Part 4 out of 4
"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
"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
"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
"Yes, it is on the way to Westminster," said Lord
Saltoun, with a smile.
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 cricket.
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
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
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
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
"And if that is the truth," said Horne Fisher, "are
you going to tell it?"
"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 the belt."
"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
"I mean those personalities won't do," returned
Gryce, frowning at the table.
"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
"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 know."
"I am very grateful," said Fisher, gravely. "What is
"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 aruptly 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 down.
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
"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
"Chickens!" he repeated, with a passion of
"Why do you object?" asked the placid candidate.
"Because keeping hens is rather a mild amusement
for a poacher? What about poaching eggs?"
"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
The poacher had recovered a grim composure as
he replied. "There will be no partridge to rush in
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
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.
'Yes, sir, said the man, gravely. "Usher is my name. What can I
do for you?"
"Only take me into Sir Francis Verner," replied the
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
"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
Sir Francis Verner sprang to his feet and looked
about for one of the bell ropes of the old-fashioned,
"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 town.
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 kke 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
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 think."
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
"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 Mr. Usher.
"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 the switch."
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
"This place was furnished from the great house,"
"Yes," replied the other, "and I think you
"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 failure?"
"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
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 troubled voice:
"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 liked them."
Emotions are queer things, and the idiocy of this
concession suddenly softened Horne Fisher like an
"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
"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 an
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
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 y ou 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
"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
"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 person."
"I quite agree with you," said Fisher, calmly. "You
are perfectly right."
"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
"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
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
"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
"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 pugnacity.
"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 some work."
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
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
"The enemy has landed," cried March, and sprang
erect out of his chair.
"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
He ruminated a moment and then said, in such a
fashion that March could hardly tell if he were
changing the subject or no:
"It's hard at first to believe that a fellow like
Herries, who had pickled himself in vice like vinegar,
can have any scruple left. But about that I've noticed
a curious thing. Patriotism is not the first virtue.
Patriotism rots into Prussianism when you pretend it
is the first virtue. But patriotism is sometimes the last
virtue. A man will swindle or seduce who will not sell
his country. But who knows?"
"But what is to be done?" cried March,
"My uncle has the papers safe enough," replied
Fisher, "and is sending them
west to-night; but somebody is trying to get at
them from out. side, I fear with the assistance of
somebody in. side. All I can do at present is to try to
head off the man outside; and I must get away now
and do it. I shall be back in about twenty-four hours.
While I'm away I want you to keep an eye on these
people and find out what you can. Au revoir." He
vanished down the stairs; and from the window March
could see him mount a motor cycle and trail away
toward the neighboring town.
On the following morning, March was sitting in the
window seat of the old inn parlor, which was oak-paneled and
ordinarily rather dark; but on that
occasion it was full of the white light of a curiously
clear morning--the moon had shone brilliantly for the
last two or three nights. He was himself somewhat in
shadow in the corner of the window seat; and Lord
James Herries, coming in hastily from the garden
behind, did not see him. Lord James clutched the
back of a chair, as if to steady himself, and, sitting
down abruptly at the table, littered with the last meal,
poured himself out a tumbler of brandy and drank it.
He sat with his back to March, but his yellow face
appeared in a round mirror beyon and the tinge of it
was like that of some horrible malady. As March
moved he started violently and faced round.
"My God!" he cried, "have you seen what's outside?"
"Outside?" repeated the other, glancing over his
shoulder at the garden.
"Oh, go and look for yourself," cried Herries in a
sort of fury. "Hewitt's murdered and his papers
stolen, that's all."
He turned his back again and sat down with a
thud; his square shoulders were shaking. Harold
March darted out of the doorway into the back
garden with its steep slope of statues.
The first thing he saw was Doctor Prince, the
detective, peering through his spectacles at
something on the ground; the second was the thing
he was peering at. Even after the sensational news
he had heard inside, the sight was something of a
The monstrous stone image of Britannia was lying
prone and face downward on the garden path; and
there stuck out at random from underneath it, like the
legs of a smashed fly, an arm clad in a white shirt
sleeve and a leg clad in a khaki trouser, and hair of
the unmistakable sandy gray that belonged to Horne
Fisher's unfortunate uncle. There were pools of blood
and the limbs were quite stiff in death.
"Couldn't this have been an accident?" said
March, finding words at last.
"Look for yourself, I say," repeated the harsh
voice of Herries, who had followed him with restless
movements out of the door. "The papers are gone, I
tell you. The fellow tore the coat off the corpse and
cut the papers out of the inner pocket. There's the
coat over there on the bank, with the great slash in
"But wait a minute," said the detective, Prince,
quietly. "In that case there seems to be something of a
mystery. A murderer might somehow have managed
to throw the statue down on him, as he seems to have
done. But I bet he couldn't easily have lifted it up
again. I've tried; and I'm sure it would want three men
at least. Yet we must suppose, on that theory, that the
murderer first knocked him down as he walked past,
using the statue as a stone club, then lifted it up again,
took him out and deprived him of his coat, then put
him back again in the posture of death and neatly
replaced the statue. I tell you it's physically
impossible. And how else could he have unclothed a
man covered with that stone monument? It's worse
than the conjurer's trick, when a man shuffles a coat
off with his wrists tied."
"Could he have thrown down the statue after he'd
stripped the corpse?" asked March.
"And why?" asked Prince, sharply. "If he'd killed
his man and got his papers, he'd be away like the
wind. He wouldn't potter about in a garden
excavating the pedestals of statues. Besides--Hullo,
who's that up there?"
High on the ridge above them, drawn in dark thin
lines against the sky, was a figure looking so long and
lean as to be almost spidery. The dark silhouette of
the head showed two small tufts like horns; and they
could almost have sworn that the horns moved.
"Archer!" shouted Herries, with sudden passion,
and called to him with curses to come down. The
figure drew back at the first cry, with an agitated
movement so abrupt as almost to be called an antic.
The next moment the man seemed to reconsider and
collect himself, and began to come down the zigzag
garden path, but with obvious reluctance, his feet
falling in slower and slower rhythm. Through March's
mind were throbbing the phrases that this man himself
had used, about going mad in the middle of the night
and wrecking the stone figure. just so, he could fancy,
the maniac who had done such a thing might climb
the crest of the hill, in that feverish dancing fashion,
and look down on the wreck he had made. But the
wreck he had made here was not only a wreck of
When the man emerged at last on to the garden
path, with the full light on his face and figure, he was
walking slowly indeed, but easily, and with no
appearance of fear.
"This is a terrible thing," he said. "I saw it from
above; I was taking a stroll along the ridge."
"Do you mean that you saw the murder?"
demanded March, "or the accident? I mean did you
see the statue fall?"
"No," said Archer, "I mean I saw the statue fallen."
Prince seemed to be paying but little attention; his
eye was riveted on an object lying on the path a yard
or two from the corpse. It seemed to be a rusty iron
bar bent crooked at one end.
"One thing I don't understand,' he said, "is all this
blood. The poor fellow's skull isn't smashed; most
likely his neck is broken; but blood seems to have
spouted as if all his arteries were severed. I was
wondering if some other instrument . . . that iron
thing, for instance; but I don't see that even that is
sharp enough. I suppose nobody knows what it is."
"I know what it is," said Archer in his deep but
somewhat shaky voice. "I've seen it in my
nightmares. It was the iron clamp or prop on the
pedestal, stuck on to keep the wretched image
upright when it began to wabble, I suppose. Anyhow,
it was always stuck in the stonework there; and I
suppose it came out when the thing collapsed."
Doctor Prince nodded, but he continued to look
down at the pools of blood and the bar of iron.
"I'm certain there's something more
underneath all this," he said at last. "Perhaps
something more underneath the statue. I have a huge
sort of hunch that there is. We are four men now
and between us we can lift that great tombstone
They all bent their strength to the business; there
was a silence save for heavy breathing; and then,
after an instant of the tottering and staggering of eight
legs, the great carven column of rock was rolled
away, and the body lying in its shirt and trousers was
fully revealed. The spectacles of Doctor Prince
seemed almost to enlarge with a restrained radiance
like great eyes; for other things were revealed also.
One was that the unfortunate Hewitt had a deep gash
across the jugular, which the triumphant doctor
instantly identified as having been made with a sharp
steel edge like a razor. The other was that
immediately under the bank lay littered three shining
scraps of steel, each nearly a foot long, one pointed
and another fitted into a gorgeously jeweled hilt or
handle. It was evidently a sort of long Oriental knife,
long enough to be called a sword, but with a curious
wavy edge; and there was a touch or two of blood on
"I should have expected more blood, hardly on the
point," observed Doctor Prince, thoughtfully, "but this
is certainly the instrument. The slash was certainly
made with a weapon shaped like this, and probably
the slashing of the pocket as well. I suppose the
brute threw in the statue, by way of giving him a
March did not answer; he was mesmerized by the
strange stones that glittered on the strange sword hilt;
and their possible significance was broadening upon
him like a dreadful dawn. It was a curious Asiatic
weapon. He knew what name was connected in his
memory with curious Asiatic weapons. Lord James
spoke his secret thought for him, and yet it startled
him like an irrelevance.
"Where is the Prime Minister?" Herries had cried,
suddenly, and somehow like the bark of a dog at
Doctor Prince turned on him his goggles and his
grim face; and it was grimmer than ever.
"I cannot find him anywhere," he said. "I looked
for him at once, as soon as I found the papers were
gone. That servant of yours, Campbell, made a most
efficient search, but there are no traces."
There was a long silence, at the end of which
Herries uttered another cry, but upon an entirely new
"Well, you needn't look for him any longer," he
said, "for here he comes, along with your friend
Fisher. They look as if they'd been for a little walking
The two figures approaching up the path were indeed those of
Fisher, splashed with the mire of travel and carrying a scratch
like that of a bramble across one side of his bald forehead, and
of the great and gray-haired statesman who looked like a baby and
was interested in Eastern swords and swordmanship. But beyond
this bodily recognition, March could make neither head nor tail
of their presence or demeanor, which seemed to give a final touch
of nonsense to the whole nightmare. The more closely he watched
them, as they stood listening to the revelations of the
detective, the more puzzled he was by their attitude--Fisher
seemed grieved by the death of his uncle, but hardly shocked at
it; the older man seemed almost openly thinking about something
else, and neither had anything to suggest about a further pursuit
of the fugitive spy and murderer, in spite of the prodigious
importance of the documents he had stolen. When the detective had
gone off to busy himself with that department of the business, to
telephone and write his report, when Herries had gone back,
probably to the brandy bottle, and the Prime Minister had blandly
sauntered away toward a comfortable armchair in another part of
the garden, Horne Fisher spoke directly to Harold March.
"My friend," he said, "I want you to come with me at once; there
is no one else I can trust so much as that. The journey will take
us most of the day, and the chief business cannot be done till
nightfall. So we can talk things over thoroughly on the way. But
I want you to be with me; for I rather think it is my hour."
March and Fisher both had motor bicycles; and the first half of
their day's journey consisted in coasting eastward amid the
unconversational noise of those uncomfortable engines. But when
they came out beyond Canterbury into the flats of eastern Kent,
Fisher stopped at a pleasant little public house beside a sleepy
stream; and they sat down to cat and to drink and to speak almost
for the first time. It was a brilliant afternoon, birds were
singing in the wood behind, and the sun shone full on their ale
bench and table; but the face of Fisher in the strong sunlight
had a gravity never seen on it before.
"Before we go any farther," he said, "there is something you
ought to know. You and I have seen some mysterious things and got
to the bottom of them before now; and it's only right that you
should get to the bottom of this one. But in dealing with the
death of my uncle I must begin at the other end from where our
old detective yarns began. I will give you the steps of deduction
presently, if you want to listen to
them; but I did not reach the truth of this by
steps of deduction. I will first of all tell you the
truth itself, because I knew the truth from the
first. The other cases I approached from the
outside, but in this case I was inside. I myself was
the very core and center of everything."
Something in the speaker's pendent eyelids and
grave gray eyes suddenly shook March to his
foundations; and he cried, distractedly, "I don't
understand!" as men do when they fear that they do
understand. There was no sound for a space but the
happy chatter of the birds, and then Horne Fisher
"It was I who killed my uncle. If you particularly
want more, it was I who stole the state papers from
"Fisher!" cried his friend in a strangled voice.
"Let me tell you the whole thing before we part,"
continued the other, "and let me put it, for the sake of
clearness, as we used to put our old problems. Now
there are two things that are puzzling people about
that problem, aren't there? The first is how the
murderer managed to slip off the dead man's coat,
when he was already pinned to the ground with that
stone incubus. The other, which is much smaller and
less puzzling, is the fact of the sword that cut his
throat being slightly stained at the point, instead of a
good deal more stained at the edge. Well, I can
dispose of the first question easily. Horne Hewitt
took off his own coat before he was killed. I might
say he took off his coat to be killed."
"Do you call that an explanation?" exclaimed
March. "The words seem more meaningless, than the
"Well, let us go on to the other facts," continued
Fisher, equably. "The reason that particular sword is
not stained at the edge with Hewitt's blood is that it
was not used to kill Hewitt.
"But the doctor," protested March, "declared
distinctly that the wound was made by that particular
"I beg your pardon," replied Fisher. "He did not
declare that it was made by that particular sword. He
declared it was made by a sword of that particular
"But it was quite a queer and exceptional pattern,"
argued March; "surely it is far too fantastic a
coincidence to imagine--"
"It was a fantastic coincidence," reflected
Horne Fisher. "It's extraordinary what coincidences
do sometimes occur. By the oddest
chance in the world, by one chance in a million,
it so happened that another sword of exactly
the same shape was in the same garden at the
same time. It may be partly explained, by the
fact that I brought them both into the garden
myself . . . come, my dear fellow; surely you
can see now what it means. Put those two
things together; there were two duplicate
swords and he took off his coat for himself. It
may assist your speculations to recall the fact that
I am not exactly an assassin."
"A duel!" exclaimed March, recovering himself.
"Of course I ought to have thought of that. But who
was the spy who stole the papers?"
"My uncle was the spy who stole the papers,"
replied Fisher, "or who tried to steal the papers when
I stopped him--in the only way I could. The papers,
that should have gone west to reassure our friends
and give them the plans for repelling the invasion,
would in a few hours have been in the hands of the
invader. What could I do? To have denounced one of
our friends at this moment would have been to play
into the hands of your friend Attwood, and all the
party of panic and slavery. Besides, it may be that a
man over forty has a subconscious desire to die as he
has lived, and that I wanted, in a sense, to carry my
secrets to the grave. Perhaps a hobby hardens with
age; and my hobby has been silence. Perhaps I feel
that I have killed my mother's brother, but I have
saved my mother's name. Anyhow, I chose a time
when I knew you were all asleep, and he was
walking alone in the garden. I saw all the stone
statues standing in the moonlight; and I myself was
like one of those stone statues walking. In a voice
that was not my own, I told him of his treason and
demanded the papers; and when he refused, I forced
him to take one of the two swords. The swords
were among some specimens sent down here for the
Prime Minister's inspection; he is a collector, you
know; they were the only equal weapons I could find.
To cut an ugly tale short, we fought there on the path
in front of the Britannia statue; he was a man of great
strength, but I had somewhat the advantage in skill.
His sword grazed my forehead almost at the moment
when mine sank into the joint in his neck. He fell
against the statue, like Caesar against Pompey's,
hanging on to the iron rail; his sword was already
broken. When I saw the blood from that deadly
wound, everything else went from me; I dropped my
sword and ran as if to lift him up. As I bent toward
him something happened too quick for me to follow. I
do not know whether the iron bar was rotted with rust
and came away in his hand, or whether he rent it out
of the rock with his apelike strength; but the thing
was in his hand, and with his dying energies he swung
it over my head, as I knelt there unarmed beside him.
I looked up wildly to avoid the blow, and saw above
us the great bulk of Britannia leaning outward like the
figurehead of a ship. The next instant I saw it was
leaning an inch or two more than usual, and all the
skies with their outstanding stars seemed to be
leaning with it. For the third second it was as if the
skies fell; and in the fourth I was standing in the quiet garden,
looking down on that flat ruin of stone and bone at
which you were looking to-day. He had plucked out
the last prop that held up the British goddess, and she
had fallen and crushed the traitor in her fall. I turned
and darted for the coat which I knew to contain the
package, ripped it up with my sword, and raced away
up the garden path to where my motor bike was
waiting on the road above. I had every reason for
haste; but I fled without looking back at the statue
and the. body; and I think the thing I fled from was
the sight of that appalling allegory.
"Then I did the rest of what I had to do. All
through the night and into the daybreak and the
daylight I went humming through the villages and
markets of South England like a traveling bullet, till I
came to the headquarters in the West where the
trouble was. I was just in time. I was able to placard
the place, so to speak, with the news that the
government had not betrayed them, and that they
would find supports if they would push eastward
against the enemy. There's no time to tell you all that
happened; but I tell you it was the day of my life. A
triumph like a torchlight procession, with torchlights
that might have been firebrands. The mutinies
simmered down; the men of Somerset and the
western counties came pouring into the market
places; the men who died with Arthur and stood firm
with Alfred. The Irish regiments rallied to them, after
a scene like a riot, and marched eastward out of the
town singing Fenian songs. There was all that is not
understood, about the dark laughter of that people, in
the delight with which, even when marching with the
English to the defense of England, they shouted at the
top of their voices, 'High upon the gallows tree stood
the noble-hearted three . . . With England's cruel cord
about them cast.' However, the chorus was 'God
save Ireland,' and we could all have sung that just
then, in one sense or another.
"But there was another side to my mission. I
carried the plans of the defense; and to a great
extent, luckily, the plans of the invasion also. I won't
worry you with strategics; but we knew where the
enemy had pushed forward the great battery that
covered all his movements; and though our friends
from the West could hardly arrive in time to intercept
the main movement, they might get within long
artillery range of the battery and shell it, if they only
knew exactly where it was. They could hardly tell
that unless somebody round about here sent up some
sort of signal. But, somehow, I rather fancy that
With that he got up from the table, and they
remounted their machines and went eastward
into the advancing twilight of evening. The levels of
the landscape Were repeated in flat strips of floating
cloud and the last colors of day clung to the circle of
the horizon. Reced. ing farther and farther behind
them was the semicircle of the last hills; and it was
quite suddenly that they saw afar off the dim line of
the sea. It was not a strip of bright blue as they had
seen it from the sunny veranda, but of a sinister and
smoky violet, a tint that seemed ominous and dark.
Here Horne Fisher dismounted once more.
"We must walk the rest of the way," he said, "and
the last bit of all I must walk alone."
He bent down and began to unstrap something
from his bicycle. It was something that had puzzled
his companion all the way in spite of what held him to
more interesting riddles; it appeared to be several
lengths of pole strapped together and wrapped up in
paper. Fisher took it under his arm and began to pick
his way across the turf. The ground was growing
more tum. bled and irregular and he was walking
toward a mass of thickets and small woods; night
grew darker every moment. "We must not talk any
more," said Fisher. "I shall whisper to you when you
are to halt. Don't try to follow me then, for it will only
spoil the show; one man can barely crawl safely to
the spot, and two would certainly be caught."
"I would follow you anywhere," replied
March, "but I would halt, too, if that is better."
"I know you would," said his friend in a low voice.
"Perhaps you're the only man I ever quite trusted in
A few paces farther on they came to the end
of a great ridge or mound looking monstrous
against the dim sky; and Fisher stopped with a
gesture. He caught his companion's hand and
wrung it with a violent tenderness, and then
darted forward into the darkness. March could faintly
see his figure crawling along under the
shadow of the ridge, then he lost sight of it, and then he
saw it again standing on another
mound two hundred yards away. Beside him
stood a singular erection made apparently of
two rods. He bent over it and there was the
flare of a light; all March's schoolboy memories
woke in him, and he knew what it was. It was
the stand of a rocket. The confused, incongruous
memories still possessed him up to the very
moment of a fierce but familiar sound; and an
instant after the rocket left its perch and went
up into endless space like a starry arrow aimed
at the stars.March thought suddenly of the
signs of the last days and knew he was looking
at the apocalyptic meteor of something like a
Day of judgment.
Far up in the infinite heavens the rocket
drooped and sprang into scarlet stars. For a
moment the whole landscape out to the sea and back
to the crescent of the wooded hills was like a lake of
ruby light, of a red strangely rich and glorious, as if
the world were steeped in wine rather than blood, or
the earth were an earthly paradise, over which
paused forever the sanguine moment of morning.
"God save England!" cried Fisher, with a tongue
like the peal of a trumpet. "And now it is for God to
As darkness sank again over land and sea, there
came another sound; far away in the passes of the
hills behind them the guns spoke like the baying of
great hounds. Something that was not a rocket, that
came not hissing but screaming, went over Harold
March's head and expanded beyond the mound into
light and deafening din, staggering the brain with
unbearable brutalities of noise. Another came, and
then another, and the world was full of uproar and
volcanic vapor and chaotic light. The artillery of the
West country and the Irish had located the great
enemy battery, and were pounding it to pieces.
In the mad excitement of that moment March
peered through the storm, looking again for the long
lean figure that stood beside the stand of the rocket.
Then another flash lit up the whole ridge. The figure
was not there.
Before the fires of the rocket had faded from the
sky, long before the first gun had sounded
from the distant hills, a splutter of rifle fire had
flashed and flickered all around from the hidden
trenches of the enemy. Something lay in the shadow
at the foot of the ridge, as stiff as the stick of the
fallen rocket; and the man who knew too much
knew what is worth knowing.