Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorest from the
1916 Cassell and Company edition.
MALVINA OF BRITTANY
MALVINA OF BRITTANY.
I. The Story.
II. How it came about.
III. How cousin Christopher became mixed up with it.
IV. How it was kept from Mrs. Arlington.
V. How it was told to Mrs. Marigold.
VI. And how it was finished too soon.
THE STREET OF THE BLANK WALL.
HIS EVENING OUT.
SYLVIA OF THE LETTERS.
THE FAWN GLOVES.
MALVINA OF BRITTANY.
The Doctor never did believe this story, but claims for it that, to
a great extent, it has altered his whole outlook on life.
"Of course, what actually happened--what took place under my own
nose," continued the Doctor, "I do not dispute. And then there is
the case of Mrs. Marigold. That was unfortunate, I admit, and still
is, especially for Marigold. But, standing by itself, it proves
nothing. These fluffy, giggling women--as often as not it is a mere
shell that they shed with their first youth--one never knows what is
underneath. With regard to the others, the whole thing rests upon a
simple scientific basis. The idea was 'in the air,' as we say--a
passing brain-wave. And when it had worked itself out there was an
end of it. As for all this Jack-and-the-Beanstalk tomfoolery--"
There came from the darkening uplands the sound of a lost soul. It
rose and fell and died away.
"Blowing stones," explained the Doctor, stopping to refill his pipe.
"One finds them in these parts. Hollowed out during the glacial
period. Always just about twilight that one hears it. Rush of air
caused by sudden sinking of the temperature. That's how all these
sort of ideas get started."
The Doctor, having lit his pipe, resumed his stride.
"I don't say," continued the Doctor, "that it would have happened
without her coming. Undoubtedly it was she who supplied the
necessary psychic conditions. There was that about her--a sort of
atmosphere. That quaint archaic French of hers--King Arthur and the
round table and Merlin; it seemed to recreate it all. An artful
minx, that is the only explanation. But while she was looking at
you, out of that curious aloofness of hers--"
The Doctor left the sentence uncompleted.
"As for old Littlecherry," the Doctor began again quite suddenly,
"that's his speciality--folklore, occultism, all that flummery. If
you knocked at his door with the original Sleeping Beauty on your
arm he'd only fuss round her with cushions and hope that she'd had a
good night. Found a seed once--chipped it out of an old fossil, and
grew it in a pot in his study. About the most dilapidated weed you
ever saw. Talked about it as if he had re-discovered the Elixir of
Life. Even if he didn't say anything in actually so many words,
there was the way he went about. That of itself was enough to have
started the whole thing, to say nothing of that loony old Irish
housekeeper of his, with her head stuffed full of elves and banshees
and the Lord knows what."
Again the Doctor lapsed into silence. One by one the lights of the
village peeped upward out of the depths. A long, low line of light,
creeping like some luminous dragon across the horizon, showed the
track of the Great Western express moving stealthily towards
"It was altogether out of the common," continued the Doctor, "quite
out of the common, the whole thing. But if you are going to accept
old Littlecherry's explanation of it--"
The Doctor struck his foot against a long grey stone, half hidden in
the grass, and only just saved himself from falling.
"Remains of some old cromlech," explained the Doctor. "Somewhere
about here, if we were to dig down, we should find a withered bundle
of bones crouching over the dust of a prehistoric luncheon-basket.
The descent was rough. The Doctor did not talk again until we had
reached the outskirts of the village.
"I wonder what's become of them?" mused the Doctor. "A rum go, the
whole thing. I should like to have got to the bottom of it."
We had reached the Doctor's gate. The Doctor pushed it open and
passed in. He seemed to have forgotten me.
"A taking little minx," I heard him muttering to himself as he
fumbled with the door. "And no doubt meant well. But as for that
I pieced it together from the utterly divergent versions furnished
me by the Professor and the Doctor, assisted, so far as later
incidents are concerned, by knowledge common to the village.
I. THE STORY.
It commenced, so I calculate, about the year 2OOO B.C., or, to be
more precise--for figures are not the strong point of the old
chroniclers--when King Heremon ruled over Ireland and Harbundia was
Queen of the White Ladies of Brittany, the fairy Malvina being her
favourite attendant. It is with Malvina that this story is chiefly
concerned. Various quite pleasant happenings are recorded to her
credit. The White Ladies belonged to the "good people," and, on the
whole, lived up to their reputation. But in Malvina, side by side
with much that is commendable, there appears to have existed a most
reprehensible spirit of mischief, displaying itself in pranks that,
excusable, or at all events understandable, in, say, a pixy or a
pigwidgeon, strike one as altogether unworthy of a well-principled
White Lady, posing as the friend and benefactress of mankind. For
merely refusing to dance with her--at midnight, by the shores of a
mountain lake; neither the time nor the place calculated to appeal
to an elderly gentleman, suffering possibly from rheumatism--she on
one occasion transformed an eminently respectable proprietor of tin
mines into a nightingale, necessitating a change of habits that to a
business man must have been singularly irritating. On another
occasion a quite important queen, having had the misfortune to
quarrel with Malvina over some absurd point of etiquette in
connection with a lizard, seems, on waking the next morning, to have
found herself changed into what one judges, from the somewhat vague
description afforded by the ancient chroniclers, to have been a sort
of vegetable marrow.
Such changes, according to the Professor, who is prepared to
maintain that evidence of an historical nature exists sufficient to
prove that the White Ladies formed at one time an actual living
community, must be taken in an allegorical sense. Just as modern
lunatics believe themselves to be china vases or poll-parrots, and
think and behave as such, so it must have been easy, the Professor
argues, for beings of superior intelligence to have exerted hypnotic
influence upon the superstitious savages by whom they were
surrounded, and who, intellectually considered, could have been
little more than children.
"Take Nebuchadnezzar." I am still quoting the Professor. "Nowadays
we should put him into a strait-waistcoat. Had he lived in Northern
Europe instead of Southern Asia, legend would have told us how some
Kobold or Stromkarl had turned him into a composite amalgamation of
a serpent, a cat and a kangaroo." Be that as it may, this passion
for change--in other people--seems to have grown upon Malvina until
she must have become little short of a public nuisance, and
eventually it landed her in trouble.
The incident is unique in the annals of the White Ladies, and the
chroniclers dwell upon it with evident satisfaction. It came about
through the betrothal of King Heremon's only son, Prince Gerbot, to
the Princess Berchta of Normandy. Malvina seems to have said
nothing, but to have bided her time. The White Ladies of Brittany,
it must be remembered, were not fairies pure and simple. Under
certain conditions they were capable of becoming women, and this
fact, one takes it, must have exerted a disturbing influence upon
their relationships with eligible male mortals. Prince Gerbot may
not have been altogether blameless. Young men in those sadly
unenlightened days may not, in their dealings with ladies, white or
otherwise, have always been the soul of discretion and propriety.
One would like to think the best of her.
But even the best is indefensible. On the day appointed for the
wedding she seems to have surpassed herself. Into what particular
shape or form she altered the wretched Prince Gerbot; or into what
shape or form she persuaded him that he had been altered, it really,
so far as the moral responsibility of Malvina is concerned, seems to
be immaterial; the chronicle does not state: evidently something
too indelicate for a self-respecting chronicler to even hint at.
As, judging from other passages in the book, squeamishness does not
seem to have been the author's literary failing, the sensitive
reader can feel only grateful for the omission. It would have been
altogether too harrowing.
It had, of course, from Malvina's point of view, the desired effect.
The Princess Berchta appears to have given one look and then to have
fallen fainting into the arms of her attendants. The marriage was
postponed indefinitely, and Malvina, one sadly suspects, chortled.
Her triumph was short-lived.
Unfortunately for her, King Heremon had always been a patron of the
arts and science of his period. Among his friends were to be
reckoned magicians, genii, the Nine Korrigans or Fays of Brittany--
all sorts of parties capable of exerting influence, and, as events
proved, only too willing. Ambassadors waited upon Queen Harbundia;
and Harbundia, even had she wished, as on many previous occasions,
to stand by her favourite, had no alternative. The fairy Malvina
was called upon to return to Prince Gerbot his proper body and all
She flatly refused. A self-willed, obstinate fairy, suffering from
swelled head. And then there was that personal note. Merely that
he should marry the Princess Berchta! She would see King Heremon,
and Anniamus, in his silly old wizard's robe, and the Fays of
Brittany, and all the rest of them--! A really nice White Lady may
not have cared to finish the sentence, even to herself. One
imagines the flash of the fairy eye, the stamp of the fairy foot.
What could they do to her, any of them, with all their clacking of
tongues and their wagging of heads? She, an immortal fairy! She
would change Prince Gerbot back at a time of her own choosing. Let
them attend to their own tricks and leave her to mind hers. One
pictures long walks and talks between the distracted Harbundia and
her refractory favourite--appeals to reason, to sentiment: "For my
sake." "Don't you see?" "After all, dear, and even if he did."
It seems to have ended by Harbundia losing all patience. One thing
there was she could do that Malvina seems either not to have known
of or not to have anticipated. A solemn meeting of the White Ladies
was convened for the night of the midsummer moon. The place of
meeting is described by the ancient chroniclers with more than their
usual exactitude. It was on the land that the magician Kalyb had,
ages ago, raised up above all Brittany to form the grave of King
Taramis. The "Sea of the Seven Islands" lay to the north. One
guesses it to be the ridge formed by the Arree Mountains. "The Lady
of the Fountain" appears to have been present, suggesting the deep
green pool from which the river D'Argent takes its source. Roughly
speaking, one would place it halfway between the modern towns of
Morlaix and Callac. Pedestrians, even of the present day, speak of
the still loneliness of that high plateau, treeless, houseless, with
no sign of human hand there but that high, towering monolith round
which the shrill winds moan incessantly. There, possibly on some
broken fragment of those great grey stones, Queen Harbundia sat in
judgment. And the judgment was--and from it there was no appeal-
-that the fairy Malvina should be cast out from among the community
of the White Ladies of Brittany. Over the face of the earth she
should wander, alone and unforgiven. Solemnly from the book of the
roll-call of the White Ladies the name of Malvina was struck out for
The blow must have fallen upon Malvina as heavily as it was
unexpected. Without a word, without one backward look, she seems to
have departed. One pictures the white, frozen face, the wide-open,
unseeing eyes, the trembling, uncertain steps, the groping hands,
the deathlike silence clinging like grave-clothes round about her.
From that night the fairy Malvina disappears from the book of the
chroniclers of the White Ladies of Brittany, from legend and from
folklore whatsoever. She does not appear again in history till the
year A.D. 1914.
II. HOW IT CAME ABOUT.
It was on an evening towards the end of June, 1914, that Flight
Commander Raffleton, temporarily attached to the French Squadron
then harboured at Brest, received instructions by wireless to return
at once to the British Air Service Headquarters at Farnborough, in
Hampshire. The night, thanks to a glorious full moon, would afford
all the light he required, and young Raffleton determined to set out
at once. He appears to have left the flying ground just outside the
arsenal at Brest about nine o'clock. A little beyond Huelgoat he
began to experience trouble with the carburettor. His idea at first
was to push on to Lannion, where he would be able to secure expert
assistance; but matters only getting worse, and noticing beneath him
a convenient stretch of level ground, he decided to descend and
attend to it himself. He alighted without difficulty and proceeded
to investigate. The job took him, unaided, longer than he had
anticipated. It was a warm, close night, with hardly a breath of
wind, and when he had finished he was feeling hot and tired. He had
drawn on his helmet and was on the point of stepping into his seat,
when the beauty of the night suggested to him that it would be
pleasant, before starting off again, to stretch his legs and cool
himself a little. He lit a cigar and looked round about him.
The plateau on which he had alighted was a table-land standing high
above the surrounding country. It stretched around him, treeless,
houseless. There was nothing to break the lines of the horizon but
a group of gaunt grey stones, the remains, so he told himself, of
some ancient menhir, common enough to the lonely desert lands of
Brittany. In general the stones lie overthrown and scattered, but
this particular specimen had by some strange chance remained
undisturbed through all the centuries. Mildly interested, Flight
Commander Raffleton strolled leisurely towards it. The moon was at
its zenith. How still the quiet night must have been was impressed
upon him by the fact that he distinctly heard, and counted, the
strokes of a church clock which must have been at least six miles
away. He remembers looking at his watch and noting that there was a
slight difference between his own and the church time. He made it
eight minutes past twelve. With the dying away of the last
vibrations of the distant bell the silence and the solitude of the
place seemed to return and settle down upon it with increased
insistence. While he was working it had not troubled him, but
beside the black shadows thrown by those hoary stones it had the
effect almost of a presence. It was with a sense of relief that he
contemplated returning to his machine and starting up his engine.
It would whir and buzz and give back to him a comfortable feeling of
life and security. He would walk round the stones just once and
then be off. It was wonderful how they had defied old Time. As
they had been placed there, quite possibly ten thousand years ago,
so they still stood, the altar of that vast, empty sky-roofed
temple. And while he was gazing at them, his cigar between his
lips, struggling with a strange forgotten impulse that was tugging
at his knees, there came from the very heart of the great grey
stones the measured rise and fall of a soft, even breathing.
Young Raffleton frankly confesses that his first impulse was to cut
and run. Only his soldier's training kept his feet firm on the
heather. Of course, the explanation was simple. Some animal had
made the place its nest. But then what animal was ever known to
sleep so soundly as not to be disturbed by human footsteps? If
wounded, and so unable to escape, it would not be breathing with
that quiet, soft regularity, contrasting so strangely with the
stillness and the silence all round. Possibly an owl's nest. Young
owlets make that sort of noise--the "snorers," so country people
call them. Young Raffleton threw away his cigar and went down upon
his knees to grope among the shadows, and, doing so, he touched
something warm and soft and yielding.
But it wasn't an owl. He must have touched her very lightly, for
even then she did not wake. She lay there with her head upon her
arm. And now close to her, his eyes growing used to the shadows, he
saw her quite plainly, the wonder of the parted lips, the gleam of
the white limbs beneath their flimsy covering.
Of course, what he ought to have done was to have risen gently and
moved away. Then he could have coughed. And if that did not wake
her he might have touched her lightly, say, on the shoulder, and
have called to her, first softly, then a little louder,
"Mademoiselle," or "Mon enfant." Even better, he might have stolen
away on tiptoe and left her there sleeping.
This idea does not seem to have occurred to him. One makes the
excuse for him that he was but three-and-twenty, that, framed in the
purple moonlight, she seemed to him the most beautiful creature his
eyes had ever seen. And then there was the brooding mystery of it
all, that atmosphere of far-off primeval times from which the roots
of life still draw their sap. One takes it he forgot that he was
Flight Commander Raffleton, officer and gentleman; forgot the proper
etiquette applying to the case of ladies found sleeping upon lonely
moors without a chaperon. Greater still, the possibility that he
never thought of anything at all, but, just impelled by a power
beyond himself, bent down and kissed her.
Not a platonic kiss upon the brow, not a brotherly kiss upon the
cheek, but a kiss full upon the parted lips, a kiss of worship and
amazement, such as that with which Adam in all probability awakened
Her eyes opened, and, just a little sleepily, she looked at him.
There could have been no doubt in her mind as to what had happened.
His lips were still pressing hers. But she did not seem in the
least surprised, and most certainly not angry. Raising herself to a
sitting posture, she smiled and held out her hand that he might help
her up. And, alone in that vast temple, star-roofed and moon-
illumined, beside that grim grey altar of forgotten rites, hand in
hand they stood and looked at one another.
"I beg your pardon," said Commander Raffleton. "I'm afraid I have
He remembered afterwards that in his confusion he had spoken to her
in English. But she answered him in French, a quaint, old-fashioned
French such as one rarely finds but in the pages of old missals. He
would have had some difficulty in translating it literally, but the
meaning of it was, adapted to our modern idiom:
"Don't mention it. I'm so glad you've come."
He gathered she had been expecting him. He was not quite sure
whether he ought not to apologise for being apparently a little
late. True, he had no recollection of any such appointment. But
then at that particular moment Commander Raffleton may be said to
have had no consciousness of anything beyond just himself and the
wondrous other beside him. Somewhere outside was moonlight and a
world; but all that seemed unimportant. It was she who broke the
"How did you get here?" she asked.
He did not mean to be enigmatical. He was chiefly concerned with
still gazing at her.
"I flew here," he answered. Her eyes opened wider at that, but with
interest, not doubt.
"Where are your wings?" she asked. She was leaning sideways, trying
to get a view of his back.
He laughed. It made her seem more human, that curiosity about his
"Over there," he answered. She looked, and for the first time saw
the great shimmering sails gleaming like silver under the moonlight.
She moved towards it, and he followed, noticing without surprise
that the heather seemed to make no sign of yielding to the pressure
of her white feet.
She halted a little away from it, and he came and stood beside her.
Even to Commander Raffleton himself it looked as if the great wings
were quivering, like the outstretched pinions of a bird preening
itself before flight.
"Is it alive?" she asked.
"Not till I whisper to it," he answered. He was losing a little of
his fear of her. She turned to him.
"Shall we go?" she asked.
He stared at her. She was quite serious, that was evident. She was
to put her hand in his and go away with him. It was all settled.
That is why he had come. To her it did not matter where. That was
his affair. But where he went she was to go. That was quite
clearly the programme in her mind.
To his credit, let it be recorded, he did make an effort. Against
all the forces of nature, against his twenty-three years and the red
blood pulsing in his veins, against the fumes of the midsummer
moonlight encompassing him and the voices of the stars, against the
demons of poetry and romance and mystery chanting their witches'
music in his ears, against the marvel and the glory of her as she
stood beside him, clothed in the purple of the night, Flight
Commander Raffleton fought the good fight for common sense.
Young persons who, scantily clad, go to sleep on the heather, five
miles from the nearest human habitation, are to be avoided by
well-brought-up young officers of His Majesty's Aerial Service. The
incidence of their being uncannily beautiful and alluring should
serve as an additional note of warning. The girl had had a row with
her mother and wanted to get away. It was this infernal moonlight
that was chiefly responsible. No wonder dogs bayed at it. He
almost fancied he could hear one now. Nice, respectable,
wholesome-minded things, dogs. No damned sentiment about them.
What if he had kissed her! One is not bound for life to every woman
one kisses. Not the first time she had been kissed, unless all the
young men in Brittany were blind or white blooded. All this
pretended innocence and simplicity! It was just put on. If not,
she must be a lunatic. The proper thing to do was to say good-bye
with a laugh and a jest, start up his machine and be off to
England--dear old practical, merry England, where he could get
breakfast and a bath.
It wasn't a fair fight; one feels it. Poor little prim Common
Sense, with her defiant, turned-up nose and her shrill giggle and
her innate vulgarity. And against her the stillness of the night,
and the music of the ages, and the beating of his heart.
So it all fell down about his feet, a little crumbled dust that a
passing breath of wind seemed to scatter, leaving him helpless,
spellbound by the magic of her eyes.
"Who are you?" he asked her.
"Malvina," she answered him. "I am a fairy."
III. HOW COUSIN CHRISTOPHER BECAME MIXED UP WITH IT.
It did just occur to him that maybe he had not made that descent
quite as successfully as he had thought he had; that maybe he had
come down on his head; that in consequence he had done with the
experiences of Flight Commander Raffleton and was now about to enter
on a new and less circumscribed existence. If so, the beginning, to
an adventuresome young spirit, seemed promising. It was Malvina's
voice that recalled him from this train of musing.
"Shall we go?" she repeated, and this time the note in her voice
suggested command rather than question.
Why not? Whatever had happened to him, at whatever plane of
existence he was now arrived, the machine apparently had followed
him. Mechanically he started it up. The familiar whir of the
engine brought back to him the possibility of his being alive in the
ordinary acceptation of the term. It also suggested to him the
practical advisability of insisting that Malvina should put on his
spare coat. Malvina being five feet three, and the coat having been
built for a man of six feet one, the effect under ordinary
circumstances would have been comic. What finally convinced
Commander Raffleton that Malvina really was a fairy was that, in
that coat, with the collar standing up some six inches above her
head, she looked more like one than ever.
Neither of them spoke. Somehow it did not seem to be needed. He
helped her to climb into her seat and tucked the coat about her
feet. She answered by the same smile with which she had first
stretched out her hand to him. It was just a smile of endless
content, as if all her troubles were now over. Commander Raffleton
sincerely hoped they were. A momentary flash of intelligence
suggested to him that his were just beginning.
Commander Raffleton's subconscious self it must have been that took
charge of the machine. He seems, keeping a few miles inland, to
have followed the line of the coast to a little south of the Hague
lighthouse. Thereabouts he remembers descending for the purpose of
replenishing his tank. Not having anticipated a passenger, he had
filled up before starting with a spare supply of petrol, an incident
that was fortunate. Malvina appears to have been interested in
watching what she probably regarded as some novel breed of dragon
being nourished from tins extricated from under her feet, but to
have accepted this, together with all other details of the flight,
as in the natural scheme of things. The monster refreshed, tugged,
spurned the ground, and rose again with a roar; and the creeping sea
One has the notion that for Flight Commander Raffleton, as for the
rest of us, there lies in wait to test the heart of him the ugly and
the commonplace. So large a portion of the years will be for him a
business of mean hopes and fears, of sordid struggle, of low cares
and vulgar fret. But also one has the conviction that there will
always remain with him, to make life wonderful, the memory of that
night when, godlike, he rode upon the winds of heaven crowned with
the glory of the world's desire. Now and again he turned his head
to look at her, and still, as ever, her eyes answered him with that
strange deep content that seemed to wrap them both around as with a
garment of immortality. One gathers dimly something of what he felt
from the look that would unconsciously come into his eyes when
speaking of that enchanted journey, from the sudden dumbness with
which the commonplace words would die away upon his lips. Well for
him that his lesser self kept firm hold upon the wheel or maybe a
few broken spars, tossing upon the waves, would have been all that
was left to tell of a promising young aviator who, on a summer night
of June, had thought he could reach the stars.
Half-way across the dawn came flaming up over the Needles, and later
there stole from east to west a long, low line of mist-enshrouded
land. One by one headland and cliff, flashing with gold, rose out
of the sea, and the white-winged gulls flew out to meet them.
Almost he expected them to turn into spirits, circling round Malvina
with cries of welcome.
Nearer and nearer they drew, while gradually the mist rose upward as
the moonlight grew fainter. And all at once the sweep of the Chesil
Bank stood out before them, with Weymouth sheltering behind it.
It may have been the bathing-machines, or the gasometer beyond the
railway station, or the flag above the Royal Hotel. The curtains of
the night fell suddenly away from him. The workaday world came
knocking at the door.
He looked at his watch. It was a little after four. He had wired
them at the camp to expect him in the morning. They would be
looking out for him. By continuing his course he and Malvina could
be there about breakfast-time. He could introduce her to the
colonel: "Allow me, Colonel Goodyer, the fairy Malvina." It was
either that or dropping Malvina somewhere between Weymouth and
Farnborough. He decided, without much consideration, that this
latter course would be preferable. But where? What was he to do
with her? There was Aunt Emily. Hadn't she said something about
wanting a French governess for Georgina? True, Malvina's French was
a trifle old-fashioned in form, but her accent was charming. And as
for salary--- There presented itself the thought of Uncle Felix and
the three elder boys. Instinctively he felt that Malvina would not
be Aunt Emily's idea. His father, had the dear old gentleman been
alive, would have been a safe refuge. They had always understood
one another, he and his father. But his mother! He was not at all
sure. He visualised the scene: the drawing-room at Chester
Terrace. His mother's soft, rustling entrance. Her affectionate
but well-bred greeting. And then the disconcerting silence with
which she would await his explanation of Malvina. The fact that she
was a fairy he would probably omit to mention. Faced by his
mother's gold-rimmed pince-nez, he did not see himself insisting
upon that detail: "A young lady I happened to find asleep on a moor
in Brittany. And seeing it was a fine night, and there being just
room in the machine. And she--I mean I--well, here we are." There
would follow such a painful silence, and then the raising of the
delicately arched eyebrows: "You mean, my dear lad, that you have
allowed this"--there would be a slight hesitation here--"this young
person to leave her home, her people, her friends and relations in
Brittany, in order to attach herself to you. May I ask in what
For that was precisely how it would look, and not only to his
mother. Suppose by a miracle it really represented the facts.
Suppose that, in spite of the overwhelming evidence in her
favour--of the night and the moon and the stars, and the feeling
that had come to him from the moment he had kissed her--suppose
that, in spite of all this, it turned out that she wasn't a fairy.
Suppose that suggestion of vulgar Common Sense, that she was just a
little minx that had run away from home, had really hit the mark.
Suppose inquiries were already on foot. A hundred horse-power
aeroplane does not go about unnoticed. Wasn't there a law about
this sort of thing--something about "decoying" and "young girls"?
He hadn't "decoyed" her. If anything, it was the other way about.
But would her consent be a valid defence? How old was she? That
would be the question. In reality he supposed about a thousand
years or so. Possibly more. Unfortunately, she didn't look it. A
coldly suspicious magistrate would probably consider sixteen a much
better guess. Quite possibly he was going to get into a devil of a
mess over this business. He cast a glance behind him. Malvina
responded with her changeless smile of ineffable content. For the
first time it caused him a distinct feeling of irritation.
They were almost over Weymouth by this time. He could read plainly
the advertisement posters outside the cinema theatre facing the
esplanade: "Wilkins and the Mermaid. Comic Drama." There was a
picture of the lady combing her hair; also of Wilkins, a stoutish
gentleman in striped bathing costume.
That mad impulse that had come to him with the first breath of dawn,
to shake the dwindling world from his pinions, to plunge upward
towards the stars never to return--he wished to Heaven he had
yielded to it.
And then suddenly there leapt to him the thought of Cousin
Dear old Cousin Christopher, fifty-eight and a bachelor. Why had it
not occurred to him before? Out of the sky there appeared to
Commander Raffleton the vision of "Cousin Christopher" as a plump,
rubicund angel in a panama hat and a pepper-and-salt tweed suit
holding out a lifebelt. Cousin Christopher would take to Malvina as
some motherly hen to an orphaned duckling. A fairy discovered
asleep beside one of the ancient menhirs of Brittany. His only fear
would be that you might want to take her away before he had written
a paper about her. He would be down from Oxford at his cottage.
Commander Raffleton could not for the moment remember the name of
the village. It would come to him. It was northwest of Newbury.
You crossed Salisbury Plain and made straight for Magdalen Tower.
The Downs reached almost to the orchard gate. There was a level
stretch of sward nearly half a mile long. It seemed to Commander
Raffleton that Cousin Christopher had been created and carefully
preserved by Providence for this particular job.
He was no longer the moonstruck youth of the previous night, on whom
phantasy and imagination could play what pranks they chose. That
part of him the keen, fresh morning air had driven back into its
cell. He was Commander Raffleton, an eager and alert young engineer
with all his wits about him. At this point that has to be
remembered. Descending on a lonely reach of shore he proceeded to
again disturb Malvina for the purpose of extracting tins. He
expected his passenger would in broad daylight prove to be a pretty,
childish-looking girl, somewhat dishevelled, with, maybe, a tinge of
blue about the nose, the natural result of a three-hours' flight at
fifty miles an hour. It was with a startling return of his original
sensations when first she had come to life beneath his kiss that he
halted a few feet away and stared at her. The night was gone, and
the silence. She stood there facing the sunlight, clad in a
Burberry overcoat half a dozen sizes too large for her. Beyond her
was a row of bathing-machines, and beyond that again a gasometer. A
goods train half a mile away was noisily shunting trucks.
And yet the glamour was about her still; something indescribable but
quite palpable--something out of which she looked at you as from
He took her proffered hand, and she leapt out lightly. She was not
in the least dishevelled. It seemed as if the air must be her
proper element. She looked about her, interested, but not curious.
Her first thought was for the machine.
"Poor thing!" she said. "He must be tired."
That faint tremor of fear that had come to him when beneath the
menhir's shadow he had watched the opening of her eyes, returned to
him. It was not an unpleasant sensation. Rather it added a
piquancy to their relationship. But it was distinctly real. She
watched the feeding of the monster; and then he came again and stood
beside her on the yellow sands.
"England!" he explained with a wave of his hand. One fancies she
had the impression that it belonged to him. Graciously she repeated
the name. And somehow, as it fell from her lips, it conjured up to
Commander Raffleton a land of wonder and romance.
"I have heard of it," she added. "I think I shall like it."
He answered that he hoped she would. He was deadly serious about
it. He possessed, generally speaking, a sense of humour; but for
the moment this must have deserted him. He told her he was going to
leave her in the care of a wise and learned man called "Cousin
Christopher"; his description no doubt suggesting to Malvina a
friendly magician. He himself would have to go away for a little
while, but would return.
It did not seem to matter to Malvina, these minor details. It was
evident--the idea in her mind--that he had been appointed to her.
Whether as master or servant it was less easy to conjecture:
probably a mixture of both, with preference towards the latter.
He mentioned again that he would not be away for longer than he
could help. There was no necessity for this repetition. She wasn't
Weymouth with its bathing machines and its gasometer faded away.
King Rufus was out a-hunting as they passed over the New Forest, and
from Salisbury Plain, as they looked down, the pixies waved their
hands and laughed. Later, they heard the clang of the anvil,
telling them they were in the neighbourhood of Wayland Smith's cave;
and so planed down sweetly and without a jar just beyond Cousin
Christopher's orchard gate.
A shepherd's boy was whistling somewhere upon the Downs, and in the
valley a ploughman had just harnessed his team; but the village was
hidden from them by the sweep of the hills, and no other being was
in sight. He helped Malvina out, and leaving her seated on a fallen
branch beneath a walnut tree, proceeded cautiously towards the
house. He found a little maid in the garden. She had run out of
the house on hearing the sound of his propeller and was staring up
into the sky, so that she never saw him until he put his hand upon
her shoulder, and then was fortunately too frightened to scream. He
gave her hasty instructions. She was to knock at the Professor's
door and tell him that his cousin, Commander Raffleton, was there,
and would he come down at once, by himself, into the orchard.
Commander Raffleton would rather not come in. Would the Professor
come down at once and speak to Commander Raffleton in the orchard.
She went back into the house, repeating it all to herself, a little
"Good God!" said Cousin Christopher from beneath the bedclothes.
"He isn't hurt, is he?"
The little maid, through the jar of the door, thought not. Anyhow,
he didn't look it. But would the Professor kindly come at once?
Commander Raffleton was waiting for him--in the orchard.
So Cousin Christopher, in bedroom slippers, without socks, wearing a
mustard-coloured dressing-gown and a black skull cap upon his head--
the very picture of a friendly magician--trotted hastily downstairs
and through the garden, talking to himself about "foolhardy boys"
and "knowing it would happen"; and was much relieved to meet young
Arthur Raffleton coming towards him, evidently sound in wind and
limb. And then began to wonder why the devil he had been frightened
out of bed at six o'clock in the morning if nothing was the matter.
But something clearly was. Before speaking Arthur Raffleton looked
carefully about him in a manner suggestive of mystery, if not of
crime; and still without a word, taking Cousin Christopher by the
arm, led the way to the farther end of the orchard. And there, on a
fallen branch beneath the walnut tree, Cousin Christopher saw
apparently a khaki coat, with nothing in it, which, as they
approached it, rose up.
But it did not rise very high. The back of the coat was towards
them. Its collar stood out against the sky line. But there wasn't
any head. Standing upright, it turned round, and peeping out of its
folds Cousin Christopher saw a child's face. And then looking
closer saw that it wasn't a child. And then wasn't quite sure what
it was; so that coming to a sudden halt in front of it, Cousin
Christopher stared at it with round wide eyes, and then at Flight
It was to Malvina that Flight Commander Raffleton addressed himself.
"This," he said, "is Professor Littlecherry, my Cousin Christopher,
about whom I told you."
It was obvious that Malvina regarded the Professor as a person of
importance. Evidently her intention was to curtsy, an operation
that, hampered by those trailing yards of clinging khaki, might
prove--so it flashed upon the Professor--not only difficult but
"Allow me," said the Professor.
His idea was to help Malvina out of Commander Raffleton's coat, and
Malvina was preparing to assist him. Commander Raffleton was only
just in time.
"I don't think," said Commander Raffleton. "If you don't mind I
think we'd better leave that for Mrs. Muldoon."
The Professor let go the coat. Malvina appeared a shade
disappointed. One opines that not unreasonably she may have thought
to make a better impression without it. But a smiling acquiescence
in all arrangements made for her welfare seems to have been one of
"Perhaps," suggested Commander Raffleton to Malvina while
refastening a few of the more important buttons, "if you wouldn't
mind explaining yourself to my Cousin Christopher just exactly who
and what you are--you'd do it so much better than I should." (What
Commander Raffleton was saying to himself was: "If I tell the dear
old Johnny, he'll think I'm pulling his leg. It will sound
altogether different the way she will put it.") "You're sure you
Malvina hadn't the slightest objection. She accomplished her
curtsy--or rather it looked as if the coat were curtsying--quite
gracefully, and with a dignity one would not have expected from it.
"I am the fairy Malvina," she explained to the Professor. "You may
have heard of me. I was the favourite of Harbundia, Queen of the
White Ladies of Brittany. But that was long ago."
The friendly magician was staring at her with a pair of round eyes
that in spite of their amazement looked kindly and understanding.
They probably encouraged Malvina to complete the confession of her
sad brief history.
"It was when King Heremon ruled over Ireland," she continued. "I
did a very foolish and a wicked thing, and was punished for it by
being cast out from the companionship of my fellows. Since
then"--the coat made the slightest of pathetic gestures--"I have
It ought to have sounded so ridiculous to them both; told on English
soil in the year One Thousand Nine Hundred and Fourteen to a smart
young officer of Engineers and an elderly Oxford Professor. Across
the road the doctor's odd man was opening garage doors; a noisy milk
cart was clattering through the village a little late for the London
train; a faint odour of eggs and bacon came wafted through the
garden, mingled with the scent of lavender and pinks. For Commander
Raffleton, maybe, there was excuse. This story, so far as it has
gone, has tried to make that clear. But the Professor! He ought to
have exploded in a burst of Homeric laughter, or else to have shaken
his head at her and warned her where little girls go to who do this
sort of thing.
Instead of which he stared from Commander Raffleton to Malvina, and
from Malvina back to Commander Raffleton with eyes so astonishingly
round that they might have been drawn with a compass.
"God bless my soul!" said the Professor. "But this is most
"Was there a King Heremon of Ireland?" asked Commander Raffleton.
The Professor was a well-known authority on these matters.
"Of course there was a King Heremon of Ireland," answered the
Professor quite petulantly--as if the Commander had wanted to know
if there had ever been a Julius Caesar or a Napoleon. "And so there
was a Queen Harbundia. Malvina is always spoken of in connection
"What did she do?" inquired Commander Raffleton. They both of them
seemed to be oblivious of Malvina's presence.
"I forget for the moment," confessed the professor. "I must look it
up. Something, if I remember rightly, in connection with the
daughter of King Dancrat. He founded the Norman dynasty. William
the Conqueror and all that lot. Good Lord!"
"Would you mind her staying with you for a time until I can make
arrangements," suggested Commander Raffleton. "I'd be awfully
obliged if you would."
What the Professor's answer might have been had he been allowed to
exercise such stock of wits as he possessed, it is impossible to
say. Of course he was interested--excited, if you will. Folklore,
legend, tradition; these had been his lifelong hobbies. Apart from
anything else, here at least was a kindred spirit. Seemed to know a
thing or two. Where had she learned it? Might not there be sources
unknown to the Professor?
But to take her in! To establish her in the only spare bedroom. To
introduce her--as what? to English village society. To the new
people at the Manor House. To the member of Parliament with his
innocent young wife who had taken the vicarage for the summer. To
Dawson, R.A., and the Calthorpes!
He might, had he thought it worth his while, have found some
respectable French family and boarded her out. There was a man he
had known for years at Oxford, a cabinetmaker; the wife a most
worthy woman. He could have gone over there from time to time, his
notebook in his pocket, and have interviewed her.
Left to himself, he might have behaved as a sane and rational
citizen; or he might not. There are records favouring the latter
possibility. The thing is not certain. But as regards this
particular incident in his career he must be held exonerated. The
decision was taken out of his hands.
To Malvina, on first landing in England, Commander Raffleton had
stated his intention of leaving her temporarily in the care of the
wise and learned Christopher. To Malvina, regarding the Commander
as a gift from the gods, that had settled the matter. The wise and
learned Christopher, of course, knew of this coming. In all
probability it was he--under the guidance of the gods--who had
arranged the whole sequence of events. There remained only to
tender him her gratitude. She did not wait for the Professor's
reply. The coat a little hindered her but, on the other hand, added
perhaps an appealing touch of its own. Taking the wise and learned
Christopher's hand in both her own, she knelt and kissed it.
And in that quaint archaic French of hers, that long study of the
Chronicles of Froissart enabled the Professor to understand:
"I thank you," she said, "for your noble courtesy and hospitality."
In some mysterious way the whole affair had suddenly become imbued
with the dignity of an historical event. The Professor had the
sudden impression--and indeed it never altogether left him so long
as Malvina remained--that he was a great and powerful personage. A
sister potentate; incidentally--though, of course, in high politics
such points are immaterial--the most bewilderingly beautiful being
he had ever seen; had graciously consented to become his guest. The
Professor, with a bow that might have been acquired at the court of
King Rene, expressed his sense of the honour done to him. What else
could a self-respecting potentate do? The incident was closed.
Flight Commander Raffleton seems to have done nothing in the
direction of re-opening it. On the contrary, he appears to have
used this precise moment for explaining to the Professor how
absolutely necessary it was that he should depart for Farnborough
without another moment's loss of time. Commander Raffleton added
that he would "look them both up again" the first afternoon he could
get away; and was sure that if the Professor would get Malvina to
speak slowly, he would soon find her French easy to understand.
It did occur to the Professor to ask Commander Raffleton where he
had found Malvina--that is, if he remembered. Also what he was
going to do about her--that is, if he happened to know. Commander
Raffleton, regretting his great need of haste, explained that he had
found Malvina asleep beside a menhir not far from Huelgoat, in
Brittany, and was afraid that he had woke her up. For further
particulars, would the Professor kindly apply to Malvina? For
himself, he would never, he felt sure, be able to thank the
In conclusion, and without giving further opportunity for
discussion, the Commander seems to have shaken his Cousin
Christopher by the hand with much enthusiasm; and then to have
turned to Malvina. She did not move, but her eyes were fixed on
him. And he came to her slowly. And without a word he kissed her
full upon the lips.
"That is twice you have kissed me," said Malvina--and a curious
little smile played round her mouth. "The third time I shall
become a woman."
IV. HOW IT WAS KEPT FROM MRS. ARLINGTON.
What surprised the Professor himself, when he came to think of it,
was that, left alone with Malvina, and in spite of all the
circumstances, he felt neither embarrassment nor perplexity. It was
as if, so far as they two were concerned, the whole thing was quite
simple--almost humorous. It would be the other people who would
have to worry.
The little serving maid was hovering about the garden. She was
evidently curious and trying to get a peep. Mrs. Muldoon's voice
could be heard calling to her from the kitchen. There was this
question of clothes.
"You haven't brought anything with you?" asked the Professor. "I
mean, in the way of a frock of any sort."
Malvina, with a smile, gave a little gesture. It implied that all
there was of her and hers stood before him.
"We shall have to find you something," said the Professor.
"Something in which you can go about--"
The Professor had intended to say "our world," but hesitated, not
feeling positive at the moment to which he himself belonged;
Malvina's or Mrs. Muldoon's. So he made it "the" world instead.
Another gesture conveyed to him that Malvina was entirely in his
"What really have you got on?" asked the Professor. "I mean
underneath. Is it anything possible--for a day or two?"
Now Commander Raffleton, for some reason of his own not at all clear
to Malvina, had forbidden the taking off of the coat. But had said
nothing about undoing it. So by way of response Malvina undid it.
Upon which the Professor, to Malvina's surprise, acted precisely as
Commander Raffleton had done. That is to say, he hastily re-closed
the coat, returning the buttons to their buttonholes.
The fear may have come to Malvina that she was doomed never to be
rid of Commander Raffleton's coat.
"I wonder," mused the Professor, "if anyone in the village--" The
little serving maid flittering among the gooseberry bushes--she was
pretending to be gathering goose-berries--caught the Professor's
"We will consult my chatelaine, Mrs. Muldoon," suggested the
Professor. "I think we shall be able to manage."
The Professor tendered Malvina his arm. With her other hand she
gathered up the skirts of the Commander's coat.
"I think," said the Professor with a sudden inspiration as they
passed through the garden, "I think I shall explain to Mrs. Muldoon
that you have just come straight from a fancy-dress ball."
They found Mrs. Muldoon in the kitchen. A less convincing story
than that by which the Professor sought to account to Mrs. Muldoon
for the how and the why of Malvina it would be impossible to
imagine. Mrs. Muldoon out of sheer kindness appears to have cut him
"I'll not be asking ye any questions," said Mrs. Muldoon, "so
there'll be no need for ye to imperil your immortal soul. If ye'll
just give a thought to your own appearance and leave the colleen to
me and Drusilla, we'll make her maybe a bit dacent.
The reference to his own appearance disconcerted the Professor. He
had not anticipated, when hastening into his dressing gown and
slippers and not bothering about his socks, that he was on his way
to meet the chief lady-in-waiting of Queen Harbundia. Demanding
that shaving water should be immediately sent up to him, he appears
to have retired into the bathroom.
It was while he was shaving that Mrs. Muldoon, knocking at the door,
demanded to speak to him. From her tone the Professor came to the
conclusion that the house was on fire. He opened the door, and Mrs.
Muldoon, seeing he was respectable, slipped in and closed it behind
"Where did ye find her? How did she get here?" demanded Mrs.
Muldoon. Never before had the Professor seen Mrs. Muldoon other
than a placid, good-humoured body. She was trembling from head to
"I told you," explained the Professor. "Young Arthur--"
"I'm not asking ye what ye told me," interrupted Mrs. Muldoon. "I'm
asking ye for the truth, if ye know it."
The Professor put a chair for Mrs. Muldoon, and Mrs. Muldoon dropped
down upon it.
"What's the matter?" questioned the Professor. "What's happened?"
Mrs. Muldoon glanced round her, and her voice was an hysterical
"It's no mortal woman ye've brought into the house," said Mrs.
Muldoon. "It's a fairy."
Whether up to that moment the Professor had really believed
Malvina's story, or whether lurking at the back of his mind there
had all along been an innate conviction that the thing was absurd,
the Professor himself is now unable to say. To the front of the
Professor lay Oxford--political economy, the higher criticism, the
rise and progress of rationalism. Behind him, fading away into
the dim horizon of humanity, lay an unmapped land where for forty
years he had loved to wander; a spirit-haunted land of buried
mysteries, lost pathways, leading unto hidden gates of knowledge.
And now upon the trembling balance descended Mrs. Muldoon plump.
"How do you know?" demanded the Professor.
"Shure, don't I know the mark?" replied Mrs. Muldoon almost
contemptuously. "Wasn't my own sister's child stolen away the very
day of its birth and in its place--"
The little serving maid tapped at the door.
Mademoiselle was "finished." What was to be done with her?
"Don't ask me," protested Mrs. Muldoon, still in a terrified
whisper. "I couldn't do it. Not if all the saints were to go down
upon their knees and pray to me."
Common-sense argument would not have prevailed with Mrs. Muldoon.
The Professor felt that; added to which he had not any handy. He
directed, through the door, that "Mademoiselle" should be shown into
the dining-room, and listened till Drusilla's footsteps had died
"Have you ever heard of the White Ladies?" whispered the Professor
to Mrs. Muldoon.
There was not much in the fairy line, one takes it, that Mrs.
Muldoon had not heard of and believed. Was the Professor sure?
The Professor gave Mrs. Muldoon his word of honour as a gentleman.
The "White Ladies," as Mrs. Muldoon was of course aware, belonged to
the "good people." Provided nobody offended her there was nothing
"Shure, it won't be meself that'll cross her," said Mrs. Muldoon.
"She won't be staying very long," added the Professor. "We will
just be nice to her."
"She's got a kind face," admitted Mrs. Muldoon, "and a pleasant way
with her." The good body's spirits were perceptibly rising. The
favour of a "White Lady" might be worth cultivating.
"We must make a friend of her," urged the Professor, seizing his
"And mind," whispered the Professor as he opened the door for Mrs.
Muldoon to slip out, "not a word. She doesn't want it known."
One is convinced that Mrs. Muldoon left the bathroom resolved that,
so far as she could help it, no breath of suspicion that Malvina was
other than what in Drusilla's holiday frock she would appear to be
should escape into the village. It was quite a pleasant little
frock of a summery character, with short sleeves and loose about the
neck, and fitted Malvina, in every sense, much better than the most
elaborate confection would have done. The boots were not so
successful. Malvina solved the problem by leaving them behind her,
together with the stockings, whenever she went out. That she knew
this was wrong is proved by the fact that invariably she tried to
hide them. They would be found in the most unlikely places; hidden
behind books in the Professor's study, crammed into empty tea
canisters in Mrs. Muldoon's storeroom. Mrs. Muldoon was not to be
persuaded even to abstract them. The canister with its contents
would be placed in silence upon the Professor's table. Malvina on
returning would be confronted by a pair of stern, unsympathetic
boots. The corners of the fairy mouth would droop in lines
suggestive of penitence and contrition.
Had the Professor been firm she would have yielded. But from the
black accusing boots the Professor could not keep his eyes from
wandering to the guilty white feet, and at once in his heart
becoming "counsel for the defence." Must get a pair of sandals next
time he went to Oxford. Anyhow, something more dainty than those
grim, uncompromising boots.
Besides, it was not often that Malvina ventured beyond the orchard.
At least not during the day time--perhaps one ought to say not
during that part of the day time when the village was astir. For
Malvina appears to have been an early riser. Somewhere about the
middle of the night, as any Christian body would have timed it, Mrs.
Muldoon--waking and sleeping during this period in a state of high
nervous tension--would hear the sound of a softly opened door;
peeping from a raised corner of the blind, would catch a glimpse of
fluttering garments that seemed to melt into the dawn; would hear
coming fainter and fainter from the uplands an unknown song,
mingling with the answering voices of the birds.
It was on the uplands between dawn and sunrise that Malvina made the
acquaintance of the Arlington twins.
They ought, of course, to have been in bed--all three of them, for
the matter of that. The excuse for the twins was their Uncle
George. He had been telling them all about the Uffington spectre
and Wayland Smith's cave, and had given them "Puck" as a birthday
present. They were always given their birthday presents between
them, because otherwise they did not care for them. They had
retired to their respective bedrooms at ten o'clock and taken it in
turns to lie awake. At the first streak of dawn Victoria, who had
been watching by her window, woke Victor, as arranged. Victor was
for giving it up and going to sleep again, but Victoria reminding
him of the "oath," they dressed themselves quite simply, and let
themselves down by the ivy.
They came across Malvina close to the tail of the White Horse. They
knew she was a fairy the moment they saw her. But they were not
frightened--at least not very much. It was Victor who spoke first.
Taking off his hat and going down on one knee, he wished Malvina
good morning and hoped she was quite well. Malvina, who seemed
pleased to see them, made answer, and here it was that Victoria took
charge of the affair. The Arlington twins until they were nine had
shared a French nurse between them; and then Victor, going to
school, had gradually forgotten; while Victoria, remaining at home,
had continued her conversations with "madame."
"Oh!" said Victoria. "Then you must be a French fairy."
Now the Professor had impressed upon Malvina that for reasons
needless to be explained--anyhow, he never had explained them--she
was not to mention that she was a fairy. But he had not told her to
deny it. Indeed how could she? The most that could be expected
from her was that she should maintain silence on the point. So in
answer to Victoria she explained that her name was Malvina, and that
she had flown across from Brittany in company with "Sir Arthur,"
adding that she had often heard of England and had wished to see it.
"How do you like it?" demanded Victoria.
Malvina confessed herself charmed with it. Nowhere had she ever met
so many birds. Malvina raised her hand and they all three stood in
silence, listening. The sky was ablaze and the air seemed filled
with their music. The twins were sure that there were millions of
them. They must have come from miles and miles and miles, to sing
Also the people. They were so good and kind and round. Malvina for
the present was staying with--accepting the protection, was how she
put it, of the wise and learned Christopher. The "habitation" could
be seen from where they stood, its chimneys peeping from among the
trees. The twins exchanged a meaning glance. Had they not all
along suspected the Professor! His black skull cap, and his big
hooked nose, and the yellow-leaved, worm-eaten books--of magic: all
doubts were now removed--that for hours he would sit poring over
through owlish gold-rimmed spectacles!
Victor's French was coming back to him. He was anxious to know if
Malvina had ever met Sir Launcelot--"to talk to."
A little cloud gathered upon Malvina's face. Yes, she had known
them all: King Uthur and Igraine and Sir Ulfias of the Isles.
Talked with them, walked with them in the fair lands of France. (It
ought to have been England, but Malvina shook her head. Maybe they
had travelled.) It was she who had saved Sir Tristram from the
wiles of Morgan le Fay. "Though that, of course," explained
Malvina, "was never known."
The twins were curious why it should have been "of course," but did
not like to interrupt again. There were others before and after.
Most of them the twins had never heard of until they came to
Charlemagne, beyond which Malvina's reminiscences appeared to fade.
They had all of them been very courteous to her, and some of them
indeed quite charming. But . . .
One gathers they had never been to Malvina more than mere
acquaintances, such as one passes the time with while waiting--and
"But you liked Sir Launcelot," urged Victor. He was wishful that
Malvina should admire Sir Launcelot, feeling how much there was in
common between that early lamented knight and himself. That little
affair with Sir Bedivere. It was just how he would have behaved
Ah! yes, admitted Malvina. She had "liked" him. He was always so--
"But he was not--none of them were my own people, my own dear
companions." The little cloud had settled down again.
It was Bruno who recalled the three of them to the period of
Polley the cowman's first duty in the morning was to let Bruno loose
for a run. He arrived panting and breathless, and evidently
offended at not having been included in the escapade. He could have
given them both away quite easily if he had not been the most
forgiving of black-and-tan collies. As it was, he had been worrying
himself crazy for the last half-hour, feeling sure they had
forgotten the time. "Don't you know it's nearly six o'clock? That
in less than half an hour Jane will be knocking at your doors with
glasses of hot milk, and will probably drop them and scream when she
finds your beds empty and the window wide open." That is what he
had intended should be his first words, but on scenting Malvina they
went from him entirely. He gave her one look and flopped down flat,
wriggling towards her, whining and wagging his tail at the same
time. Malvina acknowledged his homage by laughing and patting his
head with her foot, and that sent him into the seventh heaven of
delight. They all four descended the hill together and parted at
the orchard gate. The twins expressed a polite but quite sincere
hope that they would have the pleasure of seeing Malvina again; but
Malvina, seized maybe with sudden doubts as to whether she had
behaved with discretion, appears to have replied evasively. Ten
minutes later she was lying asleep, the golden head pillowed on the
round white arm; as Mrs. Muldoon on her way down to the kitchen saw
for herself. And the twins, fortunate enough to find a side door
open, slipped into the house unnoticed and scrambled back into their
It was quarter past nine when Mrs. Arlington came in herself and
woke them up. She was short-tempered with them both and had
evidently been crying. They had their breakfast in the kitchen.
During lunch hardly a word was spoken. And there was no pudding.
Mr. Arlington, a stout, florid gentleman, had no time for pudding.
The rest might sit and enjoy it at their leisure, but not so Mr.
Arlington. Somebody had to see to things--that is, if they were not
to be allowed to go to rack and ruin. If other people could not be
relied upon to do their duty, so that everything inside the house
and out of it was thrown upon one pair of shoulders, then it
followed as a natural consequence that that pair of shoulders could
not spare the necessary time to properly finish its meals. This it
was that was at the root of the decay of English farming. When
farmers' wives, to say nothing of sons and daughters old enough one
might imagine to be anxious to do something in repayment for the
money and care lavished upon them, had all put their shoulders to
the wheel, then English farming had prospered. When, on the other
hand, other people shirked their fair share of labour and
responsibility, leaving to one pair of hands . . .
It was the eldest Arlington girl's quite audible remark that pa
could have eaten two helpings of pudding while he had been talking,
that caused Mr. Arlington to lose the thread of his discourse. To
put it quite bluntly, what Mr. Arlington meant to say was this: He
had never wanted to be a farmer--at least not in the beginning.
Other men in his position, having acquired competency by years of
self-sacrificing labour, would have retired to a well-earned
leisure. Having yielded to persuasion and taken on the job, he was
going to see it through; and everybody else was going to do their
share or there would be trouble.
Mr. Arlington, swallowing the remains of his glass in a single gulp,
spoilt a dignified exit by violently hiccoughing, and Mrs. Arlington
rang the bell furiously for the parlourmaid to clear away. The
pudding passed untouched from before the very eyes of the twins. It
was a black-currant pudding with brown sugar.
That night Mrs. Arlington appears to have confided in the twins,
partly for her own relief and partly for their moral benefit. If
Mrs. Arlington had enjoyed the blessing in disguise of a less
indulgent mother, all might have been well. By nature Mrs.
Arlington had been endowed with an active and energetic temperament.
"Miss Can't-sit-still-a-minute," her nurse had always called her.
Unfortunately it had been allowed to sink into disuse; was now in
all probability beyond hope of recovery. Their father was quite
right. When they had lived in Bayswater and the business was in
Mincing Lane it did not matter. Now it was different. A farmer's
wife ought to be up at six; she ought to see that everybody else was
up at six; servants looked after, kept up to the mark; children
encouraged by their mother's example. Organisation. That was what
was wanted. The day mapped out; to every hour its appointed task.
Then, instead of the morning being gone before you could turn
yourself round, and confusion made worse confounded by your leaving
off what you were doing and trying to do six things at once that you
couldn't remember whether you had done or whether you hadn't . . .
Here Mrs. Arlington appears to have dissolved into tears. Generally
speaking, she was a placid, smiling, most amiable lady, quite
delightful to have about the house provided all you demanded of her
were pleasant looks and a sunny disposition. The twins appear to
have joined their tears to hers. Tucked in and left to themselves,
one imagines the problem being discussed with grave seriousness,
much whispered conversation, then slept upon, the morning bringing
with it ideas. The result being that the next evening, between high
tea and supper, Mrs. Muldoon, answering herself the knock at the
door, found twin figures standing hand in hand on the Professor's
They asked her if "the Fairy" was in.
V. HOW IT WAS TOLD TO MRS. MARIGOLD.
There was no need of the proverbial feather. Mrs. Muldoon made a
grab at the settle but missed it. She caught at a chair, but that
gave way. It was the floor that finally stopped her.
"We're so sorry," apologised Victor. "We thought you knew. We
ought to have said Mademoiselle Malvina."
Mrs. Muldoon regained her feet, and without answering walked
straight into the study.
"They want to know," said Mrs. Muldoon, "if the Fairy's in." The
Professor, with his back to the window, was reading. The light in
the room was somewhat faint.
"Who wants to know?" demanded the Professor.
"The twins from the Manor House," explained Mrs. Muldoon.
"But what?--but who?" began the Professor.
"Shall I say 'not at home'?" suggested Mrs. Muldoon. "Or hadn't you
better see them yourself."
"Show them in," directed the Professor.
They came in, looking a little scared and still holding one another
by the hand. They wished the Professor good evening, and when he
rose they backed away from him. The Professor shook hands with
them, but they did not let go, so that Victoria gave him her right
hand and Victor his left, and then at the Professor's invitation
they sat themselves down on the extreme edge of the sofa.
"I hope we do not disturb you," said Victor. "We wanted to see
"Why do you want to see Mademoiselle Malvina?" inquired the
"It is something very private," said Victor.
"We wanted to ask her a great favour," said Victoria.
"I'm sorry," said the Professor, "but she isn't in. At least, I
don't think so." (The Professor never was quite sure. "She slips
in and out making no more noise than a wind-driven rose leaf," was
Mrs. Muldoon's explanation.) "Hadn't you better tell me? Leave me
to put it to her."
They looked at one another. It would never do to offend the wise
and learned Christopher. Besides, a magician, it is to be assumed,
has more ways than one of learning what people are thinking.
"It is about mamma," explained Victoria. "We wondered if Malvina
would mind changing her."
The Professor had been reading up Malvina. It flashed across him
that this had always been her speciality: Changing people. How had
the Arlington twins discovered it? And why did they want their
mother changed? And what did they want her changed into? It was
shocking when you come to think of it! The Professor became
suddenly so stern, that if the twins could have seen his
expression--which, owing to the fading light, they couldn't--they
would have been too frightened to answer.
"Why do you want your mother changed?" demanded the Professor. Even
as it was his voice alarmed them.
"It's for her own good," faltered Victoria.
"Of course we don't mean into anything," explained Victor.
"Only her inside," added Victoria.
"We thought that Malvina might be able to improve her," completed
It was still very disgraceful. What were we coming to when children
went about clamouring for their mothers to be "improved"! The
atmosphere was charged with indignation. The twins felt it.
"She wants to be," persisted Victoria. "She wants to be energetic
and to get up early in the morning and do things."
"You see," added Victor, "she was never properly brought up."
The Professor maintains stoutly that his only intention was a joke.
It was not even as if anything objectionable had been suggested.
The Professor himself had on occasions been made the confidant of
"Best woman that ever lived, if only one could graft a little energy
upon her. No sense of time. Too easy-going. No idea of keeping
people up to the mark." So Mr. Arlington, over the nuts and wine.
"It's pure laziness. Oh, yes, it is. My friends say I'm so
'restful'; but that's the proper explanation of it--born laziness.
And yet I try. You have no idea, Professor Littlecherry, how much I
try." So Mrs. Arlington, laughingly, while admiring the Professor's
Besides, how absurd to believe that Malvina could possibly change
anybody! Way back, when the human brain was yet in process of
evolution, such things may have been possible. Hypnotic suggestion,
mesmeric influence, dormant brain cells quickened into activity by
magnetic vibration. All that had been lost. These were the days of
George the Fifth, not of King Heremon. What the Professor was
really after was: How would Malvina receive the proposal? Of
course she would try to get out of it. A dear little thing. But
could any sane man, professor of mathematics . . .
Malvina was standing beside him. No one had remarked her entrance.
The eyes of the twins had been glued upon the wise and learned
Christopher. The Professor, when he was thinking, never saw
anything. Still, it was rather startling.
"We should never change what the good God has once fashioned," said
Malvina. She spoke very gravely. The childishness seemed to have
fallen from her.
"You didn't always think so," said the Professor. It nettled the
Professor that all idea of this being a good joke had departed with
the sound of Malvina's voice. She had that way with her.
She made a little gesture. It conveyed to the Professor that his
remark had not been altogether in good taste.
"I speak as one who has learned," said Malvina.
"I beg your pardon," said the Professor. "I ought not to have said
Malvina accepted the Professor's apology with a bow.
"But this is something very different," continued the Professor.
Quite another interest had taken hold of the Professor. It was easy
enough to summon Dame Commonsense to one's aid when Malvina was not
present. Before those strange eyes the good lady had a habit of
sneaking away. Suppose--of course the idea was ridiculous, but
suppose--something did happen! As a psychological experiment was
not one justified? What was the beginning of all science but
applied curiosity? Malvina might be able--and willing--to explain
how it was done. That is, if anything did happen, which, of course,
it wouldn't, and so much the better. This thing had got to be
"It would be using a gift not for one's own purposes, but to help
others," urged the Professor.
"You see," urged Victor, "mamma really wants to be changed."
"And papa wants it too," urged Victoria.
"It seems to me, if I may so express it," added the Professor, "that
really it would be in the nature of making amends for--well, for-
-for our youthful follies," concluded the Professor a little
Malvina's eyes were fixed on the Professor. In the dim light of the
low-ceilinged room, those eyes seemed all of her that was visible.
"You wish it?" said Malvina.
It was not at all fair, as the Professor told himself afterwards,
her laying the responsibility on him. If she really was the
original Malvina, lady-in-waiting to Queen Harbundia, then she was
quite old enough to have decided for herself. From the Professor's
calculations she must now be about three thousand eight hundred.
The Professor himself was not yet sixty; in comparison a mere babe!
But Malvina's eyes were compelling.
"Well, it can't do any harm," said the Professor. And Malvina seems
to have accepted that as her authority.
"Let her come to the Cross Stones at sundown," directed Malvina.
The Professor saw the twins to the door. For some reason the
Professor could not have explained, they all three walked out on
tiptoe. Old Mr. Brent, the postman, was passing, and the twins ran
after him and each took a hand. Malvina was still standing where
the Professor had left her. It was very absurd, but the Professor
felt frightened. He went into the kitchen, where it was light and
cheerful, and started Mrs. Muldoon on Home Rule. When he returned
to the parlour Malvina was gone.
The twins did not talk that night, and decided next morning not to
say a word, but just to ask their mother to come for an evening walk
with them. The fear was that she might demand reasons. But, quite
oddly, she consented without question. It seemed to the twins that
it was Mrs. Arlington herself who took the pathway leading past the
cave, and when they reached the Cross Stones she sat down and
apparently had forgotten their existence. They stole away without
her noticing them, but did not quite know what to do with
themselves. They ran for half a mile till they came to the wood;
there they remained awhile, careful not to venture within; and then
they crept back. They found their mother sitting just as they had
left her. They thought she was asleep, but her eyes were wide open.
They were tremendously relieved, though what they had feared they
never knew. They sat down, one on each side of her, and each took a
hand, but in spite of her eyes being open, it was quite a time
before she seemed conscious of their return. She rose and slowly
looked about her, and as she did so the church clock struck nine.
She could not at first believe it was so late. Convinced by looking
at her watch--there was just light enough for her to see it--she
became all at once more angry than the twins had ever known her, and
for the first time in their lives they both experienced the
sensation of having their ears boxed. Nine o'clock was the proper
time for supper and they were half an hour from home, and it was all
their fault. It did not take them half an hour. It took them
twenty minutes, Mrs. Arlington striding ahead and the twins panting
breathless behind her. Mr. Arlington had not yet returned. He came
in five minutes afterwards, and Mrs. Arlington told him what she
thought of him. It was the shortest supper within the twins'
recollection. They found themselves in bed ten minutes in advance
of the record. They could hear their mother's voice from the
kitchen. A jug of milk had been overlooked and had gone sour. She
had given Jane a week's notice before the clock struck ten.
It was from Mr. Arlington that the Professor heard the news. Mr.
Arlington could not stop an instant, dinner being at twelve sharp
and it wanting but ten minutes to; but seems to have yielded to
temptation. The breakfast hour at the Manor Farm was now six a.m.,
had been so since Thursday; the whole family fully dressed and Mrs.
Arlington presiding. If the Professor did not believe it he could
come round any morning and see for himself. The Professor appears
to have taken Mr. Arlington's word for it. By six-thirty everybody
at their job and Mrs. Arlington at hers, consisting chiefly of
seeing to it for the rest of the day that everybody was. Lights out
at ten and everybody in bed; most of them only too glad to be there.
"Quite right; keeps us all up to the mark," was Mr. Arlington's
opinion (this was on Saturday). Just what was wanted. Not perhaps
for a permanency; and, of course, there were drawbacks. The
strenuous life--seeing to it that everybody else leads the strenuous
life; it does not go with unmixed amiability. Particularly in the
beginning. New-born zeal: must expect it to outrun discretion.
Does not do to discourage it. Modifications to be suggested later.
Taken all round, Mr. Arlington's view was that the thing must be
regarded almost as the answer to a prayer. Mr. Arlington's eyes on
their way to higher levels, appear to have been arrested by the
church clock. It decided Mr. Arlington to resume his homeward way
without further loss of time. At the bend of the lane the
Professor, looking back, observed that Mr. Arlington had broken into
This seems to have been the end of the Professor, regarded as a sane
and intelligent member of modern society. He had not been sure at
the time, but it was now revealed to him that when he had urged
Malvina to test her strength, so to express it, on the unfortunate
Mrs. Arlington, it was with the conviction that the result would
restore him to his mental equilibrium. That Malvina with a wave of
her wand--or whatever the hocus-pocus may have been--would be able
to transform the hitherto incorrigibly indolent and easy-going Mrs.
Arlington into a sort of feminine Lloyd George, had not really
entered into his calculations.
Forgetting his lunch, he must have wandered aimlessly about, not
returning home until late in the afternoon. During dinner he
appears to have been rather restless and nervous--"jumpy," according
to the evidence of the little serving maid. Once he sprang out of
his chair as if shot when the little serving maid accidentally let
fall a table-spoon; and twice he upset the salt. It was at mealtime
that, as a rule, the Professor found his attitude towards Malvina
most sceptical. A fairy who could put away quite a respectable cut
from the joint, followed by two helpings of pie, does take a bit of
believing in. To-night the Professor found no difficulty. The
White Ladies had never been averse to accepting mortal hospitality.
There must always have been a certain adaptability. Malvina, since
that fateful night of her banishment, had, one supposes, passed
through varied experiences. For present purposes she had assumed
the form of a jeune fille of the twentieth century (anno Domini).
An appreciation of Mrs. Muldoon's excellent cooking, together with a
glass of light sound claret, would naturally go with it.
One takes it that he could not for a moment get Mrs. Arlington out
of his mind. More than once, stealing a covert glance across the
table, it seemed to him that Malvina was regarding him with a
mocking smile. Some impish spirit it must have been that had
prompted him. For thousands of years Malvina had led--at all events
so far as was known--a reformed and blameless existence; had subdued
and put behind her that fatal passion of hers for change: in other
people. What madness to have revived it! And no Queen Harbundia
handy now to keep her in check. The Professor had a distinct
sensation, while peeling a pear, that he was being turned into a
guinea-pig--a curious feeling of shrinking about the legs. So vivid
was the impression, that involuntarily the Professor jumped off his
chair and ran to look at himself in the mirror over the sideboard.
He was not fully relieved even then. It may have been the mirror.
It was very old; one of those things with little gilt balls all
round it; and it looked to the Professor as if his nose was growing
straight out of his face. Malvina, trusting he had not been taken
suddenly ill, asked if there was anything she could do for him. He
seems to have earnestly begged her not to think of it.
The Professor had taught Malvina cribbage, and usually of an evening
they played a hand or two. But to-night the Professor was not in
the mood, and Malvina had contented herself with a book. She was
particularly fond of the old chroniclers. The Professor had an
entire shelf of them, many in the original French. Making believe
to be reading himself, he heard Malvina break into a cheerful laugh,
and went and looked over her shoulder. She was reading the history
of her own encounter with the proprietor of tin mines, an elderly
gentleman disliking late hours, whom she had turned into a
nightingale. It occurred to the Professor that prior to the
Arlington case the recalling of this incident would have brought to
her shame and remorse. Now she seemed to think it funny.
"A silly trick," commented the Professor. He spoke quite heatedly.
"No one has any right to go about changing people. Muddling up
things they don't understand. No right whatever."
Malvina looked up. She gave a little sigh.
"Not for one's own pleasure or revenge," she made answer. Her tone
was filled with meekness. It had a touch of self-reproach. "That
is very wrong, of course. But changing them for their own good--at
least, not changing, improving."
"Little hypocrite!" muttered the Professor to himself. "She's got
back a taste for her old tricks, and Lord knows now where she'll
The Professor spent the rest of the evening among his indexes in
search of the latest information regarding Queen Harbundia.
Meanwhile the Arlington affair had got about the village. The twins
in all probability had been unable to keep their secret. Jane, the
dismissed, had looked in to give Mrs. Muldoon her version of
Thursday night's scene in the Arlington kitchen, and Mrs. Muldoon,
with a sense of things impending, may unconsciously have dropped
The Marigolds met the Arlingtons on Sunday, after morning service,
and heard all about it. That is to say, they met Mr. Arlington and
the other children; Mrs. Arlington, with the two elder girls, having
already attended early communion at seven. Mrs. Marigold was a
pretty, fluffy, engaging little woman, ten years younger than her
husband. She could not have been altogether a fool, or she would
not have known it. Marigold, rising politician, ought, of course,
to have married a woman able to help him; but seems to have fallen
in love with her a few miles out of Brussels, over a convent wall.
Mr. Arlington was not a regular church-goer, but felt on this
occasion that he owed it to his Maker. He was still in love with
his new wife. But not blindly. Later on a guiding hand might be
necessary. But first let the new seed get firmly rooted.
Marigold's engagements necessitated his returning to town on Sunday
afternoon, and Mrs. Marigold walked part of the way with him to the
station. On her way back across the fields she picked up the
Arlington twins. Later, she seems to have called in at the cottage
and spoken to Mrs. Muldoon about Jane, who, she had heard, was in
want of a place. A little before sunset she was seen by the Doctor
climbing the path to the Warren. Malvina that evening was missing
for dinner. When she returned she seemed pleased with herself.
VI. AND HOW IT WAS FINISHED TOO SOON.
Some days later--it may have been the next week; the exact date
appears to have got mislaid--Marigold, M.P., looked in on the
Professor. They talked about Tariff Reform, and then Marigold got
up and made sure for himself that the door was tight closed.
"You know my wife," he said. "We've been married six years, and
there's never been a cloud between us except one. Of course, she's
not brainy. That is, at least . . ."
The Professor jumped out of his chair.
"If you take my advice," he said, "you'll leave her alone." He
spoke with passion and conviction.
Marigold looked up.
"It's just what I wish to goodness I had done," he answered. "I
blame myself entirely."
"So long as we see our own mistakes," said the Professor, "there is
hope for us all. You go straight home, young man, and tell her
you've changed your mind. Tell her you don't want her with brains.
Tell her you like her best without. You get that into her head
before anything else happens."
"I've tried to," said Marigold. "She says it's too late. That the
light has come to her and she can't help it."
It was the Professor's turn to stare. He had not heard anything of
Sunday's transactions. He had been hoping against hope that the
Arlington affair would remain a locked secret between himself and
the twins, and had done his best to think about everything else.
"She's joined the Fabian Society," continued Marigold gloomily.
"They've put her in the nursery. And the W.S.P.U. If it gets about
before the next election I'll have to look out for another
"How did you hear about her?" asked the Professor.
"I didn't hear about her," answered Marigold. "If I had I mightn't
have gone up to town. You think it right," he added, "to--to
encourage such people?"
"Who's encouraging her?" demanded the professor. "If fools didn't
go about thinking they could improve every other fool but
themselves, this sort of thing wouldn't happen. Arlington had an
amiable, sweet-tempered wife, and instead of thanking God and
keeping quiet about it, he worries her out of her life because she
is not the managing woman. Well, now he's got the managing woman.
I met him on Wednesday with a bump on his forehead as big as an egg.
Says he fell over the mat. It can't be done. You can't have a
person changed just as far as you want them changed and there stop.
You let 'em alone or you change them altogether, and then they don't
know themselves what they're going to turn out. A sensible man in
your position would have been only too thankful for a wife who
didn't poke her nose into his affairs, and with whom he could get
away from his confounded politics. You've been hinting to her about
once a month, I expect, what a tragedy it was that you hadn't
married a woman with brains. Well, now she's found her brains and
is using them. Why shouldn't she belong to the Fabian Society and
the W.S.P.U? Shows independence of character. Best thing for you
to do is to join them yourself. Then you'll be able to work
"I'm sorry," said Marigold rising. "I didn't know you agreed with
"Who said I agreed with her?" snapped the Professor. "I'm in a very
"I suppose," said Marigold--he was hesitating with the door in his
hand--"it wouldn't be of any use my seeing her myself?"
"I believe," said the Professor, "that she is fond of the
neighbourhood of the Cross Stones towards sundown. You can choose
for yourself, but if I were you I should think twice about it."
"I was wondering," said Marigold, "whether, if I put it to her as a
personal favour, she might not be willing to see Edith again and
persuade her that she was only joking?"
A light began to break upon the Professor.
"What do you think has happened?" he asked.
"Well," explained Marigold, "I take it that your young foreign
friend has met my wife and talked politics to her, and that what has
happened is the result. She must be a young person of extraordinary
ability; but it would be only losing one convert, and I could make
it up to her in--in other ways." He spoke with unconscious pathos.
It rather touched the Professor.
"It might mean," said the Professor--"that is, assuming that it can
be done at all--Mrs. Marigold's returning to her former self
entirely, taking no further interest in politics whatever."
"I should be so very grateful," answered Marigold.
The Professor had mislaid his spectacles, but thinks there was a
tear in Marigold's eye.
"I'll do what I can," said the Professor. "Of course, you mustn't
count on it. It may be easier to start a woman thinking than to
stop her, even for a--" The Professor checked himself just in time.
"I'll talk to her," he said; and Marigold gripped his hand and
It was about time he did. The full extent of Malvina's activities
during those few midsummer weeks, till the return of Flight
Commander Raffleton, will never perhaps be fully revealed.
According to the Doctor, the whole business has been grossly
exaggerated. There are those who talk as if half the village had
been taken to pieces, altered and improved and sent back home again
in a mental state unrecognisable by their own mothers. Certain it
is that Dawson, R.A., generally described by everybody except his
wife as "a lovable little man," and whose only fault was an
incurable habit of punning, both in season--if such a period there
be--and more often out, suddenly one morning smashed a Dutch
interior, fifteen inches by nine, over the astonished head of Mrs.
Dawson. It clung round her neck, recalling biblical pictures of the
head of John the Baptist, and the frame-work had to be sawn through
before she could get it off. As to the story about his having been
caught by Mrs. Dawson's aunt kissing the housemaid behind the
waterbutt, that, as the Doctor admits, is a bit of bad luck that
might have happened to anyone. But whether there was really any
evidence connecting him with Dolly Calthorpe's unaccountable missing
of the last train home, is of course, a more serious matter. Mrs.
Dawson, a handsome, high-spirited woman herself, may have found
Dawson, as originally fashioned, trying to the nerves; though even
then the question arises: Why have married him? But there is a
difference, as Mrs. Dawson has pointed out, between a husband who
hasn't enough of the natural man in him and a husband who has a deal
too much. It is difficult to regulate these matters.
Altogether, and taking an outside estimate, the Doctor's opinion is
that there may have been half a dozen, who, with Malvina's
assistance, succeeded in hypnotising themselves into temporary
insanity. When Malvina, a little disappointed, but yielding quite
sweetly her own judgment to that of the wise and learned
Christopher, consented to "restore" them, the explanation was that,
having spent their burst of ill-acquired energy, they fell back at
the first suggestion to their former selves.
Mrs. Arlington does not agree with the Doctor. She had been trying
to reform herself for quite a long time and had miserably failed.
There was something about them--it might almost be described as an
aroma--that prompted her that evening to take the twins into her
confidence; a sort of intuition that in some way they could help
her. It remained with her all the next day; and when the twins
returned in the evening, in company with the postman, she knew
instinctively that they had been about her business. It was this
same intuitive desire that drew her to the Downs. She is confident
she would have taken that walk to the Cross Stones even if the twins
had not proposed it. Indeed, according to her own account, she was
not aware that the twins had accompanied her. There was something
about the stones; a sense as of a presence. She knew when she
reached them that she had arrived at the appointed place; and when
there appeared to her--coming from where she could not tell--a
diminutive figure that seemed in some mysterious way as if it were
clothed merely in the fading light, she remembered distinctly that
she was neither surprised nor alarmed. The diminutive lady sat down
beside her and took Mrs. Arlington's hands in both her own. She
spoke in a strange language, but Mrs. Arlington at the time
understood it, though now the meaning of it had passed from her.
Mrs. Arlington felt as if her body were being taken away from her.
She had a sense of falling, a feeling that she must make some
desperate effort to rise again. The strange little lady was helping
her, assisting her to make this supreme effort. It was as if ages
were passing. She was wrestling with unknown powers. Suddenly she
seemed to slip from them. The little lady was holding her up.
Clasping each other, they rose and rose and rose. Mrs. Arlington
had a firm conviction that she must always be struggling upward, or
they would overtake her and drag her down again. When she awoke the
little lady had gone, but that feeling remained with her; that
passionate acceptance of ceaseless struggle, activity, contention,
as now the end and aim of her existence. At first she did not
recollect where she was. A strange colourless light was around her,
and a strange singing as of myriads of birds. And then the clock
struck nine and life came back to her with a rush. But with it
still that conviction that she must seize hold of herself and
everybody else and get things done. Its immediate expression, as
already has been mentioned, was experienced by the twins.
When, after a talk with the Professor, aided and abetted by Mr.
Arlington and the eldest Arlington girl, she consented to pay that
second visit to the stones, it was with very different sensations
that she climbed the grass-grown path. The little lady had met her
as before, but the curious deep eyes looked sadly, and Mrs.
Arlington had the impression, generally speaking, that she was about
to assist at her own funeral. Again the little lady took her by the
hands, and again she experienced that terror of falling. But
instead of ending with contest and effort she seemed to pass into a
sleep, and when she opened her eyes she was again alone. Feeling a
little chilly and unreasonably tired, she walked slowly home, and
not being hungry, retired supperless to bed. Quite unable to
explain why, she seems to have cried herself to sleep.
One supposes that something of a similar nature may have occurred to
the others--with the exception of Mrs. Marigold. It was the case of
Mrs. Marigold that, as the Doctor grudgingly admits, went far to
weaken his hypothesis. Mrs. Marigold, having emerged, was spreading
herself, much to her own satisfaction. She had discarded her
wedding ring as a relic of barbarism--of the days when women were
mere goods and chattels, and had made her first speech at a meeting
in favour of marriage reform. Subterfuge, in her case, had to be
resorted to. Malvina had tearfully consented, and Marigold, M.P.,
was to bring Mrs. Marigold to the Cross Stones that same evening and
there leave her, explaining to her that Malvina had expressed a wish
to see her again--"just for a chat."
All might have ended well if only Commander Raffleton had not
appeared framed in the parlour door just as Malvina was starting.
His Cousin Christopher had written to the Commander. Indeed, after
the Arlington affair, quite pressingly, and once or twice had
thought he heard the sound of Flight Commander Raffleton's
propeller, but on each occasion had been disappointed. "Affairs of
State," Cousin Christopher had explained to Malvina, who, familiar
one takes it with the calls upon knights and warriors through all
the ages, had approved.
He stood there with his helmet in his hand.
"Only arrived this afternoon from France," he explained. "Haven't
a moment to spare."
But he had just time to go straight to Malvina. He laughed as he
took her in his arms and kissed her full upon the lips.
When last he had kissed her--it had been in the orchard; the
Professor had been witness to it--Malvina had remained quite
passive, only that curious little smile about her lips. But now an
odd thing happened. A quivering seemed to pass through all her
body, so that it swayed and trembled. The Professor feared she was
going to fall; and, maybe to save herself, she put up her arms about
Commander Raffleton's neck, and with a strange low cry--it sounded
to the Professor like the cry one sometimes hears at night from some
little dying creature of the woods--she clung to him sobbing.
It must have been a while later when the chiming of the clock
recalled to the Professor the appointment with Mrs. Marigold.
"You will only just have time," he said, gently seeking to release
her. "I'll promise to keep him till you come back." And as Malvina
did not seem to understand, he reminded her.
But still she made no movement, save for a little gesture of the
hands as if she were seeking to lay hold of something unseen. And
then she dropped her arms and looked from one of them to the other.
The Professor did not think of it at the time, but remembered
afterwards; that strange aloofness of hers, as if she were looking
at you from another world. One no longer felt it.
"I am so sorry," she said. "It is too late. I am only a woman."
And Mrs. Marigold is still thinking.
And here follows the Prologue. It ought, of course, to have been
written first, but nobody knew of it until quite the end entirely.
It was told to Commander Raffleton by a French comrade, who in days
of peace had been a painter, mingling with others of his kind,
especially such as found their inspiration in the wide horizons and
legend-haunted dells of old-world Brittany. Afterwards the
Commander told it to the Professor, and the Professor's only
stipulation was that it should not be told to the Doctor, at least
for a time. For the Doctor would see in it only confirmation for
his own narrow sense-bound theories, while to the Professor it
confirmed beyond a doubt the absolute truth of this story.
It commenced in the year Eighteen hundred and ninety-eight (anno
Domini), on a particularly unpleasant evening in late February--"a