Part 2 out of 5
old lady had passed by. Up and up she came. Her large bonnet
appeared, and then her mild white face, inclined a little towards
him as she ascended. Evidently this very seat was her goal; and
evasion was impossible. Evasion!... Memory rushed back and set
his pulses beating. He turned boldly to the sun, and the old
lady, with a brief glance into his face, composed herself at the
other end of the little seat. She gazed out of a gentle reverie
into the golden valley. And so they sat a while. And almost as if
she had felt the bond of acquaintance between them, she presently
sighed, and addressed him: 'A very, very, beautiful view, sir.'
Lawford paused, then turned a gloomy, earnest face, gilded with
sunshine. 'Beautiful, indeed,' he said, 'but not for me. No, Miss
Sinnet, not for me.'
The old lady gravely turned and examined the aquiline profile.
'Well, I confess,' she remarked urbanely, 'you have the advantage
Lawford smiled uneasily. 'Believe me, it is little advantage.'
'My sight,' said Miss Sinnet precisely, 'is not so good as I
might wish; though better perhaps than I might have hoped; I fear
I am not much wiser; your face is still unfamiliar to me.'
'It is not unfamiliar to me,' said Lawford. Whose trickery was
this? he thought, putting such affected stuff into his mouth.
A faint lightening of pity came into the silvery and scrupulous
countenance. 'Ah, dear me, yes,' she said courteously.
Lawford rested a lean hand on the seat. 'And have you,' he asked,
'not the least recollection in the world of my face?'
'Now really,' she said, smiling blandly, 'is that quite fair?
Think of all the scores and scores of faces in seventy long
years; and how very treacherous memory is. You shall do me the
service of REMINDING me of one whose name has for the moment
'I am the son of a very old friend of yours, Miss Sinnet,' said
Lawford quietly 'a friend that was once your schoolfellow at
'Well, now,' said the old lady, grasping her umbrella, 'that is
undoubtedly a clue; but then, you see, all but one of the friends
of my girlhood are dead; and if I have never had the pleasure of
meeting her son, unless there is a decided resemblance, how am I
to recollect HER by looking at HIM?'
'There is, I believe, a likeness,' said Lawford.
She nodded her great bonnet at him with gentle amusement. 'You
are insistent in your fancy. Well, let me think again. The last
to leave me was Fanny Urquhart, that was--let me see--last
October. Now you are certainly not Fanny Urquhart's son,' she
stooped austerely, 'for she never had one. Last year, too, I
heard that my dear, dear Mrs Jameson was dead. HER I hadn't met
for many, many years. But, if I may venture to say so, yours is
not a Scottish face; and she not only married a Scottish husband,
but was herself a Dunbar. No, I am still at a loss.'
A miserable strife was in her chance companion's mind, a strife
of anger and recrimination. He turned his eyes wearily to the
fast declining sun. 'You will forgive my persistency, but I
assure you it is a matter of life or death to me. Is there no one
my face recalls? My voice?'
Miss Sinnet drew her long lips together, her eyebrows lifted with
the faintest perturbation. 'But he certainly knows my name,' she
said to herself. She turned once more, and in the still autumnal
beauty, beneath that pale blue arch of evening, these two human
beings confronted one another again. She eyed him blandly, yet
with a certain grave directness.
'I don't really think,' she said, 'you can be Mary Lawford's son.
I could scarcely have mistaken HIM.'
Lawford gulped and turned away. He hardly knew what this surge of
feeling meant. Was it hope, despair, resentment; had he caught
even the echo of an unholy joy? His mind for a moment became
confused as if in the tumult of a struggle. He heard himself
expostulate, 'Ah, Miss Bennett, I fear I set you too difficult a
The old lady drew abruptly in, like a trustful and gentle snail
into its shocked house. 'Bennett, sir; but my name is not
And again Lawford accepted the miserable prompting. 'Not
Bennett!... How can I ever then apologise for so frantic a
The little old lady took firm hold of her umbrella. She did not
answer him. 'The likeness, the likeness!' he began unctuously,
and stopped, for the glance that dwelt fleetingly on him was cold
with the formidable dignity and displeasure of age. He raised his
hat and turned miserably home. He strode on out of the last gold
into the blue twilight. What fantastic foolery of mind was
mastering him? He cast a hurried look over his shoulder at the
kindly and offended old figure sitting there, solitary, on the
little seat, in her great bonnet, with back turned resolutely
upon him--the friend of his dead mother who might have proved in
his need a friend indeed to him. And he had by this insane
caprice hopelessly estranged her.
She would remember this face well enough now, he thought
bitterly, and would take her place among his quiet enemies, if
ever the day of reckoning should come. It was scandalous, it was
banal to have abused her trust and courtesy. Oh, it was hopeless
to struggle any more! The fates were against him. They had played
him a trick. He was to be their transitory sport, as many a
better man he could himself recollect had been before him. He
would go home and give in; let Sheila do with him what she
pleased. No one but a lunatic could have acted as he had, with
just that frantic hint of method so remarkable in the insane.
He left the common. A lamplighter was lighting the lamps. A thin
evening haze was on the air. If only he had stayed at home that
fateful afternoon! Who, what had induced him, enticed him to
venture out? And even with the thought welled up into his mind an
intense desire to go to the old green time-worn churchyard again;
to sit there contentedly alone, where none heeded the completest
metamorphosis, down beside the yew-trees. What a fool he had
been. There alone, of course, lay his only possible chance of
recovery. He would go to-morrow. Perhaps Sheila had not yet
discovered his absence; and there would be no difficulty in
repeating so successful a stratagem.
Remembrance of his miserable mistake, of Miss Sinnet, faintly
returned to him as he swiftly mounted the steps to his porch.
Poor old lady. He would make amends for his discourtesy when he
was quite himself again. She should some day hear, perhaps, his
infinitely tragic, infinitely comic experience from his own lips.
He would take her some flowers, some old keepsake of his mother's.
What would he not do when the old moods and brains of the stupid
Arthur Lawford, whom he had appreciated so little and so
superficially, came back to him.
He ran up the steps and stopped dead, his hand in his pocket,
chilled and aghast. Sheila had taken his keys. He stood there,
dazed and still, beneath the dim yellow of his own fanlight; and
once again that inward spring flew back. 'Brazen it out; brazen
it out! Knock and ring!'
He knocked flamboyantly, and rang.
There came a quiet step and the door opened. 'Dr Simon, of
course, has called?' he inquired suavely.
'Ah, and gone'--as I feared. And Mrs Lawford?'
'I think Mrs Lawford is in, sir.'
Lawford put out a detaining hand. 'We will not disturb her; we
will not disturb her. I can find my way up; oh yes, thank you!'
But Ada still palely barred the way. 'I think, sir,' she said,
'Mrs Lawford would prefer to see you herself; she told me most
particularly "all callers." And Mr Lawford was not to be
disturbed on any account.'
'Disturbed? God forbid!' said Lawford, but his dark eyes failed
to move these lightest hazel. 'Well,' he continued nonchalantly,
'perhaps--perhaps it--,WOULD be as well if Mrs Lawford should
know that I am here. No, thank you, I won't come in. Please go
and tell--' But even as the maid turned to obey, Sheila herself
appeared at the dining-room door in hat and veil.
Lawford hesitated an immeasurable moment. In one swift glance he
perceived the lamplit mystery of evening, beckoning, calling,
pleading--Fly, fly! Home's here for you. Begin again, begin
again. And there before him in quiet and hostile decorum stood
maid and mistress. He took off his hat and stepped quickly in.
'So late, so very late, I fear,' he began glibly. 'A sudden call,
a perfectly impossible distance. Shall we disturb him, do you
'Wouldn't it,' began Sheila softly, 'be rather a pity perhaps? Dr
Simon seemed to think.... But, of course, you must decide
Ada turned quiet small eyes.
'No, no, by no means,' he almost mumbled.
And a hard, slow smile passed over Sheila's face. 'Excuse me one
moment,' she said; 'I will see if he is awake.' She swept swiftly
forward, superb and triumphant, beneath the gaze of those dark,
restless eyes. But so still was home and street that quite
distinctly a clear and youthful laughter was heard, and light
footsteps approaching. Sheila paused. Ada, in the act of closing
the door, peered out. 'Miss Alice, ma'am,' she said.
And in this infinitesimal advantage of time Dr Ferguson had
seized his vanishing opportunity, and was already swiftly
mounting the stairs. Mrs Lawford stood with veil half raised and
coldly smiling lips and, as if it were by pre-arrangement, her
daughter's laughing greeting from the garden, and from the
landing above her, a faint 'Ah, and how are we now?' broke out
simultaneously. And Ada, silent and discreet, had thrown open the
door again to the twilight and to the young people ascending the
Lawford was still sitting on his bed before a cold and ashy
hearth when Sheila knocked at the door.
'Yes?' he said; 'who's there?' No answer followed. He rose with a
shuddering sigh and turned the key. His wife entered.
'That little exhibition of finesse was part of our agreement, I
'I say--' began Lawford.
'To creep out in my absence like a thief, and to return like a
mountebank; that was part of our compact?'
'I say,' he stubbornly began again, 'did you wire for Alice?'
'Will you please answer my question? Am I to be a mere catspaw in
your intrigues, in this miserable masquerade before the servants?
To set the whole place ringing with the name of a doctor that
doesn't exist, and a bedridden patient that slips out of the
house with his bedroom key in his pocket! Are you aware that Ada
has been hammering at your door every half-hour of your absence?
Are you aware of that? How much,' she continued in a low, bitter
voice, 'how much should I offer for her discretion?'
'Who was that with Alice?' inquired the same toneless voice.
'I refuse to be ignored. I refuse to be made a child of. Will
you please answer me?'
Lawford turned. 'Look here, Sheila,' he began heavily, 'what
about Alice? If you wired: well, it's useless to say anything
more. But if you didn't, I ask you just this one thing. Don't
'Oh, I perfectly appreciate a father's natural anxiety.'
Her husband drew up his shoulders as if to receive a blow. 'Yes,
yes,' he said, 'but you won't?'
The sound of a young laughing voice came faintly up from below.
'How did Jimmie Fortescue know she was coming home to-day?'
'Will you not inquire of Jimmie Fortescue for yourself?'
'Oh, what is the use of sneering?' began the dull voice again. 'I
am horribly tired, Sheila. And try how you will, you can't
convince me that you believe for a moment that I am not myself,
that you are as hard as you pretend. An acquaintance, even a
friend might be deceived; but husband and wife--oh no! It isn't
only a man's face that's himself--or even his hands.' He looked
at them, straightened them slowly out, and buried them in his
pockets. 'All I care about now is Alice. Is she, or is she not
going to be told? I am simply asking you to give her just a
'"Simply asking me to give Alice a chance"; now isn't that really
just a little...?'
Lawford slowly shook his head. 'You know in your heart it isn't,
Sheila; you understand me quite well, although you persistently
pretend not to. I can't argue now. I can't speak up for myself. I
am just about as far down as I can go. It's only Alice.'
'I see; a lucid interval?' suggested his wife in a low, trembling
'Yes, yes, if you like,' said her husband patiently, '"a lucid
interval." Don't please look at my face like that, Sheila.
Think--think that it's just lupus, just some horrible
Not much light was in the large room, and there was something so
extraordinarily characteristic of her husband in those stooping
shoulders, in the head hung a little forward, and in the
preternaturally solemn voice, that Sheila had to bend a little
over the bed to catch a glimpse of the sallow and keener face
again. She sighed; and even on her own strained ear her sigh
sounded almost like one of relief.
'It's useless, I know, to ask you anything while you are in this
mood,' continued Lawford dully; 'I know that of old.'
The white, ringed hands clenched, '"Of old!"'
'I didn't mean anything. Don't listen to what I say. It's
only--it's just Alice knowing, that was all; I mean at once.'
'Don't for a moment suppose I am not perfectly aware that it is
only Alice you think of. You were particularly anxious about my
feelings, weren't you? You broke the news to me with the
tenderest solicitude. I am glad our--our daughter shares my
'Look here,' said Lawford densely, 'you know that I love you as
much as ever; but with this--as I am; what would be the good of
my saying so?' Mrs Lawford took a deep breath.
And a voice called softly at the door, 'Mother, are you there?
Is father awake? May I come in?'
In a flash the memory returned to her; twenty-four hours ago she
was asking that very question of this unspeakable figure that sat
hunched-up before her.
'One moment, dear,' she called. And added in a very low voice,
Lawford looked up. 'What?' he said.
'Perhaps, perhaps,' she whispered, 'it isn't quite so bad.'
'For mercy's sake, Sheila,' he said, 'don't torture me; tell the
poor child to go away.'
She paused. 'Are you there, Alice? Would you mind, father says,
waiting a little? He is so very tired.'
'Too tired to.... Oh, very well, mother.'
Mrs Lawford opened the door, and called after her, 'Is Jimmie
'Oh, yes, hours.'
'Where did you meet?'
'I couldn't get a carriage at the station. He carried my
dressing-bag; I begged him not to. The other's coming on. You
know what Jimmie is. How very, very lucky I did come home. I
don't know what made me; just an impulse; they did laugh at me
so. Father dear--do speak to me; how are you now?'
Lawford opened his mouth, gulped, and shook his head.
'Ssh, dear!' whispered Sheila, 'I think he has fallen asleep. I
will be down in a minute.' Mrs Lawford was about to close the
door when Ada appeared.
'If you please, ma'am,' she said, 'I have been waiting, as you
told me, to let Dr Ferguson out, but it's nearly seven now; and
the table's not laid yet.'
'I really should have thought, Ada,' Sheila began, then caught
back the angry words, and turned and looked over her shoulder
into the room. 'Do you think you will need anything more, Dr
Ferguson?' she asked in a sepulchral voice.
Again Lawford's lips moved; again he shook his head.
'One moment, Ada,' she said closing the door. 'Some more
medicine--what medicine? Quick! She mustn't suspect.'
'"What medicine?"' repeated Lawford stolidly.
'Oh, vexing, vexing; don't you see we must send her out? Don't
you see? What was it you sent to Critchett's for last night? Tell
him that's gone: we want more of that.'
Lawford stared heavily. Oh, yes, yes,' he said thickly, 'more of
Sheila, with a shrug of extreme distaste and vexation. hastily
opened the door. 'Dr Ferguson wants a further supply of the drug
which Mr Critchett made up for Mr Lawford yesterday evening. You
had better go at once, Ada, and please make as much haste as you
'I say, I say,' began Lawford; but it was too late, the door was
'How I detest this wretched falsehood and subterfuge. What could
have induced you....?'
'Yes,' said her husband, 'what! I think I'll be getting to bed
again, Sheila; I forgot I had been ill. And now I do really feel
very tired. But I should like to feel--in spite of this hideous--
I should like to feel we are friends, Sheila.'
Sheila almost imperceptibly shuddered, crossed the room, and
faced the still, almost lifeless mask. 'I spoke,' she said, in a
low, cold, difficult voice--'I spoke in a temper this morning.
You must try to understand what a shock it has been to me. Now, I
own it frankly, I know you are--Arthur. But God only knows how it
frightens me, and--and--horrifies me.' She shut her eyes beneath
her veil. They waited on in silence a while.
'Poor boy!' she said at last, lightly touching the loose sleeve;
'be brave; it will all come right, soon. Meanwhile, for Alice's
sake, if not for mine, don't give way to--to caprices, and all
that. Keep quietly here, Arthur. And--and forgive my impatience.'
He put out his hand as if to touch her. 'Forgive you!' he said
humbly, pushing it stubbornly back into his pocket again. 'Oh,
Sheila, the forgiveness is all on your side. You know I have
nothing to forgive.' A long silence fell between them.
'Then, to-night,' at last began Sheila wearily, drawing back, 'we
say nothing to Alice, except that you are too tired--just nervous
prostration--to see her. What we should do without this
influenza, I cannot conceive. Mr Bethany will probably look in on
his way home; and then we can talk it over--we can talk it over
again. So long as you are like this, yourself, in mind, why I--
What is it now?' she broke off querulously.
'If you please, ma'am, Mr Critchett says he doesn't know Dr
Ferguson, his name's not in the Directory, and there must be
something wrong with the message, and he's sorry, but he must
have it in writing because there was more even in the first
packet than he ought by rights to send. What shall I do, if you
Still looking at her husband. Sheila listened quietly to the end,
and then, as if in inarticulate disdain, she deliberately
shrugged her shoulders, and went out to play her part unaided.
Her husband turned wearily once more, and drawing up a chair sat
down in front of the cold grate. He realised that Sheila thought
him as much of a fool now as she had for the moment thought him
an impostor, or something worse, the night before. That was at
least something gained. He realised, too, in a vague way that the
exuberance of mind that had practically invented Dr Ferguson, and
outraged Miss Sinnet, had quite suddenly flickered out. It was
astonishing, he thought, with gaze fixed innocently on the black
coals, that he should ever have done such things. He detested
that kind of 'rot'; that jaunty theatrical pose so many men
prided their jackdaw brains on.
And he sat quite still, like a cat at a cranny, listening, as it
were, for the faintest remotest stir that might hint at any
return of this--activity. It was the first really sane moment he
had had since the 'change.' Whatever it was that had happened at
Widderstone was now distinctly weakening in effect. Why, now,
perhaps? He stole a thievish look over his shoulder at the glass,
and cautiously drew finger and thumb down that beaked nose. Then
he really quietly smiled, a smile he felt this abominable facial
caricature was quite unused to, the superior Lawford smile of
guileless contempt for the fanatical, the fantastic, and the
bizarre: He wouldn't have sat with his feet on the fender before
a burnt-out fire.
And the animosity of that 'he,' uttered only just under his
breath, surprised even himself. It actually did seem as if there
were a chance; if only he kept cool and collected. If the whole
mind of a man was bent on being one thing, surely no power on
earth, certainly not on earth, could for long compel him to look
another, any more (followed the resplendent thought) than vice
That, in fact, was the trick that had been in fitful fashion
played him since yesterday. Obviously, and apart altogether from
his promise to Sheila, the best possible thing he could do would
be to walk quietly over to Widderstone to-morrow and like a child
that has lost a penny, just make the attempt to reverse the
process: look at the graves, read the inscriptions on the
weather-beaten stones, compose himself once more to sleep on the
Magic, witchcraft, possession, and all that--well, Mr Bethany
might prefer to take it on the authority of the Bible if it was
his duty. But it was at least mainly Old Testament stuff, like
polygamy, Joshua, and the 'unclean beasts.' The 'unclean beasts.'
It was simply, as Simon had said, mainly an affair of the nerves,
like Indian jugglery. He had heard of dozens of such cases, or
similar cases. And it was hardly likely that cases even remotely
like his own would be much bragged about, or advertised. All
those mysterious 'disappearances,' too, which one reads about so
repeatedly? What of them? Even now, he felt (and glanced swiftly
behind him at the fancy), it would be better to think as softly
as possible, not to hope too openly, certainly not to triumph in
the least degree, just in case of--well--listeners.
He would wrap up too. And he wouldn't tell Sheila of the project
till he had come safely back. What an excellent joke it would be
to confess meekly to his escapade, and to be scolded, and then
suddenly to reveal himself. He sat back and gazed with an almost
malignant animosity at the face in the portrait, comely and
An inarticulate, unfathomable depression rolled back on him, like
a mist out of the sea. He hastily undressed, put watch and
door-key and Critchett's powder under his pillow, paused,
vacantly ruminated, and then replaced the powder in his waistcoat
pocket, said his prayers, and got shivering to bed. He did not
feel hurt at Sheila's leaving him like this. So long as she
really believed in him. And now--Alice was home. He listened,
trying not to shiver, for her voice; and sometimes heard, he
fancied, the clear note. It was this beastly influenza that made
him feel so cold and lifeless. But all would soon come right--
that is, if only that face, luminous against the floating
darkness within, would not appear the instant he closed his eyes.
But legions of dreams are Influenza's allies. He fell into a
chill doze, heard voices innumerable, and one above the rest,
shouting them down, until there fell a lull. And another, as it
were, from afar said quite clearly and distinctly, 'But surely,
my dear, you have heard the story of the poor old charwoman who
talked Greek in her delirium? A little school French need not
alarm us.' And Lawford opened his eyes again on Mr Bethany
standing at his bed
'Tt, tt! There, I've been and waked him. And yet they say men
make such excellent nurses in time of war. But you see, Lawford,
what did I tell you? Wasn't I now an infallible prophet? Your
wife has been giving me a most glowing account. Quite your old
self, she tells me, except for just this--this touch of facial
paralysis. And I think, do you know' (the kind old creature
stooped over the bed, but still, Lawford noticed bitterly, still
without his spectacles)--'yes, I really think there is a decided
improvement. Not quite so--drawn. We must make haste slowly.
Wedderburn, you know, believes profoundly in Simon; he pulled his
wife through a dangerous confinement. And here's pills and tonics
and liniments--a whole chemist's shop. Oh, we are getting on
Flamelight was flickering in the candled dusk. Lawford turned his
head and saw Sheila's coiled, beautiful hair in the firelight.
'You haven't told Alice?' he asked.
'My dear good man,' said Mr Bethany, 'of course we haven't. You
shall tell her yourself on Monday. What an incredible tradition
it will be! But you mustn't worry; you mustn't even think. And no
more of these jaunts, eh? That Ferguson business--that was too
bad. What are we going to do with the fellow now we have created
him? He will come home to roost--mark my words. And as likely as
not down the Vicarage chimney. I wouldn't have believed it of
you, my dear fellow.' He beamed, but looked, none the less, very
lean and fagged and depressed.
'How did the wedding go off?' Lawford managed to think of
'Oh, A1,' said Mr Bethany. 'I've just been describing it to
Alice--the bride, her bridegroom, mother, aunts, cake, presents,
finery, blushes, tears, and everything that was hers. We've been
in fits, haven't we, Mrs Lawford? And Alice says I'm a Worth in a
clerical collar--didn't she? And that it's only Art that has kept
me out of an apron. Now look here; quiet, quiet, quiet; no
excitement, no pranks. What is there to worry about, pray? And
now Little Dorrit's down with influenza too. And Craik and I will
have double work to do. Well, well; good-bye, my dear. God bless
you, Lawford. I can't tell you how relieved, how unspeakably
relieved I am to find you so much--so much better. Feed him up,
my other dear; body and mind and soul and spirit. And there goes
the bell. I must have a biscuit. I've swallowed nothing but a
Cupid in plaster of Paris since breakfast. Goodnight; we shall
miss you both--both.'
But when Sheila returned, her husband was sunk again into a quiet
sleep, from which not even the many questions she fretted to put
to him seemed weighty enough to warrant his disturbance.
So when Lawford again opened his eyes he found himself lying wide
awake, clear and refreshed, and eager to get up. But upon the air
lay the still hush of early morning. He tried in vain to catch
back sleep again. A distant shred of dream still floated in his
mind, like a cloud at evening. He rarely dreamed, but certainly
something immensely interesting had but a moment ago eluded him.
He sat up and looked at the clear red cinders and their maze of
grottoes. He got out of bed and peeped through the blinds. To the
east and opposite to him gardens and an apple-orchard lay, and
there in strange liquid tranquillity hung the morning star, and
rose, rifling into the dusk of night, the first grey of dawn. The
street beneath its autumn leaves was vacant, charmed, deserted.
Hardly since childhood had Lawford seen the dawn unless over his
winter breakfast-table. Very much like a child now he stood
gazing out of his bow-window--the child whom Time's busy robins
had long ago covered over with the leaves of numberless hours. A
vague exultation fumed up into his brain. Still on the borders of
sleep, he unlocked the great wardrobe and took out an old faded
purple and crimson dressing-gown that had belonged to his
grandfather, the chief glory of every Christmas charade. He
pulled the cowl-like hood over his head and strode majestically
over to the looking-glass.
He looked in there a moment on the strange face, like a child
dismayed at its own excitement, and a fit of sobbing that was
half uncontrollable laughter swept over him. He threw off the
hood and turned once more to the window. Consciousness had
flooded back indeed. What would Sheila have said to see him
there? The unearthly beauty and stillness, and man's small
labours, garden and wall and roof-tree idle and smokeless in the
light of daybreak--there seemed to be some half-told secret
between them. What had life done with him to leave a reality so
clouded? He put on his slippers, and, gently opening the door,
crept with extreme caution up the stairs. At a long, narrow
landing window he confronted a panorama of starry night-gardens,
sloping orchards; and beyond them fields, hills, Orion, the Dogs,
in the clear and cloudless darkness.
'My God, how beautiful!' a voice whispered. And a cock crowed
mistily afar. He stood staring like a child into the wintry
brightness of a pastry-cook's. Then once more he crept stealthily
on. He stooped and listened at a closed door, until he fancied
that above the beating of his own heart he could hear the
breathing of the sleeper within. Then, taking firm hold of the
handle with both hands, he slowly noiselessly turned it, and
peeped in on Alice.
The moon was long past her faint shining here. The blind was
down. And yet it was not pitch dark. He stood with eyes fixed,
waiting. Then he edged softly forward and knelt down beside the
bed. He could hear her breathing now: long, low, quiet,
unhastening--the miracle of life. He could just dimly discern the
darkness of her hair against the pillow. Some long-sealed spring
of tenderness seemed to rise in his heart with a grief and an
ache he had never known before. Here at least he could find a
little peace, a brief pause, however futile and stupid all his
hopes of the night had been. He leant his head on his hands on
the counterpane and refused to think. He felt a quick tremor, a
startled movement, and knew that eyes wide open with fear were
striving to pierce the gloom between them.
'There, there, dearest,' he said in a low whisper, 'it's only me,
only me.' He stroked the narrow hand and gazed into the
shadowiness. Her fingers lay quiet and passive in his, with that
strange sense of immateriality that sleep brings to the body.
'You, you!' she answered with a deep sigh. 'Oh, dearest, how you
frightened me. What is wrong? why have you come? Are you worse,
He kissed her hand. 'No, Alice, not worse. I couldn't sleep, that
'Oh, and I came so utterly miserable to bed because you would not
see me. And Mother would tell me only so very little. I didn't
even know you had been ill.' She pressed his hand between her
own. 'But this, you know, is very, very naughty--you will catch
cold, you bad thing. What would Mother say?'
'I think we mustn't tell her, dear. I couldn't help it; I felt
much I wanted to see you. I have been rather miserable.'
'Why?' she said, stroking his hand from wrist to fingertips with
one soft finger. 'You mustn't be miserable. You and me have never
done such a thing before; have we? Was it that wretched old Flu?'
It was too dark in the little fragrant room even to see her face
so close to his own. And yet he feared. 'Dr Simon,' she went on
softly, 'said it was. But isn't your voice a little hoarse, and
it sounds so melancholy in the dark. And oh'--she squeezed his
wrist--'you have grown so thin! You do frighten me. Whatever
should I do if you were really ill? And it was so odd, dear. When
first I woke I seemed to be still straining my eyes in a dream,
at such a curious, haunting face--not very nice. I am glad, I am
glad you were here.'
'What was the dream-face like?' came the muttered question.
'Dark and sharp, and rather dwelling eyes; you know those long
faces one sees in dreams: like a hawk, like a conjuror's.'
Like a conjuror's!--it was the first unguarded and ungarbled
criticism. 'Perhaps, dear, if you find my voice different, and my
hand shrunk up, you will find my face changed, too--like a
conjuror's.... What then?'
She laughed gaily and tenderly. 'You silly silly; I should love
you more than ever. Your hands are icy cold. I can't warm them
Lawford held tight his daughter's hand. 'You do love me, Alice?
You would not turn against me, whatever happened? Ah, you shall
see, you shall see.' A sudden burning hope sprang up in him.
Surely when all was well again, these last few hours would not
have been spent in vain. Like the shadow of death they had been,
against whose darkness the green familiar earth seems beautiful
as the plains of paradise. Had he but realized before how much he
loved her--what years of life had been wasted in leaving it all
unsaid! He came back from his reverie to find his hand wet with
her tears. He stroked her hair, and touched gently her eyelids
'You will let me come in to-morrow?' she pleaded; 'you won't keep
'Ah, but, dear, you must remember your mother. She gets so
anxious, and every word the doctor says is law. How would you
like me to come again like this, perhaps?--like Santa Claus?'
'You know how I love having you,' she said, and stopped. 'But--but
...' He leaned closer. 'Yes, yes, come,' she said, clutching his
hand and hiding her eyes; 'it is only my dream--that horrible,
dwelling face in the dream; it frightened me so.'
Lawford rose very slowly from his knees. He could feel in the
dark his brows drawn down; there came a low, sullen beating on
his ear; he saw his face as it were in dim outline against the
dark. Rage and rebellion surged up in him; even his love could be
turned to bitterness. Well, two could play at any game! Alice
sprang up in bed and caught his sleeve. 'Dearest, dearest, you
must not be angry with me now!'
He flung himself down beside the bed. Anger, resentment died
away. 'You are all I have left,' he said.
He stole back, as he had come, in the clear dawn to his bedroom.
It was not five yet. He put a few more coals on his fire and blew
out the night-light, and lay down. But it was impossible to rest,
to remain inactive. He would go down and search for that first
volume of Quain. Hallucination, Influenza, Insanity--why, Sheila
must have purposely mislaid it. A rather formidable figure he
looked, descending the stairs in the grey dusk of daybreak. The
breakfast-room was at the back of the house. He tilted the blind,
and a faint light flowed in from the changing colours of the sky.
He opened the glass door of the little bookcase to the right of
the window, and ran eye and finger over the few rows of books.
But as he stood there with his back to the room, just as the
shadow of a bird's wing floats across the moonlight of a pool, he
became suddenly conscious that something, somebody had passed
across the doorway, and in passing had looked in on him.
He stood motionless, listening; but no sound broke the morning
slumbrousness, except the faraway warbling of a thrush in the
first light. So sudden and transitory had been the experience
that it seemed now to be illusory; yet it had so caught him up,
it had with so furtive and sinister a quietness broken in on his
solitude, that for a moment he dared not move. A cold, indefinite
sensation stole over him that he was being watched; that some
dim, evil presence was behind him biding its time, patient and
stealthy, with eyes fixed unmovingly on him where he stood. But,
watch and wait as silently as he might, only the day broadened at
the window, and at last a narrow ray of sunlight stole trembling
up into the dusky bowl of the sky.
At any rate Quain was found, with all the ills of life, from A to
I; and Lawford turned back to his bondage with the book under his
The Sabbath, pale with September sunshine, and monotonous with
chiming bells, had passed languidly away. Dr Simon had come and
gone, optimistic and urbane, yet with a faint inward
dissatisfaction over a patient behind whose taciturnity a hint of
mockery and subterfuge seemed to lurk. Even Mrs Lawford had
appeared to share her husband's reticence. But Dr Simon had
happened on other cases in his experience where tact was required
rather than skill, and time than medicine.
The voices and footsteps, even the frou-frou of worshippers going
to church, the voices and footsteps of worshippers returning from
church, had floated up to the patient's open window. Sunlight had
drawn across his room in one pale beam, and vanished. A few
callers had called. Hothouse flowers, waxen and pale, had been
left with messages of sympathy. Even Dr Critchett had respectfully
and discreetly made inquiries on his way home from chapel.
Lawford had spent most of his time in pacing to and fro in his
soft slippers. The very monotony had eased his mind. Now and
again he had lain motionless, with his face to the ceiling. He
had dozed and had awakened, cold and torpid with dream. He had
hardly been aware of the process, but every hour had done
something, it seemed, towards clarifying his point of view. A
consciousness had begun to stir in him that was neither that of
the old, easy Lawford, whom he had never been fully aware of
before, nor of this strange ghostly intelligence that haunted the
hawklike, restless face, and plucked so insistently at his
distracted nerves. He had begun in a vague fashion to be aware of
them both, could in a fashion discriminate between them, almost
as if there really were two spirits in stubborn conflict within
him. It would, of course, wear him down in time. There could be
only one end to such a struggle--THE end.
All day he had longed for freedom, on and on, with craving for
the open sky, for solitude, for green silence, beyond these
maddening walls. This heedful silken coming and going, these
Sunday voices, this reiterant yelp of a single peevish bell--
would they never cease? And above all, betwixt dread and an
almost physical greed, he hungered for night. He sat down with
elbows on knees and head on his hands, thinking of night, its
secrecy, its immeasurable solitude.
His eyelids twitched; the fire before him had for an instant gone
black out. He seemed to see slow-gesturing branches, grass
stooping beneath a grey and wind-swept sky. He started up; and
the remembrance of the morning returned to him--the glassy light,
the changing rays, the beaming gilt upon the useless books. Now,
at last, at the windows; afternoon had begun to wane. And when
Sheila brought up his tea, as if Chance had heard his cry, she
entered in hat and stole. She put down the tray, and paused at
the glass, looking across it out of the window.
'Alice says you are to eat every one of those delicious
sandwiches, and especially the tiny omelette. You have scarcely
touched anything to-day, Arthur. I am a poor one to preach, I am
afraid; but you know what that will mean--a worse breakdown
still. You really must try to think of--of us all.'
'Are you going to church?' he asked in a low voice.
'Not, of course, if you would prefer not. But Dr Simon advised me
most particularly to go out at least once a day. We must
remember, this is not the beginning of your illness.
Long-continued anxiety, I suppose, does tell on one in time.
Anyhow, he said that I looked worried and run-down. I AM worried.
Let us both try for each other's sakes, or even if only for
Alice's, to--to do all we can. I must not harass you; but is
there any--do you see the slightest change of any kind?'
'You always look pretty, Sheila; to-night you look prettier: THAT
is the only change, I think.'
Mrs Lawford's attitude intensified in its stillness. 'Now,
speaking quite frankly, what is it in you suggests these remarks
at such a time? That's what baffles me. It seems so childish, so
'I am very sorry, Sheila, to be so childish. But I'm not, say
what you like, blind. You ARE pretty: I'd repeat it if I was
burning at the stake.'
Sheila lowered her eyes softly on to the rich-toned picture in
the glass. 'Supposing,' she said, watching her lips move,
'supposing--of course, I know you are getting better and all
that--but supposing you don't change back as Mr Bethany thinks,
what will you do? Honestly, Arthur, when I think over it calmly,
the whole tragedy comes back on me with such a force it sweeps me
off my feet; I am for the moment scarcely my own mistress. What
would you do?'
'I think, Sheila,' replied a low, infinitely weary voice, 'I
think I should marry again.' It was the same wavering, faintly
ironical voice that had slightly discomposed Dr Simon that same
'"Marry again"!' exclaimed incredulously the full lips in the
Sheila turned softly round, conscious in a most humiliating
manner that she had ever so little flushed.
Her husband was pouring out his tea, unaware, apparently, of her
change of position. She watched him curiously. In spite of all
her reason, of her absolute certainty, she wondered even again
for a moment if this really could be Arthur. And for the first
time she realised the power and mastery of that eager and far too
hungry face. Her mind seemed to pause, fluttering in air, like a
bird in the wind. She hastened rather unsteadily to the door.
'Will you want anything more, do you think, for an hour?' she
Her husband looked up over his little table. 'Is Alice going with
'Oh yes; poor child, she looks so pale and miserable. We are
going to Mrs Sherwin's, and then on to Church. You will lock your
'Yes, I will lock my door.'
'And I do hope Arthur--nothing rash!'
A change, that seemed almost the effect of actual shadow, came
over his face. 'I wish you could stay with me,' he said slowly.
'I don't think you have any idea what--what I go through.'
It was as if a child had asked on the verge of terror for a
candle in the dark. But an hour's terror is better than a
lifetime of timidity. Sheila sighed.
'I think,' she said, 'I too might say that. But there; giving way
will do nothing for either of us. I shall be gone only for an
hour, or two at the most. And I told Mr Bethany I should have to
come out before the sermon: it's only Mr Craik.'
'But why Mrs Sherwin? She'd worm a secret out of one's grave.'
'It's useless to discuss that, Arthur; you have always
consistently disliked my friends. It's scarcely likely that you
would find any improvement in them now.'
'Oh, well--' he began. But the door was already closed.
'Sheila!' he called in a burst of anger.
'You have taken my latchkey.'
Sheila came hastily in again. 'Your latchkey?'
'I am going out.'
'"Going out!"--you will not be so mad, so criminal; and after
He stood up. 'It is useless to argue. If I do not go out, I shall
certainly go mad. As for criminal--why, that's a woman's word.
Who on earth is to know me?'
'It is of no consequence, then, that the servants are already
gossiping about this impossible Dr Ferguson; that you are certain
to be seen either going or returning; that Alice is bound to
discover that you are well enough to go out, and yet not even
enough to say good-night to your own daughter--oh, it's
monstrous, it's a frantic, a heartless thing to do !' Her voice
vaguely suggested tears.
Lawford eyed her coldly and stubbornly--thinking of the empty
room he would leave awaiting his return, its lamp burning, its
fire-flames shining. It was almost a physical discomfort, this
longing unspeakable for the twilight, the green secrecy and the
silence of the graves. 'Keep them out of the way,' he said in a
low voice; 'it will be dark when I come in.' His hardened face
lit up. 'It's useless to attempt to dissuade me.'
'Why must you always be hurting me? why do you seem to delight in
trying to estrange me?' Husband and wife faced each other across
the clear-lit room. He did not answer.
'For the last time,' she said in a quiet, hard voice, 'I ask you
not to go.'
He shrugged his shoulders. 'Ask me not to come back,' he said;
'that's nearer your hope.' He turned his face to the fire.
Without moving he heard her go out, return, pause, and go out
again. And when he deliberately wheeled round in his chair the
little key lay conspicuous there on the counterpane.
The last light of sunset lay in the west; and a sullen wrack of
cloud was mounting into the windless sky when Lawford entered the
country graveyard again by its dark weather-worn lych-gate. The
old stone church with its square tower stood amid trees, its
eastern window faintly aglow with crimson and purple. He could
hear a steady, rather nasal voice through its open lattices. But
the stooping stones and the cypresses were out of sight of its
porch. He would not be seen down there. He paused a moment,
however; his hat was drawn down over his eyes; he was shivering.
Far over the harvest fields showed a growing pallor in the
solitary seat beneath the cypresses. He stood hesitating, gazing
steadily and yet half vacantly at the motionless figure, and in a
while a face was lifted in his direction, and undisconcerted eyes
calmly surveyed him.
'I am afraid,' called Lawford rather nervously--'I hope I am not
'Not at all, not at all,' said the stranger. 'I have no privileges
here; at least as yet.'
Lawford again hesitated, then slowly advanced. 'It's astonishingly
quiet and beautiful,' he said.
The stranger turned his head to glance over the fields. 'Yes, it
is, very,' he replied. There was the faintest accent, a little
drawl of unfriendliness in the remark.
'You often sit here?' Lawford persisted.
The stranger raised his eyebrows. 'Oh yes, often.' He smiled. 'It
is my own modest fashion of attending divine service. The
congregation is rapt.'
'My visits,' said Lawford, 'have been very few--in fact, so far
as I know, I have only once been here before.'
'I envy you the novelty.' There was again the same faint
unmistakable antagonism in voice and attitude; and yet so deep
was the relief in talking to a fellow creature who hadn't the
least suspicion of anything unusual in his appearance that
Lawford was extremely disinclined to turn back. He made another
effort--for conversation with strangers had always been a
difficulty to him--and advanced towards the seat. 'You mustn't
please let me intrude upon you,' he said, 'but really I am very
interested in this queer old place. Perhaps you would tell me
something of its history?' He sat down. His companion moved
slowly to the other side of the broken gravestone.
'To tell you the truth,' he replied, picking his way as it were
from word to word, 'it's "history," as people call it, does not
interest me in the least. After all, it's not when a thing is,
but what it is, that much matters. What this is'--he glanced,
with head bent, across the shadowy stones, 'is pretty evident. Of
course, age has its charms.'
'And is this very old?'
'Oh yes, it's old right enough, as things go; but even age,
perhaps, is mainly an affair of the imagination. There's a
tombstone near that little old hawthorn, and there are two others
side by side under the wall, still even legibly late seventeenth
century. That's pretty good weathering.' He smiled faintly. 'Of
course, the church itself is centuries older, drenched with age.
But she's still sleep-walking while these old tombstones dream.
Glow-worms and crickets are not such bad bedfellows.'
'What interested me most, I think,' said Lawford haltingly, 'was
this.' He pointed with his stick to the grave at his feet.
'Ah, yes, Sabathier's,' said the stranger; 'I know his peculiar
history almost by heart.'
Lawford found himself staring with unusual concentration into the
rather long and pale face. 'Not, I suppose,' he resumed faintly--
'not, I suppose, beyond what's there.'
His companion leant his hand on the old stooping tombstone. 'Well,
you know, there's a good deal there'--he stooped over--'if you
read between the lines. Even if you don't.'
'A suicide,' said Lawford, under his breath.
'Yes, a suicide; that's why our Christian countrymen have buried
him outside of the fold. Dead or alive, they try to keep the wolf
'Is this, then, unconsecrated ground?' said Lawford.
'Haven't you noticed,' drawled the other, 'how green the grass
grows down here, and how very sharp are poor old Sabathier's
thorns? Besides, he was a stranger, and they--kept him out.'
'But, surely,' said Lawford, 'was it so entirely a matter of
choice--the laws of the Church? If he did kill himself, he did.'
The stranger turned with a little shrug. 'I don't suppose it's a
matter of much consequence to HIM. I fancied I was his only
friend. May I venture to ask why you are interested in the poor
Lawford's mind was as calm and shallow as a millpond. 'Oh, a
rather unusual thing happened to me here,' he said. 'You say you
'Often,' said the stranger rather curtly.
'"Occurred?"' He raised his eyebrows. 'I wish it had. I come here
simply, as I have said, because it's quiet; because I prefer the
company of those who never answer me back, and who do not so much
as condescend to pay me the least attention.' He smiled and
turned his face towards the quiet fields.
Lawford, after a long pause, lifted his eyes. 'Do you think,' he
said softly, 'it is possible one ever could?'
'"One ever could?"'
There was a low rotting wall of stone encompassing Sabathier's
grave; on this the stranger sat down. He glanced up rather
curiously at his companion. 'Seldom the time and the place and
the revenant altogether. The thought has occurred to others,' he
ventured to add.
'Of course, of course,' said Lawford eagerly. 'But it is an
absolutely new one to me. I don't mean that I have never had such
an idea, just in one's own superficial way; but'--he paused and
glanced swiftly into the fast-thickening twilight--'I wonder: are
they, do you think, really, all quite dead?'
'Call and see!' taunted the stranger softly.
'Ah, yes, I know,' said Lawford. 'But I believe in the
resurrection of the body; that is what we say; and supposing,
when a man dies--supposing it was most frightfully against one's
will; that one hated the awful inaction that death brings,
shutting a poor devil up like a child kicking against the door in
a dark cupboard; one might surely one might--just quietly, you
know, try to get out? wouldn't you?' he added.
'And, surely,' he found himself beginning gently to argue again,
'surely, what about, say, him?' He nodded towards the old and
broken grave that lay between them.
'What, Sabathier?' the other echoed, laying his hand upon the
And a sheer enormous abyss of silence seemed to follow the
'He was a stranger; it says so. Good God!' said Lawford, 'how he
must have wanted to get home! He killed himself, poor wretch,
think of the fret and fever he must have been in--just before.
'But it might, you know,' suggested the other with a smile--'might
have been sheer indifference.'
'"Nicholas Sabathier, Stranger to this parish"--no, no,' said
Lawford, his heart beating as if it would choke him, 'I don't
fancy it was indifference.'
It was almost too dark now to distinguish the stranger's features
but there seemed a faint suggestion of irony in his voice. 'And
how do you suppose your angry naughty child would set about it?
It's narrow quarters; how would he begin?'
Lawford sat quite still. 'You say--I hope I am not detaining you
--you say you have come here, sat here often, on this very seat;
have you ever had--have you ever fallen asleep here?'
'Why do you ask?' inquired the other curiously.
'I was only wondering,' said Lawford. He was cold and shivering.
He felt instinctively it was madness to sit on here in the thin
gliding mist that had gathered in swathes above the grass, milk-
pale in the rising moon. The stranger turned away from him.
'"For in that sleep of death what dreams may come must give us
pause,"' he said slowly, with a little satirical catch on the
last word. 'What did you dream?'
Lawford glanced helplessly about him. The moon cast lean grey
beams of light between the cypresses. But to his wide and
wandering eyes it seemed that a radiance other than hers haunted
these mounds and leaning stones. 'Have you ever noticed it?' he
said, putting out his hand towards his unknown companion; 'this
stone is cracked from head to foot?... But there'--he rose
stiff and chilled--'I am afraid I have bored you with my company.
You came here for solitude, and I have been trying to convince
you that we are surrounded with witnesses. You will forgive my
intrusion?' There was a kind of old-fashioned courtesy in his
manner that he himself was dimly aware of. He held out his hand.
'I hope you will think nothing of the kind,' said the other
earnestly; 'how could it be in any sense an intrusion? It's the
old story of Bluebeard. And I confess I too should very much like
a peep into his cupboard. Who wouldn't? But there, it's merely a
matter of time, I suppose.' He paused, and together they slowly
ascended the path already glimmering with a heavy dew. At the
porch they paused once more. And now it was the stranger that
held out his hand.
'Perhaps,' he said, 'you will give me the pleasure of some day
continuing our talk. As for our friend below, it so happens that
I have managed to pick up a little more of his history than the
sexton seems to have heard of--if you would care some time or
other to share it. I live only at the foot of the hill, not half
a mile distant. Perhaps you could spare the time now?'
Lawford took out his watch, 'You are really very kind,' he said.
'But, perhaps--well, whatever that history may be, I think you
would agree that mine is even--but, there, I've talked too much
about myself already. Perhaps to-morrow?'
'Why, to-morrow, then,' said his companion. 'It's a flat wooden
house, on the left-hand side. Come at any time of the evening';
he paused again and smiled--'the third house after the Rectory,
which is marked up on the gate. My name is Herbert--Herbert
Herbert to be precise.'
Lawford took out his pocket-book and a card. 'Mine,' he said,
handing it gravely to his companion. 'is Lawford--at least...'
It was really the first time that either had seen the other's
face at close quarters and clear-lit; and on Lawford's a moon
almost at the full shone dazzlingly. He saw an expression--dismay,
incredulity, overwhelming astonishment--start suddenly into the
dark, rather indifferent eyes.
'What is it?' he cried, hastily stooping close.
'Why,' said the other, laughing and turning away, 'I think the
moon must have bewitched me too.'
Lawford listened awhile before opening his door. He heard voices
in the dining-room. A light shone faintly between the blinds of
his bedroom. He very gently let himself in, and unheard, unseen,
mounted the stairs. He sat down in front of the fire, tired out
and bitterly cold in spite of his long walk home. But his mind
was wearier even than his body. He tried in vain to catch up the
thread of his thoughts. He only knew for certain that so far as
his first hope and motives had gone his errand had proved
entirely futile. 'How could I possibly fall asleep with that
fellow talking there?' he had said to himself angrily; yet knew
in his heart that their talk had driven every other idea out of
his mind. He had not yet even glanced into the glass. His every
thought was vainly wandering round and round the one curious hint
that had drifted in, but which he had not yet been able to put
Supposing, though, that he had really fallen into a deep sleep,
with none to watch or spy--what then? However ridiculous that
idea, it was not more ridiculous, more incredible than the actual
fact. If he had remained there, he might, it was just possible
that he would by now, have actually awakened just his own
familiar every-day self again. And the thought of that--though he
hardly realised its full import--actually did send him on tip-toe
for a glance that more or less effectually set the question at
rest. And there looked out at him, it seemed, the same dark
sallow face that had so much appalled him only two nights ago--
expressionless, cadaverous, with shadowy hollows beneath the
glittering eyes. And even as he watched it, its lips, of their
own volition, drew together and questioned him--'Whose?'
He was not to be given much leisure, however, for fantastic
reveries like this. As he leaned his head on his hands, gladly
conscious that he could not possibly bear this incessant strain
for long, Sheila opened the door. He started up.
'I wish you would knock,' he said angrily; 'you talk of quiet;
you tell me to rest, and think; and here you come creeping and
spying on me as if I was a child in a nursery. I refuse to be
watched and guarded and peeped on like this.' He knew that his
hands were trembling, that he could not keep his eyes fixed, that
his voice was nearly inarticulate.
Sheila drew in her lips. 'I have merely come to tell you, Arthur,
that Mr Bethany has brought Mr Danton in to supper. He agrees
with me it really would be advisable to take such a very old and
prudent and practical friend into our confidence. You do nothing
I ask of you. I simply cannot bear the burden of this incessant
anxiety. Look, now, what your night walk has done for you! You
look positively at death's door.'
'What--what an instinct you have for the right word,' said
Lawford softly. 'And Danton, of all people in the world! It was
surely rather a curious, a thoughtless choice. Has he had
'Why do you ask?'
'He won't believe: too--bloated.'
'I think,' said Sheila indignantly, 'it is hardly fair to speak
of a very old and a very true friend of mine in such--well,
vulgar terms as that. Besides, Arthur, as for believing--without
in the least desiring to hurt your feelings--I must candidly warn
you, some people won't.'
'Come along,' said Lawford, with a faint gust of laughter; 'let's
They went quickly downstairs, Sheila with less dignity, perhaps,
than she had been surprised into since she had left a slimmer
girlhood behind. She swept into the gaze of the two gentlemen
standing together on the hearthrug; and so was caught, as it
were, between a rain of conflicting glances, for her husband had
followed instantly, and stood now behind her, stooping a little,
and with something between contempt and defiance confronting an
old fat friend, whom that one brief challenging instant had
congealed into a condition of passive and immovable hostility.
Mr Danton composed his chin in his collar, and deliberately
turned himself towards his companion. His small eyes wandered,
and instantaneously met and rested on those of Mrs Lawford.
'Arthur thought he would prefer to come down and see you
'You take such formidable risks, Lawford,' said Mr Bethany in a
dry, difficult voice.
'Am I really to believe,' Danton began huskily. 'I am sure,
Bethany, you will-- My dear Mrs Lawford!' said he, stirring
vaguely, glancing restlessly.
'It was not my wish, Vicar, to come at all,' said a voice from
the doorway. 'To tell you the truth, I am too tired to care a jot
either way. And'--he lifted a long arm--'I must positively refuse
to produce the least, the remotest proof that I am not, so far as
I am personally aware, even the Man in the Moon. Danton at heart
was always an incorrigible sceptic. Aren't you, T. D.? You pride
your dear old brawn on it in secret?'
'I really--' began Danton in a rich still voice.
'Oh, but you know you are,' drawled on the slightly hesitating
long-drawn syllables; 'it's your parochial metier. Firm,
unctuous, subtle, scepticism; and to that end your body
flourishes. You were born fat; you became fat; and fat, my dear
Danton, has been deliberately thrust on you--in layers! Lampreys!
You'll perish of surfeit some day, of sheer Dantonism. And fat,
postmortem, Danton. Oh, what a basting's there!'
Mr Bethany, with a convulsive effort, woke. He turned swiftly on
Mrs Lawford. 'Why, why, could you not have seen?' he cried.
'It's no good, Vicar. She's all sheer Laodicean. Blow hot, blow
cold. North, south, east, west--to have a weathercock for a wife
is to marry the wind. There's nothing to be got from poor Sheila
'Lawford!' the little man's voice was as sharp as the crack of a
whip; 'I forbid it. Do you hear me? I forbid it. Some
self-command; my dear good fellow, remember, remember it's only
the will, the will that keeps us breathing.'
Lawford peered as if out of a gathering dusk, that thickened and
flickered with shadows before his eyes. 'What's he mean, then,'
he muttered huskily, 'coming here with his black, still carcase--
peeping, peeping--what's he mean, I say?' There was a moment's
silence. Then with lifted brows and wide eyes that to every one
of his three witnesses left an indelible memory of clear and
wolfish light within their glassy pupils, he turned heavily, and
climbed back to his solitude.
'I suppose,' began Danton, with an obvious effort to disentangle
himself from the humiliation of the moment, 'I suppose he was--
'Bless me, yes,' said Mr Bethany cordially--'fever. We all know
what that MEANS.'
'Yes,' said Danton, taking refuge in Mrs Lawford's white and
'Just think, think, Danton--the awful, incessant strain of such
an ordeal. Think for an instant what such a thing means!'
Danton inserted a plump, white finger between collar and chin.
'Oh yes. But--eh?--needlessly abusive? I never SAID I
'Do you?' said Mrs Lawford's voice.
He poised himself, as if it were, on the monolithic stability of
his legs. 'Eh?' he said.
Mr Bethany sat down at the table. 'I rather feared some such
temporary breakdown as this, Danton. I think I foresaw it.
And now, just while we are all three alone here together in
friendly conclave, wouldn't it be as well, don't you think, to
confront ourselves with the difficulties? I know--we all know,
that that poor half-demented creature IS Arthur Lawford. This
morning he was as sane, as lucid as I hope I am now. An awful
calamity has suddenly fallen upon him--this change. I own frankly
at the first sheer shock it staggered me as I think for the
moment it has staggered you. But when I had seen the poor fellow
face to face, heard him talk, and watched him there upstairs in
the silence stir and awake and come up again to his trouble out
of his sleep. I had no more doubt in my own mind and heart that
he was he than I have in my mind that I--am I. We do in some
mysterious way, you'll own at once, grow so accustomed, so
inured, if you like, to each other's faces (masks though they be)
that we hardly realise we see them when we are speaking together.
And yet the slightest, the most infinitesimal change is instantly
'Oh yes, Vicar; but you see--'
Mr Bethany raised a small lean hand: 'One moment, please. I have
heard Lawford's own account. Conscious or unconscious, he has
been through some terrific strain, some such awful conflict with
the unseen powers that we--thank God!--have only read about, and
never perhaps, until death is upon us, shall witness for
ourselves. What more likely, more inevitable than that such a
thing should leave its scar, its cloud, its masking shadow?--call
it what you will. A smile can turn a face we dread into a face
we'd die for. Some experience, which would be nothing but a
hideous cruelty and outrage to ask too closely about--one,
perhaps, which he could, even if he would, poor fellow, give no
account of--has put him temporarily at the world's mercy. They
made him a nine days' wonder, a byword. And that, my dear Danton,
is just where we come in. We know the man himself; and it is to
be our privilege to act as a buffer-state, to be intermediaries
between him and the rest of this deadly, craving, sheepish
world--for the time being; oh yes, just for the time being. Other
and keener and more knowledgeable minds than mine or yours will
some day bring him back to us again. We don't attempt to explain;
we can't. We simply believe.'
But Danton merely continued to stare, as if into the quiet of an
'My dear good Danton,' persisted Mr Bethany with cherubic
patience, 'how old are you?'
'I don't see quite...' smiled Danton with recovered ease, and
rapidly mobilising forces. 'Excuse the confidence, Mrs
Lawford, I'm forty-three.'
'Good,' said Mr Bethany; 'and I'm seventy-one, and this child
here'--he pointed an accusing finger at Sheila--is youth
perpetual. So,' he briskly brightened, 'say, between us we're six
score all told. Are we--can we, deliberately, with this mere
pinch of years at our command out of the wheeling millions that
have gone--can we say, "This is impossible," to any single
phenomenon? CAN we?'
'No, we can't, of course,' said Danton formidably. 'Not finally.
That's all very well, but'--he paused, and nodded, nodding his
round head upward as if towards the inaudible overhead, 'I
suppose he can't HEAR?'
Mr Bethany rose cheerfully. 'All right, Danton; I am afraid you
are exactly what the poor fellow in his delirium solemnly
asseverated. And, jesting apart, it is in delirium that we tell
our sheer, plain, unadulterated truth: you're a nicely covered
sceptic. Personally, I refuse to discuss the matter. Mere dull,
stubborn prejudice; bigotry, if you like. I will only remark just
this--that Mrs Lawford and I, in our inmost hearts, know. You,
my dear Danton, forgive the freedom, merely incredulously grope.
Faith versus Reason--that prehistoric Armageddon. Some day, and a
day not far distant either, Lawford will come back to us. This--
this shutter will be taken down as abruptly as by some
inconceivably drowsy heedlessness of common Nature it has been
put up. He'll win through; and of his own sheer will and courage.
But now, because I ask it, and this poor child here entreats it,
you will say nothing to a living soul about the matter, say, till
Friday? What step-by-step creatures we are, to be sure! I say
Friday because it will be exactly a week then. And what's a
week?--to Nature scarcely the unfolding of a rose. But still,
Friday be it. Then, if nothing has occurred, we will, we shall
HAVE to call a friendly gathering, we shall be compelled to have
a friendly consultation.'
'I'm not, I hope, a brute, Bethany,' said Danton apologetically;
'but, honestly, speaking for myself, simply as a man of the
world, it's a big risk to be taking on--what shall we call it?--
on mere intuition. Personally, and even in a court of law--
though Heaven forbid it ever reaches that stage--personally, I
could swear that the fellow that stood abusing me there, in that
revolting fashion, was not Lawford. It would be easier even to
believe in him, if there were not that--that glaze, that shocking
simulation of the man himself, the very man. But then, I am a
sceptic; I own it. And 'pon my word, Mrs Lawford, there's plenty
of room for sceptics in a world like this.'
'Very well,' said Mr Bethany crisply, 'that's settled, then. With
your permission, my dear,' he added, turning untarnishably clear
childlike eyes on Sheila, 'I will take all risks--even to the
foot of the gibbet: accessory, Danton, AFTER the fact.' And so
direct and cloudless was his gaze that Sheila tried in vain to
evade it and to catch a glimpse of Danton's small agate-like
eyes, now completely under mastery, and awaiting confidently the
meeting with her own.
'Of course,' she said, 'I am entirely in your hands, dear Mr
Lawford slept far into the cloudy Monday morning, to wake steeped
in sleep, lethargic, and fretfully haunted by inconclusive
remembrances of the night before. When Sheila, with obvious and
capacious composure, brought him his breakfast tray, he watched
her face for some time without speaking.
'Sheila,' he began, as she was about to leave the room again.
She paused, smiling.
'Did anything happen last night? Would you mind telling me,
Sheila? Who was it was here?'
Her lids the least bit narrowed. 'Certainly, Arthur; Mr Danton
'Then it was not a dream?'
'Oh no,' said Sheila.
'What did I say? What did HE say? It was hopeless, anyhow.'
'I don't quite understand what you mean by "hopeless," Arthur.
And must I answer the other questions?'
Lawford drew his hand over his face, like a tired child. 'He
'No, dear,' said Sheila softly.
'And you, Sheila?' came the subdued voice.
Sheila crossed slowly to the window. 'Well, quite honestly,
Arthur, I was not very much surprised. Whatever we are agreed
about on the whole, you were scarcely yourself last night.'
Lawford shut his eyes, and re-opened them full on his wife's calm
scrutiny, who had in that moment turned in the light of the one
drawn blind to face him again.
'Who is? Always?'
'No,' said Sheila; 'but--it was at least unfortunate. We can't, I
suppose, rely on Dr Bethany alone.'
Lawford crouched over his food. 'Will he blab?'
'Blab! Mr Danton is a gentleman, Arthur.'
Lawford rolled his eyes as if in temporary vertigo. 'Yes,' he
said. And Sheila once more prepared to make a reposefui
'I don't think I can see Simon this morning.'
'Oh. Who, then?'
'I mean I would prefer to be left alone.'
'Believe me, I had no intention to intrude.' And this time the
door really closed.
'He is in a quiet, soothing sleep,' said Sheila a few minutes
'Nothing could be better,' said Dr Simon; and Lawford, to his
inexpressible relief, heard the fevered throbbing of the
doctor's car reverse, and turned over and shut his eyes, dulled
and exhausted in the still unfriendliness of the vacant room. His
spirits had sunk, he thought, to their lowest ebb. He scarcely
heeded the fragments of dreams--clear, green landscapes, amazing
gleams of peace, the sudden broken voices, the rustling and
calling shadowiness of subconsciousness--in this quiet sunlight
of reality. The clouds had broken, or had been withdrawn like a
veil from the October skies. One thought alone was his refuge;
one face alone haunted him with its peace; one remembrance
soothed him--Alice. Through all his scattered and purposeless
arguments he strove to remember her voice, the loving-kindness
of her eyes, her untroubled confidence.
In the afternoon he got up and dressed himself. He could not
bring himself to stand before the glass and deliberately shave.
He even smiled at the thought of playing the barber to that lean
chin. He dressed by the fireplace.
'I couldn't rest,' he told Sheila, when she presently came in on
one of her quiet, cautious, heedful visits; 'and one tires of
reading even Quain in bed.'
'Have you found anything?' she inquired politely.
'Oh yes,' said Lawford wearily; 'I have discovered that
infinitely worse things are infinitely commoner. But that there's
nothing quite so picturesque.'
'Tell me,' said Sheila, with refreshing naivete. 'How does it
feel? does it even in the slightest degree affect your mind?'
He turned his back and looked up at his broad gilt portrait for
inspiration. 'Practically, not at all,' he said hollowly. 'Of
course, one's nerves--that fellow Danton--when one's overtired.
You have'--his voice, in spite of every effort, faintly
quavered--'YOU haven't noticed anything? My mind?'
'Me? Oh dear, no! I never was the least bit observant; you know
that, Arthur. But apart from that, and I hope you will not think
me unsympathetic--but don't you think we must sooner or later be
thinking of what's to be done? At present, though I fully agree
with Mr Bethany as to the wisdom of hushing this unhappy business
up as long as possible, at least from the gossiping outside
world, still we are only standing still. And your malady, dear,
I suppose, isn't. You WILL help me, Arthur? You will try and
think? Poor Alice!'
'What about Alice?'
'She mopes, dear, rather. She cannot, of course, quite understand
why she must not see her father, and yet his not being, or, for
the matter of that, even if he was, at death's door.'
'At death's door,' murmured Lawford under his breath; 'who was it
was saying that? Have you ever, Sheila, in a dream, or just as
one's thoughts go sometimes, seen that door?...its ruinous stone
lintel carved into lichenous stone heads...stonily silent in the
last thin sunlight, hanging in peace unlatched. Heated, hunted,
in agony--in that cold, green-clad shadowed porch is haven and
sanctuary....But beyond--O God, beyond!'
Sheila stood listening with startled eyes. 'And was all that in
Quain?' she inquired rather flutteringly.
Lawford turned a sidelong head, and looked steadily at his wife.
She shook herself, with a slight shiver. 'Very well, then,' she
said and paused in the silence.
Her husband yawned, and smiled, and almost as if lit with that
thin last sunshine seemed the smile that passed for an instant
across the reverie of his shadowy face. He drew a hand wearily
over his eyes. 'What has he been saying now?' he inquired like a
Sheila stood very quiet and still, as if in fear of scaring some
rare, wild, timid creature by the least stir. 'Who?' she
Lawford paused on the hearth-rug with his comb in his hand. 'It's
just the last rags of that beastly influenza,' he said, and began
vigorously combing his hair. And yet, simple and frank though the
action was, it moved Sheila, perhaps, more than any other of the
congested occurrences of the last few days. Her forehead grew
suddenly cold, the palms of her hands began to ache, she had to
hasten out of the room to avoid revealing the sheer physical
repulsion she had experienced.
But Lawford, quite unmindful of the shock, continued in a kind of
heedless reverie to watch, as he combed, the still visionary
thoughts that passed in tranced stillness before his eyes. He
longed beyond measure for freedom that until yesterday he had not
even dreamed existed outside the covers of some old impossible
romance--the magic of the darkening sky, the invisible flocking
presences of the dead, the shock of imaginations that had no
words, of quixotic emotions which the stranger had stirred in
that low, mocking, furtive talk beside the broken stones of the
Huguenot. Was the 'change' quite so monstrous, so meaningless?
How often, indeed, he remembered curiously had he seemed to
be standing outside these fast-shut gates of thought, that now
had been freely opened to him.
He drew ajar the door, and leant his ear to listen. From far away
came a rich, long-continued chuckle of laughter, followed by the
clatter of a falling plate, and then, still more uncontrollable
laughter. There was a faint smell of toast on the air. Lawford
ventured out on to the landing and into a little room that had
once, in years gone by, been Alice's nursery. He stood far back
from the strip of open window that showed beneath the green
blind, craning forward to see into the garden--the trees, their
knotted trunks, and then, as he stole nearer, a flower-bed,
late roses, geraniums, calceolarias, the lawn and--yes, three
wicker chairs, a footstool, a work-basket, a little table on the
smooth grass in the honey-coloured sunshine; and Sheila sitting
there in the autumnal sunlight, her hands resting on the arms of
her chair, her head bent, evidently deeply engrossed in her
thoughts. He crept an inch or two forward, and stooped. There was
a hat on the grass--Alice's big garden hat--and beside it lay
Flitters, nose on paws, long ears sagging. He had forgotten
Flitters. Had Flitters forgotten him? Would he bark at the
strange, distasteful scent of a--Dr Ferguson? The coast was
clear, then. He turned even softlier yet, to confront, rapt,
still, and hovering betwixt astonishment and dread, the blue calm
eyes of his daughter, looking in at the door. It seemed to
Lawford as if they had both been suddenly swept by some unseen
power into a still, unearthly silence.
'We thought,' he began at last, 'we thought just to beckon Mrs
Lawford from the window. He--he is asleep.'
Alice nodded. Her whole face was in a moment flooded with red. It
ebbed and left her pale. 'I will go down and tell mother you want
to see her. It was very silly of me. I did not quite recognise at
first...I suppose, thinking of my father--' The words faltered,
and the eyes were lifted to his face again with a desolate,
incredulous appeal. Lawford turned away heartsick and trembling.
'Certainly, certainly, by no means,' he began, listening vaguely
to the glib patter that seemed to come from another mouth. 'Your
father, my dear young lady, I venture to think is now really on
the road to recovery. Dr Simon makes excellent progress. But, of
course--two heads, we know, are so much better than one when
there's the least--the least difficulty. The great thing is
quiet, rest, isolation, no possibility of a shock, else--' His
voice fell away, his eloquence failed.
For Alice stood gazing stirlessly on and on into this infinitely
strange, infinitely familiar shadowy, phantasmal face. 'Oh yes,'
she replied, 'I quite understand, of course; but if I might just
peep even, it would--I should be so much, much happier. Do let me
just see him, Dr Ferguson, if only his head on the pillow! I
wouldn't even breathe. Couldn't it possibly help--even a
faith-cure?' She leant forward impulsively, her voice trembling,
anal her eyes still shining beneath their faint, melancholy
'I fear, my dear...it cannot be. He longs to see you. But with
his mind, you know, in this state, it might--?'
'But mother never told me,' broke in the girl desperately, 'there
was anything wrong with his MIND. Oh, but that was quite unfair.
You don't mean, you don't mean--that--?'
Lawford scanned swiftly the little square beloved and memoried
room that fate had suddenly converted for him into a cage of
unspeakable pain and longing. 'Oh no; believe me, no! Not his
brain, not that, not even wandering; really: but always thinking,
always longing on and on for you, dear, only. Quite, quite master
of himself, but--'
'You talk,' she broke in again angrily, 'only in pretence! You
are treating me like a child; and so does mother, and so it
has been ever since I came home. Why, if mother can, and you can,
why may not I? Why, if he can walk and talk in the night....'
'But who--who "can walk and talk in the night?"' inquired a low
stealthy voice out of the quietness behind her.
Alice turned swiftly. Her mother was standing at a little
distance, with all the calm and moveless concentration of a
waxwork figure, looking up at her from the staircase.
'I was--I was talking to Dr Ferguson, mother.'
'But as I came up the stairs I understood you to be inquiring
something of Dr Ferguson, "if," you were saying, "he can
walk and talk in the night": you surely were not referring to
your father, child? That could not possibly be, in his state.
Dr Ferguson, I know, will bear me out in that at least. And
besides, I really must insist on following out medical
directions to the letter. Dr Ferguson I know, will fully concur.
Do, pray, Dr Ferguson,' continued Sheila, raising her voice even
now scarcely above a rapid murmur--'do pray assure my daughter
that she must have patience; that however much even he himself
may desire it, it is impossible that she should see her father
yet. And now, my dear child, come down, I want to have a moment's
talk with Dr Ferguson. I feared from his beckoning at the window
that something was amiss.'
Alice turned, dismayed, and looked steadily, almost with
hostility, at the stranger, so curiously transfixed and isolated
in her small old play-room. And in this scornful yet pleading
confrontation her eye fell suddenly on the pin in his scarf--the
claw and the pearl she had known all her life. From that her gaze
flitted, like some wild demented thing's, over face, hair, hands,
clothes, attitude, expression, and her heart stood still in
an awful, inarticulate dread of the unknown. She turned slowly
towards her mother, groped forward a few steps, turned once more,
stretching out her hands towards the vague still figure whose
eyes had called so piteously to her out of their depths, and fell
fainting in the doorway. Lawford stood motionless, vacantly
watching Sheila, who knelt, chafing the cold hands. 'She has
fainted?' he said; 'oh, Sheila, tell me--only fainted?'
Sheila made no answer; did not even raise her eyes.
'Some day, Sheila' he began in a dull voice, and broke off, and
without another word, without even another glance at the still
face and blue, twitching lids, he passed her rapidly by, and in
another instant Sheila heard the house-door shut. She got up
quickly, and after a glance into the vacant bedroom turned the
key; then she hastened upstairs for sal volatile and eau de
It was yet clear daylight when Lawford appeared beneath the
portico of his house. With a glance of circumspection that
almost seemed to suggest a fear of pursuit, he descended the
steps, only to be made aware in so doing that Ada was with a kind
of furtive eagerness pointing out the mysterious Dr Ferguson to a
steadily gazing cook. One or two well-known and many a
well-remembered face he encountered in the thin stream of City men
treading blackly along the pavement. It was a still, high evening,
and something very like a forlorn compassion rose in his mind at
sight of their grave, rather pretentious, rather dull, respectable
He found himself walking with an affectation of effrontery, and
smiling with a faint contempt on all alike, as if to keep himself
from slinking, and the wolf out of his eyes. He felt restless,
and watchful, and suspicious, as if he had suddenly come down in
the world. His, then, was a disguise as effectual as a shabby
coat and a glazing eye. His heart sickened. Was it even worth
while living on a crust of social respectability so thin and so
exquisitely treacherous? He challenged no one. One or two actual
acquaintances raised and lowered a faintly inquiring eyebrow in
his direction. One even recalled in his confusion a smile of
recognition just a moment too late. There was, it seemed, a
peculiar aura in Lawford's presence, a shadow of a something in
his demeanour that proved him alien.
None the less green Widderstone kept calling him, much as a bell
in the imagination tolls on and on, the echo of reality. If the
worst should come to the worst, why--there is pasture in the
solitary by-ways for the beast that strays. He quickened his pace
along lonelier streets, and soon strode freely through the little
flagged and cobbled village of shops, past the same small jutting
window whose clock had told him the hour on that first dark
hurried night. All was pale and faint with dying colours now; and
decay was in the leaf, and the last swallows filled the gold air
with their clashing stillness. No one heeded him here. He looked
from side to side, exulting in the strangeness. Shops were left
behind, the last milestone passed, and in a little while he was
descending the hill beneath the elm boughs, which he remembered
had stood like a turreted wall against the sunset when first he
had wandered down into the churchyard.
At the foot of the hill he passed by the green and white Rectory,
and there was the parson, a short fat, pursy man with wrists
protruding from his jacket sleeves as he stood on tip-toe tying
up a rambling rose-shoot on his trim cedared lawn. The next house
barely showed its old red chimney-tops, above its bowers; the
next was empty, with windows vacantly gazing, its paths peopled
with great bearded weeds that stood mutely watching and guarding
the seldom-opened gate. Then came more lofty grandmotherly elms,
a dense hedge of every leaf that pricks, and then Lawford found
himself standing at the small canopied gate of the queer old
wooden house that the stranger of his talk had in part described.
It stood square and high and dark in a small amphitheatre of
verdure. Roses here and there sprang from the grass, and a
narrow box-edged path led to a small door in a low green-mantled
wing, with its one square window above the porch. And while, with
vacant mind, Lawford stood waiting, as one stands forebodingly
upon the eve of a new experience he heard as if at a distance the
sound of falling water. He still paused on the country roadside,
scrutinising this strange, still, wooden presence; but at last
with an effort he pushed open the gate, followed the winding
path, and pulled the old iron hanging bell. There came presently
a quiet tread, and Herbert himself opened the door which led into
a little square wood-panelled hall, hung with queer old prints
and obscure portraits in dark frames.
'Ah, yes, come in, Mr Lawford,' he drawled; 'I was beginning to
be afraid you were not coming.'
Lawford laid hat and walking-stick on an oak bench, and followed
his churchyard companion up a slightly inclined corridor and a
staircase into a high room, covered far up the yellowish walls
with old books on shelves and in cases, between which hung in
little black frames, mezzo tints, etchings, and antiquated maps.
A large table stood a few paces from the deep alcove of the
window, which was surrounded by a low, faded, green seat, and was
screened from the sunshine by wooden shutters. And here the
tranquil surge of falling water shook incessantly on the air, for
the three lower casements stood open to the fading sunset. On a
smaller table were spread cups, old earthenware dishes of
fruit, and a big bowl of damask roses.
'Please sit down; I shan't be a moment; I am not sure that my
sister is in; but if so, I will tell her we are ready for tea.'
Left to himself in this quiet, strange old room, Lawford forgot
for a while everything else, he was for the moment so
taken up with his surroundings.
What seized on his fancy and strangely affected his mind was this
incessant changing roar of falling water. It must be the Widder,
he said to himself, flowing close to the walls. But not until he
had had the boldness to lean head and shoulders out of the
nearest window did he fully realize how close indeed the Widder
was. It came sweeping dark and deep and begreened and full with
the early autumnal rains, actually against the lower walls of the
house itself, and in the middle suddenly swerved in a black,
smooth arch, and tumbled headlong into a great pool, nodding with
tall slender water-weeds, and charged in its bubbled blackness
here and there with the last crimson of the setting sun. To the
left of the house, where the waters floated free again, stood
vast, still trees above the clustering rushes; and in glimpses
between their spreading boughs lay the far-stretching
countryside, now dimmed with the first mists of approaching
evening. So absorbed he became as he stood leaning over the
wooden sill above the falling water, that eye and ear became
enslaved by the roar and stillness. And in the faint atmosphere
of age that seemed like a veil to hang about the odd old house
and these prodigious branches, he fell into a kind of waking
When at last he did draw back into the room it was perceptibly
darker, and a thin keen shaft of recollection struck across his
mind--the recollection of what he was, and of how he came to be
there, his reasons for coming and of that dark indefinable
presence which like a raven had begun to build its dwelling in
his mind. He sat on, his eyes restlessly wandering, his face
leaning on his hands; and in a while the door opened and Herbert
returned, carrying an old crimson and green teapot and a dish of
'They're all out,' he said; 'sister, Sallie, and boy; but these
were in the oven, so we won't wait. I hope you haven't been
very much bored.'
Lawford dropped his hands from his face and smiled. 'I have been
looking at the water,' he said.
'My sister's favorite occupation; she sits for hours and hours,
with not even a book for an apology, staring down into the black
old roaring pot. It has a sort of hypnotic effect after a time.
And you'd be surprised how quickly one gets used to the noise. To
me it's even less distracting than sheer silence. You don't know,
after all, what on earth sheer silence means--even at
Widderstone. But one can just realize a water-nymph. They chatter;
but, thank Heaven, it's not articulate.' He handed Lawford a cup
with a certain niceness and self-consciousness, lifting his
eyebrows slightly as he turned.
Lawford found himself listening out of a peculiar stillness of
mind to the voice of this suave and rather inscrutable
acquaintance. 'The curious thing is, do you know,' he began
rather nervously, 'that though I must have passed your gate at
least twice in the last few months, I have never noticed it
before, never even caught the sound of the water.'
'No, that's the best of it; nobody ever does. We are just buried
alive. We have lived here for years, and scarcely know a soul--
not even our own, perhaps. Why on earth should one? Acquaintances,
after all, are little else than a bad habit.'
'But then, what about me?' said Lawford.
'But that's just it,' said Herbert. 'I said ACQUAINTANCES; that's
just exactly what I'm going to prove--what very old friends
we are. You've no idea! It really is rather queer.' He took up
his cup and sauntered over to the window.
Lawford eyed him vacantly for a moment, and, following rather his
own curious thoughts than seeking any light on this somewhat
vague explanation, again broke the silence. 'It's odd, I suppose,
but this house affects me much in the same way as Widderstone
does. I'm not particularly fanciful--at least, I used not to be.
But sitting here I seem, I hope it isn't a very frantic remark,
it seems as though, if only my ears would let me, I should hear--
well, voices. It's just what you said about the silence. I
suppose it's the age of the place; it IS very old?'
'Pretty old, I suppose; it's worm-eaten and rat-eaten and tindery
enough in all conscience; and the damp doesn't exactly
foster it. It's a queer old shanty. There are two or three
accounts of it in some old local stuff I have. And of course
there's a ghost.'
'A ghost?' echoed Lawford, looking up.
What's in a name?' laughed Herbert. 'But it really is a queer
show-up of human oddity. A fellow comes in here, searching;
that's all.' His back was turned, as he stood staring absently
out, sipping his tea between his sentences. 'He comes in--oh,
it's a positive fact, for I've seen him myself, just sitting back
in my chair here, you know, watching him as one would a tramp in
one's orchard.' He cast a candid glance over his shoulder. 'First
he looks round, like a prying servant. Then he comes cautiously
on--a kind of grizzled, fawn-coloured face, middle-size, with big
hands; and then just like some quiet, groping, nocturnal
creature, he begins his precious search--shelves, drawers that
are not here, cupboards gone years ago, questing and nosing no
end, and quite methodically too, until he reaches the window.
Then he stops, looks back, narrows his foxy lids, listens--quite
perceptibly, you know, a kind of gingerish blur; then he seems to
open this corner bookcase here, as if it were a door and goes out
along what I suppose might at some time have been an outside
gallery or balcony, unless, as I rather fancy, the house extended
once beyond these windows. Anyhow, out he goes quite deliberately,
treading the air as lightly as Botticelli's angels, until, however
far you lean out of the window, you can't follow him any further.
And then--and this is the bit that takes one's fancy--when you
have contentedly noddled down again to whatever you may have been
doing when the wretch appeared, or are sitting in a cold sweat,
with bolting eyes awaiting developments, just according to your
school of thought, or of nerves, the creature comes back--comes
back; and with what looks uncommonly like a lighted candle in his
hand. That really is a thrill, I assure you.'
'But you've seen this--you've really seen this yourself?'
'Oh yes, twice,' replied Herbert cheerfully. 'And my sister,
quite by haphazard, once saw him from the garden. She was
shelling peas one evening for Sallie, and she distinctly saw him
shamble out of the window here, and go shuffling along, mid-air,
across the roaring washpot down below, turn sharp round the high
corner of the house, sheer against the stars, in a kind of
frightened hurry. And then, after five minutes' concentrated
watching over the shucks, she saw him come shuffling back again--
the same distraction, the same nebulous snuff colour, and a
candle trailing its smoke behind him as he whisked in home.'
'Ah, then,' said Herbert, lagging along the bookshelves, and
scanning the book-backs with eyes partially closed: he turned
with lifted teapot, and refilled his visitor's cup; 'then,
wherever you are--I mean,' he added, cutting up a little cake
into six neat slices, 'wherever the chance inmate of the room
happens to be, he comes straight for you, at a quite alarming
velocity, and fades, vanishes, melts, or, as it were, silts
Lawford listened in a curious hush that had suddenly fallen over
his mind. '"Fades inside? silts?"--I'm awfully stupid, but what on
earth do you mean?' The room had slowly emptied itself of daylight;
its own darkness, it seemed, had met that of the narrowing night,
and Herbert deliberately lit a cigarette before replying. His clear
pale face, with its smooth outline and thin mouth and rather long
dark eyes, turned with a kind of serene good-humour towards his
'Why,' he said, 'I mean frankly just that. Besides, it's Grisel's
own phrase; and an old nurse we used to have said much the same.
He comes, or IT comes towards you, first just walking, then with
a kind of gradually accelerated slide or glide, and sweeps
straight into you,' he tapped his chest, 'me, whoever it may be
is here. In a kind of panic, I suppose, to hide, or perhaps
simply to get back again.'
'Get back where?'