Part 3 out of 4
even drew his sword with a flourish and waved it about as he did his
walking stick. In the light of after events there seemed to be
something monstrous and ominous about that exuberance, something of
the spirit that is called fey. At the time it merely crossed a few
people's minds that he might possibly be drunk.
As he strode toward his sister the first figure he passed was that
of Leonard Crane, clad in Lincoln green, with the horn and baldrick
and sword appropriate to Robin Hood; for he was standing nearest to
the lady, where, indeed, he might have been found during a
disproportionate part of the time. He had displayed one of his
buried talents in the matter of skating, and now that the skating
was over seemed disposed to prolong the partnership. The boisterous
Bulmer playfully made a pass at him with his drawn sword, going
forward with the lunge in the proper fencing fashion, and making a
somewhat too familiar Shakespearean quotation about a rodent and a
Probably in Crane also there was a subdued excitement just then;
anyhow, in one flash he had drawn his own sword and parried; and
then suddenly, to the surprise of everyone, Bulmer's weapon seemed
to spring out of his hand into the air and rolled away on the
"Well, I never!" said the lady, as if with justifiable indignation.
"You never told me you could fence, too."
Bulmer put up his sword with an air rather bewildered than annoyed,
which increased the impression of something irresponsible in his
mood at the moment; then he turned rather abruptly to his lawyer,
"We can settle up about the estate after dinner; I've missed nearly
all the skating as it is, and I doubt if the ice will hold till
to-morrow night. I think I shall get up early and have a spin by
"You won't be disturbed with my company," said Horne Fisher, in his
weary fashion. "If I have to begin the day with ice, in the American
fashion, I prefer it in smaller quantities. But no early hours for
me in December. The early bird catches the cold."
"Oh, I sha'n't die of catching a cold," answered Bulmer, and
* * *
A considerable group of the skating party had consisted of the
guests staying at the house, and the rest had tailed off in twos and
threes some time before most of the guests began to retire for the
night. Neighbors, always invited to Prior's Park on such occasions,
went back to their own houses in motors or on foot; the legal and
archeological gentleman had returned to the Inns of Court by a late
train, to get a paper called for during his consultation with his
client; and most of the other guests were drifting and lingering at
various stages on their way up to bed. Horne Fisher, as if to
deprive himself of any excuse for his refusal of early rising, had
been the first to retire to his room; but, sleepy as he looked, he
could not sleep. He had picked up from a table the book of
antiquarian topography, in which Haddow had found his first hints
about the origin of the local name, and, being a man with a quiet
and quaint capacity for being interested in anything, he began to
read it steadily, making notes now and then of details on which his
previous reading left him with a certain doubt about his present
conclusions. His room was the one nearest to the lake in the center
of the woods, and was therefore the quietest, and none of the last
echoes of the evening's festivity could reach him. He had followed
carefully the argument which established the derivation from Mr.
Prior's farm and the hole in the wall, and disposed of any
fashionable fancy about monks and magic wells, when he began to be
conscious of a noise audible in the frozen silence of the night. It
was not a particularly loud noise, but it seemed to consist of a
series of thuds or heavy blows, such as might be struck on a wooden
door by a man seeking to enter. They were followed by something like
a faint creak or crack, as if the obstacle had either been opened or
had given way. He opened his own bedroom door and listened, but as
he heard talk and laughter all over the lower floors, he had no
reason to fear that a summons would be neglected or the house left
without protection. He went to his open window, looking out over the
frozen pond and the moonlit statue in the middle of their circle of
darkling woods, and listened again. But silence had returned to that
silent place, and, after straining his ears for a considerable time,
he could hear nothing but the solitary hoot of a distant departing
train. Then he reminded himself how many nameless noises can be
heard by the wakeful during the most ordinary night, and shrugging
his shoulders, went wearily to bed.
He awoke suddenly and sat up in bed with his ears filled, as with
thunder, with the throbbing echoes of a rending cry. He remained
rigid for a moment, and then sprang out of bed, throwing on the
loose gown of sacking he had worn all day. He went first to the
window, which was open, but covered with a thick curtain, so that
his room was still completely dark; but when he tossed the curtain
aside and put his head out, he saw that a gray and silver daybreak
had already appeared behind the black woods that surrounded the
little lake, and that was all that he did see. Though the sound had
certainly come in through the open window from this direction, the
whole scene was still and empty under the morning light as under the
moonlight. Then the long, rather lackadaisical hand he had laid on a
window sill gripped it tighter, as if to master a tremor, and his
peering blue eyes grew bleak with fear. It may seem that his emotion
was exaggerated and needless, considering the effort of common sense
by which he had conquered his nervousness about the noise on the
previous night. But that had been a very different sort of noise. It
might have been made by half a hundred things, from the chopping of
wood to the breaking of bottles. There was only one thing in nature
from which could come the sound that echoed through the dark house
at daybreak. It was the awful articulate voice of man; and it was
something worse, for he knew what man.
He knew also that it had been a shout for help. It seemed to him
that he had heard the very word; but the word, short as it was, had
been swallowed up, as if the man had been stifled or snatched away
even as he spoke. Only the mocking reverberations of it remained
even in his memory, but he had no doubt of the original voice. He
had no doubt that the great bull's voice of Francis Bray, Baron
Bulmer, had been heard for the last time between the darkness and
the lifting dawn.
How long he stood there he never knew, but he was startled into life
by the first living thing that he saw stirring in that half-frozen
landscape. Along the path beside the lake, and immediately under his
window, a figure was walking slowly and softly, but with great
composure--a stately figure in robes of a splendid scarlet; it was
the Italian prince, still in his cardinal's costume. Most of the
company had indeed lived in their costumes for the last day or two,
and Fisher himself had assumed his frock of sacking as a convenient
dressing gown; but there seemed, nevertheless, something unusually
finished and formal, in the way of an early bird, about this
magnificent red cockatoo. It was as if the early bird had been up
"What is the matter?" he called, sharply, leaning out of the window,
and the Italian turned up his great yellow face like a mask of
"We had better discuss it downstairs," said Prince Borodino.
Fisher ran downstairs, and encountered the great, red-robed figure
entering the doorway and blocking the entrance with his bulk.
"Did you hear that cry?" demanded Fisher.
"I heard a noise and I came out," answered the diplomatist, and his
face was too dark in the shadow for its expression to be read.
"It was Bulmer's voice," insisted Fisher. "I'll swear it was
"Did you know him well?" asked the other.
The question seemed irrelevant, though it was not illogical, and
Fisher could only answer in a, random fashion that he knew Lord
Bulmer only slightly.
"Nobody seems to have known him well," continued the Italian, in
level tones. "Nobody except that man Brain. Brain is rather older
than Bulmer, but I fancy they shared a good many secrets."
Fisher moved abruptly, as if waking from a momentary trance, and
said, in a new and more vigorous voice, "But look here, hadn't we
better get outside and see if anything has happened."
"The ice seems to be thawing," said the other, almost with
When they emerged from the house, dark stains and stars in the gray
field of ice did indeed indicate that the frost was breaking up, as
their host had prophesied the day before, and the very memory of
yesterday brought back the mystery of to-day.
"He knew there would be a thaw," observed the prince. "He went out
skating quite early on purpose. Did he call out because he landed in
the water, do you think?"
Fisher looked puzzled. "Bulmer was the last man to bellow like that
because he got his boots wet. And that's all he could do here; the
water would hardly come up to the calf of a man of his size. You can
see the flat weeds on the floor of the lake, as if it were through a
thin pane of glass. No, if Bulmer had only broken the ice he
wouldn't have said much at the moment, though possibly a good deal
afterward. We should have found him stamping and damning up and down
this path, and calling for clean boots."
"Let us hope we shall find him as happily employed," remarked the
diplomatist. "In that case the voice must have come out of the
"I'll swear it didn't come out of the house," said Fisher; and the
two disappeared together into the twilight of wintry trees.
The plantation stood dark against the fiery colors of sunrise, a
black fringe having that feathery appearance which makes trees when
they are bare the very reverse of rugged. Hours and hours afterward,
when the same dense, but delicate, margin was dark against the
greenish colors opposite the sunset, the search thus begun at
sunrise had not come to an end. By successive stages, and to slowly
gathering groups of the company, it became apparent that the most
extraordinary of all gaps had appeared in the party; the guests
could find no trace of their host anywhere. The servants reported
that his bed had been slept in and his skates and his fancy costume
were gone, as if he had risen early for the purpose he had himself
avowed. But from the top of the house to the bottom, from the walls
round the park to the pond in the center, there was no trace of Lord
Bulmer, dead or alive. Horne Fisher realized that a chilling
premonition had already prevented him from expecting to find the man
alive. But his bald brow was wrinkled over an entirely new and
unnatural problem, in not finding the man at all.
He considered the possibility of Bulmer having gone off of his own
accord, for some reason; but after fully weighing it he finally
dismissed it. It was inconsistent with the unmistakable voice heard
at daybreak, and with many other practical obstacles. There was only
one gateway in the ancient and lofty wall round the small park; the
lodge keeper kept it locked till late in the morning, and the lodge
keeper had seen no one pass. Fisher was fairly sure that he had
before him a mathematical problem in an inclosed space. His instinct
had been from the first so attuned to the tragedy that it would have
been almost a relief to him to find the corpse. He would have been
grieved, but not horrified, to come on the nobleman's body dangling
from one of his own trees as from a gibbet, or floating in his own
pool like a pallid weed. What horrified him was to find nothing.
He soon become conscious that he was not alone even in his most
individual and isolated experiments. He often found a figure
following him like his shadow, in silent and almost secret clearings
in the plantation or outlying nooks and corners of the old wall. The
dark-mustached mouth was as mute as the deep eyes were mobile,
darting incessantly hither and thither, but it was clear that Brain
of the Indian police had taken up the trail like an old hunter after
a tiger. Seeing that he was the only personal friend of the vanished
man, this seemed natural enough, and Fisher resolved to deal frankly
"This silence is rather a social strain," he said. "May I break the
ice by talking about the weather?--which, by the way, has already
broken the ice. I know that breaking the ice might be a rather
melancholy metaphor in this case."
"I don't think so," replied Brain, shortly. "I don't fancy the ice
had much to do with it. I don't see how it could."
"What would you propose doing?" asked Fisher.
"Well, we've sent for the authorities, of course, but I hope to find
something out before they come," replied the Anglo-Indian. "I can't
say I have much hope from police methods in this country. Too much
red tape, habeas corpus and that sort of thing. What we want is to
see that nobody bolts; the nearest we could get to it would be to
collect the company and count them, so to speak. Nobody's left
lately, except that lawyer who was poking about for antiquities."
"Oh, he's out of it; he left last night," answered the other. "Eight
hours after Bulmer's chauffeur saw his lawyer off by the train I
heard Bulmer's own voice as plain as I hear yours now."
"I suppose you don't believe in spirits?" said the man from India.
After a pause he added: "There's somebody else I should like to
find, before we go after a fellow with an alibi in the Inner Temple.
What's become of that fellow in green--the architect dressed up as
a forester? I haven't seem him about."
Mr. Brain managed to secure his assembly of all the distracted
company before the arrival of the police. But when he first began
to comment once more on the young architect's delay in putting in
an appearance, he found himself in the presence of a minor mystery,
and a psychological development of an entirely unexpected kind.
Juliet Bray had confronted the catastrophe of her brother's
disappearance with a somber stoicism in which there was, perhaps,
more paralysis than pain; but when the other question came to the
surface she was both agitated and angry.
"We don't want to jump to any conclusions about anybody," Brain was
saying in his staccato style. "But we should like to know a little
more about Mr. Crane. Nobody seems to know much about him, or where
he comes from. And it seems a sort of coincidence that yesterday he
actually crossed swords with poor Bulmer, and could have stuck him,
too, since he showed himself the better swordsman. Of course, that
may be an accident and couldn't possibly be called a case against
anybody; but then we haven't the means to make a real case against
anybody. Till the police come we are only a pack of very amateur
"And I think you're a pack of snobs," said Juliet. "Because Mr.
Crane is a genius who's made his own way, you try to suggest he's a
murderer without daring to say so. Because he wore a toy sword and
happened to know how to use it, you want us to believe he used it
like a bloodthirsty maniac for no reason in the world. And because
he could have hit my brother and didn't, you deduce that he did.
That's the sort of way you argue. And as for his having disappeared,
you're wrong in that as you are in everything else, for here he
And, indeed, the green figure of the fictitious Robin Hood slowly
detached itself from the gray background of the trees, and came
toward them as she spoke.
He approached the group slowly, but with composure; but he was
decidedly pale, and the eyes of Brain and Fisher had already taken
in one detail of the green-clad figure more clearly than all the
rest. The horn still swung from his baldrick, but the sword was
Rather to the surprise of the company, Brain did not follow up the
question thus suggested; but, while retaining an air of leading the
inquiry, had also an appearance of changing the subject.
"Now we're all assembled," he observed, quietly, "there is a
question I want to ask to begin with. Did anybody here actually see
Lord Bulmer this morning?"
Leonard Crane turned his pale face round the circle of faces till he
came to Juliet's; then he compressed his lips a little and said:
"Yes, I saw him."
"Was he alive and well?" asked Brain, quickly. "How was he
"He appeared exceedingly well," replied Crane, with a curious
intonation. "He was dressed as he was yesterday, in that purple
costume copied from the portrait of his ancestor in the sixteenth
century. He had his skates in his hand."
"And his sword at his side, I suppose," added the questioner. "Where
is your own sword, Mr. Crane?"
"I threw it away."
In the singular silence that ensued, the train of thought in many
minds became involuntarily a series of colored pictures.
They had grown used to their fanciful garments looking more gay and
gorgeous against the dark gray and streaky silver of the forest, so
that the moving figures glowed like stained-glass saints walking.
The effect had been more fitting because so many of them had idly
parodied pontifical or monastic dress. But the most arresting
attitude that remained in their memories had been anything but
merely monastic; that of the moment when the figure in bright green
and the other in vivid violet had for a moment made a silver cross
of their crossing swords. Even when it was a jest it had been
something of a drama; and it was a strange and sinister thought that
in the gray daybreak the same figures in the same posture might have
been repeated as a tragedy.
"Did you quarrel with him?" asked Brain, suddenly.
"Yes," replied the immovable man in green. "Or he quarreled with
"Why did he quarrel with you?" asked the investigator; and Leonard
Crane made no reply.
Horne Fisher, curiously enough, had only given half his attention to
this crucial cross-examination. His heavy-lidded eyes had languidly
followed the figure of Prince Borodino, who at this stage had
strolled away toward the fringe of the wood; and, after a pause, as
of meditation, had disappeared into the darkness of the trees.
He was recalled from his irrelevance by the voice of Juliet Bray,
which rang out with an altogether new note of decision:
"If that is the difficulty, it had best be cleared up. I am engaged
to Mr. Crane, and when we told my brother he did not approve of it;
that is all."
Neither Brain nor Fisher exhibited any surprise, but the former
"Except, I suppose, that he and your brother went off into the wood
to discuss it, where Mr. Crane mislaid his sword, not to mention his
"And may I ask," inquired Crane, with a certain flicker of mockery
passing over his pallid features, "what I am supposed to have done
with either of them? Let us adopt the cheerful thesis that I am a
murderer; it has yet to be shown that I am a magician. If I ran your
unfortunate friend through the body, what did I do with the body?
Did I have it carried away by seven flying dragons, or was it merely
a trifling matter of turning it into a milk-white hind?"
"It is no occasion for sneering," said the Anglo-Indian judge, with
abrupt authority. "It doesn't make it look better for you that you
can joke about the loss."
Fisher's dreamy, and even dreary, eye was still on the edge of the
wood behind, and he became conscious of masses of dark red, like a
stormy sunset cloud, glowing through the gray network of the thin
trees, and the prince in his cardinal's robes reemerged on to the
pathway. Brain had had half a notion that the prince might have gone
to look for the lost rapier. But when he reappeared he was carrying
in his hand, not a sword, but an ax.
The incongruity between the masquerade and the mystery had created a
curious psychological atmosphere. At first they had all felt
horribly ashamed at being caught in the foolish disguises of a
festival, by an event that had only too much the character of a
funeral. Many of them would have already gone back and dressed in
clothes that were more funereal or at least more formal. But somehow
at the moment this seemed like a second masquerade, more artificial
and frivolous than the first. And as they reconciled themselves to
their ridiculous trappings, a curious sensation had come over some
of them, notably over the more sensitive, like Crane and Fisher and
Juliet, but in some degree over everybody except the practical Mr.
Brain. It was almost as if they were the ghosts of their own
ancestors haunting that dark wood and dismal lake, and playing some
old part that they only half remembered. The movements of those
colored figures seemed to mean something that had been settled long
before, like a silent heraldry. Acts, attitudes, external objects,
were accepted as an allegory even without the key; and they knew
when a crisis had come, when they did not know what it was. And
somehow they knew subconsciously that the whole tale had taken a new
and terrible turn, when they saw the prince stand in the gap of the
gaunt trees, in his robes of angry crimson and with his lowering
face of bronze, bearing in his hand a new shape of death. They could
not have named a reason, but the two swords seemed indeed to have
become toy swords and the whole tale of them broken and tossed away
like a toy. Borodino looked like the Old World headsman, clad in
terrible red, and carrying the ax for the execution of the criminal.
And the criminal was not Crane.
Mr. Brain of the Indian police was glaring at the new object, and it
was a moment or two before he spoke, harshly and almost hoarsely.
"What are you doing with that?" he asked. "Seems to be a woodman's
"A natural association of ideas," observed Horne Fisher. "If you
meet a cat in a wood you think it's a wildcat, though it may have
just strolled from the drawing-room sofa. As a matter of fact, I
happen to know that is not the woodman's chopper. It's the kitchen
chopper, or meat ax, or something like that, that somebody has
thrown away in the wood. I saw it in the kitchen myself when I was
getting the potato sacks with which I reconstructed a mediaeval
"All the same, it is not without interest," remarked the prince,
holding out the instrument to Fisher, who took it and examined it
carefully. "A butcher's cleaver that has done butcher's work."
"It was certainly the instrument of the crime," assented Fisher, in
a low voice.
Brain was staring at the dull blue gleam of the ax head with fierce
and fascinated eyes. "I don't understand you," he said. "There is
no--there are no marks on it."
"It has shed no blood," answered Fisher, "but for all that it has
committed a crime. This is as near as the criminal came to the crime
when he committed it."
"What do you mean?"
"He was not there when he did it," explained Fisher. "It's a poor
sort of murderer who can't murder people when he isn't there."
"You seem to be talking merely for the sake of mystification," said
Brain. "If you have any practical advice to give you might as well
make it intelligible."
"The only practical advice I can suggest," said Fisher,
thoughtfully, "is a little research into local topography and
nomenclature. They say there used to be a Mr. Prior, who had a farm
in this neighborhood. I think some details about the domestic life
of the late Mr. Prior would throw a light on this terrible
"And you have nothing more immediate than your topography to offer,"
said Brain, with a sneer, "to help me avenge my friend?"
"Well," said Fisher, "I should find out the truth about the Hole in
* * *
That night, at the close of a stormy twilight and under a strong
west wind that followed the breaking of the frost, Leonard Crane was
wending his way in a wild rotatory walk round and round the high,
continuous wall that inclosed the little wood. He was driven by a
desperate idea of solving for himself the riddle that had clouded
his reputation and already even threatened his liberty. The police
authorities, now in charge of the inquiry, had not arrested him, but
he knew well enough that if he tried to move far afield he would be
instantly arrested. Horne Fisher's fragmentary hints, though he had
refused to expand them as yet, had stirred the artistic temperament
of the architect to a sort of wild analysis, and he was resolved to
read the hieroglyph upside down and every way until it made sense.
If it was something connected with a hole in the wall he would find
the hole in the wall; but, as a matter of fact, he was unable to
find the faintest crack in the wall. His professional knowledge told
him that the masonry was all of one workmanship and one date, and,
except for the regular entrance, which threw no light on the
mystery, he found nothing suggesting any sort of hiding place or
means of escape. Walking a narrow path between the winding wall and
the wild eastward bend and sweep of the gray and feathery trees,
seeing shifting gleams of a lost sunset winking almost like
lightning as the clouds of tempest scudded across the sky and
mingling with the first faint blue light from a slowly strengthened
moon behind him, he began to feel his head going round as his heels
were going round and round the blind recurrent barrier. He had
thoughts on the border of thought; fancies about a fourth dimension
which was itself a hole to hide anything, of seeing everything from
a new angle out of a new window in the senses; or of some mystical
light and transparency, like the new rays of chemistry, in which he
could see Bulmer's body, horrible and glaring, floating in a lurid
halo over the woods and the wall. He was haunted also with the hint,
which somehow seemed to be equally horrifying, that it all had
something to do with Mr. Prior. There seemed even to be something
creepy in the fact that he was always respectfully referred to as
Mr. Prior, and that it was in the domestic life of the dead farmer
that he had been bidden to seek the seed of these dreadful things.
As a matter of fact, he had found that no local inquiries had
revealed anything at all about the Prior family.
The moonlight had broadened and brightened, the wind had driven off
the clouds and itself died fitfully away, when he came round again
to the artificial lake in front of the house. For some reason it
looked a very artificial lake; indeed, the whole scene was like a
classical landscape with a touch of Watteau; the Palladian facade of
the house pale in the moon, and the same silver touching the very
pagan and naked marble nymph in the middle of the pond. Rather to
his surprise, he found another figure there beside the statue,
sitting almost equally motionless; and the same silver pencil traced
the wrinkled brow and patient face of Horne Fisher, still dressed as
a hermit and apparently practicing something of the solitude of a
hermit. Nevertheless, he looked up at Leonard Crane and smiled,
almost as if he had expected him.
"Look here," said Crane, planting himself in front of him, "can you
tell me anything about this business?"
"I shall soon have to tell everybody everything about it," replied
Fisher, "but I've no objection to telling you something first. But,
to begin with, will you tell me something? What really happened when
you met Bulmer this morning? You did throw away your sword, but you
didn't kill him."
"I didn't kill him because I threw away my sword," said the other.
"I did it on purpose--or I'm not sure what might have happened."
After a pause he went on, quietly: "The late Lord Bulmer was a very
breezy gentleman, extremely breezy. He was very genial with his
inferiors, and would have his lawyer and his architect staying in
his house for all sorts of holidays and amusements. But there was
another side to him, which they found out when they tried to be his
equals. When I told him that his sister and I were engaged,
something happened which I simply can't and won't describe. It
seemed to me like some monstrous upheaval of madness. But I suppose
the truth is painfully simple. There is such a thing as the
coarseness of a gentleman. And it is the most horrible thing in
"I know," said Fisher. "The Renaissance nobles of the Tudor time
were like that."
"It is odd that you should say that," Crane went on. "For while we
were talking there came on me a curious feeling that we were
repeating some scene of the past, and that I was really some outlaw,
found in the woods like Robin Hood, and that he had really stepped
in all his plumes and purple out of the picture frame of the
ancestral portrait. Anyhow, he was the man in possession, and he
neither feared God nor regarded man. I defied him, of course, and
walked away. I might really have killed him if I had not walked
"Yes," said Fisher, nodding, "his ancestor was in possession and he
was in possession, and this is the end of the story. It all fits
"Fits in with what?" cried his companion, with sudden impatience. "I
can't make head or tail of it. You tell me to look for the secret in
the hole in the wall, but I can't find any hole in the wall."
"There isn't any," said Fisher. "That's the secret." After
reflecting a moment, he added: "Unless you call it a hole in the
wall of the world. Look here; I'll tell you if you like, but I'm
afraid it involves an introduction. You've got to understand one of
the tricks of the modern mind, a tendency that most people obey
without noticing it. In the village or suburb outside there's an inn
with the sign of St. George and the Dragon. Now suppose I went about
telling everybody that this was only a corruption of King George and
the Dragoon. Scores of people would believe it, without any inquiry,
from a vague feeling that it's probable because it's prosaic. It
turns something romantic and legendary into something recent and
ordinary. And that somehow makes it sound rational, though it is
unsupported by reason. Of course some people would have the sense to
remember having seen St. George in old Italian pictures and French
romances, but a good many wouldn't think about it at all. They would
just swallow the skepticism because it was skepticism. Modern
intelligence won't accept anything on authority. But it will accept
anything without authority. That's exactly what has happened here.
"When some critic or other chose to say that Prior's Park was not a
priory, but was named after some quite modern man named Prior,
nobody really tested the theory at all. It never occurred to anybody
repeating the story to ask if there _was_ any Mr. Prior, if anybody
had ever seen him or heard of him. As a matter of fact, it was a
priory, and shared the fate of most priories--that is, the Tudor
gentleman with the plumes simply stole it by brute force and turned
it into his own private house; he did worse things, as you shall
hear. But the point here is that this is how the trick works, and
the trick works in the same way in the other part of the tale. The
name of this district is printed Holinwall in all the best maps
produced by the scholars; and they allude lightly, not without a
smile, to the fact that it was pronounced Holiwell by the most
ignorant and old-fashioned of the poor. But it is spelled wrong and
"Do you mean to say," asked Crane, quickly, "that there really was a
"There is a well," said Fisher, "and the truth lies at the bottom of
As he spoke he stretched out his hand and pointed toward the sheet
of water in front of him.
"The well is under that water somewhere," he said, "and this is not
the first tragedy connected with it. The founder of this house did
something which his fellow ruffians very seldom did; something that
had to be hushed up even in the anarchy of the pillage of the
monasteries. The well was connected with the miracles of some saint,
and the last prior that guarded it was something like a saint
himself; certainly he was something very like a martyr. He defied
the new owner and dared him to pollute the place, till the noble, in
a fury, stabbed him and flung his body into the well, whither, after
four hundred years, it has been followed by an heir of the usurper,
clad in the same purple and walking the world with the same pride."
"But how did it happen," demanded Crane, "that for the first time
Bulmer fell in at that particular spot?"
"Because the ice was only loosened at that particular spot, by the
only man who knew it," answered Horne Fisher. "It was cracked
deliberately, with the kitchen chopper, at that special place; and I
myself heard the hammering and did not understand it. The place had
been covered with an artificial lake, if only because the whole
truth had to be covered with an artificial legend. But don't you see
that it is exactly what those pagan nobles would have done, to
desecrate it with a sort of heathen goddess, as the Roman Emperor
built a temple to Venus on the Holy Sepulchre. But the truth could
still be traced out, by any scholarly man determined to trace it.
And this man was determined to trace it."
"What man?" asked the other, with a shadow of the answer in his
"The only man who has an alibi," replied Fisher. "James Haddow, the
antiquarian lawyer, left the night before the fatality, but he left
that black star of death on the ice. He left abruptly, having
previously proposed to stay; probably, I think, after an ugly scene
with Bulmer, at their legal interview. As you know yourself, Bulmer
could make a man feel pretty murderous, and I rather fancy the
lawyer had himself irregularities to confess, and was in danger of
exposure by his client. But it's my reading of human nature that a
man will cheat in his trade, but not in his hobby. Haddow may have
been a dishonest lawyer, but he couldn't help being an honest
antiquary. When he got on the track of the truth about the Holy Well
he had to follow it up; he was not to be bamboozled with newspaper
anecdotes about Mr. Prior and a hole in the wall; he found out
everything, even to the exact location of the well, and he was
rewarded, if being a successful assassin can be regarded as a
"And how did you get on the track of all this hidden history?" asked
the young architect.
A cloud came across the brow of Horne Fisher. "I knew only too much
about it already," he said, "and, after all, it's shameful for me to
be speaking lightly of poor Bulmer, who has paid his penalty; but
the rest of us haven't. I dare say every cigar I smoke and every
liqueur I drink comes directly or indirectly from the harrying of
the holy places and the persecution of the poor. After all, it needs
very little poking about in the past to find that hole in the wall,
that great breach in the defenses of English history. It lies just
under the surface of a thin sheet of sham information and
instruction, just as the black and blood-stained well lies just
under that floor of shallow water and flat weeds. Oh, the ice is
thin, but it bears; it is strong enough to support us when we dress
up as monks and dance on it, in mockery of the dear, quaint old
Middle Ages. They told me I must put on fancy dress; so I did put on
fancy dress, according to my own taste and fancy. I put on the only
costume I think fit for a man who has inherited the position of a
gentleman, and yet has not entirely lost the feelings of one."
In answer to a look of inquiry, he rose with a sweeping and downward
"Sackcloth," he said; "and I would wear the ashes as well if they
would stay on my bald head."
VII. THE TEMPLE OF SILENCE
Harold March and the few who cultivated the friendship of Horne
Fisher, especially if they saw something of him in his own social
setting, were conscious of a certain solitude in his very
sociability. They seemed to be always meeting his relations and
never meeting his family. Perhaps it would be truer to say that they
saw much of his family and nothing of his home. His cousins and
connections ramified like a labyrinth all over the governing class
of Great Britain, and he seemed to be on good, or at least on
good-humored, terms with most of them. For Horne Fisher was
remarkable for a curious impersonal information and interest
touching all sorts of topics, so that one could sometimes fancy that
his culture, like his colorless, fair mustache and pale, drooping
features, had the neutral nature of a chameleon. Anyhow, he could
always get on with viceroys and Cabinet Ministers and all the great
men responsible for great departments, and talk to each of them on
his own subject, on the branch of study with which he was most
seriously concerned. Thus he could converse with the Minister for
War about silkworms, with the Minister of Education about detective
stories, with the Minister of Labor about Limoges enamel, and with
the Minister of Missions and Moral Progress (if that be his correct
title) about the pantomime boys of the last four decades. And as the
first was his first cousin, the second his second cousin, the third
his brother-in-law, and the fourth his uncle by marriage, this
conversational versatility certainly served in one sense to create a
happy family. But March never seemed to get a glimpse of that
domestic interior to which men of the middle classes are accustomed
in their friendships, and which is indeed the foundation of
friendship and love and everything else in any sane and stable
society. He wondered whether Horne Fisher was both an orphan and an
It was, therefore, with something like a start that he found that
Fisher had a brother, much more prosperous and powerful than
himself, though hardly, March thought, so entertaining. Sir Henry
Harland Fisher, with half the alphabet after his name, was something
at the Foreign Office far more tremendous than the Foreign
Secretary. Apparently, it ran in the family, after all; for it
seemed there was another brother, Ashton Fisher, in India, rather
more tremendous than the Viceroy. Sir Henry Fisher was a heavier,
but handsomer edition of his brother, with a brow equally bald, but
much more smooth. He was very courteous, but a shade patronizing,
not only to March, but even, as March fancied, to Horne Fisher as
well. The latter gentleman, who had many intuitions about the
half-formed thoughts of others, glanced at the topic himself as they
came away from the great house in Berkeley Square.
"Why, don't you know," he observed quietly, "that I am the fool of
"It must be a clever family," said Harold March, with a smile.
"Very gracefully expressed," replied Fisher; "that is the best of
having a literary training. Well, perhaps it is an exaggeration to
say I am the fool of the family. It's enough to say I am the failure
of the family."
"It seems queer to me that you should fail especially," remarked the
journalist. "As they say in the examinations, what did you fail in?"
"Politics," replied his friend. "I stood for Parliament when I was
quite a young man and got in by an enormous majority, with loud
cheers and chairing round the town. Since then, of course, I've been
rather under a cloud."
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand the 'of course,'" answered
"That part of it isn't worth understanding," said Fisher. "But as a
matter of fact, old chap, the other part of it was rather odd and
interesting. Quite a detective story in its way, as well as the
first lesson I had in what modern politics are made of. If you like,
I'll tell you all about it." And the following, recast in a less
allusive and conversational manner, is the story that he told.
Nobody privileged of late years to meet Sir Henry Harland Fisher
would believe that he had ever been called Harry. But, indeed, he
had been boyish enough when a boy, and that serenity which shone on
him through life, and which now took the form of gravity, had once
taken the form of gayety. His friends would have said that he was
all the more ripe in his maturity for having been young in his
youth. His enemies would have said that he was still light minded,
but no longer light hearted. But in any case, the whole of the story
Horne Fisher had to tell arose out of the accident which had made
young Harry Fisher private secretary to Lord Saltoun. Hence his
later connection with the Foreign Office, which had, indeed, come to
him as a sort of legacy from his lordship when that great man was
the power behind the throne. This is not the place to say much about
Saltoun, little as was known of him and much as there was worth
knowing. England has had at least three or four such secret
statesmen. An aristocratic polity produces every now and then an
aristocrat who is also an accident, a man of intellectual
independence and insight, a Napoleon born in the purple. His vast
work was mostly invisible, and very little could be got out of him
in private life except a crusty and rather cynical sense of humor.
But it was certainly the accident of his presence at a family dinner
of the Fishers, and the unexpected opinion he expressed, which
turned what might have been a dinner-table joke into a sort of small
Save for Lord Saltoun, it was a family party of Fishers, for the
only other distinguished stranger had just departed after dinner,
leaving the rest to their coffee and cigars. This had been a figure
of some interest--a young Cambridge man named Eric Hughes who was
the rising hope of the party of Reform, to which the Fisher family,
along with their friend Saltoun, had long been at least formally
attached. The personality of Hughes was substantially summed up in
the fact that he talked eloquently and earnestly through the whole
dinner, but left immediately after to be in time for an appointment.
All his actions had something at once ambitious and conscientious;
he drank no wine, but was slightly intoxicated with words. And his
face and phrases were on the front page of all the newspapers just
then, because he was contesting the safe seat of Sir Francis Verner
in the great by-election in the west. Everybody was talking about
the powerful speech against squirarchy which he had just delivered;
even in the Fisher circle everybody talked about it except Horne
Fisher himself who sat in a corner, lowering over the fire.
"We jolly well have to thank him for putting some new life into the
old party," Ashton Fisher was saying. "This campaign against the old
squires just hits the degree of democracy there is in this county.
This act for extending county council control is practically his
bill; so you may say he's in the government even before he's in the
"One's easier than the other," said Harry, carelessly. "I bet the
squire's a bigger pot than the county council in that county. Verner
is pretty well rooted; all these rural places are what you call
reactionary. Damning aristocrats won't alter it."
"He damns them rather well," observed Ashton. "We never had a
better meeting than the one in Barkington, which generally goes
Constitutional. And when he said, 'Sir Francis may boast of blue
blood; let us show we have red blood,' and went on to talk about
manhood and liberty, the room simply rose at him."
"Speaks very well," said Lord Saltoun, gruffly, making his only
contribution to the conversation so far.
Then the almost equally silent Horne Fisher suddenly spoke, without
taking his brooding eyes off the fire.
"What I can't understand," he said, "is why nobody is ever slanged
for the real reason."
"Hullo!" remarked Harry, humorously, "you beginning to take notice?"
"Well, take Verner," continued Horne Fisher. "If we want to attack
Verner, why not attack him? Why compliment him on being a romantic
reactionary aristocrat? Who is Verner? Where does he come from? His
name sounds old, but I never heard of it before, as the man said of
the Crucifixion. Why talk about his blue blood? His blood may be
gamboge yellow with green spots, for all anybody knows. All we know
is that the old squire, Hawker, somehow ran through his money (and
his second wife's, I suppose, for she was rich enough), and sold the
estate to a man named Verner. What did he make his money in? Oil?
"I don't know," said Saltoun, looking at him thoughtfully.
"First thing I ever knew you didn't know," cried the exuberant
"And there's more, besides," went on Horne Fisher, who seemed to
have suddenly found his tongue. "If we want country people to vote
for us, why don't we get somebody with some notion about the
country? We don't talk to people in Threadneedle Street about
nothing but turnips and pigsties. Why do we talk to people in
Somerset about nothing but slums and socialism? Why don't we give
the squire's land to the squire's tenants, instead of dragging in
the county council?"
"Three acres and a cow," cried Harry, emitting what the
Parliamentary reports call an ironical cheer.
"Yes," replied his brother, stubbornly. "Don't you think
agricultural laborers would rather have three acres and a cow than
three acres of printed forms and a committee? Why doesn't somebody
start a yeoman party in politics, appealing to the old traditions of
the small landowner? And why don't they attack men like Verner for
what they are, which is something about as old and traditional as an
American oil trust?"
"You'd better lead the yeoman party yourself," laughed Harry.
"Don't you think it would be a joke, Lord Saltoun, to see my brother
and his merry men, with their bows and bills, marching down to
Somerset all in Lincoln green instead of Lincoln and Bennet hats?"
"No," answered Old Saltoun, "I don't think it would be a joke. I
think it would be an exceedingly serious and sensible idea."
"Well, I'm jiggered!" cried Harry Fisher, staring at him. "I said
just now it was the first fact you didn't know, and I should say
this is the first joke you didn't see."
"I've seen a good many things in my time," said the old man, in his
rather sour fashion. "I've told a good many lies in my time, too,
and perhaps I've got rather sick of them. But there are lies and
lies, for all that. Gentlemen used to lie just as schoolboys lie,
because they hung together and partly to help one another out. But
I'm damned if I can see why we should lie for these cosmopolitan
cads who only help themselves. They're not backing us up any more;
they're simply crowding us out. If a man like your brother likes to
go into Parliament as a yeoman or a gentleman or a Jacobite or an
Ancient Briton, I should say it would be a jolly good thing."
In the rather startled silence that followed Horne Fisher sprang to
his feet and all his dreary manner dropped off him.
"I'm ready to do it to-morrow," he cried. "I suppose none of you
fellows would back me up."
Then Harry Fisher showed the finer side of his impetuosity. He made
a sudden movement as if to shake hands.
"You're a sport," he said, "and I'll back you up, if nobody else
will. But we can all back you up, can't we? I see what Lord Saltoun
means, and, of course, he's right. He's always right."
"So I will go down to Somerset," said Horne Fisher.
"Yes, it is on the way to Westminster," said Lord Saltoun, with a
And so it happened that Horne Fisher arrived some days later at the
little station of a rather remote market town in the west,
accompanied by a light suitcase and a lively brother. It must not be
supposed, however, that the brother's cheerful tone consisted
entirely of chaff. He supported the new candidate with hope as well
as hilarity; and at the back of his boisterous partnership there was
an increasing sympathy and encouragement. Harry Fisher had always
had an affection for his more quiet and eccentric brother, and was
now coming more and more to have a respect for him. As the campaign
proceeded the respect increased to ardent admiration. For Harry was
still young, and could feel the sort of enthusiasm for his captain
in electioneering that a schoolboy can feel for his captain in
Nor was the admiration undeserved. As the new three-cornered
contest developed it became apparent to others besides his devoted
kinsman that there was more in Horne Fisher than had ever met the
eye. It was clear that his outbreak by the family fireside had been
but the culmination of a long course of brooding and studying on the
question. The talent he retained through life for studying his
subject, and even somebodys else's subject, had long been
concentrated on this idea of championing a new peasantry against a
new plutocracy. He spoke to a crowd with eloquence and replied to an
individual with humor, two political arts that seemed to come to him
naturally. He certainly knew much more about rural problems than
either Hughes, the Reform candidate, or Verner, the Constitutional
candidate. And he probed those problems with a human curiosity, and
went below the surface in a way that neither of them dreamed of
doing. He soon became the voice of popular feelings that are never
found in the popular press. New angles of criticism, arguments that
had never before been uttered by an educated voice, tests and
comparisons that had been made only in dialect by men drinking in
the little local public houses, crafts half forgotten that had come
down by sign of hand and tongue from remote ages when their fathers
were free--all this created a curious and double excitement. It
startled the well informed by being a new and fantastic idea they
had never encountered. It startled the ignorant by being an old and
familiar idea they never thought to have seen revived. Men saw
things in a new light, and knew not even whether it was the sunset
or the dawn.
Practical grievances were there to make the movement formidable. As
Fisher went to and fro among the cottages and country inns, it was
borne in on him without difficulty that Sir Francis Verner was a
very bad landlord. Nor was the story of his acquisition of the land
any more ancient and dignified than he had supposed; the story was
well known in the county and in most respects was obvious enough.
Hawker, the old squire, had been a loose, unsatisfactory sort of
person, had been on bad terms with his first wife (who died, as some
said, of neglect), and had then married a flashy South American
Jewess with a fortune. But he must have worked his way through this
fortune also with marvelous rapidity, for he had been compelled to
sell the estate to Verner and had gone to live in South America,
possibly on his wife's estates. But Fisher noticed that the laxity
of the old squire was far less hated than the efficiency of the new
squire. Verner's history seemed to be full of smart bargains and
financial flutters that left other people short of money and temper.
But though he heard a great deal about Verner, there was one thing
that continually eluded him; something that nobody knew, that even
Saltoun had not known. He could not find out how Verner had
originally made his money.
"He must have kept it specially dark," said Horne Fisher to himself.
"It must be something he's really ashamed of. Hang it all! what _is_
a man ashamed of nowadays?"
And as he pondered on the possibilities they grew darker and more
distorted in his mind; he thought vaguely of things remote and
repulsive, strange forms of slavery or sorcery, and then of ugly
things yet more unnatural but nearer home. The figure of Verner
seemed to be blackened and transfigured in his imagination, and to
stand against varied backgrounds and strange skies.
As he strode up a village street, brooding thus, his eyes
encountered a complete contrast in the face of his other rival, the
Reform candidate. Eric Hughes, with his blown blond hair and eager
undergraduate face, was just getting into his motor car and saying a
few final words to his agent, a sturdy, grizzled man named Gryce.
Eric Hughes waved his hand in a friendly fashion; but Gryce eyed him
with some hostility. Eric Hughes was a young man with genuine
political enthusiasms, but he knew that political opponents are
people with whom one may have to dine any day. But Mr. Gryce was a
grim little local Radical, a champion of the chapel, and one of
those happy people whose work is also their hobby. He turned his
back as the motor car drove away, and walked briskly up the sunlit
high street of the little town, whistling, with political papers
sticking out of his pocket.
Fisher looked pensively after the resolute figure for a moment, and
then, as if by an impulse, began to follow it. Through the busy
market place, amid the baskets and barrows of market day, under the
painted wooden sign of the Green Dragon, up a dark side entry, under
an arch, and through a tangle of crooked cobbled streets the two
threaded their way, the square, strutting figure in front and the
lean, lounging figure behind him, like his shadow in the sunshine.
At length they came to a brown brick house with a brass plate, on
which was Mr. Gryce's name, and that individual turned and beheld
his pursuer with a stare.
"Could I have a word with you, sir?" asked Horne Fisher, politely.
The agent stared still more, but assented civilly, and led the other
into an office littered with leaflets and hung all round with highly
colored posters which linked the name of Hughes with all the higher
interests of humanity.
"Mr. Horne Fisher, I believe," said Mr. Gryce. "Much honored by the
call, of course. Can't pretend to congratulate you on entering the
contest, I'm afraid; you won't expect that. Here we've been keeping
the old flag flying for freedom and reform, and you come in and
break the battle line."
For Mr. Elijah Gryce abounded in military metaphors and in
denunciations of militarism. He was a square-jawed, blunt-featured
man with a pugnacious cock of the eyebrow. He had been pickled in
the politics of that countryside from boyhood, he knew everybody's
secrets, and electioneering was the romance of his life.
"I suppose you think I'm devoured with ambition," said Horne Fisher,
in his rather listless voice, "aiming at a dictatorship and all
that. Well, I think I can clear myself of the charge of mere selfish
ambition. I only want certain things done. I don't want to do them.
I very seldom want to do anything. And I've come here to say that
I'm quite willing to retire from the contest if you can convince me
that we really want to do the same thing."
The agent of the Reform party looked at him with an odd and slightly
puzzled expression, and before he could reply, Fisher went on in the
same level tones:
"You'd hardly believe it, but I keep a conscience concealed about
me; and I am in doubt about several things. For instance, we both
want to turn Verner out of Parliament, but what weapon are we to
use? I've heard a lot of gossip against him, but is it right to act
on mere gossip? Just as I want to be fair to you, so I want to be
fair to him. If some of the things I've heard are true he ought to
be turned out of Parliament and every other club in London. But I
don't want to turn him out of Parliament if they aren't true."
At this point the light of battle sprang into Mr. Gryce's eyes and
he became voluble, not to say violent. He, at any rate, had no doubt
that the stories were true; he could testify, to his own knowledge,
that they were true. Verner was not only a hard landlord, but a mean
landlord, a robber as well as a rackrenter; any gentleman would be
justified in hounding him out. He had cheated old Wilkins out of his
freehold by a trick fit for a pickpocket; he had driven old Mother
Biddle to the workhouse; he had stretched the law against Long Adam,
the poacher, till all the magistrates were ashamed of him.
"So if you'll serve under the old banner," concluded Mr. Gryce, more
genially, "and turn out a swindling tyrant like that, I'm sure
you'll never regret it."
"And if that is the truth," said Horne Fisher, "are you going to
"What do you mean? Tell the truth?" demanded Gryce.
"I mean you are going to tell the truth as you have just told it,"
replied Fisher. "You are going to placard this town with the
wickedness done to old Wilkins. You are going to fill the newspapers
with the infamous story of Mrs. Biddle. You are going to denounce
Verner from a public platform, naming him for what he did and naming
the poacher he did it to. And you're going to find out by what trade
this man made the money with which he bought the estate; and when
you know the truth, as I said before, of course you are going to
tell it. Upon those terms I come under the old flag, as you call it,
and haul down my little pennon."
The agent was eying him with a curious expression, surly but not
entirely unsympathetic. "Well," he said, slowly, "you have to do
these things in a regular way, you know, or people don't understand.
I've had a lot of experience, and I'm afraid what you say wouldn't
do. People understand slanging squires in a general way, but those
personalities aren't considered fair play. Looks like hitting below
"Old Wilkins hasn't got a belt, I suppose," replied Horne Fisher.
"Verner can hit him anyhow, and nobody must say a word. It's
evidently very important to have a belt. But apparently you have to
be rather high up in society to have one. Possibly," he added,
thoughtfully--"possibly the explanation of the phrase 'a belted
earl,' the meaning of which has always escaped me."
"I mean those personalities won't do," returned Gryce, frowning at
"And Mother Biddle and Long Adam, the poacher, are not
personalities," said Fisher, "and suppose we mustn't ask how Verner
made all the money that enabled him to become--a personality."
Gryce was still looking at him under lowering brows, but the
singular light in his eyes had brightened. At last he said, in
another and much quieter voice:
"Look here, sir. I like you, if you don't mind my saying so. I
think you are really on the side of the people and I'm sure you're a
brave man. A lot braver than you know, perhaps. We daren't touch
what you propose with a barge pole; and so far from wanting you in
the old party, we'd rather you ran your own risk by yourself. But
because I like you and respect your pluck, I'll do you a good turn
before we part. I don't want you to waste time barking up the wrong
tree. You talk about how the new squire got the money to buy, and
the ruin of the old squire, and all the rest of it. Well, I'll give
you a hint about that, a hint about something precious few people
"I am very grateful," said Fisher, gravely. "What is it?"
"It's in two words," said the other. "The new squire was quite poor
when he bought. The old squire was quite rich when he sold."
Horne Fisher looked at him thoughtfully as he turned away abruptly
and busied himself with the papers on his desk. Then Fisher uttered
a short phrase of thanks and farewell, and went out into the street,
still very thoughtful.
His reflection seemed to end in resolution, and, falling into a more
rapid stride, he passed out of the little town along a road leading
toward the gate of the great park, the country seat of Sir Francis
Verner. A glitter of sunlight made the early winter more like a late
autumn, and the dark woods were touched here and there with red and
golden leaves, like the last rays of a lost sunset. From a higher
part of the road he had seen the long, classical facade of the great
house with its many windows, almost immediately beneath him, but
when the road ran down under the wall of the estate, topped with
towering trees behind, he realized that it was half a mile round to
the lodge gates, After walking for a few minutes along the lane,
however, he came to a place where the wall had cracked and was in
process of repair. As it was, there was a great gap in the gray
masonry that looked at first as black as a cavern and only showed at
a second glance the twilight of the twinkling trees. There was
something fascinating about that unexpected gate, like the opening
of a fairy tale.
Horne Fisher had in him something of the aristocrat, which is very
near to the anarchist. It was characteristic of him that he turned
into this dark and irregular entry as casually as into his own front
door, merely thinking that it would be a short cut to the house. He
made his way through the dim wood for some distance and with some
difficulty, until there began to shine through the trees a level
light, in lines of silver, which he did not at first understand. The
next moment he had come out into the daylight at the top of a steep
bank, at the bottom of which a path ran round the rim of a large
ornamental lake. The sheet of water which he had seen shimmering
through the trees was of considerable extent, but was walled in on
every side with woods which were not only dark, but decidedly
dismal. At one end of the path was a classical statue of some
nameless nymph, and at the other end it was flanked by two classical
urns; but the marble was weather-stained and streaked with green and
gray. A hundred other signs, smaller but more significant, told him
that he had come on some outlying corner of the grounds neglected
and seldom visited. In the middle of the lake was what appeared to
be an island, and on the island what appeared to be meant for a
classical temple, not open like a temple of the winds, but with a
blank wall between its Doric pillars. We may say it only seemed like
an island, because a second glance revealed a low causeway of flat
stones running up to it from the shore and turning it into a
peninsula. And certainly it only seemed like a temple, for nobody
knew better than Horne Fisher that no god had ever dwelt in that
"That's what makes all this classical landscape gardening so
desolate," he said to himself. "More desolate than Stonehenge or the
Pyramids. We don't believe in Egyptian mythology, but the Egyptians
did; and I suppose even the Druids believed in Druidism. But the
eighteenth-century gentleman who built these temples didn't believe
in Venus or Mercury any more than we do; that's why the reflection
of those pale pillars in the lake is truly only the shadow of a
shade. They were men of the age of Reason; they, who filled their
gardens with these stone nymphs, had less hope than any men in all
history of really meeting a nymph in the forest."
His monologue stopped abruptly with a sharp noise like a thundercrack
that rolled in dreary echoes round the dismal mere. He knew at once
what it was--somebody had fired off a gun. But as to the meaning of
it he was momentarily staggered, and strange thoughts thronged into
his mind. The next moment he laughed; for he saw lying a little way
along the path below him the dead bird that the shot had brought
At the same moment, however, he saw something else, which interested
him more. A ring of dense trees ran round the back of the island
temple, framing the facade of it in dark foliage, and he could have
sworn he saw a stir as of something moving among the leaves. The
next moment his suspicion was confirmed, for a rather ragged figure
came from under the shadow of the temple and began to move along the
causeway that led to the bank. Even at that distance the figure was
conspicuous by its great height and Fisher could see that the man
carried a gun under his arm. There came back into his memory at once
the name Long Adam, the poacher.
With a rapid sense of strategy he sometimes showed, Fisher sprang
from the bank and raced round the lake to the head of the little
pier of stones. If once a man reached the mainland he could easily
vanish into the woods. But when Fisher began to advance along the
stones toward the island, the man was cornered in a blind alley and
could only back toward the temple. Putting his broad shoulders
against it, he stood as if at bay; he was a comparatively young man,
with fine lines in his lean face and figure and a mop of ragged red
hair. The look in his eyes might well have been disquieting to
anyone left alone with him on an island in the middle of a lake.
"Good morning," said Horne Fisher, pleasantly. "I thought at first
you were a murderer. But it seems unlikely, somehow, that the
partridge rushed between us and died for love of me, like the
heroines in the romances; so I suppose you are a poacher."
"I suppose you would call me a poacher," answered the man; and his
voice was something of a surprise coming from such a scarecrow; it
had that hard fastidiousness to be found in those who have made a
fight for their own refinement among rough surroundings. "I consider
I have a perfect right to shoot game in this place. But I am well
aware that people of your sort take me for a thief, and I suppose
you will try to land me in jail."
"There are preliminary difficulties," replied Fisher. "To begin
with, the mistake is flattering, but I am not a gamekeeper. Still
less am I three gamekeepers, who would be, I imagine, about your
fighting weight. But I confess I have another reason for not wanting
to jail you."
"And what is that?" asked the other.
"Only that I quite agree with you," answered Fisher. "I don't
exactly say you have a right to poach, but I never could see that it
was as wrong as being a thief. It seems to me against the whole
normal notion of property that a man should own something because it
flies across his garden. He might as well own the wind, or think he
could write his name on a morning cloud. Besides, if we want poor
people to respect property we must give them some property to
respect. You ought to have land of your own; and I'm going to give
you some if I can."
"Going to give me some land!" repeated Long Adam.
"I apologize for addressing you as if you were a public meeting,"
said Fisher, "but I am an entirely new kind of public man who says
the same thing in public and in private. I've said this to a hundred
huge meetings throughout the country, and I say it to you on this
queer little island in this dismal pond. I would cut up a big estate
like this into small estates for everybody, even for poachers. I
would do in England as they did in Ireland--buy the big men out, if
possible; get them out, anyhow. A man like you ought to have a
little place of his own. I don't say you could keep pheasants, but
you might keep chickens."
The man stiffened suddenly and he seemed at once to blanch and flame
at the promise as if it were a threat.
"Chickens!" he repeated, with a passion of contempt.
"Why do you object?" asked the placid candidate. "Because keeping
hens is rather a mild amusement for a poacher? What about poaching
"Because I am not a poacher," cried Adam, in a rending voice that
rang round the hollow shrines and urns like the echoes of his gun.
"Because the partridge lying dead over there is my partridge.
Because the land you are standing on is my land. Because my own land
was only taken from me by a crime, and a worse crime than poaching.
This has been a single estate for hundreds and hundreds of years,
and if you or any meddlesome mountebank comes here and talks of
cutting it up like a cake, if I ever hear a word more of you and
your leveling lies--"
"You seem to be a rather turbulent public," observed Horne Fisher,
"but do go on. What will happen if I try to divide this estate
decently among decent people?"
The poacher had recovered a grim composure as he replied. "There
will be no partridge to rush in between."
With that he turned his back, evidently resolved to say no more, and
walked past the temple to the extreme end of the islet, where he
stood staring into the water. Fisher followed him, but, when his
repeated questions evoked no answer, turned back toward the shore.
In doing so he took a second and closer look at the artificial
temple, and noted some curious things about it. Most of these
theatrical things were as thin as theatrical scenery, and he
expected the classic shrine to be a shallow thing, a mere shell or
mask. But there was some substantial bulk of it behind, buried in
the trees, which had a gray, labyrinthian look, like serpents of
stone, and lifted a load of leafy towers to the sky. But what
arrested Fisher's eye was that in this bulk of gray-white stone
behind there was a single door with great, rusty bolts outside; the
bolts, however, were not shot across so as to secure it. Then he
walked round the small building, and found no other opening except
one small grating like a ventilator, high up in the wall. He
retraced his steps thoughtfully along the causeway to the banks of
the lake, and sat down on the stone steps between the two sculptured
funeral urns. Then he lit a cigarette and smoked it in ruminant
manner; eventually he took out a notebook and wrote down various
phrases, numbering and renumbering them till they stood in the
following order: "(1) Squire Hawker disliked his first wife. (2) He
married his second wife for her money. (3) Long Adam says the estate
is really his. (4) Long Adam hangs round the island temple, which
looks like a prison. (5) Squire Hawker was not poor when he gave up
the estate. (6) Verner was poor when he got the estate."
He gazed at these notes with a gravity which gradually turned to a
hard smile, threw away his cigarette, and resumed his search for a
short cut to the great house. He soon picked up the path which,
winding among clipped hedges and flower beds, brought him in front
of its long Palladian facade. It had the usual appearance of being,
not a private house, but a sort of public building sent into exile
in the provinces.
He first found himself in the presence of the butler, who really
looked much older than the building, for the architecture was dated
as Georgian; but the man's face, under a highly unnatural brown wig,
was wrinkled with what might have been centuries. Only his prominent
eyes were alive and alert, as if with protest. Fisher glanced at
him, and then stopped and said:
"Excuse me. Weren't you with the late squire, Mr. Hawker?"
'Yes, sir, said the man, gravely. "Usher is my name. What can I do
"Only take me into Sir Francis Verner," replied the visitor.
Sir Francis Verner was sitting in an easy chair beside a small table
in a large room hung with tapestries. On the table were a small
flask and glass, with the green glimmer of a liqueur and a cup of
black coffee. He was clad in a quiet gray suit with a moderately
harmonious purple tie; but Fisher saw something about the turn of
his fair mustache and the lie of his flat hair--it suddenly revealed
that his name was Franz Werner.
"You are Mr. Horne Fisher," he said. "Won't you sit down?"
"No, thank you," replied Fisher. "I fear this is not a friendly
occasion, and I shall remain standing. Possibly you know that I am
already standing--standing for Parliament, in fact--"
"I am aware we are political opponents," replied Verner, raising his
eyebrows. "But I think it would be better if we fought in a sporting
spirit; in a spirit of English fair play."
"Much better," assented Fisher. "It would be much better if you
were English and very much better if you had ever played fair. But
what I've come to say can be said very shortly. I don't quite know
how we stand with the law about that old Hawker story, but my chief
object is to prevent England being entirely ruled by people like
you. So whatever the law would say, I will say no more if you will
retire from the election at once."
"You are evidently a lunatic," said Verner.
"My psychology may be a little abnormal," replied Horne Fisher, in a
rather hazy manner. "I am subject to dreams, especially day-dreams.
Sometimes what is happening to me grows vivid in a curious double
way, as if it had happened before. Have you ever had that mystical
feeling that things have happened before?"
"I hope you are a harmless lunatic," said Verner.
But Fisher was still staring in an absent fashion at the golden
gigantic figures and traceries of brown and red in the tapestries on
the walls; then he looked again at Verner and resumed: "I have a
feeling that this interview has happened before, here in this
tapestried room, and we are two ghosts revisiting a haunted chamber.
But it was Squire Hawker who sat where you sit and it was you who
stood where I stand." He paused a moment and then added, with
simplicity, "I suppose I am a blackmailer, too."
"If you are," said Sir Francis, "I promise you you shall go to
jail." But his face had a shade on it that looked like the
reflection of the green wine gleaming on the table. Horne Fisher
regarded him steadily and answered, quietly enough:
"Blackmailers do not always go to jail. Sometimes they go to
Parliament. But, though Parliament is rotten enough already, you
shall not go there if I can help it. I am not so criminal as you
were in bargaining with crime. You made a squire give up his country
seat. I only ask you to give up your Parliamentary seat."
Sir Francis Verner sprang to his feet and looked about for one of
the bell ropes of the old-fashioned, curtained room.
"Where is Usher?" he cried, with a livid face.
"And who is Usher?" said Fisher, softly. "I wonder how much Usher
knows of the truth."
Verner's hand fell from the bell rope and, after standing for a
moment with rolling eyes, he strode abruptly from the room. Fisher
went but by the other door, by which he had entered, and, seeing no
sign of Usher, let himself out and betook himself again toward the
That night he put an electric torch in his pocket and set out alone
in the darkness to add the last links to his argument. There was
much that he did not know yet; but he thought he knew where he could
find the knowledge. The night closed dark and stormy and the black
gap in the wall looked blacker than ever; the wood seemed to have
grown thicker and darker in a day. If the deserted lake with its
black woods and gray urns and images looked desolate even by
daylight, under the night and the growing storm it seemed still more
like the pool of Acheron in the land of lost souls. As he stepped
carefully along the jetty stones he seemed to be traveling farther
and farther into the abyss of night, and to have left behind him the
last points from which it would be possible to signal to the land of
the living. The lake seemed to have grown larger than a sea, but a
sea of black and slimy waters that slept with abominable serenity,
as if they had washed out the world. There was so much of this
nightmare sense of extension and expansion that he was strangely
surprised to come to his desert island so soon. But he knew it for a
place of inhuman silence and solitude; and he felt as if he had been
walking for years.
Nerving himself to a more normal mood, he paused under one of the
dark dragon trees that branched out above him, and, taking out his
torch, turned in the direction of the door at the back of the
temple. It was unbolted as before, and the thought stirred faintly
in him that it was slightly open, though only by a crack. The more
he thought of it, however, the more certain he grew that this was
but one of the common illusions of light coming from a different
angle. He studied in a more scientific spirit the details of the
door, with its rusty bolts and hinges, when he became conscious of
something very near him--indeed, nearly above his head. Something
was dangling from the tree that was not a broken branch. For some
seconds he stood as still as a stone, and as cold. What he saw above
him were the legs of a man hanging, presumably a dead man hanged.
But the next moment he knew better. The man was literally alive and
kicking; and an instant after he had dropped to the ground and
turned on the intruder. Simultaneously three or four other trees
seemed to come to life in the same fashion. Five or six other
figures had fallen on their feet from these unnatural nests. It was
as if the place were an island of monkeys. But a moment after they
had made a stampede toward him, and when they laid their hands on
him he knew that they were men.
With the electric torch in his hand he struck the foremost of them
so furiously in the face that the man stumbled and rolled over on
the slimy grass; but the torch was broken and extinguished, leaving
everything in a denser obscurity. He flung another man flat against
the temple wall, so that he slid to the ground; but a third and
fourth carried Fisher off his feet and began to bear him,
struggling, toward the doorway. Even in the bewilderment of the
battle he was conscious that the door was standing open. Somebody
was summoning the roughs from inside.
The moment they were within they hurled him upon a sort of bench or
bed with violence, but no damage; for the settee, or whatever it
was, seemed to be comfortably cushioned for his reception. Their
violence had in it a great element of haste, and before he could
rise they had all rushed for the door to escape. Whatever bandits
they were that infested this desert island, they were obviously
uneasy about their job and very anxious to be quit of it. He had the
flying fancy that regular criminals would hardly be in such a panic.
The next moment the great door crashed to and he could hear the
bolts shriek as they shot into their place, and the feet of the
retreating men scampering and stumbling along the causeway. But
rapidly as it happened, it did not happen before Fisher had done
something that he wanted to to. Unable to rise from his sprawling
attitude in that flash of time, he had shot out one of his long legs
and hooked it round the ankle of the last man disappearing through
the door. The man swayed and toppled over inside the prison chamber,
and the door closed between him and his fleeing companions. Clearly
they were in too much haste to realize that they had left one of
their company behind.
The man sprang to his feet again and hammered and kicked furiously
at the door. Fisher's sense of humor began to recover from the
struggle and he sat up on his sofa with something of his native
nonchalance. But as he listened to the captive captor beating on the
door of the prison, a new and curious reflection came to him.
The natural course for a man thus wishing to attract his friends'
attention would be to call out, to shout as well as kick. This man
was making as much noise as he could with his feet and hands, but
not a sound came from his throat. Why couldn't he speak? At first he
thought the man might be gagged, which was manifestly absurd. Then
his fancy fell back on the ugly idea that the man was dumb. He
hardly knew why it was so ugly an idea, but it affected his
imagination in a dark and disproportionate fashion. There seemed to
be something creepy about the idea of being left in a dark room with
a deaf mute. It was almost as if such a defect were a deformity. It
was almost as if it went with other and worse deformities. It was as
if the shape he could not trace in the darkness were some shape that
should not see the sun.
Then he had a flash of sanity and also of insight. The explanation
was very simple, but rather interesting. Obviously the man did not
use his voice because he did not wish his voice to be recognized. He
hoped to escape from that dark place before Fisher found out who he
was. And who was he? One thing at least was clear. He was one or
other of the four or five men with whom Fisher had already talked in
these parts, and in the development of that strange story.
"Now I wonder who you are," he said, aloud, with all his old lazy
urbanity. "I suppose it's no use trying to throttle you in order to
find out; it would be displeasing to pass the night with a corpse.
Besides I might be the corpse. I've got no matches and I've smashed
my torch, so I can only speculate. Who could you be, now? Let us
The man thus genially addressed had desisted from drumming on the
door and retreated sullenly into a corner as Fisher continued to
address him in a flowing monologue.
"Probably you are the poacher who says he isn't a poacher. He says
he's a landed proprietor; but he will permit me to inform him that,
whatever he is, he's a fool. What hope can there ever be of a free
peasantry in England if the peasants themselves are such snobs as to
want to be gentlemen? How can we make a democracy with no democrats?
As it is, you want to be a landlord and so you consent to be a
criminal. And in that, you know, you are rather like somebody else.
And, now I think of it, perhaps you are somebody else."
There was a silence broken by breathing from the corner and the
murmur of the rising storm, that came in through the small grating
above the man's head. Horne Fisher continued:
"Are you only a servant, perhaps, that rather sinister old servant
who was butler to Hawker and Verner? If so, you are certainly the
only link between the two periods. But if so, why do you degrade
yourself to serve this dirty foreigner, when you at least saw the
last of a genuine national gentry? People like you are generally at
least patriotic. Doesn't England mean anything to you, Mr. Usher?
All of which eloquence is possibly wasted, as perhaps you are not
"More likely you are Verner himself; and it's no good wasting
eloquence to make you ashamed of yourself. Nor is it any good to
curse you for corrupting England; nor are you the right person to
curse. It is the English who deserve to be cursed, and are cursed,
because they allowed such vermin to crawl into the high places of
their heroes and their kings. I won't dwell on the idea that you're
Verner, or the throttling might begin, after all. Is there anyone
else you could be? Surely you're not some servant of the other rival
organization. I can't believe you're Gryce, the agent; and yet Gryce
had a spark of the fanatic in his eye, too; and men will do
extraordinary things in these paltry feuds of politics. Or if not
the servant, is it the . . . No, I can't believe it . . . not the
red blood of manhood and liberty . . . not the democratic ideal . . ."
He sprang up in excitement, and at the same moment a growl of
thunder came through the grating beyond. The storm had broken, and
with it a new light broke on his mind. There was something else that
might happen in a moment.
"Do you know what that means?" he cried. "It means that God himself
may hold a candle to show me your infernal face."
Then next moment came a crash of thunder; but before the thunder a
white light had filled the whole room for a single split second.
Fisher had seen two things in front of him. One was the
black-and-white pattern of the iron grating against the sky; the
other was the face in the corner. It was the face of his brother.
Nothing came from Horne Fisher's lips except a Christian name, which
was followed by a silence more dreadful than the dark. At last the
other figure stirred and sprang up, and the voice of Harry Fisher
was heard for the first time in that horrible room.
"You've seen me, I suppose," he said, "and we may as well have a
light now. You could have turned it on at any time, if you'd found
He pressed a button in the wall and all the details of that room
sprang into something stronger than daylight. Indeed, the details
were so unexpected that for a moment they turned the captive's
rocking mind from the last personal revelation. The room, so far
from being a dungeon cell, was more like a drawing-room, even a
lady's drawing-room, except for some boxes of cigars and bottles of
wine that were stacked with books and magazines on a side table. A
second glance showed him that the more masculine fittings were quite
recent, and that the more feminine background was quite old. His eye
caught a strip of faded tapestry, which startled him into speech, to
the momentary oblivion of bigger matters.
"This place was furnished from the great house," he said.
"Yes," replied the other, "and I think you know why."
"I think I do," said Horne Fisher, "and before I go on to more
extraordinary things I will, say what I think. Squire Hawker played
both the bigamist and the bandit. His first wife was not dead when
he married the Jewess; she was imprisoned on this island. She bore
him a child here, who now haunts his birthplace under the name of
Long Adam. A bankruptcy company promoter named Werner discovered the
secret and blackmailed the squire into surrendering the estate.
That's all quite clear and very easy. And now let me go on to
something more difficult. And that is for you to explain what the
devil you are doing kidnaping your born brother."
After a pause Henry Fisher answered:
"I suppose you didn't expect to see me," he said. "But, after all,
what could you expect?"'
"I'm afraid I don't follow," said Horne Fisher.
"I mean what else could you expect, after making such a muck of it?"
said his brother, sulkily. "We all thought you were so clever. How
could we know you were going to be--well, really, such a rotten
"This is rather curious," said the candidate, frowning. "Without
vanity, I was not under the impression that my candidature was a
failure. All the big meetings were successful and crowds of people
have promised me votes."
"I should jolly well think they had," said' Henry, grimly. "You've
made a landslide with your confounded acres and a cow, and Verner
can hardly get a vote anywhere. Oh, it's too rotten for anything!"
"What on earth do you mean?"
"Why, you lunatic," cried Henry, in tones of ringing sincerity, "you
don't suppose you were meant to _win_ the seat, did you? Oh, it's
too childish! I tell you Verner's got to get in. Of course he's got
to get in. He's to have the Exchequer next session, and there's the
Egyptian loan and Lord knows what else. We only wanted you to split
the Reform vote because accidents might happen after Hughes had made
a score at Barkington."
"I see," said Fisher, "and you, I think, are a pillar and ornament
of the Reform party. As you say, I am not clever."
The appeal to party loyalty fell on deaf ears; for the pillar of
Reform was brooding on other things. At last he said, in a more
"I didn't want you to catch me; I knew it would be a shock. But I
tell you what, you never would have caught me if I hadn't come here
myself, to see they didn't ill treat you and to make sure everything
was as comfortable as it could be." There was even a sort of break
in his voice as he added, "I got those cigars because I knew you
Emotions are queer things, and the idiocy of this concession
suddenly softened Horne Fisher like an unfathomable pathos.
"Never mind, old chap," he said; "we'll say no more about it. I'll
admit that you're really as kind-hearted and affectionate a
scoundrel and hypocrite as ever sold himself to ruin his country.
There, I can't say handsomer than that. Thank you for the cigars,
old man. I'll have one if you don't mind."
By the time that Horne Fisher had ended his telling of this story to
Harold March they had come out into one of the public parks and
taken a seat on a rise of ground overlooking wide green spaces under
a blue and empty sky; and there was something incongruous in the
words with which the narration ended.
"I have been in that room ever since," said Horne Fisher. "I am in
it now. I won the election, but I never went to the House. My life
has been a life in that little room on that lonely island. Plenty of
books and cigars and luxuries, plenty of knowledge and interest and
information, but never a voice out of that tomb to reach the world
outside. I shall probably die there." And he smiled as he looked
across the vast green park to the gray horizon.
VIII. THE VENGEANCE OF THE STATUE
It was on the sunny veranda of a seaside hotel, overlooking a
pattern of flower beds and a strip of blue sea, that Horne Fisher
and Harold March had their final explanation, which might be called
Harold March had come to the little table and sat down at it with a
subdued excitement smoldering in his somewhat cloudy and dreamy blue
eyes. In the newspapers which he tossed from him on to the table
there was enough to explain some if not all of his emotion. Public
affairs in every department had reached a crisis. The government
which had stood so long that men were used to it, as they are used
to a hereditary despotism, had begun to be accused of blunders and
even of financial abuses. Some said that the experiment of
attempting to establish a peasantry in the west of England, on the
lines of an early fancy of Horne Fisher's, had resulted in nothing
but dangerous quarrels with more industrial neighbors. There had
been particular complaints of the ill treatment of harmless
foreigners, chiefly Asiatics, who happened to be employed in the new
scientific works constructed on the coast. Indeed, the new Power
which had arisen in Siberia, backed by Japan and other powerful
allies, was inclined to take the matter up in the interests of its
exiled subjects; and there had been wild talk about ambassadors and
ultimatums. But something much more serious, in its personal
interest for March himself, seemed to fill his meeting with his
friend with a mixture of embarrassment and indignation.
Perhaps it increased his annoyance that there was a certain unusual
liveliness about the usually languid figure of Fisher. The ordinary
image of him in March's mind was that of a pallid and bald-browed
gentleman, who seemed to be prematurely old as well as prematurely
bald. He was remembered as a man who expressed the opinions of a
pessimist in the language of a lounger. Even now March could not be
certain whether the change was merely a sort of masquerade of
sunshine, or that effect of clear colors and clean-cut outlines that
is always visible on the parade of a marine resort, relieved against
the blue dado of the sea. But Fisher had a flower in his buttonhole,
and his friend could have sworn he carried his cane with something
almost like the swagger of a fighter. With such clouds gathering
over England, the pessimist seemed to be the only man who carried
his own sunshine.
"Look here," said Harold March, abruptly, "you've been no end of a
friend to me, and I never was so proud of a friendship before; but
there's something I must get off my chest. The more I found out, the
less I understood how you could stand it. And I tell you I'm going
to stand it no longer."
Horne Fisher gazed across at him gravely and attentively, but rather
as if he were a long way off.
"You know I always liked you," said Fisher, quietly, "but I also
respect you, which is not always the same thing. You may possibly
guess that I like a good many people I don't respect. Perhaps it is
my tragedy, perhaps it is my fault. But you are very different, and
I promise you this: that I will never try to keep you as somebody to
be liked, at the price of your not being respected."
"I know you are magnanimous," said March after a silence, "and yet
you tolerate and perpetuate everything that is mean." Then after
another silence he added: "Do you remember when we first met, when
you were fishing in that brook in the affair of the target? And do
you remember you said that, after all, it might do no harm if I
could blow the whole tangle of this society to hell with dynamite."
"Yes, and what of that?" asked Fisher.
"Only that I'm going to blow it to hell with dynamite," said Harold
March, "and I think it right to give you fair warning. For a long
time I didn't believe things were as bad as you said they were. But
I never felt as if I could have bottled up what you knew, supposing
you really knew it. Well, the long and the short of it is that I've
got a conscience; and now, at last, I've also got a chance. I've
been put in charge of a big independent paper, with a free hand, and
we're going to open a cannonade on corruption."
"That will be--Attwood, I suppose," said Fisher, reflectively.
"Timber merchant. Knows a lot about China."
"He knows a lot about England," said March, doggedly, "and now I
know it, too, we're not going to hush it up any longer. The people
of this country have a right to know how they're ruled--or, rather,
ruined. The Chancellor is in the pocket of the money lenders and has
to do as he is told; otherwise he's bankrupt, and a bad sort of
bankruptcy, too, with nothing but cards and actresses behind it. The
Prime Minister was in the petrol-contract business; and deep in it,
too. The Foreign Minister is a wreck of drink and drugs. When you
say that plainly about a man who may send thousands of Englishmen to
die for nothing, you're called personal. If a poor engine driver
gets drunk and sends thirty or forty people to death, nobody
complains of the exposure being personal. The engine driver is not a
"I quite agree with you," said Fisher, calmly. "You are perfectly
"If you agree with us, why the devil don't you act with us?"
demanded his friend. "If you think it's right, why don't you do
what's right? It's awful to think of a man of your abilities simply
blocking the road to reform."
"We have often talked about that," replied Fisher, with the same
composure. "The Prime Minister is my father's friend. The Foreign
Minister married my sister. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is my
first cousin. I mention the genealogy in some detail just now for a
particular reason. The truth is I have a curious kind of
cheerfulness at the moment. It isn't altogether the sun and the sea,
sir. I am enjoying an emotion that is entirely new to me; a happy
sensation I never remember having had before."
"What the devil do you mean?"
"I am feeling proud of my family," said Horne Fisher.
Harold March stared at him with round blue eyes, and seemed too much
mystified even to ask a question. Fisher leaned back in his chair in
his lazy fashion, and smiled as he continued.
"Look here, my dear fellow. Let me ask a question in turn. You
imply that I have always known these things about my unfortunate
kinsmen. So I have. Do you suppose that Attwood hasn't always known
them? Do you suppose he hasn't always known you as an honest man who
would say these things when he got a chance? Why does Attwood
unmuzzle you like a dog at this moment, after all these years? I
know why he does; I know a good many things, far too many things.
And therefore, as I have the honor to remark, I am proud of my
family at last."
"But why?" repeated March, rather feebly.
"I am proud of the Chancellor because he gambled and the Foreign
Minister because he drank and the Prime Minister because he took a
commission on a contract," said Fisher, firmly. "I am proud of them
because they did these things, and can be denounced for them, and
know they can be denounced for them, and are _standing firm for all
that_. I take off my hat to them because they are defying blackmail,
and refusing to smash their country to save themselves. I salute
them as if they were going to die on the battlefield."
After a pause he continued: "And it will be a battlefield, too, and
not a metaphorical one. We have yielded to foreign financiers so
long that now it is war or ruin, Even the people, even the country
people, are beginning to suspect that they are being ruined. That is
the meaning of the regrettable incidents in the newspapers."
"The meaning of the outrages on Orientals?" asked March.
"The meaning of the outrages on Orientals," replied Fisher, "is that
the financiers have introduced Chinese labor into this country with
the deliberate intention of reducing workmen and peasants to
starvation. Our unhappy politicians have made concession after
concession; and now they are asking concessions which amount to our
ordering a massacre of our own poor. If we do not fight now we shall
never fight again. They will have put England in an economic
position of starving in a week. But we are going to fight now; I
shouldn't wonder if there were an ultimatum in a week and an
invasion in a fortnight. All the past corruption and cowardice is
hampering us, of course; the West country is pretty stormy and
doubtful even in a military sense; and the Irish regiments there,
that are supposed to support us by the new treaty, are pretty well
in mutiny; for, of course, this infernal coolie capitalism is being
pushed in Ireland, too. But it's to stop now; and if the government
message of reassurance gets through to them in time, they may turn
up after all by the time the enemy lands. For my poor old gang is
going to stand to its guns at last. Of course it's only natural that
when they have been whitewashed for half a century as paragons,
their sins should come back on them at the very moment when they are
behaving like men for the first time in their lives. Well, I tell
you, March, I know them inside out; and I know they are behaving
like heroes. Every man of them ought to have a statue, and on the
pedestal words like those of the noblest ruffian of the Revolution:
'Que mon nom soit fletri; que la France soit libre.'"
"Good God!" cried March, "shall we never get to the bottom of your
mines and countermines?"
After a silence Fisher answered in a lower voice, looking his friend
in the eyes.
"Did you think there was nothing but evil at the bottom of them?" he
asked, gently. "Did you think I had found nothing but filth in the
deep seas into which fate has thrown me? Believe me, you never know
the best about men till you know the worst about them. It does not
dispose of their strange human souls to know that they were
exhibited to the world as impossibly impeccable wax works, who never
looked after a woman or knew the meaning of a bribe. Even in a
palace, life can be lived well; and even in a Parliament, life can
be lived with occasional efforts to live it well. I tell you it is
as true of these rich fools and rascals as it is true of every poor
footpad and pickpocket; that only God knows how good they have tried
to be. God alone knows what the conscience can survive, or how a man
who has lost his honor will still try to save his soul."
There was another silence, and March sat staring at the table and
Fisher at the sea. Then Fisher suddenly sprang to his feet and
caught up his hat and stick with all his new alertness and even
"Look here, old fellow," he cried, "let us make a bargain. Before
you open your campaign for Attwood come down and stay with us for
one week, to hear what we're really doing. I mean with the Faithful
Few, formerly known as the Old Gang, occasionally to be described as
the Low Lot. There are really only five of us that are quite fixed,
and organizing the national defense; and we're living like a
garrison in a sort of broken-down hotel in Kent. Come and see what
we're really doing and what there is to be done, and do us justice.
And after that, with unalterable love and affection for you, publish
and be damned."
Thus it came about that in the last week before war, when events
moved most rapidly, Harold March found himself one of a sort of
small house party of the people he was proposing to denounce. They
were living simply enough, for people with their tastes, in an old
brown-brick inn faced with ivy and surrounded by rather dismal
gardens. At the back of the building the garden ran up very steeply
to a road along the ridge above; and a zigzag path scaled the slope
in sharp angles, turning to and fro amid evergreens so somber that
they might rather be called everblack. Here and there up the slope
were statues having all the cold monstrosity of such minor ornaments
of the eighteenth century; and a whole row of them ran as on a
terrace along the last bank at the bottom, opposite the back door.
This detail fixed itself first in March's mind merely because it
figured in the first conversation he had with one of the cabinet
The cabinet ministers were rather older than he had expected to find
them. The Prime Minister no longer looked like a boy, though he
still looked a little like a baby. But it was one of those old and
venerable babies, and the baby had soft gray hair. Everything about
him was soft, to his speech and his way of walking; but over and
above that his chief function seemed to be sleep. People left alone
with him got so used to his eyes being closed that they were almost
startled when they realized in the stillness that the eyes were wide
open, and even watching. One thing at least would always make the
old gentleman open his eyes. The one thing he really cared for in
this world was his hobby of armored weapons, especially Eastern
weapons, and he would talk for hours about Damascus blades and Arab
swordmanship. Lord James Herries, the Chancellor of the Exchequer,
was a short, dark, sturdy man with a very sallow face and a very
sullen manner, which contrasted with the gorgeous flower in his
buttonhole and his festive trick of being always slightly
overdressed. It was something of a euphemism to call him a
well-known man about town. There was perhaps more mystery in the
question of how a man who lived for pleasure seemed to get so little
pleasure out of it. Sir David Archer, the Foreign Secretary, was the
only one of them who was a self-made man, and the only one of them
who looked like an aristocrat. He was tall and thin and very
handsome, with a grizzled beard; his gray hair was very curly, and
even rose in front in two rebellious ringlets that seemed to the
fanciful to tremble like the antennae of some giant insect, or to
stir sympathetically with the restless tufted eyebrows over his
rather haggard eyes. For the Foreign Secretary made no secret of his
somewhat nervous condition, whatever might be the cause of it.
"Do you know that mood when one could scream because a mat is
crooked?" he said to March, as they walked up and down in the back
garden below the line of dingy statues. "Women get into it when
they've worked too hard; and I've been working pretty hard lately,
of course. It drives me mad when Herries will wear his hat a little
crooked--habit of looking like a gay dog. Sometime I swear I'll
knock it off. That statue of Britannia over there isn't quite
straight; it sticks forward a bit as if the lady were going to
topple over. The damned thing is that it doesn't topple over and be
done with it. See, it's clamped with an iron prop. Don't be
surprised if I get up in the middle of the night to hike it down."
They paced the path for a few moments in silence and then he
continued. "It's odd those little things seem specially big when
there are bigger things to worry about. We'd better go in and do
Horne Fisher evidently allowed for all the neurotic possibilities of
Archer and the dissipated habits of Herries; and whatever his faith
in their present firmness, did not unduly tax their time and
attention, even in the case of the Prime Minister. He had got the
consent of the latter finally to the committing of the important
documents, with the orders to the Western armies, to the care of a
less conspicuous and more solid person--an uncle of his named Horne
Hewitt, a rather colorless country squire who had been a good
soldier, and was the military adviser of the committee. He was
charged with expediting the government pledge, along with the
concerted military plans, to the half-mutinous command in the west;
and the still more urgent task of seeing that it did not fall into
the hands of the enemy, who might appear at any moment from the
east. Over and above this military official, the only other person
present was a police official, a certain Doctor Prince, originally a
police surgeon and now a distinguished detective, sent to be a
bodyguard to the group. He was a square-faced man with big
spectacles and a grimace that expressed the intention of keeping his
mouth shut. Nobody else shared their captivity except the hotel
proprietor, a crusty Kentish man with a crab-apple face, one or two
of his servants, and another servant privately attached to Lord
James Herries. He was a young Scotchman named Campbell, who looked
much more distinguished than his bilious-looking master, having
chestnut hair and a long saturnine face with large but fine
features. He was probably the one really efficient person in the
After about four days of the informal council, March had come to
feel a sort of grotesque sublimity about these dubious figures,
defiant in the twilight of danger, as if they were hunchbacks and
cripples left alone to defend a town. All were working hard; and he
himself looked up from writing a page of memoranda in a private room
to see Horne Fisher standing in the doorway, accoutered as if for
travel. He fancied that Fisher looked a little pale; and after a
moment that gentleman shut the door behind him and said, quietly:
"Well, the worst has happened. Or nearly the worst."
"The enemy has landed," cried March, and sprang erect out of his
"Oh, I knew the enemy would land," said Fisher, with composure.
"Yes, he's landed; but that's not the worst that could happen. The
worst is that there's a leak of some sort, even from this fortress
of ours. It's been a bit of a shock to me, I can tell you; though I
suppose it's illogical. After all, I was full of admiration at
finding three honest men in politics. I ought not to be full of
astonishment if I find only two."