Part 4 out of 5
'That--that presence, that shadow. I don't mean, of course, it's
a real shadow. It comes, doesn't it, from--from within? As if
from out of some unheard-of hiding place, where it has been
lurking for ages and ages before one's childhood; at least, so it
seems to me now. And yet although it does come from within, there
it is, too, in front of you, before your eyes, feeding even on
your fear, just watching, waiting for-- What nonsense all this
must seem to you!'
'Yes, yes; and then?'
'Then, and you must remember the poor old boy had been knocking
all this time--my old friend--Mr Bethany, I mean--knocking and
calling through the letter-box, thinking I was in extremis, or
something; then--how shall I describe it?--well YOU came, your
eyes, your face, as clear as when, you know, the night before
last, we went up the hill together. And then...'
'And then, we--you and I, you know--simply drove him downstairs,
and I could hear myself grunting as if it was really a physical
effort; we drove him, step by step, downstairs. And--' He laughed
outright, and boyishly continued his adventure. 'What do you
think I did then, without the ghost of a smile, too, at the
idiocy of the thing? I locked the poor beggar in the
drawing-room. I saw him there, as plainly as I ever saw anything
in my life, and the furniture glimmering, though it was pitch
dark: I can't describe it. It all seemed so desperately real,
absolutely vital then. It all seems so meaningless and impossible
now. And yet, although I am utterly played out and done for, and
however absurd it may sound, I wouldn't have lost it; I wouldn't
go back for any bribe there is. I feel just as if a great bundle
had been rolled off my back. Of course, the queerest, the most
detestable part of the whole business is that it--the thing on
the stairs--was this'--he lifted a grave and haggard face towards
her again--'or rather that,' he pointed with his stick towards
the starry churchyard. 'Sabathier,' he said.
Again they had paused together before the white gate, and this
time Lawford pushed it open, and followed his companion up the
She stayed a moment, her hand on the bell. 'Was it my brother who
actually put that horrible idea into your mind?--about Sabathier?'
'Oh no, not really put it into my head,' said Lawford hollowly.
'He only found it there; lit it up.'
She laid her hand lightly on his arm. 'Whether he did or not,'
she said with an earnestness that was almost an entreaty, 'of
course, you MUST agree that we every one of us have some such
experience--that kind of visitor, once at least, in a lifetime.'
'Ah, but,' began Lawford, turning forlornly away, 'you didn't
see, you can't have realized--the change.'
She pulled the bell almost as if in some inward triumph. 'But
don't you think,' she suggested, 'that that, like the other,
might be, as it were, partly imagination too? If now you thought
But a little old woman had opened the door, and the sentence, for
the moment, was left unfinished.
There was no one in the room, and no light, when they entered. For
a moment Grisel stood by the open window, looking out. Then she
turned impulsively. 'My brother, of course, will ask you too,'
she said; 'we had made up our minds to do so if you came again;
but I want you to promise me now that you won't dream of going
back to-night. That surely would be tempting--well, not
Providence. I couldn't rest if I thought you might be alone; like
that again.' Her voice died away into the calling of the waters.
A light moved across the dingy old rows of books and as his
sister turned to go out Herbert appeared in the doorway, carrying
a green-shaded lamp, with an old leather quarto under his arm.
'Ah, here you are,' he said. 'I guessed you had probably met.' He
drew up, burdened, before his visitor. But his clear black
glance, instead of wandering off at his first greeting, had
intensified. And it was almost with an air of absorption that he
turned away. He dumped his book on to a chair and it turned over
with scattered leaves on to the floor. He put the lamp down and
stooped after it, so that his next words came up muffled, and as
if the remark had been forced out of him. 'You don't feel worse,
I hope?' He got up and faced his visitor for the answer. And for
the moment Lawford stood considering his symptoms.
'No,' he said almost gaily; 'I feel enormously better.' But
Herbert's long, oval, questioning eyes beneath the sleek black
hair were still fixed on his face. 'I am afraid, my dear fellow,'
he said, with something more than his usual curiously indifferent
courtesy, 'the struggle has frightfully pulled you to pieces.'
'The question is,' answered Lawford, with a kind of tired yet
whimsical melancholy in his voice, 'though I am not sure that the
answer very much matters--what's going to put me together again?
It's the old story of Humpty Dumpty, Herbert. Besides, one thing
you said has stuck out in a quite curious way in my memory. I
wonder if you will remember?'
'What was that?' said Herbert with unfeigned curiosity.
'Why, you said even though Sabathier had failed, though I was
still my own old stodgy self, that you thought the face--the
face, you know, might work in. Somehow, sometimes I think it has.
It does really rather haunt me. In that case--well, what then?'
Lawford had himself listened to this involved explanation much as
one watches the accomplishment of a difficult trick, marvelling
more at its completion at all than at the difficulty involved in
the doing of it.
'"Work in,"' repeated Herbert, like a rather blase child
confronted with a new mechanical toy; 'did I really say that?
well, honestly, it wasn't bad; it's what one would expect on that
hypothesis. You see, we are only different, as it were, in our
differences. Once the foot's over the threshold, it's nine points
of the law! But I don't remember saying it.' He shamefacedly and
naively confessed it: 'I say such an awful lot of things. And I'm
always changing my mind. It's a standing joke against me with
my sister. She says the recording angel will have two sides to my
account: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; and Tuesdays,
Thursdays, and Saturdays--diametrically opposite convictions, and
both kinds wrong. On Sundays I am all things to all men. As for
Sabathier, by the way, I do want particularly to have another go
at him. I've been thinking him over, and I'm afraid in some ways
he won't quite wash. And that reminds me, did you read the poor
'I just grubbed through a page or two; but most of my French was
left at school. What I did do, though, was to show the book to an
old friend of ours--my wife's and mine--just to skim--a Mr
Bethany. He's an old clergyman--our vicar, in fact.'
Herbert had sat down, and with eyes slightly narrowed was
listening with peculiar attention. He smiled a little
magnanimously. 'His verdict, I should think, must have been a
'He said,' said Lawford, in his rather low, monotonous voice, 'he
said it was precious poor stuff, that it reminded him of
patchouli; and that Sabathier--the print I mean--looked like a
foxy old roue. They were, I think, his exact words. We were alone
together, last night.'
'You don't mean that he simply didn't see the faintest
Lawford nodded. 'But then,' he added simply, 'whenever he comes
to see me now he leaves his spectacles at home.'
And at that, as if at some preconcerted signal, they both went
off into a simple shout of laughter, unanimous and sustained.
But this first wild bout of laughter over, the first real
bursting of the dam, perhaps, for years, Lawford found himself at
a lower ebb than ever.
'You see,' he said presently, and while still his companion's
face was smiling around the remembrance of his laughter like
ripples after the splash of a stone, 'Bethany has been absolutely
my sheet-anchor right through. And I was--it was--you can't
possibly realise what a ghastly change it really was. I don't
think any one ever will.'
Herbert opened his hand and looked reflectively into its palm
before allowing himself to reply. 'I wonder, you know; I have
been wondering a good deal; simply taking the other point of view
for a moment; WAS it? I don't mean "ghastly" exactly (like, say,
smallpox, G.P.I, elephantiasis), but was it quite so complete, so
radical, as in the first sheer gust of astonishment you fancied?'
Lawford thought on a little further. 'You know how one sees
oneself in a passion--why, how a child looks--the whole face
darkened and drawn and possessed? That was the change. That's how
it seems to come back to me. And something, somebody, dodging
behind the eyes. Yes; more that than even any excessive change of
feature, except, of course, that I also seemed-- Shall I ever
forget that first cold, stifling stare into the looking-glass! I
certainly was much darker, even my hair. But I've told you all
this before,' he added wearily, 'and the scores and scores of
times I've thought it. I used to sit up there in the big spare
bedroom my wife put me up in, simply gloating. My flesh seemed
nothing more than an hallucination: there I was, haunting my
body, an old grinning tenement, and all that I thought I wanted,
and couldn't do without, all I valued and prided myself on--
stacked up in the drizzling street below. Why, Herbert, our
bodies are only glass or cloud. They melt, don't they, like wax
in the sun once we're out. But those first few days don't make
very pleasant thinking. Friday night was the first, when I sat
there like a twitching waxwork, soberly debating between Bedlam
here and Bedlam hereafter. I even sometimes wonder whether its
very repetition has not dulled the memory or distorted it. My
wife,' he added ingenuously, 'seems to think there are signs of
a slight improvement--a going back, I mean. But I'm not sure
whether she meant it.'
Herbert surveyed his visitor critically. 'You say "dark," he
said; 'but surely, Lawford, your hair now is nearly grey; well-
flecked at least.'
Although the remark carried nothing comparatively of a shock with
it, yet it seemed to Lawford as if an electric current had passed
over his scalp, coldly stirring every hair upon his head. But
somehow or other it was easier to sit quietly on, to express no
surprise, to let them do or say what they liked. 'Well' he
retorted with an odd, crooked smile, 'you must remember I am a
good deal older than I was last Saturday. I grew grey in the
'But it's like this, you know,' said Herbert, rising excitedly,
and at the next moment, on reflection, composedly reseating
himself. 'How many of your people actually saw it? How many owned
to its being as bad, as complete, as you made out? I don't want
for a moment to cut right across what you said last night--our
talk--but there are two million sides to every question, and as
often as not the less conspicuous have sounder--well--roots.
'I think really, do you know, I would rather not go over the
detestable thing again. Not many; my wife, though, and a man I
know called Danton, who--who's prejudiced. After all, I have
myself to think about too. And right through, right through--
there wasn't the least doubt of that--they all in their hearts
knew it was me. They knew I was behind. I could feel that
absolutely always; it's not just eyes and ears we use, there's us
ourselves to consider, though God alone knows what that means.
But the password was there, as you might say; and they all knew I
knew it, all--except'--he looked up as if in bewilderment--
'except just one, a poor old lady, a very old friend of my
mother's, whom I--I Sabathiered!'
'Whom--you--Sabathiered!' repeated Herbert carefully, with
infinite relish, looking sidelong at his visitor. 'And it is just
But at that moment his sister appeared in the doorway to say that
supper was ready. And it was not until Herbert was actually
engaged in carving a cold chicken that he followed up his
advantage. 'Mr. Lawford, Grisel,' he said, 'has just enriched our
jaded language with a new verb--to Sabathier. And if I may
venture to define it in the presence of the distinguished
neologist himself, it means, "To deal with histrionically"; or,
rather, that's what it will mean a couple of hundred years hence.
For the moment it means, "To act under the influence of
subliminalization'; "To perplex, or bemuse, or estrange with
OTHERNESS." Do tell us, Lawford, more about the little old lady.'
He passed with her plate a little meaningful glance at his
sister, and repeated, 'Do!'
'But I've been plaguing your sister enough already. You'll
wish...' Lawford began, and turned his tired-out eyes towards
those others awaiting them so frankly they seemed in their
perfect friendliness a rest from all his troubles. 'You see,' he
went on, 'what I kept on thinking and thinking of was to get a
quite unbiased and unprejudiced view. She had known me for
years, though we had not actually met more than once or twice
since my mother's death. And there she was sitting with me at the
other end of just such another little seat as'--he turned--to
Herbert 'as ours, at Widderstone. It was on Bewley Common: I can
see it all now; it was sunset. And I simply turned and asked her
in a kind of a whining affected manner if she remembered me; and
when after a long time she came round to owning that to all
intents and purposes she did not--I professed to have made a
mistake in recognising her. I think,' he added, glancing up from
one to the other of his two strange friends, 'I think it was the
meanest trick I can remember.'
'H'm,' said Herbert solemnly: 'I wish I had as sensitive a
conscience. But as your old friend didn't recognise you, who's
the worse? As for her not doing so, just think of the difference
a few years makes to a man, and any severe shock. Life wears so
infernally badly. Who, for that matter, does not change, even in
character and yet who professes to see it? Mind, I don't say in
essence! But then how many of the human ghosts one meets does one
know in essence? One doesn't want to. It would be positively
cataclysmic. And that's what brings me around to feel, Lawford,
if I may venture to say so, that you may have brooded a little
too keenly on--on your own case. Tell any one you feel ill; he
will commiserate with you to positive nausea. Tell any priest
your soul is in danger; will he wait for proof? It's misereres
and penances world without end. Tell any woman you love her; will
she, can she, should she, gainsay you? There you are. The cat's
out of the bag, you see. My sister and I sat up half the night
talking the thing over. I said I'd take the plunge. I said I'd
risk appearing the crassest, contradictoriest wretch that ever
drew breath. I don't deny that what I hinted at the other night
must seem in part directly contrary to what I'm going to say
He wheeled his black eyes as if for inspiration, and helped
himself to salad. 'It's this,' he said. 'Isn't it possible, isn't
it even probable that being ill, and overstrung, moping a little
over things more or less out of the common ruck, and sitting
there in a kind of trance--isn't it possible that you may have
very largely IMAGINED the change? Hypnotised yourself into
believing it much worse--more profound, radical, acute--and
simply absolutely hypnotizing others into thinking so, too.
Christendom is just beginning to rediscover that there is such a
thing as faith, that it is just possible that, say, megrims or
melancholia may be removed at least as easily as mountains. The
converse, of course, is obvious on the face of it. A man fails
because he thinks himself a failure. It's the men that run away
that lose the battle. Suppose then, Lawford'--he leaned forward,
keen and suave--'suppose you have been and "Sabathiered"
Lawford had grown accustomed during the last few days to finding
himself gazing out like a child into reality, as if from the
windows of a dream. He had in a sense followed this long, loosely
stitched, preliminary argument; he had at least in part realised
that he sat there between two clear friendly minds acting in the
friendliest and most obvious collusion. But he was incapable of
fixing his attention very closely on any single fragment of
Herbert's apology, or of rousing himself into being much more
than a dispassionate and not very interested spectator of the
little melodrama that Fate, it appeared, had at the last moment
decided rather capriciously to twist into a farce. He turned with
a smile to the face so keenly fixed and enthusiastic with the
question it had so laboriously led up to: 'But surely, I don't
Herbert lifted his glass as if to his visitor's acumen and set it
down again without tasting it. 'Why, my dear fellow,' he said
triumphantly, 'even a dream must have a peg. Yours was this
unforgettable old suicide. Candidly now, how much of Sabathier was
actually yours? In spite of all that that fantastical fellow,
Herbert, said last night, dead men DON'T tell tales. The last
place in the world to look for a ghost is where his traitorous
bones lie crumbling. Good heavens, think what irrefutable masses
of evidence there would be at our finger-tips if every tombstone
hid its ghost! No; the fellow just arrested you with his creepy
epitaph: an epitaph, mind you, that is in a literary sense
distinctly fertilizing. It catches one's fancy in its own crude
way, as pages and pages of infinitely more complicated stuff take
possession of, germinate, and sprout in one's imagination in
another way. We are all psychical parasites. Why, given his
epitaph, given the surroundings, I wager any sensitive
consciousness could have guessed at his face; and guessing, as it
were, would have feigned it. What do you think, Grisel?'
'I think, dear, you are talking absolute nonsense; what do they
call it--"darkening counsel"? It's "the hair of the dog," Mr
'Well, then, you see,' said Herbert over a hasty mouthful, and
turning again to his victim--'then you see, when you were just in
the pink of condition to credit any idle tale you heard, then I
came in. What, with the least impetus, can one NOT see by
moonlight? The howl of a dog turns the midnight into a Brocken;
the branch of a tree stoops out at you like a Beelzebub crusted
with gadflies. I'd, mind you, sipped of the deadly old Huguenot
too. I'd listened to your innocent prattle about the child
kicking his toes out on death's cupboard door; what more likely
thing in the world, then, than that with that moon, in that
packed air, I should have swallowed the bait whole, and seen
Sabathier in every crevice of your skin? I don't say there wasn't
any resemblance; it was for the moment extraordinary; it was even
when you were here the other night distinctly arresting. But now
(poor old Grisel, I'm nearly done) all I want to say is this:
that if we had the "foxy old roue" here now, and Grisel played
Paris between the three of us, she'd hand over the apple not to
you but to me.'
'I don't quite see where poor Paris comes in,' suggested Grisel
'No, nor do I,' said Herbert. 'All that I mean, sagacious child,
is, that Mr Lawford no more resembles the poor wretch now than I
resemble the Apollo Belvedere. If you had only heard my sister
scolding me, railing at me for putting such ideas into your
jangled head! They don't affect ME one iota. I have, I suppose,
what is usually called imagination; which merely means that I can
sup with the devil, spoon for spoon, and could sleep in
Bluebeard's linen-closet without turning a hair. You, if I am not
very much mistaken, are not much troubled with that very
unprofitable quality, and so, I suppose, when a crooked and
bizarre fancy does edge into your mind it roots there.'
And that said, not without some little confusion, and covert
glance of inquiry at his sister, Herbert made all the haste he
could to catch up the course that his companions had already
If only, Lawford thought, this insufferable weariness would lift
awhile he could enjoy the quiet, absurd, heedless talk, and this
very friendly topsy-turvy effort to ease his mind and soothe his
nerves. He might even take an interest again in his 'case.'
'You see,' he said, turning to Grisel, 'I don't think it really
very much matters how it all came about. I never could believe it
would last. It may perhaps--some of it at least may be fancy. But
then, what isn't? What is trustworthy? And now your brother tells
me my hair's turning grey. I suppose I have been living too
slowly, too sluggishly, and they thought it was high time to stir
He saw with extraordinary vividness the low panelled room; the
still listening face; the white muslin shoulders and dark hair;
and the eyes that seemed to recall some far-off desolate longing
for home and childhood. It was all a dream. That was the end of
the matter. Even now, perhaps, his tired old stupid body was
lying hunched up, drenched with dew upon the little old seat
under the mist-wreathed branches. Soon it would bestir itself and
wake up and go off home--home to Sheila, to the old deadly round
that once had seemed so natural and inevitable, to the old dull
Lawford--eyes and brain and heart.
They returned up the dark shallow staircase to Herbert's
book-room, and he talked on to very quiet and passive listeners
in his own fantastic endless fashion. And ever and again Lawford
would find himself intercepting fleeting and anxious glances at
his face, glances almost of remorse and pity; and thought he
detected beneath this irresponsible contradictory babble an
unceasing effort to clear the sky, to lure away too pressing
memories, to put his doubts and fears completely to rest.
Herbert even went so far as to plead guilty, when Grisel gave him
the cue, of having a little heightened and overcoloured his story
of the restless phantasmal old creature that haunted their queer
wooden hauntable old house. And when they rose, laughing and
yawning to take up their candles, it was, after all, after a
rather animated discussion, with many a hair-raising ghost story
brought in for proof between brother and sister, as to exactly
how many times that snuff-coloured spectre had made his
appearance; and, with less unanimity still, as to the precise
manner in which he was in the habit of making his precipitant
'You do at any rate acknowledge, Grisel, that the old creature
does appear, and that you saw him yourself step out into space
when you were sitting down there under the willow shelling peas.
I've seen him twice for certain, once rather hazily; Sallie saw
him so plainly she asked his business: that's five. I resign.'
'Acknowledge!' said Grisel; 'of course I do. I'd acknowledge
anything in the world to save argument. Why, I don't know what I
should do without him. If only, now Mr Lawford would give him a
fair chance to show himself reading quietly here about ten
minutes to one, or shelling peas even, if he prefers it. If only
he'd stay long enough for THAT. Wouldn't it be the very thing for
'Of course,' said Herbert cordially, 'the very thing.'
Lawford looked up at neither of them. He shook his head.
But he needed little persuasion to stay at least one night. The
prospect of that long solitary walk, of that tired stupid
stooping figure dragging itself along the interminable country
roads seemed a sheer impossibility. 'It is not--it isn't, I swear
it--the other that beeps me back,' he had solemnly assured the
friend that half smiled her relief at his acceptance, 'but--if
you only knew how empty it's all got now; all reason gone even to
go on at all.'
'But doesn't it follow? Of course it's empty. And now life is
going to begin again. I assure you it is, I do indeed. Only, only
have courage--just the will to win on.'
He said good-night; shut-to the latched door of his long low
room, ceilinged with rafters close under the steep roof, its
brown walls hung with quiet, dark, pondering and beautiful faces
looking gravely across at him. And with his candle in his hand he
sat down on the bedside. All speculation was gone. The noisy
clock of his brain had run down again. He turned towards the old
oval looking-glass on the dressing-table without the faintest
stirring of interest, suspense, or anxiety. What did it matter
what a man looked like--a now familiar but enfeebled and
deprecating voice seemed to say. He knew that a change had come.
Even Sheila had noticed it. And since then what had he not gone
through? What now was here seemed of little moment, so far at
least as this world was concerned.
At last with an effort he rose, crossed the uneven floor, and
looked in unmovedly on what was his own poor face come back to
him: changed indeed almost beyond belief from the sleek
self-satisfied genial yet languid Arthur Lawford of the past
years, and still haunted with some faint trace of the set and icy
sharpness, and challenge, and affront of the dark Adventurer, but
that--how immeasurably dimmed and blunted and faded. He had
expected to find it so. Would it (the thought vanished across his
mind) would it have been as unmistakably there had he come
hot-foot, fearing, expecting to find the other? But--was he
He hardly knew how long he stood there, leaning on his hands,
surveying almost listlessly in the candle-light that lined,
bedraggled, grey, hopeless countenance, those dark-socketed,
smouldering eyes, whose pupils even now were so dilated that a
casual glance would have failed to detect the least hint of any
iris. 'It must have been something pretty bad you were, you know,
or something pretty bad you did,' they seemed to be trying to say
to him, 'to drag us down to this.'
He knelt down by force of habit to say his prayers; but no words
came. Well, between earthly friends a betrayal such as this would
have caused a livelong estrangement and hostility. The God the
old Lawford used to pray to would forgive him, he thought
wearily, if just for the present he was a little too sore at
heart to play the hypocrite. But if, while kneeling, he said
nothing, he saw a good many things in such tranquillity and
clearness as the mere eyes of the body can share but rarely with
their sisters of the imagination. And now it was Alice who looked
mournfully out of the dark at him; and now the little old
charwoman, Mrs Gull, with her bag hooked over her arm, climbed
painfully up the area steps; and now it was the lean vexed face
of a friend, nursing some restless and anxious grievance against
him--Mr Bethany; and then and ever again it was the face of one
who seemed pure dream and fantasy and yet... He listened intently
and fancied even now he could hear the voices of brother and
sister talking quietly and circumspectly together in the room
A quiet knocking aroused him in the long, tranquil bedroom; and
Herbert's head was poked into the room. 'There's a bath behind
that door over there,' he whispered, `or if you like I'm off for
a bathe in the Widder. It's a luscious day. Shall I wait? All
right,' and the head was withdrawn. 'Don't put much on,' came the
voice at the panel; 'we'll be home again in twenty minutes.'
The green and brightness of the morning must have been prepared
for overnight by spiders and the dew. Everywhere the gleaming
nets were hung, and everywhere there rose a tiny splendour from
the waterdrops, so clear and pure and changeable it seemed with
their fire and colour they shook a tiny crystal music in the air.
Herbert led the way along a clayey downward path beneath hazels
tossing softly together their twigs of nuts, until they came out
into a rounded hollow that, mounded with thyme, sloped gently
down to the green banks of the Widder. The water poured like
clearest glass beneath a rain of misty sunbeams.
'My sister always says that this is the very dell Boccaccio had
in his mind's eye when he wrote the "Decameron." There really is
something almost classic in those pines. And I'd sometimes swear
with my eyes just out of the water I've seen Dryads half in
hiding peeping between those beeches. Good Lord, Lawford,
what a world we wretched moderns have made, and missed!'
The water was violently cold. It seemed to Lawford, as it swept
up over his body, and as he plunged his night-distorted eyes
beneath its blazing surface, that it was charged with some
strange, powerful enchantment to wash away in its icy clearness
even the memory of the dull and tarnished days behind him. If one
could but tie up anyhow that stained bundle of inconsequent
memories called life, and fling it into a cupboard remoter even
than Bluebeard's, and lock the door, and drop the quickly-rusting
key into these living waters!
He dressed himself with window thrown open to the blackbirds and
thrushes, and the occasional shrill solitary whistling of a
robin. But, like the sour-sweet fragrance of the brier, its
wandering desolate burst of music had power to wake memory, and
carried him instantly back to that first aimless descent into the
evening gloom of Widderstone from which it was in vain to hope
ever to climb again. Surely never a more ghoulish face looked out
on its man before than that which confronted him as with borrowed
razor he stood shaving those sunken chaps, that angular chin.
And even now, beneath the lantern of broad daylight, just as
within that other face had lurked the undeniable ghost and
presence of himself, so beneath the sunken features seemed to
float, tenuous as smoke, scarcely less elusive than a dream,
between eye and object, the sinister darkness of the face that in
those two bouts with fear he had by some strange miracle managed
'Work in,' the chance phrase came back. It had worked in in sober
earnest; and so far as the living of the next few weeks went,
surely it might prove an ally without which he simply could not
conceive himself as struggling on at all.
But as dexterous minds as even restless Sabathier's had him just
now in safe and kindly keeping. All the quiet October morning
Herbert kept him talking and stooping over his extraordinary
collection of books.
'The point is,' he explained to Lawford, standing amid a positive
archipelago of precious 'finds,' with his foot hoisted onto a
chair and a patched-up, sea-stained folio on his knee, 'I
honestly detest the mere give and take of what we are fools
enough to call life. I don't deny Life's there,' he swept his
hand towards the open window--'in that frantic Tophet we call
London; but there's no focus, no point of vantage. Even a
scribbler only gets it piecemeal and through a dulled medium. We
learn to read before we know how to see; we swallow our tastes,
convictions, and emotions whole; so that nine-tenths of the
world's nectar is merely honeydew.' He smiled pleasantly into the
fixed vacancy of his visitor's face. 'That's why I've just gone
on,' he continued amiably, 'collecting this particular kind of
stuff--what you might call riff-raff. There's not a book here,
Lawford, that hasn't at least a glimmer of the real thing in it--
just Life, seen through a living eye, and felt. As for
literature, and style, and all that gallimaufry, don't fear for
them if your author has the ghost of a hint of genius in his
'But surely,' said Lawford, trying for the twentieth time to
pretend to himself that these endless books carried the faintest
savour of the delight to him which they must, he rather forlornly
supposed, shower upon Herbert, 'surely genius is a very rare
'Rare! the world simply swarms with it. But before you can bottle
it up in a book it's got to be articulate. Just for a single
instant imagine yourself Falstaff, and if there weren't hundreds
of Falstaffs in every generation, to be examples of his ungodly
life, he'd be as dead as a doornail to-morrow--imagine yourself
Falstaff, and being so, sitting down to write "Henry IV," or "The
Merry Wives." It's simply preposterous. You wouldn't be such a
fool as to waste the time. A mere Elizabethan scribbler comes
along with a gift of expression and an observant eye, lifts the
bloated old tippler clean out of life, and swims down the ages as
the greatest genius the world has ever seen. Whereas, surely,
though you mustn't let me bore you with all this piffle, it's
Falstaff is the genius, and W. S. merely a talented reporter.
'Lear, Macbeth, Mercutio--they live on their own, as it were. The
newspapers are full of them, if we were only the Shakespeares to
see it. Have you ever been in a Police Court? Have you ever
WATCHED tradesmen behind their counters? My soul, the secrets
walking in the streets! You jostle them at every corner. There's
a Polonius in every first-class railway carriage, and as many
Juliets as there are boarding-schools. What the devil are you,
my dear chap, but genius itself, with all the world brand new
upon your shoulders? And who'd have thought it of you ten days
'It's simply and solely because we're all, poor wretches, dumb--
dumb as butts of Malmsez; dumb as drummerless drums. Here am I,
ass that I am, trickling out this--this whey that no more
expresses me than Tupper does Sappho. But that's what I want to
mean. How inexhaustibly rich everything is, if you only stick to
life. Here it is packed away behind these rotting covers, just
the real thing, no respectable stodge; no mere parasitic stuff;
not more than a dozen poets; scores of outcasts and vagabonds--
and the real thing in vagabonds is pretty rare in print, I can
tell you. We're all, every one of us, sodden with facts, drugged
with the second-hand, and barnacled with respectability until--
until the touch comes. Goodness knows where from; but there's no
mistaking it; oh no!'
'But what,' said Lawford uneasily, 'what on earth do you mean by
'I mean when you cease to be a puppet only and sit up in the
gallery too. When you squeeze through to the other side. When you
suffer a kind of conversion of the mind; become aware of your
senses. When you get a living inkling. When you become articulate
to yourself. When you SEE.'
'I am awfully stupid,' Lawford murmured, 'but even now I don't
really follow you a bit. But when, as you say, you do become
articulate to yourself, what happens then?'
'Why, then,' said Herbert with a shrug almost of despair, 'then
begins the weary tramp back. One by one drop off the truisms, and
the Grundyisms, and the pedantries, and all the stillborn
claptrap of the marketplace sloughs off. Then one can seriously
begin to think about saving one's soul.'
'Saving one's soul,' groaned Lawford; 'why, I am not even sure of
my own body yet.' He walked slowly over to the window and with
every thought in his head as quiet as doves on a sunny wall,
stared out into the garden of green things growing, leaves fading
and falling water. 'I tell you what,' he said, turning
irresolutely, 'I wonder if you could possibly find time to write
me out a translation of Sabathier. My French is much too hazy to
let me really get at the chap. He's gone now; but I really should
like to know what kind of stuff exactly he has left behind.'
'Oh, Sabathier!' said Herbert, laughing. 'What do you think of
that, Grisel?' he asked, turning to his sister, who at that
moment had looked in at the door. 'Here's Mr Lawford asking me to
make a translation of Sabathier. Lunch, Lawford.'
Lawford sighed. And not until he had slowly descended half the
narrow uneven stairs that led down to the dining-room did he
fully realise the guile of a sister that could induce a hopeless
bookworm to waste a whole morning over the stupidest of
companions, simply to keep his tired-out mind from rankling, and
give his Sabathier a chance to go to roost.
'I think, do you know,' he managed to blurt out at last 'I think
I ought to be getting home again. The house is empty--and--'
'You shall go this evening,' said Herbert, 'if you really must
insist on it. But honestly, Lawford, we both think that after
what the last few days must have been, it is merely common sense
to take a rest. How can you possibly rest with a dozen empty
rooms echoing every thought you think? There's nothing more to
worry about; you agree to that. Send your people a note saying
that you are here, safe and sound. Give them a chance of lighting
a fire, and driving in the fatted calf. Stay on with us just the
Lawford turned from one to the other of the two friendly faces.
But what was dimly in his mind refused to express itself. 'I
think, you know, I--' he began falteringly.
'But it's just this thinking that's the deuce--this preposterous
habit of having continually to make up one's mind. Off with his
head, Grisel! My sister's going to take you for a picnic; we go
every other fine afternoon; and you can argue it out with her.'
Once alone again with Grisel, however, Lawford found talking
unnecessary. Silences seemed to fall between them as quietly and
restfully as evening flows into night. They walked on slowly
through the fading woods, and when they had reached the top of
the hill that sloped down to the dark and foamless Widder they
sat down in the honey-scented sunshine on a knoll of heather and
bracken, and Grisel lighted the little spirit-kettle she had
brought with her, and busied herself very methodically over
That done, she clasped her hands round her knees, and sat now
gossiping, now silent, in the pale autumnal beauty. There was a
bird wistfully twittering in the branches overhead, and ever and
again a withered leaf would slip circling down from the
motionless beech boughs arched in their stillness above their
heads beneath the thin blue sky.
'Men, you know,' she began again suddenly, starting out of
reverie, 'really are absurdly blind; and just a little bit
absurdly kindly stupid. How many times have I been at the point
of laughing out at my brother's delicious naive subtleties. But
you do, you will, understand, Mr Lawford, that he was, that we
are both "doing our best"--to make amends?'
'I understand--I do indeed--a tenth part of all your kindness.'
'Yes, but that's just it--that horrible word "kindness"! If ever
there were two utterly self-absorbed people, without a trace,
with an absolute horror of kindness, it is just my brother and I.
It's most of it false and most of it useless. We all surely must
take what comes in this topsy-turvy world. I believe in saying
out:--that the more one thinks about life the worse it becomes.
There are only two kinds of happiness in this world--a wooden
post's and Prometheus's. And who ever heard of any one having the
impudence to be kind to Prometheus? As for a miserable "medium"
like me, not quite a post and leagues and leagues from even
envying a Prometheus, she's better for the powder without the
jam. But that's all nothing. What I can't help thinking--and it's
not a bit giving my brother away, because we both think it--that
it was partly our thoughtlessness that added at least something
to--to the rest. It was perfectly absurd. He saw you were ill; he
saw--he must have seen even in that first Sunday talk--that your
nerves were all askew. And who doesn't know what "nerves" means
nowadays? And yet he deliberately chattered. He loves it--just at
large, you know, like me. I told him before I came out that I
intended, if I could, to say all this. And now it's said you'll
please forgive me for going back to it.'
'Please don't talk about forgiveness. But when you say he
chattered, you mean about Sabathier, of course. And that, you
know, I don't care a fig for now. We can settle all that between
ourselves--him and me, I mean. And now tell me candidly again--Is
there any "prey" in my face now?'
She looked up fleetingly into his eyes, leant back her head and
laughed. '"Prey," there never was a glimpse.'
'And "change"?' Their eyes met again in an infinitely brief,
infinitely bewildering argument.
'Really, really, scarcely perceptible,' she assured him, 'except,
of course, how horribly, horribly ill you look. And that only
seems to prove to me you must be hiding something else. No
illusion on earth could--could have done that to your face.'
'You think, I know,' he persisted, 'that I must be persuaded and
cosseted and humoured. Yes, you do; it's my poor old sanity
that's really in both your minds. Perhaps I am--not absolutely
sound. Anyhow. I've been watching it in your looks at each other
all the time. And I can never, never say, never tell you what you
have done for me. But you see, after all, we did win through; I
keep on telling myself that. So that now it's purely from the
most selfish and practical motives that I want you to be
perfectly frank with me. I have to go back, you know; and some of
them, one or two of my friends I mean, are not all on my side.
Think of me as I was when you came into the room, three centuries
ago, and you turned and looked, frowning at me in the
candle-light; remember that and look at me now. What is the
difference? Does it shock you? Does it make the whole world seem
a trick, a sham? Does it simply sour your life to think such a
thing possible? Oh, the hours I've spent gloating on
Widderstone's miserable mask of skin and bone, as I was saying to
your brother only last night, and never knew until they shuffled
me that the old self too was nothing better than a stifling
'But don't you see,' she argued softly, turning her face away a
little, 'you were a stranger then (though I certainly didn't mean
to frown). And then a little while after we were, well, just
human beings, shoulder to shoulder, and if friendship does not
mean that, I don't know what it does mean. And now, you are--
well, just you: the you, you know, of three centuries ago! And if
you mean to ask me whether at any precise moment I have been
conscious that this you I am now speaking to was not the you of
last night, or of that dark climb up the hill, why, it is simply
frantic to think it could ever be necessary to say over and over
again, No. But if you mean, Have you changed else? All I could
answer is, Don't we all change as we grow to know one another?
What were just features, what just dingily represented one, as it
were, is forgotten, or rather gets remembered. Of course, the
first glimpse is the landscape under lightning as it were. But
afterwards isn't it surely like the alphabet to a child; what was
first a queer angular scrawl becomes A, and is always ever after
A, undistinguished, half-forgotten, yet standing at last for
goodness knows what real wonderful things--or for just the dry
bones of soulless words? Is that it?" She stole a sidelong glance
into his brooding face, leaning her head on her hand.
'Yes, yes,' came the rather dissatisfied reply. "I do agree;
perfectly. But then, you see--I told you I was going to talk of
nothing but myself--what did at first happen to me was something
much worse, and, I suppose, something quite different from that.'
'And yet, didn't you tell us, that of all your friends not one
really denied in their hearts your--what they would call, I
suppose--your IDENTITY; except that poor little offended old
lady. And even she, if my intuition is worth a penny piece, even
she when you go soon and talk to her will own that she did know
you, and that it was not because you were a stranger that she was
offended, but because you so ungenerously pretended to be one.
That was a little mad, now, if you like!'
'Oh yes,' said Lawford, 'I am going to ask her forgiveness. I
don't know what I didn't vow to take her for a peace-offering if
the chance should ever come--and the courage--to make my peace
with her. But now that the chance has come, and I think the
courage, it is the desire that's gone. I don't seem to care
either way. I feel as if I had got past making my peace with any
But this time no answer helped him out.
'After all,' he went plodding on, 'there is more than just the
mere day to day to consider. And one doesn't realise that one's
face actually IS one's fortune without a shock. And that THAT
gone, one is, as your brother said, just like a bee come back to
the wrong hive. It undermines,' he smiled rather bitterly, 'one's
views rather. And it certainly shifts one's friends. If it hadn't
been just for my old'--he stopped dead, and again pushed slowly
on--'if it hadn't been for our old friend, Mr Bethany, I doubt if
we should now have had a soul on our side. I once read somewhere
that wolves always chase the old and weak and maimed out of the
pack. And after all, what do we do? Where do we keep the homeless
and the insane? And yet, you know,' he added ruminatingly, 'it is
not as if mine was ever a particularly lovely or lovable face!
While as for the poor wretch behind it, well, I really cannot see
what meaning, or life even, he had before--'
Lawford met bravely the clear whimsical eyes. 'Before, I was
Grisel laughed outright.
'You think,' he retorted almost bitterly, 'you think I am talking
like a child.'
'Yes,' she sighed cheerfully, 'I was quite envying you.'
'Well, there I am,' said Lawford inconsequently. 'And now; well,
now, I suppose, the whole thing's to begin again. I can't help
beginning to wonder what the meaning of it all is; why one's duty
should always seem so very stupid a thing. And then, too, what
can there be on earth that even a buried Sabathier could desire?'
He glanced up in a really animated perplexity at the still, dark
face turned in the evening light towards the darkening valley.
And perplexity deepened into a disquieted frown--like that of a
child who is roused suddenly from a daydream by the
half-forgotten question of a stranger. He turned his eyes almost
furtively away as if afraid of disturbing her; and for awhile
they sat in silence... At last he turned again almost shyly. 'I
hope some day you will let me bring my daughter to see you.'
'Yes, yes,' said Grisel eagerly; 'we should both LOVE it, of
course. Isn't it curious?--I simply KNEW you had a daughter.
'I say "some day,"' said Lawford; 'I know, though, that that some
day will never come.'
'Wait; just wait,' replied the quiet confident voice, 'that will
come too. One thing at a time, Mr Lawford. You've won your old
self back again; you'll win your old love of life back again in a
little while; never fear. Oh, don't I know that awful Land's End
after illness; and that longing, too, that gnawing longing, too,
for Ultima Thule. So, it's a bargain between us that you bring
your daughter soon.' She busied herself over the tea things.
'And, of course,' she added, as if it were an afterthought,
looking across at him in the pale green sunlight as she knelt,
'you simply won't think of going back to-night.... Solitude, I
really do think, solitude just now would be absolute madness.
You'll write to-day and go, perhaps, to-morrow!'
Lawford looked across in his mind at his square ungainly house,
full-fronting the afternoon sun. He tried to repress a shudder.
'I think, do you know, I ought to go to-day.'
'Well, why not? Why not? Just to reassure yourself that all's
well. And come back here to sleep. If you'd really promise that
I'd drive you in. I'd love it. There's the jolliest little
governess-cart we sometimes hire for our picnics. Way I? You've
no idea how much easier in our minds my brother and I would be if
you would. And then to-morrow, or at any rate the next day, you
shall be surrendered, whole and in your right mind. There, that's
a bargain too. Now we must hurry.'
Herbert himself went down to order the governess cart, and packed
them in with a rug. And in the dusk Grisel set Lawford down at
the corner of his road and drove on to an old bookseller's with a
commission from her brother, promising to return for him in an
hour. Dust and a few straws lay at rest as if in some abstruse
arrangement on the stones of the porch just as the last faint
whirling gust of sunset had left them. Shut lids of sightless
indifference seemed to greet the wanderer from the curtained
He opened the door and went in. For a moment he stood in the
vacant hall; then he peeped first into the blind-drawn
dining-room, faintly, dingily sweet, like an empty wine-bottle.
He went softly on a few paces and just opening the door looked in
on the faintly glittering twilight of the drawing-room. But the
congealed stump of candle that he had set in the corner as a
final rancorous challenge to the beaten Shade was gone. He slowly
and deliberately ascended the stairs, conscious of a peculiar
sense of ownership of what in even so brief an absence had taken
on so queer a look of strangeness. It was almost as if he might
be some lone heir come in the rather mournful dusk to view what
melancholy fate had unexpectedly bestowed on him.
'Work in'--what on earth else could this chill sense of
strangeness mean? Would he ever free his memory from that one
haphazard, haunting hint? And as he stood in the doorway of the
big, calm room, which seemed even now to be stirring with the
restless shadow of these last few far-away days; now pacing
sullenly to and fro; now sitting hunched-up to think; and now
lying impotent in a vain, hopeless endeavour only for the breath
of a moment to forget--he awoke out of reverie to find himself
smiling at the thought that a changed face was practically at the
mercy of an incredulous world, whereas a changed heart was no
one's deadly dull affair but its owner's. The merest breath of
pity even stole over him for the Sabathier who after all had
dared and had needed, perhaps, nothing like so arrogant and
merciless a coup de grace to realise that he had so ignominiously
'But there, that's done!' he exclaimed out loud, not without a
tinge of regret that theories, however brilliant and bizarre,
could never now be anything else--that now indeed that the
symptoms had gone, the 'malady,' for all who had not been
actually admitted into the shocked circle, was become nothing
more than an inanely 'tall' story; stuffing not even savoury
enough for a goose. How wide exactly, he wondered, would Sheila's
discreet, shocked circle prove? He stood once more before the
looking-glass, hearing again Grisel's words in the still green
shadow of the beech-tree, 'Except of course, horribly, horribly
ill.' 'What a fool, what a coward she thinks I am!'
There was still nearly an hour to be spent in this great barn of
faded interests. He lit a candle and descended into the kitchen.
A mouse went scampering to its hole as he pushed open the door.
The memory of that ravenous morning meal nauseated him. It was
sour and very still here; he stood erect; the air smelt faint of
earth. In the breakfast-room the bookcase still swung open. Late
evening mantled the garden; and in sheer ennui again he sat down
to the table, and turned for a last not unfriendly hob-a-nob with
his poor old friend Sabathier. He would take the thing back.
Herbert, of course, was going to translate it for him. Now if the
patient old Frenchman had stormed Herbert instead--that surely
would have been something like a coup! Those frenzied books. The
absurd talk of the man. Herbert was perfectly right--he could
have entertained fifty old Huguenots without turning a hair. 'I'm
such an awful stodge.'
He turned the woolly leaves over very slowly. He frowned
impatiently, and from the end backwards turned them over again.
Then he laid the book softly down on the table and sat back. He
stared with narrowed lids into the flame of his quiet friendly
candle. Every trace, every shred of portrait and memoir were
gone. Once more, deliberately, punctiliously, he examined page by
page the blurred and unfamiliar French--the sooty heads, the
long, lean noses, the baggy eyes passing like figures in a
peepshow one by one under his hand--to the last fragmentary and
dexterously mended leaf. Yes, Sabathier was gone. Quite the old
slow Lawford smile crept over his face at the discovery. It was a
smile a little sheepish too, as he thought of Sheila's quiet
And the next instant he had looked up sharply, with a sudden
peculiar shrug, and a kind of cry, like the first thin cry of an
awakened child, in his mind. Without a moment's hesitation he
climbed swiftly upstairs again to the big sepulchral bedroom. He
pressed with his fingernail the tiny spring in the looking-glass.
The empty drawer flew open. There were finger-marks still in the
Yet, strangely enough, beneath all the clashing thoughts that
came flocking into his mind as he stood with the empty drawer in
his hand, was a wounding yet still a little amused pity for his
old friend Mr Bethany. So far as he himself was concerned the
discovery--well, he would have plenty of time to consider
everything that could possibly now concern himself. Anyhow, it
could only simplify matters.
He remembered waking to that old wave of sickening horror on the
first unhappy morning; he remembered the keen yet owlish old face
blinking its deathless friendliness at him, and the steady
pressure of the cold, skinny hand. As for Sheila, she had never
done anything by halves; certainly not when it came to throwing
over a friend no longer necessary to one's social satisfaction.
But she would edge out cleverly, magnanimously, triumphantly
enough, no doubt, when the day of reckoning should come, the day
when, her nets wide spread, her bait prepared, he must stand up
before her outraged circle and positively prove himself her
lawful husband, perhaps even to the very imprint of his thumb.
'Poor old thing!' he said again; and this time his pity was
shared almost equally between both witnesses to Mr Bethany's
ingenuous little document, the loss of which had fallen so softly
and pathetically that he felt only ashamed of having discovered
it so soon.
He shut back the tell-tale drawer, and after trying to collect
his thoughts in case anything should have been forgotten, he
turned with a deep trembling sigh to descend the stairs. But on
the landing he drew back at the sound of voices, and then a
footstep. Soon came the sound of a key in the lock. He blew out
his candle and leant listening over the balusters.
'Who's there?' he called quietly.
'Me, sir,' came the feeble reply out of the darkness.
'What is it, Ada? What have you come for?'
'Only, sir, to see that all was safe, and you were in, sir.'
'Yes,' he said. 'All's safe; and I am in. What if I had been
out?' It was like dropping tiny pebbles into a deep well--so long
after came the answering feeble splash.
'Then I was to go back, sir.' And a moment after the discreet
voice floated up with the faintest tinge of effrontery out of the
hush. 'Is that Dr Ferguson, too sir?'
'No, Ada; and please tell your mistress from me that Dr Ferguson
is unlikely to call again.' A keen but rather forlorn smile
passed over his face. 'He's dining with friends no doubt at
Holloway. But of course if she should want to see him he will see
her to-morrow at any hour at Mrs Lovat's. And--Ada!'
'Say that I'm a little better; your mistress will be relieved to
hear that I'm a little better; still not quite myself say, but, I
think, a little better.'
'Yes, sir; and I'm sure I'm very glad to hear it,' came fainter
'What voice was that I heard just now?'
'Miss Alice's, sir; but she came quite against my wishes, and I
hope you won't repeat it, sir. She promised if she came that
mistress shouldn't know. I was only afraid she might disturb you,
or--or Dr Ferguson. And did you say, sir, that I was to tell
mistress that he MIGHT be coming back?'
'Ah, that I don't know; so perhaps it would be as well not to
mention him at all. Is Miss Alice there?'
'I said I would tell her if you were alone. But I hope you'll
understand that it was only because she begged so. Mistress has
gone to St Peter's bazaar; and that's how it was.'
'I quite understand. Beckon to her.'
There came a hasty step in the hall and a hurried murmur of
explanation. Lawford heard her call as she ran up the stairs; and
the next moment he had Alice's hand in his and they were groping
together through the gloaming back into the solitude of the empty
'Don't he alarmed, dear,' he heard himself imploring. Just hold
tight to that clear common sense, and above all you won't tell?
It must be our secret; a dead, dead secret from every one, even
your mother, for just a little while; just a mere two days or
so--in case. I'm--I'm better, dear.'
He fumbled with the little box of matches, dropped one, broke
another; but at last the candle-flame dipped, brightened, and
with the door shut and the last pale blueness of dusk at the
window Lawford turned and looked at his daughter. She stood with
eyes wide open, like the eyes of a child walking in its sleep;
then twisted her fingers more tightly within his. 'Oh, dearest,
how ill, how ill you look,' she whispered. 'But there, never
mind--never mind. It was all a miserable dream, then; it won't,
it can't come back? I don't think I could bear its coming back.
And mother told me such curious things; as if I were a child and
understood nothing. And even after I knew that you were you--I
mean before I sat up here in the dark to see you--she said that
you were gone and would never come back; that a terrible thing
had happened--a disgrace which we must never speak of; and that
all the other was only a pretence to keep people from talking.
But I did not believe then, and how could I believe afterwards?'
'There, never mind now, dear, what she said. It was all meant for
the best, perhaps. But here I am; and not nearly so ill as I
look, Alice; and there's nothing more to trouble ourselves about;
not even if it should be necessary for me to go away for a time.
And this is our secret, mind; ours only; just a dead secret
between you and me.'
They sat for awhile without speaking or stirring. And faintly
along the hushed road Lawford heard in the silence a leisurely
indolent beat of little hoofs approaching, and the sound of
wheels. A sudden wave of feeling swept over him. He took Alice's
quiet loving face in his hands and kissed her passionately. 'Do
not so much as think of me yet, or doubt, or question: only love
me, dearest. And soon--and soon--'
'We'll just begin again, just begin again, won't we? all three of
us together, just as we used to be. I didn't mean to have said
all those horrid things about mother. She was only dreadfully
anxious and meant everything for the best. You'll let me tell her
The haggard face turned slowly, listening. 'I hear, I understand,
but I can't think very clearly now, Alice; I can't, dear; my
miserable old tangled nerves. I just stumble along as best I can.
You'll understand better when you get to be a poor old thing like
me. We must do the best we can. And of course you'll see, Dillie,
how awfully important it is not to raise false hopes. You
understand? I mustn't risk the least thing in the world, must I?
And now goodbye; only for a few hours now. And not a word, not a
word to a single living soul.'
He extinguished the candle again, and led the way to the top of
the stairs. 'Are you there, Ada?'
'Yes, sir,' answered the quiet imperturbable voice from under the
black straw brim. Alice went slowly down, but at the foot of the
stairs, looking out into the cold, blue, lamplit street she
paused as if at a sudden recollection, and ran hastily up again.
'There was nothing more, dear?' She said, leaning back to peer
'"Nothing more?" What?'
She stood panting a little in the darkness, listening to some
cautious yet uneasy thought that seemed to haunt her mind. 'I
thought--it seemed there was something we had not said, something
I could not understand. But there, it is nothing! You know what a
fanciful old silly I am. You do love me? Quite as much as ever?'
'More, sweetheart, more!'
'Good-night again, then; and God bless you, dear.'
The outer door closed softly, the footsteps died away. Lawford
still hesitated. He took hold of the stairs above his head as he
stood on the landing and leaned his head upon his hands, striving
calmly to disentangle the perplexity of his thoughts. His pulses
were beating in his ear with a low muffled roar. He looked down
between the blinds to where against the blue of the road beneath
the straggling yellow beams of the lamp stood the little cart and
drooping, shaggy pony, and Grisel sitting quietly there awaiting
him. He shut his eyes as if in hope by some convulsive effort of
mind to break through this subtle glasslike atmosphere of dream
that had stolen over consciousness, and blotted out the
significance, almost the meaning of the past. He turned abruptly.
Empty as the empty rooms around him, unanswering were mind and
heart. Life was a tale told by an idiot--signifying nothing.
He paused at the head of the staircase. And even then the doubt
confronted him: Would he ever come back? Who knows? he thought;
and again stood pondering, arguing, denying. At last he seemed to
have come to a decision. He made his way downstairs, opened and
left ajar a long narrow window in a passage to the garden beyond
the kitchen. He turned on his heel as he reached the gate and
waved his hand as if in a kind of forlorn mockery towards the
darkly glittering windows. The drowsy pony awoke at touch of the
Grisel lifted the rug and squeezed a little closer into the
corner. She had drawn a veil over her face, so that to Lawford
her eyes seemed to be dreaming in a little darkness of their own
as he laid his hand on the side of the cart. 'It's a most curious
thing,' he said, 'but peeping down at you just now when the sound
of the wheels came, a memory came clearly back to me of years and
years ago--of my mother. She used to come to fetch me at school
in a little cart like this, and a little pony just like this,
with a thick dusty coat. And once I remember I was simply sick of
everything, a failure, and fagged out, and all that, and was
looking out in the twilight; I fancy even it was autumn too. It
was a little side staircase window; I was horribly homesick. And
she came quite unexpectedly. I shall never forget it--the misery,
and then, her coming.' He lifted his eyes, cowed with the
incessant struggle, and watched her face for some time in
silence. 'Ought I to stay?'
'I see no "ought,"' she said. 'No one is there?'
'Only a miserable broken voice out of a broken cage--called
'Don't you think, perhaps, that even that has a good many
disguises--convention, cowardice, weakness, ennui; they all take
their turn at hooting in its feathers? You must, you really must
have rest. You don't know; you don't see; I do. Just a little
snap, some one last exquisite thread gives way, and then it is
all over. You see I have even to try to frighten you, for I can't
tell you how you distress me.'
'Why do I distress you?--my face, my story you mean?'
'No; I mean you: your trouble, that horrible empty house, and--
oh, dear me, yes, your courage too.'
'Listen,' said Lawford, stooping forward. He could scarcely see
the pale, veiled face through this mist that had risen up over
his eyes. 'I have no courage apart from you; no courage and no
hope. Ask me to come!--a stranger with no history, no mockery, no
miserable rant of a grave and darkness and fear behind me. Are we
not all haunted--every one? That forgotten, and the fool I was,
and the vacillating, and the pretence--oh, how it all sweeps
clear before me; without a will, without a hope or glimpse or
whisper of courage. Be just the memory of my mother, the face,
the friend I've never seen; the voice that every dream leaves
echoing. Ask me to come.'
She sat unstirring; and then as if by some uncontrollable impulse
stooped a little closer to him and laid her gloved hand on his.
'I hear, you know; I hear too,' she whispered. 'But we mustn't
listen. Come now. It's growing late.'
The little village echoed back from its stone walls the clatter
of the pony's hoofs. Night had darkened to its deepest when their
lamp shone white on the wicket in the hedge. They had scarcely
spoken. Lawford had simply watched pass by, almost without a
thought, the arching trees, the darkening fields; had watched
rise up in a mist of primrose light the harvest moon to shine in
saffron on the faces and shoulders of the few wayfarers they met,
or who passed them by. The still grave face beneath the shadow of
its veil had never turned, though the moon poured all her flood
of brilliance upon the dark profile. And once when as if in
sudden alarm he had lifted his head and looked at her, a sudden
doubt had assailed him so instantly that he had half put out his
hand to touch her, and had as quickly withdrawn it, lest her
beauty and stillness should be, even as the moment's fancy had
suggested, only a far-gone memory returned in dream.
Herbert hailed them from the darkness of an open window. He came
down, and they talked a little in the cold air of the garden. He
lit a cigarette, and climbed languidly into the cart, and drove
the drowsy little pony off into the moonlight.
It was a quiet supper the three friends sat down to. Herbert sat
narrowing his eyes over his thoughts, which, when the fancy took
him, he scattered out upon the others' silence. Lawford
apparently had not yet shaken himself free from the sorcery of
the moonlight. His eyes shone dark and full like those of a child
who has trespassed beyond its hour for bed, and sits marvelling
at reality in a waking dream.
Long after they had bidden each other good-night, long after
Herbert had trodden on tiptoe with his candle past his closed
door, Lawford sat leaning on his arms at the open window, staring
out across the motionless moonlit trees that seemed to stand like
draped and dreaming pilgrims, come to the peace of their Nirvana
at last beside the crashing music of the waters. And he himself,
the self that never sleeps beneath the tides and waves of
consciousness, was listening, too, almost as unmovedly and
unheedingly to the thoughts that clashed in conflict through his
Why, in a strange transitory life was one the slave of these
small cares? What if even in that dark pit beneath, which seemed
to whisper Lethe to the tumultuous, swirling waters--what if
there, too, were merely a beginning again, and to seek a
slumbering refuge there merely a blind and reiterated plunge into
the heat and tumult of another day? Who was that poor, dark,
homeless ghoul, Sabathier? Who was this Helen of an impossible
dream? Her face with its strange smile, her eyes with their still
pity and rapt courage had taken hope away. 'Here's not your rest,'
cried one insistent voice; 'she is the mystery that haunts day
and night, past all the changing of the restless hours. Chance
has given you back eyes to see, a heart that can be broken. Chance
and the stirrings of a long-gone life have torn down the veil age
spins so thick and fast. Pride and ambition; what dull fools men
are! Effort and duty, what dull fools men are!' He listened on
and on to these phantom pleadings and to the rather coarse old
Lawford conscience grunting them mercilessly down, too weary even
to try to rest.
Rooks at dawn came sweeping beneath the turquoise of the sky. He
saw their sharp-beaked heads turn this way, that way, as they
floated on outspread wings across the misty world. Except for the
hoarse roar of the water under the huge thin-leafed trees, not a
sound was stirring. 'One thing,' he seemed to hear himself mutter
as he turned with a shiver from the morning air, 'it won't be for
long. You can, at least, poor devil, wait the last act out.' If
in this foolish hustling mob of the world, hired anywhere and
anywhen for the one poor dubious wage of a penny--if it was only
his own small dull part to carry a mock spear, and shout huzza
with the rest--there was nothing for it, he grunted obstinately
to himself, shout he would with the loudest.
He threw himself on to the bed with eyes so wearied with want of
sleep it seemed they had lost their livelong skill in finding it.
Not the echo of triumph nor even a sigh of relief stirred the
torpor of his mind. He knew vaguely that what had been the misery
and madness of the last few days was gone. But the thought had no
power to move him now. Sheila's good sense, and Mr Bethany's
stubborn loyalty were alike old stories that had lost their
savour and meaning. Gone, too, was the need for that portentous
family gathering that had sat so often in his fancy during these
last few days around his dining-room table, discussing with
futile decorum the problem of how to hush him up, to muffle him
down. Half dreaming, half awake, he saw the familiar door slowly
open and, like the timely hero in a melodrama, his own figure
appear before the stricken and astonished company. His eyes
opened half-fearfully, and glanced up in the morning twilight.
Their perplexity gave place to a quiet, almost vacant smile; the
lids slowly closed again, and at last the lean hands twitched
awhile in sleep.
Next morning he spent rummaging among the old books, dipping
listlessly here and there as the tasteless fancy took him, while
Herbert sat writing with serene face and lifted eyebrows at his
open window. But the unfamiliar long S's, the close type, and the
spelling of the musty old books wearied eye and mind. What he
read, too, however far-fetched, or lively, or sententious, or
gross, seemed either to be of the same texture as what had become
his everyday experience, and so baffled him with its nearness, or
else was only the meaningless ramblings of an idle pen. And this,
he thought to himself, looking covertly up at the spruce
clear-cut profile at the window, this is what Herbert had called
'Am I interrupting you, Herbert; are you very busy?' he asked at
last, taking refuge on a chair in a far corner of the room.
'Bless me, no; not a bit--not a bit,' said Herbert amiably,
laying down his pen. 'I'm afraid the old leatherjackets have been
boring you. It's a habit this beastly reading; this gorge and
glint and fever all at second-hand--purely a bad habit, like
morphia, like laudanum. But once in, you know there's no recovery
Anyhow, I'm neck-deep, and to struggle would be simply to drown.'
'I was only going to say how sorry I am for having left Sabathier
'My dear fellow--' began Herbert reassuringly.
'It was only because I wanted so very much to have your
translation. I get muddled up with other things groping through
Herbert surveyed him critically. 'What exactly is your interest
now, Lawford? You don't mean that my old "theory" has left any
'No sting; oh no. I was only curious. But you yourself still
think it really, don't you?'
Herbert turned for a moment to the open window.
'I was simply trying then to find something to fit the facts as
you experienced them. But now that the facts have gone--and they
have, haven't they?--exit, of course, my theory!'
'I see,' was the cryptic answer. 'And yet, Herbert,' Lawford
solemnly began again, 'it has changed me; even in my way of
thinking. When I shut my eyes now--I only discovered it by
chance--I see immediately faces quite strange to me; or places,
sometimes thronged with people; and once an old well with some
one sitting in the shadow. I can't tell you how clearly, and yet
it is all altogether different from a dream. Even when I sit with
my eyes open, I am conscious, as it were, of a kind of faint,
colourless mirage. In the old days--I mean before Widderstone,
what I saw was only what I'd seen already. Nothing came uncalled
for, unexplained. This makes the old life seem so blank; I did
not know what extraordinarily real things I was doing without.
And whether for that reason or another, I can't quite make out
what in fact I did want then, and was always fretting and
striving for. I can see no wisdom or purpose in anything now but
to get to one's journey's end as quickly and bravely as one can.
And even then, even if we do call life a journey, and death the
inn we shall reach at last in the evening when it's over; that,
too, I feel will be only as brief a stopping-place as any other
inn would be. Our experience here is so scanty and shallow--
nothing more than the moment of the continual present. Surely
that must go on, even if one does call it eternity. And so we
shall all have to begin again. Probably Sabathier himself.... But
there, what on earth are we, Herbert, when all is said? Who is it
has--has done all this for us--what kind of self? And to what
possible end? Is it that the clockwork has been wound up and must
still jolt on a while with jarring wheels? Will it never run
down, do you think?'
Herbert smiled faintly, but made no answer.
'You see,' continued Lawford, in the same quiet, dispassionate
undertone, 'I wouldn't mind if it was only myself. But there are
so many of us, so many selves, I mean; and they all seem to have
a voice in the matter. What is the reality to this infernal
'The reality is, Lawford, that you are fretting your life out
over this rotten illusion. Be guided by me just this once. We'll
go, all three of us, a good ten-mile walk to-day, and thoroughly
tire you out. And to-night you shall sleep here--a really sound,
refreshing sleep. Then to-morrow, whole and hale, back you shall
go; honestly. It's only professional strong men should ask
questions. Babes like you and me must keep to slops.'
So, though Lawford made no answer, it was agreed. Before noon the
three of them had set out on their walk across the fields. And
after rambling on just as caprice took them, past reddening
blackberry bushes and copses of hazel, and flaming beech, they
sat down to spread out their meal on the slope of a hill,
overlooking quiet ploughed fields and grazing cattle. Herbert
stretched himself with his back to the earth, and his placid face
to the pale vacant sky, while Lawford, even more dispirited after
his walk, wandered up to the crest of the hill.
At the foot of the hill, upon the other side, lay a farm and its
out-buildings, and a pool of water beneath a group of elms. It
was vacant in the sunlight, and the water vividly green with a
scum of weed. And about half a mile beyond stood a cluster of
cottages and an old towered church. He gazed idly down, listening
vaguely to the wailing of a curlew flitting anxiously to and fro
above the broken solitude of its green hill. And it seemed as if
a thin and dark cloud began to be quietly withdrawn from over his
eyes. Hill and wailing cry and barn and water faded out. And he
was staring as if in an endless stillness at an open window
against which the sun was beating in a bristling torrent of gold,
while out of the garden beyond came the voice of some evening
bird singing with such an unspeakable ecstasy of grief it seemed
it must be perched upon the confines of another world. The light
gathered to a radiance almost intolerable, driving back with its
raining beams some memory, forlorn, remorseless, remote. His body
stood dark and senseless, rocking in the air on the hillside as
if bereft of its spirit. Then his hands were drawn over his eyes.
He turned unsteadily and made his way, as if through a thick,
drizzling haze, slowly back.
'What is that--there?' he said almost menacingly, standing with
bloodshot eyes looking down upon Herbert.
'"That!"--what?' said Herbert, glancing up startled from his
book. 'Why, what's wrong, Lawford?'
'That,' said Lawford sullenly, yet with a faintly mournful
cadence in his voice; 'those fields and that old empty farm--that
village over there? Why did you bring me here?'
Grisel had not stirred. 'The village...'
'Ssh!' she said, catching her brother's sleeve; 'that's Detcham,
Lawford turned wide vacant eyes on her. He shook his head and
shuddered. 'No, no; not Detcham. I know it; I know it; but it has
gone out of my mind. Not Detcham; I've been there before; don't
look at me. Horrible, horrible. It takes me back--I can't think.
I stood there, trying, trying; it's all in a blur. Don't ask me--
Grisel leaned forward and touched his hand. 'Don't think; don't
even try. Why should you? We can't; we MUSTN'T go back.'
Lawford, still gazing fixedly, turned again a darkened face
towards the steep of the hill. 'I think, you know,' he said,
stooping and whispering, 'HE would know--the window and the sun
and the singing. And oh, of course it was too late. You
understand--too late. And once... you can't go back; oh no. You
won't leave me? You see, if you go, it would only be all. I could
not be quite so alone. But Detcham--Detcham? perhaps you will not
trust me--tell me? That was not the name.' He shuddered violently
and turned dog-like beseeching eyes. 'To-morrow--yes, to-morrow,'
he said, 'I will promise anything if you will not leave me now.
Once--' But again the thread running so faintly through that
inextricable maze of memory eluded him. 'So long as you won't
leave me now!' he implored her.
She was vainly trying to win back her composure, and could not
answer him at once....
In the evening after supper Grisel sat her guest down in front of
a big wood fire in the old book-room, where, staring into the
playing flames, he could fall at peace into the almost motionless
reverie which he seemed merely to harass and weary himself by
trying to disperse. She opened the little piano at the far end of
the room and played on and on as fancy led--Chopin and Beethoven,
a fugue from Bach, and lovely forlorn old English airs, till the
music seemed not only a voice persuading, pondering, and
lamenting, but gathered about itself the hollow surge of the
water and the darkness; wistful and clear, as the thoughts of a
solitary child. Ever and again a log burnt through its strength,
and falling amid sparks, stirred, like a restless animal, the
stillness; or Herbert in his corner lifted his head to glance
towards his visitor, and to turn another page. At last the music,
too, fell silent, and Lawford stood up with his candle in his
hand and eyed with a strange fixity brother and sister. His
glance wandered slowly round the quiet flame-lit room.
'You won't,' he said, stooping towards them as if in extreme
confidence, 'you won't much notice? They come and go. I try not
to--to speak. It's the only way through. It is not that I don't
know they're only dreams. But if once the--the others thought
there had been any tampering'--he tapped his forehead meaningly--
'here: if once they thought that, it would, you know, be quite
over then. How could I prove...?' He turned cautiously towards
the door, and with laborious significance nodded his head at
Herbert bent down and held out his long hands to the fire.
'Tampering, my dear chap: That's what the lump said to the
'Yes, yes,' said Lawford, putting out his hand, 'but you know
what I mean, Herbert. Anything I tried to do then would be quite,
quite hopeless. That would be poisoning the wells.'
They watched him out of the room, and listened till quite
distinctly in the still night-shaded house they heard his door
gently close. Then, as if by consent, they turned and looked long
and questioningly into each other's faces.
'Then you are not afraid?' Herbert said quietly.
Grisel gazed steadily on, and almost imperceptibly shook her
'You mean?' he questioned her; but still he had again to read her
answer in her eyes.
'Oh, very well, Grisel,' he said quietly, 'you know best,' and
returned once more to his writing.
For an hour or two Lawford slept heavily, so heavily that when a
little after midnight he awoke, with his face towards the
uncurtained window, though for many minutes he lay brightly
confronting all Orion, that from blazing helm to flaming dog at
heel filled high the glimmering square, he could not lift or stir
his cold and leaden limbs. He rose at last and threw off the
burden of his bedclothes, and rested awhile, as if freed from the
heaviness of an unrememberable nightmare. But so clear was his
mind and so extraordinarily refreshed he seemed in body that
sleep for many hours would not return again. And he spent almost
all the remainder of the lagging darkness pacing softly to and
fro; one face only before his eyes, the one sure thing, the one
thing unattainable in a world of phantoms.
Herbert waited on in vain for his guest next morning, and after
wandering up and down the mossy lawn at the back of the house,
went off cheerfully at last alone for his dip. When he returned
Lawford was in his place at the breakfast-table. He sat on, moody
and constrained, until even Herbert's haphazard talk trickled
'I fancy my sister is nursing a headache,' he said at last, 'but
she'll be down soon. And I'm afraid from the looks of you,
Lawford, your night was not particularly restful.' He felt his
way very heedfully. 'Perhaps we walked you a little too far
yesterday. We are so used to tramping that--' Lawford kept
thoughtful eyes fixed on the deprecating face.
'I see what it is, Herbert--you are humouring me again. I have
been wracking my brains in vain to remember what exactly DID
happen yesterday. I feel as if it was all sunk oceans deep in
sleep. I get so far--and then I'm done. It won't give up a hint.
But you really mustn't think I'm an invalid, or--or in my second
childhood. The truth is,' he added, 'it's only my FIRST, come
back again. But now that I've got so far, now that I'm really
better, I--' He broke off rather vacantly, as if afraid of his
own confidence. 'I must be getting on,' he summed up with an
effort, 'and that's the solemn fact. I keep on forgetting I'm--
I'm a ratepayer!'
Herbert sat round in his chair. 'You see, Lawford, the very term
is little else than Double-Dutch to me. As a matter of fact
Grisel sends all my hush-money to the horrible people that do the
cleaning up, as it were. I can't catch their drift. Government to
me is merely the spectacle of the clever, or the specious,
managing the dull. It deals merely with the physical, and just
the fringe of consciousness. I am not joking. I think I follow
you. All I mean is that the obligations--mainly tepid, I take it--
that are luring you back to the fold would be the very ones that
would scare me quickest off. The imagination, the appeal faded:
Lawford opened his mouth; 'TEMPORARILY tepid,' he at last all but
'Oh yes, of course,' said Herbert intelligently. 'Only
temporarily. It's this beastly gregariousness that's the devil.
The very thought of it undoes me--with an absolute shock of
sheepishness. I suddenly realise my human nakedness: that here we
are, little better than naked animals, bleating behind our
illusory wattles on the slopes of--of infinity. And nakedness,
after all, is a wholesome thing to realize only when one thinks
too much of one's clothes. I peer sometimes, feebly enough, out
of my wool, and it seems to me that all these busybodies, all
these fact-devourers, all this news-reading rabble, are nothing
brighter than very dull-witted children trying to play an
imaginative game, much too deep for their poor reasons. I don't
mean that YOUR wanting to go home is anything gregarious, but I
do think THEIR insisting on your coming back at once might be.
And I know you won't visit this stuff on me as anything more than
just my "scum," as Grisel calls the fine flower of my maiden
meditations. All that I really want to say is that we should both
be more than delighted if you'd stay just as long as it will not
be a bore for you to stay. Stay till you're heartily tired of us.
Go back now, if you MUST; tell them how much better you are. Bolt
off to a nerve specialist. He'll say complete rest--change of
scene, and all that. They all do. Instinct via intellect. And why
not take your rest here? We are such miserably dull company to
one another it would be a greater pleasure to have you with us
than I can say. I mean it from the very bottom of my heart. Do!'
Lawford listened. 'I wish--,' he began, and stopped dead again.
'Anyhow, I'll go back. I am afraid, Herbert, I've been playing
truant. It was all very well while-- To tell you the truth I
can't think QUITE straight yet. But it won't last for ever.
Besides--well, anyhow, I'll go back.'
'Right you are,' said Herbert, pretending to be cheerful. 'You
can't expect, you really can't, everything to come right straight
away. Just have patience. And now, let's go out and sit in the
sun. They've mixed September up with May.'
And about half an hour afterwards he glanced up from his book to
find his visitor fast asleep in his garden chair.
Grisel had taken her brother's place, with a little pile of
needlework beside her on the grass, when Lawford again opened his
eyes under the rosy shade of a parasol. He watched her for a
while, without speaking.
'How long have I been asleep?' he said at last.
She started and looked up from her needle.
'That depends on how long you have been awake,' she said,
smiling. 'My brother tells me,' she went on, beginning to stitch,
'that you have made up your mind to leave us to-day. Perhaps we
are only flattering ourselves it has been a rest. But if it has--
is that, do you think, quite wise?'
He leant forward and hid his face in his hands. 'It's because--
it's because it's the only "must" I can see.'
'But even "musts"--well, we have to be sure even of "musts,"
haven't we? Are YOU?' She glanced up and for an instant their
eyes met, and the falling water seemed to be sounding out of a
distance so remote it might be but the echo of a dream. She
stooped once more over her work.
'Supposing,' he said very slowly, and almost as if speaking to
himself, 'supposing Sabathier--and you know he's merely like a
friend now one mustn't be seen talking to--supposing he came
back; what then?'
'Oh, but Sabathier's gone: he never really came. It was only a
fancy--a mood. It was only you--another you.'
'Who was that yesterday, then?'
She glanced at him swiftly and knew the question was but a
'Oh, very well,' he said fretfully, 'you too! But if he did, if
he did, come really back: "prey" and all?'
'What is the riddle?' she said, taking a deep breath and facing
'Would MY "must" still be HIS?' The face he raised to her, as he
leaned forward under the direct light of the sun, was so
colourless, cadaverous and haggard, the thought crossed her mind
that it did indeed seem little more than a shadowy mask that but
one hour of darkness might dispel.
'You said, you know, we did win through. Why then should we be
even thinking of defeat now?'
'Oh no, you!' she cried triumphantly.
'You do not answer my question.'
'Nor you mine! It WAS a glorious victory. Is there the ghost of a
reason why you should cast your mind back? Is there, now?'
'Only,' said Lawford, looking patiently up into her face, 'only
because I love you': and listened in the silence to the words as
one may watch a bird that has escaped for ever and irrevocably
out of its cage, steadily flying on and on till lost to sight.
For an instant the grey eyes faltered. 'But that, surely,' she
began in a low voice, still steadily sewing, 'that was our
compact last night--that you should let me help, that you should
trust me just as you trusted the mother years ago who came in the
little cart with the shaggy dusty pony to the homesick boy
watching at the window. Perhaps,' she added, her fingers
trembling, 'in this odd shuffle of souls and faces, I AM that
mother, and most frightfully anxious you should not give in. Why,
even because of the tiredness, even because the cause seems vain,
you must still fight on--wouldn't she have said it? Surely there
are prizes, a daughter, a career, no end! And even they gone--
still the self undimmed, undaunted, that took its drubbing like a
'I know you know I'm all but crazed; you see this wretched mind
all littered and broken down; look at me like that, then. Forget
even you have befriended me and pretended-- Why must I blunder on
and on like this? Oh, Grisel, my friend, my friend, if only you
Tears clouded her eyes. She turned vaguely as if for a
hiding-place. 'We can't talk here. How mad the day is. Listen,
listen! I do--I do love you--mother and woman and friend--from
the very moment you came. It's all so clear, so clear: that, and
your miserable "must," my friend. Come, we will go away by
ourselves a little, and talk. That way. I'll meet you by the
She came out into the sunlight, and they went through the little
gate together. She walked quickly, without speaking, over the
bridge, past a little cottage whose hollyhocks leaned fading
above its low flint wall. Skirting a field of stubble, she struck
into a wood by a path that ran steeply up the hillside. And
by and by they came to a glen where the woodmen of a score of
years ago had felled the trees, leaving a green hollow of saplings
in the midst of their towering neighbours.
'There,' she said, holding out her hand to him, 'now we are
alone. Just six hours or so--and then the sun will be there,' she
pointed to the tree-tops to the west, 'and then you will have to
go; for good, for good--you your way, and I mine. What a tangle--
a tangle is this life of ours. Could I have dreamt we should ever
be talking like this, you and I? Friends of an hour. What will
you think of me? Does it matter? Don't speak. Say nothing--poor
face, poor hands. If only there were something to look to--to
pray to!' She bent over his hand and pressed it to her breast.
'What worlds we've seen together, you and I. And then--another
They wandered on a little way, and came back and listened to the
first few birds that flew up into the higher branches, noonday
being past, to sing.
They talked, and were silent, and talked again with out question,
or sadness, or regret, or reproach; she mocking even at
themselves, mocking at this 'change'--'Why, and yet without it,
would you ever even have dreamed once a poor fool of a Frenchman
went to his restless grave for me--for me? Need we understand?
Were we told to pry? Who made us human must be human too. Why
must we take such care, and make such a fret--this soul? I know
it, I know it; it is all we have--"to save," they say, poor
creatures. No, never to SPEND, and so they daren't for a solitary
instant lift it on the finger from its cage. Well, we have; and
now, soon, back it must go, back it must go, and try its best to
whistle the day out. And yet, do you know, perhaps the very
freedom does a little shake its--its monotony. It's true, you
see, they have lived a long time; these Worldly Wisefolk they
were wise before they were swaddled....
'There, and you are hungry?' she asked him, laughing in his eyes.
`Of course, of course you are--scarcely a mouthful since that
first still wonderful supper. And you haven't slept a wink,
except like a tired-out child after its first party, on that old
garden chair. I sat and watched, and yes, almost hoped you'd
never wake in case--in case. Come along, see, down there. I can't
go home just yet. There's a little old inn--we'll go and sit down
there--as if we were really trying to be romantic! I know the
woman quite well; we can talk there--just the day out.'
They sat at a little table in the garden of 'The Cherry Trees,'
its thick green apple branches burdened with ripened fruit. And
Grisel tried to persuade him to eat and drink, 'for to-morrow we
die,' she said, her hands trembling, her face as it were veiled
with a faint mysterious light.
'There are dozens and dozens of old stories, you know,' she said,
leaning on her elbows, 'dozens and dozens, meaning only us. You
must, you must eat; look, just an apple. We've got to say
good-bye. And faintness will double the difficulty.' She lightly
touched his hand as if to compel him to smile with her. 'There,
I'll peel it; and this is Eden; and soon it will be the cool of
the evening. And then, oh yes, the voice will come. What nonsense
I am talking. Never mind.'
They sat on in the quiet sunshine, and a spider slid softly
through the air and with busy claws set to its nets; and those
small ghosts the robins went whistling restlessly among the heavy
A child presently came out of the porch of the inn into the
garden, and stood with its battered doll in its arms, softly
watching them awhile. But when Grisel smiled and tried to coax
her over, she burst out laughing and ran in again.
Lawford stooped forward on his chair with a groan. 'You see,' he
said, 'the whole world mocks me. You say "this evening"; need it
be, must it be this evening? If you only knew how far they have
driven me. If you only knew what we should only detest each other
for saying and for listening to. The whole thing's dulled and
staled. Who wants a changeling? Who wants a painted bird? Who
does not loathe the converted?--and I'm converted to Sabathier's
God. Should we be sitting here talking like this if it were not
so? I can't, I can't go back.'
She rose and stood with her hand pressed over her mouth, watching
'Won't you understand?' he continued. 'I am an outcast--a felon
caught red-handed, come in the flesh to a hideous and righteous
judgment. I hear myself saying all these things; and yet, Grisel,
I do, I do love you with all the dull best I ever had. Not now,
then; I don't ask new even. I can, I would begin again. God knows
my face has changed enough even as it is. Think of me as that
poor wandering ghost of yours; how easily I could hide away--in
your memory; and just wait, wait for you. In time even this wild
futile madness too would fade away. Then I could come back. May I
'I can't answer you. I can't reason. Only, still, I do know,
talk, put off, forget as I may, must is must. Right and wrong,
who knows what THEY mean, except that one's to be done and one's
to be forsworn; or--forgive, my friend, the truest thing I ever
said--or else we lose the savour of both. Oh, then, and I know,
too, you'd weary of me. I know you, Monsieur Nicholas, better
than you can ever know yourself, though you have risen from your
grave. You follow a dream, no voice or face or flesh and blood;
and not to do what the one old raven within you cries you must,
would be in time to hate the very sound of my footsteps. You
shall go back, poor turncoat, and face the clearness, the utterly
more difficult, bald, and heartless clearness, as together we
faced the dark. Life is a little while. And though I have no
words to tell what always are and must be foolish reasons because
they are not reasons at all but ghosts of memory, I know in my
heart that to face the worst is your only hope of peace. Should I
have staked so much on your finding that, and now throw up the
game? Don't let us talk any more. I'll walk half the way,
perhaps. Perhaps I will walk all the way. I think my brother
guesses--at least MY madness. I've talked and talked him nearly
past his patience. And then, when you are quite safely, oh yes,
quite safely and soundly gone, then I shall go away for a little,
so that we can't even hear each other speak, except in dreams.
Life!--well, I always thought it was much too plain a tale to
have as dull an ending. And with us the powers beyond have played
a newer trick, that's all. Another hour, and we will go. Till
then there's just the solitary walk home and only the dull old
haunted house that hoards as many ghosts as we ourselves to watch
Evening began to shine between the trees; they seemed to stand
aflame, with a melancholy rapture in their uplifted boughs above
their fading coats. The fields of the garnered harvest shone with
a golden stillness, awhir with shimmering flocks of starlings.
And the old birds that had sung in the spring sang now amid the
same leaves, grown older too to give them harbourage.
Herbert was sitting in his room when they returned, nursing his
teacup on his knee while he pretended to be reading, with elbow
propped on the table.
'Here's Nicholas Sabathier, my dear, come to say goodbye awhile,'
said Grisel. She stood for a moment in her white gown, her face
turned towards the clear green twilight of the open window. 'I
have promised to walk part of the way with him. But I think first
we must have some tea. No; he flatly refuses to be driven. We are
going to walk.'
The two friends were left alone, face to face with a rather
difficult silence, only the least degree of nervousness apparent,
so far as Herbert was concerned, in that odd aloof sustained air
of impersonality that had so baffled his companion in their first
queer talk together.
'Your sister said just now, Herbert,' blurted Lawford at last.
'"Here's Nicholas Sabathier come to say good-bye" well, I--what I
want you to understand is that it is Sabathier, the worst he ever
was; but also that it is "good-bye."'
Herbert slowly turned. 'I don't quite see why "goodbye," Lawford.
And--frankly, there is nothing to explain. We have chosen to live
such a very out-of-the-way life,' he went on, as if following up
a train of thought.... 'The truth is if one wants to live at
all--one's own life, I mean--there's no time for many friends.
And just steadfastly regarding your neighbour's tail as you
follow it down into the Nowhere--it's that that seems to me the
deadliest form of hypnotism. One must simply go one's own way,
doing one's best to free one's mind of cant--and I dare say
clearing some excellent stuff out with the rubbish. One
consequence is that I don't think, however foolhardy it may be to
say so, I don't think I care a groat for any opinion as human as
my own, good or bad. My sister's a million times a better woman
than I am a man. What possibly could there be, then, for me to
say?' He turned with a nervous smile. 'Why should it be good-bye?'
Lawford glanced involuntarily towards the door that stood in
shadow duskily ajar. 'Well,' he said, 'we have talked, and we
think it must be that, until, at least,' he smiled faintly, 'I
can come as quietly as your old ghost you told me of; and in that
case it may not be so very long to wait.'
Their eyes met fleetingly across the still, listening room. 'The
more I think of it,' Lawford pushed slowly on, 'the less I
understand the frantic purposelessness of all that has happened
to me. Until I went down, as you said, "a godsend of a little
Miss Muffet," and the inconceivable farce came off, I was fairly
happy, fairly contented to dance my little wooden dance and wait
till the showman should put me down into his box again. And now--
well, here I am. The whole thing has gone by and scarcely left a
trace of its visit. Here I am for all my friends to swear to; and
yet, Herbert, if you'll forgive me troubling you with this stuff
about myself, not a single belief, or thought, or desire remains
unchanged. You will remember all that, I hope. It's not, of
course, the ghost of an apology, only the mere facts.'
Herbert rose and paced slowly across to the window. 'The longer I
live, Lawford, the more I curse this futile gift of speech. Here
am I, wanting to tell you, to say out frankly what, if mind could
appeal direct to mind, would be merely as the wind passing
through the leaves of a tree with just one--one multitudinous
rustle, but which, if I tried to put into words--well, daybreak
would find us still groping on....' He turned; a peculiar wry
smile on his face. 'It's a dumb world: but there we are. And some
day you'll come again.'
'Well,' said Lawford, as if with an almost hopeless effort to
turn thought into such primitive speech, 'that's where we stand,
then.' He got up suddenly like a man awakened in the midst of
unforeseen danger, 'Where is your sister?' he cried, looking into
the shadow. And as if in actual answer to his entreaty, they
heard the clinking of the cups on the little, old, green lacquer
tray she was at that moment carrying into the room. She sat down
on the window seat and put the tray down beside her. 'It will be
before dark even now,' she said, glancing out at the faintly
They had trudged on together with almost as deep a sense of
physical exhaustion as peasants have who have been labouring in
the fields since daybreak. And a little beyond the village,
before the last, long road began that led in presently to the
housed and scrupulous suburb, she stopped with a sob beside an
old scarred milestone by the wayside. 'This--is as far as I can
go,' she said. She stooped, and laid her hand on the cold
moss-grown surface of the stone. 'Even now it's wet with dew.'
She rose again and looked strangely into his face. 'Yes, yes,
here it is,' she said, 'oh, and worse, worse than any fear. But
nothing now can trouble you again of that. We're both at least
'Grisel,' he said, 'forgive me, but I can't--I can't go on.'
'Don't think, don't think,' she said, taking his hands, and
lifting them to her bosom. 'It's only how the day goes; and it
has all, my one dear, happened scores and scores of times before
--mother and child and friend--and lovers that are all these too,
like us. We mustn't cry out. Perhaps it was all before even we
could speak--this sorrow came. Take all the hope and all the
future: and then may come our chance.'