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  • 1887
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only a few pools flashed silver amid the ooze; and the masts of the tall vessels,–tall vessels aground in that strange canal or rather dyke which runs parallel with and within a few yards of the sea for so many miles,–tapered and leaned out over the sea banks, and the points of the top masts could be counted. Then on the left hand towards Brighton, the sea streamed with purple, it was striped with green, and it hung like a blue veil behind the rich trees of Leywood and Little Leywood, and the trees and the fields were full of golden rays.

The lovers stood on a grassy plain; sheep were travelling over the great expanses of the valleys; rooks were flying about. Looking over the plain you saw Southwick,–a gleam of gables, a gleam of walls,–skirting a plantation; and further away still, Brighton lay like a pile of rocks heaped about a low shore.

To the lovers life was now as an assortment of simple but beautiful flowers; and they passed the blossoms to and fro and bound them into a bouquet. They talked of the Miss Austins, of their flirtations, of the Rectory, of Thornby Place, of Italy, for there they were going next month on their honeymoon. The turnip and corn lands were as inconceivable widths of green and yellow satin rolling through the rich light of the crests into the richer shadow of the valleys. And there there was a farm-house surrounded by buildings, surrounded by trees,–it looked like a nest in its snug hollow; the smoke ascended blue and peacefully. It was the last habitation. Beyond it the downs extend, in almost illimitable ranges ascending to the wild golden gorse, to the purple heather.

We are on the burgh. The hills tumble this way and that; below is the great weald of Sussex, blue with vapour, spotted with gold fields, level as a landscape by Hobbema; Chanctonbury Ring stands up like a gaunt watcher; its crown of trees is pressed upon its brow, a dark and imperial crown.

Overhead the sky is full of dark grey clouds; through them the sun breaks and sheds silver dust over the landscape; in the passing gleams the green of the furze grows vivid. If you listen you hear the tinkling of the bell-wether; if you look you see a solitary rabbit. A stunted hawthorn stands by the circle of stone, and by it the lovers were sitting. He was talking to her of Italy, of cathedrals and statues, for although he now loves her as a man should love, he still saw his honeymoon in a haze of Botticellis, cardinals, and chants. They stood up and bid each other good-bye, and waving hands they parted.

Night was coming on apace, a long way lay still before him, and he walked hastily; she being nearer home, sauntered leisurely, swinging her parasol. The sweetness of the evening was in her blood and brain, and the architectural beauty of the landscape–the elliptical arches of the hills–swam before her. But she had not walked many minutes before a tramp, like a rabbit out of a bush, sprang out of the furze where he had been sleeping. He was a gaunt hulking fellow, six feet high.

“Now ‘aven’t you a copper or two for a poor fellow, Missie?”

Kitty started from him frightened. “No, I haven’t, I have nothing … go away.”

He laughed hoarsely, she ran from him. “Now, don’t run so fast, Missie, won’t you give a poor fellow something?”

“I have nothing.”

“Oh, yes you ‘ave; what about those pretty lips?”

A few strides brought him again to her side. He laid his hand upon her arm. She broke her parasol across his face, he laughed hoarsely. She saw his savage beast-like eyes fixed hungrily upon her. She fainted for fear of his look of dull tigerish cruelty. She fell….

When shaken and stunned and terrified she rose from the ground, she saw the tall gaunt figure passing away like a shadow. The wild solitary landscape was pale and dim. In the fading light it was a drawing made on blue paper with a hard pencil. The long undulating lines were defined on the dead sky, the girdle of blue encircling sea was an image of eternity. All now was the past, there did not seem to be a present. Her mind was rocked to and fro, and on its surface words and phrases floated like sea weed…. To throw her down and ill-treat her. Her frock is spoilt; they will ask her where she has been to, and how she got herself into such a state. Mechanically she brushed herself, and mechanically, very mechanically she picked bits of furze from her dress. She held each away from her and let it drop in a silly vacant way, all the while running the phrases over in her mind: “What a horrible man … he threw me down and ill-treated me; my frock is ruined, utterly ruined, what a state it is in! I had a narrow escape of being murdered. I will tell them that … that will explain … I had a narrow escape of being murdered.” But presently she grew conscious that these thoughts were fictitious thoughts, and that there was a thought, a real thought, lying in the background of her mind, which she dared not face, which she could not think of, for she did not think as she desired to; her thoughts came and went at their own wild will, they flitted lightly, touching with their wings but ever avoiding this deep and formless thought which lay in darkness, almost undiscoverable, like a monster in a nightmare.

She rose to her feet, she staggered, her sight seemed to fail her. There was a darkness in the summer evening which she could not account for; the ground seemed to slide beneath her feet, the landscape seemed to be in motion and to be rolling in great waves towards the sea. Would it precipitate itself into the sea, and would she be engulphed in the universal ruin? O! the sea, how implacably serene, how remorselessly beautiful; green along the shore, purple along the horizon! But the land was rolling to it. By Lancing College it broke seaward in a soft lapsing tide, in front of her it rose in angry billows; and Leywood hill, green, and grand, and voluted, stood up a great green wave against the waveless sea.

“What a horrible man … he attacked me, ill-treated me … what for?” Her thoughts turned aside. “He should be put in prison…. If father knew it, or John knew it, he would be put in prison, and for a very long time…. Why did he attack me?… Perhaps to rob me; yes, to rob me, of course to rob me.” The evening seemed to brighten, the tumultuous landscape to grow still, To rob her, and of what?… of her watch; where was it? It was gone. The happiness of a dying saint when he opens arms to heaven descended upon her. The watch was gone … but, had she lost it? Should she go back and see if she could find it? Oh! impossible; see the place again–impossible! search among the gorse–impossible! Horror! She would die. O to die on the lonely hills, to lie stark and cold beneath the stars! But no, she would not be found upon these hills. She would die and be seen no more. O to die, to sink in that beautiful sea, so still, so calm, so calm–why would it not take her to its bosom and hide her away? She would go to it, but she could not get to it; there were thousands of men between her and it…. An icy shiver passed through her.

Then as her thoughts broke away, she thought of how she had escaped being murdered. How thankful she ought to be–but somehow she is not thankful. And she was above all things conscious of a horror of returning, of returning to where she would see men and women’s faces … men’s faces. And now with her eyes fixed on the world that awaited her, she stood on the hillside. There was Brighton far away, sparkling in the dying light; nearer, Southwick showed amid woods, winding about the foot of the hills; in front Shoreham rose out of the massy trees of Leywood, the trees slanted down to the lawn and foliage and walls, made spots of white and dark green upon a background of blue sea; further to the right there was a sluggish silver river, the spine of the skeleton bridge, a spur of Lancing hill, and then mist, pale mist, pale grey mist.

“I cannot go home”, thought the girl, and acting in direct contradiction to her thoughts, she walked forward. Her parasol–where was it? It was broken. The sheep, how sweet and quiet they looked, and the clover, how deliciously it smelt…. This is Mr Austin’s farm, and how well kept it is. There is the barn. And Evy and Mary, when would they be married? Not so soon as she, she was going to be married in a month. In a month. She repeated the words over to herself; she strove to collect her thoughts, and failing to do so, she walked on hurriedly, she almost ran as if in the motion to force out of sight the thoughts that for a moment threatened to define themselves in her mind. Suddenly she stopped; there were some children playing by the farm gate. They did not know that she was by, and she listened to their childish prattle unsuspected. To listen was an infinite assuagement, one that was overpoweringly sweet, and for some moments she almost forgot. But she woke from her ecstacy in deadly fear and great pain, for coming along the hedgerow the voice of a man was heard, and the children ran away. And she ran too, like a terrified fawn, trembling in every limb, and sick with fear she sped across the meadows. The front door was open; she heard her father calling. To see him she felt would be more than she could bear; she must hide from his sight for ever, and dashing upstairs she double locked her door.

CHAPTER VII.

The sky was still flushed, there was light upon the sea, but the room was dim and quiet. The room! Kitty had seen it under all aspects, she had lived in it many years: then why does she look with strained eyes? Why does she shrink? Nothing has been changed. There is her little narrow bed, and her little bookcase full of novels and prayer-books; there is her work-basket by the fireplace, by the fireplace closed in with curtains that she herself embroidered; above her pillow there is a crucifix; there are photographs of the Miss Austins, and pictures of pretty children cut from the Christmas Numbers on the walls. She starts at the sight of these familiar objects! She trembles in the room which she thought of as a haven of refuge. Why does she grasp the rail of the bed–why? She scarcely knows: something that is at once remembrance and suspicion fills her mind. Is this her room?

The thought ended. She walked hurriedly to and fro, and as she passed the fuchsia in the window a blossom fell.

She sat down and stared into dark space. She walked languidly and purposelessly to the wardrobe. She stopped to pick a petal from the carpet. The sound of the last door was over, the retiring footfall had died away in the distance, the last voice was hushed; the moon was shining on the sea. A lovely scene, silver and blue; but how the girl’s heart was beating! She sighed.

She sighed as if she had forgotten, and approaching her bedside she raised her hands to her neck. It was the instinctive movement of undressing. Her hands dropped, she did not even unbutton her collar. She could not. She resumed her walk, she picked up a blossom that had fallen, she looked out on the pale white sea. There was moonlight now in the room, a ghastly white spot was on the pillow. She was tired. The moonlight called her. She lay down with her profile in the light.

But there were smell and features in the glare–the odour was that of the tramp’s skin, the features–a long thin nose, pressed lips, small eyes, a look of dull liquorish cruelty. And this presence was beside her; she could not rid herself of it, she repulsed it with cries, but it came again, and mocking, lay on the pillow.

Horrible, too horrible! She sprang from the bed. Was there anyone in her room? How still it was! The mysterious moonlight, the sea white as a shroud, the sward so chill and death-like. What! Did it move? Was it he? That fearsome shadow! Was she safe? Had they forgotten to bar up the house? Her father’s house! Horrible, too horrible, she must shut out this treacherous light–darkness were better….

* * * * *

The curtains are closed, but a ray glinting between the wall and curtain shows her face convulsed. Something follows her: she knows not what, her thoughts are monstrous and obtuse. She dares not look round, she would turn to see if her pursuer is gaining upon her, but some invincible power restrains her…. Agony! Her feet catch in, and she falls over great leaves. She falls into the clefts of ruined tombs, and her hands as she attempts to rise are laid on sleeping snakes–rattlesnakes: they turn to attack her, and they glide away and disappear in moss and inscriptions. O, the calm horror of this region! Before her the trees extend in complex colonnades, silent ruins are grown through with giant roots, and about the mysterious entrances of the crypts there lingers yet the odour of ancient sacrifices. The stem of a rare column rises amid the branches, the fragment of an arch hangs over and is supported by a dismantled tree trunk. Ages ago the leaves fell, and withered; ages ago; and now the skeleton arms, lifted in fantastic frenzy against the desert skies, are as weird and symbolic as the hieroglyphics on the tombs below.

And through the torrid twilight of the approaching storm the cry of the hyena is heard.

Flowers hang on every side,–flowers as strange and as gorgeous as Byzantine chalices; flowers narrow and fluted and transparent as long Venetian glasses; opaque flowers bulging and coloured with gold devices like Chinese vases, flowers striped with cinnamon and veined with azure; a million flower-cups and flower chalices, and in these as in censers strange and deadly perfumes are melting, and the heavy fumes descend upon the girl, and they mix with the polluting odour of the ancient sacrifices. She sinks, her arms are raised like those of a victim; she sinks overcome, done to death or worse in some horrible asphyxiation.

And through the torrid twilight of the approaching storm the cry of the hyena is heard. His claws are upon the crumbling tombs.

The suffocating girl utters a thin wail. The vulture pauses, and is stationary on the white and desert skies. She strives with her last strength to free herself from the thrall of the great lianas, and she falls into fresh meshes…. The claws are heard amid the ruins, there is a hirsute smell; she turns with terrified eyes to plead, but she meets only the dull liquorish eyes, and the breath of the obscene animal is on her face.

Then she finds herself in the pleasure grounds of Thornby Place. There are the evergreen oaks, there is the rosary flaring all its wealth of red, purple, and white flowers, there is the park encircled by elms, there is the vista filled in with the line of the lofty downs. For a moment she is surprised, and fails to understand. Then she forgets the change of place in new sensations of terror. For across the park something is coming, she knows not what; it will pass her by. She watches a brown and yellow serpent, cubits high. Cubits high. It rears aloft its tawny hide, scenting its prey. The great coiling body, the small head, small as a man’s hand, the black beadlike eyes shine out upon the intoxicating blue of the sky. The narrow long head, the fixed black eyes are dull, inexorable desire, conscious of nothing beyond, and only dimly conscious of itself. Will the snake pass by the hiding girl? She rushes to meet it. What folly! She turns and flies.

She takes refuge in the rosary. It follows her, gathering its immense body into horrible and hideous heights. How will she save herself? She will pluck roses, and build a wall between her and it. She collects huge bouquets, armfuls of beautiful flowers, garlands and wreaths. The flower-wall rises, and hoping to combat the fury of the beast with purity, she goes to where beautiful and snowy blossoms grow in clustering millions. She gathers them in haste; her arms and hands are streaming with blood, but she pays no heed, and as the snake surmounts one barricade, she builds another. But in vain. The reptile leans over them all, and the sour dirty smell of the scaly hide befouls the odorous breath of the roses. The long thin neck is upon her; she feels the horrid strength of the coils as they curl and slip about her, drawing her whole life into one knotted and loathsome embrace. And all the while the roses fall in a red and white rain about her. And through the ruin of the roses she escapes from the stench and the coils, and all the while the snake pursues her even into the fountain. The waves and the snake close about her.

Then without any transition in place or time, she finds herself listening to the sound of rippling water. There is an iron drinking cup close to her hand. She seems to recognise the spot. It is Shoreham. There are the streets she knows so well, the masts of the vessels, the downs. But suddenly something darkens the sunlight, the tawny body of the snake oscillates, the people cry to her to escape. She flies along the streets, like the wind she seems to pass. She calls for help. Sometimes the crowds are stationary as if frozen into stone, sometimes they follow the snake and attack it with sticks and knives. One man with colossal shoulders wields a great sabre; it flashes about him like lightning. Will he kill it? He turns and chases a dog, and disappears. The people too have disappeared. She is flying now along a wild plain covered with coarse grass and wild poppies. When she glances behind her she sees the outline of the little coast town, the snake is near her, and there is no one to whom she can call for help. But the sea is in front of her, bound like a blue sash about the cliff’s edge. She will escape down the rocks–there is still a chance! The descent is sheer, but somehow she retains foothold. Then the snake drops, she feels his weight upon her, and both fall, fall, fall, and the sea is below them….

* * * * *

With a shriek she sprang from the bed, and still under the influence of the dream, rushed to the window. The moon hung over the sea, the sea flowed with silver, the world was as chill as an icicle.

“The roses, the snake, the cliff’s edge, was it then only a dream?” the girl thought. “It was only a dream, a terrible dream, but after all only a dream!” In her hope breathes again, and she smiles like one who thinks he is going to hear that he will not die, but as the old pain returns when the last portion of the deceptive sentence is spoken, so despair came back to her when remembrance pierced the cloud of hallucination, and told her that all was not a dream–there was something that was worse than a dream.

She uttered a low cry, and she moaned. Centuries seemed to have passed, and yet the evil deed remained. It was still night, but what would the day bring to her? There was no hope. Abstract hope from life, and what blank agony you create!

She drew herself up on her bed, and lay with her face buried in the pillow. For the face was beside her: the foul smell was in her nostrils, and the dull, liquorish look of the eyes shone through the darkness. Then sleep came again, and she lay stark and straight as if she were dead, with the light of the moon upon her face. And she sees herself dead. And all her friends are about her crowning her with flowers, beautiful garlands of white roses, and dressing her in a long white robe, white as the snowiest cloud in heaven, and it lies in long straight plaits about her limbs like the robes of those who lie in marble in cathedral aisles. And it falls over her feet, and her hands are crossed over her breast, and all praise in low but ardent words the excessive whiteness of the garment. For none sees but she that there is a black spot upon the robe which they believe to be immaculate. And she would warn them of their error, but she cannot; and when they avert their faces to wipe away their tears, the stain might be easily seen, but when they turn to continue the last offices, folds or flowers have mysteriously fallen over the stain, and hide it from view.

And it is great pain to her to feel herself thus unable to tell them of their error, for she well knows that when she is placed in the tomb, and the angels come, that they will not fail to perceive the stain, and seeing it they will not fail to be shocked and sorrowful,–and seeing it they will turn away weeping, saying, “She is not for us, alas, she is not for us!”

And Kitty, who is conscious of this fatal oversight, the results of which she so clearly foresees, is grievously afflicted, and she makes every effort to warn her friends of their error: but in vain, for there appears to be one amid the mourners who knows that she is endeavouring to announce to them the black stain, and this one whose face she cannot readily distinguish, maliciously and with diabolical ingenuity withdraws attention at the moment when it should fall upon it.

And so it comes that she is buried in the stained robe, and she is carried amid flowers and white cloths to a white marble tomb, where incense is burning, and where the walls are hung with votive wreaths and things commemorative of virginal life and its many lovelinesses. But, strange to say, upon all these, upon the flowers and images alike there is some small stain which none sees but she and the one in shadow, the one whose face she cannot recognise. And although she is nailed fast in her coffin, she sees these stains vividly, and the one whose face she cannot recognise sees them too. And this is certain, for the shadow of the face is sometimes stirred by a horrible laugh.

The mourners go, the evening falls, and the wild sunset floats for a while through the western Heavens; and the cemetery becomes a deep green, and in the wind that blows out of Heaven, the cypresses rock like things sad and mute.

And the blue night comes with stars in her tresses, and out of those stars a legion of angels float softly; their white feet hang out of the blown folds, their wings are pointed to the stars. And from out of the earth, out of the mist, but whence and how it is impossible to say, there come other angels dark of hue and foul smelling. But the white angels carry swords, and they wave these swords, and the scene is reflected in them as in a mirror; and the dark angels cower in a corner of the cemetery, but they do not utterly retire.

And then the tomb is opened, and the white angels enter the tomb. And the coffin is opened, and the girl trembles lest the angels should discover the stain she knew of. But lo! to her great joy they do not see it, and they bear her away through the blue night, past the sacred stars, even within the glory of Paradise. And it is not until one whose face she cannot recognize, and whose presence among the angels of Heaven she cannot comprehend, steals away one of the garlands of white with which she was entwined, that the fatal stain becomes visible. The angels are overcome with a mighty sorrow, and relinquishing their burden, they break into song, and the song they sing is one of grief; and above an accompaniment of spheral music it travels through the spaces of Heaven; and she listens to its wailing echoes as she falls, falls,–falls past the sacred stars to the darkness of terrestrial skies,–falls towards the sea where the dark angels are waiting for her; and as she falls she leans with reverted neck and strives to see their faces, and as she nears them she distinguishes one into whose arms she is going; it is, it is–the…

* * * * *

“Save me, save me!” she cried; and bewildered and dazed with the dream, she stared on the room, now chill with summer dawn; the pale light broke over the Shoreham sea, over the lordly downs and rich plantations of Leywood. Again she murmured, it was only a dream, it was only a dream; again a sort of presentiment of happiness spread like light through her mind, and again remembrance came with its cruel truths–there was something that was not a dream, but that was worse than the dream. And then with despair in her heart she sat watching the cold sky turn to blue, the delicate bright blue of morning, and the garden grow into yellow and purple and red. There lay the sea, joyous and sparkling in the light of the mounting sun, and the masts of the vessels at anchor in the long water way. The tapering masts were faint on the shiny sky, and now between them and about them a face seemed to be. Sometimes it was fixed on one, sometimes it flashed like a will o’ the wisp, and appeared a little to the right or left of where she had last seen it. It was the face that was now buried in her very soul, and sometimes it passed out of the sky into the morning mist, which still heaved about the edges of the woods; and there she saw something grovelling, crouching, crawling,–a wild beast, or was it a man?

She did not weep, nor did she moan. She sat thinking. She dwelt on the remembrance of the hills and the tramp with strange persistency, and yet no more now than before did she attempt to come to conclusions with her thought; it was vague, she would not define it; she brooded over it sullenly and obtusely. Sometimes her thoughts slipped away from it, but with each returning, a fresh stage was marked in the progress of her nervous despair.

So the hours went by. At eight o’clock the maid knocked at the door. Kitty opened it mechanically, and she fell into the woman’s arms, weeping and sobbing passionately. The sight of the female face brought infinite relief; it interrupted the jarred and strained sense of the horrible; the secret affinities of sex quickened within her. The woman’s presence filled Kitty with the feelings that the harmlessness of a lamb or a soft bird inspires.

CHAPTER VIII.

“But what is it, Miss, what is it? Are you ill? Why, Miss, you haven’t taken your things off; you haven’t been to bed.”

“No, I lay down…. I have had frightful dreams–that is all.”

“But you must be ill, Miss; you look dreadful, Miss. Shall I tell Mr Hare? Perhaps the doctor had better be sent for.”

“No, no; pray say nothing about me. Tell my father that I did not sleep, that I am going to lie down for a little while, that he is not to expect me down for breakfast.”

“I really think, Miss, that it would be as well for you to see the doctor.”

“No, no, no. I am going to lie down, and I am not to be disturbed.”

“Shall I fill the bath, Miss? Shall I leave hot water here, Miss?”

“Bath…. Hot water….” Kitty repeated the words over as if she were striving to grasp a meaning which was suggested, but which eluded her. Then her face relaxed, the expression was one of pitiful despair, and that expression gave way to a sense of nausea, expressed by a quick contraction of the eyes.

She listened to the splashing of the water, and its echoes were repeated indefinably through her soul.

The maid left the room. Kitty’s attention was attracted to her dress. It was torn, it was muddy, there were bits of furze sticking to it. She picked these off, and slowly she commenced settling it: but as she did so, remembrance, accurate and simple recollection of facts, returned to her, and the succession was so complete that the effect was equivalent to a re-enduring of the crime, and with a foreknowledge of it, as if to sharpen its horror and increase the sense of the pollution. The lovely hills, the engirdling sea, the sweet glow of evening–she saw it all again. And as if afraid that her brain, now strained like a body on the rack, would suddenly snap, she threw up her arms, and began to take off her dress, as violently as if she would hush thought in abrupt movements. In a moment she was in stays and petticoat. The delicate and almost girlish arms were disfigured by great bruises. Great black and blue stains were spreading through the skin.

Kitty lifted up her arm: she looked at it in surprise; then in horror she rushed to the door where her dressing gown was hanging, and wrapped herself in it tightly, hid herself in it so that no bit of her flesh could be seen.

She threw herself madly on the bed. She moved, pressing herself against the mattress as if she would rub away, free herself from her loathed self. The sight of her hand was horrible to her, and she covered it over hurriedly.

The maid came up with a tray. The trivial jingle of the cups and plates was another suffering added to the ever increasing stress of mind, and now each memory was accompanied by sensations of physical sickness, of nausea.

She slipped from the bed and locked the door. Again she was alone. An hour passed.

Her father came up. His footsteps on the stairs caused her intolerable anguish. On entering the house she had hated to hear his voice, and now that hatred was intensified a thousandfold. His voice sounded in her ears false, ominous, abominable. She could not have opened the door to him, and the effort required to speak a few words, to say she was tired and wished to be left alone, was so great that it almost cost her her reason. It was a great relief to hear him go. She asked herself why she hated to hear his voice, but before she could answer a sudden recollection of the tramp sprang upon her. Her nostrils recalled the smell, and her eyes saw the long, thin nose and the dull liquorish eyes beside her on the pillow.

She got up and walked about the room, and its appearance contrasted with and aggravated the fierceness of the fever of passion and horror that raged within her. The homeliness of the teacups and the plates, the tin bath, painted yellow and white, so grotesque and so trim.

But not its water nor even the waves of the great sea would wash away remembrance. She pressed her face against the pane. The wide sea, so peaceful, so serene! Oblivion, oblivion, O for the waters of oblivion!

Then for an hour she almost forgot; sometimes she listened, and the shrill singing of the canary was mixed with thoughts of her dead brothers and sisters, of her mother. She was waked from her reveries by the farm bell ringing the labourers’ dinner hour.

Night had been fearsome with darkness and dreams, but the genial sunlight and the continuous externality of the daytime acted on her mind, and turned vague thoughts, as it were, into sentences, printed in clear type. She often thought she was dead, and she favoured this idea, but she was never wholly dead. She was a lost soul wandering on those desolate hills, the gloom descending, and Brighton and Southwick and Shoreham and Worthing gleaming along the sea banks of a purple sea. There were phantoms–there were two phantoms. One turned to reality, and she walked by her lover’s side, talking of Italy. Then he disappeared, and she shrank from the horrible tramp; then both men grew confused in her mind, and in despair she threw herself on her bed. Raising her eyes she caught sight of her prayer-book, but she turned from it moaning, for her misery was too deep for prayer.

The lunch bell rang. She listened to the footsteps on the staircase; she begged to be excused, and she refused to open the door.

The day grew into afternoon. She awoke from a dreamless sleep of about an hour, and still under its soothing influence, she pinned up her hair, settled the ribbons of her dressing gown, and went downstairs. She found her father and John in the drawing-room.

“Oh, here is Kitty!” they exclaimed.

“But what is the matter, dear? Why are you not dressed?” said Mr Hare. “But what is the matter…. Are you ill?” said John, and he extended his hand.

“No, no, ’tis nothing,” she replied, and avoiding the outstretched hand with a shudder, she took the seat furthest away from her father and lover.

They looked at her in amazement, and she at them in fear and trembling. She was conscious of two very distinct sensations–one the result of reason, the other of madness. She was not ignorant of the causes of each, although she was powerless to repress one in favour of the other. Both struggled for mastery and for the moment without disturbing the equipoise. On the side of reason she knew very well she was looking at and talking to her dear, kind father, and that the young man sitting next him was John Norton, the son of her dear friend, Mrs Norton; she knew he was the young man who loved her, and whom she was going to marry, marry, marry. On the other side she saw that her father’s kind benign countenance was not a real face, but a mask which he wore over another face, and which, should the mask slip–and she prayed that it might not–would prove as horrible and revolting as–

But the mask John wore was as nothing, it was the veriest make believe. And she could not but doubt now but that the face she had known him so long by was a fictitious face, and as the hallucination strengthened, she saw his large mild eyes grow small, and that vague dreamy look turn to the dull liquorish look, the chin came forward, the brows contracted … the large sinewy hands were, oh, so like! Then reason asserted itself; the vision vanished, and she saw John Norton as she had always seen him.

But was she sure that she did? Yes, yes–she must not give way. But her head seemed to be growing lighter, and she did not appear to be able to judge things exactly as she should; a sort of new world seemed to be slipping like a painted veil between her and the old. She must resist.

John and Mr Hare looked at her.

John at length rose, and advancing to her, said, “My dear Kitty, I am afraid you are not well….”

She strove to allow him to take her hand, but she could not overcome the instinctive feeling which, against her will, caused her to shrink from him.

“Oh, don’t come near me, I cannot bear it!” she cried, “don’t come near me, I beg of you.”

More than this she could not do, and giving way utterly, she shrieked and rushed from the room. She rushed upstairs. She stood in the middle of the floor listening to the silence, her thoughts falling about her like shaken leaves. It was as if a thunderbolt had destroyed the world, and left her alone in a desert. The furniture of the room, the bed, the chairs, the books she loved, seemed to have become as grains of sand, and she forgot all connection between them and herself. She pressed her hands to her forehead, and strove to separate the horror that crowded upon her. But all was now one horror–the lonely hills were in the room, the grey sky, the green furze, the tramp; she was again fighting furiously with him; and her lover and her father and all sense of the world’s life grew dark in the storm of madness. Suddenly she felt something on her neck. She put her hand up …

And now with madness on her face she caught up a pair of scissors and cut off her hair: one after the other the great tresses of gold and brown fell, until the floor was strewn with them.

A step was heard on the stairs; her quick ears caught the sound, and she rushed to the door to lock it. But she was too late. John held it fast.

“Kitty, Kitty,” he cried, “for God’s sake, tell me what is the matter!”

“Save me! save me!” she cried, and she forced the door against him with her whole strength. He was, however, determined on questioning her, on seeing her, and he passed his head and shoulders into the room. His heart quailed at the face he saw.

For now had gone that imperceptible something which divides the life of the sane from that of the insane, and he who had so long feared lest a woman might soil the elegant sanctity of his life, disappeared forever from the mind of her whom he had learned to love, and existed to her only as the foul dull brute who had outraged her on the hills.

“Save me, save me! help, help!” she cried, retreating from him.

“Kitty, Kitty, what do you mean? Say, say–“

“Save me; oh mercy, mercy! Let me go, and I will never say I saw you, I will not tell anything. Let me go!” she cried, retreating towards the window.

“For Heaven’s sake, Kitty, take care–the window, the window!”

But Kitty heard nothing, knew nothing, was conscious of nothing but a mad desire to escape. The window was lifted high–high above her head, and her face distorted with fear, she stood amid the soft greenery of the Virginia creeper.

“Save me,” she cried, “mercy, mercy!”

“Kitty, Kitty darling!”

* * * * *

The white dress passed through the green leaves. John heard a dull thud.

CHAPTER IX.

And the pity of it! The poor white thing lying like a shot dove, bleeding, and the dreadful blood flowing over the red tiles….

Mr Hare was kneeling by his daughter when John, rushing forth, stopped and stood aghast.

“What is this? Say–speak, speak man, speak; how did this happen?”

“I cannot say, I do not know; she did not seem to know me; she ran away. Oh my God, I do not understand; she seemed as if afraid of me, and she threw herself out of the window. But she is not dead …”

The word rang out in the silence, ruthlessly brutal in its significance. Mr Hare looked up, his face a symbol of agony. “Oh, dead, how can you speak so …”

John felt his being sink and fade like a breath, and then, conscious of nothing, he helped to lift Kitty from the tiles. But it was her father who carried her upstairs. The blood flowed from the terrible wound in the head. Dripped. The walls were stained. When she was laid upon the bed, the pillow was crimson; and the maid-servant coming in, strove to staunch the wound with towels. Kitty did not move.

Both men knew there was no hope. The maid-servant retired, and she did not close the door, nor did she ask if the doctor should be sent for. One man held the bed rail, looking at his dead daughter; the other sat by the window. That one was John Norton. His brain was empty, everything was far away. He saw things moving, moving, but they were all so far away. He could not re-knit himself with the weft of life; the thread that had made him part of it had been snapped, and he was left struggling in space. He knew that Kitty had thrown herself out of the window and was dead. The word shocked him a little, but there was no sense of realisation to meet it. She had walked with him on the hills, she had accompanied him as far as the burgh; she had waved her hand to him before they walked quite out of each other’s sight. They had been speaking of Italy … of Italy where they would have spent their honeymoon. Now she was dead! There would be no honeymoon, no wife. How unreal, how impossible it all did seem, and yet it was real, yes, real enough. There she lay dead; here is her room, and there is her book-case; there are the photographs of the Miss Austins, here is the fuchsia with the pendent blossoms falling, and her canary is singing. John glanced at the cage, and the song went to his brain, and he was horrified, for there was no grief in his heart.

Had he not loved her? Yes, he was sure of that; then why was there no burning grief nor any tears? He envied the hard-sobbing father’s grief, the father who, prostrate by the bedside, held his dead daughter’s hand, and showed a face wild with fear–a face on which was printed so deeply the terror of the soul’s emotion, that John felt a supernatural awe creep upon him; felt that his presence was a sort of sacrilege. He crept downstairs. He went into the drawing-room, and looked about for the place he had last seen her in. There it was…. There. But his eyes wandered from the place, for it was there he had seen the startled face, the half mad face which he had seen afterwards at the window, quite mad.

On that sofa she usually sat; how often had he seen her sitting there! And now he would not see her any more. And only three days ago she had been sitting in the basket chair. How well he remembered her words, her laughter, and now … now; was it possible he never would hear her laugh again? How frail a thing is human life, how shadow-like; one moment it is here, the next it is gone. Here is her work-basket; and here the very ball of wool which he had held for her to wind; and here is a novel which she had lent to him, and which he had forgotten to take away. He would never read it now; or perhaps he should read it in memory of her, of her whom yesterday he parted with on the hills,–her little puritan look, her external girlishness, her golden brown hair and the sudden laugh so characteristic of her…. She had lent him this book–she who was now but clay; she who was to have been his wife. His wife! The thought struck him. Now he would never have a wife. What was there for him to do? To turn his house into a Gothic monastery, and himself into a monk. Very horrible and very bitter in its sheer grotesqueness was the thought. It was as if in one moment he saw the whole of his life summarised in a single symbol, and understood its vanity and its folly. Ah, there was nothing for him, no wife, no life…. The tears welled up in his eyes; the shock which in its suddenness had frozen his heart, began to thaw, and grief fell like a penetrating rain.

We learn to suffer as we learn to love, and it is not to-day, nor yet to-morrow, but in weeks and months to come, and by slow degrees, that John Norton will understand the irreparableness of his loss. There is a man upstairs who crouches like stone by his dead daughter’s side; he is motionless and pale as the dead, he is as great in his grief as an expression of grief by Michael Angelo. The hours pass, he is unconscious of them; he sees not the light dying on the sea, he hears not the trilling of the canary. He knows of nothing but his dead child, and that the world would be nothing to give to have her speak to him once again. His is the humblest and the worthiest sorrow, but such sorrow cannot affect John Norton. He has dreamed too much and reflected too much on the meaning of life; his suffering is too original in himself, too self-centred, and at the same time too much, based on the inherent misery of existence, to allow him to project himself into and suffer with any individual grief, no matter how nearly it might be allied to him and to his personal interest. He knew his weakness in this direction, and now he gladly welcomed the coming of grief, for indeed he had felt not a little shocked at the aridness of his heart, and frightened lest his eyes should remain dry even to the end.

Suddenly he remembered that the Miss Austins had said that they would call to-morrow early for Kitty, to take her to Leywood to lunch…. They were going to have some tennis in the afternoon. He too was expected there. They must be told what had occurred. It would be terrible if they came calling for Kitty under her window, and she lying dead! This slight incident in the tragedy wrung his heart, and the effort of putting the facts upon paper brought the truth home to him, and lured and led him to see down the lifelong range of consequences. The doctor too, he thought, must be warned of what had happened. And with the letter telling the sad story in his hand, and illimitable sorrow in his soul, he went out in the evening air. It was just such an evening as yester evening–a little softer, a little lovelier, perhaps; earth, sea, and sky appeared like an exquisite vision upon whose lips there is fragrance, yet in whose eyes a glow of passion still survives.

The beauty of the last hour of light is upon that crescent of sea, and the ships loll upon the long strand, the tapering masts and slacking ropes vanish upon the pallid sky. There is the old town, dusty, and dreamy, and brown, with neglected wharfs and quays; there is the new town, vulgar and fresh with green paint and trees, and looking hungrily on the broad lands of the Squire, the broad lands and the rich woods which rise up the hill side to the barn on the limit of the downs. How beautiful the great green woods look as they sweep up a small expanse of the downs, like a wave over a slope of sand. And there is a house with red gables where the girls are still on the tennis lawn. John walked through the town; he told the doctor he must go at once to the rectory. He walked to Leywood and left his letter with the lodge-keeper; and then, as if led by a strange fascination, he passed through the farm gate and set out to return home across the hills.

“She was here with me yesterday; how beautiful she looked, and how graceful were her laughter and speech,” he said, turning suddenly and looking down on the landscape; on the massy trees contrasting with the walls of the town, the spine-like bridge crossing the marshy shore, the sails of the mill turning over the crest of the hill. The night was falling fast, as a blue veil it hung down over the sea, but the deep pure sky seemed in one spot to grow clear, and suddenly the pale moon shone and shimmered upon the sea. The landscape gained in loveliness, the sheep seemed like phantoms, the solitary barns like monsters of the night. And the hills were like giants sleeping, and the long outlines were prolonged far away into the depths and mistiness of space. Turning again and looking through a vista in the hills, John could see Brighton, a pale cloud of fire, set by the moon-illumined sea, and nearer was Southwick, grown into separate lines of light, that wandered into and lost themselves among the outlying hollows of the hills; and below him and in front of him Shoreham lay, a blaze of living fire, a thousand lights; lights everywhere save in one gloomy spot, and there John knew that his beloved was lying dead. And further away, past the shadowy marshy shores, was Worthing, the palest of nebulae in these earthly constellations; and overhead the stars of heaven shone as if in pitiless disdain. The blown hawthorn bush that stands by the burgh leaned out, a ship sailed slowly across the rays of the moon. Yesterday they parted here in the glad golden sunlight, parted for ever, for ever.

“Yesterday I had all things–a sweet wife and happy youthful days to look forward to. To-day I have nothing; all my hopes are shattered, all my illusions have fallen. So is it always with him who places his trust in life. Ah, life, life, what hast thou for giving save cruel deceptions and miserable wrongs? Ah, why did I leave my life of contemplation and prayer to enter into that of desire…. Ah, I knew, well I knew there was no happiness save in calm and contemplation. Ah, well I knew; and she is gone, gone, gone!”

We suffer differently indeed, but we suffer equally. The death of his sweetheart forces one man to reflect anew on the slightness of life’s pleasures and the depth of life’s griefs. In the peaceful valley of natural instincts and affections he had slept for a while, now he awoke on one of the high peaks lit with the rays of intense consciousness, and he cried aloud, and withdrew in terror at a too vivid realisation of self. The other man wept for the daughter that had gone out of his life, wept for her pretty face and cheerful laughter, wept for her love, wept for the years he would live without her. We know which sorrow is the manliest, which appeals to our sympathy, but who can measure the depth of John Norton’s suffering? It was as vast as the night, cold as the stream of moonlit sea.

He did not arrive home till late, and having told his mother what had happened, he instantly retired to his room. Dreams followed him. The hills were in his dreams. There were enemies there; he was often pursued by savages, and he often saw Kitty captured; nor could he ever evade their wandering vigilance and release her. Again and again he awoke, and remembered that she was dead.

Next morning John and Mrs Norton drove to the rectory, and without asking for Mr Hare, they went up to _her_ room. The windows were open, and Annie and Mary Austin sat by the bedside watching. The blood had been washed out of the beautiful hair, and she lay very white and fair amid the roses her friends had brought her. She lay as she had lain in one of her terrible dreams–quite still, the slender body covered by a sheet, moulding it with sculptured delight and love. From the feet the linen curved and marked the inflections of the knees; there were long flowing folds, low-lying like the wash of retiring water; the rounded shoulders, the neck, the calm and bloodless face, the little nose, and the beautiful drawing of the nostrils, the extraordinary waxen pallor, the eyelids laid like rose leaves upon the eyes that death has closed for ever. Within the arm, in the pale hand extended, a great Eucharis lily had been laid, its carved blossoms bloomed in unchanging stillness, and the whole scene was like a sad dream in the whitest marble.

Candles were burning, and the soft smell of wax mixed with the perfume of the roses. For there were roses everywhere–great snowy bouquets, and long lines of scattered blossoms, and single roses there and here, and petals fallen and falling were as tears shed for the beautiful dead, and the white flowerage vied with the pallor and the immaculate stillness of the dead.

The calm chastity, the lonely loveliness, so sweetly removed from taint of passion, struck John with all the emotion of art. He reproached himself for having dreamed of her rather as a wife than as a sister, and then all art and all conscience went down as a broken wreck in the wild washing sea of deep human love: he knelt by her bedside, and sobbed piteously, a man whose life is broken.

When they next saw her she was in her coffin. It was almost full of white blossoms–jasmine, Eucharis lilies, white roses, and in the midst of the flowers you saw the hands folded, and the face was veiled with some delicate filmy handkerchief.

For the funeral there were crosses and wreaths of white flowers, roses and stephanotis. And the Austin girls and their cousins who had come from Brighton and Worthing carried loose flowers. How black and sad, how homely and humble they seemed. Down the short drive, through the iron gate, through the farm gate, the bearers staggering a little under the weight of lead, the little cortege passed two by two. A broken-hearted lover, a grief-stricken father, and a dozen sweet girls, their eyes and cheeks streaming with tears. Kitty, their girl-friend was dead, dead, dead! The words rang in their hearts in answer to the mournful tolling of the bell. The little by-way along which they went, the little green path leading over the hill, under trees shot through and through with the whiteness of summer seas, was strewn with blossoms fallen from the bier and the dolent fingers of the weeping girls.

The old church was all in white; great lilies in vases, wreaths of stephanotis; and, above all, roses–great garlands of white roses had been woven, and they hung along and across. A blossom fell, a sob sounded in the stillness; and how trivial it all seemed, and how impotent to assuage the bitter burning of human sorrow: how paltry and circumscribed the old grey church, with its little graveyard full of forgotten griefs and aspirations! This hour of beautiful sorrow and roses, how long will it be remembered? The coffin sinks out of sight, out of sight for ever, a snow-drift of delicate bloom descending into the earth.

CHAPTER X.

From the Austin girls, whose eyes followed him, from Mr Hare, from Mrs Norton, John wandered sorrowfully away,–he wandered through the green woods and fields into the town. He stood by the railway gates. He saw the people coming and going in and out of the public houses; and he watched the trains that whizzed past, and he understood nothing, not even why the great bar of the white gate did not yield beneath the pressure of his hands; and in the great vault of the blue sky, white clouds melted and faded to sheeny visions of paradise, to a white form with folded wings, and eyes whose calm was immortality….

A train stopped. He took a ticket and went to Brighton. As they steamed along a high embankment, he found himself looking into a little suburban cemetery. The graves, the yews, the sharp church spire touching the range of the hills. _Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust_, and the dread responsive rattle given back by the coffin lid. He watched the group in the distant corner, and its very remoteness and removal from his personal knowledge and concern, moved him to passionate grief and tears….

He walked through the southern sunlight of the town to the long expanse of sea. The mundane pier is taut and trim, and gay with the clangour of the band, the brown sails of the fishing boats wave in the translucid greens of water; and the white field of the sheer cliff, and all the roofs, gables, spires, balconies, and the green of the verandahs are exquisitely indicated and elusive in the bright air; and the beach is strange with acrobats and comic songs, nursemaids lying on the pebbles reading novels, children with their clothes tied tightly about them building sand castles zealously; see the lengthy crowd of promenaders–out of its ranks two little spots of mauve come running to meet the advancing wave, and now they fly back again, and now they come again frolicking like butterflies, as gay and as bright.

Under the impulse of his ravening grief, John watched the spectacle of the world’s forgetfulness, and the seeming obscenity horrified him even to the limits of madness. He cried that it might pass from him. Solitude–the solemn peace of the hills, the appealing silence of a pine wood at even; how holy is the idea of solitude, find it where you will. The Gothic pile, the apostles and saints of the windows, the deep purples and crimsons, and the sunlight streaming through, and the pathetic responses and the majesty of the organ do not take away, but enhance and affirm the sensation of idea and God. The quiet rooms austere with Latin and crucifix; John could see them. Fondly he allowed these fancies to linger, but through the dream a sense of reality began to grow, and he remembered the narrowness of the life, when viewed from the material side, and its necessary promiscuousness, and he thought with horror of the impossibility of the preservation of that personal life, with all its sanctuary-like intensity, which was so dear to him. He waved away all thought of priesthood, and walking quickly down the pier, looking on the gay panorama of town and beach, he said, “The world shall be my monastery.”