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  • 1904
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I followed his eye and saw white flags fluttering before a drum and fife band and a knot of youths in sweaters gathered round the dummy breech of a four-inch gun which they were feeding at express rates.

“The attacks don’t interfere with you if you flag yourself, Sir,” the boy explained. “That’s a Second Camp team from the Technical Schools loading against time for a bet.”

We picked our way deviously through the busy groups. Apparently it was not etiquette to notice a Guard officer, and the youths at the twenty-five pounder were far too busy to look up. I watched the cleanly finished hoist and shove-home of the full-weight shell from a safe distance, when I became aware of a change among the scattered boys on the common, who disappeared among the hillocks to an accompaniment of querulous whistles. A boy or two on bicycles dashed from corps to corps, and on their arrival each corps seemed to fade away.

The youths at loading practice did not pause for the growing hush round them, nor did the drum and fife band drop a single note. Bayley exploded afresh. “The Schools are preparing for our attack, by Jove! I wonder who’s directin’ ’em. Do _you_ know?”

The warrior of the Eighth District looked up shrewdly.

“I saw Mr. Cameron speaking to Mr. Levitt just as the Guard went up the road. ‘E’s our ‘ead-master, Mr. Cameron, but Mr. Levitt, of the Sixth District, is actin’ as senior officer on the ground this Saturday. Most likely Mr. Levitt is commandin’.”

“How many corps are there here?” I asked.

“Oh, bits of lots of ’em–thirty or forty, p’r’aps, Sir. But the whistles says they’ve all got to rally on the Board Schools. ‘Ark! There’s the whistle for the Private Schools! They’ve been called up the ground at the double.”

“Stop!” cried a bearded man with a watch, and the crews dropped beside the breech wiping their brows and panting.

“Hullo! there’s some attack on the Schools,” said one. “Well, Marden, you owe me three half-crowns. I’ve beaten your record. Pay up.”

The boy beside us tapped his foot fretfully as he eyed his companions melting among the hillocks, but the gun-team adjusted their bets without once looking up.

The ground rose a little to a furze-crowned ridge in the centre so that I could not see the full length of it, but I heard a faint bubble of blank in the distance.

“The Saturday allowance,” murmured Bayley. “War’s begun, but it wouldn’t be etiquette for us to interfere. What are you saying, my child?”

“Nothin’, Sir, only–only I don’t think the Guard will be able to come through on so narrer a front, Sir. They’ll all be jammed up be’ind the ridge if _we_’ve got there in time. It’s awful sticky for guns at the end of our ground, Sir.”

“I’m inclined to think you’re right, Moltke. The Guard is hung up: distinctly so. Old Vee will have to cut his way through. What a pernicious amount of blank the kids seem to have!”

It was quite a respectable roar of battle that rolled among the hillocks for ten minutes, always out of our sight. Then we heard the “Cease Fire” over the ridge.

“They’ve sent for the Umpires,” the Board School boy squeaked, dancing on one foot. “You’ve been hung up, Sir. I–I thought the sand-pits ‘ud stop you.”

Said one of the jerseyed hobbledehoys at the gun, slipping on his coat: “Well, that’s enough for this afternoon. I’m off,” and moved to the railings without even glancing towards the fray.

“I anticipate the worst,” said Bayley with gravity after a few minutes. “Hullo! Here comes my disgraced corps!”

The Guard was pouring over the ridge–a disorderly mob–horse, foot, and guns mixed, while from every hollow of the ground about rose small boys cheering shrilly. The outcry was taken up by the parents at the railings, and spread to a complete circle of cheers, handclappings, and waved handkerchiefs.

Our Eighth District private cast away restraint and openly capered. “We got ’em! We got ’em!” he squealed.

The grey-green flood paused a fraction of a minute and drew itself into shape, coming to rest before Bayley. Verschoyle saluted.

“Vee, Vee,” said Bayley. “Give me back my legions. Well, I hope you’re proud of yourself?”

“The little beasts were ready for us. Deuced well posted too,” Verschoyle replied. “I wish you’d seen that first attack on our flank. Rather impressive. Who warned ’em?”

“I don’t know. I got my information from a baby in blue plush breeches. Did they do well?”

“Very decently indeed. I’ve complimented their C.O. and buttered the whole boiling.” He lowered his voice. “As a matter o’ fact, I halted five good minutes to give ’em time to get into position.”

“Well, now we can inspect our Foreign Service corps. We sha’n’t need the men for an hour, Vee.”

“Very good, Sir. Colour-sergeants!” cried Verschoyle, raising his voice, and the cry ran from company to company. Whereupon the officers left their men, people began to climb over the railings, and the regiment dissolved among the spectators and the school corps of the city.

“No sense keeping men standing when you don’t need ’em,” said Bayley. “Besides, the Schools learn more from our chaps in an afternoon than they can pick up in a month’s drill. Look at those Board-schoolmaster captains buttonholing old Purvis on the art of war!”

“Wonder what the evening papers’ll say about this,” said Pigeon.

“You’ll know in half an hour,” Burgard laughed. “What possessed you to take your ponies across the sand-pits, Pij?”

“Pride. Silly pride,” said the Canadian.

We crossed the common to a very regulation paradeground overlooked by a statue of our Queen. Here were carriages, many and elegant, filled with pretty women, and the railings were lined with frockcoats and top hats. “This is distinctly social,” I suggested to Kyd.

“Ra-ather. Our F.S. corps is nothing if not correct, but Bayley’ll sweat ’em all the same.”

I saw six companies drawn up for inspection behind lines of long sausage- shaped kit-bags. A band welcomed us with “A Life on the Ocean Wave.”

“What cheek!” muttered Verschoyle. “Give ’em beans, Bayley.”

“I intend to,” said the Colonel, grimly. “Will each of you fellows take a company, please, and inspect ’em faithfully. ‘_En état de partir_’ is their little boast, remember. When you’ve finished you can give ’em a little pillow-fighting.”

“What does the single cannon on those men’s sleeves mean?” I asked.

“That they’re big gun-men, who’ve done time with the Fleet,” Bayley returned. “Any F.S. corps that has over twenty per cent big-gun men thinks itself entitled to play ‘A Life on the Ocean Wave’–when it’s out of hearing of the Navy.”

“What beautiful stuff they are! What’s their regimental average?”

“It ought to be five eight, height, thirty-eight, chest, and twenty-four years, age. What is it?” Bayley asked of a Private.

“Five nine and half, Sir, thirty-nine, twenty-four and a half,” was the reply, and he added insolently, “_En tat de partir_.” Evidently that F.S. corps was on its mettle ready for the worst.

“What about their musketry average?” I went on.

“Not my pidgin,” said Bayley. “But they wouldn’t be in the corps a day if they couldn’t shoot; I know _that_ much. Now I’m going to go through ’em for socks and slippers.”

The kit-inspection exceeded anything I had ever dreamed. I drifted from company to company while the Guard officers oppressed them. Twenty per cent, at least, of the kits were shovelled out on the grass and gone through in detail.

“What have they got jumpers and ducks for?” I asked of Harrison.

“For Fleet work, of course. _En tat de partir_ with an F. S. corps means they are amphibious.”

“Who gives ’em their kit–Government?”

“There is a Government allowance, but no C. O. sticks to it. It’s the same as paint and gold-leaf in the Navy. It comes out of some one’s pockets. How much does your kit cost you?”–this to the private in front of us.

“About ten or fifteen quid every other year, I suppose,” was the answer.

“Very good. Pack your bag–quick.”

The man knelt, and with supremely deft hands returned all to the bag, lashed and tied it, and fell back.

“Arms,” said Harrison. “Strip and show ammunition.”

The man divested himself of his rolled greatcoat and haversack with one wriggle, as it seemed to me; a twist of a screw removed the side plate of the rifle breech (it was not a bolt action). He handed it to Harrison with one hand, and with the other loosed his clip-studded belt.

“What baby cartridges!” I exclaimed. “No bigger than bulletted breech- caps.”

“They’re the regulation .256,” said Harrison. “No one has complained of ’em yet. They expand a bit when they arrive…. Empty your bottle, please, and show your rations.”

The man poured out his water-bottle and showed the two-inch emergency tin.

Harrison passed on to the next, but I was fascinated by the way in which the man re-established himself amid his straps and buckles, asking no help from either side.

“How long does it take you to prepare for inspection?” I asked him.

“Well, I got ready this afternoon in twelve minutes,” he smiled. “I didn’t see the storm-cone till half-past three. I was at the Club.”

“Weren’t a good many of you out of town?”

“Not _this_ Saturday. We knew what was coming. You see, if we pull through the inspection we may move up one place on the roster for foreign service…. You’d better stand back. We’re going to pillow-fight.”

The companies stooped to the stuffed kit-bags, doubled with them variously, piled them in squares and mounds, passed them from shoulder to shoulder like buckets at a fire, and repeated the evolution.

“What’s the idea?” I asked of Verschoyle, who, arms folded behind him, was controlling the display. Many women had descended from the carriages, and were pressing in about us admiringly.

“For one thing, it’s a fair test of wind and muscle, and for another it saves time at the docks. We’ll suppose this first company to be drawn up on the dock-head and those five others still in the troop-train. How would you get their kit into the ship?”

“Fall ’em all in on the platform, march’em to the gangways,” I answered, “and trust to Heaven and a fatigue party to gather the baggage and drunks in later.”

“Ye-es, and have half of it sent by the wrong trooper. I know _that_ game,” Verschoyle drawled. “We don’t play it any more. Look!”

He raised his voice, and five companies, glistening a little and breathing hard, formed at right angles to the sixth, each man embracing his sixty- pound bag.

“Pack away,” cried Verschoyle, and the great bean-bag game (I can compare it to nothing else) began. In five minutes every bag was passed along either arm of the T and forward down the sixth company, who passed, stacked, and piled them in a great heap. These were followed by the rifles, belts, greatcoats, and knapsacks, so that in another five minutes the regiment stood, as it were, stripped clean.

“Of course on a trooper there’d be a company below stacking the kit away,” said Verschoyle, “but that wasn’t so bad.”

“Bad!” I cried. “It was miraculous!”

“Circus-work–all circus-work!” said Pigeon. “It won’t prevent ’em bein’ sick as dogs when the ship rolls.” The crowd round us applauded, while the men looked meekly down their self-conscious noses.

A little grey-whiskered man trotted up to the Boy.

“Have we made good, Bayley?” he said. “Are we _en tat de partir_?”

“That’s what I shall report,” said Bayley, smiling.

“I thought my bit o’ French ‘ud draw you,” said the little man, rubbing his hands.

“Who is he?” I whispered to Pigeon.

“Ramsay–their C.O. An old Guard captain. A keen little devil. They say he spends six hundred a year on the show. He used to be in the Lincolns till he came into his property.”

“Take ’em home an’ make ’em drunk,” I heard Bayley say. “I suppose you’ll have a dinner to celebrate. But you may as well tell the officers of E company that I don’t think much of them. I sha’n’t report it, but their men were all over the shop.”

“Well, they’re young, you see,” Colonel Ramsay began.

“You’re quite right. Send ’em to me and I’ll talk to ’em. Youth is the time to learn.”

“Six hundred a year,” I repeated to Pigeon. “That must be an awful tax on a man. Worse than in the old volunteering days.”

“That’s where you make your mistake,” said Verschoyle. “In the old days a man had to spend his money to coax his men to drill because they weren’t the genuine article. You know what I mean. They made a favour of putting in drills, didn’t they? And they were, most of ’em, the children we have to take over at Second Camp, weren’t they? Well, now that a C. O. is sure of his _men_, now that he hasn’t to waste himself in conciliating an’ bribin’, an’ beerin’ _kids_, he doesn’t care what he spends on his corps, because every pound tells. Do you understand?”

“I see what you mean, Vee. Having the male material guaranteed—-“

“And trained material at that,” Pigeon put in. “Eight years in the schools, remember, as well as—-“

“Precisely. A man rejoices in working them up. That’s as it should be,” I said.

“Bayly’s saying the very same to those F. S. pups,” said Verschoyle.

The Boy was behind us, between two young F. S. officers, a hand on the shoulder of each.

“Yes, that’s all doocid interesting,” he growled paternally. “But you forget, my sons, now that your men are bound to serve, you’re trebly bound to put a polish on ’em. You’ve let your company simply go to seed. Don’t try and explain. I’ve told all those lies myself in my time. It’s only idleness. _I_ know. Come and lunch with me to-morrow and I’ll give you a wrinkle or two in barracks.” He turned to me.

“Suppose we pick up Vee’s defeated legion and go home. You’ll dine with us to-night. Good-bye, Ramsay. Yes, you’re _en état de partir_, right enough. You’d better get Lady Gertrude to talk to the Armity if you want the corps sent foreign. I’m no politician.”

We strolled away from the great white statue of the Widow, with sceptre, orb, and crown, that looked toward the city, and regained the common, where the Guard battalion walked with the female of its species and the children of all its relatives. At sight of the officers the uniforms began to detach themselves and gather in companies. A Board School corps was moving off the ground, headed by its drums and fifes, which it assisted with song. As we drew nearer we caught the words, for they were launched with intention:–

‘Oo is it mashes the country nurse?
The Guardsman!
‘Oo is it takes the lydy’s purse?
The Guardsman!
Calls for a drink, and a mild cigar, Batters a sovereign down on the bar,
Collars the change and says “Ta-ta!” The Guardsman!

“Why, that’s one of old Jemmy Fawne’s songs. I haven’t heard it in ages,” I began.

“Little devils!” said Pigeon.
“Speshul! Extra speshul! Sports Edition!” a newsboy cried. “‘Ere y’are, Captain. Defeat o’ the Guard!”

“I’ll buy a copy,” said the Boy, as Pigeon blushed wrathfully. “I must, to see how the Dove lost his mounted company.” He unfolded the flapping sheet and we crowded round it.

“‘_Complete Rout of the Guard,_'” he read. “‘_Too Narrow a Front._’ That’s one for you, Vee! ‘_Attack Anticipated by Mr. Levitt, B. A._’ Aha! ‘_The Schools Stand Fast._'”

“Here’s another version,” said Kyd, waving a tinted sheet. “‘_To your tents, O Israel! The Hebrew Schools stop the Mounted Troops._’ Pij, were you scuppered by Jewboys?”

“‘_Umpires Decide all Four Guns Lost,_'” Bayley went on. “By Jove, there’ll have to be an inquiry into this regrettable incident, Vee!”

“I’ll never try to amuse the kids again,” said the baited Verschoyle. “Children and newspapers are low things…. And I was hit on the nose by a wad, too! They oughtn’t to be allowed blank ammunition!”

So we leaned against the railings in the warm twilight haze while the battalion, silently as a shadow, formed up behind us ready to be taken over. The heat, the hum of the great city, as it might have been the hum of a camped army, the creaking of the belts, and the well-known faces bent above them, brought back to me the memory of another evening, years ago, when Verschoyle and I waited for news of guns missing in no sham fight.

“A regular Sanna’s Post, isn’t it?” I said at last. “D’you remember, Vee– by the market-square–that night when the wagons went out?”

Then it came upon me, with no horror, but a certain mild wonder, that we had waited, Vee and I, that night for the body of Boy Bayley; and that Vee himself had died of typhoid in the spring of 1902. The rustling of the papers continued, but Bayley, shifting slightly, revealed to me the three- day old wound on his left side that had soaked the ground about him. I saw Pigeon fling up a helpless arm as to guard himself against a spatter of shrapnel, and Luttrell with a foolish tight-lipped smile lurched over all in one jointless piece. Only old Vee’s honest face held steady for awhile against the darkness that had swallowed up the battalion behind us. Then his jaw dropped and the face stiffened, so that a fly made bold to explore the puffed and scornful nostril.

* * * * *

I waked brushing a fly from my nose, and saw the Club waiter set out the evening papers on the table.

“THEY”

THE RETURN OF THE CHILDREN

Neither the harps nor the crowns amused, nor the cherubs’ dove-winged races–
Holding hands forlornly the Children wandered beneath the Dome; Plucking the radiant robes of the passers by, and with pitiful faces Begging what Princes and Powers refused:–“Ah, please will you let us go home?”

Over the jewelled floor, nigh weeping, ran to them Mary the Mother, Kneeled and caressed and made promise with kisses, and drew them along to the gateway–
Yea, the all-iron unbribable Door which Peter must guard and none other. Straightway She took the Keys from his keeping, and opened and freed them straightway.

Then to Her Son, Who had seen and smiled, She said: “On the night that I bore Thee
What didst Thou care for a love beyond mine or a heaven that was not my arm?
Didst Thou push from the nipple O Child, to hear the angels adore Thee? When we two lay in the breath of the kine?” And He said:–“Thou hast done no harm.”

So through the Void the Children ran homeward merrily hand in hand, Looking neither to left nor right where the breathless Heavens stood still;
And the Guards of the Void resheathed their swords, for they heard the Command.
“Shall I that have suffered the children to come to me hold them against their will?”

“THEY”
One view called me to another; one hill top to its fellow, half across the county, and since I could answer at no more trouble than the snapping forward of a lever, I let the country flow under my wheels. The orchid- studded flats of the East gave way to the thyme, ilex, and grey grass of the Downs; these again to the rich cornland and fig-trees of the lower coast, where you carry the beat of the tide on your left hand for fifteen level miles; and when at last I turned inland through a huddle of rounded hills and woods I had run myself clean out of my known marks. Beyond that precise hamlet which stands godmother to the capital of the United States, I found hidden villages where bees, the only things awake, boomed in eighty-foot lindens that overhung grey Norman churches; miraculous brooks diving under stone bridges built for heavier traffic than would ever vex them again; tithe-barns larger than their churches, and an old smithy that cried out aloud how it had once been a hall of the Knights of the Temple. Gipsies I found on a common where the gorse, bracken, and heath fought it out together up a mile of Roman road; and a little farther on I disturbed a red fox rolling dog-fashion in the naked sunlight.

As the wooded hills closed about me I stood up in the car to take the bearings of that great Down whose ringed head is a landmark for fifty miles across the low countries. I judged that the lie of the country would bring me across some westward running road that went to his feet, but I did not allow for the confusing veils of the woods. A quick turn plunged me first into a green cutting brimful of liquid sunshine, next into a gloomy tunnel where last year’s dead leaves whispered and scuffled about my tyres. The strong hazel stuff meeting overhead had not been cut for a couple of generations at least, nor had any axe helped the moss-cankered oak and beech to spring above them. Here the road changed frankly into a carpetted ride on whose brown velvet spent primrose-clumps showed like jade, and a few sickly, white-stalked bluebells nodded together. As the slope favoured I shut off the power and slid over the whirled leaves, expecting every moment to meet a keeper; but I only heard a jay, far off, arguing against the silence under the twilight of the trees.

Still the track descended. I was on the point of reversing and working my way back on the second speed ere I ended in some swamp, when I saw sunshine through the tangle ahead and lifted the brake.

It was down again at once. As the light beat across my face my fore-wheels took the turf of a great still lawn from which sprang horsemen ten feet high with levelled lances, monstrous peacocks, and sleek round-headed maids of honour–blue, black, and glistening–all of clipped yew. Across the lawn–the marshalled woods besieged it on three sides–stood an ancient house of lichened and weather-worn stone, with mullioned windows and roofs of rose-red tile. It was flanked by semi-circular walls, also rose-red, that closed the lawn on the fourth side, and at their feet a box hedge grew man-high. There were doves on the roof about the slim brick chimneys, and I caught a glimpse of an octagonal dove-house behind the screening wall.

Here, then, I stayed; a horseman’s green spear laid at my breast; held by the exceeding beauty of that jewel in that setting.

“If I am not packed off for a trespasser, or if this knight does not ride a wallop at me,” thought I, “Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth at least must come out of that half-open garden door and ask me to tea.”

A child appeared at an upper window, and I thought the little thing waved a friendly hand. But it was to call a companion, for presently another bright head showed. Then I heard a laugh among the yew-peacocks, and turning to make sure (till then I had been watching the house only) I saw the silver of a fountain behind a hedge thrown up against the sun. The doves on the roof cooed to the cooing water; but between the two notes I caught the utterly happy chuckle of a child absorbed in some light mischief.

The garden door–heavy oak sunk deep in the thickness of the wall–opened further: a woman in a big garden hat set her foot slowly on the time- hollowed stone step and as slowly walked across the turf. I was forming some apology when she lifted up her head and I saw that she was blind.

“I heard you,” she said. “Isn’t that a motor car?”

“I’m afraid I’ve made a mistake in my road. I should have turned off up above–I never dreamed”–I began.

“But I’m very glad. Fancy a motor car coming into the garden! It will be such a treat—-” She turned and made as though looking about her. “You– you haven’t seen any one have you–perhaps?”

“No one to speak to, but the children seemed interested at a distance.”

“Which?”

“I saw a couple up at the window just now, and I think I heard a little chap in the grounds.”

“Oh, lucky you!” she cried, and her face brightened. “I hear them, of course, but that’s all. You’ve seen them and heard them?”

“Yes,” I answered. “And if I know anything of children one of them’s having a beautiful time by the fountain yonder. Escaped, I should imagine.”

“You’re fond of children?”

I gave her one or two reasons why I did not altogether hate them.

“Of course, of course,” she said. “Then you understand. Then you won’t think it foolish if I ask you to take your car through the gardens, once or twice–quite slowly. I’m sure they’d like to see it. They see so little, poor things. One tries to make their life pleasant, but—-” she threw out her hands towards the woods. “We’re so out of the world here.”

“That will be splendid,” I said. “But I can’t cut up your grass.”

She faced to the right. “Wait a minute,” she said. “We’re at the South gate, aren’t we? Behind those peacocks there’s a flagged path. We call it the Peacock’s Walk. You can’t see it from here, they tell me, but if you squeeze along by the edge of the wood you can turn at the first peacock and get on to the flags.”

It was sacrilege to wake that dreaming house-front with the clatter of machinery, but I swung the car to clear the turf, brushed along the edge of the wood and turned in on the broad stone path where the fountain-basin lay like one star-sapphire.

“May I come too?” she cried. “No, please don’t help me. They’ll like it better if they see me.”

She felt her way lightly to the front of the car, and with one foot on the step she called: “Children, oh, children! Look and see what’s going to happen!”

The voice would have drawn lost souls from the Pit, for the yearning that underlay its sweetness, and I was not surprised to hear an answering shout behind the yews. It must have been the child by the fountain, but he fled at our approach, leaving a little toy boat in the water. I saw the glint of his blue blouse among the still horsemen.

Very disposedly we paraded the length of the walk and at her request backed again. This time the child had got the better of his panic, but stood far off and doubting.

“The little fellow’s watching us,” I said. “I wonder if he’d like a ride.”

“They’re very shy still. Very shy. But, oh, lucky you to be able to see them! Let’s listen.”

I stopped the machine at once, and the humid stillness, heavy with the scent of box, cloaked us deep. Shears I could hear where some gardener was clipping; a mumble of bees and broken voices that might have been the doves.

“Oh, unkind!” she said weariedly.

“Perhaps they’re only shy of the motor. The little maid at the window looks tremendously interested.”

“Yes?” She raised her head. “It was wrong of me to say that. They are really fond of me. It’s the only thing that makes life worth living–when they’re fond of you, isn’t it? I daren’t think what the place would be without them. By the way, is it beautiful?”

“I think it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.”

“So they all tell me. I can feel it, of course, but that isn’t quite the same thing.”

“Then have you never—?” I began, but stopped abashed.

“Not since I can remember. It happened when I was only a few months old, they tell me. And yet I must remember something, else how could I dream about colours. I see light in my dreams, and colours, but I never see _them_. I only hear them just as I do when I’m awake.”

“It’s difficult to see faces in dreams. Some people can, but most of us haven’t the gift,” I went on, looking up at the window where the child stood all but hidden.

“I’ve heard that too,” she said. “And they tell me that one never sees a dead person’s face in a dream. Is that true?”

“I believe it is–now I come to think of it.”

“But how is it with yourself–yourself?” The blind eyes turned towards me.

“I have never seen the faces of my dead in any dream,” I answered.

“Then it must be as bad as being blind.”

The sun had dipped behind the woods and the long shades were possessing the insolent horsemen one by one. I saw the light die from off the top of a glossy-leaved lance and all the brave hard green turn to soft black. The house, accepting another day at end, as it had accepted an hundred thousand gone, seemed to settle deeper into its rest among the shadows.

“Have you ever wanted to?” she said after the silence.

“Very much sometimes,” I replied. The child had left the window as the shadows closed upon it.

“Ah! So’ve I, but I don’t suppose it’s allowed. … Where d’you live?”

“Quite the other side of the county–sixty miles and more, and I must be going back. I’ve come without my big lamp.”

“But it’s not dark yet. I can feel it.”

“I’m afraid it will be by the time I get home. Could you lend me someone to set me on my road at first? I’ve utterly lost myself.”

“I’ll send Madden with you to the cross-roads. We are so out of the world, I don’t wonder you were lost! I’ll guide you round to the front of the house; but you will go slowly, won’t you, till you’re out of the grounds? It isn’t foolish, do you think?”

“I promise you I’ll go like this,” I said, and let the car start herself down the flagged path.

We skirted the left wing of the house, whose elaborately cast lead guttering alone was worth a day’s journey; passed under a great rose-grown gate in the red wall, and so round to the high front of the house which in beauty and stateliness as much excelled the back as that all others I had seen.

“Is it so very beautiful?” she said wistfully when she heard my raptures. “And you like the lead-figures too? There’s the old azalea garden behind. They say that this place must have been made for children. Will you help me out, please? I should like to come with you as far as the cross-roads, but I mustn’t leave them. Is that you, Madden? I want you to show this gentleman the way to the cross-roads. He has lost his way but–he has seen them.”

A butler appeared noiselessly at the miracle of old oak that must be called the front door, and slipped aside to put on his hat. She stood looking at me with open blue eyes in which no sight lay, and I saw for the first time that she was beautiful.

“Remember,” she said quietly, “if you are fond of them you will come again,” and disappeared within the house.

The butler in the car said nothing till we were nearly at the lodge gates, where catching a glimpse of a blue blouse in a shrubbery I swerved amply lest the devil that leads little boys to play should drag me into child- murder.

“Excuse me,” he asked of a sudden, “but why did you do that, Sir?”

“The child yonder.”

“Our young gentleman in blue?”

“Of course.”

“He runs about a good deal. Did you see him by the fountain, Sir?”

“Oh, yes, several times. Do we turn here?”

“Yes, Sir. And did you ‘appen to see them upstairs too?”

“At the upper window? Yes.”

“Was that before the mistress come out to speak to you, Sir?”

“A little before that. Why d’you want to know?”

He paused a little. “Only to make sure that–that they had seen the car, Sir, because with children running about, though I’m sure you’re driving particularly careful, there might be an accident. That was all, Sir. Here are the cross-roads. You can’t miss your way from now on. Thank you, Sir, but that isn’t _our_ custom, not with—-“

“I beg your pardon,” I said, and thrust away the British silver.

“Oh, it’s quite right with the rest of ’em as a rule. Goodbye, Sir.”

He retired into the armour-plated conning tower of his caste and walked away. Evidently a butler solicitous for the honour of his house, and interested, probably through a maid, in the nursery.

Once beyond the signposts at the cross-roads I looked back, but the crumpled hills interlaced so jealously that I could not see where the house had lain. When I asked its name at a cottage along the road, the fat woman who sold sweetmeats there gave me to understand that people with motor cars had small right to live–much less to “go about talking like carriage folk.” They were not a pleasant-mannered community.

When I retraced my route on the map that evening I was little wiser. Hawkin’s Old Farm appeared to be the survey title of the place, and the old County Gazetteer, generally so ample, did not allude to it. The big house of those parts was Hodnington Hall, Georgian with early Victorian embellishments, as an atrocious steel engraving attested. I carried my difficulty to a neighbour–a deep-rooted tree of that soil–and he gave me a name of a family which conveyed no meaning.

A month or so later–I went again, or it may have been that my car took the road of her own volition. She over-ran the fruitless Downs, threaded every turn of the maze of lanes below the hills, drew through the high- walled woods, impenetrable in their full leaf, came out at the cross roads where the butler had left me, and a little further on developed an internal trouble which forced me to turn her in on a grass way-waste that cut into a summer-silent hazel wood. So far as I could make sure by the sun and a six-inch Ordnance map, this should be the road flank of that wood which I had first explored from the heights above. I made a mighty serious business of my repairs and a glittering shop of my repair kit, spanners, pump, and the like, which I spread out orderly upon a rug. It was a trap to catch all childhood, for on such a day, I argued, the children would not be far off. When I paused in my work I listened, but the wood was so full of the noises of summer (though the birds had mated) that I could not at first distinguish these from the tread of small cautious feet stealing across the dead leaves. I rang my bell in an alluring manner, but the feet fled, and I repented, for to a child a sudden noise is very real terror. I must have been at work half an hour when I heard in the wood the voice of the blind woman crying: “Children, oh children, where are you?” and the stillness made slow to close on the perfection of that cry. She came towards me, half feeling her way between the tree boles, and though a child it seemed clung to her skirt, it swerved into the leafage like a rabbit as she drew nearer.

“Is that you?” she said, “from the other side of the county?”

“Yes, it’s me from the other side of the county.”

“Then why didn’t you come through the upper woods? They were there just now.”

“They were here a few minutes ago. I expect they knew my car had broken down, and came to see the fun.”

“Nothing serious, I hope? How do cars break down?”

“In fifty different ways. Only mine has chosen the fifty first.”

She laughed merrily at the tiny joke, cooed with delicious laughter, and pushed her hat back.

“Let me hear,” she said.

“Wait a moment,” I cried, “and I’ll get you a cushion.”

She set her foot on the rug all covered with spare parts, and stooped above it eagerly. “What delightful things!” The hands through which she saw glanced in the chequered sunlight. “A box here–another box! Why you’ve arranged them like playing shop!”

“I confess now that I put it out to attract them. I don’t need half those things really.”

“How nice of you! I heard your bell in the upper wood. You say they were here before that?”

“I’m sure of it. Why are they so shy? That little fellow in blue who was with you just now ought to have got over his fright. He’s been watching me like a Red Indian.”

“It must have been your bell,” she said. “I heard one of them go past me in trouble when I was coming down. They’re shy–so shy even with me.” She turned her face over her shoulder and cried again: “Children! Oh, children! Look and see!”

“They must have gone off together on their own affairs,”

I suggested, for there was a murmur behind us of lowered voices broken by the sudden squeaking giggles of childhood. I returned to my tinkerings and she leaned forward, her chin on her hand, listening interestedly.

“How many are they?” I said at last. The work was finished, but I saw no reason to go.

Her forehead puckered a little in thought. “I don’t quite know,” she said simply. “Sometimes more–sometimes less. They come and stay with me because I love them, you see.”

“That must be very jolly,” I said, replacing a drawer, and as I spoke I heard the inanity of my answer.

“You–you aren’t laughing at me,” she cried. “I–I haven’t any of my own. I never married. People laugh at me sometimes about them because– because——“

“Because they’re savages,” I returned. “It’s nothing to fret for. That sort laugh at everything that isn’t in their own fat lives.”

“I don’t know. How should I? I only don’t like being laughed at about _them_. It hurts; and when one can’t see…. I don’t want to seem silly,” her chin quivered like a child’s as she spoke, “but we blindies have only one skin, I think. Everything outside hits straight at our souls. It’s different with you. You’ve such good defences in your eyes–looking out– before anyone can really pain you in your soul. People forget that with us.”

I was silent reviewing that inexhaustible matter–the more than inherited (since it is also carefully taught) brutality of the Christian peoples, beside which the mere heathendom of the West Coast nigger is clean and restrained. It led me a long distance into myself.

“Don’t do that!” she said of a sudden, putting her hands before her eyes.

“What?”

She made a gesture with her hand.

“That! It’s–it’s all purple and black. Don’t! That colour hurts.”

“But, how in the world do you know about colours?” I exclaimed, for here was a revelation indeed.

“Colours as colours?” she asked.

“No. _Those_ Colours which you saw just now.”

“You know as well as I do,” she laughed, “else you wouldn’t have asked that question. They aren’t in the world at all. They’re in _you_–when you went so angry.”

“D’you mean a dull purplish patch, like port-wine mixed with ink?” I said.

“I’ve never seen ink or port-wine, but the colours aren’t mixed. They are separate–all separate.”

“Do you mean black streaks and jags across the purple?”

She nodded. “Yes–if they are like this,” and zigzagged her finger again, “but it’s more red than purple–that bad colour.”

“And what are the colours at the top of the–whatever you see?”

Slowly she leaned forward and traced on the rug the figure of the Egg itself.

“I see them so,” she said, pointing with a grass stem, “white, green, yellow, red, purple, and when people are angry or bad, black across the red–as you were just now.”

“Who told you anything about it–in the beginning?” I demanded.

“About the colours? No one. I used to ask what colours were when I was little–in table-covers and curtains and carpets, you see–because some colours hurt me and some made me happy. People told me; and when I got older that was how I saw people.” Again she traced the outline of the Egg which it is given to very few of us to see.

“All by yourself?” I repeated.

“All by myself. There wasn’t anyone else. I only found out afterwards that other people did not see the Colours.”

She leaned against the tree-hole plaiting and unplaiting chance-plucked grass stems. The children in the wood had drawn nearer. I could see them with the tail of my eye frolicking like squirrels.

“Now I am sure you will never laugh at me,” she went on after a long silence. “Nor at _them_.”

“Goodness! No!” I cried, jolted out of my train of thought. “A man who laughs at a child–unless the child is laughing too–is a heathen!”

“I didn’t mean that of course. You’d never laugh _at_ children, but I thought–I used to think–that perhaps you might laugh about _them_. So now I beg your pardon…. What are you going to laugh at?”

I had made no sound, but she knew.

“At the notion of your begging my pardon. If you had done your duty as a pillar of the state and a landed proprietress you ought to have summoned me for trespass when I barged through your woods the other day. It was disgraceful of me–inexcusable.”

She looked at me, her head against the tree trunk–long and steadfastly– this woman who could see the naked soul.

“How curious,” she half whispered. “How very curious.”

“Why, what have I done?”

“You don’t understand … and yet you understood about the Colours. Don’t you understand?”

She spoke with a passion that nothing had justified, and I faced her bewilderedly as she rose. The children had gathered themselves in a roundel behind a bramble bush. One sleek head bent over something smaller, and the set of the little shoulders told me that fingers were on lips. They, too, had some child’s tremendous secret. I alone was hopelessly astray there in the broad sunlight.

“No,” I said, and shook my head as though the dead eyes could note. “Whatever it is, I don’t understand yet. Perhaps I shall later–if you’ll let me come again.”

“You will come again,” she answered. “You will surely come again and walk in the wood.”

“Perhaps the children will know me well enough by that time to let me play with them–as a favour. You know what children are like.”

“It isn’t a matter of favour but of right,” she replied, and while I wondered what she meant, a dishevelled woman plunged round the bend of the road, loose-haired, purple, almost lowing with agony as she ran. It was my rude, fat friend of the sweetmeat shop. The blind woman heard and stepped forward. “What is it, Mrs. Madehurst?” she asked.

The woman flung her apron over her head and literally grovelled in the dust, crying that her grandchild was sick to death, that the local doctor was away fishing, that Jenny the mother was at her wits end, and so forth, with repetitions and bellowings.

“Where’s the next nearest doctor?” I asked between paroxysms.

“Madden will tell you. Go round to the house and take him with you. I’ll attend to this. Be quick!” She half-supported the fat woman into the shade. In two minutes I was blowing all the horns of Jericho under the front of the House Beautiful, and Madden, in the pantry, rose to the crisis like a butler and a man.

A quarter of an hour at illegal speeds caught us a doctor five miles away. Within the half-hour we had decanted him, much interested in motors, at the door of the sweetmeat shop, and drew up the road to await the verdict.

“Useful things cars,” said Madden, all man and no butler. “If I’d had one when mine took sick she wouldn’t have died.”

“How was it?” I asked.

“Croup. Mrs. Madden was away. No one knew what to do. I drove eight miles in a tax cart for the doctor. She was choked when we came back. This car ‘d ha’ saved her. She’d have been close on ten now.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I thought you were rather fond of children from what you told me going to the cross-roads the other day.”

“Have you seen ’em again, Sir–this mornin’?”

“Yes, but they’re well broke to cars. I couldn’t get any of them within twenty yards of it.”

He looked at me carefully as a scout considers a stranger–not as a menial should lift his eyes to his divinely appointed superior.

“I wonder why,” he said just above the breath that he drew.

We waited on. A light wind from the sea wandered up and down the long lines of the woods, and the wayside grasses, whitened already with summer dust, rose and bowed in sallow waves.

A woman, wiping the suds off her arms, came out of the cottage next the sweetmeat shop.

“I’ve be’n listenin’ in de back-yard,” she said cheerily. “He says Arthur’s unaccountable bad. Did ye hear him shruck just now? Unaccountable bad. I reckon t’will come Jenny’s turn to walk in de wood nex’ week along, Mr. Madden.”

“Excuse me, Sir, but your lap-robe is slipping,” said Madden deferentially. The woman started, dropped a curtsey, and hurried away.

“What does she mean by ‘walking in the wood’?” I asked.

“It must be some saying they use hereabouts. I’m from Norfolk myself,” said Madden. “They’re an independent lot in this county. She took you for a chauffeur, Sir.”

I saw the Doctor come out of the cottage followed by a draggle-tailed wench who clung to his arm as though he could make treaty for her with Death. “Dat sort,” she wailed–“dey’re just as much to us dat has ’em as if dey was lawful born. Just as much–just as much! An’ God he’d be just as pleased if you saved ‘un, Doctor. Don’t take it from me. Miss Florence will tell ye de very same. Don’t leave ‘im, Doctor!”

“I know. I know,” said the man, “but he’ll be quiet for a while now. We’ll get the nurse and the medicine as fast as we can.” He signalled me to come forward with the car, and I strove not to be privy to what followed; but I saw the girl’s face, blotched and frozen with grief, and I felt the hand without a ring clutching at my knees when we moved away.

The Doctor was a man of some humour, for I remember he claimed my car under the Oath of sculapius, and used it and me without mercy. First we convoyed Mrs. Madehurst and the blind woman to wait by the sick bed till the nurse should come. Next we invaded a neat county town for prescriptions (the Doctor said the trouble was cerebro-spinal meningitis), and when the County Institute, banked and flanked with scared market cattle, reported itself out of nurses for the moment we literally flung ourselves loose upon the county. We conferred with the owners of great houses–magnates at the ends of overarching avenues whose big-boned womenfolk strode away from their tea-tables to listen to the imperious Doctor. At last a white-haired lady sitting under a cedar of Lebanon and surrounded by a court of magnificent Borzois–all hostile to motors–gave the Doctor, who received them as from a princess, written orders which we bore many miles at top speed, through a park, to a French nunnery, where we took over in exchange a pallid-faced and trembling Sister. She knelt at the bottom of the tonneau telling her beads without pause till, by short cuts of the Doctor’s invention, we had her to the sweetmeat shop once more. It was a long afternoon crowded with mad episodes that rose and dissolved like the dust of our wheels; cross-sections of remote and incomprehensible lives through which we raced at right angles; and I went home in the dusk, wearied out, to dream of the clashing horns of cattle; round-eyed nuns walking in a garden of graves; pleasant tea-parties beneath shaded trees; the carbolic-scented, grey-painted corridors of the County Institute; the steps of shy children in the wood, and the hands that clung to my knees as the motor began to move.

* * * * *

I had intended to return in a day or two, but it pleased Fate to hold me from that side of the county, on many pretexts, till the elder and the wild rose had fruited. There came at last a brilliant day, swept clear from the south-west, that brought the hills within hand’s reach–a day of unstable airs and high filmy clouds. Through no merit of my own I was free, and set the car for the third time on that known road. As I reached the crest of the Downs I felt the soft air change, saw it glaze under the sun; and, looking down at the sea, in that instant beheld the blue of the Channel turn through polished silver and dulled steel to dingy pewter. A laden collier hugging the coast steered outward for deeper water and, across copper-coloured haze, I saw sails rise one by one on the anchored fishing-fleet. In a deep dene behind me an eddy of sudden wind drummed through sheltered oaks, and spun aloft the first day sample of autumn leaves. When I reached the beach road the sea-fog fumed over the brickfields, and the tide was telling all the groins of the gale beyond Ushant. In less than an hour summer England vanished in chill grey. We were again the shut island of the North, all the ships of the world bellowing at our perilous gates; and between their outcries ran the piping of bewildered gulls. My cap dripped moisture, the folds of the rug held it in pools or sluiced it away in runnels, and the salt-rime stuck to my lips.

Inland the smell of autumn loaded the thickened fog among the trees, and the drip became a continuous shower. Yet the late flowers–mallow of the wayside, scabious of the field, and dahlia of the garden–showed gay in the mist, and beyond the sea’s breath there was little sign of decay in the leaf. Yet in the villages the house doors were all open, and bare- legged, bare-headed children sat at ease on the damp doorsteps to shout “pip-pip” at the stranger.

I made bold to call at the sweetmeat shop, where Mrs. Madehurst met me with a fat woman’s hospitable tears. Jenny’s child, she said, had died two days after the nun had come. It was, she felt, best out of the way, even though insurance offices, for reasons which she did not pretend to follow, would not willingly insure such stray lives. “Not but what Jenny didn’t tend to Arthur as though he’d come all proper at de end of de first year– like Jenny herself.” Thanks to Miss Florence, the child had been buried with a pomp which, in Mrs. Madehurst’s opinion, more than covered the small irregularity of its birth. She described the coffin, within and without, the glass hearse, and the evergreen lining of the grave.

“But how’s the mother?” I asked.

“Jenny? Oh, she’ll get over it. I’ve felt dat way with one or two o’ my own. She’ll get over. She’s walkin’ in de wood now.”

“In this weather?”

Mrs. Madehurst looked at me with narrowed eyes across the counter.

“I dunno but it opens de ‘eart like. Yes, it opens de ‘eart. Dat’s where losin’ and bearin’ comes so alike in de long run, we do say.”

Now the wisdom of the old wives is greater than that of all the Fathers, and this last oracle sent me thinking so extendedly as I went up the road, that I nearly ran over a woman and a child at the wooded corner by the lodge gates of the House Beautiful.

“Awful weather!” I cried, as I slowed dead for the turn.

“Not so bad,” she answered placidly out of the fog. “Mine’s used to ‘un. You’ll find yours indoors, I reckon.”

Indoors, Madden received me with professional courtesy, and kind inquiries for the health of the motor, which he would put under cover.

I waited in a still, nut-brown hall, pleasant with late flowers and warmed with a delicious wood fire–a place of good influence and great peace. (Men and women may sometimes, after great effort, achieve a creditable lie; but the house, which is their temple, cannot say anything save the truth of those who have lived in it.) A child’s cart and a doll lay on the black-and-white floor, where a rug had been kicked back. I felt that the children had only just hurried away–to hide themselves, most like–in the many turns of the great adzed staircase that climbed statelily out of the hall, or to crouch at gaze behind the lions and roses of the carven gallery above. Then I heard her voice above me, singing as the blind sing –from the soul:–

In the pleasant orchard-closes.

And all my early summer came back at the call.

In the pleasant orchard-closes,
God bless all our gains say we–
But may God bless all our losses,
Better suits with our degree,

She dropped the marring fifth line, and repeated–

Better suits with our degree!

I saw her lean over the gallery, her linked hands white as pearl against the oak.

“Is that you–from the other side of the county?” she called.

“Yes, me–from the other side of the county,” I answered laughing.

“What a long time before you had to come here again.” She ran down the stairs, one hand lightly touching the broad rail. “It’s two months and four days. Summer’s gone!”

“I meant to come before, but Fate prevented.”

“I knew it. Please do something to that fire. They won’t let me play with it, but I can feel it’s behaving badly. Hit it!”

I looked on either side of the deep fireplace, and found but a half-charred hedge-stake with which I punched a black log into flame.

“It never goes out, day or night,” she said, as though explaining. “In case any one conies in with cold toes, you see.”

“It’s even lovelier inside than it was out,” I murmured. The red light poured itself along the age-polished dusky panels till the Tudor roses and lions of the gallery took colour and motion. An old eagle-topped convex mirror gathered the picture into its mysterious heart, distorting afresh the distorted shadows, and curving the gallery lines into the curves of a ship. The day was shutting down in half a gale as the fog turned to stringy scud. Through the uncurtained mullions of the broad window I could see valiant horsemen of the lawn rear and recover against the wind that taunted them with legions of dead leaves. “Yes, it must be beautiful,” she said. “Would you like to go over it? There’s still light enough upstairs.”

I followed her up the unflinching, wagon-wide staircase to the gallery whence opened the thin fluted Elizabethan doors.

“Feel how they put the latch low down for the sake of the children.” She swung a light door inward.

“By the way, where are they?” I asked. “I haven’t even heard them to-day.”

She did not answer at once. Then, “I can only hear them,” she replied softly. “This is one of their rooms–everything ready, you see.”

She pointed into a heavily-timbered room. There were little low gate tables and children’s chairs. A doll’s house, its hooked front half open, faced a great dappled rocking-horse, from whose padded saddle it was but a child’s scramble to the broad window-seat overlooking the lawn. A toy gun lay in a corner beside a gilt wooden cannon.

“Surely they’ve only just gone,” I whispered. In the failing light a door creaked cautiously. I heard the rustle of a frock and the patter of feet– quick feet through a room beyond.

“I heard that,” she cried triumphantly. “Did you? Children, O children, where are you?”

The voice filled the walls that held it lovingly to the last perfect note, but there came no answering shout such as I had heard in the garden. We hurried on from room to oak-floored room; up a step here, down three steps there; among a maze of passages; always mocked by our quarry. One might as well have tried to work an unstopped warren with a single ferret. There were bolt-holes innumerable–recesses in walls, embrasures of deep slitten windows now darkened, whence they could start up behind us; and abandoned fireplaces, six feet deep in the masonry, as well as the tangle of communicating doors. Above all, they had the twilight for their helper in our game. I had caught one or two joyous chuckles of evasion, and once or twice had seen the silhouette of a child’s frock against some darkening window at the end of a passage; but we returned empty-handed to the gallery, just as a middle-aged woman was setting a lamp in its niche.

“No, I haven’t seen her either this evening, Miss Florence,” I heard her say, “but that Turpin he says he wants to see you about his shed.”

“Oh, Mr. Turpin must want to see me very badly. Tell him to come to the hall, Mrs. Madden.”

I looked down into the hall whose only light was the dulled fire, and deep in the shadow I saw them at last. They must have slipped down while we were in the passages, and now thought themselves perfectly hidden behind an old gilt leather screen. By child’s law, my fruitless chase was as good as an introduction, but since I had taken so much trouble I resolved to force them to come forward later by the simple trick, which children detest, of pretending not to notice them. They lay close, in a little huddle, no more than shadows except when a quick flame betrayed an outline.

“And now we’ll have some tea,” she said. “I believe I ought to have offered it you at first, but one doesn’t arrive at manners somehow when one lives alone and is considered–h’m–peculiar.” Then with very pretty scorn, “would you like a lamp to see to eat by?” “The firelight’s much pleasanter, I think.” We descended into that delicious gloom and Madden brought tea.

I took my chair in the direction of the screen ready to surprise or be surprised as the game should go, and at her permission, since a hearth is always sacred, bent forward to play with the fire.

“Where do you get these beautiful short faggots from?” I asked idly. “Why, they are tallies!”

“Of course,” she said. “As I can’t read or write I’m driven back on the early English tally for my accounts. Give me one and I’ll tell you what it meant.”

I passed her an unburned hazel-tally, about a foot long, and she ran her thumb down the nicks.

“This is the milk-record for the home farm for the month of April last year, in gallons,” said she. “I don’t know what I should have done without tallies. An old forester of mine taught me the system. It’s out of date now for every one else; but my tenants respect it. One of them’s coming now to see me. Oh, it doesn’t matter. He has no business here out of office hours. He’s a greedy, ignorant man–very greedy or–he wouldn’t come here after dark.”

“Have you much land then?”

“Only a couple of hundred acres in hand, thank goodness. The other six hundred are nearly all let to folk who knew my folk before me, but this Turpin is quite a new man–and a highway robber.”

“But are you sure I sha’n’t be—-?”

“Certainly not. You have the right. He hasn’t any children.”

“Ah, the children!” I said, and slid my low chair back till it nearly touched the screen that hid them. “I wonder whether they’ll come out for me.”

There was a murmur of voices–Madden’s and a deeper note–at the low, dark side door, and a ginger-headed, canvas-gaitered giant of the unmistakable tenant farmer type stumbled or was pushed in.

“Come to the fire, Mr. Turpin,” she said.

“If–if you please, Miss, I’ll–I’ll be quite as well by the door.” He clung to the latch as he spoke like a frightened child. Of a sudden I realised that he was in the grip of some almost overpowering fear.

“Well?”

“About that new shed for the young stock–that was all. These first autumn storms settin’ in … but I’ll come again, Miss.” His teeth did not chatter much more than the door latch.

“I think not,” she answered levelly. “The new shed–m’m. What did my agent write you on the 15th?”

“I–fancied p’raps that if I came to see you–ma–man to man like, Miss. But—-“

His eyes rolled into every corner of the room wide with horror. He half opened the door through which he had entered, but I noticed it shut again –from without and firmly.

“He wrote what I told him,” she went on. “You are overstocked already. Dunnett’s Farm never carried more than fifty bullocks–even in Mr. Wright’s time. And _he_ used cake. You’ve sixty-seven and you don’t cake. You’ve broken the lease in that respect. You’re dragging the heart out of the farm.”

“I’m–I’m getting some minerals–superphosphates–next week. I’ve as good as ordered a truck-load already. I’ll go down to the station to-morrow about ’em. Then I can come and see you man to man like, Miss, in the daylight…. That gentleman’s not going away, is he?” He almost shrieked.

I had only slid the chair a little further back, reaching behind me to tap on the leather of the screen, but he jumped like a rat.

“No. Please attend to me, Mr. Turpin.” She turned in her chair and faced him with his back to the door. It was an old and sordid little piece of scheming that she forced from him–his plea for the new cowshed at his landlady’s expense, that he might with the covered manure pay his next year’s rent out of the valuation after, as she made clear, he had bled the enriched pastures to the bone. I could not but admire the intensity of his greed, when I saw him out-facing for its sake whatever terror it was that ran wet on his forehead.

I ceased to tap the leather–was, indeed, calculating the cost of the shed–when I felt my relaxed hand taken and turned softly between the soft hands of a child. So at last I had triumphed. In a moment I would turn and acquaint myself with those quick-footed wanderers….

The little brushing kiss fell in the centre of my palm–as a gift on which the fingers were, once, expected to close: as the all faithful half- reproachful signal of a waiting child not used to neglect even when grown-ups were busiest–a fragment of the mute code devised very long ago.

Then I knew. And it was as though I had known from the first day when I looked across the lawn at the high window.

I heard the door shut. The woman turned to me in silence, and I felt that she knew.

What time passed after this I cannot say. I was roused by the fall of a log, and mechanically rose to put it back. Then I returned to my place in the chair very close to the screen.

“Now you understand,” she whispered, across the packed shadows.

“Yes, I understand–now. Thank you.”

“I–I only hear them.” She bowed her head in her hands. “I have no right, you know–no other right. I have neither borne nor lost–neither borne nor lost!”

“Be very glad then,” said I, for my soul was torn open within me.

“Forgive me!”

She was still, and I went back to my sorrow and my joy.

“It was because I loved them so,” she said at last, brokenly. “_That_ was why it was, even from the first–even before I knew that they–they were all I should ever have. And I loved them so!”

She stretched out her arms to the shadows and the shadows within the shadow.

“They came because I loved them–because I needed them. I–I must have made them come. Was that wrong, think you?”

“No–no.”

“I–I grant you that the toys and–and all that sort of thing were nonsense, but–but I used to so hate empty rooms myself when I was little.” She pointed to the gallery. “And the passages all empty. … And how could I ever bear the garden door shut? Suppose—-“

“Don’t! For pity’s sake, don’t!” I cried. The twilight had brought a cold rain with gusty squalls that plucked at the leaded windows.

“And the same thing with keeping the fire in all night. _I_ don’t think it so foolish–do you?”

I looked at the broad brick hearth, saw, through tears I believe, that there was no unpassable iron on or near it, and bowed my head.

“I did all that and lots of other things–just to make believe. Then they came. I heard them, but I didn’t know that they were not mine by right till Mrs. Madden told me—-“

“The butler’s wife? What?”

“One of them–I heard–she saw. And knew. Hers! _Not_ for me. I didn’t know at first. Perhaps I was jealous. Afterwards, I began to understand that it was only because I loved them, not because—-… Oh, you _must_ bear or lose,” she said piteously. “There is no other way–and yet they love me. They must! Don’t they?”

There was no sound in the room except the lapping voices of the fire, but we two listened intently, and she at least took comfort from what she heard. She recovered herself and half rose. I sat still in my chair by the screen.

“Don’t think me a wretch to whine about myself like this, but–but I’m all in the dark, you know, and _you_ can see.”

In truth I could see, and my vision confirmed me in my resolve, though that was like the very parting of spirit and flesh. Yet a little longer I would stay since it was the last time.

“You think it is wrong, then?” she cried sharply, though I had said nothing.

“Not for you. A thousand times no. For you it is right…. I am grateful to you beyond words. For me it would be wrong. For me only….”

“Why?” she said, but passed her hand before her face as she had done at our second meeting in the wood. “Oh, I see,” she went on simply as a child. “For you it would be wrong.” Then with a little indrawn laugh, “and, d’you remember, I called you lucky–once–at first. You who must never come here again!”

She left me to sit a little longer by the screen, and I heard the sound of her feet die out along the gallery above.

MRS. BATHURST

FROM LYDEN’S “IRENIUS”

ACT III. Sc. II.

Gow.–Had it been your Prince instead of a groom caught in this noose there’s not an astrologer of the city—-

PRINCE.–Sacked! Sacked! We were a city yesterday.

Gow.–So be it, but I was not governor. Not an astrologer, but would ha’ sworn he’d foreseen it at the last versary of Venus, when Vulcan caught her with Mars in the house of stinking Capricorn. But since ’tis Jack of the Straw that hangs, the forgetful stars had it not on their tablets.

PRINCE.–Another life! Were there any left to die? How did the poor fool come by it?

Gow.–_Simpliciter_ thus. She that damned him to death knew not that she did it, or would have died ere she had done it. For she loved him. He that hangs him does so in obedience to the Duke, and asks no more than “Where is the rope?” The Duke, very exactly he hath told us, works God’s will, in which holy employ he’s not to be questioned. We have then left upon this finger, only Jack whose soul now plucks the left sleeve of Destiny in Hell to overtake why she clapped him up like a fly on a sunny wall. Whuff! Soh!

PRINCE.–Your cloak, Ferdinand. I’ll sleep now.

FERDINAND.–Sleep, then.. He too, loved his life?

Gow.–He was born of woman … but at the end threw life from him, like your Prince, for a little sleep … “Have I any look of a King?” said he, clanking his chain–“to be so baited on all sides by Fortune, that I must e’en die now to live with myself one day longer?” I left him railing at Fortune and woman’s love.

FERDINAND.–Ah, woman’s love!

_(Aside)_ Who knows not Fortune, glutted on easy thrones, Stealing from feasts as rare to coneycatch, Privily in the hedgerows for a clown With that same cruel-lustful hand and eye, Those nails and wedges, that one hammer and lead, And the very gerb of long-stored lightnings loosed Yesterday ‘gainst some King.

MRS. BATHURST
The day that I chose to visit H.M.S. _Peridot_ in Simon’s Bay was the day that the Admiral had chosen to send her up the coast. She was just steaming out to sea as my train came in, and since the rest of the Fleet were either coaling or busy at the rifle-ranges a thousand feet up the hill, I found myself stranded, lunchless, on the sea-front with no hope of return to Cape Town before five P.M. At this crisis I had the luck to come across my friend Inspector Hooper, Cape Government Railways, in command of an engine and a brake-van chalked for repair.

“If you get something to eat,” he said, “I’ll run you down to Glengariff siding till the goods comes along. It’s cooler there than here, you see.”

I got food and drink from the Greeks who sell all things at a price, and the engine trotted us a couple of miles up the line to a bay of drifted sand and a plank-platform half buried in sand not a hundred yards from the edge of the surf. Moulded dunes, whiter than any snow, rolled far inland up a brown and purple valley of splintered rocks and dry scrub. A crowd of Malays hauled at a net beside two blue and green boats on the beach; a picnic party danced and shouted barefoot where a tiny river trickled across the flat, and a circle of dry hills, whose feet were set in sands of silver, locked us in against a seven-coloured sea. At either horn of the bay the railway line, cut just above high water-mark, ran round a shoulder of piled rocks, and disappeared.

“You see there’s always a breeze here,” said Hooper, opening the door as the engine left us in the siding on the sand, and the strong south-easter buffeting under Elsie’s Peak dusted sand into our tickey beer. Presently he sat down to a file full of spiked documents. He had returned from a long trip up-country, where he had been reporting on damaged rolling- stock, as far away as Rhodesia. The weight of the bland wind on my eyelids; the song of it under the car roof, and high up among the rocks; the drift of fine grains chasing each other musically ashore; the tramp of the surf; the voices of the picnickers; the rustle of Hooper’s file, and the presence of the assured sun, joined with the beer to cast me into magical slumber. The hills of False Bay were just dissolving into those of fairyland when I heard footsteps on the sand outside, and the clink of our couplings.

“Stop that!” snapped Hooper, without raising his head from his work. “It’s those dirty little Malay boys, you see: they’re always playing with the trucks….”

“Don’t be hard on ’em. The railway’s a general refuge in Africa,” I replied.

“‘Tis–up-country at any rate. That reminds me,” he felt in his waistcoat- pocket, “I’ve got a curiosity for you from Wankies–beyond Buluwayo. It’s more of a souvenir perhaps than—-“

“The old hotel’s inhabited,” cried a voice. “White men from the language. Marines to the front! Come on, Pritch. Here’s your Belmont. Wha–i–i!”

The last word dragged like a rope as Mr. Pyecroft ran round to the open door, and stood looking up into my face. Behind him an enormous Sergeant of Marines trailed a stalk of dried seaweed, and dusted the sand nervously from his fingers.

“What are you doing here?” I asked. “I thought the _Hierophant_ was down the coast?”

“We came in last Tuesday–from Tristan D’Acunha–for overhaul, and we shall be in dockyard ‘ands for two months, with boiler-seatings.”

“Come and sit down,” Hooper put away the file.

“This is Mr. Hooper of the Railway,” I exclaimed, as Pyecroft turned to haul up the black-moustached sergeant.

“This is Sergeant Pritchard, of the _Agaric_, an old shipmate,” said he. “We were strollin’ on the beach.” The monster blushed and nodded. He filled up one side of the van when he sat down.

“And this is my friend, Mr. Pyecroft,” I added to Hooper, already busy with the extra beer which my prophetic soul had bought from the Greeks.

“_Moi aussi_” quoth Pyecroft, and drew out beneath his coat a labelled quart bottle.

“Why, it’s Bass,” cried Hooper.

“It was Pritchard,” said Pyecroft. “They can’t resist him.”

“That’s not so,” said Pritchard, mildly.

“Not _verbatim_ per’aps, but the look in the eye came to the same thing.”

“Where was it?” I demanded.

“Just on beyond here–at Kalk Bay. She was slappin’ a rug in a back verandah. Pritch hadn’t more than brought his batteries to bear, before she stepped indoors an’ sent it flyin’ over the wall.”

Pyecroft patted the warm bottle.

“It was all a mistake,” said Pritchard. “I shouldn’t wonder if she mistook me for Maclean. We’re about of a size.”

I had heard householders of Muizenburg, St. James’s, and Kalk Bay complain of the difficulty of keeping beer or good servants at the seaside, and I began to see the reason. None the less, it was excellent Bass, and I too drank to the health of that large-minded maid.

“It’s the uniform that fetches ’em, an’ they fetch it,” said Pyecroft. “My simple navy blue is respectable, but not fascinatin’. Now Pritch in ‘is Number One rig is always ‘purr Mary, on the terrace’–_ex officio_ as you might say.”

“She took me for Maclean, I tell you,” Pritchard insisted. “Why–why–to listen to him you wouldn’t think that only yesterday—-“

“Pritch,” said Pyecroft, “be warned in time. If we begin tellin’ what we know about each other we’ll be turned out of the pub. Not to mention aggravated desertion on several occasions—-“

“Never anything more than absence without leaf–I defy you to prove it,” said the Sergeant hotly. “An’ if it comes to that how about Vancouver in ’87?”

“How about it? Who pulled bow in the gig going ashore? Who told Boy Niven…?”

“Surely you were court martialled for that?” I said. The story of Boy Niven who lured seven or eight able-bodied seamen and marines into the woods of British Columbia used to be a legend of the Fleet.

“Yes, we were court-martialled to rights,” said Pritchard, “but we should have been tried for murder if Boy Niven ‘adn’t been unusually tough. He told us he had an uncle ‘oo’d give us land to farm. ‘E said he was born at the back o’ Vancouver Island, and _all_ the time the beggar was a balmy Barnado Orphan!”

“_But_ we believed him,” said Pyecroft. “I did–you did–Paterson did–an’ ‘oo was the Marine that married the cocoanut-woman afterwards–him with the mouth?”

“Oh, Jones, Spit-Kid Jones. I ‘aven’t thought of ‘im in years,” said Pritchard. “Yes, Spit-Kid believed it, an’ George Anstey and Moon. We were very young an’ very curious.”

“_But_ lovin’ an’ trustful to a degree,” said Pyecroft.

“Remember when ‘e told us to walk in single file for fear o’ bears? ‘Remember, Pye, when ‘e ‘opped about in that bog full o’ ferns an’ sniffed an’ said ‘e could smell the smoke of ‘is uncle’s farm? An’ _all_ the time it was a dirty little out-lyin’ uninhabited island. We walked round it in a day, an’ come back to our boat lyin’ on the beach. A whole day Boy Niven kept us walkin’ in circles lookin’ for ‘is uncle’s farm! He said his uncle was compelled by the law of the land to give us a farm!”

“Don’t get hot, Pritch. We believed,” said Pyecroft.

“He’d been readin’ books. He only did it to get a run ashore an’ have himself talked of. A day an’ a night–eight of us–followin’ Boy Niven round an uninhabited island in the Vancouver archipelago! Then the picket came for us an’ a nice pack o’ idiots we looked!”

“What did you get for it?” Hooper asked.

“Heavy thunder with continuous lightning for two hours. Thereafter sleet- squalls, a confused sea, and cold, unfriendly weather till conclusion o’ cruise,” said Pyecroft. “It was only what we expected, but what we felt, an’ I assure you, Mr. Hooper, even a sailor-man has a heart to break, was bein’ told that we able seamen an’ promisin’ marines ‘ad misled Boy Niven. Yes, we poor back-to-the-landers was supposed to ‘ave misled him! He rounded on us, o’ course, an’ got off easy.”

“Excep’ for what we gave him in the steerin’-flat when we came out o’ cells. ‘Eard anything of ‘im lately, Pye?”

“Signal Boatswain in the Channel Fleet, I believe–Mr. L.L. Niven is.”

“An’ Anstey died o’ fever in Benin,” Pritchard mused. “What come to Moon? Spit-Kid we know about.”

“Moon–Moon! Now where did I last…? Oh yes, when I was in the _Palladium_! I met Quigley at Buncrana Station. He told me Moon ‘ad run when the _Astrild_ sloop was cruising among the South Seas three years back. He always showed signs o’ bein’ a Mormonastic beggar. Yes, he slipped off quietly an’ they ‘adn’t time to chase ‘im round the islands even if the navigatin’ officer ‘ad been equal to the job.”

“Wasn’t he?” said Hooper.

“Not so. Accordin’ to Quigley the _Astrild_ spent half her commission rompin’ up the beach like a she-turtle, an’ the other half hatching turtles’ eggs on the top o’ numerous reefs. When she was docked at Sydney her copper looked like Aunt Maria’s washing on the line–an’ her ‘midship frames was sprung. The commander swore the dockyard ‘ad done it haulin’ the pore thing on to the slips. They _do_ do strange things at sea, Mr. Hooper.”

“Ah! I’m not a tax-payer,” said Hooper, and opened a fresh bottle. The Sergeant seemed to be one who had a difficulty in dropping subjects.

“How it all comes back, don’t it?” he said. “Why Moon must ‘ave ‘ad sixteen years’ service before he ran.”

“It takes ’em at all ages. Look at–you know,” said Pyecroft.

“Who?” I asked.

“A service man within eighteen months of his pension, is the party you’re thinkin’ of,” said Pritchard. “A warrant ‘oose name begins with a V., isn’t it?”

“But, in a way o’ puttin’ it, we can’t say that he actually did desert,” Pyecroft suggested.

“Oh, no,” said Pritchard. “It was only permanent absence up country without leaf. That was all.”

“Up country?” said Hooper. “Did they circulate his description?”

“What for?” said Pritchard, most impolitely.

“Because deserters are like columns in the war. They don’t move away from the line, you see. I’ve known a chap caught at Salisbury that way tryin’ to get to Nyassa. They tell me, but o’ course I don’t know, that they don’t ask questions on the Nyassa Lake Flotilla up there. I’ve heard of a P. and O. quartermaster in full command of an armed launch there.”

“Do you think Click ‘ud ha’ gone up that way?” Pritchard asked.

“There’s no saying. He was sent up to Bloemfontein to take over some Navy ammunition left in the fort. We know he took it over and saw it into the trucks. Then there was no more Click–then or thereafter. Four months ago it transpired, and thus the _casus belli_ stands at present,” said Pyecroft.

“What were his marks?” said Hooper again.

“Does the Railway get a reward for returnin’ ’em, then?” said Pritchard.

“If I did d’you suppose I’d talk about it?” Hooper retorted angrily.

“You seemed so very interested,” said Pritchard with equal crispness.

“Why was he called Click?” I asked to tide over an uneasy little break in the conversation. The two men were staring at each other very fixedly.

“Because of an ammunition hoist carryin’ away,” said Pyecroft. “And it carried away four of ‘is teeth–on the lower port side, wasn’t it, Pritch? The substitutes which he bought weren’t screwed home in a manner o’ sayin’. When he talked fast they used to lift a little on the bed plate. ‘Ence, ‘Click.’ They called ‘im a superior man which is what we’d call a long, black-‘aired, genteely speakin’, ‘alf-bred beggar on the lower deck.”

“Four false teeth on the lower left jaw,” said Hooper, his hand in his waistcoat pocket. “What tattoo marks?”

“Look here,” began Pritchard, half rising. “I’m sure we’re very grateful to you as a gentleman for your ‘orspitality, but per’aps we may ‘ave made an error in–“

I looked at Pyecroft for aid, Hooper was crimsoning rapidly.

“If the fat marine now occupying the foc’sle will kindly bring ‘is _status quo_ to an anchor yet once more, we may be able to talk like gentlemen– not to say friends,” said Pyecroft. “He regards you, Mr. Hooper, as a emissary of the Law.”

“I only wish to observe that when a gentleman exhibits such a peculiar, or I should rather say, such a _bloomin’_ curiosity in identification marks as our friend here—-“

“Mr. Pritchard,” I interposed, “I’ll take all the responsibility for Mr. Hooper.”

“An’ _you_’ll apologise all round,” said Pyecroft. “You’re a rude little man, Pritch.”

“But how was I—-” he began, wavering.

“I don’t know an’ I don’t care. Apologise!”

The giant looked round bewildered and took our little hands into his vast grip, one by one. “I was wrong,” he said meekly as a sheep. “My suspicions was unfounded. Mr. Hooper, I apologise.”

“You did quite right to look out for your own end o’ the line,” said Hooper. “I’d ha’ done the same with a gentleman I didn’t know, you see. If you don’t mind I’d like to hear a little more o’ your Mr. Vickery. It’s safe with me, you see.”

“Why did Vickery run,” I began, but Pyecroft’s smile made me turn my question to “Who was she?”

“She kep’ a little hotel at Hauraki–near Auckland,” said Pyecroft.

“By Gawd!” roared Pritchard, slapping his hand on his leg. “Not Mrs. Bathurst!”

Pyecroft nodded slowly, and the Sergeant called all the powers of darkness to witness his bewilderment.

“So far as I could get at it Mrs. B. was the lady in question.”

“But Click was married,” cried Pritchard.

“An’ ‘ad a fifteen year old daughter. ‘E’s shown me her photograph. Settin’ that aside, so to say, ‘ave you ever found these little things make much difference? Because I haven’t.”

“Good Lord Alive an’ Watchin’!… Mrs. Bathurst….” Then with another roar: “You can say what you please, Pye, but you don’t make me believe it was any of ‘er fault. She wasn’t _that!_”

“If I was going to say what I please, I’d begin by callin’ you a silly ox an’ work up to the higher pressures at leisure. I’m trying to say solely what transpired. M’rover, for once you’re right. It wasn’t her fault.”

“You couldn’t ‘aven’t made me believe it if it ‘ad been,” was the answer.

Such faith in a Sergeant of Marines interested me greatly. “Never mind about that,” I cried. “Tell me what she was like.”

“She was a widow,” said Pyecroft. “Left so very young and never re-spliced. She kep’ a little hotel for warrants and non-coms close to Auckland, an’ she always wore black silk, and ‘er neck–“

“You ask what she was like,” Pritchard broke in. “Let me give you an instance. I was at Auckland first in ’97, at the end o’ the _Marroquin’s_ commission, an’ as I’d been promoted I went up with the others. She used to look after us all, an’ she never lost by it–not a penny! ‘Pay me now,’ she’d say, ‘or settle later. I know you won’t let me suffer. Send the money from home if you like,’ Why, gentlemen all, I tell you I’ve seen that lady take her own gold watch an’ chain off her neck in the bar an’ pass it to a bosun ‘oo’d come ashore without ‘is ticker an’ ‘ad to catch the last boat. ‘I don’t know your name,’ she said, ‘but when you’ve done with it, you’ll find plenty that know me on the front. Send it back by one o’ them.’ And it was worth thirty pounds if it was worth ‘arf a crown. The little gold watch, Pye, with the blue monogram at the back. But, as I was sayin’, in those days she kep’ a beer that agreed with me–Slits it was called. One way an’ another I must ‘ave punished a good few bottles of it while we was in the bay–comin’ ashore every night or so. Chaffin across the bar like, once when we were alone, ‘Mrs. B.,’ I said, ‘when next I call I want you to remember that this is my particular–just as you’re my particular?’ (She’d let you go _that_ far!) ‘Just as you’re my particular,’ I said. ‘Oh, thank you, Sergeant Pritchard,’ she says, an’ put ‘er hand up to the curl be’ind ‘er ear. Remember that way she had, Pye?”

“I think so,” said the sailor.

“Yes, ‘Thank you, Sergeant Pritchard,’ she says. ‘The least I can do is to mark it for you in case you change your mind. There’s no great demand for it in the Fleet,’ she says, ‘but to make sure I’ll put it at the back o’ the shelf,’ an’ she snipped off a piece of her hair ribbon with that old dolphin cigar cutter on the bar–remember it, Pye?–an’ she tied a bow round what was left–just four bottles. That was ’97–no, ’96. In ’98 I was in the _Resiliant_–China station–full commission. In Nineteen One, mark you, I was in the _Carthusian_, back in Auckland Bay again. Of course I went up to Mrs. B.’s with the rest of us to see how things were goin’. They were the same as ever. (Remember the big tree on the pavement by the side-bar, Pye?) I never said anythin’ in special (there was too many of us talkin’ to her), but she saw me at once.”

“That wasn’t difficult?” I ventured.

“Ah, but wait. I was comin’ up to the bar, when, ‘Ada,’ she says to her niece, ‘get me Sergeant Pritchard’s particular,’ and, gentlemen all, I tell you before I could shake ‘ands with the lady, there were those four bottles o’ Slits, with ‘er ‘air ribbon in a bow round each o’ their necks, set down in front o’ me, an’ as she drew the cork she looked at me under her eyebrows in that blindish way she had o’ lookin’, an’, ‘Sergeant Pritchard,’ she says, ‘I do ‘ope you ‘aven’t changed your mind about your particulars.’ That’s the kind o’ woman she was–after five years!”

“I don’t _see_ her yet somehow,” said Hooper, but with sympathy.

“She–she never scrupled to feed a lame duck or set ‘er foot on a scorpion at any time of ‘er life,” Pritchard added valiantly.

“That don’t help me either. My mother’s like that for one.”

The giant heaved inside his uniform and rolled his eyes at the car-roof. Said Pyecroft suddenly:–

“How many women have you been intimate with all over the world, Pritch?”

Pritchard blushed plum colour to the short hairs of his seventeen-inch neck.

“‘Undreds,” said Pyecroft. “So’ve I. How many of ’em can you remember in your own mind, settin’ aside the first–an’ per’aps the last–_and one more_?”

“Few, wonderful few, now I tax myself,” said Sergeant Pritchard, relievedly.

“An’ how many times might you ‘ave been at Aukland?”

“One–two,” he began. “Why, I can’t make it more than three times in ten years. But I can remember every time that I ever saw Mrs. B.”

“So can I–an’ I’ve only been to Auckland twice–how she stood an’ what she was sayin’ an’ what she looked like. That’s the secret. ‘Tisn’t beauty, so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It’s just It. Some women’ll stay in a man’s memory if they once walked down a street, but most of ’em you can live with a month on end, an’ next commission you’d be put to it to certify whether they talked in their sleep or not, as one might say.”

“Ah,” said Hooper. “That’s more the idea. I’ve known just two women of that nature.”

“An’ it was no fault o’ theirs?” asked Pritchard.

“None whatever. I know that!”

“An’ if a man gets struck with that kind o’ woman, Mr. Hooper?” Pritchard went on.

“He goes crazy–or just saves himself,” was the slow answer.

“You’ve hit it,” said the Sergeant. “You’ve seen an’ known somethin’ in the course o’ your life, Mr. Hooper. I’m lookin’ at you!” He set down his bottle.

“And how often had Vickery seen her?” I asked.

“That’s the dark an’ bloody mystery,” Pyecroft answered. “I’d never come across him till I come out in the _Hierophant_ just now, an’ there wasn’t any one in the ship who knew much about him. You see, he was what you call a superior man. ‘E spoke to me once or twice about Auckland and Mrs. B. on the voyage out. I called that to mind subsequently. There must ‘ave been a good deal between ’em, to my way o’ thinkin’. Mind you I’m only giving you my _sum_ of it all, because all I know is second-hand so to speak, or rather I should say more than second-‘and.”

“How?” said Hooper peremptorily. “You must have seen it or heard it.”

“Yes,” said Pyecroft. “I used to think seein’ and hearin’ was the only regulation aids to ascertainin’ facts, but as we get older we get more accommodatin’. The cylinders work easier, I suppose…. Were you in Cape Town last December when Phyllis’s Circus came?”

“No–up country,” said Hooper, a little nettled at the change of venue.

“I ask because they had a new turn of a scientific nature called ‘Home and Friends for a Tickey.'”

“Oh, you mean the cinematograph–the pictures of prize-fights and steamers. I’ve seen ’em up country.”

“Biograph or cinematograph was what I was alludin’ to. London Bridge with the omnibuses–a troopship goin’ to the war–marines on parade at Portsmouth an’ the Plymouth Express arrivin’ at Paddin’ton.”

“Seen ’em all. Seen ’em all,” said Hooper impatiently.

“We _Hierophants_ came in just before Christmas week an’ leaf was easy.”

“I think a man gets fed up with Cape Town quicker than anywhere else on the station. Why, even Durban’s more like Nature. We was there for Christmas,” Pritchard put in.

“Not bein’ a devotee of Indian _peeris_, as our Doctor said to the Pusser, I can’t exactly say. Phyllis’s was good enough after musketry practice at Mozambique. I couldn’t get off the first two or three nights on account of what you might call an imbroglio with our Torpedo Lieutenant in the submerged flat, where some pride of the West country had sugared up a gyroscope; but I remember Vickery went ashore with our Carpenter Rigdon– old Crocus we called him. As a general rule Crocus never left ‘is ship unless an’ until he was ‘oisted out with a winch, but _when_ ‘e went ‘e would return noddin’ like a lily gemmed with dew. We smothered him down below that night, but the things ‘e said about Vickery as a fittin’ playmate for a Warrant Officer of ‘is cubic capacity, before we got him quiet, was what I should call pointed.”

“I’ve been with Crocus–in the _Redoubtable_,” said the Sergeant. “He’s a character if there is one.”

“Next night I went into Cape Town with Dawson and Pratt; but just at the door of the Circus I came across Vickery. ‘Oh!’ he says, ‘you’re the man I’m looking for. Come and sit next me. This way to the shillin’ places!’ I went astern at once, protestin’ because tickey seats better suited my so-called finances. ‘Come on,’ says Vickery, ‘I’m payin’.’ Naturally I abandoned Pratt and Dawson in anticipation o’ drinks to match the seats. ‘No,’ he says, when this was ‘inted–‘not now. Not now. As many as you please afterwards, but I want you sober for the occasion.’ I caught ‘is face under a lamp just then, an’ the appearance of it quite cured me of my thirsts. Don’t mistake. It didn’t frighten me. It made me anxious. I can’t tell you what it was like, but that was the effect which it ‘ad on me. If you want to know, it reminded me of those things in bottles in those herbalistic shops at Plymouth–preserved in spirits of wine. White an’ crumply things–previous to birth as you might say.”

“You ‘ave a beastial mind, Pye,” said the Sergeant, relighting his pipe.

“Perhaps. We were in the front row, an’ ‘Home an’ Friends’ came on early. Vickery touched me on the knee when the number went up. ‘If you see anything that strikes you,’ he says, ‘drop me a hint’; then he went on clicking. We saw London Bridge an’ so forth an’ so on, an’ it was most interestin’. I’d never seen it before. You ‘eard a little dynamo like buzzin’, but the pictures were the real thing–alive an’ movin’.”

“I’ve seen ’em,” said Hooper. “Of course they are taken from the very thing itself–you see.”

“Then the Western Mail came in to Paddin’ton on the big magic lantern sheet. First we saw the platform empty an’ the porters standin’ by. Then the engine come in, head on, an’ the women in the front row jumped: she headed so straight. Then the doors opened and the passengers came out and the porters got the luggage–just like life. Only–only when any one came down too far towards us that was watchin’, they walked right out o’ the picture, so to speak. I was ‘ighly interested, I can tell you. So were all of us. I watched an old man with a rug ‘oo’d dropped a book an’ was tryin’ to pick it up, when quite slowly, from be’ind two porters–carryin’ a little reticule an’ lookin’ from side to side–comes out Mrs. Bathurst. There was no mistakin’ the walk in a hundred thousand. She come forward– right forward–she looked out straight at us with that blindish look which Pritch alluded to. She walked on and on till she melted out of the picture–like–like a shadow jumpin’ over a candle, an’ as she went I ‘eard Dawson in the ticky seats be’ind sing out: ‘Christ! There’s Mrs. B.!'”

Hooper swallowed his spittle and leaned forward intently.

“Vickery touched me on the knee again. He was clickin’ his four false teeth with his jaw down like an enteric at the last kick. ‘Are you sure?’ says he. ‘Sure,’ I says, ‘didn’t you ‘ear Dawson give tongue? Why, it’s the woman herself.’ ‘I was sure before,’ he says, ‘but I brought you to make sure. Will you come again with me to-morrow?’

“‘Willingly,’ I says, ‘it’s like meetin’ old friends.’

“‘Yes,’ he says, openin’ his watch, ‘very like. It will be four-and-twenty hours less four minutes before I see her again. Come and have a drink,’ he says. ‘It may amuse you, but it’s no sort of earthly use to me.’ He went out shaking his head an’ stumblin’ over people’s feet as if he was drunk already. I anticipated a swift drink an’ a speedy return, because I wanted to see the performin’ elephants. Instead o’ which Vickery began to navigate the town at the rate o’ knots, lookin’ in at a bar every three minutes approximate Greenwich time. I’m not a drinkin’ man, though there are those present”–he cocked his unforgetable eye at me–“who may have seen me more or less imbued with the fragrant spirit. None the less, when I drink I like to do it at anchor an’ not at an average speed of eighteen knots on the measured mile. There’s a tank as you might say at the back o’ that big hotel up the hill–what do they call it?”

“The Molteno Reservoir,” I suggested, and Hooper nodded.

“That was his limit o’ drift. We walked there an’ we come down through the Gardens–there was a South-Easter blowin’–an’ we finished up by the Docks. Then we bore up the road to Salt River, and wherever there was a pub Vickery put in sweatin’. He didn’t look at what he drunk–he didn’t look at the change. He walked an’ he drunk an’ he perspired in rivers. I understood why old Crocus ‘ad come back in the condition ‘e did, because Vickery an’ I ‘ad two an’ a half hours o’ this gipsy manoeuvre an’ when we got back to the station there wasn’t a dry atom on or in me.”