Part 2 out of 2
alive. Her thought was like a spell she waved above her mistress's head.
That night I was wakened by a hurried tapping at my door, and before I
could answer, Frances stood beside my bed. She had switched on the light
as she came in. Her hair fell straggling over her dressing gown. Her
face was deathly pale, its expression so distraught it was almost
The eyes were very wide. She looked almost like another woman.
She was whispering at a great pace: "Bill, Bill, wake up, quick!"
"I am awake. What is it?" I whispered too. I was startled.
"Listen!" was all she said. Her eyes stared into vacancy.
There was not a sound in the great house. The wind had dropped, and all
was still. Only the tapping seemed to continue endlessly in my brain.
The clock on the mantelpiece pointed to half-past two.
"I heard nothing, Frances. What is it?" I rubbed my eyes; I had been
very deeply asleep.
"Listen!" she repeated very softly, holding up one finger and turning
her eyes towards the door she had left ajar. Her usual calmness had
deserted her. She was in the grip of some distressing terror.
For a full minute we held our breath and listened. Then her eyes rolled
round again and met my own, and her skin went even whiter than before.
"It woke me," she said beneath her breath, and moving a step nearer to
my bed. "It was the Noise." Even her whisper trembled.
"The Noise!" The word repeated itself dully of its own accord. I would
rather it had been anything in the world but that--earthquake, foreign
cannon, collapse of the house above our heads! "The Noise, Frances! Are
you sure?" I was playing really for a little time.
"It was like thunder. At first I thought it was thunder. But a minute
later it came again--from underground. It's appalling." She muttered the
words, her voice not properly under control.
There was a pause of perhaps a minute, and then we both spoke at once.
We said foolish, obvious things that neither of us believed in for a
second. The roof had fallen in, there were burglars downstairs, the
safes had been blown open. It was to comfort each other as children do
that we said these things; also it was to gain further time.
"There's some one in the house, of course," I heard my voice say
finally, as I sprang out of bed and hurried into dressing gown and
slippers. "Don't be alarmed. I'll go down and see," and from the drawer
I took a pistol it was my habit to carry everywhere with me. I loaded it
carefully while Frances stood stock-still beside the bed and watched. I
moved towards the open door.
"You stay here, Frances," I whispered, the beating of my heart making
the words uneven, "while I go down and make a search. Lock yourself in,
girl. Nothing can happen to you. It was downstairs, you said?"
"Underneath," she answered faintly, pointing through the floor.
She moved suddenly between me and the door.
"Listen! Hark!" she said, the eyes in her face quite fixed; "it's coming
again," and she turned her head to catch the slightest sound. I stood
there watching her, and while I watched her, shook.
But nothing stirred. From the halls below rose only the whirr and quiet
ticking of the numerous clocks. The blind by the open window behind us
flapped out a little into the room as the draught caught it.
"I'll come with you, Bill--to the next floor," she broke the silence.
"Then I'll stay with Mabel--till you come up again." The blind sank down
with a long sigh as she said it.
The question jumped to my lips before I could repress it:
"Mabel is awake. She heard it too?"
I hardly know why horror caught me at her answer. All was so vague and
terrible as we stood there playing the great game of this sinister house
where nothing ever happened.
"We met in the passage. She was on her way to me."
What shook in me, shook inwardly. Frances, I mean, did not see it. I had
the feeling just that the Noise was upon us, that any second it would
boom and roar about our ears. But the deep silence held. I only heard my
sister's little whisper coming across the room in answer to my question:
"Then what is Mabel doing now?"
And her reply proved that she was yielding at last beneath the dreadful
tension, for she spoke at once, unable longer to keep up the pretence.
With a kind of relief, as it were, she said it out, looking helplessly
at me like a child:
"She is weeping and gna--"
My expression must have stopped her. I believe I clapped both hands upon
her mouth, though when I realized things clearly again, I found they
were covering my own ears instead. It was a moment of unutterable
horror. The revulsion I felt was actually physical. It would have given
me pleasure to fire off all the five chambers of my pistol into the air
above my head; the sound--a definite, wholesome sound that explained
itself--would have been a positive relief. Other feelings, though, were
in me too, all over me, rushing to and fro. It was vain to seek their
disentanglement; it was impossible. I confess that I experienced, among
them, a touch of paralyzing fear--though for a moment only; it passed as
sharply as it came, leaving me with a violent flush of blood to the face
such as bursts of anger bring, followed abruptly by an icy perspiration
over the entire body. Yet I may honestly avow that it was not ordinary
personal fear I felt, nor any common dread of physical injury. It was,
rather, a vast, impersonal shrinking--a sympathetic shrinking--from the
agony and terror that countless others, somewhere, somehow, felt for
themselves. The first sensation of a prison overwhelmed me in that
instant, of bitter strife and frenzied suffering, and the fiery torture
of the yearning to escape that was yet hopelessly uttered.... It was of
incredible power. It was real. The vain, intolerable hope swept over me.
I mastered myself, though hardly knowing how, and took my sister's hand.
It was as cold as ice, as I led her firmly to the door and out into the
passage. Apparently she noticed nothing of my so near collapse, for I
caught her whisper as we went. "You are brave, Bill; splendidly brave."
The upper corridors of the great sleeping house were brightly lit; on
her way to me she had turned on every electric switch her hand could
reach; and as we passed the final flight of stairs to the floor below, I
heard a door shut softly and knew that Mabel had been listening--waiting
for us. I led my sister up to it. She knocked, and the door was opened
cautiously an inch or so. The room was pitch black. I caught no glimpse
of Mabel standing there. Frances turned to me with a hurried whisper,
"Billy, you will be careful, won't you?" and went in. I just had time to
answer that I would not be long, and Frances to reply, "You'll find us
here" when the door closed and cut her sentence short before its end.
But it was not alone the closing door that took the final words.
Frances--by the way she disappeared I knew it--had made a swift and
violent movement into the darkness that was as though she sprang. She
leaped upon that other woman who stood back among the shadows, for,
simultaneously with the clipping of the sentence, another sound was also
stopped--stifled, smothered, choked back lest I should also hear it. Yet
not in time. I heard it--a hard and horrible sound that explained both
the leap and the abrupt cessation of the whispered words.
I stood irresolute a moment. It was as though all the bones had been
withdrawn from my body, so that I must sink and fall. That sound plucked
them out, and plucked out my self-possession with them. I am not sure
that it was a sound I had ever heard before, though children, I half
remembered, made it sometimes in blind rages when they knew not what
they did. In a grown-up person certainly I had never known it. I
associated it with animals rather--horribly. In the history of the
world, no doubt, it has been common enough, alas, but fortunately today
there can be but few who know it, or would recognize it even when heard.
The bones shot back into my body the same instant, but red-hot and
burning; the brief instant of irresolution passed; I was torn between
the desire to break down the door and enter, and to run--run for my life
from a thing I dared not face.
Out of the horrid tumult, then, I adopted neither course. Without
reflection, certainly without analysis of what was best to do for my
sister, myself or Mabel, I took up my action where it had been
interrupted. I turned from the awful door and moved slowly towards the
head of the stairs.
But that dreadful little sound came with me. I believe my own teeth
chattered. It seemed all over the house--in the empty halls that opened
into the long passages towards the music-room, and even in the grounds
outside the building. From the lawns and barren garden, from the ugly
terraces themselves, it rose into the night, and behind it came a
curious driving sound, incomplete, unfinished, as of wailing for
deliverance, the wailing of desperate souls in anguish, the dull and dry
beseeching of hopeless spirits in prison.
That I could have taken the little sound from the bedroom where I
actually heard it, and spread it thus over the entire house and grounds,
is evidence, perhaps, of the state my nerves were in.
The wailing assuredly was in my mind alone. But the longer I hesitated,
the more difficult became my task, and, gathering up my dressing gown,
lest I should trip in the darkness, I passed slowly down the staircase
into the hail below. I carried neither candle nor matches; every switch
in room and corridor was known to me. The covering of darkness was
indeed rather comforting than otherwise, for if it prevented seeing, it
also prevented being seen. The heavy pistol, knocking against my thigh
as I moved, made me feel I was carrying a child's toy, foolishly. I
experienced in every nerve that primitive vast dread which is the Thrill
of darkness. Merely the child in me was comforted by that pistol.
The night was not entirely black; the iron bars across the glass front
door were visible, and, equally, I discerned the big, stiff wooden
chairs in the hall, the gaping fireplace, the upright pillars supporting
the staircase, the round table in the center with its books and
flower-vases, and the basket that held visitors' cards. There, too, was
the stick and umbrella stand and the shelf with railway guides,
directory, and telegraph forms. Clocks ticked everywhere with sounds
like quiet footfalls. Light fell here and there in patches from the
floor above. I stood a moment in the hall, letting my eyes grow more
accustomed to the gloom, while deciding on a plan of search. I made out
the ivy trailing outside over one of the big windows ... and then the
tall clock by the front door made a grating noise deep down inside its
body--it was the Presentation clock, large and hideous, given by the
congregation of his church--and, dreading the booming strike it seemed
to threaten, I made a quick decision. If others beside myself were about
in the night, the sound of that striking might cover their approach.
So I tiptoed to the right, where the passage led towards the dining
room. In the other direction were the morning- and drawing rooms, both
little used, and various other rooms beyond that had been his, generally
now kept locked. I thought of my sister, waiting upstairs with that
frightened woman for my return. I went quickly, yet stealthily.
And, to my surprise, the door of the dining room was open. It had been
opened. I paused on the threshold, staring about me. I think I fully
expected to see a figure blocked in the shadows against the heavy
sideboard, or looming on the other side beneath his portrait. But the
room was empty; I felt it empty. Through the wide bow-windows that gave
on to the verandah came an uncertain glimmer that even shone reflected
in the polished surface of the dinner-table, and again I perceived the
stiff outline of chairs, waiting tenantless all round it, two larger
ones with high carved backs at either end. The monkey trees on the upper
terrace, too, were visible outside against the sky, and the solemn
crests of the wellingtonias on the terraces below. The enormous dock on
the mantelpiece ticked very slowly, as though its machinery were running
down, and I made out the pale round patch that was its face. Resisting
my first inclination to turn the lights up--my hand had gone so far as
to finger the friendly knob--I crossed the room so carefully that no
single board creaked, nor a single chair, as I rested a hand upon its
back, moved on the parquet flooring. I turned neither to the right nor
left, nor did I once look back.
I went towards the long corridor filled with priceless _objets d'art_,
that led through various antechambers into the spacious music-room, and
only at the mouth of this corridor did I next halt a moment in
uncertainty. For this long corridor, lit faintly by high windows on the
left from the verandah, was very narrow, owing to the mass of shelves
and fancy tables it contained. It was not that I feared to knock over
precious things as I went, but, that, because of its ungenerous width,
there would be no room to pass another person--if I met one. And the
certainty had suddenly come upon me that somewhere in this corridor
another person at this actual moment stood. Here, somehow, amid all this
dead atmosphere of furniture and impersonal emptiness, lay the hint of a
living human presence; and with such conviction did it come upon me,
that my hand instinctively gripped the pistol in my pocket before I
could even think. Either some one had passed along this corridor just
before me, or some one lay waiting at its farther end--withdrawn or
flattened into one of the little recesses, to let me pass. It was the
person who had opened the door. And the blood ran from my heart as I
It was not courage that sent me on, but rather a strong impulsion from
behind that made it impossible to retreat: the feeling that a throng
pressed at my back, drawing nearer and nearer; that I was already half
surrounded, swept, dragged, coaxed into a vast prison-house where there
was wailing and gnashing of teeth, where their worm dieth not and their
fire is not quenched. I can neither explain nor justify the storm of
irrational emotion that swept me as I stood in that moment, staring down
the length of the silent corridor towards the music-room at the far end,
I can only repeat that no personal bravery sent me down it, but that the
negative emotion of fear was swamped in this vast sea of pity and
commiseration for others that surged upon me.
My senses, at least, were no whit confused; if anything, my brain
registered impressions with keener accuracy than usual. I noticed, for
instance, that the two swinging doors of baize that cut the corridor
into definite lengths, making little rooms of the spaces between them,
were both wide-open--in the dim light no mean achievement. Also that the
fronds of a palm plant, some ten feet in front of me, still stirred
gently from the air of someone who had recently gone past them. The long
green leaves waved to and fro like hands. Then I went stealthily forward
down the narrow space, proud even that I had this command of myself, and
so carefully that my feet made no sound upon the Japanese matting on the
It was a journey that seemed timeless. I have no idea how fast or slow I
went, but I remember that I deliberately examined articles on each side
of me, peering with particular closeness into the recesses of wall and
window. I passed the first baize doors, and the passage beyond them
widened out to hold shelves of books; there were sofas and small
reading-tables against the wall.
It narrowed again presently, as I entered the second stretch. The
windows here were higher and smaller, and marble statuettes of classical
subject lined the walls, watching me like figures of the dead. Their
white and shining faces saw me, yet made no sign. I passed next between
the second baize doors. They, too, had been fastened back with hooks
against the wall. Thus all doors were open--had been recently opened.
And so, at length, I found myself in the final widening of the corridor
which formed an antechamber to the music-room itself. It had been used
formerly to hold the overflow of meetings. No door separated it from the
great hall beyond, but heavy curtains hung usually to close it off, and
these curtains were invariably drawn. They now stood wide. And here--I
can merely state the impression that came upon me--I knew myself at last
surrounded. The throng that pressed behind me, also surged in front:
facing me in the big room, and waiting for my entry, stood a multitude;
on either side of me, in the very air above my head, the vast assemblage
paused upon my coming. The pause, however, was momentary, for instantly
the deep, tumultuous movement was resumed that yet was silent as a
cavern underground. I felt the agony that was in it, the passionate
striving, the awful struggle to escape. The semi-darkness held
beseeching faces that fought to press themselves upon my vision,
yearning yet hopeless eyes, lips scorched and dry, mouths that opened to
implore but found no craved delivery in actual words, and a fury of
misery and hate that made the life in me stop dead, frozen by the horror
of vain pity. That intolerable, vain Hope was everywhere.
And the multitude, it came to me, was not a single multitude, but many;
for, as soon as one huge division pressed too close upon the edge of
escape, it was dragged back by another and prevented. The wild host was
divided against itself. Here dwelt the Shadow I had "imagined" weeks
ago, and in it struggled armies of lost souls as in the depths of some
bottomless pit whence there is no escape. The layers mingled, fighting
against themselves in endless torture. It was in this great Shadow I had
clairvoyantly seen Mabel, but about its fearful mouth, I now was
certain, hovered another figure of darkness, a figure who sought to keep
it in existence, since to her thought were due those lampless depths of
woe without escape.... Towards me the multitudes now surged.
It was a sound and a movement that brought me back into myself. The
great dock at the farther end of the room just then struck the hour of
three. That was the sound. And the movement--? I was aware that a figure
was passing across the distant center of the floor. Instantly I dropped
back into the arena of my little human terror. My hand again clutched
stupidly at the pistol butt. I drew back into the folds of the heavy
curtain. And the figure advanced.
I remember every detail. At first it seemed to me enormous--this
advancing shadow--far beyond human scale; but as it came nearer, I
measured it, though not consciously, by the organ pipes that gleamed in
faint colors, just above its gradual soft approach. It passed them,
already halfway across the great room. I saw then that its stature was
that of ordinary men. The prolonged booming of the clock died away. I
heard the footfall, shuffling upon the polished boards. I heard another
sound--a voice, low and monotonous, droning as in prayer. The figure was
speaking. It was a woman. And she carried in both hands before her a
small object that faintly shimmered--a glass of water. And then I
There was still an instant's time before she reached me, and I made use
of it. I shrank back, flattening myself against the wall. Her voice
ceased a moment, as she turned and carefully drew the curtains together
behind her, dosing them with one hand. Oblivious of my presence, though
she actually touched my dressing gown with the hand that pulled the
cords, she resumed her dreadful, solemn march, disappearing at length
down the long vista of the corridor like a shadow.
But as she passed me, her voice began again, so that I heard each word
distinctly as she uttered it, her head aloft, her figure upright, as
though she moved at the head of a procession:
"A drop of cold water, given in His name, shall moisten their burning
It was repeated monotonously over and over again, droning down into the
distance as she went, until at length both voice and figure faded into
the shadows at the farther end.
For a time, I have no means of measuring precisely, I stood in that dark
corner, pressing my back against the wall, and would have drawn the
curtains down to hide me had I dared to stretch an arm out. The dread
that presently the woman would return passed gradually away. I realized
that the air had emptied, the crowd her presence had stirred into
activity had retreated; I was alone in the gloomy under-space of the
odious building.... Then I remembered suddenly again the terrified women
waiting for me on that upper landing; and realized that my skin was wet
and freezing cold after a profuse perspiration. I prepared to retrace my
steps. I remember the effort it cost me to leave the support of the wall
and covering darkness of my corner, and step out into the grey light of
the corridor. At first I sidled, then, finding this mode of walking
impossible, turned my face boldly and walked quickly, regardless that my
dressing gown set the precious objects shaking as I passed. A wind that
sighed mournfully against the high, small windows seemed to have got
inside the corridor as well; it felt so cold; and every moment I dreaded
to see the outline of the woman's figure as she waited in recess or
angle against the wall for me to pass.
Was there another thing I dreaded even more? I cannot say. I only know
that the first baize doors had swung to behind me, and the second ones
were close at hand, when the great dim thunder caught me, pouring up
with prodigious volume so that it, seemed to roll out from another
world. It shook the very bowels of the building. I was closer to it than
that other time, when it had followed me from the goblin garden. There
was strength and hardness in it, as of metal reverberation. Some touch
of numbness, almost of paralysis, must surely have been upon me that I
felt no actual terror, for I remember even turning and standing still to
hear it better. "That is the Noise," my thought ran stupidly, and I
think I whispered it aloud; "the Doors are closing." The wind outside
against the windows was audible, so it cannot have been really loud, yet
to me it was the biggest, deepest sound I have ever heard, but so far
away, with such awful remoteness in it, that I had to doubt my own ears
at the same time. It seemed underground--the rumbling of earthquake
gates that shut remorselessly within the rocky Earth--stupendous
ultimate thunder. They were shut off from help again. The doors had
I felt a storm of pity, an agony of bitter, futile hate sweep through
me. My memory of the figure changed then. The Woman with the glass of
cooling water had stepped down from Heaven; but the Man--or was it Men?
--who smeared this terrible layer of belief and Thought upon the
I crossed the dining room--it was fancy, of course, that held my eyes
from glancing at the portrait for fear I should see it smiling approval
--and so finally reached the hall, where the light from the floor above
seemed now quite bright in comparison. All the doors I dosed carefully
behind me; but first I had to open them. The woman had closed every one.
Up the stairs, then, I actually ran, two steps at a time. My sister was
standing outside Mabel's door. By her face I knew that she had also
heard. There was no need to ask. I quickly made my mind up.
"There's nothing," I said, and detailed briefly my tour of search. "All
is quiet and undisturbed downstairs." May God forgive me!
She beckoned to me, closing the door softly behind her. My heart beat
violently a moment, then stood still.
"Mabel," she said aloud.
It was like the sentence of a judge, that one short word.
I tried to push past her and go in, but she stopped me with her arm. She
was wholly mistress of herself, I saw.
"Hush!" she said in a lower voice. "I've got her round again with
brandy. She's sleeping quietly now. We won't disturb her."
She drew me farther out into the landing, and as she did so, the clock
in the hall below struck half-past three. I had stood, then, thirty
minutes in the corridor below. "You've been such a long time." she said
simply. "I feared for you," and she took my hand in her own that was
cold and clammy.
And then, while that dreadful house stood listening about us in the
early hours of this chill morning upon the edge of winter, she told me,
with laconic brevity, things about Mabel that I heard as from a
distance. There was nothing so unusual or tremendous in the short
recital, nothing indeed I might not have already guessed for myself. It
was the time and scene, the inference, too, that made it so afflicting:
the idea that Mabel believed herself so utterly and hopelessly lost--
beyond recovery damned.
That she had loved him with so passionate a devotion that she had given
her soul into his keeping, this certainly I had not divined--probably
because I had never thought about it one way or the other. He had
"converted" her, I knew, but that she had subscribed whole-heartedly to
that most cruel and ugly of his dogmas--this was new to me, and came
with a certain shock as I heard it. In love, of course, the weaker
nature is receptive to all manner of suggestion. This man had
"suggested" his pet brimstone lake so vividly that she had listened and
believed. He had frightened her into heaven; and his heaven, a definite
locality in the skies, had its foretaste here on earth in miniature--The
Towers, house, and garden. Into his dolorous scheme of a handful saved
and millions damned, his enclosure, as it were, of sheep and goats, he
had swept her before she was aware of it. Her mind no longer was her
own. And it was Mrs. Marsh who kept the thought-stream open, though
tempered, as she deemed, with that touch of craven, superstitious mercy.
But what I found it difficult to understand, and still more difficult to
accept, was that, during her year abroad, she had been so haunted with a
secret dread of that hideous after-death that she had finally revolted
and tried to recover that clearer state of mind she had enjoyed before
the religious bully had stunned her--yet had tried in vain. She had
returned to The Towers to find her soul again, only to realize that it
was lost eternally. The cleaner state of mind lay then beyond recovery.
In the reaction that followed the removal of his terrible "suggestion,"
she felt the crumbling of all that he had taught her, but searched in
vain for the peace and beauty his teachings had destroyed. Nothing came
to replace these. She was empty, desolate, hopeless; craving her former
joy and carelessness, she found only hate and diabolical calculation.
This man, whom she had loved to the point of losing her soul for him,
had bequeathed to her one black and fiery thing--the terror of the
damned. His thinking wrapped her in this iron garment that held her
All this Frances told me, far more briefly than I have here repeated it.
In her eyes and gestures and laconic sentences lay the conviction of
great beating issues and of menacing drama my own description fails to
recapture. It was all so incongruous and remote from the world I lived
in that more than once a smile, though a smile of pity, fluttered to my
lips; but a glimpse of my face in the mirror showed rather the leer of a
grimace. There was no real laughter anywhere that night.
The entire adventure seemed so incredible, here, in this twentieth
century--but yet delusion, that feeble word, did not occur once in the
comments my mind suggested though did not utter. I remembered that
forbidding Shadow too; my sister's watercolors; the vanished personality
of our hostess; the inexplicable, thundering Noise, and the figure of
Mrs. Marsh in her midnight ritual that was so childish yet so horrible.
I shivered in spite of my own "emancipated" cast of mind.
"There is no Mabel," were the words with which my sister sent another
shower of ice down my spine. "He has killed her in his lake of fire and
I stared at her blankly, as in a nightmare where nothing true or
possible ever happened.
"He killed her in his lake of fire and brimstone," she repeated more
A desperate effort was in me to say the strong, sensible thing which
should destroy the oppressive horror that grew so stiflingly about us
both, but again the mirror drew the attempted smile into the merest
grin, betraying the distortion that was everywhere in the place.
"You mean," I stammered beneath my breath, "that her faith has gone, but
that the terror has remained?" I asked it, dully groping. I moved out of
the line of the reflection in the glass.
She bowed her head as though beneath a weight; her skin was the pallor
of grey ashes.
"You mean," I said louder, "that she has lost her--mind?"
"She is terror incarnate," was the whispered answer. "Mabel has lost her
soul. Her soul is--there!" She pointed horribly below. "She is seeking
The word "soul" stung me into something of my normal self again.
"But her terror, poor thing, is not--cannot be--transferable to us!" I
exclaimed more vehemently. "It certainly is not convertible into
feelings, sights and--even sounds!"
She interrupted me quickly, almost impatiently, speaking with that
conviction by which she conquered me so easily that night.
"It is her terror that revived 'the Others.' It has brought her into
touch with them. They are loose and driving after her. Her efforts at
resistance have given them also hope--that escape, after all, is
possible. Day and night they strive.
"Escape! Others!" The anger fast rising in me dropped of its own accord
at the moment of birth. It shrank into a shuddering beyond my control.
In that moment, I think, I would have believed in the possibility of
anything and everything she might tell me. To argue or contradict seemed
"His strong belief, as also the beliefs of others who have preceded
him," she replied, so sure of herself that I actually turned to look
over my shoulder, "have left their shadow like a thick deposit over the
house and grounds. To them, poor souls imprisoned by thought, it was
hopeless as granite walls--until her resistance, her effort to dissipate
it--let in light. Now, in their thousands, they are flocking to this
little light, seeking escape. Her own escape, don't you see, may release
It took my breath away. Had his predecessors, former occupants of this
house, also preached damnation of all the world but their own exclusive
sect? Was this the explanation of her obscure talk of "layers," each
striving against the other for domination? And if men are spirits, and
these spirits survive, could strong Thought thus determine their
condition even afterwards?
So many questions flooded into me that I selected no one of them, but
stared in uncomfortable silence, bewildered, out of my depth, and
acutely, painfully distressed. There was so odd a mixture of possible
truth and incredible, unacceptable explanation in it all; so much
confirmed, yet so much left darker than before. What she said did,
indeed, offer a quasi-interpretation of my own series of abominable
sensations--strife, agony, pity, hate, escape--but so far-fetched that
only the deep conviction in her voice and attitude made it tolerable for
a second even. I found myself in a curious state of mind. I could
neither think clearly nor say a word to refute her amazing statements,
whispered there beside me in the shivering hours of the early morning
with only a wall between ourselves and--Mabel. Close behind her words I
remember this singular thing, however--that an atmosphere as of the
Inquisition seemed to rise and stir about the room, beating awful wings
of black above my head.
Abruptly, then, a moment's common sense returned to me. I faced her.
"And the Noise?" I said aloud, more firmly, "the roar of the closing
doors? We have all heard that! Is that subjective too?"
Frances looked sideways about her in a queer fashion that made my flesh
creep again. I spoke brusquely, almost angrily. I repeated the question,
and waited with anxiety for her reply.
"What noise?" she asked, with the frank expression of an innocent child.
"What closing doors?"
But her face turned from grey to white, and I saw that drops of
perspiration glistened on her forehead. She caught at the back of a
chair to steady herself, then glanced about her again with that sidelong
look that made my blood run cold. I understood suddenly then. She did
not take in what I said. I knew now. She was listening--for something
And the discovery revived in me a far stronger emotion than any mere
desire for immediate explanation. Not only did I not insist upon an
answer, but I was actually terrified lest she would answer. More, I felt
in me a terror lest I should be moved to describe my own experiences
below-stairs, thus increasing their reality and so the reality of all.
She might even explain them too!
Still listening intently, she raised her head and looked me in the eyes.
Her lips opened to speak. The words came to me from a great distance, it
seemed, and her voice had a sound like a stone that drops into a deep
well, its fate though hidden, known.
"We are in it with her, too, Bill. We are in it with her. Our
interpretations vary--because we are--in parts of it only. Mabel is in
The desire for violence came over me. If only she would say a definite
thing in plain King's English! If only I could find it in me to give
utterance to what shouted so loud within me! If only--the same old cry--
something would happen! For all this elliptic talk that dazed my mind
left obscurity everywhere. Her atrocious meaning, nonetheless, flashed
through me, though vanishing before it wholly divulged itself.
It brought a certain reaction with it. I found my tongue. Whether I
actually believed what I said is more than I can swear to; that it
seemed to me wise at the moment is all I remember. My mind was in a
state of obscure perception less than that of normal consciousness.
"Yes, Frances, I believe that what you say is the truth, and that we are
in it with her"--I meant to say I with loud, hostile emphasis, but
instead I whispered it lest she should hear the trembling of my voice--
"and for that reason, my dear sister, we leave tomorrow, you and I--
today, rather, since it is long past midnight--we leave this house of
the damned. We go back to London."
Frances looked up, her face distraught almost beyond recognition. But it
was not my words that caused the tumult in her heart. It was a sound--
the sound she had been listening for--so faint I barely caught it
myself, and had she not pointed I could never have known the direction
whence it came. Small and terrible it rose again in the stillness of the
night, the sound of gnashing teeth. And behind it came another--the
tread of stealthy footsteps. Both were just outside the door.
The room swung round me for a second. My first instinct to prevent my
sister going out--she had dashed past me frantically to the door--gave
place to another when I saw the expression in her eyes. I followed her
lead instead; it was surer than my own. The pistol in my pocket swung
uselessly against my thigh. I was flustered beyond belief and ashamed
that I was so.
"Keep close to me, Frances," I said huskily, as the door swung wide and
a shaft of light fell upon a figure moving rapidly. Mabel was going down
the corridor. Beyond her, in the shadows on the staircase, a second
figure stood beckoning, scarcely visible.
"Before they get her! Quick!" was screamed into my ears, and our arms
were about her in the same moment. It was a horrible scene. Not that
Mabel struggled in the least, but that she collapsed as we caught her
and fell with her dead weight, as of a corpse, limp, against us. And her
teeth began again. They continued, even beneath the hand that Frances
clapped upon her lips....
We carried her back into her own bedroom, where she lay down peacefully
enough. It was so soon over.... The rapidity of the whole thing robbed
it of reality almost. It had the swiftness of something remembered
rather than of something witnessed. She slept again so quickly that it
was almost as if we had caught her sleepwalking. I cannot say. I asked
no questions at the time; I have asked none since; and my help was
needed as little as the protection of my pistol. Frances was strangely
competent and collected.... I lingered for some time uselessly by the
door, till at length, looking up with a sigh, she made a sign for me to
"I shall wait in your room next door," I whispered, "till you come."
But, though going out, I waited in the corridor instead, so as to hear
the faintest call for help. In that dark corridor upstairs I waited, but
not long. It may have been fifteen minutes when Frances reappeared,
locking the door softly behind her. Leaning over the banisters, I saw
"I'll go in again about six o'clock," she whispered, "as soon as it gets
light. She is sound asleep now. Please don't wait. If anything happens
I'll call--you might leave your door ajar, perhaps."
And she came up, looking like a ghost.
But I saw her first safely into bed, and the rest of the night I spent
in an armchair close to my opened door, listening for the slightest
sound. Soon after five o'clock I heard Frances fumbling with the key,
and, peering over the railing again, I waited till she reappeared and
went back into her own room. She closed her door. Evidently she was
satisfied that all was well.
Then, and then only, did I go to bed myself, but not to sleep. I could
not get the scene out of my mind, especially that odious detail of it
which I hoped and believed my sister had not seen--the still, dark
figure of the housekeeper waiting on the stairs below--waiting, of
course, for Mabel.
It seems I became a mere spectator after that; my sister's lead was so
assured for one thing, and, for another, the responsibility of leaving
Mabel alone--Frances laid it bodily upon my shoulders--was a little more
than I cared about. Moreover, when we all three met later in the day,
things went on so exactly as before, so absolutely without friction or
distress, that to present a sudden, obvious excuse for cutting our visit
short seemed ill-judged. And on the lowest grounds it would have been
desertion. At any rate, it was beyond my powers, and Frances was quite
firm that she must stay. We therefore did stay. Things that happen in
the night always seem exaggerated and distorted when the sun shines
brightly next morning; no one can reconstruct the terror of a nightmare
afterwards, nor comprehend why it seemed so overwhelming at the time.
I slept till ten o'clock, and when I rang for breakfast, a note from my
sister lay upon the tray, its message of counsel couched in a calm and
comforting strain. Mabel, she assured me, was herself again and
remembered nothing of what had happened; there was no need of any
violent measures; I was to treat her exactly as if I knew nothing. "And,
if you don't mind, Bill, let us leave the matter unmentioned between
ourselves as well. Discussion exaggerates; such things are best not
talked about. I'm sorry I disturbed you so unnecessarily; I was stupidly
excited. Please forget all the things I said at the moment." She had
written "nonsense" first instead of "things," then scratched it out. She
wished to convey that hysteria had been abroad in the night, and I
readily gulped the explanation down, though it could not satisfy me in
the smallest degree.
There was another week of our visit still, and we stayed it out to the
end without disaster. My desire to leave at times became that frantic
thing, desire to escape; but I controlled it, kept silent, watched and
wondered. Nothing happened. As before, and everywhere, there was no
sequence of development, no connection between cause and effect; and
climax, none whatever. The thing swayed up and down, backwards and
forwards like a great loose curtain in the wind, and I could only
vaguely surmise what caused the draught or why there was a curtain at
all. A novelist might mold the queer material into coherent sequence
that would be interesting but could not be true.
It remains, therefore, not a story but a history. Nothing happened.
Perhaps my intense dislike of the fall of darkness was due wholly to my
stirred imagination, and perhaps my anger when I learned that Frances
now occupied a bed in our hostess's room was unreasonable. Nerves were
unquestionably on edge. I was forever on the lookout for some event that
should make escape imperative, but yet that never presented itself. I
slept lightly, left my door ajar to catch the slightest sound, even made
stealthy tours of the house below-stairs while everybody dreamed in
their beds. But I discovered nothing; the doors were always locked; I
neither saw the housekeeper again in unreasonable times and places, nor
heard a footstep in the passages and halls. The Noise was never once
repeated. That horrible, ultimate thunder, my intensest dread of all,
lay withdrawn into the abyss whence it had twice arisen. And though in
my thoughts it was sternly denied existence, the great black reason for
the fact afflicted me unbelievably. Since Mabel's fruitless effort to
escape, the Doors kept closed remorselessly. She had failed; they gave
up hope. For this was the explanation that haunted the region of my mind
where feelings stir and hint before they clothe themselves in actual
language. Only I firmly kept it there; it never knew expression.
But, if my ears were open, my eyes were opened too, and it were idle to
pretend that I did not notice a hundred details that were capable of
sinister interpretation had I been weak enough to yield. Some protective
barrier had fallen into ruins round me, so that Terror stalked behind
the general collapse, feeling for me through all the gaping fissures.
Much of this, I admit, must have been merely the elaboration of those
sensations I had first vaguely felt, before subsequent events and my
talks with Frances had dramatized them into living thoughts. I therefore
leave them unmentioned in this history, just as my mind left them
unmentioned in that interminable final week. Our life went on precisely
as before--Mabel unreal and outwardly so still; Frances, secretive,
anxious, tactful to the point of slyness, and keen to save to the point
There were the same stupid meals, the same wearisome long evenings, the
stifling ugliness of house and grounds, the Shadow settling in so
thickly that it seemed almost a visible, tangible thing. I came to feel
the only friendly things in all this hostile, cruel place were the
robins that hopped boldly over the monstrous terraces and even up to the
windows of the unsightly house itself. The robins alone knew joy; they
danced, believing no evil thing was possible in all God's radiant world.
They believed in everybody; their god's plan of life had no room in it
for hell, damnation, and lakes of brimstone. I came to love the little
birds. Had Samuel Franklyn known them, he might have preached a
different sermon, bequeathing love in place of terror!
Most of my time I spent writing; but it was a pretence at best, and
rather a dangerous one besides. For it stirred the mind to production,
with the result that other things came pouring in as well. With reading
it was the same. In the end I found an aggressive, deliberate resistance
to be the only way of feasible defense. To walk far afield was out of
the question, for it meant leaving my sister too long alone, so that my
exercise was confined to nearer home. My saunters in the grounds,
however, never surprised the goblin garden again. It was close at hand,
but I seemed unable to get wholly into it. Too many things assailed my
mind for any one to hold exclusive possession, perhaps.
Indeed, all the interpretations, all the "layers," to use my sister's
phrase, slipped in by turns and lodged there for a time. They came day
and night, and though my reason denied them entrance they held their own
as by a kind of squatter's right. They stirred moods already in me, that
is, and did not introduce entirely new ones; for every mind conceals
ancestral deposits that have been cultivated in turn along the whole
line of its descent. Any day a chance shower may cause this one or that
to blossom. Thus it came to me, at any rate. After darkness the
Inquisition paced the empty corridors and set up ghastly apparatus in
the dismal halls; and once, in the library, there swept over me that
easy and delicious conviction that by confessing my wickedness I could
resume it later, since Confession is expression, and expression brings
relief and leaves one ready to accumulate again. And in such mood I felt
bitter and unforgiving towards all others who thought differently.
Another time it was a Pagan thing that assaulted me--so trivial yet oh,
so significant at the time--when I dreamed that a herd of centaurs
rolled up with a great stamping of hoofs round the house to destroy it,
and then woke to hear the horses tramping across the field below the
lawns; they neighed ominously and their noisy panting was audible as if
it were just outside my windows.
But the tree episode, I think, was the most curious of all--except,
perhaps, the incident with the children which I shall mention in a
moment--for its closeness to reality was so unforgettable.
Outside the east window of my room stood a giant wellingtonia on the
lawn, its head rising level with the upper sash. It grew some twenty
feet away, planted on the highest terrace, and I often saw it when
closing my curtains for the night, noticing how it drew its heavy skirts
about it, and how the light from other windows threw glimmering streaks
and patches that turned it into the semblance of a towering, solemn
image. It stood there then so strikingly, somehow like a great old-world
idol, that it claimed attention. Its appearance was curiously
formidable. Its branches rustled without visibly moving and it had a
certain portentous, forbidding air, so grand and dark and monstrous in
the night that I was always glad when my curtains shut it out. Yet, once
in bed, I had never thought about it one way or the other, and by day
had certainly never sought it out.
One night, then, as I went to bed and closed this window against a
cutting easterly wind, I saw--that there were two of these trees. A
brother wellingtonia rose mysteriously beside it, equally huge, equally
towering, equally monstrous. The menacing pair of them faced me there
upon the lawn. But in this new arrival lay a strange suggestion that
frightened me before I could argue it away. Exact counterpart of its
giant companion, it revealed also that gross, odious quality that all my
sister's paintings held. I got the odd impression that the rest of these
trees, stretching away dimly in a troop over the farther lawns, were
similar, and that, led by this enormous pair, they had all moved boldly
closer to my windows. At the same moment a blind was drawn down over an
upper room; the second tree disappeared into the surrounding darkness.
It was, of course, this chance light that had brought it into the field
of vision, but when the black shutter dropped over it, hiding it from
view, the manner of its vanishing produced the queer effect that it had
slipped into its companion--almost that it had been an emanation of the
one I so disliked, and not really a tree at all! In this way the garden
turned vehicle for expressing what lay behind it all ...!
The behavior of the doors, the little, ordinary doors, seems scarcely
worth mention at all, their queer way of opening and shutting of their
own accord; for this was accountable in a hundred natural ways, and to
tell the truth, I never caught one in the act of moving. Indeed, only
after frequent repetitions did the detail force itself upon me, when,
having noticed one, I noticed all. It produced, however, the unpleasant
impression of a continual coming and going in the house, as though,
screened cleverly and purposely from actual sight, some one in the
building held constant invisible intercourse with--others.
Upon detailed descriptions of these uncertain incidents I do not
venture, individually so trivial, but taken all together so impressive
and so insolent. But the episode of the children, mentioned above, was
different. And I give it because it showed how vividly the intuitive
child-mind received the impression--one impression, at any rate--of what
was in the air. It may be told in a very few words. I believe they were
the coachman's children, and that the man had been in Mr. Franklyn's
service; but of neither point am I quite positive.
I heard screaming in the rose-garden that runs along the stable walls--
it was one afternoon not far from the tea-hour--and on hurrying up I
found a little girl of nine or ten fastened with ropes to a rustic seat,
and two other children--boys, one about twelve and one much younger--
gathering sticks beneath the climbing rose trees. The girl was white and
frightened, but the others were laughing and talking among themselves so
busily while they picked that they did not notice my abrupt arrival.
Some game, I understood, was in progress, but a game that had become too
serious for the happiness of the prisoner, for there was a fear in the
girl's eyes that was a very genuine fear indeed. I unfastened her at
once; the ropes were so loosely and clumsily knotted that they had not
hurt her skin; it was not that which made her pale. She collapsed a
moment upon the bench, then picked up her tiny skirts and dived away at
full speed into the safety of the stable-yard.
There was no response to my brief comforting, but she ran as though for
her life, and I divined that some horrid boys' cruelty had been afoot.
It was probably mere thoughtlessness, as cruelty with children usually
is, but something in me decided to discover exactly what it was.
And the boys, not one whit alarmed at my intervention, merely laughed
shyly when I explained that their prisoner had escaped, and told me
frankly what their "gime" had been. There was no vestige of shame in
them, nor any idea, of course, that they aped a monstrous reality.
That it was mere pretence was neither here nor there. To them, though
make-believe, it was a make-believe of something that was right and
natural and in no sense cruel. Grown-ups did it too. It was necessary
for her good.
"We was going to burn her up, sir," the older one informed me, answering
my "Why?" with the explanation, "Because she wouldn't believe what we
wanted 'er to believe."
And, game though it was, the feeling of reality about the little episode
was so arresting, so terrific in some way, that only with difficulty did
I confine my admonitions on this occasion to mere words. The boys slunk
off, frightened in their turn, yet not, I felt, convinced that they had
erred in principle. It was their inheritance. They had breathed it in
with the atmosphere of their bringing-up. They would renew the salutary
torture when they could--till she "believed" as they did.
I went back into the house, afflicted with a passion of mingled pity and
distress impossible to describe, yet on my short way across the garden
was attacked by other moods in turn, each more real and bitter than its
predecessor. I received the whole series, as it were, at once. I felt
like a diver rising to the surface through layers of water at different
temperatures, though here the natural order was reversed, and the cooler
strata were uppermost, the heated ones below. Thus, I was caught by the
goblin touch of the willows that fringed the field; by the sensuous
curving of the twisted ash that formed a gateway to the little grove of
sapling oaks where fauns and satyrs lurked to play in the moonlight
before Pagan altars; and by the cloaking darkness, next, of the copse of
stunted pines, close gathered each to each, where hooded figures stalked
behind an awful cross. The episode with the children seemed to have
opened me like a knife. The whole Place rushed at me.
I suspect this synthesis of many moods produced in me that climax of
loathing and disgust which made me feel the limit of bearable emotion
had been reached, so that I made straight to find Frances in order to
convince her that at any rate I must leave. For, although this was our
last day in the house, and we had arranged to go next day, the dread was
in me that she would still find some persuasive reason for staying on.
And an unexpected incident then made my dread unnecessary. The front
door was open and a cab stood in the drive; a tall, elderly man was
gravely talking in the hall with the parlor maid we called the
Grenadier. He held a piece of paper in his hand. "I have called to see
the house," I heard him say, as I ran up the stairs to Frances, who was
peering like an inquisitive child over the banisters....
"Yes," she told me with a sigh, I know not whether of resignation or
relief, "the house is to be let or sold. Mabel has decided. Some Society
or other, I believe--"
I was overjoyed: this made our leaving right and possible. "You never
told me, Frances!"
"Mabel only heard of it a few days ago. She told me herself this
morning. It is a chance, she says. Alone she cannot get it 'straight'.
"Defeat?" I asked, watching her closely.
"She thinks she has found a way out. It's not a family, you see, it's a
Society, a sort of Community--they go in for thought--"
"A Community!" I gasped. "You mean religious?"
She shook her head. "Not exactly," she said smiling, "but some kind of
association of men and women who want a headquarters in the country--a
place where they can write and meditate--think--mature their plans and
all the rest--I don't know exactly what."
"Utopian dreamers?" I asked, yet feeling an immense relief come over me
as I heard. But I asked in ignorance, not cynically. Frances would know.
She knew all this kind of thing.
"No, not that exactly," she smiled. "Their teachings are grand and
simple--old as the world too, really--the basis of every religion before
men's minds perverted them with their manufactured creeds--"
Footsteps on the stairs, and the sound of voices, interrupted our odd
impromptu conversation, as the Grenadier came up, followed by the tall,
grave gentleman who was being shown over the house. My sister drew me
along the corridor towards her room, where she went in and closed the
door behind me, yet not before I had stolen a good look at the caller--
long enough, at least, for his face and general appearance to have made
a definite impression on me. For something strong and peaceful emanated
from his presence; he moved with such quiet dignity; the glance of his
eyes was so steady and reassuring, that my mind labeled him instantly as
a type of man one would turn to in an emergency and not be disappointed.
I had seen him but for a passing moment, but I had seen him twice, and
the way he walked down the passage, looking competently about him,
conveyed the same impression as when I saw him standing at the door--
fearless, tolerant, wise. "A sincere and kindly character," I judged
instantly, "a man whom some big kind of love has trained in sweetness
towards the world; no hate in him anywhere." A great deal, no doubt, to
read in so brief a glance! Yet his voice confirmed my intuition, a deep
and very gentle voice, great firmness in it too.
"Have I become suddenly sensitive to people's atmospheres in this
extraordinary fashion?" I asked myself, smiling, as I stood in the room
and heard the door close behind me. "Have I developed some clairvoyant
faculty here?" At any other time I should have mocked.
And I sat down and faced my sister, feeling strangely comforted and at
peace for the first time since I had stepped beneath The Towers' roof a
month ago. Frances, I then saw, was smiling a little as she watched me.
"You know him?" I asked.
"You felt it too?" was her question in reply. "No," she added, "I don't
know him--beyond the fact that he is a leader in the Movement and has
devoted years and money to its objects. Mabel felt the same thing in him
that you have felt--and jumped at it."
"But you've seen him before?" I urged, for the certainty was in me that
he was no stranger to her.
She shook her head. "He called one day early this week, when you were
out. Mabel saw him. I believe--" she hesitated a moment, as though
expecting me to stop her with my usual impatience of such subjects--"I
believe he has explained everything to her--the beliefs he embodies, she
declares, are her salvation--might be, rather, if she could adopt them."
"Conversion again!" For I remembered her riches, and how gladly a
Society would gobble them.
"The layers I told you about," she continued calmly, shrugging her
shoulders slightly--"the deposits that are left behind by strong
thinking and real belief--but especially by ugly, hateful belief,
because, you see--unfortunately there's more vital passion in that
"Frances, I don't understand a bit," I said out loud, but said it a
little humbly, for the impression the man had left was still strong upon
me and I was grateful for the steady sense of peace and comfort he had
somehow introduced. The horrors had been so dreadful. My nerves,
doubtless, were more than a little overstrained. Absurd as it must
sound, I classed him in my mind with the robins, the happy, confiding
robins who believed in everybody and thought no evil! I laughed a moment
at my ridiculous idea, and my sister, encouraged by this sign of
patience in me, continued more fluently.
"Of course you don't understand, Bill? Why should you? You've never
thought about such things. Needing no creed yourself, you think all
creeds are rubbish."
"I'm open to conviction--I'm tolerant," I interrupted.
"You're as narrow as Sam Franklyn, and as crammed with prejudice," she
answered, knowing that she had me at her mercy.
"Then, pray, what may be his, or his Society's beliefs?" I asked,
feeling no desire to argue, "and how are they going to prove your
Mabel's salvation? Can they bring beauty into all this aggressive hate
"Certain hope and peace," she said, "that peace which is understanding,
and that understanding which explains all creeds and therefore tolerates
"Toleration! The one word a religious man loathes above all others! His
pet word is damnation--"
"Tolerates them," she repeated patiently, unperturbed by my explosion,
"because it includes them all."
"Fine, if true" I admitted, "very fine. But how, pray, does it include
"Because the key-word, the motto, of their Society is, 'There is no
religion higher than Truth,' and it has no single dogma of any kind.
Above all," she went on, "because it claims that no individual can be
'lost.' It teaches universal salvation. To damn outsiders is
uncivilized, childish, impure. Some take longer than others--it's
according to the way they think and live--but all find peace, through
development, in the end. What the creeds call a hopeless soul, it
regards as a soul having further to go. There is no damnation--"
"Well, well," I exclaimed, feeling that she rode her hobby horse too
wildly, too roughly over me, "but what is the bearing of all this upon
this dreadful place, and upon Mabel? I'll admit that there is this
atmosphere--this--er--inexplicable horror in the house and grounds, and
that if not of damnation exactly, it is certainly damnable. I'm not too
prejudiced to deny that, for I've felt it myself."
To my relief she was brief. She made her statement, leaving me to take
it or reject it as I would.
"The thought and belief its former occupants--have left behind. For
there has been coincidence here, a coincidence that must be rare. The
site on which this modern house now stands was Roman, before that Early
Britain, with burial mounds, before that again, Druid--the Druid stones
still lie in that copse below the field, the Tumuli among the ilexes
behind the drive. The older building Sam Franklyn altered and
practically pulled down was a monastery; he changed the chapel into a
meeting hall, which is now the music room; but, before he came here, the
house was occupied by Manetti, a violent Catholic without tolerance or
vision; and in the interval between these two, Julius Weinbaum had it,
Hebrew of most rigid orthodox type imaginable--so they all have left
"Even so," I repeated, yet interested to hear the rest, "what of it?"
"Simply this," said Frances with conviction, "that each in turn has left
his layer of concentrated thinking and belief behind him; because each
believed intensely, absolutely, beyond the least weakening of any doubt
--the kind of strong belief and thinking that is rare anywhere today, the
kind that wills, impregnates objects, saturates the atmosphere, haunts,
in a word. And each, believing he was utterly and finally right, damned
with equally positive conviction the rest of the world. One and all
preached that implicitly if not explicitly. It's the root of every
creed. Last of the bigoted, grim series came Samuel Franklyn."
I listened in amazement that increased as she went on. Up to this point
her explanation was so admirable. It was, indeed, a pretty study in
psychology if it were true.
"Then why does nothing ever happen?" I enquired mildly. "A place so
thickly haunted ought to produce a crop of no ordinary results!"
"There lies the proof," she went on in a lowered voice, "the proof of
the horror and the ugly reality. The thought and belief of each occupant
in turn kept all the others under. They gave no sign of life at the
time. But the results of thinking never die. They crop out again the
moment there's an opening. And, with the return of Mabel in her negative
state, believing nothing positive herself the place for the first time
found itself free to reproduce its buried stores.
"Damnation, hell-fire, and the rest--the most permanent and vital
thought of all those creeds, since it was applied to the majority of the
world--broke loose again, for there was no restraint to hold it back.
Each sought to obtain its former supremacy. None conquered. There
results a pandemonium of hate and fear, of striving to escape, of
agonized, bitter warring to find safety, peace--salvation. The place is
saturated by that appalling stream of thinking--the terror of the
damned. It concentrated upon Mabel, whose negative attitude furnished
the channel of deliverance. You and I, according to our sympathy with
her, were similarly involved. Nothing happened, because no one layer
could ever gain the supremacy."
I was so interested--I dare not say amused--that I stared in silence
while she paused a moment, afraid that she would draw rein and end the
fairy tale too soon.
"The beliefs of this man, of his Society rather, vigorously thought and
therefore vigorously given out here, will put the whole place straight.
It will act as a solvent. These vitriolic layers actively denied, will
fuse and disappear in the stream of gentle, tolerant sympathy which is
love. For each member, worthy of the name, loves the world, and all
creeds go into the melting-pot; Mabel, too, if she joins them out of
real conviction, will find salvation--"
"Thinking, I know, is of the first importance," I objected, "but don't
you, perhaps, exaggerate the power of feeling and emotion which in
religion are au fond always hysterical?"
"What is the world," she told me, "but thinking and feeling? An
individual's world is entirely what that individual thinks and believes
--interpretation. There is no other. And unless he really thinks and
really believes, he has no permanent world at all. I grant that few
people think, and still fewer believe, and that most take ready-made
suits and make them do. Only the strong make their own things; the
lesser fry, Mabel among them, are merely swept up into what has been
manufactured for them. They get along somehow. You and I have made for
ourselves, Mabel has not. She is a nonentity, and when her belief is
taken from her, she goes with it."
It was not in me just then to criticize the evasion, or pick out the
sophistry from the truth. I merely waited for her to continue.
"None of us have Truth, my dear Frances," I ventured presently, seeing
that she kept silent.
"Precisely," she answered, "but most of us have beliefs. And what one
believes and thinks affects the world at large. Consider the legacy of
hatred and cruelty involved in the doctrines men have built into their
creeds where the sine qua non of salvation is absolute acceptance of one
particular set of views or else perishing everlastingly--for only by
repudiating history can they disavow it--"
"You're not quite accurate," I put in. "Not all the creeds teach
damnation, do they? Franklyn did, of course, but the others are a bit
modernized now surely?"
"Trying to get out of it," she admitted, "perhaps they are, but
damnation of unbelievers--of most of the world, that is--is their rather
favorite idea if you talk with them."
"I never have."
She smiled. "But I have," she said significantly, "so, if you consider
what the various occupants of this house have so strongly held and
thought and believed, you need not be surprised that the influence they
have left behind them should be a dark and dreadful legacy. For thought,
you know, does leave--"
The opening of the door, to my great relief, interrupted her, as the
Grenadier led in the visitor to see the room. He bowed to both of us
with a brief word of apology, looked round him, and withdrew, and with
his departure the conversation between us came naturally to an end. I
followed him out. Neither of us in any case, I think, cared to argue
And, so far as I am aware, the curious history of The Towers ends here
too. There was no climax in the story sense. Nothing ever really
happened. We left next morning for London. I only know that the Society
in question took the house and have since occupied it to their entire
satisfaction, and that Mabel, who became a member shortly afterwards,
now stays there frequently when in need of repose from the arduous and
unselfish labors she took upon herself under its aegis. She dined with
us only the other night, here in our tiny Chelsea flat, and a jollier,
saner, more interesting and happy guest I could hardly wish for. She was
vital--in the best sense; the lay figure had come to life. I found it
difficult to believe she was the same woman whose fearful effigy had
floated down those dreary corridors and almost disappeared in the depths
of that atrocious Shadow.
What her beliefs were now I was wise enough to leave unquestioned, and
Frances, to my great relief, kept the conversation well away from such
inappropriate topics. It was clear, however, that the woman had in
herself some secret source of joy, that she was now an aggressive,
positive force, sure of herself, and apparently afraid of nothing in
heaven or hell. She radiated something very like hope and courage about
her, and talked as though the world were a glorious place and everybody
in it kind and beautiful. Her optimism was certainly infectious.
The Towers were mentioned only in passing. The name of Marsh came up--
not the Marsh, it so happened, but a name in some book that was being
discussed--and I was unable to restrain myself. Curiosity was too
strong. I threw out a casual enquiry Mabel could leave unanswered if she
wished. But there was no desire to avoid it. Her reply was frank and
"Would you believe it? She married," Mabel told me, though obviously
surprised that I remembered the housekeeper at all; "and is happy as the
day is long. She's found her right niche in life. A sergeant--"
"The army!" I ejaculated.
"Salvation Army," she explained merrily.
Frances exchanged a glance with me. I laughed too, for the information
took me by surprise. I cannot say why exactly, but I expected at least
to hear that the woman had met some dreadful end, not impossibly by
"And The Towers, now called the Rest House," Mabel chattered on, "seems
to me the most peaceful and delightful spot in England--"
"Really," I said politely.
"When I lived there in the old days--while you were there, perhaps,
though I won't be sure."
Mabel went on, "the story got abroad that it was haunted. Wasn't it odd?
A less likely place for a ghost I've never seen. Why, it had no
atmosphere at all." She said this to Frances, glancing up at me with a
smile that apparently had no hidden meaning. "Did you notice anything
queer about it when you were there?"
This was plainly addressed to me.
"I found it--er--difficult to settle down to anything," I said, after an
instant's hesitation. "I couldn't work there--"
"But I thought you wrote that wonderful book on the Deaf and Blind while
you stayed with me," she asked innocently.
I stammered a little. "Oh no, not then. I only made a few notes--er--at
The Towers. My mind, oddly enough, refused to produce at all down there.
But--why do you ask? Did anything--was anything supposed to happen
She looked searchingly into my eyes a moment before she answered:
"Not that I know of," she said simply.