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The Return by Walter de la Mare

Part 5 out of 5

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'What's life to me now. You said the desire would come back; that
I should shake myself free. I could if you would help me. I don't
know what you are or what your meaning is, only that I love you;
care for nothing, wish for nothing but to see you and think of
you. A flat, dull voice keeps saying that I have no right to be
telling you all this. You will know best. I know I am nothing. I
ask nothing. If we love one another, what is there else to say?'

'Nothing, nothing to say, except only good-bye. What could you
tell me that I have not told myself over and over again? Reason's
gone. Thinking's gone. Now I am only sure.' She smiled shadowily.
'What peace did HE find who couldn't, perhaps, like you, face
the last good-bye?'

They stood in utter solitude awhile in the evening gloom. The air
was as still and cold as some grey unfathomable untraversed sea.
Above them uncountable clouds drifted slowly across space.

'Why do they all keep whispering together?' he said in a low
voice, with cowering face. 'Oh if you knew, Grisel, how they have
hemmed me in; how they have come pressing in through the narrow
gate I left ajar. Only to mock and mislead. It's all dark and

He touched her hand, peering out of the shadows that seemed to
him to be gathering between their faces. He drew her closer and
touched her lips with his fingers. Her beauty seemed to his
distorted senses to fill earth and sky. This, then, was the
presence, the grave and lovely overshadowing dream whose
surrender made life a torment, and death the near fold of an
immortal, starry veil. She broke from him with a faint cry. And
he found himself running and running, just as he had run that
other night, with death instead of life for inspiration, towards
his earthly home.


He was utterly wearied, but he walked on for a long while with a
dogged unglancing pertinacity and without looking behind him.
Then he rested under the dew-sodden hedgeside and buried his face
in his hands. Once, indeed, he did turn and grind his way back
with hard uplifted face for many minutes, but at the meeting with
an old woman who in the late dusk passed him unheeded on the
road, he stopped again, and after standing awhile looking down
upon the dust, trying to gather up the tangled threads of his
thoughts, he once more set off homewards.

It was clear, starry, and quite dark when he reached the house.
The lamp at the roadside obscurely lit its breadth and height.
Lamp-light within, too, was showing yellow between the Venetian
blinds; a cold gas-jet gleamed out of the basement window. He
seemed bereft now of all desire or emotion, simply the passive
witness of things external in a calm which, though he scarcely
realised its cause, was an exquisite solace and relief. His
senses were intensely sharpened with sleeplessness. The faintest
sound belled clear and keen on his ear. The thinnest beam of
light besprinkled his eyes with curious brilliance.

As quietly as some nocturnal creature he ascended the steps to
the porch, and leaning between stone pilaster and wall, listened
intently for any rumour of those within.

He heard a clear, rather languid and delicate voice quietly speak
on until it broke into a little peal of laughter, followed, when
it fell silent by Sheila's--rapid, rich, and low. The first
speaker seemed to be standing. Probably, then, his evening
visitors had only just come in, or were preparing to depart. He
inserted his latchkey and gently pushed at the cumbersome door.
It was locked against him. With not the faintest thought of
resentment or surprise, he turned back, stooped over the
balustrade and looked down into the kitchen. Nothing there was
visible but a narrow strip of the white table, on which lay a
black cotton glove, and beyond, the glint of a copper pan. What
made all these mute and inanimate things so coldly hostile?

An extreme, almost nauseous distaste filled him at the thought of
knocking for admission, of confronting Ada, possibly even Sheila,
in the cold echoing gloom of the detestable porch; of meeting the
first wild, almost metallic, flash of recognition. He swept
softly down again, and paused at the open gate. Once before the
voices of the night had called him: they would not summon him
forever in vain. He raised his eyes again towards the window. Who
were these visitors met together to drum the alien out? He
narrowed his lids and smiled up at the vacuous unfriendly
house. Then wheeling, on a sudden impulse he groped his way down
the gravel path that led into the garden. As he had left it, the
long white window was ajar.

With extreme caution he pushed it noiselessly up, and climbed in,
and stood listening again in the black passage on the other side.
When he had fully recovered his breath, and the knocking of his
heart was stilled, he trod on softly, till turning the corner he
came in sight of the kitchen door. It was now narrowly open, just
enough, perhaps, to admit a cat; and as he softly approached,
looking steadily in, he could see Ada sitting at the empty table,
beneath the single whistling chandelier, in her black dress and
black straw hat. She was reading apparently; but her back was
turned to him and he could not distinguish her arm beyond the
elbow. Then almost in an instant he discovered, as, drawn up and
unstirring he gazed on, that she was not reading, but had
covertly and instantaneously raised her eyes from the print on
the table beneath, and was transfixedly listening too. He turned
his eyes away and waited. When again he peered in she had
apparently bent once more over her magazine, and he stole on.

One by one, with a thin remote exultation in his progress, he
mounted the kitchen stairs, and with each deliberate and groping
step the voices above him became more clearly audible. At last,
in the darkness of the hall, but faintly stirred by the gleam of
lamplight from the chink of the dining-room door, he stood on the
threshold of the drawing-room door and could hear with varying
distinctness what those friendly voices were so absorbedly
discussing. His ear seemed as exquisite as some contrivance of
science, registering passively the least sound, the faintest
syllable, and like it, in no sense meddling with the thought that
speech conveyed. He simply stood listening, fixed and motionless,
like some uncouth statue in the leafy hollow of a garden, stony,

'Oh, but you either refuse to believe, Bettie, or you won't
understand that it's far worse than that.' Sheila seemed to be
upbraiding, or at least reasoning with, the last speaker. 'Ask Mr
Danton--he actually SAW him.'

'"Saw him,"' repeated a thick, still voice. 'He stood there, in
that very doorway, Mrs Lovat, and positively railed at me. He
stood there and streamed out all the names he could lay his
tongue to. I wasn't--unfriendly to the poor beggar. When Bethany
let me into it I thought it was simply--I did indeed, Mrs
Lawford--a monstrous exaggeration. Flatly, I didn't believe it;
shall I say that? But when I stood face to face with him, I could
have taken my oath that that was no more poor old Arthur Lawford
than--well, I won't repeat what particular word occurred to me.
But there,' the corpulent shrug was almost audible, 'we all know
what old Bethany is. A sterling old chap, mind you, so far as
mere character is concerned; the right man in the right place;
but as gullible and as soft-hearted as a tom-tit. I've said all
this before, I know, Mrs Lawford, and been properly snubbed for
my pains. But if I had been Bethany I'd have sifted the whole
story at the beginning, the moment he put his foot into the
house. Look at that Tichborne fellow--went for months and months,
just picking up one day what he floored old Hawkins--wasn't it?--
with the next. But of course,' he added gloomily, 'now that's all
too late. He's moaned himself into a tolerably tight corner. I'd
just like to see, though, a British jury comparing this claimant
with his photograph, 'pon my word I would. Where would he be
then, do you think?'

'But my dear Mr Danton,' went on the clear, languid voice Lawford
had heard break so light-heartedly into laughter, 'you don't mean
to tell me that a woman doesn't know her own husband when she
sees him--or, for the matter of that, when she doesn't see him?
If Tom came home from a ramble as handsome as Apollo to-morrow,
I'd recognise him at the very first blush--literally! He'd go
nuzzling off to get his slippers, or complain that the lamps had
been smoking, or hunt the house down for last week's paper. Oh,
besides, Tom's Tom--and there's an end of it.'

'That's precisely what I think, Mrs Lovat; one is saturated with
one's personality, as it were.'

'You see, that's just it! That's just exactly every woman's
husband all over; he is saturated with his personality. Bravo, Mr

'Good Lord,' said Danton softly. 'I don't deny it!'

'But that,' broke in Sheila crisply--'that's just precisely what
I asked you all to come in for. It's because I know now, apart
altogether from the mere evidence, that--that he is Arthur. Mind,
I don't say I ever really doubted. I was only so utterly shocked,
I suppose. I positively put posers to him; but his memory was
perfect in spite of the shock which would have killed a--a more
sensitive nature.' She had risen, it seemed, and was moving with
all her splendid impressiveness of silk and presence across the
general line of vision. But the hall was dark and still; her eyes
were dimmed with light. Lawford could survey her there unmoved.

'Are you there, Ada?' she called discreetly.

'Yes, ma'am,' answered the faint voice from below.

'You have not heard anything--no knock?'

'No, ma'am, no knock.'

'The door is open if you should call.'

'Yes, ma'am.'

'The girl's scared out of her wits,' said Sheila returning to her
audience. 'I've told you all that miserable Ferguson story--a
piece of calm, callous presence of mind I should never have
dreamed my husband capable of. And the curious thing is--at
least, it is no longer curious in the light of the ghastly facts
I am only waiting for Mr Bethany to tell you--from the very first
she instinctively detested the very mention of his name.'

'I believe, you know,' said Mr Craik with some decision, 'that
servants must have the same wonderful instinct as dogs and
children; they are natural, intuitive judges of character.'

'Yes,' said Sheila gravely, 'and it's only through that that I
got to hear of the--the mysterious friend in the little
pony-carriage. Ada's magnificently loyal--I will say that.'

'I don't want to suggest anything, Mrs Lawford,' began Mr Craik
rather hurriedly, 'but wouldn't it perhaps be wiser not to wait
for Mr Bethany? It is not at all unusual for him to be kept a
considerable time in the vestry after service, and to-day is the
Feast of St Michael's and all Angels, you know. Mightn't your
husband be--er--coming back, don't you think?'

'Craik's right, Mrs Lawford; it's not a bit of good waiting.
Bethany would stick there till midnight if any old woman's
spiritual state could keep her going so long. Here we all are,
and at any moment we may be interrupted. Mind you, I promise
nothing--only that there shall be no scene. But here I am, and if
he does come knocking and ringing and lunging out in the
disgusting manner he--well, all I ask is permission to speak for
YOU. 'Pon my soul, to think what you must have gone through! It
isn't the place for ladies just now--honestly it ain't.'

'Besides, supposing the romantic lady of the pony-carriage has
friends? Are YOU a pugilist, Mr Craik?'

'I hope I could give some little account of myself, Mrs Lovat;
but you need have no anxiety about that.'

'There, Mr Danton. So as there is not the least cause for anxiety
even if poor Arthur SHOULD return to his earthly home, may we
share your dreadful story at once, Sheila; and then, perhaps,
hear Mr Bethany's exposition of it when he DOES arrive? We are
amply guarded.'

'Honestly, you know, you are a bit of a sceptic, Mrs Lovat,'
pleaded Danton playfully. 'I've SEEN him.'

'And seeing is disbelieving, I suppose. Now then, Sheila.'

'I don't think there's the least chance of Arthur returning
to-night,' said Sheila solemnly. 'I am perfectly well aware it's
best to be as cheerful as one can--and as resolved; but I think,
Bettie, when even you know the whole horrible secret, you won't
think Mr Danton was--was horrified for nothing. The ghastly, the
awful truth is that my husband--there is no other word for it--

'"Possessed," Sheila! What in the name of all the creeps is

'Well, I dare say Mr Craik will explain it much better than I
can. By a devil, dear.' The voice was perfectly poised and
restrained, and Mr Craik did not see fit for the moment to
embellish the definition.

Lawford, with an almost wooden immobility, listened on.

'But THE devil, or A devil? Isn't there a distinction?' inquired
Mrs Lovat.

'It's in the Bible, Bettie, over and over again. It was quite a
common thing in the Middle Ages; I think I'm right in saying
that, am I not, Mr Craik?' Mr Craik must have solemnly nodded or
abundantly looked his unwilling affirmation. 'And what HAS been,'
continued Sheila temperately, 'I suppose may be again.'

'When the fellow began raving at me the other night,' began
Danton huskily, as if out of an unfathomable pit of reflection,
'among other things he said that I haven't any wish to remember
was that I was a sceptic. And Bethany said DITTO to it. I don't
mind being called a sceptic: why, I said myself Mrs Lovat was a
sceptic just now! But when it comes to "devils," Mrs Lawford--I
may be convinced about the other, but "devils"! Well, I've been
in the City nearly twenty-five years, and it's my impression
human nature can raise all the devils WE shall ever need. And
another thing,' he added, as if inspired, and with an immensely
intelligent blink, 'is it just precisely that word in the Revised
Version--eh, Craik?'

'I'll certainly look it up, Danton. But I take it that Mrs
Lawford is not so much insisting on the word, as on the--the
manifestation. And I'm bound to confess that the Society for
Psychical Research, which has among its members quite eminent and
entirely trustworthy men of science--I am bound to admit they
have some very curious stories to tell. The old idea was, you
know, that there are seventy-two princely devils, and as many as
seven million--er--commoners. It may very well sound quaint to
our ears, Mrs Lovat; but there it is. But whether that has any
bearing on--on what you were saying, Danton, I can't say. Perhaps
Mrs Lawford will throw a little more light on the subject when
she tells us on what precise facts her--her distressing theory is

Lawford had soundlessly stolen a pace or two nearer, and by
stooping forward a little he could, each in turn, scrutinise the
little intent company sitting over his story around the lamp at
the further end of the table; squatting like little children with
their twigs and pins, fishing for wonders on the brink of the

'Yes,' Mrs Lovat was saying, 'I quite agree, Mr Craik.
Seventy-two princes, and no princesses. Oh, these masculine
prejudices! But do throw a little more modern light on the
subject, Sheila.'

'I mean this,' said Sheila firmly. 'When I went in for the last
time to say good-bye--and of course it was at his own wish that I
did leave him; and precisely WHY he wished it is now unhappily
only too apparent--I had brought him some money from the bank--
fifty pounds, I think; yes, fifty pounds. And quite by the merest
chance I glanced down, in passing, at a book he had apparently
been reading, a book which he seemed very anxious to conceal with
his hand. Arthur is not a great reader, though I believe he
studied a little before we were married, and--well, I detest
anything like subterfuge, and I said it out without thinking,
"Why, you're reading French, Arthur!" He turned deathly white but
made no answer.'

'And can't you even confide to us the title, Sheila?' sighed Mrs
Lovat reproachfully.

'Wait a minute,' said Sheila; 'you shall make as much fun of the
thing as you like, Bettie, when I've finished. I don't know why,
but that peculiar, stealthy look haunted me. "Why French?" I kept
asking myself. "Why French?" Arthur hasn't opened a French book
for years. He doesn't even approve of the entente. His argument
was that we ought to be friends with the Germans because they are
more hostile. Never mind. When Ada came back the next evening and
said he was out, I came the following morning--by myself--and
knocked. No one answered, and I let myself in. His bed had not
been slept in. There were candles and matches all over the house
--one even burnt nearly to the stick on the floor in the corner
of the drawing-room. I suppose it was foolish, but I was alone,
and just that, somehow, horrified me. It seemed to point to such
a peculiar state of mind. I hesitated; what was the use of looking
further? Yet something seemed to say to me--and it was surely
providential--"Go downstairs!" And there in the breakfast-room
the first thing I saw on the table was this book--a dingy, ragged,
bleared, patched-up, oh, a horrible, a loathsome little book
(and I have read bits too here and there); and beside it was my
own little school dictionary, my own child's 'She looked up
sharply. 'What was that? Did anybody call?'

'Nobody I heard,' said Danton, staring stonily round.

'It may have been the passing of the wind,' suggested Mr Craik,
after a pause.

'Peep between the blinds, Mr Craik; it may be poor Mr Bethany
confronting Pneumonia in the porch.'

'There's no one there, Mrs Lovat,' said the curate, returning
softly from his errand. 'Please continue your--your narrative,
Mrs Lawford.'

'We are panting for the "devil," my dear.'

'Well, I sat down and, very much against my inclination, turned
over the pages. It was full of the most revolting confessions and
trials, so far as I could see. In fact, I think the book was
merely an amateur collection of--of horrors. And the faces, the
portraits! Well, then, can you imagine my feelings when towards
the end of the book about thirty pages from the end, I came upon
this--gloating up at me from the table in my house before my
very eyes?'

She cast a rapid glance over her shoulder, and gathering up her
silk skirt, drew out, from the pocket beneath, the few crumpled
pages, and passed them without a word to Danton. Lawford kept him
plainly in view, as, lowering his great face, he slowly stooped,
and holding the loose leaves with both fat hands between his
knees, stared into the portrait. Then he truculently lifted his
cropped head.

'What did I say?' he said. 'What did I SAY? What did I tell old
Bethany in this very room? What d'ye think of that, Mrs Lovat,
for a portrait of Arthur Lawford? What d'ye make of that, Craik--
eh? Devil--eh?'

Mrs Lovat glanced with arched eyebrows, and with her finger-tips
handed the sheets on to her neighbour, who gazed with a settled
and mournful frown and returned them to Sheila.

She took the pages, folded them and replaced them carefully in
her pocket. She swept her hands over her skirts, and turned to

'You agree,' she inquired softly, 'it's like?'

'Like! It's the livin' livid image. The livin' image,' he
repeated, stretching out his arm, 'as he stood there that very

'What will you say, then,' said Sheila, quietly, 'What will you
say if I tell you that that man, Nicholas de Sabathier, has been
in his grave for over a hundred years?'

Danton's little eyes seemed, if anything, to draw back even
further into his head. 'I'd say, Mrs Lawford, if you'll excuse
the word, that it might be a damn horrible coincidence--I'd go
farther, an almost incredible coincidence. But if you want the
sober truth, I'd say it was nothing more than a crafty, clever,
abominable piece of trickery. That's what I'd say. Oh, you don't
know, Mrs Lovat. When a scamp's a scamp, he'll stop at nothing. I
could tell you some tales.'

'Ah, but that's not all,' said Sheila, eyeing them steadfastly
one by one. 'We all of us know that my husband's story was that
he had gone down to Widderstone--into the churchyard, for his
convalescent ramble; that story's true. We all know that he said
he had had a fit, a heart attack, and that a kind of--of stupor
had come over him. I believe on my honour that's true too. But no
one knows but he himself and Mr Bethany and I, that it was a
wretched broken grave, quite at the bottom of the hill, that he
chose for his resting place, nor--and I can't get the scene out
of my head--nor that the name on that one solitary tombstone down
there was--was...this!'

Danton rolled his eyes. 'I don't begin to follow,' he said

'You don't mean,' said Mr Craik, who had not removed his gaze
from Sheila's face, 'I am not to take it that you mean, Mrs
Lawford, the--the other?'

'Yes,' said Sheila, 'HIS'--she patted her skirts--'Sabathier's.'

'You mean,' said Mrs Lovat crisply, 'that the man in the grave is
the man in the book, and that the man in the book is--is poor
Arthur's changed face?'

Sheila nodded.

Danton rose cumbrously from his chair, looking beadily down on
his three friends.

'Oh, but you know, it isn't--it isn't right,' he began. 'Lord! I
can see him now. Glassy--yes, that's the very word I said--
glassy. It won't do, Mrs Lawford; on my solemn honour, it won't
do. I don't deny it, call it what you like; yes, devils, if you
like. But what I say as a practical man is that it's just rank--
that's what it is! Bethany's had too much rope. The time's gone
by for sentiment and all that foolery. Mercy's all very well, but
after all it's justice that clinches the bargain. There's only
one way: we must catch him; we must lay the poor wretch by the
heels before it's too late. No publicity, God bless me, no. We'd
have all the rags in London on us. They'd pillory us nine days on
end. We'd never live it down. No, we must just hush it up--a home
or something; an asylum. For my part,' he turned like a huge
toad, his chin low in his collar--'and I'd say the same if it was
my own brother, and, after all, he is your husband, Mrs Lawford--
I'd sooner he was in his grave. It takes two to play at that
game, that's what I say. To lay himself open! I can't stand it--
honestly, I can't stand it. And yet,' he jerked his chin over the
peak of his collar towards the ladies, 'and yet you say he's
being fetched; comes creeping home, and is fetched at dark by a--
a lady in a pony-carriage. God bless me! It's rank. What,' he
broke out violently again, 'what was he doing there in a cemetery
after dark? Do you think that beastly Frenchman would have played
such a trick on Craik here? Would he have tried his little game
on me? Deviltry be it, if you prefer the word, and all deference
to you, Mrs Lawford. But I know this--a couple of hundred years
ago they would have burnt a man at the stake for less than a
tenth of this. Ask Craik here. I don't know how, and I don't know
when: his mother, I've always heard say, was a little eccentric;
but the truth is he's managed by some unholy legerdemain to get
the thing at his finger's ends; that's what it is. Think of that
unspeakable book. Left open on the table! Look at his Ferguson
game. It's our solemn duty to keep him for good and all out of
mischief. It reflects all round. There's no getting out of it;
we're all in it. And tar sticks. And then there's poor little
Alice to consider, and--and you yourself, Mrs. Lawford: I wouldn't
give the fellow--friend though he was, in a way--it isn't safe to
give him five minutes' freedom. We've simply got to save you from
yourself, Mrs Lawford; that's what it is--and from old-fashioned
sentiment. And I only wish Bethany was here now to dispute it!'

He stirred himself down, as it were, into his clothes, and stood
in the middle of the hearthrug, gently oscillating, with his
hands behind his back. But at some faint rumour out of the silent
house his posture suddenly stiffened, and he lifted a little,
with heavy, steady lids, his head.

'What is the matter, Danton?' said Mr Craik in a small voice;
'why are you listening?'

'I wasn't listening,' said Danton stoutly, 'I was thinking.'

At the same moment, at the creak of a footstep on the kitchen
stairs, Lawford also had drawn soundlessly back into the darkness
of the empty drawing-room.

'While Mr Danton is "thinking," Sheila,' Mrs Lovat was softly
interposing, 'do please listen a moment to me. Do you mean really
that that Frenchman--the one you've pocketed--is the poor
creature in the grave?'

'Yes, Mrs Lawford,' said Mr Craik, putting out his face a little,
'are we to take it that you mean that?'

'It's the same date, dear, the same name even to the spelling;
what possibly else can I think?'

'And that the poor creature in the grave actually climbed up out
of the darkness and--well, what?'

'I know no more than you do NOW, Bettie. But the two faces--you
must remember you haven't seen my husband SINCE.' You must
remember you haven't heard the peculiar--the most peculiar things
he--Arthur himself--has said to me. Things such as a wife... And
not in jest, Bettie; I assure you....'

'And Mr Bethany?' interpolated Mr Craik modestly, feeling his

'Pah, Bethany, Craik! He'd back Old Nick himself if he came with
a good tale. We've got to act; we've got to settle his hash
before he does any mischief.'

'Well,' began Mrs Lovat, smiling a little remorsefully beneath
the arch of her raised eyebrows, 'I sincerely hope you'll all
forgive me; but I really am, heart and soul, with Old Nick, as Mr
Danton seems on intimate terms enough to call him. Dead, he is
really immensely alluring; and alive, I think, awfully--just
awfully pitiful and--and pathetic. But if I know anything of
Arthur he won't be beaten by a Frenchman. As for just the
portrait, I think, do you know, I almost prefer dark men'--she
glanced up at the face immediately in front of the clock--'at
least,' she added softly, 'when they are not looking very
vindictive. I suppose people are fairly often possessed, Mr
Craik? HOW many "deadly sins" are there?'

'As a matter of fact, Mrs Lovat, there are seven. But I think in
this case Mrs Lawford intends to suggest not so much that--that
her husband is in that condition; habitual sin, you know--grave
enough, of course, I own--but that he is actually being
compelled, even to the extent of a more or less complete change
of physiognomy, to follow the biddings of some atrocious
spiritual influence. It is no breach of confidence to say that I
have myself been present at a death-bed where the struggle
against what I may call the end was perfectly awful to witness. I
don't profess to follow all the ramifications of the affair, but
though possibly Mr Danton may seem a little harsh, such
harshness, if I may venture to intercede, is not necessarily
"vindictive." And--and personal security is a consideration.'

'If you only knew the awful fear, the awful uncertainty I have
been in, Bettie! Oh, it is worse, infinitely worse, than you can
possibly imagine. I have myself heard the Voice speak out of
him--a high, hard, nasal voice. I've seen what Mr Danton calls
the "glassiness" come into his face, and an expression so wild
and so appallingly depraved, as it were, that I have had to hurry
downstairs to hide myself from the thought. I'm willing to
sacrifice everything for my own husband and for Alice; but can it
be expected of me to go on harbouring....' Lawford listened on in
vain for a moment; poor Sheila, it seemed, had all but broken

'Look here, Mrs Lawford,' began Danton huskily, 'you really
mustn't give way; you really mustn't. It's awful, unspeakably
awful, I admit. But here we are; friends, in the midst of
friends. And there's absolutely nothing-- What's that? Eh? Who is
it?... Oh, the maid!'

Ada stood in the doorway looking in. 'All I've come to ask,
ma'am,' she said in a low voice, 'is, am I to stay downstairs any
longer? And are you aware there's somebody in the house?'

'What's that? What's that you're saying?' broke out the husky
voice again. 'Control yourself! Speak gently! What's that?'

'Begging your pardon, sir, I'm perfectly under control. And all I
say is that I can't stay any longer alone downstairs there.
There's somebody in the house.'

A concentrated hush seemed to have fallen on the little assembly.

'"Somebody"--but who?' said Sheila out of the silence. 'You come
up here, Ada, with these idle fancies. Who's in the house? There
has been no knock--no footstep.'

'No knock, no footstep, ma'am, that I've heard. It's Dr Ferguson,
ma'am. He was here that first night; and he's been here ever
since. He was here when I came on Tuesday; and he was here last
night. And he's here now. I can't be deceived by my own feelings.
It's not right, it's not out-spoken to keep me in the dark like
this. And if you have no objection, I would like to go home.'

Lawford in his utter weariness had nearly closed the door and now
sat bent up on a chair, wondering vaguely when this poor play was
coming to an end, longing with an intensity almost beyond
endurance for the keen night air, the open sky. But still his
ears drank in every tiniest sound or stir. He heard Danton's
lowered voice muttering his arguments. He heard Ada quietly
sniffing in the darkness of the hall. And this was his world!
This was his life's panorama, creaking on at every jolt. This was
the 'must' Grisel had sent him back to--these poor fools packed
together in a panic at an old stale tale! Well, they
would all come out presently, and cluster; and the crested,
cackling fellow would lead them safely away out of the haunted

He started out of his reverie at Danton's voice close at hand.

'Look here, my good girl, we haven't the least intention of
keeping you in the dark. If you want to leave your mistress like
this in the midst of her anxieties she says you can go and
welcome. But it's not a bit of good in the world coming
up with these cock-and-bull stories. The truth is your master's
mad, that's the sober truth of it--hopelessly insane, you
understand; and we've got to find him. But nothing's to be said,
d'ye see? It's got to be done without fuss or scandal. But if
there's any witness wanted, or anything of that kind, why, here
you are; and,' he dropped his voice to an almost inaudible hoot,
'and well worth your while! You did see him, eh? Step into the
trap, and all that?'

Ada stood silent a moment. 'I don't know, sir,' she began
quietly, 'by what right you speak to me about what you call my
cock-and-bull stories. If the master is mad, all I can say to
anybody is I'm very sorry to hear it. I came to my mistress, sir,
if you please; and I prefer to take my orders from one who has
a right to give them. Did I understand you to say, ma'am, that
you wouldn't want me any more this evening?'

Sheila had swept solemnly to the door. 'Mr Danton meant all that
he said quite kindly, Ada. I can perfectly understand your
feelings--perfectly. And I'm very much obliged to you for all
your kindness to me in very trying circumstances. We are all
agreed--we are forced to the terrible conclusion which--which Mr
Danton has just--expressed. And I know I can rely on your
discretion. Don't stay on a moment if you really are afraid. But
when you say "some one" Ada, do you mean--some one like you or
me; or do you mean--the other?'

'I've been sitting in the kitchen, ma'am, unable to move. I'm
watched everywhere. The other evening I went into the
drawing-room--I was alone in the house--and... I can't describe
it. It wasn't dark; and yet it was all still and black, like the
ruins after a fire. I don't mean I saw it, only that it was like
a scene. And then the watching--I am quite aware to some it may
sound all fancy. But I'm not superstitious, never was. I only
mean--that I can't sit alone here. I daren't. Else, I'm quite
myself. So if so be you don't want me any more; if I can't be of
any further use to you or to--to Mr. Lawford, I'd prefer to go

'Very well, Ada; thank you. You can go out this way.'

The door was unchained and unbolted, and 'Good-night' said. And
Sheila swept back in sombre pomp to her absorbed friends.

'She's quite a good creature at heart,' she explained frankly, as
if to disclaim any finesse, 'and almost quixotically loyal. But
what really did she mean, do you think? She is so obstinate. That
maddening "some one"! How they do repeat themselves. It can't be
my husband; not Dr Ferguson, I mean. You don't suppose--oh
surely, not "some one" else!' Again the dark silence of the house
seemed to drift in on the little company.

Mr Craik cleared his throat. 'I failed to catch quite all that
the maid said,' he murmured apologetically; 'but I certainly did
gather it was to some kind of--of emanation she was referring.
And the "ruin," you know. I'm not a mystic; and yet do you know,
that somehow seemed to me almost offensively suggestive of--of
demonic influence. You don't suppose, Mrs Lawford--and of course
I wouldn't for a moment venture on such a conjecture unsupported-
but even if this restless spirit (let us call it) did succeed in
making a footing, it might possibly be rather in the nature of a
lodging than a permanent residence. Moreover we are, I think,
bound to remember that probably in all spheres of existence like
attracts like; even the Gadarene episode seems to suggest a
possible MULTIPICATION!' he peered largely. 'You don't suppose,
Mrs Lawford...?'

'I think Mr Craik doesn't quite relish having to break the news,
Sheila dear,' explained Mrs Lovat soothingly, 'that perhaps
Sabathier's out. Which really is quite a heavenly suggestion, for
in that case your husband would be in, wouldn't he? Just our old
stolid Arthur again, you know. And next Mr Craik is suggesting,
and it certainly does seem rather fascinating, that poor Ada's
got mixed up with the Frenchman's friends, or perhaps, even, with
one of the seventy-two Princes Royal. I know women can't, or
mustn't reason, Mr Danton, but you do, I hope, just catch the

Danton started. 'I wasn't really listening to the girl,' be
explained nonchalantly, shrugging his black shoulders and pursing
up his eyes. 'Personally, Mrs Lovat, I'd pack the baggage off
to-night, box and all. But it's not my business.'

'You mustn't be depressed--must he, Mr Craik? After all, my dear
man, the business, as you call it, is not exactly entailed. But
really, Sheila, I think it must be getting very late. Mr Bethany
won't come now. And the dear old thing ought certainly to have
his say before we go any further; OUGHTN'T he, Mr Danton? So
what's the use of worriting poor Ada's ghost any longer. And as
for poor Arthur--I haven't the faintest desire in the world to
hear the little cart drive up, simply in case it should be to
leave your unfortunate husband behind it, Sheila. What it must be
to be alone all night in this house with a dead and buried
Frenchman's face--well, I shudder, dear!'

'And yet, Mrs Lovat,' said Mr Craik, with some little show of
returning bravado, 'as we make our bed, you know.'

'But in this case, you see,' she replied reflectively, 'if all
accounts are true, Mr Craik, it's manifestly the wicked Frenchman
who has made the bed, and Sheila who refu-- But look; Mr Danton
is fretting to get home.'

'If you'll all go to the door,' said Danton, seizing a fleeting
opportunity to raise his eyebrows more expressively even than if
he had again shrugged his shoulders at Sheila, 'I'll put out the

The night air flowed into the dark house as Danton hastily groped
his way out of the dining-room.

'There's only one thing,' said Sheila slowly. 'When I last saw my
husband, you know, he was, I think, the least bit better. He was
always stubbornly convinced it would all come right in time.
That's why, I think, he's been spending his--his evenings away
from home. But supposing it did?'

'For my part,' said Mrs Lovat, breathing the faint wind that was
rising out of the west, 'I'd sigh; I'd rub my eyes; I'd thank God
for such an exciting dream; and I'd turn comfortably over and go
to sleep again. I'm all for Arthur--absolutely--back against the

'For my part,' said Danton, looming in the dusk, 'friend or no
friend, I'd cut the--I'd cut him dead. But don't fret, Mrs
Lawford, devil or no devil, he's gone for good.'

'And for my part--' began Mr Craik; but the door at that moment

Voices, however, broke out almost immediately in the porch. And
after a hurried consultation, Lawford in his stagnant retreat
heard the door softly reopen, and the striking of a match. And Mr
Craik, followed closely by Danton's great body, stole
circumspectly across his dim chink, and the first adventurer went
stumbling down the kitchen staircase.

'I suppose,' muttered Lawford, turning his head in the darkness,
'they have come back to put out the kitchen gas.'

Danton began a busy tuneless whistle between his teeth.

'Coming, Craik?' he called thickly, after a long pause.

Apparently no answer had been returned to his inquiry: he waited
a little longer, with legs apart, and eyeballs enveloped in
brooding darkness. 'I'll just go and tell the ladies you're
coming,' he suddenly bawled down the hollow. 'Do you hear,
Craik? They're alone, you know.' And with that he resolutely
wheeled and rapidly made his way down the steps into the garden.
Some few moments afterwards Mr Craik shook himself free of the
basement, hastened at a spirited trot to rejoin his companions,
and in his absence of mind omitted to shut the front door.


Lawford sat on in the darkness, and now one sentence and now
another of their talk would repeat itself in his memory, in much
the same way as one listlessly turns over an antiquated diary, to
read here and there a flattened and almost meaningless sentiment.
Sometimes a footstep passed echoing along the path under the
trees, then his thoughts would leave him, and he would listen and
listen till it had died quite out. It was all so very far away.
And they too--these talkers--so very far away; as remote and yet
as clear as the characters in a play when they have made their
final bow, and have left the curtained stage, and one is standing
uncompanioned and nearly the last of the spectators, and the
lights that have summoned back reality again are being
extinguished. It was only by painful effort of mind that he kept
recalling himself to himself--why he was here; what it all meant;
that this was indeed actuality.

Yet, after all, this by now was his customary loneliness: there
was little else he desired for the present than the hospitality
of the dark. He glanced around him in the clear, black, stirless
air. Here and there, it seemed, a humped or spindled form held
against all comers its passive place. Here and there a tiny
faintness of light played. Night after night these chairs and
tables kept their blank vigil. Why, he thought, pleased as an
overtired child with the fancy, in a sense they were always
alone, shut up in a kind of senselessness--just like us
all. But what--what, he had suddenly risen from his chair to ask
himself--what on earth are they alone with? No precise answer had
been forthcoming to that question. But as in turning in the
doorway, he looked out into the night, flashing here and there in
dark spaces of the sky above the withering apple leaves--the long
dark wall and quiet untrodden road--with the tumultuous beating
of the stars--one thing at least he was conscious of having
learned in these last few days: he knew what kind of a place he
was alone IN.

It seemed to weave a spell over him, to call up a nostalgia he
had lost all remembrance of since childhood. And that queer
homesickness, at any rate, was all Sabathier's doing, he thought,
smiling in his rather careworn fashion. Sabathier! It was this
mystery, bereft now of all fear, and this beauty together, that
made life the endless, changing and yet changeless, thing it was.
And yet mystery and loveliness alike were only really appreciable
with one's legs, as it were, dangling down over into the grave.

Just with one's lantern lit, on the edge of the whispering
unknown, and a reiterated going back out of the solitude into the
light and warmth, to the voices and glancing of eyes, to say
good-bye:--that after all was this life on earth for those who
watched as well as acted. What if one's earthly home were
empty?--still the restless fretted traveller must tarry; 'for the
horrible worst of it is, my friend,' he said, as if to some
silent companion listening behind him, 'the worst of it is, YOUR
way was just simply, solely suicide.' What was it Herbert
had called it? Yes, a cul-de-sac--black, lofty, immensely still
and old and picturesque, but none the less merely a contemptible
cul-de-sac; no abiding place, scarcely even sufficing with its
flagstones for a groan from the fugitive and deluded refugee.
There was no peace for the wicked. The question of course
then came in--Was there any peace anywhere, for anybody?

He smiled at a sudden odd remembrance of a quiet, sardonic old
aunt whom he used to stay with as a child. 'Children should be
seen and not heard,' she would say, peering at him over his
favourite pudding.

His eyes rested vacantly on the darkling street. He fell again
into reverie, gigantically brooded over by shapes only
imagination dimly conceived of: the remote alleys of his mind
astir with a shadowy and ceaseless traffic which it wasn't at
least THIS life's business to hearken after, or regard. And as he
stood there in a mysteriously thronging peaceful solitude such as
he had never known before, faintly out of the silence broke the
sound of approaching hoofs. His heart seemed to gather itself
close; a momentary blindness veiled his eyes, so wildly had his
blood surged up into cheek and brain. He remained, caught up,
with head slightly inclined, listening, as, with an interminable
tardiness, measureless anguished hope died down into nothing in
his mind.

Cold and heavy, his heart began to beat again, as if to catch up
those laggard moments. He turned with an infinite revulsion of
feeling to look out on the lamps of the old fly that had drawn up
at his gate.

He watched incuriously a little old lady rather arduously alight,
pause, and look up at his darkened windows, and after a momentary
hesitation, and a word over her shoulder to the cabman, stoop and
fumble at the iron latch. He watched her with a kind of wondering
aversion, still scarcely tinged with curiosity. She had succeeded
in lifting the latch and in pushing her way through, and was even
now steadily advancing towards him along the tiled path. And a
minute after he recognised with the strangest reactions the quiet
old figure that had shared a sunset with him ages and ages ago--
his mother's old schoolfellow, Miss Sinnet.

He was already ransacking the still faintly-perfumed dining-room
for matches, and had just succeeded in relighting the still-warm
lamp, when he heard her quiet step in the porch, even felt her
peering in, in the gloom, with all her years' trickling
customariness behind her, a little dubious of knocking on a
wide-open door.

But the lamp lit Lawford went out again and welcomed his visitor.
'I am alone,' he was explaining gravely, 'my wife's away and the
whole house topsy-turvy. How very, very kind of you!'

The old lady was breathing a little heavily after her ascent of
the steep steps, and seemed not to have noticed his outstretched
hand. None the less she followed him in, and when she was well
advanced into the lighted room, she sighed deeply, raised her
veil over the front of her bonnet, and leisurely took out her

'I suppose,' she was explaining in a little quiet voice, 'you ARE
Mr Arthur Lawford, but as I did not catch sight of a light in any
of the windows I began to fear that the cabman might have set me
down at the wrong house.'

She raised her head, and first through, and then over her
spectacles she deliberately and steadfastly regarded him.

'Yes,' she said to herself, and turned, not as it seemed entirely
with satisfaction, to look for a chair. He wheeled the most
comfortable up to the table.

'I have been visiting my old friend Miss Tucker--Rev W. Tucker's
daughter--she, I knew, could give me your address; and sure
enough she did. Your road, d'ye see, was on my way home. And I
determined, in spite of the hour, just to inquire. You must
understand, Mr Lawford, there was something that I rather
particularly wanted to say to you. But there!--you're looking
sadly, sadly ill; and,' she glanced round a little inquisitively,
'I think my story had better wait for a more convenient

'Not at all, Miss Sinnet; please not,' Lawford assured her,
'really. I have been ill, but I'm now practically quite myself
again. My wife and daughter have gone away for a few days; and I
follow to-morrow, so if you'll forgive such a very poor welcome,
it may be my--my only chance. Do please let me hear.'

The old lady leant back in her chair, placed her hands on its
arms and softly panted, while out of the rather broad serenity of
her face she sat blinking up at her companion as if after a long
talk, instead of at the beginning of one. 'No,' she repeated
reflectively, 'I don't like your looks at all; yet here we
are, enjoying beautiful autumn weather, Mr Lawford, why not make
use of it?'

'Oh yes,' said Lawford, 'I do. I have been making tremendous use
of it.'

Her eyelid flickered at his candid glance. 'And does your
business permit of much walking?'

'Well, I've been malingering these last few days idling at home;
but I am usually more or less my own man, Miss Sinnet. I walk a

'H'm, but not much in my direction, Mr Lawford?' she quizzed him,

'All horrible indolence, Miss Sinnet. But I often--often think of
you; and especially just lately.'

'Well, now,' she wriggled round her head to get a better view of
him rather stiffly seated on his chair, 'that's very peculiar;
because I too have been thinking lately a great deal of you. And
yet--I fancy I shall succeed in mystifying you presently--not
precisely of you, but of somebody else!'

'You do mystify me--"somebody else"!' he replied gallantly. 'And
that is the story, I suppose?'

'That's the story,' repeated Miss Sinnet with some little
triumph. 'Now, let me see; it was on Saturday last--yes, Saturday
evening; a wonderful sunset; Bewley Heath.'

'Oh yes; my daughter's favourite walk.'

'And your daughter's age now?'

'She's nearly sixteen; Alice, you know.'

'Ah, yes, Alice; to be sure. It is a beautiful walk, and if fine,
I generally take mine there too. It's near; there's shade; it's
very little frequented; and I can wander and muse undisturbed.
And that I think is pretty well all that an old woman like me is
fit for, Mr Lawford. "Nearly sixteen!" Is it possible?
Dear, dear me? But let me get on. On my way home from the Heath,
you may be aware, before one reaches the road again, there's a
somewhat steep ascent. I haven't the strength I had, and whether
I'm fatigued or not, I have always made it a rule to rest awhile
on a most convenient little seat at the summit, admire
the view--what I can see of it--and then make my way quietly,
quietly home. On Saturday, however, and it most rarely occurs--
once, I remember, when a very civil nursemaid was sitting with
two charmingly behaved little children in the sunshine, and I
heard they were my old friend Major Loder's son's children--on
Saturday, as I was saying, my own particular little haunt was
already occupied.' She glanced back at him from out of her
thoughts, as it were. 'By a gentleman. I say, gentleman; though I
must confess that his conduct--perhaps, too, a little something
even in his appearance, somewhat belied the term. Anyhow,
gentleman let us call him.'

Lawford, all attention, nodded, and encouragingly smiled.

'I'm not one of those tiresome, suspicious people, Mr Lawford,
who distrust strangers. I have never been molested, and I have
enjoyed many and many a most interesting, and sometimes
instructive, talk with an individual whom I've never seen in my
life before, and this side of the grave perhaps, am never likely
to see again.' She lifted her head with pursed lips, and gravely
yet still flickeringly regarded him once more. 'Well, I made some
trifling remark--the weather, the view, what-not,' she explained
with a little jerk of her shoulder--'and to my extreme
astonishment he turned and addressed me by name--Miss Sinnet.
Unmistakably--Sinnet. Now, perhaps, and very rightly, you won't
considered THAT a very peculiar thing to do? But you will
recollect, Mr Lawford, that I had been sitting there a
considerable time. Surely, now, if you had recognised my face
you would have addressed me at once?'

'Was he, do you think, Miss Sinnet, a little uncertain, perhaps?'

'Never mind, never mind; let me get on with my story first. The
next thing my gentleman does is more mysterious still. His whole
manner was a little peculiar, perhaps--a certain restlessness,
what, in fact, one might be almost tempted to call a certain
furtiveness of behaviour. Never mind. What he does next is to ask
me a riddle! Perhaps you won't think that was peculiar either?'

'What was the riddle?' smiled Lawford.

'Why, to be sure, to guess his name! Simply guided, so I
surmised, by some very faint resemblance in his face to his
MOTHER, who was, he assured me, au old schoolfellow of mine at
BRIGHTON. I thought and thought. I confess the adventure was
beginning to be a little perplexing. But of course, very, very
few of my old schoolfellows remain distinctly in my memory now;
and I fear that grows more treacherous the longer I live. Their
faces as girls are clear enough. But later in life most of them
drifted out of sight--many, alas, are dead; and, well, at
last I narrowed my man down to one. And who now, do you suppose
that was?'

Lawford sustained an expression of abysmal mystification. 'Do
tell me--who?'

'Your own poor dear mother, Mr Lawford.'

'HE said so?'

'No, no,' said the old lady, with some vexation, closing her
eyes. 'I said so. He asked me to guess. And I guessed Mary
Lawford; now do you see?'

`Yes, yes. But WAS he like her, Miss Sinnet? That was really
very, very extraordinary. Did you see any likeness in his face?'

Miss Sinnet very deliberately took her spectacles out of their
case again. 'Now, see here, sir; this is being practical, isn't
it? I'm just going to take a leisurely glance at yours. But you
mustn't let me forget the time. You must look after the time for

'It's about a quarter to ten,' said Lawford, having glanced first
at the stopped clock on the chimney-piece and then at his watch.
He then sat quite still and endeavoured to sit at ease, while the
old lady lifted her bonneted head and ever so gravely and
benignly surveyed him.

'H'm,' she said at last. 'There's no mistaking YOU. It's Mary's
chin, and Mary's brow--with just a little something, perhaps, of
her dreamy eye. But you haven't all her looks, Mr Lawford, by any
manner of means. She was a very beautiful girl, and so vivacious,
so fanciful--it was, I suppose the foreign strain showing itself.
Even marriage did not quite succeed in spoiling her.'

'The foreign strain?' Lawford glanced with a kind of fleeting
fixity at the quiet old figure. 'The foreign strain?'

Your mother's maiden name, my dear Mr Lawford, surely memory does
not deceive me in that, was van der Gucht. THAT, I believe, is a
foreign name.'

'Ah, yes,' said Lawford, his rising thoughts sinking quietly to
rest again. 'Van der Gucht, of course. I--how stupid of me!'

'As a matter of fact, your mother was very proud of her Dutch
blood. But there,' she flung out little fin-like sleeves, 'if you
don't let me keep to my story I shall go back as uneasy as I
came. And you didn't,' she added even more fretfully, 'you didn't
tell me the time.'

Lawford stared at his watch again for some few moments without
replying. 'It's a few minutes to ten,' he said at last.

'Dear me! And I'm keeping the cabman! I mast hurry on. Well, now,
I put it to you; you shall be my father confessor--though I
detest the idea in real life--was I wrong? Was I justified in
professing to the poor fellow that I detected a likeness when
there was extremely little likeness there?'

'What! None at all!' cried Lawford; 'not the faintest trace?'

'My dear good Mr Lawford,' she expostulated, patting her lap,
'there's very little more than a trace of my dear beautiful Mary
in YOU, her own son. How could there be--how could you expect it
in him, a complete stranger? No, it was nothing but my own
foolish kindliness. It might have been Mary's son for all
that I could recollect. I haven't for years, please remember, had
the pleasure of receiving a visit from YOU. I am firmly of
opinionthat I was justified. My motive was entirely benevolent.
And then--to my positive amazement--well, I won't say hard things
of the absent; but he suddenly turns round on me with a "Thank
you, Miss Bennett." Bennett, hark ye! Perhaps you won't agree
that I had any justification in being vexed and--and affronted
at THAT.'

'I think, Miss Sinnet,' said Lawford solemnly, 'that you were
perfectly justified. Oh, perfectly. I wonder even you had the
patience to give the real Arthur Lawford a chance to ask your
forgiveness for--or the stranger.'

'Well, candidly,' said Miss Sinnett severely. 'I was very much
scandalised; and I shouldn't be here now telling you my story if
it hadn't been for your mother.'

'My mother!'

The old lady rather grimly enjoyed his confusion. 'Yes, Mr
Lawford, your mother. I don't know why--something in his manner,
something in his face--so dejected, so unhappy, so--if it is not
uncharitablse to say it--so wild: it has haunted me: I haven't
been able to put the matter out of my mind. I have lain awake in
my bed thinking of him. Why did he speak to me, I keep asking
myself. Why did he play me so very aimless a trick? How had he
learned my name? Why was he sitting there so solitary and so
dejected? And worse even than that, what has become of him? A
little more patience, a little more charity, perhaps--what might
I not have done for him? The whole thing has harassed and
distressed me more than I can say. Would you believe it, I have
actually twice, and on one occasion, three times in a day made my
way to the seat--hoping to see him there. And I am not so
young as I was. And then, as I say, to crown all, I had a most
remarkable dream about your mother. But that's my own affair.
Elderly people like me are used--well, perhaps I won't say used--
we're not surprised or disturbed by visits from those who have
gone before. We live, in a sense, among the tombs; though I would
not have you fancy it's in any way a morbid or unhappy life to
lead. We don't talk about it--certainly not to young people. Let
them enjoy their Eden while they can; though there's plenty of
apples, I fear, on the Tree yet, Mr Lawford.'

She leant forward and whispered it with a big, simple smile:--
'We don't even discuss it much among ourselves. But as one gets
nearer and nearer to the wicket-gate there's other company around
one than you'll find in--in the directory. And that is why I have
just come on here tonight. Very probably my errand may seem to
have no meaning for you. You look ill, but you don't appear
to be in any great trouble or adversity, as I feared in my--well,
there--as I feared you might be. I must say, though, it seems a
terribly empty house. And no lights, too!'

She slowly, with a little trembling nodding of her bonnet, turned
her head and glanced quietly, fixedly, and unflinchingly, out of
the half-open door. 'But that's not my affair.' And again she
looked at him for a little while.

Then she stooped forward and touched him kindly and trustingly on
the knee. 'Trouble or no trouble,' she said, 'it's never too late
to remind a man of his mother. And I'm sure, Mr Lawford, I'm very
glad to hear you are struggling up out of your illness again. We
must keep a brave heart, forty or seventy, whichever we may be:
"While the evil days come not nor the years draw nigh when thou
shalt say, I have no pleasure in them," though they have not come
to me even yet; and I trust from the bottom of my heart, not to

She looked at him without a trace of emotion or constraint in her
large, quiet face, and their eyes met for a moment in that brief,
fixed, baffling fashion that seems to prove that mankind is after
all but a dumb masked creature saddled with the vain illusion of

'And now that I've eased my conscience,' said the old lady,
pulling down her veil, 'I must beg pardon for intruding at such
an hour of the evening. And may I have your arm down those
dreadful steps? Really, Mr Lawford, judging from the houses they
erect for us, the builders must have a very peculiar notion of
mankind. Is the fly still there? I expressly told the man to
wait, and what I am going to do if--!'

'He's there,' Lawford reassured her, craning his neck in their
slow progress to catch a peep into the quiet road. And like a
flock of birds scared by a chance comer at their feeding in some
deserted field, a whirring cloud of memories swept softly up in
his mind--memories whose import he made no effort to discover.
None the less, the leisurely descent became in their company
something of a real experience even in such a brimming week.

'I hope, some day, you will really tell me your dream?' he said,
pushing the old lady's silk skirts in after her as she slowly
climbed into the carriage.

'Ah, my dear Lawford, when you are my age,' she called back to
him, groping her way into the rather musty gloom, 'you'll dream
such dreams for yourself. Life's not what's just the fashion. And
there are queerer things to be seen and heard just quietly in
one's solitude than this busy life gives us time to discover.
But as for my mystifying Bewley acquaintance--I confess I cannot
make head or tail of him.'

'Was he,' said Lawford rather vaguely, looking up into the dim
white face that with its plumes filled nearly the whole carriage
window, 'was his face very unpleasing?'

She raised a gloved hand. 'It has haunted me, haunted me, Mr
Lawford; its--its conflict! Poor fellow; I hope, I do hope, he
faced his trouble out. But I shall never see him again.'

He squeezed the trembling, kindly old hand. 'I bet, Miss Sinnet,'
he said earnestly, 'even your having thought kindly of the poor
beggar eased his mind--whoever he may have been. I assure you,
assure you of that.'

'Ay, but I did more than THINK,' replied the old lady with a
chuckle that might have seemed even a little derisive if it had
not been so profoundly magnanimous.

He watched the old black fly roll slowly off, and still smiling
at Miss Sinnet's inscrutable finesse went back into the house.
'And now, my friend,' he said, addressing peacefully the
thronging darkness, 'the time's nearly up for me to go too.'

He had made up his mind. Or, rather, it seemed as if in the
unregarded silences of this last long talk his mind had made up
itself. Only among impossibilities had he the shadow of a choice.
In this old haunted house, amid this shallow turmoil no
practicable clue could show itself of a way out. He would go away
for a while.

He left the door ajar behind him for the moments still left, and
stood for a while thinking. Then, lamp in hand, he descended into
the breakfast-room for pen, ink, and paper. He sat for some time
in that underground calm, nibbling his pen like a harassed and
self-conscious schoolboy. At last he began:

'MY DEAR SHEILA,--I must tell you, to begin with, that the CHANGE
has now all passed away. I am--as near as man can be--completely
myself again. And next: that I overheard all that was said
to-night in the dining-room.

'I'm sorry for listening; but it's no good going over all that
now. Here I am, and, as you said, for Alice's sake we must make
the best of it. I am going away for a while, to get, if I can, a
chance to quiet down. I suppose every one comes sooner or later
to a time in life when there is nothing else to be done but just
shut one's eyes and blunder on. And that's all I can do now--
blunder on....'

He paused, and suddenly, at the echo of the words in his mind, a
revulsion of feeling--shame and hatred of himself surged up, and
he tore his letter into tiny pieces. Once more he began, 'my dear
Sheila,' dropped his pen, sat on for a long time, cold and inert,
harbouring almost unendurably a pitiful, hopeless longing.... He
would write to Grisel another day.

He leant back in his chair, his fingers pressed against his
eyelids. And clearer than those which myriad-hued reality can
ever present, pictures of the imagination swam up before his
eyes. It seemed, indeed, that even now some ghost, some revenant
of himself was sitting there, in the old green churchyard,
roofed only with a thousand thousand stars. The breath of
darkness stirred softly on his cheek. Some little scampering
shape slipped by. A bird on high cried weirdly, solemnly, over
the globe. He shuddered faintly, and looked out again into the
small lamplit room.

Here, too, was quite as inexplicable a coming and going. A fly
was walking on the table beneath his eyes, with the uneasy gait
of one that has outlived his hour and most of his companions.
Mice were scampering and shrieking in the empty kitchen. And all
about him, in the viewless air, the phantoms of another life
passed by, unmindful of his motionless body. He fell into a
lethargy of the senses, and only gradually became aware after a
while of the strange long-drawn sigh of rain at the window. He
rose and opened it. The night air flowed in, chilled with its
waters and faintly fragrant of the dust. It soothed away all
thought for a while. He turned back to his chair. He would wait
until the rain had lulled before starting....

A little before midnight the door was softly, and with extreme
care, pushed open, and Mr Bethany's old face, with an intense and
sharpened scrutiny, looked in on the lamplit room. And as if
still intent on the least sound within the empty walls around
him, he came near, and stooping across the table, stared
through his spectacles at the sidelong face of his friend, so
still, with hands so lightly laid on the arms of his chair that
the old man had need to watch closely to detect in his heavy
slumber the slow measured rise and fall of his breast.

He turned wearily away muttering a little, between an
immeasurable relief and a now almost intolerable medley of
vexations. What WAS this monstrous web of Craik's? What HAD the
creature been nodding and ducketing about?--those whisperings,
that tattling? And what in the end, when you were old and sour
and out-strategied, what was the end to be of this urgent dream
called Life? He sat quietly down and drew his hands over his
face, pushed his lean knotted fingers up under his spectacles,
then sat blinking--and softly slowly deciphered the solitary 'My
dear Sheila' on Lawford's note-paper. 'H'm,' he muttered, and
looked up again at the dark still eyelids that in the strange
torpor of sleep might yet be dimly conveying to the dreaming
brain behind them some hint of his presence. 'I wish to goodness,
you wonderful old creature,' he muttered, wagging his head, 'I
wish to goodness you'd wake up.'

For some time he sat on, listening to the still soft downpour on
the fading leaves. 'They don't come to me,' he said softly again;
with a tiny smile on his old face. 'It's that old medieval Craik:
with a face like a last year's rookery!' And again he sat, with
head a little sidelong, listening now to the infinitesimal sounds
of life without, now to the thoughts within, and ever and again
he gazed steadfastly on Lawford.

At last it seemed in the haunted quietness other thoughts came to
him. A cloud, as it were of youth, drew over the wrinkled skin,
composed the birdlike keenness; his head nodded. Once, like
Lawford in the darkness at Widderstone, he glanced up sharply
across the lamplight at his phantasmagorical shadowy companion,
heard the steady surge of multitudinous rain-drops, like the roar
of Time's winged chariot hurrying near; then he too, with
spectacles awry, bobbed on in his chair, a weary old sentinel on
the outskirts of his friend's denuded battlefield.

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