It was one of the secret opinions, such as we all have, of Peter Brench that his main success in life would have consisted in his never having committed himself about the work, as it was called, of his friend, Morgan Mallow. This was a subject on which it was, to the best of his belief, impossible, with veracity, to quote him, and it was nowhere on record that he had, in the connection, on any occasion and in any embarrassment, either lied or spoken the truth. Such a triumph had its honour even for a man of other triumphs—a man who had reached fifty, who had escaped marriage, who had lived within his means, who had been in love with Mrs. Mallow for years without breathing it, and who, last not least, had judged himself once for all. He had so judged himself in fact that he felt an extreme and general humility to be his proper portion; yet there was nothing that made him think so well of his parts as the course he had steered so often through the shallows just mentioned. It became thus a real wonder that the friends in whom he had most confidence were just those with whom he had most reserves. He couldn’t tell Mrs. Mallow—or at least he supposed, excellent man, he couldn’t—that she was the one beautiful reason he had never married; any more than he could tell her husband that the sight of the multiplied marbles in that gentleman’s studio was an affliction of which even time had never blunted the edge. His victory, however, as I have intimated, in regard to these productions was not simply in his not having let it out that he deplored them; it was, remarkably, in his not having kept it in by anything else.
The whole situation, among these good people, was verily a marvel, and there was probably not such another for a long way from the spot that engages us—the point at which the soft declivity of Hampstead began at that time to confess in broken accents to St. John’s Wood. He despised Mallow’s statues and adored Mallow’s wife, and yet was distinctly fond of Mallow, to whom, in turn, he was equally dear. Mrs. Mallow rejoiced in the statues—though she preferred, when pressed, the busts; and if she was visibly attached to Peter Brench it was because of his affection for Morgan. Each loved the other, moreover, for the love borne in each case to Lancelot, whom the Mallows respectively cherished as their only child and whom the friend of their fireside identified as the third—but decidedly the handsomest—of his godsons. Already in the old years it had come to that—that no one, for such a relation, could possibly have occurred to any of them, even to the baby itself, but Peter. There was luckily a certain independence, of the pecuniary sort, all round: the Master could never otherwise have spent his solemn Wanderjahre 1 in Florence and Rome and continued, by the Thames as well as by the Arno and the Tiber, to add unpurchased group to group and model, for what was too apt to prove in the event mere love, fancy-heads of celebrities either too busy or too buried—too much of the age or too little of it—to sit. Neither could Peter, lounging in almost daily, have found time to keep the whole complicated tradition so alive by his presence. He was massive, but mild, the depositary of these mysteries—large and loose and ruddy and curly, with deep tones, deep eyes, deep pockets, to say nothing of the habit of long pipes, soft hats, and brownish, greyish, weather-faded clothes, apparently always the same.
He had ‘written,’ it was known, but had never spoken—never spoken, in particular, of that; and he had the air (since, as was believed, he continued to write) of keeping it up in order to have something more—as if he had not, at the worst, enough—to be silent about. Whatever his air, at any rate, Peter’s occasional unmentioned prose and verse were quite truly the result of an impulse to maintain the purity of his taste by establishing still more firmly the right relation of fame to feebleness. The little green door of his domain was in a garden-wall on which the stucco was cracked and stained, and in the small detached villa behind it everything was old, the furniture, the servants, the books, the prints, the habits, and the new improvements. The Mallows, at Carrara Lodge, were within ten minutes, and the studio there was on their little land, to which they had added, in their happy faith, to build it. This was the good fortune, if it was not the ill, of her having brought him, in marriage, a portion that put them in a manner at their ease and enabled them thus, on their side, to keep it up. And they did keep it up—they always had—the infatuated sculptor and his wife, for whom nature had refined on the impossible by relieving them of the sense of the difficult. Morgan had, at all events, everything of the sculptor but the spirit of Phidias—the brown velvet, the becoming beretto, the ‘plastic’ presence, the fine fingers, the beautiful accent in Italian, and the old Italian factotum. He seemed to make up for every thing when he addressed Egidio with the ‘tu’ and waved him to turn one of the rotary pedestals of which the place was full. They were tremendous Italians at Carrara Lodge, and the secret of the part played by this fact in Peter’s life was, in a large degree, that it gave him, sturdy Briton that he was, just the amount of going abroad he could bear. The Mallows were all his Italy, but it was in a measure for Italy he liked them. His one worry was that Lance—to which they had shortened his godson—was, in spite of a public school, perhaps a shade too Italian. Morgan, meanwhile, looked like somebody’s flattering idea of somebody’s own person as expressed in the great room provided at the Uffizzi museum for Portraits of Artists by Themselves. The Master’s sole regret that he had not been born rather to the brush than to the chisel sprang from his wish that he might have contributed to that collection.
It appeared, with time, at any rate, to be to the brush that Lance had been born; for Mrs. Mallow, one day when the boy was turning twenty, broke it to their friend, who shared, to the last delicate morsel, their problems and pains, that it seemed as if nothing would really do but that he should embrace the career. It had been impossible longer to remain blind to the fact that he gained no glory at Cambridge, where Brench’s own college had, for a year, tempered its tone to him as for Brench’s own sake. Therefore why renew the vain form of preparing him for the impossible? The impossible—it had become clear—was that he should be anything but an artist.
‘Oh dear, dear!’ said poor Peter.
‘Don’t you believe in it?’ asked Mrs. Mallow, who still, at more than forty, had her violet velvet eyes, her creamy satin skin, and her silken chestnut hair.
‘Believe in what?’
‘Why, in Lance’s passion.’
‘I don’t know what you mean by “believing in it.” I’ve never been unaware, certainly, of his disposition, from his earliest time, to daub and draw; but I confess I’ve hoped it would burn out.’
‘But why should it,’ she sweetly smiled, ‘with his wonderful heredity? Passion is passion—though of course, indeed, you, dear Peter, know nothing of that. Has the Master’s ever burned out?’
Peter looked off a little and, in his familiar, formless way, kept up for a moment a sound between a smothered whistle and a subdued hum. ‘Do you think he’s going to be another Master?’
She seemed scarce prepared to go that length, yet she had, on the whole, a most marvellous trust. ‘I know what you mean by that. Will it be a career to incur the jealousies and provoke the machinations that have been at times almost too much for his father? Well—say it may be, since nothing but clap-trap, in these dreadful days, can, it would seem, make its way, and since, with the curse of refinement and distinction, one may easily find one’s self begging one’s bread. Put it at the worst—say he has the misfortune to wing his flight further than the vulgar taste of his stupid countrymen can follow. Think, all the same, of the happiness—the same that the Master has had. He’ll know.’
Peter looked rueful. ‘Ah, but what will he know?’
‘Quiet joy!’ cried Mrs. Mallow, quite impatient and turning away.
He had of course, before long, to meet the boy himself on it and to hear that, practically, everything was settled. Lance was not to go up again, but to go instead to Paris, where, since the die was cast, he would find the best advantages. Peter had always felt that he must be taken as he was, but had never perhaps found him so much as he was as on this occasion. ‘You chuck Cambridge then altogether? Doesn’t that seem rather a pity?’
Lance would have been like his father, to his friend’s sense, had he had less humour, and like his mother had he had more beauty. Yet it was a good middle way, for Peter, that, in the modern manner, he was, to the eye, rather the young stockbroker than the young artist. The youth reasoned that it was a question of time—there was such a mill to go through, such an awful lot to learn. He had talked with fellows and had judged. ‘One has got, to-day,’ he said, ‘don’t you see? to know.’
His interlocutor, at this, gave a groan. ‘Oh, hang it, don’t know!’
Lance wondered. ‘”Don’t”? Then what’s the use———?’
‘The use of what?’
‘Why, of anything. Don’t you think I’ve talent?’
Peter smoked away, for a little, in silence;. then went on: ‘It isn’t knowledge, it’s ignorance that—as we’ve been beautifully told—is bliss.’
‘Don’t you think I’ve talent?’ Lance repeated.
Peter, with his trick of queer, kind demonstrations, passed his arm round his godson and held him a moment. ‘How do I know?’
‘Oh,’ said the boy, ‘if it’s your own ignorance you’re defending———!’
Again, for a pause, on the sofa, his godfather smoked. ‘It isn’t. I’ve the misfortune to be omniscient.’
‘Oh, well,’ Lance laughed again, ‘if you know too much———!’
‘That’s what I do, and why I’m so wretched.’
Lance’s gaiety grew. ‘Wretched? Come, I say!’
‘But I forgot,’ his companion went on—’you’re not to know about that. It would indeed, for you too, make the too much. Only I’ll tell you what I’ll do.’ And Peter got up from the sofa. ‘If you’ll go up again, I’ll pay your way at Cambridge.’
Lance stared, a little rueful in spite of being still more amused. ‘Oh, Peter! You disapprove so of Paris?’
‘Well, I’m afraid of it.’
‘Ah, I see.’
‘No, you don’t see—yet. But you will—that is you would. And you mustn’t.’
The young man thought more gravely. ‘But one’s innocence, already———’
‘Is considerably damaged? Ah, that won’t matter,’ Peter persisted—’we’ll patch it up here.’
‘Here? Then you want me to stay at home?’
Peter almost confessed to it. ‘Well, we’re so right—we four together—just as we are. We’re so safe. Come, don’t spoil it.’
The boy, who had turned to gravity, turned from this, on the real pressure in his friend’s tone, to consternation. ‘Then what’s a fellow to be?’
‘My particular care. Come, old man’—and Peter now fairly pleaded—I’ll look out for you.’
Lance, who had remained on the sofa with his legs out and his hands in his pockets, watched him with eyes that showed suspicion. Then he got up. ‘You think there’s something the matter with me—that I can’t make a success.’
‘Well, what do you call a success?’
Lance thought again. ‘Why, the best sort, I suppose, is to please one’s self. Isn’t that the sort that, in spite of cabals and things, is—in his own peculiar line—the Master’s?’
There were so much too many things in this question to be answered at once that they practically checked the discussion, which became particularly difficult in the light of such renewed proof that, though the young man’s innocence might, in the course of his studies, as he contended, somewhat have shrunken, the finer essence of it still remained. That was indeed exactly what Peter had assumed and what, above all, he desired; yet, perversely enough, it gave him a chill. The boy believed in the cabals and things, believed in the peculiar line, believed, in short, in the Master. What happened a month or two later was not that he went up again at the expense of his godfather, but that a fortnight after he had got settled in Paris this personage sent him fifty pounds.
He had meanwhile, at home, this personage, made up his mind to the worst; and what it might be had never yet grown quite so vivid to him as when, on his presenting himself one Sunday night, as he never failed to do, for supper, the mistress of Carrara Lodge met him with an appeal as to—of all things in the world—the wealth of the Canadians. She was earnest, she was even excited. ‘Are many of them really rich?’
He had to confess that he knew nothing about them, but he often thought afterwards of that evening. The room in which they sat was adorned with sundry specimens of the Master’s genius, which had the merit of being, as Mrs. Mallow herself frequently suggested, of an unusually convenient size. They were indeed of dimensions not customary in the products of the chisel and had the singularity that, if the objects and features intended to be small looked too large, the objects and features intended to be large looked too small. The Master’s intention, whether in respect to this matter or to any other, had, in almost any case, even after years, remained undiscoverable to Peter Brench. The creations that so failed to reveal it stood about on pedestals and brackets, on tables and shelves, a little staring white population, heroic, idyllic, allegoric, mythic, symbolic, in which ‘scale’ had so strayed and lost itself that the public square and the chimney-piece seemed to have changed places, the monumental being all diminutive and the diminutive all monumental; branches, at any rate, markedly, of a family in which stature was rather oddly irrespective of function, age, and sex. They formed, like the Mallows themselves, poor Brench’s own family—having at least, to such a degree, a note of familiarity. The occasion was one of those he had long ago learnt to know and to name—short flickers of the faint flame, soft gusts of a kinder air. Twice a year, regularly, the Master believed in his fortune, in addition to believing all the year round in his genius. This time it was to be made by a bereaved couple from Toronto, who had given him the handsomest order for a tomb to three lost children, each of whom they desired to be, in the composition, emblematically and characteristically represented.
Such was naturally the moral of Mrs. Mallow’s question: if their wealth was to be assumed, it was clear, from the nature of their admiration, as well as from mysterious hints thrown out (they were a little odd!) as to other possibilities of the same mortuary sort, that their further patronage might be; and not less evident that, should the Master become at all known in those climes, nothing would be more inevitable than a run of Canadian custom. Peter had been present before at runs of custom, colonial and domestic—present at each of those of which the aggregation had left so few gaps in the marble company round him; but it was his habit never, at these junctures, to prick the bubble in advance. The fond illusion, while it lasted, eased the wound of elections never won, the long ache of medals and diplomas carried off, on every chance, by every one but the Master; it lighted the lamp, moreover, that would glimmer through the next eclipse. They lived, however, after all—as it was always beautiful to see—at a height scarce susceptible of ups and downs. They strained a point, at times, charmingly, to admit that the public was, here and there, not too bad to buy; but they would have been nowhere without their attitude that the Master was always too good to sell. They were, at all events, deliciously formed, Peter often said to himself, for their fate; the Master had a vanity, his wife had a loyalty, of which success, depriving these things of innocence, would have diminished the merit and the grace. Any one could be charming under a charm, and, as he looked about him at a world of prosperity more void of proportion even than the Master’s museum, he wondered if he knew another pair that so completely escaped vulgarity.
‘What a pity Lance isn’t with us to rejoice!’ Mrs. Mallow on this occasion sighed at supper.
‘We’ll drink to the health of the absent,’ her husband replied, filling his friend’s glass and his own and giving a drop to their companion; ‘but we must hope that he’s preparing himself for a happiness much less like this of ours this evening—excusable as I grant it to be!—than like the comfort we have always—whatever has happened or has not happened—been able to trust ourselves to enjoy. The comfort,’ the Master explained, leaning back in the pleasant lamplight and firelight, holding up his glass alooking round at his marble family, quartered more or less, a monstrous brood, in every room—’the comfort of art in itself!’
Peter looked a little shily at his wine. ‘Well—I don’t care what you may call it when a fellow doesn’t—but Lance must learn to sell, you know. I drink to his acquisition of the secret of a base popularity!’
‘Oh yes, he must sell,’ the boy’s mother, who was still more, however, this seemed to give out, the Master’s wife, rather artlessly conceded.
‘Oh,’ the sculptor, after a moment, confidently pronounced, ‘Lance will. Don’t be afraid. He will have learnt.’
‘Which is exactly what Peter,’ Mrs. Mallow gaily returned—’why in the world were you so perverse, Peter?—wouldn’t, when he told him, hear of.’
Peter, when this lady looked at him with accusatory affection—a grace, on her part, not infrequent—could never find a word; but the Master, who was always all amenity and tact, helped him out now as he had often helped him before. ‘That’s his old idea, you know—on which we’ve so often differed: his theory that the artist should be all impulse and instinct. I go in, of course, for a certain amount of school. Not too much—but a due proportion. There’s where his protest came in,’ he continued to explain to his wife, ‘as against what might, don’t you see? be in question for Lance.’
‘Ah, well,’—and Mrs. Mallow turned the violet eyes across the table at the subject of this discourse,—’he’s sure to have meant, of course, nothing but good; but that wouldn’t have prevented him, if Lance had taken his advice, from being, in effect, horribly cruel.’
They had a sociable way of talking of him to his face as if he had been in the clay or—at most—in the plaster, and the Master was unfailingly generous. He might have been waving Egidio to make him revolve. ‘Ah, but poor Peter was not so wrong as to what it may, after all, come to that he will learn.’
‘Oh, but nothing artistically bad,’ she urged—still, for poor Peter, arch and dewy.
‘Why, just the little French tricks,’ said the Master: on which their friend had to pretend to admit, when pressed by Mrs. Mallow, that these æsthetic vices had been the objects of his dread.
‘I know now,’ Lance said to him the next year, ‘why you were so much against it.’ He had come back, supposedly for a mere interval, and was looking about him at Carrara Lodge, where indeed he had already, on two or three occasions, since his expatriation, briefly appeared. This had the air of a longer holiday. ‘Something rather awful has happened to me. It isn’t so very good to know.’
‘I’m bound to say high spirits don’t show in your face,’ Peter was rather ruefully forced to confess. ‘Still, are you very sure you do know?’
‘Well, I at least know about as much as I can bear.’ These remarks were exchanged in Peter’s den, and the young man, smoking cigarettes, stood before the fire with his back against the mantel. Something of his bloom seemed really to have left him.
Poor Peter wondered. ‘You’re clear then as to what in particular I wanted you not to go for?’
‘In particular?’ Lance thought. ‘It seems to me that, in particular, there can have been but one thing.’
They stood for a little sounding each other. ‘Are you quite sure?’
‘Quite sure I’m a beastly duffer? Quite—by this time.’
‘Oh!’ and Peter turned away as if almost with relief.
‘It’s that that isn’t pleasant to find out.’
‘Oh, I don’t care for “that,” said Peter, presently coming round again. ‘I mean I personally don’t.’
‘Yet I hope you can understand a little that I myself should!’
‘Well, what do you mean by it?’ Peter sceptically asked.
And on this Lance had to explain—how the upshot of his studies in Paris had inexorably proved a mere deep doubt of his means. These studies had waked him up, and a new light was in his eyes; but what the new light did was really to show him too much. ‘Do you know what’s the matter with me? I’m too horribly intelligent. Paris was really the last place for me. I’ve learnt what I can’t do.’
Poor Peter stared—it was a staggerer; but even after they had had, on the subject, a longish talk in which the boy brought out to the full the hard truth of his lesson, his friend betrayed less pleasure than usually breaks into a face to the happy tune of ‘I told you so!’ Poor Peter himself made now indeed so little a point of having told him so that Lance broke ground in a different place a day or two after. ‘What was it then that—before I went—you were afraid I should find out?’ This, however, Peter refused to tell him—on the ground that if he hadn’t yet guessed perhaps he never would, and that nothing at all, for either of them, in any case, was to be gained by giving the thing a name. Lance eyed him, on this, an instant, with the bold curiosity of youth—with the air indeed of having in his mind two or three names, of which one or other would be right. Peter, nevertheless, turning his back again, offered no encouragement, and when they parted afresh it was with some show of impatience on the side of the boy. Accordingly, at their next encounter, Peter saw at a glance that he had now, in the interval, divined and that, to sound his note, he was only waiting till they should find themselves alone. This he had soon arranged, and he then broke straight out. ‘Do you know your conundrum has been keeping me awake? But in the watches of the night the answer came over me—so that, upon my honour, I quite laughed out. Had you been supposing I had to go to Paris to learn that?‘ Even now, to see him still so sublimely on his guard, Peter’s young friend had to laugh afresh. ‘You won’t give a sign till you’re sure? Beautiful old Peter!’ But Lance at last produced it. ‘Why, hang it, the truth about the Master.’
It made between them, for some minutes, a lively passage, full of wonder, for each, at the wonder of the other. ‘Then how long have you understood———’
‘The true value of his work? I understood it,’ Lance recalled, ‘as soon as I began to understand anything. But I didn’t begin fully to do that, I admit, till I got là-bas.’
‘Dear, dear!’—Peter gasped with retrospective dread.
‘But for what have you taken me? I’m a hopeless muff—that I had to have rubbed in. But I’m not such a muff as the Master!’ Lance declared.
‘Then why did you never tell me———?’
‘That I hadn’t, after all’—the boy took him up—’remained such an idiot? Just because I never dreamed you knew. But I beg your pardon. I only wanted to spare you. And what I don’t now understand is how the deuce then, for so long, you’ve managed to keep bottled.’
Peter produced his explanation, but only after some delay and with a gravity not void of embarrassment. ‘It was for your mother.’
‘Oh!’ said Lance.
‘And that’s the great thing now—since the murder is out. I want a promise from you. I mean’—and Peter almost feverishly followed it up—’a vow from you, solemn and such as you owe me, here on the spot, that you’ll sacrifice anything rather than let her ever guess———’
‘That I’ve guessed?’—Lance took it in. ‘I see.’ He evidently, after a moment, had taken in much. ‘But what is it you have in mind that I may have a chance to sacrifice?’
‘Oh, one has always something.’
Lance looked at him hard. ‘Do you mean that you’ve had———?’ The look he received back, however, so put the question by that he found soon enough another. ‘Are you really sure my mother doesn’t know?’
Peter, after renewed reflection, was really sure. ‘If she does, she’s too wonderful.’
‘But aren’t we all too wonderful?’
‘Yes,’ Peter granted—’but in different ways. The thing’s so desperately important because your father’s little public consists only, as you know then,’ Peter developed—’well, of how many?’
‘First of all,’ the Master’s son risked, ‘of himself. And last of all too. I don’t quite see of whom else.’
Peter had an approach to impatience. ‘Of your mother, I say—always.’
Lance cast it all up. ‘You absolutely feel that?’
‘Well then, with yourself, that makes three.’
‘Oh, me!‘—and Peter, with a wag of his kind old head, modestly excused himself. ‘The number is, at any rate, small enough for any individual dropping out to be too dreadfully missed. Therefore, to put it in a nutshell, take care, my boy—that’s all—that you’re not!’
‘I’ve got to keep on humbugging?’ Lance sighed.
‘It’s just to warn you of the danger of your failing of that that I’ve seized this opportunity.’
‘And what do you regard in particular,’ the young man asked, ‘as the danger?’
‘Why, this certainty: that the moment your mother, who feels so strongly, should suspect your secret—well,’ said Peter desperately, ‘the fat would be on the fire.’
Lance, for a moment, seemed to stare at the blaze. ‘She’d throw me over?’
‘She’d throw him over.’
‘And come round to us?’
Peter, before he answered, turned away. ‘Come round to you.’ But he had said enough to indicate—and, as he evidently trusted, to avert—the horrid contingency.
Within six months again, however, his fear was, on more occasions than one, all before him. Lance had returned to Paris, to another trial; then had reappeared at home and had had, with his father, for the first time in his life, one of the scenes that strike sparks. He described it with much expression to Peter, as to whom—since they had never done so before—it was a sign of a new reserve on the part of the pair at Carrara Lodge that they at present failed, on a matter of intimate interest, to open themselves—if not in joy, then in sorrow—to their good friend. This produced perhaps, practically, between the parties, a shade of alienation and a slight intermission of commerce marked mainly indeed by the fact that, to talk at his ease with his old playmate, Lance had, in general, to come to see him. The closest, if not quite the gayest, relation they had yet known together was thus ushered in. The difficulty for poor Lance was a tension at home, begotten by the fact that his father wished him to be, at least, the sort of success he himself had been. He hadn’t ‘chucked’ Paris—though nothing appeared more vivid to him than that Paris had chucked him; he would go back again because of the fascination in trying, in seeing, in sounding the depths—in learning one’s lesson, in fine, even if the lesson were simply that of one’s impotence in the presence of one’s larger vision. But what did the Master, all aloft in his senseless fluency, know of impotence, and what vision—to be called such—had he, in all his blind life, ever had? Lance, heated and indignant, frankly appealed to his godparent on this score.
His father, it appeared, had come down on him for having, after so long, nothing to show, and hoped that, on his next return, this deficiency would be repaired. The thing, the Master complacently set forth, was—for any artist, however inferior to himself—at least to ‘do’ something. ‘What can you do? That’s all I ask!’ He had certainly done enough, and there was no mistake about what he had to show. Lance had tears in his eyes when it came thus to letting his old friend know how great the strain might be on the ‘sacrifice’ asked of him. It wasn’t so easy to continue humbugging—as from son to parent—after feeling one’s self despised for not grovelling in mediocrity. Yet a noble duplicity was what, as they intimately faced the situation, Peter went on requiring; and it was still, for a time, what his young friend, bitter and sore, managed loyally to comfort him with. Fifty pounds, more than once again, it was true, rewarded, both in London and in Paris, the young friend’s loyalty; none the less sensibly, doubtless, at the moment, that the money was a direct advance on a decent sum for which Peter had long since privately prearranged an ultimate function. Whether by these arts or others, at all events, Lance’s just resentment was kept for a season—but only for a season—at bay. The day arrived when he warned his companion that he could hold out—or hold in—no longer. Carrara Lodge had had to listen to another lecture delivered from a great height—an infliction really heavier, at last, than, without striking back or in some way letting the Master have the truth, flesh and blood could bear.
‘And what I don’t see is,’ Lance observed with a certain irritated eye for what was, after all, if it came to that, due to himself too—’What I don’t see is, upon my honour, how you, as things are going, can keep the game up.’
‘Oh, the game for me is only to hold my tongue,’ said placid Peter. ‘And I have my reason.’
‘Still my mother?’
Peter showed, as he had often shown it before—that is by turning it straight away—a queer face. ‘What will you have? I haven’t ceased to like her.’
‘She’s beautiful—she’s a dear, of course,’ Lance granted; ‘but what is she to you, after all, and what is it to you that, as to anything whatever, she should or she shouldn’t?’
Peter, who had turned red, hung fire a little. ‘Well—it’s all, simply, what I make of it.’
There was now, however, in his young friend, a strange, an adopted, insistence. ‘What are you, after all, to her?‘
‘Oh, nothing. But that’s another matter.’
‘She cares only for my father,’ said Lance the Parisian.
‘Naturally—and that’s just why.’
‘Why you’ve wished to spare her?’
‘Because she cares so tremendously much.’
Lance took a turn about the room, but with his eyes still on his host. ‘How awfully—always—you must have liked her!’
‘Awfully. Always,’ said Peter Brench.
The young man continued for a moment to muse—then stopped again in front of him. ‘Do you know how much she cares?’ Their eyes met on it, but Peter, as if his own found something new in Lance’s, appeared to hesitate, for the first time for so long, to say he did know. ‘I’ve only just found out,’ said Lance. ‘She came to my room last night, after being present, in silence and only with her eyes on me, at what I had had to take from him; she came—and she was with me an extraordinary hour.’
He had paused again, and they had again for a while sounded each other. Then something—and it made him suddenly turn pale—came to Peter. ‘She does know?’
‘She does know. She let it all out to me—so as to demand of me no more than that, as she said, of which she herself had been capable. She has always, always known,’ said Lance without pity.
Peter was silent a long time; during which his companion might have heard him gently breathe and, on touching him, might have felt within him the vibration of a long, low sound suppressed. By the time he spoke, at last, he had taken everything in. ‘Then I do see how tremendously much.’
‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ Lance asked.
‘Wonderful,’ Peter mused.
‘So that if your original effort to keep me from Paris was to keep me from knowledge———!’ Lance exclaimed as if with a sufficient indication of this futility.
It might have been at the futility that Peter appeared for a little to gaze. ‘I think it must have been—without my quite at the time knowing it—to keep me!‘he replied at last as he turned away.
(A true story)
Since she was beautiful and foolish —and she became more foolish when she was beautiful and more beautiful when she was foolish — and since he loved her, and since he had nothing to give her but the position of commissar, he made her Commissar of the Circus.
And so the beautiful Nina began to chair regular and special meetings while holding her beautiful infant. When she had to give a small speech, she handed the baby to her neighbor on the right – the “he” of our prologue — or to her neighbor on the left (on the side of her heart) — a Hungarian horse rider who might have been half as powerful as the one on the right but was, it must be said in his favor, half his age. The baby preferred this one, since the rider didn’t have a beard. But the child also loved the all-powerful man, since a certain object glittered and danced between that one’s myopic, trusting eyes, the object called a “pince-nez” in my country. The infant pinched the nose of the Commissar and tugged at the pretty curl of the Hungarian. So the clever little baby had two favorite past-times with both nannies of the male gender.
But while this was going on, what was her husband doing? Yes, there is also a husband in our story. The husband was elsewhere, at the other end of the city on the lawn in front of the former mansion of the former Counts Sollogubov, now a “Palace of Arts,” where he was writing poetry, or to be more precise — ruminating on writing poetry — at some point, when he had time, inspiration and so on, in short: on one fine day when “all this comes to an end.” But there was no end to “all this,” and he did well to be elsewhere, at the other end of the city, since the baby, occupied with the pince-nez and the curl, didn’t have an extra hand for or interest in the red beard of Nina’s husband. He, Nina’s husband, had a red beard that was endless and pointless (as all beards are pointless), a beard that he let grow as God lets the grass grow, but which — the beard — grew faster and longer than grass. And so, redder against green, flame on emerald, beard on grass: Nina’s husband dreamed. He dreamed and drank straight from the bottle.
The Revolution had broken all the glasses and the Restoration, that great Atoner and Mender, had not arrived yet, so he really did drink “straight from,” just like a baby drinks milk and just as greedily — in fact, even more greedily. Certainly the beard made him thirsty. When he noticed the bottle becoming empty, Barbarossa 1, the true son of a Russian merchant, was troubled by the sight of its emptiness and felt remorse over the emptying he had done, and he began to whisper prayers. Which prayers? All of them. Even for the repose of the soul. If the sun was too hot, he’d go through a little door into the former family chapel of the former Counts Sollogubov, which had been turned into a Museum of Cults, whose director and sole visitor he was, and busied himself there for hours with icons and crosses of all sizes.
Toward evening Barbarossa exchanged the green carpet and baking sun for an ordinary chair and the only candle, and, sitting at the table in front of a bottle that would fill up as soon as it was empty and empty as soon as it was full, he would tell anyone who would listen to him the same story, the only story in his life: how he abducted the beautiful Nina.
“In Crimea, you know, my friend, how black the nights are. So not a drop could be seen (“glug-glug” and swallow). And the roads, you know, all lead down (the level of liquid in the bottle also went down)… of course, there are roads up, but then you find yourself on the top of the mountain, and there’s nothing there — nothing except a dreadful peak, absolutely bald, with an eagle that pecks your eyes out. So it looked like we had to choose the roads that led down, since we decided to go to… Well, now I don’t remember where. In any case, we decided to go to the place you could leave from, seeing as I abducted her. Aha! I figured that the ones that led down — see where I’m going with this? — led to the sea and the ones that went up — got it? —led into the mountains. And since we soon decided to take the ferry — you see? —we naturally needed water… but the driver was really drunk… really very drunk. The car tore off… with Nina inside… and Nina tore off since she’d abandoned her father and mother because of me (tender emotions; a long “glug-glug”). So the car sped off with Nina, who sped off inside… You wouldn’t believe how fast it went, that car! The night was black, the roads ran off in all directions, the wheels slipped, the driver was drunk, drunk as the black night!”
The faster the car sped along in the story, the slower the storyteller spoke; the faster the story went, the more the storyteller abbreviated it.
“You see, Nina inside… the driver – drunk. The night – black… Potholes. Gouged… the car sped… it sped…the car at top sp—(“—eed.” His mouth open on the last syllable, the storyteller fell asleep.)
Meanwhile, Nina, dressed in all her finery, like a jinn, put one hand, wide with rings, on the hands of the all-powerful one and used her other hand to throw a red flower across the red railing of her theater loge to the Hungarian rider, who once again basked in glory, flowers, smiles, and sweat.
The clever little baby lay deep inside the loge and slept.
* * *
Every morning we humble people, who had fetched up here in this former neighborhood of the nobility, watched raptly as Nina, like the rising sun, glided between two rows of ancient linden trees in a yellow cabriolet on two enormous wheels that turned like two suns, pulled by two horses that were also yellow.
A poet would say: Aurora in her chariot.
We all said, “Look the Commissar of the Circus.” Or “Look — the wife of Barbarossa.” Everyone, poet or not, expressed one profound thought: “Such good fortune! In these times, for one woman to have ten legs…”
We were not envious since we were Scythians — or Sarmatians — or Slavs (captives, Tatars, Barbarians) — in short, since we were Russians, we weren’t envious and were able to take pleasure from the beauty gliding past us.
(What would I, who called up this vision, do in my actual poet’s garret with two yellow horses, two wheels — also yellow — a husband with a red beard, a commissar in a pince-nez, a red-headed Hungarian rider, and who knows whose baby? No thanks. I’d change nothing. To each their own!)
And so, every morning Povarskaya Ulitsa turned into the pagan firmament and Nina became Aurora.
But also every morning, on the same street, in a lovely, large, round and very old white church dedicated to the brothers and martyr princes Boris and Gleb, an old and stubborn priest held Matins.
And also every morning the Red Army replied to the church service right there in front of the white church with a marching band.
It is a Sunday morning in sunny May. All hungry Moscow is out on the street to taste the scent of the lindens, drink in the blueness and especially – to imbibe the music, that regimental music that is always so soothing, exactly like the sight of a beautiful horse or two beautiful horses, especially yellow ones, especially driven if not by the masterful hand of the man who kept them, at least by the hand of his kept woman.
But what is happening with our two yellow horses today? Have they been lit on fire from the beard of Barbarossa? Or did the sprite of the linden trees addle their minds? Instead of stopping by the Palace of Arts next to the automobile that was already waiting for the all-powerful one to make his morning visit, they galloped to Kudrino Square, where, even more skittish, they ran around in circles, in circles around the square, not heeding Nina’s heart-rending shouts or obeying the reins in her hands, which were growing weak.
Spin ‘round, spin ‘round, wooden horses! But these horses are not made of wood, and they should run straight. But these… have they finally gone mad? They spin around like whirling dervishes, turning their necks, swinging their chestnut manes over the old cobblestones of the old square, with no mercy for the cabriolet or rider, who was standing on legs turning to wood with arms shaking spasmodically and a mane wilder than those of the horses.
This will not end well! Being the Commissar of the Circus, throwing flowers to the Hungarian rider, suckling a baby who also might be from the Hungarian — that does not make her Hungarian or a rider.
A poet from the Palace of Arts shouts: “It’s a race from hell!” An artist from the same palace pronounces: “Phaeton.” Everyone else, like people always do everywhere, watched and did nothing but comment: “It’s the end of Nina. The all-powerful one is witness to his own powerlessness… The Hungarian rider is witness to his absence…” Suddenly a shout goes up: “Barbarossa!”
Yes, Barbarossa, Red Beard, verily risen from his crypt of grass, Barbarossa in flesh and beard, running out and jumping like a kangaroo, holding an enormous silver cross. He holds it right in front of the horses’ noses, shaking it at them. They suddenly come to a halt, since they are horses and they can halt suddenly. But that is not all. They kneel down. Yes, both of them — and they do it gracefully, like people. And that is not all. They bow. They bow with dignity, like people, as the Commissar and Barbarossa take Aurora, weeping copious tears but already breaking into a smile, into their united, or rather, separate hands.
And from the people, from us — people who don’t know envy, people who don’t know irony — from the people come only exclamations: “It’s a miracle! How can you say that there is no God, if even horses believe in Him?”
Caught up in the heat of events, or rather, by the events of the heat, I forgot to say that the end of the horses’ race coincided with the end of the music — the ceremonial and daily march from former times in the recent past when they were still just simple circus horses who did not have to pull a cabriolet with a Commissar astride.
But if in past times their bows were intended for the public, couldn’t their current bows — considering the extraordinary circumstances — be intended for God?
And since the horses kept on bowing, we applauded.
‘Sorcery and sanctity,’ said Ambrose, ‘these are the only realities. Each is an ecstasy, a withdrawal from the common life.’
Cotgrave listened, interested. He had been brought by a friend to this mouldering house in a northern suburb, through an old garden to the room where Ambrose the recluse dozed and dreamed over his books.
‘Yes,’ he went on, ‘magic is justified of her children. There are many, I think, who eat dry crusts and drink water, with a joy infinitely sharper than anything within the experience of the “practical” epicure.’
‘You are speaking of the saints?’
‘Yes, and of the sinners, too. I think you are falling into the very general error of confining the spiritual world to the supremely good; but the supremely wicked, necessarily, have their portion in it. The merely carnal, sensual man can no more be a great sinner than he can be a great saint. Most of us are just indifferent, mixed-up creatures; we muddle through the world without realizing the meaning and the inner sense of things, and, consequently, our wickedness and our goodness are alike second-rate, unimportant.’
‘And you think the great sinner, then, will be an ascetic, as well as the great saint?’
‘Great people of all kinds forsake the imperfect copies and go to the perfect originals. I have no doubt but that many of the very highest among the saints have never done a “good action” (using the words in their ordinary sense). And, on the other hand, there have been those who have sounded the very depths of sin, who all their lives have never done an “ill deed.”’
He went out of the room for a moment, and Cotgrave, in high delight, turned to his friend and thanked him for the introduction.
‘He’s grand,’ he said. ‘I never saw that kind of lunatic before.’
Ambrose returned with more whisky and helped the two men in a liberal manner. He abused the teetotal sect with ferocity, as he handed the seltzer, and pouring out a glass of water for himself, was about to resume his monologue, when Cotgrave broke in —
‘I can’t stand it, you know,’ he said, ‘your paradoxes are too monstrous. A man may be a great sinner and yet never do anything sinful! Come!’
‘You’re quite wrong,’ said Ambrose. ‘I never make paradoxes; I wish I could. I merely said that a man may have an exquisite taste in Romanée Conti, and yet never have even smelt four ale. That’s all, and it’s more like a truism than a paradox, isn’t it? Your surprise at my remark is due to the fact that you haven’t realized what sin is. Oh, yes, there is a sort of connexion between Sin with the capital letter, and actions which are commonly called sinful: with murder, theft, adultery, and so forth. Much the same connexion that there is between the A, B, C and fine literature. But I believe that the misconception — it is all but universal — arises in great measure from our looking at the matter through social spectacles. We think that a man who does evil to us and to his neighbours must be very evil. So he is, from a social standpoint; but can’t you realize that Evil in its essence is a lonely thing, a passion of the solitary, individual soul? Really, the average murderer, quâ murderer, is not by any means a sinner in the true sense of the word. He is simply a wild beast that we have to get rid of to save our own necks from his knife. I should class him rather with tigers than with sinners.’
‘It seems a little strange.’
‘I think not. The murderer murders not from positive qualities, but from negative ones; he lacks something which non-murderers possess. Evil, of course, is wholly positive — only it is on the wrong side. You may believe me that sin in its proper sense is very rare; it is probable that there have been far fewer sinners than saints. Yes, your standpoint is all very well for practical, social purposes; we are naturally inclined to think that a person who is very disagreeable to us must be a very great sinner! It is very disagreeable to have one’s pocket picked, and we pronounce the thief to be a very great sinner. In truth, he is merely an undeveloped man. He cannot be a saint, of course; but he may be, and often is, an infinitely better creature than thousands who have never broken a single commandment. He is a great nuisance to us, I admit, and we very properly lock him up if we catch him; but between his troublesome and unsocial action and evil — Oh, the connexion is of the weakest.’
It was getting very late. The man who had brought Cotgrave had probably heard all this before, since he assisted with a bland and judicious smile, but Cotgrave began to think that his ‘lunatic’ was turning into a sage.
‘Do you know,’ he said, ‘you interest me immensely? You think, then, that we do not understand the real nature of evil?’
‘No, I don’t think we do. We over-estimate it and we under-estimate it. We take the very numerous infractions of our social “bye-laws”— the very necessary and very proper regulations which keep the human company together — and we get frightened at the prevalence of “sin” and “evil.” But this is really nonsense. Take theft, for example. Have you any horror at the thought of Robin Hood, of the Highland caterans of the seventeenth century, of the moss-troopers, of the company promoters of our day?
‘Then, on the other hand, we underrate evil. We attach such an enormous importance to the “sin” of meddling with our pockets (and our wives) that we have quite forgotten the awfulness of real sin.’
‘And what is sin?’ said Cotgrave.
‘I think I must reply to your question by another. What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?
‘Well, these examples may give you some notion of what sin really is.’
‘Look here,’ said the third man, hitherto placid, ‘you two seem pretty well wound up. But I’m going home. I’ve missed my tram, and I shall have to walk.’
Ambrose and Cotgrave seemed to settle down more profoundly when the other had gone out into the early misty morning and the pale light of the lamps.
‘You astonish me,’ said Cotgrave. ‘I had never thought of that. If that is really so, one must turn everything upside down. Then the essence of sin really is ——’
‘In the taking of heaven by storm, it seems to me,’ said Ambrose. ‘It appears to me that it is simply an attempt to penetrate into another and higher sphere in a forbidden manner. You can understand why it is so rare. There are few, indeed, who wish to penetrate into other spheres, higher or lower, in ways allowed or forbidden. Men, in the mass, are amply content with life as they find it. Therefore there are few saints, and sinners (in the proper sense) are fewer still, and men of genius, who partake sometimes of each character, are rare also. Yes; on the whole, it is, perhaps, harder to be a great sinner than a great saint.’
‘There is something profoundly unnatural about Sin? Is that what you mean?’
‘Exactly. Holiness requires as great, or almost as great, an effort; but holiness works on lines that were natural once; it is an effort to recover the ecstasy that was before the Fall. But sin is an effort to gain the ecstasy and the knowledge that pertain alone to angels and in making this effort man becomes a demon. I told you that the mere murderer is not therefore a sinner; that is true, but the sinner is sometimes a murderer. Gilles de Raiz is an instance. So you see that while the good and the evil are unnatural to man as he now is — to man the social, civilized being — evil is unnatural in a much deeper sense than good. The saint endeavours to recover a gift which he has lost; the sinner tries to obtain something which was never his. In brief, he repeats the Fall.’
‘But are you a Catholic?’ said Cotgrave.
‘Yes; I am a member of the persecuted Anglican Church.’
‘Then, how about those texts which seem to reckon as sin that which you would set down as a mere trivial dereliction?’
‘Yes; but in one place the word “sorcerers” comes in the same sentence, doesn’t it? That seems to me to give the key-note. Consider: can you imagine for a moment that a false statement which saves an innocent man’s life is a sin? No; very good, then, it is not the mere liar who is excluded by those words; it is, above all, the “sorcerers” who use the material life, who use the failings incidental to material life as instruments to obtain their infinitely wicked ends. And let me tell you this: our higher senses are so blunted, we are so drenched with materialism, that we should probably fail to recognize real wickedness if we encountered it.’
‘But shouldn’t we experience a certain horror — a terror such as you hinted we would experience if a rose tree sang — in the mere presence of an evil man?’
‘We should if we were natural: children and women feel this horror you speak of, even animals experience it. But with most of us convention and civilization and education have blinded and deafened and obscured the natural reason. No, sometimes we may recognize evil by its hatred of the good — one doesn’t need much penetration to guess at the influence which dictated, quite unconsciously, the “Blackwood” review of Keats — but this is purely incidental; and, as a rule, I suspect that the Hierarchs of Tophet pass quite unnoticed, or, perhaps, in certain cases, as good but mistaken men.’
‘But you used the word “unconscious” just now, of Keats’ reviewers. Is wickedness ever unconscious?’
‘Always. It must be so. It is like holiness and genius in this as in other points; it is a certain rapture or ecstasy of the soul; a transcendent effort to surpass the ordinary bounds. So, surpassing these, it surpasses also the understanding, the faculty that takes note of that which comes before it. No, a man may be infinitely and horribly wicked and never suspect it. But I tell you, evil in this, its certain and true sense, is rare, and I think it is growing rarer.’
‘I am trying to get hold of it all,’ said Cotgrave. From what you say, I gather that the true evil differs generically from that which we call evil?’
‘Quite so. There is, no doubt, an analogy between the two; a resemblance such as enables us to use, quite legitimately, such terms as the “foot of the mountain” and the “leg of the table.” And, sometimes, of course, the two speak, as it were, in the same language. The rough miner, or “puddler,” the untrained, undeveloped “tiger-man,” heated by a quart or two above his usual measure, comes home and kicks his irritating and injudicious wife to death. He is a murderer. And Gilles de Raiz was a murderer. But you see the gulf that separates the two? The “word,” if I may so speak, is accidentally the same in each case, but the “meaning” is utterly different. It is flagrant “Hobson Jobson” to confuse the two, or rather, it is as if one supposed that Juggernaut and the Argonauts had something to do etymologically with one another. And no doubt the same weak likeness, or analogy, runs between all the “social” sins and the real spiritual sins, and in some cases, perhaps, the lesser may be “schoolmasters” to lead one on to the greater — from the shadow to the reality. If you are anything of a Theologian, you will see the importance of all this.’
‘I am sorry to say,’ remarked Cotgrave, ‘that I have devoted very little of my time to theology. Indeed, I have often wondered on what grounds theologians have claimed the title of Science of Sciences for their favourite study; since the “theological” books I have looked into have always seemed to me to be concerned with feeble and obvious pieties, or with the kings of Israel and Judah. I do not care to hear about those kings.’
‘We must try to avoid theological discussion,’ he said. ‘I perceive that you would be a bitter disputant. But perhaps the “dates of the kings” have as much to do with theology as the hobnails of the murderous puddler with evil.’
‘Then, to return to our main subject, you think that sin is an esoteric, occult thing?’
‘Yes. It is the infernal miracle as holiness is the supernal. Now and then it is raised to such a pitch that we entirely fail to suspect its existence; it is like the note of the great pedal pipes of the organ, which is so deep that we cannot hear it. In other cases it may lead to the lunatic asylum, or to still stranger issues. But you must never confuse it with mere social misdoing. Remember how the Apostle, speaking of the “other side,” distinguishes between “charitable” actions and charity. And as one may give all one’s goods to the poor, and yet lack charity; so, remember, one may avoid every crime and yet be a sinner.’
‘Your psychology is very strange to me,’ said Cotgrave, ‘but I confess I like it, and I suppose that one might fairly deduce from your premisses the conclusion that the real sinner might very possibly strike the observer as a harmless personage enough?’
‘Certainly, because the true evil has nothing to do with social life or social laws, or if it has, only incidentally and accidentally. It is a lonely passion of the soul — or a passion of the lonely soul — whichever you like. If, by chance, we understand it, and grasp its full significance, then, indeed, it will fill us with horror and with awe. But this emotion is widely distinguished from the fear and the disgust with which we regard the ordinary criminal, since this latter is largely or entirely founded on the regard which we have for our own skins or purses. We hate a murder, because we know that we should hate to be murdered, or to have any one that we like murdered. So, on the “other side,” we venerate the saints, but we don’t “like” them as well as our friends. Can you persuade yourself that you would have “enjoyed” St. Paul’s company? Do you think that you and I would have “got on” with Sir Galahad?
‘So with the sinners, as with the saints. If you met a very evil man, and recognized his evil; he would, no doubt, fill you with horror and awe; but there is no reason why you should “dislike” him. On the contrary, it is quite possible that if you could succeed in putting the sin out of your mind you might find the sinner capital company, and in a little while you might have to reason yourself back into horror. Still, how awful it is. If the roses and the lilies suddenly sang on this coming morning; if the furniture began to move in procession, as in De Maupassant’s tale!’
‘I am glad you have come back to that comparison,’ said Cotgrave, ‘because I wanted to ask you what it is that corresponds in humanity to these imaginary feats of inanimate things. In a word — what is sin? You have given me, I know, an abstract definition, but I should like a concrete example.’
‘I told you it was very rare,’ said Ambrose, who appeared willing to avoid the giving of a direct answer. ‘The materialism of the age, which has done a good deal to suppress sanctity, has done perhaps more to suppress evil. We find the earth so very comfortable that we have no inclination either for ascents or descents. It would seem as if the scholar who decided to “specialize” in Tophet, would be reduced to purely antiquarian researches. No palaeontologist could show you a live pterodactyl.’
‘And yet you, I think, have “specialized,” and I believe that your researches have descended to our modern times.’
‘You are really interested, I see. Well, I confess, that I have dabbled a little, and if you like I can show you something that bears on the very curious subject we have been discussing.’
Ambrose took a candle and went away to a far, dim corner of the room. Cotgrave saw him open a venerable bureau that stood there, and from some secret recess he drew out a parcel, and came back to the window where they had been sitting.
Ambrose undid a wrapping of paper, and produced a green pocket-book.
‘You will take care of it?’ he said. ‘Don’t leave it lying about. It is one of the choicer pieces in my collection, and I should be very sorry if it were lost.’
He fondled the faded binding.
‘I knew the girl who wrote this,’ he said. ‘When you read it, you will see how it illustrates the talk we have had to-night. There is a sequel, too, but I won’t talk of that.
‘There was an odd article in one of the reviews some months ago,’ he began again, with the air of a man who changes the subject. ‘It was written by a doctor — Dr. Coryn, I think, was the name. He says that a lady, watching her little girl playing at the drawing-room window, suddenly saw the heavy sash give way and fall on the child’s fingers. The lady fainted, I think, but at any rate the doctor was summoned, and when he had dressed the child’s wounded and maimed fingers he was summoned to the mother. She was groaning with pain, and it was found that three fingers of her hand, corresponding with those that had been injured on the child’s hand, were swollen and inflamed, and later, in the doctor’s language, purulent sloughing set in.’
Ambrose still handled delicately the green volume.
‘Well, here it is,’ he said at last, parting with difficulty, it seemed, from his treasure.
‘You will bring it back as soon as you have read it,’ he said, as they went out into the hall, into the old garden, faint with the odour of white lilies.
There was a broad red band in the east as Cotgrave turned to go, and from the high ground where he stood he saw that awful spectacle of London in a dream
The Green Book
The morocco binding of the book was faded, and the colour had grown faint, but there were no stains nor bruises nor marks of usage. The book looked as if it had been bought ‘on a visit to London’ some seventy or eighty years ago, and had somehow been forgotten and suffered to lie away out of sight. There was an old, delicate, lingering odour about it, such an odour as sometimes haunts an ancient piece of furniture for a century or more. The end-papers, inside the binding, were oddly decorated with coloured patterns and faded gold. It looked small, but the paper was fine, and there were many leaves, closely covered with minute, painfully formed characters.
I found this book (the manuscript began) in a drawer in the old bureau that stands on the landing. It was a very rainy day and I could not go out, so in the afternoon I got a candle and rummaged in the bureau. Nearly all the drawers were full of old dresses, but one of the small ones looked empty, and I found this book hidden right at the back. I wanted a book like this, so I took it to write in. It is full of secrets. I have a great many other books of secrets I have written, hidden in a safe place, and I am going to write here many of the old secrets and some new ones; but there are some I shall not put down at all. I must not write down the real names of the days and months which I found out a year ago, nor the way to make the Aklo letters, or the Chian language, or the great beautiful Circles, nor the Mao Games, nor the chief songs. I may write something about all these things but not the way to do them, for peculiar reasons. And I must not say who the Nymphs are, or the Dôls, or Jeelo, or what voolas mean. All these are most secret secrets, and I am glad when I remember what they are, and how many wonderful languages I know, but there are some things that I call the secrets of the secrets of the secrets that I dare not think of unless I am quite alone, and then I shut my eyes, and put my hands over them and whisper the word, and the Alala comes. I only do this at night in my room or in certain woods that I know, but I must not describe them, as they are secret woods. Then there are the Ceremonies, which are all of them important, but some are more delightful than others — there are the White Ceremonies, and the Green Ceremonies, and the Scarlet Ceremonies. The Scarlet Ceremonies are the best, but there is only one place where they can be performed properly, though there is a very nice imitation which I have done in other places. Besides these, I have the dances, and the Comedy, and I have done the Comedy sometimes when the others were looking, and they didn’t understand anything about it. I was very little when I first knew about these things.
When I was very small, and mother was alive, I can remember remembering things before that, only it has all got confused. But I remember when I was five or six I heard them talking about me when they thought I was not noticing. They were saying how queer I was a year or two before, and how nurse had called my mother to come and listen to me talking all to myself, and I was saying words that nobody could understand. I was speaking the Xu language, but I only remember a very few of the words, as it was about the little white faces that used to look at me when I was lying in my cradle. They used to talk to me, and I learnt their language and talked to them in it about some great white place where they lived, where the trees and the grass were all white, and there were white hills as high up as the moon, and a cold wind. I have often dreamed of it afterwards, but the faces went away when I was very little. But a wonderful thing happened when I was about five. My nurse was carrying me on her shoulder; there was a field of yellow corn, and we went through it, it was very hot. Then we came to a path through a wood, and a tall man came after us, and went with us till we came to a place where there was a deep pool, and it was very dark and shady. Nurse put me down on the soft moss under a tree, and she said: ‘She can’t get to the pond now.’ So they left me there, and I sat quite still and watched, and out of the water and out of the wood came two wonderful white people, and they began to play and dance and sing. They were a kind of creamy white like the old ivory figure in the drawing-room; one was a beautiful lady with kind dark eyes, and a grave face, and long black hair, and she smiled such a strange sad smile at the other, who laughed and came to her. They played together, and danced round and round the pool, and they sang a song till I fell asleep. Nurse woke me up when she came back, and she was looking something like the lady had looked, so I told her all about it, and asked her why she looked like that. At first she cried, and then she looked very frightened, and turned quite pale. She put me down on the grass and stared at me, and I could see she was shaking all over. Then she said I had been dreaming, but I knew I hadn’t. Then she made me promise not to say a word about it to anybody, and if I did I should be thrown into the black pit. I was not frightened at all, though nurse was, and I never forgot about it, because when I shut my eyes and it was quite quiet, and I was all alone, I could see them again, very faint and far away, but very splendid; and little bits of the song they sang came into my head, but I couldn’t sing it.
I was thirteen, nearly fourteen, when I had a very singular adventure, so strange that the day on which it happened is always called the White Day. My mother had been dead for more than a year, and in the morning I had lessons, but they let me go out for walks in the afternoon. And this afternoon I walked a new way, and a little brook led me into a new country, but I tore my frock getting through some of the difficult places, as the way was through many bushes, and beneath the low branches of trees, and up thorny thickets on the hills, and by dark woods full of creeping thorns. And it was a long, long way. It seemed as if I was going on for ever and ever, and I had to creep by a place like a tunnel where a brook must have been, but all the water had dried up, and the floor was rocky, and the bushes had grown overhead till they met, so that it was quite dark. And I went on and on through that dark place; it was a long, long way. And I came to a hill that I never saw before. I was in a dismal thicket full of black twisted boughs that tore me as I went through them, and I cried out because I was smarting all over, and then I found that I was climbing, and I went up and up a long way, till at last the thicket stopped and I came out crying just under the top of a big bare place, where there were ugly grey stones lying all about on the grass, and here and there a little twisted, stunted tree came out from under a stone, like a snake. And I went up, right to the top, a long way. I never saw such big ugly stones before; they came out of the earth some of them, and some looked as if they had been rolled to where they were, and they went on and on as far as I could see, a long, long way. I looked out from them and saw the country, but it was strange. It was winter time, and there were black terrible woods hanging from the hills all round; it was like seeing a large room hung with black curtains, and the shape of the trees seemed quite different from any I had ever seen before. I was afraid. Then beyond the woods there were other hills round in a great ring, but I had never seen any of them; it all looked black, and everything had a voor over it. It was all so still and silent, and the sky was heavy and grey and sad, like a wicked voorish dome in Deep Dendo. I went on into the dreadful rocks. There were hundreds and hundreds of them. Some were like horrid-grinning men; I could see their faces as if they would jump at me out of the stone, and catch hold of me, and drag me with them back into the rock, so that I should always be there. And there were other rocks that were like animals, creeping, horrible animals, putting out their tongues, and others were like words that I could not say, and others like dead people lying on the grass. I went on among them, though they frightened me, and my heart was full of wicked songs that they put into it; and I wanted to make faces and twist myself about in the way they did, and I went on and on a long way till at last I liked the rocks, and they didn’t frighten me any more. I sang the songs I thought of; songs full of words that must not be spoken or written down. Then I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the ground like the dead ones, and I went up to one that was grinning, and put my arms round him and hugged him. And so I went on and on through the rocks till I came to a round mound in the middle of them. It was higher than a mound, it was nearly as high as our house, and it was like a great basin turned upside down, all smooth and round and green, with one stone, like a post, sticking up at the top. I climbed up the sides, but they were so steep I had to stop or I should have rolled all the way down again, and I should have knocked against the stones at the bottom, and perhaps been killed. But I wanted to get up to the very top of the big round mound, so I lay down flat on my face, and took hold of the grass with my hands and drew myself up, bit by bit, till I was at the top. Then I sat down on the stone in the middle, and looked all round about. I felt I had come such a long, long way, just as if I were a hundred miles from home, or in some other country, or in one of the strange places I had read about in the ‘Tales of the Genie’ and the ‘Arabian Nights,’ or as if I had gone across the sea, far away, for years and I had found another world that nobody had ever seen or heard of before, or as if I had somehow flown through the sky and fallen on one of the stars I had read about where everything is dead and cold and grey, and there is no air, and the wind doesn’t blow. I sat on the stone and looked all round and down and round about me. It was just as if I was sitting on a tower in the middle of a great empty town, because I could see nothing all around but the grey rocks on the ground. I couldn’t make out their shapes any more, but I could see them on and on for a long way, and I looked at them, and they seemed as if they had been arranged into patterns, and shapes, and figures. I knew they couldn’t be, because I had seen a lot of them coming right out of the earth, joined to the deep rocks below, so I looked again, but still I saw nothing but circles, and small circles inside big ones, and pyramids, and domes, and spires, and they seemed all to go round and round the place where I was sitting, and the more I looked, the more I saw great big rings of rocks, getting bigger and bigger, and I stared so long that it felt as if they were all moving and turning, like a great wheel, and I was turning, too, in the middle. I got quite dizzy and queer in the head, and everything began to be hazy and not clear, and I saw little sparks of blue light, and the stones looked as if they were springing and dancing and twisting as they went round and round and round. I was frightened again, and I cried out loud, and jumped up from the stone I was sitting on, and fell down. When I got up I was so glad they all looked still, and I sat down on the top and slid down the mound, and went on again. I danced as I went in the peculiar way the rocks had danced when I got giddy, and I was so glad I could do it quite well, and I danced and danced along, and sang extraordinary songs that came into my head. At last I came to the edge of that great flat hill, and there were no more rocks, and the way went again through a dark thicket in a hollow. It was just as bad as the other one I went through climbing up, but I didn’t mind this one, because I was so glad I had seen those singular dances and could imitate them. I went down, creeping through the bushes, and a tall nettle stung me on my leg, and made me burn, but I didn’t mind it, and I tingled with the boughs and the thorns, but I only laughed and sang. Then I got out of the thicket into a close valley, a little secret place like a dark passage that nobody ever knows of, because it was so narrow and deep and the woods were so thick round it. There is a steep bank with trees hanging over it, and there the ferns keep green all through the winter, when they are dead and brown upon the hill, and the ferns there have a sweet, rich smell like what oozes out of fir trees. There was a little stream of water running down this valley, so small that I could easily step across it. I drank the water with my hand, and it tasted like bright, yellow wine, and it sparkled and bubbled as it ran down over beautiful red and yellow and green stones, so that it seemed alive and all colours at once. I drank it, and I drank more with my hand, but I couldn’t drink enough, so I lay down and bent my head and sucked the water up with my lips. It tasted much better, drinking it that way, and a ripple would come up to my mouth and give me a kiss, and I laughed, and drank again, and pretended there was a nymph, like the one in the old picture at home, who lived in the water and was kissing me. So I bent low down to the water, and put my lips softly to it, and whispered to the nymph that I would come again. I felt sure it could not be common water, I was so glad when I got up and went on; and I danced again and went up and up the valley, under hanging hills. And when I came to the top, the ground rose up in front of me, tall and steep as a wall, and there was nothing but the green wall and the sky. I thought of ‘for ever and for ever, world without end, Amen’; and I thought I must have really found the end of the world, because it was like the end of everything, as if there could be nothing at all beyond, except the kingdom of Voor, where the light goes when it is put out, and the water goes when the sun takes it away. I began to think of all the long, long way I had journeyed, how I had found a brook and followed it, and followed it on, and gone through bushes and thorny thickets, and dark woods full of creeping thorns. Then I had crept up a tunnel under trees, and climbed a thicket, and seen all the grey rocks, and sat in the middle of them when they turned round, and then I had gone on through the grey rocks and come down the hill through the stinging thicket and up the dark valley, all a long, long way. I wondered how I should get home again, if I could ever find the way, and if my home was there any more, or if it were turned and everybody in it into grey rocks, as in the Arabian Nights. So I sat down on the grass and thought what I should do next. I was tired, and my feet were hot with walking, and as I looked about I saw there was a wonderful well just under the high, steep wall of grass. All the ground round it was covered with bright, green, dripping moss; there was every kind of moss there, moss like beautiful little ferns, and like palms and fir trees, and it was all green as jewellery, and drops of water hung on it like diamonds. And in the middle was the great well, deep and shining and beautiful, so clear that it looked as if I could touch the red sand at the bottom, but it was far below. I stood by it and looked in, as if I were looking in a glass. At the bottom of the well, in the middle of it, the red grains of sand were moving and stirring all the time, and I saw how the water bubbled up, but at the top it was quite smooth, and full and brimming. It was a great well, large like a bath, and with the shining, glittering green moss about it, it looked like a great white jewel, with green jewels all round. My feet were so hot and tired that I took off my boots and stockings, and let my feet down into the water, and the water was soft and cold, and when I got up I wasn’t tired any more, and I felt I must go on, farther and farther, and see what was on the other side of the wall. I climbed up it very slowly, going sideways all the time, and when I got to the top and looked over, I was in the queerest country I had seen, stranger even than the hill of the grey rocks. It looked as if earth-children had been playing there with their spades, as it was all hills and hollows, and castles and walls made of earth and covered with grass. There were two mounds like big beehives, round and great and solemn, and then hollow basins, and then a steep mounting wall like the ones I saw once by the seaside where the big guns and the soldiers were. I nearly fell into one of the round hollows, it went away from under my feet so suddenly, and I ran fast down the side and stood at the bottom and looked up. It was strange and solemn to look up. There was nothing but the grey, heavy sky and the sides of the hollow; everything else had gone away, and the hollow was the whole world, and I thought that at night it must be full of ghosts and moving shadows and pale things when the moon shone down to the bottom at the dead of the night, and the wind wailed up above. It was so strange and solemn and lonely, like a hollow temple of dead heathen gods. It reminded me of a tale my nurse had told me when I was quite little; it was the same nurse that took me into the wood where I saw the beautiful white people. And I remembered how nurse had told me the story one winter night, when the wind was beating the trees against the wall, and crying and moaning in the nursery chimney. She said there was, somewhere or other, a hollow pit, just like the one I was standing in, everybody was afraid to go into it or near it, it was such a bad place. But once upon a time there was a poor girl who said she would go into the hollow pit, and everybody tried to stop her, but she would go. And she went down into the pit and came back laughing, and said there was nothing there at all, except green grass and red stones, and white stones and yellow flowers. And soon after people saw she had most beautiful emerald earrings, and they asked how she got them, as she and her mother were quite poor. But she laughed, and said her earrings were not made of emeralds at all, but only of green grass. Then, one day, she wore on her breast the reddest ruby that any one had ever seen, and it was as big as a hen’s egg, and glowed and sparkled like a hot burning coal of fire. And they asked how she got it, as she and her mother were quite poor. But she laughed, and said it was not a ruby at all, but only a red stone. Then one day she wore round her neck the loveliest necklace that any one had ever seen, much finer than the queen’s finest, and it was made of great bright diamonds, hundreds of them, and they shone like all the stars on a night in June. So they asked her how she got it, as she and her mother were quite poor. But she laughed, and said they were not diamonds at all, but only white stones. And one day she went to the Court, and she wore on her head a crown of pure angel-gold, so nurse said, and it shone like the sun, and it was much more splendid than the crown the king was wearing himself, and in her ears she wore the emeralds, and the big ruby was the brooch on her breast, and the great diamond necklace was sparkling on her neck. And the king and queen thought she was some great princess from a long way off, and got down from their thrones and went to meet her, but somebody told the king and queen who she was, and that she was quite poor. So the king asked why she wore a gold crown, and how she got it, as she and her mother were so poor. And she laughed, and said it wasn’t a gold crown at all, but only some yellow flowers she had put in her hair. And the king thought it was very strange, and said she should stay at the Court, and they would see what would happen next. And she was so lovely that everybody said that her eyes were greener than the emeralds, that her lips were redder than the ruby, that her skin was whiter than the diamonds, and that her hair was brighter than the golden crown. So the king’s son said he would marry her, and the king said he might. And the bishop married them, and there was a great supper, and afterwards the king’s son went to his wife’s room. But just when he had his hand on the door, he saw a tall, black man, with a dreadful face, standing in front of the door, and a voice said —
Venture not upon your life,
This is mine own wedded wife.
Then the king’s son fell down on the ground in a fit. And they came and tried to get into the room, but they couldn’t, and they hacked at the door with hatchets, but the wood had turned hard as iron, and at last everybody ran away, they were so frightened at the screaming and laughing and shrieking and crying that came out of the room. But next day they went in, and found there was nothing in the room but thick black smoke, because the black man had come and taken her away. And on the bed there were two knots of faded grass and a red stone, and some white stones, and some faded yellow flowers. I remembered this tale of nurse’s while I was standing at the bottom of the deep hollow; it was so strange and solitary there, and I felt afraid. I could not see any stones or flowers, but I was afraid of bringing them away without knowing, and I thought I would do a charm that came into my head to keep the black man away. So I stood right in the very middle of the hollow, and I made sure that I had none of those things on me, and then I walked round the place, and touched my eyes, and my lips, and my hair in a peculiar manner, and whispered some queer words that nurse taught me to keep bad things away. Then I felt safe and climbed up out of the hollow, and went on through all those mounds and hollows and walls, till I came to the end, which was high above all the rest, and I could see that all the different shapes of the earth were arranged in patterns, something like the grey rocks, only the pattern was different. It was getting late, and the air was indistinct, but it looked from where I was standing something like two great figures of people lying on the grass. And I went on, and at last I found a certain wood, which is too secret to be described, and nobody knows of the passage into it, which I found out in a very curious manner, by seeing some little animal run into the wood through it. So I went after the animal by a very narrow dark way, under thorns and bushes, and it was almost dark when I came to a kind of open place in the middle. And there I saw the most wonderful sight I have ever seen, but it was only for a minute, as I ran away directly, and crept out of the wood by the passage I had come by, and ran and ran as fast as ever I could, because I was afraid, what I had seen was so wonderful and so strange and beautiful. But I wanted to get home and think of it, and I did not know what might not happen if I stayed by the wood. I was hot all over and trembling, and my heart was beating, and strange cries that I could not help came from me as I ran from the wood. I was glad that a great white moon came up from over a round hill and showed me the way, so I went back through the mounds and hollows and down the close valley, and up through the thicket over the place of the grey rocks, and so at last I got home again. My father was busy in his study, and the servants had not told about my not coming home, though they were frightened, and wondered what they ought to do, so I told them I had lost my way, but I did not let them find out the real way I had been. I went to bed and lay awake all through the night, thinking of what I had seen. When I came out of the narrow way, and it looked all shining, though the air was dark, it seemed so certain, and all the way home I was quite sure that I had seen it, and I wanted to be alone in my room, and be glad over it all to myself, and shut my eyes and pretend it was there, and do all the things I would have done if I had not been so afraid. But when I shut my eyes the sight would not come, and I began to think about my adventures all over again, and I remembered how dusky and queer it was at the end, and I was afraid it must be all a mistake, because it seemed impossible it could happen. It seemed like one of nurse’s tales, which I didn’t really believe in, though I was frightened at the bottom of the hollow; and the stories she told me when I was little came back into my head, and I wondered whether it was really there what I thought I had seen, or whether any of her tales could have happened a long time ago. It was so queer; I lay awake there in my room at the back of the house, and the moon was shining on the other side towards the river, so the bright light did not fall upon the wall. And the house was quite still. I had heard my father come upstairs, and just after the clock struck twelve, and after the house was still and empty, as if there was nobody alive in it. And though it was all dark and indistinct in my room, a pale glimmering kind of light shone in through the white blind, and once I got up and looked out, and there was a great black shadow of the house covering the garden, looking like a prison where men are hanged; and then beyond it was all white; and the wood shone white with black gulfs between the trees. It was still and clear, and there were no clouds on the sky. I wanted to think of what I had seen but I couldn’t, and I began to think of all the tales that nurse had told me so long ago that I thought I had forgotten, but they all came back, and mixed up with the thickets and the grey rocks and the hollows in the earth and the secret wood, till I hardly knew what was new and what was old, or whether it was not all dreaming. And then I remembered that hot summer afternoon, so long ago, when nurse left me by myself in the shade, and the white people came out of the water and out of the wood, and played, and danced, and sang, and I began to fancy that nurse told me about something like it before I saw them, only I couldn’t recollect exactly what she told me. Then I wondered whether she had been the white lady, as I remembered she was just as white and beautiful, and had the same dark eyes and black hair; and sometimes she smiled and looked like the lady had looked, when she was telling me some of her stories, beginning with ‘Once on a time,’ or ‘In the time of the fairies.’ But I thought she couldn’t be the lady, as she seemed to have gone a different way into the wood, and I didn’t think the man who came after us could be the other, or I couldn’t have seen that wonderful secret in the secret wood. I thought of the moon: but it was afterwards when I was in the middle of the wild land, where the earth was made into the shape of great figures, and it was all walls, and mysterious hollows, and smooth round mounds, that I saw the great white moon come up over a round hill. I was wondering about all these things, till at last I got quite frightened, because I was afraid something had happened to me, and I remembered nurse’s tale of the poor girl who went into the hollow pit, and was carried away at last by the black man. I knew I had gone into a hollow pit too, and perhaps it was the same, and I had done something dreadful. So I did the charm over again, and touched my eyes and my lips and my hair in a peculiar manner, and said the old words from the fairy language, so that I might be sure I had not been carried away. I tried again to see the secret wood, and to creep up the passage and see what I had seen there, but somehow I couldn’t, and I kept on thinking of nurse’s stories. There was one I remembered about a young man who once upon a time went hunting, and all the day he and his hounds hunted everywhere, and they crossed the rivers and went into all the woods, and went round the marshes, but they couldn’t find anything at all, and they hunted all day till the sun sank down and began to set behind the mountain. And the young man was angry because he couldn’t find anything, and he was going to turn back, when just as the sun touched the mountain, he saw come out of a brake in front of him a beautiful white stag. And he cheered to his hounds, but they whined and would not follow, and he cheered to his horse, but it shivered and stood stock still, and the young man jumped off the horse and left the hounds and began to follow the white stag all alone. And soon it was quite dark, and the sky was black, without a single star shining in it, and the stag went away into the darkness. And though the man had brought his gun with him he never shot at the stag, because he wanted to catch it, and he was afraid he would lose it in the night. But he never lost it once, though the sky was so black and the air was so dark, and the stag went on and on till the young man didn’t know a bit where he was. And they went through enormous woods where the air was full of whispers and a pale, dead light came out from the rotten trunks that were lying on the ground, and just as the man thought he had lost the stag, he would see it all white and shining in front of him, and he would run fast to catch it, but the stag always ran faster, so he did not catch it. And they went through the enormous woods, and they swam across rivers, and they waded through black marshes where the ground bubbled, and the air was full of will-o’-the-wisps, and the stag fled away down into rocky narrow valleys, where the air was like the smell of a vault, and the man went after it. And they went over the great mountains and the man heard the wind come down from the sky, and the stag went on and the man went after. At last the sun rose and the young man found he was in a country that he had never seen before; it was a beautiful valley with a bright stream running through it, and a great, big round hill in the middle. And the stag went down the valley, towards the hill, and it seemed to be getting tired and went slower and slower, and though the man was tired, too, he began to run faster, and he was sure he would catch the stag at last. But just as they got to the bottom of the hill, and the man stretched out his hand to catch the stag, it vanished into the earth, and the man began to cry; he was so sorry that he had lost it after all his long hunting. But as he was crying he saw there was a door in the hill, just in front of him, and he went in, and it was quite dark, but he went on, as he thought he would find the white stag. And all of a sudden it got light, and there was the sky, and the sun shining, and birds singing in the trees, and there was a beautiful fountain. And by the fountain a lovely lady was sitting, who was the queen of the fairies, and she told the man that she had changed herself into a stag to bring him there because she loved him so much. Then she brought out a great gold cup, covered with jewels, from her fairy palace, and she offered him wine in the cup to drink. And he drank, and the more he drank the more he longed to drink, because the wine was enchanted. So he kissed the lovely lady, and she became his wife, and he stayed all that day and all that night in the hill where she lived, and when he woke he found he was lying on the ground, close to where he had seen the stag first, and his horse was there and his hounds were there waiting, and he looked up, and the sun sank behind the mountain. And he went home and lived a long time, but he would never kiss any other lady because he had kissed the queen of the fairies, and he would never drink common wine any more, because he had drunk enchanted wine. And sometimes nurse told me tales that she had heard from her great-grandmother, who was very old, and lived in a cottage on the mountain all alone, and most of these tales were about a hill where people used to meet at night long ago, and they used to play all sorts of strange games and do queer things that nurse told me of, but I couldn’t understand, and now, she said, everybody but her great-grandmother had forgotten all about it, and nobody knew where the hill was, not even her great-grandmother. But she told me one very strange story about the hill, and I trembled when I remembered it. She said that people always went there in summer, when it was very hot, and they had to dance a good deal. It would be all dark at first, and there were trees there, which made it much darker, and people would come, one by one, from all directions, by a secret path which nobody else knew, and two persons would keep the gate, and every one as they came up had to give a very curious sign, which nurse showed me as well as she could, but she said she couldn’t show me properly. And all kinds of people would come; there would be gentle folks and village folks, and some old people and boys and girls, and quite small children, who sat and watched. And it would all be dark as they came in, except in one corner where some one was burning something that smelt strong and sweet, and made them laugh, and there one would see a glaring of coals, and the smoke mounting up red. So they would all come in, and when the last had come there was no door any more, so that no one else could get in, even if they knew there was anything beyond. And once a gentleman who was a stranger and had ridden a long way, lost his path at night, and his horse took him into the very middle of the wild country, where everything was upside down, and there were dreadful marshes and great stones everywhere, and holes underfoot, and the trees looked like gibbet-posts, because they had great black arms that stretched out across the way. And this strange gentleman was very frightened, and his horse began to shiver all over, and at last it stopped and wouldn’t go any farther, and the gentleman got down and tried to lead the horse, but it wouldn’t move, and it was all covered with a sweat, like death. So the gentleman went on all alone, going farther and farther into the wild country, till at last he came to a dark place, where he heard shouting and singing and crying, like nothing he had ever heard before. It all sounded quite close to him, but he couldn’t get in, and so he began to call, and while he was calling, something came behind him, and in a minute his mouth and arms and legs were all bound up, and he fell into a swoon. And when he came to himself, he was lying by the roadside, just where he had first lost his way, under a blasted oak with a black trunk, and his horse was tied beside him. So he rode on to the town and told the people there what had happened, and some of them were amazed; but others knew. So when once everybody had come, there was no door at all for anybody else to pass in by. And when they were all inside, round in a ring, touching each other, some one began to sing in the darkness, and some one else would make a noise like thunder with a thing they had on purpose, and on still nights people would hear the thundering noise far, far away beyond the wild land, and some of them, who thought they knew what it was, used to make a sign on their breasts when they woke up in their beds at dead of night and heard that terrible deep noise, like thunder on the mountains. And the noise and the singing would go on and on for a long time, and the people who were in a ring swayed a little to and fro; and the song was in an old, old language that nobody knows now, and the tune was queer. Nurse said her great-grandmother had known some one who remembered a little of it, when she was quite a little girl, and nurse tried to sing some of it to me, and it was so strange a tune that I turned all cold and my flesh crept as if I had put my hand on something dead. Sometimes it was a man that sang and sometimes it was a woman, and sometimes the one who sang it did it so well that two or three of the people who were there fell to the ground shrieking and tearing with their hands. The singing went on, and the people in the ring kept swaying to and fro for a long time, and at last the moon would rise over a place they called the Tole Deol, and came up and showed them swinging and swaying from side to side, with the sweet thick smoke curling up from the burning coals, and floating in circles all around them. Then they had their supper. A boy and a girl brought it to them; the boy carried a great cup of wine, and the girl carried a cake of bread, and they passed the bread and the wine round and round, but they tasted quite different from common bread and common wine, and changed everybody that tasted them. Then they all rose up and danced, and secret things were brought out of some hiding place, and they played extraordinary games, and danced round and round and round in the moonlight, and sometimes people would suddenly disappear and never be heard of afterwards, and nobody knew what had happened to them. And they drank more of that curious wine, and they made images and worshipped them, and nurse showed me how the images were made one day when we were out for a walk, and we passed by a place where there was a lot of wet clay. So nurse asked me if I would like to know what those things were like that they made on the hill, and I said yes. Then she asked me if I would promise never to tell a living soul a word about it, and if I did I was to be thrown into the black pit with the dead people, and I said I wouldn’t tell anybody, and she said the same thing again and again, and I promised. So she took my wooden spade and dug a big lump of clay and put it in my tin bucket, and told me to say if any one met us that I was going to make pies when I went home. Then we went on a little way till we came to a little brake growing right down into the road, and nurse stopped, and looked up the road and down it, and then peeped through the hedge into the field on the other side, and then she said, “Quick!” and we ran into the brake, and crept in and out among the bushes till we had gone a good way from the road. Then we sat down under a bush, and I wanted so much to know what nurse was going to make with the clay, but before she would begin she made me promise again not to say a word about it, and she went again and peeped through the bushes on every side, though the lane was so small and deep that hardly anybody ever went there. So we sat down, and nurse took the clay out of the bucket, and began to knead it with her hands, and do queer things with it, and turn it about. And she hid it under a big dock-leaf for a minute or two and then she brought it out again, and then she stood up and sat down, and walked round the clay in a peculiar manner, and all the time she was softly singing a sort of rhyme, and her face got very red. Then she sat down again, and took the clay in her hands and began to shape it into a doll, but not like the dolls I have at home, and she made the queerest doll I had ever seen, all out of the wet clay, and hid it under a bush to get dry and hard, and all the time she was making it she was singing these rhymes to herself, and her face got redder and redder. So we left the doll there, hidden away in the bushes where nobody would ever find it. And a few days later we went the same walk, and when we came to that narrow, dark part of the lane where the brake runs down to the bank, nurse made me promise all over again, and she looked about, just as she had done before, and we crept into the bushes till we got to the green place where the little clay man was hidden. I remember it all so well, though I was only eight, and it is eight years ago now as I am writing it down, but the sky was a deep violet blue, and in the middle of the brake where we were sitting there was a great elder tree covered with blossoms, and on the other side there was a clump of meadowsweet, and when I think of that day the smell of the meadowsweet and elder blossom seems to fill the room, and if I shut my eyes I can see the glaring blue sky, with little clouds very white floating across it, and nurse who went away long ago sitting opposite me and looking like the beautiful white lady in the wood. So we sat down and nurse took out the clay doll from the secret place where she had hidden it, and she said we must ‘pay our respects,’ and she would show me what to do, and I must watch her all the time. So she did all sorts of queer things with the little clay man, and I noticed she was all streaming with perspiration, though we had walked so slowly, and then she told me to ‘pay my respects,’ and I did everything she did because I liked her, and it was such an odd game. And she said that if one loved very much, the clay man was very good, if one did certain things with it, and if one hated very much, it was just as good, only one had to do different things, and we played with it a long time, and pretended all sorts of things. Nurse said her great-grandmother had told her all about these images, but what we did was no harm at all, only a game. But she told me a story about these images that frightened me very much, and that was what I remembered that night when I was lying awake in my room in the pale, empty darkness, thinking of what I had seen and the secret wood. Nurse said there was once a young lady of the high gentry, who lived in a great castle. And she was so beautiful that all the gentlemen wanted to marry her, because she was the loveliest lady that anybody had ever seen, and she was kind to everybody, and everybody thought she was very good. But though she was polite to all the gentlemen who wished to marry her, she put them off, and said she couldn’t make up her mind, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to marry anybody at all. And her father, who was a very great lord, was angry, though he was so fond of her, and he asked her why she wouldn’t choose a bachelor out of all the handsome young men who came to the castle. But she only said she didn’t love any of them very much, and she must wait, and if they pestered her, she said she would go and be a nun in a nunnery. So all the gentlemen said they would go away and wait for a year and a day, and when a year and a day were gone, they would come back again and ask her to say which one she would marry. So the day was appointed and they all went away; and the lady had promised that in a year and a day it would be her wedding day with one of them. But the truth was, that she was the queen of the people who danced on the hill on summer nights, and on the proper nights she would lock the door of her room, and she and her maid would steal out of the castle by a secret passage that only they knew of, and go away up to the hill in the wild land. And she knew more of the secret things than any one else, and more than any one knew before or after, because she would not tell anybody the most secret secrets. She knew how to do all the awful things, how to destroy young men, and how to put a curse on people, and other things that I could not understand. And her real name was the Lady Avelin, but the dancing people called her Cassap, which meant somebody very wise, in the old language. And she was whiter than any of them and taller, and her eyes shone in the dark like burning rubies; and she could sing songs that none of the others could sing, and when she sang they all fell down on their faces and worshipped her. And she could do what they called shib-show, which was a very wonderful enchantment. She would tell the great lord, her father, that she wanted to go into the woods to gather flowers, so he let her go, and she and her maid went into the woods where nobody came, and the maid would keep watch. Then the lady would lie down under the trees and begin to sing a particular song, and she stretched out her arms, and from every part of the wood great serpents would come, hissing and gliding in and out among the trees, and shooting out their forked tongues as they crawled up to the lady. And they all came to her, and twisted round her, round her body, and her arms, and her neck, till she was covered with writhing serpents, and there was only her head to be seen. And she whispered to them, and she sang to them, and they writhed round and round, faster and faster, till she told them to go. And they all went away directly, back to their holes, and on the lady’s breast there would be a most curious, beautiful stone, shaped something like an egg, and coloured dark blue and yellow, and red, and green, marked like a serpent’s scales. It was called a glame stone, and with it one could do all sorts of wonderful things, and nurse said her great-grandmother had seen a glame stone with her own eyes, and it was for all the world shiny and scaly like a snake. And the lady could do a lot of other things as well, but she was quite fixed that she would not be married. And there were a great many gentlemen who wanted to marry her, but there were five of them who were chief, and their names were Sir Simon, Sir John, Sir Oliver, Sir Richard, and Sir Rowland. All the others believed she spoke the truth, and that she would choose one of them to be her man when a year and a day was done; it was only Sir Simon, who was very crafty, who thought she was deceiving them all, and he vowed he would watch and try if he could find out anything. And though he was very wise he was very young, and he had a smooth, soft face like a girl’s, and he pretended, as the rest did, that he would not come to the castle for a year and a day, and he said he was going away beyond the sea to foreign parts. But he really only went a very little way, and came back dressed like a servant girl, and so he got a place in the castle to wash the dishes. And he waited and watched, and he listened and said nothing, and he hid in dark places, and woke up at night and looked out, and he heard things and he saw things that he thought were very strange. And he was so sly that he told the girl that waited on the lady that he was really a young man, and that he had dressed up as a girl because he loved her so very much and wanted to be in the same house with her, and the girl was so pleased that she told him many things, and he was more than ever certain that the Lady Avelin was deceiving him and the others. And he was so clever, and told the servant so many lies, that one night he managed to hide in the Lady Avelin’s room behind the curtains. And he stayed quite still and never moved, and at last the lady came. And she bent down under the bed, and raised up a stone, and there was a hollow place underneath, and out of it she took a waxen image, just like the clay one that I and nurse had made in the brake. And all the time her eyes were burning like rubies. And she took the little wax doll up in her arms and held it to her breast, and she whispered and she murmured, and she took it up and she laid it down again, and she held it high, and she held it low, and she laid it down again. And she said, “Happy is he that begat the bishop, that ordered the clerk, that married the man, that had the wife, that fashioned the hive, that harboured the bee, that gathered the wax that my own true love was made of.’ And she brought out of an aumbry a great golden bowl, and she brought out of a closet a great jar of wine, and she poured some of the wine into the bowl, and she laid her mannikin very gently in the wine, and washed it in the wine all over. Then she went to a cupboard and took a small round cake and laid it on the image’s mouth, and then she bore it softly and covered it up. And Sir Simon, who was watching all the time, though he was terribly frightened, saw the lady bend down and stretch out her arms and whisper and sing, and then Sir Simon saw beside her a handsome young man, who kissed her on the lips. And they drank wine out of the golden bowl together, and they ate the cake together. But when the sun rose there was only the little wax doll, and the lady hid it again under the bed in the hollow place. So Sir Simon knew quite well what the lady was, and he waited and he watched, till the time she had said was nearly over, and in a week the year and a day would be done. And one night, when he was watching behind the curtains in her room, he saw her making more wax dolls. And she made five, and hid them away. And the next night she took one out, and held it up, and filled the golden bowl with water, and took the doll by the neck and held it under the water. Then she said —
Sir Dickon, Sir Dickon, your day is done,
You shall be drowned in the water wan.
And the next day news came to the castle that Sir Richard had been drowned at the ford. And at night she took another doll and tied a violet cord round its neck and hung it up on a nail. Then she said —
Sir Rowland, your life has ended its span,
High on a tree I see you hang.
And the next day news came to the castle that Sir Rowland had been hanged by robbers in the wood. And at night she took another doll, and drove her bodkin right into its heart. Then she said —
Sir Noll, Sir Noll, so cease your life,
Your heart is piercèd with the knife.
And the next day news came to the castle that Sir Oliver had fought in a tavern, and a stranger had stabbed him to the heart. And at night she took another doll, and held it to a fire of charcoal till it was melted. Then she said —
Sir John, return, and turn to clay,
In fire of fever you waste away.
And the next day news came to the castle that Sir John had died in a burning fever. So then Sir Simon went out of the castle and mounted his horse and rode away to the bishop and told him everything. And the bishop sent his men, and they took the Lady Avelin, and everything she had done was found out. So on the day after the year and a day, when she was to have been married, they carried her through the town in her smock, and they tied her to a great stake in the market-place, and burned her alive before the bishop with her wax image hung round her neck. And people said the wax man screamed in the burning of the flames. And I thought of this story again and again as I was lying awake in my bed, and I seemed to see the Lady Avelin in the market-place, with the yellow flames eating up her beautiful white body. And I thought of it so much that I seemed to get into the story myself, and I fancied I was the lady, and that they were coming to take me to be burnt with fire, with all the people in the town looking at me. And I wondered whether she cared, after all the strange things she had done, and whether it hurt very much to be burned at the stake. I tried again and again to forget nurse’s stories, and to remember the secret I had seen that afternoon, and what was in the secret wood, but I could only see the dark and a glimmering in the dark, and then it went away, and I only saw myself running, and then a great moon came up white over a dark round hill. Then all the old stories came back again, and the queer rhymes that nurse used to sing to me; and there was one beginning ‘Halsy cumsy Helen musty,’ that she used to sing very softly when she wanted me to go to sleep. And I began to sing it to myself inside of my head, and I went to sleep.
The next morning I was very tired and sleepy, and could hardly do my lessons, and I was very glad when they were over and I had had my dinner, as I wanted to go out and be alone. It was a warm day, and I went to a nice turfy hill by the river, and sat down on my mother’s old shawl that I had brought with me on purpose. The sky was grey, like the day before, but there was a kind of white gleam behind it, and from where I was sitting I could look down on the town, and it was all still and quiet and white, like a picture. I remembered that it was on that hill that nurse taught me to play an old game called ‘Troy Town,’ in which one had to dance, and wind in and out on a pattern in the grass, and then when one had danced and turned long enough the other person asks you questions, and you can’t help answering whether you want to or not, and whatever you are told to do you feel you have to do it. Nurse said there used to be a lot of games like that that some people knew of, and there was one by which people could be turned into anything you liked and an old man her great-grandmother had seen had known a girl who had been turned into a large snake. And there was another very ancient game of dancing and winding and turning, by which you could take a person out of himself and hide him away as long as you liked, and his body went walking about quite empty, without any sense in it. But I came to that hill because I wanted to think of what had happened the day before, and of the secret of the wood. From the place where I was sitting I could see beyond the town, into the opening I had found, where a little brook had led me into an unknown country. And I pretended I was following the brook over again, and I went all the way in my mind, and at last I found the wood, and crept into it under the bushes, and then in the dusk I saw something that made me feel as if I were filled with fire, as if I wanted to dance and sing and fly up into the air, because I was changed and wonderful. But what I saw was not changed at all, and had not grown old, and I wondered again and again how such things could happen, and whether nurse’s stories were really true, because in the daytime in the open air everything seemed quite different from what it was at night, when I was frightened, and thought I was to be burned alive. I once told my father one of her little tales, which was about a ghost, and asked him if it was true, and he told me it was not true at all, and that only common, ignorant people believed in such rubbish. He was very angry with nurse for telling me the story, and scolded her, and after that I promised her I would never whisper a word of what she told me, and if I did I should be bitten by the great black snake that lived in the pool in the wood. And all alone on the hill I wondered what was true. I had seen something very amazing and very lovely, and I knew a story, and if I had really seen it, and not made it up out of the dark, and the black bough, and the bright shining that was mounting up to the sky from over the great round hill, but had really seen it in truth, then there were all kinds of wonderful and lovely and terrible things to think of, so I longed and trembled, and I burned and got cold. And I looked down on the town, so quiet and still, like a little white picture, and I thought over and over if it could be true. I was a long time before I could make up my mind to anything; there was such a strange fluttering at my heart that seemed to whisper to me all the time that I had not made it up out of my head, and yet it seemed quite impossible, and I knew my father and everybody would say it was dreadful rubbish. I never dreamed of telling him or anybody else a word about it, because I knew it would be of no use, and I should only get laughed at or scolded, so for a long time I was very quiet, and went about thinking and wondering; and at night I used to dream of amazing things, and sometimes I woke up in the early morning and held out my arms with a cry. And I was frightened, too, because there were dangers, and some awful thing would happen to me, unless I took great care, if the story were true. These old tales were always in my head, night and morning, and I went over them and told them to myself over and over again, and went for walks in the places where nurse had told them to me; and when I sat in the nursery by the fire in the evenings I used to fancy nurse was sitting in the other chair, and telling me some wonderful story in a low voice, for fear anybody should be listening. But she used to like best to tell me about things when we were right out in the country, far from the house, because she said she was telling me such secrets, and walls have ears. And if it was something more than ever secret, we had to hide in brakes or woods; and I used to think it was such fun creeping along a hedge, and going very softly, and then we would get behind the bushes or run into the wood all of a sudden, when we were sure that none was watching us; so we knew that we had our secrets quite all to ourselves, and nobody else at all knew anything about them. Now and then, when we had hidden ourselves as I have described, she used to show me all sorts of odd things. One day, I remember, we were in a hazel brake, overlooking the brook, and we were so snug and warm, as though it was April; the sun was quite hot, and the leaves were just coming out. Nurse said she would show me something funny that would make me laugh, and then she showed me, as she said, how one could turn a whole house upside down, without anybody being able to find out, and the pots and pans would jump about, and the china would be broken, and the chairs would tumble over of themselves. I tried it one day in the kitchen, and I found I could do it quite well, and a whole row of plates on the dresser fell off it, and cook’s little work-table tilted up and turned right over ‘before her eyes,’ as she said, but she was so frightened and turned so white that I didn’t do it again, as I liked her. And afterwards, in the hazel copse, when she had shown me how to make things tumble about, she showed me how to make rapping noises, and I learnt how to do that, too. Then she taught me rhymes to say on certain occasions, and peculiar marks to make on other occasions, and other things that her great-grandmother had taught her when she was a little girl herself. And these were all the things I was thinking about in those days after the strange walk when I thought I had seen a great secret, and I wished nurse were there for me to ask her about it, but she had gone away more than two years before, and nobody seemed to know what had become of her, or where she had gone. But I shall always remember those days if I live to be quite old, because all the time I felt so strange, wondering and doubting, and feeling quite sure at one time, and making up my mind, and then I would feel quite sure that such things couldn’t happen really, and it began all over again. But I took great care not to do certain things that might be very dangerous. So I waited and wondered for a long time, and though I was not sure at all, I never dared to try to find out. But one day I became sure that all that nurse said was quite true, and I was all alone when I found it out. I trembled all over with joy and terror, and as fast as I could I ran into one of the old brakes where we used to go — it was the one by the lane, where nurse made the little clay man — and I ran into it, and I crept into it; and when I came to the place where the elder was, I covered up my face with my hands and lay down flat on the grass, and I stayed there for two hours without moving, whispering to myself delicious, terrible things, and saying some words over and over again. It was all true and wonderful and splendid, and when I remembered the story I knew and thought of what I had really seen, I got hot and I got cold, and the air seemed full of scent, and flowers, and singing. And first I wanted to make a little clay man, like the one nurse had made so long ago, and I had to invent plans and stratagems, and to look about, and to think of things beforehand, because nobody must dream of anything that I was doing or going to do, and I was too old to carry clay about in a tin bucket. At last I thought of a plan, and I brought the wet clay to the brake, and did everything that nurse had done, only I made a much finer image than the one she had made; and when it was finished I did everything that I could imagine and much more than she did, because it was the likeness of something far better. And a few days later, when I had done my lessons early, I went for the second time by the way of the little brook that had led me into a strange country. And I followed the brook, and went through the bushes, and beneath the low branches of trees, and up thorny thickets on the hill, and by dark woods full of creeping thorns, a long, long way. Then I crept through the dark tunnel where the brook had been and the ground was stony, till at last I came to the thicket that climbed up the hill, and though the leaves were coming out upon the trees, everything looked almost as black as it was on the first day that I went there. And the thicket was just the same, and I went up slowly till I came out on the big bare hill, and began to walk among the wonderful rocks. I saw the terrible voor again on everything, for though the sky was brighter, the ring of wild hills all around was still dark, and the hanging woods looked dark and dreadful, and the strange rocks were as grey as ever; and when I looked down on them from the great mound, sitting on the stone, I saw all their amazing circles and rounds within rounds, and I had to sit quite still and watch them as they began to turn about me, and each stone danced in its place, and they seemed to go round and round in a great whirl, as if one were in the middle of all the stars and heard them rushing through the air. So I went down among the rocks to dance with them and to sing extraordinary songs; and I went down through the other thicket, and drank from the bright stream in the close and secret valley, putting my lips down to the bubbling water; and then I went on till I came to the deep, brimming well among the glittering moss, and I sat down. I looked before me into the secret darkness of the valley, and behind me was the great high wall of grass, and all around me there were the hanging woods that made the valley such a secret place. I knew there was nobody here at all besides myself, and that no one could see me. So I took off my boots and stockings, and let my feet down into the water, saying the words that I knew. And it was not cold at all, as I expected, but warm and very pleasant, and when my feet were in it I felt as if they were in silk, or as if the nymph were kissing them. So when I had done, I said the other words and made the signs, and then I dried my feet with a towel I had brought on purpose, and put on my stockings and boots. Then I climbed up the steep wall, and went into the place where there are the hollows, and the two beautiful mounds, and the round ridges of land, and all the strange shapes. I did not go down into the hollow this time, but I turned at the end, and made out the figures quite plainly, as it was lighter, and I had remembered the story I had quite forgotten before, and in the story the two figures are called Adam and Eve, and only those who know the story understand what they mean. So I went on and on till I came to the secret wood which must not be described, and I crept into it by the way I had found. And when I had gone about halfway I stopped, and turned round, and got ready, and I bound the handkerchief tightly round my eyes, and made quite sure that I could not see at all, not a twig, nor the end of a leaf, nor the light of the sky, as it was an old red silk handkerchief with large yellow spots, that went round twice and covered my eyes, so that I could see nothing. Then I began to go on, step by step, very slowly. My heart beat faster and faster, and something rose in my throat that choked me and made me want to cry out, but I shut my lips, and went on. Boughs caught in my hair as I went, and great thorns tore me; but I went on to the end of the path. Then I stopped, and held out my arms and bowed, and I went round the first time, feeling with my hands, and there was nothing. I went round the second time, feeling with my hands, and there was nothing. Then I went round the third time, feeling with my hands, and the story was all true, and I wished that the years were gone by, and that I had not so long a time to wait before I was happy for ever and ever.
Nurse must have been a prophet like those we read of in the Bible. Everything that she said began to come true, and since then other things that she told me of have happened. That was how I came to know that her stories were true and that I had not made up the secret myself out of my own head. But there was another thing that happened that day. I went a second time to the secret place. It was at the deep brimming well, and when I was standing on the moss I bent over and looked in, and then I knew who the white lady was that I had seen come out of the water in the wood long ago when I was quite little. And I trembled all over, because that told me other things. Then I remembered how sometime after I had seen the white people in the wood, nurse asked me more about them, and I told her all over again, and she listened, and said nothing for a long, long time, and at last she said, ‘You will see her again.’ So I understood what had happened and what was to happen. And I understood about the nymphs; how I might meet them in all kinds of places, and they would always help me, and I must always look for them, and find them in all sorts of strange shapes and appearances. And without the nymphs I could never have found the secret, and without them none of the other things could happen. Nurse had told me all about them long ago, but she called them by another name, and I did not know what she meant, or what her tales of them were about, only that they were very queer. And there were two kinds, the bright and the dark, and both were very lovely and very wonderful, and some people saw only one kind, and some only the other, but some saw them both. But usually the dark appeared first, and the bright ones came afterwards, and there were extraordinary tales about them. It was a day or two after I had come home from the secret place that I first really knew the nymphs. Nurse had shown me how to call them, and I had tried, but I did not know what she meant, and so I thought it was all nonsense. But I made up my mind I would try again, so I went to the wood where the pool was, where I saw the white people, and I tried again. The dark nymph, Alanna, came, and she turned the pool of water into a pool of fire. . . .
Dracula’s Guest was excised from the original Dracula manuscript by its publisher because of the length of the original book. It was published as a short story in 1914, two years after Stoker’s death.
When we started for our drive the sun was shining brightly on Munich, and the air was full of the joyousness of early summer.
Just as we were about to depart, Herr Delbruck (the maitre d’hotel of the Quatre Saisons, where I was staying) came down bareheaded to the carriage and, after wishing me a pleasant drive, said to the coachman, still holding his hand on the handle of the carriage door, “Remember you are back by nightfall. The sky looks bright but there is a shiver in the north wind that says there may be a sudden storm. But I am sure you will not be late.” Here he smiled and added, “for you know what night it is.”
Johann answered with an emphatic, “Ja, mein Herr,” and, touching his hat, drove off quickly. When we had cleared the town, I said, after signalling to him to stop:
“Tell me, Johann, what is tonight?”
He crossed himself, as he answered laconically: “Walpurgis nacht.” Then he took out his watch, a great, old-fashioned German silver thing as big as a turnip and looked at it, with his eyebrows gathered together and a little impatient shrug of his shoulders. I realized that this was his way of respectfully protesting against the unnecessary delay and sank back in the carriage, merely motioning him to proceed. He started off rapidly, as if to make up for lost time. Every now and then the horses seemed to throw up their heads and sniff the air suspiciously. On such occasions I often looked round in alarm. The road was pretty bleak, for we were traversing a sort of high windswept plateau. As we drove, I saw a road that looked but little used and which seemed to dip through a little winding valley. It looked so inviting that, even at the risk of offending him, I called Johann to stop—and when he had pulled up, I told him I would like to drive down that road. He made all sorts of excuses and frequently crossed himself as he spoke. This somewhat piqued my curiosity, so I asked him various questions. He answered fencingly and repeatedly looked at his watch in protest.
Finally I said, “Well, Johann, I want to go down this road. I shall not ask you to come unless you like; but tell me why you do not like to go, that is all I ask.” For answer he seemed to throw himself off the box, so quickly did he reach the ground. Then he stretched out his hands appealingly to me and implored me not to go. There was just enough of English mixed with the German for me to understand the drift of his talk. He seemed always just about to tell me something—the very idea of which evidently frightened him; but each time he pulled himself up saying, “Walpurgis nacht!”
I tried to argue with him, but it was difficult to argue with a man when I did not know his language. The advantage certainly rested with him, for although he began to speak in English, of a very crude and broken kind, he always got excited and broke into his native tongue—and every time he did so, he looked at his watch. Then the horses became restless and sniffed the air. At this he grew very pale, and, looking around in a frightened way, he suddenly jumped forward, took them by the bridles, and led them on some twenty feet. I followed and asked why he had done this. For an answer he crossed himself, pointed to the spot we had left, and drew his carriage in the direction of the other road, indicating a cross, and said, first in German, then in English, “Buried him—him what killed themselves.”
I remembered the old custom of burying suicides at cross roads: “Ah! I see, a suicide. How interesting!” But for the life of me I could not make out why the horses were frightened.
Whilst we were talking, we heard a sort of sound between a yelp and a bark. It was far away; but the horses got very restless, and it took Johann all his time to quiet them. He was pale and said, “It sounds like a wolf—but yet there are no wolves here now.”
“No?” I said, questioning him. “Isn’t it long since the wolves were so near the city?”
“Long, long,” he answered, “in the spring and summer; but with the snow the wolves have been here not so long.”
Whilst he was petting the horses and trying to quiet them, dark clouds drifted rapidly across the sky. The sunshine passed away, and a breath of cold wind seemed to drift over us. It was only a breath, however, and more of a warning than a fact, for the sun came out brightly again.
Johann looked under his lifted hand at the horizon and said, “The storm of snow, he comes before long time.” Then he looked at his watch again, and, straightway holding his reins firmly—for the horses were still pawing the ground restlessly and shaking their
heads—he climbed to his box as though the time had come for proceeding on our journey.
I felt a little obstinate and did not at once get into the carriage.
“Tell me,” I said, “about this place where the road leads,” and I pointed down.
Again he crossed himself and mumbled a prayer before he answered,
“It is unholy.”
“What is unholy?” I enquired.
“Then there is a village?”
“No, no. No one lives there hundreds of years.”
My curiosity was piqued, “But you said there was a village.”
“Where is it now?”
Whereupon he burst out into a long story in German and English, so mixed up that I could not quite understand exactly what he said. Roughly I gathered that long ago, hundreds of years, men had died there and been buried in their graves; but sounds were heard under the clay, and when the graves were opened, men and women were found rosy with life and their mouths red with blood. And so, in haste to save their lives (aye, and their souls!—and here he crossed himself) those who were left fled away to other places, where the living lived and the dead were dead and not—not something. He was evidently afraid to speak the last words. As he proceeded with his narration, he grew more and more excited. It seemed as if his imagination had got hold of him, and he ended in a perfect paroxysm of fear-white-faced, perspiring, trembling, and looking round him as if expecting that some dreadful presence would manifest itself there in the bright sunshine on the open plain.
Finally, in an agony of desperation, he cried, “Walpurgis nacht!” and pointed to the carriage for me to get in.
All my English blood rose at this, and standing back I said, “You are afraid, Johann—you are afraid. Go home, I shall return alone, the walk will do me good.” The carriage door was open. I took from the seat my oak walking stick–which I always carry on my holiday excursions—and closed the door, pointing back to Munich, and said, “Go home, Johann—Walpurgis nacht doesn’t concern Englishmen.”
The horses were now more restive than ever, and Johann was trying to hold them in, while excitedly imploring me not to do anything so foolish. I pitied the poor fellow, he was so deeply in earnest; but all the same I could not help laughing. His English was quite gone now. In his anxiety he had forgotten that his only means of making me understand was to talk my language, so he jabbered away in his native German. It began to be a little tedious. After giving the direction, “Home!” I turned to go down the cross road into the valley.
With a despairing gesture, Johann turned his horses towards Munich. I leaned on my stick and looked after him. He went slowly along the road for a while, then there came over the crest of the hill a man tall and thin. I could see so much in the distance. When he drew near the horses, they began to jump and kick about, then to scream with terror. Johann could not hold them in; they bolted down the road, running away madly. I watched them out of sight, then looked for the stranger; but I found that he, too, was gone.
With a light heart I turned down the side road through the deepening valley to which Johann had objected. There was not the slightest reason, that I could see, for his objection; and I daresay I tramped for a couple of hours without thinking of time or distance and certainly without seeing a person or a house. So far as the place was concerned, it was desolation itself. But I did not notice this particularly till, on turning a bend in the road, I came upon a scattered fringe of wood; then I recognized that I had been impressed unconsciously by the desolation of the region through which I had passed.
I sat down to rest myself and began to look around. It struck me that it was considerably colder than it had been at the commencement of my walk—a sort of sighing sound seemed to be around me with, now and then, high overhead, a sort of muffled roar. Looking upwards I noticed that great thick clouds were drafting rapidly across the sky from north to south at a great height. There were signs of a coming storm in some lofty stratum of the air. I was a little chilly, and, thinking that it was the sitting still after the exercise of walking, I resumed my journey.
The ground I passed over was now much more picturesque. There were no striking objects that the eye might single out, but in all there was a charm of beauty. I took little heed of time, and it was only when the deepening twilight forced itself upon me that I began to think of how Ishould find my way home. The air was cold, and the drifting of clouds high overhead was more marked. They were accompanied by a sort of far away rushing sound, through which seemed to come at intervals that mysterious cry which the driver had said came from a wolf. For a while I hesitated. I had said I would see the deserted village, so on I went and presently came on a wide stretch of open country, shut in by hills all around. Their sides were covered with trees which spread down to the plain, dotting in clumps the gentler slopes and hollows which showed here and there. I followed with my eye the winding of the road and saw that it curved close to one of the densest of these clumps and was lost behind it.
As I looked there came a cold shiver in the air, and the snow began to fall. I thought of the miles and miles of bleak country I had passed, and then hurried on to seek shelter of the wood in front. Darker and darker grew the sky, and faster and heavier fell the snow, till the earth before and around me was a glistening white carpet the further edge of which was lost in misty vagueness. The road was here but crude, and when on the level its boundaries were not so marked as when it passed through the cuttings; and in a little while I found that I must have strayed from it, for I missed underfoot the hard surface, and my feet sank deeper in the grass and moss. Then the wind grew stronger and blew with ever increasing force, till I was fain to run before it. The air became icy cold, and in spite of my exercise I began to suffer. The snow was now falling so thickly and whirling around me in such rapid eddies that I could hardly keep my eyes open. Every now and then the heavens were torn asunder by vivid lightning, and in the flashes I could see ahead of me a great mass of trees, chiefly yew and cypress all heavily coated with snow.
I was soon amongst the shelter of the trees, and there in comparative silence I could hear the rush of the wind high overhead. Presently the blackness of the storm had become merged in the darkness of the night. By-and-by the storm seemed to be passing away, it now only came in fierce puffs or blasts. At such moments the weird sound of the wolf appeared to be echoed by many similar sounds around me.
Now and again, through the black mass of drifting cloud, came a straggling ray of moonlight which lit up the expanse and showed me that I was at the edge of a dense mass of cypress and yew trees. As the snow had ceased to fall, I walked out from the shelter and began to investigate more closely. It appeared to me that, amongst so many old foundations as I had passed, there might be still standing a house in which, though in ruins, I could find some sort of shelter for a while. As I skirted the edge of the copse, I found that a low wall encircled it, and following this I presently found an opening. Here the cypresses formed an alley leading up to a square mass of some kind of building. Just as I caught sight of this, however, the drifting clouds obscured the moon, and I passed up the path in darkness. The wind must have grown colder, for I felt myself shiver as I walked; but there was hope of shelter, and I groped my way blindly on.
I stopped, for there was a sudden stillness. The storm had passed; and, perhaps in sympathy with nature’s silence, my heart seemed to cease to beat. But this was only momentarily; for suddenly the moonlight broke through the clouds showing me that I was in a graveyard and that the square object before me was a great massive tomb of marble, as white as the snow that lay on and all around it. With the moonlight there came a fierce sigh of the storm which appeared to resume its course with a long, low howl, as of many dogs or wolves. I was awed and shocked, and I felt the cold perceptibly grow upon me till it seemed to grip me by the heart. Then while the flood of moonlight still fell on the marble tomb, the storm gave further evidence of renewing, as though it were returning on its track. Impelled by some sort of fascination, I approached the sepulchre to see what it was and why such a thing stood alone in such a place. I walked around it and read, over the Doric door, in German:
COUNTESS DOLINGEN OF GRATZ
SOUGHT AND FOUND DEATH
On the top of the tomb, seemingly driven through the solid marble—for the structure was composed of a few vast blocks of stone—was a great iron spike or stake. On going to the back I saw, graven in great Russian letters:
THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST.
There was something so weird and uncanny about the whole thing that it gave me a turn and made me feel quite faint. I began to wish, for the first time, that I had taken Johann’s advice. Here a thought struck me, which came under almost mysterious circumstances and with a terrible shock. This was Walpurgis Night!
Walpurgis Night was when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad–when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel. This very place the driver had specially shunned. This was the depopulated village of centuries ago. This was where the suicide lay; and this was the place where I was alone–unmanned, shivering with cold in a shroud of snow with a wild storm gathering again upon me! It took all my philosophy, all the religion I had been taught, all my courage, not to collapse in a paroxysm of fright.
And now a perfect tornado burst upon me. The ground shook as though thousands of horses thundered across it; and this time the storm bore on its icy wings, not snow, but great hailstones which drove with such violence that they might have come from the thongs of
Balearic slingers–hailstones that beat down leaf and branch and made the shelter of the cypresses of no more avail than though their stems were standing corn. At the first I had rushed to the nearest tree; but I was soon fain to leave it and seek the only spot that seemed to afford refuge, the deep Doric doorway of the marble tomb. There, crouching against the massive bronze door, I gained a certain amount of protection from the beating of the hailstones, for now they only drove against me as they ricochetted from the ground and the side of the marble.
As I leaned against the door, it moved slightly and opened inwards. The shelter of even a tomb was welcome in that pitiless tempest and I was about to enter it when there came a flash of forked lightning that lit up the whole expanse of the heavens. In the instant, as I am a living man, I saw, as my eyes turned into the darkness of the tomb, a beautiful woman with rounded cheeks and red lips, seemingly sleeping on bier. As the thunder broke overhead, I was grasped as by the hand of a giant and hurled out into the storm. The whole thing was so sudden that, before I could realize the shock, moral as well as physical, I found the hailstones beating me down. At the same time I had a strange, dominating feeling that I was not alone. I looked towards the tomb. Just then there came another blinding flash which seemed to strike the iron stake that surmounted the tomb and to pour through to the earth, blasting and crumbling the marble, as in a burst of flame. The dead woman rose for a moment of agony while she waslapped in the flame, and her bitter scream of pain was drowned in the thundercrash. The last thing I heard was this mingling of dreadful sound, as again I was seized in the giant grasp and dragged away, while the hailstones beat on me and the air around seemed reverberant with the howling of wolves. The last sight that I remembered was a vague, white, moving mass, as if all the graves around me had sent out the phantoms of their sheeted dead, and that they were closing in on me through the white cloudiness of the driving hail.
Gradually there came a sort of vague beginning of consciousness, then a sense of weariness that was dreadful. For a time I remembered nothing, but slowly my senses returned. My feet seemed positively racked with pain, yet I could not move them. They seemed to be numbed. There was an icy feeling at the back of my neck and all down my spine, and my ears, like my feet, were dead yet in torment; but there was in my breast a sense of warmth which was by comparison delicious. It was as a nightmare—a physical nightmare, if one may use such an expression; for some heavy weight on my chest made it difficult for me to breathe.
This period of semilethargy seemed to remain a long time, and as it faded away I must have slept or swooned. Then came a sort of loathing, like the first stage of seasickness, and a wild desire to be free of something—I knew not what. A vast stillness enveloped me, as though all the world were asleep or dead—only broken by thelow panting as of some animal close to me. I felt a warm rasping at my throat, then came a consciousness of the awful truth which chilled me to the heart and sent the blood surging up through my brain. Some great animal was lying on me and now licking my throat. I feared to stir, for some instinct of prudence bade me lie still; but the brute seemed to realize that there was now some change in me, for it raised its head. Through my eyelashes I saw above me the two great flaming eyes of a gigantic wolf. Its sharp white teeth gleamed in the gaping red mouth, and I could feel its hot breath fierce and acrid upon me.
For another spell of time I remembered no more. Then I became conscious of a low growl, followed by a yelp, renewed again and again. Then seemingly very far away, I heard a “Holloa! holloa!” as of many voices calling in unison. Cautiously I raised my head and looked in the direction whence the sound came, but the cemetery blocked my view. The wolf still continued to yelp in a strange way, and a red glare began to move round the grove of cypresses, as though following the sound. As the voices drew closer, the wolf yelped faster and louder. I feared to make either sound or motion. Nearer came the red glow over the white pall which stretched into the darkness around me. Then all at once from beyond the trees there came at a trot a troop of horsemen bearing torches. The wolf rose from my breast and made for the cemetery. I saw one of the horsemen (soldiers by their caps and their long military cloaks) raise his carbine and take aim. A companion knocked up his arm, and I heard the ball whiz over my head. He had evidently taken my body for that of the wolf. Another sighted the animal as it slunk away, and a shot followed. Then, at a gallop, the troop rode forward—some towards me, others following the wolf as it disappeared amongst the snow-clad cypresses.
As they drew nearer I tried to move but was powerless, although I could see and hear all thatwent on around me. Two or three of the soldiers jumped from their horses and knelt beside me. One of them raised my head and placed his hand over my heart.
“Good news, comrades!” he cried. “His heart still beats!”
Then some brandy was poured down my throat; it put vigor into me, and I was able to open my eyes fully and look around. Lights and shadows were moving among the trees, and I heard men call to one another. They drew together, uttering frightened exclamations; and the lights flashed as the others came pouring out of the cemetery pell-mell, like men possessed. When the further ones came close to us, those who were around me asked them eagerly, “Well, have you found him?”
The reply rang out hurriedly, “No! no! Come away quick–quick! This is no place to stay, and on this of all nights!”
“What was it?” was the question, asked in all manner of keys. The answer came variously and all indefinitely as though the men were moved by some common impulse to speak yet were restrained by some common fear from giving their thoughts.
“It—it—indeed!” gibbered one, whose wits had plainly given out for the moment.
“A wolf–and yet not a wolf!” another put in shudderingly.
“No use trying for him without the sacred bullet,” a third remarked in a more ordinary manner.
“Serve us right for coming out on this night! Truly we have earned our thousand marks!” were the ejaculations of a fourth.
“There was blood on the broken marble,” another said after a pause, “the lightning never brought that there. And for him—is he safe? Look at his throat! See comrades, the wolf has been lying on him and keeping his blood warm.”
The officer looked at my throat and replied, “He is all right, the skin is not pierced. What does it all mean? We should never have found him but for the yelping of the wolf.”
“What became of it?” asked the man who was holding up my head and who seemed the least panic-stricken of the party, for his hands were steady and without tremor. On his sleeve was the chevron of a petty officer.
“It went home,” answered the man, whose long face was pallid and who actually shook with terror as he glanced around him fearfully. “There are graves enough there in which it may lie. Come, comrades—come quickly! Let us leave this cursed spot.”
The officer raised me to a sitting posture, as he uttered a word of command; then several men placed me upon a horse. He sprang to the saddle behind me, took me in his arms, gave the word to advance; and, turning our faces away from the cypresses, we rode away in swift military order.
As yet my tongue refused its office, and I was perforce silent. I must have fallen asleep; for the next thing I remembered was finding myself standing up, supported by a soldier on each side of me. It was almost broad daylight, and to the north a red streak of sunlight was reflected like a path of blood over the waste of snow. The officer was telling the men to say nothing of what they had seen, except that they found an English stranger, guarded by a large dog.
“Dog! that was no dog,” cut in the man who had exhibited such fear. “I think I know a wolf when I see one.”
The young officer answered calmly, “I said a dog.”
“Dog!” reiterated the other ironically. It was evident that his courage was rising with the sun; and, pointing to me, he said, “Look at his throat. Is that the work of a dog, master?”
Instinctively I raised my hand to my throat, and as I touched it I cried out in pain. The men crowded round to look, some stooping down from their saddles; and again there came the calm voice of the young officer, “A dog, as I said. If aught else were said we should only be laughed at.”
I was then mounted behind a trooper, and we rode on into the suburbs of Munich. Here we came across a stray carriage into which I was lifted, and it was driven off to the Quatre Saisons—the young officer accompanying me, whilst a trooper followed with his horse, and the others rode off to their barracks.
When we arrived, Herr Delbruck rushed so quickly down the steps to meet me, that it was apparent he had been watching within. Taking me by both hands he solicitously led me in. The officer saluted me and was turning to withdraw, when I recognized his purpose and insisted that he should come to my rooms. Over a glass of wine I warmly thanked him and his brave comrades for saving me. He replied simply that he was more than glad, and that Herr Delbruck had at the first taken steps to make all the searching party pleased; at which ambiguous utterance the maitre d’hotel smiled, while the officer pleaded duty and withdrew.
“But Herr Delbruck,” I enquired, “how and why was it that the soldiers searched for me?”
He shrugged his shoulders, as if in depreciation of his own deed, as he replied, “I was so fortunate as to obtain leave from the commander of the regiment in which I serve, to ask for volunteers.”
“But how did you know I was lost?” I asked.
“The driver came hither with the remains of his carriage, which had been upset when the horses ran away.”
“But surely you would not send a search party of soldiers merely on this account?”
“Oh, no!” he answered, “but even before the coachman arrived, I had this telegram from the Boyar whose guest you are,” and he took from his pocket a telegram which he handed to me, and I read:
Be careful of my guest—his safety is most precious to me. Should aught happen to him, or if he be missed, spare nothing to find him and ensure his safety. He is English and therefore adventurous. There are often dangers from snow and wolves and night. Lose not a moment if you suspect harm to him. I answer your zeal with my fortune.
As I held the telegram in my hand, the room seemed to whirl around me, and if the attentive maitre d’hotel had not caught me, I think I should have fallen. There was something so strange in all this, something so weird and impossible to imagine, that there grew on me a sense of my being in some way the sport of opposite forces—the mere vague idea of which seemed in a way to paralyze me. I was certainly under some form of mysterious protection. From a distant country had come, in the very nick of time, a message that took me out of the danger of the snow sleep and the jaws of the wolf.
Most of all I hate the sun, loud human voices, and pounding. Rapid, rapid pounding. I am so afraid of people that if I hear someone else’s footsteps and the sound of voices in the corridor in the evening, I start to scream. Because of this I have a special room, the quietest and the best, No. 27, at the very end of the corridor. No one can get to me. But in order to protect myself further, I kept begging Ivan Vasilievich for a long time (actually, I cried in front of him), to give me an official typed authorization. He consented and wrote that I was under his protection and that no one had the right to take me away. But, to tell you the truth, I did not have much confidence in the weight of his signature. So he persuaded a professor to sign it too, and affixed a round blue seal to the paper. That made all the difference. I know of many instances where people have avoided death solely because they had a piece of paper with a round blue seal on it in their pockets. True, that worker in Berdyansk with the cheek smeared with soot was hung from a lamppost after they found a crumpled piece of paper with a stamp on it in his boot. But that was altogether different. He was a criminal Bolshevik and the blue seal was a criminal seal. It reserved him a place on that lamppost and the lamppost was the reason for my illness (don’t worry, I know perfectly well that I am ill).
In fact, something had happened to me even before Kolya. I walked away in order to avoid seeing a man being hanged, but fear walked with me in my trembling legs. At the time, of course, there was nothing I could do, but now I would boldly say, “General, you are an animal! How dare you hang people!”
This alone shows you that I’m no coward. I did not go on about the seal because I am afraid of death. Oh, no. I am not afraid of that. I am going to shoot myself, and it will be soon, because Kolya will drive me to despair. I will shoot myself so that I do not have to see or hear Kolya. As for the thought that other people might come… It is loathsome.
For days on end I have been lying on the couch and staring out the window. Above our green garden is an empty void. Beyond it the yellow bulk of a seven-story building turns its deaf, windowless wall to me, and right under the roof is a rusty square. A sign. Dental Laboratory. In white letters. At first I hated it. Then I got used to it and if it were gone I might even miss it. It can be seen clearly the whole day. I focus my attention on it and ponder many important things. But evening is falling. The cupola darkens, the white letters fade from view. I become gray and dissolve in the gloom just like my thoughts. Twilight. A frightening and portentous time of day. Everything fades, everything becomes indistinct. A pale ginger cat begins to slink along the corridor with velvety steps and from time to time I scream. But I will not allow a lamp to be lit because the glare of the lamp will cause me to wring my hands and sob all night. It is better to wait submissively for the moment when that most important last picture begins to burn in the quivering darkness.
My aged mother said to me: “I can’t go on like this much longer. All I see is madness. You are the oldest, and I know that you love him. Bring Kolya back. Bring him back. You are the oldest.”
I said nothing. ٠
So she put all of her yearning and all of her pain into her words.
“Find him. You pretend that nothing can be done. But I know you. You are intelligent, you have long understood that this is all madness. Bring him to me for a day. For just one day. I’ll let him go again.”
She was lying. Would she really let him go again?
I said nothing.
“I only want to kiss his eyes. I know he will be killed. Don’t you understand? He’s my baby. Who else can I ask? You are the oldest. Bring him.”
I could not stand it, so avoiding her eyes, I said, “Okay.”
But she grabbed my sleeve and turned me around so that she could look into my face.
“No, you will swear that you will bring him back alive.”
How could I swear any such thing?
But being the insane person that I am, I did it: “I swear.”
My mother is fainthearted. With that thought I left. But in Berdyansk I saw the crooked lamppost. General, Sir, I agree that I was no less criminal than you, I accept great responsibility for the man smeared with soot, but my brother does not have anything to do with it. He is nineteen years old.
After Berdyansk, I resolutely fulfilled my oath and found him by a small stream twenty versts away. The day was unusually bright. Along the road to the village, from which came the smell of ashes, a cavalry column moved slowly, stirring up clouds of white dust. He rode at the end of the first rank, with the visor of his cap pulled down over his eyes. I remember every detail. The right spur came all the way down to his heel. The strap of his cap stretched across his cheek and down under his chin.
“Kolya. Kolya!” I yelled, and ran down to the roadside ditch.
He started. Along the ranks the sullen, sweaty soldiers turned their heads.
“Ah… brother!” he cried in response. For some reason he never called me by my name, but always said brother. I am ten years older than he. And he always listened carefully to what I said. “Wait, wait here,” he continued, “by the little wood. We’ll be back right away I can’t leave the troop.”
At the edge of the wood, a little away from the dismounted troop, we smoked greedily I was calm and insistent. Everything was madness. Mother was absolutely right.
I whispered to him, “As soon as you return from the village, come with me into town. Then get out of here and never come back.”
“What are you saying, brother?”
“Be quiet,” I said, “Be quiet. I know what I’m saying.”
The troop had mounted. They were swaying, moving at a trot toward the billowing black smoke. In the distance a pounding began. Rapid, rapid pounding.
What could happen in just an hour? They would come back. I settled down to wait by the tent with the red cross on it.
An hour later I saw him. He also returned at a trot. But there was no troop. Only one horseman with a lance galloped on either side of him, and one of them, the one on the right, leaned towards my brother periodically, as if he were whispering something to him. Squinting into the sun, I watched the strange masquerade. He had left in a gray cap and was returning in a red one. The sun was setting. Only a black silhouette crowned with brightness remained. There was no hair and there was no forehead. Instead, there was a red crown with yellow spikes in clumps.
My brother, the horseman, wearing a ragged red crown, sat motionless on a lathered horse, and if the horseman on the right had not been carefully supporting him, he might have been on his way to a parade.
The horseman sat proud in the saddle, but he was blind and mute. There were two red blotches with streaks where an hour ago bright eyes had shone…
The horseman on the left dismounted, his left hand clutched the reins, but the one on the right very carefully led Kolya by the hand. Kolya swayed.
A voice said, “I’m afraid our volunteer… he’s been hit by a shell fragment. Orderly, call a doctor…”
The other sighed and said, “Sure… but why call a doctor, buddy? Better a priest.”
Then the black veil thickened and everything was obscured, even the head gear…
I have gotten used to everything. To this white building of ours, to the twilight, to the ginger cat who purrs at the door, but I cannot get used to his visits. The first time it happened, when I was still living downstairs in No. 63, he came out of the wall. He was wearing the red crown. There was nothing terrifying in that. I had seen him like that in dreams. But of course I knew that since he was wearing the crown he was dead. Then he spoke, moving his lips, which were caked with blood. He eased them apart, clicked his heels, put his hand to the crown in a salute, and said: “Brother, I can’t leave the troop.”
Since then it is always the same. He comes wearing his field shirt, with straps across his chest, with a curved saber and silent spurs, and says the same thing. Salute. Then: “Brother, I can’t leave the troop. “
You cannot imagine how it affected me the first time it happened! He gave the whole clinic a fright. Anyway, it is all over for me. It stands to reason that since he is wearing a halo, he has been killed, and if the dead come and talk to me, it means I have gone mad.
Yes. Now it’s twilight. It is the hour of reckoning. But once I dozed off and saw the living room with the worn red velvet furniture. The comfortable armchair with a cracked leg. The portrait in a dusty black frame on the wall. Flowers on stands. The piano was open and on it was the score from Faust. He stood in the doorway, and a wild happiness warmed my heart. He was not a horseman. He was as he had been before those accursed days. In a black double-breasted jacket with a smudge of chalk on the elbow. His lively eyes smiled playfully and a lock of hair hung down over his forehead. He was nodding to me.
“Brother, let’s go to my room. Do I have something to show you!… “
The rays from his eyes lit up the living room, and the burden of remorse melted inside me. That ill-fated day when I told him: “Go” had never existed, there was no pounding or acrid smoke. He had never gone away and had never been a horseman. He played the piano, the ivory keys tinkled, the golden rays of light touched everything, and his voice was expressive and he laughed.
Then I woke up. There was nothing. No light, no eyes. I never had that dream again. Then that very night, to compound my unbearable torture, he came anyway, stepping silently, the horseman in full military regalia, and he spoke to me the way he has decided to speak to me for eternity.
I decided to put an end to it. I said forcefully, “What are you, my eternal torturer? Why do you come? I admit everything. I take the blame for sending you on that doomed mission. I also take the blame for the hanging. Since I admit all this, forgive me and leave me alone.”
I tell you. General, Sir, he said nothing and left.
So I became bitter from this torment and wished with all my might that he would come to you just once and put his hand to the crown in a salute. I assure you, you would be finished, just like me. At one stroke. However, perhaps you, too, are not alone at night? Who knows, perhaps you are visited by that soot-smeared man from the lamppost in Berdyansk? If this is so, we suffer it as we must. I sent Kolya to help you carry out the hanging, but you were the one who actually did it. By verbal order.
So, he did not leave. Then I scared him away with a scream. Everyone woke up. The attendant came running, they woke Ivan Vasilievich. I could not face the next day, but they wouldn’t let me do myself in. They bound me with canvas straps, tore the glass from my hands, and bandaged me. Since then I have been in No. 27. After I was drugged I began to doze off, and heard the attendant talking in the corridor:
“A hopeless case. “
It’s true. I have no hope. Futilely, in burning anguish, I wait in the twilight for the dream to come – that old familiar room and the peaceful light from those radiant eyes. But all of that is gone forever.
The burden does not ease. And at night I wait submissively for the familiar horseman with the sightless eyes to come and say hoarsely: “I can’t leave the troop.”
Yes, I am hopeless. He will drive me to my grave.
It happened when I was about eighteen or nineteen years old (began Dr. Simsen). I was studying at the University, and being coached in anatomy by my old friend Solling. He was an amusing fellow, this Solling. Full of jokes and whimsical ideas, and equally merry, whether he was working at the dissecting table or brewing a punch for a jovial crowd.
He had but one fault—if one might call it so—and that was his exaggerated idea of punctuality. He grumbled if you were late two minutes; any longer delay would spoil the entire evening for him. He himself was never known to be late. At least not during the entire years of my studying.
One Wednesday evening our little circle of friends met as usual in my room at seven o’clock. I had made the customary preparations for the meeting, had borrowed three chairs—I had but one myself— had cleaned all my pipes, and had persuaded Hans to take the breakfast dishes from the sofa and carry them downstairs. One by one my friends arrived, the clock struck seven, and to our great astonishment, Solling had not yet appeared. One, two, even five minutes passed before we heard him run upstairs and knock at the door with his characteristic short blows.
When he entered the room he looked so angry and at the same time so upset that I cried out: “What’s the matter, Solling? You look as if you had been robbed.”
“That’s exactly what has happened,” replied Solling angrily. “But it was no ordinary sneak thief,” he added, hanging his overcoat behind the door.
“What have you lost?” asked my neighbor Nansen.
“Both arms from the new skeleton I’ve just recently received from the hospital,” said Solling with an expression as if his last cent had been taken from him. “It’s vandalism!”
We burst out into loud laughter at this remarkable answer, but Solling continued: “Can you imagine it? Both arms are gone, cut off at the shoulder joint;—and the strangest part of it is that the same thing has been done to my shabby old skeleton which stands in my bedroom. There wasn’t an arm on either of them.”
“That’s too bad,” I remarked. “For we were just going to study the
ANATOMY of the arm to-night.”
“Osteology,” corrected Solling gravely. “Get out your skeleton, little Simsen. It isn’t as good as mine, but it will do for this evening.”
I went to the corner where my anatomical treasures were hidden behind a green curtain—”the Museum,” was what Solling called it— but my astonishment was great when I found my skeleton in its accustomed place and wearing as usual my student’s uniform—but without arms.
“The devil!” cried Solling. “That was done by the same person who robbed me; the arms are taken off at the shoulder joint in exactly the same manner. You did it, Simsen!”
I declared my innocence, very angry at the abuse of my fine skeleton, while Nansen cried: “Wait a moment, I’ll bring in mine. There hasn’t been a soul in my room since this morning, I can swear to that. I’ll be back in an instant.”
He hurried into his room, but returned in a few moments greatly depressed and somewhat ashamed. The skeleton was in its usual place, but the arms were gone, cut off at the shoulder in exactly the same manner as mine.
The affair, mysterious in itself, had now come to be a serious matter. We lost ourselves in suggestions and explanations, none of which seemed to throw any light on the subject. Finally we sent a messenger to the other side of the house where, as I happened to know, was a new skeleton which the young student Ravn had recently received from the janitor of the hospital.
Ravn had gone out and taken the key with him. The messenger whom we had sent to the rooms of the Iceland students returned with the information that one of them had used the only skeleton they possessed to pummel the other with, and that consequently only the thigh bones were left unbroken.
What were we to do? We couldn’t understand the matter at all. Solling scolded and cursed and the company was about to break up when we heard some one coming noisily upstairs. The door was thrown open and a tall, thin figure appeared on the threshold—our good friend Niels Daae.
He was a strange chap, this Niels Daae, the true type of a species seldom found nowadays. He was no longer young, and by reason of a queer chain of circumstances, as he expressed it, he had been through nearly all the professions and could produce papers proving that he had been on the point of passing not one but three examinations.
He had begun with theology; but the story of the quarrel between Jacob and Esau had led him to take up the study of law. As a law student he had come across an interesting poisoning case, which had proved to him that a study of medicine was extremely necessary for lawyers; and he had taken up the study of medicine with such energy that he had forgotten all his law and was about to take his last examinations at the age of forty.
Niels Daae took the story of our troubles very seriously. “Every pot has two handles,” he began. “Every sausage two ends, every question two sides, except this one—this has three.” (Applause.) “When we look at it from the legal point of view there can be no doubt that it belongs in the category of ordinary theft. But from the fact that the thief took only the arms when he might have taken the entire skeleton, we must conclude that he is not in a responsible condition of mind, which therefore introduces a medical side to the affair. From a legal point of view, the thief must be convicted for robbery, or at least for the illegal appropriation of the property of others; but from the medical point of view, we must acquit him, because he is not responsible for his acts. Here we have two professions quarreling with one another, and who shall say which is right? But now I will introduce the theological point of view, and raise the entire affair up to a higher plane. Providence, in the material shape of a patron of mine in the country, whose children I have inoculated with the juice of wisdom, has sent me two fat geese and two first-class ducks. These animals are to be cooked and eaten this evening in Mathiesen’s establishment, and I invite this honored company to join me there. Personally I look upon the disappearance of these arms as an all- wise intervention of Providence, which sets its own inscrutable wisdom up against the wisdom which we would otherwise have heard from the lips of my venerable friend Solling.”
Daae’s confused speech was received with laughter and applause, and Solling’s weak protests were lost in the general delight at the invitation. I have often noticed that such improvised festivities are usually the most enjoyable, and so it was for us that evening. Niels Daae treated us to his ducks and to his most amusing jokes, Solling sang his best songs, our jovial host Mathiesen told his wittiest stories, and the merriment was in full swing when we heard cries in the street, and then a rush of confused noises broken by screams of pain.
“There’s been an accident,” cried Solling, running out to the door.
We all followed him and discovered that a pair of runaway horses had thrown a carriage against a tree, hurling the driver from his box, under the wheels. His right arm had been broken near the shoulder. In the twinkling of an eye the hall of festivities was transformed into an emergency hospital. Solling shook his head as he examined the injury, and ordered the transport of the patient to the city hospital. It was his belief that the arm would have to be amputated, cut off at the shoulder joint, just as had been the case with our skeleton. “Damned odd coincidence, isn’t it?” he remarked to me.
Our merry mood had vanished and we took our way, quiet and depressed, through the old avenues toward our home. For the first time in its existence possibly, our venerable “barracks,” as we called the dormitory, saw its occupants returning home from an evening’s bout just as the night watchman intoned his eleven o’clock verse.
“Just eleven,” exclaimed Solling. “It’s too early to go to bed, and too late to go anywhere else. We’ll go up to your room, little Simsen, and see if we can’t have some sort of a lesson this evening. You have your colored plates and we’ll try to get along with them. It’s a nuisance that we should have lost those arms just this evening.”
“The Doctor can have all the arms and legs he wants,” grinned Hans, who came out of the doorway just in time to hear Solling’s last word.
“What do you mean, Hans?” asked Solling in astonishment.
“It’ll be easy enough to get them,” said Hans. “They’ve torn down the planking around the Holy Trinity churchyard, and dug up the earth to build a new wall. I saw it myself, as I came past the church. Lord, what a lot of bones they’ve dug out there! There’s arms and legs and heads, many more than the Doctor could possibly need.”
“Much good that does us,” answered Solling. “They shut the gates at seven o’clock and it’s after eleven already.”
“Oh, yes, they shut them,” grinned Hans again. “But there’s another way to get in. If you go through the gate of the porcelain factory and over the courtyard, and through the mill in the fourth courtyard that leads out into Spring Street, there you will see where the planking is torn down, and you can get into the churchyard easily.”
“Hans, you’re a genius!” exclaimed Solling in delight. “Here, Simsen, you know that factory inside and out, you’re so friendly with that fellow Outzen who lives there. Run along to him and let him give you the key of the mill. It will be easy to find an arm that isn’t too much decayed. Hurry along, now; the rest of us will wait for you upstairs.”
To be quite candid I must confess that I was not particularly eager to fulfill Solling’s command. I was at an age to have still a sufficient amount of reverence for death and the grave, and the mysterious occurrence of the stolen arms still ran through my mind. But I was still more afraid of Solling’s irony and of the laughter of my comrades, so I trotted off as carelessly as if I had been sent to buy a package of cigarettes.
It was some time before I could arouse the old janitor of the factory from his peaceful slumbers. I told him that I had an important message for Outzen, and hurried upstairs to the latter’s room. Outzen was a strictly moral character; knowing this, I was prepared to have him refuse me the key which would let me into the fourth courtyard and from there into the cemetery. As I expected, Outzen took the matter very seriously. He closed the Hebrew Bible which he had been studying as I entered, turned up his lamp and looked at me in astonishment as I made my request.
“Why, my dear Simsen, it is a most sinful deed that you are about to do,” he said gravely. “Take my advice and desist. You will get no key from me for any such cause. The peace of the grave is sacred. No man dare disturb it.”
“And how about the gravedigger? He puts the newly dead down beside the old corpses, and lives as peacefully as anyone else.”
“He is doing his duty,” answered Outzen calmly. “But to disturb the peace of the grave from sheer daring, with the fumes of the punch still in your head,—that is a different matter,—that will surely be punished!”
His words irritated me. It is not very flattering, particularly if one is not yet twenty, to be told that you are about to perform a daring deed simply because you are drunk. Without any further reply to his protests I took the key from its place on the wall and ran downstairs two steps at a time, vowing to myself that I would take home an arm let cost what it would. I would show Outzen, and Solling, and all the rest, what a devil of a fellow I was.
My heart beat rapidly as I stole through the long dark corridor, past the ruins of the old convent of St. Clara, into the so-called third courtyard. Here I took a lantern from the hall, lit it and crossed to the mill where the clay was prepared for the factory. The tall wheels and cylinders, with their straps and bolts, looked like weird creatures of the night in the dim light of my tallow candle. I felt my courage sinking even here, but I pulled myself together, opened the last door with my key and stepped out into the fourth courtyard. A moment later I stood on the dividing line between the cemetery and the factory.
The entire length of the tall blackened planking had been torn down. The pieces of it lay about, and the earth had been dug up to considerable depth, to make a foundation for a new wall between Life and Death. The uncanny emptiness of the place seized upon me. I halted involuntarily as if to harden myself against it. It was a raw, cold, stormy evening. The clouds flew past the moon in jagged fragments, so that the churchyard, with its white crosses and stones, lay now in full light, now in dim shadow. Now and then a rush of wind rattled over the graves, roared through the leafless trees, bent the complaining bushes, and caught itself in the little eddy at the corner of the church, only to escape again over the roofs, turning the old weather vane with a sharp scream of the rusty iron.
I looked toward the left—there I saw several weird white shapes moving gently in the moonlight. “White sheets,” I said to myself, “it’s nothing but white sheets! This drying of linen in the churchyard ought to be stopped.”
I turned in the opposite direction and saw a heap of bones scarce two paces distant from me. Holding my lantern lower, I approached them and stretched out my hand—there was a rattling in the heap; something warm and soft touched my fingers.
I started and shivered. Then I exclaimed: “The rats! nothing but the rats in the churchyard! I must not get frightened. It will be so foolish—they would laugh at me. Where the devil is that arm? I can’t find one that isn’t broken!”
With trembling knees and in feverish haste I examined one heap after another. The light in my lantern flickered in the wind and suddenly went out. The foul smell of the smoking wick rose to my face and I felt as if I were about to faint, it took all my energy to recover my control. I walked two or three steps ahead, and saw at a little distance a coffin which had been still in good shape when taken out of the earth.
I approached it and saw that it was of old-fashioned shape, made of heavy oaken boards that were already rotting. On its cover was a metal plate with an illegible inscription. The old wood was so brittle that it would have been very easy for me to open the coffin with any sort of a tool. I looked about me and saw a hatchet and a couple of spades lying near the fence. I took one of the latter, put its flat end between the boards—the old coffin fell apart with a dull crackling protest.
I turned my head aside, put my hand in through the opening, felt about, and taking a firm hold on one arm of the skeleton, I loosened it from the body with a quick jerk. The movement loosened the head as well, and it rolled out through the opening right to my very feet. I took up the skull to lay it in the coffin again—and then I saw a greenish phosphorescent glimmer in its empty eye sockets, a glimmer which came and went. Mad terror shook me at the sight. I looked up at the houses in the distance, then back again to the skull; the empty sockets shone more brightly than before. I felt that I must have some natural explanation for this appearance or I would go mad. I took up the head again—and never in my life have I had so overpowering an impression of the might of death and decay than in this moment. Myriads of disgusting clammy insects poured out of every opening of the skull, and a couple of shining, wormlike centipedes—Geophiles, the scientists call them—crawled about in the eye sockets. I threw the skull back into the coffin, sprang over the heaps of bones without even taking time to pick up my lantern, and ran like a hunted thing through the dark mill, over the factory courtyards, until I reached the outer gate. Here I washed the arm at the fountain, and smoothed my disarranged clothing. I hid my booty under my overcoat, nodded to the sleepy old janitor as he opened the door to me, and a few moments later I entered my own room with an expression which I had attempted to make quite calm and careless.
“What the devil is the matter with you, Simsen?” cried Solling as he saw me. “Have you seen a ghost? Or is the punch wearing off already? We thought you’d never come; why, it’s nearly twelve o’clock!”
Without a word I drew back my overcoat and laid my booty on the table.
“By all the devils,” exclaimed Solling in anatomical enthusiasm, “where did you find that superb arm? Simsen knows what he’s about all right. It’s a girl’s arm; isn’t it beautiful? Just look at the hand—how fine and delicate it is! Must have worn a No. 6 glove. There’s a pretty hand to caress and kiss!”
The arm passed from one to the other amid general admiration. Every word that was said increased my disgust for myself and for what I had done. It was a woman’s arm, then—what sort of a woman might she have been? Young and beautiful possibly—her brothers’ pride, her parents’ joy. She had faded away in her youth, cared for by loving hands and tender thoughts. She had fallen asleep gently, and those who loved her had desired to give her in death the peace she had enjoyed throughout her lifetime. For this they had made her coffin of thick, heavy oaken boards. And this hand, loved and missed by so many—it lay there now on an anatomical table, encircled by clouds of tobacco smoke, stared at by curious glances, and made the object of coarse jokes. O God! how terrible it was!
“I must have that arm,” exclaimed Solling, when the first burst of admiration had passed. “When I bleach it and touch it up with varnish, it wild be a superb specimen. I’ll take it home with me.”
“No,” I exclaimed, “I can’t permit it. It was wrong of me to bring it away from the churchyard. I’m going right back to put the arm in its place.”
“Well, will you listen to that?” cried Solling, amid the hearty laughter of the others. “Simsen’s so lyric, he certainly must be drunk. I must have that arm at any cost.”
“Not much,” cut in Niels Daae; “you have no right to it. It was buried in the earth and dug out again; it is a find, and all the rest of us have just as much right to it as you have.”
“Yes, everyone of us has some share in it,” said some one else.
“But what are you going to do about it?” remarked Solling. “It would be vandalism to break up that arm. What God has joined together let no man put asunder,” he concluded with pathos.
“Let’s auction it off,” exclaimed Daae. “I will be the auctioneer, and this key to the graveyard will serve me for a hammer.”
The laughter broke out anew as Daae took his place solemnly at the head of the table and began to whine out the following announcement: “I hereby notify all present that on the 25th of November, at twelve o’clock at midnight, in corridor No. 5 of the student barracks, a lady’s arm in excellent condition, with all its appurtenances of wrist bones, joints, and finger tips, is to be offered at public auction. The buyer can have possession of his purchase immediately after the auction, and a credit of six weeks will be given to any reliable customer. I bid a Danish shilling.”
“One mark,” cried Solling mockingly.
“Two,” cried somebody else.
“Four,” exclaimed Solling. “It’s worth it. Why don’t you join in,
Simsen? You look as if you were sitting in a hornet’s nest.”
I bid one mark more, and Solling raised me a thaler. There were no more bids, the hammer fell, and the arm belonged to Solling.
“Here, take this,” he said, handing me a mark piece; “it’s part of your commission as grave robber. You shall have the rest later, unless you prefer that I should turn it over to the drinking fund.” With these words Solling wrapped the arm in a newspaper, and the gay crowd ran noisily down the stairs and through the streets, until their singing and laughter were lost in the distance.
I stood alone, still dazed and bewildered, staring at the piece of money in my hand. My thoughts were far too much excited that I should hope to sleep. I turned up my lamp and took out one of my books to try and study myself into a quieter mood. But without success.
Suddenly I heard a sound like that of a swinging pendulum. I raised my head and listened attentively. There was no clock either in my room or in the neighboring ones—but I could still hear the sound. At the same moment my lamp began to flicker. The oil was apparently exhausted. I was about to rise to fill it again, when my eyes fell upon the door, and I saw the graveyard key, which I had hung there, moving slowly back and forth with a rhythmic swing. Just as its motion seemed about to die away, it would receive a gentle push as from an unseen hand, and would swing back and forth more than ever. I stood there with open mouth and staring eyes, ice-cold chills ran down my back, and drops of perspiration stood out on my forehead. Finally, I could endure it no longer. I sprang to the door, seized the key with both hands and put it on my desk under a pile of heavy books. Then I breathed a sigh of relief.
My lamp was about to go out and I discovered that I had no more oil. With feverish haste I threw my clothes off, blew out the light and sprang into bed as if to smother my fears.
But once alone in the darkness the fears grew worse than ever. They grew into dreams and visions. It seemed to me as if I were out in the graveyard again, and heard the screaming of the rusty weather vane as the wind turned it. Then I was in the mill again; the wheels were turning and stretching out ghostly hands to draw me into the yawning maw of the machine. Then again, I found myself in a long, low, pitch-black corridor, followed by Something I could not see—Something that drove me to the mouth of a bottomless abyss. I would start up out of my half sleep, listen and look about me, then fall back again into an uneasy slumber.
Suddenly something fell from the ceiling onto the bed, and “buzz— buzz—buzz” sounded about my head. It was a huge fly which had been sleeping in a corner of my room and had been roused by the heat of the stove. It flew about in great circles, now around the bed, now in all four corners of the chamber—”buzz—buzz—buzz”—it was unendurable! At last I heard it creep into a bag of sugar which had been left on the window sill. I sprang up and closed the bag tight. The fly buzzed worse than ever, but I went back to bed and attempted to sleep again, feeling that I had conquered the enemy.
I began to count: I counted slowly to one hundred, two hundred, finally up to one thousand, and then at last I experienced that pleasant weakness which is the forerunner of true sleep. I seemed to be in a beautiful garden, bright with many flowers and odorous with all the perfumes of spring. At my side walked a beautiful young girl. I seemed to know her well, and yet it was not possible for me to remember her name, or even to know how we came to be wandering there together. As we walked slowly through the paths she would stop to pick a flower or to admire a brilliant butterfly swaying in the air. Suddenly a cold wind blew through the garden. The young girl trembled and her cheeks grew pale. “I am cold,” she said to me, “do you not see? It is Death who is approaching us.”
I would have answered, but in the same moment another stronger and still more icy gust roared through the garden. The leaves turned pale on the trees, the flowerets bent their heads, and the bees and butterflies fell lifeless to the earth. “That is Death,” whispered my companion, trembling.
A third icy gust blew the last leaves from the bushes, white crosses and gravestones appeared between the bare twigs—and I was in the churchyard again and heard the screaming of the rusty weather vane. Beside me stood a heavy brass-bound coffin with a metal plate on the cover. I bent down to read the inscription, the cover rolled off suddenly, and from out the coffin rose the form of the young girl who had been with me in the garden. I stretched out my arms to clasp her to my breast—then, oh horror! I saw the greenish-gleaming, empty eye sockets of the skull. I felt bony arms around me, dragging me back into the coffin. I screamed aloud for help and woke up.
My room seemed unusually light; but I remembered that it was a moonlight night and thought no more of it. I tried to explain the visions of my dream with various natural noises about me. The imprisoned fly buzzed as loudly as a whole swarm of bees; one half of my window had blown open, and the cold night air rushed in gusts into my room.
I sprang up to close the window, and then I saw that the strong white light that filled my room did not come from the moon, but seemed to shine out from the church opposite. I heard the chiming of the bells, soft at first, as if in far distance, then stronger and stronger until, mingled with the rolling notes of the organ, a mighty rush of sound struck against my windows. I stared out into the street and could scarcely believe my eyes. The houses in the market place just beyond were all little one-story buildings with bow windows and wooden eave troughs ending in carved dragon heads. Most of them had balconies of carved woodwork, and high stone stoops with gleaming brass rails.
But it was the church most of all that aroused my astonishment. Its position was completely changed. Its front turned toward our house where usually the side had stood. The church was brilliantly lighted, and now I perceived that it was this light which filled my room. I stood speechless amid the chiming of the bells and the roaring of the organ, and I saw a long wedding procession moving slowly up the center aisle of the church toward the altar. The light was so brilliant that I could distinguish each one of the figures. They were all in strange old-time costumes; the ladies in brocades and satins with strings of pearls in their powdered hair, the gentlemen in uniform with knee breeches, swords, and cocked hats held under their arms. But it was the bride who drew my attention most strongly. She was clothed in white satin, and a faded myrtle wreath was twisted through the powdered locks beneath her sweeping veil. The bridegroom at her side wore a red uniform and many decorations. Slowly they approached the altar, where an old man in black vestments and a heavy white wig was awaiting them. They stood before him, and I could see that he was reading the ritual from a gold-lettered book.
One of the train stepped forward and unbuckled the bridegroom’s sword, that his right hand might be free to take that of the bride. She seemed about to raise her own hand to his, when she suddenly sank fainting at his feet. The guests hurried toward the altar, the lights went out, the music stopped, and the figures floated together like pale white mists.
But outside in the square it was still brighter than before, and I suddenly saw the side portal of the church burst open and the wedding procession move out across the market place.
I turned as if to flee, but could not move a muscle. Quiet, as if turned to stone, I stood and watched the ghostly figures that came nearer and nearer. The clergyman led the train, then came the bridegroom and the bride, and as the latter raised her eyes to me I saw that it was the young girl of the garden. Her eyes were so full of pain, so full of sad entreaty that I could scarce endure them; but how shall I explain the feeling that shot through me as I suddenly discovered that the right sleeve of her white satin gown hung empty at her side? The train disappeared, and the tone of the church bells changed to a strange, dry, creaking sound, and the gate below me complained as it turned on its rusty hinges. I faced toward my own door. I knew that it was shut and locked, but I knew that the ghostly procession were coming to call me to account, and I felt that no walls could keep them out. My door flew open, there was a rustling as of silken gowns, but the figures seemed to float in in the changing forms of swaying white mists. Closer and closer they gathered around me, robbing me of breath, robbing me of the power to move. There was a silence as of the grave—and then I saw before me the old priest with his gold-lettered book. He raised his hand and spoke with a soft, deep voice: “The grave is sacred! Let no one dare to disturb the peace of the dead.”
“The grave is sacred!” an echo rolled through the room as the swaying figures moved like reeds in the wind.
“What do you want? What do you demand?” I gasped in the grip of a deathly fear.
“Give back to the grave that which belongs to it,” said the deep voice again.
“Give back to the grave that which belongs to it,” repeated the echo as the swaying forms pressed closer to me.
“But it’s impossible—I can’t—I have sold it—sold it at auction!” I screamed in despair. “It was buried and found in the earth—and sold for five marks eight shillings—”
A hideous scream came from the ghostly ranks. They threw themselves upon me as the white fog rolls in from the sea, they pressed upon me until I could no longer breathe. Beside myself, I threw open the window and attempted to spring out, screaming aloud: “Help! help! murder! they are murdering me!”
The sound of my own voice awoke me. I found myself in my night clothes on the window sill, one leg already out of the window and both hands clutching at the center post. On the street below me stood the night watchman, staring up at me in astonishment, while faint white clouds of mist rolled out of my window like smoke. All around outside lay the November fog, gray and moist, and as the fresh air of the early dawn blew cool on my face I felt my senses returning to me. I looked down at the night watch man—God bless him! He was a big, strong, comfortably fat fellow made of real flesh and blood, and no ghost shape of the night. I looked at the round tower of the church—how massive and venerable it stood there, gray in the gray of the morning mists. I looked over at the market place. There was a light in the baker shop and a farmer stood before it, tying his horse to a post. Back in my own room everything was in its usual place. Even the little paper bag with the sugar lay there on the window sill, and the imprisoned fly buzzed louder than ever. I knew that I was really awake and that the day was coming. I sprang back hastily from the window and was about to jump into bed, when my foot touched something hard and sharp.
I stooped to see what it was, felt about on the floor in the half light, and touched a long, dry, skeleton arm which held a tiny roll of paper in its bony fingers. I felt about again, and found still another arm, also holding a roll of paper. Then I began to think that my reason must be going. What I had seen thus far was only an unusually vivid dream—a vision of my heated imagination. But I knew that I was awake now, and yet here lay two-no, three (for there was still another arm)—hard, undeniable, material proofs that what I had thought was hallucination, might have been reality. Trembling in the thought that madness was threatening me, I tore open the first roll of paper. On it was written the name: “Solling.” I caught at the second and opened it. There stood the word: “Nansen.” I had just strength enough left to catch the third paper and open it—there was my own name: “Simsen.”
Then I sank fainting to the floor.
When I came to myself again, Niels Daae stood beside me with an empty water bottle, the contents of which were dripping off my person and off the sofa upon which I was lying. “Here, drink this,” he said in a soothing tone. “It will make you feel better.”
I looked about me wildly, as I sipped at the glass of brandy which put new life into me once more. “What has happened?” I asked weakly.
“Oh, nothing of importance,” answered Niels. “You were just about to commit suicide by means of charcoal gas. Those are mighty bad ventilators on your old stove there. The wind must have blown them shut, unless you were fool enough to close them yourself before you went to bed. If you had not opened the window, you would have already been too far along the path to Paradise to be called back by a glass of brandy. Take another.”
“How did you get up here?” I asked, sitting upright on the sofa.
“Through the door in the usual simple manner,” answered Niels Daae. “I was on watch last night in the hospital; but Mathiesen’s punch is heavy and my watching was more like sleeping, so I thought it better to come away in the early morning. As I passed your barracks here, I saw you sitting in the window in your nightshirt and calling down to the night watchman that some one was murdering you. I managed to wake up Jansen down below you, and got into the house through his window. Do you usually sleep on the bare floor?”
“But where did the arms come from?” I asked, still half bewildered.
“Oh, the devil take those arms,” cried Niels. “Just see if you can stand up all right now. Oh, those arms there? Why, those are the arms I cut off your skeletons. Clever idea, wasn’t it? You know how grumpy Solling gets if anything interferes with his tutoring. You see, I’d had the geese sent me, and I wanted you to all come with me to Mathiesen’s place. I knew you were going to read the osteology of the arm, so I went up into Solling’s room, opened it with his own keys and took the arms from his skeleton. I did the same here while you were downstairs in the reading room. Have you been stupid enough to take them down off their frames, and take away their tickets? I had marked them so carefully, that each man should get his own again.”
I dressed hastily and went out with Niels into the fresh, cool morning air. A few minutes later we separated, and I turned toward the street where Solling lived. Without heeding the protest of his old landlady, I entered the room where he still slept the sleep of the just. The arm, still wrapped in newspaper, lay on his desk. I took it up, put the mark piece in its place and hastened with all speed to the churchyard.
How different it looked in the early dawn! The fog had risen and shining frost pearls hung in the bare twigs of the tall trees where the sparrows were already twittering their morning song. There was no one to be seen. The churchyard lay quiet and peaceful. I stepped over the heaps of bones to where the heavy oaken coffin lay under a tree. Cautiously I pushed the arm back into its interior, and hammered the rusty nails into their places again, just as the first rays of the pale November sun touched a gleam of light from the metal plate on the cover.—Then the weight was lifted from my soul.
*First published at “The Continental Classics, vol. 18, Mystery Tales, 1909.”
Well, as I was saying, the Emperor got into bed.
“Chevalier,” says he to his valet, “let down those window-curtains, and shut the casement before you leave the room.”
Chevalier did as he was told, and then, taking up his candlestick, departed.
In a few minutes the Emperor felt his pillow becoming rather hard, and he got up to shake it. As he did so a slight rustling noise was heard near the bed-head. His Majesty listened, but all was silent as he lay down again.
Scarcely had he settled into a peaceful attitude of repose, when he was disturbed by a sensation of thirst. Lifting himself on his elbow, he took a glass of lemonade from the small stand which was placed beside him. He refreshed himself by a deep draught. As he returned the goblet to its station a deep groan burst from a kind of closet in one corner of the apartment.
“Who’s there?” cried the Emperor, seizing his pistols. “Speak, or I’ll blow your brains out.”
This threat produced no other effect than a short, sharp laugh, and a dead silence followed.
The Emperor started from his couch, and, hastily throwing on a robe-de-chambre which hung over the back of a chair, stepped courageously to the haunted closet. As he opened the door something rustled. He sprang forward sword in hand. No soul or even substance appeared, and the rustling, it was evident, proceeded from the falling of a cloak, which had been suspended by a peg from the door.
Half ashamed of himself he returned to bed.
Just as he was about once more to close his eyes, the light of the three wax tapers, which burned in a silver branch over the mantlepiece, was suddenly darkened. He looked up. A black, opaque shadow obscured it. Sweating with terror, the Emperor put out his hand to seize the bell- rope, but some invisible being snatched it rudely from his grasp, and at the same instant the ominous shade vanished.
“Pooh!” exclaimed Napoleon, “it was but an ocular delusion.”
“Was it?” whispered a hollow voice, in deep mysterious tones, close to his ear. “Was it a delusion, Emperor of France? No! all thou hast heard and seen is sad forewarning reality. Rise, lifter of the Eagle Standard! Awake, swayer of the Lily Sceptre! Follow me, Napoleon, and thou shalt see more.”
As the voice ceased, a form dawned on his astonished sight. It was that of a tall, thin man, dressed in a blue surtout edged with gold lace. It wore a black cravat very tightly round its neck, and confined by two little sticks placed behind each ear. The countenance was livid; the tongue protruded from between the teeth, and the eyes all glazed and bloodshot started with frightful prominence from their sockets.
“Mon Dieu!” exclaimed the Emperor, “what do I see? Spectre, whence cometh thou?”
The apparition spoke not, but gliding forward beckoned Napoleon with uplifted finger to follow.
Controlled by a mysterious influence, which deprived him of the capability of either thinking or acting for himself, he obeyed in silence.
The solid wall of the apartment fell open as they approached, and, when both had passed through, it closed behind them with a noise like thunder.
They would now have been in total darkness had it not been for a dim light which shone round the ghost and revealed the damp walls of a long, vaulted passage. Down this they proceeded with mute rapidity. Ere long a cool, refreshing breeze, which rushed wailing up the vault and caused the Emperor to wrap his loose nightdress closer round, announced their approach to the open air.
This they soon reached, and Nap found himself in one of the principal streets of Paris.
“Worthy Spirit,” said he, shivering in the chill night air, “permit me to return and put on some additional clothing. I will be with you again presently.”
“Forward,” replied his companion sternly.
He felt compelled, in spite of the rising indignation which almost choked him, to obey.
On they went through the deserted streets till they arrived at a lofty house built on the banks of the Seine. Here the Spectre stopped, the gates rolled back to receive them, and they entered a large marble hall which was partly concealed by a curtain drawn across, through the half transparent folds of which a bright light might be seen burning with dazzling lustre. A row of fine female figures, richly attired, stood before this screen. They wore on their heads garlands of the most beautiful flowers, but their faces were concealed by ghastly masks representing death’s-heads.
“What is all this mummery?” cried the Emperor, making an effort to shake off the mental shackles by which he was so unwillingly restrained, “Where am I, and why have I been brought here?”
“Silence,” said the guide, lolling out still further his black and bloody tongue. “Silence, if thou wouldst escape instant death.”
The Emperor would have replied, his natural courage overcoming the temporary awe to which he had at first been subjected, but just then a strain of wild, supernatural music swelled behind the huge curtain, which waved to and fro, and bellied slowly out as if agitated by some internal commotion or battle of waving winds. At the same moment an overpowering mixture of the scents of mortal corruption, blent with the richest Eastern odours, stole through the haunted hall.
A murmur of many voices was now heard at a distance, and something grasped his arm eagerly from behind.
He turned hastily round. His eyes met the well-known countenance of Marie Louise.
“What! are you in this infernal place, too?” said he. “What has brought you here?”
“Will your Majesty permit me to ask the same question of yourself?” said the Empress, smiling.
He made no reply; astonishment prevented him.
No curtain now intervened between him and the light. It had been removed as if by magic, and a splendid chandelier appeared suspended over his head. Throngs of ladies, richly dressed, but without death’s-head masks, stood round, and a due proportion of gay cavaliers was mingled with them. Music was still sounding, but it was seen to proceed from a band of mortal musicians stationed in an orchestra near at hand. The air was yet redolent of incense, but it was incense unblended with stench.
“Mon dieu!” cried the Emperor, “how is all this come about? Where in the world is Piche?”
“Piche?” replied the Empress. “What does your Majesty mean? Had you not better leave the apartment and retire to rest?”
“Leave the apartment? Why, where am I?”
“In my private drawing-room, surrounded by a few particular persons of the Court whom I had invited this evening to a ball. You entered a few minutes since in your nightdress with your eyes fixed and wide open. I suppose from the astonishment you now testify that you were walking in your sleep.”
The Emperor immediately fell into a fit of catalepsy, in which he continued during the whole of that night and the greater part of the next day.
* Taken from the manuscript of the “Green Dwarf” dated July 10, 1833 – September 2, 1833, and republished in The Twelve Adventurers and other stories, London, 1925.
The first time I ever met Mr. Tallent was in the late summer of 1906, in a small, lonely inn on the top of a mountain. For natives, rainy days in these places are not very different from other days, since work fills them all, wet or fine. But for the tourist, rainy days are boring. I had been bored for nearly a week, and was thinking of returning to London, when Mr. Tallent came. And because I could not “place” Mr. Tallent, nor elucidate him to my satisfaction, he intrigued me. For a barrister should be able to sum up men in a few minutes.
I did not see Mr. Tallent arrive, nor did I observe him entering the room. I looked up, and he was there, in the small firelit parlour with its Bible, wool mats and copper preserving pan. He was reading a manuscript, slightly moving his lips as he read. He was a gentle, moth-like man, very lean and about six foot three or more. He had neutral-coloured hair and eyes, a nondescript suit, limp-looking hands and slightly turned-up toes. The most noticeable thing about him was an expression of passive and enduring obstinacy.
I wished him good evening, and asked if he had a paper, as he seemed to have come from civilization.
“No,” he said softly, “no. Only a little manuscript of my own.”
Now, as a rule I am as wary of manuscripts as a hare is of greyhounds. Having once been a critic, I am always liable to receive parcels of these for advice. So I might have saved myself and a dozen or so of other people from what turned out to be a terrible, an appalling, incubus. But the day had been so dull, and having exhausted Old Moore and sampled the Imprecatory Psalms, I had nothing else to read. So I said, “Your own?”
“Even so,” replied Mr. Tallent modestly.
“May I have the privilege?” I queried, knowing he intended me to have it.
“How kind!” he exclaimed. “A stranger, knowing nothing of my hopes and aims, yet willing to undertake so onerous a task.”
“Not at all!” I replied, with a nervous chuckle.
“I think,” he murmured, drawing near and, as it were, taking possession of me, looming above me with his great height, “it might be best for me to read it to you. I am considered to have rather a fine reading voice.”
I said I should be delighted, reflecting that supper could not very well be later than nine. I knew I should not like the reading.
He stood before the cloth-draped mantelpiece.
“This,” he said, “shall be my rostrum.” Then he read.
I wish I could describe to you that slow, expressionless, unstoppable voice. It was a voice for which at the time I could find no comparison. Now I know that it was like the voice of the loud speaker in a dull subject. At first one listened, taking in even the sense of the words. I took in all the first six chapters, which were unbelievably dull. I got all the scenery, characters, undramatic events clearly marshalled. I imagined that something would, in time, happen. I thought the characters were going to develop, do fearful things or great and holy deeds. But they did nothing. Nothing happened. The book was flat, formless, yet not vital enough to be inchoate. It was just a meandering expression of a negative personality, with a plethora of muted, borrowed, stale ideas. He always said what one expected him to say. One knew what all his people would do. One waited for the culminating platitude as for an expected twinge of toothache. I thought he would pause after a time, for even the most arrogant usually do that, apologising and at the same time obviously waiting for one to say, “Do go on, please.’’
This was not necessary in his case. In fact, it was impossible. The slow, monotonous voice went on without a pause, with the terrible tirelessness of a gramophone. I longed for him to whisper or shout— anything to relieve the tedium. I tried to think of other things, but he read too distinctly for that. I could neither listen to him nor ignore him. I have never spent such an evening. As luck would have it the little maidservant did not achieve our meal till nearly ten o’clock. The hours dragged on.
At last I said: “Could we have a pause, just for a few minutes?”
“Why?” he enquired.
“For… for discussion,” I weakly murmured.
“Not,” he replied, “at the most exciting moment. Don’t you realise that now, at last, I have worked up my plot to the most dramatic, moment? All the characters are waiting, attent, for the culminating tragedy.”
He went on reading. I went on awaiting the culminating tragedy. But there was no tragedy. My head ached abominably. The voice flowed on, over my senses, the room, the world. I felt as if it would wash me away into eternity. I found myself thinking, quite solemnly:
“If she doesn’t bring supper soon, I shall kill him.”
I thought it in the instinctive way in which one thinks it of an earwig or a midge. I took refuge in the consideration how to do it? This was absorbing. It enabled me to detach myself completely from the sense of what he read. I considered all the ways open to me. Strangling. The bread knife on the sideboard. Hanging. I gloated over them, I was beginning to be almost happy, when suddenly the reading stopped.
“She is bringing supper,” he said. “Now we can have a little discussion. Afterwards I will finish the manuscript.”
He did. And after that, he told me all about his will. He said he was leaving all his money for the posthumous publication of his manuscripts. He also said that he would like me to draw up this for him, and to be trustee of the manuscripts.
I said I was too busy. He replied that I could draw up the will to-morrow.
“I’m going to-morrow,” I interpolated passionately.
“You cannot go until the carrier goes in the afternoon,” he triumphed. “Meanwhile, you can draw up the will. After that you need do no more. You can pay a critic to read the manuscripts. You can pay a publisher to publish them. And I in them shall be remembered.”
He added that if I still had doubts as to their literary worth, he would read me another.
I gave in. Would anyone else have done differently? I drew up the will, left an address where he could send his stuff, and left the inn.
“Thank God!” I breathed devoutly, as the turn of the lane hid him from view. He was standing on the doorstep, beginning to read what he called a pastoral to a big cattle-dealer who had called for a pint of bitter. I smiled to think how much more he would get than he had bargained for.
After that, I forgot Mr. Tallent. I heard nothing more of him for some years. Occasionally I glanced down the lists of books to see if anybody else had relieved me of my task by publishing Mr. Tallent. But nobody had.
It was about ten years later, when I was in hospital with a “Blighty” wound, that I met Mr. Tallent again. I was convalescent, sitting in the sun with some other chaps, when the door opened softly, and Mr. Tallent stole in. He read to us for two hours. He remembered me, and had a good deal to say about coincidence. When he had gone, I said to the nurse, ‘’If you let that fellow in again while I’m here. I’ll kill him.”
She laughed a good deal, but the other chaps all agreed with me, and as a matter of fact, he never did come again.
Not long after this I saw the notice of his death in the paper.
“Poor chap!” I thought, “he’s been reading too much. Somebody’s patience has given out. Well, he won’t ever be able to read to me again.”
Then I remembered the manuscripts, realising that, if he had been as good as his word, my troubles had only just begun.
And it was so.
First came the usual kind of letter from a solicitor in the town where he had lived. Next I had a call from the said solicitor’s clerk, who brought a large tin box.
“The relations,” he said, “of the deceased are extremely angry. Nothing has been left to them. They say that the manuscripts are worthless, and that the living have rights.”
I asked how they knew that the manuscripts were worthless.
“It appears, sir, that Mr. Tallent has, from time to time, read these aloud –”
I managed to conceal a grin.
“And they claim, sir, to share equally with the—er – manuscripts. They threaten to take proceedings, and have been getting legal opinions as to the advisability of demanding an investigation of the material you have.”
I looked at the box. There was an air of Joanna Southcott about it.
I asked if it were full.
“Quite, sir. Typed MSS. Very neatly done.”
He produced the key, a copy of the will, and a sealed letter.
I took the box home with me that evening. Fortified by dinner, a cigar and a glass of port, I considered it. There is an extraordinary air of fatality about a box. For bane or for blessing, it has a perpetual fascination for mankind. A wizard’s coffer, a casket of jewels, the alabaster box of precious nard, a chest of bridal linen, a stone sarcophagus – what a strange mystery is about them all! So when I opened Mr. Tallent’s box, I felt like somebody letting loose a genie. And indeed I was. I had already perused the will and the letter, and discovered that the fortune was moderately large. The letter merely repeated what Mr. Tallent had told me. I glanced at some of the manuscripts. Immediately the room seemed full of Mr. Tallent’s presence and his voice. I looked towards the now dusky corners of the room as if he might be looming there. As I ran through more of the papers, I realised that what Mr. Tallent had chosen to read to me had been the best of them. I looked up Johnson’s telephone number and asked him to come round. He is the kind of chap who never makes any money. He is a freelance journalist with a conscience. I knew he would be glad of the job.
He came round at once. He eyed the manuscripts with rapture. For at heart he is a critic, and has the eternal hope of unearthing a masterpiece.
“You had better take a dozen at a time, and keep a record,” I said. “Verdict at the end.”
“Will it depend on me whether they are published?”
“Which are published,” I said. “Some will have to be. The will says so.”
“But if I found them all worthless, the poor beggars would get more of the cash? Damnable to be without cash.”
“I shall have to look into that. I am not sure if it is legally possible. What, for instance, is the standard?”
“I shall create the standard,” said Johnson rather haughtily. “Of course, if I find a masterpiece –”
“If you find a masterpiece, my dear chap,’’ I said, “I’ll give you a hundred pounds.”
He asked if I had thought of a publisher. I said I had decided on Jukes, since no book, however bad, could make his reputation worse than it was, and the money might save his credit.
“Is that quite fair to poor Tallent?” he asked. Mr. Tallent had already got hold of him.
“If,” I said as a parting benediction, “you wish you had never gone into it (as, when yon have put your hand to the plough, you will), remember that at least they were never read aloud to you, and be thankful.”
Nothing occurred for a week. Then letters began to come from Mr. Tallent’s relations. They were a prolific family. They were all very poor, very angry and intensely uninterested in literature. They wrote from all kinds of view-points, in all kinds of styles. They were, however, all alike in two things—the complete absence of literary excellence and legal exactitude.
It took an increasing time daily to read and answer these. If I gave them any hope, I at once felt Mr. Tallent’s hovering presence, mute, anxious, hurt. If I gave no hope, I got a solicitor’s letter by return of post. Nobody but myself seemed to feel the pathos of Mr. Tallent’s ambitions and dreams. I was notified that proceedings were going to be taken by firms all over England. Money was being recklessly spent to rob Mr. Tallent of his immortality, but it appeared, later, that Mr. Tallent could take care of himself.
When Johnson came for more of the contents of the box, he said that there was no sign of a masterpiece yet, and that they were as bad as they well could be.
“A pathetic chap, Tallent,” he said.
“Don’t, for God’s sake, my dear chap, let him get at you,” I implored him. “Don’t give way. He’ll haunt you, as he’s haunting me, with that abominable pathos of his. I think of him and his box continually just as one does of a life and death plea. If I sit by my own fireside, I can hear him reading. When I am just going to sleep, I dream that he is looming over me like an immense, wan moth. If I forget him for a little while, a letter comes from one of his unutterable relations and recalls me. Be wary of Tallent.”
Needless to tell you that he did not take my advice. By the time he had finished the box, he was as much under Tallent’s thumb as I was. Bitterly disappointed that there was no masterpiece, he was still loyal to the writer, yet he was emotionally harrowed by the pitiful letters that the relations were now sending to all the papers.
“I dreamed,” he said to me one day (Johnson always says “dreamed”, because he is a critic and considers it the elegant form of expression), “I dreamed that poor Tallent appeared to me in the watches of the night and told me exactly how each of his things came to him. He said they came like ‘Kubla Khan’.”
I said it must have taken all night.
“It did,” he replied. “And it has made me dislike a masterpiece.”
I asked him if he intended to be present at the general meeting.
“Yes. Things have got to such a pitch that we have had to call one. There will be about a hundred people. I shall have to entertain them to a meal afterwards. I can’t very well charge it up to the account of the deceased.”
“Gosh! It’ll cost a pretty penny.”
“It will. But perhaps we shall settle something. I shall be thankful.”
“You’re not looking well, old chap,” he said, “Worn, you seem.”
“I am,” I said. “Tallent is ever with me. Will you come?”
“Rather. But I don’t know what to say.”
“The truth, the Whole truth—”
“But it’s so awful to think of that poor soul spending his whole life on those damned… and then that they should never see the light of day.”
“Worse that they should. Much worse.”
“My dear chap, what a confounded position!”
“If I had foreseen how confounded,” I said, “I’d have strangled the fellow on the top of that mountain. I have had to get to clerks to deal with the correspondence. I get no rest. All night I dream of Tallent. And now I hear that a consumptive relation of his has died of disappointment at not getting any of the money, and his wife has written me a wild letter threatening to accuse me of manslaughter. Of course that’s all stuff, but it shows what a hysterical state everybody’s in. I feel pretty well done for.”
“You’d feel worse if you’d read the boxful.”
We had a stormy meeting. It was obvious that the people did need the money. They were the sort of struggling, under-vitalised folk who always do need it. Children were waiting for a chance in life, old people were waiting to be saved from death a little longer, middle-aged people were waiting to set themselves up in business or buy snug little houses. And there was Tallent, out of it all, in a spiritual existence, not needing beef and bread any more, deliberately keeping it from them.
As I thought this, I distinctly saw Tallent pass the window of the room I had hired for the occasion. I stood up; I pointed; I cried out to them to follow him. The very man himself.
Johnson came to me.
“Steady, old man,” he said. “You’re overstrained.”
“But I did see him,” I said. “The very man. The cause of all the mischief. If I could only get my hands on him!”
A medical man who had married one of Tallent’s sisters said that these hallucinations were very common, and that I was evidently not a fit person to have charge of the money. This brought me a ray of hope, till that ass Johnson contradicted him, saying foolish things about my career. And a diversion was caused by a tremulous old lady calling out, ‘’The Church! The Church! Consult the Church! There’s something in the Bible about it, only I can’t call it to mind at the moment. Has anybody got a Bible?”
A clerical nephew produced a pocket New Testament, and it transpired that what she had meant was, “Take ten talents.”
“If I could take one, madam,” I said, “it would be enough.’’
“It speaks of that too,” she replied triumphantly. “Listen! ‘If any man have one talent…’ Oh, there’s everything in the Bible!’’
“Let us,” remarked one of the thirteen solicitors, ‘’get to business. Whether it’s in the Bible or not, whether Mr. Tallent went past the window or not, the legality or illegality, of what we propose is not affected. Facts are facts. The deceased is dead. You’ve got the money. We want it.”
“I devoutly wish you’d got it,” I said, “and that Tallent was haunting you instead of me.”
The meeting lasted four hours. The wildest ideas were put forward. One or two sporting cousins of the deceased suggested a decision by games-representatives of the would-be beneficiaries and representatives of the manuscript. They were unable to see that this could not affect the legal aspect. Johnson was asked for his opinion. He said that from a critic’s point of view the MSS. were balderdash. Everybody looked kindly upon him. But just as he was sunning himself in this atmosphere, and trying to forget Tallent, an immense lady, like Boadicea, advanced upon him, towering over him in a hostile manner.
“I haven’t read the books, and I’m not going to,” she said, “but I take exception to that word balderdash, sir, and I consider it libellous. Let me tell you, I brought Mr. Tallent into the world!” I looked at her with awesome wonder. She had brought that portent into the world! But how… whom had she persuaded?… I pulled myself up. And as I turned away from the contemplation of Boadicea, I saw Tallent pass the window again.
I rushed forward and tried to push up the sash. But the place was built for meetings, not for humanity, and it would not open. I seized the poker, intending to smash the glass. I suppose I must have looked rather mad, and as everybody else had been too intent on business to look out of the window, nobody believed that I had seen anything.
“You might just go round to the nearest chemist’s and get some bromide,” said the doctor to Johnson. “He’s over-wrought.”
Johnson, who was thankful to escape Boadicea, went with alacrity.
The meeting was, however, over at last. A resolution was passed that we should try to arrange things out of court. We were to take the opinions of six eminent lawyers-judges preferably. We were also to submit what Johnson thought the best story to a distinguished critic. According to what they said we were to divide the money up or leave things as they were.
I felt very much discouraged as I walked home. All these opinions would entail much work and expense. There seemed no end to it.
“Damn the man!” I muttered, as I turned the corner into the square in which I live. And there, just the width of the square away from me, was the man himself. I could almost have wept. What had I done that the gods should play with me thus?
I hurried forward, but he was walking fast, and in a moment he turned down a side-street. When I got to the corner, the street was empty. After this, hardly a day passed without my seeing Tallent. It made me horribly jumpy and nervous, and the fear of madness began to prey on my mind. Meanwhile, the business went on. It was finally decided that half the money should be divided among the relations. Now I thought there would be peace, and for a time there was—comparatively.
But it was only about a month from this date that I heard from one of the solicitors to say that a strange and disquieting thing had happened – two of the beneficiaries were haunted by Mr. Tallent to such an extent that their reason was in danger. I wrote to ask what form the haunting took. He said they continually heard Mr. Tallent reading aloud from his works. Wherever they were in the house, they still heard him. I wondered if he would begin reading to me soon. So far it had only been visions. If he began to read…
In a few months I heard that both the relations who were haunted had been taken to an asylum. ־While they were in the asylum they heard nothing. But, some time after, on being certified as cured and released, they heard the reading again, and had to go back. Gradually the same thing happened to others, but only to one or two at a time.
During the long winter, two years after his death, it began to happen to me.
I immediately went to a specialist, who said there was acute nervous prostration, and recommended a “home־’. But I refused. I would fight Tallent to the last. Six of the beneficiaries were now in “homes”, and every penny of the money they had had was used up.
I considered things. “Bell, book and candle” seemed to be what was required. But how, when, where to find him? I consulted a spiritualist, a priest and a woman who has more intuitive perception than anyone I know. From their advice I made my plans. But it was Lesbia who saved me.
“Get a man who can run to go about with you,” she said. “The moment He appeal’s, let your companion rush round by a side-street and cut him off.”
“But how will that – ?”
“Never mind. I know what I think.”
She gave me a wise little smile.
I did what she advised, but it was not till my patience was nearly exhausted that I saw Tallent again. The reading went on, but only in the evenings when I was alone, and at night. I asked people in evening after evening. But when I got into bed, it began.
Johnson suggested that I should get married.
“What?” I said, ‘’offer a woman a ruined nervous system, a threatened home, and a possible end in an asylum?”
“There’s one woman who would jump at it. I love my love with an L.”
“Don’t be an ass,” I said. I felt in no mood for jokes. All I wanted was to get things cleared up.
About three years after Tallent’s death, my companion and I, going out rather earlier than usual, saw him hastening down a long road which had no side-streets leading out of it. As luck would have it, an empty taxi passed US. I shouted. We got in. Just in front of Tallent’s ghost we stopped, leapt out, and flung ourselves upon him.
“My God!” I cried. “He’s solid’:
He was perfectly solid, and not a little alarmed.
We put him into the taxi and took him to my house.
“Now, Tallent!’’ I said, “you will answer for what you have done.”
He looked scared, but dreamy.
“Why aren’t you dead?” was my next question.
He seemed hurt.
“I never died,” he replied softly.
”It was in the papers.”
“I put it in. I was in America. It was quite easy.”
“And that continual haunting of me, and the wicked driving of your unfortunate relations into asylums?” I was working myself into a rage. “Do you know how many of them are there now?”
“Yes. I know. Very interesting.”
“It was in a great cause,” he said. “Possibly you didn’t grasp that I was a progressive psycho-analyst, and that I did not take those novels of mine seriously. In fact, they were just part of the experiment.”
“In heaven’s name, what experiment?”
“The plural would be better, really,” he said, “for there were many experiments.”
“But what for, you damned old blackguard?” I shouted.
“For my magnum opus he said modestly.
“And what is your abominable magnum opus, you wicked old man?”
“It will be famous all over the world,” he said complacently. “All this has given me exceptional opportunities. It was so easy to get into my relations’ houses and experiment with them. It was regrettable, though, that I could not follow them to the asylum.”
This evidently worried him far more than the trouble he had caused. So it was you reading, every time?”
“And it was you who went past the window of that horrible room when we discussed your will?”
“Yes. A most gratifying spectacle!”
“And now, you old scoundrel, before I decide what to do with you,” I said, “what is the magnum opus?”
“It is a treatise,” he said, with the pleased expression that made me so wild. “A treatise that will eclipse all former work in that field, and its title is – ‘An Exhaustive Enquiry, with numerous Experiments, into the Power of Human Endurance’.”
Well now, esteemed readers, I am now in Ōsaka and shall therefore relate a local story.
Long ago there was a man who came to the city to seek a position as a menial. Ranking as he did among the kitchen help, he is known only by the generic name of Gonsuke.
Gonsuke passed through the entrance curtain of a servants’ registry agency and spoke to the head clerk, sitting atop the reception dais with a long-stemmed pipe in his mouth.
“Sir, I should very much like to become a wizard and so beseech you to place me with an employer suitable to that end.”
When the astonished clerk did not immediately reply, Gonsuke continued:
“Sir, have you not heard me? I wish to be sent out to become a wizard.”
“I am sorry to say, my good man,” replied the clerk at last, still puffing on his pipe, “that as we have no prior experience in mediating the apprenticeships of would-be wizards, I must humbly suggest that you look elsewhere.”
“Ah, but sir,” protested Gonsuke, looking most displeased, as he edged forward on the knees of his grey-blue trousers. “Is what you have said not contrary to what your esteemed establishment proclaims on its entrance curtain? ‘Introducing all manner of employment’…Is your claim valid? Or is it misleading and false?”
Gonsuke did indeed have reason to be angry.
“Oh no, what we say is quite true. If what you are seeking is a position whereby you may become wizard, I shall duly look into the matter this very day. Please return tomorrow to receive our reply.”
In this way the head clerk acceded to Gonsuke’s request, even as he sought to evade it. Yet how was he to know where he would send a man for such an apprenticeship or how anyone could be properly trained in such sorcery? Thus, as soon as Gonsuke was out of his sight, he set off to consult with a neighborhood physician.
“What then, Doctor?” he asked in a worried tone, having told him the story. “Where might we most easily send him for training as a wizard?”
The physician too must have been perplexed. For some time he sat with his arms crossed, merely staring at the pine tree in his garden. Listening in on it all was his cunning wife, whose nickname was appropriately the Old Vixen. And now she unhesitatingly intruded:
“Send him to us. Within two or three years in our care, he’ll surely be a wizard for all the world to see.”
“Ah, I am most happy to hear this and shall most gratefully entrust him to you. Intuition has somehow informed me of the karmic bond between physicians and aspiring wizards.
With ardent and repeated bows, the clerk in his ignorant bliss took his leave. The physician watched him go, then, still scowling, turned to his wife in exasperation:
“What utter nonsense! ” he chided her. “And what, pray tell, do you intend to do when in a few scant years this bumpkin complains that we have kept none of the promise you have now made to him?”
Far from accepting this rebuke, the woman scornfully replied:
“Hold your tongue! What chance would the likes of you, honest simpleton, have of keeping yourself fed in this merciless world of ours?”
And with that she silenced him.
The next day, as promised, the head clerk returned, this time with the rustic Gonsuke, who was now attired in a crested half-coat—well aware, it would seem, that he was making his debut, though, in fact, none would have mistaken him for anything but a peaant. He was a strange sight indeed: The physician stared at him quite as though the man were a musky beast from the Indies.
“So you wish to become a wizard,” said the physician with a skeptical air. “Whatever was it that induced this ambition of yours?”
“Well now, I am not sure that know myself. But as I beheld Ōsaka Castle, it occurred to me that even the Great Lord who first built and occupied it was doomed to die. And so I was reminded that the pomp and glory of all human striving must pass away.”
“So you will do anything in order to become a wizard?”
The doctor’s sly spouse had promptly intervened.
“Yes indeed, I am prepared to do whatever is required.”
“Then from this very moment and for the next twenty years you will serve us. And then we shall reveal to you the wizard’s art.”
“Ah, then I am most truly and humbly grateful.”
“And in that entire score of years you shall receive not a single farthing in recompense.”
“Yes, yes. You have my compliance.”
And so for the following twenty years, Gonsuke served in the physician’s house. He drew water; he chopped wood. He cooked and he cleaned. Moreover, when the doctor made his rounds, it was Gonsuke who bore the medicine chest. Not once did he ask for wages, not even a single coin, and thus made himself a laborer more precious than one could find in all of Japan.
And now the decades passed. Once again clad in a crested half-coat, Gonsuke presented himself to his master and mistress and courteously expressed his thanks.
“And now I would beseech you to fulfill your oft-repeated promise and reveal to me how I might learn the wizard’s art and thereby gain immortality.”
The physican listened to Gonsuke in glum silence. Having worked the man for so long without payment, he dared not confess that he was presently no more possesed of knowledge concerning wizardry than he had been all those years before.
His reply was brusque and dismissive: “It is my wife who can teach you.”
For her part, she now spoke to him with ruthless self-assurance:
“I shall teach you the art of wizardry, but in exchange you must do whatever I command, however difficult the task I shall give you may be. Otherwise, you will not only be denied what you seek. You will also be obliged to perform twenty more years of labor for no wages, with death as your punishment should you fail to comply.”
“Please put me to my duty, however daunting!” replied the overjoyed Gonsuke, as he awaited her orders.
“Then climb the pine tree in the garden!”
Having herself no knowledge of wizardry, the wife no doubt thought that in forcing Gonsuke to do the impossible she could extract another twenty years of service from him. And yet hearing of his assignment, he immediately went forth to carry it out.
“Go on!” she called out to him, looking up at the pine from where she stood at the edge of the veranda. “Higher, higher!” Gonsuke’s half-coat was now fluttering at the very top of the large garden’s towering tree.
“Now release your right hand!”
Gonsuke slowly and cautiously did as he was told, even as he kept his left hand tightly gripped to a thick bough.
“And now the other!”
But now the doctor had joined her on the veranda, exclaiming with a distraught look: “Stop, woman! If he releases both hands, the bumpkin will fall onto the rocks, and that will surely be the end of him.”
“This is not your turn on stage, my dear. Leave it to me…”
“Let your left hand go!”
Gonsuke did not wait for her to finish calling out to him. Resolutely, he pulled his hand away. From there amidst the the topmost boughs there was no reason for him not to plunge to the ground. Instantly, Gonsuke and his half-coat were separated from the tree.
And yet, wondrously enough, he did not fall but, like a marionette being held by invisible strings, remained suspended there in the bright air of day.
“Thank you! Thank you!” Gonsuke called out. “At last, and all because of you, I have now indeed become a wizard!”
Bowing ever so deferentially, he gently trod the azure sky and rose into the clouds above.
The subsequent fate of the physician and his wife is quite unknown, though the pine tree in the garden endured for years thereafter. It is said that though the trunk alone was four armspans in circumference, Yodoya Tatsugorō went to the trouble of having it moved to his own garden, so that in winter he might gaze upon its snow-covered branches.
Margaret Mahuntleth, in the corner of the big settle, basked in the hearth-glow like one newly come to heaven. Warm light reddened her knitted shawl, her white apron, and her face, worn and frail. It was as if the mortal part of it had been beaten thin by the rains and snows of long roads, baked, like fine enamel, by many suns, so that it had a concave look – as though hollowed out of mother o’ pearl. Some faces gather wrinkles with the years, like seamed rocks on mountains, others only become, like stones in a brook, smoother, though frailer, in the conflicting currents. Margaret’s was one of these. And though she was a bit of a has-been, yet her face, as it shone from the dark settle-back, seemed young and almost angelic in its irrefragable happiness. For Marg’ret had never dreamed (no, not for an instant!) as she fought her way to Thresholds Farm through weather that made her whole being seem a hollow shell, that she would be invited into the kitchen. Usually she did her work in the barn. For Marg’ret was a chair-mender.
She travelled, on her small birdlike feet, all over the county, carrying her long bundle of rushes. With these she mended chairs at farms and cottages and even in the kitchens of rectories and in parish rooms and at the backs of churches where the people from the almshouses sat. She mended chairs mostly for other people to draw up to glowing fires and well-spread tables. She made them very flawless for weddings. For funerals she made them strong, because the people who attend funerals are generally older than those who attend weddings, and the weight of years is on them, and they have gathered to themselves, like the caddis worm, a mass of extraneous substance.
For dances Marg’ret also made them strong, knowing that in the intervals young women of some twelve stone would subside upon the knees of stalwarts rising fifteen stone.
Marg’ret knew all about it. She had been to some of the dances years ago, but people forgot to ask her to dance. Her faint tints, her soft, sad, downcast eye, her sober dress, all combined with her personality to make her fade into any background. She was always conscious, too, of the disgrace of being only a chair-mender; of not being the gardener’s daughter at the Hall, or Rectory-Lucy. So people forgot she was there, and she even forgot she was there herself.
She worked hard. She could make butter-baskets and poultry-baskets through which not the most centrifugal half-dozen fowls could do more than insinuate anxious heads. She could make children’s ornamental basket-chairs, and she could do the close wicker-work of rocking-chairs for nursing-mothers. Winter and summer she tramped from place to place, over frozen roads and dusty roads and all the other kinds of roads, calling at farms with her timid knock and her faint, cry, plaintive and musical, soon lost on the wind – ‘Chairs to mend!’
Then she would take the chair or basket or mat into the orchard or the barn, and sit at her work through the long green day or the short grey day, plaiting with her pale, hollow hands. Within doors she never thought of going. She would have been the first to deprecate sheeding rushes all o’er. The warm kitchen was a Paradise to which she, a Peri, did not pretend. Its furnishings she knew intimately, but she knew them as a church-cleaner might know the altar and its chalices, being, if such a thing were possible, excommunicated. Under the bowl of the sky, across the valleys she came, did her work featly as an elf, and was gone, as if the swift airs had blown her away with the curled may-petals of spring, the curved leaves of autumn.
If night drew on before she had done her work, she would sleep in the hayloft. Nobody inquired where she usually slept, any more than they concerned themselves about the squirrel that ran along the fence and was away, or the thistledown that floated along the blue sky.
So Marg’ret had never dreamed of being invited to the hearth-place. It was the most wonderful thing. Outside, the wan snowflakes battered themselves upon the panes like birds, dying. The night had come, black, inevitable, long. And to those who have no house the night is a wild beast. In every chimney a hollow wind spoke its uncontent. There were many chimneys at Thresholds Farm. It was a great place, and the master was a man well-thought-of, rich.
Marg’ret trembled to think she was here in the same room with him. He might even speak to her. He sat on the other side of the hearth while the servant-girl laid tea – the knife-and-fork tea of farms, with beef and bacon and potatoes. A tea to remember.
He sat leaning forward, his broad, knotted hands on his knees, staring into the fire. The girl slammed the teapot down on the table and said–
‘Yer tea, master.’
Marg’ret got up. She supposed it was time now for her to creep to bed in the hospitable loft, after a kindly cup of tea in the back kitchen. It had been wonderful, sitting here – just sitting quietly enjoying the rest and the dignity of the solid furniture and the bright fingers of the firelight touching here a willow-pattern plate and there a piece of copper. It was one of those marvellous half-hours of a life-time, which blossom on even to the grave, and maybe afterwards. She had never dreamed–
She softly crept toward the door, but as she went the master lifted his gloomy, chestnut-coloured eyes under their thatch of grizzled hair, and so transfixed her. She could not move with that brown fire upon her, engulfing her. So he always looked when he was deeply stirred. So he had looked down at his father’s coffin long ago, at his mother’s last year. So he had looked into the eyes of his favourite dog, dying in his arms. The look was the realization of the infinite within the finite, altering all values. Never once in all fifteen years during which she had been calling here had he seemed to look at Marg’ret at all.
In the almost ferocious intensity of the look she felt faint. Her face seemed like a fragile cup made to hold an unexpressed passion which was within his soul, which must find room for itself somewhere, as the great bore of water that rushes up a river must find room, some valley, some dimple where it may rest, where it may spread its strangled magnificence. She stood. Firelight filled her hollow palms; her apron, gathered in nervous fingers, so that it looked like a gleaner’s ready to carry grain; the pale shell of her face.
The servant-girl, perturbed by some gathering emotion that had come upon the kitchen, remained with a hand on the teapot-handle, transfixed. Marg’ret trembled, saying no word. How shall a conch-shell make music unless one lends it a voice? She was of the many human beings that wait on the shores of life for the voice which so often never comes.
Suddenly the master of the house said loudly, with his eyes still hard upon her–
It was as if the word burst a dam within him.
Her being received it.
‘Bide the night over,’ he added, in the same strange thunderous voice.
She took that also into her soul.
‘And all the nights,’ he finished, and a great calm fell upon him. It had taken all the years of his life till now for the flood to find its valley.
Then seeing that she stood as mute and still as ever, he said–
‘Coom then, take bite and sup.’
And when she was seated, like a half-thawed winter dormouse at its first feast, he said to the servant-girl, who still remained holding the Britannia-metal teapot (which seemed to mock Marg’ret with its inordinate convexity)–
‘Make a bed for the Missus!’
He was determined that no misunderstanding should vex his new-found peace, and when the girl had gone, breathing hard like an exhausted swimmer, he remained staring at Marg’ret in a kind of hunger for giving. And she, perfectly receptive, empty-handed as a Peri, let his flaming eyes dwell on her face, let his fire and his food hearten her, and so gave him her charity. And this was how Marg’ret Mahuntleth, the poor chair-mender, without will of her own or desert of her own, as far as she could see, came to be the mistress of the house and lawful wife of the master of Thresholds.