"You ought not to mess your hats about like that; they don't last half
as long."

Charlie went out.

He knew other men who were as puzzled about life as himself, but mostly
they were of cruder stuff, and if things at home went beyond their
bearing they flung out of their houses, swearing, and went to play a
hundred up at the local club. Then they were philosophers again. But
for Charlie this evening there was no philosophy big enough, for he was
looking, though he did not know it, over the edge of that awful, but
enchanting abyss. Its depths were obscured by rolling clouds of mist,
and it was only this mist which he now saw, terrifying and confusing
him. He was a little man, and knew it. He was a poor man, and knew it.
He was a weary man, and knew it. He hated his wife, and knew it. He
hated his children--whom she had made like herself, prim, peeking and
childishly censorious--and knew it.

He had not meant it to be like this at all.

When he got married she was the starched daughter of starched parents
from a starched small house--like the one he came from--but she was
young, and her figure was pliant, and her hair curled rather sweetly.

He had dreamed of happy days, cosy days with laughter; little treats
together--Soho restaurants, Richmond Park, something colourful,
something for which he had vaguely and secretly longed all the dingy,
narrow, church-parading, humbugging days of his good little boyhood.
But he soon woke up to find he had married another hard holy woman like
his mother.

He walked along, thinking mistily and hotly. Supposing he had a baby
who roared with joy and stole the sugar ... but she wouldn't have
babies like that. The first coherent thing her babies learned to say
was a text.

Babies.... He hadn't wanted three, because they couldn't afford them.
He tried to talk to her about it. She made him ashamed of himself,
though he didn't know why; and showed him how wicked he was, though he
didn't know why; and how good she was, though he didn't know why--then.
But he knew now that there are still many women who are gluttons for
martyrdom, who long to exalt themselves by a parrot righteousness, and
who are only happy when destroying natural joy in others. And he knew
there were many men like himself, married and done for; tied up to
these pettifogging saints; goaded under their stupid yoke; belittled
through their narrow eyes.

He thought all this mistily and hotly.

He had come to the end of the road; and the end of another road more
populous; and the end of another road, more populous.

At a corner of this road stood Kitty.

She was soft and colourful, painted to a perfect peachiness,
young--twenty-four and looking less; old as the world and wise. She was
gay. She did not much care if it snowed; she knew enough to wriggle in
somewhere, somehow, out of it. The years had not yet scared her. She
was joy.

Charlie paused before he knew why. She looked at him. Then the mists
rolled away from the abyss below the tottering edge on which he had
been balanced for longer time than he guessed, and he saw the garden
far below; lotus flowers dreaming in the sun. He launched himself
simply into space towards them.

Kitty helped him. She knew how.

Charlie had, as it happened, his next week's personal allowance of
seven and sixpence in his pocket--for to-day had been pay day; and his
season ticket. The rest he had handed over to his wife at supper time.
He had also, however, the moral support of knowing that he had in the
savings bank the exact amount of his sickness and life insurance
premiums due that very week. So it did not embarrass him to take Kitty
straight away up to town--she, making a shrewd summary of him, did not
object to third-class travelling--and to stand her coffee and a
sandwich at the Monico.

"I don't happen to have much change on me, and my bank's closed," was
the explanation he offered, and she tactfully accepted of this modest

It was ten-thirty when she took him to see her tiny flat a stone's
throw away. She was looking for another supporter for that flat, and
explained her reason for being in Charlie's suburb that evening. She'd
been trying to find the house of a man friend--a rich friend--who lived
there, and might have helped her over a temporary difficulty, but when
she found the house the servants told her he was away. She confided
these things, leaning in Charlie's arms on a little striped divan by a
gas fire. She made him a drink, and showed him the cunning and
luxurious little contrivances for comfort about the flat. He loved it.
She didn't try to conceal from him her real vocation, for that would
have been too silly. Even Charlie might not have been such a fool as to
believe her. But she invested it with glamour; she made of it romance.
Once more as in boyhood he saw the world full of allurement.

So he went home, having promised her that to-morrow he would come

And going in quietly, so as not to disturb the baby, he undressed
quietly so as not to disturb his wife, and he crept cautiously into the
double bed that she decreed they must share for ever and ever, whatever
their feelings towards one another, because they were married; and he
hoped to fall asleep with enchantment unbroken. But she was awake, and
waiting patiently to speak. "Where have you been, Charlie?"

"At the club," he whispered back. "Watching two fellows play a billiard

She sighed.

"Charlie," she said, "you ought to have more consideration for me.
Maudie said to me when I went in to look at them before I came to bed:
'Is daddy still out?' she said. 'I do think he ought not to go out and
leave you alone, mamma.' She's such a sweet child, Charlie, and I do
think you ought to think more of her. Children often say little things
in the innocence of their hearts that do even us grown-up people good

So the next morning Charlie left home with a suit-case--alleged to
contain the one suit for turning, but really crammed to bursting. His
wife being busy with the baby, Maud saw him off with her usual air of
smug reproof; and that evening he did not come back. He had written a
letter to his wife, on the journey to town, telling her his decision,
which she would receive by the afternoon post. But he gave her no

He drew out the whole amount in the savings bank, surrendered his life
insurance, realising L160; and he went home after the day's work to

Little Kitty was looking for any kind of mug, pending better
developments, and she certainly had found one; but what a happy mug he
was! Life was warm and light, gay and uncritical. He spent even less on
his own lunches--he retained his seven and sixpence weekly personal
allowance, though of course he posted the rest of his salary home--so
that he might have an extra half-crown or so to buy chocolates for
Kitty. It was nice to buy chocolates instead of subscribing to the
Vicar's Fund. And little Kitty, who was wise, guessed he hadn't much
and couldn't afford her long, so pending better things, like a sensible
person, she eked him out.

She made him so happy. They laughed. She sang--

I'm for ever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.
They fly so high, nearly reach the sky....

She had a gramophone and she taught him to dance, and then he had to
take her to the best dancing place he could afford and they danced a
long evening through. He bought her a wonderful little woollen frock at
one of the small French shops in Shaftesbury Avenue, and she looked
exactly what she was in it; and he knew she was the most wonderful
thing in the world. When he propounded the frock question to her one
morning when they woke up, saying: "I would like to see you in a dress
I'd bought, Kitty," she did not tell him it was wrong to consider
themselves, and she would have her old black turned. She put a dear fat
little arm round his neck, laid a soft selfish cheek to his, and
muttered cosily, "It shall buy her a frock then. It shall."

She was sporting enough not to protest when she knew where his weekly
pay went. "Three kids must be fed," she said. In fact, according to her
own codes, she was not ungenerous towards the other woman.

All the while he knew: L160 can't last. What will happen when...?

Charlie's wife thought she was sure of what must happen pretty soon. So
did her Uncle Henry and Aunt, for whom she had sent a day or two after
the blow had fallen.

They found her cutting down Maud's oldest dress for the second child in
her tidy house.

"Charlie has left me for an immoral woman," she said, after preparing
them with preliminaries.

"What!" said Uncle Henry. He was a churchwarden at the church to which
Charlie, in a bowler hat, had had to take the critical Maud on Sundays.

"Fancy leaving _that_!" said Aunt, when they had digested and credited
the news. She pointed at her niece sewing diligently even through this
painful conversation. "Look at her scraping and economising and
contriving. And he leaves her!"

"He must be naturally wild and bad," said Uncle Henry. "Shall I speak
to the Vicar for you?"

"Have you written to his firm?" asked Aunt.

Charlie's wife spoke wisely, gently, and with perfection as ever. "No,"
she said. "I have thought it over, and I think the best thing, for the
children's sake, is to say nothing. We ought not to consider ourselves.
Besides, I dare say it's my duty to forgive him."

"Always thinking of your duty!" murmured Aunt admiringly.

"If I wrote to his firm about it," said Charlie's wife, "they would
dismiss him."

"Ah! and he sends you his pay, you say?" said Uncle Henry, seizing the
point like a business man.

"What a position for a conscientious woman like you!" mourned Aunt.

"You are quite right, my dear," said Uncle Henry. "You have three
children and no other means of sustenance, and you cannot afford to do
as I should otherwise advise you."

"Besides, he will come back," said Charlie's wife gently. "Men are soon
sickened of these women."

"Of course," agreed Aunt.

"Well! Well!" said Uncle Henry, "you are very magnanimous, my dear, and
one day Charles will fully appreciate it. And I hope he will be duly
thankful to you for your great goodness. Yes! You will soon have Master
Charles creeping back, very ashamed of himself, and when he comes, I
for one, intend to give him the biggest talking to he has ever had in
his life. But I really think the Vicar too, should be told, in
confidence, so that he may decide upon the right course of action for

"Because he could not allow your husband to communicate, my love," said
Aunt, "without being sure of his genuine repentance."

"I have been thinking of that too," said Charlie's wife. "It would not
be right."

"I wonder what he feels about himself, when he remembers his dear
little children," said Aunt. "Maud nearly old enough to understand, and

So they lay for Charlie, while he basked and thrived in the abyss of
the lotus-flower; and the L160 dwindled.

It was towards the end of the second month that Charlie sensed a new
element in his precarious dream. All day when he was out, thinking of
Kitty through the routine of his work, he had no idea of what she was
doing. Sometimes he was afraid to think of what she might be doing, and
for fear of shattering the dream, he never dared to ask. Always she was
sweet and joyful towards him--save for petulant quarrels she raised as
if to make the ensuing sweetness and joyfulness the dearer--until
towards the close of the second month. Then one evening she was
distrait; one evening, critical; one night, cold; then she had a dinner
and dance engagement at the Savoy. Then he knew that his time had come.

He waited up for her. He had the gas fire lighted in the tiny
sitting-room, and little sugary cakes and wine on the table; and the
gas fire lighted in the bedroom to warm it for her, and the bed turned
down, and her nightgown and slippers, so frail, warming before the

But he knew.

In the early dawn her key clicked in the lock, and she came in,
followed by a man. He was pale, sensual, moneyed, fashionable. Charlie
got up stoutly; but he was already beaten.

The Jew looked at him, and turned to Kitty.

"I told you," she said, stammering a little, "I told you how it was. By
to-morrow ... I told you...."

"I'll come again, to-morrow, then," said the man very meaningly, "fetch
you out----"

"At eight," she nodded firmly.

He kissed her on the mouth, while Charlie stood looking at them with
eyes that seemed to stare themselves out of his head, turned and went

"Nighty-night!" Kitty called after him.

After the front door clicked again there was a moment's silence. Kitty
advanced, shook off her cloak, took up one of the sugary cakes, and
began to munch it. She looked beautiful and careless and sorry and hard
all at once.

"What are you sitting up for, Charlie?" she asked. "I didn't expect to
see you. I brought that fellow in to talk."

"What about?" said Charlie in a hoarse desolate voice.

"Charlie," said Kitty, hurriedly, "you know this arrangement of ours
can't last, now, can it, dear? You haven't the cash for one thing,
dear. Now, have you? And I've got to think of myself a little; a girl's
got to provide. You've been awf'ly good to me. Let's part friends."

"'Part!'" he repeated.

His eyes seemed to start from his head.

"Let's part friends," wheedled Kitty. "Shall us?"

The night passed in a kind of evil vision of desolation, and Kitty was
asleep long before he had stopped his futile whisperings into her ear.

Before he went to the office in the morning, he asked her from a

Book of the day: